Archive for November, 2009

In Good Company

2004, US, Directed by Paul Weitz

Colour, Running Time: 109 minutes

Review Source: Film 4 Broadcast; Image: 1.78:1, Audio: Dolby Surround

Upcoming marketing hotshot Carter lands himself an executive position with a globally advancing company, placing him in commanding roles over a department of people mostly with years of experience more than him, as well as being near enough twice his age in many cases. Carter settles into his new boasting in an energetic, motivational manner that pleases his immediate boss, earns him a fat salary, but little respect from his subordinates as a subsequent regime of early retirement takes place to relieve the company of a burden costing hundreds of thousands a year. Not all is rosy in Carter’s life, however, as his wife of a paltry seven months deserts him, his new Porsche is crashed within seconds of driving it from the forecourt, and he suddenly realises that he’s rather lonely in his penthouse apartment. But at least he has his booming career… 51 year old Dan is one of the men shuffled into the backseat as Carter takes the reins, and it materialises that Dan also has a very attractive daughter that the rebounding Carter finds himself wining/dining pretty quickly, unbeknownst to the father. As company politics snowball and Dan discovers the slippery slope towards the old-age landfill before him, it’s only a matter of time before all issues collide to produce some sort of dramatic mutant offspring.

Slimy Still Of The Year 2009

There are quite a few threads going on in the film that makes it hard to quantify in terms of genre (should that even be considered a necessity) - it appears to be heading the direction of comedy, when it opts for the romantic turn, before diverting for drama. In that sense it’s ambitious though I’m not fully convinced it knows exactly what it’s doing all of the time. There are also a couple of central characters so the individual perspective is blurred a little - Carter is an arrogant youngster who’s not easy to like, probably a deliberate effort as attempts are later revealed to induce sympathy within us for the person that probably represents someone most of us despise in real life. Then there is Dan who is teetering on the edge of the scrap heap that inevitably awaits all of us in a world designed essentially by and for the young. It’s clearly easy to empathise with the latter’s plight, even more so when it becomes apparent that his relationship with his daughter is deteriorating due to her relationship with the whippersnapper that holds the father’s career, and possibly life-value, in the palm of his sweaty hand. Scarlett Johannsen, playing the daughter, is less utilised here than she might have been had the film been made a year or more later, 2004 being around the breakthrough point for her more than anything preceding that. She appealingly plays her character as someone just shy of maturity in the earlier scenes, progressing to more of a grown woman during the course of the story. This causes her dad much strife as she transforms from the innocent child of his moulding, into an adult that formulates decisions on who to mate with, etc., before deciding to mate with the biggest asshole of Dan’s nightmares at that point in time.

 

Wrapped around the lives of these people is a fairly clichéd view of how major business works, from a pretty typical notion of corporate monsters (obvious, but debatably accurate) to the apparent power of the individual underling to overthrow some despotic manager if they’re willing to stand up to the big boys (this relates to a particularly pathetic scene in the film). From my experience people aren‘t usually this brave/foolish, though quaint it is. Carter does go through his own personality development during the movie that strangely sees him traversing from over-the-top twat to all round reasonable dude with some sense. Maybe this is possible, but again in my experience assholes generally remain assholes. Despite a nagging feeling that In Good Company is masquerading to be something more than it really is, there is a likeable story partly disguising the old recycled ideas and it’s certainly something that I didn’t have a bad time watching.

Posted on 21st November 2009
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9

2009, US, Directed by Shane Acker

Animation, Running Time: 79 minutes

Review Source: Cinema screening; Image: 1.85:1 Digital

Shane Acker first attracted the desirable attention that would break him into a small portion of Hollywood’s limelight with the ten minute film ‘9’ four years ago, the third in a line of animated shorts that would finally find him a nomination at the Oscars. Expanded to feature-length 9 adopts the rough plot outline of its ancestral parent, utilises a very similar visual style, and brings an essentially arty CGI animation (that reminded me in places of work by the Quays and Svankmajer) to a wider audience. Set in a world that vaguely resembles our own, albeit with some deliberate historical juggling, mankind has been devastated by the evolution of machines initially designed to aid us in war, the machines themselves eventually turning on their creators - Matrix-style - to leave the planet a ruined, desolate place devoid of humanity, so it seems. Before you suspect further inspiration from Wall-E, you’ll be pleased/disappointed to hear that in our place, aside from the destructive machines, are tiny automatons that were created from bits of cloth and metal by a human scientist; creatures that are by comparison placid and harmless. However, the curiosity of one such creature, referred to like his siblings only by a number (‘9’ of course), reawakens a monolithic construction that threatens the existence of the entire community of tiny rubble dwellers, but therein may lie the answers that 9 seeks.

Kicking some CGI ass

Leading a small team of animators in the mid-noughties Acker managed to create a visually imaginative short film that thrived on mystery and menace as much as its perceived ambient qualities, and to some extent those attributes have been effectively conveyed in this feature adaptation. Some sacrifices have had to be made in good will towards commercialisation: some of these necessary to keep the film afloat financially rather than having it flop in some art house swamp while other sacrifices are more debatable. The most obvious alteration initially is one that changes the non-verbal nature of the characters of the short, to the more generally present speech in the feature. This can’t help but dispel some of the mystery, as background details are explained to the viewer and character motivations made more obvious, but for a film doing the rounds at mainstream cinemas this is probably a necessary development (though Wall-E admirably proved that successful long periods of silence in film-making could still be achieved). Much like in the short the numerical little things that wander around in the conceptual dark are threatened by huge mechanical monsters as 9 himself tries to make some sense of the world and where they all came from. The primary action sequence of the short is exploited somewhat here to throw several such set pieces at the viewer, thereby maintaining interest in an audience that is all too easily bored nowadays. These are well executed scenes that inadvertently walk a tightrope when it comes to balancing the integrity of the original vision, especially as far as the presence of kung-fu fighting female number 7 is concerned (voiced by lovely Jennifer Connelly), a slightly contrived addition to the mythos that’s undoubtedly there to enhance appeal to certain youthful portions of any potential audience. Speaking of which, it is surprising to find that an animated feature nowadays has done so little to sell itself to children - the film is almost completely devoid of humour and the offbeat concept combined with dark imagery is not necessarily going to facilitate popularity with the young beasts that will one day be running our councils. It’s to be appreciated that the imposing stylistic imagery of the short is closely adhered to in the feature, from the doll-like protagonists (looking almost identical) to the apocalyptic backdrop that serves as the setting, and compositions are notable in the thoughtfulness behind them. Rather than taking on a similarly quirky score (and partly abandoning the relentless industrial sound design of the original) it’s slightly unfortunate that the producers opted for a fairly generic orchestral outing, again eroding away slightly at the strangeness given birth by the source. The marginally clichéd conclusion is certainly preceded by plenty of unusual ideas, picturesque feasts for the eyes, a pace that’s not completely compliant with the norm, and the manifestation of technical talent in the telling of a story that has its fair share of fast moments and those that are just a tiny bit touching.

 

While not quite all it could have been (that would have resulted in a non-cinematic voyage for the outing almost surely) it has to be said that the film does keep one’s attention fixated, the animation itself is throughout very attractive, both in design and motion, and it’s highly commendable that a project like this can be whisked from the underground into mainstream by Hollywood’s midfield players. There’s plenty to enjoy and saviour here, though the masterpiece that the short film (and possibly trailer) perhaps hinted at is regrettably absent.

Posted on 4th November 2009
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