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Film review: RED movie

Wherein Helen Mirren demonstrates how to fire an automatic machine gun, which is: TOTALLY wearing a white ballgown.

Now, when I first saw him in ‘Moonlighting‘, I was staunchly undecided about Bruce Willis. Mainly it was that self-satisfied smirk. What did he have to look that smug about?

Hindsight shows us that, evidently, Bruce knew something we didn’t. Possibly many things. That Demi Moore would find him irresistible, or that hair would prove over-rated.

Unlike Harrison Ford or Rupert Everett, Bruce just improves with age. Ok, perhaps the first comparison is a little unfair, given that Harrison’s thirteen years older. However, I seem to recall that in Six Days Seven Nights (1998), Harrison was giving the famous Ford pop-eye to Anne Heche who was precisely half his age at the time. I would now express myself with a moving range of flatulence had I had the personality of a 15 year old teenage boy. Let’s all be thankful I don’t.

Anyway, we like Bruce (that’s the royal ‘we’). He’s just the type you want around when hitmen are dropping into your garden from a hovering helicopter. Or when you need to defuse a bomb under your kitchen. Let’s face it: there will never be a circumstance under which you wish Tom Cruise were handy (I can point at things quite adequately myself). Or Brad Pitt, because I can’t spare the hairdryer and, happily, my husband has more raw sex appeal and if you doubt me let me just refresh your memory.

What’s that you say: biased?

Who, ME?

Ok, well . . . SO?

Wanna start a Thing?

BRING IT.

Now, over the weekend we saw Bruce’s latest vehicle ‘Red’ at Top Town Cinema. So, um, I suppose it could best be described as a comedy action thriller with some romance.

Actually, ‘loud’ would probably have covered it.

Bruce stars as Frank, a retired ex-CIA black-ops employee, whose life revolves around pointless press-ups, growing an avocado plant, and tearing up his pension cheques so he has an excuse to call the Customer Service Rep. This is Mary Louise Parker, who – I’ll be upfront about it – ranks at the Jolie end of the scale i.e. (for those who are not familiar with my Tyler/Jolie Scale of Unbearableness) annoys the crap out of me, yes, even in ‘Weeds’. Anyway, in ‘Red’ she plays another annoying character, one who is more interested in having telephone sex with OAPs than doing her fucking job yet sees no irony in bemoaning her lacklustre love-life.

This state of affairs all changes when a squad of hit-men break into The Bruce’s house to rub him out. Bruce dispatches them all within about three seconds of screen-time by strangling them with his dressing gown cord.

Stopping en-route to pick up a protesting Mary Louise Parker for her own protection (thankfully he also duct-tapes her mouth shut, presumably for the viewers’ protection), Bruce goes on the run. On the way, he attempts to figure out who’s trying to retire him permanently, the answer to which involves many interested parties including big business, politicians, and the good old CIA; and so complex as to make virtually no sense whatsoever.

Bruce also finds some spare time to get his old team together, all of whom are also classified RED – ‘Retired, Extremely Dangerous’. If the baddies had only done a little due diligence and watched Diehard with a Fucking Vengeance, they would have realized how ED Bruce Willis is.

In fact, this constitutes one of my main issues with the film. Bruce and his cohorts – John Malkovitch, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren – are apparently inviolable, which is nice for them, but doesn’t make for much in the way of dramatic tension.

Even when Bruce breaks into the impregnable CIA HQ, how about a bit of decapitation or something to demonstrate how dangerous it is? I don’t want to be TOLD it’s a suicide mission, then watch Bruce strolling around smirking at trained CIA operatives who want to kill him if they only knew it.

The other thing was, the movie should have been MUCH funnier. So much potential, but the jokes all seemed tired – in fact, exhausted would be a better word. For example, Bruce chatting up MLP on the phone, who mentions she’d like to travel, go to Chili; she asks if he’s ever been and what it was like.

Afterwards, he smacks himself around in a horny orgy of self-loathing, for responding, “It was night.” Granted, it’s not the smoothest of responses, but there are worse. “I had Delhi-belly the whole time,” for instance, or, “Sometimes I think of you licking stamps and masturbate.”

In another scene, MLP reads ‘Forbes’ upside down in the CIA staff canteen. Now, if actors are paid seven-figure salaries, shouldn’t they be required to PROJECT distraction instead of resorting to reading a magazine upside-down? At this point, I’m convinced Forbes actually prints some editions with the cover on upside down so that actors don’t have to strain themselves.

Then we had Helen Mirren settling in for some girl-chat over an automatic weapon. “If you break (Frank’s) heart,” she threatens MLP, “I’ll kill you then bury your body in the woods.”

I suppose, coming from a career assassin, it was supposed to leap off the screen with a new twist, but it just . . . didn’t.

So, as to how many stars to award Red, I’m conflicted. No doubt, the film was above-average entertainment. But with that cast – which was so awesome I forgot to even mention Karl Urban – and the concept – it should have been SO MUCH BETTER.

The execution should have been a clean kill, but was sloppy and indecisive.

The action was over-crisp, yet under-cooked.

It hurts me to do this, but I wouldn’t be doing justice to either you or me if I didn’t deduct a star for the wasted potential. Trust me. The alternative would hurt A LOT more.

2/5

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Lank hair

And then there was Proof, during which I was mentally violated by Gwyneth Paltrow.

Proof

To avoid charges of bias, I will fess up right here. I mean, you can still charge me with bias, but since I will have admitted it, there seems little point, hmm?

Here is the basis of my bias: Gwyneth annoys the crap out of me. There is nobody else whose hair I want to pull more. And Baby CHEESES will someone ever give the woman a carb? She is critically in need of a feed of rice pudding. You can actually see her wasting away on screen.

Gwyneth evidently attended the Tom Cruise School of Acting, whereby as long as you have a minimum freaky charisma allied with plasticity of skin, you can employ one, single gesture to cover all human emotion and pass it off as acting. (In Tom Cruise’s case, this is of course the double-hand point. In Gwyneth’s, a bewildered frown with eyes crossed.)

Director: Cut, cut, CUT! Goddamit! Babydoll, get your sweet ass over here!

Gwyneth: I presume one is referring to me.

Director: Who? Yeah, whatever. Gwynnie honey. Since your features are so pale and indistinct, we need you to – what’s it called again? – oh yeah. We need you to ACT more.

Gwyneth: I can act you know. I won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love.

Director: What’s that? You might want to speak up while you’re at it. I want you to EMOTE. I want to see the spit, I wanna FEEL the sweat. Set to it, there’s a good girl.

Director (aside to sub director): Stupid bitch. Needs a good feed of rice pudding.

I have no idea how she won an Oscar, although I can only conclude she must have donated many varied and nasty sexual favours to the entire Academy.

Now that’s out of the way: in Proof, Gwyneth plays the petulant, whiny, lank-haired daughter of a brilliant mathematician. She gives up her own studies when dad goes woopdewoohoo and then misplaces his mortal coil. Then her father’s student finds a notebook containing a mind-blowing proof to some theorem, which Gwyneth claims she wrote.

Honestly, it’s a stretch believing Gwyneth is capable of forming coherent sentences, never mind that she is a mathematical genius.

Gwyneth’s character is consumed by the likelihood of following her father into insanity. She appears to be crazy because she fears going crazy. Which is undoubtedly tragic but no more than, say, genocide – or any number of other things.

Her sister is supposed to be a harridan, but all I felt was sympathy for her. She turns up the day before their father’s funeral try to persuade Gwyneth to wash her hair – I completely understood where she was coming from – and Gwyneth gets all snotty about hair being dead tissue so Jojoba Oil won’t make any difference. Well, I’ve used Jojoba on my own dead tissue and the stuff is a miracle, so that shows you how much she knows.

Jake Gyllenhaal is her father’s former student, the drummer in a rock band of maths geeks. This time I suspended disbelief – hung it by the neck until dead – and then tried swinging it around and juggling it a while, but it was no good: maths geeks are just not that good looking. Trust me. I studied maths, and we were a dull looking bunch of monobrows. The best bit in the movie is the band’s song ‘i’, comprising three minutes of silence.

Disregarding all that, the movie is worth a watch.

Legal restitution

For weeks beforehand, I briefed Husband on the realities of an Irish wedding.

“You may be required to sing with your eyes closed,” I warned him. “If you don’t close your eyes, the Irish will think you’re shallow and you will be thrown out of the wedding. There will be alcohol involved – no surprises there – but prepare yourself for chasers. Maybe involving Guinness. Also, the dancing is carnage.”

To which Husband usually responded, “Sweet shite, I’m feckin not feckin singin’.”

It surprised me that he focussed on the singing, but the man himself has been known to engage in somewhat violent “dancing” after several chasers. Husband’s friend ScotJ recently noted that in Tropic Thunder, Tom Cruise’s character stole his moves directly from Husband’s School Of Dance. Cruise will be hearing from our lawyers.

The night before the wedding, Róisín’s father Gerry exhibited questionable judgement by organising a shindig in Fennessy’s Pub. There was plenty of eyeball-free singing and a nightcap involving a shot of Baileys and Jameson whiskey dropped into half a pint of Guinness. It is apparently known as a Depth Charger, or alternatively, the Irish Car Bomb. It is absolutely foul regardless of what you choose to call it, and best not tried at home.

Around midnight, the pub passed around trays of nibbles. It’s always tricky – virtually impossible in Ireland – identifying vegetarian or fish-based options from a platter of pub grub, but I congratulated myself on identifying an egg mayonnaise sandwich. I was halfway through it before I realised it was laced with ham. Since nobody else was interested in the sangers, I riffled through them and they all featured dead pig: tuna and ham; cucumber, cream cheese and ham; smoked salmon, capers, onions and ham.

This must be a new development in the country: butter being interchangeable with ham

The Mexican Piñata

While Husband was in Dubai, The Mexican Piñata and I went to see The Dark Knight.

First, The Mexican Piñata. She is/was a friend of The Bro’s who met him on Facebook and was sufficiently ravished by his pixelated electronic charm (many times more potent than in person) that she followed her heart thousands of miles to be with him. Their story features elements of a tender romance along with intrigue, misdirection, double-crossing, suspense, subterfuge, straining skin-tight jeans, nail-biting denouements – three of them – and lashings of crass humour.

[NB: The Mexican Piñata is not her real name. It has been changed to protect the innocent. In deference to The Mexican Piñata’s first language, The Bro’s pseudonym is El Knobbo, which has been changed to expose the guilty.]

This story is complex as narratives go, with so many plot twists it could have been an opera had the screeching been more poetic and/or melodic. It is best summed up in a moral, which is: if you let a girl use your computer, make sure it doesn’t automatically logon to your Facebook account where you have slandered her all over the Internet. Or if you like a selection of morals, how about: if you operate several women on a rotational basis, try not to overlap their allocated timeslots.

You will be glad to hear there’s a happy ending. When El Knobbo dropped The Mexican Piñata to the airport, she said, “Thanks. It’s been . . . mm, I don’t know this word . . . is it . . . nice?” and stabbed him with a filed stiletto when she kissed him on the cheek.

Anyhow, The Dark Knight. I couldn’t wait to see this film, and since El Knobbo was suffering a toxic overload, The Mexican Piñata volunteered to accompany me. There were only two seats left when we arrived at the cinema; when we got to them, the screen was so close we had to cross our eyes to focus it.

Ever since my first disastrous celluloid misadventure, I have taken cinema excursions seriously. For The Dark Knight, I would not accept anything other than optimal screen distance, Maltesers and lightly salted, crunchy popcorn. At least two of those conditions were not met, so we asked for a refund (The Mexican Piñata had bought snacks, so I was hopeful of profiting from the arrangement).

As a compromise, the cinema attendant offered us Gold Class seats. If we were apprehended and interrogated, we were to say there was melted icecream on our allotted seats A126 and A125. I’m not sure why icecream is considered so antisocial, as opposed to, for example, fake cheese or razorblades in the seat lining. But here’s a top tip for getting a seat upgrade in the cinema: the magic password is ‘melted icecream’.

The Dark Knight is outrageously good. It is a thoughtful, multi-layered and intelligent depiction of good and evil – or at least, as thoughtful, multi-layered and intelligent as a movie about a man in a plastic bat suit equipped with pointy ears can get.

Most superhero movies present good and evil as straightforward, implying that if you cannot distinguish right from wrong, you are a psychopath and/or rather stupid. But in real life, many decisions are wrapped in moral quandary. For example, can you say that paying a hit man to rough up Tom Cruise and call him names is absolutely, undeniably wrong? Of course not.

The Dark Knight ackowledges this struggle. Should Batman save his girlfriend, or Harvey Dent, the man capable of redeeming Gotham City? What are the implications of either choice? Batman is a tortured hero, wracked with indecision, uncertain of whether his actions are motivated by good intent or potential acclaim.

Batman also struggles with his masculinity, his alter-ego Bruce Wayne poncing around with women dripping off his arms. While I appreciate that Wayne has an international playboy image to maintain, there is no similar explanation for the amount of mascara Batman wears.

Christian Bale’s Batman is excellent, but overshadowed by The Joker. Again, I feel vaguely embarrassed enthusing about a villain with green hair and more mascara than Batman, but Heath Ledger as The Joker is superb. His evilry outperforms even The Penguin in Batman Returns. In fairness, the worst The Penguin ever did was nibble off someone’s nose which, although innovative, is hardly the epitomy of pure evil. The Penguin did squeakily threaten to kill all Gotham’s firstborns; I suppose he might have done had the neoprene-nippled Batman not foiled his attempt, but I have my doubts. I always questioned the little fella’s capacity for spite.

In contrast, Ledger’s interpretation of The Joker is camp-free and completely chilling. The Joker’s background is never explained. In one early scene, he attributes his deformed face to an act of abuse by his stepfather, a description so crawlingly grisly it makes you temporarily wish you weren’t equipped with ears. For a while, you think, ‘Aw bless! No wonder the little scamp is misunderstood.’ But later, The Joker’s story changes according to his whim. Not only is The Joker terrifyingly intelligent, he can blow up a truck so that it cartwheels lengthways down a street.

If you haven’t seen the film, there are spoilers ahead so this is about as far as you want to read.

I have a couple of issues, which, although relatively minor, are worth mentioning. In the final act, The Joker reveals there are bombs planted on two ferries. Both lots of passengers can save themselves by blowing up the other ship; if they don’t, The Joker will annihilate both ferries at midnight. The passengers prove the inherent goodness of man by refusing to blow up the other ship.

Call me cyncical, but I refuse to believe that would happen in real life. One possible alternative would be an almighty brawl as people trampled each other to get to the detonator. But everyone sitting around debating the pros and cons of blowing up another shipload to save their wretched souls? Not a chance. On one of the ferries, at least three characters are accountants.

(I’m still not sure why the ferries didn’t just float like crazy to dry land and let everyone disembark. We’ll overlook that for the moment.)

Another problem is Rachel Dawes. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a welcome substitute for Katie Holmes, who should be roughed up along with Tom Cruise although to a lesser extent. Rachel shows hints of feistiness before she is careless enough to let herself get killed.

Otherwise, this is one of the best movies I’ve seen for a long time. That said, it in no way makes up for missing out on The Man From Snowy River

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