Mobi’s Moscars – Part 4 – 22nd February, 2014

Mobi’s Moscars – Part 4

Concluding my mini-reviews of all the Oscar-nominated films.

 

Gravity

When I was a kid growing up, I was a great lover of science fiction. I would devour stories by the likes of Arthur C Clarke, John Wyndham and H G Wells and as a kid, before I had any  television in  my home, I became entranced with radio Sci-Fi programmes, such as  ‘Journey into Space’ and ‘The Kraken Wakes’. 

I vividly recall trying desperately to find a friend with a TV so that I could watch the 1950’s TV science fiction series, The Lost planet of Heskos.  I thought it was absolutely magic.

In my teens I became a fan of early TV Sci-Fi, such as Dr Who, (of course), The Twilight Zone, and how can I ever forget Star Trek with the indomitable William Shatner.

By today’s standards, many of the above programmes was pretty corny – particularly with regard to the special effects – but I loved them, and the stories just caught my imagination.

For many years as a young, budding author, I dreamed that my first great novel would be in the science fiction genre.

I suppose the last science fiction production to take me in, hook line and sinker, was the wonderful, ‘2001 – A space odyssey’ which I went to see in London with a friend when I was about 23 years old.

Sometime after that – I can’t say exactly when or why – I fell out of love with science fiction. It suddenly no longer held any fascination for me and I could no longer become immersed in its fantastical stories.

Every film or TV programme or book seemed to be yet another ‘variation on a theme’ and for some reason, I could no longer suspend credibility and become immersed in the fantasy.

It was all too boring and frankly, corny depsite all the millions spent on special effects and prosthetics that was supposed to transform humans into credible aliens.

I will probably upset many of my readers by including such acclaimed masterpieces as ‘Star Wars’ in my boring, corny category. These wide screen extravaganzas that cost obscene amounts of money to make, and attracted hundreds of millions of viewers throughout the world, left me cold.  I actually fell asleep through one of the Star War epics, ( I forget which), when I was dragged to see it by my family. It was all too silly and superficial for me.

So in a long, very roundabout way, this brings me to Gravity, which is hardly science fiction at all, as most what takes place is almost within the bounds of present day feasibility.

But it’s as close to Sci-Fi as makes no difference, (IMDB classify it as Sci-Fi), so I confess that I was probably already predisposed to dislike it before I pressed the ‘start’ button on my computer.

There is no question that the film relies heavily on its special effects to woo the audience; so if you, like me, watch it without the benefit of 3D, then I’m afraid you may be in for a tiresome 90 minutes.

I am told that the 3D effects are incredible, and I don’t doubt it, but strip them away and what do you have left? Not very much I’m afraid. I think I would rather watch a present day Doctor Who episode than this ‘Gravity’ tosh , and  I haven’t even seen many of those in recent years as the ‘bore factor’ always kicks in.

The Gravity story is simple.

Sandra Bullock and  George Clooney are on a space-walk around the Hubble telescope, way out in space. The ‘brilliant’ Sandra is in the process of trying to fix a faulty part on Hubble when all hell breaks loose.

They are showered in debris which was the result of some Russian missile doing something it wasn’t supposed to do, are they cast adrift and lose contact with mission control back on earth. Their own space ship is disabled and the remaining  personnel are all killed.

The remainder of story is about their attempts to get back to Earth by trying to propel themselves to other space craft, (Russian and Chinese), that are floating around the firmament in various stages of disrepair. It is unclear what happened to the inhabitants of these craft.

There is little or no character development and we are soon unimpressed with George Clooney’s ‘cardboard hero’ persona and his distantly unfunny, homespun dialogue.

Bullock lurches from crisis to crisis, telling us along the way about her dead daughter, (which is supposed to make us feel even more sorry for her), and screaming and sighing at appropriate moments when it seems all is lost. To be honest, you don’t particularly care whether either of them make it back or not and you certainly shed no tears.

While many may enjoy this spectacle on the big screen in all its 3D glory, if it is stripped of that major selling point, the dialogue, acting, and even the music rarely rise above the mediocre.

What astonishes me about this movie is that yet again, the professional critics are raving about it, and as you will no doubt have noticed, it picked up a whole gamut of awards at the recent BAFTA ceremony, including best British film and best Director and best music!!!

As far as Directors go, I regard that as an insult to Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips) and Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave).

And it has been nominated for no less than 10 Oscars!!!

Call me a cynic, but is this the George Clooney/Sandra Bullock/ ‘establishment’ connection….?

Just in case you think I am alone in thinking that Gravity is just a piece of mediocre dross, let’s see what the good folks on IMDB have been saying:

  • Stop advertising this as a good movie!

…I just don’t understand why this score and all the good reviews over the net are all about…… This movie has no story development, no character development and the script sucks…

  • Gravity is Weightless..

Did those who’ve written glowing reviews of Gravity see the same movie I did? Look, I wanted to like this flick, I really did. And I don’t want to rag on it, but if you’re going to make a dramatic science thriller, you had better get it right…..

  • Great Visuals, Weak Script overall

arguably it has one of the best uses of 3D in a movie. The setting is spectacular and the premise is inventive. On every other front, the movie falters badly….

  • Lost in Space

…. the special effects become a substitute for any meaningful plot. Even taken on its own terms, the movie makes no sense…..

  • A Crime of the Utmost Gravity

… For $15 I expect one heck of a movie, instead I got a dud…. this movie had nothing else going for it, so if I found myself having to duck when an object was hurling toward me, then there would have been at least one redeeming quality….

They go on and on….

Just what is it with these professional film reviewers and us amateur dumb-asses? Just who is it that knows a good movie when they see one?

 

The Wolf of Wall Street

I was really looking forward to this film, given that it is directed by one of my all-time favourite Directors. Martin Scorsese and boasts a stellar cast including the ever improving Leonardo De Caprio who played a blinder in last year’s Django Unchained.

Well, as you might expect from Scorsese, Wolf  is certainly a visual feast and much of it is quite entertaining to watch.

It is in a different class to American Hustle, which I reviewed a couple of weeks back, but like Hustle, it suffers from a lack of ‘audience empathy’ for the lead character.

There are endless films which have portrayed utterly unpleasant characters in leading roles and the trick of a good movie-maker is to know how to make us ‘feel’ for these ‘bad’ people – who might even be rapists or killers – as then we can understand, if not entirely excuse or forgive their transgressions.

Sometimes we will see such villains get their comeuppance, which satisfies our sense of right and wrong, and occasionally the characters themselves become remorseful and change their previously evil ways.

In some instances, ‘baddies’ continue their evil ways, but we are shown that even in the worst of people, there is something that we, the audience, can understand, that will encourage us to understand  their horrific behaviour and to gain a modicum of our sympathy. They clearly have severe  mental problems and so on.

Scorsese’s movies, such as Goodfellas, Casino and Gangs of  New York are typical examples of this.

But Wolf is not one of these. How can we have any sympathy or feeling for someone who delights in cheating  mainly poor, working class folk in Wall Street security scams; indulging in the most extreme, drug-fuelled sexual misogyny; horrific wife-beating, amongst other dire acts of deprivation?

We are somehow supposed to admire this venal slime ball, who lives a life that even Caligula would have been envious of. He eventually even betrays his closest friends in an attempt to save his own skin.

Sure, he ends up in jail, but considering all the ordinary folk who he swindled, 3 years wasn’t exactly very long and as the film closes he was back to his old tricks, albeit in a different country where there were still some innocent punters who hadn’t heard of his malicious and immoral ways.

The film is a graphic riot of sex orgies and drug-enhanced mayhem and there can be no better director than Scorsese to provide this kind of gratuitous feast to audiences presumably hungry for such soft-porn material.

But much as one may be inclined to enjoy the scenes playing before our eager and shocked eyes, we have to wonder whether it is all so necessary. What is the point?

I for one do not believe that anyone could have been quite so outrageously reprehensible in his lifestyle as we are led to believe the Wolf was. If he was that bad, how in earth could he have ever got his act together sufficiently to cheat yet more people and run his huge, despicably corrupt organisation.

De Caprio throws everything but the kitchen sink into his performance, but to me, it was  totally over the top and frankly, unbelievable.

I think his role would have been more meaningful, and would even have gained some measure of sympathy from us if he had been more laid back, and not quite so one-dimensionally, utterly heartless, selfish and evil.

If he had shown us a little more about what made him tick, and what changed him from being a decent, hard-working married man, into this horrific, drug-addled, sex-monster, I truly believe  it would have been a far more enjoyable and satisfying two hours of entertainment.

But clearly the script writers and Director didn’t want to go that way and it is a shame, as it could have been a much better movie if they had.

The very first IMDB review says:

  • Soul-Sucking Mind-Poison

DON’T PAY TO SEE THIS MOVIE.

 The unstoppable corrupter in this case reaches his spiny fingers through the silver screen and into your wallet….. This is a true story and he  isn’t done finding ways to cheat us…this guy is still laughing all the way to the bank, making a killing on book sales and movie royalties, while failing to pay full restitution to his victims….

and they go on and on, one after the other, here’s another….

  • Con Man cons Scorsese & DiCaprio

….Scorsese & DiCaprio were apparently too dense to realize that his book was yet another of his scams. They leapt on Belfort’s book like pigs on a pile of slop and thought everyone would be just as enamoured as they were with the alleged life story of a sociopathic, sleazeball swindler….

And the professional reviewers?

Ecstatic – what else did you expect?

Guardian – 4 stars (out of 5) and The Telegraph – 5 stars out of 5, with the headline, “Scorsese’s best film in 20 years …”

Honestly, I despair…..

 

Her

This is a nice little movie, and I enjoyed a pleasant 126 minutes watching it, but quite frankly I can see just as good – and often better – on television almost every week, and I really fail to understand why such a movie should be elevated to the point where it is nominated for best film.

I think the answer is that it was directed by Spike Jonze, and everyone knows that a Spike Jonze movie must be good. Just like a Woody Allen film, until he fell out of – and is now back in – favour.

As soon as I started watching this film it immediately put me in mind of a really clever little TV drama I saw last year on Channel 4, entitled ‘Be Right Back‘ from the ‘Black Mirror’ series, written by Charlie Brooker.

While the plots are a bit different, it is the same basic idea, and quite honestly, I much preferred the Charlie Brooker drama.

Her’, (the movie), is about a lonely geek, (Joaquin Phoenix), who is in the final stages of divorce, and spends his spare time playing video games. He purchases a new system for his computer and his smart phone, which is advertised as the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system. He is ‘introduced’ to Samantha, the voice of the system, which comes in the guise of a sexy female voice. (Scarlett Johansson).

He finds himself drawn to Samantha as he spends more and more time talking to her and eventually he falls in love with her. ‘Samantha’ uses her powerful artificial intelligence to help him and stimulate him in ways real women have been unable to do. He even has some kind of cyber-sex with her, but we are spared the dubious pleasure of being a voyeur to this, although we do hear it taking place.

It is a strange tale which is entertaining enough, without pulling at the heart strings or really offering anything in the way of some kind of spiritual fulfilment that we might expect from an Oscar nominated movie.

I know that the professional critics absolutely adore Joaquin Phoenix, but I find him an odd fish, who is somehow devoid of emotion and as such, he leaves me cold.

(He had rave reviews for his performance in the ‘The Master’ which I found one of the most boring, over-long and overrated films of 2013.)

So for me he does an adequate job in the lead role, but evokes no feelings of sympathy, empathy or even dislike from this reviewer. Maybe that is the idea, but if it is, then I fail to see the point. Surely viewers need to get involved and emoted with a movie they are watching?

Contrast ‘Her’ within the afore-stated, low budget TV movie, ‘Be Right Back’.

In ‘Be Right Back’, the lead role is a woman, and we see her briefly living happily together with her husband before she loses him in a car accident.We immediately relate to the pain she is going through and unlike ‘Her’, the cyber internet friend in this story is her dead husband.

He is recreated by some kind of ‘grief assuaging outfit’ from all his myriad social profiles , text message history, emails, Facebook postings and goodness knows what else. His voice is recreated from his real voice, recorded from web cam conversations and phone calls.

It is a very clever piece of mayhem, and almost credible. Unlike in ‘Her’, the cyber recreation of the lost husband eventually manifests itself in ‘physical form’ when a package is delivered, which becomes a life-like robot who is the spitting image of her dear departed beloved.

Ultimately, the end result for both tales is a re-awakening of  faith and hope in real humanity rather than in some artificial creation.

If you have not seen either story, which one appeals to you the most?

Her, the Oscar nominated movie, reinforces my view that it is completely unnecessary to spend countless millions of dollars on films that can be made for a fraction of the price if you cut out the exorbitant fees paid to over-priced stars.

At a rumoured 20 million dollars, ‘Her’ was a cheap movie by Hollywood standards, but still dwarfed more than ten-fold the cost of putting ‘Be right Back’ on our TV screens.

Be Right Back’ was, in my humble opinion, a better crafted movie, evoking much more empathy with the leading players and with a better, more cynical and satirical message to impart.

And as if ‘Her’ wasn’t trivial enough, we didn’t even get a single glimpse of the absolutely gorgeous Scarlett Johansson, who in my view is one of the loveliest of Hollywood lovelies.

(Couldn’t they have had a ‘dream sequence’ in which Joaquin imagined what his Samantha might look like – preferably in bed?  No, I suppose not…Scarlett might have doubled her fee…)

What did the reviewers say?

Of course, the professional critics are ecstatic about it. I mean…Spike Jonze! Joaquin Phoenix! they probably wrote their glowing reviews before they had even seen it…..

And what about the punters from IMDB?

  • Just about the best thing you can see in 2013…
  • I love everything about Her
  • In a word, brilliant!
  • HER – a visually beautiful ode the technological age

They go on and on…. Not that I necessarily disagree with them, but I do feel that their praise is a bit OTT.

Ah… at long last, here’s one,

  • Immensely disappointing!

No, that’s not quite right either. But why not wait till it comes out in DVD or appears on your TV schedules? It really isn’t worth the effort of going down-town to your cinema to see it. And it certainly doesn’t deserve an Oscar!

*

Next week: The Mobi-Moscar winners, along with who I think will win the real Oscars. 

 

 

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