Friday, 16 September 2011

Friends with Benefits

2011, 15, Directed by Will Gluck
Starring: Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson

Natalie Portman made a pact with Ashton Kutcher early on in the year to have sex, as long as there were No String's Attached. Strangely, her Black Swan co-star finds herself in a similar predicament, only with Justin Timberlake. Here, we have a film truly based in the 21st century; not only does Friends with Benefits feature enough technical product placement to put You’ve Got Mail to shame, but asks the question: can two pals who decide to ‘play tennis’ between the sheets keep their emotions at bay? After impressing in The Social Network, Timberlake - surprisingly capable in a lead role and not afraid to make a fool of himself - teams up with sassy sweetheart Kunis to play Dylan and Jamie, the mates who put this to the test. Comedy ensues through the inevitably awkward circumstances the characters find themselves in and the comments by supporting players (Dylan tells his GQ workbuddy that Jamie is different to the other girls, to which he asks 'Does she have a penis where most girls have a vagina...? Then she's no different!'). The sex scenes themselves that seem more grounded in reality through the unflattering way in which they are filmed – a tough feat for a scene involving two desirable figures - are wittily played with help from the inclusion of previously mentioned aspects in the screenplay. One word: sneeze.

Will Gluck’s previous feature Easy A, which made a star out of Emma Stone (who politely cameos at the start as a John Mayer superfan), approached the rom-com in a fresh manner, the influence of 80s Brat Pack films apparent. The same is attempted in Friends with Benefits with postmodernist montage bluff sequences and self-referencing applied, as well as homages of the obvious: Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally... . But, as the film reaches its final third, Timberlake and Kunis seemingly intentionally re-enact the cliches that the screenplay explicitly mocks earlier on in the film. Destructive? No. Cheeky? Most certainly, but the film does suffer for it; what once was credible becomes a cop out. Moreover, an unnecessary sub-plot involving Dylan's father (an always welcome Richrd Jenkins) is introduced and dealt with shoddily. There's plenty of fun to be had though, with laughs through the relatable insightful script and offbeat support (Woody Harrelson hilariously cast against type as a gay workmate of Dylan's at GQ), not to mention Kunis' assured dialogue delivery; her timing is spot on, and it seems she is finally blossoming into the superstar she deserves to be.

For the least awkward viewing experience, avoid watching with friends of the opposite sex.



Sunday, 11 September 2011

Super 8

2011, 12, Directed by JJ Abrams
Starring: Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Noah Emmerich

JJ Abrams is not like the others.

Mystery shrouds everything the director involves himself with. From phenomenal cult television hit LOST to monster-hit Cloverfield, he evidently prides himself in immersing the paying crowds into a pure cinematic experience before they even step foot into the local multiplex. Here we have a man desperate for blockbusters to be made like they used to be; to contain not only quality bang-for-buck action, but distinguished heart through the established characters - in short, films cut from the same cloth as those crafted back in the late 70s and early 80s. Abrams' latest follows a group of teens who are making their own Super 8 zombie film - but after witnessing the derailing of an airforce train, the horror becomes very real as an unknown creature is unleashed into their miniscule unsuspecting town. So far, so very Spielberg; and that's how it remains.

Super 8 is a homage at heart. Reading the plot alone is a reminiscent mixbag of esteemed classics. E.T. meets The Goonies. Stand by Me meets Gremlins. A group of disassociated children. Check. A small town rocked by an other-worldly presence. Check. You would be mistaken for thinking that Abrams was channeling the bearded wonder (especially considering his presence on the producing credit). Regardless, new material is offered here. For instance, unlike E.T's friendly nature, the creature roaming the fictional town of Lilian has no interest in playing nice. On top of this, the central teens' performances are fuelled by pure daddy issues (something spliced throughout Abrams' projects), as opposed to the absence of these figures in the influential films spoken of. The young talent on display is undeniable. Joel Courtney, who seriously deserves lead credit here over Kyle Chandler who plays his weighed down cop father, guides us through events in a convincingly grounded way amidst the ensuing chaos that surrounds him and his friends.

Playing his cards too close to his chest resulted in the Matt Reeves helmed Cloverfield to be bettered by the cryptic promotional trailer, the film dumbed down by the ever-present expectation of glimpsing the creature roaming New York City (a staple of creature features). The cards are dealt out here, albeit with a few jokers in the pack. More time is given to characterisation and intriguing, if a little forced sub-plots (two words: doggy disappearance). It would be plain wrong not to mention Elle Fanning's assured performance also - combined with the spectacular set-piece near the opening, these functions indicate that sighting Super 8's antagonist is not pivotal to the films enjoyability. What Abrams has done for network television he has now done for the summer blockbuster, however not to as large a scale as he could have. Instead of evolving his extreme influence of fellow peers into something overtly original, he veers down schmaltz avenue. Some will lap this up, the mystifying John Williams-esque score (composed by the uber-talented Oscar winning Michael Giacchino) adding to the aesthetic; others will undoubtedly scoff. Whichever it is, respect what Abrams has attempted to achieve. After all, for a man who has officially carved out a successful career, this could just be the tip of the (ice)berg.