Thursday, 17 April 2008
Juno was the surprise hit at the Oscars this year and I have finally managed to watch it. The film received an astonishing four Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Direction and Best Leading Actress. The notoriety it has received is incredible considering the low budget and relatively unknown cast that had created it.
Ellen Page plays the witty character of Juno, living in a mundane American household and studying at a stereotypical American high school. It’s her humourous individualism that drives this film forward, as her pregnancy at the tender age of 16 is chronicled by writer Diablo Cody, and narrated by Page.
Juno appears to be a headstrong individual who has enough confidence to face up to her situation with relatively little help. She finds a way to adopt her child and even seeks out an appropriate couple to parent it, played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner. She effectively resolves the practicalities of her predicament within the opening 30 minutes of the film, with little input from the child’s father, Paulie Bleeker, or her parents.
It seems that Juno’s biggest struggle is opening up to the people around her that she has feelings for, most notably the child’s father. Michael Cera, the star of teen comedy Superbad, revises his role as a high-school nerd to play Paulie Bleeker. A combination of Juno’s inability to expose her emotions and Paulie’s social awkwardness makes taking their friendship further than a one-night-stand difficult.
Juno looks for solace in an unlikely friendship between her and Mark Loring (Jason Bateman), the man who is set to adopt her unborn child. They share a love for trashy horror films and grunge music, which is perhaps more of a throwback to writer Diablo Cody’s childhood than a contempory observation. Nonetheless Mark and Juno forge a compelling companionship which is another new experience for 16-year-old Juno.
Discovering how to form a working, sexual relationship with Paulie and how to handle love become Juno’s main concern. This is accompanied by her failure to recognise ‘boundaries’ in befriending a married, older man as well as learning to live with her step-mother, Bren (Allison Janney). The pregnancy that started the sequence of events becomes less significant as the movie develops, which is a credit to the storytelling.
The film encapsulates some of the problems faced by a 16-year-old. Juno matures into a more rounded version of herself, with her pregnancy almost acting as a decoy, luring the audience into a vulnerable state and targeting the sub-conscious.
In many ways it’s a shame that the character of Juno, who has undoubtedly captured the hearts and minds of many teenagers with the humour and sharpness of her witty retorts, is so very artificial. The film succeeds in documenting her maturing process and allows the cast to deliver hilarious one-liners which are sure to repeated by an adoring following.
However, it’s difficult to imagine a professional comedian delivering the kind of observations Juno has with such comic timing. This is made even more unbelievable when you consider she is 16, in the midst of a pubescent nightmare scenario. Her character has the feel of a teenager manufactured by the writer to be an exaggerated collection of perfected witty rhetoric and humour.
Ellen Page is only guilty of producing an interpretation of the character that is too accurate. She clearly has ‘funny bones’ and can effectively create the illusion of teen angst simultaneously. Sadly, her performance becomes irritating when it should be both funny and touching, making Juno MacGuffin both brilliant and flawed.
Tuesday, 8 April 2008
Star Wars returning to the big-screen after virtually creating the sci-fi genre was always going to be difficult. The most notable obstacle in producing prequels to the most successful movie trilogy ever made was replacing Anakin Skywalker, the boy who would grow up to become Darth Vadar.
Australian actor Hayden Christensen was entrusted with the Jedi powers to bring Star Wars to a new generation, and was thrust into the world of stardom with a bump. The widespread disappointment that the new films were met with made an immediate return to Hollywood difficult for Christensen, who has waited until now to take his next starring role.
Jumper also has its roots set in science fiction, but is based in planet earth in the present day. David Rice (Christensen) is a shy teenager struggling to deal with a difficult home life after his mother leaves abruptly in his early years. He is unaware of the power that he possesses, until he is forced to use the power of his will to save his own life.
As the name of the film suggests David develops quite a leap. In fact he can ‘jump’ through time, allowing him to escape his unhappy life and create every teenagers dream a reality. He surfs in Hawaii, eats breakfast on a pyramid and admires the view from Big Ben all in one morning.
The premise is fairly weak but still exciting, even if it’s just an opportunity to flaunt some fancy special effects and see some landmarks. David makes a friend in Griffin (Jamie Bell), who is also a fellow Jumper, and an enemy in Roland (Samuel L. Jackson), whose sole purpose in life is to eliminate Jumpers.
With Roland in hot pursuit David still tries to woo the girl of his dreams, Millie (Rachel Bilson), who he’s had a crush on since high school. With all of the vital elements in place it seemed that an ‘adrenaline-fuelled-thrill-ride’ was just waiting to happen.
Unfortunately Hayden Christensen was still displaying some of the characteristics he produced in Star Wars. He appears to be bereft of charisma, sucking the life out of the screen with little signs of a personality worth putting in a major film. His acting ability isn’t bad; it just doesn’t appear to be worthy of the roles he has inherited in his short career so far.
Young Brit Jamie Bell does his best to force some intensity into their scenes whilst star of The OC, Rachel Bilson, asks questions Christensen has no answers to. Samuel L. Jackson, who was also present in the Star Wars prequels, is menacing and convincingly deluded as Paladin and bad guy, Roland.
The plot is straight forward, allowing the characters to take their place in David’s escape from Roland. As the story concludes it becomes apparent that it won’t be as satisfying as it could’ve been, instead it alludes to a sequel or even a movie franchise. Whether Hayden Christensen will continue to land leading roles in blockbuster movies is highly doubtful, after what appears to be yet another failed attempt.
Sunday, 6 April 2008
Discovering a pile of unattended bank notes sounds like the beginning of a B movie, with the fortunate recipients readying themselves to spend big. In No Country For Old Men Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) finds two million dollars in cash after stumbling across a drug deal that went wrong. He is a hunter in the American mid-west who takes the money, but never even gets a chance to use it.
In simple terms the film is a game of cat and mouse, as the drug dealers hire hit man Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) to chase Moss. The pair are unconventional at best; they are certainly not Tom and Jerry. Chrigurh borders on being mentally insane and Moss’ inability to cover his own tracks makes him an easy target to pursue. Sheriff Bell, perfectly played by Tommy Lee Jones, also trails them. It is his character that acts on behalf of the peripheral figures in the movie, usually the lives discarded by Chigurh in his pursuit of Moss and the cash.
The break-neck pace at which the story develops makes it both taut and thrilling, even remaining engaging when nothing appears to be happening. It was adapted for the screen by the Coen brothers from the novel by Cormac McCarthy and delivers uncompromising action along with bitter, twisted moments of humour.
Moss seems only able to dig himself deeper into a hole; continually upping the ante via his poorly conceived escape plans.
Accompanied by a soundtrack that establishes a furious pace both Moss and Chigurh appear to be spiralling out of control. The music helps to charge the scenes with intensity, often forcing the film to become downright terrifying.
Woody Harrelson and Kelly MacDonald, who you may remember as the schoolgirl in Trainspotting, also support the performances of Brolin, Bardem and Jones. They both perform competently, but are undoubtedly overshadowed by a sensational trio of actors, working together to complete an excellent story.
Llewellyn Moss’ decision to take the money initiates their relationship, and is fully understood by a sympathetic audience. The greed that forces his mistake is present in the thoughts of most humans, but the errors of judgement he makes afterwards make the audience lose faith in his plight.
It’s thanks to the maddening character of Anton Chigurh that the plot remains in tact. The tattered events that are thrown together begin to come apart at the seems as the film reaches its conclusion, but the convincing performance of Javier Bardem provides enough strength to hold it together.