As yet another ‘teen’ flick enters the cinemas – ‘teen’ signifying a film driven by teenagers and for teenagers, or even young adults such as university students – one must wonder how many more can be churned out by Hollywood.
The latest product comes from the writer’s of The Hangover, but unfortunately that is the only similarity between the two films. For one, 21 & Over is simply not funny and does not earn its stripes as a ‘comedy’. The story involves two friends, Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin), who visit their old buddy Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) on the night of his 21st birthday. Even though Jeff has an interview the next morning, he is pressured into going on a huge night out; bawdy behaviour and various hijinks ensue.
Right from the get-go, 21 & Over disappoints. The characters are stereotypical, unlikeable, annoying and share other negative characteristics with the plot – both are dumb and utterly devoid of charm. The witless execution continues throughout, with the film quickly descending into puerile antics and vulgarity; gratuitous, slow-motion shots of Jeff Chang being sick whilst riding a Bucking Bronco being a real ‘lowlight’.
The ill-judged mess that constitutes most of the film could have been partly forgotten, and even partially enjoyed, if there were at least a few funny gags buried within, but alas there are none to be found. A strong dose of humour was needed. Without any, the film struggles to get to its feet.
VERDICT: Immature and gross in all the wrong places, 21 & Over suffers from woeful unoriginality and is painfully unfunny to boot. Dreadful.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
The sequel to the highly praised Star Trek (2009) has warped in to cinemas, and with with J.J. Abrams still in the captain’s chair it promises to be a memorable ride aboard the USS Enterprise.
Opening with the main Enterprise crew – including Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) and first-officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) – already mid-mission on a strange planet throws you right back into the Star Trek universe, delivering a blistering start complete with a volcanic eruption and rushed reintroductions to the crew.
Meanwhile back on Earth there is a new threat in the form of John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a rogue Starfleet agent who causes chaos before fleeing to a distant planet in Klingon space. Cue the Enterprise being sent to capture this mysterious terrorist but all is not as it seems on the Enterprise and within Starfleet command itself.
After a rather loose and slightly disjointed first act, the film comes into its own once the story and characters grow and start to fill out the space (no pun intended). The lead performances are brilliant with Chris Pine growing into his role and Quinto nailing down Spock to a T. The much awaited performance by Cumberbatch certainly delivers, from Sherlock to villain executed with flying colours. Brutal, and as good with words as a phaser, Cumberbatch plays it icy cool to great effect. More screen time for the British villain would not have gone amiss though, and by the end a Cumberbatch-craving does kick in. The supporting crew, including Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Bones (Karl Urban) and Scotty (Simon Pegg), provide diversity and laughs and keep the pace ticking along nicely. Action, drama and comedy are blended just right by the ‘sci-fi master’ J.J. Abrams and his favoured crew of writers.
Space has rarely looked so good thanks to most of the budget going into CGI; plenty of glorious shots of spaceships and warp-speed physics will keep most sci-fi fans happy, as will the numerous references to the Star Trek TV series.
Lighter than the title suggests, Star Trek Into Darkness – once it gets to full speed – is a worthy and very enjoyable sequel that will play well with fans as well as newcomers to the Star Trek universe. Thrilling, fun and clever, a prime example of ‘how to do a summer blockbuster’; Star Wars is certainly in safe hands.
Humour and the dark, black subject areas within cinema – two concepts that shouldn’t mix well but somehow do, creating some truly fantastic films that manage to be dark yet comedic.
Dark, or black, comedy is a mischievous and niche sub-genre that has evolved and grown over time, garnering many fans along the way. It is not a new sub-genre by any means; probably the best-known mainstream black comedy is Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964), an evocative look at the perils of the Cold War and nuclear armament. The serious and dark subject matter of nuclear war is turned on its head by Peter Sellers and company, injecting hilarious comedy into authentically scary scenarios that could have occurred during the Cold War, which was still raging when the film was made in the 1960s. The sub-genre has expanded and grown considerably since the times of the Cold War though, with many dark comedies releasing every year – including the latest Jack Black vehicle, Bernie (2011), which has released in the past week.
Watching the wicked yet wonderful Heathers (1988) the other week reminded me just how good, and deliciously dark, black comedies can be. Mixing dark and macabre subjects such as death, suicide and other ghastly business with cheerful comedy doesn’t sound initially promising; taking ‘gallows humour’ too far even, at the risk of being distasteful and causing upset. Somehow though, the sub-genre of dark comedy manages to contain films that, while perhaps not entirely tasteful, manage to blend comedy and grim matters into somewhat delightful and memorable pieces of cinema. The balance does have to be just right though; films such as Harold and Maude (1971) manage to be effortlessly charming and hilarious but also poised, perfectly balanced with heavy and emotional views on life and death. At the other end of the scale, films such as Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) get the dark stuff worryingly offbeat, with a miscast John Cusack, and the ‘comedic’ elements are spectacularly unfunny – a real mess of a film ensues. Certain directors seem to have the formula nailed down; the Coen Brothers have a particularly good knack of crafting memorable, and quite brilliant, dark and dramatic comedies. Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), Burn After Reading (2008) and so it goes on – their filmography almost reads like a list of famous dark, comedic films that have popularised the sub-genre no end.
It can be hard to categorise dark comedies, what boxes do films have to check off to enter the sub-genre and not just be labelled as dramas/thrillers with comedic elements, or, alternatively, just comedies with infrequent and mildly dark parts to them? All I know is that when done right, the dark comedy sub-genre can deliver some wonderful and cherished cinematic experiences.
The Game (1997)
When a rich but cold and lonely businessman, Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas), receives a strange present from his brother Conrad (Sean Penn), his whole life is turned upside down as he begins playing ‘The Game’.
A subdued performance by Douglas doesn’t help a film which doesn’t really kick into gear until the final act, where twists and turns bring the film to its thrilling conclusion. For most of the screen-time though, his character is annoying, constantly wandering into daft situations (when he knows he has signed up for ‘The Game’) and hurting his hands – an oddly common theme. Plagued with ‘what-ifs’ that undermine the film, The Game has a brilliant premise but is rather poorly handled by, the usually brilliant, David Fincher.
An unexpected finale raises this film above mediocrity, though it is a far cry from Fincher’s other memorable works (Se7en, Fight Club). Mysterious and thrilling enough to justify a brief mention in Fincher’s canon, but it could have been so much more.
Mystic River (2003)
Clint Eastwood, a man whose directing eye is as good as his acting talent, tackles a gritty Boston in a bleak film that revolves around 3 childhood friends who, now adults, each have their own personal problems. The death of Jimmy’s (Sean Penn) daughter reunites the trio, but these issues – including those of Dave (Tim Robbins) and Sean (Kevin Bacon) – rise to the surface and old incidents come out of the darkness.
Brilliant performances by the talented Penn and Robbins are highlights in this story-driven mystery drama that has a darkness flowing through it, yet rarely shows itself. The strong narrative and complex characters fit perfectly into a Boston setting that clearly inspired Ben Affleck’s directorial efforts. A few lighter scenes wouldn’t go amiss and the ending leaves a rather empty feeling; but Mystic River is certainly an evocative experience, safe in the experienced hands of Eastwood.
Oozing with darkness and malevolent feelings, this is so much more than your average crime-drama and will linger hauntingly as one of the darkest films in recent years.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Shane Black reins Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), in for another solo outing; the last Marvel film – 2012’s ensemble blockbuster, The Avengers – set the bar sky high, can Iron Man 3 follow suit?
Without his fellow Avengers, Tony Stark is left alone to deal with the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a global terrorist who has his sights set on Stark’s Malibu mansion before targeting America and freedom itself. Still recovering from the events in New York (which was almost destroyed by aliens in The Avengers), his struggles against the Mandarin as well as the return of an old acquaintance, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), will start a long journey of rebuilding and retribution.
Shane Black coming in completely refreshes the franchise, his free rein delivering more action, more jokes and with Downey Jr. on top form, this film sparkles like a freshly polished suit of armour. The well-crafted script keeps the film flying high and upbeat, never lingering in the gloom of a certainly rather dark superhero story. The supporting cast are fleshed out, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) feel like substantial characters finally, a bonus plus is the villainy on show seems more exciting than an angry Jeff Bridges or a dodgy-accented Mickey Rourke a la Iron Man 1 & 2. Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin gives a memorable performance, it won’t be spoiled here but it must be seen to be believed.
The film is not without its glitches though. In spicing up the villains, the boundary of between plausible and ridiculous is overstepped on a few occasions and certain parts feel unconvincing, even in a superhero realm where almost anything goes. The promising Rebecca Hall is given a flimsy and unfulfilling role as ‘botanist’ slash ex-girlfriend Maya Hansen, a screen-talent wasted with mere minutes in frame.
Whilst crammed with action, jokes and the heavy influence of Black, Iron Man 3 does fall slightly short of being a quintessential summer blockbuster – though in what could be Downey Jr.’s last flight in the iron suit, he sure signs off with a bang.