Cloud Atlas: A New Trailer and a Divisive Premiere

Sadly, my attempts to make this blog cutting edge failed rather miserably when I went away for last weekend out of internet range and then came back to find that I had great difficulty finding time to sit down and write. What I missed being able to blog during that time was that, first of all, Warner Brothers has now released a shorter 2:30 trailer for Cloud Atlas. It’s mostly the same things that we’ve already seen, but with a couple of other clips – most tantalising of all (at least to me as a classical music buff) is the small snippet of the Cloud Atlas Sextet that can be heard playing on a record at the beginning of the trailer.

And I read somewhere that that is Ben Whishaw (who plays the composer Robert Frobisher in the 1930s story) as the record store attendant. Not that you can really easily confirm these things. IMDB still doesn’t have a full list of who’s saying who. Or are they just letting us have some surprises when we watch the film? I’d like to hope so. Needless to say, I don’t think this trailer is going to make the film any clearer for newbie audiences out there, so I’m not sure who it was pitched at. Also, sadly, it leaves off M83’s “Outro”, which so powerfully drove the last couple of minutes of the long trailer with its hyper-emotionalism. The first trailer neatly broke down into three movements – I. Drama II. Action Film III. Emotional Rollercoaster. By chopping off the third movement and only leaving the first two, I don’t think this new trailer is doing anybody any favours. Anyway, none of that matters too much now, because the film has had it’s premiere just last weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) so dozens of critics have been able to post their reviews at the same time. And the result? A completely divisive experience, it seems. What everyone does seem to agree on is that, when the film was finished, the filmmakers got a 10-minute ovation. But maybe that was just group peer pressure in action. Because the results were completely mixed. There was some absolute savaging.

Cloud Atlas” is like the entire “Matrix” trilogy in micro. It starts out absolutely brilliantly, then segues into a pretentious slog. Jordan Hoffman at film.com. Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski wanted to make a movie unlike any other, and they certainly did: Cloud Atlas is a unique and totally unparalleled disaster. Calum Marsh at slantmagazine.com

Henry Barnes at The Guardianis a bit more mild, suggesting that it’s all very silly, but there’s probably something everyone will like.

At 163 minutes Cloud Atlas carries all the marks of a giant folly, and those unfamiliar with the book will be baffled. Yet it’s hard to wholly condemn the directors’ ambition – this is fast-paced and cleverly assembled, with the best of the performances shining through the prosthetics (Hugh Grant makes great play of the clutch of villains he’s dealt). The Tykwer/Wachowski collective offer everything here. Chances are there’s something in the hodgepodge for you.

Another middle-of-the-road review from Tim Robey at The Telegraph.

Cloud Atlas is going to be far and away the most divisive film of 2012, but I don’t think it’s possible to fault it for shortage of chutzpah. David Mitchell’s 2005 novel – pipped to the Booker prize by Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty, though in any other year it would surely have won – is a virtuoso plate-spinning exercise, an addictive feat of nested storytelling, and a sprawling treatise about human capacities for removing and reclaiming freedom. It’s amazing they’ve tried to adapt it at all, let alone as a single, near-three hour picture. In the hands of co-writers and directors the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer there was a danger of it mutating into a monstrous ballooning folly. So even more amazing is that it strays frequently in that direction but never quite bursts.

But then there were reviewers who could understand why others might not like the film, but nonetheless, thought the film was amazing.

It’s a massive cinematic accomplishment on the grandest scale, an utterly enchanting, moving, remarkable storytelling masterpiece. Let it affect you. Discover the revelations yourself. (Firstshowing.net)

And my personal favourite review so far, with the great title “CLOUD ATLAS Is Overwhelming, Odd And Utterly, Completely Amazing”:

Cloud Atlas is sometimes silly, and it’s sometimes pretentious and it’s sometimes overstuffed. But every single one of those things, to me, is a positive. It’s an exceptional piece of filmmaking, one of the bravest works I have ever seen. (badassdigest.com)

So really, the only question is – why do we have to wait so long to see it in cinemas down here in Australia?

Cloud Atlas: Seems We’ve All Been Buying The Book

Just wanted to share a quick link. When the trailer arrived for Cloud Atlas, I got so intrigued, I dropped everything and bought the book on Kindle, if for no other reason than to make sense of everything I’d seen. Seems like everyone else had the same idea as well. The book went from about #2,500 on Amazon sales up to #7. And having finished the book yesterday, it absolutely deserves to. Review coming next week.

Film Review: 127 Hours

Director Danny Boyle has recently given us fairly large-canvas stories in his movies – the slums of Mumbai in India in Slumdog Millionaire, the reaches of outer space in Sunshine and a deserted London in 28 Days Later. So it’s highly unusual that for his latest film, he decided to set the whole thing in a canyon with a guy who had his arm pinned for the title 127 hours and thus couldn’t move. How do you get a 90 minute movie out of that? Also, this is such a classic Americana tale – man against the mountain, the solitary hero believing in himself and rising above his obstacles. You can almost hear the trumpet solo in the soundtrack just thinking about it.

But surprisingly, Boyle brilliantly avoids all the potential pitfalls in bringing the true story of Aron Ralston, the intrepid canyoneer who found himself stuck and had to go to the extreme measure of amputating his arm to escape alive.

Given that the vast majority of the audience knows the story before they even enter the cinema, Boyle has opted for an approach of allowing us to experience, as closely as we can, what the experience might have been like for Ralston. In the brilliant opening prologue (it’s about 15-20 minutes before Ralston gets stuck and the title of the film appears), actor James Franco as Ralston takes us into the energetic world of canyoneering, riding his mountain bike across the open landscape, meeting girls, going swimming (the swimming hole sequence – while visually spectacular – is the one fictional component to the whole thing), and generally having an adventurous time. All of this serves to put us, as well as cinema can, into the emotional world of Ralston. We felt (at least I did), just how much fun it is out there in the canyons.

This same visceral sense of being in the moment then flowed into the narrow crack where Ralston gets trapped. Once he’s stuck there, over the course of the rest of the film, Boyle takes us logically through all the steps that led to Ralston’s final escape. First of all, his logical (and often ingenious) ways of surviving in the canyon, then, as the hours turn into days – the state of his mind. We see his random thoughts, daydreams and visions as his situation starts to severely affect his mind.

What I found most interesting is that the film had set Ralston up fairly quickly as a man who really moves in a completely different direction from the rest of society (also illustrated visually with some fairly neat split screen shots at the beginning). However, when he’s stuck in the gorge, it’s his parents, friends and ex-girlfriend that appear to him. This really spoke to me – that idea that no matter how much we may enjoy blazing our own trail and doing our own thing – in the end, we all need other people.

So, in that respect, this film became the exact opposite of the lone man overcoming his obstacles story. It’s that anti-sentimental approach by Boyle (a British filmmaker) that allows it to avoid clichés and actually become a truly great film experience.

Final note: as for “that” scene – it is fairly graphic, and if you’re not used to watching that kind of thing, you may have a hard time sitting through it. I was certainly thinking that if it went for much longer that I might stop looking at the screen. (The excellent sound-design doesn’t help either…) But then, I think you’ll already know by now whether you think you can watch this or not. But don’t let this put you off it. I think it’s a film well worth watching.

4 ½ out of 5

 

DVD Review: Apocalypto

A 1001 Films review. Mel Gibson, whatever you think of him, is certainly not short of ambition and daring. In this film, made in 2006, he takes us to the world of the ancient Mayans, told completely in their ancient language with subtitles, with a cast of unknown and ordinary-looking actors (in our day of ultra-glamorous movie stars).

It’s the kind of mad spectacle that early silent film makers would have dreamt up, and the plot is definitely straight out of those old days. A peaceful tribe lives in the jungle until their idyllic life is shattered by a marauding band of invaders from far away. The invading tribe drag off all the men to an unknown but gruesome fate. However, one of them, Jaguar Paw, is desperate to escape to find his wife and son – trapped down a pit.

This is quite melodramatic stuff, but what makes it work well is the sense of motion of the whole thing. There is the motion of the camera, which is constantly moving and providing a steady stream of eye-engaging visuals. But there is a distinct rhythm to the film itself. We start in the jungle, amongst primitive tribesman, in what could be almost any time or age. It could have been 50 years ago, it could have been 5,000 years ago.

But when the tribesmen are captured, they begin their journey towards the city that has captured them. And things get decidedly more savage and vicious the closer they get to civilisation. What is Gibson trying to say? That things are much purer out in the primitive jungle? That cities corrupt us? I have no idea, but it is this journey from the jungle to the city, and then back again, that drives the film and keeps us hooked all the way through.

I don’t know if it provides any new insights into life (though it does tell us a lot about Mayan culture), but – like the old silent melodramas – it’ll provide a diverting couple of hours’ entertainment.

3 ½ out of 5.

Film Review: The Phantom Carriage

 

1001 Films review. Swedish films are a bit in at the moment, aren’t they? What with Stieg Larsson adaptions and As It Is In Heaven, more people are looking at this country’s cinema.

Well, I’ve jumped back in time to 1921 to watch one of the classics of Swedish cinema – The Phantom Carriage. The carriage of the title is the carriage that collects souls when someone dies. If you have the misfortune to die at the stroke of midnight on New Years’ Eve, you get to bet the coachman for the next year. (Ironically, I didn’t realise about this New Years twist when I sat down to watch this on 31 December 2010…)

However, this is more of a device to give us a Scrooge-like tale of a man called David Holm (played by director Victor Sjöström) and how his encounter with the coach changes his life. Basically, this is like a darker version of A Christmas Carol and will feel familiar.

Already, this early in the history of film, you can tell the difference between American and European filmmaking. DW Griffiths’ films were melodramatic blockbusters – large in scale with breathtaking finales. By contrast, this story is slow, deliberate and intimate. There are some clever special effects (well, clever for 1921 – they’re not going to really bowl over anyone who’s been watching films post-Jurassic Park). And the grittiness of the story is quite effective (especially combined with the soundtrack on the version I watched – a constant grinding never-tonal industrial sound from a group called KTL).

In the end, I think it’s too slow to stand up as a movie today, but for those interested in early film and the developing genres that were springing up, this is well worth a look.

3 out of 5.

Film Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Not a film that you would normally expect to see on this blog, but I’m currently trapped up in far north Queensland, and escaping the rain for a couple of hours (there’s a reason they call this place a rainforest) seemed like a fun idea, and the cinema in nearby Malanda claimed to be Australia’s longest-running cinema. Who could resist a claim like that?

So I found myself in a delightfully decrepit old wooden shed, complete with low-slung chairs that are more like ancient deckchairs than anything else (they really should introduce a couple of rows of them at Event Cinemas in George Street…) watching a slightly out-of-focus and muffled print of The Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

I hadn’t seen any trailers for this film (internet’s not so great up here) and had briefly noticed the books in the young adults section of bookstores, with their distinctive cartoony font and pictures. But I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

What I got was outrageously funny. If you can imagine JD from Scrubs at age 12, about to join middle school, then you’ll get the main character, Greg Heffner. Greg’s chief concern as he joins his new schools is being perceived as cool. And he’s a bit worried, because his best friend, Rowley, is the school fat kid – complete with bad haircut (did I mention his hair is red?), terrible clothes and he uses the word “play” – as in, “Hey Greg, do you want to come over and play with me?” – a terrible no-no at school.

While it is squarely aimed at the 12-year-old audience, the comic timing of the cast and the way the jokes are played works so well, that I’m pretty sure our party of adults were laughing a lot louder and more often than the kids in the cinema. Whether it was potty monsters, the game of “gladiators”, Greg’s older brother, the cheese touch, or any scene with Fregley, the film rarely let up on the amusement.

And in the end – the themes are bigger than middle school. Don’t we all find ourselves doing and saying stupid things to make other people think we’re better than we actually are?

For parents out there, this has a PG rating and there’s a fair bit of adolescent themes and humour in it, so I wouldn’t necessarily take kids under 10. But if you’ve got a kid in this age group, it’d be a great way to get a discussion going about peer pressure and fitting in, and what it really means to be comfortable in your own skin.

4 out of 5.

 

Opera Review: Das Rheingold

When the Metropolitan Opera (and now other opera companies as well) first started broadcasting their operas in cinemas, the idea that I was most excited about was one day being able to see a complete Ring Cycle broadcast on a cinema screen. The benefit? For about $100, you’d be able to see all four operas compared to the thousands of dollars this would normally cost. And with the release of this Das Rheingold HD broadcast from the Met, that day has arrived.

A quick recap for those of you who are new – Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold) is the first of four operas composed by Richard Wagner that make up Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), which is really the 1800s opera answer to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s huge, it’s epic, it’s long, and crowds go nuts over it. When all four operas are presented in a festival setting where you can watch them in a week, hundreds of Wagner fans – or Wagnerians, to use the proper term – flock from around the world to get the best seats. There is no other opera that has this kind of cult following.

Rheingold is the first of the four operas and is intended by Wagner to be the “prelude evening”, in his words, of the Festival. In other words, folks, of the four Ring operas – this is the short one. And by Wagner standards, it is short – only 2 ½ hours with no interval at all. (The other three are monstrous 5 or 6 hour things, though still well worth watching.) This opera tells the tale of Alberich the dwarf, who steals the Rhinegold from the Rhinemaidens, forges it into a ring of power and sets out to rule the world – until he is foiled by Wotan, king of the gods. OK, there’s a lot more plot than that but it’s so long and convoluted that short version will do – what people really go to the Ring for is not the plot but the spectacular orchestrations and singing.

Wagnerians especially get excited when it’s a new production, which was the case with this Rheingold, being directed by the legendary theatre craftsman, Robert Lepage. The set – dubbed “the machine”, as we learned in the half hour or so of documentary material that screened before the opera started, consists of a number of long planks, that can move in all sorts of ways and have all manner of lights and images projected on them. This was especially striking in the opening. The planks were lying flat, lit only by a pale blue light, but as the overture – a spectacular piece of music starting with one low note – started to move and pulse like the Rhine river, so too did the planks rise up and down. And from what I saw in the documentary, they were run by a whole bunch of backstage guys turning cranks like galley slaves back in the Roman era, so I hope someone bought them all a beer afterwards.

But set design alone does not make a successful opera. To get a truly perfect Rheingold, you want a combination of spectacular sets, good acting and great singers. We got about two out of three. For the most part, the singing was pretty good, with standouts being Eric Owens as Alberich the dwarf, Bryn Terfel as Wotan and Richard Croft as Loge, the fire god. (Though for some reason, poor old Croft got booed when he came out on stage at the end – I’m thinking it was because he was the only character in the opera that tried throwing a bit of acting in there …)

I don’t know if Owens was cast for this reason, but it was an interesting touch making Alberich African-American – it immediately set him apart from the other characters and made you realise how badly treated he was by the Rhinemaidens – which sets him on his path of forsaking love and chasing power. His voice also was perfect – ringing out with a beautifully malevolent sound in all his scenes.

The main let-down with all of this was the acting. No one is expecting Oscar-worthy performances, but there’s an awful lot of “stand-and-sing” with the odd cheesy gesture thrown in. This made it especially difficult to sit through the second scene of the opera, which is mainly a lot of exposition and characters arguing with one another. On top of that, it’s clear that a lot of the stunts and wire-work – as characters move up and down the machine planks – are being done by extras, reinforcing that we can’t expect much more than singing from this particular cast.

But still, the last ten minutes of Das Rheingold are all but indestructible, as the gods summon up a storm, create a rainbow bridge and march triumphantly into Valhalla, with the Rhinemaidens singing plaintively below, begging for the return of their gold. It’s in this section, that Lepage’s sets, the orchestra under the baton of James Levine and the great voices all come together in an ending which is truly as spectacular as Wagner’s music. In this day and age of Ring productions, where directors hijack the story to make political points or insert ugly imagery, to see a beautiful production like this one is a great thing.

4 out of 5.

Film Review: Tomorrow, When The War Began

In case you hadn’t gathered from reading my earlier book review of Tomorrow, When The War Began, I think it should be (if it’s not already) regarded as one of the great Australian novels of our time. I don’t think the same will be said of this film, which is not to say, however, that it’s not without its own pleasures. There is a scene (not in the book) where one character is reading Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career (itself regarded as one of the great Australian novels of all time) and another character says, “How’s the book?” “It’s better than the movie,” is the reply. “They always are.” This exchange of dialogue fairly nicely sums up the film experience of Tomorrow.

Right from the time I first heard about this film, I knew that the biggest hurdle it would have to leap is the Boys’ Own Trap. The book is nicely plotted with plenty of relentless action sequences, chases and peril – so quite rightly it would make a good film. In fact, why it’s taken 15 years is absolutely beyond me. The problem is, how do you stop such a story becoming just an action movie?

What made Tomorrow When The War Began rise above the ranks of ordinary teenage action literature was author John Marsden’s careful ear for realistic dialogue, and the beautifully drawn characterisation of the story’s narrator, Ellie. Within two pages of the novel, he established a use of language that is immediately understandable by teenager. Ellie’s storytelling is both simple enough to seem realistic (no highbrow arthouse dialogue here) and yet profound and serious enough to carry great weight. It’s a masterpiece of character writing.

It is through Ellie’s eyes that the invasion of her hometown, Wirrawee, is seen. So when there is action, Ellie always describes this with the terror, anguish and tough decisions that such a thing would carry. And for me, the beauty of the first book was the setup. As the teenagers plan their camping holiday, there’s a sense of fun and enthusiasm that is conveyed. Things are still innocent, and it takes the reader back to that sense of freedom that you used to have hanging around with your mates. By setting this up as something we can all relate to, when the war part starts (which is something most of us can’t relate to), we are drawn in and can imagine it.

Well, I hate to say it – but that all went out the window. Director Stuart Beattie is responsible for the script and – especially for the first 10 minutes – it’s a clunker. To make it worse, the cast are, on the whole, fairly mediocre. (They remind me a bit of the Australian equivalent of the Harry Potter cast – though those guys are getting pretty good at their game now.) Also, the story has been updated from the early 90s to the present day. This is not as bad as you might think, but the first image is Ellie (Caitlin Stasey) talking to a video camera screen, and then a bit later, she’s pulling a mobile phone out of her pocket and looking at an SMS from her friend Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood).

I could cope with this, but as soon as Ellie and Corrie get together, it’s to talk about Corrie having sex with her boyfriend the night before. Never mind that Marsden takes sex much more seriously than that – it’s just a trashy introduction to the characters. Come on, Stuart – this is how Americans introduce characters! And it gets worse from there on. Fi, the prim and proper one, is a vacuous blonde (I feel a bit sorry for actress Phoebe Tonkin).

The one that most incensed me was the character of Robyn. Actress Ashleigh Cummings is probably the most convincing of the girls, but her character’s religious beliefs are treated as a total joke in her introductory scene, a lame exchange with her over-the-top puritanical father. While John Marsden would hardly be considered a friend of Christians, at least in the book, Robyn’s faith was always portrayed seriously, not through some post-modern “let’s have a joke” lens.

So I was rather glad when all of this ended, and the proper storyline began. The kids go camping, and while they’re away, a foreign country invades. Once our heroes arrive back in Wirrawee, things really start to heat up, and this is where Beattie’s direction really comes into play. He’s clearly comfortable directing an action sequence and it shows. From this point on, the film is relentlessly suspenseful with very little let-up. Combine that with Event Cinemas in George Street, who like to turn their subwoofers up to 11, and there was no falling asleep in this one.

Once I’d accepted that the story wasn’t going to live up to Marsden’s novel (and some people may not be able to), I quite enjoyed this film. I’ve always complained to anyone who would listen that it annoys me that we don’t make big dumb crowd-pleasing action films in Australia. Why is it that Americans get to enjoy seeing their capital cities blown up and shot apart, with simple good guy/bad guy stories? For a long while, Australia has seemed only capable of making serious arthouse drama on a small scale or ocker comedies.

But Tomorrow puts paid to all that. The setting is distinctly Australian (gorgeous Blue Mountans photography and I’m not sure what they used for the fictional small town of Wirrawee) but the action is all the Hollywood stuff we love. Car chases, shoot outs, churning ostinato soundtrack and more explosions than I’ve seen in a long, long while. It was AWESOME to behold. And, oddly enough, as the movie went on, even the character interactions became a bit less wooden. Or maybe I was just glad of a break between subwoofer bursts. I’m not sure.

Look, this is probably going to get snubbed at the AFI awards, but this is a true crowd-pleasing Aussie film. With better scripting and casting (and the sucky thing is we’re probably stuck with this cast for all the sequels – but hey, I’m an optimist – they might improve), it could have been something better. But I’ll stop the whingeing. This is the big Australian action film I’ve been waiting on for a long while, and if you’re a fan of big action films, you’ll have fun with it. Or if you’re a 16-year-old boy, this movie was written with you in mind.

4 out of 5.

Film Review: Inception (The IMAX Experience)

Director Christopher Nolan is somewhat of a rarity nowadays – a director who can make films that appeal to both the average popcorn filmgoer and more serious buffs at the same time. You’d think this could be done more often – but sadly, we tend to have to choose between blockbusters that are huge and mindless (Transformers 2, anyone?) or thinking films made on a smaller budget. So you usually have to make a choice between spectacle and mental engagement.

Nolan is really a case of being a good steward in small things and you will be rewarded. When his film Memento was released 10 years ago, he showed us that with a very small budget and only three actors, it was possible to make a really taut, and clever thriller. When Nolan moved to bigger budget films, such as Batman Begins, you might have thought that he would have sold out to Hollywood and just pocketed the money – but no! His Batman Begins was a hugely exciting and fresh approach to the Batman franchise, but nothing could have prepared anyone for the riveting brilliance of The Dark Knight (especially when seen in its IMAX version). (And I won’t go into them, but Insomnia and The Prestige, his other two films between Memento and Inception are also brilliant as well.)

Inception is an original story by Nolan (as far as I can tell), and it is original in every sense of the word. While it is full of elements that are familiar from many other films of varying genres, like a masterchef, Nolan combines them into a story that’s quite different from anything else I’ve seen. All I’m going to tell you about the plot is that it concerns Leonardo diCaprio as Cobb, a master of extraction – the art of sneaking into someone’s dreams and stealing private information from them. (Like corporate information, etc.) His offsider in these enterprises is Arthur, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt – I’ve never heard of this actor before, but he looks freakily like Heath Ledger, so I can’t help wondering whether Ledger was originally in mind for this role.

After a semi-successful extraction at the beginning of the film, Cobb then gets offered the job of inception – instead of stealing an idea from the subconscious, can he plant an idea there? To say any more would be absolutely criminal, but from here, the film turns into a mixture of a heist film, a Bond action film, a Matrix-style action film – but all completely different from these other films. But if you want action, a unbelievably clever plot, and an emotional pay-off, this is the film for you.

The visuals (especially in the dream world) are all beautifully thought-out. Instead of trying to create huge new landscapes (this is not Avatar), instead we’re offered bizarre twists on things that are already familiar to us. In fact, a lot of the locations to the films look quite ordinary, so when something unusual appears on screen, the effect is striking and eye-popping. Combine that with the fluid camera-work (always gorgeous to look at), and on the IMAX screen, the effect is totally immersive. When you add in the editing and Hans Zimmer’s relentless “two chords with ostinato” score, then you’re not going to get bored at all.

And, yes, all those reports that you will want to see it more than once are true – anyone want to go again?

5 out of 5.

Film Review: Four Lions

Four LionsIt says a little bit about me and a little bit about the world we live in nowadays, that I was somewhat apprehensive about going to see a screening of a film purporting to be a comedy about Muslim suicide bombers. Despite the fact that the State Theatre was crawling with security guards, I was nonetheless wondering whether this was the type of film that would attract unwanted attention from terrorists. Okay, I was being a bit overly paranoid, but none of this was helped by an audience where – I kid you not – somebody would leave or return to their seat every five minutes. Come on, folks, the film doesn’t even run for two hours and it’s the Sydney Film Festival! Can’t you sit still just for one movie?

Anyway, that aside, the film was an interesting experience. British director Chris Morris, who was there to introduce his film and answer questions afterwards, explained that the idea for this film came when he was reading up on suicide bombers in the UK and discovered that, despite the seriousness with which they’re often portrayed in the media and movies, there is often a funny side to terrorists. He gave the example of a bunch of would-be bombers that were bugged for three months and their recorded conversations revolved around inane topics like whether a particular object was an ant or a leaf. “And what is an ant anyway?”

So drawing on this and other inspirations, Morris has constructed a black comedy about British suicide bombers. It certainly lives up to the comedy part of its title. In scene after scene, it takes a stereotype that we’re used to and inverts it. As soon as the film opens with a Middle Eastern young man sitting cross-legged in front of a wall hanging being videotaped with a gun, the imagery is familiar. But a voice says, “That gun’s too small. No one’s going to be scared of that!” “No, it’s not,” says the young man. “I’ve got big hands, see?”

From then on, we’re introduced to our bumbling four “heroes” and their increasingly more inept plans to blow themselves and something up. (Which involves many crazy schemes ranging from bombs strapped to crows through to threats to blow up a mosque “so the moderates will rise up!”. Which leads to one of my favourite dialogues:

“But my father goes to the mosque.”

“Does your father buy Jaffa oranges?”

“Yes…”

“Well, then, if he buys Jaffa oranges, he’s supporting nukes for Israel. Your dad’s a Jew!”

The film manages to continue in this crazy tone for the whole film, however, obviously, as the film progresses, the film is heading from our friends talking about blowing themselves up to actually going forward with the plan. This is a tough transition to manage, and the film mostly succeeds in pulling this off (though obviously this will depend on your palate for black comedy – if you were amused by the film poster above, then it will be to your taste).

Where I think I felt disappointed was that, amidst all this silliness, I didn’t really feel like I had any deeper understanding of what does motivate such terrorists. Or maybe that’s the point of the film – that such people are extreme and a bit silly anyway. Either way, I do wonder what victims of terrorist attacks would make of such a thing – because the bigger issue is not so much laughing at terrorists as opposed to getting laughs out of innocent people being blown up.

I think also, as a Christian, there’s a sense in which I feel like this type of humour is masking the fact that we’re powerless to do much in the face of such horrors as suicide bombers and terrorism. It’s a bit like saying, “Well, we’ve tried tracking down terrorists with military force and that hasn’t stopped them. We’ve tried diplomacy and that doesn’t seem to be working. Given that nothing is going to make this horror go away, we can either not talk about it or get a laugh out of it. But that’s about it.”

Not that I’m saying I’ve got an easy solution to the problem myself. And it does take some of the fear out of the issue to see the lighter side of it. But laughter alone doesn’t feel like it will contribute anything to changing the world we now live in.

3 ½ out of 5.