All waffle, no beef – “Life of Pi”

For the record, let’s make it abundantly clear that I did not read the book, yet I still might because it’s sitting on my kindle waiting for its chance to strike (though, if you read what follows you might find I’m no longer interested in doing so). However, for the time being I think the fact I watched “Life of Pi” having no prior knowledge whatsoever about the story and thus no personal relationship to the said story, qualifies me to pass an objective opinion on what I just had to sit through in the cinema. And it’s not going to be pretty. Had I read the book before, maybe – just maybe – I could be thinking differently, but as it stands now, I am terribly disappointed by what I witnessed.

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Where do I begin? For a person who is completely unfamiliar with Martel’s novel (which supposedly is the best thing since sliced bread), having to watch “Life of Pi” seems strange to say the least. So, from my personal perspective, there I was, in the cinema,  ready to go, watching the trailers and all, sipping my diet coke and getting comfortable and the only thing I knew about what was about to start was:

1) that it cost like a 120 big ones (one-hundred-twenty-million-American-dollars),

2) the trailer promised beautiful special effects and a fairy-tale-like feel,

3) it was supposed to be about a boy stranded in a boat with a tiger.

This is what I knew. Oh, right, I also knew Ang Lee was responsible for making it and you should know that there had been a precedent for him actually delivering on a promise to get a fairy-tale done right (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” bows humbly). So, given the data at hand, one should expect “Life of Pi” to be good, right?

Wrong! It’s a boy on a boat with a tiger! Period. End of story. And it’s told in the most anti-climactic possible way. I don’t think I’m going to spoil much by saying that Pi – the protagonist – is actually telling the story himself, so we know from the onset how the story ends – he survives. It’s OK for a 19th century novel, but here and now? Really? At least if you’re going to let me know from the very beginning that the main character is going to be fine, at least give us a twist. Give me something, somebody to relate to, anything at all. “Life of Pi” did not grant me that wish. It was a bland mush of colorful imagery filled with characters that I couldn’t give a rat’s behind about.

Not only that: the whole thing assumes this overly pretentious tone of ‘I’m going to tell you a story that will make you believe in God’. This is a very dodgy position to be in because at the end of the day such a bold statement needs to be backed up with some serious arguments. Otherwise, you are seriously risking doing more damage to your story than it needs. It’s like telling your friend: ‘Dude, I just heard this really fantastic joke. It’s so hilarious you will literally die of laughter’ Then you tell the story, the story sucks big time and it gets really awkward. And I could assure you: If you had told the joke without all the gongs of how it’s going to mess with your head on a level that you didn’t even know existed, it would have made a world of a difference. Imagine, you just tell the story, the story sucks and you go about your day. Maybe you’d get ridiculed a bit. Or maybe you could play the story’s suckiness to your advantage by then saying it wasn’t supposed to be funny at all, or that some other idiot told it to you before and you just wanted to re-tell it to make fun of this imaginary moron who is now to blame for the story. However, when you make a bold statement that the story you are about to tell is going to change my life and be super awesome, it’d better damn well be awesome and unforgettable. And I’m sure as hell I’m not going back to a film or a book that was gonged up (or in this case – self-gonged up) to be phenomenal and in reality turned out to be ‘meh’ at best. This is the price for the lack of humility – being stoned to death by cynical a-holes like yours truly.

Right, so I got past the pretentiousness and the anti-climactic tone of the story. So, how in the world, one should make a survivor story interesting? What do you do when all you’ve got is a boat (or an island) and one character? Well, back in the olden days, you’d give your character something to do i.e. throw some kind of hurdles in his or her direction. This would maybe follow a pattern of crash -> sharks -> storms -> hunger -> island -> some natural inhabitants of said island -> salvation or death. That would be ok for a classic novel, where the adventures were the key to a good story. Now, in the 21st century we are familiar with most classical storytelling archetypes, so in order to stand out from the crowd of generic survivor stories you need to add a twist to your story. And by twist I don’t necessarily mean a sudden realization of sorts that turns the story upside down. No, there are simpler ways.

Two words – character development.

When you show your protagonist in a state of flux and let us in on how the world changes him internally (and externally, see “Cast Away”), the audience develops a bond with him and actually cares about whether or not he’s going to be rescued. Of course, when you start off the way “Life of Pi” does, you already shoot yourself in the foot because the character-audience bond is weakened by the lack of uncertainty about the character’s well-being. I’m not saying that you cannot build a solid character in a scenario presented in “Life of Pi”, but the job is all that harder to accomplish. And even at that, all we’ve got is a skinny Indian boy (who is skinny to begin with – being vegetarian doesn’t really help in maintaining body mass) who only gets a couple of blisters and his hair gets longer. No changes, no insanity, no nothing. All the possible tangents where we could get a closer look at Pi are dead end streets.

Why is that? Because the story follows the archetype of throwing adventures in the character’s face while somehow ignoring all the other angles, which in my opinion is a big mistake. First of all, we already know he’s going to take it like a champ and come out on top. Secondly, what can really threaten your life at sea? Weather, hunger and marine life… Let’s not forget about the kitty in the boat. So, there we have whole shebang: the storms, the sharks even the bloody whales and flying fish. In other words – nothing you haven’t seen before. Showing off a whale is not going to amaze me! It’s not the 18th century any more! We know the world, we have internet! God, if I want I can google the whale while in the cinema, which means it’s no longer relevant! There’s no ‘wow’ factor in that.

Gosh, I could rant about it all day. I really wanted to raise one more point but I think I’d spoil too much, just in case anyone who hasn’t seen it yet still wants to see it (no judgment intended). So I think I’ll pass, I’ve been flogging this dead horse for far too long. However, I’ll say only this: what draws people to see survivor cinema is the character. The more real and relatable it seems, the better the story. Dressing it up in animal costumes and biblical entourage while failing to show that a real human being is at the center of it all doesn’t make it a fairy tale. It makes it pompous and stuffy, thank you very much.

In a nutshell, “Life of Pi” is a sum of dated worn-out ideas wrapped in a glossy packaging and sprinkled with glitter. It’s pretentious and self-important and if there is any moral to the story of Pi’s ordeal, it’s that you can sugar-coat a crappy dish all day long, but it won’t make it any better. The coating might seem nice at first, but there’s still *beep* on the inside. A whole plate of it.

In the meantime, have some shortcake – “Black Metal”

It’s been a couple of days since I actually had time to sit down and type something. Between a job and a life things just sometimes don’t play the way one would wish, but hey. In turn I managed to have a think about what I might want to include into this little dollhouse of mine. So far, this blog has been solely a collection of my thoughts about films I saw and while I think this might be mostly what I’ll continue on doing, I would very much like to include certain things that would be recurring in nature and hence provide this blog with a sense of consistency (yes, columns, that’s what they’re called). Right, so between trying desperately to find time to watch “Life of Pi” before it shuffles off from the theatres, other important Oscar-related things that I really want to watch and then write about (“Zero Dark Thirty”, “Lincoln” and “Les Mis” say ‘hello’), my other piece that I’m to trying piece together (yup, that was intended) I think the next week will hopefully be super busy writing-wise. And on top of that, I really want to start this hopefully weekly thing where I would just highlight short films that I found really interesting.

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I didn’t plan on this in any way. The idea just dropped on me the other day when I read about “Black Metal” – a really good and honest short film that premiered at this year’s Sundance and is widely available on Youtube. It’s only ten minutes of your time and it is really worth seeing. I really think this very concise film touches on an important subject that is bludgeoned to death in the media, namely the music as an alleged inspiration for crime, violence or murder. Keep it in your pants though, no politics here. I don’t want to start a tirade on the subject nor do I think I’m qualified to do so at the moment. I just think that like every coin has two sides, this problem has a side that is rarely spoken of.

Just watch and think for yourselves, enjoy.

Is “Argo” too much?

I don’t really want to write a full-blown review on “Argo”, as it is for the most part in the limbo between the theaters and DVD release and it would be rather hard to just go and watch it now. But I do feel compelled to share a few thoughts on that film and it’s not exactly the film itself that I have the need to express myself about, but the potential discussion it may open and fuel together with the fallout it may bring.

Don’t get me wrong, I think “Argo” is a great story that really had me bolted to my seat. But it touches on the subjects that are tainted with ambiguity in a way that leaves a bad after-taste. How do I put this? The story that “Argo” tells is just bound to feel wrong. It looks as though it was a fantastic film material, but I really don’t have a clue how Ben Affleck could have possibly presented it without running into the same problem all over again – having the viewer take sides in this morally ambiguous territory.

It seems to me that Affleck had a really hard time trying to decide what to focus on. On one side he had this wonderful story of human resilience, determination and survival that in any circumstances – fictional or otherwise – would make a fantastic movie, and on the other he had an excuse to have a say on a subject that is widely discussed and notoriously abused for political reasons – human oppression, power and the global image of the Muslim community. I’m afraid you just cannot have the cake and eat it too. You just need to pick one and Affleck, sadly, failed to make that crucial decision.

This makes “Argo” a very unusual experience. We are fed this almost constant stream of imagery taken from real TV programs, we see actual historic evidence of how the Great Islamic Revolution unfolded, we are given enough background to understand what had started it and we are given the opportunity to see that there were no good guys there. This is what documentaries are for. This is what we usually expect from the journalists to provide us with: hard data, good research and an honest unbiased opinion. On top of that, I might add, whenever a wildly complex topic is under discussion, the viewer needs a bit of guidance, so that he does not choose sides, at least prematurely. Otherwise you are not documenting history, but forging propaganda. There are of course fields, where something seems ambiguous and very grey at first, but good research can at least attempt to find a plausible unbiased explanation. This is not the case, though.

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Source: pandawhale.com

So, when you get past the political and historic shell and follow the story, you somehow cannot help but root for the main characters. Why wouldn’t you? There you have it; a group of innocent bystanders who happened to find themselves in a wrong time and place are surrounded by violence and death. And as the CIA goes to ridiculous lengths in order to get them back home, the viewer is allowed to establish a personal connection with them. I couldn’t help crossing my fingers for them even though I knew beforehand how the story ended. And while it’s desirable in an action film or a thriller or what-have-you, here in “Argo” it feels out of place. Simply because Affleck (purposefully or not) right there portrayed the Iranians as the baddies and the Americans as the victims of oppression and I think that crosses the line. He made me subconsciously choose sides in a conflict where no-one is sufficiently qualified to do so.

This is the bane of “Argo”. At the end of the day, it’s the story that holds the movie together. The story that is very compelling, gripping and most of all – true. But it feels as if it was desperately trying to be a documentary when it’s the last thing it should ever aspire to be. While I do understand the need to bring certain issues to light, this story is by far the worst vessel for it. I think we do need to attempt to comprehend that The Revolution of 1979 cannot be spoken about in absolutes. It was a disaster waiting to happen, simply inevitable. Before we even begin to discuss it, it’s imperative that we try and wrap our heads around the sad facts of how people responded to oppression only to allow a different kind of morally uncertain people to take over the reins. However, it cannot and should not be put as a background to a story where the good Yanks have to fend off the bad Muslims. This subject needs more than that and as it stands “Argo” requires too much from the viewer. It’s far too easy to get radicalized while watching this otherwise great story. A story like that should either be presented in a non-emotional way (i.e. a solid documentary) or fictionalized altogether. Or maybe it should have waited in the drawer for a couple of decades until we learn to distance ourselves from certain things and certain topics crystallize into verifiable and unbiased history.

The ‘D’ is silent – “Django Unchained”

However I would like to slice it, I just cannot stay unbiased when I think about Tarantino. I just can’t get over the fact that this man in some way guided me through my adolescence (together with some other fellas) and truly ignited the love for film that burns within me. Or should I say, he let me take some of his fire and make it my own. If you’re looking for anyone who simply lives for the movies – look no further. Quentin Tarantino is the quintessential (Quentinessential?) film junkie. I mean he’s a real crack-head when it comes to movies. He loves his references, he winks to other film junkies out there all the time and he’d take any genre, bring it back to life and preach it. Say what you want, love him or hate him – but you cannot deny him that. He loves what he does and his work really lets that feeling sparkle.

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I think we all have to agree on the premise that Tarantino’s films are always kind of special. He’s not exactly a prolific writer or director, he takes his time, but his projects inevitably provoke excitement. What’s it going to be about? Who’s going to star in it? Is it going to be bloodier than the previous one? (Of course it would, I’ll get to that in a second) And most importantly: The quotes. Gimme them quotes. Maybe not all of Tarantino’s pieces are as quotable as “Pulp Fiction”, but at the heart of every single one of his films is the dialogue – sharp, fast, witty, dark, provocative, controversial, offensive and hilarious. And in this regard, Tarantino never fails. He kept the bar high with “Django” and he brought it home like a champ.

Right, so “Django Unchained” is in essence a Tarantino’s play at the western genre. It’s a story of a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who teams up with a bounty hunter Dr King Schultz (once again after “Inglorious…” – mind-blowing Christoph Waltz). They wander through the mid-1800’s America killing baddies in a quest to reunite Django with his wife. Yes, the gist of the story can be nicely condensed into two sentences. If you need more than that, you wouldn’t really be describing a western.

As I already stated before, Tarantino’s films are always unique. And this one is no different. You watch it and you know it has Tarantino written all over it. “Django Unchained” is not just a western. It’s a wonderful parade of fantastic dialogue, unforgettable acting (Leo DiCaprio – who is my personal favourite to take Al Pacino’s place at the right hand of God, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson… Let’s not forget a ridiculously hilarious episode of Don Johnson’s), gory violence and just about enough foul language to keep you giggling like a school-girl through-out the whole movie. And while on the subject of bad language, since the story takes place in the slave-driving southern states in the 1850’s, “Django” boasts a really exceptional usage of the word ginger. For those of you who don’t know who Tim Minchin is or are resistant to comedy just watch this and you’ll know what I mean by that. Anyway, what I think is very notable, is the fact that good ol’ Quentin has managed to convince me of the comedic potential of the word ginger. Yes, within certain boundaries it just stops being all that offensive and instead greatly serves to elevate the dialogue. Somehow it makes the characters seem more realistic and hilariously grotesque at the same time – or should I say more Tarantino-esque?

So, there couldn’t be a Tarantino movie without a massive pool of blood. And so it seems that my dear Quentin is either placing bets against the audience or pushing blindly in order to see where the boundaries are. So far I think he’s miles away from getting me to say “I think I’ve had enough, Quentin, thank you very much”, as the violence in his movies is purposefully comedic, surreal and cheap-looking. When you look back, you’d see that a trend emerges with his next film being more bloody then the last one. And “Django” nicely fits into this equation with its jolly fountains of really fake-looking blood and a slap-stick touch to most of the gore-containing sequences.

Overall, it’s a very solid film and on a scale of Deathproof-to-Pulp Fiction I’d give it a solid Kill Bill. It most definitely won’t become a cult movie (not to me at least) even though it is very quotable. Tarantino’s cameo is unforgettable as usual (but this time it is more, shall I say, bombastic). Looking at the Oscar nominations I’m rather doubtful “Django” actually stands a chance against some of the Oscar powerhouses like “Lincoln” – and having non-gingers calling gingers ‘gingers’ (wink) walk left and right on the screen won’t really steal the academy’s hearts – but I will retain hope while silently crossing my fingers for Quentin to finally get his Best Picture Oscar. What? I love a good underdog… However, I’ll be very sad if Christoph Waltz does not get the Oscar for his role because he is just about perfect. Again.

What more can I say? “Django” is a very good movie and for anyone who enjoys what Tarantino does to genres, it’s a must-see. And I’ll have you know that having watched it I am not so sure that ‘cool guys don’t look at explosions’ any more. Oh, no. Some of them do. They just wear shades.

The Oath… Why so serious…

With only as much as 35 days left until the Movie Christmas (The Oscars, cough), I realized I have only seen 7 out of 24 nominated features and that includes only the so-called main category nominees (which includes “The Hobbit”, “The Impossible”, “The Avengers”, “Skyfall”, “Prometheus”, “Ted” – though it was nominated only for a song, but still counts – and “Django Unchained” that I saw today). That gives me less than 33 % rate of success. If I include the remaining 5 full-length animations, 10 documentaries (long and short), 4 foreign features and 10 shorts (both animated and live action) that sums up to a grand total of 53 films to watch. And right now I’m sitting at a measly 13.2 %. However, it just so fortunately happens that many of these either are in cinemas right now or will be premiering in the UK in the following weeks, thereby giving me a good chance at seeing them before the Oscars are awarded. So with the internet as my witness (I am still talking to myself, aren’t I?) I solemnly swear that I shall do everything in my power to watch as many nominated films as humanly possible before the big day. I had never done this before, but I do think it would be a nice way to spend the remaining month. Let the games begin. And they shall begin tomorrow with my little review on the “Django”. As much as I’d like to do it now, I really can’t be arsed to think straight at this ungodly hour.

Peace.

“Following” – Christopher Nolan’s baby steps

This is not what I thought I’d usually be doing. What I mean by that is to try and talk up a film that in itself is not that great, but I really think “Following” by Christopher Nolan deserves some good publicity (Especially because now you can watch it on DVD; no Blu-Ray though, sorry). It’s definitely worth seeing but not for the obvious reasons. It’s not going to be a movie that you’d recommend to a friend for a lazy Friday night in. And if you dare, you’re running the risk of them never asking you again, unless they are film foodies and/or they don’t mind the shortcomings of the movie that kind of go with it.

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So, I got a hold of the disc with this film, as it was quite recently released, for one reason and one reason only – it’s Chris Nolan’s first full feature movie. I always treasured these little gems because of their inherent beauty. These films will often show you where the guy comes from. They will show you the long way they’ve gone through. A quote from “Forrest Gump” fits just perfectly here:

“My momma always said you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes, where the go, where they’ve been. I’ve worn lots of shoes, I bet if I think about it real hard I can remember my first pair of shoes.”

I’d go as far as to say that having to see someone’s first movie could be rather accurately described by this metaphor. It goes for directors, actors, screenwriters and so on… And in case of Nolan’s “Following”, you can clearly see the developing talent for story-telling and structure.

“Following” is basically a rather simple story that gets more and more complex in time. It’s about a man (no name, just a man, “The Young Man” – thanks, IMDb) who is a struggling artist bordering on a cliché. He’s unemployed, poor and is desperately trying to make it as a writer, but he has zero ideas on what to write about. So in order to tickle the muse within and find some useful ideas for characters or plots, he starts following random people around. Well, he’s unemployed which gives him all the time in the world to pursue this – otherwise rather unusual – hobby. He lays down some ground rules beforehand though, as he realizes that it’s too easy to cross the fine line between curiosity and stalking, so he tries not to follow the same people twice, or not to follow women down dark alleys. All he needs is to know something about them… until he meets the man with a bag. Because he’s curious of the contents of said bag he keeps following him around for quite a while. When the stalked man finds out about it and inadvertently confronts our protagonist (introduces himself as Cobb), he reveals to him that he is a burglar that breaks into people’s houses not to steal the obvious valuables, but for the same reasons that our guy follows them. Cobb just wants to see their lives from the inside. He looks for things that hold sentimental value to the owner and takes them. He invites our guy to join him in his “work” and that’s where the story gets more and more complicated. In short, “Following” is a story of a guy who follows another guy down the rabbit hole and while doing so he keeps disregarding more and more rules that he once used to live by.

Story-wise, “Following” is almost extraordinary for an amateur feature. It’s convoluted, gripping and mysterious. Of course, being a self-confessed cynic, I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t point out several glaringly obvious plot holes and short-cuts, but really this is not the time nor the place for this. It would just come across as a major case of douchebaggery on my part, because it would be almost comparable to criticizing a seven-year-old’s artwork for lack of style or uniqueness. You should know better than to do things like that.

And so, “Following” very much resembles a piece done by a child in many respects. The acting is atrocious at times, although The Young Man and Cobb have their moments at times. When it comes to technicalities, like sound editing or fight scene choreography, I’d better leave those alone because they come across as infantile and lackluster  However, bear in mind that the guys who made this film were complete amateurs (maybe educated, but still lacking the professional tint). Interestingly, the production and shooting took them almost a year because they could only work on the film during weekends, due to real-life commitments i.e. jobs and such. When you insert this piece of information into the equation and start looking at “Following” not as a professional film but as an intricately and lovingly executed hobby – it just gains a whole palette of different colours.

What is in my opinion the best thing about “Following” comes from what Nolan directed next, namely “Memento”. Looking from that perspective reveals that “Following” in the end served as the perfect training grounds for honing the editing and story-telling skills for a masterpiece that “Memento” undoubtedly was. The fragmented structure of the film, where at times you have to take time and position the scene in time in order to get a grip on what’s going on (and at times you can only do it by examining bruises on the protagonist’s face) gave the story an additional layer of complexity. And it doesn’t feel forced upon the viewer at all. It’s almost as if it was the only logical way to present the story in the most compelling way.

All things considered, “Following” by Nolan is definitely a must-see for anyone interested in good cinema. Apart from the reasons I mentioned already, it makes up for a decent dinner party conversation topic. After all, many people nowadays recognize Chris Nolan by his Batman Trilogy and Inception, whereas in my view, he made his best pieces much earlier. And “Following” fits very well in his resumé as a prelude for things to come.

Tommy guns, fake blood and trench coats – “Gangster Squad”

Having glossed over various reviews and seen the verdicts on Rotten Tomatoes I actually genuinely thought there’s something wrong with me, because it would seem I am the only person on Earth that actually enjoyed watching “Gangster squad”. There, I said it. Actually, I think the relentless bashing of this film that is going on in the interwebs at the moment is largely caused by the inability of certain people to stop taking it so seriously.

For the most part, the negative opinions about this film concentrate on the apparent glorification of nonsensical violence that constitutes a large chunk of this film. Sure, I can give you that – it is a bloody show. Then again, am I the only person out there that noticed the director wink-wink-nudge-nudging me from behind the screen the whole bloody time?

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I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back it up a notch. “Gangster squad” is a flick about a mobster from the late 40’s, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) that suffers from a violent kind of the god complex, like your usual gangsters do. So he figured, he’d take over LA and make it his own private little sandpit where he could racketeer, murder and intimidate to his heart’s content. So, in order to stop him, the chief of LA Police (Nick Nolte) asks one of the most dedicated (of course) detectives on the force (Josh Brolin) to assemble a group of daredevils-slash-knuckleheads that would give Cohen a run for his money, while operating under the radar. Thus The Gangster Squad takes shape. And the story goes from there… Does it sound familiar?

Oh, I should add… Point of note: As the first frames of the film inform us, “Gangster squad” is “based on a true story” (Oh, for the love of God). But I dare say that the only thing that is more or less true in this film is the fact that Mickey Cohen was an actual person. Back in the day, there was this guy who happened to be a gangster in LA and maybe the police tried to do something about it. Other than that, really don’t take it too seriously. It’s like trying to raise a point that “Jaws” were based on a true story because there was this one time when this shark came along and it killed a bunch of people and it was so big and awesome that they started telling stories about it… or something like that.

So, the question was, if the story sounds familiar to you at all. Well, of course it does. As far as I’m concerned, the whole movie is one gigantic cliché. And I don’t mean it in a bad way, I actually think that the fact “Gangster squad” at an atomic level is a collection of cheesy one-liners, bad puns, and grotesque one-dimensional characters all covered in a thick layer of fake blood make it into what I can only describe as solid entertainment. Let’s be honest for a moment: judging by the trailer alone I wouldn’t dare walk into the cinema and expect a serious gangster film. You want to watch a serious film, go and put “The Godfather” on, or “Scarface”… or “Goodfellas”. Don’t make this mistake. I’ll even spell it out for you: if you think for a second “Gangster squad” pretends to be the next “LA confidential” – think again. Why am I so adamant about that? Look at Fleischer’s previous efforts. Does anyone in their right mind think that “Zombieland” belongs with the horribly serious zombie flicks? (As much as one could say that any zombie movie is trying to be serious, but most of them do – otherwise they don’t stand a chance at being scary or at least disgusting.) No! Everybody knows “Zombieland” was a farce and nobody had a problem with that. But when the guy tries to make a non-serious gangster flick, then it’s too far. What is it, then? What’s the difference between the two? Is it the zombies? So, it’s fine to make a gore-fest of a movie as long as it’s the zombies that are gladly taking bullets to their brainless heads? Is this where the line in the sand lies? Dismembered bodies, guts, blood – the whole shebang – OK with zombies, but substitute the filthy, smelly dead people that moan and groan the whole damn time for clean shaven men with well-groomed moustaches wearing perfectly cut suits and hats to match – oh, now it’s too far. Now the violence takes the lead and every one of you critics out there fail to see past the blood because all of a sudden – it’s no longer funny or acceptable. For shame!

Or maybe it’s the “based on a true story” line that welcomed you in the cinema? Because that’s what happens when you see it, right? The seriousness kicks in and all of a sudden you’re physically incapable of enjoying a movie. If I tell you that “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was based on true events (because it’s just about as much based on a true story as “Gangster squad” is), then would you start shaming the film in the papers? Well, you should, right? Because had I not mention that, you’d even go as far as to call it a classic of the genre. Now that you know that, you’re somehow compelled not to enjoy what you see on the screen, because your friends might think you’re insensitive to human tragedy. It’s a movie, not a documentary. It’s not trying to be serious, so get over yourselves and have fun, for crying out loud!

Rant – over.

Now that I have soiled the carpet with suppressed aggression I can go and actually say why I really liked “Gangster squad”. I think it’s mainly because it has this subliminal thing that makes you think the director actually sits behind you and giggles the whole time. As if he was having a laugh at your expense.

“See this moron? He actually went and bought the ticket. This is awesome! Look, oh… How cute… He’s taking it seriously…”

As if the film was a big joke. And it is. It’s a superhero flick without superheroes. It’s “The Avengers” minus the spandex. Look at it this way: forget the fact it’s the 40’s gangsters and such and imagine that instead you have this boy band of superheroes… Or cowboys… Or super-cowboys. Just pick one. So there’s this team of comic-book characters, where each of them has this one quality that makes them unique. There’s the pretty one (Gosling), there’s the just one (Brolin) who puts his job beyond everything else (even his family), there’s the smart one (Ribisi), there’s shoot-first-ask-questions-later-man (Patrick), there’s the token (Mackie) knucklehead and there’s this idiot that tagged along who gets in the way all the time, needs to be saved all the time, but eventually pulls through to prove his worth by saving the day. There’s also a damsel in distress (Stone) – there cannot be a superhero western (let’s face it; they are both one and the same, ‘kay?) without a pretty lady tied to the train tracks – and there’s Magneto/Dr Doom/insert-villain (Penn) who is this ultra-violent scary guy going to great lengths in order to get rid of these pesky superheroes. Of course, every super-villain has his reasons for what he does; otherwise it would be too complex. In “Gangster squad” everybody has just one face. There’s kryptonite, there are boss fights, there’s a montage of how our superheroes plow through the lesser evils, there’s the final showdown, there’s everything a superhero movie/western needs to stay just about on the right side of the pop cultural cliché.

Speaking of clichés, the world in “Gangster squad” is just riddled with corny references. Every serious gangster needs to be doing his dirty work in iconic places, be it dropping a snitch into the river from the Brooklyn Bridge or getting rid of competition under the Hollywood sign. Every serious chief of police needs to have a voice as if he was a self-confessed alcoholic with at least 50 years of experience. Every department head within the police has to be kind of an asshole. Every gangster has to wear a trench coat whilst on the job. Every kill needs to be finished off with a corny one-liner. The list goes on and on… Normally, you’d see one or two of those in a given movie and immediately use them to smear the film with poop, but when you see them all in one place, you should know this is done on purpose.

All things considered, I thoroughly enjoyed “Gangster squad” with all its Dick-Tracy-ness. It’s well-shot and composed. The story follows a strict pattern, but as I hope I explained, I think that’s the point of this whole thing. I don’t want to go as far as to compare it to “Sin City” because there’s a certain kind of emotional payload that would have to go with it. It’s not a poor attempt at gangster cinema; it’s the noir with a pinch of sarcasm. What am I talking about? It’s pretty much all sarcasm with a pinch of noir. So I can’t agree with all those poor fussy schmucks who – it would appear – don’t have a sense of humour.