Ned Kelly (2003)

19th Century Australian outlaw Ned Kelly is a folk hero down under and like Jesse James or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid has been the subject of many films. Starring Heath Ledger, Ned Kelly (2003) recounts the life of this hero turned anti-hero. As a boy, Ned saved the life of a drowning boy and was honored with a green and gold sash.

Yet as his family was poor and his father was imprisoned for stealing meat and after he got out took to hard drinking before he died an early death. On top of this as a poor, immigrant family the Kelly’s were downtrodden and this shaped Ned’s worldview. He was arrested for bushranging. The film begins when Ned’s released from jail for another robbery. His views on the Law are established and harden police target his family. After a problem with the law, Kelly’s mother is arrested to smoke out Ned, the one they’re really after. This leads to the bank robberies and events which culminate in a historic shoot out. 

I’d learned of Ned Kelly on a walking tour of Melbourne. The film includes all the events which made him a folk hero — how he robbed banks and then burned all the mortgages and loans so that no one had to pay the bank back and how Ned fashioned protective armor for head and body to protect his gang and himself from police bullets. Ned certainly was clever.

Yet the film seemed to drag and lacked the wit and charisma in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but the film seemed mediocre. It could do with some editing and a tighter story. The writers seemed to have been working off a check list, drowning scene, check, bank robbery with burning the mortgages with a flat-footed line from the banker, check, romantic interlude, check, etc. Ned Kelly’s certainly got a dramatic life. Perhaps one of the other biopics does a better job of portraying it. I can’t recommend this one. It’s not horrible, but there are better things to watch. 

CSI: Cyber Crime

I caught this new CBS show when I was in Beijing. The plot was cookie-cutter and predictable. The character’s emotions were flat and simplistic. There was really little suspense and I pitied the actors in this franchise. Were they promised better writing?

In this episode the FBI Cyber team discovers that an evil computer genius has tampered with the airport outlets where people can charge their electronic devices. It’s called juice jacking, when the devices not only get charged but all the data is copied and sent to the criminal. In this story, starring Patricia Arquette, shortly after their data’s stolen, victims received a message instructing them to send $200 to an account or all their data would be put on the internet.

It’s a nefarious crime. I certainly won’t be charging anything at the airport.

I suppose each week, viewers learn about the multitude of ways they can be victimized via cyber criminals. There’s definite potential for drama, but the flat-footed characters would be hard to watch each week.

Price Check

price_check

I wanted to like Price Check starring Posey Parker, but it was just unwatchable. The plot revolves around a dull pricing department filled with people who slog through their lives getting a new vivacious department head with no common sense. She shakes up these folks,  particularly a man who’s content to just lay low in his life. This guy’s married with a young son and his home life seems fine. The film tries to be zany and stir people up so they “live it up!” I really felt it was a poor copy of Office Space or The Office with less heart, laughs and satire. I stopped watching after 25 minutes when Parker’s character invited herself to the man’s son’s Halloween party at school and took the stage. I knew that Parker is seen to be someone with trouble with boundaries, but I just felt “so what?”

Price Check will not endure the way Chaplin’s The Kid or Modern Times has.

Cemetery Junction

cemetery_junction01

I started watching Cemetery Junction with anticipation. Since Ricky Gervais wrote it with Steven Merchant, I hoped for comedy. I didn’t get that. No big laughs here and yet the drama didn’t satisfy. It’s the story of three pals in the 1970s. One, Freddie Taylor, who’s no doubt named after Frederick Taylor who pioneered the science of management, wants to move up beyond his working class status. He sees his grandmother and parents as stuck in a rut. He takes a job selling life insurance door-to-door for a company run by the father of a pretty girl he went to school with. His friends are in dead end, low paying jobs and their lives are rather routine though they have more fun out at the pub or dance club than their parents do watching TV like zombies. Freddie wants something more, for himself. He soon sees through the empty promises of his job and hopes to avoid the mechanical life he sees even those who succeed at his job are stuck in.

There are plenty of stories and films that address this dilemma and most are more interesting. I’m not sure why this film was made or whom it’s for. Earlier such works were novel and were made for the youth of the 60s and 70s who were struggling to break out of the routine the 50s imposed. Nowadays young people seem to be swimming in choices and from my vantage point it seems fine to choose a different path.

Blue Jasmine

blue_jasmine_640

Woody Allen’s 2013 film was Blue Jasmine, the story of the financial, social and emotional fall of Jasmine, the wife of a wealthy wheeler dealer. I saw Blue Jasmine on a flight and am glad I didn’t fork out the money to see it in the theater. It’s not one of Allen’s finest, though the actors do a good enough job given the script.

After her Madoff-like husband, who we only see in flashbacks when all was well, loses everything, Jasmine moves in with her working class sister in San Francisco. Shell-shocked from the fall, Jasmine hopes to rebuild her life and regain her status. She is ill at ease in her sister’s world and looks down on her sister’s boyfriend, who’s something of a working class caricature. In fact, that’s the problem I had with the film – it’s full of stock characters and although Jasmine spends a lot of time looking back at what went wrong and pondering what she should do next, it’s all so superficial. When the film started, I’d hoped for more, for a more serious version of the heights Allen attained with Midnight in Paris. It’s hard to summon much sympathy for Jasmine as she is delusional and the world she lost was so empty anyway.

The dialog is typical of Allen’s style, but that’s hardly enough to make watching Blue Jasmine worth the time. All in all, I found the film annoying and disappointing. I wish Allen didn’t feel compelled to direct a film a year. Better to spend more time getting the story right, than to offer us substandard fare.

The State Within

A seven episode thriller from the BBC, The State Within would have been better at five episodes. Jacob Isaacs stars as the British Ambassador in the US.  He’s had a stellar career and is about to move on to bigger and better things, when a British Airways plane crashes and terrorism is suspected. Sharon Gless stars as an Iron Lady type, Secretary of Defense. Meanwhile down in Florida a Brit is about to be executed and for two murders he didn’t commit. Soon we see political intrigue and a possible war with Turkistan.

The ambassador’s surrounded by villains and in the beginning we wonder how this is connected to the Florida attempt to get a stay of execution.

I was hoping for something on par with Luther or MI-6, but The State Within doesn’t attain those heights. It’s decent enough, but the story does drag and the dialog and characters don’t stand out. I actually groaned when I realized the series wasn’t going to wrap up after 5 episodes. I’d had enough. But I did make it through the rest, but television should entertain, delight and/or stimulate. It shouldn’t feel like a chore and this did after a few episodes.  The ending disappointed and I’m not sure why but it seems that the ambassador ends up with two romantic interests and a small child at the end. Huh?

The trouble with a thriller is your hooked. Even if I’m not having a great time, I do want to know who did it and why.

Easy Virtue

En route to Beijing I watched Easy Virtue with Jessica Biel, Kirstin Scott Thomas and Colin Firth. It’s an adaptation of a Noel Coward play, so you can expect witty banter throughout and a upperclass English setting. Easy Virtue follows Biel, an American divorcee and her new husband to his home in the countryside. Biel’s character, Larita, is icily welcomed by Scott Thomas, the husband’s disapproving mother. Biel can do no right to fit in. She sits on her new mother-in-law’s adored chihuahua and kills it. Then she tries to cover up the dogslaughter unsuccessfully. Every time she tries to help out she makes things worse. (Really? This was all rather far fetched.)

The father-in-law, played by Firth seems sympathetic, but he’s emotionally checked out of this family so he’s of little help (though toward the ending one can say he checks back into life). The husband just can’t understand why his wife is so unhappy and he doesn’t figure out how to make his wife happy though she repeatedly asks him to move back to London.

It’s not a bad movie, but it didn’t win me over either. I could see that Larita would have been smarter to hang back and see how this society worked. She did try to make some alliances, but none worked. Clearly Coward wanted to critique the snobbishness of the upperclass, but it was hard to believe that the matriarch would be so totally elitist. I think that’s because class has changed even in England and now things are warmer between the US and England. So the main problem I see is just that the film is dated.

Alas, now that I’m back in China I can’t upload photos. Ugh