Film review – Cars 2 (2011)

19 June 2011

Cars 2: Grem (voice by Joe Mantegna), Acer (voice by Peter Jacobson), Siddeley (voice by Jason Isaacs), Lightning McQueen (voice by Owen Wilson), Mater (voice by Larry the Cable Guy), Finn McMissile (voice by Michael Caine)The original Cars is often regarded to be the least impressive of all the Pixar Animation Studio feature films, even though it’s still a lot of fun and like most Pixar films combines a good dose of pathos within the family friendly laughs. It just doesn’t have the same high level of characterisation, tight writing and heartfelt charm as the others, in particular the astonishing previous three feature films WALL·E, Up and Toy Story 3. So it does seem like an odd choice for Pixar to now return with a Cars sequel, although the massive shift in tone and focus make it feel more like a spin-off.  The protagonist of the original film Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is now only a supporting character to Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) the rusty pick-up truck who is now upgraded from sidekick to lead character. While McQueen competes in races around the world, a case of mistaken identity sees Mater unwillingly becoming an international spy, teamed up with new characters Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer).

Cars 2: Finn McMissile (voice by Michael Caine)

Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine)

Overall Cars 2 has little to do with the original film and is instead a light-hearted spy thriller in the vein of James Bond films. Big action set pieces are mixed in with what feels like a never-ending series of visual and spoken puns about the film being set in a world populated by cars. The idea that Mater is a country-bumpkin car caught up in the adrenalin-charged and hi-tech world of espionage is also substantially milked for laughs. While he was a fun secondary character in the original film, as the lead character in Cars 2 he quickly wears out his welcome.

There are some nice swipes at the corrupt and ruthless behaviour of people who profiteer from dependence on petrol consumption, over more sustainable and efficient alternatives, but Cars 2 doesn’t have much more substance than that. The storyline is convoluted, the action is unengaging and the jokes in the film never succeed in provoking much more than the occasional smirk and roll of the eyes. The results are resoundingly mild. Cars 2 is not only the weakest Pixar film to date, but it’s the first one that can be sadly dismissed as not particularly worth seeing.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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Film review – Harry Brown (2009)

19 May 2010
Harry Brown (Michael Caine)

Harry Brown (Michael Caine)

Harry Brown (Michael Caine) is an elderly ex-marine living in a dingy English housing estate apartment. The escalating crime and violence has made Harry so frightened that he won’t even use the underpass near his home. Shortly after his wife dies, Harry’s best friend is murdered, prompting Harry to take swift and brutal revenge on the teenage lowlifes who have turned the neighbourhood into hell.

Harry Brown is a pseudo social-realism film wanting to be taken seriously and yet it is filled with grotesque cartoonish characters and a hysterical message celebrating violent vengeance. If Ken Loach ever directed a film based on a comic written by Frank Miller then the horrid mess that may result would resemble something close to Harry Brown.

The depiction of the young out-of-control criminals is absurdly over-the-top from the very beginning. Harry states that the young thugs simply do what they do for entertainment and the film is happy to exploit and then continue to perpetrate this nasty stereotype of the evil, predatory juvenile delinquency. This is finger wagging at the youth of today at its most extreme and reactionary. The young criminals are represented as either obscenely arrogant, aggressive sociopaths or pathetic, desperate junky scum.

Harry Brown: Harry (Michael Caine) and Stretch (Sean Harris)

Harry (Michael Caine) and Stretch (Sean Harris)

However, the film truly reaches fever pitch when Harry confronts a gun dealer whose scarred and tattooed body resembles a cross between a zombie and Frankenstein’s monster. To then really reinforce the dealer’s evilness we see him stroking his over-dosing girl friend with a bloody syringe before using a gun as a makeshift crack pipe for himself. Any shred of credibility that the film had is obliterated by this comically perverse sequence.

The audience are repeatedly told that the police never do anything and yet we are shown no evidence that this is the case. In fact the main police character D.I. Alice Frampton (Emily Mortimer) seems to be doing quite a bit and her non knee-jerk reaction investigative procedural approach to police work actually seems to be very effective. Nevertheless, Harry’s actions are continuously depicted as justifiable and the conclusion of the film leaves no doubt that the filmmakers want us to feel that his actions are righteous and worthy of vindication.

Harry Brown: DI Alice Frampton (Emily Mortimer)

DI Alice Frampton (Emily Mortimer)

Harry Brown is nothing like Caine’s classic gangster film Get Carter, where the audience weren’t supposed to like the character and endorse their actions, nor is it anything like Gran Torino, which was a film about redemption, bridging cultural divides and examining the influence of gang culture on vulnerable young people. Harry Brown is cinema for outraged talkback radio callers and tabloid readers as it revels in blatant fear mongering.

Michael Caine is great but at this stage of his career he deserves much better material. While some people may be able to laugh at the film’s hyperactive representation of youth criminality and just enjoy it as a dumb revenge film, it is depressing to think that there will also be people who confuse it for documentary and endorse its vicious outlook.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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