Archive for ‘2010s’

July 30, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (2012 – Cinema)

“Theatricality and deception, powerful agents for the uninitiated. But we are initiated, aren’t we Bruce?”

I saw ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ a week ago but I thought I had to give it a week and a second viewing to form an opinion. I felt that I had so many expectations that I couldn’t enjoy it properly. I was over analysing every scene which was unfortunate as I found it lacking in several areas.  Christopher Nolan has woven many sleight of hand twists of character and plot into the film but I found I could see all of them coming from at least 30 minutes away. This started in the first 5 minutes when he uses exactly the same reveal-gag as in ‘The Dark Knight’ (Note the irony of my quote from the film above). Perhaps he thought that the plot was sufficiently convoluted that these would escape our notice. In fact in at least 3 or 4 points the characters pause for whole scenes to explain the plot and the character motivations, which is always unpleasant.

The characters themselves seemed lost despite the film’s 2 3/4 hr running time with Batman barely featuring (To the point where the audience I was with cheered when he finally showed up!). Alfred is relegated to a few brief scenes often simply to deliver information to camera. Gary Oldman’s magnificent portrayal of Jim Gordon also felt underused (But that’s probably because I could go for a whole trilogy devoted just to him). Anne Hathaway’s cat woman was pretty good but she only gets one decent one liner. Plus (After her seductively dangerous appearance in Nolan’s own ‘Inception’) I’d already cast co-star Marion Cotillard as Selina Kyle in my head, so to me Hathaway looked like a wrong choice in comparison.

So I left the first screening a little deflated but with a sneaking suspicion I was being over critical. Indeed on the second viewing last night much of the irritations I ‘ve expressed faded into the background (Although they were still there). I found I could enjoy the many good things about ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ with fresh eyes. Chiefly Tom Hardy’s take on Bane, which is predictably outstanding. He’s come up with a distinctive evil voice that’s part John Merrick, part Dr Evil and part Darth Vader. Imagine Hardy’s Bane saying the line “I am not an animal Mr Powers, I am your father” and you’ll get what I mean.  Also the opening set piece is astounding to behold, especially as you know that Nolan will have done it for real, eschewing CGI shortcuts. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a welcome addition to the cast as grim-faced rookie Cop Blake and I suspect an action hero film career beckons.  In the end the underlining strength of the dark vision Nolan has built across the first two movies means that the faults never overwhelm the movie.  In fact I enjoyed this second viewing much more and might even give ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ a third go when IMAX tickets become available.

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July 24, 2012

Anonymous (2011 – Blu-Ray)

“All art is political, Jonson, otherwise it would just be decoration… and all artists have something to say, otherwise they’d make shoes… and you are not a cobbler, are you Jonson”

The idea of making a movie positing the idea that it wasn’t really Shakespeare that wrote all those plays was a fun idea. But somehow it never quite tempted me to catch 2011’s ‘Anonymous’ at the cinema but during bouts of watching the Beeb’s superb new ‘The Hollow Crown’ Shakespeare film quartet I fancied giving it a go.

First off here’s the negatives; The whole film was shot 90% green-screen à la George Lucas and despite ebullient comments by Director Roland Emmerich on the Blu-Ray extras, you can tell a mile off. Some of the illusions to Shakespeare are a bit clunking, such as having the pale-faced baddie walk around dressed in black sporting a hunch simply so when ‘Richard III’ ‘Drops’ it can be framed as immediate political satire. This also leads onto the chief problem, that the idea that the plays are being released to stir up a revolution being barely credible.

On the plus side; Emmerich made the wise choice to have the great Sir Derek Jacobi book end the film with a Shakespeare style address to the audience, giving everything in between an RSC air of authority. Star Rhys Ifans gives a powerful performance as the troubled Earl of Oxford, the supposed true author of the plays.  The best thing though is the staging of the plays’ key scenes being some of the most visceral, full-blooded performances of the bard’s work ever committed to the screen.  These qualities make ‘Anonymous’ well worth catching despite its many flaws.

July 23, 2012

The Hunter (2012 – Cinema)

“It’s probably better off extinct, if it’s alive people will always want to find it, hunt it down”

From the trailer, subject and its enigmatic star Willem Dafoe, I was expecting ‘The Hunter’ to be all about cold isolation, looming death and mysterious nature. Those themes are definitely explored but it was more about the opposites of tender friendship, fragile life and warm humanity.  The exploration of all these themes is woven around the initially simple story of Hunter Martin David who is sent into the mountains of Tasmania to hunt down the legendary ‘Tazzie-Tiger’ (Thylacine), an animal thought extinct for some 80 years.

Martin makes his base camp with a damaged yet free-spirited family whose father has mysteriously gone missing in those very same mountains. He becomes a surrogate father and protector to the two children as they are surrounded by dangers coming from all directions. From the suspicious locals, to angry employees of the logging company, to distrusting eco-warriors and most dangerous of all, the powerful BioTech corporation that is paying Martin.  ‘The Hunter’ is melancholy yet life affirming and breathtakingly beautiful. I urge you to catch a screening.

Here’s the last known footage of a Thylacine:

July 14, 2012

Killer Joe (2012 – Cinema)

“I heard y’all talking about killing mama… I think it’s a good idea”

To begin with ‘Killer Joe’ is good, it’s very, very good. This is great as it restores my faith in Director William Friedkin who has recently fucked me off for two reasons. Firstly I bought ‘The Exorcist’ Blu-Ray and his commentary consisted of him literally describing what was happening on-screen. Now I love great commentaries from commentary masters like Coppola, Scott and Jackson, so spending two hours listening to Friedkin’s nasal whine impart nothing of interest wasn’t great. Secondly I purchased his ‘Personally restored’ HD presentation of ‘The French Connection’. It is the worst looking Blu-Ray ever released (As others will tell you) but he apparently did this deliberately to give the film a scuzzy, grungy period feel! It looks as if he soaked the negative in bleach then ran it through a giant belt sander instead of the usual 4k scanner. So like I said, after spunking about £30 of my money away on Friedkin films I was looking for a good return on my £10 ticket when sitting down to his new movie ‘Killer Joe’.

It is a dark, twisted, blackly comic misanthropic masterpiece reveling in all the central characters’ deliciously duplicitous, self-obsessed natures. The reprehensible redneck family that hire the titular character are so bad that they almost make sadistic murderer Joe look good! This is helped by Matthew McConaughey looking ice-cold dressed all in black like a devilish Johnny Cash in aviator shades. But as the film goes on it slowly becomes clear just how dangerous Joe is. This family is already in hades and they’ve just made a pact with Satan. I would usually associate McConaughey with godawful rom-com sludge so I can scarcely believe he’s just turned in what could be performance of the year.  ‘Killer Joe’ is scary, fascinating and shocking (No more so than in the unbearable creepy tension of the now infamous KFC based finale) so I can see why it’s dividing audiences but I’m resolutely in the “Finger-lickin’ good” camp.

July 8, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012 – Cinema)

“You seriously think I’m a cop in a skin-tight red and blue suit?”

I disliked the Toby Maguire Spider-Man series, minted ten years ago when Hollywood studios were just finally finding their feet with the cinematic language of comic book adaptations. Director Bryan Singer had scored an early perfect hit with his ‘X-Men’ adaptation in 2000 setting the standard for how to do it convincingly with integrity while still bringing in the blockbuster bucks.  But these where still the first faltering steps as awful films like 2004’s ‘Catwoman’, 2003’s ‘Daredevil’ and Ang Lee’s misjudged 2003 ‘Hulk’ all attest.  Horror legend Sam Raimi’s 2002 ‘Spider-Man’ movie was superior to those films but for me it was still disappointingly average.  It was light, colourful, predictable and inoffensive fluff that spawned two profitable sequels of vastly differing quality.  But despite all this I was quietly excited by the prospect of the newly rebooted 2012 ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, as new star Andrew Garfield is one my favourite young actors.  He’s already got several great performances under his belt from projects like ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’, ‘Red Riding’ and ‘The Social Network’ so I knew he’d do something interesting with Peter Parker.

First off, the good (Of which there is plenty); The cast are all fantastic and yes Garfield is magnificent.  He brings a fragile, troubled flavour to the role of the teenage super hero aided by well written scenes that you genuinely believe would happen if a confused young kid found he had superpowers. The chemistry between Garfield and his love interest played by Emma Stone is electric.  Rhys Ifans brings devastating emotional weight and perfectly nuanced ambiguity to his portrayal as the big villain. The CGI sequences of Spider-Man gracefully swooping between buildings is so beautifully shot and edited that its like a breathtaking aerial ballet.  The Spidey-Fu street level fight scenes are visceral, exhilarating and bone crunching (For both Peter and his opponents).

Now onto the bad; The great chemistry of the romantic leads is somewhat wasted as Emma Stone’s character is underwritten and poorly woven into the fabric of the film, feeling like a tacked on love-interest.  The whole high-school drama subplot is so tired and formulaic that to call it cliqued is an insult to cliques.  Rhys Ifans’ powerful character is underused and had me feeling that it had been heavily cut in the edit, especially towards the end.  As I said before, the early punchups are so good that the big expensive showdown at the end actually felt anti-climactic in comparison.  However these aren’t fatal flaws as they are more about a lack of focus than actual miss-steps (Nothing that couldn’t be sorted out with a re-cut). All the basic elements are there for a thrilling new franchise, so with a little luck the inevitable sequels will really sing!.

June 24, 2012

Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai (2011 – DVD)

“Each man has his honour”

Ever since viewing the awe-inspiring, beautiful yet devastatingly violent juggernaut that was Takashi Miike’s ’13 Assassins’ I’ve been looking forward to his follow-up. Like that masterpiece, ‘Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai’ is also a remake of an early 1960s black and white Chambara classic. But in this case I’ve already seen the original thanks to the eye meltingly gorgeous Blu-Ray restoration of Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 ‘Harakiri’ last year from Eureka entertainment. So I can’t help but make comparisons…

The first obvious difference is that Miike has shot his film in rich and vibrant colour. The palette of the film changes subtlety with the seasons and the mood of the characters who are at the mercy of the winds of fate. The performances are devastatingly real and totally heartbreaking and legend Ryuichi Sakamoto’s score is of course evocative. The problem is that Miike’s film is very, very similar to the original but not quite as good, by a mere fraction. It just hasn’t got the same windswept gothic splendour of the original monochrome ‘Harakiri’. Watch the final wordless showdown below and tell me the last time you saw anything so powerful.

For some strange reason Miike’s film is only available as a bog-standard DVD but at the affordable price of £7.99 I’d highly recommend it, especially as the original 60s film retails for close to £20.

June 17, 2012

The Guard (2011 – Blu-Ray)

“Who was up there firing that cannon?… The FBI lad, probably hadn’t had this much fun since they burned all those kids up in Waco”

‘The Guard’ turned up on my doorstep yesterday from LoveFilm after hearing many good things about it. Following many memorable character parts Brendan Gleeson gets the chance to attack a lead role with gusto. He found a character that fits him like a glove, that of argumentative, flippant, insubordinate and foul-mouthed Irish cop Sergeant Gerry Boyle who does his best to hide his intelligent and noble depths. Gleeson’s portrayal is so charming that it left me wanting to spend more time with this richly nuanced creation on a weekly prime time TV style basis.

Boyle is drawn into the hunt for a trio of drug smugglers by visiting FBI agent Wendell Everett, played by Don Cheadle. Everett is a professional, by-the-numbers man who essentially plays the straight man to Boyle and a whole cast of crazy characters. Cheadle does a fine line in exasperated expressions at the strange world he has landed in… the west of Ireland but it may as well have been mars. ‘The Guard’ is packed with huge belly laughs yet it’ll also bring a few tears to your eyes… a warm and stylish modern classic!

June 9, 2012

Prometheus (2012 – Cinema)

“A king has his reign, and then he dies. It’s inevitable”

I’ve tried my hardest to avoid learning anything about ‘Prometheus’ despite counting down the minutes ’til the release date and so entered the cinema with a refreshing air of mystery still before me. The film arose when Director Ridley Scott realised that there were actually two HR Giger designed alien species in Scott’s own 1979 Sci-Fi Horror classic ‘Alien’. Of course the so-called ‘Xenomorph’ has been explored in six sequel movies and countless novels and comic books. But the ‘Space-Jockey’ being (As it is known) has rarely been touched upon with the exception of one comic I remember reading a long time ago. So ‘Prometheus’ is a true prequel to ‘Alien’ but it takes the interesting decision of having a team of scientists exploring the story of this ancient and mysterious space-faring race rather than the acid-blooded creatures we all know and love.

‘Prometheus’s scariest moments explore the same disturbing sexual and scientific horrors as ‘Alien’. Indeed, the scene involving a bloody robot operation had me almost looking away but of course I couldn’t, as Ridley Scott had me transfixed like watching a disgusting Cronenberg-ian car crash.  The cast are good but they pale next to the masterful performance by Michael Fassbinder as the android David.  His every movement, facial tick and gesture seems like a creepy malevolent showroom dummy yet he also imbues David with a placid childlike nature that makes him a beautifully sympathetic character.  Those waiting to see Scott craft another gorgeous Sci-Fi visual world will not be disappointed and for the watchful there are plenty of little design nods to Ridley’s earlier film. ‘Prometheus’ raises far more questions about human existence and the world of ‘Alien’ than it ever answers so now I’m eagerly awaiting the promised sequel

May 31, 2012

Red Tails (2012 – Blu-ray)

“And you all thought what? You’d sign up, you’d get shiny boots, a uniform and that’d be the end of 100 years of bigotry? You’re colored men in the white man’s army. It’s a miracle you’re flying fighters in Italy and not mopping latrines in Milwaukee”

Despite a slew of luke warm reviews of ‘Red Tails’ from when it premiered in the US in January, I remained resolutely excited. This is because the aerial footage in the trailers looked breathtaking and because of extra interest kicked off by the controversy. I’ve already touched on that earlier in the year but it’s worth going into what went into the making of this Tuskegee Airmen biopic again.  ‘Red Tails’ has been a passion project for Producer George Lucas for two decades. But George’s desire to make it a huge $58 million war film always ran up against the timid/racist studios desire to not spend that much on a movie with an all-black cast. In the end George decided to fund it out of his own considerable pockets and turn the Directing duties over to ‘The Wire’s Anthony Hemingway who brought with him a roster of acting talent from the very same HBO series. He also brought in Spike Lee’s long-term musical collaborator, trumpeter Terence Blanchard who worked for HBO on Spike’s magnificent ‘When The Levees Broke’ documentary.  This is fitting as it was HBO who  first produced a celebrated TV movie about the Tuskegee Airmen in 1995 (Like ‘Red Tails’ it also starred Cuba Gooding Jr!)..

The movie tells the true story of the renowned Tuskegee Airmen who were a group of African-American pilots in WWII facing massive prejudice but who ultimately proved their worth by being the best of the best. They were so good that Bomber crews would request an escort from “Those planes with the red tails”, sometimes unaware that those planes had black pilots.  The only flaw I could find with ‘Red Tails’ was that it occasionally lurched into that kind of patriotic smaltz that American audiences seem to like but which to British ears sounds phony.  That aside, the performances are brilliant without exception including; R&B singer Ne-Yo’s charming turn as a mumbling Southern pilot with a love of music and chewin’ tobacco, Nate Parker and England’s own David Oyelowo forming the touching friendship at the core of the story and Terrence Howard’s performance was so intense that actor Bryan Cranston didn’t dare meet his steely gaze.  The dog-fighting footage will take your breath away, with the full possibilities of CGI being used to make the camera soar around the planes as they scream past your eyes and ears, it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.  The ensemble cast of lovable roguish airmen reminded me of another WWII film, a favourite of mine, the much underrated 1990 movie ‘Memphis Belle’.

The other day I saw an American import Blu-Ray of ‘Red Tails’ in one of my favourite London haunts The Cinema Store and snapped it up. The transfer is gorgeous, the sound rich and loud and the disc is stuffed with extra features including a feature-length doc.  However it’s disappointing that a film with this much excitement, drama and spectacle should first sneak almost unnoticed onto these shores on the home market instead of as the thundering Cinema Blockbuster it’s meant to be.  A limited release in UK theatres is arriving next week so make sure you ignore the Lucas haters and find a Cinema that is showing Anthony Hemingway’s astounding ‘Red Tails’.

Here’s one of the featurettes featuring the real Airmen meeting the cast while the Director’s mum cooks:

May 27, 2012

Iron Sky (2012 – Cinema)

“All presidents who start a war in their first term get re-elected”

The idea of a film about the Nazis returning from their hidden base on dark side of the moon to invade earth with a giant flying saucer powered by an iPad sounds like a hilarious concept.  Thankfully 2012’s ‘Iron Sky’ doesn’t just drag this one joke out for 90 minutes, it positively crams in the gags and references to famous scenes in past films mocking the Nazis like ‘Dr. Strangelove’ and ‘The Great Dictator‘ and the recreation of a certain scene from ‘Downfall’ had the audience rolling in the aisles with one wobble of the spectacles.  The cast have great fun with their performances including exploitation cinema legend Udo Kier who revels in his role as the creepy lunar Führer. The makers clearly made ‘Iron Sky’ with a love of exploitation B-Movies in their hearts but with their eyes set firmly on A-Movie production values.  The huge space battle scenes easily rival anything George Lucas or James Cameron could cook up but these guys did on a thousandth of their budgets.

The UK release by distribution company Revolver has limited ‘Iron Sky’ to one day in the cinemas which has been condemned by the filmmakers (You can read about it here).  The exception comes from the wonderful Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester square which is running it all week, so go catch a screening. Give this Indie gem your support because as the trailer says “The battle for earth is gonna get Nazi!”.