Archive for ‘Cinema’

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.

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 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 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!”.

May 25, 2012

The Raid (2012 – Cinema)

“Pulling the trigger is like ordering takeout”

‘The Raid’ is an action film built around introducing the ancient Indonesian Martial arts system Pencak Silat to a cinema audience.  The movie is a relentlessly paced, violent, brutal and thrilling ride with a very simple story line; Police raid a tower block full of gun-toting criminals and must fight to survive.  ‘The Raid’ left me totally exhausted by the end as the action barely lets up for even a second, with no romantic subplots and hardly any scenes pausing to dwell on character. By the end you feel as if you’ve been trapped in the block with the characters and subjected to a violent 101 minute physical and psychological assault.  The bone-crushing violence had me and the audience I saw ‘The Raid’ with audibly wincing and whispered exclamations like “Fuckin’ hell!” and “Holy shit!” could be heard as we watched the action unfold.  The breathtaking fights are performed by Silat stars like Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian . The movie is like a visceral blend of the jaw dropping martial arts fury of 2003’s Muay Thai flick ‘Ong-Bak’ and the choreographed Gun-Fu of John Woo’s 1992 Hong Kong classic ‘Hard Boiled’.  Unusually ‘The Raid’ is directed by Welsh-born lad Gareth Evans and it will be interesting to see what he does with a promised sequel.

Although it’s up against some stiff completion from films later in this year, at this point I’m naming ‘The Raid’ as my film of 2012.  However it may not be to everyone’s taste as, as 30 minutes into my screening a burly bald Essex bloke, no doubt vexed by the bewildering collision of images and subtitles stood up and shouted to the cinema “What a load of bollocks!” and stormed out.


May 21, 2012

The Life & Death Of Colonel Blimp (1943 – Cinema)

“Dear old Clive, this is not a gentleman’s war. This time you’re fighting for your very existence against the most devilish idea ever created by a human brain… Nazism. And if you lose, there won’t be a return match next year… perhaps not even for a hundred years”

I’ve been counting down the days until the promised re-release of the newly restored print of Director Michael Powell and Screenwriter Emeric Pressburger’s ‘The Life & Death Of Colonel Blimp’. So when I saw that Pressbuger’s grandsons Kevin MacDonald (Award winning Director) and Michael MacDonald (Award winning Producer) were doing a Q&A after a screening at the Curzon Soho last Tuesday, I had to attend. While acknowledging his personal bias, Kevin MacDonald introduced the movie as “The greatest film ever made” which in my humble opinion is almost true, with the slight modification “The greatest British film ever made”. The brothers revealed that Martin Scorsese put his weight and finances behind the restoration as well as George Harrison’s widow, who put in a million. It is a meticulous restoration more than four years in the making but it was well worth it as previously unseen (Even on its original release in 1943) levels of detail and colour can now be enjoyed.

If you’ve never seen ‘Blimp’ before, the plot follows dyed-in-the-wool military man Clive Candy from a young and energetic VC winner in the Boer war to a loveable yet outmoded old Colonel during WWII. Candy is played by perhaps Britain’s greatest and least known actor Roger Livesey. The seamless way Candy ages across 40 years isn’t all down to the superb makeup, as Livesey somehow morphs his whole body shape to convey the ravages of time. Across ‘Blimp’s epic 3 hour running time, Powell and Pressburger take in the themes of honour, loyalty, loss, love and most prominently aging. It is a film made in, set during and about war but it is notable that it contains no scenes of conflict. It’s actually all about how these conflicts tragically effect the people in them, while never being anti-war. It simultaneously mourns the loss of British chivalry as ‘Total War’ dawns yet stridently criticises dogmatic and old-fashioned military concepts. The miraculous thing is that ‘Blimp’ weaves all these deep and contrasting themes together while always being a warm and humorous portrait of Britain.

The MacDonald brothers also revealed a few personal recollections after the screening. Their grandfather was a Jew who sought refuge in Britain from Fascism so it’s easy to see the auto-biographical elements in the writing of Anton Walbrook’s ‘Theo’ character. The scene in the immigration office is astounding and the long slow close up of Theo’s anguished face will be etched on your mind. They also touched on Churchill’s opposition to the equivocal tone of ‘Blimp’ at a time when he wanted a simple message given to a nation still reeling from Dunkirk. When Pressburger heard that Churchill wanted it banned, he was greatly hurt, as he idolised our wartime Prime Minister with his lone stand in the face of Nazism. It’s a film that in 1943 just asked far too many questions.

To conclude, I urge you to go see this magnificent elegiac film while it’s on the big screen, although I’m hopeful that a Blu-Ray release will be imminent so a wider audience can get to know it’s quixotic charms.

Here’s a clip of Scorsese introducing a screening of ‘Blimp’:

May 14, 2012

Dark Shadows (2012 – Cinema)

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry… however, it is with sincere regret that I must now kill all of you”

I’ve heard a lot of bad reviews about Tim Burton’s new movie ‘Dark Shadows’ but I thought the trailer made it look sufficiently funny to give it a punt.  I found many of the negative points to be accurate but walked out thinking it didn’t really matter because I’d been throughly entertained for 2 hours.  The film is based on the cult sitcom of the same name following 200-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) as he struggles to cope with life in the 1970s and to connect with what’s left of his family.  ‘Dark Shadows’ biggest flaw seems to stem from Tim Burton spending time filming the characters and scenes he likes best rather than focusing on those that would make the film hang together.  So since he found considerable sexual chemistry between Depp’s suave Vampire and the seductive wicked-Witch played by Eva Green, Burton has her on-screen so much, that the actual love-interest played by Bella Heathcote, well… doesn’t interest.

Like the otherwise awful ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’ franchise, this relies heavily on the magnetic charm of Johnny Depp’s performance and he brings out howls of laughter from the audience every moment he’s on-screen.  Depp has a rapid fire series of gags about his confusion with modern times and morals with lines like “Fifteen, and no husband? You must put those birthing hips to good use at once, lest your womb shrivel up and die!” or when he rips out the back of a TV shouting “Reveal yourself, tiny songstress!”.  ‘Dark Shadows’ leaps all over the place tonaly, from those moments of humour to shots of graphic violence, then onto fairly rude sexual scenes.  So given that this is a 12A, parents beware, if you take your 9-year-old kid along they may ask you about the scene in the gothic crypt where Eva Green slips off her bright red panties and wraps them around Johnny Depp’s face before chaining him in a coffin… to presumably sniff them for all eternity!

‘Dark Shadows’ looks every cent of the $150 million that Burton spent on it with the sets, costumes and CGI all looking stunning.  The creepy effect at the end involving Eva Green’s skin has to be seen to be believed.  Sadly this big crazy fun-house of a movie runs out of steam in the final quarter which Burton attempts to cover up with big explosions, guns and an utterly superfluous Werewolf subplot.  However I urge you to go see ‘Dark Shadows’, you may spot 100 things wrong but you’ll probably be laughing to much to care.

April 28, 2012

Titanic / In Nacht Und Eis (1940 / 1912 – Cinema)

“An eternal condemnation of England’s quest for profit”

The story behind the 1940 German version of ‘Titanic’ turned out to better than the film itself. The film was supposed to be a propaganda piece showing the arrogance and greed of us Brits, supposed traits that lead to the sinking of the unsinkable. However the Nazi true believer Walter Zerlett-Olfenius who wrote ‘Titanic’s screenplay denounced his friend and director Herbert Selpin after he’d openly made some remarks about how Hitler was mishandling the war. The director was quickly replaced, imprisoned and was soon found dead in his cell from an obviously faked suicide at the hands of Propaganda Minister Goebbels. When the film was finally released the scenes of chaos and death were far too close to the nightly destruction that the population of Germany were facing from Allied bombing raids, so Goebbels had the film shelved and banned all further performances.

I imagined viewing the film now as part of the BFI’s ‘S.O.S Titanic’ season would be very interesting from a historical perspective, but the movie isn’t actually all that offensive on the propaganda side. An imaginary German central character cast as the lone voice of reason against an array of selfish British and American capitalists is about as strong as it gets. From a purely artistic perspective the movie pales in comparison to the British masterpiece ‘A Night To Remember’ but seems a clear influence on that film (‘A Night To Remember’ actually used some uncredited footage from ‘Titanic’).  It looks handsome enough but suffers from the same sort of deviations from the facts that weakened James Cameron’s 1997 ‘Titanic’.

To accompany the screening, the earliest surviving film about the disaster was shown beforehand. ‘In Nacht Und Eis’ is a short silent film released immediately after the real event in late 1212. This was accompanied by a wonderful live piano performance and the vibrantly colour-tinted print was pin-sharp (Remarkable for a film a century old) but sadly the acting wasn’t.  The wild gestures used by the characters (The first Officer in particular) as they gaze terrified at the sight of a small lump of polystyrene floating in a pond (Meant to represent the towering iceberg) elicited howls of laughter from the audience!

You can view the whole of ‘Titanic’ on YouTube here:

You can also view a poor quality and badly cropped ‘In Nacht Und Eis’ on YouTube here: