Tuesday, 20 August 2013

"Just forget you ever saw it. It's better that way."

Wise words from BRC in Mulholland Drive. So, OK, so I've been a bit preoccupied with the arrival of MS junior in the past weeks (not least the delivery room scenes which knock those Hostel or Saw flicks into a cocked hat - your reviewer is officially and irredeemably de-sensitized).

If truth be told, having a baby (while wonderful in general) kind of puts a dampener on those regular trips to the cinema. So where's this site going? I'm not planning on hanging it up just yet, but for now it's another hiatus. Life getting in the way. So, for the time being, here's a fun scene from my fave film. Something bit me BAD! Enjoy!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Side Effects & Trance

 Side Effects

And so to Steven Soderbergh’s (apparently) valedictory movie, a New-York-set Hitchcockian thriller with starring Jude Law as a smooth-talking, med-dispensing psychiatrist and Rooney Mara as his depressive, somnambulant patient.

Any description of plot beyond this leads to problems – this is twisty-turny tale that really can’t be talked about. As with Psycho (a reference point throughout Side Effects), nobody, but nobody should be admitted to the auditorium after the film has begun – and even amateur critics would be churlish to reveal any of the secrets within.

So what can we say? Well, it’s testament to Soderbergh’s protean talents that the film looks dynamic and just rather fabulous all round. Jude Law does perfectly well, as do co-stars Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Rooney Mara is a step up again, her catatonic vulnerability here is a very clever performance indeed.

It’s an entertainment, no doubt about that, with nothing really substantial to add to the big pharma debates. But when the film slips into full-blown thriller, it’s hitting fifth gear, and is a lot of fun.



Of a piece with Side Effects is Danny Boyle’s Trance, another visually arresting (and similarly ochre-paletted) twisty thriller, this time set in London and with a hypnotist in place of a psychiatrist. Ostensibly an art-heist movie, Boyle starts us off on some Ocean’s Eleven caper fun, with James McAvoy as a spendthrift inside man for gangster Vincent Cassell at a swanky London auctioneers; the film soon veers wildly off-track when a bump on the head brings about amnesia (yes, amnesia) and McAvoy forgets where he hid the maguffin (a Goya painting). Cassell and his gangster pals engage an eminent hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) to delve into McAvoy’s subconscious to find the hidden painting, and inevitably much more besides.

It’s unashamedly exploitative, though much dafter than I think Danny Boyle intended it to be. Rosario Dawson is ‘brave’ (read: naked) but really nobody is being genuinely challenging or challenged. London looks great and grim – a nice audiovisual counterbalance to his ‘Green & Pleasant Land Olympic opening ceremony, produced more or contemporaneously – and as you’d expect from Danny Boyle, it sounds good too.

But ultimately it’s slight and silly – and beyond the trademark Boyleian audiovisual whizzbangery, the story doesn’t really hang together. A lot of the film is mysterious and dreamlike, but it’s a far cry from, say, Mulholland Drive in its evocation of genuine dream-place. As with Side Effects, it’s not a plot that a spoiler-free review can elaborate on; suffice to say here that it gets very, very daft indeed. If you’ve seen it, I’ll just say ‘electric razor’ and you’ll know the sort of thing I’m getting at. Also, the climax has more holes than Blackburn, Lancashire and a very end nod to Inception just underlines how weak the plotting is in comparison with its would-be peers.

A disappointing:


Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas, co-directed by the Wachowski siblings (Bound, The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Perfume), is an adaptation of David Mitchell’s prizewinning 2004 novel of the same name. The thesis of the film (and the book) is a paraphrase of Russell Crowe’s corny Gladiator grandstand – ‘what we do in life, echoes in eternity’. Six separate (but thematically and literally linked) stories are told from different eras, three in the past, one in the present and two in the future. Boldly, the same troupe of actors - including Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent, Halle Berry and Jim Sturgess - recur throughout, playing different characters in different times, crossing boundaries of sex, race, nation, time and plane of existence.

It’s quite possibly the oddest and most challenging big-budget SF adaptation since David Lynch’s Dune – and without that film’s po-faced ponderousness or hatchet-job editing. It has its flaws (which I'll come on to) and I suppose is a bit of creaky premise from the start - but I loved it. I haven't seen a film with such ambition, drive and passion behind it for years. Novels are often (usually wrongly) described as 'unfilmable'; Mitchell's book comes closer than most to this troublesome definition and yet the film-makers have created something new and quite startling from the source material - in an entirely cinematic experience. It is pioneering storytelling, and in an age where ancient matinee gimmicks like 3D and shaky seats are posited as the future of film, it is reassuring to see directors testing the limits of the medium through true craft and artistry.

The Wachowskis/Tikwer are also saying something more profound about cinema itself: the relationship between actor, character and viewer. It’s not so deliberate that it becomes an exercise in trying audience patience though - enough is left for the us to decide for ourselves whether there is in fact an eternal essence of Hugh Grant spanning the aeons, manifesting variously as a bent Victorian vicar and a skull-bedecked post-apocalyptic headhunter. In fact, all of the performances push boundaries here. Halle Berry is as good here as she’s ever been; Tom Hanks (who finds it hard to turn down his ‘genial’ dimmer-switch) is less successful, but game for the try, hilariously mangling his vowels as an Irish hardman before defenestrating a literary critic with glorious menace.

Curiously, much of the film is surprisingly – intentionally – funny. There are some high camp moments, and high farce too – especially in Jim Broadbent’s present-day story strand, in an escape from a Scottish home for the elderly in the grip of Hugo Weaving’s tyrannical matron (and which circuitously inspires revolutions, centuries later). The 'hard' SF sequence in Neo-Seoul is a breathtaking echo of Bladerunner; the Cloud Atlas sequence, in 1920s Edinburgh is a contrasting sepia gorgeousness.

Yes, the directors are packing a lot in, and taking a lot of risks. But it’s just quite wonderful to see a filmmakers slewing off the baggage of decades of orthodoxy and asking afresh – ‘how shall we tell this story with moving image and sound?’

And speaking of sound, you won't hear a better-soundtracked film all year. The score, by Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek and Tikwer himself, is a perfect counterpoint to the photography of Frank Greibe and John Toll. Without music this lovely (and so simpatico with the story - perhaps every movie should be scored by its director?), it would be half the film it is. Huge credit should also be given to Alexander Berner's editing, unfathomably overlooked in the Academy Awards.

To be frank, I don’t have the measure of this film – I was spellbound by it, though my suspicions of greater depths, of a meta-narrative on the craft/art of cinema may be pushing it: I don’t know. What isn’t in doubt is that Cloud Atlas is a film of extraordinary ambition and vision. I can’t remember the last film of this kind of budget, with this kind of star power, that attempted something so different and unusual. Perhaps it doesn’t quite work; it’s a simultaneously a noble failure of storytelling and a triumph of cinematic craft. Either way, it demands to be seen.


Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Roundup: Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, I Give It a Year

Life of Pi

Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s breakout Booker winner (apparently deemed ‘unfilmable’, presumably by people who don’t get to the cinema much) follows the titular Pi, a young Indian lad, through a magical realist disaster journey, shipwrecked and adrift in the Pacific ocean, sharing his lifeboat with a full-grown Bengal tiger.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Roundup: Django Unchained, Lincoln, Mama

Despite being too lazy to post full reviews, I did in fact catch a fair number of films over the past couple of months (of varying quality and import). Here's a wee round up of three of these:

Monday, 25 February 2013

Oscars 2013 - prediction audit

As is customary, I hereby audit my 2013 Oscar predictions . No improvement on last year, but no decline either - a solid 14 out of 24:

Best Movie - Argo
Best Actor - Daniel Day Lewis
Best Actress - Jennifer Lawrence
Best Supporting Actress - Anne Hathaway
Best Foreign-Language Film - Amour
Best Adapted Screenplay - Argo
Best Cinematography - Life of Pi
Best Sound Mixing - Les Miserables
Best Original Song - Skyfall
Best Costumes - Anna Karenina
Best Documentary - Searching for Sugarman
Best Film Editing - Argo
Best Animated Short - Paperman
Best Visual Effects - Life of Pi