Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Film #8 The Dilemma

So here we go - the first genuine stinker of the year. I'm not particularly inclined to spend that much time reviewing it either, seeing as it's taken an unnecessarily-long two hours of my life already.

The dilemma is this: bloke (Vince Vaughn) sees wife of best mate (Kevin James, his wife being somewhat implausibly played by the ever-radiant Winona Ryder) in a romantic clinch with a tattooed Other Man (Channing Tatum) and spends the rest of the film wrangling over whether or not to spill the beans. In the background is a misplaced subplot involving car engine design.

Plus points: Winona Ryder's in it
Minus points: pretty much everything else. Vaughn is all saggy self-parody, James and Jennifer Connolly (as Vaughan's wife) tread water, Queen Latifah flails in a redundant role. The story is unbalanced, the dialogue is stupid (all of the jokes fall flat) and the tone is just a mess. Ron Howard, normally a reliable director, has made a complete pig's breakfast of this - is it a drama? Is it a comedy? Nobody knows, least of all the cast and crew.

Avoid.

*1/10 (and would have been 0/10 were it not for Winona)

Screening notes:

Relatively empty, nobody laughed. Hi-vis security guy provided a welcome distraction by walking up and down the stairs a bit.

Film #7 Black Swan

Black Swan is something of an 'event' film. It has been stirring debate ever since it opened the Venice Film Festival, and is something of a watershed for director Darren Aronofsky: his previous film, The Wrestler manifested the promise shown in his earlier films (particularly the unforgettable, relentless and undercooked Requiem For A Dream) and consequently he has moved from 'cult director' to 'major director'.

The story is fairly straightforward: a renowned NYC ballet company is planning a production of Swan Lake; following the retirement of the aging star (played with psychopathic gusto by Winona Ryder) a new lead is to be cast. Perfectionist Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman, the film's star) is among the frontrunners but remains to convince the tyrannical director (Vincent Cassell) that she is able to portray not just the meticulous 'good' white swan but also the reckless 'bad' black swan. Nina, in striving to achieve this (and under pressure from both her unbalanced, pushy mother (Barbara Hershey), and carefree rival/friend Lily, played by Mila Kunis) begins to suffer psychological breakdown and complex, vivid and often lengthy hallucinations.

Aronofsky has decided to play this story as a pyschological horror. As such there are a number of directorial touchstones - Hitchcock, Cronenberg, Lynch and especially Polanski loom large. Dario Argento has an enormous influence on the scares and there are echoes too of Michael Hanekes' Piano Teacher - another film about obsessive perfection and dysfunctional mothers. And I suspect Aronofsky has been disingenuous regarding the chief cinematic exposition of ballet, Powell & Pressburger's The Red Shoes, claiming only to have seen it for the first time while part way through filming.

It is a claustrophobic film - Portman, who the audience is 'with' for most of the film, is shot uncomfortably close, and the palette is oppressively grey until the blood begins to flow. It is also so straight-faced and histrionic as to be unintentionally comical at times; Kunis, supposedly a sensual counterpoint to Portman's cold perfectionism, ends up more as the ego, caught between Portman's warring id and superego and there is not nearly enough of her to ground the film and allow us to feel the madness, rather than simply witness it (and be warned - the theme of duality is thoroughly sledgehammered home; to paraphrase wise Ralph Wiggum, "the mirror symbolises obviousness!").

The special effects, particularly the 'plucked goose skin' (you'll recognise what I mean when you see it) are clever and seamless, with plenty of Fight Club-esque hints at the madness to come. Some of the frights are a little cheap though: "Crash-zoom-plus-orchestra-hit" does have its place, but alongside the more elegant and inventive effects they tend to jar rather than thrill.

Critics have claimed Black Swan as companion piece to The Wrestler, a notion which has been cagily endorsed by Aronofsky himself. I agree: both films deal with the psychological impact of over-stretching the body in pursuit of glory and perfection. However, I enjoyed that earlier film far more - it has heart, and a story worth telling, not to mention career-best performances from Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei.

That's not to take anything away from Portman, whose achievement as an actor, at least in terms of the physicality of the role, outshines Aronofsky's achievement as director. Portman is not the standout though (and nor is Cassel, who serves up a ripe slice of ham as the devilish director, exercising a creepy droit de professuer over his favoured students). No, it's Barbara Hershey as the knife-edge mother, taking a fairly stock character - the parent offsetting their failed ambitions on the child - and turning her into one of cinema's great sinister mothers.

If you've skipped to the bottom of the review you might be wondering how these patches of high praise haven't translated into high marks. That's because despite the innovative effects, the great performances and (it almost goes without saying) the magnificent score, the film just doesn't hold together. Aronofsky I feel is hiding his true vocation in melodrama (in the best possible sense) behind a bunch of tortuous psychosexualisms, some sub-Borgesian thematics and an intense seriousness. He is still one of the better directors currently working, but he is striving for the mastery - even understanding - of his own vision. In the end the only real question asked by Black Swan is: do we need an upmarket Dario Argento? I'll leave that one up to you.

*****5/10

Screening Notes.

I watched this at the rather incongruous time of 10.30 in the morning. The theatre was still fairly busy nonetheless; the largely female audience tending to middle-age and upward. Brilliantly, there were no ads, only trailers - although the painfully unfunny Orange spot remained. Latecomers be warned - you won't have the usual twenty minutes grace before the stated start time and the actual beginning of the film itself.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Film #6 It's Kind Of A Funny Story

A quick note on It's Kind Of A Funny Story. I came to the film with no expectations. I didn’t see Half Nelson, Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck's breakout film (and truth be told, I’ve never been a big fan of middle-class drug stories) but am aware of the good reviews and cult following the film achieved. I can probably be excused for missing the marketing as well, as there basically hasn't been any (nor any cinema trailers that I've seen).

I'm happy to say that it was an unexpected delight. As stories of suicidal teens voluntarily institutionalising themselves go, this was very good. Keir Gilchrist is a likeable lead as 16 year-old Craig and he is admirably supported by the usually-hateful Zach Galifinakis (who is undeniably excellent here) as his oddball-yet-kindly mentor and young Emma 'niece of Julia' Roberts as the self-harming love interest.

There is a wonderful supporting cast playing the staff and fellow patients (I'd single out Adrian Martinez, Bernard White and Jeremy Davies for particular praise); I couldn't disagree more with the likes of Peter Bradshaw (a critic with whom I tend to have divergent views) that it exploits mental health issues for comic effect - if anything it humanises psychiatric illness in a way that few films have been able to (One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest is a key touchstone for the film, and the eagle-eyed will notice a few nods). The story quite deftly avoids triteness through the use of much McKee-baiting voiceover and some cute animated sequences. It's admittedly a slight work, but it's so well-executed that the odd bit of syrup can be forgiven.

The music, provided largely by trendy indie combo Broken Social Scene, is lovely and we also have an early frontrunner for 'musical number of the year', with a cracking rendition of Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure.

One to check out on DVD if you didn't get the chance to see it at the pictures.

*******7/10


Screening notes – a few points:
1) I went to an 11.30pm screening, and it was surprisingly busy (about fifteen people).
2) Not so busy, however, that it was necessary for a group of half-cut latecomers to bundle in during the opening credits and take the their seats on the same row as me, including the adjacent seat. Cue much whispering, laughing at the wrong moments and the obligatory smartphone usage throughout. Thankfully they bundled back out again with about twenty minutes to go.
3) A pet hate I have at Mundo del Cine is the security. I had a hi-vis bouncer stroll in three times during this film, once deciding to take a view-obscuring walk fully halfway up the stairs

Film #5 The Next Three Days

Behold – my first genuinely brief(ish) review.

The premise is fairly straightforward –Russell Crowe plays a schlubby college teacher bringing up his son alone in present-day Pittsburgh after his wife (Elizabeth Banks) is incarcerated, apparently wrongly, for murder. After the final appeal is rejected and it becomes clear that Banks will be serving a full life sentence, Crowe hatches a plan to bust her out of the jail and leave the country.

It’s a remake of 2007 French production, Pour Elle, and mulches a few classic movie tropes – the miscarriage of justice, the caper, the policier, the ordinary person forced into extraordinary action – to create a tense and watchable thriller, with a few nice touches that raise it above the average. Even though the story does get a bit silly (and holey) at times and a few sequences could probably have been shortened or left out entirely to slim down the story – it does take a while to get to the heart-pounding breakout denouement – it is well paced with credible dialogue and unobtrusive direction.

The casting is interesting too. For me Crowe is at his best in non-macho roles – The Insider, A Beautiful Mind – and he is good here as a schlubby father distinctly lacking in street smarts (though he does revert to type in a few gun-totin’ action scenes). Banks, while an unusally attractive lifer, is also believable and Director Paul Haggis has clearly allowed her to be creative in her interpretation of the role.

The supporting cast is strong, with notable cameos from The RZA as (inevitably) a shady criminal, and Liam Neeson as a veteran escapee laying down the principles of prison-breaking to Crowe (NB -  it really is a cameo from Neeson; his name has been rather fraudulently plastered over the adverts and TV spots).

And I doubt whether Pittsburgh – practically a byword for rust-belt decay – has ever looked better; Haggis makes the most of the city’s bridges, hills and subways, rooting the film with a solid geographical identity that is crucial for escape-thrillers.

In short, it’s gripping and well-played, if a little implausible at times and at two hours maybe a bit longer than a straightforward thriller should be. Nevertheless, a solid film that is more entertaining than most reviews would suggest.

******6/10

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Intermission: the best of 2010

As we're now entering awards season (more on which later) thought I throw my own "best of 2010" out there. Bear in in mind that I wasn't doing this thing last year, so missed a few crucial flicks (and plenty non-crucial ones)

Top ten films of 2010:

1. Toy Story 3D
2. A Prophet
3. Another Year
4. A Single Man
5. Four Lions
6. The Social Network
7. Winter's Bone
8. Precious
9. The Runaways
10. Harry Potter 7A (by far the best of the series so far)

Bottom five films of the year:

1. Dinner for Schmucks (not just rubbish but actively offensive)
2. The Expendables
3. The Girl Who Played With Fire
4. Alice In Wonderland
5. Sex & The City II (I didn't actually see the see this, but the trailer alone gets it into the bottom five)

Top ten that I didn't see, but wish I had:

1. Bad Lieutenant
2. My Son, My Son, What have Ye Done?
3. I Am Love
4. Easy A
5. The Arbor
6. A Town Called Panic
7. Enter The Void
8. 44-Inch Chest
9. Monsters
10. The Kids Are Alright

Better than you'd think: Devil, Jackass 3D, Piranha 3D, Harry Potter 7A

Not as good as I'd hoped: Scott Pilgrim vs The World, Kick-Ass, Inception

Worst sequel: The Girl Who Played With Fire

Best title: Tied between My Son, My Son, What have Ye Done? and The Human Centipede: First Sequence

Worst title: The Last Airbender

Most pointless reboot: Nightmare On Elm Street

Ham of the year: John Ratzenberger for Toy Story 3D (obviously); honourable mention to Bob "apples and pears me old china" Hoskins for Made In Dagenham

Hollywood Central Casting stereotyped villain of the year: Big Sinister Blond Russian (The Girl Who Played With Fire)

Hunk of the year: Andrew Garfield (The Social Network), edging out the Winklevoss twins (also The Social Network) and Colin Firth (A Single Man)

Babe of the year: Kelly Brook (Piranha), ahead of Jaime Winstone (Made In Dagenham) and Kristen Stewart (The Runaways)

Best hillbilly: John Hawkes (Winter's Bone)

The Michael Bay Movie Poison Award: Zach Galifinakis

Steepest fall from grace: Dev Patel (The Last Airbender)

The Harry Dean Stanton Memorial Award (for actors who make even the worst film more watchable): Nicholas Cage

Worst Ending: The Last Exorcist

Enough already: Saw 3D

M. Night Shymalan Award for most implausible name in Hollywood: Mayhershalalalalalabaz Ali (Predators)

Worst pre-film advert: excepting the Orange ads - which used to be fairly witty but now are just utterly disgraceful and unfunny - I'd go for that bloody BT couple. Grrr!

Film #4 The Green Hornet

If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know the story. Spoiled rich kid (Seth Rogan, who also co-wrote) inherits family newspaper business after death of father. Wanting to ‘put a bit back’ he teams up with sidekick (Jay Chou as Kato, a role iconically ‘owned’ by Bruce Lee in the original TV series) to become a DIY superhero, posing as a villain to secretly do good, all the while pumping up his alter-ego’s profile via his own newspaper leading to conflict with local organised crime figure (Cristoph Waltz). A potential love interest (Cameron Diaz) hovers in the background, doing little.

Watching Knocked Up I came the conclusion that Seth Rogan - who is fine in small doses – cannot hold a film together. His stoner-slacker-wisecracker acting persona is funny but fundamentally limited. My view has not changed. I enjoyed the shtick for the first half hour our so – and it’s fair to say that Rogan and ‘international superstar’ Chou have good chemistry – but he just doesn’t have the range or the charisma to carry a lead role like this. The obvious and unflattering comparison is with Robert Downey Jr., a great success in the Iron Man franchise which was/is similarly silly and has a vaguely similar premise (i.e. droll rich person with no supernatural abilities becomes superhero).

For the record, I don’t dislike Rogan – though he is a one-note performer, that one note is generally played well – but he is out of his depth here as the Hornet. Nor is there a show-stealing villain; Cristoph Waltz – so good as the Jew-hunting SS colonel in Inglourious Basterds – makes an extremely disappointing Hollywood debut despite a promising faceoff with a young pretender (James Franco, uncredited) in the film’s opening set piece.

Jay Chou is a highlight and will surely go on to better things in Hollywood. However, his Kato never really settles into the sidekick role – he combines Alfred, Robin and Bruce Wayne in one character – and the confused competition with Rogan for the affections of Cameron Diaz (in the unlikely role of interning newshound) falls flat.

Oddly, perhaps because of the presence of Diaz (or maybe those green hues throughout), the film that this reminded me most of was The Mask, another big-budget action-comedy, albeit one with a more transgressive sense of humour and a much more capable lead in Jim Carrey. The Mask also had groundbreaking visual effects; The Green Hornet is undeniably well put together visually, but lacks soul, spirit and genuine invention.

Oh, and there’s the dreaded 3D. I’ve been agnostic on the issue for a while – I didn’t mind it in Piranha 3D and Jackass 3D (surely the kind of films it is designed for), didn’t really notice it in Toy Story 3, and actively hated it in Alice in Wonderland (a pretty awful film that is made even worse by the extra dimension). It is utterly pointless in The Green Hornet. I wouldn’t mind, were it not for two points: firstly, as a glasses-wearer having to put the 3D specs over my normal glasses top is a bit of a pain, and secondly, even with my sweet pay-monthly deal I’m still charged a solid quid-fifty extra to watch in 3D.

A note on the director, Michel Gondry. I’ve been a big fan of his from his music video days, and I’ve enjoyed his feature films (especially Be Kind Rewind which seems to capture his aesthetic and humour perfectly). While there are a few blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em Gondry touches in the visual effects and set design, this is clearly not his film. In fact, the whole project reeks of excessive studio intervention (mucking about with the release date, whispers of poor reception in test screenings, the late decision to retrofit into 3D)

Surprising, then, that the film has apparently proven to be fairly successful at box-office, in the US at least. To be sure, it has little competition in January and the fanboys will watch it regardless of critical reception. However, I predict that the sub-par performances, uninspiring story and disappointing visuals will garner poor word-of-mouth followed by a precipitous drop out of the top ten.

****4/10

Screening notes:
Early-afternoon screening on weekend of release. Fairly busy in one of the larger theatres, generally groups of friends in late-teens & early twenties. We were treated to two visits from the hi-vis bouncer.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Film #3 The King's Speech


In brief: Colin Firth is the Duke of York: Albert Frederick Arthur George (Bertie to his intimates). Bertie is plagued by a severe stammer; after seeing many well-credentialed but ineffectual speech therapists Bertie’s wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) engages unorthodox Aussie Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) to cure her husband’s impediment. After an uncertain start the two men become friends and make progress with Bertie’s stammer. However, following the death of his father (Michael Gambon) and the abdication of his brother (Guy Pearce) Bertie is thrust onto the throne unwillingly. Amid growing likelihood of war with Nazi Germany, the pressure builds on Lionel and Bertie to ensure that the British can look to their new king for reassurance.

Firth has been praised to the rafters across the board for his performance, and rightly so. There is much talk of Oscars (clearly he followed Kate Winslet’s ‘play a mental’ advice from Extras – his stammer is utterly believable) and of course he has just picked up a Golden Globe. But the praise shouldn’t be limited to Firth. Co-star Geoffrey Rush is usually your go-to man for big-tent character acting (David Helfgott, Peter Sellers, the Marquis de Sade); his Lionel Logue, while charismatic, is a more reserved and rounded figure – middle-class with a hint of an Aussie accent. Both give typically generous performances, each allowing the other to expand and contract as necessary.

A cast of reliable talents supports them. Helena Bonham Carter – who is quite possibly posher than Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon – is almost literally the manor born. Guy Pearce is creditably effete and feckless as Edward VIII and the lovely Jennifer Ehle shares the screen once again with Colin Firth as Logue’s wife. Derek Jacobi – another notable screen stutterer – has fun as the unctuous Archbishop of Canterbury.

The only real bum note amongst the performances comes from Timothy Spall – an actor who is brilliant in some films (Secrets and Lies) and ludicrously hammy in others (The Sheltering Sky) – as Winston Churchill. Admittedly it is difficult to play Churchill as opposed to impersonating him (Albert Finney is a rare exception), but quite why Churchill is included at all is a mystery – it’s certainly not a historically accurate portrayal and it brings nothing to the story beyond providing a kind of signpost for the historically illiterate.

And while I’m being picky I could also level another minor criticism at the film: its motivation. The film addresses the absurdity of royalty, but not really the legitimacy. As ever with British films about poshoes, the ‘common man’ is depicted as reliably quiescent. Even Logue, who demands and receives a kind of equality from Bertie, remains effectively a wise Jeeves rather than a genuine peer and in the end, we all tug a deferential forelock, even if only from pity rather than fear.

One further criticism, coming from the excellent Guardian Film Weekly podcast is that the film does not feel cinematic; that it could be a BBC Sunday evening drama. I applaud Xan Brooks and Jason Solomons for defying the (slightly bullying) critical consensus, but completely disagree with this argument. The cinematography and, particularly, Alexandre Desplat’s superb score are sweeping and gorgeous and everything that you’d want from a period drama projected onto the big screen. The set design also deserves a nod; I especially enjoyed Logue’s wonderfully shabby den on Harley Street.

The story and script are also top hole: the film is well-paced, the dialogue impeccable and the film has been edited to a perfect length by Tariq Anwar (who is on home territory, having also worked on Revolutionary Road, American Beauty, and The Madness of King George amongst others).

I saw this with the Significant Other in a packed house – in the largest theatre in the cinema on a Tuesday afternoon. The King’s Speech has been an absolute box office smash in the UK and Australia, and will no doubt make respectable money in the US (not least because (a) the yanks lap this sort of thing up, and (b) Miramax are unparalleled when it comes to selling the shit out of Brit-flicks like this). Not that that matters, but it is gratifying to see a well-crafted and entertaining piece of cinematic art getting the popularity it deserves.

********8/10

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Film #2 Season of the Witch

For the sake of transparency I shall declare my interests before beginning this review: I have an irrational love for Nicholas Cage, and will forgive him almost any cinematic sin. Not only do we share a birthday (coincidentally the film’s UK release date) but he’s done enough quality turns in films I’ve enjoyed (Wild at Heart, Raising Arizona, Con Air) to give him a pass on any number of National Treasures.

And let’s get something else out of the  way too. This film has not been well-received. And with good reason. Season of the Witch is purest hokum. Set during ‘the time of the Crusades’ in a kind of identikit medieval Europe, no concession is made to mere historical fact and is probably all the better for it: this is an anti-history lesson.

The plot, as if anyone really cared, revolves around grizzled ex-crusaders Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman teaming up with a motley crew of central-casting stereotypes to transport a suspected witch to a monastery, where she will be presumably get a bloody good dunking thus ending an unpleasant plague that has ben visited on the region. Needless to say, it is quite ludicrous and the dialogue - an odd blend of hail-fellow-well-met and broad 21st century Californian - is excruciating.

The audio-visual environment just about achieves mediocrity. There is plenty of green screen and pixels fly in the (unsatisfying) battle scenes. However, any techno-wizardry pales next to the fascinating physiognomy of Perlman and Cage. Both have such extraordinary facial topography – the horse and the bear – that they dominate every scene, eclipsing both the green-screen fireworks and the (oddly drab) Mittel-European locations.

The cast list, by the way is pretty impressive beyond the weather-beaten leads. Stephen Graham (who plays this with a bewildering accent that is somewhere between gorblimey Eastender and Brooklyn Jewish) picks up his cheque, as does Ulrich ‘Festen’ Thomsen, without hurting their reputations too much. Even Christopher Lee pops up as a plague-ridden cardinal, an echo of his Hammer days.

One hopes that the critical mauling won’t adversely affect the two younger players involved. Fans of Misfits (which I haven’t seen) will recognise Robert Sheehan; I remember his promising turn as an almond-eyed rent boy in Channel 4’s brilliant Red Riding trilogy. Claire Foy channels Linda Blair fairly effectively as the titular is-she-isn’t-she witch but doesn’t show anything like the star potential she exhibited on the Beeb as Little Dorrit.

However, there is little effective chemistry between the cast. The characters themselves are shop-worn archetypes – the sanctimonious priest, the wheedling peddlar, the saintly old knight - with the exception of Cage himself who can’t decide quite what kind of hero he’s supposed to be.

In short, this is not a good film. But it’s not offensively bad either, and if you want a bit of check-your-brain-in-at-the-door escapism you could do worse. Still...

***3/10

Film #1 - 127 Hours

Nick Hornby once wrote of Bob Dylan that, even though he (Hornby) couldn’t call himself a real fan of the man’s music, he had still accumulated some fifteen or so albums - most of which he held in high regard.

This comes close to my feelings on Danny Boyle. I’ve seen nearly all of his films and, on the whole, enjoyed them very much but if asked to name, say, my top ten active directors I probably wouldn’t include Boyle. This is unfair – he is undoubtedly an excellent and instinctive film-maker, with an extraordinary sense of the cinematic experience.


His key unifying motif – one person against overwhelming odds – has found expression in an very broad range of settings: heroin-addled tenements, the Solar System, zombie-plagued London and now the wilderness of the American west.


The antagonist is here is simple and amoral: a dirty great rock that has trapped the arm of protagonist Aron Ralston, a young and self-absorbed thrill-seeker, against a canyon wall. Ralston stays put for the titular 127 hours before choosing to cut off the arm with a cheap penknife in order to escape. A straightforward (and true) story that is tailor made for a Danny Boyle film - a personal transformation with lots of potential for grand visuals
Occasionally the hyper-reality of Boyle’s visual world can overstep the mark (e.g .the baby on the ceiling in Trainspotting) . In 127 Hours I found some of the camera work a bit jarring, veering from the sweeping Lawrence-of-Arabia desert shots to the kind of jerky style that would once have been described as ‘very NYPD Blue’.


Nevertheless his visual invention is unquestionable. As well as the majesty-of-nature stuff and the more hallucinatory flashbacks and dream sequences there are subtler techniques at work. We see a great deal of mise-en-abyme (in a more literal sense than usual - one for the literary theorists there) with Ralston's self-recorded footage. Boyle also gives us a ‘straw-cam’ a ‘flask-cam’ and perhaps inevitably a ‘bone-cam’, all of which takes us closer and closer into Ralston's restricted environment - a scrutiny that contrasts expertly with the soaring vistas of his fantasy-escapes and dream-flights (one of which features wonderful use of Bill Withers's Lovely Day).

To concentrate on the direction and the production values would be a disservice to the acting. James Franco is simply superb as Aron Ralston – he nails perfectly the blend of narcissism and joie-de-vivre and ultimately self-awareness. The script - which could have taken the easy way out and 'done a Slumdog’, alternating between the present predicament and life episodes relevant to it - bravely keeps the audience with Ralston in the moment, and consequently we are with Franco from start to finish. It's unusal for an actor to have to carry a film like this; Franco gives us a sustained masterclass in believable characterisation.


Of course, it's not just a bloke in a cave for an hour and a half - there are flashbacks, premonitions and hallucinations aplenty, but all are hypnagogic and rooted in the present. These serve to give context to Ralston’s transformation, which Franco deals with superbly as his narcissism gradually gives way to self-awareness. The epitome of Franco's skill is the perfect reaction as he looks back on his now-amputated arm still trapped in the rock, an expression conveying  relief, remorse, libertation and weariness simultaneously.

(Incidentally, much has been made of this auto-amputation scene with stories of paramedics hauling out nauseous journos in the press screenings. No doubt this is mostly smart Hitchcockian marketing; the scene is grisly and very difficult to watch (and listen to) but is certainly much less graphic a than, say, the Saw series.)

All of which is a very long-winded way of saying - yes, I liked this film. It's thrilling and, for a mainstream film, quite daring. The central performance is superb, the audio-visual world is compelling and the story is well-paced. On the downside, while the character of Ralston does undergo a transformation he remains fundamentally unsympathetic. Also, this is not a film of great depth and will not bear a great deal of repeated viewing. As a cinematic experiece and actorly exposition though, it is excellent and well worth...

******* 7/10

Friday, 14 January 2011

The rationale

Throughout 2011, I’ll be going to see each and every film released at my local multiplex and reviewing them right here on this blog. That includes everything: kid’s films, rom-coms, dumb action movies, the lot.

To give you an idea of where I’m coming from in terms of taste, here are my ten favourite film films of all time (at the moment) in alphabetical order:

Amadeus
Blue Velvet
Chinatown
The Godfather: Part I
The Godfather: Part II
Mulholland Dr.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
Paris, Texas
Three Colours: Blue
Underground

Nothing too shocking there, but an incomplete picture nonetheless: no Westerns, no Hitchcock, nothing from Japan, no Scorsese, no women, nothing pre-1970, no comedies, no Kubrick,  no SF/Fantasy, no Brits… what kind of a list is that?

Suffice to say, I love a film that makes the most of its medium – both aurally and visually – and I love a good story (though I’m also happy to be bewildered if the film is strong enough to cope – e.g. Mulholland Dr.). If it moves me, then so much the better.

‘Genre’ films are fine by me too. Some of the greatest films of all-time fall into the categories of broad comedy, horror, action, period drama and rom-com. Formula is fine with me, if it’s well executed.

What I can’t be doing with are the meandering, the mealy-mouthed and the inconsequential (Basically , Sofia Coppolla). Also, portentousness and cod-profundity irritate me (e.g. Sixth Sense, Away We Go).  More personally, I reserve a special dislike for those films in foreign countries where Anglophone actors speak English with a ludicrous Russian/German/etc. accent – a pet hate, but all the more ludicrous when ‘serious’ actors are involved (e.g. The Unbearable Lightness of Being).

Finally, as I’m going restricting myself to the multiplex, I’ll also talk about the cinema experience as a whole. For the record, I love a good arthouse cinema (props here to the Bradford’s Pictureville, Brixton’s Ritzy, Manchester’s Cornerhouse and the good old NFT) but most of my viewing is in the sticky bosom of A National Chain (let’s call it ‘Mundo del Cine’), mostly because it’s convenient and I can make the most of a pay-monthly deal that allows me to see as many films as I like.

More importantly, it’s how the great majority of us experience the cinema. So I’ll record all of the common irritations – poor projection, sticky seats, unruly youngsters, over-zealous security and so on, and converse examples of good behaviour. We’ll also get a good picture of the kind of films that get missed out by many multiplexes – often surprisingly mainstream films are omitted, and the odd arthouse flick might make it through.

Wish me luck.