Friday, 27 January 2012

Movie #11 The Artist

First things first: all you naysayers who claim that this was last year's film: forget itl! A platform release in London in four cinemas at the end of December? No no no, I'm not having it. 99% of the country got this on the 6th Janury 2012 - so it counts as this year's film!

Ahem. So The Artist, then. You've probably heard/read/seen all the hype, know about the Oscar buzz and all the rest of it: in fact, the story of the film itself threatens to overwhelm the actual plot. Yes, it's a black-and-white silent film about the end of silent film; we see this end-of-an-era via a relationship between George Valentin, a silent star, and Peppy Miller, an ingenue who stumbles into talkie stardom.

So should you believe the hype? Well, yes, I think so. There's been a fair amount of backlash to the film as well, accusing it of being a mere novelty, a short film experiment extended beyond its natural bounds. I disagree. The story - itself a classically composed plot - is charming and lovely. Despite the absence of dialogue, it's a well composed screenplay; every scene drives the story forward in some way, everything is necessary - and it's often very funny too.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Movie #10 The Sitter

In which Jonah Hill plays the titular sitter, a twenty-something unemployed layabout looking to earn a bit of spare cash by babysitting the troublesome children of a voluptuous family friend. All of which is essentially an excuse to make lots of very, very silly jokes.

Coming from the good folks who delivered Pineapple Express, aimed squarely at the stoner-slacker demographic (to whom Hollywood caters somewhat disproportionately) and bereft of major stars (Hill, while a decent sort, is not leading-man material), this is not, on the face of it, particularly appealing. However, after struggling through a couple of humourless, two-hour-plus wannabe heavyweights (see here and here), The Sitter’s light-hearted irreverence and highly economical 83-minute runtime actually came as a blessed relief.

To call it ‘slight’ would be to overstate its heft; this really is a cavalcade of brainless quick and dirty laughs – there’s nothing clever or original here, and a lot of it isn’t even that funny. But – I did laugh occasionally, I wasn’t bored and while I wasn’t challenged either, that’s not always what we look for in a film. Sometimes we just want to switch off and have someone make you giggle. If you’re in that kind of mood, and you’re not immediately turned off by a plot involving a daft drug deal, lots of gratuitous swearing, racial/cultural stereotyping (I think it stays just about on the right side of the line here) and scatological/sexual humour, then you might enjoy The Sitter. Just don’t expect to respect yourself the morning after.


Sunday, 22 January 2012

Movie #9 J. Edgar

Clint Eastwood's latest film is a chance to redeem himself of the mess that was last year's Hereafter, a Matt Damon vehicle that fair stank out the cinema. This time Leonardo Di Caprio is the star, playing J. Edgar Hoover, founder and long-serving director of the FBI (and all-round oddball), as we follow his controversial career from ambitious upperclassman in the twenties to his eventual death in 1972.

Essentially a love story dressed as a biopic, the crux of the film is the chaste, unspoken but passionate homosexual relationship between Hoover and his second-in-command Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer, just one of him this time). At lot has been made of the homoeroticism in the film; Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (who penned Milk) commendably step off the fence, going beyond the expected nudges and winks.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Movie #8 W.E.

In a previous life I used to work in the book trade; non-book friends would assume that I reserved my professional ire for the kind of books that clog up airport lounges: the misery memoirs, the Da Vinci Code ripoffs, the chick-lit. In fact not. These books, while not my cup of tea, service a legitimate market and deserve their place on the shelf. No, what got my goat where the multitudes of books that got published not through their quality or marketability, but because the aspirant author clearly knew-someone-who-knew-someone. Of course, that's the way things go sometimes, but the fact is a lot of stuff gets printed that is of little worth artistically or commercially, taking up editorial expertise and marketing budgets that could have been far better spent on projects procured on merit.

The movie business, which releases far fewer individual packages and thus subjects them to greater scrutiny, tends to suffer less from this, but every now and again a film like W.E. comes along. It's not quite a direct parallel, but the similarities are there. Plainly this film would never have been made, nor the script ever considered, were pop-star Madonna not behind it (directing and co-writing). It's probably not pushing things too far to call this a vanity project. The ostensible subject - Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee vilified by the British press for taking up with King Edward VIII, precipitating his abdication - has an obvious personal resonance (Andrea Riseborough in the lead bears a striking resemblance to La Ciccone), and the concurrent plotline in late-90s Manhattan gives us a Madge-proxy in Abbie Cornish, who is obsessed with and, ludicrously, chats to Wallis (in her head, presumably, though this is not clear) when not falling in love with dishy security guard Oscar Isaac.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Movie #7 Haywire

Steven Soderbergh is a peculiar director; almost Miike-esque in his productivity, his work tends to fall into either the 'payday entertainments' or the 'arthouse cool' category. This is much toward the former as you can get. The main star is a mixed-martial-artist for heaven's sake - not exactly what you'd have had in store for the director of sex, lies and videotape, but there you go.

I'll keep this one fairly brief anyway. It's a kind of Bourne-ish globetrotting action drama; Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is the person who does the CIA's dirty work for them yadayadayada; in fact the plot doesn't really matter. Suffice for me to tell you that there are plenty of gunfights, scrapping, whizzing, banging and popping to keep you plenty entertained with challenging you one iota (unless you're such a knuckle-scraper that having a woman as lead in an action movie constitutes 'edgy'). Actually, because Soderbergh plays it completely straight makes the film more successful than, say, last year's Hanna or 2010's Salt precisely because it eschews any cod-arthouse shenanigans and sticks resolutely to the action. And clocking at a tight and highly Slut-approved 93 minutes, I enjoyed this a fair bit, or at least I think I did - I picked up my brain along with my coat, hat and umbrella on leaving.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Movie #6 Margin Call

 Another quickie, and behold - the first film that I've gone out of my way to pay to see (for the uninitiated, I get to see so many movies because I do a pay monthly deal with one of the big cinema chains. Fifteen quid a month; I get my money's worth). I played away at the Printworks Odeon in Manchester, a cinematic machine so rapaciously commercial in it's pricing structure, concessions and extra-money-for-better-seats fiddles that it makes my local Cineworld look more like the Cinema Paradiso. But I really wanted to see Margin Call - the cast list is packed with actors I admire, and the whole film has a kind of Glengarry Glen Ross appeal; zippy dialogue, intelligent plot, angry people in small rooms, Kevin Spacey and so on - all commendable stuff.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Intermission: How to Sell a Banksy - available to rent or buy!

Last year I linked to a fascinating work-in-progress, for fans of Exit Through the Gift Shop, and, well, documentary films in general. It was completed and released a couple of weeks ago and I urge anyone reading this to take a look.

The website is here

Support independent film, kids. It's good.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Movie #5 The Darkest Hour

It's quite rare these days for me to be able to go into a film with very little idea of what the film is that I'm seeing - I will usually at least have seen trailers and TV spots, as well as picking up on the more geeky blogosphere (yup, I said it) hype or buildup. But in the case of The Darkest Hour I knew very little indeed, beyond the fact that (a) it's about aliens, and (b) that bloke behind Night Watch, the Russian vampire movie was involved somehow.

So: in short, aliens - invisible ones! - have invaded modern-day Moscow. Four young Western tourists find themselves in the midst of a life-and-death struggle for survival as they are hunted down by these seemingly-invincible aliens through abandon Muscovite cellars and shopping malls. I might as well stop there, to be honest: this is pure b-movie schlock, with little pretence to anything more.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Movie #4 Goon

Just a quickie on this. Sean William Scott plays Doug 'the thug' Glatt a good-hearted/dim-witted bouncer-turned-ice-hockey-'enforcer' (the guy who beats the opposition players up); his remarkable team-spirit and talent for violence result in a move to the big(ish) league, becoming a cult hero in the process, leading in turn to an inevitable show-down with legendary ageing enforcer Ross 'the boss' Rhea (Liev Schreiber).

Pitched somewhere between Dodgeball and last year's Win/Win, Goon is a surprisingly warm-hearted and well-balanced comedy. There is a fair dollop of the gross-out stuff, but it's evened out by genuine wit and some surprising cultural sensitivity, as well as an oddly charming romance between Scott and Alison Pill. Scott himself is very funny in an understated performance, Schreiber is convincingly grizzled and the supporting cast of hockey-world stereotypes - the Russian import, the moustachioed Canuck (from Regina, Saskatchewan of course!), the flamboyant Quebecois - are lovingly drawn by writers Evan Goldberg and Jay Baruchel (who also co-stars as an anarchic fanboy best friend).

Speaking of the writing, beyond being a well-crafted story, there are some really great gags in the film too. I won't spoil any here, but suffice to say that you don't need to be a hockey fan to understand any of them. In fact, I'm a complete hockey neophyte, but enjoyed this film very much in spite of some initial reservations. Slight, certainly, but it's got plenty of laughs and plenty of heart. Recommended.


Saturday, 14 January 2012

Movie #3 War Horse

On the fabby Big Thoughts from a Small Mind blog, writer CS likes to play a regular game called 'which is better?' (my old work colleagues once had a similar routine called 'who'd you rather?', but that's another story) - a simple concept, taking two well-known actors or directors who have comparable yet contrasting reputations and asking - well, which is better? 

Of the more recent contests, the one that gave me pause for thought was between Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg; two divergent titans of the New Hollywood. After some considerable thought, I had to come down on Team Marty, but not without some painful internal justifications: hasn't Spielberg given us some of the best moments of our lives, from giant sharks and bullwhips to glowing fingers and red dresses? Yes, but he's had his fair share of down points too; there hasn't really been a really great film since his Schindler's List/Jurassic Park bumper year of 1993 (though I confess to seeing neither Munich nor the recent Tintin film); A.I. and Saving Private Ryan both had strong elements but were basically flawed, The Terminal was poor and Indy 4 was a frank abomination (of course, as one of the greatest directors of all time, we hold him to high standards). But c'mon: Jaws? CE3K? E.T.? Raiders (and the other two)? Duel? Empire of the Sun? Undoubtedly some of the best times you could ever have in the cinema. But where does War Horse fit in?

Friday, 13 January 2012

Movie #2 The Iron Lady

Before I begin this review, I should come clean and, like a good politician, register my interests and be clear from the outset on how Thatcher is viewed chez Slut.

So: background. I grew up in the coal-mining region of South Yorkshire in the 1980s which was lain waste by Thatcher's divisive Conservative government; mines were closed, striking miners were brutalized by a police force that was a damn sight less soft-touch than in the 2011 riots. Some of my earliest memories are of being taken to support rallies by my resolutely leftie parents. Many of the villages and communities local to me were devastated by the closure of the mines, and still haven't recovered economically from the loss of the single most significant employer, nor have they recovered psychically from the brutal nature of the closures. So to me Margaret Thatcher is a kind of folk devil - she's The Milk Snatcher (the opening scene sneakily alludes to this moniker, derived from her cutting of the free milk ration for school children), she's 'Thatcher', never 'Margaret', though sometimes 'Maggie' - as in: "MAGGIE MAGGIE MAGGIE! OUT OUT OUT!"

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Movie #1 Shame

It's New York, the present, and Brandon (Michael Fassbender) has his strictly compartmentalised double-life - a successful executive publicly, a leg-twitching sex addict privately - compromised when his damaged and volatile younger sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) moves in to his flat unbidden. What follows is a somewhat episodic (and fairly graphic) sequence of events illustrating the implosion and explosion respectively of the brother and sister.

I had singled Shame out as my most anticipated film of the first quarter of 2012 (due in most part to the two principle actors and director Steve McQueen) and... it hasn't really lived up to my expectations. That's not to say there's not a lot in here to like - or even love - but there are some pretty fundamental issues that prevent a whole-hearted recommendation.

I'll talk about the film's major problem before getting into the (multiple) positives: it's the story. I don't like to spoil plot points, so I won't, but at the end of this film - after a great deal of intensity and drama - my overwhelming feeling was 'well, what was the point of that?' - or, more obliquely, to quote one of the film's saner characters: "what's the point of us being here if we don't mean anything to each other?". So much of this film is style and gorgeousity, yet the absence of beginning-middle-end (by no means something that I require in a film) ultimately leaves it heartless. This isn't to slap the writing around too much - the dialogue is excellent, in fact, and the balance and composition of the individual scenes is superb. But that's just not enough when you're telling an audience a story. In the end you just feel empty, spent and unsatisfied - probably not unlike a sex addict, in fact (which may be the point, though I would hope not).

Monday, 2 January 2012

Intermission: 2012: first quarter preview

 2012 has a fair few cinematic delights in store, not least the first Hobbit film, Sam Mendes's Bond treatment Skyfall and the forthcoming Ridley Scott epic Prometheus, among others.

For now though I'll just look forward to the next three months: here's my top five most-anticipated for the first quarter of 2012:

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Intermission: Slut Manifesto #2: 2012

Welcome to 2012...

It was a significant, eventful and, in the end, largely good 2011 for me. Since beginning this project I've got engaged to a gorgeous cinephile feminist, lost 70 lbs of body fat, taken up kung-fu, become vegetarian, cycled over 5,000 miles, visited sub-Saharan Africa and secured a new, permanent job. I also saw seventy-four pictures at the 'plex (some of them more than once).

However, there's no doubt that I didn't come close to meeting my self-inflicted remit. Seventy-four films in a year is a lot by any normal person's standard, but it's less than half of my intended viewing. This is largely down to employment insecurity: it's hard to justify spending hours in the cinema every week when you're also looking for a job. And, to be frank, there were times when I just couldn't face sitting through yet another 3/4/5-out-of-10 film, as so many of the year's offerings turned out to be (incidentally, the average mark I gave last year was 5.08; the most commonly awarded rating was 4/10).

So, a new year, a new set of rules: