Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Movie #20 Rampart

I have in my head a perfect cast list. It's not composed rationally, nor with any particular story in mind. But imagine a film-geek heaven in which a magnificently scripted, directed and produced feature plays forever, this is the roll-call. John Goodman's on there. So is Nicholas Cage. So is Sharon Stone. Rampart, extraordinarily for a non-Coen film, contains three more: Woody Harrelson, Sigourney Weaver and (albeit briefly) Steve Buscemi.

But what is Rampart? Set in the eponymous LA police district in the late nineties, it's essentially a character piece focusing on Dave Brown (Harrelson), a racist, sexist, violent and corrupt beat cop who epitomises the very characteristics with which the LAPD wished to disassociate itself at that time. Brown's home life is no less complex. He lives with two sisters with whom he has a child each; despite a flickering relationship with both, he also picks up women from a sleazy nightclub. Beyond drinking and chainsmoking, he enjoys occasional pill-binges; uppers and downers to balance him on the tightrope.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Intermission: Oscar Audit 2012

As promised, an quick audit of my 2012 Oscar predictions. Last time around, I picked eleven correctly from twenty predictions. Has a year's worth of movie watching increaded my accuracy? Er... slightly; 14 out of 24, including:

Best Picture: The Artist
Best Actress: Meryl Streep
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer
Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation
Best Animation: Rango
Best Original Screenplay: Woody Allen
Best Art Direction: Hugo
Best Sound Editing: Hugo
Best Song: Man or Muppet
Best Original Score: The Artist
Best Costumes: The Artist
Best Documentary Feature: Undefeated
Best Animated Short Film: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore
Best Make-up: The Iron Lady

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Intermission - Oscars 2012: who'll win; who should...

Yes, it's the obligatory Academy Awards post - but how many other folks will audit their predictions after the fact, eh? Aha! So it was worth having a look...

The big story, I suppose, is the raft of 11 nominations for Hugo, an entirely underwhelming movie. Oddly, it no longer seems remarkable that a black and white silent film (and a French production to boot) should have received  ten nominations. The almost complete absence of both Drive and We Need to Talk about Kevin seems strange to me too. Anyway, let’s plough into it. Rather than listing the nominations for each category (have a look at the BBC website, they list them there), I’ll simply note who I think will win, who should win (of the nominees), who shouldn’t and who should’ve been nominated

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Movie #19 Safe House

Dolly Parton famously said "it takes a lot of money to look this cheap", a sentiment clearly echoed by director Daniel Espinosa in the crafting of this megabucks, shouldabeen-straight-to-dvd actioner. Set, creditably, in present-day Cape Town, Ryan Reynolds is custodian of a CIA 'safe house'; essentially an off-the-radar hideout where the Agency can stash folks that need stowing away, and in which dodgy deeds can be carried out away from international scrutiny. However, Reynolds's facility is seldom used, until former-agent-turned-uber-traitor (and, apparently, psychological mastermind) Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) appears, fresh for waterboarding but hotly pursued by a posse of generically ethnic wrong'uns with guns. These crims (led by Fares Fares) take down the safe house; Reynolds just about escapes with a cuffed Washington in tow, under instructions from CIA HQ (where Sam Shepard, Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson strut around with furrowed brows) to keep hold of Frost by all means possible.

Sounds like it could be good? Well, it isn't. And a for a number of reasons.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Movie #18 A Dangerous Method

Please, lie down on the couch… and tell me about your mother

 Based on screenwriter Christopher Hampton’s own stage play The Talking Cure, A Dangerous Method is David Cronenberg’s examination of the relationship between Carl Jung (played here by the ubiquitous Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Cronenberg fave Viggo Mortensen), and the development of Jung’s own brand of psychoanalysis through the treatment of the young hysteric - and future psychoanalytical evangelist - Sabina Spielrein (the ever-improving Keira Knightley).

Friday, 17 February 2012

Movie #17 - The Descendants

The Descendants is the latest from Alexander Payne, a director who takes his time. He is coming off of a hat-trick of home-run belters: Election, About Schmidt and Sideways (his debut Citizen Ruth, remains little seen: a casualty of Miramax’s whimsy). And while we’re not in Terence Malick territory, a six-year gap between releases means that it’s fair enough to call this ‘long-awaited’.

The film concerns Honolulu lawyer Matt King (George Clooney). Despite outward appearances of success – good job, heir to a considerable fortune, nice house, the basic fact of living in Hawai’i – things are not going well for Matt. His wife (Patricia Hastie) is comatose following a boating accident; he is emotionally estranged from his two daughters (Amara Miller, Shailene Woodley); his father-in-law (Robert Forster) is an embittered old grouch – and Matt’s just about to find out that, prior to her accident, his wife had been conducting an affair with a local realtor.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Intermission: 2011 Catchup - Beginners, The Skin I Live in, A Better Life, Sleeping Beauty

The Skin I Live In

Perhaps the single film I most regretted missing last year was this, Almodovar's much-praised mysterious plastic-surgery thriller. And it's great, a cracking thriller that verges on horror. It is a very hard film to review, though, as one doesn't wish to give away any of the plot detail before it's seen - best to go in completely cold and experience the bonkersness. Suffice to say, much praise the taut storytelling, the elegant, dynamic direction, two fabulous lead performances from Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya, and finally a wonderfully manic score (oddly reminiscent of Philip Glass's Akhnaten, without the singing) from Alberto Iglesias.

A high:

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Movie #16 Man on a Ledge

"One-a these days, your gonna stick your dick in the wrong door, and somebody's gonna slam it"

That bizarrely hilarious line is the only real highlight of this plodding, by-the-numbers schlocky heist-flick. Sam Worthington (not quite concealing his Aussie gravel) plays the titular ledge-dweller, a man framed for a crime he didn't commit; his brother (Jamie Bell) and brother's girlfriend (the very lovely Genesis Rodriguez) carry out a ludicrous and convoluted diamond heist in the building across the street. The worryingly-wrinkled Ed Harris stalks around in the background adding heft to his few scenes as the villainous mastermind and a variety of actors put in turns as cynical Noo Yawk cops.

OK, so Man on a Ledge is a soft target: it's silly, cliched and a bit dull. It has an oddly early-nineties feel as well, as if it's cheap knock-off of Speed or even Lethal Weapon - but without the excuse of not knowing any better. Many of the actors in this could do better - it's a paycheck, marking time. There are moments when it feels that the plot may be developing in interesting directions, but these are dead ends, as we return again and again to one of the most preposterous screenplays I've come across for years (seriously; it makes Taken look like Glengarry Glen Ross).

It's depressing, really, to think that studios can still get away with turning out this kind of crap when movies like Chronicle prove that accessible multiplex-fodder films can be made cheaper, better and with greater success. But then the grosses for Man on a Ledge are not looking good so far. My advice - don't encourage them, give this a miss.


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Movie #15 Carnage

Its odd how this has slipped into the schedule with relatively little fanfare. After all, despite his pedarastic adventures, Polanksi is still regarded as one of the great living directors (and I enjoyed his last film, The Ghost) and the cast could make other filmmakers weep with envy - a foursome of Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly. The scripts itself also has pedigree, adapted by Polanski and Yasmina Reza from Reza's own acclaimed comic stage play The God of Carnage (albeit transposed from Paris to New York).

The four leads play two middle-class Brooklyn couples, coming together intending to maturely settle differences after their two children got in a fight (an event shown in Haneke-ish dialogue-free fixed-shot during the opening credits). Barring the opening (and closing) shots, the entire film takes place in a single apartment, almost in real time, as self-congratulatory amicability gives way to barbed defensive posturing and finally, a full-blown row.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Movie #14 The Grey

The Grey, on the face of it, doesn’t have great pedigree. Director Joe Carnahan’s most recent film was 2010’s critical punchbag The A-Team. Liam Neeson’s career trajectory – a fascinating thing in its own right – has seen him mired as an archetypal grizzled action man in such shoot-first-think-later fluff as Taken and Unknown. Re-watching Schindler’s List these days you half expect him to punch his way into the Reichstag to lay der smack down on Adolf himself. And the subject matter – essentially a plane-crash survival movie – promises little beyond the utterly generic.

But let’s not be hasty. Pigeonholing directors as hacks is a recent phenomenon (Such immortals as Ford, Hawks and Hitchcock made a few duds in their sophomore days). Neeson-wise, there’s nothing wrong with grizzled per se – for example, his small role is probably the best thing in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York – and he has never been more gruff and stony than in The Grey. And while the film is definitely a genre piece – you might even call it a B-movie – we know these days that the constraints of genre can quite poetically portray deeper truths than what we call ‘the art film’. Certainly Spielberg can tell you more about childhood and loss than, say, Almodovar.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Movie #13 Chronicle

 A quick one, then: Chronicle. Scripted by Max Landis (the sequel to John Landis) and directed by the disgustingly young Josh Trank (b. 1984), it’s one of those found-footage thingies, like Cloverfield and Cannibal Holocaust, in which three high-school seniors develop powers of telekinesis (quite how this happens doesn’t really matter – the film is as comically dismissive of this event as it is tenuous in its justification and use of ‘real footage’). The three use these powers at first for horseplay and shenanigans, but soon they develop dangerously beyond their own control etc. etc.

So it’s actually a pretty okay film – tightly plotted, with some clever touches (when the trio over-exert themselves, they get nosebleeds).  Obviously it doesn’t do to overthink it – beyond the physics of it all, there are a lot of ‘how did nobody see that’ moments, not to mention the pretty flat characterisation and the Saved by the Bell-level dialogue. But as a smart entertainment, to go and sit and watch with yer popcorn and a vat of cola, it’s perfectly decent. Go and see it.


Monday, 6 February 2012

Intermission - 2011 catchup: The Tree of Life; Bridesmaids, Life in a Day; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

So you don't think I'm slacking off, I've also been catching up on some of the more notable movies of 2011 that I didn't manage to see last time round. Here's the first batch, in short, sharp doses:

Life in a Day

Kevin Macdonald's film is a peculiar piece of work; the premise is to show the multitdinous aspects of human life on earth over a single day . It is composed of hundreds of pieces of amateur footage (culled from thousands of submissions) cut and pasted together chronologically and broadly thematically, without external narration. Not a movie in the traditional sense, and only technically a documentary, it has been masterfully edited together to create a loose narrative without having to forcefeed the audience. A moving and unusual experience that should be sought out.


Sunday, 5 February 2012

Movie #12 - Patience (After Sebald)

A real surprise piece, this one, and a bit of a departure from the usual multiplex fare. This wasn't being shown anywhere locally but for a single screening at Manchester's Cornerhouse cinema - and as a documentary feature (of the 'biographical essay' sub-species) about author W.G. Sebald, I couldn't resist seeking it out.

For the uninitiated, W.G. Sebald ('Max' to his friends) was a feted literary novelist; a German who made his home in England - specifically Norwich, where he held a high academic post at the local university - yet continued to write books in his native language, meticulously overseeing their translation into English. Labelled as a writer's writer, his novels and other works tend toward the meditative and profound; his visions are encyclopedic yet selective - like Borges he appears, modestly, to know everything, but unlike his fellow non-Nobel-laureate his writing is saturated with the decadent ennui of post-war Europe. In 2001, he died aged 57 in a car crash, having begun to experience a delayed widespread critical celebration that has grown in earnest in the years since his death.