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

Monday, 18 February 2013

Oscars 2013: who'll win, who should...

Here we go – my annual round of Oscar predictions. As before, I’ll pick a winner and also (where I’m equipped to offer an opinion) tell you who should win. I’ll put aside my usual moaning about who/what didn’t get nominated but should have, and dive right into the predictions:

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Review - Les Miserables

Les Miserables is, by now, a bona fide smash. The adaptation of the insanely popular stage show (itself, of course, based on Victor Hugo’s thumping great novel of social injustice in post-revolutionary France) has banked getting on for a $400m return on its $60m budget. Fair play to director Tom Hooper, then – there’s no doubting this was a risky business; we’re decades removed from Hollywood’s musical era, it’s sung through (and live, not overdubbed afterward), and it stars Russell Crowe, whose singing pedigree is limited to his honestly-named vanity rock group, Thirty-Odd Foot of Grunts.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Five things I'd love to see happen at Oscars 2013

I'll pop up my traditional Oscar prediction thingummy in short order... but here are the five things I really want to happen at 2013's orgy of self-congratulation. I've tried not to go for things that obviously won't happen but given my generally poor track record/kiss-of-death propensity, chances are that at least four of the below won't actually transpire.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Review - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Prejudices declared – as a young lad I loved The Hobbit; J.R.R. Tolkein's tale of a thirteen dwarves and a hobbit on a quest to purloin a dragon's treasure horde was probably the favourite book of my childhood. Growing older, my favourite book in my teens was probably Lord of the Rings and into young adulthood I absolutely loved Peter Jackson’s rings trilogy. That's my baggage. So in theory I should be on my knees and panting at the thought of a Jackson-directed Hobbit - but the generally lukewarm reception of the film, the decision to stretch it over three installments and the convoluted development history have all dampened my enthusiasm a little.

Friday, 11 January 2013

2012 washup

Events overtook me somewhat in the latter half of 2012, but I didn't entirely stop going to the movies. Here's a wee rundown of those flicks I saw but didn't review in full, as I look forward to a fruitful 2013 of moviegoing:

Skyfall – 8/10

A parable on the decline and fall of empire disguised as a blockbuster. The complex story doesn’t bear a great deal of scrutiny but otherwise this is a hugely entertaining, well-played and smart action movie. Easily one of the best Bond movies, with fine performances from Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem and Judi Dench.

Cosmopolis – 2/10

A practically unwatchable movie that even R-Patz’s proctology cannot save. Then again, I though Don Delillo’s book was shite and much of the (stupid) dialogue is lifted verbatim. Robert Pattinson’s mature, twitchy performance save this limo-crash of a film from being a 1-star.

Prometheus – 3/10

A pretty dreadful movie in many respects (most notably the boring, uneven story and stupid dialogue) that loses more points by fecking over a once-great movie series. Minor plus points come from a great bit of Fassbender, a stirring score and some pretty visuals.

Ted – 7/10

Original, hilarious fun from Seth Macfarlane, though I doubt it has much re-watch potential. Mark Wahlberg again proves that he makes a great straight-man.

Moonrise Kingdom – 8/10

Wes Anderson is one of the most distinctive stylists in cinema, and I can understand how he could irritate. However, in our ongoing post-ironic world it’s great to see a director so unapologetically indulging his visual whims. Moonrise Kingdom is not my favourite of his films, but I enjoyed it hugely nonetheless.

Room 237 – 7/10

A fascinating and occasionally disturbing documentary on out-there fan interpretations of Kubrick’s The Shining. Obviously has limited appeal, but has been put together quite charmingly and should be sought out by cinephiles.

The House at the End of the Street – 3/10

D-grade schlocky horror trading off cheap scares and Jennifer Lawrence’s now-star status. A half-decent ending makes you wonder what was going on for the first hour of the film. D- for Mark Tonderai's sophomore effort.

Killer Joe – 6/10

Freidkin’s notorious, sleazy is neither as good nor as bad as many critics claim. For all of the violence, the film is largely forgettable – with the exception of the now-infamous ‘fried chicken’ denouement. Matthew McCounaghey is appealingly sinister in the title role, but this sort of thing was done much better by Werner Herzog in Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans

The Imposter – 7/10

How could a twenty-something half-Algerian Frenchman with poor English get away with pretending to be a 16-year-old blond-haired, blue-eyed Texan boy? A question posed and (ambiguously) answered in this artfully constructed documentary that, while perhaps overstretching its source material, remains fascinating to the finish.

Sightseers – 8/10

That rarest of cinematic beasts – the British road movie – is played for dark, dark laughs in this unusual serial-killer comedy. While the laughs are range from subtle to broad, director Ben Wheatley manages to capture a certain essence of Englishness that hasn’t been seen since Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May. Quite possibly my favourite film of the year.