Tuesday, 14 December 2010

TOP TEN OF THE YEAR

Hello all, its that time of year again as we get closer and closer to the beginning of a new year that we look back at this receding one and what we can remember of it.  Luckily, i can recall most of what i have seen. And it is tinged with certain regrets over the films I have not seen but grateful for the ones I have.  So in no particular order the films of the year from me, the populist cinemagoer are:

INCEPTION (Christopher Nolan, US, 2010)
TOY STORY 3 (Lee Unkrich, US, 2010)
THE TOWN (Ben Affleck, US, 2010)
MADEO (Mother) (Joon-ho Bong, South Korea, 2009)
EASIER WITH PRACTICE (Kyle Patrick Alvarez, US, 2009)
KICK-ASS (Matthew Vaughn, UK/US, 2010
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders, US, 2010)
FORBIDDEN (Frank Capra, US, 1932)
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (John Sturges, US, 1960)
SALT (Philip Noyce, US, 2010)

The films may not all be new, but nevertheless in the last calender year these are the films that have thrilled me and entertained me and will grace you a brief description of them all.

INCEPTION - Christopher Nolan follows up 'The Dark Knight' with another bohemoth of a film that is large in scale and subject matter, dreamscapes abstract onto landscapes as dreams become reality and vice versa.  Matched by astounding central performances none more so than DiCaprio as the man who may or may not be locked in his dream world.  Vast in its idea, and brilliant in its execution; Nolan returned with another summer blockbuster that entertained and treated the audience with respect rather than popcorn fed dunces.

TOY STORY 3 - The trilogy is complete, with the film that could mark it down as the greatest third film of any trilogy (sorry Mighty Ducks 3).  Woody, Buzz, Jessie Rex, Hamm all returned in a film that was as much about acceptance of your lot in life, so careful in its depiction of ageing and mortality. Yes, it made me cry and anyone who did not was a person of stone.  Full of memorable moments; the Great Escape parody, the talking phone as informant, the Spanish talking Buzz and the greatest reach out and touch someone moment in cinema history.

THE TOWN - When you have so many films to see, you miss out on some. I still have not seen 'Gone Baby Gone' which was Affleck's directorial debut, it might have given me some briefing on his style, but if his sophmore effort or difficult second album is anything to go by, Affleck conducts himself as a director of great competence and assurance handling a very generic cops and robber film with great purpose and vigour, even throwing in one of his best smouldering performances to boot.

MOTHER - First seen at the LFF in 2009, and seen again on release this year, the film is mesmerising in its depiction of a women who would go to great lengths to protect her beloved son.  Featuring a great performance from TV star Hye-ja Kim as the synoymous mother, another example of South Korea slowly becoming a powerhouse in world cinema and producing distinct cinematic works.

EASIER WITH PRACTICE - I always have a soft spot for small independent American cinema that can connect with people universally, and this picture starring the brilliant Brian Geraghty ('The Hurt Locker') as Davy who answers his motel phone one night and changes his life when he connects with the voice on the other end. A road movie, with no clear end but one that is helped by a great lead role that is witty instead of relying on gross out American humour . I hope this film finds a wider audience to appreciate it.

KICK ASS - Matthew Vaughn's eventual stab at Hollywood comic book cinema (after his removal from X-Men 3) was a film that took you by surprise as you did not thing it would be that good.  Visceral in its violence, laugh out loud funny in its knowledge of the genre and endorsed by Nic Cage doing his best Adam West impression along with help from Aaron Johnson, Mark Strong, Chris Mintz-Plaase and the scene stealing Chloe Moretz as 'Hit Girl' the cussing true kick ass star of the film.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON - Odd I know to have two animated pictures in a year end poll, but this Dreamworks effort from the directors of 'Lilo and Stitch' gave us a film that was a little grower on you, in that it took itself on directions you did not expect.  Taking a hero who has flaws but finds respect in his peer group through his use of initiative; a role model for the youth of today who is not afraid to wear his battle scars in public, a nice nod to the serving military in Afghanistan of the allied forces.

FORBIDDEN - The BFI ran a complete career retrospective of Frank Capra's oeuvre from his work with Mack Sennett and the Keystone cops to George Bailey via Barbara Stanwyck.  Offering a rare opportunity to see his films on the silver screen in all their glory.  I afforded myself the pleasure of a matinee showing of this forgotten gem from 1932 in which Barbara Stanwyck fights for the love of the married Adolph Menjou versus the advances of the whimsical Ralph Bellamy.  A political storyline with her as the other woman in a marriage is quite perscient at the time due to the expenses scandal and other political shenanigans of this current climate.  The shooting, editing and acting went hand in hand with the Columbia trend of the early 1930s, but it is astonishing to see how he developed from this to the eventual triumph of 'It Happened One Night' and the other Oscar winners.  Just as astonishing is the neglible influence this film must have had on 'Citizen Kane' that many are either unwilling to testify for or just will not believe in terms of plot points, camera shots and general feel. A gem that I will always remember, as much for the experience than the film.

THE MAGNIFICIENT SEVEN - A treat for my father who is a big Western genre nut, and can recite passages of this film off by heart.  Seen countless times huddled round a small television in my youth, a pleasure to see on the big screen by the Southbank.  All sat there quietly, the curtains draws back and Elmer Bernstein's unforgettable score roars off the screen and my Dad sat by the aisle (the original aisle seater) is greeted by the other six people in his group all looking at him to see a big smile grow upon his face.  Fascinating screenplay in its economy of words, acting of the highest order, McQueen duelling with Brynner for screen time but losing; adapted from Kurosawa's 'Seven Samurai' and itself influencing countless generations of filmmakers and audiences are still encountering due to the general power of its filmmaking.  A highpoint for so many involved in it, a highpoint for this year.

SALT - An admirable effort by Philip Noyce to sex up spy films with Anglina Jolie as the is she/isn't she a Russian spy.  To think this was originally intended for Tom Cruise (who lifted motorcycle stunts for 'Knight and Day'), Jolie creates the role of Evelyn Salt for herself, becoming her and in so doing, creating the necessary franchise that every Hollywood starlet should have. One of the better action films of this year, and to think it was written by the same pen that gave us this year 'Law Abiding Citizen' one of the lesser action films of the year, that embraced violence as a form of retribution.

Disappointments
The Other Guys - a let down in that I found many of the punchlines flat and unoriginal, Will Ferrell to be at his annoying shouting worse, Mark Wahlberg criminally miscast and a shame that Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson are underused in their all to brief cameo.

Date Night - again another American comedian shouting a lot, this time Steve Carell who along with Tina Fey seems lost, it tells you something when the best punchline was in the post-credit gag reel.  A bit of a mess that makes 'Dude, Where's My Car?' look like Dickens and after the previous years success with 'The Hangover' coupled with the above title, 2010 was a step back for American comedy cinema.

The Wolfman - was going so well until the reveal of the truth, and then the poor CGI which delayed the original release date and so should have been an improvement, meant this film that had a decent turn by Benecio Del Toro soon descended into an unnecessary monster mash up that does not give you nightmares.

Gentleman Broncos - an unfortunate mess considering it was written and directed by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) and the talent he had at his disposal, you expected something akin to Galaxy Quest and instead you get sub-par sci-fi mumbo jumbo.

I hope you like my thoughts and thank you for taking the time to read them.  Regards

Monday, 6 December 2010

TRON:Legacy

Tron (1982) is the typical cult film, in the fact that even though you may not have seen it in its entireity, you feel as if you have because it has been parodied and spoofed in many shows and cartoons as in 'Family Guy', coupled with the famous one-sheet poster, with its pop icon imagery of frisbees as weapons, motorbikes in a computer grid and the now brilliant casting of Jeff Bridges as a zen-like maverick of computer technology.

Bridges returns in the film as Kevin Flynn, the patriarchal creator of the world where all the action takes place as it enters the thousandth cycle of its being.  We enter the film at 1989, Flynn is sitting with his six year old son, Sean in his bedroom having to go to work late again.  Flynn never returns, presumed missing as if vanished from the face of the world; Sean (Garrett Hedlund - smouldering) grows up to become the major shareholder of the company, EnCom, which is about to enter the Japanese stock market but Sean attempts to rebel and cause a meltdown of the company using his technical ability to hack and hijack the programs.

His surrogate father and Flynn's long-time friend, Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) approaches Sean after his latest hijinks saying he received a page from Flynn from a number that has been disconnected for 20 years.  Sean goes down to his fathers office at the old arcade (full of nostalgic games including the spin-off 'Tron'), after finding a hidden wall to his office and intialising the last run program, Sean is beamed into the world of Tron.

Confronted by people who capture him, the world learn he is a user/human, and so after a series of survival contests - set pieces reminiscent of gladiatorial warfare involving said frisbees and then the trademark motorcycle variant of 'Rollerball'. After these set pieces whet your appetite in glorious 3D we are then thrust into a father-son relationship film as after being hoodwinked by Clu (a computer version of Bridges), whom has taken over control of the world from Flynn, Sean finally comes face-to-face with his father in a room not too dissimilar from the end room of '2001'. This is Flynn's sanctuary in the outer regions away from the mess of Tron that he is established with the help of Quorra (Olivia Wilde), who may have answers to the future of our real world in terms of religion, science, philosophy.

They attempt to get back to the portal that Sean came through, before it close and the chance has gone.  And so the film becomes a chase film and reminiscent of those films from the original film's era 'Battle Beyond the Stars' and even the original Star Wars trilogy; a motley crew going against an ordered system to gain victory without a hint of irony in the sense of sacrifice that may be committed. 

With the help of a great scene involving Michael Sheen as Zeus, a deal maker in this world, that could make the journey easier, Clu tracks him down and the pursuit is ongoing.  Sheen pouts around the stage in his 70s Bowie persona, using his identifiable cane as a character in his own right to make him more memorable; and even the music producer Daft Punk are afforded a cameo as his personal DJ's in the 'End of the Line' club; one of those bars that will go in movie folklore such as the Mos Eisley cantina and the Milk Bar from 'A Clockwork Orange'.

Directed by debut helmer, Joseph Kosinski (an architecture major, but geek at heart) with great clarity and purpose, in the fact that he takes a lot of the action and exposition with a pinch of salt; a sense of general disbelief would be appreciated in this film.  But the film, whilst it will not win a barrow load of awards, is nevertheless good action/sci-fi cinema.  A script that is brisk and bouncy, characters that are believable helped in part by the commendable actors; Bridges brings his Dude-like persona to the party ('You're really messing with my Zen, man.'); Hedlund injects just enough vulnerability into his would-be rebel in need of a father and Wilde gives doe-eyed innocence to a role (similar to Daryl Hannah did in 'Splash' ) by the film's conclusion, as she takes a look around the world she is now a stranger to.

The promise of a sequel to this film itself the longest gestated sequel is foreboding, but necessary when you consider the possibilites of an uncredited cameo of Cillian Murphy (wearing his evil glasses) going up against all-American Hedlund on this Earth.

With so many people invested in a film that happened so long ago, the prospect of them falling flat in their collective faces could so easily have happened.  However, it must be said that the film is a triumph and a good box-office banker; thrills, spills, laughs, action, adventure and a kick-ass soundtrack from the people born to do it.

It is formatted for 2D, 3D and IMAX, but whichever form you see it in you will not be disappointed by this roller coaster action yarn; science-fiction action film is back with a bang; from a film we thought that had disappeared without a whimper.

Released nationally on December 16th.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Kyle Patrick Alvarez Interview

In anticipation of this Friday's release of EASIER WITH PRACTICE, which i have already reviewed, I was granted an interview with the debut director, Kyle Patrick Alvarez; allowing me the chance to discuss his influences, aspirations and future plans:


- What would you pinpoint as your influences/reference points for 'Easier With Practice'?

Visually, I definitely took a lot of inspiration from Wong Kar Wai, 'In the Mood for Love' in particular. I love how he'll use a single sustained image to imply so much and trusts the audience with his pacing. David Morrison and I also looked through a lot of photographs and we had a wall of images that inspired us.


- Was the shoot enjoyable or a steep learning curve for you?
I had done a lot of short/student films before, so I had a general sense of being on set and it some ways it was more enjoyable because it was the first time I actually had worked with a full crew, where I wasn't the director/cameraman/sound guy all at once. The learning for me really came in working with actors, cause it was the first time I dealt with professional actors. I always wanted to make sure to respect them and the challenges they face, but I would say that's where I learned the most, in learning how to talk and work with actors.


- What relationship did you have with David Morrison (DOP)?
My relationship with David was one of the strongest I had on set, and one I'm continuing with on my next films. He's just an extraordinary talent and works so collaboratively with everyone. It's rare to find such connectivity with another filmmaker so I'm excited to keep on making films with him.


- Were you worried about the pressure you put on Brian Geraghty's shoulders in terms of being on screen throughout?

I was never worried in terms of Brian's abilities, but just in that we all knew that those scenes were going to be so delicate and difficult to pull off. It's a lot to ask of an actor to sustain entire scenes the way he had to, but Brian was always on and prepared. In fact, the 10 minute take at the beginning of the film, was only the second time we ran through the scene. When we were auditioning actors for the film, we were primarily looking for watchability, that certain thing that pulls an audience in to an actor's performance. Brian has that in spades.


- Would you change anything now looking back?

I try not to watch my film in terms of what I'd change or not, since I can't, but I definitely learned a lot I hope to bring with me into my next films. Primarily on a writing level, of just learning to reduce dialogue down it's minimum necessities. It's a challenge to put on yourself, but so much extraneous dialogue got cut throughout the shooting and editing of the film. I've definitely learned how to write a tighter and more concise script.


- What is next for you?

I've got two projects I'm working on and hoping to shoot in the next year. One is a film based on a David Sedaris short story. He's been really gracious and open about letting me adapt his work, which I'm so grateful for. It's a dream project for me, so I'm putting my all into it. The other is a high concept thriller, that's going to be a real challenge and a total change of pace for me. I couldn't be more grateful to have the opportunity to make another film.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

LA SIGNORA DI TUTTI

Max Ophuls one and only foray into Italian cinema during his European exodus from his homeland Germany following the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, brings us a film that fits nicely into his oeurve, but not necessarily one of his best work.

Ophuls is famed for his melodramatic work, involving female characters whom are downtrodden by society and are not blessed because their beauty is seemingly a curse and not a gift. 

Isa Miranda, plays the role of a star (in the part that made her a star) pressed to revisit the entire history of her lovers to the present moment through an inexorable web of flashbacks... brought on by the anaesthetic following a failed suicide attempt. From the record revolving on a turntable in the picture's opening moments, Ophuls sets into motion one of those roundelays with fate that he alone could pull off with such eminent elegance.  The film made in 1934, is startling in its use of flashback and differing fade in techniques are ahead of its time, we are fed different flashbacks and are granted a greater understanding of her desperate mishaps in love, starting with the unfortunate suicide of a teacher who loved her as a student up to all the men in her life from admirers to publicists to managers all hustling and bustling wishing for the best for her - whilst missing out on the fact that she is a person, not an object.

This serves as a contradictory point of Ophuls oeurve; he was a great admirer and lover of women, yet the films he made in Hollywood, for example, Letter from an Unknown Woman and The Reckless Moment clearly objectify women in the sense. The BFI issued 'Letter' earlier this year, the sheer melodrama whilst indicative of the 'Now Voyager' era, nevertheless the objectificaton of Joan Fontaine's character is very harsh and judgmental.  Isa Miranda's character is no different, attempting suicide to thrust the narrative into its flashback structure.  The film may argue it is a critique of a grande dame's narcissicm, but would any narcissist take their own life over the joy of seeing one's self again in the mirror.

The filmmaking contains strong thriller elements for psychological suspense and good use of offscreen sound, which would bode well for his Hollywood career, but the female(s) in his films although endangered, are supplied with memorable roles in the European pantheon.

The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present La signora di tutti [Everybody's Lady], the stunningly beautiful '30s masterpiece by famed auteur Max Ophuls (Letter from an Unknown Woman, The Reckless Moment, La ronde, The Earrings of Madame de..., Lola Mont├Ęs) starring the legendary Italian actress Isa Miranda. Released for the first time on DVD in the UK on 29 November 2010.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Where is the rain?

Where is the rain?
Where has it gone?
Will it come back again?
Its been so long.

The sun has shined for far too long
the temperature has risen and we all look brown.
We've got hot under the collar
and the burns are there to see.
We're tired of being perky
and sick of looking pink.

I see the clouds roll down from the coast
get here quick I miss you more than most.
The storm is coming and its starting to brew,
come on rain we've been waiting for you.

So pour down on me
so pour down on me
pour down on me.
Cos I haven't felt this way for so long
and I'm soaked right through to the bone
So pour down on me
rain down on me.

Look

I look at you one way
You look at me another.
One look is full of love
the other looks of desire.
Can't ignore it,
a look just like this
cos if we do
there will be no kiss.

Sitting here all by myself
searching for a reason
look at the cards
that have been dealt.
Then a bit of luck
comes to the fore
A queen of hearts
22 years old.

So i take a chance
maybe have a dance
not much to lose.
But the look she gave,
was one I'd save
wouldn't pick or choose.

So she looks at me
and i look at her.
Where else is there to turn.
Buy a drink
an invite for coffee
as the song plays on.

Look
i can't ignore
what I've seen before
this is my chance
at romance.
If she is the one,
there is no need to run.

Time Fly

Lets make time fly,
Time fly together
Time fly right out of the window
Lets hold hands, hold together
and never let go.

Always be there - in mind and spirit.
One way or another I'll be
I will be there by your side
though not actually.

But lets make time fly,
time fly together
Time flies lets sit on the wing
Lets drink to it,
drink together
and see what it brings.

If love is cruel,
then why is it kind
and speak for itself.
If i can see you,
then i am blind
Blind beyond belief.

Never be the one to choose
or make a decision you don't like.
Never be the one to decide whether to stay alive.
Cos you'll like it I know you will
more than I will
And before you know you would have grown wings
and can fly on your own.

Uniform

I see you with him when you are out,
laughing  and joking there is no doubt.
Kissing and canoodling in plain sight
of passers by who pass in the night.
Holding hands under the moonlight
tentative of this love thats arrived.
And I wish it were me.

Me to share those moments with
to make time fly together.
Cos we'll be having fun whatever the weather.
Cos ill be with you and he'll be alone
But I know the chances are slim,
of you picking me over him.
Cos a girl loves a guy in a uniform

Granted

This time I'm going to take you for granted.
Just like everyone else.
Gonna take you everywhere
show you off to anyone who will see.
Gonna take you for granted.

It's odd that you meet someone
when you are not ready
And when you're not ready
someone appears out of the blue
And when it happens you will clearly
And can't believe that it can be true.

So when I get you
I'm not going to let you go.
I'm gonna take you for granted
Just to let you know

There is a place

There's a place;
There's a time,
Where you go and you can be
By yourself or with someone you love

This place is the place you grew up
and the place you've never been before.
A place you're not scared of and
want to go see more of

You go there to rest your head
to stay away from your bed.
And when the day is done
you still remain
in this place at this time
That you know but never seen before.

PACQUIAO v MAYWEATHER

This past week, Bernard Hopkins, a man who is no stranger to changing his mind said an interesting thing. He stated that Pacquiao has never beaten a black African-American, to be fair he has never thought one, restricting himself to beating Latino Americans and Ricky Hatton.  Hopkins in a way has called out Floyd Mayweather Jr. saying that the Pacquiao problem needs to be addressed.  And in a way, it is not that Manny is a problem, but maybe his legacy and legend will never be properly fulfilled until he fights Mayweather. 

Yes, Manny has won a world title at (now) 8 different weight divisions.  Never been done before.
Yes, he is the best pound for pound fighter in the world right now, fighting regularly.
Yes, he retired Ricky Hatton.
Yes, he turned Margarito from a man imitating a shrivelling wreck, into a man who will think twice about fighting again.
Yes, Mayweather questions the ability of Pacquiao's ability to keep this longevity of his career.
Yes, Mayweather has backed down from Pacquiao, putting up a legal blockade as an excuse.

Much like David Haye, ducking the Klitschko's due to monetary reasons.  Haye wants a bigger slice of the purse, bigger than the one he gave Harrison, although this is now justified after watching that ridiculous spectacle; Mayweather who has boxing history in his bloodstream, must realise that boxing needs this fight. Sport in general needs this fight.  Much like Lewis-Tyson, they ducked and dived but that fight in Memphis was inevitable.  Whilst Pacquiao is making the noise due to him being in the spotlight, it is odd that Mayweather has gone mute on this recently. Maybe due to the fact that the last time he was heard from, he was being racist on a youtube link to Pacquiao.  Whilst shocking maybe his publicity machine is picking its moment.

Mayweather needs the fight, as Pacquiao has now fought twice since Mayweather last won.  Pacquiao in some circles has nothing left to prove; his hitting and punching ability is second to none, his ability to dictate the tempo of the fight was apparent against Margarito.  Margarito was at fault because he did not use his extreme height and reach to tower over the shorter Pacquiao, a fact proven when he did have him in trouble once against the ropes and corner. 

Mayweather will provide a different fight; he is methodical, elusive in defensive, but punishing in reaction especially to the body (cue Hatton again).  Pacquiao is unrelenting in his tracking down an opponent with his fists of granite, but he will have to chase Mayweather around the ring.  The tempo and chase he will not mind, but the need to land a punch will leave him open to mistakes.

In our imaginary minds, the fight is a bonafide classic up there with Hagler-Hearns, Leonard-Duran, Tyson-Holyfield I; before a contract is signed, before a profane remark is uttered, before a weigh-in, before a punch is thrown.  But until we hear from Mayweather, that is all we have.  Pacquiao as always has left the door ajar and he is not stopping Mayweather to break the door down.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

500 Days of Summer - A Story of Love

America, the country that brought us the romantic comedy has seemingly tried to dismantle its reputation in recent efforts with such banal efforts as 'The Sweetest Thing', any Jennifer Lopez film; it remains hard to believe that the most romantic of comedies was 'The 40 Year Old Virgin' where the focus was on the blossoming relationship between a man wanting to lose his virginity with great humility, rather than 'Good Luck Chuck' where it was all about sex, lust and nothing emotional.

In a way this is down to the narrative structure: we meet boy - boy meets girl in the 'meet cute' - they fall in love - they fall out - reconciliation - marriage (sometimes). Whilst the marriage was a more apparent resolution in the golden era of the 1930s and 40s (the comedy of remarriage) when it was in partnership (appropriately) with the screwball comedy.

With '500 Days of Summer' you get a film that is both typically an American film, yet at the same time atypical - there are French influences and disruption wiht the chronological order.   The films starts with day 200 odd, then we jump to 488, then back to day 1 to the meet cute.  But we already know that this couple are not destined to be together yet we are told the resolution before hand - this meddling with the status quo of the narrative structure may serve to alienate viewers especially female ones so used to the romantic storyline of 'love conquers all'; female acquaintances have told me that they did not get the story, why do we watch a story where they dont fall in love. This is not a love story, but a story of love: how love can make you, become you, make you joyful, make you suffer, make you love other things - so this reciprocates into other cultural formats such as music (hence the killer soundtrack), fashion and architecture.

Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is 27 years old and stuck in a job he did not want to be in, writing greeting cards instead of the career in architecture he envisaged.  Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is a playful soul who does not want a serious relationship - people may argue this as misogynistic characterisation - nice enough to desire, impossible for asking for independence, then succumbing to the very things she mocked earlier in the film - love, fate and destiny.  Summer is a free spirit, but ultimately grounded once 'the one' arrives, this arrival of her soulmate is too abrupt to believe, hence why some female viewers did not connect with the film as planned.

Wearing its influences proud on its sleeve, parodying European influences from Nouvelle Vague to Antonioni; the soundtrack of bittersweet artists (The Smiths, Temper Trap). An individual bemoans his role in society, yet belives in such a sentimental trope like love so effortlessly as we see in the 'meet cute' and the film's conclusion when he looks at the camera a la Alfie, you await a wink that does not arrive but the breaking of the fourth wall works as the revolution of the romantic comedy has begun.

If only we could get Kate Hudson, Jennifer(s) Aniston and Lopez to take a risk and lets stop Amy Adams before she makes another 'Leap Year'. Comedy reflects the society it lives in, it needs to be socially conscious and more prevelant of the time - than a weak comedy with sex and fart jokes with real talent rather than Dane Cook.

'500' is reminiscent of a film from France you have never seen before drawing influence from Francois Ozon's '5x2', which used the narrative device of showing a relationship at the end up to its beginning concluding the film.

Witty but not self-congratulatory in its dissection of modern day relationships, funny without bordering on tasteless; acted with poise and skill, it is a film to cherish as well as recommend.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

BENTLEY NEEDS TO CLIP HIS WINGS

I do not want this blog to be totally restricted to a critical slant on filmmaking with its inevitable positives and negatives, I have other likes and dislikes of my own not restricted to the arts and culture.  A big cornerstone of my life has been taken up by my supporting of a football team, a sports team and its supporters embark on more high and lows over an entire season than a Wagner cycle retrospective, and certainly 90 minutes of fierce competition can stir things in the soul and the human spirit - wonder, disbelief, shock and awe are all in evidence.
With my brother in tow, I went to White Hart Lane (for 10 years in my early life, my Globe) for the first time in nearly 2 years to watch them play Sunderland in the Premier League, a game on paper we should be capable of winning especially as the Lane has become somewhat of a fortress since the start of Harry Redknapp's tenure in charge.  But Sunderland come into the game having won at home to Stoke at the weekend, and after our irrestible performance against Internazionale last week, we travelled to Bolton with a certain sense of complacency; but 4 changes and 4 leaked goals (3 gifted to them) meant we returned to the capital with our tails between our legs.  Tonights gave an opportunity to regain ground on the top 4 who are slowly opening up a gap in terms of points - and with a near full strength team starting, the omens are good.

And so the game begins, and as always we come hareing out of the traps full of determination and vigour wanting to stamp our authority against the Wearsiders, chances arrive, Huddlestone spreads the ball right and left. To Bale on the left wanting to overtake Onouha, to the right to Bentley who seeks the overlap from in form Hutton but too often the flow of play stops at Bentley's feet.  Inevitably, more ball goes to Van der Vaart and Modric as we attempt to go through the centre backs, Titus Bramble and the impressive Jordan Henderson.  Alas, Craig Gordon on his return to the team in goal for the visitors, his first game since ironically injurying his arm at this ground last season makes some fine stops from Bentley and even has the woodwork on his side as he stands rooted when Huddlestone's drive smacks the apex.  Half time arrives and deadlock is still in place.
2nd half and more of the same though not without controversy - five minutes in Bentley making an unusual hare into the box is fouled by Zenden, but Howard Webb deems it simulaton. Video replay show Bentley was going down, but did get kicked by the midfielder who did his best Paul Scholes impression.  Just after the hour, Spurs get the reward. A cross by Bale finds an unchallenged Crouch who heads down to his cohort VdV who pivots (with a hint of handball) and finds the net for his 7th league goal of the season.  Dominance should follow, but alas complacency and amateur defending seems to follow Spurs wherever a sense of superiority appears, a simple lack of possession should be dealt with by one of Kaboul and/or Gallas who both go for the same ball. In both leaving it, the door is open for Asamoah Gyan to clinically equalise.  Afterwards, the wind is out of Spurs' sails and they cannot make the second breakthrough and Sunderland nearly nick it near the end of the game.  But Spurs' lack of invention and initiative deems that apart from the dominant first half display they cannot moan about the point.

My gripe is the utilisation of David Bentley on the right hand side of the pitch, in the role usually reserved for (yet again injured) Aaron Lennon.  The thing is Bentley does have talent, but now he resembles someone who wants to fit in and help rather than work to the system of a team that has garnered success.  Spurs are now a quick counter punching team on the break using pace and finesse with a clinical edge in finishing.  Unfortunately, Bentley belongs to the old school of wing play or that which is reminiscent of one David Beckham. One who stops on the wide right 30 yards from the touchline and instead of taking on the defender caught in headlights who might be blinded by his pace, deems his quality of delivery good enough to make up for a lack of speed.  Wing play has morphed and transformed into something else now, you need only look at Bale and Lennon in the same team for evidence, and also look at Ronaldo, Daniel Alves on the continent of people who attack the byline and get the cross in causing an already backtracking defence to keep second guessing themselves.  Bentley is someone who always wants to impress, he took a free kick in the 2nd half on his favoured right foot; however, me and fans around me all knew that it would be closer to Jonny Wilkinson than top right hand corner, Gordon was untroubled.  I fear that Bentley (who was a Redknapp type of guy in personality) will remain in Spurs' fans affections for two things: for chancing his arm at the Emirates in the epic 4-4 draw embarrassing Almunia and for pouring sports drink over Redknapp when Champions League qualification was assured in his underpants.  He might follow the lead of another one who was good at a Premier League side before people caught on to him; Darren Huckerby last seen at Norwich in this country before leaving for MLS in America.

Whilst it is a shame that Bentley was called upon to fill a role, that I would have given to Krancjar a man with a bit of quality in spite of his lack of pace but his unrest at lack of first team starts meant he sat on the bench all night, not even warming up.  Redknapp is the man at the moment, but Bentley does not have the answers, unfortunately he provides more questions for a team that oddly seems to have the answers in European competition. That is so unlike Tottenham.  But then Spurs have never seemed to do things by convention. Maybe that is there appeal.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Forbidden Frank Capra

Frank Capra is considered one of the true heavyweights of American cinema in its history; well remembered for his directing of 'It's A Wonderful Life' in 1946, the relative lack of success for this film led to his gradual withdrawl from the mainstream American cinema. He slowed down in his production output and went into reclusion until the release of his biography 'The Name Above The Title', in the late 1970s which led to a reappraisal of his work and critical acclaim as the first truly American filmmaker; ironic, considering he was an Italian immigrant.

Capra's career is split into four parts - his youngling years where he was a gag writer and on the quick director for Mack Sennett and Harry Langdon; then his moving to Columbia Pictures where he would direct 7 films a year and attempt to find his feet in terms of stylistic and authorial voice, leading up to the unprecedented success of 'It Happened One Night' in 1934 which was the first film to win all 5 of the major awards at the Oscars - a feat only equalled twice since in 1975 and 1990. His third part are all the acclaimed and well remembered films that followed 1934 upto the beginning of America's involvement in the Second World War following Pearl Harbor in 1941. His fourth and final part are the war documentaries he made for the National Service and his films upon the return to normality culminating in James Stewart's most memorable role as George Bailey in Bedford Falls.

The British Film Institute (BFI) is running a two part retrospective of Capra's entire back catalogue, everything is on display from the gag writing five reelers for Langdon, to his work on poverty row for Harry Cohn in November. Choosing to split his career by placing 'IHON' as the schism of his career, in December come the Oscar winners and everyman features where the creation of 'CapraCorn' began a huge amount of sentimentality trying to be heard amongst the genuine social commentary. And fittingly the second part falls in December meaning Christmas time and the perfect occasion to watch his most cherished film.

Looking through the catalogue and seeing the films on display it is good to see titles I have not seen mixed in with some I have stumbled across by way of previous seasons, film school, personal cost or late night televison.  I have already seen 'American Madness', 'Meet John Doe', 'Mr.Smith..', 'You Can't Take It With You' and 'One Night', so I am taking it upon myself to see as much as possible when and if.

I have read copious amounts of Capra biography and critical theory especially 'The Catastrophe of Success' by Joseph McBride - which took each and every film on its own merits but came to the conclusion that his success came at a cost to his personal integrity, but also his self-belief that he was bigger than star hence his autobiography title. Capra was the first director who could open a film on the basis that his name was above the title, much like Hitchcock and Spielberg did eventually.  He was a star director, but in using another critical theorem, Cahiers du Cinema, he would not be considered an auteur in the same way contemporaries Ford and Hawks would be.  Capra's films are full of social comment meaning he was liked by the masses and served general appeal, but his desire to pursue Oscar winners in his later years do a discredit to his entire oeuvre, much like James Cameron's entire career boils down to 'Titanic' and 'Avatar' it is unfair to dismiss or pigeon hole a career to two films.  Lets not forget Capra did nearly 30 films, and did up to 7 films a year between 1925-30, unheard of then and unimaginable now.

I watched 'Forbidden' on Friday 5th at a matinee on the BFI Southbank, it starred Barbara Stanwyck in a typical melodramatic role of hers as Lulu who, unhappy with life, finds love on a cruise but with Bob who is married and has political aspirations, her decisions to keep their illegitimate child and to be the 'other' woman in his life in opposition to the invalid wife leads to a life unfulfilled and one of scorn.  The man becomes Governor of the state and she remains in the background as their child becomes the poster girl of his election ticket.  It is typical of Capra to take such a lowly character who seeks social elevation above their means, but it was unusual to see Capra doing melodrama to this extreme. At one point it become melodrama and he could not stop it becoming anything else, thanks in part to Stanwyck's performance (in my opinion this is more melodramatic than Stella Dallas, a film more fondly remembered by 'weepie' fans). 
      It is a flawed film with its share of distractions, not least Al (Ralph Bellamy) as the journalist soon to be editor who wants to take down Bob (Adolph Menjou) from his office knowing that he has a mistress on the side that dismisses his appeals for family values, what he does not realise is that the love of his life Lulu is the very same mistress. So you have a love triangle, where each person is out to destroy each other.  This age of destruction is not something you tend to notice in Capra's films; but the willingness to throw away people and use them for the individual's own personal improvement does become more apparent in later films such as 'Mr.Smith' and 'John Doe'; the individual is put in his/her place by the status ladder and the creation of a social order.  People wish to elevate themselves to a standing more suited to their ambitions, but once there that ambition comes back to haunt them.
     However, what is most striking about the film is the storyline and visual tropes that although made in 1932 seem to bare a striking resemblence to scenes and moments in 'Citizen Kane' which appeared nearly 10 years later. When Welles said he watched 'Stagecoach' numerous times to learn all he needed to know about film, did he forget to mention the debt to Capra. I speak of the politician who preaches family values yet has a mistress (like Kane did with Susan Alexander, leading to the death of his wife and child), and the tossing of incriminating evidence into the fire is reminiscent of Kane near that film's conclusion.  This all may be by the by but the similarity is startling.
     Be that as it may, the film does have some moments of emotion such as when they sit silently in the back of a taxi and as Menjou sits in the rain as Stanwyck walks away, you await the fade but she returns. These immoral lovers are granted moments of tenderness they do not deserve, this is indicative of the moral ambiguity of films pre-1934 and the Hays code but it does not sit well with other and later Capra films which are morally objective and toe the party line; but this emotion comes from the great performances by Stanwyck and Menjou, and the effective use of lighting and editing such as when Stanwyck unloads six chambers into someone, the crimson on her split lip is boiling as she fires the bullets.

'REDISCOVERING FRANK CAPRA' runs at the BFI Southbank (www.bfi.org.uk/southbank) until 30th December. Go to the website for full details and screen times.

EASIER WITH PRACTICE

Last Thursday (4/11/10) I was granted the privilege of watching a preview of a well reviewed film on the festival circuit. The film was EASIER WITH PRACTICE directed by feature length debutant Kyle Patrick Alvarez and is based upon the autobiographical essay by Davy Rothbart which was pulished in GQ.

A road movie (my first instinct was it reminded me of a younger version of 'Sideways') following Davy Mitchell (Brian Geraghty) as he treks across New Mexico reading at book clubs peddling his book of short stories entitled, 'Things People Do To Each Other'.  The book clubs smack of boredom, and with his brother Sean (Kel O'Neill) in tow the nights are long and full of bars with literature students adoring the young writer, whilst his engaged brother indulges in adultery.  From the outset, there is a difference and tension between the two brothers; one is intellectual, one is an easy going spirit. One is shy around women, the other has no sort of problems.  One night at another motel, Sean goes out to get some cigarettes and leaves Davy watching television and then the phone rings.  Davy answers it and a female voice is on the other end, she calls herself 'Nicole' and she is horny; Davy initially put off is intrigued and so starts entertaining her notions of masturbation.  And so we are met by one of the bravest scenes in recent American independent cinema; the camera is fixed on Davy, initially in long shot, it slowly zooms into have just his chest and head in the shot as he masturbates in unison with Nicole, culminating in a mutual climax. 

Often in independent cinema, there is a greater freedom and honesty with sexual activity (you need only see any mumblecore film for reference), but rarely do you see a male character(actor) do a scene that is so raw and real at the same time; a scene that could have been so easily played for laughs, tells us a lot more about Davy than any conversation with a periphery character.  Davy is lonely, but has love to give and finally feels like he has made a connection with someone, albeit with a voice somewhere.

Ultimately, the film leads to a climatic scene that is again a scene of such openness and social embarassment, the like of which is rarely seen in American film full stop.  The final reveal of Nicole is both powerful and startling, in that the twist is the last thing you saw coming. 

There is more drama than comedy, although the laughter is more witty than laugh out loud because of the urbane intellect of Davy's surroundings - if you were to pigeon hole the film it would be in the same vain as the work of James L. Brooks.

I would like to touch upon the character of Davy - whilst in theory and genre he is a million miles from the characters of the Apatow universe, he does provide a missing link in my theory of the 'Noughties Oh-No man', a character very prevelant in the first decade of this century's American cinema. He is an intellectual based on genuine talent, but nevertheless a talent that remains undiscovered, however, he is a man easily made a fool of by his peers and family (much like Andy in 'The 40 Year old Virgin'), and is but in context of his situation by contrasting him with an alpha male to his beta (in this film Sean is alpha to Davy).  Unfortunately, these highlighted flaws in his beings lead to him being unsuccessful in his career and love; such as when he attempts to reignite an old flame Samantha in the film.

Brian Geraghty, whom I first recognised getting high with Shia Labeouf in 'Bobby' and matured to appear in 'The Hurt Locker' gives an extrarordinary performance from an actor under the age of 30, he is still young in face but his manner shows a built in world-weariness that the character requires, but the requirement of him to be in every frame/scene of the film could have been a tough ask for a less accomplished actor. 

Alvarez who shows some assured footing in this his debut feature is lucky to have such a performance, but his sureness of touch and feel is good to see in a film that is both sincere and human.  Some of the scenes/montages which show Davy and Sean cruising around motorways and motels are expertly shot and remind me of music videos in there framing and composition, coupled with a hip indie soundtrack that full of male voices externalise most of Davy's feelings.

There are some moments that will leave you scratching or shaking your head in disbelief, but believe it not because you have to but because the conviction and honesty of both direction and performance commands it.  Recommended and try and hold out for the ending, unlike the two or so people who walked out shaking their head.

EASIER WITH PRACTICE is due for release on 3rd December 2010, a Forty Second Production it is distributed by Axiom Films, whom I thank for the preview seat.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

AXIS OF AWESOME

Next Thursday 4th November at the Bush Hall, a global YouTube phenomenon will be appearing on stage in London. Axis of Awesome; Australia's biggest comedy band will be giving a full performance of their stagecraft. Having garnered 15million hits of their song '4 Chord Song' where they riff saying that every great song uses the same chord sequence - featuring Natalie Imbruglia, to Enrique Iglesias to Tim Minchin.

It is telling that they riff Minchin in the five minute marathon through pop history; as Minchin along with Axis' fellow antipodean's 'Flight of the Conchords' have brought back comedy rock to the mainstream and to the big theatres - the Conchords sold out Wembley Arena.  Now the history is endebted to Spinal Tap, but comedians always aspire to be rock stars and vice versa, you need not look any further than 'The Blues Brothers' for more evidence.

Following on from three sold out seasons at the Edinburgh fringe and performing at the prestigious Just for Laughs comedy gala at Montreal; they intend to conquer England and this is their first live show in London. It is something not to be missed.

To book tickets call 08432 210 100 or visit www.hmvtickets.com/performances/5385/book. Tickets cost £15, show starts at 7.30pm with support from Marcel Lucont

Monday, 25 October 2010

THE TOWN is Ben's Town

'Sometimes you can't change who you are. You have to live with what you've done'.

Words spoken by Ben Affleck's character, Doug MacRay in a voiceover to conclude Affleck's second directorial effort - a spirited and atypical cops and robbers movie; with shootouts, double crosses, love interests and well acted/directed set pieces.

The reason I quote that line of dialogue is that I found it oddly fitting for Affleck's career that went into a very weird direction with Bennifer/Gigli and the 'Daredevil' venture (which in time I feel will begin to earn some praise), has finally found some credibility and some respect. It started with 'Hollywoodland' and then with his first directing bow 'Gone Baby Gone', that garnered greater praise than some of the films he acted in.  Critics were blown away by the expertise shown in the film which featured his brother, Casey, in the leading role, Affleck now returns with another crime picture set in Boston but with him in front of the camera; this step is inevitable and will ultimately lead to comparisons with Clint Eastwood who also took control of his career by directing pictures he was comfortable with and sometimes reserved his best performances for himself.

Affleck leads a group of four hoodlums who rob banks and security trucks, all done in disguise and professionally done leaving no trace of DNA evidence to limit forensic techniques, they get away with cash and leave no trace of their existence. This frustrates the chief detective of FBI Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) who wants to get results and after some leads he starts to track down Doug and his crew, including the sociopathic Coughlin (Jeremy Renner on electrifying form).  We start the movie at the start of a new heist on the bank run by Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), after she opens the vault in their scheme she is taken hostage, which is not normally part of the plan.

After the crew worries, MacRay follows her and makes contact to make sure she does not know anything. The only thing she does remember is a Fighting Irish tattoo on the back of Coughlin's neck, and this is used as a brilliant red herring when there is a conversation between him, MacRay and Claire - you feel the truth will come out at some point and Affleck frames the tattoo in the centre of the picture, to make us really on edge but this proves a ruse for us all, but this is indicative of Affleck's burgeoning creativity with the source material. A tattoo may be a trick/motif put into the screenplay, but the director chooses to put it front and centre to trick his audience.  MacRay and Claire fall in love leading him to doing one last big job for his boss, the Florist (Pete Posthelwaite) who tells him if he doesn't do the job, his new girl will look a whole lot different.

The stakes are raised and the net tightens as Frawley gets closer to the crew to take them down on the last job, which is taking a 4 day takings of Fenway Park ('Boston's cathedral') which is close to $3.5m.  The action set pieces as the crew try to escape are expertly done, and there is an even pace throughout the film with no rushing or manipulating of the audience's investment into the film - we have come so far with the characters we are entitled to a perfect ending and resolution.

The ending may be a bit unusual in that it is not what we expected, and it may not be perfect. And to paraphrase the quote at the start of this review, you may not be able to change. But maybe Affleck is done with that chapter of his life, and is ready to be reborn as a renowned actor-director, and 'The Town' makes sure that 'Gone Baby Gone' was no fluke.

WEST IS WEST

The long anticipated and hoped for sequel of the 1999 box office success 'East is East' gained its European premiere at the London Film Festival last week in a red carpet event at Leicester Square's Vue cinema with bhangra music, elephants and stars in attendance.

The film with the wish of Aybu Khan-Din is written not so much as a sequel but as a stand-alone film in its own right, and for the most part it proves a successful follow-up to the film that won a Bafta for Outstanding British Film.  The cast return en masse (although Jimi Mistry fans will feel slightly short changed).

The original film was ground breaking in that it brought subject matter previously unheralded to the big screen; inter-racial marriage set against the backdrop of 1970s working class Salford,Manchester with all its contexts of class and social status.  The idea of a white woman marrying a Pakistani and the hatred that such things may incite were addressed, but the violence is reserved for the cold hand of George Khan (Om Puri) who beats up his wife in the back office of their chip shop.  Whilst played and marketed for laughs, the original did have its darker moments.

'West is West' focuses on Sajid (Aqib Khan - in his first role), the youngest son, who is rebellious playing truant from school and avoiding bullies who berate him as a 'Paki' thus causing worries about his identiy and reluctance to accept his mixed heritage and hating his father.  The need for discipline and restraint in the young tearaway leads George to take him to his homeland in Pakistan to the family home he abandoned 30 years previously to marry Ella (Linda Bassett).

Mostly played for laughs, but asking genuine questions about identity and belonging not just to your race but your family home; the film has these major questions but has a lovely parallel narrative surrounding Nemar (the middle son) and his quest for a wife. This narrative garners the most laughs as the bride he chooses proves to be more than meets the eye.  Sajid and George's narrative journeys are directed with a humility and subtlety which is with thanks to the direction of Andy de Emmony, who has a long track record in television drama, and this comes to the fore in his feature length debut effort.

Beautifully shot by Peter Robinson, again making Pakistan (though the film was shot in Indian Punjab for insurance purposes) look as beautiful as Chris Menges did for 'Slumdog' and it is this debt to that Oscar winning film that gives this film not a rose-tinted view of the world, but a serious enough tone to go in balance with the humour that comes from Sajid's escapades as a hermit attempts to teach him lessons about life by stating the obvious and making the youngster discover it for himself.

Great performances by all concerned, most notably Aqid Khan who with no training instills Sajid with a bit of Malcolm McDowell mixed with Alex Turner, giving poetry to such profanity he sometimes spouts and Ila Arun, as Basheera Khan, the first wife who shows the vulnerability of her husband's abandonment in her aged face; though talking only Punjab she instills the character with such grandeur and poise it is striking and the scene with her and the second Mrs. Khan are startling.

Khan-Din (and the producer, Leslie Unwin) gets the wish of having the film stand on its own, and though it might not garner the same box office and clamour as its predecessor did it still deserves credit for being a work of supreme technical accomplishment and maturity. A straight drama with comedic appeal in this day and age of hook and gimmicks.

There may be a third film to complete the trifecta, possibly following Sajid's attempts to get married himself - maybe this will be played for laughs; but as long as this cast remains the same, there remains the key to its ever growing appeal.

Distributed by Icon Productions, the film is scheduled for a general release in February 2011

Friday, 15 October 2010

The Other Guys

On a cold miserable Wednesday, and some convincing to my loyal girlfriend, and after watching a trailer of the film we went to a very empty cinema to watch something that promised a lot of laughs and hilarity. And as my girlfriend was feeling a bit under the weather I used the old cliche of laughter being the best medicine plus the timing of the screening was convenient.  I just wish that halfway through the production of this film, someone from the money men turned to each other and went I wonder what the script looks like. Because as is the norm about Will Ferrell/Adam McKay films, there is no scripted film per se - just a pick'n'mix of improvisation with sketch comedy.  The idea of a plot is meant to be there, and in this instance the Bernie Madoff role is played by Steve Coogan, a foriegner, so the fact that he is literally unAmerican makes him the enemy.

The film starts off as this inversion of the buddy cop movie, laughing at action movies that over indulgent and over the top (much like Bad Boys 2).  The cameos of Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson, as two honored and decorated policeman who take city landscapes as their prisoner in the face of law and order - they are also shy of paperwork which they leave to 'the other guys' in this case Gamble (Ferrell) and Hoitz (badly cast Mark Wahlberg) - policeman with past history who will never trouble the spotlight. Hoitz wants to taste it, but Gamble a forensic accountant wants to sit at his desk and go home to his 'average' wife.
Initially, the chemistry between the two - Hoitz screaming at Gamble for humming reminds of the Odd Couple and you hope that the buddy movie cliche will arise and they learn to embrace each other's faults whilst cracking a big case.  Weirdly though, the filmmakers make sure Hoitz spends the entire film shouting and screaming ('I'm a peacock. Let me fly') just to be heard in an office that where he feels tarred with the same brush as Gamble, a man who believes a desk pop (shouting his gun in the office) is a means of being embraced into the office fraternity.  The emmasculation of him by giving him a wooden gun is funny but infantile.

Infantile is an appropriate word as some of the humour is childish to the point of them taking the first joke that came into the head.  The bad cop/bad cop miscommunication between the two of them as they interrogate Steve Coogan's evil businessman ('I'll give you both $10,000. It is not a bribe') is something I have seen before; a grown man yelling incessantly and trashing a room, and not the first time in a Ferrell film either.

There are funny moments but they all come in the first half of the film when it is still establishing characters and dynamics; the relationship and the banter between Gamble and Hoitz is put to the test by an exchange over Hoitz being a lion and not even eating him even though he is not in his food chain, when Ferrell comes back with an explanation faulting Hoitz's logic, the rambling becomes incessant and hysterical. The other hilarity comes from the casting of Eva Mendes as Sheila, Gamble's wife; the fun with the placing of the exotic Mendes with the not necessarily attractive Ferrell leaves Hoitz flummoxed and open mouthed (No, who are you, really?'), his disbelief leading to a sequence of extended laughs. These laughs are retreaden over the film and for most of the film that is it, jokes are rehashed and retold - the peacock gaff, the infatuation between Hoitz and his partner's wife, the Captain who keeps quoting TLC lyrics without realising (four times) and Grand Theft Auto gets a laugh. At times I was thinking, was this film written in the last year or were they throw away gags from National Lampoon Loaded Weapon. 

It had me laughing for 20 minutes, but soon enough it flags and by the end it struggles to reach a conclusion it fully deserves, but not without more chases and action sequences which bring it back down to Cop Out's level. Maybe police work just is not meant to be funny.

Monday, 11 October 2010

SMALL TIME - THE MAKING OF A MEADOWS

'This ain't London, it's not even f***ing Nottingham. It is Sneanton.'

A voiceover from Shane Meadows that serves as a statement of intent and purpose.  A voiceover to rival Ewan McGregor's in 'Trainspotting' - Meadows first feature film 'Small Time' gets a DVD release from the BFI today and following on from the success of his television debut, 'This is England '86' it serves as a timely reminder of how a young talent was cultivated and developed.

Full of humour, sight gags, funny characters but with an underlying dark context it reminds of what is achievable when you mix talent with patience and with proper financial backing.

With more than a touch of naturalism or 'fly-on-the-wall' about it due to the energetic handheld camerawork and location shooting, Meadows is able to weave in his typical inclination for eccentric characters; the movie also serves as a time capsule for the moment (the women dropping in Power Rangers and Nintendo into a conversation) and the dress code of shellsuits and mad hair from the BritPop era.

The accomplishment of the film must be admired as it does smack of improvisation coupled with a sheer frenzy of guerilla movie-making but something that is better than it appears; it looks cheap in its production but the riches are in the layers; the ingenious comic dialogue, the acting (from professionals and unknown actors) and the direction.

Meadows has always been his own voice, never leaving his East Midlands homestead for the money and comfort of London; he is his own director and along with Danny Boyle the closest thing Britain has to an auteur from their generation.  His authorial fingerprint of gritty realism with a flash of whimsical sensibilites are heralded here and serve notice of what else was to come from his formidable filmography.

The DVD includes the extras of 'Where's the Money Ronnie!' Meadows short film homage to Akira Kursosawa's 'Rashomon', where four suspects give differing versions of a robbery
Also film notes and credits for both films.

SMALL TIME is released by BFI on DVD from 11 October for £12.99 RRP. Available from www.bfi.org.uk/filmstore

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Untouchable memories

The last few weeks Ive watched two films that I thought i knew pretty well and my assumptions of them were set in stone..but it is odd that in the weird world of your mind how things can change due to the sands of time (and i dont mean that CGI sand in 'Prince of Persia')

The films in question are THE UNTOUCHABLES (Brian de Palma, US, 1987) and CASINO (Martin Scorsese, US, 1995) - two familiar and popular films from two directors who are esteemed in their fields.

The Untouchables I watched when I was much younger, one of those films you felt naughty watching because it had that 18 certificate and you were like 12 years old staying up late..but like most memories of my film my chronological grip of the film was all over the place.  I do not remember Charles Martin Smith gettting killed off first in the lift and thought the Canadian border shootout occured nearer the end which led to the Battleship Potemkin ripoff. 
The film was on Film4 and it was gripping; I was watching it with my girlfriend who I felt would not like it that much but she loved it. Picking out actors like Connery and Costner (before he ruined Robin Hood) and loving the action and gruesomeness of DeNiro's attack on his colleague with a baseball bat.
The film has much substance in equal to its style which you expect from De Palma, but there was things I just did not expect. Like Ness (Costner, never being better) throwing a criminal off the roof and therefore ruining his chances of conviction; the glory of Connery's death (gift wrapping an Oscar for himself) but it is also thanks to David Mamet's script - economical, clever (using fact as entertainment, 'Oh, I'm an accountant') and funny on occasions.  And De Palma has fun with audience expectations, when Ness rushes into his daughter's bedroom and sees her not there, your heart is in your mouth and then the camera pans to the right and there she is at her dollhouse - simplicity and brilliantly effective.

Casino, when I first saw it was an equal of Goodfellas, now having watched it again I found it to be incredibly flawed and a film that runs out of legs by the film's end. Whereas Goodfellas did not seek to make martyrs of those hoodlums, and actually did not make you think everyone would die; in Casino, you know everyone is doomed. Maybe it is the opening sequence and seeing DeNiro blow up in that car - the sheer fatalism of it is forebearing.
DeNiro is great as Ace - all style and plenty of layers, but Pesci is like a clown, bursting on to screen beating up anyone that moves or looks at him funny. I felt sorry for Ace on occasion, he wants to do everything legitamately before the carpet gets pulled from under him; whilst his 'friends' intend on ruining him.  And Sharon Stone's performance was Oscar-baiting before Witherspoon, Paltrow, Swank even thought of it.  A whore who attempts to grow a heart of gold, or a wolf in sheep's clothing bought for her by Ace, but Ace must know you got to have a heart first.  I felt somewhat disappointed once Pesci came out to Vegas, before that when Ace explains everything you see Scorsese having fun with the Vegas milieu, eyes in the sky, cheats at the tables and the violence is fun such as when they catch the guy with the wire on his leg.  But then Pesci beats up Irish hoodlums and its gets silly.  And when there are a lot of holes in the desert, you know someone will end up there.

Memories can cloud your judgment of films, something you thought run-of-the-mill might be better than you thought, and something you thought brilliant might be run-of-the mill.

Greenberg

GREENBERG (Noah Baumach, US, 2010)

Ben Stiller is attempting to go all serious on us all, and do one funny film for one serious film - like a one for me, one for you policy - and here he links up with the indie director Noah Baumach (The Squid and the Whale) in this film about a man returning to his routes in Los Angeles after not fulfilling his dream whilst in New York.

Stiller plays Roger Greenberg, a part-time carpenter and former member of an up and coming band, who is a depressive thrust back in tho LA to house sit his brother's house whilst he is away. The brother's personal assistant Florence pops in now and again, and a gradual connection occurs between the two whilst Greenberg attempts to put himself back into a social climate encountering old bandmates who still resent him for putting the kaboosh on their record deal nearly 20 years previously.

Ben Stiller melts into the role brilliantly, playing a bit kooky with a bit of whimsy, his doe-eyes a benefit to this role. At times he does look lost in this big city and they sometimes admit that he really should not be here.  Greenberg feels isolated and alienated from a younger crowd, much like when he goes to a party with Florence's friends and feels pushed to the side in the film's first party scene, culminating in the key sequence when he is surrounded by a group of 20 year olds and drops head first into the hedonism of it all - taking drugs and drunk dialling Florence.

Baumach has fun with the script, being both witty and insightful; developing characters who are fully rounded in a short space of time (both narratively and in screen terms) and having a plot centered on a character who is both neurotic but in search of life.  Baumach who also directed the undervalued 'Margot at the Wedding' (another collection of characters not fulfilling roles admist a social event mixed with personal reflection), does do a bit of canny casting with Greta Gerwig - who plays Florence. Gerwig a graduate of the film genre, mumblecore, is perfect for this style of filmmaking.  This is mumblecore with a proper budget and professional cast, the sensiblities of mumblecore are seen in the formality of the process.

The film follows a narrative with Greenberg willing to runaway again, but it is a genuine fear of being alone that drives him to remain with Florence - maybe this is just an acceptance that he is growing up and that maybe the homecoming means you have come back for good.

GREENBERG is on general sale from October 4th from Universal Pictures for £15.99 RRP

Monday, 20 September 2010

Salt review

SALT (Philip Noyce, US, 2010)

This espionge, new cold war thriller written by Kurt Wimmer (Law Abiding Citizen) has had a long gestation period originally intended as a vehicle for Tom Cruise as Ethan Salt; but following his long attachment to the Mission: Impossible and the similarities this film shares with that franchise, coupled with his falling star status meant that the tagline, 'Who is Salt?' carried not a query of her enigmatic being, but more in asking who will play it.  Angelina Jolie, the most physical of Hollywood actresses in that she does her own stunts following on from 'Tomb Raider' and 'Wanted', is the most bankable of Hollywood female stars and like most stars is in need of a franchise to call her own.

Evelyn Salt, is introduced to us in a pre-credit sequence as a hostage in North Korea, eventually freed in a bargain for a Korean spy is met by her superior Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) who tells her to not say anything. This positions her as sometimes subservient to her male superiors, the fact that she is tortured in her bra and panties is something not to go into but is open to arguments.  Cut to modern day, two years later and she is married to a German specialist in arachnids (August Diehl), near the end of a working day a Russian spy seeks asylum in Washington, during the interrogation it transpires that a Russian spy will kill the Russian President on his visit to New York the next day. He informs them that the spy's name is Evelyn Salt. Salt says that is her name. So she is a Russian spy says he. This leads to the extended game of cat and mouse, where the CIA seek to keep her locked up and away from the Russian head of state, whilst she seeks to escape and get there herself.

The film could so easily have regressed and fallen into the traps of sub-par Hollywood action films but it refuses to do this in part due to the efforts of Jolie in the role of never to be outdone spy, who is a match for any male the invention of a grenade launcher using a fire extinguisher shows her inventiveness and calmness under pressure.  In this instance, the film was reminiscent most of 'The Fugitive' - the pantheon of action films of a person done wrong and on the run to clear their name.

It is because of this  that the person who should gain the most credit (but will remain unsung) will be the director Noyce, who helps elevate the set pieces to important moments that lend the film credence and credibility.  Noyce has previous experience in 'Patriot Games' and 'Clear and Present Danger', action in thrillers but it is the thriller element he raises to higher levels, face offs become moments of brewing intensities such as when Salt tries to shoot an enemy through a bulletproof window, the enemy does not blink.  It reminded me of his work on 'The Quiet American' where the underlying psychological effect on the character tried to weed itself out against an atypical political story.  The use of reigniting the Cold War plotline is not unheralded as the real reason is to ignite the war of religion through proliferation of nuclear weapons. 

The ending leads to the inevitability of a sequel but unlike most franchises there is enough of a character and action to maintain your interest - and is now up to speed with the Bourne franchise. Whereas Bourne started his trilogy not knowing who he was in a world that he very much knew; Salt is a person who knows who she is in a very uncertain world with an unknown direction.

Sons of Cuba review

SONS OF CUBA (Andrew Lang, US, 2009)

Andrew Lang's award winning and festival favourite documentary gains a DVD release from Mr.Bongo films this September. Renowned by critics it provides a stunning insight into Castro's Cuba following young boys who are amateur boxers training to become champions and idols of a nation. 

A bit of background here, Cuba is the hot bed of world amateur boxing - in the past 40 years of Olympic games, it has won a remarkable 63 Olympic medals, 32 of them gold (Amir Khan lost out to Mario Kindelan, a legend in amateur boxing).  Lang and his production crew were given access to the Havana Boxing School; where a handful of 10 year old boys wake up at 4am (six days a week), to begin the routine of boxing training.

The film is dealt a powerful emotional blow by the falling ill of Fidel Castro causing many boys to flee for politcial asylum in America, like so many Cuban nationals attempt to do every year in boats heading for Miami.  The emotional context coupled with the physical toil leads to young boys having to make big decisions at such a young age.

Like all good documentaries - mixing both personal and political, but also having that unifying entity known as sport into the fold you have a great recipe for a good documentary - previous films that did this were 'When We Were Kings' and 'Hoop Dreams', but the film is reminiscent of 'Spellbound' where children are attempting to over-achieve at such an early age, with strong individual desire and not parental influence as you mightg anticipate in such situations.  In one instance, a young boxer is asked by his mother what does he want to do. 'I want to win a gold medal'. 'Don't you think that is a bit over ambitious,' she asks. 'That is my goal', he retorts matter of factly in a way that leaves no doubt about his intentions for the future.

This coupled with the evidence that boxing remains the most cinematic of sports because of the allure of fame and glamour combined with the ability to manipulate fights into something of a spectacle (you need only look at 'Raging Bull', 'Rocky' and 'Champion' for evidence) - it maintains its position as a noble sport where victory is as close as defeat.  And these young men are learning these life rules in this very powerful and emotive document.

Dogtooth

DOGTOOTH (Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece, 2009)

Directed and co-written by Lanthimos with his colleague Efthimis Filippou, the winner of Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2009 tells the story of a family cut off from the outside world behind a high wall in a home with a swimming pool, a television that plays only family home movies where the wife is a prisoner much like the three children (one boy, two girls) who are home schooled and refused interaction with the outside world - father (who only leaves for the factory he owns) is a taskmaster who has told the children that the planet is roaming with 'man-eating cats'.  (The things you believe your parents to say.)

This is not home schooling, more like home torturing.  Father brings home a security guard to have intercourse with the son who can fulfil his sexual needs; and the sisters who have already set in sibling rivalry and competitiveness (they race to see who can fall asleep first using chloroform - not realising that neither will know the result)

But whilst it can be declared as 'car-crash' cinema -in the fact that you cannot take your eyes off of the screen - due in part to the short scenes that are more like vignettes of intent by the director, who is substituted by the father as a figure in the film.  The lack of name for the family make you less sympathetic to them - you have no attachment to their wants and needs, your desire of watching a family self-implode by their own hand is fitting for this reality TV society.

In spite of the questionable material and content,  Lanthimos has an unusual confidence in his mise-en-scene construction and cinematograpy - sometimes cutting people off at their heads so we are not privy to absolutely everything.  Natural lighting combined with naturalistic performances by the excellent cast make the film beguiling, shocking and all in all memorable, albeit for reasons you may not consider entertainment, lets just call it cinema - and it is rare to see a brave piece of film-making get the acclaim it deserves

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Avatar at the IMAX

AVATAR 3D (James Cameron, US, 2009)

I go through phases of movie-going, I try to see as much as possible, I try to see a variety of films running the gamut of emotions from laughing to crying, black and white to technicolour, silent to subtitled.
But I always have this ability to miss the boat on must-see movies, I think it started with Titanic. I didnt want to waste 3 1/2 hours of my life waiting to see a boat sink, even though that was the best bit.  The same with the Dark Knight, I refused to be cowed into seeing a film that everyone wanted to see - this might be me maintaining my individual streak, or maybe I really liked Batman Begins (which is increasingly underrated) and did not want my expectations ruined. With all due respect, I felt the untimely death of Heath Ledger led to the film being raised onto a platform ages before the correct justification, especially his performance as the Joker, which yes is mind blowing and unbelievable. When i eventually watched Dark Knight, it was on my own in a dark bedroom on a small screen (I think if i had seen it on a huge screen my reaction would have been different), and i was drawn more to Aaron Eckhart's portryal as Harvey Dent, if Ledger had lived it would have been interesting if they would have had a two horse race, because naturally Warner Bros. threw their weight behind a campaign for Ledger to be awarded posthumously for only the 2nd time at the Oscars in terms of acting awards.

And so we come to Avatar, watching the many trailers and tidbits and behind the scenes footage before the film was finally released, I felt like I had watched the film so many times.  My first reaction to the trailer was Ferngully meets Dances with Wolves - not an original film but the idea of a cod Disney film mixed with a half decent Western just did not seem to appeal to me.

But after all the adulation, the billions of dollars have gone into it, and after missing out on the Oscars (correctly), James Cameron has returned with a re-release of Avatar with 9 minutes of additional footage making it just that little bit longer.

The film is an amazing spectacle to look at, it paints Pandora as something to yearn for. The forest you will never play in, a wonderment of nature.  Whilst the film does smack of parables of imperialism, colonialism, anti-Americanism, pro-Native American/Amazon; once you get past the oblique political subtext the film is a joyride of action adventure. It works as a film to admire, as you can sympathise with the hero immediately, he has lost a loved one (who involved in war has not), he is disabled though no-one uses that word as they are more likely to use paralysed, though i think paralysed means unable to do anything. The hero goes into the Avatar, a construction of the Pandorian race and in a covert op aims to infiltrate the tribe and get them to move on, so the American industry can obtain the rich resource in their forest - replace the coal slash diamond matter for oil and you get the anti-Bush administration feeling here.

Whilst the film is a great action adventure it is the special effects that is the star of the show - why do you think he picked Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana as his leads, do you think established stars would want to play second fiddle to the FX.  There are moments of great beauty, and choosing to watch it on the biggest screen in the UK, the South Bank IMAX does the film the justice it deserves.

So maybe you should sometimes be patient, and if you do not have time to see the film on the big screen initially seek it out on one. Much like I did when I saw 'The Magnificent Seven' on the bfi screen in June. A sight and wonder to behold for certain.