Sunday, 30 September 2007


[And yet more great stuff from Alex.]

Here's an important lesson to realise about cinema. The economics of film are predicated on you only seeing a film once. Most people go to the cinema, rent or own DVDs - not all three. Most people therefore only pay once for a film (even if you might watch it many times on DVD). What does this mean? It means the studios just need to get you to buy your ticket (or DVD), they almost don't care what happens to you once you're watching.

For small films quality is important because fewer people will walk in the door in the first place, so these films need to count on viewers convincing their friends to go and see the movie. Even for large films where the story is original, posters might not be enough. They still must have positive evangelism from viewers to go out and explain why it's worth seeing the film (even though advertising plays an important role at this level). Finally you have the "Pre-Sold Franchises", in these cases you will hear people say things like "I don't care how bad the reviews are I have to see that movie". Just look at the continued box office success of the new Star Wars films despite the critical panning. The fans still own all of the DVDs and went to the movies "just to see if they ruined it", same with Transformers, same with Spiderman.

Spiderman was interesting because it, and the first sequel, were actually good movies. I don't know how that slipped through the net, but hopefully the success of that and the new Bond film will remind execs that there is an audience out there who weren't sold on the original and they can be tapped only with quality. Two of my friends had never seen Bond until Casino Royale, by reaching out with quality the studio has been rewarded. I hope they take it to heart. Either that or they run out of cartoons to turn into movies. I've talked here about cartoons and so on, but the same is true for all adaptations. The reason that Hollywood turns so many books into film is not just because there are good stories in the books, it's because people will have already heard of the book. In the final part tomorrow I'll talk about the process of adaptation.

Saturday, 29 September 2007


[More from Alex.]

Adaptation is tricky for film but lucrative. Cinema is essentially a nervous medium. We want it to be bold but with so much money at stake Hollywood wants to be sure.

"Sure things" can't be bold. The best thing "sure things" can be is mediocre; sure things can also be terrible of course. The surest sign of artistic success is the divisive rating; some people loved it, some people hated it but everyone talked about it. Almost always a film that nobody hated is also a film that nobody loved.

You can't make an omelette without shooting some film - they say. Or at least I say. Or at least I said right then.

Adaptations seem like they are safer. They are known as "Pre-Sold Franchise" because the studio believes (probably correctly) that they don't have to do the work to get you to go to the cinema the first time. If you know what Transformers is already then the studio doesn't have to convince you to go and see it. Bad reviews matter less as well. Tomorrow I'll talk more about why people adapt films.

Friday, 28 September 2007


[In an attempt to get me back into the same timezone as the rest of you, Alex has kindly written some articles for me. Hope you enjoy them!]

Kubrick didn't enjoy the process of adapting the novel Red Alert. Too much of the plot had to be thrown away; he felt that it had basically become a farce, things just suddenly happened for no reason. Of course creatively this worked quite well for him and us as we got Dr Strangelove. After this experience Kubrick concentrated on adapting short stories believing that they were an easier fit with the cinema. (Obviously he made an exception for Barry Lyndon, resulting in Kubrick's longest film – it has an interval). Personally I feel novels are more akin to a television series, the chapters of a book representing the episodes.

The immutable laws of medium are thus:

Film / Television : Show don't tell
Plays: Tell don't show
Novels: Think

The last one might not be obvious, but the greatest structural advantage of the novel is that the author can explain something that happens within the head of a character.

When telling a story one must choose which medium fits the story the best. The question we must ask is why then would anyone ever adapt anything? I'll talk about the reasons tomorrow.

Thursday, 27 September 2007


The other effect that seeing so many more films in the cinema this year has had is that I find I do enjoy them much more in a theatre. Since I started, many of the movies I saw have since come out on video and I've subsequently bought them - Children of Men, Black Book and Host, for example. They are still great films, but I noticed the loss of the big screen and sound. I wasn't as engrossed as I was the first time. I've become much more attuned to the differences between the cinema and the home experience and have come to value the former greatly. On the other hand, however, seeing them at home means you're not so seduced by the size and sound. At home, you're capable of seeing the film flaws easier, I think. Although, it may just be that watching a movie the second time is not as good as the first.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007


I may be overly confusing you at the moment by posting four days late but still keeping the original title. Thus, lounging around this Saturday afternoon you are receiving Wednesday's post. It will all make sense soon, I promise. Anyway, over the last year I have perhaps increased my cinema-going by more than one hundred percent. Not only that, but it has had an effect on how many films I see at home too - buying, renting, or watching them on television. And writing these articles means I am thinking about the art of cinema almost every day. What effect has all this had on me? you may be wondering. I feel much more confident analysing a film now. I've seen so many that I've developed a range of tastes within me. I know what I like and don't like to see, and what I've seen before. My knowledge is far from comprehensive, but I start to see clearly within a few minutes of a film beginning the form and the stylistics and how to break them apart. I no longer worry whether my reviews will include everything. It's impossible to include everything, and I know I will make mistakes. I don't worry when I enter a film if I'll be able to form a judgement of it, or whether my judgement will be correct. I always know I'll have plenty to say, and that there is no such thing as a 'correct judgement'. I hope, for you too, it's been a beneficial learning period!

Tuesday, 25 September 2007


You may not have heard of Breach. It's been out for almost a month now. There were posters, and I think I once saw a trailer on TV. But otherwise its release was fairly limited, and its reception quite muted. However, every review I read recommended it, and so yesterday I saw it. The story concerns the real-life events of an FBI agent who is handing secrets to the Russians. A young agent, played by Ryan Phillippe, is sent undercover as his assistant to take notes on everything he does, and find evidence of how he is leaking information. Whilst this may not sound original, the true nature of the story gives this film a weight it wouldn't have had otherwise. Really, though, this film is a character study of a man betraying his country. You never entirely dislike, or like, him. The director has kept a good balance. Unfortunately, beside Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe's performance is not that good. The dialogue sounded false and strained, and he didn't match the intensity of Cooper. As always with real-life stories, the pacing of events is hard to adapt to that of a movie, but here the job is done well. Most of the drama revolves around moments of 'he's coming back, get out of his room now!', which are quite routinely but nonetheless effectively done. Overall I'd definitely recommend this movie. It's intelligently and seriously made, with great performances from Chris Cooper and Laura Linney.

Monday, 24 September 2007


Unfortunately, I drank too much on Sunday night and incapacitated myself all Monday and most of Tuesday. I will try to get back on terms with Stranded Cinema as quickly as possible. In my convalescence I was lent the complete series of Heroes on DVD (I don't know if my friend acquired this illegally or not, and I didn't ask). I had been watching it on BBC 2, but have now propelled myself far ahead of such terrestrial dawdlings. Although I've said here previously how television has begun to narrow the gap to cinema recently, I think Heroes must be considered as something that surpasses that distinction. It is compelling. However, very little actually happens in each episode, and it can be frustrating. The series overstates its own importance a little. It could be condensed a lot more. Also, if you take away the special powers, you realise you are left with little more than a soap opera - a daughter feeling alienated from her parents, a struggling single mother etc. So, this is good, but I wait to see how it ends and where it goes (I believe a second series is on the way soon).

Sunday, 23 September 2007


So, what did you think of Superbad? I forgot to mention that I thought it received one of the most positive reactions I've heard from an audience coming out of a cinema. Everyone was still laughing, reciting the jokes, or reminding each other 'what about the bit when...'. One man behind me on the escalator even switched on his phone and called someone as soon as he could to tell them how great it was. What was more bizarre about this, however, was that he didn't know the name of the film he'd just seen. He called it 'Badass'. He had an American accent so I at first thought perhaps in the US it was released under a different title. But no. The film is called Superbad, you have to say that when you buy the ticket, and it comes up in big letters on the screen before the movie starts. How could you not know what you were seeing? Especially if you enjoyed it so much? All right, he got the word 'bad' right, but otherwise he was way off, and may have directed his friends to go and see an entirely different film. I worry for them.

Saturday, 22 September 2007


During my viewing of Pushing Tin, a question occurred to me: why do filmmakers always skip the sex scene? We'll see the couple kissing, possibly getting into bed and undressing, but then they'll fade out, music will start, and we'll cut to them the next morning. The obvious reason as to why sex is omitted is because of the rating of the movie. Also, sometimes, the stars will refuse to show themselves naked. Yet in a great many movies people do have sex - we just don't see it. Why don't they show it? The real reason, I think, is that (like a scene of two people talking in a car) there's very little variation a director is capable of. There's not much to work with, if you see what I mean. When was the last time you saw a sex scene and thought 'well, that's interesting'? They're functional scenes, in terms of directing, and it's best to avoid them unless you have a very clear and original idea. Of course, I would say that the better films delay the main couple getting together until the film has finished. However, not that I'm an expert in such things, the best scene I know of is from Don't Look Now, and this is mainly through the way their undressing and loving and cut is together with them dressing again afterwards and preparing to go out. The two acts become the same thing, and it brings a hollowness to what they're doing, but also somehow a humble passion. The rating of the film gives directors an easy way out, and it would be much more interesting if they were forced to deal with it directly.

Friday, 21 September 2007


Superbad is ironically (or not) very, very good. This is probably the best comedy I've seen since Anchorman, and it might even be better than that. It definitely beats Knocked Up, no question about it. For its humour and human observation, the opening conversation is as good as Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta's dialogue in the car from Pulp Fiction. It's about three boys who want to have some sexual experience before they go off to college. You might think, if you're a woman, 'this film is for men, I'm not interested', but I can tell you that the loudest laughs came from the women in the audience. I was thinking 'why has no one made a film about geeky high school girls trying to get laid?' (maybe they did: Welcome to the Dollhouse?), but I think women will enjoy this movie too. This is mainly because of the sensitivity of the men, and the jokes are always on them. There is nothing really crude here, in the style of American Pie. What is great is the sincerity beneath the surface. Whilst in Anchorman the characters are one-dimensional and you never really empathise with him, here (and in Knocked Up) a lot of effort has been made to make them real. In between the comedy, they deal with real issues of friendship, growing up and separating. Great comedies, as we know, are able to cross this line into sincerity, but still be able to rescue the jokes. As the camera pulled back from the final scene, I prayed for the credits to roll because it was the perfect moment to finish the film. It's not often you get what you wish for. Go see this film.

Thursday, 20 September 2007


There were three interesting trailers before Disturbia. The first was I Am Legend, starring Will Smith, and not coming to us until January. This film looks big. It's adapted from Isaac Asimov by the same writer who did I, Robot, which can only be a good thing. It's fair to say this was a 'teaser trailer', as it showed very little, but I was sufficiently teased. The scope of this movie looks immense - whole parts of Manhattan deserted - and I've already said here how a scene on one of the bridges was apparently the most expensive ever. As far as I can tell, Will Smith thinks he's the last man left alive, but he soon discovers he's not, and whatever it is (possibly) isn't human.

Secondly came Across the Universe, coming out next week, which started off looking fairly ordinary: an aspiring artist from Liverpool goes to America in the 1960s and gets involved in all the appropriate scenes and political movements, his friends get shipped off to Vietnam etc and it felt in way a bit like Forrest Gump. But then it turns out this film is actually a musical, starring Eddie Izzard. It looks very odd.

Lastly was 30 Days of Night, coming here in November. This started off looking good, then looked awful, then reverted to good again. It's another film adapted from a comic book. In a small town in north Alaska there are 30 days of night. Who is this good for? You guessed it: vampires. The community based there, starring Josh Hartnett, has to try to stay alive until the sun comes back. So, a bit like Pitch Black meets Blade, maybe.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007


This is the second part of my review of Disturbia. I mentioned before that the roles of the school friend or the girl were not both necessary. Perhaps I'd opt to omit the school friend, but maybe with a better actor it would've been ok. The girl, though, (as strangely in LaBeouf's earlier film Transformers) is really far too attractive. It's not believable that she's into books, or that she'll like him. The relationship happens too quickly. Her absence from the last five minutes, and her sudden unexplainable appearance slightly earlier, highlight her as a plot function rather than a genuinely necessary character. I did like it when he confronted her about her speed in conforming to high school society, however. As for the 'serial killer', I thought too much was revealed too soon. The music cues gives away a lot, and although the possibility that he's innocent wavers up and down until the end, you're never much in doubt. If this hadn't tried to be so mainstream, I think they could've played a lot more with the psychology of the situation. They had a lot to work with - not just him stuck at home, but also the idea of the replacement father figure. They hint at the idea of the Stockholm syndrome, but don't develop it. Hitchcock, you have to say, would've found more depth here - although this film dealt with teenagers, and had a modern indie soundtrack, it is deeply indebted to Mr H. Perhaps it would've been better if the characters were older, and less was explained to you. The final reveal is perhaps too extreme. There are too many moments of 'if he does that, why would he do this?' - 'plot holes' some people call them. Nonetheless, for its one hundred minutes I was engaged and, occasionally, on the edge of my seat.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007


My review of Disturbia is going to be in two parts. The film stars Shia LaBeouf as a boy who is put under house arrest for punching his teacher. He is fitted with an ankle bracelet which won't allow him more than 100 yards from his house. After several weeks of boredom and observing his neighbours (including a very attractive girl), he starts to believe one of them is a serial killer. As you can tell, this is like a cross between Hitchcock's Rear Window and The 'burbs. It has, however, enough originality to stand on its own. The slight problem with it is that it relies on too many mainstream effects. There were just one too many cliches for me to really enjoy this film. At times, it was loud and brash when it could've been silent and subtle. Some of the music was too sentimental, and wanted to direct us toward every emotion, but equally it was occasionally a cool soundtrack featuring the Kings of Leon (amongst others). The set-up at the beginning was compelling, but too obvious - or cheap - a way to get us to like the main character. Shia LeBeouf's performance is good enough for us to like him anyway. Overall, it was too mainstream in its concepts and construction - it felt at times like an empty show, and there was little chemistry between actors. I don't even know if all the characters were necessary - either his school friend or the girl, not both. Perhaps it's unfair to compare this to Rear Window. It was enjoyable and tense, and borders on the line between whether I want to see it again or not. I think I do.

Monday, 17 September 2007


Having seen Angelina Jolie in Pushing Tin, I decided to pursue her career further. I wondered why she was so highly regarded, except for having incredibly big lips, and a willingness to be half-naked. Thus I found myself watching Girl, Interrupted, for which she won an Oscar. Winona Ryder is ostensibly the star, as she plays an aspiring writer in the 1960s pressured into going to a mental asylum by her parents. The flashbacks to her previous life I found irritating, as well as the narration by Ryder (this is adapted from a novel, as you can quickly tell). It seems to fit every other 'group of people bound together by hardship' story that you've ever heard of (either in prisons or schools etc). You have an array of characters all trying to get over their various problems. Angelina Jolie is supposedly the most interesting of these, but I found her performance fairly ordinary. She just seemed to be playing herself, or the same role as in Pushing Tin, anyway. I was pretty bored by the end, but maybe this isn't a movie aimed at me anyway. The premise seemed pretty trite and shallow: what is normal? are any of us really normal? Anyway, I'm sure some people enjoyed it, but I shall have to continue in my search for why Angelina Jolie is so respected. Incidentally, the film's director, James Mangold, is the man behind the current 3:10 to Yuma, which does look good.

Sunday, 16 September 2007


Pushing Tin is a film that fails mainly because of its misjudged tone. As soon as it began, I visualised the probable meeting when a group of producers came up with the idea: 'I know, no one's done a film about air-traffic controllers before, let's do that'. It really is that bad. The music, the credits, the establishing shots all tell you that you're watching a movie that won't challenge you, that accepts certain limits as standard, or certain conceptions of the world. Strangely, it's directed by Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and adapted from an article by the writers of Cheers. From such diverse sources, you can sort of tell this was a producer's movie. For example, the cast was probably selected with publicity in mind rather than aptness for the role. As such, John Cusack doesn't quite pull this off, and Billy Bob Thornton and Angeline Jolie are just odd. Their characters are cliched, and yet this movie sits awkwardly between comedy and drama and deals lightly with the uncomfortable issue of adultery. It doesn't 'feel' right, is what I'm trying to say, and this can only be because it's been miscast and misdirected. Perhaps, also, this should be an independent movie but it was promoted to mainstream status. Or, maybe it was two movies that have been incongruously put together.

Saturday, 15 September 2007


Play It Again, Sam is a hard film to place in the career of Woody Allen. He adapted it from his own play, but it's not directed by him. Strangely, however, he had already directed four films before this one. It's just as funny as anything he's ever done, and involves more acute observations than his other early films Bananas or Sleeper. In many ways, in fact, it feels like a draft of Manhattan and Annie Hall, and even stars the same actors in very similar roles (Tony Roberts and Diane Keaton). The slightly disconcerting aspect to it is the frequent references to Casablanca (the movie begins with the end of that one), and the visions Allen's character has of Humphrey Bogart. As he will find out for himself as he matures, he doesn't need to so obviously reference and rely on another work of art, his films can stand on their own without it. Indeed, if you'd taken away those references, you might be left with a better movie. Overall, the direction itself feels rough and rushed, and the sound quality seems bad. There is very little music (again, not done by Woody himself here, and perhaps it would've been helped by his usual blues soundtrack). It does feel like a play, although they've tried very hard to dispel that with frequent location changes. Throughout, we are mostly listening to the monologue of Allen, so that we never really engage with the drama. I laughed throughout (it contains another classic moment where Allen is so funny the other actors laugh too), but I don't think this is particularly a good movie.

Friday, 14 September 2007


I mentioned two days ago some of my favourite young actors. Of course, Ryan Reynolds isn't young (he's older than me), but I still consider him part of the younger generation. He can still, for some reason, play a high school kid. His comic timing is excellent, but he doesn't just do comedies. I think I've already mentioned his good role in the awful Smokin' Aces. Perhaps more interesting is the upcoming The Nines, where he plays multiple characters, a film written and directed by John August (writer of Go). Unfortunately that won't be with us until December. However, a film came out yesterday starring another interesting young actor: Shia LaBeouf. We haven't heard much about him over here, but I think he's generating interest in Hollywood. I first noticed him alongside Will Smith in I, Robot, and he was respectable in this year's most ridiculous blockbuster Transformers. Anyway, he's now in Disturbia (a contender for worst title of the year, I think), which Alex has recommended I see, and I'm very much looking forward to. You may also be interested to know he's landed possibly one of the biggest roles of this decade in the new Indiana Jones film. Keep your fingers crossed very tight.

Thursday, 13 September 2007


In a complete reverse of genre, yesterday I saw 1408. It's an adaptation of a Stephen King story starring John Cusack as a cynical writer who visits haunted places and reviews them. He finds out about room 1408 in a hotel in New York and, despite the manager's protestations, books the room for the night. I'm never sure how to review horror films. If their only aim is to scare you, then they succeed too easily. However, with Stephen King, you expect to be more than scared. You expect a psychological trauma that will stay with you, or a story that questions reality as you know it. As this movie began, I was successfully scared, the tension built brilliantly to the moment he first opens the door and enters the room. But, as with all horror films, as soon as you see something you cease to be horrified. You soon discover that whatever the terrifying thing is, it actually can't do much to the main character. There are certain rules that need to be followed. So, for a lot of this film, I found myself on the verge of laughter as John Cusack ran around an empty hotel room going mental. It was a bit like a Beckett play. It was very hard to sustain the tension with only one actor. I imagined that the original story probably worked a lot better - in a movie you need interaction, whereas in a book you can dwell on the psychology of one man for much longer. The multiple twists at the end were annoying, but perhaps necessary. Someone behind me voiced the thoughts of everyone in the cinema as the credits rolled: 'what does that mean?'. As with other King stories, you're never sure what to think by the end, but I'd say this film doesn't sustain its terror as well as The Shining, or The Secret Window. It was good until he entered the room, but quickly became fruitless. Still, John Cusack was very good at a difficult role, and if you want to be scared this will do the job.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007


Continuing my run of romantic comedies, today I saw Just Friends. I'd been wanting to see it for a while as it stars three of my favourite young actors: Ryan Reynolds, Anna Faris and Amy Smart. It's about a guy who returns to his home town and meets the girl he loved at school, but who only ever considered him a friend. Reynolds is as funny as ever - getting humour out of previously humourless situations - and still reminds me of Chevy Chase. The film of course isn't perfect. The drive of the film is lost when we suddenly hear his thoughts, and two minutes later when we start getting the girl's point of view (where previously we've only had the boy's). It ruins the tension considerably. The ending is also resolved too quickly, and quite unrealistically. With the stars that they have, however, this was always going to be enjoyable (for me at least). It is mildly funny, and heart-warming, and seeing as it's set over Christmas, we should really call this a Christmas movie. Worth watching on Boxing Day, at least.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007


In a surprise twist, I watched the recent Music & Lyrics last night. The surprise is that whilst Drew Barrymore didn't sing for Everyone Says I Love You, she did for this film. And her voice was actually not that bad. Interesting. Anyway, this is an odd film. I remember deciding I'd never want to see it when I heard about it, but then the trailers and the reviews were actually quite positive. Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore in fact work very well together. Grant, especially, is very funny here. I think a problem is that her character is slightly too weird for a mainstream romantic comedy. And any plot-line based around half-real events (an 80s pop star and a Britney-like modern one) is always unconvincing. But don't let that stop you. Despite following predictable plot-lines, this is an original context and concept. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

Monday, 10 September 2007


Last night I watched (for perhaps only the second or third time) Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You. I realised it's very much like Hannah and Her Sisters: the storyline spans a year, and Allen himself plays the role of a stepfather looking for new love. Nothing much happens, as in a lot of Allen's movies, but it's the journey that you enjoy - more specifically the jokes along the way, and the character observation. There are songs, but is this really a musical? It's more like a film with some music, rather than a musical with some talking. Anyway, things happen, but nothing changes, really. it's all good fun but you don't feel particularly enriched by the end. The dance scene along the Seine is magnificent, but when it's done you feel that it was an empty exercise, rather than heartfelt. Not that I didn't enjoy this film, but it is not nearly as fresh and exciting as Hannah and Her Sisters, nor as powerful as Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Sunday, 9 September 2007


In a new feature for Stranded Cinema, here is my first non-review of a movie: the film was called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and I saw it last Sunday. The reason this is a 'non-review' is because by the time we watched it we were quite drunk, and I remember very little about it. I'm sure I fell asleep for certain parts of it. (In fact, I recall being fairly drunk for Spider-Man 3, so perhaps that was my first 'non-review'.) Anyway, the film stars Robert Downey Jr, I'm sure of that, and it's directed by Shane Black (responsible for Lethal Weapon, and the very good The Long Kiss Goodnight). It's about a guy who does some stuff, really. I can't quite remember. I think there was a murder, but maybe it turned out not to be a murder by the end, or the wrong person was murdered. I don't know. I remember having that feeling 'this is adapted from a book'. The main point seemed to be the very post-modern humour and ironic narrator. It was slickly told and directed. I remember in particular 'I'm the man who invented dice'. Perhaps this is Robert Downey Jr at his coolest - a role made for him. Overall, though, I really need to see this again to form any kind of judgement of it. Let me know if you think my non-reviewing method is a success or not.

Saturday, 8 September 2007


Reprise is a Norwegian film about two young writers trying to publish their novels. Like Dans Paris (reviewed by me here) it's shot in the French New Wave style, and similarly deals with mental illness. The movie begins with the two friends putting their manuscripts into a letterbox, and the first five minutes is spent imagining what would've happened if both were published. However, only one is, and the pressures resultant from this drive him to a mental breakdown. We jump forward and backward in time for the next thirty minutes, imagining consequences, then seeing the real ones, having flashbacks for insignificant events, and a narrator that ironically knows everything ('in five seconds she's going to look at him' etc). The film, I have to admit, is relentlessly cool, swept along to the soundtrack of The Hives-like punk music. However, some techniques which start off cute, repeated five times become annoying. It is hit-and-miss. But this is film-making that is at least excited about film. They're interested in style and how it can tell a story. Occasionally you think 'if the filmmaker can manipulate the plot so much, why should I care about it?', but the anguish of these young men is sensitively told. The ending was unsatisfactorily ambiguous, which goes with the style, but I wasn't entirely happy with it. The Independent reviewer calls this film 'early Godard by way of Dawson's Creek', which is cruelly accurate, but also unfair. It's definitely worth watching - immediately you realise how indoctrinated you are to the American sentiment in film, and this movie is a refreshing change.

Friday, 7 September 2007


I had been wanting to watch Kevin Smith's Dogma for a long time. Perhaps I built my hopes up too high, or perhaps I wasn't fully concentrating when I watched it, but it wasn't as good as I'd hoped. I knew virtually nothing about it (until the announcer told me the plot), except that friends had said it was good. Thus, I was thrilled when Jay and Silent Bob appeared. The problem with the film, I thought, as indeed is the problem with Christianity, is that it works perfectly until you get to the end. The resolution of the movie, as with Christian life, is deeply unsatisfying. You're brought brilliantly into the world of the movie, engaging with the characters and their interaction, building suspense for a big showdown at the end, only for it to fall flat, as it always will, with God. Things end too predictably for a film that has been built on unpredictability. Plus, whilst they have interesting characters, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck play them quite badly, although you do sense the good chemistry between them. I think I wanted more, and felt unsatisfied by the end. It is a good and amusing movie, but not a great film.

Thursday, 6 September 2007


Is Knocked Up funny? Yes. Is it the funniest film you'll ever see? No, but then you weren't expecting that. At its core, I think, are two good performances of sensitively written characters. You engage with them, and believe in them, almost instantly. Katherine Heigl is not exactly hard to look at, and Seth Rogen has that earnest, honest face that you can sympathise with. I was laughing out loud at several points, but this is not an all-out comedy. The pacing was occasionally off; I didn't see how they suddenly liked each other so much when they'd seemed opposites; the basic misunderstanding as to how she got pregnant wasn't strong enough, and the reconciliation at the end wasn't quite as satisfying as I wanted (perhaps because I had to keep getting up and down for people who needed the toilet, literally two minutes from the finish). They skirt the more serious issue of abortion, but give generally a sweet picture of parenting, and the pains of pregnancy. You may cynically think that the relationship has no chance of long-term success, but the film carries you along without letting such negativism in. I don't know the actress who played her, but Heigl's jealous co-worker was brilliant. I guess overall this is good enough. I don't see how and where it could've been better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007


There's a comedy starring Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Rachel Weisz and Christopher Walken, directed by Barry Levinson (Bandits, Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam etc). How come we haven't heard of it? It's called Envy and came out in 2004. I have a feeling that it probably went straight to video - which is rare for a film with such big names (you might think they'd get quite a few people to see it because of the stars alone). Watching it last night, I think its main problem is that the situation is only mildly funny, and the characters definitely aren't. Stiller and Black don't have a lot to work with. There's not much tension we can enjoy or sympathise with. Even in Meet The Parents where Stiller's character was fairly blank, the situation he found himself in became funny. Here, there's virtually nothing. Weisz also isn't very good at comedy, which doesn't help, and the strange music makes the film seem like a morality play on the dangers of envy. Plus at the beginning, before we've had a chance to engage with the characters, we keep skipping forward in time. It was all a bit weird. At least, though, there were some good moments: Stiller and Black do get to enjoy themselves occasionally, notably Stiller's long speech at the end, or Black's protestations at the unstoppable carousel. I think the whole thing might have been better with different actors and directors (the script could be funny) but overall this was a failed experiment.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007


Apparently there are not one, but two films about Iraq showing at the Venice Film Festival this week. The first I mentioned earlier: Brian De Palma's Redacted. The second is called In The Valley of Elah, and stars Charlize Theron and Tommy-Lee Jones as two people hunting for a missing soldier. It's directed by Paul Haggis (who directed Crash). These are the first, big, high profile Hollywood movies about the war - which seem to me to be a long time coming. De Palma's is generally so far agreed to be better, and more critical, than In The Valley of Elah. Their premieres come just days after Ridley Scott was quoted saying it's very hard to get good movies made in Hollywood anymore. He argued against the run of franchises that we've seen, and how the percentage of good films is becoming less and less. To hear this from a successful director is fairly astonishing, but at least Hollywood are putting themselves forward as possibly critical of the Iraq war. Even if these films aren't good, they're at least challenging the mainstream political thought in America, which is something.

Monday, 3 September 2007


I realise now that I probably saw The Bourne Ultimatum film crew. Passing through Waterloo, as I do almost every day, I noticed a great amount of camera equipment piled up by one of the booths in the middle of the concourse. It seemed more professional, and larger, than any film unit I'd seen before. I didn't see any stars, or indeed a great amount of people recognisable as 'movie industry types' (they were either just setting up, or just leaving), and of course I didn't know The Bourne Ultimatum would have one of its major sequences in the station. But it was at about the right time for them to be filming it, so it's possible. Anyway, this sighting brings me to my main point about how great it is to see London on film. I frequently see film crews of some sort - either for TV, or small independent movies - but very rarely view the end result. Only a few weeks ago there was a line of trailers on Malet Street outside my library, and a bit earlier there was crew on Northcote Road opposite my work. To see the places you go frequently put into film is exciting. We're used to seeing New York, and indeed it was New York's finest director who first got me excited about seeing London on film. In Matchpoint Woody Allen put the places I knew into cinema, and in doing so created an event that might have collapsed the space-time continuum (if we were in an episode of Star Trek): I saw the film in the Chelsea cinema, watching the characters in the film go to the Chelsea cinema to see a movie. I saw them watching me, watching them, in the same theatre, sitting in almost exactly the same seats. Good times.

Sunday, 2 September 2007


Also in this (now legendary) old theguardian Film & Music supplement, besides the articles by Woody Allen and Martin Scorcese on Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, is a short piece on the brilliance of Liam Neeson. He seems to be a remarkably under-rated actor, although this may be self-inflicted. He has done some big roles, but not consistently enough for us to really consider him a great actor. I thought he added gravity to The Phantom Menance, but it may have been a bad choice career-wise. His role in Schindler's List may be what he's remembered most for, and it is true that he plays the 'great man struggling with difficult issues' character very well. Somehow he reminds me Gregory Peck, whom I also like a lot, and who I think also had trouble getting the right roles. They're classical actors, but nowadays we're more interested in flawed heroes, rather than clean-cut ones. Hopefully, however, there's still a place for him. At the moment he's working again with Spielberg on a film about Abraham Lincoln. Interesting.

Saturday, 1 September 2007


Reading an old copy of theguardian's Film & Music supplement yesterday, I discovered their original review of The Bourne Ultimatum. You may know that I attempt to avoid reading reviews before I see films - in case they ruin it for me - but then forget to read them once I have. So, this was a little hidden joy for me, and I found out two new things. The first thing is that theguardian, and this reviewer, are overly proud of their involvement in the film. Somehow they miss the point that their journalist is portrayed as an inept coward (Bourne has everything under control when the journalist starts running thus getting the attention of the enemy, and Bourne recovers the situation, by killing two guys, only for the journalist then to decide to run again and get himself shot). It is, however, true that simply by association with Bourne, theguardian is now cool. The second thing is that Bourne uses public transport and is thus an environmentally friendly action hero. Of course, this is the choice of the writer and director, and the particular character and situation of Bourne, rather than the deliberate choice of that character, but it's still an entertaining aspect, and still, I think, what makes Bourne so popular for us. One thing that did worry me, however, was that the reviewer, due to the ending of the movie, suggested a sequel coming soon, which I don't think (and hope) is true at all.

The Hateful Eight

Tarantino has said he'll only make ten films, and then retire. I don't know if he still stands by this statement, and if he does we ...