Sunday, 13 December 2009
The problem with Terminator Salvation is more than just the lack of Arnold Schwarzenegger (although he does make a semi-appearance in the film). It is more crucially that the movie breaks the fundamental model of its three prequels: a contemporary setting in which terminators (or a man) are sent from the future to protect or kill members of the resistance. The movie almost has to be judged as something new, separate, from the other three, as it develops its own paradigm, avoiding the of set-pieces of its prequels. It's a strange move. The whole point of a franchise is to continually play on the clichés of the original. They have avoided them almost completely here. The plot is perhaps too complicated. Yes, there are terminators, and the general mythology of the previous films is intact, but that isn't the point. This is a fundamental break. Perhaps, though, that was the only thing that could be done? After all, Terminator 3 brought us to the end of the contemporary era with the beginning of nuclear war. What we have in this fourth film is a wasteland run by computers, much like The Matrix. There are a lot of similarities (once again, the creators felt the need to give the computer a human face, even though it wouldn't have one). It's fairly good fun, easy entertainment, but what this movie really emphasised for me was the astonishing originality of the first Terminator. There is already talk of a fifth film.
Saturday, 12 December 2009
Avatar is being written about as the most anticipated film of the decade. Undeniably, this is the first film James Cameron has directed in twelve years, and from what I hear he's been working on ideas for this movie for much longer. I find it useful to try to forget about Titanic, and remember the Terminator films and Aliens, which I'm guessing Avatar has a bit more in common with. Although, it does seem that Avatar might go along with some of the sentimentality of Titanic. I'm afraid that it might be an 'eco', or political, movie. Whilst seemingly revolutionary in scope, the plot does seem quite traditional, almost 'cowboys and indians', or perhaps Dances with Wolves. These are just guesses for now. I am undoubtedly eager to watch it, but I don't want to overestimate it. I've been hearing about it for several years, and the trailers certainly make it look impressive. CGI now appears almost faultless, but I for one am always conscious that it is CGI, no matter how good. So much for my preview. Next week I'll be sitting in a cinema (possibly alone), with my 3D glasses on, popcorn to hand, ready to watch.
Friday, 11 December 2009
I didn't mention that The Informant! is directed by Steven Soderbergh. This is because I wanted to do a whole post on him, for the simple reason that I just don't know what to make of his films. We should start with Sex, Lies and Videotape, the film that everyone forgets is his (every director has one of these). For some reason, he really only came to attention with Out of Sight, a film that was followed by some of his biggest hits: Erin Brockovich, Traffic, and Ocean's Eleven. However, snuck in-between all this was The Limey and Full Frontal (and all in the space of three years). Had you heard of these films? What is more, did you know that as well as The Informant! he also has another movie out at the moment: The Girlfriend Experience. Soderbergh seems incredibly prolific. He was once hailed as the new Spielberg. The Ocean's Eleven sequels were, to be honest, a bit of a mistake. Che looks interesting, but I have to reserve judgement. The Good German was odd, and I'd never heard of Bubble until I looked it up just now. His films are always 'interesting', they are always impeccably well made, but none of them have really excited me, or changed my life. Could his rapid work rate be diluting his films (like, perhaps, Woody Allen)? Or is this the only way he can function, sometimes hitting the perfect note? Perhaps Che is the film that can make my mind up for me.
Thursday, 10 December 2009
The Informant!, as you'll notice, has an exclamation mark at the end of its title. This is different to the book which the film is based on, by Kurt Eichenwald. I think it's an important change. Although I haven't read the book, I understand that it is a journalist's relatively critical report of the actions of Mark Whitacre, whereas the film is played for laughs, and the exclamation mark highlights this. I don't want to say too much about the plot, as I don't want to ruin it for you, and this, in fact, is an interesting issue. Would this film still be good if you know what's going to happen? If, for example, you read the Wikipedia entry on Whitacre (which I suggest you don't do)? Of course, a lot of great films can be watched again and again, despite you knowing what will happen. I doubt it will be the case with this movie. It's entertaining enough, and Matt Damon is superb, but the pacing loses itself in the details of Whitacre's life, and the film is over-long. This is not as good as Catch Me If You Can, a film it echoes toward the end. That said, the voice-overs of Whitacre's wisdom are sometimes hilarious (look out for his thoughts on polar bears especially), his illogicality is mind-boggling, and the music is brilliantly over-dramatic and absurd (perhaps a bit too much like the Coen brothers). One odd point to mention: there's a scene in the trailer that's not in the film.
Wednesday, 9 December 2009
Classic of the week this week was Rabid, one of David Cronenberg's early films. I'd seen it before about ten years ago, so it was interesting to return to it now. The movie stars 70s porn star Marilyn Chambers as a woman who undergoes experimental surgery and afterwards develops a taste for blood. It is a zombie/vampire/disease crossover B-movie, and I have to say that it's perfectly executed. It's not a great film, but I think it achieves everything it sets out to achieve. It is never really frightening, but is disturbingly sexy and sinister at the same time, something Cronenberg will go on to perfect in his later movies. Indeed, there is much here that Cronenberg fans will love. The cyst in her armpit, in fact, looks remarkably similar to the 'ports' in eXistenZ - a nice connection to that film. The world of the movie is conjured up simply and successfully, and the characters, whilst rudimentary, are believable and their dilemmas compelling. Yes, this is still firmly a B-movie, but as long as you acknowledge that before you start watching, I'm sure you'll enjoy it a lot.
Sunday, 6 December 2009
I worry about the character of Joey in Friends. Yes, this is a sitcom, and he is a comedy character, but there is something troubling about him. He is a baby, an overgrown child, yet (highly) sexually active and aggressive. He is constantly hitting on his closest friends, and this is accepted. It is to be laughed at. He is also extremely possessive, to the extent that he will take things away from babies, and be suspicious of anyone new entering his closed group, and he is fixated with being young. A particularly disturbing episode is 'The One Where Joey Doesn't Share Food'. On a date he is annoyed by a woman who wants to eat some of his food. However, when she orders a nicer desert than him, he eats it all whilst she is taking a phone call. When she returns he says 'I'm not even sorry'. Indeed, he is obsessed with food, and is aggressively stupid. He is a worrying figure when you start to consider these issues seriously. And what character did they choose to have their own series? Joey. Although we should remember that the really successful 'Joey' series is actually Two and a Half Men. The hard thing for you is to figure out if I'm joking or not.
Some may have already noticed, or I might have even said in my previous review of the film, that Borat is essentially a documentary. I don't mean this literally, or that the fictional documentary style of the movie is to be taken seriously. Rather, the project of the film is to expose what people think, and whilst the methods it uses to achieve this are different to a conventional documentary, it has to be said that they are not unrelated. The presenter pretends that he is innocent and naive to their customs in order to let them open up and reveal their true feelings (this is essentially the style of Louis Theroux). Borat holds himself up as a mirror for Americans to express their feelings on foreigners and on themselves. One might say that the film is a perfect document of the United States under the Bush administration - its insular, self-involved isolationism. Is the country really any different now under Obama? This is perhaps the object of Bruno, which I haven't yet seen, but it makes a neat parallel. Bush is represented by Borat, the misogynistic, sex-obsessed patriot; and Obama is represented by Bruno, the gay, artistic idealist. Stop me when I go too far.
Friday, 4 December 2009
An important line in A Serious Man, or perhaps just for the experience of the main character, seemed to come about halfway through. Gopnik (who is a university lecturer) is approached by the father of one of his students who has tried to bribe him to get a good grade. The father says he will sue for defamation if he tells anyone, or will say he accepts bribes if he rejects the money (or something like this). The confusion over the issue is crucial, as Gopnik is puzzled over what exactly the right course of action should be. The father simply tells him: 'Accept the mystery'. This line seems to apply not just to this issue in Gopnik's life, but everything else that is going on around him. He cannot accept the mystery of the events, mainly of other people's strange behaviour, and is thus tormented. When, or if, you see the film, it might be worth keeping in mind, and it might go some way to explaining both the puzzling beginning and ending of the movie.
Thursday, 3 December 2009
A Serious Man is the Coen Brothers' second film since No Country for Old Men. For some reason, that movie serves as a new landmark in their career, and their films are now often billed as 'from the directors of No Country for Old Men'. This is strange since that movie is atypical to their career, and the two that have followed are more obviously Coenesc (I may have invented this word). A Serious Man is not as funny as Burn After Reading, but this is perhaps because its humour is subtler and darker. There is definitely more substance here, but it is a harder film to like immediately. Both the beginning sequence and the ending left me confused, but whilst the latter was intriguing, the former seemed irrelevant. They also relied on the trick dream sequence a bit too much throughout (where what is happening you think real until the character wakes up screaming). Nonetheless, the small touches were so brilliantly conceived and carried out, loaded with innuendo and the possibility of violence, that I couldn't help but like this film. I have one quibble which I always do with period films - why does everything look so new? Were people in the past a lot cleaner and tidier than us? I can't believe so.
Monday, 30 November 2009
Sugar is difficult viewing. It's the second film from writer-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (the first being Half Nelson). It follows the story of Sugar, a baseball pitcher from the Dominican Republic who trains at one of the Major League academies in his own country, before being signed to play for several Minor League teams in America. He takes this as his big break, and initially is very impressive, before injury, language and cultural problems start to intrude, and he soon realises he doesn't have the ability or the perseverance to make it to the top. This is the difficult aspect I mentioned. It's hard to see someone fail. We are used to seeing people succeed in movies, especially sport's ones. The film portrays this sensitively and intelligently, but it does inevitably rely on some sport's movie cliches (the commentator telling us what's happening etc), which is a bit disappointing. However, I found another issue interesting. The directors say (in an interview accompanying the DVD) that they tried to highlight how Major League teams take these young men from the Dominican Republic, exploit them for their talent, and then dump them if they're no good. Yet isn't this exactly what the directors have done with their lead actor, Algenis Perez Soto, an otherwise unknown baseball player from the country? I don't know.
Monday, 27 July 2009
I've been watching lots of films but failing to write about them. It may take time, or be impossible, to catch up. I saw Six Degrees of Separation last night. It's a movie based on a play, which popularised the notion of how all of us might be separated by only six degrees. It is without doubt still a play, not making the successful leap to cinema: it's preoccupied with dialogue, and visually and musically uninteresting. It is noticeable, however, as the first serious role for Will Smith. As a play, then, it is thought-provoking, even if its issues are a little out of date by now. It has a tweeness (I'm guessing that's not a real word) that is a bit annoying as well. I don't think I'd watch it again. Looking up the film, though, I did find a bizarre movie connection. J. J. Abrams played the role of Doug in this film, and then went on to produce two TV series connected to the idea: Lost and Six Degrees.
Thursday, 2 April 2009
I hadn't been particularly keen to see Watchmen, until I was offered the chance to watch it at the IMAX - London's largest cinema screen. It is an impressive size, but once you begin watching the film, you quickly forget. It is not a huge step beyond most cinema screens, and as such seems a bit over-hyped. Perhaps a 3-D film would be more interesting. As for Watchmen itself, I have to say the plot was fairly lame. I'm not sure how much we were supposed to take seriously, the characters took themselves very seriously, but it was comical, and there was a rather adolescent philosophy. The character of Dr Manhattan was rather absurd, and seemed like he belonged in the Blue Man group. The film's plot was more complicated than it needed to be, and it built to a slight, morally ambiguous, anti-climax. Nonetheless, I am seduced by the style of these movies - the great soundtrack, the slow-motion, the perfectly framed photography - although there is something motionless about them, as if by capturing the exact picture as it appears in the graphic novel they somehow remove it from the movement that is inherent to movies. This is a very strange film, I found, quite had to get your head around, and definitely only for fans of the genre.
Monday, 30 March 2009
I think it's important to warn that the second half of the title Marley & Me is almost as important as the first half. The movie is as much about 'Me', the reporter John Grogan, as it is about 'Marley', a slightly insane dog. Mentioning that I'd seen the film to people they would say: 'oh, the dog movie, why did you see that?'. I did wonder as I sat down in the cinema what I was about to watch: there were large groups of young girls sitting with us in the theatre. I turned to Gill and said 'what have you done to me?'. Nonetheless, I can safely say that this is quite an adult film. Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston are suitably heart-warming and sweet, with believable on-screen chemistry. It's a sunny, easy film, not too sentimentally written, although the 'low points' are cushioned and easy to swallow. I wonder if it's destined to be one of those movies that adults in twenty years talk about watching as a child. I think it lacks a dynamic edge to be truly memorable. If you aren't manipulated into tears by the ending, you're a better man than me. Although the site of all the bawling girls did make me start to laugh. I have to say this film succeeds in everything it set out to do, and of course you already know if you want to see it or not. As you might expect, I won't be seeing it again.
Wednesday, 25 March 2009
In one episode of the Simpsons Homer visits the cinema. He gets irritated that there are so many adverts before the movie. When one of trailers actually makes him laugh, he quickly declares: 'I'm laughing, but it's a laugh of impatience'. There's another joke by Peter Kay that I like. He's in the cinema with his girlfriend when something odd happens on screen and she says 'like that would happen in real life'. He turns to her and says 'We just paid £5 for a bag of popcorn, this isn't a place of reality'. I'm going to the cinema tonight, and again tomorrow. As you may have noticed, I go quite a lot. For me, the cinema never fails to be exciting. There are some people I know who never go, preferring to rent the film and watch it in the comfort of their home. I still do enjoy watching movies at home, but they are different joys. The communal act of watching, of the darkness focusing all of you on the screen, the sound surrounding you completely, cannot be replicated. It's inexplicable, and possibly incommunicable too.
Monday, 16 March 2009
Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a strange title. There are no commas, and there is no 'h' in 'Cristina'. This, in a roundabout way, does give you a hint toward the tone of the film. It's playful, to say the least. There is a voiceover which I'm still uncertain about - it detaches us from the characters, and in many cases isn't necessary. The voiceover's statements and jokes are so distinctively like Woody Allen, that it would've been interesting to hear him do it. The voiceover gives the film the tone of a travel documentary, which is odd. Unfortunately, like some of his other recent films, the acting is not great. I somehow get the feeling that Woody Allen doesn't let the actors have many takes - although I have no evidence for this suggestion. The film takes a while to become interesting, and it is heightened significantly by the arrival of Penelope Cruz, deservedly an Oscar winner. She not only performs well herself, but raises the level of the other actors around her. The scenery and the photography of it is incredible. I liked this film before I went in, because I like Woody Allen, but I wonder what people who've never seen his movies think. It has a gentle humour, and an engaging dynamic, but it's ending might leave a few people frustrated. Certainly his best film since Matchpoint.
Friday, 13 March 2009
Two things that might interest you: strandedcinema.co.uk has now ceased to function, primarily because I didn't want to keep paying for it. I didn't feel it was that necessary anyway. Secondly, I've recently noticed a website called strandedcinema.com. It's a lot more professional than my postings, but does seem to have stopped some time in January. What puzzles me is why you would use the name 'stranded cinema'? I personally think it's a pretty bad, inexplicable name for a site about movies. I'm not sure if I've ever explained why I chose it. The Evening Standard was running free cinema tickets - that's why I started posting here. So, I wanted a pun on the newspaper's name. I was also interested in the cinemas that were shutting down across London. I had a recollection of one that used to be on the Strand. So, 'stranded' was vaguely similar to Standard, and also hinted at those cinemas that had been abandoned. What's more, my reviews were going to be stranded, in the sense of a piece of thread, or string of posts. I later found out that the cinema I was thinking of was on Piccadilly, not the Strand, so 'Stranded Cinema' really doesn't make much sense anymore, but it has stuck somehow.
Monday, 9 March 2009
You may not have known, or been interested to know, that The Lake House, a romance starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, is adapted from a Korean movie called Siworae, or Il Mare. Although this might seem like an irrelevant bit of trivia, I think it is vital to understanding the movie. The tone of this film is distinctly un-American. There are certain Hollywood romances which have a touch of magic, or superstition, to them, but nothing like this. Keanu Reeves moves into a lake house and finds a letter in the mailbox from the previous owner, Sandra Bullock. It soon becomes clear, however, that she is not a previous owner, but one two years in the future. They somehow then begin a correspondence, and fall in love. As you can tell, this is all a bit weird and illogical, and I think it fails as an American film, but I suspect it works as a Korean one. The storyline and themes fit more correctly with Korean cinema and I have a suspicion their conclusion to the film might have been different too. The American version skips over traumatic and serious issues, as well as the illogicality of the whole procedure. Of course, this movie isn't aimed at me, but then I think it also fails its target audience.
Thursday, 5 March 2009
I'm not sure what to make of Juno. The beginning wasn't promising. She isn't a likable person, and the film, like the character, assumes its own importance. She is already pregnant when we meet her and little is said of the conception. She talks and thinks like an adult, which seems to detract from her depiction as a child (something I baulked at throughout). Gradually, though, as she reveals her sensitivities and humour, you do begin to like her. I finished the film, however, not sure if we are supposed to like her, or the other characters. It's odd. It's a film that fits into the bracket of 'quirky American movie' a bit too easily, when it isn't as funny as Napoleon Dynamite or have the poignancy of Superbad. Moreover, the 'unwanted pregnancy' theme was handled much better in Knocked-Up. The most interesting relationship is between Juno and the character played by Jason Batemen, although this is something that again is never properly resolved. The ending, however, is quite effective, without being too sentimental. Overall, I have to say I won't see the film again unless it happens to be on somewhere already.
Wednesday, 4 March 2009
Two films that sound like they might work but don't are Deception and The Upside of Anger. They're the kind of films, Deception especially, that probably made a good pitch to a producer, make a good trailer, but fail to deliver over 90 minutes. Deception stars Ewan McGregor as an accountant who is befriended by Hugh Jackman. They accidentally swap phones and McGregor starts receiving calls from anonymous women asking to meet him in hotels and have sex. This all quite intriguing. The problem is that the film then goes off on another tangent and we never really discover what the hotel business was all about. It gets forgotten for a much more routine storyline. The Upside of Anger, on the other hand, suffered either from bad casting, or bad advertising. The problem is that it is a romance, a comedy and a tragedy, and yet none of these. Kevin Costner is also in an unusual role, a retired alcoholic sportsman, probably uncomfortable to his normal audience. Starting from the end and then going back, the voice-over and the lacklustre performances serve to make this an uninteresting film, to me at least, which lost my attention frequently throughout. These are two films that serve to warn you about watching a movie merely because the premise sounds interesting. More often than not, that is all that's interesting about them.
Thursday, 26 February 2009
Today I'm going to talk about what I will call the 'Rabbit Hole Moment' (maybe someone else already uses this name, or has a better one for it). This is the moment when a character in a film does something that you wouldn't do, and so separates himself from you and enters the world of fiction. The job of the script-writer is to make this moment as seamless as possible, to make you believe the character would do it, or (even better) to convince you that you would do it too, were you in that situation. I was reminded of this by Jeepers Creepers. The moment comes when the two main characters decide to return to the church and see what is down the pipe where they think they saw a body being thrown. None of us would do this. We can't believe they want to do it either. The writer's best line is: 'What if it was you down that pipe?'. However, this is still not quite convincing enough, and, of course, the characters aren't satisfied with just looking down the pipe. So, it almost works. A better moment comes in Star Wars. Luke visits Obiwan-Kenobi. Obiwan says Luke must come with him to rescue the Princess and learn the ways of the force. Luke says he can't go. Here, we as viewers want Luke to go. Learning the force and rescuing a Princess sounds exciting. Only when Luke discovers his Aunt and Uncle are dead, that there is nothing left for him on Tatooine, does he decide to go. The transition is seamless, and we want it to happen.
Tuesday, 24 February 2009
Into the Wild is the film of a true story, directed by Sean Penn. It's about Christopher McCandless, who after university donated all his money to Oxfam and left to live the life of a vagrant, often without money or human contact. His ultimate aim was to live in the Alaskan wild, which he achieved in 1992, after two years of wandering. My main problem with the film and the story is that McCandless seemed like a self-indulgent, idealist, seriously unprepared for what he was undertaking. He left without contacting his family, and they never knew of his whereabouts, he knew little about hunting, and didn't take a map or compass with him. The film itself was well-made, with interesting music from Eddie Vedder (of Pearl Jam). The skipping backwards and forwards in time seemed a little needless, although it did bring some poignancy towards the end. The writing across the screen and the narration by his sister only emphasised the lack of McCandless himself. We want his voice to tell us what he's doing and why, not other people. A film about a man's quest for loneliness, however, is always going to be difficult to convey. If it weren't for the impact of the real-life story, this film probably wouldn't have received the promotion it did. If you want to find out what happened to Christopher McCandless, without seeing the movie, check Wikipedia.
Monday, 23 February 2009
I approached The Happening with more sympathy than reviews of the movie suggested. I have found something to like in all of M. Night Shyamalan's films, even the widely panned Lady in the Water. I think of him as a classic film-maker, and The Happening is no exception. The film does have a bit of a B-movie feel about it (whether this was deliberate or not I don't know), and it is hard not to laugh at some parts, but this is what made me enjoy, not scorn, the picture. The actors take themselves very seriously in a bizarre situation that is never fully explained, but I liked it. For me, I couldn't help seeing parallels with Hitchcock's The Birds. Shyamalan has been criticised for his 'twist' endings, but these only really occur in two of his films, and even then I wouldn't think it's a bad thing for a director to have a style and stick to it. When you see a Shyamalan movie you get a good, well-wrought thriller. Being an optimist, I predict that after perhaps a few more mediocre films he will come back into the mainstream again with a great movie. So, The Happening is great for those of you that like Shyamalan, but be cautious if you're not sure about him.
Thursday, 19 February 2009
Expectation around a movie, in my experience, is more often than not deflated when I finally get to see it. This was certainly the case for Slumdog Millionaire, which I saw last night. Without doubt I preferred Danny Boyle's last film, Sunshine. Slumdog's twists of fate just weren't convincing or powerful enough for me. Something in them failed. Pithily, one might say that the film is little more than an extended episode of 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?': one where we get the history of the contestant. It is only in this contestant's extraordinary life that we become interested. However, his story is not that different from many other rags to riches stories we've seen throughout cinema and literary history. The fear of the criminal gangs is nothing especially new. I didn't find the love story particularly convincing either, as it seemed to centre mainly on his desperation, rather than any shared interests. The film does show a fascinating country and lifestyle (I think ignored by Bollywood), but these are more the credentials of a documentary rather than a movie, and I think this is what people are blinded by. The montage sequences work well (although they also reveal this films origins as a novel), and the flashbacks are at times patronising, at times eloquent. The ending was lame, falling flat, with no great surprise to shock us with, as I was expecting. Perhaps, then, it is my own expectations that have been disappointed. After all, this is a good film, but not the great one I was hoping for. Despite the many awards it won at the BAFTAs, I would be surprised if it does so well at the Oscars, or if we're still talking about this film in ten years.
Friday, 13 February 2009
Sean Penn is nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Milk, and rightly so. In fact, the whole cast of this movie is superb - Josh Brolin is nominated for best supporting actor too. The film itself is also there for best picture, direction, editing, writing and music. I'm sure it should win in at least one of these categories, but I doubt it'll win the major awards. It's a film about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to office in the US, directed by Gus Van Sant. His last film Paranoid Park was quite awful, so it seems he has returned to form here. The film is compelling and fascinating (especially for those of us who didn't know much about the gay rights movement). I'm not sure if I agree with the procedure of showing the end first, and then going back in time - this is done over and over again in biographies - but I think they manage to get away with it here. You are made to care about the characters and, whilst I did watch this film in Soho, I could hear a lot of people crying as the credits rolled. It's powerful without being sentimental, and is essential viewing this Oscar season.
Thursday, 12 February 2009
I was surprised, as you might be, to find myself watching The Devil Wears Prada. This is not, however, the 'chick-flick' that I thought it would be. It has undertones of such a movie, but just about manages to resist them, I think. It rises above the chick-flick mainly due to the performance of Meryl Streep, a role that suits her very well, and which she brings off persuasively. Essentially, the film is about the terror of starting a new job. We've all experienced this: you enter a new world where everyone knows the rules except you, and no one is willing to share. The film works because of how particularly harsh this world is that Anne Hathaway has entered, and also because she's not actually interested in fashion. This is the point that interested me. Towards the middle of the film, she does become excited by it, and I began to think 'Oh well, I've lost interest', but then it turns around. The ending, as far as I remember, rejects the fashion world as cruel and pointless, which I was slightly astonished by. This is a chick-flick, especially because of the strange love-interest, the music and the success of the main character, but it is also strangely subversive. As to whether I liked the movie, a different issue, I would have to say no, but it did surprise me.
Thursday, 29 January 2009
There's been a slight delay in posting recently as I have been busy finishing my PhD and being ill. Both required a lot of time. The PhD is done, but I am still a little ill. Anyway, I have been watching films. I want to talk about Margot at the Wedding first. It's by Noah Baumbach, his latest movie since The Squid and the Whale. Naturally there was some anticipation for this film, and a lot of people felt let down. It stars Nicole Kidman as a successful writer who goes to see her not-so-successful sister, Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is about to marry an even less successful loser, Jack Black. There is the same, direct acerbic wit as The Squid and the Whale, but it lacks that film's dynamic. There was little variation on pace, or rather too much of it, so that there were no clear highs and lows to follow. It felt monotone. I also think there have been far too many films about writers, especially about writers in the family (I'm thinking of The Savages for some reason). So, this film just fell frustratingly short of being good. It also fails to finish satisfactorily, leaving you rather disappointed. This doesn't mean, however, that I'm not looking forward to his next film.
Wednesday, 21 January 2009
I have finally watched the last of the three Westerns that came out recently: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It is a slow, poetic film, with little dialogue, and long drifting shots of the countryside. Some people might find this annoying. A narrator helps to pull you along, but (as you'll know if you read me regularly) I didn't think he was necessary. This film is adapted from a book which (again you'll know if you read regularly) is obvious here, especially towards the end. It has the feeling of idol-worship about it. I know next to nothing about Jesse James, and I think it might help if you did before watching this movie. Robert Ford (played by the brilliant Casey Affleck) idolises Jesse James, but he seems like a substitute for the writer more than anything else. There was something wrong about it. I was also unsure about the blurred shots that sometimes appeared - what were they trying to achieve? The film became interesting for me towards the end, after Ford has killed James. It only lasts ten or twenty minutes, but it was fresh and interesting. Ford is to begin with loved and praised for what he's done, but this slowly turns into accusations of cowardice. It's a fascinating period, and perhaps a better film could've been made about just that time. Anyway, what's my favourite of the three Westerns? You decide! I've set up a poll, so have a vote.
Friday, 16 January 2009
I was quite surprised by Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It seemed like just another silly, romantic comedy. The title, to begin with, isn't promising. But there is a light touch to this film that makes it enjoyable. The lead actor, who is also the script-writer, is likable and flawed (perhaps too flawed). The star of a famous television crime drama breaks up with him, and he decides to take a holiday to Hawaii to forget her, only to find out that she is there with her new boyfriend. The plot does read a bit like a male fantasy: her new boyfriend (Russell Brand) is successful and attractive. However, the main character decides he doesn't want her anymore and falls for a beautiful local girl. The fantasy notion of this is only compounded when you find out that the writer/actor based this on his real life split with someone from ER. Regardless of this it is enjoyable and entertaining, funny and a little bit weird. There's nothing to stop you watching it, but then again there might be plenty of more worthwhile films for you to watch.
Thursday, 15 January 2009
Role Models is, thankfully, at least slightly different to the comedies we have been bombarded with over the last few years. It is fresh and original and funny without being obscene or silly. It stars the great Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott as two salesmen who face the choice of going to jail or doing community service. They choose the service and are assigned to 'Sturdy Wings', a company which pairs problem children with adults to mentor and care for them. As you can guess, they are terrible at this, and the children are weird and annoying. This is the one running joke throughout, and a lot of the laughs rely on the kids saying crude things, or the adults saying crude things to kids. Nonetheless, this comedy is better than a lot that you'll see, and it does care about its characters (perhaps because it wasn't initially written as a comedy). So it was good, but I did keep waiting for the killer line which never came. I suggest seeing it slightly drunk in a cinema full of other slightly drunk people, and you'll love it.
Tuesday, 13 January 2009
One of my favourite things about The Ring is that it is anti-psychological. I don't know if this is deliberate or not. The psychological film is extremely popular in Hollywood. It's rare to find one that avoids this scheme. The detective/journalist is the perfect character that drives these movies. He or she comes across a problem and searches for answers. He goes back to the origins of the problem to find out what is really causing it. Only he knows what the problem really is, whereas everyone else is only looking at the surface. Eventually he solves the problem, and along the way normally cures his own psychological problems too, as well as falling in love. What happens, however, in The Ring? Well, the main character is still a journalist, and she searches for the origins of the problem. She finds the well in which the girl has died and goes down into it in order to somehow release her and free everyone from the curse. However - and I'm going to ruin the ending here for those of you who haven't seen it - she fails. The psychological approach that she has adopted has no effect whatsoever. Instead, it is because she copied the tape that she survives. The curse continues, and (at least in the first film) it cannot be stopped. It goes round and round, like a ring. There is no way of digging out the problem and by uncovering it solving it. This is what I love about The Ring, and it is this approach that I'd love to see more of in Hollywood.
Monday, 12 January 2009
I had thought I was going to watch a Japanese film last night, instead it was an American remake of a Japanese film that I saw. In English it is One Missed Call, in Japanese Chakushin ari (which I believe means the same thing). The Japanese version was directed by Takashi Miike (who also did Audition), and it was probably a lot better. Nonetheless, the storyline is extremely similar to The Ring, and I don't think this is something the Americans added. People receive a phone call from themselves in the future, from the moment before they die. Normally they have about two days to live, although towards the end this is sped up to hurry the film along. If you've seen The Ring you'll already be thinking of parallels. It gets worse, though, and the similarities go right through to the structure of the conclusion of the movie, which made it all a bit predictable. Yes, it was frightening, but not truly frightening in the way The Ring was, or The Exorcist is. There are big shock moments that you know are coming, and there are frightening apparitions that become normal after a while. Things also happen far too quickly. A good horror film, like Alien, builds up tension for a long time before showing you anything. I'm sure the Japanese version is better, but even then its plot must struggle to avoid ground that's already been covered.
Friday, 9 January 2009
I half-watched the film Tightrope last night, starring Clint Eastwood. I found it quite strange, and then fell asleep before it ended. I thought I'd share with you some of the dialogue. It was said with very long, seductive pauses between each line. I can't remember it exactly, but it goes something like this. Clint, whose character is called Wes Block, starts talking to a girl in a tattoo parlour:
Girl: You're hanging round with the wrong people.
Wes Block: Oh, yeah.
Girl: You should hang out with people more up your alley.
Wes Block: Like who?
Girl: Like me.
Wes Block: Maybe I'll take you up on that offer.
Girl: And do what?
Wes Block: Maybe take you out and go bowling.
Girl: I don't like bowling.
Wes Block: Neither do I.
Girl: You're hanging round with the wrong people.
Wes Block: Oh, yeah.
Girl: You should hang out with people more up your alley.
Wes Block: Like who?
Girl: Like me.
Wes Block: Maybe I'll take you up on that offer.
Girl: And do what?
Wes Block: Maybe take you out and go bowling.
Girl: I don't like bowling.
Wes Block: Neither do I.
Tuesday, 6 January 2009
In a discussion with Alex, the subject of the new Star Trek film was brought up. Alex's thoughts were that Star Trek worked well as a television series but never really as a movie, to which I immediately agreed. Coincidentally, I had been thinking only a few days earlier about the idea of changing a TV series into a movie. The series I had in mind was Friends. Could it be done? It seems unlikely. The concept of the show just can't be adapted to fit the narrative of a film, and as Alex pointed out, it has too many characters. A film, traditionally, needs one main focus. If you type 'Friends movie' into Google, you'll find that there are rumours about such a thing. Let's hope it never happens. The Friends model fits almost every other TV series. You can't adapt 30 minute episodes into 2 hours of plot. The Simpsons Movie was a classic case of this. Whilst it was funny, it was essentially an over-long episode, and contained nothing new at all. If you make a film of the TV series it has to go so far beyond that it ceases to be anything like the original (much like my thoughts for adapting novels to film). The X-Files films showed us another example of such failure, and rumours of Lost or 24 movies once again seem doomed to mishandling. In fact, have there been any successes?
Monday, 5 January 2009
I'm not sure if the Bourne trilogy is great, or just good. There is something understated about it which I like. It has to be said that there are not many new developments in the second two films, they just continue the style of the first, but do so well. I'm worried that Matt Damon has apparently signed up for a fourth film. I'm not sure where they can go with it. Robert Ludlum only wrote three Bourne novels, although the second two films apparently weren't based on the books (except for the titles). Eric Van Lustbader (great name, whoever he is) has written four more Bourne novels, so there is material to work with. Surely, however, Bourne has solved all his issues now? They can always go back into his past to uncover more, or he can keep going on new assignments, eternally young like Bond, but I think that would be a bad thing. Bourne was good, and frightened the producers of Bond, because he was real and vulnerable and his character has a beginning and an end. I've set up a poll to see what you think. Should they stop, do one more, or keep going?
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