Sunday, 13 December 2009

Sunday

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 clich├ęs 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

Saturday

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

Friday

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

Thursday

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

Wednesday

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

Tuesday

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.

Sunday

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

Friday

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

Thursday

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.

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 ...