Monday, 22 August 2011


I had to double-check halfway through this film: was it really directed by Clint Eastwood? There is so much potential in the material, cast and director, I can only think it was a very rushed production. It is a big disappointment. The great lines and speeches are delivered robotically, without any real conviction. The film isn’t about any one thing. It tries too much and too little. A film centred around Francois Pienaar might have been better, having only glimpses of Mandela, but there were greater problems than just this. It is as if the writer(s) was too afraid to elaborate, or imagine anything new at all. Like all biographical and/or historical films, the writer has to create artificial highs and lows, sometimes exaggerating what took place, or emphasising certain issues that perhaps weren’t important at the time. Otherwise you end up with this: a flat, unexciting picture. There were moments of great potential, such as the confrontation between Mandela’s security guards and the old, white presidential security team. But nothing is ever delivered, no arguments or speeches, nothing happens and the confrontation peters out and ultimately falls flat. What is more, the film is about Mandela alone for a good while before we see anything about rugby, as if they were afraid to make a sports movie. Then, towards the end of the film, the rugby takes over almost completely, large amounts of time are dedicated to the game, with no dialogue given. The complexities, tension and excitement of the final are attempted in brief highlights (for someone like me who enjoys rugby I found it hard to follow). What was a great match was drained of its enjoyment, rather than being emphasised, and there are awful lines of exposition, characters explaining to other characters something they obviously would have known (for example, the basic format of a knockout competition). More use could easily have been made of the poem, which gives the film its title. Instead we only hear a mumbled narration of it by Morgan Freedman. This is one of those mysteries in the film world – everything is in place for it to be a good, Oscar winning movie, and yet it fails. It is important to learn some of the lessons as to why.

Source Code

As this film is a concept movie that achieves most of its success on a first viewing, that right from the very first scene involves a puzzle that you, and Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, have to unravel, I don’t think it would be a good idea for me to give away much of the plot. I can say though there is not just one puzzle but at least three almost buried inside each other that we have to try to unpick. The problem, though, like most puzzles, is whether once you’ve solved it you want to keep watching, and/or ever see it again? Undoubtedly you want to see how this film ends. It is intriguing, thought-provoking, well-written and acted, and nothing is solved until the last minute, when perhaps even then questions are left unanswered. There are always logical flaws in this type of film, the question is whether they are obtrusive enough, or covered over cleverly enough. In a very similar film, Deja Vu, the viewer is just about convinced. In Source Code, however, the flaws I think are too many, or the one main flaw is too large. You finish the film thinking about that, rather than what the film means, which I think is a failure. It is a cross between Groundhog Day, Vantage Point, Deja Vu and a host of other sci-fi films, as well as perhaps a touch of Quantum Leap. Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent, and the film isn’t claustrophobic as it might seem if I were to describe the plot to you. It is compelling and tragic, but at the same time it is only a concept movie, a genre which is limited in scope by its very nature, and can only point to one inevitable ending which when it is avoided by the director/writer, the viewer feels slightly cheated. Without a doubt, Duncan Jones is a director to keep an eye on, and this is a promising second movie (although I'm wondering if he'll ever move away from sci-fi or not), but there will I hope be better to come.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Super 8

It seems at first that this film sits uncomfortably between several genres or approaches: it mixes elements of horror, emotional drama, comedy, sci-fi and the monster movie, is aimed at adults and kids, and is both postmodern whilst being nostalgic.  This doesn’t appear to make any sense, and yet it does. J. J. Abrams has created something almost entirely new with this film, but I don’t think it’s an experiment that can be repeated. This is like a kids’ film for adults. Or rather, a film for adults who were kids when these movies came out: E.T., Flight of The Navigator, Explorers, The Goonies, and The Last Starfighter. It follows similar lines to these yet obviously ironically, now being set thirty years in the past where those were contemporary. It is also a far more serious, and at times frightening film. Like those films, like indeed all great action films, the main drive of the movie is the emotional development of the characters. It overtakes the terrifying events around them and very neatly, perhaps too neatly, provides a resolution to the whole drama. What I did miss was how the small scale charm with which the film starts, following its predecessors, is swept away, especially towards the end. This is the temptation of the relative ease of modern special effects, perhaps. Like all monster movies, the suspense is better than the explanation. I also regretted how the role of the Super 8 film itself became relatively insignificant, when it could have been (and perhaps was originally intended to be) the crucial element of the movie. Anyway, I don’t know what people who haven’t seen those original films might think of this, but for those of us who have, it’s unmissable.

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 ...