Thursday, 11 January 2018

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 won't know for sometime if he'll fulfill it. Either by choice or (probably knowing Tarantino) by design, The Hateful Eight is his eighth film. The gaps between his films have tended to be around three years, although the gap to Kill Bill was longer, and the gap to his next film will almost certainly be so as well. Given that, he can expect to have done ten films by the time he's sixty. Still young enough, certainly, but I think a lot depends on what kinds of films he gets to do over the next few years. As you may know, The Hateful Eight almost didn't happen after the screenplay was leaked. His turn to westerns after Inglourious Basterds wasn't too surprising. He could be trying to make the perfect film in each genre (somewhat like Kubrick). A science-fiction film could therefore be a possibility in the future, although we know his next film will be about the Manson family. This film certainly feels like an attempt to make a perfect, conceptually complete piece. The intensity of the setting, action and dialogue heightens this. It is, if anything, perhaps too contrived, but that is only on reflection. The experience of watching it is immersive. Your allegiance does shift through the film, as your suspicion lingers on different characters, but I wonder what this would be like on a second viewing. Why the narration halfway through, though? The fourth-wall is broken, but to what purpose? It’s almost as if he did it just to remind us we were watching a Tarantino film. Every time I think I understand Tarantino, however, he surprises me. His influences are so vast and peculiar than you can never quite know what to expect. This, perhaps, is his greatest genius.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

As I said about Rogue One, I will love almost any Star Wars film that gets released. I am virtually incapable of being critical of them, as a whole, although I do now look back on the prequels with a sense of regret - they could have been so much more interesting. These latest films are of course better, but, like a fine wine, we need to see how they age. Are they too contemporary? Appealing only to our particular interests now? The Last Jedi does this perhaps even more than The Force Awakens did. It hits right at the heart of globalisation, at nostalgia for a lost past, and at the lack of clear cut right and wrong answers. We're in a post-ironic age now, and Rian Johnson understands this perfectly. Beginnings are always the easiest to do, so J. J. Abrams didn't have as tough a job as some might have thought. Johnson's job, though, was particularly difficult. He had to continue, but not finish. He had to tag on to what had been left open in The Force Awakens, but also leave everything open for Star Wars IX. This has unfortunately led to a lot of criticism from fans. Strangely, though, critics have loved it. I am sure part of this is because critics (and I vaguely include myself in this group) tend to look at a film from the point of view of a director. They try to see what the director was trying to achieve, and ground their judgement on what he has or hasn't done in the past. Thus, having an understanding of Brick will really help you appreciate The Last Jedi. The humour and intelligence is very similar. The complex actions and emotions are there, and yet Johnson doesn't let go of the simplicity and pure exhilaration of a Star Wars movie. The opening sequence is still fantastic. The final battle on the salt planet (Crait) is visually stunning. And there are plenty of throwbacks to the old films (that battle on Crait itself evoking memories of Hoth). However, I fear it is because he is not faithful enough to the old films that he has drawn criticism from fans. He seems to disregard old notions of what the Jedi are. He dismisses any notions of the Force being purely hereditary. And he adds in some new notions, like being able to fly in space, or transporting an illusion of yourself across the universe, or running out of fuel but still being able to outrun Star Destroyers, or Porgs. Even though I think each of these criticisms can be countered, the most important thing for me was that the film just worked. It worked on the level it needed to work and, perhaps as important, I'm curious to see what's going to happen next.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Mr Brooks

Unlike some of his fellow stars from the big movies of the 1990s, such as Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks, Kevin Costner has struggled to escape from his career defining roles of that period. Perhaps more so than the two of them, it is hard to see anyone else but Kevin Costner in his roles. Some of his harshest critics have said that he simply can’t act. But then came Mr Brooks. This is an eerie American Psycho-esque serial killer film. Perhaps following Robin Williams’ dark turn in One Hour Photo and Insomnia, Costner decided to do the same. He is suitably creepy in this role, for the vey reason that he is Kevin Costner. Unfortunately, however, there is a lot about this movie that doesn’t make much sense. A much better film could have been made here, but it was sacrificed to some tired cliches, and some unnecessary side-plots and characters. Apparently the intention was to make a trilogy, and you can see there was some potential here, but poor performance at the box office put an end to that. It is a shame, especially as most money in Hollywood is being pumped into super hero franchises rather than original stories, but equally the writers here could have done so much more with this (or rather so much less), to have made a compelling film and character that people would’ve wanted to see again and again.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

I find it almost impossible to give a truly critical appreciation of this film (or perhaps any Star Wars movie). The amount that's been written about it already makes any comment I might have either inevitable or insignificant. After all, even the trailers for new Star Wars films are analysed over agonisingly (see comments about the trailer of The Last Jedi for proof). There is something in particular about Rogue One, however, that makes it difficult to assess. Although I'm sure the writers/director aimed for the film to be able to stand on its own in some way, it can never really do so, and certainly not for someone who's seen the original films many times. Rogue One is so inextricably bound up with A New Hope that you can't pull them apart. Yes, the plot sort of makes sense on its own, but from the bigger picture of the Death Star, the rebellion, Darth Vader himself, right down to characters glimpsed on the street, games played in the background, and homes built in the same style, you can't escape the original Star Wars here. Even the word 'hope' becomes the key theme of this film. So, I would like to say that the acting is not brilliant, that some of the speeches are poorly written (particularly Jyn's speech before battle), and that the CGI characters are unnecessary and distracting. Nonetheless, the interweaving with the original film is so cleverly done, and in a way that it adds to but does not detract from it, that none of these criticisms seem to matter. The film is almost like an annex to another book. It gives you all the information you wanted, but leaves you wanting just enough more, and leaves you wanting to return to the original again. Give that this, I guess, is what the creators of the film intended from the start, then we have to say they've done an amazing job.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen has always had a difficult relationship with California. I think it is half-expressed and half-suppressed in this film starring Cate Blanchett. She is absolutely outstanding as 'Jasmine', a New York socialite who has fallen from grace. I can't say much without ruining the film entirely for you. Needless to say, she ends up in California with her sister. Is the choice of location deliberate? Is it where, in Allen's eyes, New Yorkers go to die? Even in Annie Hall we had this dichotomy. Or is it just an innate uncomfortableness that Allen has with the location that seeps through onto the screen? The typical musical montage of beautiful sites, that we're used to from New York (and more recently London, Paris, Barcelona), feels half-hearted and empty here in California. And it's when we flash back to Jasmine's recollections of life on the East Coast that the film suddenly feels alive again. This is where Allen is at his most comfortable. Fifth Avenue. Central Park. The Hamptons. The music, the movement and the people seem to fit better here.

The film itself is superb, if somewhat too short - which is itself a rare blessing with cinema nowadays. It feels like a study piece that could easily be extended. The dialogue is slightly awkward in places, either because the writing is artificial or the acting not pushed to its limits. There are some clear, crude exposition speeches and convenient meetings that perhaps could have been worked out. I don't know if Allen's self-imposed film-a-year routine helps or hinders in this respect. But the twists and turns of the plot are sudden and unexpected, and I would easily rate this as one of his best films of the last ten years (although admittedly I haven't seen all of them).

Thursday, 20 September 2012


You may not have heard of this (I hadn’t), and I’m not sure whether to recommend that it’s worth watching. Certainly the film achieved a lot of awards and critical acclaim, and is rated 63% on Rotten Tomatoes, but it left me feeling largely unmoved. A teenage boy in Long Island in the 70s struggles to come to terms with the tension between his parents, being bullied at school, and his love for his next door neighbour’s daughter. Meanwhile, lyme disease is spreading in the area, and so is the subsequent paranoia. It is supposed to be ‘darkly comic’, although I hardly noticed this. As you can tell, the plot is not exactly revelatory and lyme disease doesn’t really play a prominent or meaningful part of the film. It is merely an incidental aspect of the story. Rory and Kieran Culkin are both very good as the brothers – natural and easy with each other (as you’d expect). Alec Baldwin, despite apparently having the role written for him, really feels a bit flat here (perhaps I’m too used to his character from 30 Rock, though). The film is shot with that certain filter that makes things look older and richer in tone than they really are – otherwise you’d hardly notice this was actually set in the 70s. The father’s ambitions to sell plots of land on a housing estate appears to be meaningful, but ends up revealing nothing, much like the lyme disease. This film, really, is profoundly anti-climactic – perhaps someone’s description of it as ‘darkly comic’ is just another way of saying ‘not really funny or serious’. Culkin’s relationship with the girl is rather predictable (even though she dates an older boy, she likes him really), and the ending of the film doesn’t resolve any of the important issues, but rather starts new ones. Overall, this film misses its marks in several areas and yet it would be a shame to disparage it completely, as there is value here, and the director, Derick Martini, surely has promise.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Before Sunrise

A young American meets a French girl on a train passing through Europe. They strike up a conversation and he convinces her to get off the train with him at Vienna, spending the day together before he leaves the next morning on a flight home. This is a beautiful, poignant film and if you’re not on the verge of tears by the end, you must have a heart of stone. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are the stars. He is rather irritating, but then that is perhaps what makes this movie work. They very much feel like real people. Delpy herself is brilliant. We spend almost the entire time with them alone – one long first date as they discover this strange city. The conversations they have are rather student-like – philosophising, setting the world to rights – and it seems they disagree in a lot of ways (he is pessimistic, she optimistic). It’s a simple film but brave because of that, and the only obvious directorial statement comes at the end, which I won’t ruin. The back stories are not perhaps greatly convincing, but that doesn’t matter. They have the day together, and that is all. They explore the city and learn about each other, falling helplessly in love as they do so. At times it takes a bit of patience to put up with what is essentially an hour and a half conversation between two strangers, but you’ll be rewarded by the end as you realise how involved you’ve become. I would’ve liked to have seen this film before they made the sequel in 2004 (called Before Sunset), because the ending here is open. Now, however, we know the ending is in some way closed (unless we ignore the sequel, which is possible). As it stands on its own, this film will strike anyone who’s ever been young and in love (which must be most of us), and anyone who’s ever felt the inevitability of something special ending (ditto). I’m not sure if I could bear to watch it again, though.

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 ...