Nothing New

Posted: September 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

sin-city-posterSin City: A Dame To Kill For **1/2 (out of five)

I loved Sin City (2005). I loved its amazing world, a grotesque fantasyland of noir; I loved its groundbreaking style, those indelible blacks and whites with bursts of primary colour that seemed to say so much in opposition; I loved its characters – especially Marv (Mickey Rourke), the granite-faced brute, but all of them, really, even the sick Yellow Bastard. Images from that film – which I’ve only seen once, on its’ initial cinema release – are as bright in my mind as ever. I was excited for the sequel.

Unfortunately – very unfortunately – A Dame To Kill For offers nothing new and feels terribly, sadly, redundant. We’re back in the amazing world, the style’s all still there, and its peopled with those characters – and that’s the problem. There’s no advance, no maturity, no gain. None of the new characters (of whom there are very few) are indelible, and the story lines for the original characters are simply not as good as the first batch that made up the first film.

If we were getting a Sin City instalment every year or two, it would be fine to treat these slight little tales as disposable as the comic books from which they spring, as diversions with comfortingly familiar qualities; by their abundance we could accept that, inherently, some episodes wouldn’t be as good as others (as we do with long-running television series). But we’ve waited ten years for this instalment, and for it to be so lacking in new ideas and vitality, so, so similar to the first, kind of beggars belief. This is all they could come up with?

jodorowsky-dune-banner-e1392402337448Jodorowsky’s Dune *** (out of five)

A film for a niche market (and I’m smack-bang part of it), Jodorowsky’s Dune tells the story of a great unrealised film project: a huge production of Frank Herbert’s Dune by Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky, who created the “Midnight Movie” phenomenon in 1970 with El Topo and is also well remembered for 1973’s The Magic Mountain (and who has recently released his first film in 23 years, The Dance of Reality).jodorowskysdune_toppage

Jodorowsky’s ambitions for the film were hugely ambitious and fanciful, and his list of intended collaborators – some of whom came on board, and some of whom were less than fascinated – makes for some entertaining portraits of some major ‘70s artists across all fields. The director created a massive book containing painted storyboards of the entire film, along with detailed design and other notes, and our many glimpses into this are vibrant and exhilarating, a true examination of an eccentric creative imagination at full bloom.

Jodorowsky-DuneOf course, if Jodorowsky was boring, the film would be a dud, but he’s anything but, and the film is as much a portrait of him as it is his doomed project. It could have as easily been called Jodorowsky. He’s worthy of this film, all on his own, but his Dune is certainly a worthy recipient as well. We’ll never see it, but we have this.

Never Mind The Bollocks

Posted: September 16, 2014 in Uncategorized

we-are-the-best-poster-longWe Are The Best! **** (out of five)

Lukas Moodysson has made some terrific films, including Mammoth, Lilya 4-Ever, Show Me Love and his masterpiece (to my mind), Together, which was one of the best films, if not the best film, of 2000. His palette is wide. He can paint in dark, tight colours or let his happier imagination roam, as he has here, in what is, so far this year, one of the most warmly inspiring films, up there with Boyhood for sheer smile-on-your-dial factor. As with that film, We Are The Best! is a feel-good movie when that phrase is not a dirty one.

The very simple story follows two best friends, Bobo and Klara, who decide to form a band. They are thirteen and they don’t know how to play any instruments, but they have passion, verve, outsider status, and the spirit of punk flows through them as though it was their birthright. Both wear punk-influenced haircuts that, besides defining them immediately as the antithesis of their mainly long blonde-haired classmates, this being Stockholm in 1982, also make them look very boyish. Bobo in particular is naturally mistaken for a boy, which is symbolic both of her defiance and her at times painfully acute self-consciousness. Klara is a lot happier in her own skin (and mohawk), but, like all best friends, they need each other to make a whole.

The scenes may seems to meander at times, particularly in the first half, but Moodysson absolutely knows what he’s doing, and everything adds up to the most downright delightful, rewarding, satisfying and thrilling conclusion of any film so far this year. As these girls overcome the challenges of creating something (a band) in the face of nothing (their talent with instruments), along the way realising the need to collaborate, compromise, struggle and learn, Moodysson also manages to tell the story of Everyband in miniature: the creative conflicts, the arguments over who plays what, who’s leading the band, the quest for rehearsal space – even the corrupting influence of romantic relationships. Along the same, the humour – like the humour in Boyhood – grows organically from the characters and our enjoyment of them, so that it becomes funnier and funnier. Like all good films about kids, it has a lot to say about childhood, growing up, and growing wise, but it is also – indeed most powerfully – about creativity and commitment, and how commitment to creativity can form the basis for everything – friendship, self-acceptance, independence, happiness – that is most important in life.

Twister? I don’t even know her.

Posted: September 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

Into The Storm ** (out of five)

into-the-storm-movie-poster.0_cinema_1200.0When I first saw the posters for Into The Storm, I couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to see it. Now I know. You see Into The Storm for the scenes when you go into the storm. These happen about every ten minutes or so, when one or another of the (generic) groups of (young, mostly) characters drives straight into, or is set upon by, the eye of one of the film’s many well (computer) generated tornados. These sequences are great fun, with the sound system at the cinema I attended getting the most out of the sound design’s deep stormy bass effects: my seat shook, and I felt like I was in a ride. None of this was at all scary, by the way, and I can’t imagine it’s intended to be. I wouldn’t call this a horror film, nor even a thriller; it’s an adventure.

What happens between the storm set-pieces is not worth mentioning. Those same generic characters drive between storms, get ready for storms, or partake of mundane activities so that they can be surprised by storms.

The whole thing is constructed as found footage and goes to ludicrous lengths to make this plausible by showing everyone carrying some sort of camera most of the time, having “storm chasers” as characters, and making Pete (a very oddly cast Matt Walsh) the most dedicated (obsessed?) storm chaser of them all, thus encouraging everyone else to keep filming even as they’re… well, getting sucked… into the storm.

The ending, not that it matters, is ludicrous.

Toothless

Posted: September 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

What We Do In The Shadows **1/2 (out of five)

10339723_1434342393481547_2560293756595207488_nThe biggest disappointment so far this year is What We Do In The Shadows, which is neither to say it’s terrible nor even bad. But my expectations were very high – and way too high, unfortunately (and rather bafflingly). Written and directed by Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi (Boy), I imagined this modest, 86 minute mockumentary couldn’t go wrong.

The essential problem is that vampires are a childish target, the stuff of jokes in Christmas Crackers (“What’s a vampire’s favourite song? Fangs for the memories!”) rather than smart satire. I imagined Waititi or Clement riffing on a vampire theme over a drink one night and deciding it would make a funny movie, then, six days into shooting, realising that it wasn’t working but having to push on regardless, perhaps thinking, “We should have perhaps made fun of something with a little more bite.” Doh!

The conceit is vampires as flatmates, and the conflicts are flatmate conflicts, but these guys haven’t had to be flatmates with anyone for awhile so even that side of things is generalised. It’s a little hard to watch grown men – especially Clement, a comedic acting legend thanks to Conchords – walking around hissing and flashing their fangs for (attempted) laughs. Watching them make dirty dishes jokes doesn’t somehow make the vampire schtick funnier.

At its heart, the film is really a comedy about New Zealand manhood and its associated perpetual adolescence, with our vamps heading into “Wellington Central”, befriending other clueless men and even getting into a bit of a chest-bump confrontation with a pack of werewolves led by Rhys Darby, who has been blessed with a comedian’s golden fleece: everything he says is funny. This isn’t really “about” vampires and werewolves – you can imagine these two groups as sports fans on a Friday night in town after the game – but that satire is barely mined (and could have been, far more richly). It’s almost as though it were made for kids, except that every now and then there is extremely bloody violence.

To make matters all the more disappointing, Clement has written himself a strait-laced, straight-jacketed role, allowing himself to display none of his comic chops. This error in judgement is, very unfortunately, indicative of the whole movie – it’s simply a misfire, a project that should have been left in the pub.

Life / Work Balance

Posted: September 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

Locke ****1/2 (out of five)
locke_ver5_xlgI’m not a great fan of the word “masterclass” when used in reviews, as in “so-and-so gives a masterclass in…” But there is no denying that Steven Knight’s screenplay for Locke, his auteurist thriller set entirely in a single car and featuring only one on-screen performance (by Tom Hardy), is, literally, a masterclass in the craft: forget about all those screenplay books if you want to learn how to write one, and just watch this film again and again, because it’s got all the elements, and they’re laid out, clean and polished, for all to examine, understand, and utilise.

By stripping away all the elements of bloated filmmaking, and setting his real-time film in this single Mercedes, Knight, writer of Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things, and the television series Peaky Blinders, among many other credits, really is pulling back the curtain – doing a “Penn and Teller” – or, to use a more apt metaphor, lifting the bonnet – and showing us how a screenplay runs, and how like an engine it actually is. In this car, heading towards London, from about 8:20 to about ten pm at night, an entire story is richly told, whole characters are indelibly portrayed with nuance, ambiguity, precision, foibles, heroics and devastations, and we are thoroughly engaged, manipulated perfectly, carried along as by the superior mechanisms of Locke’s Mercedes, which glides through the night on highway roads, clean and quiet and perfect.

It would be fun to identify all of Knight’s tricks of the trade, because they’re not hidden; indeed they are so obvious that the film’s one real danger is that of being too “perfect”, of it’s clockworks being too loud, so that the ticking is annoying. Perhaps you’ll feel this way. Perhaps you’ll feel that one of Locke’s challenges is, by its sheer magnitude, simply an example of “raising the stakes”; that his main emotional journey carries him between two things that are too neatly chosen as perfect opposites; that the exposition is too frontal – that it’s all too neat. I could hear the screenplay ticking, the entire time, but it never bothered me, because that screenplay is such a thing of beauty, and it has been supported by such lustrous cinematography (Haris Zambarloukos) and performances (the perfect Hardy is surrounded by eleven other actors doing stellar work, especially as they are only ever heard on Locke’s car’s bluetooth speaker system) that, even as I admired, I cared, deeply. I cared for Locke, and his predicament, and his family, and his co-workers, and that other person he was talking to, who may represent “the inciting incident”, but who was also one of the most fully realised characters seen on-screen so far this year, and was only, ever, a voice on a car’s speaker phone. Amazing.

Wising Up

Posted: August 31, 2014 in Uncategorized

Boyhood **** (out of five)

By now you’ll know that Boyhood was shot by Richard Linklater over twelve years using the same cast, and the central premise, which is watching a young boy grow into a late teen. The great news is that this concept forms the spine of an excellent movie whose story is served, not dictated, by it. Boyhood is the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), but it is also the story of his sister, his mother, his father, his step-dads, his neighbourhoods, and his America. It is very, very funny, but it is always a dramatic story. Not a single line feels like a written joke, although the film is entirely scripted, and all of the humour feels observed rather than created. It is a technically astonishing, completely written fiction that feels like real life.

Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke play Mason’s parents perfectly, and Linklater’s daughter Lorelei superbly – and hilariously – plays his sister. The sibling relationship is lovely – as are the parental connections, both highly distinct – and the pair of step-dads (Marco Perella and Brad Hawkins) are worthy adversaries to the generally good vibes and intentions of the main family unit, while being played by actors unknown enough to feel like they’ve stepped off the (real) streets of Texas.

Brilliantly, Linklater doesn’t underline the jumps in time; if anything, they’re understated, and at their most subtle you may not even realise for a moment or two that you’ve jumped a few years, and if Ellar hasn’t changed much, it may be the colour of the kitchen walls that is your gentle alert. At other times the sudden transition is (in a quiet way) quite shocking, as Ellar suddenly grows taller, leaner, pimpled, deep-voiced, and wise. The film stock, aspect ratio and sound design are all of such a piece that, technically, the time-jumps are seamless; the effect is of a normal movie, shot in, say, five weeks, that happened to employ magical actors who could age as required.

This is one hell of a warm movie, and at the end my face was literally sore from smiling. At two hours and forty-five minutes, the film is way too long, and that is most apparent in the last third, which, unfortunately, drags a little. But that’s the film’s only vice. It’s excellent, excellent, excellent. Expect Oscar nominations, especially for Linklater’s direction, and a heavy campaign for Coltrane. Linklater would deserve it, and Coltrane getting it – well, that could only make your face sore with smiling. He’s gonna be the hottest thing in Hollywood for the next news cycle, but whether he wants to be, who can tell? After all, he took this role when he was five years old.Boyhood HD Poster Wallpapers