Friday, 28 November 2014

Boring conversation anyway.

Star Wars (1977)

Almost indifferently shot (it's only real sense of style is in trying to ape serials with old fashioned wipe edits) but with a magic of it's own that is generally quite delightful. 
It's exciting hokum with fun chases, fights, interesting spaceship design, calls to adventure, evil to vanquish.
Luke is a touch dull, bit too worthy and spends more time moping about a crazy old man he just met than his actual family who have raised him for years.
But the other characters more than make up for that. Harrison ford and Carrie Fisher have a pleasing sparring chemistry getting some of the best lines fired at each other, not quite His Girl Friday for sure but that movie didn't have laser swords and giant metal moons.
Though the political world view is simplistic it fills it's actual universe with details that are often quite funny and feels 'real' and lived in as opposed to sterile.
Several sequels and prequels followed, some of which had better elements (notably the laser sword fighting) but none managed to be as good as this one.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

I got a feeling everyone else passed on this job

The Expendables (2010)

With perhaps one of the most mendacious titles since The Never Ending Story there is very little to recommend this would be 80s action movie love in.
As no stakes what-so-ever drive the narrative it's left to the action to provide tension. Which it does not. A hyperactive mess there is no flow to any of it and little reward for paying attention.
Basically just an excuse for a bunch of old men to laugh. A lot. Occasionally one will say something that has the cadence of a joke but doesn't actually form a joke and they all laugh and laugh and laugh.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Oh my god! You want us to steal Scarlett Johansson?

St. Trinian's (2007)

Dreadful tosh with little genuine wit or amusement to be gained by watching. It marks the time with bad gags, broadly played stereotypes and shameless pedophile bait.
Colin Firth seems game and there are a couple of interesting faces amongst the girls (Juno Temple and Lily Cole) but is a forgettable waste of effort generally.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

You can't win an argument just by being right!

Four Lions (2010)

Incredibly funny. Incredibly dark. Incredibly offensive. 
A biting, sharp satire from Chris morris. By playing out the plot of a group of suicide bombers as comedy rather than thriller it presents the mindset in a fresh way that should make you think deeper than the average episode of homeland. 
but Im not sure it evens cares if you do. It's not really even about Islam vs the west, it's political dimension is there but subserviant to a story about people just wanting to connect with and have an effect on, the world.

Monday, 24 November 2014

You're a cool guy but you're not pulling your weight in the flat.

What We do in the Shadows (2014)

Often very funny effort from some of those behind Flight of the Conchords and a previous filmaday entry Eagle Vs Shark.
It doesn't quite break out of it's cult ghetto appeal being slightly too weird for mainstream and not quite well made enough to crossover.
The set-up of a documentary about a group of flat sharing vampires is fun but even with some nice world building details doesn't really hang together strongly (like most films of it's ilk it can't quite decide how the film crew work in this setting which makes the times when it does bring them into the plot more galling). though there are hints perhaps that the vampires inherent hypnosis abilities can cover over some of the plot holes.
Rhys Darby is, as ever, just terrific as a werewolf trying to run a thoughtful polite pack and Stuart Rutherford gets a lot of laughs out of his dead pan performance (and a neat nod to Andy Warhol's Dracula).

Friday, 21 November 2014

I will show you revenge!

the Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The action is often choppy but generally exciting. it gets bogged down by too many
pointless bits of foreshadowing for Rings (everything with Gandalf is entirely 
inconsequential, a joke about gimli as an infant falls flat). Which all gets in the way og having a fun romp. It also has an unfortunate tendency of sidelining Bilbo in his own story.

There is a very very strange moment where an Elf appears to give a handjob to a dwarf. she's bathed in a heavenly glow and he appears to enjoy it as opposed to a dull hue and a vague feeling of dissatisfaction which i guess is how you know it's a fantasy film.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

You cannot have grief tragically becoming a comedy.

Bernie (2011)

Black and Maclaine are fantastic in this slight but offbeat true crime movie. 
Mixing in to-camera townsfolk talking about the case whilst playing it out with big name stars sometimes feels a little crass but the film is funny and sad when it needs to be. The movie, like the townsfolk, is clearly on bernie's side here, an admitted murderer but it gives out just a hint of ambiguity to stop it from feeling too horribly biased.
Another interesting movie from varied career of Richard Linklater. 

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

I can't tell you what it is, you can never ask me about it later, and we're gonna hurt some people.

The Town (2010)

Not quite as compelling as Gone Baby Gone but fine work none-the-less, his second directorial effort cemented Affleck as a talent to watch.
It suffers a little from being a touch second hand. You've seen these dynamics in countless other movies about robbers and the cops after them. 
But an assured cast and a great sense of place mark it as above a lot of the similar takes on this genre.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

True inspiration is impossible to fake.

Inception (2010)

'Dream a little bigger darling' says Tom Hardy at one point in the movie. I wish the film had taken his advice. Perhaps because of it's origins as a lower budgeted script Inception never really takes advantage of the idea that dreams can be pretty much anything. The characters' idea of dreamer bigger is to have a larger weapon. But it's still a weapon. Rules are set up to excuse why things don't get too wacky, but the movie made up the rules which don't really make sense anyway.
Apart from that (and a few of the usual Nolan tics - dead wives, chilly characters, very few good jokes) it is a pretty good mix of Phillip k. Dick and James Bond. A large (too long - another Nolan problem) section late in the film serves as a love letter to On Her Majesty's Secret Service and I suppose it's no accident we see Dicaprio first suited up in a tux.
The action is solid if unremarkable, better than many of his other films and it manages a consistant throughline of where (reality wise) everything is that is going on.
Also bolstered by an interesting and capable cast.

Monday, 17 November 2014

You're supposed to be helping us!

The Imitation Game (2014)

There's frequently a problem with these kind of films. It tries to craft a thriller out of something that doesn't really want to be thrilling. The conflict of solving mathematical puzzles is not exactly cinematic (certainly not in the hands of this director) so it puts up contrived, mechanical barriers. The scientists vs. Military through line that emerges may well have been a factor in real life (though it seems unlikely) but nothing about it rings true here. 
The more interesting conflict is within Turing's own head and the film stumbles here too.
His being gay is a big part of who he was. His mental thought processes too. The film does to it's credit not shy away from saying he was homosexual (though even that reveal is dealt with in the most ham fisted way possible) and even tries to tie that into the way he worked. But it still does not allow him to be gay on screen. We hear someone tells us after the fact he paid money to have sex with a man but it's still at a remove which does not benefit Turing.
There is a much more interesting story here about a man who did fine work for his country at a time when what he was was outlawed and is then treated shamefully by his government to the point he takes his own life. that act too is not shown on screen, a simplistic caption having to carry the weight.
Instead it mostly treads water as a redo of the Robert Harris Enigma novel and film adaptation which at least gave license to it's thriller elements by being far more fictionalised. 
Cumberbatch is fine in the role, allowing sympathy for a sometimes deeply unpleasant man.
Knightley's mannered, Joan Greenwood knock-off performance is better suited here than in the recent Say When, which I looked at last week, but is still a dry, dull presence.

Friday, 14 November 2014

We humans are more concerned with having than with being.

Lucy (2014)

Lucy is pretty thoroughly rotten. It makes a complete hash of it's central idea, presumably so it can get on with being a dumb action movie. And then forgets to be a dumb action movie.
Even ignoring the hacky brain capacity device it uses the movie doesn't have much to say of interest.
Ramping up Johansson's power levels so quickly that there is no tension in the film, the 'action' beats basically have her switching people off. At one point it looks like it is going to set up a bad guy to ingest the same drug as her to give her someone to fight but he just puts them in a briefcase and walks into a corridor. thrilling.
It attempts a 2001 riff it's climax which is much much sillier than Interstellar's (and that's saying something) and lacks any of it's grand visual sense.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

You notice things if you pay attention.

In the Mood for Love (2000)

One of the absolute greats. It's a minor story in many ways, a slow lightly plotted look at a couple who live in an apartment block together and realise their spouses are cheating on them. 
It spirals around the two, brilliantly played by Maggie Cheung and Tony Chui Wai Leung, as they form a tender close friendship not wanting to fall into infidelity as their partners had.
Every frame is achingly beautiful Wong Kai Wai and Chris Doyle in complete command of every visual creating an emotive mise-en-scene that compliments the actors  and is reinforced by an exceptional use of sound and music.
On the surface it is perhap a little staid, focussing on repression of passion but it is without doubt one of the most sensual, sexy movies ever filmed.
Pure bliss.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Go write your own stories.

The Book of Life (2014)

I'm not sure if this film is based on an actual Mexican fable, but I assume that it is (im too lazy to do much research). That would explain some of the odd plotting and characterisation (particularly in regards to the female lead who the movie wants to be strong and independent but the story keeps sidelining her as just a prize to be fought over by two men). It's a shame it doesn't get beyond this issue or the fact that it's not really all that funny because the animation is superb. A colourful blast, with a splendid design sense.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

If you wanna take some aggression out on a father figure - let's get scrappy man

Say When (2014)

Too slight to work as drama, too dull to work as comedy Say When (previously Laggies) is inoffensive but forgettable. 
Keira Knightley is miscast as a young women still acting as though she were a teenager with her stilted, clipped manner at odds with the loose, no direction character she is portraying.
The movie picks up a bit of energy when the ever reliable Sam Rockwell appears but the film doesn't seem to know what it really wants to say (she needs to grow up and live her life as her friends have managed to do by ignoring them?) and suffers from a listless low tempo structure which just kills comedy.

Monday, 10 November 2014

It means that whatever can happen, will happen.

Interstellar (2014)

At times quite spectacularly powerful. It manages great emotional weight through image and action (and a majestic organ soundtrack) which doesn't really carry over to idea and dialogue. When not speaking in cod poetic homilies the dialogue is quite stilted and bland. Some jokes about robots feel like they might have actually been written by robots.
The movie aims for great metaphysical depth but never gets beyond a shallow 'the fifth element is love' position.
It splits itself into chunks of incident not all of much interest. The world building first act is unusual perhaps but slight, leaving you to fill in details (commendable but not worth the effort) and laboring over certain plot points in case you didn't catch them the first five times they are mentioned.
The space stuff is more dynamic. A sequence with Matt Damon works. Exciting, driven by real conflict and stakes that makes sense with Damon delivering a real powerhouse performance. 
This is also yet another Nolan movie that I've had trouble with the audio/dialogue sound mix making certain moments incomprehensible.

Friday, 7 November 2014

What did i learn?

Harmontown (2014)

Starting with the camera close up in bed with Harmon and his girlfriend Erin McGathy (and a beautiful cat) is an appropriate beginning for this intimate portrait of a man whose capacity for self destruction is stated from the start.
At times it is an uncomfortable watch (more so if you listen to the full audio of the performances this film references), Harmon is a canny student of human nature and knows how to be cruelly funny, the tragedy is he can also see how this damages and hurts people around him.
But the film brilliantly only uses him as a focus. It asks many people to describe him and they are lost for words, but interestingly when asked to say what they think he would describe himself as, suddenly they find the words and a picture emerges. This serves as an analogue for why he and his works have become passionately loved (by few perhaps, a joke about Community's ratings gets a big laugh, but a dedicated few). He serves as a prism of understanding. People connect to him and his work through it's seeming honesty. They find stories that tell them who they are, not just the who characters are on screen.
This sense is relayed through the film in many ways but most particularly in the story of Spencer Crittenden, a young uncomfortable but funny and oddly charismatic man who has a fame of sorts thrust upon him. Harmon at one points frames Spencer as the hero, himself as the villain but this is just a device (as Harmon well knows) to say both are human.
People want nothing more than to be feel a connection, to feel they have an impact on the world, that they matter.
And Harmontown tells us we do.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

I ain't "people." I am a - "a shimmering, glowing star in the cinema firmament."

Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Pure cinema. 
Astounding dance sequences are married with good gags and a fun sense of time.
Set in the last days of silent cinema but perfectly, brilliantly a 50's 'technicolor musical treasure'.
Nothing perhaps hit the iconic heights of the title number, all joy and superb movement. But 'Good Morning' is a personal favourite using all three of the main cast in spectacular ways. And Make 'em Laugh is a knockout number. Any one of those could claim position as best of a decade of musicals let alone one film.
It suffers a touch from padding, a late (though excellently choreographed) bit is a little superflous but gives the thrill of seeeing the amazing Cyd Charise which is justification enough I guess.
I can't use enough superlatives for this film. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014


Mr. Turner (2014)

Timothy Spall just inhabits the role completely. At times sounding like patient zero for a zombie film, his command of the screen is total and fascinating.
The film skips the usual broad biopic pitfalls. Despite a long running time it concentrates on the late period of Turner's life, he is already a celebrated and accomplished artist, there is thankfully no 'lightbulb' sequence of how his inspiration hits him.
The film can be a little daunting in a way. It gives little exposition, trusting perhaps to a knowledge of the painter's life already (I have none) but the little details are enough to fill the film with incident whilst having not much happening.
Leigh apes the paintings of Turner himself in the visual style of the film, leaving a lush lasting piece of work that applauds but does not whitewash a singular individual.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

What if my problem wasn't that I don't understand people but that I don't like them?

Nightcrawler (2014)

Featuring a brilliantly compelling lead performance from Jake Gyllenhaal (as well as a terrific Riz Ahmed playing his assisstant) this is not quite Network for our age (it never really considers teevee news as something being pushed out or at least threatened by the internet strangely) but a fast, funny somewhat scathing indictment of 'if it bleeds it leads' journalism.
It stays on point, suggesting the people in charge of getting ratings are just as sociopathic as the man who is first seen beating (killing?) a man for his watch. But it never really digs beneath this. 
A late minute 'twist' of sorts doesn't quite work, it feels a little sloppy and contrived and only really exists to service the unsubtle message.
Otherwise though, a tight thrilling two hours.

Monday, 3 November 2014

You killed that poor girl, and now the devil has claimed you.

Horns (2013)

Woefully misguided. As horror - it has none. As morality tale - it's message is mixed. As blackly pitched character comedy - it's not funny. 
Radcliffe is better here than ever before but he still lacks a deeper charisma. The film is completely lacking in subtlety, a dreadful voice-over slamming it's points into to after the visuals already have.
Juno Temple is wasted on a girl next door cypher whose only moment of agency in the film is something from a Nicolas Sparks novel.
The central mystery is neither compelling nor a good use of framework to hang a twisted look at small town politics on. The revelations are skin deep, the supposed pay off for characters not even worthy of the feeblest Cryptkeeper tale.
Rape and murder of an innocent young woman used to what end? 
A trifle with a blank slate as it's lead.