Saturday, 28 May 2011

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

IR: Source Code

Source Code was overall good, please do go and watch it despite the coming onslaught of criticism, because though I did enjoy it I can only think that it could have been improved in so many ways.

Firstly, the romance element is done far too quickly for anyone who isn't a fairy princess who believes in love at first sight. In the film, our main character basically decides to love this girl on the basis of hearing her say one slightly nice thing. Then, BOOM; he has his heart set on her. Unrealistic.

Secondly, (and I'm assuming you know from trailers the basic premise otherwise it's about to get spoiled now,) the way that he had multiple chances at reliving the same eight minutes over and over wasn't done in the best way. First time he lived it, I was thrilled because I could see all these little details that would vary in the future from slight differences that he made. 'Coke!' 'Coffee!' 'Phone call!' 'Ticket!' Bliss! How would he learn to manipulate these and gain ever more knowledge as his tries accumulate?? Meh. He shows off a bit about the coffee and the phone call but the film never explores the full potential of it all.

And surely 'explore' should be the word here? If you we in the same space and time over and over, wouldn't you explore absolutely everything and take risks because you know that your actions have no repercussions? I don't want to get too Groundhog Day on your ass but seriously they did it so much better there. Instead, he un-methodically runs about accusing apparently randomly the first poor schmuk to attract his attention. I thought he was army trained??

A second film that did it better was Run Lola Run, where because of her actions she responded to the world in slightly different ways each time and there were very different results from this. For example, one time she hurt her leg and so came to everything a little later than before, when they were at a slightly progressed state, and this caused people to react differently to her.

Another example I can think of where repeated attempts at the same scenario are undertaken is when you or I play a computer game. You don't duck, you loose a life. You duck this time, you jump too far, you land on spikes. You duck, jump just right, reach your goal. This process of 'progress by elimination' is the compelling driving-force that makes us hit the 'continue' button every time we die, knowing full well we will die again, but also that we will eventually figure it out and get a perfect win.

Noooooooooo! Curse you robotnik!!

The scope for a little experimentation (OK; a little MORE experimentation) was there in the film and I just feel it would have been so much better for it.

Briefly now; a couple of other things that bothered me, that you can agree with once you've watched it. Why did the army waste time talking to him in a way they knew he wouldn't respond to as a soldier? And how did he get her phone number?


I admit it, I was wrong.
After seeing the trailer of Source Code I proclaimed it would be incredibly silly and pretty damn awful. And although it was, indeed, incredibly silly, it was not at all bad. Its a solid piece of work, not as good as Moon perhaps, but certainly enough to say that Mr. Duncan Jones has a bright career ahead of him.

Jake Gyllenhall is cast as Captain Colter Stevens who has inexplicably been given the task of travelling back in time to the scene of a terrorist bombing to discover who done it.
In fact, I am starting to think he has been typecast as 'the guy who goes a bit back in time to slightly change things.

See what I mean?

He gives a credible performance and thankfully his natural charisma (a blend of believable tough nut and puppy-dog charm) gives strength to what is a pretty underwritten part.
In fact, that is one of the real clangers of the film. The plot is so tight and fast paced the script has little time left for character development. However, there is just enough to make you feel short changed. The noble effort is nullified by the restrictions of a feature film.
The upshot is that the romance elements seem a little forced, the love interest (played with charm by the impish Michelle Monaghan) comes across more like an incidental background character and the various musings on the ethics of science, the importance of duty and the human spirit are either boring or mawkish.
Did I say science?
Yes, there is some of that.
And it arrives like this: one quarter into the film, the appropriately slimy but strangely unconvincing head of the project Dr Rutledge (Jeffery Wright), is forced by Captain Stevens to give an account of himself and what the hell Source Code is all about.
He replies:

'Blah blah brain patterns blah blah quantum blah blah parabolic blah thousands of lives in danger. And that's why you our bitch.'

Aside from the fact that, like the much-mocked Architect scene in the Matrix, it is nonsensical gibberish with a few science words in there to impress the plebs, its all dropped in one go like a science bomb. No more mystery, get on with the plot.

Here's the explanation you ordered, sir;
I'm afraid that we didn't have an subtly to go with it.


I LIKE technobabble, its fun and really works in some places. But here it is really clumsy.
Overall, the problems I have with Sourceocde they are these: it shows its hand too quickly and it doesn't have enough teeth. Its quite easy to see where potentially darker bits have been painted over with big-budget exposition and fluff.

There is loads to like about the film, but I can't help thinking the concept would have been better used as a TV series, possibly produced by JJ Abrams. It does have a bit of prime-time sci-fi about it...I mean, Scott Bakula makes an offscreen cameo; how could that be a coincidence?!
really works in some places. But here it is really clumsy.

Overall, the problems I have with Sourceocde they are these: it shows its hand too quickly and it doesn't have enough teeth. Its quite easy to see where potentially darker bits have been painted over with big-budget exposition and fluff.

There is loads to like about the film, but I can't help thinking the concept would have been better used as a TV series, possibly produced by JJ Abrams. It does have a bit of prime-time sci-fi about it...I mean, Scott Bakula makes an offscreen cameo; how could that be a coincidence?!


Wednesday, 30 March 2011

IR: The Eagle

The Eagle is a very sexy slash fiction fodder action film. What I have learnt from it is that Romans are awesome! I knew this already in the depths of my mind but I was reminded by their ingenious army formations (Square! Tortoise!).

Pictured: Military Might

The fight scenes are very good, involving the necessary hand-to-hand fighting without sophisticated weaponry or ninja fighting skills, just lots of down-to-earth metal clanging against metal (that's if you're lucky, otherwise it's metal against your bone). I loved the chariots with wheel spikes and the wooden fortifications behind which the Romans lived, it reminded me of all the Asterix books I used to love.

My only real criticism of the film is that it was too short; after a certain point the plot just runs away and refuses to stand still and be filmed. It was a long enough film but I could have done with a few more scenes in the middle of it, since the set-up and conclusion are good but it jumps between them a bit too quickly for my liking.

I have to say from the get go that The Eagle was a lot better than I expected. Or rather, a lot more interesting. I always expected it to be well made, but the plot and themes are a lot more subtle and the script a lot smarter than the trailer made out. Not that the piece is without its flaws...Donald Sutherland as a Southern American Roman 'Dude' for one.

Man, that Gladiator is like, totally cool.

Maybe part of this slightly elevated script is that it is based on a novel, 'The Eagle' by Rosemary Sutcliff.

I'm not a student of ancient history and so I cannot say whether the film is well researched, but it definitely FEELS well researched. There is a sense of reality about the costumes, the locations and the people; for example the Garrison which Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum) is posted looks and feels functional - somewhere people actually live, eat, fight and die.
Tatum himself makes a very credible Roman Officer; noble and brave,concerned with Roman values of family honour (and of course, family shame), admirable but also capable of ruthless and merciless action. And Jamie Bell, also, is great as Esca the seething, wooden faced slave who will not break a bond of honour even if means serving a man he hates.
That central relationship can, I believe, be legitimately read as a love story or as a straightforward buddy movie. The subtlety of the script means that either is as likely and a credible as the other, and I can't really see the Romans having a problem with relationships between men and men.

Oh, yes, by the way, this film is about MEN. Lots of MEN. Women are in evidence and in the pict/celt tribes they look pretty badass, but the film is about MEN.
And even though the film may be about MEN and HONOUR and FIGHTING at points it is also surprisingly reflective and gentle. We end up routing for Marcus and Esca despite the many problems that their quest flags up (are the Romans just crazy expansionists? Who are the real savages? Is it okay to waste this much time just to recover a symbol?) because they do it with such determination. And there is a central philosophy in the film that many soldiers have come to appreciate; that they actually have far more in common with their military enemy than their own leaders.

However, that's not to say that there ins't violence. And some actually quite nasty things as well...not hugely graphic, in fact the film cuts away most of the really gory stuff, but enough is left to make you wince. Its a 12A, but I DO NOT advise taking 12 year olds in.
Overall the Eagle is well worth a watch, even if, like Britta, you like it mainly because of the undertones.

The sexy, sexy undertones.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

IR: Of Gods and Men

In Algeria a small monestry of eight monks live in harmony with their village, providing medicine and support for the largely Muslim population. But when extremist violence rears its ugly head the monks are faced with a choice: do they stay and risk their lives or go and leave those who rely on them?

Of Gods and Men was very good because of its slow depiction of the monks in everyday life. It is a film about bravery, faith, brotherhood and compassion. Depressing, but not as much as other films we've seen recently. Refreshing to see something so slow, and with such sympathetic main characters. There are a few very powerful scenes that hold it together and keep the story moving, and these are done well.

3 stars

As someone who grows more secular in my leanings every day, it may seem strange that the monastic life has, for as long as I can remember, had an appeal for me.

Maybe it is the readings of the excellent and beautiful Brother Cadfael novels written by Edith Pargeter (under the pen-name Ellis Peters) I enjoyed as a child along side the works of PG Wodehouse and Dick King Smith.

Maybe it is the inherent simplicity and peacefulness of the monks life; the cessation of personal desires and the giving up of all property to make way for ritual, brotherhood and reverence.

This life, so far away from our normal lives of materialism and ambition, is communicated with admirable realism by Of Gods and Men. The audience are drawn into the brothers' world. Bit by bit, scene by scene, we are introduced to their comfortable lives of contemplation and study at the Monastery and their more lively excursions into the poverty stricken but vibrant world of their community. We grow accustomed to the stillness and peace so that we, like them, are shocked and afraid when the calm is broken by terrorism and civil war.

Civil war? Cadfael is disappoint.

One of the great things about the film is its rejection of hollywood looks and a sole focus on actors (and actresses)with interesting faces. There is a scene which focuses almost exclusively on minute examination of the brothers' expressions reacting to music, and they are so interesting to look at it never becomes boring.

Overall the film expertly examines the troubles of violence and non-violence, of keeping true to ones beliefs, love, friendship and community. The fact that it is based on true events, and the tragic end to which it eventually comes, makes it even more poignant, and reminds of the true evil of war: that those who die for it often don't even know why.


Wednesday, 16 March 2011

IR: The Adjustment Bureau

David Norris is a young, handsome up-and-coming politician who apparently cannot lose...except that he does. Before he makes his post-defeat address to his supporters, he meets the enigmatic Elise and falls for her. Then, luckily, he meets her again. This seemingly innocuous event attracts the attention of some mystertious men who are very intent of keeping them apart and will perform the 'adjustments' necessary to see this happens...

The Adjustment Bureau was a pretty good film, with an interesting concept that they didn't milk enough for its pulling power. They could have had Matt Damon dangling from puppet strings for a lot longer for my liking.

Save the scene where he finds out about them, the Adjustment Bureau men weren't very scary or powerful-seeming, and even their threat to wipe his brain never seemed in real danger of being carried out. The conclusion is wimpy and an anticlimax.

I won't tell you how M.D. wins in the end but it's something to do with putting sprinkles and hundreds and thousands and cherries on top of something very pretty.

Rhymes with 'knees'

In conclusion, good enough film, could have been so much better.

2 stars.

Ever since I saw the trailer a month ago, I have been worried that 'The Adjustment Bureau' would be the spiritual sequel to Richard Kelly's 2009 film 'The Box'. And I was pretty much on track, although The Adjustment Bureau does have a slightly more upbeat feel and I think I liked it better.
I was very disappointed by The Box, mostly because I loved Richard Kelly's previous films (even Southland Tales which everybody else seems to hate with a passion) and I am a sucker for weird paranoid sci-fi.

The set up of the film is a sort of Tales of the Unexpected Twilight Zone affair where people with seemingly godlike powers meddle in the affairs of mere 'The Box'. The baddies are dressed in official looking suits and hats and are 'just doing a job' in 'The Box'.

Seriously, guys. Seriously.

It is about destiny, choice, love and free 'The Box'. And it is based on a short story by a respected Sci Fi author who has previously had his work adapted into 'The Box'. And due to this last one, it is baggy and clearly padded out in the middle...etcetra.

Although this may seem a little out there for casual cinema goers, its been seen quite a few times in many variants. Even at its most esoteric, it is borrowing from other, better films and even tv shows. I have mentioned Tales and Twilight Zone before, but what about Dark City (my 2nd favourite film of all time) Sapphire and Steel (TV) or the Matrix? In fact as the film drew into its final chapter I realised that I myself had written and filmed something.

It was called 'Gods Dicebox' and also focussed on two not-quite-human troubleshooters who ventured into our realm to make sure things went according to plan AND was also filled with widgety odd-tech not too dissimilar from the 'Marauders Map' style destiny books you will have seen in the trailers.

The concept is smart but ill handled and despite a strong start it shows its hand way too quickly, reducing bad guys who could have been utterly terrifying with better direction to vaguely clown-like sub-Goodfellas workaday schlubs in the space of ten minutes.
The central romance is well played and its impossible not to like Matt Damon and Emily Blunt as the star-crossed leads. There are also some interesting political bits akin to the adaptation of State of Play that popped up last year (with Ben Affleck as a young, dynamic politician...coincidence?!)

Awww, come on!

The film is fun and frolicksome, but I can't help thinking there was a better film struggling to get out. The ending has a weird, incongruous 'Oh, its all okay really!' ending that seems to have been tagged on, with some softly-softly Christian overtones. Granted, that is better than the 'Women are all evil and for that your son will SUFFER!' rubbish at the end of The Box, but I would have preferred something with a little more teeth.


Thursday, 3 March 2011

IR: Never Let Me Go

Famed author Kazuo Ishiguro, respected screenwriter Alex Garland and music-video veteran Mark Romanek bring us a film in which love cannot save the day.

It was my slight misfortune to listen to a radio play some years back (I won't mention the name or that will give it away) that had a very similar concept to Never Let Me Go. You won't know the actual concept
of Never Let Me Go unless you have read the novel or spoiler-full reviews/synopses, but suffice it to say that this concept drives the film and is best kept a secret before you watch it.

Now this radio play made me aware of the true nature of the world pretty much from the first five minutes, and that tempered my experiences somewhat.
I felt a little bit 'oh, go on, get on with it' in a way which I imagine was quite unfair to the plot.
Anyway, yes.


That is what this film is. Deliberately, I may add, so thats no bad thing. The film is based around the idea that the main characters in are prisoners. Not in a place, as such, even though there are boundaries on their world, but prisoners in a mindset and a system. This is in much the same way Red describes being 'institutionalised' in the Shawshank Redemption; becoming so used to the life of imprisonment that freedom itself is alien. Sometimes Not even alien, but unthinkable. An impossibility.

And unlike Shawshank, there is not redemption in Never Let Me Go. This becomes pretty clear as early as the first twenty minutes, but it does not alleviate the tension.
When I say it is suffocating, I literally felt like the story was wrapping itself round my chest and squeezing like a boa constrictor. The principle characters are caught in a loop of life, an airless, claustrophobic world in which they only have each other and those of their kind.

Their lives have been planned out before them by forces unseen. The audience will, if they are like me, be screaming with ever fibre of their being: 'ESCAPE! ESCAPE! ESCAPE!'…but they are so utterly complacent and resigned to their fate that they can no more escape than fly to the moon.

The beautiful locations such as the idyllic Hailsham school in fist act and the Aga-and-oak beam cottages in the second only serve to heighten the incestuous, inescapable loneliness of their lives. They are trapped in a world of twee routine only broken by the mildest of distractions.

At the centre of the plot is a love story, but that too is so tense and stretched you could use it to skin a drum. It starts in Hailsham where all the children are a cute as individually polished buttons, especially Chalie Rowe who plays the young Tommy. In fact they are so well turned out with apple cheeks and Loreal-ad hair that it all feels a bit Midwitch Cuckoos.

Especially with the starey eyes.

It progresses through the next stage of life when the principles have aged into Carey Mulligan, Kiera Knightly (who deserves special mention because she is EXCELLENT in this role) and sexy sexy Andrew Garfield.

However the film does drag a little as the near-solipsistic lives of these downtrodden prisoners carries on with inevitably predictability and the end, though tragic and heartfelt, feels like going through the motions.

It is quite a relief to escape from this place, but you will not come out feeling happy.
I do have issues with the social realise of the central concept, which I won't go into here, but if you do see the film see what you think of this statement:
Does it seem to you that the writer, Kazuo Ishiguro, has made up a ghastly situation just so he can deplore of it?


Never Let Me Go was so depressing to watch. We seem to be watching a few of those recently. The characters are, without spoiling the plot too much, doomed like free range chickens. Pretty much exactly like free-range chickens, really. But you'll have to watch the film to see why. It is creepy, in a very English-apple-pie-with-arsenic-in-it way.

Eat up.

Under strict instructions not to spoil the concept, which apparently the trailers don't so I shouldn't, it's hard to describe for you the feelings of the film or remark upon the effects upon the characters or tell you why it was so creepy to see old people walking around town or so tragic to look at porn magazines. Even more tragic than the regular reason, I mean. Suffice to say, I hope, that this film was clever and charming and intriguing and sad, and I want to see it again because the acting is beautiful and the aesthetic of the film is hauntingly wholesome.

A few criticisms; the concept, though powerful, isn't anything that's not been done before, and some aspects of it didn't stand up to analysis as to what we think would happen in a real scenario.

As for the title, think of the film as that bit in Titanic where Kate Winslet is holding on to Leonardo DiCaprio in the water, but drawn out over a decade or so.


Thursday, 24 February 2011

IR: Winter's Bone

Young Ree has to look after her brother, sister, and near cataonic mother in the rough terraine of the Mussouri mountains. When her father jumps bail, having left their home for the capital, she needs to find him before they are all left out in the cold.

Winter’s Bone is a near-perfect film. The central character is a 17-year-old girl who needs to find her bail-jumping father in order to keep her family home. Parallels with True Grit have just occurred to me, and I am told Jim is covering that as I type.

In all the film, there was only one thing that made me feel critical (I won't mention what it was as it might spoil it for you), and considering I habitually watch films scouring for imperfections/ ‘reality checks’, that is very good. Also, it was slightly too long; I felt it was the end long before it actually was, so it dragged a bit before the conclusion wrapped it up.

Things that I liked about it were the consistency and believability of the scene and the characters, the strange woodland community and its society laws. I liked that most scenes had no exposition so you had to pay attention to keep up.

Squirrel spotting

I liked the nice army careers officer, who gave us an anchor for an idealised morality to let us gauge just how hostile and awkward the woodland dealings were. I liked seeing the odd background characters that gave the setting with their unattractive faces, and I liked seeing perfect nail varnish on a dirty dealer.

The atmosphere was gritty and wary and on-edge, a bit like The Road but we didn’t come out feeling so low. It did take me a few minutes to feel like talking though, so it did have an emotional impact. I would recommend this film to people who enjoy non-mainstream films.

5 Stars

Watching Winter's Bone only a week after True Grit brings to mind the interesting parallels between the two films. Both are set in desolate landscapes and townships with the stink of poverty hanging over them. Both feature amazingly competent and brave heroines who have, in their fathers' absence and their mothers' inability, become heads of their households. Both are carrying out missions related to their fathers, and both are befriended (if that is the word) and in parts assisted by dangerous older men.

Not in a creepy sweet-giving way.

There is a lot of the western about Winter's Bone in the pacing as well. It is slow and steady, with an all-pervasive sense of fear, unease and dread. It is shot with a wonderful bleached quality, and the location is absolutely real,a living, watching, decaying place. Winter's Bone brings into solid existence a world so far from my own comforting materialist middle-class bubble it might as well be on Mars and makes it instantly 'knowable'.

The acting is superb, and with as much low-key brilliance as everything else.
The extended 'family' who make up Ree's world are akin to pack animals. Haunted, weather worn, grizzled and grim. They are laconic and soft spoken, as if they fear that someone is always listening. They are also canny, cunning and mean, and any time they are on screen you feel that fear in the pit of your stomach that something terrible could happen at any moment.
There is a massive amount to say about this film, far more than I can fit into a review. It works on the level of social commentary on crime, drug use and poverty, parable, explorations of values and hidden 'codes of honour', a straight-out narrative about bravery and strength, an analysis of what it means to be family and what familial love really is. I could easily write an essay on it.
This is what you need to know: Jennifer Lawrence is awesome, Debra Granik knows how to direct actors like crazy, and you should never go asking questions to people who don't want to answer.