Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Tag: films (page 2 of 3)

Resolution Update: 52 Pick-Up

An intensive weekend of film-watching put me back on track and I actually completed my resolution to remove one film a week from my lengthy watchlist with a full week in hand. I will add a separate post about the resolution and these films as a whole. Meanwhile, as the last three times, here are a series of mini-reviews with ratings out of 10 to reflect the rating I gave on IMDb. And a reminder that new releases this year do not count towards my resolution even if those titles were already on my watchlist (so there is no Star Wars: The Last Jedi).

41. Constantine (2005)6/10

Despite some impressive world-building and vivid visual flair, the film struggles to escape the mismatched casting of Keanu Reeves as as the titular John Constantine. For all its Biblical backdrop amidst a proxy war between Heaven and Hell, when the redemptive arc of its central character rings hollow, the end result is more Purgatorial.

42. Bronson (2008)6/10

Nicolas Winding Refn’s breakout film (prior to mainstream success with Drive) is an ambitious biopic of notorious inmate Charles Bronson which aims less to tell his story than to present a series of vignettes from his perspective. Despite an excellent physical performance from Tom Hardy, Bronson’s nihilistic violence offers scant nuance beyond his desire for celebrity, and a lack of character development leaves little for the audience to hold onto once the credits roll.

43. Black Hawk Down (2001) – 9/10

Ridley Scott’s last great movie before a 15 year drought broken ironically by The Martian. It’s a chaotic and visceral depiction of modern warfare that impressively maintains its narrative thread even when the violence confuses. It makes an interesting counterpoint to the long distance warfare of Eye in the Sky.

44. The Shining (1980)7/10

Despite its contribution to popular culture, The Shining is flawed film. As a ghost story adaptation it is a confusing mess and most of the performances veer into parody. Yet Kubrick carefully composes countless memorable shots that compound the sense of snowy isolation within the grand Overlook Hotel. Still, once the running and screaming starts, it is all rather forgettable.

45. Innocence (2004)5/10

A frustratingly inscrutable film set within the walls of a secluded girls’ school. Whilst we watch them frolic in the woods, a sense of menace hangs as we learn that the oldest girls must soon leave and no one is permitted to leave early. Allegorical of adolescence, I briefly thought it had a greater goal as a fable about ageing and death but this was rather undermined by its closing. Given how impenetrable most of the film is, it might have benefited from a more ambiguous ending.

46. Patton (1970)9/10

My favourite reviewer’s favourite film, this is a singular military biopic about a deeply divisive general, Francis Ford Coppola’s script was bombastic yet even-handed from the opening monologue delivered before a giant, screen-filling American flag, pieced together from various speeches given by Patton. Its tank battles are less visceral by modern standards but the character study retains its power. Perhaps fittingly for portraying such a larger than life character, such is George C Scott’s dominance of the screen that General Bradley is the only multifaceted supporting character.

47. Catch Me Daddy (2014)7/10

A strong, unconventional debut from Daniel Wolfe set against a bleak rural Yorkshire backdrop, the film’s focus is a young interracial couple striking out away from their families. The film’s narrative only emerges gradually over the first hour and the less one knows going in the better. The journey takes the viewer to some harrowing places undermined only by a melodramatic final scene that provides an unsatisfying conclusion.

48. The Pianist (2002)9/10

When I started this resolution I knew this was a film I would cross off the list, but it has been waiting until an occasion when I was sufficiently emotionally robust, particularly in the current fractured political climate. Based on Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman’s memoirs of escaping the deportation of Jews from Warsaw, this departs from most Holocaust films in both its lack of melodrama (though Nazi atrocities are unflinchingly displayed) and a general sense not of perseverance but powerlessness. Adrien Brody, who has to carry the film, is both captivating and haunting.

49. Orphan (2009)6/10

Advertised as horror and often successful atmospherically, Orphan is really a thriller following an American family’s adoption of a strange Russian girl and on that front it is unsatisfying. Aside from a grotesque opening dream sequence, the initial act smartly sets up the notion of an unreliable perspective but that conceit is then discarded for the remainder of the film. Instead it’s jump scares, logical leaps and a preposterous conclusion.

50. Inherent Vice (2014)8/10

A period noir following an LA private investigator in a 1970s that sparkles with character from the dialogue to the decor, the film actually bears a stronger resemblance to The Big Lebowski, with an investigation through a haze of pot smoke and surreal characters. Its low-key comedy bubbles beneath the surface, so it may seem too mellow and meandering to some viewers, but I found it engaging even at two and a half hours.

51. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)7/10

Overlong and uneven, the riveting final hour is a slog to reach. Jessica Chastain is absorbing as the obsessive, impassioned intelligence agent who locates Osama bin Laden, but the script is problematic. Opening with a half hour of torturing detainees, it skirts the issues of its legality and effectiveness, presumably to appease a wider American audience. Then follows an hour of disconnected intelligence gathering scenes that provide limited insight. A tighter focus on preparation for the final mission might have helped, but would have short-changed Chastain.

52. Your Name (2016)8/10

On paper this strange combination of high school body-swap comedy and time-travel romance is not an obvious choice for a runaway commercial success, becoming the highest-grossing anime to date. The animation is stunning but it’s really the film’s earnest charm that shines through, making it surprisingly easy to overlook the logical issues riddling its plot.

Resolution Update: 40 Films and 40 Nights

Between summer in the USA and kicking off the Reeltime series, I have slipped behind on the New Year’s resolution I set myself to remove one film a week from my lengthy watchlist. As in the previous two updates, here are a series of mini-reviews with ratings out of 10 to reflect the rating I gave on IMDb. And a reminder that new releases this year do not count towards my resolution even if those titles were already on my watchlist (so there is no Blade Runner 2049).

29. Captain America: Civil War (2016) – 7/10

An Avengers film in all but name, it is better constructed than Age of Ultron but suffers from similar flaws of advancing the wider MCU at the expense of the more interesting smaller story about the regulation of superhero activities. There are some impressive superhero fights but it often feels like slamming handfuls of action figures against one another.

30. The Road (2009) – 7/10

This traversal of a post-apocalyptic landscape feels familiar having played The Last of Us, which it clearly influenced, down to the fathers attempting both to protect a child and to prepare them for the future. The Road certainly evokes the atmosphere, if not the depth, of Cormack McCarthy’s celebrated novel.

31. The Handmaiden (2016) – 9/10

Although it only hit Western shores this year, I have been eagerly anticipating Park Chan Wook’s latest for some time. A sumptuous period erotic thriller, this is dazzling cinema and, although it lacks the originality for which he is often known, his strongest work since Oldboy.

32. Super 8 (2011)7/10

Abrams effectively recreates Spielberg’s vision of 1980s small town America – all pedal bikes and walkie talkies – though Stranger Things has now leveraged that nostalgia to better effect. Abrams’ obsession with his “mystery box” means we never see enough of the mistreated creature to empathise fully.

33. The Girl on the Train (2016)7/10

An enjoyable but lightweight thriller, it has the right ingredients – alcoholism, infidelity, abusive relationships – but fails to use its unreliable perspective to full effect like Gone Girl. Knowing we are watching drunken memories renders most twists perfunctory rather than revelatory. Despite its attractive cast, Tate’s direction avoids dwelling on the infidelity for titillation, which would be admirable were the film more cerebral instead.

34. A Clockwork Orange (1971)9/10

It is rare that a once controversial film can still shock almost fifty years later but the film’s most unsettling sequences draw more from being psychologically perverse than from mere violence or nudity. The dark satire relies on making McDowell’s electric performance relatable which is no small feat. It is synchronicity between music and visuals that draws us inside his head.

35. Swiss Army Man (2016)6/10

An uncompromisingly offbeat film about a hopeless, stranded man who befriends a corpse who helps him journey home, this is beautifully shot and unique in tone. However, its puerile obsession with flatulence and excrement begins to grate and continuous bathos ultimately undermines any more poignant messages about life, loneliness and making connections.

36. Eye in the Sky (2015)9/10

A superbly taut combination of thriller and drama covering a single drone operation, exploring the military, legal and political questions without proselytising in this moral quagmire. Powerful performances are led by Helen Mirren as the colonel in command, Aaron Paul as the conflicted drone pilot and an unusual but poignant final film appearance for Alan Rickman as the Lieutenant General corralling authorisation back home.

37. Moonlight (2016)8/10

A simple, beautiful film that follows a young black man in a rough Miami neighbourhood at three points in his life as he grapples with adolescence, his sexuality and his place in the world. Bolstered by a stellar ensemble cast and characters that linger with you, it may be true that the film would be less noteworthy if all these characters were white but that is part of what makes it important – it compromises neither the accessible universality of its themes nor its uniquely black lens.

38. Passengers (2016)8/10

Whilst its story shares Moon‘s focus on engineered off-planet loneliness (in this case waking early from stasis on a colonist ship still ninety years from its destination), Passengers receives an unexpected boost from a big VFX budget and star power in the form of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence as the leads. That does not make it superior but there is surprising depth beneath the glossy sheen.

39. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)8/10

At first glance a “cancer romance”, it shares more DNA with (500) Days of Summer‘s approach to bucking conventions: quirky without being self-indulgent and earning its emotional moments rather than manipulating viewers. Its witty script and talented cast help, but its chief strength is respecting the intelligence of its audience.

40. Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)7/10

Capturing a very specific 1980s USA college rite of passage, I don’t share the film’s sense of nostalgia for this group of jocks beyond the soundtrack. A spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused, this is the light, meandering Richard Linklater without the interpersonal depth of Before Midnight or the scale of Boyhood‘s character study. Yet, disappointing Linklater is still decent cinema.

Resolution Update: 28 Films Later

With half the year behind us, I am actually slightly ahead on the New Year’s resolution I set myself to remove one film a week from my lengthy watchlist, exceeding the 26 films I needed to hit by this point. A couple of extra films in hand will probably be useful given that I have three weeks in the USA at the end of summer which might interfere with progress. As before, here are a series of mini-reviews with ratings out of 10 to reflect the rating I gave on IMDb. And a reminder that new releases this year do not count towards my resolution even if those titles were already on my watchlist (so there is no Wonder Woman).

15. Chappie (2015)6/10

A mashup of sci-fi tropes, its realistic robot effects do look fantastic. However the characters are thinly sketched and the cartoonish South African gangsters swiftly become tiresome. The film fails to explore its ideas of artificial consciousness in any depth and its social commentary never digs beneath the surface.

16. Bridesmaids (2011) – 8/10

Comparisons to The Hangover (presumably because this unusually features brief scenes of female gross-out comedy) do the film a disservice as it is not a straight comedy. Its strength is Kristen Wiig’s sympathetic performance as a woman feeling left behind as her engaged best friend seems to be drifting toward a different life. Given the shared talent, I wish the new Ghostbusters had been closer to this.

17. The Place Beyond The Pines (2012) – 7/10

Frustratingly uneven, the film abruptly pivots twice revealing itself to be a triptych about the effects two fathers have upon their sons. The first two segments provide excellent character studies of Gosling as a reckless stunt rider wanting to provide for his son and Cooper as a hero cop struggling with a crisis of conscience. It lacks the relatable realism of Blue Valentine but there is still much here to enjoy despite its meandering structure.

18. Paterson (2016) – 9/10

A quiet, gentle film that lets you experience a slice of life for a New Jersey bus driver and poet. Though he may now be known for Star Wars, Adam Driver is capable of great subtle, sensitive portrayals.

19. The Neon Demon (2016) – 3/10

My issue with Nicholas Winding Refyn films (including Drive) is that they are pure style over substance, no matter how stylish. This takes it to the extreme as he trades masculine idolatry of Gosling for the feminine in the modelling industry. Yet he fails to show us what everyone sees in Jessie, and his stylishness is worn down to imagery that is obvious, crass and not nearly as interesting as he seems to think.

20. Jupiter Ascending (2015) – 6/10

Like The Chronicles of Riddick, this is a triumph of meticulously detailed worldbuilding (the Wachowskis’ forte) without the running time to make use of it. Racing through its plot, we touch on interesting ideas that are snatched away for bombastic action by hastily sketched characters in a universe that ironically feels rather empty.

21. Hell or High Water (2016) – 9/10

A slow burn thriller set against a sun-drenched Texan backdrop, we spend time with both the bank robbing brothers and the two officers in pursuit. Ultimately more a character drama than suspenseful, everyone has credible motives for their actions, whilst a laid back Jeff Bridges is what The Dude might have been if he’d become a Texas Ranger.

22. John Wick (2014) – 7/10

With most action films sanitised for a teenage audience, it is refreshing to see a stylish revenge thriller that doesn’t pull its punches. Its one-line plot is ridiculous with an ex-hitman on the rampage after thugs kill his puppy, but (much like Jason Statham) Keanu Reeves plays it perfectly straight whilst the well-choreographed craziness (including Ian McShane’s hotel for contract killers) unfolds around him.

23. Trance (2013) – 6/10

Its opening promises a stylish heist movie but Trance is more interested in perception of reality and memory. Often a fun conceit, here the concept overpowers the characters and even the plot so that the late-stage twists feel less revelatory and more perfunctory. Its tangled web is unpredictable but messy rather than mysterious.

24. Ant-Man (2015) – 7/10

Ant-Man is a competent, workmanlike superhero movie with an inspired standout sequence featuring a miniaturised fight on a child’s train set. The leads are good enough to give the film some heart, but one cannot help but miss the playful visual creativity lost when Edgar Wright departed the project.

25. Kumiko the Treasure Hunter (2014) – 7/10

A surreal musing on modern isolation best summed up by a Midwestern widow’s line, “Solitude? It’s just fancy loneliness.” Set half in Japan and half in the US, Kumiko is a withdrawn Tokyo woman who becomes obsessed with the idea that she can find the hidden money depicted in the movie Fargo. With its offbeat premise and somewhat amoral tone, I suspect the Coen Brothers would approve.

26. Lantana (2002) – 8/10

Although reliant on a number of coincidences that strain credulity without quite breaking it, Lantana is an interwoven exploration of faltering relationships. Its Australian setting is less relevant than subtle performances which provide a nuanced view on betrayal and the lies we tell ourselves.

27. Jurassic World (2015) – 6/10

Epitomised by its hybrid dinosaur Indominus Rex, this is a sequel that conforms to the “bigger is better” mantra throughout. The result is a retread through familiar ground but with more of everything. There are a lot of parallels to the original but ultimately less characterisation and too much cheesy dialogue means less investment no matter how much CGI they throw at us.

28. The 400 Blows (1959) 8/10

Truffaut’s debut, which sparked the French New Wave, will either delight or irritate with its ambiguous closing shot that leaves the audience to wonder what comes next. We have come to care for 13-year-old Antoine, modelled on Truffaut’s own troubled childhood, unfairly treated by his parents and teachers as a lost cause until he decides to run away and slides into petty crime.

Resolution Update: 12 down, 40 to go

A quarter of the way into the year, it seems sensible to check in on that New Year’s resolution I set myself to remove one film a week from my lengthy watchlist. So far I have managed to stay on track, knocking off dozen films in a dozen weeks. Here’s a round-up of what I’ve been watching by way of mini-reviews. For clarity, new releases this year do not count towards my resolution even if those titles were already on my watchlist (Logan would beat many of the films below). Unlike my full-length reviews, ratings here are out of 10 to reflect the rating I gave on IMDb.

1. Cinema Paradiso (1988)10/10

Starting with a classic film I knew would be strong, this film is a number of things at once: a young boy’s experience with cinema and his burgeoning love of film, which will spark any cinema lover’s own memories, a coming-of-age drama, a concentrated reminder of the power of cinematic romance, and a tribute to the magic of the simple act of projecting light and shadow.

2. Whiplash (2014)9/10

An intense drama about a talented jazz drummer and his demanding, manipulative band conductor, it relies on the strength of its two leads. Miles Teller and JK Simmons are superb, mentally circling one another in an atmosphere in turns akin to sports films and thrillers rather than music. With some similarities, Whiplash resonated for me where Foxcatcher did not.

3. Night on Earth (1991)6/10

Jim Jarmursch dialogue in taxicabs at night sounds right up my street but, the after three captivating conversations, it closes with two weaker, meandering segments. The film’s effectiveness is perhaps tempered by having seen his later work, which resonates more.

4. Ghostbusters (2016)5/10

I wanted to love this to spite the pre-emptive hate it received for daring to entertain a female-centric retelling. Unfortunately, whilst the characters are great, they are hamstrung by an atrocious script that renders the entire affair mediocre at best.

5. Limitless (2011)6/10

Brain-enhancing drugs invite parallels with Lucy but Limitless takes itself far less seriously, making it much easier to forgive its contrived plot that withstands little scrutiny. Between Bradley Cooper’s charm and Neil Burger’s gaudy direction, it manages to be entertaining if underwhelming.

6. Rear Window (1954)9/10

Rightly considered one of Hitchcock’s best, its suspense is maintained by the offbeat nature and the contained, mundane setting keeping the outcome uncertain.

7. Hick (2011)4/10

It might be loosely based on a true story, but this meandering road movie of a 13-year-old Midwestern girl interacting with a damaged drifter makes for routinely uncomfortable viewing without any real direction or point to warrant the investment. Chloe Grace Moretz,  Eddie Redmayne and Blake Lively do make for an interesting cast.

8. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) 8/10

Another great offbeat New Zealand comedy from Taita Watiti (What We Do in the Shadows). The New Zealand bush makes a stunning backdrop as a troubled child and his antisocial foster uncle find themselves on the run from the authorities.

9. In the Heat of the Night (1967)8/10

Set in the Deep South, a murder investigation by an out-of-town black cop ignites racial tensions. It is depressingly impressive that its commentary on race still resonates so strongly 50 years later.

10. Let Me In (2015)8/10

My usual English-language remake concerns were quelled when they announced a Midwest setting, showing an understanding of Let The Right One In‘s themes of loneliness and isolation. I had hoped it would mean a different aesthetic of empty desert but we are treated to the same snowy landscapes in a faithful rehash. It is a good remake but — much like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo — it brings absolutely nothing new so soon after the original.

11. 127 Hours (2010)7/10

Like Buried, the film relies mostly on one actor’s performance in a confined space. Unlike Buried, there is no suspense as most viewers know how the harrowing tale of the trapped climber concludes. Instead the film-makers try to get inside Aron’s head and, whilst I imagine it is faithful to his autobiographical book, any insights felt shallow. It is still engaging and features beautiful canyon cinematography.

12. Band of Robbers (2015)7/10

A modern day retelling of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, re-imagining them as adult petty criminals, this is a fun caper that fails to achieve much with its conceit but does not outstay its welcome either. Stylistically it feels less like Mark Twain and more a homage to the Coen Brothers and Wes Anderson. Which is hardly a criticism.

Resolutionary Road

Well, 2016 is finally over and, if you are reading this, it looks as though you survived it. The New Year celebrations brought proclamations that 2017 had to be a better year. I certainly hope that is true but, if so, it means we have a lot of work to do in order to clean up the mess left in 2016’s wake. Disney reportedly has a $50 million insurance payout with which to address Carrie Fisher’s presence is Episode IX of Star Wars, but amongst the various treats bestowed by 2016 we still need to deal with navigating Brexit, the commencement of a Trump Presidency and rebuilding Syria should the current ceasefire hold. We can certainly make 2017 a better year than its predecessor but let us not pretend it will be an easy one. Instead, let us roll up our sleeves and embrace these challenges now that we are prepared for them.

I am not generally one for New Year’s resolutions. If you want to do something, you will do it anyway, so the practice has always seemed more like setting oneself up for failure with most resolutions lying in tatters by the end of January. On the other hand, it does offer an opportunity for interesting endeavours based on the calendar year. In other words, for me resolutions are for frivolous projects.

My film watchlist has gradually grown to well over 300 and, although I knock off many each year, overall the list continues to grow. With time off in the week leading up to the New Year I have managed to watch a film on the list each day, which inspired a resolution of sorts for next year: to watch one film from the list each week. That would guarantee 52 films removed from the list by the end of the year. Undoubtedly new films will be added during the year (and invariably I will be watching a lot of “non-list” films) but hopefully this will result in a net reduction rather than unfettered growth. I am not prioritising any particular films on the list and it will likely be guided by availability on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

My intention is to check in with periodic updates on progress. I hope you will enjoy the journey even if, in the venerable tradition of New Year’s resolutions, I fail spectacularly. If you have made any interesting resolutions, whether serious or frivolous, feel free to share.

Meanwhile, for no particular reason, here is a recipe for the Corpse Reviver #2, my preferred hair-of-the-dog cocktail. It strikes me as a fitting cocktail not just for today but for 2017 in general.

1 part gin
1 part Cointreau
1 part Lillet Blanc
1 part fresh lemon juice
1 dash absinthe
Glass: cocktail
Garnish: orange peel

Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a chilled glass and garnish.

Films for 2012

A whole load of films and a whole load of trailers, so just a few words on each. Any major omissions? I’m sure you’ll let me know. Bear in mind I’ve ignored anything due out this year but with no footage yet released.

The Artist — A modern silent film? No one does that. Except the French, obviously. And the Weinsteins prove their worth once more by agreeing to fund it.

Shame — A study in sex addiction, it’s Fassbender as the lead that heightens my interest, with Carey Mulligan as his sister, arriving to disrupt his life. The slow, weighty trailer suggests this will appeal only to a niche audience.

Coriolanus — Ralph Fiennes takes the directorial reins for the first time, setting Shakespearean dialogue against a gritty modern fascist backdrop.

J Edgar — While Clint Eastwood’s undoubtedly proficient directorial efforts have largely failed to connect with me (Mystic River aside), seeing him direct DiCaprio is enough to whet my appetite.

The Descendants — While Clooney’s The Ides of March was great, it is his performance here, struggling to reconnect with his daughters in the middle of a family crisis, that has generated more Oscar buzz.

A Dangerous Method — Exploring the relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, again it is Fassbender’s presence that piques my interest.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close — The strange tale of a boy searching New York for the lock that matches a key left behind by his father who died in the 9/11 attack makes a little more sense knowing the novel was penned by the same author as Everything Is Illuminated.

The Muppets — This isn’t for the kids, it’s for the big kids who grew up with The Muppets. Rewatching old episodes of The Muppets Tonight while ill reminded me that this stuff could still air just fine today. And it’s had one of the most fun advertising campaigns in recent memory.

In The Land of Blood & Honey — Reviews have been decidedly mixed for Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut, a love story set against the brutal background of the Bosnian War.

Mirror, Mirror — Tarsem Singh tackling my favourite classic fairytale (Snow White, obviously) promises to be a visual treat, but the trailer sparks pretty serious fears this “comedy” adaptation could be a farcical mess.

The Hunger Games — I understand these young adult novels are a pretty big deal in the USA, a grim future in which a post-apocalyptic government requires each district to submit two teenage children for a fight to the death in the wild. A neutered, teen-friendly Battle Royale, then?

The Avengers — While I don’t think the films leading up to this insanely ambitious superhero-filled Marvel event lived up to the first Iron Man, I remain excited (and amazed) that Joss Whedon has been handed the reins.

Men in Black III — From a single line, Josh Brolin seems to have Tommy Lee Jones’ mannerism down, but the real time-traveling marvel is that he and Will Smith don’t seem to have aged at all.

The Dictator — This scripted Sacha Baron Cohen outing has him playing a fictional Middle Eastern dictator ensuring “democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.”

Prometheus — Ridley Scott’s no-longer-really-a-prequel-to-Alien captivates as soon as those letters start to appear on screen. For those who wish to deconstruct the trailer, Movie Line freeze-frames so you don’t have to.

The Amazing Spider-Man — Yes, everyone’s favourite web-slinger is being rebooted already, but with Andrew Garfield taking centre stage I’m more than willing to give Spidey another go. Even after the abomination of Spider-Man 3.

The Dark Knight Rises — Nolan. Batman. Do I really need to sell this? To anyone?

Premium Rush — This action thriller about a bike messenger has me interested largely because of Joseph Gordon Levitt’s brilliant eye for scripts.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — It looks more of the same from Peter Jackson, even if virtually everyone agrees the source material is weaker. I remain disappointed that Guillermo del Toro isn’t helming the project, as it would be great to see an alternate view of Middle Earth a decade later, but this is the next best option. Martin Freeman is, of course, the perfect choice for Bilbo.

Tragic Divisions

Tragedies bring people together but they can also be divisive. While sad and absolutely a tragic waste of talent, Amy Winehouse’s untimely demise must have been one of the least unexpected young deaths. Those expressing deep shock display at best a severe lack of imagination. And for the media outlets who hounded her for years now disingenuously to oversell this loss is only as surprising as her death. However, others are more concerned, and in some cases angered, by the fact her death has garnered such a deluge of emotion on social networks when the horrific events in Oslo, the violent murder of nearly 100 people, did not. This, to me, seems entirely natural. There is no doubt that gunning down 80 youths on an island constitutes a larger and more serious event, one that has left a country in shock and mourning, but it is also largely impersonal. A sole figure, even one who has seemed broken for many years, but to whom people relate on a personal level, will always evoke greater sympathy. Perhaps Stalin’s wisest observation was, “One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.” A hundred may not be merely a statistic, even on Stalin’s terms, but humanity will always find one death more tragic.

In less serious news, the first trailers have emerged for next year’s Batman and Spider-Man films. The Dark Knight Rises is the third and final Nolan-helmed outing and after the last I think it’s fair to say everyone is already incredibly excited. It is disappointing then, to find a trailer almost solely rehashing old footage, which serves only to dampen that excitement. All we discover is that Nolan’s fascination with architecture, immediately evident in Inception, remains alive and well. Personally I wish they’d waited until they had something to show us.

Meanwhile The Amazing Spider-Man reboot brings the wonderful Andrew Garfield to the role, while thrusting Peter back into his school days origin. Marc Webb (yes, the Spider-Man reboot was given to a director named “Webb”) takes the franchise in a direction more grounded in the real-world. With limited dialogue I think the teaser hits the right notes and ends with an unusual first-person sequence exploring the city as Spider-Man sees it; the CGI impresses though arguably it feels a little too much like videogame footage. Two ideas emerged:

  1. Tom at Theater Hopper pointed out that a much cooler trailer might have been as the first-person sequence alone, leaving the viewer slightly confused as to what they were watching until that familiar reflection comes into view on the side of a skyscraper.
  2. How awesome would it be if someone gave the Mirror’s Edge devs the Spider-Man licence?

Automobiles Two

Cars has long been considered “the runt of the Pixar litter”, the weakest of their generally stratospherically soaring output. There was little doubt that kids loved it, but adults treated it with contempt, myself included. My view softened only when watching it with Clark and seeing how effectively it tapped into his own imagination, a shift that also seems to be shared by many young parents. When a sequel was announced my initial reaction was simply, “who decided that what we really need is Cars 2?” The answer was actually pretty obvious: the accountants. Whatever people may have thought of the film, Cars provided Pixar with its most easily exploitable and most profitable merchandising opportunities to date, pulling in an estimated $5 billion. In those terms it certainly makes a sequel a financially appealing prospect, and such voices clearly won through.

My view of Toy Story 3 was not nearly as positive as most for what I felt it symbolised in terms of stagnating creativity within Pixar (it was a great film, but most of you will know I consider it roundly bested by How To Train Your Dragon that year). Nevertheless I was content not to begrudge them that sequel in returning to their landmark roots one more time to round things out. The Cars franchise lacks that storied history or shared nostalgia and I think this is why its sequel resonated so poorly with critics who likely take a similar view in terms of stagnation but responded with an overzealous attack on the film to voice their displeasure. It is not an isolated occurrence. On the one hand this may filter through to Pixar; on the other it is almost certainly unfair to what appears to be an entirely competent children’s film. No, I doubt I’ll be seeing it in the cinema, but that is less to do with reviews and more my own rather lacklustre reaction to Up (other than the first ten minutes) and the original Cars. More than ever, though, I find myself wishing the studio split I (wrongly) foresaw after Wall-E had come to pass, with a second Pixar team working on adult-orientated animated features. It is not — as many critics would now have you believe — that Pixar are putting out bad films; it is simply that they are not creating the ones in which I am interested and of which their career highlights (that would be Monsters, Inc, Wall-E and The Incredibles) demonstrate they are eminently capable.

Meanwhile the Disney side of the equation is even starker: an in-house Cars spin-off called Planes. Seriously. I actually thought it might be a joke at first (given its recent string of entertaining parody trailers for the Muppet Movie). Of course we almost expect this from Disney as the behemoth it is, while that corporate outlook seemed not to have seeped through to Pixar culture in the past. I suspect Planes will be used by many as further evidence of Pixar’s downfall. Yet the weirdest thing about the Planes trailer is actually the soundtrack: White Zombie in a Disney flick!?

When I Rule The World II: Hollywood Remakes

We all have grand plans for when we’re in charge. Instead, this series of posts embraces the little things that would make the world a little better for everyone. Or just a little less infuriating for me.

DECREE II:
When I rule the world…
…Hollywood remakes will be limited to the US Midwest.

I have clearly mellowed with age. In the past I railed absolutely against Hollywood remakes and would have banned them outright. However someone explained the reason for their existence and the folly of my outrage very succinctly: “they aren’t made for you.” He went on to explain that there are people living in the US Midwest who, throughout their entire lives, will never see a subtitled film. Is it really better that they never be exposed at all to the ideas and concepts explored in foreign cinema? If I go and see one of these remakes, which is not really intended for my consumption, that’s my own fault.

I found myself in reluctant agreement. The problem is, of course, that the gargantuan budgets mean these films are pushed out to the entire world and marketed in such a way that many of the original films are drowned out. Many of you will know my pet hate here is Vanilla Sky, which embodies all I hate about remakes* and yet most people have never even heard of its superior (if less slick-looking) predecessor, the Spanish Abre Los Ojos (“Open Your Eyes”).

In the Midwest, fine. Here in the literate world, not so much. We can read subtitles and we can watch the originals. Limiting geographic release will greatly reduce the income from such remakes which will undoubtedly reduce the financing. All that saved money can be pumped into proper marketing and distribution of the originals, which will become more profitable in turn. And once people start watching more foreign fare, they may find it contagious.

I accept this plan is not without drawbacks. We would lose stellar remakes like The Departed (you did know it was a remake of the Hong Kong Infernal Affairs trilogy: they made that clear, right?), and perfectly adequate remakes like Let Me In might drop in quality. Yet that is, I would argue, a small price to pay.

* Vanilla Sky did not just take the film rights; it also nabbed the original’s lead actress — one Miss Penelope Cruz — and made her act in English, as if this would somehow elicit a better performance rather than a stilted one in which she was too focused on her lines in an unfamiliar language. The most obvious sign of the director’s cavalier disrespect to the source material lies in the name change. Not only does “Vanilla Sky” have nothing to do with the film itself, he revealed in an interview that it was simply a title he’d always wanted to use — in fact he nearly gave his previous film that name!

Oscars 2010 Predictions: Avatar vs The Hurt Locker

Although I’ve not had the benefit of seeing all the nominated films yet, I’m ready to talk Oscar predictions. You probably know I take these awards with a sizeable pinch of salt given the Academy’s various prejudices, and I certainly don’t watch the ceremony. Many suspect the expanded list of 10 titles for best picture is an attempt to retain mainstream attention, knowing they hurt their credibility by, unsurprisingly, failing to recognise The Dark Knight last year. The longer list allows Up to become the second ever animated film to be nominated for best picture (after Beauty and the Beast, though I argued Wall-E deserved to make the shortlist last year) but I suspect the continuing existence of an “animated feature film” category will prevent one winning for some time.

At any rate the nominations still provide a reference point to look back at the past year’s releases. The politics make some awards easy to predict and some incredibly difficult. There is no doubt, however, that the big fight is between Avatar and The Hurt Locker. Here is the full list of nominations.

OscarSupporting Actor: Easiest of the lot. It has to be Christoph Waltz as the deliciously villainous Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. That said, I agree with many who wish Peter Capaldi had at least been nominated for In The Loop.
Supporting Actress: Mo’Nique’s turn in Precious has been such a surprise that it’s almost certain to win.
Lead Actor: Although it’s only about to open in the UK, smart money is clearly on Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart.
Lead Actress: Hard to call, with no clear standout for me. I’d quite like to see Carey Mulligan pick it up for An Education, but I think Meryl Streep will take it.
Animated Feature Film: the best selection for a long time, and I’ll be pretty happy no matter what. I’d love to see a stop-motion feature take the crown (Coraline or Fantastic Mr Fox) or Disney rewarded for a strong return to traditional hand-drawn animation, but I suspect Up will win, not undeservedly.
Adapted screenplay: Difficult, but maybe this is where Up In The Air will pull through. Another category where I’d be happy with any result.
Original screenplay: While I’m pleased to see Inglourious Basterds nominated for best picture, Tarantino has no chance of winning and I think his reward will be here.
Director: I think this may be one of those very rare years when the awards for best picture and best director go in different directions. I was totally behind Avatar until I saw The Hurt Locker and now it’s going to be a fascinating competition. For Cameron and his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow to be releasing such strong films in the same year is an interesting coincidence, and both deserve these awards. I think Bigelow will take the directing crown and Avatar best picture, but it could easily be the other way around. I hate to think it would influence voting but a female winner would be fantastic. On the other hand Cameron’s sheer creative force and involvement perhaps suggest the right outcome is the reverse. There is an outside chance The Hurt Locker could win both.
Best Picture: See above.

Of the rest I initially thought Avatar would mop up and come home with the most awards even if The Hurt Locker took the big ones. However on closer inspection, cinematography, editing and sound editing probably are deserved by The Hurt Locker, while visual effects and art direction are clearly Avatar’s greatest strengths.

Although the film was on my radar, I was surprised by how much a last-minute viewing of The Hurt Locker changed my opinion (despite the fact I’m rather fond of Bigelow: back in 1987 she directed one of my favourite vampire flicks, Near Dark, which never actually uses the word “vampire”). Not only is it an intelligent, non-exploitative view of US military presence in Iraq, but its brief denouement provides an excellent modern musing on military life too, without which it would not have resonated nearly so well. As James stares in confusion at a wall of cereal boxes in a supermarket, we feel the intimidatingly oppressive choice of civilian life.

Above all though, its non-judgemental tone seems to reflect my view on the military which is that it’s a job people choose like any other. Those who make a career of it are not any more or less patriotic or to be held in any higher or lower regard. All those whom I know who have chosen that route have done so for the same reason I became a lawyer: they found something at which they were good, and an environment in which they thrive.

Older posts Newer posts

"Lack of imagination is an occupational hazard for an apex predator."

(CC) BY-NC 2005-2019 Priyan Meewella

Up ↑