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Kinnemaniac Update Kinnemaniac  
RSS 6 |  Kinnemaniac

John Carter (2012) - Andrew Stanton's magnificent folly
The maddest film of the year so far. Thanks to Showcase Cinema De Lux Derby for the screening.

John Carter Andrew Stanton Taylor Kitsch

John Carter
(Andrew Stanton, 2012)

Beguiling and frustrating in equal measure. As I tweeted after seeing it, I don't know if it's good, bad or what the fuck it is.

I reserve a special category of my filmgoing experiences to ?problem films,? that rare breed of film that leaves me completely bamboozled. Usually, it?s the work of an auteur on an off-day, failing to fulfil the full bargain of a complete work of art but leaving such personality and atmosphere on the flawed finished product that I can?t help but be fascinating. Think of Welles? The Lady From Shanghai, Chaplin?s Limelight, Peckinpah?s Straw Dogs or the daddy of problem pictures, Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now.

Usually, blockbusters are more cut and dried. Either they?re good
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(Published: Fri, 16 Mar 2012 09:08:00 +0000)

Andrew Haigh's Weekend (2011) - Blu-ray review
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(Published: Wed, 14 Mar 2012 08:55:00 +0000)

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) - Blu-ray review
The Blu-ray is out on Monday, with reds that have never looked redder, symbolism that has never looked more symbolic and extras that really ought to be better.

We Need To Talk About Kevin Tilda Swinton

We Need To Talk About Kevin
(Lynne Ramsay, GB, 2011)

We need to talk about Lynne Ramsay?s inability to let the emotional violence speak for itself with thuddingly obvious symbolism

The near-misses are always the most disappointing. In many ways, We Need To Talk About Kevin comes close to being a cast-iron classic but, in trying so hard for perfection, it loses something at its core. The irony seems to have bypassed Lynne Ramsay that the story revolves around a psychopath who spends too long trying to hit the bullseye ? because her perfectionism is the biggest problem about her film.

Ramsay bypasses many of the pitfalls that might have derailed this project. It?s very un-Hollywood in the treatment of its subject matter (what if a mother didn?t love her son?), eschewing the obvious temptation to make a Rosemary?s Baby / The Omen-style potboiler with freak accidents and hysteria. Ramsay is too cool for that, so pitches things as a fragmented tale of grief, the mother?s story ricocheting through her life like shards of an accident. It?s a bold gambit, which gives the climax the feel of inevitability, and a chilling grip that imbues the most mundane activity with hidden meanings ? or does it? By starting at the end, and focussing so subjectively on Eva?s regret, the film throws a massive pebble into the water. It?s impossible to see a true reflection of Kevin?s personality for the ripples.

This is the right way to play the material ? or would be, were it not for Ramsay?s insistence each ripple is art-directed to death and shot in such lingering detail it loses its context. Ramsay ? a photographer by trade ? cannot let go of her imagery, and composes the film in thuddingly obvious symbolism. The family lives in suburbia
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(Published: Fri, 24 Feb 2012 08:55:00 +0000)

Bertolucci's The Conformist (1970) - DVD & Blu-ray DVD review
Getting its UK debut on Blu-ray and DVD on Mon 27th February, The Conformist is one of those films that always comes with the word "masterpiece" attached - but in this case, they're right.  One of the most amazing-looking of films, out now on Blu-ray and DVD.  If you don't have a Blu-ray player, now's the time to upgrade, not least because it has a Bertolucci documentary not available on the standard-def disc.

The Conformist 1970 Bernardo Bertolucci

The Conformist
(Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970)

The title refers to the character only. In its style and substance, Bertolucci?s film develops its own sensual, highly original path

It?s impossible to watch The Conformist without seeing the shadow it cast over 1970s Hollywood. From Chinatown?s art deco corruption to The Godfather?s rich Bolognese, the look and feel of Bertolucci?s film was copied throughout the decade. By its end, Coppola had nabbed The Conformist?s extraordinary cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro, to work on Apocalypse Now, and Paul Schrader had likewise hired art director Ferdinando Scarfiotti as a consultant on American Gigolo.

And yet, just as the film advises us that the shadows of reality are not the same as the reality, so Bertolucci?s film is a true original, its endless style not an affectation but in the service of its story. Bertolucci tells of Marcello (Jean-Louis Trintignant), the conformist of the title: a man driven by his demons to seek solace in Fascism, hoping that by being a willing foot-soldier in Mussolini?s cause he will find the normality he cannot abide in society or relationships. Throughout, the painstakingly stylised camerawork and art direction are conspiring to prevent Marcello?s fucked-up fantasy.

The film is a labyrinth of lines and lights, as Venetian blinds throw haywire patterns onto Marcello?s face, or Storaro trails the anti-hero with paranoid Dutch tilts that only right themselves when Marcello discovers that a would-be pursuer is one of his own men. Mostly, Bertolucci denies Marcello the prison he wants by having Storaro forever dancing around him, the camera rezooming and tracking simultaneously to turn the screen into complex, undulating, ungraspable spaces.
Regardless of the specifics of Marcello?s psychology ? basically, it boils down to repressed homosexuality ? this is an incisive look at what it means to give up the self to totalitarianism. Marcello is prissy and exact, quick to condemn (even his petty bourgeois wife) and yet without a clear moral identity of his own. If the symbolism wasn?t obvious enough, Bertolucci makes his best friend and mentor a blind man.

When his mission to spy on a left-leaning professor is altered to become a hit, he baulks at the assignment, but goes along with it anyway. It?s easier to conform than complain. The only complication: Marcello?s confused sexuality sees him wanting to throw it all away on his target?s wife
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(Published: Wed, 22 Feb 2012 09:27:00 +0000)

Warrior (2011) - Blu-ray review
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(Published: Mon, 20 Feb 2012 09:13:00 +0000)

The Muppets (2011) - cinema review
Here's my review of the most star-laden movie of the year. Seriously, look at that cast list: Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Scooter, Rowlf, Bunsen & Beaker, the Swedish Chef, Uncle Deadly and - last but not least, my son's favourite - Crazy Harry. Nothing else out this year has starpower like this!

The Muppets 2011 Kermit Fozzie Gonzo 80s Robot

The Muppets
(James Bobin, 2011)

Better than nostalgia, a film about nostalgia that sizes up the pros and cons of feeding on past glories and votes with its big Muppety heart

It could all have gone so horribly, horribly wrong ? which is why it?s such a pleasure that The Muppets gets more or less everything right. This reclaims both the uncynical sweetness and the counter-cultural, experimental wit of Jim Henson?s creations, as well as creating its own fiendish intricate genre, a mash-up of reboot for the kids and nostalgia trip for their parents.

The Muppets have been big-screen stars before, of course, but somewhere along the way they lost the anarchic edge that made The Muppet Show only tangentially for kids. That?s why it?s all the more amazing that Disney greenlit superfans Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller?s conception that it had to be done old-school, a tragi-comedy of interlaced hope and regret that reflects the threadbare stitching of Henson?s puppets.

The film?s theme and plot sit side-by-side: is there a place for the Muppets in this day and age, when telly has got much more cruel and cynical (a state of affairs the film sums up in one spoof show, 'Punch Teacher') and everything is all CGI and 3D? The answer is a glorious yes, with the film becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy that the Muppets simply need to get back together and everything will be right in the world.

In-jokes abound ? Sweetums has to find his own way to the Muppet Theater, a la The Muppet Movie ? and there is much meta-contortion of the characters? realisation they are in a movie, but this succeeds because a huge amount is played straight. The linear plot withholds introducing Kermit, Fozzie et al for the longest time. Until then, our only Muppet is fan-surrogate Walter, living an everyday life in Capra-esque Smalltown. That?s the kind of fantasy Henson never really bought into (don?t forget, Sesame Street was deliberately an urban show) and the anthem Life?s A Happy Song is staunchly at the Disney end of the Muppets? musical spectrum. Surely, the Muppets haven?t lost their bite?

Nope. After the sunny opening, things get darker, fast. The film rests on hitting the narrowest of targets, the one that Henson invariably nailed. Too kind and this would be anodyne and lifeless; too cruel, and it?s no longer the Muppets (a theme that becomes felt in shadowy tribute act-cum-bizarro nightmare The Moopets; somebody here has definitely seen Peter Jackson?s Meet The Feebles). More importantly, once you get past the Macguffin of pantomime villain Chris Cooper ? maniacal laugh ? wanting to destroy the Muppet Theater to drill for oil, there?s an undercurrent of existential crisis, too, because his plans mean that the Muppets would cease to exist.

This core of sadness is expressed most clearly in Pictures In My Head, Kermit?s bittersweet ballad in which paintings of old pals burst into life, briefly, to sing along, only to then be trapped on canvas once again. The film is hauntingly ambiguous on the subject of whether these old pop-culture favourites should be regarded as historical curios or living, breathing, relevant concerns. The plot about a fan bringing the team together is pure wish-fulfilment on Segel?s part, but he interrogates it with real insight, nowhere more so that in Brett McKenzie?s standout song Man or Muppet, which is acutely concerned with whether a grown-up should still be playing with childhood toys.

Look to the marketing ? the chat shows, the bloggers? Q&As ? and it?s obvious that a lot of this is pitched way over kids? heads. This is a film for, and about, a generation that doesn?t see anything wrong in laughing at a puppet frog into their thirties and beyond. But the film earns its right to say: so what? The film?s boldest gambit is to create 80s Robot, a symbol of all that is wrong with today?s vacuum-packed, pre-recorded nostalgia. In contrast, the character, personality and joie de vivre of the Muppets is an altogether different prospect. It?s good to have them back.

Many thanks to Showcase Cinemas for helping me to play the music, light the lights, meet the Muppets, etc.

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(Published: Thu, 16 Feb 2012 08:50:00 +0000)

A View To A Kill - BlogalongaBond #14
Dance into the fire? Too fucking right. I feel burned.

A View To A Kill BlogalongaBond Roger Moore 007 Christopher Walken Grace Jones

A View To A Kill
(John Glen, 1985)

The mid 1980s: the age of conspicuous excess

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(Published: Fri, 10 Feb 2012 09:00:00 +0000)

An Introduction To Roman Polanski's Carnage
Here's the text of a introduction to Roman Polanski's Carnage, which I gave last night at Derby QUAD. Polanski becomes the first director whose films I've introduced twice, as I 'did' Chinatown in 2010.

Introduction to Carnage

Carnage is 79 minutes long, features only four primary actors, and is set in a single New York apartment. You won?t be surprised, therefore, to learn that it is based on a stage play. As a general rule, it?s very tricky to adapt theatrical works into movies without ?opening up? the action ? which risks alienating audiences who know the material ? or keeping the claustrophobia ? which will make many feel, ?well, we may as well have gone to the theatre.?

Carnage has no such problems, because it is directed by Roman Polanski, arguably cinema?s greatest director of confined spaces. Indeed, when Carnage was shown at the New York Film Festival last year, the festival?s boss Richard Pena called Polanski "a poet of small spaces
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(Published: Wed, 08 Feb 2012 09:00:00 +0000)

Chronicle (2012) - superheroes vs found footage, or Hollywood vs YouTube?
That's chronic in the positive, Dr Dre-sampling definition. In other words, it's dope.

Chronicle 2012 Josh Trank superheroes found footage

(Josh Trank, 2011)

A deeper, darker tale of superhero hubris than its jokey marketing implies ? and a fascinating dispatch from the war between Hollywood pros and YouTube amateurs

It?s quite possible that some films are produced by a kind of genre Tarot, in which the cards are turned over until an acceptable combination turns up. Chronicle is the inevitable result of matching ?superheroes? with ?found footage,? but refreshingly, it?s also a film whose makers have bothered to read the small print on each genre before beginning.

So Chronicle is, equally, a superhero movie defined by the limitations of found footage, and a first-person camcorder movie with some surprising new moves to match its newly super-powered heroes. So the first act is deliberately, almost self-consciously, a beat-for-beat retread of every movie in which a socially awkward youngster takes a camcorder to a party
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(Published: Fri, 03 Feb 2012 08:45:00 +0000)

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes - film review
Back to catching up on 2011 films I haven't reviewed yet, with the prequel to the Troy McClure musical Stop The Planet Of The Apes! I Want To Get Off

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes Andy Serkis

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
(Rupert Whyatt, US, 2011)

Go ape ? with excitement. True to the original?s spirit, yet with an astute sense of possible improvement, this is a champion amongst chimps

It isn?t rocket science ? at least, it shouldn?t be. And yet Tim Burton still managed to fuck up retelling Planet Of The Apes, despite it being one of the cast-iron classics of science-fiction cinema, a story that manages to be infinitely complex by being brilliantly simple in its reordering of man and primate. By rights, Burton?s folly should have killed any hope of further Ape-work but fortunately, Rupert Whyatt fancied his chances. Better still, he?s treated it like a rocket scientist, just in case.

This is blockbuster filmmaking the way it isn?t made any more: slow, methodical and daring in its conviction that a good story can be told without recourse either to camp or to cynicism. It?d be all too easy to make a joke out of these militant monkeys, but Whyatt allows him the indulgence only of a couple of sly in-jokes (an ironic reversal of the 1968 film?s signature line, and a monkeys? exercise yard that resembles the Dawn of Man soundstage from 2001: A Space Odyssey) but both elements are perfectly integrated into Whyatt?s original design. By the time that head Ape Caesar talks, leading his troops into battle on the Golden Gate Bridge, you?ll have bought it wholesale, because Whyatt?s sales pitch is so good.

Otherwise, this is a film remarkable for its realism. Yes, the fleeting glimpse of a manned space flight to Mars (a hint of a sequel?) suggests a setting slightly in the future, or in a parallel universe, but in its look and feel it?s a recognisable world against which the Rise takes place. The conception of how the monkeys gain their intelligence is simplicity itself, the stuff of countless science-fiction stories ? or, indeed, any genre of stories: the hubris of science, the greed of capitalism, the bonds of family. At heart, it?s a cry of rage against animal testing, but it also nails the themes of apartheid and revolution of the original Apes saga without condescendation.

In fact, what?s most remarkable is the film?s even-handedness. Even with a lean running time only just over the 90 minute mark, Whyatt feels no reason to rush, the leisurely pace allowing him to build a rounded portrait of human and ape characters alike. OK, so Freida Pinto is wasted in an unnecessary role, but James Franco?s scientist is a believable protagonist ? a man who risks the collapse of mankind in the hope of improving it ? and is superbly underplayed. Against that is Caesar, a towering performance by Andy Serkis that makes Gollum and King Kong look like mo-capped dress rehearsals. The role is anthropomorphism at its purest, a monkey not only raised by humans but able to think and emote as a human. Serkis gets it, his gait simian but his watchfulness that of a super-charged child.

Whyatt conveys an ape?s eye view better than any of the franchise?s previous films, preferring not to gawp but to stalk alongside Caesar and his co-horts. What distinguishes the film is Whyatt daring to side with the apes ? but also against them, never forgetting that the prospect of this actually happening is terrifying. That combination makes the climactic action scenes doubly exciting, the ebb and flow of the conflict creating a richly ambiguous blend of triumph and pathos. The open ending might be a cop-out in other hands; here, it seems like a sensible responsible to a film that treats its scenario as a scientist would, with dispassionate interest. OK, Whyatt is saying, let?s see what happens now. Please, Hollywood, let him conduct another experiment.
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(Published: Tue, 31 Jan 2012 09:00:00 +0000)

Paddy Considine's Tyrannosaur - Blu-ray / DVD review
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(Published: Mon, 30 Jan 2012 09:00:00 +0000)

2012 Oscar nominations pave the way for The Artist to win everything
The Oscar nominations are in and either the Academy voters are batshit mental, or they've helpfully removed the opposition (chiefly, by snubbing Michael Fassbender and shifting Berenice Bejo out of Meryl Streep's firing line) to clear the decks for a clean sweep by The Artist.

Fair enough.  I finally saw The Artist last night. It's actually better than most folk are saying, as clever and thoughtful as it is breezily entertaining.  With the possible exception of The Tree Of Life (nominated for Best Picture and Best Director; take note, BAFTA), it's easily ahead of any American film of last year.

The only potential upset - unless you count the horse's head section of The Godfather, no film about Hollywood has ever taken Best Picture.  Sunset Boulevard, Singin' In The RainBurn Hollywood Burn
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(Published: Tue, 24 Jan 2012 14:00:00 +0000)

Octopussy (1983) - BlogalongaBond #13
Yes, we're up to Bond movie #13. Unlucky for some.

Octopussy BlogalongaBond

(John Glen, 1983)

Think the title?s animal amalgam is ungainly? Wait ?til you see the Frankenstein stitch-work on the most randomly assembled Bond film to date

You?d think they?d be taking the competition seriously. After all, a rival Bond film ? reuniting Sean Connery with his license to kill, no less ? was set to go into production, stealing the march on the official series. In their favour, Cubby Broccoli and chums duly persuaded Roger Moore to stay, signed on Hollywood legend Louis Jourdan as the baddie, and got Tim Rice and John Barry to pen the greatest of all Bond songs (no arguing: Pulp covered it). Yet in every other way Octopussy doesn?t have a clue how to beat the competition.

The stakes had changed in the real world, 1970s detente giving way to renewed hostilities between an apparently resurgent Russia and a paranoid America. This ensured that Never Say Never Again (with its plot bound by complex legal shenanigans to be nothing more than a remake Thunderball) had an authentically retro, Cold War edge that recent Bonds had more or less given up. So what?s Octopussy?s response? To drop in a comically gung-ho Soviet General, who actually gets to say ?The West is decadent!? and is played by Steven Berkoff in such deranged, accent-mangling glee that he became Hollywood?s go-to guy for OTT villainy in Beverly Hills Cop and Rambo: First Blood.

Weirdly, though, the film takes ages to actually fulfil its promise of a Cold War thriller, disguised instead as an exotic caper movie about Faberge egg smuggling in India. The thinking, presumably, was that Bond had to pay at least a modicum of lip service to Ian Fleming and, having worked through all the obvious material, the producers got stuck with the title of one short story, Octopussy, and the Sotheby?s sequence from another, The Property Of A Lady.

And here?s where the problems start, because none of these elements really belong together ? not least, because the producers forgot to have what the nowadays call a ?tone meeting.? With a director of relatively serious intent in John Glen, and the threat of atomic extinction for the first time in a Bond movie for ages, this ought to be all gritty BAFTA, but everyone else is under the misapprehension that they?re still making Moonraker.

The list of poor choices includes, but is not limited to: A tennis player cast as Bond?s sidekick, so that he can fight baddies with a racket and be watched by a back-and-forth crowd. Bond telling a tiger to ?siiiit!? a la Barbara Woodhouse. Johnny Weismuller freestyling on the soundtrack as Bond swings from tree to tree a la Tarzan. Octopussy?s harem runs a harem of lady ninjas in red Lycra. Bond?s idea of attacking by stealth: a Union Jack hot-air balloon. And enough racial stereotyping to keep India in fury for weeks.

Roger Moore, at least, is in his element here, revelling in some of his most glorious moments of comedy and becoming the film?s de facto auteur. Told that a tattoo is ?my little Octopussy,? he delivers a mini-symphony of darting eye movements and raised eyebrows to convey his wry amusement. Even better is the moment where, faced with the ignominy of wearing a gorilla suit, Moore makes the most of it by checking his watch. OK, so purists would argue that you?d never see Connery stoop so low for a laugh, but anybody who?s seen Never Say Never Again will know that Connery could have done with a few half-decent gags at this stage.

And yet John Glen staunchly refuses to treat this as camp. He?s a director who seems blithely unaware that the endless parade of animals ? spiders! tigers! crocodiles! ? are not (as he tries to film them) objects of realistic menace but signs of rollicking Boys? Own peril. As a director, his trademark shot is a slow pan following people walking across a sumptuously decorated room. It?s as if he saw the rushes of Never Say Never Again and decided to take the pace down a notch. And he?s an editor by trade! Jeez; this is one of the least action-packed of Bond movies, which shoots its bolt with the daft but undeniably impressive opening minijet-through-a-hangar stunt, and the chilling woodland clown take-down, and effectively gives up.

Admittedly, Glen delivers the goods in the Berlin sequence, where he finally musters the urgency to create one of 007?s most compelling countdowns ? but by this point the film makes as little sense as a Jabberwocky in an Escher painting. Apparently, the U.S. Air Force never vets its visitors, hiring a circus named after a world-famous criminal, and nobody?s even bothered to ask why 009 turned up dead in a clown suit. So when Bond himself dons outsized shoes and a red nose to prevent Armageddon, there?s a twisted inevitability to it. Often painted as a franchise nadir, it?s actually the one moment in the film where the serious and the surreal work together instead of being at odds.
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(Published: Mon, 23 Jan 2012 09:00:00 +0000)

Film review: Win Win (2011)
Want a review? Read on. Want an introduction to Win Win? Click the link.  Success either way; there's a saying that conveys that sensation, but for the life of me I can't remember what it is.

Win Win Tom McCarthy Paul Giamatti

Win Win
(Tom McCarthy, US, 2011)

The sporting movie downsized ? in terms of economic woe, high school wrestling might just be the most appropriate activity.

It?s not exactly a hotly contested honour, but Tom McCarthy is surely the nicest director currently working in America. His films are about ordinary, essential decent people struggling to get by, who find their salvation through nothing more magical than human contact. And, remarkably, he does it without the insincere, focus-group sentimentality that will have you reaching for the sick bucket. When McCarthy characters smile, they don?t flash those perfect shit-eating Californian grins, but bashful, even rueful half-smiles, as if they?re ashamed of having fun.

Admittedly, Win Win isn?t so much a progression from earlier hits The Station Agent and The Visitor, as a refinement. Where previously the trigger for the hero?s spiritual rebirth was caused not by chance (the inheritance of The Station Agent, the discovery of illegal immigrants squatting in a flat in The Visitor) but by a moment of weakness. Mike Flaherty is a normal, average guy, with a normal, average family, but one who happens to be living through a recession. So, when the opportunity arises to stave off bankruptcy with some hassle-free extra cash ? even at the expense of a kind, helpless pensioner ? Flaherty takes it against his better instincts.

Two things are notable in Win Win. One, that McCarthy makes this a surprising twist of behaviour for a lawyer. Flaherty isn?t the usual cinematic huckster exploiting a loophole for profit, but a down-at-heel attorney whose business is slow because
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(Published: Wed, 18 Jan 2012 08:55:00 +0000)

Film review: Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)
My belated round-up of 2011 continues with the film that my three-and-a-half year old son is currently watching at least once a day.

Gnomeo & Juliet 2011

Gnomeo & Juliet
(Kelly Asbury, 2011)

Wherefore art thou, Romeo? Well, much of Shakespeare is here ? but as you?d expect, garden-based punnery takes precedence over scholarly fidelity to the Bard

Has any Shakespeare play been filmed as often as Romeo & Juliet? Doubtful, but it's probably never been seen quite like this. The Bard?s age-old tale of tragic teenage love doesn't obviously lend itself to kid-friendly CG animation ? what do you do with that ending, for starters? ? but if you're not afraid to see the details changed to make them fit-for-purpose, it's fascinating how adaptable the central premise is.

This is one of those films where a pun in the title pretty much establishes everything that follows ? in much the same way, incidentally, as horror movie Tromeo & Juliet. But at least it's a solid idea, allowing the rivalry between Montagues and Capulets to be contained into two neighbouring gardens, whose water features and pride-of-place plant life become the targets for a tit-for-tat cycle of vandalism. And, of course, the inherent tradition of the feud is given overt symbolism by the fact that gnomes are locked into pre-ordained forms, in this case the fact that one 'family' is painted blue and the other red.

What follows hits all the plot beats ? the accidental meeting, the attack on Mercutio (here conflated with Benvolio, renamed Benny and played by Matt Lucas), the mistaken belief that one of the lovers is dead ? but plays fast and loose enough to have a third act that revolves around an extreme lawn mower voiced by Hulk Hogan. The pleasure, as so often in these films, is in the incidental jokes, with nods to lines and characters from across the Bard's canon. A removal firm, naturally, is called Rosencrantz and Guildernstern. In ten years' time, the target audience is going to study Shakespeare for real and be shocked at how much they know, although in many respects they will also be utterly confused.

Otherwise it is business as usual for the genre, with Shrek 2 director Kelly Asbury's attitude being that of a gnome: fixed and unyielding. So there are movie homages, a star cast and a pop soundtrack, the only distinction provided by how British this is. Today's Britflick A-listers James McAvoy and Emily Blunt are nicely counterpointed by Michael Caine and Maggie Smith as their respective parents, while everything else fleshed out by alumni from telly comedy and the casting director's Rolodex. (Future pub quiz question: which Shakespeare film stars Jason Statham and Ozzy Osbourne?) And producer Elton John makes his mark felt with the songs ? and the leitmotifs of the score ? all recognisable from his back catalogue. It's worth pointing out, though, that Bernie Taupin isn't a producer, and his lyrics have been gnominated for some distracting changes.
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(Published: Tue, 17 Jan 2012 09:03:00 +0000)

Film review: 13 Assassins (2011) - a baker's dozen of samurai mayhem
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(Published: Mon, 16 Jan 2012 09:00:00 +0000)

Sucker Punch (Zack Snyder 2011) - a misunderstood classic? Er, no
Just because I'm in the process of uploading unpublished reviews of 2011 films, doesn't mean they have to be good films.

Sucker Punch 2011 Zack Snyder

Sucker Punch
(Zack Snyder, US, 2011)

An avant-garde anti-blockbuster? When it?s so indistinguishable from any other disjointed, distasteful dreck, who can spot a satirical masterpiece?

Zack Snyder would have you believe that Sucker Punch is a feminist manifesto, an artistic statement on behalf of appallingly treated actresses everywhere, and a provocative blurring of the line between mainstream Hollywood and pornographic objectification. The weird thing is that, actually, he has a point. Conceptually, Sucker Punch is all of these things. The problem is that the director is Zack Snyder, a director whose well-worn stylistic handbook results in a film that is dangerously, irresponsibly close to the kind of filmmaking it purports to satirise.

The story is certainly bravura: a nosedive into a narrative rabbit hole structured as fantasties-within-fantasies. But Snyder is no Christopher Nolan. There?s too little here to distinguish from layer from another. In his head, Snyder believes that swapping the titillation of a brothel for the empowering spectacle of girl power action sequences is a daring intellectual conceit: the sucker punch of the title. But this is a director who is too one-note in his imagery ? the processed colours, fetishised costumes and self-conscious comic book framings travel from one reality to another. Even ?real life? looks like a music promo.

What he has failed to grasp is that cinema needs subtlety to deliver the kind of shade and ambiguity this material needs.  Withour, Sucker Punch is propaganda in search of a message. The juxtaposition of the grim brothel sequences, salivating with the prospect of rape, with the video game ultra-violence against hordes of anonymous samurai/zombies/robots is incredibly distasteful because there isn?t even a hint of a joke to let on that this might be operating as satire. The film simply moves from one sphere where women are helpless victims, to one where they kick-ass in skimpy costumes without noticing the irony.

The problem is that girl power needs more than attitude, it needs character ? but Snyder gives them nothing but fantasy outfits and nicknames, and a cast of supposed up-and-comers take that at face value. With the exception of Abbie Cornish?s Sweet Pea, these girls have less personality than the Spice Girls. Cornish suggests damage, vulnerability and fire
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(Published: Fri, 13 Jan 2012 09:03:00 +0000)

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(Published: Thu, 12 Jan 2012 09:02:00 +0000)

Remember Goldcrest: Why David Cameron's plans for the British Film Industry are flawed
So David Cameron wants the British film industry to chase Hollywood dollar by "incentivising UK producers to chase new markets both here and overseas.?  Hot on the heels of the terrible longlist of BAFTA 2012 nominations, it's another attempt to nail shut the coffin of our revitalised film culture.

Goldcrest films like Chariots Of Fire provide a warning to David Cameron over plans for the British Film Industry

The sad thing is, we've been here before Flashback thirty years to the beginning of 1982, and Chariots Of Fire wins Best Picture and Colin Welland cries "the British are coming!" It's the perfect salve for a nation undone by unemployment and rioting, and a chance to continue the feelgood factor in the wake of a high-profile Royal Wedding. Sound familiar?

So Chariots of Fire producer David Puttnam, with his company Goldcrest, started to pump out expensive, prestigious movies with commercial appeal. Finally, Britain would be free from the tyranny of low-budget mediocrity and would bring exactly the kind of flag-waving, entrepreneurial success that David Cameron is calling for now.

Initially, Goldcrest succeeded: Gandhi was a major hit and Oscar-hog. But David Puttnam's chase for success then created a string of expensive flops: Revolution, so bad Al Pacino temporarily quit acting; Absolute Beginners, responsible for inflicting Patsy Kensit on the world; and Palme D'Or winner The Mission
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(Published: Wed, 11 Jan 2012 12:05:00 +0000)

Revisiting The Tree Of Life (2011) - Terrence Malick's magnum opus
I realised there's loads of films I watched and reviewed last year but never got around to posting, so here's the first in a whistle-stop tour of the ones I missed. And what better way to start than with 2011's best film, as voted by the Cannes Film Festival jury, Sight & Sound, and many others.

The Tree Of Life Terrence Malick best film of 2011

The Tree Of Life
(Terrence Malick, US, 2011)

Intimate/epic. Naturalistic/star-gazing. Intoxicating/infuriating. Malick breaks free of Hollywood's garden fence with a film of tangled roots, soaring branches and exquisite foliage.

?The chapter has closed, the story has been told,? Sean Penn?s architect Jack is advised by a colleague early in The Tree Of Life. When asked, ?What did you do?? the reply comes back: ?Experiment.? It?s a cute nod to the nature of Terrence Malick?s fifth film, in which a director long given to abstraction and intellectual ambition attempts to do everything in a single film, and damn near pulls it off.

Weaving Jack?s mid-life crisis in the present day, his childhood in 1950s Texas and nothing less than the beginning of life of Earth (complete with dinosaurs!) The Tree Of Life is a bizarre, intoxicating one-off. Plot-wise it?s a hybrid of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Stand By Me; in tone, it veers from the childlike awe of Spielberg to unsettling dreams and dissonant sound effects that recall David Lynch. (Finally, maybe, Malick is letting on what he did throughout the 1980s. He was assimilating movies.)

Malick has never been shy of pretension and many will find this infuriating. I did, at times: the undergraduate theology, and those annoying mannered voiceovers Malick is so fond of, act as cringe-powered handbrakes on an otherwise immersive experience. And the feeble ending is as bathetic and crushing a disappointment as the similar climax to Lost ? a trite, kitsch attempt to portray the Afterlife whose solemn closure seems bent on destroying the subtle, ambiguous mood of the rest of the film.

Fortunately, none of this is enough to swing the clapometer away from the extraordinary feat of filmmaking achieved elsewhere. For me Malick has refined his style into something approaching perfection: certainly, this is the most intense emotional response I?ve had to a film in a while, a feeling of joy and sadness that is near-unbearable but so addictive I was rapt with attention and impatient to see what was coming next.

In outline, the film sounds trite, a simplistic juxtaposition of one man?s existence with the wider mystery of the universe. Yet the rhapsodic, insistent pull of Malick?s editing, the luminous beauty of the cinematography and the minute observation of his direction transcend any schematics. Presumably because of the director?s fabled, painstaking methods, this really feels lived-in: an uncanny evocation of childhood. A sequence showing Jack?s infant years is an impressionistic montage of memory and experience (being scared by a dog, being startled when his baby brother hits him) that is so naturalistic and unfakeably warm it transcends specifics of setting to be universal.

It helps that Hunter McCracken, as the boyhood Jack, is startlingly good: an adventurous, inquisitive and gauche child in the process of shaking off his innocent wonder to become a sullen, secretive man. The duality of character that emerges reflects his parentage. As the dad, Brad Pitt shakes off celebrity to become an archetypal father: stern and broad, yet whose bullying is never less than well-meaning. As the mum, Jessica Chastain might look like the typical Malick heroine, a serene, spiritual presence who in one fantasy sequence is witnessed floating in the air, but Chastain makes her capable of fire when called for. It?s a memorably quiet, but never vacant, performance.

What has any of this to do with the digression into special effects, as Douglas Trumbull plays with air and water and colour to fashion imagery to explain creation? Or the modernist high-rises in which Penn lives and works? Throughout, the film takes delight in the sheer tangibility of things ? down to the dirt in a baby?s fingernail ? from which Jack, from which all of us, draw our experience. This is a film that makes an absolute mockery of any claims made for 3D?s superiority. With the right cameraman (and Emmanuel Lubezki is surely now the world?s best) you can achieve the sensation of touch with just two dimensions.

And with it comes the film?s purpose. Jack is brought up in a God-fearing age ? but why put a label on the majesty of creation when it?s all around us, in the things we do, the things we make and the world around us? Malick is an eternal optimist, filling the speakers with gorgeous classical music, and the screen with rippling streams or sun-dappled leaves (a tree is seldom absent here, but without the cloying symbolism of the recent movie, The Tree). The film doesn?t need its silly coda when Malick makes such a strong case for this life being the one we should be living. Even when Jack is rebelling against his Eden by firing a frog into the sky on a firework ? surely the ultimate sin for nature-lover Malick ? the director gives him the perfect get-out clause. It was an experiment. Just like this film. Just like life.

Want to know more? Read my introduction to The Tree Of Life and the work of Terrence Malick.

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(Published: Wed, 11 Jan 2012 09:00:00 +0000)

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