Thursday, 29 September 2011

'Melancholia': End of the World feature - Telegraph Online

Ahead of the UK release of Lars Von Trier's apocalyptic 'Melancholia' tomorrow, a feature I wrote about end of the world movies has been published on the Daily Telegraph website. It's about films where the world is actually destroyed - or else seems to be on an irreversible decline - so it's pretty spoiler heavy. Also, whilst the title on the site says "top 10", the majority of these are imperfect movies united by this loose theme and don't form any kind of list of recommendations (though all are worth seeing).

The link for that piece is here.

'Melancholia' is rated '15' by the BBFC and is released in the UK from tomorrow.

'Drive' review:

It's been called an arthouse version of 'The Transporter', though Nicolas Winding Refn's thriller 'Drive' has much more in common with the cool Californian car chases of 'Bullitt' and the professional criminal tropes of Michael Mann (in particular 'Thief'). Despite a seemingly contemporary setting, the car stereo music, the shocking pink opening titles and star Ryan Gosling's racing jacket all give it a very strong 80s vibe. Though despite all this loving homage, it's very much a film from the Danish director of 'Bronson' and 'Valhalla Rising', with Refn favouring long takes, limited dialogue and short bursts of intense violence centred around one enigmatic male lead.

'Drive' is the story of Gosling's LA stuntman and part-time mechanic known in the script as Driver. Driver is a man of few words (Gosling's dialogue through the entire film wouldn't comfortably fill half a page), never racing to fill silences or even answer direct questions as he chews on a toothpick. His motivations aren't altogether clear, beyond wanting to protect/possess his attractive neighbour (Carey Mulligan) and her young son as they come under threat from a criminal gang, and neither are his origins. By the end of the film you may even wonder whether he is a person at all as opposed to some mythical force of nature. Whatever he is, he isn't a conventional good guy.

Even if you look past the fact he moonlights as a getaway driver for criminals, a day job that gets him into a whole lot of trouble with Ron Perlman's petulant Mafia boss, this is a guy who thinks nothing of threatening a woman with violence when his back is against the wall. And his shy, quiet demeanour is undeniably disturbing given his capacity for sudden ultra violence, with the character seeming more than a little unhinged - particularly as he caves a man's skull in with his boots whilst a horrified Mulligan looks on. Perhaps the character has been looking for a fight all along as he usually has a hammer handy and - under Refn's unflinching gaze - you never have any doubt that we will see him use it.

Ultimately though 'Drive' for all its charms feels like a triumph of style over substance. Gosling's blank slate protagonist offers nothing emotionally and equally thinly drawn supporting characters are archetypes elevated only by the calibre of actor asked to portray them: Albert Brooks, Christina Hendricks and Bryan Cranston are all excellent but have little to do, whilst Mulligan is just a bit wet throughout. However, there is no denying everything looks great, especially during the thrillingly choreographed car chase sequences, and the retro feel combined with the synthesizer heavy soundtrack is compelling. It isn't difficult to see why Refn won the best director prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival, as some of the individual shot choices are truly inspired, whilst his direction somehow manages to seem both nimble and meticulously composed.

'Drive' is rated '18' by the BBFC and is out now across the UK.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

'Colombiana' review:

Before I start the review some blog housekeeping: I'm on holiday for the next week in Barcelona and so I won't be updating anything (here, twitter etc). I have lots of reviews and what-not up at What Culture in the coming days (wisely prepared in advance) so you won't miss me too much if you know where to look. In the meantime, if you're too lazy to look, here is a fawning feature I published today about my love of 'Jurassic Park'.

Our heroine is sexy. She is so sexy in fact that this is her defining character trait and sole redeeming quality. As a result she must be naked in every scene, or at least clad in some kind of skimpy catsuit. Within one barely five minute section of the movie you can see her do a sexy dance as she undresses in her apartment, before we cut to her naked in the shower, then cut to a shot of her polishing the barrel of a gun suggestively whilst sucking on a lollipop. The very next shot is of her aggressively dry-humping a man in his apartment in her lingerie.

This is a typical sequence from 'Colombiana', the hitman movie starring Zoe Saldana, directed by Olivier Megaton ('Transporter 3') and produced/co-written by Luc Besson. Saldana is a Colombian woman who lives to get revenge for the death of her parents at the hands of a stock evil Latino drug lord figure. We see her parents die in an overlong, extremely cumbersome sequence at the start of the film, which takes place in some very clean, colourful favelas and features the parkour stunts now associated with every Besson production since 'Taxi 2' and the 'District-13' films.

Anyway, as a girl Colombiana escapes the fate of her parents, running to America, where she vows revenge and trains as a killer for hire. We then cut to sometime in the future: she is a grown up hitman now and, as luck would have it, the drug mogul is living in the US, being sheltered by the CIA (for some reason). We're told that the lithe assassin has gone on a killing spree of late, killing 23 people to gain the attention of her nemesis, though as this figure increases baddie henchman are never included - because, you know, they're not people apparently, but cattle to be mown down.

Even if you ignore the terrible supporting actors (for whom English is surely not a first language), the bland cinematography (that basks everything in a sickly golden light) and the seen-it-before-done-better actions sequences: it's just a pretty nasty film and not very fun with it, compared to, say, the Besson-produced 'Transporter' series. Our hero is certainly not very nice and neither are the people she works with and purports to love. Yet the kills aren't particularly imaginative or cleverly staged either, borrowing liberally from the language of video games. Even when one villain - who we know is evil because he's fat, decadent and sleeping with big-booed models - is fed to some rubbish CGI sharks, the action fails to register even a raised eyebrow amongst the mediocrity. Even with sharks.

To make matters worse, Megaton (great name by the way) unwisely focusses a lot of time on a romance sub-plot, which whilst crucial for Colombiana's "character" (the tragic, isolated victim of her own revenge obsession) isn't very interesting and slows everything down. The film's misogyny is a similarly big mood killer. If you read physically strong women as strong female characters, then Colombiana is as powerful a female role model as they come. However, her male director/writers/producers have her firmly within their exploitative gaze.

I don't want to be misogynistic myself by implying overt female sexuality is always aimed at men: women enjoy sex and seeing sexy female characters, who can be wish fulfilment figures in the same way many men enjoy Bond. But this is unquestionably one for the lads, with other female characters (like the girl's mother) overshadowed in a film of earnest, inherently wise patriarchs. This is even more of a shame when you consider Besson has written some genuinely strong female characters across his career, from young Natalie Portman's breakout role in 'Leon', to his recent and winsome female Indiana Jones adventure story 'The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec'.

I'll say this for it though: 'Colombiana' has the strength of its convictions, with the film getting the down note finale its self-destructive character deserves.

'Colombiana' is out now and rated '15' by the BBFC.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

'Warrior' and 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' interviews

Way back in June I was invited to see the Gavin O'Connor directed mixed martial arts drama 'Warrior' and interview the film's stars Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton. Both that interview and my review can be read over at What Culture.

More recently (Monday), I had the pleasure of interviewing Oscar winner Colin Firth about his role in upcoming Cold War ensemble 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'. You can also read this interview, as well as another with the film's director Tomas Alfredson and screenwriter Peter Straughan, over at What Culture now.

I reviewed that film earlier in the week for this blog.

'Warrior'is released on September 23rd in the UK and is rated '12A' by the BBFC. 'Tinker Tailor Solider Spy' has a '15' certificate and is out from Friday.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

World Film Locations: London available now

A while ago I began contributing reviews and essays to a number of glossy film publications from Intellect. The first of these was released yesterday: World Film Locations: London, edited by Neil Mitchell. I've not seen the final version, but I wrote an essay about the way Richard Curtis films - 'Notting Hill' in particular - have used London and how they represent it as a cultural space.

I'm really impressed by the reviews the book has received so far and feel really privileged to have been a part of it:

'Handsome and intriguing, like an elegant ghosthunter's companion to a world that is - and isn't -there. ' – Francine Stock

'A superb book, indispensable for any cinephile interested in London's psychogeography. I could pore over it for hours.' – Peter Bradshaw

Why not purchase the book here?

Sunday, 11 September 2011

'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' review:

After years spent playing campy villains in Luc Besson movies and focus-stealing support characters in blockbusters, the great Gary Oldman stars in one of this year's most interesting and entertaining films: the 70s set Cold War thriller 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'. Here the animated and charismatic actor is cast as an older man, giving a restrained and nuanced performance as retired British senior intelligence officer George Smiley - a man charged with investigating his former colleagues to find a Soviet mole at the top of "the circus" (the film's name for MI6). An impressive ensemble cast also includes John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Kathy Burke, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones as well as recent Academy Award winner Colin Firth.

Based on a best-selling novel by John le Carré, which was also subject to a fondly remembered 1979 BBC TV series staring Alec Guinness as Smiley, this adaptation has been helmed by the Swedish Tomas Alfredson, feted director of 2008 horror hit 'Let the Right One In'. Both films share Dutch cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and along with him an austere, cold colour palette as well as the director's uncanny eye for period detail. On the way to uncovering the enemy informant, Smiley is shown sucking on Trebor mints and dining at a decidedly retro branch of Wimpy. But aside from being charming reminders of a time and place, these banal, slightly drab references also highlight one of this film's primary delights.

This is not a glossy, establishment picture of Britain we're being sold. It's a world very alien from that James Bond inhabits, as our spies juggle with mundane concerns and petty office politics as well as the very real risk of death at the hands of enemy agents. It's a film where our heroes spend most of the movie secretly investigating their friends and, in effect, battling their own government whilst (ironically) trying to catch out one charged with doing the same. Seldom have the words "we're not so very different you and I" seemed less like hollow cliche as they do here, as Smiley - not an idealist or ardent anti-communist by any standard - ponders on the moral equivalence of it all.

As with 'Let the Right One In', 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' has brief, brutal moments of bloody, visceral violence, but it's more concerned with characters and mood than it is about revelling in the pleasures of its given genre. Spy thrillers tend to place plot above all else, but this one is less about the Cold War, and the search for the traitor within the ranks of the circus, as it is about personal feelings of betrayal and isolation. Homosexuals forced to love in secret, shambolic marriages and private regrets are the real focus of this contemplative and moody slice of espionage intrigue.

'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' is out in the UK from Friday (16th September)and is rated '15' by the BBFC.

Friday, 9 September 2011

'Post Mortem' review:

Chilean director Pablo Larrain's latest movie, 'Post Mortem', gets a limited UK release from today. This year's Venice Film Festival might be drawing to a close but this is one of those I saw last September on the Lido and reviewed it then for Obsessed with Film (now What Culture). I also sort of reviewed his first film 'Tony Manero' after seeing on TV last year. I highly recommend them both.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Report on New Epson Projectors from IFA

As I mentioned on Tuesday, I spent the tail end of last week in Berlin for the annual IFA technology show at the invitation of Epson. The famed printer company were keen to show off their new range of home cinema projectors and I've written up a report on the very same for What Culture.

I'm not really a technology journalist so I'm not sure if what I've written is of any use/interest to anybody, but hopefully some of you out there are interested in how you watch movies as well as the movies themselves. Having said that, I'd certainly be up for going to IFA again next year because there was a lot of interesting stuff to see even for someone with relatively little interest in consumer electronics.

Sony showed off their Playstation TV, which is a pretty ingenious entry level 3D LCD that enables gamers to play multiplayer games against mates on the same telly with each retaining the full screen. Basically (and I find this difficult to explain) 3D TVs send out two signals, usually broadcasting slightly different versions of the same image. Sony's TV uses the same principle, but sends two completely different images out (one for each players game screen), in effect: player one is playing on the left eye channel and player two on the right eye, with glasses configured to only see one image or the other. It's an amazing idea that I found really exciting, not least because it opens up the possibility for sharing the TV for other activities (e.g. one person playing a game and the other watching a movie).

On the gaming front, I also got to go hands-on with Sony's new handheld - and successor to the PSP - Playstation Vita. I'd not been at all interested before having a go on 'Uncharted: Golden Abyss' (see below) which blew me away. Almost PS3 quality graphics and gameplay which, for a fan of the series, makes this console a must-buy.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

If They Made 'Star Wars' Today...

As you've probably heard, all six 'Star Wars' movies are headed for Blu-ray this month, with the sort of controversial changes and additions that have endeared George Lucas to so many millions are the world (see above video). And to cash in on that resurgence of interest in the saga, I've just posted an odd fantasy article at What Culture in which I re-cast the first movie with today's actors.

To be fair to Lucas, changing the Yoda in 'Phantom Menace' from a puppet to CGI was not a terrible idea:

And I don't mind the Ewoks having CGI eyes either actually:

The complete saga is released on Blu-ray on Monday (12th) and I'll probably end up re-buying the films for the fifth time. Sigh.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

General chatter...

Aside from the previously reviewed 'Kill List' and 'Attenberg', I've not yet seen any of this week's theatrical releases, which include the poorly received 'Apollo 18' and the only slightly less shat-upon remake of 'Fright Night', so in lieu of any new movies to opine upon I just thought I'd post links to what I've published so far this week.

I've had another DVD review in The Daily Telegraph, this time casting my eye upon Denzel Washington's 'The Great Debaters' and yesterday saw me looking over the new Blu-ray release of Sergio Leone's seminal 'Once Upon a Time in the West' for What Culture.

At the moment I'm writing up transcriptions of my interviews with people from last week's IFA technology show in Berlin, and there's a two-month old interview with 'Warrior' actors Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton that needs to be readied soon for that film's release later this month. There are also articles about two of my great childhood loves, 'Star Wars' and 'Jurassic Park', to coincide with the upcoming Blu-ray releases.

Finally, I hosted a Q+A with 'Kill List' director Ben Wheatley and the film's DP Laurie Rose at the Duke of York's Picturehouse on Sunday night. It was a good turnout (just under 200 people) and a lot of them stayed at the end to ask their questions. They were a pleasure to interview and the whole thing was so relaxed (Ben is especially down to Earth and unflappable) that any stage fright I had quickly subsided once it was underway. The director's refusal to explain the film's ending frustrated some audience members, but there was still a lot of interesting stuff. For more of Mr. Wheatley, check out one of the most recent Splendor Cinema Podcasts where the director joined Jon and I to discuss everything from the rubbish marketing for his first movie 'Down Terrace' to our shared disbelief at the cheapness of 'The Planet of the Apes' Blu-ray box set.

Friday, 2 September 2011

'Kill List' review:

Ben Wheatley's superior British horror 'Kill List' came out today and I've a review of it up on What Culture. If you want to hear what the 'Down Terrace' director had to say about the film, check out the recently recorded 64th Splendor Cinema Podcast.

I've just returned home to Brighton after two hype-filled days at one of the world's biggest consumer electronics shows - Berlin's IFA (Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin). I was there to look at Epson's freshly unveiled new line of home cinema projectors - which were very impressive indeed - and I'll be writing a full report on those for What Culture in the week. A splendid city, some exciting tech (including Sony's new handheld gaming console Vita and the affordable 3D PlayStation TV) and superior company made for an amazing last couple of days. It almost compensates for not being in Venice this time around!