Friday, 17 June 2011

Taxi Driver, dir. Martin Scorsese, wr. Paul Schrader, st. Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Cybill Shepherd

I keep on banging on about context; when watching a film, the environment in which you watch it is crucial in shaping the way you process it. And context is tied in very closely with nostalgia. Head over to Amazon and read the comments regarding the forthcoming blu-ray releases of the Star Wars sexology. See? People want to remember their versions of the films they love, not the director's. My enduring memory of watching Taxi Driver for the first time is a dodgy VHS recording off the telly. The dirt, specks and cracks in the emulsion of the print gave the film a further layer of sleaze while Bernard Herrmann's expressionist score, all harp glissandos and tumultuous horns, screeched and roared in beautiful distorting mono. So it was with fevered brow and trembling hand that I placed the brand new blu-ray release of Taxi Driver into my PS3. And if ever there was a better advocate for the format, this is surely it; all the dirt, tears, scratches and colour fading is gone. The newly scanned 4K print faithfully reproduces all the gorgeous rain-soaked New York neon in detail I had never seen before and Herrmann's sonorous score has been pristinely re-mastered in spacious 5.1 surround. What's also now so abundantly clear is the depth and realism of the performances; Jodie Foster's unnaturally mature turn as Iris and Robert De Niro, taut and troubled as Travis Bickle, light years away from any Focker-related nonsense. With this release, we can finally stop watching Taxi Driver, and start seeing it.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Two Days In Paris, dir/wr. Julie Delpy, st. Julie Delpy, Adam Goldberg

"Watching some actors perform is just such a treat." I thought glumly, as I sat down to watch Saw VII - for completion's sake you understand - and after ten minutes, I started wishing I could have a go in one of Jigsaw's traps, but that's another review. For such unmitigated joy in watching a performance,  I am referring today to the sublime Julie Delpy, whose little gem of a movie Two Days In Paris, comes off as a kind of slightly less narcissistic Buffalo 66, a film that also saw Vincent Gallo writing, scoring, and directing his own performance, as well as inviting his own Dad to portray his fictional relation. But where as Buffalo 66 is at times an arduous - albeit wholly absorbing - wade through the self-obsessive mire, Delpy's film is an effortless exploration of the complexities of modern cross-cultural relationships. Delpy plays Marion, and is supported by Adam "Eddie, Chandler's roommate from Friends"" Goldberg, a kind of Ben Stiller-lite, as her boyfriend Jack. The pair bicker and snap at each other, all the while flirting around the unsettling, indefinable line where playful relationship patois can suddenly turn on a dime into something more unsettling. It reminded me at times of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon's The Trip where easy improvisational comedy can so deftly and suddenly slide into heart-aching drama. Admittedly, there's not a wealth of rich, gooey plot to get your teeth into in Two Days In Paris, but watching Julie Delpy is treat enough.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Machete, dir/wr. Robert Rodriguez, st. Danny Trejo, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Martin

Oh dear god, am I getting old? Am I? I just watched Machete, thoroughly disliked it, and now I'm thinking I just did the movie-watching equivalent of leaving the party early because I want to get an early night. But just look at the film's winning pedigree! You've got Tarantino's bossom-buddy Robert Rodriguez directing, retro-trashy B-movie cinematography (and plot), a whole host of going, going and bygone stars, and in Danny Trejo's titular Machete, an anti-hero as monosyllabic and two dimensional as the best of 'em. Review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes described the film as "messy, violent, shallow and tasteless - and that's precisely the point of one of the summer's most cartoonishly enjoyable films" which if true, doesn't paint the moviegoing public in too good a light. And yes, much is made - rightly so - of films, music, art in general not having to mean something all the time, and why can't it sometimes just be fun and escapist, and I thoroughly agree. But sadly Machete is not one of those films. For all its blood, it's bloodless for a start. The film's skittish narrative may very well be paying homage, but look, there's a reason B-movies are B-movies. It's a bit like all those iPhone apps that make your pictures look distressed; the difference between "retro-cool" and a picture that just looks a bit shit, is slight indeed.

500 Days Of Summer, dir. Marc Webb, wr. Scott Neustadter, st. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel

I don't particularly get on with Romantic Comedies, preferring, as is my bent, to eat my own face. However, much to my own chagrin, there sometimes comes along a romcom so utterly beguiling I find it hard not to fall in love with it. It might be the perfectly adequate Easy A made wonderfully palatable by the charming Emma Stone, or the delightful Along Came Polly, saved not only by some great performances, but by John Hamburg's genuinely witty screenplay. 500 Days Of Summer is such a film. Yes, it's gratingly smug with its quirky approach and knowingly all-too-cool soundtrack, and the central premise of boy-meets-girl doesn't have enough meat on it to provide much of a hearty cinematic repast, but it's the undeniable chemistry between its stars that engages. The success of the film rests on the credibility of the central relationship (much in the same way the decidedly mediocre The Adjustment Bureau did a few months ago) in this case, between Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Tom and Zooey Deschanel's Summer. The pair bring a recognisable sense of levity and naturalism to what I suspect are slightly underwritten characters, but no matter; we follow them through 90 minutes and 500 days, willingly setting ourselves up to follow them ride out every emotional peak and trough, and for a romcom, that's quite a feat.