Friday, 29 July 2011

Priest, dir. Scott Stewart, wr. Cory Goodman, st. Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Maggie Q

Whenever a film begins with an extended animated intro sequence during which masses of backstory is filled in, those klaxons that Russian nuclear facilities make when they go into meltdown in Bond films start ringing in my ears. As it turned out, Priest needed such a sequence to help make up for the complete lack of plot, narrative or sense in its following ninety minutes. Liberally borrowing - as in "it's exactly the same" - from such films as Blade Runner (oh look, a perpetually dark, overcrowded and polluted city where everyone's holding future-brellas), Mad Max (oh look, vast post-apocalyptic plains) and Nineteen-Eighty Four (oh look, the government uses slogans to keep their citizens in check), you think it can't get any worse, then, despite closing your eyes really tightly and wishing as hard as you can that Karl Urban isn't really going to be the Big Bad, about as charismatic as he is as a sack of parsnips, it turns out he is and that's all we're getting by way of serious conflict, and then, AND THEN, Alan Bloody Dale turns up, who just needs to STOP BEING IN STUFF. It's a shame really as the Stephen 'Bill Compton' Moyer/Madchen Amick/Lily 'Daughter of Phil' Collins (post) Nuclear (war) Family set-up early on in the film looked like it might have gone somewhere genre-bendy. But I'm probably bitter that Paul Bettany's married to Jennifer Connelly. In fact, that's exactly it.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

L.A. Confidential, dir. Curtis Hanson, wr. Curtis Hanson, Brian Helgeland, st. Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Danny DeVito, Kim Basinger, James Cromwell

The tendrils of corruption burrowing their way through every corner of the police force and political arena, involving drugs, bribery, prostitution, institutionalised racism, celebrity culture and tabloid journalism. Sound familiar? Of course it does - it's James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential adapted for the screen in 1997 by Curtis Hanson! People have been pondering on the internet what an inevitable film based on recent media events might look like, but I would suggest it's already been made; forget the specific details, corruption is corruption whichever way you spin it. Spacey's great, louche and utterly compelling as ever, Guy Pearce and James "isn't he in Babe?/yes he is, go and watch something else from his 35 year long career" Cromwell are chilling reminders of what idealistic talent can look like when squared up against the dead eyes of administrative wrongdoing, and DeVito deftly encapsulates the Modern McMullan, joyfully employing a whole slew of nefarious tactics in order to get that next great story. But the standout for me is Russell Crow, whom I generally make it priority to hate when seeing him onscreen; when he's not walking out of interviews or throwing telephones at concierges, he's making marvellous in films like this. His Bud White has arguable the biggest character arc in the film, going from Impassioned Simian to bona-fide PO-lice by the film's conclusion.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2, dir. David Yates, wr. Steve Kloves (screenplay), J. K. Rowling (book), st. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2, or HP as I shall be calling it for the sake of RSI, starts, I imagine, where the previous instalment ended. Little attention is given, admirably so, to anyone coming to the story this late in the proceedings. And why not? Harry Potter has never been about anything other than the fans. And what an eclectic bunch they are. The single most surprising thing I have discovered about my friends over the last ten years is not what political flag they fly or where they stand on God or abortion, but whether they're into Harry Potter. Seriously, sometimes it's been like finding out they're swingers or something. Anyway, HP, from my limited perspective (I am not a Potterite), made for a pretty decent couple of hours. Pacing was tight and controlled. The bevy of Brit-thesps were relegated to uber-supporting-role status this time as this was essentially Fiennes' film. Noseless and doing his Posh Bryan Adams voice, Fiennes was rather good, just the right side of panto villain. I loved how the others would fiercely clutch their wands when performing any kind of magic, yet Fiennes would unfurl a svelte hand, allowing the wand to rest gracefully in his palm, like a dancer reaching out to a partner; there were lots of these moments where just for a few brief seconds, the franchise fleetingly, beautifully attempted something beyond its remit. Only the sight of the Potter kids in the film's unimaginative coda, decked out in paunch-suits and dad-shirts broke the spell, but heigh-ho, what's a mega-franchise conclusion-scene without the standard Slow Zoom Into The Hero-Shot of the Stars followed by an equally slow fade to black?

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Tree of Life, dir/wr. Terrence Malick, st. Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain

Is there, I'm sitting here and wondering, any correlation between frequency and quality of artistic output? The answer I guess should be "no, of course not"; a genius songwriter, for example, is a genius songwriter regardless of the rate of output. But the tendency, I suspect, is to hold in higher regard an artist whose output is exceedingly slow. It's quite clever really. One's natural rate of working becomes one's own marketing ploy - each new release of work becomes an event in its own right. Take Terrence Malick whose near forty-year career has seen him helm six - six - feature films. His most recent work, news of which has been humming and buzzing around the internet for many months prior to its release, is an impossibly grand and opulent meditation on life, the universe and everything. Reaction has been mixed and comparisons with, invariably, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey being drawn as The Tree of Life's closest thematic twin. The plot, such as it is, is fragmented and non-linear; Brad Pitt (wonderful) as a loving but overbearing father, Sean Penn as one of his grown sons looking back on his childhood, and images and see-scapes of universe-creating and Earth-birth collide and intercut between one another. Poetic, yet imprecise and vague dialogue about the nature of Being is whispered over the imagery at various intervals. At one point, the phrase "A-Level Media Studies" pinged into my brain and I was ashamed at stooping so low, but then found the term curiously hard to exorcise completely. Actually, at times, the sheer scale and scope of what I saw being attempted on-screen floored me, but ultimately, whilst I got it, I didn't feel it, which was a great, great shame.