Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon, dir. Michael Bay, wr. Ehren Kruger, st. Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro

So we're back for more bot on bot action, and it's really a case of bigger, better, faster, bore as any remnants of the first film's wit or charm are, very literally, missing in action. Poor Michael Bay still cuts films for audiences with the attention spans of cuttlefish, and then, bizarrely, turns in a Tolkien-esque two-and-a-half-plus running time, by which time I was ready to go and empty and re-load the dishwasher just to give me something to do. Bay calls his hyper-frenetic, ADHD-style of film-making 'fucking the frame' - his own words - and there's an unsavoury truth in his choice of words; his modus operandi is primal, aggressive and loveless. Everything is over-edited, over-scored, over-scripted and over-acted. As the reviewers at the time of release said, when your leading lady makes Megan Fox look like Meryl Street, something's gone very wrong.  The visual effects are natty, but then I'm a boy and so genetically hard-wired to enjoy watching robots beat the motherboards out of each other. Worldwide the film has made one billion, one hundred and seventeen million, nine hundred and sixty-six thousand, six hundred and fifty dollars to date and ranks the fifth most successful box office hit ever; we live in tragic times indeed.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Horrible Bosses, dir. Seth Gordon, scr. Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein, st. Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey

What a cast you might think, and it doesn't stop there - Donald Sutherland makes an early appearance, as does Wendell "The Bunk" Pierce - alas Horrible Bosses never amounts to any more than the sum of its parts. Admittedly Bateman, Sudeikis and Day make for a fine comedic triumvirate, the writing's not half bad, and it's a real treat seeing Aniston embrace her character with such prurient glee, but the nagging felling it's all a bit aimless kicks in a mite early. At least Bridesmaids trod the narrow screwball/storyline interface with some degree of skill; this just feels like watching the same Saturday Night Live sketch over and over. There is a delight however, unintentional I'm sure, in watching the plot unravel in such a chaotic and anarchic way, any semblance of plot giving way to the kind of neo-slapstick these sorts of comedies tend to lean towards, and there're more than a few times you'll giggle I'm sure - Jamie Foxx's Motherfucker Jones constantly being referred to as just plain Motherfucker, in particular had the kind of logical absurdity that makes me guffaw - but there's a weightlessness to it all that's pretty unsatisfying once the credits roll.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Drive, dir. Nicolas Winding Refn, scr. Hossein Amini, based on Drive by James Sallis, st. Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman

One would have thought that by now lone wolves recognise pretty girls and cute kids as the two biggest threats to their finely tuned status quo, and unfortunately for Driver, he's about to encounter both. Yes, Driver, for that is his name, and a clear signal we're in Man With No Name territory. Refn's film can be read as a taut, muscular thriller, although it reminded me more of a romantic Crash than anything else, not so much sex and wrecks as asphalt and affection; here, the automobiles play a highly symbolic role. Irene's car trouble is the catalyst that brings our pair together, while Driver revs, rolls and handbrakes with indifference, the car as an expendable commodity, the currency of his solitary existence rather than a materialistic luxury or a womb-like cocoon with which we might transport our young. When the couple do finally hold hands, it's over the stick-shift, and to Cliff Martinez's marvellously unctuous synth pads as they drive alongside a setting sun. The violence, when it comes, is sudden and brutal and a little jarring considering Driver's reluctance to even carry a gun, but one wonders whether this is the price one pays for a life of emotional disconnection. No one does shy 'n' awkward like Gosling, and the slow-burn of his relationship with a quietly assured Mulligan is wonderful to watch. What with its hot-pink handwritten credit sequence and judicious use of 80s-vibed sound, it's clear Refn is going for a specific type of stylistic retro pulp, but it's also one of the boldest and most heartfelt love stories you're likely to see this year. 

Friday, 23 September 2011

Into Eternity, dir/wr. Michael Madsen, st. Carl Reinhold Brakenhjelm, Mikael Jensen, Berit Lundqvist

Into Eternity, Michael Madsen's (no not him) reverential paean to Finland's long-sighted plan for the storage of nuclear waste from their 2 power-plants is a reminder of how chillingly meditative documentaries can be when they're not constantly assaulting the viewer with schizophrenic animations of endless figures and statistics. This is about as existential as film-making gets, as scientists, historians and theologians try to convey a message of warning to future generations 100,000 years into the future, the life of the decaying uranium, not to attempt any kind of excavation into the underground metropolis that houses the fire within. The film intercuts various boffiny talking heads, determined yet completely humbled by the magnitude of the task before them, with dreamlike dollyed shots of Onkalo, the waste repository itself, a vast concrete leviathan hewn from the Earth's bedrock. It's a little shocking and beggars belief that countries like the US (top of the list with 105 power-plants) have no solution in place for the long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel. But this is far from an evangelical cry for us humans to change our ways, in fact in many ways the message seems to be that current humanity is but a mere speck on the grand canvas of our planet's future history. Haunting and quite, quite unforgettable.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, dir. Tomas Alfredson, scr. Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan, based on the novel by John le Carré, st. Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch

Comparisons abound, predictably, between this film and Alfredson's debut into the mainstream - the sublime Let The Right One In from 2009. Both share the same sombre narrative tone, both have icy, stoic POVs on their protagonists, and both share the same stylistic shooting style - inch-perfect tracking shots and pull backs, a pallidly pastel palate and an introspectively moody score, this time from Alberto Iglesias, whose lonely, echoey trumpet phrases mirror Smiley's increasingly isolated world. The Wire creator David Simon, on writing about the nature of plotting, said that the HBO ad-free format gave him the freedom with which to tell a story - 55 minutes, uninterrupted. How else, he said, are we expected to wholly engage with storytelling? Similarly Dino Jonsater's editing nips and tucks, even with the 2 hour plus running time, excising extraneous content and creating one of the leanest, densest and most economically told stories you're ever likely to see. If it's all a little overwhelming at times, the cast's uniformly excellent performances allow even the most clandestine meetings and shady goings-on to form some kind of cohesive comprehension through their intricately detailed portrayal of character, but even so, when the credits roll you'll be more than happy to crouch down in your aisle and remain in the auditorium for the next immediate screening, and watch it all over again.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Bridesmaids, dir. Paul Feig, wr. Annie Mumolo, Kristen Wiig, st. Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Chris O'Dowd, Jon Hamm

Judd Apatow's Knocked Up from 2007 left such a nasty taste in my mouth that I've developed a kind of Pavlovian response to seeing his name credited anywhere, a bit like, I guess, that nauseous feeling arachnophobes get when they see a spider scuttle across a floor, or when Ricky Gervais does anything ever. Coupled with the fact that seeing both Victoria Wood Live and the Sex and The City movie with a rather convivial audience where both times, somehow, I was the only male within what seemed like a five-mile exclusion zone, have left me terrified of witnessing perceived Ladies Only oriented material. But I'd seen Wiig as Judy Grimes on Saturday Night Live and have a massive man-crush on Mad Men's Jon Hamm, so despite the aversion to all things Apatow-produced, I sat down and strapped in. The first thing you'll notice, or rather the first thing you'll notice if you're over thirty is Bridesmaids' rather bold thematic concession to its core, non-t(w)een audience; Annie's world is one of increasing isolation, despondency and envy as she watches, inevitably, her best friend pair off and move away, and it's from this recognisable and poignant footing that we're able to invest and engage - the true requirement of any comedy. Wiig's script too is wickedly charming, pacy and very, very funny. Watch as part of a double-bill with Johnathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married for maximum effect. 

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Les Aventures Extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec, dir. Luc Besson, sc. Luc Besson, based on "Adèle and the Beast" and "Mummies On Parade" by Jacques Tardi, st. Louise Bourgoin, Mathieu Amalric

It's difficult to get a handle on Blanc-Sec, for in the raging white water of this kind of Euro Gaslamp-Fantasia, Luc Besson's film crosses so many cinematic wakes, you can't see Adèle for the trees. I've always found Besson's work, though uneven, to be thoroughly enjoyable however and Blanc-Sec is no exception; it's kind of Amélie Jones and the Temple of Doom via Young Sherlock Holmes and if that hasn't piqued your curiosity, I don't know what will. Louise Bourgoin plays the titular Adéle, spunky, impulsive, cynical and always immaculately turned out, a thinking-man's Lara Croft. The plot meanders and wavers in places but there's enough giddy exuberance to carry it through its more archaic moments. Tonally the film's a bit of an enigma too - there's a Disney-like One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing vibe one moment, all Thompson and Thompson slapstick, and then accidental lobotomies-by-hatpins and nudity the next. I tend to applaud bolder genre-blending so this didn't really bother me, although if you like to  compartmentalise, you may feel uneasy. Being the first part of a projected trilogy (what isn't these days?), and given the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to plot and spectacle, it's hard to see where Ms. Blanc-Sec might go from here.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Fish Tank, dir/wr. Andrea Arnold, st. Katie Jarvis, Kierston Wareing, Michael Fassbender

Here's a question: To what extent should Art be standalone? Do we take into account creators' previous output? Do we contextualise their product with their personal circumstances? For me, this is what I call the Made In Heaven conundrum; Queen's last studio album isn't actually that great, yet vocally, Freddie Mercury's voice soars and roars just as it always has. But when you read his vocal takes were cut and pasted, for so stricken with HIV was he at this point he could barely stand or finish a breath, we are forced, we must re-evaluate the record on these terms. Similarly, Andrea Arnold's spiky and tremendously moving social drama, hewn from a well-trod path of broken families and the wayward kids within, ultimately suffers from this enforced contextualisation. As hypnotically watchable as the young Katie Jarvis is, there is something discomforting about her performance once you realise how closely elements of her life parallel her character's. Maybe that's the point, but I suspect for many casual filmgoers, this important information will remain unresearched. It's important because watching films isn't like visiting the zoo. There must exist a transfer of information, a partnership between giver and recipient. Fish Tank is undoubtedly a sensitively written and performed film, but cinema's usage of 'found' actors, alas, continues to perturb.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Red State, dir/wr. Kevin Smith, st. Michael Parks, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Kevin Pollack

There's a moment in Red State, not so much Kevin Smith's love letter to the Westboro Baptist Church, as it is a strongly worded letter of complaint, where the real-life bile-filled Church and its leader, Fred Phelps, is mentioned by name; it's a startling moment and just one of a number of times when we find the rug being pulled from under us. At times Kevin Smith's extraordinary film could cut in scenes from Louis Theroux' famous documentary and the flow would be seamless, at other times we're in pure Lynchian territory, adrift from any genre anchors, and wonderfully terrified of where its all going and what its all leading up to. Michael Parks taps the odious yet, let's face it, rather rich Phelpsian source material in his portrayal of Pastor Abin Cooper and Melissa Leo reminds me of how one critic described Monica Dolan's performance as Rose West in the recent Appropriate Adult: "seemingly possessed" is how they put it. John Goodman turns in another pleasing heavyweight performance and blink, or rather, wink and you'll miss Kevin Pollack in a role much of which I suspect was left on the cutting room floor. The film's rather Grand Guignol resa dei conti climax might be a bridge too far, but nevertheless, Red State hopefully points to an exciting new direction for Kevin Smith fans.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Attack The Block, dir/wr. Joe Cornish, st. John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Jodie Whittaker, Nick Frost

It's probably safe to say Attack The Block isn't going to appear on David Starkey's LOVEFiLM rental list any time soon; after all, does it not glorify destructive, nihilistic gangster culture? Is the characters' vernacular not peppered with Jamaican patois? Such an accusation of whites becoming black might be worn as something of a badge of honour for writer/director Joe Cornish, whose skill in recreating the poetry embedded within the street-level slanguage, not to mention buckets of subtle South London class consciousness, is absolute. Boyega, all buried rage and misdirected swagger, leads a superb young cast against the effectively rendered furball aliens, always engaged, always engaging. Throw in a relentlessly kinetic score, a kind of Widescreen Symphony of Grime written by the Basement Jaxx boys, and at an unashamed 80 minutes long, you've got, actually a pretty patriotic film, a salve for the same kind of genre-movie that Hollywood loves to aggrandise. Most effectively, little calms of character exposition, little hints at back-story, any socio-political commentary is cleverly touched upon with gossamer levity before we're hurtled headlong into the next attack; the result is canny, for deep inside this Creature Feature, there lurks a wealth of subversion.