Sunday, 14 December 2008

The Transporter

Jason Statham and Qi Shu in The Transporter
Okay, so I convinced my wife to watch this action movie with me, and we were pleasantly surprised. It did everything that vacuous, frothy action pictures should do, and wit a bit of style.

Jason Statham plays Frank Martin, an ex-special forces operative, who lives outside the law delivering contraband in his rather snazzy motor. He has a set of rules that he enforces religiously. Obviously, he breaks the rules, and gets into a spot of bother with a girl.

Forget the plot. Forget the dialogue. Forget physics. Enjoy the ride, literally.

We open with a well realised car chase, full of wit and ingenuity. It is also played out to a bit of hip hop instead of the normal, bland action soundtrack. The location is also used well, Nice, France. This is another of the film's strengths, a European setting. Such a pleasure to see a film that is not immersed in overly familiar American scenes.

Opening Car Chase in The Transporter
The action scenes are why we are here though, carried very well by the impressive on-screen presence of Statham, but truly created by the Hong Kong veteran, Corey Yuen. Fight choreography is excellent, with great imagination, and an understanding that the main draw for this film is Jason's torso. Corey takes full advantage of this, having him lose his shirt in an altercation, and actually use it to defeat three assailants.

Mark Kermode has made a good case for the similarities between the oiled up fight scene, and such other homo-eroticism as seen in Spartacus. But did not mention the fact that our main protagonist actually manages to get a kiss in with one of his opponents! Admittedly it was ostensibly a way for him to steal the oxygen from him while underwater, but there was more passion in that one sequence than in any of his screen time with the female star, Qi Shu.

If your estimations are low and you are looking for a film that will simply entertain, this is a good choice, and streets ahead of big budget action movies like Die Hard 4.0.

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Sunday, 7 December 2008

Amelie

Amelie Skimming Stones
Amelie is a film that pours off the screen and washes you with the delicious colours its director and cinematographer saturate each scene. The sound creates a nostalgia in you for memories you do not even possess. This is a fable that paradoxically allows us to look into childhood with at once the knowing eyes of adulthood, and the certainty of our imagination. It is in love with cinema.

The plot is simple, following a small portion of Amelie's (Audrey Tautou) life in Montmartre, Paris, where she attempts to improve the lives of those around her with unorthodox means, in a way of avoiding confronting her own. Each simple action is woven from captivating detail and eccentric delight.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who directed and co-wrote, forged a style that has been emulated time and again since. Each character is introduced with snippets of detail about their life and loves, accompanied by illustrations drawn on our screens. Michael Sowa's art comes to life from paintings and figurines, in a way we would like to suppose a child would anthropomorphise the world about them. Wes Anderson's pictures also add moments of surreal animation that enable you to believe in fairytales.

Nino Quincampoix's Photo Album
The humour is not lost in the subtitles, with more nuances noticed in each viewing. Amelie at one point hands some money to a beggar, who responds "Sorry madam, I don't work on Sundays".

Some have accused the film of being too much of an unreal, picture postcard of Parisian life, but along with the unabashed romanticism lies shots of the seedy side of Montmartre. Anyone who has visited will be aware that turning one corner will lead you into the red light district. This is not glossed over, and yet is somehow imbued with the same glow and wit as the rest of the tale.

Hipolito's Quote
Although the story is unashamedly uplifting, it does not feel the necessity to tie up every lose end and create happy endings for every character. This is definately to the film's credit, letting your mind wander amongst the possibilities. It also manages to avoid displaying iconic landmarks in each shot. The note perfect frame composition instead invites you to see more of the city than most American ventures into foreign capitals, we follow the lives of Parisians, we see where there own memories emerge from, not a view from an open top bus tour.

If I can persuade one person who is normally put off by subtitles, then my mission has been successful. This is essential viewing, and more than once. Do not let it become a film you always mean to watch, it will reward your trust in its storytelling endlessly.

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Sunday, 30 November 2008

The Mist

The Mist Poster
Mark Kermode persuaded me to watch this via his Radio 5 programme with Simon Mayo. I knew the ending was going to be tough, the Empire magazine review hinted at as much as well, but nothing prepared me for what actually happened.

There is a lot to recommend this film for. It is imaginative, thought provoking, well shot and acted. The low budget does show sadly, but its dramatic weight does not rely on showy effects. Excellent use of the sound serves to engender far more tension and nerves than any of the recent Alien pictures.

The characters are on the whole realistic, the main protagonist, played very well by Thomas Jane, does not make the right decisions all the way though. He is guilty of hesitancy and misguided actions, but this makes it easier for us to relate to him. His son is also very well created as a human being, and Nathan Gamble brings him to life admirably.

A brief plot synopsis: a mist descends on a remote American town, trapping a (convenient) cross section of the population in a supermarket. Lurking within the mist are unknown creatures. Once the plot gets under way, it emerges that the real trouble lies within the building. Mrs. Carmody fires up the scared survivors with tales of firm and brimstone.

Sadly, we are force fed a political and social opinion. There is a moment when we are suddenly made clear what this is all a metaphor of - when we were fully aware anyway - through the use of a quite clichéd exchange. This unfortunately took the power from its social comment; didactic rather than provocative.

Mrs. Carmody is given far too much of the running time, and you start to grow a little tired of hearing her speak. If she had been played by Marcia Gay Harden with a little more restraint, the end product could have been much more enduring.

Thomas Jane and Nathan Gamble
The last disappointing moment was the cop out explanation we are given near the end. It is such a shame the true source of the horrors had not remained as shrouded as the town outside the supermarket. For all its shortcomings, Cloverfield wisely left you wondering just how the creature got to New York.

I say, "the last disappointing moment", although you are already aware that the ending sucked the life from me, making my wife declare that I am never allowed to chose a DVD again. This was the conclusion that its director, Frank Darabont, fought so hard to keep. I respect him for staying true to the original Stephen King novella, but am still left with a horrible taste in my mouth.

If those issues I have mentioned were less prominent, I could forgive it the ending. As it is, I will return the DVD and vent my spleen to the staff member on duty in the Spar I rented it from! (I love the poster by the way...)

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No Country for Old Men


Deakins' photography is stunning, the Coen's keep you off guard throughout - constantly confounding expectations - and the performances are superb. The methodical actions of the protagonists as they plan and carry out an activity as simple as throwing a case over a fence, are incredibly compelling.

The metaphor at the end is a little heavy handed, and the point is laid on with a trowel in the final moments of dialogue, but by all accounts they stayed close to the book, and so I can only commend them for the commitment to source material.

Not quite the denouement of Fargo, more in the vein of Millers Crossing (not a bad thing!).

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Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem


My word, I never realised it could be so bad... There is just nothing to recommend this film. The Predator itself is a totally redundant character in this film, despite having the only tangible narrative, he feels entirely tacked on. The conclusion only serving to emphasise his lack of relevance. If the Predators' involvement had just been left as a means for the Aliens to get to Earth, it would have acceptable.

The Strause brothers also alter the film's mythology wantonly. The life cycle of the Aliens accelerated to the point of comedy, removing any dramatic weight or threat that they once held, rendering them as merely cannon fodder. The reproductive element of the original is discarded in a particularly distasteful scene with the hybrid "pred-alien" (what's wrong with alien-ator?).

There also appears to be scenes missing, for example, the ones that turn the town into a war zone. One minute there are three Aliens running around, the next we have the National Guard turning up, for a scene that was a blatant rip off from Aliens, and poorly executed.

If only the action was engaging, if only the characters had been passingly interesting, if only there had been one moment of invention, if only his keys hadn't been thrown down the sewer...

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The Godfather, Part III

All the negative press enabled me to enjoy this film, I really expected to hate it. The nepotism in casting was disappointing, and there were a few notable flaws that have been discussed at length here already, but I felt genuine emotion in the final scenes. I also loved the effective use of the opera with the climatic moments.

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The Peacemaker

Entertaining, didn't get bored or want to switch it off. Pretty standard actioner fare, with lots of embarrassing jumping away from explosions moments, and even more cringe-worthy scenes of mourning for someone who has just died - the later more disappointing as each of the leads gets their tearful ten seconds, and then back to running around.

Some good set pieces though, thankfully low on the CGI as well.

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Ne le Dis à Personne (Tell No One)

Wonderfully shot, so much good to say about this film. Interesting characters, good dialogue, excellent action scenes...

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Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Preposterous, bloated, convoluted... I enjoyed it more when I saw it at home as I was ready for it to disappoint me, but it just seems such a waste to have gone all Star Wars on it, needlessly. It could have been such a great adventure yarn, but instead we have endless redundant plot lines - such as Calypso sub plot - and shameless misuse of excellent actors like Chow Yun Fat at the expense of Ikea Knightly and Orlando Bland.

The final scene with Jack Sparrow looked genuinely interesting, and I felt I could watch his adventure right then and be entertained, just a shame about the messy almost three hours that preceded it...

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Annie Hall

One of the best comedies ever made, without doubt. The dialogue is diamond sharp, the characters are developed so well, the structure inventive and original, and on top of this, it has slick visual humour such as probably my favourite moment where Alvy takes on the spiders in the bath.

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Horse Feathers

The plot is wafer thin, aiding the brothers, in that it lets them get on with the show. The scene in the Speak Easy is superb; how can so much humour be gained from just a door! It's very easy to see how their films were direct translations of the stage act, and makes you wish you had seen them perform in the flesh.

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Blazing Saddles

One of my all time favourites, watched it again yesterday, Mel Brooks in his Golden Age. I would give it five stars, but the, nonetheless humourous, finale where we leave the film set and enter the studio, just smacks of an inability to write a suitable conclusion.

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Monkey Business

It is incredible how well the humour works, seventy seven years after it was made. The physical comedy is unrivalled, and the dialogue razor sharp. Groucho is on top form, and his interchanges with Chico side-splitting.

The only disappointment is that they had to leave the ship, I could have watched them run from the crew for at least another hour! The support, apart from a few stand outs such as Thelma Todd, don't really turn up; but that just seems to let the brothers enjoy themselves even more - "Is it true you're getting a divorce as soon as your husband recovers his eyesight?"

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Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Elizabeth: The Golden Age
What makes a good historical epic? Is it the costumes, the photography, the colours, the lighting? If so, the unofficial Elizabeth sequel should excel - a blissfully visual experience that takes the powerful images of its predecessor a step further - but is this enough to distract us from dialogue, plot, and underlying message?

The potential for this historical period has been squandered in, what was essentially a rehash of the original, with misguided attempts to put the queen through exactly the same quandaries, and story arch as her younger self. It does not site right, and neither does the awfully scripted romance between Elizabeth and Raleigh.

I am not going to start considering the historical inaccuracies (personally, I prefer accurate history, but even Shakespeare re-wrote history for the sake of drama), or the lazy depiction of the Spanish as scheming fanatics, and focus on perhaps a greater cinematic sin, that of creating a film with no dramatic weight. One moment we are watching the deliberations of Blanchett as she frets over Owen's seduction of her handmaiden, then the tacked on melodrama of the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, and then, suddenly, there is the crowbarred in Armada.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age
We feel no connection with her plight, only that the audience is told how awful it all is. The most we see of the English military force, is a little group of soldiers standing on a hill, with Blanchett giving a patented Rousing Speech (a la Kingdom of Heaven, Troy, Return of the King, and sadly not - as was intended - Henry V) on an unruly horse/metaphor.

We are also entirely detached from the naval battle that makes up the finale. If there had been a little more running time devoted to letting the viewer know the actual details of the battle - that the English ships were tiny in comparison, or that Drake used his knowledge of the sea against the vast fleet - we may have forgiven the depiction of the engagement through the eyes of just one man, Raleigh.

There is an incredible film to be made about this period in history, we can only hope that someday someone does.

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Minority Report

As I watched this film the other day, I remembered all the reasons I loved it at the cinema - Colin Farrell's character and excellent acting, the visuals, the twists and turns... but I was also reminded of the disappointingly Spielbergian conclusion. From the moment Cruise's character works out what is going on, the film loses momentum, the plot develops holes, loose ends are neatly tied up, and everything is bathed in a warm glow.

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Star Wars: A New Hope

Five stars for its importance in cinema, and my childhood memories. The film is very flawed, but I am not going to list my concerns as it taints my enjoyment of it. Sometimes you have to just enjoy things for what they are, and there are few films that can still ignite the imagination like this one, even after thirty years.

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Flushed Away

One of the wittiest children's films for quite some time, I cannot understand its unpopularity. Agreed, some of the animation looks poor, but once we are in the sewers the film comes to life. Enjoyable for adults and keeps the attention of the kids.

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In the Valley of Ellah

Excellent performances, compelling viewing, but ultimately a vehicle for an essay on the American forces in Iraq. It presents itself as a thriller, but about halfway through, we realise that the explanation will not totally satisfy.

Metaphors are signposted, especially the misleading David and Golliath parable and flag flying upside down, and Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron's story archs are unimaginative.

I was left feeling that it would have been better if Tommy's character had just stayed at home, as there was nothing he could do to affect the rot but turn a blind eye.

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