Friday, 9 September 2011

The Hurt Locker (2009)

The Hurt Locker (2009)

If anything in 2009 was proof of film being reliant on a fully aware auter it was The Hurt Locker. Bigalow brings together excellent cinematography, the power of sound and getting the best out of actors in a way that fully deserved the Oscar for best film.

The plot centres around a bomb disposal team in Iraq with only a few weeks of their tour left. This is reasonably well done and did not attempt a morality play and we see that the people on the front line have different objectives and priorities than those who send them there. The only point at which it becomes unbelievable is the Jordanian accented Arabs and the guy who says “goodbye” rather than “hello” to the soldiers. The plot with the doctor also seemed to be a bit skimmed down; it felt like his character was just a set up. The characters were relatively (to most war films) three dimensional and psychological issues were dealt with sensitively.

The sound is great and heightens the tension, the gunfire sounds are remarkably realistic for a modern film and silence is used in a dramatic way to create realism. The result from this and the great camerawork is that the thing you remember from the action sequences is the tension rather than gore – this is a more permanent effect than in any slasher horror movie or most other war films where pointless splatter seems to take over from the realist suspense.

All in all this is a great film that deserved the Oscar, once it had been nominated. It is far, far better than Avatar

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Das Weiße Band (2009)

As Haneke said in the interview contained on the disc he had been writing this for some time. It does have a feeling that it has been cut down slightly but that does not mean that thoughts have not been expressed in the 2 hours that the film asks us for. The main message as I understood it was that puritanism is weird, which i suppose taken to extremes it is.

The fact that the film was, according to Haneke supposed to be an indictment against all forms of extremism does not stand out as much as I think he intended with his original script. However, it has been three days since watching it now and I have found myself evaluating its messages during that time in my head. For this the film must be judged a success, even if most of the issues in the movie seem uneasy.

Indeed the fact that the movie did not preach to much on face value but told a story is successful because there is in general no need to preach. If you have a sermon inside then it will come out naturally through your ovre and it is becomming obvious that Haneke's is the nature of truth, backed up by the clear muddying of what we think we suspect in the village throughout this film.

The look of the film is outstanding, it is framed in a great black and white that is enhanced to a level of purity that is as sharp as reality. The varied grayscale pallette draws you in to the world of the village, the bleakness of the monochrome snow and the skies abyss of a tessera of shades seeming endless reduces us to a canine's view of events. Each exterior view is framed fully to give us a feeling of abandonment, the wide angled view of the village means that the landscape at once envelops us and appears to go on forever like a Van Gough wheat field. It is, second to its esteem as a story, a visual masterpiece.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Le Diner Des Cons (1998) 15

Le Diner Des Cons (1998) 15

With Dinner for Schmucks selling quite well on DVD It was possible many people jumped to watch the original Diner des Cons on BBC4 the other night. As I recorded it and have now seen it for the first time again in years I will now review it with fresh perspective. One thing however is obvious: after Dinner for Schmucks the new perspective is one of appreciation.

In general Le Diner des Cons is completely different from Dinner for Schmucks in the fact that its tone is one of a comedy study of the situation that the main character (Pierre) finds himself in after inviting the idiot (François) to a “dinner for idiots”. Specifically the situation he finds himself in after a golfing injury that looks as idiotic as anything Francois can do.

One of the shortfalls is that the “idiots” that these people invite to dinner are essentially the type of person that ends up on radio four talking about esoteric subject matter such as Boomerangs, windsurfing or matchstick models. They are not the typical idiots that one would expect to run in to and mostly are shown as well meaning folks.

The reason that the first half gets you laughing is because that is the part of the film that is the character study, you laugh at the pitfalls that the rich organisers encounter as their greasy intentions are shown and you laugh along with and feel sympathetic to the “idiots” as they clearly all have good intentions. However it seems as if the film-makers knew that this preposition would not last the full length of the film and after some hilarious phone calls (Just LeBlanc) and slapstick a new dimension is added that pads out the character study that has gone as far as it can within the realms of comedy... and evil tax collectors are always funny.

In fairness the idiot does make a complete dogs dinner out of everything that he offers to do for Pierre but you do feel it serves him right. Indeed the film tells us that is the reason you have been laughing at it during a rant of Pierre's. However it leaves in the end, the interpretation of Pierre up to the audience. The soundtrack is also funny, as far as soundtracks can be funny.

So that was what was good about it. The problems are in the style... sometimes it does feel staged, in fact I very rarely felt “in the room” with they actors and I felt detached to the action. Comedy does need to draw you in and this one fails to do that fully. Sometimes it feels like its shouting “look at me! Look at me!” in a weird 'theatre-esque' way that makes you ignore the social commentary and the farce and disbelieve the characters. In fairness it should have been a play … it would have been a very good play. Its a good film to chill out and laugh at, its not that far “up itself” but it can become a bit tiresome and would have been better in a theatre.

Still … watch this instead of Dinner for Schmucks

127 Hours (2010) 15

127 Hours (2010) 15

127 Hours is the new film by Slumdog Millionare creator Danny Boyle. It follows the true story of Aron Ralsten who in 2003 got trapped in a Blue Jay canyon and had to resort to cutting his arm off in order to escape.

The film is brilliantly shot with a haunting soundtrack and you completely believe James Franco's portrayal of the adrenaline junky who is in this situation. The scene that earned the film a 15 rating off the BBFC i will deal with in detail later as that is the main reason people will avoid the movie. You do feel empathetic to the characters plight and the trapped feeling of the audience is only exacerbated by the beautiful shots of the desert panorama that intercede most scenes. Indeed these shots do give a rest bite from Franco's depiction of Ralsten's ordeal but on ly serve to make you feel more trapped when you inevitably return to the canyon.

The gorge itself is lighted and shot and im not sure there is even an inch of it which has not been shot, the camera work and editing is spectacular and the film is brilliantly paced to portray the mixed feelings of helplessness, exasperation, exhaustion and morbid ecstasy that he goes through during the time trapped in the gorge. Franco shows deeply the realisation that Ralsten comes to in the gorge both superficially (that he should tell people where he is going) and more deeply in himself (that there are more, or just as, important people than himself).

It is not a tale of 'underestimating nature at your peril' as you realise that Ralsten completely accepts the rationality of what has happened to him and is not naive in his original attitude towards nature. It is also stated that he is a volunteer rescue worker and he uses the basic survival skills, the drinking of water is shot in an interesting way and the director has obviously taken a shine to showing the specifics of each processes, most startling in the stabbing scene and most impressive in the zooming in to a video camera. He is however naive in his belief of the capacity of other people to help him. As far as Franco can (when trapped under a rock) he shows us Ralsten's emotional ordeal in an honest and subtle way.

The actual act of him cutting his arm off is depicted as a primal urge to free himself from his predicament and they are genuinely shocking. That said they do fall in to the nature of the story well and are not overplayed and one can see the paradoxical feelings of pain and anguish of him ripping his arm off with the joy of being free. The sound engineers deserve all the accolades one can bestow upon them for the intense nature of this scene and as has been stated elsewhere the part of the scene with the nerves being cut is painful to watch. There really isn't that much shown but the strength of Franco's performance and the soundtrack make that more horrible as the audience fills in the blanks.

This scene doesn't last very long however and it is the focal point of the story that deserves to be told. The fact that most people will know the story before watching the film only adds to the suspense in a Hitchcockian "bomb under the table" manner and we as an audience feel the frustration of the protagonist as we accept his eventual doom. The thing to which the film most resembles is Buried. As in Buried where the mobile phone acts as a conduit to first person narration 127 Hours uses his video camera as a way to narrate the story.

The main thing the film leaves you with however is not the horror of the dilemma or the pain and gore of the focal scene. It succeeds in probing a question of whether or not, being in the same situation, you would have done the same thing. It brings up the question of how far one would go for survival and how long it would take to resort to an anamalistic state where it is possible to endure great pain to survive.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Documentary films: Jesus Camp/ Wall-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price/ Of Time and the City

There have been a few successful documentary films since the exercise in hyperbole and bad journalism that was Michael Moore's Faranheit 9/11 … the most successfully done being Morgon Spurlock's Super Size Me. I mention Super Size Me because it was truly a great documentary that although it had a couple stunts the message got through and it changed peoples opinions on the fast food industry, so for the sake of the documentary films I am going to review here lets take Super Size Me as a 10.

Now look at the irresponsible cut-shot editing and overall bias in the Moore documentaries, even with the audience assuming a small amount of subjectivity the films of Michael Moore just carry piling on thin facts and conspiracy until it just gets stupid... add to this Moore's constant statements that people are trying to silence him all the time and I mean ALL the time (If only it were so) and you get what we will call a 1 mark on the documentary scale that even despite one agreeing with Moore's general thesis you still feel embarrassed to be watching.

Take The Inconvenient Truth, there is nothing drastically wrong with this as a documentary although one can quibble about the facts, at least if our understanding of the facts in An Inconvenient Truth has changed then they were quoted in the film from reputable sources and its main argument is clear, concise and good. The thing about The Inconvenient Truth is that its a movie that is basically an hour and half of power point presentation that's fairly boring and nobody is going to buy unless they agree with it anyway (with he exception of the ex-governator of California).... OK, so:

Jesus Camp (2006) PG
Rating: 6

Attempting to expose a vast underbelly of American evangelists this journey from Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady uncovers … evangelists. Which is unsurprising as they constitute for 26% of the US population (not the 25% that the film points out). It does get generally scary when the leader of the camp makes about 1000 kids cry and tells them they're going to hell, the leader of the camp's behaviour is close to a cult philosophy … there is one sequence where she tells us of her belief that children in Palestinian schools are given hand grenades. There is another sequence that involves one of the pastor's telling children as young as 5 about abortion!

The scary nature of the mass gathering sequences are made more incredible by the camp leader preaching that Harry Potter should be put to death which was pretty weird and impossible because Harry Potter almost certainly doesn't exist as any well balanced person who has read even the first page of the books will know, or even looked in what section the books/films are filed under. The other strange moment of incredulity that rose above the general weird tone of the film was a sequence where the leaders of this camp pray for a power point presentation to work and for the devil not to infect their computer with viruses or power cuts.

If all of these things were laid out on screen and the audience was left to judge for themselves then the movie would possibly have been more powerful... unfortunately it wasn't and we end up with a narrator who if you were to describe as “sensationalist” in his manner then it would be to kind. This man, who it seems is a radio show host, believes that the Evangelists are plotting global conspiracies.

Unfortunately what should have been a movie about what extreme religion can do ended up in a weird place that accused all evangelists of plotting to take over the world. Aside from my personal distaste for spiritual growth by shouting and dancing around (suppose it works for them, fair enough) I ended up bored at the end by the narrator's insane lack of objectivity and assumption that all evangelists are unthoughtful and sending their kids to exactly the same type of insane camp here when I'm sure its not the case.

Wall-Mart:The High Cost of Low Price (2005)
Rating: 3

Wall Mart has gone after this documentary with a vigour that makes one believe that the film has elements of truth in it. Basically it is done as an expose' as an anti-union organisation and many other transgressions, their car parks being unsafe and the cheap labour abroad that ruins lives.

The main problems are these …. I know that big companies are pretty anti-union, everybody knows this that's why there are unions! I know that if I buy something as cheap as the products are in Wall Mart that there has been something dodgy about the products past and somebody has likely been exploited. That leaves the car parks … not that much to base a documentary on.

Most of the facts are launched at you on to the screen in credit style fashion and some sequences have clearly been extended so as to actually make an argument. In the era of Michael Moore though this is what is passable for a good documentary … big companies try to save money and real people lose out Vs small companies where people are more likely to be treated like people because they know the boss.

It was just shoddy, badly shot and if it was presented better I would have listened … its just that it wasn't and I can admit that when I went to release myself half way through I didn't pause … its a film that makes you not want to pause, always a bad sign.

Of Time and The City (2008) 12
Rating: 9

The Terence Davies documentary Of Time and the City that received heaps of praise at the Cannes Film Festival is as good as the plaudits suggest. The film tracks Davies's transformation and the transformation of the city of Liverpool through the last century through historical and modern footage.

With the artist Félicien de Myrbach's quote “If liverpool didn't exist then it would have to be invented” (almost certainly paraphrasing Voltaire's “Si Dieu existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer “) opening the film and Handel's Fireworks Suite as a sweeping overture as a mise en scene one could be forgiven for thinking that the film has pretensions above its station.

However, this is most definitely not the case as Davies's poetic script and the archive footage sucks you in to the heart of the drama that the documentary invokes. You are taken through two journey's, a narrative one by the pictures and an emotional one by the storytelling of one of the most poetic writers in the modern world.

Age dominates as a theme in this piece and the change over time of people and places, struggle to accept these changes and differences in class. In one sequence Davies remembers that for Queen Elizibeth II's Coronation “Scotland gave a 21 hose salute .. or maybe they were just taking the p**s”, this starts an interpretation of the change in attitudes towards the crown and Davies suggests that perhaps the monarchy is held together by the monarch having a misguided sense of duty.

Changes can also be seen in the way people spend their recreational time with “Bathing beauty contests, harmless in their day. Now as unacceptable as Chinese foot-binding” there are not many social subjects in to which Davies does not cast his glance. The city of Liverpool acting as a microcosm of the human experience as he paints poetically and with startling realism, his interpretations for us.

The generational contrasts, class contrasts, sexuality and gender contrasts that Davies points to are clearly understood by the author and film-maker to such an extent as the viewer is to come to his own conclusions. All in all it is a hugely successful documentary and it achieves, with his unique auter exactly what is intended … the music takes us through the years also and is fitted with enar perfection to the images on screen.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Easy A (2010) 15

Easy A (2010) 15

A Will Gluck comedy (with that name you HAVE to go in to comedy) starring Emma Stone from Superbad (or “oink oink look look penis isn't that funny, is that your endometrium on my jeans or are you just happy to see me” crap that made me feel sad about the world and just disappointed in people for laughing at it and encouraging them) but anyway It was her who goes for the porn obsessed creepy, overweight disgusting guy at the end of Superbad (as long as he stops drinking though … all those other things are fine but no beer).

Anyway the main question of this film was would I be able to approach it after seeing Superbad while having an actress from it with an open mind. We shall see...

Emma Stone plays Olive, who does a favour for a gay guy by saying that they had sex so that the bullies won't pick on him and says they had sex... things get out of hand and it turns in to The Scarlett Letter mixed with Mean Girls mixed with Ferris Beullers Day Off which is a good premise for a comedy and you really care about the protagonist's situation. So, I liked The Scarlett Letter and thought that Mean Girls was a lot smarter than it should have been given the main actor and the premise, this is funnier than Mean Girls though.

The dialogue is pretty smartly done and the entire movie is written and it works as a satire pretty well. Stanley Tucci is hilarious as the old 60's rocker dad and the parents are wittily wrote and wisecracking. There are a lot of John Hughes tip offs and moments, the funny blond extremists are hilarious and it could quite easily become a big hit on dvd. Its thoroughly inoffensive, sharply funny and is a good way to spend a short hour and a half.

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009) 15

The Men Who Stare at Goats is a comedy adaptation of the book by Jon Ronson of the same name that attempts to chronicle the unconventional research the US army has undertaken in the past with the aim of creating “supersoldiers”.

It has a fairly good ensemble cast in George Clooney, Kevin Spacy and Ewan McGregor (which makes Jedi jokes even funnier) and Jeff Bridges (who gets very funny when mixed with drug use). The premise is that Ewan McGregor is a journalist who thinks he has come across the story of a lifetime when he meets George Clooney in Kuwait and finds out the US army are training jedi's.

Anyway, the result is a mixture of the facts presented in the book over the research John Seargent did in to the research and a buddy road movie … either way its pretty funny. If we take Dr Strangelove as a pinnacle of dark satire then this is well below that point. It is funny enough anyway even with the “free willy through a wall” ending.

All in all I would recommend this comedy to take away boredom and the deadpan delivery of the actors is pretty funny ... although in real life staring at a goat will probably not kill it and you cant save the world or become a jedi if you take LSD.