Wednesday, 27 April 2011

They say that the best weapon is the one you never have to fire. I respectfully disagree. I prefer the weapon you only have to fire once.

No 406 - Iron Man
Director - John Favreau

Let us begin with the clear cold facts. Robert Downey Jr is perfect as Tony Stark. He is a great character, with superb dialogue and he manages to get cracking performances from the cast around him.
The film zips along and the dialogue crackles and the whole thing leaves me with a massive smile on my face. This is Downey Jr at his most wise ass and his most ego - inflated.

Look at him, he's one second away from declaring himself the Messiah. And that's why he's so fun to watch. He is a hard drinking, hard partying, beast of a man. Who has come from a world where he isn't held responsible for anything he does.

If I could do anything, as a job, I would opt to be a billionaire playboy. So Stark makes excellent viewing.
Which brings us to the first major problem with this Iron Man film. Large chunks of the film (though not as large as the sequel) have Robert Downey Jr replaced with a clinking clunking piece of CGI. This is the rare superhero film, where the superhero is infinitely more dull than the hidden identity.

Thankfully, this film is the first one - so, as an origin story we get a lot of Stark. From his initial, terribly arrogant, terribly fab, introduction in the Middle East - to his LOLtastic shaky video tests of his Iron Man gear.
But we also get the film's second massive flaw. The film's tone is all over the place. Stark is hilarious, and the Iron Man tone is campy and fun and flamboyant, as is Marvel's wont (whilst both films deal with Billionaire playboys using ridiculous gadgets to counter their lack of powers, this is as far from Nolan's Batman as you can possibly get whilst in the same genre) - however, there are some really dark elements.
The film's pre-title sequence brilliantly (and edgily) introduces Stark as a smooth talking bastard and then sees him kidnapped by anonymous Middle Eastern terrorists. It is a shock ending to the scene and it works brilliantly, Stark's happy world is quickly shattered. It is not an easy trick to pull off. And we see this because the film fails to pull it off ever again. The scenes of torture, massacre and corruption jar massively with the superhero theatrics and tech fetishism which happens throughout the rest of the film.
In one sequence we watch families get ripped apart and roadside executions, which ends with some 'oooh ah' theatrics and a bit of 'cool guys don't look at explosions'

And while I'm a fan of both edgy drama and shameless popcorn entertainment, I don't think they sit that well together in the same film. Let alone the same scene.

My final point is the burden of most Superhero origin films - the villain. The film is focusing so much on the origin, that the villain feels like an after thought. In Iron Man's defence, this is not really the case. Jeff Bridges' Obadiah Stane is a fabulous corrupt business man. He has some great scenes where he seems to be enjoying chewing the scenery with malice and intent. What we had was the potential for an interesting film about redemption. Stark discovers the underhand dealings of his company and fights against his corrupt CEO whilst using the Iron Man equipment to right the wrongs which are being acted out in his name, with his weaponry.

That would have controversially pushed Iron man into a side plot, but would have allowed two amazing actors to spar off one another (and every scene Downey Jr shares with Bridges is a delight) instead of replacing them with boring CGI robots.

My final points
  • Jarvis is amazing! If I was programming an omnipresent computer butler - I would definitely make him camp and English (not saying that Bettany is particularly camp... but Jarvis sure the hell is).
  • SHIELD and Agent Coulson are in this film just the right amount (ie - hardly at all)
  • The Hugh Heffner joke is the best Stan Lee cameo yet.
  • Gwyneth Paltrow's performance (as the insanely named Pepper Potts) is also brilliant but didn't fit into the general ranting of this blog.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

It's hard for many people to believe that there are extraordinary things inside themselves, as well as others. I hope you can keep an open mind.

No 452 - Unbreakable
Director - M Night Shyamalan


I'm so sorry people. I've been busy. Bloody busy. Caught up on all those award winning films that I missed and was also introduced to Indian cinema (not Bollywood though....)


Watch ROBOT..... it is insane


Unbreakable. Think back to when Shyamalan was fresh and exciting. Here he has given us a wonderful idea. Placing the superhero concept into the real world. Only, PROPERLY in the real world. We're not talking about Batman Begins.... we're not talking about Kick Ass... we're talking about the actual real world, where a superhero probably wouldn't even realise they had special powers.

The film follows that journey of discovery as Willis' David Dunn slowly learns what his powers are. The moments of discovery are almost all universally great. Whether the grand scale of the train crash at the heart of it, or the subtlety of Dunn's realisation that he's never been ill. They're beautifully underplayed. Subtle and elegant (a characteristic which is lost in later Shyamalan films.... though I do have a soft spot for Lady in the Water). The highlight, for me, being the moment he is with his son - bench pressing and simultaneously learning of his strength. It has a joyful playfulness throughout and the way that the initial concern fades to delight.

The journey has pitfalls throughout, and there are some really tense scenes which I don't want to spoil - but the hero worship from Dunn's son, and the problems which arise, are very powerful cinematic moments.

Despite this journey of discovery being the crux of the film, Dunn seems like a very one dimensional character. Only a one dimensional character with cool powers. The real focus, should be on Samuel L Jackson's Elijah Price. Brittle boned, bitter and the film's link to the comic book world which inspired it.
His character is fleshed out through flashbacks. It is his persistence and his research which drives Dunn's journey and therefore you need to know what makes him tick. As the film progresses (and reaches the traditional SHOCK reveal), that understanding and knowledge becomes all the more important.

The other thing that's important to notice is that despite everything (and Price is a bitter, sulky, grumpy little crippled man) - Samuel L Jackson still comes off looking like a total badass.

Seriously.... I think that man is impervious to uncool.

The film is at its best when Jackson is there. Manipulating events and forcing Dunn to question himself, and for the most part, he keeps the film fresh and fascinating.

However, the film isn't ALL about discovery.... once the action kicks in it does lose its ways a bit, but there are still the same nice touches which have been throughout. It could have just done with being about 20min shorter.

Right - I'm going to watch more films with The Superstar Rajni now.... The man is like a God out there.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl.

No 342 - The Gold Rush
Director - Charles Chaplin

This is the 1942 re-release of the 1925 original (seriously.... 1925! This film is 86 years old!!!) - and so rather than being fully silent we have an updated musical score (which includes Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty - which confused me) and an OTT and plumby narration from Chaplin himself. In fact, Chaplin is a one man force of creation, writing the script as well as most of the music, producing, directing, starring and editing the film.

Whilst the narration does get a bit annoying at times, it doesn't stop what is a very enjoyable and incredibly sweet film.
The physical comedy is nowhere near as dangerous as the stunts performed by Keaton or by Lloyd - but where Chaplin really triumphs is in the amazing way he emotes. His facial expressions are beautiful. For the first half, it is primarily a sort of blissful ignorance, whether famously eating a shoe - or whether in great peril. The comedy is more subtle - Though there are moment in which the physicality of the time comes into play. Particularly during the time where the house is blown away.... but also when they start going mad and hallucinating...

But there is more to the Gold Rush than mere LOLS. I want to look at another famous scene from the film - the bread roll dance. Taken out of context, it may seem funny - but in the film it is a moment in which he is wooing the girl he loves. There is a lot more to it.

The delivery of that odd little dance is superb. The way that it is carried off with a casual nonchalance. But, for me, the real power is the yearning in his eyes. Whether it is supposed to be a part of the dance, or whether it is an attempt to get the recognition he craves from the girl he loves, I'm not sure... but it makes that routine both incredible and heartbreaking.

I suppose that's the thing about Chaplin. He was famously soppy, and this film is unforgivingly sentimental - and at the same time there is a bitter sadness throughout the whole thing.

But it does have an uncomfortable moral that Women will only want to be with you if you're minted

I always thought the joy of reading a book is not knowing what happens next.

No 173 - Memento
Director - Christopher Nolan

I know that I have waxed lyrical about Christopher Nolan before - but I do think he has a very impressive track record of creating intelligent (and financially successful) films - we need more directors to play that line between success and intelligence. After all the cinematic market is based around rehashing the same ideas (watch this INCREDIBLE video by Kirby Ferguson - then check out his incredible site), so any new ideas should be embraced and celebrated. This is a film that is going to be hard to describe without ruining it. And I really don't want to ruin it.... however, it is also a film full of joyous moments.

Whats more impressive is how simple these moments are - even the simplicity of opening the film with a death, in reverse, is a glorious, beautiful WTF moment.

The entire story is then told in snapshots, working backwards, to tell the story of how Leonard got to this point.
It is a clever concept and it works really well. Of course, it should go without saying that ALL IS NOT AS IT SEEMS!

What is interesting is that we have a film in which character arcs and standard progression are all subverted, the things that make use relate to a character, or enjoy a film, are twisted and turned. It's as if Nolan is deliberately mocking our need for identification with the fictional characters in front of us. Not only is the film told backwards (meaning we meet people at the end of their narrative arc and watch them regress rather than progress) - but the film's hero doesn't have an arc. He can never have an arc as he can't remember anything - therefore his character can hardly evolve.
the only exception to this is the story of Sammy Jankis (played by the wonderful Stephen Tobolowsky) who appears in flashbacks, and who's story is told in a linear pattern. Sammy's story has to make sense as he suffers the same illness as our hero. Understanding Sammy's condition means that we'll understand Leonard.

Leonard becomes even easier to understand when we realise that he has his entire motivation (hell, the entire film's plot) - inked onto his body.

These tattoos are constant reminders of what is happening and what he needs to do. I find this kind of thing fascinating. Using tattoos to help you form a plan - its like series 1 of Prison Break, before it tried to get bigger and weirder and not about the initial plan anymore:

What's really interesting, is how easy it is for these things to be distorted, to be manipulated. Leonard discusses the problem with memories:

Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They're just an interpretation, they're not a record, and they're irrelevant if you have the facts.

But he suffers from the exact same issue. If he can't remember, he relies on notes - and notes, whether on temporary and on paper or permanently scarred on your body, can be manipulated. That is probably the message at the heart of the film.

And on that note I best end. I won't talk about the happy Matrix reunion between Trinity and Cypher - or the glorious inclusion of Callum Keith Rennie - because I already fear I'm getting too close to spoiler territory.

So go watch it, and prepare to be surprised by some great revelations.

Then, once you've seen it, find the special feature that lets you watch it in chronological order, and prepare for one of the most hopeless examinations on the futility of progress and the hopelessness of life.

Those girls... those girls don't wanna go messin' round no old house!

No 199 - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Director - Tobe Hooper

The best way to understand the tone of this film is to have the DVD menu on loop for a while as you try and make a phone conversation. Eventually, the discordant tones and horrible noise will make you so unnerved that you have to stop talking and actually watch the film. Just to make the menu stop...

This is a film which celebrates making the viewer feel wrong. A film which shows plenty of violence, but little to no gore, and a film which implies the majority of its cruelty - and yet, despite the fairly tame actions which actually take place on scree, it manages to make you feel very uncomfortable.

I thought it was a wonderful film. Mesmerising. But I will gladly never watch it again.

The film's strength is in the villains, and indeed for the first part of the film, as we follow our victims... sorry, heroes, the film does drag. We have the usual mix of pretty people (though they are delightfully 70's, and a whining man in a wheelchair who seems almost as sinister as the people they're running from).
As this is up there with Halloween and Psycho as one of the earliest slasher movies (even taking the same source as Psycho for inspiration) - it is amazing how many traits of the film are now cliches (though saying that, the one survivor only breaks one of the rules of surviving horror movies) - the group pick up hitchhikers and wander from one creepy abandoned looking house to the next.

It is only a matter of time before they is killed.

Where the film shines is with Leatherface. Far from being the unstoppable one dimensional force of other slasher villains, here our villain is drenched in story, in character and in an amazing amount of pathos. There is something much scarier about the fact that Leatherface is clearly mentally unstable and being manipulated by other, more evil, brothers. It reminds me of another great cinematic family in which a strong simpleton is manipulated by his brothers.

However, Leatherface never gets his moment of rebellion - and probably lacks the strength to escape the clutches of his family too much.

I'm not trying to paint him as a complete innocent, wrapped up with a bad bunch, not at all - but there are moments which show how difficult it must be for Leatherface. Particularly the moment where he goes and sits by himself after killing the first two victims. Their deaths were messy, violent and somewhat horrific - and he performs them with a clinical accuracy, but his reaction to it is one of pained fear. He is upset that people keep wandering into his home and interrupting his (admittedly twisted) way of life - he isn't murdering just for fun, he is protecting his home and his own way of life.
I'm not sure what happens with the sequels, and how badly the remake fucks it up, but certainly in this film it paints Leatherface as a far deeper and more interesting villain.

The film's best moments all take place in Leatherface's home. A palace of death. The invention and the design behind it all is so impressive. It also shows how you can easily make something very very disturbing on a low budget - just with a shit load of well placed bones.

The film's most disturbing moment comes when Sally is captured and introduced to the rest of Leatherface's family over dinner. This includes his two brothers (both at different points on the descent to full whacked insanity) and their nearly dead grandfather - surely inspiration for the costumes of Trash humpers.

Again, nothing really HAPPENS on screen - in fact the whole scene is built on the grandfather being too weak to be able to kill anymore.... however, the tension and the atmosphere in the scene is unbearable. Sally's screams mix with the laughs of the family - on top of that the industrial sound design continues for far too long. By the end the audience is begging for anything - even the death of the protagonist - to stop the tortuous scene unfolding.

And THAT is the sign of a successful horror film.