Saturday, 29 December 2012


The film is set in 1980 after the revolution in Iran and the overthrow of the US Embassy in Tehran. Most of the embassy staff were taken prisoner by the revolutionaries but six escaped from the embassy and were sheltered by the Canadian ambassador in his residence. The story is concerned with what happened after the CIA realised that they were there and what they attempted to do as a result of this. The plan was to concoct a story that they were making a film in Iran and then hoping that no one would really notice when they left.

Ben Affleck's film is a study in re-enactment. For the film he recreated those dangerous days in Iran but also looked at what was happening in the US at the time, this is shown in the symbolism of the derelict state of the Hollywood sign. This is of course in line with the way the new Republic of Iran accused the US of immorality in giving sanctuary to the Shah after he fled the country. There is also evidence of this when the Iranian cultural official talks about the amount of pornography that was shown on Iranian TV before the revolution, in the regime of the US backed Shah.

The film does not go into great detail about what the embassy staff were doing in Iran. The republicans had accused them of spying but it's probably true that every embassy in the world is involved in information gathering to some extent. Some things governments will never admit to but are very often willing to accuse other governments of.

We also see a cynical depiction of Hollywood, after our lead in with the dilapidated sign Alan Arkin and John Goodman very happily talk about how phoney the business of film making is and of all the liars there. It’s interesting that they are talking about one of the most visible sectors of US industries in the world and say that it is driven on lies, deceit and greed. Not far from what the Iranians were saying about the Great Satan.

There is a very useful job done of getting over to a cinema going public that things in the Middle East may not be as clear cut and straightforward as they might have imagined. The film begins with an attempt to explain the context of the story, depicting what the Shah and his regime were accused of. However unpalatable the events of the revolution were they happened for a reason. I suppose sometimes we just have to understand what has happened, were we are now and make the best of tomorrow. The trouble is suppose finding that right balance where you do recognise what has happened in the past but not at the cost of the future. This is an engaging film that will at least make you think and think on.

Friday, 14 December 2012

The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey

So in the title there is talk of a journey. The film as a whole took a rather circuitous journey on its way to the screen. There was talk as to whether there would be a film of the Hobbit as the films of the Lord of the Rings trilogy progressed. This was confirmed not long after the completion of that series. There was then some toing and froing with films companies, Guillermo del Toro was going to direct, then he wasn’t. There was a fire, financial setbacks and other natural catastrophes. This was to be the first of two films and now it’s the first of three. Apparently it’s not just material from the original novel but also from when Bilbo tells Frodo about the events in the Return of the King.

The events start with Bilbo writing his memoirs played by Ian Holm, where he interacts with Frodo. We’re then lead into the story of the Dwarf kingdom being overthrown by the dragon, Smaug. We’re introduced to the fellowship Bilbo travels with, Dwarves and the wizard Gandalf, who travel on the quest to re-establish the dwarfish kingdom. On the way they meet elves, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving and goblins, led by Barrie Humphries. Whilst the dwarves were trashing Bilbo’s house it took a while to recognise James Nesbit and Ken Stott, there’s some impressive camouflage facial hair and prosthetics there. Of course as well they meet plenty of Orcs.

With the depiction of the orcs there was of course the plentiful depiction of battles. As with The Lord of the Rings trilogy we are treated to the vista of a large number of combatants going after each other with a range of weaponry. Here though we of course see the introduction of the oaken shield. One of Peter Jackson's trademarks has been these scenes and ever more has it been so, what I still find remarkable is the shots showing of hoards of orcs and goblins. Although I must admit that they all looked broadly similar and on reflection there's probably some clever trompe l'oeil that makes us think we're seeing something that we're not, well that could be a description of CGI.

I must admit as well though I did try and work out if the actors that had appeared in Lord of the Rings looked older in this film. I think in the main they didn’t, apart from Christopher Lee maybe. He does look pretty frail in this film, but he still speaks with authority with that marvellous voice of his. Ian McKellern looked a bit more crinkly around the edges, but then I suppose Gandalf should. His delivery as ever was a joy to behold. The CGI used to create Gollum was fantastic; you could see how he was sixty years younger than in the later films.

What was like as a film? Well, I was caught up with the story in the main. Apart from noticing facial hair, supposed reverse ageing, and the goblin king’s massive jowls. If I hadn’t seen the Lord of the Rings films, and read the books, I may have been lost at times. Although, great pains were made to explain the context of why they were doing what they were doing and of course how events were starting to unfold that would lead to the Lord of the Rings. It was a film of today really, did someone say bring it on? Maybe not how Tolkien would have put it. It however lives up to my expectations as a decent fantasy film that was well written. I do wonder though that when the special editions of the three films are released, and they will come, who will be able to stay awake for a day or more to watch all six films back to back?

Sunday, 2 December 2012


My future self has come back to tell me that there are no spoilers in this so it’s all okay. Looper is a film that if you’re well versed with Doctor Who is timey wimey. It is the tale of Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt), a hit man in our future who kills people from his future, after they’re sent back in time to a field outside of New Orleans. He shoots them with a blunderbuss, collects two silver bars from their body and burns them. This is all explained via a voice over; I bet there’ll be a version without the voice over in the future.

Anyway these hit men are also called loopers because of their victims looping back in time to them. The loopers eventually end up killing their own future self, get a big payoff and retire on a big pile of gold bars. This all works swimmingly for Joe until his future self comes back and it turns out to be Bruce Willis. This sends him into a metaphysical nightmare, this explains why he has this prosthetic forehead but still somehow his head will change shape in the next thirty years.

You’d think that it would remarkable enough for their just to be time travel in this film. Oh no, we have telekinesis as well, something you need to pay attention to really. It’s well and good this story of organised crime and how criminals will one day be the only people that use time travel after its been made illegal. I found myself wondering throughout the film, where are the Police? Also there were a lot of destitute people wandering around the streets of New Orleans; does this mean the government is completely ineffectual in 2044? Someone though had spent a lot of time adapting cars to new fuels, after all the oil had run out.

It’s not necessarily a bad film, but it does require an amount of suspension of disbelief. It does confirm that criminals in the future will be just as devious as they are now in their actions. If there is no law enforcement in the future then why should they have to be so devious and use all that energy to send people into the past to be killed?

Great Expectations

I have it on good authority that this is a faithful adaptation. We have the themes that have been apparent, and that have resonated, throughout the decades and centuries. It’s full of greed and loss, fortune and favour, fidelity and loyalty, deceit and lies. It’s the enduring story of the orphan Pip who rises from the marshes in Kent to become a gentleman in London. This is done with the aid of a mysterious benefactor who pays for Pip’s lifestyle as he is the young man with great expectations. He does this so whilst falling in love with the proud Estella who’s been set on her course by her adoptive mother Miss Havisham.

 In this adaptation we see muted colours; all of the characters wear blacks, blues and purples throughout. Save for Miss Havisham in her wedding finery, Pip when he arrives in London and Biddy on her wedding day. These dark colours may be the colours of the deceit and double dealing as so many of the characters play each other really and set them up for differing purposes. It all seems to be a grand exercise in vicariousness really. In some instances this is so that some characters can make up for past sins and mistakes.

We do have as well some marvellous performances on display here. Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes stand out as Miss Havisham and Abel Magwitch. Jason Fleming though deserves credit for his portrayal of the ever loyal Joe Gardery. The Finches, who appear to be a proto Bullingdon Club, come across like a group of young men that give a similar impression as the Lost Boys (who were once the most annoying vampires in history).

There is a general rightness about this film, in the casting, the tone; it’s the right adaptation for this age. Interestingly this is now the fourth adaptation of this story in thirteen years. I thought walking into the cinema that the poster seems to evoke the tone of the 1946 David Lean version and this was reflected in the way Ralph Fiennes threatened to slit Pip’s throat. We kind of know that Magwitch won’t do this but we can see that Pip acts in kindness in fear and eventually with Joe’s influence, which sets him on his way to be the man he eventually becomes. It’s to Mike Newell’s credit that the story breathes and is able to be told.

Friday, 30 November 2012


It can’t be overstated as to how subtle this film is. Like a puzzle or an enigma you are given clues as to what is happening and has happened, and who each person is in the story and what their significance is. It just takes on e further piece of information for that all to change, rather like the game Go really. The board can change from black to white, or vice versa with the introduction of piece in a particular place at a particular time. Maybe that is the best way for there to be more showing and less telling. The thing is as well here is that even when people do tell, you’re not entirely sure that they’re telling the truth.
Such is the world in Barbara, a film set inEast Germany in 1980. We are not in Berlin; we are in the provinces, away from the bright lights and the big decisions. The eponymous Barbara is a hospital doctor and we see her start a job in a new hospital, somewhat under a cloud. As I said we are left to discover how she got to get where she is, somewhat. She as well is less than happy and not too easy to trust at the beginning of the film.
We see as the film progresses that Barbara is subject to her flat and herself being searched by the police. It is these goings on that explains her nature and how she would not fully trust someone that she has only just met. We know now how insidious the workings of the Stasi were in East Germanyand we also know about how ordinary people were only to willing to inform on their friends and neighbours. I don’t know what it says about human nature when you hear that in a large number of cases this was done without a tangible reward.
The message from this film is all about choices and how those choices can give you a certain amount of freedom. It’s also about how people can enact change not just by change what’s around them by changing themselves as well. Sometimes for things and prospects to change perspective and position needs to change as well, maybe sometimes as well it’s only the slightest change that is required. I urge you to see this film.

Friday, 9 November 2012


Cinema these days seems to be obsessed by numbers. How many people have seen a film, how much did it make, how many Oscars did it win? We also see now that this is the 23rd Bond film, or the 25th, the series has been going for 50 years. That’s fifteen more than Star Wars, with six films, soon to be seven. Bond seems far more prolific even though the Quantum of Solace seems so long ago now and seemed such a long film as well.

On the other hand Skyfall seems to fly by. As with the Bonds of old the locations stack up, Istanbul, somewhere in South East Asia, Shanghai, Macau and the London Underground, etc. He visits a casino, he drinks a vodka martini, he’s given gadgets by Q, all as you would expect. In all the years of the Bond films he’s met with the uber-villain and has had a verbal spar with them. I don’t recall thigh caressing and overt flirting between them, hello!

In Sam Mendes’s hands as well we have a bit more character development of Bond and M. This is all a bit curious though as we were presented with a new agent in Casino Royale and now we have this grizzled old agent in this film. Judi Dench develops her role as M for mother, but then M has always been able to make Bond feel like a naughty schoolboy. I would say more but then I would be shot for it.

I did enjoy the film; it is after all at the top end of recent Bond films. I did also keep being reminded of the World Is Not Enough, Bond back story, M back story, Istanbul, explosions. The World Is Not Enough had Scots playing Russians; Skyfall has an Irishman playing a Scot. That’s not unique in the history of Bond though.

The film is as well beautifully shot, there are some gorgeous shots of Scotland, breath-taking views of Shanghai and exhilarating sequences in Istanbul. I also loved how the seeds were sown for Bond films in the future as well as reaching back to the past. It was also good to see a classic Aston Martin back, even though it was really shoe horned in. Bond has some of his swagger back, but this film also retains some of the recent seriousness, therefore reflecting today’s serious times, to an extent.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Helter Skelter

It’s easy to say that a Japanese film; about an actress and model who’s attempting to keep her looks that have been given to her from plastic surgery, who is also an icon to a legion of schoolgirls, is plasticky and sometimes annoying. The film though does try to go deeper into the subject and to look at what this means to the individual, those that surround her and those in her fanbase.

The beauty in question is Lilicia, she makes women and girls swoon, men lust after her and makes a number of people realise her potential as a commodity. She’s about to embark on a film career, when she appears on a magazine cover the edition sells out, she’s at the top of her game. Although it’s speculated that her plastic surgery will fail and that she will fall apart. It’s here that the film explores the psychology as well as the physical nature of what happens to her. When her looks begin to fail she starts to lose her grip on reality and hallucinate. I suppose really that reality went when she changed her looks and effectively became another person.

The trouble with psychological dramas is that they can become overwrought. This is especially true when a character is portrayed in having major problems distinguishing reality and fantasy. There is as well the thought that the people that are talked about in this film don’t inhabit the real world anyway. That the talent, as it were, have their ego massaged by those around them and that they may have been protected from certain truths and that when these truths coalesce and build up the end can come as a nasty shock. On the balance though the film could have been far more annoying than it was, I just couldn’t bring myself to like it very much though.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Killing Them Softly

There are gangster films that talk about the social impact of crime. Often you can see how crime affects the family life of criminals and victims alike. Killing Them Softly does this differently by linking what politicians say with what criminals and gangsters do. At the beginning of the film we’re shown a billboard of McCain and Obama, this places the film in 2008 and the election that happened during that years massive economic downturn.
The film continues to punctuate the story with speeches made by the then President Bush and the then leading contender Obama. Are they saying that politicians are criminals? The filmmakers may be saying that what criminals say, to each other about the crimes they commit and the deals they make, is similar to the promises made by politicians to the electorate.
The story is concerned with two men hired by another man to hold up a card game and steal all their money. The thing is that this has happened before and that it was actually previously masterminded by the man running the game, Ray Liotta. He’d confessed to this while drunk once, luckily not to anyone that had been robbed. Anyway they steal they hold the game and steal the money. Unfortunately word of this gets out to the next layer up or down of the underworld, whichever way you want to look at it.
This leads to Richard Jenkins having to manage the situation, using Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini. Managing the situation by third person involves very violent methods. It also leads to some situations not panning out the way they had been expected to and other situations developing. Brad Pitt's mode of work explains the title, he it seems is a thinking and feeling hitman. He likes to kill his targets softly. As softly as repeatedly shooting them, but he doesn't like to know his victims he doesn't what his job to be too difficult. To an extent there is an irony there, as is the soundtrack. It's full of American classics and standards and it doesn't include the song you'd expect it to.
What we end up with then is a well written and well acted tale of modern America. It is set at the scene of one of George W Bush’s greatest defeats where the sea half destroyed the city and he didn’t act on it. Amidst all of this devastation is where this bunch of criminals try and make as much money as they can from each other by fair means or foul, usually foul. When it all goes wrong we find that they will blame each other and take action against those who have failed.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012


This film about Judge Dredd begins with a view of the post-apocalyptic Cursed Earth which lies to the east of Mega City One, the city which Dredd tells us is the city of 800 million people, covers are large proportion of the eastern seaboard of the USA is full of crime and has the Judges who act as police, jury and executioners. This is set in the twenty second century, although we’re not told this in the film.

Anyway the story is concerned with Judge Dredd and the rookie Judge Anderson being trapped in a tower block and having to keep themselves alive whilst a large number of gun toting gang members and drug dealers try and kill them. The two Judges are trapped in the lair of the deliciously named gang leader Ma Ma, the only motherly instinct she shows is being a bad mother from what I can see.

We are treated on occasion to some beautiful shots of people taking the drug, Slo-Mo, which Ma Ma’s gang peddles on the streets of the Big Meg. This does as well include shots of people being shot and killed in a number of imaginative ways. This does leave you with the feeling that drug dealers are thoroughly nasty people who are not altruistic at all.

I was initially annoyed with this film; Dredd began with chasing down a VW camper van on a highway, they're still maiking those in the 22nd Century? That got me thinking that this was not the Mega City One I remembered from the comic 2000 A.D., there were also nothing flying in the air, apart from a Department of Justice drone. There were also none of the bizarre, funny characters that used to appear in Judge Dredd comic strip, like Max Normal, Dredd’s crazed cleaning lady Maria or Walter the Wobot. Curiously there was a mention of a memorial for Fergee which could mean that this is a sequel to the monstrosity that appeared all those years ago.

Anyway, once you get past all that and the fact that Anderson is not a Psi Judge, and also someone that was she now never encased in Boing because of being possessed by Judge Death the film is quite watchable really. Well, there is gore and blood as I’ve mentioned as lots of people are killed in the film. It does make you feel better about the amount of crime in our world today and that we have a largely effective Police Service. One of the major plus points in this film in comparison with the other is that Dredd is unremitting in his quest for justice, doesn’t kiss anyone, keeps his helmet on, and really makes you thankful that he’s not needed here.

To Rome With Love

Woody Allen follows his recent films made in and about London, Barcelona and Paris with his love letter to Rome. We are treated throughout the film to shots of the stunning architecture of the Coliseum, the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. We see young men riding scooters through cobbled streets and we see people eating meals at pavement cafés.

We also see though a city that’s full of American tourists and students that share the city with the Romans. They are introduced through a number of vignettes in which we discover what life in the city is like, or what Allen thinks life is like. The film has as well a number of characters that share Allen’s outlook on life, that have a number of neuroses and are quite frankly different versions of the character he’s been developing, at least, since his stand up days.

This is not unique, even to Woody Allen, he’s written this character for a number of other lead actors before, but I don’t recall others playing the part when he’s in the film. There’s the architect going headlong into a ménage a trois, an clerk who no-one finds interesting, a retired operatic impresario (played by Allen himself), and most intriguingly a newly married couple who both seem to be based on him.

As the story, or stories, progresses we are given a piece that is out somewhat like A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There is the exploration of fantasy and dreams which adds to the surreal nature of some of what we see in the film. At times Allen explores daydreams about celebrity and success, but also explores what these statuses actually mean. He looks as well at what fantasises we have today, to be a celebrity, to sleep with your girlfriend’s best friend, to sleep with a movie star, to still be useful after retirement.

The surreal element of the film is heightened by the use of time. It’s apparent in the film that one of the stories takes place over one day, while the others seem to take place over a number of weeks, one takes place throughout the whole Summer. The stories though start together and end together, even though there’s that differential. One of the stories as well seems to have taken place in no time, as if it was a daydream in the mind of an ageing architect.

I was on the whole pleasantly surprised by this film. I had expected that with its title the film would be over sentimental, it’s largely anything but. I suspected as well that this would be more evidence of Allen’s waning powers. I think what works though is that he’s not too proud to look ridiculous and that he’s not afraid to let someone else be the star of the show.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012


Bears in Hollywood have had a number of different depictions over the years. There’s the straightforwardness of Winnie The Pooh and Yogi Bear. A bear in A.I. Artificial Intelligence was given a persona that allowed him to become friends with the ersatz boy, David. Lotso Huggin' Bear displayed malevolence and a need to control other toys in Toy Story 3. Added to these luminaries and more is Ted.

He came to be one Christmas when young, John Bennett wished for him to be real, as he didn’t have any other friends. Through the years John and Ted became inseparable, Ted also grew up with John to become a foul mouthed, drug taking, hard partying plush toy. He’s really an anti-Woody in that he doesn’t need to be played with in the same way, he has no air of innocence and he certainly isn’t noble. At times Ted comes across like Brian from Family Guy. Albeit less urbane and not as well read, Brian likes to drink cocktails as well, I may be wrong but I’ve never seen him use a bong. They do have a similar taste in women in though.

The conflict in this is that John has a girlfriend who lives with him, and therefore Ted. In a way this makes the film a bit like You Me and Dupree in that the girlfriend has John decide between her and his childhood friend. The film is funnier than You Me and Dupree, but then if you’ve sat through that you’ll understand that everything is relative.

That’s the shame of this film really. I like the bits with Flash Gordon and Tom Skerett, and there are some lovely surreal touches. But when you consider that this is made by Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, American Dad and the Cleveland Show you might expect more from this. You may think that there should be ore to the plot when there’s so much character development. You may just think that the whole think is underwritten. This is another shame when you consider the way MacFarlane can juggle a number of storylines in 24 minutes and take you down a number of blind alleys.

I was left feeling that it was a very odd but distinctive film, due to the appearance of the badly behaved bear. I felt frustrated all the way through, I’m not sure if we’re supposed to believe in this world were whenever some people speak they appear to be lying even though they’re telling the truth. Perhaps though this would be the world where Peter Griffin could have become president. At the end I was unhappily left with the feeling that this film could have been so much better.

The Imposter

This documentary tells the story of the disappearance of Nicholas Barclay from his family's home in San Antonio, Texas in 1994 and his apparent reappearance in Spain in 1997. We know from very early on that this was not Nicholas, that it was someone who took his identity. Nicholas had blonde hair and blue eyes with a fair complexion and was a teenager. His imposter was 23 had dark hair, brown eyes and a dark complexion. He spoke English with a non-native accent. For one reason or another he made Nicholas's family believe that he was Nicholas, that their son had been found.

The majority of the film is based on interviews, in the main with the imposter and Nicholas's mother, sister and brother-in-law. With hindsight I got to thinking, how much do we really know about this guy? Also we know he's basically untrustworthy about so many things, he smiles when he talks, is he spinning us another yarn. I can imagine that he knows how to make the best of a bad situation though; he knows how much truth he can get away with telling as well as how many lies.

He pretended to be Nicholas and got himself in very deep, ending up living his family in Texas and living his life. I suppose Bob Dylan did say 'when you've got nothing, you've got nothing to lose'. That seemed to be his motivation, not to be himself. He said at the beginning of the film that he wanted to be treated like a child, as if he wanted to start his life again. The essence of his story is not unique; there was an adult who did this in Scotland a few years ago as well, but he didn't deceive a family as far as I know.

When things began to unravel he made some pretty strong allegations about the family. This really calls into question what and how we believe. If someone says 'I was lying before, but I'm telling the truth now' do we believe them? Such is the nature of documentaries that I suppose we need to be thinking, how much of this is the documentary makers emphasis, what are they not showing us? Everything may be true but do we know the entire context, all of the motivations. I must admit that my judgement was slightly coloured at the beginning of the film when the sister didn't seem clear as to where Spain was. Would I then have believed her any less? I did wonder as well as to whether the family would have more annoyed with the imposter for stringing them a line or with themselves for not seeing through him.

Friday, 31 August 2012

The Watch

The Watch at times very much reminded me of the ‘burbs you know. Although Ben Stiller’s character’s high standards and attention to detail was no match for Tom Hanks’s bug eyed, high octane, over the top performance. The ‘burbs also had Corey Feldman in the background, shooting out asides; it was wittier and funnier than this.
Okay, let’s look at this, the Watch is a film that either should have a lot more money spent on it or a lot less. There was money spent of special effects, aliens and alien technology. More attention, and therefore more time and money should have devoted to the script and the direction. Then though that doesn’t answer the question as to why I never seem to be able to believe Vince Vaughan at all.
Ben Stiller did well in being really annoying and really get under your skin. He plays a guy that really wants to be loved, but he really tries to hard, make of that as you will. Jonah Hill plays a psychopath with very tidy hair; I didn’t really get his character either, although I could believe that he lived with his mother. Richard Ayoade played an Englishman who you wanted to hear speak more because he’s got such a marvellous voice. Vince Vaughan played an overprotective father who was almost as annoying as Ben Stiller.
Now the four of them form a neighbourhood watch after a security guard in the store Stiller manages is gruesomely killed. They decide that they can patrol the town and catch his murderer. Guess what, when they do this the Police turn out hating them. They soon discover that there are aliens in their sleepy town.
The film doesn’t achieve anything that it sets out to do and neither does it satisfy fans of certain genres. It’s not that funny, it’s not that gruesome, it has minimal amounts of Sci-Fi and Ben Stiller’s not that great in it. Still it made me forget the trailers for the Sweeney.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

It is said that one of the indicators of a great director is that when you see a section of a film they’ve made, in isolation, you can tell who has made it. That their style is a fingerprint that easily identifies them. One director who fits into this category is Wes Anderson. His incredible attention to detail is apparent in all of his films. He explains purpose and relationship and beautifully gives you the context of the story he’s telling. Rather like a novelist setting the scene before the protagonists begin.
This is the case with Moonrise Kingdom, to an extent. We are shown an island off the east coast of America; we are also shown a house and it’s habitants of two parents and their sons and daughters. In the house they play Benjamin Britten’s Young Persons’ Guide to the Orchestra. This shows us how important different elements are in making up a whole, and that those instruments, however seemingly insignificant so of them may seem have their part to play in the prosecution and the outcome of the piece.
Suzy is the girl living with her parents and brothers. She’s thirteen and spends her time reading novels and observing life through binoculars. She meets up with Sam in a field and they go off together to elope, and therefore go missing. He is a Khaki Scout who has resigned his place and no longer wishes to return home, as he is living in a foster home and doesn’t get on so well there. Unconventional family units are another of Anderson’s motifs. Whether there is a portrayal of adopted children or there are families that just don’t get along at all, to the point where they falling apart.
Anderson’s characters are often square pegs in round holes. In this film all the characters seem to be individuals in group settings. For instance most of the Khaki Scouts seem to get along in the pack, but Sam is apart from the rest, he learns their skills but does not feel himself to be an integral member of the group. All of the scouts as well have differing uniforms; they’re like a scouting version of Kelly’s Heroes. The members of Suzy’s family all seem to exist as individuals as well. Her parents do not necessary always act in concert.
Another characteristic of Anderson is the apparent overcomplication in descriptions and depictions. It’s rather joyous to see Sam walk through all of the rooms seeing all of the cast members of Noye’s Fludde, all those people dressed up in their costumes, before he met Suzy for the first time. The cast certainly outnumbered the audience. There are often outrageous overreactions to events and behaviour that verges on being unsafe and unwise. The Police officer requisitions a number of well armed Khaki Scouts into his search party to find the eloped couple, for instance.
Also as along with his other films children are again depicted as being far more complicated and worldly wise than the bickering and petty adults. Sam and Suzy act in a very urbane manner as they discuss life in general, books and art. Suzy’s parents seem to take part in a succession of one-upmanship exercises, the Scout leaders seem far more interested in their own situation and position than anything else and Sam’s foster parents only have their own interests at heart.
This is a lovingly made, intricate film by a filmmaker who has built a reputation for ideosyncracy which is well deserved, and he continues to build on that. What I like about this film is that he has created ridiculous, almost surreal situations, but they are executed in such a way that the audience is always engaged. That's drama I suppose.

Nostalgia For The Light

A documentary that on the face of it seems to be about the Atacama Desert in Chile and the astronomy that takes place there and that has gone on there for a number of years. The point though is made at the beginning about how peaceful Chile is and how nothing goes on there, except when it seemed like it was the centre of the earth. The same could be said of the desert.

Nothing has happened really in Chile except for General Pinochet and his followers generally eliminating the opposition. They all disappeared a number it seems to the Atacama Desert. There are women who dig in the desert looking for their loved ones, some are found, and sometimes it’s the scantest of remains that are discovered. These include skull fragments and foot bones in a shoe.

One of the most arresting sequences of the film is when we are shown a wall of photos of the disappeared. Their pictures are fading and degrading with time as those who them personally and miss them are also fading away and dying. The hope though is that new generations will be told stories of the missing so that in a way they will live on.

This documentary often floors you with its honesty and bravery. The indomitable spirit of those who want to find and honour their loved ones puts so much of modern western life into perspective and makes you think about what’s valuable and what’s important.

Monday, 30 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

As with every other Batman film, and most other costume hero stories, identity plays a major part in this film. But then identity and the concealment of identity has been a theme ever since people started telling stories. Bruce Wayne is for ever trying to conceal his identity, whilst trying to expose the villain he’s fighting against. I often get the impression that Batman is as well fighting his alter-ego. Perhaps Batman is really Tyler Durden. In this film the villain is a man in a black mask by the name of Bane. I did think at one point that Bruce Wayne can be shortened to Bane.

This is not really uncharted territory for Christopher Nolan either. This film is of course being the third of his Batman trilogy and the latest in a long line of psychological dramas; a list that stretches back to films such as Following and Memento. He’s discussed identity before in films such as the Prestige. He’s a man that is clearly fascinated by the human psyche and the effect that it can have on individuals and those around it.

Anyway, the aforementioned Bane wishes to destroy Gotham City as well as Batman and Bruce Wayne. He wants to do this though psychologically as well as physically. I wonder if Bane had seen Clockwise, because he talks of using hope as a weapon against the people of Gotham. It was at times like these that I was reminded of the Doctor Who stories The Sound of Drums and the Last of the Time Lords.

I was very pleased to see that Gary Oldman’s role is meatier and is so integral to the story. It’s curious, though, to see him as another character wearing large glasses. Another highlight was Cillian Murphy’s role in the film. With his appearance I can see that his involvement in the trilogy will engender at least one pub quiz question.

So we have another era coming to an end. Christopher Nolan will not return to characters, apparently. Although there could be a sequel of some form in the future featuring a male or a female character from this or the other films. I was left feeling though that I was glad that the series had finished. The series reached its peak with the second film and to me the first and third seemed very similar. I think it’s a bit of a shame that the same characters are rehashed again and again. That we develop new technology and the first thing we do is go back and reinvent the past. I for one won’t be looking forward to Batman beginning again in 2022.

Monday, 25 June 2012


Yes, this is a remarkable film. Is it a prequel, of sorts yes it is, and it may well be followed by another film before long as well. So archaeologists find star maps across the earth and decide that this is an invitation to travel across the galaxy. The ship Prometheus is then sent to these coordinates, and android, David, spends his time learning languages while the crew sleeps until they reach a moon where lots of questions are maybe answered, and posed.

That’s the nub really, questions, the scientists discover the architects of humanity and also discover that these architects may have had other plans for humanity. There are a number of agendas at play here as well. The scientists are attempting to make their discoveries, but someone has paid for all of this and they may well have their own ideas as to what should happen and what the worth of all of the resources in the mission might be. This theme has been developed in the first four Alien films and really coloured Ripley’s judgement on a number of occasions.

This film not only refutes all human religion, but also has a go at Darwinism as well. All theories of humanity are turned on their head. We’re not made in the image of the creator, human life didn’t evolve in the way we thought on earth, we’re not unique and we’re really bottom of the heap in the galaxy.

In comparison to some prequels I’ve seen the pieces fall into place in quite a subtle manner. The film is made by director whose director’s cut of Blade Runner was actually shorter than the original film, he’s therefore not afraid to do things for solely creative reasons. He’s apparently also known for moving furniture round in his house in the middle of the night, just to try out how things look. He obviously knows his film history as well, judging by all the references to 2001 for instance. I wasn’t as disappointed as I thought I might have been. Although there are times when you may find that you say to yourself, ‘don’t look in there’, ‘it’s not a good to stay the night in there’, as I did.

The Avengers Assemble

There’s been a long history of depicting super and comic book heroes in the cinema and TV. This goes back to Batman, Superman, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Marvel Comics characters were not really given great adaptations in the 70s and 80s, the animated Spiderman series was probably the highpoint as that compared favourably with the live action Incredible Hulk series and films of the day such as the woeful Captain America.

In more recent years there has been a marked improvement in the quality of films featuring Marvel characters. The catalyst for this may have been Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989; this may have challenged Marvel to do better. We’ve seen a number of decent Spiderman and X-Men films, these were followed by Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, The First Avenger, they can tell stories, but they can’t necessarily give them good titles. These films laid the way for this one with its snappy title and its ensemble cast.

I was reminded of Watchmen and how that presented itself at the outset as being set in an alternate universe. This led me to wonder, what is being depicted here? Would this be in an alternate universe, as far as I know there are not superheroes on our earth? Is this a symbolic film, are they talking about different aspects of the human condition? Are there gods depicted that we forgot to worship that are in the background waiting to be worshipped again?

Maybe this film is fulfilling one of the roles of fiction in extrapolating and theorising what would happen in given situations. Albeit saying if Thor’s adopted brother, Loki, decided that he wanted dominion over today’s Earth, and that to achieve this he had stolen a source of unlimited power from the US Government, that had originally come from Asgard. Would the only way to stop him be to assemble a group of people with extraordinary abilities and resources, who would then fight him and the forces he summons?

If this all just fiction then it maybe all we need is to suspend our belief in reality, but then that depends on the credibility of what we’re shown, and how it’s explained. How can we evaluate the possibilities we see here without knowing the properties of the Tessaract, and really how Odin works really, without going into what are the properties of gamma radiation on the emotionally challenged man. I still can’t believe that Tony Stark’s girlfriend is called Pepper Potts.

Despite all of this the reason why this film works is because of the characterisation and the script. Joss Whedon has developed well rounded characters. In which he has honestly portrayed conflict and argument, between characters that on the surface should get along. There were however a few moments that grated, most of what Scarlett Johansson did and I began to tire of Robert Downey Jr, somewhat, by the end of the film.

For me the highlight of the film though is not absolutely necessary to the plot at all, there’s a beautiful scene with Mark Ruffalo and Harry Dean Stanton, it is beautiful and understated, not like the rest of the film. Although it discusses one of the major subplots, how damaging it can be to be a super hero and how it’s necessary to try and retain some reality, sanity and have someone you can trust. There is a lesson for us all, super hero or not.

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Descendants

On the face of it Matt King, George Clooney, has an enviable life. A beautiful wife with two beautiful daughters and they all live on the paradise island of Hawaii. At the beginning of the film we are disabused of all of the reasons to envy King. He soon tells us that Hawaii is not the paradise we think it is. Further to this his wife has a speed boat accident and goes into a coma and he then finds out from one of his daughters that she’s been having an affair. He discovers as well that his daughters have rather large behaviour issues, possibly caused by him being in his own mind ‘the back-up parent’. One of the themes of the film then is how the family, King’s descendants, deal with this situation.

We also see how King has to deal with his cousins; some of them broke, in formulating a potential billion dollar land development that would enrich all of them. They are descendants of their pioneering ancestors, who somehow gained a large part of one of the Hawaiian Islands.

The title is explored again when we look at how far his family has descended from a noble and honourable past. His children are dysfunctional without proper parental supervision and his cousins value their own financial wealth over the wishes of the rest of the islanders. At times we see King realise this and also how far he’s descended in a way without realising it.

This is a common theme for Alexander Payne. In Election, Sideways and About Schmidt we are given many examples of male selfishness, hubris, the decline (or descent) and what men can do to redeem themselves. Usually the films are immaculately crafted and plotted. To my mind this film is not immaculate. The performances though are excellent George Clooney is marvellous and Shailene Woodley excels as his eldest daughter. Disappointingly this film shows a slight decline in Payne’s career in comparison to his previous highs, maybe he’s the ultimate descendant.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

The Artist

At the beginning of the Artist we are shown that George Valentin will not speak. Indeed, this star of the silent age is tortured in his film and still will not speak. We are shown that this is the premiere of his new film and that when the audience enthusiastically applauds, George does not talk to them; he instead dances and performs tricks with his dog. Much to the annoyance of his co-star he hogs much of the limelight. It’s apparent that he doesn’t notice how annoyed she is. As the film progresses we see that it takes a lot for George to notice what goes on around him, save for adulation.

In telling the story of George the film concerns itself with discussing the end of silent films and the beginning of the talkies. George is resistant to this change as he doesn’t see a future in it. He sees that his silent films are very popular and believes that they will always be so. There is though the thought that George is afraid of mockery, he imagines a bevy of girls in clown costumes laughing at him while he can’t speak.

The film is certainly not unique in charting the decline of a star or indeed in charting the history of early Hollywood, or Hollywoodland as it is depicted here. We’ve also seen a number of black and white films since colour became de rigeur; Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese use it to dramatic effect. There’s also been faux forties thrillers, Steven Soderbergh’s the Good German among them.

We’ve also had silent films, Mel Brooks’s Silent Movie being the prime example. The Artist distinguishes itself by being a silent film using the technology of the day to explain what happened in the late 1920s and early 1930s. This film though uses real silence as well, there are long sequences without dialogue in Paris, Texas and la Belle Noiseuse for instance, but not many films these days utilise the absence of film except to portray hearing loss.

When it comes down to the bare bones of it the film is a very well executed story that utilises age old ubiquitous themes such as decline and fall and the conflict between the new and the old. Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo perform exceptionally without dialogue, supported ably by such luminaries as James Cromwell and John Goodman, who must be playing Harvey Weinstein.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

War Horse

Steven Spielberg has been making a number of war films throughout his career. The first was the ill-fated 1941 and this has been followed by such illustrious films as Empire of the Sun, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. War Horse is his first film set during the First World War and is an adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel and the National Theatre play. The story is concerned with Joey, the eponymous horse and his exploits in the said war.

Joey’s story quite usefully explores different facets of the war. We see the use of cavalry at the beginning of the war, the experience of child soldiers, the use of horses to pull large guns and the resultant use of those guns. Trench warfare and the Somme is also depicted along with gas and the use of barbed wire. All useful things to take into account if you’re doing an Open University course that involves the study of total war.

There is as well some beautiful photography. There’s a beautiful image of the horses reflected in the water as they’re ridden to their first battle. Cleverly Spielberg uses a reflection in the Joey’s eye when Emilie discovers him in the windmill. The scenes of Joey running through the trenches and no-man’s land are nothing short of breath taking as well.

There is a lot of emotion in the film as well though. At times I did find it over sentimental. Yes I could see that the boy Albert who reared Joey had a special bond with the horse. But, every ounce of emotion was wrung out of their scenes together, I suppose just to make sure you knew that. You could see that there were supposed to be funny lines at the beginning of the film, yet I only remember laughing twice during the film, this was during the scenes between Emilie was talking to her grandfather.

I think though that the film has more plusses than minuses. This is to be expected with a cast that includes Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Liam Cunningham and Eddie Marsan. Some of the visuals are extraordinary some of the writing I don’t think is. It jarred, for instance, when people made announcements about the beginning and the end of the war. I think if it was tighter in places it could have been a great film and not a good film.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


Steve McQueen follows up his first film Hunger, with the story of a man with a different hunger. Brendan, Michael Fassbender, is a successful New Yorker with an ordered and very tidy apartment. He’s an attractive man, we see him flirting with a woman on the subway she seems to respond to his advances, but disappears in the crowd thwarting him. We see him paying a woman for sex and looking at porn on a computer. It soon becomes apparent that Brendan has an addiction to sex.

He seems to have worked out how he can do this and what his priorities are in life. This is all built in an existence built around his addiction. His world is turned upside down with the arrival of his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan). She’s an aspiring musician and ends up sleeping on Brendan’s couch and sleeping with his boss.

Throughout the film Brendan is confronted about his addiction, or at least his interaction with the people around him puts his addiction into perspective. The arrival of his sister interrupts his privacy; his married boss spends a lot of time chatting up women in bars. More tellingly maybe is when he goes on a date with a colleague and tells her that he sees no point in having a relationship. With her later on we see the first flickers of regret with his life.

To me it seems that Brendan is a man who wants to isolate himself from other people. It’s as if he doesn’t want to be in a situation where he would have to explain his behaviour to anyone else. In the Basil Dearden film Victim, there’s a scene where Dirk Bogarde confesses to his wife that he’s gay. He does this from the shadows while his wife is in the light. McQueen uses this chiaroscuro throughout the film which is either an indication that Brendan is keeping those around him in the dark, is keeping himself in the dark and therefore deluding himself, or all of the above.

The film is visually arresting, McQueen does so well at designing and creating the images, he did this as well with Hunger. I love the way that he uses images to inform us as to the nature of the character. The first scene of Brendan wandering round his apartment says so much about him. There’s also a beautiful scene of Sissy sings New York, New York and a tear comes to Brandon’s eye. You never know when shame will come and find you, seems to be the message.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Iron Lady

In recent years we’ve had films about George W. Bush and the Queen, TV films about Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Gordon Brown and a couple of TV films about Margaret Thatcher. Now it’s Mrs T’s turn for the cinematic treatment in the Iron Lady.

Here we’re presented initially with Margaret Thatcher’s hinterland as she begins to face life without her husband. Through this she remembers her premiership and the highs and lows of her career. These of course include the Brighton bomb, the Falklands war and admonishing Geoffrey Howe in the Cabinet Room.

Meryl Streep does a decent enough job impersonation of Thatcher in her pomp and as a frail old woman in her dotage. I was slightly irritated by the little noises she kept on making throughout the film, I suppose that’s acting. Olivia Coleman sounded like Carol Thatcher but her prosthetics made her look neither like herself or Ms Thatcher. Jim Broadbent, as ever, gives an honest performance as Denis Thatcher. The interplay between him and Streep was one of the successes of the film; they did well to portray the genuine affection between the couple.

I found the film though to be very gossipy and made with very broad strokes. There could have been a bit more exploration to her political ideology. Was it all based on her father being a shopkeeper and her being a housewife, I think not. All of the flashbacks, as it were, concentrated on personality and nothing deeper at all. In the film Geoffrey Howe resigned because of the aforementioned humiliation, I think there was more to it than that. There was no mention of Westland at all, when Thatcher had her resignation letter in her handbag apparently. The only leader of the Opposition that seemed to be featured in her premiership was Michael Foot, a small foot note I’m sure.

The film is designed to make people feel sorry for this sad old woman who used to be Prime Minister. We’re shown that she misses her husband and misses being Prime Minister. At the beginning of the film she’s shocked to find that a pint of milk is 49p, she prided herself, when PM, on knowing how much a pint of milk, it proving in her mind that she was in touch. The major irony of the film is of course that it’s called The Iron Lady, and we’re quickly apprised of the fact that she’s no longer that.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Well it’s not as good as the Swedish film. Is it? I don’t know I thought that I’d get that out the way first. Anyway this is a happy little tale about Sweden in the early twenty first century. How many themes are there in this film? There’s freedom of information, industrial espionage, cybercrime, incest, Nazism, the abuse of positions of care and power. These are all wrapped up in the central story of a large successful industrial family business. One their member, a 14 year old girl, went missing presumed murdered in 1966.

The head of the family hires a journalist to surreptitiously investigate her murder using the pretext of writing a book about the family. When he begins to uncover evidence of more murders and more missing girls he decides that he needs some help to uncover the truth. This is where he meets Lisbeth; the eponymous girl with the eponymous tattoo.

As with every Fincher film, including Alien3, the audience finds it easy to empathise with his characters. Maybe that’s because of some of the extreme situations they find themselves in. Lisbeth says at one point, ‘there will be blood’, that’s a conservative statement. I was reminded of Seven on a number of occasions.

The way nationality works in cinema as well these days makes for some curious assumptions about the audience’s perceptions as well. That’s not to say that these assumptions are not correct. Most of the actors in this film are British; apparently Britons make more believable Swedes than Americans. There are as well a variety of accents on display, ranging from Daniel Craig’s RP to various attempts at a Swedish accent. There is no mention of a chef though.

I was reminded of the Crow Road, What A Carve Up! and Festen, while watching this, which is no bad thing really. It is an impressive feat of storytelling by Stieg Larsson and Fincher, in the way that the plots and sub-plots are laid out. It does take a while for all the pieces to fall into place as well, along with all the pennies dropping. It’s all beautifully and intricately done.