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.