Sunday, 28 February 2010

Burn After Reading (or viewing?)

I am a great fan of the Coen brothers. I guess therefore that it is good, from time-to-time, to find a piece of work which is so comparatively poor that it simply underlines the creative genius that is poured into their other films.

This was dubbed "The best comedy of the year' - I am sorry, I laughed only once and that was at the characterisation of a private detective working for a law firm. I understand that humour is highly culture-specific. On the whole, North American humour usually translates to the UK - but on this occasion it got stuck in the departure lounge state-side. The film is a pastiche of concepts that pay homage to the American spy genre with a cross-over to films such as Closer and  Love Actually. The sad thing is that it is not an effective spoof of either genre. Neither is it funny. If the story is meant to paint the CIA in new and ironic way, I'm afraid it's way off target as what is presented is close to the view we have of the CIA in reality. I still remain to be convinced that Americans do irony well. The only people to come out of the film with any credit were the Russians - perhaps the irony was so subtle that I missed it!

The sets were good, as were the acting performances - they simply weren't funny, which in my book is a basic requirement of a comedy. Tilda Swinton presented a character that was so domineering that only Attila The Hun might be interested! John Malkovich's character was intensely paranoid - which he does so well. George Clooney was the girl magnet and Brad Pitt was perhaps too convincing as a gym instructor who's turned his brain into muscle. Frances McDormand's performance drove the plot-line and was extremely compelling.

I'll give it 5/10.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

A Single Man - a double barnstormer

On Sunday I moved on to Brighton to watch this in what must be one of the dingiest and horrifically converted Odeon multi-screens. Should have stayed in Southampton!

This is a very intense biopic - a day in the life of Christopher Isherwood. I have just bought the novel of the same name and look forward to reading it. The acting from Firth (Falconer) and Moore is top class and forces itself off the screen to deliver three-dimensional characters. I don't know if it's because it was set in my early childhood, but if I believed in reincarnation, I would long to reappear as a WWII baby with liberal parents, self-confidence and the ability to enjoy all that the 60's offered! The sets, the costumes - even the cars all engender a sense of a world which is clean cut, perpendicular, filled with strong colours and things which forcefully invade the senses. The use of differing colour palettes as Falconer lurches in and out of grief-ridden melancholy is done most effectively.

The story moves along, but for me the ending is far too neat: temptation, new life, reconciliation, death. A whole life's story told in the last 10 minutes. Why? Tom Ford's direction is good, but his screenplay ends all too neatly and left me feeling uneasy in that a good film could have been a great film with a different ending. Perhaps the DVD will offer these choices?

I'll give this 7/10

Micmacs is a must see movie

I was lucky to see this on Sunday morning in a member's preview at my local Art House cinema in Southampton - Harbour Lights.

Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie and Delicatessen) this is a wonderful film full of humour, warmth and healthy redemption. Bazil's father is a Bomb Disposal Officer (very topical) and dies when a mine he is working on detonates. At the wake, young Bazil sees pictures of what was left of the mine and observes the manufacturers logo. In adult life he is the victim of a drive by shooting and is later shown a shell casing from the shooting where he observes a different manufacturers logo. One day whilst driving down the street, he notices he has stopped at place where on one side of the road is the mine manufacturer and on the other side is bullet manufacturer.

Bazil is befriended by a community of oddities who live in a reclamation site under a flyover in Paris. Each member of the community posses abilities that allows Bazil to marshal them into a team to take revenge on the arms manufacturers. What follows is a cross between Mission Impossible and Charlie Chaplin. It is full of suspense and comedy

The palette of colours used by Jeunet throughout the film adds an impact whilst being muted. The soundtrack is great. It embodies visualisation elements that draw on his previous work.
Yes it's quirky, yes it's French - but don't let any of that put you off. Go and see it.
I'll give it 8.5/10

Friday, 19 February 2010

The Cube

Watched this yesterday with my son. Hmmm.

What is it really about? Is it a clever and glorified escape story? Is about sudden-death and awakening in purgatory? Is it a version of hell? Did the script writer dream about what it must be like inside a giant Rubik's Cube when he was taking a trip? Was it about the characters and their personal struggles in the face of extreme adversity? Did it provide a glimpse of a utopian 'everyone working together for the common good' before it sank into predictable dystopia? Well - you tell me!

The conceptualisation is good, but the plot and storyline leave too many unanswered questions. Where did they come from? Why? Were there any more people trapped in the cube? Was escape possible? What happened to Kazan? Who built the cube and what purpose did it serve? Why the gruesome means of killing people? Did the colours of the rooms have any meaning? Why give the clues through numbers? You see what I mean?

Perhaps it is the sign of a good story that it leaves so many unanswered questions. Frankly, I don't really  mind not finding out. So much so, that I've filed the sequel straight into the library and will need to be laid up for a long period of convalescence before I watch it!

The characterisations are good and the suspense is well maintained for most of the story. The methods of elimating people are imaginative and the first murder is particularly neat. For me however, the film never really gets into its stride and it certainly doesn't take me anywhere - except back to where I first began.

I'll give this 5/10

Wednesday, 17 February 2010


I wonder if Clint Eastwood has learnt anything about rugby? Any film about Mandela starring Morgan Feeman has to be a sure-fire way of producing a winner. The film is very good - on a number of levels. Fundamentally, it reinforces that the move from apartheid to Rainbow Nation was driven by one man's obsession not inflict the hatred and loathing he had received, onto other people. Things had to be different - a new paradigm was required if the old pattern of hatred and distrust was to be broken.

The film is set 5-6 years after Mandela's release from Robin Island. It uses the vehicle of sport - rugby - as a means of bringing unity and providing energy for reconciliation. Mandela - respectful to everyone (even the children) - sees the potential for the forth-coming Rugby World Cup, hosted by South Africa, to be a catalyst for progress. He enlists the help of Francois Pienaar, the Springbok's Captain to help envision the team and through them the nation to a place of stronger self-belief in a shared future.

I was moved to tears on two or three occasions. there are some very powerful scenes and gestures.

The whole story is played out in the sub-plot of  Mandela's body-guard. The head is a black man who has worked with a team protecting Mandela since release from prison. When De Klerk's former body guards turn up - on the orders of Mandela - there is a palpable hostility between the groups. The blacks communicate in English, the whites in Afrikaans. As the Springboks progress, so the atmosphere between the body guards thaws and this is mirrored in the nation as a whole.

That was 16 years ago - it's a pity they haven't been able to maintain momentum.

I'll give this film 7/10

Avatar (aka Fern Gully)

With all the hype I was reluctant to be impressed. However, this film is impressive. The story is as old as time, but somehow that's not important. What is important is the lush, in every sense of the word, visualisation of this film and that does not mean that Avatar is a triumph of medium over message.

I was surprised how well the film kept moving. I did not feel it be as 'baggy' as Dr Kermode makes it out to be. I felt it could have ended three or four times before the actual end without losing any of its impact and still leaving the door open for Avatars - the sequel which must already be on the drawing board.

If you've not seen it - go and see it. If 3-D is on offer, pay the extra!

I'll give this film 8.5/10

The Apostle - I love the sound of Hallelujah in the morning!

I was leant this by a colleague who enthused about it.

I found it profoundly uncomfortable and had to work hard not to turn it off after 10 minutes. It reminded me so much of a past that I am keen not to revisit.

However, the movie features a barnstorming performance from Robert Duval who also directs it. Texas preacher Sonny (Duval) discovers his beautiful wife (Fawcett) is having an affair with the Youth Pastor. His wife refuses reconciliation and in a rage Sonny swipes at the Youth pator with a baseball bat. He is left comatose.

Sonny flees on what turns out to be a redemptive odyssey. He re-baptises himself in a river and adopts the name Apostle E F. He heads to Louisiana and helps resurrect a closed-down church where he builds a vibrant and flourishing worshipping community. The Youth pastor eventually dies and the Police come looking for him and take him away.

A powerful film. A helpful review on the Rotten Tomatoes site by Steven D. Greydanus says "Viewed critically, Duvall’s film, like the troubling fiction of Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, and Flannery O’Connor, is in the end a vindication of belief without being a vindication of every believer"

I find it very difficult to be objective about this film. I'm tempted to give it 6/10 but that would be because of the film has done to me. If a film does something to it's viewers, then it must be worthy of a higher mark - so I'll settle on 8/10.

Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins.

 With the rest of the family away at the moment, and being on leave myself this week,  I am using the time to catch up on a few things - and to indulge myself! I have remembered to download my podcasts onto my ipod at last so that i can listen to them in the car. So I have been listening to Francine Stock on Radio 4's Film Programme and also the Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode on their weekly film review.

Francine Stock - apart from a having a voice that's the closest thing to velvety Swiss chocolate - engages a wide range of people from the world of cinema using well researched and penetrating questions to draw them out.

Mayo and Kermode offer an effervescing fountain of commentary, opinion and recommendation that is not only entertaining, but is of such consistency that it allows you to accurately gain a handle on the latest releases and determine what you want to see now and what can wait until DVD. Both worth listening to in my opinion.

Together they balance one another out and provide an encyclopaedic understanding of the world of cinema.

Oh! You might be wondering where the title of this post came from. A couple of weeks ago I was driving through Southampton and I saw a billboard advertisement for a new film. Oh!, I thought, I didn't realise the new Harry Potter film was imminent. When I arrived home I told my daughter - a Potter follower and she said that I had got it wrong. What I saw, turns out to be something so much in the Harry Potter mould that it looks like an off-shoot if not a direct copy. The imagery, the font, the conception are pure Potter. It turns out that the film is Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief  which is directed by Christopher  Columbus - Director of the first two Potter films! In the podcast I listened to yesterday, Mark Kermode was so convinced of the link that he thought it should have a title that developed the Potter theme and used a name that was better than Percy Jackson. So the title 'Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins' was born and apparently hasn't been registered as a trade mark .... watch this space!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

It's only a movie - the tour. An evening with Mark Kermode

What a gent! It was an hour and half of engaging, witty and well thought out entertainment. Well done Mr Kermode. On top of that he came across as being a thoroughly nice bloke - someone who approaches his craft with great integrity, passion and style.

The tour is a soft promotion of his new book It's Only a Movie and is available at half price from Amazon compared to buying at the gig and getting it signed. The gig book price is discounted too!

Check out the tour dates and go and see him. He may have perfected the theme to 2001 on the stylophone by then!

Ripping and converting on a mac


I use a lot of clips from movies and TV ads in role as a trainer. Having recently moved over from PC to Mac, I have been searching for a combination of Apps that will allow me to extract clips and covert them to mp4. I can recommend the above combination mac the ripper and squared 5.

Both available as freeware and freely downloadable.

You will also need to pay for and download MPEG-2 software from Apple at £15.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

An evening with .... Mark Kermode

This Saturday I'm off to my local Art-House cinema, Harbour Lights in Southampton. Mark Kermode is on a national tour and talking about all-things filmic. I'm really looking forward to it. I will post a blog about the experience as soon as I can after the event.