culture, Films

Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skulls

I saw the new Indiana Jones last night with a few friends and I was relieved to find that it wasn’t Phantom Menace bad. In fact it was the kind of action packed pulp romp that makes mainstream blockbuster cinema so enjoyable.

The trouble is that it didn’t really need to be an Indiana Jones movie. Set after the war it felt like a different era, it also falls firmly on the side of the supernatural, lacking the ambiguity of Temple of Doom. Harrison Ford puts a lot of heart into it but he isn’t a convincing action hero any more. While not trying to be prejudiced he really is too old for this.

The Mummy actually felt more like an Indiana Jones movie than the Crystal Skulls. Shia LeBeouf is no Brendon Fraser and the former’s Marlon Brando riff really doesn’t work.

I’m hoping for more Indiana Jones films but less Indiana Jones.

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Films

I am Legend

Okay, last movie post for a while I hope. The new Will Smith vehicle stars Will Smith as an Army Colonel and Scientific Genius with a Loving Family; Will Smith also manages to Save the World (again). You go Will!

Strangely the film is nowhere near as bad as it might sound. It is based on pretty good source material, a clever inversion of the vampire story. A lot of the original comes through although the script sprawls and often staggers under the weight of sub-plots. There is no need, for example, for the extensive flashbacks as the fate of the protagonists family is ludicrous and is far better left to the imagination. The appearance of survivors creates an entirely different film that is rather at odds with the initial section. Ultimately the film drowns in forced sentiment.

The most interesting comparison is with 28 Days Later which achieves a lot more deserted city for a lot less budget. The CGI vampires in I am Legend are almost comical compared to the Infected. They all look like a squishy bodied Gollums with laughter-inducing ragged clothes to save their modesty ala The Incredible Hulk.

So what is actually good about it? Well the wildlife CGI is excellent and Will Smith is one of those actors who is great at interacting with stuff that isn’t actually there, he’s an actor of the CGI Age. He also manages some moments of completely convincing acting, he does an incredible fear for example. Ultimately he undermines himself with the usual wise-cracking and clowning because he undermines the pathos he has just so painstakingly built up. However he is a decent action hero with a wider range than dinosaurs such as Stallone and Schwarzenegger.

The most notable thing though is the way it uses silence. Sound-wise is not quite Dogme but it is as close as you are going to get in a mainstream film. There are stabs, soliloquies and the sound has all been cleaned up but there is no orchestral music filling up dead scenes and there are long periods of silence which help contribute to the idea that this really is the last man left on earth.

Thank god for a little experimentation in an action flick, now lets have the sixty minute edit.

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Films

The Golden Compass

This is a great Christmas movie, sensibly adapted from the source material, sprinkled with good actors and great effects. The lead Dakota Blue Richards is a real find (although possibly you could have cast her just for the name alone) and gives a beautiful performance that is nuanced and convincing and makes her contempories in the film look terribly, terribly wooden.

Like all good Christmas movies theres a balance of light and dark and the constant menace at the edges keeps things tense and enjoyable although sometimes the pacing was too frantic.

I’m looking forward to the next installment already!

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Films

Sunshine

Just finished a viewing of Danny Boyle’s film Sunshine, yet another penned by Alex Garland (the pair did both The Beach and 28 Days Later). For the majority of the film it’s a treat; a tense psychological thriller about people on a critical mission that is likely to result in their deaths. It feels like the crew might actually have been psychologically screened and trained before blasting into space.

The minority part? There is a ludicrous slasher sub-plot that adds nothing and just undermines the rest of the plot. Blank it from your mind and you have a great film. However as with 28 Days Later you don’t really have anything that is very original. Like Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz Garland and Boyle are masters of the art of pastiche. Take the best of Solaris, 2001 and Event Horizon (along with the cream of dodgier fair like Mission to Mars and The Black Hole) mix them together with the best effects and photography you can muster. Bingo hit British Lottery film. Remember Boyle’s best film was written by Irvine Welsh.

Acting-wise it’s a stellar cast with obvious talent like Michelle Yeoh and Cillian Murphy. Benedict Wong is excellent and its hard to believe he has such a small role compared to the clich├ęd and underwhelming Chris Evans (clench fists, look anguished, “I-m act-ing, nnnh”). Hiroyuki Sanada does good work with another small part, he was very familiar but it was only with the power of IMDB that I realised I had seen him from Ringu.

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Films

Hot Fuzz

I had a chance to see the new film from the crew behind Spaced and Shaun of the Dead last night at a special preview at the ICA. Afterwards there was a Q&A with Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Frost I’d seen before but Pegg pretty much looks like he does on TV while Wright is munchkin sized with teddy boy style facial hair. Pegg seemed pretty much questioned out and had to stir himself at times to respond to people’s questions. The publicity trail does seem pretty gruelling though, the latest thing I’ve seen him do are introductions to FilmFour’s cult series.

I didn’t ask any questions and the only interesting trivia I picked up is that both Wright and Pegg are West Country boys and Wright shot his early films in Wells (which also the setting for Hot Fuzz). The next day I realised I should have asked something about the relationship between the lack of cop films and the tremendous about of police TV drama.

Anyway… the film is… completely amazing and all-round better than Shaun of the Dead so if you liked that you’ll love this. If you didn’t like SotD then there is at least a chance you will like this. Although all the regular cast members are around (except Mark Heap) there is an effort to get away from the Spaced characterisations (as acknowledged in the Q&A) . Although Wright’s style still relies on really fast cuts and out and out scene stealing from other movies it is actually a movie rather than TV on a really big screen. Pegg has dramatically improved as an actor and has a lot more screen presence that he did in SotD.

The script is really, really funny and there’s less nostalgia and more gags, situation humour and quips perhaps reflecting the use of anecdotes from real policemen rather than just recycling pop culture.

It opens on Valentine’s Day and I’d recommend it to anyone.

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Films

A Scanner Darkly

Awesome! A Scanner Darkly is my favourite novel about drug culture and my favourite Philip K. Dick novel. To me it is the only novel that is really tells the truth about drug users rather than romanticising or condemning them. It is also quite a flawed novel which makes it ripe for adaptation and Richard Linklater has done an excellent job of making what is currently the definitive Dick adaptation for the big screen.

The film retains Dick’s ear for junkie patter with conversations and incidents that had me doubled up with laughter with the idiocy and veracity of it all. It also has the paranoia and psychosis of drug culture, capturing perfectly the false camaraderie of those united only by their drug of choice. Ultimately any drug user becomes alienated from the rest of the world (something the film explicitly mentions in the opening scene) and that strange mix of bonding and estrangement is perfectly captured. There is one perfect scene where Bob and Donna are sitting on a sofa, each holding a cushion. When Bob asks to touch Donna instead she freaks out (though it a slightly less coherent way than presented in the book).

The protagonist’s central dilemmia of having to spy on himself is Kafkaesque and a kind of endlessly relevant theme but the film also incorporates a dialog about the War on Terror and the War on Drugs. It is less condemnatory about rehab than the book and while remaining a very bleak kind of film it has a softer, more positive ending than Dick’s almost nihilistic conclusion to the novel.

The rotoscoping is great and really helps present an altered view of reality without being too gimmicky. Something like the scramble suit would just have looked a bit crap in a fully live action film I suspect (one of the dilemmas of V for Vendetta, of course, which struggled to complete with the highly stylized novel).

Performance-wise Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr. and Rory Cocherane all give excellent performances (although Downey Jr. is head and shoulders above the rest and refuses to simply turn in a stereotype). Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder probably divide people more but I have a soft spot for both and think they do well here. Keanu does get the pathos of Arctor’s position and his tragic end. I was moved by his monologues anyway…

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