Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Why Is Tintin Important? THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN by Hergé

Spielberg stated that using the mo-cap technology on The Adventures of Tintin "It made me more like a painter than ever before.". This is fitting as the comic books themselves have much to praise regarding the art work ...

The most anticipated film I am looking forward to this Winter is Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. The comic books written by Hergé I read as a child and Sarah is a huge fan too. She owns all the comic books, Michael Farr's fascinating overview of the series and a DVD of the Oscar-Nominated documentary Tintin et Moi by Anders Ostergaard. And a mug. And a badge. And a little model of Tintin which currently pokes out of a Russian doll on the top of the TV.

I am keen to 'sell' Tintin to the folks across the Atlantic and, by exclusively relying on the source material, I shall hopefully give you an indication as to why, in Europe - and indeed across the world - Tintin is so beloved.

Why did Spielberg choose The Secret of the Unicorn to adapt?

Its all about Haddock according to Peter Jackson. The Secret of the Unicorn details how Haddock's ancestors were, like him, masters of the Sea. It shows a huge amount of backstory for Haddocks ancestry and, through mixing in a little detail regarding Haddock meeting Tintin (a sequence nabbed from the book prior - The Crab with the Golden Claws) they have the opportunity to add a bit more interest from the unlikely pairing of the two. There is also a little whiff of Pirates of the Carribbean as, to explain what is important about the Unicorn Ship, Red Rackham and Sir Francis Haddock, there is a flashback to a siege by pirates. Not to mention how, the whole plot of The Secret of the Unicorn is finding the treasure-map, whilst Rad Rackhams Treasure is all about finding the treasure itself.

Spielberg was first introduced to Tintin when he read a review for Raiders of the Losk Ark and it compared Indiana Jones to Tintin. It is easy to see why as both Indiana Jones and Tintin go through 20th Century History as they go on their adventures. Additionally, like Dr. Jones worked as a professor nine-to-five, Tintin is a journalist by day - and taking part in these adventures on the side.

Now Is The Time

The mo-cap technology is the perfect way to capture the creativity and colour of the comic books without holding back the film as exclusively animated. Even the comedy with Thompson and Thomson in the trailer shows how they want to keep the quirky, playful attitude from the comics and carry it over. Characters like Calculus do not feature in the trailer - and there is no evidence to suggest he will feature in the film (despite his character joining the 'pack' in Red Rackham's Treasure) - but, the tone of the trailer shows that he would not be out of place in the world Jackson and Spielberg has created.

There are also better books. The Blue Lotus for example wa sthe first book that really exploited the depth of culture that became prevalent in the series. Tintin in Tibet is incredibly revealing of Hergé as it uses the white snow that dominates the panels to represent the depression he was going through as he wrote the comic. The Castifiore Emerald is a small-scale who-done-it which departes from the usual Tintin codes-and-conventions. These two comics show that, in the first instance, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackam's Treasure ae pure entertainment. Something to start the series off with a bang.

The Future

This could be a franchise that could run in the same manner as James Bond. There are 24 books available - some of which are 'of their time' with many racist slurs that would inevitably be adapted for cinema (Tintin in the Congo) whilst others were unfinished (Tintin and the Alph-Art). But, in the same way Fleming, merely from the titles, had a wealth of material (From Russia With Love, The Man with the Golden Gun, Thunderball), Tintin could be the future adventure-franchise. The adventures such as Explorer's On The Moon and Land of the Black Gold - and the more mysterious The Seven Crystal Balls. With some purely shocking franchises running at the moment, we the audience only have ourselves to blame. Transformers, Pirates of the Carribbean and the tragic fourth installment of Indiana Jones, we need to rally behind this one property that has something different to offer - and a property that has taken a while to be created. The teaser trailer left a few people disillusioned but, as you watch the Theatrical Trailer now, you will see how brilliant this really could be. Hopefully Spielberg will re-establish his reputation by doing what he does best with Hergé's creation.
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Thursday, 25 August 2011

There's Always Tomorrow (Douglas Sirk, 1956)

"Love is a very reckless thing"

Introduction

Billy Wilder has worked with Fred MacMurray on two memorable occasions - in The Apartment and Double Indemnity. Double Indemnity presents Fred MacMurray in the middle of a murder-plot that he slowly finds himself falling deeper and deeper into. The Apartment shows Fred MacMurray in a much more sleazy role - as he cheats on his own wife and family with Shirley Maclaine. Billy Wilder's choice of MacMurray is due to his likeability - we need to root for the character in Double Indemnity as we know he is a killer from the opening sequence. In The Apartment, he needs to come across as classy-enough to have risen through the ranks in the business, but sleazy enough to use Lemmons apartment. Douglas Sirk clearly chose MacMurray for the same reasons - his likeability and his classy, professional edge. But, like Double Indemnity, There's Always Tomorrow shows how someone can be corrupted. But unlike the film-noir classic, this is not a batchelor-man at the centre of the story - this is your usual family man. A happy family man who nearly ruins everything ...

Innocent Child

Cliff Groves (Fred MacMurray) is a successful toy-shop owner designing a robot toy - but he is unhappy with life. In one instance, he tries to take wife out in evening and everyone turns out to be busy leaving him at home alone. This initial set-up shows the innocence this character has - he is upset at the lack-of-attention he receives at home and his interest in toys amplifies this. It is at this key moment in his life that Norma Vale (Barbara Stanwyk) re-appears. An old flame who appears to stumble into his life due to business, he decides to take her to the theatre instead and slowly, but surely, he falls deeper and deeper in love with her. But this is not a simple love-story as we know that his wife Marion (Joan Bennett) is not a bad woman and it is his restlessness and, ultimately, mid-life crisis which is driving this relationship - not neccessarily true love.
Add to the mix a detective-like subplot as the children Vinnie (William Reynolds) and Ellen (Gigi Perreneu) investigate the affair and you see how the mid-life crisis has direct ramifications on the children and their perspective of their Father.

Before Friends-Reunited

Way back in 2004, The Guardian reported "Divorce Rates Surge as Friends are Reunited" and this film shows how these are the most troubling of relationships - the ones that lurk in the back of the mind, the ones that question "what if..." as you try and forget the relationship. You can imagine, in the fifties, it was even easier to forget and to think that at that mid-life crisis point one of these people re-appear is incredibly disconcerting.

With this in mind, the story can end in so many ways. We do not know if we will be witness to the affair the good-guy Clifford Groves becomes a part of, we do not know whether the children will expose the truth to their Mother and, ultimately, we are always mixed about Stanwyk's Norma Vale - on the one hand flirtatious and clearly highlighting what could have been, whilst we also see her become very much aware of her actions and regret them.

Home-Wrecker with a Heart

In any three-character dynamic, rarely do we see such heart in the woman who breaks up a marriage. In fact, the irony is how she has so much heart, she ultimately is not comfortable with the reality she created. The script (based on a novel by Ursula Parrott) by Bernard C. Schoenfeld gives Norma the opportunity to be more kind, gentle and considerate that almost the entire 'happy family' we see. As she is confronted by the children, she argues that the reason Cliff could even be considering looking elsewhere is because of the lack of love his children and wife show him at home. When Norma shows Cliff's wife a dress she could wear, Marion responds with some very patronising and condescending remarks about "if she was a batchelorette like [Norma]" then maybe, but alas, she is not - you can see Norma is offended by the remarks, but she does not say a word.

"Love is a very reckless thing. Maybe it isn't even a good thing. When you're young and in love, nothing matters except your own satisfaction. The tragic thing about growing older is that you can't be quite as reckless anymore."

She is independent and wise. She has learned from her mistakes, though divorced, she explains how you "don't marry for loneliness". Ultimately, she is also the one who 'creates' the situation in the first place - you could argue that she shouldn't have even considered going with a married man to the theatre in the very first instance.

Not Your Usual Rom-Com

In the UK, we are seeing multiple posters of Friends with Benefits and all year we have had sex-rom-com's such as Love & Other Drugs and No Strings Attached, I find it a welcome relief to watch a film that is primarily and fundamentally about relationships - but rather than creating an almost fictional fantasy world (Indeed, I am not Jake Gyllenhaal and I am not Justin Timberlake), we see the real struggles and difficulties of marriage. Amongst the main relationship, there is a sub-plot in the background as we see the youthful relationship between Cliff's son Vinnie and Ann (Pat Crowley). It is uninteresting and very much uncomplicated and simple - whilst Cliff and Marion have a much more deeper and personal relationship that is steeped in history. This is not a romance really and it is not a comedy ... it fits into that category of 'drama'.  

Douglas Sirk directed All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind - two films which highly interest me now. The idea that, as the credits close, you consider the uncertain and pessimistic future of the married couple and family whilst you feel sorry and sad for the home-wrecker seems impossible. But the direction, writing and actors deliver and this is indeed how you feel. 
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One Day (Lone Scherfig, 2011)

"I had a crush on you - ridiculous, I know"

Introduction

I rarely write a review on a new film. My feeling is that there are so many reviews of the film, my small coverage won't exactly make headlines. But, as I read in The Guardian, it had everything going for it. The writer of the novel wrote the screenplay, the director directed one of the most successful romantic dramas of recent years in An Education and Anne Hathaway with JIm Sturgess gives the impression that they wanted to get real actors. Not actors like Daniel Day-Lewis or Judi Dench, but up and coming actors who take pride in their craft. Sturgess who has worked with Peter Weir and Julie Taymor whilst Hathaway has appeared in Oscar-Nominee Brokeback Mountain and the critically acclaimed Rachel Getting Married. Hardly a recipe for disaster ...

One Day. Twenty Years.

The tagline from the book. I have no problems is negating the postive aspects of a book for the sake of a concise story on a cinema screen. Let's put things in perspective - I can see the lack of time possible to squeeze in Dex's relationship with the girl in the shop at the end, I can see that Emma's affair with the principal at her school simply was unneccessary and would have been out of place - whilst another family member for Dexter would have just crowded the house when he visited. But the set-up of one-day, the same day in July 15th, every year, for twenty years for a film, simply doesn't work. It is too much.

Everytime the date appears to clarify where we are - and why we are there - we have to take a deep breath and get ready to input new information to fill in the gaps of the 364 days which we have missed. Emma Morley (Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) meet, more or less, on the first day as the two graduate and then, a year later, she moves into London. She seems to have big ambitions which, like many twentysomethings, are difficult to reach - whilst he has very little ambition but seems to coast into cool jobs and elite groups - but is self-destructive in the process as he places no value to these things.

A Lack of Class

The one thing, which I am glad they carried from the novel, was the abundandtly clear separation in class. In 'one' of the days, Dex visits Emma as she works in a depressing pseudo-Mexican restaurant. Its dirty and cheap - and it doesn't take a genius to see that Emma does not want to be there. Dex seems to be oblivious to the neccessity of the job - it pays the bills and supports her residence in London. I'm paraphrasing, but he notes how she should just "take a bottle of tequila and walk straight out the door and never look back". It is strange to think how dreams, ambition - and consequently desire, passion and lust for life can be so wholly affected by social circumstances. In the novel, Dex at this moment had returned from travelling around India whilst Emma had been proud enough that she got to London. It seems the fantasy of London may only be reality for the privedged few who through circumstance find themselves amongst the centre of it - otherwise you are doomed to see the dream from the outside. Perhaps.

The flip side to this is the lack of value Dexter see's in these opportunities. Emma wants to write her book - that is her dream. Like Julie Driscoll, the fictional character she creates, she is 'against the world' and she works hard to achieve her dream. Dexter seems to be against very little - maybe he is against his arrogance and self-satisfaction. It is only when he goes through the harsh realities and challenges of life - death, fatherhood, husband - does he really value relationships. The pride Dexter seems to take in merely owning a cafe shows how much his attitude to life has changed by the end.

The Last Act

I will spoil the end of the film/novel now - so skip this paragraph if you are keen to watch the film. The beauty of the story is how, after the tragic moment in 2006, the film - and book - continue. Life goes on. 2006 to 2007. 2007 to 2008. Children grow up, family members stand by you. People walk in and out of your life (the role of Ian played by Rafe Spall was perfectly cast. On the one level tragically sad but believable as a nice guy). You have to plough on and celebrate the life you have had - despite the trauma's and difficulties.

Marks for Improvement

The difficulty is clarifying how it could've been better. Jim Sturgess had an exceptionally strong performance - as soon as the camera panned down to his 'Largin It!' programme I thought maybe he was wrong for the role, but his false-cockney accent rang true. Hissuddent frustration and then acceptance of his Mother asking for help - frustrated he has to help, but then realising it is his duty as a son. In the book, he was a charlatan - a chancer who abused his friendship with Emma. His fall from grace is real and we are sad for him - despite his arrogance of youth. Hathaway did seem to struggle - her accent often seem misplaced, almost Scottish, but not-really. Ironically, there is very little background revealed about her character - her family, where she is from, etc. I think the novel mentioned an accent of some sort, but it was not exactly the centre-point of the book. I reckon that she could've just soften her own accent and left it at that -  she need not have watched Emmerdale. Instead she sits alongside Russell Crowe or Robin Hood and Tom Cruise in Far and Away.

I think a complete overhaul of the structure - maybe even choose more 'visual' days. I think, if it wasn't 'July 15th' I wouldn't of cared. It could just say the year and that would surely give them more a scope.Its a tough nut to crack at any rate.

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Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The Film Locker #12: Roman Polanski and 'Chinatown'

And so, 12-episodes down and we have completed our run. We finish with Polanski a director I have always admired primarily through our choice film Chinatown. So, in preparation for the episode, I watched Rosemary's Baby, The Pianist and The Ninth Gate. And still, there are many, many more films he has made. He is a controversial choice too with his tragic upbringing leading to tragedy in his personal life. Both Ryan and I are keen to hear opinions and, after this first run, any opinions and advice is warmly welcomed. You can comment on my blog or of Ryan's new baby at www.matinee.ca or email us at filmlocker(at)hotmail(dot)com. 

And, as usual, it is already on itunes and can be found easily on podomatic - so, please do try and write reviews and support us if you can! We have the ol' RSS feed and 2.0 RSS and, if you link in different ways, we also have it on Google and Yahoo
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Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Film Locker #11: Guillermo Del Toro and 'Pan's Labyrinth'

Every Summer I get excited about 'how much i will do' over the time. And I do indeed do alot, but so much so, that still there are not enough hours in the day.

At any rate, the Guillermo Del Toro 'Film Locker' forced me to hunt down and watch Cronos, Hellboy and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army. Frustratingly, The Devils Backbone I had managed to track down through good friend Rhys, but still did not manage to watch it in time for the episode. At any rate, it was great week preparing because Guillermo Del Toro truly is a master. Do enjoy!



And, as usual, it is already on itunes and can be found easily on podomatic - so, please do try and write reviews and support us if you can! We have the ol' RSS feed and 2.0 RSS and, if you link in different ways, we also have it on Google and Yahoo

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Cars (John Lasseter, Joe Ranft, 2006)

"You got more talent in one lugnut than a lot of cars has got on their whole body."

Introduction

I had put off watching Cars for many years. I think, for one, I didn't see it at the cinema and once it is processed through the Disney machine it becomes a little bit too much. The toys, the adverts, the posters - even the products that have very little association are displayed everywhere. Its overkill. So, only when the latest Pixar films are released do I realise that I missed this one. Not to mention, I have rarely heard people sing the praises of Cars - "my favourite is Finding Nemo, Toy Story and Wall-E"... and so on and so forth, but it turns out that Pixar 'not on their game' would be an 8 out of 10, rather than a 10 out of 10. And this is how I feel about Cars, a great film - 8 out of 10 - but all the other Pixar films are either the same or better. The less said about Cars 2 the better so, lets reflect on what was great about Cars.

When Nostalgia and Product Placement Meet

There is a race at one point between Paul Newmans 'Doc' and Owen Wilsons 'Lightning' McQueen. The dusty setting and the two cars - the blue 50's classic VS the red car - and it reminded me of an advert (that strangely enough was re-released recently as part of some nostalgic ad-campaign) for the chocolate bar - the Milky Way...


Though I doubt this was a purposeful connection, it did place me in a fairly nostalgic mood. I think this is where Cars and Toy Story draw a connection. Both of them celebrate nostalgia and 'the good ol' days'. Ironically, at the same time, in Cars case it places itself at the centre of a conflict - as the industrial and capitalist business that it attempts to tackle is in fact the industry that Cars uses to publicize and sell itself through. Do you think we could consider for a moment all those smaller animation-studios that Disney has trampled upon to create Cars?

On a Smaller Scale...

Fact of the matter is, the film deals with this business mentality on a smaller scale - looking at McQueen as a brand unto himself - a specific car who is selfish and thinks of no-one but himself. He believes that he alone is responsible for his success - ignoring the work of everyone around who helped him become who he is. But this attitude is comparable to consumerism itself - as businesses often feel that this arrogance is required to present itself with a confident image. Nevertheless, McQueen/Consumerism blindly destroys a small town. Somebody obsessed with their own skills ignores the skills of others and what they can bring to the table.

The film explores where McQueen and, ultimately, a western-society is heading. Where are we going if this selfish attitude continues and we continue to believe that our own 'brand' and persona is more important than anyone else. We need to celebrate where we have come from and celebrate the smaller aspects of a society as much as we celebrate the larger, industrial areas of society.

I Love the Fifties

The look of the film - like most Pixar films - is one of the film stronger points. Finding Nemo prided itself on fluid textures that suited the Ocean, whilst in terms of the type of texture, Cars is the opposite. Cars builds itself on a dusty landscape, combining the shiney sports-car with the crevasses and stoney-might of Nevada. This, combined with the Cadillacs, Chevy's and Sunbeams creates an era that has been revived recently through Mad Men amongst many other films that have been released.

The post-war, pre-sixties era was a unique time in history that America is immensely proud of - the cars, the music, the drive-ins and drive-thrus. Personally, if I was to ever live in America, I would take the late 50's anyday rather than the flowers-and-peace 60's, the post-Vietnam 70's or the excess-80's. Something was lost in the last 50 years and I think maybe America sold its soul to capitalism - and it is clear that Cars additionally believes that America could get its soul back... if it is paid for.

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Friday, 19 August 2011

The Butcher Boy (Roscoe Arbuckle, 1917)

"Molasses, please?"

Introduction

Comedian Paul Merton has had an interest in Silent Comedies since he was a teenager. DVD sales have provided access to these shorts for everyone, giving Merton a chance to create incredible documentaries on these topics. Only recently, he directed and presented a three-episode mini-series titled The Birth of Hollywood, whereby he managed to show how cinema was first born and, more importantly, how Hollywood began to dominate the market. I was utterly transfixed to this series when it played. Merton's enthusiasm and wide-knowledge of Silent Comedies was infectious and it was only a matter of time before I hunted down the celebrated comedies he noted in his documentary and book, Silent Comedy.

Buster Keaton Arrives

Beginning in 1917 is by no means the beginning of Silent Comedy. By this point, Charlie Chaplin was a household name - his 'tramp' character firmly established through his shorts The Tramp and The Vagabond. Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle was well-known, now with the power to direct and headline his own films (The Butcher Boy is one of many "Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle stars in The Butcher Boy". But this film did mark the first cinematic appearance of the unforgettable Buster Keaton. This is not an example of Buster Keaton before he became the deadpan, dry face of silent comedy. This is an incredibly self-assured start, whereby Keaton is ahead of his game when he filmed his first scene - which, proudly, Keaton acted in one-take.

From the Start

Buster Keaton was brought up on the road, his family were 'The Three Keatons' and their act consisted of much slap-stick comedy - whereby Buster would often be thrown around the stage by his Father, much to the delight of the audience. It was a chance meeting with Roscoe Arbuckle in New York which ensured Buster joined the Hollywood silent-comedy heroes. The difference between the Keystone cops and Charlie Chaplin's output at the time was immense - and The Butcher Boy shows a clear difference in comedy from the different actors. Buster Keaton's first gag shows him get caught on a tub of molasses (a honey-like by-product of processing sugar-cane). He hands the tub, with the money to Roscoe and asks for some molasses - Roscoe fills the tub up, on top of the money, only realising afterwards where the money is. Roscoe pours out the molasses into Keaton's hat, which resides, up-turned on the table, finds the money and Keaton picks up the hat, pops iit on his head and it is inevitably stuck. This well-thought out joke and planning is a far cry from the relentless throwing of flour that dominates the sequence and the bed-jumping and running-around and dog-biting finale that concludes the short. The Butcher Boy shows how certain comedians became so much more important than others - random tom-foolery would get a few laughs, but well thought-out, intelligently-planned comedy would always last the test of time.

Change of Scene

The film is set primarily in the butchers - whereby many customers create chaos as Arbuckle clumsily makes mistakes and creates gags in the process. We even see some brilliant use of a shapr knife as it appears Roscoe lets the huge knife slip out of his hand - only to land, blade stuck in, on the wooden surface. It happens once, and it looks like luck - shocking luck at that - but then it happens twice more and you realise that it is a skill. We also see some ridiculous sequences as the dog, Luke, runs on a home-made running-machine. Though it may be cruel - it is incredibly funny to see the dog running as fast as it can and getting nowhere. This whole sequence climaxes in thr aforementioned flour-fight, before suddenly changing direction to show Arbuckle attempt to win the love of Amanda by breaking into her all-female boarding school by dressing in drag. His rival, without knowing about Arbuckles plan, concocts the same plan giving us plenty of laughs when we see the two bumbling idiots feminise their characters.

Throughout all of this, Buster Keaton is in the background - not always as deadpan as he would later become - but definately in character. His physicality as he is pulled around and leaping across beds shows a real natural in his style and from this early cinematic-endeavour, Buster Keaton was clearly thr stand-out performance. Arbuckle had struck gold with this actor and the two continued to work together in the future - but, considering Keaton and Lloyd are often mentioned alongside Charlie Chaplin, at this moment in history Chaplin was towards the top of his game - and unknown to him Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd were waiting in the wings to show something different. The Butcher Boy gives us a little tease about whats to come...

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Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Guard (John Michael McDonagh, 2011)

"I'm Irish. Racism is part of my culture"

Introduction

Irish Cinema over the last few years has been dominated by Irish-playwrights-turned-filmmakers. Mark O'Rowe wrote the recently released Perrier's Bounty, Conor McPherson directing and writing The Eclipse and to most critical acclaim Martin McDonagh's hit-film In Bruges. Ironically enough, Martin McDonagh's brother, John Michael, is not a playwright - never has been - and he has helmed the most recent Irish comedy The Guard. The film has been incredibly successful - currently sitting pretty at the Number 2 spot as most-sucessful-Irish-independent film in Ireland - more succesful that In Bruges and closing in on The Wind That Shakes the Barley by Ken Loach. When Slashfilm's Germain Lussier says "'Hot Fuzz’ Plus ‘In Bruges’ Equals Funnier Than Both." and Wendy Ide stating that this is "Without doubt the strongest debut film of the year so far", it is clear this is one film not to ignore.

The Bad Cop

The Guard tells us the story about Garda (Police) Sgt Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) as he investigates the murder of a local lad and the ensuing drug-operation that is occuring on the West Coast of Ireland. To add to the mix, FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle) joins the force to assist and, to put it lightly, Boyle is the last person Everett wants to be paired with.

Imagine Philip Glenister's 'Gene Hunt' from Life on Mars combined with Nic Cage's immoral Bad Lieuteant: Port of Call New Orleans, in Ireland, and we are getting closer to The Guard. But it would be wrong to assume that Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson are a funny-duo in a buddy-comedy. The Guard, like In Bruges is marketed as a comedy. But again, like In Bruges, the comedy has a darker undercurrent. The opening sequence shows a group of reckless teeange-drivers speeding through the Irish landscape and, as they pass Boyle, they crash. Its a bloody crash and bodies lie strewn across the road - yet Boyle ruffles through the pockets and steals some drugs. You can see that McDonagh does not want an Irish version of Hot Fuzz with the comedy and these gritty elements give the film a realist-edge. 

Cinematic Language

To use the western-genre on the Irish landscape is pure cinema - utilising the sound, the visuals and the script, unlike the heavy reliance on script alone that McDonagh's playwright-comtemporaries evoke in their films. Calexico provides the soundtrack and it is clearly inspired by the Ennio Morricone scores of Sergio Leone's spaghetti-westerns - and as we see Boyle prepare for his day of work he could almost don the man-with-no-name cape before he leaves. Even, the choice of cinemtographer in Larry Smith (of Eyes Wide Shut and Bronson) shows McDonagh relying much more on visual spectacle than script alone.

It is a strong film, but the climactic shoot-out feels a little too inevitable. Considering the film seems to go against the grain wiht lines such as "I'm Irish. Racism is part of my culture", it is a shame that the film ends with a 'showdown'. In Bruges has a stand out sequence as Ralph Fiennes explains how "this is a shoot-out", effectively mocking the inevitable consequence of a film - even Mark Strong explains the nature police-blackmail in The Guard. Though The Guard attempts to set itself aside from the buddy-comedies and fish-out-of-water films, it inevitably adheres to the codes and conventions of these films in the final act.

LOVEfilm organised the screening and, during the Q&A with McDonagh following the film, he explained how when Gleeson and Cheadle read the script and were involved days later. Even Mark Strong, who McDonagh was sure would be too busy, ensured he made time for it in his schedule. It has such strong characters that this quality is supported by an increidble, passionate knowledge of cinema - and it is this that put this film in a league of its own.

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Sunday, 14 August 2011

Super 8 (J.J. Abrams, 2011)

"Bad things happen... but you can still live"

Introduction

We know from the trailers how Spielberg and the 80's films he produced is what has prompted this creative project. JJ Abrams, director of Star Trek and Lost, had the idea of combining a Sci-Fi story he has had for many years with his childhood joy of filmmaking with a Super-8 Camera. Can he pull the modern audience back to the eighties to reclaim our love for Spielberg's films? Because, lets be honest, the last time Spielberg went retro by taking us back with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ... I think we can agree that it wasn't that successful.

Super 8 tells the story a group of kids who, as they attempt to create a zombie-film on a super-8 camera, find themselves to be witnesses to a huge train crash. Much-like E.T., our lead character Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is in a single-parent family with a personal 'hole' to fill when this crash happens ... and due to this train-crash, there is an unknown creature on the prowl...

Incredible Actors

In the first instance, the film rests on the performance of the kids and the child actors in this film are truly incredible. Riley Griffiths plays the film-obsessed friend of Joe and he is half-Home-Alone's-Kevin-Mcallister, with his huge family and red-decor kitchen and half Goonies-Chunk, with his oafish prescence and chatty-demeanour. The range of other actors, including Dakota's sister Elle Fanning, are equally strong forcing you to buy into this story and the world they inhabit. It's a small community they live in and if you could not buy into it, the film would fall flat. It doesn't - these are exceptional child-actors and the future looks bright for them.

Inspired by the Best

Abrams direction is equally strong. The whole film is clearly his own - though paying homage to many sequences by Spielberg it never feels like a parody or obsession. You would never see the enourmous train-crash sequence in an 80's film. The crash is truly sublime - huge pieces of train and metal exploding on every part of the screen and smashing into the ground is, on the one hand a great set-up, but something that is pure Abrams. Like Lost and Mission Impossible 3, he gets us hooked at the beginning with huge special effects and a what-the-hell-has-happened question ensuring you are sat in your seat for the duration of the film. The Spielberg influence remains consistent and the huge budget of Super 8 is clear from the outset - compared with Gareth Edwards Monsters from earlier this year. Whilst Edwards played with a very low-budget take on the same genre, both Abrams and Edwards owe a huge debt to Jurassic Park, as both films have van-attack sequences that vividly recall the same sequence in Jurassic Park - and they both hold back for as long as possible in showing us the big creature itself.

The New Generation

The film raises questions about cinema today. Whilst the theme of 'the acceptance of death' fits neatly alongside Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two and Toy Story 3, the film harks back to a time whereby the sense of community, family and friendship appeared much closer and creative. Despite the range of different ways that films can be made and produced, it seems strange to neccessarily pre-date this film in the context of the eighties. Is that the only thing it has going for it? Cloverfield, I imagine, is your modern take on the same theme - is it not? Monster-films truly seem to be 'in' at the moment with the likes of Monsters, Skyline and Battle: Los Angeles so is this eighties connection and childhood wonder the 'unique take' on the same story? I thoroughly enjoyed the film, but I wonder if part of the problem of setting the film in the modern day is because you don't find groups of young children creating films in their back yard, instead they shoot down aliens on PS3 and chat via Skype. The fact that we now look at the world in Super 8 with a warm fuzzy feeling, in wonder, as if we can relate to that generation may say more about our wish to go back to the past - and therefore raises our concerns about the children of today.

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Saturday, 13 August 2011

A Present for my Blog Readers

Well, I have been on holiday for about a week and have only just returned. But I couldn't go to Cannes and forget about all my fellow film-obsessed blog readers could I?


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The Film Locker #10: Ang Lee and 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'

Due to my recent holiday from blogging and, indeed, from London I am a little behind on some posts so this may serve as a little reminder for our latest episode on Ang Lee.

"Ang Lee broke onto the filmmaking scene with PUSHING HANDS and managed to get even further by then making outstanding films such as CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, THE ICE STORM, HULK, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and, most recently, LUST, CAUTION. Hatter and I chose CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON as our film of choice and then we dig deeper into his back catalogue - and even choose our films from the 'top shelf'."

There is only so much coverage on the blog we managed to scrape together for this director but Hatter did manage to find a review he wrote on Lust, Caution, one of Ang Lee's more recent films which we don't discuss too much on the podcast. Feel free to check out his review by clicking here.



And, as usual, it is already on itunes and can be found easily on podomatic - so, please do try and write reviews and support us if you can! We have the ol' RSS feed and 2.0 RSS and, if you link in different ways, we also have it on Google and Yahoo

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Thursday, 11 August 2011

Rashômon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)

*This was originally published on 1st December 2009, but with the recent London Riots, there is a nice relevance to this choice. From Ozu to Kurosawa ...

"It's human to lie. Most of the time we can't even be honest to ourselves"

Introduction

Akira Kurosawa is a director who, I find, splits the men from the boys. The film watchers and film obsessed. Most incredible films owe a debt to Kurosawa so, if you want to know your movies, you really must watch the back catalogue. Saying that, at Uni, I fell asleep during Seven Samurai and found it difficult to rewatch (the boy I was) ... but I did rewatch, and decided to continue on this Kurosawa streak by watching Rashomon. This may be controversial but, I feel, it is a better film. Not as epic but more groundbreaking, interesting and ultimately asks much bigger questions. Maybe thats my ignorance towards essays on Kurosawa and Seven Samurai but, on face value, I prefer Rashomon. When its as cheap as a rental at Fopp, I buy and I watch.

Proud to be Obsessed

I watched the film as I was huddled alone in a duvet as I was coughing out demons from my chest, drinking lemsip, and it took me to a place few films take me. It made me feel proud to be so obsessed with film and what such a medium offers. Its not a representation or a substitute for sound - it is an art form in and of itself. This films shows the scope such a medium can offer. Your perspective is your own perspective, but the filmmakers and the characters in the film have their own perspective that may be completely at odds with your own. Nothing is clear - as is life.

Boorman Recommends

John Boorman, director of Deliverance, introduces this film on the DVD, noting that Kurosawa records what the characters remember and not the truth - therefore changing the meaning and use of a camera and, ultimately, film. Its not capturing an event, it is a memory caught. Take this further, is that not any fiction? The memory and thoughts of filmmakers? I highly recommend hunting down Boormans introduction as it is enlightening - he even notes that this was the first Kurosawa film he watched and it began his interest in the director.

A Priest, A Woodsman and a Commoner

So, it begins outside an old house with a huge rainfall as priest, woodsman and commoner discuss a 'horror' story that they were involved with, as witnesses. It is pouring down with rain (something in Seven Samurai) and adds a darker and sinister edge as you can feel the muddy ground and the soaked-through wood that holds the house together. This puts clearly in perspective the crumbling society that they are involved within. This society is 12th century Japan - whereby, what is clear, is a cold-bloodied murder of a samurai and the rape of his wife. We see how the situation [Spoilers ahead...] from the three involved characters perspective - (1) the bandit who robbed and raped, (2) the wife's and even the (3) deceased Samurai's perspective. But the rouse is in the depiction of each memory recalled - the Samurai feels shame in his wife and murders himself, the wife kills her Husband because she cannot cope with his shame herself (She seems to kill him following a scene whereby she begins to go mad as he merely looks at her) and then the obvious killer - the bandit - seems to claim he killed the Samurai in a fair contest to win the affections of his wife ... all three stories contradict each other and we are left to consider their purpose.
Stunning Sight

Visually, we see stunning shots of the dappled light gleaming through the forest while, especially in shots of the rain-soaked, crumbling house, we have clear definition of the foreground and background. Even during each characters testimony we see the priest and woodsman sit, in silence, in the background (is this representative of them or would they sit in on each testimony?). Interestingly, as an audience member, as the characters give their testimony, they speak directly to camera - indicating us as judge and juror. There is an ambiguous ending - whereby we see a final memory as the woodsman claims he witnessed the whole event and all the characters are shown as weak and shallow. Though the final memory - and with little cause for inaccuracy - I believe we are meant to doubt his perspective too. He was shocked and horrified by the situation - and maybe horrified enough that he despises all three people involved, assuming that they must have all been weak and shallow to then lie about the situation too!

The dead Samurai's testimony is the most interesting as he gives it via a medium - a female character who speaks the voice of the Samurai. Though a little awkward to observe, we see her wreath and twist - as her cloth blows in the wind. Very unsettleing and, with the stark white colours of the womans clothes, recalls Bernini's Ecstasy of St Theresa.

Multiple-Perspective Story

The film often notes Vantage Point and The Usual Suspects as contemporary films inspired by Rashomon - there are so many and I am sure these films are simply well-known films opposed to good parrallels to such a masterpiece. Any type of multiple-perspective storyline which uses characters perspectives to show the memory has been inspired by Rashomon - I think better examples would be Jackie Brown, Go and Fargo. Rashomon is a true classic and, as John Boorman did, I would advise potential-Kurosawa fans to watch this first before moving on to the grandoise Seven Samurai.

NB - Considering the recent Riots in London, it is worth noting perhaps the current relevance this has in terms of the differing perspectives.

"If you're a left-winger, the causes of the violence and looting are straight-forward: they're the result of monstrous inequality and historic spending cuts; while the youth running amok through branches of JD Sports are what happens when you offer a generation plastic consumerism rather than meaningful jobs.

For the right, explaining the violence is even simpler – because any attempt at understanding is tantamount to condoning it. Better by far to talk of a society with a sense of over-entitlement; or to do what the prime minister did yesterday and simply dismiss "pockets of our society that are not just broken but, frankly, sick". You can expect to hear more of the same rhetoric in today's debate in parliament, especially from backbenchers on either side" - from Aditya Chakrabortty, The Guardian

Friday, 5 August 2011

Tokyo Story (Yasujirô Ozu, 1953)

"Honour your parents while they are still alive"/"You cannot serve your parents when they are in the grave."

Introduction

We go back. Back to the Sight and Sound Top 10 Films of All-Time. The list that is infamous as Citizen Kane always comes up top. The list that claims that Vertigo is Hitchcock's finest film and The Searchers is the best Western piece of filmmaking. Yes, we agree it is all opinion - but it is opinion of those in the film criticism industry. Ozu's Tokyo Story is one of those films. It has appeared in the aforementioned Top 10 list twice and is regarded as Ozu's masterpiece. Though, in fairness, I haven't seen any other Ozu films.

From Hollywood to Tokyo

I remember when I first comitted to researching and exploring cinema in more depth, that Hollywood looks at the 50's as a bit of a bad-time. Hollywood trotted out Musicals and Epics primarily - in reality the fifties not only showed us Hitchcock at his best (Vertigo in 1957) but also saw Kurosawa rise up in the East with Seven Samurai appearing the same year. Tokyo Story appeared in 1953 too - so it appears that cinema, in terms of longevity, seemed to churn out many important films. I think Hollywood was the problem - not cinema itself. Maybe during these dull-days of Summer blockbuster, we should turn our heads towards international cinema - as in the fifties, it was international cinema that was making waves.

I wrote, only recently, about Leo McCarey's Make Way for Tomorrow and noted how it became a huge influence for Ozu when he made Tokyo Story. At the time I wrote that statement, though I knew this to be the case, I had not seen Tokyo Story to know exactly what was influential. Indeed, Tokyo Story presents, initially, the visit two aging parents have to Tokyo when they visit their children (unlike Make Way for Tomorrow whereby the film begins through news that the parents are forced to be separated due to the recession). The parents have many children - their youngest daughter Kyoko housesits for the parents when they visit Tokyo. Koichi and Shige are the children who reside in Tokyo and both find it too difficult to entertain their parents - unlike the widow daughter-in-law Noriko, who manages to take them on a sightseeing tour of Tokyo and even gives Mum a back rub.

Mondrian Meets Ozu

Having mentioned Kandinsky when discussing Fantasia, (and as an Art teacher) I do believe it is incredibly important to try and incorporate Fine Art and Contemporary Art with Cinema. This week, I bring you Piet Mondrian. His iconic images of vertical and horizontal lines have been imitated many times since their creation in the early 20th Century. Throughout Tokyo Story we see vertical and horizontal lines in many pieces of architecture - though the lack of colour negates any clear correlation.

It nevertheless shows a certain consistency in composition in Ozu's film - the controlled and specific lines give the impression of precision and perfection. This provides an interesting contrast to the expectations and attitudes of the parents and children too.

Industry Against Tradition

Another interesting contrast is the use of establishing shots. Usually these shots would show the area a sequence takes place but there is something at odds with these shots in Tokyo Story. They often consisted of two shots - one showing the traditional Japanese architecture and then cutting away to an industrial building or refinery. This reminds you of the bigger consequences of the future that is at hand - the lack of importance of the family at odds with the capitalist and business focus of others. The children are often 'too busy' to be with their parents - whether it be tending to the beauty salon or on an immediate call-out for a pateint. Jobs is what gets in the way of these family members to merely make time for their own parents.

Hope

The daughter-in-law, who has lost her husband, appears to be the most humble, kind and considerate - and yet Noriko still blames herself. She claims she is selfish because she doesn't think about her deceased husband enough (whilst we have never heard the other family members mention him even once). The perspective that she thinks about others so much that, the one time she lapses, is apprently a horrendous thing puts things into perspective. Maybe there is hope yet. Then again, the Grandchildren are exceptionally problematic - insulting their Grandparents at one point and becoming exceptionally rude to their own parents.

In one shocking exchange, we see the Daughter almost tell her Father off for merely drinking an alcoholic drink following the death of his wife. Shige is so patronising and, rather than considerately thinking about the heartbreak he may feel, she is casting his mind back to a history he had many years prior and the one instance that inconvenienced her in Tokyo. And yet she has the audacity to assume that her parents enjoyed their stay in Tokyo.
There is a touching moment whereby the youngest son, Keizo, realises he didn't do a great job as a son - but this fits nicely with the expectation he places on himself running parrallel with the expectations the parents had of their children - maybe we simply cannot live up to the expectations of others. Especially as family members see every side of you: the good and the bad.

Best Film Ever?

Make Way For Tomorrow seems to explore old age and the passing of time - and tje selfishness of children as they get older. Tokyo Story goes further and explores the ramifications and expectations of parents on their children and how it is possible that these expectations are too high - even lying to impress other friends in some cases. Tokyo Story incorporates the parrallel between industry and its affect on the family. Tokyo Story shows the actual consequence of actions - the regret you cannot change if have not honoured your family and parents while they are alive. There is even a hint at the political problems within Japan as parents discuss the loss of their children during the war.

People do say it is the 'Best Film Ever'. And the slow-pacing and very calm and patient characters seems at odds with what many people consider their favourite films now. Rotten Tomatoes has the highest critical rating for the film, Paul Schraeder rates it 'gold' and John Walker (former editor of the Halliwell's Film Guide) placed Tokyo Story at the top spot of his Best 1000 Films Ever Made. The list goes on - but you have to ask yourself why? An incredible documentary presented by Barry Norman on the UK Citizen Kane DVD fills in the blanks as to why Citizen Kane often tops the polls (and, once you watch it, you do realise that it deserves the coveted spot) but Tokyo Story appears to be much more inaccessible - I think that on multiple viewings it gets better and, already, I know the story will stick with me in the future.
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Tuesday, 2 August 2011

'Screen Insight' Statistics (July)

Inevitably, due to the Summer break, posts have gone up this past month. Sad to say that, due to many plans dotted throughout August, I doubt I will be able to keep it up. Those folks who manage 2 or 3 posts a day (I'm talking to you Hatter...) I have no idea how you do it. Then again, I know that most people finish at 5.30 and that I, generally, sure as hell do not. C'est la vie.

We are up to 24 posts in the month of July, up from 20 in June (and 17 in May). I intend to have posts running while I am away at different points during August so, it is possible I can keep up to at least 24. Time will tell.

The last month saw a high of 1,044 hits. This is a huge increase from the previous months 760, but it is a shame to notice that the amount of time spent on the site has dropped to a little shy above a minute at 1-minute 7-seconds (though it does say different stats on different pages on Google Analytics - I am just taking this as the most obvious as it appears on the first page.). I think back to Anomalous Materials great posts on using these figures and it does indeed worry me that the time is edging that much closer to the under-a-minute mark. Not good.
The bounce rate has remained quite steady, with a 76.15% bounce (4% rise from the 72% last month). Some posts - such as the 'Time for a Hangover' post - are clearly people dropping on it following some random entry on Google, but I am seeing a little more interest in the older posts so the scroll bars seem to be doing their job. The Classic Columb (at Man, I Love Films) does seem to be garnering a few more hits too - with those posts becoming a little bit more successful than others.

Top 10 Blog Posts

Interesting surge in popularity of the Kidulthood post and, with the hit of the X-Men:First Class soundtrack, I am keen to continue that series. Those Top 5's remain quite popular - with the Pixar one making a new entry nice and high. I have a few up my sleeve for the coming weeks so I fear that the whole Top 10 will be made up of Top 5's in due course... eek.
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Monday, 1 August 2011

A-Z #93: The Host

You can pick up hundreds of DVDs for a round-pound each - it doesn't matter. It's never about quantity, it's about quality. A-Z is my way of going through my collection, from A-Z, and understanding why I own the films ... or you can tell me why I should sell 'em

#93 - The Host

Why did I buy it?

It is one of the "1001 Movies to see before you die" and, on the sleeve, it said "Jaws meets Jurassic Park". Its not Jaws meets Jurassic Park but it sold me.

Why do I still own it?

I watched it once and, indeed, it is a funny one. Its a strange balance of action and adventure and then, mixed in, is a strange type of comedy. I liked it enough to not strike it off completely, but I want to watch it again as part of an asian-cinema season and see how it compares to other films of a similar style. Then ... then we shall see if it gets struck off or becomes and must-watch film.
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