Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Potiche (2010)

The French have always been good at making quirky, zany films (Amélie, The Science of Sleep, Belleville Rendezvous; to name but a few) and now we should add Potiche to this eccentric list. In French, a Potiche is literally a vase, but is also used in reference to a trophy wife, which is exactly what Catherine Deneuve’s character is. Her husband Robert Puyol (Fabrice Luchini) always talks down to his wife Suzanne (Deneuve), and doesn't value her opinion at all. He runs an umbrella factory, though he is a very unforgiving employer. When his workforce strike, they manage to take him hostage, which ultimately results in him having a heart attack. While he is recovering, the only logical replacement is Suzanne. Of course it turns out that Suzanne is a great boss, and with help from the local mayor Maurice Babin (Gérard Depardieu) she instills confidence and encourages creativity in the workplace. When Monsieur Puyol finally recovers and comes back to work, he buys out his wife’s shares so that he can control the company again; but that doesn’t stop the Potiche: now she’ll run for mayor!

Catherine Deneuve is consistently great throughout, whether she is composing poems about squirrels, shouting at her overbearing husband, talking candidly with factory workers or dancing with Gérard Depardieu. Gérard is his usual effortlessly charming self, though he must be in competition with Richard Griffiths to see who can become as huge as possible. The rest of the cast fit around the main characters perfectly, creating a wonderful, believable world. I did love the way that the umbrellas were made in the factory; very reminiscent of the doors in Monsters Inc! This is a great, very charming, quirky film, that you can easily lose yourself in; but nevertheless gives an indication of some of the sexual discrimination that women had to deal with in the 70s and 80s.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011)

From the opening understated scene of Snape looking out from a Hogwarts window (in a Galadriel/Elrond kind of way) HPATDHP2 is a very fitting finale to the HP series. The most financially-successful franchise in cinema has seen stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson grow from cute, bewildered (yet perfectly cast) 12 year-olds into proper actors.

The story takes off immediately from Part 1, which was nice; there was no “Previously on Harry Potter”. Though I am glad that I had recently watched part 1. The action is then fairly constant throughout the film; but not so much that the cast don’t get the opportunity to shine. It was great that Ralph Fiennes finally got to act! He has mostly been in the background in the previous films, but here he is really able to get his Voldemort on! He manages to be angry, intimidating, yet scared and uncertain. Alan Rickman is of course superb as always; though I did feel that the reveal of Snape’s history was slightly rushed, which lessened the impact that it should have had. Jason Isaccs is brilliant once again as the terrified, sycophantic Lucius Malfoy, and I have already mentioned that Daniel, Rupert and Emma are now all great actors.

The Deathly Hallows themselves were barely mentioned in Part 2, and the whole Horcruxes/Hallows debate was completely missing which I felt was a major part of the book. It was never explained that by the end, Harry had both destroyed all the horcruxes AND had all three hallows. Not that any of this really mattered for an action-packed finale, it just slightly lessened the emotional impact. Speaking of emotional impact, suddenly seeing Tonks, Remus, and Fred/George (delete as appropriate, I can’t remember) on the floor of the great hall was all a bit “Oh, right. They’re dead then.” Whereas concentrating on the characters a bit more would have upped the emotional content when we then actually saw them die; and it is the empathy that we have with these characters that binds us to the film. Just think of some recent films without emotional content to get the idea (Sucker Punch, Transformers...).

These are only minor niggles, and overall I thought the film was great. For those viewers who hadn’t read the books or seen all of the previous films, there were probably plenty of moments that wouldn’t have made sense or simply gone straight over their heads. This may have diminished their enjoyment a bit; but for someone who has seen all of the films and read all the books (though not recently enough to pick lots of holes in the film) I really enjoyed it.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Fatal Attraction (1987)

Michael Douglas isn’t happy with his family life (attractive wife (Anne Archer), daughter who looks like a boy), so he has an affair with a woman who looks like a man (Glenn Close). It turns out she is a psycho who likes to put small fluffy rodents in pots. Actually, Michael doesn’t seem that unhappy with his family, but having met Glenn Close in a restaurant he ends up having an affair all the same. Really don’t know why.

I wasn’t really paying attention while this was on TV so I can’t comment too much, though it did seem to have quite a sinister edge because I was never quite sure what Glenn Close’s character is capable of. I really didn’t know what the bunny boiler reference was all about, I previously thought that it was a euphemism for a gold-digger! No, apparently it means she boils a rabbit! I guess I just got annoyed a little bit that MD didn’t cut GC out of his life sooner.

Anyway, I’m sure this an alright film in an 80s kind of way.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Diamonds are Forever (1971)

He’s back! Not just James Bond, but Connery as well. Initially we are teased by mysterious hands punching/strangling as we see that someone is tracking down Blofeld. What’s this? It’s Sean Connery; but he looks old! The super-fast, exposition-heavy intro then continues (is this the quickest he has ever said Bond, James Bond?); a random gets gooped, and then Blofeld himself is gooped (a lot of goop in this evil lair). What? Blofeld dead? The film is only 3 minutes old!

Following the frenetic pace of this intro, the film slows right down, and doesn’t get going again until... erm... the next film, possibly? M seems completely bored with 007 as he and “Sir Donald” brief him in diamond smuggling, whereas Bond just seems more interested in his sherry. Cut into this exposition are scenes showing the various stages of smuggling, including the many loose ends tidied up by Mr Wint and Mr Kidd! If ever there was an indication that we are now in the 70s, the style and Bromance between these two is it.

Just in case we were getting excited, we are treated to 15 min of following Diamonds around Circus Circus, then to the airport, and finally out to a secret research area. This culminates in Bond escaping in a Robbie-the-Robot look-a-like space buggy. I do love the way that the astronauts try to stop James from escaping, but they can’t because they move awkwardly as if they’re in space, except they’re in the Nevada desert! Following this ludicrousness there’s an exciting car chase! Which is about as good as this:

Of course, it’s the performances of the main cast that hold a movie together. Having enjoyed Charles Gray’s memorable, though brief, appearance in YOLT, I was really looking forward to his take on Blofeld. Unfortunately the fine performance from YOLT is not particularly in evidence here. Whereas Telly’s Blofeld had an underlying menace, and a quiet confidence; Charles’ Blofeld is a bit too contrived; confident yes, but to the point of being too familiar: “Miss Case, showing a bit more cheek than usual?” He is however very scary, especially when dressed in drag! Was there really no better way for him to escape from his casino? He also comes across as being scared himself; when he realises that perhaps his oil-platform is in danger, he runs towards his submarine escape-pod like a frightened schoolboy - not very SPECTRE. Sean himself, as I’ve already mentioned comes across as being quite bored. By now he has lost all of the suave magnetic charm that was so evident in the first three films. Far from being the man that women swoon over, he seems bored with sexual shenanigans now; as he gets naked, he first hangs up his suit, displays his developing beer gut, and then gets into bed. He even considerately nestles the ashtray in his significant chest-rug so that Tiffany can smoke her post-coital cigarette!

In terms of the women, Plenty O’Toole is just a comedy name and doesn’t last very long; Bambi and Thumper the same; whereas Tiffany Case is probably the best character in the film. She is the one who keeps turning up, driving the plot forward, and providing a more interesting thread through the film than following some diamonds around; which is essentially all 007 does. Jill St John ensures that Tiffany generates far more intrigue than Blofeld, and seems far more involved in the plot than Bond the spectator. She even changes her hair colour, which leads to the only good one-liner from James as he admits that he doesn’t mind blondes or brunettes “providing the collars and cuffs match”!

Sadly, for the second film in a row there is no furniture fighting, but the vicious scrap in the lift with the real Peter Franks makes up for it. Very nicely shot and cut, it is very reminiscent of the fight with Red Grant in FRWL. It seems that Sean excels at fighting in confined spaces. Once again another highlight are some of the amazing sets designed by Ken Adam; none as huge as a secret volcano base, but very sleek.

There were also some excellent over-dramatic deaths; whether it is due to a plastic scorpion down the neck; or being shot in the head having been distracted by a kicked cat!

However, at the end of the day DAF is a very lacklustre James Bond escapade, not as stodgy or waterlogged as Thunderball, but still quite tedious. It feels like the whole film is a death rattle to Sean’s time as 007. Time for another change?

Order of Preference so far:

Friday, 15 July 2011

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Pixar have always managed to come up trumps in terms of animation, and when it comes to the third instalment of what could be considered to be their flagship series, it is top-notch once again. Of course the Toy Story animation was always amazing, but no doubt a comparison of TS3 with the original TS would show an enormous difference. In terms of stories Pixar have generally been very good, being able to engage many different age groups (personally I don’t think that you can beat Monsters Inc), and TS3 is no different.

It is finally time for Andy to leave home and go to college. Of course he doesn’t want to take all of his toys with him, so he chooses to keep them at home in the loft; apart from Woody who will go with him to college. However, there is a mix up, and instead of spending their twilight years in the attic, the gang are taken to a nursery where the toddlers beat the shit out of all their toys! It turns out that the nursery toys are ruled with the iron fist of a large pink teddy bear, and Ken (of Barbie & Ken fame). Woody then has various adventures trying to rescue all the other toys, which of course he does. Eventually, Andy finds his box of toys and donates them to a neighbour's younger daughter, and the film ends with the two of them playing together.

As I said, the animation is all fantastic and the voices are once again perfect. This all makes TS3 very enjoyable, perhaps not so much as TS2, but then I saw that at the cinema so maybe it left more of an impression on me. I was expecting to be blubbing by the end from what I had heard, but I didn't shed a tear. I found it far more emotional when all the toys were sliding down into an enormous furnace at a land-fill site. There was a moment when they finally accepted their fate and all held hands; and that was the point I became all choked-up.

So, another right-rollicking installment from the chaps at Pixar, with never a dull moment (despite my wife falling asleep and missing more than half the film!). It will be interesting to see if the Pixar magic works just as well with live action; John Carter, we’ll be seeing you (probably).

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Tree of Life (2011)

Grace... Nature.... Mother... Brother...

So starts Terrence Malick’s Palm d’Or-winning The Tree of Life. I’m sure words such as epic, ambitious and stunning have been levelled at this film; and to that I might add sprawling, as its scope really is huge. Not that this is a bad thing, in fact it’s really rather good. Admittedly, this is not a film that will be appreciated by all (or understood; I most certainly didn’t understand it all), but definitely worthwhile.

Red-haired girl looks out of a window in wonder... Sunflowers... Red-haired girl stands in a field of cows.... Her dad puts his arm around her and gives her a hug.

The film is essentially like a slide show, as if sections of celluloid had been spliced together. There are chapters showing different events, but there is no “story” as such (at least not a resolved one anyway). Generally the film follows the exploits of Jack, (the eldest son of three), over the period of one defining summer.

Big bang... stars and star dust and colours... geology.... biology... evolution... dinosaurs..

Perhaps this is Malick’s view on life. Take a typical day; breakfast, travelling to work, interacting with people at work, dinner, relaxing at the end of the day. If you imagined a 5 minute film made of this typical day, then all of these chapters could be seen as separate events with no specific coherence. This is exactly how Tree of Life is made; the scenes don’t necessarily flow together, (sometimes they do); they are just an insight into the life of this one family.

Sean Penn is grown-up Jack in modern day, somewhat lost in the world, thinking about his family, his relationship with his parents, and growing up that summer. As he gazes out of a window (instead of listening to a work colleague), it is through his eyes that we experience the film. Brad Pitt is the father (Mr O’Brien), and is torn between being an über-disciplinarian and a loving father. Jessica Chastain is Mrs O’Brien and is much more open with her sons and sees them as equals rather than adhering to the strict parent/child dynamic that Mr O’Brien does.

Red-haired woman on a swing... Red-haired woman plays with her sons... running... running down the street.

As I’m writing this I’ve come to the conclusion that I really did like the film. It’s taken a couple of days to try and decide what I thought of it; I really didn’t know where to start, but now I know where I stand. Like I said at the beginning, not the kind of film that everyone is going to enjoy, but if you get comfortable, take it as it comes, and be patient with it, then it is a rewarding film.

                                     There are lots of trees in the film too. Which is nice.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

There has been a lot of hype (unhype) about this film: whether it’s any good or not; whether Michael Bay is beyond criticism because he keeps defying the critics by making films that do very well at the box office; whether we should not take it seriously because it is only a bunch of robots battering each other. An argument that is succinctly answered by Helen O’Hara from Empire here.

For me, well I tried to keep an open mind; my trouble is that when I was 9 or 10 years old I was one of the world’s biggest Transformers fans! I didn’t have loads of the toys (Optimus Prime and Megatron were out of my/my parents price range), but I did have Mirage, Sideswipe, and I remember saving up my pennys for Thrust. Geek Alert! I still have “Target 2006” a 10-issue story in the Transformers magazine from 1986! So when the first film came out in 2007 I was blown away. When Revenge of the Fallen came out 2 years later I felt like my childhood had been raped! Far more so than the Star Wars prequels, because at least I enjoyed them in the cinema. So, onto Dark of the Moon; that’s what you’re all here to read about anyway!

In 1962 NASA detect an object crash-landing on the moon, they suspect it is alien in origin. President Kennedy then states that the USA have to land on the moon before the Russians, so that only they can get their hand on this alien tech. 8 years later in 1969 (yes 8! I’m sure I saw a date on a PC screen that said 1962) Neil and Buzz land on the moon with the secret mission to investigate the space craft. What they discover is a crashed Autobot space ship, but everyone is dead.

Later we learn that the Russians also found something on the Dark side of the Moon, brought it back and it found its way to Chernobyl, and ultimately caused that disaster. Fast forward to today. The Autobots (in the absence of any immediate Decepticon threat) are helping humans to not kill each other all the time (this seems to involve the Autobots killing them instead! No, really, even on diplomatic missions). Soon the Autobots learn of the crashed space ship, and want to get there before the Decepticons; they arrive, rescue the original leader of the Autobots from the wreckage (Sentinel Prime) and also 5 beacons, return to earth and use the Matrix of leadership to resurrect Sentinel. Turns out Sentinel (voiced by Leonard Nimoy) was going to make a deal with Megatron to enslave the human race to help rebuild Cybertron! Confused? This isn’t the half of it.

Turns out that the recovered beacons are only 5 of hundreds, and it turns out that the Decepticons found the crashed spaceship on the moon a few years after the Apollo 11 mission and took away all of the other beacons. However, the Decepticons couldn’t get into the chamber where Sentinel Prime had locked himself with the remaining 5 beacons, and they needed Optimus to revive Sentinel anyway. So, the whole thing was a setup from the start! The Decepticons lured the Autobots to rescue Sentinel, so that he could be resurrected, defect, and steal the remaining 5 beacons. Locally these could be used to send a signal to the moon to active hundreds of Decepticons which were buried under the moon (for 60 odd years? And weren’t they Autobots that crashed on the moon anyway?),but  when all these beacons are linked together all over the world they can be used to transport Cybertron itself into Earth’s orbit!

Of course all this knees-bent running around, convoluted plot is simply so we can see big robots beating the shit out of each other in downtown Chicago. It’s just a shame it took 90 min to get there! And that’s probably my biggest criticism of it all. The whole plot seems to be contrived (nay, over-contrived) simply to shoe-horn in as many returning characters as possible. There is simply no need for John Turturro’s character, or for Sam’s Mum and Dad. I guess Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson aren’t so bad as there is a need for some military leader types during all the action to give a human element; but Josh just seems to be a military stooge now and has none of the charm that he had in the first film. Frances McDormand starts off well, but then realises that Michael Bay only cares about military equipment and blowing stuff up, so gives up acting after a while. And John Malkovich! WTF? Why is he there? Why is he having his belly tickled like a dog by Bumblebee? Word fail me. Possibly even a worse role than Galbatorix in Eragon! Last but not least Alan Tudyk plays John Turturro’s gay German bodyguard/assistant. It’s not funny, it’s woefully miscast; it sounds like he’s doing the accent as part of an improvisation comedy show. Why do we even need a gay German bodyguard, it’s not that kind of film; well at least it shouldn’t be.

There were also various plot points/actors that served no point at all. Ken Jeong’s character with the secret plans that Laserbeak was feeding him; stored in his pants? Bit of a twat that just needed a good slap. 10 min of time wasted. Stupid watch thing that Sam wears, just to make sure that the Autobots leave without a fight. Just an excuse for Sam to act like a fanny for 20 min! More time wasted. We first see Megatron driving around the Serengeti, so that he can tell some elephants to “All Hail Megatron”! He does meet up with Soundwave and Starscream to be fair; but then what? Are we to assume that Megatron drives all the way from East Africa to Chicago? Sorry, am I being picky now?

Of course the two main characters are Sam and Rosie (apparently her character was Carly; couldn’t have told you that until I just looked it up on IMDB!). Rosie Huntington-Whitely is good to look at (well she was a Victoria’s Secret model), and indeed, the first thing we see of her is her perfectly formed arse! Then she opens her perfectly formed mouth, and sounds like a fog horn, with a forty-a-day habit, and a sore throat! And a script to match. Oh, and she really can't act. Too far again? Sam has completely left behind any redeeming features. His desire for a new car and his teenage awkwardness in the first film we could relate to; but gurning because he has to find a job and wants something instantly important (despite having no qualifications) is not. He then spends the rest of the film either shouting at people more important than him, (coz, you know, he’s Sam Witwicky and he saved the world twice), or shouting AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH! a lot. We also never really believe that either of them are in danger. In fact, there is a shot of Rosie standing up amidst the carnage of Chicago with stuff blowing up all around her (no, really) and she doesn’t flinch, look worried/scared, or in the slightest bit concerned for her own well being. Yes, Rosie and Shia are indestructible!

Still there must have been something good about it? Well, it looks good. The 3D during the moon landing did look very good. There is also a great scene where Bumblebee transforms around Sam, knocking big bits of debris out of his way as he flies through the air, before ending up back in the car seat. Naturally accompanied by Shia’s AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH! But it did look good. Some of the battle scenes at the climax of the film also look good, and MOST of the time we know what’s going on; unlike Revenge of the Fallen where there was lots of similar robots bashing each other and the viewer had no idea who was who, Autobot or Decepticon! At the end of this climax Optimus quickly dispatches both Sentinel and Megatron; which leaves me thinking “Why didn’t he just do that to Megatron in the first film?” 

                                             Indestructible, and hasn't got a clue.

Musically, Steve Jablonski seems to have re-hashed the themes from the first film (I’m comparing a lot of things to the first film rather than the second because I’ve blacked out most of Revenge of the Fallen). Say what you like about the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, at least Hans Zimmer kept coming up with new ideas. Sorry, I was talking about good things! Don’t get me wrong, I really like the score from the first Transformers film, there are lots of cool themes and fits the film perfectly; it’s just that it doesn’t seem to have evolved much since then.

Verdict? Well, it’s not as bad as Revenge of the Fallen; no, I’m going to say it: it was better than Revenge of the Fallen (there, a positive word). The story wasn’t quite as full as plot holes, it made more sense (at the time anyway, mostly), and the special effects were top notch. However, you have to offset that with consistently bad acting; not necessarily the fault of the actors. We know John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and John Turturro at least can act, they just seem to realise that the director doesn’t care if they can act or not, or whether the script is any good - as long as there’s some stuff blowing up! And if there's some military equipment as well, then Michael’s happy. Overall: not very good. As Sucker Punch also demonstrated: glorious special effects alone, a good film does not make. If you think I've been quite harsh about Dark of the Moon, I really haven't:

Oh, and if there is less lens flare in J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 than expected, that’s because Michael Bay stole a whole bunch to use in Transformers!

Sunday, 3 July 2011

You've Been Trumped

You’ve Been Trumped is a documentary filmed by Anthony Baxter about the construction of a billion-dollar golf course to the North of Aberdeen. Donald Trump fell in love with the scenery on the coast of the Menie Estate 14 km north of Aberdeen; he thought that it was so beautiful that he wanted to build a golf course on it. Unfortunately, people live here, and because the sand dunes here represent a fragile ecosystem, it is actually designated a Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI), essentially a highly protected conservation area. Because of these environmental considerations, a committee convened to investigate the proposal, decided against the development; but soon the Scottish Government stepped in, dismissed the councillor on the committee who had had the casting vote, and paved the way for Trump.

This is a very good documentary showing the various atrocities being committed by the developers and the hired security that has been hired to ensure that no-one knows what is going on in the building site. It’s awful seeing trees and shrubs ripped out by heavy machinery, just to be buried underground; shameful seeing the water supply to local residents cut off by construction and the developers not caring at all; shocking seeing the behaviour of two local police officers arresting Anthony Baxter for “breach of the peace” when all he’d done was ask the head green keeper why local residents had been without water for a week. The director also speaks to an economist to get an opinion as to whether the golf course makes sense economically; it doesn’t seem to.

This is a very important documentary that everyone in the Aberdeen area should see. Of course a few of the interviews with professionals (economist, lawyer, scientist) could have been cherry-picked for the film (though I don’t think they were); but the video evidence of environmental ruin, police brutality, the bullish “I don’t give a shit” attitude of Donald Trump; and general scare tactics of the whole development are not faked. It is a terrible shame that Trump has been allowed to come over here and do whatever he wants simply because he is rich. Very worthwhile seeing if you can.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)

Mr Fox is tired of living in a hole, so he buys a lovely beech tree in the country for himself and his family to live in. Years ago when Mr and Mrs Fox found out that they were expecting a cub, they both swore to stay away from trouble and never steal chickens again. However, old habits die hard, and Mr Fox hatches a plan to steal chickens from the three major farms in the area: Bean’s, Boggis’, and Bunce’s farms. However, not all goes to plan, Mr Fox is rumbled and the farmers give chase, destroying their tree-home along the way and generally chasing the Fox family and many other woodland creatures around. They tunnel and tunnel and tunnel, and eventually surface from the sewers into a supermarket (yes there is a man-hole cover in the supermarket! Eh?). The creatures all celebrate that they have found such a paradise of food. The end.

Now, I’ve never read Fantastic Mr Fox (one of the few Roald Dahl books that I haven’t) so I have no idea how the film compares with the novel; though I do suspect that it deviates quite a bit. The animation is really cool; it is essentially stop motion, but it is done very well. I really loved the twitchy whiskers, and there’s a great scrap between Mr Fox and Rat that is almost strobe-effect, with lots of electrocutions! The voice cast is also very accomplished; Mr Fox: George Clooney; Mrs Fox: Meryl Streep; Badger: Bill Murray; Rat: Willem Dafoe; and the farmer Franklin Bean: Michael Gambon.

The trouble is that the film doesn’t know what it’s trying to be. Most of the main characters are American, but naturally the farmers (the villains of the story) are British. There are lots of American influences (baseball game - called Wackbat! -, one of the main characters is an opossum another a beaver); but there is also a definite Britishness to it  (Red post box, pub called the Nag’s Head, English countryside). The overall effect was a bit disorientating I thought. Especially with the overuse of “cuss” whenever a character was meant to be swearing! At one point I’m sure someone says “that was a total cluster-cuss!” or something similar. Come on, this is a kids film! Like I say, I haven’t read the book, but I’m sure Roald Dahl did not write an Americans vs British novel with lots of cussing in it; and quick search of the DVD on Amazon seems to confirm this.

I was really hoping to enjoy this; a friend had seen it at the cinema with his 5-year old son, and had said that they had enjoyed it. Perhaps it is better when seen through a child’s eyes and their enthusiasm rubs off on you. My overall impression: Meh.