Saturday, 27 February 2010

' The dead facts, strung together by a deaf, dumb, blind editor! '

The Tarnished Angels

Directed by Douglas Sirk

Men and planes are a good concoction for a film. The Tarnished Angels, is the story of World War I pilot Roger Shulman, who come the Great Depression is forced to fight for a living in a stunt circus of dare devil flying. Rock Hudson plays a hack, Burke Devlin, who writes a piece on Shulman, and becomes entangled in his life/wife. Set in New Orleans, the film is a throw back to an era, long ago, and yet with all the current financial worry, there are similarities to draw. There is also something enigmatic about seeing a newspaper machine operate, The Tarnished Angels is brilliant, in showing Hudson have his battles with his newspaper editor. Hudson's delivery of insults and penchant for whiskey, make him ooze charisma. William Faulkner's claim that this was his favourite film adaptation of his work, the film was based on the novel, Pylon, appears justified. Some of the frames are truly astounding, the barren plains these pilots whizz around, make all that red bull bullocks look drab. An endearing film about America and the Great Depression.

'All men are created equal. No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words.'


Directed by Gus Van Sant

Milk, a highly polished piece work, and yet the story is so tightly wound and mechanical, this biopic of Harvey Milk was disappointing. Sean Penn's performance as the iconic gay activist is impressive, and yet come the hour mark and the new boyfriend, I found his character just going through the motions of failed election campaign after failed election campaign. These may be the facts, but Van Sant feels too concerned to cram Milk's legacy into 140 minutes. There was frustration at not grasping what gave the champion of gay rights this infectious drive. Van Sant's use of archive, injected a semblance of what Milk was up against and the gay rights movement, something the film should have developed further. The film was campaign trail 24-7, along with the 'honey I'm sorry I'm late for dinner' scenes. That said, Milk does have several excellent performances, Penn is flanked by Emile Hirsch, who delivers an enigmatic performance as a gay college drop out - cum - political activist and Josh Brolin never disappoints. The actors flex their muscles and yet there not much intuition in understanding this important period of American history. Maybe the film is not meant to be a history lesson, Hollywood being Hollywood, maybe it's about the film star giving his all in a portrayal of a gay icon, if so, well done Sean Penn.

'You see, there are so many people out here that I'd rather be eulogizing here today than Jack'

What Just Happened

Directed by Barry Levinson

De Niro rolls out of bed to play a 'movie producer'. Could the acting deity be trying any less? De Niro battles with the elements, playing politics, as he attempts to navigate his way through the haphazard world of Hollywood. Revealing the truths about Hollywood, this film should have been endearing, but it simply felt soulless, lacking any charm. The film had an eerie quality with its gritty ultra realism hand held camera work, courtesy of Stéphane Fontaine. Funny in places, but contrived , no prizes for guessing that executives are inhumane and film stars are prima donnas. Stale.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

'If you dream, dream big.'

The Bad and The Beautiful

Directed by Vincente Minnelli

A film about Hollywood made by Hollywood. Kirk Douglas plays a producer, Jonathan Shields who screws over a director, actor and a writer, the three recall their experiences with the man a.k.a Spartacus. It is interesting to see Douglas play a man obsessed, work and play are intertwined in his yearning for success. But the film should be treated with suspicion, what is the Hollywood establishment trying to say here, indeed the credits thank A.M.P.A.S for lending them some Oscars which are on display in Douglas' office. I couldn't help but feel this film had a motive to portray the glamour and graft of Hollywood. Sure maybe Douglas does nasty things – but the film is all deals and cocktail parties, where is the common man? 'Poverty Row' is mentioned once in the entire film and you can't help but feel in the age of McCarthyism, Hollywood was keen to portray itself in a certain if somewhat conservative light. It's enjoyable and Douglas is a charmer, this is Entourage for the post-war generation.

'You're so fucked. Here let me get a picture while I'm at it. '

Michael Clayton

Directed by Tony Gilroy

A big western conglomerate conspiracy cover up. It looks nice, I like Clooney driving his S-class Mercedes, I like Tom Wilkinson playing the crazy lawyer, and I like Tony Gilroy's work and yet I felt disappointed come the credits. The credits should be mentioned as they were peculiar, they started to roll when Clooney is riding in a taxi – very pretentious. The film was one step behind the audience – it was very easy to second guess the story (not that this is a bad thing) but for a conspiracy thriller it had a very pedestrian pace. Tilda Swinton takes an impressive turn as the ice queen of this evil company but she was on the peripheral of the film – she seemed simply to be meeting muscle on street corners and asking them to carry out some murder cover up etc. It felt clichéd and well again predictable – the story was lacking details - nuances which shed light on these kind of operations. I hate films which play and then cut and say x amount of days earlier- events unravel and you then precede to watch the same action but with a 'new perspective'. Michael Clayton does this and you watch the same shots again – this is not acceptable. So the film looks great, Clooney is Clooney, who doesn't like a conspiracy cover up and yet this is very average.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

'Which religion is funniest?'

The Infidel

Directed by Josh Appignanesi

Omid Djalili plays a muslim who finds out he's adopted and is not actually Muslim but Jewish. Cue: identity crisis, upsetting the extremist in-laws and bar mitzfas...I know..More predictable than a Thai massage, except no happy ending here. The film is truly awful. I laughed, but that's not saying much. Sure Djalili has a very hairy body and that's funny but that doesn't translate to good film making. I felt David Baddiel who wrote the screenplay was just pawning the director in his master plan of a Jewish identity crisis comedy. Any positives? I like the sparse use of shots, each scene usually consisted of one set up. It was nice to just let the action unfold in front of your eyes – but this was not even an artistic decision but a budgetary constraint apparently. I feel bad knocking the film, because any British film is an achievement. But there in lies the problem.. why would someone want to make a film out of this? It's feels like a thirty minute pilot at most. £1.3 million, I shake my head in shame at the money wasted.

'Why are you doing this to us?' 'Why not?'

Funny Games

Directed by Michael Haneke

Why is it when I watch a Michael Haneke film where there are simply two characters standing in a room talking am I scared? The man is the master of suspense. Funny Games is a critique on society's all consuming appetite for violence. The film is punctuated with post-modern references to television, music and even the audience watching this film. I played right into the Austrian's hands enjoying or rather watching every second of this suspenseful violent encounter of a family taken hostage by two youths. The opening titles are genius. Ulrich Mühe's performance is outstanding, Sussane Lothar playing the hapless mother, also gives a riveting performance, for real the two actors were actually married which translates to wonderful chemistry on screen. Very Austrian, very Haneke, an excellent film.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

'The clocks stopped at one seventeen one morning.'

The Road

Directed by John Hillcoat

Depressing stuff. It felt like John Hillcoat's other work The Proposition - same pace but lets replace the outback with Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalypitc world. I haven't read the book, so I can't pass comment on the film adaptation as such. The story: a father and his son walk a little, they eat a little, they cry a lot and run away from the few remaining humans left, who all appear to be cannibals. The performance from Viggo Mortesen is most impressive, both phsycially and emotionally he looks worn, it came across that he really had been trudging the land in fear and search of food for some time. I found his son, played by Kodi Smit-McPee , annoying and whiney (just like the sound of his name) – but I suppose that's what you 'act like' if you had no other contact with humans apart from your daddy and all you knew was the virtues of a child.

What's most impressive about the film is the lack of CGI used, Hillcoat on countless occasions has trumpeted this fact. Not only does this decision lend a realness to the film that could not be achieved with a CGI image – but these images document a side of America not many people know about: 'The abandoned Pennsylvania Highway' has been listed in many reviews but throughout the film, scenes using real landscapes show that America isn't all skyscrappers, McDonalds and gas guzzling trucks.

Hillcoat says there's no such thing as a 'depressing film' - I've been stalking all his interviews... I'm of the school of thought that a depressing film is a bad film. So yes, this story, this world may be depressing but it filled me with hope and fear; the incongruity of our little lives. Indeed I suppose the film's conclusion asks the question how insignificant are we? As the credits rolled I was left with the thought what would I do with myself if the world became apocalyptic. And well.. I felt grateful and relieved to catch the tube home. So well done Hillcoat for making me happpy for using London's public transport.

Conclusion: Not a depressing film but has depressing elements in it.