Thursday, November 30, 2006

29th Nov 06 - Casino Royale

I don’t like Bond. As a franchise it’s dumb. Dumb action films aimed at blokes. They objectify women, have rubbish puns, laughably silly baddies, an impossibly-good-at-everything lead and there’s always a winter chase on weird jet powered skis. It’s paint-by-numbers entertainment for easily pleased (some might say “simple”) minds. Like I said, it’s aimed at blokes.

Insulting people is fun.

Anyway, the new Bond had words like ‘dark’, ‘violent’ and ‘realistic’ attached to it. They’ve changed the franchise, Batman Begins style, and I was curious to see the results. Spurred on by my MI:3 fun, I pushed past the crowds and faced my Bond hatred head-on. And it wasn’t half bad. By that I mean half of it wasn’t bad. This is a grittier, nastier Bond to the fancy pants smarmy-arse of recent times. The grainy opening battle in the close confines of a toilet cubicle sets the tone. Fights are brutal, angry, bloody. They’re also flamboyant in places, but in less of a silly ‘surfing on a car’ way and more like ‘leaping over cranes’ excitement. There are so many different action pieces I can’t actually remember them all. But I never once rolled my eyes at some unbelievable stunt, so that’s a good sign.

And Daniel Craig. My God. There was this big hoo-har about how you can’t have a blonde Bond, Craig’s not handsome enough, it’ll never work. To that I say ‘Bond is fictional, get over it.’ And I’ll now add ‘have you seen him? I mean, like, actually seen him?’ Because if you have, you’ll know. Craig IS Bond. He has the effortless charm, the sly little smile, the CGI-blue eyes (come on, no one’s eyes can be that blue). And he certainly has the right physique. Bond is a trained killer, after all, and Craig looks like he could very easily kill you. With his big biceps. Lovely big biceps. And he gets stabbed a bit in his smooth, hard stomach. And is naked during a torture scene. Quite frankly, I am now in love with Daniel Craig, and anyone who dares say he isn’t handsome enough will face my wrath.

Crazy fans of Bond might throw their hands up in rage. They can’t change Bond like that! It’s an institution! But despite the darker edges, this is still very much a Bond flick. Women are still around as sexual objects or whimpering idiots. The baddy is the most ludicrously evil-looking baddy ever, sporting a Dr. Evil style eye scar and weeping, yes, actually weeping blood. There are fast cars and nice clothes and glamorous locations. It’s still Bond. Just better. This Bond is human. He’s arrogant, makes mistakes, gets hurt and has lovely thighs.

But as I said before, only half of this film is good. Unfortunately it loses its thrilling impact because it goes on for EVER. At 144 mins (still not the 150 mins of Shit Pirates of the Shit-ibbean) the novelty begins to wear thin, especially as the films ends and then has twenty minutes of naff romance. I know exactly why this was (to show why Bond is like he is, bless him) but there was no need to drag it out for that long and in that way. It’s such a shame, because I was really enjoying this film. But rather than leave the cinema with that excited rush, I instead left a bit annoyed and bored.

Bond gets a point for roughing up the franchise and bringing a better, tougher Bond to the screen. It gets another point because I am in love with Daniel Craig. But it loses a point for getting carried away with itself and going on and on and on. So Bond marches in with CF1.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

15th Nov 06 - The Prestige

There’s been the strangest reaction to this film. Despite a fantastic director (Christopher Nolan - him what darkened Batman and gave Pacino insomnia) and a meaty cast (Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Smug Johansson) most critics seem to have taken a dislike to it. Calling it nasty names like ‘boring’ and giving it no stars. But something you must remember is that critics aren’t always right.

Except this one, of course.

Ignore every bad review. They’re idiots. This is a solid, original thriller, handled by a fabulous (British) director and two very strong leads. The story revolves around two rival magicians and their complete and utter obsession with magic. Their obsessions escalate to the point of thieving, sabotage and violence, and through flashback-within-flashback their story is told. There’s magic tricks, romance, thrills, death and a tiny spattering of comedy. What more do you want?

Bale and Jackman are competent front men, Jackman just nudging ahead with a wider variety of emotions, while Bale, though ever brilliant, still has that slightly smarmy mouth that removes empathy a tad. Even Johansson avoids my wrath with an understated performance (well, as understated as you can be dressed in a corset as a magician’s assistant). And Nolan handles the choppy timeframe perfectly. He’s had practice – his first film being the backwards Memento, which was written by his brother Jonathan, who also co-writes the Prestige screenplay. Memento (in my top 5 films) left me reeling with its brilliance, and though The Prestige doesn’t have quite the same impact, it still has a refreshingly original feel to it, especially compared to the current prequel/sequel/franchise movement.

Perhaps the main flaw is in the delivery of the film’s “trick”. Rather than it finish with a “my, didn’t see that coming” blast, it was more a gradual reveal, leading to a “I think it must be… oh yes it is.” But at least it was engaging enough to make you tot up all the clues to begin with, and there were moments where my heart was beating that little bit faster as I anticipated something nasty was about to happen…

The Prestige is a dark, intriguing thriller, with a brilliant cast and director. It’s gaining an extra point for engaging me and teaching me a little bit about magic. Poo to all you nasty critics – this gets CF1.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

10th Nov 06 - The Page Turner

A thriller about a girl who turns the pages for a piano player? I can just see it now. Will she not turn a page fast enough so they end up out of time? Will the pianist stumble and miss a note? Edge of your seat stuff.

I’m being foolish, of course. The ‘thrill’ aspect derives from the revenge tactics of the page turner herself, and the dependent relationship she forges with the pianist. Melanie, you see, has a bit of a grudge. During her childhood piano exam she was put off by one of the examiners and subsequently failed. Many years later she just happens to be working for the very same examiner. Uh-oh. Though really, holding that kind of grudge for something so minimal? Crazy-much? Well, actually, yes. Melanie is two forks short of a pretentious cutlery set. She skulks around with a creepy stare, casually hinting that she’s capable of bad things, obviously obsessed with the pianist. But though some characters notice there’s something up with Melanie, the object of her obsession / revenge becomes utterly dependent on her. And so Melanie can exact her revenge. Mwuhaha.

Unfortunately, Melanie’s revenge turns out to be a bit of a let down. Tension was built, Melanie was played perfectly by Deborah Francois with a sinister coolness, and there were dabs of excitement here and there. But it all came crashing down at the end. Actually, ‘crashing’ isn’t the right word. It was more of a muffled ending, like running into a wall of marshmallow. It stops you, but in an unremarkable way. Not that a literal wall of marshmallow would be unremarkable. It would, in fact, be quite exciting to run into an entire wall made of marshmallow. The Page Turner was more like flopping against a hard pillow. Or an airbag. It just was an unremarkable ending, ok?

Perhaps a lot of the film’s impact was lost during translation. This was a film less about action, and much more about words and emotion, which, unfortunately, is often lost when reading the dialogue at the bottom of the screen. There was an interesting relationship developed, but ultimately I found little motivation to keep on turning any pages, and was disappointed by the ending. The Page Turner flicks back to CF-1. And apologies for the lucid nature of today’s review – I seem to have a bit of a temperature, which may have made my mind wander. I now quite fancy some marshmallow…

Friday, November 10, 2006

8th Nov 06 - Borat

This week was the rare chance to see a film that most people have heard of, and have actually been to see. Borat, or if you want to use the full title, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, stormed into cinemas after making amused waves in the summer festivals. Critics were coming out with melodramatic statements like ‘you’ll laugh so much you’ll puke’ and the hype monster, as mentioned in the Brick review, was threatening to strike.

With all this in mind, it was with some trepidation that I entered the cinema. I was fond of Borat already after watching his appearances on Da Ali G Show, with his awkward interviews and finger-chewingly uncomfortable expositions of the backwards parts of American (people gaily singly along with Borat as he recounts the song “Throw the Jew Down the Well”). And with his foray into film, you won’t be surprised to find a similar format. Not that that’s a bad thing. Watching Borat interview a bunch of feminists (“our scientists proved that women have smaller brains”) or try his hand at driving lessons brings laugh after embarrassed laugh, as his subjects patiently deal with his sexist, anti-Jew views.

But to beef up the film, Borat expands into a full-on story, as the intrepid TV presenter explores America to make a documentary for back home, and falls in love along the way. All right, it’s not much of a story, but it gives excuse for some fabulous set pieces, the most notable being a fight scene that trounces the Jackass boys for sheer gross entertainment. Other highlights include the xenophobic nature of New York inhabitants (I’d probably run away too if a gangly ‘foreign’ type tried to kiss me) and the gun shop owner who’s happy to recommend the best weapon for killing a Jew. Borat has the ability to show the scariest attitudes of the voting US of A public, and manages to make Michael Moore style points in smaller, funnier, bursts. Not bad for a film with a ‘turd in a bag’ joke.

But, amusing as it was, my laughter didn’t turn into vomit as promised. Perhaps it was because the two bumper trailers I’d been exposed to featured a variety of the best punch lines. Perhaps it was the stunted interview segments, that when nestled into the rest of the plot ended up feeling a little awkward and tacked on. Perhaps the scenes featuring obvious actors cast a cloud of doubt over the supposedly ‘real’ encounters. I suspect it’s because the reviewers that went crazy over it had never seen Borat before, and the entire concept was like some shiny new comedy, rather than a TV-to-film creation.

Still, you’ve got to hand it to creator Sacha Baron Cohen. He’s created a lovable character, despite the outlandish views, and his physical comedy is superb. So yes, funny. But no, not the funniest thing ever. Tinged by the hype monster, I came out feeling ever so slightly let down. But for 84 minutes it’s definitely worth a watch, and for the sheer balls of Sacha Baron Cohen (intentional pun, there) I’m giving this an extra point. Borat makes CF1.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

1st Nov 06 - The History Boys

Ok. I haven’t seen the West End version of this. I’m therefore going to be reviewing it based solely on the film’s impact, not the play. So any West End rah-de-rah fans trying to defend the original can put down their duelling gloves. Though they could pick them back up again to defend against the outrageous stereotype I’ve just written.

To get to the bottom of my problem with this film (that’s right. I have a problem with it) I have to quickly point out something. There’s a big difference between a stage play and a film. Granted both are story-telling mediums, and I like both equally. But they are still different. You can show in film, whereas you have to rely more on telling in theatre. Mainly because film gives you control over the audience’s focus. You can edit scenes, use lighting, framing and close-ups. In theatre you can still use clever lighting, but you can’t show the intricate twitches of an actor’s eyes to indicate their feelings. There is no zoom in theatre. Unless the actors pause and suddenly side step up to the audience’s faces. A concept which, though amusing, is implausible, especially when there’s tiered seating. So theatre relies more heavily on dialogue, be it clever (conversations that reveal hidden intentions and emotions) or a bit of a cop-out (bloody monologues). And in film, though dialogue is still very important, there are more elements to play with.

So, to the point of my ramblings. The History Boys is a play, and on screen it is still very much a play. A play without the intimate atmosphere of a theatre. Though the cast are obviously very talented, they are still belting out their lines as if to make sure the people at the back can hear. We can all hear boys – there’s a fricking great microphone above your heads. Every line, though often wittily constructed by accomplished writer Alan Bennett, is punched out, word for word, clear enough so you can hear it but with little or no true emotion. Again, it probably works brilliantly on stage. But on film it left me completely unengaged with the characters, save for a couple who were played, not surprisingly, by more experienced actors on screen. Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour and Stephen Campbell Moore were the trio of teachers who managed to deliver their lines in a quieter, mumbled fashion, like what we do in the real world.

And ok, maybe my biggest vice is unrealistic dialogue, a common problem in play-to-screen types (see Closer) so maybe I’m being more pedantic than usual. But I was, how to put it, BORED a lot of the time. It didn’t help that the ‘boys’ (played by actors who seemed to range from 18 to 30 years old) were irritating little pricks. I mean, really. I was sniped at for being a swot at school (unfairly – I wasn’t out to please the teachers, I just had a brain) but at least I didn’t quote poetry and break into song all the time. I know I was supposed to care whether the lads got into Oxbridge or not, but to be honest I just wanted them all to die horribly. Extra irritation ensued because of the token characters. Yey to PC, there’s a black kid and an Asian one, but their characters were so totally underdeveloped that it meant the only thing you could define them by was their race, which surely goes against the PC point. There was also a fat one, a gay one, a religious one, a thick one (why he was in the mix of lads trying for Oxbridge, I don’t know) and a flirty one. It’s characterisation, Spice-Girl style.

Side plots involving a kiddie-fiddling teacher who we were supposed to feel sorry for because he was a ‘nice chap’ were just odd. And it had about three or four endings, all of which made the point of the piece more and more obscure. What was it about? Homosexuality in schools? Differing teaching styles and their effect on pupils? History? Perhaps I completely missed the point, and it’s probably because I stopped listening as the dialogue continued to pour forth like bacterial infected blood from a relentlessly singing, poetry-quoting wound.

I can see that this would be a good piece on stage, and it obviously is since it’s been very successful. But its transfer to film has been, quite frankly, lazy. The dialogue and the delivery need to be smudged and blended so that it flows more smoothly in the film environment. The script should have been altered to account for the new medium. It doesn’t need elaborate explanations of people’s feelings anymore – we can see them, or we should be able to. All in all I seem to be much crosser than I had originally planned, so instead of losing the one point for clunky transition to screen, it’s losing an extra point for making me rant for longer than usual. Fair? By the book of Cinemafool it is, and it’s getting CF-2.