Thursday, January 25, 2007

24th Jan 07 - The Last King of Scotland

I’ve learnt things from this week’s film:

Learnt thing number one: Idi Amin was a wacky man.

Learnt thing number two: calling Idi Amin a ‘wacky man’ does not really justify how horrendous his actions were.

Learnt thing number three: English people are ugly, sandal wearing weasels who spoilt everything.

Learnt thing number four: Scottish people are acceptable to Hollywood.

Learnt thing number five: Forest Whitaker can really act and this performance is justifiably Oscar nominated.

Learnt thing number six: What James McAvoy’s pee pee looks like.

Learnt thing number seven: I’m probably too old to be calling it a ‘pee pee’.

Learnt thing number eight: It’s clever to use a young jolly Scottish (not miserable English) doctor as the window to this fundamental part of Ugandan history.

Learnt thing number nine: Starting a film with an orange happy glow makes the grisly finale interestingly disjointed and therefore gives it more impact.

Learnt thing number ten: Good films can be spoilt a little by only briefly touching on interesting father/son relationships and wedging in parts of Amin’s background in weird, stilted bits of dialogue (“I’m going to tell you about how I grew up… um, there. Told you. Now you can go.”)

Learnt thing number eleven: Having a broken cinema seat makes a two hour film drag. Or getting a bit slow in the middle makes a two hour film drag.

Learnt thing number twelve: If you expect a film to be a powerful, gut-busting piece of cinema and it turns out to be solid but not overwhelming, you are more disappointed than usual.

Learnt thing number thirteen: If you take into consideration learnt thing number twelve, then this film can only make CF0, mainly because of the lack of expected ‘oomph’.

Learnt thing number fourteen: Writing reviews in this fashion is quite easy, and reduces the need to make full sentences.

Learnt thing number fifteen: Taking learnt thing number fourteen into consideration, I could easily write for a tabloid.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

17th January 2007 - A Prairie Home Companion

I was crammed into the smallest of screens in a pretentious cinema for this film, the last of Robert Altman’s (director of MASH) before his death at the end of 2006. It’s about the last recording of a live-radio country and western variety show. You know the ones. Well, you don’t – unless you’re from that weird bit in America where they still listen to that sort of crap. Sorry, did that insult any of my two readers? I doubt it.

Anyway, it’s this weirdly archaic show where a variety of country and western singers belt out songs, and alas it’s being shut down. The film takes place entirely on the last performance. And, erm, that’s about it really. Oh, there’s a bit of fantasy stuff too. I’m not really sure why. Or if there’s any point to the story at all, really. But there’s lots of singing. But I don’t find singing that interesting. Oh dear.

My struggle with that last paragraph reflects my struggle with the film. See, there is a lot in there that’s good. Altman’s direction is smooth, with lots of play on reflections. The dialogue is played brilliantly, with characters overlapping each other to create a natural flow throughout the film. There are some amusing songs (especially the ‘bad-jokes’ song, and the sung advertisements). Plus the cast are undeniably great – Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin play singing sisters, with Lindsay Lohan making first steps in an adult film as Streep’s daughter. The ever watchable John C. Reilly and Woody Harrelson are a pair of rude cowboys. Kevin Kline is the madcap producer. And Tommy Lee Jones pops up as the evil guy trying to bring them all down. He could also be the devil, but that’s me trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

But though all the components are good, it feels like they’ve been cobbled together into some weird, incoherent hybrid monster. There’s random bursts of slapstick comedy, some dips into character backgrounds that never really get off the ground, a lot of singing that sometimes could be a parody, but sometimes is just a general song. Kevin Kline is a comical, noir-esque character, but everyone else plays it pretty straight. And there’s a frickin’ angel in it. What the hell is going on?

The only sense I got from it was a chilling nod at the theme of death. Though it’s been advertised as a jolly sing-song, everything in it whiffed of demise. The end of the radio show, the destruction of the theatre, the literal demise of one cast member, the frickin’ angel. Play it against Altman’s unfortunate passing away, and it becomes a sort of goodbye. But it isn’t a goodbye, because Altman was very much alive when he shot it. So it’s either a conscious reference, a subconscious one, or just an unlucky coincidence. Without the coincidence, though, the film feels a little directionless, and felt a lot longer than its 105 minutes. For me, there were too many songs, but then I am a miserable bastard, remember.

It’s taken me a while to figure out how to rate this. On the one hand there are lots of likeable elements. On the other hand, the lack of purpose and (for me) unnecessary constant singing meant I didn’t wholly enjoy it. But on the other hand (this incoherent hybrid monster has three hands) I did spend a long time pondering what it could have meant, and if a film can make me ponder then I commend it. So overall it scrapes a CF0, but only because I’m being generous. I’m nice like that.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

10th Jan 07 - Apocalypto

There’s a plethora of negatives attached to this film that will no doubt keep the majority of happy-go-lucky cinema pundits away. It’s directed by Mel Gibson, whose last film was a religious horror, and whose name has been in the press attached to bad things like alcohol, crazy relatives and Jew-bashing. It’s subtitled due to the use of a weird ancient Mayan dialect. It has a cast of complete unknowns. It has a relatively graphic use of violence. And it’s about some ancient weird tribe-folk, so what the hell has that got to do with us joyful Westerners?

But could you just do something for me? Forget who made it. Accept that ancient Mayans would not speak “American”. And just watch it as one of those great films with a great hero who must face a difficult journey filled with adventure. Because that’s all it is. Strip away all the supposed alienating qualities and you’ve got a basic adventure story. And you know what? It’s bloody good.

I of course had my reservations. But within the opening five minutes I was instantly engaged. These strange men, with bones through their noses, spouting a weird language and living in a forest are shown bantering, playing practical jokes and complaining about their mother-in-laws. The unknown suddenly becomes the familiar, and all it took was five minutes. It seems that Gibbo’s a clever story-teller.

What follows is a bracing tale as our hero ‘Jaguar Paw’ is taken away from his family and must make a dangerous trip in order to return to them. I won’t go into any further detail to avoid ruining it (unlike most other reviewers) but as guide to how absorbing the story is, I didn’t feel like I’d been sitting for 139 minutes, I forgot that the cinema was about minus five in temperature, and I accidentally drank my companions drink instead of my own (sorry about that).

Violence is present, but in a controlled fashion, so that the worst injuries are more suggested with quick editing than gratuitously put on screen. The actual gore is far less than that in your Hostel or Saw genre, but because you feel more for the characters the impact is tenfold. I know I’m not too fussed with your basic impaling and beheading, but my (now drink-less) companion is not a fan of violence in the slightest, but found it to be just about manageable.

You could try to read into the film, maybe finding a crazed religious leader taking too much pride in his land, destroying the earth and needlessly sacrificing men a little too familiar. But let’s not – let’s just watch it for what it is. A film with good characters, tension, excitement, (making me mentally utter the famous line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “run away! Run away!”) strong direction and even a tapir-mounted camera. Come on – a camera on the back of a running tapir. How can you not like it?

Of course, the story isn’t quite deep enough to warrant a huge emotional or intellectual impact, and the sprint to the finish ends in more of a half-hearted jog than a beefy finale that might’ve satisfied a little more. But this is still a good film. Keeping in mind the CF ratings have been updated (see the review of 2006), I’m awarding Apocalypto a point for being exciting, engaging and surprisingly fabulous, and another point for having a camera on a tapir, bringing it to CF2. Ignore everything you think will be bad, overcome your prejudices against the director and the subtitles, and you will be nicely surprised.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

3rd January 07 - Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

The first film of 2007 smells. All right, not literally. But it felt like someone was trying to rub salt in the wound as a whole film about the power of scent is shown to a girl whose nose is bunged up with a left-over Christmas cold.

But anyway, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, is based on the best selling novel ‘Das Parfum’ by Patrick Suskind. It tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a young chap born into grotty Paris with a remarkably fantastic sense of smell. His talent allows him to create spell-binding perfumes, but his real passion is the luxurious scent of a woman (well, we do smell nice, don’t we) and he becomes obsessed with finding a way to capture the smell. Unfortunately for us women, the best way to capture the smell involves whacking us over the head and wrapping up our dead bodies in animal fat. Mmm.

The lead is young Brit Ben Whishaw, whose credits include Layer Cake, Enduring Love and ‘Pingu’ off Nathan Barley. He manages to portray a freakish murderer with huge dollops of naivety, holding his wincingly scrawny body awkwardly, portraying most of his feelings without speech and making me want to cuddle him (is that wrong?) Considering he was probably told ‘act like you’re smelling nice things’ for about 90% of the film, he does a damn good job, and carries the long, dialogue-free portions of the film with surprising ease.

But making a film all about smells has its difficulties. Smell-o-vision has yet to be invented (why is that? We have 3-D, even the implausible 4-D rides at Disney – why no smell-o-vision eh?) so you’d expect a film that revolves so heavily around the idea of scent to employ some interesting tactics to convey the right pongs to the audience. Unfortunately, a huge creative opportunity is missed, and we instead get close ups of things in slow motion. Look, he smells fish – close up of a fish – look, he smells woman – close up of a woman’s hair – look, he smells shit – close up of… well, you get the point. Granted, it points out what he’s smelling, but after two hours of the same technique you start to tire. There are so many visual and aural tools available that could have brought this film to life, making the audience experience a rich, interesting world, mirroring Jean-Baptiste’s experiences. But instead we just get close-ups.

A few other niggles may include the common; ‘aye up I is a cock-erny Parisian’ and the inclusion of Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman playing themselves. Again. Also the kindly old-man narration that handily explains lots of things and makes it sound like a children’s story. With a tale like this there are many directions they could have taken, some of them interesting and different and darkly daring. They didn’t go for those. Instead they went for safe. Which doesn’t produce a bad film, just not an outstanding one.

And this isn’t a bad film. Despite the niggles, the plot is unusual and deals with some interesting ideas. Your scent is cited as being your very soul, and poor old Jean-Baptiste discovers he doesn’t have a scent of his own. When he concocts the ultimate scent, the resulting reaction and his slow realisation of the importance of human contact and love makes for an interesting little fable. It’s like a Just So story. But with murder and nudity.

For the plot and the strength of lead actor Ben Whishaw, Perfume reaches the recommendable CF0, but it fails to gain any further points due to missing out on an abundance of creative opportunities and for having silly accents. First flick of 2007 – CF0. Let’s see if we can improve on that.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Cinemafool Review of 2006

It’s hard to believe 2006 has rolled past already. With 41 films seen in 2005, I can happily reveal that this year I’ve seen not just 41, not just 42, but a plentiful 43 new films at the cinema. Not bad considering I spent two months away from the big screen with my foot caked in bandages and scar tissue. And lest us not forget the trips to the cinema that have not been noted on this site, be it obscure old foreign flicks (the German ‘23’ – thanks Kinoland, quite enjoyed that one), the old classics (Nightmare Before Christmas, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) or the “oh my God I didn’t remember this being so frickin’ depressing” Watership Down.

But let’s get to the important stuff. The top 10 of 2006. Below is the list in chronological order. You may notice I have included an updated rating. This is because I’m trying to utilise my CF points more in 2007, with CF5 being maximum brilliance, CF0 being recommended, and CF-5 being maximum shite. The updated ratings for these 10 films will be used as a guide for next year’s reviews.

So here we go – the Top 10 of 2006. You seen any?

A Cock & Bull Story
What: Michael Winterbottom’s attempt at an unfilmable book, with a blend of fiction and realism.
Seen: 1st February
Rating given: 8
Updated rating: CF2
I said then: Sometimes amusing, but not an out-and-out comedy… a refreshing attempt at something new.
I say now: Slightly misunderstood, you probably have to be a bit pretentious to get it. But look to the comparisons between Coogan and his character and you’ll see this is a smart little film with some brilliant little touches.
I also used the phrase: I’m so far up my own arse.

What: Emotional Oscar winner for best foreign language film about a thug who ends up looking after a baby.
Seen: 27th April
Rating given: 8.5/10
Updated Rating: CF3
I said then: Afterwards I was left with a wedge of emotion… anyone who feels nothing after watching this film doesn’t just have a heart of stone – they’re soulless evil.
I say now: Still a solid film, and though I wouldn’t rush to watch it over and over, I’d definitely recommend it.
I also used the phrase: I’m not even a big fan of babies.

What: High school film noir, with Third Rock From The Sun’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a pupil solving the murder of his girl.
Seen: 16th May
Rating given: CF2
Updated rating: CF2
I said then: Keep noir in your mind and it hits the spot… there was some good stuff in this film.
I say now: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the driving force behind Brick’s entry into the top 10. It’s on my radar as a film to watch again, and with his solid performance and some unusual and creative direction, this is a good, original (well, is a homage ever really original?) effort for the year.
I also used the phrase: A glasses-wearing hero who isn’t a dweeb.

What: Terry Gilliam’s insane style is applied to the story of a young girl who makes friends with her dolls’ heads and some creepy creepy neighbours.
Seen: 8th August
Rating given: CF1
Updated rating: CF2
I said then: If you accept its differences and are willing to open your mind, you may well enjoy Tideland… it dared to be a bit different, the performances were impressive… well done Terry.
I say now: Stuck with me, this one, and I’ve marked it as one to re-watch. Bit of an odd one, but there’s something distinctly charming about it. Go on. Try it and see.
I also used the phrase: a mind-fuck.

A Scanner Darkly
What: Adaptation of Philip K Dick’s book on addiction, starring Keanu Reaves all animated with rotoscope technology.
Seen: 23rd August
Rating given: CF2
Updated rating: CF3
I said then: The essence of the book was captured successfully… realising Dick’s idea perfectly.
I say now: Visually one of the most captivating films of the year, and probably the closet adaptation of Dick’s work to date.
I also used the phrase: Like giving Ben Affleck a crayon.

What: British comedy/horror sees a bunch of office workers picked off in the woods by a creepy dude.
Seen: 30th August
Rating given: CF1
Updated rating: CF2
I said then: A decent script, likeable characters and some moments of absurd hilarity. This is why it shines. Best way to sum it up is “knife in the arse”. In reality, it’s pretty damn unpleasant. But it’s also funny as hell.
I say now: This makes the top 10 because it was so much fun. Fun horror, fun comedy. And amongst all the darkness of this top 10, you need a bit of fun. Especially when it’s done this well.
I also used the phrase: Creepy dude with a pair of shears.

Right At Your Door
What: LA dirty bomb drama that bypasses the disaster flick and goes right for the human heart.
Seen: 24th September
Rating given: CF2
Updated rating: CF4
I said then: An emotional, unsettling drama worthy of your attention.
I say now: Still makes me shudder, this is a little film with a big impact. Watch it.
I also used the phrase: Reminded me of a scene in Watership Down.

Children Of Men
What: Chilling vision of a buggered future with no kids and a crap government obsessed with illegal immigrants.
Seen: 27th Sep 06
Rating given: CF3
Updated rating: CF5
I said then: I just command you to watch this film… a chilling yet believable view of the future and some stupendous direction.
I say now: Still in my mind as one of the best films seen this year. It’s a tad bleak, but oh so very good.
I also used the phrase: average action pleb.

The Departed

What: Scorsese’s third film with DiCaprio, combining mafia/police mole confusion into a bulky drama.
Seen: 14th October
Rating given: CF2
Updated rating: CF4
I said then: The plot is sly… the performances spot on…a master-class in acting and directing.
I say now: A good introduction to Scorsese for beginners, or another solid contribution to his impressive CV. Beefy acting, engaging plot. Another brilliant effort.
I also used the phrase: Probably all tourists.

Pan’s Labyrinth
What: Dark Spanish film that sets the horrors of the Spanish civil war set against a little girl’s fantasies inside a creepy Labyrinth.
Seen: 6th Dec
Rating given: CF2
Updated rating: CF3
I said then: An unsettling but compelling experience. It boasts a strong cast, prominent direction and awesome effects.
I say now: The most recently seen of the top 10, but its sheer presence and texture make this a strong contender this year. Not a frolic of fun, but definitely worth your attention.
I also used the phrase: David Bowie’s gigantic crotch.

2006: The Turkeys
There were a few films that got my goat this year, either for being a bit disappointing, irritatingly bland or just utter shite. The main culprits were:

Little Fish
What: Cate Blanchett plays Aussie drug addict.
Seen: 26th July
Rating given: CF-1
Updated rating: CF-2
I used phrases like:
Lots of slow build-up, then just a big fizzle at the end.
Well acted, but long and quite frankly boring.
More like one of those single cell organisms at the very depths of the sea.

Angel A
What: Luc Besson’s black and white guardian angel blah blah blah.
Seen: 9th August
Rating given: CF-1
Updated rating: CF-2
I used phrases (with the voice of Karen the Producer) like:
It might look very pretty, Luc, but that doesn’t make it a good film.
Your plot is as skeletal as your angel.
God I’d be a great producer.

The History Boys
What: Film adaptation of Alan Bennett’s stage play about school boys trying to get into Oxbridge.
Seen: 1st November
Rating given: CF-2
Updated rating: CF-4
I used phrases like:
The boys were irritating little pricks… I just wanted them all to die horribly.
Characterisation, Spice-Girl style.
The dialogue continued to pour forth like bacterial infected blood from a relentlessly singing, poetry-quoting wound.
All in all I seem to be much crosser than I had originally planned.

And finally. The big tamale.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
What: Endless, pointless drivel. At sea.
Seen: 13th July 06
Rating given: CF-3
Updated rating: CF-5
Choice phrases:
150 minutes long.
One hundred and fifty minutes.
The sort of thing that young children come up with when they start to make little sense and get a bit annoying.
Orlando Bloom… the simpleton you can’t shout at… so bad it made me wonder if this was tongue-in-cheek acting.
Keira Knightly… orange face, square jaw and smugness that oozes from every pore.
To have a crap film take up 150 minutes of my life with crap, and then end in a crap way without resolving anything. It’s just taking the piss.

Most Ironic Fact of the Year
Highest grossing film of the year… Shite Pirates of the Shite-ibbean. It grossed over $1 billion.
Thus confirming my view that the majority of the public are idiots.

Second Most Ironic Fact of the Year
I’m highly aware that I saw Shite Pirates of the Shite-ibbean, and therefore contributed to its $1 billion travesty. I only hope that everyone else who saw it also realised their mistake, and the third film tanks like a big, fat, lead-filled tank.

The End

So there you have it. That was 2006. There’s a list of ten films for you to watch. There’s a couple you shouldn’t bother with. Bring on 2007. Let’s see what you have to offer.