Thursday, March 29, 2007

28th March 07 - 300

After a film drought (post Oscar – pre Easter holidays) my weekly cinema experience exploded back into action with a visually blasting film on a visually-blasting medium (Imax – an eight-storey screen). Talk about coming back with a bang. This was a crash, bang, wallop. In leather thongs.

Of course, you don’t have to see 300 at the Imax to get the full wallop effect. Visually this is a slick punch in the eyes. It’s an adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, like 2005’s Sin City, and the use of green screen and post-production fiddling means the ‘graphic’ is brought effortlessly to screen. While Sin City stuck to shades of black, white and red, 300 splashes out into the real world, but with a wash of tonal shades and an odd highlight here and there. The result is quite stunning, especially when you consider that the majority of the film was shot in a studio.

This stylish look adds one level of cool, but combine this with a story about some mega-hard Spartan soldiers (300 of them) standing up to an army of thousands, then add violence, a selection of large angry animals, PEOPLE SHOUTING LOTS and slow-mo battle scenes, and you’ve landed in the territory of ‘way cool’. Throw in semi-naked soldiers with air-brushed abs and big lovely thighs, and some elaborate lady nipples for the lads, and you’ve got a film ticking all the right boxes (on a list of ‘what makes a cool film’).

But such fancy pants additions don’t mean squat if you let things get out of control. Just look at efforts like the dire Daredevil. It’s like a hyperactive teenage boy has thrown up on screen. Thankfully, director Zack Snyder (responsible for the frenetic remake of Dawn of the Dead) keeps the reins tight. Battle scenes are awash with chaos, but rather than splurge on fast-editing craziness, Snyder focuses in – a fact I’m grateful of, or an Imax-amplified experience may have caused haemorrhaging. Instead we have scenes following one Spartan, mincing his way through enemy after enemy, limbs flying off in various stages of slo-mo and animated blood spraying the heavens at every slice. Or we stick in the middle of a scrum, heels digging into dirt, fear mixing with sweat, mixing with the Spartan’s insane love of battle.

For all the lavishness, 300 keeps its focus tight, and this is how it wins. Not too silly to be another nonsense flick for teens, but not so pompous that it becomes another Troy / Alexander / Kingdom of Heaven / King Arthur. These films struggled because the ‘serious’ bits were badly scripted and acted, and the battle scenes became unimpressive after a certain fantasy trilogy set the bar for massive battles – a bar that can’t really be beaten, since you invested 9 hours in the characters. 300 does have ‘speaky’ bits, but these are clipped – allowing you to get your breath back in preparation for the next battle, but not boring you to death.

Some critics have complained about the film’s historical inaccuracies. But really, to try and pull this film up on anything remotely factual is a futile task. This is a film based on a comic, featuring monsters, an enemy who is literally a giant drag queen, and a goat-headed man playing a flute. Worrying about history is trying to smile while watching Pirates of the Caribbean. Pointless.

Not that 300 isn’t flawed. The plot’s a little thin on the ground, the dialogue unremarkable, and if you tried to find any subtext you’d come across a frightening array of ideals (the Spartans are so powerful because they throw away their disabled babies… and there’s a disturbing correlation between evil invaders and darker skin colours). But hey – this isn’t trying to say anything (I hope). It’s certainly not trying to be anything other than a stylish graphic novel adaptation. Gripping, wowing and did I mention all the soldier’s thighs? 300 is a well crafted piece of work, and worth seeing on the Imax if you get the chance.

For being very cool but still keeping control, this gets one point, and it gets another simply for featuring a rhino. Therefore 300 marches in with CF2. Smashing.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Documentary Fool

There comes a time when there are no films on that I want to see. Or, there are films out that I’d want to see but Mr Cinema has decided to put them on at dumb times (A Guide to Recognising Your Saints, the new film staring Robert Downy Jr, would have been this week’s review. Now you’ll have to fend for yourselves without my quality opinion. Poor you.)

So instead of the cinema I watched something I’d taped off the telly (bear with me), a documentary (wait for it) that I’d wanted to see at the cinema last year but missed due to similar reasons (there’s the link. It wasn’t like I was about to review Neighbours or anything.) It made me realise that there are many film/documentaries out there that are definitely worth a watch, so in order that I might guide your witless souls towards quality entertainment, I thought I’d briefly go through five highlights of the documentary world that you should watch. Then someday you might be as clever and thoughtful as what I am.

This Film is Not Yet Rated

A doc from 2006 (and the one I watched last night) about the weird ratings systems in the US. As well as showing lots of rude sex scenes that were rated a seemingly dreaded NC17 (that’s 18 to UK folk) and scenes that were ultimately cut (a ‘pooping on his face’ moment in Team America that is hilarious but ‘unacceptable’ even though they’re puppets) this documentary also digs its way in to issues like ‘who has the right to decide the morals of others’, ‘why is female pleasure so offensive to watch’, ‘how come sex is much worse than violence’, and ‘what’s with all the prejudice against gay sex, when stuff like violence to women is ok?’

The main thrust is the involvement of a private detective duo (a fabulously rich couple of characters – and not rich as in money, but rich as in they’re a lesbian couple, deeply in love, who also happen to be great detectives). They’re hired by the director Kirby Dick to try and find the names of the ratings panel members, which are for some reason kept mega private. As they discover the supposed snap shot of America includes mostly middle class whites in their late 40s, Kirby interviews directors, actors and others in the biz to find their experiences and gripes with the system.

Though a little one-sided, this doc is amusing, enlightening and brings up plenty for debate. It’s rated 18 in the UK.


Quadriplegics playing rugby in wheelchairs isn’t the most obvious of sport-films, but this doc from 2005 is an exciting, moving piece of work that combines all the typical traits of a sports story (the competing teams, the build up to the main event etc) with some affecting personal stories. The doc follows a group of mostly young lads, including the likes of Mark Zupan (accomplished player, who also pops up in Jackass 2. With a rocket attached to his wheel chair. Shooting him off a pier) and a more recently injured guy coming to terms with everything. It then mixes these stories with the fierce competition between team USA and team Canada.

I watched this while recovering from a foot operation and it promptly stopped me from feeling sorry for myself. It also moved, entertained and gripped me, and I would highly recommend it.

Super Size Me

A 2004 film that really, really made me want to eat a McDonalds (mainly because I watched it after a big night out). But with an intriguing premise (what happens when you eat nothing but McDonalds for a month?) and some balanced questions (a guy who eats a Big Mac every day and stays skinny) this is a relevant, amusing doc.

Bowling for Columbine

Ok, I know a lot of people now see Michael Moore as a whiney sort of fellow, but back in 2002 he produced this smart documentary that delves into America’s gun culture with funny and downright disturbing results. More focused than Fahrenheit 9/11, Bowling for Columbine uses the infamous school massacre as the crux for a look at the media, gun laws and the culture of fear.


Nominated for an Oscar, this 2002 doc centres on the biggest bunch of dweebs you’ve ever seen, makes you pity them, then makes you quite like them, then makes you really root for them as they compete in a spelling-bee competition. It also reminded me how much I can’t spell.

These are just five of the numerous quality documentaries to grace cinemas, and then later most channels ending in ‘4’ (as in BBC, and More – if you’re lucky to be in the UK). Watch out for them. And then, you know, watch them. It’ll do you good.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

7th March 07 - Hot Fuzz

The first time I saw this (on the opening night) it was post-wine, post-opening ten minutes, and post-any seats being available more than ten centimetres away from the screen. Despite having an enjoyable evening I didn’t feel it was fair to review the film under such conditions. So I went again – such is my dedication.

Hot Fuzz comes from the makers of Shaun of the Dead, one of the best comedies in recent years I’d say (and I’d be right, of course). Simon Pegg stars as Nicholas Angel, a police officer so anally good that his London squad ship him off to the country because he’s making them all look bad. In ye olde quiet English town, Angel meets simple PC Danny Butterman (Nick Frost – Pegg’s childhood mate and comedic partner) and slowly finds that life in the countryside isn’t as quiet and boring as it seems.

Just as Shaun enveloped the lad’s love of zombie-flicks, Fuzz sees them tackle the action-genre. The film generally meanders through a mix of bobby-comedy and sparks of slasher-thriller, but its finale is a blast of action madness that looks like the most fun to film. Ever. Though it’s essentially a parody, the film never pokes fun at the genre. It embraces it. And sets it in the aisles of Somerfield. It’s genius in a very British way.

The cast is ever so familiar, with Spaced landladies and Shaun’s bit-parters, and Adam & Joe’s, er, Adam. Bigger names like Bill Nighy, Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan, Jim Broadbent and Edward Woodward all play parts (some of them wheeled in to purposefully make you go ‘oh look it’s him!’) and Timothy Dalton is brilliantly hammy as the baddy. Even Peter Jackson pops up in an “all right, I had to research this because it’s so quick” cameo.

There’s no doubt this is a funny film. Some great lines, laugh-in-shock moments of violence and grin-inducing action pieces (Matrix-esque battle in a model village, anyone?) But there’s something about it that stops it from climbing the highest ranks of the CF scale. Pegg’s character is bravely different from his Shaun creation, but a little too severe to be wholly likeable. Edgar Wright’s direction features his trademark super-fast cuts, but there are times when it’s just too bloody fast (especially when you’re too close to the screen) and makes watching some fights scenes almost painful. And during the action-fest finale the boys get a little too carried away with having such a good time. Yes, they look very cool in their shades and with their big guns. But it strays too far over into not-as-funny territory for much too long.

But that’s not to say this isn’t an enjoyable film, and as with For Your Consideration, it shats over other ‘comedies’ (Norbit? For christ’s sake, someone burn the fat suit already). Big, bold and British, Hot Fuzz climbs the CF scale with its humour, but falters when the action become a little too ‘actiony’ (it is a word), therefore reaching the commendable heights of CF3.