Wednesday, August 27, 2008

27th Aug 08 - Somers Town

Last year Shane Meadows easily placed himself in CF top-10 history with This is England, a grim but funny tale of 80s skinheads, lead by a stunning performance by a young Thomas Turgoose. This time Meadows returns with a film charting the friendship between a young lad from Nottingham down on his luck in that London (Turgoose) and a Polish boy whose father’s working on the Channel tunnel (Piotr Jagiello). Pretentious reviewers wet themselves in excitement - it’s black and white AND features some subtitles. Bonza! But sadly Cinemafool in all its wisdom notes that Meadows has stumbled, missing the “glorious film mark” by a long shot, and bashing “and your point was…?” territory with an unexpected clunk.

Somers Town is an elongated version of a short film Meadows created, funded by Eurostar. Essentially it’s an advert made into a feature. Not a great starting platform. The thing with shorts is, you don’t really have to make them have a massive point. You can do some arty farty stuff, throw in some scenarios, chuck in a bit of a message maybe, and bish bash bosh you’ve got a short. No need to do much character progression or fleshing, no need to funnel the plot into an absorbing arc. If something worked as a short, adding in extra scenes or longer walking montages with mellow soundtracks does not a feature make (so the saying goes).

So Somers Town is a glowing disappointment. Characters are gloriously under-developed (we don’t have to be told everything, but an inkling of where they’re coming from would be nice), plot lines are sparse and unimaginative (boys like French waitress… they hang out… um…) and the film somehow manages to make 71 minutes last twice as long. Plus there’s a rather creepy “friendship” between the lads and the object of their affection. An older woman liking a younger guy? Hmm…

Turgoose is, despite looking like he might beat you for your mobile, a growing star, much of the film carried on his squinting expression. There are laughs to be had, often from improvisation, but Turgoose seems to quash the personality of his co-star, who only really comes to light during a heated debate with his father, which is sadly lost a little in translation.

Somers Town is surprisingly flat, pretty much pointless, and only the few sparks of humour created by Turgoose’s performance can save it sinking any lower than a CF-1. How can you fall from a CF Top-10 to an under-achiever? Somers Town shows you the way.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

20th Aug 08 - Hellboy II: The Golden Army

With Dark Knight making the serious and semi-realistic look so hot right now, it’s interesting to see that the man who brought us the deliciously dark and effecting Pan’s Labyrinth has chosen to go in the opposite direction with a bright and zany Hellboy II. It’s like Dark Knight is the layered, ominous oil painting with hidden depths that you can stare at for hours, and Hellboy is one of those colouring-in books with thick black outlines that’s vivid and fun.

But fear not - though it’s less layered than the mighty Knight, Hellboy’s colouring-in hasn’t been done with an unsharpened pencil in a haphazard and ugly fashion (Jumper) or coloured the same as the previous page only with less heart and imagination (Prince Caspian). Or coloured in for 150 minutes relentlessly with the same mental crayon until the paper’s all ripped and chewed up into this big time-wasting mess (Pirates…)

No, Del Toro has instead chosen a fun picture and taken a great deal of care and attention over the details. Something a bit odd but sparkling with energy and imagination, that doesn’t take itself too seriously but doesn’t scrimp on the effort either. Following a familiar fantasy quest-esque formula, Hellboy II: The Golden Army sees Hellboy fight a, er, golden army, as well as his own battle to be accepted by humans and a fiery relationship with girlfriend Liz (a rather gaunt Selma Blair who spends a little too much time in big black knickers). He’s helped along the way by Abe Sapien (like Niles from Frasier, only a fish-man) and a new boss Johann Krauss, a sort of vapour in a suit.

If it’s sounding a bit strange, it is, but that’s just something you get used to as the number of weird and wonderful creatures matches that of any good Jim Henson production, Del Toro spending probably longer than he should on designs that, quite often, are only seen for a few seconds. The market scene in particular is probably worth several watches, just to catch every last non-CGI detail (Del Toro mostly preferring old fashioned puppetry compared to CGI) and the little tooth fairies are particularly memorable as being cute and nightmarish all at the same time.

It’s bonkers fantasy done well, but still bonkers fantasy none-the-less, and there isn’t too much to separate it from the Jim Henson experience of watching a Labyrinth or Dark Crystal, or endlessly watching that bit in Star Wars where the aliens are playing instruments in the bar. Enjoyable, well crafted, but no real wow-factor, Hellboy II gains itself a CF1. Let’s let Del Torro concentrate on all things Hobbit now.

Friday, August 08, 2008

6th August 08 - The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Kids! War is great! Learn warfare today! You too can be plotting battles, sacrificing lives of your own soldiers, killing foreigners without any emotional trauma. It’s fun! And if you have doubts or think you’re going to lose, don’t worry. Jesus is on your side.

Ok, it seems that Wall-E and Dark Knight have left gaping holes in the rest of the cinema schedules, and as I’d missed it on its initial release it seemed an opportune time to catch up with the kids from Narnia. The first Chronicle back in 2005 was impressive but severely lacking when compared to the mighty Rings. Round two ditches the child-like wonder and goes straight for the jugular, with a Narnia overrun by evil, erm, Spaniards (those pesky Spaniards) and the kings and queens called back to sort things out. Which, as it turns out, is by launching straight into war.

There’s no denying that it’s pretty thrilling to watch an army of assorted creatures, all stunningly brought to life (the centaurs being particularly cool) doing battle against an army of human soldiers, with griffins attacking overhead and leopards leaping alongside fauns. But when trees wander in you can’t help but compare to Mr Ring and his Lords, and as far as epic fantasy battle sequences go the bar’s been set way too high for a Disney pic featuring no true violence and gallivanting mice.

Gone are the exciting first encounters with Narnians, gone are James McAvoy’s little trotters, gone are the menacing foes, replaced with the bizarrely Spanish-esque power-hungry uncle, trying to overthrow his nephew – the rightful heir – and steal all the glory, a plot we’re already seen a trillion times already (Lion King, anyone?) True, C S Lewis may have got in there before Simba and the gang, but for today’s cinema-saturated masses watching some accented dudes in big robes discuss backhanded assassination while staring out of stone windows isn’t anything to write home about. Not that I’d ever “write home” about anything. It’s all text messages and emails nowadays. Eee it’s not like it was, the old people moan. Yes, you’re right. It’s called progress.

Sorry, where was I? Yes, Narnia. Prince Caspian. Ben Barnes, a relative newcomer (he was in an episode of Doctors, though again – nothing to write home about) plays it relatively well, mooching around and clashing with William Mosley’s Peter (cross between Prince William and Charlie from Busted) while the other three kids hang out in the background, the girls pouting and staring into the distance, the other one who was irritating in the first Chronicles being not quite so irritating now. Eddie Izzard voices a mouse, probably the best character, and Liam Neeson is back again as Jesus… sorry, Aslan. The lion. Who only lets himself be seen by the youngest girl. The others have lost faith. Aslan tests them with stuff. Lets lots of people die. But all for a “purpose”. My view? He’s either Jesus or got a thing for little girls. That’s what was going through my mind for half the film, which is a little off-putting to be honest.

Sex-pest son-of-God big cats aside, Narnia is impressive visually and does feature some tense action, but it felt hollow in terms of a heart or a true story. It seemed to leave the child-like charm of the first one, and instead exploit the chance to have lots of battle scenes, which we’ve all seen before only in a much better way. Flash visuals aren’t enough to impress anymore (Potter – I’m talking to you too). It passed the time in a reasonably enjoyable way, but not enough to warrant any extra enthusiasm. Prince Caspian traipses in with a CF0.