Monday, March 30, 2009

30th March 09 - The Damned United

The lure of football bypassed me at birth. Becoming emotionally affected to the point of violence, tears or shouting at the telly is a foreign concept to me when it comes to football. I’m bemused by people who are totally obsessed with something that ultimately has no real physical impact on their lives (unless you are actually a footballer or stand to have monetary gain from a team winning). I can understand it, though – a sense of solidarity and probable fun. It’s a concept that’s sullied by the knob-heads who use it as ways to be general knob-heads, but I suspect they’d exploit any popular activity they set their sights on. Cos they’re knob-heads.

Anyway, the purpose of my intro, aside from a way of using the term “knob-head” 3 times (now 4) because it’s a great insult used too rarely at the moment, is to give you some context into how I approach this film. I have no interest in football, and subsequently no knowledge. If a “sport-movie” was to make a big deal about its sport in a big huffy serious manner then I’m not interested, unless it’s a crazy sport like, um, pig racing. I’d watch a film about that. Definitely. Otherwise, a “sport-movie” needs to have something else – character, perhaps – that’ll swing it.

So Damned United sweeps in with a vibrant character to take the lead – Brian Clough – a chap who took on Leeds United and was promptly sacked 44 days later. Brian is an arrogant son-of-a-gun, mouthing off to the media, two fingers to the stuffy club chairs, gaining startling success by bringing up naff Derby and then stonking failure with dirty Leeds. His pride and ambition drive him, sometimes bringing triumph, sometimes costing him more than just some points on the table. With a focus on Clough rather than the game, Damned United nicely avoids stuffy sport territory, the only footie shots featuring my favourite parts (dirty fouls…) and it even handily explains things VERY CLEARLY for those finding football leagues hard to follow.

Michael Sheen steps into Clough’s shoes with cheeky gusto, at times nailing him perfectly (I know this as they showed the real Clough at the end – handy) but other times slipping into a bit of a Frostier direction. His supporting cast are sturdy (Timothy Spall, Jim Broadbent) and director Tom Hooper blends 70s grime into the screen for a nostalgic fuzzy glow. But for such a lively character the film at times felt flat, the crackle between Clough and rival manager Don Revie could have been electric, but instead felt a little subdued, and the overall impression was solid TV drama rather than engaging cinema fodder.

Though my perception may be marred by a lack of enthusiasm for the overall subject matter, and by the knob-heads in the cinema who decided to discuss the film through-out (and should have known better, being married adults) I still can’t get too excited about this. It wasn’t a flop by any means, and engaged enough on a non-sport level, but fails to gain anything more than a general recommended CF0.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

21st March 09 - Watchmen

Let’s be honest. Does the world of cinema really need another graphic novel adaptation? Even if it’s supposedly “the greatest graphic novel ever in the world ever, like, ever” as it seems to have been labelled. Do we really need to see more slow-mo visuals, laced with technology that’s already impressed a few times over? Do we need to see a big glowing blue-man’s schlong?

The answer, it appears, is hell yes.

From the outside Watchmen could be either just another Sin City, all style-no-substance flop, or another ensemble superhero waste, treading over ground now well-covered by Marvel and the like. The opening fight is visually stunning, albeit suggesting this could be just two hours of slow-mo-fight porn. But the title sequence should convince you otherwise, the complex back-story of this alternative reality (Nixon’s still in power) shown in a series of spectacular snap-shots, backed up by a soundtrack from Dylan and stamping down a foot that says “actually, this is not just another superhero film”.

And though the bare bones of it is, the overall tone really, really isn’t. The world is edging closer and closer to nuclear destruction, an amplification of the cold war only with America having a big blue god on their side, and masked vigilantes are outlawed. Probably a good thing as some of them are murdering, sadistic bastards. But the murder of one serves to kick the rest back into the world to investigate, and to allow for various regressions so we can see their actions back in the day.

Visually this film is as fabulous as you’d suspect from Zack Snyder, the guy who brought us 300 (CF reviewed in March 07 as “a crash, bang wallop. In leather thongs.”) The violence is stark and brutal, sometimes causing giggles (buzz saw + arms) but often causing a shocked pause (gun + pregnant lady…) This is rated 18 for a reason, and its sweeping finale goes some way to match that in terms of tone. Don’t let the kiddies watch this unless you want them to be miserable for the rest of their lives.

Standing at a mighty 162 minutes, Watchmen sacrifices bottom-comfort for a bit more depth to the story, yet still missing out on certain aspects from the source material (an even longer director’s cut is set for DVD) or changing other aspects as to be honest they sounded rather silly. Though Synder can be applauded for not just stripping the story down to another bland (and what would have been more confusing) super-hero-arma, it does feel that time could have been trimmed a little further without losing the subtleties of the story.

With a mature and complex plot, twisted and intriguing characters, wowing visual punch and a kick-ass soundtrack, Watchmen certainly proves why it’s based on such a beloved piece of work, and Snyder’s impressive handling proves that amazing visuals can just add to, rather than be the whole film experience. Perhaps a time trim could help it be even slicker, but for now Watchmen impressed enough to warrant a CF3 rating. Ooo!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

11th March 09 - Gran Torino

“The second Eastwood film of the year” isn’t a phrase I’d usually type with relish, given his directed films are often slightly hyperinflated, what with critics forming a plug while attempting to kiss his arse. Despite being 20 minutes too long, Changeling wasn’t actually half bad, and Gran Torino is marked as the last film to feature Eastwood in front of the camera. He’s about 102 years old, so it’s fairly understanding.

Gran Torino is angry Clint – grumpy Clint – basically, Hulk Clint. He is moments from grunting “Clint bash” during a tempter tantrum, has a Batman-esque perma-gravel to his voice, and sometimes displays such a comedy-level of anger that you wouldn’t be surprised if jets of steam were shown shooting out of his ears. At times he looks so weirdly old and angry that his face mirrors that of the moments in the two newest Hulk films where they are in transition between real person and Hulk – a sort of CGI face that looks like the actor but is a bit odd and veiny.

Anyway, Gran Torino is this comedy-style angry Clint fighting neighbourhood gangs, providing a father figure, and just generally being quite racist. If you’ve seen the trailer then it’s fairly obvious of the entire story arc, and to be honest even if you haven’t it’s still reasonably paint-by-numbers. That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining, Clint’s grumpy man bristling against his bratty children and an over-enthusiastic priest being particularly amusing.

Still you can’t help but feel this comedy grump act is oddly juxtaposed with some horrific violent acts – almost as if it’s actually not too bad because it’s a “non-American” being attacked. And the continuous reliance on weapons makes you wonder if it’s sponsored by the National Rifle Association. Need to solve a dispute? Whip out a gun! It’s fun – with a ‘g’. I should sell that tag-line.

Anyway, this is very much a Clint vehicle, with some strikingly poor supporting acting in some places, and you’d wonder if it would be half as popular without the leading man. Still, he gets to close his final film as an actor with a nice Jesus comparison (check out the pose) which I’m sure critics will clamour to agree with. Many are recommending this purely because it is his last. I don’t see why this should be the sole reason to watch it, and its weak plot (feels like a film that was made in the 90s – don’t ask me why) doesn’t give any further points. The only reason would be to chuckle at angry Clint, but if you watch the trailer you’ve pretty much covered it. Therefore Gran Torino gets a slightly underwhelming CF-1. Sorry Clint. Don’t bash me. Or shoot me…