Tag Archives: Movies

Gatsby Casting: Still A Sticking Point?

6 Jul

I know it’s been a long (long long long) time since the casting and shooting started on Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby and I’m still highly skeptical. Very skeptical. First I was put off by the fact that Baz found the need to shoot the film in 3D – I still don’t understand this logic. 3D works best when there’s a lot of action, not when it’s a tender talkie (unless he’s trying to reinvent the image of 3D, which is admirable in a way but still a bit… pointless). Still, that’s just a small quibble when compared to the casting of the film. Well, the casting of one character in particularly.

I have no qualms with the following: Carey Mulligan is wistful and pixie-like enough to be airy-fairy irritator Daisy, while Leonardo DiCaprio is the obvious choice to play our eponymous hero as he’s one of the only modern actors I think is suave but also quietly ponderous enough to play Jay. No, I have a huge issue with Carraway, our narrator and eyes through the story, because Baz has cast Tobey Maguire.

Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with Tobey Maguire or his acting. He’s great in the likes of Pleasantville and was the perfect Spiderman (his adolescent, almost nervy performances were what you wanted in a Peter Parker, not Andrew Garfield’s too-cool-for-school approach). But… he’s just not Carraway. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic book, Carraway is a man who intimates the strain of his own life, how he has had to struggle through, and he presents a world-weariness, an almost depressed view of the world. For every time he mentions the brilliance of the metropolis, there’s some downer to go with it. The Jazz Age isn’t so great for Carraway, and his conclusions at the end of the novel sum up his attitude to life and the world around him.

Tobey Maguire just doesn’t scream ‘world weary narrator’ to me. Despite some stills and his attempts to look more manly, I can’t shake the fact that Maguire looks a bit too young and fresh (still!) to be Carraway. You’re probably thinking: ‘well, smartypants, who should play Carraway?’ Yes, admittedly the options seem a little bit limited nowadays. I am, though, tempted to suggest Michael Fassbender as an alternative Carraway – more rugged, more beaten by life and just a bit less adolescent.

Of course, Maguire could prove me completely wrong and be the biggest revelation I’ve seen, producing a pitch-perfect Carraway that defies all expectation and if he does, all power to him. Until that happens though, I’ll remain skeptical.

Marty ‘Quits’ Film… But Not Like That

29 Jun

I’ve got to admit that when I saw that Martin Scorsese was apparently ‘quitting film’ I nearly had a minor heart attack – Marty has shaped a lot of my film experience and his enthusiasm for the medium and auteur status was part of the reason I developed a strong interest in the whole area. Luckily, it was all a little bit misleading. What was actually the case was that Marty was abandoning film reel in favour of digital, not the practise of making film. Well, there’s a sigh of relief!

It’s sad though that a form of capturing film that has been used for over a hundred years is losing its biggest champion. Scorsese has been restoring old fim stock and classics such as The Red Shoes for posterity, but it seems that even he thinks that it’s a lost cause in the age of digital technology. His long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker said: “The number of prints that are now being made for release has just gone down, and it would appear that the theatres have converted so quickly to digital.” Scorsese’s last picture, Hugo, was, perhaps ironically, a film about the birth of cinema that was shot in digital and it seems as though he has no intentions of giving up digital now (although he is abandoning 3D after his foray with Hugo, thank God) – he’s using the format to shoot his latest movie The Wolf of Wall Street, which starts production in August.

It’s all a bit sad but it seems like a strangely familiar story…

Oh yes, that’s right. There was a mass abandoning of CDs and vinyl when the internet and newer technologies took over the music industry, and everyone thought that the old formats would die. But events such as Record Store Day, led by stores, bands and labels such as Rough Trade, have increased the nostalgia and demand for the vinyl format and the market is growing. Albeit, it’s never likely to take over the internet and digital media as a way of consuming and buying music but it shows that people never really forget what came in the past.

Now, obviously people aren’t going to have piles of film reels lying around their houses and a musty old film projector to watch them in their own homes, but I daresay within a while there’ll be events dedicated to showing old film reels, shunning the old ways. A new generation of directors might even want to create their work on this format to give a more ‘authentic’ or ‘classic’ feel.

Perhaps then, despite this rather sad news that potentially marks the end of an era, there’s a lot of hope that film reels won’t be forgotten about in the digital age. It might have lost one of its last remaining champions but it could well be back in the future.

Classicism: The By-Word For the 2012 Oscars

25 Jan

Watching the nominations for the 2012 Academy Awards yesterday, it dawned on me that there’s a very distinct theme running through this year’s nominees. I thought of a decent (though perhaps not 100% accurate word if you’re gonna get really technical!) word to sum this up: classicism.

Let’s take the nominees for Best Picture first. Now, let’s look at what must be the front-runners for this prize. Since 1980, every winner of Best Picture has gained at least a nomination in the Best Editing category too – lending weight to my constant argument that the editing of a film is perhaps one of the most important aspects of making a good movie. So using this formula we can whittle it down to The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo and Moneyball. In true Rolf Harris style: can you guess what it is yet? Hugo is, give or take, about George Melies and the birth of cinema, while The Artist centres on the trials of an actor at the birth of sound in cinema. The Descendants is in a long line of famiy-based dramas, while Moneyball is a sports film (which are, if you look at nominations from past years, pretty popular with old Oscar).

The Best Actor category is perhaps the best for showing what I’m trying to point out here: if we exclude Demian Bichir in A Separation (of which I’m very happy – a foreign film being nominated in something other than the Best Foreign Film category! Huzzah!), then we’re left with Jean Dujardin in The Artist, George Clooney in The Descendants, Brad Pitt in Moneyball and Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Dujardin seems like the odd one out here – but he does play a classic actor (albeit fictional, but the sentiment is still there). Clooney, Pitt and Oldman all seem either to be classic actors and distinguished and towing that line between “serious” acting and superstardom, much like bygone days.

Oscar Trio: Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in Moneyball

So really, doesn’t old Oscar seem like he’s picking old-timey production values and star quality this year? There are probably two contributing factors to this: firstly, the fact that the 2011 Oscars were dominated, at least in the major categories, by The King’s Speech – i.e. America and Hollywood was defeated somewhat by Britain (at least on paper: if we look at the funding and all that, America contributed more to the success of The King’s Speech than you’d imagine). Secondly, the unconventional contest between Avatar and The Hurt Locker in 2010 brought the increasingly technological nature of Hollywood cinema to the fore: if Avatar had won, it would have meant that Oscar acknowledged big bucks and flashy CGI over general filmic integrity. Oddly though, I agreed when people suggested that using motion capture is still acting – but there’s still good acting and bad acting, whether you do it in a bobbly suit or not.

Few of the nominations in the Best Picture category this year can be said to be making big bucks, or indeed that loads of money was spent on them – Moneyball and The Descendants are what I’d like to call ‘indie-Clooney’ and ‘indie-Pitt’ (which they do much better in than your standard commercial fare) and so far The Artist has made less than a million at the Box Office. Yep, seriously. People have even demanded their money back because it’s silent. Yep, really. Despite all that publicity. The directors acknowledged this year are also mostly of the 70s old-guard or are very much in step with that movement – so we have Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick and Steven Spielberg (sort of) nominated. Maybe they’ve all perfected their art.

So perhaps we can say that Oscar is acknowledging three things: that big money doesn’t necessarily make a good movie, that artistic merit is best, and that artistic merit is even greater when it’s American. This return to a sense of classicism might seem a bit mean of Oscar in a technological age, but there are more truly great movies nomiated this year than in previous – so a classic feel might just bump up the excitement about who’s going to win on the night.

Black Swan (2011)

27 Jan

Darren Aronofsky doesn’t pigeonhole himself: though he works rigidly within the realms of drama, he’s tackled all sorts of subjects from drug abuse to time travel. Now with his latest Oscar-nominated film he’s taking on the world of ballet. And turning it into a psychological horror.

Black Swan is the story of sweet momma’s girl Nina (Natalie Portman) who strives for perfection in her ballet. When she is surprisingly cast as the Swan Queen in a new production of Swan Lake, her inability to inhabit the role of the wicked Black Swan leads her down the road to insanity, where she believes that fellow dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) is trying to steal her role and she begins to descend into madness.

There were a few things I didn’t actually ike about this movie: first was Natalie Portman who, despite being tipped to pick up the Best Actress Oscar, was completely insipid as Nina and I didn’t feel for her at all. Now, you could say this is because Nina is supposed to be a wimp anyway but there was something about the fact that she continually had a small, weak voice, kept apologizing all the time and spent much of the movie with her face chiselled in either shock, horror or depression that was really annoying: how could anyone actually empathise with this girl? Lily was a much more believable person in that she actually seemed to have a personality that extended beyond being timid.

Secondly, the final third was a bit bogged down in melodrama: while the first hour or so of the film works its way through why Nina might be going a bit crazy and builds up character, the last third consists of little more than the actual performance itself and Nina running around in a panic because she’s seeing things and grappling with her mum because she’s actual concerned for her daughter’s wellbeing – typical, eh? Things get a bit too fast paced to the point where you just want Aronofsky to tone it all down a little – it didn’t quite sit right with the slow build-up and tension that preceded it.

Still, the cinematography is wonderful, especially in the dance sequences (both during the performances and in the training for the roles) and Aronofsky’s camerawork does well to try and get you to be part of Nina’s life by following her around and tracing her steps impeccably. This is the strongest point of the film, which is a shame because you kind of expect a little more from it (what with the hype and all). This doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable and there are the obligatory shocks (even though you can see them coming a mile off). The atmosphere of tension is also sustained throughout, helped by the pulsating sounds and creepy noises that accompany Nina’s voyage into the unknown.

Verdict: Good, even though the main character is completely annoying (trust me, by the end you wish she’d just toughened up instead of moaning all the time). Excellent camera and cinematography make this film instead of the acting, but it’s still worth watching for some of the beautiful imagery and dance sequences.

7 OUT OF 10

127 Hours (2011)

23 Jan

If there’s one thing you can’t accuse Danny Boyle of, it’s of being predictable. He’s done all sorts of genres and transformed his subjects into successes, both commercially and filmically. His last feature Slumdog Millionaire even won him Oscars, no mean feat for a British director. His latest, 127 Hours, is just as unpredictable but its claustrophobic atmosphere doesn’t deter away from the sheer power and horror of what happens.

It’s the true story of self-styled action man Aron Ralston (James Franco) who gets trapped in a canyon after having an accident. The thing is, he hasn’t told a single soul where he’s disappeared to, so he’s stuck in the middle of a barren wasteland with no-one to help him and an arm that’s dying from being crushed under a boulder. Through the days he spends trapped he has flashbacks of his life and visions of what could be before finally deciding he can’t take any more.

Let’s get one thing straight here: the fact that Ralston cuts his own arm off with a pen knife is only a small part of what is a brilliant movie. Slowly this develops into a tale of emotionality and above all regret as Ralston realises what a fool he has been, and reflects on how he’s neglected his family and his friends (including Clemence Poesy as his ex-girlfriend). Boyle’s editing and camerawork isn’t for everyone but here it combines brilliantly to create an atmosphere of claustrophobia that also somehow makes you feel closer and more emotionally involved in Ralston’s struggle against his feelings and the gradual shutdown of his body. Somehow Boyle makes the chipping away of a few pebbles and the journey of an ant seem intriguing and engaging rather than just boring.

But the real star of this movie is James Franco, who carries pretty much the whole film by himself. Sure, there are moments where other characters come into frame but mostly it’s just you and him down in that crevasse with nothing but the ants and a handy cam for company. Indeed, his almost schizophrenic performance as he goes through a whole wave of emotions and scenarios in his own mind before acting out what it would be like to go on morning TV is brilliant: he’ll probably (probably, I’ll stress that) get an Oscar nomination. Then lose out to Colin Firth. But it doesn’t matter because what Franco achieves here is brilliant. Nearly all of the movie is a one-man show and that’s a hard thing to pull off. With some help from Boyle’s trickery he pulls it off with panache.

Also in the running for an Oscar this year will be AH Rahman who conducted the score for 127 Hours. He worked on Slumdog Millionaire and here creates a soundtrack that covers a wide range of emotions – strangely the most disturbing thing about the amputation scene is the music that accompanies it, not the act itself. Rahman does a good well to achieve this. But he’ll lose out to Trent Reznor and The Social Network soundtrack. Although, Reznor’s music was the best this year. Hands down.

Verdict: Much more than a guy chopping his arm off. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how good such a narrow plot can be. And you’ll be angry at how stupid a man can get.

8 OUT OF 10

Bond Returns! Eventually…

16 Jan

Doesn’t it seem like eons since Quantum of Solace came to the screen? Hasn’t it been ages since we were all discussing whether that Jack White/Alicia Keys theme song was any good (personally I liked Chris Cornell’s ditty for Casino Royale better)? It even feels such a long time since there was a bit of speculation about whether Daniel Craig would even return as 007. But rest assured, it’s coming back. Yes, seriously this time.

The next installment has been pinned for a 2012 release. Or, more specific November 9 2012 (that’s pretty darn specific for a movie that hasn’t even started shooting yet). And Sam Mendes is still directing! But I wonder if that’s actually a good thing: I associate Mendes more with low-key indie or drama (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, Away We Go) rather than action-packed thrillers. Perhaps this suggests that Bond may be taking a more “classic” turn, less about explosions and gunfire every two minutes and more about, y’know, plot development and actually knowing what’s going on – two things Quantum of Solace didn’t really have. Oh, and it might have some emotion in it so you actually feel depressed when people die or genuinely satisfied when Bond gets his man. Because Bond never really did have a heart, did it (except to be unintentionally hilarious at times)?

But the real question on everyone’s lips is…. what’s the title going to be? Okay, it’s only me asking this question but after Quantum of Solace (what is it? What does it mean?!) surely the title of the Bond movies couldn’t get any dafter or, honestly, meaningless. The best titles have been the ones you can make a song out of, which explains why all the Shirley Bassey tunes are the best theme songs. So maybe we’ll get something more classic from New Bond. Or not. Mendes’ film could surprise everyone by being called something outrageous like “Astrophysical Vortex of Entity”, a title so pretentious and convoluted it’s almost perfect for Craig’s third outing as the special agent.

For now we just don’t have enough information to actually determine where the new Bond is going, so all of my admittedly really stupid speculation is likely to be proved completely wrong, perhaps with the revelation that the next Bond will be a 3D extravaganza where our very British hero spends the duration of the movie filing paperwork for M but *gasp* he didn’t fill a form out right, leading to the internal collapse of MI6.

But what do you think? Where is Bond going? What will it be called? No suggestion is too silly!

Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll (2010)

14 Jan

Back in the day Ian Dury was the face of smart but fairly widely accepted punk: never going for that brash in-your-face stuff but instead making his version all melodic with astute lyrics and a unique voice. Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll tells his story, from the late 60s when his son Baxter was born to the 80s when he offended nearly everyone with his song ‘Spasticus Autisticus’ (well, everyone who wasn’t intelligent enough to get it).

Now, rock biopics often swing one of two ways: they can either be a work of genius or a complete overindulgence, feasting off the director and screenwriter’s love of a specific artist and the desire to create a “message”. This unfortunately sits closer to the latter than the former. From the off it’s clear that this film is a bit of a jumbled mess of ideas and flight-of-fancy. Initially, you believe Dury is meant to be narrating the story of his own life through performing his sings and using rhyming couplets (and slang) to give a sort of artistic autobiographical account. Instead, this idea is thrown to the wind after the first quarter of the film is over: you get to see him singing, but no theatrics are shown again.

Then there’s the graphics that pop up in the opening credits: fair enough, you might think. But then this psychedelic rush of colours comes at you again at a very random point in the film and confuses you entirely. Let’s not forget the really very strange take on camerawork either. It’s sort of a cross between classical dramatic filmmaking (standard shots, close-ups etc.) and a more discordant Trainspotting. And some of that was pretty weird.

Aside from this, the issues explored in the film are less rock biopic, more rock cliché. From the off Dury is characterised as a bad father and despite his attempts you don’t think that he’s actually any good at being a parent: instead, Dury is presented as someone misguided who thinks it’s a good idea to let his only son hang out with druggies who introduce him to speed and let him try spliffs. It’s all a little too clichéd to believe really. As you might have already guessed, Sex and Drugs And Rock and Roll morphs from a decent biography to rock’n’roll parable about the dangers of drink, drugs and notoriety. Dury even smashes up a recording studio towards the end, which, while totally believable, is probably as close to clichéd nirvana as you’re going to ever get.

Well, that’s the bad points over with. Now to the good: the acting. Andy Serkis is frankly brilliant as Dury and he brings a very genuine, natural feel to the performance. Er, that is natural when it comes to playing born showman Dury. He also sings all of the songs, which are just as excellent as the original recordings. He copes well with the strange cameras and ideas going on here, managing to be an excellent anchor amongst all the mess and jumble of the film. I have to give some praise to Bill Milner as well, who plays Dury’s son Baxter with a great deal of panache. Strangely, Baxter’s journey from bullied posh-boy to hard-kid to rock’n’roll skeptic is an awful lot more genuine than Dury’s own journey. Somehow, you wonder what the movie would have been like if told from Baxter’s perspective: it would have been different, perhaps still a little cliched, but maybe more emotionally involving than the vapidness that seems to shroud this film.

Verdict: Dury’s powerhouse performance and Milner’s coming-of-age portrayal are definitely the best points of  Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll. The tired rock’n’roll cliches and overall disjointed feel of the plot and direction scupper what could have been a great biopic, instead turning into standard fare.

6 OUT OF 10

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