Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Dark Knight Rises!

The Dark Knight Rises.

On the afternoon of Saturday, 17th July 2010, I saw Christopher Nolan’s Inception at the cinema, for the first time. Even before it finished, it was already immortalized in my brain as my clear favourite film of all time – and still is. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I don’t think that will ever change for the rest of my life – more to the point, I don’t think it ever should. It’s an experience I have a profoundly fond and personal connection with, and forever will.
  It was evident early on that this was blockbuster-filmmaking on an entirely different level – infinite in it’s thematic complexities, visually lush, cinematographically faultless, and so much more emotionally resonant than any other example in the ‘summer-actioner’ cannon that had gone before it. Epic in every single sense.
  Five years before in 2005, Nolan had of course reinvigorated the Batman phenomenon – to stunning effect with Batman Begins. This was so much more than just: ‘a darker take’. It was a completely immersive reimagining – utterly grounded in a contemporary reality. Intelligently written, economical and stirring – all simultaneously.
  Then of course, in 2008, he followed it up with the groundbreaking The Dark Knight – which dared to delve even further into the murky depths of the extremity of criminality. It was certainly a comment for our times – iconic, uncompromising and the most ambitious and impressive blockbuster of its time. Its genius was also due to the chilling brilliance of the tragically late Heath Ledger’s spine-tinglingly amoral Joker, certainly the best cinematic incarnation of a comic-book villain there will ever be.
  Now, with Nolan’s third and defiantly final chapter, he continues to take the blockbuster so much further than infinity, into a completely different stratosphere of exceptional, unequal-able directorial aplomb. With Begins, Prestige, Knight, Inception and now Rises, as well as Memento and Insomnia preceding them, there isn’t an adjective in the entire history of the lexicon, I can use in order to bestow a high enough compliment to his work. These films go well beyond cinematic experience, trans-morphing into communal events – further catalyzed presently be a vast viral campaigning.
   Like the invention of sound, colour, Dogma or French New-Wave, Nolan’s projects are radical, leaps forward in the medium - all of their own, choosing to venture into some of the most iconic, enduring sequences ever existing in a film camera, to produce seminally, existentially exhilarant results.
  Like Ben Hur, Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, Psycho, Goldfinger, Jaws, Alien, Die Hard or The Godfather Trilogy, he simply creates landmark cinema – classic staple examples of perfection in a particular genre - that’s every bit exceptional, as it is exceptionally rare.
  My favourite touchstone he employs to accomplish this, is often beginning the very first shot, right in the middle of the action – stipulating in its mutual, filmic criteria, that the audience must maintain their concentration in order to retrace and ultimately decode the contextual relevance behind the initial intrigue. A classic instance would be any number of case-in-points in Inception – namely the opening, or the ‘So how did we end up here?’ speed-ramped Parisian café scenario.   The thematically mind-blowing conceptual ideas it explores or mirrored in its visual techniques of unequivocal ingenuity. Accentuated by repeatedly drawing on motifs of the iconography. Dreams (Inception), magic (The Prestige), memory, (Memento) or the power of accusation and paranoia (as explored in the darkly captivating Al Pacino and Robin Williams cat-and-mouse thriller Insomnia).
 The convoluted, unbreakably cyclic structure, which the zeitgeist’s of his films are each encapsulated within – just think of the spinally shocking reveal at the end of rival magician saga The Prestige – demonstrate just how exquisitely constructed they really are. Magically executed techniques to serve magical content. Every single conceivable piece fits together flawlessly – identical to the structural composition to that of a rubrics-cube.
If, purely from a personal perspective, I was to examine the cannon of the winged avenger’s cinematic catalogue, I feel very strongly that it’s more a question of difference in tonality than it is of ‘better or not’. For instance, Tim Burton and Micheal Keaton’s 1989 to 1992 style was very much taken from the doomy, gothic, non-specifically-located edge of the nourish and comic-book-esque fantastical hyperbole, that has now become his stamp, a trademark which continues to be the distinguished trademark of his idiosyncratic career.
  In 1995, Joel Schumacher took over with Val Kilmer, all brooding lips and tortured resentment, with the CGI-laden Batman Forever - where pop-art preceded in being the aesthetically bold trend, with all variety of angled-camera shots, mighty soundstages, fluorescent colours, and no-expense-spared production-values. This may have tipped over into slight over-indulgence with the extravaganza of 1997’s Batman and Robin, with none-other than a certain George Clooney in the cape, but, as a seven-year-old, I really enjoyed all the powerhouse fodder of implausibility about both chapters in the Schumacher era! Batman Forever certainly had a major impact on my childhood film-viewing – up to that point I’d just never seen a live-action film being made with such verve, colour and general sense of ‘Hollywood-back-lot’ grandiosity.
  With Batman Begins, as already mentioned, Nolan not only took it all back to basics, but also to a whole new level. After the seminal, record-breaking success of the follow up: The Dark Knight, the finale, Rises marks perhaps the most highly-anticipated film conclusion of all time in the modern history of the cinematic medium – with a level hype to match and even surpass the Bond franchise; the phrase ‘eagerly-awaited’ doesn’t even come close.
  Nolan himself has even said this third and final installment in his trilogy is the largest-scale he’s ever directed, and you can certainly see why. This is the film in which we see the city of Gotham at it’s most multi-faceted: icy snow, pitch-black twilit cityscapes, and under the fierce, repeated threat of being blown to smithereens…
  Rises is my personal favourite not only in Nolan’s trilogy, but of any Batman film. It raises not only the Batman franchise to new heights, but Nolan also takes the very medium of cinema far beyond the filmic stratosphere, with results that produce possibly some of the most epic and striking sequences ever committed to celluloid.
  So, this film opens in typically spectacular fashion, aboard a hijacked plane no-less, as hooded civilians are captured under the petrifying tyranny of the masked figure Bane – a one-man juggernaut of hulk, bulk and harm. He’ll frequently shoot, punch or snap the necks of his innocent victims to bone-crunching effect without even looking. Most intriguingly, this is the fist time that Bruce Wayne (now an aged recluse, never leaving the confines of Wayne Manor, hobbling around it on a walking stick), has ever come up against a lethal adversary who far surpasses him physically. Physically that is…
Tom Hardy has an impossible task in following the seminal genius of a true personal hero of mine: Heath Ledger. His astoundingly acidic, utterly amoral characterization of The Joker is one of the most stunning performances ever captured on film, and fully deservedly, won Heath a posthumous Golden-Globe, BAFTA and Academy-Award respectively.
  The whole tone of Bane as a character was wisely chosen to be constructed in total antithesis to Heath’s Joker. Where he was sardonic, self-contradictory and had a certain wit as razor-sharp as his weapon of choice, Bane, although arguably scarier in terms of sheer intimidation, lacks the unique quirk and intelligence to equal Heath’s performance. Bane’s make-up is vastly simpler: a titanic, unstoppable compendium of physical endurance.
  When early preview footage was released of the blistering aforementioned opening sequence of the plane-hijacking was released, the whole issue of Hardy’s vocal clarity - behind elaborate, monstrous cranial apparatus – was overblown.
  It is quite difficult to fully understand his gruffly tones at times, but that’s not to say at all that it detracts from Hardy’s performance. In fact, it only adds to his menace. He’ll dispense with an almost inaudible remark just as quick as he’ll dispense someone’s body from a plane, or their neck from their spine. He’s definitely the most lethal, purely shocking nemesis in the trilogy. I don’t think there are any lengths he won’t go to in annihilating Gotham and everyone in it – including breaking Mr. Wayne and his now (seldom) suited alter-ego – literally. ‘What will break first – your spirit? Or your body?’ ‘When Gotham is ashes…you have my permission to die’… It does make you genuinely anxious for our broodingly reluctant hero’s future. Hardy meanwhile, perfectly embodies – again literally – Bane’s striking physical prowess to chilling effect, representing a machine of optimum agility and speed.
  At the completely opposite end of the spectrum, we have a Nolan first: a prevalent action heroine – and of course – this being Batman, not just any action heroine… Who else but the hugely anticipated introduction of none other than Catwoman. The initially surprising casting choice of Anne Hathaway in the role of Selina Kyle is now totally rest-assured. She’s absolutely terrific. Her transcendent interpretation of an icon starts off with a deceptively meek cover identity as a jittery, worldly-naïve and apologetic maid at Wayne Manor… The moment she is caught out be a bemused and frail Bruce, her magic lies in literally transforming before our eyes, into a quixotic, lithe little minx, all through the sheer economy of a flick of the hair, mischievous flash of the eyes, and one single syllable: ‘Oops’… Acerbic, threatening and supremely confident. It’s one of the most rewarding, revelatory moments I’ve ever had as a viewer in the cinema. One of my favourite scenes in the film in fact takes place in a gritty, deserted downtown bar where Selina is engaging in some morally ambiguous double-dealing. ‘It’ll liven up in a minute – trust me’
  Sure enough, an armed S.W.A.T team scrambles in, and our vixen becomes a petrified screaming flurry of hysteria, only to flash a dismissive smirk as soon as the coast is clear…
 Cat got your tongue?’ she asks provocatively at one point, pinning her latest victim to the wall. ‘Do those heels make it tough to walk?’ another asks. ‘I don’t know’…she replies ‘- …do they?’ – before landing the base of a glossy stiletto straight through his leg…
  Among the other new characters for this concluding chapter is John Blake. An eager young police officer – he’s the most identifiable, honest, earnest, well-crafted character than Nolan’s Batman franchise has ever produced. This is due to the casting of the fantastic Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Re-uniting with Nolan after his movie-stealing turn (a full 360 degrees in zero-gravity no less), as Arthur in Inception, Joseph’s talent is endless. Through the very slightest of gestures as John – an empathetic tilt of the eyes or a knowing remark: ‘Are you sure it was him?’ he asks as the flying equivalent of The Batmobile – simply known as ‘The Bat’ makes its daring escape. Or after being told every cop has already been dispatched: ‘Not every cop…’ John’s a very opportunistic, resourceful character, and a personification of truth, morality and a heroic goodness, striving for the right choices that re-optimize the hope of Gotham.
 Joseph’s one of those actors who displays this amazing sense of effortlessness in every role he immerses himself in, with this wonderful economical skill of obtaining the absolute integrity of a range of extremely versatile characters constantly. As with Inception, he walks away with the best performance in the film completely – entirely through subtlety. He’s my favourite ever actor, the best of both mine and his same generation – and a true inspiration.
Being very careful not to give too much away, with Nolan stating that this is his final Batman film, John’s secret in the film’s electrifying final, revelatory  moments provide a fascinating clue as to where Joseph may be able to take his character in the future – for a possible, brilliant, very exciting continuation of the franchise…
  Also new this time around is Marion Cotillard, again reuniting with Nolan after Inception, here playing the elusive new love interest for Bruce Wayne: Miranda Tate – essentially the catalyst for re-boost a bruised Bruce after eight years of seclusion, piquing his interest in a new energy project. Again, it’s not giving too much away to say that every character has a big secret, and, particularly with Miranda, on repeated viewings it’ll become more obvious that, even in tiny split-second shots – that there’s far more to her than initially meets the eye, and all is certainly not what it seems…
  I would have liked to have seen Morgan Freeman have a little more screen time as the dryly witty Lucius Fox, the weapon division’s master of gadgetry, but there’s always a pressure of time and space with a leviathan film on this scale, particularly with a big ensemble cast.
Gary Oldman’s earthy Commissioner Gordon is given a huge moral dilemma to contend with – all to with moral judgments. Oldman’s always such a powerful, intense screen presence.
Micheal Caine once again remains the emotional centre of the film, and here is given some genuinely emotionally affecting moments – particularly between himself and Christian Bale.
  In his duel interpretation of both Bruce Wayne and Batman, it’s a real testament to Bale that while all these elaborate situations are escalating, he always retains keeping his performance utterly grounded, which in turn means, that the audience can always relate to the man behind that inimitable mask. Here he makes us witness Bruce in a state of heartbreaking fragility – around midway through, locked in the bowels of Bane’s birthplace – a hellish  underground prison. His soul is almost as broken as the fragmented mask that’s ripped from his face… Bale is, I feel, another brilliant, very underrated actor, and will be much missed in the very difficult, iconic role of Batman, and like all the actors before him – has completed made the role his own.
  My expectations were far exceeded throughout, especially during the innumerable, blistering and impossibly ambitious array of stratospheric action set pieces.
I had the privilege of seeing this seminal milestone of landmark filmmaking twice, once in the truly spectacular IMAX format. A gargantuan, huge-scale, gigantic screen. At times it’s vertigo-inducing, but it’s such a richly rewarding experience – that only serves to make the action, clarity and visual invention even more stunning – by tenfold.
  The second time, I enjoyed it even more, noticing even more of Nolan’s ingeniously employed techniques. I also experienced it in the relatively new D-BOX for the first time, basically a seat which shudders and reacts with your choice and degree of its intensity - to any form of diegetic pressure involved in the physical impact of the film – such as a punch, gunshot or explosion. Never more have a felt more purely immersed in the milieu of the film.
 Bane hijacks both the plane at the very beginning, and Gotham’s Stock Exchange in a chillingly ruthless manner (New York’s Stock Exchange on Wall Street, actually doubled for Gotham’s – completely seamlessly).
  This leads to an amazing, nerve-jangling chase, (‘Time to go mobile’ Bane commands), as a band of motorcycles zoom out, as petrified bankers are strapped to the back of their captors.
  Cabwoman’s instrumental in leaving an already deeply scarred Bruce at the mercy of Bane at one stage on, ironically a prison catwalk – as a particularly violent fight ensues. In D-BOX, every brutal punch from Bane is registered – we feel Bruce’s pain right along with him.
  Bane’s reign of terror also includes blowing up the three bridges – the people’s only means of escape from the city, and a superb homage to the storming of the Bastille, as Gotham’s criminals are unleashed from their prisons. But the highlight for me was our arch-villains peerlessly staged infiltration of a football stadium. ‘LET THE GAMES BEGIN’  he announces, as charges are set off, ripping a whole in the very foundation of the field…
Of course, Nolan never allows the spectacle to overshadow his film’s central themes. It’s unarguable that the tension in Gotham has never been higher. Nolan’s utterly fearless. No theme, idea, or thematic conceit of a commentary on the zeitgeist is left unexplored. From exploitation, the class-divide to facing financial cataclysmia in the credit-crunch – no opportunistic stone is left unturned.
  Particularly in the multi-stranded, epic forty-five minute finale, production designer Nathan Crowley has employed the collaboration of unbelievable feats of design: three camouflaged Batmobile Tumblers, Catwoman’s new Batpod, and the striking aerial vehicle ‘The Bat’ come together to unforgettable effect.
  I always really admire how Nolan reteams with much of the same cast and particularly crew on many of his projects. It helps create a fluidity, an economy, and also a useful shorthand on set for the actors, but also rewards viewers in acknowledging the trademark of a particular sense of distinctive artistic vision and style. I’m referring namely to the wonderful Director Of Photography Wally Pfister – the crisp, sheer sharpness and clarity of his images is unparalleled, particularly here – with the transition into the medium of digital, when around an hour of footage (mainly action sequences) are shot in the IMAX camera. The balance between a glossy, deeply cinematic sheen and clean immediacy is always perfectly struck. This daring style, combined with seeing it on an IMAX screen or in a D-BOX seat, put you as a viewer directly in the milieu of the film.
  I think that the score is the single most underrated, vital element in filmmaking. The score is the resonating soul of a film. It’s critical in establishing a specific atmosphere – and in terms of adrenaline-inducing, bombastic blockbuster scoring – it really doesn’t get any better than Hans Zimmer. His central motif throughout this trilogy, is to continually ramp up the tension with five ominous strums on the violin: ‘dum, dum, dum, dum-dum’. His skill lies in planting the smallest of low one-note seeds rising gradually to reach huge orchestral crescendos, of brass, string and electronic – with stirringly memorable, rousing results.
   However huge the spectacle, Nolan always establishes that the movie’s characters are its heart. For over a decade, he’s made all his films, including this massive franchise a shining example of how of blockbusters can have brains as well as brawn. He’s a pioneer – the first of his kind to do so. It’s an epic, deeply moving conclusion, with visual flair, rich entertainment and grippingly captivating innovation. Seminal. One of the finest films of the year. The blockbuster of all blockbusters – and so much more…

Rating * * * * *

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

Summer 2012

Comic-Book Action-Adventure

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Embeth Davidz and Sally Field.

Certificate: 12A.

Running Time: 130 mins approx.

Seen At: Didsbury.

On: Monday, 16th July, 2012.

Once Danny Elfman’s inimitable, instantly iconic strings started up over the Columbia Pictures logo followed by the rat-a-tat tap of those bongo-drums, I was glued to Sam Raimi’s original trilogy of only ten years ago, throughout.
  They were to me, caught up in the ultimate web of encapsulating every essential element of simple, memorable, summer blockbuster entertainment should be – bombastic, theme-lead score, a huge dollop of set-piece, (using what I can only describe as sweeping, panoramic shots to signify moments of great peril – falling or climbing – in real time), whilst capitalizing on the iconography of its extensive marketing. I, like lots of teenage boys in a very particular, powerhouse generation for cinema during the early 2000’s, had the massive Spiderman posters for the big-screen incarnation adorning my bedroom wall, along with of course, billboards and the sides of buses everywhere.
  Now, only a decade later, and five years after the third installment, the web-slinging schoolboy has been ‘rebooted’ again. Much talk has been made in the press as to exactly why it’s necessary, but – the more superhero blockbusters the better as far as I’m concerned! I’m definitely a blockbuster boy!
   Now, it’s our truly wonderful British actor Andrew Garfield, who takes over from Tobey Maguire to wear that red and blue suit. For my money, as much as I did enjoy Maguire’s shy, meek take, Andrew is infinitely better - proving himself brilliantly nervy and intensely empathic in the role, in equal measure.
  Stylistically, this re-envisioning substitutes the last trilogy’s delightfully mainstream, grandiose Hollywood approach, for an almost equally enjoyable,  more subtle, simpler, more streamlined structure – whilst also being more thematically complex and rather consciously, darker, beginning by exploring the back-story of how Peter Parker was orphaned, which leads him unsuspectingly into the decidedly conflicted clutches of Dr. Kurt Conners, played by Rhys Ifans. He’s a one-armed scientist with shady glasses and even shadier ideas…
  One of this installment’s few disservices is the characterization of this over-indulgence in creating a flimsy ‘mad-scientist’ sterotype. Before his all-to-brief, ‘scaly’ transformation bursts from within, Rhys Ifans, a talented, diverse actor certainly (he was last seen to blistering effect as Edward De Vere, Shakespeare’s rumored amanuensis in the brilliant Anonymous),  is provided with little else to do except look ominous and flatly misunderstood.
  I strongly feel that produces will have to go an awful long way to surpass Willem Dafoe – possibly the best actor in the business for ‘injecting’ chilling ounces of menace into a creepy array of genuinely affecting villains over the years. Not least with The Green Goblin. The sight of him psychoanalyzing his personification of schizophrenia in the mirror (where he’s also resurrected in Harry – screaming ‘AVENGE ME!’, or his gleefully unrelenting cackle on a verdantly sleek aerodynamic hover-board, firing rockets, throwing spherical bombs and growling: ‘Incy-Wincy spider climbed up the water-spout…’ is one of my favourite in the comic-book-nemises cannon. Unusual casting continued to work in Raimi’s favour for Dr. Octopus, as Alfred Molina ‘got to grips’ with tentacled, slippery throwaway: ‘Butterfingers!’ Topher Grace’s Venom - ('Hey Parker') - also dripped a literally ‘infectious’ malevolence, but Ifans’s Lizard alter-ego, despite following the grand tradition of dramatically declaring their ‘evil plan’ and Spider-Man’s real name, followed by a deeply engaging sneer and orchestral crescendo – just ends up rather overblown, and all the more cumbersomely laborious,  and strangely formulaic, for all the obvious digital effort put in.
  Directed by the aptly named Marc ‘Webb’, he comes from an accomplished body of work, having also made one of my all-time favourites: (500) Days of Summer. This of course means that here we have a strongly contemporary, almost self-sufficient flavour to it throughout, exploring a tumultuous slow-burner of a budding romance with Emma Stone’s kooky Gwen Stacy, as well as seeing Peter Parker be the resourceful but rebellious, bullied, orphaned teenager,  constructing his own web-slinging machine, which is refreshing.
 No doubt these choices we made for more than only artistic reasoning, deliberately designed to appeal to the late-teen demographic, raised on a cinematic menu of adolescent boy-wizards and angst-ridden, paled-faced, cynically constructed and utterly lifeless, airbrushed teenage vampires with model good-looks and nothing else.
  In thankful antithesis, Andrew Garfield is actually 28, although it’s useful that he looks so young for his age. A key component that our revitalized Spider-Man possesses over previous outings, is setting the majority of the cleverly economical set-pieces at night, as opposed to in broad sunlight.
It may take him almost an hour of screen-time to actually fully suited-up, (the spider-bite sequence itself, brilliantly bubbles with tinkering tension, being realized perfectly now), but it’s breathlessly worth the wait. I immediately took to this mesmeric, instantly iconic sight of the floodlit, yellow-taxied streets of Manhattan playing voyeuristically low-angle host to a newly departed speed-ramped Spidey, swinging from skyscrapers in the spellbinding and gingerly utilized tool of 3D – which is the marketing’s defining image of him isn’t it? Just a joy to have back, and one that Garfield enthusiastically embraces with a freeing sense of easy naturalism better than Maguire ever did – and it shows. Humour, and lightness-of-touch is also a predominant element. Spider-Man here has a dry, sardonic, almost self-deprecating manner, often exposing the  incompetence of the archetypal petty criminal: ‘You’ve found my weakness – it’s small knives!’ ‘If you’re gonna steal cars, don’t dress like a car thief!’.
  Maybe it’s because Peter Parker the teenage boy isn’t either a billionaire or from another planet, that sets him apart in being perhaps the most identifiable superhero we have, and, in my opinion, this in turn, also makes him the most child-centric and product endorsing.
   Most interestingly though, one of the many differences between Andrew Garfield’s embodiment when indirectly ‘compared’ to Maguire’s, apart from personality (Maguire’s Parker was demonstratively mellow, Garfield more, humanely, cautiously intense and subtle) – is the decision that Garfield makes no attempt to conceal our favourite web-slinger’s true identity, instead actively choosing to show off the fact his basic sensibilities are ultimately identical to any member of the public he must save.
  Sally Field makes for a far earthier Aunt May, and Martin Sheen much more urbane, as the grouchier version of the ill-fated Uncle Ben…
  These smart decisions boad well for the future. With a least two more forthcoming chapters, and the sequel billed for release as early as May 2014, there’s much more to come. It’s almost certain to be a financial success, with the Summer Of 2012 proving it was the year for costumed superhero cinema.
It may be far slighter than its predecessors and not quite match them in Hollywood grandiosity and spectacle, but that dosen’t stop it from being a resounding success with principal credit to Garfield for trailblazing an unarguably iconoclastic figure in contemporary cinema, to an entirely new generation. It’s just tonally executed through an entirely subtler,  freshly woven web of dynamics - spun full of love, heart, humour, humanity, but above all, a more traditional Spidey-sense of old-fashioned fun!

 Rating: * * * *


Friday, 7 September 2012


Summer 2012

Genre: Ensemble Drama.

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Sarah Gadon, Kevin Durand, Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, Mathieu Amalric and Paul Giamatti.

Certificate: 15.

Running Time: 109 mins approx.

Seen At: Didsbury.

On: Thursday, June 28th, 2012.

Film Festival season is booming round the globe at the moment. Not only did this premiere in Cannes, strewn alongside a flurry of auteur’s such as Wes Anderson and Micheal Hanake in the spring of this year, The Venice and Toronto Film Festivals are also currently well underway simultaneously, again both with a distinct, auteur-lead feel, with new features from the likes of Terence Malick with To The Wonder, (where he radically cut a large proportion of his starry cast out of the film), the controversial drama The Reluctant Fundamentalist and of course, the long awaited collaboration between Phillip Seymour-Hoffman, and Paul-Thomas Anderson in the seemingly exceptional human epic, The Master, with the press applauding stars and director with a glowing reception in Venice. Over in Toronto, a tantalizing programme is showing, including opening with the blistering re-teaming of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and director Rian Johnson, who follow up Brick with the outstanding futuristic sci-fi thriller,  Looper.
  But what with Sundance, Raindance, Screenplay, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cannes, Venice, Toronto and the forthcoming London Film Festivals well on its way later as we progress ever further into the autumn months, it thankfully means there are a lot of festivals at which to showcase the films and their makers, with often what is, a much-increased sense of A-List pulling-power behind them in the last four years or so,  compared to previously.
  What some are dubbing: ‘perhaps the strangest film you’ll ever see’, marks the second film of the year, (and incidentally the second film in my Top Ten of 2012), from the visionary mind of director David Cronenberg. Already thrilling us at last year’s Venice ceremony, and in what was a rather limited release here in February, with A Dangerous Method, a simply stunning study of the doomed triangle of Freud, Jung, Keria Knightley’s impeccably-played troubled patient, and the birth of psychoanalysis.
He switches from restrictive period repression to a mind-anesthetically dream-like near present-day, with a deceptively simple premise. Almost all of the intriguingly-titled Cosmopolis, based on the existential novel by Don Delillo, takes place within the ultra-modern, claustrophobic confines of a plush, slick and sleek personal limousine. It’s the transport of choice for our rather antagonistic protagonist, Manhattan’s Eric Packer, a superficial, breathtakingly materialistic billionaire orphaned, stock-commodities entrepreneur.
  What starts off a normal day’s drive to the barbershop demanding to his driver his desire for a haircut, soon turns into a nightmarish implosion of the economy, the city and Packer’s safety.
  Along the way, his journey ‘cross-town’ is punctuated by the arrival in the limo of several, familiarly-faced key figures in his daily, (and notably) love, life. There’s his lover (a darkly demure, bitterly acerbically-tongued Juliette Binoche), once again reaffirming a trend I’ve recently noticed with her roles – appearing rather innocent at first glace, but harboring this dangerous, vengeful, femme-fatale-esque resentment – Damage, or more recently Anthony Minghella’s Breaking and Entering are each a case in point). Cue several steamy scenes, pounding with a sexually-charged energy.
  His number-crunching analyst is played with straight-laced stoicism by the ever-captivating Samantha Morton – and there’s also his icy-glacial wife (Sarah Gadon) among others.
  My favourite character is one with possibly the best character-name ever: The Pastry Assassin, played with a suitably manic enthusiasm by Quantum Of Solace’s villain Mathieu Almaric. Essentially, his character goes round throwing custard pies in the faces of people of great influence, namely politicians, presidents or celebrities, a sort of anarchic equivalent of ‘You’ve been Tangoed’! It’s a fun conceit and messily memorable moment.
   It’s fascinating to think just how topically-minded both Don Delillo and Cronenberg are with this project. Written well before financial cataclysmia froze us all out, this is an absolutely gripping, timely, almost cautionary allegory on events present and future. It’s littered rebelliously with a stark, bold images, and there’s a method of subtle precision to its abstractness.
  There’s an almost synthetic quality to the purple-hued cityscape backdrop as the luxury metallic prison, full of fluorescent optics, plummeting stock graphs literally crumbling in Eric’s amorally selfish grasp, and liquid plasma screens, hums Eric silently along riotous New York streets.
  Despite initially appearing cerebral, this is quite the opposite, evoking a teasingly edgy, ominous sense of encroaching, foreboding danger sometimes, literally just ‘around the next corner’. As the threat against Eric increases, it goes in tandem with our dreaded sense of anticipation for the inevitability of its final confrontation. It’s one that leads to what is one of the most disconcerting film climaxes for some time, thanks to a creepy Paul Giamatti as a fixated ex-employee.
But the film really belongs to Robert Pattinson in the central and very difficult role as the, initially at least, extremely unsympathetic role as Eric, driven by a purely superficial, almost megalomaniac sense of greed.
Pattinson’s teen-vampire Twilight days are far behind him. This is a simply a brilliantly nuanced performance, his mesmeric features the epitome of poise, as Eric’s self-assurance erodes away his soul. Surely he’s in win a chance for a nominee for Best Actor in February? Sinewy, measured, calculating and colder than the Arctic Circle, it’s an achievement that Pattinson encompasses all this, while not making him any less captivating at the same time.
  There’s really not much to criticize about this experience. What could have so easily been a risky, languid leaden-heavy film, just by its very nature, is, instead both a gripping visual metaphor for our time, and a master-class in artistic prowess. All the flare which is now a customary expectation from Cronenberg is present in an abundance of originality – whether it’s the low-level sterility of the cinematography, or the telling gaps in between dialogue, which often tell the audience more than the characters do.
In terms of dialogue, one of its more striking features is that, as those who’ve read the novel will be aware, its inhabitants communicate completely within their own seemingly innocuous lexicon, frequently repeating barbs such as: ‘You know this’. It can be initially off-putting if you’re unfamiliar with the novel, but it soon becomes, if never easy, a little more usual as the film progresses, in its own ingeniously episodic structure.
  One element worth noting, is that those very examples of dialogue, are often directly extracted from the source material word for word. In that respect, it is a faithful adaptation, but can seem a little too on-the-nose if, as I did, you’ve read the novel beforehand.
What makes this truly exceptional however, is the unique quality its premise possesses. I can’t think of a film drama, which executes the form of setting itself almost exclusively in one location, quite so well. Roman Polanski’s brilliant Carnage managed it to acidic comic effect, but the dynamics of that firework-ensemble are entirely differently handled, compared to this, periodically put together concept, whereby different characters enter and exit the limousine in turns. I admire greatly the theatricality which that both demands, and delivers with a certain clinical flourish, somewhat reminiscent of one of my favourite plays, albeit in another time and location - Stephen Daldry’s similarly daring revival of An Inspector Calls. Both projects regardless of their medium, not only astound the eye, but also force us to conduct a moral examination of our hearts and souls, as well as our roles within the greater consciousness.
  This is a supremely daring, occasionally violent alert of the senses: (towards the end, there’s a startlingly realistic bullet-through-the-hand shot), and an ending so open (or closed), it’ll play on you for weeks afterwards. Cronenberg continues an eclectic display of skill across a versatile selection of genres.
 A haunting, darkly triumphant masterpiece, with a fantastic performance from Pattinson.
One of year’s most original pieces of work – as well as one of the most memorably impressive.

Rating: * * * * *

Friday, 27 July 2012

Snow White And The Huntsman

Summer 2012

Fantasy Adventure

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Rachel Stirling, Sam Spruell, Lily Cole, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Toby Jones and Bob Hoskins.

Certificate: 12A.

Running Time: 127 Mins Approx.

Seen At: Stockport’s Cineworld Cinemas.

On: Thursday, 14th June, 2012.

As early as April, we had the first of two early-summer cinematic Snow White’s. Julia Roberts’ return to the mainstream, relishing in fun menace in Mirror Mirror.  I haven’t seen it yet, but, judging from the trailer, was defiantly the more fun - child-friendly, sugary, frothier and lighthearted, aimed squarely at youngsters compared to this supposedly more ‘epic’ adaptation. I suspect, that the former would have been the one which I personally would have enjoyed far more though.
  The intention presumably was to re-imagine the classic Disney fairytale for the teen-angst-fuelled target audiences of today, their fanatically populist choice being the moody, pale-faced vampires of the Twilight phenomenon (surely it’s not just coincidental that the female lead here is the same as the heroine for so-dubbed ‘Twi-hards’ - but is it as cynical a ploy as just being a shrewd case of shoo-in casting to ensure successful box-office takings?
  Maybe, but by opting for a decidedly darker tone, the result is mixed to say the least. Far too long, far too slow, and taking an absolute age to go anywhere, it takes on too many ideas for its own good.
  Kristen Stewart’s demeanor is as miserable, stilted and inexpressive as ever, and even when she’s supposed to be the flourishing flower, she’s forever dressed in pauper’s rags.
Chris Hemsworth, a great actor, very popular with the mighty success of Thor, is here completely wasted on a vastly underwritten, cardboard-template of a role, and a terrible Scottish accent. Considering the title, you’d have also thought that his Huntsman would be the predominant love interest, but instead, that is Sam Claflin, fairing much better as William, a suitably heroic Prince Charming.
  Thank goodness mainly though for Charlize Theron, completely stealing the show, fantastic and superbly evil in the simplest sense as Ravenna, (so named due to her recurring affinity with a motif of magically swirling ravens under her control – rather similar to Oz’s Wicked Witch of The West and her infamous flying monkeys). She’s the classic queen terrified of aging, who scarily enough, temporarily regains youth by sucking it out of her captured victims.
The sword-and-sorcery action set-pieces and climactic battles are visually impressive, as are some innovatively lavish visual effects and ideas, such as a spooling, liquid-gold mirror, and Ravenna’s bath, a literal metaphor for retaining the ‘milk of youth’ – she literally bathes in the lucid, white liquid in a desperate attempt to cling to her younger self. (We first see her in saucy seductress mode, stabbing her unsuspecting men in the heart – quite literally - in a vengeful rage). Her aging make-up is also terrific, as she transforms from spikily elegant, beautifully costumed queen into haggard harridan.
  Whist cleverly retaining many staple elements (the mirror, with it’s famous ‘On the Wall’ speech, the poisoned apple, the huntsman’s plot thread), it just diverts too far from the filmic source material - Disney’s groundbreaking, first ever full-length animated feature, from 1937. I always welcome new re-envisionings of much revered classics – but only once or twice does it take memorable sequences and apply them to the new approach. This fails to capitalize on some original’s most startlingly effective moments, such as Lucille La Verne, inimitably voicing both the Wicked Queen (as she was known in fairytale) and horrible Witch, by drinking a lethal potion, putting her terrifying panoramically-photographed transformation into a dizzying spin.
  As a consequence, tonally, it’s extremely muddled throughout, switching between languidly slow, overlong and serious, and then suddenly remembering the very young children’s audience, and their partiality towards humour that’s just far too infantile.
  The latter is due mainly to the dwarfs, who, despite the starry cast they’re made up of (including wise leader Bob Hoskins), not only don’t put in an appearance until well after the first hour, but, curiously there’s eight of them.
  One of the best scenes, at last adds some much-needed colour, as they lead our moping heroine into an evergreen glade, complete with toadstools, cute-faced pixies and fluorescent, camouflaged tortoises. It’s a beautifully designed, quiet sequence.
  The most memorable supporting role is that of the Queen’s brother, played with dripping malevolence by Sam Spruell, very much in the similar cannon of The Mask of Zorro’s deceptively-named Captain Love, David Thewlis’s Northern antagonist King Einon in DragonHeart, or even Rocky Horror’s Richard O’Brien’s Pierre Le Pieu, in a fellow fairytale adaptation: Ever After: A Cinderella Story. These are wonderfully slimy supporting characters, irredeemably evil, and every bit as impactful, if not even more so, in the role of sometimes the secondary villain, as Theron is as his dominant, more intellectual sibling.
  The film’s most disappointing element is the screenplay, struggling under the weight of its own flat dialogue and seemingly endless exposition.
In the accompanying trailers, as well as gigantic pop-out billboard posters adorning the multiplexes of shopping centres, presumably because filmmakers were all too aware of the recent competition of Mirror Mirror, I feel the marketing campaign made this out to be the far more epic option of the two, on a more ambitious scale. So I wonder why it feels quite small compared with its contemporary blockbusters such as the Narnia films for instance.
Perhaps it’s the choice not to venture into the utilization of 3D, apparently less popular with audiences, who in the main prefer 2D, but to me, a third dimension always adds to a certain immersive quality to the entire cinematic experience. The decision then to not choose 3D for a project that would seem to suit it ideally, is a missed opportunity, often counting against the film, meaning that a swish of a sword, slow-motion drips of blood, or the breaking of the mirror’s shards of glass, could have been made far more tactile for the audience.
  The result, unfortunately feels considerably less ‘epic’ than was first intended, at least promotionally. This is partly due to the omission from the theatrical trailer, of Theron’s deeply sinister narration, a much more threatening version of the mirror’s simile-laden poem. Instead of the supposed innocence of the animated original’s: ‘Skin white as snow’ etc, Ravenna’s decidedly darker declaration of jealousy at her rival reads: ‘Lips red as blood…hair black as night…bring me your heart…my dear, dear Snow White’… It’s such an effectively unsettling speech, delivered with all the appropriate relish by Theron, I don’t know why they didn’t use it at all in the actual film.
  It’s mildly enjoyable enough, but a wonderful central performance from Theron, don’t change this from being a case of individual scenes being stronger than the muddled whole. Here’s hoping, that if this is a relative success, and distributors Universal Studios do decide to cash-in on an inevitable sequel, as much effort is put into improving this labored screenplay’s pacing, character development and dialogue, as it does into its far more successful take on its cinematic technique; of effects, villainy and visuals.

Rating: * * 

Thursday, 12 July 2012


Summer 2012

Genre: Sci-Fi/ Horror / Prequel.

Starring: Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Logan Marshall-Green,Micheal Fassbender, Idris Elba, Rafe Spall and Guy Pierce.

Running Time: 124 mins. approx.

Certificate: 15

Seen At: Didsbury.

On: Saturday, 9th June, 2012.

In 1979, director Ridley Scott made audiences around the globe scream in the isles, with Alien, a worldwide blockbusting phenomenon, that has now become an absolute staple classic. At the time, it distinguished itself as breaking new cinematic ground, as being the very first film of its kind to mix the genres of science-fiction and horror together – with simple, terrifying results. It made a star of Sigourney Weaver, as the heroic protagonist Ripley, one of the first examples of a strong female in the lead, as opposed to the ‘damsel in distress’ figure.
Scott ‘gave birth to’ this genre, as do, in this movie’s case, his characters too - quite literally - in some of the most shocking, horrific and memorable sequences in modern cinema that have ever been committed to celluloid. Of course, it was John Hurt who appeared in: ‘the scene’ as the doomed Kane. His face-hugging, chest-bursting fate is in the same category as Janet Leigh’s dice with death in a motel shower in Hitchcock’s unbeatable slasher Psycho, The Exorcist’s Linda Blair’s three-hundred-and-sixty degree, head-spinning projectile vomit, Jack Nicholson’s maniacal axe-weilding in Kubrick’s The Shining, Clarice’s introduction to Dr. Lector in The Silence of The Lambs, Jamie Lee-Curtis’s babysitting job from hell in John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978, and of course, Glenn Close’s crazed Alex Forrest putting the bunny in the pot in 1987’s Fatal Attraction, all going down as just some of the most iconic images not only in horror, but also in cinematic history. In celebration of the upcoming release of Prometheus, Channel 4 have been showing three of the original quadology, and while the first three sequels had, shall we say, varying amounts of success, I assure you that as is also the case with Ridley’s return with this film, the original hasn’t lost a single ounce of its impact to absolutely petrify…
 Returning to the genre of sci-fi for the first time in twenty years since Blade Runner in 1982 (which he is soon to remake), the visionary director insists that this is not a straightforward prequel to Alien, being instead very much it’s own ‘beast’, but it’s impossible not to see the parallels. 
  Set before the events of the original, the premise sees a group of explores land on an abandoned planet, in the spaceship of the film’s title, millions of miles from earth. Its stunning opening shot consists of a gigantic waterfall, with a mysterious, sinister figure standing on top.
   This installment attempts to answer the ultimate in existential questions: where do we come from? Our heroine this time round is Elizabeth Shaw (played by the first Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace), a scientist who believes that what remains of an ancient civilization, could hold the key to our very existence. In turn, this opens up all kinds of infinitely ongoing debates such as nature versus nurture, evolution verses godly creation, and science verses religion.
  The archetypal icy blonde with a heart of glass is also on board, in the shape of the enigmatic and skeptical Meredith Vickers, (Charlize Theron on cool, detached form), a woman shrouded in complete mystery, who might just have her own top secret ‘agenda’ for being there…
  As was the case with Ian Holm’s head-twirling, white-foaming Ash and Lance Henriksen’s Bishop before (or rather, after) him, David is the ship’s cyborg, a robot in human form (a polished-speaking but morally ambiguous Micheal Fassbender).There’s a brilliantly eerie, ominous early sequence which sees him silently stalk the otherwise deserted, pristine quarters of the ship to deceptively contrapuntal, lulling classical strings,  while all the other crew are experiencing hyper-sleep inside those infamous pods. It’s a scene which sets the very specific tone throughout: as with all effective horror films, it should unfold slowly, ramping up the tension before an explosive finale.
  Much of those ingredients do indeed translate terrifyingly well here, Dariusz Wolski’s cinematographic, wonderfully snaking, voyeuristic quality of the camera, creeping around the interiors endless corridors from the alien’s perspective. What set the original apart, providing it with an even more palpable level of suspense, is the fact that neither you, nor the characters, ever quite knew where the elusive creature was.
   Newcomer on the block, Logan Marshall-Green, gives one of the film’s best performances playing Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Charlie Holloway, who you think will be the male lead, but is actually, mid-way through, the catalyst of two of the movie’s biggest scares. First, David sneakily takes a sapling of the species’ malleable, kinesthetic, viscous alien gloop from one of the hundreds of vases which carry their eggs, and drops it into Charlie’s drink. The next morning, he finds his eye bloodshot, almost as if a poisonous contact lens has been planted. He soon becomes a lot worse, with his face a mass of throbbing veins as the alien persona slowly takes over him. I was surprised his grizly fate happened quite so early on, but it’s one of the best sequences. It’s the gradual, worsening deterioration that’s so scary.
  As if that weren’t shocking enough, Elizabeth herself is suffering from severe stomach cramps, only to next find herself waking up in the medical bay, being told quite calmly by David that she’s been impregnated, similarly to John Hurt in the original. When told that is categorically impossible, he chillingly replies: ‘Well Doctor Shaw, I’m afraid it’s not exactly a traditional fetus...’. What follows is the film at it’s most squeamish, shocking and harrowing as Elizabeth must endure a gruesome, alarm-ringing, surgical ‘procedure’ (without giving too much away), as the miniature monster rears it’s ugly ‘head’ – in an homage to that inimitable scene…
  It’s one of several jumpy, highly clever echoes to the original, another being when Rafe Spall’s character falls foolish victim to the movie’s first extra-terrestrial encounter with a small, long-necked ‘being’ that sticks itself to his arm, and wraps around it, before eating its way into his high-visibility hood…
   In terms of the alien effects themselves, they’re achieved predominantly through anamatronic puppetry, seamlessly combined with astonishing computer-generated flourishes. Scott obtains the perfect balance of never showing too much of the creatures so that the audience are no longer shocked, but always showing us just enough of a suggestion of them to keep us tantalized. Keep you’re eyes peeled behind those ever-so-stylish 3D glasses though, as towards the end, when it’s the showdown between Elizabeth with an axe and the snarling, tentacled monstrosity, we finally see exactly where the legendarily slimy Alien from the original actually came from. It shows just how far visual effects have come in the thirty-three years since the first film. Stay through the credits to see just how many people are listed under: ‘Digital Artists’. It should surely win the Best Visual Effects Oscar next year, and more hopefully.
  Speaking of 3D, those fantastic effects are even further enhanced by superb utilization of the tool. The sheer scale of the rocky, baron landscapes is visually stunning. There’s an exhilarating sandstorm sequence, whereby as paraclastic storm-clouds are approaching, the body count is also rising, with helpless crew members being sucked out the back of the ship, as just another  innumerable piece of debris…
    In the sequence whereby the characters first discover the cavernous remains of a deserted civilation, with these enormous stone idols carved in the shape of the heads of the gods (which feature in a lot of the poster art),  the choice of digital gradient which colours these scenes, are an immersive jade-green sheen, with this gloss acting as a slowly emerging manifestation, a visual metaphor for the texture of the alien itself.
  In moments of true peril, Marc Streitenfeld’s understated, synthesized, droning score, puts you directly in the heart of the tension.
    In the absolutely huge anticipation surrounding this film, the trailers have been so clever in not revealing all that much, with an editing style that's all flashes and bursts. What’s most memorable from it, is the desperate wail of the ship’s alarm that accompanies it…
  What lets the film down the most is its screenplay. The dialogue is often too on-the-nose, and the supporting characters aren’t well enough drawn.
  In terms of the cast, the best performance is from Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers – clearly reveling in a perfect opportunity to be so spiky and authouratative. It’s the first of her two blockbusting ‘evil queen’ figures this summer, as in fact released in multiplexes on the very same day as this, she’s also the famous villainess in the latest re-envisioning of the classic fairytale of Snow White – Snow White and the Huntsman.
  Luther star Idris Elba is suitably patriotic and gung-ho as Janek, the ship’s captain, and Guy Pearce is unrecognizable, under the layers of prosthetics as the aged Peter Weyland, the franchise’s founder of Weyland Corporations, the organization who fund the crew’s fateful expeditions…
  Tense,terrific and absolutely terrifying, whether you think it reaches the heights of the original is an open question, but for me it is certainly just as heart-pumpingly entertaining, and it is left open for, hopefully, a sequel.  The more horribly extreme it is, the more you can’t help but delight in watching through your fingers!

Rating: * * * *

Image result for prometheus poster