Sunday, 31 January 2010
To finish we discuss Sundance and Disney's decision to shutdown a huge chunk of Miramax - a company that provided the early nineties with some of the greatest films of independent cinema and gave Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderberg and Kevin Smith a platform to begin their careers from.
Sunday, 24 January 2010
The music used is from 'The Hurt Locker' and is composed by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders.
Sunday, 17 January 2010
Update: To clarify, Bangor rep did not think Daybreakers was rubbish - and I quote: "Daybreakers was surprisingly awesome tho, it should be said! sam neill is win"
Wednesday, 13 January 2010
A film-production that was a long-time coming. Originally planning to have been released alot earlier than early 2010. Following on from the success of the Coen Brothers adaptation of No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy is a source that is guaranteed to get a green-light. Though this is less the No Country for Old Men take by the Coens - no comedy here. Think about Chigurgh ... think about what is inside his head. This might just be it. Javier Bardem, when talking about his preparation for the role, explained in Sight and Sound that he did not consider a past for the character - he simply felt his character was fear in the form of a human. In The Road we do not know why the world is on the verge of extinction - but it is the world we are thrown into - in the same way, we do not know where a psychopath like Chigurgh has come from in No Country for Old Men. He simply is there and Man (Viggo Mortensen) and Boy in The Road are thrown into this world and have to try and figure out how they are to live their life considering this turn of events. All they know is that they need to follow the road south ...
John Hillcoat directs and I don't really know enough to pass judgement. Formerly a music video director, having directed - amongst others - videos by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Manic Street Preachers and Depeche Mode. He then progressed to features, only really hitting the big-time after directing The Proposition in 2005. This was the predescessor to The Road. Now, John Hillcoat is credited with four films 'in development' on IMDB. He is a hot ticket - and should be - because The Road is a masterpiece.
A Post-Apocalyptic Hell
We are situated in the not too distant future - following a huge natural disaster that is only hinted at. Something to witht he sun I would assume. This context, whatever the case, is post-apocolypse. We are told about the fears - cannibals because people are starvng and that is how people are staying alive. Due to this, tribes and gangs stalk the land, hoping to find the people they can eat to stay alive. Having had this explained in voice-over, Man and boy are forced to hide when one tribe appear with a clear intent to eat. We see the confrontation and see how dangerous the environment is. We also see how, one night, the Father and Son are awoken by a fire on the horizon. This world is terrifying. This is a world that is Hell on Earth. All we need to know is that Man and Boy hope to navigate their way South. To the Ocean.
En-route, Man and Boy meet a range of different characters - an Old Man played by Robert Duvall, a 'Theif' played by Michael Kenneth-Williams (aka, Omar Little from The Wire) and then, in the final act, Guy Pearce and Co. The Father asks the people he meets whether 'they are the ones following them' and, each one responds that they are not.
A Visual Challenge - How can you adapt McCarthy's The Road?
I have been reliably informed that the book never shows anything too explicit and the film is similar in tone. First off, its a 15 that feels like it should be rated 18. I was petrified the entire way through and when i think back to the rating I realise how low the rating is - some Saw movies are, though grotesque, are not truly scary. This is.
One section that shows a horror we have all seen happens about a third of the way through. Man and boy find a huge mansion-like house. They walk around and the Boy senses problems - piles of shoes stacked up and hooks outside. While the Man feels they should explore and look for food, Boy is realising this is a human slaughter-house - and we realise it to some extent, except there are no humans. Not one. They creep down to the basement and look around - we know something is down there but we haven't seen it. Suddenly from shoddy bunk beds and from the shadows come shadows of men - humans starving to death, what looks like at least 20? 30? Allbarely alive, like zombies. Strongly reminiscent of the holocaust and the concentration camps. How does this link to 'the road', our metaphor for life? This house represents history and how history influences our life? Man storms through it looking for what he can take - ignoring what history really is and what it really consisted of, and what the Boy notices - danger, horror and fear. This is the most explicit section but, aking to the films of the seventies, we have seen
Parrallels and Metaphors
I am sure that there is a wide range of interpretations of The Road and inevitably - some may be much more intelligent than my initial understanding of the film. [Spoiler alert] There are certain shots that also add to these meanings. I've discussed the idea of 'the road' being a physical representation of life - and how Man and Boy walk through life with different goals. Man living to die - aware of his inevitable demise but pushing through it for the sake of others, while Boy is living to live - his life has to be long and prolonged. It is he who Man lives for. The idea that people follow both people may be an attempt to explain how we all influence each other and that - as possible followers - we need to be influenced by those who strive to live life to the full - like the Boy.
The post-apocalyptic world is also primative and animalistic - akin to the consumerist and capitalist ideals. The dog-eat-dog world, how - maybe in a cannibalistic way - we need to be aware of others out to destroy us, even in dire situations, and we need to be aware of their primitive instincts - and not use ours to live. John Hillcoat managed to show an incredible visual reference as the Theif, played by Michael Kenneth-Williams, is left on the road - holding his groin as he stands, naked, in the road. Both Man and Boy walk away and we see the theif stand in the background, left to die. The image has a strong reference to the images of third world countries on the news - is Man and Boy showing the dichotomy that is rooted in America - or even the Western world? The thief did not hurt the boy - and he, as the Man and Boy are, is simply trying to stay alive. But - in parrallel to the many Western countries that are owed debts
Artist influences - Beuys and Friedrich
The whole costuming of the characters, I felt remided me of the dirty greens and browns that cover the work of Joseph Beuys. The textured fabrics and the rusty and decaying trolleys and machines simply play on the mind with a sense of dirt and uncleanliness. If you see the image chosen, even the use of a child as the centrepiece to the topics explored also are comparable.
Secondly, and this may be a loose link, I considered the romanticism of Caspar David Friedrich - the greys and brown colours within a rural landscape. The empty buildings created an almost gothic landscape - recalling the Gothic landscapes of Friedrich. Its interesting, because his landscapes rarely had people in them - just vast, empty - almost mythic worlds - presented to us. You could even argue that it presented worlds without human interferance, akin to the post-apocalyptic world we see.
The Closing Comparison
The one thing I am being cautious not to mention is I Am Legend and, other than the entire thematic ideals The Road explores, the idea of the last man on earth is similar. Also, the dusty, yellow-ish look is vaguely comparable but, other than that, there is nothing. Not really - Will Smith is completely alone, with a dog. Viggo is, with child, and is primarily looking after the child - not himself, while Smith thinks of himself as numero uno. So no need to compare them ... there are better comparisons I imagine.
One I would like to consider is Lars Von Triers Antichrist. Both are rooted in historically artistic tones - with an almost Gothic look. Both have a certain rural, primative quality - focussing on the primitive features of humans and, more importantly, how you might deal with things when on your own. Antichrist has nameless characters - as does The Road and the huge themes of life and death - in their unique way - is explored in both films. I have only seen each of them once so I would hope the comparisons only grow when watching them together but, chances are, I won't watch Antichrist again.
Sunday, 10 January 2010
To finish, a look at the films we are excited about over the coming year ... again, we reveal our favourites without prior discussion.
The music used is from The Road and is by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
Saturday, 2 January 2010
12 years in production, so we are told. James Camerons first feature film since Titanic. We all think it will be flawless and yet, we also know that our expectations of the film is unfair because the expectations are so high. I personally think the marketing campaign was awful - nothing we hadn't seen before. Those huge blue faces on posters meant nothing - reminded me of an out-of-proportion, incomplete half-face pencil sketch. As an Art-teacher, I spent many years improving my drawing skills drawing many-a-self-portrait and one of the first things you get wrong is proportions - the size of the eyes, of the mouth, etc - and so you stop drawing at a point, such as when you have only completed half the face, of the area around the eyes. So, to finish, the posters of too-big-eyes and too-big-lips, with only half the face shown simply reminded me of incomplete portraits. Not exactly exciting. Nevertheless, with Chris Hewitt's 5-star review 'flawed but fantastic' and Roger Eberts 'two thumbs-up', it could hardly be too bad. Then came the negative press. Tom Huddleston's two-out-of-five in Time Out and Anthony Quinn of The Independent seemed intent on stating how, as impressive as it looked, the consistency of themes - "corporate predators versus harmonious tree-dwelling natives, militarism versus humanism" - did not exactly stay true-to-its intent by the final act. Before I continue, I side closer to the 2/5 and 3/5 reviewers rather than the, what I think is ridiculous, five-star, top-marks it got elsewhere. Avatar will not be king of the world this year.
Get the, rather dull, story out of the way: Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) has legs that don't work and becomes an Avatar of himself as a Na'vi creature - a religious tribal group who are fiercely predatorial on the planet Pandora. The Na'vi protect nature and respect the environment - in an early sequence, the killing of vicious dogs to save Jake is deemed sad because the vicious dogs are part of the environment as are the Na'vi (unlike the humans who are not literally connected to the environment, while the Na'vi actually are literally connected to everything around them - trees, animals, etc). Fact is, beneath the home of the Na'vi is expensive rocks that Ribisi and his corporate company is desperate to get their hands on. Jake, initially amongst the Na'vi to gain their trust and move them out so the humans can take the rocks, begins to then change and adapt his views to suit the Na'vi, ultimately preferring his life - with legs - as a Na'vi tribal member rather than being a human. How the militaristic company deal with this situation in the final reel is obviously out-and-out war which looks great and it ends as one side wins. Guess who folks?
Straight off, I found something jarring about the blue-people and their eyes. Something nearly cartoonish about it. My favourite visual treats was not the landscapes - which you could watch on any Blue Planet or Planet Earth documentary (or even on one of those 3D films released years ago about nature) - but it was the shots of the humans standing close to the Na'vi. The beautiful finish as the Na'vi creature Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) holds the human Jake Sully in her arms. It was almost surreal and rooted in true-fantasy. Recalling artwork by Boris Vallejo and other fantasy artists. Fact is, this was a passing resemblance rather than a true rooted-in-the-visual theme.
Additionally, the machines the humans used were, pretty much, the same as the ones used in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Obviously, as Thomas Anderson 'jacks' into the matrix to become Neo, Jake Sully 'jacks' into his Avatar body to become 'jakesullee'. So the parallels are constant. The difference being that 'Jakesullee' is who Jake stays as - while Neo was fighting the forces, but had to become powerful, in his real body. There is a much deeper philosophical story in the idea that people would give up their lives to be something they are not, while Avatar seems to have legless-Jake become disgusted in who he really is and therefore change into something he is truly not. Funnily enough, I am reading Barak Obama's book (like everyone) Dreams from my Father whereby one fascinating chapter explains how, as a child, Barack saw a story in Time magazine about an African-American who changed their skin-colour to be white - in a time when racism was more prevalent in society - and this forced Barack to look into the mirror and analyse who he is. And, more importantly, how society views him. Does Avatar claim that if you have some sort of disadvantage in society - such as a disability - you can simply change who you are (in terms of racism, an interesting quote comes from Annalee Newitz of io9 blog in a post titled "When will white people stop making movies like Avatar" concluding that, in Avatar, a 'white guy' becomes the best member of a 'non-white culture'). Interestingly, Jake Sully was even offered 'new legs' (Gump to Lt. Dan "You got new legs!") by the uber-male army-guy - something that could, and should, be an incredibly important shift in the story becomes a simple choice for Jake - choosing to go back 'one-more time' to the land of the Na'vi only proving that he despises who he truly is - with or without legs.
Dances with Wolves - a comparison to Avatar by many critics including Mark Kermode - shows how Dunbar (Costner) becomes a Native-Indian slowly but surely through understanding the Native-American culture. Thing is, it ends as Dunbar is 'saved' by the American army and he has to escape to get back to his tribe. Dunbars change of allegiance makes him a bigger target for the American-army - so Dunbar has to leave the Sioux group so that he doesn't make them a target also. His original identity forces him to be alone. The violence of the American civil-war ultimately won-out in history and there is tragedy in Dunbar being forced to be alone, but it wouldn't have been any better if the Native-Americans 'won' through violence. There should be an acceptance of cultures - not a cultural war, which was, in effect how Avatar ended. Yes, Jake 'tried' to get a mutual understanding with the Na'vi and failed - and the uber-army man and Ribisi claimed that, for years, they tried for a peaceful solution and failed. So, rather than explore a complex issue, Cameron decides to simply show the 'good guys' win without realistically exploring how complex a war actually is - clearly there are always two-sides to any story and, alas, this is merely touched on and not followed through.
Another frustrating section is when 'Jakesullee' prays to the god-like Eywa (a tree...) for help in the coming war. Neytiri tells him that she doesn't favour anyone and won't assist anyone - she is merely there to 'keep the balance'. But this entire argument is contradicted as during the coming war, they Na'vi only 'win' because nature assists and Neytiri is well-aware that it is Eywa who has interceded. So Eywa does favour people - so, think about all those murders 'in the name of God'. What was originally Na'vi defending themselves becomes a God-supported Cause - akin to the God-supported wars of extremists and religious-mentalists.
So many structural and moral flaws with this film - you could go on about it all day. But there are some good points. Namely the actual acting talent. Giovanni Ribisi, for me, was incredible. I have never had a problem with him before and this is no exception. What is interesting is his range - he has a very unique appearance and yet has now officially progressed from the doper-teen roles he played when he was in his mid-twenties (his cameo in Friends, Gone in Sixty Seconds) to more maturer roles in his mid-thirties - playing the corporate boss in a moral dilemma in Avatar. The few scenes he has in Avatar, he completely steals from everyone (except Sigourney Weaver) and he has more depth than poor ol' Sam Worthington and Stephen Langs action-man roles. You really see the difficult position he is in - but how he ignores the moral implications and pushes through his own agenda, potentially threatened moreso by Colonel Miles Quaritch (aka, the aforementioned Action Man) than by his own conscience.
The 3D stuff is impressive, fine. But like any new perspective, once you have climbatised and accepted the 3D it all becomes a bit of a waste. I watched it at the IMAX, so no problems with the edge of the screen and I am sure on a smaller scale - even on your 50" TV screens - there will be stuff missed, but then again, I'll bet once you start watching it, you climbatise and watch it on that smaller screen. And see, this is my problem - following its limited cinema release - when released on DVD, will it matter. All that 3D-ness and for what? for a better 'cinema-experience', cinema will always be better than home-viewing. I guess with all these big-ass TV's in the homestead, 3D makes cinema that-much-more unique. Personally, I still have a classic (I like to think retro) 25 inch, back-projection Sony TV and I don't cry myself to sleep when I watch Gladiator on it. I accept it for what it is and I understand the story and see enough of it to be able to enjoy it and appreciate it - it hardly stops the 'enjoyment'. Fact is, even if I had a huge TV and all the sound and whatnot, Gladiator would still be better at the cinema, so you have to ask yourself this, without 3D, would it matter? How far can these 'changes' come before it all becomes a little redundant. I am sure Avatar in the IMAX is always going to be very different than when viewed, in 2D, in your lounge - as any DVD-on-TV experience is always inferior to the cinema experience. In my opinion, cinema always wins out over TV-viewings, but when Avatar is released on DVD or even blu-ray ... even 3D blu-ray - it will not really seem worth it. Either you watch it the way it was intended - 3D on the IMAX - or you settle for less, even watching it 2D on a big-enough screen (20 inch minimum I would say) and you'll still enjoy the movie. Everything in between seems either not-good-enough or trying-too-hard.
So, to wrap this essay up! Talk of a sequel is in full flow so, yeah, that will happen. It is what it is, but I do think its unneccessary because so much is tied up. Nevertheless, it will inevitably come - if only because they have all the CGI banked from Avatar to use - all they have to consider is the 'new' aspects and areas of this 'world' we are don't know about. I think its fair to say Cameron has not spent 12 years on this one movie, he has spent twelve years establishing a franchise that can run and run. "I'll only work in 3D in the future" Cameron said on The Film Programme podcast ... thats because he will probably only make Avatar sequels. I think this expansion of the world is one of the biggest problems with this first film. I had no idea about the other 'tribes' we found out about in the final act, until they were on screen. There was only hints of history and the size of this world. Considering people claim that the scope of Avatar is akin to The Lord of the Rings, I have to say no - Lord of the Rings was such a huge universe that they had to relay in the first ten, twenty minutes of The Fellowship of the Ring the history that preceeded it to give us the scope the trilogy deserved. No history was shown in Avatar so we only trust what we see - and only in those brief moments when Jakesullee makes his world tour with the clan - do we get some idea of the size of Pandora. Thats only brief, and before we know it, we are fighting some war.
To close, 'let your mind go blank' is what Sigourney Weaver tells Jake before he enters his avatar body - and I feel we need to forget about the countless stories and films that deal with the same themes, issues and aspects of Avatar to truly enjoy the movie. Because, if you really want to know about philosophy watch The Matrix, if you want to know about allegories of the American Civil-war - in fact, just watch a film about the American civil-war, watch Dances with Wolves, if you want Sam Worthington with a 'strong heart', watch Terminator Salvation ... the list goes on.
Friday, 1 January 2010
I had high hopes for this. How could you not have high hopes? Daniel Day-Lewis as the lead in a film is reason enough to watch thiis inevitable Oscar-contender. Then you have director Rob Marshall, Oscar-winning Chicago director with another wham-bam musical. The genre - a musical - following hot on the heels of the Oscar ceremony in 2009 for the 2008 releases whereby Wolverine and Beyonce sang the song 'Musicals are back' or something. So, we have a flawless actor, a critically acclaimed director directing his forte of genre's. Its also a musical adaptation of Federico Fellini's masterpiece 8 1/2 so, the story can't be half bad - especially considering the script treatment was written by no other than Anthony The English Patient Minghella. Then we have the leading ladies playing seductresses of classical proportions -
Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman (who has proven herself in the musical genre in the underrated Moulin Rouge), Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz (having just won an Academy Award for Vicky Cristina Barcelona) - then, to top it off, you have Marion Coutillard, the Oscar-winner (for her incredible performance in musical-biopic about Edith Piaf La Vie En Rose) playing opposite Daniel Day-Lewis. Fergie and Kate Hudson also appear, but less said about them the better... There was absolutely no reason this could have gone wrong.
Guido (Daniel Day-Lewis) is about to make his ninth film but is struggling to be inspired. He dazes back and forth between all the women of his life and uses, abuses and relishes in his life whilst realising that all this thinking is getting him nowhere. His long-suffering wife Louisa (Coutillard) has to put up with his affairs (his mistress played by Cruz), whilst he confides in costume designer (Dench) and imagines conversations with his Mother (Loren) and reminds himself of his first experience with a woman, played exceptionally by Fergie (From Black Eyed Peas). Kate Hudson plays an American Vogue editor who fancies Guido and tries to seduce him, as he had seduced her through his Italian Neo-realist films. Then there is Nicole Kidman who plays Guido's muse - his inspiration - for his films. All these women inspire and influence Guido and he troubles himself into creating this ninth feature as all these women fight over his attention.
The first thing I realised was problematic was the songs - I didn't really like the songs. Now I like music and I like musicals and I am suprised that I felt this way. I don't go out of my way to buy musicals on CD but if a song jars, it jars. Take Dreamgirls for example - as cheesy as it was, I never felt the songs jarred. They suited the characters, they suited the scene and they were ultimately keeping in tone with the film. In Nine the songs just didn't grab me. The only song that did was Fergie's incredible performance as she sings 'Be Italian'. A strong vocal, a waltz that builds into a cresendo of chaos as we see the young boy Guido and his buddies chase after the volumptuous character Fergie plays - the first seductress in Guido's life. So thats the first problem - not the script, not the acting, not the visuals but the songs and in a musical I am sure there is an argument that those songs are the most important because if the songs are good you are consequently pulled to watch the musical.
'Be Italian' is the only song that works the way it does - the clear contrast between grainy black and white memories on an Italian beach in Palermo and the passionate reds, revealing dresses and fish-net stockings in the studio show the separation of accurate memory and, essentially the fantasy. But by the time we see this sequence, we have seen this studio before. Most songs use it - from Judi Denchs number (though a wonderful voice I have never heard, the song was simply rubbish) though to the first Guido solo. Daniel Day-Lewis singing and leaping over the scaffolding telling us how frustrated he is being who he is. The first thing you see is an incredible Overture as we see in a single song each and every female in Guido's life as he is pulled and seduced and taken away by every woman. This is over shortly and the next number is this solo which (a) isn't very good as a song, (b) visually is not interesting on scaffolding and, crucially, (c) seems unneccessary. To be teased with a big pretty-much full cast number at the very start and not show us anything close to that until the final reel is not fair on the audience. I felt the use of this false studio set was a bit of a cop-out. I understand the metaphor and why it was used, but as a musical, you want them to sing in the streets and not to simply cut away to the studio for every number. In one number, a song by Louisa - Guido's wife - as she sings about how her husband 'makes movies' to the table she is sitting at, except it is within the studio-set rather than the restaurant she was intially in. Considering the characters froze in position for the song, it would have been more interesting to simply change the lighting in the exact same set. Also, considering the lavish quality it wants to present - the scaffolding of a studio hardly reeks of class. It looks cheap. Another sequence whereby Louisa, emotionally tells Guido how she realises she is like every other woman, is increidble except for how we cut away from Coutillard crying about her failed marriage in one scene to a brassy, sassy number in a strip bar. This affects the pace and simply upsets the viewing experience as you never know how to feel.
So, the good points, and there are a few good things. As stated, the whole 'Be Italian' sequence is great (though Empire's Alistair Plumb reckon's Marshall "awkwardly [juggles between] black-and-white shots from Guido's childhood with colourful musical numbers") and there are some nice subtle references to Fellini's La Dolce Vita - such as a billboard at the start with the same poster design and Nicole Kidman's number 'Unusual Way' whereby the entire number is parodying the Anita-Ekberg-Trevi-Fountain section ... but with a lot less passion and eroticism. Though it includes a cat briefly. Bottom-line is, I'd take Anita Ekberg in the Trevi Fountain over Nicole Kidman singing next to the fountain any day in the week. A nice reference touch.
Daniel Day-Lewis is good ... but nothing when put next to his recent exploits as Bill the Butcher (Gangs of New York) and Daniel Plainview (There Will Be Blood). The main difference is the calmness and weak nature of the character. Though charming, Guido is uninspired and lacks a definitive focus and ambition. An artist who has reached their peak and doesn't know where to go next. Confused and continually making the wrong decision. As Tony Soprano said (I think it was his wife in the programme but its always assosciated with Tony) "More is lost by indecision than by wrong decision". Daniel Day-Lewis is a strong actor, especially at this point in his career, and his prescence on screen was powerful and dominant - completely at odds with the weak, 'at-an-artistic-loss' powerlessness of Guido Contini.
To finish, it is a visual feast but the pace was simply not fast enough - it introduced lots of characters, one at a time, without any real depth. It does 'evoke' the 60's Rome effectively (another nod to Plumbs review) but ultimately falls flat on the sultry, sexy, passionate and romantic associations with Fellini's Rome ... which kind-of isn't the 60's Rome Fellini created. We talk about 'being Italian', and though it looks it (the trailer, still, made it look incredible) it sure doesn't feel it. Oh, and in answer to the 'question' of Marshalls directing abilities - on this film alone, I say no.