In the meantime, please watch this on a continuous loop.
A blog about films and some other stuff written by Matt Harvey. Literally using his fingers!
In the meantime, please watch this on a continuous loop.
Was very sad today to hear of the death of Tony Scott. I was a big fan of his work over the years and have more or less moulded my entire personality around the character of Goose from Top Gun (that’s not really true). Tony would be the first to admit that he wasn’t exactly a ‘Curzon Renoir’ kind of director but he did make big, bombastic and unashamedly crowd-pleasing movies that were lots of fun to watch and even more fun to write about. Here’s my review of his final film, Unstoppable…
I’ve always felt a little bit sorry for Tony Scott. Despite having made such well-loved classics as Top Gun and True Romance, he’s basically doomed to spend his entire career in the shadow of his older brother Ridley – never quite managing the same levels of critical success and respect. He’s essentially the Paul Ross of Hollywood.
In recent years, he seems to have become resigned to this fate and has evidentally thought to himself, “Ok, fuck this art shit. I’m just going to make movies with cool stunts and massive screw-you explosions then..” None of his recent output – which includes films like Man on Fire, Déjà Vu and a remake of The Taking of Pelham 123 - will have troubled any awards juries but has established him as the master of the dependable Saturday night balls-on-the-table action flick.
The latest entry in the Tony Scott canon (and yes it is a canon. A giant big phallic super-canon that fires nuclear bombs and explosions that last for aaaages) is Unstoppable. The film is based on a true story – though probably not that closely, I wouldn’t have thought. Stuff that happens in real life tends to be a bit boring and lacks enough AWESOME THINGS for Scott’s liking.. It stars Denzel Washington and Star Trek’s Chris Pine as two railway workers who find themselves in a race against time to stop an unmanned runaway train that’s loaded with deadly chemicals and hurtling towards a heavily populated area.
Now, the main thing you need to know about this train is that it is FUCKING. MASSIVE. Weighing in at one million tonnes and measuring half a mile in length, it’s essentially a skyscraper-sized missile traveling at 100mph towards a town filled with doe-eyed school kids and kindly grandmothers. Scott, along with his photography and sound design teams, do a great job in bringing this colossal steel monster to life and they really make you viscerally feel just how terrifyingly big and intimidating a freight train can be. I also really liked the depiction of Rust-Belt Industrial America; a side of that country you rarely get to see in the movies.
Character and dialogue-wise, it’s all fairly undemanding stuff. Washington and Pine play the classic mismatched partners – one a wise old railway veteran, the other a hotheaded young renegade – who eventually come to form a grudging respect for each other. Even more thinly sketched are the evil train bosses at ‘Corporate’ who are seen callously number-crunching on the golf course while the ordinary working stiffs are out there risking their lives:
There are also lots and lots of scenes where people shout absolutely meaningless technical jargon at each other with an almost comical urgency:
You couldn’t really see this film working in England. Network Rail and the East Coast mainline don’t quite have the same potential for dramatic tension: “Didcot? This is Wolf, over. We are out of BLT’s, I repeat WE ARE OUT OF BLT’s!”
However, none of this really matters. If you want a goatee-stroking cultural experience, go and watch Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. With Unstoppable you’re signing up for a big stupid adrenalin-soaked adventure. It’s more like an Alton Towers ride than a film, but then that’s not always a bad thing.
Back in the good old days of football, before the Premier League and its £200k-a-week salaries came along, when a footballer reached the end of his career his club would organise a testimonial match in his honour. Current stars and former legends would turn out to play a one-off friendly to mark the contribution of the retiring hero who would receive all the proceeds from the game to put towards the start-up costs of his new scaffolding business.
The Expendables franchise is essentially Sylvester Stallone’s testimonial.
Somehow he’s managed to assemble the most awesome line-up of action stars ever seen together on screen. It includes the clunking fists of Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren and Stallone himself; relative newcomers like Jet Li and Jason Statham; and wrestling legend Randy Couture (who, incidentally, should totally bring out his own range of custom-made Fifty Shades of Grey-style erotic apparel…) Oh, and Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger turn up as well. Pound for pound, this has got to be the most heavyweight cast ever seen – you can almost smell the Maximuscle protein shake emanating from the cinema screen.
Together they are The Expendables, an elite squad of mercenary warriors who take on only the most foolhardy and suicidal of missions. Missions that largely involve killing thousands upon thousands of anonymous non-Caucasian goons in a brutal and spectacular fashion. Sometimes they throw a knife at the goon, slicing gruesomely through his throat. Other times they wrench the goon’s limbs out of their sockets and smash their fists through his bones with sickening force. And sometimes they just shoot the goon with a special bullet that makes his head literally explode in a CGI-enhanced plume of blood and gore. If, like me, you have the appetites of an over-excited 12-year-old boy, you will find of this all fucking outstanding.
(Now……. at this stage, I might come clean and own up to the fact that the first four paragraphs of this review have been lifted, practically word for word, from my review of The Expendables 1 . Yeah. All I’ll say is that a) Much of Stallone’s material has been copied and pasted from the original as well, b) no-one really reads this blog anyway and c) if self-plagiarism is good enough for Aaron Sorkin, it’s good enough for me and Sly. The next bit is original anyway… more or less).
This time around, The Expendables are out for justice when one of their number is viciously killed by Jean Claude Van Damme’s villainous character ‘Jean Vilain’ (he doesn’t put a massive amount of thought into his character names does Stallone…) Hell-bent on payback, The Expendables cut a swath of destruction through enemy territory with a ferocious arsenal that includes knuckle dusters, glocks, assault rifles, submachine guns, RPGs, anti-tank missiles, attack helicopters, a nuclear warhead and perhaps the most lethal weapon of all… their banter.
These guys have absolutely terrible chat. Stallone’s capacity to craft realistic dialogue is at roughly the same level as his character naming abilities (and, to be honest, his acting. And storytelling. And directing. And cinematography.) It’s really weird; massive superstar action heroes like Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris, are introduced with great fanfare and excitement but then have to endure five minutes of uncomfortable small talk with Stallone…. “Soooo, been up to much lately?” Oh, you know, this and that…” It has the feeling more of an awkward Guardian Soulmates date than a meeting of bloodthirsty warriors.
That aside, it’s all a lot of fun. This is the kind of film that gets by on the charm and novelty of its line-up rather than any artistic merit and it requires a certain amount of goodwill from the audience. The action scenes are predictably mental and it has a number of bizarre little quirks that I found endearing – Randy Couture bringing along his own One-portion Coffee Maker and refusing to share it with his fellow Expendables was one of my favourites…
Above all, you get to see Chuck Norris doing his own Chuck Norris joke – which has got to be worth the price of admission alone.
“Is it him?” a trembling wide-eyed child asks a Gotham City police officer, “Is he back?”
“FUCK YEAH!!!!” would obviously be an inappropriate response from an officer of the law to a 10-year-old child but, under the circumstances, it would be an understandable one. Yes, four years after we last saw him disappearing into the murky Gotham night, The Bat-Man is back. Bollocks to The Olympics, this is the cultural moment we’ve actually been looking forward to.
The story picks up eight years after The Dark Knight, which saw Batman falsely assuming the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent – aka Two Face – for the greater good of the city. The lie worked and Gotham subsequently passed The Dent Act, draconian anti-crime legislation which has seen the city’s streets swept clean of criminals and scumbags (along with, presumably, computer hackers, illegal file sharers and whistleblowers…) Meanwhile, traumatised by his bruising battle with The Joker, Bruce Wayne has hung up his cape and retreated into Howard Hughes-esque seclusion. Visitors to Wayne Manor catch just the occasional glimpse of a bearded figure with a walking stick lurking on the battlements. Batman is hobbled; physically as well as psychologically; “you don’t have any cartilage left in your knees!” his astonished doctor tells him, “there’s scar tissue on your kidneys and concussive damage to your brain tissue”. He’s basically the superhero equivalent of Owen Hargreaves.
The times are a’changing. The Gotham economy is headed south, the gap between rich and poor is growing and even Wayne Enterprises – once thought too big to fail – is haemorrhaging cash. Into this uncertain world steps Bane, a muscle-bound masked terrorist who was formerly a disciple of Ra’s al Ghul and his League of Shadows (a refresher viewing of Batman Begins is recommended before you go into this). Bane arrives in Gotham seeking to exploit the growing unrest amongst its citizenry and complete the diabolical work of his former mentor. This latest Batman nemesis is played by Tom Hardy (a future recipient of the OBE for Services to Maximuscle..) It can’t have been easy for him having to follow in the footsteps of Heath Ledger who a) gave a pitch-perfect Oscar-winning turn as The Joker in the last film and b) then immediately died – thus giving his performance an almost sanctified status that any future Bat-villain will be judged against.
Hardy’s tactic is to go BIG. Bane is simply enormous; the embodiment of brute, and brutal, force. When he comes up against Batman there’s a real sense of threat – that the caped crusader might be about to get his arse handed to him. Batman, remember, is essentially just a guy who’s quite good at Kung Fu backed up by some innovative body armour solutions. When Bane’s sledgehammer fists start raining blows on him, Bruce’s special suit suddenly looks about as effective as the children’s batman costume I used to dress up in when I was 7 (ok 17..) He also has the obligatory ‘gravely voice’ although Hardy’s version of this was reportedly so menacing that early test audiences couldn’t actually understand what he was saying so it had to be digitally remastered. The new version is more theatrical and ever-so-slightly camp (although I probably wouldn’t say that to his face), a synthesis of Darth Vader, JR Hartley and, at times, traces of Harry Enfield’s Nelson Mandela impression.
Even in the fantasy Gotham universe, real world problems loom large. “You and your friends lived so large for so long and left so little for the rest of us” snarls Anne Hathaway’s cat burglar at the billionaire Bruce Wayne. There’s also a stunning sequence where Bane and his cohorts storm the New York (sorry Gotham) Stock Exchange and kidnap a bunch of terrified FX Traders. “This is the Stock Exchange”, whimpers one, “there’s no money to steal here.” “Really?” Bain retorts, “then what are all you people doing here then?” These current affairs parallels can possibly be taken a little far however. Rush Limbaugh – noted for his deep readings of cultural memes – pointed out the similarity between the name Bane and Bain Capital, the controversial hedge fund set up by Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Clearly a conspiracy by liberal Hollywood socialist Nazis to steal the election…
So anyway, is it amazing? Is it definitely amazing? The answer, I’m fairly sure, is yes. It’s probably fair to say it doesn’t quite reach the heights of The Dark Knight – but that’s only because that film had Heath Ledger’s electrifying, once-in-a-generation performance going for it. Aside from that, it’s every bit as visually spectacular and pulse-racingly exciting as the second film. And definitely one for the IMAX. The epic tracking shots of the Gotham skyline projected onto a screen the size of the Moon make it worth the extra money alone. I’d also say it’s probably Christian Bale’s best performance of the trilogy. He brings a tragic, almost Shakesperian, sense of fatalism to the role and is ably supported by Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman as his various surrogate father figures (at times Batman must feel like he’s living out the plot of Three Men and a Baby…)
The bulk of the credit, though, should go to director Christopher Nolan who has not only created the best superhero franchise of all time but, more than that, a dark and complex modern fairytale that sits comfortably alongside anything ‘proper cinema’ has to offer. And all that from a storyline about a man who dresses up as a bat! Anyone who can make that premise anything other than hilarious is clearly a serious talent.
Having said that, the tension between the serious and silly becomes more noticeable in this last instalment. Tellingly, for instance, Anne Hathaway’s feline character Selina Kyle is never explicitly referred to as Catwoman. Nolan will probably be relieved to be moving on as I can’t see how he could maintain his hyper-serious tone if he had to continue raiding the comic book source material. It’s hard to imagine, say, The Riddler fitting into Nolan’s brooding neo-noir aesthetic. Or Mr Freeze. Or the phrase “Holy Mackerel Batman!” Although I would absolutely love it if, in his Director’s Cut Blu-Ray, Nolan edited a couple of these bits in at crucial moments in the drama…
Obviously, even if the director is leaving, it’s unlikely that the studio will want to put such a profitable series to bed and a clue as to where the post-Nolan franchise may be headed can be found in the character of John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a young Gotham beat cop who finds himself coming to Bruce Wayne’s aid. Now, I wouldn’t want to give away any spoilers, but it’s fair to say that if you’re a young clean-shaven athletic type and find yourself working closely alongside The Bat-Man, your character arc is only really headed in one direction… and it will probably involve lycra.
The world of recruitment consultancy seems an unlikely one to set a fast-paced action-thriller in. I can’t imagine David Fincher getting all that excited about a film where a man spends his days trawling for CVs on monster.co.uk. That, however, is exactly what Norwegian director Morten Tyldum has done with his new film Headhunters – an adaptation of the best-selling book by Jo Nesbro – and it’s fucking brilliant.
Admittedly, his main character Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is involved in the more glamorous, high-end headhunting of top corporate CEOs and company directors (although let’s face it, it still essentially boils down to chatting shit and forwarding emails doesn’t it?) Roger has created the perfect life for himself; he’s at the top of his profession, lives in a stunning house with a superhot wife, and has an extraordinary head of flowing blonde hair that makes him look like a young Christopher Walken who’s stolen Donald Trump’s wig.
He is, however, massively overleveraged and can’t actually afford to pay for any of it. So, to make ends meet, he moonlights as an art thief targeting the very clients he’s supposed to be headhunting. It all works very nicely; while making polite chitchat with a prospective candidate, he can subtly enquire about their home security arrangements, whether they have a dog and – oh – do they happen to own any priceless items of fine art?
His latest score involves a long-lost Rubens’ worth upwards of $100m. It’s owned by Clas Greve (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who he’s putting forward to be the new CEO of a top tech firm that specializes in GPS tracking. The heist doesn’t quite go to plan however as it turns out that, as well as being an expert in GPS, Clas is also a former Special Forces Supersoldier responsible for all manner of deadly Black Ops around the world. He’s basically Jason Bourne on Foursquare – not exactly the ideal person to steal from. There follows a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse where poor old Roger gets shot at, stabbed, beaten up, savaged by a pit-bull, driven off a cliff and forced to hide in six feet of human shit. And he has to shave off his beautiful Donald Trump hair.
I absolutely loved this film. If we have a house style here at Profoundly Moving, it would probably be best summed up by the word ‘Mental’. The kind of films made by people like Lars Von Trier, Werner Herzog and Harmony Korine – where you get the distinct impression the director was using a lot of cocaine and swearwords as he was shooting it. Headhunters is very much in that tradition – filled with lots of bizarre little eccentricities and bonkers big set pieces. I especially liked the bit where Roger’s mustachioed accomplice and a Russian prostitute get fully naked and scamper about the house shooting at each other with toy guns (Note: if my theoretical future Best Man is reading this, I definitely want to do that on my theoretical future stag night). Or the bit where Roger finds himself in the back seat of a cop car, sandwiched between two obese identical twin brother policemen. Or the bit where he attacks a guard dog with a tractor.
Every single moment of this film is absolutely delightful – I literally cannot recommend it enough.
So, first of all, I’d just like to reproduce a short passage, word-for-word, from Mark Wahlberg’s Wikipedia page – and please do feel free to check this for yourself:
‘At 15, [Wahlberg] harassed a group of black school children on a field trip by throwing rocks and shouting racial epithets. When he was 16, Wahlberg approached a middle-aged Vietnamese man on the street and, using a large wooden stick, knocked him unconscious (while calling him “Vietnam fucking shit”). He also attacked another Vietnamese man, leaving him permanently blind in one eye, and attacked a security guard (again using racist language).’
Anyhoo… Mark’s back on the big screen this month with Contraband, a fast-paced thriller set in the cutthroat world of international smuggling. The film, incidentally, is also produced by Wahlberg which means an even higher percentage of your hard-earned pounds (or hard-earned Dong, if you happen to be seeing this in Vietnam) will end up in his bank account.
Wahlberg plays Chris, a legendary former smuggler who comes out of retirement for one last job (yawn). His twerp of a brother-in-law Andy – the Rodney to Wahlberg’s Del Boy – has messed up a drug deal and is now up to his ears in debt to a ruthless criminal (Giovanni Ribsi). To save his brother-in-law’s life, Chris must go back to doing what he does best and find a way to smuggle $100m in counterfeit bills into the country. He gets a job on board a massive container ship, working the New Orleans to Panama route and, together with his crack team of smuggling experts, hatches an audacious plan to pull off one of the biggest contraband jobs in history. But with the authorities getting suspicious and the bad guys starting to threaten his family, will Chris be able to finish the job before it’s too late?
This film didn’t go down that well in the States when it came out, with many critics dismissing it as a dull, formulaic and a tediously macho vanity project. Not me though. I think we should all definitely pay to go and see it – several times if possible. Why? Because what Mark Wahlberg deserves (oh, and by the way… did I also mention that in a recent interview Wahlberg blithely claimed that, had he been on board one of the planes hijacked by Al-Qaeda in 2001, he would have single-handedly prevented 9/11) what he deserves is more of our time, attention and money.
This film is absolutely MASSIVE. Produced by Disney with a budget rumoured to be approaching $300m, it’s one of the biggest and most expensive blockbusters of the year. This is the Dubai of films, the Man City of movies. It could singlehandedly afford to bail out Greece, fund it’s own GOP Presidential Campaign and still have money left over for popcorn.
The thing is, I’m not sure it’s going to do very well.
It’s the name for one thing. As eponymous heroes go, John Carter just sounds a bit underwhelming (as opposed to, say, ‘Matt Harvey’ which would be a fucking outstanding name for a film…) Wasn’t one of the doctors in ER called John Carter? Also there was Coach Carter, the basketball drama staring Samuel L Jackson and Tha Carter III, an album by Lil Wayne. None of these things, however, do I associate with a box office smash.
Then there’s the source material. It’s based on a 1912 pulp fiction serialization, A Princess of Mars, penned by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Burroughs was something of a superstar at the turn of the century, having also created the character of Tarzan. He’s also, apparently, a hugely influential figure in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres with the makers of such films as Star Wars, Flash Gordon and Avatar all acknowledging his influence. I hadn’t actually heard of him, if I’m being honest. But then, to be fair, I’m not 120 years old so I don’t really see why I should have. The problem is, it feels like this adaptation of his work may have missed the boat by a couple of decades. Burroughs may well have got there first, but his characters and storylines have been drawn on so many times that they now feel overfamiliar and clichéd.
Anyway, the plot goes as follows… John Carter is a grizzled Civil War veteran who has headed out West to make his fortune. One day he stumbles into a mysterious cave where he is abruptly transported to Mars or, as it’s known locally, ‘Barsoom’ (the first of many silly and difficult to remember names I’ll be using in this synopsis). On Barsoom he finds that the altered gravitational forces have given him new and exciting powers – most notably the ability to jump really high through the air.
Carter is taken in by The Tharks, a race of 10-foot high six-limbed Jar Jar Binks look-a-likes led by Tars Tarkas (Willem Defoe). They themselves are caught between two warring civilizations; the Zodrangans and The Heliumites. Also, lurking unseen in the background are The Therns, led by Mark Strong, a shadowy race of swarthy religious types who secretly conspire to control world events (wuh woh!! Let’s not open that can of worms…)
Despite the fact that the Martians all possess vastly superior technology and advanced weapons, they’re no match for Carter and his magical jumping superpowers (the same is true here on Earth where the dominant species is widely accepted to be the Kangaroo..) Carter is therefore a game changer in this war with the potential to tip the balance of power to whoever he chooses to side with.
Visually, this film is spectacular. Pixar director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E), in his live-action debut, has made the most of the gargantuan budget and created a lavish and immersive world teaming with the most weird and wonderful life forms, landmasses and cityscapes. As 3D epics go, this film easily punches at the same weight as Avatar and you should definitely try to catch it at the IMAX or in 3D.
For me, however, the storyline and characters never quite captured my attention. The action scenes weren’t really exciting enough and, at 132 minutes, the film felt overlong. Admittedly, I’m not really the target audience for this movie. I mainly like films with lots of swearing, nudity and bits where people’s eyeballs explode. None of which happen here. This is very much a film for kids (and their reluctant parents) and it will all depend on how many of them decide to see it on whether it becomes the multi-film franchise that Disney clearly hopes it will.
Burroughs apparently wrote 11 books in the John Carter series, so god help us if it does…
In cinemas from Friday is In Darkness, a Polish Holocaust drama that was nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars – narrowly losing out to A Separation. It’s directed by Agnieszka Holland, an acclaimed filmmaker in her native Poland but also well regarded in The West having directed several episodes of The Wire (including the Moral Midgetry episode which had that electric finale where Avon and Stringer come to blows).
The film tells the true story of Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), a Polish sewer worker and petty thief in the Nazi-occupied city of Lvov who helped hide a group of Jews underground for nearly 14 months, saving them from the concentration camps. It’s essentially a film about redemption. At first Socha is indifferent to the plight of his Jewish neighbors; he detests the German occupiers but still buys into their anti-Semitic ideology. When he runs into a group of Jews who’ve escaped into the sewers beneath the ghetto, he agrees to help them hide in his labyrinthine maze of tunnels – but only for an extortionate price (while secretly planning to sell them out to the Germans once he’s bled them dry). However, over the course of the film, Socha gradually softens his attitude and ultimately finds redemption as he risks everything to protect his new friends. For the next 14 months the sewer dwellers eke out a desperate existence; contending with hunger, disease, rats and the constant threat of detection. Through it all though, Socha keeps them safe – even leading a daring raid into the nearby Janowska concentration camp to try to rescue one of their relatives.
So basically, it’s like a massively depressing version of The Fantastic Mr Fox. Or Schlindler’s List meets Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (Yeah, probably best I wasn’t involved in the publicity campaign for this to be honest…)
In Darkness is an enormously powerful film; horrifying and uplifting in equal measure and beautifully shot in the half-light of the sewer system. I liked how the Jewish characters aren’t ghettoized – as they so often are in Holocaust dramas – as archetypal tragic victims. Instead Holland bravely insists on portraying their fallible humanity. One of them is actually a bit of a bastard, who brings his mistress into the sewers with him, makes love to her in front of his wife and child, and then abandons them all once she gets pregnant. (This, incidentally, leads to the film’s most harrowing scene when she gives birth to a screaming child they all know will eventually give them away). It would be an interesting companion piece to Stefan Ruzowitzky’s 2007 film The Counterfeiters, which was similarly unafraid to explore themes of moral ambiguity in the face of unarguable evil.
It also shines a light into the wretched reality of life under Nazi occupation. It was a world where the weak preyed upon the weaker and many locals – despite hating the Nazis – saw the persecution of the Jews as an opportunity for petty profiteering. The rats, it seems, weren’t only to be found in the sewers.
This is the 5th time Profoundly Moving has been to the London Film Festival and it’s basically become the high point (forward slash – only good part) of my year. One of the most exciting bits is the glitzy press launch in late September where the festival line-up is revealed and, more importantly, you get given a free LFF bag! The bag is always amazing and becomes my ‘annual bag’ for the next 12 months. Last year it was a funky brown hipster-satchel, the year before a futuristic-looking silver shoulder bag. This year however….. CATASTROPHE!!
The bag was shit!!!!! A flimsy, fabricy, oversized thing with stupid flappy handles and, um… I’m kind of running out of suitable bagjectives here but suffuse to say I hated it, ok? I hated the bag.
Presumably, the lack of bagudget was due to the fact that the UK Film Council, which historically has been a major financial backer of the festival, was abolished last year as part of the austerity measures brought in by the Conservative-led government…. SHIT!!!! Finally, the effects of the global economic crisis are hitting home!! They say it’s always the most vulnerable in society who bear the brunt of a recession and once again it’s the Media Freeloaders who are being made to suffer. All I’m saying is, watch out Cameron – you can only push us so far, yeah. If you thought Occupy Wall Street or the Student Fees Protests were bad, just wait until you see the carnage that can be unleashed by my pallid army of disgruntled film critics… The Daily Mail’s Christopher Tookey is itching for an opportunity to go and smash the fuck out of his local Foot Locker. Give him a reason! Just give him a reason!!!
Fortunately – trbagedies aside – the actual films on show this year were as excellent as ever and I’m sure we’ll be seeing many of them in the Oscar line-ups next February. Here are some of my highlights:
The Ides of March
Convention has it that George Clooney will be involved in at least 30% of the entire LFF program and this year was no exception. As well as appearing in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, he also co-wrote, directed and starred in The Ides of March – a glossy political thriller about dirty tricks on the presidential campaign trail.
The film has a few flaws in the storyline but these are more than made up for by the presence in the cast of Ryan Gosling who is scientifically proven to make EVERYTHING AMAZING. Also anything that can help fill the West Wing shaped hole in my life is mightily welcome and the sound of earnest public servants wanging on about Super Tuesday and the Iowa Caucus brought fond memories of Josh, Toby and Donna Moss flooding back.
If you’ve ever seen the episode of Family Guy where Peter, Cleveland, Quagmire and Joe go to a Barry Manilow concert, then you’ll have some idea of the ecstatic critical response this love letter to the silent era of cinema has been getting. “It’s a lot like falling in love. You can’t really express what it is you feel, but you feel it so powerfully, you can’t ever imagine not feeling it,” gushed one idiot.
Shot in black and white with no dialogue, this film is both lovingly crafted and perfectly performed and will revive happy memories of the golden era of Hollywood. If you’re a hundred.
Directed by Madonna….. lol.
Sarah Palin – You Betcha
One of the slightly annoying things about Sarah Palin’s announcement last month that she wasn’t running for president is we’re now going to have to put up with her for even longer. Had she run and suffered a humiliating defeat, she would pretty much be consigned to obscurity – how much do you hear from Bob Dole or Michael Dukakis nowadays? As it is, she’s going to inevitably dribble on for years and years to come, spouting her personal brand of dipshittery every night on TV for money. The other annoying thing is it kind of buggers up the release of Nick Bloomfield’s new documentary about her campaign. Still worth watching though.
We have a Pope
In Nanni Moretti’s wry and mischievous comedy, Michel Piccoli plays the newly elected Pope who immediately suffers a crippling crisis of confidence and falls into a deep depression. As the official announcement has yet to be made, the conclave of cardinals who elected him remain shut up in the Vatican going slowly stir-crazy until the situation can be resolved. In their desperation, they turn to a skeptical psychotherapist played by Nanni himself. It makes for a very funny skewering of institutional religion and also features possibly the greatest game of Archbishop Volleyball ever committed to film.
Every year the festival organizes a special screening of a hotly anticipated new release whose identity is kept a closely guarded secret right up until the moment the house lights go down. Historically, I’ve never been good at predicting these – it was neither Marley and Me last year, nor Alvin and Chipmunks: The Squeakquel the year before. So this time I’m playing it safe and going obvious… Human Centipede 2 – Blatantly.
Back when I was at school doing my English Literature GSCE (A* in case you wondering… kaboom!!) one of the ‘disruptive students’ in our class came in one day and announced he’d been using something called ‘The Internet’ (back then we were mainly just rocking Ceefax) and had discovered that William Shakespeare was a fraud and someone else had written all the plays and sonnets that were attributed to him. And so, for that reason, he hadn’t done his homework.
This is the subject of Roland Emmerich’s rollicking new historical conspiracy thriller starring Rhys Ifans which purports to tell the truth about Shakespeare and his work. It’s worth pointing out that the ‘Oxfordian Theory’ is given precisely zero credence by any respected Shakespearian scholar who regard it as being roughly on a par with 9/11 Conspiracy Theories and the Fake Moon Landings. But, you know, whatever Trevor. When Harold Bloom, Frank Kermode or Michel de Montaigne have done something anywhere near as culturally significant as The Day After Tomorrow or 2012, then maybe people will give a fuck what they think.
Out this weekend is Tyrannosaur, the amazing directorial debut of Paddy Considine. Peter Mullan plays Joseph, a rage-consumed alcoholic who forms an unlikely friendship with a kindly Christian charity shop worker (Peep Show’s Olivia Coleman in a heartbreaking, career-best performance). Her caring upbeat exterior masks a world of horrors endured behind closed doors at the hands of her sadistic husband.
The film is fantastic and you should definitely definitely try to see it. That said, it’s not exactly the most cheerful of stories. It begins with Joseph kicking his beloved pet dog to death and gets progressively bleaker from there on in. After the screening, I basically had to watch back-to-back Disney films for the next 18 hours to avoid a catatonic breakdown.
It’s interesting how these types of films often seem to come from Britain. Is there something in our national DNA that means we enjoy wallowing in harrowing tales of poverty and despair? OR maybe we’re drawn to Misery-Porn because it secretly makes us feel better about ourselves by comparison…. “Yeah sure, my life is pretty terrible, but at least I don’t spend my evenings pretending to be asleep while my abusive husband urinates on me.”
Or maybe it’s because of the weather.
Anyway, to celebrate the release of Tyrannosaur – and while I wait for this massive barbiturates overdose to take effect – let’s look at some other memorable moments of movie misery…
In my whole life, I never thought I’d find the garishly colourful carpets in the foyer of an Odeon such a warm and comforting sight. Then I went to see The Road, John Hillcoat’s harrowing, haunting and (h)brilliant adaptation of the celebrated Cormac McCarthy novel, and endured 111 minutes of its relentlessly bleak, hopeless landscapes bleached of any colour save the occasional splattering of dark red blood.
Viggo Mortensen stars as ‘The Man’, a survivor of an unspecified cataclysm that has wiped out most of humanity. Together with his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), he journeys through ruined forests and derelict cities, pushing their scant possessions in a rusty supermarket trolley like shoppers in a massive, apocalyptically desolate Sainsbury’s (or normal Morrisons).
The most depressing and terrifying thing about the film is its damning indictment of a human civilisation that has largely descended into cannibalism and murder in its desperate cling to survival. In one horrifying scene, Viggo and son stumble upon a seemingly welcoming middle-class townhouse that, it turns out, is home to a family of cannibals with a basement full of live human ready-meals hung up on meat hooks.
Makes you wonder really, what kind of people will end up like that? Are they the ones who are evil already? Is it just the people who write angry comments on the Sabotage Times website or work in investment banking who’ll seamlessly transition into cannibalistic child-rapists? Or, given an ecological disaster of sufficient magnitude, could that happen to any of us? I guess in about 15 years or so we’ll find out..
Dead Man’s Shoes
Paddy Considine himself stars in this gritty revenge tragedy directed by Shane Meadows. In the a way, the film is like an inversion of the classic Hollywood teen slasher convention and could alternatively be known as “I know what you did last summer… you bullied my developmentally disabled brother so badly he did something unspeakable so now I’m going to hunt you down and butcher you.”
And it’s also set in Derbyshire and it rains a lot. Bleak.
Depending on who you believe, Lars Von Trier’s 2009 film is a poignant psychological masterpiece, a torture-porn abomination, or a critic-baiting satirical piss-take. Anyone owning a set of genitalia (male or female) will want to approach this with extreme caution.
Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsburg star as a couple in mourning after the death of their infant son, who retreat to an isolated wood-cabin to work through the psychological impact of their loss. Needless to say, it doesn’t go all that well..
The film has quite a lot of massively explicit sex in it, which is obviously a plus, but the unremittingly bleak atmosphere and sickeningly graphic acts of violence mean it would take a tenacious masturbator indeed to try and tug himself off to this.
In fact, that would’ve been quite a cool Special Feature for the Blu-Ray release… you could have a little man in the corner of the screen (like when they do signing for the Deaf) attempting a realtime wankalong to the film. He’d never make it.
Anything with Ray Winstone
Before he became the jowly affable “Bet in play, naaaaah” geezer we know and love today, Ray Winstone was a reliable guarantor of some seriously bleak shit.
Things that may happen in a Ray Winstone movie:
On the other hand, he does play a jovial beaver in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe so, swings and roundabouts…
Requiem for a Dream
Pretty much the most effective anti-drugs advert ever produced, Darren Aronofsky’s 2000 cult tale of four New Yorkers succumbing to their various devastating addictions also takes the prize for the most depressing film in history (IMHO).
I’m not quite sure which bit I found the most disturbing… Jared Leto injecting heroin into the gruesomely infected wound on his soon-to-be amputated arm? His amphetamine-addled mother being carted odd for electromagnetic shock therapy screaming “I just wanted to be on television”? Or maybe it was the sleazy New Yoik pimp chanting “Ass ta Ass” as Jennifer Connolly tearfully performs in a sex show? Very grim.
And that’s it. Sorry to put a bit of a downer on things. Don’t worry about it too much though old friend – they’re only films. Everything’s will be ok really. Why not cheer yourself up with a nice long relaxing bath?