Friday, 29 May 2015

Three films I'll be giving a shit about in

ELECTRIC BOOGALOO:
THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS

I saw this at last year's London Film Festival, and can wholeheartedly confirm that it is definitely worth giving a shit about. If you're the kind of person who trawls YouTube for clips of awful films, Electric Boogaloo is for you: they're basically all here in one handy package. Enjoy the awful! (5th)

JURASSIC WORLD

What do you call a dinosaur with one eye? Doyouthinkthedinosaursawuswithhisoneeye!!!!! (12th)

MR HOLMES

I love the fact that there are so many versions of Holmes on the go in pop culture at once. The existence of this one, starring Surrian McKellen as Holmes aged like 122 or something, gives me hope that Timothy Dalton will one day return as an older James Bond. That's all I ask from the world. (19th)

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Tomorrowland: A World Beyond

If, like me some people, you are thirty-ten years old and a victim of the cruel twist of nature that is male pattern baldness, and you carry upon your shoulders the weight of cynicism that forces you to sneer at pretty much everything, and you feel like the best life has to offer has been and gone, and you have more or less abandoned all hope for a bright future, then good news! The excessively-titled Tomorrowland: A World Beyond is here to rekindle those feelings of youth, innocence and hope you thought were lost forever. Don't worry though: those feelings won't last long, destined as they are to be almost entirely negated by something we may be tempted to refer to as The Lindelof Effect.
Quite the track record, Linders!
(Actually I quite like Star Trek Into Darkness but don't tell anyone)

But more on that later. For now, imagine a film in which George Clooney hops about between this world and another which resembles a mad episode of Futurama, accompanied by two young girls, one of whom is an idealistic, principled teenager and the other a creepy eleven-year-old with remarkable ass-kicking skillz. Now stop imagining it, because that film exists! Well done you, it's as if you willed it into being with only your puny human mind! It's that kind of inventiveness that Tomorrowland celebrates in spades: it's a shrine to the infinite possibilities of ideas and imagination, and has both coming out of its ears for its ridiculously enjoyable middle hour.

But more on that later. Lurching back to the first act, director Brad Bird and his co-writer Damon Lindelof build a teasing mystery out of Clooney's character as a young whippersnapper who invents the jetpack in 1964, his connection with Athena (Raffey Cassidy), a faintly appalling brat who magically transports him to a parallel dimension where his resourceful nature can be nurtured, and Casey (Britt Robertson, a kind of Diet Jennifer Lawrence), a present-day late teen intent on fixing the world's plethora of ills. Few clues are divulged in these early stages as to what's really going on, but Bird and Lindelof keep you entertained enough not to worry about it, because surely everything will become clear soon, right?

But more on that later. That mid-section, let's not dick about, is an absolute firework display of crazy-brilliant fantastickery. From the moment Casey visits a geek emporium (suspiciously well-stocked with Iron Giant and Incredibles memorabilia), Tomorrowland blasts off for Planet Joy and orbits it for a solid hour, fuelled by some of the wackiest shit seen on screens this year. Not least among the air-punchingly fun incidents are a game of cat-and-mouse inside Clooney's Wallace And Gromit-style house, and an episode involving the Eiffel Tower which gave me a smile so massive that the rest of my face was sucked into it like a black hole of glee. Furthermore, watching Clooney, Robertson and Cassidy bicker their way through the film like a dysfunctional family where the youngest child is the most senior (it's complicated) is a rare treat, and to see two young women play as important a role in a megabucks studio tentpole flick as an older man is immensely satisfying. Between this and Mad Max: Fury Road, those men's rights activists really are going to have their suspiciously sticky hands full.
Come the final act, though, when the realisation dawns that although we've just been on the equivalent of every ride in the park we still don't really know what the point is, The Lindelof Effect kicks in. Tomorrowland starts to feel like it's been barrelling towards a climax it hasn't quite worked out yet, like some kind of popular, enigmatic TV series that had loads of great ideas but a disappointing, half-arsed finale. Possibly it was set on an island or something. Characters' motivations become fuzzy, unwelcome clichés and clumsy plot devices turn up and the conclusion is confusing at best and worrying at worst. It's easy to point the movie blogger's finger at Lindelof given his past crimes, but Brad Bird needn't think he's getting away scott-free; I demand a marked improvement in storytelling by the time The Incredibles 2 rolls out.

It's a real pity, because the ride was so much fun: a deliberate and faithful translation of a shit-hot theme park attraction where the corkscrews and sheer drops sadly give way to a long, straight length of track at the end. Tomorrowland's messages are admirable - that creativity, whether successful or not, inspires others to create, and that you should never forget the wonder of simple things like gazing at a clear night sky with a wide-eyed innocence. It's an Amblinesque counterpart to JJ Abrams' Super 8 (another film that failed to fulfil its promise) and, like that film, will probably appeal enormously to kids capable of just enjoying what's going on in front of them without worrying about what it all means or whether it makes sense like some boring fucking grown-up. For the rest of us those cynical, middle-aged slapheads, Tomorrowland remains a mostly thrilling but ultimately frustrating experience.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

In a world where remakes, reboots and decades-late sequels are generally about as welcome as the insertion of a serrated kitchen implement into one's genitals, it's a blessed relief to see a "classic" updated that genuinely warrants it. Start sharpening your serrated kitchen implements if you disagree with me, but frankly the original Mad Max films are quite remarkably balls for such a well-known trilogy: the first is catatonically dull, the second has some impressive stunts and little else, while the third has Tina Turner talking about being "up to my armpits in blood and shit", which is just distressing. Furthermore, Max only really gets Mad for about twenty minutes at the end of the first film; Perfectly Reasonable Unless Gravely Wronged Then Justifiably Cross Max would have been a more appropriate, if admittedly cumbersome title.

So kudos to those films' creator George Miller for returning to his brainchild in the winter of his seventh decade and transforming it from cult curio to psychotic explosion of rocket-fuelled insanity with Mad Max: Fury Road. Max still isn't all that Mad, but his new film is so deliriously bananas that its very title deserves a place in thesauruses everywhere as the go-to synonym for crackers. It's a carnival of carnage (also lorrynage, bikenage, buggynage and tanknage) so eye-poppingly demented that it's hard to believe it's the work of a human being, rather than some furious, acid-tripping demon with a grudge against moving vehicles.

Tom Hardy takes over the mantle of Max Rockatansky from Mel Gibson, adding his own weary stoicism and a random selection of accents designed to confuse and disorientate his enemies. He finds himself caught up in a family tiff between Immortan Joe, the despotic ruler of the Citadel, and his trusted lieutenant Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, shaven-headed and greased up like Phil Mitchell after a long day at the Arches). Furiosa's decision to smuggle precious cargo away from Joe in his prized tanker leads to a spot of road rage the likes of which have not been seen since... well, ever.
Tom Hardy IS Fartlighter Explosiva

Further vigorous patting of George Miller's back is required, not only for presenting Fury Road's considerable excesses with a clarity so lacking from most modern blockbusters' action sequences, but also for propping it up with an intelligent - and surprising - thematic core. Max's name may be front and centre (well, slightly left of centre, but definitely before the colon), but he's almost a bystander in what turns out to be a tale of sisterhood, of mothers, and of the need to create and nurture in a world of unbridled destruction. Theron's Furiosa is the film's heart, with Max the mythical stranger who, like a scruffy rōnin, wanders into town and aids her fight against a tyrannical patriarchy (it's surely no coincidence that, to Furiosa, Max is literally a Man With No Name for most of the film).

The small, internalised drama that unfolds in the cab of Furiosa's War Rig, as it hammers through a post-apocalyptic wasteland with an armada of loons in fiery pursuit, is a perfectly-judged counterpoint to the massive-scale lunacy going on around it. When a begrudging thumbs-up from Max to another character is as crowd-pleasing as a truck carrying an entire rock band, a towering stack of amps and a man known as the "Doof Warrior" brandishing a double-necked, flame-throwing guitar, you know that something, somewhere has gone terribly right. Take a further step back from the madness if you can, and note Miller's commentary on holy wars, and the tragedy of sending young men (born with only a "half-life" ahead of them) to die with glorious honour, spurred on by the promise of a place in a trumped-up afterlife.
Stand by for a lot of "This guy is my spirit animal" tweets

Fury Road's weakest link is its sacrifice of a satisfying plot on the altar of unbridled explodiness: in essence, it's the story of a man and a woman who drive down the road, turn round and come back again, a story only too familiar to people like me who get half way to Sainsbury's before realising they've left the shopping list at home. But the assembling, arranging and execution of the film's astounding stunts, combined with some of the images conjured up by Miller's twisted noggin, is so breathtakingly admirable that complex story chicanery is a luxury the film can just about afford to do without. It's also a little bloodless considering the amount of people being obliterated by enormous vehicles landing on them; accusing Mad Max: Fury Road of holding back seems absurd once you've experienced it, but its lack of injury detail relative to the level of violence meted out feels like a sop to avoid the dreaded NC-17 rating in the US.

That said, it would be a dull stick who grumbled too much about a film so boisterously inventive and expertly orchestrated as this. Its flaws are vastly outweighed by the sheer technical skill on display in pretty much every department (the editing alone is nothing short of miraculous, the final cut being a distillation of over 400 hours of footage), and it is unlikely that a wilder ride will appear in cinemas until Miller decides to do it all again. If he does, fingers crossed they make it all the way to Sainsbury's. The trolley rage scenes alone will be unmissable.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Director suggestions for
forthcoming Marvel films

Marvel are gently bruising the headlines today after reaching out to Selma director Ava DuVernay in the hope that she might agree to direct either Black Panther or Captain Marvel. Why they have approached this African American woman for the job of helming either a film about an African American superhero or a film about a superhero who is a woman is so far unclear - it could just be that she's a good director for all we know, after all, Selma was a three-star almost-smash hit.

Here, then, are the obvious and painfully literal director choices for just some of Marvel's eight thousand forthcoming films, including Black Panther and Captain Marvel just in case DuVernay turns them down.

Doctor Strange (2016)
Steve Strange (RIP)

Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 (2017)
The Guardians Of Ga'hoole

Untitled Spider-Man film (2017)
An untitled spider

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
A rag 'n' a rock

Black Panther (2018)
A panther, preferably black

Captain Marvel (2018)
A captain

Inhumans (2019)
etc.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Clouds Of Sils Maria

Clouds Of Sils Maria stars an actor acting as an actor acting as a character who is basically herself (Juliette Binoche), an actor acting as an actor's PA who also acts as an actor when the action requires it (Kristen Stewart), and an actor acting as an actor who's a version of a real-life actor and who acts as Binoche's character's character's PA in the final act (Chloë Moretz). If you're heavily into actors and acting, then good news! Your film of the year has arrived.

For everyone else, this is an adequate if prickly affair in which it's hard to empathise with or care about any of the characters and their actorly problems: Binoche's Maria has a fragile ego on the verge of shattering when she has to play a part she doesn't want to because it's a bit close to home; Stewart's Val is a movie star's assistant with an overly distracting habit of nudging her hipster specs back up her own movie star nose, and Moretz's Jo-Ann is a Lohanesque starlet beset by paparazzi thanks to various attention-seeking episodes. Boo, and indeed, hoo. It's not that writer / director Olivier Assayas particularly wants you to like his characters, but the situation in which he places them is such a transparent vehicle for them to sink further into self-absorption that you'd happily leave them all playing to an empty house, safe in the knowledge they wouldn't even notice.

Professional and personal jealousy, a fear of youth and ageing, the blurring of fantasy and reality and a hint of confused sexuality are all potential themes here, but none are explored to a satisfactory degree. Stewart stands out as the one most capable of reading Assayas' pointed dialogue with the most naturalism, while Binoche serves largely to remind audiences of her previous, more subtle stint playing roles within a role in Michael Haneke's Code Unknown. Clouds Of Sils Maria teases a character study worthy of her talents, but is too busy ramming its point home to allow a more satisfying story to flourish.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Four films I'll be giving a shit about in


CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA
Kristen Stewart's glasses cause me to twitch so violently that I pull a sternocleidomastoid muscle, but by all accounts this meaty-looking drama is worth a week or two in a neck brace. Also, Binoche vs Moretz > Iron Man vs Hulk. (15th)

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

If this can sustain the insanity of its trailers over the entire running time I'll be a) amazed and b) exhausted, but it is at least a remake that's not unwelcome: Mel Gibson's Mad Max trilogy only escapes being the worst thing on his filmography thanks to the overwhelming stench of The Expendables 3. (15th)

THE TRIBE
Told entirely in sign language and without subtitles, The Tribe is effectively a modern-day silent film. Comparisons to The Artist have been strangely absent though, almost as if this isn't a whimsical, delightful love story with a tinkly piano theme and a cute dog. Holding out hope that it at least has one show-stopping tap dance. (15th)

TOMORROWLAND: A WORLD BEYOND

I am drawn to the work of Damon Lindelof like an idiot moth to a high-concept, badly-written flame, so I will approach this with some degree of caution. That degree of caution, however, is almost entirely cancelled out by the presence of Brad Bird and The Cloon, so fuck it, bring it on. (22nd)

Friday, 24 April 2015

A Pigeon Sat On A Branch
Reflecting On Existence

Swedish writer / director Roy Andersson has been reflecting on existence for over fifteen years now, at least in terms of his three films probing the depths of humanity's most banal but defining aspects; whether or not he's been doing it from the comfort of a branch remains sadly unconfirmed. The trilogy's final entry shuffles awkwardly into cinemas seven years after part two, and when you first find yourself gawping incredulously at Andersson's largely static, colour-drained tableaux you wonder what's taken him so bloody long.

Look closer, though, and it becomes obvious: every scene, every character, every line, every frame has been agonisingly and meticulously crafted to within an inch of its life. And life is Andersson's obsession, one with which he seems to have been preoccupied for so long that he's now involved in a violent love / hate relationship with it. Most of his characters live in the perpetual torment of anger, frustration and bewilderment with life and its persistence on getting in the way of happiness, but that's not to say that A Pigeon... is a depressing experience: Andersson mines the everyday drabness of his vignettes for a seam of dark humour - some of which you suspect might be particularly Swedish, but all of which betrays his fascination and affection for the human condition.

Like its predecessors Songs From The Second Floor and You, The Living, A Pigeon... comprises around forty scenes filmed in Andersson's trademark long takes and wide shots in full, deep focus, and set mostly in the boxy rooms that seem to represent the regimented featurelessness of 21st century living. The action, such as it is, takes place on multiple planes within the frame, and - as with real life - the more interesting stuff is often found happening in the background. It takes a few scenes to get used to, but once you're in, you're in for good; nobody else is making cinema like this, and it would be worth celebrating for that reason alone if it wasn't also so hypnotically enjoyable.

A Pigeon... breaks somewhat from Andersson's routine, in that it has what could loosely be described as lead characters - Sam and Jonathan, two useless travelling salesmen who attempt to sell feeble joke shop fare in a manner more becoming of funeral directors. Like Pulp Fiction's Jules and Vincent with the contrast and brightness turned down 50%, they struggle and bicker despite an obvious mutual devotion to each other. There's also an injection of blatant darkness here that was absent from the first two films, but on the whole this is a more upbeat affair than the insidious, crushing despondency of You, The Living. Elsewhere it's business as usual, the main course of sharply-observed, exquisitely-realised slivers of humdrummery served up with a side order of surrealism, this time in the shape of a modern-day bar inexplicably visited by Sweden's King Charles XII en route to his failed attempt to invade Russia in 1708.
To reveal any more of A Pigeon...'s singular inhabitants would probably constitute serious spoilers, since almost every scene could be described in a few words. It's Andersson's unique approach that's harder to articulate though, given that it's so purely cinematic: like his near-namesake Wes, his fastidious stylings might not be for everyone, but they are about everyone, and that's as good a reason as any to join him in his latest bout of branch-sitting and existence-reflecting.