Is Anybody There? (2008)

May 15, 2009

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I haven’t been able to get on here for a while- in fact it’s been a week since I saw Is Anybody There? and Goldfinger– which poses a bit of a problem.  My Goldfinger notes were about two paragraphs in and I’ve just tossed them off so that I can get to this film.  It’s not like I need notes to remember that particular film.  With Is Anybody There? I could have done with notes at the time, this is far from a memorable film.

So you’ve got Michael Caine as an ageing, retired magician (he seems to like films about conjuring these days) and young Bill Milner from the lovely Son Of Rambow as- guess what- a geeky outsider kid and they strike up a friendship and teach one another about life and love.  That’s right, they strike up the kind of friendship that is really unusual except in films where they’re ten-a-penny.  It looks quite nice; shot in a fuzzy, vaguely lo-fi, slightly off-kilter and- I suppose- quite trendy way.  There are a couple of good performances- I especially liked Anne-Marie Duff as Bill Milner’s mother- and some nice cameos from a couple of top-notch old players (Leslie Phillips, Peter Vaughan, Mavis from Coronation Street, Elizabeth Spriggs and Sylvia Sims).  And so I liked it for that.

But because it’s formulaic and a bit obvious and determinedly bittersweet I didn’t even remember it a week later, rendering these notes redundant, so it’s sort of okay but a poor utilisation of the superb talents on show. 4/10

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State Of Play (2009)

April 27, 2009

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There’s a few minor problems in making these notes.  Firstly, the film that the cinema listed as beginning at 19.45 was past the opening credits when I took my seat at 19.45 and who knows what I missed (not much I imagine in truth as big fat Russell Crowe- who looks increasingly like Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion (see above)- was bribing his way onto the scene of the first crime scene as I arrived).  The second issue is that the film was followed by a televised Q&A with the director Kevin MacDonald and I want to satisfy myself that my notes reflect what I saw and not what I’ve been told I saw.  I’d forgotten until I saw the film that I’ve seen (at least some of) the original BBC series upon which it was based. Thankfully my recollections were not strong enough to spoil the plot or for me to draw comparisons with the original players. In fact the greater danger lies in my having seen Alan J. Pakula’s All The President’s Men and The Parallax View; which are the more significant touchstones for the piece (Klute, another probable antecedent of State Of Play, is near the top of my teetering to-see pile).  The final problem is that- thanks to a combination of hectic work, golf, season 2 of The Wire, training for a charity run and socializing- I saw the film seven days before sitting down to complete these notes.

And while seven days ago I didn’t dislike it, on reflection I certainly don’t especially like it either.  The plus points are some strong acting performances (and I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome Crowe back to acting after his recent experiments with sleep-walking through films), some tight direction and editing and a really good pacy build-up to the climax.  Ah, the climax- I didn’t want to get to the climax straight away (and I swear that never normally happens!) but I may as well now.  In the enjoyable light comedy Paris When It Sizzles William Holden is talking Audrey Hepburn through the writing of a script (“aha! The twist… then the twist on the twist… and another twist” or something) and that’s what the ending of this film reminded me of.  I guess it’s true of thrillers in general but especially of this film- not every twist can be plausible and, when you’re ending on a solid and believable one, it doesn’t work to shoehorn in another one.  Especially if the tip-off clue isn’t much of a clue at all.  In State Of Play the tip-off is that a character reveals that she knows something which she shouldn’t leading Russell Crowe to uncover the whole thing.  But it doesn’t- not plausibly and his deduction is not the only (or even the likeliest) logical conclusion.  A solid but unspectacular thriller becomes, therefore, a flimsy melodrama.  It’s a real shame given the effort that had so clearly been invested in the piece.

The only other thing that stands out is that the soundtrack is absolutely fucking appalling- bombastic, overloud, generic and off-putting.  I was grumpy about it throughout and in the Q&A MacDonald indicated that he’d been unable to find a score which he thought was appropriate and the studio agreed with until the eleventh hour (he implied that he wanted something soft and piano-led).  He got what he was given I reckon, a shame.

Oh yes, and that feller off the Orange adverts is in it as a straight actor.  As is Jeff Daniels of one of the funniest films ever; Dumb And Dumber.

Anyway, 4/10 overall.  Solid except for Ben ‘Easter Island’ Affleck; he is appalling as ever.

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The Dark Knight (2008)

April 17, 2009

the-dark-knight-1“Fan-boys might want to look away now”

I’m really pushed for time this week, so my notes will be brief and lacking in support or explanation for any opinions offered.  The purpose of these notes is for me to not have to remember anything and so its a bit of a risk to note down how I feel and not why I feel it.  To myself in the future, I apologise.  Whilst I’m busy caveating, I should add that my first viewing of last year’s biggest film (that’s the kind of unsubstantiated guess I was on about, on reflection Mamma Mia! probably beat it) took place in three broken spells on the 320×240 screen of my phone.  Hardly ideal viewing circumstances.

The films I avoided last year because of the hype were Wall-E and The Dark Knight.  I wish I’d seen them both on the big screen now, but for differing reasons- in Wall-E‘s case it is simply because it was a beautifully constructed piece of high-art masquerading as a kids’ filmThe Dark Knight, however,  is very specifically designed for the multiplex viewer- with its dark look, booming sound effects and the huge visual impact of its explosions.  Seeing it on a phone (or even a big fuck-off telly) can never do that justice.

The film itself is a pale shadow of Batman Begins.  I know that it’s easy to slag off a sequel, but that isn’t what’s happening here.  The sequel, unusually, is the more lauded of the films.  For a long spell in 2008, an IMDB poll had The Dark Knight rated as the greatest film ever made- currently it is merely the 6th best film of all time according to voters there.  Personally, I greatly prefer the first film because a lot of the determination that was there to make a really good film first time around appears to have been lost in the desire to make a really great spectacle.  The subtlety and intrigue is gone.  Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne was troubled yet driven, morally ambiguous and too immature for the role he had created for himself.  In this film he is a towering intellectual giant with a clear moral code and a ludicrously husky vocal delivery once he gets that suit on.  Far be it from me to suggest that someone has disrupted Bale’s process, but I much preferred it when his Bruce Wayne was a three-dimensional human.  I’ll never tire of that audio clip, by the way.

Fundamentally, Batman is James Bond in kevlar body armour.  He goes outside the law and employs astonishing gadgets to bring down world-threatening bad guys in the final reel of the film.  Michael Caine is M, Morgan Freeman is Q and Maggie Gyllenhall (a huge, huge improvement on Katie Holmes and the one aspect of the film where the quality is ramped up on the original) is Vesper Lynd.  And this is a pretty decent Bond film; the set-pieces are amazing, the villain is charismatic (but it isn’t quite worthy of the posthumous plaudits) and the suspense is held pretty strongly for the most part.  The problem, as is often the case with this type of film, is the plot- The Joker wants to create mayhem in the only city on the planet with a superhero by bankrupting the numerous crime overlords and turning the tough-on-crime District Attorney into a delusional psychopath.  Just because he can.  There are twists along the way, but they’re not interesting or surprising.  You know a twist is coming because it is signposted way ahead by the projected plot being that little bit too straightforward.  The intention is to lull the audience and then surprise them.  Well either I’m too cynical or there was too much lulling and not enough surprising.  Even weaker than the plot, though, is the dialogue, which everyone delivers as if they were Richard Burton on Richard III.  That is the weakest thing in the film.

The costumes and visual effects and lighting and stunts and all the dull stuff that only matters if the rest of the film is up to scratch are all great, I should say.  But it’s effectively just a very effective marketing tool and a great visual spectacle and very probably a great multiplex experience (if a little long) and not much of a film.  4/10

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Road to Bali (1952)

March 23, 2009

In 1978 the famous West Bromwich Albion became the first western football team to tour China playing exhibition matches.  The whole thing was recorded for posterity by a BBC documentary crew including a famous exchange with the player John Trewick who asked why he hadn’t joined his team mates on a visit to see the Great Wall of China replied “if you’ve seen one wall, you’ve seen them all”.

The ‘Road to…’ movies were a bit like that.  They may have been in exotic locations but if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.  It’s not necessarily a criticism- Bond fans like me don’t have a great deal of secure ground for attacks based upon films following a formula- but it does mean that they’re pretty indistinguishable from one another and that there’s an all-pervading feeling of unspectacular adequacy about them.  In fact but for being the first one to be filmed in colour (and the only one for that matter; Road to Hong Kong  reverted to black and white to hide Bing and Bob’s advancing years) this could be any of them. 

In fact, the opening five minutes sums up the whole series- there’s a costumed song, a dance routine, some witty banter (“we’ve been fighting over you all week and I won.   He’s going to marry you”), some straight-to-camera wisecracking and it ends with Bob and Bing fleeing in fear of their lives after another failed romantic encounter.  It’s completely vacuous and pretty entertaining- if, sadly, dated.  I say sadly because it is a real shame that films like this don’t get made any more- I love them.  The only exceptional thing about Road to Bali– as if you couldn’t guess- truly is the colour, and that’s only because they use so much garish colour that it’s a bit like a Timothy Leary nightmare.

I might sound critical, I’m not.  I enjoyed it, I’d watch it again if I want something cheery on a rainy day.  But I won’t remember anything about it a couple of days from now.  4/10

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Somers Town (2008)

March 11, 2009

It’s not so much a film as a visual short story this.  I wasn’t expecting that.  It is also far, far lighter than Meadows’ previous films despite the potentially heavy subject matter.  This Is England‘s Thomas Turgoose returns as Tomo a runaway from Nottingham who befriends the teenage son of a Polish immigrant (Marek played by Piotr Jagiello) working on the Eurostar extension at St Pancras.

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The film follows a few days in their life when they do nothing but somehow enjoy it the way that teenage boys do.  It’s a low key coming of age film.  The two young leads do a great job, Turgoose is all cheeky charm and Jagiello embodies the hesitant awkwardness of an outsider. Their comical scrapes and days spent working for a local Del Boy character called Graham are given a whimsical gloss, as if viewed with nostalgia from middle-age.  They both fall for a twenty-something French girl who waitresses at a local café and set about trying to jointly woo her before she departs hurriedly for France.  Then they buy some cheap alcohol and get drunk at Marek’s flat before Marek’s Dad kicks Tomo out (he stays with Graham) and the Polish lads have a heart-to-heart about the divorce from Marek’s mother.  It’s all nice, heartwarming stuff.  Even the early scene where Tomo gets mugged is downplayed.  The incident itself isn’t pleasant, though Meadows doesn’t show the violence directly (muggers kicking a prostrate Tomo are shown from the waist up etc), but his recovery is remarkably quick, his injuries minimal and his psyche unaffected.

It’s a nice little film.  I’d enjoy seeing it again.  But I must remember that it’s extremely insubstantial.  4/10

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The Trip (1967)

March 10, 2009

Not really sure why I hadn’t seen this before.  I went through a phase of really obsessing about the ‘summer of love’.  I was intrigued by psychedelia, acid, free love, Haight-Ashbury and all that shite.  I also used to really love Jack Nicholson- still do to an extent- and so this should have been right up my street.  What I really envied was the feeling that people seemed to have that everything was just about to get a whole lot better- a zeitgeist that probably lasted for a couple of weeks and no more.  Wisdom and experience have taught me how false a dawn it was.  The Paris riots, the Kennedy and King assassinations, Altamont, Kent State  and everything that followed were bad enough, but learning how the Haight became full of broken-minded junkies almost overnight and how the whole thing allowed Nixon to get a stranglehold on America does sour the taste a little.  So there’s baggage accompanying this film.  It isn’t just a Corman exploitation flick (it is that, obviously) but it’s a relic from a shattered dream.  It represents the crushing of hope under the weight of the establishment, the man rules okay!

Excluding the context, how is it as a film?  Well, a failure I guess.  It’s like being at a party where you’re the only person who isn’t drunk.  There’s a lot of fun being had but you aren’t included and watching other people in an altered state isn’t exactly rewarding.  Peter Fonda (who undergoes the titular trip) sees things that scare him or make him feel euphoric or blow his mind, but we just see dwarves or mounted men in soft-focus.  If the aim of the film is to replicate the LSD experience- whether for educational reasons as the introductory titles claim, or to make a quick buck like any other exploitation film- then it fails miserably.  Except in the sense that LSD is a dissociative drug and I was anything but engaged.

What is interesting about The Trip is how it is almost a dry run for Easy Rider, lots of things that work well in that movie (the campfire scene, the counter-culture dialogue, the way the sunlight bleeds into the camera, the different film effects used, Fonda’s dissatisfaction with the career/marriage conformist life and Hopper’s monumental performance) are given a dry run here.  And for that, it is important.  So I forgive it for being a bit crap.  4/10

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Holiday on the Buses (1973)

March 8, 2009

This is the third On The Buses film, I got a bit confused after watching the first one (notes here) and should have been watching Mutiny On The Buses.  D’oh!  And of course you know what you’re getting when you put one of these movies on- bawdy humour, outrageous set-pieces and very dated attitudes.  It’s just disposable daftness, no reason to get excited.  In this film Blakey, Stan and Jack have all been sacked from the bus depot (by Grange Hill bastard/big-screen Hitler Mr Bronson no less!) and find employment on a holiday camp.  As soon as Stan’s family arrive to stay for a holiday the film continues in the usual vein, only in summer sunshine- that must be CGI surely!

The usual characters are augmented by a few seventies TV comedy stars (Wilfrid Bramble, Henry McGee, Arthur Mullard) and the change of scenery and fresh faces reinvigorate the format and make the film work pretty well for a while.  It’s unsustainable sadly, despite the film being less than an hour and a half long, and the film grows tired with the same jokes repeated as it limps towards the titles.

So, I enjoyed it- but I wouldn’t want anyone to know that this is my kind of film.  Especially as it features a shot of Olive’s bare arse!  4/10

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