Is Anybody There? (2008)

May 15, 2009


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



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


Get Carter (1971)

January 10, 2009

Gritty, suspenseful, uncompromising.  An iconic anti-hero fueled by fury and loathing.  A perennially quotable script.  Classy, eye-catching direction.  Great performances all round.  A tremendous soundtrack.  A brilliant ending.  Frankly, it’s flawless – 10/10.


Get Carter (2000)

January 9, 2009


Tonight is a special night, at my mate Handsome Gav’s house we’re watching the three versions of Get Carter that we know about in reverse chronological order.

First up, Stallone’s remake. I’ve never seen this but I remember Stallone doing a big cover story with Arena magazine ahead of the movie’s scheduled cinematic release. In the interview Stallone was asked whether his Carter died at the end as Michael Caine’s had in the original. His reply was that “he has a spiritual death and rebirth”. Oh dear. The cinematic release was pulled then and this film went straight to DVD. Plenty to be wary of there.

I’m not going to dwell too long on this film, it is as woefully bad as I’d imagined, but I will just comment quickly on the liberties they’ve taken with the original. The dead brother Frank is renamed Richie for no apparent reason, his wife is brought back to life in the shape of Miranda Richardson (there’s someone who really should know better), the gangster Kinnear- now renamed Jeremy Kinnear- is a gay billionaire computer programmer, Carter’s Boss Les (formerly Sid) Fletcher gets to know about Carter and his girlfriend fifteen minutes in.

What they appear to have decided in conceiving this remake is that the original would benefit from a washed-out, anaemic, colourless visual style and looking like a car advert. In fully bringing the concept up to date, they roped in hot music producer Jellybean Benitez to add some dance beats to Roy Budd’s superb original soundtrack. Jellybean is the man who wrote Madonna’s “Holiday”- a song that is about as old as I am. Couldn’t they get anyone better than that for fuck’s sake?

The iconic moments in the original film are reproduced here in a sadly diluted form- “you’re a big man but you’re in bad shape” is delivered by a seated Stallone in a calm manner to a standing Caine cameoing in Alf Roberts’ part (Stallone had to be seated I suppose, he’s giving away about six inches to Caine) and “your eyes look like pissholes in the snow” becomes the frankly nonsensical “you look like cat’s piss in the snow”. They have attempted, I suppose, to create their own memorable dialogue but it is insipid and uninspired. Several times Stallone threatens to “take it to another level”, Alan Cummings’ “you know why I like golf?” speech is especially awful and only Stallone’s “it’s good to be home” after duffing up a local is at all interesting.

What they’ve done here is to shake up the script (change the order and several of the character names swap places in the script) it’s a puny rewrite. By revealing that Carter can never go back from the outset the suspense that made the original is lost, instead we get a watered-down Carter (Caine’s was driven by blind hatred, Stallone’s is driven by a sense of remorse) who talks throughout about doing something right for once and making up for his mistakes. The dumbed-down script where a bloke from Scrubs appears throughout to talk to Carter and explain like a child’s narrator what has happened so far is insulting. I got so angry watching this that it isn’t funny.

Positives are very few and far between- Caine really gives his part every chance and that’s the only one that I can think of. One good point, therefore, 1/10.

Mona Lisa (1986)

January 2, 2009

This has been waiting on my shelf to be watched (on video, then on DVD) for the best part of twenty years.  I’ve wanted to watch it since its cinema release, when I was too young.  Eventually when I could watch it, I suddenly didn’t want to as it could only be an anti-climax.  And somehow over the years, that pessimism has become a belief that it’s a poor film that I won’t enjoy.

But I did enjoy it and, somewhat inevitably, it is neither as good as I once believed nor as bad as I once feared.  ‘Mona Lisa’ stands as a relevant and pertinent story today (it should, it’s simply a story of unrequited love) but looks horribly dated in style.  There are lots of soft-focus close-ups of Tyson or of Tyson with Hoskins and it begins to look a bit like a Gold Blend advert.  It is harsh, perhaps, to judge a film out of context like that, but it’s how I feel.  In addition to this Michael Caine plays- with the exception of his first appearance on screen- Michael Caine.  And there is a horrible Genesis song on the soundtrack.  And the sight of Hoskins kicking two larger men during the closing scenes, when placed alongside two dwarves kicking one another, is reduced to farce when the tension really needs to be maintained and not relieved.

But aside from these minor quibbles, the film is good.  Cathy Tyson plays a fine role, though her accent wavers occasionally this helps establish her as someone trying to conceal her origins and past.  Bob Hoskins, though, is occasionally excellent as the bewildered and confused George, and always good- though some of the ‘angry’ scenes could be Bob in any number of his past roles and that dilutes their effectiveness.

The strained relationship between George and his daughter is too easily resolved to be plausible and the appearance of a white horse over is heavy-handed and unnecessary but the film is strong overall.

It is a good film, but patchy.  Some parts are excellent, some are good and others disappointing- which is, perhaps, exactly what I expected.  7/10.

Ashanti (1979)

December 26, 2008

Michael Caine will star in any film that pays irrespective of its merit, I think we’d all accept that.  But do we have to watch?  Ashanti is a by-numbers chase movie set in Africa and with a number of big name cameo parts.   The director (Richard Fleischer) had long since proved that he can handle ‘big’ movies with big names- especially with ‘The Vikings’- but he must’ve been too busy applying sun-tan lotion to notice that the highly-paid stars he’d flown in at great expense (Omar Sharif, William Holden, Rex Harrison, Peter Ustinov) were barely doing more than reciting the banal script.  The lowest-point came with the once-great Holden mentioning casually to Caine (after being shot whilst in control of a helicopter because Caine didn’t fire first) that he should jump before they crash and Caine responding by looking out of the window with a bare modicum of interest.

He jumped eventually and survived.  What a shame.  The film could have been over in half an hour.  Nothing redeems this film.  Nothing.  0/10.