Friday, 31 December 2010

The Best (and Worst) Films of 2010

As the year comes to a close, ‘You Killed the Car’ will jump on the annual canonisation bandwagon and bring you my personal Top Ten Movies of 2010. There’s no particular order to the proceedings here as I am notoriously bad at picking my favourite anything in life, so in the name of diplomacy the titles will be ranked alphabetically – everyone here is a winner.

Enter the Void – Gaspar Noe
After the total numbing of my brain that resulted in my ‘true’ inaugural post for ‘You Killed the Car’, and the casual notes on the film I’ve dropped ever since, there was never any question of whether this would be one of my films of the year. An intense, nihilistic (and seemingly never-ending) rollercoaster, Noe’s latest proves to be utterly compelling in its total decimation of drug culture, set against a surreal mirror image of Tokyo that takes the neon sleaze of the city night and amps it up to eleven. This isn’t a film so much as it is a total sensory experience. Audio-visually, it’s everything Avatar attempted and didn’t quite manage. But if Avatar was the dream, Enter the Void could only ever be the nightmare. REVIEW HERE: ‘Enter the Void’ Review

Exit Through the Gift Shop - Banksy
Whichever way you look at it – as a cleverly edited documentary, or manipulative fiction – there’s no question that Exit Through the Gift Shop is Banksy’s self-aware Ego-baby, a movie that flaunts the self-built mystery of the man whilst at once pointing the finger at the audience for this very act of idolisation. The death of Street culture in favour of the celebritising of the artist is shown through both Banksy and his star-struck, talentless protégé, Mr. Brainwash (Thierry Guetta), supposedly the cousin of fellow established Street Artist, Invader. Guetta’s descent from director to heavily-scrutinised subject matter is compelling in itself, as his own camera comes to be turned against him, but the real fun lies in the strong vein of mockery that runs through the movie. “What is Art?” Does the answer really matter? Especially when the DVD includes premium 2D Glasses that are completely useless, and stated as such? A wonderful attack against pretty much everything in the Art world, with nobody winning.

Four Lions – Chris Morris
Despite probably being watched by many people as “Daily Mail bait”, those who can get past the fact that, yes, this movie is about terrorists, will agree that this is the full-scale attack on institutional single-mindedness that we fully expected Chris Morris to deliver. Outrageously funny, with multi-levelled humour through both obvious gags and more insidious satire and social commentary, Four Lions is without a doubt the British comedy of the year. Monolithic ideas of Fundamentalism and the State are brought crashing to the ground through the realisation of the bumbling, mundane humanity of the people that make up the reality of these ideas. We shot the right man, but the wrong man blew up

Inception – Christopher Nolan
As many have stated, proof that blockbusters don’t need to flash their utter contempt of the audience in order to be successful. Nolan’s ability to tell a story tightly, with a considered use of suspense and danger is a quality that today’s action movies are sorely lacking, whilst the script’s spattering of dream logic and dark hints leave the audience compelled for answers that cannot really be found. Nevertheless, Inception fails to be my definitive favourite of the year due to its neat, at times even hollow, treatment of the complexity of the human psyche, opting to create a trippy heist movie rather than push the conflicting, repressed emotions that lie within us all. According to Nolan, dreamland is less of a land of limitless association – for good or bad – and more of a videogame starring James Bond. Nevertheless, as a believer of the theory that the whole film is a metaphor for the making and viewing of cinema as a whole, Inception proves to be a thoroughly smart and entertaining thriller that hopefully left Michael Bay crying into his Transformers mug.

The Killer Inside Me – Michael Winterbottom
I’m not particularly interested in discussing the Jessica Alba scene; enough has been said by both parties on the issue, suffice to say that I feel the scene, whilst intensely uncomfortable, led to an immense pay off when coupled with the climactic moments of the film. One of very few character pieces released this year (all of which proved, at the very least, intriguing), Casey Affleck’s turn as the demented Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford was compelling, his brand of evil charismatic and seemingly completely in control. The film’s closing moments, through the dichotomy of sound and vision, playfully revealed the fractures in Ford’s seemingly watertight narration, aided by a glossy, pitch-perfect production that, in just one element, economically achieved what the whole of A Single Man was built upon (and ultimately overdid). But man, that scene was rough going.
Metropolis – Fritz Lang
If this hadn’t been such a stellar year for films, it would probably be incredibly damning that the restored cut of a silent movie, originally released in 1927 is, at the very least, one of the top five films of the year. What was an interesting piece of cinematic history has, in being almost definitively restored, become a 20th century fairy tale, a masterpiece of cinema. Metropolis, like Star Wars, is one of those fantasy films whose world has been so completely realised, so utterly self contained, that to watch it is to engage in the kind of escapism that drew you to the cinema as a child. Coupled with an elegant Art Deco aesthetic and a fantastic re-recording of the original sweeping orchestral score, Metropolis can finally take its rightful place as one of the definitive genre classics, and not merely as the plundering material of film historians and music video directors.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World – Edgar Wright
Frenetic, hyperkinetic, epileptic and distracted, Edgar Wright’s adaptation of the cult comic book series managed to succinctly and faithfully capture the idiosyncrasies of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s original work whilst injecting it with the distinctive personality that made Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz such great comedies. Reviled and loved in equal measure, Scott Pilgrim is a movie for its generation, and perhaps no one else. A love letter to video games, indie music, and the denial of growing up, it’s probably way too immature for some, and just too weird for others. Those that liked it however, loved it. Like Enter the Void, a movie that revels in the sheer spectacle of cinema that managed to anchor it with a worthy premise.

The Social Network – David Fincher

The definitive character piece of the year, it managed to comment on the fracturing of online ethics against the reality of living within a society, the power of the individual and the selfish impotence of the loner, without even really showing anything of Facebook. Everything about this movie was right; Aaron Sorkin’s tremendously witty script, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s haunting electronic score, the fantastic performances by all, though particularly Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield as the best friends who became worst enemies, and of course, Fincher’s own experience as a veteran director. There’s little else to say that I didn’t already comment on in my review, apart from repeating that I think this film is an instant classic. REVIEW HERE: ‘The Social Network’ Review

Toy Story 3 – Lee Unkrich
Can Pixar do no wrong? After years of development hell, the threat of being developed by the same studio behind Chicken Little, and numerous script re-writes, the movie that should never have been made hit the cinemas and proved all the naysayers wrong. Like the rest of Pixar’s catalogue, Toy Story 3 offered what all great kids movies bring, universal appeal. Here however, the weight perhaps more so lies with the older audiences, parents maybe, those just entering adulthood definitely. For those who grew up with the original Toy Story, and experienced firsthand that magical thought that ‘what if my toys could talk too?’ fifteen years ago, it will be Andy’s story that really hits home, growing up and moving on, but never forgetting the joys of being a child. Call me a sap, but by the end, the only reason I wasn’t crying was because I didn’t want to get a reputation.

That moment unfortunately arrived a few months later at the end of The Death Hallows Part 1.

Up in the Air – Jason Reitman
A movie that at once revitalised and devastatingly deconstructed the charming, glossy cinema of the 50s, Up in the Air gelled the disparate tones of Reitman’s previous ventures, Thank You for Smoking and Juno (both of which are wonderful on their own merits) by putting George Clooney’s corporate Ryan through the emotional mill, coming out the other end a little more shaken up than we perhaps expected. Like The Killer Inside Me, Up in the Air recalled the American cinema of decades gone by, and gave it a thoroughly modern twist in production and denouement. REVIEW HERE: 'Up in the Air' Review

And that’s that. I’d be interested to know what you agree or disagree upon in the comments section. BUT WAIT – there’s more! For whilst there’s been some truly fantastic movies this year, there’s also been some full on stinkers. Whilst I unfortunately missed Winter’s Bone, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives, and Mother, I happily avoided the likes of The Last Airbender. I did unfortunately see two movies that, at the year’s close, tie for my personal

WORST FILM OF 2010 (tied)

The Expendables – Sylvester Stallone  // Clash of the Titans – Louis Leterrier
Clash of the Titans was a textbook example of a needless remake that, in the process, managed to completely and utterly remove the personality of the original film, instead taking a massive dump on everything that made that film great, creating something only superfluously related. Dull, dumb, and with awful tacked on 3D effects, Clash of the Titans was further proof that Sam Worthington cannot be the action star of our generation, despite his earnest attempts. And literally throwing out the mechanical owl Bubo, chirpy mascot of the original, wasn’t a funny in joke. It was the moment you cemented my hatred of everyone involved in making this travesty. Burn with Hades. BURN.

Like Stallone’s previous Rambo-callback...John Rambo, The Expendables suffers from some sort of schizophrenia where one minute, Stallone and co. are essentially engaged in a puerile competition over who has the biggest dick, the next sombrely aiding a heavy handed, ridiculous notion that what we’re watching on screen is somehow socially relevant. Apparently Stallone thinks that all those stabs at the Reds in the 80s wasn’t Republican exploitation, but was actually the incisive political commentary of its time. What Stallone also failed to realise is that those old action movies didn’t take themselves too seriously, and knew that a good one-liner couldn’t be followed by Mickey Rourke pouring his heart out over letting a woman commit suicide. It’s over Randy! Get back in the ring, nobody cares about you in the real world! Oh wait...this isn’t The Wrestler.

And that really is that. Happy New Year folks, hope you have a good night to see it in.

'Little Fockers' Review

Do you remember those dreams you had as a kid, where you would be merrily on your way to school, but something just didn’t sit right? You’d ponder it over, getting ever more uneasy and uncertain, until full-blown agitation would hit; you’d look down and realise you were butt naked in the playground, and everyone knew it. It was pretty embarrassing stuff, the only solace coming when you woke up and realised the whole thing was just a fantastical episode that could be speedily forgotten once the ordeal had been endured. This is how I feel about most of the Stiller-heralded ‘Frat Pack’ humour, that, along with (and as part of) that familiar Apatowian brand, came to define American comedy of the Noughties. You sit through it all feeling steadily more uncomfortable with the idiotic behaviour onscreen until, just as you reach bursting point, relief is signposted in the sentimentalist denouement, and finally found in the end credits. The nightmare is over. At least until the next one.

Meet the Parents, released in 2000, was an instant hit. Back then, it offered a more family friendly blend of the gross-out, cringe-humour seen in the likes of American Pie and Road Trip. Actually a remake of a 1992 indie production, the film grossed millions, and was inevitably followed by the interminable Meet the Fockers four years later. Another six years on, and I found myself walking into the cinema intent on hating Little Fockers, the latest instalment in the series. This franchise had effectively straddled the entirety of the Noughties, putting into the mainstream a brand of humour that has since been pumped to starvation. I wanted Little Fockers to be the death knell, the final final credit sequence, and, whilst actually an improvement on its previous instalment, one thing remained clear upon watching the movie; this should be the end of an era.

The film pushes things forward six years in the lives of “Greg” Gaylord Focker (Ben Stiller) and his insane father-in-law Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro). Greg, now happily married to Pam (Teri Polo), is about to achieve the American Dream, moving into the perfect suburban American foursquare and planning a birthday party for his twin children. As the family gathers in anticipation, in laws arriving, old friends returning, the stage is set for the same old song and dance we’ve seen so many times before. Whilst Stiller’s character has grown up, the set-pieces becoming a little less outrageous (at least in some senses), it is hard to tell whether this is a conscious effort to mature the series with the characters, or simply a result of the far more troubling fact that, like so many comedy franchises that are founded on a relatively one-note premise, the writing has become tired and limp. Old gags are played out that we’ve either seen too many times already or never really liked the first time round to muster up enjoyment for them now, the only real new element being that the film’s universe seems to be aware of its own ridiculousness; characters are a little more rational and aware than before, with the result being that De Niro’s left hamming it up as a caricature of a caricature. Little Fockers itself, with this strong undercurrent of self-parody, seems to be quietly admitting that the game is over, its treatment of De Niro reaching new lows in actively recalling his past film roles in order to exploit new 'jokes'.

What all of this tired re-treading results in is the ultimate realization that these films are simply not witty (and never really were). Their style of humour relies upon an increasingly bombastic cycle of agonisingly awkward and embarrassing episodes. It’s a really crude appliance of schadenfreude that is neither clever, nor really that funny. The audience watches because it enjoys having a sense of one-up-man-ship over the players, but by a third offering, even this has become formulaic and predictable. The whole film is effectively mapped out for you in the opening salvo; Jack is back ('Oooh'), the kids are kooky, and Jessica Alba is rocking her body as the fatal temptress, whilst Owen Wilson struggles to get the laughs out of a character even he seems to be annoyed with.

As I said earlier, I went into this film wanting to hate it, but I actually left feeling a little sorry for it, remembering one moment I actually enjoyed. Mid-way through the movie, Stiller and De Niro are engaged in a send-up chase sequence through the streets and monorails of the city that could have been utterly clichéd, had it not been for the dual effect of Greg’s newfound sense of understatement (a reflection upon Stiller post-Greenberg?) and the genuinely fun cinematography at work in the sequence’s climax. However, when a five minute episode from a whole ninety minutes is all you have to go on, you know it’s just not enough. The Fockers need to go on a vacation, get some family downtime. And I hope they never come back.

Monday, 27 December 2010

A Belated Present from IGN

Dumb Quotes of 2010:

I remain convinced that in principle, video games cannot be art
- Roger Ebert, a film critic who didn't even like Blue Velvet

-- James O'Connor, IGN AU

(A late) Happy Christmas to you all! The above made me laugh, it made me cry etc.

I'd like to talk a little more about the above quote at some point in the near future. I'm considering introducing game reviews periodically to this blog, and to write on the latest in the never-ending, pretentious (my favourite), High vs Low Art debate would be a nice little segue. For now though, chuckle along with me (or call me a complete nerd) over Ebert's sagely words. Har Har de Har!!

Monday, 20 December 2010

'Brighton Rock': The Next 'Atonement'?

Whilst everyone's banging on about Never Let Me Go, the British adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's acclaimed novel, there's another literary adaptation on the way that, despite currently slipping under the radar, might spring out with a formidable attack. Then again, it might, like so many of these thoroughly British melodramas (Never Let Me Go itself getting this very flak from some quarters) have the emotional manipulation without the heart to sustain it. Nevertheless, I'm finding myself more and more intrigued by Brighton Rock, a 60's transposition of Graham Greene's original novel, mopeds and all. Sam Riley was fantastic in Control, a film criminally underrated in comparison with all the hype Corbijn's latest, The American, has generated, and the clashing of indulgent individualism against a sense of morality that inflected Riley's take on singer Ian Curtis will hopefully be allowed to run riot in his characterization of gangster Pinky; a thoroughly nasty excuse of a Catholic. Helen Mirren's turn as Ida also looks promising, and the film's cinematography seems rich and absorbing, granting Brighton the weight as a character in itself that the novel so successfully built upon. Time will tell which of the two will prove to be the real contender, but both look worth a gander.

Sunny, sunny 'Summer Wars'

Despite what some may believe, I'm not actually an otaku, I'm just a casual anime fan.

If you're still with me, I'm not sure what that says about either of us. The latest anime film I've seen is Paprika, already now four years old. I missed out on Ponyo, despite being one of a multitude of Miyazaki fans, and Earthsea just looked a bit stale. I'm sure there's a lot of good stuff out there, but, as with OAVS and anime TV series, what actually reaches the relative mainstream has to bear either that golden sticker, 'Studio Ghibli', or else is derivative of some lame mass-merchandise cash cow. I don't want to d-d-d-duel, and Pokemon has outstayed its ethically dubious welcome by half a decade. Recent release Redline bombed in Japanese cinemas, despite its bold, saturated palette and strong reviews. With the unfortunate passing in August of Satoshi Kon, the eccentric maverick behind both Paprika and Perfect Blue (one of my all-time favourite movies), the industry's future is looking bleak. Miyazaki himself, the one heavyweight champion left, despairs for the future of the medium.

But maybe those raised upon the cash-cows will save the day yet. Mamoru Hosoda was the man behind the original Digimon series, the popular if somewhat generic children's show that gave Pokemon a strong run for its money. However, he also directed 2007's acclaimed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. With Kon's final film The Dream Machine only half finished, production team Madhouse may have found a viable source of continued innovation. Hosoda's latest feature, Summer Wars, is at first glance perhaps a little derivative of Kon's own Paprika. Vibrant, esoteric, and relying upon the interdependence of reality and dream, what makes Summer Wars look interesting is its fusion of said Kon-like issues with the childish naivete and brightness - ironically - of Digimon Adventure. If the trailer is anything to go by (I am, unfortunately, far from fluent in Japanese, so must wait for the localised DVD or limited cinema release), Summer Wars, in rejecting the darkness that fueled much of Kon's works, is sufficiently set apart to be a different beast entirely. Whimsical and off-beat, Summer Wars may be the film that revitalises some Western attention in a medium that is too often connected only with Ghibli or videogames.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

'Tron: Legacy' Review

 Tron: Legacy, is, on paper, a bit of an odd release. Sequel to the 1982 box office flop Tron, a film so obscure it struggles to even earn the moniker ‘cult classic’ (its DVD status as ‘out of print’ will no doubt change very shortly), it nevertheless earned the approval from Disney bigwigs to be their Christmas blockbuster, going toe-to-toe with the studio’s former seasonal franchise, The Chronicles of Narnia. Things may begin to make a little more sense when the actual content of Tron is considered. A virtual reality world of light cycles and disc battles, ‘The Grid’ of Legacy, like ‘Pandora’ twelve months ago, is another opportunity for viewers to see 3D cinema be brought to the fore through an alien landscape of a predominantly visual draw. Further, in a world where ‘The Social Network’ earns merit as one of the films of the year, the context of Tron is perhaps a little more pertinent to audiences than it was twenty eight years ago. However, whilst the film seems to be – at times painfully - aware of its own circumstances, it struggles to build upon them. What we get is a spectacle that won’t, for many, defy Avatar, and a cyberpunk movie that is perhaps too shallow to stand with its peers.
The word ‘reboot’ has been bandied around in regard to Legacy, but I feel that this is perhaps a little loose a term. Tron: Legacy may revive a long dead franchise, but it doesn’t reconstruct it – this is very much a sequel movie; the legacy of Tron is quite literally embedded in not only its inception, but its plotline. Following on from the original Tron, Legacy details the entrance of Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) into ‘The Grid’ to find his father Kevin (Jeff Bridges), former creator of the virtual world which has now enslaved him through the machinations of his digital avatar CLU. The two must escape - before the portal into the real world closes - with the help of Kevin's apprentice and surrogate child, the program Quorra (Olivia Wilde). From here, it’s pretty standard fare, and, upon inspection, quite basic. Whilst the movie’s run time clocks in at a little over two hours, not a lot actually happens. The film’s faithfulness to its predecessor ironically results in heavy sequences of exposition that, whilst pleasant in solidifying the ties between the two movies for those who know of the original, hampers the sense of urgency that the core storyline must rely on.
One area where the origin source isn’t treated as totally sacrosanct is in the art direction, and it is this for which the movie will be best regarded. The artists behind Legacy managed to take the goofy motion-capture outfits of the original movie and create a strong, elegant aesthetic upon which ‘The Grid’ is founded. Lacquered black and white, punctuated with neon blues and oranges, create a limited colour palette that is sleek and at times ever so slightly eccentric; Gallic touches that call to mind the oddball visuals of The Fifth Element. However, less inspired, and more derivative, elements come from both Blade Runner in ‘Downtown Grid’ and of course The Matrix, the eternally stormy nights of that movie’s real world now inverted to fit with the impeccable cool of ‘The Grid’. These ‘nods’ to fellow Cyperbunk heavy hitters are both disconcerting and self-defeatist; the Neo Los Angeles of Deckard’s world will not be beaten anytime soon (twenty eight years and counting). Nevertheless, when Legacy’s own visual style is allowed to come across unencumbered, it is unique and at times beautiful, aided by some quality cinematography - at least in the first third of the movie. As the movie plods along to its endgame, it isn't merely the plot that seems to suffer; the sparsely dusted action sequences upon which the film's meat may ultimately be found become steadily less idiosyncratic, and more and more cold.
It’s a real shame; Legacy has some fantastic elements, both visually and in its core storyline, that could have really elevated it into something special. As it is, we’re left with a movie that leaves the viewer feeling a little cold – glimpses of greatness interpolate with the same weary nothingness that plagued fellow franchise revival Lost in Space over a decade ago. The nice visual tricks of the first twenty minutes that link our two worlds; the video-game camera angles of Sam’s bike rides around the real world and thematic recurrences become replaced by the standard lazy repetition that frequently mars less imaginative action movies. Here, it’s all the more painful to see as Tron: Legacy does have a hell of a lot of imagination being poured into it. The sound mixing, along with the sound-track itself, provided by Daft Punk, is absolutely stellar - there are times when this movie is a sensual feast. The early ‘games’ sequence is genuinely engrossing, tense stuff, and the lore behind the evolved ‘Grid’, whilst not enough to stop the world of Tron from feeling a little hollow, nevertheless offers promise of something more. This promise, dressed in the coolest of suits, is perhaps all we have to go on. It's good – fleetingly great – but overall, it’s not enough.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Superman got Sucker-Punched (see what I did there?)

With the release of Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch getting very close, another trailer's been released. This is the guy Chris Nolan actively sought to direct upcoming Superman reboot The Man of Steel. When Sucker Punch comes out, Snyder will have released three SFX extravaganzas in just under two years (two of which had a gap of less than six months between them). Quantity over quality?

I don't even know what to think about this film right now. The man's audacious, I'll give him that.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

'Monsters' Review

After years of happily borrowing from the insect world in its presentation of the unknown and alien, cinema has decided upon a new source for the non-terrestrial. The caste systems of Aliens (1986) and Starship Troopers (1997) are gone (at least until Ridley Scott’s Paradise hits screens), replaced with the marine monstrosity of Cloverfield (2008), and now, the giant Squid-giraffes of Monsters. Cephalopods are in, and so, it seems, is decompressed sci-fi. Mixing Tartovsky style pacing with the indie production of ‘Mumblecore’, Gareth Edward’s new film, whilst perhaps not a sci-fi classic, is certainly fresh, entertaining, and – rare in this genre – mature. If you’re looking for an action thriller, stick to Skyline (or maybe don’t), and hard sci-fi? Moon had it covered last year. Monsters is a thoroughly anti-Hollywood take on the genre, from its budget (less than $500,000) down to its incidental narrative style.

Monsters quickly establishes the origin of its alien invaders in its opening titles; a space probe crashed on the Mexican border six years ago, and the area – now the habitat of said aliens – has been dubbed the ‘Infected Zone’, secured and over-watched by the weapon-ready American military. In terms of explicit details of the conflict between man and squid-being, this is all you’re getting. What follows is a focused storyline detailing the efforts of photographer Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) – a man who makes a living documenting the tragedy around him – to escort his employer’s daughter, Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able) across Mexico and back to America in the wake of another skirmish between beast and army. What was to be an overnight journey quickly turns into a cross-country hike wherein these two strangers bond against a war-torn Mexican landscape. If this sounds removed from the initial focus of the movie, you’d be right – Monsters' chronicle of the alien presence on Earth is largely incidental against what is essentially a road-trip love story. The history of Mexico’s struggle to live with the aliens is told through background details; anecdotes in conversation, graffiti on walls, the wreckage surrounding the travellers. What results is not only an organic, naturalistic approach to storytelling – refreshing in a genre that can sometimes feel contrived in its efforts to forever explain – but all the more powerful in that, as the ambiguous title comes to suggest, it becomes steadily more transparent in its presentation of a man-made alien identity; a construction removed from the more bittersweet reality of the creatures’ presence that the movie hints at.
Given the movie’s extremely low budget, this was a smart idea on the part of Edwards, who had five months to turn his Mexican footage into a war zone from his bedroom computer. Whilst the wires do at times show on the CGI, it is ironically the military element, the tanks and planes, of the piece that suffer slightly – the aliens, for the most part, look imposing and unique, holding your attention through a clever use of lighting when the big reveals occur. Otherwise, the movie relies upon the power of suspense – largely through sound – to build a sense of atmosphere. Again, when pitted against the intense rollercoaster ride of Cloverfield, another movie with a localised narration, this return to the economic genre cinema of the past is welcome and engrossing.
The two leads play their parts convincingly, and it is little wonder that, in what was a highly free-form, improvised process, the actors themselves ended up falling in love. Their emotional journey is as enjoyable to watch as their physical, loose and plodding. However, it is this free-form nature that ultimately stops the movie from being a classic; the script sometimes seems to hit dead ends, its continual teases sometimes just becoming split ends and missed tricks (without spoiling the film, a particular scene where photographer Andrew goes for the shot could have really fit in with the idea of man thriving on conflict that seems to underpin the movie. Instead, it opts for the safety of ideal morality). It’s a shame, as Monsters has all the ingredients to be a film that really stands out. As it is, it’s a notable indie production that stands against Hollywood convention without toppling it. However, given that it had a crew of seven people, was cut down from 100 hours to 94 minutes, edited almost entirely from a home computer, and has made it into mainstream cinemas, its achievement should not be underestimated. If you thought District 9 was a little more Hollywood than you would have liked, Monsters will be right up your street.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

"Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Goosebumps"

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Arcade Fire perform at the LG Arena in Birmingham. I would love to talk about them till the sun rises, but I've become quite strict in limiting this blog to dealing only with film and TV rather than a diffuse, batshit insane mix of comics, music, cinema and videogames. Nevertheless, somewhere in the middle of what was one goddamn awesome show, I had a little thought that linked the spine-tingling power of live music, with my favourite scene from one of my favourite films of the year.

Watching the band's performance reminded me of the incredible power that music can hold over the listener; a power that is often hinted at in a great album but, I feel, is only fully realised on stage. At the risk of sounding like one pretentious arsehole (it wouldn't be the first time, certainly not the last...), a great performance conjures something larger than the sum of its parts, something beyond human, in performer and listener. You can see it in the fuck-off big grin of Win Butler and you can sense it inside you, as something mystic, euphoric, feels like its going to erupt from under the stage. It's what drives people back to gigs time and time again, and, for all its cartoon violence and hyperactivity, it is what underpins the unfettered joy in watching this scene, from the highly addictive Scott Pilgrim vs the World.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Month Ahead: December 2010

We're entering Christmas season well and proper, boys and girls! Here's a brief overview of what's on the way this month of Advent. It's kid-tastic.

Megamind 3D: Shamelessly plugged for months, the latest Dreamworks animated vehicle features Will Ferrel and Brad Pitt in Despicable Me - sorry - Megamind, replacing the Pixar-lite family dynamic of the former with a villainous, Pixar-lite spin on The Incredibles' comic book foundations. From what's been shown so far, expect more of Dreamworks Animation's only facial expression for characters; that raised eyebrow and side smile. Bleurgh.

 The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader: You know it's Christmas when the soulless Children's adventure stories spring up by the dozen. Harry Potter avoided the curse so that, by the looks of things, the Narnia franchise could get a double share of it. Whilst The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was enjoyable enough, Dawn Treader looks to be continuing the bore-fest of Prince Caspian - only this time, the use of 3D allows for some really dodge looking photography if the trailer is anything to go by. Call me a cynic, but this franchise should have been a one-hit wonder.

The Tourist: Johnny Depp's having a go at stepping into the shoes of Pitt, Clooney and Cruise with a sexually charged espionage thriller. It's pretty generic stuff by the looks of things, but Depp and Jolie know how to entertain, and it's refreshing to see a protagonist who looks a bit, well, scruffy amidst all the glam. Because we all know sinful sexualised murder is also very, very glamorous.

Burlesque: Two pop-star movie vehicles in one! Cher takes a stab at the silver screen again, bringing movie new-comer Christina Aguilera along for the ride. Reviews suggest this is pretty awful, but if you hadn't already twigged that then...well, you're more optimistic than I am.

Tron: Legacy: First hinted at almost three years ago at Comic Con, Tron Legacy is a bit of an odd one. Another in the slew of 3D gimmick movies, not only does it revive a thirty year old franchise most of the public will know diddly-squat about, but brings back Jeff Bridges (!) to boot. With Daft Punk on score, things are looking a bit too good to be true. We'll have to see where things lie with this one, but it has a pretty kicking aesthetic if nothing else. (Has ripping off the Star Wars poster become ironic or something?) (18/12/10 NOW WITH A REVIEW: 'Tron: Legacy' Review)

Meet the Parents: Little Fockers: You like Ben Stiller? You'll like this. You don't? Stay away. De Niro used to be a contender :( (31/12/10: NOW WITH A REVIEW: 'Little Fockers' Review)

Gulliver's Travels: Jack Black comedy vehicle hitting on Boxing Day, based loosely on Jonathan Swift's novel in a modern setting.

Monsters: Britain's answer to District 9? Reviews are looking good for this low budget science-fiction-love-story-road-trip movie with its very own species of alien squids. Fans of the Watchmen comic can squint hard and imagine its the result of a chaotic Tachyon planned thirty-five minutes ago, and not a David Hayter re-write. Everyone else can enjoy a good sci-fi movie. (12/12/10: NOW WITH A REVIEW: 'Monsters' Review)

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale: This looks pretty interesting; a fairly light horror movie that reveals the 'truth' behind Santa Claus. One young boy gets more than he bargains for when he looks into what his dad's hunting after - a bearded, razor-teethed humanoid with a penchant for eating reindeer...The closest we're gonna get to Gremlins this season?

Unfortunately, both The Black Swan and The Fighter have been pushed back into the new year (The Fighter not hitting till early February). It looks like these two potential Oscar magnets will have to wait. Oh well, Christmas is for DVDs by the fire and all that, right?!