Saturday, 29 January 2011

'Biutiful' Review

A somewhat shortened version of this review is available at the Oxford Student Website.

Given the offerings of his career, one would be hard
pressed to call Alejandro Iñárritu a cheeky chap. Having finished his sombre Death trilogy a few years ago with the Brad Pritt vehicle, Babel, he has now turned his possibly joyless eyes to Biutiful, a master-class in audience depression. Near unremitting in its bleak portrayal of the hardships faced in the Barcelona underworld, Iñárritu’s latest may be another gloom-fest, but it is also thought provoking and engaging, with a tender hear underlying the melodrama.

Divorced father, psychic, and petty crook Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is continually struggling to make ends meet for his family. As a middle-man for Barcelona’s networks of illegal immigrants, as well as an occasional speaker for the dead, his unconventional attempts to help others override the attention he must give at home. His children, whilst loved, need attention, but the real complications lie in his newly discovered knowledge that he has terminal cancer. What follows chronicles Uxbal’s final days, struggling to put his not inconsiderable affairs in order before it’s too late. On the surface, it’s fairly clichéd stuff, not always helped by the fact that Uxbal, as seemingly one of the only people who actually cares, is recurrently referred to in prophetic terms, and the plot sometimes lumbers under its own beating of concepts. What carries the film –at times making it soar – is the great combination of Bardem’s extensive range and the wonderful cinematography of the film. In execution, this simple melodrama achieves lyrical qualities, the gaudy, artificial delights of inner-city Barcelona haunted by suggestions of a beauty that lingers just beyond the camera’s gaze. Mirrors and shadows don’t always match their subjects, and the notion of death increasingly becomes something surprisingly mystical against the standard existential tones the film plays with.

With his clairvoyant powers and genuine concern for others, Uxbal’s quest to help, whilst also looking after himself, forces a conflicting agenda with painful consequences for all. When pitted with the seeds of Spanish Christianity that run through the film, it’s hard not to see tinges of the Old Testament in Uxbal’s story; wracked with guilt by the inadequacies of his actions, underneath all of the drama I couldn’t help but feel there was a larger, overruling message. Whatever it was never seemed fully realised enough to come to fruition; is this the story of the power of family? The inadequate reality of real life saints? Whilst both these and other readings seem valid, none seems to have sufficient weight behind it to really elevate the film beyond its role as a well filmed melodrama.

In the end though, it is hard not to care for Uxbal; his joys, as well as his plight, feel real, and the film isn’t marred by his own story so much as it is by the incidental narratives occurring around him – threads don’t always tie up, and by the end, the director’s piling of obstacles becomes a little obvious. Despite its flaws, however, Biutiful is a compelling piece of cinema that lingers after watching. It may not be for everyone, but those who can stomach its slow, dark rhythms, its clawing at something not quite there, will find something worth the price of a cinema ticket.

Friday, 28 January 2011


Proof of the power in editing. Fantastically silly proof, but still proof.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

'Dr. No' and his friends, the Messrs. Bond

This is the first in a series of monthly pieces on the James Bond franchise, as part of The Incredible Suit's great Blogalongabond. For more info, check out here, and here. Everyone else seemed to be having fun so I decided to be awkward and pretentious because I'm like that, HA. 

Given that, at least in filmic form, James Bond is pushing fifty, it’s not all that surprising that the man’s changed a bit over the years. Even without the periodic facelifts, the seemingly unflappable agent with a license to kill has nevertheless had a few...identity crises. For, as time wanes on, the Britain Ian Fleming wrote within becoming an ever more distant memory, the Bond films find themselves in a bit of a dilemma; how can they continually present this figure as fresh and contemporary whilst still holding to his roots? It’s a question with interesting answers, particularly when Bond’s debut, Dr. No (1962), is considered.

And what an auspicious debut it is! Like the man himself, the disarming charm of Dr. No hides a self-assured, measured approach to violence that results in an engaging, often intelligent work, subtly balancing Jamaica, the sinister Crab Key Island, and of course, 007 himself. The parts fit together with an ease later films struggle to emulate. Connery’s Bond hasn’t yet had a chance to become caricature - a new cinematic figure, the Bond of Dr. No is an all-round more calculating figure, not yet having to rely utterly on the gadgets of Q or a more contrived appliance of his occasional gallows humour. In short, the reason this 007 takes the sheer liberty of actually wearing a hat is because he’s yet to become confined to his role as an institution rather than a living, breathing character.

The Bond of Dr. No is by no means vulnerable – indeed, his awareness of his own charms is perhaps at its most astute; in a wonderful double-bluff on the audience, Miss Taro fools us into thinking she has perhaps fallen for Bond’s charm, only to have staged another attempt at his life. Bond’s playing with the situation in turn becomes so explicit that, when he does ‘win' the wily Miss Taro, it becomes coldly clear that this is a man who uses sex as a weapon. Somewhere along the way of 007 becoming a collection of character traits, these more alarming tendencies have got lost by the wayside. Whether this is a product of modernity or numbing, or both, will hopefully be revealed more over the course of this series, but it is interesting to note that, in his first on-screen appearance, James is surrounded by the same old, white males who run the fading Imperial Britain he was conceived in. In the hazy nostalgia of this smoke-filled casino, a cinema scene hard to find in today’s age, his youthful vigour may stand out, but it is clear that these people equally represent a system 007 is a part of.

Naturally, as the first of its kind, Dr. No is also one of the most complete feeling Bond films; the audience needs no prior knowledge of expected tropes or character traits upon which the plot has been daintily hung, and a feeling of the ephemeral is rejected in clear allusions to a future threat, SPECTRE – a sense of continuity that has only recently returned to the franchise with Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008). As themselves something of a more concrete, ‘fresh start’, there are clear implications regarding Bond’s own sense of character in these later films that will be returned to when we reach them. For now, I’d like to close with a slightly off-track piece of information that, I think, will help illuminate the particular reading of the Bond series I'm pursuing here. In 2008, Sebastian Faulk’s Devil May Care was released. The first new Bond novel in six years, its plot returned Bond to the character’s original world of the Sixties, directly continuing from Fleming's own timeline. The following Bond novel, Carte Blanche, by Jeffery Deaver, is due later this year. Not only has it rejected the Sixties setting of the previous book in favour of modern day Dubai, it has done so to confront issues of Bond’s single-mindedness and sense of entitlement – in short, the essence of his character, which happens to be rooted in a very traditional, patriarchal sense of Britain. This might all seem a bit wishy-washy, but stick with me; it’s a thread I intend to return to in later Bond movies with a bit more clarity. After all, in Dr. No, SPECTRE was just a name, and James Bond will return...

Sunday, 23 January 2011

'Black Swan' Review

I fondly remember watching The Wrestler for the first time last Christmas. A film with a soul, Randy’s self-destructive obsession with his art was beautifully realised, his world one that, in feeling so true, was ultimately all the more heart-breaking. A master-class in character pieces, it was everything Aronofsky's latest, Black Swan isn’t; to call Black Swan a film about ballet and its pressures on the performers is to misjudge the underlying tone and clear genre tropes that abound within – in short, this isn’t a successor to Randy’s all too real fall. What it is, is a magnificent psychological horror film, as accomplished in its distinct genre as The Wrestler was to sports drama, and Requiem to a Dream was to the horrors of drug culture.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a performer at a prestigious New York ballet company. Utterly dedicated to her art, Nina’s life is built around perfection of the body and restraint of the mind, honing herself into what she perceives is the ultimate dancer. Her dedication looks to be paying off when the company’s director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) casts her as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake, with a difference; she will play both the virginal, beautiful White Swan and the dangerously seductive Black Swan, two vitally different roles. What results tests Nina’s personal boundaries and self-understanding, as she is forced to contend with three major female forces; her suffocating mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), the shadow of former star Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder), and, above all, the sheer force of sensuality that powers her rival dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) – naturally taking up the sexuality in performance Nina fails to achieve through pure technique.

In so embracing ballet, Nina’s life, controlled by her passive-aggressive mother, has in a very devastating sense become her art; confronted with the need to feel and project emotion into her role, Nina’s sense of self is revealed as hollow and contained, still trapped in the childhood she’s never truly left. Like Polanski’s Repulsion, this is a film as much about one girl’s fear of her own sexual capabilities as it is one of the terrifying consequences of single-mindedness. The alternate blacks and whites of the ballet forever surround Nina, at home, on stage, and in the people who surround and control her, as performance and reality coalesce and clash with increasingly dire consequences for Nina’s fragile state of mind.

Filmed with the same grainy 16mm film that gave such character to The Wrestler, Aronofksy’s camera work is so tight it frequently becomes claustrophobic, its containment mirroring Nina’s own suffocation, and allowing for the occasional use of typical horror tropes, bringing to surface the underlying dread that pervades the film. Nina’s achievements toward perfection only ever feel like another step toward her inevitable fall – even in the film’s moments of  dance, beautifully rendered, we feel, rather than a moment of personal control, perhaps even closer to the edge Nina is tottering over, as the bombast of Swan Lake’s score undercuts the increasing melodrama on  screen.

It would be a disservice to say that Black Swan is this year’s antidote to the usual January slump; if it had been released in the UK last December, I would have no hesitation in pitting it as my film of 2010. As it is, Black Swan has set a very high benchmark for the year to come, one in which I look forward to what the likes of True Grit and The Fighter have to offer against this behemoth, perhaps the greatest Hollywood psychological horror since The Silence of the Lambs. For your own sake, go and see it.

Friday, 21 January 2011

'The Green Hornet' Review

A shortened version of this review is available at The Oxford Student website

What do you get when you mix Michel Gondry’s individualist visuals with the mumblecore stoner humour of Seth Rogen? An odd mix. Especially when you consider that their latest feature, The Green Hornet, doesn’t naturally lend itself to either. Finding its origins in the heyday of American radio serials, and later being revived in the 60s in a Batman type show that made Bruce Lee a Western star, the original Green Hornet was part of a world where crime-solving was an adventure and everything came with an extra serving of dash and charm. Not exactly a world we’d imagine Seth Rogan entering, let alone rewriting with long-time scripting partner Evan Goldberg. As a result, what could have been a much-needed revival of classic serial storytelling with a postmodern twist is instead another Starsky and Hutch, a piece of pointless pop culture flotsam that will happily drift by.

Its story is a semi-parody of the principles behind Batman and Iron-Man, with Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) as a thoroughly Apatowian brand of playboy party-man with a scruffy edge. A lifelong disappointment to his father James, owner of the morally righteous Daily Sentinel, Britt’s carefree days are seemingly brought to an end upon the sudden demise of James, the newspaper entering his incapable hands. Realising his life now has no meaning, and that his car mechanic / barista / all powerful Kung Fu character Kato (Jay Chou) is a human “Swiss Army Knife”, Britt fulfils his childhood dream of becoming a masked hero, but with a twist; the Daily Sentinel will portray them as the criminals Green Hornet and His Chauffer. It’s a fun, if somewhat illogical, premise that, in its best moments, has that feeling of a classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons, where the protagonist’s goofy victories are entirely the aid of his knowing compatriots. Unfortunately, having failed to play with the cinema conventions of the 1940s, the movie fails also to really build on this potential cartoon feel, with the discrepancy in talent between the two heroes being milked to the point of pain. Rogan’s Green Hornet quickly descends into his trademark manchild role, forcing the majority of the film to chronicle his awkward journey into selflessness, something that, even if we hadn’t seen it before, would still feel incongruous against the idea of fun adventure we’re supposed to buy into. That’s right; even though the film has no sense of real adventure, Rogan ensures the word is bandied everywhere by Britt to keep the tenuous link to the source material alive.

As such, what was a promising first third, complete with a great Gondry action sequence that again evokes something of a 60s cartoon, quickly becomes stuck in a rut for much of the film, as everyone seems to be waiting for the climax pieces to come together. Christopher Waltz struggles as the villain Chudnofsky, a silly, anaemic role that he can’t help but phone in. Meanwhile Cameron Diaz is both miscast and infuriating as the pointless Lenore Case, Britt’s secretary who manages to take the misogyny behind the Smart Female Stereotype to a whole new level.

It’s an incredible shame, as Chou in particular never fails to entertain, and the banter between him and Rogen, when allowed to reveal its underlying heart, really works. Instead, both this and Gondry’s idiosyncratic eye seem to be on the backburner for much of the film rather than being built upon. It all becomes very forgettable and slightly frustrating - complete with inappropriately shoe-horned 3D - setting up a new comedy hero franchise that probably won’t ever see the light of day.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Short Stuff #1: Spike Jonze

Bored? Fancy a quick fix of filmic fun? Then you could do a lot worse than check out some of these works by Spike Jonze.

I'm Here (2010)
Don't be put off by the clear alcohol endorsement in the subtitle; sci-fi love story I'm Here is a fun allegory on giving yourself to your partner and becoming a true pair. A killer soundtrack (very impressed by the use of Dr. Dog), some nice cinematography, and an interesting aesthetic for the robots - particularly our hero, Sheldon - all make for a bittersweet thirty minutes topped off with Andrew Garfield's puppy-dog voice. That guy is great, isn't he just great?

How They Get There (1997)
I think it's fair to say that Spike Jonze music videos helped define the 90s. Colourful, with a sense of ironic American whimsy that would come to be found everywhere in MTV, the likes of 'Buddy Holly' and 'It's Oh So Quiet' are nothing short of classic. So naturally I haven't bothered to include them (if you haven't seen them, whip yourself silly and find them, you dirty child), but have instead opted for a lesser known short that, in its disturbing, mythic pay-off, lends a new sense to the idiosyncratic buoyancy of Jonze's work at the time.

Ikea Lamp Commerical (2002)
Jonze wouldn't be part of the 90s without some blatant commercialism. As well as advertising for GAP, that other decade mainstay, Jonze directed this commercial for Ikea which is actually pretty damn good. Its manipulation of cinematic POV to imbue the lamp with a sense of personality is utterly convincing on the first watch, and the deflating ending, as in 'How They Get There', is wonderfully left of field, fulfilling the piece's role as an advert whilst also revealing the artificiality of what we've just seen.

If you like Spike's stuff here, you should jump in a Delorean and go back fifteen years. Alternatively, check out some of Michel Gondry's music videos, similarly eclectic and decade defining.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

'The Next Three Days' Review

A somewhat shortened version of this review is also available at The Oxford Student.

More and more, it seems Paul Haggis simply struck lucky with Crash. Worthy and self-righteous, it’s a nauseous tone all of his films seem to carry, and yet somehow it all held together in 2004 and won Academy attention. Over six years on, and such plaudits will be found nowhere around the ambiguously titled The Next Three Days, another example of how to push ‘belief in good’ to its sickeningly smug extreme. Part crime thriller, part domestic drama, all sloppy, The Next Three Days never manages to make up the sum of its various parts, its two hour run-time becoming an ever more transparent endurance test on the part of the audience.

It’s not helped in that the premise reeks of Scriptwriting 101, the film itself a classic instance of cinematic remodeling that borders on the clinical (The Next Three Days is a remake of the 2008 Fred Cavaye film Pour Elle). John Brennan’s (Russell Crowe) life is pretty great. Married to the beautiful, successful Lara (Elizabeth Banks), father of little Luke, with a job as a college lecturer, the middle class family picture couldn’t be any clearer. And then it all comes crashing down when Lara is imprisoned for murder, and John’s world quickly descends into one of an obsessive search for answers, and, ultimately, escape. Sound familiar? It should; we’ve all seen this movie before, and it was a lot more interesting the first few times round, particularly when it was called The Fugitive.

Yet The Next Three Days could perhaps have done with following its clear influences a little further in dramatic structure. Brennan’s quest to secure his wife’s release is presented in an overwrought manner that, in the light of conclusive evidence, quickly becomes ridiculous; his elaborate efforts to take the law into his own hands and free his wife from the state penitentiary all being set up by handy trips to the college library and a few easy to find Youtube videos. Brennan could make a career out of being an armchair escapist; a mid-life crisis MacGuyver who uses tennis balls to break into secured vehicles. Halfway through the film, suggestions that all of this might be an elaborate deconstruction of the vendetta movie are swiftly blown away – literally – in the movie’s only true action sequence, as Brennan, having curb crawled the local drug hot spot for fake passports, awkwardly wreaks revenge on the dealer who stole his money in a set piece that effectively sums up the whole movie; illogical. Yet where Pour Elle was at least praised for its breakneck pace and pilings of suspense, The Next Three Days offers neither, it’s absurd plot devices revealed nakedly amidst endless, slovenly composed scenes of exposition – because, lest we forget, Brennan is taking things to the next level here.

Trapped in the interminable plot, amidst a cast that seem to be phoning in their performances – complete with the current master of shameless cash grabs, Liam Neeson – the always dependable Crowe and Banks actually play their parts with a strong sense of conviction, holding things together just long enough to see us through to the end. But it's poor recompense. Rushed in at the year’s opening with minimal marketing, The Next Three Days is one of ‘those’ January films, exactly the kind of thing Up in the Air was an antidote against this time last year. If nothing else though, the anaemic kid playing Brennan Jr. has my vote for ‘Most Annoying Child Actor of the Year’, just two weeks into the new year. 

Oh and it has RZA in it. Woop-de-doo.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Andrew Garfield Spider-man First Pic

Click for Hi-Res

Well, well, well. This reboot is looking even more interesting. Press details so far have pushed the sense of poverty facing Peter Parker in the upcoming 2012 Spider-man movie starring Andrew Garfield, and from this image it seems that the darker, psychological side of having it rough is being hammed up (because post-Miller Batman makes gritty every medium he touches) rather than the whole economical issue. Or at least that seems to be the case on the costume front; this thing's pretty damn sleek.

The designers seem to have borrowed from the House of M Spidey look, along with maybe a little of the whole aesthetic seen in Marvel's Avengers umbrella (of which Spider-man, being under Sony and not Disney, is not a part). The reduction of connective parts to the limbs and torso creates a more streamlined design, particularly with the parallel lines of the spider legs against the closing V of the torso emblem, but I'm not sure if he looks a bit naked without the belt piece. It would help if we could see his legs. The blue slashing on the gloves is a nice touch and LOOK - web shooters. If they're going to work in the financial strains on Parker of being Spider-man, these little gadgets would be a good place to start.

Call me a geek, but I'm very, very excited for this one.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

'Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives' Review

 A shorter version of this review may be found on The Oxford Student 

The final part of Weerasethakul’s ‘Primitive’ project continues the elusive, idiosyncratic exploration of Isaan, Thailand’s history that defined such previous pieces as A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (a short piece of meta-cinema that acts as something of a direct companion to the feature film, available to view online). Yet Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is also a fascinating piece of magical realist cinema in its own right, an enchanting vision of family and cultural identity threatened by the approach of the modern world.

The film opens with the arrival of Tong and Aunt Jen at Uncle Boonmee’s honey farm. Boonmee, it seems, is dying, and he needs their help in his final days. From the outset, the film’s minimal use of soundtrack and long, lingering takes found a sense of serenity upon which the film’s magic will continue to work for its duration, with Boonmee soon being visited by some rather unexpected guests. For upon the first meal together, Boonmee is forced to reconsider his past lives as a husband and a father, through the miraculous return of both his dead wife Huay’s spirit, and his missing son Boonchong, now transformed into the visually arresting Monkey Ghost; an elusive creature of legend that lingers in the forests just outside of Boonmee’s village. Boonmee, Tong and Auntie Jen quickly learn to roll with the encroachment of the fantastical into their mundane daily lives, and in talking with Huay and Boonchong are confronted with the possibilities of worlds beyond our understanding, worlds that can only be entered through a transformation - or death - of the self.
Weerasethakul’s clashing of two distinct realities is subtle and dream-like, recalling the minimalism of Japanese cinema, with the result being a lyrical mood-piece that the audience absorbs and intuits. Whilst Boonmee, in the relative present, becomes reacquainted with the family had lost in the past few years, the ‘lives’ he had forgotten, we are intermittently treated to scenes from the far past; minimalist episodes that hint at what may be the true past lives of Boonmee and his family – the thwarted attempts of a bull to escape from its confines and roam in the mystical forests of Isaan, or the far more bizarre remedy a water spirit provides for the aging princess it alone loves, a remedy that involves the tender caress of a catfish avatar. Against this evocation of a mystical past, threats of communist violence and the emptiness of the modern age break through and disrupt the richness of Thailand’s culture, with Boonmee’s future looking utterly devoid of the gentle magic blooming through his past lives.

The metaphor may sound somewhat lofty, but Weerasethakul’s highly non-Western approach gives the piece as a whole a strong sense of a self-contained reality; a dream within which its own events are utterly logical – hints of interconnection and deeper meaning beyond the conscious surface resound throughout, and the film lingers with you long after watching. Unfortunately, for all its enchanting mysticism, the film always felt somewhat detached for me, and a I felt a little more alienated from the touching portrayal of family life at the film’s core than I would have liked. This became particularly acute for me upon leaving the cinema, where a moment that simply felt drawn out to me was a personal climax for my friend. Nevertheless, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives was a thoroughly intriguing piece, a strong example of mood cinema that, whilst likely alienating the casual audience, will be of immense interest to the cinephile. To throw in the Empire approach; if you’re wondering what a Miyazaki script directed by David Lynch might look like, this may well be the closest you’re going to get.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

'The King's Speech' Review

I’ve never watched The Queen. When it came out in 2006, I thought it was going to be one long, lofty ‘event’ that engaged in wholesale Royalist masturbation that would be better left unseen. “Oh what a wonderfully human Queenie she is too!” And whilst I may well be wrong, I’ve still yet to watch it, despite it sitting in the family DVD collection. Royal films are easy to get cynical about; the British Royals are a frankly bizarre species when considered as human beings, not as some institutional abstract, and stories on the royal family are going to be presenting exactly that – this notion that the word family, when applied to the Monarchy, still has some universal appeal. The Queen achieved this through presenting the tension between the duties of being the Head of State and dealing with the loss of the Prince of Wales’ wife, Princess Diana. And of course The King’s Speech is no different; Prince Albert (Colin Firth) may not be the direct heir to the throne but – Oh no! King Edward (Guy Pearce) is marrying indecently and can no longer bear the Crown. But ol’ Bertie’s got a stammer! The material is easy pickings for a royalty piece that attempts some sense of relation between us guttersnipes and the Anointed.

And yet, for all my cynicism (and that of many others), The King’s Speech is a pretty fine movie. Whilst the plotline could easily allow for some martyr-like construction of Bertie’s transformation into King George VI – the classic ‘boy-done-good’ formula – what actually follows is intriguingly aware of the unreality that comes with being a human placed within an emotionally removed institution. Colin Firth’s Bertie may be a good man, but he is also ill-tempered, whiny, and stuck with a stammer that his own family abhor. Bertie’s efforts to overcome this impediment in the dawning age of radio, whilst lovingly aided by wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) and unconventional speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), is forever cast in the shadow of not only his role as orator for the people, but his own sense of failure within the impossible perfection of the Royal family. In Bertie’s eyes, Edward may choose to fail, but Bertie doesn’t even have that luxury, his stammer an ugly, frustrating thing, captured magnificently in what is surely Firth’s finest performance to date. It is easy to claim – particularly in light of the recent Palm Springs gimmick with Helen Mirren – that to take on a Royal role is to dance around in blatant Oscar bait, and whilst it may be true, Firth’s agitated performance lends great depth to a character that could easily have become a caricature. His stammer is so real, so instinctual, that I left the cinema lamenting the sorry state of his throat after takes. Yet this isn’t merely a one man show; Bonham Carter’s Elizabeth provides a touchingly plucky foil to the solemnity of her husband, whilst Geoffrey Rush as the actor-turned-doctor Logue was a personal revelation, and by the end of the film, I found myself at times rooting for Logue more than even the titular King.

However, this is not a film without its flaws, and it does unfortunately fall into a trap many may have anticipated; whilst it may not handle its subject matter with overt reverence and wide-eyed wonder, it does seem to get stuck in something of a loop, the dramatic structure repeating itself no less than three times in an effort to create some sort of crescendo-like sense of crisis for Bertie. Instead, it highlights how little the film really has to go on in terms of its gimmick; there are only so many times the audience will feel for Bertie and Lionel when they once again part ways after another lovers’ tiff. Nevertheless, the lavish, colourful production values of a Britain on the cusp of World War II, coupled with the fantastic performances of the core cast, elevate the film from these lesser moments. The King's Speech, as a whole, proved to be a compelling character piece, earning the Academy attention it will no doubt receive later this year. I may end up digging out that old The Queen DVD after all.

Friday, 7 January 2011

"It's like Facebook but...for movies! Yeah"

Okay so it's not really like facebook at all, but film-based social network site MUBI (formerly known as The Auteurs) has come to my attention. It's sort of like that Flixster app everyone had on their facebook profiles a few years ago, but far sleeker and more expansive, with great editorial pieces and

a fantastic independent pay-per-view catalogue

Pretty nifty eh? If you join, give me an add; my username is ZORKISKY

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

'Dead Leaves' are very colourful

As a sort of acknowledgment of how far behind I am in anime, I'd like to take this opportunity to make you aware of a rather nifty little bit of animation that's only...six years old. In my defense, its one that I have yet to see mentioned in those tired 'Best Animation that's not Disney' tables that always, always call on Princess Mononoke, Fantastic Planet etc. All very fine films, but as I've said before, once we're past the 20th century, it's like only Ghibli or Pixar seem to matter, with the latest highly politicized animation winning over the academics for a time.

Step forth Dead Leaves, a 2004 Japanese feature film from Production I.G., the same team behind perhaps the only non-Ghibli anime film still actively coveted by Western critics; Ghost in the Shell. Dead Leaves is a madcap, interstellar prison-break movie, where the criminals have TVs for heads, or drills downstairs (a nice nod to Tetsuo: The Iron Man), and the wardens are suffering from a bad case of schizophrenia. Whilst this is bizarre enough, it's really only an excuse, like director Imaishi's previous work on the fantastic FLCL, to push hand-drawn animation to its beautiful, intense limits. The film's short run time (44min) is more than made up for through its hyper-kinetic pacing and exuberant art style; a non-stop, lightning-quick bullet ballet that is nevertheless utterly smooth and fluid. It's totally creamy visual candy, the likes of which is rarely seen in today's animation, and it's a testament to the movie's fine production values that, even on DVD, the clarity of the picture and vibrancy of palette is astounding. The clip below really doesn't do the movie justice, but if you're into animation, you could do a lot worse than Dead Leaves (and, if you have time, make way for FLCL too)