Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Films of Shame: The Godfather Part II

101F25FC-450D-4DB7-86B1-157CF16833EF.jpgFilms of Shame chronicles my impressions of movies I should have seen before now, but haven't. I've already taken Citizen Kane and The Shining off my list. Next will be Annie Hall, and I'll round off the series with Taxi Driver.

The Godfather Part II is one of only two movie sequels to have won the Best Picture oscar. (Bonus points if you can name the other). Although it could equally described as a prequel, since a good part of the movie is spent in the company of the early life of Vito Corleone, played by Robert di Niro. The rest of the movie is spent with his youngest son Michael Corleone as he attempts to follow is his father's footsteps as the new Godfather.

It's been about six/seven years, since I saw The Godfather, and I chose not to watch it before seeing what is considered to be one of the greatest sequels, if not movies, of all time. As an eighteen year-old, I remember thinking the original was good but felt a little bulky in places, such as when Michael goes off to hide in Sicily. Perhaps my views would best be summed up by this clip:

It's fair to say my movie tastes have changed a lot since then, since there was nothing bulky about the sequel, and if I had the chance I would probably give my eighteen year old self a slap across the head and tell him to watch what's really happening.

52178869-C265-4CCB-B95C-97727701EDE3.jpgPerhaps my favourite scene in the movie was when Di Niro in is early days as Don Carleone is asked by an old widow if he would speak to her landlord about her recent eviction. De Niro then asks, in the nicest way possible if the landlord would reconsider. He refuses initially, but after speaking to some of the locals, he returns the next day, clearly shaking with fear about the mistake he almost made.

The scene perfectly sums up the world The Godfather inhabits, and the disconnect between his persona, and the myths and legends that surround him.

It also perhaps sums up the difference between Vito and his successor, Michael, who while feared and respected, perhaps lacks the glint in his eye his father had.

The great thing about The Godfather is that there's so many scenes that will probably be favourites for lots of other people. Scenes that say so much with so little. Since, it's the smiles, raising of an eyebrow, or significant look that all speak way more than the dialogue ever attempts to.

Like all my favourite stories, I think it succeeds because of its ability to force the viewer to lean in and investigate the world further. We become a member of the Corleone family, as we're forced to learn the language they speak and the what words, phrases and gestures really mean. If like me you haven't seen all 390 minutes of the first two Godfathers, then surely that's an offer you can no longer refuse...

Friday, 23 April 2010

What I've Been Watching: Television

A8C0C7D7-2C8C-4572-99DF-7DC5FFAAF7CE.jpgSarah Connor Chronicles: Season 2
The Mother of All Destiny

The Terminator franchise has had a somewhat turmultious history. Terminator and Terminator 2 are considered to be among the best sci-fi movies of all time, containing the performances Arnold Schwarzenegger will be remembered for. Terminator 3 was considered to be a fairly insignificant sequel, just about staying on the right side of average. Finally, Terminator: Salvation was generally considered the biggest disappointment of last year's blockbusters. Having few new ideas or stories to convince us the story Post-Judgment Day is worth telling.

Sarah Connor Chronicles sees the title character's battle to bring up and protect her teenage son, John. He has the unenviable task of leading the humans rebellion against their machine overlords in the future. They have the help of Cameron, a machine FutureJohn has reprogrammed to protect TeenageJohn. Confused? Try not to think about it too much...

Where as season one saw our happy family try to hide and destroy anything that could bring about the rise of the machines, season two sees them more accepting of humanity's fate.

The season is patchy in parts. At its worst, episodes are remakes of the original movies: with our heroes trying to escape a robot sent from the future. Also references to religion were completely misjudged and patronising. With one character being chosen to teach a machine morals purely because of his faith. The subsequent 'theological' conversations failing miserably to hit the depth I feel the writers should have been going for. Evidently, they hadn't seen The Two Cathedrals.

At its best, it compared the struggle to that of seasoned war veterans, who find it difficult to keep going with all the pain and suffering they've endured. Sarah's ongoing struggle to both protect her son, but allow him to become the man he needs to be providing an excellent undercurrent to all the series' events. The two extra protagonists they added, Riley and Jesse, proved to have the most interesting this season. Perhaps the reason they worked so well is that unlike the other characters, they don't have the baggage of the film's canon looming over them.

So a fairly uneven season, that did have some interesting things to say, although I feel the franchise it was based on actually proved to be a hindrance as oppose to a help. Sometimes I wasn't sure the type of show it wanted to be, and too often it would default back to slow motion shots of Terminators unceremoniously taking out an innocent bystander. This lack of forward momentum meant I found it difficult to engage with the storylines at points, and meant I wasn't as engrossed as I could have been.

Sarah Connor Chronicles: Seasons 1 & 2 are both available on DVD right now.

967896E7-F3B4-4899-A86B-7DE7951F5113.jpgMad Men: Season 3
Selling Your Soul

Mad Men has just finished its run on BBC4 and remains just as strong as ever. Set in the sixties it tells the story of an advertising agency in Manhattan.

In a story-telling form similar to The Wire, events take a while to get going, with little appearing to happen from episode to episode. However, since the show is based around on its characterisation, small events or comments can have huge significance later on.

Where the show succeeded most this season was in its amalgamation of its characters and real events from the sixties. In particular the way it handles (SPOILER for real life coming up) the assassination of JFK was a complete triumph. Masterfully combining both a realistic portrayal of how the news came out with possibly the most engaging character moments of the season.

In common with shows like Friday Night Lights and The West Wing (At least Seasons 1 to 4) it's difficult to separate this season's events from previous seasons. This isn't a show you can just pick up at some random point, but rather have to watch from the beginning. It has the philosophy that stories shouldn't explain everything to their audience, but should instead force them to lean in and engage beyond what is merely happening from scene to scene. As such fans of The Wire can rejoice, here's a show that at least comes close to matching its quality, patience and vision.

Mad Men Season 3 is released on DVD this Monday, 26th April in the UK/Ireland

6B7463B7-9BF2-43D5-A441-E033E1E6718E.jpgBeing Human: Season 2
Wanna Watch The Real Hustle?

Being Human has solidified its place among Great British Sci-Fi with its second season. Taking a leaf out of Buffy's book, it does a great job of allowing characters to grow and develop in response to the evil they're fighting.

Having survived a first season, it felt as though the writers had a very clear idea of where they wanted the characters to go this time around.

In particular, the way each episode opened with a flashblack to a character's past really did a great job of extending the world and mythology of the show beyond that of present day Bristol.

The villains for this season were religious fundamentalists. Being Human has dealt with religious themes before. In particular a quote from 1 Corinithians helping convince George to make a significant decision at the end of season one. However, despite some efforts to give a fair representation of religion, they failed: in the world of Being Human, religion is merely used to brainwash characters into unquestionably doing things they wouldn't do otherwise. Instead the villains of the piece were used to support a clear theme of Being Human: that the people we associate ourselves will end up defining us.

There was a great irony to this season, as the more our heroes were told they were less than human, the more they were pushed and attacked, the more monstrous they became. Violence and hatred breeding nothing but the same in return.

This led to a sense of brokenness and despair at the end of the season that had a uniquely British feel to it. Like Torchwood, the world created by the writers is one in which saving the day often comes at a price beyond that which the characters were willing to pay. I'll certainly be watching when the third season returns next year, this time with our characters relocated to Cardiff. Torchwood/Being Human crossover anyone?

Being Human seasons 1 and 2 are both available on DVD right now. (Region 2 only)

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Joss Whedon's Avengers - 5 Reasons To Get Excited

9524BEDF-7AA5-456F-A40F-14964C79D987.jpgThis week came the news that Joss Whedon is in final negotiations to direct The Avengers movie. For those of you who don't know, The Avengers is the name given to Marvel's flagship team. Originally this was Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Ant-Man, Wasp and Thor. Although part of the success of the series has been its ever-changing roster, so characters like Spiderman and Wolverine have also been Avengers at various points in time.

For those of you who don't know who Joss Whedon is, he's the creator of the TV series Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse as well as the internet musical Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog.

Excited yet?

5CC3D523-A91F-4447-8B1C-453CB64BA650.jpgHere's Five Reasons I think you should be:

1) Dialogue.

Possibly what fans will most closely associate him with. Whedon is the master at one liners and pop culture references. Expect both of these, as the superheroes make fun of one another abilities and try to balance the importance of what they're doing (inevitably, saving the world) with the ludicrously of having characters called "Captain America" and "Ant-Man".

2) It's an ensemble piece

What do Firefly, Buffy, Angel, and Dollhouse all have in common? People with various skills joining up to keep evil at bay. Well, that's a coincidence, because that's exactly who the Avengers are. The joy of his shows for me has always been spending time with characters that get on so well and feel like a family. Hopefully he'll be able to create that sense of community in the two hours he'll have for this movie.

3) It'll be camp one minute then break your heart the next.

If we know anything about Joss Whedon's stories, it's that:

a) They can be quite camp: For example, characters breaking into song, characters with names like Buffy, and characters with incredibly tight pants.

b) They'll break your heart: Whedon shows never end well. I won't list the characters that have died, but those of us who've seen the finales to his shows know that the relationships and characters we treasure most are inevitably the ones he chooses to take away.

For an example of something that does both, look no further than Dr Horrible, although be warned: You may laugh and cry uncontrollably as a result.

So don't be at all surprised if one of the more minor characters in the Marvel world is dead by the end of the Avengers movie.

4) Joss Whedon knows his comics.

He did a run on Astonishing X-Men which is considered among fans to be one of the best written stories in its forty year history. He's also a self-confessed comic geek, who has been linked to movies like X-Men and Wonder Woman in the past. This is the chance he's been waiting his whole career for.

5) It'll be epic.

This is the first time a movie like this has ever happened on this scale. We're going to get up to five movies which introduce us to all these characters, then one big one where they join forces to kick ass together. What's not to love?

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

What I've Been Watching: DVD

D1F21E11-1A54-4F7D-AE90-CD7FCEC1D44F.jpgVera Drake
Anyone fancy a cup of tea?

Probably the most well known of Mike Leigh's films, Vera Drake is about a woman who carries out back street abortions without the knowledge of her family. Set in the 1950s, it explores attitudes to sex, families and gender roles/identities.

As I mentioned when I reviewed another of his films, Meantime, Mike Leigh has a very individual way of writing and directing his movies. He starts out with character descriptions which he gives to each character, and dialogue is improvised based on how conversations proceed.

Vera Drake however, is probably the most clearly constructed of his films. There are the same dramatic rise and falls we associate with most mainstream films, as well as character arcs with clear beginnings and endings. The dialogue, however, remains just as realistic and insightful as one has come to expect from Leigh. With short sentences, and characters revealing so much with so little. For example, Vera Drake, speaking of her secret life tells another character:

"I help out young girls"

A4E2DB31-F85A-44D6-9D38-59D336D84044.jpgFrom this we see both Vera's attitude and motivation for what she does. As well as the fact she is unwilling to explicitly spell out she is terminating an embryo, whether for fear of judgement, or because she is unwilling to confront it herself.

Lines like this are littered through out Vera Drake, as characters attempt to say things without upsetting social norms, to give an appearance contrary to the reality of the situation.

The issue of abortion itself is handled in an interesting way. The women Vera meets have both understandable and more selfish reasons for approaching her. However, it is clear Vera wants to give them all the same opportunity, and does not see it as her place to deny someone this choice. If the movie does have a message about abortion, it is perhaps that women should have the right to choose it according to their own circumstances and conscience.

Regardless of whether you agree with that opinion, the movie is still worth watching, as the performances and dialogue are all brilliantly executed. If you took just a random ten minute sample of this movie, I reckon there'd be more insight and depth in that segment than most films manage in their entire runtime.

EA9E8473-7BC1-4F6D-B245-832A52482A86.jpgTo Sleep With Anger
The Trouble With Harry

After watching Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing for my film course, my lecturer recommended this movie as an alternative piece of black cinema. Where as most in this category concentrate on race relations or gangster culture, this movie is a much more sedate look at everyday family life.

The premise is a black middle-class family gets a knock on the door from Harry (Danny Glover), an old friend they haven't seen in years. He gets invited to stay, but soon his differing morals and attitudes cause tensions within the house.

The movie does a great job of slowly introducing us to Harry's true nature, from a friendly, charming stranger, to a much more vindictive and seductive force. It also subtly interweaves plenty of interesting themes: religion, civil rights, and family values.

The narrative should also be given credit for not wasting any scenes or lines. Each one having significance later on, as characters become engulfed in events without quite realising how they got there.

Overall then, this is a movie with a lot of depth, and a great performance from Danny Glover. A simple, but refreshing look at family life and values.

CBC4C65F-393A-4C17-963B-1BE97077F94F.jpgSkeleton Man
If it hadn't been for Cotton-Mouth Joe....

An old tradition in cinema is that of a 'short' being shown before the main feature. I have fond memories of watching a short Mickey Mouse story before re-released Disney classics like The Jungle Book and Cinderella. I assume this was done back in the day because those classics are only eighty as oppose to ninety minutes long.

In an effort to bring back said fond memories, some friends introduced me to B.O.I.D., a ten minute short they had made in their teens. The movie had a surprising amount in common with our main feature of the night, Skeleton Man. Both had barely comprehensible plots, antagonists with skulls that were obviously just masks, and killers with no clear motivation.

The difference of course was that Skeleton Man cost millions of dollars to make, and B.O.I.D. merely the price of the petrol used in one of the best chase scenes ever to be put to screen (where the serial killer, B.O.I.D., brakes to get over a speed ramp safely).

F70DFA4C-03B9-4AD4-934D-FA7938095036.jpgThe other difference is that Skeleton Man has explosions. Lots of them. Possibly more than all of Michael Bay's back catalogue put together. In the opening scene, a scientist is collecting artefacts from an Ancient Indian Burial Ground (never a good idea). Skeleton Man (aka Cotton Mouth Joe) comes in and kills our scientist and takes one of the skulls for his collection. He then decides to blow up the joint, including large parts of his ancestor's heritage you think he might be interested in protecting.

Likewise: lorries, cars, helicopters, power plants and chemical plants all meet similar fates. If it can be put on fire, the movies gonna blow it up.

Of course the irony of seeing such a train wreck is that you get much more enjoyment from predicting deaths, methods and plot twists than you could from an altogether more serious affair. Like the early rounds of Britain's Got Talent , there's something incredibly compelling about watching a perfect storm of dreadfulness.

Such are the obscurity of both To Sleep With Anger and Skeleton Man, I had to add in a plot synopsis to wikipedia for both of them. If you're interested you can read them here, although bear in mind there will be spoilers (although in the case of Skeleton Man, I'm not sure knowing the plot would impact the viewing experience in the slightest):

Monday, 12 April 2010

"The Gift" - Is this the next District 9?

Those of you who have seen District 9 will know what an awesome, original sci-fi movie it is. What you may not know is that it was based on a short-film called Alive in Joburg. Which Peter Jackson was so impressed with, he agreed to fund a feature length film based on its ideas.

Coming in a similar vein is The Gift, a short film which cost $150,000 to make, and its rumoured has since been picked up to made into a full-length movie entitled Small.

Probably one of the most breath-taking short films I've ever seen. I'm really hoping the movie lives up to this promise:

Films of Shame: The Shining

A8E5E0B0-B296-4972-ADEB-4BA88708AF1B.jpgFilms of Shame chronicles my impressions of movies I should have seen before now, but haven't. I've already covered Citizen Kane and aim to watch Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver and Annie Hall after that.

So, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining then. I had the enormous pleasure of catching this film in blu-ray, which is surely the only way to see the visual delights of things like wavs of e blood pouring down to engulf a corridor of The Overlook Hotel, or the amazing tracking shots that take the viewer through the picturesque garden maze at both the beginning and end of the movie. Stunning

The plot, for those of you who haven't seen the appropriate Simpson's Halloween Special, concerns Jack Nicholson taking on the job of a caretaker with his family at an isolated hotel. The snow means Nicholson and his family are in complete isolation for five months, with nothing but the hotel and its dark memories to keep them company. Oh and his son is psychic (or has 'the shining'), and much more aware of the hotel and its ghosts than his parents are.

Movies work best when they are able to evoke the same emotions the characters are feeling. Whether that's the joy of finding your true love in a romantic comedy, the pain of losing someone close to you in a tragedy, or the fear of being victimised in a horror film.

43A39C08-7D8D-4CDC-9FC2-F974676874AD.jpgFitting firmly into the latter category, The Shining is not just effective in its ability to scare you, but crucially in the feeling of insanity it instills. When we meet our protagonist, Jack Torrance, he is what we would expect from a Jack Nicholson character: relaxed, sharp witted, and full of life. However, the more time he spends in the hotel, the more he begins to change. His temper flares up, he becomes more distant and begins to see and speak to things that aren't there.

All of this is deeply unsettling. Not least because the film really takes its time in setting up this feeling. For example, at the start of a new day, the screen will go black and 'Wednesday' will flash up. Then in the next scene we'll see 'Monday'. Is this the following Monday? Is it a Monday two months later? Does it even matter?

Another piece of set-up comes straight after telling us which day it is: with Daniel, the son, riding around on his tricycle around the corridors on the hotel. Through this, we get a sense of the vast space within the place they're staying, and also the isolation one can feel there. Add to that ghosts, dead bodies, and strange voices and you really begin to feel on edge, despite the fact no one has yet been harmed.

It's interesting to note that most of the action and famous scenes in the film (what Jack's novel is about, him with the axe, running around the maze) come in the last half hour. However, knowing these scenes were coming only unsettled me more. Having a crazy character go on a rampage at the start of the movie is one thing. Seeing his slow descent into madness is quite another. In fact, I can think of few movies so patient in their set-up and clinical in their execution as this one.

So The Shining is one of the most unsettling movies you're likely to see. The set design of the hotel and its grounds are a joy to behold, and you can see the care taken with each and every shot of the movie. While the world the camera captures is closing in on itself, the stillness of the frame only serves to highlight the madness you are seeing more. It's quite a remarkable film which deserves not only to be seen, but to be watched again and again.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

What I've Been Watching: Kick-Ass & Whip It

With No Power Comes No Responsibility

When footage from this movie was shown at comic-con, it sent shockwaves through the internet. Bloggers, fanboys, and 'proper' journalists were all raging about how good the movie looked, and in particular the character of 'Hit-Girl', an 11-year-old assassin.

It's perhaps no surprise that director Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Layer Cake) had trouble getting funding for this movie. Like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, he ended up phoning in a few favours and got funding independently. As a result what we see on the screen feels like the fresh, inventive, and compromise-free movie this turn-of-events allowed him to create.

It opens with Dave, a 'typical' high-school teenager wondering why no one has ever become a superhero before. He decides the rectify this, and invents his new alter-ego Kick-Ass. After becoming a youtube phenomenon, he gets contacted by Big Daddy and Hit Girl, and father and daughter combo determined to take down the local mafia boss.

The film works for many reasons. The first is the obvious thought put into the world of Kick-Ass. His costume - He buys on-line, his first confrontation - ends with six months in the hospital. His attention leads him to making enemies with a mafia boss. As Kick-Ass points out "The real world may not have heroes, but it still has villains."

75B6720E-476E-49CF-AB57-90106C010167.jpgThis attention to detail makes the world and its characters very easy to buy into. Their motivations for doing what they do are all very clear. It's easy to sympathise with their plight. The story develops at a very natural pace, as Kick-Ass gets more and more in over his head.

It's also worth pointing out, that despite the obvious implausibility of seeing a young girl be so violent, the relationship between her and Nicholas Cage's Big Daddy is incredibly well written and portrayed.

Before finishing this review, it's important to mention the violence, which although extreme, is no more so than plenty of other movies of similar ilk. For example Sin City, Kill Bill, or 300. Perhaps what makes the violence more shocking is that a large proportion of it is being done by an 11-year-old girl. She slices, dices, and shoots her way through guys twice her height and three times her size with relative ease. Her swearing is also done with similar finesse and lethal precision.

Despite this controversial portrayal, the film does have a moral message of sorts. A stand-out line is when Kick-Ass says, and I'm paraphrasing here:

"What's wrong with me? You three guys are about to kill this one dude, while they just record it on their phones. What's wrong with me?! What's wrong with you?"

Interweaved through out the movie is the way people respond to both real-life violence in front of them, and as shown on the internet. One of the questions the movie seems to ask is has the internet created a world of observers, more likely to record something tragic than prevent it?

Overall, this is a very enjoyable, well made movie that will most definitely become a cult hit. In fact I think it will probably sum up something of this generation when we look back upon it in ten or twenty years time. As such it may be one of the most important movies to come out this year.

D65336CA-E9ED-4C61-9633-9B0BFC194A1E.jpgWhip It
The shoes are a gateway drug.

For me my memories are very closely linked to music and movies. I can catalogue my life's timeline fairly well by my favourite movie/band at the time. For example, I remember the first time I really fell in love with a movie when I was five (Home Alone), or the first band I ever saw live and the impact it had on me(Radiohead).

Strangely, both these experiences were recalled in the movie, with Marv from Home Alone playing Ellen Page's father, and the soundtrack featuring Radiohead, along with some other favourite bands of mine - Kings of Leon, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The Go Team, and MGMT.

Add to that Maeby from Arrested Development, Zoe Bell from Death Proof (the poster for which is on my wall), and of course Ellen Page (Juno), who is fast becoming my favourite person in the world right now. In many ways it feels like someone's looked inside my brain, sucked out my memories and added roller skates to them.

The story is of a girl, Bliss, who's sick of doing pageants at her Mom's bequest, so comes across the roller derby, and decides to give it a shot instead. The roller derby is essentially speed skating meets American Football. One person has to skate as fast as they can, while their teammates block and pummel the opposition skaters. This being a teen movie, she does it without her parent's knowledge. And she meets a boy.

F55CCD79-4818-4251-9C5F-AA8923D758B3.jpgThe plot itself is probably the weakest part of the movie, with few diversions that will surprise the audience. What did surprise me was my attachment to the characters, who all feel like real people, and react in very well-rounded ways to everything that happens. All have well constructed motivations and relationships with enough depth that they never feel like slaves to the story.

In particular the relationship between Ellen Page's character and her mother is incredibly well written and performed. Like the best drama, the joy comes from knowing that both parties have correct points of view, and I became very invested in their relationship as the movie drew to its conclusion.

I'm willing to admit that the combination of an awesome soundtrack, Marv from Home Alone, and Ellen Page meant I had a lot of sympathy for this movie to start with. However, I do feel like there is a genuine quality here that fans of coming-of-age movies like Juno and An Education will appreciate.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

New Treme Trailer (From Creators of The Wire)

A few months ago I featured the teaser trailer for Treme, the new show based in New Orleans, from the creators of The Wire.

Since then, they've released this trailer, which gives us a much better idea of what to expect from the show:

You'll notice in the trailer, we get John Goodman bookending the footage, talking about what's great about New Orleans: the music, the food, the people.

It seems like this show will do for that city, what The Wire did for Baltimore. Although, the trailer at least, makes it seem more like a love letter than The Wire's warts and all depiction of The City That Bleeds. Nevertheless, given David Simon's history of creating realistic depictions of people, places and events, I don't think the show will match this tone as it progresses.

The characters are what we'd expect from the talent involved. Wendell Pierce (aka Bunk) is a talented but drunken musician , Steve Zahn is loveable mess of a DJ, Clarke Peters (aka Lester) is a stubborn man, determined to live in what remains of his house.

Finally, it's clear that the gap between the federal government's aid and what the people actually need will be a clear theme in the first season. A stand-out line for me was:

"Still got a lot of water?"
"Oh not much... less than a foot."

That and the 'foreign' interviewer implication that New Orleans is no longer a great city, no longer a city worth saving seems to be the lens through which this story will be told.

Treme debuts on HBO in America this Sunday 11th April . No word yet on any UK networks buying the show.

Monday, 5 April 2010

What I've Been Watching: Cinema

BBB07D0F-FC3A-4E6B-8A1F-F63363F46070.jpgShutter Island
Which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man?

Scorsese is a director known for hard-hitting films that never stray far from violence. In many ways, Shutter Island lives up to this reputation. The main character, Teddy, in his determination to find out the truth about what's happening on the island, won't let anyone get in his way. He is a man filled with regret and anger.

Part of this anger comes from losing his wife, who frequently appears to him in dreams as the movie continues. I've mentioned before that I don't especially like movies with mysteries. And Shutter Island's weakest point is undoubtedly this element. In fact, the obviousness of the 'twist' here, leads me to wonder whether Scorsese wanted us to consider the other, stronger elements of the narrative.

Those elements deal with the reaction of war - Teddy is harbouring guilt over an act committed towards defenceless NAZI soldiers. Part of this delves into the nature of memory: and whether it is better to deal with things that have happened or try to repress them completely.

The superbly ambiguous nature of the protagonist's choice at the end of the movie, in addition to the underlying themes give the movie a depth which can be easily missed. In fact, I wonder how much better it would have been if the audience knew the twist from the beginning and were left to ask the interesting questions the story raises from the start. I also wonder if this is a movie, like Polanski's Chinatown that may hold up very well on repeat viewings, as the true story is allowed to take precedence over the fairly unambitious mystery elements.

7E382CFC-095F-412C-A082-CFB62CFAAA3D.jpgGreen Zone
Don't be so naive

Movies about the times we live in are always difficult to make. Whether they're an accurate representation or not can surely only be judged a few more years down the line. For example, Wall Street, with its tagline "Greed is Good" stands up not only as a depiction of the 80s, but also as the philosophy which led to The Great Recession we now find ourselves in.

You see Green Zone has been widely slated by critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a rating of 54%. Given that Greengrass' other four movies all get 80%+ on the same site, one has to question how a director could fail to woo the critics so spectacularly?

Technically, this film is just as spectacular as the others. Greengrass' now trademark 'shaky-cam' continues to be used with prowess, as always giving you a sense of being there right among the action. The opening scene with a sniper, and the closing chase scene, sit comfortably alongside the best of Bourne.

Nevertheless, in Bloody Sunday, United 93 and Bourne Supremacy/Ultimatum, the director brought us somewhere we had never been before. Whether the streets of Derry on that infamous day; a plane on 9/11; or in the shoes of a rogue CIA agent, each was a unique experience that felt very different to anything we had seen on screen before.

The Iraq War, however, is a different beast altogether. I think it's fair to say this has been the most widely covered war ever. News crews have been on the ground since day zero, we've known every operation, every strategy, and in time, every lie. So creating a fictionalised tale about the real events of the war seems a little superfluous. Regardless of the truth of the more unlikely events in the movie, we are left questioning them because we know so much.

In addition the clear message of the movie: "there were never any WMDs" is much like making a film about Tiger Woods with the message "he had lots of affairs". i.e. Entirely Pointless. For me the interesting thing will be to see how this movie is looked back upon in ten/twenty years time. Will it be seen as the definitive account of this generation's Vietnam? Or will movies like The Hurt Locker or The Valley of Elah be used to sum up the most significant of wars this generation.

3F6738A6-3CFC-42CA-9501-0E65DF49BD4E.jpgHow To Train Your Dragon
What are you going to do now?
Something Crazy!

Another week, another 3D film. The more I see them, the more I agree with Mark Kermode's view that it's a gimmick. After a few minutes, I'd forgotten about the extra dimension before me. Instead I was left captivated by a simple, but surprisingly effective tale about a boy and his dragon. Maybe 3-D should just be used for movies that would otherwise bore the viewer.

Among the remarkable things about this Dreamworks animation is the cinematography, and in particular the opening scene. As the movie opens the camera sweeps through the small town our hero 'Hiccup' inhabits, and introduces us to all of the characters we'll be spending the next 90+ minutes with. As he's making the introductions, the town's being attacked my dragons. The energy and low, shaky camera reminded me a lot of one of the best opening scenes of all time: Saving Private Ryan.

Aside from this 'live-action' cinematography, the film itself kept me engaged throughout. It felt fresh and new, with great dialogue, pacing and had a well-fleshed out message about understanding those different from us. Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay How to Train your Dragon is that if someone told Pixar had made it, I wouldn't have blinked an eyelid.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Top 5 Time Travellers

B2E5BE13-8D5C-4CC0-8B48-54AE5221169B.jpgToday (Saturday) sees the return of Doctor Who, complete with new Tardis, new assistant and a new Doctor, played by Matt Smith. Time travelling as a concept, was arguably popularised by H.G. Wells Time Machine. Certainly the common notion of having a vehicle/device to transport you through time can be linked back to this story. In celebration of this most paradoxical of plot-devices I've devised the following list:

Top 5 Time Travellers

5. Bill & Ted
Every time I think about the plot of this movie, I wonder if I got it right. Bill & Ted get taken on a trip through time so they can pass their history class, otherwise Ted will be shipped to military school, and the Wyld Stallyns will never make the music that forms the utopian society of the future with its very simple philosophy:

Be Excellent to each other. And Party on Dudes!

It's strange that I was first introduced to Genghis Khan, Napoleon and Abraham Lincoln through this movie (and possibly also the short-lived animated series) but there you go. In fact, growing up most of my knowledge of non-British history comes from films/shows like Forest Gump, Animaniacs, etc. It makes me wonder how many kids nowadays were first introduced to Shakespeare and Dickens through their appearance in Doctor Who? Or whose primary knowledge of the past is through the excellent Horrible Histories series? Anyway back to matters at hand:

0E965B5A-3357-4E0B-AD18-5A34D568B34F.jpg4. Donnie Darko
Perhaps a less obvious time-traveller than all the others. However, his conversations with the bunny rabbit, following of worm holes, and so on have definitely earned him a place. Without spoiling anything, its surprising that his decision at the end of the movie hasn't been considered more often by time travellers. It and It's a Wonderful Life would make a brilliantly murky double bill.

3. Hiro (Heroes)
Say what you want about Heroes, in its prime you couldn't help but smile as Hiro got to grips with controlling time and space. His determination to follow a hero's arc, based on superheroes he has read about, feels like a very noughties concept. I often felt sorry for his character as he went on all these ridiculous journeys in later seasons, why couldn't his adventures be as cool as his role-models like Superman or Spiderman?

2. The Terminator
Come with me if you want to live.
There's a lot of great things about the first two Terminator movies. Perhaps the most obvious is the fact that Arnie has only ever been believable in his role as an almost indestructible being. He truly was born to play a robot.

Beyond that, I think the idea of a mother being told her son is destined for greatness is a very powerful one. And Sarah's arc in doing her utmost to protect and develop her son has a surprising amount of depth in it.

Finally the time travel in the movie exists essentially without rules. It's never really established how the technology came about, or whether its creators know whether it's even possible to change the past. It's probably the only movie about time travel where the concept is of little importance to the characters involved.

69116E14-3AA6-47BC-BE6F-277BB70CC455.jpg1. Marty McFly
Marty McFly almost sums up the 80s for me, or at least teen movie stars in the 80s. He's wise-cracking, slick, and confident; he's the guy all the geeks in 80s movies wanted to be. As a child my favourite scene was always the climax of him playing "Johnny Be Good" to get his parents together. Although the brilliantly played scene when he ends up being seduced in his mother's bedroom has probably overtaken it since then.

It's influence on me is such that the rules established in this movie about setting things right for the future, and not seeing your future self are the rules for time travelling. And I always have a deep suspicion for any story where claims to the contrary are made. Example of the types of conversations that go on in my head: "He's meeting his former self - why isn't the universe imploding?! I've never seen something so ridiculous in all my life! Don't they know ANYTHING about time travelling?"

Over to you now: What are you favourite time travellers? Is there any movie/television show whose time travel rules you consider absolutely definitive?