It should be noted that if you haven’t seen ‘Prometheus’, you shouldn’t be reading this…at all.
By now, for most of you, the cat is out of the bag. Ridley Scott’s long-awaited return to sci-fi has well and truly landed and has thus far split critics and fans right down the middle. To be fair to Scott, I’m fairly sure that this reaction is exactly what he expected, and more to the point, what he had hoped for. There are always going to be haters. Some people even seem to like to hate, because it makes them seem cool, or whatever. Hell, I can almost guarantee that when ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ drops in six weeks time, the first people to turn their noses up at it will be the relentless Nolanophiles who have deconstructed every pixel of every photograph on every website. As discussed in my previous blog regarding ‘Prometheus’, the most anticipated blockbusters are becoming more and more succeptable to an almost unrealistic standard of expectation. While ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ will find it easier to tick people’s boxes for the simple reason that it is the ‘epic conclusion’ to a franchise that is only seven years old, the public reaction (so far) to ‘Prometheus’ can be partially attributed to the fact that this is Scott’s first venture into sci-fi since 1982. Let it be known, I am in no way using that fact as an excuse for anything. In fact, the last thing I want is for this piece to come across as defensive. I’m very much of the mind that the film does just fine speaking for itself.
I read The Hunger Games trilogy on my kindle. There are many pros to a kindle (I’m able to carry tens of thousands of pages in the weight of a novella, being among them), but there are also inevitable losses. One of those is the lack of cover art and the inability to be able to flick backwards and forwards within the book’s pages to jog memories around names or see how much is left of the chapter.
Other than being mildly inconvenient and less attractive, the other thing this does, in a Roland Barthes-esque way, is destroy pre-conceptions around the book which can be built up from the blurb on the back, the ‘Richard and Judy Book Club’ permanent sticker on the front or the carefully chosen quotes from famous people. Even after reading all three books, I have trouble remembering the author, to be honest. That would be Suzanne Collins, by the way (and also, good name). Take of that what you will – the kindle/e-reader argument is one to be had another day.
It’s hard to fathom that Roman Polanski has been making films for 50 years now. His early output was a revelation, making a name for himself with a unique brand of taut claustrophobic thrillers (See Knife in the Water/Repulsion). Seething with a palpable sense of anxiety, Polanski pushed his subjects to psychological breaking point with the enclosed surroundings amplifying the tension to almost unbearable levels. In short, they were bad places to be, especially if you happened to advocate bourgeois values. Downton Abbey, had it been made in 1960′s Poland probably would have had the entire cast holed up, soiled knickers and all, in the study with wolves roaming the corridors. It was in its mockery of the Bourgeoisie that European cinema was in its element. While never overtly political, Polanski revelled in using them as fodder. Even through visions of the American dream in Rosemary’s Baby & Chinatown, widely considered all-time greats, many of the hallmarks of his previous work shine through.
Supposedly, George Clooney has wanted to work with Alexander Payne since 2004. Back when Payne was crafting his first Oscar winner Sideways, it’s reported that Gorgeous George declared his interest in the role of Jack. Payne did the unthinkable, rebuffing Clooney in favour of a lesser known actor and the role eventually fell to Thomas Hayden Church. Church knocked it out of the park and went on to collect a well deserved Oscar nomination in the process. Whether or not Clooney could have pipped Morgan Freeman to the 2005 award we’ll never know but, one thing’s for sure, he’s the man to beat in 2011.
Over the last few years or so, it seems that the meaning of taboo has gotten lost. For the most part, we have become desensitised to extreme violence and sexual content. Hell, violence is becoming forever sexualised, with sex being occasionally and manipulatively violencised (I’m not the first person on the internet to ever use that word before). And religion? You can pretty much say or depict it in any way you please without hardly offending anyone, it seems. That infamous scene in 1971′s ‘Straw Dogs’ has become entirely socially irrelevant. In fact, not only has it been all but forgotten about, it’s been remade this past year to the sound of little controversy. Where a certain film’s graphic scenes of torture once ignited conversation about how they made us squirm, we all now laugh at the many sequels that followed, praising the most creative ways in which a filmmaker can take a life. So what is left to shock us? What is left to challenge our principles and arouse what is left of our senses?
Love and loss are two common themes in storytelling and my favourite film of the year certainly encapsulated both. Beginners weaves through the past and present as Oliver (Ewan McGregor) is coming to terms with the death of his father Hal (Christopher Plummer); the twist on the relationship here being that Hal had only recently revealed that he was gay after Oliver’s mother (Mary Page Keller) had died. In Oliver’s present he meets Anna (Mélanie Laurent); a French actress who has a complicated family history that bonds the pair but also has the potential to drive them apart.
Cinema Comedy is dead. May it Rest in Peace. But before we order a 211 Terrace shaped wreath, let’s consider the evidence. Is there a single film in the last 12 months that stands up as pure Comedy Gold? The short answer is No. Four Lions was great, but not solely for the gags. Easy A was more memorable for being touching than for guffaws. Was Kick Ass action/comedy or comedy/action? There are arguably as many laugh out loud moments in The Social Network as in any of the above. Can we label that a comedy? Mark Zuckerberg might try.
And every straight out comedy, The Other Guys, Hot Tub Time Machine, Date Night fell well far off the mark. So can 2011 revive comedy’s carcass? Surely Paul, the new Fregg and Post film will turn the tide? Nope, nope and nope. Again the Facebook film has more genuine laughs. But by no means does that make Paul a bad film. Just one that is not as funny as you’d hope.
Love and Death. They really are the biggies. Mr. Woody Allen hypothesised this on the subject, “It’s best not to look on death as the end, but as more of a very effective way to cut down on your expenses. As for love, it’s the quality not the quantity that counts. Although if the quantity drops below once in eight months, I’d look into it.”
There are, of course, a million more takes on the coupling, (the Iron and Wine ditty ‘The Trapeze Swinger’ is the one that resonates for this writer) but if you take the bulk of things that move any of us, you’ll find one or the other present. Love and Death.
With its tragic subject matter etched into every frame, Never Let Me Go promised to add to the list. It not only achieved this with admirable finesse but surpasses the marker and is elevated, instead, to one of the more important takes on both subjects for quite some time.
Working as a projectionist you get used to watching films for which you have the lowest of expectations. Thus, watching Winter’s Bone was an unusual experience for me. If I’m honest, my expectations were so high I was almost reluctant to actually watch the film should my experience fall short. To my delight my apprehensions were unfounded because everything you’ve heard is true. Whilst it’s not always easy to watch, Debra Granik’s third feature is gripping from the outset, thanks in part to a breakout performance by potential Oscar darling Jennifer Lawrence.
In what could prove the role of a life time Lawrence plays the steely ‘Ree Dolly’, a teenage girl who is left to care and fight for her ramshackle family. With the families ailing livelihood under threat Ree is forced to persue her dead beat father and venture into the unscrupulous underbelly of the Ozarks, a remote mountain range spanning the central United States. As you’d expect, the only thing more inhospitable than the terrain are the local meth heads and pushers who, for reasons undisclosed do their best to keep Ree at arms length.
Although Lawrence’s performance is the main focus of press chatter it’d would be remiss of me to ignore the contributions of the supporting cast. Garret Dillahunt once again proves himself to be one of the most supportive actors in town following on from small but perfectly formed roles in some of the best movies of recent years (see No Country for Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James and The Road). Whilst their screen time is limited the young actors who play Ree’s younger siblings should also be acknowledged as although small, their on screen vulnerability is crucial in quickly establishing the family’s dire straits.
Having said all that, there is really only one substantial supporting role in the whole movie. Whilst John Hawkes has been working pretty steadily for the past twenty years he is arguably best known for his roles on the small screen, (like the afformentioned Dillahunt, he had a supporting role in the under appreciated show Deadwood). If there is any justice in the world Winter’s Bone should put pay to that. If Lawrence is a shoe in for an Oscar nom, then Hawke’s role as Ree’s conflicted uncle ‘Teardrop’ certainly gives him an outside shot at joining her in the winners circle.
Should you still need convincing as to the merits of this film then look no further than the above picture. Despite her relative inexperience with a megaphone writer/director Granik fills every scene with contrast. Her experience as a cinematographer seems to have paid off in her filming of the untamed Ozark region. Within single frames Ree’s surroundings seem stunning yet bleak, terrifying yet homely, dangerous yet protected.
Usually at this point I dredge up some pernickety beef I have conjured up for the sake of vitriol but in this case there is nothing. Instead I will utalise these vacant lines to point out that the sparingly used soundtrack is also excellent. Whilst it may not have the bravado of a Mansell or Giacchino score the sparce combination of traditional Blue Grass numbers and atmospheric score, composed by Brit rocker, Dickon Hinchliffe of Tindersticks fame, is a perfect accompaniment.
Well worth seeking out on DVD Right Frickin’ Now.
Pixar is an amazing computer animated film company. They churn out hit after hit, each film in turn tugging on our heart strings, tickling our funny bone and winning commercial and critical acclaim (Toy Story 3 is Oscar nominated for Best Picture!). It’s hard to see this company putting a foot wrong (fingers crossed for Cars 2 though), their films breaking new ground and pleasing us with their unique style and beautiful aesthetics.
It’s a good job that Disney re-teamed with these giants to help recover their animation crown. Disney had their shot at computer animation with films such as Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons and Bolt 3D all charming but all near misses and nowhere near to Pixar’s usual strengths. However Disney gave it another go, one more chance to prove themselves, which leads me neatly onto Tangled.