Archive for the ‘Cinema’ Category

The Dark Knight

July 28, 2008

            As you no doubt have  already heard, ‘The Dark Knight’ is very, very good. And I am in agreement with the rest of the population. It is very, very good. After Christopher Nolan’s first retelling of the Batman origin, we were all rather excitemed when he said he would return to direct a second instalment. And with the first film set up for the possibility of a Joker story we were not disappointed when this was fulfilled. To top this off Christian Bale returned to role, as well as Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine reprising their parts, but it was when Heath Ledger was billed as The Joker that we knew that this ace was going to help deal a delightful hand.

            The sequel is much more action packed than Nolan’s first instalment. With the character and motivation behind Batman already set up, the director had licence to throw him into the deep end. Action layered upon action with a coating of creamy action surprisingly never once got boring. It was even to the point where often Batman would turn up in a fight even though the story left him halfway across Gotham. No one really complains over that sort of continuity. Besides, the monorail system must be really prompt. His mode of transport shifts focus away from the Batmobile too. A simply joyous moment is the introduction of the Bat-Cycle. Watching it pop out from nowhere made me squeal with glee.

            This film is not all about action and bikes and action and monorails. There is in actual fact a very solid plot beneath the gothic glamour. When the film deters into having two main villains I was worried that it had gone the way of Spiderman 3, which literally collapsed under its own weight of plot lines and ideas. Fortunately the appearance of Harvey ‘Two Face’ Dent was well balanced and integrated with the main plot line. Aaron Eckhart delivers an excellent performance and really grasps the betrayal he has felt on behalf of the city when he undergoes his transformation (which also looks great). Christian Bale picks up Batman exactly where we left him, which is no easy feat, but this time he is allowed to explore his sentimental side. Quite refreshing really when compared to the heavy-set brow, trouble minded Bruce Wayne of the first instalment. This film sees him gallivanting around with more women, more cars, and actually has a smile on his face.

            Talking of smiles on the face… Well, it was impossible to review ‘The Dark Knight’ without mentioning Heath Ledger’s Joker. After his death earlier this year, which shocked not only the film world but the entire globe, people began wait in anticipation to see if The Joker was to be his last great role. Put simply this was the best swan song he could have asked. From his pencil pushing introduction onwards Ledger delights the audience throughout. His Joker is much more troubled, less comic book villain, truly maniacal. Ultimately, more human! The audience that I saw the film with delighted in his unhinged perception of the world, laughing along with the darkest of dark comedy. Everyone was enjoying the jokes along with him. Ledger is frankly outstanding and his performance is worth seeing.    

            It is very difficult to pick apart a film that works so well. The cracks in its façade are non-existent. This is a perfect action film for the summer blockbuster slot. It’s dark, it’s brooding, it’s high octane action but still distinctly Batman. Ledger comes out top dog in this film, and without the unfortunate events of earlier this year he would have been walking out of the Oscars with a Best Supporting Actor statue under his belt. I’m sure of it. 



July 22, 2008

            I do not believe that I have ever seen the words ‘Pixar’ and ‘bad’ in the same sentence. The studio’s output over the last 20 years, from their short films to their features, have been consistently well above par, with many of their films becoming instant classics upon release. Indeed, if a Pixar film is not an instant classic people are not just disappointed but shocked that this studio would produce something sub-standard.

            Fortunately their latest offering comes into former classic category. ‘Wall-E’ follows the story of a refuse collecting robot, the last robot on Earth, who has been left to clean up the mess made by human beings who float around the galaxy waiting for the planet to be habitable again. However, Wall-E’s daily routine is turned upside down when a strange robot called EVE arrives on Earth. This does not sound like a Pixar plot, nor does it start like one. This film opens in relative silence with Wall-E cleaning up and going about his regular business. The film does eventually descend into the trademark shenanigans and adventures that we have come to love from Pixar, but the opening deserves some more page space.

            There are few films where you think, ‘Wow, that was a truly amazing opening. The rest is going to be great’. ‘Wall-E’ is one of these with its subtle nods towards ‘2001 Space Odyssey’. Everything from the sad string based music to the wastelands of Earth covered with signs from the omnipresent ‘Big’n’Large Company’ makes the opening of this film quite different from any animated feature I have seen. It is dark, foreboding and certainly not child friendly. The desolate piles of rubbish scattered with ‘dead’ Wall-E units makes for a truly sinister picture. This vision of distopia strikes a chord deep inside of you, and makes wonder if Pixar have quite hit the mark.

But they have. With the picture set, the focus shifts to our hero. As the last robot on Earth, Wall-E is a solitary and rather sad little machine. The fact that the robots in the film speak in beeps and blips forces the animators and audiences to watch the movements; everything from their fingers and heads turns to the inflections of the eyes, or optical devices. Each tiny tilt and shuffle suggests more than dialogue ever could and parallels are already being drawn between the heroes and figures of silent cinema history like Charlie Chaplin. Someone mentioned a likeness to Woody Allen in another review. The slightly self-sorry feel comes out of Wall-E, peering from behind his eyes like Allen does from those trademark glasses. Scenes where he sifts through junk for his own treasures really brings out this comparative quality.

But it is not all doom and gloom for this film, otherwise it just would not be a Pixar film. The scenes inside Wall-E’s home bring a real magic to the film. The wide eyed love of all things human brings, well, a real human quality to the refuse collecting unit and the audience partakes in the nostalgia and wonder of this cave of wonders. For a character only ever speaks three English words, he is more fleshed out and loveable than millions of other characters I have ever seen.

Once again, Pixar’s animation is flawless. The reason that this studio is a cut above the rest is because they have a handle on gravity, shading, weight distribution; the list is endless. And it is because of their absolute grasp of animation physics that you really get lost in this world and allows you to truly commit to the story. Watching Wall-E and his love interest EVE (yes, robots can have love interests even if they can’t speak to each other) dancing through space propelled by sonic engines and a fire extinguisher is utterly joyful. And although a lot has been said about the Earth scenes already, its look of dust and rust is pitch perfect. The floating, hand-held feel of the camera in the Earth scenes is totally unexpected and perfectly executed allowing a different feel from the normal huge sweep or utterly still camera points of earlier films.

It would be easy to write a book about the wonders of this film. The fact is that I do not want to give too much away about any of it because every moment is either filled with childlike wonderment or poignant adult sincerity. Pixar have made a film that all the family can actually enjoy. If you do not see this while it is in cinemas then I do not think that you can go to bed happy this year. Wall-E is an instant classic, a must see and piece of cinema history. Go now!  

Welcome to the Sticks

July 8, 2008

            French cinema has slowly been creeping back into the British mainstream. 5 years ago if you asked anyone about what they thought French cinema, the masses would reply that they had seen ‘Amelie’, and the arts students would reply that if you had not seen ‘The Dreamers’ then you did not really understand French cinema. But with the recent rerelease of ‘Jules et Jim’ and last year’s tribute to the capital ‘Paris Je T’aime’, it was only a matter of time before other films began to spring up.

            One of these is Danny Boon’s ‘Beinvenue chez les Ch’tis’ (Welcome to the Sticks). Following a postal manager Phillipe Abrams, an excellent piece of casting in the form of Kad Merad, who inadvertently has his office relocated from the sunny and sophisticated south of France into what he believes is going to be the cold and comfortless north region. While the plot may sound thin and incomprehensible to an audience that does not understand the cultural heritage of the French north south divide, this film works happily for the United Kingdom where the English north south divide seems to fairly similar to what these regions of France think of each other.

            While Kad Merad is an excellent comic actor on his own, his scenes by himself are few and tend to move towards stereotypically French comedy, including an hilarious scene with a wheelchair. The comedy, and consequently the film, really kicks off upon his arrival in the north and his unlikely friendship with the molly coddled alcoholic postman Antione Bailleul (Danny Boon). Their scenes together spray a good tension and misunderstanding that eventually leads to a delightful comic banter and what seems to be an earnest friendship.

            Unlike a considerable amount of comedy that is churned out by the Hollywood studios in the last few years leading to the rise of stars like Ben Stiller and Will Farrell, this film decides to invest in the relationships of characters and fleshes them out so that they are not two dimensional joke machines on legs. The sincerity of the relationships between the five unlikely post office workers as they go to lunch at the local chip stand is something deeply missed by big American productions and this film could teach them a lesson to about emotional continuity.

            There are few low points of this film though. One is that a good half of the film and part of its resolution is the dislike of the north by the south. No matter how many times the joke is told in its different ways, it does start to grate after around 45 minutes. Without a dubbed version of this film, a large amount of the distinctive sharp French comedy is lost in translation when attempting to show the difference in accents. This results in most of the northern characters having the subtitles changed to distort their pronunciation of their words. An excellent idea and well attempted but it does make for difficult reading and a wandering joke about fish, most likely hilarious in French, is completely lost because of the sheer speed at which the lines are delivered and that you need to read at.

            Besides these minor points, ‘Welcome to the Sticks’ is a fun, light hearted and warming comedy. Everyone from Kad Merad and Danny Boon to the irritable mother and the town yokels are well cast and excellently played, dipping either side of the line of light comedy and slight severity. I hope for the future more films like this come out of France and make into the mainstream cinemas. Get this one DVD, because it won’t disappoint you.