Archive for the ‘ FILMS 2011 ’ Category

Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

 

I must begin this review by stating that I was totally unfamiliar with the general premise behind author Stieg Larsson’s posthumously published series of novels and their subsequent Swedish film adaptations. It was with a completely unbiased opinion then with which I approached David Fincher’s Hollywood re-fashioning then with no expectations to be dashed that here again was another bland diluted Americanisation- as with adaptations of the Danish crime thriller The Killing or Swedish vampire movie Let The Right One In- of a familiar cult classic. Instead I was able to view the film for exactly what it is which  is a superior thriller albeit one directed by Fincher starring Daniel Craig and with a soundtrack by Trent Reznor which features Karen O doing Led Zeppelin over the dizzying but compelling opening sequence. Although at over two and a half hours long it may seem overindulgent Fincher and his cast provide enough momentum to hold the audience even if the central story has several improbable plot strands and the murder which the action hinges on doesn’t engender much sympathy or intrigue- I am unfamiliar with the plot but had unearthed a major facet at its core less than half way through- and is perhaps the films weakest link.

The plot centres on the relationship between journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Craig)- Fincher wisely kept the original characters names as well as the Swedish location- recently involved in a libel case against a wealthy and powerful industrialist which he lost and in the process brought himself to the precipice of bankruptcy. Enter an old adversary of Blomkvist’s nemesis (Christopher Plummer) who offers him financial retribution and career salvation if he solves the mystery of his niece’s disappearance nearly forty years previously. At this point Blomkvist enlists the services of a research assistant named Lisbeth  (Myra Rooney) whose methods-and lifestyle- may be unconventional but she is a savant with the technological know how he lacks even though they seem to reach the same conclusions at the same time despite deploying different methods. A plot involving rape, revenge, corruption, sinister Nazis, dysfunctional families and deceit then unfolds.  The mystery at the centre of the narrative is really not too interesting however but the characterisations are intriguing whilst the developing relationship bears scrutiny being held together by tightly written dialogue and convincing performances and a natural chemistry between the two main protagonists.

After the mystery of the missing girl has been solved the back story involving the corrupt industrialist who almost bankrupted Blomkvist takes centre stage and the film moves into a different area entirely changing not only the narrative but the style of the film completely. The pace shifts up a gear and in less capable hands could appear tacked on and superfluous but Fincher is too skilful a director to allow this so it ties the film up neatly even if the ending sequence prepares the audience for the inevitable sequel.

As stated before never having seen the Swedish version nor having read any of the novels I have nothing to compare this film to and as such must admit it held its own more than admirably. Fincher handles his actors with consummate skill and the cinematography lends itself to the Swedish atmospherics beautifully whilst the soundtrack throbs and pulses in synchronicity with perfectly executed action sequences and the icy chill of the darkness which pervades throughout. As a thriller on its own it is more than adequate and withstands criticisms of being an unnecessary addition to an already overly full genre by being sleek, sexy and darkly compelling. I may now get around to actually reading one of the novels.

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SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

 

The trouble with most sequels is that whilst their predecessors have to gain the audiences support the follow up generally relies on the fact there is a ready-made audience who were so impressed by the first film and are eager for more. When it comes to the sequel however sometimes they simply stagnate and become formulaic or else they go the other way and become bigger, bolder and brasher. Director Guy Ritchie’s second foray into the world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective Sherlock Holmes seems to favour the latter approach with an all out assault on its audience’s senses from the very outset. So much so that he would have had justification in naming it Lock, Stock and Two Shattered Eardrums as the pace is so frantic and the accompanying soundtrack so ear splittingly loud. It also possesses little of the nuances of its predecessor whilst the character development is virtually non-existent. Despite this once you have determined that subtlety is out to lunch on this project you can sit back and enjoy what is very much an action film of a very high calibre and, so what if there is not too much of a script to follow for its two hour duration, it is a hell of a ride which allows little time to worry about intricacies of plot or characterisation. It is also for all its macho posturing overtly and outrageously camp.

With both Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law both back in their roles as Holmes and Watson –alongside Rachel McAdams who briefly reprises her role as Irene Adler- the main difference in their relationship from the first film is that it is far more homo-erotic. To perpetuate this Holmes actually unceremoniously dispatches of Watson’s new bride shortly after their wedding, whilst in drag, even though they are on their way to their honeymoon. Stephen Fry makes a welcome addition to the cast though one prolonged scene in which he appears in the buff- despite being in possession of a body anything but- is certainly homo but most definitely not erotic. In fact there is very little room for female characters in this essentially Boys Own adventure as they are superfluous to the story and at best appear only obligatorily or as mere decoration. Downey Jr. seems to have taken some tips and inspiration from the camp flippancy of Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow which was missing from the first instalment of the franchise and is not wholly convincing. The cerebral intensity of the relationship between Holmes and his adversary Moriarty is also a wasted opportunity which in the hands of a more subtle director could have been explored to much better effect.  Then again subtlety has never been Ritchie’s trademark

Despite these pointless gripes however the film roars along on its own terms never letting up and fittingly, considering its outcome, does not hesitate in taking no prisoners. It is a perfect holiday season film borne of little introspection although its premise of war as industry is highly relevant and shows the old fashioned ideology of conflicting personalities and duelling minds harboured at its roots. Although the constant barrage of visuals in the absence of plot may discern some viewers I must admit I actually really enjoyed this film for what it is, which quite simply put is a superior action film of high intensity.

CALVET

CALVET


 Jean Marc Calvet purges his soul in this outstanding documentary directed by Dominic Allan. It is a fine piece of work that is ultimately an auto-biographical feature and acts as a form of catharsis for Calvet to relate his past transgressions as the director made the brave and justified decision not to include contributions from any other interviewees. What the audience is then left with is Calvet’s own explanations into what drives his artistic creativity and how his chequered and vividly coloured past   – drug addiction, rape, theft, a spell in the Foreign Legion and a period working as a rent boy-  informs his intricate and often disturbing work. Allan also manages to capture intimate and genuinely compelling moments as Calvet attempts some form of rapprochement with his eighteen year old son whom he abandoned twelve years previously. It is this part of the film that adds yet another dimension to an already fascinating portrait as the viewer is left in as much doubt as Calvet himself as to how this situation will pan out.

Opening with shots of Calvet’s art work – all demonic swirls and complex detail juxtaposed with vivid colour palettes- Calvet begins his tale in earnest. Stories range from the time he had to leave Miami tout de suite after defrauding 600,000 dollars to his brutal rape in a public toilet are di rigeur in this tale of an artist who had to sink to the lowliest depths of the demi-monde before reaping some form of salvation and ultimately redemption in the form of his art. His art in many ways resembles this film as he purges his soul in front of the omnipresent camera capturing him visually spewing forth over a canvas in a violent outpouring of emotion. Comparisons have been made as regards to Jackson Pollock but I also detected a definite Keith Haring influence. The sentiments and the demons are all Calvet’s own however as is this film which allows Calvet to share his story and in doing so garner a sense of relief and a clearer purpose in how he intends to pursue his future. Calvet allows uninhibited access into many private moments and unlike many films of this genre which attempt to do this there is something about this particular effort that feels genuine. Perhaps Calvet’s contriteness and willingness to apologise and try to redeem past mistakes go a long way to gaining the audience’s support and you would have to be stone hearted not to want him to succeed.

At the conclusion of the film a certain sense of a clearer future looks set for Calvet. A recent New York show saw his paintings being valued at six figure numbers. Personally he seems to have reached a sense of stability also and how this will affect his work in the future is unclear. What is clear however is that Calvet makes an outstanding, intriguing and sympathetic  source of subject matter and he and Allan should be proud in delivering this document which details an artist who could be to the art world what Jean Genet was to the literary world.

Calvet is on More 4 on Tuesday 13 December at 11.15pm

BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-1975

Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

 

In the sane week that a woman was arrested after a racist rant on a London tram this film makes its much anticipated release in the cinema. Although set in the United States and focussing on the years between 1969 and 1975 when Black Power was in the ascendant many of the issues covered in this documentary although contextual obviously still have relevance in the present day. Featuring previously unseen footage captured by Swedish journalists and edited together by contemporary director Goran Olsson the film shows an outsiders perspective on a country’s internal struggle to reconcile its differing races in a particularly turbulent era when social consciences and attitudes were changing at breakneck speed causing those who had previously held the upper hand to take radical measures in order to retain their position of power whilst the underlings for several generations strove to attain a voice that was not only heard but listened to.

Although many of the names – Martin Luther King and Malcolm X are probably the main exceptions- may seem unfamiliar to a contemporary audience their struggles will not. Stokeley Carmichael took on the baton handed him by King and adapted his doctrines of equality but imbued them with a sense of power and aggression which was a marked change from King’s more passive stance. It is the heroic Angela Davis and her unfair treatment whose tale really stands out in this film however. Wrongly incarcerated for 18 months for the simple crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being black her tale is particularly poignant. In answer to a question that questions if and why there was violence and aggression at the heart of the Black Power movement she gives an articulate and detailed response which more than explains and instead reasons why such measures were necessary. Other notable moments include an extremely disturbing scene in which we see a newborn baby born to a junkie mother going through cold turkey. This is followed by a traumatic scene where a young black girl details how the only option open to her is prostitution and then explains how heroin is the only thing getting her through this circumstance by numbing her emotions. It is a heartfelt moment and one that shows cause and effect and its long-term effects on the next generation some of whom-like the withdrawing baby- are born into a life of no future.

Black Power Mixtape is a worthwhile effort showing an important time in America’s history both politically and socially. Whilst the time shown has to be considered contextually for full effect – I am sure no-one involved could have anticipated a black President only forty years into the future so desolate was their plight at this time- it still raises issues that need to be considered. If that young woman who sat on the tram whilst abusing those around her for not being British enough had suffered in the way Black people in America prior to the civil rights movement- sitting down on buses was only permitted in certain areas and if every white person was seated first despite paying the same fares-then she may have had something to complain about. Somehow I doubt she has suffered in the same way and her outburst really was nothing more than an ignorant racist rant.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN

My Week With Marilyn

 

This Simon Curtis directed film about Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe’s involvement with one of the crew –third assistant director or more accurately gofer-during the film shoot for The Prince and the Showgirl in 1956 is an entertaining insight into the star at the pinnacle of her powers and success. Michelle Williams gives a star performance as Monroe; one which is probably the best portrayal of this actress who had such an indefinable quality that no-one, despite many attempts, has ever been able to capture the essence of what made her so very special. Williams succeeds on many levels and whilst this is the films main strength  Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier ably supports her and their onscreen chemistry is greater than their real life counterparts.

Ostensibly it should have been a happy time in Monroe’s life having just married celebrated playwright Arthur Miller and embarking on a project with British theatre royalty Laurence Olivier. In reality it was merely the beginning of the downward spiral that culminated in her death, still shrouded in mystery and myth, six years later. This film concentrates on the fact that her relationship with Miller was already in crisis whilst her working life alongside Olivier was faring little better and probably even worse as he found her working ‘methods’ intolerable and at one point huffs that ‘teaching her to act is like teaching a badger to speak Urdu’. Enter Colin Clark (Eddie Remayne) a well to do clean cut young man who wants to make it in the film industry and through family connections ends up working with Olivier. Befriending Marilyn on set and in her darker moments he forms a close bond with her after Miller abdicates his duties and ‘abandons’ her to fly back to the states in order to see his children. It is this week that lends the film its title though it is never clear how far their relationship progressed and there really is no need for such a sense of propriety in a 2011 film even if it is set in the still sexually uptight 1950’s. This reticence is not apparent in Williams’ performance however. The usual Monroe trademarks are all over the film from her luminous, platinum incandescence through to the wiggle, pout, the booze and the many pills. It is an over familiar story though and any Monroe fan will feel disappointed in the fact there are no new revelations although to a younger generation it may introduce Marilyn to a whole new audience.

The cinematography on the film is excellent and combined with the camera work it does a great job of evoking the era it is attempting to portray. On occasion it does feel like a tour guide of beautiful England what with thatched cottages and Windsor Castle both getting a look in. Likewise the supporting cast seems to have been drafted in from Luvvie Central. Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper, Zoe Wannamaker and Doug Ray Scott and Emma Watson are all present and correct. At other times it seems that the film has its sights set on a few of the accolades garnered by The Kings Speech and Williams must surely be a contender for best actress but as a whole the film sometimes feels a little too like a BBC period drama to be a attract those kind of awards. Despite this it is still an extremely well made and enjoyable film that perfectly captures both the era and the star at the centre of the maelstrom she created on her visit to these shores.

TABLOID

Tabloid

 

In a week when the Leveson inquiry is investigating press misconduct through phone hacking this film arrives in cinemas harking back to the late seventies when although technology was not as advanced the methods deployed by the tabloid press were still as underhand and condemning as today. Focussing on the tale of Joyce McKinney a former beauty queen-Miss Wyoming-and a young Mormon, Kirk Anderson, who she allegedly kidnapped, held captive and forcibly had sex with it is still, even after viewing the film, unclear what actually happened so clouded with prejudice are the preconceptions instigated by the press. Matters are not helped by McKinney who although an extremely and intelligent interviewee in possession of a high IQ -168- and charming manner of discourse when recounting her version of events comes across as a delusional fantasist and therefore a less than credible witness.

The drama starts to unfold when McKinney first lays eyes on Anderson who she describes as a handsome desirable man though others point out that he was hardly an obvious object of lust weighing more than 300lbs and being of less than average attractiveness. This does not deter McKinney however who sets out to ensnare her man at whatever the price. Apparently some sort of compromise is reached and the two embark on an affair but when Anderson is removed to England as part of his Mormon training the trouble begins. McKinney believed he had been spirited away from her clutches and sets out to reclaim her true love and does what any (ab)normal person would do in those circumstances  enlisting the services of an accomplice-JK May- she then hires a bodyguard, a pilot and private jet then armed with a bottle of chloroform and an imitation gun flies to England to ‘persuade’ Anderson to impregnate her thus destabilising the hold the Mormon facility has over him. Where the financial backing she needs to fund such an elaborate plan derives from is never made clear but minor trivialities or reality never stand in McKinney’s way when her determination in overdrive. Along the way the bodyguard and pilot opt out so with May in tow as a loyal lapdog she tracks Anderson down and here matters become clouded in the various participants’ memories. According to the press McKinney held him captive and chained him up spread-eagled whilst she forcibly encouraged him to have sex with her repeatedly. McKinney however states that Anderson willingly accompanied her and chose to have sex with her and the handcuffs and manacles were merely sexual role play with him as her sex slave. The tabloid press, in the shape of the ever reliable Daily Mirror, cotton on to the story adding their salubrious sensationalist twist and immediately it becomes front page news and a national topic of conversation.

The subsequent coverage follows its way through the court case and after McKinney serves several months on remand is released on bail, Moments of notoriety then ensue including an infamous appearance at the premiere of The Stud where her presence even upstages that of the films star a certain Joan Collins. The story continues to become even more surreal after her release however as disguised as deaf mutes both she and May flee Britain only to turn up elsewhere as two unconvincing Indians from Calcutta. Meanwhile the press, in particular the Daily Mirror, have a field day and all manner of unsubstantiated stories are paraded as truth across their front pages. To counterbalance this the Daily Express attempt to tell Mc Kinney’s version of events and she suffers the confusing problem of having two radically alternate and differing stories about the same set of events spread across two of the biggest newspapers in the country at the same time. From the testimonies given by those involved at the time it would transpire that the truth is somewhere between the two events detailed but as no-one seems to be totally credible even this is debatable. What does become clear is that truth is a minor factor when it comes to selling newspapers or scandalising a nation by preying on those with petty morals to buy into their own brand of righteousness.

Tabloid is a thoroughly engaging film and McKinney remains to this day a fascinating character. All wide eyed disbelief and a raucous raconteur with ribald storytelling abilities who at one point, tellingly, insists that all the drama lessons she had have stood her in good stead. She reveals herself to be a thoroughly engaging if not wholly convincing or reliable interviewee although the tales of treating those around her as slaves still persist only nowadays it is the five Pitbulls she has had cloned –really- from her beloved soul-mate Booger who fulfil this role dialling phone numbers and retrieving drinks from the Fridge!! As all this is revealed at the end of this captivating and often unintentionally hilarious film it becomes clear that McKinney can quite accurately be described as barking mad.

FILMS 2011

The British Guide To Showing off

 

Andrew Logan’s Alternative Miss World is the stuff of legend offering a contrasting ideal of what and who can masquerade convincingly as beautiful in a world where the mundane is constantly in the ascendant. The fact that his ideologies are as rigorously loose as they were in 1972 when he started the whole furore with an event that had David Hockney as one of the judges and Derek Jarman as a contestant is apparent in this ‘documentary’ detailing the run up and preparations to 2009’s show at the Roundhouse in London. A moment of clarity about Logan’s intentions is revealed in a meeting with a young production assistant who is insisting on introducing technology- adding up votes accurately via mobile phones- whose suggestions are shot down in flames with Logan informing him accuracy and votes are not the important issues in choosing a winner. In this statement he reveals his inner belief that the whole show ,to him, is little more than a family ‘do’ although it is a hugely extended family and one that houses more pink sheep –of a day-glo hue obviously- than the traditional black ones. Think Warhol’s Factory contingent but with a little bit of heart soul and humility and you have some idea of Logan’s self created world. This film captures the fun behind Logan’s events but also exposes his serious side as a relevant artist whose flamboyance masks a serious message at its core.

Logan comes from a large close knit family and all seem to have a part to play in the staging of his Alternative Miss World events. This closeness extends to the friends who have been on his journey with him and who are still invited to enter the competition as contestants even though they know it is unlikely they will win. Claiming to despise celebrity culture Logan still manages to draw on his connections for his co-hosts and 2009 saw Ruby Wax join him to introduce the exuberant onstage antics and creations. Previous participants have included such luminaries as Julian Clary, Richard O’Brien and a legendary appearance in 1978 by Divine. The event also hosted a very early appearance by the fledgling Sex Pistols at a time when there were very few outlets for this band that would change the face of not just music but culture in Britain during the 1970’s. A young Leigh Bowery also made early appearances at Logan’s shows which were a perfect entry point for this extremely important aspiring performance artist.  Logan obviously spotted their potential and likewise saw them as outsiders and rebellious kindred spirits he wanted to welcome. Perpetual cultural commentators such as Grayson Perry and Brian Eno are drawn in as willing co-conspirators to Logan’s vision and lend it some gravitas although gravitas is seemingly unimportant to Logan who despite all the flamboyance and avant-garde leanings comes across as thoroughly grounded and sincere. A telling moment occurs during a corporate meeting discussing branding and such stuff and he is so disinterested it is wholly refreshing much to the consternation and bewilderment of the corporate businessmen who cannot comprehend such a maverick spirit.

The British Guide To Showing Off is a humorous, colourful and thoroughly engaging trawl through the world as seen by Andrew Logan.  A truly British eccentric he is one of a dying breed who recognises there no longer is any real alternative and although this is depressing he does not allow it to dishearten him. For such a realisation and for the progress and influence his events have exerted he deserves to be lauded and applauded.