Wednesday, 4 May 2011
After long being associated with the Hollywood gala, it seems 3D is now saddling up to the art house wagon, gleefully whinnying as scores of bookish types swap their specs for 3D glasses.
After Werner Hezog's mesmeric Cave of Forgotten Dreams, fellow German Wim Wenders - cut from a completely different cloth - saunters into our screens with Pina; a documentary in the loosest sense of the word that follows the dance troupe of the late choreographer Pina Bausch.
The movie is series of dance sequences - some set within the tradtional boundaries of rehearsal spaces and theatrical stages but others which take us to swimming pools, motorways and lakes.
These are meshed with meditations from the dancers themselves on their former inspirational guide, trying to tease the unsayable from them; "Words can't do more than just evoke things - that's where dance comes in," Pina tells us near the start.
And the dance is stunning. A young woman repeatedly tries to through herself into the arms of a lover in a cafe, a man joyously strides through the rain and a mechanistic creature boards an elevated train.
Reproducing sequences choreographed by Bausch herself, the troupe give us tremendously humanistic pieces, playing on themes of balance, emotion and the dichotomy between freedom and restriction.
The three-dimensions are utilised strongly with figures close to us stark against a smorgasborg of backdrops. The human body - exemplified by flailing arms and spinning legs - zips off the screen.
Wenders' muses for his 3D were worryingly the baggy Avatar (which the German describes as a "masterpiece") and the self-absorbed U2: 3D. Thankfully this is very much more in the vein of the terrific Streetdance 3D and there may even be distant echoes of Powell and Pressburger's Red Shoes.
However the film does little to initiate us into who Pina was and apart from a few shots of her taking rehearsals early on, we never see her process, only the - admittedly - brilliant results.
Wenders never wanted this to be a traditional docu-approach with talking heads and excessive narration but while the varying sequences whirl us into a world of feeling and fabulous movement, you long for more context and probing into the tale of the titular matriach.
One expects from the director - who brought us such luminous pieces as Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire - the ethereal quality that Pina has but those films also came with intensely moving portraits of individuals which a strangely absent here.
That said, this heady, handsome movie is a sight to behold and well worth seeing in its current 3D format.
Tuesday, 1 March 2011
It was an evening that ultimately ended the way the critics had been anticipating - with the monarchial The King's Speech winning best picture. Even if we ignore that this season's ceremony was bookended by a terribly saccharine rendition of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" sung by New York-based fifth graders.
The event that was meant to be hitting the young demographic with fresh-faced hosts James Franco (who lost out in the contest for best actor) and Anne Hathaway ended in a way sure to please grandma and the "Apple Pie" vector of the audience but did little to vindicate the show's alleged contemporary skew. The kids were fine but couldn't they have sung something more contemporary or original?
In terms of the actual gongs; despite most of the awards going the way of the pre-match favourites, there were a few surprises and - believe or not - some half decent speeches. Let's look back at the jewel in the film calendar's crown.
Despite an early prize for hubby Tim Burton's movie Alice in Wonderland (a rather humdrum and over-egged film) Helena Bonham Carter - or Helen A. Bonham-Carter as former best supporting actress Monique called the Brit when the original normations were announced - did not emulate the African-American's triumph for Precious last year.
She was trumped to the prize for actress in a supporting role by The Fighter's Melissa Leo whose Massachussetts-based matriach in the boxing drama stole scenes with her cutting and clipped dialogue. Her character Alice Ward, based on the real mother of combattants Micky and Dicky, often brought comic relief to an otherwise straight-laced picture - including one memorable scene where she unleashes an entire kitchen's worth supply of utensils on her husband whilst bitching at her choric clan of hick daughters.
Leo's speech was a joy - as was her prize giver; veteran Kirk Douglas. Douglas - whose performance in Kubrick's Paths of Glory is arguably the greatest ever not to get an Academy Award nomination - had charmed the crowd by commenting on how host Franco looked better out of a cave, and bemoaning the fact that girls as attractive as Anne Hathaway had not been around when he was in his prme.His purposeful delay to increase the tension after opening the envelope but refusing to tell us who the winner was and instead chastise Hugh Jackman for laughing in the audience was fantastic and Leo's utter shock written all over her face, her hockey-mom esque gibber about recognising true performance and her memorable "When I watched Kate Winslet two years ago, it looked so fucking easy, oops!" - which lead to people watching the delayed coverage to get a short beat of silence - was probably the night's highlight.
However the other surprise was all together less welcome. What does David Fincher have to do to win a best director Oscar? The film-maker who brought us Se7en, Zodiac, Fight Club and this year The Social Network, remains without the golden statuette after being beaten by grown-up public schoolboy Tom Hooper for his perfectly decent but hardly mesmeric job on The King's Speech. Even in Hooper's home territory, the BAFTAs popped for Fincher.
Perhaps Fincher - who perhaps was partially lost in the limelight created by screenwriter Aaron Sorkhin's win for the Facebook-centrered film - will have another shot when he tackles gruesome Swedish thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo next year; which is being rather unnecessarily made after the BAFTA winning original appeared to have done the best it possibly could with the well-structured Stieg Larsson novel.
As was heavily predicted, The King's Speech won Best Picture - despite in my opinion being one of the weaker entries in the ten films nominated for the prize - confirming that Americans like films about royalty even more than the British and that playing a member of the regal family coupled with a disability is enough to open any executive's heart.
That said, Firth does deserve a best actor Oscar but not for this; for last year's wonderful A Single Man where he played a gay teacher contemplating suicide after grieving for his lover before finally finding reconcilliation in the form of a young man.Firth - who joked that he might perform "dance moves" such was his excitement - warmed the crowd and seemed a thoroughly decent chap and all around Britain, tabloid editors slapped each others backs, thankful that the Brits had triumphed as though this meant we had qualified to host the Oscars next time out.A somewhat pregnant Natalie Portman won best actress of a Black Swan - wrongly called by some as a misoginistic picture - and was very humble in her acceptance speech. Her performance as troubled ballerina Nina trying to balance both sides of the Swan in a production of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake was superb and it was good to actually see Portman after she was unable to travel out for the BAFTAs. That said - bar Nicole Kidman's very static effort in the inexorable Rabbit Hole - the other nominees would all have been as deserving.Cockney Christian Bale - whose beard almost seemed to be impersonating Joaquin Phoenix from mediocre mockumentary I'm Still Here - was the Academy's pick of crop in a rather weak selection of best supporting actors - bar John Hawkes's menacing Teardrop in the fabulous Winter's Bone. The Batman star can always be guaranteed to chew the scenery off - and chew your ear off if you set the lights wrong - and proved that more is more as he ousted fellow Fighter-star Mark Wahlberg to a nomination.Elsewhere Toy Story 3 came through in the rather barren Best Animated Feature category with just two other nominees ; captivating The Illusionist based on Jacques Tati's unpublished screenplay and anachronistic How to Train Your Dragon which contained a trible of Vikings - with Scottish accents - battling the fire-breathing creatures and whose offspring appear to speak with American voices. But Pixar's final installment of the trilogy won as expected and probably should have done and grabbed another award when Randy Newman won for the film's song "We Belong Together".
Elsewhere peddler of nonsense Oprah Winfrey presented the exposing Inside Job with the prize for best documentary feature. The Charles Ferguson made film - narrated by Matt Damon - brilliant punctures the obsufucation of the global recession, demonstrating via talking heads and accessible diagrams how the boards and key figures in banks, rating firms and regulators manipulated and exploited the system to line their pockets at the expense of everyone else's.
It sounds like either a communist's wet dream or a reimagined An Inconvenient Truth but it is actually a marvellous piece of film-making that is only interested in facts rather than Michael Moore's typically billowing and sensationalist fodder.Perennial Oscar misnomer category Best Foreign Language film went to Denmark's In a Better World. It should be noted that the ludicrious selection process for this award means each country submits only one film for consideration meaning that if, for example, the French submitted a subpar film to the Academy, they would have to ignore all other French movies for that year even if they were significantly better.I haven't seen In a Better World so will reserve judgement. This has always been a hit and miss prize - last year winner Depatures was an overly sentimental and rather predicable Japanese film but past winners have included All About My Mother, Z and Day for Night proving that they do get it right sometimes too.
The two nominations running against In a Better World that I had seen - Dogtooth and Biutful - while both good, were not the best foreign language films of last year by a long shot. A quick glance at Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his Past Lives, Living on Love Alone and Chico & Rita are a case in point.
Amusingly with the Wolfman's victory for best make-up, the horror it has now won more Oscars than Blade Runner, Taxi Driver and King Kong put together; although perhaps we should be positive that the Academy recognised the chronically overlooked genre.
Thankfully the Academy dropped the overlong segments from the past few years of different Hollywood stars discussing why their "pick" should win an acting prize and the lack of montages trying to capture a certain aspect to cinema over the past year made for a slicker and less baggy show.
Hathaway and Franco worked well as hosts - avoiding the Gervais approach; as good as that was - but not being too luvvy-duvvy either and did we really need to wheel Billy Crystal out of botox for a rather unnecessary segment on former host Bob Dole who is still alive but was treated as though he had been dead for a while.
Other memorable moments included Justin Timberlake claiming he was Banksy, bushy-haired Luke Matheny saying "I should have had a haircut" when his film God of Love won best Live Action Short and the always emotional In Memoriam which said farewell to such stars as Tony Curtis, Pete Postlethwaite, Blake Edwards, John Barry and - close to my heart - Leslie Nielsen.
All-in-all, it was a highly enjoyable watch despite the mish-mash of awards and endemic problems with the Oscars itself. What will the next twelve months bring? Stay tuned to Sick Chirpse to find out.
Sunday, 20 February 2011
As has felt increasingly customary, we head into another Oscars build-up with the Cohen brothers heavily featuring among the nominations, or noms as our clipped hacks have dubbed them.
The smart Jewish kids from Minnesota have blasted into the Hollywood fraternity and show no signs of heading for the hills anytime soon.
They return to our screens with True Grit; based on a 1968 Charles Portis novel - which itself was made into a Henry Hathaway directed picture a year later with the same title, starring “The Duke” John Wayne – but it is the book that the Cohens cite as their primary source.
Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) has just seen her father murdered by blockhead farmhand Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) in Arkansas who has now absconded.
The 14-year-old girl seeks retribution and enlists Deputy US Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track him down so he can be brought to justice.
Cogburn - an alcoholic, half-blind ruffian is initially reticent but eventually agrees to take on the job but insists Mattie remain at home.
The fly in the ointment appears in the form of LaBouef (Matt Damon) a cocky Texas Ranger who wishes to bust Cheney for the shooting of a politician in his native state.
Mattie refuses his assistance as if LaBouef succeeds, Cheney won’t face any charges for the murder of her father and will face prosecution in Texas.
She also rebuffs Cogburn’s desire to carry out the task on his own and thus all three set off into the wilderness to tackle Cheney but quickly find the unforgiving environment – and its inhabitants – could scupper their plans.
The Cohens flights of fancy are recognisable from the offset; biting humour mixed with laconic social realism.
A native American about to be executed attempts to speak his last words but is killed before he can finish, Mattie and Cogburn encounter a bedraggled bearded individual in the forest with a grizzly’s head for a hat who claims to be a doctor.
The film is also infused by the ornate Kings James English dialect which only enhances the setting ; in response to a question about why a man was hung so high from a tree, Cogburn replies “I do not know. Possibly in the belief it'd make him more dead”
Hailee Steinfeld is terrific as the pint sized, straight-talking heroine; school masterly in the Jean Brodie sense, belying her teenage years - however sadly her character develops little throughout the film.
Fresh from his Oscar winning turn in Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges seems to have retained the grubbiness and southern drawl his performance in that picture contained and he is highly entertaining as the grumpy sidekick to Steinfeld.
Perhaps outshining both is Matt Damon whose arrogant and unflustered LaBouef is strangely affecting; flicking through the movie’s changing gear shifts with ease.
One problematic aspect to the proceedings is how little True Grit strays from the well trodden path of the Western genre – the Cohen’s playful inversions of convention such as their rollicking treatment of the police drama in Fargo or their otherworldly approach to prohibition era America in Miller’s Crossing are what has made the duo such respected luminaries.
But the straight-faced delivery with which True Grit develops leaves one feeling a tad unsatisfied despite how enjoyable the viewing experience is.
And the views are stunning as regular Cohen collaborator and cinematographer Roger Deakins brings the rugged, exhausting Texas landscape to the fore; from the striking mountain peaks to the beads of sweat running off a stallion’s back.
The Cohen stagecoach may continue to roll and while this cannot compare with their very best, it is still a highly captivating and boisterous watch.
Sunday, 6 February 2011
So Darren Aranofsky returns to our screens two years on from slobberknocker The Wrestler to muse on the despotic world of ballet; swapping piledrivers for pliés.
Nina (Natalie Portman) is cast as the lead in a production of Swan Lake in New York by forceful director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) but quickly finds out balancing the angelic elements of the White Swan with the ferociousness aspects to the Black Swan is a difficult and unnerving task.
Her initially enthusiastic mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) begins to take her daughter’s role increasingly seriously and as Nina immerses herself in play she finds her relationship with close friend Lily (Mila Kunis) and Thomas becoming intense in more ways than one.
Part horror, part dark romance, Aranofsky’s film is a visual spectacle that owes as much to Mulholland as it does to Frederick Wiseman’s judicious documentary on the Paris Opera; La danse.
The camera is seemingly a free agent, sweeping the viewer through long, whirling takes in a style reminiscent of Gasper Noe’s Enter the Void; also produced last year.
What begins out as a portrait of an exploitative director taking his lead girl under his wing - so to speak - develops into a hypnotic morass as Nina entrenches herself into her performance which has an equally physical and mental impact on her.
High octane scenes of body horror and female sexuality could be hackneyed and voyeuristic from a less assured director but Aranofsky creates the right air of menace and sensuality – often combining the two – to enrapture his audience.
Cassel’s Thomas - blunt and red blooded - is perhaps the hardest role to pull off with his requests for his star often bordering on the absurd but the film gets away with this due to its balletic setting where - no doubt - madcap directors are ten a penny.
It would be wrong to call this pure expressionalism; its origins in the work of David Lynch and Fritz Lang belie its sheer beauty – the shots linger on Nina as she puts on her pointe shoes, for example - and there is an aesthetic clarity to the picture which is dissimilar from the oft kaleidoscopic portrayal of Americana in pictures like Lynch’s Wild at Heart.
However Hershey’s portrayal of Nina’s obsessive mother has a touch of Mommie Dearest to her; painting abstract faces of her child and doting over her as though she was pre-pubescent evidenced in Nina’s bedroom which is filled with cuddly toys and splashed in Barbie pink.
When Nina turns to Lily (Kunis) as a form of social support and belated teenager rebellion, we see her darker side as the two girls let their hair down – and other things – on a night out. Kunis is brilliant as the part manipulative, part supportive pal exuding confidence and sexiness in equal measure.
Mention must go also to Winona Ryder as Beth; a former gem in the ballet company’s crown now seemingly discarded by Thomas who begins to lose her grip on life with drastic consequences.
As Nina steps into Beth’s shoes as the ballet’s prima donna, the tumultuous pressure to deliver in a highly competitive, strained environment see the movie end in a shuddering, ear-popping climax.
Black Swan, in its central themes of performance and obsession, is a terrific tale of a women’s disconnection from reality into fantasy. A Red Shoes in a post-David Cronenberg world.
Sunday, 7 February 2010
Cinemagoers unite – throw down your non-stereoscopic projectors, pick up your oversized specs, the 3D revolution is here!
Or so Hollywood would have us believe. With the ever developing crackdown on piracy, 3D films have become a key weapon in the studios arsenal against counterfeit copies of their movies.
The massive adoption across the board of 3D by the major players in motion pictures is generally attributed to be mainly for this reason – after all, the technology has been around since the middle of the twentieth century and IMAX cinemas were up and running by as early as 1985.
The first full length IMAX feature film was James Cameron’s 2003 documentary covering underwater explorations of the sunken Titanic liner, Ghosts of the Abyss.
Six years on from that (and twelve years on from Cameron’s 1997 box-office record breaker Titanic) the Canadian film-maker has taken the technology to another untrodden layer with his science-fiction epic Avatar.
Set around 150 years in the future, the film follows a tribe of indigenous people, Na’vi, as they battle to save their planet Pandora from an invading military presence from Earth.
Their invaders are desperate for unobtanium - a mineral buried within the Na’vi’s sacred lands – but caught in the middle is Jake Sully, a marine originally sent to infiltrate the Na’vi but who has fallen in love with the clan’s princess Neytiri.
Sully has entered the Na’vi’s world through becoming the titular avatar, a hybrid creature created by mixing human and Na’vi DNA, which can be controlled virtually by him whilst in a machine.
Visually stunning, the movie is a hugely immersive experience combining breathtaking CGI with actual footage to create a wonderful hybrid of its own between the virtual and real world in three beautiful dimensions.
Nominated for a bevy of technical Oscars, the film takes the relatively recent advent of CGI to a new level as it combines the incredible natural beauty of Pandora’s mountainous and forestall landscapes with the industrial, sci-fi vision of Earth’s scientific and military presence on the planet.
However it has failed to garner any nods for acting awards and the performances themselves are a mixed bag – Sam Worthington’s portrayal of Sully has a touch of disconnectedness to it, not helped by the fact his lines as an avatar were studio recorded and that working with countless green-spots and blue screens in place of real life actors and places blocks the natural flow of narrative dialogue.
The same fate does not befall his lover Neytiri, given a touch more vigour and richness by Zoe Saldana while Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace Augustine plays well as a passionate scientist battling military opposition to her avatar programme.
Other casting decisions such as Giovanni Ribisi as a military head (best known as Phoebe’s horny brother in the TV sitcom friends) are laughable at best while Stephen Lang as Colonel Quaritch, intent on conquering the Na’vi’s territory, has a touch of Duke Nukem to his characterisation.
Cameron’s attempts to make parallels between the conflict onscreen and issues such as the war in Iraq and climate change are admirable in their scope but end being clunkily raised in such an unsubtle way you almost expect 3D red flags to appear, alerting you to their presence.
The dialogue lacks nuance, often drifting into cliché and stultifies the mesmerising images on display – characters shamelessly explain the plot and their own motivations in a style Dan Brown has made his own.
It is, as a whole, baggy in length, clocking in at over two and half hours which is a mammoth amount for what is ostensibly a sci-fi action flick and while one respects the hours of time and effort spent on crafting every scene technically, shedding the weight is one thing the film badly needs.
But nonetheless Avatar is a cinematic event that deserves to be seen for its outstanding aesthetics and technical handiwork which has really paid dividends on screen in an act that will be difficult to follow for the next participate in the 3D timeline.
Just as 1927’s Jazz Singer will never be regarded as a classic and will always be known for being the first “talkie” than for any individual merit, Avatar is a defining chapter in the 3D movement and whilst it is not a great film, it remains cinematically revolutionary in the same respect.
Sunday, 13 September 2009
Dealing as it does with subject matter long dubbed sensitive of tyranny against Jews during the Second World War (especially in an avant-garde work such as this) it is a bold move from the American but his charmingly graphic cool-fests of the 1990s hardly went by without a whimper from censors either.
The titular group are a small band of American Jews who have come to war-torn France to seek revenge against the Nazis, presumably for their anti-Semitic genocide although this is never fully explained.
If it wasn’t for the swastikas, sweeping French landscapes and the menagerie of accents, this could easily be a spaghetti Western premise evident in Morricone-like opening music , a violent opening, the needless filmic references scattered throughout the script and clichéd introductions of the Inglorious Basterds’ members.
They are led by Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) in an ill-advised role that sees the individual in his element as Jesse James two years ago stride about the screen with a demeanour and voice to match of a gurning idiot.
Thankfully however, Pitt is not the lead and is part of a strong ensemble, the gleaming star being Christoph Waltz as “Jew Hunter” Colonel Hans Landa, a menacing well-spoken villain, very much in the Bond-guise.
However the sprawling cast lead a film that still looks like it needs a fresh edit with some sections that neither serve a suitable plot advancers or simply lack narrative and character depth.
The glue holding the piece together is a premiere of a Joseph Goebbel’s (Sylvester Groth) propaganda film the one-man-army exploits of Private Fredrick Zoller who, without a hint of modesty, plays himself (the “romantic lead” Daniel Bruhl).
Zoller is smitten with the cinema’s French-Jewish owner (the shrewd Melanie Laurent) and has arranged for the premiere to take place in her French picture-house, an event which provides Tarantino’s problematic climax.
The fact that this film is not and never tries to be historically accurate ratchets the finely constructed tension that Tarantino is well-schooled in to a new level as no character’s fate is certain and nor is the conflict’s development.
This allows Tarantino to create scenes of Hitchcockian-like power that practically rope the audience forward onto the edge of their seats, most notably a section played out in real time in a tavern’s basement which deserves to be considered against some of Tarantino’s most acclaimed set-pieces with flowing dialogue and an arsenal of twists and turns.
However while this section and the film’s opening in a French farmhouse work well, the major issue with the film is the hatefully postmodern moral bankruptcy Tarantino brings to the fore.
This is not in the form of desperate men acting in desperate ways but requires the audience to support the Inglorious Basterds’ sadistic and somewhat psychotic violence which includes scalping and bludgeoning their victims and a blanket death-wish for anyone in a Nazi uniform.
The culminates in an initially striking scene which then appears to treat the Nazis' to their own holocaust. It is this remorseless approach which made the Nazis so horrific and it is difficult to side with any group which subscribes to a similar mentality.
This is the critical death-knell for a movie which has enough problems without this - overly long, overly referential and with a moral core that makes Mr Blonde look like Mr Bean.
Sunday, 2 August 2009
Two years on from the cultural phenomenon of Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen returns to our screens with his peculiar incarnation of Brüno.
The gay Austrian TV presenter had already featured on the Da Ali Show and before that alongside Baron Cohen’s other characters on the Paramount Comedy Channel in 1998.
Over a decade on, the fashonista is projected into the spotlight in a film which bears the classic hallmarks of Baron Cohen’s previous productions with uncomfortable interviews, outlandish gags and a fervent desire to push the envelope of taste with relish.
If it was Borat’s racism and sexism that was played up last time out, it is Brüno’s showbiz egotism and flamboyant homosexuality which come to fore here.
Right from the outset, the film lays its cards firmly on the table with a graphically inventive depiction of Brüno’s sex life with his pygmy lover as they involve various household objects in their activities.
This sets out the stall for the picture – sequences designed to shock get smirks and surprised giggles from the audience but perhaps without the belly laughs that greeted some of the most memorable parts of Borat.
Perhaps this is because Brüno is simply not as an effective vehicle for comedy as Borat or that the film sides with jolts of disbelief over the stream of outrageous quips from Borat or those elicited from his victims.
Not that Brüno leaves his interviewees unscatched – a Christian programme designed to convert gay men into heterosexuals is exposed for its crassness and intolerance, Paula Abdul is (perhaps unfairly) shown as a hypocrite, and parents of child models throw their morals out the window as they try to secure a place for their kids in a Brüno photo-shoot.
However they take a back seat to former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul who storms out of an interview with Brüno in a segment which has to be seen to be believed if not for its comic awkwardness then for the sheer bravery of Baron Cohen.
But here is where we hit problems – Brüno is able to rile people into giving strong reactions to the character (none moreso than from a crowd of wrestling fans which quickly develops into a mob) but these as a collective end up being slightly directionless and at points as vacuous as its central protagonist.
Brüno feels bitty at times with tenuous links between sequences and without the cohesive comedy story arc that was present in Borat.
The film is not homophobic but neither does it do enough to show up intolerance to gays in America – are a group of hoteliers confronted by gay bondage homophobic or just uncomfortable with public displays of graphic sexuality?
One of the staples of Baron Cohen is to make his pictures burst the bubbles of celebrity and fame and take no prisoners but this is a piece which ends with some of music’s biggest stars very much in on the joke.
However despite these problematic aspects to the film, it still manages to pack in more than enough laughs to make it a worthwhile watch and the gall and bravado of Baron Cohen remains unabated.
Now having used up his three major creations, he may be forced to pursue a fresh avenue of comedy attack for his next project.