Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

More pointless motion capture and, depressingly, from Steven Spielberg. This approach is neither photo-real nor commits fully to being overtly stylised. The resulting look is a charmless halfway-house that beggars the question, why? Live action could have delivered spectacle and a real sense of drama, straight animation could have supplied the magic of the books which this is distinctly lacking.

Young reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) and his dog Snowy embark on an adventure with Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis). Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig) is the baddie on their tail. The skills of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Thompson & Thomson) are also ineffectually utilised.

The motion capture technology has a long way to come. As with previous mo-cap efforts, any dialogue spoken doesn’t sit well with the digital character models. The words feel detached, creating an odd, robotic feel. See The Polar Express and Beowulf for other examples. (Or rather, please don’t.) On the subject of dialogue, it’s striking how poor the entire cast are as voice artists. Daniel Craig’s attempt at cut glass brings to mind Ewan Macgregor’s cringey Obi-Wan. And Jamie Bell, not exactly renowned for his vocal ability, makes for a pathetic Tintin.

Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish have delivered a haplessly weak script along with Doctor Who writer-in-chief Stephen Moffat. Script-wise it’s easy to spot the similarities between this and Doctor Who, with its crappy, bland humour. The jokes – poor in the first place - fall flat throughout the entire film. And it’s not entirely the writers’ fault - Spielberg seems to have lost all sense of his famous precision timing. However, it's all very pretty and some of the action is impressive but all very unnecessarily close-up. Wide shots seem to occur only to establish scenes. Along with the extraneous 3D it all makes for a vomit-tastic experience.

Unlike the likes of Raiders of the Lost Ark and ET – to be enjoyed by those of all ages – this is very much a children’s film. Unless you’re taking your kids, avoid.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Quando la Notte (When the Night)

When the Night is directed by Cristina Comencini and adapted from her own novel.

Marina (Claudia Pandolfi) takes her problematic two year-old son to the mountains for a sabbatical. Her toddler doesn’t sleep and he does not stop crying. This drives the poor woman, understandably, a bit loopy. (The incessant wailing drove me a bit loopy.) All the while, strange tensions develop between her and the standoffish landlord (Filippo Timi) as they co-habit in a remote alpine cabin.  

This is not a barrel of laughs, no. It’s intense, heady stuff. While I’m told that parenthood, even in the toughest of times still supplies occasional glimmers of joy, this has none of that. It purely focuses on the downside.

The narrative is somewhat uneven. It lacks a clear story arc. The ending feels rushed, a bit tagged-on, which I find is common with book adaptations. So often there’s just too much information to squeeze in to a couple of hours. But the film does have a lot of passion. The locations are spectacular and not always in a “chocolate box” kind of way. In her LFF Q&A, Comencini explained that she wanted a mountain that was “hard-looking”, as opposed to pretty. Against this backdrop, the director has created a peculiar and disturbing atmosphere.

When the Night suggests that a natural instinct for motherhood is not always a given. This is a bold and brave statement to make and one that ought to be welcomed. Since 1950, the world’s population has exploded from 2.5 billion to 7 billion and, disturbingly, shows no signs of slowing down. Bearing these facts in mind, it’s refreshing to see a point of view that doesn’t encourage us to breed.

Friday, 28 October 2011

The Ides of March

This is glossy, conventional film-making and there’s nothing wrong with that. The Ides of March is a smart, political thriller that never condescends. The film’s “polish” simply delivers a serious film in an attractive package.

Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is the junior campaign manager for the democratic presidential candidate, Mike Morris (George Clooney). Ahead in the polls, things are looking very good for Morris. Meyers is a damn fine operator, seemingly capable of adjusting the alignment of the planets to get Morris elected. He is also an idealist but unfortunately that part doesn’t last. It’s not long before a series of events embroils him in dirty political tricks.

As well as being in the film Clooney, impressively, takes writing, directing and producing credits. While his character looms large, it’s really man-of-the-moment, Gosling’s film – at least on screen. However, Gorgeous George’s self-casting is spot on. He is well-suited to playing the “The Next President of the United States” – honest and direct, likeable and unflappable - all these qualities at least indicated by his public persona. (I’d certainly vote for him.) Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the campaign manager and Paul Giamatti as his opposite backing Morris' competition. These two been-round-the-block characters are played with relish (and unsurprising accomplishment) by two of the best character actors in the world. While their outlooks are very different, I couldn’t help but think how capable they’d each be at playing the other’s role. Young padawan, Evan Rachel Wood beefs up her already-impressive CV, further proving that she is not intimidated by actors of the heavyweight variety. Notable mentions to co-writers Beau Willimon (on whose play the film is based) and the “undiscovered talent” that is Grant Heslov, director of the brilliant and criminally-underrated The Men Who Stare at Goats.

But to get back to Clooney – he’s doing what Hollywood was doing in the seventies - not only is he making his films thought-provoking, he’s making them look good.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


Director Giorgos Lanthimos collaborates further with co-writer Efthymis Filippou to create something even more leftfield than Dogtooth.

The Alps of the title refers to a clandestine group in which each member is codenamed after an alpine peak. They offer a bizarre service to the bereaved, supplying a surrogate loved one, replacing those who have recently died. The replacement spends periods with the family etc, dressing and behaving like the deceased, speaking in a formerly-agreed script. Nuts? You betcha. The film raises more questions than answers, most notably who is crazier – the people who do this for a living or the people who hire them?

The shooting style is verité and the acting naturalistic (some of the cast are non-actors). It all makes for a raw and realistic package. I feel it’s a little underwritten. It’s not clear what some of the scenes are meant to be telling us and the plot is a little muddled. But Alps is startling in its originality. It’s not often you can say a new film is unique but this one is. As the subject matter would suggest, it’s extremely quirky. It’s funny and uncomfortably so. It doesn’t, however, make light of each situation. The consequences are a powerful reminder that it’s not all just a game.

The film was exec-produced by Athina Rachel Tsangari, writer and director of the recently well-received Attenberg. Not hugely renowned for its cinema, it seems Greece is experiencing a new vibrancy in this area. Let’s hope the current austerity measures don’t put an end to that.

Sunday, 16 October 2011


Oren Moverman’s follow-up to the Oscar-nominated The Messenger sees the writer/director again not shying away from challenging subjects and the downright bleak. 

Dave “Date Rape” Brown (Woody Harrelson) is an unapologetic misanthrope who is happy to dish out merciless beatings. Sometimes he even shoots people. He’s also a member of the Rampart Division of LAPD, which serves the mostly-Hispanic communities of Downtown Los Angeles. The “Date Rape” moniker refers to an incident in which he’d unlawfully (allegedly) killed a serial rapist. This is a real-life case and one on which the film is based. Brown’s case is ongoing and he gets into further hot water with Internal Affairs as the film progresses. For all his cowboy cop ways he’s a smart guy and, helpfully, something of a hotshot when it comes to all matters legal.

His violence, misogyny and racism - to name just a few of his key attributes – helps him to flush his life down the toilet. It’s a tough watch at times but insanely compulsive viewing. The director shows flair and ingenuity in capturing the heat and intensity of driving a black and white on LA’s mean streets. And the dialogue crackles. Although there have been many James Ellroy film adaptations he is rarely involved in writing the screenplays. Ellroy actually scripted this, with Moverman, and it’s a joy hearing his uncompromising words coming out of the actors’ mouths. Impressively, some of those mouths belong to Sigourney Weaver, Anne Heche, Cynthia “SATC” Nixon, Robin Wright, Ice Cube, Steve Buscemi, Ned Beatty (well into his seventies and nice to see him still doing good work) and the talented Ben Foster (who also takes a producing credit). But it is very much Harrelson’s film. Adding to a career of interesting choices, he completely inhabits the role of an intensely-dangerous man: the police officer you’d never want to be caught by.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Les Géants (The Giants)

My personal London Film Festival experience gets off to a promising start with this endearing film from director Bouli Lanners. In the grand tradition of lazy journalistic shorthand one might say this is Stand by Me meets Winter’s Bone. While the coming-of-age aspect lacks that of Rob Reiner’s 1986 film, it could teach Winter’s Bone a thing or two about making hillbilly gangsters scary.

For reasons unknown, 15-year-old Seth and 13-year-old Zak are abandoned by their mother. Left to fend for themselves at home, they are joined by their friend Danny. Systematically beaten by his psychotic older brother he is glad to get away. In the absence of adult supervision the boys roam the countryside, smoking weed and getting drunk. The situation becomes increasingly serious as they run out of money and food. A solution to their problems involves a local drug dealer. Then things turn even worse.

The story is a little slight and I’m not sure what it all means in the end. The director seemed to, ultimately, celebrate their “freedom” but I couldn’t help feeling practical, adult concerns over the boys’ welfare. With no parents, no home and no education what could possibly go right? The film is warm, funny and gentle but also sporadically nasty. It captures the anarchic bent of teenage boys. Without any grown-ups around chaos, unsurprisingly, reigns. (As a result they live in squalor.)

As civilisation progresses steadily into the 21st century it is a sobering reminder that there are still many in the world quite willing to neglect, abuse or exploit those who are weaker and more helpless than themselves - namely kids.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love

Directing duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who brought us the uniquely funny I Love You Philip Morris give us something more conventionally-comedic here. That is not to say it’s not funny. What it lacks in innovation it makes up for in big belly laughs. And for that we must, essentially, thank its writer Dan Fogleman, who made his name scripting the likes of Bolt, Tangled and Cars for Disney and Pixar.

Crazy, Stupid, Love sees Cal (Steve Carrell) separating from his wife then forming odd couple with ladies’ man Jacob (Ryan Gosling) to learn how to be… surprise, surprise… a ladies’ man. The not-unattractive Gosling, donning a series of killer suits makes the slickly super-cool look effortless. Here he is every inch the movie star. Along with Drive and the Clooney-directed The Ides of March (also starring Gorgeous George) soon to hit our screens it looks like 2011 will be the year Gosling goes stratospheric. The perfect foil for Mr Smooth is Steve Carrell. While hilariously hapless, Carrell is capable of real tenderness when required. It’s a reminder of his genuine acting chops. There’s a wealth of talent on display: the esteemed likes of Marisa Tomei and Julianne Moore are in the film, as is the eternally-underrated Kevin Bacon. At the younger end of the spectrum, Emma Stone again proves herself eminently watchable and there are good roles for youngsters Analeigh Tipton and Jonah Bobo, each nursing painfully-unrequited crushes.

It does cheese out in the third act and, running at 118 minutes, it’s sad it didn’t end half an hour sooner, but it’s gleefully un-thought-provoking stuff. Guaranteed to put a smile on the most serious of faces.

Crazy, Stupid, Love Poster

Wednesday, 5 October 2011


It’s completely understandable if you have preconceived ideas about this film (in a not good way). But it’s best to put them aside. The poster, undeniably fetishising the bodies of the two leads, doesn’t exactly help. The mixed martial arts in this film is incidental. It is not a film about mixed martial arts. (Or rather, I should say, Ultimate Fighting Championship or UFC.) Instead it offers a very moving story of a family torn apart, with the conduit of that story being men fighting in cages.

Following active duty in Iraq, Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) returns to Pittsburgh to be reunited with his father (Nick Nolte), under whose reign of alcoholic abuse the family suffered. They form an uneasy alliance when Tommy recruits him as his trainer for an international UFC tournament. Older brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is a family man, high school teacher and also an ex-fighter. Money worries force him back into the cage and it’s only a matter of time before the two brothers meet – mano a mano.

Hardy’s tortured loner with his monosyllables and wounded animal persona certainly offers more danger and mystique than Edgerton’s Mr Straight but it is Edgerton who is the revelation. As well as impressing with the physical stuff, the guy can really act. That is not to say Tom “So-Hot-Right-Now” Hardy can’t. But, in their scenes together, he does get somewhat KO’d by veteran Nick Nolte. As the pained father offering too little too late, in Nolte we see the pinnacle of a lifetime spent in movies - he just gets better and better. I am being slightly unfair to Hardy, considering he has more acting ability in a single nostril than the likes of an entire Chuck Norris; whereas Hardy really brings it when it comes to the scraps.

Even if you have no interest in UFC the fight scenes are impressively raw and realistic. Director Gavin O’Connor strikes just the right balance between Hollywood gloss and indie grit to make the whole thing work – inside and outside the cage. It is a surprisingly thoughtful tale of a family, the abuse that family sustained and the resulting baggage; all set against an undeniably-thrilling mixed martial arts backdrop.