Monday, 27 August 2012

Haywire

*** 
Having already used a porn star as a lead (Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience) Steven Soderbergh now casts another non-actor: mixed martial arts fighter, Gina Carano.

Mallory Kane (Carano) is a black ops specialist in a private agency used by governments, headed by the shady Kenneth (Ewan McGregor). Dark forces frame her for murder and set her up to go rogue. Just like they planned, she goes on the run. The international intrigue bounces her from Barcelona to Dublin to the US.

The cast is impressive; Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Mathieu Kassovitz and Michael Fassbender all put in brief but memorable turns. It’s wise casting since Carano is literally supported by such talent. She is not a brilliant actor but she’s certainly no worse than say, Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal. What, unfortunately, shines a light on her lack of skill is the superior filmmaking. The aforementioned action stars were never in films of any pedigree and their basic acting styles fitted neatly into the basic directing styles. But an Oscar winner, of course, helms Haywire. Actually, there are moments when Carano shows real sparks of finesse by doing very little. Think Clint or Arnie at their most minimal. But the bad outweigh the good - too often we witness a sore lack of presence and/or charisma in the leading lady and this, ultimately, is what lets the film down.

But hey, it’s not a think piece. It’s a film about a kickass female agent who systematically beats ten bales out of a long string of guys. Within this, her specialist area, Carano clearly has the stuff. As agile and deadly as a cobra she makes fast work of any opponents. Soderbergh shows the fights without editing too choppily (Christopher Nolan take note). This gives the carnage room to breath and we really get a chance to see her dazzling moves. I liked that little is made out of her being a woman. She’s not the best female agent she’s simply the best agent. At one point she remarks, “I don’t wear the dress” telling us her skill set involves her fists, feet and trigger finger.

It is a serviceable thriller but a cold film. Emotionally, Soderbergh employs a very distant approach, which also left me quite removed. Adding to this, long time collaborator David Holmes produced a very sterile score. But it’s perfectly watchable, and has an ending that left me wanting more.



Monday, 20 August 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

**
Judging by the box office figures few will agree with the following. Hack director Christopher Nolan delivers another work that propels him further skywards to inexplicable success. Well, his success is not entirely unexplained. Granted, he has talent. He has a good eye. He can direct actors (except when it comes to anything remotely comedic). As both producer and director he’s very capable of orchestrating lavish and complicated set-ups (but he doesn’t know where to put the camera). It may look attractive but attractive doesn’t necessarily serve the story. His timing – and this is what really oils the wheels - is always just that bit off. Bathed in high-end gloss to deflect his lack of technique, TDKR is plodding in its direction. Even when all hell is breaking loose it’s hard to be drawn in.

Batman (Christian Bale) - having taken the rap for a murder he didn't commit - has retreated from Gotham City. A sequence of events brought about by the fiendish Bane (Tom Hardy) brings The Caped Crusader out of retirement.

Directors will generally rely on a Second Unit Director to shoot stunts and complicated action set-ups. Stunt legend Vic Armstrong, for example, has over fifty such credits. It’s what these guys do. It’s what they specialise in. Nolan, however, insists on directing everything himself. In this his eighth feature, instead of utilising the expertise and infinite wisdom of a seasoned veteran, Nolan does it. And it is a big problem. Take the opening aerial set-piece of TDKR – it has a strong idea, real spectacle (i.e. non CGI) and potential for serious thrills but the director fudges it. It just about conveys what is happening but does so very clumsily denying us any real gratification. And it’s not just the action. Everything he does leaves me cold. Nolan lacks heart and soul. Michael Caine sobbing does not equal ‘emotional’. (The last moment of which actually had me laughing out loud.)

The Dark Knight Rises is a pompous and overly serious telling of material from a comic book. Nolan really takes the fun out of it. On the rare occasions where a funny line is quipped he should – in the style of the sixties TV series – splash a large “CLUNK!” across the screen. He’s about as good at comedy as Richard Curtis is at violence. If I may offer a spot of advice to the director, try easing up on the score too. The film has wall-to-wall music. Any sense of drama is drowned in it - ironically, with an instantly forgettable Hans Zimmer score. (I challenge anyone to hum it.) This is indicative of Nolan overdressing things. He also attempts to cover the poor quality of stunt direction by quick edits. If I were to describe his direction in a nutshell it would be “all show and no go”.

I can’t think of another big budget filmmaker who has re-used such a large number of actors. It’s a cool thing to do unless you’re casting them simply because they are part of this ‘company’. Step forward Marion Cotilard. Hopelessly miscast and given large portions of technical exposition that I can only assume was some kind of punishment for the French actress. Bane is a good villain but he has the most incongruous voice. It’s so important – with his mouth obscured - to believe that the voice is really coming from him but it does not fit the man at all. Part Sean Connery, part John Merrick, with a dash of Gandalf it feels in no way connected to this fearsome thug.

Nolan doesn’t “transcend the genre” because he’s doesn’t deliver the genre conventions in the first place. He lacks the requisite artistry. While discussing the aforementioned my friend suggested I might be jealous of Christopher Nolan. Now in all honesty, I am little. Who wouldn’t be? But my problem with the director is not jealousy. He’s not fulfilling his potential so I’m just disappointed.








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