On the set of The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud…
By now many of you will have seen the trailer for James (‘Titanic’/’Terminator’) Cameron’s ‘Avatar’. What not so many of you will have seen is the 3D IMAX footage which was first tested at the San Diego Comicon, and was yesterday released to preview cinema audiences worldwide. To be honest words fail me. The storyline seems interesting enough – an interstellar, cautionary environmental tale – but the 3D IMAX footage just blows it through your mind and out the other side. The entire production is in 3D – not just the odd wheel flying at your face or one part of an animation, rather every single thing on screen. My brain struggled to process what I was seeing, which was a remarkable experience – certainly not one I’ve ever had at the cinema before, amplified by a complete synthesis between fantasy and reality. Cameron blends CGI and live action, making the boundaries completely unclear, and delivering a whole new cinematic experience. From what I saw it’s unlikely to win any awards on the writing side (although I could be wrong), but noone will be able to avoid the unforgettable experience.
‘Avatar’ is released on the 18th December. I can’t imagine any of you will be mad enough to miss it…
Worthy, nice, interesting, well-meaning – you can say all of these things about ‘Adam’, but very little else. As a character study it’s interesting, even engaging, but it wilfully skirts the difficult questions, and leaves the exploration of Adam and his world piecemeal at best. Adam (Hugh Dancy) is a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome. He’s high functioning, lives alone (having just lost his father), and has a rewarding job as an electrical engineer for a toy company. Enter new neighbour, teacher Beth (Rose Byrne), who takes a shine to him and forces him out of his restricted world; they fall in love. Happily ever after? Not quite…
The film for the most part is a charming look at their fledgling relationship, the compromises she and he have to make to be present in each other’s worlds. Writer/director Max Mayer parallels this with her seemingly strong relationship with father Peter Gallagher, and tensions arise when Gallagher turns out to be a judgmental fraudster. The apple turns out not to fall far from the tree – despite Byrne’s supportive behaviour, she is all-too-willing to manipulate Adam to her own benefit, yet not to sacrifice anything genuine for him. He though ultimately embraces change, largely as an effect of their relationship. That’s it.
What conflict there is is minimal, there’s very little plot and what there is doesn’t challenge the characters worth a damn. Dancy is fired by his boss, who uses his autism to get away with discriminating against him, and when he goes to Byrne’s school is stopped by the police as a suspected paedophile. Both of these are interesting sub-plots, but they’re quickly discarded. The performances however are charming – Gallagher hogs the screen as ever, and Dancy is quite convincing as a young autistic American, but none of them really grab the attention. Max Mayer gives us a gentle, overly theatrical look at a difficult, challenging subject, leaving more questions than answers, and delivers a nice but unfulfilling film. ‘I’m not Forrest Gump,’ jokes Dancy – he’s not Rain Man either. 6/10
The master is back. ‘Inglourious Basterds’ is a thrilling return to form for the caper movie master after Tarantino’s truly awful ‘Death Proof’. As you would expect, the violence is excessive, the dialogue crisp and plentiful, the tone is geeky as hell, and yes this is the WWII movie which could only have come from the mind of Quentin Tarantino, but it’s a solid piece of work and self-indulgent in, well, the ways only he would indulge in. It by no means ranks amongst ‘Jackie Brown’ or ‘Pulp Fiction’, it doesn’t emotionally engage where it probably should – it’s a cheap thrill but with a solid narrative behind it, but that was probably the intention.
Pitt and his crack commando unit the Basterds are sent in by the US Army to infiltrate occupied Europe and wantonly kill Nazis as gruesomely as humanly possible, to send a message to Hitler and co that what they’ve meted out to others (in particular Jews) is coming for them too. And their reputation quickly passes up the chain of command to Hitler himself – killing, scalping, braining, mutilating – there’s no limit to what the Basterds will do to terrorise Nazis. So far so over-the-top funny, but the writer/director has learned from the misfire of ‘Death Proof’. Their involvement is only tangential to the very serious cat and mouse game between Jewish cinema owner Mélanie Laurent and Nazi Jew hunter Christoph Waltz. Waltz starts the film by massacring her entire family in occupied France, before unwittingly encountering her once more as the unwilling object of desire of Major Daniel Brühl, who as both a Nazi war hero and the new pin up Nazi boy of Joseph Göbbels’ fledgling Nazi film industry, intends to hold the premiere of his latest propaganda film in Laurent’s cinema. The Basterds meanwhile get wind of the premiere through German actress and double agent Diane Kruger, who informs them the entire Nazi high command (including Hitler) will be in atendance, giving the Basterds the chance to kill them all and end the war. Laurent meanwhile sets about her own ruthless plan for revenge.
It’s a hugely entertaining, acid trip of a movie, which regularly lapses into self-indulgence (this is however a Tarantino film) and boasts some truly stellar performances. Laurent is a true find and more than holds much of the movie on her own, but Brühl (‘The Edukators’, ‘Goodbye Lenin!’) shows again why he’s a name to watch in world cinema, delivering a thoroughly rounded, completely believable performance of a character doubtlessly written as a caricature. They, the Basterds and indeed Pitt himself are all however out-acted by Christoph Waltz, who quite rightly won Best Actor at Cannes as SS Colonel Hans Landa. A thoroughly affable man, he’s far smarter and wilier than even the Basterds; where they’re a blunt instrument he’s refinement and grace, yet no less dangerous. It’s to Tarantino’s credit that he allows him to steal the entire film. It’s horribly bloated (the scene with Winston Churchill and aide-de-camp Mike Myers adds nothing whatsoever to the film other than a cheap laugh at Myers), the occasional voiceovers by Samuel L Jackson detract from otherwise sound storytelling, Pitt never quite breaks out from caricature, and the frequent discussions about European cinema ring more like Tarantino’s internal dialogue than the characters’, but these really aren’t significant quibbles.
It’s clearly two films – marketed as the spaghetti western gorefest, yet that element is unexpectedly but rightly downplayed in favour of the serious film centering on Waltz and Laurent. Tarantino just manages to blend them together in his own inimitable way, and the result is like nothing you’ll have seen before. It might not be in the top 5 for the summer, but don’t you dare miss it. 8/10
An awesome piece of work, adapted by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud from Satrapi’s graphic novel of the same title, ‘Persepolis’ is Satrapi’s part comic, part animated autobiography, focusing on the 1979 Iranian Revolution and how it affected her and her family. It’s intensely political yet warm, engaging, funny and entertaining. It has moments of horror and despair, but offers enormous insight into the social differences between western Europe and not just the fundamentalist caricature of Iran, but the much more liberal and emancipated nation which lies underneath the Islamic Republic. It’s no wonder it got the attention of highly political actors like Sean Penn to do the English voiceover for her father, and he’s not the only big name attached (Gena Rowlands & Catherine Deneuve round out the stellar English language cast).
It’s a fascinating examination of how people can stay individual under extremist rule, and is an oddly enchanting look at Satrapi’s life without the conventions you’d expect using most modern animation techniques; Persepolis is defiantly true to the graphic novel. And yet it works – by making the story the priority and not the animation, you’re left to focus on Satrapi’s life as a child (with her obsessions with Bruce Lee, the Bee Gees and Iron Maiden), and then as an adolescent – the often funnier but largely murkier period in Vienna. Particularly upon her return to Tehran you’re left in no doubt about how difficult it is for freedom to survive there, following the autocracy of the Shah through to the extremism of the revolution and its mad war with Iraq; the people have their ideals but there’s little oxygen for them to take hold. Satrapi finds the reverse true in Europe – plenty of oxygen but few ideals. The Marjane of the film comes across as very lonely indeed, but in her continuing defiance an inspiration for us all. Sometimes simple is best, and it’s highly recommended. 8/10
Few films in recent months have been quite as bad as this stinker. I love horror films, even the retreads, even the shockers with obvious plots, but ‘Orphan’ has next to no redeeming features. Seemingly loving couple Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga lose their third child, and in the depths of their grief decide to adopt older child Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). But Esther is (shockingly) more than she seems! Slowly she turns Sarsgaard against Farmiga, engineering various maimings and killings against people who wrong her, from the class bully through to the nun who cared for her in the orphanage. But bizarrely only Farmiga notices, despite overwhelming evidence pointing to Furhman, whilst Fuhrman inexplicably succeeds in coopting children Aryana Engineer and Jimmy (very young Kirk in ‘Star Trek‘) Bennett to keep geting her way. Despite overwhelming evidence that she remains on the wagon, Farmiga’s alcoholism is blamed for pretty much everything, as Fuhrman nears her ultimate goal – Sarsgaard himself!
Esther ultimately wants Sarsgaard sexually, but she’s a dwarf pretending to be a child so that’s ok. Huh? Quite. And in one of her many jealous rages she ends up killing him, before getting taken (shockingly I know) out by Farmiga who ends up rescuing her children, mostly from the stupidity of her now dead husband, his stupid family and her implausably incompetent shrink. It takes over two hours to get there, without any sense of humour about itself, hampered by a laughably bad script by David Johnson and no real interest in creating interesting or sympathetic characters (or their development) by director Jaume Collet-Serra. The shocks are barely shocking, the acting is poor (Fuhrman isn’t bad I’ll admit), and the twist doesn’t just leave a bad taste in the mouth, it (and much of Esther’s dialogue) just feels like the audience has been taken advantage of. Don’t even bother with the DVD. 3/10
Will this be Cloverfield done right? Will we actually get a thoughtful take on alien first contact? Only a few weeks until we find out…