I'm still in the process of adding old film reviews to the Blog, just not very quickly, must try harder...


Film (70) Music (12) Photography (6) Television (1) Writing (3)

Friday, 28 June 2013

(Not) Pot Luck

Potiche is a delightful French comedy from Francois Ozon (director of Simming Pool) starring Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu. There is gentle humour but with the style and lightness of touch that one would expect from our European cousins across La Manche. Deneuve and Depardieu are highly watchable, and well supported by the rest of the cast, but it is very much support with Catherine and Gerard at the centre of attention. The plot meanders somewhat, but this need not be a bad thing as it allows some breathing space to take in the beautiful production design that puts the film firmly in mid 1970's France. I cannot help thinking of a comparison with Carry On At Your Convenience as a double bill that would highlight the differences between British and French humour, not to mention culture. That is obviously unfair, since Carry On... was a product of the actual 70's, rather than a film made in 2010 and looking back, but if nothing else Potiche should be taken as a recommendation to go and seek out French comedies of all ages.

Life In The Fast Lane

The Runaways is an entertaining story of the rise and fall of the eponymous band, with good lead performances by Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning as the mainstays of the group, Joan Jett and Cherie Currie. The story itself is a familiar one, no less so because it is probably largely true of the arc of many rock bands, an arc lampooned brilliantly by This is... Spinal Tap, and you will see comparisons between this film and that comic fiction, but what Christopher Guest did not stretch the limits of his fiction to are the wild-eyed antics of crack-pot impresario Kim Fowley, brilliantly played by Michael Shannon. Among the many fresh faces on show is an older one who was the child protégé of her day, Tatum O'Neal (ask your mum), daughter of Ryan O'Neal (ask your gran), as Cherie's mother. Enjoyable stuff, if not exactly family fayre, and definitely not one to watch with your 16 year old daughter (eeuw!).

Grey Days

Guillaume Canet (the French guy in The Beach, but with many other acting and directing credits) writes and directs an excellent cast in a languid tale that wonders through the lives and relationships of a group of friends holidaying in the beautiful surroundings of Cap Ferret. The mix of characters and temperaments is played nicely by an engaging collection of thesps Francaise   including Marion Cotillard, Francois Cluzet, Gilles Lellouche and Jean Dujardin, and Canet gives the main characters plenty to do, with various parallel story threads pulling them together, these threads mingle to coax the film forward, but at a pace consistent with that feeling of being on holiday when nothing has quite the same imperative as it does in the world of work. Canet guides proceedings ably toward the denouements of the various strands with a gentle touch, and there is a nice variation in tone throughout, with moments of real passion, drama, comedy and conflict, perhaps tending to melodrama in places, but without tipping over into multiple Kleenex territory. Events are brought together effectively in the third act, and Canet and his cast deliver an emotional conclusion that is highly satisfying, and you might need that hankie at the end after all.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Quality of Light

Thinking further on the subject, this image pointed me back to what is surely the most fundamental component of any photograph, light. Is it not the quality of the light in an image that draws the eye? Something in that one particular picture that sets the scene, the view, or the object apart from the thousands of others that the eye takes in, processes and disposes of each minute?

Rather than trying to create something new, such as when using 'Shift', here I was trying to capture the tone of the light falling from the skylight in an artist's studio in Cornwall. My Sony DSC-P72 produced this image at an equivalent F-stop of f/5.6 with an ISO-100 setting, a 1/400s exposure and +0.7 exp bias so as not to lose the interior to shadow.

The studio in question is in St. Ives (clue for those who have visited that charming town), and belonged to a sculptor, namely Barbara Hepworth. My daughter, at age 11 in 2006 when this picture was taken, had discovered an enthusiasm for sculpture, so Hepworth's studio (where she died in a fire in 1975), was a must-see. There is an excellent collection of Hepworth's work in the garden there, in what is now the Barbara Hepworth Museum.

I find this image inspiring, perhaps a latent memory of the inspiration that I felt at the time in seeing my daughter's enthusiastic reaction to the place and the sculpture. Something in the tone of the light, which is subdued, seems to me to offer a backdrop for creativity, for ideas. I made sure that the composition included the mirror, which shows a reflection of sculpting items on other surfaces in the room, but particularly the calendar on the wall, which displays 20th May, the day that Hepworth died.

The Upward Spiral

This picture was taken in the entranceway of the apartment where we stayed in Rome in July 2007. I've mumped on in previous posts about the line between pointing the camera and pushing the button, and creating something that might be described as art. 18 months between that post and this one, and I'm coming from the other direction here in accepting that the line in question is blurred at best.
Clearly, there are elements such as composition, framing and exposure that are fundamental to the result, and good judgement in making choices for these elements can be considered as skill in photography. These decisions lead to an image being pleasing to the viewer or not, but are they enough on their own or in combination to result in art being created, or does there need to be an element of the unexpected and unusual, the novel and original, that goes further?
That, of course, is a big question, and well beyond me to answer for anyone else. Suffice to say that I thought I had answered it from my perspective in my last photography post but, in looking back through my photographs to put more images up on the blog, I think I need to consider that question further.
Here, for example, is another picture taken using my Sony DSC-P72, ISO 100, f/2.8. The exposure is 1/2 second (no bias), long enough to get some light from the rendered ceiling of the spiral stairway and to over-expose the glass roof of the stairwell and create an intense brightness there. The artificial lighting gives the white render a soft orange tone that I liked, and I think there is a pleasing convergence in the lines of the railings that draws the viewer into the bright light above.

10 out of 8

A superlative film from J.J. Abrams, clearly channelling the work of producer the fabulous Mr. Spielberg, Super 8 takes the joyfully freewheeling sensibility of ET and brings a darker more adult tone to a story that borrows several themes from Earth-bound Science Fiction, but Abrams takes these and makes them his own. Hinging the story around the youngsters shooting a movie is a clever and affecting touch, evoking memories of childhood dreams in the audience, and the young stars have a great chemistry that makes the whole premise engrossing. But it would not work so well if the adult performances did not anchor events in the 'real' world of grown-up cares and concerns, and good turns from Kyle Chandler and Ron Elard do just that, especially in the opening scenes where the film's emotional level is established. The youngsters are not upstaged however and the leading lights of the cast-within-a-cast, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Riley Griffiths are entirely believable, but it is Fanning who steals the show in the key train wreck scene, which is fraught with tension and excitement even before the train arrives and, like a certain scene in David Lynch’s 'Mulholland Drive' featuring Naomi Watts, is a highly effective illustration of what proper acting looks like. Super 8 is essential viewing for fans of Abrams, Spielberg or just plain wonderful movies.

It's Space Opera, Jim - not Aida!

Ignore the sniping campaign that beset John Carter from before it was even released and watch this movie through the lens of some important facts. Edgar Rice Burroughs' first story was serialised in 1912, and he invented much of the language of modern SF stories, arguably doing more than anyone to create the Space Opera form that long after spawned Star Trek, Star Wars and all that followed them. To say that we have seen before most of what Andrew Stanton puts on screen is a narrow view, and to say that it is confusing implies a conscious unwillingness to put some thought into following the story (that's you, Dr. Kermode). It's sad to think that we will probably not see any of the other books now, all because of the deliberately constructed scuttlebutt designed to sabotage the film. Mark Strong and James Purefoy have both alluded to this in interview and how completely disproportionate that opprobrium was. Those of us who are fans can only hope that John Carter becomes the long term success that it deserves to be, it's a cracking adventure movie, Lynn Collins is every inch the feisty Martian princess and definitely could take Princess Leia in a fight (no blasters allowed). The cast is filled out with a mighty throng of British thesps, including the aforementioned plus Samantha Morton, Ciaran Hinds and Dominic West, and the mighty Bryan Cranston and Thomas Haden Church are also present. But what about Taylor Kitsch? Well he does just fine, the role is not taxing and he's got the muscles for it, I mean come on, it's space opera, not Aida.

If You Go Down To The Woods Today...

Set expectations to 'stun' (not stunning) for this not particuarly scary, but interesting effort from director Drew Goddard, written with Joss Whedon. I'm not a big horror fan, so I'm not sure if this is post-Scream or post-post-Scream post-found-footage, but it's an entertaining enough film with a twist at the start that runs through it. The proceedings are unremarkable, although there are decent turns from the leads. Chris Hemsworth is convicing as the ubiquitous jock, and Kristen Connolly is engaging as the heroine in peril, but it's the underlying premise and the presence of Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford that will prevent you from turning off after the first fifteen minutes. And for me the story does offer something in addition to the usual tired horror cliches, even if the payoff is disappointing, not least down to the introduction of the CGI equivalent of claymation and polystyrene. You should be entertained, somewhat, if you are willing to go along for the ride.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Doctor Rock

Everything that a rockumentary should be, the story of the highly colourful life and career of a man who has more right than most to claim the title of Rock God, a piece that has been put together with obvious reverence, extensive background research and attention to detail. But this is more than just a parade of talking heads, although that important element is there, the film offers a snap-shot of the great man's life, delivering vignettes that nicely convey Lemmy's influence on many of those who followed in his footsteps. The film offers much to entertain those who are not Motorhead fans and for those not aware of Lemmy's legacy. It is an excellent companion piece to his autobiography White Line Fever, which is to be recommended for those wanting more detail on the subject, but that is not to say that 'Lemmy' does not manage to pack in a good amount of detail itself in tracing the man's origins, nicely cut together with scenes that illustrate his ongoing contribution and relevance to the world of rock music at the age of 67. Much credit to directors Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski.

Death Becomes Him

Rather grim and joyless tale from writer / director Andrew Dominik, starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck. There are powerful performances from the leads and a talented cast of players, but the real star is Roger Deakins' cinematography, and it is just as well that the film looks and sounds beautiful, because there is little to admire in any of the characters, despite what are clearly skilled performances. No doubt, this can be considered a suitably accurate portrayal, but does it make for rewarding viewing and a positive audience reaction? Setting aside the ability of Hollywood to repeatedly cast gangsters as colourful rogues, or at best, misunderstood or conflicted, rather than the killers and thieves that they are, there is still no-one here to root for, so when this or that character meets his end from time to time, don't be surprised to feel little but an abstract curiosity about the mechanics.

As the film rolls on into another hour, even Mr. Deakins' beautiful pictures lose their ability to redeem the unrelieved uniformity of the pacing, and when there is an injection of tension at the promised conclusion, the discovery that this was not the end, but only an end was, for me, a disappointment. It is easy to admire style, but for true enjoyment, there must be substance, conflict, emotion. Where these are attempted by this story, it usually misses the target, and the surfeit of moodiness and brooding disquiet becomes wearing after a while.

The script is unremarkable, and few of the cast are given much to do beyond spitting out some western stereotypes in a studied drawl. In the end, it seems reasonable that we take from the piece that the old west was a cruel and dangerous place, with more than its fare share of cruel, dangerous and greedy individuals, unwilling to make their way in the world through honest toil, and unwilling to respect the lives and property of others, but watching them kill each other for 160 minutes, no matter how beautifully filmed, is not an edifying experience.

Friday, 14 June 2013

The Sweet Smell of Success

There's a whiff of quixotic alchemy about Tom Tykwer's 'Perfume: The Story of a Murderer' that is personified in an excellent central performance by Ben Wishaw, and it's a theme that runs through this innovative and captivating story from the novel by Patrick Süskind, as we are introduced to a wonderfully drawn cast of characters, but it is the protagonist's deranged genius that holds the film together, bringing the viewer, quite literally, an original sense of perspective.

Arrayed around our anti-hero is a series of excellent turns from the likes of Dustin Hoffman as the mentoring perfumier; Alan Rickman as a concerned father; and David Calder as the Bishop of Grasse. Apart from Hoffman's role, and the comforting tones of John Hurt as the narrator, most of the supporting parts are brief, little more than vignettes in most cases, but they are always full of character and opportunity for expression which is seized by the players, and the accomplished script conveys so much through its looks and touches and expressions that the viewer forgets that the focus of the piece is a sense that is not available for them to experience.

Despite the eroticism evident in many scenes, and the presence of a bevy of beautiful young women who fall victim to the protagonist’s ministrations, the film never lapses into salaciousness, anchored in the Grenouille’s profound belief that he serves a higher purpose, portrayed with such depth by the stand-out Wishaw. Such are Grenouille’s powers of seduction, that those portraying his victims are, by and large, given more to do than simply cowering and screaming, and Rachel Hurd-Wood in particular is both intriguing and enchanting as Laura.

At every turn ‘Perfume...’ is surprising and rewarding, the perfect antidote to the usual dumb-and-dumber multiplex fodder, and it should be affirming to everyone’s love of cinema that gems like this are still possible in the face of rampant commercialism. It should not be forgotten that the film has a ‘15’ certificate, and BBFC Insight tells us that the film ‘Contains sexualised nudity and disturbing image.’ but as long as this is remembered, ‘Perfume’ is a must-see.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Head and Shoulders

This is what I'm talking about. 'Headhunters' is a rippingly good skandi crime thriller directed by Morten Tyldum from a novel by Jo Nesbo. Aksel Hennie is the protagonist who gets in over his head when an art theft goes wrong, 'Game of Thrones's Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnøve Macody Lund and Eivind Sander provide the support in what is a highly enjoyable euro-thriller. Even though the cast is small, they are well used and the story rattles along at a pace that keeps the viewer involved at every turn. There are some satisfying developments that don't really qualify as twists, and there is nothing radical here, but it is done with style and panache, and Hennie's lead performance is so engaging that you will be happy to get dragged along for the ride. Another excellent example of why Scandinavian dramas are deservedly riding high.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Here Comes The Summer

'Summer Wars' is another excellent exponent of the Japanese anime genre, directed by Mamoru Hosoda, whose modest (so far) directorial cannon includes 'The Girl Who Leapt Through Time' (not to be mistaken for one of the Stieg Larsson trilogy!), which is also highly enjoyable. This film is a lively and colourful affair, nicely evoking the optimism and energy of the season, and its large cast of characters is well drawn in both senses, each one sketched with enough care and detail to be believable and interesting, and to make their own distinct contribution to the story, despite there being some twenty family members or so to deal with, no mean feat.

The plot is bedded in the technology of future, an almost ubiquitous theme for the genre, but the story’s posit of a worldwide virtual network to which every financial institution, emergency service and government agency links, and indeed some cedes control of its systems, is hardly Science Fiction! Events take a turn for the worst of course, but despite the action being centred on a bright and colourful online world, and a plethora of cuddly personal avatars, Hosoda invests the conflict with a dark malevolence that is convincing, and delivers a real sense of threat.

‘Summer Wars’ may look at first glance like a kid’s film, but don’t dismiss it as ‘some kind of Pokémon’, the film delivers some emotional passages and a sweet central relationship that you will root for. All in all very satisfying for fans of the genre, and has something to offer those who are not. For me, the final note strays from the tone of the piece, but that is a minor quibble. Treat yourself to a dose of optimism.