Fuel for flaming youth
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, 2013, cert 12A, dir Peter Jackson, 2/5

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Seen 01/01/14 

I’m conflicted about the Hobbit films. Firstly, there’s the overreliance on CGI. It’s even used to animate characters where in Lord of the Rings, make-up was used. CGI was less noticeable in Lord of the Rings, and Middle Earth felt more real. It’s used so much in the Hobbit and the action sequences are so over the top, it’s like sitting through a video game.

Secondly, so many new plotlines and characters have been added to the story just to stretch it into a trilogy. Do we really need the hunting orc pack plotline to add more drama, or the beginnings of an elf – dwarf romance for extra emotion? Furthermore, although it’s nice to see details from Tolkien’s other books like Radagest the Brown, he is not crucial to the story. New stuff was added to Lord of the Rings, but a lot was also sacrificed to keep the story tight, and it’s all the better for it.

However, perhaps I’m acting (as my fiancé put it) ‘hoighty-toighty’. My personal opinions on CGI and book adaptations aside, this was still an enjoyable action-packed adventure with lots that was done well.  

For instance, I was unimpressed by the CGI of Smaug the dragon in the trailer. I was blown away by him in the film. The scene where Bilbo and Smaug meet really does justice to the book. In fact, the film does a lot of justice to the book, and is no doubt another passionate tribute to Tolkien’s work. 

'A Field In England', 2013, cert 15, dir Ben Wheatley, 3/5.

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Seen 01/01/14

Ben Wheatley is the most interesting British director to appear in recent years, and this is his strangest work yet: but in a good way, and it proved that there aren’t enough films about the English Civil War.

As Wheatley pointed out, the war in the 1600s was a radical point in English history, for it ended with the beheading of a king and the overthrow of the idea that royalty was God-given. So what better period for a radical film?

The film has two halves. It’s a good period film with archaic but nevertheless colourful dialogue and gritty historical details, like dirty costumes and pox. At the same time, it goes as far out there as British psychedelic filmmaking can go, with visuals and events that will leave your mind blown and bewildered.

As far as plot goes, three deserting soldiers and an alchemist’s assistant (Reece Shearsmith) are commissioned by another sinister Irish alchemist (Michael Smiley) to dig up some treasure in a field. A lot of scary, hallucinogenic stuff happens, during which you’re never sure if the supernatural is involved or not. Nothing is helped by the magic mushrooms the characters accidentally eat.

One interviewer claimed it was a cross between Witchfinder General and 2001. This is slightly accurate, but it’s still unlike either of these films or any others. It’s the most original British film in recent years, grounded by impressive and convincing performances that portray historical characters as real people trapped by events beyond their control. 

'Sightseers', 2013, cert 15, dir Ben Wheatley, 3/5.

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Seen 21/07/13

Having seen all of director Ben Wheatley’s films apart from his latest offering, the 16th century mushroom trip A Field in England, I can safely say I’m a fan. Until I see A Field in England, which I’m eagerly looking forward to, Wheatley’s previous creation Sightseers has been his most enjoyable.

Down Terrace was an entertaining black gangster comedy debut but nothing new. Kill List was a brutal thriller masterpiece, but perhaps too brutal. Sightseers combines Wheatley’s brutality and humour in a way that doesn’t savage viewers and remains unpredictable while still exploring familiar film territory.  

The familiar aspect of the film is that it’s about star crossed lovers embarking on a soul searching road trip, which swiftly turns bloody. Think a British version of Badlands with jokes, where the characters aren’t James Dean lookalikes but Northern caravan pullers longing to see such sights as the Keswick Pencil Museum.

Lovers Chris and Tina (played perfectly by Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, who both wrote the film) have their charms and flaws to amuse and frighten us. Chris is a ginger bearded caravan fanatic who claims he is on a sabbatical across Northern England to write his book. He wants to bring along his new girlfriend Tina, to get her away from her overbearing mother and show her his world. But the trip doesn’t go smoothly, and the pair of misfits react in comic but violent ways.

Quirky, dark and tragic, this is the best that British comedy should be.  

'Come And See', ('Idi I Smotri'), Russian, 1985, cert 15, dir. Elem Klimov, 5/5.

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Seen 09/06/2013

The title is a dare. I dared to see this film, and it’s been a while since a film has left me emotionally numb, and yet convinced that I’ve seen a masterpiece.

The story is familiar. A boy named Florya joins the Soviet army in the forest during World War Two. We are misled for a while, as Florya meets a girl named Glasha and they hide in the woods from the war, enjoying the nature in some beautifully shot scenes. Then the horrors of war are thrust upon them, and the scenes of nature and humanity combined turn urgent and horrific, as the children struggle through a bog, Florya convinced that his family are safe on an island in the middle.

The events that follow are moving but small scale. Then Florya bears witness to a German squad destroying a Russian village. This is one of the most relentless and horrifically accurate war scenes in cinema, for the horrors presented mirror real events committed frequently according to statistics in the film.

Come and See is a gruelling emotional experience, not just for its presentation of suffering but for its incredible performances and scenery. A tone of menace and strangeness is also maintained through its soundtrack and hints of surrealism. Florya’s face physically ages the more horrors he sees. Besides the fact that this will be unlike any war film you will ever see, Come and See is powerful for its message. Most war films get it wrong. People, not soldiers, are the real victims. 

readhassanvawda:

The Impossible, a film that ever since I heard about it has made me uncomfortable and sad by seemingly epitomizing the condition of mainstream Western perceptions and representations of tragedy of the other. I am not arguing or questioning at all about the films technical credentials or artistic…

This is the best thing I’ve ever read on tumblr, from a friend of mine. 

A thought.

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I now think its wrong to gather your favorite books or films or albums or plays or paintings or whatever, strap them onto a tiny raft, and hunch over them as you rage against a heaving ocean of culture. We should dive into that sea, and catch all the fish we want. 08/01/13

'Berberian Sound Studio', 2012, cert 15, GB, dir Peter Strickland, 2/5.

Seen 06/01/13

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Sometimes, you’re sure that you’ve seen a good film, and the critics say it’s good.  You just can’t see why.

Toby Jones plays a British film sound technician named Gilderoy, who arrives in an Italian sound studio in 1976, where they’re recording the soundtrack for a horror. Tensions among the crew rise, and Gilderoy becomes increasingly alienated and disturbed, though he doesn’t show it, since Jones gives a great reserved performance, communicating isolation with as little emotion possible.

This film works best as a tribute to ‘70s Italian horror and the art of film sound effects. Watching the sounds of mutilation being provided by hacking up vegetables, and demonic screaming being produced by weirdly talented vocalists are the movie’s most fascinating elements. Technically, the film is impressive, with great lighting, sound, and shots, all creating suspenseful atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the film only offers suspense, which never builds up to much. It felt like an experimental indulgence in technology that shunned sense, confusing and excluding the average film-goer  Some scenes questioned film violence and expectations of the horror genre. Overall, however, it tried to say something without saying it, which annoyed me.

Though original and inventive, it felt atmospheric and menacing just for the sake of it. As much as I applaud cinematic strangeness, a film is only threatening if it shows what it’s threatening you with. The fact that the film tried to say lots through the exclusive setting of a sound studio just felt (though I hate using this word) ‘pretentious’. 

'Ted', 2012, cert 15, dir Seth MacFarlane, 2/5

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I don’t care what anyone says about Family Guy, American Dad or any other cartoon Seth MacFarlane’s involved in. These shows have displayed an incredible streak of savage satire combined with crude and surreal humour. So even when I saw the trailer of Ted, I felt a little let down.

Some of the MacFarlane ingredients are still there. There are moments of humour on pop culture, celebrities and mild racism, always flirting with controversy. But if you’re expecting a continuous stream of laughter or something unique and challenging, stick to the TV shows.

It is charming how much MacFarlane got involved with his first film (he directed, wrote and voiced the funny but not very outstanding character of Ted). However, for someone who has been pushing the boundaries of television comedy so far, his first step into the movie world has been extremely disappointing. The story of a thirty something office worker (Mark Wahlberg) trying to balance life between his walking talking teddy bear best friend and his girlfriend (Mila Kunis) feels too much like every other romantic comedy we’ve seen and which MacFarlane himself mocks within the film (in this case, Bridget Jones).

There are laugh out loud moments but there’s much more room for comedy instead of the endless tiring clichés attempting to depict a romantic relationship. Is this MacFarlane trying to prove there’s more to him than toilet humour? If so, with dull characters and plotting, this is not a promising start to his film career. 

'The Dark Knight Rises', 2012, cert 12A, dir Christopher Nolan, 2/5

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There’s one event connected to this film that highlights the danger of hype. When a Rotten Tomatoes reviewer gave The Dark Knight Rises a negative review, he received death threats from people who haven’t even seen the film. However, when the reviewer compared Dark Knight Rises to Transformers, I was inclined to agree; not that it’s that bad.

I guess the important question is: is this as good as its predecessor, the now classic Dark Knight? I’m prepared to say no. In fact, I’m not even a big fan of director Christopher Nolan’s second instalment in his Batman trilogy. The only thing I really liked was Heath Ledger’s creepy performance as the Joker, and even the scariness of that has been overrated.

The intensity and the scale of the events in this latest film have been stepped up somehow. The new villain is satisfactorily unnerving and Anne Hathaway surprisingly sizzles as the latest Catwoman. However, all the film seems to offer is intensity. The audience is bombarded with dramatic events that take place and are resolved so fast they have little time to leave much impact.

Like the other Nolan Batman films, Dark Knight Rises attempts to be smarter and darker than the average blockbuster but there are still the old clichés and questionable politics. Although the film looks good and the action is enjoyable, I think too much is trying to be said with an unbelievable set up and story. So unless you’re a comic book fan, don’t believe the hype. 

‘Moonrise Kingdom’, 2012, cert, 12A, dir Wes Anderson, 3/5

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A friend of mine declared that if all films were racially categorised (like Spike Lee films are classed as black cinema) Moonrise Kingdom would be labelled in the white middle class genre. He does have a point, as this is a Wes Anderson film and most of his films would fit this label. Certainly his latest work, like all his films, glows with that warm, quirky, indie character of his which both annoys and charms me.

Set on an island off the coast of New England in the 1960s (when the island doesn’t even have proper roads or towns yet), the character and quirkiness of the island’s peaceful, close-knit community is exaggerated to place the audience in their comfort zone, along with the warmth and colour exuding from the unusual shots and soundtrack.

But a storm is brewing (the worst to hit the island in history) and the community is thrown into chaos after two young adolescents (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward in impressive performances) both considered ‘emotionally disturbed’ outsiders, run away together. The hunt is organised by the exasperated parents of the girl (Anderson favourite Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and the well meaning chief of police (Bruce Willis in a surprisingly gentle role) and an order-obsessed Scoutmaster (in a funny turn from Edward Norton).

The film is full of charm, comedy and emotion but it is a little too quirky to the point of being annoying and unrealistic. If that matters little to you though, it’s an enjoyable ride.