Contraband Trailer

If Mark Wahlberg pushes you to the ground and puts a gun to your head while warning you not to touch his loved ones, the last thing you should consider putting on your To-Do list is “touch the wife or kid of the Wahlberg family.” Obviously Giovanni Ribisi didn’t get that memo. Here’s the new trailer for Contraband in which he’s harming wives and kids like nobody’s business. Geez, take a hint?

Also, you may have noticed that it features a brief montage of Kate Beckinsale putting on her clothes. Now I don’t wanna tell you trailer-makers how to do your job, but you might wanna consider playing that footage backward. And slowly.

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”: Oldman gets taught new tricks

Bereft of the guns, girls and glamour so ingrained in us by the James Bond franchise, a realistic portrayal of spy life is not an easy task. A thriller that is, in reality, more akin to an episode of Inspector Morse than Mission Impossible is the hardest sell of all. But the new version of John le Carre’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is a welcome addition to the genre, feeling decidedly more cinematic than something you’d watch with a tray of sausage and mash on your knees.

I needn’t give much of a synopsis, since it has already been well-reported by almost every media outlet in the country, not to mention that this is a film that lives and dies by its dark, complex plot.

The central character is George Smiley, a semi-retired agent who’s reinstated in order to investigate the allegations of a mole being present in the “Circus.” This isn’t a Daniel Day-Lewis role – no points for gyrations – and it is played with remarkable restraint and subtlety by Gary Oldman. It’s an entirely selfless piece of acting, providing the dense plot with a much-needed calm anchor amidst a sausage-fest of British acting talent: the customary Colin Firth, the fascinating-to-look-at Toby Jones, the out-of-his-depth Benedict Cumberbatch, and the time-honoured Tom Hardy. And yet despite allowing this ample cast all the time in the world to steal the limelight with their more animated turns, Oldman brings a sense of hidden danger and tightly repressed rage to George Smiley that is effortlessly understated.

It’s a film that’s bathed in nuance; a slight turn of the head can reveal just as much, if not more than the most violent outbreak of any character. The direction of Tomas Alfredson embodies a seemingly detached nature that truly befits the film’s subject matter whilst simultaneously injecting his own unique brand of Swedish melancholia. This, combined with a measured pace and artistically drab cinematography, creates an auditory as much as a visual experience, echoing the shadowy, paranoia-steeped world of the Cold War. “Silence means security” couldn’t be any more appropriate.

Needless to say, the target demographic here is not fans of the Bourne Trilogy, as I did hear many grunts of dissatisfaction at the end of the film by people sitting nearby. But I suspect the wearisome individuals who left the cinema saying, “Now there’s 127 minutes of my life I’ll never get back” are probably just secretly happy to be 127 minutes closer to death.

I must confess that I was a little disappointed by the ending, too. You see, the screenplay is an icy core for which the director and actors must take hours to chip away at, but the limp resolve felt all too predictable. Despite the worthy attempt, I couldn’t help but feel that at its heart something was missing. Maybe that’s just it – heart. With an ensemble cast, but only two hours at his disposal, Tomas Alfredson had to sacrifice persona for plot, disappointingly depriving us of seeing the true capabilities of an otherwise impressive line-up. It was an inevitable frustration.

I intended to end this review with a quip along the lines of, “… but then I’d have to kill you,” but I can’t think of any suitable way for this to work.

Human Centipede II Trailer

I was a bit late to whole ‘Human Centipede’ phenomenon. And when I finally caught it on channel ‘Syfy’, it left me with a foul taste in my mouth. A bit like the last person in the dreaded sequence.

Of course, critics panned it for being a “grotesque fusion of atrocities,” but it did become a cult movie mainly through word-of-mouth. Okay – I’m not gonna mention “mouth” again, for obvious reasons.

Anyway, director Tom Six has worked on a follow-up (again, please ignore any relation to the film) which has been banned over here. The British Board of Film Classification objected to it because,

The principal focus is the sexual arousal of the central character at both the idea and the spectacle of the total degradation, humiliation, mutilation, torture, and murder of his naked victims…

Hmm. Maybe he should have romanced the Centipede first? Dinner? Dancing? A marriage proposal? See for yourself, ’cause here’s the official teaser trailer:

Looks like there’s a new creep around town who feels the need to combine sewing with arseholes. Great minds think alike? Not really, since the new villain is just an ordinary lunatic who saw the first film and decided to try it out. Makes sense.

Also, Tom Six, thanks for casting another creepy-looking guy who will ruin my sleep patterns:


“Jane Eyre”: Fassbender does the Full Brontë

Before I went to see the new version of Jane Eyre at the cinema, I read an interview with the producer, Alison Owen, in which she set out her reasons for commissioning the screenplay:

It’s been my favourite book since I was 11 or so and I’ve always felt that it has been underserved by the movies.

If her definition of “underserved” is 18 film versions (as far back as a 1910 silent movie), then I fear she needs to promptly re-examine her life standards before she’s bitterly disappointed by something as trivial as a Mars bar “fun size.” Everyone knows the basic plot-points of Jane Eyre. It’s the cinematic equivalent of chewing gum: sweet on the tongue, but swiftly discarded and forgotten.

Luckily, though, this film has a lasting flavour: a competent screenplay fused with a stellar cast (notable performances by the two leads) and the unassuming directorial eye of Cary Fukanaga.

Exemplifying the youthful/naive mannerisms of the heroine, Mia Wasikowska plays a powerful and expressive Jane Eyre. She was a little too weepy in parts, though, which probably owes more to script orders (tears = cheers) and the need for a more clear-cut exploration of emotion. Nevertheless, she compels the audience to believe that forbidden love is possible. Excuse the pun, but she’s no plain Jane. She beautifully balances the unwavering strength and the innate timidity that is so clear in the novel. That she does not exist in my sorry life, in the dark and damp multi-storey carpark of Newcastle-under-Lyme’s cinema complex, seems like mankind’s keenest tragedy.

The stand-out performance, however, was from Michael Fassbender, an actor who continues to amaze me with his versatility (seeming at home in the subversive skin of Bobby Sands in ‘Hunger’ and playing the understated sex-on-a-stick in Arnold’s much-acclaimed ‘Fish Tank’ last year.) He is a magically smouldering Mr Rochester; his onscreen electricity with Wasikowska felt genuinely soulful and his sheer intensity is not over-acting, but a divine gift. The billowing torch Mia and him bear along the stormy midnight plain of love and woe makes my tragically fruitless interactions with members of the opposite sex (maybe because I continue to refer to them as “members of the opposite sex”) look like a miniature flashlight shoplifted from the Millets of my imagination, whose only true light is its own flaming torture.

Just a quick mention of plot (I’m not one, like Ebert, who describes almost every twist and turn so that his readers are left with nothing but the rotting carcass of cinema verité): Instead of following the linear narrative of the novel, the film begins half-way through and then uses Eyre’s memory as the vehicle of the plot’s chronology. This is not too fragmentary – it’s just a couple of skips in time – and audience sentiment is guided by her direct thoughts on her past. After all, this is arguably a pre-feminist bildungsroman and never is she portrayed as a damsel in distress. As a whole, I think it worked well: we are plunged into media res from the beginning in order to establish a sense of urgency and immediacy surrounding her life story and we want to know more.

I urge you to go and see Jane Eyre, if you’re willing to relearn how pathetic, impotent, shallow and empty your own experience of love has been.

The Descendants Trailer

Looking forward to the long-awaited return of Alexander Payne as a director.

When his last film was out (‘Sideways’, 2004) I was still wearing spiderman pyjamas.

The new film has already spawned a meme site: Who Is He? But still, no matter how long                 Mr Clooney grows old and his beard, he still won’t beat Mr Connery’s You’re The Man Now, Dog!

According to Wikipedia, the protagonist in the new film “tries to reconnect with his two daughters after his wife suffers a serious boating accident.” And, with no sense of irony, they still list it as a ‘comedy.’

Then again, Carol Burnett did once say “Tragedy + time = Comedy”, although she was a notorious drunk who liked the company of Henry Kissinger, so we can go ahead and discount everything she’s ever said or done.

I suppose Payne is already well-known for his dark humour, beginning with his film ‘Citizen Ruth’ back in 1996, which focused on the farcical consequences surrounding an alcoholic pregnant woman. (Well, at least she never drank alone, amiright?)

[pause for laughter and/or disapproval]

Seems not much has changed with Payne. Cue “And i still wear spiderman pyjamas” joke.

“Tree of Life”: the Penn is mightier than the plot

I went to see Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” at the weekend. It’s a film all about human suffering – mainly the audience’s.

Now, bear with me, it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes so that must mean something, right? Wrong. I don’t know a single director, aside from Ken Loach, whose best film has won this much sought-after award. For example, Michael Haneke, a man I much admire but refuse to meet in a dark alley, won it in 2009 for his macabre film on “the origin of every type of terrorism” (‘The White Ribbon’) despite its gratuitous approach to such subject matter (silence, menace and omnipotence) and inferiority to his emotional “Glaciation” trilogy that blazed his unflinching path in the early 1990s.

Tackling such notions as purity, nature and redemption, unsurprisingly, “The Tree of Life” has received much critical acclaim – Peter Travers claims it’s “shot with a poet’s eye,” which I do not dispute. Indeed, had I the abilities to press pause at any time, not only would I have appreciated the opportunity to visit the bathroom during this 139m-long film, but I suspect I could have framed whatever was the on the screen and hung it upon my wall. The scenes of prehistoric earth were visually stunning and I could even overlook the pitiful dinosaurs that were paraded in front of my very pupils. But enough with the preaching, Mr Malick. It felt as if I were back in school assembly, listening to the local reverend discuss the origins of hot cross buns for the 100th time. Now critics have claimed that it avoids just this, but I beg to differ. One of the very last comments to be made in the film sums up my argument: “if you do not love, life will flash by.” Maybe that’s true, but isn’t that the morale of the story? “Seize the day.” Now I don’t mind didactic tales of woe, but if you want to appeal to me, which I’m sure wasn’t high up on Mr Malick’s list of priorities (maybe just under “feed the fish” and “collaborate with Michael Bay”), then don’t give me the main message of your film in vocal or written form – it’s up to me to decide. In this regard, even Aesop outdoes Terrence.

What’s it all about, for those completely in the dark? Well, we witness the flashbacks of a modern-day architect Jack (Sean Penn) who is dissatisfied with his upbringing in 1950s Texas under the watchful eyes of his parents (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain.) It’s not so much a love song to the Deep South, where Terrence Malick was incidentally brought up, as much as it is an interminable two-and-half-hour rock opera about a piece of string. The audience spends an unusually long time witnessing the dynamics of the family unit: Jessica Chastain plays the benevolent mother who Jack walks all over while Brad Pitt adopts the stern father role. There’s a lot of focus on the strained relationship between father/mother. In fact, Chastain knows her abusive husband like the back of his hand. Literally. There are also the supposed typical bouts of teen angst as we watch Jack grow up, e.g. engaging in mindless vandalism and attaching a toad to a firework. (Even though the most dangerous thing I ever did in my youth was the Casper Slide.) Then again, I’d like to think that what Jack goes through in “The Tree of Life” is a more accurate reflection of my upbringing than anything you’d see in “The Inbetweeners Movie.”

Ultimately, this is a film that achieves everything it sets out not to do. It answers its own questions, despite its philosophical endeavour to discover the unanswerable question: what is the meaning of life? Perhaps it’s so convoluted it can’t help but resort to cliches. Jessica Chastain says at the beginning that “there are two ways through life, the way of nature and the way of grace,” but Malick personifies this fairly obvious statement in the two parents. They’re two-dimensional constructs of his extremely ambitious screenplay (Pitt represents “nature” – a strict disciplinarian who encourages his son to be ruthless in this cut-throat world – whereas Chastain is the fountain of unconditional love, she is the human embodiment of “grace.”) Let me end this review with the last words we hear in the film, courtesy of Sean Penn: “Father, mother, always you wrestle inside me.” Same here – I was wrestling for a refund.

1/5 (Proof that Jesus died in vain.) 

Greetings: Moore or Less

Hello. Um, welcome. And so forth.

I was looking at my collection of DVDs yesterday (including ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’, ‘World at War’, and ‘Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things’ – a Holy Trinity of comedy, documentary and cautionary) when I noticed ‘A View To A Kill’ hidden behind the pile. With a free afternoon, I decided to watch it with the audio commentary supplied by the eloquent Roger Moore.

Now for those of you who’ve never seen it, ‘A View To A Kill’ is perhaps the most cheesy and balls-out fun Bond movie ever: a killer fly fisherman, a plot to submerge Silicon Valley underwater, and that scene where 007 decides to bake a quiche.

So with all that, you’d think octogenarian Roger Moore (who was last seen delighting audiences in a cameo role as a shifty-looking passenger on a gay cruise in Boat Trip) would seize the opportunity to chat about all the shenanigans on set, like the experience of filming a love scene that is far more harrowing and creepy than walking in on your own parents:

Instead, I was greeted by his solemn voice informing me of his decision not to discuss “what actually happened during the shooting of the film.” And he definitely kept his promise. Within minutes, he was talking about such things as Cubby Broccoli’s licence plate number, but then suddenly he delivered the most satisfying non-sequitur ever recorded.

Patrick McKnee was also my, uh, Watson when I played Sherlock Holmes, uh, which we shot at 20th Century Fox. With a wonderful all-star cast: John Huston playing Moriarty, and Gig Young, and um… David Huddleston, Jackie Coogan … an amazing, amazing cast. Produced and directed by Boris Sagal. Whose daughter was so wonderful in that, um, crass American series that I love, The Al Bundy Show… But Boris Sagal, he tragically died, uhhh, directing a film when he stepped back into a helicopter blade. Absolutely awful…To play Sherlock Holmes was as much of a challenge as playing Bond.