Saturday, 31 December 2011

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

 Floating somewhere between a horror film and a thriller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo centres on two main characters; freelance journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and brilliantly talented outcast hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). At the start of the film Mikael, who has just been disgraced in a libel case, is asked by elderly businessman Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to write his biography; however, this is really only a pretext so that Blomkvist can look into the forty-year-old disappearance of Vanger's niece Harriet (Moa Garpendal) whom he suspects was murdered by a member of his sprawling and discordant family.

After enjoying considerable success with last year's The Social Network, David Fincher looks set to continue to enthrall cinemagoers with his particular cool brand of fast-paced investigative filmmaking. While his films are all great stand-alone pieces, each with unique features, they are all stamped with the Fincher style. Investigative is a word which pops up again and again with regard to Fincher; he seems drawn to films which present a puzzle, mysteries needing to be solved, and true stories needing to be told (such as Zodiac and The Social Network). In the future it is probable he will be referred to as an auteur, but for now he is simply the go-to director for cool complex thrillers with a dark and unusual bite to them.

Music is also a key feature of many of Fincher's films (he started out directing music videos) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is no exception. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who won an Oscar for their work on The Social Network, here reprise their role as original composers, furnishing Dragon Tattoo with a harsh, industrial soundtrack which listens like a darker and less forgiving version of their earlier oscar winning work (it seems likely that they will receive another nomination in 2012).

In fact, most things about Dragon Tattoo are a little darker than the work Fincher has been delivering of late, but it was clear that the director of murderous beauties like Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac would not long be satisfied with such subdued films as The Social Network (and the less said about Benjamin Button the better). Dragon Tattoo is a return to Fincher's favoured 'real life' horror cinema. It is the English language version of Stieg Larsson's bestselling Swedish novel, the first in his Millennium Trilogy (The books have also been made into very successful Swedish films, part of the reason why they are now being remade in English). Larsson wrote the trilogy in his spare time, and died of a heart attack in 2004 with all three still unpublished.

When the book was first published in Swedish it was titled 'Men Who Hate Women', and watching the film it's easy to see why. While never gory, Dragon Tattoo is certainly unflinching in its portrayal of violence; it has an 18 certificate and, despite all the snow it features, is not a good choice for your 2011 Christmas movie (stick with Happy Feet 2 for that one). This film is always uncompromising and never dull; an exciting investigative thriller, masterfully executed by all involved. Room has been left for the sequels, but whether these will be in the hands of Fincher or another director remains to be seen.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a KINOLENS Film of the Moment and is on general release in the UK.

Monday, 12 December 2011

How To Study Film: Part Six


In Part Five we discussed at length the first of the three types of Film Studies Phony; the Namedropper. In Part Six we will look at the remaining two offenders; the Illiterate and the Downright Idiot.

The Illiterate has either been completely misinformed about what studying Film involves, or is just as lazy as Hell. Just because you're undertaking a course of study which mainly involves films does not mean that you're off the hook as far as reading is concerned. Don't get me wrong; the best thing you can do to learn more about films is to watch them, but it's good to have some sort of context in which to place what you're seeing, and reading books/articles about Film can give you that. Students who think they can sail through a Film course without reading a single book, article or academic essay need to pull their heads out of the clouds. If you're looking into studying Film as an easy escape from all that bullshit reading you had to do when you were younger, I'd look elsewhere. There's still a fair amount of reading, and an even fairer amount of bullshit. But I promise you, if you're really into your Film, you will find most of the stuff you have to read so interesting you'll actually be disappointed when you get to the end.

While the Namedropper is the most common and dangerous Phony, and the Illiterate is the most lazy (but harmless), the Downright Idiot is without a doubt the most exasperating. They will seem completely incapable of discerning between what is good and what is bad, what is intelligent and what is pretentious, or what is funny and what is just plain stupid. They are the easiest to spot out of the Film Studies Phonies because they are the ones who will very quickly make you want to tie them to a chair, tape their eyelids to their foreheads and have them sit through all seven and a half hours of Bela Tarr's Satantango (in my experience they keep struggling up until about hour three, at which point they become catatonic, before moving onto hysterics in hour six). If you've never heard of Satantango, have a look at the video below. It's the opening scene, albeit with added musical accompaniment. It's the scene that Tarr opens the movie with. And it's all downhill from there, boys and girls.

Watching a lot of films is very much like going to school; you can learn an enormous amount just from sitting back and letting all the information the filmmaker throws at you find some way into your brain, as long as you vary your intake a bit and don't get stuck in just the junk food aisle or the gourmet restaurant. You can't really be an idiot and a film geek at the same time; the two things just don't go together. Films can teach you anything; how to work a record player, the history of French Revolution, umpteen other world conflicts - however, never attempt to learn how to develop a photograph from a film, because I have yet to see one in which it is done correctly.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't study Film if you're think you're not as clever as everybody else, because trust me, watching a shitload of movies is basically akin to swallowing the Encyclopedia Britannica. I'm just saying that for some people, Film Studies is a closed DVD. If the subject doesn't click with you, you shouldn't be studying it, or you might find yourself tied to a chair watching a load of cows wander around Hungary. You're probably cut out for something else, maybe something that's considered useful by the rest of the world, like Business. If so, lucky you.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Review: Another Earth

Mike Cahill's Another Earth is the latest in this year's influx of subtle, cosmically-based semi-Sci-Fi films (which has also included Lars von Trier's Melancholia and Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter). Another Earth does exactly what it says on the tin; intelligent teenager Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling, who also co-wrote with Cahill) celebrates her acceptance to MIT on the same night that a new Earth-like planet is discovered. While drunkenly looking upwards to catch a glimpse of Earth 2, she crashes head on into the car of John Burroughs (William Mapother, who you will remember as that creepy guy Ethan from Lost), putting him into a coma and killing his wife and son. After spending four years in jail, Rhoda re-emerges into a world where the sky is dominated by the approaching Earth 2, and takes a job as a janitor in her old school. Later, she discovers the identity of the man whose family she inadvertently killed, and after losing her nerve when she goes to apologise, ends up as his housekeeper.

While all this is going on, a startling discovery is made; Earth 2 is not just an Earth-like planet, but is in fact an almost exact carbon copy of our own planet, including the same countries, cities, and people. In other words, this film isn't just about Another Earth, it's also about Another You. Of course, this discovery immediately throws up all sorts of existential and philosophical quandaries, not the least of which is what, if you ever met the other you, would you say to each other? Rhoda is thrown in at the deep end after winning a flight to Earth 2, and must make the decision to go (into the relative unknown) or to stay (in her dead end job with her guilty conscience).

Another Earth has not been wowing the critics, but perhaps this is just because of its unfortunately timed release; with an epic existential planetary masterpiece in the shape of Melancholia orbiting onto the scene just a few months before, unfair comparisons have been made and Another Earth has been found wanting. It's true that the core story of Another Earth is a little formulaic (a character makes one haunting mistake before getting in too deep with the victim of that mistake), but the performances, from Marling especially, are wonderfully subdued and convincing. Plus, the film is shot in an intriguingly fragmented way through the use of different filming styles, giving the viewer a subjective impression of protagonist Rhoda's feelings and thought processes.

However, the most interesting things about Another Earth are the concepts behind it, both philosophical and psychological. Clearly the sudden appearance of another large life-supporting planet in our solar system, were it to happen in real life, would have catastrophic consequences - but, interestingly, the story of Another Earth bypasses this completely (unlike Melancholia) in favour of a psychodramatic exploration of emotions. There's no sense of impending doom here; only wonderment and cautious hope. While this film is by no means a masterpiece, it is pleasantly upbeat and thought-provoking, and does not deserve to get lost in the considerable shadow of Melancholia.

Another Earth is a KINOLENS Film of the Moment and is currently on general release in the UK.

Monday, 5 December 2011

How To Study Film: Part Five


A Film Studies Phony is a tricky thing to spot, especially since there are often very many of them. These are students who really don't give a crap about what they're studying, who are just along for the ride or trying to look cool (studying Film really can make you seem cool, even if you're just a geek with a halfway decent DVD collection). The Film Studies Phony can be split into three different types; The Namedropper, the Illiterate and the Downright Idiot. In this post, we will be dealing with the most widespread, most dangerous, and most difficult to identify of the three; the Namedropper.

The Namedropper is the most difficult of the three to identify because at first they just sound a pretty intelligent person who knows their film. It can sometimes take quite a while for you to realise that they are just parroting a load of theory they've read in the text book of the moment. I call them Namedroppers because that's basically all they do - you can bullshit your way through anything as long as you can use the words 'Godard' and 'Nouvelle Vague' in the same sentence and make it sound convincing.

Here are some tips for quick spotting of the Namedropper; the earlier you identify them the easier they are to deal with. If you give them any credit at all it tends to go to their heads and make them even worse than they already are.

Number One - Directors. There are certain directors it is always perfectly acceptable to bring into the conversation in order to make a point. Some of these guys you just can't go wrong with. Saying that you like Tarantino, or Godard, or Hitchcock, is the cinematic equivalent of saying you like the Beatles, or the Rolling Stones. Who the hell's going to argue with you? Of course, there's nothing wrong with big, classic auteur directors, but using them as the safe option when you can't think of anything to say can get real old real fast. Getting stuck in that pattern is the fastest, surest route to becoming a Namedropper, and also the easiest way to identify them.

Number Two - Limited Repertoire. Along with getting hung up on certain directors, Namedroppers often have very closely defined parameters to their knowledge. While they seem to know everything about a particular 'cult' director, when pressed they will know pretty much nothing about anything else. You will get very bored of hearing them wax lyrical about their extensive knowledge of Tarantino's foot fetish, but when it comes down to actually knowing something useful they will draw a blank. There's no point to talking about feet in Tarantino films if you can't elaborate on the reasons for them being there. If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out the video below. The guy really does love feet.

Number Three - They just come off like an asshole. There are arrogant, pretentious, asshole students in every subject - it's more to do with human nature than any particular area of study - but in a subject like Film there seems to be an unfair excess of them, and considering that this is not a subject in which one is required to be an asshole to get ahead, it really doesn't do you any favours. Coming into a lecture or a seminar with a face like you're chewing a slice of lemon and then very loudly discoursing on your misplaced assumption that you know it all already (and what's more, you know it better than anybody else who knows it too) would be very ill advised. In fact, it is often a complete mystery why any Namedropper is bothering to study Film at all, seeing as they are obviously already even more cinematically clued-up than Andre Bazin.

(We will be examining the Illiterate and the Downright Idiot in the next post of How To Study Film)

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Review: Snowtown

Based on the true story of John Bunting, Australia's most prolific serial killer, Justin Kurzel's Snowtown is a tense psychological horror film that at times verges on being unwatchable. The central perspective of the film belongs to teenage Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway); after he and his younger brothers are molested by a neighbour, their mother is befriended by local vigilante John. John succeeds in intimidating said neighbour into leaving town, using such subtle techniques as getting the boys to daub graffiti onto his windows with ice cream, and leaving the rotted, mutilated bodies of animals on his porch (where the Italians say it with a horse's head, the Australians say it with kangaroos).

John takes the submissive Jamie under his wing, slowly introducing him to a violent world of serial 'punishment' murder; on the hitlist at first are local perverts, gay men and drug addicts, but Bunting and his accomplices descend quickly into targeting the weak, and anyone who gets in their way. Known in Australia as the 'bodies in barrels' case, the Snowtown killings eventually totalled eleven; that may not sound like much when compared to the kill totals of some US serial killers (John Wayne Gacy had 33 confirmed murders, while Ted Bundy had 29, and they were both acting alone), but the Snowtown victims were subjected to hours of brutal torture, plus they were forced to record fake 'I'm leaving town, don't worry about me' messages to their families before finally being finished off.

Snowtown could so easily have been just another 'torture porn' horror flick, but writer/director Kurzel has made the story into a gritty, realistic, and excruciatingly harrowing piece of cinema which should by rights be remembered as one of the best films ever to come out of Australia. For too long Australia has been seen by the rest of the world as a technicolour paradise written and directed entirely by Baz Luhrmann; Snowtown quietly rips the glitzy, campy veneer to shreds, as if to say 'sorry folks, we're not all ballroom dancers, drag queens or wise-cracking farmhands with corks on our hats.'

Although Snowtown is very far from being torture porn, it is most certainly violent to an extreme degree. Most of the murders are offscreen because protagonist Jamie, through whom we witness the action, does not get directly involved with them for some time. However, when Jamie finally does start taking matters into his own hands, the film gets far more explicit; the murder of his older half brother Troy, for example, has been described in Sight and Sound by James Bell as being '...among the most distressing murder scenes ever filmed. It sears itself onto the memory.'

In the same article in the December 2011 issue of Sight and Sound, Kurzel expressed his own views on the murder scene, and screen violence in general: 'I've always admired visceral films, where you're not sitting back watching the violence with a compass...When I experience or see violence in the real world, there is no compass - it's incredibly disorienting and claustrophobic, and that's something I wanted that moment to be for Jamie and the audience. Too often I watch films where there's no value to the violence. You're not seeing the cause and effect of what's happening. The scene is interesting because it's both suggestive and explicit - which are both interesting ways to tackle violence. You're asking yourself, how long do I want to keep watching this?'

For some, the answer is not long at all; quite a few people walked hurriedly out of the screening I attended during this scene, and I have read internet accounts by people who found themselves unable to continue watching. The interesting thing about the 'walk-out factor' in Snowtown is that people weren't leaving because they found themselves disgusted by what they were seeing, but because they simply found it to be unwatchable. Unlike your average teen slasher movie, this film treats its violent scenes with respect and truth; the violence here isn't repulsive or uncalled for, it's raw and penetrating. The people that walk out of Snowtown are not the same people that walk out of Final Destination 5.

Snowtown is a KINOLENS Film of the Moment, and is currently on general release in the UK, although you might have to hunt around a bit to find a screening.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Review: Take Shelter

Writer/director Jeff Nichols has created a brilliantly understated film in Take Shelter. Thirty-something husband and father Curtis (Michael Shannon) begins to have horrific nightmares and hallucinations concerning an oncoming apocalyptic storm. Take Shelter hinges on whether these are actual visions of the future, or the onset of mental illness in Curtis (whose mother was diagnosed with Schizophrenia when in her thirties). Risking his already precarious finances, he decides to renovate an old storm shelter in his backyard so as to be ready for what he thinks he knows is coming. Curtis, an average, kind, American working man with family and money worries, is ably played by Shannon, who taps perfectly into the mixture of pride, love, doubt and awkward embarassment that you'd expect to see in an Average Joe who suddenly has strange, prophet-like symptoms thrust upon him.

For it's that question which really drives this film; is Curtis a schizophrenic, a prophet, or a schizophrenic prophet? Take Shelter seethes with repression, but is not itself repressed. The spectre of the oncoming storm is out there for all to see; shots of boiling grey clouds, deafening cracks of thunder and lightning, strange oily rain, and flocks of atmospherically addled birds abound - but, only Curtis (and, of course, the viewer) can see or hear them. However, this isn't your average 'is he crazy or isn't he' flick; Curtis is clearly a sane man doing what any sane man would do when confronted with the unavoidable evidence of impending disaster. The viewers, while sceptical as to whether the storm actually is coming, are always onside with Curtis, while his family and friends grow colder and more alienated (although his wife (Jessica Chastain) is remarkably understanding and supportive once he comes clean).

The act of hearing is paramount where this film is concerned; the music and sound perform the task of building tension well, but it's the spaces between the sounds which are the most interesting, almost creating vacuums within the film, as though Curtis is already standing within the eye of his own personal storm. This is intensified by the fact that Curtis' daughter Hannah is deaf, and in a way, we seem to hear the film through Hannah as well as Curtis; silence is a sound in its own right.

There has been a recent influx of this sort of film; an exploration of our own personal demons through the occurrence of a grand, naturalistic event. Von Trier explored depression though the arrival of a dangerous new planet in Melancholia, and in Another Earth, in which an almost identical planet appears in our solar system (a planet containing another you), Mike Cahill explores guilt and existential angst. In Take Shelter Nichols takes an uncomfortably close look at mental illness, manifesting itself as gathering stormclouds (but not just any stormclouds - armageddon heralding stormclouds). Perhaps it's a reflection on our times that so many of these films are appearing now, when there is unrest and concern for the future worldwide.

Take Shelter is on general release in the UK and is a KINOLENS Film of the Moment.

Top Ten: Falls From a Great Height (in Movies)

The great cinematic trope of 'People Falling Off Things' has long been one of the most memorable and well loved aspects of film. Ever wondered what the top ten greatest movies in which people fall (or indeed jump) off things are? Well, wonder no more.

10. King Kong, 1933

In the rather heartbreaking final scene of the original King Kong, Kong tries to take refuge at the pinnacle of the Empire State building before being shot at by the nasty little humans until he finally succumbs. We see an amazing wide shot as his huge body twists and crumples its way from the top of the skyscraper all the way down to the concrete below where, one assumes, a mammoth operation will soon be underway to scrape his gargantuan carcass off the highway so that the New Yorkers can get on about their business.

9. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969

"What's the matter with you?"
"I can't swim!"
"What are ya, crazy? The fall'll probably kill ya!"

Lucky for Butch and Sundance, the fall doesn't kill them. After being cornered at the edge of a ravine, and faced with being arrested, killed, or starved out, they pick the risky route of jumping off the edge of the cliff into the water below. And so, one of cinema's most iconic images (that of Robert Redford and Paul Newman jumping to their probable deaths) was born.

8. Touching the Void, 2003

A nail-biting drama-mentary based on the true story of two young climbers. In the mid-eighties, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates attempted to reach the summit of Siule Grande in Peru. After Joe slid off the edge of a precipice, Simon was forced to cut the rope that connected them to save his own life (rather than have both of them plummet to their deaths). Joe, who already had a broken leg from a previous accident, fell 150 feet into a crevasse, but was miraculously saved by a thick ledge of crusted snow. He managed to crawl out of the crevasse, and in three days, without food or water, made his way back to camp to meet up with Simon (who had naturally assumed he was dead).

7. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, 2000

In Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon there is a lot of talk about a legendary mountain which grants wishes, but there's a catch; you have to jump off the thing first. It's still all good though; apparently you float on forever in perfect happiness, knowing that your wish has been granted. At the end of the film, Ziyi Zhang decides to put the legend to the test, and floats off with a grin on her face as the credits roll.

6. The Fugitive, 1993

Who could forget The Fugitive, a wonderful piece of trash starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. Ford plays Richard Kimble, a doctor who is in jail for killing his wife, when a lucky bus crash sets him loose, so he can try to prove his innocence even as Tommy Lee Jones tries to track him down. He is, of course, innocent - The Fugitive is the film which has given rise to the classic get-out excuse, 'A one-armed man did it!' The film is also famous for the ridiculous scene in which Ford jumps off a dam to escape Tommy Lee Jones. There's willing suspension of disbelief, and then there's downright bullshitting; by rights, Dr Kimble should have gone to a watery grave and the one-armed man should have lived to kill another day. But, this is Hollywood, and Harrison Ford will never die; he has danced in the blue flame.

5. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, 1984

For our next great fall, we have to return to Harrison Ford; in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indie (accompanied by Short Round and that squeaky blonde who is improbably named 'Willie') jumps out of a crashing plane in a rubber dinghy, which then slides down the side of a mountain, off the edge of a cliff, and down into a raging river. This would kill off any normal human being, apart from those who happen to be in the majestic company of the magical Harrison Ford, a man who has jumped off a dam, jumped out of a crashing plane, survived a nuclear blast by shutting himself inside a fridge, and of course drunk from the Holy Grail. Like I said; the day that Harrison Ford dies is the day that the Earth cracks open like an egg and all of time and space crumble to dust.

4. The Omen, 1976

If there's one movie (or series of movies) in which spectacular deaths abound, it's The Omen. The particular one I'm referring to here is when Lee Remick, (already in hospital due to her devil-son Damian pushing her over a balcony) crashes out of a window and plummets fifteen storeys while shrieking fit to bust, before going through the roof of an ambulance, landing grotesquely on the bed and gazing into the camera with her cold dead eyes. Yeah, that's a good one.

3. Basil, the Great Mouse Detective, 1986

This one's my personal favourite. Basil, the Great Mouse Detective is sadly one of the more forgotten great Disney movies of the eighties. The brilliant climactic punch up between Basil and the evil Rattigan (wonderfully voiced by Vincent Price) takes place on the ticking hands of London's Big Ben. Eventually the two rodents are flung out into space, both dropping like stones into the London fog. While Rattigan is crushed into catfood on the cobbles below, Basil (who is of course based on Sherlock Holmes) ingeniously pedals his way back to the heights of the clock tower using a handy propellor he happened to rip from Rattigan's airship.

2. Vertigo, 1958

Hitchcock's Vertigo, probably one of the greatest films of all time, is full of people falling off things; a cop falls off a roof in the first five minutes, Kim Novak throws herself into San Francisco Bay not long after that. But, the greatest of them all has to be the double-whammy of Novak throwing herself out of the same belltower twice in a row. The first time, she doesn't throw herself out at all, it's simply a clever ruse to further a murder plot. The second time, she really does go for it; however, it's a little unclear whether she did it on purpose, unable to bear the guilt of having deceived poor Jimmy Stewart, or if she was simply terrified by the sight of a nun coming up the stairs to find them, and slipped to her doom.  My money's on the nun.

1. Die Hard, 1988

No great list of 'People Falling Off Things' would be complete without good old Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, thrown out of the Nakatomi building by Bruce Willis (as John McClane). Dashing as ever in his John Phillips suit and in a shower of sparkling glass, he indulges in a long leisurely fall finished off with a nice round thump at the end of it. His brother Jeremy Irons comes back to avenge him (in Die Hard: With a Vengeance) but Bruce is able to deftly dispose of him too. Where are the parents that raised these two psycho terrorists? Will they show up toting AK-47s in Die Hard 5? If so, maybe Bruce, now in his fifties, can still muster up the strength put on his white vest and chuck them off something high.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Review: The Deep Blue Sea

The Deep Blue Sea, a film by Terence Davies, is adapted from a play by Terence Rattigan. Hester (Rachel Weisz) is married to a high court judge much older than her; she falls in love with a young pilot named Freddie (Tom Hiddleston) and leaves her husband for him. The film is set on a single day just after World War Two; following a failed suicide attempt, we see Hester reflect on her past relationships with both Freddie and her husband, and witness the fallout of her attempt to kill herself.

This film was very well received at this year's London Film Festival, and is being reviewed quite favourably by critics. However, a cursory glance at blogs, comment sections and forums around the net will quickly reveal a wealth of filmgoers who heartily disagree. Unfortunately (because I do hate to have to be nasty about somebody's creation) I have to add my voice to theirs. This film is limp; it's lukewarm, devoid of meaning, of passion - it's just plain boring. Well, actually, it's not 'plain' boring at all; it's utterly excruciatingly walk-out-of-the-cinema boring. I haven't been tempted to walk out of a theatre for a long time. I never do actually walk out; it's one of my rules. But today I came bloody close.

The Deep Blue Sea tries desperately to be a much better film than it is, and, clearly, thinks that it has succeeded - essentially, it has delusions of grandeur. The script, adapted by Davies from Rattigan's play, is terrible. Having not read or seen the play, I can't tell whether that is Davies' fault or Rattigan's. The three main characters are supposed to be going through a harrowing emotional experience, and indeed they do seem to be ardently trying to give that impression, what with constantly stating the obvious and announcing their feelings to the world at large. People who are suicidal, people who are in love, people who are angsty and depressed, do not just walk into rooms and tell everybody what they're feeling. It never gets quite as bad as Hester turning to Freddie and saying 'Yes, darling, I'm afraid I'm a tad suicidal, although I still love you like billy-o', but it's almost as bad.

The bland and unbelievable script is compounded by the bland and unbelievable performances delivered by Weisz and Hiddleston. Not for one second did I buy that these two were in love. In every scene they gave the distinct impression of people pretending to be people, which is of course what they are, but the viewer is not supposed to notice that. The viewer cannot believe in these characters, and so also cannot believe in their emotions, their motives or their story. As far as actors are concerned, if you can't even portray such a strong and direct emotion as love realistically, it's time to fall on your wooden sword. In The Deep Blue Sea, the end result is stilted beyond belief, and almost childish in its ineptness.

In fact, this whole film has a childish air about it, and not in a good way. Films are fake; they are a manufactured and carefully created fake reality. The whole idea is to make the viewer forget that fact, to make them 'buy' the story, to make them believe in the fiction. The Deep Blue Sea fails miserably at this challenge; it looks like something pretending to be something, the cinematic equivalent of kids playing at cops and robbers. I was ready to be impressed by this film, but I ended up just examining my fingernails and hoping that it would all be over soon. I can't in good conscience advise anyone to go to see it; the risk of slipping into a coma is just too high.

Friday, 25 November 2011

How To Study Film: Part Four


Some people just don't seem to 'get' films. Not only can they not tell the difference between a good film and a bad film, but they will in fact try to tell you that the bad films are the good films, and vice versa. This can make you want to bash their teeth in with a nice hard betamax copy of Werckmeister Harmonies. Almost as bad, or some would say even worse, are the undiscerning idiots who will watch only what they consider to be good films, or legitimate 'cinema' (cinema is a word you will hear academics say a lot when they just mean 'movies'- like independent 'cinema' or horror 'cinema'). I say undiscerning because this course of action immediately excludes many trashy 'so-awful-they're-brilliant' cult films, and also gives too much credit to films that do not entirely deserve it.

If you ever find yourself studying Film, you will inevitably come across both of these types of film fans. My main piece of advice when dealing with either one is this; never back down from your point of view. At all costs, never let them make you think you are wrong. A good thing about a subject like Film is that similarly to Art or English Literature there are very few definite answers to anything, unless it's a simple fact, like who directed what in which year. Most of Film Studies is based on one premise; 'look at this film. Is it any good? And Why?'  The problem with this method of study is that most people (and by most people, I mean everybody) believe their opinion of a film to be Right, Correct and Irrefutable. This is the natural state of things, however, you do occasionally have to be open to interpretation. There will be times when you have missed the point, either because you were too hung over to concentrate properly in the lecture theatre, or just because it went over your head. There's nothing shameful in this; give the film a second watch, chat to a few people about it, try to pay attention during the seminar, and if you still don't get it, well then, the film is probably what the late great Bill Hicks used to call a 'piece of shit' (see video below).

Like I said, once you've made up your mind, never let anyone else make you think, even for a second, that you might be wrong. Trust me; it's far more likely that the person you're talking to is an idiot. Nevermind that they got into the same Film Studies course you did, that doesn't give them the right to tell you that some boring, badly made and derivative film is the equal of oh, say, The Silence of the Lambs. I remember once having a ten minute conversation in the middle of a seminar with a guy who was trying to tell me that Hannibal, the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, is a good movie. I (of course) was arguing the exact opposite. Anyone with half an eye can see that Hannibal is the most badly written, badly shot, badly acted, badly edited... in fact, think of any aspect of filmmaking and stick the word badly in front of it and you've pretty much got a clear picture. Every time I see a bad Ridley Scott film, and believe me there are more than you'd think, I always think the same thing. "Ridley, Ridley, Ridley. What happened to you, man? You used to be cool." How can the man who directed Blade Runner and Alien also direct Hannibal, Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood? Some things man is not meant to know.

Anyway, the point is that no matter how much I stared in disbelief at this guy and explained slowly and loudly that he had it all wrong, it was to no avail. This was mainly because he was doing the exact same thing back at me. There are a lot of arrogant Film Students out there who have no more grasp of movies than a dog barking at a television because there's another dog on the screen. You don't need to be arrogant to be a decent student of Film; all you need is to cultivate an annoyingly accurate grasp of eveything from German Expressionism to Hitchcock's MacGuffins. In this way, if you can't win a standoff with an idiot by breaking down the other person's will until they admit that they just might be wrong, then you can least avoid them catching you out on anything and hold onto your position, thereby not coming across like a Film Studies Phony.

The Film Studies Phony will be discussed (at length) in the next post of 'How to Study Film'.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Review: Weekend

Just got back from seeing Andrew Haigh's Weekend, which has just shot straight into the top three contenders for the KINOLENS Best Film of 2011. Set (surprisingly enough) over the course of a weekend, Weekend follows Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), two men who pick each other up in a club on a Friday night. What starts off as a one night stand quickly turns into an incredibly deep and emotional experience for both of them, but seeing as Glen is moving to America in two days time, their relationship has an intensely finite dimension to it.

A film which hinges completely on two main characters cannot afford to skimp on the acting skill; if Russell and Glen aren't utterly real and believable, then the whole thing falls to pieces before it's even begun. Luckily, Cullen and New seem to fall into these roles without even trying. We see these two characters for only two days out of their entire lives; the two days where their lives interconnect. Although the immediacy of the situation is a key factor in why the film is so intense, it's clear that these are characters who are both defined by their pasts. Cullen and New conjure their characters, and the seperate histories of their characters, so effortlessly that at times the fourth wall seems not to break, but to dissolve. Weekend is not a film; it's a window.

Earlier today the writer Bret Easton Ellis tweeted words to the effect that although Weekend is a brilliant film, you'll never convince the straights to go to see it. Unfortunately, this is probably true. In fact, you'll probably never convince most of the gays to go to see it either. You will never see Weekend, or a film like Weekend, with a full house. Unless it's a press screening, and even then you'd be lucky. You'll have to look hard to find it showing at a popular multiplex, or on a screen that's any bigger than your bedroom wall. You have to hunt down films like this, grab them and hold on for dear life; otherwise they get made, they cause a small storm among film buffs and critics, then they get forgotten about, because that's what happens to queer cinema when it gets washed away by the mainstream. Eyes Wide Open, Shelter, Beautiful Thing, Maurice, Angels in America, Milk, My Beautiful Launderette, Hedwig and the Angry Inch: these are all fantastic films - but almost no bugger has heard of them. The sad truth is that it doesn't matter how fantastic your movie is; if you're gay, (or to a lesser extent, female) the mainstream film industry doesn't give a damn.

If you search out and watch one non-Hollywood movie this year, make it Andrew Haigh's Weekend, which is a KINOLENS Film of the Moment. Every so often someone will crack out one of these bad boys and remind everybody just how good British film can be, so take advantage of it.

Monday, 21 November 2011

How To Study Film: Part Three


Like every large and eclectic group of people, students will band together when the shit really hits the fan; if the powers that be are about to try to charge you nine grand a year just to learn, for example. However, the rest of the time they split into hundreds of factions, and factions within factions. Unfortunately for us, Film students are often among the most maligned. This is sad, but true. Although it may at times feel unfair and annoying, you can't really blame other students for this. You may be taking notes for your essay on the use and development of spectacle and special effects in American cinema, but from the outside, it looks to your housemates as though you're clogging up the living room watching Star Wars with a big bowl of popcorn in your lap.

Much of the time, you will just have to sit back and take their gentle abuse with good humour. Remember that most Film Studies courses have very little actual teaching time compared to other subjects; you will probably have to spend only about six compulsory hours a week on campus, eight at the most (not counting screenings and any time spent in the library). But when compared to your friends who are doing so-called 'real' subjects, you will come across as though you spend all your time in a hammock in the back garden, swilling beer and reading amusing blogs. And hey, I'm not saying that it's not like that, but it's very definitely not like that all the time. I can distinctly remember what it was like for me during exam season; it might not have looked like it from the outside, but it was just as tough for me as it was for everyone else. Well, almost as tough.

Many people believe themselves to be experts in Film, despite not really knowing much about it, simply because they have seen a fair amount of movies. Therefore, studying Film can appear to be just a lot of people indulging in their favourite hobby for three years and then getting a degree at the end of it. I must admit that there have been moments when I haven't exactly poured water on the fire of this misconception; I remember once coming home from campus and writing a Facebook status along the lines of 'Harriet Matthews just attended a lecture on Jurassic Park. Still think you chose the right degree?'

There's nothing wrong with admitting that Film Studies is fun. What's wrong is letting people think that's all it is - especially if those people happen to be fellow students who will think nothing of sticking out a leg causing you to face-plant into the nearest library stack just because you're carrying a pile of DVDs instead of books. OK, I'm clearly exaggerating; you won't have to put up with that. What you will have to put up with though, is a fair amount of mockery, sniping, and general holier-than-thou-ness from some fellow students who will take your degree choice as either a joke, or a personal insult. But look on the bright side; these idiots are the minority, and if they try to start any shit with you while your fellow Film buddies are around, you can all have great fun intimidating them with your word perfect 'scary gangster' quotes from films such as Pulp Fiction, or The Godfather.

So when people accuse you of messing around or slacking off (and they will) just because your degree involves studying something that is accessible to everyone with a DVD player and a local HMV, all you need to do is remember these three basic facts:

1. Film is an art form, and never let anyone tell you different.

2. Don't let people think they're as good as you just because they did two weeks on Psycho when they were fifteen.

3. Try not to gloat over your fellows too much, but don't let them call you an ignorant layabout either. It's their own fault they chose boring degrees. 

How To Study Film: Part Four: MOST PEOPLE ARE IDIOTS

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Review: The Rum Diary

Set in late 1950s San Juan, The Rum Diary was written in the early 1960s, but not published until 1998. Described as 'the long lost novel', Hunter S Thompson wrote it when he was only 22, before getting caught up in the political world of 1960s and 1970s America, which was to consume his work for the rest of his life. HST was famous for railing against corruption, being the credited creator of Gonzo journalism, chronicling the death of the American Dream, and taking a hell of a lot of drugs. He also hated Richard Nixon with a passion, and agreed to meet with him on the condition that they would only discuss football. He once ran for Sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado under the banner of 'Freak Power'; during this campaign he shaved his head so that he would be able to refer to the Republican candidate, who had a crew cut, as 'my long-haired opponent'. HST, suffering health problems and depressed about the re-election of Bush, shot himself in 2005 and died of his wounds. His ashes were shot out of a giant cannon shaped like a Gonzo fist, which was paid for by his friend Johnny Depp, the star of the film of Thompson's other semi-autobiographical novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

The Rum Diary is set before Thompson became famous, before Thompson had become Thompson, in a way. Depp and Robinson have messed about with the story a little, (a subplot about cockfighting and voodoo has been added) but the essence of the plot remains intact. Paul Kemp is the Thompson character, played here by Depp who is clearly relishing the opportunity to return to portraying HST (albeit a slightly less crazy and drugged up version of him than in Fear and Loathing). Kemp rocks up in San Juan to work for a local American run newspaper, but gets caught in the drama of the ex-pat community, and the machinations of various corrupt money men (and drinks a lot of rum while he's doing it).

Robinson and Depp have inserted some notes into the film that are not in the original book, and which smack very strongly of hindsight; some of these work well, others not so well. For example, the hilarious scene in which Kemp breathes rum-fuelled fire onto pursuers during a car chase, and the scene where he gets high on some sort of deadly eyedrops (before seeing his photographer buddy Sala's tongue come snaking out of his mouth like an anaconda) are not in the novel, nor would they have fitted very well into the novel. But, they work very well in the film because they are clear references to the crazier, more drug-fuelled, subjective and experimental nature of Thompson's later work. There are also occasional welcome flashes of Robinson's most famous work, Withnail and I, a chronicle of two out of work actors in 1960s London.

However, there has also been a rather contrived attempt to foreshadow Thompson's later career (when he developed a penchant for flaming corrupt political swine in the free press). The end of Robinson's The Rum Diary has Kemp, along with some of his fellow down-and-out journos, attempting to rally together against the corruption and profiteering they feel has scuppered their paper; they plan to fund and put out one last edition of it themselves before it goes under for good (a plan which. The fact that they fail in this attempt is crucial; if they hadn't failed (in short, if a Hollywood-style ending had been jammed onto the thing) then the film wouldn't have made any sense at all in the context of Thompson's life and work. Even so, the failure of the paper seems to have been used here as a catalyst for Kemp's/Thompson's later angry political writings, exposing 'the bastards' as they are called in the film (Thompson would probably have gone for 'swine').

This feels just a little bit too forced for comfort, especially when combined with the cringeworthy little epilogue just before the credits in which Kemp's/Thompson's later life is capsuled down for us. One of the great things about stories like The Rum Diary, or Fear and Loathing, is their open-endedness. We don't need or want to know what happened next; what we've read on paper or seen onscreen should be enough. If Thompson had wanted us to know more, he would have written it down.

While it doesn't come close the crazed brilliance of Fear and Loathing, in spite of its flaws The Rum Diary is still a funny and realistic interpretation of the novel, and of HST's general philosophy of life. As far as adaptations go, it is incredibly good - certain scenes looked exactly how I had imagined them when reading the book, and certain characters too (Giovanni Ribisi's insane drunken Moberg is especially good). A lot of money has obviously been spent making this film look like it's dropped right out of the fifties. There is never a single moment where the illusion is not one hundred percent; plus it'll make you want to go right out and smoke and drink up a storm. The Rum Diary is a KINOLENS Film of the Moment, and well worth a watch whether you're a Thompson afficionado or not (although you'll certainly get a bit more out of it if you are).

Friday, 18 November 2011

How To Study Film: Part Two

Cidade de Deus, 2002


I don't want to unduly harrass or upset any Media Studies students, but to be honest, it isn't really that undue. To quote, once again, my A Level Film Studies teacher, the great Stephanie Muir (and this time I'm pretty sure I'm word perfect): 'Media Studies is for pussies'.

I did Media Studies for GCSE, but my excuse is that I was forced into it. I wanted to do Latin, as it seemed to be the only language I actually enjoyed learning, however pointless. But, there were only three of us in the entire year who actually wanted to do it. So, the Latin course did not take place. I was forced into doing my back up choice: Media Studies, which I'd only chosen because it was either that or some bullshit like Information Technology (who knew that the internet was going to get so popular? Certainly not me). From what I can remember, it was mostly watching and dissecting ads for hours on end, which I found inexpressibly boring. The only saving grace was the section we did on horror movies, which made me realise just how much I was into cinema. No, I agree with my old teacher; Media Studies is for people who don't have the balls to do Film.

The confusion between Film and Media is a continuation of the misconception that Film Studies is a part of that modern school of 'subjects that aren't really subjects'. Media Studies, like Business or Sport Science, is one of these, another subject that older generations will dismiss out of hand simply because it was unheard of in their day. Film is an Art before it's anything else. I'm sure that Media Studies must have value for some, but in my opinion it's just a load of lightweight crap with no real meaning or substance to it. Unless you're thinking of going into advertising, or marketing (and I really can't understand why any sane human being would want to do that) I'd advise you to stay the hell away from Media Studies in all its forms. Saying that you have a Media Studies qualification is basically the equivalent of saying 'well, I don't have any real knowledge or passion about me, but I sure can cook you up a mean air-freshener ad.'

As well as that, being involved in anything that even smells like Media Studies at A Level tends to sour some of the more snooty universities against you from the get go. Oxbridge, for example, if deciding between you and another candidate with a more 'real' sounding qualification, will throw your file in the recyling without a second thought. They'll hotly deny that, of course, but if you're thinking of applying to either Oxford or Cambridge to do a Film degree, think better of it; there are far better universities for Film, and ones where you'll have a lot more fun doing it (Exeter, Kent, or Queen Mary for starters).

In Film Studies, looking down on, and indeed, discriminating against Media Studies is so widespread it is almost fashionable. When I was doing my A Level in Film, our classroom was next to one which was used for Media Studies during the same period. The wall between our rooms was one of those fake ones that can be dismantled for conferences, and was very thin, so much of the time we were disturbed by noise coming from the other room. There was one day in particular (I think we were studying City of God at the time) when we started hearing  deafening cheers about every ten minutes or so, and a friend of mine said to the room at large, 'bloody Media students. They must be watching 'Cillit Bang' adverts again.' The most amusing thing about this is that it's probably not that far from the truth. If analysing the strengths and weaknesses of 'Cillit Bang' advertising isn't really your cup of tea, then I'd advise you to steer clear.

Most university level Media courses include some vague reference to Film, usually peppering years two and three with a few modules on certain schools of Film, or certain auteur directors. Just one more word of advice; don't study Media to study Film. Study Film for its own sake or not at all. Film Studies isn't the kind of thing you can just try out for giggles and an easy 2/1; it pisses me off when people do that. It clutters up the seminar groups with idiots who are just along for the ride. When choosing a degree, choose something you love, and not just something you think will get you a job. Otherwise, what's the point? (And anyway, I hate to be the voice of doom (again) but in this day and age even so-called 'useful' degrees probably won't get you a job. So, you're better off being unemployed with an interesting degree than unemployed with a dull one)


Tuesday, 15 November 2011

How to Study Film: Part One

I've decided to do an irreverent (but true) series of posts on my experiences of studying Film academically (that's Film with a capital F). Actually, I wrote most of what will be included in the series quite a while ago for another project, but I've now decided to put it on KINOLENS instead. While this is not at all meant to be a comprehensive guide to studying Film, I'm sure that if you are currently studying it, have studied it, or are thinking about studying it, you will find these posts interesting, possibly amusing, and maybe even useful.


A lot of people make the fateful mistake of deciding to study Film because they think it will be easy. This is because most people do not associate films with anything other than something to do on a Friday night when it's raining and there's nothing on TV. In life, watching a film is the easy way out; the easy way out of boredom, the easy way out of having to interact with people, even the easy way out of reading, like they used to do in the good old days. Watching films is considered by many to be a lazy, modern entertainment option, rather like the internet or game consoles; this in spite of the fact that film, and film as entertainment, has been around in some form since the 1890s.

Hence, the idea of studying film as an art form in itself is completely alien to a lot of people, especially considering that it has only begun to be studied in earnest comparatively recently. Many colleges and universities still don't carry a Film Studies course, or lump it into an already existing department under the banner of 'English', or 'Media'. Upon announcing my intention to study Film, I experienced much disdain, especially from members of older generations who had not grown up with it as an available and legitimate subject for them to study themselves. I found myself greeted with the phrase 'Oh! Well, I'm sure that will be very interesting,' or 'I'm sure you'll enjoy that,' or 'Well, that's what it's all about these days isn't it. You'll be able to get a decent job somewhere.'

When you are confronted with comments such as this, you have two choices; either you can grit your teeth and smile politely, thereby avoiding any awkwardness or argument, and perpetuating the idea that all Film Studies students are lazy entertainment seeking clowns. Or, if you believe, like I do, that we have a right to be considered egotistical arrogant weirdos like every other legitimate art student, then you can use the points I will present you with in this series to blow those patronising bastards out of the water.

To start us off - to quote, as near as I can remember, my A-Level Film Studies Teacher: 'Film is the most important art form there is.' And she was right, as she usually was. Almost from its earliest inception, film has proved itself to be the ultimate art form. This is because it encompasses all other art forms; writing, drawing, painting, photography, theatre, music - the list goes on and on. When you study Film, it isn't just film that you study. You need to look at photographs, paintings, sculpture, architecture; you need to read book upon book - and not to mention you need to have seen at least about five times as many films as the average person, and have actually paid attention during them. Not looking so undemanding now, is it?

Not only that, probably the most important conjunctive subject you need to have more than a basic grasp of to get ahead in Film Studies, even more important than English, is History. Knowing what was happening when and in which country when a certain film was made by a certain director has saved my ass in an exam more times than I would care to recall. It really makes you sound like you know what you're talking about - I can remember once babbling on about Pedro Almodovar in connection with Franco's rule of Spain; the examiner ate it right up. But, in all seriousness, there is barely a film out there that is not influenced by historical happenings, all the way from factual heavyweights like Schindler's List down to piss-taking fantasies like the Indiana Jones films. I challenge you to think of any film that cannot be linked, however tenously, to historical fact. So buy yourself some more books and fork out for the history channel, or I guarantee that you will very quickly find yourself up shit creek. And while you're at it, explain to the fuckwits who try to tell you that Film Studies is simply a vacuous entertainment quest why films like Schindler's List need to be studied.

This post is running on a bit, so I'll round it off with one final point: I once had a conversation with someone who, upon learning that I was studying Film, began voicing the opinion that Directors have the world's easiest job (anyone not very familiar with the subject of Film will immediately assume that you want to be a Director, it's just one of those things). Anyone who has ever tried to make their own film, or even just anyone who has watched a behind the scenes documentary, knows different. Making films involves problem upon problem, and then more problems that are caused by the solutions to the other problems. I wouldn't wish being a Director on my worst enemy. It's incomprehensible to me that there are people out there who think that a director actually does just sit in a folding chair with their name on the back, wearing stupid trousers and yelling orders through a megaphone. Directors have the hardest job in the film industry; not only do they have to know how to do their own job, but they have to know how to do everybody else's as well. That's what being a Director is. Studying Film (and creating it) is not easy, it's not insignificant, and it's not childish; what it is is worthwhile.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Review: Wuthering Heights

In adapting Wuthering Heights, Andrea Arnold was faced with a choice; she could have made yet another straight, dull version of a well known classic which has already been done to death (the route taken by Cary Fukunaga earlier this year with his insipid version of Jane Eyre). Or, she could have done what she did, which was re-imagine the novel in a risky, innovative and uniquely cinematic way.

The cinematography of Wuthering Heights is so consistently cerebral that it almost feels as though the film is being beamed straight into your brain, Matrix style. Shot in favour of Heathcliff's point of view, the camera is shaky and subjective; we only experience what Heathcliff experiences, we only hear what he hears, we only see what he sees (there's a lot of peeking through cracks in doors). There's also a lot of weather. This film takes pathetic fallacy just about as far as it can go without becoming ridiculous; there is serious rain and biblical wind (what with it being 'Wuthering Heights' and all) almost constantly. In fact, Arnold seems to have used the wind in lieu of  a soundtrack, which is very atmospheric and works well. And, of course, extensive use is made of the wild and untamed beauty of the English moors.

Critics have said of Arnold's Wuthering Heights that it begins well, tails off in the middle, and loses the plot by the end. The first half of the film, which shows the arrival of Heathcliff at Wuthering Heights and his burgeoning relationship with Cathy while they are children, is thought to be brilliant, while the transition from children to adults is said to be jarring, with the adult actors unable to continue the intensity of the children. While this may be true of Kaya Scodelario, who makes for a rather watery adult Cathy, it most certainly is not true of James Howson as adult Heathcliff. After hearing that Cathy is planning to marry another, child Heathcliff does a bunk in the middle of the night. Rather than sticking in the traditional 'five years later' routine that most directors do when they are faced with a time jump, Arnold simply cuts straight to yet another shot of the misty moor, in the centre of which adult Heathcliff slowly appears, walking towards the camera. Far from being jarring, I felt that this version of the transition was simply 'no-nonsense', rather like this entire adaptation, if the sex, violence and swearing are anything to go by (Heathcliff even yells the dreaded c-word at the rather refined family of Cathy's betrothed). As for James Howson himself (an untrained, inexperienced actor), he does an exquisite job of portraying the half-mad, lovesick, suicidal Heathcliff; in fact he brought me to tears during a certain climactic scene.

Wuthering Heights shares many characteristics with Arnold's earlier film Fish Tank, not the least of which is the feeling of being trapped. There is an overwhelming sense of imprisonment throughout the film, perhaps conjured by Heathcliff's subjective viewpoint. Arnold has famously cast Heathcliff as black, presumably brought to England against his will judging by the whip marks on his back. Arnold shoots Heathcliff as though he is weighed down, fenced in by something; the square screen ratio also helps to make even the rolling landscape of the moors seem closed in. The film never leaves this setting, and by the end it has become almost claustrophobic, stuffed with endless shots of moths, dead animals, rotting fruit and the like. By about two thirds of the way through I was itching to jump up and run out of the theatre, but towards what I don't know; perhaps it was just sympathy for imprisoned Heathcliff, marching inexorably towards his own doom.

Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights is a KINOLENS Film of the Moment. It is on general release in Britain, and hopefully soon will be everywhere else.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Review: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

Having already lent itself very well to television and film adaptations, it was really only a matter of time until Herge's The Adventures of Tintin series was brought up to date with some shining CGI and motion capture, riding the crest of the latest 3D wave. This is Spielberg's first animated feature; in fact, he originally wanted to make a live action version of Tintin, but was persuaded to do otherwise by none other than Peter 'Lord of the Rings' Jackson, who became a producer on the film. Jackson claimed that live action could never truly do justice to Tintin's world, so beloved by those who were childhood fans of the comic books (like me). In my opinion, it is perhaps unfortunate that Spielberg gave in.

The production team behind Tintin faced the same problem as that behind the Chronicles of Narnia, and indeed any modern update of beloved children's classics. They all have to make the decision between making a film suitable for children, a film that families can go and see together with nobody getting scared or offended, and making a film which is going to satisfy and impress those who are now adults, but were huge fans of the stories when they were young, and still are. Most films aren't able to find a balance between the two and aren't brave enough to make a scarier, adult-oriented version for fear of being given a certificate that will price them out of the family market. So, they go all out for wholesome childhood entertainment, which pleases the kids but bores the adults, or, they make an attempt at finding a balance, and fail miserably, turning their endeavour into a dull lump which jumps from one side of the fence to the other, disappointing almost everybody. Unfortunately, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, is the latter.

I'll admit it certainly looks very good, and they have clearly made the effort to study the visual style of the books carefully, taking much of their inspiration directly from the original drawings. But, the CGI still can't quite sustain the velocity of the action; the original Tintin books jump from situation to situation so quickly that they read like a Bourne movie. While there is very definitely a strong argument for keeping Tintin animated (and this version certainly seems to amuse children no end), a well done, slightly more adult-oriented, perhaps a bit gritty, or even violent action version of Tintin would have been a bolder move, and made for a much more intriguing film. Watching this version, I frequently found myself bored by it, which I never do when reading the comic books. While there is a lot of shooting, explosions, and even a scene in which a man gunned down on Tintin's doorstep leaves a clue for him using his own blood, this film was not in any way tense, or thrilling. Considering that the original books (although fantastical in places) are essentially the most tension-filled, high-octane, people getting coshed left right and centre investigative spy thrillers you can lay your hands on, it's quite an amazing feat that Spielberg has pulled off in making them into something this dull.

Then again, this is most definitely a Children's Film, and I am no longer in the target audience. Judging by the giggles coming from seats around me, it's certainly worth a look if you're under ten. And, I wouldn't go quite as far as Nicholas Lezard in the guardian (whose review, 'How could they do this to Tintin?' you can read here) who, although he offers excuses for it, compares sitting through The Adventures of Tintin to witnessing a rape (one wonders what the editors were thinking when they gave that one the green light). That sort of comparison, of course, is entirely uncalled for: I hardly ever say this, but people: it's only a movie.

The best part of the film is the opening credits, a 2D extravaganza in the classic style of Tintin's old-school romps.The comic books are still there; I'd advise you to read them, they're brilliant.  Leave the CGI to the kids this time.

Even More Blog Changes...

As you may have noticed I have been making a few changes to the blog lately, the largest of which is the new title. I decided I wanted to give Welcome to the Doom Generation a shorter, more memorable and above all more film related name, seeing as it has developed from a personal blog mostly related to my fiction writing, into a subject specific blog which is almost entirely dedicated to the cinema and film reviews.

Front runners for the new title included 'Cinephile' and 'Cineaste', but eventually I settled on what has now become the blog's official new title, KINOLENS. I was originally going to go with just 'KINO' on its own, but unfortunately that URL is already taken (the new URL for KINOLENS is

'Kino-lens' is a take on early Russian director Dziga Vertov's concept of the Kino-eye. Vertov would sometimes refer to his camera as his 'second eye' (which, when you think about it, should really have been 'third eye'!). Vertov's most well known film, pictured above, is Man With a Movie Camera, 1929, a mesmerising extended experiment in Soviet Montage. In differentiating himself from Vertov, Sergei Eisenstein (Vertov's contemporary and director of films such as Battleship Potemkin, 1925, and Strike!, 1925) described his own approach as 'Kino-fist'.

I am an eye. I am a mechanical eye. I, a machine, I am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see - Dziga Vertov.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Top Ten: Movie Showdowns

These 'Top Tens' are just for my, and hopefully also your, amusement - feel free to add any showdowns you think have been grossly overlooked.

10. Inigo Montoya versus Count Tyrone Rugen

"My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Nuff said.

9. The Good versus the Bad versus the Ugly

When teenaged Quentin Tarantino went to sleep at night, this is what his dreams looked like. The climactic showdown of Sergio Leone's classic Western The Good the Bad and the Ugly is widely considered to be one of the greatest pieces of filmmaking ever; if you felt like trying to cut through the tension in this scene, you'd need a chainsaw to do it.

8. Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker

If you don't know by now that Darth Vader is in fact Luke Skywalker's father, then frankly, you deserve to have the twist spoiled for you. This is a bit of a weird one, as the showdown isn't really between Luke and Vader; more between Luke and the Emperor, or even Luke and the Dark Side of the Force. Or perhaps between Vader and the Emperor, or Vader and his own internal demons...Maybe the title of this one should just have been the Force versus the Dark Side of the Force...but then, the whole point of the Force is that it is both good and bad in perfect balance. So technically, it's impossible ever to have a real showdown between the light and the dark...Time for another training session on Dagobah...

7. Oh Dae Su versus Woo-jin

My favourite film in Chan-wook Park's Vengeance Trilogy, Oldboy, is loosely based on the most famous revenge story ever, The Count of Monte Cristo. Oh Dae Su, after being inexplicably imprisoned for fifteen years, is suddenly and just as inexplicably set free. He vows revenge on whoever it was that orchestrated his imprisonment, and sets about trying to discover their identity. Eventually, he finds that the culprit is an old school friend of his, Woo-jin (hence Oldboy) and that in fact, the long imprisonment was only the beginning of Woo-jin's revenge upon Oh Dae Su, for something Oh Dae Su can barely remember. Oh Dae Su and Woo-jin engage in a violent and psychologically torturous battle which, it becomes clear, neither can win. The denouement of this film is horribly brilliant. Don't watch it while you're eating.

6. Ellen Ripley versus the Alien Queen

In probably the most memorable scene of any of the Alien films, Ripley battles the Alien Queen from within one of James Cameron's favourites, a human-shaped forklift (also seen in Avatar which, according to the Sci-Fi timeline, took, or will take, place between Alien and Aliens). The queen puts up a pretty good fight in revenge for her burned clutch of eggs, but she is no match for Ripley's tenacious defence of surrogate daughter Newt ("Get away from her, you bitch!"), and is soon sent spinning into the vacuum of space.

5. Beatrix Kiddo versus Oren Ishii

Another set of women in at number five. The superbly choreagraphed final fight of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 between Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu is one of my pet favourite screen scuffles. Not that you could really call it a scuffle; the blood splattered bride shows up at the House of Blue Leaves, mutilates her old friend Sophie, hacks her way through the Crazy 88 ("Well, there wasn't really 88 of 'em. They just called themselves the Crazy 88"), before braining that psycho Gogo with a handy nail-adorned table leg. Only then does she repair to the snow-covered rooftop garden to face down Oren in the ultimate Samurai battle, eventually slicing the top of her head off like a watermelon. If I were ever to take bloody revenge on someone, that's certainly how I'd go about it.

4. Gandalf the Grey versus the Balrog of Morgoth

Still one of the best CGI sequences I have ever seen, the epic battle between Gandalf and the Balrog, which is seen in Frodo's dream/flashback at the beginning of The Two Towers, makes it to number four in my list. In fact, this showdown is so epic that it kills both of its combatants, although of course Gandalf miraculously regenerates into Gandalf the White in order to be able to show up at the battle of Helm's Deep, and then later at Minas Tirith ("Send these foul beasts into the abyss!")

3. Colonel Kurtz versus Captain Willard

In the final scene of Coppola's Apocalypse Now, Willard (Martin Sheen) stalks towards Kurtz (Marlon Brando) in the manner of a hunter. Willard emerges from the darkness, slowly closing in on the brightly lit centre that is Kurtz, whose death is edited together with the brutal sacrifice of a cow. While his murder is technically an assassination, it seems to have an intensely personal element to it. Willard's killing of Kurtz is not just the assassination of an insane officer, but a symbolic act; the self destructive act of obliterating his own unconscious mind. (I wrote my dissertation on Vietnam War films. You can tell, right?)

2. Vito Corleone versus Don Fanucci

This sequence from Godfather Part 2 beats the equally amazing restaurant killing in Part 1 simply because it's been massively overshadowed for too long. Vito (a young Robert de Niro) follows the progress of Don Fanucci through the crowds drawn by a religious parade. Fanucci is in the street, while Vito is spying on him from the rooftops. The sequence is deliciously slow, building up to the brilliantly understated climax of Vito hiding in the shadows outside Fanucci's door, having strategically unscrewed a lightbulb. Wrapping up his gun to muffle the noise, he wordlessly shoots Fanucci as he arrives (but not before the Don has had enough time to turn around and see exactly who is about to pop him), and the wrapping around his gun bursts into flames.

1. The Narrator versus Tyler Durden

Surely the greatest ever showdown must be the one you have with yourself. Especially if the part of yourself you are fighting happens to look like a drugged-up, escaped mental patient version of Brad Pitt. At the end of Fight Club, the Narrator finally turns on his alter ego. This fight with a man that only Edward Norton can see is very cleverly dealt with by director David Fincher. Example: seen through the camera, Brad Pitt is most definitely present, but seen through the cctv camera, the truth is revealed and Pitt is absent as Norton appears to throw himself down a flight of stairs. Realising that he cannot beat Tyler, the Narrator formulates the clever solution of putting the gun in his own mouth and pulling the trigger. By a happy chance, the bullet only goes through his neck, leaving him alive; however, since he thought he was killing himself, alter ego Tyler keels over, the back of his head blown to smithereens...

Saturday, 22 October 2011

We Need To Talk About Kevin

One of the most important things about Lynne Ramsay's We Need To Talk About Kevin is that it's adapted from a bestselling novel by Lionel Shriver; a bestselling novel that I happen not to have read. I initially wondered whether it would actually be possible for me to review a film like Kevin without having read the novel, so intertwined do the two seem to be; Shriver has said that the film is exactly the way she would have wanted it, and according to my peers who have read it, the film is very close to the book, if not exactly the same. But cinema is very much its own medium, however much other medias have contributed to it, so I think it's completely justifiable to review the film as a singular entity.

Essentially, Kevin is a study of family life; albeit a family life which has been broken up by the high school killing spree perpetrated by the psychotic teenage son (with the help of a Robin Hood style longbow rather than guns, which was an original touch). The film is structured, not really in flashbacks, but more in a sort of kaleidoscope of non-chronological scenes, 'suggestive of a catastrophe so explosive it has splintered time', as Sight and Sound's Tim Robey put it. This method of story-telling is used very effectively, and is never confusing; in fact it enhances the plot no end, making it seem almost as though the film is taking place completely inside Eva's (Tilda Swinton's) head, through her memories.

Ramsey's use of the colour red is another standout technique; red has always been the filmmaker's best friend when it comes to conveying meaning through colour, and Kevin is no exception. Red is everywhere in this movie, literally splattered all over everything, although if you're thinking blood and gore, you'd be wrong; gore is made conspicuous by its absence in this film, which is peppered with red tainted scenes such as the repeated shots of Eva laboriously attempting to remove every scrap of red paint (thrown by vengeful neighbours) from her white house. The use of food (and red food), as well as masticating mouths, is also prominent, and a little disgusting - you'll never look at a jam sandwich quite the same way again.

The performances of Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller (mother Eva and son Kevin) are outstanding, especially that of Swinton (possible oscar material). Swinton portrays Eva with such supressed, seething emotion it's clear, however subtly, that throughout the film she is performing some sort of strange self-punishment, taking the fallout of Kevin's actions without complaint (she takes a punch in the face from a passing stranger without making a fuss, makes herself an omelette full of eggshells, and spends scene after scene scraping red paint off her house when she could just have painted over it).

Critics, and viewers in general, are raving about this film, and while I agree that the acting is brilliant and it's technically very well made, I can't see that it anywhere crosses the line from 'good' into 'great'. A recurring feature in reviews of this film seems to be how chillingly silent the cinema is when the credits roll, but to be honest I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary - cinemas are usually dead quiet following the finale of any film with such serious subject matter. Kevin has the recipe for a truly great movie, but the ingredients don't quite seem to make a whole. What we're left with is a film we've seen parts of before; I kept waiting for something new to jump out and truly impress me, but it never did.

Even so, We Need To Talk About Kevin makes my Films of the Moment list for its technical dexterity, emotional intelligence, and uncompromising social comment.