345-Word Reviews: Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives Ryan GoslingFollowing the popular and critical success of Drive, Ryan Gosling reteams with director Nicolas Winding Refn for a film that is both more and less of the same: more vengeance, torture, blows to the head, and less movement, less dialogue, less significance. From its stately depiction of a neon-and-bokeh Bangkok (shot by Eyes Wide Shut‘s Larry Smith), to its hyper-Freudian, return-to-the-womb conclusion (cribbed from George Bataille’s Ma mère), Only God Forgives is a great-looking but stilted drama, painfully obvious, studiously enigmatic, and boringly sadistic.  Continue reading

Gravity: The Weight of Water

Gravity Sandra Bullock

[This post contains spoilers for Gravity, but since I seem to be the last person in the universe to see the film, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem…]

By the time I got around to seeing Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, so much had already been said. It received rapturous reviews, then a bunch of criticisms of its scientific plausibility, then prompted, or at least chimed with, talk about space debris, roused the obligatory Oscar “buzz” (i.e. somebody somewhere thought it might win a couple of awards), and generally came on like an end-of-year blockbuster that showed the summer how thrills and spectacle should have been handled. So, while I feel like I want to write a little something about the film, I’m not too keen to burden you with a retread of opinions you might already have found elsewhere.

Continue reading

345-Word Reviews: World War Z

World War ZNeither the calamity that its troubled production might have led you to expect, nor the triumph that its $250 million price-tag should lead you to demand, World War Zed offers a number of delights. This is a globalised disaster movie, told not from the perspective of bedraggled survivors who end up turning on each other in a desperate fight over dwindling supplies (the genre template laid down by Romero, and canonised most recently in The Walking Dead comics and TV series), but through the lens of a UN-led operation to find a solution to the zombie pandemic sweeping the planet. This omniscient overview sometimes dilutes what should be a terrifying vision of a world falling apart, because it gives an unwarranted sense of control over events, and the film plays out in a doggedly linear hop from one country to the next along a thread of tangential clues.

Continue reading

345-Word Reviews: Man of Steel

Man of Steel flying

The critical orthodoxy has it that Man of Steel is a fine, pastoral origin-story for S******n, before it descends into an overlong, overloud finale. I agree with the second part of that assessment, but I barely noticed any modulation between soft/hard, fast/slow, quiet/LOUD in this movie. The trailer promised a morose, contemplative superhero, thoughtfully bearded, in search of himself. But, after a tacky cod-medieval prologue on Krypton, we get three minutes of shoe-gazing before S******n’s stripped to the waist, on fire, plucking workmen out of a blazing oil-rig. So much for the build-up. Continue reading

Things You Need to Know About Le Mépris

Le Mepris Poster Brigitte Bardot Jean-Luc Godard[BLOG IN PROGRESS. I started this post hoping it might be of benefit to my students. As much as I love the film, I know it can be off-putting to non-film specialists, and to plenty of other people unfamiliar with Jean-Luc Godard‘s style of filmmaking. I intend it to be an ongoing post, and will add to it periodically, so if you have any thoughts about the film, or anything you think that viewers need to know about Le Mépris in order to get maximum interest from it, leave a comment below with your ideas and suggestions.]

In summary, it’s part domestic drama, in which a man tries to find out why his wife no longer loves him, and part meta-cinematic backstage dramatisation of the adaptation process, in which that man struggles with his job as a screenwriter on an American film of Homer‘s Odyssey. Filmed as the Hollywood studio system collapsed, Le Mépris is a meditation on the relationship between art and life, film and reality.
Continue reading

The Miffy Movie

Nijntje de Film or The Miffy Movie

I admit it. This must seem like a strange review with which to begin (belatedly) the New blogging Year, especially after such a long hiatus. But I’m keen to get things going again around here, and to me this seems like as good a place as any to begin, because Nijntje de Film (or The Miffy Movie, as its English language title would have it) will always have a special place in my heart. It’s not because this is an especially profound or beautiful film, but because it was the first time I ever took my daughter to the cinema. Evie is nearly 15 months old. Miffy (or Nijntje, as they call her in her native Netherlands) has been around for nearly six decades. I knew I wanted to test Evie out at the cinema to see how she would respond, and this seemed like a good place to start; Evie doesn’t watch TV, except for the occasional hand-picked cartoon (Peppa Pig, Rastamouse and Disney’s Silly Symphonies have so far proven to be her favourites), but she recognises Miffy from toys and merchandise and, more importantly, Dick Bruna’s beautiful books. We’ve also taken Evie to visit the Dick Bruna house in Utrecht, so she can identify the little bunny on sight by now. Continue reading

345-Word Reviews: War Horse

My childhood is strewn with memories of animal movies: KesWatership DownPlague DogsStorm Boy, Ring of Bright WaterTarka the Otter etc. Invariably, these served as starter-wheels of grief, early encounters with death and loss. Things rarely ended well for these critters. Don’t worry, though: Steven Spielberg is not in the business of scarring children. His entry into the genre is Saving Private Horsey, which is ostensibly told from the point of view of a horse as it changes hands from one carer to another. Continue reading

345-Word Reviews: The Woman in Black

One of the more successful efforts to buff up the Hammer Films brand, The Woman in Black gives Daniel Radcliffe the role of the respectable gent given the challenge of focusing on his paperwork in a place of mystery and dread, surrounding by superstitious rubes who pop up to tell him he’s not welcome round these parts. Forty years ago, this part might have been played by Ralph Bates, but now its a vehicle for the ex-Potter to show whether he can branch out. Most of the film consists of Radcliffe, his lower jaw determinedly jutting out with the tension of it all, exploring a tricked-out, pop-up house filled with spooky Victoriana. The obligatory shots of pale faces peering mournfully out of upper-floor windows are also given a good airing.

The trappings of the abandoned 19th-century nursery (broken dolls, rocking chairs, staring-eyed portrait paintings, clockwork toys) have become the visual shorthand for uncanny terror, the return of a repressed childhood trauma none of us can actually remember. These are the hard, unhuggable toys invested with the memories of games with long-dead children (that the film is about dead young ‘uns only compounds the creepy connotations), superstitious markers of the end that awaits us all: we will be outlived by our stuff. There is potential shock built into the mechanism of a moving toy: haunted house movies are all about anticipating movement in inert things and, to paraphrase Chekhov, you know that the wind-up monkey automaton from the first act is going to spring into life before the last.

Scares are effectively engineered by James Watkins (director of chavsploitation outing Eden Lake), and I must admit that my buttons were successfully poked with a cold finger a few times, but we race so swiftly from one jolt to the next that there’s little modulation between quiet repose and skin-jumping shockery. Like any good ghost story, it sets up a contest between rational and supernatural interpretations of paranormal phenomena but, as usual, rational explanations, which tend to make for less unsettling horror movies, don’t stand a chance.

345-Word Reviews: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I haven’t seen the Swedish adaptations, nor read the Stieg Larsson books on which they are based, which either makes me hopelessly unqualified to comment on this piece of the franchise, or a blank slate for judging this film on its own terms. All I can say is that I once overheard sections of the audiobook, and it seemed to involve mostly people emailing each other (here’s a full plot synopsis if you need it). After The Social Network, I wondered if David Fincher was going to go one step further and make a whole film about electronic communication. Not quite. Continue reading

Tony Scott’s Loving Memory

I was saddened to learn of the death of Tony Scott. This was mainly because a man had decided to take his own life, leaving friends and family bereft. The circumstances surrounding his death, the causes of his leap from a bridge, are still unclear, and speculation is not my business. I didn’t come here to eulogise Scott’s work, nor even to defend it. If you do want to read an eloquent and spirited case for the artistic value of his films, look no further than Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s stirring appreciation. I have little that is terribly positive to say about Scott’s – I have always find his style so pronounced and his angular, dyspraxic cutting so distancing, that I rarely warmed to a Tony Scott film. Continue reading