Archive for February, 2010

A SINGLE MAN and SHUTTER ISLAND

Posted: February 23, 2010 in movie reviews

A SINGLE MAN ***1/2

Much has been made about Tom Ford’s sartorial brilliance (he’s the ex-head designer at Gucci) informing the aesthetics of his directorial debut, and indeed you can see the sure hand of a true aesthete in every frame. Ford uses every trick in the book – jump cuts, colour desaturation, flashbacks, flashforwards, voice-over, stylised sound design and grainy filmstock – to tell the story of George (Colin Firth, in a career-redefining performance), a proper (and very British) college professor, living in Los Angeles, who cannot get over the death of his lover. The stylised, and extremely stylish, treatment of the story is masterful and inspiring – but the story itself is singular and dull. Not much happens, and while we get an almost unbearably intimate portrayal of a man, we don’t get very much drama at all. Ultimately, the film feels way too long.

SHUTTER ISLAND ***

Martin Scorcese’s latest venture with Leonardo DiCaprio is a little odd. Neither a true horror story nor a proper film noir, this mix-up of genres was probably better as a book (novel originally by Dennis Lehane). DiCaprio plays a Federal Marshall in the early 1950s who goes to investigate a disappearance on Shutter Island, a dedicated hospital for the criminally insane located in Boston Harbour. The film relies on secrets and revelations so I won’t go into further plot detail – suffice to say that I found the whole thing quite satisfying in the end, but it was a bit of a slog, at times, getting there. This is a spooky film for those who can’t take spooky films – there is very little to really scare you, and there’s no graphic violence.

Latest Reviews

Posted: February 16, 2010 in movie reviews

A PROPHET *****

The Winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes this (past) year, and nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the coming Oscars, A PROPHET is the best prison movie I’ve ever seen. A supremely assured piece of filmmaking by director Jacques Audiard, this epic and violent film stars Tahar Rahim in a breath-taking, sure-to-be career-launching role as Malik, a nineteen year-old career criminal who’s entering the Big House (rather than Juvenile Detention) for the first time. A mix of Muslim and Corsican, and incredibly green and naïve, Malik doesn’t fit in at all – but that could be his secret weapon. Watching his rise is thrilling from start to finish; it’s kind of like The Godfather set in a prison. Not to be missed – but be warned, there is graphic, brutal violence.

THE HURT LOCKER *****

Kathryn Bigelow’s masterful film is the first to have really engaged critics and audiences alike on the Iraq War, and there’s a reason – it is practically perfect filmmaking. Plotwise very simple – essentially a series of incidents – this is actually a hugely interesting character study of a man suffering from an unusual element of war – that of being addicted to it. Jeremy Renner, unknown to me before, gives an astounding performance as a bomb-disposal expert who gets off on the unbearable tension of his job. Not violent – and not, as some would suggest, an “action movie” – this is thought-provoking, visceral cinema at its best. It and A PROPHET are two of a kind – thrilling, entertaining movies set in places you don’t want to be, but are incredibly stimulated to visit.

RELIGULOUS ***

Bill Mahar’s anti-religious screed may not reach the heights of Michael Moore or Sacha Baron Cohen, but is nonetheless a heartfelt and very funny, and angry, essay in praise of atheism. The biggest problem may be that it will simply preach to the converted, but to the converted it is definitely a lot of fun.

THE INFORMANT! ****

Matt Damon in his best-ever role in Steven Soderburgh’s unclassifiable picture; never truly a comedy, drama or biopic, it tells the true story of Mark Whittaker, whose whistle-blowing on his own corn company in early-90s USA confounds all concepts of human motivation. A truly original and always entertaining film.

The Oscars

Posted: February 10, 2010 in movie reviews

With AVATAR and PRECIOUS (among eight others) both up for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards, I hereby unleash to the world my well-considered argument that it’s time the Oscars split the Best Picture Award in two.

Best Picture: General Audience would, naturally, include a nomination for AVATAR.
Best Picture: Targeted Audience would, naturally, include a nomination for PRECIOUS (and, for that matter, THE HURT LOCKER).
In the case of films such as INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and UP IN THE AIR, which have a degree of “crossover appeal”, it would be up to the studio or producer to choose which category to enter the film into (just as they already do with actors, which is why Christopher Plummer is entered into supporting actor, rather than leading role, for THE LAST STATION – he’s got a much better chance of winning in that category).
This way, the inevitability of a win by a film such as AVATAR could also allow us to see a film like PRECIOUS, THE HURT LOCKER or INGLORIOUS BASTERDS take out “the” major award.
I also believe that, in the unique case of UP this year, the studio should have had to choose whether to enter the film into the Best Picture category or the Best Animated Film category; if they had chosen the former, it would have freed up a space in the animated category for a film such as MARY AND MAX; it would have also increased the chances of the deliriously well-reviewed FANTASTIC MR FOX for taking out Best Animated Feature (and don’t forget, combined with the other change, UP would have valid contention in the Best Picture: General Audience category).
Of course, the other possibility – or indeed, inevitability! – is that the Best Picture category could be split into 2D and 3d categories. Thus UP and AVATAR would compete – which makes much more sense than AVATAR and PRECIOUS competing. Never has there been a stronger case of “apples and oranges”.
I also think the time must be ripe for the Best Cinematography category to be split into 3D and 2D categories.
The Academy is deeply concerned about its television ratings, and it seems to be general agreement in the press that the reason they have re-introduced the larger number of nominations for the main award is to allow “general audiences” a greater degree of involvement. From 1929, when the Oscars debuted, to 1944, when CASABLANCA dominated the awards, the number of nominated films in the Best Picture category fluctuated according to perceived deserving films – from five to twelve. Nominating ten films for the major category makes sense for the broadcast – you’re more likely to watch if you’ve seen one of the major nominated films – and the television broadcast (and the ads broadcast within it) is the only reason the Oscars manage to exist, as that advertising revenue pretty much pays for everything – the statues themselves, the hall, the crew, the food in the green room, and everything else.
Everyone agrees that the Oscars are very long. Some of us love this – I could do with a five hour broadcast, frankly – but most viewers want something a little more compact. Expanding the categories along my suggestions wouldn’t help this. But with new technology, a web-based Oscars that runs alongside the televised broadcast could alleviate the perceived “length” problem. Some of the traditionally mocked categories – for example, Best Sound Editing (which only those of us in the industry really understand anyway) could be presented in an accompanying online realm, or moved to the “Technical Awards” that happen prior to the main presentation / broadcast. Indeed, the Oscars could actually take a leaf out of the Australian Film Institute Awards’ book and have a separate, televised night for a whole slab of awards, making it a two-night affair. Obviously, the first, “technical” night would have limited (“targeted audience”) appeal, but with digital television, it could run on an alternative channel.
They could also do what they should have always done – kill the musical numbers. But then, when would you go to the bathroom or make the next round of sandwiches?