Archive for October, 2012

Skyfall

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , on October 22, 2012 by alexlarman

The first thing to say about Sam Mendes’ tremendous Skyfall is that it makes its predecessor in the James Bond series, Quantum Of Solace, look even worse. Whereas the first film of Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007, Casino Royale, was one of the very best Bond films, Quantum was dull, uninspired and gave every indication that Marc Forster didn’t have the first idea how to direct an action sequence or co-ordinate an interesting plot. With further havoc caused by the temporary cessation of MGM, who own the Bond rights, it looked for a while as if Craig’s excellent, engaged interpretation of Bond would, like Timothy Dalton’s, be left at two films, one good and one poor.

Thankfully, all was made right, and the resulting picture is an exhilaratingly brilliant romp that simultaneously furthers everything Casino Royale did right and cleverly redefines James Bond for the 21st century. The plot – a revenge saga, mainly set in London – is beautifully simple, containing no spaceships, world domination or plots to take over oil franchises. Instead, it contains a near laundry list of good things, from one of the best baddies in the series in the shape of Javier Bardem’s blonde, insinuating psychopath with a very personal grudge against Judi Dench’s stalwart but also fragile M, to Roger Deakins’ stunning cinematography which makes this not just the best-looking Bond film ever, but also one of his finest works.

A fantastic cast, including everyone from MI6 mandarin Ralph Fiennes to gutsy field agent Naomi Harris, is given a very strong script to work with, which judges the fine line between seriousness and playfulness just right – it’s a good deal less intimidatingly sober than Craig’s previous two films. It isn’t perfect – the climax is somewhat underwhelming after the brilliance of many of the other set-pieces (including an Istanbul set-to and explosive destruction on the London Underground) and a scene in Macau casino involving giant lizards feels like it’s come out of another film – but it proves, inter alia, that a cerebral director like Mendes can make this sort of pulpy fun both serious and seriously entertaining. Expect it to be a massive, massive hit, and don’t bet against many of the same team returning for the next one.

 

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At LFF 2012

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2012 by alexlarman

As I write, the London Film Festival is beginning to wind up. There are still a few big premieres to come, not least Mike Newell and David Nicholls’ new version of Great Expectations, but by and large it’s now possible to look at Clare Stewart’s first season as artistic director (taking over from the estimable Sandra Hebron) and make a few very general comments.

The festival is shorter this time around – 11 days rather than 14 or 15 – which means that the big premieres sometimes come two at a time. (One imagines some of the more committed autograph hunters heading inadvertently to the wrong cinema and being disappointed as a result.) The line-up, as in Hebron’s day, is less about world premieres and more about bringing much-lauded recent films to the masses. This leads to the odd surprising omission – unless either is a surprise film, no Cloud Atlas or The Master – but there is a plethora of good stuff to make up for it. Here were my favourites:

Argo

It now seems very strange to think of Ben Affleck as one half of the much-ridiculed ‘Bennifer’ and star of such rubbish films as Gigli and the aptly named Paycheck. With his third film, Argo, he proves himself one of the most talented directors working today, and a pretty decent actor to boot. Dealing with the Iran hostage crisis of 1979, the film explores the remarkably strange true story of how a fake film, Argo, was created by the CIA in a desperate attempt to flee six Americans who had sought refuge in the American ambassador’s house. Mixing edge-of-seat tension with Hollywood satire is a bold move, but rather surprisingly it works beautifully. The cast (Bryan Cranston, Alan Alda, John Goodman et al) are tremendous, and it builds to an exciting and satisfying climax.

Crossfire Hurricane

The Rolling Stones set the record straight in this new documentary. Sort of. Produced by the band, it’s definitely a step up from hagiography, but it soft-peddles a lot of well-known stories (there’s next to nothing about Jagger’s serial philandering, for instance) and finishes rather abruptly in 1981, apparently conceding that they are now less rock stars, and more members of The Rolling Stones PLC. Still, the music’s fantastic, the footage frequently gripping and the new interviews from the Stones off-camera produce some amusing nuances and moments.

Everyday

A new Michael Winterbottom film is an annual occurrence, but thankfully this one is one of his best. Filmed over 5 years, it follows the strained relationship between a husband and wife (John Simm and Shirley Henderson) as he goes through a lengthy prison sentence for an unspecified crime. Simm and Henderson both give nuanced, compelling performances, helped by the Kirk children as their sons and daughters, and it’s an especial pleasure to hear a new Michael Nyman score as well.

Lawrence of Arabia

You know this one’s good, but it’s an absolute pleasure to see the full restored version on the big screen, which genuinely transforms the whole experience. The dialogue is as iconic as ever – ‘Of course it hurts. The trick is not minding that it hurts’ – but it’s the performances and David Lean’s sweeping direction that make this one of the greatest films ever made.

Room 237

In which various scholars, film critics and interested parties discuss their theories of what Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is really about. Theories range from the quite sensible (a metaphor for the slaughter of Native Americans) to utterly barking (the entire film is Kubrick confessing to faking the moon landings), but it’s elegantly and intelligently staged and frequently funny.

Seven Psychopaths

Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to the brilliant In Bruges is a messier, more sprawling beast, which will probably need repeated viewings to tell whether it’s a work of near-genius or just an entertaining mess. Mixing elements from his plays The Lieutenant Of Inishmore and The Pillowman, it revolves around alcoholic Irish screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell), who finds himself embroiled in a bizarre dog-kidnapping scam run by Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken, even as he tries to write the titular script. As with Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation, things get very meta, very quickly. It’s stuffed full of good lines, great performances (especially a restrained but somehow still barking Walken) and nice ideas, but somehow the whole thing seems permanently on the edge of descending into complete incoherence; it bears the hallmarks of a script that McDonagh has revised over and over again, without ever truly finding the heart of it. Yet it has the same enjoyably profane sensibility that informed In Bruges and some hugely effective quieter moments, which give the film an elegiac quality at points.

On the basis of these, it’s fair to say that Stewart’s next season at the LFF will be that old canard, ‘eagerly awaited’.