2013 was a great year for cinema, according to all available evidence and the cooing of many commentators. I’ve watched a large chunk of its diverse output, including seven of the nine Best Picture nominations for the Oscars, as well as various other notable additions, but none struck me as much as Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. I don’t know what the hell it was trying to say, but it seemed at once like a corrupted fairytale told by Terence Malick in a parallel universe; Scarface by way of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City; Reservoir Dogs in bikinis; End of Days shot in over-saturated neon by Sofia Coppola; and somehow like Apocalypse Now filmed on Florida shores.
I was reading about clouds today, because I was trying to come up with a facetious analogy to start off my Cloud Atlas review, and to my embarrassment, I realised that I wasn’t sure how clouds form.
One type of cloud, I learned, is a convection cloud (Cumulus and Cumulonimbus clouds are brilliant examples of these – check this out -
- formed by water vapour in rising columns of hot air condensing into droplets, and ganging together to create what most people imagine when they hear the word “cloud”. )
It is also the type of cloud some people like to look at when laying around in the park, trying to spot clouds which resemble familiar shapes – an elephant, a whale, a giraffe, or perhaps Lady Gaga receiving a Grammy award.
Which brings us to Cloud Atlas, an ambitious and mercurial era-hopping sci-fi drama directed by the Wachowski siblings and Run Lola Run helmer Tom Tykwer. Adapted from David Mitchell’s 2004 novel, the film presents itself as a high-minded epic, although like our friends the Cumulus and Cumulonimbus, is formed by lots of hot air. Weaving six stories spanning hundreds of years, it occasionally appears to take the shape of meaningful things we recognise, buts turns out vaporous and lacking any real substance.
If Bowling for Columbine was a combat sport, it would be unlicensed boxing. Brutal as hell, and no-holds barred. Moore certainly takes the gloves off towards the end.
Essentially, a documentary is an expression of opinion from whoever is behind it, and it is important to keep this in mind when approaching any film of this genre. In this case, the documentary in question is the brainchild of Michael Moore, the notorious left-wing American film-maker. In response to the massacre of thirteen students at Columbine High School in 1999, Moore sets out to question the gun laws in certain states of America; namely Michigan (Moore’s birthplace), and Denver (the state in which the massacre took place).
“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be —- a broker??”
It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as Henry Hill’s opening confession at the beginning of Goodfellas. Scorsese’s seminal 1990 mob classic is the film to which The Wolf of Wall Street is compared the most, as both based on the true stories of men seduced by a decadent and corrupt lifestyle, and somehow emerge the other side of the inevitable fall, relatively unscathed and completely unrepentant.
Some critics have slammed The Wolf of Wall Street for glorifying unfettered greed and debauchery. I don’t have a problem with a film focussing on greed and debauchery, especially in Scorsese-world; after all, this is a director who has committed some of the most violent and repellent characters in movie history to the screen. My problem with The Wolf of Wall Street is that it is just an awful movie, and that I can’t forgive.
The Great Detective was a drug addict. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote him that way, and it is a fact central to Sherlock Holmes lore, which has created a thorny issue for many a filmmaker in adapting Doyle’s canonical series of stories. It is a fact that cannot be ignored – The Sign of Four opens with a lengthy scene of Holmes shooting up morphine. Even Basil Rathbone, the first truly iconic portrayal of Holmes, found the subject a bit sticky – his triumphant call for the needle at the end of The Hound of the Baskervilles invoked the wrath of the draconian Hays Code.
Even the most recent adaptation, Mark Gatiss’ shit hot BBC series Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, which so successfully brought Holmes into the 21st century with its seamless appropriation of smartphones and blogging, was notably coy about the issue until the third series. It took until the third episode of the third series for the creators to fully acknowledge Holmes’ dabbling with hard drugs, with Watson accidentally rumbling Holmes in a shooting gallery. Then screenwriters and actors bashfully tip-toed around the subject for five minutes, treating it as a comic episode, then the issue was forgotten as the plot hastily resumed.
Joshua Oppenheimer’s astonishing The Act of Killing was voted many critic’s top film of 2013. It is a documentray quite unlike anything made before – the film maker tracked down surviving members of Indonesian death squads from the Sixties, and persuaded them to re-enact the murders they committed. Instead of the usual mixture of talking heads and archive footage, however, Oppenheimer encourages them to make their own film, and replay the crimes in the style of their favourite movies – gangster, cowboy, musical, etc.
Over the past year I’ve watched loads of documentaries, and have come to the conclusion that documentary film makers are among the most egotistical. I can handle a certain degree of arrogance, because I think if you are an artist, then how can you expect the audience to be interested in your work if you don’t believe in yourself and what you have to say?
Too many American filmmakers these days portray the Poor as a cavalcade of “Redneck” or “Hillbilly” stereotypes. There is a tendency to sentimentalise them, while at the same time sniffing through the dirty laundry of their poverty; or present them as a kind of burlesque freakshow of bad hair, bad teeth and bad manners. Even directors with a genuine sensibility can fall into the trap of showing rural folk as a bunch of ignorant pig-fuckers, or worse, endow them with some mawkish sense of magic-realist nobility, as in Benh Zeitlin’s patronising Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993) – “Infinity and Eternity seem to take a liking to the likes of me…”
We open with a long shot of a frozen wilderness. A man is walking towards us, in a daringly long take that recalls Omar Sharif’s famous entrance in Lawrence of Arabia. The man is Glenn Gould (Colm Feore), legendary concert pianist. Thirty two short films later, the man walks away again across the snowy wastes. By this time, we have learnt that his music has now traveled beyond the edge of our Solar System, as part of mankind’s Desert Island Discs on the Voyager probe, and we are left with a sense of wonder at the boundless universe beyond, and the boundless universe that exists inside every one of us.
10. Love Actually (2003)
To borrow my colleague Mr Holly’s standard reviewing motif, if Love Actually was a relative at Christmas, it would be your granny – a bit dotty, bloated on mince pies, a bit tipsy on sherry, disorganised, showering you in sloppy kisses, but full of love and presents.
Too long by far, Richard Curtis’ rambling, star-studded ensemble comedy romance has at least two segments that could be done away with – most obviously the bit where a dweeby English guy goes to America to score some hot chicks using his English accent, and Liam Neeson’s vomit-inducing, ET-eyed, trembly-chinned son. All he really wants for Christmas is some hair on his knackers so he can pull the popular bird at school.
If The Fan was a baseball legend, it would be Barry Bonds. The film has various similarities with his stint at San Francisco, which include record-breaking contracts, shirt number confusion and of course, the Giants themselves.
This Tony Scott picture delivers a sleek first pitch followed by an unexpected knuckleball. Gil Renard (Robert De Niro (Goodfellas, 1990)), A down-on-his-luck knife salesman, goes round the twist whilst stalking his idol, baseball legend Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes (Blade, 1998)).
With a Falling Down (1993)-esque feel, De Niro’s steady decline of realism is well played to the best he can. Snipes fits the bill as the arrogant player and it is probably his best performance alongside Murder at 1600 (1997). De Niro’s character stops at nothing to keep his idol’s credibility in check, to the point of no return following a bizarre jinx over Snipes losing his shirt number.
Unable to perform and hit, Rayburn’s frustration is felt, generating more tension than a fat mans belt buckle. This results in a complete meltdown from Renard. Renard’s patience is tested throughout the course of the flick. As neck-cracking and collar-pulling are not usually associated with De Niro’s persona since the early days, it was refreshing to experience another one of these roles from the acting hall-of-famer. Benicio Del Toro (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)) fits into place nicely, as the irritating ex-centre fielder who steps up to the plate when Rayburn loses his metal.
On the downside, the film tends to drag somewhat. The ending feels slightly rushed and the acting from Patti D’arbanville (nothing else of note, for obvious reasons) is totally dreadful. Apart from that, Snipes is marginally better than usual and although it is not De Niro’s best work, I enjoyed this film somewhat. With a haunting Hans Zimmer soundtrack and supporting cast of John Leguizamo (Carlito’s Way (1993)), and Ellen Barkin (Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)), to keep you interested, The Fan is a steady thriller. Give it a chance and you may be more suprised than not getting socks at Christmas from Mummy.
Performance of the film – De Niro’s performance pushed me to more lip biting than a nuts/fly encounter on a cold day. He did his best within the role, slightly overshadowing Snipes’ stupid slugger act.
Quote of the film – De Niro’s powerful one liner “Some people are ungrateful…and they should be taught a lesson” lingers in my head.
Fact of the film – This is the second movie where the De Niro/Baseball bat/head cracking combo is in full swing.
Soundtrack/score – A nice selection of tunes ranging from the Rolling Stones to Terence Trent D’arby. Add that to a polished main suite from Hans Zimmer and you have a better bundle than a top-notch mobile phone package.
May be a miss for some but it struck a chord with me. A decent batting average. 77/100.
(Last watched 6 months ago. Reviewed by Mr. Holly.)