Author Archives: leerobertadams
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.
“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.
“Surreal” is one of the most popular and misunderstood words at work in Britain today, often mis-used by footballers and reality TV show stars when grasping for adjectives to describe their experience.
X Factor winner James Arthur described his experience as surreal, while returning West Ham hero Joe Cole also felt his return to the club of his youth matched the description. Assuming Cole’s contract signing wasn’t overseen by a dwarf talking backwards, or Nicole Scherzinger’s head didn’t turn into a lightbulb while singing him a lullaby, what they actually meant was the events were a bit surprising or unusual.
One thing genuinely surreal in 2012 was Leo Carax’s Holy Motors, a wilfully bizarre, gross, funny and melancholy headfuck that is likely to drive some regular cinema-goers to experiment with other examples of arthouse and avant garde cinema.
“Begin at the beginning then go on till you come to the end: then stop.” – Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
What is it about the biopic that induces screenwriters to start somewhere near the end, then find some contrived way to kick the story back in time to all the interesting stuff, the events the viewer wants to find out about in the first place?
In many senses, any biographical film of an important historical figure is a kind of greatest hits compilation, and two of the finest British examples of the genre, Lawrence of Arabia and Gandhi, begin with such a device. Both those films have plenty of time at their disposal, clocking in at over three hours each, and focus on a relatively narrow time in their subject’s lives.
The Iron Lady, by Mamma Mia! auteur Phyllida Lloyd, tries to jam in former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s whole career into a paltry 105 minute run time, and makes the unfortunate decision to spend most of the movie stuck in the modern-day bookends. So if Lawrence of Arabia and Gandhi are like double LP’s, The Iron Lady is like a 45 single.