Category Archives: Adventure
“Like its genetically modified star attraction, the Indominus Rex, Jurassic World is a strange hybrid of the franchise’s greatest hits, part sequel, part reboot and part homage to Steven Spielberg’s much-loved original. It capitalises on nostalgia and Chris Pratt’s likable presence, providing two hours of solid monster mayhem without ever getting beyond the pace of a spooked herd of Stegosaurus…” Click here to read the full article (Opens in separate tab)
“Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner is corny and ambitious, flirting with the epic while teetering on the brink of TV movie melodrama. Crowe directs his first film like a man worried that he might never get the chance again, painting a war drama, historical adventure and cross-culture romance with urgent, chunky brushstrokes. He also draws the most Russell Crowe-like performance since Gladiator from his leading man, Russell Crowe…” Read the full review here (opens in separate tab.)
Interstellar is so big that it has its own gravitational pull, and time grinds to a halt while watching it…
“Christopher Nolan returns with Interstellar, one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year. It is a handsome, ambitious, sombre space epic, which is also deeply flawed and exposes Nolan’s weaknesses as a director more than any of his earlier work.
I admire Nolan as a film maker, because he makes popular, intelligent films with things to say about the human condition. His images are massive, his visions meticulously crafted and he draws expert performances from his actors. And yet…his films lack stardust, a sense of wonder, a touch of showmanship, like a story told by an accountant, not a natural raconteur…” Click here to read my full review for Pop.junk (opens in separate window
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.
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.
A joke: Today, a bomb went off in central Ipswich, England [delete and apply any shitty town/district/neighbourhood of your choice], causing millions of pounds worth of structural improvements.
I’ll come back to that joke in a minute. Christmas is over and I’m not feeling charitable, and as much as I admire the independent, amateur, can-do ethos behind Benh Zeitlin’s first feature film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, I can’t pretend I appreciated it as much as many celebrated critics seemed to.
The film tells the story of a little girl, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), who lives in squalor with her ailing father, Wink (Dwight Henry) in a ramshackle pre-post-apocalyptic community known as the Bathtub, separated from the modern world by a levee.
A prison break and runaway locomotive thriller as harsh and unforgiving as its bleak Alaskan setting, Runaway Train overcomes the unimaginative title to become a hard-bitten, brutal, intelligent mini classic.
Jon Voight stars as Oscar “Manny” Manheim, a ferocious murderer and bank robber welded into a solitary confinement cell for three years by his nemesis, warden Rankin (John P Ryan).
The Great Escape is a holiday tradition in the UK, although it is more associated with Boxing Day. In the old days, when we only had four terrestrial TV channels, The Great Escape seemed to be on every Boxing Day. The kids played with their new toys, the women chatted and the men retreated to the living room to watch Preston Sturges’ rousing POW escape drama.
You know what I’d like for Christmas? Not in a real sense – I’m happy with cash this year, and if you want to contribute, drop me a line & I’ll give you my PO Box details. I mean in a “things from movies that haven’t been invented yet” kind of sense.
I’d like one of those 3D virtual reality sunbed things from Minority Report, and use it to watch old Powell & Pressburger extravanganzas.
I”d stick on Black Narcissus and stand around in an ancient pleasure palace, looking dashing while two hot nuns lust after me, trying to keep my trousers on. Then I’d come out with a ravishing technicolor tan.
If you haven’t seen Black Narcissus before, I suppose that introduction might make it sound more appealing than the standard blurb – a band of Anglican nuns are dispatched to an outpost deep in the Himalayas to set up a school and hospital for the natives.
The woman in charge is Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr), a stern and ambitious Sister Superior. She wants the post, although her Mother Superior has doubts about her ability. The location for this new convent is an old palace, which many years before used to house a harem. More recently, some monks also attempted to convert it to a monastery, perched far above the village and forest on a sheer cliff face.
The sisters’ contact in the area is a British agent, Mr Dean (David Farrar), a dishy and irreverent presence. He singles out Sister Clodagh with his suggestive, innuendo-laden comments, and his arrogance and lack of respect soon gets her hot under the habit.
The old palace, with it’s erotic paintings and peculiar atmosphere, soon has a queer effect on the nuns. This is most evident in Clodagh, and the poorly Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron), who develops a fierce attraction to the brash Mr Dean.
It soon turns out that Clodagh isn’t as cold and pious as she first seems, and perhaps it’s the mountain air, but her mind starts to wander during prayer. She also secretly starts to feel a bit giddy about the British agent.
Meanwhile, the natives aren’t too keen on visiting the nuns for either their education or their welfare – it is revealed the local General is paying the villagers to visit.
Dean also lumbers them with a local piece of jailbait, Kanchi (Jean Simmons) hoping the nun’s influence will be beneficial to her, and to stop her mooning around his house making eyes at him.
All this comes to a crescendo when Sister Ruth, who turns out to be mentally frail as well as physically, throws herself at Mr Dean. She is disgraced, and begins a descent into murderous insanity…
Black Narcissus is one of a hat trick of technicolor masterpieces by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, along with A Matter of Life and Death and The Red Shoes. All three are elevated by Jack Cardiff’s sumptuous cinematography, and curiously for films almost universally regarded as masterpieces, all three are far from perfect.
A Matter of Life and Death (1946), a fantastical and warm-hearted romance about a young WWII pilot who bails out of his craft without a parachute and survives, only to be summoned to heaven on the basis of a celestial clerical error, is virtually flawless until the final courtroom scene. Then it bizarrely degenerates into a Brits vs Yanks sermon.
The Red Shoes , the tale of a talented ballerina who is destined to suffer the same fate as the character she portrays, is rather stiff and old fashioned until it’s stunning ballet sequence. Then everything is forgotten and it becomes the best thing you’ve ever seen.
Black Narcissus suffers from some rather muddled characterization, and it’s not always clear who’s who or what their motives are. Clodagh and Ruth are difficult to tell apart on first viewing, because both actresses are facially quite similar when smothered by a habit.
However, Black Narcissus hangs together better as a narrative, because it’s not as top- or bottom-heavy as the other two. It’s also an easier watch for modern audiences; although it is variously described as an adventure, romance, or a melodrama, the thing it resembles most in structure is a horror movie.
There’s the old haunted house on the hill, although it’s never explicitly made clear whether Mopu is actually haunted, or whether it’s one of those places people bring their own ghosts.
There is the story of the monks, whose previous attempt to inhabit the palace ended in failure. This is a classic touch of foreshadowing most familiar to fans of horror films.
Think of the story of Grady, the axe murdering former caretaker of the Overlook in The Shining; the derelict spaceship full of eggs in Alien; or the Norwegian base in The Thing. Bad things have happened in this place, so chances are, bad things are going to happen again…
Sister Ruth’s final, desperate, unhinged pursuit of Dean and Sister Clodagh resemble something out of a 80’s or 90’s psycho-thriller, and the final reel is full of suspense as murderous Ruth stalks her unwitting love rival.
Also adding to the tension is the tangible erotic charge, which is largely thanks to Jack Cardiff’s sublime cinematography, particularly the use of color and shade.
When we first see Clodagh, it is in close up. A pale white face in a ghostly white habit, harsh eyes and tight white lips. Our first blast of color is on our first visit to the palace – a room filled with empty gilded cages, and a first glimpse of the General, resplendent in silks, preening himself by a mirror in a bright blue room.
A subplot involving Kanchi falling romantically for a young prince doesn’t really add much, apart from more eroticism. On Kanchi’s first time alone in the palace, she is seen dancing sensually by herself; she spends most of her time crawling around on hands and knees trying to get the prince’s attention. And in one unfortunate moment, she appears to be moving in to give him a blowjob.
This can’t have been by accident, given how meticulous and gifted these filmmakers were. They had oral sex back in 1947, so they must have realized it looked like she was going to nosh him off in that scene.
Aside from a few duff moments, Black Narcissus is thoroughly absorbing and at times transcendent, mainly due to the miraculous work of Cardiff and the production team. Some images from Black Narcissus are indelibly imprinted on my mind – most notably Sister Clodagh’s walk across the windswept courtyard to ring out the noon bell on the cliff’s edge for the first time.
It’s an old cliche, but they truly don’t make films like this any more. The atmosphere of lush exoticism is thick in every frame, and the ingenious model work and matte paintings create a hyper-real setting for the drama.
And because they don’t make them like this anymore, you deserve to watch it on the biggest screen possible. Perhaps invite some close friends round and have a naked Black Narcissus party.
Or instead, until they finally invent Minority Report-style 3D virtual reality sunbeds, perhaps you could petition your nearest IMAX cinema to give you a private screening of this classic? That would be the perfect way to see it…
But – I thoroughly enjoyed it. It got a pretty cheerless reception from snootier critics, and I’m surprised – it’s decent, unthreatening family fun. Drawing together elements of the Indiana Jones and the Da Vinci Code, plus a little bit of the abortive Lara Croft series, it actually reminds me more of another Disney caper, “One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing”. Both films show a cheerful recklessness in piling up improbable situations, although on balance, “Book of Secrets” is probably more far fetched.
A prologue takes us back to the night of April 14th, 1865 – the night of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. John Wilkes Booth and his cohorts enter a pub and approach reputed cryptologist Thomas Gates to decipher a code in Booth’s diary. Gates quickly realizes the code reveals the location of a lost city of gold.
Booth nips off to assassinate Lincoln; in the subsequent pandemonium, Gates is shot – before he dies, he tears the page out of the diary and dumps it in the fire. One of the conspirators retrieves a fragment, and Gates dies, leaving his distraught son with a suitably cryptic message; “The debt that all men pay…”
Skip forward 140 years, and Gates’ great-great grandson Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) is presenting the tale at a conference, only to be interrupted by sinister antiques dealer Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris), who presents the shred of rescued paper as evidence that Thomas Gates was in fact a co-conspirator in the president’s assassination.
If this all sounds a bit dull so far, don’t worry – it’ll get started soon, and won’t let up for another ninety minutes or so.
Ben Gates and his father Patrick (Jon Voight) are suitably distraught about their ancestor’s public de-trousering, and seek out the scrap of paper to look for vital clues. With the help of Ben’s irritating tech whizz sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha), a man so nerdish he thinks writing books about conspiracy theories is a sure-fire way to pick up chicks, and Ben’s ex Abigail (Diane Krueger), they track down the missing piece.
Luckily, Thomas Gates’ skills in cryptology run in the family, and Ben is soon able to spot the cipher and crack it – and before you know it, the gang are off on a globetrotting adventure (well, USA, Paris & London-trotting adventure) to clear Thomas’ name and locate the city of gold. Naturally, the dastardly Mitch is in pursuit…
What follows is ludicrous in the extreme, but somehow more fun because of it. Ben Gates is a man so good at solving puzzles that he can pretty much do it on the fly, and then he’s off on a plane to find the next piece of the puzzle – which tend to be hidden in rather inaccessible places (the Queen’s office in Buckingham Palace; the Oval Office in the White House, for example.)
These obstacles are navigated with remarkable ease, and the curse of the modern day blockbuster – the ill-defined use of a “Computer”. Riley’s Apple laptop is a catch-all solution for almost any problem, as well as providing some useful exposition.
The computer is modern cinema’s standard deus ex machina – an old fashioned example might be: “The hero is stranded on a plane that is about to crash into a mountain. He looks under his seat and finds a parachute, and leaps to safety.”
The modern day equivalent might be: “The hero is stranded on a plane that is about to crash into a mountain. He looks under his seat and finds a laptop, and uses it to hack into the plane’s onboard computer, and steer the plane to safety virtually.”
This rather lazy involvement of computers reached its peak relatively early, when Jeff Goldblum used his Apple laptop to hack into a flying saucer and download a virus in “Independence Day” – I know Macs are pretty versatile, but — really?
Another irritation how easily characters pop up either side of the Atlantic; one moment, Mitch is on his mobile under the Statue of Liberty; the next, he appears outside Buckingham Palace in what – I may need to see this a second time – appears to be the same scene.
Perhaps they could have borrowed the “red lines” from the Indiana Jones movies – the characters get on a plane or boat, and the line does the traveling for them, linking point to point across the map until the line approaches it’s final destination; the camera moves in, and the next scene begins.
It’s an effective and atmospheric approach that conveys a long journey without having to show Indy eating small meals out of a plastic tray, waiting for the stewardess to pass with her trolley so he can visit the toilet, trying to sleep sitting up, that kind of stuff.
Also, in a lighthearted caper such as this, it would be good to see a more cartoony performance from Ed Harris – we get a few tight lipped sneers here and there, but he’s far too civilized to be a dastardly bad guy in this. We know he can do cartoony well – think back to his feral nutjob Blair Sullivan in “Just Cause”.
Here, his Mitch Wilkinson, with his standard issue goons to do most of the clobbering and shooting for him, even has a bland motive – he doesn’t want to find the lost city of gold so he can steal it; he just wants to go down in history as the man who discovered it.
On the plus side, the plot barely pauses for breath long enough for you to feel bad about how daft this all is, and the standout action sequence is a surprisingly effective car chase through the narrow streets of London. It looks a little like something from “Ronin” or one of the “Bourne” films.
At least, I was finding it pretty effective until I saw the red post box. Until that point, I thought the London scenes were shot on location (they may well have been) – but then I realized we were basically being shown a list of all the things an American tourist might want to see when visiting London – Buckingham Palace, Big Ben – check, check.
Then I started to wonder if the chase sequence might actually be filmed on a backlot in Hollywood, and the set designer never made it as far as the souvenir shop at Heathrow Airport. Here’s St Paul’s, here’s a black taxi cab, there’s a red double decker bus – I was wondering if we might see a Beefeater or Pearly King diving out of the way of the oncoming vehicles.
And it is very American, this film – Nicolas Cage is remarkably restrained, and certainly more engaging than he’s been for most of the past decade. But his one trademark outburst of shouty over-acting basically involves him ripping the piss out of the English accent, yelling things like “Bangers and Mash” at policemen in an exaggerated accent that makes Dick Van Dyke’s Chimney Sweep sound spot on.
Despite all the annoyances, I kept on enjoying it right through to the end. Along the way, we pick up Harvey Keitel as a benign FBI agent, and Helen Mirren as Ben’s mum, and it kept being fun right through to the extended and rather undynamic, Indy-esque finale in the City of Gold itself.
One thing that keeps it going is it’s stars. The script is hardly a classic, but everyone involved clearly seems to be committed, and when you get Cage, Harris, Voight, Mirren & Keitel all in one movie and enjoying themselves, these old pros can make any old tat fly.
More enjoyable and coherent than the Lara Croft flicks; less self-important than the Da Vinci Code, Book of Secrets – and presumably it’s prequel – are good old fashioned family fun, destined for that pre-Queen’s speech slot on a Christmas Day near you soon.