Sunday, 19 May 2013

The week in brief (13 - 19 May 2013)

This week's list of films I've watched...

Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013): 6/10
Amour (2012): 7/10
Blowup (1966): 6/10
Miss Bala (2011): 6/10
American Movie (1999): 8/10

I'll start out with Star Trek: Into Darkness, which is top of the UK Box Office charts this week, and has received some extremely positive reviews from a variety of reputable sources. The film sees Captain Kirk, Mr Spock and Dr McCoy and the rest of the crew of the Starship Enterprise pick up where they left off after J.J. Abrams' reboot of the series in 2009. On this occasion, our intrepid heroes are up against threats both internal (an unscrupulous senior officer) and external (a superhuman foe with a grudge against mankind)... Now, despite all of the rave reviews for this picture, I never really found myself fully able to suspend my disbelief and go along for the ride. I suppose my complaints are threefold: firstly, the action screams along at a breakneck pace - there's barely time to draw a breath before you're thrust into the next set piece. Whilst this has the benefit of keeping you on the edge of your seat, after a while it just proves to be exhausting. Secondly, while I could appreciate that Abrams is keen to provide some nods and winks to the series' loyal fans, I think he may have gone a bit overboard with this - as somebody who isn't entirely au fait with the Star Trek universe, quite a few of these in jokes went way over my head. Thirdly, and I say this as fan of Simon Pegg, his Scottish accent really doesn't stand up to close scrutiny, to the point where I found it quite distracting. Similarly, Anton Yelchin (playing Mr Chekov) provided another source of earache with his high pitched cod-Russian whining. Notwithstanding all of that, there's still quite a bit to enjoy here. Despite my gripe about the relentless nature of the action scenes, I have to admit that the special effects for those sequences are absolutely top notch. Finally, it's definitely worth mentioning Benedict Cumberbatch's performance in this movie as the villain of the piece. He's absolutely top notch, head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, and serves as a continuation of a fine tradition of British dramatic actors playing the baddies in Hollywood movies.

Other than my trip to the cinema, it hasn't been a particularly memorable week, though it was salvaged by the film I saw today, American Movie. This documentary looks into the life of Mark Borchardt, a part time filmmaker, part time janitor and full time dreamer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As we enter his story, Borchardt is attempting to raise the funding for his great work, a feature length examination of the lives of the American working class in the Midwest - but it soon becomes apparent that this project is going to be too ambitious to ever see the light of day. Instead, Borchadt and his gentle, good natured best friend, a recovering alcoholic named Mike Shrank, decide to make a horror short as a way of financing his magnum opus. However, we get to appreciate that it's damn hard work trying to finance and make a movie on a shoestring budget. Borchardt spends a good portion of his time borrowing money from elderly relatives and arguing with utility companies about overdue bills, not to mention the hours he spends coaxing performances out of his troupe of (very) amateur actors, manually cutting and editing the reels of film and scouting locations. However, when his project finally hits the silver screen, it all seems worth it - as we, the viewer have spent time watching the various pieces slowly come together, it feels like a triumph when it all comes together. It's a mark of the impact that these characters made on me that after watching the movie, I immediately checked to see how Mark had fared after the documentary was made. I'm happy to report that he's done fairly well - though he's worked primarily as an actor since 2000, his first full length movie as a director seems to be in progress and is scheduled for a 2014 release.

Kirk's Quote of the Week

The Sting (1973)

"Johnny Hooker: Hey, where's June?
Loretta: She quit. I'm filling in for a couple of days, 'til I can get a train outta here.
Johnny Hooker: Yeah? Where you going?
Loretta: I don't know. Depends on which train I get on."

Monday, 13 May 2013

The week in brief (6 - 12 May 2013)

This week's list of movies I've seen over the last seven days:

Ill Manors (2012): 6/10
Troll 2 (1990): 2/10
Mud (2012): 7/10

As I only caught a few films this week, I should have time to do a little write up of each of them. First of all, we have UK rapper Ben Drew (aka Plan B)'s first foray into the world of filmmaking, with his London crime drama Ill Manors. Set in a deprived part of East London, the movie looks at the lives of various residents of the area in a non linear fashion, with the storylines of various characters intersecting with each other at certain points. It's difficult to convey just how bleak and depressing this movie, but the free form word association exercise in the following sentence should give you a flavour of it ... High rise, grim, grey, drugs, violence, degradation, pimps, prostitutes,  squalor, guns, knives, thugs, concrete, desolation, hatred.... Despite all of the misery, I never really found myself drawn in by this picture. I'm not normally a person who needs to emphasise with the lead characters to enjoy a movie, but on this occasion, the sheer unpleasantness of actions of nearly everyone involved means that it's hard to care too much if those same characters meet a grisly end. Drew certainly has talent as a director, adding some interesting visual flourishes, but he's let down to a certain extent by a number of mediocre performances and a rather contrived, overly melodramatic ending.

Moving on, I finally got the chance to catch the infamously terrible Italian/ American horror movie Troll 2, and it was pretty much as bad as the hype suggested. The nonsensical plot involves an all-American family unit spending a little quality time on holiday in a strange village called 'Nilbog', a place with a dark, terrifying secret which is a mystery to everyone unable to read place names backwards. Yes, as you may have guessed, its residents are a group of vicious goblins, hell bent on tucking into some sweet, gamey human flesh. For some reason (possibly because the people behind the movie really hated vegetarians), the goblins need to convert their prey into vegetable form to consume them. To do this, they must first tempt the humans into eating goblin food, which apparently has the power to turn people into a mushy green pulp. Only a plucky young boy and the spirit of his beloved (but sadly deceased) Grandpa Seth can save the family... It's not all that often that I go in to watch a film knowing (and in fact hoping) that it will be truly terrible, but this was one such occasion. The movie didn't disappoint -  the acting is laughably bad, the special effects are atrocious and there are some scenes which are just indescribably bizarre and have to be seen to be believed... . Having now seen two of the three movies which constitute the holy trinity of 'so bad it's good' cinema, I will finally get to complete the set when I get to see 'The Room' next month. I can hardly wait...

Last, but definitely not least, we come to my pick of the week, Mud. It's an old fashioned kind of adventure/ thriller, with Matthew McConnaughey contuing his recent career renaissance by offering a very creditable performance as the charismatic title character. He's a fugitive who's hiding out from the law (and a gang of vicious local gangsters) in a boat which has been abandoned halfway up a tree in the wilds of Arkansas. When a couple of teenage boys come across him, the three of them strike up a friendship - but with the authorities closing in, it's going to be difficult for him to stay free... Although I wouldn't say I was dazzled by this movie, it's definitely enjoyable, with some interesting characters and some strikingly beautiful shots of the Southern American wilderness. It's just good to see an American picture during the summer which isn't a big budget remake or sequel - so I'll keep my fingers crossed that Mud does well enough at the box office to give the director (Jeff Nicols) another crack at the big time.

Kirk's Quote of the Week

 Taxi Driver (1976)

"Personnel Officer: How's your driving record? Clean?
Travis Bickle: It's clean, real clean. Like my conscience."

Monday, 6 May 2013

The week in brief (29 April - 6 May 2013)

This week's list of movies watched:

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012): 9/10
Airplane! (1980): 8/10
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): 5/10
Frankenweenie (2012): 7/10
Gremlins (1984): 9/10

Starting out with my pick of the week, we have the excellent The Place Beyond the Pines. It's director Derek Cianfrance's second picture and sees him moving in a completely different direction from the low-key relationship strife drama of Blue Valentine. Set in the small upstate New York town of Schenectady, it tells three interconnected stories - the first the tale of a former motorcycle stuntman who turns bank robber to provide for his son, the second an examination of police corruption and the third, set some years after the first two stories, which examines the ways in which the sins of the fathers are revisited upon their sons. It's a gripping, tremendously well acted movie (with fine performances from Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes and Dane DeHaan), featuring some stunning cinematography and tense set pieces. It hasn't been a vintage year to date, but The Place Beyond the Pines moves straight in at number one on my running list. (Nudging just ahead of Zero Dark Thirty).

Moving on, I caught up with a couple of old favourites this week - having seen both Gremlins and Airplane! on numerous occasions, I can confirm that they stand up to repeat viewings. Both are highly amusing, but in different ways; Airplane! offers up a madcap, gag-a-minute style of comedy that never fails to crack me up. Even though a few of the references in the movie are a little dated now, there's still a huge amount to enjoy here. Gremlins is darker, but more subversive, setting up an idealised version of the American small town so beloved by Ronald Reagan, then getting a hoarde of vicious, chain smoking, anarchic little critters to tear that town to pieces.

The one real disappointment this week was The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a high school drama in which a lonely outcast finds his niche as part of a group of artsy, theatrical students. I suppose I'm too far removed from my teenage years to really appreciate this kind of movie now, but I just found the central characters too precocious by half. As a group of hyper articulate, massively self confident and hugely photogenic geniuses, they certainly didn't resemble any of the outcasts and losers I came across in high school in real life. That's not to say that the film is worthless - the acting isn't too bad, and there's a decent collection of songs on the soundtrack - but if I want to relive my adolescence again, I think I'll stick to watching Dazed and Confused or reading The Catcher in the Rye.

Kirk's Quote of the Week

Airplane! (1980)

"Dr. Rumack: What was it we had for dinner tonight?
Elaine Dickinson: Well, we had a choice of steak or fish.
Dr. Rumack: Yes, yes, I remember, I had lasagne."