Archive for May 2011
You can’t deny the strength of Blitz’s casting. So Jason Statham isn’t going to be heralded as a great actor, but as far as British actions heroes with box office potential go, he’s leading the pack. In support we have Paddy Considine, David Morrissey and Aiden Gillen – three men who are unlikely to deliver a poor performance. Such promise soon proves to be a misnomer.
The storyline echoes what might’ve made for a bog-standard episode of Cracker circa 1994, with Robbie Coltrane’s cerebral if corpulent character replaced by the moronic menace of Statham’s detective Brant. The Blitz (Gillen) has a nasty habit of rubbing out local police officers, leaving Brant unsurprisingly puzzled and in need of help from the unorthodox yet effective new recruit Nash (Considine). Almost from the outset, Blitz is revealed to be the killer, leaving the audience to count down the minutes (and hold onto their patience) as the odd couple put the pieces together.
A homophobic bully, Brant’s unlikeability isn’t the character’s main downfall, indeed detestable figures in fiction are often the most engaging. He’s just so uninspiring. He’s a bad boy who doesn’t conform to the rules, which would be fine if he possessed the merest touch of wit or charisma. Stratham doesn’t have the panache to give Brant a further dimension of depth, but it’s hardly his fault – almost every actor would struggle with this horror show of contrived one-liners and stilted dialogue.
Actors often like to perform against stereotype, but that doesn’t always mean that they need to be indulged. Paddy Considine has excelled in numerous roles, but is particularly intense when given a character of uncertain mental stability. Aiden Gillen can handle weighty characters (see The Wire) and was acclaimed for his leading role in Queer As Folk. Blitz casts both against type with predictably mediocre returns. Despite being an openly gay officer with a homophobic colleague, Nash’s lack of development makes for one of the blandest characters that Considine has ever played. Gillen’s theatricality gives The Blitz a manic edge, but doesn’t allow him to become an uncontrollable, lunatic force. Morrissey, meanwhile, can’t rise above the thinly drawn role allocated to him, an opportunist local journalist somehow almost as dim-witted as Brant.
The film’s depiction of violence is more successful as each brutally brain-bashing encounter keeps the adrenaline flowing. Even the chase scenes, hindered as they are by their inevitable conclusion, contribute a certain level of excitement through slick pacing even if they’re soundtracked by, you guessed it, thumping drum ‘n’ bass – surely the soundtrack’s equivalent to a dead phone line in a teen horror.
While are there some impressively framed shots – especially with a seemingly choreographed aerial shot of black umbrellas shooting up during one of The Blitz’s victim’s funeral – it’s impossible to belief that the film’s current IMDb score of 8.7 will maintain much beyond its initial release.
Psychological horror draws it fear from the unseen as much as it does from a sense of realism that empathetically triggers a state of shock. The premise of Julia’s Eye skillfully welds these two elements with its central narrative, which follows Julia (Belén Rueda) as she investigates the strange death of her younger sister Sara. Proving that the horrors of life hold more fear than ghosts and ghouls, her investigation is hindered by the very same degenerative eye condition that afflicted her sister.
Although directed by Guillem Morales, the name highlighted to market the film is that of producer Guillermo del Toro. Admittedly that worked fine for The Orphanage, but despite his added commercial pull, surely audiences are able to see through what is effectively a simple quality by association ploy?
The opening half of Julia’s Eyes is absorbing. Its initial slo-mo pacing compliments the tense atmosphere (inspired, says Morales by the Silent Hill game: all looming shadows, foreboding creaks and suffocating darkness) to heighten a discomforting sense of uncertainty. The cinematographic tricks used to convey Julia’s fading vision are particularly well executed, the fear of impending blindness being as palpably scary as the ominous ambience.
Having set a strong tone, the film rapidly descends with a serious of illogical decisions and unlikely twists. Of course, films don’t have to be believable to be of merit – often the most outlandish ideas can be the most immersive – but given its earlier reliance on telepathing Julia’s own comprehensible fears to the viewer, it’s a flaw that fatally undermines the film’s foundations.
Julia’s Eyes sells itself short by destroying its greatest asset and there’s no frustration quite like that born from unrealised potential.
Originally from Clash, May 2011
Tom McCarthy’s 2003 film The Station Agent announced his ability to yield a touching story of a set of seemingly disparate characters slowly unified, in part, by lead character Finbar’s love of the railroads. For this, only his third movie, McCarthy repeats the trick with rail replaced by the world of high school wrestling.
Unlike Finbar (whose dwarfism represented just part of his unorthodox complexities), Paul Giamatti’s Mike is an immediately likeable everyman. Unbeknown to his family, his law firm is struggling almost as much as the wrestling squad he coaches, forcing him to make a dubious decision that slowly returns to bite him. In the meantime, prodigious young wrestler Kyle becomes a temporary addition to his household and develops both an unlikely bond with Mike’s wife and the admiration of his wayward best friend.
While The Station Agent was rich with originality Win Win is immediately more familiar, especially with the generically upbeat wrestling sub-plot. And like McCarthy’s debut, Win Win’s sense of drama is so subtle that it barely brims to the surface. Yet its characters again burrow into affectionate territory, suggesting that it will also possess an insidious charm that will grow with repeated viewings.
From Clash, April 2011, for the film’s DVD release
The first Mexican to be nominated for the Best Director Oscar, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s first three features all focused upon a series of intricately crafted interconnected stories and characters. His new film Biutiful, which earned Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor for its lead Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men), is a comparatively streamlined affair. It follows the final months in the life of Uxbal, a single father connected to the criminal underbelly of Barcelona. Acutely aware of his terminal illness, Uxbal attempts to reconcile the disparate elements of his life which include preparing his young children for life without him and dealing with the erratic behaviour of their estranged, bi-polar mother.
While González Iñárritu’s other films focused on parallel narratives, Uxbal is the central figure who links Biutiful’s multi-cultural demographic with Bardem’s “incredible features” appearing in almost every scene. The director shrugs off the apparent change of style as the tool that conveys the story in the most suitable manner, adding, “Uxbal’s basically a very ordinary man, but I was struck by the multiple circumstances and people around him and they multiplied the possibilities of navigating through his life. I like to at least scratch and explore some of those lines and how they’re affecting him.”
Unlike the tourist image of the city, Biutiful’s Barcelona is a grimy hotchpotch of borderline poverty and barely integrated immigrant communities. It’s a parable that the director believes can be extended to any major European city. “We’re all Uxbal and the system that we’re living in – capitalism, the money markets and all those things – is taking away our nature and our sense of intuition and emotion. It’s getting into a crazy ride of selfish survival. Everything is collapsing with that.”
Firmly based at the cerebral end of the filmmaking spectrum, González Iñárritu’s evident intellect isn’t without a sense of humour. “You might think our justification is to get drunk with our pals and that’s it!” he laughs when discussing the relative value of the film world’s awards season. He concurs that perhaps the biggest value of such accolades is their ability to bring his work to a wider audience: “Honestly, a film will never be better or worse without a nomination for an Oscar or a BAFTA or whatever. We have to have perspective over those things.”
From Clash, May 2011
The inventive mind of Joe Cornish didn’t need to look too far for inspiration for his directorial debut Attack The Block. Mixing sci-fi, comedy and satire, it follows a group of teenagers who seek to defend their tower block from an alien invasion.
“I originally pitched the film as Aliens meets La Haine,” begins Cornish, adding that Ghostbusters, E.T., Terminator and Assault on Precinct 13 were all influential. The south Londoner’s thinking extended to “what it would be like if something like what happened in those films happened in the areas that I grew up with.” His choice of the location, the deserted Heygate Estate, was inspired by Logan’s Run and A Clockwork Orange: “This architecture that’s portrayed in contemporary films as grim and foreboding used to be this hugely optimistic futuristic design aesthetic.”
The story commences when a group of teenagers lead by Moses (John Boyega) chase and kill an unidentified creature. Soon its alien family begins to wreak a terrible revenge. Moses’s gang, together with other residents including nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) and posh slacker Brewis (Luke Treadaway), are forced to fight back.
“We’re almost a heroic bunch of randoms,” says Whittaker. “I’m not the token girl in a short skirt crying and needing to be picked up by the guys. We’re normal and we don’t turn into people that suddenly have extraordinary powers.”
The block’s inhabitants represent a microcosm of London society. Treadaway’s character is a Withnailian stoner prone to such great one-liners as, “I’d go out there myself if I wasn’t so profoundly stoned.”
“I remember reading it and seeing a brilliant film in my head, but wondered whether that could be achieved,” he opines. “But it surpassed my expectations, it’s managed to combine all sorts of genres and styles, but it ties together with its own unique tone.”
Hugely important to the film’s tone is its unusual depiction of the alien enemy – as unlike the little green man cliché as could be imagined.
“As a punter, I’m a little bored, aesthetically, of CGI creatures. They all look the same, like there’s a Photoshop CGI plug-in that everyone’s using,” chuckles Cornish. “There’s too much detail. I was the best at drawing the Ghostbusters logo in my class, but to draw a dragon from Harry Potter, you need a fine art degree. I wanted to do something where its strength in its absence of detail rather than the amount of detail.”
“The enemy was first introduced to me in the form of a storyboard and then after that, I saw them in illustrated form by a really good cartoonist,” explains Boyega, whose role represents his feature film debut. “They are truly the blackest black! I swear it was like, ‘Soooo, who did you say was gonna be fighting those things?’”
While the action scenes demanded focus, Boyega enjoyed his downtime. “After some scenes, I would give the aliens a stroke and that’s when you see their cute side. Although inside the costume, it’s an angry stunt guy thinking, ’What is wrong with this kid?!’”