so films then

Time to catch up with commenting on the films I’ve seen over the last few months.

Harry Brown is an easy watch. Contrary to popular wisdom, I’ve always struggled to see Michael Caine as an actor with any credible range at all – just a lucky guy who’s been cast in a few iconic roles over the years. I think the reverence we all now feel for him is down to him being old and still cast in high profile roles. That said, this is a serviceable vigilante movie but has nothing like the subtlety of Gran Torino.

Another movie hyped beyond its actual merit was The Hurt Locker. Its opposition to Avatar in the public media-fuelled Oscar war was absurd, and based on little beyond an entirely invented rivalry between the two directors. I saw or heard little evidence that this rivalry had any basis in how those two people felt. The Hurt Locker is beautifully filmed but to a large extent vacuous. It follows the Hollywood Top Gun narrative and representational framework more closely than you might think, and at one point risks defining itself unambiguously as a guys-on-a-mission film.

First two were blu-ray ventures. Crazy Heart was a cinema trip – to the partially preserved Picture House in Hebden Bridge. Partially because a good deal of money still needs to be spent on it, particularly in the toilets, but the cinema does boast more leg room than Air Force One, and the volunteers who serve coffee and biscuits on a Thursday morning are very much appreciated. The film’s principal talent is Maggie Gyllenhaal, who I still think has twenty times the acting talent of her brother, apart from in Donnie Darko – arguably the defining sci-fi fantasy movie. Arguably. Jeff Bridges is of course excellent too, convincing as the country star whose light has faded under the influence of a long term alcohol habit. It really helps your appreciation of this movie if you like country music. Highly pleasant pub lunch afterwards in the White Swan, a pub I frequented when I worked at Pennine Heritage in the mid eighties. Another pivotal memory from that day is checking my email on the bus and seeing that I’d been sent my first block of ISBN numbers.

Seven Pounds strengthens my opinion that Will Smith is a serious acting talent – not just a Hollywood A-lister. Check him out in as a teenager in Six Degrees Of Separation giving Donald Sutherland a run for his money.

I was very pleasantly surprised by Valkyrie, largely because I’m usually profoundly bored by filmic representations of historical events. This one maintained the tension throughout, even though everyone of course knows how it turned out. Also has a nicely visceral surround track. Good reference scene near the start for calibrating your sub-woofer. If you’re so inclined.

Terminator: Salvation is one of those you watch because you feel you have to see the latest episode in the franchise. It lacks Arnie, apart from an absurd bit of CGI near the end where they recreate him in shiny plastic. Technically, a competent movie which explores some of the elements of the whole Terminator thing with reasonably engaging degree of competence. Kind of. Some enjoyable low frequency thuds.

9 is a post-apocalypse animation about beings made of cloth.

I’ve been through several shifts my opinion of Dead Poets Society over the last couple of decades. In the end, it’s close to my heart because it’s about the process of engaging students in the educational process as emotional beings – not faceless conduits for the production of data, as is the fashion now.

Nowhere Boy features the early career of John Lennon. Engaging in parts, but it’s still hard to escape the observation that all this stuff is a matter of historical record.

Now Paper Heart does not draw lazily on historical events, and just happens to be a charming experiment in form that pretty much pays off. Part documentary, part fantasy, it features Michael Cera as the anchor to the somewhat chaotic performance of the stand-up comic Charlyne Yi – the girl who doesn’t believe in love. Check it out. The only disappointment was that Cera was not interviewed in the DVD extras. Maybe he wanted to preserve the mystery about why he involved himself in this project.

Narrative experiments always get my attention. 500 Days Of Summer selects in a non-chronological way from some of the five-hundred days of Tom’s relationship with a girl called Summer. That’s it really. But that’s all there needs to be. It’s great. See it.

Oh yes: I remember Body Of Lies now. One of those where the under-cover operative gets emotionally involved in his under-cover life and wants to stay there. Iraq is the context. Very serviceably done by the now very adept Leonardo DiCaprio. Not the finest movie Ridley Scott has ever made, but more honest than The Hurt Locker. By far.

Four Lions. Now there’s a film. Sustained roar from the consistent firing of all eight cylinders beneath the bonnet of Chris Morris’ comedic muscle car intellect. A difficult subject to do with any sensitivity, but Morris succeeds in creating suicide bombers who we can relate to as humans, even if their ideology is at best questionable. I challenge you not to laugh against the depths of your better judgement.

This next paragraph consists mainly of the statement I made on Facebook at the time. It is a truth universally to be acknowledged that there can never be too many viewings of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s a movie that may one day save the world.

Knowing is good sci-fi. Nothing very much to redefine the genre, but it works. The specific sub-genre is the one where aliens know more than we do about what’s going to happen to us, and communicate through children.

Much as I wanted to like it, and in line with warnings I was given before I saw it, Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland is rubbish. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson revolves in his grave at 10,000rpm as the story is rationalised into a conventional polarisation of good and evil, and the mise-en-scène looks like it’s the product of the “Tim Burton” preset in Final Cut Pro.

It was great to see Brazil again. Although this I time realised that Sam Lowry is actually an idiot. Maybe it’s an age thing.

Which brings me to Inception. Is there any more I can add to what’s already been said? First movie of the summer holiday. Still feeling that other-worldly transition from term time to summer break. Despite what people who don’t teach might think, the end of the summer term is actually a rather strange, flat experience; so you can imagine how this movie distorted my perception of reality even further. We’re two weeks into the holiday now. I went into it with the resolve that it would be the most productive of my career so far. And so far the top is still spinning.

Youth In Revolt was reviewed by Eric Kohn as “Superbad meets Fight Club.” In the end that’s not a very helpful concept. It’s actually better than Fight Club. Now that you’ve picked yourself up off the floor, I’ll explain that I’ve always thought Fight Club was a massively overrated film. So Michael Cera’s light foray into alter ego came as a scented breath of snow-kissed Alpine air compared to the self-involved halitosis of Tyler Durden. Oh – and it’s not as funny as Superbad but it is funny and it makes you feel good. It’s a feel-good movie, so it is.

That’s it. I’ve caught up.