Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oscar Predictions: The Major Awards

Welcome back. Having completely, thoroughly and no doubt inaccurately predicted the Technical Awards yesterday, today I'll round off the awards season by trying to decide which films will take home the Oscars that everyone actually cares about.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Oscar Prediction: The Technical Awards

It's become something of an annual tradition on this blog for me to try to predict the outcomes of the Academy Awards, a task which I find enjoyable despite the fact that it is incredibly futile. The Oscars are always frustrating because they so often reward the least interesting films by giving them the highest accolade. On the few occasions when they do recognise films that are genuinely interesting and provocative, it only seems to underline how conservative their tastes are the rest of the time, and any gains tend to be undone the following year by a return to normalcy. (From a prognosticatory vantage, those years are also incredibly annoying because you tend to assume the Oscars will always go for the safe bet, so a curveball like The Hurt Locker winning Best Picture throws everything completely out of whack.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Film Review: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy has proven to be that rarest of things, a literary blockbuster in an age when book sales seem to be perpetually in an irreversible tailspin. Not only that, but they have succeeded despite incredibly dark and violent subject matter, particularly aimed against women, which seems like it might render the stories unpalatable to a mainstream audience. Yet the success of the books - no doubt driven in part by the mystique cultivated around Larsson's death from a heart attack at the age of 50 - speaks for itself, as does the staggering success of the trilogy of Swedish television films based on the books which were released worldwide in 2010, to considerable acclaim. (For the record, I thought they were pretty unspectacular, though I liked the books well enough.)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Film Review: The Woman In The Fifth (2011)

Ethan Hawke looks like how I imagine James Franco will when he's in his forties, yet young Ethan Hawke doesn't look anything like James Franco does now. This thought is a thousand times more interesting than The Woman In The Fifth.

Warning: This review features spoilers for The Woman In The Fifth, a bad, bad film whose essential awfulness cannot be fully explored without discussion of its third-act plot developments. Consider yourselves duly warned, both about the spoilery nature of this review and the fact that The Woman In The Fifth is not worth bothering with.

For its first two-thirds, Pawel Pawlikowski's The Woman In The Fifth is an effectively uneasy, if unimaginative mood piece about Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke), a writer and lecturer who travels to Paris to spend time with his daughter, despite the restraining order taken out against him by his ex-wife (Delphine Chuillot). The reason for the breakdown of their marriage remains unexplained, so all we know is that something went very, very wrong, and at some point his wife took their daughter and made a break for it. The lack of any concrete details makes the early scenes in which Tom tries to see his daughter very uncomfortable, and the film manages to maintain that air of disorientation long after Tom begins a descent into a weird and dark Parisian underworld.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Things I Learned From Movie X: The Ugly Truth

To commemorate Valentine's Day, I decided to use this edition of Things I Learned From Movie X to write about one of the most rancid, repugnant and wretched "romantic" "comedies" of recent years, The Ugly Truth, whose title is at least half-right considering that the film itself is a very ugly thing indeed. A weird mixture of traditional rom-com and crass, misogynist tract, it finds Katherine Heigl at her most icy and removed and Gerard Butler at his most boorish. Needless to say, sparks do not fly.

I wrote this column after listing to the audiobook of Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great pretty solidly for about a week, and I think that has had a definite impact in shaping the rhythm and tone of the piece. I'm not saying that I ripped Hitchens off, but I definitely feel that the column would have been very different had I not been immersed in his work so completely in the lead up to writing it.

Incidentally, God Is Not Great is a phenomenal book, full of wit and insight. It really made me realise just how wonderfully articulate and passionate a man Hitchens was, and made me wish that I had investigated his writing sooner. A great man, sadly missed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Shot/Reverse Shot: Episode 3 - Britain

On this episode of Shot/Reverse Shot, Joe Gastineau and I sit down to talk about British cinema, us both being Brits what what. Taking the statement made by David Cameron that British cinema needs to focus on more commercially viable works in order to better compete with Hollywood, we examine the practicalities of the British film industry, the many great and varied British films that came out last year, and talk about the history and philosophy of what it means to make a British film. Along the way, we also manage to talk about how Richard Curtis murdered Jim Henson (which, for legal reasons, I would like to point out is not a real thing) and Barry Norman's Pickled Onions (which totally are a real fucking thing.)

You can listen to the episode using the player below, or alternatively you can download it from iTunes by searching for SRS Podcast. You could even subscribe, if you want to be one of the cool kids.

Film Review: Shame (2011)

Shame, the second film by artist-turned-director Steve McQueen, is a technically dazzling examination of Brandon (Michael Fassbender), a sex addict whose carefully cultivated routine of Internet pornography and meaningless one-night stands is thrown into disarray when his younger sister (Carey Mulligan) comes to stay with him. It's important to mention Shame's technical prowess up front since its meticulously planned tracking shots, languid pacing and evocation of New York at night, great though they are, only serve to mask the fact that the film they are in service of is shallow, banal and dull.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Film Review: Equity (2011)

Claire (Francile Albright) is a young mother struggling to pay the rent and to keep a roof over the heads of her family. When a mysterious man (Karl Bury) offers her a job that will solve all her financial problems, she agrees to take it. Unfortunately, the ‘job’ is to kill Jack (Tony Nam), a man who has become estranged from his wife and daughter.  As Claire sees the life that Jack leads, she finds it increasingly difficult to carry out the task assigned to her, even as she knows that the consequences of not doing so will be very dire indeed.

Film Review: Hamlet (1948)

After filling in one of my major cultural blindspots by finally reading Hamlet, I have decided to start a recurring series on the blog in which I watch and discuss different cinematic interpretations of arguably Shakespeare's greatest, most fascinating play. To kick things off, I have decided to watch the 1948 version, starring and directed by Laurence Olivier.

Hamlet, both the play and the character, looms so large over Western culture that it's amazing to think that anyone would dare to take it on. Fascinating and infuriating in equal measure, Hamlet is a character who can be interpreted differently by pretty much any actor, and as such is a daunting role for anyone to undertake: there can be no definitive take on Hamlet because his nature is so fractured and ambiguous that he can be whatever the actor and audience want him to be. It's for that same reason that every generation gets its own Hamlet, whether he is played by Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh or Mel Gibson, and why the character remains so vital and relevant no matter how many times he is revisited: you can take Hamlet and place him in any context but his essence will always shine through.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Film Review: The Muppets (2011)

Every time an old cartoon or sitcom is dusted off and given the big-screen treatment, they tend to feel like such cynical cash-grabs, ones that are so completely devoid of love, wit or grace, that it's hard to imagine anyone involved actually had any genuine passion for the source material in the first place. No matter what they may say to the contrary, it's clear that the people behind The Smurfs and Alvin and The Chipmunks have no interest in making good films with characters that they actually have any interest in or affection for. The same could not be said of The Muppets, a film which radiates love for the work of Jim Henson from its very first frame to its rapturous finale.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Film Review: Young Adult (2011)

Not pictured: Ryan Gosling doing a keg stand.
 Since winning an Oscar for writing Juno (a film which I thought was terrific and still like very much), Diablo Cody has had a pretty rough couple of years. Her follow-up, Jennifer's Body, was a trashy bit of fluff that was duly trashed by critics and was stillborn at the box office, and her frequently brilliant television series The United States of Tara was unceremoniously cancelled after three seasons. It's not difficult to see Young Adult, which re-unites Cody with her Juno director Jason Reitman, as Cody's response to the last few years. In moments when Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) talks about the cancellation of the series of young adult novels that she has spent over a decade ghostwriting, it certainly feels as if Cody is working out some of her own issues.