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Friday, March 25, 2011

Monday, March 21, 2011


Richard Ayoade has been threatening to break into cinema for a while now. Some may not think they initially know the name, but the man has slowly and surely been working his way up through the ranks for the best part of the last decade to this point. That's not to say "Submarine" was always part of the plan. Rather, it feels more of a natural progression of the mans talents. So while most will know him from his work as Moss on Channel 4s "The IT Crowd", Ayoades interests go far deeper than seen there. While as intentionally broad as the character he so well plays is, Ayoade has far more original sensibilities. From his work directing and writing "Garth Merenghi's Darkplace", one of the most hilarious and unique TV shows to grace our screens, he has also directed music videos for bands such as Kasabian, Arctic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Last Shadow Puppets. From those he honed a unique visual style as well as gaining a working friendship with Alex Turner, singer of both the Arctic Monkeys and Last Shadow Puppets. Incidentally Turner contributes some solo material for the soundtrack on "Submarine". Put simply, whether it be acting, writing or directing Ayoade showed a unique flair for it. Fans waited with baited breath to see what his debut would be. Some expected the indie cool sheen he brought to his music videos. Others expected the intentionally shoddy and gut bustingly hilarious comedy of "Darkplace". Most will be surprised to find that it is neither of the two, rather something altogether more soulful and deep. While still managing to retain his finger prints "Submarine" has turned out to be one of the most original films this year and one of the most exciting debut films from a British film maker in quite some time.

Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is a socially awkward, yet outwardly confident sixteen year old. He could be considered pretentious were he not so brash. Set in the 80's, the film follows Oliver as he struggles to maintain a relationship with the pyromaniac girl of his dreams Jordana (Yasmin Paige) while trying to keep his parents (Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins) crumbling marriage together. While frequently hilarious, the film has a streak of melancholy running through it. Characters here live lives of sadness (almost wilingly so) and it is through this that Oliver finds his voice. Due to a love of French New Wave cinema and his self belief in being a great litery genius, Oliver views himself and his life as what we see on screen. This could make the protagonist very self-aggrandising to the audience yet Roberts makes sure that Oliver is never less than captivating throughout. His self assured belief in himself is where the film finds most of its understated humour. Lines like 'I suppose it may be affectation, but I sometimes like to read the dictionary', further add to the pomposity of his character. And yet, for all his flaws, Olivers heart is in the right place. Sure some of his methods are sometimes morally questionable, but it is only because he wants those he loves to be happy. At the center, his relationship with his parents and they, with each other, is what manifests itself into his relationship with Jordana. If they can't be happy, then what chance does he and his new would be girlfriend have? Both Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins are wonderful as Olivers parents. Their marraige on the rocks is not one of heated arguments and intense fireworks, rather of quiet and muted restrain. How much does Taylor want to fight for his wife. How much does Hawins want him to fight for her. You get the feeling that these people are far too self absorbed in themselves to ever truly get the urge to fight for what they want. And yet Oliver seems to be the only one who is doing that. This makes later actions more understandable and effective (although not necessarily condonable). The cast are all uniformly brilliant. For such young actors both Roberts and Paige both have stunning grasps on their characters. As the film progresses, the oddity of their relationship is always grounded by their performances. The always great Paddy Considine also shows up as the heavily mulleted stage psychic who shows an unhealthy interest in Olivers mother.

Now by no means is this film perfect. It gets bogged down in its mournfulness more than once and is sometimes too quirky for its own good. But stick with it and the results will be rewarding. Comparisons are there to be made to Wes Anderson, but with a character like Oliver narrating events, how else could it look? Dialogue is constantly at odds with normal narrative convention. Events don't always go where you might expect. Instead of the fantastic and very romantic night Oliver has planned with Jordana, he is instead met with 'Christ, you're a serial killer' from her. Ayoade has crafted a smart and very witty debut, but what is most exciting is to see where this talent will go next. With each move he makes he takes great strides in his abilities, so it would not be unfair to assume that Ayoade is on the cusp of some very special things indeed. With "Submarine" he has crafted merely something very good and for now, and that is more than enough.

Verdict: 7/10
A very funny and touching coming of age story. All the actors are brilliant and Ayoade shows a unique visual flair behind the camera. It's sometimes stale idiosyncrasies threaten to over shadow proceedings, but the film is rich, subtle, unique and very rewarding. This is one that will only grow stronger with time I imagine.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Resident

No matter how derivitive and unoriginal a film sometimes might be, you can still, against your better nature find yourself getting kinda swept up with it. Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing in this film that is memorable or truly original, but for what the film does, it does it well. Following on from the likes of "Single White Female" and particularly "Pacific Heights", "The Resident" is a film about a dangerous obsession of another. Here it is Hilary Swanks Doctor who falls victim to her new landlord, the unnervingly sweet, but shy Max, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Simply put, the film prays on the trust we sometimes give to others without ever fully knowing who they are. Max seems nice, but anyone watching within the first ten minutes will tell you that all is not what it seems. There is a system of peep holes Max watches Juliet unbeknownst to her. Even when Juliet leaves her apartment, Max does some very wrong things in her bath tub. His dangerous obsession grows ever more violent and intrusive. Of course facades soon fall and we discover Max's true psychotic nature all too late. Generic, very much so, but the film features typically solid performances from its two leads. The handsome and naturally charasmatic Dean Morgan playing a loner psycho was initially something I thought was going to fail to convince, but he managed to convert me very early into the film. This the second film in Hammers newly renewed production company after "Let Me In". So far both films have delivered on what they set out to do and hopefully promises more interesting horror from them in the future. Nice also, to see the face of Hammer, Christopher Lee back again, here playing Max's grandfather. It is only Lee Pace who is unfairly wasted here. Playing Swanks ex-boyfriend he is given next to nothing to do and as anyone who has seen the visually stunning "The Fall" will know, he is far better than seen here. Other nice additions are that it's shot by Guillermo Del Toros regular cinematographer, Guillermo Navarro. The film looks gorgeous as is typical of his work. John Ottman also more than ably scores the film in keeping with the high standard of his previous soundtracks. In the end, these aren't huge things, but go some way in adding to my enjoyment of the film. Everything about this film is predictable, but it handles its cliche ridden conventions well, and is done with style. It could be seen as the equivalent of junk food; it's not good for you and you feel terrible when it's done, but was fun while it lasted.

Verdict: 5/10
Cliches and predictability stalk this film at every turn, but it handles its conventions well and does it to the best of its ability. Completely unmemorable, but slightly effective nontheless.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Top 10: Chase Sequences

The car chase has been a staple of cinema ever since its invention. Most car chases are dull and boring; either offering a worrying fetish obsession with their vehicles, or pointless destruction for destructions sake. Car chases are always simple. But therein lies their beauty when done right. What's more inherently dramatic than a protagonist and antagonist locked in a literal cat and mouse trial? The greatest car chases have some of the greatest stunts ever performed. But more and more recently car chases are relying on CGI to help sell their vehicular mayhem. My choices here tried to offer a satisfying mix of old school chases with the new. Incredible special effects mixed with incredible stunt work. They also had to offer a unique twist on the staple to render worth including here. Honorable mentions include "Death Proof" and Spielbergs 1971 debut classic "Duel", but had to be left out seeing as it is technically, one long 90 minute chase. Other than that, scenes here feature all sorts of different vehicles, but must adhere to one simple rule: they move the plot along in a way that earns its adrenaline fuelled action. Here are my choices in no particular order.

"Raiders of the Lost Ark"
One thing I always found incredible about Indiana Jones' chase after the Lost Ark, is that Spielberg himself never shot it. Busy on other sequences of the film, he left it to his trustworthy second unit to get all the shots needed. Not that you would know it, the scene is a master class in action and features incredible stunts and hair raising action. My personal favourite chase scene of all time.

"The Rock"
Michael Bay has his detractors but few can argue that at the very least, when he gets action right, the results can be fantastic. Recent years have seen him rely more and more on CGI effects, but as seen here when using real cars and drivers and enough explosives to blow up San Francisco he more than delivers. To set the scene up, ex-convict Sean Connery has just escaped FBI agents to see his daughter after many years. Was it worth it for the huge Bayhem on display?

"The French Connection"
While "The French Connection" is always initially remembered for this stunning and gritty train chase sequence, people tend to forget how brilliant the rest of the film is. Gene Hackman plays the infamous Popeye Doyle, who is resorting to increasingly extreme lengths to catch the drug dealers involved with the titular connection; the biggest drug deal ever on US soil. What makes this scene all the more stunning was director William Friedkin shooting it, without alerting New York City he was doing so, and as a result, the chase being filmed on real streets with real traffic. The intense sound effects and absence of music make this scene all the more effective in its tension.

"The Matrix Reloaded"
The most effects heavy of my choices from the weakest film. For all the Matrix sequels problems, the action scenes were often stunningly exciting. What would happen in a car chase set in the world of The Matrix was gleefully answered by The Wachowskis, setting all their inhibitions loose. If only they had put as much thought into the plot as they did the action scenes...

Director John Frankenheimer was obsessed with race car driving from his youth and it shows in every engine rev and tyre screech of Ronin. The impressive (unsimulated) speed these cars drive is the thing that seperates "Ronin" from most chases. It feels real.

"The Bourne Supremacy"
While each of the Bourne films feature a classic chase scene, I opted for the second one. Director Paul Greengrass crafted a very intelligent plot to go with its tortured, amnesiac hero, so when its action scenes finally do show up, they feel important and crucial to the plot. Here, Bourne must contend with Moscow police, Russian Agents and Karl Urbans fellow assassin all the while tearing through the streets of Moscow self administering first aid, playing a very deadly game of bumper cars.

"The Dark Knight"
A potential controversial choice for some, I feel this scene is the center piece of the entire film. Something about heavily armored vehicles going hell for leather on each other mixed with the sheer awesomeness of the Batpod is what makes this scene. In the film tension is running sky high up to this sequence, mixed with The Jokers unpredictability means this chase could go anywhere. I don't necessarily remember Nolan's Batman films for their action scenes, rather their stunning smarts and twists on an iconic character. This is the one exception.

"We Own The Night"
A very unremarkable film save for its original take on the car chase. Here it is very claustrophobic, filmed from almost entirely inside the car. It's rain sodden atmosphere adds to its uniqueness.

"Terminator 2: Judgement Day"
For his sequel to his original 1984 masterpiece, James Cameron decided to make everything bigger and better. In doing so he crafted one of the best sequels ever made. For all its CG technical achievements there is still something remarkably old school in its real world vehicular mayhem. The fact that most audiences didn't know which was the good or bad Terminator up to a moment before, adds to its excitement. This would have made the top 10 for the way Arnie loads his shotgun alone.

"Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior"
Simply one of the best action scenes ever sustained in cinema. Director George Miller pushed the boundaries in terms of safe stunts performed and the film brims over with testosterone and adrenaline. It's climax with a gang of psychopathic marauders in hot pursuit of a lone Max towing a fuel tanker is a masterclass of tension, from its vehicle design, to Mel Gibsons performance to its bone crushing collisons.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Trailer - "Super"

Obvious comparisons to "Kick-Ass" will be made, but the new trailer for James Gunn's new comedy looks like its own beast entirely. Gunn's films might be an aquired taste after his fantastically icky work on "Slither" and it shows no signs of changing here. The cast is fantastic and the films look is decidedly realistic and gritty, with Gunn's hand held approach adding to the films shaggy dog feel. So far the film has no release date set for Europe.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Trailer - "Attack The Block"

Anybody familiar with the genius 90's late night ultra low budget Channel 4 show "Adam & Joe" will know how talented those two guys are. Well the trailer for writer/director Joe Cornish's new Sci-Fi, comedy, adventure hybrid has gone online and it looks like great fun. The original plot is set in a council estate in London and concerns a group of ASBO youths when they realise they have come under attack from aliens. Early reports are fantastic and the film is set for release in Europe on May 11th.