Archive | December, 2012

Make sure to have a can of Red Bull before ‘Midnight’s Children’ (2012)… Or just don’t go.

19 Dec

Midnight's Children movie posterDemonstrating the riskiness involved in letting an author adapt their novel for the big screen to an impressive degree of perfection, Midnight’s Children – based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by Salman Rushdie – takes the epic tale offered by the book and drains it of all the emotional, dramatic and allegorical integrity which made it so deserving of its award.

Midnight’s Children tells the story of Saleem Sinai (Satya Bhabha), whose birth at the stroke of midnight following India’s independence from Britain is marred by an unscrupulous nurse’s decision to switch his name tag with that of another baby, Shiva (Siddharth Narayan). Both at diametrically-opposed ends of the socioeconomic ladder, the affable Saleem soon discovers that he can communicate with the other kids born on that fateful hour, the other “Midnight’s Children”.

There is an awful lot going on in this movie, and over the course of its two and a half hour runtime so many new characters are introduced that it just becomes cluttered and confusing. The scores of actors all try their best, and while Sinai clearly puts a lot of effort in, I just didn’t care. This is my main issue with the film; there is not one likable, memorable character, which is a major shame because the book is bursting with them.

Rushdie wrote the screenplay for this, so he is at least partly to blame. He actually provides oddly out-of-place vocal services as the third-person omniscient narrator, a vague figure whose identity and relation to the plot is kept hidden. The film is devoid of all humour – I recall yawning much more than smiling. I did giggle at one instance of hilariously poor dialogue – one uptight general’s use of the non-existent phrase “given the circz” instead of “given the circumstances” was gloriously out of place and absolutely murdered the until-then serious tone of that scene.

Historians and those more politically-minded among us should enjoy the film’s depiction of India’s struggle for peace following its separation from Britain. But the diabolical editing and punishing 148-minute length makes this a frankly gruelling experience. The camera has this strange habit of wobbling on occasion, as if the guy holding it has some sort of nervous disorder, and couldn’t find a tripod.

A cold, distant appraisal is what’s required to successfully translate a good book into a good movie, and no author should be expected to operate on their babies in such a way. As it is, Midnight’s Children is essentially a patchwork of nice scenes, acceptable dialogue and decent acting threaded together by a flimsy, X-men like subplot. Had the film used this plot device as its main concept, instead of the boring dramatic narrative, it could have been much better. An overlong tirade of boredom.

[Written for The Student Standard]

Simon says: worse than having a Fatwā issued on you. Just read the book.

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‘Dollhouse’ (2012): more like ‘DULLhouse’ amirite!?

11 Dec

Dollhouse movie poster“An experimental Irish indie film set entirely in an upper-class posh Dublin condo”. If this phrase in any way disturbs you (and frankly, it doesn’t sound overly enthralling), then congratulations, you’re sane. Irish indie cinema has been getting quite a bad rap lately; can ‘Dollhouse’ change this?

When a bunch of working class (definitely Northside) Dublin teenagers break into a plush suburban home, they discover it’s the former home of Kerslake, a well-to-do girl who we find out ran away from home the year beforehand. As a night of drug and alcohol-fuelled debauchery unfolds, it becomes evident she is hiding another secret.

This is a bizarre film, and I’m not entirely sure to what degree I dislike it. I’m constantly wavering between “I didn’t quite get it, so perhaps I shouldn’t complain about it too much” to “this film was horrendous”. Nah, I’m gonna roll with the “I hated it” line. I spent the majority of the screening scratching my head (figuratively, of course), because it simply does not make sense.

Why do the characters invade some poor lottery winner’s gaff? To party of course, but even running with that simple reason as the only explanation for the events which unfold in this disaster, it’s simply not enough. Ambiguity in movies is fine, in fact often necessary. But only if it remains within the context of reality; the characters here lack all forms of basic human logic. Even with the copious amount of narcotics ingested in this film, the kids are borderline inhuman in their actions.

After ‘Charlie Casanova’, it seemed Irish cinema had hit a low – that travesty somehow managed to effortlessly limbo under the bar previously set by ‘Shrooms’. Now, thanks to Sheridan’s latest feature, it’s got some company at the bottom of the barrel. ‘Dollhouse’ actually does contain a certain amount of professionalism, from a purely cinematographic viewpoint. The acting is great, with the promising young performers convincing us of their disadvantaged, inner-city slumville backgrounds. The camera work is slightly above average for an Irish feature.

The major problems lie with Sheridan’s script. There’s really no story here so unless you enjoy watching unlikable, unrelatable aliens disguised as teens smash up a home and shout insults at one another, there’s nothing to engage you. The lack of clarity for the dialogue, storyline, hell for anything in this movie renders it a remarkably dull experience.  The twist at the end was indeed a surprise, but packed no emotional punch whatsoever. I came out of the Screen cinema flabbergasted that the film is ‘only’ 95 minutes long; I could’ve sworn I’d wasted hours watching this mess.

‘Dollhouse’ is a strangely detestable film and yet another national embarrassment for us Irish cinema lovers. Had director Sheridan not been the daughter of none other than acclaimed Irish film-maker Jim, I highly doubt this garbage would ever have seen the light of day. Hopefully these decent teenage actors will resurface in something a little less horrifying.

Simon says: just play with an actual doll house instead, far more fun.

‘The Impossible’ (2012), or ‘Let’s Make Everyone British’.

7 Dec

The Impossible movie posterHas director Juan Antonio Bayona achieved the unlikely? Has he created a disaster film that avoids being a complete disaster on film? Could this be what the title of the movie refers to?

To answer those questions in order: almost, kind of, and if only, because that would actually be quite clever. This is a film that can be viewed in one of two ways: on one hand, it’s a harrowing tale of an innocent, unsuspecting family whose lives are torn apart by the South Asian tsunami of December 2004. On the other, it is a nonchalant, borderline crass subversion of the pain, trauma and destruction of the indigenous Thai people and their property.

‘The Impossible’ tells the true story of a Spanish (though Anglicised here) family whose holiday plans are scuppered in the wateriest way possible. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts are heads of a typical English upper-class family, with three pre-pubescent sons in descending order of adorableness, who travel to Thailand for Christmas celebrations. The seaside resort, which is bursting with equally bourgeois, non-Asian foreign nationals, is bulldozed to ruin by the waves. Watts is swept away with the eldest son, while McGregor remains at the debris of the hotel with the younger two.

What follows is a series of disaster movie tropes and some really rather good acting from Watts and the older son (played by Tom Holland). Their scenes together are easily the dramatic highlights of the film – Watts plays the heartbroken, ailing mother perfectly, while the previously-snotty Holland steadily improves. McGregor doesn’t actually have many lines until about 100 minutes in, and even then his performance is a bit over-the-top and not very convincing. Dotted with many nail-biting ‘almost!’ moments of dramatic tension, the script is decent and several sections set in the relief hospital are choreographed quite well.

The film batters you over the head with beautiful imagery, immersive sound design and very impressive CGI. The cascading waves, and the swirling mass of rubble, vehicles and cadavers are all expertly animated. This did little to mask the lack of actual Thai characters who were not restricted to the fuzzy background – I counted four who actually had lines. And they were all very minor; they included the hotel’s concierge, a nurse, a truck-driver and an uncomfortably racially-dubious indigenous ‘medicine man’ type man.

One aspect of the film which irked me probably more than it should have is the camera work. The film is not meant to be ‘found footage’ or anything of the like; there is nobody ‘recording’ the events which unfold. Shaky-cam makes another vile appearance, though it is subtle, which defeats the purpose really. It also features at least one ludicrous example of lens flare when the camera looks at the sun… I simply don’t understand this. It works fine in films like Cloverfield, but here it just doesn’t make sense.

At best, ‘The Impossible’ is a moving, heart-wrenching tale of a loving family’s brutal and unfair separation. At worst, it’s an offensive if well-made story of how a rich white family lost their luggage. It all depends on how cynical you are; whether or not you can ignore the potentially offensive undertones, you’ll probably tear up regardless. Go see it and decide for yourself.

Simon.

[Written for The Student Standard]

‘Argo’ (2012) deserves its Oscar.

3 Dec

Argo Movie PosterThe premise of Argo is simply too nuts not to be based on a true story. Set during the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979, Argo stars Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez, a CIA operative, charged with the unenviable task of rescuing six US diplomats hiding out at the Canadian embassy in Tehran from Iranian militants. Inspired by a glance at the then-new Battle for the Planet of the Apes, he creates a front to sneak them out: they are Canadian filmmakers out shooting some desert scenes for a science fiction movie. Directed and co-produced also by Affleck (alongside George Clooney, of all people), Argo has been receiving widespread acclaim. Is it justified?

Yes. There can be no mincing of words: this film is awesome. The palpable tension combines with superb acting and storytelling to create a vividly detailed and absolutely unforgettable film. That such tension and anxiety can be generated in the viewer, even though they know the outcome, is impressive.The darkly goofy inside-Hollywood comedy contrasts with the grimy themes of terrorism and overly-zealous religious mania marvellously. What would seem like two genres completely at odds with each other are brought together seamlessly and the end result is immaculate. In theory it shouldn’t, nay, couldn’t work, but Affleck has struck gold here.

Being based on a historical event always leads to the same question – is it historically accurate? While it does take some liberties, for the most part this movie stays true to the actual events (a nice little nugget of context is given at the beginning, which preps the viewer on Middle-Eastern history), while simultaneously providing a near-obsessive attention to detail. The 70s décor and cultural references are spot on. The actors and scenes resemble the real deal to a tee, and the closing slideshow of photos which pre-empts the credits illustrates this. Affleck has clearly poured a lot of effort into this project, and it shows. This makes Skyfall look decidedly average by comparison.

The artistic licence that the film does take is subtle enough to add to the overall experience without undermining its authenticity. In fact, certain events which actually happened were deemed too silly to include – one of the men kept calling his friends by their real names instead of their aliases, for instance. The added drama, such as the cars chasing the plane as it takes off at the end, didn’t ring quite as true for me as the rest of the film did; once it begins to rely on traditional action movie tropes, it jars slightly with the established realism of the film. This is a very minor complaint and takes nothing away from the overall experience, however.

Of course, Argo is an undeniably political film, and as such it raises several questions. Does it portray the USA as the heroes, and the Iranians as villains, as is the typical West vs. East scenario? Not quite. The frustrated plight of the Iran people is clearly explained at the start, though their frankly barbaric and animalistic behaviour certainly puts them in a negative light. Argo endeavours to emphasise the importance of international cooperation in world politics, as well as the redundancy of war in general. Though this film packs such a dramatic punch that all of the above could be ignored and the movie would still be thoroughly enjoyable.

A satisfyingly tense, Oscar-worthy masterpiece that simply cannot be recommended enough. With Argo, Affleck confirms his status as director-producer-lead actor extraordinaire. The next Clint Eastwood?

Simon says: the best movie of 2012.

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