Archive | January, 2013

Fuck slavery! ‘Lincoln’ (2012).

26 Jan

Pairing Stephen Spielberg with Daniel-Day Lewis could only really be a recipe for success, and Lincoln proves this theory with incredible potency. This is a wonderfully powerful movie from the master director, and sterling performances, fantastic dialogue and its sheer insightfulness combine to make this a must-see.

Lincoln is set almost entirely in the month of January, 1865, and it deals with the various machinations involved in the passing of the thirteenth amendment to abolish slavery. Spielberg must have realised that the majority of great biopics (Motorcycle Diaries, for example) concern themselves with one tiny portion of a person’s life, rather than deal with the whole shebang. This is a smart move on Spielberg’s part, as plenty happened in those 31 days to warrant dramatisation, and the veteran director pulls it off with his traditional ease and gusto.

First of all, lets get one thing clear: the trailer is awful. It insinuates that the film is little more than a cluster of speeches, and although there certainly is an element of that, rhetoric is far from this movie’s preoccupation. A political drama rather than a pseudo-educational bore-fest, I was surprised at just how funny this film is. Honest Abe is both remarkably witty and deeply philosophical, and his one-on-one (or sometimes two or three) scenes with other, lesser characters are very impressive in just how well-written and moving they are.

This film definitely revolves around dialogue rather than spectacle, so I’d advise you catch it in 2D. Daniel-Day Lewis is known for his method acting, and this film is a perfect demonstration of his talent. He is a pleasure to watch, and would steal the show if the supporting cast wasn’t so marvelous. There are almost too many great names: Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are all capable of leading films on their own, yet have relatively minor roles here. While this may make the film appear bloated, it works because none of the actors, big or small, overdo their performances. There is a subtle gracefulness to all of the acting in this film.

I’m scratching my head here trying to come up with some flaws with this movie. I think it really depends on what kind of movie-goer you are; if you go because you’re a Michael Bay fan/explosion junkie, then this film won’t entertain. Those with short attention spans may not appreciate the effort put into the dialogue and characterisation here, and the certain archaic, semi-Shakespearean approach to conversational dialogue may not appeal to everyone. Though for the most part, people will enjoy this film, and should definitely go watch it.

Potentially my favourite Spielberg film so far, Lincoln is a resounding success, and deserves all twelve of the Oscars for which it is nominated.

Simon says: the Oscar-grabbing behemoth of 2012.

‘Life of Pi’ (2012): not as good as actual pie.

19 Jan

Life of Pi posterI never thought I’d see the day when I’m actually praising a movie for its 3D. But Life of Pi has done it; it has single-handedly crushed most arguments I had against three-dimensional film with its gorgeous visuals, lifelike animation and wonderful special effects. As a result, I look at this film as a kind of “screw you” for all 3D haters out there, and because of this I don’t know whether to love it or loathe it. It’s as if Life of Pi was made with the specific intention of annoying me. 

In this film adaptation of Yann Martel’s Boeke Prize-winning novel, Ang Lee (of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain fame/infamy) directs the story of a young Indian boy called Pi (Suraj Sharma), whose family owns a circus in Puducherry. Financial pressures force them to move, and at the age of 16 he boards a freight ship to Canada, along with his father, mother and elder brother. During the night, a storm sinks the shop, and Pi boards a lifeboat in the company of an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena and a Bengal tiger, and drama ensues!

Life of Pi really excels in the visual department – this is an aesthetically stunning film, certainly the best looking film I’ve seen in 2012, and a runner for one of the most irresistibly gorgeous movies I’ve ever watched. The CGI is flawless: I’m not sure how many of the fauna in this film are real, if any, as one couldn’t possibly sit in a dinghy with a tiger, but regardless the animation is superb. From the opening montage of zoo animals at play, to the catastrophic sinking, this film is a sculpted diamond among the deluge of muddy, darkened 3D films that are currently being flung at us. The 3D adds immersion, similar to James Cameron’s Avatar, but the film remains bright, colourful and simply a joy to watch.

This is a strange film in that the most interesting parts are the bits in which very little actually happens. The quiet, surreal one-on-ones with Richard Parker (the tiger – they explain it, don’t worry) are both artistic and philosophical; this film blurs the line that separates man from beast, as well as boasting quasi-religious undertones that neither preach nor dictate. Life of Pi posits questions without answering them, and as a philosophy student I adore it for that! It is in these scenes that Sharma truly shines. He gives a stunning performance, and as he is pretty much the only actor for two thirds of the film, he steals the show, almost by default.

Much silenced contemplation occurs in this movie.

Much silenced contemplation occurs in this movie.

However, the film contains this irritating framing device which is as awkward as it is unnecessary. Almost the entirety of the movie is a flashback, as the now aged Pi recounts his nautical tale to a writer as a source of literary inspiration. This happens in the novel too, but here is something that directors and screenwriters need to know: not everything that works in a book will successfully transfer to the big screen. It just doesn’t work that well, and is painfully cheesy at times. The ending is infuriating; it adds extra clarity that nobody asked for, and just feels like a syrupy, tacky and pointless addition that just reeks of Hollywood. Uncool.

Still, the film is definitely worth seeing purely for the marvellous imagery. Life of Pi is a visually stunning movie which has an annoying framing device and goes on about fifteen minutes too long, but philosophically speculates enough to redeem itself. Consider it a beautiful, immaculate train whose driver (distracted by deep theological thought) pulls the break a bit too late, thus crashing into the station and wounding, but not quite killing, everyone on board. Plot twist… ALL THE PEOPLE ON BOARD ARE ANIMALS!

Simon says: a beautiful portrait hung in a frame made of shit.

‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ (2012) is an unexpected joyride.

6 Jan

The Hobbit-An Unexpected Journey posterThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a film for Tolkien fans. Lets get that out there, because this movie is aimed at the appendix-reading fantasy fiction heads than the Lord of the Rings trilogy was. For the disciples of Tolkien, this film is a wonderfully detailed and elaborate retelling of his first novel. For the casual movie-goer, it is an exciting if overlong series of battle sequences which ends far too abruptly.

This film acts less as a direct prequel, and more as a provider of backstory for the previous Jackson trilogy. Bilbo Baggins, the adoptive father-figure of Frodo’s from the Lord of the Rings, is hesitantly persuaded to join a group of dwarves (featuring a return of Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey wizard) in a quest to reclaim their stolen mountain fortress from the dragon Smaug. Cue battles with orcs, trolls and goblins galore as the group ploughs on in its lofty plight.

Seeing as the novel is a mere 300 pages, which is shorter than any individual part of the Lord of the Rings saga, dragging the film out to not only the three hour mark, but also making it the first part of a trilogy, seems like a major stretch. Various plot lines were pulled from the assorted appendices and lore of Middle-Earth’s history, so it’s all Tolkien’s work. But the narrative unquestionably suffers as a result of this padding. The movie goes off on so many tangents; scenes with Radagast the Brown wizard are awesome in their own right, but are so removed from the main plot that they just feel tacked on and unnecessary.

The acting, scenery and music is all as immaculate as one would come to expect. Howard Shore returns to conduct another beautiful score, and Jackson returns to his home of New Zealand, its rolling hills and snow-capped mountains providing the perfect fantasy backdrop. Martin Freeman plays an excellent younger Bilbo, and Ian McKellen is as reliably amazing as ever. Several major characters from the last trilogy return, though their presence is justified, and are not mere cash-grabbing cameos.

That being said, however, I still didn’t enjoy this film nearly as much as any of the Lord of the Rings movies. Now I know that this is the first of a trilogy, and so a dramatic arc needs to be established. But I adored The Fellowship of the Ring on its own, simply because it functions well as a standalone movie. Sure it ends on a cliffhanger, but it knows when to stop. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey just ends so abruptly and, to quote the title, unexpectedly. The Fellowship of the Ring was about forming the fellowship, which it showed. This starts the “unexpected journey”, but doesn’t finish it.

I had the luck of catching this film not only in good ol’ 2D, but also in the regular frame rate. I haven’t read a single positive review for the 48FPS version of the film anywhere, apparently it makes the experience more akin to watching a badly made video game. I’m told that the 3D isn’t as dark as most other movies, but contains that awfully tacky gimmick of throwing swords, arrows etc. at the audience just for the sake of it. I’d recommend seeing this the same way I did.

In short, if you’re a fan of Tolkien’s work then I heartily recommend The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, as its attention to specifics and detail should enthral you. However, if reading simply isn’t your thing, then maybe you should check out something a little shorter, and perhaps a bit more concise.

Simon says: fool of a Took!

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