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Citizen Kane - Visions are worth fighting for

This sounds like a cliche. Everyone who ever studied film probably says exactly the same thing “Citizen Kane is my favourite film of all time”, then they sneak off to watch Porky’s, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Room. Genuinely, Citizen Kane is my personal favourite film, not just for the content of the incredible picture itself, but also for the legendary story surrounding it.

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love ‘Thor’

'Thor' is a curious beast of a film. I 'should' have hated it, I 'should' have made loud tutting noises throughout, snipey comments to my friends about the bad dialogue, and furrowed my brow at the larger than life characters. But I didn't. I don't always know what I like, but I know what I hate… and I didn't hate this.

Firstly, this is directed by Kenneth Branagh, who I am inclined to like, as a result of his fine Shakespearian background, as well as his similar educational background to mine. He directs here in a methodical manner, yet interestingly shuns the campy and oft-maligned style of most comic book adaptations. This isn’t Chris Nolan’s Batman, but it is closer to that than Joel Schumacher’s. The very nature of the Marvel comic book series’ protagonists leave much less room for gritty and real-world elements to be injected (such as the whole ‘war-on-terror’ motif of The Dark Knight), and yet the story of Thor is managed in a way that is enjoyable without being cliched.

The casting is masterful, with the great Anthony Hopkins chewing the scenery to pieces as Odin, the head of the royal family of Asgard, a mythical realm that is intrinsically linked to our own. The house of Asgard royalty is under threat as the king’s truce with the barmy, pantomime villains of the ice realm, the Frost Giants, is brought into doubt by the foolhardy and bold actions of Thor, his son. Thor is played by Chris Hemsworth, who injects a great deal of pathos and inner turmoil to a role where he could understandably have let his pecs do all the acting. He’s the type of action hero you’d like to have a beer with, and exchange his wondrous tales of conquering worlds, with your own of drunken nights in Camden, and he’d genuinely be interested.

The true masterstroke of casting though, is in the younger of Odin’s sons - Loki. The true protagonist of the picture is played in a way reminiscent of Iago from Othello, scheming his way between the realms, showing his duplicitous nature as a result of his true parentage and desire to placate his adopted paternal influence. Tom Hiddleston is spectacular in this role, flexing his highly-trained acting muscle in a worthy and compelling manner. I worked on a Joanna Hogg project starring Hiddleston named Archipelago a few months ago, and found it to be incredibly pretentious and navel-gazing of the highest order. If that kind of background allows for performances of this nature, then I am entirely turned around on the subject. Hiddleston is compelling as an on-screen presence, his elaborate machinations are portrayed in an almost Shakespearian tone, without a hint of extroversion.

The central storyline involving Nathalie Portman is a bit forgettable, but Stellan Skarsgard is brilliant, essentially reprising his role as a professor from Good Will Hunting, kind but pushy of his students. I found it harder to take Portman seriously as a science student than Hemsworth as an intergalactic, hammer wielding beefcake, and I think it can therefore be deduced that the ‘Earth realm’ stuff is the weakest of the film.

The film reaches a satisfying denouement and I was left feeling anticipation for the upcoming ‘SHIELD’ Branagh’s direction was a triumph, as were the brilliant performances from the central cast. The 3D was actually necessary here, and the huge landscape of Asgard and Jotunheim looked spectacular, the Earth scenes weren’t too amazing, but then I see it in 3D every day. Overall, the picture was a triumph, and proof that 3D, and comic book fantasy, can work if the right man is at the helm.

Sucker Punch – OR – “Zack Snyder’s Mind: The Movie” *Spoiler Alert*

Where do you start with Sucker Punch? Is this even a film? IS IT? Ask Zack Snyder, he seems to think so. The very same Zack Snyder that got a bit lucky in marketing ‘300’ to gym-obsessed creatine-downing sociopaths, and also managed to excite live-at-home, slightly nerdy types in its leanings towards graphic novel lore. Mr. Snyder took the generous plaudits garnered from the testosterone fuelled, gay-subtext-rife 300 and made ‘Watchmen’ which ALSO did well.

The Watchmen film was an absolutely ridiculous attempt to commit the brilliant graphic novel to screen. A graphic novel SO highly regarded, that it still ranks in the New York Times Bestseller list. A graphic novel SO important in the world of literature, that it fundamentally changed comic books from ultra-camp, childish affair, to the type of dark and brooding material that allowed projects like 300 to even exist. Despite all of this, Snyder managed to make a film about people wearing costumes (ref. M. Kermode). Watchmen wasn’t a car crash, but it was an oversimplified take on a very complex idea, it also committed cardinal sins – changing the original ending and miscasting key characters. The main problem with Watchmen was the overreliance on the slick camera work, CGI overload, and poor narration. The initially thrilling presence of Rorshach is soon obliterated with dumbed-down dialogue, lack of character development and the over-indulgence of green-screen.

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So… Sucker Punch.  Imagine you’re watching a Zack Snyder film, then a bunch of 13 year-old boys walk into your peripheral vision. At first they are brooding over their existential ennui at being 13, trying to look dark and thoughtful. Then they start punching each other for a laugh. Then they start running directly in front of you being loud, obnoxious and screeching like bats. They then begin beating the hell out of one another with weapons, then a girl enters and they fall silent. THIS is Sucker Punch. It is the movie equivalent of the mindset of a teenage boy. Zack Snyder can’t seem to get over the idea of 1.WOMEN 2.EXPLOSIONS 3.WEAPONS and 4.CGI. So Zack constructs this orgy of young women running about with large weapons, fighting against ludicrous enemies set the backdrop of, in one instance, “a speeding train full of robots, with an armed bomb, chased by a helicopter, into a city that is orbiting Saturn”. I mean, WHAT? WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?

Zack Snyder clearly owns an Xbox; as there were bits that were clearly lifted from games I’ve played. The structure of the bloody film is more like a computer game, with each sequence taking place like a ‘level’ with an objective, checkpoints, and attack strategies. There is a WWII level that made me think of World at War, there is a samurai level that is reminiscent of Soul Calibur, and there is a dragon level that is ripped out of Oblivion. This is bad film-making, poor structuring, and the narrative is shambolic and uninteresting. This is the film AT IT’S BEST.

At its worst, this is unwatchable pornography. Snyder seems to be also obsessed with women. Not in a sophisticated, red wine drinking, French New Wave sort of way, but in a leery, Russ Meyer, Piranha Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, way. The protagonists of the film are NEVER fully clothed. They prance about in absolutely ridiculous outfits, ranging from burlesque basques and corsets, PVC WWII bondage outfits, schoolgirl costumes, and all for ABSOLUTELY NO REASON. There is no plot-device behind any of this, no macguffin to justify the outlandishness; it just is, now deal with it.

Finally, there is no plot development whatsoever. Dialogue is pathetically sparse, and when there is some it’s crammed with cookie-cutter platitudes and bouts of hysterical crying (mostly for no reason). The film presents a profoundly negative view of women as sex objects, emotional wrecks, mentally disturbed simpletons, and as ultimately powerless against men. The only power any of the female characters actually assert throughout the film, is the power to seduce the men using sexy dancing or groping. Not cool Zack, not cool.

Don’t bother seeing Sucker Punch, above all of my concerns with gender politics, poor writing, lack of plot advancement and badly choreographed action sequences, is the fact that this film is decidedly dull.  It doesn’t grab the audience, the fact that me and many others in the cinema felt it necessary to punctuate the poor dialogue with witty rejoinders, is all the indication you need that this doesn’t involve the viewer. The characters might as well be sketched on the back of a cigarette packet; they are that hard to care about. The denouement of the picture is laughably inept, but I’d given up on the film a long time before then anyway. Zack needs to sort his act out, because on this evidence he’ll soon be joining me, scouring for meaningful film work.

Watch Submarine instead.

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