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Bond goes Bourne
After a very weak last Bond film (Quantum of Solace) Skyfall makes an attempt at trying to come back as a plot and character driven film rather than as an action driven one. There is no doubt that Skyfall is indeed better than the last film but it is mediocre as an action film and disappointing as a Bond film. Strangely enough, it has always been said that Craig is supposed to be the best actor ever in the Bond role. If he is a good actor he does not show it in this film. Every gesture and every posture gives the impression of being studied. Hardly ever does he appear as being authentic. He always gives the impression of someone pretending to be a tough guy. This is most obvious in the final scene where he stands on a roof like a cowboy whose horse has been stolen but who hasn't noticed it yet. Oveerall, the film has a whiff of "Ersatz" about it which starts with the theme tune in which Adele renders an unimaginative copy of a Shirley Bassey performance. Throughout the film we keep finding hints and allusions to past Bond films and one cannot help but wondering what the message is: they don't make films like that anymore? That also results in some glitches in the logic. Casino Royale was basically a re-imagining of a young Bond who wins his Aston Martin in a poker game yet here he is back with the Goldfinger DB 5. I found Bardem equally offensive as an actor since he simply copies his role from "No country for old men". The action sequences work fine and are much better woven together than in A Quantum of Solace. However, what little story there is is either between implausible and absurd (Okay, this is a Bond film but within that framework a story should at least be logical) and the main theme of revenge is something that anyone who knows the espionage genre has seen a dozen times before at least and usually better executed- most notable in Spooks. So all in all, Bond has left Bond territory and essentially we are in Bourne terrain now. If you like it, you will see an okay action film. If you are a Bond film you will be disappointed.
Tamara Drewe (2010)
I've been to funnier funerals
This is an odd film which ultimately bored me. It was marketed as a comedy which it really isn't although it has its funny moments. Tamara Drewe is a drama about a woman who was un ugly duckling as a girl and now returns as a stunner to her home village. However, this is not your usual quirky British rom com but a film about a woman who has a certain tendency for self destructive behaviour and wants attention from men because her dad left her. That is occasionally painful to watch. Arterton does not really shine in her role as she mostly has a fairly minimalistic approach to acting and ficial expressions (or rather a lack of them) that suggest early Botox treatments. The supporting cast however is great and especially Allam gives a hammy but delightfully sleazy performance. As for the story I found it a very unsatisfactory mix of drama and comedy with the drama being too realistic for the comedy and the comedy too goofy for the serious drama issues. The only really funny moment in the film is literally the last minute when a song is played that suggests that the hapless groupie actually did get her wicked way with the drummer of an indie band. The underlying love story is so obvious that I won't even mention it.
The Mechanic (1972)
Very, very watchable!
Michael Winner is not very popular these days. Some see him as a mediocre film maker. I would disagree with that: Winner has made some very good films and some which are not memorable so I would rank him with Val Guest as a very talented director who also works as a craftsman. The Mechanic is a good example of Winner at his best. He tells the story of a lone hit-man who seems to have no feelings at all and operates detached from the outside world almost like a Samurai. However, below that surface we see a very lonely man who pays a hooker to write him love letters and who suffers from depression and anxiety. He is a man of contradictions, a cultivated lover of classical music and fine wine and also ruthless killer. My only misgiving about the film is that I just don't see that degree of being torn between two extremes in Bronson's performance. I wonder what an actor like Clint Eastwood would have made of that role. Anyway, this leads to him adopting a seemingly kindred spirit as an apprentice to murder. Ironically, he is the son of his last victim. That is seen as breaking the rules by the organisation he seemingly freelances for and he realizes that he is not as independent as he thought he was. So both men are hunted and eventually set against each other. Bronson loses but the motive is not revenge, simply the lust to kill. The film then ends with a very twisted ending that makes you wonder whether Bronson's character really committed suicide through a third person. The story is originally and well paced with some spectacular action scenes. So all in all the film is both intelligent as well as full of suspense. Very, very watchable!
Sucker Punch (2011)
Sucker Punch is an attempt by Zack Snyder to tell a story on different levels of reality. A young girls is committed to an asylum by her violent stepfather after accidentally killing her sister in an attempt to save her from being raped. She has five days until a lobotomy is performed on her, instigated by her abusive stepfather. And now things get complicated: the asylum is a casino cum brothel where the girls have to work as dancers and prostitutes and they have five days to escape. Baby Doll, the protagonist, finds out that she can mesmerize men by lascivious dancing. And during those dances she escapes into a fantasy world where she and her fellow inmates are superheroes on a quest. Eventually we find out that there is a third layer of reality. To some extent the film works but I got the impression that Snyder had an idea that didn't really carry a feature film and fills the time with drawn out action scenes. These are well made (although too hectic for my taste) but you never et engaged because you know it's only a fantasy, it distracts from the real storyline and they are not really connected. That's why to me the film as a whole does not work, it seems to be patched together. Although I like the idea of these fantasies as am means of empowerment, it doesn't work because they became a means in themselves. The ideas are hardly new: we have seen very similar ideas in The Prisoner, The Singing Detective and others. No so marks for originality there. It seems Snyder is at his best when he can focus on directing within the clear framework of a defined storyline.
Dirty Weekend (1993)
Dirty weekend is a very well made film- as you would expect from Michael Winner. To sum it up, it is basically a feminist version of Death Wish about a woman who gets pushed around, experiences her own powerlessness and one day decides she's had enough. Needless to say that she then spends a weekend with a gun meeting a lot of creeps. Some of ther performances are great. David McCallum as psyohopathic dentist alone is worth watching the film. As always Winner plays effectively with audience by getting us to actually want her to pull the trigger. Of course, it is all black/and white in terms of morals and the likelihood of meeting such an assortment of scumbags in one weekend is not really that big. But all in all the film is well made. What impressed me most was the very effective use of music in the film. I found it remarkable that the French film "Baise Moi" allegedly a feminist masterpiece is a shameless rip off of Dirty Weekend, lifting complete scenbes from Winner's film.
Glen or Glenda (1953)
Glen or Glenda
Ed Wood had a certain notoriety as a film maker although Tim Burton's biopic gave him back some dignity. So naturally his films today are viewed as the products of the worst director of all time. Certainly Brided of the Monster or Plan 9 are nothing but reasonably well executed b movies but Glen or Glenda is actually different. It would be an interesting experiment to show the film to people who have never heard of Ed Wood and tell them it's by an intellectual French film maker and give people the opportunity to judge the film without preconceptions. Would they see Lugosi's character and performance as camp or as legimitate surrealsim or his use of stock footage as a collage technique? It is very easy to make fun of this film because in these days the story seems trite and even camp. When watching this film you have to bear in mind that cross dressing and homosexuality (although the film actually makes the point that both are not necessarily related) were not only taboo topics but plainly illegal. Wood tells the autobiographic story of a heterosexual male who cross dresses and has to come to terms with this urge and learn to accept himself. To my knowledge that is the first film to give anyone termed a degenerate by society depth and dignity. Seeing Glen or Glenda simply as a camp classic draws away attention from the fact that Wood was a pioneer and also very courageous because he is in the lead role. The film itself is not really badly made except for the use of stock footage only loosely related to the film. The structure of the film is actually rather clever. The acting is more or less competent (certainly not worse than a lot of other b films I have watched), there are no wobbly sets and the story is coherent. Often fun has been made of Lugosi's character. I don't really see why. Yes, it's odd but Lugosi gives one hell of a charismatic performance and we don not generally call every film that employs surreal elements turkeys.
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Plan 9 from Outer Space was voted the worst film of all time. That of course is complete nonsense. At the time numerous B Sci-Fi and horror films were produced and a lot of them weirder (Teenagers from Outer Space) or worse (anything by William Beaudine really) than Ed Wood's films. And if you are looking for the worst films of all time, do not look further than Italian straight to video fare from the 80s. Anyway, Wood is an easy target to make fun of because he took himself and his films seriously whereas Beaudine saw himself as a craftsman who would film the phone book if required to do so. Of course , Plan 9 is ludicrous but as a b movie it works quite well. Wood was actually quite good at producing reasonable low budget special effects (in fact, he was often used as a consultant on other films in the 50s and 60s)and they are okay. Unless you are really looking for it you won't actually see the strings on the flying saucers. I'm not comparing Plan 9 to 2001 A Space Odysee but within the framework of 50s b movies , the effects are actually okay. The same goes for some of the sets like the aircraft cockpit. Yes, it's plywood and a shower curtain with some bits of a fake computer but it works because no one at the time knew what a cockpit actually looked like. The thing is that most b movies at the time wre quite frankly extremely boring and that is something you cannot accuse Plan 9 of. It keeps your interest, is reasonably well crafted and of course it has the typical Ed Wood dialogues which really are hilarious. And that's where Wood taking himself seriously comes into it. He really saw Plan 9 as his Citizen Kane. However, Plan 9 has some iconic scenes like the zombie like Vampira or Tor Johnson rising from the grave. The make up is actually pretty good. I'm not saying this is a great film but i don't really think it qualifies as being so awful that it's great. Within the standards of 50s cheap sci fi movies it's actually okay.
24 Hour Party People (2002)
well worth watching
Tony Wilson was the man who put Manchester on the map as far as music is concerned with his innovative label Factory records and his Hazienda club. With total disregard for all commercial aspects Wilson followed his vision to enable bands to develop themselves by granting them total artistic freedom. Needless to say he went bankrupt. Unfortunately, Tony Wilson also came across as a pompous ass occasionally. I'm not sure if that judgement is fair: Wilson was a highly educated man who never seemed to fit into the music business life style. Steve Coogan , who is a brilliant comedian, does not really play him in this film. He delivers more of a parody of the man although to be fair he does give him some moments of dignity like when the Joy Division leadsinger kills himself or when he tells his punters to loot the offices when the Hacienda is closed down. I just feel there is more to Wilson then just the pompous wide eyed boy. From my perspective Wilson would be a very good subject for a docu-drama because he has the depth to be taken seriously and he deserves it. As a comedy drama 24 hour party people works quite well. The cast is great, Coogan is very funny (as always) although I find the idea that Steve Coogan in his Wilson persona actually comments on the film during the film a bit contrived. All in all it's hugely entertaining but I can't help feeling that after a very elaborate first half, the second half (when the really exciting things are happening) is a bit rushed. All in all the film is well worth watching but I feel that there still is a story about Tony Wilson and the Madchester movement that waits to be told.
Der Skipper (1990)
Well worth watching!
The film had quite bad reviews at the time so when I got it on DVD the plan was to fast forward to the naughty bits. But I found the film so fascinating that I watched it from beginning to end. Being on a yacht with Paty Kensit and Liz Hurley sounds like your idea of paradise? Well, the washed out skipper of a yacht is duped into a four week trip to Barbaidos with two young women who make a living stripping and turning tricks in a decidedly seedy Gibraltar. Everything seems fine at first but then the sexual tension rises, the skipper seems to have a dark secret and paradise turns into hell. The film has an overtone of aggressive sexuality from the very beginning that tries to assert itself against the burned out skipper and does so in the end but with disastrous consequences. I liked both the feel of the run down part of Gibraltar and the clautstrophobic atmosphere on the yacht. Kensit is great as the slut from hell who becomes more and more unstable throughout the journey. Hurley seems to be the sensible one who turn into a complete psychopath. While the acting is very good my only misgiving about the film is that this change comes too suddenly and does not really seem plausible. I'm not sure if secnes were cut from the film but I certainly do not believe the rumour of a full frontal nudity lesbian love scene (which wouldn't really make sense). The film is also a showcase for Prochnow's acting talents which he unfortunately squandered with later roles as stoch villain. Well worth watching!
Lie to Me (2009)
I find this show rather weak. Roth's performance is somewhere between hyperactive and self-satisfied so for me there was no way to emote to his character. The story lines are rather confused and try to pack too much into a short period of time. All in all there seems to me a lack of focus in the writing and direction of the show. It's also difficult to understand what he actually does as he reads body language but we never really get a full explanation as to what he deduces from which gesture or facial expression. I'm not sure if maybe the format of a TV show is too short for such a complex topics or if it's really the overall issue of too much plot for too short a time.