Friday, 29 April 2011

Great trailers #1

Just looking at that last post reminds me that a great film does not necessarily equate to a great trailer. Of course a great trailer should never be taken as any reflection on the quality of the film - we've all said, at some point, "the best bits were in the trailer".

So, in an occasional post I will share trailers I really like.

First up - Comedian.

Films to rewatch

I recently saw Source Code, the new film by Moon director Duncan Jones, and it blew me away. For a second film it was confident, at times narratively daring and, despite being billed as ‘this year’s Inception’, had enough originality to counter that claim.

I was at a loose end over the Easter weekend and decided to see it again – this time it didn’t blow me away. I found it contrived and overblown – attempting to cover the fact that it was quickly running out of steam by restarting and retelling – like a forgettable child telling an over complicated joke.

A film that constantly restarts, retells and reimagines was always going to run out of story well before the end of the film and Source Code is no exception  - quite easily the last 15 minutes could have been lost without sacrificing the energetic pace which works well on first viewing but failed to excite on second.
This got me thinking, should films be rewatched? What enables a film to be revisited over the years without losing any of its magic and sparkle? Once you know the story – well, you know the story. Camera tricks date – performances become stilted and dated.

With this in mind, here’s my guide to films you can rewatch and rewatch and rewatch…

On the Waterfront – rarely has a film been so closely studied as this one. Marlon Brando’s key role as Terry Malloy the dock worker caught between corruption and love. It sounds like the stuff of B-movie post war cliché but is elevated and made rewatchable by the performances (now highly stylised but at the time represented a move away from overly theatrical onscreen performances). It should also be remembered that many saw this as director’s Elia Kazan’s response to the criticism he faced for naming names to the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the early 1950s. It was felt that much of the story (the cowardly act of staying silent as opposed to the heroism of naming names) was a direct response to the troubled part in Hollywood’s history. It also won eight Oscars and has a brilliant score by Leonard Bernstein – Karl Malden is also very cool in it.

North By Northwest – is simply the best film for studying narrative. Alfred Hitchcock’s tale of mistaken identity sees Cary Grant go on the run, avoiding crop dusters and being knifed at the United Nations before dangling off Teddy Roosevelt’s nose in the final sequence. It is as if Hitchcock made this film to be rewatched (despite this being released in the time before movies were a mainstay of television). Each time you do, you pick up on looks to the camera, edits and camera angles that reveal more and more about the plot and the characters intention. Second viewings are almost always accompanied by, “ah, I see it now…” statements.

The Usual Suspects – I never tire of this film. Yes, there’s a twist but it doesn’t matter if you know it, guess it, could not care less about it. The brilliance comes in the audacity of director Bryan Singer (in only his second feature) to wrong foot the audience and suggest that the previous 100 minutes were little more than made up and the information given out could not be trusted (which surely film is anyway). Whichever way you look at it – you should look at it again.

The Big Lebowski – not for any narrative reason (except to delight in its absolute storytelling madness) but rewatch to enjoy the performances and great lines. In much the same way you can keep watching classic stand up comedy performances because of the timing, Lebowski works in the same way. I could have placed Withnail and I here for exactly the same reasons.

The Prestige – it was difficult to pick just one Christopher Nolan film (I could easily have picked Memento) but felt this was a stronger choice because it delights in tormenting the audience where Memento (albeit brilliant) does hold back in places. The story of two competing magicians and a coverted trick is little more than smoke and mirrors that allows Nolan to show off this storytelling skills gathered from his earlier work. Wouldn’t Batman Begins have been (even more) brilliant if it had jumped around more with its timeline? The Prestige also has David Bowie in it – always worth double points in any poll I run…

Friday, 22 April 2011

Summer releases

As it's the first Bank Holiday of the year, the sun is shining and my peely wally skin is beginning to burn, my mind naturally wanders to the summer holidays, air conditioned cinemas and the fact that Hollywood brings out the big guns to ensure it makes enough money to do it all again next year.

Following on from last year's Toy Story 3 and Inception releases - can this summer possibly be any better?

The blockbuster season usually kicks off a couple of weeks into May and, every other week into the August Bank Holiday, will see huge star, franchise and concept film released. The smaller, independent, foreign language films are only released to give people some refuge - don't expect to see them at your local multiplex - this isn't Oscar season.

Ignoring the Easter release Thor (how many films did Natalie Portman make before going on maternity leave?) the summer gets underway on 18th May with the release of the new Pirates film - playing in 3D and IMAX it will offer more of the same (thrills), for more of the same (money) and everyone will leave feeling the same (that's probably enough now - we don't need a fifth).

Two weeks later it's The Hangover 2 - granted an unlikely blockbuster but this is exactly what Hollywood craves - a small to medium budget film that coins it in at the box office. It costs little but yields a huge return. These are fluke films that no one expects to hit but part of the reward (other than the financial side) is that it does hit - it connects and finds an audience. It's very difficult to repeat as part of the appeal of the original is that no one expected it. With this in mind, it will be interesting to see how The Hangover 2 plays.

From this moment on, the films fly thick and fast, X-Men: First Class, comes at the end of May. After the middling success of Wolverine Fox will be looking to get their franchise back on track and what better way to win back an audience than to completely change the cast and director? Imagine changing the entire cast of Coronation Street and expecting people to watch - I'm sure it would work...

More 3D with Kung Fu Panda 2 and Transformers 3 (pity the poor cinemas who only have one 3D projector - look out for 'For Sale' signs of the smaller independent cinemas who have none...).

I'm exhausted already and it's only the beginning of July. Research and wisdom tells us the average person will visit the cinema three times a year - the summer, Christmas and one other. If you hear people laughing at an advert you've seen a thousand times or complaining the cinema is always busy - that's your average person right there.

So, go, enjoy the summer and what the cinema has to offer. Without these big films, which are made to appeal to everyone, with (usually) no more than a 12a certificate and a 110 minute running time, the smaller films, your King's Speech, Black Swan, Submarine and Animal Kingdom, would never get made.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I am a huge fan of the 1968 original. The whole 'what if?' concept is great and, for me, it is the perfect film to end the 1960s. The film is full of shots of people looking into sunsets contemplating the future and their place in it - when their once familiar environment has changed beyond all recognition. Is there a better analogy for the end of the swinging sixties?

Tim Burton's 2001 remake, though perfectly watchable, is little more than a two hour fight in which Wahlberg whines his way through the narrative - picking fault and attempting to change his new found space - unlike Heston in the original who attempted not to fit in but to flee this place he wants no part of. The brilliant end sequence would not have taken place if Heston had stayed and orchestrated change - it only works because he believes there's something better out there. Arguably, this change for change sake (rather than for the better) is a fitting way to remember the noughties.

Which brings us to Rise of the Planet of the Apes which, according to the website, is an origin story (obviously Hollywood has tired of the word reboot - either that or it is playing with Darwin's Origin of the Species...).

It certainly looks good and zips along at a fair pace. However, the point of good science-fiction is to address contemporary concerns by highlighting them in a different setting. With this in mind, it will be interesting to see just what this new film brings to the franchise.