Nov 30, 2013

On my iPod: Nov 29

1. The Songs of Danny Galway – Prefab Sprout
2. Glowing Heart — Aoife O'Donovan
3. GMF— John Grant
4. For Now I Am Winter — Olafur Arnalds
5. Calling Cards — Neko Case
6. Human — Christina Perri
7. Do You Know Me? — David Sylvian
8. Annabel — Goldfrapp
9. Fare Thee Well— Oscar Isaac & Marcus Mumford
10. Shapeshifter — Laura Viers

Nov 29, 2013

REVIEW: FROZEN (dir. Lee/Buck)

From my Guardian review: — 
'It’s that time of year again, when our guardians turn to the moral education of the nation’s young, raising vexed questions about the ideological agenda that drives their roles models, the benefits of their educational texts, and the acute balance that must be struck between pedagogical substance and the public’s eternal desire to see talking chipmunks. In other words: a new Disney movie. A really good one, too, whose humming industry and multi-pixillated craft come lit by a spark of something close to genuine enchantment. Loosely based on The Snow Queen, Frozen extracts from Hans Christian Anderson’s 1845 tale  the Nordic setting, some trolls and the basic idea of sub-zero sorcery but gives the powers of wintery transmogrification not to an evil queen, but to the elder of two sisters — blonde, brooding princess Elsa (Idina Mendel), who is born with the ability of turning anything she touches to ice. Her parents, the king and queen or Ardendelle, warn her against ever revealing her power, for fear it will be misunderstood. “Conceal, don’t feel,” she is taught to recite, thus placing her in a long line of shame-filled spellbinders from Edward Scissorhands to Rogue in Marvel’s X-Men, and putting the icing on the cake of any doctoral thesis with the title ‘Out of the Closet and into the Forest: Hidden Powers And Sublimated Self in the Films of Walt Disney.’ 
Here there is younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell), a redhead who likes chocolate, boys, falling on her tush, and expresses herself via such well-known Norwegian colloquialisms and “you know” and “freaked out”, by which the film’s directors, Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, wish to designate her as Our Heroine, although for a while you're not sure — it would have been a brave move indeed to put the audience behind the witchier of the two girls. The Disney princess is such a tired trope that even the much-vaunted revisionism feels de trop, these days — find me a heroine who isn’t spunky, feisty, etc  — but where the film scores points for originality is the tenderness and acuity with which the relationship between the two sisters is observed. If only Grace Kelly and Tippi Hedren had been available for the voices…   One of the great things about Frozen, in fact, is how well thought through the central theme is, on every level: Frozen is one on-message ice movie. The graphic possibilities of ice and snow are gorgeously realized in some of the most straightforwardly beautiful animation since those dalmation pups trotted through the snowdrifts in 101 Dalmations: make sure you catch the chase at sunset, with cool, mauve horizontal shadows cutting across the glittering tundra. Then there’s the possibilities for fans of the well-crafted action sequence:  a fast, slippery, surface, perfect for high-speed tobogganing and downhill races if — for example — you are a humble woodsman trying to save your one true love from marriage to a dastardly prince, and the snow-lift happens to be jammed. We’re all headed for a big thaw, of course, not to mention a melting of all hearts within a 20- mile radius, but Lee and Buck know how to spring their big moments from within small jack-in-the-box surprises. Suffice to say that for once, sisterhood feels like an abiding interest of the filmmakers and not a tacked-on after-thought. Mapping the contours, twists, intimacies and estrangements of siblinghood — a surprisingly underexplored subject for Disney — Frozen hews to real, recognizable plumb-lines and casts a lingering spell. ' 

Nov 28, 2013


From my Guardian review
Spike Lee’s Oldboy is as far from a Spike Lee Joint as could be imagined. It’s actually a Park Chan-Wook joint — a remake of  Chan-Wook's 2003 South Korean cult classic about a man held in solitary confinement for 20 years before being loosing to wreak vengeance on his captors. Adapted from a manga comic-book, which was in turn adapted from an over-whelming desire to see what damage hammers do to foreheads, Chan-Wook’s film was a matte-black vengeance riff, decked out in playful camera angles, sicko violence, and one live octopus, which it’s hero ate, still wriggling, in one scene, although I like the think that afterwards, its cameo over, the octopus simply called “cut!” and resumed its position behind the camera.
What drew the maker of Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X, and Clockers to resolving this Rubik’s cube is anyone’s guess. In Lee’s version, Josh Brolin plays Joe Doucette, a two-bit ad exec who wakes up after an alcoholic bender in a motel room, and remains locked up there for the next 20 years. He has no idea who is captors are, only that they feed him a thoughtful tray of dim-sum and vodka every day, and pay the cable bills on time, so that Joe can watch his wife’s murder being pinned on him in his absence, a succession of presidents being sworn in, and — as luck would have it — a series of martial arts programs, which come in very handy when one day, he wakes up in a field, sporting a new buzzcut, a newly toned body, an iPhone and a headful of vengeance. Game on.

Quite literally.  Like Chan-Wook’s original, Lee’s film, with its vivid rendings of the flesh — by box cutter and hammer — and challenge-level plotting, has the maziness of a video game. Joe’s tormentor (Sharlto Copley), is with him every step of the way, helpfully phoning in clues that will enable him to solve the mystery —  “Who I am and why did I imprison you?” — even throwing in an extra hostage for “a little added motivation,” when the plot needs a freshener. And if that sounds to you suspiciously like a screenwriter outsourcing his dramatic duties to his villain, then give yourself a gold star.  I grew tired of these screenwriter-ex-machina bad guys, with their chummy phone manner and tedious riddles, around the time they first appeared: it’s been downhill since Speed, basically.  Once a villain starts tailoring his plot so specifically to the dramatic needs of the film around him, you know it’s going to end in one of two ways, either 1) an “I-am-he-as-you-are-he-as-you-are-me” fudge, or 2) a vast import of new expository material.'

Nov 23, 2013

REVIEW: Philomena (dir. Frears)

From my Guardian review:—
'Like all the best screen actors, Judi Dench’s face is a kind of pun,    working on two levels at once, both twinkly and tart, like someone handing you a Christmas present while sucking on a lemon. Our first sight of her in Stephen Frears new film, Philomena, that face is lit by church candlelight, her eyes brimming, whether from an excess of human kindness or some private pain is hard to say.   Best known in the UK as a sherry-dry sitcom comedienne before she starting playing crusty English monarchs in Shakespeare in Love and Mrs Brown, she here mixes it up a little for American audiences for the first time. Her Philomena is an ununflappable old dear who boasts of   her titanium hips and recounts the plots of whatever bodice-ripper she happens to be reading with a comprehensiveness that rivals that of their author. Coogan’s reaction as he listens, sat in the back seat of an electric cart leading them towards a transatlantic flight —  “Oh there’s a series of them” — is an unimprovable modulation of polite agony. It’s Coogan’s best dramatic role to date. Until now he’s had the kind of disjointed, slightly agonized career traditional for British comics trying to make it in the movie business — his haggard, death’s-door lugubriousness is an odd fit for Hollywood, and seemed most at home putting all dramatic pretense aside in Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip, a mockumentary in which Coogan bantered his way around a series of restaurants in the British Midlands with comic Rob Brydon. If anything, Dench is an even better foil for Coogan than Brydon. Any worry that the role pushes the upper limits of her saintliness are offset by some of the unexpectedly salty dialogue she is given, happily detailing her sexual exploits in great detail to a dismayed Coogan, prompting him to mutter  “fucking Catholics” — the zinger of the film, accurately summarizing both its back-story, and the vein of anti-clerical anger running through the script.' 

Nov 20, 2013

My Coen brothers top ten

Horrified at the Coen brothers lists going around, I've caved and given my own. I clearly like the nicely plinthed stories better than the shaggy dogs and idiOdysseys — plot construction, people! plot construction! — and the snowy ones best of all.
1. Fargo
2. Miller's Crossing
3. Raising Arizona
4. No Country For Old Men
5. Blood Simple
6. Inside Llewyn Davis
7. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
8. True Grit
9. Barton Fink
10. The Big Lebowski

Nov 14, 2013

My favorite bit of acting this year

"His ordeal over, he's being examined in the ship's hospital by Albert. She asks questions about his condition. Her protocol is designed to get answers from traumatized patients. It may be necessary, but her manner is distant, cold, clinical. And, that is the precise, perfect counterpoint to the stream of Hanks' emotional release. He no longer needs to bear the mantle of control. It's all fragmented speech, emotional associations, tears and blood — it is one of the most powerful conclusions of a film in recent memory. " — Michael Mann on Captain Phillips