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Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas film posterSynopsis

Based on the novel by David Mitchell (not considered filmable).  There are several stories: the redemption of a 19th century slaver, 1930s Ben Whishaw in an artistic relationship with composer Jim Broadbent, Halle Berry taking on power companies in 1973, an Irish hack writer going after publisher Jim Broadbent who hides in a nursing home and rebels against it, a race of cyber slaves in 22nd century Korea.  Tom Hanks playing Zachry speaking pidgin English and fighting prehistoric tribesmen as he tries to discover human destiny on a mountain…

Review

There are leaps from era to era where we also get the leading actors playing different roles.  This can be pretty distracting, so you spend a lot of time wondering who is behind the prosthetic gimmickry.  Hugh Grant as a Korean?  Tom Hanks as a thuggish Irish pulp writer?  Ben Wishaw as a 1973 record seller?  Hugo Weaving as a scary nurse Ratchet?  It’s all a bit of a lark so it undermines the film’s already pretentious message about the triumph of the human spirit against the control of would be totalitarians (as in Pullman’s Golden Compass).  I haven’t yet read the book, no doubt it’s better than this Twilight Zone romp which though good to look at, is no sci-fi classic.  The Wachowskis have made this film, they were responsible for The Matrix and it shows.  This film is littered with cod philosophy, the beer mat Buddhist nostrums beloved of middle brow coffee table sci-fi.  It toys with cosmic themes like other films but usually does this in a clunking Dr Who manner.  For me, the only really good episode is Jim Broadbent as the book publisher escaping Tom Hanks’ vengeful Irish hack.  Broadbent takes refuge in a nursing home and rebels against it, a sort of geriatric One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest set in Scotland.  It’s pure slapstick, Carry on Broadbent.  The 1930s composer sequence is like a kitsch take on the relationship between the composer Delius and his amanuensis Eric Ferby.  Halle Berry tries to do a Jane Fonda in The China Syndrome but the story looks increasingly like a discarded Starsky and Hutch episode with a nod to Day of the Condor.  The Korean sequence is more like a Blade Runner set in a Bond stunt as it avoids the complicated problems associated with artificial intelligence that Isaac Asimov deals with  The far future episode looks like Zardoz as done by Danny Boyle.  Hanks is stalked by a green bogeyman who is more vaudeville than sinister.

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Posted by on March 9, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Skyfall

Skyfall posterSynopsis

Latest Bond film in which Daniel Craig tries to track down a list of his colleagues targeted by an ex-insider Silva (Javier Bardem).  He is shot chasing an enemy agent in Turkey.  He goes into hiding and when Silva attacks MI6 headquarters killing six employees.  Bond returns and fights with his foe from Turkey in Shanghai, and in Macau meets Severine (Bérénice Marlohe).  Silva’s a prisoner, escapes and searches for Bond and Q (Judi Dench) who stays in Skyfall Bond’s Scottish home…

Criticism

I read somewhere that the author of the Bond books, Ian Fleming, overheard his wife and the critic Cyril Connally laughing aloud from a Bond novel.  Then in 1962  Dr No turned up and Fleming did not care for Connery as Bond.  Skyfall is the 50th anniversary film.  From hack lowbrow paperbacks Bond has achieved cultural significance.  From being a working class fantasy the franchise has now become a popular cultural phenomenon yet in content it’s still the same old escapist infantile nonsense.  What’s interesting is how the film has tracked cultural change over the years.  From the ’60s consumerist aspirations we get the jaded effeteness of Moore, then the classier hi-tech Brosnan, and now we get Daniel Craig competing with Batman, Bourne, Bruce Willis and co.  The Bond movie has gone from self parody to self congratulatory self referencing in occasionally poignant ways.  One heart tugging plot of this Bond film is the relationship between M and Bond.  She is his mother, sister, and overall confidante.   M is threatened with retirement by Ralph Fiennes’ Malory, then she is up before a government enquiry into MI6 activities.  She eloquently (if not too convincingly) fights her corner as she explains the changed nature of the enemy: not cold war transparency but the opacity of the terrorist who can be anybody, the case for hi-tech paranoia.  How do you, though, make war on terror if terror is the result of war in the first place?  War makes war on the result of war?  This leads us to the strange business of cold war espionage as such, it is inherently futile since neither side could be allowed to win because both cold war enemies were symbiotically sustaining bureaucracies, mirror images providing a mutual raison d’etre:  M then quotes from Tennyson to illustrate her beliefs then we cut to Silva and his goons intending to kill M (this is borrowed from Coppola’s Godfather christening scene cutting to gangster killings).

Q is now played by Ben Whishaw.  The lab clowning has been replaced by a serious young computer nerd equipping Bond with a gun only he can use.  There are rueful comments on youth and age.  Moneypenny is played by Naomie Harris, she starts out in the field but goes back to the office.  Bond himself has to retrain in MI6’s new underground headquarters.  The icy killing machine of previous films is still there but now he is self lacerating, the human flaws more apparent beneath the flippant thuggish-ness.  The heterosexual athlete of the 20th century is even prepared to admit being gay.  The franchise is in the confessional box even as it continues to wallow in Brit smugness (after its helicopter stunt in the 2012 Olympics).  Javier Bardem as the villain is plausibly complicated, he is wounded by what he sees as M’s capacity for treachery and deceit, the villain-good guy boundaries have become more nuanced and uncertain.

The killer gadgets here are the computer, a tube train, and a Shanghai elevator.  One fight sequence is back-dropped by a giant screen showing a jellyfish, so we go from cold hi-tech to tortured family issues in a grimly austere Scottish house.  I suppose this is meant to be a journey from sin to redemption.  We  get more sentimental referencing as Bond uses the Goldfinger Aston Martin (M makes a joke about being ejected from it).  Nature’s dangers are macho fetishes: the scorpion poised on his hand as he drinks, the fight in a Komodo dragon pit.

There is frantic action enough for the Bond fan, and it could be the best of the lot as it raises a glass of fifty year old malt whiskey.  It is after all directed by Sam Mendes.  Reliable action man nonsense.

Bérénice Marlohe
 
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Posted by on November 14, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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I’m Not There

I'm Not There poster

Todd Haynes’ 2007 film about Bob Dylan is not a biopic, it’s a montage of portrayals through several actors.  Significantly, the only really good performance is from Cate Blanchette playing Dylan in his most controversial mid sixties phase.  The other performances highlight how average Dylan was outside the mid sixties, from fictitious hobo and Woody Guthrie wannabee parasite to mysogynistic rocker. The comparison of Dylan with Rimbaud is grandiloquently absurd.  Haynes is meticulous on period details, to the point of parody (see Far from Heaven), so the film is superb on period details of Dylan’s strummer-turned surreal rocker from ’64 to ’67.

In parts, Blanchette’s performance eerily replicates the tetchy prima donna of the 1965 Don’t Look Back film, and we get accurate observations on the tacky hedonism of the Warhol period.  We also get Godard-type scenes where our hero follows a socialite to impress her with superstar nonsense.

The film cleverly guys the ’70s stovepipe-hatted cowboy mystic style, complete with surreal stereotypes from the Basement Tapes cover, poses courtesy of Jesse James, rock star as outlaw hero.

Dylan has not had a happy relationship with cinema .  His own appearances have been lamentable.  Don’t Look Back showed how amphetamined  middle brow chatter can cover for vacuity, and of his ’70s and’80s film appearances the less said the better.  The Edie Sedgwick film does not flatter either.

As for the man himself, Dylan’s supposed martyrdom by fame and easy success reminds me of that Peter Cooke joke about Greta Garbo disregardedly wandering down an empty street shouting ‘I want to be alone’ through a megaphone.  He backed into the limelight manufacturing a career out of being an ‘enigma’, not only does he complain when people then wonder what sort of enigma he is, he doesn’t realise it’s something the rest of us manage to be, without trying.  As for which of the Bob Dylan’s is the real one, does anyone really care?  The film shows us, albeit inadvertently, how overrated Dylan could be, outside his talent for media manipulation and impressing people with obscure phraseology wrapped in disparate imagery in songs lacking narrative development.  This film tells us a lot about Todd Haynes, like Oliver Stone he is obviously obsessed with the myths of the ’60s and ’70s and sees Dylan’s career as an excuse to raid the cliche wardrobe.  There is temporal cross cutting which does not cohere into a recognisable biography which was undoubtedly Haynes’s intention.  Perhaps he wanted the film to be an analogy of a Dylan song or story, driven by image rather than narrative.  There are justly cruel observations on Dylan’s manager, on Warhol groupies, on pampered Edie Sedgwick and Francoise Hardy types, on Ginsberg, and the’50s.  Haynes maybe parodying the rock biopics served with the usual stereotypes of Kennedy, Vietnam, the moon landings etc, just in case we don’t get what the 60’s was all about.

Haynes gives the Cate Blanchette persona an easy ride allowing his bathetic remarks  to stand unchallenged  and of course anybody not in with the Dylan psyches private jokes is nowhere. Haynes is also good on the fawning establishment’s pathetic attempts to be hip and to ride his bandwagon.

Perhaps Haynes is satirising aspects of the Dylan myth, but isn’t he also augmenting it?  It reminds me of those interviewers who would like to talk to Dylan but retreat into a distanced cool because afraid of a rebuff.  Anybody coming to Dylan for the first time through this film might wonder if they are being manipulated and fooled.  Haynes has made a clever film which manages to lionise and lampoon Dylan as it’s ultimately forgiving of his faults.  A patchily good film about an unsympathetic subject.

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2011 in Film Reviews, Independent films

 

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