Thursday, 18 August 2011

On 18.8.11 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Nicolas Cage can't act. Some of his films (Matchstick Men) have a sharp enough plot to make the manic overacting sort of watchable. Some (Face/Off, The Wicker Man, Season of the Witch - OK, maybe most of his films) are just plain awful. This video sums up his "acting" style nicely. It is for this reason that my family refuse to watch Nicolas Cage films and for this reason that I made Leaving Las Vegas into tonight's late night viewing. After all, I remember hearing somewhere that it's one of his least bad films, whatever that accounts for.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find out that Nicolas Cage can act. No, really.

Cage plays alcoholic screenwriter Ben, who, having been fired from his job, burns his possessions and his memories (perhaps the film's saddest element is the burning photograph of Ben with wife and son, never to be mentioned again) and heads to Vegas, intending to drink himself to death. There he meets prostitute Sera (Elisabeth Shue) and falls in love, in a tragically doomed manner befitting such a screw-up.

With its noticably low budget, Leaving Las Vegas hinges on the performances - so it's a good job that Cage, though he sometimes resorts to his typical über-crazed mannerisms (such as an early dance around a supermarket (sorry, grocery store) buying a trolley-full of booze), actually, in a good number of scenes, acts. It came as a shock, but his portrayal of an everyday man brought to the edge of despair, not by a ridiculous plot to steal his body parts in order to frame him for the murder of the president, but by his own personal vices, rarely without a bottle in his hand, is totally believable and, honestly, excellent.

Though Cage is not alone in being surprisingly good - Shue also gives a remarkably nuanced performance as the prostitute looking for comfort, lost in an urban hell, deluding herself that she is happy. It's such a shame that her career has gone nowhere since. I mean, Piranha 3D, really? Someone give this woman a job!

With the most depressing sex scene in existence, Leaving Las Vegas is a bleak modern tragedy, lit by the ominous neon glow of Vegas, eating away at souls and at wallets. Yet it is utterly compelling in its relentless and unforgiving tale of dependency, on alcohol and, for Ben and Sera, on each other.

Nicolas Cage can act. Crikey.

Check back here for "Michael Bay can direct", "Katie Price can put a sentence together", and "David Cameron can associate with the common man".

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Continuing this summer's trend of unimaginatively obvious titles, there was good reason for my expectations for Cowboys and Aliens to be low, especially considering the forgettable, characterless action of director Jon Favreau's Iron Man films. Yet, as my screening approached, I did find myself optimistic - the merging of the two genres combined with the promising cast does give Favreau's science-fiction Western a fun appeal.

Jake Lonergan, a former outlaw and a gruff loner (the character names are almost as subtle as the film title), strolls into the dusty town of Absolution in true Western style. Not long after, alien spaceships attack the town and abduct residents, in true science fiction style, leading Jake to join the remaining townspeople in a quest to save their friends and, in true American style, shoot lots of things.

Cowboys and Aliens is at its best at the beginning, when Jake is becoming acquainted with the town of Absolution and its inhabitants, before dipping in excitement in the middle, as the tracking of the aliens perhaps goes on a bit too long, but peaks again at the exciting, if highly predictable, final battle sequences. The story can, as one would expect, be boiled down simply to "cowboys versus aliens, bang bang, yee-haw," but does, in fact, have quite a bit more depth. Many of the residents of Absolution are given their own memorable traits and sub-plots and everything is held together by a wonderful cast. While Daniel Craig pulls off the "silent, manly figure with a criminal past" role in a manner to rival John Wayne, Harrison Ford does his thing as Colonel Dolarhyde, an ex-military man who takes charge of the ragtag band of alien hunters. I like Harrison Ford when he's given the right role, and while this is far from his best, he certainly makes the character his own and does his Harrison Ford thing as only Harrison Ford can. Meanwhile, Olivia Wilde excels as a powerful and mysterious woman who joins the group, while the ever-reliable Sam Rockwell adds a bit of comic relief as a barkeeper inexperienced in battle yet determined to save his wife. Paul Dano (the young chap whose milkshake is drunk in There Will Be Blood) is also notable as Dolarhyde's cocky son, who arrogantly terrorises the townspeople but is repeatedly taken on and casually pwned (as the kids would say) by Lonergan, to hilarious effect.

All of these characters' characteristics and corresponding sub-plots are weaved together well, as are the two genres. Science fiction and Western conventions are mixed in a unique and effective manner (much more effective than that other sci-fi Western, Wild Wild West, which was not a good film, to put it lightly) - many, if not all, of the tropes expected from either of these genres are present. Consequently, Cowboys and Aliens does ramp up the clichés in places, but this is just what is needed in such a film, and, in fact, I think it could have been taken further. I'd have liked more of an influence from classic Westerns in the cinematography for example - it is filmed in a manner quite average for a summer blockbuster movie and, at times, I wished it were more expressive - some Sergio Leone-style sweeping vistas and extreme close-ups during showdowns could have been added to great effect.

With a talented cast and its plots and genres weaved together competently, Cowboys and Aliens is certainly worth watching, though by sticking to conventional Hollywood techniques and having too predictable a plot, is prevented from approaching its true potential.

(Video review coming soon)

Saturday, 6 August 2011

I'm not far from being nearly half way through my ridiculously long summer holiday. The summer of doing lots of things, as my plans would tell you. Have I done lots of things? Yes! I've seen the sights (a bear being bullied by otters), I've lived the dream (baked a blackcurrant cake with my homegrown blackcurrants), I've hung out with the world's rich and famous (briefly met Anjli Mohindra off The Sarah Jane Adventures, Times columnist Caitlin Moran, and, as shown, Darth Vader), I've had my lows (a brief sink into existential despair, failing my driving test again), but I've had my highs (mostly caffeine highs - staying up late with a cup of tea and a DVD of a Coen brothers film).

Plans for the rest of summer - fix broken things, more books, more films, actually win at driving for once, go to Manchester Pride, avoid crowds and shit music as much as possible, go on holiday, enjoy wandering around a big boat for a week, make sure I'm prepared for uni, keep on rockin'.

Anyway, here are some links to articles I've done for various websites that aren't this one:

Film's 5 Most Horrible Bosses

It’s one thing to not let your employees have the day off over Christmas, but when those employees involve Kermit the Frog, that’s just despicable.
To tie in with the release of comedy Horrible Bosses, which is good. Also, my review here.Link

Manchester Comic Con report with Anjli Mohindra Q&A

The expo filled up quickly and, despite my usual annoyance with crowds, a plethora of fantastic costumes and free hugs gave the convention centre a fun and frivolous atmosphere.

For a The Sarah Jane Adventures fansite, hence some of the article being related to The Sarah Jane Adventures. Now edited to be less offensive to Craig Charles!

Sucker Punch DVD Review

Sucker Punch manages to become something that may not be one’s first thought upon hearing of a film containing giant samurai, German steampunk zombies, dragons and robots – boring. Zack Snyder is a hyperactive child, with a plethora of visual ideas but no attention span to do anything interesting with them.

Somehow, I got away with a triple Jon Hamm pun in this one.

Super 8 video review:

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Video review coming soon, when I've got the video editing machine working.

The new science-fiction adventure from J.J. Abrams, director of the recent Star Trek reboot and creator of Lost, Super 8 is an homage to the 1970s and 80s films of Steven Spielberg – ET, Jaws, Close Encounters, that kind of thing – and with Mr Spielberg himself producing, many of his tropes are notable – the 70s small town US setting, the child characters, the monster, the lovably cheesy emotional undertone.

Super 8 follows a group of kids who are producing an amateur zombie movie on Super 8 film (hence the title) when a train crashes quite dramatically rather close to them. After that, a series of mysterious incidents plague the town – power cuts, missing sheriffs, cars bouncing, dogs running away, the usual. Young Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), still coping with the grief from his mother’s death in an unfortunate industrial accident, struggles to manage his loyalties between his friends, love interest Alice (Elle Fanning) and his father Jackson (Kyle Chandler), a police deputy determined to get to the heart of the curious goings-on. It’s quite clear to the viewer that the sinister Air Force types hanging around have been transporting some kind of alien and are trying to cover up their mess and there isn’t really much depth to the predictably evil Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich), but this element of the plot adds an extra layer of threat, enigma and, importantly, cheese.

This aside, Abrams really shows off his storytelling skill. The simple but enthralling storyline has emotional and dark undertones in its exploration of Joe’s grief for his mother. Unlike many contemporary sci-fi rubbish, Super 8 doesn’t overdo the action or CGI but makes the exciting adventure part of a strong and meaningful character drama. With intelligently framed shots, Super 8 is visually impressive in a way that reminds one of the Spielberg films it is inspired by without resorting to the kind of postmodern referencing that could draw the viewer away from the drama.

Another typical Spielbergian element that Super 8 picks up on is that it has a good sense of humour; the interaction between the young characters, including overweight Charles (Riley Griffiths) and explosives-obsessed Cary (Ryan Lee) leads to several funny and memorable lines – “Excuse me, can I have another order of fries? Because my friend here is fat.” This is helped by a young cast who portray their roles with energy, emotion and realism. Praise must especially be given to Courtney and Fanning, who is a lot less annoying than her sister was in War of the Worlds. The character of Joe’s father is also well developed, although I did keep wishing he was played by Dominic West – not only because West is a much better actor than Chandler but also because the character reminded me of McNulty. But that’s probably just me, linking everything I see to The Wire. Chandler’s probably not bad if you’re unaffected by Wire-itis.

Overall, Super 8 is no classic, but a solid Spielbergian homage with no major flaws to rant about. It’s one of the most accomplished and all-round entertaining films of the summer.