Monday 31 December 2012

Ten films from 2012 that were better than all the others, if you ask me

"Something was being hidden, and I didn't know what that was"
It's rare that a documentary ever makes it into my annual top ten; partly because I'm an uncultured swine, and partly... actually no, I'm just an uncultured swine. But The Imposter reeled me in from the word go, and as manipulations on screen twisted themselves around manipulations behind the camera, it soon became clear that this was no ordinary documentary. Tightrope-tense and infused with malign foreboding, this was a true story more incredible than most of cinema's imaginings in 2012.

"There's something wrong with Andrew"
The found-footage conceit was stretched further than is entirely comfortable, but if Chronicle turns out to be at the tail end of the sub-genre then it's a bloody good way to go out. Sympathising with any teenager who's ever felt different, then making them thank Christ they're not this different, Max Landis' debut feature script was brought terrifyingly to life in a whirlwind of seamless effects and spotty angst. In a year owned by heroes and super-heroes, it was nice to see super-anti-heroes showing how good it was to be bad.

"I seriously believe something weird is going on"
Of all the "groundbreaking", "game-changing" things Joss Whedon achieved with his script for The Cabin In The Woods, by far the most earth-shattering was making a horror comedy that even I enjoyed. Where most horrors try their hardest to find new and inventive ways to kill people, Whedon and director Drew Goddard found new and inventive ways to slay the audience, and they didn’t get more surprising than this. Whoever thought the end of the world would be this much fun?

"I'm James bloody Bond!"
Ninety minutes of people talking about James Bond was never going to be a hard sell where I was concerned, but this distillation of the hundreds of hours of Bond documentary footage I've already seen was executed with such consummate style that Everything Or Nothing was almost as much of a surprise as The Cabin In The Woods. New interviews with all the Bonds bar Connery were the highlights: I think Timothy Dalton said it best when he said "BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!"

"All good stories deserve embellishment"
Yes, it's too long, and yes, it's basically a sloppy remake of Fellowship, but The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey still delivered the goods: more than its fair share of the year's best action sequences; Peter Jackson's exquisitely-realised Middle-earth; the return of the ring and its wondrously appalling owner, and a genuine sense of adventure and fun that's effortlessly carried over from Tolkien's book. Just don't mention those bastarding eagles.

"Show me your world, Chris"
The apparently unconnected worlds of serial murder and caravanning collided hilariously in Ben Wheatley's black comedy about two terribly lovely but mildly psychotic middle-Englanders who fail to adhere to the Countryside Code in spectacular style. In a disappointing year for British film after 2011's myriad homegrown successes, Sightseers reminded us that we can still make 'em like we used to. You know, twelve months ago.

"Never let your target escape"
Finding new and interesting things to do with the time-travel subgenre is usually the domain of the extreme low-budget filmmaker, so it was a relief to see the wallet-punishing likes of Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt getting involved in something as imaginative and entertaining as Looper. Director Rian Johnson proved once again that he’s a unique voice in cinema, only this time he actually said something worth listening to.

"These people may be isolated; unbalanced even, but I believe
with the right push they can be exactly what we need"
By far the most flat-out fun to be had in cinemas in 2012, Marvel Avengers Assemble saw Joss Whedon pull another minor miracle out of the bag by taking the best bits from five average films and creating something that had no right to be as good as it was. A near-perfect balance of action, LOLs and Scarlett Johansson's PVC-clad buttocks meant that the world is now left in the unexpected position of looking forward to another film featuring The Incredible Hulk.

"What did you expect, an exploding pen?"
After making me wait four long years for a new Bond film (and six for a great one), Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli delivered something so totally unexpected in my lap with Skyfall that I didn't quite know what to make of it. After some thought, I decided it was ace. Happily, for me and the future of the franchise, so did pretty much everyone else. It's not without its flaws, but Sam Mendes pulls off the script's intelligent blend of respect for the series' past and signposts to its future with such gusto that you'd have to be Giles Coren not to be impressed.

"The idea was to be a symbol. Batman could be anybody.
That was the point"
It was an incredibly close tussle at the top between my two lifelong heroes, but old pointy-ears (and I don't mean Daniel Craig) won in the end for not dicking around too much with his own continuity. Final acts of blockbuster trilogies have no business being as thematically bold, sprawlingly ambitious and rewardingly dense as The Dark Knight Rises, but the game has changed forever now thanks to Chris Nolan. Bonus points for the most audacious use of characters from the canon too: Selina Kyle's in it but isn't Catwoman? There's no way that should work, but it does. And like the comics, Batman's next screen incarnation could literally go anywhere. I can't wait.

Stuff I really liked but not as much as that lot:

Stuff everyone else liked which I didn't really go a bundle on:

Stuff that might (but probably wouldn't) have made
my top ten if only I'd got round to seeing them:

Tuesday 25 December 2012

The Incredible Suit's Christmas Playlist: The Sound Of 2012

Look at you. You're already filling your face with turkey and Warninks, you've got screeching children and / or dribbling pensioners clogging up your personal space and nobody bought you The James Bond Archives for Christmas. Well, fear not, for The Incredible Suit is here to make it all better with a delicious playlist of music from some of the best (and, to be fair, some of the worst) movies of ye olde 2012. So stick it on, tell everyone to shut the chuff up for an hour and have at least a small amount of fun this Christmas Day. You deserve it! Especially if you've been reading this blog for the last twelve months.

Friday 21 December 2012

Your Christmas TV movie guide

I picked up the bumper Christmas edition of TV Choice last week (only 90p!), partly so that I could read about every single thing that happens in every single episode of every single soap on every single day over the festive period, but also so I could peruse the amazing choice of films screening on telly between December 22nd and January 4th. And let me tell you, there is a bewildering selection. On the five terrestrial channels alone there are 207 movies you could potentially watch through a mist of turkey vapour and gin.
In order to prevent you having to wade through acres of pages to choose your films, I felt it was my duty to pick a selection for you. So here are ten films you could watch in the event that you don't have a decent DVD collection or Netflix or a life.

Saturday 22nd December, 9.55am, Channel 4
A Christmas Carol
Kelsey Grammar plays Ebenezer Scrooge in this adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Stars Jane Krakowski as The Ghost Of Christmas Past.

Saturday 22nd December, 8.00pm, Channel 5
A Christmas Carol
Patrick Stewart plays Ebenezer Scrooge in this adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Stars Richard E Grant as Bob Cratchit.

Monday 24th December, 8.30am, Channel 4
Christmas Carol: The Movie
Simon Callow plays Ebenezer Scrooge in this animated adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Stars Nicolas Cage as Marley.

Monday 24th December, 11.00am, Channel 4
The Muppet Christmas Carol
Michael Caine plays Ebenezer Scrooge in this adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Stars Kermit The Frog as Bob Cratchit.

Monday 24th December, 4.00pm, TCM
Albert Finney plays Ebenezer Scrooge in this adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Stars Alec Guinness as Marley.

Monday 24th December, 4.10pm, Channel 5
Scrooge: A Christmas Carol
Alastair Sim plays Ebenezer Scrooge in this adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Stars Patrick Macnee as Marley.

Monday 24th December, 6.45pm, BBC1
A Christmas Carol
Jim Carrey plays Ebenezer Scrooge in this adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Stars Jim Carrey as The Ghost Of Christmas Past, Jim Carrey as The Ghost Of Christmas Present and Jim Carrey as The Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come.

Tuesday 25th December, 2.25pm, Channel 4
Bill Murray plays Frank Cross in this adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Stars Mary Ellen Trainor as Ted.

Thursday 27th December, 4.25pm, Channel 5
It's Christmas, Carol!
Emmanuelle Vaugier plays Carol in this adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Stars Carrie Fisher as Eve.

Friday 28th December, 3.40pm, Channel 5
A Carol Christmas
Tori Spelling plays Carol Cartman in this adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Stars William Shatner as The Ghost Of Christmas Present.

Something for everyone there, I'm sure you'll agree.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Jack Reacher: He's not big and it's not clever

When you think about it, it's a genius tactic. Cast the world's most famous shortarse in the part of a 6' 5" ex-military police major loved by millions of readers and watch the publicity for your film go through the roof. Bravo, Paramount. And that's not all - the most ingenious part of this nefarious plan is to follow: upon the film's release, all the chatter will be about whether or not Tom Cruise successfully fills the literary Jack Reacher's boots, rather than whether or not the film itself is a load of archaic, misogynistic crap that would have struggled to be taken seriously in 1987, let alone 2012. Well, guess what? Jack Reacher is a load of archaic, misogynistic crap that would have struggled to be taken seriously in 1987, let alone 2012, and therefore it doesn't matter a hoot whether Reacher had been played by Tom Cruise or a medium-sized beetroot.

Deducing and punching his way through the film like a small, vicious Sherlock Holmes, Cruise, it seems obligatory to point out, physically resembles the literary Jack Reacher like Woody Allen resembles the literary James Bond. But for all the pre-release hoo-ha surrounding the dissonance between author Lee Child's man-mountain and Cruise's buff hobbit, Jack Reacher's biggest problem is not its tiny star but its massive rubbishness.

With a plot that must have seemed ropey even in 2005 when the book was published, Jack Reacher trundles from one unspectacular development to another with all the wit and innovation of a straight-to-video flick found in a bargain bin in ye olde Woolworths. Instead of the force of nature found in Child's pulp fiction, the movie Reacher is a character-free character: Ethan Hunt without the sidekicks; James Bond without the sophistication; Jason Bourne without the splintered memory. He's almost as dull as The Bourne Legacy's Aaron Cross, the poor bastard. Meanwhile Werner Herzog (interesting casting only to the geekcore audience) channels the worst of the eighties' generic Euro-baddies, standing - or, when needs must, sitting - in the shadows comically muttering inconsequential 'zogwash.
If the protagonist and antagonist are ill-served in Christopher McQuarrie's creaky script, they're gods compared to the film's women. If you're in Jack Reacher and you don't have a penis, your mission, whether you choose to accept it or not, is simple: get killed or get kidnapped. That's it. And if you do get kidnapped, for Christ's sake don't try to do anything about it. That's what Tom Cruise is for!

In its meagre defence, Jack Reacher at least doesn't take itself too seriously, and Robert Duvall pops by to drop off a bag of much-needed class, but there's precious little else to recommend it. Capping off proceedings with a lacklustre fight ironically reminiscent of Lethal Weapon (a film which feels fresh as a daisy in comparison) and an uncomfortably vicious final act of violence from our hero (the bad taste of which is not washed away by a wish-fulfilling epilogue), Jack Reacher may well mark the point at which Tom Cruise is finally too old for this shit. His pecs may be in bizarrely fine fettle but his judgement is all over the place, and the question now is not whether or not he looks the part but whether he should be playing these parts at all.

Thursday 13 December 2012

The HFR debate: Is Peter Jackson's 48fps venture bollocks or what?

From today, you have the choice of seeing Peter Jackson's flawed but nevertheless entertaining The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (review here) in an audience-baffling variety of formats which is beginning to resemble an accident in an alphabetti spaghetti factory: you can see it in 2D, 3D, IMAX 2D, IMAX 3D, HFR 3D or IMAX HFR3D.

The latter two of these, as their acronymous names suggest, employ HFR: a shiny new technological innovation which Jackson has knocked up in his shed in New Zealand in order to give viewers something to chat about during the first act of his new film while they're waiting for Bilbo and chums to get on with their unexpected journey (which, incidentally, is ample time for a lengthy debate). I lack both the knowledge and the inclination to go into a full description of HFR for the uninitiated: basically it stands for High Frame Rate and you can find an idiot's guide here.

The point of it appears to be to capture a sharper, smoother image, eliminating once and for all any perceived crapness in 3D projection. And let me tell you, it does most of that. The 3D of An Unexpected Journey appears flawless, although it still adds little or nothing to the viewing experience for anyone who couldn't give a hoot about 3D (hello). And yes, the images are sharp. SO sharp. For anyone who wants to obsessively scrutinise every individual fibre of Gandalf's hat or examine each of the dwarves' beard hairs in excruciating detail, HFR is the format for you. It's uncannily like having the actors there in front of you, albeit forty feet high, which is ironic when they're meant to be dwarves.

Now all this pin-sharp crispness is all very well, but where does it end? We were happy with DVD until Blu-ray came along; now it seems that isn't clear enough either. We need to go deeper, so HFR was invented. What next? Will XHFR afford us the chance to view films at a molecular level? I can't wait to see Avatar 2, shot at 480fps, so that I can peer into the pores of Sam Worthington's skin and decode his DNA sequence while I wait for an original story idea to come along.

More troubling than this addiction to enhanced sharpness we're all apparently suffering, though, is the fact that HFR occasionally makes An Unexpected Journey look... well, a bit shit. Filming at twice the frame rate that we've been used to over the last hundred or so years has resulted in the effective redundancy of our persistence of vision: that trick our brain played by filling in the gaps between each frame to create a smooth vision out of 24 still pictures being flashed before our eyes every second. Now those gaps have been filled by MOAR PICTURES, meaning you no longer need your brain to do any work. No doubt this will prove useful for Avatar 2.
A picture of the dwarf that looks like one of the Chuckle Brothers to
break up all these words. Don't worry; you're nearly half way through.

The result of all this technofaff is a film that, for all its $150 million budget, often looks like it was shot on a camcorder in Martin Freeman's back garden. Comparisons have been made to 1980s BBC TV fantasy series like The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe or Box Of Delights, while The Telegraph's Robbie Collin saw similarities with ITV's late '80s / early '90s kids' game show Knightmare. While all of that may sound facetious, it's actually alarmingly close to the mark. Also Robbie Collin is never facetious.

Suddenly we're acutely aware of the actors standing before a green screen; we can sense three burly grips trundling a camera dolly along a track in a field; we wonder why the acting seems so bad. It's not - it's just that while the stars think they're in a classy Lord Of The Ringsesque blockbuster, they're actually in an episode of EastEnders: The Medieval Years, and the dissonance between the styles of acting and presentation is uncomfortable; the reality of HFR is painfully at odds with the fantasy aesthetic of the film.

Similarly Smaug's initial, blistering attack on Erebor feels suspiciously like the opening scenes of an early episode of Casualty, and when Radagast The Shit tends to a sickeningly cute CG hedgehog I could have sworn I was watching Middle-earth Animal Hospital. Even Howard Shore's phenomenal music seems incongruous next to such low-rent-looking pictures. Jackson's big claim is that HFR is more immersive:
"I want to draw the audience out of their seats and pull them into the adventure,"
he says. I would argue that he's achieved the exact opposite. I've never been more distracted by the presentation of a film, unless you count the time I saw Ponyo and it looked like this.

Naturally predisposed as I am to fearing and complaining about change, I was pleased to discover that this time I'm not alone. But will Peter Jackson listen to the voices of dissent? Will he even be able to hear them over the sound of his wallet bulging and creaking? Unlikely. He said in a press conference a few days ago that it's only critics who are complaining about HFR, that "nobody under 20" has had anything bad to say about it and that people just need to get used to it. Ignoring the fact that An Unexpected Journey wasn't out when he made that comment, therefore limiting its audience to, well, film critics (most of whom are over 20), isn't that a bit arrogant? What he's essentially saying is that a) critics don't know what they're talking about; b) he'll decide what the future of film is, not you, and c) if you don't like it you're wrong. You just need to get used to it.

Well, we'll see. Audiences will make their feelings known on HFR within days of An Unexpected Journey's release, and the format's future will hopefully be decided by the cinemagoing public's wallets rather than Peter Jackson's desire to change cinema forever. By all means check out this revolutionary dawn in filmmaking - it's worth experiencing if only out of interest, although you'll have to endure it for the best part of three hours. But given the choice, I can't see myself making a conscious decision to watch a film in 48fps again. Hopefully there will still be a choice in the future, but the resurgence and steady dominance of 3D over the last few years has proved that there's no guarantee of that. 

Tl;dr? It's bollocks.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Transformers 4 Will Be First Film To Star Genetically Engineered Actors

The casting of the world's least-awaited fourquel Transformers 4 was announced yesterday, and in a shock move director Michael Bay has chosen to cast two lifeforms grown in a petri dish specifically for the film.

Aware that no actual acting will be required, Bay grew his stars over the past six weeks on a windowsill in his Bel Air mansion using DNA extracted from his extensive collection of existing stars' hair, saliva and ejaculate.

Taking over from Shia LaBeouf in the role of Shouting Unlikely Hero is Specimen #4276M, to which Bay has assigned the designation "Brenton Thwaites" because he thought it "sounded cool and distracts from the generic blandness of his face". Thwaites was designed to have the perfect square jawline, is capable of all three distinct looks necessary for a Transformers film (cheeky grin, confused, angry) and has been carefully engineered to appeal to people of all sexualities by the simple addition of a vest.

To play Screaming Girl With Perspiration On Breasts, a part so demanding that only two actresses in the world (Megan Fox and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) possess the talent required, Bay emerged cackling maniacally from the lab with Specimen #2719F, which he calls "Nicola Peltz" if anyone comes asking. Peltz is largely constructed from genetic material harvested from Mila Kunis while she slept, although Bay admits that he did bump into a shelf during the early stages of her creation and DNA from many actresses fell into the test tube. "That's why she looks like pretty much every 16-24 year old female ever seen on screen," Bay explains.

Following the success of the casting, Bay hopes to use similar methods to engineer the film's screenplay, and is currently feeding all three previous Transformers scripts into a Gene Pulser electroporation buffer along with large amounts of weapons-grade dogshit. He began work this morning and the result is expected at around lunchtime.

Monday 10 December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Remember the bit at the end of The Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King when the giant eagles conveniently turned up to whisk our heroes to safety just when it looked like all was lost? Annoying, wasn't it? "Why," asked the entire cinemagoing world, "didn't they just fly the ring all the way from The Shire to Mount Doom and drop it in, thereby saving everyone an awful lot of bother?" But we let it go, because the preceding twenty-seven-and-a-quarter hours of Middle-earth magic we'd sat through were too good to be undone by a clumsy deus ex machina. What's a little harder to let go is the exact same plot device turning up again at a crucial moment in this, the very next film in the franchise. I suppose if you've never seen The Lord Of The Rings it wouldn't matter, but I suspect quite a few people have. And those people have every right to feel hoodwinked by this suspiciously familiar turn of events.

Like many sequels and prequels, familiarity is An Unexpected Journey's biggest problem. With the shock and awe of Peter Jackson and FX boffins Weta's astonishing new cinematic landscape ten years behind us, this feels like The Fellowship Of The Ring made in a parallel universe: one in which Jackson failed to nail the flow of his script, forgot to connect his big set-pieces together coherently and was stuck with twelve interchangeable dwarves instead of nine distinct and properly-drawn characters.
L-R: Dobbin, Boffin, Boggins, Stinky, Minky, Groin, Boing,
Fidget, Wally, Sputum, Scrotum, Bumhole and Susan

But ironically, familiarity is also this film's best friend. Sinking back into Middle-earth is like flopping into a well-loved sofa, and it's hard not to forgive it its faults for all that greatness we take for granted: spectacular visuals, excellent performances (Martin Freeman and Tim From The Office have never felt so disparate), a stirring score and Gollum, still cinema's greatest CG character.

And while those set-pieces may occasionally feel forced - hello, Stone Giants - they are, for the most part, incredible. Jackson's action is leagues above much of modern cinema, and he handles the ambitious scale of his (and Tolkien's) imaginings with effortless skill. A prologue teasing Smaug The Magnificent (this trilogy's Sauron The Bastard) is thunderously exciting, while a scrap between those Stone Giants is glorious fun, even if it's cock-waving for its own sake. Only an extended rumble in the hall of the goblin king overstays its welcome, and not just because the goblin king doesn't look anything like he's supposed to.
The eyeshadow's completely wrong for a start

The smaller moments which defined and grounded the Rings trilogy are also flawlessly executed here. Bilbo's riddles in the dark with Gollum once again show the creature in the most pitiable light despite his foul wretchedness, and when Bilbo eventually twigs and explains to the dirty baker's dozen why he's joined their suicidal mission, Jackson and Freeman pull the scene off with aplomb.

Sadly you're never too far away from a pointless meander (there's no way Sylvester McCoy's eccentric wizard Radagast The Brown doesn't get called Radagast The Shit behind his back) or another convenient, life-saving intervention from Gandalf and his sonic screwdriver magic staff. Nevertheless, this is no Phantom Menace, and it gets by on enough charm and rousing adventure to make the sequels a tantalising prospect. As long as they're shorter, better written, have a few more interesting characters, less Radagast, more Smaug, and NO FUCKING EAGLES.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Taschen's The James Bond Archives:
The Biggest Book In The World

First things first: this book is enormous. When fully open, it's approximately 2.8% the length of the average blue whale. It weighs roughly the same as two newborn babies, and if you want to read it on your lap you must wear armoured trousers to prevent your thighs being crushed while two strapping men must sit either side of you to hold each end while you read. It's even too big for this blog post.
Big book is big

It will come as little surprise to discover that the reason for the book's exaggerated dimensions is that there is a ridiculous amount of stuff in it: a plethora of pictures, an abundance of anecdotes, a deluge of details. If all that is contained within was not stuck to the pages you could happily tip it all out into a hollowed-out volcano and there would still be rivulets of trivia trickling down the side.

Fortunately, the injuries caused by lifting the book are worth it if, like me, you require a daily intake of Bond minutiae to get through the day. Editor Paul Duncan has collated first-hand evidence from a cornucopia of personalities who worked on the James Bond films, and has set it all out over 26 chapters (one per film including bastard children Casino Royale [1967] and Never Say Never Again, plus a 1964 interview with Ian Fleming). He's plundered the EON archives for previously unseen images, telegrams, scripts, notes and storyboards, and there's some amazing stuff in there. Sean Connery's criticisms of an early draft of Goldfinger, a note from Pinewood Medical Services detailing superficial injuries sustained by Roger Moore's right buttock after an accident on the set of The Spy Who Loved Me and a mind-boggling shot of GoldenEye's script supervisor June Randall crushing Pierce Brosnan with her thighs all add to the value of what is, at an RRP of £135, a fairly valuable tome.
If it's considered criticism you're after, look elsewhere (try the BlogalongaBond links over on the right, for example) - this is a factual document of how these films were made. Nevertheless, like 007 himself, it's bloody good at what it does and it looks absolutely stunning. If you owned this and John Cork & Bruce Scivally's equally weighty and excellent James Bond: The Legacy, it's hard to imagine you'd need anything else to provide you with a comprehensive history of 007. Basically, if you're willing to spend over a hundred quid on a Bond fan this Christmas, and he or she is an Olympic weightlifter, look no further than The James Bond Archives.

Sorry, I appear to have written another blog post about James Bond. I'm trying to get help for this condition, honest.

Monday 3 December 2012


I had an absolutely ruddy amazing day on Saturday, and while it would be improper and probably quite tedious to fill you in on all the excitement (example: I bought some memory foam slippers from BHS - they are SO comfortable), it is entirely necessary that I mention that the highlight of the day was watching Ben Wheatley's coal-black comedy Sightseers at Islington's Screen On The Green.
Because I'm jammy enough to get invited to pre-release screenings for most of the films I see, I don't very often go to normal cinemas with normal people. However after spending an evening in one of London's finest movie emporia I can safely say that I'll be gracing them with my presence more often. When a cinema has a bar in the auditorium, acres of legroom, two-seater sofas, footrests AND a polite and respectful clientele on a Saturday night (a non-existent concept in most multiplexes), you owe it your patronage. I hate to sound like I've just discovered independent cinemas but this really was quite the revelation. Also this was outside:
Almost too delightful.

Anyway, Sightseers. While Nativity 2 may be doing its best to hammer more nails into the coffin of British comedy, Ben Wheatley and his stars Steve Oram and Alice Lowe (who also co-wrote the script with Wheatley's wife Amy Jump) are crowbarring that coffin lid back open again, breathing fresh life back into the not-yet-dead body within and then using the crowbar to bludgeon various innocent people to death in the name of good old inappropriate serial killer LOLs.

Sightseers' trump card is its central relationship between Chris and Tina, two thirtysomething misfits who, despite doing some really quite terrible things, are unfailingly lovable. Their actions arouse empathy to begin with (who hasn't wanted to brutally slay a litterbug in their time?) but as their victims become less guilty and more random, audience empathy becomes something far more complex. That you find yourself rooting for Chris and Tina as they orienteer through not just the recognisable stages of a fledgling relationship (awkward meals, arguments, make-up sex) but also some fairly unconventional ones (stealing dogs, battering ramblers to a bloody pulp) is a testament to Oram and Lowe's exceptional writing and performances.

As the murderous midlanders crack on with their rural rampage, the film simultaneously becomes a travelogue around some of the north of England's most rubbish tourist coldspots, which are also the most unlikely locations in which to smash people's faces in. These include - excitingly for me - the Cumberland Pencil Museum, which I once visited while on a stag weekend in Keswick. You can only imagine what a crazy time that was; at one point we also went to Trotter's World Of Animals.
And just when you think you know exactly where Sightseers is heading, it pulls the rug out from under you again in a delicious final scene, and immediately seals its reputation as the best British film of the year, if you don't count Skyfall which I don't think you can really.

After being the only person in the world underwhelmed by Wheatley's Kill List, I am now firmly aboard the Bendwagon (needs work) and await his already-completed next film A Field In England with baited breath. Hopefully Trotter's World Of Animals gets a look in in this one.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

The Hollywood Costume Exhibition At London's Victoria And Albert Museum

Fans of Hollywood, costumes, exhibitions, London, Victorias, Alberts and museums should be happy as a pig in shit right now, for there is currently a Hollywood costume exhibition at London's Victoria & Albert Museum which is well and truly and quite absolutely worth visiting. I know because I went there about six weeks ago and have only now calmed down enough to write about it, such was its power.
Spread across three enormous (but gloomy) galleries, over 130 iconic movie costumes have been arranged and thoughtfully lit for you to drool over, but not literally because they're quite valuable. Charlie Chaplin's tramp outfit, Brad Pitt's pornographic vest from Fight Club and Indiana Jones' entire costume are just the first three I got away with taking rubbish photos of, and if the exhibition ended there you'd think it was impressive, if a little pricey.
But it doesn't end there. The second room, bigger than the first, gives various costumes, designers and directors a good going over with some of the most innovative displays you've ever seen. If you don't come away from the V&A wanting your own talking Martin Scorsese chair then you're dead to me. This gallery contains your Darth Vader, your Travis Bickle, your Ethan Edwards "and many more", including one of those ping-pong-ball-covered motion capture suits that Andy Serkis is so fond of. Imagine how great it must be for Serkis to just throw that on every day and let someone else worry about what he's going to look like.

If the exhibition ended there, you'd be even more impressed and begin to think it was better value, but it doesn't. The third gallery is the crowd-pleaser, and it's a gathering of clobber that will make you realise just how crushingly dull whatever you're wearing is. Han Solo, James Bond, the Terminator, Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, all those men and lots of women too have left their costumes for you to boggle at in what can only be described as the world's greatest walk-in wardrobe.
Don't forget to look up in this room - the superheroes are bizarrely mounted half a mile in the air, making them easy to miss for any non-giants. John McClane's blood-soaked vest is in there too, although of far more interest are the trousers beneath it: chunky cords! Like what your Dad used to wear! Who knew? And as a special treat for all the kids out there, you can inspect the soles of The Bride's Onitsuka Tigers from Kill Bill: Vol. 1, which are both adorned with the legend "FUCK U".

That's where the exhibition does in fact end, although not before you pass by a fairly spectacular pair of shoes with which you'll be very familiar. It is at this point that you will be both impressed to the maximum level and satisfied with the value for money. It is also the point at which you can spend ages in the gift shop wondering if a replica fedora will make you look in any way like Indiana Jones. Trust me: it won't.

The exhibition is on until January 27th and the words you've just read convey approximately 2% of its awesomeness, so have a click of this and book your slot. It's filling up though so don't fanny about.

Friday 23 November 2012

BlogalongaBond /
Skyfall And The Wilderness Years

FAIR WARNING: This post is a festival of spoilers. It assumes that you've either seen Skyfall or you don't mind knowing most of its surprises. If neither of those apply to you but you still fancy some Skyfall review action, head this way for completely spoiler-free waffle.

Here we are then. This is the end; hold your breath and count to ten. After nearly two years of incessant Bondwaffle, the world's greatest blogging experiment comes crashing to a climax with the world's greatest twenty-threequel (excluding Carry On Matron), Skyfall. With Quantum Of Solace still stinking out the memories of Bond fans and normal people alike, could Daniel Craig's third Bond film be his Goldfinger, his The Spy Who Loved Me?

Well, not quite. Skyfall is undoubtedly great, but it's no Casino Royale. In fact it's hard to rank it alongside any other Bond films, simply because for half the time it doesn't feel much like a Bond film at all. The familiar half - the bits with the Bond theme, the OTT set-pieces, the tux and so on - goes to enormous lengths to reassure after two films light on the perceived tropes. Direct references to previous entries abound: an opening in which Bond is apparently killed (You Only Live Twice); an Aston Martin with an ejector seat (Goldfinger); an escape via reptile-hopping (Live And Let Die); and a gun which only Bond can operate (Licence To Kill). That's Connery, Moore and Dalton fans taken care of right there; all we need is a beefed-up role for M, as we saw in the Brosnan years, and a Lazenby-era last-minute death of a loved one and everyone's happy.
Well. Almost everyone.

The remainder of Skyfall, though, is so unlike the rest of the canon that it takes every ounce of director Sam Mendes' skill to make the film work. Like master chefs, Mendes and writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan blend old cheese with fresh milk and come out with delicious Skyfall sauce. The film's delicate balancing act is executed flawlessly, never tipping too far into crass comedy or overwrought drama, and its unexpected twists and turns free the series from the shackles of the past, making anything possible in the future.

Ironically though, the future looks oddly familiar - at least if the final scene of Skyfall is anything to go by. The roughly ten-year cycle that Bond films go through from knockabout caper to frowny revenge thriller looks to be heading back to the former, and for once I'm excited about it. I love Serious Bond, but I'm ready for him to relax now, enjoy himself, maybe find Quantum and blow up a volcano or two. Let's leave the brow-furrowing introspection for Fassbender to deal with in 2018.
Of course no Bond film is perfect (not even Licence To Kill), and Skyfall sports two major wrinkles which, while not enough to derail the film, are difficult to ignore for those of us tragic enough to care about what remains of the franchise's Craig-era continuity.

The first is the feeling we're left with at the end, which is uncannily similar to that with which we were left at the end of the previous two Bond films. By Casino Royale's climax, this MI6 noob had gained his licence to kill, his Aston Martin, his theme tune and his excuse for treating women like tissues to jizz into and dispose of immediately, so that when he defiantly pronounces himself "Bond... James Bond" at the end, he's finally ready to serve Queen and country. Hooray! Then, in Quantum Of Solace, it turned out he wasn't quite James Bond yet - he still had to go through a deeply personal mission in order to get a load of emotional baggage out of the way, after which he was finally ready to serve Queen and country. Hooray, again! Now, at the end of Skyfall, after going on another deeply personal mission and getting another load of emotional baggage out of the way, he's *sigh* finally ready to serve Queen and country. Hooray again, again. Can he get on with his job now? Please?

The other problem is Skyfall's portrayal of 007 as a knackered old codger. So recently rebooted and shown in his formative years as a double-0, Bond is a dinosaur just four years later. He must have gone through a hell of a lot after locking up Vesper's double-crossing boyfriend to be so jaded so soon. In its defence, it's the emotional core of the script that requires Bond to be past it: it's imperative that he and M, who's also under attack for age-related incompetence, identify with each other and stick together. The James Bond of Quantum Of Solace could have gone through the same motions as Skyfall's Bond, but he would have been doing it out of duty rather than the friendship and, dare I say it, love that underpins his actions here. As a result, 2012 Bond is a far more human hero; it's just that barring even more indistinct timeline-hopping (don't be surprised if Bond 24 is set between Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace and explains why he changed his suit), Bond can only get even older from here on in.

But like so many niggles (the bizarrely empty tube train; the sudden onset of darkness when Silva attacks Skyfall lodge; the fact that Bond doesn't even loosen his tie or undo his jacket on his 500-mile drive up the A1), this timeline-mangling is just something you have to get over. If you can't get over it though, fear not: Bond's diaries are readily available, and explain everything you need to know about the wilderness years between Quantum Of Solace and Skyfall...

Busy year. Lots of it went by in a near-incomprehensible blur. Found out all sorts of stuff about Quantum and managed to not kill the two people associated with it that I wanted to kill the most.
M reckons this is progress.

Quiet year at work. Couldn't find Quantum so stayed in and watched Straw Dogs a lot. I liked the guy defending his isolated home from nutters. I could see myself doing that, only I'm never going home because I hate that place and there's a weird old man who lives there by himself with no supplies of any kind and thinks he's Sean Connery.

Haven't killed anyone for ages, starting to wonder if I've still got it in me. Found my first grey hair too.

Not that I'm having a midlife crisis or anything but I decided to soup up the DB5. Took it into Q Branch where they made it right-hand drive and fitted revolving number plates and machine guns like in a film I saw once, then they stuck in an ejector seat for LOLs. Those guys!

Agent Ronson gave me a new watch for Christmas. It's an Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M. It follows in the footsteps of its illustrious predecessors by sporting a raft of specialist diving features including a rotating diving bezel, a chromium nitride diving scale and water resistance up to 600 metres. Also it goes nicely with these Tom Ford suits. Ronson 
is just the best. I call him 'my new Leiter', LOL! We go to the gym together a lot, although he's much fitter than me. He introduced me to Home Alone, a film about a kid defending his home from nutters with all these crazy traps. As if!

Still haven't found Quantum. Beginning to worry that I'm losing my edge.

I'm definitely getting old: thought I saw Quantum's Mr White in Waitrose so I shot him in the head. Turns out it was M's husband buying her weekly bottle of Macallan Scotch. Awk-ward! Not as awkward as the funeral though: I got drunk with M on Heineken (won't be drinking that shit again unless I'm in a VERY bad way) and slept with her. In a way it brought us much closer. Even moved in with her for a while but she kicked me out for watching Straw Dogs and Home Alone all the time. Still got a key to her flat though, never know when it might come in handy.

Got drunk at the Christmas party and slept with Agent Ronson. Interesting experience. Still, there's got to be a first time for everything. He's taking it all a bit seriously, says he'd die for me, all that stuff. Trying to avoid him by changing gyms and spending all my time there. As a result I'm pretty buff right now, which means that none of my suits fit. Must do something about that.

Got a bit depressed about the M situation this year so went to the cinema a lot to try and forget. Watched The Dark Knight Rises eight times. Batman sure knows how to pick himself up from a crippling incident that nearly killed him and defeat a formidable ally despite being a bit out of shape! Inspiring stuff.

Saw M in Waitrose and patched things up. While we were chatting some guy nicked her laptop out of her handbag and neither of us noticed till we got to the office. We're definitely both losing it. Now I've got to go to bloody Turkey with Agent Ronson to try and find it. Hope he stops banging on about dying for me, it's embarrassing. Also some bimbo's coming with us but for some ridiculous reason she won't tell me her name. Says she's 'waiting for the right moment'. Not sure I trust her: I watched her at the shooting range the other day and she couldn't hit the broad side of a barn if she was in it. Not to worry, I'm sure she can't do too much harm.

So I leave for Istanbul tomorrow. Left a note in the kitchen for May, my elderly Scottish housekeeper: "Pls cancel milk. Oh and don't let those MI6 bastards sell the flat. James Bond will return."

The cuff adjustment
In moments of extreme Bondiness, Pierce Brosnan straightened his tie. Daniel Craig prefers to ensure that his cuffs are protruding exactly the right length from his sleeves. This is the first sign that Skyfall isn't taking itself too seriously, and it's perfectly judged.

The Shanghai fight
The zenith of Roger Deakins' cinematography in Skyfall comes in this incredible scrap between Bond and Patrice. Shot in one take, entirely in silhouette, with humungous neon jellyfish floating across the background, it's the artiest fight Bond's ever had. It's also a triumph of choreography; every crunching kick and punch looks brutally convincing.

Silva's introduction
The lengthy, one-take monologue about rats is one thing, but the following banter between Bond and Silva is absolute gold. Craig wisely lets Bardem provide the pantomime, so that when he deadpans "what makes you think this is my first time?" it deflates Silva and slays the audience. It would be great to think that Bond has had to go mano y mano in the past to get the job done, although if Ian Fleming were alive he'd have an absolute dickie fit, the massive homophobe.

Skyfall drops a devastating slice of near-arthouse cinema on us in this tremendous scene which further encapsulates all that is Bond. Reciting Tennyson's Ulysses in voiceover while 007 legs it up Whitehall to her rescue, M reminds both her inquisitors and the audience that although the British Empire may be a distant memory and secret agents may be a relic of the Cold War, the world still needs heroes. And most of all, it still needs James Bond.

M's death
It was a long time coming (as great as DJD is, her presence in the post-Brosnan films has always stopped me sleeping at night), but when M finally resigns for good in Bond's arms, orphaning him again, I don't mind saying I wept for the first time in a Bond film since Roger Moore snowboarded to the Beach Boys. She may have been a continuity-buggering irritant but I'll miss her potty mouth.

And finally: Hopefully New Bond won't be forgetting Little James in the future:

EVE is apologising to BOND for shooting him in the chest, thereby ruining the mission and injuring him so badly that he almost died.

It was only four ribs. Some of the less vital organs...
(he leans closer to EVE and whispers)
nothing... major.

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