Friday, 31 August 2012

Lawless: Absolutely Lawless

Until competitively-priced knitwear range Hardy's Cardies becomes a reality, it looks like the man who buggered up the Bat is going to have to stick to acting. No bad thing I guess; he's fairly good at it, and easily the best thing in John Hillcoat's whiskey and blood-soaked prohibition era gangster / western / wangster / wengstern / gengwangsternster Lawless.

Shuffling about in a range of strokably-soft-looking cardigans, grunting in a voice that sounds like Barry White at 28% normal speed and occasionally turning someone's face to mush with a knuckleduster, Hardy rules his scenes like a big cuddly bear. With a cardy and a knuckleduster. He's the standout member of a brilliant but scattergun cast which includes a refreshingly bearable Shia LaBeouf (I must be getting soft in my old age), excellent performances in woefully underwritten roles for Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain, a devilish Gary Oldman in way too few scenes... and Guy Pearce.

Guy Pearce. I'm not sure about Guy Pearce. I love him to bits and he's amazing, but the way he plays his character in Lawless is like having Keith Flint from the Prodigy belting out 'Firestarter' during the funeral of a beloved royal. Pearce wanders in with plucked eyebrows and an insane haircut as if he's inadvertently stumbled off the set of The Hunger Games, and proceeds to pantomime his way through various beatings, shootings and screaming fits in a way that makes Michael Sheen's role in Tron Legacy look understated.
Astonishingly, he doesn't derail the film, which is a testament to Hillcoat's direction - as is the satisfyingly bone-crunching violence, the loving attention to period detail and gorgeous costumes and the tenderness of Hardy's character's relationship with Chastain's.

Unfortunately Nick Cave's script reeks of someone who's watched The Godfather and GoodFellas once too often. Lawless shares so many story beats with those films that it's almost a remake of both films in one: Tightly-knit family heavily involved in crime? Check. Youngest brother dragged in to family business after violent encounter with the law? Check. Kinetic montage as crime business takes off? Check. What remains unchecked is any sense of attachment to the characters, a reason why we should care whether they live or die and a visual aesthetic to match Coppola's or Scorsese's.

Enjoyable while it lasts and buoyed immensely by The Hardigan, Lawless is more or less instantly forgettable, thanks in no small part to a disappointingly cheesy epilogue which has none of the balls of the preceding 100 minutes. And as good as LaBeouf may be, his head still looks like a massive brussels sprout.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Ber-Ber-Ber, Berberian Sound Studio

Toby Jones goes to Italy to work on the sound effects of a cheap horror film. Toby Jones doesn't really like the cheap horror film. Toby Jones spends so much time on the film he gets confused about what's real and what's not. Toby Jones loses his marbles. Toby Jones sprouts sixteen legs and an extra head, turns himself inside out and recites the Gettysburg Address over and over again to a crowd of crabs all wearing boxing gloves.

If I'm being honest, not all of those things happen in Berberian Sound Studio, but they might as well have done. Peter Strickland's arthouse pondering over the effect of film on an audience, and particularly their complicity in the creation of onscreen violence, is two thirds unsettling monotony and one third all-out Lynchian weirdery. As a whole it's an atmospheric and unnerving mood piece, but its themes are buried beneath layers of wilfully obscure, audience-dividing mentalism that will either win you over or turn you off completely.

Crammed with period detail and with an understated but typically fantastic performance from ToJo, the film is a joy to look at, and its sound design is necessarily inspired; as its subject matter demands, it's more of a sensory experience than an easily-digestible story. If that's your bag, knock yourself out. Everyone else, Total Recall is also out this week and whichever you choose, I make no judgement upon you.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Tony Scott 1944-2012

"As I get older I wanna make more. I don't think my time is short,
I feel as though I'm getting better, I'm getting more comfortable
in terms of what I do"

- Tony Scott in interview with Empire magazine, November 2010

The Imposter

You know me, I'm not a massive fan of documentaries. Sometimes I actually fall asleep in the middle of saying the word "documentary". There are so few documentaries that contain car chases, explosions, robots or aliens that I often wonder what the point of them is at all. That said, The Imposter is a documentary and it's completely brilliant, so what do I know? Very little, that's what.

Knowing very little (SEAMLESS SEGUE ALERT) is a key theme in The Imposter. When a blond, blue-eyed, 13-year-old Texan boy goes missing and turns up nearly four years later in Spain with dark hair, brown eyes, a French accent, a completely different personality and the body of a grown man, it seems fair to assume that it might not be the same person. Yet the missing boy's family take this man into their home without hesitation. Why? Are they stupid? And what's in it for him? We don't know. Nor do the FBI, nor a local private investigator with a fetish for ears. But we're all absolutely desperate to find out, and it's this mystery that makes The Imposter so intriguing and gripping.

Director Bart Layton, in his first feature documentary, proves to be as much a manipulator as the titular fibmonger. In fact almost everyone in the film is manipulating or being manipulated in some way or other, and Layton's methods are as canny as any of them. Reconstructions are stylishly presented, but always as the point of view of one of the "characters" rather than in an overtly objective way, making it impossible to know who to trust. Secrets pile up on top of each other like a car crash, suspicions and assumptions lead to dead ends and shocking truths, and a sinister mood pervades the whole piece so completely that you start to wonder if any of it is true at all.

Far more successful than 2010's similarly-intriguing but ultimately disappointing Catfish, and with Hitchcockian twists throwing everything into question right up to the final frame, The Imposter will have you analysing your own conclusions long after it's finished, and that's worth at least an exploding alien or two in my book.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

BlogalongaBond / Die Another Day:
Baaad DAD

Nine seconds into Die Another Day, and something's already not right. There's the gunbarrel, there's the music, there's James Bond turning and firing at the screen: all very familiar and reassuring. And then a CG bullet fires out of Bond's gun towards the audience. This has never happened before. It's disconcerting.
Two hours and seven minutes later, it's painfully obvious that this crass, pointless and generally wanky moment is a metaphor for the whole film. Either that, or Q has equipped Bond with a gun that turns into an umbrella.

It's telling that Die Another Day remains the only one of Pierce Brosnan's Bond films not to be turned into a video game. Why bother? The film already is one, only without the fun of being able to control the characters. Imagine if you could: would anybody not have pushed John Cleese's Q in front of the Aston Martin's motion-sensitive machine guns? At one point Bond even plays a video game himself as part of a virtual reality training session which, as Moneypenny later discovers, has a secret level that allows you to simulate intercourse with a colleague. No wonder the world is constantly at threat from terrorists if all MI6 is doing is designing VR porn for sex-starved secretaries.

In the film's defence, it does have a few inspired moments. To have Bond captured and imprisoned for over a year is a phenomenally bold move, and one that promises to show us a hitherto-unseen side to the previously-infallible secret agent. The long hair and magnificent Brozbeard are to be congratulated too; it's great to see Bond properly fucked up for once, even though fourteen months in a North Korean hell-hole don't seem to have had any effect on his physique. Unfortunately Die Another Day chickens out within half an hour, having 007 back in a Brioni suit with immaculate barnet and Philishaven fizzog, keeping calm and carrying on as if he's been nowhere more traumatic than Brighton for the weekend.

After a while you begin to wonder what the point of all the torture and facial hair was, as it's so quickly forgotten. One possible answer comes in the briefest of comments from M, and it's not a pleasant one:
"While you were away, the world changed."
Given that Die Another Day was released in November 2002, and that Bond films are usually set in the present day, that means he went missing in or around September 2001. The implication that he was absent for the attacks on the World Trade Centre may be a tenuous one, but what's the point of M's comment otherwise? Are the scriptwriters asking us to believe that Bond could have prevented the attacks, or apologising for not having 007 go after al-Qaeda because he was "a bit tied up"? We'll never know, because HOMGZ AN INVISIBLE CAR!!!!!1!

Yep, an hour in, and all pretence that this might be a serious Bond film with some grounding in reality is blown to smithereens. The aforementioned VR training sequence and the transparent Aston Martin blast proceedings further into sci-fi than Moonraker, while a nonsensical wander through Q's room full of old Bond props is painfully nudge-nudge-wink-wink wank. Before you know it you're being assaulted by speed-ramped footage to ensure the film is dated before it even comes out; a henchman whose name is Mr Kil only so that Bond can make a crap gag about it; and an embarrassingly OTT villain who speaks only in over-scripted bon mots (mal mots more like) and spends his spare time wearing an android Peter Stringfellow mask.

All of which bollocks leads us to the piss-flavoured icing on the turdcake: the kitesurfing scene. If there was ever any doubt that director Lee Tamahori thought he was making something for Nintendo GameCubes rather than cinemas, then this CG / green-screen travesty is the bitter, unwatchable proof. Not only is it absolutely fucking awful beyond words, but it didn't even need to happen. Bond drives away from the villain's lair (even though he knows his totty is trapped inside), gets involved in the series' worst ever set-piece, then comes straight back to rescue the girl. The scene exists for no other reason than to curl out a quick stunt, and it smells worse than Bond's fourteen-month-old beard. Its only redeeming feature is the absence of The Beach Boys on the soundtrack.
To detail any more of Die Another Day's faults would be too depressing, so I'll turn to the film's most genuinely enjoyable aspect: Pierce Brosnan's DVD commentary. Recorded just before the film was released in cinemas, Brosnan is heard enjoying the film immensely, possibly because he was watching it while sitting on a bean bag stuffed with his salary and a naked Rosamund Pike. He LOLs himself silly at scenes which are, at best, worthy of the faint raising of a mouth corner, and later goes to almost painful lengths to justify the catastrophic CGI. It's well worth a listen (at least until Pike pops up and starts babbling about nothing), but if you can't be arsed, here are some of my favourite moments:

On the pre-title sequence's hovercrafts:
"These things are very hard to pilot. I mean, it's like trying to drive a bar of soap"

On spotting an old friend:
"Heh! Michael Madsen, my neighbour! We live on the same beach"

On Lee Tamahori:
"Once we started shooting, Jesus, he went like the clappers"

On Fleming's choice of moniker for his hero:
"A well-known story: Ian Fleming was writing the story - Dr. No - and was trying to come up with a name for the character"
Dr. No was Fleming's sixth James Bond novel.

On Halle Berry's first scene:
"It's a classic sequence. It's an homage to... (very long pause as Brosnan tries to remember the name of the film to which the classic sequence is an homage) ...the old Bond movies... Ursula Andress..."

On the film's use of CGI:
"There's more CGI than any other [Bond] film. Lee wanted to push the envelope in that area, and quite rightly. The great thing about Bond is that the stunts are in camera. The stuntman is there, performing the stunt. I think you get a lot of that in this movie but you also get the CGI effects"
Is anyone else confused?

On the use of "London Calling" on the soundtrack:
"Great... The Clash. Classic song, classic movie"
Just to clarify, he's still talking about Die Another Day here.

As Bond picks up Rosa Klebb's shoe from From Russia With Love:
"There's Olga Klebb's shoe"

On the kitesurfing scene:
"That works, I think. I believe that"

But P-Brozzle saves his best comment for the end credits. Obviously asked by someone how he thinks James Bond should progress into the new millennium, he demonstrates a colossal lack of foresight with this analysis:
"I think the character should keep going in the same way it's been going for the last twenty years. It would be great to get darker and more to the bone of what this guy is about, but I don't think it would be as successful. But it's really not up to me."
Thank fuck it wasn't.

Peter Lamont's production design
You've got to feel sorry for the guys in the engine room of a bad Bond film, and Peter Lamont is on the receiving end of all my sympathy. His location work is outstanding - Cadiz in Spain, standing in for Havana, is remarkably convincing - but his sets are literal works of art. The sweaty, stifling Cuban cigar factory (shot in exotic Hackney) is a triumph of realism while the villain's mental, Ken Adam-esque ice palace is quite the opposite - appropriately surreal, grotesquely OTT and entirely correct for the insanity of its owner.

And finally: Not everyone hates Die Another Day. In fact, some people quite like it. Some people really like it. And some people have their entire bedroom decorated to look like it.
And before you ask: No. This is not my bedroom.

BlogalongaBond will return with Casino Royale

What the hell is BlogalongaBond? I'll tell you.
Further BlogalongaBondareading here

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Marvin Hamlisch 1944-2012

Marvin Hamlisch composed, among many other film scores, the music for one James Bond film: The Spy Who Loved Me. A departure from John Barry's timeless style of Bond music, Hamlisch's score is as much a product of the late seventies as the film itself; his Bond '77 theme is the sound of Roger Moore having sex with a hundred barely-legal girls in a New York disco while John Travolta watches.

Hamlisch also co-wrote Carly Simon's exquisite title song Nobody Does It Better, no doubt knowing full well that 25 years later it would be the first song that an obsessed Bond fan would dance to with his new bride. He probably didn't expect the Alan Partridge version, but I like to think he's watching it with John Barry right now on some kind of heavenly TV-on-demand service.

Thanks Marv. The Incredible Suit salutes you.