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The Hobbit: An Unexpectedly Drawn Out Affair

As an 11 year old excitedly buying tickets to to see The Fellowship of the Ring, I was informed by the acne-ridden man behind the popcorn counter that there was already preproduction occurring for The Hobbit. 11 years, several aborted attempts and directors later, it has finally surfaced. However, it seems that the children’s short novel has been split up into three features. Shot in 48 Frames per second. And in 3D. It is the former of these elements that I feel is the most pertinent to discuss.

Hollywood loves sequels. People love familiarity. It doesn’t matter what critics say, it doesn’t matter how potentially weak the plot is, it’s the new Scary Movie/James Bond/ Iron Man/Taken/Ice Age film! These genre films repeatedly offer the same familiar characters in new, yet familiar environs.

"I’ve liked the Ice Age films…Imma go see the new Ice Age film."

It’s far less of an effort than researching new plots and new characters before making an informed decision on which ticket to purchase.

But what about this new audacious technique of splitting one potentially feature-length narrative into multiple components? Despite the relative thickness of the final Harry Potter and Twilight novels, it would not be too difficult for professional screen writers to compress the plots into single films. Of course it wouldn’t. But that would halve the box office takings. I guess in a twisted way we should admire the sheer cheek of these studios whilst lamenting the fact that such a technique will inevitably succeed, despite our awareness of this marketing ploy.

So how does Peter Jackson extract what will inevitably be a trilogy of three hour films from JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit? Through the systematic and shameful milking of each of the novel’s narrative events, with a little bit of non-Tolkien plot added on top.

The screenwriters and editors of this film have had to break the contemporary mould of shot and scene rapidity as the audience is treated to superfluous scenes which do not propel the narrative forward. For example, it takes 50 minutes for the Hobbit and his merry associates to leave his hole as we are treated to spontaneous songs and dance routines concerning the washing of dishes. Another example of such delay tactics occurs in a somewhat irrelvant aside where we are shown the activities of a shroom-munching wizard in a different time and place to the central characters. He will make an important appearance later, but this back story is both unnecessary and indulgent. 

The tone of The Hobbit is also confused. Tolkien’s text is a  piece of children’s, folk-tale revival portraying the quintessential adventure of capturing gold from a dragon. It was only after this world was created that Tolkien decided to drastically enlarge and alter it for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But this does not work for a major studio wishing to cash in on this franchise in the aftermath of its success. Thus, they have added a marked darkness onto certain events and characters. This results in a jarring dissonance between the childish elements they have decided to keep.  Unthreatening, cockney stone-giants with ambitions in the culinary world are followed by terrifyingly vulgar goblins and ominous necromancers whose aesthetics are far more apt for The Lord of the Ring’s middle-earth.

This is unfortunately unavoidable if you are wishing to draw in the same audience as these previous films. In this fashion, characters such as Saruman who are, in reality, first introduced in The Hobbit, enter shots with a proclamatory flair which smacks of a celebrity cameo in Friends. It begins to feel like an origins film such as Batman Begins or Prometheus

And what about the two controversial formats it is shot in? It was bold and potentially evolutionary for Jackson to utilise 48 fps. For those who do not know, since the early 20th century films have been generally shot in 24 fps, a form which due to relative slowness in comparison with the human eye, creates an unrealistic sheen which lies at the foundations of cinematic escapism. High frame rates are therefore now associated with sports, reality TV and behind-the-scenes featurettes. Due to these associations I inescapedly felt that The Hobbit did possess a real clarity which paradoxically acted as an obstacle to narrative involvement (a sentiment I similarly felt in Public Enemies). It is certainly possible that at some point in the future all films will be shot in a higher frame rate. As with the advent of cinematic sound and colour it is true that there will always be a teething period for audiences, but as of now I am not convinced.

The battle over 3D equally rages on with many critics proclaims its death after a flurry of pointlessly post-production converted atrocities. Although at times visually stunning, The Hobbit’s 3D was similarly an obstacle to immersion, cynically added on to gain those few extra important pounds from each ticket. Unlike The Life of Pi or Avatar this format didn’t seem to possess an inherent raison d’être. Moreover, after three hours one becomes plagued by a piercing headache.

 Despite all of these qualms it is an undeniably entertaining film with moments of tension, excitement, comedy and visual beauty. In particular, the scene which reintroduces Gollum is the jewel in film’s crown showing a characterisation which possibly improves on that of the Lord of the Rings franchise.

I will inevitably be going to see the next installment. And the next. It is just a shame that the screenwriters didn’t persevere in producing one, cohesive masterpiece which does not waste its audience’s time.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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I am aware that this is not a film which has just been released, but I have unfortunately just fallen victim to it on a long-hall flight and thus must vent my thoughts which have found themselves only directed at a 3 x 4 inch screen (much to the dismay of my  unfortunate, slumbering neighbour).

This is a film which does not warrant the gentle lilt and fluidity of my prose and thus will be reduced to the degrading medium of judgement by bullet-point.

-Emma Watson should stick to modelling- in her case, silence should from now on always be preferred, especially if the alternative is one of the worst attempts at an American accent known to the history of the silver screen.

-Rolling the credits of a film over a Jack Johnsonesque piece of acoustic guitar laden “alternative” pop music does not instantly grant it Bona-Fide Indie Comedy status.

-Having the male and female protagonists bond over their mutual love of The Smiths is as original as the most recent hit, soft core sado-masochistic publication, “Eighty Days Yellow”.

-The two central characters who mould the protagonist’s life are direct clones of those who do the same for Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls.

-The tried and tested narrative arc of feature film exists to avoid the total audience confusion and lack of character sympathy which results from repeated false endings. Truly, this film steadfastly refuses to end in a way that would make Tolkien’s Return of the King blush.

-Having multiple moments of emotional, romantic zenith merely cheapens each in turn. Having one of these under the influence of LSD is not funny or exciting.

Fundamentally, The Perks of Being a Wallflower could be a hilarious piece of biting satire on the American Indie Comedy genre.

But it’s totally serious.

*

Showreel

Argo

                               

Ben Affleck’s much-anticipated follow up to 2010’s The Town sources its narrative in an incredible, recently declassified CIA mission. In 1980, after the Iranian occupation of the American embassy, a joint CIA and Canadian secret operation was launched to extract six American diplomats who were hiding out in revolutionary Iran. After a plethora of failed plans, including the mere provision of bicycles, the secret service settled on a madcap plan to disguise the fugitives as members of a pre-production scouting team for a fictional feature film named “Argo”. One can only imagine the excitement that consumed producer George Clooney and director Affleck when they got their claws on this script.

So how did they fare with a plot of such dramatic potential? Rather well. However, this success is crushed by a weight of Hollywood cliché that unfortunately rears its hackneyed head in the final moments.

After a somewhat patronisingly simplified summary of the political landscape of 20th century Iran, the screen is host to one of the most fast-paced, suspenseful pieces of filmmaking this side of Hitchcock. Rapid editing, flits between the interior and exterior of the soon-to-be-besieged embassy as the hostility reaches melting point. It is impossible to not be entertained by this opener. However, the tone that is established at this point is curiously disingenuous as the subsequent second act is a slice of L.A., sun-soaked comedy. Against all odds, this incongruity works.

 The serious intensity of the feature’s beginning is ironically undermined as Affleck’s character goes through the motions of pre-production for the ridiculous, Star Wars plagiarising “Argo”. The oppressive suspense is forgotten as the Hollywood machine is self-reflexively satirised.

 Unfortunately, this refreshing self-deprecation is fleeting, as the final scenes throttle home the film’s moral which seems to be: Hollywood is the Omnipotent savior of us all. When the tension returns for the film’s zenith, it is the reading of a rough shooting script to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard which seems to be the central salvation for the fugitives.

This I was willing to forget until the pointless addition of an All- American-return- to- the- nuclear- family scene which did nothing but undermine the excitement, biting wit and meta-nature of Argo.

Despite this final gripe, I would still recommend this film as a thoroughly entertaining and gripping piece of cinema.

 ***1/2

Promo Video for Get Out the Car @ Blue Mountain

Anna Karenina

It certainly takes guts to attempt to translate one thousand pages of nineteenth century Russian prose to the screen. Conveying Leo Tolstoy’s intricate set pieces and political discussions on screen is without a doubt an ominous task. However, it is after the months of screenplay formulation that the real obstacle presents itself: how can one transform this classic costume drama thematic landscape into something novel, especially when it has already been filmed three times? Indeed, it was not too long ago that we viewed Kiera Knightley incessantly gurn her way through similar troubles in Saul Dibb’s The Duchess

Joe Wright’s solution is to adopt the self-reflexive path. The drama of Anna Karenina all takes place within the decorated walls of an 1870 Russian Opera-house; a metaphorical set-piece designed to portray the theatrical and ritualistic nature of upper-class, Tsarist society. Having entered the cinema with no knowledge of such a feature I found myself initially confused and disorientated. Scenes change by the movement of painted backdrops, whilst diegetic movement is often reminiscent of music theatre dance routines. In this way, Wright subscribes to Nouvelle Vague, Godardian philosophy of foregrounding the cinematic device, constantly reminding the audience that  they are watching a film. However, where Godard effectively used this technique as a statement against the seductive, misleading entrapment of film, Wright primarily succeeds only in destroying any form of emotional or narrative involvement.  It is hard to become consumed by a cinematic landscape which is lucidly announcing its own artificiality. The metaphor is further confused by the setting of certain scenes in an actual theatre, meaning that you are sat in a film theatre, watching characters who are in a theatre, within a theatre. This is obfuscating rather than clever. Furthermore, this is a theme which does not possess continuity within the film. Present are scenes which seem to forget the self-reflexive philosophy and take place in real settings. This places the previously used technique in the realms of novelty. Either wholly commit to a concept or abandon it all together. 

Another obstacle to narrative involvement is that none of the central characters are sympathetic. Jude Law, Matthew McFayden and Domhnall Gleeson’s characters are all hopelessly wet, Aaron Taylor Johnson is a bona fide home-wrecker and Kiera Knightley…

Oh Kiera Knightley. I never understood the widespread hate towards her until I watched this film. Two hours, ten minutes of grimacing pain or extreme happiness conveyed through her jaw is too much for anyone to bear. To put it bluntly, she is profoundly annoying. You finds yourself begging that each new scene might thankfully bring her a swift death.

Such minor gripes aside, this is a film which features moments of spectacularly beautiful cinematography. The effervescent kaleidoscopes of the Russian dances and the nauseous kinetic energy of the horse races successfully, albeit momentarily, cover up the shortcomings of the film; a visual salvaging similarly seen in James Cameron’s Avatar. The design work is equally impeccable, instilling the film with a perpetual vibrancy.

Unfortunately, stunning images are not enough to prevent the fact that this is a rather confused, dull and uninvolving piece of cinema.

***

 

The not so Amazing Spiderman

When I first read of an attempted reboot of the dying Spiderman franchise I was supremely cynical.

Starting it all off again, with Peter Parker’s Uncle’s death, that fatal bite and the subsequent discovery of abilities (basically remaking an only ten years young feature) seems to be a rather vacuous, and ultimately cheeky, Hollywood money-making scheme.

But then Facebook statuses begun reeling in with such declarations as “actually, you know what…that new Spiderman film is pretty good! :)” etc

Never one to be dismissive in ignorance I thus embarked on a cinema visit; only to be profoundly disappointed.

It is immediately clear that Andrew Garfield is entirely suitable for the role. His perfect combination of the awkward and the attractive will elicit a drooling response from female Seth Cohen fans in a way Toby McGuire perhaps couldn’t.

The first act is also strong. Marc Webb draws his audience into the Spiderman world in a novel way; attempting to prove that this is not a mere revamp of a franchise but an entirely new beginning.

However, the trajectory of the film promptly descends into a quagmire of Hollywood convention. Bullied, skateboarding beta-male lusts over the dame of the classic High School bully to no avail. But of course, the dame (Emma Stone) secretly loaths the alpha’s chauvinistic, fascist tendencies and dreamily fauns over the underdog. These plot lines are accompanied by some of the most nauseating dialogue that has ever graced the surround sound, causing a cacophony of auditorium-wide cringing and laughter.

It is true that a blockbuster of this magnitude will inevitably fall victim of Hollywood stereotype. Nobody was expecting a Lynchian Spiderman. What’s more, there are of course Marvel narrative requisites that must be met. However, when ultimately remaking a movie already consumed by this generation of cinema-goers it is surely imported to inject a new ingredient (re.Christopher Nolan and The Dark Knight).

Admittedly, there are moments where Webb achieves this. Garfield’s clumsy and accidental brutalising of an entire train carriage’s inhabitants is one example of this. In addition, his unprofessional, somewhat sadistic humiliation of a criminal up against a brick wall certainly diverges from previously set arachnid path also. But these moments are disapointingly fleeting, promptly giving way to more Nostradamusly predictable plot-lines. If Ironman dishes out the casual and cool, The Dark Knight the visceral and ominous, what does The Amazing Spiderman have to offer? Webb seems to think the banal, the awkward and the comfortable.

Attempts to alter the superhero aesthetic to appeal to a wider, more cynical audience have personified contemporary superhero franchises, as evinced by such films as Ironman, Watchmen and Thor. These features have included a plethora of self-reflexive, ironic references to their super powers, anticipating audience ridicule like a bully victim rushes to announce his inadequacies before verbal attack. Webb attempts to subscribe to this formula through such alterations as rationalising spiderman’s web power through the use of technology, and explaining the creation of his mask through the hero’s coincidental crashing into a mexican wrestling ring. This is a philosophy which is only entertained half-heartedly however, requiring the audience to maintain a tremendous suspension of disbelief for the majority of the film’s events. Thus there is a tension between an attempted realism and fantastical science fiction which merely produces confusion.

The metaphor of pubescent discovery and growth which lies at the foundation of the film  is something which could have won the film back some of its lost points. Garfield’s primary discovery of powers is represented through a drug-like stupor which terrifies his responsible guardians. His identity as spiderman is announced at the same time that his feelings for Stone are, resulting in a spontaneous web-ejaculation as he moves in for the kiss. But this undertone is, like other facets of the film, pursued half-heartedly.

The arrival of the “baddy” is equally conducted half-heartedly. This inevitable arch-nemesis narrative spontaneously appears halfway through the second act. It is hysterically rushed and uninteresting, as a previously benevolent british scientist becomes a giant lizard who you couldn’t give less of a shit about. If you put Heath Ledger’s Joker and this lizard onto a weighing scale of cinematic power, the lizard would be catapulted into oblivion.

And how about the addition of 3D?

It is undeniable that The Amazing Spiderman is visually impressive. The densely-packed shots of Garfield swinging around Manhattan seen through the plastic adorning your nose yield a pleasantly nauseating, adrenaline-filled experience. The incorporation of video game-like POV’s enhance this, showing off all the power contemporary CGI has to offer. However, these segments feel more like a Thorpe Park ride; a collection of gimmicks which don’t flow congruously with the rest of the narrative.

If mindless entertainment is what you are after, then this film will fill your lazy orange wednesday perfectly. For fans of effective superhero films and for those seeking an exciting revolution of the spiderman franchise, this is a feature which can offer you nothing but disappointment.

Webb should perhaps concentrate on a (500) Days of Summer 2.

**1/2

Dark Shadows

     

Never have I seen a film go so violently downhill in the third act.

This is not to suggest that it was remarkably successful for the first two…just that it was entertaining. And made sense.

I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s go into reverse and discuss the film’s premise.

So here we have Tim Burton’s new film. Shock horror, it features Johnny Depp as its protagonist, along with Helena Bonham Carter in residence, showing another Godardian spousal favour by Burton. The feature thus has all the trademarks of a film agency’s wet-dream package; a guaranteed star system, genre selling-point which will cause avid fans to have no interest in any pre-research into trailer or plot.

For those who care, Dark Shadows portrays Johnny Depp as a Byronic dashing gentleman who engages in an illicit love affair with a witch, and then breaks her heart for another. Logically, he must thus be condemned to be a vampire, locked in a coffin six feet under until he wakes up in the 1970s. You can just hear the producer pitching it in the boardroom:

"Okay guys, okay guys get this: Vampire…1970s. Vampire…1970s.  WHAT’S GONNA HAPPEN!?"

The film starts strong, in true Burtonesque gothic manner, portraying a camp, deliberately cliched overview of his horrific, vampyric condemnation. Lovers of Burton will not help but swoon with nostalgia. The cinematography is stunning, reflecting a true auteur style which paints the pleasant nausea of another world. Here the design work is integral, where crimson clashes with the midnight blue of the skies and the porcelain of vampyric flesh. The dreams of Bram Stoker, Matthew Lewis and Ann Radcliffe are fully realised on the silver screen.

However, beyond these aesthetics it becomes clear that the feature is inherently hollow. Dark Shadows inevitably adopts hollywood genre tropes, engaging its audience as such devices did in the 1930s. However, this reliance on such dramatic devices has seemingly caused the screenwriters to forget to lay the fundamental foundations beneath them. There is practically no character development. No sympathy. It is assumed that the audience will know that there must be a love between Depp and the new woman on the scene but it is never shown, and thus there is zero emotional charge to the denouement of their supposed relationship. 

What’s more, the times that Burton boldly goes against the hollywood norm are jarring at best. Building Depp up as a loveable, almost cute character, and then having him give into witchy sexual seduction and then brutally massacre a group of hippies is just confusing rather than exciting. 

As first stated, the ending of the film is horrendous. Burton has a self-aggrandising wank onto the screen, throwing all sense and restraint away. Random things are exploding, spontaneous were-wolfs are in attendance: simply put, Burton engages in an epic self-homage. 

The most offensive part for me is that Chloe Moretz puts forward her weakest performance to date, erasing the splendour of her 500 Days of Summer and KickAss appearances. It is as if the extent of Burton’s dramatic direction was “Okay you’re a moody adolescent. Now times that by ten to the point of the ridiculous”.

Pervese hopes of her getting more attractive (and simultaneously more legal) with age lie burned on the floor now.

**

The Dictator

                      

This is a feature which, I’m sure, has not evaded your attention. With its ubiquitous posters and the ever controversial Sacha Baron Cohen’s red carpet Kim Jong Il stunt, it certainly hasn’t been released under the radar. 

The Dictator is Cohen’s first character not to be sourced from his original TV series, causing its potential audience to be making more of a leap of faith when purchasing the ticket.  However, a well edited trailer with particularly strong gags seems to promise a lot. However, as with many other comedies, theses gags are the strongest in the entire feature.

This is not to say that this isn’t a funny film. There are golden moments of hilarity lightly sprinkled throughout, reminding you why you first loved Ali G and pals. However, in and amongst these reminders are a density of jokes which brick horribly. It is clear that with each film, Cohen moves further away from his British televisual roots and closer to Hollywood. A lucid sign of this is the distinct lack of “reality” interaction which forms the foundation of Cohen’s humour. Moments like Borat confronting the nationalist crowd at the rodeo (despite arguments as to its veracity) were what caused audiences to cringe with delight. 

From the gladiatorial ring to X Factor, people like seeing people in uncomfortable situations.

And The Dictator does not give us that sick pleasure.

It does offer a plethora of other sick pleasures, like the sight of Cohen milking a woman or having the first romantic holding of hands within the womb of a pregnant woman (seen from within the vagina). As these set pieces suggest, Cohen has certainly upped the level of offense; some might say a little too much. I have personally always been attracted to Cohen’s humour due to its flagrant disregard for the politically correct, but there are moments in The Dictator where you wonder whether the entire crux of the joke is its controversiality rather than any true comical worth (Cf joking about 9/11 whilst flying over New York).

Whilst on the subject of the controversial, I was shocked to see a caustic attack on the US at the zenith of the film. The Dictator lists all the benefits the US would experience if they abandoned their democracy and embraced a full on dictatorship. However, Aladeen ironically reels off a bullet-pointed list which already characterises the country. This is a reminder that beyond Israel and dick jokes, Cohen’s works do contain their own political agendas. I am curious as to how this particular segment will go down in certain parts of America.

Fundamentally, Cohen’s humour is polarising. There are many who will passionately hate this film, as they have his previous creations. They will know not to buy a ticket. 
For those who are fans, they will thoroughly enjoy The Dictator but leave the cinema with a discernable feeling of disappointment.

This may be that he has previously set the bar too high. If this were a debut film from a new director, I am sure I would be hugely impressed.

But it’s not:

*** 

The Special Relationship between American Reunion and The Wrath of the Titans

               

Today I will be discussing these two features I decided to go and see recently for some reason. GCSE History taught me to not separate, but to group into themes the content of your thesis. I cannot find any specific thematic relationship between the two apart from they both are terrible.

So American Pie. The jewel in the pubescent crown of the 90s generation; exposing the adolescents to their first encounter with sex, booze and pop punk. Oh you wanna release a sequel? Yeah, for sure, the first one was pretty funny; oh and you’ve got that Blink 182 tune playing during the credits to ensure perfect zeitgeist? Oh but you want to release a third one? And now a fourth? The fundamental issue here is that the franchise is entertaining but it has not elicited the sort of profound emotional relationship the screenplay of American Reunion relies on. From start to finish this film simply references jokes from the original movie hoping the viewer will turn lovingly to their viewing companion (with a slight rose colouring their cheeks) saying “oh gosh, that reminds me of the first film! What incredible times I spent watching that classic film! I’m going to laugh about that now”. It makes the same fatal error that The Hangover 2 was always going to and did make. The final flaw to American Reunion is that the entire appeal of the original features is to show the antics of the young. A narrative which portrays mid-life crisis and the loss of youth is thus, kind of, exactly not what people want to experience when seeing a film of this ilk. The last line of the film makes me shudder:

"Until next time!"

American Pie: Retirement Home?

And so we come to The Wrath of the Titans. You may wonder why I decided to see this film. It was largely out of sheer curiosity as to how the producers had possibly got the funding to create a sequel to the atrocity that was The Clash of the Titans. Is this a popular franchise? Was the sequel going to blow the original out the water? As I sat squinting in my dashing Real3D glasses at Sam Worthington desperately battling what appeared to be an 8 foot cock, I knew my answer. I realised that The Wrath of the Titans was more of a theme park ride than a feature film; like Pirate 4D at Thorpe Park. If you are content with snakes, chimera’s cyclops reaching out and jizzing in your face for two hours, then this is perfect. The only problem is that in between these involuntary bukakes either nothing happens or the audience is served the most expositionary, spark-notesesque dialogue which hysterically attempts to explain all of Homeric verse before the next ejaculation. The acting is, in addition, stilted and void of emotion. Just to add insult to injury there’s a poor man’s Russell Brand side character who ensures total irritation for all throughout.

So there’s the special relationship between the two; I urge you all to steer clear.