Set in England 1921, The Awakening has as its backdrop the terrible aftermath of World War I and the Spanish Flu epidemic that killed over a million people in Britain alone. The shell-shocked country is now swamped with fake clairvoyants and phoney seances, each playing to the desperate survivors’ guilt of those left behind. Into this mix comes Florence Cathcart (the lovely Rebecca Hall), an educated women, herself bereaved in the war, who’s an outspoken antispiritualist and general debunker of hoaxes. Florence is invited to visit a gothicky boy’s prep school, where ghosts are wandering the halls, and a child has apparently died of fright. Florence decides to take the case so the kids won’t have to live in fear, but as she continues to investigate the house, she begins to see that her reliance on science may not be enough to explain the strange phenomenon……..
Oh yes. On paper it must’ve seemed like a good idea. The sepia-toned cinematography is first class, the sound-track is creepy, and the leads – Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton – are great. But it falls flat on the script which just isn’t scary. Sorry. You can tell it’s weak because it’s ambiguous at the end: Does she die? Is she herself a ghost? I found myself not much caring.
I happened to see Educating Rita on television last night. Made in 1983, it’s a completely brilliant, uncomfortable, hilarious movie that punctures the British class system – from all angles – with unrestrained glee. It proved an interesting prequel to 2011′s The Intouchables, which I saw on dvd later the same evening.
Both movies cover similar tales, with similar themes, handled in largely similar ways; a wealthy but afflicted upper-class type receives life lessons and ultimately absolution, through an unlikely friendship with a salt-of-the-earth, force-of-nature, working class hero. Think Driving Miss Daisy or Will Smith’s hokey sidekick in The Legend of Bagger Vance.
Now don’t get me wrong; my heart absolutely loved The Intouchables – it’s hugely good natured, entertaining, laugh-out-loud funny, and I think well-meaning. Francois Cluzet, who has to act only with his head and face, is brilliant, and Omar Sy as the hired help is utterly winning. But in spite of this, my head still reeled somewhat from the more patronising Rita-esque comedy of class (let alone race, which caused the bigger consternation State-side.) The Intouchables filmed in Paris.
They say nature abhors a vacuum. And in the immediate aftermath of The Avengers and the shocking alien attack on New York (yes, shark, jumping, etc. etc…..and amazingly no-one in this movie even vaguely thinks this is strange) RDJ’s Tony Stark is having a bit of a meltdown. He’s obsessed with his suits, he’s ignoring his girlfriend and he’s having panic attacks at the milkbar. And into this vacuum slips the ferocious, scary and utterly deadly Mandarin, a world-class villain who’s missing a world class hero. Factor in some genetic meddling, a dodgy politician or two, a mad scientist, some human bombs, a former love interest and a smart kid, and you’ve got the makings of a pretty entertaining movie.
Did I like it? Yes, enough. The supporting cast – Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, Gwynnie Paltrow – were fantastic. Pacing, cinematography, big explosions, great! But I really just couldn’t ever get past Robert Downey Junior hamming it up like Nick Cage on crack. I found myself repeatedly unable to suspend disbelief while he was showing off just how clever and funny and entertaining he is. Entirely spoiled the whole movie for me.
A couple of other things about the film. 1. It filmed in North Carolina, courtesy of the NC State Incentives. The impact of this one film on the local economy is outrageous – $179.8 million in direct spending with 719 vendors in 84 communities across the state – $104.1 million spent directly on 2,043 jobs for North Carolinians. 2.) Separate Chinese scenes were filmed for the growing Chinese audience (one of the Chinese characters heals Tony Stark with acupuncture!). More here.
Liked Oblivion. Didn’t love it. It’s stylistically extremely appealing – the machines are fantastic – and the Icelandic locations are jaw-dropping.
Overall though, it just reeks of Tom Cruise’s overwhelming ego. He plays himself, basically – the inscrutable leather-jacket-and-raybans-wearing, motor-bike riding loner without an identity, without a past – a character we’ve seen him do again and again and again. Here he’s part of a two-person clean-up crew stationed on Earth. His partner is a creepy redhead woman he doesn’t love (hi Nicole!) and their joint role is to mop up after a thwarted alien invasion that’s resulted in full-scape evacuation to the moon Titan, fending off the last surviving Scavs and repairing fighting drones in the process. Throw in some Mad Maxy humanoids, a bit on cloning, some Super Intelligence, Morgan Freeman being Morgan Freeman, and a love story with a mysterious woman emerging out of hyper sleep, and you’ve got a miss-mash; it couldn’t really make up its mind whether it was a thriller, a psychological drama, an idyllic romance or some robust outdoor adventure. So, as I said, I liked it, just didn’t love it.
When The Impossible was released, there was a lot of liberal tooth-gnashing about the Eurocentricity of a movie about a cataclysmic event that affected Asian people in far, far greater numbers than the wealthy white folks on which it focuses. The argument, such as it is, is that the glossy Anglo family – stoutly played by Naomi Watts and Ewan MacGregor – are front and centre of the drama, whereas the Thai villagers of this story are relegated to silent, resolute, waif-like observers.
Well, you know what? To an extent that’s true. But the fact is, the film is based on a book, and the book is about the personal experiences of a Spanish family – and to suggest that they may not tell their own harrowing tale of survival because it is somehow not PC enough is just, frankly, bullshit. Please, please feel free, at any time to step up and make your own movie of the events – if you can make it pay. By all means criticise it if it’s a bad film. (It isn’t – it’s like a horror movie in reverse, the aftermath of the tsunami itself is horrifying, the separation of families is mortifying, and the sheer struggle for survival is overwhelming.) But please don’t censor filmmakers because their “angle” is not your angle. For what it’s worth, I came away with immense, immeasurable respect for the generous, kind Thais, who clearly managed to pull it together under inconceivably and unbearably difficult circumstances.
The Impossible filmed in a water tank in Alicante, Spain; the tsunami was recreated with a mixture of digital effects and real water surges using miniatures. Of course, it also filmed in Thailand.
What to expect from a Director who brought us Rain Man or Good Morning Vietnam? Certainly not the schlock horror The Bay. The premise is this: shit from a chicken plant turns water deadly and a small town is wiped out. It’s told with found footage, which is such, such a terrible cop out from someone who was once, clearly, quite able to direct scripted drama. Even the thrills and yucks are so so. Frankly, I wouldn’t bother.
PS. Set in Maryland, it filmed in Georgetown, South Carolina.
A couple of years back, we spent a fantastic couple of weeks in Madrid. For that reason, I thoroughly enjoyed the photogenic roll out of familiar, beloved Madrileno locations in The Cold Light of Day……Unfortunately that was the ONLY reason. Not even Henry Cavill – Henry Freakin Cavill – can save this perplexing, frustrating and laughably unengaging clusterfuck.
Honestly, here’s the level of emotional conviction on display; during the movie, (Spoilers ahead) the future Man of Steel learns three fairly momentous things about his old Dad; 1) that he’s actually a spy working for a secret division of the CIA, 2) he’s sold state secrets to terrorists and 3) he’s also betrayed his family and had an entire child out of wedlock. In spite of these tumultuous, life-shattering revelations, Henry reacts NOT AT ALL. Not at all. It’s total rubbish really, and car chases, and relentless villains, and basement trade-offs and precious briefcases (whose contents are NEVER revealed) are nothing you haven’t seen before in better, faster, funner movies. Plaza Major may look fantastic, but that, sadly, is not enough.
Behind all the faux outrage over pro-Obama release dates and pro-torture insinuations and the unattributed use of already-broadcast 911 calls, the long-suffering producers of Zero Dark Thirty also had a little location problem along the way. Filming India for Pakistan (Pakistan being obviously un-film-friendly towards a movie that presents it as a treacherous, violent and closed-minded), the Indian locals nevertheless protested because the set was dressed with Pakistani signage and flags, and the on set talent was wearing Pakistani costumes. Kathryn Bigelow must wonder why the hell she bothers sometimes.
But luckily for us, she does both, because Zero Dark Thirty is an engrossing film. I couldn’t tell you whether it’s accurate or not, but I enjoyed the adoption of the actual chronology of history to the fictional storytelling. (As Roger Ebert says: “My guess is that much of the fascination with this film is inspired by the unveiling of facts, unclearly seen.”) Jessica Chastain is a tour-de-force though. She’s phenomenal.
Although Cloud Atlas polarised the critics, I’m going to say simply that I thought it an astonishing, moving and utterly unforgettable film. I watched it twice, in somewhat quick succession, and the second viewing was even better than the first. Don’t get me wrong, the six interweaving tales of how reincarnated souls move through the centuries and find redemption is not necessarily an easy watch – you have to pay pretty close attention to what’s going on, the tonal shifts between the episodes can be jarring, and the racial, tribal and gender-hopping is somewhat off-putting. But it somehow rises above the limitations of its assorted chaotic parts to become one of the most memorable film experiences that I can remember.
Remember the perplexing Colombiana and my incredulity at the preposterousness of “murder by shark”? Well, Shark Night is much much worse. It’s like Deliverancemeets Scream meets Deep Blue Sea, with hicks setting sharks on co-eds. Oh. Did I just give away the entire plot? Don’t worry, you’ll thank me later.
Shark Night filmed in Louisiana, quite obviously for the financial incentives. Because otherwise the holiday playground is all dirty sand and murky water (I kept expecting the water/jet-skiers to hit submerged logs) and it doesn’t look anything like the kind of place you’d want to hang out – even without the sharks. Sara Paxton, we need to talk.