Friday, July 27, 2007

Poster Time!

Yes, it's poster time. Here are some fantastic new posters that have appeared recently.

First up, it's the poster for Tim Burton's big musical extravaganza, Sweeney Todd. I love the lighting effects here, gives it the right edge of creepiness.

The poster for the remake of 3:10 to Yuma (which I discussed many moons ago) is also quite something. It's a little too busy, but when there's one of those old steam trains with a cattleguard, you've got me. (The lowliness of Vinessa Shaw's name- see my previous discussion- is worrisome, though.)

And, finally, I'm going to end a second post in a row with something pertaining to J.J. Abrams' mysterious "Cloverfield" project: it's a poster, with only the date on it. According to Empire Movies, Cloverfield is the name of a street in L.A. where Abrams has an office... shame, I quite liked it as a title. "Cloverfield" is also, apparently, a monster movie, but said monster is NOT a parasite or a giant Japanese robot (who thought that it was?). But anyway. An intriguing, stylish poster, methinks.

(Click on all the posters for bigger versions. Oh, and Running with Scissors? Really good. I just don't understand why everyone hates it so much.)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Mired Six Feet In Adoration

That's it. It's official. Six Feet Under is the greatest tv show ever. I suppose I should say "that I've ever watched", but, really, it'll take something pretty spectacular to connect with me as much as this show has. Despite my anxious twitterings that the final scene- which is probably the greatest ten minutes I've ever experienced, of anything in any way- wouldn't stand up on a second viewing, but, almost blissfully, I was absolutely wracked with sobs. I've never cried at anything as much as I do at that scene. I'm not a big crier- I often get teary-eyed, but it takes something big to actually make those tears fall- and yet there I was, hugging my knees, tears streaming down my face and experiencing actual physical pain. And I wasn't even sad, because that it is not what it does. It gives hope, it gives release, it gives life. It sounds absurd, but that is what Six Feet Under does to me.

Oh, sure, I'm going to watch The Sopranos and The Wire and Deadwood and whatever else is hosanna'ed as the greatest tv show ever, but I don't think- and I don't think I want to think- that those shows will come to mean as much to me. Six Feet Under caught me at a time in my life where it could become a part of me- what I have learnt through it, what I have discovered about myself, and what art- for it is art- can really do. It is beautiful. I love it, I miss it, but it is one of the few perfect things that exist.

Hyperbolic much? I am deadly serious. If you haven't watched it, go right now and don't come back until you have.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Yates, 2007)

Spoilers ahead.

Perhaps it was inevitable what with the new book and all- Pottermania infesting my brain- but to these eyes, this latest screen adaptation of J.K. Rowling's big-selling series was easily the best yet. My deranged brain naturally acredits this astonishing realization- after all, Order of the Phoenix was the longest book, and this is the shortest film so far- to the change in screenwriter: regular Potter hack scribe Steven Kloves has taken a film off and into his place stepped Michael Goldenberg, who, unlike Kloves, pulls off the paring-down of plot superbly- sure, there are things missing, but I couldn't think of anything major that had been lost (besides a few egregious errors late on, but we'll get to that later) and I was happy to see very little of Kloves' trick of ending scenes as though he'd left his computer in the middle of a scene and simply abandoned it for the next one on his return.

Goldenberg, however, isn't the only newcomer onboard, and, indeed, it seems to be the raft of new faces, both on and off screen, that make Order of the Phoenix so surprisingly strong. Surprise choice for director was David Yates, a tv director thus far most notable for crime series State of Play, the notorious C4 drama Sex Traffic, and political romance The Girl in the Cafe. On that basis, the choice of Yates (now signed up for Potter 6, The Half-Blood Prince, due at the end of 2008) seems strange for a blockbuster series about a wizard, but, perhaps more than ever this time around, J.K. Rowling's work proves itself deeper and more globally in-tune than onlookers might think. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), having witnessed the return of nemesis Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) at the end of the last film, is plagued both day and night- his dreams are a fragmented mess, torturous remembrances of the death of Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) and mysterious pictures of the Ministry of Magic leading him somewhere dangerous; and, harassed by his cousin's gang of yobs, the relatives are attacked by Dementors, leading to Harry needing to save the day by use of magic and leading to him being sent to trial before the Minister (Robert Hardy) himself.

The Ministry is where the stellar work of production designer Stuart Craig comes into full, walloping force. Situated beneath the "Muggle" London, the entrance is a familiar circular tunnel (that'll be why the underground was closed off, then), the central space lorded over by intimidating gold statues, and an enormous, Hitler-ish banner of the Minister from ceiling to floor. The Ministry is not, as any citizen would wish, a pleasant place to be: instead, it's an all-too-fitting shining black, eerily accented by white edges, making the walls gleam disturbingly. The Ministry, see, doesn't believe Harry's story, refusing Hogwarts' headmaster Albus Dumbledore's (Michael Gambon) pleas to act. Dumbledore's trickery gets Harry cleared, but, not only will Dumbledore not listen to Harry's questions, Hogwarts is subject to a new teacher: Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), Ministry official, takes that ever-open post of Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, and slowly takes over the school.

Order of the Phoenix is aloft with political currents, from Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione's (Emma Watson) secret rebellion in the form of secret student organization Dumbledore's Army, to the alarming sight of Voldemort in a slick corporate suit (no mere robes for him). I don't mean to credit the film with aspirations it does not have- this is, after all, entertainment- but Yates and Goldenberg cleverly adapt Rowling's work into a tight, witty blockbuster, not overselling the ideas or trying to expell them. And, will wonders never cease, but finally we seem to have a harmonious union between magic and modern teen culture- never is magic hammered into our heads, as Chris Columbus felt the need to do, but neither do the students constantly run around in their own clothes. This is Hogwarts as I imagined it, a meeting place between old-fashioned private school and the influx of modern existance.

The film, as I've yet to mention, is sadly not perfect: it takes a while to get going, rather too flashly in the opening Dementor sequence and too speedy as it moves to Grimmaud Place (Order headquarters, a dirty and dark terrace that's nevertheless cosy, and, again superbly imagined by Stuart Craig- give the man an Oscar, says I) and barely pauses to introduce Kingsley Shacklebolt (George Harris), Tonks (Natalia Tena, sparkling) and the rest of the Order. There are also a few too many missteps in the explosive final act: getting straight to the heart of the prophecy-hunt I can forgive, but, not only is "the veil" not explained, the fatal mistake occurs in the death: not yet has it actually been confirmed that Sirius (Gary Oldman) actually died, given the mysterious circumstances of his "death", but Goldenberg makes it all too explicit. I can only hope they consulted J.K. there, though given the newsbite on the near-exclusion of Kreacher, I do not hope in vain.

But back to the positives. The ever-expanding cast is good as ever, from the awe-inducing elders- Maggie Smith and Emma Thompson are superb in their brief dalliance with the Umbridge-plot, Jason Isaacs is the picture of silky sleaze as Lucius Malfoy, Gary Oldman is warm and protective as Sirius, and Alan Rickman is a delight as he reels off his lines with a kind of bemused weariness- to the improved youngsters- Rupert Grint is solid background, Emma Watson settles in nicely after a worrying first scene, Bonnie Wright (as Ginny) gears up well for her big part next film, and Daniel Radcliffe proves disarmingly adept at portraying Harry's angry angst, although he's most impressive when taking passionate charge of his new "army".

But, as you knew we'd come back to, it's the newcomers that truly delight. Helena Bonham Carter is perhaps the most spot-on casting yet as the unhinged Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange, Tim Burton's influence in full wild flourish as she mercilessly taunts and attacks our heros, laughing with frightening mania. Meanwhile, Imelda Staunton plays a distinctly different but perhaps even scarier type of villain, a terrier dressed in a fuschia sweater and angelically interrupting Dumbledore with a delightful fake cough. She potters around the school with a deadly smile, a poisonous vindictiveness behind her meowing decorative dishes. She'd most likely waltz off with the entire film if it weren't for our freshest new face. I always loved Luna Lovegood in the books, and feared for her appearance on-screen, but never fear: Evanna Lynch is superb, capturing all Luna's eery weirdness and mysterious, lulling voice, ably managing to put across the undercurrent of untortured tragedy within Luna, and it's a pleasure to see just how much she's actually allowed on-screen.

So, in the end, what is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix? It's not as good as the book; but then, were you really expecting it to be? It's the best of the summer blockbusters thus far; so go and see it. It's the best of the Harry Potter series so far; it's probably back down from here. It's better than I thought it would be; so that's good, isn't it?

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Performance That Changed My Life

This is for Emma's blog-a-thon, if you didn't know, and you should get on over there and read all the other posts, after you've read this one.

I thought long and hard about who to write about here, the major problem being that I couldn't think of anyone- sure, there are a ton of performances that I love, but could I really honestly say that any of them changed me? (I take things very seriously as you see.) I didn't think I could. Until my brain finally looped round to a performance that it always went to, a seminal moment in my film-watching canon. It's a distinctly unconventional and even obscure choice, but be sure it's one that surprised even me in the way it affected me and stuck in my head. And here it is...

Jodhi May as Alice Munro
The Last of the Mohicans (Michael Mann, 1992)

Let's get one thing clear first. I don't like The Last of the Mohicans. I think it's boring and long and visually dull (although that may be the video copy we own, for some unknown reason). And, for most of the film, I barely even noticed that Alice Munro even existed, sidelined as she is as the sister of lead character Hawkeye's (Daniel Day-Lewis) love interest Cora (Madeleine Stowe). Various native American parties are assisting on either side of the colonial French-British battle in colonial America (why, I'm not sure), and Hawkeye is an independant man reared as a Mohawk who ends up, with two friends, guiding these sisters through various difficult and dangerous situations (including one sequence involving a canoe chase which is about the only excitement I got out of the vast part of the film). Naturally, Hawkeye falls for Cora, but what interests us here is what's going on in the background.

This is never exactly made clear, and it took reading after seeing the film to clear up what had actually been going on. As the film nears the end, the group progresses up a precarious waterfall, one of Hawkeye's friends, Uncas (Eric Schweig) is killed by the men tracking them, and he falls off the edge of the waterfall. Suddenly, surprisingly, Alice gives a look to her sister and jumps off after him.

Basic description does not do this moment justice. Perhaps what I'm going to say is hyperbolic, but it is also the truth. Have you ever experienced a moment you can't explain, where something affects you in a way you never expected, in a way it will probably never affect someone else, in a way it may not ever affect you yourself again? This is what happened to me here. The look that Jodhi May gave to the camera in that tiny second of film startled me, made my heart stop, made me weep- and I didn't understand why. There had been no build up, no groundwork- it was simply a sudden, unexpected moment. It was overwhelming in its despair, its sorrow, its harrowing hopelessness. I've never had a moment like it since. I've never watched the film again for fear that I would lose the remnants of the feeling. I doubt that you, if you watched it, would feel the same, for I can only feel that it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. It is MY moment. Is there anyone else in the world who felt so strongly, from feeling so disinterested, in that piece of film? I doubt it, and, more importantly, I hope not.

Jodhi May's performance changed my life because it made me realize that performances don't always need deep groundwork to function, that someone can swoop in for barely a second and be as affecting as three hours of a performance. Jodhi May's performance is emotion in a captured frame, and, in a rare moment of foresight for me, I captured it in a photo. (From my tv, isn't it good!) (Oh, and search google for "Jodhi May Mohicans" and this image, my image, is the first to come up, on my Rotten Tomatoes page. Wicked.)

The link, here, behind the image, by the way, is to a youtube clip that includes the moment, which I haven't watched but managed to check for it's veracity. Watch it. I don't expect you to feel the same, and perhaps you won't have a clue what I'm talking about. But this moment is one that I can honestly say changed me: changed the way I look at film, change the way I understand it, change the way I see emotions. It is one of the few moments of my life that I can't understand, can't explain, can't put down to any earthly description.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Things I Learned Watching Enduring Pirates 3

There are spoilers in this, I suppose.

- It's not okay to start a family film with a prolonged public hanging just because you suddenly turn it into a musical number.

- Stay away from Naomie Harris, she gives people crabs. Like, big time.

- Tom Hollander likes to drink tea. Lots of tea. (Two sugars.)

- Keira Knightley doesn't have the army-leading shouting skills of Mel Gibson. But she is thankfully much nicer to look at, so that's okay.

- Davy Jones' locker is in fact an extremely clean, white and rather lovely expanse of a large sound stage next to a beach.

- I totally want a bandana.

- A simple truth: the more Johnny Depps on-screen, the more annoying he becomes.

- Geoffrey Rush really should entrust special false eyes to someone who won't frequently lose them to a monkey.

- Tom Hollander will forever be typecast as an absolute bastard, because all you can think when watching him as that someone needs to punch him in the face.

- Pirates are not to be trusted. Ever. Even if they're not really pirates.

- If you are small / female / goofy-looking / foreign / animal, Gore Verbinski will exploit this as much as he can.

- When it's cold, no one sees fit to go inside. Are they all idiots? Wait, don't answer that.

- The pirate fortress looks uncannily like a Christmas tree.

- Monkeys are better actors than Orlando Bloom.

- Tom Hollander has devilishly good skills at dramatic demises.

- Orlando Bloom was so pissed at Keira for getting a bigger part than him that he evilly leaves her on a desert island with his heart in a box. The bastard.

- It would so have worked between Elizabeth and Jack.

- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is extremely boring and I give it a D+. This was in fact learned just after I watched it, but it still counts.