Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Recently I have seen Children of Men, which I found to be fairly overrated. Good action sequences, admittedly, and decent enough performances, but overall this is not a particularly convincing or especially suspenseful film, and not in the least bit moving. Of course it made critics' ten best lists for 2006, along with all the other mediocre or plain lousy movies that these moron critics rate nowadays. But for a sci-fi classic, it's a poor show. Even Clive Owen and Michael Caine as a hippy can't save it from pedestrianism.

The one deserved "film of the year" contender was Pan's Labyrinth, an astonishingly well-crafted blend of adult realism and children's fantasy, beautifully shot and acted, both moving and quite disturbing, even shocking at times. After Stranger Than Fiction (more on which later) this was probably the film of the year, though I don't know who really keeps score besides morons. Certainly the best fantasy film since Mirrormask, and every bit as original.

The Prestige I was pleasantly surprised by, having read almost unanimously luke warm reviews. Admittedly it's a little slick and soulless, and not really that convincing, but it's entertaining stuff, and a partial return to form (or rather, substance) for director Chris Nolan after the disappointing Batman Begins. Of course, critics hailed that slop as a masterpiece, so Nolan won't have a clue, will he?

I also saw Nolan's first film, Following, which is unbelievably bad, tho not entirely uninteresting. Terrible acting renders an otherwise intriguing storyline ridiculous in the extreme. No indication of a major talent on the rise, so don't waste your time with this one.

The Illusionist is similar to The Prestige but much classier all round, terrific performances from Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell (whom by the way I ran into once in the west end, friendly guy) and some very nice direction by Neil Burger. This is also based on a novel and concerns a stage magician's battle with royalty. Unlike The Prestige, which never really rises above the level of a good yarn, this has some impressive visuals and a pleasingly restrained air about it, as well as a hugely entertaining (tho slightly implausible) finale.

A Scanner Darkly was a pleasant surprise; having seen the first twenty minutes last year I thought it looked fairly shoddy, but it is actually a partially successful exploration of true Dickian terrain, with some terrific little scenes between Reeves, Harrelson and Downey Jr. (as well as a pleasing return to the screen from Winona Ryder), and a few moments of genuine poignancy. Overall probably the best Dick adaptation since Blade Runner.

Hard Candy is pretty lame, nothing much of interest here, give it a miss.

Last and definitely least, I saw Little Miss Sunsine and boy, what a stinker it is. I am completely baffled and bewildered why so many people (never mind critics, we already know they are a bunch of morons) loved this shabby, sleazy little movie so much. It has absolutely nothing to recommend it except Pete Carrell and a few forced chuckles from Alan Arkin as ornery grand-dad. The whole thing is actually kind of queasy, probably the most overrated and misguided indie comedy since the truly revolting Garden State. This is the film of the year? I tell you, you people are insane!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Casino Royale: A Brief Rave

Saw the new Bond film last night, not expecting a great deal. I was pleasantly impressed. Amazed even. Easily (easily) the best Bond movie since From Russia with Love; frankly, it is the best Bond movie ever. The reason is that it is the first of the films that manages to be even faintly realistic, that is character as much as plot driven. The plot in fact is nothing special, but the handling of the scenes is refreshingly raw and gritty (not quite Bourne Identity, but close enough); for the first time ever, James Bond seems like a real personality and not just a fantasy figure, capable of suffering and other human emotions. Special praises go to Craig, who is a revelation. Eva Green doesn't do badly either: tho she weirdly fluctuates between divinely pretty and almost mannish (she looks way better without make-up), Green is extremely affecting as the first flesh and blood Bond girl. What really distinguishes this movie from other Bonds, however, is the touch of a real writer - Paul Haggis, whose hand is evident throughout the proceedings. There is actually something going on beneath the scenes now, psychological undercurrents, character dynamics, tensions; at least half the time, this is not just a good Bond movie: it's a good movie. I didn't even notice that the Bond theme wasn't being used until moments before the end when it finally appears - I had almost forgotten I was watching a Bond movie at all (yes, that's a compliment). These last few moments, after all that has gone before, made me very nearly euphoric. Never mind the fact that they celebrate Bond's acceptance of his fundamental soullessness and embracing his dubious destiny as a cold-blooded killer fantasy hero! This is cracking entertainment and final, unexpected proof that there is life in the old dodo yet.