Thursday, 31 March 2011

Thanks, Kari...

My girlfriend. She loves me. ¬_¬

Though it's nice she had one day without nightmares or bald guys stalking kids. Nice for the audience I mean, because we don't have to hear her florid drivel about her nightmares, or bald guys stalking kids.

(Love you too! :P )

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Four Lions

Chris Morris has never been one to avoid controversy if he can help it. His superlative Brass Eye series was a deft and stunningly unrestrained satire of sensationalist news media, replete with the "Paedogeddon" special (Featuring a before-he-was-famous Simon Pegg, and co-written by a before-he-was-famous Charlie Brooker, funnily enough) which famously was described by one tabloid as "sick" while, on the page opposite, they cooed over a 15-year old Charlotte Church's breasts. Here again, he takes a hilarious look at an issue a lot of people find very serious; terrorism.

Following a small, northern England-based terrorist cell, Four Lions explores their incessant bungling in the leadup to their planned terrorist attack. The cell themselves are an insular group of idiots and psychotics, far removed from mainstream Islam, including the clearly-trying-too-hard British convert Barry, the idiotic Waz and the overly impressionable Hassan. Leader Omar, played by Riz Ahmed, is the closes thing to the only sane man, but even he is a dimwit who is willing to die for...what exactly? He is shown in his interactions with his far more devout brother to not take scripture seriously, or even understand it. He claims to be railing against western imperialism, but embraces western living and popular culture over his native lifestyle time and time again (The characters repeatedly compare themselves to Rambo and prefer Toploader's Dancing In The Moonlight to Muslim music.) These are not fundamentalists; these are impressionable idiots looking for a cause. Ultimately, this seems to be the message at the centre of Four Lions; that anyone who'd kill people in the name of a religion that largely espouses peace is an ignorant moron.

Of course, in spite of all the statement of it all, it's easy to forget when looking back that this was also the funniest comedy anyone made last year. Early on, especially, there was rarely a scene I wasn't doubled over with laughter. The script, courtesy of Morris and the writing team of Peep Show, is pitch-perfect, and all the actors in the comedic roles make every line work beautifully. However, what's most impressive is the two sides to the tale; the characters who aren't there for comedy but for drama never feel like dead weight, instead providing their own side to the story, and when the comedy does die away to give way for the drama, it's very effective.

So, if you want a side-splitting comedy and a thoughtful meditation on're officially in a weird mood, but either way, this film is both of these things and more. Utterly hilarious, very thought-provoking, and well worth watching.

PS. Of course, something of note is that in the UK, this film wasn't that controversial. Fun little values dissonance fact to any Americans reading; the British don't care that much about terrorism. We had our first major blow against us a long time ago, so we're used to the idea that we're not invincible. That's why we could make this happen. Have fun following this act.

Personal post: Kari's blog

Hey all, just to say, Kari's got a blog up ahead of her internship at the local primary school.The post up now's just about her continuing ill health and a weird nightmare she had, but apparently she's going to post about her time at Motcombe, because, well, who uses a private diary these days?

Movie review this evening. I can tell you're drooling in anticipation.

Saturday, 26 March 2011


Brick, director Rian Johnson's 2005 debut, is one of those great gems hidden amongst the independent film stockpile. Filmed on a budget of $475,000, this wonderfully crafted neo-noir takes the tropes of Dashiell Hammett and transplants them into a Californian high school.

Jospeh Gordon Levitt (post-3rd Rock From The Sun, pre-(500) Days Of Summer) takes the lead as Brendan Frye, the school loner turned amateur sleuth, trying to bust a local drug ring and avenge a murdered friend, and this role was really where the Nolan-endearing star quality Levitt showed off in Inception and (500) Days of Summer really begins to shine. As the lead, he radiates cool as the character who knows how to play all the angles and how not to get played himself, but also explores vulnerability in his performance (emotionally and literally - note how the various injuries he takes stack up throughout the film). His, however, is just one of many great acting jobs in this film - Lucas Haas as drug lord The Pin, Nora Zehenter (who I did NOT recognize from Heroes!) as sexy femme fatale Laura and Noah Fleiss as Tug. Each character brings life to well-worn noir archetypes, but simultaneously imbues them with modern energy brought on by the sincere emotional rawness of a contemporary indie film.

Of course, the MVP here is Rian Johnson's superb screenplay. With the style of dialogue modelled directly after those old Raymond Chandler books, it brings the achingly cool world of noir to life. Surprisingly, it rarely seems contrived or forced, but instead really feels like what these characters would say. The story itself is a great little mystery which unravels at a fine pace and really keeps the audience on their toes. That said, that the DVD doesn't come with subtitles is going to hurt for those who can't get past the intimidating slang.

All in all, Brick is a great little movie which packs both style and substance, and to this day is an utterly unique, beautifully realised work.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011


Here's a fun one. Ran ("Chaos" in Japanese) was the final samurai epic of the undisputed master of samurai epics, Akira Kurosawa. As fortune would have it, it's also one of his great masterpieces, easily one of the best films ever made.

Ahhh, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Akira Kurosawa is one of those names which comes up whenever "greatest directors ever" are being talked about. Director of, among others, The Seven Samurai, Rashomon and Yojimbo, his formidable canon of work stands out even amongst the highest-end directs you could care to name. And towards the end of his life, at age 75, he created his 1985 opus. A treatise on the chaos, brutality and nihilism of warfare, it adapts the tale of King Lear into a story of warring states tearing a kingdom apart. To say anymore would be spoiling the film for one half of you and patronising the other half for not knowing how King Lear ends.

What is particularly striking is the way the battle scenes are shot; they watch down from up high, frequently lingering only on piles of corpses in the mud or blood-splattered scenery, giving the impression of a deity gazing down upon the carnage. Despite striking scenery and wonderful use of colour, the shots are never beautiful, only sombre, stark and tragic. The characters are similar; a collection of manipulators, madmen and power-hungry warlords, all watching the world around them fall apart beneath Machiavellian schemes, the horror of warfare and the lack of sentimentality from the storytellers. It's brutality is, if not enjoyable, then certainly refreshing; this is a film which sticks to it's nihilistic story.

The visual and narrative sumptuousness of this film could only be achieved through the acquisition of years of expertise which Kurosawa possessed, and make it a must-see.

Personal post: Slightly hairy morning...

Had a hell of a fright this morning. My girlfriend Kari (the girl from the comments on the last post) is heavily allergic to quite a lot of things, and the list keeps growing. And she must have put something in or near her mouth that she didn't know she was allergic to, because when we met up to talk into college together, the inside of her mouth was swelling rapidly. It ended up getting so bad that she had to go to the hospital (fortunately, the general hospital is right next to our college - lucky for her, as she is something of a ill girl). She's okay now, although the inside of her mouth still stings. Luckily, she didn't keel over or anything but still, it's scary when stuff like that happens. She starts her time as a classroom assistant at the local infant school next week, and if she has a reaction like this one, or one of her myriad other long-term ailments flares up...

I feel like I worry about her too much. She's an adult, and she's been coping with her illnesses for years. I just have a tendency to panic when something like this happens.

Just thought I'd get my thoughts down.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino likes dialogue. And feet. But mostly dialogue. This is a fact which anyone who's followed his formidable career path is aware of, yet one which we're all too predisposed to forget. After Kill Bill, in which action was at the forefront - for the first half, anyway - people seemed to have replaced any actual knowledge of his work with an image of him as an artier Michael Mann; a director whose sophisticated framework was there primarily to have elaborate action scenes draped over it. It was this which led people to assume that this would be a shoot-'em-up genre pastiche in which his specialty - scriptwriting - would be limited to a screenplay with increasingly large-fonted BANGs. Indeed, as it has been since Reservoir Dogs, the action scenes are superb; here, however, they are few and far between - the burst after the crecendo of what the film actually takes its delight in. What we have instead is the return, and return to centre stage at that, of Quentin Tarantino's love of dialogue. And feet.

Here, the scenes are extended dialogues, often spilling across different languages, with the characters using their wits to try and outsmart or outmaneuver their enemies in a manner closer to that of a spy movie than to the World War II shooters or Spaghetti Westerns it was supposedly based on. The emphasis on dialogue allows Tarantino's interesting, colourful characters to be deftly explored and fleshed out, detailing their personalities in ways that spill over the limits of the archetypes they represent; the Nazi, the Femme Fatale, the All-American Warrior. These aren't archetypes anyone expects to see a multi-dimensional portrayal of, given the predeliction amongst World War II movies of portraying the conflict itself as a one-dimensional good-vs.-evil showdown. And it's here where we get onto the main point of the film; propaganda.

World War II is a classic case of a conflict of black and grey morality. This is a war where one side committed the Holocaust (In my opinion, the worst thing humanity has ever done) and the other was the only side ever to drop a nuclear bomb offensively, and onto a civilian conurbation, with intent to be used on more (A good contender for the second worst thing humanity has ever done). However, most large-scale films of WWII have, understandably, taken a side; all Germans are explicitly Nazi death machines, all Allies are chiselled wads of machismo bandaging up their dramatically convenient gunshot wounds with their home flags being the norm. However, here, this is toyed with; a film largely based around the premier of Josef Goebbles's latest propaganda film, depicts a war hero, playing himself, gunning down hoards of Allied troops, is itself about soldiers shooting up a bunch of Nazis. Both the German audience in-film, and we, at home, thoroughly enjoy the scenes where this is happening. In the meantime, the film is working overtime to make us find the Nazis sympathetic and intriguing; see Cristoph Waltz' superb turn as SS Colonel Hans Landa, Daniel Bruhl as the earnest Private Zoller, Richard Sammel as an uncomfortably tragic villain in an early scene, and Alexander Fehling as a young Private celebrating the birth of his first child. The Basterds, on the other hand, commit war crimes and are, by any sincere definition terrorists; yet they too are likable. The film challenges us about the use of film to demonise enemies, making it the most explicit entry into the canon of Tarantino's films about films. And in this sense, it does what none of his other genre-inspired works have done, and make a genuine, perceptive comment on the genre and on the mindset of the people watching it.

On top of all that heavy stuff, it's great fun on the surface too. The dialogue scenes are tense and complex, the action scenes range from shocking to fist-pumpingly awesome, every performance is stunning (including one from, of all people, Eli Roth!), the comedy works great, the melancholy works even better, and the entire film is pulled off with a scale and complexity which could be too much for one film and a watchability that can only be achieved by a director who knows how to pull that scale and complexity off. It's also the final collaboration between Tarantino and Sally Menke, his long-time editor, so now's as good a time as any to start paying attention to the hard work that goes into that particular job. I personally hugely enjoyed this film, and I suspect that you will find something to enjoy in it too.