Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Philip K. Dick movie blogathon

Everything is almost ready for me to kick off the blogathon I mentioned here a while ago. Over the next few months, I will review the eight English language films that have been adapted from Philip K. Dick novels or short stories and discuss their original source material. A ninth may be added if I get the chance to see The Adjustment Bureau before the blogathon is complete. Here is the list:
  • Blade Runner (1982) - 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?'
  • Total Recall (1990) - 'We Can Remember It For You Wholesale'
  • Screamers (1995) - 'Second Variety'
  • Impostor (2001) - 'Impostor'
  • Minority Report (2002) - 'The Minority Report'
  • Paycheck (2003) - 'Paycheck'
  • A Scanner Darkly (2006) - 'A Scanner Darkly'
  • Next (2007) - 'The Golden Man'

The many movie deaths of Gary Oldman

As a big fan of Gary Oldman, I've seen most of the films he has starred in. He's always a joy to watch but I have noticed that many of his great performances end with his characters' demise. Out of those that I've seen, this has occured 17 times.

During his early career, this can be attributed to him choosing roles where he portrayed real-life figures whose deaths were well-known, e.g. Sid Vicious, Joe Orton and Lee Harvey Oswald. In the 1990's, Oldman had a stint as the bad guy in a number of films and of course, baddies must always be defeated. He met his end in Bram Stoker's Dracula, Leon, The Fifth Element and Air Force One, amongst others during this period.

The movie deaths have slowed recently, although he's still had a fair few including Backwoods, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Rain Fall. My favourite cause of death has to be in the otherwise disappointing Sin where he is seen slowly disappearing into quicksand. My least favourite is probably Harry Potter, so I must blame J.K. Rowling for that as she wrote it. I didn't think falling through a veil was a fitting finish for one of the most interesting and likeable characters in the series. It was very anticlimactic and seemed a bit weak and ineffective.

That sinking feeling...
This large catalogue of movie deaths sometimes affects my viewings of Gary Oldman's films. For example, I was very surprised that he escaped awful horror flick The Unborn unscathed and I was totally convinced that Jim Gordon had died in The Dark Knight, even though this contradicted my prior knowledge of the character.

Whatever direction his movie career takes in the future, I'm sure he will continue to entertain and impress me. After all, whether his characters live or die, he still provides brilliant performances that I love to watch.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Review: Sparkle

After Neil Hunter and Tom Hunsinger’s impressive film Lawless Heart back in 2001, the writer/director pair return with Sparkle, a fun romantic comedy about love lives, betrayal and quirks of fate. The latter plays a big part in the story, which at times feels like it has more coincidences than a Charles Dickens novel (and that’s an awful lot, in case you don’t know).

Sam Sparks, a bored young waiter meets Vince (Bob Hoskins) and his brother Bernie when they come to his restaurant. Their father has a stroke and Vince offers the London flat he used to live in to Sam, who can’t believe his luck as he has high ambitions for a top job in the city. Unfortunately, his Mom (Lesley Manville) decides to tag along in the hope that her singing career will take off, Vince doesn’t mind though, as he has taken quite a shine to her. Finding a job as a waiter thanks to Bernie, Sam then charms Sheila (Stockard Channing), an older lady he meets while working. They become lovers and he starts a job as her P.A. But then at one of Sheila’s parties, Sam meets the young, vibrant Kate and he finds himself falling in love. Things start to become very tangled indeed when Sam ends his affair with Sheila, it is revealed that she is Kate’s Mom and that Bernie is the Dad she never knew about (see what I mean about the coincidences?) I thought London was a massive city, but apparently it’s a small world after all.

Apart from this, I thought the film was funny and enjoyable, with some great performances from the entire main cast. With its many intertwining love stories, an alternative title could have been ‘Four Relationships and a Funeral’. Newcomer Shaun Evans has a tough job making Sam someone the audience wants to root for. At the start of the film he isn’t a very likeable character, he is rather arrogant and conceited. He does seem to genuinely care for Kate though, and when they meet there is a marked change in him. I like the scene towards the end when he is trying to prove his love and he tries to win a cuddly dolphin that Kate wanted earlier from the fair. A seemingly impossible task, he tries again and again and it makes you support him because he wants it so much.

Bob Hoskins plays Vince, a quiet, meek character who you feel real sympathy for throughout the film. I was very glad that he ended up happy as he was such a kind, loveable person. I also really liked Anthony Head’s character, Tony, who lifted the film with his warmth and humour. As a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it was nice to see one of my favourite actors from the series, and quite a departure for him to be playing a gay man after the stiff-upper-lipped librarian Giles.

There are little moments in the film when Hunter and Hunsinger‘s genius really sparkles (sorry, I just had to do it). My favourite scene is when Sam is preparing drinks in Sheila’s kitchen, a seemingly ordinary task, nothing wondrous about it. But as Kate watches through the banisters of the stairs, she slowly realises his betrayal. How? Because he knows where everything is kept. There are numerous white cupboards and drawers, yet he knows where to look for the things he needs. The only way he would know this is if he’d been in this kitchen many times before, and the only reason he would have been there is…

So, a charming little love story with some funny moments and something we all wish for: a happy ending. If you’re willing to overlook the inter-related elements that often stretch the believability, then you should enjoy this story and the many wonderful performances. A glistening film? A shining gem? A sparkling tale? Pick your own wordplay; they could all be used to describe Sparkle.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Saturday Screen Shot #7

This week it's an absolute classic. Witness Hitchcock at his finest:

Shot from the Screen: North by Northwest

Screenshot: Roger Thornhill running from a crop duster

Shot from the Scene: This seven minute sequence has no dialogue, is full of suspense and has beautiful cinematography. The small plane repeatedly swoops out of the sky like a bird going in for the kill. Roger dives out of the way and tries to hide before ultimately flagging down an oil truck, which the crop duster then crashes into. An iconic moment from a cinematic masterpiece

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Review: Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel

His mates mocked his new scarf but he knew they were just jealous
I stumbled upon this low-budget British sci-fi (sorry, science fiction) film when they aired the premiere on UK TV. I hadn’t heard anything about it previously but thought I’d give it a watch as it starred Chris O’Dowd (Roy from the very funny comedy series ‘The IT Crowd’). I’m glad I did because it turned out to be an enjoyable film.

It starts off with Ray (O’Dowd) getting fired from the amusement park he works at as a result of his speech about time travel (which starts off the film as an opening narration), which detracts into a rant about exterminating a species on an alien planet before the camera reveals that he is in fact standing in front of a group of children dressed as a member of the ‘planetary peace corps’. Ultimately shouting “Are you nappy-wearing motherfuckers ready to lock and load, and get it on?” doesn’t go down too well with his boss.

Later, Ray heads down the pub with his mates Toby and Pete. There he is approached by a woman named Cassie (Anna Faris) who claims to be from the future. Being something of a science fiction geek, he suspects this is merely a prank his mates have come up with, despite the fact that when he returns to them, they say they had nothing to do with it. Toby believes it would make a really good idea for a film, while Pete dismisses it as silly. However, when Pete goes to the toilet, he comes back to find the bar full of dead bodies, including his own. Scared and confused, he hides in the toilets and when he returns to the bar again, everything is back to normal...

It turns out there is a time leak in the toilets, one that Cassie is looking for so she can fix it. Every time the three friends enter the toilets, they travel forwards or backwards in time. The pace quickens as they try to avoid ‘themselves’ from different times as well as the dangers that might be lurking in a strange, apocalyptic future. There is also the mystery of a painting of them on the outside of the pub holding a piece of paper…what is written on it, and why would someone want them dead because of it?

I think this film tried hard to get the geeks on their side with the many movie and TV references. Originally, I didn’t want to be swayed so easily but I did become more supportive of the group as soon as they mentioned Firefly - I guess that’s an easy target nowadays.

I like that it took an everyday activity: just going to the pub with a couple of mates, and added an extraordinary element: discovering a time leak in the toilets through which they could travel. So it’s a science fiction film that feels like it could happen to the average person because these are average guys, not men from the future, or robots, or spacemen. They are easier to relate to and identify with. Ray is an untraditional hero and Chris O’Dowd plays him as believable, likeable and funny. Anna Faris is her usual ditsy self, and Marc Wootton and Dean Lennox Kelly are well suited to their roles.

Overall, it’s a charming and original sci-fi comedy with a very British sense of humour. The script could have benefitted from being a little longer (the film only lasts 80 minutes) and having a few more jokes (sometimes it favours more serious dramatic moments over laughs, which don’t work as well) but these are minor niggles. This is a quirky and fun film that packs an unexpected punch.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

The Saturday Screen Shot #6

Shot from the Screen: Predator

Screenshot: Dutch covered in mud, ready for a final confrontation with the Predator

Shot from the Scene: It's all come down to this moment: Man vs Predator. Dutch sets a trap for the Predator and then lures it in by shouting "I'm here! Kill me! Come on! Kill me! I'm here! Come on! Do it now! Kill me!" One of Arnie's best moments on screen

Saturday, 14 August 2010

The Saturday Screen Shot #5

Shot from the Screen: Blade Runner

Screenshot: Roy sits cross-legged on the rooftop opposite Deckard, holding a dove, in the pouring rain

Shot from the Scene: Roy could have let Deckard fall to his death but instead saves him. He gives a beautiful speech, "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to die." Roy then bows his head and dies. An unforgettable piece of cinema

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Review: Rain Fall

OK, I must admit that I only watched this film because Gary Oldman is my favourite actor. He plays Holtzer, the head of the CIA branch in Tokyo. His team is hunting for a memory stick rumoured to have proof of the corruption of top Japanese officials. They believe it to be in the hands of John Rain (Kippei Shiina), a hired assassin who specialises in making it appear as though his victims have died of natural causes. Unfortunately, the Yakuza are also trying to get their hands on the memory stick and have sent some men after Rain to retrieve it.

This action thriller is mostly in Japanese with subtitles but some parts are in English (no, Gary Oldman hasn’t learned the lingo so he can rant at people in another language, which would have been very entertaining). It is based on the first of a number of novels by Barry Eisler that centre around the character of John Rain. In the film, I found him hard to like, as we don’t learn much about him. His motivation for protecting Midori (the daughter of the man he killed to obtain the memory stick) isn’t clear, and his tale of how he was bullied in New York because he was the only Asian kid seems a bit forced, as if the writer is trying to convince us to like him.

The memory stick becomes a bit of a MacGuffin, driving the narrative along, with the many interested parties all vying to get hold of it. In films such as Hitchcock’s, where the MacGuffin is used to great effect, this leaves way for great story and characters. Here, however, it becomes obvious that this is just an overlong film; with characters we don’t really care about and without much action or suspense to entertain us.

He's behind you! Oh, you knew that already...

On a more positive note, there are some moments of stylish editing and nicely lit scenes in the film. A recurring motif has characters framed in the centre of a long shot, standing conversing in shadow with bright scenery behind them, which contrasts well and emphasises the secret discussions that are taking place, while those in the city continue their lives oblivious.

The film seems keen to comment on the amount of CCTV in Tokyo. The centre of operations for the CIA is a room filled with people at computers and monitors covering the walls, showing surveillance footage from all over the city. Rain is tracked from camera to camera, unable to avoid them whenever he steps out onto the street. And it is here that Gary Oldman spends much of the film, shouting orders at people both inside and out in the field. He becomes increasingly frustrated that although he is the all-seeing, powerful leader, Rain continues to evade him and slips through his net on a number of occasions. Oldman isn’t given much to work with as Holtzer, it would have been more effective to put the audience on the CIA’s side for a while, believing Rain was a terrorist, before turning things on their head and revealing the CIA’s corruption. As it is, we just see him working late in his office, with its impressive views of Tokyo’s skyscrapers. The only time we see him not working is his final scene, so we don’t get to see a human side to him: he’s just a driven man devoted to his job, whose only interest is catching Rain and getting the memory stick.

By the end of Rain Fall, the action has slowed and the story has become a little dull, with the addition of a twist livening things up just enough for it to edge over the finishing line without me losing interest. I was left with the feeling that there was a really promising film in there somewhere but it just missed the mark.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Looking ahead to the Cornwall film festival

I'm heading to the 9th annual Cornwall film festival this November: www.cornwallfilmfestival.com

The Phoenix, Falmouth’s state-of-the-art cinema and recent winner of the UK Independent Cinema of the Year award, will again host the festival. Things are looking good so far, here's what's recently been announced:
"As well as offering a veritable feast of Cornish films, the Festival has also managed to secure, three weeks before its UK release, the third film in the wildly popular Millennium trilogy,The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest. The Festival will also present Mike Leigh’s critically acclaimed new film, Another Year, which competed for this year’s Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival."

Remember, remember the 5th of November - that's when this year's film festival fireworks take off!
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