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Archive for March, 2010

The Next James Bond

I noticed the other day that former James Bond Timothy Dalton recently celebrated his 66th birthday. This got me thinking it has been some time since I posted anything about James Bond.  So here it is in honour of Timothy Dalton’s birthday an idea for a slightly different Bond movie. 

James Bond, now in his 60’s has retired and is living in Jamaica. For his last few years in the secret service before retiring he took a job training prospective double 0 agents.  Bond receives news from Moneypenny that one of his former students (now 006) was killed on a mission.  Because of the nature of the mission and his undercover status the body has not been recovered and a funeral will not take place. He receives a letter from the agent sent shortly before he was killed.  Bond launches his own investigation and is blocked at every turn by his own government making Bond even more determined get to the bottom of what happened.

For added impact the movie should be made in total secrecy without anyone knowing it is about an older Bond.  In the usual build-up an announcement should be made implying a big name star, but not an obvious choice (I am thinking Colin Farrell) will play Bond.  He will in fact be playing 006 who gets killed at the end of an all action pre-credit sequence.  Enter the real James Bond, Timothy Dalton.  The film would be very plot driven with fantastic dialogue and the odd action set piece, very much like a good detective story. Along the way there can also be a subplot about Bond writing his memoires to the chagrin of his former employers (more on this in a later post).  There is a great opportunity to Have fun with the dynamic of an older Bond without turning the whole thing into a joke. And who could direct such a movie, there is only one man: Quentin Tarantino.

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Shutter Island

Having won an Oscar for The Departed (2006) what would Martin Scorsese’s next project be?  This isn’t what I expected.  Adapted from a 2003 novel by Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island is a drama/thriller bordering on a psychological horror.  US Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) are sent to an asylum for the criminally insane to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a patient.  Along the way Daniels feels his investigation is being hampered by the staff of the facility including psychologists Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and Naehring (Max von Sydow).  It also soon becomes clear Daniels also has his own motives for being there.

Right from the start it is clear there is something wrong.  Parts of the setup just don’t ring true and the sometimes heavy handed and overpowering soundtrack has undertones reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo score.  The whole thing is just a little unnerving.  The island setting with its juxtaposition of opulence and decay including an old civil war fort turned asylum all set within beautifully manicured grounds add to the sense of dread.  This won’t be a straightforward investigation.  There are clues throughout the story as to what is going on, most of them you will miss, I certainly did.  There are others that are more overt that you will pick up on, making the twists and turns in the feel natural and believable.

Set in 1954, if ever an actor was at home in a period film it is Leonardo DiCaprio and in Martin Scorsese he has a director able to make a movie that looks like it has come from the 50s not just set there. Quentin Tarantino is well known for borrowing ideas from other filmmakers, but Scorsese is a real student of film.  This is something that really comes out in this movie, there is a real sense of familiarity about the way the film looks without ever looking like a copy of a pastiche of anything else.  There is a scene with a spiral staircase that Big Mike Mendez, The Mad Hatters guest his “Matineecast” (episode 7) compares the spiral staircase scene from The Red Shoes (directed by Scorsese’s friend Michael Powell) while Kim Newman in empire calls the staircase “a dead ringer for the one in Robert Wise’s The Haunting”.  As suggested by The Mad Hatter in the aforementioned podcast, having finally won an Oscar Martin Scorsese is able to get back to Just making movies and stop trying to win an Oscar.  Although the epic The Aviator and Gangs of New York appear to be real Oscar bait I don’t think The Departed was. Firstly I’m not convinced it was as much of an issue to Scorsese himself as it was to commentators.  Secondly if you are chasing an Oscar would a remake of a Hong Kong movie be your first choice.  Whatever the reason The Departed, Shutter Island and Bringing Out the Dead prove what Scorsese can do when he makes an “ordinary movie” He really is the most gifted filmmaker working today.  This is very much a genre piece that comes is only his second attempt at a horror/thriller the other being Cape Fear (1991).  I am reticent to say Scorsese is cutting loose and having some fun as the movie is too dark to considered fun. Whilst not as disturbing it has the same dark tone as Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973).

The cast is brilliant, as well as DiCaprio and Ruffalo (always reliable) most of the other parts are played by recognisable actors including Ben Kingsley, Max Von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Williams and Patricia Clarkson.  There are also memorable appearances from Jackie Earle Haley and Elias Koteas.  Putting a great cast together is one thing but getting great performances from them is another, that is something this movie has no problems with everybody on display is great and some (especially Kingsley) look like they are relishing the roles.  But this really is Leonardo DiCaprio’s show

By the end of the film you realise you have just watched a film that is very different to the one you thought you were watching in the first half and certainly a different one to what the trailer depicts.  This is no bad thing although it may disappoint some viewers.  Ultimately though I think there is just enough ambiguity to satisfy casual observers and film loves alike.

Four Stars out of Five

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Back in October last year I started a series of blogs focusing on directors I consider to be modern auteurs (is that the correct plural for auteur?).  The main criteria to qualify as “modern” were directors who made their feature debut within the last twenty years.  Number one on the list was David Fincher and the blog consisted of a look back at my three favourite of his movies.  Number two on the list Quentin Tarantino still hasn’t seen the light of day for many reasons, one of them; I can’t decide on my three favourite Tarantino movies.  This brings me to the point of this ramble, comments two bloggers I respect Mcarter at themovies and Ross McG from Ross v Ross both suggested I was remiss not to mention Zodiac. At first I put this down the wild unfounded suggestions Ross is prone to making.  Then I spotted a Zodiac DVD in the bargain bin at ASDA for just £2, for that price I thought it deserved a second chance.  While I enjoyed it the first time around I wasn’t in a mad rush to see it a second time.  On the subject take a look at this great article from The Stories That Really Mattered.  So how did it live up to a second viewing?

Zodiac is an epic story of obsession.  Starting in 1969 when the San Francisco Chronicle receives a series of letters from the Zodiac Killer.  The job of reporting the story is taken by the papers crime reporter Paul Avery (a brilliant as ever Robert Downey Jr.).  At the same time we see the police, principally David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) working the case with little success.  As they discover other possibly connected cases in surrounding counties they are frustrated by jurisdictional boundaries and cooperation from other forces. Over time the police and the press run out of leads but one man refuses to give up on the case.  As the Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) was the least involved of the newspaper staff to begin with. Over several years he makes new breakthroughs in the case that could finally lead to a conclusion.

** Warning: Working on the assumption that by now most people have some knowledge of the case there will be plot spoilers from this point on **

It is no great surprise that Robert Graysmith is the central character of the movie; it is actually based on two books he wrote.  His involvement in the case begins with a “boy scout” interest if the ciphers the zodiac sends to the paper.  After first been discouraged he is ultimately he is encouraged to get involved by Paul Avery, a liberty taken with what really happened as the pair were not actually friends.  Dramatically a good liberty to take as the scenes they share are brilliant, playing on Downey Jr’s edgy near comic performance against Gyllenhaal’s wide eyed innocence.  The bar scene is the mark of a director who is totally confident in his craft.  A short build up followed by the shots of empty glasses could be dismissed a cliché 101, but in fact is the perfect way of cutting through the friendship building bullshit that works better in and implied way.  During this part of the movie Paul Avery himself makes some breakthroughs on the case himself even becoming a possible target for the Zodiac.  Ultimately his investigation falls away.  When we later see him living reclusively on his houseboat working for a deadbeat parochial paper it could be seen as a man defeated by the case.  The same could be said for Bill Armstrong transferring to a different department to get an easier job with better hours.  The way the case consumes Grayshith’s life both personal and professional could also be considered a defeat in a way.

The casting is perfect throughout the movie with great performances also given by Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards as the cops and small but significant parts for Brian Cox and Philip Baker Hall.  The two main suspects are also brilliantly played by John Carroll Lynch and Charles Fleischer.  The only real disappointment is the lack of decent female characters. The most prominent is Chloë Sevigny playing Graysmith’s second wife Melanie, she is a disappointing character starting of overly understanding and later becoming very nagging.  This is an unfortunate side effect of the jump forward in time that narrative takes during a quite spell in the investigation.  The jump in time is possibly the only misstep in the direction.  It is so overt that it breaks the link with the viewer for a moment. It was however something that had to be done for the good of the narrative as well as the time constraints of the movie.

There are many outstanding scenes in the movie a couple that really stood out for for me were when towards the end of the film Graysmith’s visits Bob Vaughn (Charles Fleischer)’s house and gets spooked.  A supremely well constructed and acted scene where a witness quickly becomes a suspect before our own eyes. The other is the opening “Hurdy Gurdy Man” killing where the tension is slowly built up.  This sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

Comparisons between the Zodiac and Jack the Ripper cases are inevitable, there are countless Jack the Ripper movies that present possible explanations, some of them may even be true, however they all require a huge amount of speculation.  To its credit Zodiac avoids all of this by sticking to the facts (with a certain amount of essential artistic licence).  Most of the film is about the investigation and not the killings themselves.  We only see the Zodiac portrayed at times when there was an eyewitness account.  Film writer Kim Newman once said of the movie “Zodiac was fated from its inception to be an uncomfortable experience, a whodunnit with the last few pages torn out, a film biography of a faceless man.” Although true, it isn’t to the detriment of the movie, it is still compelling viewing. Not for the outcome but because of the journey we take to get there.  That’s not to say the ending is bad, whist not as memorable as some of the directors other work namely Se7en and Fight Club, the ending fits this movie as perfectly as their endings fit them.  In the hands of a great director like David Fincher it is no surprise that the journey is so good, after all great filmmakers are often at there most creative whilst at there most restricted or constrained. The ultimate success of the film is as a character study, it works so well because the characters are real and more importantly perfectly portrayed.

Back the question I asked at the top: how did it live up to a second viewing? I have to say they were right it is a great film I enjoyed a second time around even more than the first. Subject to a third or even fourth viewing it will probably find its way into my Fincher top three at the expence of The Game but it won’t overthrow Fight Club or Seven at the top!

Keep looking out for Quentin Tarantino and the rest of the series, I will get back to it one day.

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With The A Team being the latest in a long line of Movies based on TV shows in mind and inspired by Heather from Movie Mobsters list of Top Ten Adaptations Of TV To Film I thought I would make a list of TV shows that would make good movies including who I think should direct and star. 

  • Alias (2001-06)
  • The Show: J.J. Abrams created the ridiculously convoluted story arc in this all action TV show the reason it worked is the great central character, Sydney Bristow perfectly cast (Jennifer Garner).
  • The Movie:  There are two ways of doing it either a spin-off of the show, the advantage of this is Jennifer Garner gets to revisit her best character. The disadvantage is the story of the TV show reached a satisfactory conclusion. The other option is a complete reboot based around Sydney’s transition from student to SD-6 to CIA.
  • Director: J.J. Abrams
  • Star: Option one: Jennifer Garner; Option Two: Amanda Seyfried
  • Chances of being made: Slim

  • Veronica Mars (2004-07)
  • The Show: Everything’s going well for popular high school student Veronica Mars (Kristin Bell) until to put it mildly things start to go wrong. Her best friend is murdered, she is raped, her mother leaves and her farther loses his job as the town sheriff. Veronica becomes a teen sleuth to solve her problems. Covering the end of her time at high school and her early collage years and combines individual weekly stories and a larger story arc.
  • The Movie: The show is all about Kristin Bell and no one else could really play the part. Bell also really deserves a good movie role. All the movie needs is a new story to make the most of the character.
  • Director: Catherine Hardwicke
  • Star: Kristin Bell
  • Chances of being made: less than slim

 

  • Magnum, P.I (1980-88)
  • The Show: Vietnam veteran and former Navy SEAL turned P.I. Thomas Magnum lives rent free in the guest house of a beachfront Hawaiian estate owned by successful author Robin Masters (who is never seen but voiced by Orson Welles in two episodes) who Magnum once did an unspecified favour for. He also drives Masters Ferrari.
  • The Movie: Can be set in the 80’s or updated to make Magnum a Gulf War veteran. There are two basic ideas that will work. An origin story starting with Magnum down on his luck until he helps Masters out. The second, start with the established setup of the TV show and jump into a story. An update of a 40s style noir would be perfect.
  • Director:Jason Reitman
  • Star: There were rumours a few years ago suggesting Matthew McConaughey, this could work. I could also see current flavour of the month Bradley Cooper doing a good job.
  • Chances of being made: only a matter of time.

 

  • 21 Jump Street (1987-91)
  • The Show: A group of young looking LAPD officers including (a 24 year old) Johnny Depp are part of an undercover unit specializing in youth crime in colleges and high schools where regular officers couldn’t blend in.
  • The Movie: Exactly the same as the TV show.
  • Director:  Doug Liman
  • Stars: Zac Efron, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (possibly too old), Evan Rachel Wood, Camilla Belle.
  • Chances of being made: You never know!

 

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
  • The Show: A gateway into hell is located beneath a high school, that’s one metaphor that won’t be lost on any teenager (or anyone who has ever been a teenager, in other words all of us). Add to this setting Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) a cheerleader turned vampire slayer who falls in love with a vampire (or two).
  • The Movie: Buffy the Vampire Slayer already had its chance as a movie, in fact it was a movie first and it seriously sucked! Joss Whedon made Serenity after Firefly was cancelled
  • Director: Joss Whedon
  • Star: Sarah Michelle Gellar
  • Chances of being made: not great

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Noomi Rapace is Lisbeth Salander,  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in the original Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy; she is perfect in the part. But with a Hollywood remake on the way in approximately two years time the big question who will be The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It must be the most coveted female role in Hollywood at the moment. The early favourite was Kristen Stewart but Ellen Page and Carey Mulligan’s names keep coming up at the moment along with a few others.

Ellen Page: With films like Hard Candy and The Tracey Fragments she has proved she has the acting ability and isn’t just a comic actor. She had her head shaved on screen in Mouth to Mouth so shouldn’t have a problem with the extreme look of the character. At 23 years old and 5’1” she is the right age and size for the character.

 

Kristen Stewart: I wouldn’t knock her acting ability she is the best thing in Adventurland and in Panic Room she played a young tomboy character well. If David Fincher does get the job of directing the movie she has the advantage of having worked with him before. I don’t however see her in the part, firstly she is too young but more than that she just doesn’t have the edge to her character. I get the impression people have seen her on set in her Joan Jett costume for The Runaways and decided she can do punky.

Carey Mulligan: Great actress, right age she is just too cute and girly for me. Its hard to believe she will be 25 in a couple of months she looked right at home playing a 16/17 year old in An Education. It will be interesting to see how she does in the recently delayed Wall Street sequel but even so I don’t see her in a gritty role yet.

Natalie Portman: She could be the perfect choice. She is a little too old but looks young enough to get away with it. as with Page she has had hear head shaved for a part (V for Vendetta) so a few piercings shouldn’t worry her. Although some of her recent roles have been more Hollywood leading lady, look back to Mathilda in Léon, that is a character that has so much in common with Lisbeth Salander.

Keira Knightly: She could easily look the part as proved in Domino, but she can be horribly wooden as also proved in Domino.

 

 

Evan Rachel Wood: A real chameleon, a change of cloths and hairstyle and she looks completely different. She also has a certain detached quality that could work well for the part. Only an outside bet as the part will probably go to someone more high profile.

 

Angelina Jolie: I haven’t actually seen her name mentioned. The reason I have added her to the list is that I think she would have been perfect for the part around ten years ago around the time she won the Oscar for Girl, Interrupted. She also already has a Dragon Tattoo (not in the right place!).

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Review: Alice in Wonderland

I have heard some really bad things about Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland but have to say I actually quite enjoyed it.  Alice, now19 years old has been plagued by dreams of Wonderland ever since her previous visit as a child.  These dreams that she thinks are the product of her imagination are her only memory of the place and the people who inhabit it.  Wonderland looks like it has come from a nightmare, in places it is Technicolor brilliance, at others it is dying and fading.  The characters and their costumes have a similar look and attention to detail.  The story is original acting as a combination of a sequel and a reboot/reimaging combining both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.  The Jabberwocky from Through the Looking-Glass stories is central to the plot and the movie even features an image on a scroll that looks like it is based on Sir John Tenniel’s illustration from Through the Looking-Glass.  The Red Queen also appears to be an amalgam of the Queen of Hearts and the Red Queen from the two books.

The main cast is all good: Mia Wasikowska is an engaging Alice; Helena Bonham Carter does a great job as Red Queen but I couldn’t help thinking I was watching Miranda Richardson as Elizabeth I in Blackadder; Johnny Depp is suitably over the top as The Mad Hatter although his (bad) Scottish accent did get a bit jarring; Anne Hathaway does nothing wrong as the White Queen but the character is so dull she doesn’t get a chance to do much with it.  The mostly British voice cast is excellent: Alan Rickman as the smoking caterpillar; Michael Sheen as the White Rabbit; Matt Lucas as Tweedledee & Tweedledum; Sir Christopher Lee as the Jabberwocky; Timothy Spall as Bayard the bloodhound, Paul Whitehouse as the March Hare and Stephen Fry as Cheshire Cat. Long time Burton collaborator Danny Elfman provides a suitable musical score.  It is unmistakably Elfman and more to the point Elfman in a Burton film but that is no bad thing.

I have been pretty positive so far, so here comes the negative.  The writing is really lazy, the plot is simple: defeat the Red Queen’s champion, the Jabberwocky and restore The White Queen to the throne. The simplicity of the plot isn’t the problem, it is the simplicity of the characters that is the problem.  As the film is full of well known characters who have appeared in countless other adaptations the writers have not bothered to give them and depth or dimension. The characters are in no way engaging beyond what life the actors dive them.  The Mad Hatter also seemed to have a kind of creepy sexual attraction to Alice that just doesn’t work.  My final and biggest complaint, I am still not convinced by 3D and have to say this film did noting to change my mind. The best thing I can say about it is that it was it wasn’t that noticeable and at times I completely forgot I was watching a 3D movie. But then this is essentially a 2D move that has been retrofitted with 3D, it doesn’t bode well for all the older movies that are going through the process at the moment.  3D is a gimmick that I really hope will die off soon.

In conclusion it is a deeply flawed movie that is a million miles short of Burton and Depp’s best collaborations but it still has a lot in it to enjoy. Don’t make the mistake I did by paying extra o see it in 3D.

Three Stars out of Five

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This is one of three blogs I have written for the Kathryn Bigelow “LAMBs in the Director’s Chair” but it is a little different to the other two, whilst one was an overview of her movies and the other a review of Strange Days this one is altogether more personal. I first saw Point Break on video in 1992 and was hooked. I think everyone knows what it’s all about Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is an FBI agent who goes under cover to catch a group of surfing bank robbers. The robbers (known as The Ex Presidents because of the masks of the former US presidents they wear) use the money they steal to fund their adrenaline junkie lifestyle. Along the way Utah gets too close to chief suspect Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). The story is so good it was rehashed less effectively ten years later for The Fast and the Furious.

The kid in the surf shop who sells Utah his first board says “Surfing’s the source, it will change your life. swear to God.” this is something the character and the actor took to heart. At the end of the movie Utah says that he still surfs every day, Keanu Reeves learned to surf for the part and is still a keen surfer. So why is this personal to me? Simply because from the moment I saw the movie I knew I wanted to learn to surf it took me twelve years before I got around to it and I don’t do it very often but as the kid in the surf shop said “Surfing’s the source”. it didn’t change my life but it certainly makes it better. The feeling when you catch your first wave is increasable and when you learn to stand up is even better, you do literally forget everything else in your life while surfing. Strangely the most exhilarating , the time you feel the most alive at the worst moment not the best when you have wiped out. A another wave breaks on top of you pushing you back under water, you get turned around and you don’t know which way is up The only problem, if you were to work out the point in the UK furthest from all know surfing breaks it would be pretty close to where I live. Consequently I don’t surf very often but one thing is certain I probably wouldn’t have ever tried it if not for point break.

 

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