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Posts Tagged ‘Without a Clue’

The Dark Knight Rises may turn out to be both the biggest and the best film of the year. Every movie fan with a virtual soapbox to stand on will review it in one way or another, I may do so myself some time in the future, but for now I will not. Instead I have decided to do something different. I am looking at the key players in the movie and picking out my favourite of their movies or performances excluding The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Christopher Nolan: The modern interpretation of the term masterpiece refers a pierce of art (in any medium) that is receives high critical praise and is often considered the pinnacle of the artists career. But the original, true meaning is very different. During the old European guild system, an apprentice wishing to graduate from a guild and become a master craftsman or member of their guild would have to produce a Masterpiece. If successful, the piece would be retained by the master or the guild. Using this theory, Following (1998) is Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece. An ultra low budget mystery, crime, thriller with no star names. This led to him making Memento (2000), a simple revenge, thriller that is elevated to a superior mystery by the ingenious idea of telling the story backwards. Using the same criteria, it could be argued that Following was a practice run and Memento is the true masterpiece. Taken on its own merits Insomnia (2002) is a great movie, it just isn’t as good as the Norwegian original. It is a worthy and justified remake that is sympathetic to the story of the original but has its own individual touches. You know how movies come in two’s, this year there are two Snow White movies, a few years ago there were to giant asteroid movies, 2006 was the year of the Victorian stage magicians. Neil Burger’s The Illusionist was good, Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige was much better. Legend has it that after The Dark Knight took a billion dollars Warner Bros let Nolan make any movie he liked. What he came up with was Inception (2010) a little art house movie disguised as a big budget studio blockbuster. Inception may well be his best (non Batman) film, but for introducing me and most of the rest of the world to his work I am declaring Memento to be both his masterpiece and finest hour for Christopher Nolan.

Wally Pfister: Cinematographer/Director of Photography Wally Pfister started out as a cameraman for a Washington news service before being given his first break by Robert Altman. He then enrolled in American Film Institute where a film he worked on was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. Like so many great filmmakers, he received his first break as a Cinematographer from Roger Corman. Most of his notable works have been on Christopher Nolan films, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight finally winning for the movie that truly is his finest hour, Inception.

Christian Bale: Where do you start with Christian Bale? A child star in Empire of the Sun who found real fame in his late twenties. Noted for his extreme physical transformations for the movies The Machinist and Rescue Dawn, in I’m Not There, it is a tossup between him and Cate Blanchett as to who is the best “Dylan”. In 3:10 to Yuma, The Prestige, The Fighter, Public Enemies and Terminator Salvation he gives more subtle and low key performances than his co stars, it is therefore a surprise that his finest hour is probably his most showy and over the top performance, Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.

Anne Hathaway: Many people know Anne Hathaway from her film début The Princess Diaries and can’t see beyond that. I first saw her in Havoc or Brokeback Mountain (saw them both around the same time) where despite all the praise going to Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal I thought the best performances came her and Michelle Williams. I was impressed enough to go and see The Devil Wears Prada and enjoyed it, but her finest hour is Rachel Getting Married. A family drama about a young woman who is released from rehab to attend her sisters wedding. A truly an amazing performance, her character is ultimately a miserable, selfish, narcissistic bitch but she also comes across as vulnerable, funny and sometimes even likable. 

Tom Hardy: I have seen many movies featuring Hardy and remember a great buzz about him around the time of Star Trek: Nemesis, but to be honest I really didn’t take notice until Bronson. Since then he has been brilliant in everything I have seen him in. as for his finest hour, it could easily be Warrior where his performance is monumental or Inception where he offers some great comic relief within an ensemble, but it has to be Bronson. 

Gary Oldman: How do you pick the finest hour from the thirty year career of an actor as talented as Oldman? Far more varied than you would think Oldman is at his best when he is wild and out of control, look back at Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy, Stansfield in Leon and Beethoven in Immortal Beloved. That is why it may come as a surprise that his best performance may well be his most low key and economical performance, George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. 

Michael Caine: Gary Olman’s career may be long but Michael Caine has been around for ever, certainly since before I was born. Many of his most notable performances came in the mid/late 60’s and early 70’s and include: Alfie, Sleuth, Zulu, Get Carter and The Ipcress File. He reinvented himself in more comic roles in the 80’s such as: Educating Rita, Without a Clue and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Outside Christopher Nolan movies, the pick of his 21st century movies are The Quiet American, Children of Men and Harry Brown, but for his finest hour, you need to go back to the 60’s for his iconic performance as Charlie Croker in The Italian Job.

Morgan Freeman: Freeman found fame relatively late in life. In his early fifties and after thirty years in the business, in a two year period he appeared in Driving Miss Daisy, Glory, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Bonfire of the Vanities. He makes a lot of movies, therefore there is a certain amount of crap in there too, but the highlights are very high, the include: Unforgiven, Se7en and Million Dollar Baby. His finest hour is probably The Shawshank Redemption. 

Marion Cotillard: A captivating actress who has been brilliant in every film I have ever seen her in. For many people she if best known for her Oscar winning portrayal of Edith Piaf in La vie en rose. Others will know her from her English language movies: Public Enemies, A Good Year, Big Fish and Nine. She was also memorable in Midnight in Paris and Inception. Although deep down I know her finest hour was as Edith Piaf in La vie en rose, I still go back to where I first saw her, Lilly, the long suffering but high maintenance girlfriend in Taxi (and its first two sequels).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The former child actor found fame as a teenager in the TV show 3rd Rock from the Sun. his most notable movie appearances from this time is probably 10 Things I Hate About You. He went on to appear in: Havoc (along side future Dark Knight Rises co-star Anne Hathaway) and earned acclaim in Mysterious Skin Stop-Loss and The Lookout. In recent years he has impressed in 500 Days of Summer, 50/50 and Inception, but his finest hour is still the high school noir Brick. 

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I’m not a diehard fan of Sherlock Holmes but have enjoyed the two novels and handful of short stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle that I have read. I didn’t actually read any of them until around five years ago, the problem? Put simply like a lot of people I came to the character via the screen not the page. This is possibly because there have been so many adaptations (beating even Dracula and Robin Hood he is possibly the most portrayed movie character ever), but despite the numerous incarnations I have never been satisfied with the film and TV versions. I have always found them to be just a little dull and full of undeserved self-importance. The mixture of first person narration (via Holmes’s friend and biographer, Dr. John Watson) and third-person omniscient narrative is an important part of books giving an insight into Holmes from the point of view from an everyman. This doesn’t always translate to the screen. There is also an issue of setting; whether on television or the big screen of the cinema, the Victorian setting is rarely convincing, probably because of financial constraints but more likely a twee vision of the past.

There have been attempts to make original movies based on the characters like Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) and Without a Clue (1988). They are both great ideas but the execution is only partly successful. Now after years of been under-whelmed by adaptations there have been two successful takes on the story in a short space of time. Firstly, the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson. Then a year later came the BBC TV show Sherlock created by Mark Gatiss and Steven (Doctor Who) Moffat, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson. Changing the setting from the Victorian era to the present day is the shows biggest risk but turns out to be the greatest accomplishment. The reason it works so well is the way it plays with the character within its modern setting. How he interacts with modern society and technology is both interesting and amusing. It is also fun to spot the original plots and ideas that are shoehorned into the modern stories, some more obvious than others. The second (sadly too short) series of the TV show premiered just a couple of weeks after the release of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), the sequel to the Guy Ritchie movie.

So why do these two adaptations work so well when previous incarnations have been so dull and predictable? Firstly I think I have to say diehard Sherlock Holmes fans will probably hate them and that is why I think they are so good. The biggest criticism of films based on books that I tend to hear is that they aren’t faithful to the book. What people who say this forget or aren’t willing to admit is that books and movies are very different mediums and therefore movies shouldn’t slavishly follow the books, especially when they are telling hundred year old stories that are well known. A perfect example of this is Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman. Taking parts of the plot from graphic novels (notably Batman: Year One) but essentially creating a new story from the mythology of the character. The same is true of James Bond, although there have been many missteps along the way, the story has remained up-to-date and relevant long after Ian Fleming’s original stories had dried up.

The thing that both the new film and TV incarnations have in common is a perfect balance of when to be silly and when to be serious. That balance is different in both cases in keeping with the dynamic of the version but works equally as well. As does the casting that is perfect in both. Getting the same things right also means they get a lot of the same things wrong. The constant bickering and reconciliation between the characters is overdone as is the overplayed bromance. These in themselves are minor criticisms but could get worse if they string things out for to many sequels/seasons. They also get the supporting cast right with Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves and Mark Gatiss is the TV show, Rachel McAdams, Kelly Reilly, Eddie Marsan and Geraldine James in the films. The films also boast Mark Strong and Jared Harris amongst their villains.

If you haven’t seen the film or TV show because of any preconceptions, I hope I have convinced them to give them a go. Similarly, if you are a fan of either version but haven’t read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, why not start at the beginning and pick up a copy of A Study in Scarlet (first published in 1887) and start reading.

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