Chinatown: a private investigator is led blindly into a complex conspiracy involving murder, betrayal and state-wide fraud. What surprised me most was Polanski‘s bland and underwhelming direction – which I was expecting to be stellar given the endless plaudits Chinatown receives. It doesn’t even feel like much of a Noir compared to staple genre pictures like The Maltese Falcon, or even a modern stab at Noir, like Brick. The story’s slow-burner, and isn’t always the easiest to follow, but worse still, almost none of the characters developed enough to connect with – they just seemed to be there to facilitate the next plot twist. When it finally rolls around the final act is as good as the film gets, but it feels like too little too late – it also may have been crazy / shocking / controversial back then, but when held up against the shocks we see these days, it carries a far lighter punch on modern audiences. For me, the combination of story, direction, acting, script and overall ‘wallop’ are average at best; although I suspect that having appeared in almost every ‘best films ever’ list, maybe the bar was just set far, far too high.
Django Unchained: a German bounty hunter frees a slave, then partners up with him to make some cash and rescue his girl from a flamboyant plantation owner. As expected, Waltz absolutely steals the show with what’s essentially a re-write/reprise of his intelligent, oddly-humorous ‘Jew-hunter‘. Everyone else turns up and does their thing entertainingly enough. While the film pokes a lot of fun at the stupidity of racism (KKK mask scene & Sam Jacksons rant about Foxx sleeping in the house), for me the ‘N-Bomb’ is dropped far, far too often: which may have been accurate of the period, but it’s such a loaded word that drags the tone down – taking it way beyond any ‘light-hearted’ Blazing Saddles similarities. Clocking in at 2hr 45, it’s also far, far too drawn out, for such a simple revenge tale, especially once Dicaprio pops up: some scenes seem to go on forever with rambling, empty, dialogue and plodding shot after shot. While they’re all quintessential Tarantino scenes, it also suffers from his trademark lack of self-censorship. Finally, although, stylistically, most scenes are undeniably QT -and this isn’t really his fault – his style’s been ripped off so many times (funky music, uber-gore and back-and-forth dialogue) that it no longer packs the punch it once did. As a stand-alone film, Django Unchained is a decent film dragged down by its ‘epic’ runtime and the difficult task of balancing racism and comedy. It’s only when you step back and hold it up against a film like Inglorious – equally long, but crammed with great, tense and cinematic moments – that you realise how ordinary Django Unchained is.
Le Dernier Combat (The Last Battle): every man struggles for himself in a bleak post-apocalyptic world. Shot entirely in Black and White and with no dialogue, this definitely a unique and memorable style. It looks great: the sets & costumes feel genuinely post-apocalyptic, and the actors are all interesting and peculiar, with emotive faces that lend themselves to silent film – each character’s eyes in particular tells you more than an hour of dialogue could. Despite such a grim vision of the future, there’s a healthy serving of dry, but humanistic, moments of humour and joy to provide some comic relief – the blow up doll piece is hilarious, and the “Hello” scene is cinema gold. Yet, as visually appealing and interesting as the film is, it’s equally stereotypically ‘French arthouse‘ and feels dragged out, disjointed, and pretentious at various points. Another downside is the jazz-lounge soundtrack, which is hideously dated – and with no dialogue, makes for such a crucial part of the film. For being Luc Besson‘s first film, it’s a surprisingly accurate blueprint for his career so far: ambitious, interesting, looks great, but there’s not much under the bonnet.
Note: this is post #500 since starting the site way back in July of 2009! To mark this, next week will feature guest reviews, several ‘feature’ posts as well as some more regular Paragraph Film Reviews. Thanks to everyone that reads, comments and visits the site, particularly the regulars. You folks are ace!
Seraphim Falls: a determined bounty hunter (Neeson) and his hired guns are chasing a skilled man (Brosnan) through the wilderness for reasons unknown. With two big actors centre screen you’d expect this film to play well… Broz takes his grunting to a whole new level as he’s on his own for most of his part – unfortunately, there’s also a scene where he’s genuinely out-acted by a horse! Pre-heroic re-invention Neeson feels miscast here, and in general everyone looks a bit disinterested. The writing is sloppy, and storytelling has a lot to be desired – an Indian and saleswoman appear – only to facilitate a showdown – and we don’t know why Broz is even being hunted for around 90 minutes – who should we be rooting for? With this, there’s not a whole lot of tension (essential for a decent cat-and-mouse story). It’s partially well-shot, making the biggest reason to watch this some great scenery of wilderness and breathtaking landscapes. Overlong, uninteresting and full of questionable acting, Seraphim Falls feels like a bunch of guys walking about in the words, then desert for the most part – it’s is nobody’s finest hour. 3:10 to Yuma is still the daddy of modern westerns!
Coco Before Chanel: follows the early life of Coco Chanel, who would become one of the most important fashion designers in the world, like, totally, ever! So she starts out as an orphan, and slowly grows up / whores herself into the most ungrateful super-leech in the world; this character is so unlikable that you wonder why anyone in the film tolerates her, let alone why all of the men are fawning and fighting over Coco. Early 1900s France is a lovely setting but the story, and eventual romance, are tedious. I never, ever thought I’d watch a film like this and be craving more dress-making, tailoring, and general fashion talk… but that’s how boring everything else in the movie is. Above all else the snail’s pace destroys any hint of momentum; as the film dwells on gentry lifestyle, a sulking brat-like Coco and boring class-struggles.
I scraped through the first 90 minutes, couldn’t have given less of a crap about the final 20.
Alternative plans: left my lady to it and made my supper early – mentally filed this in my crammed cabinet of boring period dramas. Couldn’t get the Stellastarr* song ‘My Coco’ out of my head… so not all bad. Other walkouts…
Melancholia: follows a group of upper-class people with first world problems as a stray planet is scheduled to do a close fly-by past earth. This film feels like Von Trier spunked most the budget in the opening and closing 5 minutes with the arty, expensive-looking, Tree-of-life-esque scenes – then worried about filling the rest as an afterthought. For being an ‘apocalyptic drama’ there’s not enough apocalypse or drama in the story for my liking. Dividing the film into two chapter-parts is ridiculous: part one is dedicated to Kirsten Dunst’s chest, at her wedding (which is brimming with pomposity) and showing us that her character is a total dickhead – this goes on for far too long. Part two is more of the same but focusing on Gainsbourg and her flaws… The film looks pretty good (cutting edge SHD Arri Alexa cameras) and is shot well barring the uber-shaky cam scenes. The acting’s also decent, but not as amazing as is being made out. The bottom line here is that it appears Mr Von Trier seems to have lost his flare for proper stories and proper storytelling. Annoyingly boring, really should have walked out.
The Eagle: twenty years after his father led 5,000 Roman soldiers to their death a rookie tries to restore his family’s name by finding the lost Roman ‘eagle standard’. In a nutshell the biggest problem this film has is lackadaisical direction – every other issue seems to stem from this: naff/ridiculous plot, complacent acting, lazy storytelling… There’s genuinely a scene where a minor character says “To find them you have to go over the snowy hills and into the next glen” – there’s a 5 second shot of our soldiers struggling through snow, and wham – they’re back in normal terrain again!!! Complimenting the visual vomit is the corniest stock Gaelic music, that drones away in the background when the soldiers are in the highlands. To make the film more sellable there are a few gratuitous action scenes but you can’t really see what’s going on, and it winds up a blurry, shaky mess. The only redeeming part is when Mark Strong appears and shows everyone how to act properly! All in, it just all feels a bit amateur, and like more of a project about someone finding their roots / heritage, than wanting to let a decent story take centre stage. If you wish to see a film about southerners taking on crazed tribes of ugly Scottish people check out Doomsday instead! Or if you want to keep it historical – Spartacus.