Saturday, 26 November 2011

Review: The Deep Blue Sea

The Deep Blue Sea, a film by Terence Davies, is adapted from a play by Terence Rattigan. Hester (Rachel Weisz) is married to a high court judge much older than her; she falls in love with a young pilot named Freddie (Tom Hiddleston) and leaves her husband for him. The film is set on a single day just after World War Two; following a failed suicide attempt, we see Hester reflect on her past relationships with both Freddie and her husband, and witness the fallout of her attempt to kill herself.

This film was very well received at this year's London Film Festival, and is being reviewed quite favourably by critics. However, a cursory glance at blogs, comment sections and forums around the net will quickly reveal a wealth of filmgoers who heartily disagree. Unfortunately (because I do hate to have to be nasty about somebody's creation) I have to add my voice to theirs. This film is limp; it's lukewarm, devoid of meaning, of passion - it's just plain boring. Well, actually, it's not 'plain' boring at all; it's utterly excruciatingly walk-out-of-the-cinema boring. I haven't been tempted to walk out of a theatre for a long time. I never do actually walk out; it's one of my rules. But today I came bloody close.

The Deep Blue Sea tries desperately to be a much better film than it is, and, clearly, thinks that it has succeeded - essentially, it has delusions of grandeur. The script, adapted by Davies from Rattigan's play, is terrible. Having not read or seen the play, I can't tell whether that is Davies' fault or Rattigan's. The three main characters are supposed to be going through a harrowing emotional experience, and indeed they do seem to be ardently trying to give that impression, what with constantly stating the obvious and announcing their feelings to the world at large. People who are suicidal, people who are in love, people who are angsty and depressed, do not just walk into rooms and tell everybody what they're feeling. It never gets quite as bad as Hester turning to Freddie and saying 'Yes, darling, I'm afraid I'm a tad suicidal, although I still love you like billy-o', but it's almost as bad.

The bland and unbelievable script is compounded by the bland and unbelievable performances delivered by Weisz and Hiddleston. Not for one second did I buy that these two were in love. In every scene they gave the distinct impression of people pretending to be people, which is of course what they are, but the viewer is not supposed to notice that. The viewer cannot believe in these characters, and so also cannot believe in their emotions, their motives or their story. As far as actors are concerned, if you can't even portray such a strong and direct emotion as love realistically, it's time to fall on your wooden sword. In The Deep Blue Sea, the end result is stilted beyond belief, and almost childish in its ineptness.

In fact, this whole film has a childish air about it, and not in a good way. Films are fake; they are a manufactured and carefully created fake reality. The whole idea is to make the viewer forget that fact, to make them 'buy' the story, to make them believe in the fiction. The Deep Blue Sea fails miserably at this challenge; it looks like something pretending to be something, the cinematic equivalent of kids playing at cops and robbers. I was ready to be impressed by this film, but I ended up just examining my fingernails and hoping that it would all be over soon. I can't in good conscience advise anyone to go to see it; the risk of slipping into a coma is just too high.

Friday, 25 November 2011

How To Study Film: Part Four


Some people just don't seem to 'get' films. Not only can they not tell the difference between a good film and a bad film, but they will in fact try to tell you that the bad films are the good films, and vice versa. This can make you want to bash their teeth in with a nice hard betamax copy of Werckmeister Harmonies. Almost as bad, or some would say even worse, are the undiscerning idiots who will watch only what they consider to be good films, or legitimate 'cinema' (cinema is a word you will hear academics say a lot when they just mean 'movies'- like independent 'cinema' or horror 'cinema'). I say undiscerning because this course of action immediately excludes many trashy 'so-awful-they're-brilliant' cult films, and also gives too much credit to films that do not entirely deserve it.

If you ever find yourself studying Film, you will inevitably come across both of these types of film fans. My main piece of advice when dealing with either one is this; never back down from your point of view. At all costs, never let them make you think you are wrong. A good thing about a subject like Film is that similarly to Art or English Literature there are very few definite answers to anything, unless it's a simple fact, like who directed what in which year. Most of Film Studies is based on one premise; 'look at this film. Is it any good? And Why?'  The problem with this method of study is that most people (and by most people, I mean everybody) believe their opinion of a film to be Right, Correct and Irrefutable. This is the natural state of things, however, you do occasionally have to be open to interpretation. There will be times when you have missed the point, either because you were too hung over to concentrate properly in the lecture theatre, or just because it went over your head. There's nothing shameful in this; give the film a second watch, chat to a few people about it, try to pay attention during the seminar, and if you still don't get it, well then, the film is probably what the late great Bill Hicks used to call a 'piece of shit' (see video below).

Like I said, once you've made up your mind, never let anyone else make you think, even for a second, that you might be wrong. Trust me; it's far more likely that the person you're talking to is an idiot. Nevermind that they got into the same Film Studies course you did, that doesn't give them the right to tell you that some boring, badly made and derivative film is the equal of oh, say, The Silence of the Lambs. I remember once having a ten minute conversation in the middle of a seminar with a guy who was trying to tell me that Hannibal, the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, is a good movie. I (of course) was arguing the exact opposite. Anyone with half an eye can see that Hannibal is the most badly written, badly shot, badly acted, badly edited... in fact, think of any aspect of filmmaking and stick the word badly in front of it and you've pretty much got a clear picture. Every time I see a bad Ridley Scott film, and believe me there are more than you'd think, I always think the same thing. "Ridley, Ridley, Ridley. What happened to you, man? You used to be cool." How can the man who directed Blade Runner and Alien also direct Hannibal, Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood? Some things man is not meant to know.

Anyway, the point is that no matter how much I stared in disbelief at this guy and explained slowly and loudly that he had it all wrong, it was to no avail. This was mainly because he was doing the exact same thing back at me. There are a lot of arrogant Film Students out there who have no more grasp of movies than a dog barking at a television because there's another dog on the screen. You don't need to be arrogant to be a decent student of Film; all you need is to cultivate an annoyingly accurate grasp of eveything from German Expressionism to Hitchcock's MacGuffins. In this way, if you can't win a standoff with an idiot by breaking down the other person's will until they admit that they just might be wrong, then you can least avoid them catching you out on anything and hold onto your position, thereby not coming across like a Film Studies Phony.

The Film Studies Phony will be discussed (at length) in the next post of 'How to Study Film'.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Review: Weekend

Just got back from seeing Andrew Haigh's Weekend, which has just shot straight into the top three contenders for the KINOLENS Best Film of 2011. Set (surprisingly enough) over the course of a weekend, Weekend follows Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), two men who pick each other up in a club on a Friday night. What starts off as a one night stand quickly turns into an incredibly deep and emotional experience for both of them, but seeing as Glen is moving to America in two days time, their relationship has an intensely finite dimension to it.

A film which hinges completely on two main characters cannot afford to skimp on the acting skill; if Russell and Glen aren't utterly real and believable, then the whole thing falls to pieces before it's even begun. Luckily, Cullen and New seem to fall into these roles without even trying. We see these two characters for only two days out of their entire lives; the two days where their lives interconnect. Although the immediacy of the situation is a key factor in why the film is so intense, it's clear that these are characters who are both defined by their pasts. Cullen and New conjure their characters, and the seperate histories of their characters, so effortlessly that at times the fourth wall seems not to break, but to dissolve. Weekend is not a film; it's a window.

Earlier today the writer Bret Easton Ellis tweeted words to the effect that although Weekend is a brilliant film, you'll never convince the straights to go to see it. Unfortunately, this is probably true. In fact, you'll probably never convince most of the gays to go to see it either. You will never see Weekend, or a film like Weekend, with a full house. Unless it's a press screening, and even then you'd be lucky. You'll have to look hard to find it showing at a popular multiplex, or on a screen that's any bigger than your bedroom wall. You have to hunt down films like this, grab them and hold on for dear life; otherwise they get made, they cause a small storm among film buffs and critics, then they get forgotten about, because that's what happens to queer cinema when it gets washed away by the mainstream. Eyes Wide Open, Shelter, Beautiful Thing, Maurice, Angels in America, Milk, My Beautiful Launderette, Hedwig and the Angry Inch: these are all fantastic films - but almost no bugger has heard of them. The sad truth is that it doesn't matter how fantastic your movie is; if you're gay, (or to a lesser extent, female) the mainstream film industry doesn't give a damn.

If you search out and watch one non-Hollywood movie this year, make it Andrew Haigh's Weekend, which is a KINOLENS Film of the Moment. Every so often someone will crack out one of these bad boys and remind everybody just how good British film can be, so take advantage of it.

Monday, 21 November 2011

How To Study Film: Part Three


Like every large and eclectic group of people, students will band together when the shit really hits the fan; if the powers that be are about to try to charge you nine grand a year just to learn, for example. However, the rest of the time they split into hundreds of factions, and factions within factions. Unfortunately for us, Film students are often among the most maligned. This is sad, but true. Although it may at times feel unfair and annoying, you can't really blame other students for this. You may be taking notes for your essay on the use and development of spectacle and special effects in American cinema, but from the outside, it looks to your housemates as though you're clogging up the living room watching Star Wars with a big bowl of popcorn in your lap.

Much of the time, you will just have to sit back and take their gentle abuse with good humour. Remember that most Film Studies courses have very little actual teaching time compared to other subjects; you will probably have to spend only about six compulsory hours a week on campus, eight at the most (not counting screenings and any time spent in the library). But when compared to your friends who are doing so-called 'real' subjects, you will come across as though you spend all your time in a hammock in the back garden, swilling beer and reading amusing blogs. And hey, I'm not saying that it's not like that, but it's very definitely not like that all the time. I can distinctly remember what it was like for me during exam season; it might not have looked like it from the outside, but it was just as tough for me as it was for everyone else. Well, almost as tough.

Many people believe themselves to be experts in Film, despite not really knowing much about it, simply because they have seen a fair amount of movies. Therefore, studying Film can appear to be just a lot of people indulging in their favourite hobby for three years and then getting a degree at the end of it. I must admit that there have been moments when I haven't exactly poured water on the fire of this misconception; I remember once coming home from campus and writing a Facebook status along the lines of 'Harriet Matthews just attended a lecture on Jurassic Park. Still think you chose the right degree?'

There's nothing wrong with admitting that Film Studies is fun. What's wrong is letting people think that's all it is - especially if those people happen to be fellow students who will think nothing of sticking out a leg causing you to face-plant into the nearest library stack just because you're carrying a pile of DVDs instead of books. OK, I'm clearly exaggerating; you won't have to put up with that. What you will have to put up with though, is a fair amount of mockery, sniping, and general holier-than-thou-ness from some fellow students who will take your degree choice as either a joke, or a personal insult. But look on the bright side; these idiots are the minority, and if they try to start any shit with you while your fellow Film buddies are around, you can all have great fun intimidating them with your word perfect 'scary gangster' quotes from films such as Pulp Fiction, or The Godfather.

So when people accuse you of messing around or slacking off (and they will) just because your degree involves studying something that is accessible to everyone with a DVD player and a local HMV, all you need to do is remember these three basic facts:

1. Film is an art form, and never let anyone tell you different.

2. Don't let people think they're as good as you just because they did two weeks on Psycho when they were fifteen.

3. Try not to gloat over your fellows too much, but don't let them call you an ignorant layabout either. It's their own fault they chose boring degrees. 

How To Study Film: Part Four: MOST PEOPLE ARE IDIOTS

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Review: The Rum Diary

Set in late 1950s San Juan, The Rum Diary was written in the early 1960s, but not published until 1998. Described as 'the long lost novel', Hunter S Thompson wrote it when he was only 22, before getting caught up in the political world of 1960s and 1970s America, which was to consume his work for the rest of his life. HST was famous for railing against corruption, being the credited creator of Gonzo journalism, chronicling the death of the American Dream, and taking a hell of a lot of drugs. He also hated Richard Nixon with a passion, and agreed to meet with him on the condition that they would only discuss football. He once ran for Sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado under the banner of 'Freak Power'; during this campaign he shaved his head so that he would be able to refer to the Republican candidate, who had a crew cut, as 'my long-haired opponent'. HST, suffering health problems and depressed about the re-election of Bush, shot himself in 2005 and died of his wounds. His ashes were shot out of a giant cannon shaped like a Gonzo fist, which was paid for by his friend Johnny Depp, the star of the film of Thompson's other semi-autobiographical novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

The Rum Diary is set before Thompson became famous, before Thompson had become Thompson, in a way. Depp and Robinson have messed about with the story a little, (a subplot about cockfighting and voodoo has been added) but the essence of the plot remains intact. Paul Kemp is the Thompson character, played here by Depp who is clearly relishing the opportunity to return to portraying HST (albeit a slightly less crazy and drugged up version of him than in Fear and Loathing). Kemp rocks up in San Juan to work for a local American run newspaper, but gets caught in the drama of the ex-pat community, and the machinations of various corrupt money men (and drinks a lot of rum while he's doing it).

Robinson and Depp have inserted some notes into the film that are not in the original book, and which smack very strongly of hindsight; some of these work well, others not so well. For example, the hilarious scene in which Kemp breathes rum-fuelled fire onto pursuers during a car chase, and the scene where he gets high on some sort of deadly eyedrops (before seeing his photographer buddy Sala's tongue come snaking out of his mouth like an anaconda) are not in the novel, nor would they have fitted very well into the novel. But, they work very well in the film because they are clear references to the crazier, more drug-fuelled, subjective and experimental nature of Thompson's later work. There are also occasional welcome flashes of Robinson's most famous work, Withnail and I, a chronicle of two out of work actors in 1960s London.

However, there has also been a rather contrived attempt to foreshadow Thompson's later career (when he developed a penchant for flaming corrupt political swine in the free press). The end of Robinson's The Rum Diary has Kemp, along with some of his fellow down-and-out journos, attempting to rally together against the corruption and profiteering they feel has scuppered their paper; they plan to fund and put out one last edition of it themselves before it goes under for good (a plan which. The fact that they fail in this attempt is crucial; if they hadn't failed (in short, if a Hollywood-style ending had been jammed onto the thing) then the film wouldn't have made any sense at all in the context of Thompson's life and work. Even so, the failure of the paper seems to have been used here as a catalyst for Kemp's/Thompson's later angry political writings, exposing 'the bastards' as they are called in the film (Thompson would probably have gone for 'swine').

This feels just a little bit too forced for comfort, especially when combined with the cringeworthy little epilogue just before the credits in which Kemp's/Thompson's later life is capsuled down for us. One of the great things about stories like The Rum Diary, or Fear and Loathing, is their open-endedness. We don't need or want to know what happened next; what we've read on paper or seen onscreen should be enough. If Thompson had wanted us to know more, he would have written it down.

While it doesn't come close the crazed brilliance of Fear and Loathing, in spite of its flaws The Rum Diary is still a funny and realistic interpretation of the novel, and of HST's general philosophy of life. As far as adaptations go, it is incredibly good - certain scenes looked exactly how I had imagined them when reading the book, and certain characters too (Giovanni Ribisi's insane drunken Moberg is especially good). A lot of money has obviously been spent making this film look like it's dropped right out of the fifties. There is never a single moment where the illusion is not one hundred percent; plus it'll make you want to go right out and smoke and drink up a storm. The Rum Diary is a KINOLENS Film of the Moment, and well worth a watch whether you're a Thompson afficionado or not (although you'll certainly get a bit more out of it if you are).

Friday, 18 November 2011

How To Study Film: Part Two

Cidade de Deus, 2002


I don't want to unduly harrass or upset any Media Studies students, but to be honest, it isn't really that undue. To quote, once again, my A Level Film Studies teacher, the great Stephanie Muir (and this time I'm pretty sure I'm word perfect): 'Media Studies is for pussies'.

I did Media Studies for GCSE, but my excuse is that I was forced into it. I wanted to do Latin, as it seemed to be the only language I actually enjoyed learning, however pointless. But, there were only three of us in the entire year who actually wanted to do it. So, the Latin course did not take place. I was forced into doing my back up choice: Media Studies, which I'd only chosen because it was either that or some bullshit like Information Technology (who knew that the internet was going to get so popular? Certainly not me). From what I can remember, it was mostly watching and dissecting ads for hours on end, which I found inexpressibly boring. The only saving grace was the section we did on horror movies, which made me realise just how much I was into cinema. No, I agree with my old teacher; Media Studies is for people who don't have the balls to do Film.

The confusion between Film and Media is a continuation of the misconception that Film Studies is a part of that modern school of 'subjects that aren't really subjects'. Media Studies, like Business or Sport Science, is one of these, another subject that older generations will dismiss out of hand simply because it was unheard of in their day. Film is an Art before it's anything else. I'm sure that Media Studies must have value for some, but in my opinion it's just a load of lightweight crap with no real meaning or substance to it. Unless you're thinking of going into advertising, or marketing (and I really can't understand why any sane human being would want to do that) I'd advise you to stay the hell away from Media Studies in all its forms. Saying that you have a Media Studies qualification is basically the equivalent of saying 'well, I don't have any real knowledge or passion about me, but I sure can cook you up a mean air-freshener ad.'

As well as that, being involved in anything that even smells like Media Studies at A Level tends to sour some of the more snooty universities against you from the get go. Oxbridge, for example, if deciding between you and another candidate with a more 'real' sounding qualification, will throw your file in the recyling without a second thought. They'll hotly deny that, of course, but if you're thinking of applying to either Oxford or Cambridge to do a Film degree, think better of it; there are far better universities for Film, and ones where you'll have a lot more fun doing it (Exeter, Kent, or Queen Mary for starters).

In Film Studies, looking down on, and indeed, discriminating against Media Studies is so widespread it is almost fashionable. When I was doing my A Level in Film, our classroom was next to one which was used for Media Studies during the same period. The wall between our rooms was one of those fake ones that can be dismantled for conferences, and was very thin, so much of the time we were disturbed by noise coming from the other room. There was one day in particular (I think we were studying City of God at the time) when we started hearing  deafening cheers about every ten minutes or so, and a friend of mine said to the room at large, 'bloody Media students. They must be watching 'Cillit Bang' adverts again.' The most amusing thing about this is that it's probably not that far from the truth. If analysing the strengths and weaknesses of 'Cillit Bang' advertising isn't really your cup of tea, then I'd advise you to steer clear.

Most university level Media courses include some vague reference to Film, usually peppering years two and three with a few modules on certain schools of Film, or certain auteur directors. Just one more word of advice; don't study Media to study Film. Study Film for its own sake or not at all. Film Studies isn't the kind of thing you can just try out for giggles and an easy 2/1; it pisses me off when people do that. It clutters up the seminar groups with idiots who are just along for the ride. When choosing a degree, choose something you love, and not just something you think will get you a job. Otherwise, what's the point? (And anyway, I hate to be the voice of doom (again) but in this day and age even so-called 'useful' degrees probably won't get you a job. So, you're better off being unemployed with an interesting degree than unemployed with a dull one)


Tuesday, 15 November 2011

How to Study Film: Part One

I've decided to do an irreverent (but true) series of posts on my experiences of studying Film academically (that's Film with a capital F). Actually, I wrote most of what will be included in the series quite a while ago for another project, but I've now decided to put it on KINOLENS instead. While this is not at all meant to be a comprehensive guide to studying Film, I'm sure that if you are currently studying it, have studied it, or are thinking about studying it, you will find these posts interesting, possibly amusing, and maybe even useful.


A lot of people make the fateful mistake of deciding to study Film because they think it will be easy. This is because most people do not associate films with anything other than something to do on a Friday night when it's raining and there's nothing on TV. In life, watching a film is the easy way out; the easy way out of boredom, the easy way out of having to interact with people, even the easy way out of reading, like they used to do in the good old days. Watching films is considered by many to be a lazy, modern entertainment option, rather like the internet or game consoles; this in spite of the fact that film, and film as entertainment, has been around in some form since the 1890s.

Hence, the idea of studying film as an art form in itself is completely alien to a lot of people, especially considering that it has only begun to be studied in earnest comparatively recently. Many colleges and universities still don't carry a Film Studies course, or lump it into an already existing department under the banner of 'English', or 'Media'. Upon announcing my intention to study Film, I experienced much disdain, especially from members of older generations who had not grown up with it as an available and legitimate subject for them to study themselves. I found myself greeted with the phrase 'Oh! Well, I'm sure that will be very interesting,' or 'I'm sure you'll enjoy that,' or 'Well, that's what it's all about these days isn't it. You'll be able to get a decent job somewhere.'

When you are confronted with comments such as this, you have two choices; either you can grit your teeth and smile politely, thereby avoiding any awkwardness or argument, and perpetuating the idea that all Film Studies students are lazy entertainment seeking clowns. Or, if you believe, like I do, that we have a right to be considered egotistical arrogant weirdos like every other legitimate art student, then you can use the points I will present you with in this series to blow those patronising bastards out of the water.

To start us off - to quote, as near as I can remember, my A-Level Film Studies Teacher: 'Film is the most important art form there is.' And she was right, as she usually was. Almost from its earliest inception, film has proved itself to be the ultimate art form. This is because it encompasses all other art forms; writing, drawing, painting, photography, theatre, music - the list goes on and on. When you study Film, it isn't just film that you study. You need to look at photographs, paintings, sculpture, architecture; you need to read book upon book - and not to mention you need to have seen at least about five times as many films as the average person, and have actually paid attention during them. Not looking so undemanding now, is it?

Not only that, probably the most important conjunctive subject you need to have more than a basic grasp of to get ahead in Film Studies, even more important than English, is History. Knowing what was happening when and in which country when a certain film was made by a certain director has saved my ass in an exam more times than I would care to recall. It really makes you sound like you know what you're talking about - I can remember once babbling on about Pedro Almodovar in connection with Franco's rule of Spain; the examiner ate it right up. But, in all seriousness, there is barely a film out there that is not influenced by historical happenings, all the way from factual heavyweights like Schindler's List down to piss-taking fantasies like the Indiana Jones films. I challenge you to think of any film that cannot be linked, however tenously, to historical fact. So buy yourself some more books and fork out for the history channel, or I guarantee that you will very quickly find yourself up shit creek. And while you're at it, explain to the fuckwits who try to tell you that Film Studies is simply a vacuous entertainment quest why films like Schindler's List need to be studied.

This post is running on a bit, so I'll round it off with one final point: I once had a conversation with someone who, upon learning that I was studying Film, began voicing the opinion that Directors have the world's easiest job (anyone not very familiar with the subject of Film will immediately assume that you want to be a Director, it's just one of those things). Anyone who has ever tried to make their own film, or even just anyone who has watched a behind the scenes documentary, knows different. Making films involves problem upon problem, and then more problems that are caused by the solutions to the other problems. I wouldn't wish being a Director on my worst enemy. It's incomprehensible to me that there are people out there who think that a director actually does just sit in a folding chair with their name on the back, wearing stupid trousers and yelling orders through a megaphone. Directors have the hardest job in the film industry; not only do they have to know how to do their own job, but they have to know how to do everybody else's as well. That's what being a Director is. Studying Film (and creating it) is not easy, it's not insignificant, and it's not childish; what it is is worthwhile.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Review: Wuthering Heights

In adapting Wuthering Heights, Andrea Arnold was faced with a choice; she could have made yet another straight, dull version of a well known classic which has already been done to death (the route taken by Cary Fukunaga earlier this year with his insipid version of Jane Eyre). Or, she could have done what she did, which was re-imagine the novel in a risky, innovative and uniquely cinematic way.

The cinematography of Wuthering Heights is so consistently cerebral that it almost feels as though the film is being beamed straight into your brain, Matrix style. Shot in favour of Heathcliff's point of view, the camera is shaky and subjective; we only experience what Heathcliff experiences, we only hear what he hears, we only see what he sees (there's a lot of peeking through cracks in doors). There's also a lot of weather. This film takes pathetic fallacy just about as far as it can go without becoming ridiculous; there is serious rain and biblical wind (what with it being 'Wuthering Heights' and all) almost constantly. In fact, Arnold seems to have used the wind in lieu of  a soundtrack, which is very atmospheric and works well. And, of course, extensive use is made of the wild and untamed beauty of the English moors.

Critics have said of Arnold's Wuthering Heights that it begins well, tails off in the middle, and loses the plot by the end. The first half of the film, which shows the arrival of Heathcliff at Wuthering Heights and his burgeoning relationship with Cathy while they are children, is thought to be brilliant, while the transition from children to adults is said to be jarring, with the adult actors unable to continue the intensity of the children. While this may be true of Kaya Scodelario, who makes for a rather watery adult Cathy, it most certainly is not true of James Howson as adult Heathcliff. After hearing that Cathy is planning to marry another, child Heathcliff does a bunk in the middle of the night. Rather than sticking in the traditional 'five years later' routine that most directors do when they are faced with a time jump, Arnold simply cuts straight to yet another shot of the misty moor, in the centre of which adult Heathcliff slowly appears, walking towards the camera. Far from being jarring, I felt that this version of the transition was simply 'no-nonsense', rather like this entire adaptation, if the sex, violence and swearing are anything to go by (Heathcliff even yells the dreaded c-word at the rather refined family of Cathy's betrothed). As for James Howson himself (an untrained, inexperienced actor), he does an exquisite job of portraying the half-mad, lovesick, suicidal Heathcliff; in fact he brought me to tears during a certain climactic scene.

Wuthering Heights shares many characteristics with Arnold's earlier film Fish Tank, not the least of which is the feeling of being trapped. There is an overwhelming sense of imprisonment throughout the film, perhaps conjured by Heathcliff's subjective viewpoint. Arnold has famously cast Heathcliff as black, presumably brought to England against his will judging by the whip marks on his back. Arnold shoots Heathcliff as though he is weighed down, fenced in by something; the square screen ratio also helps to make even the rolling landscape of the moors seem closed in. The film never leaves this setting, and by the end it has become almost claustrophobic, stuffed with endless shots of moths, dead animals, rotting fruit and the like. By about two thirds of the way through I was itching to jump up and run out of the theatre, but towards what I don't know; perhaps it was just sympathy for imprisoned Heathcliff, marching inexorably towards his own doom.

Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights is a KINOLENS Film of the Moment. It is on general release in Britain, and hopefully soon will be everywhere else.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Review: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

Having already lent itself very well to television and film adaptations, it was really only a matter of time until Herge's The Adventures of Tintin series was brought up to date with some shining CGI and motion capture, riding the crest of the latest 3D wave. This is Spielberg's first animated feature; in fact, he originally wanted to make a live action version of Tintin, but was persuaded to do otherwise by none other than Peter 'Lord of the Rings' Jackson, who became a producer on the film. Jackson claimed that live action could never truly do justice to Tintin's world, so beloved by those who were childhood fans of the comic books (like me). In my opinion, it is perhaps unfortunate that Spielberg gave in.

The production team behind Tintin faced the same problem as that behind the Chronicles of Narnia, and indeed any modern update of beloved children's classics. They all have to make the decision between making a film suitable for children, a film that families can go and see together with nobody getting scared or offended, and making a film which is going to satisfy and impress those who are now adults, but were huge fans of the stories when they were young, and still are. Most films aren't able to find a balance between the two and aren't brave enough to make a scarier, adult-oriented version for fear of being given a certificate that will price them out of the family market. So, they go all out for wholesome childhood entertainment, which pleases the kids but bores the adults, or, they make an attempt at finding a balance, and fail miserably, turning their endeavour into a dull lump which jumps from one side of the fence to the other, disappointing almost everybody. Unfortunately, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, is the latter.

I'll admit it certainly looks very good, and they have clearly made the effort to study the visual style of the books carefully, taking much of their inspiration directly from the original drawings. But, the CGI still can't quite sustain the velocity of the action; the original Tintin books jump from situation to situation so quickly that they read like a Bourne movie. While there is very definitely a strong argument for keeping Tintin animated (and this version certainly seems to amuse children no end), a well done, slightly more adult-oriented, perhaps a bit gritty, or even violent action version of Tintin would have been a bolder move, and made for a much more intriguing film. Watching this version, I frequently found myself bored by it, which I never do when reading the comic books. While there is a lot of shooting, explosions, and even a scene in which a man gunned down on Tintin's doorstep leaves a clue for him using his own blood, this film was not in any way tense, or thrilling. Considering that the original books (although fantastical in places) are essentially the most tension-filled, high-octane, people getting coshed left right and centre investigative spy thrillers you can lay your hands on, it's quite an amazing feat that Spielberg has pulled off in making them into something this dull.

Then again, this is most definitely a Children's Film, and I am no longer in the target audience. Judging by the giggles coming from seats around me, it's certainly worth a look if you're under ten. And, I wouldn't go quite as far as Nicholas Lezard in the guardian (whose review, 'How could they do this to Tintin?' you can read here) who, although he offers excuses for it, compares sitting through The Adventures of Tintin to witnessing a rape (one wonders what the editors were thinking when they gave that one the green light). That sort of comparison, of course, is entirely uncalled for: I hardly ever say this, but people: it's only a movie.

The best part of the film is the opening credits, a 2D extravaganza in the classic style of Tintin's old-school romps.The comic books are still there; I'd advise you to read them, they're brilliant.  Leave the CGI to the kids this time.

Even More Blog Changes...

As you may have noticed I have been making a few changes to the blog lately, the largest of which is the new title. I decided I wanted to give Welcome to the Doom Generation a shorter, more memorable and above all more film related name, seeing as it has developed from a personal blog mostly related to my fiction writing, into a subject specific blog which is almost entirely dedicated to the cinema and film reviews.

Front runners for the new title included 'Cinephile' and 'Cineaste', but eventually I settled on what has now become the blog's official new title, KINOLENS. I was originally going to go with just 'KINO' on its own, but unfortunately that URL is already taken (the new URL for KINOLENS is

'Kino-lens' is a take on early Russian director Dziga Vertov's concept of the Kino-eye. Vertov would sometimes refer to his camera as his 'second eye' (which, when you think about it, should really have been 'third eye'!). Vertov's most well known film, pictured above, is Man With a Movie Camera, 1929, a mesmerising extended experiment in Soviet Montage. In differentiating himself from Vertov, Sergei Eisenstein (Vertov's contemporary and director of films such as Battleship Potemkin, 1925, and Strike!, 1925) described his own approach as 'Kino-fist'.

I am an eye. I am a mechanical eye. I, a machine, I am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see - Dziga Vertov.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Top Ten: Movie Showdowns

These 'Top Tens' are just for my, and hopefully also your, amusement - feel free to add any showdowns you think have been grossly overlooked.

10. Inigo Montoya versus Count Tyrone Rugen

"My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Nuff said.

9. The Good versus the Bad versus the Ugly

When teenaged Quentin Tarantino went to sleep at night, this is what his dreams looked like. The climactic showdown of Sergio Leone's classic Western The Good the Bad and the Ugly is widely considered to be one of the greatest pieces of filmmaking ever; if you felt like trying to cut through the tension in this scene, you'd need a chainsaw to do it.

8. Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker

If you don't know by now that Darth Vader is in fact Luke Skywalker's father, then frankly, you deserve to have the twist spoiled for you. This is a bit of a weird one, as the showdown isn't really between Luke and Vader; more between Luke and the Emperor, or even Luke and the Dark Side of the Force. Or perhaps between Vader and the Emperor, or Vader and his own internal demons...Maybe the title of this one should just have been the Force versus the Dark Side of the Force...but then, the whole point of the Force is that it is both good and bad in perfect balance. So technically, it's impossible ever to have a real showdown between the light and the dark...Time for another training session on Dagobah...

7. Oh Dae Su versus Woo-jin

My favourite film in Chan-wook Park's Vengeance Trilogy, Oldboy, is loosely based on the most famous revenge story ever, The Count of Monte Cristo. Oh Dae Su, after being inexplicably imprisoned for fifteen years, is suddenly and just as inexplicably set free. He vows revenge on whoever it was that orchestrated his imprisonment, and sets about trying to discover their identity. Eventually, he finds that the culprit is an old school friend of his, Woo-jin (hence Oldboy) and that in fact, the long imprisonment was only the beginning of Woo-jin's revenge upon Oh Dae Su, for something Oh Dae Su can barely remember. Oh Dae Su and Woo-jin engage in a violent and psychologically torturous battle which, it becomes clear, neither can win. The denouement of this film is horribly brilliant. Don't watch it while you're eating.

6. Ellen Ripley versus the Alien Queen

In probably the most memorable scene of any of the Alien films, Ripley battles the Alien Queen from within one of James Cameron's favourites, a human-shaped forklift (also seen in Avatar which, according to the Sci-Fi timeline, took, or will take, place between Alien and Aliens). The queen puts up a pretty good fight in revenge for her burned clutch of eggs, but she is no match for Ripley's tenacious defence of surrogate daughter Newt ("Get away from her, you bitch!"), and is soon sent spinning into the vacuum of space.

5. Beatrix Kiddo versus Oren Ishii

Another set of women in at number five. The superbly choreagraphed final fight of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 between Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu is one of my pet favourite screen scuffles. Not that you could really call it a scuffle; the blood splattered bride shows up at the House of Blue Leaves, mutilates her old friend Sophie, hacks her way through the Crazy 88 ("Well, there wasn't really 88 of 'em. They just called themselves the Crazy 88"), before braining that psycho Gogo with a handy nail-adorned table leg. Only then does she repair to the snow-covered rooftop garden to face down Oren in the ultimate Samurai battle, eventually slicing the top of her head off like a watermelon. If I were ever to take bloody revenge on someone, that's certainly how I'd go about it.

4. Gandalf the Grey versus the Balrog of Morgoth

Still one of the best CGI sequences I have ever seen, the epic battle between Gandalf and the Balrog, which is seen in Frodo's dream/flashback at the beginning of The Two Towers, makes it to number four in my list. In fact, this showdown is so epic that it kills both of its combatants, although of course Gandalf miraculously regenerates into Gandalf the White in order to be able to show up at the battle of Helm's Deep, and then later at Minas Tirith ("Send these foul beasts into the abyss!")

3. Colonel Kurtz versus Captain Willard

In the final scene of Coppola's Apocalypse Now, Willard (Martin Sheen) stalks towards Kurtz (Marlon Brando) in the manner of a hunter. Willard emerges from the darkness, slowly closing in on the brightly lit centre that is Kurtz, whose death is edited together with the brutal sacrifice of a cow. While his murder is technically an assassination, it seems to have an intensely personal element to it. Willard's killing of Kurtz is not just the assassination of an insane officer, but a symbolic act; the self destructive act of obliterating his own unconscious mind. (I wrote my dissertation on Vietnam War films. You can tell, right?)

2. Vito Corleone versus Don Fanucci

This sequence from Godfather Part 2 beats the equally amazing restaurant killing in Part 1 simply because it's been massively overshadowed for too long. Vito (a young Robert de Niro) follows the progress of Don Fanucci through the crowds drawn by a religious parade. Fanucci is in the street, while Vito is spying on him from the rooftops. The sequence is deliciously slow, building up to the brilliantly understated climax of Vito hiding in the shadows outside Fanucci's door, having strategically unscrewed a lightbulb. Wrapping up his gun to muffle the noise, he wordlessly shoots Fanucci as he arrives (but not before the Don has had enough time to turn around and see exactly who is about to pop him), and the wrapping around his gun bursts into flames.

1. The Narrator versus Tyler Durden

Surely the greatest ever showdown must be the one you have with yourself. Especially if the part of yourself you are fighting happens to look like a drugged-up, escaped mental patient version of Brad Pitt. At the end of Fight Club, the Narrator finally turns on his alter ego. This fight with a man that only Edward Norton can see is very cleverly dealt with by director David Fincher. Example: seen through the camera, Brad Pitt is most definitely present, but seen through the cctv camera, the truth is revealed and Pitt is absent as Norton appears to throw himself down a flight of stairs. Realising that he cannot beat Tyler, the Narrator formulates the clever solution of putting the gun in his own mouth and pulling the trigger. By a happy chance, the bullet only goes through his neck, leaving him alive; however, since he thought he was killing himself, alter ego Tyler keels over, the back of his head blown to smithereens...