By Becca Hutson
Disney owned studio, Pixar is leading Hollywood in animation. Having the hallmark stamp of Pixar on a film, guarantees an audience and revenue. It also guarantees audiences value for money and Toy Story 3 is the 11th feature from the studio, which began life in 1984 as the computer graphics division of George Lucas’s Lucasfilm Ltd, before Steve Jobs bought it for $10m two years later.
According to the Guardian, only Japan’s Studio Ghibli has been more consistently groundbreaking in animation, and even it has floundered somewhat with its last two films. Arguably, Pixar has not floundered, although Cars did see a dip in the usually splendiferous profits. Toy Story is one of the studio’s biggest hits, with humour in double entendres satisfying both children and adults mixed in with brilliant effects and story lines which are engaging and heartwarming for all without being mushy. My ultimate personal Pixar favourite is Ratatouille which reminded me of the Disney films I used to watch in the 90s such as Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. In Ratatouille, the effects enhance the story rather than the story being a byline to technical gadgetry. The story warmed my cockles, leaving me feeling emotionally involved with a rat that dreams of being a world class Parisian chef.
According to reviews, Toy Story 3 shouldn’t fail to please, especially in 3D. It’s already out in the US but it will come to UK cinemas on July 19th.
I enjoy glorious, papery fossil Clint Eastwood behind the camera as much as in front of it. His style is calm without being ponderous, and unfussy without being artless. So you’d expect him to bring the right kind of gravitas to the subject of the South African 1995 Rugby World Cup, which for many signalled the true end of apartheid in a once divided country. The result is Invictus, a movie that is as solid as a rock and slightly more interesting than the average documentary, laced with performances that would have seemed like perfect Oscar bait if it wasn’t for their understated, ostensibly accurate nature. I’m not sure why Hollywood had to make this movie, but I’m cautiously glad of its existence. Which is roughly how I feel about Stonehenge, or Ke$ha’s song Tik Tok.
Morgan Freeman, one of the few people to have a voice that sounds edible, plays Nelson Mandela, and he’s had a pretty convincing performance wrangled out of him, presenting Mandela in a way that feels human and real, in spite of the gargantuan weight of the role. Matt Damon snatches second billing as South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, and he also takes a considered approach to characterisation. The scenes in which the two interact are some of the best, and although Damon’s part could have been played by many other actors, I cannot think of another person better suited to channelling Mandela than Morgan Freeman.
Here is my inevitable digest of the plot: Mandela is released after his years of incarceration, runs for and wins the presidency of a democratised South Africa in ’94, realises that the deep wounds of the country can perhaps be fixed by something as simple as a sporting event, and then goes about engineering a truce between the white and black civilians that involves supporting the Springboks on their 1995 Rugby World Cup campaign. He ropes in the help of Pienaar, and the film shows these two as the only ones who ultimately believe in the unifying power of sport whilst those on both sides express doubt in varying degrees. If you have any idea about the history behind the film, or you understand how Hollywood narratives work, you’ll already know the ending. Getting there involves sitting through a well formed but excessively glossy tale.
I’ve been assured by some rugby loving friends that the set piece remakes of the actual matches are quite laughable, and you can definitely tell that Mr Damon, although shaped roughly like a rugby player, does not fill Francois Pienaar’s 6’3” shadow with his 5’10” frame. For most people who lack an appreciation for the finer points of the sport, this isn’t really an issue, and the games themselves play only a small role in the film.
Aside from the interaction between Freeman and Damon, the supremely akward mixing of white and black security teams who are charged with protecting Mandela creates some of the film’s finer moments. It’s almost enough to make you forget the slightly schmaltzy sequence in which Pienaar and the team visit the prison where Mandela spent many years, which Eastwood overeggs with shots of a ghostly Freeman performing hard labour and wistful philosophising in an unnecessary interpretation of what Pienaar must have been imagining. The claustrophobic nature of Mandela’s actual prison cell is poignant enough on its own.
Invictus is a film that is propelled by the weight of history, and only remains interesting because the events it depicts actually occurred. Without this it might be considered to be a fairly bland drama that is neither entirely political nor particularly dramatic. However, it has been constructed with care, and its ride through the 1995 Rugby World Cup is smooth and predictable, which is comforting in its way.
By Alice Rowsome
Angelina Jolie is said to be following Elizabeth Taylor’s footstep as she takes on the role of Cleopatra in a new film about the Queen of the Nile. And starring opposite her as Marc Anthony? Her very own leading man, Brad Pitt. Yes a very intersting set up!
Originally it was Elizabeth Taylor who starred in the historical epic which followed the triumphs of the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra, alongside lover Richard Burton in the 1963 Classic.The film will be inspired by the new biography about Cleopatra, written by Stacy Schiff, who has said she strongly believes Jolie would be a wonderful fit for the Egyptian Queen. She said:‘I think she’d be perfect for it and I can see a possible Oscar in her future. Physically, she’s got the perfect look.’
Schiff also stated she thought Pitt would make the perfect actor to play out Marc Anthony.
‘They are the Burton and Taylor of our day, reconciling and breaking up within a day in the tabloids.’
Schiff’s book isn’t published yet but the film script is already being put together.
Taylor and Burton have set the bar high. It is not sure whether Pitt and Jolie will be able to compete with the passionate lover’s version….
By Jonathan Campbell
I’m lovin’ it.
Food that is.
Fast food, slow food, healthy food and – of course – the not so healthy kind.
But how much love does the food industry have for us?
That’s the question Food, Inc. sets out to answer.
Directed by Robert Kenner and nominated in the Documentary Feature category at this years Oscar’s, Food, Inc. is an investigation into the modern methods used by the American food industry. Read more »
By Clark Hogan-Taylor
Since you’re reading this on an internet somewhere you’re likely to have noticed that the current trend in trying to get us all to start paying for our media again is to make accessing it as easy as possible. Take Spotify: free at the point of use (if you can get an invite) with adverts interrupting your music to cover their revenue. You can have ad-free playing for just £9.99 a month. Now, you may have heard various e-whisperings about Spotify being up the revenue stream without a royalty paddle because no-one’s paying for it and indeed they only have 320,000 paying subscribers. That feels like a number that should be higher, especially when you learn they have around 7 million actual users. But that’s all as maybe. For the moment it still exists and my guess is that it’s not going anywhere. This is because Daniel Ek, the 26-year-old CEO of Spotify, clearly understands the experience he needs to deliver. I invoke his philosophy here only because I think Blinkbox could do with taking note:
Ek said he wanted “music to be like water”, flowing easily from device to device. “The key with Spotify, is that it will enable your music library on all kind of devices, whether it’s a phone, set-top box or games console,” said Ek, appealing to the tech-savy crowd with the opinion that “if music, legally, could be on any device in a way that’s as simple as it is to get music from iTunes to the iPhone, then the music industry would be radically bigger.”
I know this is the right approach because I am non-paying Spotify user who thinks £9.99 a month to be able to stream music without adverts only on my PC is a joke. I wouldn’t own that music, I would simply have access to it. That is access I already have because I have the internet, which I already pay for. However, if when I left the house, the music accessible on my computer were available on my iPod wherever I went, and then when I got to my friend’s house it was there on his Xbox, or when I just went downstairs it was available through my set top box – in other words, if it really was all-pervasive (see water analogy) – I would pay for it. And before you decide I am made from 100% moron, I am aware that Spotify Premium users can listen to all that music on their iPhones. If I had one, or if I could do that on my BlackBerry, I would pay.
What I would be paying for is convenience. Putting aside the legal and moral arguments about torrenting, it’s simply more effort than using Spotify, and that – not its illegality – is its Achilles heel. Mr Ek understands this; Mr Blinkbox does not.
Launched in 2008, Blinkbox works on the premise that we will be prepared to either pay up to around £10 (most things are much cheaper) to rent or buy movies or TV programmes, or pay nothing but endure endless adverts to watch a far smaller selection of material for nothing. Even setting aside the complicated website, frustrating download experience and bizarre selections of available material, I just don’t believe people are going to buy this in any sense. If only 320,000 are prepared to pay £9.99 a month to access a huge selection of music, why would the same number or higher be prepared to pay between £1.99 and £10 each time they want to watch a film? For £9.99 a month you can get unlimited rentals from LoveFilm.com, although only one disc at a time. But if you fancied watching Watchmen, Inglorious Basterds and Avatar this month, Blinkbox would require £18.97 from you. In fact, none of the pricing really makes sense. There are some bargains in there: you could rent Syriana, Three Kings and The Machinist for £0.99 each, but the relatively obscure and completely dreadful Vice Versa is £5.99 to buy, with no option to rent. Why?
I was pretty excited when I noticed the decade selection bar that goes from 2010 down to ‘1950s or earlier’. I wasn’t disappointed when I saw old episodes of Popeye, Betty Boop and Tom and Jerry in there either. The 1970s category also contains some unexpected gems: Marvin Gaye, Fats Domino, The Beach Boys. But my immediate reaction was, why? Maybe it’s just me. See what you think. The free 1980s category contains 10 titles: The Young Ones, Super Dimension Fortress Macross (me neither), Around the World in 80 Days, The Day of the Triffids, The Beach Boys, Boy George, TJ Hooker Minisodes, James Brown, Joe Cocker and A Tribute To Count Basie. What on earth are the selection criteria? It’s like there’s been an explosion down your local HMV and this stuff is just lying in the street. I can see no stronger link.
The problem is not just the confusion this creates but that at no point, therefore, is a group of people, having decided they want to watch any specific thing, going to think, ‘I know! Blinkbox!’, because you won’t know. You’ll have no idea. At a push you might go on there to check; more likely you’ll just torrent it. Not only that, but torrenting a film*, from start to finish, is a thousand times easier than downloading a film from Blinkbox. The process is as follows: you click buy, you click next, you click purchase, you click ‘Download to PC’, you have to install the Blinkbox download manager (8.37 mb), Internet Explorer asks if you want to install it, you say yes, you click install again, you choose save or run, it downloads, installs (with all the usual Windows hilarity), you bring the web page back up, you click download, Windows asks if you meant this, you say you did, Blinkbox download manager opens, the show begins to download (usually), you go to your videos folder, open it and begin watching. Except you don’t because it’s a protected .wmv file, so then once you’ve realised you can’t play it in VLC but have to open Windows Media Player, it then presents you with a box into which you have to enter your Blinkbox username and password in compliance with Microsoft’s horrendous Digital Rights Management software. If you do this correctly, you can press play and watch the film you paid for now roughly two hours ago.
Films have been shot in less time. In fact it takes less time to watch some of the clips than it does to download them. Given that getting people to use this kind of thing is all about ease of access, this is Not Good.
You’d only have to install the download manager once though, right? Well kind of, except the second time I went to do it I had to re-download it because it needed updating, which just made the obvious question resound louder: what is the point of a download manager? I know the files are DRM protected but that doesn’t prevent them from just utilising the current download manager everybody uses that’s already built into Windows.
Blinkbox is a site desperately in need of a Unique Selling Point, or at least an obvious reason to go there. It needs to have something that would make a group of people think, ‘Oh, let’s use Blinkbox, it’ll have that.’ But in some ways it already does. I’ve never seen a site with such a fascinatingly obscure archive of material. Initially it’s genuinely exciting to browse. It’s badly organised and incredibly patchy but nonetheless, where else are you going to go for 1950s cartoons or the TV series of Robocop? I would venture that a properly organised site offering otherwise hard to find retro nuggets from decades past, with a monthly subscription or free with ads, might be very popular. I suspect this is not Blinkbox’s aim, however, and I fear it will suffer as a result.
Islamic terrorism is not, at first glance, an innately funny subject. What is funny about blowing yourself and numerous innocents up in a hateful attack on the decadent West? Quite a lot, it turns out.
Four Lions, the first feature effort from Brass Eye creator and all-round satirical genius Chris Morris, is a daring piece of filmmaking. The plot revolves around a band of wannabe suicide bombers and their efforts to blow up the London Marathon. Or a mosque. They can’t decide which.
The group consists of Omar, the level headed, ostensibly Westernised mastermind of the group; his likeable but thick as fudge sidekick Waj; white Islamic convert Barry, and their friend Faisal, whose beard-hiding antics feature heavily in the film’s trailer. We follow the group through the travails of a training camp in Pakistan, endless internal bickering and a tragic yet inexplicably amusing incident involving a sheep.
It is said that there is a fine line between comedy and tragedy, and never has the cliché rang more true than in the case of Four Lions. The film somehow drags its audience through the spectrum of human emotion as each scene progresses. There were times when my belly laugh was the only one in a cinema of shocked faces, and others when my shock played out to a chorus of hysterics from the aisles.
This is the beauty of Four Lions. It challenges everybody’s perceptions and everybody reacts a different way. The film may rely heavily on farce for its humour, but it is not on humour alone that it lives and dies. It is the touching moments of brotherly love between the protagonists, the seething frustration in their disagreements, and their ultimately human desire to influence a world in which they feel anonymous, that connects with their audience.
Four Lions is even-handed with its satirical knife. There is no discernable bias for or against religion; indeed the film isn’t really about religion or Islam at all. The would-be bombers are the butt of many jokes, but the most savage of all rebukes is for the bungling Metropolitan Police in an obscenely funny but poignant pastiche of the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes.
The film has its flaws, however. The relationship between Omar and his wife and child in particular is shallow in its portrayal. Their circumstances are never fully explained, and Omar himself is a character whose complexity is sometimes lost in the sea of mirth produced by his witless companions. These are small quibbles, however, in a movie that ultimately hits its target dead on. The subject of jihad, so long a flashpoint for fury, is shown in all its humanity. It is furious yet farcical, potent yet pitiful.
Four Lions will cause controversy only amongst those who have not seen it. Morris once again has scored a victory over tabloid hysteria and the chattering classes alike. Terrorism has never been this entertaining.
By Becca Hutson
To commemorate what would have been the 100th birthday of one of cinema’s greats, Akira Kurosawa was awarded his very own Google Doodle – joining the likes of Mahatma Ghandi, HG Wells and Vivaldi.
Known for not only directing films – but also producing and screen writing too -Kurosawa made 31 films in his 50 year career, including The Seven Samurai which he co-wrote and directed. Telling the story of seven samurai who rescue a village held hostage by a gang of bandits (to reduce the plot, somewhat), the final battle scene is widely regarded as cinematic art in it’s highest form, and the film provided the direct inspiration for the Steve McQueen epic-western, The Magnificant Seven. Read more »
By Jonathan Campbell
I love girls.
Wait. Read more »
By Nicholas Deigman
Dir: Kirk Jones Cast: Robert DeNiro, Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale
Frank Goode has spent his whole life making rubber coating for the telephone wires that run alongside America’s railways. This has had two major consequences: firstly, he has developed an illness from decades of breathing in noxious fumes; secondly, he barely knows his own four middle-aged children. Both of these things come to light in the weeks following his wife’s death; and so it is fair to say that Frank has been granted a rare and precious window to peer inside his own past and find out where he lost his way.
As his four children make their excuses to avoid visiting him for a reunion dinner, Frank decides to head out on an ill-advised (in fact downright forbidden as far as his doctor is concerned) road trip to surprise his unwitting cubs in their natural surroundings. In Frank’s eyes this can have nothing but cheerful and fulfilling consequences; his successful, grounded, and thoroughly happy children couldn’t possibly have anything to hide from their loving, if slightly distant, pater right? wrong.
As Frank travels the length and breadth of Whitman’s beloved country, he watches the great American Dream crashing before him and hurling the wreckage at his feet. He discovers that his wife had lied to him about the his children’s successes, and neglected to tell him about their multitude of frailties and failures. His artist son, David, is nowhere to be found in New York; and his only truly successful child (Amy, an advertising executive) is too busy juggling a failed marriage and trying to find out what the hell has happened to David (he was last heard from in a Mexican jail) to pay her long lost father any attention. Robert, supposedly a famous conductor, actually plays a timpani drum at the back of the orchestra; and Rosie, a “famous dancer”, is a single mother tending a bar in Las Vegas.
The most painful thing about this slow crumbling illusion is the pitiful desperation with which each child tries to conceal their failure. Frank is heart-broken by the realisation that his children would rather lie than be honest with him; and he comes to realise that this is essentially his fault. But through determination and a new found humility, he is able to bond the family together again, and as he stands before his wife’s grave delivering an update on how the kids are doing, he is able to honestly reflect that… everybody’s fine.
Whatever Kirk Jones set out to do, he has created a truly sparing and beautiful film. There is plenty of humour and melodrama to keep commercial audiences happy, but beneath that there really is a depth of emotion that is quite devastatingly affecting. Frank’s realisation that he is the main source of antagonism in the lives of the four children that he has spent his whole life supporting is brutal, but the fact that there is no real opportunity for resolution is even more heartbreaking. It is too late to help his children improve their lives, and it is too late to witness them becoming the individuals they are now. All that is left for Frank to do is let the past slip away and try to enjoy an uncertain but comfortable future now that the illusions have been obliterated.
There is also a deep emotional resonance in the stories of the four children. For most of the year, we are confident in the conviction that the endless struggles and compromises that fill our daily lives are actually part of the fabric of modern life; but then we all have those awkward meals and visits when our parents ask us why we aren’t happier or more successful, and it is at these crushing moments that we suddenly feel like we have failed in some way. It is a painful but inspiring reminder that ‘Life’ is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted; and this universal truth is etched on the faces of Frank’s desperately fragile children, especially Sam Rockwell, who is superb as the childish but shy musician.
But more than anything else, this really is a powerful, elegiac ode to America: The Place Where Nobody Feels At Home. Some of the greatest films about nations are made by outsiders – Alan Parker, a born and bred Londoner, created two of the greatest films about 20th century America with Mississippi Burning and The Life of David Gale – and Kirk Jones achieves a similar result with Everybody’s Fine. Frank is a blue-collar man who has spent his life working in a factory while his wife and country lie to him about successes at home and abroad. He has buried himself in his work and allowed the American Dream to whisk him away from the gritty reality of life. When he finally wakes up and takes a look outside his cave – and takes off on the railways and highways that he, in a sense, helped to build – he realises that he lives in a nation of alienated and scared souls travelling from place to place. This is the tangible sense of loneliness at the heart of the film. Frank’s speciality was telephones, but everything about the American Dream is innately ‘tele’ – spread over great distances with no real connection or community to link it’s disparate elements.
Finally, and so inherent to the success of the film, is the performance of Robert DeNiro. He has been an absorbing, brooding New Yorker for four decades, but his attempts at expressing a more sympathetic side to the human condition have often fallen short. Perhaps largely as a result of his age, rather than a conscious change in his style, his performance in this film is wonderful. The powerful and stubborn DeNiro of Raging Bull is still hiding in the ridges and wrinkles of his aged face; but he is stooped in a softening pathos for the entirety of the film, and we cannot help but fall deeply under the spell of his quivering frowns and tear-filled eyes. If DeNiro was the John Wayne of New Hollywood, then this is his The Quiet Man.
By Becca Hutson
American documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger’s Crude, which Leonardo DiCaprio described as a ‘true life drama’ was honoured at the Cinema for Peace gala in Berlin.
The award for special commitment to the environment was presented to Berlinger by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who were the two guests of honour at the ceremony.
Crude is an environmentally critical work, documenting the struggle of Ecuadorians against the pollution of the Amazon by an oil company.
Berlinger said, ‘this is a tribute to human suffering’ and described the prize as a ‘profound honour’ and the film as ’small and difficult’.
Crude beat off competition from Avatar and from 2012 director, Roland Emmerich.
The Cinema for Peace gala forms part of the Berlinale, despite not being included on the official program.