Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Senna

In recent years I've stopped watching documentaries. On the whole, the task has become futile. In the past the purpose of a documentary was to investigate a subject and present the findings to the audience in an interesting, and preferably balanced fashion. Unfortunately, all that has changed in recent years and I predominantly blame one man for that.

Now don't misunderstand me, this is not about my political persuasion or anybody else's for that matter, but Michael Moore is responsible for making documentaries unwatchable for me. I may agree with a lot of the points he made in Bowling for Columbine, Sicko etc and I may disagree with others. However, at no point did he ever try to present all of the facts on a topic. His style is to ram his personal agenda down the throat of the audience and ignore or even ridicule any attempt to disagree. This does not encourage debate, it destroys it. It's also quite a good example of how American politics is becoming increasingly combative and antagonistic.

If it were just Michael Moore doing this then it wouldn't be a problem. The problem is that, probably because Moore's films became commercially successful, everyone else has began to follow his lead. There was Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth that, while making some fascinating points, refused to engage with differing opinions and even included some 'key scientific errors' according to a high court judge. Then there was the guy that ate nothing but McDonalds for a few weeks and expected us to be shocked when he got ill. Hey buddy, try eating nothing but bananas for a month and see what happens to you.

It's not just films either. Regular documentary series in the UK like Panorama and Dispatches are copying the 'Moore Method' as I like to call it and are therefore pointless viewing in my opinion.

I realise I have spent a lot of time getting round to the subject matter of this post, but I want to make it absolutely clear how much I hate documentaries before I talk about out how much I loved Senna. It was the best thing I've seen in the cinema this year and probably the best documentary I've ever seen.

I'm sure that it helps that I am a motor racing fan and I remember watching Senna and Prost go to war with each other when I was young. I also vividly recall watching the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994 and seeing the crash that killed him. At the time Seena seemed like an old man to me. I was only 13 myself and he'd been at the top of Formula 1 almost my whole life. Watching the film this weekend reminded me of just how young he was, which made his success even more incredible.

Almost surprisingly the film doesn't show as much racing footage of Senna as you might expect. It certainly shows enough to remind you of the phenomenal skill he had and how reckless he could be, but there is much more behind the scenes footage and excellent storytelling that help to bring everything together without relying on replaying races.

His battles with Prost and the management of F1 at the time are obviously a big focus and I will confess that Senna is very much painted as the good guy, despite a few indiscretions. However, it is important to remember that despite the animosity between them, Prost was pall bearer at Senna's funeral, is a patron of the remarkable Senna foundation and was involved in the making of the documentary.

Do you need to be an F1 fan to love Senna? It helps, but I don't think it's essential. Racing may be the fulcrum around which the documentary is made, but this is a remarkably moving story about a very interesting human being. It's compelling viewing from start to finish and made me feel like there is hope yet for the genre.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Kermode on the Death of 3D

Can it really be true? Are studios finally going to listen to people and stop this ridiculous 3D nonsense? Mr. Kermode thinks so.


Friday, June 10, 2011

X Men: First Class

Oh Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, how I love you! Every film that these two work on together has been spot on. Kick Ass was one of my favourite films of last year and X Men: First Class is definitely the best comic book movie of 2011 so far in my opinion.

After a very strong start to the franchise with the first X Men film 11 years ago (I know, where does the time go?), Bryan Singer followed up with the superb X2 in 2003, which raised the bar for comic films that few have come close to since.

Everything was looking good for the X Men series and I was a happy fan. That was until the curse of the 'difficult third movie' struck (see Spiderman 3). X Men 3 could have been epic. It was the Phoenix Saga for goodness sake, one of the greatest story arcs of all time. However, Bryan Singer wasn't at the helm this time as he chose to do Superman Returns instead, which I thought was great despite poor box office returns. This led to the worst choice in directors since Joel Schumacher took over the Batman franchise... Brett Ratner.

X-Men: The Last Stand was a disaster of a movie and one that I refuse to watch a second time after almost weeping with disappointment in the cinema. My favourite series of comic films had been ruined. Ratner made a bigger mess of the Phoenix than Raimi did of Venom.

You'd think that would be the end of things, but no. They then decided to make the Wolverine origins film. While I didn't hate it, I went in with very low expectations... I'd been hurt too many times before. However, my girlfriend is a huge X Men / Wolverine fan and is a far bigger comic book geek than I am and she can barely bring herself to talk about it. I can see her point.

After all of this you'd think I wouldn't be able to face another X Men film and I'm not sure I would have bothered with First Class if I hadn't seen those two names attached to the project. Not only did I decide to go and see it, I actually let myself get a little bit excited. The writer / director partnership aside, James McAvoy is usually worth seeing.

I certainly wasn't disappointed this time. X Men: First Class is a great comic movie and utilises major historical events of the 20th Century (the holocaust, the Cuban missile crisis) to provide not only the backdrop for the story but also the allegory for persecution and fear of what is different. It does a great job of building the friendship between Xavier and Magneto and demonstrating how their different backgrounds gave them opposing perspectives on the world. It also introduces old favourites like Dr. Hank McCoy / Beast, played by the excellent Nicholas Hoult who I hope goes on to bigger and better things in Hollywood now.

However, First Class isn't perfect and there are a few niggles that I can't let go. Firstly, to remind the audience that they are watching events that are supposed to have happened in the 60s, at times the film looks a little 'shagadelic'. Watch out for the decor of Shaw's submarine to see what I mean.

Also, there were some parts of the story that I just didn't buy. Unless I missed something, since when was Mistique Charles Xavier's oldest and closest friend? I know they're thinking of doing a Mistique film, but that wasn't the way to give her a bigger role in this film.

Still, that doesn't take too much away from what is a very enjoyable cinema experience, made even better by the fact that they didn't release it in 3D. Happy days!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Don't you just hate it when...

... people use their phone in the cinema? Well, if I ever find myself in Texas I'm going to the Alamo Drafthouse, where they know exactly how to appeal to film lovers:




I'd love to claim I found this all by myself, but I need to thank Ben Child at The Guardian.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Great Action Movie Debate

I'm fully aware that my life is not that interesting. That's why I blog about movies rather than talking about me. However, you'll have to indulge me for a moment when I talk a little bit about my girlfriend.

I'm a very lucky chap for many reasons, but the important one for the purposes of this post is that my girlfriend is a big geek. She loves comics, sci fi, fantasy and everything in between. As such we have a great deal in common and tend to have similar opinions on the films that we watch. That is with one big exception: action movies.

If she tells me that a film is really good and well worth watching I'll almost always do so. However, I've made it clear to her that if she recommends an action movie to me then I'll almost certainly avoid it like the plague. To give you some examples, in the last year she has lauded The Losers, GI Joe and RED. After seeing the first two in that list I point blank refused to watch the third despite her ongoing attempts to change my mind.

Now as much as I like the idea of just using this post to shame my girlfriend, I'm actually getting on to a bigger point. I have started to ask myself what actually makes a good action film. Well, what makes an action film that I like anyway.

Explosions and heavy weaponry is probably a good place to start. A good bit of slow motion and, if you're a John Woo fan such as myself, someone flying through the air firing two pistols at once while a couple of doves flap around nearby. However, most action movies provide this sort of thing, making them more prerequisites than signs of quality (except the doves of course...).

If I think back to the big action movies that I grew up with in the 80s, I'd say my favourites by quite a distance are Die Hard and Leathal Weapon.

With Die Hard you have the brilliance of Alan Rickman as one of the best movie villains of all time, which is almost enough to give Die Hard the title alone. However, what gives it the extra edge is the superb wise-cracking Bruce Willis. John McClane is a fallible, unlikely action hero and, unlike Swarchenegger or Stallone at the time, he could get hurt. He felt like a regular guy in an extraordinary situation that really brought the audience in.

Then you have the true genius of McClane. His sense of humour. His glib remarks didn't cause eyes to roll like Arnie did, they made you laugh out loud. That, of course, is also why Lethal Weapon is also at the top of my list. Gibson and Glover play off each other perfectly every step of the way, creating my favourite buddy cop duo of all time. In fact if I'm comparing the two, Lethal Weapon just scrapes it for me because the first sequel was actually really good. Certainly superior to Die Harder at least.

So it's fair to say that the right amount of comedy is something I look for in an action movie, whether it's in the form of quick wit or just a sense that no one is taking things too seriously.

However, that doesn't explain my John Woo love as his movies don't really do comedy. Of course they are usually extremely well made, quite well written and superbly directed, which goes a long way.

I suppose that leads me to conclude that the prerequisites just aren't enough for me. If an action film is going to get my approval it needs to bring something more than a reliance on special effects, explosions and a ropey script.

Sorry my dear, you can tell me GI Joe is fun as much as you like but I'm off to watch Riggs and Murtagh take down the bad guys.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

We must be getting close to summer blockbuster season as all the big trailers are starting to hit our screens.

I may loathe Michael Bay and the other Transformers movies may have been a bit pants, but I still can't help but get excited at seeing Optimus Prime go a bit postal...


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