Reviews of movies, music, books and more by David Goody.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

DVD: Crank

Crank is quite literally 78 minutes of non-stop adrenaline pumping action, with a few minutes of credits tagged on the end. Jason Statham wakes to find he has been injected with a "Beijing Cocktail" that will kill him within the hour. The only way to postpone death is to keep adrenaline flowing through his veins. He decides that two things need to happen before he dies. He must say goodbye to his girl and kill the man who injected him.

Most action films have a pretense of depth about them with directors trying to show they are the new Tarrantino or choreograph their action scenes as if they are balletic high art. Thankfully in this regard Crank is like a child overdosing on Red Bull who has just come off a big rollercoaster, it follows one set piece with another with hardly a pause for breath. Mexican stand-offs are eschewed as they are simply too darn slow. The film veers so much into the absurd that you start to forget what normality looks like and pulls a range of stunts that seem to have come straight out of the Jackass handbook.

Statham seems to have been tailor made with films like this in mind. His wired, pissed off expression doesn't crack for the entire film and there is occasionally time for a nice few one liners. The film is a cheap, trashy, vacuous B movie that solely wants to hold your attention for every minute of it's brief running time. If only there were more films like it.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Film: Hot Fuzz

Parodies generally make for hit and miss fun that passes ephemerally by. Whilst Airplane and Naked Gun managed to maintain an audience over the years it is unlikely that recent fodder like Scary Movie will be appearing anywhere other than late night repeats on lesser digital TV channels in future years. Therefore the quality and success of Shaun Of The Dead stood out like a talented individual in a Pop Idol final. To call it a cult parody would be to undermine both it mainstream success and the emotional heart and tight plotting at it's centre.

Hot Fuzz, the new film from Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, attempts to repeat the formula. This time the shallow but amusing premise is that a highly successful London based policeman is shunted out to a quiet country beat to stop him showing up the rest of the Metropolitan Police force. How will has hard-line urban approaching work in little England. Cue Bad Boys in a village near Bath.

Much of the cast of Shaun Of The Dead re-appear, including Nick Frost playing a markedly similar role to his previous character Ed. However the big difference is that Simon Pegg has abandoned his slacker persona to portray Britain's most effective cop. Choosing such an exceptional high flyer as the lead character makes it harder to empathize with the central story than in Shaun. Pegg's restrained acting suits the part, but it's like watching a talented footballer just playing short passes rather than attempting jaw-dropping through balls. It's only when the action cranks up in the final third that he employs his full comic range and the film lifts noticeably at this point.

Edgar Wright uses the fast cutting, amped up visual style that has served him so well and deploys it good effect, effectively taking classic Michael Bay and John Woo shots and giving them an absurd spin by way of the surroundings. His major achievement is managing to create scenes that are both adrenaline pumping and laugh out loud funny.

The cast is so ridiculously packed with stars it almost becomes a parody of it's parodic self as each minor character is taken by a starry cameo by the likes of Bill Nighy, Steve Coogan and Martin Freeman. However in the main supporting roles Timothy Dalton and Jim Broadbent are superb, with Dalton mugging more than a royal dalton factory and Broadbent underplaying to sublime effect.

The laughs in Hot Fuzz are frequent and hearty. The main comment it will attract is "it's not quite as good as Shaun Of The Dead", but since few films are half as good as that, we will gratefully receive one that is 90% as good.

Film: Perfume - The Story Of A Murderer

As soon as a novel is described as "unfilmable" and starts to amass a list of big name directors who have toyed with the project and moved on, any adaptation seems doomed to partial or total failure. Even ideal matches such as Terry Gilliam directing Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas failed to do much commercial business. So Perfume, the book of aromas that Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick apparently walked away from, would seem to be damned from the off - whether by reason or just self-fufilling prophecy.

The story revolves around an orphan called Jean-Baptiste Grenouille who is born with the finest sense of smell in the world. This we know because is seems that half the film is taken up by shots of his nose twitching followed by a camera charging like a demented rugby player towards the source of the aroma. Jean is not the best adjusted of men, and his quest to distill the perfect sent starts to take a very dark and ugly turn, as the films full title "Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer" rather gives away. What next, "Titanic: A Ship That Sinks" or "Pearl Harbour: A Historical And Filmic Disaster".

The film is directed by Tom Tykwer who had a huge cult hit with his debut Run Lola Run. He also has past form with bringing troubled projects about murderers to the screen having done an excellent job with Heaven in 2002, the film that Krzysztof Kieslowski was working on when he died. Since then he has taken a long break from film-makingand the un-even tone of Perfume may reflect an uncertainty that has crept in during the years of stasis.

The source novel is very dark and serious in tone, however the film elicits a number of laughs through it's length, some clearly un-intentional and some maybe less so. The most farcical section features Dustin Hoffman as a washed up perfumier whose career is re-ignited by the talents of Jean-Baptiste. Allowing for the horrific accent that careers between Italy and America faster than Concorde ever managed, Hoffman turns in a magnetic mannered comic performance that is in completely the wrong film.

Perfume is visually stunning, as befits the most expensive German film ever made. However the story it tells is art-house rather than mainstream and the over-bearing hand of producers trying to lighten the tone lingers like the smell of burnt toast in a kitchen. So yet another "unfilmable novel" seems to justify it's billing, but there is enough here to make for an intriguing, if ultimately unsatisfying watch.

DVD: The Proposition

Nick Cave's first outing as a screenwriter feels like one of his more damned and blasted songs. To save his younger brother from the noose Charlie Burns must murderer his outlaw older brother.

However despite the film lingering heavily on Guy Pearce as he wrestles with Charlie's dilemma, the core of the film is actually the English police captain played by Ray Winstone and his wife Emily Mortimer. As he struggles to bring civilisation to the alien land of Australia he sees around him he finds his strength and morals stretched to breaking point.

Despite capturing some marvelous scenery and featuring some brutal violence, The Proposition is a verbal film, to the extent that you could believe it originated as a play. However the dialogue is not sharp enough and the film not focussed enough to truly dig it's claws in. As a single coloured mood piece that draws heavily on Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia it will appeal to those who like their films black, blasted and with damnation inevitable, but there is not enough here to rise above it's origins.

Book: Seeing by Jose Saramago

On a wet day in Portugal officials wait as an election takes place. When the votes are counted 80% of them are found to be blank. The confused government decides to re-run the election a week later imploring voters to cast a meaningful vote, but the result is the same and the government steadily enforces a martial law on where is starts to fear is a terrorist plot.

Seeing picks up four years after Blindness, an earlier work by Saramago based around the idea of a plague of white blindness. Both books have a gripping central theme that allows many analogies with the political state of the modern world, but both struggle to draw the reader in. Seeing is especially problematic in it's absence of paragraphs and quotation marks, requiring a high level of concentration and focus from the reader that distances them from the narrative.

Whilst Saramago clearly has a knack for great ideas, he may need to refresh his mind on some of the more basic ideas of the novel.