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

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

DVD: The Dark Knight

Imagine sitting down in a stylish restaurant with an erudite friend to a nice meal. Before the menus have arrived they try to make some grand point about the world. Then before you've ordered something you said leads them to make the same point in a different way. Then as the starters arrive it sparks something that leads to another mini-lecture on the same subject. That is basically how The Dark Knight feels.

There is no knocking the credentials of this film which is well cast, looks great and has some memerable characters. However all of the set pieces return to the same question of "when is it justifiable to take a life or take liberties". Initially this looks like an interesting idea but after the third time it deadens the effect. An argument is always best made succinctly and eloquently. The more you go on about something the more people drift off. 

Think of the final scene in Seven with Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey and the box. The reason it works so well is that the film spent 2 hours getting you to the right place and then asking the question. The Dark Knight lacks this restraint and discipline.

The other problem the film has is that it's characters are now so well established that even someone who hasn't read a comic book knows exactly what is going to happen with the Joker and Harvey "two face" Dent. This rather wrecks any dramatic tension.

The performances of the cast can't be knocked, with Heath Ledger's dry mouthed turn as the Joker likely to become iconic, and deservedly so. However despite some well executed action scenes I had ceased caring quite a while before the end.

DVD: Iron Man

Iron Man is exceptionally silly film. In many ways this shouldn't be an issue as there have been action films that have done things as scarcely believable as knocking up a robot suit that allows you to fly around the world and pretty much into space. Oh, and you can knock up a working prototype in a cave from spare parts.

The problem with all this silliness comes when the film wants to be taken serious and makes profound statements about the nature of war and the weapons industry. I'm happy to be entertained, informed or a combination of both. But preaching from a film that appears to have only seen the real word in a magazine article is just annoying.

Robert Downey Jr does a good job, mainly because his life story fits so well with his character that you project depth onto the role despite the script failing to supply any. Gwyneth Paltrow is less fornuate and basically is required to stand around and occasionally squeak. It's tempting to mock her for this, but it's more depressing to note that a bankable oscar winning actress feels that she needs to take parts that are thinner than her waist to maintain a successful career.

If this is the golden age of superhero films can I go back to the dark ages when these kind of films were actually fun.

Film - Australia

Australia comfortably fits into the tradition of epic films such as Titanic, Pearl Harbour and Gone With The Wind. However whereas these three films concentrated on a single subject - the sinking of the Titanic, the Japanese attack and the American Civil War - Australia attempts seems intent on covering as much Australia history as physically possible.

The film starts with the English Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) taking over a cattle farm in the Australian outback and attempting to run it with assistance from the coarse Drover (Hugh Jackman). This section veers between Once Upon A Time In The West and City Slickers in an uneasy mix of grandeur and slapstick that feels like Norman Wisdom doing La Boheme. This plot strand is dispensed with halfway through to focus on World War 2 and the Japanese attack on Sydney which acts a great excuse for CGI. Strung all the way through the film is a subplot about the 'stolen generation' of mixed race white and aboriginal children who were taken from their families. Finally there are bucket loads of picture postcard shots of the outback to make the Australian tourist board happy after they pitched up a sizeable chunk of the budget.

With all this subject matter to cover the film regularly relies on stereotypes and intensely broad directorial touches. Within the first 10 minutes it is clear that any 'spot the cliche' drinking games undertaken whilst watching the film would result in a fatality for anyone with a constitution lesser than Oliver Reed's.

The actors all try their best with the weird mix of farce and sentimentality they are handed. The film also looks pretty dramatic at times, albeit in a way that leaves you expecting Judith Charmers to enter stage left at any moment, but you are left feeling that the writers and director needed to say "no" to some of the proposed ideas. Maybe Jim Carrey was acting as a consultant on the film while preparing to make Yes Man. The end result is a 6 hour mini series that has been hacked down to half it's length by stripping out all the subtlety and depth whilst lacking the good grace of including a pee break.

The film's energy and eagerness to please mean that it is not a great disaster. Had it been edited down to having a single plot it might have even made for a perfectly agreeable 'lesser film'. As it is you are surprised they didn't try to cover the shipping of convicts out to Australia before the credits and bung in a tribute to Shane Warne at the end.

Baz Luhramnn has always undertaken ambitious projects in his time in cinema so it's inevitable that he would overreach at some point. In the end Australia is the sound of 100 recently spinning plates crashing to the ground. However approached with reduced expectations and a recently evacuated bladder there is still some pleasure to be had from the wreckage.

Film: Quantum Of Solace

It's quite a feat for the alarm bells to start ringing about a film before you've got past the BBFC certificate, but staring at a title as lousy as Quantum Of Solace in plain text on a big screen makes you think that it that's the best they could do with Bond then maybe they should hand the reins over to someone else. The ringing gets louder when you realise that this is the first Bond film that acts as a direct sequel to the previous film. Clearly since the Daniel Craig bond has borrowed so much from Jason Bourne it may as well borrow the idea of a continuing narrative. However this requires a memorable plot and the memorable bits of Casino Royale (poker scene, collapsing venetian towers, running along cranes, muscles and swimming trunks) had as much to do with the plot as the popcorn you bought in the foyer.

Hence we have a pissed off Bond busting heads and being told to get some perspective for little discernible reason. Now most of the Bond franchise has got by without a particularly coherent narrative thanks to charm and good set pieces. Quantum Of Solace however wants to be a serious picture so charm has been jettisoned and the set pieces are a bunch of fast cut punching that gets you intimately associated with Mr Craig's chin.

The serious down to business ethos of the new bond means an inherently simple plot is told so obliquely you feel the script was written in an ancient code and traded memorable lines for high brow references to oil prices and the environment. Yet even the film makers lose faith in this dark, satirical, political feel by including a character called Strawberry Fields who wears nothing more than a raincoat and whose sole purpose appears to be to allow a punch-in-the-face subtle reference to Goldfinger.

There is at least lashings of style in the set dressing and use of locations which gives a feeling of quality and a production budget well spent. However the short running time (for a Bond film anyway) feels less like a relief and more like a consequence of cutting out narrative, character and a few more long shots in the set pieces. Even the credit sequence is lackluster.

With a strong lead in Daniel Craig and a fairly indestructible formula it would would be harsh to describe Quantum Of Solace as failure. However something that feels like a po-faced Bourne facsimile is a waste of a Bond film. For all the talk of a new dawn for Bond this is the fourth consecutive Bond film written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade - writers who also came up with Johnny English - and here it feels like they are trying to turn out something that feels unnatural to them to fit with a perceived fashion. More worryingly the next Bond film looks set to continue the story and make the same mistakes all over again.