Thursday, 24 July 2014

Hercules

Surprisingly only minor spoilers ahead.
It's not really that kind of film.


PG13
Running Time: Only 98 mins.
Writers: Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Base on a comic by Steve Moore
Director: Brett Ratner
Starring: Dwayne Johnson (can't believe I didn't realise he's The Rock!, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell. 
Language: English  

The main problem with Hercules is its trailer, though it could be argued that its misleadingness makes watching the film even more pleasant, it is also that kind of trailer that makes Hercules look like a pompous epic and put people like me off. If and when you come across this trailer you should remember that Brett Ratner is rather a professional fun films maker and Hercules fits his repertoire.

Basing it on a comic by Steve Moore rather than the Greek Myth, writers Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos and director Brett Ratner take the grand out of the epic and bring in the fun. Unlike the trailer suggests the film doesn’t take itself too seriously and the general feeling is that everyone involved really enjoyed themselves.

Dwayne Johnson’s (I had no idea this was The Rock’s name until recently, I hang my head in shame) Hercules is more gritty than I expected and yet, despite the tragedy in his life both Hercules the character and the film steer away from the realistic grit and grim that has been the trend of lately. Instead, Hercules is a fun, funny, pacey and cheerful adventure/war film with some awesome action.

Is Hercules the son of Zeus or is he a demigod? Were the twelve labours real or simply a good story that help raise the prices of Hercules' services as a sword for hire? In the end, as Amphiaraus, quite charmingly played by Ian McShane, says it doesn’t really matter, whatever works for you. Speculating on Hercules’ heroic swashbuckling, however, makes for gorgeous CGI used ironically given that these stories are revealed as a selling tactic. The actual fights are good ol’ hand to hand or hand to arrow combats with little CGI, and they are excellent.

Johnson is, as always, great to watch, even if he is a tad more serious than his usual self, like he is in this film, but only a tad really as post labours and somewhat cynical Hercules. His merry band of outcasts, which He has collected over the year and who follows him and fight with and for him, do not fall behind and make an excellent entourage for Hercs.

While I'd still not recommend watching it in 3D, at least there seem to have been some thought and some effort to make Hercules' 3D slightly less like a waste of our monies. Unlike Life of Pi, where the somewhat dubious visual achievement has nothing to do with its 3D-ness. Despite the OK 3D of it, Hercules does not merit a 3D viewing and one should condemn rather than support it.

3D aside, Hercules is a delight. Occasionally resonation 300, even when it slips into minor pathos, it avoids heftiness and always maintains its tongue in cheek mood. Now, I would love Ratner to make Hercules' twelve labours film!  

HERCULES OPENS IN THE UK ON 25TH OF JULY

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Monty Python Forever!

 


Two men immerge from the mist, galloping. One of them is bangin’ two halves of an empty coconut together. Genius! At that moment Monty Python, who was not a person though I kinda like to imagine and in some ways Monty is the love child of six incredible Pythons, defined comedy for me. My journey with Monty Python begun and I watched everything I could in the country that hardly knew or cared about Monty Python. I had to go to a “specialists” video store, which for those of you who don’t know videos were book sized cassettes with a magnetic ribbon that you put inside a machine called a video recorder and was connected to your television and a fuzzy image of a film or a TV show would play on your tiny screen. One could also record stuff of the telly and… anyway, “specialists”, not that kind of “specialists” you filthy readers, video store and they ordered a selection of Monty Python’s Flying Circus episodes with no subtitles!

And so, from sketches about silly walks and dead parrots, The Life of Brian and Meaning of Life, Spanish Inquisitions all the way to songs about spam and the fish slapping dance, Graham, Michael, Eric, John, Terry J and Terry G, were silly, ridiculous, random, daring, insane and a trove treasure of oh so wonderful comedy, who had a huge hand in cementing comedy into my heart. The Pythons eventually went their separate ways, Graham Chapman sadly passed away, ceased to exist, bit the dust, was no more etc. and whatever the Pythons did from then on, together or separately, brilliant (Fawlty Towers, GBH, Terry Gilliam’s film career) or dreadful (Cleese’s commercials, Suddenly Susan), whatever drama was reported about their private lives, the Monty Python graduates were and still are immune in my eyes. They have shaped comedy, nothing else matters.

It is very easy to be cynical about Monty Python’s recent reunion, they have occasionally reuninoned before, to celebrate some big anniversary or, as is the case in the recent show One Down Five to Go, to save one or all of them from financial disaster due to law suits, divorces or whatnot. They are old and they are tired, John Cleese can barely raise an eyebrow, not to mention his voice as one would expect from him, or do a silly walk, and Terry Jones can barely remember his lines. Most of them did not want to be there, the only one who was enjoying himself on that stage with all his heart was Terry Gilliam, but everyone else has moved on. And yet, seeing the remaining Pythons on stage was to me like what I imagine it would have been to see the Beatles live or seeing Laurence Olivier performing Shakespeare, better yet, it was like seeing Shakespeare himself in one of his own plays. And as time passes and the show is farther behind my awe and gusto only grow.

Even with all the wrong decision, why, for example, was the Silly Walks sketch replaced with a jazzed up song and dance routine that made the whole point of the sketch redundant, clearly Cleese can no longer do a silly walk, they should have just let it go, or why nudge nudge, wink wink, became a disturbing autotune, is beyond me. but even with all of that and despite the general plaintiveness that comes with a show that chooses to put death in its heart and in its title, Palin, Cleese, Jones, Gilliam and Idle were full of gratitude for allowing them to be ridiculous, to be insane, to be joyous and to be incredibly funny and wonderful and for a fleeting moment they suddenly were Monty Python again and it was magical!      


Thursday, 17 July 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - Review

SPOILERS GALORE!!!


 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
12A
Running Time: 130mins
Director: Matt Reeves
Writers: Mark Bomback, Amanda Silver, Rick Jaffa. Novel by: Pierre Boulle
Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Tobby Kebbell, Nick Thruston
Language: English, Apes 

It upsetting to think that Andy Serkis will probably not even get an Oscar nomination, let alone an Oscar, unless he sheds his CGI suit and does what Hollywood refers to as "serious acting", meaning some kind of tragic character overcoming obstacles. When it comes to Serkis, it is particularly frustrating, because the message Hollywood sends is that it is all about the CGI and nothing to do with the actor, a misconception that is easy to accept if one is not that interested in the process of motion capture. Anyone who has seen Serkis without his hi-tech apparel, as Ian Dury in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll for example, or as William Hare, having excellent banter with Simon Peg in Burke and Hare, knows that when Serkis is on the screen he owns it. When it comes to CGI Serkis creates the characters he portrays just as much as the computer geniuses do and he has an aptitude for large monkeys.  


And Andy Serkis is not even the best thing about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. From the opening part, which both resonates but at the same time quite differes from 2001: A Space Odyssey’s opening, there is an oppressively foreboding tone to the film and for a little while it feels as if the planet is already the Apes’ The dark visual style of the film only reinforces this post-apocalyptic grim.

In the survival-of-the-fittest kind of world Matt Reeves and the writers, Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, create most humans are dead from a deadly virus unleashed a decade earlier. Those who survived have a certain gene that makes them immune to the virus, which made me wonder if they share a gene with the apes. Caesar is now the leader of a growing, genetically evolved apes' community in the outskirts of San Francisco. The first time in many months the apes meet human, one of them gets shot and the slippery slope towards the inevitable begins. The humans need to work in the dam that is located in ape territory so they can contact other survivors and try and rebuild their society. Despite the shooting incident, Caesar agrees to let the human work in the dam and a fragile and temporary peace is achieved, but there are naysayers on both sides and soon things escalate to the point of no return.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes offers a complex conflict and quite a few layers of narrative. Human v Apes is only part of the problem. There is a division within the human and a division within the apes and the opposition from both sides is compelling.With moving subtlety and command, Gary Oldman conveys the fear and desperation that lead Dreyfus to his devastating final act of destruction that brings about the point of no return. On the other side of the fence, Koba, one of the apes Caesar has freed in the first film, carries the physical and emotional scars of humans' abuse and worries that Caesar prefers human over apes. And so challenges Caesar's position as the alpha male at every opportunity. There is something painful and endearing about Koba and pleas for forgiveness after every time he is defeated and the fury that grows with every plea.

Toby Kebbell, who plays Koba, measures up to Serkis level of CGI acting as are all the lead Apes. Caesar’s son, Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston), whose rebellious silence speaks volume, was a revelation and he won me over completely. The emotional expressions, the language and the riding of horses may humanise the apes, which makes them more relatable to us human viewers, but it is the brilliant ape-like acting that astonished and moved this particular human viewer. It is the little simian details of body languages and gestures that made the apes’ acting perfect for me.

Not that the humans had anything to be ashamed of, Jason Clarke brings roughness and brilliant intensity to Malcolm that James Franco's Will Rodman lacked in my view. Malcolm echoes Charlton Heston's character from the first Planet of the Apes, George Taylor, it is almost as if Malcolm is George Taylor at the end of the first film. However, In the end, contrary to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it is the Apes' story this time and there are a lot more of them and a lot less humans.

Until Christopher Nolan's Interstellar comes out, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is my favourite film of the year. It is an incredibly sad film, not the tear-jerker type of sadness that comes with death or suffering of a loved character, Dawn's sadness is there right from the start and throughout the film and it lingers and it is onerous and I want to see it again and I can’t wait to see the next one.     

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in cinemas July 17th in the UK 

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Dumbfounded Detective

Contain SPOILERS for the film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, but not too bad for the full script!


“If my little creation of Sherlock Holmes has survived longer than it deserved, than I consider it’s very largely due to those gentlemen who have associated themselves with him.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  

When Robert Stephens asked Billy Wilder how he would like him to play Sherlock Holmes in Wilder’s brilliant screen rendering of the world’s greatest consulting detective, Wilder replied that he should play it as if he was playing Hamlet. For Billy Wilder, and as it happens for me too, the Sherlock Holmes stories are as significant and as precious as the works of William Shakespeare. 

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes brings new adventures to the screen, previously unpublished for reasons of delicacies and reputation keeping, discovered in Dr Watson’s safe in Cox & Co, and just as the title of the film promises, the new stories introduce a different Sherlock Holmes, a private Sherlock Holmes, away from Strand reading public.

Written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L Diamond, the original script was composed of four such private stories and was set to be a three and a half hours film. It was suppose to be Billy Wilder’s grand epic and Robert Stephens’ big break into the big screen. But while all the material was shot, United Artists, who suffered quite a few failures with big epics the year before, decided to cut the film into two stories making it a 125 minutes film. Sadly Wilder was busy with another project and had left the film in the hands of Editor Ernest Walter, and since the butchered film didn't do very well and didn’t bring Stephens the coveted screen success, he too has lost interest in the film.

However, even with only two beautiful stories The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is not only an outstanding pinnacle of Sherlock Holmes screen adaptations, it is also a classic in its own right. It is such a sad and beautiful film that sometimes, as Mark Gatiss pointed out in his Screen Epiphany at the BFI, it is easy to forget how incredibly funny it is.

Wilder has passed on Peter O’Toole and Peter Sellers for the roles of Sherlock and Watson, in favour of the lesser known Robert Stephens as Sherlock and Colin Blakely as Watson. Stephens is an unusual casting for Sherlock Holmes and his portrayal of the sleuth is quite unlike anyone before or after him. Together Stephens and Wilder shine a light on sides of Sherlock Holmes that exist in the books, but are rarely shown in the screen adaptations. Stephens' Sherlock is a gentleman, with a sense of humour, compelling and indeed private. Whenever I watch The Private Life of Sherlock HolmesI am filled with great hankerings for Robert Stephens, it is a real loss that he hasn’t become the great actor that this film should have made him. Colin Blakely’s Dr Watson is wonderfully enthusiastic, caring and silly but not a buffoon as he was often portrayed in other adaptations. He is almost the perfect Dr Watson. (Martin Freeman’s Watson is in a way the truest to Doyle’s Watson and is still my favourite Watson, but only by a tiny bit more than Colin Blakely’s Watson).

The biggest name in The Private Life is Christopher Lee, who plays Mycroft Holmes. Mark Gatiss has often said that his portrayal of Mycroft in BBC's Sherlock is directly extrapolated from Lee’s Mycroft in The Private Life. Wilder told Christopher Lee, that he wanted his Mycroft to be unlike any character he played before. By then Lee had already played Sir Henry in Peter Cushing’s The Hound of the Baskervilles as well as Sherlock Holmes himself in Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace, but he was mostly known for his roles as Count Dracula and as the creature in The Curse of Frankenstein. His Mycroft is indeed unique, he is much colder than Sherlock, almost cruel, he is smarter, secretive and possibly dangerous. But then the whole relationship between the Holmes brothers is different. Unlike in the books, here there is rivalry and mistrust between Sherlock and Mycroft, but at the same time it is clear that Mycroft worries and cares for Sherlock and at the end of the day The Private Life’s Sherlock respects Mycroft. It is a beautifully subtle relationship.

It is also suggested in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes that Mycroft’s Diogenes Club is in fact the secret service. Since in the books Mycroft is described as practically being the British government and his hand is in everything everywhere, it is not unlikely that the Diogenes Club will be some kind of secret organisation, a no talking policy helps with keeping secrets. 

It is clear that other than Gatiss' portrayal of Mycroft, the sibling's relationship and the idea that Mycroft is a sinister character who control everything in the Sherlock, is influenced by The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

The two stories that made it to the finished film, are stories of romance and sexuality. In the first story, involving a Russian Prima Ballerina who wants Sherlock to father her child, Sherlock's sexuality is in question and remains ambiguous to the end. Stephens walk the line of ambiguity with great flair and class. Wilder has admitted that he regreted not making Sherlock Holmes more obviously gay, but while that would have been quite exciting, I find the ambiguity more appealing, and even with the heterosexual romance of the second story, Sherlock’s sexuality remains wonderfully blurred. Always ahead of his time, intelligent, critical and a cynic, this was not the first time that Billy Wilder has cleverly blurred the lines of relationships between men.

Usually I am not a fan of adaptations that give Sherlock Holmes a love interest, particularly when the love interest is Irene Adler. Not only is it not true and not even within the spirit of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, but it seems like the only way to humanise Sherlock Holmes and make him more compelling for the movie going people is to give him a love Interest. This is something I could never understand as there are so many qualities that make the Sherlock Holmes of the books so human, compelling and wonderful, why is it that in adaptations love is the only answer is beyond me. 

That said, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is one of the exceptions. (The other exception is Christopher Columbus and Barry Levinson's Young Sherlock Holmes). To begin with in The Private Life the love interest is NOT Irene Adler and so the film does not try to retell and undermine the perfectly wonderful A Scandal in Bohemia story by inventing hidden meanings to it, The Private Life leaves Irene Adler happily married to someone else as she was in the story, and by doing so also remains true to the promise of stories that were never told before. Moreover, the romance is not exactly a romance and yet it is very romantic. It remains in the almost area of romance and it is so beautiful and so sad that despite my instinctive objection, I can’t help but fall in love with it. And finally, The Private Life’s romance, is not an attempt to humanise Sherlock Holmes, it is once again a story about a private Sherlock Holmes, a vulnerable Sherlock Holmes, one who failed and one that takes his drugs in an even more privacy than a film about his private life.

Even in its viciously shortened version, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is and always has been my favourite Sherlock Holmes and one of my all time favourite films. It is astonishing how by inventing completely new stories, with only a minor reference to the Doyle story The Adventure of the Bruce Partington Plan, and with an actor who looks nothing like Sherlock Holmes, Wilder's private Sherlock Holmes is surprisingly loyal to the character Arthur Conan Doyle created. 

Recently I discovered the complete script, my happiness reached a ridiculous levels of joy and silly. It is still inconceivable to me that this treasure is available here, online, just like that, for everyone to read and I did. Hungry for more of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes I devoured every precious word. 

What struck me most when reading, is how incomplete The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes suddenly felt, which made me even sadder than the ending of the film. The two missing stories, The Curious Case of the Upside Down Room, which exists in sound only, and The Dreadful Business of the Naked Honeymooners, which exists in visuals without sound, are stories that put the emphasis on the private relationship of Sherlock Holmes and his best friend Dr John Watson and it is sublime! Another wonderful piece of the picture of Sherlock’s private life.

But it isn't only two stories that are missing, but several crucial scenes, like the opening scene in which the Dr Watson comes to Cox & Co to collect what his grandfather THE Watson left for him. It is a scene that conveys Wilder's view that Sherlock Holmes is as important as Shakespeare. The first Sherlock and Watson scene, which exists only in the script felt so true to Sherlock Holmes it is as if Doyle himself imagined it. Even the two stories in the film have been cut short, taking out an all important flashback of Sherlock Holmes in his Oxford days.

As I was reading I kept imagining Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely in those missing scene and realised what a crime it was to cut the film and what a complete picture of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes it should have been! 



      

Thursday, 6 March 2014

300 Rise of an Empire - Review





Before watching 300 Rise of an Empire, which by the way I still object to the 300 in the title, being the story of the Athenians battle exactly at the same time, the similar visual style and the similar structure are all enough to associate the film with its predecessor, this 300 attachment gives the impression of desperation of Rise of an Empire to buddy itself with 300, but I digress. I decided to re-watch 300, because when I first watched it I didn’t quite remember whether I liked the film or not, it all became a blur of naked men fighting and Michael Fassbender, who frankly if not going full frontal can remain clothed for all I care, which perhaps distracted me from having an opinion about the film. I rather enjoyed my re-watch of 300 and this time not just because of all the nakedness of men. But it was watching Rise of the Empire that made me really appreciate 300.  

In addition to its jaw-dropping visual triumph of 300, the thing that comes to mind is its brilliant battles, beautifully choreography, brilliantly paced and blood-pumpingly exhilarating and wonderful. The Spartans were famous for being a warriors’ society, in which fighting is in its men and women’s blood. 300 truly celebrates this disturbing and yet quite extraordinary people. The emphasis is not just on the violence of this battle, but also on the tactics of Spartan fighting method, in which unlike any other society I am aware of, there’s not hero and hardly any kind of individual fighting, the Spartan fight as a collective in an awe inspiring unity and with great harmony and flow. Or at least that’s how they fight in Zack Snyder’s film. And so 300 is a spectacle dedicated wonderful fluidity of the Spartan people.  

Independent to its forerunner, 300 Rise of an Empire turns to Athens, where the men have a little bit more clothes and unlike the Spartans, they are thinkers, diplomats and of course democrats. Instead of the almighty Spartan king Leonidas, the Athenians have a more diplomatic leader of battle, Themistokles, played quite unremarkably by new Aussie export Sullivan Stapleton, whose talent sadly is closer to Russell Crowe than to that of Hugh Jackman, in short, not great. And instead of loyal Spartans who follow the king, ready to die for freedom, the Athenians need some convincing and there are discussions and politics and stuff. The story happens in concomitant with the battle of the 300 and tells of the Athenian battle against the Persian naval army commanded by Artemisia, a Greek woman who allied herself with the Persian and was one of the very few if any women that reached a command position in the Persian army.   

With so much fascinating material and the visual talent of Zack Snyder, who wrote and produced, 300 Rise of an Empire should have been a brilliant film, but at the hands of Noam Murro the film sadly becomes average at best and 300 more interesting to write about as you may have noticed.

To be able to get the Athenians to follow him, Themistokles should probably be a great demagogue and an excellent public speaker with at least some charisma, which Stapleton seem to lack, his speeches are boring and unconvincing, why anyone would follow him is beyond me. In comparison 300’s Leonidas, played by Gerrard Butler who doesn’t do it for me but still, with fewer words he wins the crowd and a simple collective “Ahua!” goes further toward sweeping the people than any of Themistokles’ words which left no mark.  

Rodrigo Santoro reprises his role as Xerxes the Persian god-king from 300. Here we get an origin story for Xerxes, after all the Frank Miller comic book the film is based on is called Xerxes and not Themistokles and unfortunately not Artemisia either. Santoro is excellent as the power thirsty god-king and his relationship with Artemisia is especially interesting, but sadly it gets pushed into the background and left unexplored.

However, the crux for me was Artemisia and her relationship with Themistokles, which took precedence, but is less interesting than the relationship with Xerxes mentioned above. The historical Artemisia is a fascinating character and potentially an amazing female character, but Rise of the Empire reduces her to a male cliché of a female warrior. Why is it that strong women in Hollywood are so often sexually driven and mentally unstable? Because all women with sexual drives are mentally unstable or vice versa?  Have we learned nothing from Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer? It was especially infuriating that the negotiation scene between Artemisia and Themistokles turns into an aggressive sex session, because mutual appreciation between two adversaries warriors of opposite sexes is always expressed with violent sex, especially when it comes to the “boy loving Athenian” as Leonidas refers to them in 300. It is infuriating because Eva Green is actually very good and unlike Stapleton, oozes charisma, but instead of using her talent to create what could have been a wonderful woman, we’re left with a very disappointing yet sexy warrior. Luckily queen Gorgo, Lena Headey reprising her role and now Leonidas’ widow, brings some respect back to the ladies of the 300 universe, but she is not in the film enough.

When all is said and done the biggest problem of Rise of an Empire is that it is the same film as 300, down to the voice over of queen Gorgo, who like Dilios in the previous film, but a bit more annoyingly, tells the story to inspire the Spartan to join the war right at the end. But just as the Athenians were entirely different people to the Spartan so should the film have been completely different to 300 and not poorly recreate it with a different cast. And so, even the visuallity, which is very good, is not as exciting as that of 300 and Rise of the Empire remains dull and unexciting and it’s sad to see it happening to what could have been a brilliant second part to this Greek saga/trilogy/series, which would have complimented 300.

300 Rise of an Empire opens in UK cinemas on Friday 7, March.