Tuesday, September 28, 2010

9/10ths Full of Movies Part Seven. S to T

Welcome to Part Seven of my entirely subjective reflection on a decade in cinematic exploits. Click here to see Parts One to Six. Please do chip in with any obvious omissions or disagreements.

S is for Squirrels
Possibly the weirdest film I saw in the early noughties came from Hong Kong; it was the utterly scattershot and visually brilliant Shaolin Soccer (01). The same year saw a Japanese animation take the world by storm. Spirited Away from anime genius Hayao Miyazaki won the Oscar for best animation (the only non-english animation to do so), became one of the highest grossing films of all time and opened the world of anime to a whole new audience. 2002 brought us two very contrasting sci-fi films. First of all, George Clooney starred in Steven Soderbergh's stately remake of 1972 Russian meditation on life and death Solaris. Then the dire Star Trek 10: Nemesis nailed the franchise's movie coffin firmly shut until 2009's JJ Abrams reboot Star Trek raised it from the dead. The law of diminishing returns as applied to movie quality was admirably illustrated as the Spiderman Trilogy (02, 04 and 07) went from good to mediocre to utterly appalling over three films. The Station Agent (03) was the perfect example of a movie in which very little happens yet still manages to be utterly enthralling. The story of a isolated man who inherits a disused rail station office is beautifully played by a great cast, especially Peter Dinklage in the lead role.

Edgar Wright and the Spaced crew introduced us to a new genre of film in 2004 with the rom-zom-com Shaun of the Dead. Paul Giamatti got a rare lead role in the merlot hating Sideways (04) but was unfortunately totally upstaged by the similarly underrated Thomas Haden Church. 2005 saw two much loved franchises sign off from cinema land. George Lucas brought his turgid Star Wars prequels to a welcome end with the slightly-better-than-the-others Return of the Sith. The other was the much lower profile but far superior Serenity. Based on Buffy creator Joss Whedon's short lived sci-fi series Firefly, Serenity was everything the new Star Wars movies should have been. Sadly, most people ignored it at the cinema and only a strong DVD showing has saved it from oblivion. Danny Boyle proved his extraordinary range by delivering the incredibly beautiful Sunshine(07) and the delightful Slumdog Millionaire (08).

T is for Tumeric
Edward Norton isn't a man known for a lack of intensity. In 2002 he starred in Spike Lee's captivating 25th Hour about a man spending one last day with his friends before starting a lengthy spell in jail. In the same year, the Lord of the Rings trilogy reached it's high point with the epic Two Towers. Danny Boyle (see above comment on range) brought zombie movies kicking and screaming (literally) into the noughties in 2002 with the rage fueled 28 Days Later. Juan Carlos Fresnadilo then turned things more spectacular for the 2007 sequel 28 Weeks Later. The novel approach for taking out a field of zombies with a helicopter deserves particular mention.

The most extraordinary film of 2003 was the docu-drama Touching the Void. Combining footage of actors and talking head contributions from the two climbers involved the film told a story so incredible you could be forgiven for thinking it was made up. Joe Simpson's crawl off Siula Grande with a broken leg is still regarded as one of the most amazing mountaineering stories. While we're on the topic of mountains, Tommy Lee Jones is famous for being the third craggiest man alive today. In 2005 he directed and acted in a film almost as craggy as himself, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. It was a western of sparse beauty and Jones also managed to coax a superb acting turn out of himself.

Tune in for Part Eight - U to V soon

Friday, September 24, 2010

Manchester Blog-Meetery

Do you live in Manchester?

If yes, go to the next question...

Do you blog?

If your answer is yes, why not come along to Manchester's premier (only?) semi regular Blogmeet.

It's being held at Umbro's design studio on Dale Street which is just along from Nexus Art Cafe in Manchester City Centre.

All Manchester bloggers are welcome.  Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages will be consumed, some people will 'network' and some people will come for the friends. Everyone, I'm sure, will enjoy a natter and most people won't have read each other's blogs.

Newcomers are welcome (I certainly hope so - as I am one).  Click here for more information and to RSVP.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What is a Pope to do?

 Bless him.  Look at the frail old man waving to the crowd.  Awwww - it's good that he's allowed to come out and play every now and then.

There has been lots of hand wringing about an overly secularist media attacking the Pope and his visit to Britain.  And while the fact that his visit gives pleasure and spiritual support to UK Catholics is not in doubt for a moment the actions of the Vatican party are not immune to critcism.

Even before the Pope had arrived, aide Canon Walter Kaspar had caused controversy by declaring that the UK is like the Third World.  The Vatican then compounded the offence of this admittedly off-hand and flippant comment by suggesting that he was referrring to the multi-cultural nature of modern Britain.  The blatantly racist undertones of the defence of Kaspar seem to have gone almost completely unremarked upon in the media.

But never mind, everyone has to deal with a dodgy assistant from time to time (no doubt Benedict has an admirably arcane method of wholly inadequate punishment to hand when he gets back to Rome), let's hear from the man himself.  In a speech in Edinburgh today he appeared to liken 'aggressive forms of secularism' to the ideologies of Nazi Germany.  I'm aware that the media has taken a couple of lines of his address out of the overall context but the the fact is he should have known that juxtaposing the alleged secularism of modern multi-cultural Britain with the atrocities of Nazi Germany was bound to be controversial. 

Considering that some of the pillars of Catholic dogma (it's views on sexuality, contraception and women ministers for example) are quite reactionary, it's ironic in the extreme to compare modern atheists to Nazis - even obliquely.

As a Christian (admittedly at the more liberal end of Anglicanism) I am getting increasingly tired of religious figures attacking those airing atheistic or secularist views.  People are entitled to whatever beliefs they choose to hold, whether they be religious or not.  If you are secure in your religious beliefs, you have no need to fear the opinions of those without any.  However it seems that those at the more fundamentalist extremes of an ideology are more nervous and intolerant of differing philosophies.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

9/10ths Full of Movies Part Six. P to R

Welcome to Part Six of my entirely subjective reflection on a decade in cinematic exploits. Click here to see Parts One to Five. Please do chip in with any obvious omissions or disagreements.

P is for Pomegranate
All the way back in the dim and distant early noughties Vin Diesel was being touted as the next Sly/Arnie/Bruce style big action star. Looking back over the troughs of Babylon AD and The Pacifier (avoid) its hard to believe, but his performance in the hugely underrated and exciting Pitch Black (00) show why the comparisons were made. John Hillcoat is a director very few people have heard of, which is a shame as he made a savagely brilliant Australian 'Western' in 2005's The Proposition. Nick Cave provided the sounds and the excellent screenplay while Guy Pearce and Ray Winstone caught the eye in a starry cast for such a relatively little known film. 2006 saw a pair of superb 'P' films slink through the back door into the multiplexes like a recalcitrant teen after curfew. Christopher Nolan of Batception fame delivered possibly his worst film (that is of course relative as his worst is significantly better than 72.8% of Hollywood's best) with an intriguing tale of warring Victorian stage magicians in The Prestige. While Nolan was making a film about fake magic Guillermo del Toro brought us a story of real magic and at the same time created one of the greatest films of the last twenty-five years in the matchless Pan's Labyrinth. Two worlds collide as the adopted daughter of a cruel military officer in fascist 1940s Spain discovers a world of fairies, fauns and monsters. Make no mistake though, Pan's Labyrinth is definitely not for children with its shocking violence and genuinely unnerving sequences. However, it is astoundingly beautiful to watch, while the creature design is nothing short of genius.

Q is for Quills
Unsurprisingly, there were relatively few decent films beginning with Q over the last decade so I have to be a little creative. 2000 brought us the third best Star Trek film ( for the record - 1st is Star Trek 2: Wrath of KHAAAAAAAANNNNNN and 2nd is the rebooted JJ Abrams Star Trek) which ironically wasn't a Star Trek film at all. Galaxy Quest was a glorious spoof that captured the spirit of the Trek phenomenon better than most of the films and most of the recent series too. Alan Rickman's pissed off Alexander Dane/Dr Lazarus is exactly how I imagine Leonard Nimoy/Michael Dorn must feel most of the time. James Bournd returned for his second outing as the all new 'gritty' British super-spy in Quantum of Solace (08).
Despite being inferior to Casino Royale it was still three thousand times better than The World is Not Enough. Now that we're all used to gritty Bond I wonder sometimes if Timothy Dalton ever gets cheesed off at his Bond treatment. .REC (07) was an inspired zombies-in-an-apartment-block film which had one drawback for the moron world - it wasn't in English. So Hollywood released (within a YEAR!) a shot-for-shot remake in English called Quarantine which surprised everyone by not being dreadful. The Spanish version was definitely better though.

R is for Relativism
Talking of zombies, the last ten years have been riddled with zombie movies some of which have been excellent (28 Days Later) some of which have been awful (Flight of the Living Dead). A consistent contributee to the genre has been the Resident Evil franchise which started averagely with Resident Evil in 2002 and deflated gradually but entertainingly through RE: Apocalypse (04) and RE: Extinction (07). While we're on the topic of deflating gradually the Lord of the Rings trilogy came to a spectacular yet curiously underwhelming close with Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in 2003. Despite being endowed with at least four endings too many, it was still sad to see the end of the journey. Pixar like a challenge - bugs, monsters, superheroes, undersea environments, talking toys or talking cars - anything is worth telling a story with. 2007's Ratatouille told the story of a rat who dreams of being a gourmet chef in Paris. Huh? Sounds like a crazy idea for a film, but Pixar created an absolute delight of a movie - funny, moving and sweet without being syrupy. Très Bien. At the completely opposite end of the scale The Reader (08) is the uncompromising tale of a young German man who has an affair with an older woman who he finds out in later life may be a Nazi war criminal. Kate Winslet gives a searing performance as Hanna Schmitz and deservedly won a hatful of awards. Sadly it was also the last film worked on by Anthony Mingella and Sydney Pollack who both died before it was released.

Tune in for Part Seven - S to T soon.