Wednesday, February 23, 2011

9/10ths Full of Movies Part Eight. U to V

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

U is for Ukelele
It's getting hard to believe that M Night Shyamalan used to make good films.  His recent output has been awful, but the noughties began with arguably his best work, the hugely underrated proto-superhero film Unbreakable(00).  The actions of terrorists on the 11th September 2001 profoundly influenced the ensuing decade and it's not surprising that the movie world has been generally reluctant to mine such a recent tragedy for inspiration.  There have been some exceptions to that including the appalling World Trade Center (06) by Oliver Stone (read my thoughts from 2007) and the infinitely superior United 93 from the same year.  Bourne helmer Paul Greengrass told the story of United Airlines Flight 93 whose passengers and crew decided to fight back against their hijackers.  United 93 is a difficult film to watch but is a captivating and heartbreaking memorial to the heroism of the passengers on the plane.  In 2009 Pixar gave us the story of an old man who refuses to let his house to be demolished, so he ties helium balloons to it and floats away to have adventures with talking dogs and a pudgy boy scout.  Up's audacious opening which follows the main character from his childhood through falling in love and getting married to the death of his wife is one of the most devastating emotional sequences I've ever seen in an animation.  This gives rest of the film a certain poignancy that frames the laughs and the thrills perfectly.

V is for Velma
M Night Shyamalan continued his slow dive towards ignominy with The Village in 2004, the same year also saw the potentially interesting monster-mash Van Helsing mix Frankenstein, the Wolfman & Dracula with a horribly miscast Hugh Jackman to underwhelming results.  Mike Leigh gave us what could have been a harrowing account of a 1950s backstreet abortionist in the magnificent Vera Drake (05).  However, the powerful performances of the cast, especially a career best turn from Imelda Staunton and Leigh's celebrated realist approach make the film a defiantly human take on what is often portrayed as a black and white issue.  In 2006, the Wachowski brothers released their follow up to the Matrix trilogy; a dark and stylish adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel V for Vendetta.  As with all Moore adaptations, it can't come close to matching the complex and rich source material but the Wachowskis had a damn good go.  In a post-9/11 climate pitching a movie where the central hero is a bomb-wielding terrorist is a fairly bold move.  The end of the decade saw a mini rush of viking movies.  Pathfinder (07) and Outlander (08) mixed native americans and entertaining aliens respectively with our Norse friends to mixed affect.  However, 2010's Valhalla Rising took a different path and told the tale of a mute viking warrior in an intriguing exploration of good and evil.  One Eye, a mysterious man of almost supernatural strength, escapes from his captors and throws his lot in with a group of Crusaders.  What ensues is not an action movie, but a bleakly beautiful (if occasionally brutal) journey into the heart of darkness (*cliche alert*).  The film is very ambiguous about One-Eye; is he just a man caught in the wrong place, or is he an instrument of vengeance on the repulsive crusaders sent to take them to hell?

Part the ninth coming soon...the end is nigh.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Short Review of Star Trek 2:The Wrath of Khan

Star Trek 2 came out in 1982 after the first movie outing in 1979 failed to strike the balance between pure sci-fi and crowd-pleasing action adventure. Proper director Nicholas Meyer got to play with the cast before they became antiques and had the franchise's best villain to chase them around. Ricardo Montalban chews the scenery with aplomb and drenches the dialogue in his fabulous accent as the eponymous grouchy protagonist. 

Rather than the frenetic screen-filling battles of JJ Abrams' Trek, Meyer gives us tense scenes more reminiscent of submarine combat. It's the sparing use and reminders of the cost of violence that raises Khan over all other Trek films. The cast get to show some range as they face the loss of new recruits and old friends alike. The easy interplay among Kirk, Spock & McCoy is funny and touching and the film also has the most imitated Shatner moment ever – KHHHHAAAAAANNNNN! 

Rating ****