The cultured teenager

the best of literature, film and music, shown through my rather short-sighted eyes

Monthly Archives: July 2012

Must-see film #10: Withnail and I

A first glance, a plot synopsis of Withnail and I makes for pretty disappointing viewing, since it can essentially be summarised in a single sentence: in 1969, two unemployed actors (played by Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann) escape the squalor of their Camden flat for a week in the country. Yet to dismiss Withnail’s wafer-thin plot is to miss the point of Bruce Robinson’s brilliant and very British 1987 black comedy. Intelligent, hilarious and surprisingly moving, Withnail and I achieves that rare comedic balance of offering belly laughs whilst remaining clever and biting at the same time.

Three key areas make the film so appealing for me. Simply put, better dialogue than Robinson’s is rarely heard in cinema. Profane, yet darkly witty, Robinson never goes for easy laughs, avoiding pratfalls and silly sight gags (the chicken scene is a notable, and well-executed exception) and simply relying on killer dialogue that encompasses a vast array of styles from the bonkers (” Hairs are your aerials. they pick up signals from the cosmos and transmit them directly to the brain. This is the reason bald-headed men are uptight) to the snappy (“We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here and we want them now!”) and ultimately the profound as Monty (Richard Griffiths) confronts his hopeless adoration fro Marwood (McGann) with “I must have you, even if it means burglary”. Even Robinson’s directors notes are suitably biting-“Dostoyevsky described hell as a room with a chair in it. This room contains several chairs.” However, brilliant though the dialogue is, Robinson has found the perfect actors to bring it to life and Grant’s alcoholic, cowardly and bitter Withnail is a truly unique comic creation. McGann, as the comparatively straight and anxious Marwood, makes an effective foil as just about the only sane person in the piece. Meanwhile, the ever-reliable Richard Griffiths avoids making the flamboyantly gay Monty a caricature and instead a genuinely sympathetic and even tragic character. Ralph Brown nearly steals the show as the drugged-out hippy Danny. 

And finally what makes Withnail and I so memorable is the unrelenting squalor of the locations. Robinson draws a lot of black humour from the fact that his Britain is an absolute shit-hole, at the beginning the characters are afraid to do the washing up because “There’s a tea bag growing!” But there is a peculiar kind of poetry to the country locations that create a sense of nostalgia for lost friendships and a bygone Britain at the end of a decade where the nation is uncertain of itself. Witnail and I  remains that rare thing-a comedy of class.

The Dark Knight Rises: Film Review

Since seeing it I have seen numerous reviews for this final chapter in Nolan’s Batman trilogy and I have been really surprised, astounded in fact at how poorly people have rated it, people giving it 6/10 or grading it a C. Are you kidding me?! Maybe it didn’t live up to your ridiculously high expectations, but as far as I am concerned it was awesome. The Dark Knight was a film where The Joker very much took the limelight, and rightly so, however in the final edition of the brilliant series, this is Batman’s film, and more particularly, one highlighting his relationships with each member of the support cast. Nolan has once again used a cracking support cast, many of which are stalwarts of the trilogy, Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, all of which are as brilliant as their reputations would allow you to expect. There are also many new faces as well, much of which seems to be an Inception reunion, Tom Hardy as Bane, Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate and Joseph Gordon Levitt as John Blake, all having been in Nolan’s previous blockbuster, joining other Inception cast members, Caine and Cillian Murphy, but those are not the only new, important cast members, as one of the most striking, and surprisingly good, characters was Selina Kyle, played by Anne Hathaway.

As the film starts, Nolan’s intentions to tie all three films together are clear, opening with Commissioner Gordon giving a speech about the impact of Harvey Dent on Gotham, reminding us of the reasoning behind Batman’s hibernation from law enforcement for 8 years. It soon, however moves from this to summer blockbuster ground, with a visually dazzling and spectacularly performed opening action sequence which really brings Bane to the forefront, and shows how powerful and ferocious he is, which as the film progresses shows him to be a quite astounding villain. He is imposing and more than frightening due to the mask and husky, yet booming voice, and Tom Hardy is clearly brilliant in the role, Christopher Nolan taking advantage of his physical presence in numerous scenes, particularly a showdown midway through the film. By this point the large supporting cast has already become established and Bane’s violent agenda becomes integral and consuming towards everything else in the film. The twists and turns are exactly as you would hope for, not overcomplicated but not too simple, the film does have too much action or is dialogue heavy, and it doesn’t just rely on good direction or good performances, but thrives on a perfect balance within all of these aspects so that the audience is encapsulated, making it hard for me to analyse it, because I enjoyed it too much to stop and think. The film was pacey and spectacular, making it easy to forget the vast duration of the film.

I thought, as is pretty obvious by now, that it was superb, each element was done as well as can be expected of a big blockbuster, but it was still as dark and gritty as we have come to expect from Nolan. Unfortunately people will always compare it to the film prior to it, but I think they are similar, yet still hard to compare; The Dark Knight was a film dedicated to the Joker whereas this was one far more based around Bruce Wayne, and also Alfred, but if I was forced to compare I would say they were just as good as one another. They are both stylistically the same, the performances of the entire cast are both brilliant, and the villains are, in my view, just as good as each other, The Joker is fantastic as a darkly comic, psychologically scary villain, whereas Bane is a fierce, violent brute and is equally frightening in that perspective. Verdict- 9/10

Also, many prayers go out to the families and victims of the horrific shooting which will forever be associated with the movie.

The best and worst: Superhero Films

Considering that the last film I reviewed was The Amazing Spiderman and one of the next is going to be, FINALLY, The Dark Knight Rises I thought now would be a good time to countdown the best and worst of the superhero genre. There can sometimes be nothing better than a superhero, summer blockbuster, but it can equally be awful, often farcical and more cartoonish than the comics it was derived from. These are my personal opinions so please comment to moan at me and argue for the films you disagree with me on, I may have missed some films out which ought to be there because I have not yet watched them, and if I had seen it Spawn would probably be in the worst pile. Enjoy

WORST:

5.) Hulk: Ang Lee is by all means a very gifted film maker, but making a Hulk film was the wrong option. I doubt he ever could have made it work, as I don’t think his style is bombastic enough to make a great superhero movie; the Hulk that should have been created should have been more like Mark Ruffalo’s in Avengers Assemble, but instead reminded me of the Boris Karloff Frankenstein, just dumb and brutish, but weak rather than frightening. There were just far too many glowing frogs and nonsensical science for it to work as well, and this wasn’t exactly helped by Bana’s performance which was unbelievably wooden, and constantly felt like a man acting rather than Bruce Banner. Next time, don’t cast people because they have same surname.

4.) Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Hardly anyone liked the first one so why didn’t they just stop, or at least give it another ten years and then reboot the franchise. What annoyed me most of all was that the Silver Surfer is easily one of the best ‘villains’ in superhero land yet here there wasn’t anything cool or edgy about him, and at some points in the film he seemed almost obsolete to the numerous other, far more boring story lines such as the heroes relationships yada yada yada…

3.) Elektra: Again, sequels of crap films are never, just never, any good themselves. Personally I thought Jessica Garner’s performance as Elektra was the worst part of the rather dreadful Daredevil anyway, so to make a film solely based around her was nonsensical. The fight scenes are ludicrous and really badly done, looking so staged that all it achieves in doing is breaking up what little narrative it had.

2.) Batman and Robin: I like to start with the positives, so… Urmm… Alfred’s not bad. Done. Negatives, now don’t even get me started. George Clooney was poor at best, you were left not caring about Batman because he seemed just like a rich jerk, and was a huge step down from every other person who has played Batman and doesn’t deserve a comparison between the Michael Keaton and Christian Bale versions. Secondly, the villains, of which there are not only too many, Poison Ivy, Bane, Mr Freeze, just stick with one or two, but they are so cartoony and unrealistic that they remind me of the villains in an episode of Scooby Doo. Thurman and Schwarzenegger are both hysterically bad, though this isn’t aided by the cringe-worthy script, and its incredible number of ice puns, such as “cool off”, “revenge is a dish best served cold”, and my personal favourite, “lets kick some ice”.

1.) Catwoman: How could a film be worse than Batman and Robin? Well, at least B & R, was entertaining, it was extremely funny, though not at the intentional points. This was just boring, because the only interesting thing to do was criticize it. None of the characters, even the one possessed by some magical cats in a sewer, were in any way interesting, and that is the thing about superhero films, it has to be interesting and bombastic, these people have superpowers for f***s sake. It was so rubbish I am even finding writing about it mind numbing, so I give in, now on to some decent films.

BEST:

5.) Kick-Ass: A complete mockery of the superhero genre, but done with sprite and panache, the characters are funny yet, for the most part, believable, and those that aren’t believable, i.e. the knife throwing, pistol shooting, blaspheming eleven year old girl, are purely in it as a mockery of the genre which it itself fits into. Moretz is brilliant as Hit Girl and Nicolas Cage is equally good in one of his best roles, but not only is it a good supporting cast but Aaron Johnson not only gets our sympathy but also gets our support, in doing what no-one else is brave enough, or indeed stupid enough to have done before.

4.) X-men First Class: After the rather disappointing Last Stand (I have forgotten about Origins: Wolverine for a reason), Matthew Vaughn, who had already made a name for himself in the genre with the film above, now rejuvenated the franchise with a clever and ballsy effort. The direction is great, the battle scenes are enthralling and the character arcs are always entertaining and consuming, however this really comes from the stellar performances from Fassbender as Magneto and MaCavoy as Professor Xavier. The script is brilliantly written and the re-working of history works surprisingly well in correspondence with the narrative, the only slight downer for me was the lack of a really epic and ferocious villain, with Kevin Bacon, as Sebastian Shaw, being more than passable but in a performance that will never be classic.

3.) Batman Begins: It takes guts to rebrand such a huge franchise as Batman, and Christopher Nolan made this more than apparent with his bold and fierce remodeling of the much-loved comics. Nolan’s success, I personally believe, lies greatly in the grounded nature of the film compared to those previous to it; this Batman was realistic and could be sympathised with, had emotional sincerity and took place in a world  which looks like a complete possibility rather than the comic-book settings of Batman and Robin. Gotham City is ridden with crime, but these are not criminals who have falling in vats of acid, but villains who are monstrously evil without being completely superheroesque. Dr Crane (the Scarecrow, played superbly by Cillian Murphy), a deranged and immoral psychologist who uses toxins to turn people insane, a mob boss, Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), and Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson), a hidden crime fighter, but still just as realistic as Batman. Bale’s Batman is also brilliant, as are the performances  of the amazing supporting cast who aid Bruce Wayne, Caine, Oldman and Freeman; the overall cast is great, however if I was nitpicking, Katie Holmes was the weak link, but that doesn’t stop this being brilliant.

2.) Avengers Assemble: This isn’t exactly a cool, dark movie as with Batman Begins, but this is the big, summer blockbuster which all future blockbusters will aim to reproduce. Its brilliance doesn’t lie in multiple sterling performances or the massive, exhilarating spectacle derived from the premise of combining multiple superheroes for one epic movie. It instead lies in, as many before me will have already stated, the great writing of Joss Whedon, and it is the comic turns in this film which cause it top all of its predecessors, keeping it vivid and imaginative, lively and entertaining throughout the film, leaving you always wanting more. Personally I favour Batman Begins as a film, but for pure entertainment, this can hardly be beaten.

1.) The Dark Knight: It was almost as though Nolan used the first film to set this film up knowing it would be immense, and superior to the original; he used the first film to do everything expected of a Batman film, he filled the key roles and introduced the key characters, gave Batman a difficult but not unbeatable foe, and not exactly one of the classic enemies and most importantly did Batman’s origin story, including the ever-cliched image of pearls hitting the floor. With all that out of the way he could wreak havoc, pull as many punches as he wished, using the classic villain, the Joker, and again making him less cartoon and more real and hence more frightening, creating him to be a deranged, violent terrorist. Heath Ledger is undeniably brilliant, and the rest of the cast support what is more the Joker’s film than Batman’s, but it does not rely on the joker alone and this film is far more edgy, has a far more daring script and plot, and how its was a 12A I have no idea. The score worked brilliantly and the overall tone intensified constantly until the colour in your face changed. Undoubtedly, in my eyes, the best superhero movie.

The Amazing Spiderman: Film review

It is clear at the moment that Hollywood has an obsession with bringing back and refreshing franchises; The Dark Knight Rises, the final chapter of Nolan’s Batman reboot, Prometheus brought back the xenomorphs once more, The Bourne Legacy is now trying to somehow maintain a Bourne franchise without Bourne and other remakes and reboots are set to be released in the near future, such as Total Recall, Dredd and Man of Steel. Hollywood could be starting to lose its imagination somewhat and merely resorting to reverting back to the franchises which are assured to bring in the audiences purely to keep money in the industry during this financial hardship. Has Hollywood lost its originality? Considering The Amazing Spiderman, I think it is a confident no. Mark Webb knew from the very moment he announced the new movie that there would be pressure-a-plenty on his shoulders as not only was Sam Raimi’s Spiderman series, well the first two anyway, very successful, but this film comes only 5 years after Peter Parker’s last, and rather disappointing, adventure in the red spandex suit.

Webb has clearly taken the previous Spiderman films on board, however there is clearly no evidence that this is rip-off of Raimi because Webb has intentionally steered away from what made the previous films so recognisable and enjoyable. This doesn’t however mean that this is unlikeable but Webb reaches this from a different angle to his predecessor. Maguire was a really likeable character, a slightly goofy protagonist who you wanted to be victorious as much through pity as anything else; Andrew Garfield is a much cooler, self assured version of Peter Parker whose character is most evident and likeable as half of the relationship between him and the sharp Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Stacy brings another dimension to the film, which had never been brought by a rather inept and passive Mary-Jane, heightened by her Father’s involvement in being the Police Captain on the hunt for Spiderman. Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) has one of the most difficult jobs ever put on the big screen, as not only does he desire to catch our hero, as he swings Tarzan-like through the urban jungle but also has the unenviable task of stopping The Lizard from turning everyone in a 5 mile radius into similar reptilia. Garfield starts this film with a somewhat different origin story to what we have previously seen, this time the focal point being his curiosity about his missing parents, causing the actual arachnid radiation to be a minor part; Personally I feel that the film benefits from this as everyone knows what is going to happen anyway, so it gets deeper into the actual narrative earlier. After finding out a connection between his Father and a certain Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), the Doc in question malfunctions after he splices his own genetics with that of a lizard causing him to rather predictably become The Lizard. Unlike some previous villains, such as Norman Osborn, the Lizard is possibly a step too ridiculous and unrealistic, looking cartoonish, but Rhys Ifans is very good in the role, and the emotional battle between him and Spiderman holds the middle section of the film together.

The Lizard however really comes into his own as a villain in the fight scenes in the latter third of the film, really stressing the value gained from 3D and great special effects. The film is more than just a bit ludicrous in some areas though and a picky man could easily scrutinise how unrealistic most of the film is, such as the incredibly ‘subtle’ plot device of the crane guy and his son, you’ll know what I mean when you watch it, but that really isn’t the point. It’s a superhero film! If it was realistic then the story wouldn’t be entertaining enough to withstand such epic finales as is evident here. The acting is, for the most part, pretty decent, but what is probably best achieved in The Amazing Spiderman is the plausible and intriguing inter-character relationships. One of these is the relationship between Peter and Uncle Ben which I prefer greatly to that of the Raimi version, with Webb cleverly avoiding the “with great power comes great responsibility” speech. However, the most plausible relationship, rather unsurprisingly is between Parker and Stacy, portrayed brilliantly through now real-life couple Garfield and Stone, which glues the entire narrative together.

Ok, there is definitely a special effects frenzy, with camera angle which are purely because they can be done now, rather than because they are better than the previous alternative, and the script is good rather than brilliant, but this is a great summer blockbuster. It is entertaining until the very end and I personally prefer it to Raimi’s version. I have given it a 7 because although it was very enjoyable it wasn’t groundbreaking or likely to be iconic or also technically perfect, but merely enjoyable, but isn’t that the point with a big-budget superhero movie. A good film, but try not to think too hard about it. Regards 🙂 7/10

Submarine by Joe Dunthorne

Set in 1997, in Swansea, Submarine tells the story of ordinary teenager Oliver Tate. Any teenage boy, myself included, will relate to his comical and over-sexual narration, brilliantly sculpted by Dunthorne who makes Oliver a likeable and realistically awkward character and a superb narrator. His over complicated and ultra-descriptive narrative is itself at many times hilarious, his dairy entries a particular highlight in the book. The story itself is is rather normal and mundane, yet is still effortlessly entertaining through Oliver’s narration and the ridiculous conclusions which he jumps to; such as his theories that his mother’s Capoeira teacher indulges in equine sexual fantasies and his judgement that the man living at number 16 is a pansexual. Dunthorne however sidesteps the possibility of this purely being a teenager and some comic sexual actions, and he instead moves through an often bleak and always witty narrative without being as crass and crude as many teenage comedy novels are. Oliver is intelligent and self-assured however at times he is still incredibly human and, well, idiotic and incredulous.

This is, when push comes to shove, a coming-of-age story, although Oliver’s underlying innocence is prevalent throughout his well-meaning narrative. He often mistakes his knowledgeable nature for being experienced, constantly using verbose language yet not thinking enough to realise that it is best to be there for your girlfriend when her mum is diagnosed with a brain tumour. The narrative is perfectly pitched by Dunthorne and Oliver Tate is likeable even if he is precocious, Dunthorne mocking the manners and mindset of 15 year old boys trying to fit in, yet trying to be better than everyone-else simultaneously. Dunthorne extracts great comedy from Oliver’s over-analytical views, such as this paragraph. Some euphemisms make you sound like Martin Clove, a boy who, for psychological reasons, doesn’t have to use the communal showers after rugby. When we ask Martin what is wrong with his wang, he gets defensive and refers to it as his little man. This implies a kind of distant seemingly friendly relationship between him and his penis.

Last year Dunthorne’s book was turned into a film by Richard Ayoade, which is a great interpretation, although, as is often the case I prefer the book. This an excellent, incredibly easy read and a great one for this summer. Regards 🙂