Monday, 8 September 2008

Friday, 29 August 2008

The Bucket List

Sometimes the biggest names in Hollywood get together to make a film that can have your heart pounding with anticipation. Oscar winners Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman decided to team-up to make a light-hearted comedy which was bound to set pulses racing and send blood pressure through the roof. When it was revealed the film was going to be about death and terminal illness it might have brought on a few sudden heart attacks and spoiled some of the excitement that had gripped fans of the pair.

Looking back through the history of film would reveal how Hollywood has avoided films about dying, and probably understandably, as it’s not the primary choice for entertainment. However, if anyone was going to pull it off it would be Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.

Nicholson settles into the role of a rich American executive in this film with consummate ease. His experience as an actor doesn’t always draw roles of this particular profession, but it does suit his character perfectly. His iconic grin and sharp, unforgiving wit are used to put every actor or extra on edge, except for Morgan Freeman.

The wise and world-weary Freeman meets the character of Carter Chambers, an ill and aging mechanic, as if they were old friends, united yet again. When Edward Cole (Nicholson) meets Carter Chambers a bond is formed in the most tragic of circumstances.

A classic tale of first appearances being deceptive is easily distinguishable. The black, working class mechanic played by Freeman seems doomed to die having achieved little. Rich, white executive Edward Cole seems to have the money to buy his way out, but soon finds out the reality of life and death.

The two unlikely companions come together to make ‘bucket lists’ – a selection of things you need to do before you kick the bucket. This includes parachuting, becoming reunited with loved ones and laughing until they cry. It doesn’t take long for an audience to realise that in fact Carter Chambers’ life is richer, surrounded by loved ones and fond memories.

The way the plot developed was undoubtedly predictable, leaving little to surprise the audience. The implausible ability the two aging men had to take on any task as if they were teenagers was also disappointing. The bucket lists that they make also encourage the audience to think about their own mortality, and it’s impossible not to pick out the points that didn’t make the list.

Overall, The Bucket List provided funny, entertaining and touching moments, without ever reaching into the realms of greatness. Nicholson and Freeman never appeared to stretch themselves, content instead to build a simple camaraderie. They always seemed to be aware of the fine line between humour and mortality, and perhaps if they’d been allowed more freedom they could’ve created something worthy of their reputations.

There Will Be Blood

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the creator of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, There Will Be Blood is dramatic, intense and frankly a little uncomfortable. Anderson’s style is easily identifiable, often allowing his films to display the grandeur of the world we inhabit while exposing the flaws of human emotion. He is undoubtedly a compelling filmmaker, capable of producing movies that are both fascinating and exhausting.

The film is set in the old west and the imagery that is delivered to the screen is a throwback to the days of John Ford. Anderson includes symbolism in abundance, using the beautiful landscape to narrate the film. The complex characters that inhabit the location are the driving force behind a multi-layered story.

Daniel Day-Lewis assumes the role of Daniel Plainview, an American oil tycoon with a feverous desire for power. Plainview is immediately unlikeable, often resorting to using his adopted son to gain credibility with the local towns-people that he seeks to purchase land from. They have an abundance of oil which he seeks to buy for a smaller fee than it should demand, using trickery and deceit.

He has the swagger of a detestable salesman with no interest in his profession or the consequences of his actions, instead choosing to care only about the money and power he can gather. It’s the outstanding skill of Daniel Day-Lewis that allows him to bring a theatrical and charismatic character to the screen whilst humanising him, highlighting his vulnerability and weakness.

His confrontation with church pastor Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) is critical in establishing his moral sensibility. Sunday is quiet and calm; often only able to become animated when his faith is concerned. His evangelical preaching demands the embrace of Plainview, forcing him to step further into a community he wishes to exploit through deception and dishonesty.

The dialogue that’s exchanged is powerful, allowing Plainview to deliver superb lines articulated by a unique southern drawl. Accompanied by a soundtrack from Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood, the desert setting appears both barren and dark, allowing you to believe you’re watching it unfold in person.

Plainview’s struggles with his own conscience and the demands of Eli Sunday produce an emotionally draining finale. The story follows an extremely unlikeable character, allowing you to focus on the thoughts and feelings of somebody you would never really wish to meet. Their positions as unknown quantities makes the final scene exchanged between Plainview and Sunday so memorable.

The film was nominated in eight Academy Award categories, and the critical acclaim is justified. However, There Will Be Blood does stumble at some of the hurdles that stand before greatness. The runtime is very long and not entirely justifiable, leading the director to include scenes and detail that is not entirely necessary.

The overall problem I had with the film was finding an angle from which to derive some enjoyment. It’s both compelling and technically excellent, but also entirely draining and discomforting. The theatrical edge to Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance cannot be critcised. His Oscar win was undoubtedly justified, and after being swept away by this performance moviegoers would be blessed were they to see a greater achievement in acting this year.

Be Kind, Rewind

Having graduated from short films, music videos and documentaries, French director Michel Gondry had introduced a freshness to mainstream cinema that had been missing for a while. His most successful full-length movie was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in 2004, starring Kate Winslet and Jim Carey.

When he decided to make a new piece of feature-length fiction he was once again able to assemble a cast with impressive back-catalogues. School of Rock hero, and Tenacious D legend, Jack Black, was eager to work with the French prodigy.

Mos Def, star of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Danny Glover and Mia Farrow were added to support the obvious comedic talents of Black. It appeared to be an exciting cocktail of star performers.

Be Kind, Rewind follows the story of two unlikely friends in a small, unrealistically twee suburb. The main content of the film is a variety of other people’s films, in the form of shoddy remakes produced by Jerry (Jack Black) and video-rental-store owner Mike (Mos Def). This includes Ghostbusters, Driving Miss Daisy, The Lion King and Rush Hour.

It becomes apparent early in the film that the characters of Elroy Fletcher (Danny Glover) and local simpleton Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow) are dependant on the store, and so is the community. It’s only after conspiracy theorist Jerry magnetises himself, in an attempt to save the town from radiation, that the contents of the store become blank, forcing the local people into action.

Ghetto kids, mechanics and even Elroy and Miss Falewicz begin to get involved in Jerry and Mike’s filmmaking. Black is in his element, as each film provides and opportunity for him to produce his goofy brand of comedy. His relationship with the more reluctant character of Mike makes for a tale of unusual friendship.

Buddy comedies come and go, but few make a lasting impression. The understanding between Mos Def and Jack Black is clearly evident, but never really hits the heights of those they are literally trying to emulate. The potential is there to at least grasp at what Aykroyd and Murray brought to the Ghostbusters movies, but is stifled by the style of Michel Gondry’s storytelling.

The director, born in Versailles, is heavily influenced by pop music and his filmmaking roots are firmly planted in making music videos. He has worked with famous names such as Bjork, The Chemical Brothers and Massive Attack in the past.

It was perhaps his experience with 3 or 4-minute films that made the prospect of shooting several movies within one a mouth-watering prospect. In Be Kind, Rewind it only served to starve the audience, denying the opportunity for a flowing plotline to effectively develop.

As the local people come together various journeys of individual and communal discovery flourish. The presentation of their film at Mike’s video store provides the occasion at which friends, neighbours and relative strangers can let their guards down, forming relationships with all kinds of people in an outpouring of emotion.

Frankly it’s all a bit kitsch. Although Mike and Jerry manage to forge a very believable friendship, largely due to the sublimely subtle performance of Mos Def, the unity that is suddenly formed in the entire community is highly questionable. The coming together of people in defiance of class and ethnic division simply isn’t believable.

The characters of Miss Falewicz and Elroy Fletcher forming a relationship is also far too tentative and unlikely. Jerry and Mike cross the ethnic divide almost effortlessly, in a way that Farrow and Glover seem to find more difficult. The lack of common interest seems to make it painstakingly obvious they are an unlikely match, whereas Mike and Jerry are united through their filmmaking exploits.

Michel Gondry undoubtedly wanted to shine a little light into an American suburb, but he only managed to find enough for two people. Without the superb comic ability of Jack Black and the vulnerability produced by Mos Def the disappointing peripheral scenes could’ve overshadowed this film. Fortunately Black and Def provide great moments of friendship and comedy making this buddy comedy worth a watch.