Wednesday, July 25, 2012

DVD Round Up July 2012

Well one of the perks (ha!) of breaking your Elbow and then flying long haul on the same month is that you get to watch a good few movies. So it's time for another round-up!

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Right, so lets start with one of the best films I've seen this year. This adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy lost out in awards season to the rolling success of The Artist - a film I loved - but its a shame that it meant this was overlooked. This is an incredible film in many respects - the acting, the direction, the script all whirring together to create a haunting and cold portrait of loneliness and isolation. It's restrained and deceptively gently paced, the sort of film that grips you and won't let go by the sheer alchemy of what is on display. There isn't a bad performance or a dropped beat in the whole film. Fantastic, just fantastic.

John Carter
I caught this on the plane to Dubai (oh! hark at him!) and wasn't really sure what to expect. Before it had come out I'd been looking forward to it, and its box office and critical reception were pretty toxic, and then there has been a bit of a positive backlash in some quarters, and...oh, I don't know. In the end I rather liked it - theres a lot of spectacle, and a lot of fun pulp action, and a great cast playing the occasionally pointlessly exposition heavy dialogue with ease. It's not a flawless triumph though and the framing device which opens and closes the film is incredibly clunky, the pacing wobbles in places, and it's not as distinctive as it thinks it is at times, given how much later writes plundered Barsoom and it's tales for inspiration. What it isn't is a turkey, or a failure or a terrible film. Many worse films, films that are cynical and empty and dead inside, have gone onto far greater praise and success, and I'm left with the feeling that John Carter doesn't deserve the kicking that it's had.

Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows
And when you need an example, here is one. The first of Guy Richie's Holmes films was a lot of fun - silly, broad, but charismatically played and oddly confident in it's own silliness and therefore got away with it being not terribly faithful at all. The inevitable sequel feels oddly less confident, and a lot more derivative; as moments lifted from other films, strange, looping plot holes and some terrible wastes of a great cast leave a confused, if still (very) sporadically charming mess.

They say that the Western is dead, but it lives on, hiding out disguised as other genres. Looking for all the world like an urban crime drama, Drive features a nameless stranger with an unknown past drifting into town, befriending a single mother and her son, before being drawn in a corrupt and violent underworld that, as it turns out, he may already be familiar with. Drive is a stunning film that hangs on Ryan Goslings taciturn central performance, one of those films that sets itself up so carefully before slamming off down it's final third leaving you breathless in it's wake. We saw this the week after Tinker Tailor, and whilst two very different films they are a close fight for film of year for us. Oh, and about half way through, when you're thinking "why is this an '18'?", that's about when it shows you. 

Haywire had the misfortune to be the film we saw after Drive and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. There is nothing really wrong with it but it was always doomed to disappoint, so I guess my verdict of "decent, but a little flat" needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. The nice thing about Steven Soderburgh is that he flits around between genres and styles pretty easily, and he makes a good stab at the martial arts action movie genre, collecting a good cast and moderately cliched but serviceable story, but I just didn't feel it.

The Ides of March
A worthy political movie from George Clooney, and Ryan Goslings second appearance in this post, The Ides of March is a worthy political movie with all that entails. Adapted from a stage play, it doesn't manage to escape that "stageiness" that such adaptations often have, not helped, I think, by the fact it is set around press conferences, characterless campaign offices and hotel rooms, which are by their nature pretty stagey locations. Its fine - a decent tale of idealism falling to cynicism coupled with some nice liberal speeches of the sort you'd like liberal American politicians to make. But it's more hard hitting in theory than practice, and whilst

Black Swan
And finally, Black Swan, one of those arty, "Oscar Please!" movies that seem to crop up every year. Built around Natalie Portmans delicate central performance and relying heavily on her looking fragile and confused combined with some neat directorial tricks, its a nice portrayal of a descent into madness that leaves a lot of the ambiguities to the viewer to resolve. Its not going to be for everyone, and it does tip over into melodrama at the end, but yeah, its alright, without being the knock-out I think it was supposed to be.