rfbooth.com :: blog archives

Moments in time, preserved to embarrass me later.

11-4-2007 (archived)

Letters from Iwo Jima”, the second half of Eastwood's remarkable pair of films is the stronger of the two. It follows the side, the Japanese, who we are culturally prepared to regard as incomprehensible villains in their pre-1945 condition (and, largely, as incomprehensible people with really weird sexual hangups, compulsive hobbyism, and great food now), and paints them as thoroughly and convincingly human.

It is a beautiful, terrible, thoughtful and elegiac piece, richer and deeper than Flags was and far more interesting. Utterly rewarding.

21-8-2007 (archived)

*tap tap tap* Is this thing on?

Wow. That's been a while, then. Eleven posts in almost six months pretty much sucks, and I have 34 movies in the review queue, some of which are already out on DVD (indeed, some I have already BOUGHT on DVD). Other than rss and lj-based people, there can't be many people reading this, but then that was never why I did it anyway. The surprising fact is that even doing enjoyable things can take self-discipline, and I guess I ran out.

I particularly enjoyed Mark's speculation:

It's a political art thing: your literary production is declining in parallel with the UK's industrial output. Some day soon, when the last UK firm that actually makes stuff closes, you will take a vow of silence.

It is a beautiful thought (almost as much so as their suggestion that I might be too busy having sex), but beauty is not truth, whatever Keats said about urns, and in fact most of the truth is laziness and the rest is a combination of forums, work, and the distraction caused by being in pain most of the time. Since the latter has now mostly gone away and I have done no work for several weeks, there's little stopping me now but for having lost the habit. I make no promises.

Right. I've just spent quite a while hitting reload on the server to look at the draft of this post before remembering to point instead at the staging site. Now, how the hell do I make this thing upload? How quickly it fades.

23-8-2007 (archived)

We'll start the catch-up film reviews with a couple of British comedies, both made by teams who made their names on television. First, then, Hot Fuzz, which suffers slightly in comparison to Shaun of the Dead mostly by being just slightly too long. It probably seemed longer due to being in the company in the cinema of two very loud, very drunken women who arrived twenty minutes in and eventually left (noisily, naturally) after I had begged them to sufficiently strongly about ten minutes from the end (in the wake of queries from a reader, I wish to make it clear that they were not in any sense with me, just on the same row for entirely too long). It's one of the funniest films to come along for some time, though, and the Pegg/Frost double act is as strong as ever. Made with love, and it shows.

Unfortunately Magicians is of nothing like the same standard. Mitchell and Webb are brilliant on television (and radio), as has been Jessica Hynes-nee-Stevenson notably when in the company of Pegg and Frost, but this is surprisingly limp and lazy, resembling nothing so much as a stretched TV show. And not a particularly good one. It's not cinematic, and while it raises a smile it's not nearly funny enough.

Incidentally, either this summer has been particularly poor or my judgement has grown harsher. Just so you know.

25-8-2007 (archived)

Today we have a couple of mediocre films starring Nic Cage. Next is nearly OK. Cage is OK. Moore is fine. Biel is pretty good in an underwritten part, and of course she's glorious to look at. The implications of Cage's ability to look two minutes into the future and how he uses that to enjoy his life are well done. Sadly the twist ending really doesn't work, both in that it breaks the internal logic of the film as presented so far and in that it is predictable anyway. There are worse ways to pass the time, but it's not a good film.

Ghost Rider works slightly better because it's so unabashedly stupid. It's still not great, though. Cage does well in a role which requires only of him that he have first-class abs and occasionally his skull on fire, and of course Sam Elliot is ungodly cool, but everybody else is disappointing. Eva Mendes is purely there to be lusted after, and given her natural advantages in this matter does it surprisingly poorly. The bad guys are underused and nothing like cool enough when they are. The effects are decent, but not enough to really compensate for the general meh. This is pretty good when his head's on fire, and just dull the rest of the time - and at 114 minutes, there's much of that time. I saw it with low expectations and as such quite enjoyed it, but you really do have to tune out a lot.

27-8-2007 (archived)

Today, two films starring the great Edward Norton, a man making a strong case to be considered the finest screen actor of his generation. He's also pretty good at picking material of late; these two films are among the best of the year.

The Illusionist probably underperformed at the box office due to comparisons to the six-months-earlier and similarly magic-themed The Prestige. It would be easy to write this off as a more contemplative, lower-budget and less intense version, but actually it's a completely different package with only magic, period and quality in common. This is a love story, with wonderful performances from everybody (Norton and Giamatti being unsurprising, Biel rather more so), and no real surprises for anyone paying attention. Crucially, unlike The Prestige, this doesn't suffer at all when you spot the ending, because you were always supposed to. They're both excellent pieces of work, and I think this might be the one that will stand repeated viewings better.

The Painted Veil is another love story, this time with a more obvious actor-wattage match for Norton in Naomi Watts in a more restrained and so affecting performance than has been her wont. While the scenery is beautiful and the background of horrors and the empire is remarkable, it's really a two-hand character study (with excellent support from Schrieber and the wonderful Toby Jones). I have very little else to say about this except that it is exceptionally emotionally powerful and extraordinarily good.

30-8-2007 (archived)

There are many things that SPC Scharz's senior officers forbade him from doing:

My proper military title is 'Specialist Schwarz' not 'Princess Anastasia'.

I may not use public masturbation as a tool to demonstrate a flaw in a command decision.

Claymore mines are not filled with yummy candy, and it is wrong to tell new soldiers that they are.

And 210 others. Good, good stuff.

1-9-2007 (archived)

Three foreign-language reviews today. Curse of the Golden Flower was, for the most part, typical of Yimou Zhang's recent films like House of Flying Daggers and Hero: stunning visuals, an obsession with colour, gorgeous wire-work combat, and near-mythological, very Chinese, themes. Unfortunately it wasn't quite as good, at least to my taste; somehow it was just a touch cold. Still, a weak film from this source is as good as most people's best, and more beautiful than almost anyone's.

The Lives of Others beat Pan's Labyrinth to the Best Foreign Oscar last year, and since I thought PL should have taken Best Film I was curious to see it. Let us say straight away that it is an extraordinary film, of tgremendous power and depth, with a hugely serious theme and astonishing, understated acting. East Germany under the Wall is brilliantly evoked, and (now, sadly, the late) Mühe's deep and subtle performance as a state observer burdened suddenly with conscience is among the best I have ever seen. I still think Pan's Labyrinth was the better film, but this one's victory was not a disgrace. It is a truly superb piece of cinema.

Molière, on the other hand, will be nobody's film of the year. What it is a light, frothy, witty, stylish, and thoroughly enjoyable comic piece, and one fit to bear his name. Tremendously entertaining, and isn't that enough?

6-9-2007 (archived)

No, I'm still here. Cartoons today.

Shrek the Third, which could just as well have gone into the still-to-come threquels review, was, well, OK. The trailer's about as good as it gets, and the pumped-up wit aimed over the heads of the kids that characterised the first two is predictable and just not that funny. It's ok, but it's a sequel to a pair of classics, and the comparison is impossible to avoid and damaging to make.

Almost the only film that will suffer more from comparisons is The Simpsons Movie. I'm sure they felt very clever starting the movie off by pointing out that you could see the same thing at home on telly, as many fans do every day, but the trouble is that it's entirely true. There's nothing cinematic about it apart from the length, none of the regular characters other than the family and Flanders have anything worthwhile to do, and none of them are at anything like their best except Maggie. There is one moment of true greatness (spider pig), but it's no greater than you'd get in a top-quality episode. As for the rest of it, it's got about the content of one to one and a half decent, but not special, episodes. The trouble is, episodes air at 30 minutes, which makes them about 22 minutes long, and this is 89 minutes long - four episodes. It's nothing like good enough, and they must have known it.

Will it get any better? Surf's Up doesn't blow either of those away, but at least it's not crushingly disappointing. It's kind of slow, in an actually rather appropriate relaxed surf-dude way, and while it's completely devoid of anything even slightly surprising it's charming enough. Apparently the next cartoon out is going to be stunning, which is believable enough as it's a Pixar movie. Not before time; so far this year has been very, very poor.

8-9-2007 (archived)

It was to be the summer of the threequels, and here are three.

Pirates of the caribbean: at world's end famously went into shooting without a script, and from what I gather pretty much finished it without a script too (I heard Knightley talking about how the director asked her why she was playing one scene the way she was; having not seen a script, she had believed her character was being kidnapped, rather far from what was actually afoot). This may go some way towards explaining why the performances are so uniformly poor. Even Depp isn't all that great; rather than playing up, around, and through a movie, it looks like the director's occasionally said “OK, give us five minutes of Jack being Jack”. The first one was impossibly great, the second was terrific and promised better and richer to come, and here we are in the end with a half-assed attempt at a film that's incoherent, without a singly believable character arc, flailing around for plot, and utterly disappointing. It has its moments, certainly, but in places it's even dull. A betrayal.

Spiderman 3 suffers from the faults I've written about before, notably what I still consider the woefull miscasting of Maguire, and adds plenty more. Like the last, it's not sure what it wants to be all of the time and a few scenes are just horribly misplayed (particularly the black-spidey walk through town, which can't decide whether it wants to be light-hearted foolishness or cool and ends up being so bad it's astonishing it's still in the film). There are far too many bad guys, too many plot strands even for the 140 minutes it lasted, and far too much of it was boring. The action scenes mostly looked like computer game outtakes, and by the end of it I was wondering why I was there. The first two were pretty decent attempts, but this was just plain poor.

Ocean's 13 at least arrives with low expectations. I didn't see 12 because the critical reaction and word-of-mouth were so venomous, and I only saw 11 on the TV. It was fun, and kind of cool, and passed the time nicely, and so was this. Always nice to see Eddie Izzard working, too.

Apparently the third Bourne movie is pretty good. I'll let you know. Eventually.

18-9-2007 (archived)

I'm not dead, just busy. Posting may be sporadic for a while. In the meantime, here's how to drive forklifts safely. (Be patient, it's worth it.)

A friend was shown this and tested on it when he was learning to drive the trucks. Really.