Thursday, 30 December 2010

FILM: TRON LEGACY

Elliot Hyams returns to the world of sexy programs and killer Frisbees in Tron Legacy.

It’s happened to all of us at some point. A drunken conversation leads to some nostalgic reminiscing about a brilliant film from our youth until finally someone claims to own it on VHS and puts it on. The room falls silent until finally someone says what everyone is thinking “Actually this is a bit shit isn’t it?” One such film that falls under this category is Disney’s Tron. This may be seen as heresy by the many fans of the film, whilst it does deserve recognition for its ground breaking special effects, it featured a ludicrous script and one of the most nonsensical narratives of all time involving Jeff Bridges being sucked into a digital universe to lead a cyber rebellion. But regardless of this, it came to be regarded as an iconic classic with fans just as passionate as any Trekkie or Jedi wannabe. Now nearly thirty years after the release of the original, Disney has once again embraced cutting edge visual technology to take us back to the world of Tron.

After his initial voyage into the grid games designer Kevin Flynn returned to the real world where he took control of software company Encom and fathered a son before mysteriously disappearing. Twenty years later Encom is a mega corporation run by a greedy board of directors much to the chagrin of Flynn’s son Sam. When his father’s best friend Alan receives a mysterious message Sam heads to his father’s office where he is digitized and sucked into the grid. There he encounters Clu 2, a program created by his father twenty years ago who controls the new system as a ruthless dictator. Sam escapes Clu’s clutches with the help of a mysterious program named Quorra who leads him to his father who has remained trapped in the system since Clu defeated Tron and seized control of the grid. Together they attempt to defeat Clu and find their way back to the real world.

Like its predecessor Tron Legacy uses the latest in C.G.I to wage an assault on the senses. The world of the grid is fantastically designed and realised, this combined with an amazing score by Daft Punk make watching this film akin to watching a laser concert, and it is thoroughly engrossing. Fans of Jeff Bridges will be thrilled to know he is on great form both as a CGI enhanced version of his younger self in Clu, but also as the older Flynn who has become a Lebowski style cyber Jedi. Tragically like its predecessor it isn’t a particularly good film, the script draws genuine laughs for the wrong reasons and the gaping holes in the narrative can cause physical pain to a viewer’s brain. But Tron Legacy doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is, it is pure spectacle and as such it does succeed. It’s sleek and sexy in a way not seen since the Matrix, it features action, light bike chases and everything a fan boy could ever want. In many ways watching this film is like going on a date with Cheryl Cole, she may not have anything intelligent to say, but boy is she nice to look at.

Review by Elliot Hyams

FILM: BLACK SWAN

Elliot Hyams explores the dark side of a dancers psyche with the latest film from maverick director Darren Aronofsky.

Darren Aronofsky has built a career on showing the brutal cost of obsession on the soul. In Pi it was mathematics, in Requiem for a Dream it was heroin, in The Fountain it was Biology, and in The Wrestler it was wrestling. He pulls no punches in his visceral depictions of the gradual descent into catastrophe of his protagonists as they lose themselves to their chosen poison, it can make for hard viewing but he has proven himself to be a director with a clear, if not somewhat bleak view of the world. It is a theme he once again explores in his latest film Black Swan, this time examining the unlikely world of ballet with the same sense of inevitable destruction as he attributed to heroin, maths, and professional wrestling. But this is no ordinary film about ballet it is a slice of psychological horror featuring one of the most unique transformations since Cronenberg’s The Fly.

Natalie Portman stars as Nina, a young and emotionally fragile dancer in Vincent Cassel’s world famous ballet group. When lead dancer Winona Ryder is forced into early retirement by the forceful choreographer Nina realises her dream role of the swan queen in a new version of Swan Lake, however the part requires her to play both the innocent white swan and the evil black swan, requiring a release that she cannot allow. Her maestro’s frustration with her inability to let go, combined with the pressure placed upon her by her overbearing push Nina to breaking point, and things are further complicated by the arrival of Lily, a beautiful and wild dancer who poses a threat to Nina’s spot. Slowly Nina begins to change into something she does not recognise, both physically and mentally as the black swan gradually takes control of her soul.

Just as he did with the world of wrestling Aronofsky captures the shocking toll of ballet on the bodies and minds of those who pursue it as a career. For every shot of a graceful plié or en pointe there is a counter shot of the harm these women endure. We see broken bodies, vomit, blood, and tears. Clearly this obsession is as destructive as any he has previously explored. Like Mickey Rourke before her Portman throws herself into the role, she is utterly convincing as a dancer and her performance carries a weight of tragedy that all but erases the memory of her wooden performance in the Star Wars prequels. Parts of this superbly written film are genuinely shocking, but not just the brutal and fantastically realised transformation scenes. Because Nina is so well realised it is easy to empathise with her so watching her destruction proves as harrowing as any moment from Requiem. If Black Swan is indeed a horror film then it has more in common with the work of Kubrick or Argentino than any of the recent torture porn films that pass for horror these days. Black Swan is a study of repression and obsession, but more than this it is a beautifully constructed film by a fascinating artist.

Review by Elliot Hyams

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

FILM: SOMEWHERE

Elliot Hyams takes a look at the latest film from indie goddess Sofia Coppola.

Since her debut with The Virgin Suicides, Sofia Coppola has carved herself a niche as a filmmaker capable of telling small beautifully crafted stories of isolated and bored individuals. She is not afraid to take risks when it comes to slowing down a narrative to an almost complete stand still, everything she does is calculated and considered and for those who enjoy her work the end process can make for rewarding viewing. She received mainstream accolades for Lost in Translation, a story of romance between a bored over the hill actor and the unappreciated wife of a photographer set against a Tokyo backdrop and this month’s release, Somewhere, sees her returning to similar territory. Somewhere is the story of A-list actor Johnny Marco, played fantastically by Stephen Dorff. Johnny lives a privileged but dull life. In between being ushered to and from shoots and publicity tours, he spends his days drinking and smoking, and his evenings stumbling from one one-night-stand to the next. Whilst this may sound appealing in truth it is not, Johnny’s life is a constant stream of monotonous tedium broken only by visits from his eleven year old daughter Cleo.

Somewhere is a film where not a lot happens, although this may prove frustrating to some viewers it is the whole point of the story. Large parts of the film are still and silent, consisting of Johnny left to his own devices. The opening scene sees him driving his Ferrari repeatedly round an empty race track until boredom sets in and he can do it no more, this is a repeated motif of the film. Johnny does the same things over and over because he doesn’t seem to know what else to do. Dorff plays the part with a bemused vulnerability most perfectly encapsulated in a scene where he returns to the hotel room where he lives to find his best friend throwing a party where Johnny spends most of his time hiding in a corner. Unlike most films about Hollywood this is not a story of excess, it is a story of reality. The relationship between the actor and his young daughter played fantastically by young Elle Fannning is one of the most naturalistic relationships to be put to film in recent years and their interaction is a pleasure to watch.

Despite her skill as a writer it is Coppola’s use of silence that speaks volumes within this carefully constructed narrative, and there is a narrative here. This film is a study of a man without direction and meaning to his life, a man who wishes to be a better person, a better father but is unsure how to go about it. It moves far beyond the themes of loneliness explored in her previous work and into something that is truly beautiful. Somewhere is not a film that everyone will enjoy, many will find tedious and dull, but for those willing to offer it the level of patience and thought it deserves it will prove to be one of the most fascinating and touching films of the year.

Review by Elliot Hyams

FILM: LITTLE FOCKERS

Elliot Hyams spends Christmas with everyone’s favourite dysfunctional family.

Ten years ago Meet the Parents proved to be the surprise sleeper hit off the year. Despite the A-list cast including Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Blythe Danner, and Owen Wilson the film still had a distinct Indie feel to it. However the story of a bumbling male nurse desperately trying to impress the overbearing ex C.I.A father of his fianc√© managed to achieve the perfect blend of uncomfortable comedy and heart warming schmaltz that saw audiences emptying their wallets across the globe. After the success of the first film the sequel was inevitable and so Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman joined the cast to play Stiller’s wacky Jewish parents in Meet the Fockers, the film covered much the same territory as the first with Stiller returning as Gregg, still doing everything possible to gain the approval of De Niro’s stony faced Jack. Admittedly it lacked the same punch as the first film but was still enough of a financial success to warrant this year’s return to Focker family in Little Fockers.

Ten years have passed since Jack first put Gregg through the rigorous testing regime to see if he was good enough to marry his daughter Pam. Pam and Gregg are married with their own children and relations between Gregg and his father-in-law seem to be good enough. But when Jack suffers a heart attack he begins to consider who will carry on the legacy of his family, is Gregg really good enough to be the ‘God-Focker’? Soon Jack and his wife pay Gregg, Pam and the kids a visit, where Jack begins to suspect Gregg of cheating with his attractive co worker played by Jessica Alba. It’s not long before mishaps and misunderstandings have the two men at each other’s throats and the situation is only complicated further by the arrival of Kevin, Pam’s ex lover, now a millionaire with new age leanings.

Like The Office, Meet the Parents was a comedy of awkwardness. Stiller has made a career out of playing characters caught up in nightmare situations beyond their control and he once again excels at doing just that in Little Fockers. Similarly De Niro clearly enjoys being Jack, like his comedy turns in Midnight Run and Analyze This, the Focker films give De Niro the opportunity to be knowingly silly and play with his status as a dramatic icon. Both men are fantastic in the film, but the problem remains that the idea struggled to stretch to a second film, and the third proves that the well has run positively dry. The director of the last two films, Jay Roach, has been replaced by newcomer Paul Weitz in the hope of injecting new comedy blood into the series but rather than offering anything new this film appears to be made up of rehashed gags from the two previous films. Only a hilarious set piece involving an unwanted erection stands out as bringing anything new to the table. On the whole there are a few chuckles to be had here, but if it’s a proper laugh you are after you would be better off just watching the original.

Review by Elliot Hyams

FILM: THE TOURIST

Elliot Hyams takes a Venetian holiday with Johnny and Angelina.

'Chemistry' is one of the favourite buzz words used by studios when pushing the publicity for their latest ‘his and hers’ star vehicle. This is not without good reason, the ability of the stars of a film to convince audiences that they genuinely want to tear each other’s clothes off can make or break a film. Bogart and Bergman in Casablanca, McQueen and Dunaway in The Thomas Crown Affair, and Hepburn and Peck in Roman Holiday, when a couple click on film the screen sizzles and audiences are captivated. However when it doesn’t work it can be painfully uncomfortable to watch. So it is with some curiosity that the audiences receive the new thriller The Tourist, featuring the first time pairing of two of modern Hollywood’s most beautiful people, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. The question is will they sizzle or fizzle?

Jolie plays Elise, a mysterious British woman in Paris, pursued by Interpol and the police because of her connection to her ex lover, a wanted man who has disappeared with a substantial amount of money belonging to Steven Berkoff’s psychotic gangster. Whilst fleeing by train to Venice she encounters Depp’s American tourist, Frank, and seduces him so that she may use him as a dupe to throw the gangsters and the law off of the trail of her lover. Frank is unable to resist Elise’s charms and soon finds himself on the run due to a case of mistaken identity. As the walls of Venice begin to close in on them both Frank and Elise must question their loyalties and decide what part love can play in a world where no one can be trusted.

This is writer/director Florian Henckel Von Donnersmark’s follow up to the fantastic The Lives of Others and is clearly an attempt for him to make the move from German independent cinema to mainstream Hollywood. On paper The Tourist looks like a no brainer, two of Hollywood’s biggest stars lock lips and look gorgeous whilst leaping over rooftops and having boat chases in one of the most beautiful locations on the planet. But sadly the film fails to deliver on its promise, it tries too hard to mimic Hitchcock without ever reaching the level of brilliance of a film like North by Northwest, the tension is never truly allowed to build and everything feels too safe. Depp is as likable as ever as Frank, adding a level of vulnerability to the role that other actors would fail to do, whereas Jolie speaks in an awful English accent and floats through the film with all the presence of a thunderbird. The two do share a degree of the much vaunted chemistry engaging in some wonderfully written word play, but like the many twists in the film it all feels a little too contrived. Like its two leads The Tourist is very nice to look at, it’s beautifully shot and features exquisite locations and wardrobes but this just isn’t enough to stop you feeling a little unsatisfied once the credits roll.

Review by Elliot Hyams