Say what you like about Under the Skin (and it certainly isn’t for everybody), it at least has the courage of its convictions. In its daring attempt to mount an ambitious, abstract and experimental science fiction tale, it easily surpasses most other recent offerings in a genre now stuffed to the gills with comic-book adaptations; there’s probably been nothing as divisive or as elliptical since Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. But where that film spliced its genre elements with very human and spiritual dimensions, Under the Skin resolutely refuses to go any further than skin deep; the alien visitor, much like David Bowie’s outsider in The Man Who Fell to Earth (a distant relative of sorts), participates but doesn’t understand.
Full review: Under the Skin | Film @ The Digital Fix
‘Dumb fun’ broadly describes 300: Rise of an Empire, and boy, it doesn’t get much dumber than this. Following closely in the footsteps of its predecessor, this belated follow-up tries to be prequel, sequel and sidequel by embellishing and expanding upon the original story, and on its own limited terms it just about succeeds. But what felt bracingly different in 2007 now feels a bit tired and silly; the heavily stylised look wears thin after a while, and the scrappy story feels like its been sellotaped together from offcuts and leftovers. Only Eva Green’s lively performance stands out from the onslaught of bloody special effects.
Full review: 300: Rise of an Empire | Film @ The Digital Fix
An in-depth look at my (and many others) favourite Star Trek film, which recently screened at Cambridge Arts Picturehouse:
Of all the films in the Star Trek franchise, THE WRATH OF KHAN from 1982 is usually cited as the best. There are plenty of reasons why that is the case, but there is a strange logic at work here. Current wisdom dictates that, in order to be successful, a film franchise based on a pre-existing property like a TV show needs to steer clear of anything requiring more than a cursory knowledge of the source material, so as to attract a bigger audience.
Yet STAR TREK II did precisely the opposite; it delved back in to the series mythology, resurrecting a half-forgotten villain of the week. It focused on the characters as much as the science-fiction story, and still delivered a smart, emotional sequel that resonates with viewers over thirty years later. How could this be? Wasn’t it a risky strategy to court the fans rather than an indifferent wider public?
Full article: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan | TAKE ONE
Pity poor José Padilha. Not only did he earn the scorn and suspicion of the entire internet by signing up to direct this remake of Paul Verhoeven’s memorably savage sci-fi satire (taking over from Darren Aronofsky), but he must now endure the final product being measured up to its classic 1987 predecessor. The comparison inevitably doesn’t do his version many favours, but neither is it the total write-off many wanted or expected. In fact, ROBOCOP 2.0 emerges as the second best ROBOCOP movie ever made; but then after so many dud sequels and TV spin-offs, that wasn’t a terribly difficult accomplishment.
Full review: RoboCop | TAKE ONE
The late Tom Clancy’s most famous character is dusted off and rebooted once again in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, an entertaining if rudimentary assembly of familiar espionage plot devices and characters. Those who remember the previous Ryan films – in particular the original trilogy of The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger – will feel immediately at home in this new take, which moves the character in to the present day whilst portraying a reasonably faithful version of his origins. But the uncomplicated plot, brisk pace and short-ish running time mean that, compared to those previous outings, this is a lightweight take on Clancy’s hero, lacking the murky politics which usually dragged him out of his depth.
Full review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit | Film @ The Digital Fix
Following swiftly in the footsteps of 12 YEARS A SLAVE and MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM comes yet another real life tale of human brutality and endurance. After a very shaky start, THE RAILWAY MAN emerges as a modestly moving portrayal of psychological trauma and unlikely reconciliation. But Jonathan Teplitzky’s film is hamstrung by miscast stars and some extremely uneven editing, which negates much of the story’s emotional impact. What remains are honourable intentions and a reliably strong performance from Colin Firth as Eric Lomax, whose book about his experiences during World War II has been adapted by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson.
Full review: The Railway Man | TAKE ONE
A deserving subject is given an ill-deserved biopic treatment in MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM. Though Justin Chadwick’s film may work as a superficial overview of the late icon’s life, from his upbringing in a tribal village to the moment he entered office as South Africa’s first black president, it suffers from a script that tries to do too much in too little time and is chock full of trite directorial devices, as though the audience couldn’t be trusted to stay awake. What makes the film entirely watchable are the central performances from Idris Elba and Naomie Harris, who bring much needed dignity and gravitas to the piece.
Full review: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom | TAKE ONE
Director Peter Jackson took a risk when he decided to break up his epic prequel to The Lord of the Rings in to three parts rather than the originally-planned two. After all, this was clearly never going to be a simple page-to-screen adaptation of The Hobbit, and it threatened to stretch an already slender plot beyond breaking point. Yet he just about succeeds in pulling it off. The Desolation of Smaug is an exciting adventure romp, providing two and a half hours of solid entertainment, while at the same time failing to come anywhere near the highs of The Two Towers, Jackson’s middle section of his earlier Rings cycle which, for many, was the best film in the entire trilogy.
Full review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug | Film @ The Digital Fix
If a gold standard for gothic cinema had to be chosen, then Jack Clayton’s THE INNOCENTS would surely be on the shortlist, probably at the very top. No other film can touch it in terms of subtle emotional complexity and haunting resonance. On the surface a deceptively straightforward tale of spooky visitations, it’s only with repeated viewings that its true mastery reveals itself. Coming back to the film after a prolonged gap, the thing that really takes you aback is how creepy the story is – and not just in a supernatural way. Dark forces are very much at work in the real world too, blurring the lines between reality and imagination.
Full review: The Innocents | TAKE ONE
If you want see, touch and feel the highs and lows of young love in a way that only cinema can conjure, then BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR is the film for you. It’s an extraordinarily vivid portrayal of a romantic relationship, from the giddy upswing of its early halcyon days to its later violent and traumatic collapse. It even manages to transcend the highly misleading, and slightly distasteful, lesbian love drama label that it has been stuck with ever since it wowed audiences at Cannes earlier this year, where it collected the Palme d’Or.
Full review: Blue Is the Warmest Colour | TAKE ONE