Monday, 28 February 2011

Poster Of The Week - From Paris With Love

From Paris With Love doesn't look like it would be very good going by the poster. It contains a few flaws when inspecting it more closely. Rhys Meyers is looking as if he's going at the leisurely pace of a turtle on death row on his side of the car. Travolta on the other hand seems to be flying along with what appears to be a giant torch. Aside from that, there is a sun roof in the car so choosing the more dangerous route of sticking his body out of the side window is just plain excessive.

The question of who is driving is answered by the limp hand on the steering wheel but who is watching the road?

So they have established that it is going to be a completely daft film from the poster alone but what makes this film certain to be a future Channel 5 post-watershed regular is the tagline:

Two agents. One City. No Merci.

Not only is this clearly a case of coming up with the pun before the tagline but also the tagline before the film.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

French Animators, Kanye West and Knee-jerk Reactions: Why 'All Of The Lights' Is Not A Case Of Plagiarism

When the video for Kanye West's All Of The Lights hit the internet last week it was almost guaranteed to cause controversy. The man never fails to achieve at least some outcry in everything he does. Within moments of it's release, bloggers were at their keyboards claiming foul play on the part of the video's director Hype Williams. The charge laid at his feet was one of plagiarism. The term seems to be in vogue as it was only recently that Rihanna's 'S&M' found itself (and rightly so) at the centre of similar furor.

'All Of The Lights' features words in various styles flashing along with the lyrics of the song and clearly recall the opening credits of Gasper Noé's 2010 film Enter The Void. On the surface it seems a cut-and-dry case of creative laziness leading to the work of another being stolen but this is far from the case here.

Plagiarism is defined as expressing an idea as if it were an original thought. However, at no point in the video is it ever suggested that this is the case. It is obvious from the close attention to detail in the selection of graphic styles that it was not merely an afterthought to hark back to Noé's original sequence but a careful decision made with each frame. There is no attempt to move away from the original style whatsoever nor cover their tracks. The video is blatant in it's desire to replicate Noé and does not hide away from it. In comparison, Rihanna's 'S&M' video clearly borrows stylistic features from the work of David LaChapelle but never explicitly refers to him. This would suggest there was something to hide aside from the fact that LaChapelle has raised his own concerns over the video.

You could probably write a very long list of things you can fault with Kanye West. But despite his numerous moments of sheer stupidity, he is clearly an intelligent man. A man with great visual and cultural awareness. Even in his stupidity this is evident as no one could argue that 'You Belong With Me' was a better video than 'Single Ladies'. The same awareness can be attributed to the video's director, Hype Williams. So it seems completely illogical that they think they could dupe millions into thinking the work was an original piece and especially with the power of the internet to uncover a fraud. There is a clear difference between trying to pass something off as the work of oneself and paying an ocular homage to a director's particular trademarks. The video itself is a loving nod to the work of Noé in general and not just the opening credits of Enter The Void. West straddling the roof a police car in a red brick alleyway is a knowing wink to Noe's previous work. The opening scene of 2002's Irreversible is set in an equally claustrophobic alley and similarly illuminated by the red and blue flashes of police lights.

Those that are quick to jump on the 'plagiarism-outrage' bandwagon should at least try and equip themselves with the facts. The use of words appearing in different fonts and flashing along to the rhythm of music is hardly an original idea in itself. It would be wrong to credit the idea of that to Noé. It is derivative of fellow French music video director and graphic animator Bertrand Lagros de Langeron aka So Me. In partnership with Machine Molle, Lagros oversaw the creation of the Justice music video for 'DVNO' in 2008 which saw the lyrics of the song appear in various animated guises. Furthermore So Me have done numerous other pieces in a similar style for other artists. Not least for Kanye West's 'Good Life' in 2007 which dates it to three years before the release of Noé's Enter The Void. The single cover of which can be seen below:

It appears therefore that if West and Williams have a case to answer for plagiarism then by the same logic Noé should be appearing in front of the same court. Though it is obvious that none of them should have to face these ridiculous accusations from the knee-jerk reactions of the visually unaware. One of the aims of art is both to push the boundaries forward whilst also paying tribute to those who had originally set them. Words flashing about on a screen might not exactly been groundbreaking but the progression is clear to see. 'All Of The Lights' is an exercise in homage and interpretation for the artistically able and most definitely not an issue for men in suits nor sensationalist journos.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Sandra Bullock, Online Chess and Serial Killers - Hollywood and the Internet.

The internet has been something of a double-edged sword for the film industry. It has opened a new realm of marketing to the studios as well as allowing film fanatics around the world to communicate with one another. Word of mouth has turned into word of keyboards as the reputation of a film can be made or broken by the general consensus of the online masses. If it were not for the genius of one internet fan boy, Samuel L Jackson may never have muttered the immortal words "I have had it with these motherfuckin' snakes on this motherfuckin' plane". Though whether this can be considered good or bad for the legacy of celluloid is yet to be decided.

On the other hand the web has brought with it the dangers of piracy which has forced the industry to desperate lengths as can be seen with the return of 3D. Former chief of the Motion Picture Association of America, Dan Glickman, believed that piracy had cost the film industry around $6 billion dollars a year from 2003 until 2007 as connection speeds and download limits increased. It is therefore interesting to witness the different ways with which Hollywood has chosen to present the World Wide Web since its arrival.

In the beginning it was used as purely a tool to impress girls by the world's first hacker - Matthew Broderick. WarGames from 1983 shows the rather helpful uses of computers interlinked via a network. Broderick happily changes his failing school grades and does the same for his hot classmate Ally Sheedy with only the slightest twinge of moral conscience. Again in Ferris Bueller's Day Off he mixes boyish charm effortlessly with an extensive knowledge of computers that would suggest he had no social capabilities. This time he alters his number of sick days at school all from the safety of his own room. Thus the internet was a harmless tool. A hobby for mischievous boys with no malice intended. Broderick's motives in WarGames for his hacking are simply light-hearted. His actions carried out in the hope that Ally Sheedy will toss him off in the locker rooms in return for a B+ in Chemistry.

The capabilities and potential of the internet only began to be realised in the Nineties. People saw the ability it had to convey vast swathes of information to an audience other mediums such as television could only dream of. Free from restriction and censorship it became an object of fear to conservatives who were worried by the power at the fingertips of the everyday man and just what they could do with that power. It is no surprise therefore to see this terror reflected in cinema. The middle of the Nineties saw the release of two separate films with the menacing threat of the internet at their hearts. Copycat saw Sigourney Weaver play a reclusive criminal psychologist who is hunted by a serial killer. The killer communicating with her via games of online chess suggesting the web was a tool solely used by academics and psychopathic oddballs. In the same year came The Net with Sandra Bullock where her life is slowly moved into the recycle bin one file at a time by cyber terrorists.

Even when hackers are made the protagonists, as seen in the 1995 film Hackers with Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie, the internet is still at the root of their problems. It keeps some of the jovial hack-flirting that had worked so successfully for Matthew Broderick just a decade before but throughout is underlined the supposed power of the internet to destroy lives at the click of the button.

So where next for Hollywood and the internet? The straight-to-video sequel to The Net went largely unnoticed - an oddity when the original had made over a $100m worldwide. This could indicate that audiences who have experienced the internet for themselves over a period of years recognise the plot to be nonsensical and scaremongering. Though more than likely it is because a sequel to The Net that has no resemblance to the original and made up of a cast of unknowns is probably going to be poor by definition. The release of The Social Network marked Hollywood taking the internet zeitgeist seriously. Far from studios using the internet, the internet used film to tell its own story. Hollywood has realised it is not powerful enough to control our perception of the internet and that the tables have very much turned.

Friday, 18 February 2011

The Man With The Recurring Face - Matthew Leitch

Have you seen this man? Chances are you probably have even if you haven't been looking for him. That would be because over the past 10 years he has worked alongside Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Ron Livingston and Wesley Snipes. His screen credits include The Dark Knight and Band of Brothers but would you recognise him in the street? Probably not.

Matthew Leitch is in many ways the true face of acting as a career choice. Having left drama school, he stumbled onto the set of Nickelodeon's lighthearted football series Renford Rejects as the crippled protégé Stewart Jackson. Leitch in his own words described the show as "awful" and suggested that all remaining copies of the show had been "used as landfill" when the M25 was widened. And what became of his fellow Rejects? For the most part recurring bit part roles in Casualty, Holby City, Doctors and The Bill seem to have kept a trio of them in work sporadically. It is appears that these four shows make up at least 95% percent of all available acting work in Britain today. Leitch though has ignored this route so far and is yet to ply his trade as a man with severe injuries having walked too close to a lawn mower wearing an ominously long scarf. So where next after a poorly received kids TV show with a large cult following of pale white males in their early twenties (myself included)?

Leitch found himself as Staff Sergeant Floyd Talbert in the highly acclaimed Band of Brothers and appeared in more than half of the episodes in the series. His career seemed to be taking off as it has for many of his co-stars over the past decade. The drama was the first appearance of Tom Hardy as well as boosting the profiles of Ron Livingston and Damien Lewis. Unfortunately, Leitch's star did not rise in the same manner but that did not prevent him from popping up again in more unexpected places.

You may recognise him as "the man reading the paper" for an advert of The Game supplement of The Times. Or as the man who has to defend himself from charges of "polygameat" in a Burger King advert.

His appearance in The Dark Knight may have been a case of blink and you'll miss it as he appeared briefly as "Prisoner on the boat" but is an example of just how much this man has got around over the years. From the luminous orange walls of Eddie's cafe in Renford Rejects to the luminous orange jumpsuit in a billion dollar grossing film.

It is hard to say how Leitch regards his career to date or what his career goals are. To describe him merely as the cliché ridden term of "a struggling actor" would do a great disservice to a man who essentially has an acting C.V that many would kill for. He is the other side of the showbiz void beyond the glamour of a household name and red carpets. An everyday bloke in an extraordinary world (as well as making a great bit of movie/Renford Rejects trivia down the pub).

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Actors Against Gravity - A-List of Victims

A month on and the campaign to rid actors of their greatest nemesis continues.

The campaign itself is strong, invisible to the naked eye but still at the forefront of our everyday existence. It is in many ways like the force of gravity which claimed two more victims in the form of that girl from Speed and Matt Damon's less talented friend.

Forces of Nature, praised by TIME Magazine who hailed it a "reprehensible fiasco", sees Bullock and Affleck end up in each others arms in the most logical possible way via the untimely death of a seagull in a plane engine and Cupid in the guise of a hurricane.

The poster features them falling victim to another of Earth's natural powers as both find themselves at angles previously never witnessed in run of the mill romcom posters. Affleck's pose in particular seems deeply unnatural as if he were a shatterproof ruler pushed to the very limits.

Also note the fact that the imaginary wind in the poster is pushing him back from left to right which is also suggested by the direction of the milky rain. However, Bullock's hair is blown back as if it is blowing right to left. Not only are they both the victims of Hollywood's desire for extreme gravity, the poster itself cannot decide where the bloody forces of nature are coming from.

With your help actors can overcome gravity (and poster inaccuracies)!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Review - Dogtooth

Dogtooth is a modern nightmare basked in glorious Greek sunshine. It stealthily slid its way out of the independent cinemas last year and onto DVD. It also found itself nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars.

The story is relatively uncomplicated. A pair of controlling parents isolates their children from the outside world and control every aspect of their lives including their vocabulary. "Zombies" are little yellow flowers and "the sea" is an armchair. The neighbourhood cat becomes an object of terror for the imprisoned offspring whilst the mother is pregnant with two children and a dog. However, with the children now adults and hormones running riot, the psychological stranglehold of the patriarch begins to weaken.

It is parenting to the extreme and reflects on the idea that all parents to some degree filter the world in order to make it easier to digest for their children. It details the faith put in parents to know what is right for their brood. As well as the dangers of parental paranoia and the damaging effect that it can have on those they thrust it upon. All of these issues are considered but that does not prevent it from creating some absurdly amusing moments and a rather brilliant Flashdance routine.

A perverse gem of a film that moves seamlessly between the darkly hilarious and horrific whilst always remaining fantastically surreal. It has been described as Luis Buñuel surrealism meeting the accurate violence of Michael Haneke which probably isn't too far away. Dogtooth is almost definitely too weird for the members of the Academy but brilliant all the same.

Review - Never Let Me Go

It has been 18 years since the last adaptation of a Kazuo Ishiguro novel which seems an inordinate period of time considering The Remains Of The Day was incredibly well received and garnered eight Oscar nominations including Best Picture. Perhaps the reason may be that Ishiguro's other work does not lend itself so kindly to the big screen.

Set in an alternative past following a major scientific breakthrough, Never Let Me Go follows the lives of Ruth (Carey Mulligan), Kathy (Kiera Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield). Forever linked by their childhood together in a seemingly idyllic British boarding school, the three come to terms with their reason for existence and their relationships with each other as their lives continue to interweave with one another years later.

Usually wanting more after 103 minutes of cinema means that the trip was a thoroughly satisfying experience, however, in the case of Never Let Me Go it was a desire built with bricks of frustration mortared together with a thick concoction of cinematic skill. To look for a fault aesthetically would be a fruitless task. It is crafted with a beautiful visual subtlety as it forges through time from the suffocating dusty dull green warmth of a 1970s boarding school to the oppressive sterile quadratic shapes of a mid 90s council flat. Likewise, the screenplay is equally professional and demonstrates an understanding of the understated splendour with which Ishiguro composes.

Mulligan is the stand out of the three leads. Given the advantage of the narrative being told from her character's point of view, she ably instils the depth required and provides a melancholic performance tinged with small joy and sorrow that is perfectly suited. Against this backdrop Garfield and Knightley are left to fill out characters that are at times difficult to understand (though that is part of their nature). The latter has her acting mouth on for the majority of the time, lips pouted and lungs ready to eject a dramatic sigh, if you were in any doubt that she was not planning on a dramatic performance.

So why the frustration when so many boxes seemed to be ticked? The very nature of Ishiguro's story brings with it so many questions and issues that in the written medium can be explored and explained free of the restraints of run times and production costs. Thus the film finds itself in a no man's land somewhere between The Island and The Notebook. Leaving the audience somewhere between compassion and confusion.

Just as it appears that we are about to delve into a tragic love story, we are whisked through time and given a run down of the ins and outs of this particular dystopian nightmare. The constant picking up of foundations and rushing forward puts an emotional void between the story and the audience. It is as if you are focussing on a distant object and just as soon as you can begin to comprehend what it is then someone kicks it further away. It leads to a final act that would be emotionally inert if it were not for a haunting monologue delivered by Mulligan.

Instead of confounding the notion of real love, it makes us question whether it is even a love story at all or just a look at the misinterpretation of emotions by those who have never felt them. That is the real tragedy.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Landmark in Modern Cinema - Just Go With It

It can rarely be said of Adam Sandler or Jennifer Aniston films that they are a landmark in cinematic history. Few would dare mention Grown Ups or Little Nicky in the same breath as The Godfather or 2001: A Space Odyssey but Just Go With It can be mentioned alongside these groundbreaking films.

It may not be a cinematic masterpiece but it does mark a first for celluloid. Never before has a film been named after the only reason for it's conception.

Aniston and Sandler are pioneers of our time.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Misguided Attempt At Cultural Parody Poster Of The Week - Good Luck Chuck

Yoko Ono and John Lennon - Rolling Stone front cover (1980). Photographed by Annie Leibovitz

26 October 1993 - Sam Taylor-Wood and Henry Bond.

Good Luck Chuck - 2007

Wonder what went through the minds of the people that threw this together?

Obviously the joke here wouldn't be lost on the vast majority of the target demographic. After all the movie was described by The Washington Post as "sparing no effort to reach out to the crudest, youngest audiences it can."

Perhaps it was intended as a hidden message to those who had found themselves dragged along to see this by a younger sibling or that cousin who has an awful sense of humour:

"Don't fret. We are still able to produce comedy that pokes fun at high culture. The film is balls but stick with us and we'll give you something to reward you a few years down the line."

Rumours of a Duck Soup remake with Dane Cook in the lead will have to suffice for now.

Poster of the Week -The Day Of The Dolphin

Rarely does a film poster do the job as effectively as the one for Mike Nichols' 1973 thriller The Day Of The Dolphin. It tells you everything you need to know about the film without revealing too much. There's gonna be explosions, there's gonna be an old guy in a wetsuit and there's gonna be an assassin dolphin. Get the fuck in.

Watch this film as a double feature with the 2009 documentary The Cove. Preferably with the marine Lee Harvey Oswalds second as that will not only leave you slightly less depressed but feeling better about our friendly sea dwelling neighbours ability to defend themselves. Imagine The Day Of The Dolphin as a sequel to the documentary and it can only make for an entertaining night in.