Thursday, 29 December 2011

[527] Drive: Den of Geek's Film of the Year 2011

Two controversial articles in a row! Here it is, my final piece for Den of Geek this year, which looks at Drive - the film voted best of 2011 by the site's writers.

I didn't get to see Drive in the initial flurry of preview screenings which had critics fainting with delight; I saw it much later, in a double-bill with Martin Scorsese's George Harrison doc Living in the Material World, at the Ritzy cinema in Brixton.

Both films were striking, but Drive really stuck with me. It both excited me and confounded me. I'm glad I've had a chance to decompress about it - and write about what it does well, and how it works despite lacking some of the qualities I would otherwise deem integral to a successful modern film. It's come dangerously close to changing my stubborn critical approach to cinema. There aren't many films that do that.

Actually, no. I only like it because I feel I have to. So says the following comment from DoG reader 'thewicked', anyway:

Its the film people "want" as their favorite, because its "cool". But being cool doesnt nessecarily make it deserving of the accolade, and signify's all that is wrong with movie awards. 

Sic, obviously.

Drive, Den Of Geek’s undisputed film of the year (getting more than double the votes of Black Swan in second place), was iconic before it was even released. The film’s reputation preceded it, thanks to a moody trailer, a hot-pink title font, and the casting of actor du jour Ryan Gosling in the lead role. All pointed towards a stylish, noirish thriller that oozed urban cool, and to say it delivered would be an absurd understatement. Everything, from the music to the performances, from the composition to the cinematography, seemed perfectly pitched.

Indeed, such are Drive’s strengths that its one flaw - which could be major, minor, or irrelevant depending on your viewpoint - is almost completely banished. The plot, adapted from a neo-noir paperback, and developed from an optioned Hollywood project originally set to star Hugh Jackman, is quite conventional, at times even rote. The nameless antihero falls for the wife of an ex-con, and through a sense of duty helps the husband clear his debt with a low-level crook. Unfortunately, the job is botched, and the ensuing bloodbath sees the protagonist slip further and further into moral ambiguity.

It’s not going to win any awards for its screenplay, but the themes are solid and the stock characters are timeless. Drive could as much be a Western as a noir; but it is in the execution that it all comes to life. Truly, this is a film for which awards for directing were made, and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Best Director win at Cannes is well deserved. Throughout, there is a confidence in the direction, and a boldness in the filmmaker’s decisions.

Take, for example, the consistent stripping back of dialogue, often to the point where scenes are almost wordless. In the opening act, this is frequently astonishing, as the driver’s romance with his neighbour, Irene (Carey Mulligan), blossoms not over conversation, but through small moments: shared looks, smiles and murmurs. Refn exhibits patience, restraint, and, most of all, absolute faith in his actors, and both Gosling and Mulligan manage to evoke so much with such minimalistic performances.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

[526] War Horse (2011) Review

Here it is, my final review of the year - for one of the sure-fire hits of 2012. It's the new Steven Spielberg flick, War Horse!

Click through, have a read, and find out why one of the faithful Den of Geek readers felt compelled to leave the following comment:

Spielberg "out of his depth"? How many great movies have you made knobhead?

Crikey. Read on, fellow travellers! Oh, and can you spot the handful of Wilfred Owen references in the review? See, my English Literature degree was worth something...

While his films don’t come out with the clockwork reliability of those directed by Woody Allen or Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg works to his own halting, arrhythmic beat. Years of silence often give way to flutters of wild activity, with the Hollywood superstar sometimes stuffing more than one of his new flicks into the cinema calendar.

This has been done to calculated effect on more than one occasion, where blockbusters have shared space with bids for dramatic respectability. Most successfully, in 1993 Spielberg ruled both the box office and the Academy with the one-two punch of Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. The twinning of popcorn adventure and super-serious historical drama continued with both The Lost World and Amistad, and War Of The Worlds and Munich, in 1997 and 2005 respectively.

Superficially, 2011 seems like a similar case, with mo-cap adventure Tintin appearing just before War Horse, a lavish World War I drama which draws on the sentiment of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and a little bit of Blackadder Goes Forth. It seems to be another double bill of fun and fable – that is, until you realise that the latter film is a retelling of the Great War from the perspective of a horse. 

Read the full article here.

Friday, 16 December 2011

[525] The Underappreciated Film Gems of 2011

It's the end of the year! Time for retrospective lists and features. This year, Den of Geek have changed the system for their 'film of the year' vote. Previously, writers could submit their top five, along with an accompanying paragraph explaining their choices. This meant I could rabbit on about any sort of flick I'd enjoyed, but knew the Geeks-at-large wouldn't pick.

This year, the top fives have been collected, and conformed into a general top ten, with each entry getting their own article next week. This left a lot of stellar choices languishing on the voting room floor. Thankfully, the editing bods decided to give many of these films their own list, under the 'Underappreciated Gems' tag. In my opinion, it's a far more interesting list. Well, I would say that, as I contributed 250 words about Midnight In Paris, one of my favourite films of the year.

See what I said below, or click through to the full article here. It's full of films I've seen and loved this year, and some I've shamefully missed. Tune in next week for the top ten.

It’s surprising that more hasn’t been made of this, but this year two old film masters - Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese - both made rhapsodic odes to 1920s Paris. And, even more so, 2011 saw Scorsese, ever faithful in terms of quality, beaten by his fellow bespectacled New Yorker.

Unencumbered by Hugo’s CGI, 3D and two-hour runtime, Midnight In Paris is Allen’s breeziest, funniest and most charming film in decades. Its pseudo-fantasy set-up is established with the most economic of storytelling, as Owen Wilson’s neurotic hack, adrift in the French capital, is whisked away in a vintage car by F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. From there, it’s smooth sailing, as Allen peppers the film with pitch-perfect cameos from a host of Jazz Age Parisians, from the braggadocio of Corey Stoll’s Hemingway, to the surreal trio of Dalí, Buñuel, and Man Ray.

The film has the whimsy, wit and existential themes of the director’s best work, and can sit proudly next to The Purple Rose Of Cairo, Radio Days and Bullets Over Broadway in the perky, period sub-section of his oeuvre. But what makes Midnight In Paris stand out is that, after two decades where Allen’s comedy films became increasingly kitsch, broad and forced, he manages to capture that old, familiar, incessant humour once more - where laughs are not hard-won, but easily given.

Read the full article here.

Monday, 12 December 2011

[524] Cornish in Finnish

From the icy northern climes of Finland...

Apparently my interview with Joe Cornish about Attack The Block has been quoted in the Helsingin Sanomat. Hyvä!