cinematographique

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Wonder Woman

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JL_Wonder_Woman

This movie has the capacity to both satisfy and frustrate in the same beat.

The Sun-reading Neanderthal in many men will go hoping for some side boob and serious thigh action, and they will not be disappointed. What’s wrong with that, anyway, in this cinematic age of gender-blind flesh fetish? After all, don’t many women go to witness the fitness too? Similarly, the quivering pre-orgasmic schoolboy in them, the Robert Crumb if you will, may achieve climax at the sight of all the female physical power on show.

But why must it be delivered in waxed, contoured, filled and pouting form? While Robin Wright Penn manages the chew her way through the gristle of dire dialogue with neck sinews and manufactured scars popping, and perhaps even a hint of grime or sweat, why must Diana never perspire? Never blush, nor grunt like the magnificent athlete she is? Why must every violent action she undertakes be punctuated with simpering poses not unlike an imaginary Kendall Jenner fashion shoot?

Gal Gadot does a fine job of working through the stylistic and conceptual conflicts. Diana is, after all, an ingenuous, dewy-eyed goddess, unperturbed by discovering modernity and oblivious to how (ironically) her innate inability to perspire and consistently immaculate make-up so utterly conforms to its unrealistic expectations. Her dead-pan expression, as she marches out of Selfridges wearing a fabulously chic period twin set while gripping a vicious shortsword and shield, is only surpassed by her stoic blank stare of determination while mounting the trench ladder to confront No Man’s Land, surely to be disintegrated by a monsoon of machine gun fire.

But no, dear reader! She is not even grazed by a single round, nor can she be bested by entire batteries of artillery. When not on one knee, resisting Newton’s laws of mechanics against explosive force, she struts to the enemy line with the bombastic swagger of a reality television “star” offering some sexy young German a can of Pepsi. If only it were that simple, Gal. In fact, you’ll need to slay the God of War himself in order to cool the rage and lust for murder that burns in the heart of every Kraut, thereby ending the War to end all wars.

I suppose it’s incredibly facile to balk at the cartoonish assault on historicity of a comic-book adaptation, but it remains unpalatable to reduce such horror to a binary battle between bloodlust and love, and have its resolution achieved by a supermodel on a rampage. The historian in some of us might take solace in the fact that the First World War was not characterised as a struggle between good and evil, but rather as a senseless and epic slaughter. They might also vomit a little inside their mouth and swallow it again when confronted with SS Commandant Ludendorff, nevertheless.

The feminist in you, who went hoping that this might finally contain a female action hero who can stand toe to toe with the best solely on the basis of her character, strength of action, intellect or charisma, might leave with a trickle of blood from one nostril, and the aura which precedes a migraine. Marvellous though it is that Wonder Woman saves an entire town of civilians, and a platoon of soldiers trapped in hell, all on the back of her own initiative and thrashing muscle, what are we to make, dear reader, of her ultimate moment of truth? The zenith of her self-actualisation comes when she realises that love, as she has now experienced it, is a more profound force in human affairs than violence. The love of her boyfriend, who turned Kamikaze, despite his love for her, because of his ultimate love for goodness and truth. The love that leads her, in the grip of despair at losing the man with whom she chose to have premarital relations, on a flame-scorched murder-spree (pffft, women, eh?).

I cannot recall another superhero who chooses to save the world because of love. Is it necessary for a female hero to be motivated by her emotional landscape? Can she not make choices based on what is reasonably rational, what is morally sound or what is common sense? Would that not ring true to the audience? That said, many an action hero of the male species has been driven by jealous anger or thirst for revenge. Why not Wonder Woman? Sadly, she has to expound that the ultimate goodness in the hearts of people is their capacity for smoochy smoochy snuggles before she can eviscerate the bad dude with his own solar beam.

Which brings us to my final point. For all these observations, it remains a mildly entertaining diversion, made all the more watchable by the presence of the evergreen and magnificent David Thewlis. Some may know him only as Remus Lupin, or the bad chap from the new Fargo, but ever since seeing Naked (Mike Leigh, 1993) I’ve elevated him to the honorific ‘Best Thing to Come from Blackpool’. I shan’t spoil the plot but let’s just say there’s some spicy meat. Yeah bwai. He makes mincemeat of what continues to be a chewy old script.

Three perfectly manicured nails out of five

Written by James P. Campbell

18/06/2017 at 19:55

Bobby Fischer Against The World

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The decline of Bobby Fischer, one time chess world champion, is a sad tale to tell. And so it is to the credit of director Liz Garbus that her biography of the late great delights primarily in his earlier years, without refusing to flinch from the wretchedness to come. We witness the course of his career, from first finding his obsession at age six, through to winning the world title from Soviet Boris Spassky in 1972 (an event of such gravity that it dominated global sports coverage for weeks, before making Fischer the best-selling chess writer of all time), his recession from view and final re-emergence in the grip of madness.

Bobby Fischer

Catch my review from EIFF 2011 at The Ooh Tray.

Written by James P. Campbell

26/06/2011 at 12:37

Black Dynamite ****

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Black Dynamite is my favourite kind of guilty pleasure. It is a perfect comedy, but its humour doesn’t turn on situational drama. Instead, it is joke driven, but those jokes are highly witty and expertly crafted homages to the whole gamut of Blaxploitation film. It has a mad brilliance which is wholly substantive. I would do Scott Sanders (aka DJ Suckapunch), Michael Jai White and Byron Minns a disservice to try capture its essence in a short review, particularly as I am so poorly versed in its source material. Take a peek at the youtube trailer instead (although be warned, it contains most of the best material). Not only does Black Dynamite put to shame Tarantino and other fanboys who have tried to resuscitate forgotten genres, but also leaves mainstream multiplex comedies of 2009 with significantly higher budgets trailing in its dust. I would pay for friends of mine to see Black Dynamite, and I look forward to seeing it with them. Let’s just hope that more of this sort of thing reaches a wider audience in the near future.

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Written by James P. Campbell

12/08/2010 at 15:10

Jackboots on Whitehall

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Jackboots on Whitehall posterThere are (at most) three jokes in Jackboots on Whitehall. That’s a rate of one every thirty-one minutes. None of them are funny.

Any attempt at a synopsis would appear much more enticing than the film itself – to avoid responsibility for any inflated expectations, I will just direct you to the trailer (which, as usual, reveals many of the ‘best’ bits).

It’s a script that sounds like one of two things. First, the catastrophic self-conscious abortion of a writer whose concept has unexpectedly secured funding, but who discovers too late that he can deliver neither character nor humour. Second, the vanity project of spoilt pseudo-aristocratic rugger buggers suffering from brain damage (was it the scrum or the lash, lads?) whose sole inspiration comes from reruns on Dave viewed through a groggy film of chunder.

Not one quip turns on something out of history – the complete absence of satire betrays the film’s unintentional historical illiteracy. It is not an irreverent film – it’s simply an ignorant one. Even if it is an attempt to pastiche pop-culture manipulation and mythologisation of the period, it fails to do so with more than half a brain cell.

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Written by James P. Campbell

22/06/2010 at 00:16

Alamar

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Alamar still‘To The Sea’ – Alamar. An extraordinarily beautiful film. A slice-of-life drama – fictive yet with quite remarkable verisimilitude – it’s the most exotic, aesthetic and fragile life that’s sectioned. Back-story is told in pre-credit photographs. A beautiful child with his Hispanic father. Each is equally arresting, gorgeous brown, one dashing, the other miniscule. White Italian mother, whose voiceover details their romance, their separation, her return to Rome with child.

After a long, tiresome journey with little Natan – boats, trains – we discover his father Jorge’s home. He lives by a tiny, remote island to the east of Yucatan, in a wooden house on stilts. They live literally on the water. Father and son work together. Jorge teaches his boy about everything, showing him by example. Soft and hard lessons in painting, joinery, fishing, by line or by pole, diving, the sea, the sea. Always so warm, they need only wear trunks.

These are the people of Banco Chincorro, the world’s second largest coral barrier reef. Its wildlife discloses itself at once as living being and resource. Natan discovers the means of feeding oneself. The food – grilled snapper, stewed barracuda, spiny lobster tails. Caught on hand-pulled lines, with the spear gun, or captured in their coral caves.

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Written by James P. Campbell

21/06/2010 at 16:10

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High School

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High School posterHigh School is too good to pass over, to consign as a mere stoner movie. It should be discussed in the same breath as the work of Hughes and Linklater, not merely in the same paragraph. A significant part of what makes High School so entertaining is the extent to which the audience feels part of the fun. Truly likeable characters and the excellent cast who bring them to life are critical to this. A sharp, original script with its fast and hard humour keep us on side, perpetuating the snowballing feel-good effect.

The two leads, Henry Burke (Matt Bush) and Travis Breaux (Sean Marquette) particularly impress. The former played our hero’s puerile nemesis in Adventureland, but is here cast against type as the straight-laced leading man, and pulls it off with aplomb. Meanwhile, the latter gets a little limelight after years as a teen actor on television, and convinces as the stoner with a heart of gold.

Subverting the typical anti-drug narrative exploited by reactionary campaigners and educational bodies in the US, Burke is a straight-A student destined for MIT. But in an impulsive moment of bonding and rediscovered childhood kinship, he takes a puff of “the sticky green…the cannabis sativa” from former pal Breaux (aptly named, indeed). This unfortunately coincides with their principal (by God, the most remarkable transformation of Michael Chiklis), whose shoulder carries a chip the size of Michigan, instigating a war on drugs, beginning with comprehensive drug screening.

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Written by James P. Campbell

20/06/2010 at 23:29

Toy Story 3

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Toy Story 3 posterToy Story 3 opens as an explosive action spectacular. The gang recall the childhood fantasies of their owner, Andy. The quality of graphic design is immediately apparent, though the usefulness of three dimensions remains unclear. Woody and Jessie chase a runaway train full of orphan Trolls, kidnapped by the wicked Potatoheads. The train flies into a chasm, before being rescued by Buzz Lightyear. Just as the heroes catch up with the culprits, making a getaway in Barbie’s corvette, evil Dr. Porkchop arrives in his porcine spaceship, and drops a Barrel of Monkeys A-bomb.

Such set-pieces are delightful – there’s a prison-break which injects real energy to the second act. As soon as plot is required to contextualise such coups de foudre, Toy Story gets pretty dull. It seems that Arndt, Lasseter, Stanton and Unkrich can architect exciting, dynamic scene sequences, but has trouble tying them together into a consistently entertaining whole. There are plot points that stretch the suspension of disbelief (so the toys, Once Again, don’t believe Woody, and this time on the rather mundane point of whether Andy’s mother was supposed to leave them as trash on the kerb – the instigating incident for the entire film).

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Written by James P. Campbell

19/06/2010 at 17:36