Cinema Sunday – just 2 films

Nowhere Boy
Nowhere Boy

The day after Boxing Day meant Sunday parking rates (i.e. free) so I headed into Glasgow to catch two films:

Nowhere Boy

A John Lennon bio-pic starring Aaron Johnson as the central character. Pretty much the whole world will know who Lennon was (he did claim to be more famous than Jesus at one point), but how much do you know about his childhood?

Plot-in-a-nutshell: a young lad with an adopted family in Liverpool starts to discover a lot more about his genealogical past – and a taste for rock and roll.

There are two major things that you’d expect from a Lennon bio-pic which are missing – music and any mention of The Beatles. In fact, two other members of the Beatles are also introduced as the film goes on, but their surnames are never used. The focus is well and truly on young John.

Going by the Wikipedia article, the film sticks closely to some form of documented reality but does differ compared to other details. Having said that, I suppose there will be many differing versions of events at the time.

This is most definitely not a film about The Beatles. To a huge extent it’s not even about music – John only gets his first banjo lesson about halfway through. If you want a movie about music then you’d be better off with the older Backbeat movie (or Still Crazy, which I love).

Nowhere Boy is a kitchen sink drama. A tale about growing up in Liverpool in the 1950’s, not being good at school and with a collection of forgotten memoirs buried at the back of the family cupboard. It’s also very well acted and scripted, though interest does slip partway through before picking up again.

Not what I was expecting, but interesting nonetheless.

holmes
Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

From an adaptation of a “true” story, on to an adaptation of a fictional character. There has been outcry over the version of Holmes being introduced by Guy Ritchie for this movie. So how “bad” was it?

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Private detective and pit-fighter (I kid you not) Holmes gears up for one final case as witty, charismatic action buddy (again, no kidding) Dr Watson attempts to retire from the crime-fighting business.

First up, this is a marginally silly film. It’s got a great sense of humour, some cracking action sequences, wonderful chemistry between the leads, clever direction and absolutely beautiful sets and scenery. However… some of these departures, mainly from the characters featured in the Conan Doyle works, will understandably jar with hard core fans.

From a regular film fan’s point of view, I feel, it won’t matter. Robert Downey Jr is a very “cool” Holmes, though stands shorter than Jude Law‘s Dr Watson and is never seen wearing a deerstalker. Or smoking a large-bowled bendy-stemmed pipe. He does play a good version of Holmes, though. Quick-witted, often condescending, full of himself and so forth.

Dr Watson is where the problem lies for me, having read the books. The character from the stories was never much of an action man, partly due to a leg injury sustained in Afghanistan. Despite the limp he carried with him in the film, Law’s character has no problem bounding and leaping about. Generally in the written works, Watson is more of a biographer who sometimes follows Holmes around. Rarely is he as involved as the sidekick in this movie.

The thing is, ditch the “Holmes and Watson” tag (and the Adler one – she’s out of character, too) and wallow in the film as a standalone feature… and it’s pretty good. Ritchie has been let loose with a staggering budget as can be seen from the set pieces. I loved the backgrounds – even though they did look somewhat CGI – in particular the part-complete Tower Bridge (which the two chattering bints behind me decided after arguing was London Bridge).

If you liked Downey Jr in Iron Man (yay, sequel next year!) then you’ll have an idea of his Holmes. If you’ve seen earlier Ritchie films then you’ll expect the slow-mo scenes and the way certain segments are played through… and then rewound or fast-forwarded to explain them. A nice touch and not over-used.

It is a tad over-long, but it’s good Christmas fodder when there’s not a Bond film around. Closer to Lethal Weapon than canon Doyle (hey, that was clever…) but worth a watch.

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Friday film roundup

The Soloist
The Soloist

Friday this week as it suited the workload a little better. The downside is that Friday was a holiday in Glasgow so the cinema was rammed more than it usually would be. Added to the fact that only two people were selling tickets when I got there, this meant that I was going to miss almost 15 minutes of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, so I skipped it for another time.

The Firm

First up, then, was this cinematic remake of an old made-for-tv movie by writer and director Nick Love. It’s low budget, rough’n’ready (like its subject matter) and hair-raising in places.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Teenager Dominic decides that the local West Ham “firm” of football thugs is more interesting than his mates, so he decides to join up.

The film looks like it was made in the 80’s, let alone being set during the period – and I mean this as a compliment. It’s like a big, grown-up, violent episode of Grange Hill. Complete with mouthfuls of filth and more slang and colloquial language than an Irvine Welsh novel. Unless you were raised in London, you really just have to roll with it and make guesses at the dialogue at times.

The film is a complete story, and a fairly simple one. Most striking are the street fight scenes which do look pretty nasty although the sound effects are a pinch too overblown. Watching them is like seeing old news footage from the era, uncomfortably so at times.

In an interesting take, Love also takes the story into the home of one of the ringleaders showing a completely different side to the character. It’s still fairly shallow, though, and there are no real surprises as the story unfolds.

Worth a watch, and at least it’s not basically a stepping stone for The Firm 2 which would be the case with a US-made feature.

Surrogates

Bruce Willis is back in this quirky near-future thriller which relies more on plot than effects.

That plot-in-a-nutshell: In a world where nobody leaves their home any more, instead mentally controlling human-like “surrogates”, someone has found a way to kill the humans via this safety net.

Willis’ character is an FBI agent in this future world where crime has been reduced by 99% simply by people failing to leave their houses. How they don’t all turn into fat freaks isn’t adequately explained, but the surrogates to look a bit fitter than the real people – if a little more plasticcy.

There is, of course, a rebellious group of luddites who have issues with the whole surrogate thing so the finger of blame initially falls on them but the case isn’t quite so clear cut. There’s also the man who invented the surrogates who was sacked by the company who make them. And an FBI conspiracy.

It sounds impressive, but in honesty it’s all pretty much run-of-the-mill. The surrogate idea itself is a good one, but underneath it’s just another by-the-numbers whodunnit which you can piece together half an hour in.

Still, it’s better than Die Hard 4. But then, so is self-inflicted colonic irrigation.

Fame

It was a tossup between this and Creation as they both had similar start times, but I plumped for the dancey one as I would be seeing another drama next. In honesty, my hopes were moderately high after how much I enjoyed Bandslam recently. It also has a great pedigree… or a lot to live up to depending on your view of the original 80’s version.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: teenagers go through the audition process to get into the most prestigious Performing Arts school in New York, go through, and graduate. All in 137 minutes.

I’ll sum up at the start: Fame is awful. It could have been so much only it tries too hard and fails to cram a TV series’ worth of characters and storyline into 2 1/4 hours. It is, simply, a mess. To begin with, it’s promising as the lead characters go through their auditions with varying degrees of success.

Then *pow* we get the big musical number. It’s like showing the monster from the horror film in the second reel. After this, the whole film goes into one sloppy decline. Each “year in the life” is given what feels like 20 minutes of screen time which simply isn’t enough. What should be major events are breezed over and you’re left waiting for the repercussions… of which there are none.

Full credit must be given to the cast, from the older generation to the younger. There’s an incredible array of talent on show here. The direction and choreography are also lovely. Just such a shame that they’re all wasted on this dog’s dinner of a script.

The Soloist

Final film of the evening (I couldn’t be bothered staying till 23:30 to watch the re-release of John Carpenter‘s The Thing) was this adaptation of a book by one of the central characters.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr) is an LA journalist who writes little stories about life in the city. One day he encounters a down-and-out, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), who turns out to be an incredibly talented musician. The story follows their journey together as Lopez tries to “help” Ayers make the most of his talents.

This is definitely the kind of film that wins OSCARs. However, I don’t think The Soloist is quite good enough to do it. Certainly, the performances are superb. Downey brings in the sarcastic wit and superb timing he employed in Iron Man while Foxx plays the “character with a disability” card in his aim for another award. They certainly both put on amazing performances, and the supporting actors can’t be criticised either.

However, the film just seems to lack something. For every moment of genius there’s something just a little too bland or stereotypical. There’s a beautiful scene during a musical performance where Ayers closes his eyes and we see a display of colour – visualising what he’s seeing. Amazing.

If only the rest of the film could have measured up.

Still definitely worth seeing, if only for a short dose of Downey Jr before Iron Man 2 hits the cinemas.

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Review – Iron Man

Tales of Suspense#39 (March 1963): Iron Man debuts. Cover art by Jack Kirby and Don Heck.

Always nice to have something to write about so why not my first trip to the cinema in months? Talia and I popped out to see Iron Man when I was over in the UK at the weekend, and a worthwhile return to the theatres it was for me. Talia knew nothing about the character, and I’m vaguely familiar courtesy of a handful of Marvel comics from when I was a nipper.

It’s the latest in a long line of comic adaptations, a line set to continue as licenses are being bought up left, right and centre. Fortunately, most seem to be pretty good and this one definitely falls into that camp. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s the best Marvel adaptation since the first of the recent Spiderman films.

The way the scene is set kicks the film off well. Is the central character nice, or a bit of a ****? Shoudl we feel sorry for him or feel he’s getting what he deserves? Either way, a ton of bullets and a huge amount of explosions is just how an action films should start.

Robert Downey Jr is, simply, fantastic as Tony Stark. He’s dry, unassuming, completely straight-faced when dealing out some very witty lines and his timing is spot on. The only crying shame is that just about every one of these classic moments of dialogue is in the trailer.

Jeff Bridges was the other standout cast member for me. Apart from one other person, who I can’t name for fear of spoiling the post-credit sequence. Yes, folks – don’t miss the last 60 seconds after all the names have rolled!

There are a gazillion better film sites out there that can review this better than I can. But from a middle-of-the-road fan’s perspective I can definitely recommend it. The plot’s a little “by numbers”, but the effects are superb, the acting top-end and the whole look of the film just spot on. All the little things like the incidental graphics and hardware that Stark uses add to the whole thing without making it seem over-the-top.

Go see. Definitely worth it on the big screen.