Chocolate Socialist (braisedbywolves) wrote,
Chocolate Socialist

Four films

I took a week off in the middle of December (because I had holidays to burn before the end of the year) and generally had a nice relaxing time after the months beforehand. I took one day to go to the cinema though, and saw four films - ironically I could probably have fitted in more on a weekend - you get more 10am/10pm shows then.

The films I think largely cover the points of the cultural spectrum:

[Gravity]Gravity starts with a long shot in a couple of ways, a full 17 minutes without a cut. Alfonso Cuarón isn't new to that - there's a half-hour compilation* of all of his takes from his previous film, Children of Men, which run longer than 45 seconds - but this really is a masterwork, moving from an image of the earth in space towards the Hubble, introducing the characters, and then setting things in (sorry) motion. It'd be great to watch in any context, but assuming you know going in that it's not 90 minutes of pals pal around in space, it's also a great ratcheting up of tension - the perspective seems forced by the imaginary camera rather than the character or the normal plot beats, so you get to see some things in the background which the normal contract of film would demand that the camera follow, or acknowledge, even if the characters don't.

After that, the film continues on its path, not diverting very much from a series of predicaments and how the leads get out of them - not much in a sense happens but it's consistently gripping (and occasionally funny). Sandra Bullock is effective throughout, which is pretty much all the role calls for. By comparison George Clooney is used effectively as his own shorthand, cocky and twinkly with hidden depths. I'll be interested in contrasting it to All Is Lost when I see it.

Also it's worth pointing out that it's very very worth seeing it in 3D - it's an amazing show of masteryby Cuarón, and will hopefully be very influential as it's turning from gimmick into medium.

*Obviously you shouldn't watch that if you've not seen Children of Men. You should go see Children of Men as soon as possible instead.

[Escape Plan]Escape Plan is a fairly straightforward sell - Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger sharing billing at last (after a few brief cameos by Arnie in Expendables movies). The problem unfortunately is that when they're actually on screen together, only one of them has the charisma to actually propel the scenes through the dialogue. It's effectively a heist movie - Sly is an expert in prison security who tests them by breaking out, until he's tricked into a prison that has been built to the handbook he's produced, and has to rely on the genially deranged Arnie to help him get out.

Most heist movies are, like sci-fi, logic oriented, and so we get an origin sequence, Sly breaking out of a prison and then explaining his feat to the Governor - here's what he can do, here's how he works. And then, like any good magic trick, the situation adapts to nullify his powers (literally codified as his handbook on the serious prison's Governor's desk), and then the restraints are further defeated, or ideally turned on themselves. The problem I had with this is that, past a certain point, Arnie and Sly get access to guns, and it switches from a magic trick to magic - they have the protection of a pure soul that they are used to, their bullets never miss while the baddies' always do.

It's still a largely entertaining film though, some of that coming from Arnie cheerily playing a nutball, some of it a christmas pudding of casting - Jim Caviezel! Vinny Jones! 50 Cent! Vincent D'Onofrio! Unsurprisingly, if you think you might enjoy it, you probably will.

[Leviathan]Leviathan also starts very slowly, in complete darkness and a growing mechanical noise. Eventually something starts to appear in the bottom right of the screen, bright orange and indistinct, and then eventually slowly it becomes clear that you're in a boat, viewing the scene from a spray-covered camera perched on a hat worn by one of the crew, looking over at his co-worker as they silently drag in a chain, connected to a larger chain. Our point-of-view man yells over to tie the chain around the metal post nearby, which his colleague doesn't do, and already the overwhelming sound and grimness of demeanour causes me wonder, partly from having seen Gravity, whether this film would also open with a death in the first shot. But it doesn't, and instead the machinery continues with it's purpose, dragging in another enormous catch of fish to be processed.

It's billed as a documentary, but to be honest, I'd describe it more as an art film which happens to be about stuff that's actually happening, similar to the Andy Warhol's work. The comparison to Gravity is strengthened a bit by the length of the shots - I would describe it as meditative, if you were up to meditating on the noise of heavy machinery and gurgling waters. I may have fallen asleep a few times (in the very cosy second ICA cinema), but each time when I woke up, the scene was still going on. There was a laugh in the cinema right a the start for the announcement that the film's rating was due to "One use of strong language", but to be honest I don't remember one use of language.

Also like Gravity it's worth seeing* in a cinema, not for the video but the audio this time. The trailer gives you a good idea.

*I am aware that there's not a lot of use in me saying this now, as opposed to a month ago when I saw it.

[Frozen]And the last film of the day was Frozen, which I'd been a little apprehensive about, but went to on the grounds that it was boasting a pedigree of Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph, and as tattered as the claims of "from the makers of" usually are, being willing to claim those films at least seemed worth rewarding. In fact it's co-written and co-directed by Jennifer Lee, who was one of the writers on Ralph, which is actually (and appallingly) the first Disney film with a woman in a director's chair.

It's a (considerable) reworking of the The Snow Queen, where the queen is Elsa, one of a pair of princesses, some of her later actions forced by her love of her sister Anna and wish to protect her from Elsa's powers. If you might be thinking that this sounds slight familiar, the casting director has got there ahead of you, and so Ella is played by Idina Menzel, the original Elphaba from Wicked:

In fact if there's a problem, it's that the film sets this up all so heart-breakingly, and then leaves most of the time to Anna's love triangle / attempts to reach Elsa / funny snowman sidekick. None of which is bad at all, and it's definitely enjoyably on it's own terms (plus, songs by the song-writers of Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon) but a film with more Elsa would have been great.

Tags: films
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