Monday, 16 March 2009


Last year I bought the graphic novel Watchmen on a whim, and quite enjoyed reading it. The specific whim upon which I bought it was that it was mentioned on a webcomic I read, in the context of its then-upcoming movie adaptation.

A week or two ago, I saw said adaptation.

A group of us went along, roughly corresponding to our pub trivia team, all bar one of whom had read the book. That's an important fact, because this is a film that is, more than most, coloured by what you have or haven't experienced from the book. I can only speculate - and I will - what the film might be like for those who haven't read the book.

First of all, it has to be said, the movie is generally very faithful to the book. There are some sections cut out (the thread with the kid reading the comic and the newstand owner, and the stuff about the comic book writer, are omitted, and the ending is changed), but most of the style and plot are intact. This might be a problem if you haven't read the book - the consequence is that the film is quite long, and quite broad.

The film is also quite violent. I guess this is to be expected from the director of 300, and when I think back, the book was also probably quite violent, but I still found it confronting at first experience. The performances are generally sound - performances aren't what you generally look for in a superhero movie - but Rorschach and Dreiburg deserve mention for being better than the others. The romance scenes are handled with remarkable success - eliciting the same humour and feeling that the book had.

Without giving things away, I had no problem with the changes they made to the ending. I don't quite understand why they made them, but it wasn't my favourite part of the book, and the movie ending might actually have more relevance to the rest of the movie, in terms of character arcs.

Anyway, enough rambling. Go see it - its colourful.

Gran Torino

Gran Torino, the Clint Eastwood movie, was another in the list of top movies from 2008 that I didn't see in 2008. It didn't get nominated for any Oscars, but it did get bandied around a few of the awards lists, mostly for acting (Eastwood).

Eastwood doesn't act as much as he used to, although he has done some good stuff (Million Dollar Baby). As a director, he's done some very, very good films (MDB, Mystic River, Unforgiven, Iwo Jima). I would argue, in fact, that he's turned into a more skilled director than actor, notwithstanding my view that some of the films he acted in - the Leone films, Dirty Harry - might be better than those he's directed.

Anyhoo, I'm spending a lot of time talking about Eastwood's past, and not a lot about this film. That's probably because I found this a bit underwhelming, and I prefer to remember him for his other stuff. The plot is ambitious in a way, I guess, dealing with the changing of generations as Eastwood gets old, and the intermixing of race (Hmong/White) and lifestyle (families/gangs) in suburbia. Perhaps this is the problem with Eastwood as the lead. I felt he was a little bit one-dimensional as the grizzly old man. Maybe this is his baggage as an actor - he felt like a retired Harry Callahan - or maybe its a lack of range - he was never the most chameleon of performers. Anyway, the upshot is that I didn't quite buy the performances, either Eastwood's or the others, and that hurt the film for me.

I read that back, and it sounds like I'm panning this film. I suppose its important to say that I didn't mind this film. It bounces along, and the ending is slightly surprising, but does make sense in the context of the film. It arcs nicely enough, and it has something worthwhile to say. Its a pleasant watch.

It isn't, though, a great film - it didn't make me feel anything very strong, one way or another, and for me that's the mark of a great film, it sucks you into its world, and makes you feel something.

Monday, 9 March 2009


I enjoyed writing my little review of Slumdog, so I'm going to do it again.

Last week I saw another film that was nominated for best film at this year's Oscars: Frost/Nixon. It was also nominated for director, editor, adapted screenplay and best actor, although it won none of them. Of the films I've seen, it would win a couple of those, but as I mentioned in my Slumdog post, I still haven't seen a lot of the films discussed for those awards.

Frost/Nixon is a very different beast to Slumdog Millionaire. This is a film built upon performances and characters, not on story, or place. Elements like the direction, editing, pacing, setting and cinematography are well executed here, but for me they weren't notable, nor especially important.

For me, this film lives and dies by the performances of its two leads: Michael Sheen as Frost, and most importantly Frank Langella as Nixon. The former is solid - he displays the TV smile but also the ingenuity and at times insecurities behind Frost. More importantly, though, he does enough to keep up with Langella, who has the "juicy" role. Langella is really excellent. Playing Nixon is fraught with the danger of slipping into parody. His manner and mannerisms are so distinctive, and have been so often lampooned over the years, and Langella does an outstanding job of avoiding the temptation of shallow imitation, and instead crafts a nuanced and balanced portrayal. He looks a bit like Nixon, but not exactly like him, but most importantly he makes sure that what the viewer takes away isn't the physical attributes of the performance, but the behavioural: Nixon's frustration at his own actions and its impact on his legacy, his failings (greed), and his love of the intellectual combat in the interview.

I was thoroughly impressed by this film. It might not do as many things well as a film like Slumdog, and it might not be as accessible to some, but the things it does well, it does with more ambition and yet with great success.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Slumdog meh

Either in response to its Oscar win, or simply because its on my IMDB 250 quest list, on Sunday I watched Slumdog Millionaire. Although I did enjoy it, I have to say I was underwhelmed.

I admit that I had strong expectations for the film. Danny Boyle has a good history as a director (I enjoyed Trainspotting and loved 28 Days Later, although A Life Less Ordinary was mediocre), and it has won just about every award under the sun. I can't really see why though. Its a good film; don't get me wrong. The 2 plot threads (the game show, and the vignettes of his life that lead him there) are woven together nicely. Its very colourful and nicely shot, with great images of Mumbai. The acting never stands out as bad, but nor does it stand out as good. The story bounces along nicely, and doesn't get boring, but on the whole, there isn't anything great about the film. The film is currently at #41 in the Top 250, one place ahead of Vertigo(!), and it just doesn't belong in that company. It felt to me like a solid "nice" film, and if that sounds like damnation with faint praise then it is in reaction to and slight bewilderment at the lavish praise that it seems to have garnered in the wider community and media.

I didn't see many great films in 2008 (or at least, not many great 2008 films), a fact I hope to remedy in the coming months; The Wrestler, Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon and Gran Torino are all on my list. Of those I did see, The Dark Knight is the one I would most definitely class as superior to Slumdog. The story and cinematography were at least on a par, the characterisations were deeper and more complex, and the performances - Ledger's, Eckhart's and even Bale's - were more noteworthy, in a genre that has often been thin on character and always on acting. Although The Dark Knight is undeserving of its #6 position on the IMDB list (which I think will soften over time), it seems like an oversight on the part of the Oscars to have omitted it from the best film nominations, if Slumdog Millionaire is the measure.

Ed: A shout-out to Pete, whose readership I never would have anticipated, and who reminded me that I haven't been posting much recently.

Win some, lose some

We had been going well at pub trivia on Monday nights. After a couple of inauspicious nights in the mid-80s to start the season, we'd settled into a groove at or around 90 (out of 100). That sort of scoring doesn't win much cash, but is a pace guaranteed to grant access to the $1000 round at the end of the season. This Monday past, it went horribly wrong, and we came away with 78. It was the music round that did most of the damage, but the night for me was marred by a question in the bonus round (each question worth 5 points).

What is the formal Italian word for goodbye? And I don't mean "see you later" or something. Goodbye.
Now there is no correct answer to the question. The two obvious candidates are Ciao and Arrivederci. Ciao is wrong because it is not formal. Arrivederci was given as the correct answer, which got me very annoyed. Arrivederci comes from the verb rivedere, meaning to see again - the term literally means see you later, which was explicitly ruled out in the question. I was very angry.

By Tuesday, I had almost recovered. We have made the finals in each of the three seasons I've played beach volleyball, with previous efforts being a loss in the grand final (in C Grade Mixed) and a loss in the semifinals (in B Grade Mixed). Last night, we took all before us (B Grade Mixed), scraping through a semifinal 42-39) (in extra time, after being 39-39 after regulation), before going ahead early and staying ahead in the final to win 40-26. I felt like we played pretty well, in the final particularly, and thoroughly deserved the engraved tumblers we won as a result. Next season will be tougher; due to a contraction from 3 grades to 2, we will be playing in A Grade Mixed.