Films I loved in August 2014

3 September 2014
Jarvis Cocker in Pulp: a Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets

Jarvis Cocker in Pulp: a Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets

Although Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets isn’t technically an August 2014 release, it received a number of festival and special event screenings as well as getting a Digital Home Entertainment release (the DVD and blu-ray release is September). It is also a film I adored. It helps that I’ve long been a fan of the band so was overcome by nostalgia, but regardless this is still a very strong documentary that manages to provide an insightful context for the band and their music. By providing a portrait of the English city of Sheffield (where Pulp original hail from) and its residents, director Florian Habicht goes beyond the fact-listing and anecdote-telling formula of most music documentaries, to explore the time and place that produced the music and investigate why it still resonates with its fans. The concert footage is also extremely dynamic and some of the best I’ve ever seen.

Nicolas Cage as Joe and Tye Sheridan as Gary in Joe.

Nicolas Cage as Joe and Tye Sheridan as Gary in Joe.

Part of the growing number of Southern Gothic films that are coming out of the United States at the moment, which I am fascinated by, Joe is both a coming-of-age story about men and masculinity, and a portrait of a community that is rarely depicted on screen other than to be ridiculed. Director David Gordon Green’s use of non-professional actors was inspired, especially Gary Poulter who sadly died shortly after the film was made. Teenage actor-on-the-rise Tye Sheridan is great and continues to impress after Mud and The Tree of Life, and Nicolas Cage in the titular role gives one of his best performances in years.

Zoe Saldana as Gamora and Chris Pratt as Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy

Zoe Saldana as Gamora and Chris Pratt as Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy is the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series that really stayed with me and it’s probably no coincidence that it is more in the spirit of the original Star Wars films and the television series Firefly, than the superhero-driven films from the rest of the franchise. Director James Gunn has previously demonstrated that he has the ability to playfully subvert and draw attention to generic conventions, without resorting to parody or blatant self-awareness, which is why Guardians of the Galaxy is so much fun while still taking itself seriously as an ensemble-driven space opera. Most importantly is the character development where the audience are quickly endeared to the anti-heroes of the film so that most of the enjoyment comes from them riffing off one another and even occasionally having exchanges that are genuinely touching.

Thomas Caldwell, 2014

Film review – Kick-Ass (2010)

7 April 2010

Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson) and Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz)

The opening gag of a teenage boy jumping off a building while dressed as a superhero, to then plunge to his death, wonderfully sets up the very nasty yet very funny tone that runs throughout Kick-Ass. Similar to Watchmen, Kick-Ass explores the idea of what would happen if everyday people adopted costumed superhero personae. However, while Watchmen is set in an alternative past where superhero comics never existed and the costumed heroes have actual experience and skills, Kick-Ass is set in the present day and initially focuses on the rather pathetic plight of teenage comic book fan Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson who was John Lennon in Nowhere Boy). Dave initially discovers that calling himself Kick-Ass, getting a silly looking costume and doing a few days of training are not going to stop him getting very badly hurt when he takes on the bad guys.

Kick-Ass is the second comic series by Mark Millar to be adapted for film (with the very loosely Wanted adaptation being the first) and Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Layer Cake) directs it with real flair. Vaughn’s film begins as a very dark comedy that plausibly explores the absurdity of a teenager calling himself Kick-Ass trying to become a superhero. As Dave gets in way over his head with a powerful organised crime syndicate and a father-daughter vigilante team, the original premise of the film is somewhat sidelined to give way to a highly inventive and incredibly thrilling action film.

The father-daughter vigilante team are the far more experienced and ruthless Damon Macready (Nicolas Cage) and his 11-year-old daughter Mindy Macready (Chloë Grace Moretz who was Tom’s little sister in (500) Days of Summer). One of the big delights in Kick-Ass is Nicolas Cage’s hilarious performance as the nerdy and obsessive Damon who inexplicably talks like Adam West in the 1960s Batman TV series. With a few notable exceptions, such as Leaving Las Vegas, Cage has always been best when playing oddball character parts and in Kick-Ass he reminds us why he was once such a loved actor.

Then there is Moretz as Mindy who adopts the identity of Hit-Girl when in action. Moretz is so amazing as an action performer that she evokes Chow Yun-Fat when he was at his peak in the classic Hong Kong heroic bloodshed films. Like Chow, Moretz makes the act of firing and reloading gun look effortlessly cool and graceful, making the extended climatic shootout in Kick-Ass the most exciting moment of excessive gunplay since the hotel lobby scene in The Matrix.

Make no mistake; Kick-Ass is a violent, occasionally sadistic and frequently amoral film. It is also breathtakingly fun and wonderfully transgressive. It doesn’t quite stick to its main conceit but once Moretz is in action you just won’t care.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Film review – Knowing (2009)

21 March 2009
John Koestler (Nicholas Cage)

John Koestler (Nicholas Cage)

In 1959 a troubled young schoolgirl compulsively writes down a series of numbers, which is then buried in a time capsule. 50 years later, the time capsule is dug up and the series of numbers find their way to Astrophysicist Professor John Koestler (Nicolas Cage). John believes that life is random and his explanation for why things happen the way they do is, “Shit just happens”. So it’s particularly startling for John when he starts to realise that the series of numbers includes the dates of various disasters plus the number of people who died in each disaster. How is John supposed to respond to the events that are yet to come? What happens when the numbers run out? Who are the mysterious guys who look like members of a 1980s New Romantic band who have been injected with Rutger Hauer’s DNA?

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