Haywire (Steven Soderbergh, 2011)


Haywire

Ho hum.

I’m tempted to leave the whole review there but, for my future memory’s sake…

I wasn’t left much choice in what to see, since the local cinema’s start times left only this with a chance of getting a train home afterwards but, lulled into a false sense of security by both Rotten Tomato‘s decent rating and Mark Kermode (a reviewer with whom I normally tend to largely agree) saying how much fun it was, I thought I’d give it a try. I’m not a big fan of “actioners” but, with a decent cast, a “name” directer and a proper fighter in the lead, I thought we might either get something interesting-but-flawed or else trashy-but-fun. As it turns out, it was trashy-and-flawed. And this adds up to tedium.

Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is a contracted special agent, employed by her ex-boyfriend Kenneth and hired out to the US government for undercover jobs, such as rescuing a Chinese dissident from kidnappers in Barcelona. The movie starts in medias res, with Mallory telling her story to a “civilian” after an arranged meeting with Kenneth goes awry – and everything relates to the job in Barcelona which, in some unspecified way, also went wrong.

There were the bones of something good here; everyone around the main star can and does act, and Carano herself was competent. But it just doesn’t hang together as an engaging piece of storytelling and the fights are neither spectacular nor realistic enough (nobody wins a fight immediately after being hit in the back of the head with a solid object) to distract from this. It’d probably while away an afternoon on tv when you really can’t be bothered but it’s not nearly enough to justify a trip out to the cinema.

I did quite enjoy seeing bits of Dublin, and recognising at least one street, though.

Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman, 1963)


Winter Light
“If God does not exist, does it matter?”

Bergman has a reputation for making miserable films but I never really found “The Seventh Seal” at all miserable. It was about a loss of faith and about death, certainly, but there was a playfulness about it that leavened the philosophy. Here, though, Bergman’s reputation is well-earned. Tomas (Gunnar Björnstrand) is a widowed priest who no longer believes. He serves in a small and remote community and, as the film opens, is struggling with a viral infection that is making him more liable to honestly tell people what he really thinks about them, including his unwanted suitor, schoolteacher Marta (Ingrid Thulin) and a suicidal fisherman, Jonas (Max von Sydow).

Shot in black and white, this film has a clean, harsh look as the winter light of the title falls both on the snow outside and in the whitened churches in which Tomas officiates. Tomas is suffering and spreads his suffering around and there is little to suggest that, for him, there is any hope of joy now that he has lost both his adored wife and his (self-admittedly) selfish religion. This is the second in a trilogy and so perhaps I need to watch the other parts to get a more rounded sense of where this film sits but, as a standalone film, it was an interesting meditation on how christians cope with a post-Christian world.

For me as an agnostic (though pretty confident) atheist, the question of whether or not there is a god doesn’t matter any more, though it did once but it clearly did for Bergman, and for Tomas and it does have serious consequences for your world view. It just needn’t be so glum as Tomas finds it.

The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011)


The Artist

Ok, so my last cinema trip of 2011 was to go and see an homage to the early days of cinema (Hugo); my first visit of 2012 is to see another, this time with a heavy dose of regret for what was lost with the passing of silent films.

This film is a joy, a mostly comic melodrama that hits real emotional punch when it needs to. Though the chorus of approval from cinema critics could lead to some over-expectant viewers being disappointed, it did not in my case. There are knowing nods to films right through cinema history – from the hero himself, Jean Dujardin’s ‘George Valentin’, drawing from Clark Gable, Douglas Fairbanks and Valentino, to the plot, which is basically A Star is Born.

We first see Valentin in his pomp, as he shows off at the premiere of yet another hit movie, his attention-grabbing antics showing how spoiled he has become by fame, though we are later shown his basic decency. Outside, he bumps into a fan, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) who steals a kiss in front of the cameras. Soon, there is a clamour to know who she is and she manages to translate that interest into a career. As her star waxes, Valentin’s wanes as he refuses to make the newfangled ‘talkies’, seeing them as cheap and tawdry and lacking in real artistry, and he attempts to rectify matters with a serious silent film that, he hopes, will show what can be achieved.

Much of the interest around this film has been that it is the first silent movie for about 80 years (Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie aside and, like that film, this has a couple of moments of sound) but also because it has been done so lovingly. I’ve been watching a fair few old films recently, including silent ones and this picks up on all the things about that method of film making that are good – the emphasis on showing us, rather than telling us, what is happening, the beautiful visuals and the strong, simple plotting. It has strong support from James Cromwell and John Goodman (surely born to play a movie mogal) and everything just feels right. This is one of those rare films that I’d be perfectly happy to pay to see again right away.