Thursday, 29 July 2010

Toy Story 3 (2010)

* * * *

(Dir. Lee Unkrich, 2010)

Toy Story 3 resists a trend almost exclusive to mainstream cinema - the third instalment we (rightly) love to hate. This summer, Pixar can celebrate hurdling the historic infamy of gum like Terminator 3, Die Hard 3 and for a few, and to a lesser extent, even The Godfather Part III. The simple pleasures are back, the power of metaphor has doubled, or should it be said, trebled?

Tom Hanks, Joan Cusack and Tim Allen are still starring as voiceovers for the top toys - cowboy Woodie, cowgirl Jessie and astronaut, Buzz Lightyear. And for some tongue-in-cheek innovation, former Batman Michael Keaton is drafted in to cameo as Barbie's Ken.
Now that American kid Andy is all grown up and packing for college, it's time for his miniature vigilantes to go. Where to? The local daycare centre, Sunnyside. It is hard to imagine how deportation and cruelty, hand in hand, could be better parodied. Certainly not in animation. For humans, Sunnyside is a shelter for innocence. For dolls and action-figures, this is a totalitarian state where all toys are equal, but some toys are more equal than others, and no one gets out alive.

The revered autocrat is Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear. Once lost and replaced by a girl, the teddy has displaced his worthlessness onto a brainwashable community. He has a monkey working CCTV, sleaze-champ Ken warding the cells at night and an octopus capturing runaways.
In reviewing Toy Story 3, Peter Bradshaw paid special attention to the metaphor of the obsolete parent. Perhaps the trump poignant frame of the film is that of Andy, thoughtfully holding up Woodie and Buzz Lightyear before letting go. Family and the domestic are inscrutable, but independence is the only way forward.

It is no more ambitious to read the movie through Andy's quiet story of self-disenfranchisement - a life now led on a laptop - which is a portrait of the postmodern adult with no excuses for the facebook chatterbox, the inbox-desperado, the pornographer, the busy buyer, the blogger. So much so that when he donates his toys to a little girl, Andy can only come across as cutesy: the boring flicker in the film when wryness is put to one side.
Meanwhile the gags work and as always, pin us to laughter. Since the TV arrival of Seth McFarlane, the now cosmic legacy of The Simpsons, and not to mention the several successful animated movies which Toy Story inspired, Pixar are still able to make the anthropomorphism of (digital) doodles funny. A battery accident sees Buzz switched to Spanish mode, and a Latin-amorous astronaut is trying to seduce a cowgirl. An English thespian, an old-timer Chuckles and the aforementioned Ken are three more puns to savour.

Opening on the same weekend as Inception, Pixar's newest achievment is a movie which doesn't force reviewers into adjective-Olympics. What it comes down to is this: Toy Story 3 is something for kids and for adults; Inception is a fascination for the adolescent and, ironically, the wish-thinker. Let's really hope that Toy Story has ended, or is ending, on a high. That to infinity and beyond remains a catchphrase, and does not become a mantra for its writers.

Monday, 26 July 2010


My fingers, extensions of my hand, are shaking. I push them up into the air above my bed. A shadow of useless piano keys or epileptic soldiers is becoming on the wall where a photograph of family in a garden needs more bluetac. The extensions shake so hard, from too much nicotine or sugary treats I don't know, but I go on shaking. My legs are unrooted and heavy imitations of the trees in Richmond Park. Absolute in their dusk stillness. My shoulders and the soles of my feet are also dumb. My fingers, extensions of my hand, are shaking.

In the road outside my home (which is really my parents' home) drunks are remembering the way home on a Sunday night.

I remember a conversastion earlier. Between three strangers who were passing behind our bench:

'Do you have a lighter?'
'Have you got a lighter?'
'Wait - 'Scuse guys, have you got a lighter?'
'It's OK. I've got a lighter!'

The two were enlightened by the one who had the lighter.

My fingers are still typing all over the wall - the light from a laptop, the moonlight. My fingers are angrily gritting and chattering their teeth at me. Now they have teeth and a violence of their own accord. Now my teeth, my teeth are chattering. If I put my hands together, it isn't to pray: it is to stop My fingers, extensions of my hands, are shaking.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Inception (2010)

* * 

(Dir. Christopher Nolan, 2010)

Why does the inception mission - and so the Inception movie - matter? Unanswerable questions are tolerable, and can be fascinating if meaningful. But when an audience is not being spoken to - as much-compared movies, the socialistic The Matrix and the romantic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, intimately do - then the sci-fi adventure hastens into wan casuistry. Christopher Nolan, awesome director of Memento, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, has drawn an impenetrable circle around any clear synopsis or shared analysis his thinking audience might otherwise have attempted. He has drawn a profitable blank. The bulk of the 2 hrs, 28 mins, is taking place in a dream (within a dream) (within a dream) while its characters are sleeping on a flight: time is greater in dreams than it is in reality.

This spin is Nolan's saving grace, and it is incarnated in various scenes as a continuous spinning top which gives each dream its heartbeat. Sometimes this motion is the military, white mountainscape of a wintry 007 modernized into compelling cinema. Often it is the business-class glow of shimmering restaurants and half-baked dream-theory in the mouths of suited, gifted actors (Ken Watanable, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page). Mostly it is the playful outlining of psychodynamics; protagonist Leonardo Di Caprio has an elevator in his dreams whose levels map his unconscious fears and desires - in the basement awaits his wife who he has promised to spend eternity with, who, having preferred suicide to the real world, is now a disturbing projection in his dreams. Di Caprio is in exile and in order to return to their children he must complete one last mission. This is hardly explained in personal terms. Di Caprio, whose business is to extract and sell information from other people's dreams, must now use inception, planting an idea instead of stealing one. The reason for this mission is to stop the inheriting son of an energy company's CEO from dominating the global market. And this is hardly explained in apocalyptic terms.

So even if we forget for a moment that character-development and the supposedly political (or monetary?) cause are snubbed then we are still left with a funny, film-refuting flaw: why can't Nolan's characters fly in their dreams? Why can't they breathe fire or simply point and extract and incept? Crucially the noun inception has no companion verb: no such incept exists. I, for one, doubt Nolan is above language. It is more a mathematical than a philosophical victory; and without the latter, however ingenius its world of mazes, a film of coffee (or cannabis) table pseudo-science about the dream within the dream within the dream is impossible to commit to or remember seriously. "Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange." Not true. Latency in dreaming does not boil down to whatever Inception says, goes. Had there been another two hours of character-painting dialogue - particularly for the husband-wife and father-son relationships which the inception mission is so dependant upon - or had Nolan made a biopic about one of the psychoanalysts he has misread, then maybe we would have had a film on our hands. Budget or determination have stopped short.

Millions will emerge from these pictures wooed by the high-concept, yet there won't be a thought for any of Inception's arbitrary persons - the striking Cotillard tapered one-dimensional, and Di Caprio somewhere between his leads in The Departed and Shutter Island, now a widower and a dream-hero who we have no emotional investment in since we are viewing an absolutely disciplined, dazzling but spineless blockbuster of fascsistic ceremony.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

L'Arnacoeur (Heartbreaker) (2010)

(Dir. Pascal Chaumeil, 2010)

* * * *

Inspired by the 1934 multiple Oscar winner, It Happened One Night, and his own disapproval of his cousin's spouse, screenwriter Laurent Zeitoun arrived fantastically at a sinister and real business proposition: What if you could pay a smart super-stud to break up a relationship, and make a film about it? Romain Duris (De battre mon coeur s'est arrete: The Beat That My Heart Skipped]) is back with a bang, except that he does not sleep with any of his unknowing customers. Helped by his sister Melanie and brother-in-law Marc, Alex (Duris) is tasked to lie expertly, be cool, prolific but professional under personal and financial pressures.

Opening with shots of legs, cleavage, bums and muscles, and pamphlets for a wet t-shirt competition soundtracked by 'Son Of A Preacher Man', Heartbreaker feels like a misleading title. But after easy victories for pro seducer Alex, the challenge of a lifetime presents itself. Vanessa Paradis plays Juliette, an elegant and imperfectly (you'll see what I mean) stunning poor little rich girl. Oblivious to his smouldering and smiling, she immediately forces Alex into unfamiliar unease. In an argument with her father, checking that the correct "bodyguard" has arrived, she belittles Alex's appearance, who has to rush before a mirror and reassure himself: "My suit's fine. It's a Paul Smith." Juliette is marrying a Brit (recognizable as Kira Knightley's thoughtful reject in Love Actually), a sensitive, flawless stereotype, and her father is determined to stop his daughter from committing to "boredom". Who are you going to call? Relationship-busters. This is bizarre and powerfully blithe.

Alex's smart sister and her clumsy husband are inexpendable in this team effort. They are responsible for "customer" research and camera surveillance, and their supporting-cast guises vary from hobo to waitress to racing driver. The funniest scam which made people fall off their seats laughing was something even more daring. Getting nowhere with a fed-up Juliette, Alex tells her he will quit "protecting" her if she pays him off. So Juliette writes him a cheque, only to tear it up five minutes later when he has flung himself against a car windscreen, sprinted after the vehicle and rescued her handbag from a "mugger".

Action and location profit from one another: effectively this is a film about the heat of seduction through a blacked-out window. The voyeurism, tawdry when Alex is watching his princess-victim undressing in the next room yet pitiable when he has "broken his own heart", is utterly compatible with tax-haven Monaco - where better to shoot than a morbid utopia where beaches make way for Prada, where champagne fills in for water, where superficiality is as considerable as the heat. Whether Alex and Juliette do or don't get together is thankfully unimportant. The wild, ridiculous plot (gangsters are filling in for Eros), the stubborness of desire, and one of the world's most gifted lead-actors satisfy at the exit.

Predictable and far from new, this could so easily have been a Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock hack-job - and perhaps it will become so, since Working Line and Universal Pictures have reportedly bought the rights for a Hollywood chronicle. But for now, L'Arnacoeur is a messianic event in a painful summer of cinema; elemental chalk in an Odeon reeking of cheese. Director Pascal Chaumeil's end-product is precisely a matter of defeating cliche. On coincidence (would-be lovers running to each other, meeting on a road) and soppiness (romances founded on Dirty Dancing and George Michael and U-turns), the film means to parody and bring them - as Romain Duris becomes - "alive". Every now and again a film comes along that speaks to every adult and can, ironically, do no wrong. Trust my judgement, and more importantly L'Arnacoeur's 92% aggregate critical rating, and go and see this hyper-cool, ensouled movie on the big screen.


The wind had picked up and eased the passage of my read. I was being transported. When I came up for air three chapters later there were ants on my lap, and over my head, where the sky had sized up Richmond, I noticed a helipcoter and I clamped my ears with my palms and, as if I had sea-shells for hands, I thought I could hear the sound of hanged waves - a boy and a girl in armbands, losing balance.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


Rich at the bus stop - meeting over, done, and the committee bastards, shame on them, why should they cut the staff. Sure, lucky this time, but what about next year? Lecturers are waiting to go outside, hands on head, gun-prodded he felt, selfish dick, me, monetary nightmares are everywhere. Soggy books under arm, the weight and expectation a cricket bat it could have been, the bristles on Rich's forearm wet and unmannish, like a boy coming out of the sea. At least a woman is in the life, right now, a woman, and them really together. The little house, stay with the little house. Long drag, ash careful it doesn't wreck the lady's handbag. Try and think up some cute stuff and not the bills or in-laws. Already darkening, danker by the sec. And when he makes it through the front door tonight will it smell familiar? Washing powder; in some rooms and on gloves from that Boxing Day fixture, stale beer? No she loved her cleaning, sure thing, ambitious but. Incendiary as he could be - no - she wanted him for keeps all the same that was for sure. Have a coke now. Drop of sweat or rain ran off tip of Rich's nose, dripped one drip onto the burning cig Rich had finished smoking - the flame orangey in the gutter - put it out, there there it was okay, rewarding inhale, testy headrush, and you could get on with the day if you were Rich now. If it was so easy to write all that stream-of-consciousness babble, why the Booker? Why not just pack it in, Kelman and co? No it. No: what more was there? Fuck, didn't open the can properly, metal pricking finger for a sec, coke all over unsteady hands. Anxious man, anxious man, anxious anxious man, Rich. Smart man in a suit looks exhausted, looks at Rich thinking all the spiteful and ungrateful things public transport and waiting and prejudice exhale. Not his fault, job sure, but not a good man on first impression. Rich knew a thing or two about not being a good man: from books, and from letting lovely persons down.

Standing up all straight and that, Rich thought fuck the bastards, the committee lot, intimidating, and the boring bus stop rivals, and if it was raining he didn't notice because the whole time there was the thought of her.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Get Him To The Greek (2010)

* * *

(Dir. Nicholas Stoller, 2010)

"It's Kubrickian!" shrieks rock-icon Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), as he and overweight fanboy-turned-manager Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) sprint through an unending corridor on heroin (and just about every illicit narcotic under the sun) in order to escape from a torched VIP suite. It is a laughing matter, and a worthy spin-off from the warm and silly Forgetting Sarah Marshall, two summers ago.

Aldous's career has taken a turn for the worst since his political release, African Child, was deemed the most detramental thing to have happened to Africa since the Apartheid. But Aaron, no longer busting tables in Hawaii, has an idea to get his hero back on the rails and in the sales. His zany boss (Sean Coombes / P Diddy) - the president of a big record company - puts faith in Aaron to fly to London and bring back a healthy Aldous to the Greek theatre, where he is set to perform a ten-year anniversary gig. Despite their differences, both Aaron and Aldous are in the dumps about being dumped: while nurse Daphne (Elisabeth Moss) wants Aaron to give up his job and support her in Seattle, popstar Jackie (the unimpeachable Rose Byrne) has left Aldous for Metallica drummer, Lars Ulrich (appearing as himself, who Aldous will tell to "fuck off and sue Napster, you little Scandanavian wanker"). The scene is set for a hedonistic yarn of unyieldingly disgusting, brilliant behaviour; monogomy and intoxication are your auspicious themes.

Regrettably this bright inflatable of a movie begins to sink with the weight of prolonged shots of Aldous in concert, and scenes of a sentimental nature, as inexperienced director Nicholas Stoller needlessly seeks to tie up loose ends. Despite Jarvis Cocker and Libertine Carl Barat's songwriting contributions on the film, Aldous Snow's back-catalogue is not worth listening to, not even for some vaguely amusing lyrics ('I want to be inside of you'). Smarter direction might have cemented this comedy as an unmissable, perhaps timeless, DVD-rent, considering the unrelenting absurdity; whether it be Jonah Hill hallucinating about Sean Coombes eating other little Sean Coombes's, or an unprecedented, risible threesome. Too early the movie concedes its fallibility. The mimicking of Aldous's London accent, and the shots of the capital's landmarks sountracked by The Clash's 'London Calling' recall the boringness of transatlanticism in American TV & Film. These are cliches that need cleansing.

More than just another feather in Brand's chic cap, this performance does justice to his versatility as a filmic resource. Where friend and compatriot-comedian Gervais has come up short in his middling American adventures (notably The Invention of Lying) the forever-bubble-blowing Morrissey-buff is unfailingly funny and wise when it comes to accepting or embarking on a role. Clearly there are autobiographical methods at work here. A sex-obsessed, recovering heroin-addict is running the show. But be suspicious of anybody who jumps to the conclusion that Brand is playing himself: where the stand-up comedian has mastered irony, this fictional rock'n'roll star is its silly, scripted object. It's another unfelt punch for those who sneer (presumably because of his sense of fashion or his accent?) at the prince of self-deprecating and arrogant magniloquence. Brand has taken a step back in order to take two dancing steps forward, and Anglo-American laughter has casting director Jeanne McCarthy and the quiet legacy of Forgetting Sarah Marshall to thank.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The Good Fight

For the peerless Christopher Hitchens,
On hearing the news of his illness.


- how glad I am for its big boat
I am under -

Is why starlight is language-lust,
A majesty effused by science, not me.

I fight to accept there are times
(soon, all time)
When both breath and thought concede arms.
Yet with no eternity,
No thought crime, then hope is thine.

Honest people die and are remembered for a while.
For forgettable, brilliant years,
The real world is half-mine
Since I have come here from stardust.

Where is there more truth?
Love matters if it is really matter,
Heat and gland and the word, anew,

When our bodies burst into gift,
When the surviving-fittest bloom.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Hop Farm Festival, 03/07/10

* * * *

Hop Farm Festival 2010 began on Friday with Van Morrison, but its abundant attractions were scheduled for Saturday afternoon & evening when Johnny Flynn, Laura Marling, Peter Doherty, Sea Sick Steve, Mumford and Sons, Ray Davies and finally Bob Dylan would perform to a packed field in the Kent countryside.
Laura Marling - sacrosanct as a black-and-white photograph of some lovely, thirties actress - rewarded and numbed those who knew her music. Teeth-whistling into the obdruately blue sky, Marling air-conditioned a sunburnt audience. Despite stillness and shyness (her awkward, throw-away remarks about the heat and her peers were kind nonetheless) her presence is never quiet. She hardly moves, blonde and weightless at the lucky mic, and sings differently, awesomely for an hour; sonorous and shrilling in the pacey 'Devil's Spoke' and 'My Manic And I', and velvet and dulcet in 'Ghosts' and 'Blackberry Stone'. Five-star reviews in three British broadsheets for her new LP - I Speak Because I Can - paint a picture: Marling is a Siren luring sailor after sailor to her addictive melancholy; a Joni Mitchell for women and men.

Next up, Peter Doherty entertained with an acoustic set of seminal Libertines and Babyshambles numbers, and a couple from his private stock to appease the fanboys. Mock-ceremoniously, two ballet dancers parading Union Jack flags glided behind a delicate, dwardling Doherty. This bizarre decor boded well with his funny reference to an old Chas & Dave tune about Kent, as the misunderstood performer got the thousands before him to sing along to something utterly random between his own songs. But the serious, bookish Doherty was also on display, stealing breath with 'Music When The Lights Go Out' and the timeless, 'Can't Stand Me Now'. He kept it together, which is all you can, and need to, ask for.

Earlier in the day, young Johnny Flynn had impressed and is certainly one to watch out for. SeaSick Steve, an American folk-rocker I had never before absorbed, reminded me of the stump-legged sea-captain in The Simpsons: "Aargh me matey" pretty much summed up a fun, mortal set I spent most of which queueing for beers. Meanwhile the penultimate Ray Davies, 66, who seemed to have the adolescent hump about being behind Dylan in the pecking order, was uninspiring. Finishing with ten minutes of a L-lol-l-lol-'Lola' hymnal sing-along, one couldn't help but think of Paul McCartney's insufferable, 'Hey Jude' na-na-na-nah routine-finale.

It was Mumford and Sons who really stole the show, as apparently they had done at Glastonbury a week earlier. Even the authentically choreographed, hobbity jumping and pedalling are elegant not to mention quintessential - lending so personal a percussion to their flawless set. This was best illustrated in the climax to 'Roll Away Your Stone', where the strings and stamping escalated until vox broke in: "Stars, hide your fires / For these here are my desires / And I won't give them up for you this time around". There is a determination about this foursome that sets them apart from young, brooding types who have "fallen on their feet", as banjolin-player Winston modestly suggested they had to the ecstatic crowd: not happy with consoling listeners, the stuff of Mumford and Sons is stamina and affirmation. Can there be a more talented, physical and thoughtful group of musicians touring in the new decade?

The highlight of headliner Bob Dylan's set was his entrance, doubtless one of the few living (song)writers able to overpower a population just by showing his face. Applause, whistling and screaming sharpened these ordinary, flaccid acres. Both Dylan's influence and the substance of his works on war and peace, love and emotional blackmail, have survived, abounded and continue to muscle hope worldwide. But his miserable performance at Hop Farm can not be excused by age. Nor should anyone dare to suggest he has been the victim of his success and martydom. Dylan, electric, does not work, especially and obviously at sixty-nine years of age. His voice, hardly stadium gold, struggles to sound its wit. When I (and a thousand grated others) quit before the encore, there were supercilious evils from the Dylanites that brought to mind Nick Hornby's ingenious satire in High Fidelity: "Don't tell anyone you don't own Blonde on Blonde - that's insane!" Unfortunately seeing Dylan live when supported, or drowned, by a rock band is not a necessary experience. The bravest songs from Blonde on Blonde were either disenchanted (the muffled 'Stuck Inside A Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again') or disregarded ('I Want You').

Mid set, Marcus Mumford paid homage to the event, communally boasting - "Is it just me or is this the best line-up of the summer?" It isn't just him. The brainpower and charisma on show recompensed a sometimes ripped-off customer. The problem is I prefer my line-ups in sport, and though the assorted artistry here implied a learning experience, what I learned this weekend is how to make sense of festival zeal. These marathons, saturated by drowsed couples, overpriced groceries and countless sound-checks, make for more of a camping holiday than a robust, panging gig.