Posts Tagged ‘ray winstone’



May 26, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review


Length: 124 min

Précis: Long awaited ‘uber-blockbuster’ crams all things Indiana Jones into a wobbly ride and hurtles over a cliff.

Review by Matt:

Nazis, Communists and general villains of humanity or archeology beware. Indiana Jones is back. And if he wants to foil your evil plot then he will death-defy, bullet-dodge and absorb all of your mightiest blows until it’s done. No really, shoot and punch all you like. That’s one slippery old archeologist right there.

But if you’re sitting in the theatre to watch Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, that is probably what you’re expecting to see, right? Crystal Skull is in the special category of ‘uber-blockbuster’. Everyone knows what it is, and what you get from it will probably depend on your expectations. If you’re going to the theatre saying “What I want is 100% impossible action and adventure of the Indiana Jones variety” then, you got it. Did someone say sword-fighting across two jeeps careening through the Amazon toward a cliff-top studded with nests of man-eating ants? Well, here’s your film. Beyond that though, there is some trouble. Crystal Skull is messy and clichéd and those things unfortunately make it a bit dull and annoying. So you’ll have to bring with you a willingness to forgive. Because it’s amazing how the film’s weaknesses can annoy you, even while the screen is filled with brawling Russians, archeologists and monkeys. What a shame to waste all those monkeys.

First though, the plot. It would have been heretical to millions of fans to suddenly alter the genre that the Indiana Jones series itself established. So the plot is familiar. Professor Henry “Indiana” Jones (the indefatigable Harrison Ford) is embroiled in the search for a powerful and magical artifact – “the crystal skull” – in an exotic land, Peru. Evil forces are on his tail. This time it is that terror of the 1950’s: the Soviet Communists. Nice to see them back as cinema’s villain (and nice to see that their head general looks just like Vladimir Putin – I’m sure plenty of patriotic Americans loved watching Harrison Ford sock Vladimir Putin in the face).

The baddies are led by Professor Irina Spalko (a delightfully steely Cate Blanchett), a comrade with a penchant for mind control (which is an interesting idea that is one of the many left unexplored). She wants to claim the power of the artifact for some kind of nefarious stealing-our-free-minds caper or something. You know – typical Red Menace. (Though note: although Indy is ostensibly battling the Commies, at one point he does recommend that one of his students read V Gordon Childe, who was a Marxist archaeologist – I say call McCarthy in to double-check Professor Jones’ patriotism).

Naturally, Indy is also accompanied by a sidekick who alternately helps and hinders the cause. This is “Mutt” (Shia LaBeouf), a young switchblade-wielding, hair-combing hood, whose Uncle “Ox” (John Hurt) disappeared while searching for the skull. And so it all unfolds in Steven Spielberg big-screen-adventure style, with many a thrilling action scene, a few laconic Indy once-liners, and an intriguing mythological premise.

Crystal Skull is a film that can’t really escape its magnificent place in history. It’s kind of like how Prince William can’t avoid the fact that the eyes of the world (or Britain’s eyes at least) look at him as part of the Royal Family. So this fourth installment of the famous series is self-aware, and it tries to ride with the audience’s expectations. But this self-consciousness seems to replace the free effervescence that the previous films had. And it also points to the problem at the core of Crystal Skull: it just overdoes it. It’s like they thought of everything an Indiana Jones fan could possibly want and tried to squash it in there. Ever tried to mash ten flavours of icecream into one bowl? How’d it turn out? Crystal Skull never gives full attention to any one idea, or to the characters, so they’re largely wearisome archetypes (bad luck Cate Blanchett – nice Russian accent though).

By the end, the plot-skimping has left things rushed and confusing so that it’s really just the crashing together of a few big ideas. Even when you think the film could be straightening out, it will be quickly knocked off course again by a swarm of “frightening savages” jumping out of the walls to try and pique your fear of “the other”. And I know that Indy’s bigger-than-life escapes are part of the genre, but I also found the constant impossible-factor a bit too much, especially since many action movies have proven that they can excite and thrill without becoming incredulous.

But hey, your payback is an outrageous action/adventure extravaganza with all the fight scenes, creepy crawlies, ancient temples and half-baked mythology you’d expect from an Indiana Jones film. I still thought it was spectacular and often pretty fun. But if you demand that it make sense, carry some realism, or resonate emotionally, then there is big potential for disappointment and, perhaps, pain. You’ll at least have to shoulder an onerous requirement to suspend disbelief and to suck up a super-sized portion of clichés. But maybe you’re like Indiana Jones himself, and you can take blow after blow and still have a good time. I came out pretty bruised and only half smiling.


BEOWULF 3D (2007)

December 7, 2007

Beowulf review

Matt: Two stars
Tracy: Two and a half stars

Length: 113min


Pride is the curse.
Survival is ruthless.
Evil breeds pain.

Précis: Rare chance to see something sucking in spectacular 3D!

Review by Matt:

Originally a pre-10th century poem on a parchment, the classic tale of ‘Beowulf’ has been transported into the 21st century as a spectacular 3D film. Spectacular looking only though. Sadly, Beowulf the film is just gloss, gore and paper-thin drama, inflated into a cinematic spectacle. If this film was retranslated back into poetry, it would be doggerel for some student revue rather than an epic worthy of its home in the London museum.

Cinematically at least though, Beowulf is a rare experience. The use of ‘performance capture’ technology means a cast of famous and recognisable actors appear on screen as their digitised doppelgangers. Unfortunately the zombifying effect of this process sucks some of the emotion out of their faces, which could have been useful for, say, emoting. Ray Winstone supplies the frame and voice for Beowulf the great Danish warrior. The computers have shaved him down, sucked his fat and beefed him up, but they don’t hide his rough cockney voice – “cor blimey, I’ll have that bleedin’ monster’s loaf, eh guvners?” (those might not have been the exact words he used). Angelina Jolie appears as a seductive water demon. She didn’t require quite the extreme CGI makeover that Winstone needed, but it’s still been used to sexualise her – Jolie’s demon gets around in a naked, neutered body with built-in high-heeled feet (how inconvenient – she can never stop and kick them off to run like most Hollywood heroines would). She ices it with an out-of-place Russian accent and a lot of pouting. Anthony Hopkins is a tired-looking King Hrothgar and Jon Malkovich is instantly recognisable as a pathetic courtier, whose voice somehow seems even more Malkovichy than ever.

Don your 3D glasses and these characters are suddenly thrusting all kinds of phallic objects out of the screen and into the theatre. Yet, despite our hero’s novel decision to battle monsters in the nude (please see Eastern Promises for what really happens when you fight in the nude), none of these items is an actual phallus (leading to Tracy’s disdainful summary of the film: “Bah, my $17.50 might have been worth it if they’d shown a giant 3D penis!”). In fact the film is weirdly timid. It goes to lengths to conceal Beowulf’s bits – so much so that it looks like a Simpsons-style visual joke. As is often the case in these Hollywood movies, this coyness is ironic considering there are no qualms about splashing blood and gore all about the screen. These blood splattered action sequences are pretty stunning though. Flying dragons crash along cliff faces, the enormous, gruesome Grendl throws body parts around and roars in the flickering darkness – it’s all absorbing stuff.

But, ultimately we have to put the visuals aside and say: what the hell was going on in this film? I don’t mean the plot; there’s no mystery there. No, I mean the utterly wayward tone. In one sense Beowulf is a film that moralises about lust and greed. On the other hand it is obviously making the audience into voyeurs and trying to titillate. One minute it presents dialogue that needs a serious atmosphere otherwise it will appear risible; yet the next minute a naked man is literally bursting his body out of the eye of a giant monster and bellowing “I am ripper, tearer, slasher, gouger… I AM BEOWULF!”

I get that writers Neil Gaiman (who wrote one my favourite series of graphic novels – Sandman) and Roger Avary (co-writer of Pulp Fiction) have tried to modernise the story. They’ve made Beowulf a fallible anti-hero. They’ve made Grendl a pitiable monster who’s only disembowelling the Kingdom’s revellers so they’ll stop inflaming his nasty headache (if only he’d thought of earplugs). They’ve twisted the plot to squeeze out some themes about human weaknesses. But could these themes have been more sophisticated than “moral men are corrupted by women’s sexuality”? The women’s roles are terrible! Perhaps the Queen’s most of all, who is ‘inherited’ into a servile marriage and proves her worth by dutiful acceptance. That’s regression, not modernisation. Beowulf 2007 has just ended up as a post-modern melange that is all froth. You’re not going to be deeply touched. It’s like medieval MTV.

If they were going to ‘modernise’ Beowulf by making it a show about buff and semi‑nude dimwits strutting along the coast in ancient Denmark, maybe they could have called it Beowatch.  It is not quite as empty as Baywatch. but Beowulf does seem to have taken large dollops of Baywatch’s macho posturing and exploitive perving, transported them to ancient Denmark, and transformed them into amazing 3D.  Maybe we should at least be grateful it doesn’t feature a big 3D David Hasselhoff as well.