Review: The Legend of Barney Thomson

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DIR: Robert Carlyle • WRI: Richard Cowan, Colin McLaren • PRO: Holly Brydson, Brian Coffey, Richard Cowan, Kirk D’Amico, Kaleena Kiff, John G. Lenic • DOP: Fabian Wagner • ED: Mike Banas • MUS: James Horner • DES: Ross Dempster • CAST: Robert Carlyle, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone

 

The Legend of Barney Thomson marks the directorial debut of legendary actor Robert Carlyle. The film is an adaptation of a book by Douglas Lindsay. It sets out as a barbarous black comedy which details the transition of Barney Thomson’s life as a small-time Glaswegian barber to that of a makeshift serial killer.  Barney (Robert Carlyle) is a barber. He’s a socially inept creature of habit, with his chiseled jaw, greasy slicked-back mane and polished shoes. He’s certainly fort- something; and he’s built a life of undeniable banality. Day in, day out his deft finger work tends the follicles of every last lager sippin’ stool pigeon and wrinkly old Neanderthal in the area who’s in need of a short back and sides. And this banal existence, for better or for worse, is in essence, Barney’s life.

That is, of course, until it all goes belly-up when an altercation in the shop gets out of hand and results in Barney accidentally murdering someone. With both the linoleum floor and his hands stained in blood, Barney sets out on a mission to preserve the life he’s created and decides to conceal the body.  Since cutting is his trade, it’s no surprise that he decides to cut the body up. Of course’ this doesn’t go quite as planned and when body parts start turning up, Barney struggles to evade the crafty detective Holdall, played by Ray Winstone. It’s at about this juncture that the narrative begins to descend into outlandishness, and emotional plausibility seems to totally go out the window. While the film sets out with ambitions as a somewhat cynical British black comedy it just never quite gels together. The comedy is sporadic at best, a tangle of gags, some of which work and some which don’t, and which are knotted together so tightly it’s impossible to tell which is which. If Carry On ever decided to remake the Pink Panther series as a social-realist drama this well could be the end product, a warped farce of a farce that doesn’t quite know what it is.

Carlyle clearly struggled to switch hats between his directing hat and his acting hat. His performance wanes after a while and his comedic efforts begin to feel somewhat forced. Carlyle is a proven contender in the comedy ring, but he doesn’t quite seem to cut it on this occasion, I can only put this down to him juggling duties. The film offers a fantastic supporting cast in Emma Thompson and Ray Winston. Emma Thompson is the most consistently hilarious in the entire equation as Barney’s ex-prostitute mother Cemilina, who’s glazed in more wrinkles and make-up than Dame Elizabeth Taylor’s corpse. But on the whole, Barney Thomson is a far cry from the same blackly comic halls of British cinema as Trainspotting, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Sexy Beast, where this movie so clearly desires to be. It’s the botched haircut you’re just not sure what to with.

Michael Lee

15A (See IFCO for details)
123 minutes

The Legend of Barney Thomson is released 24th July 2015

 

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Inherent Vice

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DIR/WRI: Paul Thomas Anderson • PRO: Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Lupi, JoAnne Sellar • DOP: Robert Elswit • ED: Leslie Jones • MUS: Jonny Greenwood • DES: David Crank • CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Jena Malone, Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin

Pulsing through the pot smoke with cinematic prowess, Paul Thomas Anderson’s vision aligns with the paranoid world of enigmatic literary icon Thomas Pynchon, in an adaptation of Pynchon’s 2009 novel Inherent Vice. This can only make for cinematic voodoo. This is the kind of thing many a square-eyed Pynchon reader has fantasised about for decades; in earnest. And Vice is a narcotic trip, it lulls and pulls. Sucking the viewer straight down the rabbit hole, through the tunnel of love, and back in time to 1970’s Los Angeles; in what, on the surface, presents itself to be a very Chandleresque detective story, in the vain of The Long Goodbye or The Big Sleep.

So we’re in LA, the free love and peace of the swinging ’60s have waned into the paranoia and hedonism of the 1970s. Doc’s just woke up. Mutton chopped, joint in mouth and carrying himself like a Neil Young wannabe rag doll. Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello is played with gusto by a dirty looking Joaquin Phoenix. (I mean he’s so dirty at one point I’m convinced I can smell his feet.) Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello a stoner, sandal wearing private dick. Think Phillip Marlowe after a bag of ‘panama red’.  Anyway Doc’s ex old lady, Shasta, turns up in the dead of night scared and looking for help. She’s been shacked up with some shady real estate developer who’s embroiled in some diabolical plot. She’s freaked and that isn’t groovy with Doc, so he’s hot on the case. Naturally this kinda set-up lends itself to some serious slapstick and ambiance.

But behind the chaotic slapstick and entertainment, Vice is a socially conscious film, a film with a massive heart that pounds along the heroin trails and through the marijuana haze. This is bold crisp American cinema and Anderson has a very decisive view of America. An America that’s disconnected from itself, that’s wounded and looking for answers in all the wrong places. At the heart of Pynchon’s novel there’s a tremendous sense of melancholy, and a sense of disappointment with the promises of the Hippie movement and free love; which in the end proved as much a pipe dream as ‘democracy’ or the American dream; and just as corruptible. These aspects remain true of Anderson’s movie and it’s clearly a perspective Anderson strongly relates to. The sense of an ideological conflict is evident in the love-hate relationship between Big Foot Bjornson (played by Josh Brolin) and Doc. Big Foot is a hippie-hating LAPD detective with a boxy buzz cut haircut and a questionable penchant for frozen bananas. In a sense, the film is a series of short cameos as the case unfolds, and Doc chases down countless leads, and countless red herrings, and some strange entity called The Golden Fang.

As a major fan of both P.T.A and Pynchon, I have an obligation to say it isn’t perfect, it’s rough around the edges, even for what it’s meant to be, which runs contrary to most of the criticism so far. I think a lot of critics who misjudged Anderson’s previous film The Master (2012) are reluctant to fall into the same trap with Inherent Vice. The Inherent problem with this of course is; it’s a bit like that old Woody Allen joke about him applying what he learned from his mistakes in one marriage, to the next; only to find it didn’t work because it’s a completely different woman. In short Inherent Vice is a completely different woman.

It can’t be denied that Anderson accepted a challenge like no other in grabbing Pynchon’s novel by its metaphorical horns. But too some extent I think Mr. Anderson fell into the trap of being too reverent to the source material. He clearly struggled to pare the book down. This has led to some clichéd representations of characters who lack the sense of dimension they had in Pynchon’s book. Anderson has been quoted as to saying that the plot doesn’t matter, which seems to be over-simplifying things a bit. Plot has a clear function in Pynchon’s writing, it just isn’t always in the foreground of the narrative. What is in the foreground are his characters, who inhabit a world over-saturated with information, a world so chaotic and paranoid it seems impossible for them to function within it.

The performances, however, are, by and large, impeccable. Martin Short is stellar as Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd, a sex-crazed dentist wearing an ultraviolet suit who has cocaine nostrils flared wider than bell bottoms. Katherine Waterson’s portrayal of Shasta Fey Hepworth has a mysterious allure and deftness that’s nothing short of nerve-tingling and electric. Right off the bat she’s earned serious brownie points and established herself as a major leading actress.

Anderson took a serious risk in making a picture that, when you break it down, is principally dialogue driven. I appreciate what he was trying to achieve but I’m not entirely sure it worked. One of Anderson’s greatest assets as a filmmaker is his tremendous sense of mobility and his ability to tailor movement in relation to narrative. There’s a very static quality to the staging in Vice, which makes the imagery less emotionally arresting. We’re left with Pynchon’s words, which is exactly the point. In Andersons own words the film is about ‘Pynchon’.

Johnny Greenwood, of Radiohead fame, has partnered with Anderson again. The score isn’t as prominent a feature of this film as his work in There Will Be Blood or The Master. But elements of those works shine through for sure, with a bit of a more seventies’ish use of synthesizers and guitars. Think Bernard Hermann crossed with Steve Reich and you’re on the right track. David Crank’s production design is off the hook in its accuracy. You can practically smell the 1970s from the image. And it’s pungent. Which is no mean feat since I wasn’t even alive then. The cinematography is grainy, fuzzy and beautiful, courtesy of Anderson’s long-time partner in crime, Robert Elswit.

At its core there’s an unhinged authenticity to Inherent Vice, vividly captivating a specific moment in time. Overall though, flaws aside, this is a grade A pedigree pot movie filled with some golden moments of true comic genius. This is the marriage of two of the most astonishing American talents. Pynchon, without argument being a colossus of post WWII American fiction, and Anderson, the once upon a time wunderkind whose blossomed into a virtuoso, who’ll stare down the barrel of a lens fearlessly, knee deep in the trenches, sleeves rolled up, armed to the teeth fighting the good fight; a real good boy. Keep it up Anderson you talented f*cker, keep rocking and rolling.

Michael Lee

16 (See IFCO for details)
148 minutes
Inherent Vice
is released 29th January 2015

Inherent Vice – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Ben Stiller in a still from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

DIR: Ben Stiller WRI:Steve Conrad   PRO: Stuart Cornfeld, Samuel Goldwyn Jr., John Goldwyn, Ben Stiller   DOP: Stuart Dryburgh   ED: Greg Hayden   MUS: Theodore Shapiro • DES: Jeff Mann  Cast: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Patton Oswalt

 

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty marks the return of Ben Stiller as director and proves to be his most ambitious fare yet in terms of both scale and content. The film is embellished in a charmingly wry style, with a lilting melodic wonder telling a bona fide fable of a working man’s plight.

It  follows the surreal exploits Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), a lonely middle aged man who works as a negative assets manager for LIFE magazine (aka he’s in charge of photos). He’s a habitual day dreamer who has little to no life experience. He zones out into exaggerated fantasies of the actions he cant bring himself to achieve in reality, like his romantic aspirations for Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig).

When LIFE magazine has been acquired by an outside firm and have decided to only release one more print issue and downsize the firm  Walters future is placed in jeopardy, Walter is made responsible for bringing Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), the manager who’s overseeing the takeover, a mysterious negative for the cover which Walter’s been entrusted from a veteran photographer Sean O’Connell, who claims it’s his most profound work.

This, however, presents a problem for Walter as the negative department never received the negative on the roll. Placing his job under immediate threat, Walter begins to try to contact Sean. But his efforts are in vain –  Sean doesn’t have a phone or any know contact details. Walter now has to ask Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) who works in the photography department. She aids Walter in attempting to locate Sean, while more pressure is put on Walter by Ted Hendricks to bring the negative.

By tracing Sean’s bills Walter and Cheryl establish that Sean’s in Greenland, Walter sets off on a desperate quest to locate Sean and save his career. Walter goes out into the wilds of the world and tallies up a rich tab of exciting life experiences which develops him from the boring white collar workaholic he used to be and into an exciting globe-trotting adventurer.

This is a film utilizing  cinema to its fullest, the staging is perfect, the art direction and cinematography are impeccable.  The story is paper thin but none the less its charming and executed to great effect. The perfomrnce are subtle and diligently directed.

My only gripe really was some of the superhero dreams sequences at the beginning of the film were perhaps more in keeping with the type of  slapstick airhead humour Stiller exercised in Zoolander and was perhaps a little ill fitting for Walter Mitty.

Overall though it has to be said that The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is spellbinding and joyous, a merry merry go round.

Michael Lee

PG (See IFCO for details)

114  mins

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is released on 27th December 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – Official Website

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Kodak Lingers As Studios Make Deal

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Michael Lee responds to Kodak’s new deal with studios

It’s particularly interesting that in light of all the numerous advances in digital filmmaking technology that Kodak has secured the backing of six Hollywood studios, While the growing wave of producers drift away from film (mainly due to the financial constraints of shooting on film) it’s somewhat gratifying to see studios such as Walt Disney Co., 20th Century Fox,Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Paramount Pictures Corp. Sony pictures and  NBC Universal Inc. affirm their support in a legitimate deal.

This must be a more than adequate relief for Kodak, which continues to struggle through bankruptcy. The company filed it’s Plan for Reorganization and Disclosure Statement in late April with the U.S bankruptcy Court In New York. The courts are expected to begin a hearing in mid June which will ascertain the validity of the companies proposal and most certainly dictate it’s future.

The support of studios to Kodak film illustrates that at least some producers feel the format isn’t dead and bears a certain opulence distinct from any Digital equivalents. The future of Kodak is somewhat less disparaging for the present but far from secure.

Read more: http://motion.kodak.com/motion/About/The_Storyboard/4294971663/index.htm#ixzz2VLrncxUB

Michael Lee

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