November 25th, 2013
Iron Man 3
Dir. by Kiss Kiss, starring Bang Bang, written by the pretty drones of north america
It’s important to remember that everything that happens in this film takes place while Tony Stark is trapped in the wormhole in The Avengers. All of that talk about demons in the opening voice-over? Not metaphorical. This is the story of a man whose self has been shattered, trying to work out which shards to save and which ones to cast away. That’s why none of the characters feel real, except from Tony – they’re all figments, fragments of his essence, their nature and actions defined purely by the gaps in his form.
Having touched heaven, Our Hero sees the way back down to Earth, and realises that it’s angels and demons all the way down:
The kid represents true self love, while Pepper represents tough self love, and having embraced these twin fictions and annihilated his monstrous reflections Stark is free to imagine himself to be healed.
The movie? Oh, it’s a decent enough post-Iron Man action movie, better than the second film, probably just about as good as the first, and if you find yourself wondering how a movie that gleefully burlesques the absurdity of The War Against Terror (lol TWAT! lol foreigns! shout outs to Ben Kingsley!) can also rel on the redemptive power of drones for its ending, just watch old Droney Starks as he swans off into the sunset, wrapped in his latest and most impressive invention – a suit of armour made out of a microscopically thin layer of lies. That should tell you everything you need to know.
Much Ado About Nothing
Dir. by Captain America, starring your special friends, adapted for the screen by the reanimated head of William Shakespeare
Joss Whedon and co’s Much Ado About Nothing is a goofy, enjoyable movie that’s made just that little big bit sexier by the absence of what you might call Mouse Muscle. Don’t get me wrong, Whedon organised all of the Mouse Muscle at his disposal well in The Avengers – he even managed to keep yon blockheeded cock who plays Hawkeye out the way for the most part! - but it was always clear who and what was being serviced.
The priorities are different in Much Ado About Nothing, a luxurious indulgence in which Whedon services the script, cast and audience equally. One of those is you, and another is yours, if you want it to be, and it’s hard not to be flattered in such generous company, but let’s not act like everyone has access to the friends and production values that Whedon makes use of here because the lush setting gives lie to that notion. Whedon’s house is big, and the shadows it casts are long and dark, so by filling this setting with crisp suits and gun holsters and presenting it in black and white, Whedon successfully dresses up this screwball romance in noir clothing.
Amy Acker’s Beatrice is the main draw here, though Fran Kranz deserves props for managing to make top creeper Claudio’s sudden swings from infatuation to rage seem like the product of a genuine (if unstable) consciousness, and the duo of Tom Lenk and Nathon Fillion deliver the shaky comedy double act of Dogberry and Verges with admirably steady hands. This story is still Beatrice’s if it’s anyone’s though, and Acker plays her like someone whose “merry” manner is a tightrope, a thin line of barbed jibes from which she cannot imagine herself departing. It’s her role to poke fun at the conventions of the compound she lives in, and also to make the violence that underwrites her existence obvious, to draw it back into the foreground when she feels her cousin wronged. Alexis Denisof’s Benedict might make the transition from striking hero to total goof in record time, but note how quick he is to agree to violence when Beatrice demands it of him and try to remember that this is a movie about what spooks do on their time off.
Of course, having made it explicit that she lives in a world full of merry killers (a grand house that, like this whole project, has been made possible by the brute force of The Mouse and The Fox and other such creatures) Beatrice then allows herself to be tricked into a happy ending.
Ask yourself, in all honesty: would you do any less?
Safety Not Guaranteed
Dir. Colin Trevorrow , starring Aubrey Plaza, written by Derek Connolly
This is pretty good, America, but it still took you ninety minutes and Aubrey Plaza to achieve what Glasgow legend Limmy managed in just over two and a half minutes in his classic (#classic) “Millport” sketch, so…
I’m not saying you need to try harder America, but maybe you should, just in case.
Dir. by Richard Linklater, starring an American abroad and Julie Delpy
The vast, bruising majority of cinematic romances offer a view of their ostensible subject matter that’s reduced to the point of insult (cue Chucky D: “it’s sex for profit”), so the fact that Linklater, Delpy and Hawke have avoided this pitfall three times in a row now seems near miraculous.
Of the few movies I’ve seen in the cinema this year that weren’t fair to terrible, two of them have been directed by Richard Linklater. I’ve never considered his talky style of film making (subgenre: the nineties!) to be particularly close to my heart, but Before Midnight prompted me to re-watch its two predecessors, to rediscover the movie as part of an evolving fictional construct seems to be accruing information and complexity at pace with the world around it.
If you’ve seen either of the previous “Before…” movies you know where you’ll stand on this, but for me this is the sort of pseudo-naturalistic triumph that can only arise through masterful craft, detailing the hard part of romance over the course a series of long, thoughtfully, funny scenes – extended ruminations on the difficult part of romance, twenty years distant the ambiguous conclusion, the eventual happy ending a decade away in the rear-view mirror, all observed by the ghost of Annie Hall, which is to say by a camera that keeps its distance while holding our couple firmly in its sight.
A friend of mine has taken to bemoaning that another shared acquaintance “keeps on giving herself happy endings from classic novels then walking away from them,” cheerfully oblivious to the fact that such fictions require constant renewal due to the damage they take from rubbing up against that reality. It’s good to have a stories that echo that realisation as you drift fecklessly from decade to decade, trying to see yourself and the people you love whole, knowing that you can only ever catch brief glimpses of the whole story…
Dir. by Richard Linklater, starring Jack Black and a cast of a
thousand dozen curious Texans
Linklater’s other 2013 UK release, is an uncannily easy-to-watch depiction of a real life murder case that effortlessly integrates casual snark from actual Texans with a Jack Black performance of refined inscrutability. I’d call it an unexpected pleasure if the questions it raises about the nature of American justice weren’t so fucking haunting.
Black still manages to fit his weird flapping limbs/unmoving centre dance moves in without breaking character, so… we’ll always have that, is what I’m saying. [MICHAEL CAIN OSCAR VOICE] No matter how horrific the world is, we’ll always have that… [/MICHAEL CAIN OSCAR VOICE]
World War Z
Dir. by some guy, adapted from another story entirely, starring a man who has been denied his ideal career as a brilliant comedy idiot by his own startling good looks
Look, I couldn’t be arsed to finish the book so I can’t complain about the process of adaptation with a straight face, China Mieville has already “done” the political reading in the minimum possible space, and I can’t imagine myself finding something interesting to say about Brad Pitt’s globe-hopping investigation into how the same monsters look in various different weather conditions. All that’s left for me to do is to talk about the one reason that anyone in Glasgow went to see the movie: George Square!!!!
If you live in New York or LA or That London then you’ll probably find all of those exclamation marks tragically provincial, but try to understand that it’s still a novelty for me to see my home town on the screen. Cloud Atlas? A bloated, unappealing movie, but I enjoyed seeing Glasgow Uni stand in for Cambridge and Glasgow City Centre for Philadelphia all the same.
Even better than the strange displacement of seeing familiar locations shifted into unfamiliar (i.e. false) contexts is the strange sensation that comes from seeing an explicitly false portrait of these locastions themselves. Alas, no such portrait is provided by World War Z itself (apparently “drizzle” wasn’t one of the weather conditions they wanted to inflict on their rolling zombie special effect here), but my favourite example can be found in the 2005 Jet Li vehicle Unleashed (aka Danny the Dog).
Unleashed is both set and filmed in Glasgow, but the Glasgow it presents is different from the city I live in. I’d guess that the uncanny geography of this phantom city is common to most cinematic representations of real spaces, but I still enjoy seeing people walk past the School of Art, round the corner, and straight into the East of the city – again, novelty is obviously a big part of this experience for me. More than that though, more even than the massive underground fight clubs (perhaps they exist; let us assume that I have just never been invited), I enjoy the fact that this version of Glasgow seems to be populated almost entirely by cockneys, Americans, Eurobaddies and Jet Li. There’s a sublime surrealism to this version of Glasgow, free as it is from Scottish attitudes and accents; it’s almost like someone’s recreated the entire place from reference photographs, with no real experience of the city.
A moment to savour: Morgan Freeman takes Jet Li into what he promises is “the best supermarket in Glasgow”. It turns out to be a Spar, but Freeman presses on, imploring Li to feel how ripe the fruit is, both of them gamely hoping that this is more than a travesty of life as it is actually lived.
As if all that’s not enough, Bob Hoskins is in the movie too, so the moral of the story is that if you were thinking of watching World War Z you should skip it and put on pretty much anything else instead.
The Great Gatsby
Dir. by Romeo, starring Juliet, Spider-Man, some other guy, etc, adapted for the screen by Watch The Throne
Despite all the pre-match hype, this literary adaptation is too bound to the schematic thematics of the book to truly dazzle. Baz Lurhman and his crew throw plenty of glitter at the screen, but as the film crashes into its ending and sends the moral into the air it only ends up proving that a bath bomb without fizz is a terrible thing.
It’s a shame, because there are fleeting moments of true dissonance, moments where the contemporary soundtrack truly starts to kick, where African American characters manage to catch the camera’s eye – these sections suggest a far bolder movie, an investigation of America’s attitude towards millionaires who would have most likely been tried for their own murder before they came into money, a less respectful reworking of the themes of Fitzgerald’s novel, a treatise on the alchemical powers of money, on the limits of this alchemy, and on that most common of Achilles heels, loooooove.
Then again, as Tessa Strain pointed out in a twitter postscript to her review that I can’t find so might have imagined, this version of the movie does feature a reaction shot from a dog, so it’s not entirely useless.
Man of Steel
Dir. by Watchmen, written by Batman/Superman, starring Argo Phantoms at a cinema near you in the year of total synergy
Back in 1978 the big pitch was that you would believe a man could fly. In 2013, carnage is the main selling point. Make no mistake, the city-levelling violence of the movie’s final act is the entire purpose for the movie. Everything else that happens, from Russell Crow’s adventures on a space balrog to Kevin Costner’s enthusiasm for death and dead children, is all part of an unnecessarily convoluted attempt to justify the carefully rendered destruction that follows.
I’d like to pretend that Man of Steel’s flaws add up to provide yet another convoluted commentary on the rhetoric used to justify Western military action, but not even I’m that desperate to seem clever. I love a good accidental metaphor as much as the next man, but if I’m honest I’d lost interest in this movie long before the first skyscraper started to fall.