March 10th, 2014
Mark Kermode – Hatchet Job
It’s obvious but still fair to say upfront that if you don’t care for Mark Kermode‘s criticism, you probably won’t enjoy this book either. The argument about the role of the professional critic in our contemporary, opinion-saturated landscape is a fine one but it could easily have been contained in a 3,000 word essay. The bulk of the book, then, comprises of anecdotes from Kermode’s life as a film reviewer. These are written in Kermode’s familiar register – you can practically taste the quiff while reading the story of his confrontation with an affronted director who wanted Kermode to repeat his criticisms to him in the flesh – and while they add a certain low-budget romance to his attempts to justify the existence of his profession, if you’re not overly fond of his vocal or follicle mannerisms then you’re unlikely to change your opinion of the man or his hairstyle.
I find Kermode to be amusingly argumentative company, the sort of reviewer I’d probably enjoy disagreeing with in the comfort of my own home, plus I’m still a sucker for stories about The Daft Romance of Writing despite myself, so this worked just fine for me.
Kermode is blessedly free of the sort of totalising mindset that leads many print-era critics to dismiss everything that’s ever been written on the internet as mere shitehouse barking, and his passages on web criticism are typically generous in spirit. This makes sense given Kermode’s enthusiastic adoption of the medium, but he even manages to say a few nice things about Amazon’s review system, which is curious given that I know that not everyone who’s selling stuff through that site has capital eye issues with this part of the bargain - Kermode flags some of the potential issues of this brave new world, but his overall take is more positive than you might expect.
That said, you’d think that a self-professed “old fashioned Trot” would have something to say about how this is part of the creeping growth of co-production as a consumer model in modern biocaptilism, but perhaps that’s an argument for another book on the same topic, one heavier on theory and lighter on quips. I’d like to read that book, but this desire for a bit more thinking was more of an afterthought than a concern that haunted my reading of the book itself
Like the question of whether online anonymity only serves to mask the great unwashed (hint: even if it was, as a member of said mob I can see the value in not always being identifiable by, for example, my employer, and it’s possible to “hide” behind a pseudonym while also providing a fixed point from which to stand by your opinions), this is the sort of objection you’d have with a friend over dinner and which would be a distant memory by the time you’d polished off your deserts.
Like I said, he’s that sort of critic.
EDITED TO ADD: At the behest of my lawyer, I would like to make it clear that I have no intention to kidnap Mr Kermode, and that the rumours that I have set up a dual purpose debate/dinner chamber in preparation of this act have been grossly exaggerated by my “friends” and neighbours.
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?
April 15th, 2013
Spring Breakers, dir. Michael Bay, 2013
You might think that it would be impossible for Bay to top his Transformers trilogy, that those merciless tributes to the twin glories of steel and flesh represented the purest distillation of his art. On the other hand, you might not think that he could get any lower than that seemingly never-ending explosion in a cliché factory.
Whichever side of the divide you found yourself on, Spring Breakers renders your opinion obsolete. This movie is Fear and Loathing to the Transformers trilogy’s hyper-modern war movie (with Florida standing in for Las Vegas just as Vietnam blurs into Iraq). It’s the Saints Row to The Dark of the Moon’s Call of Duty. The adventures of Optimus Prime and co might have fleetingly simulated what the disorienting frenzy of 21st Century warfare would look like if it was fought on American soil, but Spring Breakers is the real deal – the story of four girls fighting the war at home with nothing but day-glo bikinis and raw fantasy. 
Oh, yeah, and did I mention guns?
Because – *SPOILERS* – guns are important too.