Friday, 11 January 2013

Late 2012 Recap

I did have at least one review planned for last month. Honest. It was meant to be finished by mid December, then Christmas, then New Year, and then and then etc. Short story made even shorter, I was trying something new – that would have begun an article series I’d long been mulling over – and it didn’t work. I don’t want to go into any overly specific details, but the words ‘pony’ and ‘tail’ may give you a fair inkling of what could have been. One day, I’ll have it cracked. Maybe.

But until I’m hit with the necessary creative epiphany, it’s back to business (using the term loosely there) as usual. To kick off 2013 in typically belated fashion, I figured I’d do a quick write-up for those films released during 2012’s twilight months that, despite seeing, I never actually sat down to review. Starting with:

Hey, whaddaya know?! This didn’t make me hate Shia LaBeouf! How’s that for a recommendation? Okay, I suspect most will remember Lawless for its frequently bloody lashings of ultraviolence (only accentuated by the grimy prohibition era backdrop) and Gary Oldman’s seven second cameo, but the undoubted highlight IS Guy Pearce. His corrupt special agent was easily the most grotesque and hateful villain of 2012 (and that hair, eurgh). All in all, a solid dose of historically themed blood ‘n’ thunder.

OR it’s just two hours of Tom Hardy grunting. I still can’t decide.

Did anyone going into Looper really know what to expect? Actually, that’s a dumb question. Lest we forget, the trailer did a great job of showcasing the upcoming sci-fi awesomeness that would ensue once future Bruce Willis and past 3rd Rock teamed up to bring down a malevolent time travel assassination agency. But then we all sat down to watch it and... Oh right, THAT’S what it’s about.

The false advertising was understandable, however. Getting bums in seats would have been a daunting challenge otherwise, lehmme tell you. But while its alarming genre shifts weren’t for everyone, Rian Johnson’s dark and uncompromising thriller proved successful, with gorgeous visuals, violent action and all the usual timey wimey shenanigans. I’m not sure the Willis-styled makeup applied to 3rd Rock was needed, but his performance shone through and convinced totally (right down to the patented ‘Brucey Smirk’).

And Jeff Daniels was in it. To elaborate further would be counterintuitive.   

I loved the first half of Casino Royale. When, funnily enough, it got to the actual casino part, I felt it lost momentum and could never quite match the first hour’s exciting and grounded spy story. Still good though! But alas, Quantum of Solace was squeezed from the 07 - 08 Writers Strike – splatting against the porcelain bowl, before slowly sliding into the waters of depressing mediocrity below. As if it couldn’t get any worse, MGM then almost went bust. Yeah, things weren’t looking too good for MI6’s finest.

But after an agonizing four year wait... possibly the best 007 adventure since GoldenEye finally arrived. Skyfall manages the daunting task of finding that tonal sweet spot between the gritty 2006 series reboot and the Bond of old – giving the large majority of fans exactly what they wanted, not least of which was Javier Bardem’s terrifying big bad (again, the hair). Sam Mendes pushing the PG-13 / 12A rating to its limits was a nice surprise too.      

It’s no secret that Craig would rather be doing anything else (somewhat matching Bond’s reluctant return to duty here), but he’s yet to show any clear signs of character fatigue (a la post-Goldfinger Connery). Hopefully he’s up for another assignment or two.     

Did you catch Ben Wheatley’s Kill List? Its tale of two hitmen whose initially routine contract assignment takes a harrowing turn for the worse was one of the most chilling horrors in recent years. I bring it up because Wheatley’s latest film, Sightseers, showcases another descent into madness... only one that’s handled completely differently.

Nobody likes caravanning. And if they do, they’re lying. For that reason alone, the killing spree Sightseers’ everyday British couple embark on to liven up their cross-country holiday is perfectly understandable. Wheatley’s script ensures it’s nothing less than the blackest of black comedy, while Alice Lowe and Steve Oram make for two disturbingly relatable anti-protagonists.

Meanwhile, the English countryside acts as a gorgeous distraction from your rapidly deteriorating moral compass. Shot with the grace of a Sergio Leone western, Wheatley takes full advantage of the widescreen aspect ratio and captures every aesthetically pleasant detail (alongside all the stomach churning stuff). Between picturesque views of rolling hills and the sight of a man’s face smashed open against a boulder, Sightseers should work quite well overseas as a blood-soaked tourism advert.    

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Spoiler Alert: IT’S TOO LONG.

I mean... c’mon. Nice as returning to Middle Earth with all its familiar faces is, this was overkill. I admit, attending a stupidly late showing of the HFR 3D version (which looked beyond awful, by the way) may have been a mistake in hindsight, but this bastard felt every single minute of its ungodly runtime. It was almost 1am by the time Bilbo finally left the Shire! I like to think the two guys a row ahead, who walked out after thirty minutes, went home to watch Willow instead. Not a terrible idea! 

But aside from a high risk of contracting deep vein thrombosis, The Hobbit did more right than wrong. Martin Freeman was fantastic as Bilbo, it’s like Ian McKellen never took off the pointy hat, and Richard Armitage must have received extensive training in the art of brooding. The remaining dwarven company generally blends into one indistinguishable beardy mass, but Ken Stott, James Nesbitt and Graham McTavish have some particularly great moments.

And when it eventually did get going, the lighter tone of The Hobbit’s children’s book origins allowed for a number of highly imaginative set-pieces (such as the carnage that ensues in Goblin Town). It’s just a shame the long wait for this entertaining payoff will no doubt test the patience of many.

Ben Affleck is roughly two thirds jaw. That much is obvious. But despite what must be a distressing physical handicap, the man just knows how to direct moving pictures, as evidenced by Gone Baby Gone and The Town.

With Argo, he’s put together something special. A gripping story, memorable characters, perfectly judged pacing and just the right dose of injected humour comprise a triumph of good, old fashioned filmmaking that stylistically harks back to the very same decade of movies it’s set in. The cast is superb, featuring two particularly stellar turns from Alan Arkin and John Goodman, while Affleck himself continues to purge those haunting Daredevil memories. It’s hard to believe the featured assignment really happened, but it sure makes for great cinema (inevitable creative licence notwithstanding).

For me, it rivals The Grey and Dredd as last year’s overall best film. Do see.

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