Film #41: Inni (2011)

Directed by: Vincent Morriset
Language: Icelandic and some English
Length: 75 minutes
Watched on: 5 December

Inni is the latest offering from Sigur Rós and their second film; it was bundled recently with a 2-disc live album by the same name. Their first film was Heima, which followed them on a tour round Iceland and had interviews with the band members; this one stands in contrast to that one, as it consists of footage from one concert shot in London a few years ago, interspersed with archive footage. It’s full of arty angles, and is shot in black-and-white with effects added to it later on, apparently.

It’s certainly a good album, and the film nicely complements the album, since the tracks are mostly the same but in a different order. I particularly enjoyed a part of the film where, while the band are playing a song, various people in a crowd are spotlighted one-by-one, followed by the entire crowd scene being shown again, as if to challenge the viewer to pick out the people they’d previously spotlighted.

Their musical style is a bit different to how it is on their studio albums; there are definite organy overtones on some of the older tracks that are reminiscent of the most recent album (the one with the unwieldy title, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust), so it makes some of the tracks sound subtly different. One thing that Jónsi does a lot in the normal albums is to digitally do duets with himself – naturally, one can’t do this on stage, and he is seen several times accompanied in the duet by Kjarri, who is normally the keyboardist. I’d actually like to see this happen a bit more, to be honest. I heard that Jónsi only got the singing job because the others couldn’t sing, rather than because he could (although he most certainly can!), and Kjarri wasn’t a member back then, so I’d be interested if they might record him singing a track in the future.

But I have one major gripe with this release: nothing in it is new. They’re all tracks that we’ve heard before. Put together well, sure, but nothing new. It feels to me like they’re delaying putting out a proper album (although perhaps they have one in the making? Who knows?!). It feels like a copout from doing an actual tour – instead they can send their film around the world without getting up.

Watching the film and listening to the cheers on the soundtrack also acutely remind me that I still haven’t seen Sigur Rós in concert. I saw Jónsi do his solo act last year, but that’s not by any means the same. Perhaps I should have made more effort to try and get to their concerts when they were still touring, but they took a hiatus around 2 years ago, and I haven’t had the chance.

So it’s good, definitely, but symptomatic of the band’s intolerable reticence.

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Film #40: The Deep Blue Sea (2011)

directed by: Terence Davies
language: English
length: 98 minutes
watched on: 2 Dec

I’m not really going to bother sugar-coating it: I was bored out of my skull watching this film. It has its merits, sure, such as a great performance by Rachel Weisz in the lead role, and it has a plot that’s quite easy to follow (love triangle)… but I couldn’t find myself relating to it in any significant way and subsequently didn’t enjoy it. It’s only been a few weeks since I watched it and I’ve forgotten all the plot… So personally, I wouldn’t recommend it!

Film #39: Sexy Beast (2000)

directed by: Jonathan Glazer
language: English
length: 89 minutes
watched on: 27 Nov

Ah, one of those many films that it’s taken me far too long to get around to watching! Let’s see, Ray Winstone’s character, Gal, is the embodiment of everything disgusting about British expats in Spain, and is an ex-criminal, and Ben Kingsley’s character, Don, is a very frightening man sent to try and get him to come back to London for a job. Simple enough. Throw in a love triangle, or… some other shape, perhaps, and it’s a recipe for a good psychological thriller.

I can’t remember all the details of said love triangles. Aside from relationships with the two women by the three men, there’s some very obvious paedophilic subtext with the very young poolboy, who shares a few moments with Gal (well, it could be one-way adoration by the boy), and steaming homoeroticism between several of the adult male characters too.

It’s quite a good movie overall, but it takes a different direction from what it seemed like it was going to take for the third act, and I thought it ruined the balance of tension and threat that they’d been building up with Kingsley’s character for the first part of the film. I think in general, it was a good film, but there were bits that could have been handled better.

Film #38: 127 Hours (2010)

directed by: Danny Boyle
language: English
length: 94 minutes
watched on: 11/11/11

A daredevil goes off frolicking in the desert of Utah, gets his arm trapped under a rock, and then can’t call for help, so is trapped there for five-and-a-half days. You can tell instantly from the beginning that he’s eventually going to have to saw his arm off – I’m just quite surprised that it takes him so long to finally do it and that he didn’t do it after the first day or so. Maybe it’s the hope of rescue. Of course, it’s slightly more horrific to contemplate when one realises that it’s based on a true story… which also means I can’t exactly complain that the story is unrealistic or anything!

Anyway, it starts of with loads of optimism and energy, Danny Boyle style – sometimes I think he has too much energy for his own good – and after about 20 minutes he gets trapped, and then the entire rest of the film rests on the one actor’s performance (except for some flashbacks with the French girl from Harry Potter), and the energy from the first act comes to a grinding halt. It’s not a bad performance by any means, but I didn’t find it that great. And overall, it wasn’t the most interesting of stories to watch, even though it does become harrowing in a couple of places. And at the very end, it has one of those things that I actually rather dislike in films: manipulative use of Sigur Rós music…

Overall, maybe worth watching but I don’t think there’s a lot to it storywise, and Danny Boyle has made better films, in my opinion.

Film #37: A Scene at the Sea (1991)

aka: あの夏、いちばん静かな海。(Ano natsu, ichiban shizukana umi.)
directed by: Takeshi Kitano
language: Japanese
length: 101 minutes
watched on: 7 Nov

This film could be fairly described as “lyrical”, although I’ve long thought that that’s just a buzzword that marketers use on the back of DVD covers. The two main characters are deaf, and the guy takes up surfing on a whim, and throughout the film, he and his girlfriend (possibly) gradually make friends with the local surfer bums. And there’s a bit of light comedy thrown into the mix, often just that they haven’t heard something potentially important from another character, or that the guy originally just does not know how to surf.

As this is a film that’s mainly about two deaf characters, it doesn’t have an awful lot of dialogue in it, not even of sign language, which indicates to me that their deafness is more of a metaphor I can’t be bothered deciphering than anything else. They seem to be rather emotionless for basically the whole film; I have a long-lasting impression of them just walking along blankly with a surfboard in hand. I think there’s about one smile from them right at the end.

Gradual is a very good word to describe the thing. It’s quite interesting, but very slow… and it showcases Kitano’s diversity well. So I quite liked it overall.

Film #36: Cold Fever (1995)

aka: Á köldum klaka
director: Friðrik Þór Friðriksson
language: English, Japanese, Icelandic, German
length: 85 minutes
watched on: 6 November

I watched this film straight after the previous one, for the first time in a while. Comparatively, it’s much less dialogue-focussed, and relies more on its visual component and on lightly black comedy.

The film’s story is basically that of a Japanese man who travels to Iceland to administer funeral rites for his parents, who died in an accident some years before. It begins in Japan, highlighting the monotony of his corporate life in Tokyo, and in many ways paints the trip to Iceland as a form of great escape – most notably, it starts with a small and sepia 4:3 image when he is in Japan and expands it out to full widescreen when he travels to Iceland, with brighter colours. I found this device quite trite, especially since my attention was drawn to it quite blatantly, but I’m assured it works well in the cinema. But the essential story is that of a fish out of water. The man is clearly uncomfortable in Iceland, which is very sparsely populated and has overly friendly residents; the antithesis of busy Tokyo.

The rest of the story follows fairly standard road trip tropes. He travels in a faulty car across Iceland, picking up weird characters along the way and dropping them off ten minutes later. The most memorable of these were a pair of Americans who hold him up at gunpoint and eventually steal his car and ditch him in the middle of nowhere. We get some breathtaking shots of iconic Icelandic winter scenes. And there’s not a lot else to it, really. It’s nice to watch, certainly, but the detail of it is utterly forgettable.

Film #35: An Autumn Tale (1998)

aka: Conte d’automne
director: Éric Rohmer
language: French
length: 107 minutes
watched on: 6 November

For films that are so full of dialogue, Éric Rohmer’s works have a very simplistic quality to their plots, and I like them for that. There was something rather universal in the way this story is told, in such a way that I’m assured becomes more and more relevant as one grows older.

It’s a story of a woman who wants a relationship with a man but doesn’t do anything in particular about it (this is pretty much the perennial situation for me at the moment, which is the part that makes it the most relevant). But then her best friend and her daughter both attempt to set her up with someone. And yet the men are more interested in the other two women than in her. Light French farce ensues.

Rather slow pace with a lot of foreign language dialogue means that it can be easy to get distracted if you’re drinking and chatting at the same time as watching this film, but it gets a thumbs-up from me because I quite enjoyed the fact that it’s easy to see aspects of yourself in the characters in the story. Plus, quite aside from that, it also has very beautiful sweeping views of the south of France.

Game #14: Blocks That Matter (2011)

By: William David and Guillaume Martin
Completed on: 2 November

This cryptically-titled game is a cute little puzzle-platformer which I got through one of the Humble Bundles. Its main selling point seems to be that it combines elements of lots of other games, most notably Minecraft and Tetris, with a 2D platformer style.

I think I’m now one of the very few people who haven’t played Minecraft – I’m a little put off in case I get hooked, frankly! Or I just wouldn’t know what to do with such an open sandbox. But this game isn’t like that; you collect blocks, and then the Tetris part comes in: you can then place these blocks anywhere on the screen, as long as they’re in a tetromino/block of four at once, and you can then delete blocks from the playing field if they’re in a row of 8. You then have lots of different kinds of blocks to complicate things.

It’s definitely an enjoyable game, and the creators – who, confusingly enough, aren’t the two game programmer characters who you are sent to save – seem to have a lot of ideas for puzzles that can be done with the game, and there’s a whole set of extra puzzles that I haven’t completed yet, a lot of which are very difficult either to work out or execute.

The Blocks that Matter of the game’s title seem to be the treasure chests that you collect in order to get 100%; when you get one the game gives you a block painted with a character or block from another game. It’s basically a gallery of shoutouts – there’s Portal, Minecraft and VVVVVV, as a few examples. I was disappointed not to find Lemmings, but then I’m more obsessive about that game than most people.

I think one of the major criticisms I’d level at the game is the fact that after a while in the main game it does seem to run out of ideas, particularly for new blocks. Once you get the ability to mine away metal blocks, for instance, you’re quickly introduced to crystal blocks, which serve the same purpose, which is simply that you can’t mine them away until you are given the ability. So here I felt that a little more imagination could have quite probably come up with something better.

The other is the game’s obsession with Share buttons. If you pause, there’s a share button. Make a level, share it, etc. I don’t know what it does, and I don’t particularly like the idea of the thing posting away at my facebook account while I’m playing it. The list of user-created level is also full of social-networking tropes, such as asking you when you complete a level whether you liked it or not. This is probably a good way to weed out the chaff, but it comes across as slightly obnoxious. The list of levels is also massive, so it can be difficult to know where to start, although I’m sure there are some great ones in there and ones that difficulty-wise would put all of the original game to shame. There always is, after all.

The music is also good, incidentally, if quite quiet and downbeat, and the Humble Bundle gave me it as a download, which I quite like. The robot character that you play is cute, nuff said…

The storyline is complete duff, though, fine for a bit of amusement but just distracting from the game. It’s done through interruption by the programmer characters, which can get annoying because it’ll do it again when you have to restart a level (which will be quite often on certain levels!). They also put far too much effort into something that is clearly an author insert, and it’d have made more sense if they’d used their own names and nationalities, rather than making a fictional Swedish pair.

And one other thing that annoyed me is that it always takes you straight into the next level, rather than prompting you whether to go to it. This can keep me “trapped” for longer than I’d like sometimes.

All in all, it’s a good game, and it’s fun to play, but I’ve run out of steam with it. I might come back to it occasionally, but for now it’s just going to sit dormant on my harddrive, I think.

Film #34: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Language: English and some French
Length: 107 minutes
Watched on: 25 October

If you look back to the very first post I made on this blog, half of it is me not being very enthusiastic about this film. I’ve never been too keen on the idea of motion capture and 3D animation and would have much rather they did it in live action. So I went to see this with some trepidation. And given that I walked away from it not hating it, that can surely only be a good thing, can’t it?

Let’s start with the plot. It’s called The Secret of the Unicorn, but a more accurate title might be The Secret of Red Rackham’s Crab Treasure with the Golden Unicorn Claws, because it combines elements of the plots of (mainly) The Secret of the Unicorn and The Crab with the Golden Claws, and some parts of Red Rackham’s Treasure. And let’s just say they’re integrated confusingly. And that some parts of the storyline are pulled out of someone’s arse. Overall, it’s bloated, and in several places it is simply confusing. I’ll try to summarise it. Liberal spoilers may be ahead, by the way, in case you don’t read the header of this page.

Basically, it starts off reasonably like Unicorn, but once the plot begins to kick in, Tintin sets off on a ship, as in the beginning of the plot of Crab, and meets Captain Haddock. Because Haddock wasn’t already Tintin’s friend at the beginning of the story, the writers have already had to jump through a few hoops to get the story to be coherent: instead of learning about the Unicorn and Sir Frances Haddock from Captain Haddock, Tintin reads about them in the library, suggesting that they’re somehow famous, and that the Captain didn’t just have some old diaries stowed away in his attic. In the book all the details of the Unicorn and Sir Frances were long since forgotten – they piece together the information using Sir Frances’s portrait and the diaries that the Captain finds – but here the Captain recalls it all from memory while drunk in the desert.

What’s there of the Crab plot is rather more faithfully reproduced. The captain takes an aside after they get rescued in the desert to relay the Sir Frances story, complete with a rather impressive swashbuckling scene. It starts to fall down a bit when they reach the Moroccan port, and it turns out that the third Unicorn model is held by Omar Ben Salaad, the villain in the book, but here a much more extravagant rich man who is essentially a foil to get at the third Unicorn model MacGuffin. And then Bianca Castafiore makes an (admittedly welcome) appearance – her purpose is to sing at such a high note that the protective glass around the model will break. I had to facepalm quite a bit at this point; Hergé, to his credit, never had such ridiculous notions in his book, and the time that he did have a high note that could break glass, it was ultrasound, and produced by very expensive equipment developed by Professor Calculus (who’s unfortunately absent from the film, but that’s OK, I guess, because he hadn’t been introduced yet in the books).

Captain Haddock’s backstory, as I’ve mentioned, has changed a lot. He’s actually introduced off-the-bat as Archibald, which bothered me more than it should have, since it was a name introduced right at the end of the series, and he goes on about his bloodline and his family way more than he ever did in the books. Now, to be fair, in the books, he’s the only character with any family – there’s the aforementioned Sir Frances Haddock, his ancestor in the 17th century, and a mention of his mother in one of the first scenes where he’s introduced in the book version of Crab – but did he really have to bang on about the stories his granddaddy used to tell by the fireside? This, of course, ended up being the only way they could integrate the Sir Frances story into the film, and it felt clumsy to me.

And then there’s the plot item that probably bothered me the most, which was the identity of the villain. Not the Bird Brothers as in Unicorn, not Omar ben Salaad or Allan as in Crab, but… Ivan Sakharin? Wait, Ivan Sakharin the harmless collector who only gets involved because he happened to have a Unicorn model? Poor guy, he did nothing wrong. I can almost see why they decided to use him, or at least I hope I’m right because it would be a terrible shame indeed if he was promoted to villain just because his name is Russian. Having two villains, such as the Bird Brothers, would probably have become too complicated, I suppose. I suspect the real reason is because he bears a visual resemblance to Red Rackham, and both characters are played by Daniel Craig, just like Andy Serkis plays Captain Haddock and Sir Frances Haddock. But it was quite a major point, really, and in some ways I felt as if they could have even used an extant villain like Rastapopoulos.

Anyway, there are some cool new scenes that have been added too, like a more in-depth look at how Tintin and the Captain get off the ship, including a bit where Tintin has to somehow sneak the keys off a sleeping sailor. And then the keys turn out to be for the drinks cabinet (unlike some other adaptations of Tintin, this certainly doesn’t shy away from the Captain’s drunkenness, and there’s a bit later on where they play up the tension between the two characters until they really are bickering like a married couple over the issue). Or there’s a bit when they’re on the plane and Tintin takes a nose-dive, causing zero-G, so Snowy and the Captain start fighting over a floating blob of whisky that’s just escaped from a bottle – a scene practically taken right out of the Moon story, and one of many little bits that have been added from other stories.

But it does dip into Spielbergian action-based absurdity at times. The swashbuckling scene was pretty good, for instance, but the ships become interlocked by the masts and practically capsize each other, which I found a bit ludicrous; later, there’s a scene where a dam busts and Tintin starts riding a motorcycle across rooftops trying to run away from it. It felt too fast-paced. I know that Spielberg attributes a lot of his success to ideas that he got from Tintin, particularly in the case of things like Indiana Jones, but this felt much more like Indiana Jones than Tintin, who I’ve always seen as more mellow.

Now, as for the animation, it was… OK. Well, in fact, at times it was brilliant, particularly the set pieces, which were often majestic. The port town in Morocco springs to mind immediately, transposed to a valley where the characters could look down on it in all its glory, although it loses the very claustrophobic feel that it had in the book. Or there’s the swashbuckling scene that I mentioned already.

When it comes to animating characters, though, they’re all over the shop. To the film’s credit, it largely avoids the “Uncanny Valley” problem that’s plagued other mo-cap and 3D films in the past, at least for Tintin himself. But they can’t decide whether they want to be realistic or cartoonish, leading to the problem where you have Tintin and Sakharin, who are believable as humans, standing next to the Captain and the Thompson twins, who are frankly not; they have huge bulbous heads and noses. They’re trying too hard to copy exactly the style of the books, I think, where they do have cartoonishly large noses, but the Thompsons’ heads are rather enlarged beyond that too.

As for Snowy, he looks completely ridiculous. I think part of the problem here comes from the fact that they don’t have an equivalent of mo-cap for dogs, but Snowy, of all the characters, is the most cartoonish, and doesn’t seem to be based on any particular model. His features are quite rigid. He also doesn’t get a very big part in the movie; this is partly because in the books, all the roles he fulfilled early on, which were mainly along the lines of being a comic foil to Tintin, were usurped by the Captain upon his introduction. So Snowy feels a bit sidelined here.

The actors who play these characters are fairly alright, too. Andy Serkis in particular is a good, expressive actor when he’s using mo-cap (we know this already from Gollum, of course!), although he just had to put on a bad Scottish accent (I swear I heard intrusive R several times), didn’t he? Jamie Bell does surprisingly well as Tintin, and his accent is made pleasingly neutral. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost famously played the Thompsons, but I didn’t feel they made a distinctive enough performance, and I couldn’t tell which was played by which (is that a strength or a weakness in this case? I don’t even know!). Their part in the movie, like Snowy’s, was also comparatively small.

It all manages to come together, somehow, into something relatively pleasing, which is almost surprising. The plot is the main bit that’s all over the place; the animation and the actors are pretty OK, especially for a form of animation that I really feel has only been used to give Peter Jackson an excuse to play around with it like some kind of toy, and the problems I have with it are mostly minor.

I can’t help coming back to the plot again, though, just to finish off with. I can’t help but feel they’ve missed a trick on one or two occasions, like not having Tintin imprisoned under Marlinspike Hall and having him find the junk room. Hergé’s plots were so tight (even though I know that he didn’t plan very far ahead while writing them) and coherent that it confuses me as to why they’d mix them up so much and introduce so many ridiculous plot elements that only serve to confuse (I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface here!). It makes me wonder why they didn’t just adapt the two-parter story – Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure as one film. One possible reason is that the second part doesn’t have a present villain, as the Bird Brothers are imprisoned after the end of Unicorn. The other might be that the Captain wasn’t introduced already… but I wouldn’t have thought it would be a problem just to have him there at the start. It brings to mind the BBC Radio adaptation, in which Tintin says rather offhandedly that he had simply met the Captain inbetween the events of the consecutive episodes of The Black Island and Unicorn. I should really listen to that again; it’s been a couple of years now since the last time.

As a final word, I will say that there were some absolutely brilliant added moments in this movie. The two in particular that I’m thinking of are the opening scene, which has a cameo by an animated Hergé, and the scene where Tintin steals the plane halfway through – after being asked if he knew how to fly the plane, he answers “Don’t worry, I interviewed a pilot once!” Overall, while it suffers in places from major plot coherence issues, ridiculous and unrealistic plot points, and some questionable animation, it very much keeps the spirit of Tintin alive and for that I commend it.

TV: QI Genesis (2011)

director: Ian Lorimer
language: English
length: 59 minutes
watched on: 11 Oct

I’m sort of part of the way through the latest series of QI on Youtube, although in truth I’m waiting for it to be finished so that I can download it and watch it all at once. But I did watch this little documentary that someone had also uploaded to Youtube which takes a look behind the scenes. It was rather interesting… there were interviews with most of the regular contestants and some who have only been on once or twice. I think the most surprising thing for me was that Alan Davies apparently took about 3 years to realise that he was meant to be the foil for the other contestants, which I don’t believe that much. I think he must have been exaggerating.

There isn’t much to add about this, though. If you’re a fan of the show, yeah, might as well watch it. That’s where I stand, anyway; I watch altogether far too much QI, because I have the episodes on my hard-drive and have watched them all countless times. If you’re not a fan, yeah, don’t bother. It’s not for you!