Archive for the ‘Bi-Polar Reviews’ Category

Bi Polar Reviews: Shutter Island

March 18, 2010


There’s certainly a purpose to all this madness—though to discuss how the film achieves this would be giving the game away. Rest assured dear reader, there are no spoilers in this review.

This week’s Bi-Polar Review: Shutter Island

shutter island

Martin Scorsese is from the New Hollywood school of thought. A title given to aspiring directors in the sixties and seventies; the generation of “movie brats” who had grown up with the cinema, studied the visual image and begun breaking down the studio contrivances in a (then) predominantly conservative industry. A self confessed film nerd, able to pluck inspiration from films ranging from Italian neo-realism to (in Shutter Islands case) concrete Hitchcock thrillers. Scorsese’s films have always played homage to films of past, but have also been coupled with his trademark stamp of death and onanism.


Scorsese’s latest effort Shutter Island is no different, offering a structured gothic noir exhumed from a more than capable novelist. Mr. Lehane’s work is merely a framework with which Scorsese could etch, sculpt and mould from a lifetime as a movie admirer and decades as an esteemed director and auteur.

No surprises who takes the lead this time round. Leonardo DiCaprio, collaborates with Scorsese for the third successive time. Bringing with him that understated Bostonian drawl in the shape of U.S. marshal Teddy Daniels, summoned to the Island after a patient mysteriously disappears in Jonathon Creek fashion. As DiCaprio and his partner (a suitably restrained Mark Ruffalo) make inquiries of the patients and staff, they’re flummoxed by the seemingly implausible escape of a woman evaporating from a secure cell with around the clock surveillance, and second by how a patient could leave an island that makes Alcatraz look like the Isle of Wight. All theories point to Sir Ben of Kingsley, both Jekyll and Hyde of the hospital, a shrink who treats the prisoners as patients rather than criminals, but seems to be hiding something from poor Teddy. For his part, DiCaprio brings his own share of personal baggage: Still plagued by harrowing visions of Dachau, and his wife’s death in an apartment fire.


What starts off as crime procedural slowly transforms into psychological thriller, as more torrid conclusions arrive, the pressure and claustrophobic atmosphere gradually start to eat away at Daniels’ nerves. Scorsese relishes in his protagonists nightmarish dream sequences and flashbacks that engulf his situation while heavily clouding his judgment. Shutter Island may initially seem like a nervy genre piece à la Cape Fear, but I would contend it lends itself more to a Hitchcockian tale, a carnival show where it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between the troubled and troublesome. Imagine walking into your neighbour’s house after there has been a less than cosy confrontation. You are unsure as to why the atmosphere in the room is so bloody tense, but if you had any sense – you wouldn’t bother asking.


Teddy’s problems are never too much for Scorsese and DiCaprio to handle, who in their third collaboration in a row have developed a definite rhythm that is evident in every scene. It is almost effortless how Teddy’s anxieties begin to creep into our own, the director makes the most of this, by choosing claustrophobic close ups, moving the camera in a little too close for comfort so we can see and more poignantly feel the characters every last nuance. All in all, it won’t be a beloved film to most, inspiring more dissertations and smug berets than popcorn fanatics and box office receipts. While this may not bring many happy faces around conference tables in Hollywood, they should take comfort in the fact that Shutter Island has not only a clear sense of self and purpose, but demonstrates a director (and production team for that matter) on the top of their game. Put simply, this is Scorsese at its best and noir at its darkest.


Part Two

If Shutter Island were a blog it would be a page dedicated to 9/11 ‘truthers’, awash with theories on Bush speeches and Dan Brown numerology, tales of secret establishments and handshakes. The kind of site that hosts stock gifs and secondary colour schemes – all-caps and Bill Hicks prophecies. Don’t trust The Man yeah?


As soon as US marshal Teddy Daniels steps onto the docks of Shutter Island. We’re thrown into a world of storms, loonies, liquids, Sir Ben Kingsley and surprisingly lucid dreams. Oh yeah, there’s a musical score that would make the Queen Mary blush. Conspiracies arise in droves as a Nazi, a murderer, and some diabolical experiments are thrown into the mix – add a touch of British weather for good measure and you have yourselves one confused looking Teddy.


Teddy’s running out of time, and for a while we don’t know exactly why. Once we do, Scorsese sets about wrapping things up a bit too fast, like a lecturer who spends two hours talking about student indulgence and apathy before realising he has ten minutes left to actually get to the point. This tendency to overindulge in Teddy’s mind state leaves us lingering in the mind of a clearly confused protagonist cocooned in his own anxieties and as such – confused and cocooned ourselves.


At this point you are not quite sure whether it is you or Scorsese who are beginning to lose their marbles. Has DiCaprio stepped into a nightmarish noir thriller or a Scooby Doo episode? He’s not sure, we’re not sure, but Scorsese, the ever present conductor, quickly prepares for the next act – audience, I present to you – some rats!


Running in at just under two and a half hours, there is a lot of food for thought for what is essentially a revitalised gothic B-movie. The narrative and pacing is completely at odds with the director’s presentation; disproportionate handling of both the technique and homage’s to the works of Hitchcock and Kubrick. When the secrets of Shutter Island are finally presented to the audience in such quick succession – you are with little time to digest. Imagine Paula Radcliffe running the first three legs of a 4×100 relay, she plods along in earnest bounds, gracious and dignified, while others piss past her (sorry, couldn’t resist). She isn’t going to be drawn into the sprint; she’s in it for the long haul after all. It’s taken two hours to get three hundred metres but she enjoyed the journey and for the most part, it was nice seeing her get through it. But wait, who is this on the horizon?


‘Take ya Tena Lady Radders, Usain got this!’


Bi Polar Reviews: Ninja Assassin

January 26, 2010


Long overdue and suffering from the recession (damn you Cyclops). I present the revitalised Bi-Polar Reviews for 2010. I say revitalised, basically part one and two will be posted together. I’ve had thousands of emails asking how to use that elusive left click. Pingbacks are our bread and butter after all. So I thought i’d save you the trouble and put one and two in a post.

If you missed how this works. Part One good, Part Two bad. Its early years as the Manic Depressive reviews didn’t catch on for some reason.

This week we have Ninja Assassin. Here is Part One.


Ninja Assassin is the latest offering from James McTeigue. You know, the man who directed V for Vendetta. Still nothing? I only say this because in the advertising spots he has become the creator of The Matrix trilogy. They said that for V for Vendetta and they are pitching it again with Ninja Assassin. Marketing this as a film by the creators of the Matrix trilogy implies the Wachowski’s are in control of said project. Quick question, what is more appealing:

The man who directed V for Vendetta?
The duo who directed the Matrix and inexorably fudged the next two?


Ergo, they sucked. So why taint a promising sequence director with a good eye for the fantabulous?

So, plot…we’ll get to that in the second half. Let focus on where Ninja Assassin excels, those fight sequences. If you were going to be honest with yourself, you didn’t pay to see a film titled Ninja Assassin for its eloquence. A blade in the gizzards, put simply, says more than words ever could.


Put a knife on a chain in any movie and I think you’ll find an audience. Add some throwing stars into the mix and you got yourself Citizen Kane minus a sledge. This is an unashamed B movie, looking at it from any other angle will leave you squirming for its 99 minutes. Watching the film with this in mind and I promise, you will have an enjoyable time. Killing is this films business, and business is certainly thriving. If you think of blood as its plot, this is the War and Peace we have been waiting for. All in all, you should have a bloody good time (sorry).

Ninja Gaiden The Movie, the film you have all been waiting for.

“Looks like another empty room”
Bam, ninja!


Part Two

So there’s these assassinations occurring but nobody knows whose doing it. This one Interpol agent gets the idea that it might be ninja’s. But nobody believes her because there’s no such thing as ninja’s. Except there is such a thing as ninja’s and now the ninja’s want to kill her. So she teams up with the good ninja, played by Korean pop sensation Rain, who helps her seek revenge on the evil ninja’s, who happen to be his former clan. There’s some pretty nifty fight scenes along the way, and that wispy CGI that makes everything appear slightly supernatural. It also has its fair share of ninja blood. Ultimately, whether or not you will like it will largely depend on how fond of ninja’s you are to begin with.

The End



Oh. Did you ever notice how ninja’s get less powerful the more of them you put together? One ninja is usually this unstoppable force, their always the baddest ass in the room, secret weapon, secret style, secret hat. But put more than three of them in a room together and they suddenly get performance anxiety. Rule of thumb, if a movie has an army of ninjas, then you can be pretty sure our protagonist is going to breeze through them like [insert loathed chubby] and a hammock of profiteroles. Now since there is not a ninja cliché that Ninja Assassin doesn’t indulge in, you can bet that this one made it into the final edit.


On the one hand part of me loves seeing cheesy martial arts clichés like this still kicking around. On the other hand they lose a lot of their charm when the authenticity is completely removed. When Bruce or Jackie flicked, twisted, kicked and screamed we had a static camera and the proof of physical exertion. Ninja Assassin simply looks too expensive for its own good. Believe me when I say I am not trying to sound like a Chinese proverb, but most of the films strengths are also its biggest weaknesses. From the cool, stoic delivery of our protagonist Raizo, to the legend that is Sho Kosugi and his earnest recital of every ninja villain stock line in the book. Both are acceptable traits within this genre, but could quite easily grunt throughout the movie and provide more weight to their roles.


Speaking of stock lines, let’s see how many pretentious critical clichés I can fit into one paragraph. Story formulaic, the dialogue wooden, almost Ikea (slot ninja B into ninja B), acting woeful, even for a movie with the word ninja in the title. I would say that the film appeared to work on several levels without actually addressing six of them. Some have suggested 36, but The Abbott has been slipping recently so we forgive him for that last effort.



Bi-Pixel Reviews: Modern Warfare 2 – Part Two

November 18, 2009

Here is part two of the Bi-Pixel reviews. If you missed part one, click here.

Before we begin, I have tried my utmost to avoid spoilers. What appear as vague, sporadic statements are actually beautifully surmised acumen to help you, the eager reader. That and poor writing.


“Hello narrative, how are you today?”
“I’m good thanks, how you been keeping?”
“Sorry, I can’t answer that.”
“Okay, how’s plot doing these days? The one I keep hearing about?”

This year’s summer blockbuster has been repackaged in the form of a video game. Modern Warfare 2 arrived last week under some heavy scrutiny brought on by its Arnie credentials and children’s attire. So what does one make of this spectacle? Let us begin.


The game is not trying to portray a docudrama so I will forgive the ludicrousness; we are in it for the thrill, not the accuracy. The problem is when it you are able to fully comprehend it, it’s fully preposterous. The characters are just too flat and often indistinguishable. As a narrative, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 does not measure up to the best video games, including its predecessor. That is not to say that the original Modern Warfare was in any way realistic, rather, a plausible logical progression of real world military events that we have seen, read, heard or even actively participated in.


Modern Warfare 2 seems to revel in its multiple protagonists to the point of self-parody – switching between the characters quicker than a Kyle moral stance. Four different characters get at least one full level a piece and for me that became a problem. Due to the small amount of time I had to spend in each character’s shoes, it diminished the impact of the events that take place around each character. When John Smith takes that inevitable bullet, John Smythe steps in to fill those unassuming shoes.

Remember the ‘holy shit’ moments from the original? Well, the good guys at Infinity Ward have taken that set piece and ran with it for 5 or so hours; one jaw dropping moment follows the next. The problem with the Schwarzeneggisms is that they lose their bite after a while, the game tries so hard to flummox the player that at times it feels like you are in an episode of 24 (season six, I would be okay with the Bauer 1.0). For a game that tries to stir such a vitriolic response through these set pieces it me left wondering why the game tries to place the character so specifically within their environment. Why was it that Soap in Durkastan feels more believable than Roach Sanderson in Afghanistan?


That ambiguity of the previous instalment left the player to fill in the blanks. Unfortunately, this time round we haven’t developed the capacity for analogy. The script seems as if it were written by a 9/11 conspirator. The game over screens that recite ambiguous smuggery from Voltaire and Gandhi are now coupled with quotes from progressive forward thinkers like Rumsfeld and Cheney. The morality of conflict underpins the narrative of the franchise, I accept this, but what is more concerning is how Modern Warfare 2 revels in sheer delight at the despicable atrocities on screen. The game’s power lies in its perverse achievement – you actually feel bad for playing it. Take for example that controversial incident. The game slows down to absolute zero, while you walk through taking in the ‘scenery’. Infinity Ward should have put signs up around the terminals at this point.

“Look what you are doing!”
“Yes we designed it, but you are playing it, yes you……David!”


I know i’ve defended the right for this particular scene, having not experienced it within a narrative context. Having now digested the scene within its context, I can safely say that it offered nothing to the flow of the game. It occurs far too early to hold any weight, we don’t know the character at this point and have only just dipped our toes into the plot when the onslaught proceeds. If it had come at a later stage of the game, when some emotional attachment (okay a bit far stretched) had been cemented, I would be the first celebrate. After all, the industry has had its fair share of critics since the first pixels blipped. A scene like this only supplies ample resources to the snobs who sneer, while divulging in subtitled, silent snuff films. I guess my main gripe with the single player campaign is that it feels like it has something to say about our political climate, it tries to shock and heckle, but it essentially hands you firecrackers for 5 hours then highlights what a bastard you are for using them. I must admit though, when done right those bangs are mighty impressive.



Bi-Pixel Reviews: Modern Warfare 2 – Part One

November 11, 2009

After a year of hype, a dubious mark up and tabloid controversy Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 finally arrived on shelves. You know the drill, part one good, part two bad. Here is part one of Bi-Polar Reviews, which I shall now refer to as Bi-Pixel reviews…See what we did there??

Yeah I know we could…a lot better.


The new Modern Warfare is not so much a reinvention of the automatic, but rather, a refined scope to a more than substantial arsenal. As the tired saying goes, it’s the little things that make the difference. If you’ve played a significant amount of the first Modern Warfare, the game will feel dramatically different even though the core is essentially the same. For the developers Infinity Ward, this was a considered choice rather than simple economy. Why change a structure that many rivals have struggled to emulate?


Online gaming shaped the franchise, so understandably, it is this aspect of the game that has been given the biggest revamp. A lot of these changes come via expansions upon the perks concept that became a stable for the original game and a tablet for subsequent multiplayer games. The system of class creation has been expanded in spots and heavily reworked in others. Perks that got a lot of complaints in COD4, like Martyrdom and Juggernaut have been rebranded. The infamous Martyrdom is now a “deathstreak” bonus. If you die four times in a row without killing anyone, your next spawn will give you one instance of Martyrdom. This may not sound like much, but these minor adjustments will enable the gamer to have a more fluid experience – one not buried under several clouds of debris. Juggernaut is gone completely, but arrives in small doses in the shape of Painkiller, another deathstreak perk that will give you triple health if you die three times in a row, a bonus that will only last for ten seconds after spawning. Before I begin to sound like a reclusive Warcraft tactician (Leeeroy!), I will simply say that the new multiplayer experience is a streamlined affair that doesn’t lose the feel of the developers previous release in the process.

mw2 pic

The new mode, Spec Ops is a welcomed addition. A series of two player missions, built using chunks of the environment from the single player campaign – help bolster up replay value for the game. There are 23 missions that cover a lot of ground, from stealth missions that require you to snipe from one end of the map to another, to more grandiose battles that pit you against hordes of enemy troops in contrasting environments. All require a level of patience, strategy and skill. However, the ability to revive your fallen soldier makes the mode not nearly as taxing as it might sound.


Then of course there is the single player campaign. Modern Warfare 2 picks up five years after Call of Duty 4 and deals with a conflict between Russia and America. The game is around 5-7 hours long on default depending on your skill level. It’s a tightly packed adventure full of elaborate set pieces and an overwhelming sound board. Missions range from the stealthy, to the vehicley to the ‘oh my god I just stabbed him in the face!’


I’m deliberately talking around the story, but it is safe to say that like its predecessor, the campaign jumps between multiple perspectives. One minute you may be a grunt trudging through a decayed landscape of Afghanistan, and the next you will be member of Task Force 141, working an undercover operation that puts you into that pretty uncomfortable situation you’ve been hearing a lot about recently. The story feels like it’s been given the Bruce Willis stamp of approval. The events of the previous game felt plausible if a bit on the silly side, Modern Warfare 2 on the other hand aims to keep chins on the floor, and then work around that awe.

Modern Warfare subscribes to the more and better theories of sequel design. If you have played the original, a lot of it will feel familiar (possible like this sentence), but you are still in for good value for that hard earned stirling. If you haven’t played the series before, bad guy kills good guy, good guys kill bad guys friend, bad guy kills good guys friend, good guy kills bad guy – the end.



Bi-Polar Reviews: Zombieland II

October 21, 2009


Horror and comedy have closer ties than many would believe. Raimi’s video nasties understood that the two visceral genres could compliment each other perfectly if used correctly. Raimi’s infamous Evil Dead series received polarised responses from audiences because of the juxtaposition from two supposedly opposing genre forms. Some people just don’t know when to laugh or cry. One persons comedy is another persons Schindler. Looking at Shaun of the Dead, American Psycho and An American Werewolf in London you can begin to see why these films have developed such intense cult followings while at the same time completely alienating other audiences.


Zombieland attempts to cater for both sides of the fence, but in doing so fails to address either genre convincingly. If this is America’s answer to Shaun of the Dead (and I am not the first nor last to make this comparison) then it says more about quality control of two industries with vastly differing pay packets than successes within the sub-genre. Whereas the latter juxtaposed hilarious action with a grim, washed-out physical atmosphere for comedic effect, Zombieland’s camera work is too crisp, to shiny, it simply lacks the flavour that came with the zom-rom-com cult classic.


As everything that happens in the film follows the lead character’s rules for survival to the letter, there are no surprises. Columbus seems to know everything in advance. The writing gets caught up in its own intertextual analysis and self-reference that it doesnt begin to address the gaping flaws in the narrative. The zombies never come close to turning the tables on our heroes; thus killing any tension there might be. Even with the odd’s completely stacked against them, their lives are never really in any danger. The self-conscious humour and guitar laden soundtrack reiterate this further.


Moving onto a deserted highway strewn with the detritus of the old world that once existed, our main character Columbus runs into the deranged Tallahassee (the characters are named after the place they come from). Woody Harrelson’s character Tallahassee embodies what the movie is and hopes to be, masculine, coolly stylised and charming, but a bit on the slow side. In the advertising campaign for this movie, Woody is the selling point, portrayed as the post-modern cowboy Snake Plissken. On paper and synopsis’ this is quite funny and sounds like it could work well. On film however, it comes across a little too patronising. For example Tallahassee’s catch phrase “time to nut up or shut up,” is repeated over and over with patronising efficiency.


If i’ve said “patronising” more than once, it’s because it underpins every aspect of the film. If you didn’t feel that way, you may very well be this movie’s intended target audience in the new era of zombie fanboy. A teenager with a short attention span and a thirst for twinkie advertisements and ironic pop culture references. Keep the humour current and at least some will find it funny. The problem with that angle, is that a year down the line the film will offer little more than a snippet into the year previous.

Good Cameo though.

the end


Bi-Polar Reviews: Zombieland I

October 16, 2009

Quick point before we start.

If someone comes up to you and wants to tell you what the best thing in Zombieland is. Knock them the fudge out! You do not want the best thing in Zombieland spoiled for you, trust me.


At some point over the last decade zombies joined ninjas, pirates, robots and monkeys in the pantheon of one time film and video-game fodder turned full time nerd fixations. Coupled with the revival and movie interest, this spawned a thriving industry of in-joke books and websites dedicated to collating every cliché of zombie survival for easy laughs. Following on from Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland is next to have a good look at the sub-sub genre through a Wes Craven lens. The film follows four human survivors as they wander the requisite zombie landscape having post-modern discussions about zombie survival rules. There are many theories as to why zombies are so popular now, typically grounded in the ‘innate fascination with death’ hypothesis that needed a new home now that vampires have become exclusive objects of fetish for sexually frustrated novelists.


I think I have a better take on the popularity. Put simply, I think we love Zombies because we hate each other. Just think of all the people everyday who annoy you, bother you, get in your way or just generally exist . We all occasionally feel like were alone among a hoard of hostel, human-shaped ghouls. And so we all have, or at least have the capacity to have that private dark fantasy of grabbing the nearest blunt object and fighting back against the armies of humanity.

But since most of us are sane enough to rely on fiction to satiate these urges, were always on the lookout for humans who are universally despised. So much so, that slaughtering them is fair game. The Brits are top of the list (I cannot see why, the reprehensible oaths!), closely followed by the Nazi’s. But both of those enemies limit you in terms of scope and setting.


Zombies however, are perfect for any scenario. Zombies are just random people on the street under Robert Smith make up that identifies them as okay to kill. It is no accident that the greatest of all zombie movies takes place in a shopping centre.

Essentially the zombie genre is about individualist empowerment. The individual in Zombieland is one Jessie Eisenberg (see I was getting there), a self sufficient Über-nerd who never got on with humanity to begin with and is thus psychologically equipped for zombie survival. Jessie hooks up with Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin. The plan is to head to a supposedly zombie-proof amusement park on the west coast. Along the way, friends are forged, sardonic jokes are made and zombie clichés discussed. The film hits its stride in the second half, with a surprising cameo (which shall not be spoiled) being a particular highlight. The cast has a relaxed chemistry and seem to be having fun. Of the performances it is Abigail Breslin who steals the show; her natural timing is impeccable. With Signs, Little Miss Sunshine and now Zombieland under her belt, Breslin is easily one of the most promising actresses to have graced our screens in quite some time.


If your guessing that everything comes down to a big climactic battle during which manhood is attained and the killing gets oh so inventive– blue peter badge for you! It may sound strange, but this is the kind of movie that I almost feel guilty about liking as much as I do. I should be sick to death of the zombie genre and survival jokes that were perfected by Wright and Pegg. But there is no denying that Zombieland works, like a bad joke that you can’t stop laughing at. Take for example, Woodie’s character, you already know that at some point in the last act he’s going to say some variation of.

“Just go…..I got this”

And march off on a suicide run of such immense improbability, it would make Douglas blush. Yet, when it happened I found myself to engrossed to care. Go Woody!


ps. You still can’t jump though…


Bi-Polar Reviews: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince II

August 15, 2009

Part Two of the Harry Potter Reviews, courtesy of the Fold.

So…Harry Potter number six. First and foremost I will accept that adapting the colossal, latter Harry Potter books was always going to be a tough task. What does one keep? What can be left out? Until now, I would say the movies have for the most part made successful choices when disregarding the odd Hogwarts class, Quidditch matches and so on. It is true that the fanboy will always be disappointed no matter what hits the cutting room floor.


I must state that I am not a particularly avid fan of the series. Yes, I have enjoyed the books, but do not consider it heresy to remove a plot point here and there. The problem I have with Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is that plot holes run throughout the movie, leaving it nothing more than a subdued attempt at an adolescent rom-com with wands and beards. It is not that the text has been diluted that affects the flow of the fantasy. It is that Kloves expects the viewer to have already read the books, then leaves them to fill in the blanks along the way. This leaves Harry in a bit of a predicament, as fans and cinefiles alike, are left alienated by a narrative which seeks to expel (see what I did there…sorry) them from the fantasy. Is this a film targeted at the readers of the series or a film that seeks to attract new audiences into a summer blockbuster? I’m not quite sure if Half Blood Prince truly knows where it wants to be.

Okay, enough of the who’s and whys, get to the how.
Certainly imaginary reader!


Little ikkle Potter has now become Mr Potter since we last left him, and the girls are starting to notice too. There’s certainly something about Harry. From the opening shot of Harry in the café, we can clearly see that Mr. Potter has become something of a ladies man. In fact, everybody appears to be afflicted by the love potion. Rupert Grint’s Ron has returned to pull a face, and a lady friend or two. In contrast, Hermione and Ginny serve as fodder for the boys frolics. Appearing on screen only to whine and chirp, blush and frown. Hermione was the strong, wise female protagonist in previous films. Here she offers little more than grunts and snarls at her rivals. However, Ginny in particular, is so unobtrusive on screen, I find it hard to believe how or why The Chosen One is so besotted with her. Maybe she reminds him of Ron.


What served as a subplot within the book, becomes the focal point for the flick. This is clearly teenage angst in a twilight era. It could easily be Hollyoaks with brooms, Grange Hill with robes and [insert show] with [magical implement]…you get the picture.

The film could have focused its intentions on other matters, more poignantly, Harry and Dumbledore – given the the importance of the ending. Speaking of the ending, it’s a wonder how the climax is so, well…anti-climactic. Rowling’s depiction of said event is the perfect set-piece in written form, it’s a wonder how the director was unable to portray such a cinematic gift in such ambivalent fashion.

harry n albus

I get that this film is supposed to act as a transitional film to the big finale, but the run time is noticed fairly early on. The pacing of the movie give the appearance not of a six hundred plus book packed into two and a half hours, but of a ninety minute story dragged out for an hour too long. But what I can’t seem to get my head around is how a film that feels so long, manages to say so very little.


Bi-Polar Reviews: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince I

August 14, 2009

Apologies for the absence people. I’ve been off the wireless for a week now. Its good to be back, with new improved fibre-optics!

Here is part one of the Harry Potter Bi Polar Review.


It’s a real shame that I could never give a film featuring Harry Potter the status of a perfect film. Each fable relies so heavily on those that came before or after that one can never be a finite piece of work. Sure, the three-act structure can be utilised, but without the background info, the knowledge that more will be coming, watching a middle installment alone will leave you confused and disorientated if your haven’t followed the Potter Doctrine.


The reason I bring this up is because Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is good enough to warrant this appraisal, and goes at lengths to try and establish itself as one of, if not, the best of the Potter flicks. The tone is perfect, the jokes are many and the look is ebony black. How could this be the same director that brought us that lacklustre Order of the Phoenix a few years back? I certainly think the cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel may have had a hand in the success of films visual maturity. With countless well crafted shots of the maturing cast for an audience growing up alongside the franchise.

now and then

The sixth installment of the series sees Harry working with Dumbledore to unlock a key secret about Voldemort. To do this, Harry must befriend the newest member of the Hogwarts staff, one Professor Slughorn (played with aplomb by Jim Broadbent). What interested me most about the way this played out on screen, was the subtle similarities presented between Harry and Tom Riddle. Dumbledore actively encourages Harry to act more like his binary opposite in order to defeat him, thus reminding the audience of ideas first posited in the 2nd film and book. The sub-plots surrounding this are delightful. Quidditch has never been shot so well and Hogwarts has never looked more magic. The underbody of film revolves around Harry’s pursuit of Ginny and the love triangle between Lavender, Hermione and Ron.

the three

As for the performances, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are solid as usual. One particular scene of note, is Radcliffe demonstrating his comedic sensibilities after taking the luck elixir. It is the supporting roles however, that deserve notice. Helena Bonham Carter will scare your children, so props to her, and Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore will woo even the most stringent of Richard Harris fans. However, it is the arrival of Jim Broadbent as Professor Slughorn who steals the show. Broadbent is known for his many comic roles and his bewildered, jellied expressions are utilised to great effect here. A blowhard and man with many “friends”, his jubilant smile and need to collect powerful and famous wizards for his Slug Club are ever-present, bringing some levity as well as effectively hiding the dark secret that drives the plot forward.


All in all, while we see Harry Potter is growing up, so to is the market for these movies. If you’ve seen all the movies up until now or read all the books, and your are at an age to appreciate the adult themes and movie techniques, this movie should fall pitch-perfect on your ear. You are likely to leave the cinema filled with a heart-wrenching sadness for innocence lost lest you have trouble in separating film from text. It is worth noting that while there have been many criticisms in recent weeks over the liberal use of the source material, specifically the dramatic conclusion of Half Blood – this should not dissuade audiences from viewing the film. Adaptations are fickle things in the mind of a reader. After all, what can compete with the minds own interpretation? The films and books are separate entities and should be approached with this in mind. Many audiences cannot and would not sit through an accurate 6 hour faithful adaption, so changes were made and pensieves were tucked in the cupboard. If die hard Potheads are willing to overlook a change or two in aide of narrative progression and editing economy – then a good solid family film awaits them. If not, then grow up, your 27 for goodness sake!


Bi-Polar Reviews: Public Enemies II

July 23, 2009

Sequels rarely live up to expectation, with this in mind we present part two.

Did you miss the first half? i suggest you click.

If you are like me, a fan of Michael Mann, while watching Public Enemies you will get the sense that you have seen an awful lot of this before. One man, one goal, one way etc etc. The subject of Mann’s new film is the pursuit of one John Dillinger and his subsequent pursuit of stardom. As Dillinger’s reputation increases, Mr Hoover’s impatience escalates. Cue Melvin Purviss, humourless, calculated and utterly determined to catch his man.

Bale N Depp

The players behind this film attract such great expectations. It’s Bale. It’s Depp. It’s Mann. It is these high expectations of the picture, that ultimately result in it’s undoing.

The film that has been marketed as a biopic, should be presented to the audience as such. Where Public Enemies fails is in its presentation of Dillinger. We are supposed to empathise with the main protagonist. Yet the ambivalent, cool demeanour of Dillinger presented on screen, distances the character from the viewer on an emotional level. If you didn’t know about John Dillinger before entering the cinema, you certainly won’t know a whole lot more walking out. The film feels like a footnote to an intricate story, settling on the cat and mouse game between Dillinger and Purviss.

C n M

This cat and mouse game is however, projected to us in beautiful high definition. We get the crispest hi-res images, coupled with the frightened Parkinson’s camerawork so prevalent in action sequences post-Private Ryan. The in-your-face digital photography, which worked brilliantly with the post-modern Collateral, seems slightly anachronistic in an era of fedora’s and trilby‘s.

Mann dedicates himself to making Dillinger looking more dapper than ever, and that’s the problem. It looks the business, but has no depth, nothing to say, no new shtick. It just feels like a homage to the better films that shaped the genre. The digital Bonnie and Clyde, with digital technology that clearly isn’t there yet.


The violent aesthetic of Bonnie and Clyde embellished the message it wished to convey, to an ever growing younger audience in search of anti-establishment moralities on the big screen. The movie was a powerful entity, sparking the arrival of New Hollywood cinema. With Public Enemies, you get the feeling that although it is violent in parts, it is more interested in what the violence does to people physically rather than mentally. The realistic nature of what happens when a gun shot makes impact in glorious high definition. Here violence serves as spectacle rather than narrative development.

At the centre of this narrative is the binary opposite approach of which Mann is all too familiar. Mann proposes that Purviss and Dillinger, are two sides of the same character, albeit at opposing ends of the law. In previous Mann offerings, this juxtaposition revelled in the dualism of its characters. Remember that coffee shop climax between De Niro and Pacino in Heat?


In the case of Public Enemies, we are meant to believe that somehow Dillinger and Purviss are one and the same. Yet despite all the intimate cinematography, do we ever feel that we truly know them? The problem lies in Mann’s back catalogue. The underlying struggle of good and evil that run throughout the filmmakers previous works. While previous efforts effortlessly confront this theme, Public Enemies highlights the similarities between the two protagonists – yet rarely demonstrates them.

It’s not Heat, it’s not trying to be Heat…but maybe it should’ve.


Bi-Polar Reviews: Public Enemies I

July 15, 2009

Here at the fold, we like to freshen it up a little now and then. What we do is we take one contrived journalistic form, then split the thing in two. I present to you the felicitous half of Bi Polar reviews. The come-down will follow, rest assured.

Cheer up

Sir Michael of Mann, master of the contradictory genre ‘Guy Movies for Smart People’ presented us a few weeks ago with his latest man drama Public Enemies. In the summer of robots, Mann offers a story for cinema goers.

This is not to say that Public Enemies is an intellectual social commentary. On the contrary, it is an extremely simple, straight-forward narrative that puts to lie the idea that entertainment cannot be both fun and meaningful or smart and exciting.

The Baymeister

It does so through the surprisingly successful technique of ignoring the import of its own subject matter.

It’s a period movie based on one of most famous true stories of the 20th century. But it is not weighed down by the usual gravitas. There’s no sepia filters, lowered tones or mangled music. It’s a slick thoroughly modern film, that is only old fashioned in its setting. Shot on high definition film, cut to the pace of a modern thriller, and frequently scored to the buzz of a heavy guitar riff. That it’s characters once lived, and that it’s story is technically true seems to regard mainly as a quirk of fate or bonus feature. What we’ve got here is a historical action drama framed around the career of John Dillinger. Don’t know who that is? Watch the movie. Can’t Wait? Google it.

All you need to know is that it’s a cops and robbers flick, with the great depression lending a hand as backdrop. Cue hats, guns, bullets, booze, benjamins and the kinda hot ladies one could unironically refer to as broads. If that’s not enough to grab you, heres Batman and Captain Jack Sparrow as the dueling leads. A charming rascal of a bank robber, and a stoic humourless hard case. Guess which plays which?


This is a good movie, a little bit short of a classic and it wont change your life, but it’s a rock solid piece of work with a great cast, lots of suspense and some well directed set-pieces. My only real criticism is that at times it feels a bit slight. Like its moving too fast for details to really sink in. I’m hesitant to make too much of it though, since its part of the highly modernistic style. The whole point being to portray the story without the weight of it’s own mythology. The fact remains, there is a lot of movie packed into this movie. Not only the stories of Dillinger (Depp) and Purvis (Bale), but the birth of the F.B.I, the consolidation of the mob, the hardship of the depression and the rise of the media savvy.

What a delight, that in this barren wasteland of a summer, to have an action movie where not only do you not have to turn off your brain, you don’t want to.

Amann to that Brother!