Monday, 30 March 2009

The Damned United - Dir. Tom Hooper

Brian Howard Clough. “The greatest English manager never to manage the English National side.” Whether you agree with that sentiment or not, everybody knows Brian Clough was one of the great personalities of the game. Based around David Pearce’s bestselling novel ‘The Damned United’ (which Johnny Giles called: “fiction based on fact”), the films narrative follows the events preceding and during those fateful 44-days of management from the perspective of Cloughie (played by Michael Sheen).

Sheen turns in, yet another brilliant performance as the arrogant, stubborn, distant, bitter, intelligent, yet highly flawed man who went on to become a legend of British football. From his mannerisms to the way he speaks, Sheen projects the outward personality of Brian Clough through to the audience to a tee. And more importantly he takes the film away from the touchlines of simply being ‘another football film’, and instead creates a human drama about one man’s battle with jealously, bitterness and ambition and how that can destroy everything around you, quicker than Billy Bremner could break your legs. While Morgan’s script keeps up the dry wit and humour, and Hooper’s direction carries the colourful scenery of 1960’s and 1970’s Britain, the film could have spent more time centred around the other players on the pitch, more specifically Clough’s second in-command in Peter Taylor and the Leeds United side of the Revie era. They are shown to be Revie’s surrogate sons and nothing more. With that said however, I found it a hugely enjoyable film that went way beyond the stereotypical association we have football films today and instead created a profile of a man who encompassed everything that was good, bad and all that in between about the beautiful game.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Watchmen - Dir. Zack Snyder

Decades in movie purgatory. Years in production. Months of anticipation. Zack Snyder’s film adaption of the graphic novel ‘Watchmen’, once deemed ‘unfilmable’ by Terry Gilliam, has finally hit theatres across the globe, and its hit them like a sucker-punch to Alan Moore’s groin. With the most important question at the forefront of proceedings being, not who would be watching the Watchmen, but who would enjoy the Watchmen. Would the source material be sacrificed for a larger potential general audience, or would they be alienated due to the faithfulness of the adaption? I myself would say the latter, to an extent...

Zack Snyder’s biggest achievement of the ‘Watchmen’ project has been his ability to replicate Alan Moore’s source material as close-as-humanly possible. He has shown that while the project was clearly not ‘unfilmable’, it was, and always will be impossible to replicate a motion-picture clone of the graphic novel to an idealised reader’s perception of perfection. However this did not stop Snyder from creating a film as faithful to the novel as we are most likely ever to see. It also did not stop him from alienating the potential move-going public outside of the Watchmen universe. The ‘Watchmen’ set in an alternative 1985, follows a group of second-generation (first generation were called the ‘Minutemen’) vigilante’s who prowl the streets to keep society in order, however after the 1977 Keene Act was passed (it prohibited vigilantism), some members decided to retire and ‘live normal lives’, others built empires upon their fame, while the film’s main protagonist (to an extent) Rorschach has decided to disobey the law and continue his acts of vigilantism against the evils in society. However, the group is drawn back together when one of the members known as ‘The Comedian’ is murdered in cold blood. Is someone or something hunting down the masked-avengers? Or is something more sinister afoot? And so the Watchmen experience begins.

The film conveys a linear narrative which in-turn and in due course examines the backgrounds and motivations behind the ‘main’ characters allowing those with no knowledge of the alternative period in which the novel is set to become acquainted, to an extent (which is down to how much the audience is willing to hand the film and receive back), with the new world in-front of them. That is not to say the film is perfectly paced and layered, at times the action is split between two contrasting events which can send the viewer from solemn conversation to vicious, blood and guts violence in a matter of seconds creating a complex structure which may have certain viewers scratching their heads slightly. However, this is one of those inevitable problems that come with trying to reproduce the source material as naturally as possible.

Even the most stubborn admirer of cinema and the world around the medium must recognize the beautifully stylised scenery of the near-apocalyptic society in which the film is set. Pop-culture references abound, the streets lined with disgust, animosity and the raving magnitude of the conflicting personalities of the Watchmen members. While the sets, props and costumes draw you into a world of awe and astonishment, the brutality of the choreographed violence on-screen almost throws the audience off-balance and takes the viewer even closer into a world they may or may not have been familiar with. With the use of slow-motion in the various critical action sequences, Snyder allows the audience to take in every detail of every punch, of every strike and of every grimace of pain. Even those with the iron-clad stomachs may feel the need to turn and shudder as a meat clever is dropped into the suspecting skull of a local criminal. This is the Watchmen after-all, and they don’t do things by half.

This is an alternative, dystopian future and thus deserves characters with such ominous flaws and attributes that would accompany such a rich, illustrated world. The United States of America and the Soviet Union are at the heights of Cold War tension, with doomsday on an ever gloomy horizon, despite the emergence of the one, true superhero among the ranks of the Watchmen members. Doctor Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a blue, shimmering being of infinite power, who can distort the rules of nature i.e. large-scale teleportation and who also single-handedly, won the United States the war in Vietnam (which allowed Nixon a third term in office). Behind the glistening body of Dr Manhattan, you have Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode), a billionaire entrepreneur and self-proclaimed ‘smartest man in the world’, who is one of the few Watchmen members to release their identity after the Keene Act and build an empire upon this image. The sexy ‘Silk Spectre II’ (also known as Laurie Jupiter) is portrayed by Malin Ackerman, the latex-costumed female of the group who took over from her mother who was in the first generation ‘Minutemen’ (Sally Jupiter played by Carla Gugino) and despite her relatively large role in the sub-plot with ‘Nite Owl II/Dan Dreiberg’ (Patrick Wilson), her performance at many times falls flat emotionally and she is weakest character in film full of strong, male performances. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is ‘The Comedian’, a twisted individual murdered at the beginning of the film, a man with a mutated conscience and morals who strives on the ability to get a job done at any cost. While Patrick Wilson as the second ‘Nite Owl’ and Jackie Earle Haley as ‘Rorschach’ give the most vivid performances as two complex characters, one a man fighting to find his identity beyond his persona as a crime-fighting vigilante dressed as an Owl and another without an identity, a hollow-shell of a human being who has lost faith in humanity and the emotions and logical conventions which make us human beings. ‘Rorschach’ is the closest towards a protagonist we are shown in the film and the graphic novel, because in this mutilated society, there are no heroes left.

After watching the ‘Watchmen’ film I was left with a profound sense of enjoyment and satisfaction. Of course this wasn’t perfection in the art film-making, the film had its visible flaws which is inevitable for any film of such a large-scale magnitude, however these were unnoticeable when I was drawn into the story, the lives of the characters on-screen. I had only previously read about the characters and their motivations in the dystopian world in which the Watchmen film is set, but to see them alive in such a visual spectacle, roaming, fighting, embracing, engaging, was nothing short of a joy to watch. And for those that have not read the graphic novel, and have reservations about seeing and ultimately being able to ‘understand’ and take pleasure in Alan Moore’s Watchmen universe in two hours and forty minutes, I say this; just give the film a chance, and I guarantee you will enjoy it in one aspect or another at least, because today a Comedian died...