Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Valkyrie

Valkyrie tells the tale of the last attempt by members of the German Military, during World War II to stage a coup to overtake Adolf Hitler's Government. The film stars Tom Cruise, along with a multitude of British acting talent, and was directed by Bryan Singer who directed the first two X-Men films, Superman Returns and is the main director on House.

The opening scene of the film sets the scene beautifully, moving from Tom Cruise speaking fluent German into English, which draws us in, in a mesmerizing way to the setting. It's World War II and Colonel Stauffenberg - I think I've spelt that right - is in North Africa, fighting the Allies in a War he is against. They come under attack and he is massively injured. On his return to Berlin he meets with a resistance of military officers and politicians.

When going into this film there are a few things already laid out, we know this is about an attempt on Hitler's life. We also know that it failed as anyone who did a GCSE in history knows that Hitler killed himself when the Allies had Berlin surrounded. So there are no major plot twists coming. Instead in this film we are looking for some inspiring figure. In this way I would say it was comparable to Braveheart. This is no more obvious than at the end where - and maybe a spoiler warning - Cruise's character Stauffenberg, shouts at the top of his voice, "Long Live Sacred Germany", as he is executed by the firing squad.

So the beggining was good, the end was very moving and inspiring, but what about the middle? To be quite honest the middle isn't great, and this is where the substance of the film comes into play. Cruise has a few moments when the charisma of his character shines through, his ability to lead is wonderfully portrayed. But nothing ever really draws you in. Bill Nighy gave a quite interesting performance, it really shows how versatile he is, he is so nervous yet he is doing such a bold thing and this conflict really shines through in his performance. On a small aside note, an intersting artistic choice that was made by Singer was I think to have the gunshots and explosions stand out massively on the audio track. This makes them so shocking and suprising, even though you know they are coming.

Singer showed us exactly what needed to be shown, but I feel he didn't show us what we wanted to see, which is what makes a film. At the moment I'm having trouble putting what I feel about this film into words, as you may be able to tell. I think this film is definitely worth seeing, it's very inspiring, and though not fantastically entertaining, it is about a very important time in global history. So see it, and tell me what you think, I really hope everyone disagrees with me.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire is the story of a young man named Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) and how he managed to get to the 20 million-rupee question on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. The famous Danny Boyle from 28 Days Later and Sunshine fame directed the film.

The film starts with our hero in an interrogation room, he is suspected of cheating on the game, and has been accused of fraud. We see him tell the story of his life through telling the interrogators how he came to know the answers to each of the questions.

This is a very moving piece of cinematography, the story is brutally honest, and shows some true horrors. Dev Patel, may be fairly well known by English teenagers, because of his role in the popular teen drama television series, Skins, but I suspect he is little known elsewhere in the world. His performance holds up well, and shows that he has some potential beyond playing a shy, awkward teenager from an Indian up bringing. He is still shy and awkward in this film, but we see why in the film and his acting holds up under scrutiny.

The chase scenes through the slums of Mumbai are classic Boyle, reminiscent of 28 days later. There are some gorgeous shots in these scenes where the camera zooms out from above the slums to a wide shot, showing the impoverished conditions of the slums. The rest of the film has no fantastic direction, as far as camera shots go, but the shots used do not intrude on a moving film, which is exactly what was needed.

Unfortunately this film has been blighted by the tiniest little thing, which apart from during the first few frames, one line said by a young Jamal and the repetition of this line and these frames at the very end, is not mentioned at all. But this thing is made out to be the entire theme and moral of the story, it’s a discussion of fate, and I use the word ‘discussion’ loosely. And this culminates in a massively cheeseball line, which in the words of Sarah Chalke, “Sucks Caboodle”. I hate this type of cheesiness in films where it just isn’t appropriate. To further enrage me, there is some Bollywood style dancing by the cast during the credits, I literally ran from the theatre when this started. I don’t like musicals (bar Dr. Horrible), and I certainly don’t like choreographed dancing. And just exactly how appropriate is it to do that at the end of this kind of film. It reminded me of the scene in Hot Fuzz where the Amateur Dramatics Society have put on Romeo & Juliet and at the end after Romeo has killed himself they sing and dance to Lovefool by The Cardigans.

But barring this, it was a very good film, which moved me to my core and made me literally gasp and shudder.