Ally Clow’s June 2012 Film Round-up

Ally Clow looks at Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, the French film Polisse, the start-studded Snow White & The Huntsman and a treasure from Orson Wells.

Every two years, the cinema industry (and a few others) reel in anticipated horror at 22 men kicking a ball around a patch of grass. At this point, the box office crumbles like England when faced with penalty-kicks and apart from the opening weekend of June, when Ridley Scott’s sci-fi epic Prometheus boosted the UK numbers by 25% year on year, the remainder of the month was an average of 25% down on 2011 due to a dearth of major new releases in the face of the football.

Like many industries in the UK, the cinema industry doesn’t know how to play the forthcoming Olympic games but will have to see what happens. The films that were released post-Prometheus were mainly indie or rom-com in sensibility with the aim of countering the football market, the thought still being that women and men in skinny jeans want another form of entertainment than overpaid narcissists in shorts. Let’s take a look at three of those films that did perform well.

Prometheus arrived with an anticipation rarely seen outside superhero movies and a marketing campaign to back it up. Ridley Scott has a loyal fanbase and his Alien film (and three subsequent sequels directed by prestige directors Cameron, Fincher and Jeunet) a fervent one. This combined with the star power of Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron and the pen of Lost co-creator and scribe David Lindelof was an exciting mixture. The film, about two scientists venturing onto a distant planet in search of mankind’s creators with the help of a ragtag crew and funded by a trans-global corporation, gained mixed reviews on release but I found it to be a stunning piece of work. The 3D was the finest I’ve seen with some mesmerizing moments where liquid bubbles, aliens are created and destroyed and CG graphics pop up all over the screen.

There are a few plot holes but as Alfred Hitchcock would say, ‘so much for the plausibles’; in a film like this, I really don’t care if the characters act in a way we wouldn’t. The film is not trying to achieve a high level of verisimilitude so we shouldn’t expect everything to add up. The acting was of the highest calibre a sci-fi film demands i.e. plenty of desperate screaming and penny-drop expressions and it was clear that Scott was trying to say something about our origins and the dangerous siren-like nature of desire of knowledge. I enjoyed the characters running toward danger rather than away from it and I will remember the overall look and feel of the film for a long time to come.

Another star-studded movie not set in our recognisable world was the enjoyable Snow White & The Huntsman starring Charlize Theron (again), Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame and Chris ‘Thor’ Hemsworth. This Snow White tale follows on from Julia Roberts’ Mirror Mirror which was received rather poorly and didn’t make much money at the box office. With Kristen Stewart playing Snow White, the movie was clearly aimed at her Twilight following and I believe it did its job rather well. Stewart plays her Snow White as a tough, leader of men fighting against her step-mother Ravenna played with gusto by Theron. The Huntsman of the title is initially employed by Ravenna to capture Snow White because only someone as fair as she can destroy her and once she is dead, Ravenna can rule the land without fear. On meeting Snow, the Huntsman changes allegiance and helps her gain an army to fight against Ravenna and claim the crown that is rightfully hers. What I liked about the film is that it treats its audience with respect and doesn’t always follow the easiest plotline. There are some marvellous visual flourishes for example the sequences that show Snow White’s ability to affect the environment around her and Ravenna’s mirror mirror on the wall. I actually liked the problematic dwarves (full-grown character actors CG’d onto the bodies of dwarves) who included Bob Hoskins, Ray Winston, Eddie Marsan and Toby Jones and the main characters all had tangible personalities that brought different textures to the narrative drive.

The third film that punters chose to go and see in place of the football was indie auteur Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. The film, about two adolescents who make sense of the world through their own blossoming relationship opened Cannes to generally positive reviews although the quirky and kooky tags remained for some. I had trouble going along with it for the first half hour purely because each scene built up to a payoff that had featured in the uber cool trailer. Once the trailer’s contents had been exhausted however the film became more human rather than a collection of hipster vignettes and although the cast of characters can hardly be called believable, their emotional portrayal certainly made me feel for them. There are some solid performances from the cast including Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton and Roman Coppola’s script has the right balance between fantasy and reality. Anderson uses music in the Tarantino style; segments of obscure songs so good you immediately want to find them after leaving the cinema and Moonrise Kingdom was no exception but the standout part of the movie is from the two young leads Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman who play Suzy and Sam. Their relationship grows from their individual sense of isolation in the world and realise that they do have a place in the world – together. It’s a sweet pairing and film and certainly up there with Anderson’s best work.

An altogether different film released in June was the French police procedural picture Polisse. This was a verity style look at a group of child protection police officers working in Paris. There is plenty of grim moments which a film that deals with child crimes would obviously contain but the director Maiwenn also makes sure to include plenty of scenes showing the officers relaxing and partying which seems essential for them to deal with their jobs. The film was apparently very well researched and but has been accused of being overly melodramatic by some critics. I found it to be an extraordinary ensemble piece in the same way the Palme D’Or winning The Class was in 2008 and, if reliable, a fascinating look at an extreme job and the difficulties of life within it.

DVD of the month is from the ever-reliable Mr Bongo stable and is a remastered version of Orson Welles’ Chimes At Midnight. Chimes is a mixture of the two Shakespeare plays of Henry IV and Welles plays Sir John Falstaff, egregious aide of the future Henry V played by Keith Baxter. Like all of Welles’ films, the cinematography is excellent and his choice of framing is exquisite. There is even a wonderfully choreographed battle sequence that Mel Gibson based his on in Braveheart. Welles dealt with larger than life characters which is why he filmed many of Shakespeare’s plays and this is up there with Othello as his best. The supporting cast are fine with ticklishly good performances from Jeanne Moreau and Margaret Rutherford. Watch out for the Welles re-release F For Fake in July, this resurgence in his back catalogue can only be a good thing for those who want to see a master at work.

Ally Clow

With echoes of Glory from American Cinema to Bruce Springsteen, and full of the flavour of Escape that European Travel brings, The Substantive Columnist Mel Gomes’ e-book ‘Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley‘ is available from Amazon and Smashwords. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.