Monday, 27 June 2011

The Green Mile (5 Stars)

Let me state for the record that I'm not a fan of Stephen King's books. I discovered Clive Barker first and didn't read a single Stephen King novel until I'd read all of Barker's books. In comparison they seemed very lightweight and unsatisfying. It was like a man who's used to steak eating his first slice of tinned ham. I would go as far as to say that I don't understand why King is more popular than Barker. Maybe it's for that very reason. King's style is light, easy reading, whereas Barker is heavy and "classical" in his approach.

Stephen King has certainly made an impression on cinema. He is the author who holds the record for the most of his books (and short stories) having been filmed. A recent issue of Empire magazine listed about 50 of his films. I wish I hadn't thrown it away, I was too diligent in my cleaning up. His stories certainly make good films. "Carrie" and "The Shining" are icons of film history. "The Green Mile" rates just as highly, in my opinion. Three hours long and never boring for a single minute.

I expect most of my readers have already seen the film, so I'll keep my review brief. It's a departure from King's older horror stories, although it has a supernatural element. It's a prison drama set in the Depression era. The 1930's? Tom Hanks plays the head of a prison's death row. He has an unusual inmate, a simple minded man, and he immediately begins to doubt he's guilty of the crime that he has been accused of. All the characters in this film, the good guys and the bad guys, are rich believable characters, like broad strokes in a painting.

There's one small point that I consider an anachronism. Percy is shown reading an erotic comic about someone called "Miss Lotta Leadpipe". Comics like this didn't exist in the 1930's. The first comics featuring female domination were printed in the late 1940's, the most popular artists being Gene Bilbrew and Eric Stanton. I have no explanation why female domination as an artform appeared at this particular point in history; it would make a good subject for a doctoral thesis.

But sorry for that, I'm always picking on minor matters. Call me pedantic if you must. The truth is that this is a great film, one of the best I've ever seen. If you've never seen it, please watch it, you won't be disappointed.

Gia (4 Stars)

Yet another true story. That's three in a row I've watched. I must admit that I enjoy watching a film knowing that it's true. Truth is often stranger than fiction.

This is the story of the rise and fall of the American supermodel Gia Marie Carangi, in a career that only lasted nine years until she died at the age of 26. I admit that I had never heard of her before the film was recommended to me. I'm ignorant of the fashion world. Angelina Jolie's portrayal of Gia is poignant and moving, showing both the strengths and weaknesses of this remarkable woman.

Ip Man (4½ Stars)

This film is the true story of the martial arts master Ip Man and his difficulties during the Japanese occupation of China. The fighting scenes themselves are toned down, as the film is intended to be as realistic as possible. I'll allow myself the liberty of quoting another reviewer who has said everything better than I possibly could:

"Ip Man" is adapted from the life story of Ip Man, the grand master of the Wing Chun style of kung-fu and sifu (master) of the legendary kung-fu superstar Bruce Lee. Wing Chun has a history of more than 200 years. It was founded by Yim Wing Chun, took root in the hands of Leung Chun, and prospered with Ip Man. The art of Wing Chun has now become very popular with martial arts enthusiasts, especially overseas. It is a traditional Chinese martial art with a formidable reputation internationally.

Wing Chun is characterised by close body combat, requiring practitioners to show speed and power. Chi Sao or "sticking hands" is more similar to modern day combat skills and has a rich feel of genuine strikes. This is also why "Ip Man" differs from the dazzingly romantic and purely fictional style of previous martial art movies. Its explosive punches and aggressive close-range combat offer a new thrill never experienced by modern day audiences.

The story of Wing Chun began in the 1920's and 30's, in wartorn China. Ip Man was martial art's unyielding follower, devoted whole-heartedly to the free learning of wushu. The fight to be top between the wushu schools in the southern and northern regions of China had not stopped him having goodwill matches with other practitioners. Nationalistic bad feelings and racial hatred had not lessened his respect for Japanese kung fu warriors. In this great era of hatreds and tragedies, Ip focused only on wushu. His enthusiasm for martial arts saw him having devastating straight fights with various elite practitioners.

To this date there have been neither movies nor publications about Ip Man. This movie will be the first important record of the master's life. Ip's persistent devotion to Wing Chun is a classic example of the love and respect shown to wushu and the freedom and spirit it represents. This movie will see the making of a modern wushu master representative of Chinese people worldwide. "Ip Man" is a concept, a spirit, a way of thinking – and it represents a new peak in Hong Kong's martial arts movies choreographed expertly by the legendary Sammo Hung.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

The Runaways (4 Stars)

This is a difficult film to rate. Should I give it stars based on its entertainment value or its historical accuracy? The DVD box has the blurb "The story of the most influential rock band you've never heard of". And that's just it. I know the Runaways. I was a big fan of theirs in my teens. I followed their rise and fall closely. And I know enough to tell my readers that the film is biased. It tells the story from Joan Jett's perspective.

After Cherie Currie left the band in 1977 there was a struggle for leadership of the group. Kim Fowley put Lita Ford in charge of the group as she was, in his opinion, the most mature. Joan Jett gained most of the attention after Currie's departure, since she took over as lead singer, and claimed that she was the boss. There were a lot of arguments about musical styles that eventually led to the group breaking up. The disputes about the control of the group are left out of the film. The film is based on Jett's recollections, and she's rewritten history the way she thinks it should be remembered. The film also omits the drink and drug excesses of the group during their prolonged stays in England. I can imagine that Ford was clenching her fists in anger the first time she saw the film.

But on the positive side, the film is entertaining. Kristen Stewart is excellent as Joan Jett. If you compare photos of her and Jett in her earlier years it's difficult to tell them apart. Dakota Fanning was a good choice to play Cherie Currie, but she's lacking the provocative sexuality that I remember so well from Currie. Or maybe it was deliberately toned down. The Runaways were a controversial group in their time. They were only 16 when they first achieved fame, and they created a Lolita image to gain notoriety. The late 70's were the days of punk, and it was "acceptable" to be shocking. Today audiences are more prude.

The film is worth watching, but remember that it doesn't tell the full story.