Monthly Archives: December 2012

Life of Pi (2012)

Life of Pi is the kind of film that people are either going to lose themselves in, or want to get out of. Its mesmerising digital effects will polarize audiences. Some will applaud its aesthetics only to denounce it as narratively weak and fatuous, whereas others will find themselves highly affected by it, and not just because of the dazzling CGI.

At its core this is a film about allegory and the power of storytelling. Piscine Molitor Patel (or Pi for short) is an Indian immigrant living in Canada. Approached by a novelist looking for ideas for a book, Pi begins to relate some memories from when he was a youngster. His story goes that he lived with his father, mother and brother at a zoo in Pondicherry. As a young boy, Pi flits between various faiths including Hinduism, Catholicism and Islam, before deciding to follow all three. Eventually his father decides that the family should move to Canada, and plans to have them and the animals of the zoo transported there on a Japanese freighter. I’m not really spoiling anything by giving away that the ship sinks, considering that the poster shows a boy stranded at sea in a lifeboat. After losing his family and most of the animals, Pi finds himself in the company of a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a bengal tiger named Richard Parker. What ensues is a fight for survival, as well as a heavy dose of magical realism as we encounter luminous sea creatures and mysterious islands.

Visually, this is one of the most astounding and gorgeous pieces of cinema that I have ever laid my eyes on. The colour palette is beyond hyper-real. Its blues and yellows are gem-like, and its skies and seas transform from velvety to stony with effortless ease. All that Pi and Richard Parker encounter has an illusory quality to it which makes every obstacle seem as though it could just as easily be a mirage as it could be a genuine threat. At one point Pi says something along the lines of: “I can’t tell my dreams from reality any more”. Similarly, as a viewer, it’s hard to define the materiality of anything on screen. It all seems as though it might slip through the fingers like sand at any moment, or blow away in the wind. And yet this is the beauty of the story; it is at once real and imagined. Everything can be either taken at face value, or can stand for some harsher truth.

That’s not to say that the CGI isn’t believable. The Bengal tiger is a great achievement, and not for one moment was I reminded of its computer generated origin. Every hair of it body is tangible and its eyes are hypnotic and full of depth and life. Suraj Sharma does well to react to what is essentially empty air as he conveys fear and love for his companion, and the two make an incredible pair. It is through the exploration of Pi’s relationship with this animal and its motives and behaviour that the film gains its emotional power. Ironically, it is its most impressive visual effect that serves as its most moving subject. The moment where the tiger leaves and journeys into the forest is extremely emotive. Embodying various conflicting view-points, this wild cat is a symbol of so many ideas and feelings. Is it a metaphor, or is it real? Does it feel compassion, or is it dispassionate? Essentially, Richard Parker is a space for doubt as well as faith, which are two things that Pi himself revels in as he studies the religions of the world. Can we ever know anything for sure, and do we really want to?

Life of Pi proves the enthralling and sometimes dangerous influence of a good story. Imaginative in every aspect, it succeeds in translating magical realism to the screen without ever appearing crass or insensitive. Brilliantly acted and brilliantly filmed, it is a feast for the eyes as well as the mind.

FINAL VERDICT: ★★★★1/2

Alien (1979)

Alien’s film poster features an egg against a black background, with spaced out letters forming the short title. Sparse and simple, this image encapsulates everything that is brilliant about this sci-fi horror from Ridley Scott. As much about silence and emptiness as it is about sound and shock, the film explores evolution, sexuality, gender and survival whilst remaining refreshingly un-convoluted. The plot of the film could be summarised in about two or three sentences, with it basically being about the slow demise of a small crew on a ship, who answer a distress signal which turns out to be a warning. What marks Alien out as a classic, though, is its careful treatment of themes, as well as its awesome visual effects and character design. The titular Alien (or Xenomorph), is quite possibly one of the most iconic monsters from a science fiction movie ever. Gut-wrenchingly terrifying, uncannily human, and perversely sexual, it is the quintessential outer-space antagonist.

The film begins with the word ‘Alien’ slowly appearing on the screen, followed by shots of the Nostromo sitting quiet and lifeless in space. The silence is unsettling, with no dialogue for the first six minutes. Faced with technology and interiors instead of characters, the audience is made to feel detached from humanity, dislocated and suspended in a sort of limbo as they wait for someone to make an appearance. Placing the viewer within the ship, the film forces us to feel loneliness akin to that of the crew. Finally, the ship’s computer (“mother”) awakens the humans, and the drama unfolds. Captain Dallas, Kane, Lambert, Ripley, Ash, Brett and Parker are introduced to us, and each character is perfectly cast. Tom Skerritt plays Dallas with authority as well as friendliness, which sets his character out as a father figure of sorts (and also romanticises him), and John Hurt is brilliant as the short lived Kane. Often criticised by reviewers, Veronica Cartwright does her best with a wimpy character; Lambert’s nervousness may be irritating, but it very cleverly emphasises the steadfast courage of others. Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton offer suitable light relief with their humorous quips and complaints, and Ian Holm is decidedly creepy as the android undercover. The star of the show, however, is undoubtedly Sigourney Weaver. Excellent as the youthful and brave Ripley, she appears outwardly stoic throughout most of the film, but Weaver makes sure that her character never appears too unconcerned. Her reaction to Dallas’ death and her interactions with Jones, the ship’s cat, are little instances of sentiment that save her from being two dimensional.

The level of imagination involved in the set design and visual effects is astounding. H. R. Giger is the man responsible for the alien and its evolutionary stages including the egg, the facehugger and the chestburster. He also worked on set to create the inside of the derelict spaceship, and the “space jockey”. The supernatural elements of the film are designed and created with exquisite attention to detail. As a facehugger, the creature is parasitic, with uncannily human fingers clasping round the back of the head and a tail wrapped round the throat. In the film, its choice of Kane as a host subverts typical ideas of motherhood, and so at this stage in its evolutionary cycle the Xenomorph has the ability to undermine normative sexuality and reproduction. As a chestburster it is the nightmare of birth, the newborn turned monster, inspired by Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. And in its final alien form it is large and menacing, with a pharyngeal jaw and no eyes. The creatures represent an array of worst fears, and this is part of the appeal as people endlessly pick them apart for analysis.

Deliciously terrifying scenes abound whilst the alien stalks each of the crew members. The scene with Dallas and his flamethrower in the air shafts where Lambert cries that the creature is getting closer is genuinely distressing. And Brett’s scene with Jones the cat where the alien drops down slowly behind him is iconic. Manipulation of every sound of the ship, every hiss of steam coming from a pipe, every trickle of water, means that tension is built to an almost unbearable extent. Always considering originality, Scott directs these scenes with incredible inventiveness. Having just witnessed the death of Brett, for example, the viewer is faced with the dispassionate eyes of the cat, forcing us to consider animal instinct over any emotional response.

With a perfect ending where Ripley shakes and sings You Are My Lucky Star (my personal highlight), Alien is successful from opening to close. Blending sex, danger, and monstrosity in one small space shuttle, Ridley delivers us a satisfying conclusion.

In Prometheus, the latest instalment in the Alien franchise, David says that “big things have small beginnings”. Watching the original Alien for the first time in years after having sat through endless sequels and spin-offs, this line gains new meaning. Not that Alien as a project was small, but you can still appreciate that it set in motion endless queries and conspiracies that were never fully satisfied by the following films. The fact that it has inspired so much new material since its initial release in 1979 is proof that the film has made a lasting impact, one that will hopefully never be forgotten.

FINAL VERDICT: ★★★★★

Notorious (1946)

REVIEW CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS!

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Alicia: Come on, Mr D., what is darkening your brow?

Notorious is a visual treat. A spy thriller from director Alfred Hitchcock, it is the film’s striking cinematography that marks it out as a classic.

The story follows Alicia (Ingrid Bergman), the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, who is asked by the American government to befriend a German Nazi (Claude Rains) who was close to her father. An agent named Devlin (Cary Grant) is sent to her home in order to convince her to go undercover in Rio de Janeiro and gather information regarding a Nazi organisation that they believe is plotting something nasty. Devlin and Alicia end up falling in love, albeit rather quickly and haphazardly, but the film’s second half makes up for a rushed beginning, with an exquisite exercise in tension.

Trust, lies, and patriotism are integral to the story, with the protagonists dealing with conflicting feelings surrounding their duties and passions. Devlin loves Alicia, and yet pushes her into the bed of another man as part of his job. Alicia loves Devlin, and at the beginning assumes political neutrality, yet she goes along with every step of the government’s plan, even going as far as to enter into a false marriage. And Alex loves Alicia, yet allows her to be slowly killed by his mother once she becomes a threat to his Nazi activities. Each character feels the burden and pain of having their personal feelings disturb their occupational responsibilities. Desperately searching for secrets, and working to gain the trust of others, rarely are they true to their own feelings. This is why the ending comes as such a shock; Devlin, outwardly one of the coldest characters, succumbs to his emotions and takes Alicia away from the house of deceit. I was honestly expecting to see Alicia die, or for the scene on the stairs to take a dark turn, but instead the two lovers make their escape and head towards a brighter future, leaving Alex to return to the dark.

Another important theme in the film is motherhood. Alex’s mother is a genuinely terrifying presence. She hovers behind her son like a vulture, and knits by the bedside or in the background as Alicia slowly dies of the poison that she is administering to her. In the shot of her where she descends the stairs in a haze and comes slowly towards the camera, she has a half open mouth and blank, staring eyes, making a truly unsettling picture. Alicia, on the other hand, has no known mother. She is never mentioned, and it can be assumed that she is either dead or estranged, leaving only a corrupted father for Alicia to go to for guidance. She also enters in to her marriage with Alex with absolutely no intention of becoming a mother figure herself. Her marriage to him is a charade and is therefore sterile. These absences of motherhood only work to emphasise Madame Sebastian’s role, to the point where her own motherhood becomes smothering.

With so many impressive shots to choose from, it’s hard to pick favourites. The long tracking shot at the party where we begin at the top of the stairs and end at Alicia’s hand holding the key has been championed as one of the best. But, personally, my highlights were the shot where Alex and his mother become silhouettes against the light followed by their shadows on the wall merging to become one grey blur. Darker undertones are suggested through the joining of the shadows, especially considering that we already know of Madame’s “jealousy” toward any women whom Alex brings home. Another clever trick was having the close up of Devlin’s forgotten champagne bottle towards the beginning fade into the curtains of the next shot. This transition suggests both drinking and domesticity. Later on, the balance between the two plays an important part in Alicia’s deception. At the party she must juggle her insecurities surrounding the alcohol with her responsibility to entertain.

With such strong symbolism, the film offers endless opportunities for analysis. However, it feels as though Hitchcock sacrifices some character development in order to rush towards an opportunity for tension. Devlin and Alicia’s love seems to come out of nowhere, as does their initial kiss. And Cary Grant’s character is well played but not fleshed out enough. Ingrid Bergman, however, is amazing, and it’s worth watching the film just for her. She carries a character with effortless ease, and her anxiety is never overdone. Beautiful and engaging, she lends Alicia a depth that I’m not sure she would have had otherwise.

This would have been a four star film if it weren’t for the hurried beginning. The stellar performances and stunning cinematography save it from being average, and bring it closer towards brilliance, but just not quite close enough.

FINAL VERDICT: ★★★1/2

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The Silence of the Lambs

Jonathan Demme’s 1991 film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs opens with Clarice Starling running through the woods on FBI training. She struggles up a hill, and, out of breath, runs past a tree with signs nailed to it saying “Hurt. Agony. Pain. Love it.” Within seconds the film has suggested one of its most important themes – the blurring of the distinction between pleasure and pain.

The key to the story’s success is that its characters are never two dimensional. The “baddies” are never understood by their crimes alone, and the “goodies” are flawed, meaning that judgement is never easy. Hannibal Lecter is a gentleman as well as a convicted murderer and cannibal, and has a surprising capacity for feeling alongside a horrifyingly disturbing penchant for torture. As we grow closer to him as viewers and begin to like him, we forget that he is a highly dangerous criminal, right up until the awful scenes of his escape from the Tennessee courthouse. Lulled in to a false sense of security much like the officers who handle him, we are caught between trust and loathing, faced with a man as well as a monster. Buffalo Bill is less likeable yet only because he is a serial killer at large, rather than a voice behind a glass wall. And even then we are made witness to his private rituals, scenes that the FBI and his captives don’t see, meaning that we understand his motives more than others.

With some brilliant cinematography from Tak Fujimoto and a dramatic score from Howard Shore, the film does well to translate the atmosphere of the book. Seeing Lecter through the bullet proof screen and then through the bars of his temporary prison is a clever contrast, and the focus on eyes emphasises the overall desperation for secrets and trust that characterises both the FBI and the criminals. On close ups, having Jodie Foster look slightly off camera and all the other actors straight on, subtly highlights the fact that most of the film is from Clarice’s point of view and that others struggle to know her intimately. When she finally confides in Lecter and tells him about her childhood and the lambs, she looks straight into the camera for one of the first times, and this adds to the importance of the event.

The lead actors are brilliant and capture opposites perfectly. Anthony Hopkins switches between good man and psychopath with uncanny ease, and Jodie Foster plays Starling with both naivety and bravery. Ted Levine is truly terrifying, and the supporting cast is superb. Anthony Heald is satisfactorily slimy as Chilton, and Scott Glenn provides the right amount of chemistry between himself and Foster.

Overall the pacing, dialogue and acting all work to make the film a brilliant example of the thriller going further. Far from a flat detective murder mystery, The Silence of the Lambs deals with deeper issues and themes in an impressive way. It uses symbols and inspired shots to suggest further meaning, and yet never strays too far from its basic story, which is of a young FBI agent investigating a murder case. It’s this careful balance between simplicity and complexity which makes the film such a classic.

FINAL VERDICT: ★★★★★

The Hobbit: Quotes from the Family

The Hobbit

I went to go and see The Hobbit today in Leicester Square Odeon with my family (Mum, Dad, sister), and if I’m honest I think that the epic-ness that is that cinema helped in my overall viewing experience. So much has been said about the film and it’s frame rate, that I actually feel like if I say “frame rate” one more time I may turn into a frame rate. Does that even make sense? I personally loved it, but I know that some people didn’t, and that’s fair enough. After the film was over I asked my family what they thought, and I was interested to know what my sister’s view was in particular, because she is an absolute Tolkein buff and has read The Hobbit as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and knows most of the script to the lotr films off by heart. Initially, she was just perplexed by the fact that she was convinced they’d missed out a bit about the eagles? (She wouldn’t tell me what bit it was “in case it’s in the next one”). But then she slowly went on to reveal her thoughts about the *cough*frame rate*cough*, and how the picture looked. Her input was something along these lines:

“I liked it, but I really didn’t like how it looked. I’m sorry, but I didn’t get into it till the storm giants. It looked too real and it wasn’t like the other films. It ruined it a bit for me.” Her verdict: ★★★

Now, my mum on the other hand, who has also read The Hobbit, but not the lotr books, absolutely loved it. Interestingly, she also wears glasses and had to put in contact lenses in order for the 3D specs to fit comfortably. Now I’ve heard a lot of people moaning about the film giving them headaches, and a couple of guys saying that they wouldn’t go because they wear glasses… ?  If anyone was going to complain about the 3D or a headache, it would be my mum, as she often hates it and says it’s horrible to concentrate on. After the film though, she said that she could completely understand why Jackson made it 48fps, and that it meant that the 3D for her was less awkward. She also loved the content, and found Gandalf’s speech to Galadriel about “small things making a difference” really moving.* This was what she had to say:

“I loved it, I thought it was fantastic. I actually thought it was ten times better than the first Lord of the Rings film. There was so much more in it to enjoy. Richard Armitage was so good as Thorin, he gave him more soul than he has in the book.” Her verdict: ★★★★ (or even ★★★★★ “but she wasn’t sure”)

My Dad, a man who very rarely rambles, was short and sweet in his summation. He also enjoyed it more than my sister, and had this to say:

“Very good. Didn’t feel like three hours at all. The only thing I’ll say is that I loved the Lord of the Rings films because they were new and I hadn’t seen anything like that before.” (Basically suggesting that The Hobbit’s tone is familiar and therefore not as enthralling.) His verdict: ★★★★

So, that’s what the family thought. If you want to know what my verdict was then check out my review (should be below, or follow this link)

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*Here’s the quote that my Mum liked so much. I was thinking about it today and decided to try and find it:

Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? That’s because I am afraid and it gives me courage.”

Love it!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has come under vicious attack from critics. Almost every aspect of the film has been condemned, from the run-time, to the makeup, to the 48 frames per second. The latter in particular has had everyone running around in hysterics, claiming in fits of rage that the picture resembles that of live sports on a high definition television. It’s true that the viewing experience is a lot different to The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The previous films are almost velvety in texture, faces are warm and smooth, and the background blurs and is un-intrusive. The Hobbit on the other hand, possesses a sharpness and a realism that is disconcerting. Every detail is noticeable, every twig of a tree, every spark of a fire, every line of a face, every bad bit of CGI in the distance. This overload of detail has upset some people to such an extent that they claim the film is unwatchable. I personally feel that bad reactions to the quality of the picture are a result of the shock of the new.

Initially, even I found the high frame rate irritating. The opening scenes where Ian Holm sits down at his desk as an old Bilbo Baggins looked like they were cut straight from a television drama. Close ups of his hand dabbing ink on a quill were so real, that rather than set the scene, they prevented any immersion in it. However, there came a point (around when the dwarves are feasting and singing) where I reached a crossroads. I could either carry on being offended by the film, or just get over it and enjoy it. I chose the second, and left the cinema considering The Hobbit one of the best fantasy epics in a long while.

Brilliantly acted by a stellar cast, I was especially impressed with Martin Freeman as Bilbo, who achieves an innocence that is never twee. Stuck between cowardice and bravery, he is the perfect antihero and jumps into danger not really knowing what he’s doing, or why. Richard Armitage is fantastic as Thorin, the displaced dwarf King with little direction but a lot of pride. His bitterness is never two dimensional as it so easily could have been. There are in fact well rounded performances from all of the dwarves, most especially Ken Stott as Balin and Peter Hambleton as Gloin. Aidan Turner and Dean O’ Gorman are also good as the brothers Kili and Fili, the youngest of the band, whom I couldn’t help but compare to Pippin and Merry. Strong and careful characterisation is what makes all of the scenes an enjoyable experience, and deserves a mention in amongst all of the fuss over frame rate.

Bilbo’s scene with Gollum ends up being one of the funniest pieces of dialogue. This is helped by the fact that Gollum is better characterised and is more impressive visually, especially in close ups. Every now and again some movement will come across as jarring, and admittedly this is down to the HFR. A similar moment occurs when Radagast is riding off on his bunny sled; his fast moving image looks like a poor computer game graphic. Aside from these minor flaws, I actually ended up appreciating the film quality in battle scenes. The Goblin Town fight is brilliantly directed and shot, and there are moments where it feels as though you’re sat on a ledge watching the action unfold. Where I thought it paid off the most, though, was in any scene at night where fire is used. The red sparks and flames are brought out beautifully against the indigoes and blacks. The scene towards the end of the film, where Azog the Defiler hunts down Thorin, was for me, visually, one of the highlights of 2012.

With some inspired moments of magic and well-designed magical creatures, including the epic storm giants, the comedic trolls, and the grotesque Great Goblin, The Hobbit is full to the brim with entertaining content. I have no issue with the book being split into three parts if it means attention to detail like we’ve seen in The Unexpected Journey. It seems as though if it’s not complaining that Peter Jackson has left things out, it’s complaining that he’s put things in, or that he’s stretched things out for too long. Okay, so this film is not for everybody. You may not be able to get over the look of it, or you may just find 13 dwarves a few too many for a three hour film. But there’s no denying that a great amount of love and effort has gone into this adaptation, and I am eagerly anticipating the next instalment.

FINAL VERDICT: ★★★★

Prometheus (2012)

Prometheus

How do you review Prometheus, when it has become one of the most talked about and theorised films of the year? Endless questions, theses, conspiracies, and arguments flood the internet regarding Ridley Scott’s newest venture into the unknown. What does it all mean? Who is that? Why did this happen? Why did they do that? What the hell is the green goo? No definitive answers can mean frustration, bitterness, or excitement, depending on who you ask. Often attacked on the grounds that it is aesthetically pleasing rather than intellectually engaging, Prometheus has come off as a bit of a flop. An exercise in picturesque Science Fiction, it offers many pretty images, but no depth.

Reading other people’s reviews, I tend to agree that it has some weak characterisation and a shoddy script at times. So why did I love it? This is my own question, and one that has been haunting me more than others. I could say that it’s because it looks amazing. The engineers are uncannily beautiful; ripped and chiselled, they strut around like fondant statues. And the opening scene where the camera flies over the landscape is breath taking, the greys, whites and blues carefully matching the skin tone and the robes of the engineers themselves. But to praise only the visuals would affirm all major criticisms of the film. And I find it hard to celebrate the film’s makeup when faced with the shoddiness that is Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland, who resembles a young man who’s been in the bath too long.

So perhaps it’s the story? After all, it’s one that is age old. Human curiosity and a desperate desire for answers is humanity’s Achilles’ heel. Always sensing something missing, always wanting that last piece of knowledge that will make us whole, we venture into the unknown in order to make it known. Shining light on the darkness, labelling the uncategorised, providing a past for that which has no history, all of these things can be seen in Prometheus, and are, in a sense, the driving force behind the creation of the film itself. Providing a “back story” to Alien, and a history for the Xeno, Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof feed our need for information with this newest chapter, and yet leave us with more uncertainty than when we arrived. Scott knows that we will come back for his sequel, just as we know that the Nostromo will make similarly horrifying discoveries decades later.

What I liked about Prometheus, though, is that it engaged David in this curiosity. An android with no soul, this character is surprisingly one of the most curious of all the characters. He is the one who stays behind for further observation, pushing the limits of safety. He steals a vase, experiments on humans, and plays around with the dormant ship without any hesitation, prodding random buttons like a child. His disregard for caution and his eager investigations break down this human/curiosity association, suggesting that meddling and questioning is in fact hardwired into intelligent life. It is the logical reaction, otherwise David would not engage with it.

One of the most interesting points about David is that he consistently disrupts the distinction between humans and technology. His smiles are often unjustified, leading us to muse over his capacity for emotions and private thoughts, and his obsession with film, music, and sport, is uncannily human. Add to this his line: “The trick, Potter, is not minding that it hurts”, taken from Lawrence of Arabia, and you have a suggestion of feeling and sensation ignored. David hurts people around him; he gives Holloway the black liquid which causes him to mutate and die, and he allows Shaw to be at risk around an infected man. His seemingly cold exterior can be easily explained by his being an android, but another option is to see David as ignoring the guilt he feels at hurting others by focusing on the bigger picture. Just as Prometheus in mythology felt endless pain for giving fire to the humans, David too must feel the pain of a conscience but “not mind that it hurts” as he destroys some lives in order to help others, or succeed in greater plans.

Apologies for the lengthy analysis of David, but I can’t mention him without mentioning another film, one that Scott is undoubtedly influenced by. 2001: A Space Odyssey sees David Bowman on Discovery One, flying to Jupiter in the company of a computer named Hal, and I couldn’t help but notice similarities between Hal and David whilst watching Prometheus. Both are computers with personalities, looked down on but ultimately powerful. Their speech is similar, and there are even lines in Prometheus which echo 2001. The key difference is that roles and names are reversed. David in 2001: A Space Odyssey is the human, whereas he is the android in Prometheus. And Shaw’s “What are you doing David?” recalls Hal’s “What are you doing Dave?”, but sees the human asking the question rather than the other way round. These role reversals again blur the human/computer binary.

It is details such as these which I think are intelligent, and are part of the reason why I love Prometheus despite its flaws. However, I still feel as though the strong characterisation of David isn’t enough to warrant four stars. What else is it that I love? I think for now I’m going to have to do a Ridley, and leave this question unanswered. Perhaps I’ll offer solutions in a second or third review, but for now I’ll let everyone go frantic and try to work it out for themselves.

FINAL VERDICT: ★★★★

Bad 25 (2012)

Bad 25

Spike Lee’s documentary on Michael Jackson’s album Bad fails to ask important and difficult questions. Skimming the surface of an incredibly troubled life, it is never quite brave enough in its handling of the man behind the music. Focusing on the composition, structure, videos and live performances of the songs on the album, the documentary is a self indulgent and aesthetically entertaining celebration of music, rather than an emotive portrait.

Is this a bad thing? Some would say no, that it’s refreshing to finally have a feature length look at Michael Jackson that doesn’t attempt intrusive psychoanalysis. However, I can’t help but feel that the film comes off as especially limp when compared to Marley, the other major music documentary to come out this year. Aside from the shallow treatment of its subject, Bad 25’s camera work is unimaginative, its interviews tiresome, and its choice of celebrities crass (Justin Bieber has a scene where he cites Michael Jackson as a major influence, and references one of his music videos, comparing it to The Way You Make Me Feel). If anything, the documentary inadvertently reveals that some of Michael Jackson’s creative team were complete creeps, and interesting facts are divulged only to be forgotten.

Frustrating, if only for its lack of depth, my main criticism of Bad 25 is that it offers nothing that a good listen of the Bad album and a little research wouldn’t provide.

FINAL VERDICT: ★★ 1/2