So last month came and went quicker than a Martin Freeman ironic sideways glance and January 2013 will definitely go down as a big month for beards at the mulitplex. Perhaps not since the Renaissance period has your local Odeon seen so much facial hair. Les Miserables’ turned out to be just a beard-off between Crowe and Jackman set to music; ‘The Hobbit’ showed us that short people can have big beards; ‘Lincoln’ stated that all beards are created equal; But ‘Django Unchained’ taught us that black beards are in fact way cooler than white beards; And ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ was a ‘needle-in-a-haystack’ search for one elusive bearded man in a Middle East full of bearded men’. Pass the pubes. Someone, somewhere is putting their kids through beard-making college.
But beneath all the goatees, five o’clock shadows, mutton chops and Vandykes what did the faces of these films actually look like?
‘The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey’ turned out to actually be a very expected journey indeed. It was fine. Warm, comfortable, enjoyable. Like an old pair of slippers. That you don’t wear outside the house. I’ve heard discontent amongst hardcore fans of the Lord Of The Rings films that it was drawn-out, and I saw a few ‘purists’ dressed as Orcs walk out after about an hour (although sometimes in Aylesbury it’s hard to tell who’s come in costume or not). 3 hours was maybe pushing it. I probably grew a beard of my own watching it. But does anybody remember the final half hour of ‘The Return Of The King’? These films have never exactly flown by.
There were ‘expectedly’ some very impressive CGI sequences. And as expected, the Gollum scene was the highlight (“What has he got in his pocketses” is definitely going in my chat-up lines book) and a reminder of how the film might have played if Guillermo Del Toro had been directing. But instead it was Peter Jackson back where he left off in LOTR. Surprisingly it was Freeman as Bilbo who at times I wanted to cast into the fires of Mordor. Those bemused sideways looks to camera that we’d come to love in ‘The Office’ became a little repetitive. Still, an early scene featuring a flash-forward or pre-flashback or whatever its called was a reminder that anyone would be hard pushed to be more irritating than Elijah Wood’s wet-blanket for all seasons, Frodo.
These days you can’t say a bad word about Tarantino without risking getting your “butt shut down”, but ‘Django Unchained’ was actually a bit of a disappointment for me. I still think in terms of dialogue, characterisation and pure heart-in-you-mouth tension there are few better than Tarantino. But I was once again reminded of the feeling that I had during ‘Kill Bill’ and ‘Inglorious Bastards’ that Tarantino, given his huge talent, could have done better. Note to self – Don’t have expectations. I didn’t really care much about Django, despite Jamie Fox’s best efforts, which I hope was down to his unempathetic character, rather than inherent racism. He seemed to fancy himself more than the wife he was rescuing, and the end suggested all he ever really wanted was to make a horse walk funny. Samuel L. Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio were on fantastic form as Django’s antagonists, and confirmed my feeling that Tarantino is better at writing villains than heroes.
It’s perhaps harsh to judge a director by their own high-standards, especially one with a foot-fetish. I love Tarantino and will go an see anything he makes. But at risk of getting my posterior closed down, I sense a tension within his work. For me, the best moments in his films are rarely the things the poster promises (the inglorious bastards, the genre tributes or the scenes of violent revenge) but instead the unexpected and original relationships that emerge from the story. Yet the thrill-seeking, action-loving fan boy seems to usually win in the end and he goes out all gun’s blazing. As he did in his early work, I’d like to see Tarantino truly transcend the limits of the genre rather than limiting himself in his tribute to them. I did enjoy his Steve Irwin impression though.
‘Zero Dark Thirty’ (Or ‘Come Out, Come Out Wherever You are Bin Laden’) depicts the most expensive game of hide-and-seek the world has ever seen. SPOILER ALERT – He dies at the end. Although by necessity of the time frame it spans, the film lacked the pure intensity of director Bigelow’s ‘The Hurt Locker’, it is still a gripping drama that turns into a game of Call Of Duty in the last 30 minutes. I also found a surprising amount of comedy in the film. The US government seem bizarrely uninformed (No shit some might say) and almost farcically foolish in their search for the world’s most wanted man, and at times the whole thing seemed a lot more like a Middle Eastern game of Guess Who (“Does he have a beard?” “Yes” “That doesn’t really narrow it down”/ “It must be Bin Laden’s house. It has high walls”) than it probably should have. I can only imagine that Bigelow intended this. Like the incident itself, the film leaves you with a lot of questions. Namely did it actually happen? Or did the Special Forces just accidentally force their way into the Pakistani Big Brother house just because it had high walls, and kill the innocent bearded contestants? I guess we’ll never know.
‘Lincoln’ is a like a long history lesson acted out by some of the best actors of our generation. SPOLER ALERT- He dies in the end. Behind the camera, Spielberg and his beard are on fine form. Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones are about as good as human actors can be. And Daniel Day-Lewis is not so much acting as just being Lincoln. You’ll spend a lot of time trying to work out who’s on who’s side and who you should be cheering for. It is a depiction of politics after all. But go and see it for Day-Lewis alone. He’s so good that it will probably soon be his face on the US bank notes rather than the President’s. There’s a message to take from the film though. It’s humbling to think that such a great man was finally assassinated due to sloppy facebook activity and his now notorious status update, “Abe Lincoln has checked into Ford’s Theatre, Washington” is a reminder to us all to keep our privacy settings on lock down.
Greg’s Arty Old Film Of The Month – ‘Waking Life’. I like films that make you feel more intelligent. I also like Richard Linklater. He’s made some of my favourite films. Imagine my pleasure then to stumble upon this little gem from 2001 on Netflix. It’s an animated journey into the subconscious. And if that doesn’t put you off it’s packed full of existential philosophy. I loved every minute of it. But it’s probably not one for a date.
So what did we learn in January? Well with all these biopics of dead people and prequels, it doesn’t matter if you know how a film’s gonna end. It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey. The very expected journey. And the beard you grow on the way.
Just to be sure… Beard Of The Month? It’s a tough call between Gandalf and Abe Lincoln. But I think I’m going with Abe.