Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Weeks Too Late: Bronson & Lennon Naked

Bronson. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Written by Brock Norman Brock & Nicolas Winding Refn. Lennon Naked. Directed Edmund Coulthard & Written by Robert Jones.

Preconceptions: Strangely enough I watched more than one movie this week, even more odd they were both bio-pics about famous figures in the UK. Typically I'd use this as an opportunity to be lazy and write two reviews, but the movies were such a contrast from each other I figured why not write about them both.

Bronson: In case you hadn't heard of this, Bronson is loosely based around the life of Michael Peterson, a famously violent prisoner. An interesting idea for a flick, but in the end it put me in mind of A Clockwork Orange without a plot. This movie nearly had me fooled. It was so lavishly stylish, well acted and interestingly directed I almost didn't realize that it was barely a movie at all. Yes, yes, it's a scathing critique of the warehousing of criminals that's paired fairly well with satirizing celebrity culture. That's a good compare and contrast if ever I saw one. But what the movie had in clever ideas it lacked in connected scenes and any kind of through-line. It could have easily been a series of unconnected shorts or music videos, or an over-excited child describing its day ("and then this happened and this happened and this happened!").

Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of things I liked about Bronson. Tom Hardy was excellent. He was off putting and intriguing. His skill and charisma kept my attention in what was often a one-hander. I also liked most of the directorial choices. The parts that took place in Bronson's head (that looked a bit like the stage scenes from Chicago) were really cool. But despite all the good, Bronson didn't tell a story. It had a lot of axes to grind and a lot of interesting visuals to show us, but not much to hang them on.

Lennon Naked: Given the difference in subject matter, these are two movies with some similar themes. Another strong celebrity character that dominates the movie and has a sometimes tenuous grip on reality. Lennon Naked focuses on John Lennon's life between 1964 and 1971 (around about the break up of the Beatles and John Lennon's peace movement stunts).

And another amazing performance from the lead. I loved Eccleston as Doctor Who (honestly, who wouldn't?) but even knowing he was a strong actor, seeing him so transformed in this role was surprising. I didn't find myself (as I often do) thinking "ah, and now Christopher Eccleston will do this as John Lennon." Nope, I just thought of him as the character. I can't wait to see how he's going to impress me next.

The directing showed a simply gorgeous use of economy. Coulthard shot things in such a way as to suggest scope, without having to shell out to show it. Lennon Naked took place in a lot of small sets, but it always suggested a larger surrounding world. It also used the time it had (running only 80 minutes) extraordinarily well. We were presented with a full picture of an extremely complicated character in an amazingly brief span.

My only real complaint is that Andrew Scott's Paul McCartney was truly awful. If it'd been a movie about all of the Beatles, that would have posed a real problem. As it was, we only had to deal with his pudgy-faced, mush-mouthed blandness for a few minutes peppered throughout the movie.

The budget (small), run time (short) and filming time (only 18 days!) did nothing to oversimplify the story. The writing was concise but not jarring. Lennon Naked won't take up much of your time and it's well worth what it does use.

Aside: Now, to stop being serious and be more of a 12 year old: titter titter titter, I've seen Eccleston naked. And to swipe a joke, I think he might be the first Doctor to show his, ahem, Who.

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