Saturday, 31 December 2011

THE YEAR THAT WAS 2011


At the end of last year I moaned about people’s attitudes to remakes and sequels and unfortunately due to the abundance of such films that flowed through this year, it seems that once again I’m  bitching about such things once more. Sorry.

The ever excellent MAMO podcast made the amusing point this year that all these people whining about remakes of foreign films are talking about movies that have already been adapted for them. Getting on your soapbox about the latest remake is one thing but the fact that they haven’t realised that said foreign film has been adapted to make sense for them in the way of subtitles anyway, helps make the argument moot.

 It seems that even the makers of the original features are now even above such talk. To find out that director Tomas Alfredson thought that his reaction towards American remake Let me in was childish, speaks volumes to a tinterweb brigade who are quick to yell BOYCOTT and ORIGINAL MOVIES when the next upcoming remake is announced but a quick to step in line when the next book/comic/graphic novel to film adaptation launches. It hasn’t escaped me that despite all this “Hollywood is so unoriginal” talk, the highest ranking film based on an original idea (Bridesmaids) lies 12 in worldwide box office gross.  Closer to home in the U.K. we see that yet again despite some fine features making appearances and friends not only on these shores but in the U.S, you’d be hard pressed to find the likes of Attack the Block making even a dent in the top U.K 30, let alone the top ten. This makes the homegrown antics of The Inbetweeners Movie quite an achievement, whether based on a T.V program or not.

The final entry of the Harry Potter series speaks much of the cinematic landscape. Based on a book, brand awareness in heaps, bankrolled by Warner Bros yet filmed here with British talent. Yes, lavish praise was once again heaped on the wizard franchise by muggles. And while I agree that such films like Potter and Bond are around and keep highly skilled crew in jobs in our world famous studios. The amount of profit made by these ventures don’t appear to putting as money into our fledging British film industry as one would like. It does however help allow mediocre films like Clash of the Titans sequels to get funded.

This brings me to the problematic area of distribution in which our mainstream cinemas still don’t believe in a fair fight. When I first worked in a cinema; I remember discovering that two major studios owned it. Much may have changed since I’ve left but I’m sure that the major studios still have the biggest stake in our cinemas and the ultimate decisions in what get shown. I’m constantly frustrated that movies seem to only be slanted towards an ignorant 15-24 male demographic whose only concerns are Robots hitting each other but this is something one must grin and bear until I move closer to London again and allowed to wallow in the glorious glow of the Curzon Cinema in Soho. As a lover of cinema, I will still try and seek out smaller gems when I can. The problem is of course, it’s most likely to be a home with microwave popcorn. Away from cinema screens filled with noisy, iphoning, dingbats.

Such talk explains why things don’t appear to be changing. If people are waiting to watch certain types of cinema at home, online or on blu-ray with massive screens then why would cinemas try and alter the viewing choices? The major budget films are all about those first three days (or more depending on those advanced screenings) in as many screens as possible, and it seems to be working still (despite falling viewership) Smaller films (particularly overseas markets) seem to be happy with the long game with the knowledge that it could find the audience it desires on the smaller screen. It’s all good asking for change, but even when the likes of Jonathan Rosenbaum have decided to set up shop at home than the cinema then many must be asking “what’s all the fuss about?”

With all this said I still watch as many movies as I can. It’s easy to bemoan many aspects of modern viewing (and I do at length), but the love of sitting in a dark room watching a movie still bewitches me. My only ask is that film should be viewed more importantly, as an art form and as a way we shape our culture. With the ability to capture motion being so easy for us these days, we take for granted how powerful the medium can be. Yes, entertainment does and will always be a factor when I pick up something to watch but one of the things that makes warm is when a film as the ability to teach, spark thought or debate, and of course move you. This year has been one in which such aspects have made that mark.


My favourite ten of the year (as always in no order):

Grubby crime cinema from Australia. More in line with Greek Tragedy than Goodfellas. Michôd's feature debut is may have a low key feel, but the tension is ratcheted to its highest. It’s opening scene hooked me. It’s final moments left me on the ropes.

Melancholia is at times just as visually arresting as Von Trier's Antichrist, but is a far more precise being. Von Trier is far more accurate here and one of the reasons seems to be that the subject matter is closer to his heart. The dark clouds of depression loom large over both Antichrist and Melancholia but the latter shows a director whose far more in the mood to tackle (and even embrace) his demons then letting them run amok. Self absorption and pomp are still abound from the "best director in the world" but this is far more focused, far more at peace.


It slips from action to drama without difficulty, it shrugs off its unoriginality and sketchy plot with well drawn out themes, strong lead character and visual flair. The music is immediate and kept me in the moment and I adored the films quiet loud quiet rhythm. Hanna doesn't say much different, but it has the ability to be more articulate when it's shouting it's message from the hills.

Unrepentant to the end, provocative and just as relevant for now as it is for the era it’s set in. Like it’s lead character it’s tough to watch at times but compelling throughout.

Malick’s film is a celebration of life, a joy in contemplation of us merely existing and how this fact alone can provide resonance in others. That our simply being here can provide happiness to those we touch.  This simple and yet deeply profound and affecting ideal is why I loved the film.

I thought it would be the weakest blockbuster of the year. Turns out was the most exhilarating one and one of the only summer flicks that actually wanted to tell a story. The film also featured one of the most fist pumping, barnstorming set pieces of the year, set on the San Francisco Bridge.

If I wanted to act clever; when talking about Drive, I'd say something along the lines of: A brutal symphony, tinged with flecks of 80's nostalgia and machismo.  But I’m better off in stating that Drive is a highly entertaining, stylish piece of trash. A classically tragic anti-hero, a soundtrack that once heard you can’t shake off and a beautifully shot L.A. I was in heaven watching this.

Alfredson's film works so well because it take time over showing how deeply isolated the spy game is. Close relationships are broken, belittled and bargained for, information is called gold dust for good reason and moral compasses are as murky as the films cold, drab colour scheme that Alfredson utilises to enhance the tone of the film. The film is literally as grey as the the shades these characters dwell in.

The GuardIn yet another year in which I found most of the Hollywood comedies waning somewhat, it’s was wonderful to stumble upon this low-fi Irish indie gem. A film I hope find its audience on DVD like it’s kissing cousin In Burges.

Ramsay’s direction as never been so precise, while Swinton simply dominates the screen in this psychological battle of wits. The films draining central relationship  (with Ezar Miller giving a particularly malicious performance) manages to keep it’s ambiguity and tension to the end.



Other Film highlights: Meeting directors Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block). The biggest thing for me this year however was meeting one of my idols; Mark Kermode, in Oxford and talking to him about The Ninth Configuration, Thelma Schoonmaker and Shutter Island

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Review: Crazy, Stupid, Love

Year: 2011
Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Screenplay: Dan Fogelman
Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Julianne Moore

Synopsis is here

It's a film that has date movie stamped all over it and I'm sure most twenty something males wouldn't even bother catching this flick, even if they are die hard Carell fans. But whether I'm right or wrong with my gross generalisation I have to say that Crazy, Stupid Love is a very warm and fun loving feature that's enjoyable because it feels like the makers of the movie actually watch similar movies and tried to find out what works and what doesn't.

I'm not surprised that as a rom-com it works, as directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have tried their hand at such endeavours before. Their début feature; I love you Phillip Morris was a film I wasn't completely in love with, but had a decent core relationship at it's core. Crazy, Stupid, Love is equally as smart with it's heart and does well to show these characters as flawed, yet relatable. Where I found Phillip Morris to be pretty bland in terms of how the story plays out, Crazy, Stupid, Love takes a well known track but does well to change the scenery. Where I predicted the end of Phillip Morris from a mile off, with this I still had a good time wondering where these people where going to take me.

It helps that the film spends a fair amount of time with most of it's characters and gives them a certain amount of grounding. As the film switches and swoops between characters with sub-plots at times interconnecting and colliding, we never feel too short changed about someone else, even when the films twists are at their most convoluted. It's unfortunate that twice in the movie however, we get two sequences involving Emma Stone and Julianne Moore that sat awkwardly to me for all the wrong reasons. I won't lie and say that part of this is possibly because I'm a slightly selfish twenty something male who doesn't believe that certain characters honesty at that point shouldn't have amounted to the reactions given. In fact both felt like a screenplay bait and switch in order to forcibly manipulate character affections to the audience. The scene with Stone is particularly cumbersome as the other character involved isn't written as well as he could have been.

However the characters (that matter) are not only well constructed, but also well cast. Carell whom I feel has had a patchy film career, carries the film well and his relationship with Julienne Moore is one you can get behind. You could say Moore is slumming it here considering some of the high class work she is usually known for (I always feel more people have to see Far from Heaven), but she is more than effective here. The film does well to try and make sure that you don't hate either character, although you may finding yourself being less than subjective (very dependant on what I mentioned in the above paragraph). Emma Stone once again shows how much of a likable and charming presence she is one screen while Gosling has a lot of fun as this Hitch-lite character who goes though a slighter more predictable arc than everyone else but still manages to hold his own against Carell at the best of times. The banter between the two (and a great Marisa Tomei in support) bring about the best comic moments.

It is also worth noting that Crazy, Stupid, Love is a film that looks as sharp as one of RyGos' suits. Something which you don't expect from many rom-coms is the filmmakers to really take note at what your taking in visually. The film's not has simple but effective visual motifs to illustrate the distance between characters but it also has a rich colour palette and uses soft focus in a wonderfully dreamy way. Strangely it's use of such a technique, particularly in relation to the sub-plot it appears with, reminds me of a John Hughes feature. I don't even think Hughes ever even used such elements, but the strange mix of the cinematography, the "normal" characters, and the good natured feel of it all for whatever reason invoked such memories.

Much like Extract; Crazy, Stupid, Love works well as a film about communication (or lack there of) and also reminds us that relationships are about not only utilising said communication with the other person, but also allowing ones self to be open to conversation. Simple scenes such as Gosling and Stone staying up all night talking, or the small heartfelt moment involving Carell and Moore outside their sons classroom during parents night are the type of scenes that can sink or swim romantic comedies (some don't even bother with such moments.) but when used well, they make the difference between a screenplay going though the motions, and something worthwhile. Crazy, Stupid, Love feels like a film that spent time revising what went well before to make sure it doesn't get pulled up for lack of interest. Because of this, I invested interest.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Review: Bad Teacher

Year: 2011
Director: Jake Kasdan
Screenplay: Gene Stupnitsky, Lee Eisenberg
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segal, Lucy Punch

Synopsis is here

I'm sure that there's a few people, who drop by this site, and read my negative reviews on comedies and probably think I have a humoroscopy. My last review on the quite lacklustre Horrible Bosses will probably have way more people disagreeing than agreeing with me but in the blogosphere it's expected. I won't be surprised that the same people who rated Horrible Bosses a high ranking 7.1 (as I write this) on the IMDB, took offence at the Cameron Diaz vehicle Bad Teacher and gave it the 5.7 it has to settle with.

After watching the two pretty much back to back, I've gotta say that at least Bad Teacher doesn't pull it's punches. The subject matter may not be as dark but the subversiveness is there. I laughed and tittered as Diaz revelled in a role she loved playing. I will not try and defend the fact the film is not one note, but there is enough in the performances (particularly Lucy Punch and Justin Timberlake) to keep me watching. The film has just enough brazen energy to keep things ticking.

Most of the energy comes from Diaz who comes across as an evil Dewey Finn. I liked her timing; as I have in the past, and there are small moments throughout the film involving her character I just enjoyed throughout. At one point we see that her also unsavoury flatmate would rather go out elsewhere than sit in and get "shitfaced" with her. The films car wash set piece is something one could see a mile off but still brings a silly giggle. It all seems to be down with how much you dig Diaz in the role. I've seen actresses that could perhaps do more, I know a ton that could do a lot less. However, Diaz did enough to make me want to see what will happen next in the next scene. I liked her interaction with the kids, as well as her drab banter with Jason Segal.

I guess Bad Teacher got me due to low expectations. Maybe I should watch films so late at night. Maybe I should have watched it separately from Horrible Bosses  The arcs are predictable but they function well enough for say, people looking for a throwaway 90 minutes pizza movie. It's mean, but I saw a glint of the characters redemption early enough in the film to plough on ahead. It's a feminist nightmare but in all honesty, unlike some other movies, its clearly in jest and winking at the camera. I can't lie, I didn't think it was as bad as many others said. Maybe I did have a humoroscopy.


Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Review: Horrible Bosses

Year: 2011
Director: Seth Gordon
Screenplay: Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein
Starring: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey

Synopsis is here

As someone who is usually easily amused at pretty much everything, it's a shame that I'm so dismayed at the mainstream American comedy. Sitting through Horrible Bosses only confirmed my fears. Negative grumbling's have stated that the film is racist and homophobic. I didn't think so; and as a dark comedy, I expect a film like this to go down paths that are a little risky. The troubling thing about Horrible Bosses is it's not outrageous enough, from it's pretty bland straight characters to it's lacklustre, quickly hashed out ending, the film just doesn't push the bar high enough. I'm not the biggest Hangover 2 fan, but despite the spitefulness that infiltrates that movie, it gets the point.

Take in case the man eating, boss character of Jennifer Aniston. The film does well to show off how well Aniston looks after herself. In fact at points I found her more attractive here then when she was younger in friends. But her sexiness distracts from her point in the movie. In the same way you're not fooled when Rachel Leigh Cook puts on her hipster glasses and claims nerd, you find it near hard to believe that Day's character is completely turned off by Aniston's advances. It would be more entertaining if we had some one you could consider less attractive. I may be wrong in saying that but I do feel more comedy could be pulled from Charlie Days revulsion if the antagonist wasn't a smoking hot babe. Think Matt Lucas' Bubbles in Little Britain.

In fact I found myself relating Horrible Bosses to some of the brilliant comedies that grace our screens now. Shows that are quicker with the jokes, push the bars of taste and decency further and are generally more amusing than their cinematic counterparts. A barrage of shows including Charlie Day's own It's always sunny in Philadelphia, hit their comedic marks harder than this 9 to 5 update. I pick Day's show not only because of the connection of line crossing comedy, but because Day's Pilot for It's always sunny cost $200 and was far more amusing with it's envelope pushing. 

This isn't to say the film has it's moments. Despite undermining the comedy somewhat, Aniston is clearly game for a laugh, as is Farrell who both make the best out of their somewhat marginalised plots. It's obvious however that it's Spacey who has the most fun however, as he eats up his ignorant, arrogant asshole character with an extra large spoon. The three antagonist are infinitely more entertaining than the straight men who are difficult to even picture as friends let alone anything else. It's not that Bateman, Sudeikis or Day are particularly bad, it's just that they are bland.  Take away some admittedly amusing, awkward scenes involving a certain Oscar winning actor and you realise that there's not that much that the trio take to the party.

Horrible Bosses is underbaked and forgettable and unfortunately comes at a time in which Television is bringing stronger, more outlandish, dark humour which are better with the references and does nasty right. A night in with a good series weighs in far better than this weak entry.    

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Review: Melancholia

Year: 2011
Director: Lars Von Trier
Screenplay: Lars Von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland

Synopsis is here

From nowhere; this celestial boulder, Melancholia appears from behind the sun and hurtles towards earth. When it connects, all life will be extinguished. Kirsten Dunst's Justine doesn't care, in fact for the most part this seems to be an afterthought. Reason being, it's clearly obvious that she's been dealing with a crushing pressure all her life.

Lars Von Triers' Antichrist was; for me, an excruciating bore. A beautiful; yet hideously unfocused piece, which tried too hard with it's Grand Guignol bloodletting and academic pandering to be involving in anyway. I still stand by my claim that many horror directors get slightest by some of the same things Von Trier placed on the table, and yet because of all the talk about thesis and the gorgeous visuals of the piece, the Dane gets a pass. Many will disagree with me there, but I'm digressing.

Melancholia is at times just as visually arresting as Antichrist, but is a far more precise being. Von Trier is far more accurate here and one of the reasons seems to be that the subject matter is closer to his heart. The dark clouds of depression loom large over both Antichrist and Melancholia but the latter shows a director whose far more in the mood to tackle (and even embrace) his demons then letting them run amok. Self absorption and pomp are still abound from the "best director in the world" but this is far more focused, far more at peace.

If Malick's Tree of Life was about the joy of life and the power of memory, Melancholia is the opposite. Tree of Life had Sean Penn's Jack reflecting on the various ways love was bestowed on him as a child. Here we are given a character in a deep state of depression (a subtle display by Dunst) whose hollowness clearly stems from a strained family relationship. An emasculated father (John Hurt in what appears to be a cameo), a scathingly bitchy and domineering mother (Charlotte Rampling) and a distraught sister Claire (Gainsbourg) who tries to care about her sister but is far too wrapped up by her own life. It is Claire and her husband John (a grumpy Sutherland) that has paid for Justine's wedding. Why isn't she happy? Why does she need to make a scene?

Much like Archipelago, the pain is hidden amongst the undergrowth as the family try and pain through a wedding that slowly detonates due to Justine's lack of well being. Told in two parts (named after the sisters) This half of the film is at times darkly amusing and appears to hark back to Festen (1995) by Domge 95 companion Thomas Vinterberg. Although; while visually more appealing, save for one moment, it's not nearly as scathing.

The second chapter, in which Melancholia becomes a stronger presence and begins to trouble Claire, is the stronger half of the story. As Justine becomes more depressed and yet more complacent about the end of the world, Claire becomes more anxious and worried. Von Trier's (and cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro) visual eye excel here. We watch as Justine lies naked bathed in the glow of the alien planet while Claire frets in the shadows. Another telling visual involves John; a man whose constant denial for nearly everything that's going on be it the idea of Melancholia crashing into earth or his sister in law's illness, wrapping his arm around Claire as they watch the planet come closer. Much like Defoe's character in Antichrist, is controlling and ignorant and fully wishes to dictate the women round him. The simple gesture of the embrace as Justine stand alone speaks volumes when observing his character as a whole.

It is films like this is why I can admire Von Trier at times, even if I do not appreciate everything he does. Here, his use of music (a beautiful prelude from Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde) and visual eye combine to make a lavish and dark insight to depression. While the sci-fi hook Melancholia may come across as gimmicky and trite to some, it does help accentuate the themes that Von Trier wishes to place across. I've never been as depressed as Justine within the film but there's an accuracy about it I find hard to deny. We emphasise with her emptiness at the wedding as everyone else only seems to care about the shiny glossy surface of everything. Even the end of the world means nothing to her. As the others realise this and lose their heads, her clam exterior states everything it needs to. She's stared into the abyss long before them and no one cared. Nothing is going to change now.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Review: Hugo

Year: 2011
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay: John Logan
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Mortez, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Lee

Synopsis is here

To many people I know; Martin Scorsese is the "gangster guy". When the name comes up, most think Casino over The Age of innocence or Mean Streets over Kundun. So when Hugo was announced, the film was considered to some a major departure. It's not. In watching Hugo, I realise that this family film has Marty DNA richly ingrained. Those who know Marty from Goodfellas may feel a note get struck when The Great Train Robbery is referenced in the film. The sense of history and that roaming camera betrays the films position. Add to that the themes of film restoration and referencing and anyone whose read at least one interview of the man can see that this is Scorsese in personal mode. There's a lot in here that we've seen from the man before but under different guises. However this is not an ode to "trashy" genre like say Shutter Island, or a glitzy throwback to the golden age ( The Aviator) but a love letter to the very beginnings of cinema.

That Scorsese uses James Cameron's game changer (3D) to help construct this actually quite fascinating. The tool considered to some as the future of cinema (lets not bring up that 3D has been tried before in the past) is being utilised to help try and enrich the past. As a film viewer who doesn't have much time for 3D I will admit that the 3D is a vaguely interesting element of Hugo. Like so many (if not all) these 3D features I'm still not convinced of it's story telling aspects. I don't find putting on those ill fitting plastic glasses to watch a film helps make it a more immersed experience. However the 3D does enhance the Paris landscape somewhat. The thing is, I'd still be invested in the film's visuals, anyway as the film is gorgeous to look from the start. From the beautiful glass house "castle" of George Melies to the visual reference of Harold Lloyds Safety Last, to the set design of the station where most of the action is based. This a film that is beautiful to look at and very reminiscent of the jaunts of Jeunet

It is that beauty that kept me involved as the films first act is uncommonly unfocused and quite not very involving. From the opening prologue the film feels slightly disjointed and it's difficult to get a hold on the material. The film becomes much more comfortable in the second act when the film's plot and talk of silent cinema come into the foreground. This is great from a film student, cinephile, point of view. From a family film perspective however, the wish to combine the history of silent cinema into a film in which children are the main demographic places it in a similar place as fellow movie brat Spielberg with Tintin. We get a film which seems to be intended for children or family but seems to be more in touch with the geek crowd. Critics have given the film high praise and why wouldn't they, the history aspect caters to them. But the films awkward marketing and the U.S release of the film; placing it up against The Muppets when the week after had no wide releases, appears to betray a certain apprehension. In comparison to the opening act of Pixer's Wall-E which manages to combine aspects of early silent cinema, new age tech gimmicky and story and still keeps focus on the intended audience, I wouldn't be surprised if Hugo gets the same mixed response from kids that I saw from Rango this year.

While the film doesn't have as much charm as I expected, there's a sincerity that flows through the film constantly. The film (read Scorsese) is clearly in love with cinema. For someone like me it's hard not feel a chill as Ben Kingsley's Melies explaining a film set as thus: "If you ever wonder where your dreams come from, look around: this is where they're made."  Hugo is a film that believes that cinema still has a certain power behind it. A highlight of this is a flashback situated in the middle of the film showing Melies creating one of his features and the ideals behind it. Similar scenes include the reacting of the first viewing of "Train arriving at a station" or when Chloe Mortez's character first witnesses a film for the first time. These moments seem lost and miles away when we now consider that we take the moving image for granted so easily nowadays. Hugo plays out like how those adverts which talk about "cinema only being worth seeing at the big screen" should play out. Scenes in which peoples love of cinema not only gets them to emote but come together are some of the films better moments.

This is fine for someone like me to go on about. Hugo tries to hack into that reason in why I love the cinema the way I do and to be honest I admire Scorsese's approach. The films lavish look, the nostalgic asides to story telling and dream making, the historical aspects that coincide with the story. It all falls into my romantic view of films and filmmaking; that it is more than just a happy go lucky diversion. That's fine for the 27 year old that I am now, but would the 8 year old approve? That I am not sure of.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Review: The Devil's Double

Year: 2011
Director: Lee Tamahori
Screenplay: Michael Thomas
Starring: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier

Synopsis is here

The main hook of The Devils Double is almost too bizarre to be true but the more you put into consideration the type of tyrants that we follow in throughout the film, the more typical the idea seems. Members of Saddam's family having doubles for certain occasions? Why the hell not? You can't be everywhere at once. It's even more handy when you consider the the high risk of assassination.

Based on the true story of Latif Yahia, The Devil's Double is a mixture of psychotic prince and unfortunate pauper as Latif is forced against his will to become the double for Saddam's Son Uday. Both roles are played by Dominic Cooper (I have only seen him in this and as Tony Stark's Dad in Captain America) a la Parent Trap Trickery (possibly) and yet you will never gain a moments confusion. Latif is stoic, upstanding and decent (although weakly accented by Cooper), while Uday is the type of Satan's gremlin that resides in the campfire stories of lesser villains in the films more showy yet stronger role.

Images and ideas of duality are abound, but no one will be looking at this with the identity struggle that inflicted the likes of Bergman's Persona, as the film plays out more in of the style of "Scarface in Iraq". Uday's world is one of excess over decency. Tyranny roams the landscape and Latif unfortunately must live in it as his likeness has seemingly trapped him in a unique hurt locker. That is keeps his sanity so well is not only a slight weakness of the film. His common decency makes him sympathetic, but almost saintly in consideration. Latif only falls into temptation with the flat female fatale character Sarrab; played by Ludivine Sagnier, whose allure is clear from her sultry looks and curves in the right places. This element of the film is not only typical of the genre the film is rolling in but also the most transparent. Sagnier's Sarrab has little to do apart from get Latif hot under the collar and boy does she. When Sagnier is given more to do the audience will probably not be surprised by what happens. This could be said of most of the narrative which delves into scenes of gory violence, sexual depravity and excess that would make Tony Montana feel slightly enviousness.

However, the film never lets up in terms of entertainment. Much like the little seen The Lincoln Lawyer, The Devil's Double works because it's a straight up crime film. Lee Tamahori has stated that the film is not supposed to be a political statement into the Iraq war and the bunkum idea that the film should completely follow the tracks of the true story, makes sure that the film can concentrate in being an avalanche of excess and madness. Strangely in it's extremity the film help create a particular kind of insight.While everything may not happen as the film states, it highlights the decadence of the regime it follows. Nearly all of the craziness is compiled in Cooper's whiny, buck toothed, bug eyed performance of Uday, who is as vile as he is fascinating. The battle that Cooper manages to instigate with himself is itself the reason to watch this film. If not for journey man Tamahori's assured direction of both action and drama. Nasty images of the invisible car fade have been replaced for a particularly golden palette and neatly crafted set pieces.

The Devils Double has Dominic Cooper fighting himself in more ways than one but it's a shame that the film keeps the polar opposites exactly as they are and refuses to make them merge. It's the seductiveness of the dark side (no matter how chaotic) that is missing from what is an effective and stylish crime film.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Review: 50/50

Year: 2011
Director: Jonathan Levine
Screenplay: Will Reiser
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick

Synopsis is here

There's always a chance that the something like 50/50 could have played out terribly. While I rather enjoyed Funny People I could easily see so many people viewing it as another typical Adam Sandler flick and avoid it like the plague. Sandler, Seth Rogan and Cancer? Not a what many are looking for in terms of films me thinks. While I did have a good time with that particular movie; the films humour being the most appealing to me, the characters were not as lucky. The film flip flopped in tone and there was an issue with length that should have been addressed.

50/50 has been labelled in certain areas as the "cancer comedy" in a similar, almost derogatory way that The Social Network was labelled "the facebook film". Such laziness explain the film in the most base manner and seem to actually do more to turn people off than get them to watch. It'll be a shame if people avoid 50/50 due to such simplistic descriptions (or a second appearance of Seth Rogan in a similar film) because the film's view of cancer is a sensitive one. It appears that a character (Rogan's) has a particularly vulgar attitude towards the whole thing and yet that ignoring his character arc due to taking everything he says at face value. A small but telling moment involving Rogan's Kyle says all you need to know abut his behaviour. While the role is slightly typecast, it is played out without some of the odd tonal shifts and expectations that some of the characters in Funny People. 50/50 works better as a comedy drama because it gets the balance right. When the film is funny (maybe save the trippy first chemo sequence) it's very funny. It notices the awkwardness of how we act  in certain situations and grounds the humour well. It doesn't "go dark" for the sake of it, instead finding laughs in the people we see.

The smaller moments stand out in 50/50 a lot more than some of the more grand ones. A sequence involving a revel in a relationship is played out for awkward laughs and it does work (as do the various pop culture references within the film) but doesn't hit the same heights as the more intimate moment involving a fellow cancer sufferer (Matt "Max Headroom" Frewer no doubt) and his wife sharing a small kiss. It's not much, but there's a sincerity within those moments that seems to stem from a true place. Writer Will Reiser (the true story the film is inspired by) has a screenplay which features such slight observations that if one wasn't paying attention you could miss how they build the story. The film shows illness as what can be, a state of humdrum and limbo. A short montage of people asking those typical, basic questions and tending to the topic on eggshells is captured in perfect awkwardness. An unfortunate side plot involving Bryce Dallas Howard's Rachael (who seems to be getting some bitchy roles as of late) and Levitt's Adam character works not because Rachael is pompous and self centred (although there's more than a hint that she could be) but because when it comes to those tough moments where her role has to make more of a stand than is usually asked for, her age, emotions and reluctance appear to stem more from the difficulty of the situation above all else.

That the film suffers from the character of Adam being a tad too "fine" with everything, is an unfortunate aspect. When Levitt has to show true anguish, he does so well but the character at times feels quite laid back and the film itself feels slightly disjointed. While of course learning that one has cancer could perhaps give such a feeling, the film sometimes has the effect of small vignette's than a whole. I must also state that the feel nearly wastes the brilliance of the likes of Phillip Baker Hall and Anjelica Huston who light the screen with their small but perfectly formed performances.

Hollywood is an industry that loves to concentrate on youth. It's no surprise that we get films that seem to connect with the main target audience are ones such as Twilight (topping the charts as we speak). 50/50 asks us to stop and look at the briefness of our own mortality even at such a young age. That the film manages to do this well and provide some solids laughs without being truly offensive is a plus.
  
 

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Review: Fast Five

Year: 2011
Director: Justin Lin
Screenplay: Chris Morgan
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Joanna Brewster, Dwayne Johnston

Synopsis is here

Regular readers can probably sense that  the fast and the furious films aren't really my thing despite being pretty much the exact demographic for them. I mean if I were a fan, I would have clearly reviewed the film in April when the film actually came out. Such is life. As it happens the film came out to more fanfare than I expected, making a scary amount of money and slapping smack bang in the middle of the list of highest worldwide grosses. Making over $600million, I was shocked that there were that many boy racers.

Interestingly enough, it's the lack of the street racing element that makes fast five somewhat worthwhile. The constant shoehorning of these guys in the same typical street racing situations was getting more than a little dry. Also screenwriter Chris Morgan (writer of the dubious 4th film) seems a lot more comfortable with the series somehow.The film still drops scriptwriting brain farts. An example being a female character falls several stories through a shanty town roof before brushing herself and claiming she's pregnant. Another is the easily swayed loyalties of characters at the drop of a dime for the service of pushing it's somewhat generic heist plot. However  with this said; the story is entertaining enough, the humour is also a touch better and this time round despite the superhero prowess of it's leads (seriously, only Batman could take Diesel's Dominic character) there is an emotional crux within the film.

Don't be expecting too much from this muscle bound, dumb Oceans 11 with cars though. I say there's emotion in the film but don't look for complexity (like anyone watching is looking for that). The film does enough to make some of these characters worth watching for it's 130 run time (far too long for a film so basic) but don't expect secondary characters to be worth a damn. Plus, if you've had an issue with the treatment of women in this franchise previously, then don't expect any turnaround changes. Although like the naff pop rap that comes with the movie, the extremities are toned down slightly.

Fast Five is once again WYSWYG although it seems that there's steadier footing. The performances are what they are (I don't think I'll ever get on with Paul Walker) and while the stunts defy logic they are do creating a certain amount of awe to proceedings. One must also note that the inclusion of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnston injects some much needed energy. It's a shame that his Tommy Lee Jones character is sidelined for the films duller, generic main villain. With this said, the fact that there's a Fast Six in production not only gives us hope of a larger role for him, but says everything it needs to about the franchise. Bloggers like me be damned, the boy racers will have their day once more.


Monday, 21 November 2011

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Review: Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

Year: 2011
Director: Michael Rapaport
Starring: Q-Tip, Phife Dogg,  Ali Shaheed Muhammad

I can almost pinpoint the main moments when I became a hip-hop fan. It was 1995-1996. It was when Batman forever came out and I brought the soundtrack CD which featured Method Man's The Riddler. That period of time I remember owning Gangsters Paradise by Coolio. Skip forward two years and I was introduced to the Radio 1 Rap Show and Channel 4's late night "Flava" program by my mate Darren. It was around that time I asked my father to bring me back some CD's as he went to see his sister in America. One of the albums he brought back was People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. That's when I became A Tribe called Quest fan.

Maybe there was a sub-concious thing going on under the surface, but the purchase of that album clearly shaped my taste in the genre, perhaps more than I even know. Since then I've not only become a hip-hop fan, but a certain type of hip hop fan. East Coast rapper?  New York in particular? Concious lyrics? Good chance I'll want to listen to you. I've got Dre, Snoop and Tupac albums and while I have time for rap that gets a little "thuggish". However that certain brand of hip-hop, often misguidedly considered alternative or emo* is what often appears when I shuffle my tracks on my Ipod. Tribe didn't just subscribe to that brand, they damn near invented many aspects of it.

So now we come to Beats, Rhymes & Life (aptly named after the Tribes more sobering forth album), a rarity in music documentary in that a hip-hop group go under the microscope. Considering the turbulent and eclectic life of hip-hop as a whole; from it's D.I.Y grass-roots foundations as a genre, to the multi-million dollar business rap has become. I'm always a little shocked at the lack of films (documentaries especially) with hip hop at it's core. Nick Bloomfield's revealing Biggie and Tupac and the fun loving Scratch by Doug Pray are great entries, and many will mention Style Wars as part of the stable. Yet, the handful of known and unknown films out there don't compare to other genres especially when it comes to artists.

This is where Rapaport's film kicks in. Its energetic first act half starts with a title sequence that not only highlights the band and the vibrancy they brought, but reminds one of the same bold, colourful entrance that Spike Lee gave Do the Right Thing. The film then follows a quite typical music documentary narrative, which ebbs and flows much like so many of it's ilk. This doesn't stop the film (especially the first segments) from being informative, engaging and funny.

What makes the Tribe the perfect hip-hop candidate for a documentary is their personalities as a group and as individuals. We discover that Q-Tip is the creative force and while no one would like to say he's the leader, it is him that conveys the drive of the artist. Despite having a nickname "the abstract" Tip at times comes across as calculating and focused. Phife on the flip side is the the more raw of the two rappers, a diabetic sports fan who's addicted to sugar. The more outspoken and impulsive of the two, many of the taking heads reference his punchlines and lyrics throughout the movie. The very different voices of the duo is pointed out at one moment (Tip - Calm and collected lyricism, Phife - High pitched, rougher flow) and what is interesting is that their lyrical style also mirror their off-stage personalities.

It's no surprise that as the film moves on, Phife becomes the heart of the film, while Q-Tip slowly evolves into what could be the antagonist of the piece. The films first half with it's wit, charm and sheer abashed love of the music and what it brought to people and each other is soon lost to a more dramatic focus as the film settles on Phife's illness and the varying factors that lead to the groups split. It's no surprise that Q-Tip is angry at the movie, as while the film doesn't paint him as evil, it does do a good job of angling Tip as the biggest factor in the tribe becoming archipelagos. Jerobi, who left the group early and Ali the DJ sit awkwardly on the sidelines as the film tries to make us take sides between the ill Phife and the more driven Tip. It's in these moments that film doesn't work as well as it could as it becomes as fragmented as the group themselves.

The film works best as a celebration of not only the music but of the artists that Tribe help bring to the surface. Talk of the creation of People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm and The Low End Theory are highlights. There are talking heads of Common, Pete Rock, Beastie Boys and Pharrell (one of the most revealing in terms of a new generation artist talking about the old school) share small insightful moments. The films credits feature brief snippets of Mos Def and Talib Kweli and quite simply...they don't get enough to say.

This doesn't sway from Beats Rhymes & Life from being a ineffective movie. The concert footage is full of energy. The short history of the group and their childhood is milder than one would expect and this along with the the nature of the tribe and the image they portray is handled well by Rapaport. An actor by trade (True Romance, Special, Bamboozled), his first feature film is clearly a documentation of something he loves. His off screen voice can hardly contain the excitement.

Beats Rhymes and Life left me grinning although I wish Rapaport took a little more from Doug Pray's book and less from Joe Berlingers. A Tribe called quest are not Metallica and while the film doesn't have that Spinal Tap feel that Some kind of Monster has, it fares better when it concentrates on the love over the arguments. Q-Tip states early on that after the Rock the Bells tour, the only time the group will be back together is is they qualify for the Rock and Roll hall of fame. Beats, Rhymes & Life is at it's best when it showcases joy and creation of the music that will hopefully make that possible.

*Emo rap is a bullshit term to give hip-hop that isn't isn't ghetto or gangster. Why? Because before the now more common, mainstream view of hip-hop or rap as aggressive thuggery and the materialistic bling era. Hip-hop was music which at times often had a real voice and message, be it social, political or otherwise. The idea that anything that doesn't talk about "bitches" and "money" and all that other nonsense must be labelled (often somewhat negatively) degrades and sidelines what hip-hop was and can be about.


Thursday, 3 November 2011

Review: The Ward

Year: 2010 (U.K release 2011)
Director: John Carpenter
Screenplay: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Starring: Amber Heard, Lyndsy Fonseca, Danielle Panabaker

Synopsis is here

Note: Titles I mention in the last paragraph really give the game away with this feature. You've been warned.

In my opinion The Ward is a bland film film. Straight up. It is a rote and derivative piece that comes from a director who should know better but perhaps doesn't give a damn. It has one main objective; to scare, and it doesn't manage this in the slightest. As a horror film this is cardinal sin. Not only have we've seen this being done millions of times before, we've seen this being done miles better film-makers that haven't even been around the block as much as Carpenter. A young girl trapped in a mental hospital isn't a tough sell to a genre junkie but the distinct lack of tension and tone make this one to avoid.

To focus on what's good for a second, Carpenter's film looks slick enough. It's by no means an ugly feature (which strangely could be part of the problem) and is at times visually interesting in particular the use of light and steadycam shots. Also considering that found  footage is the biggest thing going right now, it's nice to see a film that tries to hit its marks with old school techniques. You get the feeling that The Ward has one eye in the past and wants to invoke the likes of Shock Corridor which isn't really a bad thing. Carpenter's film is distinctive as well because; despite casting some of the genre's most attractive stars, the film does not attempt to sexualise them in any way. The film wants us to look at the girls for who they are and not how they are represented in a Maxim cover.

The problem is that with John had done the bad thing and sexed up matters at least I'd have something to talk about. The cast play no-note characters and they play them pretty badly. We do not know why they are locked in the ward and the film doesn't do anything to try and make us care. As frustrating as it is to watch yet another hot girl get stabbed-athon, it's still something compared to here in which we see the right things done wrong. Amber Heard isn't the greatest actress in the world but she does have a certain amount of presence to her. The fact that the film plays down her sexuality and yet gives her nothing else to grasp onto irritates, as we could have really been on to something.

The film, despite it's setting is eerily lacking in tone. Something that Carpenter usually does pretty damn well. This is no music video hack using the horror film to grab that Hollywood ladder, Carpenter has always been great at layering the right atmosphere to films like this.However, the hospital locale is not used to it's full potential while the soundtrack could really do with the kind of minimalist score Carpenter is also famed for add this to the vapid characters and your in for a naff night of fright.

The whole thing is pretty generic. I only just watched it and already I'm forgetting what's happened in it. I say that, but the film reeks of other movies that do similar things better. Spoiler alerts abound when I say this but if you've seen Identity (2003) Shutter Island (2010) or Session 9 (2001) (amongst other titles) then The Ward only needs to be viewed if your a Carpenter completest.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Review: We Need to Talk about Kevin

Year: 2011
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Screenplay: Lynne Ramsay, Rory Stewart Kinnear
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller


Synopsis is here

NOTE: My review is not explicit about major events in the film but there is enough written that might annoy. If you are sensitive about such matters, you may wish to watch the film first. In short, I dug this film.

The films most troubling moment comes at the end of the film. A gesture is made which asks the viewer "could you?" The gesture is so slight and unassuming and yet it displays details so much about the films central relationship. The same scene makes sure also carefully makes sure that one is left in the dark from other questions you might have answered, particularly the one we always ask when such tragedies occur.

Eschewing the episodic nature of the novel (Eva writes letters to her husband Franklin) We need to talk about Kevin comes across as part Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2003) and Joshua (2007, George Ratliff) but doesn't lose any of the spirit of the book. While Ramsay's film seems to have softened Eva somewhat (this view may be very dependant on personal perspective) but the themes of nature versus nature and love unconditional still stand strong. Said themes lie upon the board acting shoulders of one Tilda Swinton, whose complex and problematic performance carries the weighty burdens of guilt and shame easily, along with the larger issues at hand.

Swinton, dominates the film with a towering performance that helps raise the questions both the book and the film ask.While film does take away some of the background of the book and gives us a more streamlined story (Eva's throwaway mentions of America's political landscape; for example, are stripped away) this doesn't make Swinton portrayal of Eva any less conflicting. Small scenes; such as the doctor asking Eva not to resist during childbirth, or one of the earliest moments of Eva living life to the full in a tomato throwing festival slowly build up the image of a woman who believes that motherhood was thrust upon her. Even Eva look (with no offense to the brilliant Swinton) is not one of a mother. Well, not one we usually prescribe to. The look that lingers on Swinton's face throughout is a mixture of doubt and fear. The book furthers the detail of the hesitations but Swinton's ability to carry a scene and Ramsay's simple yet sharply shot scenes help place the message in the forefront.

Swinton's features become even more haunting as you see her paired up with Ezar Miller who plays the titular Kevin. The similar look of the pair is spurred on by their personalities. Eva's inner reluctance is mirrored by the external acting out of Kevin. The relationship slowly becomes a battle of wills more than anything loving. As Kevin grows, he seemingly tests his mother. From his incessant screaming when in her arms (observe the silence when in his fathers), to the answering back, to the teenage aloofness he displays before the so called Thursday event. We question her issues, as only she that holds any fears or frets about Kevin and her selfishness is clearly evident. In the early stages everything done can be attributed to merely a child being a child. As the film continues one may ask is Kevin's behavior due to the coldness of his own mother? Is this attention seeking at it's most extreme?

Ramsay tackles the books obstacle of unreliable narrator with visual aplomb (Atonement's Seamus McGarvey as Cinematographer) and splintered narrative structure. Told in flashback; Eva is often introduced into scenes with obscured, out of focus shots that pulled into focus, highlighting the haze of memory. She is surrounded constantly by the bold uses of the cautionary colour of red. Blood? Danger? When we first meet Eva she's drenched in tomato clearly in love with the moment, later we see her washing and scraping red paint off her house. Interestingly enough both can be looked at the same way depending on how you feel on the situation.

A sparse score from Johnny Greenwood and a bout of sound design racks up the mood and tension with timebomb sounding sprinklers and teeth gritting scrubbing. The most telling use of sound is the awkward moment when Eva relieves the tension of a constantly screaming Kevin by standing next to construction work.

However, this is a film based mostly on performances. Swinton is in excellent form here. Eva is a selfish mother but one we still care for in a peculiar way. This is down to Swinton's ability to draw emotions from places that many wouldn't be able to. Her body language shows us a character battered by guilt. We grow frustrated by her impatience of her own child and yet as the film rolls to it's conclusion we still share empathy...to a point. Ramsey's film stands on a knifes edge when it comes to the blame game. Ezar Millar shines well here as Kevin and does well to hide the menace under a veneer of teen aloofness. The film isn't as ambiguous with his character as it could be (Millar often looks just a bit one note evil) but this doesn't exclude him from doing the part well enough. John C Riley settles into a role that reminds us how well he can do oblivious (see Magnolia), and what is it with him this year with films with missing hamsters?

We need to talk about Kevin is one of the highlights of the year for me. A tense psychological drama which drums up difficult questions we often find reluctant to answer. Is Kevin a monster? To many, he is. If we were to read the paper of a true event that takes place within the movie we would denounce Kevin very quickly. We would quickly shove pop psychology (see: this entire blog) into the situation and make ourselves feel better as we try and make the matter more digestible. We have to as the real reasons are far too horrible to even try and rationalise. This film toys with our simple notions and knocks the foundations enough to disturb.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Review: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of of the Unicorn

Year: 2011
Director: Steven Speilberg
Screenplay: Steven Moffat, Joe Cornish, Edgar Wright
Starring: Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis

Synopsis is here

I can't lie here. I've been putting this Tintin review off. This is mostly due to me not thinking of anything witty or engaging to say about the film. However the biggest problem is how I wasn't won over with the final product. The motion capture (I'm NOT saying mo cap as I'm over the age of 15) was amongst the best I've seen. We have a group of actors that are clearly game for the project and a director whose more than capable to producing something special. But by the end of the film I was considerably underwhelmed. I found myself asking those questions that those who enjoy the film (and there will be many) will ignore.

My first query came about as soon as we met our intrepid reporter.  Tintin, a character that is known for purposely being a blank slate is portrayed quite accurately as one, but he's also a protagonist who manages to be quite smart. Almost too smart you could say as here we have a character who will question something and answer it straight away almost eliminating whatever mystery that could have been had.

You see, it comes so easy for the boy and while it's great to have such a sprightly and smart character, there never appears to be that element of risk. The stakes don't seem as high as they could be. While that appeared to be fine with me on the page (the comics) or small screen (Animated series) when I was a youth, here I struggled to get to grips with how safe everything felt.

I guess that's why some had/have a problem with the motion capture aspect of the film Much like how many critics talk about the soullessness of CGI, it's difficult for some to get on board with a film that is completely motion captured. I didn't have too much of an issue with the effects. It allows Spielberg to complete set pieces which would be nearly impossible with the usual human mixture. In that bizarre way how life weaves it's web, I watched Tintin a day after hearing the death of a stuntman on The Expendables 2. I'm fine with such aspects limiting such tragedies, I do hope however, that the stories are as formidable as the effects.

Visually, the film is stunning at points and Spielberg manages to add his trademark wit to many of the scenes. It's worth watching; not the main narrative of the story, but whatever may be going on at the side of the screen. Snowy is a dog that at times has his very own adventure going on in the background and one could miss a chucklesome moment because of it.

The performances are also worthwhile. Daniel Craig is clearly having a bit of fun as the bad guy, while Jamie Bell is a snug enough fit for the titular Tintin. It is however the work of Andy Serkis that tops the cast list. Serkis; the Lon Cheney of motion capture, reminds us that he really is one of Britain's best secret weapons. We love to fawn over the work of the likes of Gary Oldman, Judy Dench and the like but ask yourself this: When was the last time you saw him in a weak performance? Serkis provides the film with it's heart which helps illuminate the film much more than it's main character.

I think my main problem with the film is how formless it appears to me. I don't expect rigid three act structure to every film I see, but there's no build or peak to the film. Save for a monologue from Serkis' Captain Haddock and a delightfully full on set piece in the final third, I found myself difting in and out of the film.While I know Tintin is a blank slate in the comics, did he have to be here? Was there anything that could have been done to up the stakes? Why didn't I get the chills I get with other Spielberg projects? Once again I'm in the minority but I found Tintin passable and yet forgettable. However, I'm interested in what Peter Jackson will do with the sequel once he is done with middle earth.






Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Review: A Dangerous Method

Year: 2011
Director: David Cronenberg
Screenplay: Christopher Hampton
Starring: Micheal Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Kiera Knightley


For my second (and unfortunately last) film at the LFF, I was quite taken back when; for the screening of A Dangerous Method, we were greeted by one David Cronenberg. So surprised was I, that in trying to take a picture of the great man I only got blurry images. I was a little bit gutted as if I had known that there was a chance of seeing the filmmaker I would have set up my camera properly as opposed to the nonsense I took. This is yet again, something else to log down on my list of shame.

Shame is something that rears it's head within the DNA of A Dangerous Method as the pivotal character of the film Sabina (Knightley) is wrought with it. Carried to hospital kicking, screaming and giggling manically; she is brought to the attention of Dr Carl Jung (Fassbender). It is he, who decides to use the method of "talking cure" from his friend and mentor Dr Sigmund Freud (Mortensen) to try and find the foundation of her sickness. This action correlates and intensifies as the young practice of  psychoanalysis slowly grows from the relationships formed.

Martyn Conterio; founder of the wonderful film site Cinemart (can you spot the cheap plug), mentioned to me that he considers A Dangerous Method to be the quintessential Cronenberg. I'm not so sure. To me it's clearly one fascinating (and talky) part of a grander overture of his themes (repressed sexuality, the body at fault from the inside), especially in this section of his career, where it is the mind that is diseased (Spider = memory, Eastern Promises and A History of violence = personality and character) and yet there is a dryness in the film that is difficult to shake off. Cronenberg himself stated at the beginning that it is up to us to decide whether we consider the film good or bad. I indeed liked whats going on but considering previous efforts I was surprised how cold the film felt.

Many of the films scenes involves our three leads, hashing things out calmly with analysis and talk (sprinkled liberally with some light S&M), that nearly always end as a revelation or small discovery for each of the characters. Scenes are presented stylishly with many a face in extreme close up, conversing with someone else further back, mimicking Freuds "talking cure". It is obvious that these conversations shared are councilling sessions or as you could consider in Jungs case (much to Freuds disgust) confessionals with characters discussing their moods, methods and reasoning in such an analytical way that you are constantly held at a distance. Sometimes, it's a tad too much.

Cronenbergs film is very restrained, which is fair enough as we don't need exploding heads. However, considering the pedigree of the director at hand, the amount film holds back, diminishes much of the impact that could have had. In comparison to Spider; which did so well in making sure that the main character's surroundings, became his own personal circle of hell, you get the feeling that we could have got even more with this than we receive.

The film's main strengths are in it's casting. Mortensen strangely feels like how I would expect Freud to be despite never seeing a moving image. His cool wit, help defuse some of the film slightly when it wonders into it's pondering a little too deeply. Fassbender is fine here however with word coming from journalists about his second turn with Steven McQueen, and from what I've seen in other features (I love him in Fish Tank) I once again expected the world from him. Here, he is a little distilled. Knightley plays a character that I feel some will find frustrating at first, although she becomes stronger as the film continues on. It's her arc which is the strongest. Some of the films stronger scenes rely of Sabina's hold on the rigid form of Freud and the slightly more emotionally conflicted Jung. This isn't just the female as the prize and Knightley almost straddles both positions of damaged and healer, although her "mania" (all jutted out jaws and arching arms) feels slightly cartoonish at times. This is still a brave endeavour from a girl who is more believable here as a psychiatrist, than a pirate. 

For me, A Dangerous Method; much like Crash holds you at such an arms length that it's not as engaging as one would hope for. A late emotional moment caught later on, involving Jung sits awkwardly with the rest of the films goings on. The film feels most at home with a charming little conversation with Fassbender and a quick cameo from Vincent Cassell. The conversation involves sexual liberation by breaking past the social constraints we've built up for ourselves. With Cassell playing the devil on shoulder, the idea that allowing total expression and response from sexual pleasure and bypassing the our human rules harks us back to a young Cronenberg playing with sex slugs in Shivers making similar points with cheaper special effects. Despite the response not being as strong, it's interesting to see how the mighty have evolved.

Note: I really loved how the title itself means more than it lets on and can be applied in a variety of ways. Ebert mentions the same aspect much more eloquently about A History of Violence. Also it was interesting how the title cards were presented to us a similar approach was used in Spider. Nothing major just some observations.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Review: Carnage

Year: 2011
Director: Roman Polanski
Screenplay: Roman Polanski, Yasmina Reza
Starring: Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet, John C Reily, Jodie Foster

Synopsis is here:

The film is simple. Two couples meet to civilly discuss a violent incident involving their children. Both couples dislike each other as well as their own relationships but seem compelled by their hate to remain in the room they are in. There is nothing stopping these people to leave the house (one couple almost make it twice) and yet they remain to take chunks out of each other. Their conversation devolves into childish squabble at a swift pace, covering all sorts of uncomfortable areas and philosophies. Awkward glances transform into emotional sideswipes, forced politeness descend into racial slurs. Much like Bunel's "The Exterminating Angels" Polanski gives us a brisk 80 minutes to remind us that our so called civility that we love to utilise to lord above other people (or animals) is fragile veneer nearly always willing to crack when the right pressure is applied. The film is a claustrophobic black farce with four characters who make the bastards in Closer look like Care Bears. Polanski hasn't had this fun in ages.

This is the Polanski of old, back in the apartments (see Repulsion or The Tenant) while liberally sprinkling in that enclosing feeling that haunted the images of Knife in the Water. As Polanski turns the screws you can literally see the walls crumble around these characters, so relentlessly absorbed in their own little worlds that they come across as just as childish as the kids they came to talk about. The mud is slung thick and fast and the dialogue rolls off the fork tongues with devilish glee. Polanski remains uncomplicated visually as the actors do the heavy lifting.

Craftily casted, all four performances are finely tuned, with all managing to gain laugh out loud moments, be it the bash faux homeliness of John C Reily or the droll one liners of a carnivorous Christoph Waltz. Winslet as the cold, status fuelled wife of Waltz gets the best moment of physical comedy (I didn't expect such a moment from a Polanski film) while Jodie Foster lets loose as a passive aggressive bleeding heart liberal whose whiney protests for peace through culture brought some of the most amusement from myself.

My opinion of the film is simple. One of the two films I've seen this year at the London Film Festival (work commitments have slimmed my viewing) is a tightly wound, hystercal black comedy, from a director who even nearer 80 has not lost his sharpness when it comes to the middle class climbing up the walls of their closed in apartments. I'm not sure I've laughed harder at times this year.


Monday, 3 October 2011

Review: Warrior

Year: 2011
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Screenplay: Gavin O'Connor, Cliff Dorfman, Anthony Tambakis
Starring: Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Joel Edgerton

Synopsis is here

I had the wonderful pleasure of watching Warrior in a cinema all to my self today. While I understand that the U.K is going through an Indian summer of sorts with all this sun despite going into October, my love of cinema always beats out my wish for a decent tan. It was a joy to have a screen to myself for a film like Warrior; the problem however, is that I had the cinema all to myself. Much like two years ago with Whip it, I found myself watching a sports film that does almost everything right and yet, empty seats...Their loss I guess.

It's not just here in the U.K either though, as Warrior's takings in the U.S were very weak also with takings that would make a premiership footballer wet himself with laughter. I've not looked into any of the reasons offered to why Warrior failed but it's pretty unfortunate for a film which has all the traits of a modern update of Rocky. Much like Stallone's crowdpleaser, Warrior comes out as America is in a state of discombobulation. However while Rocky came out during the back end of Watergate and the Vietnam War and won over audiences who had been gorging on a diet of brilliant (yet ambiguous) American new wave. The fact that Warrior has struggled to set the box office alight against a backdrop of economic stress and middle eastern wars while millions was spent on horrid nostalgia fuelled multi-metal nightmares with dubious philosophies shows that not only William Goldman is still right and "nobody knows anything", but in terms of film viewing we have a vastly different audience when it comes to going to the cinema.

I really hope Warrior finds a fanbase on DVD as despite it's flaws, the film is an highly entertaining Drama in a similar vibe to The Fighter and The Wrestler. It has a more intriguing family dynamic, but is unfortunately held back by the typical cliche minefield that the sports film can bring. The film is very obvious in it's direction with it's clear as a bell indicators (family photos and the like) and we can guess what's going to happen a mile off. It doesn't help that the film makes sure that our "split loyalties" fall heavily over one of the fighters. Ambiguity is not an option. We can also add to the list that for a film that is 140 minutes long, the central conflict feels slightly abstract. I'm a bit surprised more wasn't made from it.

None of this however, detracts from the fact that Warrior has three solid performances that make sure that make the drama work. Tom Hardy's dark and brooding performance show that it's not only the frame that make him a prime choice for Bane. Joel Edgerton (last seen in the brilliant Animal Kingdom) is on winning form here as he has what I would consider a harder part to play. Nick Nolte is the glue that holds everything together and gives an Award baiting performance. Usually such displays can annoy but Nolte hits the nail on so many scenes that it's more than worthwhile.

Warrior is very much a film of it's time, with it's fighters not only dealing with their relationship problems (this is a family of men ripped apart by aggression), but also the socio-political issues we face at this very moment. Hardy's Tommy is a post 9/11 fighter whose past is troubled with what was seen in the wars of the middle east, while Edgertons Brenden paints a worrying picture of a man whose hit hard by the economical downturn. The idea that those who teach the next generations cannot sustain themselves is something is is quickly hitting home, with a pivotal scene in a bank proving that those below the breadline are merely statistics in the green tinted eyes of the banks.  The film plays out such moments with more than enough confidence.

My review of Warrior comes across as more negative than it should be. The film is solid, glossy, life-affirming entertainment all the way through. The MMA fighting hasn't reached the visceral punch that certain boxing films have but for the first MMA feature, the fights have enough crunch to them. The drama is held up by great performances and the film has Kurt Angle as a silent Russian cage fighter (what's not to love about that?). The film does what a decent sports drama should do and that's having you punching the air at all the right moments. As I had the screen to myself I did so with gusto.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Review: Drive

Year: 2011
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Screenplay: Hossein Amini
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Albert Brooks.

Synopsis is here:

If I wanted to act clever; when talking about Drive, I'd say something along the lines of: A brutal symphony, tinged with flecks of 80's nostalgia and machismo. But people who read this blog often should know that smarts aren't my strong point. Hell, I'm not even sure what I just said makes a lick of sense, so it's probably best to say that I felt Drive was a damn fine piece of Trash.

It's a film that clearly knows it's style over substance (there's really not much too it in terms of subtext) but WHAT style. Old school car chases (you know ones where you can see what's going on), unsubtle overblown moments in slow motion and brutality that one could describe as hyper violence.  Huff Post writer and prominent blogger Scott Mendelson hated the movie and likened it to a direct to DVD feature. However, I disagree entirely. Unlike many direct to DVD films, Drive doesn't mince words and puts its visuals, sense of place and tone to good use. Like Mendelson I don't see any underlying symbolism but I don't think the film is trying to hand any and it's all the better for it.

Drive appears like a throwback to Bullett. We have a strong silent "hero", whose intentions are good but morals are cloudy. It's easy to get frustrated at the films desire to eschew dialogue in place of lingering glances and thoughtful pauses, at first I found the film a tad clumsy with the films characters and their initial meetings with Gosling coming across a little awkward at first. However as the film goes on, the actors, their characters and the film begin to fit in their skin. We see moments involving Gosling's Driver and Carey Mulligan's Irene pretending to act like a normal family or relationship. We know this is not true throughout and I do believe it shows in the acting. From the tenuous smiles to the faux small talk we sense a connection but one that may be tragic. It great to see a relationship develop like this without the need to frivolous, throwaway trite dialogue.

It would be easy to dismiss Gosling's Driver as having a lack of backstory, however the film informs us of everything we need to know about the character in other ways. Listen to how his boss Shannon (a wonderfully on form Bryan Crannston) talks about how this drive literally dropped from the sky, look at the bare walls of the drivers apartment and how he lives (particularly at his simple rules as a getaway driver). Most importantly the films last moments involving the driver do sum up the characters life, relationships and how they interact when placed together with everything else placed together. No the film is not "deep" in the way I would describe something like Tree of Life is (or wishes to be if your a detractor) and lets not fool ourselves into thinking that this is ground breaking cinema but Drive, like Hanna, is taking generic genre tropes and taking them in different directions. It's 80's style soundtrack and slick visual style (one that does feel like a Euro director filming in America) mixed with an almost teenage angst and hardcore violence do make it stand out and the mixture of actors and direction do give it it's own voice. Compare this to something like Takers which truly wears it's generic elements on it's sleeve and I do feel you can see Drives clear strengths.

Gosling and Mulligan grow into their roles (still not fully getting the love), while Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman take pleasure in their antagonistic parts. The cast all work well, although I'm very disappointed at the fact that Christina Hendricks has even less to do than Mulligan. The star of the film however I feel, is the action. Like Hanna, we are given well executed, expertly handled set pieces (the beginning reminds me of the "slow car chase" of way of the gun at points) which grind and crunch as well as gearboxes that get worn down. Every violent act carries real weight, unlike the films pace which unlike the last Refn film I watched (Bronson) is far more breezy than I expected.

I, like so many others loved Drive, it's as brash and ballsy as the muscle cars it exhibits. It's polished design is light years away from the chaos cinema we've seen so much of in recent cinema. An old school action film with art house strands that keeps things simple and the entertainment high.