Monday 25 February 2008

Review: Juno

Year: 2008
Director: Jason Reitman
Screenwriter: Diablo Cody
Starring: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, Allison Janney, J.K Simmons

I was to say that this film is "the little movie that could" however this quote has already been taken by a fave reviewer of mine. However in looking at the Oscars in recent years you can see what people mean by said quote. Did you see Seabiscut winning anything? In the bedroom anyone?

It seems that every year a small film is aloud to come out of the underground and have a look around. It looks like this year it's Juno. It is this years Little Miss Sunshine which was last years Capote (that doesn't sound right but fuck semantics). It's up against the Coens and P.T Anderson and like their movies or not both movies look like shoe-ins for the big awards. Hell even Atonement looks like it has more of an outside chance (however it looks too English compared to the Western throwbacks it's up against).

Juno is unfortunately the "cute" film that makes the Academy Awards not look like a back slapping jerk off parade. It's a shame because politics aside Juno is a fine film from Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody. The film will always be considered "that little indie film" but don't let its unfortunate pigeon holing take anything away from it's refreshing sweetness and touching story. Juno has it's quirks but unlike many movies that this film will get lumped with those little touches will not be the only thing about it.

It seems that Reitman has no worries with taking difficult themes and breathing a light freshness to them. Teenage pregnancy can be touched upon in mainstream film but of course it's one of those issues that American film would like to keep in the unseen arthouses or bad T.V dramas along with realistic outcomes of violence (see elephant) and of course the oldest of chestnuts...race (don't let that Oscar win for Crash fool you, remember what I said about back slapping.)

Juno takes a hard subject and lightens it enough to be entertaining and funny but manages to keep that balance up to show an extremely emotional situation which would be hard to deal with some all sides. Juno hasn't has much upfront conflict as it's subject matter would suggest but Reitman keeps it simmering just under the surface. Juno is a sassy and tough teenage kid but passing moments in the film show the audience how fragile she is.

Juno reminds me of the film Igby goes down but Reitmans direction is stronger than Burr Steers and Diablo Cody looks to be a better writer. The manage to make the central character of the film three dimensional. Snuggled into that space between childhood and womanhood, her moments of immaturity are honest and natural, while her intelligence throughout the film is fierce but also believable. Despite her being outspoken and edgy she is also selfless and understanding. While all I say sounds like badly written pseudo, cinematic babble. It is hard to find young characters like this in mainstream film.

To play a part like Juno you need a damn fine young actor and Ellen Page is brilliant. Page is an actor that's not only showing alot of range at such a young age (watch Hard Candy and X men 3) but she manages to act with a humility that is missing from actresses the same age either that or she just fucking acts either way I'd rather her cop off with an Oscar than Keira Knightley (I'm I the only person who thinks she's a plank of wood?)

Page is joined by a brilliant cast. J.K Simmons, Jason Bateman and Allison Janney are great in roles that would be extremely thankless in lesser films. All three are great character actors that use their best attributes to each role. Bateman has a rouge charm about him which is hidden in many of his latest roles due to the need to be either a straight man or "zany". Simmons has great presence throughout and can command a scene if need be while Janney is a chameleon who can get lost in a role with ease. Cera is also great (although typecast) while Jenifer Garner is the most surprising entry. She needs to appear in more material like this as she standsout a hell of a lot more.

When I'm not watching big, hard, manly films, it's sweet soft films like Juno that reminds me how touching cinema can be. A film like this could take it's subject matter in many different ways and manages to give a the audience a tender tale subtly told by Reitman. A great ensemble cast, a script that feels fresh and funny, a great soundtrack and a story well told that doesn't feel manipulative and corny. Next year another Juno will be entered into the awards buzz and I'm sure it may have it's charms. However I do doubt it feel be a cute as Juno is.

Tuesday 12 February 2008

R.I.P Roy Scheider

Thoughts go out to the estate of Roy Scheider, who has past away from Cancer earlier this week.

To ignorant fools this man was the lead in Jaws. So even through this is a short obituary you should pay respects to a good man.

I know it's not a scene from Jaws but i loved him in this.

His later films my not have had the quality of his films of the 70's but Scheider was a consistant and solid preformer in everything he did.

Monday 11 February 2008

Review: No Country For Old Men

Year: 2008
Directors: The Coens
Screenwriters: The Coens
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald

*Note: Spelling to be edited.

With an Ending that will frustrate as much as it will inspire, No Country For Old Men sees the borther Coen going back to what many have said is a return to form. After the lukewarm reception given for The Ladykillers, the brothers became hard to trace, however the Coens are directors who make films for themself. Love them or hate them, the don't make cookie cutter material for everyone, thats why we have the Waynes Brothers.

The Coen's latest film is a Western which deals with a cat and mouse plot involing Llewelyn Moss (Brolin) who discovers a brotched drug deal in the desert. He finds the money from the deal and decides to take it and run. However a hitman (Bardem) who has escaped arrest is asked to claim the money back and will stop at nothing to get it back. Sherrif Bell falls in on the plot and gets on the case to try and intervine.

Thats a fairly basic synopsys of the film. Hardly a film that should last over 2 hours long when explaned like that in this day and age. The Coens however are big fans of the odd and unconventional and their "crime film" is a metaphyical story about fate and running from it.
I watched this with my girlfriend who HATED the movie. she found it way too long, many scenes meaningless and the story dull. She couldn't get why certain scenes were in there. I can understand what she means. You see scenes that just wouldn't be in a lesser film. However these scenes are nessercery to the film as the film is not about the surface story it's about the characters, it's about what they say, what they do, how and why.

Other films would short cut across the aspects that the Coens use to make the film stand out. The audience would place their focus on the "good guy" and the money and not spend time with him. Desire + Goal = Get there. But No Country is a intense character study which tells us that the world can still be a lawless place and that the future is an uncertain one.

The scenes are meticulous and done in such a fine detail it's impossible not to admire, even if you dislike the movie. Characters sound like people and act like people, not like robots who enter scenes explain the story to the audience (like they can't see it on the screen) and then head to the next scene. The Coens way of telling the story in No Country is lyical and realistic. The scenes my girlfriend pointed out as meaningless are not to me because they are there to advance the characters not the next plot point. Ethan and Joel wish for you to spend time with their characters. The money and the goal isn't the important thing it is what these people are doing.
The performances have had many a superlative thrown at them and it's easy to see why. Bardem plays his role not just as a villian but a 3-dimentional one. He is not dimissed as typical Micheal Myers type, but as almost as death himself, the look in his eye is one of absolute malviolence.

Brolin also has an engaging presence in the lead role. Brolin manages to balence small town nauces with smarts as well. He does a fine job carry most of the time, much of it saying very little. Something that people see less of as for the need to have characters talk contasntantly. Tommy Lee Jones is brilliant as the well worn sherrif, his voice perfect for the witty dialouge that transpires throughout the film while Kelly Macdoland is almost unreconizable as Moss' wife. Expect an amusing cameo from Woodly Harlison also.

The film (shot by Roger Deakins) is goregous to look at, with many moments re-capturing the feel of old westerns perfectly. I probably won't see a better looking film at the cinema this year. Add this to the small time dialouge, attenion to detail and lycial pace to the movie and you have another piece of Coen brilliance. No Country is intense and brutal in the right places, smatt, witty and in love with it's characters.

The ending will piss people off but it doesn't matter. The Coens wish to show of their love for small town America and how complex life gets when people try to choose their fate.

Tuesday 5 February 2008

Review: Cloverfield

Year: 2008
Director: Matt Reeves
Screenplay: Drew Goddard
Starring: Michael Stahl-David, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan, T.J. Miller, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman


Words can't describe how much I loved this film. I haven't left a cinema buzzing like this for a very long time. Cloverfield will have it's haters (heard of many a walk out) but for me this was a brilliant cinematic experince.

Cloverfield has been considered "godzilla for the youtube generation" and I can see why. Elements of video games like Half Life run rife throughout the film. When me, my girlfriend and some firend spoke about the movie afterwards we commented not on the destruction of New York City but the reaction of everyone on screen holding up camera phones. From the films pesudo-hand held feel, to the well documented hype, for a monster movie produced by the guy who "almost ruined Superman" Cloverfield is not only stylish but isn't dumb.

It's visuals envoke images of 9/11, not as a cheap showy trick but as a way to provoke the intensity of the situation. We don't get alot of character buliding but would you if you look at the context of the film. The monster is rearly seen for alot of the movie but it's lack on screen action only ups the ante. You could see this thing at any time, and the monster has a true feeling of unpredictablity that has been rearly seen in a movie like this in a while.

The story? Well we are shown a group of young people preparing for a party for their good friend who is leaving town to become a vice president of a company in Japan after a brief mingle and some of the guests dealing with their relationship issues...a temor is felt...then havoc breaks loose.

Havoc it is. After the first 15 minutes, Cloverfield has one thing on it's mind; keeping the tension going. The movie is filmed as if it were by a partygoer and the amatuer cameramans awakward reactions and movements keep pace and unease at boiling point. Once the monster is rife in Manhattan the suspense is constant. Don't worry about those questions that would be answered in real life. For me I didn't have time to dwell on them, for me they were irrelevent as the pace and the pure excitement of the film was (excuse the ghetto) OFF DA HOOK!

To help aid things the preformances of the unknown actors are quite strong. We don't get to find out much about them but their preformances manage for cover the characterization. This however is an asset to the film. The shock is there, but you need to keep moving, the characters preform it well and need the audience to follow suit (youtube generation et all).

The use of unknowns is a perfect for the film, with standouts being the film "lead" Michael Stahl-David and the comic relief T.J Miller playing the Cameraman who is named Hud (geddit?). Stahl-David has enough presence and talent to make his brief moments of emotion effecting while Miller has all the best lines. Most of the females in the movie however are not given time to show what they got in anything apart from tight bodies and small moments of distress but it doesn't matter as like I said imeditatcy is the key.

Director Matt Reeves and the much more famous producer J.J have taken a huge risk with this film and for me they have succeeded. The hype and mystery surrounding the film ape that of The Blair Witch Project along with it's modest budget and unknown actors. However while TBW left a lot of people short changed (not me, I love the films atmoshpere and preformances), Cloverfield delivers in many areas that others may not think that TBW does. The film has the ability to shock and excite. it's what it was made for and it's what it does...tenfold. It's been a while since I've been in a cinema in which the film left everyone in an errie hush after watching.
Cloverfield did it's job. I await the DVD.