Sunday 25 January 2009

Review: Frost/Nixon

Year: 2008
Director: Ron Howard
Screenplay: Peter Morgan
Starring: Micheal Sheen. Frank Langella, Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon

So I got up today feeling like crap. I didn't sleep properly, it was raining outside, I missed the end of Sunday Supplement due to the girlfriend wishing to watch Buffy instead (she hates football, it's a tragedy) and apart from Sunday lunch, I didn't have nothing to look forward to. My Girlfriend suggest going to the cinema but I really couldn't be arsed, reason being? It's January and it's difficult to get into the mood to go to the cinema when the choice of movie seemed to fall into three categories: Depressing, Seen it, Nazis. I could be be up for a depressing Nazi movie tomorrow, but today nothing was biting.

I knew I wasn't going to get out of this so I asked my girlfriend to pick the movie. She picks Frost/Nixon. "It seemed the best out of a bad bunch." I thought to myself. Considering the material the film was based on, I couldn't see this being a "happy" film. So off to the cinema we go and after my other half yelling at traffic we manage to park up, get our ticket and go into the movie. After two hours my mood was relieved, reason being? Frost/Nixon was bloody brilliant.

The film is a fictionalized account of the build up and filming of the infamous interviews between Frost and Nixon. Despite being fictionalized, Howard does his best to blur the lines between the fact and fabrication and delivers a tense drama which shows how much television has affected politics. Also despite historical inaccuracies Howard delivers a film which helped me "discover" more about these two men. I knew them by name but I honestly didn't know very much about the interviews and lets be honest I feel there's a lot of people my age that probably don't. I personally feel my generation can be very ignorant when it comes to aspects of history, myself included. It's a testament to the filmmakers that after I watched Frost/Nixon i wished to know more about the scandal and the interviews. In face I wanted to read up more about Nixon than the film, so while the film isn't historically correct, it is insightful enough for viewers to become more interested in political history so they can search for the information themselves.

Credit must go to screenwriter Peter Morgan who once again delivers characters full of complexity and depth. None of the characters are strictly black and white, just shades of gray. He wants us as an audience to make up our mind. Did Frost "win"? was Nixon truly as sinister and devious as he was made out to be?

The beauty of the drama lies within the screenplay displaying every person as flawed human beings. At one moment we see Nixon as a political powerhouse, his presence and stature is almost regal. The more we see of him as the film goes on the more the vulnerability appears. We see the cracks in the veneer as we see the hints of guilt eating away at him. Frost on the other hand is full of charm and grins a man of much talk and very little action. The early stages of the film show a true David/Goliath mismatch as Frost first comes across as a car salesman more than a hard hitting presenter.

The script shows us the type of people both used for the interviews; Frost has a team filled with rabble rousers and a long suffering producer, while Nixon has a trusty team of right wing yes men. By the end of the first act I really wondered "is this the guy who does breakfast with frost?". Nixon looks like he could batter Frost away with a hand wave. How the script sets up the two titular characters make the outcome even more entertaining and with that said the script does not disappoint as the film takes hold with a vice grip and never releases the tension until the credits.

Ok ok babbling now. But I loved the screenplay. The only thing I liked better? The cast. Micheal Sheen and Frank Langella don't play the roles as charactures. They fully embody what made the men at the time. Sheen plays Frost as slickly as possible, full of cheeky grins and knowing winks. What makes him so watchable is the lack of knowledge about what he's taking on. It's this ignorance that makes Sheen so watchable in the later stages when he falls upon a moment of luck and seizes on it like a jackal. Langella makes sure his Nixon isn't all big cheeks and sweat and locks into a nobility that makes him extremely watchable. Howard does a great service of bringing some of the best working character actors for the support. Kevin Bacon puts in a solid effort as Jack Brennan it's a role so good that you could swear he was a Republican (if he is then brownie points taken away). I haven't seen Oliver Platt so good in a movie for ages while Rockwell is his reliable self again despite needing more to do in the movie. Kudos must also go to Matthew Macfadyen as Frost long suffering producer John Birt, his interaction with Sheen is brilliant.

Howard directs the film with a nail biting tension in nearly very scene but keeps the films pace swift throughout. I'm not the biggest fan of his films, so to see him bring out such an engrossing drama like this (haven't seen Apollo 13 yet i know, shame on me!) is great. Especially as his film before that was the dreary Di Vinci Code. He also (with the help of the screenplay) humanizes Nixon to a great extent, which to me is a great thing. In softening the former president, not only he makes him more accessible but also helps remind the audience that not only this President was a man but also one that wasn't all bad. We see the good as well as the bad in Nixon and while I don't condone what he did...I left the film with a larger amount of respect for him. Nixon was hated but compared to the one who just left...well the less said the better.

My review for Frost/Nixon is over long, rambling and muddled..however the film is not and it's entertaining to boot. Go see it.

Thursday 22 January 2009

Review: Bride Wars

Year: 2009
Director: Gary Winick
Screenplay: Greg DePaul, Casey Wilson, June Diane Raphael
Starring: Kate Hudson, Anne Hathaway

Plot: Two best friends become rivals when they schedule their respective weddings on the same day

Jean-Luc Godard on cinema: Truth twenty-four times a second. He really wasn't talking about a film like Bride Wars. A film which condescends to it's main audience that when it comes to the customs of marriage. Love doesn't matter, The men certainly don't matter, all that matters is the big day for the Bride, that's it. The filmmakers pretty much boil everything down to the bride looking perfect. This wouldn't be too much of a problem if the "comic" material used within the film is weaker than a third rate sitcom.

I know this film wasn't "made" for me but I dislike the idea that if I'm dragged out to watch a Rom-Com then i really don't want to see shallow, materialistic, bitchy women whose only purpose in life is to wear a white dress. I'm sick of women in powerful occupations (Kate Hudson's character is a lawyer) turn into dibbling mess as soon as a sight of a ring appears. I'm sick of the idea of marriage being dragged into the mud and generally being an all round joke. I'm also sick of Hollywood Rom-Com's giving off a unreachable "perfect" vision of Romance. With Divorce rate finally lowering, do you think it's a good idea showing these ridiculous visions of relationships? I may be going over the top with this but with the amount of people bitching and whining about the amount of sex and violence in movies i feel i can rant about this. Seriously, it's not just violent films that cause people to lose it.

Ok so I'm over reacting. But Bride Wars really is a jumped up T.V movie with A-list actors. I would forgive the unoriginality and cliche if it wasn't for the fact that Bride Wars isn't funny. If you've seen the trailer, not only have you seen all the comic set pieces within 2 and a half minutes, but if you didn't laugh's every unlikely you'll laugh at the full thing. Jokes are constantly falling by the wayside (seriously not even titters from the audience at times) due to the lack of bite within the writing and most of all the lack of comic timing portrayed by the two leads. Both are extremely attractive and can put butts on seats, but they aren't aren't funny. I could be if they had ok material but unfortunately no.

I may be considered a slight hypocrite yes but there's a reason why Four Weddings and a Funeral made a shitload while this will be forgotten in an instant. And please...when am I going to see Kate Hudson in a kick ass role again? it's been 8 years.

Oscar Nominations are out....

So the Oscar Nominations are out and once again they do not surprise me. Many would have wished for The Dark Knight to win an award but please guys seriously, the academy hates fan boys. It was never going to happen. And so it shouldn't!

Why? Because the snubbed films are usually remembered more than the ones that win. Chicago, A Beautiful Mind, Ordinary People anyone? Remember them? People still argue more now about Pulp Fiction being the most definitive film of the 90's than Forrest Gump that film that oust it in 94. So to be fair I'm happier a film like The Dark Knight will be remembered more by it's record breaking audience than the stuffy academy.

I am happy however that Slumdog Millionaire has got a best picture nod. I remember coming out of an advanced screening and stating to a work colleague. I loved it, but no way is it getting anywhere near an Oscar. Sometimes it's nice to be wrong.

Because life sucks, we're only just getting a lot of the Nominated films in just now, and I will probably spend a lot of the next few weeks watching them to be up to date. However after seeing he Wrestler I hope Rourke blows everyone out of the water and claims the best actor award and right now until I see more I'm backing Slumdog for pretty much every thing else!

One thing though....I have seen Revolutionary Road (Review coming soon) and I'm not sure if I want Micheal Shannon to win Best Supporting Actor for his excellent turn as the troubled John Givings. While Ledger is probably favorite (and superb) in his role as the Joker, Shannon gives a brilliantly nuanced performance that made a dreary film worth watching (and he's only in two scenes!).

Well only time will tell and of course every film wanker will complain that the film/actor they wanted to win was robbed but lets hope that the whole event is a good one all together.

Monday 19 January 2009

Review: The Wrestler

Year: 2008
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay: Robert D Siegel
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood

Plot Summary

When I came out of The Wrestler first considered it to be about the films lead, Mickey Rourke, An actor whose taken more than a few hard knocks both professionally and personally. A man who still believes that his best work is still ahead of him. I reconsidered once more...This is a film about wrestling. Every detail is right on the head. If Raging Bull is the boxers movie, then this must be the Raging Bull of pro wrestling.

My friends and is those things and then some.

Aronofsky's film is a multi layered drama with some of the most grounded, well drawn out performances I've seen in a long time. While Rourke falls this role with ease and plays it with extraordinary aplomb. He is backed up by two affecting female roles which could have easily have appeared as tired and cliched if it were not for the performances of the actresses and the way they are written. Those who know their wrestlers (I myself am a closest fan) will smile slyly in agreement to the nods towards the blading, the drugs, the guest signing. Some who couldn't care less about the "sport" may be surprised by what they see. I myself was astonished by the amount of detail the filmmakers went into. The matches are predetermined yes but the performers feel every bump, every bruise and of course every injury.

The film delves into the ins and out of wrestling so well it can feel like your behind the scenes at an independent live event. However, more importantly, the film goes into the lives of these people after the bright lights have died down. Not everyone can be the star, and even those who reach the summit may have limited staying power. The Wrestler reminds us that for every Mick Foley, there's thousands of Jake "The Snake" Robert types each with their own personal demons that eat at their insides.

Aronofsky captures so many home truths in his fiction it's scary. While Randy "The Ram" is fictional character, elements of his life are clearly taken from many true story elements. Throughout the film I was constantly reminded of Eddie Guerrero, Crash Holly and so many others. The health problems due to substance abuse, the strains on substantial family relationships, it's all captured so accurately. It's been noted that Vince McMahon (Owner of WWE) hates the movie while many of the actual wrestlers have praised it. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone whose observed some of the more shadier business practices of the WWE corporation.

The amount of detail is intricate and both Director Aronofsky and writer Siegel balance this with such complicated (note not complex) character infused with such a delicate warmth at times it's hard to take. It seems so easy to befriend Randy (everyone knows his name) but it's incredibly hard to help him. Even if you advise him...what makes you think he'll take it? It's not just the desire to be a hero that makes Randy crave the ring but the mere fact that the bruises heal after the fight, the bumps of reality scar indefinitely. The ring is his true home and the only place he's felt comfortable.

Aronofsky was going to originally cast Nicolas Cage in the role of Randy. Thank god he didn't. Cage is a competent enough actor (depending on the film) but Rourke is a revelation. To say he understands the material is more than an's a god damn insult. Rourke is in sublime form here. With Rourke in the role the film almost becomes a product of metafiction, or a lifework of sorts. Every wince, every gravelled utterance, every pained smile seems to carry added weight. Some have said that it seems that every aspect of Rourke's life has been leading up to this part and I'm in kind to argee with them. I hope he wins the Oscar.

Rourke is joined by Marisa Tomei whose "tart with a heart" role is kept fresh with a very assured performance. Evan Rachel Wood seems to be channeling her character from Thirteen and show what would happen if she flew right after that movie finished (this is a good thing as her performances both in Thirteen and this are solid one).

I said the film was about much more than its actor and it's detailed look about it's Sport. It's also about a man who revels in his past as he cannot deal with the future fast approaching. An amusing scene involves Ram playing an NES (Nintendo Entertainment System circa 1984) with a neighborhood child whose more interested about talking about Call of Duty 4. Another scene involves a talk about 80's rock and roll being invaded by 90's grunge and shoegaze. Ram talks about these things because it reminds him of a more optimistic time. One that probably went to fast for him. If time is our biggest foe then Randy has found a time machine: The Ring.

Aronofsky's drama is not original in terms of story or narrative, but it's incredibly rich film experience. The amount of insight it achieves about the sport and the detail placed on the character is nothing short of wonderful. Rourke believes his best work is still to come. I believe it won't get any better than this.

Sunday 18 January 2009

Review: Role Models

Year: 2009
Director: David Wain
Screenplay: David Wain, Paul Rudd, Ken Marino, Timothy Dowling
Starring: Paul Rudd, Sean William Scott, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bobb'e J Thompson, Elizabeth Banks, Jane Lynch

Plot Summary

I read a review that negatively stated that Role Models is disposable entertainment at the most extreme. Now I find that comment a tad silly. I mean I don't know about you but aren't most comedies that sort of throw away fun? The review goes on about one note characters and paper thin plots. But when it comes to comedies, many get away with these issues by just being funny.

The review continues on, lightly insults people that may like the film and comes off as incredibly uptight and stuffy. But hey, that's the subjective aspect of comedy I guess. If you don't find the jokes funny you can then pick apart the rest of the film, despite the fact that most of our classic comedies have wafer thin plot lines and one note characters. Airplane ain't Shakespeare but many people find it fucking funny.

I found Role Models to be extremely funny. Yes the film's narrative and characters are generic but the performances are solid enough to be watchable and the script is on the right side of silly. The film doesn't have outrageous Apatow set pieces that have become common place in mainstream American comedies as of late (Despite the regulars within the cast Apatow has nothing to do with the film) but it still manages to retain much of the sweetness that has made the uber comedy writer/producer/director go to guy.

I can be extremely wary of certain screenplays with more than 3 writers but Rudd and company manage to combine their efforts to bring across a film which, while not in depth, is sympathetic towards niche social groupings and situations that other comedies wouldn't even bother with. With this said the film is kept breezy. Yes the film is throwaway but for a January release I doubt i will find anything as funny. The film has more than enough amusing one liners and facial ticks/mugging to keep the film pace ticking along despite the unoriginal story, which despite being quite "been there, done that" has strong enough narrative to be watchable.

I loved the movie performance-wise. Paul Rudd is hilarious as the cynical Danny, while Sean William Scott hasn't been this funny in ten years. This is maybe because Wheeler is basically an older Stifler. The two have a good chemistry and much of the amusement stems from the comic facial exchanges that they bounce off each other. Looks of distain and bemusement haven't been this funny in a while.

Christopher Mintz-Plasse may find the rest of his career being typecast but at the moment, his Geeky McLovin thing is still funny. Bobb'e J Thompson's foul mouthed display is energetic, cute and well timed. Thompson is the most consistent source of amusement and has all the best lines. To add to this, dressing cute black kids up as Gene Simmons to me may be a thing of genius and I feel sorry for my unborn son already. Jane Lynch is very OTT and for the most part it works, while Elizabeth Bank is underused and feels like she's doing the part as a favour. However Banks is very easy on the eye and is competent enough actress to make sure you don't care too much.

I feel Role Models is a carefree amusing distraction for the January dumping season. Yes maybe I do have an "affinity for bland generic comedies" but with this said I don't go into comedies thinking all of them will be Dr Strangelove.

Monday 12 January 2009

Review: The Spirit

Year: 2008
Director: Frank Miller
Screenplay: Frank Miller
Starring: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes

Click here for the synopsis

So I guess it's about time to watch my first movie of the year and I decided on The Spirit. The film has not only been blasted for it's marketing, but has been critically destroyed by almost every reviewer even by critics who are fans of it's director/writer Frank Miller. It hasn't fared much better on the imdb either. But with this said there has been some glowing user comments every so often.

I find myself usually siding with movies like this. I don't know why, I just do. Especially if I watch them a few weeks after the opening release date, when the hype dies down and you can try and watch the film for what it is. In watching The Spirit I released that the marketing for the film was horrendously misguided. Sin City this ain't. In fact apart from the way the movie is filmed and it's creator, the movie doesn't have too much in common with Sin City.

The first major difference is the tone, while Sin City was tough, gritty, ugly film. The Spirit has a camper feel. It's more reminiscent of The 60's Batman Movie. it's over the top, it knows it's a movie and wishes to be a frothy mix of heroism, boards, guns and humor. I have no problem with that and neither do the fans of film.

I do have a problem with; awkward scenes, bland humor, weak acting, irritating dialogue and a dull story. At times I could see a semi-interesting film with The Spirit but I don't think Miller has found it.

The Spirit wants to be all out campy fun. That's fine. But in order to come across well you need conviction, you need chemistry, you need to characters to come alive. When I watch something like The Spirit I don't expect Oscar winning material but I do want a sense of fun. However Miller's direction of scenes left me cold. Scenes go on too long, past the point of the jokes being funny and the point being made. Case in point the first encounter between The Spirit and Octopus. Their first fist fight is not only excruciatingly long but also exceedingly dull. In fact it places the film on the wrong foot (it's not that far into the movie) as the share length of the scene slows any sort of momentum which is desperately needed for a film such as this one.

Much of the film is like this. Directed and written with no build up of excitement or tension. The McGuffin's that the characters are looking for are just not interesting enough to be talking about at length but the characters drone on, nattering on and on (with their awkward dialogue) but not engaging in any shape or form. We'd hope that if this was the case then Miller will pull out all the stops with the action of the film and while he doesn't go down the MTV action route (editing every half second) he doesn't bring forth any set pieces of interest. We get some fist fights some gun fights but they're forgotten very quickly. It doesn't help that the lead characters can't "die" in any conventional way. So like Superman the only way we would fear for our hero is down to an extremely outlandish element of plotting.

Miller tones down some of the more interesting aspects of his film with his tired plotting (to add to his stale direction). The story is not only wafer thin but narrative is set so low that when we finally get to the plays off like an afterthought. Nothing arcs, nothing pulls us in, the film starts and ends on the same level. I'm extremely surprised that aspects as the love triangle that lies in the movie is rarely utilized to it's utmost level. It's a crying shame when you can't bring out an explosive outcome of a love triangle that includes a woman as stunning as Eva Mendes.

But then saying that it's not that Mendes is the most compelling actress. Gorgeous lady but a naff actress. This brings me on to the acting...Considering the tone Miller wanted to convey it's a shame he casts the film with people who don't seem to share the same vision. Gabriel Macht gives a stiff display and gives off little or no presence. This is his movie but he does nothing to show it. In fact the Kudos goes to Samual L Jackson. Jackson invokes the spirit of all the 60's batman villains rolled into one with some shaft added for good measure. It's extremely over the top but once again Jackson shows that he loves the roles he plays and can inject entertainment where there is none. His presence is missed whenever he is not on screen.

Scarlett Johansson gives an odd performance, however it's more watchable than what people have said. Mendes is merely Eye Candy (the same goes for Paz Vegas) and while I love the look of her. I could easily use my laptop to knock one out if I was that desperate. Sarah Paulson and Dan Luria share some ok (abeit generic) scenes together, but it seems that everyone has trouble sharing the screen with Macht. He doesn't have any convincing chemistry with anyone within the film. Miller said himself he found it hard casting the role but with Macht he struck out. i say this but Miller's direction of the film is far from perfect.

I really wanted to like The Spirit but I found it to have too many faults. Fans will argue that people "didn't get it" and should "switch off their brains". I knew what Miller wanted to do, I didn't place much thought into my review of the film (as you can see from the writing), I just didn't like it.

Wednesday 7 January 2009

Byron ponders over S. Darko

I am a big Donnie Darko fan. I remember watching it at the cinema just before everyone went crazy about it in Britain. I watched it another 5 times in 5 different cinemas and almost killed myself to get the Region 1 DVD before the to find out more about the wunderkind Richard Kelly and his amazing film.....

I then watched the Richard Kelly written Domino as well as Kelly also wrote and directed. I have now decided that the young "Wunderkind" is an uneven nutjob....a warning...your fave filmmakers should have made more than one film lol.

Donnie Darko is still one of my favorite films. The original theatrical cut had the perfect balance of mysticism and emotion for me. Gyllenhall's fantastic lead performance, a solid supporting cast, Kelly's seemingly assured direction and strangely heartwarming story....

But I digress. Because this blog entry is about the even more bizarre entity named S. Darko.
S Darko is the sequel to Kelly's original film. The only thing is...Richard Kelly isn't involved and the only cast member left in the film is Daveigh Chase. Chase played Samantha Darko (the youngest sibling) in the first film and is now the lead (and hot btw and this girl was the ghost in the ring!)

So I checked out the synopsis which reads:

S. Darko takes place in the summer of 1995, seven years after the original film. It follows Donnie Darko's younger sister, Samantha (Daveigh Chase), who, in the wake of his death, has found herself at age 17 with a broken family, mired in feelings of insignificance. She and her best friend Corey (Evigan) set off on a road trip to Hollywood in a bid to 'make it big', but their journey is cut short when their car breaks down unexpectedly, leaving them stranded in a small desert town. When a meteorite happens to crash-land nearby, Samantha is plagued by bizarre visions telling of the universe's end and it appears that their breakdown was part of some grander plan. When she finds out she was actually adopted by the Darkos, and that she is in no way related to Donnie, she must face her own demons and, in doing so, save the world and herself

Now I don't know about you but in reading this full synopsis....doesn't this kinda fuck up the original film somewhat? I don't want to sound like the sad fanboy geek here...however in making Sam Darko a kinda fucks with a lot of plot points of the original story. Kelly's film was far fetched in a few of his ideas (the man's quite an original filmmaker but he over reaches) but when it came to the family dynamic of Donnie Darko he got it right. In listening to the commentary he even hints that other members of the family hold similar symptoms and that it flows through the bloodline (i.e The Dad is an insomniac too etc). But despite the hints that flow through the movie. The film is about Donnie and about him being the chosen one so to speak.

Kelly's film is written in such a way that despite how ambiguous the film is to many. It wraps up quite neatly. People around the character have a "feeling" about him and are connected for reasons they are not short about but Donnie is the balance. Maybe it's just me but it works that he's the Jose Mourinho of the bunch, the special one if you will.

Passing the mantle like they have to the younger sister (a step sister btw) seems so cheap to me. It renders the end of the first film almost pointless in the grand scheme of things....unless....

The film wasn't called S Darko. Is it just me or is the only reason it's connected to Richard Kelly's 2001 film is so it could get green lighted? Sure fans of DD would complain that S. Sparko would be very close to their cult favorite but if you look at the synopsis the film is quite salvageable without the Darko name. In placing the Darko name on the film, it's lodged the Darko universe within the movie as well, and considering that no one who was involved in the first film is one this one it just seems false.

Ok I'm rambling slightly. However we all know that when we watch this movie side by side S Darko won't have any resemblance to Donnie but will throw in the Donnie name and backstory to try and appear hip, cool and cult. Bit of a shame.

Sunday 4 January 2009

Crank 2 Trailer released

So I checked out the Crank 2 red band trailer....after the long (for a trailer) montage of swearing....what we get is more of the same crazy shite that was seen in the original movie. However the two directors have decided to go even more over the top than before and it doesn't look too bad. I did have my doubts about the second film after how the first film ended (quite a perfect closed ending to be honest).

The link for the trailer is here.

So while I took the first film far too seriously the first time I watched it, after a DVD rewatch I enjoyed it a lot more. The second film ups the stakes in bat shit insanity and I reckon I'll find this sequel will be far more enjoyable than some of the other larger budgeted follow ups released this year (I am talking about Transformers 2 here).

BUT! I just checked out the Crank 2 blog website and for some reason the filmmakers decided to place Geri Halliwell in the movie....So with this said Micheal Bay will probably win again in the hot woman in action film casting.