Wednesday 30 September 2009

Review: Surveillance

Year: 2008 (U.K Cinematic Release: 2009)
Director: Jennifer Lynch
Screenplay: Kent Harper, Jennifer Chambers Lynch
Starring: Bill Pullman, Julia Ormond, Ryan Simpkins

Patience is often need when the name Lynch is stated in film credits, because often the film's are slow burning mysteries, although usually not in the conventional sense. Usually it takes time for the film to process in the viewers mind. For me, as the fragmented aspects of the film slowly fall into place, I'm never too bothered if I don't get it at once because a David Lynch film is one that is usually never boring for me (exceptions being The Lost Highway and Wild at Heart). A David Lynch film is one that deals more with emotions, tone and atmosphere rather than set logic and some people like, while others don't.

For Surveillance, however it takes more than patience just to get to the end credits. This is a film that claims it's a thriller and yet doesn't thrill. It is a film which states it's premise in it's title but renders it's message a gimmicky mess. This is a film which has actors within it that have brought about entertaining turns in film and T.V but have decided to leave their acting chops at home.

The Lynch we will be talking about here is Jennifer (David's daughter), a woman who was critically destroyed over 15 years ago with her box office bomb Boxing Helena. It appears that the bashing she got affected her work so much that she hasn't really been behind a camera since until now. With this said it seems that perhaps the reasons why critics disliked her debut before, have come back to haunt her once again on this film.

I haven't yet watched Boxing Helena but will one day make time to watch it. However, I have read a few reviews about it. A glance at meta critic will give you blurbs such as:

"Lynch's fatal flaw is in her handling of the leads."
TV Guide - Michael Gingold

"This film has all the psychological depth of a wading pool. Anything you've imagined without seeing the movie is likely more interesting than what's here."
Austin Chronicle - Robert Faires

Now while I'm not the biggest fan of blurbs, these quotes about Lynch's debut, ring true here as well. As a director Jennifer Lynch has none of the panache or verve of her father (who happens to executive producer of this), be it in handling actors, maintaining tone or keeping the story interesting.

Surveillance has been likened to Rashomon in it's fractured telling of witnesses recanting a gruesome tale of events. Rashomon worked as the story being told, varied so much that the conclusion was left ambiguously for the viewer to judge. It's a beautifully delicate story. Surveillance suffers because Lynch lays all her cards out on the table way too quickly. Within 5 minutes I knew the ending of the story due to the poor handling of the narrative. This ruins the films insight of it's main theme: Perceptive. Lynch does nothing to askew the viewers judgment and because of this there's no tension. Lynch does nothing to disorient the viewer and so with with the ending firmly within the viewers mind, the film proceeds to trudge along at a lethargic pace complete with a lackluster script and "kooky" performances that stick out for no other reason other than the fact that they're so awkward.

Bill Pullman is the main culprit, blundering through his lines like a amateur drama student. It's a performance full of mawkish visual tics and line readings that sound like the actor is constipated. It's horrible to watch. Other performances fare slightly better but only slightly, the only stand out display is that of Ryan Simpkins who is to be the only watchable (and normal) aspect to this carnival of outcasts.

It also doesn't help that the film lacks the intensity that Father Lynch loads within his films. The film has some brutal looking visuals but it's nothing that I haven't seen before in other, stronger films. Lynch's movie is far to conventional in almost every aspect accept her characters which would like better in a film of her dad's then her own.

On the plus side the film has some nice sound production and I love the setting but so what? In a film with only one or two locations, where the hell is the claustrophobia? where the sense of dread? The film is far too see through for it's own good and despite the directors' intentions, anyone whose seen more than a few movies of this caliber will not be impressed.

While it's horrible to compare father to daughter in such a way Surveillance does nothing to separate the two filmmakers. It's clear that Jennifer wishes to operate in the same nasty recesses that her father does. The difference of course is flair. Like him or not a David Lynch film can usually brings a wild array of emotions. For his daughter however Surveillance can only bring boredom.

Monday 28 September 2009

A Nightmare on elm street trailer.

If you can't see the trailer go here.

Although some of the worlds greatest films have been remakes or reinterpretations of an original text (See the trivia of The Seven Samurai or The Hidden Fortress and see what movies they became by Hollywood), I''m always a little skeptical of the modern remake. They usually appear to be a regurgitation of the original story, while missing the important moments which made the first film so effective. Even the hills have eyes remake, a film I really dug missed the message that Wes Craven crammed into his brutal 1977 film.

Craven, synonymous with the horror genre, gave his blessing to the director of the 2006 remake, however his name is mostly missing from here. Reason? He doesn't own the rights to his most influential work.

A Nightmare on elm street (and perhaps New Nightmare) is for me the Gem in Craven's work. Inventive, dark, twisted and with a morbid sense of humour which almost ruined the series until the aforementioned New Nightmare.

Ignoring the Micheal Bay production credit, This new nightmare appears to have hints of what made the original so entertaining for me. The effects we have now should improve the admittedly dated effects while the shots show that they wish to keep the original narrative, iconography and themes intact (we hope). Personally I can't wait, and although I was a little underwhelmed by Jackie Earl Haley's Freddie, I was more than excited by everything else.

Good times I hope!

Sunday 27 September 2009

Review: Surrogates

Year: 2009
Director: Jonathon Mostow
Screenplay: Michael Ferris John D Brancato
Starring: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosemund Pike, Ving Rhames

Plot synopsis is here

Despite having what some might say a dubious filmmaking crew behind them (the creators of Terminator 3 and Catwoman no doubt.) Surrogates brings about an interesting premise and a fun ride for it's short running time. Going almost the way of Gamer with a sprinkling of Asimov Surrogates tells us a tale of a world where we as humans can live however we want in perfect safety due to the fact that we would spend our waking day within a robotic "Surrogate". They don't feel pain, they can look as beautiful as they want, they are quite simply perfect avatars.

This year has been one for sci-fi avatars, with the over hyped but strangely compelling Avatar project on it's way and the horrendous Gamer only being released recently, Surrogates almost comes about as over kill as once again we as we humans decide that we're so sick of who we are that we must hide behind outlandish representation of ourselves in order to live.

Unlike the aforementioned Gamer, Surrogates believes that plot comes first before style. And despite the film's narrative is a pretty standard detective story, the screenplays intriguing world director J Mostow's maturing direction gives the viewer a much more thoughtful and entertaining film than Neveldine & Taylor's one note, over edited piece of tripe.

It helps a lot that Surrogates has a stronger cast than N&T's attractive but bland Gerard Butler. Bruce Willis is here doing what he does best but without even breaking a sweat. He is joined by a solid support cast, with the likes of Mitchell, Pike, Kojoe and Ving Rhames bring up the rear, and while none are particular stand outs, they manage to keep the film chugging along to the films conclusion.

Although lifted from many other aspects of sci-fi and pulp thriller, Surrogates manages to feel fresh with it's plot twists due to Mostow's confident telling of the story. Unlike certain aspects of Terminator 3, the film keeps to the right tone while maintaining a delightfully twisted sense of humor. At one point we see a war being fought by the U.S army despite every solder controlling a Surrogate from the safety of the military base, making war even more farcical than it already is. Moments like this keep the interest up as Surrogates is actually willing to ponder the premises implications (albeit briefly). At one point we see a nerdy white scientist has decided to have a Surrogate of a tall handsome black man. This is not shown a preserve display a la Gamer, but simply an amusing aside which shows the amount of power that the idea has.

The film's action is slighter than I expected, but far more interesting than a lot of what I've seen this year. The film also quick to display the advantages and limitations of the films characters. I particularity like the contrast of action when Willis' character is no longer controlling his avatar compared to when he is. In a world where Stallone still believes Rambo is as sharp now as he was over 20 years ago, it's good to see an actor like Willis playing more towards his age, although the grizzled, vulnerable, underdog as mentioned before, is something that Bruce has no trouble in pulling.

The style is slick, the plot is entertaining and the film doesn't over stay its welcome. Surrogates is the film Gamer really should have been. Mostow's film manages to land on the right side of sci-fi and provided me with a smile on my face when leaving the cinema and despite what my friends think, that's all I ever want when I go to the cinema.

Hear Byron talk more about this movie at Geekplanetonline

Wednesday 23 September 2009

Review: Valkyrie

Year: 2009
Director: Bryan Singer
Screenplay: Christopher McQuarrie, Nathan Alexander
Starring: Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Eddie Izzard, Terence Stamp, Tom Wilkinson

I enjoyed Superman returns more than alot of people but hey I'm usually against the grain with things like that. But in all honestly, I was rather hoping that the Rumors I heard of Bryan Singer returning to redo X men 3 after the rather drab offering given to us by Brett Ratner. So imagine my surprise to discover that in a complete 180, Singer decides his next film is a historical thriller set in WW2?

For all it's controversy, Valkyrie manages to show that it's an adequate thriller, with enough scenes that rise it above made-for-TV level (Singer's visual storytelling still stands out). However it's bizarre lead casting and lack of conflict stands out terribly.

The film tells the tale of Claus Schenk Graf Von Stauffenberg (Cruise), a German Colonel who plotted (3 times) to kill Hitler and free Germany from his rule. Valkyrie concentrates on the final failed plot.

Although Singer's movie is one of his best looking (if not the best) of his filmography, it suffers from a dreadfully artificial tone that breaks up the films better moments. This may be of the "Titanic syndrome" that the film that the film unfortunately harbors. Due to the fact that I the viewer knows how the plot ends before even watching the film, the film needs a something else to keep me gripped.

The film however doesn't have too much in the way of a strong conflict (either internal or external) to help bolster the story in any way. Cruise's Stauffenberg is a man who know longer believes his leader can lead, however we don't look deep enough into the man's insight, I'd like to believe that there's more going on inside the head of the Colonel, but we never see it. Instead we get cumbersome metaphors to the films title (just happened to be listening to Wagner were we?). What appears to be missing for me is Singer's theme of identity and alienation that was so prominent throughout his movies. It's one of the reasons I enjoyed the aforementioned Superman is that Singer. But it's a theme that seems to be missing here. Stauffenberg appears far too confident for a man whose lost is faith and sense of self within Nazi Germany.

But alot of this stems from placing Maverick himself as the lead character in the film. Cruise, a favorite actor of mine, struggles in this role due to his star status. I can easily separate Cruise from his crazy religion and those who can't and hate his films because of it should slap themselves. However, in Valkyrie all I can see is Tom Cruise in an eyepatch. It's clear that Cruise wishes plays the role as a constantly calculating character, but from the awkward German monologue at the beginning of the film (he can't lose his U.S twang) to the clumsy shout for a free Germany at the films climax, it's clear that he hasn't got the range for this. It's a shame because for the most part I can watch him in many things.

Cruise is surrounded by top English talent, and of course we all know that if your English you must play a Nazi at some point in your lifetime as it's cinematic law. It's maybe because of such a law that many of them are coasting on autopilot. Don't get me wrong, it's not that they're bad, it's just that no one stands out, with the exception being the very reliable Bill Nighy.

Flaws aside the film is for the most part a formidable thriller. Singer keeps the pace in fifth gear and still manages to wring a lot of tension from material, especially in the second half when the pieces of the plot begin to come together before unraveling. It's probably a shame that I've watched Inglourious Basterds before this. Tarantino's WW2 fantasy had me more tightly wound in the fact chapter than the whole of Valkyrie, and QT's decision to make his war movie a fairy tale of sorts allows him freedom to roam across the whole of the landscape of the second world war. Allowing to change what he wants at will and bring about something a little different from the norm. Singer's dedication to the material is admirable, but routine. Die hards should get a kick out some this because the film stays true to it's roots, however for me, I would prefer investing in a documentary of Stauffenberg for more insight.

Note: Anyone whose seen this. I'm just wondering if I was the only person who found the score obtrusive?

Sunday 20 September 2009

Review: Baby Blues (aka Cradle Will Fall.)

Year: 2008 (U.K DVD release 2009)
Director: Lars Jacobson & Amardeep Kaleka
Screenplay: Lars Jacobson
Starring: Colleen Porch

Based roughly on the true story of Andrea Yates, Baby Blues is a psychological horror film which gets an A for effort but unfortunately comes up short when it comes to true shocks.

The film is co directed by first timer Lars Jacobson and the slightly more seasoned Amardeep Kaleka is visually interesting for the most part. For a made for DVD movie the film has a very polished feel to it, with much of the film drenched in some colourful hues. The two directors clearly know how to craft a film and isolated scenes do cause a considerable amount of tension.

Unfortunately the film falls down on it's lack of ability to engage in it's central themes of filicide (to kill one's children) and mental anguish instead concentrating on creating a subverted hack and slash feature. This is a shame because it's not as if the actors couldn't pull of the more complex aspects of their characters. In fact praise should go to the films lead Colleen Porch whose manages to hide the fact that she is quite attractive and give her mental break down a respectable amount of pathos.

The film gives it's secrets away far too quickly and fall into the trap of becoming a mundane film that hardly stands out from it's predecessors. With this said, this does mean that I get to recommend to you the even more demented Frailty by Bill Paxton which travels similar paths but is far more confident in it's craft. Baby Blue had an interesting idea, but unfortunately it decided to play it safe, something that many wouldn't want to see in a horror film.

Review: Gamer

Year: 2009
Director: Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor
Screenplay: Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor
Starring: Gerard Butler, Micheal C Hall

There's a brief moment in gamer where a dog is pissing on a women who grins inanely. It's an blink and you miss it shot but it talks in spades about the mind set of the filmmakers of this film.
Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor have been accused of crossing the line of bad taste in their last film Crank 2 and while I unfortunately haven't seen that yet. If Crank 2 talks about women like Gamer does, I'll probably not watch it.

Gamer is the closet thing to cinematic rape I've seen this year. It's Misogynistic, puerile trash dressed up as sci-fi and it really shouldn't exist. I'm sure the film will have it's fans (it's at 6.2 on the imdb at this moment) but I however, will not be one of them.

Gamer has all the problems I have with many films bad plotting, no characterization, no tension etc. But it also has the added issue of a dislike for women. I haven't seen women degraded like this since Bride Wars. Gratuitous half nudity is one thing but some of the things that are said to and done to women in this gives a nasty vibe. This vibe stems from the fact that there's hardly any reason for this treatment of women other than the fact that the filmmakers can.

The treatment of women is as nasty as the depiction of gamers themselves is lazy. Once again this is a film which shows us that gamers are either mouthy teens or fat greasy slobs, despite the millions of Wii's sold. The two factors combine to show that gamers view women not as other people but as sex objects. Not what I needed to see on a Sunday morning.

Neveldine & Taylor's OTT style of filmmaking is of course one to be taking with a pinch of salt. But of course that's when the film has a sense of humor. I enjoyed Crank as the film clearly didn't want anyone to take it seriously. Gamer however seems to have missed out on the joke and plays it's cards poker faced. Strangely this doesn't help the films script or quieter moments which are ridiculous to the point of unintentional hilarity. Of course Neveldine & Taylor does care about quiet moments because it's all about the violence which is doled out ad nausea. I don't mind a bit of the ol' ultra, but usually only when there's context. Gamer is a film which makes Micheal Hanke's Funny Games even more smug than it should be.

The acting? Bland. Gerard Butler does his best Russell Crowe impression but has nothing to grab hold of considering the matertal. I won't comment on any of the female performances because most of them are the bravest in the world for taking a role in this piece of divel. Micheal C Hall is wasted, while Ludicris appearz in dis movie 4 da kidz.

Like a Micheal Bay movie, Gamer doesn't seem to have any clue how to pace tension or bring about any sense of tone. The action is cut to ribbons so you have no idea whats going on and the kernel of an interesting idea that lies in Gamer is submerged in horrible overkill. Not that it's matters because David Cronenberg had already aced this material ten years ago in eXistenZ.

I didn't expect much from Gamer but then who would? To say it's mindless plays into the filmmakers hands so I'll end with saying it's dull, over edited tripe.

Note: If you really need to see a film like this check out Mamoru "ghost in the shell" Oshii's stunningly beautiful Avalon. It may be a far better use of your time.

Thursday 17 September 2009

Review: Push

Year: 2009
Director: Paul McGuigan
Screenplay: David Bourla
Starring: Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Djimon Hounsou,

Push got a hard time when released and it's easy to understand why. It's nothing new in any shape or form. In fact when watching it, I compared it to X-men meets Total Recall. It is very derivative of other sci-fi. With this said, the film, with it's patchy narrative and "been there" tone is still a good laugh.

A film like Push need energy to keep it going and this movie has it in spades. Despite being slightly confused by it's naff exposition that crops up from time to time, McGuigan makes sure that the film is never boring. In an era where comic book style movies feel that they need a grand statement to be interesting, Push is good natured enough just to go with the flow, without slipping into monotonous storytelling.

What I enjoyed about McGuigan's film is that the action sequences still feel fresh and fun despite being seen in many a film before. your pushers, bleeders, shadows and what not are nothing new. However, once again, much like District 9, Push is placed in an completely different setting that invigorates the set pieces. It's great to see a film like this set in the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong (the whole film was filmed there) and McGuigan's reason behind filming there (a riff on Casablanca) gives me a a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

Despite having a patchy script with badly introduced characters, the glue that holds the set pieces together are the performances. Chris Evans once again shows that he's a charming actor and has more than enough charisma for a film like this. His chemistry with Datoka Fanning (who once you get past those manga eyes is growing up to be a great actress) is one that is sorely missed by movies with a bigger budget than this one. In fact it's much stronger than the relationship with the forgettable (yet attractive) Camilla Belle that fails to truly sizzle.

Another acting damp squib stems from the chief villain played by Dijimon Hounsou, although this stems more from having a character with little to do than sneer.

For the most part, Push works well enough, even the films twists (something I telegraphed too easily in McGuigan's Lucky Number Slevin) worked with me due to the pulpiness of the genre. McGuigan's interest in time manipulation and perception once again plays a part in the movie and I found myself very invested in what he had to say about it, despite seeing it done better in other films.

A fun film that may provide strong background noise on a night out. Don't worry about what the characters say, it's not as interesting as it could be.

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Review: Tyson

Year: 2008 (U.K release 2009)
Director: James Toback
Starring: Mike Tyson

I have what I think is a healthy attraction to certain subjects in humanity that have gained taboo be it bullfighting or porn. I sometimes quite fascinated by peoples motivations and what drives them to do what they do. Boxing is another one of those odd endeavours that I have a passing interest in. It's a bizarre mentality to step into the ring with someone and engage in combat with someone. Despite what many people say about the sport, it's not as "humane" as they'd like to think. And despite boxing have a certain allure to it that I've only just discovered, the scars of the sport are still there with almost every fighter, only they're not only physical (just look at Ali now), but mental.

The last shot of Tyson is of Iron Mike himself (most of the film is one large talking head of him) and no matter how hearting his last monologue is, his darting eyes are the eyes of an unfocused child. He has a look of anguish and his tone of voice is still one of a broken man.

Tyson is a film that is hard to recommend to many people for a few reasons. One is the aforementioned style of the film, which despite some old footage and some pictures, Tyson is still a a 90 minute one on one with the man. Director James Toback says nothing and there is no interviewer just Tyson with the camera (you) as the confident.

The film allows Tyson to tell us about his life in great detail. Get past his bizarre speech pattens and almost effeminate tone (even more than when his was younger) and you may be surprised by the man's smarts. His description of how he become undisputed champion is almost poetic as he recounts his game plan and the eventual outcome of the match. His telling of his own story is a vivid one and despite most of the film being shots of him, he certainly know how to create a colourful narration.

The films most powerful moments are his tearful description of his old trainer Cus D'Amto and his dubious (for lack of a better word) observations of women. It's at this point you realise how fractured this man's mind is because he looks at women in the exact same way that he looks at his opponent. It's a terrifying revelation for the viewer but also an upsetting one. As Tyson tells the viewer of his life as a youth in what he calls a "promiscuous household" you release that the sins of his parents have left a mark stronger than any other fighter could given him. Like they say "they fuck you up your mum and dad".

Cus D'Amto give this man some focus, but with no nurturing side to speak of, his trainer may have unleashed a untamed beast one the world. A man focused on excess, power and dominance. Tyson trusted no one but his trainer (not even his own mother) and his trainer conditioned the man to overcome everything to get what he wants. Cus D'Amto dies when Mike Tyson is still young and with his only restraint gone, the darker aspects of his psyche take over.

It's amazing to see how honest Tyson is throughout this movie. It seems that he and Toback had an arrangement stating that Tyson had no say other the final cut. However it could have been easy to refuse and Toback's film doesn't hold back in any shape or form, crafting Tyson as more rounded character than any media outlet ever has.

Let's not be too hasty, this is not to say that Tyson is an angel. Not by any means. He is clearly misogynistic, with a hint of sociopath poking through the cracks, but with this said. it's clear that there's a man like any other within the beast that wants to do right. This film may not change your mind about the man or the myth, but try to look at it this way. You could say what ever you want to him, it means nothing to Tyson as his demons shout louder and will be with him forever.

Monday 14 September 2009

Review: Away we go

Year: 2009
Director: Sam Mendes
Screenplay: Dave Eggers & Vendela Vida
Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph

A couple go cross-country to find themselves a perfect place to start the family they will soon have. There's the pitch for Away we go. Simple and effective, but will you watch it? Well it gained mixed reviews and didn't spread to wide release, despite being made by Sam Mendes. It's a shame because I found it a damn sight more interesting than Revolutionary Road. Maybe it's because Rev Road's "look at me!" acting and contrived wish to be important got in the way of the film being watchable (for me anyway).

Away we go is a cheerful departure away from the "grander" movies of Mendes' overture. We've seen his take(s) at the suburban drama, the gangster flick and the war movie, and for the most part (see my above paragraph) the director has brought a interesting curve to those movies. Here he takes on the road movie with Away we go.

Together with married writers Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida Mendes brings about a humorous journey between two naive and concerned people, who just wish to have their child under the best circumstances they can. The script is witty and the characters have a very down to earth feel to them. It's a shame that many have found the leads as smug and high and mighty over the bizarre "couples" they meet on their odyssey. They're not, they just want to get it right and although there's a few smart alecy comments at times and one huge outburst part way through the film, said outburst brings about one of the best moments of the movie, it's the first (and nearly only) moment of conflict that rubs our couple and the wrong way and it was truly welcomed by me because despite the laughs my mind kept wondering "yes....and ?"

You see, Mendes' film doesn't seem to have much point to it. The film's climax didn't send the shivers down my spine that the rising music and bleary eyed moments wanted me to have. This seem to stem from the fact that the film wishes to be funny more than emotional. In a lesser film the films tender moments (including one of the saddest poledances I'll ever see) would be lost by a weak director. Mendes (a theatre director first) manages to make those scenes linger in my head way after the credits have gone up. It's a shame that they seem to few and far between. I remember the softer moments more than the laughs, however the film is more interested in titters.

But this isn't too much of a bad thing. The humor is more hit than miss and the leads (The U.S Office's John Krasinski and SNL's Maya Rudolph) handle the comedy like good comedic actors should. The leads handle the emotional moments well also with help from a great supporting cast (stand outs being Maggie Gyllenhaal and Allison Janney on top form).

The film is a departure from the usual visual look and storytelling from Mendes and he pulls it off with a few minor scrapes. Although not the emotional ride it wishes to believe it is, Away we go should find its audience comfortably on DVD and with the English audience when it's released this Friday.

Podcast is here

Monday 7 September 2009

(500) Days of Summer

Year: 2009
Director: Marc Webb
Screenplay: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel

Honest, Emotional, Funny. That's not what everyone wants from a romantic comedy but it's those three things that I personally need when I watch one. In the same way that horror films should be unnerving, Rom-com's should be able be to from the heart as well as amusing.

Opening with a sketched scene (you'll see) that fans of Juno would be proud of (500) Days of summer has a whiff of "Hollywood quirk" to it. However, in no way does this stop the film from being a cheap imitator, no far from it. (500) Days of Summer is an unbelievably sincere movie. But even it was following the footsteps of the Juno's, Little Miss Sunshines and the rest of them, it would still appear more fresh then the latest manufactured Matthew McConaughey/Kathrine Higel/Kate Hudson piece of filth that litter the cinematic landscape.

Librally playing with time as if it were Quentin Tarantino in the 90's, the film jumps to various moments of the "relationship", but not in chronological order. It's hard to fully keep up with the numbers but that's not important. The point is the insight of perspective that the time skips give. The juxtaposition of scenes makes moments of the film which could have been uninspired in lesser films hilarious. But it also makes the realisation more painful. An awkward, strained trip to Ikea, becomes a cheerful romp through the fake rooms as the happy "couple" play husband and wife (big metaphor there) and you grin your arse off, if only to realise how truthful it is.

What makes (500) Days so good is how accurate it's observations are. During the movie you may finding yourself siding with our protagonist, I mean why isn't Tom's affections reciprocated? Why is this girl sending such mixed signals and after the film. Yes, it's the unreliable narrator that is our protagonist. The film is on Tom's side...a little too much. One character's mentions that Tom should look back at the relationship and realise that Summer may not be the girl of his dreams. The brief montage shows that Tom cannot, because he is in love with the IDEA of Summer so much so that he has blinded the actual reality. The lack of scenes with Summer at the helm only help prove it.

The film's accuracy stems from the carefully observed moments of madness the film captures. I've done the karaoke thing, I've stopped listening to bands because of certain women (I can't look at the beatles in the same way) and as for the outbursts? Just ask my mate rob about me on my 20th birthday yelling about dying alone. We pick these moments and we laugh because it's true (but also because of the sharply written script).

It also helps as it's shown by a male perspective. No I'm not being sexist, it's just refreshing. This is a genre that almost only caters for women. Also, the rom-com these days merely wishes to revel in the simplistic shallowness, improbable aspirations of male perfection, and of course unrealistic happy endings that the disgusting characters don't deserve. Here we have a man who is not just a handsome mouth breather but a young optimistic man who may be a little too needy.

This is a role played impeccably by Gordon-Levitt. My girlfriend stated that he has an "interesting" face and I argee. It's what separates him from other male actors. By not looking like a clean cut leading man, Gordon-Levitt elevates the performance even more by having a face that could fit well in a crowd. He plays against a women who could be considered by a few to be the next Parker Posey. Zooey Deschanel is all cute grins and sparkly eyes at first but the inside of the character displays a rich Independence. An Independence that isn't merely shown by the fact that she can be sexual, but its shown by her boldness around people. She's not a damsel in distress, nor is she a cold heart bitch, merely real.

Director Marc Webb a music video director, makes the film great to look at but doesn't let the look over power the film. In fact his visual tricky only enhance the emotions that Tom feels (the french new wave scene had make giggling). There's some great story telling at hand, and although some the metaphors are heavy handed (a t-shirt saying love will tear us apart? COME ON!), the film won my heart with it's wicked sense of humor (watching porn together?), visual playfulness and a chemistry between the two leads (and some strong support) which plays off remarkably well.

The film He's just not that into you had some horrible cynicism coated with sugar to pretend it was trying to be truthful. It was bollocks. Watch this instead, giggle with glee as Tom makes a fool out of himself, then cringe when you realise that you've done it too.

Sunday 6 September 2009

Review: District 9

Year: 2009
Director: Neil Blomkamp
Screenplay: Neil Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley

At times I feel there's an unwritten rule that mainstream films can't be provocative and exciting at the same time. It's not wrong to have a film that's not only smart but also entertaining and yet during the summer Hollywood seems to thrive of films that only wish to insult a person's intelligence. I don't believe that all movies need some sort of message, but it's very distressing that the bigwigs don't seem to believe that people would want to see a movie that is at least a little thoughtful.

So District 9 must be quite a shock to a few peoples system. At a faction of a cost of a Man Utd player, District 9 has a very obvious allegory towards the South African apartheid and the infamous District 6. We are given us a naive and unsympathetic pencil pusher as it's lead, and the actual alien race? well they're neither out to destroy nor help the world; they're merely here.

On paper D9 might not sound that appealing. Aliens land and become a nuisance? Wow, big whoop. Haven't we heard this before? This may ring true, but with this first time debut from director Neil Blomkamp, he clearly wants to show that this ain't your dad's alien film.

Yeah, whatever old fart.

It's great to see a first time director pull off such a strong debut, particularly when many aspects of the film appear to be at odds with recent Hollywood convention. Blomkamp (for those who may not know) was to direct Halo (popular xbox video game saga), but the deal went dead part of the way through. Why? The reasons appear conflicting, but it would be easy to claim that an escalating budget with a young "unproven" director at the helm could have been the reason. District 9 however, clearly shows that Blomkamp is not just an assured special effects guru (director of the Citro├źnAlive with Technology adverts) but a solid teller of story.

Using faux-documentary techniques in the first act of the film. Blomkamp swiftly establishes mood and background. The Aliens have been stuck in Johannesburg for 28 years and have learnt how to communicate with humans. However due to various reasons the aliens are uneducated about human polices, mistreated and segregated. Dumped into an remote location, the aliens are now told to fend with themselves..with no true knowledge of the area they're unfortunately trapped in.

The film also introduces us to Wikus (a superb Sharlto Copley), a simple but well meaning (to a point) agent for a large corporation. We are given a brisk (but not glossed over) view of his life and character (done cleverly with talking heads) and in no time at all we are dropped in the slums with Wikus as he begins his "do-gooding" quest.

Blomkamp appears to be a director who manages to get a point across to the viewer quite quickly. He has to do this because this is an action film, but in a world of Angels and Demons, Fast and Furious and likewise, there seems to be few action directors who are willing to put in the same amount of detail (or in A&D's case fill in too much detail badly). Blomkamps film is full of tin details which work because he is fully immersed with district 9's world, not only from a cinematic point of view, but a realistic one. The film is quick to place forth complex parrells with merely a few shots.

What also makes District 9 stand out is the films setting. By placing D9 in a world far away from the now atypical settings of an American city (read Toronto lol) and lands us the even more volatile setting of Johannesburg. The film feels fresh because the surroundings are so unfamiliar to the majority of those who are watching. It's a great risk, but one worth taking because suddenly the film FEELS different. This along with the allegorical story tells us we're not watching the same old alien invasion.

District 9 is an action adventure movie first and foremost, and as of late me and action films tend not to sit comfortably, not here. The films set pieces despite being obviously derivative of other movies (Aliens being a chief example), they still feel fresh. In fact Blomkamp manages to place a moment that hasn't been seen in a mainstream action feature to my knowledge and in an age were the G.I. Joe movie feels like a reference to Team America, it's nice to see something I haven't seen before. I could go into the ins and outs of the action sequences, but I won't. Lets just say for me they work.

Like I mentioned in a previous blog entry, the political aspects of the film are quite blatant and for all to see, but it doesn't feel forced, nor does it go over your head. But mostly importantly for a film like this, it doesn't get in the way of your enjoyment and that my friends is a good thing.

Note: Sorry about the review being quite late (i watched this ages ago) and quite choppy. It's unfortunately been a busy few weeks and I haven't had time to place my thoughts into a true constructive piece of my reviews are constructive!

Listen to the podcast here

Tuesday 1 September 2009

Review: The Hurt Locker

Year: 2009
Director: Kathryn Bigalow
Screenplay: Mark Boal
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Antony Mackie, Brian Geraghty

I was unusually quiet after watching The Hurt Locker. Usually after viewing a film, I'm pretty vocal about it to whomever will listen. It's just my way. After The Hurt Locker I had nothing to say. My silence continued until I got home and booted up my laptop. I was silent because quite simply I was stunned.

The bravest, brawniest, most testosterone fueled action movie of the year was not made my McG, it wasn't done by Micheal Mann (which is a surprise to me). It certainly wasn't done by Micheal Bay. No, the most macho film of 2009 was directed by a 57 year old women. Kathryn Bigelow (director of Point Break, Strange Days and Near Dark) brings to the screen not only one of the most visceral outlooks of modern war, but holds some of the strongest observations on the war in Iraq.

Case in point, the central performance of Jeremy Renner's Sgt William James. It's a display worthy of an award. Here's a man who lives on the edge and can't step away. James' medals are the bomb parts that could have killed him. He feels that most alive when standing inside the "moon suit" used to protect him. Near the end, when on leave, James is asked by his wife to pick up cereal in the supermarket. As he stands amongst the dozen of coloured boxes he realises that normal life holds nothing for him. What starts out as just a job has quickly become more than that. Almost every day this man holds the lives of so many people in his hands...and he isn't afraid to juggle. When asked why he's so willing to risk his life, James cannot answer, but for some reason he knows that his comrades can never do what he does.

Renner's performance in turn is almost a metaphor for the entire film. War is dark, complex and offers no easy answers. Compare this to some of the more simplistic looks at war as of late and you realize how strong Bigalow's film really is. The Hurt Locker doesn't politicize or try to offer simple answers. In fact it's lack of pandering brings out some of the darker and more intriguing aspects of war. Character motivations are murky at best but as that end shots pans up and we see the amount of days left, we thank god that James can't follow up the question.

The opening 10 minutes are the most tightly wound of the year. It encapsulates the chaos of war perfectly. Not since Saving Private Ryan have we seen anything so raw. Unlike SPR however, modern warware has no time for heroes, just men who can complete the objective. The film's unease heightens the more obsessed James becomes with the job at hand. He takes more risks than his squad leader before hims, risks that Sgt Sanborn (played with by-the-book directness by Anthony Mackie) isn't willing to take. Unfortunately when you've become as good as James is at disposing bombs it's hard not to have admiration.

Bigalow is back to what she does best mixing conflicted young men with heightened tension in a bowl and pulling it through the ringer. Her in your face style grabs hold of the viewer from the beginning and doesn't let go. The firefights have a Mann-esque feel to them. So close you can smell the gun smoke, so near that your sitting in the car bomb also. Many of the films victims (expect one) are so unexpected that like Stone's platoon, you hold the feeling that anybody can be next. The best shot of the film is the one of James lying in the sand waiting for an insurgent to move. A fly lands on his eyelid and yet he doesn't blink, a combination of his training and his obsession. Not until the job is done, death is no option.

But this is where other areas of Bigalow's direction comes in. The simple shots of the Iraqi people are amongst some of the most unsettling, because any of the distant and complacent faces could be holding a mobile phone or a 9v battery. In The Hurt Locker, you don't run from explosions and with that action cliche firmly out the way, the risk becomes far greater.

The film also manages to hold it's fragile story together despite a lack of a true strong narrative. Here less is more and a constrictive by the rails plotline is not what this film needs. War isn't a structured and as cliched as this sounds there are no winners. Wanna bet? Just ask Sgt James to pick up some cereal.

Note: I have left out the names of the bigger actors who have small parts in the film. It's best for you to discover them blindly the same way I did.

The podcast review is just on this link