Thursday 29 October 2009

Review: Starsuckers

Year: 2009
Director: Chris Akins
Screenplay: Chris Akins

My last excursion to the London Film festival was Chris Akins attack on media all consuming quest to entrap us in it's dazzling glare. The festival's organizer made a joke by mentioning that the some of the very newspapers that are being hit on are suddenly giving the film a quite a bit of column space. I do however worry that the joke may be on the filmmakers with it's lack of providing answers to clear us from the murky quagmire that is the media outlets have become.

The film is frustrating, frightening, troubling and yet constantly entertaining. It's annoyingly flawed but greatly important within our climate. It is essential viewing but will the right people see it? Like all good documentaries Starsuckers has stained my mind and has constantly had me questioning things since I've seen it. Akins' second documentary feature is not only good humored but well informative, hitting home with revealing information on such historic media events such as Live 8, or the disturbing moral ground that is creating fake celebrity stories for money. Such aspects of the film are not only funny but arouse important question about what we read and how our opinions is hijacked and reformed for consumption. Although much of this may not be new to a few people (read some Chomsky maybe) but I still found myself shocked by how deep the rabbit hole goes. So so twisted are the mechanics that I suddenly found myself feeling pretty helpless about how the media manipulates us.

But is this what Akins wants? For the viewer to like they can do nothing but succumb to global media domination? Akins taking liberties was a much more calculated attack on how Labour may have almost effectively stop Britain's right to free speech, which despite it's depressing outlook, still managed to have information on how to react to what you saw if one felt strong enough. Starsuckers lacks positive outcomes and by the end of the film, one may feel more than a little entrenched.

The film also attacks the Internet and bloggers such as myself which is fine, however when looking at the films difficulty in getting made by biting the hand that feeds, it's the honesty of certain bloggers and web writers that will allow this movie to thrive because it will be extremely difficult to go though more traditional outlets.

The film works best when it's kept simple. Akin employ high jinks that would have the likes of Bruno and Borat blushing while Micheal Moore nods in approval. In fact judging by the films reaction with the cinema, Akins effective (if slightly smug) methods not only garner great laughs but manage to get many of the films important points across, even if the film is slightly over reaching.

Starsuckers may have many liberals nodding and winking at the screen, hurriedly agreeing with the films views, but the films lack of positives and over reliance on humor had me worry that maybe we've gone beyond the point of no return when it comes to finding a way out. Where have our reliable sources gone for instance? While we are not in the days of Bernstein and Woodward any more, but isn't there anyone out there to save us? Starsuckers is funny, effective and scary but the question it should but doesn't ask is "what are we going to do?"

More Starsuckers talk at Geekplanetonline

Review: Taking Woodstock

Year: 2009
Director: Ang Lee
Screenplay: James Schamus
Starring: Demetri Martin, Imelda Staunton, Henry Goodman, Liev Schreiber

Plot Synopsis is here

It's interesting to see that both taking woodstock and a serious man are about good natured protagonists who are beginning to buckle under the amount of pressure that is heaped upon them. However while The Coens have a sympathetic yet unfortunate character, a strong back catalogue of themes and a genuinely intriguing story to fall back on. Woodstock has nothing but the fading glory of the festival to prop itself up....oh wait none of the festival is seen.

From the off the path, of Taking Woodstock is a gentle and at first an amusing one. As the characters get introduced, it's clear to see that it wishes to be a film that doesn't want to rock the boat to much. Considering the controversies of lee's recent entries (Lust, Caution and Brokeback Mountain), this is almost a complete turn around and one that many could find quite pleasing. The problem is with a film subject as well documented and volatile as this one, Lee does nothing to fully engage myself as a viewer. The drama is bland, with little or no strong conflict to speak of. In fact, compared to the much maligned Hulk movie (also by Lee) it's quite surprising that Hulk wins out in the dramatic stakes.

When the idea of actually getting the characters to butt heads actually rears it's head, you realize the screenplays lack of character background hampered it yonks ago when you were laughing at the one dimensional money hungry Russian Jewish mother character that was thrown in your face. In a supposed coming of age film like this, sometimes humor can only take you so far, and by the time Demetri Martin's lead character of Elliot has missed a day of the festival due to an acid trip, you've discovered that the film is not really interested in his plight. Sprinklings of what the film could be appear in places but lacks the verve and passion that usually comes with Lee's films.

The films sense of place is also patchy, the idea of having a film about Woodstock without showing any of it is a novel and brave idea. But compare this to Almost Famous and you realise how lost in time the film really is. Crowe's crowd pleaser also doesn't have famous names playing either, but Crowe's story feels so much closer to the era than James Schamus screenplay.

Some Performances are amusing in the film (Imelda Staunton, Henry Goodman and Liev Schreiber being standouts) but these are hampered by an uneven lead who seems overwhelmed by the films (perceived) scope and the simply brutal Emile Hirsch, whose ott performance is nabbed from every nam veteran part ever known.

Considered to be a coming of age tale, this doesn't come close as we should connect with the trails and tribulations of character as the arc raises and reaches a climax. But everything is held at a distance while Martin's Elliot drifts out of one of the most important moments of his generation. Also considering Lee's Brokeback Mountain, the films homosexual subtext is badly handled and almost non-existent, as if Lee decided that "going gay" again would be a bad idea. It wouldn't if it were dealt as tenderly as Lee's neo-western.

Taking Woodstock pitters out of stream by the last act and by the time the film clumsily inserts some tame drama it's too late. The characters haven't been sympathetic enough for us to care and the films real story as been lost amid the Woodstock background. So much is put upon the planning of the event but nothing on why you should care about the players positions.

A rear miss from a more than capable director, it's easy to see why Lee does some of the things he does and it's good to see something not as forced as say Benjamin Button, with this said, more assertiveness was needed to make the drama interesting while I wouldn't minded a more focused screenplay. Cest la vie.

Hear me talk about this movie at Geekplanetonline

Review: A Serious Man

Year: 2009
Directors: The Coen Brothers
Screenplay: The Coen Brothers
Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed

Synopsis is here

What to say about the brothers Coen? Well they are predictable at being unpredictable and after the lackluster films of Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, the brothers grim have hit back with what I consider an incredible run of form. The daft Burn after reading, The Somber No country for old men and now, the nihilistic A serious man, a film which reminds us that we may not know all the answers in life but even so it might be best to stay on the safe and narrow.

Not that the film helps in anyway, as the lead character is tossed from pillar to post, from disaster to disaster with nothing to help him expect his glum face. Larry never complains, but is always looking for help or the answer. With nothing forthcoming he finds his life slowly spiraling out of control with nothing to guide him except the will to ride it out. He questions his faith and god but maybe god doesn't wish to busy little questions like what does it all mean? I may be completely wrong about this. I've read some interesting theories about the film on the imdb. But the coen brothers film is so strong in it's direction it could absorb any of the theories presented.

I say this because the Coen's (bastards that they can be) aren't very communicative with straightforward answers. the film's message is clearer with the viewer having a good grasp on not only the book of job and quantum physics, but the Coens also know that not everyone will have those topics easily stored within their head and so the Coen still manage to keep the film entertaining, compelling and GOD DAMN FUNNY, without losing sight of the audience. Although some more mainstream audiences will hope for a "clearer"conclusion, but the clues are there and those who keep close watch should be completely satisfied.

Where is god...everywhere? Nowhere? The film likes to straddle both ideas, it also plays on the idea that bad things can quite simply happen to the best of us, because it can. We are constantly being told how everything will work out, or how we're special but maybe.....just maybe...this isn't true. One of the things I stated was how nihilistic the film appears to be from my viewpoint I'm right but with others it can come across as sad, it's a film that allows you to bring much to the table.

A Serious Man is also a film that riffs on the past Coen themes of old. Constantly toying with the topics of heaven and hell as well as the circular aspects of fate that's appeared in the last two movies. At one point Stuhlbarg's Larry almost becoming a spitting image of Barton Fink halfway through the film. In fact of all the Coen's films A serious man to me feels like a great companion piece to the 1991 film.

The entire film is encapsulated by it's lead. We've been reminded about great Coen performances by more known actors but the central turn by stage actor Michael Stuhlbarg is one that will enter the grand halls of Lebowski and H.I. The character is an amusing comic creation of helplessness. It's a complex role that ponders the question of being assertive against committing sin. His eyes constantly searching for guidance from a faith that appears to enjoy procrastination than actual help.

But maybe they are helping? The best thing about the ever confident Coen's direction is how rich and layered the story is told. A Serious Man is about everything and nothing at the same time. it's about our struggle with faith and how our incessant need for clear and concise conclusion. But The film also says that maybe, just maybe....we're better off not worrying those mysterious big questions, because they're supposed to be mysterious for a reason.

Hear me talk more about this movie at Geekplanetonline

Monday 26 October 2009

Road To Halloween: Alien (1979)

"As opposed to yelling his drunken opinions of what horror films he's like people to watch, Byron asked his friends on facebook and twitter, what their favorite 3 favorite horror films were. He added up the totals and watched and blogged the one that got the most mentions."

I remember walking home pissed as a fart arguing with a friend about what genre Alien is. I sided with sci-fi, while my friend was sure that it was a horror film. I compromised and considered it a hybrid of both genres and that's how the argument stayed for ages. In re watching the film, asking my friends about their favorite horror films and doing a bit of reading (well, re-reading) on the film, I now really coincide with my friend. Yes Jamie Mitton you hobbit faced bastard I now believe is more a horror film than a sci-fi. Although Cameron's Aliens is a WHOLE different matter.

It was great to revisit the film again because it's a film that really plays with the imagination more than you think. Despite it's slow burn build up (and being a Ridley Scott film), it's still shorter than you think (Even the directors cut!)n. There's six fatalities but you see the alien less than you remember. It's a testament to Scott's direction that a film which is now 30 years old still remains so fresh and timeless with many viewers.

It's about 40 minutes in before the still refreshingly face hugger rears it's ugly, eyeless head. It's another 5-6 minutes before John Hurt's Kane has an alien entry burst out of his chest. Could you imagine any producers these days, allowing an audience to wait that long for a horrific moment? Can you believe it was the series canceling, always-meddling studio that was Fox that allowed it? No, unbelievable isn't it?

The infamous chest-buster scene remains unpredictable mostly because of the unconventional rhythm of the film. Scott's build up of character and setting is not only something that could never be done now but is one built by the characters based on HOW they say things, not WHAT they say. The first act of the screenplay is so down to earth, so commonplace that it brings about a naturalness before the unnatural creeps in. When the macabre events eventually appear, the characters react not only truthfully to their characters but to real humans. Characters don't act like idiots (even when they go looking for that cat, there is good reason considering what happened to Kane) they act and react to reason and it doesn't feel like a screenplay has told them to do it.

But it's not just the screenplay, so much of the films aesthetic is unbelievably basic but devastatingly effective. For instance despite the films layered subtexts (fear of birth, technology and the abject other) Alien is incredibly sparse. From it's minimal futuristic surroundings to it's beautiful score work by the late Jerry Goldsmith, However, Alien works best when it's elements are stripped down even more. The most memorable sequence for me is the demise of Harry Dean Stanton's Brett which takes away Goldsmith's music and leaves us with dripping water, hanging chains and nothing else, reminding us that some of the best horror is still impressive without the need of intruding tunes.

Another unnerving thing about the film is it's use of body horror. The idea of having no control over your body being internally broken down beyond your will is something incredibly primal. The pivotal scenes of Alien "impregnation " and of course the chest-buster sequence has been considered by many critics as "male rape" or an elemental fear of childbirth. H R Giger's creature designs enforce this and help push forth the imagery, it should be no surprise to anyone that his designs were altered various times for being "too blatantly sexual". Later sequels force the issue to the forefront but it's Scott's subtle vision that keeps this idea at it's creepiest.

It's odd that not much is said about the other alien that is in the film. One of Aliens last surprises s of course the fact that one of the ships crew, Ash is of course an android, whose job was to contain the creature until safe arrival home. The robot (wonderfully underplayed for the most part by Brit Ian Holm) not only bring about a fear of technology that follows throughout the series (ending with Alien Resurrection warning us about the evils of cloning). Robots aren't aliens! cries a reader. But consider not only Ash's peculiar behaviour but the fact that he shares no emotional feeling within the film. It's this consideration and the paranoid feelings that someone is not "one of us" that brings me to that conclusion. Alien does not have to mean Extra-Terrestrial.

Alien is also a film that is in love with the genres it stemmed from. Although the film lends more t towards horror (Scott wished the film to be The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in space), Alien's insolent Android's riffs on the paranoid Watergate feelings laid bare by Phillip Kuffman's 1978 exceptional remake of Invasion of the body snatchers (note Veronica Cartwright roles in both films). The film also delightfully apes (and helps solidify) conventions brought about by John Carpenters Halloween (1978) a year before it. In fact Ash's explanation of his admiration of the "star beast" clearly leads itself to Dr Loomis's belief's on one Micheal Myers.

However when it all boils down to it, the alien monster for me remains more effective than Myers simply due to motive. Myers is human and will forever be questioned and have theory implemented (especially after the series sequels and remakes). Alien has always been more base than that and we do not question it's intentions because quite simply...cannot.

Leo DiCaprio + Tobey Maguire = The Third man Remake?

The awesome film website CHUD has made light of what at the moment is a dubious rumor. It seems that Leo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire could be starring in a remake of The Third Man

The news article is here.

If you think the third man is Ashley Cole or something similar then your wrong. The Third man is an excellent 1949 film by director Carol Reed. It's a superb film with a sublime turn from Orson Welles, it is also a film of it's time and difficult for me to realize as a remake.

It could be fun to see DiCaprio in a role LIKE the memorable one from Welles, however the films subject matter and execution is one that might not translate well at all for modern audiences. In a world where spoilers are given from the off (look at so many trailers for instance) could you imagine a young audience interested in a film in which the films main character is hardly in it until MUCH later in the film. It's a iconic moment but one that would be lost on a MTV viewing
audience that appears to want everything explained to them. I doubt they'd want to watch a film that deals with stolen penicillin anyway.

Tobey Maguire is an interesting choice for the Joesph Cotton role, but there's just one thing, he ain't Joesph Cotton. But then one of the issues with remakes is that the original performances stain the memory so well that when someone else tries to place themselves in the same position, they're appear more uncomfortable than ill fitting work shoes.

But with Steven Knight as proposed writer of the screenplay, then the flick might be worth a watch. But will he be able to write anything like the Cuckoo Clock speech?

Review: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

Year: 2009
Director: Werner Herzog
Screenplay: William M. Finkelstein
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Val Kilmar, Brad Dourif, Eva Mendes,

Plot Synopsis is here

Its been about three days since I watched Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, and while I usually write (or at least start) my reviews the day I watch the movie, I've been so busy (London Expo and drinking but mostly the expo) that I haven't been able to sit down with my laptop and spew my opinion on the net. With this said however, it allowed me to gather my thoughts a little bit and that my fellow readers is a good thing.

There's been a lot of talk about this remake on the tinterwebz, and while not all of it's been bad, it was hard to read anything good. The originals director Ferrara has been particularly vicious, being quoted that he wishes all people making remakes should die in the same streetcar. A little harsh but considering the amount of limp retreads out there, I can see why he's angry.

Fortunately in my opinion, Port of Call New Orleans is no limp retread. Despite drawing on aspects of the original film Herzog has truly made it his own. Turning the film from a gritty and grimy police thriller to a riotously funny parody of televised cop drama. The German director toys with material that we've grown extremely accustomed to. The films story is nothing that The Shield or similar series couldn't knock out in 15 minutes, however, Herzog decides to fuel the movie with such outlandish humor and hallucinogenic imagery the film becomes hypnotic. It also help that the film features the best Nic Cage performance since 2002's Adaptation. His portrayal of corrupt cop Terence is a wild, strung out one full of visual tics and OTT madness that brings about his earlier roles that made him so watchable in the first place.

But this energy extends though all the cast in the film. Val Kilmar has limited screen time but reminds us that he still a criminally underused actor. Brad Dourif makes up for H2 sins with a great turn as Terrence's bookie. Jennifer Coolidge is allowed to show her range as a drunken step-mother, while Fairuza Balk reminds us that she can make trashy feel incredibly sexy in two short scenes. One of the films casting revelations however is that of Xzibit who plays high end gangster Big Fate. While I usually find many rappers in roles a chore to sit through Xzibit shows he may have potential after the music stops. There's even a passable performance from Eva Mendes!

But this is what working with a man like Herzog does, and the film pops with a driven dynamism that many cop dramas have been missing. It stands shoulders above other drab offerings with it's colourful offbeat tone and darkly comic insight into common Herzog themes. As the weight of the case and issues begin to stack on the films lead character, the film only becomes more engaging as Herzog love for the obsessive becomes more clear and apparent. It's a shame that the films ending falters slightly with the film going on a tad too long for it's own good. However, it's circular conclusion and lack of a clear Hollywood style redemption is not only welcoming change but a neat comment on the idea on the gray area between good and bad.

Port of Call: New Orleans' break-dancing souls and singing iguanas may not impress everyone, but it's offbeat tone and subverted insight into an overworked genre could make this a cult classic for years to come.

Hear more talk about this movie at geekplanetonline

Monday 19 October 2009

Review: Up in the air

Year: 2009
Director: Jason Reitman
Screenplay: Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner
Starring: George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, Vera Farmiga

Plot Synopsis is here

Up in the air is the second film I've seen at the London Film Festival and after a couple of drinks with the people I was with, I found myself at the station trying to make sure I get on the right train. However, I needed to go to the loo. 10 minutes later my stupid bladder and idiotic brain placed me on the wrong train. After a brief text conversation to my girlfriend and a trip to tescos, I managed to get a lift back so I could write this review. The point of this meaningless story is the fact that despite my film geekiness and sudden lack of direction, I'm lucky to have someone like my girlfriend that may be able to give me a lift. An emotional connection, one that if I didn't have I'd have to spend a crap load of money having to get back to my warm bedroom. What's it got to do with Up in the air? Well that's what it's all about!

Up in the air is about emotional bonds and their frailties. We take them for granted constantly but without them, we can become trapped, isolated and disconnected. With this said however, some find this confronting. I mean people aren't the greatest company are they? And George Clooney's character Ryan has constructed a lifestyle that not only keeps him constantly moving, but one that allows him to shun all the little distractions and baggage that we hold dear.

He is a man who is hired to fire people because bosses haven't got the guts to do the dirty work. This is something he's turned into an artform. His lifestyle is soon threatened by a spunky young 23 year old named Natalie (Kendrick), whose realised that all this traveling across the country in order to fire people is a lot of money and video casting is a far more cost effective. Natalie becomes a stone in Ryan's shoe and very soon Ryan starts to stumble into all those little distractions that he avoided so well.

Up in the air is fantastically cast, subtly directed and profoundly funny. It's also a mainstream film that has the balls to observe the terrible circumstances that we have found ourselves. The film is littered with scenes of people losing their jobs, and while some moments are hilariously awkward, many carry a quiet poignancy as the film ups the ante. Reitman's film is an indictment to everything that happened to America is the last two years. A viewer came out of the film and stated that the pick picks easy targets, however if any one out there can name five recent fictional American movies that are making such on point criticisms on the American way of living right, I'd love to hear them.

Unlike so many other directors out there who are creating simplistic films about fantastic escapism, Reitman concentrates on the various aspects of American life that are truly being affected. Juno was a gentle look at the very real situation of children having children. Up in the air is a film about losing our humanity within the corporate world. Yes, I've summed it up in laymans terms, but Reitman's film is one of the only films out there so is willing to address the distress.

Seriousness aside, this film is the perfect foil for it's cast. The themes are heavy, but they are carefully juggled by the superb Clooney, who hasn't been this smooth since Out of Sight. Not only a true movie star but a daring actor who is willing expose himself and deconstruct his star persona. His patchy box office numbers have often been made up by challenging subject matter and of course a smooth performance, here is no different. Up in the air may not target the demographic that the studios want but it's a sublime turn certainly gives the film the prestige it deserves. Here, he's sly, cocksure and never misses a beat. Even Danny Ocean would be sweating in his boots in front of Ryan Bingham. It's also welcoming to see the gorgeous Vera Farmiga in a bouncy yet complicated role as Alex, Ryan's sex buddy. For an actress whose constantly noted for her "strung out" performances (See the departed, Joshua, Orphan etc), Farmiga matches Clooney in cracking sexuality beat for beat. It a role that turns you on, not because of her looks but her ability to turn a phase as well as her partner The chemistry is beyond sizzling.

Three cheers must also go out to the other strong female display in the film, coming in the form of Anna Kendrick, whose well rounded yet so wonderfully naive could have been so easily a retreaded "voice of reason" act that could have dulled the sharp script with it's wry dialogue and cutting observations.

Reitman's direction is as confident as his fully realized screenplay, shooting as matter of fact as possible, with no wasteful shots, needless clever asides or flabby scenes. Even in the face of cliche, Reitman laughs in the face of going down a hackneyed route, converting commonplace moments, and subverting scenes that could have easily sink the film, particularly in the later half of the film.

Up in the air is sharp and stylish film making with a maturing director at the helm, and a note perfect cast (I haven't even mentioned the solid supporting turns of Jason Bateman et all.). It's a film that is as joyfully amusing as it is melancholy. Bittersweet but not without it a glimmer of hope, Up in the air is a film that I hope to see win awards next year.

Hear more talk about this movie at Geekplanetonline

Sunday 18 October 2009

Review: The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus

Review: 2009
Director: Terry Gilliam
Screenplay: Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown
Starring: Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell, Lily Cole, Tom Waits, Christopher Plummer

Plot Synopsis is here

A Terry Gilliam film is always a herculean task. Not to watch mind, no that's usually a joy. I mean the process of Gilliam as director actually making a film itself always requires the power of the Norse gods themselves in order to get it made. Be it totalitarian producers (Brazil) to the fiasco of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a production so wrecked with problems that ANOTHER film was made that documents what had happened. This last film still hasn't been made and Gilliam will get another chance now that the rights have been retrieved by the director.

The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus is no different with one the leads (Ledger) dying halfway through filming. This tragic loss however, showed how bloody minded Gilliam is. Finishing the film in Heath's honor, Ledger's role of Tony is now played by not only the deceased, but by three other actors. It seems that nothing will stop Gilliam from completing his visions.

Me, as a viewer is happy that Gilliam managed to finish this movie because it once again shows just how imaginative Gilliam is. This is a film filled with fantastical visions and gorgeous imagery that could only come from the artist known as Terry. The film playfully motifs much of Gilliam's back catalogue but still manages to produce some delightfully original visual moments.

The films narrative reminded me (bizarrely) of M Night Shyamalan extremely pompous Lady in the water; from it's red headed heroine in peril to it's melding of fantasy realms within the modern world. The film also brings about the same message of the death of creativity and story, although unlike Shyamalan ego trip, Gilliam turns clearly wishes to push the focus on Hollywood itself, with the film at times showing a clear allegory towards modern cinema. Parnassus cynically demonstrates that there's shysters and crooks everywhere trying to destroy the imagination and ability of artists. What makes Parnassus a better film than the aforementioned Lady in the water is while the character of Parnassus is literally NOT Gilliam himself but any artist wishing to make his mark. There's no smarm here, just the honest insight on how we maybe killing artistic merit.

However, as with many of Gilliam's films, he has so much to say and appears to have very little time for discipline and the films plot strands are very thin. The film could really do with a tiny bit of explanation on how the power of Doctor Parnassus is harnessed, as well as giving the more important characters additional back story. early opinions have stated confusion with the film. I had no such problem with following the story, but in my point of view the film needed more weight, especially with the grand metaphors Gilliam wishes to push forward.

Despite this, Parnassus manages to maintain engagement with it's charming cast. Much as been said with the new casting implements that took place, however the way it's handled in the film is tasteful. Also if it were not for the fact that the issues involving Ledger became public knowledge the transitions would be almost unnoticeable. I do wish that I hadn't known anything about the "replacements" in the film because it would have been an delightful surprise.

Ledger's last performance once again shows how much potential the young actor had. It's a much more restrained performance than his role of The Joker, but the quirks and magnetism come through strong. The three Tony transformations played Depp, Law and Farrell vary in quality (Law is the weakest, Depp has the best material to work with) but they manage to enhance the extraordinary power of the imagery world that lies behind Parnassus' mirror. Depp has a scene stealing monologue which clearly feels written after Ledgers death. It's a wonderful moment from a blink and you'll miss it display from Depp.

I found myself wondering why Christopher Plummer was never considered for Albert Dumbledore (correct me if I'm wrong) as he brings just as much of gravitas that both Richard Harris and Micheal Gambon have given to the part. Lily Cole is not only just a pretty face (especially when she wears less make up) but puts more than enough spunk into a role that another dead eyed model would have ruined. Cole shows that she has some acting chops behind her catwalking. Another solid performance comes from (relatively) unknown Andrew Garfield while Verne Troyer gets all the good grubby lines as a voice of reason and truth. Tom Waits rounds up the cast as the scenery chewing (but great fun) antagonist of the piece.

The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus is bittersweet film, both in fiction and reality and despite it's story issues, it brings about some of the best of a masterful director. Gilliam, whose is approaching his 70's shows no signs of losing his bite with his film cynically taking subliminal chunks out of the hand that sometimes feeds him. Despite the film sometimes not holding enough weight, it's cast is forever engaging and it's visuals are some of the most eye popping of the year. Gilliam fans will know what all the fuss is about, Ledger fans may well up in his last performance, while others may sit there befuddled. But then difficult is just the way Gilliam likes it.

Hear more talk about this movie at Geekplanetonline

Saturday 17 October 2009

Review: Fanatsic Mr Fox

Year: 2009
Director: Wes Anderson
Screenplay: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach
Starring: George Clooney, Bill Murray, Meryl Streep, Michal Gambon, Jason Schwartzman

Plot synopsis is here

While I'd admire the fact that authors such J.K Rowling and Dan Brown have got a generation reading again in an age where the most complicated read is text speak, they've never captured the creativity and wit that Roald Dahl brought to me when I was younger. Hell even now I still class Boy as one of the books I'd need on a desert island. From The Twits to The Adventures of Henry Sugar this was a man who had me enthralled by the art of story telling from a young age. I even remember going to the Dahl Museum when I was younger and if it still stands when I have kids, that's where they'll be going on their holidays too.

Imagine my surprise when I heard about Wes Anderson's plans to film an adaptation of Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox. The talk of this development started in 2004, and only now does the spoils of labour have appeared. Why? because Anderson has decided to film the movie as stop animation as opposed to the now more common CGI.

Dahl's books have been adapted for cinema with varying degrees of success with perhaps the most famous of them being disliked by the author himself. Anderson approaches the story as an American paying tribute to the material, the stop animation not only gives the film a vivid amount of detail and style but also gives the film an English feel that would have been lost if filmed in another way. The look of the film is allegedly inspired by the Buckinghamshire village of Great Missenden where Dahl lived and worked. As someone whose not only born and bred in Bucks but lives so close to this village I could lick the place, it's clear to say that Anderson has done his homework. The look of the film may not dazzle like the vast landscapes of the excellent UP, but it has a unique homely feel that evokes the spirit of the book it has taken it's ques from.

With the surroundings almost firmly in place (explain later) Anderson, then makes the film his own. Utilizing his themes of dysfunctional families and huge egos to his utmost, Anderson makes the films central message one about pride. Like the aforementioned UP, the film doesn't pander to it's younger audience in any shape for form, nor does it ram it's morals down their throat. Fantastic Mr Fox merely lies it's cards on the table as is, presenting it's message in it's clearest form. As great as our talents are, we must sometimes rely on others to get the best out of them.

Semi-serious moments aside, the film is hilarious with many of the films best comic moments in the first act. By not watering down any elements, or pandering to peoples knowledge of pop culture (for the most part, explain later), the film manages to get away with moments of almost outrageous humor. One of the main reasons for this is the screenplay dialogue which exercises a strong use of the English language. When characters talk, none of them are condensing to each other, and the audiences reaction when I watched it merely enforces the fact that you don't have to dumb things down just for a cheap laugh.

This is not to say, it's not without it's flaws, sometimes the film's American sensibilities get in the way of the "Englishness" of the whole proceedings. Fox's whistle is a natty little trademarks, but anyone with cinema savvy will know that it's nabbed from Donald Sutherland's Hawkeye from the American anti-war classic M.A.S.H. The mixture of moods sometimes clash, but no more than feeling a little odd.

This brings me on to the voice acting, which despite clearly having these actors cast to bolster the U.S market, their voices are cast because because they're are truly right for the part. Clooney once again lends his charm to the proceedings, managing to carry the weighty aspects of Mr Fox (yeah, seriously) while still being light hearted. Streep is great foil for him as his long suffering wife. Jason Schwartzman's grumpy Ash is a wonderful addition to the story, while Bill Murray, Willem Defoe and Michel Gambon are as reliable as they always are.

Fanastic Mr Fox doesn't stick as close to the material as more rabid fans would probably have liked, but unlike say, Tim Burton's visually stunning, emotionally hollow Charlie and the chocolate factory, Anderson's film brings around more Dahl spirit than one may think. When it moves away from the book, it's not for the directors own pretensions, but to assist to themes of the story. Something that even Dahl himself would be proud of.

Hear more talk on this film at Geekplanetonline

Thursday 15 October 2009

Review: Halloween 2

Year: 2009
Director: Rob Zombie
Screenplay: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Scout Taylor-Compton, Malcolm McDowell, Brad Dourif

Plot Synopsis is here

The first film was dull, loud and self indulgent, great stuff eh? Well if you liked Rob Zombies drab retread of John Carpenter's seminal horror classic, you'll love H2. It's even more simple-minded, it's louder and overloaded with gallons more self-indulgence. How bad? Well here's a film in which a teenager whose been through a traumatic event has a poster of Charles Manson over her bed a year after.

The biggest problem with Rob Zombies supposed thriller is that it's so unbelievably in love with its so called "vision", that it has no clue that it's just as bland as other re-imaginings. Zombie pukes up as many warped heavy metal music video images as possible but it can't even be bothered to clear up the things that truly matter. Things such as those aggravating slasher cliches which telegraph scares faster than a fat kid in a sugar factory. This is a film that truly believes that some jive about white horses will distract the viewer long enough to show that Halloween 2 has no story or atmosphere. Sorry Rob, you haven't caught me out, mostly because I know that's your wife (again) in those boring dream sequences. Once again Neopism rears it's head and Zombie finds yet another way of shoving his loved one into his film, so once again you can watch (with hands clasped tightly over face) another awful performance from her.

Zombie's got such a hard on for his wife, random dreams and romanticizing the villain of the piece (for some reason). That he misses a sub-plot that runs through his movie that is far more interesting. Zombie's vision of Halloween involves bulking up much of the plot to give Micheal Myers a stereotyped, ripped off (This film clearly nabs from psycho) background to raise some sort of empathy. What he fails to see is the plot that involves Dr Loomis (A truly hapless Malcolm McDowell) as a soulless shadow of himself, selling the story of Micheal for blood money. It's an interesting aspect of plot which is wasted, so Zombie can lavish masturbatory images of people getting bludgeoned, maimed and hacked to pieces. Not only is this tiresome but it's execution is far too over the top for it's own good. It only serves to a select few of people who believe this is extreme.

Unfortunately the best extreme cinema comes nowhere near a trite Rob Zombie screenplay, but is found in European and far east Asian endeavors. These films also have what people in the business call STORY, and do not have to resort to swearing in every other word to emphasis emotion. Swearing in dialogue is a true art form and Zombie has not mastered it with is trite screenplay.

It's clear that a Rob Zombie music video would be visually interesting, however to extend this over such a long period of time becomes extremely boring. The visuals look good but hold no tone. I'm not looking for complicated subtext in slashers but I do wish to feel some sort of tension. Zombie's film didn't even give me the cheap pleasure of jump scares, such is how bad this movie fails.

I could mention performances but why? The screenplay cares not for the characters or dialogue and the director cares not for the displays so there's no point complaining about them as these actors (or hot girls) have nothing to work with. Even the ever formidable Brad Dourif looks more embarrassed than anything thing else.

What gets my goat about Zombie's film the most is how lost his original voice is. When watching small aspects of the the film you can see that Zombie isn't truly incompetent. But of course it means nothing as the directors boorish self-importance overrides anything of interest. Indulgence is a difficult thing to keep in balance and for some filmmakers, it allows some true flourishes of inspiration for others such as Zombie you are given loud, obnoxious movies that have nothing to say other than how brilliant the filmmaker must be because they say so. At first I had given Zombie the benefit of the doubt with his debut movie House of 1000 corpses, but now I've released what's living behind Zombie's eyes is purely and simply....monotonous.

Hear more talk about this movie at Geekplanetonline

Sunday 11 October 2009

Review: UP

Year: 2009
Director: Bob Peterson & Pete Docter
Screenplay: Bob Peterson & Pete Docter
Starring: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai

Plot Synopsis is here

I'm not sure I've said it in my blog yet but I'm sure I've said it in real life; If mainstream Hollywood absorbed half of what Pixar does with every one of their films, then I would be in cinematic heaven. For me it's gone beyond how colourful there movies are, or how great the animation is. Their movies are now nothing short of what I want from ANY film let alone a family film. Today I watched a film which had a montage with more emotion and pathos then the entire 166 minutes of Benjamin Button. I saw action sequences with more invention and thrill behind them than your Fast and Furious' and enough humor to stand against the so-called best comedies of the year. Even then there's more to UP than what I've just said.

It's is hard to top the films sublime almost wordless first act, which details our protagonist and his regret beautifully (it features two of the most heartbreaking moments I've seen in a family film in a long time) but UP manages to maintain it's emotional connection until the end due to Pixar's belief in character and story. These are characters that ring true even if it's they're talking dogs. The filmmakers firmly believe there's a story to be told about a 78 year old man and they believe that people will want to watch it.

This is a story with grand themes of mortality, loss and living your dreams with well rounded characters with real hopes, fears and beliefs. It doesn't insult the viewers intelligence and sell them short. It doesn't just want to tell you the story visually (which it does with aplomb) it wishes to truly engage you with what it has to say about life and the human condition. Human Condition? You may ask.But at times, if it weren't for the more outlandish parts of the film and the bright colours, this could be high drama. UP may be considered a "kids film" but it's one which is brave enough to deal with the death of a family member head on. I admire the films wish not to conceal aspects of life that we must contemplate one day.

But the humor! Oh the humor! Real gags with actual timing! With most family films wringing comedy (celeb) voices for cheap laughs or reverting to bland pop culture for easy jokes, it's just heartwarming to see a film that can make you laugh because the characters are funny. It's not forced, it feels very real. I laughed out loud....a lot. But UP is one of those films.

It's also one of those films that shows true talent within the craft. Co-Directors Bob Peterson and Pete Docter bring about a dazzling array of visual images (bizarrely reminding myself of Herzog's Fitzcarraldo) that aren't just pretty because of the animation, but because they're beautifully staged and full of creativity. For me the house being lifted by balloons will be one of the definitive moments of my cinematic year.

The voice acting is once again top notch which Ed Asner carries the film effortlessly. It's a voice that sounds familiar but isn't really. It's also a layered performance, one not restricted to just grumpy and scared but one which completes the characters poignancy. Asner is aided by the perfectly goofy voice of Jordan Nagai, whose first film endeavor is a lovable one. The villain of the piece is played by Christopher Plummer with a certain sleazy charm.

If I were to nitpick at the film it would be to say that the film is running on fumes slightly by the last act. Many might be a little dismayed by the films villain and how the the final showdown is a little anti-climatic. With this said Pixar have become bigger than simple films about good and evil. UP is a film about making sure that the life you live is one worth living no matter what happens. A moral that a child can truly take to the bank.

Hear more talk about this movie at Geekplanetonline

Saturday 10 October 2009

Review: Zombieland

Year: 2009
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Screenplay: Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin

Plot synopsis is here

For the last few days I've been ridiculously ill, with today was the first time I was able to drag myself out the house if only to the cinema briefly (no popcorn as it might up back up again) to watch Zombieland (such is my passion for film). I'm glad my half dead ass managed to make it to the cinema in order to watch these full dead asses terrorize Jesse Eisenberg and co.

While they've always been with us since Victor Halperin's White Zombie (1932), it was 2002's 28 Days Later which appeared to shove Zombies* into the true mainstream limelight. Two years later, the spaced crew (Frost, Pegg, Wright et all) release a film that quickly became a cult classic: Shaun of the Dead

Zombieland is a comedy which is clearly inspired (the director Fleischer has supposedly said this as well) by Edgar Wright's ode to an American monster with good ol British humor. And while Fleischer and co have a lot to learn when it comes to subtly, Zombieland was quite simply a bloody good laugh.

Zombieland lacks the layered, British, wit that is littered throughout Shaun of the Dead, but with it's visual rule list, kills of the week and superb cameo, (which is best left nameless to truly appreciate the brilliance of the casting) the film so in your face that it doesn't matter in the slightest. Hoping on the Zombie bandwagon, the film makes light of an extremely fucked up situation. The films plot is a fragile as a Kleenex but the films dialogue crackles and the characters keep you interested.

Fleischer (whose supposedly only watched one zombie film before) keeps his film light and breezy as we are introduced very quickly to our zombie killers who in turn get to know each and become a dysfunctional undead-murdering (?) family. The group a natural chemistry together and characters are way more entertaining to hang around than those you see in horror zombie films. This is a good thing because we spent a lot of the films running time with them, in fact the zombies are almost background for a lot of the time. However, when shoved in the forefront the film spares no expense in dispatching them in ludicrous and grotesque ways.

The star of the show is of course Woody Harrelson, an underrated actor whose Texan drawl works absolute wonders here. Consistantly funny throughout, his badass, live fast character is one part Mickey Knox, two parts Ash Campbell. While Jesse Eisenberg shows that you can have fun with the straight man character. Despite playing an anxious character there's a laid-back aspect that I couldn't ignore but enjoyed watching. Also note that Eisenberg was doing the Micheal Cera "thing" before him so this makes him the original**. Abigail Breslin is almost unrecognizable from Little miss sunshine (showing her range), while Emma Stone makes what could have been a bland character her own by infusing it with a sexy attitude, alleviating the love interest character into a more rounded figure***.

Zombieland is one of those cheer along films that is best enjoy with a bunch of beers and pizza. You can drink along to the rules, zombie kills and moments of good ol U.S wit. It's not Shaun of the dead, hell it's not even the superb Drag me to hell, but Zombie land can exist with them in it's own right. Why? The on point dialogue, the brief but fun action sequences, the friendship between the characters and that cameo....THAT Cameo will have zombie fans giggling for weeks. Original? Not really, but top points for effort and execution, and that's what counts. Quite simply a barrel (shotgun) full of laughs.

*They are not dead, just infected, it's stated in the god damn film. Get. Over. It.
** Roger Dodger was 2002 when Eisenberg started his awkward male bit, Arrested Development appeared after.
***When Emma Stone says in the sexy, husky voice she doesn't want drink join her.

Hear more talk about this movie at Geekplanetonline

Beyonce + Wonder Woman = Fail

I know this was a while ago but it suddenly cropped up again on our WNATM podcast for some reason...Beyonce Knowles as wonder woman.

"And it would be a very bold choice. A black Wonder Woman would be a powerful thing. It's time for that, right?"

In my opinion? No, not really. I mean it's bold getting a (mediocre) non-actress to carry a film which could become a franchise. But having a Afro-American Wonder Woman for the sake of it is WRONG. There's a few issues that make the idea of having "Foxy Cleopatra" as Wonder Woman a difficultly (one being the desperate desire to appear "hip" and "with the times" being one of them) but the one I'm going to go with is of course alienating the fans and I really think you need them on your side for a project like this.

Also I wouldn't want John C Reilly to be fucking Shaft would I?

I'm watching you Hollywood

Being black, I would love to see more roles handed out to talented black actors/actresses and I would also love a kick ass superhero/comic book style film with a black lead sometime soon. But after the whole Daredevil debacle...

They tried it before...did it work? Did it fuck

I'm sure this rumor will evaporate like the proverbial fart in the wind but while it lingers. Please for the love of God can we not have Xania from the Pink Panther as Wonder Woman.

Hear more drunken ramblings on the Geekplanet podcast

Friday 9 October 2009

Review: S. Darko

Year: 2009
Director: Chris Fisher
Screenplay: Nathan Atkins
Starring: Daveigh Chase, Briana Evigan, James Lafferty, Ed Westwick

Plot Synopsis is here

Like a few people out there, I'm a big Donnie Darko fan. I was in college when the film was released and I remember how it blew my mind. I love how bold the film was as well as it's inventiveness but first and furthermore, I loved how it made me feel. Cheesy? Yes, but lets get one thing straight, this is one of my favorite movies. Richard Kelly's career since it's release has been an odd one at best but his Theatrical Cut of DD will always be a work of untainted brilliance to me.

Which brings me to S. Darko, a needless (direct to DVD) sequel to Kelly's 2001 cult hit. It would be easy for a fan like me to straight out hate the film but no that's too easy, Instead I pity it.

S Darko is a film with no true creativity of its own, nor is it a film that gives a damn about the fans (as much as the filmmakers may say), it's easy to see from the iconography thrown into the film that the higher ups behind the film are looking to reap in as much money as possible using the Darko "brand". Links to the first film are tenuous at best and the film tries to make up for it by nicking lines and shots from the first film and jumbling them around a bit.

The main problem of S Darko however is this; IT HAS NO EMOTIONAL CORE. The original Donnie Darko (sci-fi aside) was a teen dramedy of John Hughes-esque angst. Kelly wasn't at one time considered a wunderkind for no reason and Darko appeared to be evidence of this. The film confidently straddled many genres without losing it's tone and atmosphere. S Darko has no identity of it's own and it's clearly evident by how much it steals from it's big brother, but it doesn't know why. It has no heart of its own and desperately looks towards the first film for shallow inspiration.

A clear example would be the liberal borrowing (read stealing) of the virtuoso high school sequence shot in Donnie Darko . This scene not only looks good but sets up surroundings,introduces characters and prepares us for the next scene. Here director Chris Fisher uses the same filming techniques at a party scene but the shot means nothing only to exist because something similar was done in the first film. This is constantly done throughout the film with little thought behind why other than "people will remember it from the first film" and because of this the film becomes exceedingly trite and a slog to get through.

There's no help either from the film's weak and stilted screenplay which a mish mesh of re-hashed plotlines, forced wit and bizarre for the sake of it characters. From an acting point of few there's really nothing to talk about, the film is merely a stop gap for the young actors who have already moved onto something new.

It's not all bad. Fisher is obviously a competent director and the visuals of the film are at points better than some of the things you'd see in a cinematic release, while the choice of music while not as well observed as the first film (with an amazing Micheal Andrews score) it's still pretty strong considering.

It's just a shame that the film is so lackluster. It's a sequel that doesn't want to live out of it's brothers shadow. For some they may be able look at this with fresh eyes and gain something new out of it. For myself, I don't feel too bad that I watched it, but I do feel better that I won't have to watch it again.

Monday 5 October 2009

Review: The Invention of Lying

Year: 2009
Director: Ricky Grevais, Matt Robinson
Screenplay: Ricky Grevais, Matt Robinson
Starring: Ricky Grevais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe

Plot Synopsis is here

I found two reviews of Ricky Grevais debut feature film comedy that are so far apart it's almost untrue. The first is a damming review by Empire while the second is a glowing one from Roger Ebert. It would be easy to get into personal snipes at Eberts "leniency" or Empire's "dubious" ratings, but it's best not. A part of me would like to think the reason for such a difference in opinion is a cross-Atlantic one. The U.S are now in love with our comic import at this moment while we've had the guy for quite a while, So while his popularity is at its peak with the yanks, in Blighty our usual lack of patience for anyone successful is beginning to show.

After watching the film I almost felt that both reviews were right, leaving my opinion rather in the middle. Ebert considers the film to be quite radical and indeed I found myself astonished at moments of he film. By subverting it's simple idea, the film manages to allow some heavy moments to slip out of it's goofy outer shell. The film may look happy go lucky but the material sheds some light on some dark aspects of humanity. I won't say too much but I found it's talk on religion to be quite startling, not because I believe but more that the film gets away with it. It's this frank look at some of the "big" questions that shows that Grevais (a self-confessed Athieist) is clearly in the driving seat of this and many of his comedy vehicles and not Stephen Merchant as the Empire review mockingly states.

However, with a film willing to expand it's themes beyond the average comedy, it's a shame that the film is so one note in actual jokes. The Invention of Lying believes that in a world were everyone is compelled to tell the truth, they are all arseholes. Sympathy is not an option here and the film wishes to tell us this at length. Truth means insults here and apart from maybe one scene, everyone who tells the truth must not only do it bluntly but with added hatred. The (only) gag gets tired very quickly and despite some inspired moments (the coke/pepsi joke is amusing) the comedy struggles to keep up with the grander themes that the film wanted to look into.

When it comes to performances, it all depends on how you feel about Ricky Grevais. It's a very typical Grevais delivery which is of course well timed but just like maramite you'll either cry laughing or break you teeth from all the grinding you'll be doing. Jennifer Garner and Rob Lowe have their moments but due to the lack of depth with the comedy you will soon grow tired of their insults. The film is also filled with needless celebrity cameos which range from funny to bland. It's clear that the only reason for them is of course the amount of influence that Grevais has now, however it does nothing to enhance the movie in any way.

A first time co directional debut (with Matt Robinson) for Grevais, The Invention of Lying is intermittently funny and struggles to find the balance of great involving comedy and the grand themes it tries to bring about. Die hards will of course love what Mr Brent has got to offer this time, however those like the writers at Empire who have appeared to have grown weary of the man may wish to look elsewhere.

Hear Byron talk more about this movie at geekplanetonline