Thursday 31 December 2009


It was a shit year for movies...

I heard this ever so much. It was a phase that rang through my ears constantly. However, my fellow readers, you will not hear it from me. In fact I don’t fully believe in “bad years” for movies. My reasoning isn’t great but hear me out:

This year I watched over 80 movies at the cinema, and had more than enough movies to make a shortlist for my top ten. Of course there were the other movies that I found not so hot but as always the Bad didn’t outweigh the good, and until the day I struggle to create a top ten list of favourites (which I doubt considering how many films I watch) then I can’t see there ever being a “bad year”.
Of course not everyone has the time or wish to watch as many movies as myself and may only get to watch what really interests them. The problem I find however seems to be that so many people don’t truly search out films that could interest them, or films that could SURPRISE them. I mean what’s so wrong with watching something a little different?
So to those who were “disappointed” with the year I say this: It’s not always the filmmakers fault that you picked more movies that you disliked than liked. These days over 40 films are released during a month and yes, it is difficult for people to pick out some of the most independent titles, but the internet has opened up so many more outlets for people to watch, download (not illegally), stream and rent movies that it’s coming more and more impossible for a cinephile NOT have a bad year.
We as consumers have the choice to seek out a range of films that we can enjoy as opposed to being spoon fed with say another Hollywood remake or Comic Book sequel. For me, I had a blast. I haven’t seen so many movies in years and if I can equal or beat that amount next year that will be grand. If by some unfortunate circumstances I see more bad films than good I still won’t care. Why?
The Good movies will be brought, re-watched and live within my memory forever. The bad will be forgotten as soon as I leave the cinema (after the review). So without further ado shall we get on to the list?

My Ten Favourite Films of the year (No Order):

Note that I use the term favourite as these films are personal to me and not the “best” of the year. To claim that the movies that affected me the most, when discussing something as subjective as film is extremely pompous.
Horror comedy is difficult to do well and easy to fail at. Rami is of course an old hand at this and his rollercoaster ride of tension and laughs beat out any horror entry that poke it’s head out during 2009. Hated by many expecting a different beast entirely...Those who remember and loved the lighter side of Ash Williams and Co were completely down with this horror with humor combo. Also Possessed Goats are made of win.

Cynicism is rife with me when it comes to the Romantic Comedy. Quite simply, the genre doesn’t try hard enough and insults the intelligence of its fans constantly. Here however, was a quick shot in the arm of the bride wars, bridget jones and the sex in the citys that we constantly witness. Humor that stems from the characters, feelings that come from a truth place and characters that I can root for. The date movie never had it so good.

Quite simply the gutsiest movie of the year. Cameron’s Avatar may have the visuals but his ex-wife Bigalow has the tension and the drama. A sublimely crafted action feature.

Many have bemoaned that the motormouth “can’t write” any more. I don’t think it’s that, I think his writing is evolving and just not appealing to the people who are looking for pulp fiction 2. Tarantino’s film is in love with language, movies and storytelling. He also adds to this some of his best scenes this side of Pulp fiction and one of the writer directors best characters (handsomely played by Christopher Waltz) to date. Not only War as fiction but war as fun, something that shouldn’t be able to be done considering the connotations...and yet he surprised me again.

The pulsing soundtrack, the claustrophobic visuals, its grand themes and a lead performance from Sam Rockwell that would get awards if I could rig the ceremonies. Duncan Jones brings us Sci-fi that the 70’s used to make. An arresting film that well and truly knocked me for six. Somewhere Stanley Kubrick is Smiling.

With scenes that carry more pathos than many of the movies I watched this year. Pixar once again bring us a family film with thought. Ratatouille, Wall-e and now UP have made sure that Pixar make the leap from best animated film best picture contenders.

The Coens are having yet another fabulous run of movies, playing with the ideals of fate. This movie decides that even God great plan should be knocked about for a laugh. Full of Coen’s black humour, great performances from a relatively unknown cast and a plot that plays with fatalism in a way that only these two bothers can.

Due to Hollywood’s dominance in the U.K we often forget that we Brits even make movies let alone good ones, Andrea Arnold (and Moon’s Duncan Jones) wishes to change all that. With her kinetic kitchen sink-esque Drama that many have felt evoked the spirit of Loach (not that he’s dead). Arnold’s film is culturally astute, beautifully realised and features the combustible chemistry of Newcomer Katie Jarvis and Irish chameleon Michael Fassbender (also great in Basterds). A mesmerising second feature.

Problems overcome and emotions found in Spike Jonez once troubled feature. A film with not only a wonderful looks but a true nostalgic feel of childhood. Max Record’s difficult character is easy to love while the fantastically created wild things reminded me of those conflicting issues that I had as a child. The film brings a nostalgic feeling given without the need for branded toys or well known television characters, but with the fact that everyone is bigger than you and can change their emotions in a blink of an eye from fun to dangerous without you knowing why. To capture this mixture of fear, joy and amazement is a difficult one but it's one that Jonez handles with aplomb.

Likened to Spinal Tap but could really be a companion piece to Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Anvil is a loving tribute to following your dreams no matter what. Many have watch these two aging rockers playing young ‘uns and considered them sad. But if other Musicians still had has much hunger and passion as these guys at the age they are there’s be even more great music going. The film also has one of the most loving relationships I saw captured this year. How the wives cope with these two is beyond me.


The Wrestler, Frost/Nixon, Observe and Report, District 9, Me and Orson Welles

Sherlock Holmes, Fantastic Mr Fox

Review: Sherlock Holmes

Year: 2009
Director: Guy Richie
Screenplay: Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, Simon Kinberg
Starring: Robert Downley jr, Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong

I remember when the idea of this was first announced. I could almost hear the furious tapping of keyboards from angry purists. Irate that the "hack" that is Guy Richie has decided to lay his grubby mitts (he did have relations with Madonna) on one of England's classic icons. I bet a few hard drives burned due to how angry some of the forum posts got (my knowledge of computer tech showing there).

And here we are...about a year and a bit (maybe less) since we heard the news of a new "re-imaging" in the works. It comes out at Christmas and is stopped from hitting the top spot by Jimmy Cameron and his blue people. The thing is despite all the rooftop yelling about "game-changing" effects and the was Richie's down and dirty re-envisioning of Holmes that I enjoyed all the more.

The reason behind this lies in it's script and narrative. Both films talk utilize the ideals of fear and force in order to control the "bewildered herd" that is the masses. Both are very stylized in their execution and both are made by directors who really know their target audience (teens to mid twenties methinks). I went into both films knowing little about the navi and not that much more about Holmes (yes, i know, shocking). However, after watching both I realized that Richie's film has created a world I want to know more about and characters who really, truly grew on me. In Avatar I still don't know that much about Jim's blue people nor do I care. Richie hasn't been in the game as long as the King of the world, but it's becoming great to see that how quickly he learns.

I could see Holmes becoming a catastrophe of Swept Away proportions had Richie decided to write the piece by himself. Sensing his limitations, it seems the script falls to a trio of individuals who combine their talents to create a screenplay that keeps the essentially of what Holmes is all about (and not just a hat and pipe) but jazzes the the idea of Holmes and Victorian England just right. Yes it's more "entertaining" but it's not insulting and that's the key. The dialogue fizzes, the themes are very much a product of our time but it still has the essence of the era. It's also FUN. To watch Watson and Holmes irate each other like husband and fishwife is amusing but it's also endearing. It's "bromance" (hate that word) that harks back to when we called it the buddy movie. The characters on the page gel well making the actors' life not only easier but so much more enjoyable.

Whoever decided upon placing Downley jr as Holmes deserves a bottle of champers because he is a delight to watch. A man whose intelligence is both a blessing and a curse. Downley jr loses a few of the well known tics to bring about a Holmes whose not smug, but merely frustrated with the supposed challenges placed in front of him. This is a more jovial Holmes than I can think of, and it's the charm of the actor who plays him that brings it about. His foil comes in the shape of Jude Law who hasn't been this interesting since Closer. He craftily balances a character who is not only quite handy in a fight but is every so slightly a bit camp. There's a touch of effeminacy that tries to keep Holmes' man-child in check. It's all very humorous but it's also the reason why we care about what happens to them. At one point Holmes makes light that Dr Watson's career might be at stake but it's important to Holmes that it's not tarnished because of the relationship they have. It's these tiny things that build up the sakes in the film. It's a shame that Rachel McAdams's role is underdeveloped. It is also appears to be obvious that she is placed within the film as American draw to what is quite an English affair, because despite RDJ being transatlantic, has a nice enough English accent . Also, kudos to another solid Mark Strong effort he is the right side of slimy.

How about Richie tackling all this on his biggest movie to date? He handles it surprisingly well. After the deary Rock n Rolla, and Revolver (hated by everyone but liked by me), Richie is back to making bouncy British affairs which are made for cheeky smirks and wide grins. The film is filled with CSI edited clue finding and CGI set pieces. But Richie still manages to keep a sense of fun about the proceedings. At times it gives off the feeling of an old school Bond film, and while I may of offended a multitude of people by saying that I found it true, it has that sense of adventure about it.

That sense which was strangely missing from the big bright flashy lights of Avatar, a film that feels more like a feature to admire than to enjoy. Here we have the opposite, a film that wouldn't mind being called a flick. A film with a smart script that retains that popcorn munching feeling. I would say that Sherlock Holmes is more than elementary, but of course, this is not Paul Ross' blog site.

Note: I gotta say however, from Baker Street to Tower Bridge that fast? Really? You can't fool me guys.

Sunday 27 December 2009

Review: Bronson

Year: 2009
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Screenplay: Nicolas Winding Refn, Brock Norman Brock
Starring: Tom Hardy, Matt King, James Lance

Synopsis is here

WARNING: This review has what could be considered slight spoiler in the last paragraph.

For a numerous amount of reasons, Bronson was a very slippery film for me to get to get hold of. So When I finally got hold of a copy I was actually quite pleased with myself, although I'm sure I could have done more in order to get a viewing of it. I'm actually very relived that I managed to see it, a few of my friends have managed to watch it before myself and they made damn sure I knew about it.

With this said will I enjoy the film as much as my friends? When one friend managed to watch the film in a cinema in Oxford (most likely the wonderful Phoenix) he went became absolutely besotted with the movie. And despite have similar tastes (I've never brought a copy of Fight Club because Ive stolen his) it's still very likely that I would have a polarizing view.

I didn't mind Bronson. In fact I found it to be quite charming in it's own chaotic little way. Refn's direction captures an intense and surreal insight into a Man who seems to find fulfillment in anarchy. Not only does he He find passion in hostility but it's hostility at it's most extreme. What makes a character like Bronson so interesting is that while most people would find living on the edge like this as absurd. This man not only thrives on it but make him appear so alive in comparison.

But what I enjoyed the most about Bronson was basing the movie inside the Man's head. When the words "based on a true story" turn up at the beginning of the film, you have to take the film with a pinch of salt. However by having the character of Bronson not only narrating his story but having scenes within a "neutral" performing space in front of an audience not only captures the surreality of Bronson's endeavors but also creates a unreliable telling of the story which, strangely, feels closer to the truth than any straight account of the story could ever do. It's not so much about the events and the reasons behind them, but more about the fact that sometimes life will throw up characters that us "normal" people will never be able to understand. We're not as extreme, so how do I know how they feel?

Playing the titular Bronson is Tom Hardy a young actor whom I had no idea about until I watched Rock n Rolla and saw adverts of Sky One's The Take. Hardy, a man that has battled addiction in his own life has been able to utilize that self-destruction to create an all consuming monster in Bronson. This is a performance that is not only pitched perfectly but also truly unnerving. Much as been said about Hardy's weight gain to play the part, but nothing has been said about the eyes. It's when you watch them watching you, unblinking and unfazed you see where the performance is. At one scene we Bronson wearing the well known rounded sunglasses that he is also known for and even then, a sense of fear is still installed despite not actually seeing those eyes, but merely KNOWING they are behind his shades, watching. It's a wonderful and yet disturbing moment and one that only few young actors could pull off.

Bronson hasn't got the best pacing and the films closing acting, while fun, is a little anticlimactic. But it's as a character study in which Bronson shines hardest. Likened to A Clockwork Orange, the film felt more like Taxi Driver to me. Where as A Clockwork Orange is about free will, here we see a film about rage at its most primal and unpredictable. The films final shot shows a caged, bleeding, wheezing Bronson glaring at the camera almost waiting to be let out. Like shaking a bottle of coke, when opened, it gets messy.

Sunday 20 December 2009

Review: Street Fighter: Legend of Chun Li

Year: 2009
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Screenplay: Justin Marks
Starring: Kristin Kreuk, Chris Klein, Neal McDonough, Robin Shou, Moon Bloodgood, Taboo, Michael Clarke Duncan

Childhood fondness of the Capcom franchise and morbid curiosity brought me to watching this. There was clearly something telling me that watching this would be a bad idea, however, but the urge was just too strong. I had to see if this was a train wreck or merely a little misguided. By the time Chris Kelin utters his first line...I couldn't stop laughing. I was laughing because of Kelin's dreadful performance. I was laughing because of the films half baked storytelling. I laughed at many things I wasn't supposed to, but one of the main reasons I laughed is because if I didn't...I would have been in tears.

Legend of Chun Li is a bad movie. It's close to Uwe Boll bad. It is a film which has the Interpol having no idea how to trace the main villain Bison (McDonough voicing his role in his best Oirish accent) but anyone off the street can merely use an Internet cafe and gather ALL the information anyone would need on him. It's a movie in which the main character "seduces" a female for information with a atrocious dance moves set to a dire gangster rap soundtrack. It's movie that has some of the worst narration this side of Blade Runner. It's a movie... I could go on.

This is a film seemingly fueled by bad decisions. Considering most causal gamers stopped following the street fighter franchise around the Alpha series, why on earth did the filmmakers consider it to be a good idea to involve characters from then? With a story so simple, why do we need Kristin Kreuk to narrate the movie for us? Why do all the actors in this film have the same dead eyed look? You know, the kind of look that someone who sold their soul would have?

It's clearly obvious a deal with the devil was made for this movie. I mean how else could a Black Eyed Pea get a gig "acting" in this film? (There must of been dealings in X-men: Origins and Nine also). Another, more important questions abound include is how on earth does Andrzej Bartkowiak keep getting offered movies? Why does he edit the shit out of his (admittedly not bad) action sequences? If these questions can be answers please...tell me.

After my review of Avatar and it's clunky script, I feel I may have to apologize. Cameron's film has it's issues but at least it's enjoyable. This...this is an abomination against action movies, a crime against good storytelling, a waste of time and effort, simply put....a bad movie.

Thursday 17 December 2009

Review: Avatar

Year: 2009
Director: James Cameron
Screenplay: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi

Synopsis is here

One of the things I like about writing a personal film blog is that my opinion is my own. Call me a cynic, but it's very hard at times to take certain print press reviews as is due to the huge amount of coverage and hype they force down a readers throat. From the first screenshot reveals to the XX page spread two months before hand. When your bombarded with information about a said film and then greeted with a gushing, glowing five star review at the end, it's hard not to get a little weary. And so with over TWELVE years of preloaded hype, self-proclaimed "king of the world" James Cameron returns with what many consider to be his opus; Avatar.

I've read the early reviews and many have bleated about how great this movie is, and granted in another twelve years I believe that we will be still talking about the EFFECTS of this movie and how far CGI has advanced because of it. However when it comes to how it AFFECTS us, I'm not so sure. Avatar features some of the most astonishing visuals for a film I've ever seen in my short time here on this planet, however when a film has taken so long to prefect in looks it's a shame that we are given a script that doesn't seem to have progressed as well as it's SFX.

It's an odd meld of something you haven't seen before with something you've seen maybe far too often. My mouth dropped to the floor when Jake takes his first Na'vi steps into the world of Pandorum, but I also had to cover the same mouth to stop myself from laughing at some of the trite and corny dialogue. The film's world is one of the most beautifully realized conceptions this year nay DECADE, but the films characters are as bland and dry as crackers. This conflict goes on throughout the film and unfortunately it's stronger than the friction that's meant to be going on up on the screen.

Not like this matters when the action takes hold of the film. Avatar is strongest when it says nothing and it's set pieces say that best, with some glorious sequences that put the likes of Lucas, Bay, Emmerich and the rest to shame. The effects money is up on the screen for all to see and with no horrible editing techniques to distract. One of the issues i had with My Bloody Valentine 3D is that it's was hacked up so much that the 3D just simply didn't work. Here, along with the effects it's seamless, in fact it becomes second nature and Cameron and his P.C nerds have played with the depth of field inwards instead of outwards to make 3D something almost worth investing. With this said...will anyone else have £300 Million to make the 3D this good? I think not. Good luck to seeing 2 of this a year, let alone 10.

Script problems aside, the acting is more than adequate, Sam Worthington makes a great grunt and has enough screen presence to make sure he's not another face in the crowd. Zoe Saldana is emotional but not too memorable as the Na'vi love interest Neytiri, while Stephen Lang chews the entire screen like welsh taffy as Col. Miles Quaritch. The rest of the performances are nothing to shout about but then they aren't written to be anything more than generic support characters. in fact I'm hard pressed to remember their names.

Which once again brings me to what stops Avatar being a great film for me, it's story. Many have made jokes, likening the film to Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, Ferngully and the like, and to be fair, that IS all in there. I didn't expect mind blowing originality, but Cameron does nothing to make the movie feel fresh other than the out of this world visuals, and that's not enough. A clear allegory to the Iraq War is made and once again this year inter-racial politics raises it's head and it's all handled well. However, there's nothing narrative wise that matches Neil Blomkamp's District 9 or dare I say this... The Hurt Locker (directed by Cameron's Ex-wife Kathryn Bigalow).

But when it's all said and done, Avatar is an event film and one that will bring in punters and is enjoyable. To get action set pieces like what we see here makes up for the poor showing we got during the summer, and for all the narrative issue, Cameron once again shows that given a large budget he can put most of it to good use. But for all the hype, coverage and five star reviews, I feel a little down that Avatar has only been taken for face value. Game-Changer? Only if we start judging books by their covers.

Note: I know it's hard and you've probably already seen it but try not to watch the Trailer for Avatar, it tells the viewer the WHOLE story in 3 minutes. The run time for the film is almost three hours, you may feel cheated.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Review: Where The Wild Things Are

Year: 2009
Director: Spike Jonez
Screenplay: Spike Jonez, Dave Eggers
Starring: Max Records, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo, Forest Whitaker, Paul Dano Catherine O'Hara

Synopsis is here

"I WILL EAT YOU UP!" - Carol - Not only a manifestation of Max's imagination but also his emotions. Watch carefully when Carol says these words.

I've once again been ill (2009 has been a odd year for me in terms of sickness) and my podcast co-host left me a text a few days ago asking for us to go up and see Where The Wild Things Are and Me and Orson Welles because if i don't watch them...we don't have a show. Feeling like I did, I dreaded heading to the cinema because I felt that the state I was in (missed work the day before, in bed etc) I didn't feel I'd be able to give these films my full attention. However going would mean the show could go on (recording tomorrow), I'd obviously be well enough for my next day of work (also tomorrow) and of course I would have added even more films to this years growing list.

In going, I found that, Where the wild things are (or WTWTA for short) was the perfect movie for how I was feeling because from the first jarring, jump cuts to the wonderfully poised end shot WTWTA took me by the scuff of the neck and shook me to life. Jonez, a formidable director has created a film that effectively captures the untamed abandon of children emotions with a maturity that I haven't seen since the fantasy films of the 80's.

A coming of age story that sits between the troublesome space of childhood and adolescence. Max is a conflicted child whose not old enough to play with the bigger kids but is expect to govern his emotions with a certain amount of maturity. Problem is these days we expect kids to grow up fast and deal, as a short but pivotal scene in Max's School shows. Trouble is Max has not yet understood these aspects of responsibility fully yet and because this he retreats into the childish mannerisms that worked so well with him in the past. As the film continues on, we see a child take those first shaky steps into growing up, and while Max may not have all the answers, he will at least be able stand on his own two when he has some.

Jonez, a filmmaker who we know more for controlling the mindbending scripts of Charlie Kuffman, finds himself on what could be considered new ground for him. He hits the ground running with direction so assured you wouldn't have known of the films troubled production. From the start he manages to find that wonderful rough and tumble feel of a certain childhood that resonates with those who had it. It's a hard feeling to capture but one that comes across so effortlessly with Jonez combination of well timed jump cuts, wonderful art direction and vibrant cinematography that not only seamlessly joins the real with the fantastic (because as a child you believe the two are one) but somehow, accurately places the film at a child eyes view. It's a nostalgic feeling given without the need for branded toys or well known television characters, but with the fact that everyone is bigger than you and can change their emotions in a blink of an eye from fun to dangerous without you knowing why. To capture this mixture of fear, joy and amazement is a difficult one but it's one that Jonez handles with aplomb.

But the film is also helped by a central performance that reminded me how complex we can be as children. I loved Max because he's played not as a perfect angelic creature that only seem to exist in displays by creepy "stage" children, nor is he a 'orrible little brat that is too easy to dislike. He is the full embodiment of all those little complexities that make a child what they are. Jonez coxes out such a true performance, it's reminiscent of the Spielberg displays of old. It's played with perfect pitch by Records and comes across as natural and unaffected as any child you'll meet off the street.

Records is of course joined by some more experienced actors who lend their voices to the titular wild things. Lead by the solid Gandolfini, we are given a gaggle of character actors rightfully chosen for what they can bring to the part and persona as opposed to being well known. Great work is done by all, least not by Lauren Ambrose whose aloof K.W became the main draw for me in the films later half.

If there is any flaws, I could say that the second act has a bit of drag to it. The film's plot is thin and Jonez and Eggars script doesn't have enough to fully cover it. But this is a minor issue about a film that reminds us what it's like to be a kid. Yet another "family" movie which doesn't pander to it's audience be it adult or child by sugar coating it's moral or message. A child's fantasy land can be fearsome, it can be jubilant but it's theirs to shape, shift and meld into whatever they need to cope with whatever comes in their way.

I haven't read Maurice Sendak's classic children's tale and due to being over the recommended age, I will probably never read it until I have my own kids. I find it a shame that I've missed out on reading the tale, because if the book can stir my kids emotions as much as the film they've already grown up a lot richer.

Review: Me and Orson Welles

Year: 2008 (2009 U.K Release)
Director: Richard Linklater
Screenplay: Holly Gent Palmo, Vincent Palmo Jr
Starring: Zac Efron, Christian McKay, Claire Danes, Ben Chaplin, James Tupper

Synopsis is here

Like the theater it talks about, what makes Me and Orson Welles tick is it's cast. Linklater for me has always had an eye for story in the films of his that I've seen, but here he's had troupe of actors who fit into there roles so snug (bar one person but more on that later) that you would believe they're been rehearsing these roles on stage for years before hand. It's not just that everyone has a role to play here, it's the fact that they've been so correctly chosen, that Linklater has no need to worry while bringing about this wonderfully heady coming of age drama which just so happens to feature one of the most dominant influences (if not the MOST dominant) on what we consider modern cinema. Hyperbole? A little, but ask anyone when it comes to film, Welles was the Elvis and we all know what the great John Lennon said about him.*

In this film Welles is played with a explosive combination of fire and charm by Christian McKay. An English actor, McKay's portrayal of the titular Welles not only dominates the screen but is one of the strong imitations of the Man to grace the screen. No matter what your eyes gravitate towards him and whether it's bombastically proclaiming how important he is, or seductively whispering how vital his cast is, Welles' persuasion always wins out right. McKay performance within the film is just as domineering as Welles' presence in real life and is eerily accurate. It's a display that almost knocks everyone out of screen...almost.

Efron, just as likely picked for his box office draw as well as his ability to sing and dance at first struggles with the material and comes off a little stiff, especially when he comes up against more seasoned performers such as Claire Danes (in crafty performance that balances cute affection with blind ambition). However, Efron exhibits a huge amount of screen presence and charm in a role that is more dramatic than many are used to from him. In a film which could have easily lost it's straight man to a multitude of great turns (Chaplin's George Coulouris and Tupper's on the money reincarnation of Joe Cotton are stand outs) Efron holds his own exceedingly well.

For a film about strong personalities being governed and controlled by an even greater presence, Linklater keeps his direction low-key and the pace and tone of the movie breezy. I usually don't go for movies which fall into this period, or about theatre but by the end of the movie, Linklater's easy on the eye visuals and subtle telling of the story (just let the acting flourish maybe?) had me hooked.

The film isn't perfect. Unfortunately I've seen far too many coming of age stories in my short life and this own does nothing fresh with it's well worn narrative to distract me from the fact that I know whats coming next. But in all honestly with a a group of performances as tight as the ones on show, it doesn't really matter.

I also loved the films eye for detail and it's witty moments of foreshadowing. It's hard not to let a smile creep up on your face at points, such as when Welles talks about a certain book based on his father, or the telling line "what do I do to top this!?" after the opening performances standing grand opening. It's not only the performance of Welles that is good but the knowledge about him that helps makes the film so enjoyable for me.

At a time where people are turning their heads towards James Cameron's mega picture, those who are looking for something else could do worse than pick up a ticket for this. Linklater's film reminds us that although effects can be fun, there's still nothing that can hit home as well as a good cast.

Monday 7 December 2009

Review: The Box

Year: 2009
Director: Richard Kelly
Screenplay: Richard Kelly
Starring: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella

Synopsis is here

One word I would avoid when describing the still young film career of Richard Kelly is ordinary. Donnie Darko decided to meld Lynchian tones with Breakfast Club sensibilities, while the schizophrenic nature of Southland Tales may not gel completely but still stands out as one of the more ambitious ventures in 2006's cannon of cinema. The Box comes 3 years later and even now with his most "accessible" work the young director still manages to find ways of making his mark on the film.

The Box goes against the grain when it comes to modern sci-fi, with Kelly setting the film in the 70's and invoking the unnerving paranoid feelings of older sci-fi hits. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) springs to mind, although the film is not as focused as Phillip Kaufman creepy thriller, Kelly goes about developing a film which has a similar vibe of unease. It asks a lot of questions (maybe one too many) but doesn't try to answer all of them. Most of the time this would annoy me but not here. Why? I'm not entirely sure yet. It may be because with this film, Kelly concentrates on capturing a mood that isn't as commonly found as it used to be. It might be because this film despite all it's conspiracy theory trappings, the movie is quite effective with it's emotional responses to it's primary question (although the acting is at times uneven*). It might also be the fact that Kellys direction is a little more attentive to the audience and slightly less self-indulgent. Either/or The Box is a thriller which is tightly wound, well paced has enough unsettling moments to keep the film entertaining.

The Box has it's flaws in the way of it's intrusive score from members of Arcade Fire (I band I don't mind) and it's placement of the films story. Setting in the film in Virgina gives the two leads of M and Diaz affected accents that are unbelievable and effect for the most part their enjoyable performances.

Monthly publication Sight and Sound disliked the fact that Kelly's 70's setting has been taken too much from pop culture to be believable. I disagree, as the film is meant to be a pulpy fun feature not to be taken to heart. The Box is a drumming to a different beat and isn't meant to be observed so strenuously. For the most part it's ambiguous, B movie-style nature works and when Kelly reigns in some of those more indulgent urges of his (a lot Darko motifs appear for no reason other than we've seen them before) the film is a actually a well made two hour diversion. Now if he can just narrow the theorizing down to about one or two selective stories, he'll be back in business.

Note: I still find it hard to believe that someone who works quite high at NASA and a teacher are living paycheck to paycheck. Kelly doesn't do a great job showing the desperation. This may effect how one may view why the button is pressed.

*Frank Langella however is wonderfully sinister.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Review: Paranormal Activity

Year: 2009 (made in 2007)
Director: Oren Peli
Screenplay: Oren Peli
Starring: Kate Featherstone, Michi Sloat

Synopsis is here

Less is more and hype kills movies. Two things that have stayed with me since my first viewing of the Blair Witch Project. I remember raving like a frenzied beast about it when I was at school. Being a bit disappointed after watching it and phoning my dad up straight afterwards because there was no way I was walking the quick way (through the woods) in the dark. It's good when a film can plant a small seed in your brain and giggles as said seed grows in your sub-conscious unassumingly. I'll always wonder how I feel if I had been with those first film-goers when Myrick and Sanchez placed their tiny movie in the documentary section of sundance (those crazy kids).

This bring brings me to Paranormal Activity which follows similar beats to the Blair Witch film in not only story structure (Be interesting to watch them back to back) but in success and marketing madness. Made for supposedly $11,000 dollars (Blair 35,000) and reaping back a hell of a lot more than it's combined total (I'm including marketing costs). PA has become a bit of a phenomenon. After ten years since Blair Witch made Hollywood take notice and realise that the net is a superb idea to market all types of shit INCLUDING MOVIES! Parnormal Activity has one upped it by utilizing web 2.0 as much as possible with sites such as demand it to up it's popularity. This is particularly interesting as the film was shelved for two years by Paramount before hand.

Now with all this talk of Blair Witch story structure and marketing thieving, it's quite clear that PA nabs quite a bit from such films as The Entity (1988) and of course one of my favorites The Exorcist (1973) when it comes to themes, tearing them kicking and screaming their respective decades and shoving them in front of the youtube generation. It becomes very clear that whatever this thing is that is wrecking this couples' life wants to possess (read: Rape) it's subject, this time being the wholesome and down to earth Kate. It's an blatant metaphor but still one that can disturb. Whether or not it will affect you I cannot say, i will say I wasn't surprised that the more outward reactions in the audience were female.

Director Peli also subtly mixes more modern issues of fear along with the primal such house invasion, stalking, pedophilia (the entity has been bothering Kate since she was young) and sometimes almost deftly blends them with the idea of this being found footage. Moments I did enjoy were such ideas like the ever moving Timestamp and the idea that this information can be watched straight back as soon as possible making the fear felt by the characters imminent.

It's a pity that Peli spoils essentially what is a solid piece of work with mishaps that show that this is his first film and he is finding his feet. First off, for something that is "found" this really shouldn't feel as staged as it does. The acting is amateur (except for Katie Featherstone quieter moments) and so much of the films editing and camerawork constantly reminded me that is a "film" and not "footage". I spent a lot of the daytime scenes frustrated as a character will hold the camera on something that is clearly a plot reveal or emotional moment that I just wouldn't believe as something a person would "just do". I should be absorbed by this because I shouldn't think it's a film even if I know I do. Because The Blair Witch Project is a project and a documentary I found reasoning behind the footage being shot justified especially when the "fear" sets in. The same will also go for Cloverfield, a film with a "camerman" whose obvious yet justified reason to keep shooting goes with the territory that's set up.

Peli's other decision to make the male lead character an absolute douche bag, whose constant, aggressive (and ridiculously ineffective) decision making is the main reason for the escalating activity is a terrible idea poorly executed. Almost everything this man says took me out of the movie and his lack sympathy for his girlfriend, is obnoxious, irritating and doesn't ring true. With a film like this, I liked it's smaller moments; a house creak here, or a shadow there. It's those moments I enjoy about films like this, because in reality it's those small things what puts you off balance.

I'm glad PA is doing well because as a film that may not have seen the light of day it has enough in the film to be watchable. But heading back to my first paragraph; hype kills movies and less is more. Ten years ago I knew fuck all about film making (like i do now!) and my ignorance clearly showed as a then 15 year old boy called his daddy because the trees might get him. Now days I'm more jaded and cynical, and even though you can't see the strings when the doors slam, it's suddenly very hard to believe that a couple will hug so tenderly for a strategically placed camera.