Sunday 28 February 2010

Review: The Crazies

Year: 2010
Director: Breck Eisner
Screenplay: Scott Kosar, Ray Wright
Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, Danielle Panabaker

Plot Synopsis is here

I'm becoming more and more mellow about the amount of horror remakes that are being churned out in the last few years. I'm theorizing that the works of Craven, Carpenter, Romero et all are being redone as tributes to what are clearly recognized as modern genre classics. I mean how many takes of Dracula has there been? Perhaps I'm being naive, but then if I think like this I at least going into these films with even more of an open mind. As I've said before, I don't mind them as long as they're done well

The Crazies; yet another remake of an older cult horror film is one I consider to be well done. Starting quickly and landing us straight into the action, Breck Eisner sets the scene competently, giving off a vibe reminiscent of the 50's version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The film works best with it's simple moments, much like a similar film of it's ilk: Pontypool. A repeated phase here, a glazed stare there, irregular whistling that unsettling feeling you get when the normal is askew exists in the films opening act and if it were to continue down that road I would have already have signed up for the special edition home release. Alas the film does go down cliche alley at times, with the odd info dump scattered about, and telling moments of horror familiarity, such is life.

However the film is crafted well enough to keep the tension raised and my interest peaked and although it doesn't capture Romero's more nihilistic tone, it does manage to give off an absurd uncertainty to the proceedings.

Visually Eisner doesn't nothing particularly new, but he clearly releases the importance of sound in a horror film. The churning of the massive combine, the scraping of knives and rakes, isolated moments of silence, it works well and it's the combination of these other moments of sound that make the usual zinger sound of the jump scare a little more effective. In fact the jump scares aren't bad here although still a little too easily telegraphed.

Cast wise, we in good hands. Timothy Olyphant is a consistent actor and once again puts in what you would not only expect from him but from the part as well. A villain or anti-hero in many films, Olyphant is allowed the chance to roam around as the do-good sheriff and doesn't put a foot wrong.

Many talk about the various strung out mother roles of Vera Farmiga but spare a thought for the genre queen that Radha Mitchell. Roles like the one she has here are her bread and butter and once again she pulls it out of the bag. Same goes for Danielle Panabaker whose clearly at home with material like this (see Friday the 13th remake or Mr Brooks). Bringing up the rear is Joe Anderson giving us the comic relief that comes as standard with this sort of affair but his animated display is a great distraction and for me he comes into his own by the end of the film.

As yet another entry into the diseased body sub-genre The Crazies has it's fair share of scares and a creepy unease that flows through the film. It doesn't have the guts of a Pontypool and the film could really be more anarchic in the later moments, but as a whole, The Crazies is solid piece of b-horror madness.

Review: From Paris with Love

Year: 2010
Director: Pierre Morel
Screenplay: Adi Hasak
Starring: John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers

Plot Synopsis is here

Bringing up the rear of the January to February junk train is From Paris with Love a wreck of a movie that reminded me why I'm not as interested in action movies as much any more. It's producer and story writer Luc Besson is a filmmaker who has brought about some classic action to audiences. Far-fetched many they may be, and yet grounded with solid characters who you can get behind and a plot that not only intrigues but allows the action to flow well along side it. It seems that Besson has become bored of all this "effort" and now writes stories (I use the term loosely in the case of this film) so some jobber can try (I use the term strongly) to write the screenplay. The result is a lazy excuse of a plot that could be fixed with five extra pages to fill out that tiny little thing called plot.

I don't mind streamlined plot, and I don't mind all out action, but I do want them to sit together well. Here they don't. Reason? Well there's no plot to speak of. No internal logic, no true reasoning behind certain things just...stuff happens. What about the action that will patch the so called story together? Bland as they come. We saw similar in the Besson produced Taken but at least with that film I enjoy the time I spent with a restrained but dangerous Liam Nesson. In this film we have John Travolta to contend with.

Travolta has decided to go back into the Pelham 123 bag and pull out another demented performance as a bigoted "wigger". How do you get a bigoted wigger you may ask. Did you not see what I wrote above? Travolta's hammy over acting isn't as frustrating as it was in Tony Scott's movie but still has it's moments of irritation. To describe this role; in the eighties it would have been cast by a bad black comic because Eddie Murphy wouldn't be available. Jonathan Rhys Meyers doesn't fare much better as the straight man, mostly because the film doesn't care enough about him. In a film like this the chemistry of the actors and the connection of the characters should be central to the story. However, as they're is no story then there's no chemistry or connection. We're waiting for them to stop talking to get to the next average action sequence (admittedly at least the scenes are edited well enough so you can see what happens).

Director Pierre Morel clearly has talent as a director of capturing action, but there's nothing in this film that had the verve of District 13 nor the bluntness of Taken. The story needs works and for those who felt there was xenophobia in Taken should not watch this movie. Although a couple of guys did laugh at the fact that John Travolta shot down loads of Muslims and bragged about it. But that also says a lot about them not the movie, but then that was the only time people actually found anything in this film funny. The films schizophrenic tone doesn't know if it wants to be serious or absurd and tries to tread water...not a good idea.

For those who want to watch what I would consider a well done action flick with a streamlined plot; watch Taken or Shoot em up. For those have money to burn on a film with a irrational toned piece of mediocrity....ENJOY!

Friday 19 February 2010

Review: A Single Man

Year: 2009
Director: Tom Ford
Screenplay: Tom Ford, David Scearce
Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Nicolas Hoult, Matthew Goode

Film Synopsis is here

I must admit, when I first saw the posters of a single man, I wasn't too impressed, nor was I bothered by the slight buzz it was starting to get from early reviews. I couldn't care enough about the films homosexuality being hidden in its marketing, not because I'm homophobic but because my disinterest in the bloody marketing in the first place! But then I saw the trailer for the first time and something struck me. The films style was up and out for all to see and it looked gorgeous. So gorgeous that maybe this is something I should have to see.

I'm glad I watched it because A Single Man was a fine film to watch. I was a little worried that my enjoyment may have been enhanced because I had just saw the dreadful The Lovely Bones and just wanted to see something else after to take away the pain but no, A Single Man works because it deals with similar aspects of grief better than Peter Jackson's bloated excuse of a movie. It's a film with strong performances that carry weight and a story that despite being well trodden, manages to tell the tale with panache. Some have complained it's style over substance, but the performances and taut pacing of the story says otherwise.

Ford's superb use of colour and confident direction of actors drive the film to it's end. The brightening of the hues when ever Firth's George reminisces about his lost love (played with a breezy boldness by Matthew Goode) works immensely well if a little overused. Moments of slow motion enhance emotion as opposed to merely looking cool (for the most part) and the visuals of the whole thing is as slick as hair gel...bad metaphor but I meant well.

What Ford's film captures best is the banality of what happens after death, a difficult process to grasp, but one that works by Ford accurately setting up a very pedestrian day, eight months after the death of George's Beau. Everything in the world is so sharp, clean and crisp. Not just because of the directors fashion background, but because this is how the character has decided to progress after such a loss. The contrast between this setting and the restrained look and weighted shoulders of Firth's George is where the drama stems from. We are watching a man who appears almost incapable of grieving, but not because he doesn't want to but he lives in a period where to cry out about his pain could be even more damaging.

It's a powerful display by Firth, an actor whose never caught my eye before (Richard Curtis comedies cause me to doze), brings about a a complex turn which meld old-school, British stiffness with a wave of emotion simmering just above the surface. Standout moments include George's lecture scene, a brief but telling moment between George and a security and of course the cheery conversation between George and his ditsy best mate Charlotte (the ever reliable Julianne Moore), which suddenly turns cold without a moments notice. Firth throughout is intensely watchable, but then again, the whole cast is, with a stand out going to Nicolas Hoult who pulls off a fantastic American drawl, that I myself had no idea he could do.

While this is a film which is more about the acting talent on display, Ford also tries his dab hand at co writing the screenplay along with David Scearce. The Result is a script which is as darkly humorous as it is emotional. the dialogue at times, comes off as smooth as the set design, but then again, this may also be down to the acting ability that is on display.

It's not grand as the film suffers from some pacing issues during the middle section and some might find the film to be a little dry but as a character study of one man's grief, you can do worse than watching A Single Man. Great performances, Luscious style, nice debut.

Hear me rave about this at Cinematic Dramatic Podcast at Geek Planet Online

Review: The Lovely Bones

Year: 2009 (2010 U.K release)
Director: Peter Jackson
Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Whalberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon

Find the story synopsis here

Of all things, you can't say that The Lovely Bones isn't ambitious. A film that deals with one of those big questions (Death), it's a lengthy adaptation of Alice Sebolds best selling novel about the death of a young girl by the hands of a serial killer. But be fooled however, it's not just a typical crime story, that's just the half of it. The Lovely Bones is also a drama which puts the family's grief under the microscope. It delves into the connections broken and made due to this teenagers passing and it also has the girl herself observing and narrating this story from the "in between" a place which appears to be afterlife but before Heaven.

Like I said, ambitious is one of the best words to describe the film because quite simply, the book from which the film is adapted from, clearly has a lot going on inside it. I haven't read it but i was more than intrigued with the books premise and happy to see a director like Peter Jackson tackle the work...that is until I saw the finished product.

Drivel. Absolute drivel. A boring, trite mess of a film which had no idea what it wants to say and does nothing to stir emotion when it finally blurts out the supposed message of the film. Said message comes after a cheat of an ending which has rendered most of what we saw before hand as almost unnecessary. Jackson's film frustrates from the beginning with his distracting camera and Bay-speed editing. For the first time in my young life I found myself counting cuts as opposed to watching the film, such is the distraction. Jackson seems to be in action mode as the camera swishes and swoops but doesn't centralize its focus on what's important...The family.

For a film which deals with relationships, The Lovely Bones doesn't spend any true time building upon any within the film. We are introduced to characters and watch as they fizzle into the background. The screenplay give us nothing to grab on to nor does it give us any reason to care, which is harsh considering that a girl just died. At one point a character leaves for half the movie but aroused no emotion from me at all. Such is the mishandling of the people in this film. The script also appears to concentrates more on the crime element of the film and not the relationships that the film climatic scenes feel ridiculously false, but then again, any film that features a scene that makes the moment that Whoopi Goldberg turns into Patrick Swayze seem normal, plausible and non-saccharine, is a bad thing.

It doesn't help that the acting is also so incredibly weak here. Rachel Weitz who is usually so watchable in almost everything she's in is underused and almost as transparent as the girls in the "in-between". Not her fault I guess, she is hardly in the films 2 and a half hour running time and when she is she's up against... Mark Whalberg.

Yes, the boy from Boogie Nights is at his "happening" best here with an awww shucks, honest American portrayal which is grating to say the least. Grating because it's not a real character, it's a caricature, a look at how Mike Brady would feel if Jan had died.

But so many of the characters are like this throughout the movie; Saoirse Ronan's whispy narration and whiny yelling, Susan Sarandon's amusing but one note drunky grandma, it's all done to disguise the fact that the characterization is JUST NOT THERE. We spend such a long time with these people and we get no deeper into their feelings...unless we count Stanley Tucci's serial killer. But the handling of this is just as cumbersome. There is no subtly utilized to give off tension between the cops and killer, instead we get glaringly obvious references to the fact that this guy is a massive killer and everyone around him is too stupid to realize.

The Lovely Bones was originally going to be filmed by British Director Lynne Ramsay whose methodically paced movies deal with similar themes that this film tried to get to grips with. A filmmaker like Ramsay would have used her talents to allow characters to breathe and give off a perhaps more coherent and enjoyable movie. Not the case, as here we are given a film with three scenes of interest. One of them is merely a proper introduction to a character. A film which is only sporadically interesting, and the visuals are really nothing special. Fans of the book may get more out of this than myself. I however found myself repulsed. I wait patiently for Mr Jackson to make fun films again.

Hear me rant about it on the Cinematic Dramatic podcast

Review: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

Year: 2010
Director: Mat Whitecross
Screenplay: Paul Viragh
Starring: Andy Serkis, Naomie Harris, Olivia Williams, Ray Winstone

Plot Synopsis is here

Despite not being a massive fan of Ian Dury (no dislike, just haven't heard enough of his music), I strangely remember the first time I heard hit me with your rhythm stick in it's entirety and when the man died (both on the radio inside my fathers car). There are other artists I've admired that have died, and yet I cannot place myself when I heard the news. I guess there was something about this guy, something truly unique.

Mat Whitecross' colourful biopic enforces my feelings of this man. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (which I will call SDRR for short) is a chaotic and kinetic film which felt like a combination of Bronson and 24 Hour Party People. It suffers from the usual rise and fall elements of the musical biopic particularly within the films last act. But before that you have a dense and well told story of a man who learns from the very start that no matter what the stakes (Dury was stricken with Polio in his years which left him near paralyzed down his left side), a man must stand up for himself and forge his own way in life if he wants to go anywhere.

The film sets itself up nicely with one of it's first lines of dialogue: "don't let the truth get in the way of a good story". Once those lines are uttered, then the film is given poetic license to play a little loose with the man's life. Accuracy is secondary to enjoyment and for the most part, it works exceedingly well.

Whitecross structure certains scenes in such a way that they may not have happened at the said time as one another, but they heighten the emotions within the film. Also considering this is a musical biopic, Whitecross restrains from making the same mistakes that U.S biopics make; punctuating every high or low point with one the artists songs that sums everything thing up with a faux neatness. Keeping focus on the story at hand, the direction manages to get right under the characters skin. As does the the films script (By Paul Viragh), which is personal, plot heavy (in a good way) and full of cleverly crafted dialogue. The kind that reminds us of how well Dury placed words together. Many craftier cinephiles may complain that the film isn't the "collage" that Serkis mentioned on the radio 5 Kermode Film podcast earlier this year, and runs on rails in terms of overall structure but compared to other biopics, I doubt they have has much energy as shown here.

Direction and writing aside, the film is lead by a cocksure and mesmerizing performance by Andy Serkis; a criminally overlooked actor who once again shows his range with a dead on performance of Dury. It's one of those whirlwind turns, that can sweep a viewer up with it's feverish intensity. Serkis completes the mixture of performer, screenplay and direction to give us a character who is fully formed and complicated. It's just as easy to dislike this character as it is to fall for his charisma and although the film follows the formula often, the films last moments to feel like a cheap vindication. Your left with a portrait of a man who could equally hurt as hard as he could entertain. Compere this to the glossed over moments that inhabit solid, yet flawed movies such as Ray and you realize how easily the glitz can distract.

I should mention more about the films supporting cast, but I won't in case of boring you with my praise for all involved. What I will say to finish up is that SDRR is exactly what I want from a musical biopic. Kudos is deserved for all involved and recommended for all with a love of music and film.

Hear me rave about this at Cinematic Dramatic Podcast at Geek Planet Online

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Review: The Wolfman

Year: 2010
Director: Joe Johnson
Screenplay: Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving

Plot Synopsis is here

If I were Paul Ross; I suppose my review for this film would have gems; "this remake is a "shaggy dog story" "or I can't wait to get my teeth into this review" but alas, my writing isn't as strong and unfortunately those reading will have to deal with me in plain English stating that I found The Wolfman to be "a little bit shit".

It's hard to get behind a movie that has been in so much development hell that you could write another canto about it in the divine comedy, but as a reviewer of films no matter what state they come out in I kept my mind open and waited with baited breath.

I should have carried on waiting as the film is just not done yet. It's editing is choppy, the script is lacks a proper rhythm and it's problems like that effectively make telling a compelling story difficult. We often get scenes that don't seem to "finish right" and aspects of the film that don't add up properly when you view the film as a whole. One scene has ol' wolfly clearly recognizes a character that treats him badly, makes a beeline for him and murders him. However, recognizing the women he loves seems tricky, as if there's some sort of wolf Alzheimers stopping him from distinguishing characters he actually spent time with. It's moments like these that destroy what could easily be an enjoyable story. If i had noticed things like this after the film ended then the films narrative would have worked on me adequately. Unfortunately, not so. These thing crop up easily for anyone (read everyone) whose paying attention.

A stronger director would probably be able to cover the tracks but Joe Johnson, director of Jurassic Park 3 (you know, the one with the fucking chatty dinosaurs) fails to utilize the tools given to him to distract the viewer that the wolfman is a bit of a lame duck. Case in point the transformation our the lead character Lawrence Talbot; a scene that glosses over some of the brilliant effects work from Rick Baker and renders the scene without any weight. Compare this to the painful transformation that Baker helped create with John Landis in An American Werewolf in London. A transformation that's so painful that you feel it. But with this said and the amount of gore and cheap jump scenes that this current wolfman has, it obvious that feeling isn't on the films agenda.

This brings me to the films lack of emotional core. The scenes between Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro are so listless it makes the tween screams of twilight almost moving. Alot of this stems from a performance so flat by Del Toro that it makes me wonder if he's really as much of a fan of the original Wolfman film as it is said. However, considering the films editing (reduced to the audience friendly 90 mins despite feeling like an ice age.), and the actual amount of time these two spend with each other, it's no wonder there's no true chemistry between them.

The other performers bring something a little different to the proceedings, Hugo Weaving decides it's a good idea to have Agent Smith leave The Matrix and hang about blackmoor looking for wolves, while Sir Anthony Hopkins, despite being a big star, clearly doesn't get enough taffy these days and resorts to chomping down on scenery instead. Considering how good these stars are usually, it's frustrating to see them give such naff displays.

With seeing how The Wolfman has turned out, I found myself pining for the other Del Toro, Guillermo, to sort out the mess. Del Toro is a filmmaker would clearly thrive with a project like this. A filmmaker like him makes movies that leave a lasting effect on me be it Cronos or Hellboy, which is more than I can say for the fart in the wind that is the 2010 Wolfman.

Hear me rant about this on The Cinematic Dramatic Podcast at Geek Planet Online

Sunday 14 February 2010

Review: Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Year: 2009 (2010 UK release)
Director: Lee Daniels
Screenplay: Geoffrey Fletcher
Starring: Gabby Sidibe, Mo'Nique

Plot Synopsis is here

I write this review on Valentines Day, and while those who know what Precious is about may think it's an odd one to watch one such a day. I felt I needed something like this as other aspects of my life....aren't going so well. I needed something different, and not a cheesefest. Precious was that film. And while it sometimes has the whiff of a made for TV movie, it's solid screenplay, powerhouse performances and hard-hitting themes kept me watching.

Always controversial critic Armond White has derided the film as propaganda and bemoans the films daydream scenes as
"materialist fantasy as a universal motivation". I disagree. It's the situation it presents and the performances that Daniels squeezes out of the film are positioned as plain matter of fact. He argues that Precious a young girl who lives in a vicious cycle of welfare, is a walking stereotypical that at one point steals a bucket of fried chicken as some sort of final insult. That's a shame, because I feel he's missed the inflections in Mo'Nique's voice during her end monologue so affecting. I feel he also misses the fact that while the film portrayal of black American life is unflattering, it is one that IS taking place and while it may not be as OTT as shown here, they are facing pain just as harsh. To add to this these stereotypes that Mr White speak about do unfortunately exist, but they won't be watching Precious I tell you that. They will however, be giving into the hip-hop lifestyles that is being mentioned and broadcast on the MTV's and BET's of the world. Precious' daydreams suggest not a bland materialism that all blacks aspire to, but an outlook of life that many ONLY see. It's ugly and horrible to suggest but true. Unfortunately his review gives off the impression that there is a vast about of black people who live in a candy Cosby world who all wish to write wordy reviews for the New York Press. Not so.

Daniel's film, while heavy-handed, is merely displaying the situation the best way a mainstream audience will absorb such material, much like a certain blue-skinned money spinner. Subtlety isn't the best way that America should handle it's race and welfare issues, it should be head on and Precious' hard hitting execution is an almost perfect way for display this.

Precious reminds us that while people are still talking about the era of change, there's still a huge amount of work needed to break the vicious cycle of poverty. It shows us that many embrace this lifestyle and don't wish to change soon. It's at times a difficult watch but not one without it's humor. Heart-wrenching scenes are balanced with moments that almost have a coroners type of humor to them. I then realized that what Daniel's doing is paralleling us with his lead character, giving us a chance to escape into a world of fantasy/humor with her at times. it makes perfect sense to do this because it is what people do. We watch certain movies to feel better and to laugh when we feel bad. Daniel's decision to combine both us and Precious is a strong idea and helped me swallow the bitterness the film sometimes brings.

But it's not just the themes and what the film is about which got me it's the mechanics of the film itself. It's no surprise that the novel was written by a former slam poet (Sapphire) because the films dialogue (particularly it's narration) has a wonderful rhythm to it. Daniel's performance is direct and straight to the point, as is the performances on show. It's hard not to admire the good work that is placed within the film. Kudos must go to the two turns delivered to Gabby Sidibe, Mo'Nique who give brave displays. Smaller roles by Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz are not cases of stunt casting, but well balanced and watchable parts.

I find it hard to see Precious getting any awards as there's films that I believe are stronger and I feel the academy will feel the same. It also struggles with it's plausibility at times (seriously SO much gets thrown at this poor girl). With all this said, with directors like John Singleton, Antoine Fuqua and F Gary Grey roaming in African American filmmaker limbo, Precious and Lee Daniels is a step in the right direction.

Hear me rave about this flick on the Cinematic Dramatic Podcast at Geek Planet Online

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Review: Edge of Darkness

Year: 2010
Director: Martin Campbell
Screenplay: William Monahan, Andrew Bovell
Starring: Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston

Plot Synopsis is here

It seems that Hollywood in all its plundering, are not only stealing books, far Eastern cinema, European Cinema et all...It's also coming to Blightly and nabbing BBC mini-series! State of Play (based on a 2003 Drama) made the rounds last year and now Edge of Darkness has come to town. This little deity is a film adaptation of a 1985 BBC mini-series which to this day is considered a highly influential piece of work. This Hollywood version features; a Mel Gibson whose been off screen since Signs, An Ex-Bond Director (Bronson and Craig-Era) and a trailer so bad it betrays the actual good work that this thriller brings to the table.

I mention the trailer because not only is it bad, it cheapens what the film is about. The trailer gives the impression of a dull revenge film retread, when in reality what we get is a solid thriller which deals with aspects of grief and dodgy politics with just as much assurance as its moments of action. In fact I was quite surprised one the denseness of the films plot which has made sure that it's not only solid entertainment, but also given the slight air of relevance.

Untrustworthy politicians? Very commonplace, but considering how much of the western world feels about where their countries are going at the moment (myself included) there's something about the placement of the everyman cop and his plight to reveal the secret behind his daughters death that stuck a cord with me, be it American redo or not.

I feel the reason behind this is that because William Monahan (The Departed) with his taut script, Gibson's traumatized portrayal of a grieving father and Campbell's well known experience in directing genre pieces, manage to squeeze out enough intrigue and sympathy out of the character and his situation for me to care. Let's not lie now, it's nothing new and it has it's silly moments including two scenes with Fox news that feel fake and one of said scenes feeling like the climax of Watchmen (take that as you will), but as a February release I was exceedingly surprised by how tightly crafted the film is. In a lesser feature the plot strands could have easily fallen apart but this is handled with equally as much care as anything else out there.

The aforementioned Gibson has come back to a role that is bread and butter to an actor like himself. It's Riggs-lite but still carries that charisma, and there's nothing too unbelievable about the characters actions. Ray Winstone brings gravitas to a part that can be quite thankless (although his character could bring more to the table), while Danny Huston is making a name for himself in the role of person-in-suit-that-can't-be-trusted. Typecast it may be but it's understandable when he's just so good at it (See Children of men, 30 Days of Night, Ivan's xtc).

While you shouldn't have biases watching films when you review them, it's hard not to when you see a trailer as generic as Edge of Darkness'. The film itself is also pretty standard in the most basic terms but has enough good chemistry to keep my entertainment levels up. It may not reach the dizzying heights of the genre but it's high enough not to see the depths.

Hear me rave about this movie on The Cinematic Dramatic Podcast at Geek Planet Online

Monday 8 February 2010

Review: Youth in Revolt

Year: 2010
Director: Miguel Arteta
Screenplay: Gustin Nash
Starring: Micheal Cera, Portia Doubleday, Steve Buscemi, Zach Galifanakis, Fred Willard

Plot Synopsis is here

Based on a very well liked series of novels by C.D Payne, and directed by Miguel Arteta director of one of the only bearable Jennifer Aniston movies (The Good Girl), Youth in Revolt sees Micheal Cera once again in familiar territory as Nick Whisp. Is he yet another angsty, deer in headlights, teen in love with a girl that seems a little bit out of his league? You bet!

However, the novel, noted for it's offbeat humor and camp attitude has thrown a spanner into the works, and Cera plays, not only his typical casual geek self but also a slick, badboy alter ego whose dying to get into trouble in order to get into a girls panties. And whose said draws are they? They are the filly undergarments of Sheeni Saunders played by Portia Doubleday; a name that would have Bond screenwriters nodding in approval. With a build up like this what's not to like?

In my opinion, not a lot. Youth and Revolt may have 16 year olds that are a little too well spoken for their own damn good, but for me, it was laugh out loud funny and that's all that matters. In fact it's a film that did that troubling thing of making me laugh louder then I should, embarrassing my hot black ass in front of the other people in the cinema. It reveals in it's dark fantasy humor but bizarrely has an odd funny-because-it's-true feel to it. maybe because Twisp reminds me of myself at that age. Miguel Arteta taps into that "small town livin" atmosphere that made The Good Girl so interesting to watch and gives it an abstract twist that may remind some of his earlier entry; Chuck and Buck. Arteta pitches it's farce so well I couldn't stop grinning and while the humor isn't in Observe and Report territory it grabs hold of the absurdity it has got a pushes it as well as it can.

It's fanastic material for Cera who still does his doe eyed Schick but adds range with the alter ego of Francois Dillinger; a bad ass who makes even his most dubious comments sound almost charming (at one point he asks Sheeni to wrap her legs around his face so he can wear her like the crown that she is). It shouldn't be that funny...but it had me on the floor. One of Cera's main strengths as always been to turn a phase and here he's allowed to do it by the truckload. It helps that the writing here is perfect for him; quick witted and sharp but with that innocence that only comes out with his delivery. I don't think i described it well enough but I think that sounds better just works.

While this is the Micheal Cera show, the film has a fine support cast for him to bounce off of. Fred Willard and Steve Buscemi are indie kings of this sort of thing while Zach Galifanakis delivers more oddball (read funny) work that made him the breakout star of The Hangover. Speaking of debuts, the role Sheeni played by Ms Doubleday is one of looks more than talent. Not to say she's bad....but this isn't really the part that show of her acting chops, although it will show off enough flesh to have teenagers develop their own alter egos and do bad things to get her attention.

If there's something I didn't like about the film it is the fact that the film pitters out towards the end and loses a lot of it's humor this is mostly to tie up the frayed ends of the plot, which is understandable but a shame.

However, for a February film release, Youth and Revolt is nutty, witty and full of charm. Arteta works best with his small pockets of the bizarre and Cera does his best work with that deer gaze of his. Combine this with his newly found range, a pencil thin tache and a fondness for Fellini that was hilariously missing from the overblown Nine and we're in business.

Hear me rave about this movie on The Cinematic Dramatic Podcast at Geek Planet Online

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Review: Un Prophete

Year: 2009 (U.K Release 2010)
Director: Jacques Audiard
Screenplay: Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, Abdel Raouf Dafri, Nicolas Peufaillit
Starring: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup

Plot Synopsis is here

Be it mainstream or art house, I always get very worried about fact I hate them. They are taken out of context, many of them these days don't even say that the movies good and worst of all, because of the first two reasons Joe Six pack easily takes these quick soundbites as gospel because well it's easier than reading a review. Although that last part sounds like good ol fashioned bitterness, but in all seriousness how can you trust the words "BEST FILM OF THE YEAR" splashed on a Cover and poster when you look closer and realize that the quote is from the quality publication such as Zoo or Nuts? I can see it now....tits, tits, tits then a 15 word review from someone yelling that The Business is like Football factory times 10 and way more excellent.

This doesn't exclude more highbrow outlets who may have written in-depth reviews only to see what they've written condensed into a one word description. "Exquisite!" They holler. But does that mean the art direction? Heaven help me if I sit through something with "Exquisite" doilies for teacups in the Mise-en-scene only for it to have yet another cardboard performance by Keria Knightly.

This brings me to Un Prophete (A.K.A: A Prophet) a film which has had those evil, EVIL blurbs creeping up on it's poster, and which will no doubt ruin what ever DVD cover it will produce. Winner of the Grand Prize at Cannes and right now currently holding a 97% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, Un Prophete is a modern day crime film in which a lazy writer such as myself could say is "in the same vein as generic gangster film". Sounds like a good blurb, no?

Only it's not. In fact compared to more populist choices, it's way more dense. A lot happens in the film, which has a time line that spans over years and not only is it set within the claustrophobic walls of prison, but the film is loaded with the racial tensions that the french can place in the frame with so much more confidence than Hollywood (with a tiny nod to the politics of the time seeping through). The film is also plot heavy, with a multitude of characters and secondary characters whizzing by. People come and go but throughout the center of it all is the lead character Malik who is played by young newcomer Tahar Rahim. We watch this young, prisoner through his jail sentence and watch him grow from a naive 19 year to something else entirely. What he grows into I will not divulge but how is a quietly absorbing tale that may require a second viewing to get my head around.

In most crime/gangster films, we follow a simple arc that hasn't changed much since the Golden age of Hollywood (see Scarface, White Heat) here, we get something a little different. This is a film that has everyone hold their cards close to their chest. We learn nothing until the characters learn something, and just when you think you know whats going to happen, a new development in plot will appear and throw a curve ball. This has much to do with how the character of Malik is written. Considered an Arab by the Corsican and a Corsican by the Muslim communities, when we first see him, he is like a sheep; timid, lost and docile but to watch him grow from within this environment is engrossing. By the end of the film you've seen a generation pass, both literally and figuratively and it's not the same person you saw from before. Because he LEARNS. This is not a cookie cutter character from the staple of generic genre film making but a character who watches, listens, thinks for himself and responds rationally to what is put in front of him. It doesn't feel like a script is providing this, it feels like what a real, fully formed person would do in the situation.

But what makes Malik so watchable is due to the person playing the part. Tahar Rahim plays Malik with an utter conviction. It helps that he is an unknown, but despite this, Rahim consumes the role fully. His performance held my attention throughout. Which is not to say that the secondary performers don't have their moments. In fact from the acting side of things, everyone carries their weight, but it's Rahim's anti-hero that drives the film.

It isn't just the acting that works. Jacques Audiard crafts some effective scenes throughout the movie. Highlights being of course the "razor scene" and a strikingly tense execution moment in a 4 by 4. Audiard turns the screws at just the right moments to keep the story interesting and although at times he becomes a little indulgent (there's a few random dream sequences that served no purpose in my view), and the film is longer than it may need to be, the film remains entertaining through it's running time.

Considered one of the better foreign films of last year, Un Prophete is a solid drama with some great moments. In all honesty I did expect more from the film (damn blurbs), but by the end of the feature, not only was I happy with the destination the film took me to, but I was surprised with the route in which it went. For something with a bit of bite, you can do worse than checking out Un Prophete.

Hear me Rave about this on The Cinematic Dramatic Podcast at Geek Planet Online