Friday 29 October 2010

Review: Catfish

Year: 2010
Director: Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost
Starring: Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, Nev Schulman

WARNING: I don't mention explicit plot moments, however, my review may reveal more than one may like to know about the movie.  

An old work colleague passed away last year, and a friend asked me and others who knew her to change our facebook profile picture to the last one she had in her memory. It's a small action, but an affectionate one and many of us obliged. A few days into this I received a facebook message from an American who lets just say, wanted to "get to know me better". It doesn't help that my first name is Leslie despite the masculine spelling and my middle name being Byron. A brief e-mail exchange soon had the horny youngster was back on his way. Possibly off to look for more "sexi gals" or whatever.

Now if my mindset was a more dubious one, I could have easily seen how deep the rabbit hole could have been. I mean, my privacy status on FB is high so I could have easily toyed with this guy by merely sending messages pretending to be a girl.

This leads me to the main aspect of Catfish, a film in which a privileged New York photographer (Nev) develops a correspondence with an 8 year old girl (Abby) on facebook. She likes one of his photos and asks if she can paint it. As odd as this sounds right now, it's ok because Nev is also contacted by Abby's mum Angela. Nev accepts and pretty soon he begins a pleasant and harmless internet relationship which evolves around their respected artforms. Nev is then introduced over facebook to Abby's older sister Megan and a more intimate relationship develops. However, they have yet to meet...

Catfish was the most talked about documentary at Sundance and it's misleading trailer hints that the films final 40 minutes are something much more sinister. The outcome however, is a much more heartfelt affair. The deceptive marketing actually works towards Catfish's advantage, as does all the "is it real" talk that some more disapproving critics have been landing at it. While I can accept certain moments have a certain "unauthentic" feel, and the frightening amount of tech that should reveal the truth much quicker than it takes, like my aforementioned story in the first paragraph it becomes clear that the dream over comes the reality. Like joining a cult, we believe we're far too intelligent to fall for anything like that and forget that we are actually more susceptible. I do wonder how many people will be quick to debunk this but not look at their favorite reality shows with the same amount of skepticism.

For me Catfish is all about the story itself and whether or not the film is "true" it manages to encompass the fears and worries that social media has brought, and tells us in an disturbing, funny and heart felt manner.  The Social Network tells us that one of the most powerful tools to impact our social landscape since the telephone was conceived by someone deeply unsociable. Catfish expands on this showing us in it's low-fi approach how slippery our "second personalities" have now become. We can connect to people far easier than ever and these personas not only allow to do and say things we'd never dream of in reality but we do so with an alarming disconnect. The final scenes show us two people who would probably never speak to each other in other circumstances coming together and remind us of how important and powerful face to face talking can be. 

Note: The screening I went had a Q&A session with Henry Joost. I asked the question on if he values human connections even more. He responded with "Definitely, this is what the film is all about". It's also important to know that while many who have been using the internet are aware of many elements within Catfish. The film clearly notes with it's constant zippy CGI imagery that now more people use the internet and with the tech growing rapidly and those still in the dark are not that likely to look as smugly as our net savvy counterparts. Think of it like all those mothers who are still sending people chain mail.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Review: Black Swan

Year: 2010
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John J. McLaughlin
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey

Synopsis is here

They are usually naive, sometimes obsessive and often talented; Darren Aronofsky's characters are self-assassinating creatures. We feel pity for them as they constantly cry out for help; be it drugs, fatherhood, or even the very source of life itself. The problem is their reclusive characters and obstructive behavior not only block us from helping them, but keeps them on the path of destruction.  Aronofsky has explored such people from low budget gritty dramas to high end sci-fi but never before in a horror film setting. Black Swan is his first and for me it may well be his opus.

Once again using the single camera, documentary style utilized before in The Wrestler, the visuals not only detail the brutal and tough preparation that goes into ballet, but the evocative close ups; constantly hint and suggest worry that we can't put our finger on. Aronofsky's lingering close ups of Nina's (Portman) exhausted and fretful face not only highlight the pressure that is placed on her, but also adds tension as Aronofsky encloses the space around Nina. We don't visit that many locations in Black Swan (Nina's strict routine regulates us mostly to her bedroom and the studio) but it's easy to forget this as the film wraps everything so tightly around Nina. Not only do we think that Nina is trapped in her own world but Aronofsky's camera makes sure that we feel the walls are craving in. Of course, these walls are metaphorical. Nina; whose bedroom's is covered in pink wallpaper and cuddly toys, shies away from sexual talk, and is acutely aware of the sexuality of others and doesn't appear to have any friends within the company. She is socially awkward and despite being in her twenties, one is not surprised at her mothers watchful eye over her at all times.

I felt with Nina throughout the entire film; experiencing very punishing routine, stretched muscle and tight joint. But it's not just the claustrophobic cinematography that keeps you close, but also Portman's mesmerizing performance. From when we first see her, it already looks she's on the verge of burnout. A little girl trapped inside the body of a woman. A compelling performance due Portman's ability to balance Nina's drive with her immaturity. Throughout Portman holds a fearful, childlike gaze to everyone she encounters. Answers back are mumbled while childish outbursts slip out by outside stimulus. This encapsulated world is clearly created by a domineering mother (a perfectly cast Barbara "The Enity" Hershey) and Nina's newly gained promotion installs a fight against her, she never felt she had. The relationship between the two; to me, feel very reminiscent of Carrie and Aronofsky's direction carefully teases the psychosexual aspects in many scenes. Portman is also spot on with the films later scenes as psychical pain breaks down into psychological. A good performance becomes a great one as the melding of sexual awaking, social isolation and grueling routine explode into a dazzling, liberating, final display as Swan Lake is preformed.

It is the films final, unbelievably tense third where everything comes together brilliantly. The sound design ramps up and the music becomes thunderous,  the visuals that only tricked you slightly in earlier sections come at you in full force to assault you. There are horror tropes that have been used throughout that would come across as cliche in lesser films, but are extraordinarily manipulated here. Arononfsky understands that the best horror comes from very simple and primal things, breaking Nina's natural order with exhaustion, further isolation and of course fear of the other. With all this said; I still haven't mentioned Mila Kunis' sultry performance as Lilly, which illustrates a fear of sex that Nina cannot understand. Nor have I spoke about the devilishly sleazy Thomas Leroy. Cassell clearly relishes a role like this and once again like so many of his displays, plays it pitch perfect. 

Stunningly shot and unbelievably tense, I was completely bowled over with Black Swan. Early reviews have mentioned it's audacity and ambition and it's those very things that make it stand out. It's not cookie cutter, it breaks the machine.

Sunday 24 October 2010

Review; The American

Year: 2010
Director: Anton Corbijn
Screenplay: Rowan Joffé
Starring: George Clooney

Synopsis is here

Place the idea of The American into the hands of the next Micheal Bay wannabe and you'd most likely get yet another loud, flashy affair, with little substance and mounds of over the top violence. That's fine an all, but with your Knight and Days, Takers, A-Teams and other wise; it's great to see something like this.

When I say something like this; I mean adult. The American has enough guns and girls for a guy like me, but it has one crucial thing that so many shoot em ups often miss: conscience. It's remarkable at the difference such a thing makes to a film like this. The moment the chilly cold open finishes and you glimpse at the first, unflinching, heavy look on Clooney's face afterwards, you realize, that Anton Corbijn's film wishes to say more than merely "guns kill". The film isn't slapdash with what it wants to say and doesn't care how "long" it has to say it. Some have complained about the pace of the movie, I however was never bothered in the slightest. Mostly, it was due to the fact that I found myself absorbed by this character and his journey.

At it's core, The American has a quite typical "one last job" story that has featured quite heavily in many of the films I've seen this year. The last film with a similar aspects I saw of this ilk was the glossy but vapid Takers (replace one assassin with group of robbers), so one wouldn't be too surprised that I may have had slight reservations. However, what made The American a worthwhile viewing is once again the idea of consequence. The conflict within this hitman as he slowly gains an element of morality within such an amoral space is quietly compelling and admirably handled by Clooney, whose stoic performance is one of his strongest. It's one that's brilliantly at odds with the charming rouge we saw in Up in the air. Once again Clooney looks deeper within himself (see Solaris) to bring out a display that finds meaning in tiny inflictions instead of utilizing his Hollywood smile. His looks and glances does what the sparse dialogue doesn't.  The man has range and he shows it once more here.

His performance is enhanced by Corbijn's beautiful use of setting and Martin Ruhe's gorgeous cinematography. They use the Italian landscape with it's vast countryside and tight, enclosed alleyways to capture the conflict that plays out within Clooney. It really is something to watch...if your into that sort of thing.

Those who want more bloodshed and carnage may find themselves frustrated with all the navel gazing, however when the quick and sharp action plays out, it does make an impact. In fact in a cinematic world where we are getting assaulted more and more with such quick fire action set pieces, the film manages to make it's violence gives more of an effect than some of the more shiny affair this year.

The American is a steadily paced story of a crisis of consequence, which teasingly does with not only with very familiar tropes (one last job assassin, tart with a heart love interest, knowing vicar) but does so and in a wonderfully grown up and precise manner. It's a movie where good and bad are merely words and decisions not only matter, they linger in the mind.

Monday 18 October 2010

Review: Never let me go

Year: 2010
Director: Mark Romanek
Screenplay: Alex Garland
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley

Synopsis is here

Never let me go has the issue that I feel most avid book reader fear. Despite being proficient from a technical viewpoint (with a lovely use of muted colours), and having a strong cast that really holds it's own with the delicate material, Never let me go is missing something. I haven't read the book but it feels obvious to me that some of the nuances that Kazuo Ishiguro are missed somewhat. Maybe the films reveal is a bit too quick. perhaps the performances just don't tug on the heartstrings, or the grand themes are all a tad too subtle on screen, I'm not sure.

Still, there is a lot to enjoy in this taut and restrained piece. Like other good sci-fi, Never let me go is as much about the human condition as well as the tropes of the genre. As we gradually learn more about these characters way of life, we're not only slightly unnerved but we begin to feel for these people. Their character is drained from early in life and as the emotions inside them began to stir, so did my hope for them. There's moments within the film that are quietly heartbreaking. In many love stories, we cheer because the characters rebel against the social norms placed upon them. Their fight for love is what we go for.  In Never let me go, we lament because the fight has been taken out before these young people can even acknowledge what they're feeling. This gives the film such a fresh and unique feel from so many dramas.

And yet still something in Garland's adaptation stops me from truly falling for this movie. After a quick read of the novels synopsis I realise that there's been small changes to the narrative that dull an already muted plot, and lessen the impact one of the films more powerful scenes. The films restraint; while welcoming also causes slight problems in finding warmth within the films characters. There are moments that truly call out for it, but the mood is so subdued it may only be those who are really connected to Ishiguro's prose who can get the most out of it. 

There are three solid performances to enjoy however, with Mulligan, Knightly and Garfield all getting into the right brain space for the immature and naive players. Garfield especially rounds off a great year with a performance that almost taps into that emotion that bubbles under the surface. Kudos must also go out to the child casting as the kids not only look like their older counterparts, but give solid, watchable performances.

I've said before that is the film gets me interested enough in the book then it's done it's job. Never Let Me Go does enough to warrant my interest into heading to Waterstones and purchasing a copy of the novel. The problem however, will be that the books prose will be be rich enough for me to really get into the piece.

Review: Rec 2

Year: 2009 (UK Release 2010)
Director: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Screenplay: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza, Manu Díez
Starring: Jonathan Mellor, Óscar Zafra, Alejandro Casaseca, Ariel Casas

Synopsis is here

Other reviews have said it more eloquently so I'll also jump on the bandwagon in saying that Rec 2 is the Aliens to Rec Alien. Like James Cameron's arguably superior (to some) sequel. This film concentrates on bulking up the action and expending the universe. Not a terrible thing in a world where sequels usually try and mimic the original and add nothing new (See also certain remakes). The issue with this in Rec 2 however is,  you suddenly realise that less is more. By the time the film springs it's big surprise, you won't be bitching to Toto about Kansas. In fact, screw Oz for that matter, as Rec 2 goes into a brave new world of bonkers. Some of it's inventive, a lot of it is visceral but nothing compares to how bloody barmy the whole thing is.

As I said before in my review for Survival of the dead. The zombie sub-genre doesn't need to look to Romero for interesting commentary anymore. Rec's combination of hand-held immediacy, quarantined setting and vague religious codec was a heady blend which ended on a perfect note. It also remembered that less is more, especially when it comes to found footage. Even Cloverfield knew it had to hide it's monster for as long as possible.

Rec 2 feels that it needs to fill the gaps by utilizing many, many references to various other horror flicks and some awkward (read: silly) plot moments. As it explains what the virus is and what these new characters have to do in order to survive/cure the virus. The thing is, Rec had our imagination do the hard work and the fun was in not knowing. Rec 2's quasi-exorcist shenanigans and cornball plot twists do their best to show how deep the rabbit hole goes, however, not only do they take away some of the mood (the last third becomes very jarring) but they also help expose the fact that the screenwriters had to create an uber twist to justify the films very existence. Added to this a much weaker cast (with no character development in sight) and once again you have a lesser horror sequel.

There are good points however. The films first third brings back some of the claustrophobic tension that made the first film so memorable. The films setting is still brilliantly handled at times and the use of lighting and sound really brings together that "bump in the night" feeling. There is also one or two well executed jump scares and action set pieces that help capture that familiar kinetic energy.

Rec 2's wish to expand the situation really plays havoc with what made the original what it was. One must remember that, while the first film isn't an in-depth character study, but it did have people we wanted to watch. This added to the tension that the setting and situation brought. The insistence of adding more to the films streamlined narrative really screws with the chi. With Rec 3 and 4 on the way there's a good chance that this franchise will be running on fumes very soon.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Review: Winter's Bone

Year: 2010
Director: Debra Granik
Screenplay: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence,  John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan

Synopsis is here

There's a small but telling moment in Debra Granik's Winter Bone, in which the films protagonist peeks into one of the classrooms she used study, and spies a group of children learning how to look after babies. The look on her face is a knowing one. While the kids hug their dolls and enjoy the make believe, Ree Dolly (a towering performance from Jennifer Lawrence) has already faced the reality. She's not at all envious. She just knows that what's going on in the classroom isn't her life anymore.

Like Andrea Arnold's wonderful Fish Tank, Winter's Bone is a film about strong young women. Both are willing to make tough choices, accept their mistakes, and fight against their harsh realities to realise their individuality. With Julia Roberts gaining some "less than inviting" reviews, it's once again refreshing to find a film in which has women finding themselves through their moral choices and inner strength rather than shoes and chisel jawed hunk accessories. So while other teens are debating over Team Edward and Jacob, girls like Ree Dolly  are; to steal a term from The Road: carrying the fire.

Flames are unfortunately; the last thing you will find in this films harsh winter setting. Captured beautifully by Michael McDonough (the look alone makes you feel cold in the auditorium); the films grim backdrop, parallels the bitterness of the characters Ree encounters. Granik and Rosellini's screenplay highlight this with their sparse uncomplicated script. Watching the piercing glares from the so-called "family" that Ree tussles with, you realise that it's what is not said, that gives the film such an unsettling vibe. The ruined landscape only helps enhance the foreboding atmosphere and heightens the mystery surrounding her missing father.The plot of the film also has a scant feel to it, but this only makes the film even more provocative, as we watch the characters way of life, their false truths and the antagonists damaged sense of honor provide a huge amount of emotional weight.

In the center of this, is a mesmerizing display by Jennifer Lawrence who plays a girl whose clearly had to rise three people before the age of consent and will do anything to keep the family whole. Lawrence gives Ree a steely selflessness stoic heroism that cuts through the cold surroundings and is hard to ignore. Much has been said about Lawrence, but something also has to be said about the stunning display by John Hawkes whose makes sure that it's the expressions that make the impressions. There's an amazing scene involving Hawkes and a police sheriff that shows that the ice doesn't just rest on the ground.

There's true heroism within the film, displayed by a character needing to do right in order to survive. You see her fear and worry but her spirit and will to fight through the family secrets is remarkable to watch. Winter's Bone was a joy to watch from it's quiet opening moments, to it's subtly optimistic ending. Great Viewing. 

Monday 11 October 2010

Review: Mr Nice

Year: 2010
Director: Bernard Rose
Screenplay: Bernard Rose
Starring: Rhys Ifans, Chole Sevigny, David Thewlis, Crispin Glover, Omid Djalili, Christian McKay

This should have been a given to me. A British film, written and directed by a director I admire, with a cast I like. The trailer looked fun, and it was about an interesting man in Howard Marks how could I lose?

Well you can lose if you expect something more than what Mr Nice is, which is quite a bog standard biopic with a lead character who is kept at quite a remarkable distance. There are intermittent moments of humor and the performances are watchable. However, for me, I found it strange to how boring the everything is.

The problem for me is Rose, a director whose films have always had a wonderful uniqueness and presence, tries nothing too abstract here. The film follows the typical rise and falls of the biopic at a lethargic pace with a character that is hard to root for. Not because he peddles drugs, that not a problem with a film like this, it's more the fact that it's hard to warm to the Marks character in anyway.

The film is all so matter of fact, with no real quirks in style other than an odd placement of these modern characters into old style movie. This unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb and once again keeps us at an arms length, unlike recent biopics (Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Bronson) which use their style to create effect to create a visual mindscape that helps gain a better grip of the character. Here, it's the slow lulling tones of Rhys Ifans' narration that try and warm the audience. Unfortunately, it's far too assuming to really enjoy. 

Like I said, there are good performances within the film.  David Thewlis, Crispin Glover, Omid Djalili, Christian McKay make the most out of their flat caricatures and while Chole Sevigny struggles with the London accent she still remains an engaging presence. Rhys Ifans was clearly born for a role like this and fits into it snugly.

The problem is that there's really nothing that make you need to watch this film. It's competently made (it IS Rose) but when the film wants to talk about things such as drug legalization or the curious fact that a man from a tiny mining town in Wales becomes FBI's most wanted criminal, there are other films that have more interesting things to say.

Review: The Social Network

Year: 2010
Director: David Fincher
Screenplay: Arron Sorkin
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Rooney Mara, Rashida Jones

Facebook has become a massive influence on many peoples ability to connect with others. How many of people's conversations these days start with a line such as "I was on facebook the other day" or "I posted this on my wall" or one of many other dialogs that are thrown out daily? It sneaked up on us, but now, many use facebook as THE social tool. Lost your phone? Find a laptop and facebook your contacts. Got something to share with your friends quickly? You will almost definitely facebook it. Many of my friends who read me will read my reviews on facebook because I've set up a feed. It's a very interesting and conflicting way to maintain a certain amount of social status in our daily lives.

What makes this so interesting to me is that David Fincher's new film; The Social Network, is a film heavily involves about the break up of real human connections. In fact the most intriguing thing about the film is that the bigger the facebook juggernaut pushes forward, the tougher the strain on the relationships within the movies become. The film starts with a a break up between Mark Zuckerberg (a never better Essinberg) and his girlfriend Erica Albright (a neatly cast Rooney Mira). Zuckerberg's condescending manner, smarts and delusional assumptions of what attracts women causes the destruction of the relationship and set the ball rolling. Albright; the voice of reason, is then set up as Zuckerberg's Rosebud; a symbol of hope and counter balance. Like Kane's sled, once that symbol is lost so is he as he starts off with facemash and then "steals" the idea behind Harvard Connection to create thefacebook.

This is Fincher territory that I remember from films like Fight Club and The Game, as Fincher's direction and Sorkin's script tell a story of relationships fractured by territorial masculinity which spins into overdrive due to assumed views on image and status. While the aforementioned movies talk about the rejection of materialistic and jumped up gender values, The Social Network has fun with having these characters embrace such notions. After receiving oral sex from a couple of girls who find out that Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin (an emotional but slightly ott Andrew Garfield)  are the creators of thefacebook, the two giggle at the fact that "they have groupies". Another amusing moment show one of the brothers Winklevoss constantly rejecting the idea of suing Zuckerberg for stealing the idea of facebook as it's "not what Harvard men do". It's the ridiculous sense of pride that the characters hold about such aspects that separates and divides them. It's also what makes the film so entertaining to watch.

It also helps that Sorkin's rat-a-rat dialogue is so droll and well paced. Like a game of ping pong these characters riff at such a rhythm it could leave one breathless. Many times I missed a one liner because I was still laughing at another. The dialogue is zippy but you never feel lost with the material, the screenplay (with it's Rashomon style structure) rushes through tech talk and law speak but like it's lead character, you always feel aware. Never lost or talked down to, always with the moment.

The idea of  "the moment" is clearly important to Fincher as once again like Fight Club, he's managed to tap into the zeitgeist of our society; the fast flow of information we absorb, the deconstruction of how we view people and ourselves is fantastically pinpointed throughout the film with it's tight pace and emotionally broken characters. These days facebook can be used to create another you, a more substantial you something you would struggle with in reality but something these people wish to do constantly with each other. Some have argued that the portrayal of women in the film is negative, however, we are looking through the eyes of people so immensely fractured, proud and blinded by belief of machismo that of course their view is skewered. The films last shots are telling that throughout all of this the underlying aspect is "how will I look to her". Despite the surface shots of drunken co-eds and girls who go to Standfords backsides, we are always reminded that these weak men will constantly need validation.

There's some great performances from young actors in this movie. From Eisenberg's darting eyes and oddball tics, to a brilliantly weaselly display from Justin Timberlake whose rock and roll, cocksure attitude hides a paranoid and scared hanger on. There's also an extremely comical double performance from Armie Hammer, which not only shows the amusing timing of the film, but shows off a fancy digital display (Hammer's face is digitally grafted onto Josh Pence but many won't notice until told).

The Social Network is a fascinating watch, with bold performances, sniper accurate direction and a wonderful screenplay. It doesn't matter how much of it is true as it's damn fine fiction. Who would think the "facebook" movie would be so enjoyable.

Sunday 10 October 2010

Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Year: 2010
Director: Oliver Stone
Screenplay: Stephen Schiff, Allan Loeb
Starring: Micheal Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan, Frank Langella, Josh Brolin

Synopsis is here

While Oliver Stone's original Wall Street is not his best film, there's something about it that still feels relevant despite it's look being so cemented in the eighties. Despite it's odd narrative beats, the films acidity had an all too true to life aspect about it, and it's a vitriolic insight to excess literally oozes of the screen. After being in sales interviews, meetings and the like, it doesn't shock me that many people in those circles still walk and talk like the snake-like Gorden Gekko.

It's surprising, that not only someone felt that we needed a Wall Street sequel, but that everyone involved with this film had made something so toothless. Stone, a director known for his strong mindedness has once again shown a lack of ferocity that has reared it's head once again in his more recent endeavors. One of the the things that make/made Stone films such a fascinating watch, is even if you didn't agree with the message, you could at least admire the balls.

Stone's movie like it's characters, wants too much too soon. It wants to talk about Jake Moore (LeBeouf) and Winnie Gekko (Mulligan) and their story, it wants to mention that Jake's mother (Sarandon) is also bitten by excess, it wants to show that Gorden Gekko, has changed his spots...or not, it wants to have Jake have THREE mentors in the film, including (along with Gekko), boo-hiss bad guy Bretton James (an Oliy Josh Brolin) and poor soul, old dog Louis Zebel (underused but still memorable Frank Langella). It wants to talk about the the recent crash but it all wants to hint at the idea of alternative energies. It also wants to have wry references to the original film, including a cameo that is very misguided.

It wants to do all this with a dazzlingly array of mindless visual tics and stock talk. But it forgets that it's Stone works best when he is single minded and angry. Platoon and Wall Street, with their simple good and evil battles seem born out of frustration, constructed by concern. Here Stone not only wishes to try and place everything under the microscope but with rose tinted specs.

Flashes of interest crop up. For one it's great to see Micheal Douglas play the Gekko role with relish once more, despite being ridiculously diluted, Shia LaBeouf is more charming as a broker than Charlie Sheen and despite being on the verge of tears throughout, Mulligan is works far better as a love interest in this than Dayrll Hannah's vapid designer in the first film. Moments of the film (the dinner meeting between the Gekkos, Gordan's speech)  have a certain sharpness to it that is hard to ignore. But as with W, Stone doesn't seem as annoyed with things as he once was. This could explain the melodramatic feel to the whole proceedings, which climaxes with a sickeningly sweet ending that ties everything up way too easily. What made the end codec of the first film so appealing that comeuppance came but it a moment of true closure.  There was a sense of justice occurs in both the situation and the character. Wall Streets: MNS doesn't have the true feeling. Much like the rest of the film, you getting feeling that someone or something is coming off light. So much more could have been said.


Monday 4 October 2010

Review: Buried

Year: 2010
Director: Rodrigo Cortes
Screenplay: Chris Sparling
Starring: Ryan Reynolds

Note: The last paragraph doesn't explicitly spoil anything about the film, however, it may open enough of a door for you to guess an aspect of the plot.

Uncompromising in it's intent and with an impressive energy, Buried is certainly an unrelenting experience. Director Rodrigo Cortes shoots the hell out his one location and gives us a thriller that is not only utilizes it's claustrophobic atmosphere brilliant with the cinematography and lighting, but also gains a great performance from Ryan Reynolds which captures a wide spectrum of thoughts and fears from someone in such a nightmarish experience.

With it's first seen shot (the movie starts in darkness) being reminiscent of one of my favorite moments of The Blair Witch Project  (Heather's apologies) I knew I was about to "enjoy" Buried. The use of the quotes is a simple one, as there is a sense of hopelessness that flows throughout the film and left me, the viewer with an unshakable level of dread. Cortes' works wonders setting's space (or lack thereof) creating a vast sense of unease and tension with the use of sound and tight camerawork. I found it hard to sit still and the reason was simple, I felt like I was in there with him. Every shuffle, every twitch and every scream for help feels as if it will never be heard. To give that feel is a difficult one, one that was previously used stunningly in The Vanishing (1988) and more recently The Decent (2006). It helps even more if you hold a phobia for such things (I don't but I could see why many do) as every small tweak in the plot feels amplified by the stakes being so raw and simple. The basic need to survive, can sometimes be neglected in many films, particularly in thrillers but not here. Your with Paul (Reynolds) every step of the way.

Like Moon (2009), Buried is an excellent way of display an actors talents and Reynolds brings all of his in spades. A charming presence in laggy, bland comic affair; Reynolds is a truly engaging presence here. I panicked when he panicked, I shudder with the same despair he gave and his comic timing gives the films humor (yes it is there) and wickedly absurdest drollness. To hold someones attention for 90 mins is getting tougher by the year and Reynolds manages it incredibly. It's his likability that really carries the film across.  Even when it has to dig deep to keep the film interesting, his engaging persona helps give an air of plausibility.

I had a "good time" with Buried even though I'm clearly never going to check it out again. To explain the reason could really ruin the experience to those who haven't seen it yet. It's not that there's anything in the film I felt was done badly, on the contrary; it's the fact that there's moments in the film that questioned my mortality and how fragile it is effectively enough that to watch again almost feels sadistic. This is coming from a man who owns A LOT of Hanke, so to me that says quite a bit.

Sunday 3 October 2010

Review: Takers

Year: 2010
Director: John Luessenhop
Screenplay: Peter Allen, Gabriel Casseus, John Luessenhop, Avery Duff   
Starring: Idris Alba, Paul Walker, Chris Brown, T.I, Matt Dillon, Hayden Christensen, Jay Hernandez,  Zoe Saldana

It's great to watch films with different friends, cage their reactions and see what they found in the movie that you may have missed. After watching Takers with a good friend whose forgotten more about movies then I know, it was interesting to see what he found in the films architecture, influences and cinematography. He's also a bigger fan of the "B-movie" than I am, so his insight to it was quite worthwhile.

Unfortunately for me despite the clean, sleek look of the movie, the presence of some admirable actors and some nice action moments, Takers is pretty undistinctive. Having watched Ben Affleck create a solid (although cliched) genre piece the week before with The Town, maybe I'm being harsh on the film. However, by the time you see the criminal group of "Takers" walking in slow motion behind an exploding helicopter I had a good hankering for what I was in for.

I won't get too ahead of myself. This film clearly knows it's aspirations and when it hits the notes, the film has some moments of fun. A parkour chase is nicely done, and it was a damn good idea to place Idris Alba in the forefront of the film. But it's hard to get too excited by a film in which Hayden Christensen's role is only characterized by the fact he wears a hat.

In a film in which actors like the aforementioned Christensen and Paul Walker are rubbing shoulders, it would be good for the writers to gives their characters more personality. Stronger actors like Matt Dillon or Idris Alba can do much with little. A flat character played by Paul Walker? Almost a death note. There's also something to be said about giving someone like Zoe Salanda so little screentime. It's more than a bit of a waste.

As I said before, the film is sleek. Shot on what looks to be digital, it'll be a film that appears to have it's eye on blu-ray (understandable considering it's odd opening weekend release) and the film looks good and this is despite that annoying teal and orange colour grading that rears it's head once more. It's a good thing that the film is filmed as slick as it helps detract you from the plain "one more heist" story that plays out. Takers has a screenplay that plays as safe as possible so much so, that you know which of the half baked sub-plots will play out fully and which won't.

Takers will appeal to those who cannot miss yet another heist movie. But if you haven't seen The Town already, it's be better to see that on the big screen and wait for the blu-ray rental.

Friday 1 October 2010

Review: Exam

Year: 2009 (2010 UK Theatrical Release)
Director: Stuart Hazeldine
Screenplay: Simon Garrity, Stuart Hazeldine
Starring: Colin Salmon, Jimi Mistry, Luke Mably

"I don't know if I liked that movie" says my girlfriend before she departs my house. I know the feeling. It's been over an hour since the credits of Exam rolled and I'm still undecided,.. Is it shot well? Yes. It is uniformly smart in it's appearance. Has it got a interesting premise? Yep. With the overall film feeling like a nod to the Canadian sci-fi flick Cube, the film has got a hook that could more than reel in a few genre fans. What about conflict? Sure. It has some moments of tension and the film does it's best with its one room local. But what was it that distanced me so much from this film not to embrace it enough even for thinking about a second viewing.

My answer is investment. As the film's plot delves deeper and deeper, I found myself becoming more frustrated. The stakes are high, but the characters are just too stoic, too unapproachable, 2-dimensional. It's hard to care about any of them as Hazeldine's film paints every character the same shade of grey. At no point do you feel one of the characters tugging at your emotions, or if they do, it's not enough for you to feel good/bad if your feeling of the outcome is right/wrong. As the characters flip flopped between being good or bad, at no point did I find myself actually caring about the outcome of these people. The loudest character is played ably enough by Luke Mably but the character is a prick, and not even a charming one at that.

I'd love to say more about the acting, but the combination of stiff dialogue and little known actors (expect 2 fairly standard displays by Colin Salmon and Jimi Mistry) do nothing to really win me over, and it's essential in a film like this to have your thoughts and apprehensions pulled all over the place by the characters actions. The lack of this tug of war game allows the film to coast on rails from it's eyebrow raising beginning when you hear all the rules, to the eventual outcome. In a film like this where all the characters are labeled by their most basic aspects of their character (the black guy is called black etc.) why wasn't more of this brought up to create a sense of tension? It could have been possible.

Unfortunately, there isn't enough in Exam for me to warrant a recommendation for everyone other than those who are really into those oddball features you wander past while looking for something else. The interest within the actual film is almost the same level as when you pick up the cover, scan the back, shrug and replace.