Monday 31 January 2011

Review: Hereafter

Year: 2010 (2011 U.K Release)
Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenplay: Peter Morgan
Starring: Matt Damon, Cecile De France, Byrce Dallas Howard, George & Frankie McLaren,

Synopsis is here

A friend of mine (who lambasted me for liking the polarizing Somewhere despite me telling her that she would hate it) had a facebook status praising Clint Eastwood's latest feature Hereafter. The fact that she actually cried intrigued me as she's not a girly girl. Far from it. In fact one of the reason why we're friends is our deep love for a certain Arsenal F.C (shut it). And while there's many girls who enjoy the professional pigs bladder, my pal isn't what I call a "stereotypical" girl (trying not to Grey and Keys this). She's not one for waterworks and if she is she's not one for telling me.

So imagine my shock that my good friend, whom I've drank many a cider with has fallen for this overlong, overwrought piece of manipulation. It's not that I don't believe in the afterlife. In fact, go ahead! Such subjects are difficult to portray on screen, so I'm always interested in what someones will to try out. However in a film such as this one deals with such subjects what I don't need are cheap shock tactics such as two infamous disasters glossed over, without any tact (that's one more than Remember Me by the way). I also dislike a film which tries to place a hell of a lot of emotional weight on a character so poorly realized by it's child actor that it's slightly embarrassing to watch him emote. What's also frustrating is a film which has moments of interest and yet drowns in one note scenes (the parts in Paris aren't particularly involving) and board moments that are hard pin down as some of the characters just aren't interesting enough to keep one engaged. Eastwood is an old school director who creates simple solid works, here however, I needed more and surprised with how little I got considering it plodding pace and run time.

Yes, I found Hereafter a weak film but as always I do try to look for some good with everything I see. What I liked about Hereafter is the interesting angle that death and/or the afterlife often has believe that pretend to think they know the connection but to those who think they've truly experienced, it feels intensely false to them. Scenes touch on the nasty aspect of selling the afterlife and utilizing false hope. Those moments ring true enough with me not because it's happened to me, but because we see it often then we believe (think Jon Edward and other cold readers). There's also a delicate moment in which Matt Damon's character George; a person who truly sees connections with the afterlife state to another character that he doesn't truly know what's lies beyond. George also doesn't he try to fully grasp what he sees. How can he? This is truly bigger than him. Damon's scene's are the best not only because of this understanding but because Damon is an actor who can disappear into a role better than people like to believe (thanks Parker, Stone and Affleck). Watching how he holds his body throughout the film is the most impressive as it sucks the confidence and pluck that we've seen from him in other features.

I can also forgive the film narrative at points, as it tries deal with coincidence, not logic. Like I said before the film wants to show us that things happen for a reason. Of course as humans we always try to seek out what makes sense. Unfortunately in order to go with these characters you must believe in them and there's just not enough for me. Damon's scenes have the most foundation about them but the other characters are flimsy at best. They don't match up with what Damon brings to the table and I found myself annoyed, frustrated and bored. Cecile De France's performance is flat, while the performances from Frankie and George Mclaren are painful to watch for the wrong reasons. This combined is with the films awkward slump towards the finish line (low key I get but no momentum?) with an brief awkward flash-forward moment which belies some of the more ponderous moments I actually didn't mind.

Eastwood's film follows on from the annoyingly safe Invictus (nice sports movie, naff race movie) as another movie of his I'll not invest any time in another watch. But at least I had something good to say about some of it. My girlfriend hated every minute of it. she's a bit of a girly girl. Different Strokes.

Saturday 29 January 2011

Review: The Fighter

Year: 2010 (2011 U.K release)
Director: David O Russell
Screenplay: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Mellisa Leo, Amy Adams

Synopsis is here

I'll be starting with some race stuff first. So if this sounds too Chuck D for your tastes, you may wish to  avoid the first part of this or so.

After the screening, I found myself wondering: In a sport dominated by (notable) Black champions; I found myself watching another Caucasian boxing movie. This isn't a really a gripe about The Fighter a such, merely an observation. Tyson had that T.V movie and an interesting (and quite conflicting) documentary, Cassius Clay has had a shedload of coverage (for obvious reasons) and I'm sure there may be few other lesser considered features. However, considering the drama that could be brought from many of these athletes (many more known than Micky Ward), I'm fascinated that we haven't seen more black boxing movies. Especially ones that could easily follow a similar rise and fall arc that The Fighter.

I was entertained (but not surprised) that I got home after the film to read Joe Queenan's interesting follow-up article to his Rocky Balboa piece mirrored and articulated my own musings. I was even more entertained by another article from The Montreal Gazette which noticed in depth that this years Oscars is pretty much an all white affair. It also highlighted the lack of agents and executives working top level within the media. Forgive me for the incoming cliche but considering "how far we've come", it's still quite telling that despite this alleged politically correctness gone mad nonsense , it's still easier for Micky Ward and Dickie Eklund to get a movie while Sugar Ray Leonard obtains a cameo. I'm surprised that someone like Sugar Ray Robinson considered the greatest by the greatest himself; Muhammad Ali, is presented as only a physical manifestation of the inner demons of Jake La Motta in Martin Scorsese masterful Raging Bull. But like I mentioned to my father, Will Smith can't play them all.   

Inner demons play a large part of David O Russell's solid feature The Fighter. Micky Ward's half brother Dickie (Bale) wears his fight with the aforementioned Sugar Ray Leonard so close to him that it seems to blight more than anything. So much of a heavy weight (pun not intended) is this fight, amongst other things seem to almost help push the pride of Lowell into the mind numbing highs of crack. This internal conflict with Dickie becomes an outer conflict with his brother Micky (Walhberg) whose boxing career is at a critical point. Seen as a stepping stone for better fighters, how can he progress when his trainer is not only an addict but his brother. Things become more complicated when we realize that Micky's mother (Melissa Leo) is also his manager. Pushing him into bum fights and isolating outside influence. Blood is of course thicker than water, however it's clearly obvious that here, it's beginning to clot and family ties are now pulled to breaking point.

O Russell's film works best in these scenes, they are tense, surprisingly funny and tug well emotionally. Many who come from a big family may know of that awkward position that certain members love to play. The idea that family is everything means nothing when it's obvious that control means more. The personal punches hit as hard as the body blows and O Russell captures paints the picture more vivid then I'd expected. The two  reasons I think this works are one: the enveloping gaggle of sisters that crowd around that patriarchal and dominant mother (an impressive Leo). They who watch constantly and chime in like Greek choir of sass. The second is of course the googly eyed, mesmerizing  performance by Christian Bale a man whose outside life and method tactics often obscure the fact that he is a damn fine actor. It's a showy display that feature knowing Oscar baiting moments but alot of that is due to the material more than anything else. Bale nails his scenes and I wouldn't be surprised if the bald gold man goes to him.

Bale and Leo are extremely effective in the role, but maybe a little too effective. You see for a film called The Fighter it's a little shocking that the actual fighter himself is so passive. Wahlberg has also been a topsy turvy actors for me and there's no change here. As opposed of imprinting himself on the scene, Wahlberg like in other films I've seen with himself, fades to the background. Like Boogie Nights, when sharper actors enter the screen Wahlberg seems to shadow them more than anything. Amy Adams however, shows that she can do the tough cookie role well enough to keep a viewer at attention.

As a whole the The Fighter is a uniformly directed piece with some nice visuals and neat touches. The decision to give the fights that TV style look as opposed to regular film is an effective touch, while the fight set pieces themselves are punchy (pun again not intended), with blows that hit hard. They are defiantly not Rocky 4 beat downs. But with all this said, the cogs are consistently turning in The Fighter. you can always nearly always tell what it's thinking. Where it's going and how you should feel. Wahlberg's Micky is a tad to bland to really get into as all the charisma is with his brother and I'm not surprised at the fact that the screenwriters also had a hand in films such as 8 Mile (Rocky but rap) and Air Bud (safe family pleasing affair). From the music ques to the moment we see Dickie going cold turkey there's a touch of the "oh ok"Aronofsky as executive producer, this does become an entertaining companion piece to The Wrestler. No fireworks but no pulled punches either. 

Sunday 16 January 2011

Review: The Green Hornet

Year: 2011
Director: Michel Gondry
Screenplay: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz, Cameron Diaz, Tom Wilkinson

Synopsis is here

Can't you just feel it? January dumping ground, a production plagued with issues and Seth Rogen who to some may have peeked a while back. Here Rogen has not only starring credit, but also writing and production ones. That may mean nothing to some, frustration to others. To me it provides a certain amount of investment. Rogen is an actor I have sometime for and in most of this film I dug him. As a writer, I feel he relies too much on winging it as the improv really shows. As a executive producer? Well this may be in place because Rogen probably helped get this thing finally off the ground.

Despite this, for the most part I enjoyed the green hornet even though better reviewers and critics may try and make me feel like I shouldn't. The plot is a patchy mish mash of most superhero origins going and I will not lie to say that I was completely in love with the Rogen's script (dialogue wise to say it ain't Shakespeare is an insult to things that ain't Shakespeare). However Michel Gondry (Director behind the beautiful Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind) somehow manages to piece together a workable tone. The result is a film with enough knockabout fun to keep me interested and the right amount of nifty visuals (although this is toned down from what we usually see from him) to keep my eyes open.

One thing the film's screenplay manages to get right is playing with the idea of ego between hero, sidekick/partner and villian. Throughout the slapstick, farce and cgi action; the film throws an interesting power struggle and a underused but amusingly silly identity crisis into the superhero mix. Here we have an older gangster whose worried about not being scary enough, while we have a hero who gains the kudos but can't get the girl. Who does? Ask the nameless sidekick. This is not a film that wants to push any of these things truly into the forefront, but they build a rickety yet intriguing foundation for all the flash and gloss.

Gondry seems to know that this isn't really "his" film, and that a shame because when the man is unleashed he is something to behold. Here however, Gondry is happy to place together action set pieces that you can keep track of, silly slow motion moments and a general nuttiness to keep things ticking over. This added to when the actors improvisation actually hits home may not be as effectively subversive as Kick-Ass, but it does manage to remind one that superheroes films needn't have to be gritty.

Acting-wise this is a mixed bag indeed. Cameron Diaz and Tom Wilkinson are restricted to cameo performances, while Jay Chou shows that while it's tough having to act in a second language, it's even worse having to do it when your real job is a pop singer who has to improvise very other line. He is however a good sport and it shows as he comes across well enough. Christoph Waltz once again show that he is an actor of great presence, it's a pity that he could have done with a character that could match it. Then we come to Seth Rogen; who will not win over anyone new here, but will keep his core fans happy. He is playing himself but I enjoy him enough to to completely chastise him.

The Green Hornet would have been eaten alive if left on the summer release dates that it was originally given. You could say its January ghost town release is a saving grace, critics have begged to differ (despite being on target box office wise) as many have been savaging the flick. Me? Well I can't lie. By the time Britt Reid and Kato start wailing on each other in an OTT smackdown fight. I was giggling.

Additional note (16/1/11 - 23:40): Just after writing this. I discovered this link from the L.A times stating that it really may not have been Gondry's film. 

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Review: The Kings Speech

Year: 2010 (U.K Release date 2011)
Director: Tom Hooper
Screenplay: David Seidler
Starring: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush

Synopsis is here

I can't lie. Movies like this aren't my cup of tea. When I first heard about The Kings Speech I wasn't too impressed. Why? Period drama + overcoming disability+ Second World War = Oscar Bait. Add the fact that hardly any critic had anything negative to say about the feature and I found myself mucho worried. I shouldn't have such a bias but something that appears so suited for awards and loved by everyone always give me the feeling that I will be disappointed. One should always go into a film fresh, however everyone knows how easily swayed a person could be by everyone seemingly loving or hating a film. With all this considered; it is safe to say that to those still wondering if they should invest interest into a film like The Kings Speech, If you were to ask myself if you should watch The Kings Speech despite reservations, I would wholeheartedly say yes. I found much to enjoy in Tom Hooper's film; from it's wonderfully picked cast to it's charming wit, every aspect just seemed to fall in place for me. My hesitation was quickly brushed aside for it's lack of stuffiness and well drawn out themes.

The King's Speech is also the film that has made me stand up and truly recognise Colin Firth as an incredibly strong actor. Firth takes a role that in a lesser film would be considered goofy or pandering and infuses it with the humanity that many other "handicapped" roles forget. This isn't a caricature or   charity case (metaphorically and literately for the latter) in any shape or form, but a truly troubled man trapped within a family that is loving but can't/won't show it and the ominous dark cloud of war encroaching. Prince (soon to be King) George is reluctant to be King because of his issue but frustrated by his seeming inability to change it. Such conflict becomes more engaging due to the advent of a changing media world. We take broadcasting in it's many forms for granted because it's everywhere. Yet in the thirties we are thrown back to a time in which Royalty just needed to be seen and not heard. It's strange to watch such a struggle of one of the earlier Royal broadcasters in an era where typing in William and Kate will bring up millions of search results of the next Royal wedding. We can avoid this hype if we please. In 1939, King George had the undivided attention of every man, woman and child on these isles. If one finds it hard to comprehended now, imagine this man at that time having to rally this nation as one. It's mind-numbing. Firth contains all this contention beautifully with this performance. With this in mind it's understandable to feel his outbursts. Firth managed to make me feel on this contained inner conflicts. It is wonderful to observe.

He is supported by a well picked cast. Helen Bonham Carter is an inspired choice for the fretful Queen Mother, while Geoffrey Rush who may often be remembered for his more scenery chewing aspects (I've said his name, I bet your thinking Barbossa) understates everything here. The best scenes in the film involve Rush's Lionel absorbing King George's rages, he provides Firth a great foil.

The film maybe an acting showcase (I will not be surprised if Firth wins an Oscar) but it's not without some choice direction from Hooper. Whose choice of visuals with cinematographer Danny Cohen (Dead Man's Shoes, This is England) capture the isolation felt by The King who is stuck within a class that to some is considered cold. This awareness of space within the film is nearly always considered from the dialogue ("I was told not to stand too close") to the images providing the vastness of the space this man must conquer in his own life before anything else. Hooper, whose last film The Dammed Utd, provided an entertaining insight into male relationships and football management, once again takes a look at the friendships of men. Like before this main connection is just as punchy. What I enjoyed the most out of the relationship is that it is one that defies class in ways. The timing of it's release is spot on (royal wedding with a commoner remember?) but what's more important is having these two people come together despite being seemingly worlds apart.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed The Kings Speech. I was grabbed immediately by it's charms and was gladly welcomed it's unpretentious manner. As mentioned before, it's sometimes difficult to get your bias out the way, even when your not supposed to hold any. But The Kings Speech, with Firth's performance leading the way was a pleasant shock to the system.

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Review: 127 Hours

Year: 2011
Director: Danny Boyle
Screenplay:Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
Starring: James Franco

Synopsis is here

New Year, New Films. Let's go.

Aron Ralston has stated in one of his corporate speeches that he didn't lose his mind, but gained his life back. When I hear something like that, I'm not surprised that director Danny Boyle decided upon this story. Much like the Boyle's infamous Trainspotting, or award winning Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours is about choosing life. Boyle's strongest protagonists are the ones who dictate their own lives. They have (or gain) a large amount of control in their own hands, even if one of those hands is stuck under a large boulder. 127 Hours worked for me because I wa following someone who believes he has such control even when nature itself tries to say he hasn't.

Now in this film, Aron Ralston (Franco)  is not a hero, in fact through the many flashbacks we get throughout the film we learn he's a little selfish and a bit of a dumbass (going rock climbing telling no one where he was going?). However, with this said, as the story pushes forward, Ralston displays traits that have been sorely missing from a few modern fictional cinema heroes. Ralston is charismatic, knowledgeable and industrious. When his predicament takes place, he also becomes analytical, as opposed to some of the recent passive protagonists (see something like Burton's Alice in wonderland or Tron: Legacy). Franco's Ralston seems to have a mind that isn't relying on the screenplay to tell him otherwise. Credit must go to Franco, as he brings his A game to the proceedings. Cocky, delusional, meditative and when the time comes forceful, like the film itself Franco's performance is one that lives in the moment and I felt I was with him for so much of the film.

Also with him is the vibrant digital cinematography from Anthony Dod Mantle who not only captures the beauty of the scenery but the immediacy and isolation of the situation. The camera gets in close with Franco and like Buried or The Descent if your not good with enclosed spaces you may be best to avoid this movie. In fact I think it is this element which probably helped tipped some people over the edge in some of the incidents that took place in the early screenings. Mantle's shot's remind us that Ralston cannot turn away from this situation was why should we?

Boyle finishing off quite a creative decade of his career, directs this like a sugar rush, the thumping music and hallucinations (reminiscent of Trainspotting) help keeps the tension going at the best of times. At times I found the MTV editing of the piece more than a little distracting. With visual moments that don't say much other than "hey we can do this". There's also something I found a little "off" with the films first half, which puts together the situation well enough but lacks the oomph of the films exhilarating last act. But what a last act. The films climax in which Ralston does the deed involving his arm was not as brutal as one had thought but is a scene that stuck me with an unbelievable amount of positivity once the "moment" ends. It's moments like this that Boyle does best, whether it's a skag addict going cold turkey or a slumdog jumping into a a vast of human feces, Boyle manages to capture not only the character "choosing life" and taking control of their situation but also that elevated rush and appreciation one can get by watching someone beating extraordinary odds.

So 2011 starts not with a whimper but a bang as 127 Hours reminds us that sometimes fact is not stranger but stronger than fiction and that the courageous doesn't have to be in our visual fantasies but within those who are willing to find it in themselves.