Friday, 26 December 2008

Slumdog Millionaire - Dir. Danny Boyle

“If you get the answer wrong Jamal, you lose everything.”

Danny Boyle is back behind the camera with a change of scenery and a story of one slumdog's rise from nothing to something in the blink of an eye on the Hindi version of 'Who Wants To Be Millionaire'. Nobody believes what is happening, not the presenter, nor the police, however as Jamal Malik continues to defy convention by getting question after question right, we are not only watching a potential millionaire in the works, but are also thrown into the distant journey of his past. With one question separating Jamal from an astounding 20 million rupees, one question remains; why is Jamal really on the show?

‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is a story of love, life, family, poverty and ultimately one man’s rise from the foundations of dirt to the creation of gold through life itself. In a world where wealth can be won in an instant, it is only those who strive for the inspiration and delve into their own determined mind that can achieve this, which Jamal is, an underdog. And we all know how much we love to connect-to and adopt an underdog no matter whom, why or where he or she is.

From the first scenes where we see Jamal being tortured in the Police Station as he is held in the same contempt as a common thief to the final suspense fuelled moment, Danny Boyle manages to tug on every heart string available to viewer all at a swift pace. From heart-warming entertaining scenes, such as when Jamal and his brother Salim pretend to be Taj Mahal tour guides to the foreign tourists, we are juggernauted and catapulted into the emotional opposite with Jamal constantly fighting the demons keeping him apart from the only girl that brings to a smile away. It is this constant emotional battle that keeps our eyes open and our mind ticking. Why? Because we simply want to know how Jamal got there and where he is now headed.

Danny Boyle is almost flawless in his melodramatic direction of ‘Slumdog’; he allows the film to build without ever dragging out a section of the film to the point where you wish Jamal would stop ‘reminiscing’. However I mustn’t overlook the other technical and stylistic aspects which allowed this film to flourish, most importantly Anthony Mandle’s beautiful cinematography of the various contrasting lands of India and Chris Dickens smoothly worked editing guarantee that the brilliantly written script from Simon Beaufoy flows effortlessly into creating a wonderful modern fairytale that will by the end make you laugh, smile or cry, or all three.

When I first heard Danny Boyle, the director of Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and Sunshine among others, was attached to direct a Romantic Drama set within the deep confines of Indian culture and society, I laughed. However it’s Boyle who is having the last laugh, as he has created a chilling, yet warm, frightening, yet uplifting film that touches upon pretty much every human emotional response available, but will definitely leave you exiting the cinema with one feeling fresh in your mind and your gut; that you have seen something special.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Waltz With Bashir - Ari Folman (2008)

It's rare that I usually leave the cinema speechless, before engaging in hours (literally) of discussion with those around me, but 'Waltz With Bashir' is no ordinary film for no ordinary audience. Emotionally enthralling, yet uneasily shocking, 'Bashir' follows director Ari Folman as he visits various friends and foes trying to rekindle the memories he has forgotten of the Israeli-Lebanon War in 1982. Shot in memorizing animated visuals, it is a thought-provoking ride through the rediscovery of one man's forgotten nightmares.

From the opening surrealist shot of twenty-six dogs rabidly racing down the Tel Aviv streets towards the 'dreamers' (Ari's friend) home, to the ending where the animation is sacrificed for a few short minutes to show the real, unaltered horrors of the Sabra and Shatila massacre from news reels and archive footage. Surrealism is constantly mixed with the truth, making you wonder, what did Ari really want to find out and to what end? Is this all he and those remembered, or what there memories would allow them to keep encapsulated.

A frighteningly stark look at a young soldiers life, and how war can effect everybody involved, not just those remembered as a statistic on a board of casualties. As we delve further into his regained memories, we are made to wonder, is this journey exercising his demons, or simply just reigniting them? With the stunning visuals keeping you emotionally at arms length, detracting you from the events, before quickly dragging you back in with a horrifically haunting ending.

'Waltz With Bashir' is compelling, thought-provoking viewing.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Quantum of Solace - Marc Forster (2008)

The problem with 'Quantum of Solace' was always the expectation the fantastic series re-boot 'Casino Royale' bestowed upon the Bond faction, however if you manage to avoid trying to place both films side-by-side, then you'll enjoy 'QoS' a lot more for what it is, a decent romp of an action-flick that deserves to be in any Bond aficionados collection.

'QoS' continues literally straight on from the end of 'Casino Royale' as Bond is on a mission for vengeance, and we are thrust straight into the action from the very beginning with a stunning car chase, the pace is set. From then on, we follow Bond across the globe as he jumps from country to country trying to find out just what the 'organisation' is and what they're up to while managing to destroy everything in his past(oh and there's a little residing hatred from the death of Vesper).

Daniel Craig and Olga Kurylenko both deliver strong performances as two characters drawn together over the notion of retribution and Mathieu Amalric is surprisingly chilling as the humanised antagonist in a universe usually populated by the slightly exuberant villain. And with a smart script to-boot, one of 'QoS' strongest area's is also it's weakest. While the high octane action is fast, violent and frenetic, it is also incredibly disjointed by Forster's use of quick editing and his inability to judge what shots create thrill-seeking enjoyment and others that just cause confusion in the way that you don't know what you've just seen.

With all being said, I enjoyed 'Quantum of Solace', it was a decent action flick that ticked most of the conceptual boxes on what a Bond film should contain.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Saw 5 - Dir, David Hackl (2008)

'Saw 5' is one of those films, that after leaving the cinema you eventually recite inevitable phrase of; "why did we go see that?"

What once was a guilty pleasure for me, has quickly turned into a tedious and quite boring chore. The story yet again carries on from the previous film as Hoffman continues his ‘ingenious’ continuation of Jigsaw’s work, while a hotshot agent beats the trap and sets out to hunt him and anyone else who maybe a fan of that or-so loveable character Jigsaw.

Despite being slightly more coherent than the previous two outings, almost half of ‘Saw 5’is told via flashbacks and when there isn’t one, we are simply being plied with buckets full of raspberry syrup and mundane traps which Jigsaw himself would laugh at if he ever saw them. That coupled with acting to rival a plank of wood at the ‘Woodies’, and you’ve got yourself a pretty idiotic hour and thirty minutes that doesn’t shock nor entertain.

What made the ‘Saw’ franchise, most notably the first, most enjoyable for myself was the ingenuity in which Jigsaw operated, however with nothing remotely interesting or enjoyable comes from this film, exact that we can all hope that it finally does now end here!

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Jumper - Doug Liman (2008)

I find a certain sense of irony in that, despite 'Jumper' focusing on the exploits of a boy being able to teleport, the film itself doesn't actually go anywhere and if anything, felt like an overblown 90-minute trailer for a sequel coming to a screen near you (depending on Box Office results of course...).

David Rice (Hayden Christensen), believes he's a normal boy, who get's on with trials and tribulations of modern teenage life in his own manner, until a tragic accident allows him to realise he has the ability to 'teleport' himself anywhere he can visualize in the world. Cue, over-blown, CGI-laden, scenes involving David jumping to various famous spots around the world; most notably enjoying the cool, summer-breeze on top of the pyramids in Egypt. Which are to say, impressive visuals at times.

However beauty doesn't account for everything. From there on we are introduced to Samuel L Jackson (Roland), an important member of the Paladins, a society of members gauged around stopping and killing any and every 'jumper' they come across. However little is released about the on-going 'war' between the Jumpers and the Paladins and leaves many questions open to the viewers ambiguity; mainly when did they start this witch-hunt and most importantly why? While the romantic sub-plot between David and Millie (Rachel Bilson), never really gets moving despite taking up a large part of the film itself, especially since there is more spark and electricity in a plank of wood than their relationship.

And to top the shambolic nature of the narrative (or lack of), a script that had been adapted, changed, marooned and mutilated that many times away from it's original source, that the final result is an incredibly dumb-down script containing a mighty amount cliché’s you except in any film today with a budget primarily focused on visual entertainment.

Jumper, had an interesting premise, and initially promise, however the film lacks any narrative drive, is poorly written and contains very little character development, but what can you except from just over a measly eighty-minutes of film? Jumper is nothing more than an extended trailer, for the inevitable Jumper 2.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

No Country For Old Men - Ethan/Joel Coen (2008)

A brutal eclipse of modern-day crime-thrillers, Ethan and Joel Coens 'No Country For Old Men' paints a disturbingly violent and beautiful image of the developing slippery slope in which society is slowly falling down.

Starting with visually stunning shots of the baron landscape which becomes a staple of the whole film, the Coen's quickly and vividly materialize 'No Country For Old Men' into one of the most tense and suspenseful films of the last ten years. It quickly advances into a vicious chase across Texas as the deviously psychotic hired-hand in Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) attempts to track down Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a back-ward country boy who happened to stumble upon a Mexican drug deal gone bad and help himself to the $2.4million left in the dying hands of the ‘last hombre standing’, which sets into motion a series of unstoppable and deadly events of which gives ageing Sherriff Tom Ed Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) a chance to reflect upon what he's doing and who in today's modern world, he's facing.

From the moment Tommy Lee Jones mutters "I've been a Sherriff of this town for twenty-five years" to his final profound epilogue at the end of the film, the acting throughout is sustained at a very high rate. Javier Bardem in particular, is fantastic as the psychotic, no-nonsense, pure incarnation of evil; hired-hitman Anton Chigurh (however he does have principles in a very funny sort of way...). Every time Bardem is on-screen, his presence radiates throughout the whole film as you know that death is just around corner, while Brolin plays his counter-part to-a-tee, a fearless redneck living out in the desert sands of Texan outback, who is willing to fight Chigurh and the Mexicans to the last-strands of death for the drug money, and is willing to put his wife, the delectable Kelly MacDonald, in the firing line of those around him too.

Roger Deakins beautiful cinematography, of the baron wasteland which all the events of the film are laid out, supports Cormac McCarthy's adapted novel brilliantly. The Coen's decision to adapt the novel, with little-to-no tinkering allowed the full beauty of such a deep and thought-fuelled novel to come to life in only the way in which Ethan and Joel Coen could. In an age of CGI and 'green scenes', it's nice to see such an articulated film that ticks every single box for the basic fundamentals of film-making and in such a thought-provoking way too. 'No Country' throws you in at the moral and ethical deep-end and with no back-story, asks you to make a decision, and it’s the Coens finest film to date.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Juno - Dir. Jason Reitman (2008)

Jason Reitman's follow-up to 'Thank You For Smoking' is an intelligent, heart-warming, wingnut of a comedy that makes you appreciate the in-your-face and intimate cinematic occasion it lays before you.

Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) finds that boredom only leads to one avenue; sex. And when she ends up pregnant, with the father being close-friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), she must dig deep within herself to not only mature over-night, but find adoptive parents for her soon to-be-delivered baby. Following Juno through various stumbling block's in her rocky road of mother-hood, one which see's Juno decide whether or not to get an abortion while her school-friend Su-Chin pickets the clinic outside ("All babies deserve to be borned" she shouts as a one woman army), is awkwardly satisfying and ultimately funny for the on-edge viewer.

Ellen Page is a revelation as the book-smart, quick-tongued teenager facing adversity in the face with her impending pregnancy, and gives a performance that will either have you spilling your guts with laughter, or filling the aisles with tears - or even both. While Michael Cera (Paulie), J.K. Simmons (Mac MacGuff), Olivia Thirlby (Leah) and Jason Bateman (Mark Loring) provide adequate emotional back-up, making you genuinely feel in the heart of all their relationship's with Juno, especially Cera and Simmons. The only weak link, in a very strong chain is Jennifer Gardner as Vanessa Loring, who you never engage with her character till the penultimate scene of the film, when it's too late anyway.

One aspect which contributes drastically to Juno's success, and would be a cardinal sin to overlook, is debutant screenwriter Diablo Cody's script, which is full from the beginning to the end with engaging, entertaining and down-right witty dialogue. She creates Juno, a pretentious, naive teenager who over-time matures into an exciting and nurtured human being, while keeping her traits which we at the same time keeping the hilarious and charming moments ticking over. Despite a conventional ending which follows the genre like salt on chips, it's the chunky and delightful middle that keeps the film running and the audience happy.

Hilarious. Heart-warming. Enjoyable. Engaging. Cute. Interesting. Hip. You'll leave the cinema when it ends with a smile from ear-to-ear knowing you've just seen something special (and it wasn't the attractive young eighteen-year old girl bending down in-front). Now where did I leave my Hamburger phone...?

Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem - Dir. Brothers Strause (2007)

Feeling more like 'Alien and Predator vs Typical Teenage America', this life-less action-adventure film involving two past-it Sci-Fi characters is nothing less than a dreadfully clichéd waste-of-money sequel. With a particularly heavy emphasis on the word 'clichéd'.

Instead of a 'hive' (or general nest of alien anarchy) being found by unsuspecting explorers, this time around it is the unlucky residents of Gunnison, Colorado who unfortunately find there lives turned up-side down by an infestation of Aliens and one really, really dedicated Predator who seems to be . The film's only fan, one would assume.

What follows is scene-upon-scene of human slaughtering awfulness, as the typical American Teen Boy (Johnny Lewis), gets smitten with the typical American Teen Girl (Kristen Hager), while the clichéd reformed criminal (Steven Pasquale), helps the inept Sherriff (John Ortiz) who intern ends up getting many, many people killed in a very unsatisfying way...For the viewer that is, as keeping track of what's happening will make you wish, you were there and right in the middle of Alien nest.

With a life-less, unbelievably idiotic script constantly is setting the 'AVP' ship astray ("Everybody's dead. We need guns." - Surely a line, one of many, worthy of a mention), the film's last life-line comes in the form of D-List actors who offer nothing more than laughable acting, something which I expect in 'Asylum' films, but not a 20th Century Fox production.

Finally when the credits rolled, I felt disturbed and violated for the fact that I'd just paid to see this god-awful car-crash of a so-called 'action-adventure film'. If the Brothers Strause removed the life-less acting and replace the stereotypical characters with a crate full of Aliens and Predators and let the blood flow, they may have saved this from being one of the worst films of 2008 already...