Thursday, 2 December 2010

We Are What We Are - Dir. Jorge Michel Grau

‘We Are What We Are’ (Somos Lo Que Hay) has been acknowledged by many as the ‘first Mexican cannibal film,’ and whether or not this statement is true, ‘WAWWA’ isn’t by any means a typical cannibal film. If anything, this film is more like a socio-political examination of the current run-down Mexican slums, with the story of a family of cannibals lightly sprinkled on top to allow engagement of behalf of the audience. While the socio-political examination and subsequent criticism of Mexican society is executed well, the story itself falters and could have done with a stronger, more focused script.

Beginning with the death of the family’s patriarchal father (Humberto Yanez), who stumbles drudgingly through a modern shopping centre before collapsing in a dead heap in broad daylight. Instantly, director Jorge Michel Grau provides the audience with the issue of class divide in modern Mexico. As he lays on the concrete motionless, prospective middle-class shoppers casually avoid who they believe to be a dying or dead homeless man, before the cleaning crew of the shopping centre are called in to remove the body. The lack of respect, and humanity with which the public treats the dying father, alludes to the fact that Mexico is attempting to raise its public image both domestically, and internationally, and to do this, the lower classes must not be seen nor heard. The following scenes establish not only the family dynamic, but the sub-plot of the corruption in the Mexican police force. During the autopsy of the father, the pathologist reveals the family’s dark secret; that they are cannibals (through finding a whole finger in his stomach), while the Police, initially uninterested in case, and now believe that this could be their big break financially. “Break this case and we will meet the President.” The Police and authority throughout are portrayed as corrupt, lifeless soles that do their jobs for the acclaim, and celebratory status, rather than to curtail social dis-order in the Mexican slums. Crimes between the lower classes seem to be a free-for-all for justice, unless the social rewards are substantial enough to garner a response from the middle-class authoritarians. Essentially Grau provides the visual metaphor of the lower-classes ‘eating’ each other (through the representation of the family), and succeeding in doing a job that those who live beyond their means, do not wish to engage with. However when the classes collide, with the cities, the countries, reputation at stake, the authority must strike down with a powerful fist, to preserve a reputation suitable for wealthy locals and tourists alike.

Back in the family’s household, with the father presumed dead by their daughter Sabina (Paulina Gaitan), and with their mother becoming increasingly withdrawn (Carmen Beato), it is left to the older brother Alfredo (Francisco Barreiro) to take over the patriarchal role of the family, while also keeping his hot-headed, psychopathic younger brother Julian (Alan Chavez) in line. His first business as the new head of the house-hold is to find a suitable woman for the family’s cannibalistic rituals. Instead of concerning himself with the use of shock-tactics and horror clichés, Grau focuses more on the destruction of the nuclear family and how each member of the family becomes increasingly unstable as more and more responsibilities and lumped upon them. Alfredo fails to become a hunter like his father and feels effeminate; the mother becomes distraught and erratic as she attempts to overcome the news of her husband’s death, while Sabina, as the young, female of the family, rapidly descends inwards as she is forced almost instantly into the nature of adulthood.

The performances by all the members of the family, and the supporting cast of prostitutes and policemen, are somewhat disturbingly beautiful. In the slums of the city, they must day by day, year by year, drag themselves up and attempt to create a living in the world of the prostitutes or a meal on which to survive in the world of the family themselves. While the direction, and cinematography by Santiago Sanchez, creates this perfect divide which is simply roads away between the slum-dwelling lower-class, and the youthful, nightclub enjoying middle-class patrons. However, this film does harbour one large indiscriminate flaw which casts a dark shadow over the whole film in general; the lack of depth and development in the script. It deals suitably with relaying the corruption, and the class divide within developing Mexican cities, but when the script comes to the family itself, it fails to ignite any truly engaging aspect of the story. We know little of the family’s history, nor if it has any ambitions for future, aside from surviving. While certain characters could do with substantial improvements to their characterisations, such as probing the sub-plots involving Alfredo’s sexuality, and Julian’s uncontrollable teenage rage, or fundamentally providing any information beyond the very little we know about the ‘ritual’ being committed daily (?) by the family. ‘We Are What We Are’ is an adequate family-drama, with a hint of horror, and an underlying sub-plot of socio-political change within such a developing country. It may not be the best foreign film of the year, but one which certainly deserves a viewing.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

London Boulevard - Dir. William Monahan

You can guarantee if there’s one area of the current employment sector which continually flouts the rules of a recession, it’s the underworld London East End gangster. William Monahan’s (screenplays for ‘The Departed’ and ‘Body of Lies’) directorial debut is an adaptation of Ken Bruen’s 2001 novel ‘London Boulevard’ about a criminal who after being released from prison, attempts to go ‘straight,’ but despite his attempts, he can never truly escape his violent past. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but capable direction, and solid performances from a primarily solid British and Irish cast, create a competent directorial debut for Monahan.

Mitchell (Colin Farrell) has just been released from Pentonville after a three year sentence for assault, when he exits the prison he is picked up by long-time partner in crime, and local enforcer, Billy (Ben Chaplin), who takes Mitchell to a party in his honour. Every East End drug dealing gangster is there to shake the hand of one of the most feared men in London, but all Mitchell wants is to get a job, and avoid being restricted to a sixteen by eight cell again. He manages to convince a beautiful, reclusive actress (Keira Knightly) and her pot-smoking-hippy-esque-father-figure Jordan (David Thewlis) to hire him as a handyman around their paparazzi infested estate. But when the leading figure in the London underworld, Mr Gant (Ray Winstone) comes looking to place Mitchell high up in his crime organization, he must find a way to refuse the advances of such a dangerous man, while also protecting those closest to him.

For the first ten-to-fifteen minutes of the film, Colin Farrell’s forced middle-class cockney accent takes centre stage, but once he settles into the role, his performance takes limelight as a sociopathic criminal with somewhat of a heart. His brash use of violence, and utter respect and protection of friends, family and confidants, provides a conflict within Mitchell that he constantly battles throughout the film. The only thing he knows what to do is enforce, and if he was a true gangster he would “kill everyone and take everything they had,” but at the same time, the last thing he wants in his life is to return to that desolate hole known as prison. Aside from Farrell, both David Thewlis and Ben Chaplin give great performances as the hippy, wannabe actor and scared, low-level gangster respectively. While Anne Friel also plays the thieving, stubborn, childish sister of Mitchell’s very well. Yet while Ray Winstone never puts a foot wrong, his role as the Underworld Godfather has become rather predictable and uninteresting, especially since every other word out of his Landan mouth is either f**k or c**t (or a combination of both). Monahan really missed a trick, by failing to provide Winstone’s character with any further depth.

Also beside the main story as Mitchell battles his growing love for the reclusive actress and the life of a straight man alongside that of his violent past, and potential gangster future, is the sub-plot of Mitchell’s old homeless friend Joe (Alan Williams) who is killed ruthlessly by a couple of youths and Mitchell’s subsequent attempts to find out who is responsible. While it is an adequate underlying story to accompany the main narrative, neither Monahan’s direction nor his screenplay seem to follow it to any decisive conclusion. It seems if anything, if this sub-plot is simply included to allow the subversion of the ending and provide a twist or surprise ending, which the film itself certainly does not need. ‘London Boulevard’ is a proficient first effort for Monahan, and while the film contains flaws, which you expect from a first-time director plying his trade, it is also an engaging gangster drama which is smartly written, and incredibly well-acted by many of the great British and Irish actors at the moment.

Unstoppable - Dir. Tony Scott

Tony Scott returns to the big screen with his fourth film in five years, and just like the previous three, 'Unstoppable' fits the mould as mediocre-fanfare that will casually keep your attention focused on-screen for an hour and a half. Frank (Denel Washington) is the twenty-eight year old railroad veteran who is placed together with newcomer Will (Chris Pine) for a day working on the tracks. However this is no ordinary day, after fellow railroad worker Dewey (Ethan Suplee) accidentally sends a train out on the main tracks unmanned, it is left to the master and his potential prodigy to overcome their differences and attempt to stop the train before it kills thousands in Stanton, Pennsylvania.

The film's premise is as silly as it sounds, but most importantly, it's just not that entertaining in general. It's only saving grace is the relationship between the veteran actor, and always reliable Denzel Washington and the relative new Star Trek prince, Chris Pine. The dialogue between these two characters is quick witted, funny, awkward, and incredibly natural, and their developing rapport keeps the film ticking over. Aside from Washington and Pine, Scott once again resorts to over-paced editing and desperately quick cuts, which make the film, feel more like a music video, than a motion picture. While the action itself, at the centre of the narrative, is constantly undermined by Scott's need to juxtapose the action of the train itself, with current live news reports from the outlets around the country which thoroughly detracts away from the audiences enjoyment of the film, as it removes any notion of surprise, or revelation as we constantly know where the train is heading, and when it will arrive at that location.

In 'Unstoppable,' everything is laid bare by Tony Scott in regards to the story, so the audience can refocus its attention towards the action shown on-screen, which is not only degrading to the spectators, but also a surprisingly backward step for a director who has yet to break the mould of mediocrity in more than eleven years. Despite attempts to create tension, suspense and an action-orientated picture, Scott instead has succeeded in creating a dull pseudo-documentary in a sense, on how the locomotive is still a powerful beast, that needs man's full attention.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Due Date - Dir. Todd Phillips

With his most recent film, the 2010 movie ‘Due Date,’ director Todd Phillips (‘Road Trip,’ ‘Hangover’) has decided to take a different approach to cultivating his comedic talents into ninety-minutes after ten unbridled years of success. Instead of the witty and often hilarious one-liners constantly lighting the audience’s smiles and occasionally unsettling their stomachs, he has now instead provided the audience with the dark, underground aspect of the comedy film. While it is undoubtedly incredibly hilarious at times, the offensive remarks thrown between the characters do at times expand into the realm of dark and uncomfortable comedy, and too many, this dialogue will no doubt be acknowledged as being disturbing rather than awkwardly funny. ‘The Hangover,’ this is not.

The story follows the highly-strung Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) as he meets and subsequently gets stranded with the eccentric wannabe actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis). With Peter needing desperately to get from Atlanta, Georgia back to Los Angeles as soon as possible for the birth of his first child, he must place his trust into the hands of Ethan. With no money, no identification, and the realisation that every time Peter enters a domestic airport, he will be searched in the most sacred of man areas, what follow is today’s generations ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’. As mentioned before however, this is not a John Hughes film by any standards.

Peter is an angry, aggressive, ignorant, and ill-tempered middle-class businessman, who has little regard for others and their problems. When he can’t settle an argument or situation using rationality, he instantly resorts to verbal, and sometimes, physical abuse. While Ethan is a vulnerable, well-intentioned human being, who unfortunately has many obnoxious qualities which would quite easily send the average person into a fit of insanity in mere moments. And it is through this relationship, where the film initially falters, before excelling in the final third of the film. For the first half of the film, the loathsome qualities of both men and their ability to kill the occasional emotional moment of connection with an often disconcerting flash of awkward humour, constantly keeps the audience at arm’s length with regards to allowing them to empathise and connect with the characters and their situations. But this isolation, begins to break-down as we begin to learn that both men, are simply that; men, under the most stressful of situations and that while they may have initially resented each other to the point, they have both their underlying reasons why they both constantly end back up in other’s company.

Aside from the relationship between the two men, there is little else that the film tries to introduce to stir up the narrative of the film. The secondary characters such as Darryl (Jamie Foxx) as Peter’s best-friend, and Heidi (Juliette Lewis) as a Craiglists drug-dealer, become slight restrictions in the boys road trip from coast-to-coast, but provide little else aside from momentary comic relief. ‘Due Date’ is a valiant effort in the contrasting character road-trip genre, but it just lacks any invigoration or invention that Phillip’s previous outings provided for the audience. And by attempting to introduce prolonged scenes of disturbingly awkward comedic sequences that most often than not end in the audience squirming at what they have heard, rather than laughing at what was said or done, Phillips will have isolated his the loyal contingent of comedy fans who just want to break-away from the serious nature of life, rather than become engaged within it during the confines of a theatre visit.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Mr. Nice - Dir. Bernard Rose

Taking a break away from filming Snuff movies and Leo Tolstoy adaptations, Bernard Rose’s newest project tells the story of the famed British drug smuggler Dennis Howard Marks. Born in the idyllic Welsh valleys and going from an A-Grade student to A-Star drug smuggler, Howard Marks became one of the most notorious criminals in Britain after the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act was ratified by Parliament and Edward Heath’s conservative Government declared a ‘war on drugs’ in British culture. Rhys Ifans is Marks, while Chloe Sevigny plays his trusting wife Judy, while a crew of predominately famous British and Irish actors fill the rest of the inclusive roles including David Thewlis, Andrew Tiernan, Omid Djalili, Jamie Harris, and Ken Russell. And despite this array of acting talent on show, the film continually falls due to the lack of engagement either by the characters or the unrealistic situations by which they are involved within.

Rose’s screenplay is based upon Marks autobiography, thus going into this film, dramatization of the events after the fact are expected. Beginning in a small Welsh school and eventually ascending to the heights of Oxford University, Marks (Ifans) is shown to be an intelligent, hard-working youngster who wishes to rise beyond the working-class lifestyle that many had imposed upon themselves without action in the 1950’s and 60’s. However, once he starts to become friends with the free-loving, upper-class, dope smoking students in his dormitory, he starts to experience an alternative perception to not only reality, but financial success; import the drugs to the masses, and thy shall prosper. After graduating Oxford University, and attempting to go into a straight, legal job, Marks eventually gets drawn into the world of international hashish smuggling, and from here on in travels the world trafficking drugs to help his wife Judy (Chloe Sevigny) and their daughters a better life.

Despite initially seeming to be a character study of a bright, Welsh boy who has found success outside of the law, ‘Mr. Nice’ steadily develops into an argument for the pro-legalization of marijuana. Marks takes the name of a steady businessman whose name is “pronounced like the French town Nice, but spelt N-I-C-E,” he continually asserts that he himself has “never taken hard drugs,” while all the scenes involving hashish and cannabis smoking show no harm or violence, and those he involved himself with in dope smoking rings in University all now have attained for themselves respectable middle-class jobs. The police are shown to incompetent buffoons at times choosing to go after Marks rather than the ‘real criminals,’ and finally, and most importantly, the after effects of drug taking is never fully considered, only once does a character attempt to ask if smoking hashish is harmful to one’s mental and physical state and then he is instantly shot down before even given anything that resembles an acceptable answer. While the legalization of any narcotic in either Britain or the United States is always a contestable subject, it would have been a lot more interesting (and maybe even persuasive to the right audience), if Rose had attempted to build upon this area and create a solid basis of argument, rather than simply showing that ‘drugs = peace and love’.

Aside from the fact that ‘Mr. Nice’ is a sub-par pro-legalization film, it does contain many elements of humour, drama and emotion, especially during the first and final acts of the film which tie up the journey Howard Marks takes across the world, from hashish farms in Pakistan and Afghanistan, to inside the walls of a German prison. The chase sequences involving Marks and the various police organisations across the globe are surprising repetitive and incredibly monotonous, however the sequences beyond his life as a drug trafficker, i.e. the relationship with Judy, his friends, and eventually his children, somewhat humanizes Marks and shows that beyond every criminals working life, is a loving element, and for Marks this was his family. While the concrete acting of the various secondary actor and actresses provide continual comic relief to subsidise this ‘serious’ aspect of Marks’s life, especially Jim McCann (David Thewlis), the ranting, raving, sex-obsessed Provisional Irish Republican Army member who helps Marks bring the hashish in through Ireland for a hefty sum of money.

‘Mr. Nice’ is a far-cry away from Bernard Rose’s recent films, and his cult horror classic ‘Candyman,’ and it is still many a cinematic mile away from being classed as perfect film, but it’s at times a humorous British film that attempts to use British talent is sometimes overlooked at their fingertips. Its budget restrictions are clear to see with the combination of new and stock footage, and it stumbles during the most important, middle segment of the film as repetition takes control over the narrative, and it offers nothing new, revolutionary or ideologically important to the cause of the legalization of marijuana, but it does engage at times, and the brilliant, yet traumatic final twenty minutes of the film adequately sum up a man’s life, who is most probably one of the most intelligent drug smugglers to have ever lived.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Buried - Dir. Rodrigo Cortes

It’d be somewhat of a travesty if Ryan Reynolds does not get acknowledged during the awards season for his brilliant and heart-rending portrayal of a father who wakes up and finds that he himself has been buried alive. Going into ‘Buried,’ the less the audience knows about the plot details of the film, the more it will enhance their enjoyment of the proceeding ninety minutes of cinematic screen time. Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is a truck driver in Iraq who wakes up to find that he is buried alive. Who, why, where, and when, are all questions that are systematically explained throughout the course of the film. But, while the audience’s attention may hinge at times on the development of the narrative, it is the inventiveness of Cortes and the heart-felt performance by Reynolds that keeps the tension and the suspense of the film at a constant high throughout providing one of the best thrillers to see a theatrical release in years.

Cortes takes the minimalist, one-room concept to new heights as he provides only the confines of a basic coffin for the setting of a film. Continually providing diverse camera angles to explore the tiny locational hotspot, while differentiating from close-up to medium shots, allows the audience to be drawn into Conroy’s horrifying situation and encounter each obstacle with the character himself. The lighting of the setting is also meticulously used to create mood and experience, Conroy is trapped within six panels of wood, and natural light is nowhere to be seen, so his use of artificial light is key his changing emotions and the narrative itself. And changing emotions is an understatement; Anger, sadness, surprise, fear, contempt, aggression, and submission, all develop and explode from under the surface of Conroy as he attempts to challenge one of man’s greatest mysteries; understanding the unknown. Reynolds gives quite possibly the performance of his career as he literally providing one-man-cinematic show, while his passionately explosive show-piece alongside the beautifully simplistic cinematography, editing and lighting create a film that keeps audiences on the edge of their seat for its entire duration.

‘Buried’ is an ambitious project, pulled off by an enthusiastic director which breathes a little life into the mystery thriller genre in general. Cortes and Reynolds essentially provide a two-man show that would eclipse most big-budget thrillers by simply sticking to an effective script, concept and performance. It does have its technological flaws, but if you can look past those ever-so-slightly unrealistic aspects, then ‘Buried’ is an incredibly enjoyable suspense-fuelled ride beyond the grave.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Devil - Dir. John Erick and Drew Dowdle

“My dear brethren…the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist!” Charles Pierre Baudelaire (1864). Directed by Drew and John Erick Dowdle, and based on a story by the ever mysterious M. Night Shyamalan, ‘Devil’ consists of a traditional story containing a battle between good and evil, set within the confines of an office towers elevator in contemporary Philadelphia. Five strangers are trapped in an elevator together, and one of them may, or may not, be the devil (a being which is the personification of all evil). It is an interesting, and new take upon the premise that the devil may be “walking among us,” and while it is competently filmed and at times dutifully suspenseful, it lacks the intelligence and the inventiveness to the keep an audience hooked for the full eighty minutes of its running time.

Five strangers, consisting of a soldier (Logan Marshall-Green), a temp security guard (Bokeem Woodbine), a cocky mattress salesman (Geoffrey Arend), a young woman (Bojana Novakovic), and a pensioner (Jenny O’Hara) are all seemingly innocuous people who enter an elevator together in the ‘333’ office building. They are all there for different reasons, but when the elevator refuses to respond to basic maintenance and the patrons of the suspended steel box start to become agitated and aggressive, they must try to deduce to whom is to blame for the violence that is surrounding them. While outside the elevator, Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) and his partner Markowitz (Joshua Peace) alongside the tower’s security guards Ramirez (Jacob Vargas) and Lustig (Matt Craven), must also try to figure out what is happening inside the small, enclosed space, is it an aggressive attack by one of the strangers who has something to hide, or are there supernatural forces at work, gaining pleasure from torturing five apparently innocent citizens.

The film begins with a voice-over narration which details the story of the devil, and how he would purportedly occasionally take the place of a living being to torment those around him. A somewhat redundant touch, as the film itself gradually rolls out the story as the minutes tick by. From then on in, after a brief sequence involving a suicide, the characters board the elevator. Nothing is known about why they are in the building, what occupation (if any) they hold, and most importantly the audience does not know their names. They are essentially faceless beings until gradually the audience is fed bits and pieces of information to try and guess the identity of the perpetrator, played out in the same vein as any other mystery thriller. What separates this film apart from the rest however is the duelling storylines taking place between the strangers in the elevator and the Detective investigating ‘their’ (?) potential crimes.

Simultaneously the audience is able to follow the two detectives as they impartially try to understand what is happening in the elevator and who (if anybody) is perpetrating the crimes inside, while the characters inside the elevator increasingly become subjective towards each other. While most importantly, neither side can influence the other, creating a constant atmosphere of tension throughout the film as you wait to see whether the investigation will conclude successfully or whether the investigation will be halted due to the lack of live witnesses involved. Aside, from this however, the rest of the film involving secondary characters, seems to feel out of place, and slow the general pace of the film down, while also detracting away from the mysterious atmosphere of what is happening both in the security booth and in the elevator. While the acting by Bowden, Marshall-Green and Bojana Novakovic manage to keep the film on a professional level and stop it from failing on a most basic level (if a film is primarily set in one enclosed location, then the actors involved need to be able to portray to audience their different, and various contrasting emotions competently enough over a short space of time).

‘Devil’ is an adeptly made film from a story by one of the most notorious filmmakers currently operating at the moment in M. Night Shyamalan (due to his recent ‘critical’ failings). While it doesn’t contain a final-act twist of ‘Sixth Sense’ proportions that will completely revive the horror-mystery-thriller genre for years to come, it is also an enjoyable film that isn’t completely predictable within the first five minutes of screen-time if you can look past its visual flaws.

Friday, 13 August 2010

The Expendables - Dir. Sylvester Stallone

Throw together five of the biggest action stars in Hollywood history, garnish with a little of the new breed, and serve up with a glass of freedom ($82 million refreshing gulps of freedom to be precise) and you have a film which harks back to the days of the 1980’s action genre, where films were more concerned with the amount of explosives used and excessive body-count, rather than the story and the rest of those ‘boring things.’ Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) is the leader of the ‘Expendables,’ a group of mercenaries who take the jobs others wouldn’t even dare considering; over-throwing a dictatorship, and battling Somalian pirates is simply part of their nine-to-five routine. Alongside Ross is Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), an expert with anything that contains a blade, Yin Yang (Jet Li) a martial arts specialist, Hail Caesar (Terry Crews) a heavy-weapons professional, Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) a Swedish sniper and Toll Road (Randy Couture) the team’s demolitions expert. With Tool (Mickey Rourke), providing the jobs, arms and tattoos as a former member of the Expendables with his own demons in mind.

When the mysterious Mr Church (Bruce Willis) offers the dangerous job of overthrowing the island of Vilena’s evil dictator General Garza (David Zayas) and removing his American partner (Eric Roberts) and his henchmen in the process (Steve Austin, Gary Daniels), Ross’s former partner Trench (Schwarzenegger) stands aside to allow the Expendables to take on the almost suicidal mission. This in itself, is probably the films greatest scene with many cultural references to all three major movie stars careers and personal life’s being thrown abound (“he just loves playing in the jungle, right?” quips Schwarzenegger to Stallone). Once Ross takes the job, what follows is an explosive-driven finale which sees the Expendables attempt the impossible as they send five men on to the island to battle the General’s cantankerous army of hundreds (or maybe even thousands...) against the American invasion.

‘The Expendables’ is essentially an 80’s action movie. It contains the action stars of past present doing what they do/did best (Stallone attempts a flying armbar, Couture finds the perfect way to apply a bone-crunching kimura, and Steve Austin is characteristically inhuman), a typically weak and clichéd script that does contain a few cheesy gems among the stereotypical macho hype, and plenty (lots, and lots, and lots) of outbursts of aggressive, explosive violence from your typical machete decapitation to the more complex hand-held-semi-automatic-rocket-launcher-weapon-thing. The producers and Stallone have also chosen to employ two editors which is an uninspired choice, as the film constantly switches between the fast, freestyle, hand-held Bourne style of Paul Greengrass (in which very little can be seen or understood), to the normal ‘stand back and admire’ method of the static camera. While the use of close-ups are in full swing, as to capture the lack of emotion in a film of this magnitude, the audience want to see body-parts flying every which way Sunday, rather than the leathery skin of a old, and hard-working Sylvester Stallone.

This film isn’t perfect, nor is it a terrible film which contains more testosterone than sense. It is worth watching alone, just for the scene involving the ‘big three’ which is its saving grace. Aside from that however, it is typical action-orientated fan-fare. Remove the stars and you could have simply renamed this ‘Rambo 4.5’ as it contains the same limb-splintering, unrealistic, yet somewhat invigorating blood-shed that, that Stallone vehicle contained.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Gainsbourg - Dir. Joann Sfar

Lucien ‘Serge Gainsbourg’ Ginsburg. Artist. Writer. Performer. Alcoholic. Smoker. Rebel. Womanizer. Genius? Joann Sfar’s film documents the sporadic lifestyle of the famous French artist Serge Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino), whose life contained no boundaries, no objects off limit, and continually tested the patience of those huddled together around him. Beginning with a young Gainsbourg developing his taste for painting aspiring models in Nazi-Occupied France as a mere teenager, the film thereupon concentrates primarily upon his relationships with various beautiful women and his life choices in regards to his ever-changing occupation over his sixty-year-life-span.

What makes this film work so well as a biopic is the truly ingenious performances by both Kacey Mottet Klein (Young Gainsbourg) and Eric Elmosnino (Adult Gainsbourg) who both somewhat beautifully represent such a tragic figure throughout his whole on-screen lifetime. Kacey portrays Gainsbourg as a boy who is maturing faster than those other children around him, so far so, that he explains to one of the schoolchildren the reason that he is good at drawing pubic hairs is because he has had an up-close and personal experience with them before. While he is also shown to be a lonely child, an outcast as Jewish child growing up in Nazi-Occupied France, and thus he develops an affable ‘imaginary friend’ to keep himself company. Born as small, soft head that watches over young Gainsbourg as he sleeps in the woods to avoid the Nazi soldiers, his only friend soon becomes his worst enemy as he matures into a complicated man. His once pleasant ‘imaginary friend’ is now a grotesque being with a large nose, long-thin fingers and an affection for cigarettes and bullying Gainsbourg. He continually berates insults, prods and engages Serge, providing the viewpoint that he himself was his harshest critic, and a critic he could not simply dismiss without entire control over his life.

Aside from the performances, the way Sfar allows the films narrative to flow in a temporal manner with no mention of time, or calendar dates, further draws the audience in to Gainsbourg’s contrived world. The only way to tell when an event shifts forward in his lifetime, is through his own physical deterioration from old age which is heavily dictated by his excessive abuse of alcohol and tobacco. But as Gainsbourg becomes older, his sexual conquests stay the same age; from Elisabeth (Deborah Grall), to Jane (the late Lucy Gordon), and to an affair with the insatiable Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta), before he eventually settles down with Bambou (Mylene Jampanoi), who would be his final partner. These are all young, vulnerable women who Gainsbourg exploits for his own sexual misgivings, and once they become too old, or too boring, he discards them like a child throwing away an old toy to badger his parents for a new, more expensive model.

Joann Sfar beautifully flowing biopic paints Serge Gainsbourg as a shallow, misogynistic, grumpy old man, who once had dreams of becoming famous for doing anything, but once those dreams were realised, greed and narcissism triumphed over his once forgotten ambitions. Utilizing his gift for writing, artistry and music Gainsbourg chose the route of controversy and scandal over that of happiness and family, which is exemplified in his response to the media after he had a heart attack. When the reporters asked what he will be doing now after such a dangerous and life threatening operation, Gainsbourg calmly asserted to those in attendance that he will “continue to smoke many more cigarettes and drink much more alcohol.”

Friday, 16 July 2010

Inception - Dir. Christopher Nolan

Visually mesmerizing and narratively enthralling, Christopher Nolan’s stop-gap project before he commits to the third film in his Batman saga is a non-stop thrill ride which delivers on all levels; consciously and sub-consciously. Like everybody else in the real world, Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) has a full-time job except, unlike the rest of society, his job transcends realities. His work involves extracting confidential and sensitive information from client’s minds as they wander in an artificial dream-like state. To attempt this intricate process, they require an ‘architect’ who will construct the dream world in which the client’s subconscious is drawn into, before extracting the information from them. As Cobb mentions however, this process can essentially degenerate into ‘theft’ as clients may subconsciously place their secrets inside a bank or safe, which the team will have to crack to explore and exploit.

After a job goes askew, Cobb is hired by the shady businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) to perform an almost impossible, and incredibly complex act; Inception. Instead of extracting an idea or information, inception requires the planting of an idea into the subconscious mind of the client, thereby influencing any potential future decisions they may make, e.g. implanting into the mind of a client the suggestion that they should release an inferior product in the future to allow a rival competitor to prosper. Cobb assembles together a well-respected and able team of experts willing to commit to the act of inception, including the forger Eames (Tom Hardy), who has the ability to assume any identity in the dream world, the architect Adriadne (Ellen Page) who is young student constructing the world in which they will tread, the chemist Yusuf (Dileep Rao) who is providing the substances that will allow them to stay under in the dream world for an extended period of time, and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is the team’s ‘point man’ and Cobb’s highly regarded second in command.

Despite its hundred and sixty million dollar budget which is most prominent in the film’s stunning visuals, the real endearing aspect of ‘Inception’ is the brilliant story which Nolan allows to slowly unravel throughout the two hours and twenty minutes of run time. Constantly keeping the tension at appropriate heights, while also allowing the story to develop showcasing various twists and tales, Nolan’s screenplay is the intricate competent which truly makes the film work on various inter-connecting levels. From mystery-thriller, to science fiction and a hefty dose of drama, as the story unfolds, the visuals dazzle, and the characters themselves continue to grow, develop and prosper in this artificial environment.

On the surface ‘Inception’ is a heist movie in really simple, generic terms, but under the surface it contains underlying themes of love, loss, grief and the inability to forget those we used to, and still do love. Despite constantly being surrounded by dangerous situations in both realities, Cobb’s real danger comes in the form of his memories and in particular those of his wife (Marion Cotillard). While the other members of his team seem to perform their actions for the thrill of the event and the payment on delivery, Cobb is instead restricted by outside factors which keep him constrained within his transcending prison of never-ending certainty, and this (in?)sanity is projected to the audience in a typically emotional and brilliant Leonardo DiCaprio performance. Aside from DiCaprio, the always radiant Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives yet another proficient acting performance he can be proud of. Yet, despite the array of talent on show including DiCaprio and Sir Michael Caine, no doubt for the next few months the name trickling out of the Casting Department’s on both sides of the Atlantic will be that of the gentlemanly Tom Hardy. From obscurity to the A-List in a matter of years, not bad for the London man who only got his leading role a mere eighteen months ago.

But the real question here is; Can Christopher Nolan do no wrong? With ‘Inception’ comes the directors seventh feature film, and with this his sixth film to open to startling critical acclaim, and as many will agree, rightly so. Nolan has created a fantastically imaginative world where nobody is even safe, even when their bodies shut down and decide to roam the depths of the human subconscious. His story draws you in, while the gravity-defying action and unstable personalities of the characters keep you deeply rooted in your seat for a well-spent two hours and twenty minutes of pure, leisurely cinematic enjoyment.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Karate Kid - Dir. Harald Zwart

In today’s Cinematic world of constant lifeless reimagining’s and underachieving sequels, it is refreshing to see for once, a well-made, proficient remake which still manages to restrain the positive values and engaging nature of the original. Harald Zwart’s ‘The Karate Kid’ brings the original film into the twenty-first century by using one the most recognised contemporary Asian actors of the last thirty years, and a rising star who is currently heavily overshadowed by his father, and allowing them both to flourish in a respectable and worthy remake. While the only substantial and somewhat controversial difference between the two films is the fact that despite being named ‘The Karate Kid’ in the majority of Western countries, the location of the film and the actual martial art displayed both descend from Chinese culture, unlike the martial art of Karate which is a descendent of Japanese culture. Yet, it must be noted that this ‘cultural controversy’ does not detract away from the true nature of the film.

Xiao (Little) Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) and his mother Sherry (Taraji Henson) decide to get away from things in Detroit and start a new life, with a new culture, in Beijing, China. Once they land in the Middle Kingdom, Dre attempts to settle in by making friends with the local children, and while there he notices the young violinist Mei Ying (Wenwen Han). But his hormones fluttering is not his only problem, as the local bully Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) notices his affection for Mei Ying and humiliates Dre by using his superior Kung Fu skills to hurt the young boy. After he undertakes various beatings, Dre is eventually helped by the mysterious maintenance man of his building in Mr Han (Jackie Chan), who demonstrates his superior Kung Fu skills to a mesmerized Dre. After this, the film’s plot almost mimics the original 1984 ‘Karate Kid’ film to the tee with both man and boy becoming ever closer in the three months Dre has to train before he battles the sadistic bully Cheng at an upcoming Kung Fu tournament.

While on the surface, the film concentrates upon the use of martial arts to contain, and defeat those who attempt to bully and hurt Dre, its underlying theme is of perseverance as both Dre and Han must fight through the past to create their own futures. Dre is young boy in a foreign land, unable to understand, or become truly part of society, while Han is tormented by the mistakes of his past, however through their father-son surrogate relationship; both are able to battle their inner demons head-on. And it is the actors performances which bring this motion picture truly too life. Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan take centre stage in this remake, and both deliver fantastic performances, especially Chan, who portrays the traumatised maintenance man who is scarred beneath the surface, perfectly. While despite a strong act from young Jaden, he is slightly hampered by the fact that his character is only twelve-years old, rendering the majority of the pre-puberty romantic scenes between himself and Mei Ying meaningless despite their emotive beauty.

Alongside the acting, the cinematography of the film at times borders on breathtaking as director Harald Zwart, Editor Joel Negron and Cinematographer Roger Pratt take their time to appreciate the splendour of the Chinese landscape and communicate this cultural veracity to the audience. The sequences filmed on the Wudang Mountain exemplify this beauty as the frame is constantly filled with sights and sounds, no doubt foreign to the Western audience watching, as the camera casually glides above to capture the scenery. This beauty is however lost in the last twenty minutes of the film as it moves forth into the tournament stage, the soft, classical music is exchanged for exuberant rock and roll and the editing mirrors that of a American music video; a noticeable blip, on an almost magnificently shot film.

What constantly drives the film forward, aside from its technical aspects, is the fact that the Sensei/Mentor (Father/Son) relationship between Dre and Mr Han works so perfectly. The scenes they share together will make you laugh, cry, smile, frown, and ultimately feel all warm and fuzzy inside, while the scenes of eye-opening martial arts provides an element of excitement to somewhat balance out the dramatic nature of the film. Whether you enjoyed the original ‘Karate Kid’ film or not, I would still recommend this film to audiences of all ages who appreciate more than heavy explosions and repetitive action sequences.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Predators - Dir. Nimrod Antal

Before you go to see ‘Predators,’ one thing you must remember is that in this reconstructed universe, the awful ‘Alien vs Predator’ films and the equally as bemusing ‘Predator 2’ (set in downtown Los Angeles of all places) does not exist. Producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal (‘Kontroll’, ‘Vacancy’) have decided to cut out the below-par spin-offs and sequel and give the original 1987 film a commendable follow-on, which fans of the original will no doubt enjoy. Yet, the irony comes in the form that despite Antal attempting to provide depth to the series, it only serves to detract from the films actual purpose – to show the visual representation of humans and alien beings taking part in explosive action sequences.

All of a sudden there was a light, as eight human beings land in the middle of a game preserve, disorientated, annoyed and becoming increasingly agitated, they soon find that their day’s going to get just that little bit more stressful as they realise that they’re the hunted, not the hunters. And those committed to the act of hunting the hunted, are an evolved race of aliens simply known as the Predators, whose primary abilities revolve around their advanced alien technology providing dangerously vicious weapons and heavily protective armour, essentially rendering them as almost perfect killing machines. But this isn’t nearly two hours of watching humans being stalked before their spinal cordz becomes part of a trophy exhibit, as those chosen to be part of this game are all hardened killers and criminals. The mysterious Royce, played by a brilliant Adrian Brody, is a US Special Forces soldier who takes centre stage as the no-nonsense taking, cliché-speaking loner who only has one goal; to get away from their current location. While IDF sniper Isabelle (Alice Braga) is the yin to Royce’s yang, as she constantly refuses to put her morals and ethics aside when it comes to the tough decisions, creating a stage of tension outside the confines of the confrontation with the alien beings. Alongside Royce is an Russian soldier (Oleg Taktarov), a Mexican enforcer (Danny Trejo), a US Death Row inmate (Walton Gobbins), a RUF officer (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), a Yakuza member (Louis Changchien), and the seemingly odd-one-out in an American doctor called Edwin (Topher Grace).

While ‘Predators’ is beautifully shot by cinematographer Gyula Pados, and contains a well-written script filled to the rim with plenty of grin-silently-to-yourself-one-liners, it’s fatal flaw is reminiscent in the fact that Antal is torn between creating a film in the same sci-fi action-packed vein as the original ‘Predator’ film, and one that contains the visual flair and character development which is more apt to film that may act as the beginning to a trilogy or further motion pictures. Because of this, instead of concentrating upon the actual battle between the two sets of predators, the film is more concerned with developing a back-story and plot which just isn’t visible nor is it viable. The screen time of the actual alien beings pales in comparison to sequences of the eight hardened criminals trudging through overgrown shrubbery as they constantly try to gain their bearings, and this detracts away from the giddy, enjoyable nature of the original film. Aside from this however as mentioned, the performances are on-form, the is script short, but sharp and witty, and the shooting and subsequent editing create a competent and worthy sequel to the John McTiernan’s 1987 original ‘Predator’ film.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Kick-Ass - Dir. Matthew Vaughn

Matthew Vaughn’s (Layer Cake) latest film is an insane concoction of action, comedy, romance and drama under one big superhero-genre roof. Based on Mark Millar’s comic of the same name, ‘Kick-Ass’ follows Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), your typical male teenager, who follows through on every boy, child and grown man’s dream of becoming a superhero (despite the fact that unlike most modern-day superhero’s, Dave has not one extraordinary power or ability what-so-ever). Throw into the mix a Father-Daughter vigilante team, a love-interest, a wannabe superhero with an ulterior motive and a crime boss antagonist, and you have a pretty god-damn fun film worth two hours of your time.

Dave and his friends (Clark Duke, Evan Peters) are nobodies. They are the emblematic high-school students who waltz through their school hallways day-after-day, week-after-week, undetected by those at the peak of the social hierarchy including the attractive Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca). Bored of simply keeping a tissue conglomerate in business, Dave decides to take up the challenge of showing everybody that anybody with a costume can be a ‘superhero’ and thus his crime-fighting alter-ego of Kick-Ass is born. However Dave isn’t the only costume-crusader cruising the streets as Big Daddy and Hit-Girl team (Nicolas Cage, Chloe Moretz) together, as any modern father and daughter would, by fighting the bloody fight with their own purpose in mind. The main focus of their combined anger is resident crime boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) who will stop at nothing to make sure his merchandise reaches the streets. While Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) also eventually joins in the fun, piggy-backing of Kick-Ass’s success.

The true genius of Vaughn and Goldman’s adaptation from page-to-screen is that they manage to brilliantly combine elements of pure violent action, touching emotional relationships and moments of comedy to break the ice between brains being scattered and tears being shed. The on-screen violence is brutal, unflinching and in your face, like a shotgun blast to your temple. From stabbings to the odd, inadvertent, accidental suicide, each action sequence is perfectly orchestrated to create maximum enjoyment. While true moments of tender, emotional realisations and witty teenage banter counter-act the vicious nature of this film, which is as disturbing as it poignant at times, especially when you’re transitioning from a brutal beating, to an awkward father-son moment within minutes. It all adds to ‘Kick-Ass’s’ quirky, little charm however.

Despite attempting to be a ‘superhero’ by night, by day Dave is still a normal teenager searching for his true identity, and of course, that elusive first girlfriend. Aaron Johnson plays this part perfectly, to the extent in which we should all be able to find a side of Dave to identify with (we were all young once...). Whilst despite competent performances from the veterans; Mark Strong and Nicolas Cage, the true gem of this piece is Chloe Moretz, the young girl who plays the hit-girl beyond her own age to a beautifully tragic tee. Hit-Girl is a ballsy, yet brilliant character who shows the audience that young girls on the big-screen don’t simply need to be emotional vessels or tragic victims (this could potentially lead to the rise of the aggressive, twelve year old protagonists!), but they can be as dangerous as the adults that hope to protect them.

Probing the depths of the superhero genre in which many fear to tread, ‘Kick-Ass’ is something different which works pretty darn well. It’s a violent superhero film, with a lot of heart and many hilarious moments.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Exit Through The Gift Shop - Dir. Banksy?

An experience will ultimately become a diluted memory, unless the experience itself is documented in image or film, in which case it will last forever (or until it is deleted/destroyed...). ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’ is a brilliant examination of the underground street art culture, and a poignant look at man’s obsession with a culture he is increasingly drawn into throughout his life.

Thierry Guetta (pronounced Te-ree), is a French immigrant living Los Angeles with his loving wife and children and a good honest job, but there is one object he will never leave the house without; his video camera. Guetta has been enticed into the everyday cinema verité movement of simply recording any, and everything that goes on in his life. From playing with his children, to his ultimate attraction of following other street artists around and documenting their work, Guetta loves to watch, document and admire from behind the lens. Guetta eventually earns the trust and respect of various artists around the globe including the elusive Banksy, his cousin Space Invader and Shepard Fairey, and provides the audience with an up close and personal view of a culture (or industry) which has been projected into the limelight over the past five years.

Narrated by Rhys Ifans, ‘Exit’ has been acknowledged as not having a registered director, instead it is a smoothly edited combination of Guetta’s extensive and various filmed sequences from over the years (the film shows his EXTENSIVE physical collection of tapes from more than decade of filmmaking) and interviews with various leading figures in the industry. For example Banksy is interviewed at length over his involvement with Guetta and comes across as a very down-to-earth, humble and at times, incredibly funny person. While everybody, including Guetta, are extremely brazen and don’t hold back when speaking about each other, their profession or how the street art culture has developed over time into a somewhat monopolistic environment (which can be viewed by the fact that the rich and famous turned out in droves for Banksy’s first exhibition in the United States).

This isn’t a film about ‘graffiti’ though, as some may simply see it as on the surface, aside from the exploration of a fast growing community it is also a deep, scary and heart-warming look at Thierry Guetta’s life over a decade onwards as he constantly leaves behind his family and his job to follow various artists around the globe. Mentally unstable, or one of the greatest French minds of the last twenty years, nobody is quite sure what Thierry Guetta (also known as Mr Brainwash) is, but what everybody does acknowledge is that he is a man with a passion and while he may not follow the same ideology as everybody else, his heart is still in the right place. ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’ is a fascinating documentary focusing on a rising culture that many people may not have much knowledge about, except for knowing the name of the elusive, and as I have mentioned, surprisingly hilarious Banksy.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Shutter Island - Dir. Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese – the man, the myth, the filmmaking legend – returns to the big screen with ‘Shutter Island’, his fifth feature film in ten years. Reuniting himself with his on-screen son Leonardo DiCaprio for a psychological thriller based upon Dennis Lehane’s 2003 novel of the same name which follows US Marshall Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) as they are sent to investigate the disappearance of a patient on Shutter Island, home to the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Scorsese and Robert Richardson (two-time Academy Award Winning Cinematographer) are, as usual, in fine form building the solemn atmosphere one brick at a time; however it is the story and the acting of the films ensemble which restrict this film from being yet another masterpiece.

The year is 1954. US Marshalls Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule are sent together to the mysterious Shutter Island, home of the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane which houses the most deadly and unstable patients the world has to offer. There to track down the escaped patient Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer) who has, somewhat impossibly, vanished without a trace Daniels and Chuck start to become entangled in the web of lies and the mystery surrounding the real nature and purpose of Ashecliffe. With their investigation being constantly blockaded and restricted by the Hospital’s Chief Psychiatrist Dr John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), Senior Psychiatrist Dr Naehring (Max von Sydow) and the Deputy Warden (John Carroll Lynch), it seems that the patients aren’t the only dangerous people within the electrified walls of this secretive Institution.

Directing his first psychological thriller in nearly twenty years, Scorsese shows that he still knows how to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, while covering their eyes, and cowering slowly. The tense, creepy, bleak visual atmosphere is what keeps ‘Shutter Island’s’ narrative continually ticking over. From the location of the Wards, to the darkness of the hallways, every scene after the early establishing sequences is littered and fraught with deepening suspense and fear, reminiscent of a certain Scorsese film released in 1991. If the characters, criminals and location don’t convince you that Ashecliffe is a place where you would never wish to be, then the dark, menacing and incredibly desolate visual aesthetics should, especially that of Ward C. The housing complex of the most dangerous criminals on the island, which is comparable to that of an Old London dungeon, with no lights, windows or colour of any kind, the criminals are left to rot in their own self-depreciating darkness and despair.

Despite the brilliant atmosphere which Scorsese and his cinematographer Richardson cook-up, the films narrative lacks the essence of a Scorsese film and a Lehane novel. At times the extended sequences seem to be dragging the film out, for the sake of dragging it out rather than extending our knowledge of the on-screen surroundings. While DiCaprio is continually on-screen for almost two hours, and during this time his performance starts to wear thin. Which is a consequence of the fact that despite the subtle and quite well refined performances by Ruffalo, Kingsley, Lynch, Levine and Williams, nobody steps forth and offers DiCaprio a supporting hand and because of this, by the end of the film it seems as if he utilizing every last acting bone in his body to complete the film.

It’s pretty much safe to say that Martin Scorsese has not done a ‘bad film’ – subjective phrase - in decades (even if some will debate that he has not created a ‘bad’ film in his entire career, or others that his whole career has been a proliferation Hollywood and the notion of selling-out), and with this film, this principle again applies to his career. While it has its flaws, and is clearly not up to the cinematic value of ‘Taxi Driver’ or ‘Raging Bull’, ‘Shutter Island’ has its own visual essence that resonates throughout two hours, providing the audience –who wish to engage – with a thrilling ride down psychological lane.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Solomon Kane - Dir. Michael J. Bassett

Michael Bassett’s film ‘Solomon Kane’ (based on the character of the same name created by Robert E. Howard) is a disappointing Fantasy Action-Adventure film, that despite having a few scenes of genius falls flat with its awkward pacing, poor characterisation and general dullness. Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) is a mercenary of Queen Elizabeth’s army fighting in Africa, where he comes face-to-face with the Devil’s Reaper – a demon who collects the Devil’s debts i.e. souls – refusing to go to hell just yet, he evades the Reaper and starts a new life in an English monastery. With this new life, Solomon has left-behind his culture of violence and bloodshed and instead now embraces the values of peace and non-values. But once he is expelled from the monastery due to the fear of the Devil’s Reaper returning, he must travel back to his home in Devon and along the way he befriends a travelling family of puritans heading to the New World. On their journey through the British counties, the family is attacked, and their daughter Meredith (Rachel Hurd-Wood) is abducted by the evil sorcerer Malachi’s army, which is lead on the front lines by the mysterious Masked Rider. Now a man of peace, Solomon must go back to his former life as a man of unrepentant violence and destruction to save Meredith.

Despite having great source material to work from, and build upon to create potentially an exciting and enduring medieval action-adventure film, the film fails in three key areas. The pacing of this film is terrible, which may have a lot to do with its incredibly short run time of only one hour and forty minutes (and this is most likely a consequence of the fact that they wish to turn this film into a trilogy). Constantly jumping between of drama and self-characterisation to that of action and muddy bloodshed, somewhat kills the excitement of the action sequences. Instead of keeping the audience on the edge of their seats frothing with the eagle-eyed anticipation, the film instead feels incredibly subdued and, this follows on the next piece of criticism, dull. Despite being touted as an ‘action-adventure’ film or in some circles an ‘action-epic’, ‘Solomon Kane’ is almost most certainly not. The action is mundane and dull, and is generally finished before you have the chance to admire the beauty of a decapitation. Finally, aside from Solomon himself, there is very little characterisation within this film. For example we know little and because of this, care little, about the young woman that Soloman sets out on his journey to save. And I imagine again the filmmaker would refer this criticism to the fact that there is most likely going to be a second film which will hopefully touch upon these aspects that this film surely missed.

It isn’t an entirely terrible film however. James Purefoy is gives a fantastic performance as Solomon, the mercenary who must decide whether or not to fall back on his conscience or his blade, and how his decisions will impact not just upon himself, but those around him as well. While respect, admiration, and acknowledgement must also go to Bassett and his crew as well, for creating vivid locations that beautifully reflects the period in which they are filming. At times, it is hard not to get carried away with admiring the beauty of the locations, shot composition and mise-en-scene at show here. Which certainly shows that a lot of time and effort has been placed into this film, unfortunately however that is not to say the same for the story and characters at hand. ‘Solomon Kane’ certainly had the potential to be something more than simply an ‘action-epic,’ however it seems that once again the lack of any real depth in the story and characters has resulted in Michael Bassett creating nothing more than a one-dimensional look at swordplay during the Medieval period.

A Single Man - Dir. Tom Ford

If you didn’t know that director Tom Ford was a fashion designer, you probably would have guessed his former occupation while watching his feature-film directorial debut in ‘A Single Man’. At times the style and cinematography are oh-so reminiscent of those French perfume television advertisements which make little sense to anybody outside the fashion oeuvre. However Colin Firth isn’t here to push a bottle of Chanel into the audience’s faces, instead he puts forth a magnificent performance as a man trapped in the past who believes that the future holds nothing for him to live for after the death of his lover. While the direction is competent and at times stylistically quite beautiful, it is the performance of Colin Firth which brings alive this adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel of the same name.

“Just get through the goddamn day.” Situated in Southern California, a month after the Cuban Missile Crisis in November 1962, George (Colin Firth) is a man on the brink of suicide. After the death of his lover Jim (Matthew Goode) in a car accident eight months ago, George fails to acknowledge that there is any meaning in life. Constantly dwelling on the grief of the past and never wanting to touch upon the uncertain future, ‘A Single Man’ follows George throughout a day in suburban California as he travels from his day job as University Professor to the home of his close-friend Charley (Julianne Moore), before meeting one his students Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) who seems to understand George for who he is.

When you take onboard a project in which the main brunt of the narrative is focused around the inner workings, the inner-psychological nature, of a man battling the issues of grief, repetition, loneliness and nihilism, you need a strong leading actor or actress in which to convey the character at hand, and Colin Firth does this perfectly. Without his beautiful, enigmatic performance as George, the man caught in an unsustainable past, this film wouldn’t necessarily fall flat, but it would require a heavy amount of restoration to its narrative. Firth sustains a quite minimalist story for over one-hour and thirty minutes and never lets up. While Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Goode and Julianne Moore provide the perfect backing ensemble, however it would have been interesting to have been able to see further character development within Moore’s character Charley and how her and George’s life crossed paths in the past.

With that said, it must also mentioned that despite Firth’s performance, director Tom Ford, cinematographer Eduard Grau and Art Director Ian Phillips provide much of the stylistic visual spectacle by simply choosing to linger on George’s pain. While the contemporary shooting locations and angles can at times become tiresome, the true genius is in Ford, Grau and Phillip’s ability to simply linger on George’s pain. In the scene in which George is deciding how comfortable to he wishes to be while committing suicide, juggling between the idea of merely laying on the bed or becoming engulfed by a sleeping bag, the camera silently loiters catching every uncomfortable moment and emotion drawing the audience further into the life of a man with no nothing to live for. While the sets and locations themselves are impeccable put together and create a brilliant aesthetic backdrop to Firth’s musings as George.

Delicate, stylish, and at times disturbingly funny, ‘A Single Man’ is a stimulating exploration of a character’s psyche and how we can all never let the notion of grief go, no matter how hard we try to leave it behind. Driven by Colin Firth, with an all-star cast behind him, Tom Ford should be incredibly delighted with how his first feature-film has turned out.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Looking For Eric - Dir. Ken Loach

He was a King to millions of Red Army followers, including postman Eric Bishop (Steve Evets). His wife has left him, his step-sons don’t respect him and he’s losing touch with his eldest daughter, desperate and depressed Eric turns to the only person he believes he can trust; French superstar and Manchester legend Eric Cantona (playing himself). Lighting up a spliff in the darkest corner of his bedroom, Eric turns to the footballing-philosopher as he hopes to get his life back on track, just as Cantona did after returning from a four-month ban for kung-fu kicking a hooligan during a match at Selhurst Park.

‘Looking For Eric’ sees Ken Loach go back to doing what he does best creating charming, heart-warming and at times, incredibly funny, film-making. Eric is a man on the brink, he can’t control his children nor does he have the confidence to approach his ex-wife Lily (Stephanie Bishop). His closest friends aren’t much help either. Despite working with him in the post-room for years, they all mean well, but there attempts at cheering up Eric generally lead to hilarious situations rather than uplifting sentiment. However this film is not a comedy, it is a socio-drama that concentrates upon one character, Eric, as he reaches the brink of self-destruction, but through those around him (despite how unhelpful they are at times) he manages to build himself back up into the man he always wanted to be. While the real genius of this film is in the beautifully shot sequences involving Eric and Eric (Cantona) as they try to find solutions to his problems. Eric Cantona is not simply an idol or a footballer to Eric the Postman in this film he is a lot more than that, Cantona is his saviour in the form of an understanding intelligent human being, and this relationship drives the film delightfully until the final scene and its inspirational climax.

If you’re put off by notion of a footballer being in relatively large role in a feature film, reserve your judgement for after you have seen this film. Ken Loach hits a hat-trick of successes with ‘Looking For Eric’ as the story, acting and direction all combine to create one of the best dramas of 2009. In the immortal words of Mr Cantona himself; "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea." And no, I still don’t know what (or who) Eric Cantona was referring to when he made that statement...

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The House of the Devil - Dir. Ti West

Ti West, the 29 year old filmmaker from Delaware, might not be a name you are familiar with -with regards to the horror genre of filmmaking - but if his future projects are anywhere near as good as his third directorial feature film ‘The House of the Devil’, then you will no doubt be hearing his name mentioned heavily in the next couple of years. West has so-far spent his time primarily creating cheap, B-Movie-esque horror films, however with ‘House of the Devil’ he changed his tactic and decided rather than ridiculing or satirizing the genre, to instead pay homage to it; in particular the haunted house/slasher subgenre. And the result is an eerie, well-shot, competently edited, suspense-fuelled ride back into the horror films of the 1970’s and 1980’s.

College student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) is the archetypal female lead at the centre of the ritualistic story. Trying to gather enough money together so she may move out of her dorm, which she occupies with her room-mate Megan (Greta Gerwig), she reluctantly applies for a local babysitter gig. The prospect of watching television all night, while occasionally checking on a child and ultimately getting paid cash-in-hand appeals to her financial stricken nature straight away, however she has no idea what the mysterious Mr (Tom Noonan) and Mrs (Mary Woronov) Ulman have in store for the naive young student.

Filmed on 16mm stock to give the film that washed retro stylistic feel, ‘Devil’ is a technical back-into-the-past cinematic winner. Once the Hammer-esque titles follow the opening scene-setting sequence, you are instantly aware of the timeframe in which the film takes place. The mise-en scene, music and location provide the blank canvas, while West’s filmic strokes bring the piece to life. Professionally edited by the director himself with cinematography by the Eliot Rockett, both combine to create seamlessly evolving scenes and heavy suspense from the mildest situations.

Before we are even introduced to Mr Ulman, the sequence involving Samantha phoning the Ulman residence and applying for the job of babysitter on campus is so perfectly shot that the hairs stand up on the back of your neck simply from the sound of a phone ringing and a mysterious male voice on the other end. While the transition during the climax of the film challenges everything that has gone before, by hitting the audience continually with flashing, vibrant images of horrific situations that we try find to focus upon and understand initially, but then regret that decision once we know what is being shown.

To be entirely critical, the climax of the film also supplies the films largest failure in respect to the use of on-screen violence, blood and gore. In context of the whole film, the various uses of aesthetics (light, space) and technical know-how create the films intense atmosphere and terrifying nature. However with the excessive violence in the films concluding scenes, it goes past simply being shockingly terrifying, instead into the realm of shockingly violent. Not the effect I imagine Ti West was aiming for. The violent scenes themselves should not have been removed, but simply toned down.

Ti West’s ‘The House of the Devil’ is a refreshing addition to what has become a stale genre of film in recent years. The brilliant homage, respecting those that went before during horror’s contemporary hay-day, shows that not all film-makers are simply looking to copy, repeat and exploit, but admire, showcase and support the genre they have grown up with. If you want a meticulously, frightening trip down memory lane, rent or buy this film and you will not be disappointed.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Edge of Darkness - Dir. Martin Campbell

Twenty five years ago New Zealander Martin Campbell (Goldeneye, Casino Royale) directed six episodes of a Television series for the BBC, this series was the highly acclaimed British drama ‘Edge of Darkness’ which followed a father as he unravelled the various conspiracies surrounding the death of his daughter. While this week sees the release of the film adaptation of the British drama, fittingly directed again by Campbell. However, instead of Bob Peck fighting back, we have Mel Gibson in his first leading role since the extraterrestrial film ‘Signs’ was released a mere eight years ago.

Thomas Craven (Gibson) is a Boston homicide detective who is sent to the edge of darkness (so to speak) when his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) is shot and killed in front of him. Refusing to sit back and let his colleagues handle the ‘officer involved’ crime, Craven takes it upon himself to find out if he was the target and if not, who would want to silence his daughter and why. This journey leads Craven into the murky waters of corporate and governmental cover-ups and the lengths some capitalist money-makers will go to, to keep certain infractions out of the public sphere.

Gibson gives a typically solid performance as the grieving, empty father who will stop at nothing to find out why his daughter died and who was the perpetrator(s). He continually overshadows the rest of the supporting cast including Ray Winstone as the mysterious ‘corporate fixer’ Jedburgh. While Martin Campbell’s direction is as competent as usual, continually unafraid to linger over Gibson’s character as he is dragged into the emotional depths of the situation at hand. However despite being capably filmed and well acted, the film suffers from one serious, unequivocal problem that detracts heavily on the overall enjoyment of the film at hand, which is the fact that the narrative structure is poorly constructed during the middle segment of the film.

The original television series was spread among six fifty-minute episodes allowing plenty of time for the various themes, issues and conspiracies to be explored. However this feature adaptation instead is a mere two hours in length and during this time the audience are continually bombarded with new information, characters and events that are not fully identified or explained resulting in both confusion and a strong sense of disappointment. As ‘Edge of Darkness’ reaches the hour mark we are introduced to various characters that are involved in the conspiracy (partially, visibly or simply by connection) that are never explained, nor is there enough exploration of the potentially more important characters who are only involved for their own means, which would have led to a significantly more interesting climax.

Despite this flaw, ‘Edge of Darkness’ does succeed heavily in one aspect, it will inspire you to search for and dig out the old television series starring Bob Peck and view the issues beyond those that were touched upon in this film in further depth. However, aside from another engaging Gibson performance, the lack of explanation is a severely detrimental factor on the overall nature of the film. Instead of leaving the cinema discussing this thought-provoking, dramatic conspiracy thriller, you will most likely leave asking “who was he, and what was his purpose.”

Sunday, 24 January 2010

The Road - Dir. John Hillcoat

In the post-apocalyptic wasteland of America, a Man (Viggo Mortensen) and his Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) travel the road hoping to avoid the ‘bad’ people, and ultimately stay alive as along as humanly possible. Based on Cormac McCarthy’s (Blood Meridian, No Country For Old Men) 2006 acclaimed novel ‘The Road’, the film is more about how we and our loved ones cope after a devastating event as much as it is about survival in the harshest environments left on Earth. John Hillcoat treats McCarthy’s original novel with the upmost respect and admiration. Almost never deviating from the original story, to create an almost perfect adaptation from page-to-screen, the film itself will certainly leave an impression upon you.

There was a flash, and then civilization collapsed. Whether it was nuclear war, global warming or something entirely different, neither the film nor the novel actually confirms what was happened. Many have speculated that the event in question may have been a global nuclear war; however in the context of the story, what almost destroyed all civilization on Earth, is irrelevant. Instead the story spends its time looking at the aftermath. The Boy is born into a post-apocalyptic life where he may never know the wonders that went before him. The Man’s Wife becomes a painful distant memory of how only those strong in the mind survive such atrocities. And the Man himself takes on the various jobs from being an educator and carer to the most important job of most adults lives: a parent.

This is where ‘The Road’ decides to spend its time, looking, admiring, scrutinizing and acknowledging the relationship between father (Man) and son (Boy). The most important aspect of any parent’s life is the wellbeing of their child. While the Man must strive to keep his son healthy, fed and ultimately alive, he must also induct him into the world of adulthood at the earliest possible time. The Man acknowledges that he won’t be around forever, and that he must provide his Boy with all the help he can offer, to allow him to continue to survive, live and prosper for an the longest period of time after his own inevitably passing. And this father and son relationship is exemplified beautifully by both Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee, who both give fantastic performances that keep the film ticking over until the heart-wrenching climax.

Despite only being thirteen years of age at the time of filming, Kodi Smit-McPhee at times eclipses Mortensen’s on-screen performance and shows that just like his character, that he is mature beyond his age. When his father offers him a can of Coca-Cola (possibly one of the very few left in existence), the Boy is hesitant to gulp it down quickly and selfishly like most dehydrated children would. Instead he offers the drink to his father, who is clearly ill, and this shows the audience that he has already started on his transition to the responsibilities of adulthood. While this ‘ascension’, also creates a personal crisis within Mortensen’s character. He understands that his Boy must more self-sufficient as he will not be alive forever, however at the same time he wishes, as any parent would, for his son keep some of the childhood innocence and in a sense, the protection of a father.

Aside from the astounding central performances, the direction of Hillcoat, cinematography of Javier Aguirresarobe and the editing of Jon Gregory combine together to create the post-apocalyptic wasteland in which the Man and his Boy walk among daily. This bleak landscape is coated in ash, darkness and destruction to draw the audience into an environment where everything is dying. And this is accompanied by the fact we are never shown the world before the ‘apocalyptic event’ or during, we are only ever introduced to the outside world in the aftermath, after all there is no point dwelling on the past. Beautifully shot, carefully adapted and brilliantly acted, ‘The Road’ should certainly be on the edge of the cinematic community’s lips come the awards season.

Friday, 15 January 2010

All About Steve - Dir. Phil Traill

‘All About Steve’ is pretty-much your typical, one dimensional romantic-comedy, except instead of the man chasing the woman (or vice versa), you have Sandra Bullock playing an insane, cameraman-obsessed stalker. Mary Horowitz (Sandra Bullock) is a peculiar and hyperactive woman who spends her days constructing crossword puzzles for the local newspaper, which also serves as her job. But after just one blind-date with Steve (Bradley Cooper), the CCN cameraman who doesn’t have time for dating, Mary accepts that Steve must be her soul-mate and she decides to follow him and his job across the country to be with the man of her dreams.

Despite a cast consisting of Bradley Cooper, Thomas Haden Church and Ken Jeong, ‘All About Steve’ does not contain one funny or humorous moment what-so-ever. If anything, it is quite sad to see such a cast of established and upcoming talent involved in, what can only be described as a, a car-crash film. From the early scene in which a sex-starved Mary struggles to have desperate sex with Steve to the pointless and uncoordinated ending, this film is poorly written, barely competently directed and completely meaningless. How this film can even be placed within the comedy genre is a mystery in itself.

Apparently the director, Phil Traill, originally wanted Julia Roberts to play the role of Mary, but she was unwilling to take a pay cut. Congratulations Julia, you’ve missed a bullet there. If you want to watch a nice romantic-comedy starring Sandra Bullock across from an attractive and significantly younger male lead then rent ‘The Proposal’ instead. Unless you wish to torture your other half, in which case; watch this film.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Youth in Revolt - Dir. Miguel Arteta

Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) is sixteen years old, his parents are separated, his closest friend his having a midlife crisis over thirty years too early and all he can think about is the fact that he hasn’t lost his virginity yet. He is almost the common replica of the stereotypical teenage boy, except for the fact that he enjoys the films of Fellini and Godard. Everything changes however for Nick when a brief, chance move from his lonely hometown of Oakland to a religious mobile trailer park in the small city of Ukiah brings him face to face with Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday) – who is unequivocally the love of his life. But when his family moves back to Oakland, Nick must invent a supplementary ‘bad-boy’ persona within himself named Francois (he has a moustache, and enjoys the occasional smoke), who would be willing to cause the mayhem Nick wouldn’t. Francois’s central objective is to get Nick kicked out of his dysfunctional home in Oakland, which he shares with his emotionally fragile mother (Jean Smart), and reunited with Sheeni, with the intention of living happily ever after (while also losing his virginity).

‘Youth in Revolt’, is another hip, quirky comedy in which Michael Cera is given centre-stage in which to showcase abilities, however, he must tread cautiously in the future as he is dangerously close to becoming typecast (Superbad, Juno) as the desolate, yet intellectual teenage boy just looking to release his sexual burden. Cera and Doubleday carry the film along nicely, and provide some very humorous on-screen chemistry, especially during the sequences involving very awkward circumstances – i.e. when Nick is asked to place a small amount of sun cream on Sheeni’s back during a trip to the beach. Portia Doubleday in particular shines as unknown actress thrust into the supporting actress slot alongside Michael Cera. She works with a particular grace, and maturity that makes her performance at times overshadow that of the experience Cera.

While aside from these two characters, Arteta’s film also has an extensive A-list cast on show who take a backseat to the main story and occasionally chime in during the various convoluted sub-plots on show. Steve Buscemi is Nick’s jobless father George Twisp, Zack Galifianakis is Nick’s mothers first boyfriend Jerry who should never be let out around the Navy, and Ray Liotta plays Officer Wescott, a fascist policeman who also starts dating Nick’s mother and becomes somewhat responsible for Nick’s downfall. Fred Willard (Mr Ferguson), Justin Long (Paul Saunders) and M. Emmet Walsh (Mr Saunders) also make an appearance in the extensive cast. Despite this list containing the ‘whose who’ of Hollywood Boulevard, I was surprised to see that certain narrative arcs were ignored. For instance, if the relationship between Nick and his father was expanded upon, it would have provided further substance to the film and the characters themselves. Though, unfortunately we are left filling in the majority of the gaps ourselves.

Miguel Arteta has created a very funny and witty film in ‘Youth in Revolt,’ that despite having its flaws and areas in which it could have improved upon, ultimately prevails as another competent coming-of-age teen-flick that is centred around the holiest of teenage sanctities: sexual intercourse. The amusing remarks, awkward sexual situations, and hardcore French supplementary personas are all there creating another comfortable vehicle for Cera, to drive to a French Boarding School.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Antichrist - Dir. Lars von Trier

Lars von Trier’s most recent release ‘Antichrist’ was collared with notoriety before it was even released theatrically, during its premiere screening at the Cannes Film Festival it was reported that allegedly three or four film critics fainted at the graphic scenes of sex and mutilation. So was it worth it? Has the Danish Dogme King made another ‘anti-masterpiece’? Well, the answer isn’t quite as simple as saying that ‘Antichrist’ was a good film or a bad film; it’s an incredibly complex creation that will certainly divide viewers of cinema alike.

Willem Dafoe is He and Charlotte Gainsbourg is She. During the opening prologue we are shown the sequence which sends both characters in differentiating spirals of grief, the sequence in question is the accidental death of their young child. The scene is spectacularly shot in black and white and slow-motion, with a haunting classical score accompanying the scene. As He and She make passionate love in bathroom, there child climbs out of his crib and accidentally falls to his death out of the buildings top floor window. He then decides to take She to a cabin in the woods, after the funeral, which He believes is her greatest fear, and the central aspect that is fuelling her catatonic state of grief and her inability to put the sadness of the death of their child behind them.

From here on in we are taken on a cinematic journey through four different chapters in the films structure. Staring with ‘Grief’, we then go follow through to ‘Pain’ and ‘Despair’, before culminating with the final chapter of the ‘Three Beggars’ and the inevitable and beautifully shot Epilogue. The basic themes encountered within these are gynocide, sadness, guilt and the provocation of the audience through extreme graphic sequences of on-screen mutilation and violence (Including the now notorious female genital maiming sequence and the act of bloody and violent masturbation of an incapacitated male).

While completely losing himself at times in a sea of arrogance and self-consciousness, Von Trier’s ‘Anti-Christ’ does have its moments of beautiful, yet bleak tranquilly. After all, if you take away the controversial sequences of violence and talking animals, the central theme of the film is simply the sadness, grief and inability to cope with the loss of a loved one and how male and female counterparts may handle the situation differently in their own ways.

Coupled with some striking cinematography, this film is more of an experience than anything else. I don’t actually fully understand everything that Von Trier is trying to explore within this world, but I can certainly admire it.

Law Abiding Citizen - Dir. Felix Gary Gray

‘Law Abiding Citizen’ is your typical and quite lacklustre American vigilante thriller. Clyde (Gerard Butler) avenges the death of his wife and daughter ten years after they were killed by home invaders. By using every little technological gizmo available in the twenty-first century to exact his retribution among those he believes have wronged him and his family in the most brutal and satisfying fashion. While Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) is the hot-shot lawyer who first tried Clyde’s family’s killers and is now paying the price for making a deal with one of the men to turn on his partner and send him to death row.

Despite plenty of inventive mind-numbing violence on show, this film suffers from two major drawbacks in my opinion which restrict ‘Law Abiding Citizen’ from simply being an enjoyable action-thriller and instead turns F. Gary Gray’s latest film into nothing more than just another throwaway film. The first is the repetitive nature of the film’s structure which eventually follows the increasingly boring narrative route of a dubious moral confrontation between Clyde (Butler) and Nick (Jamie Foxx), followed by an elaborate death sequence. Before the two men meet again and have another moral and ethical tussle and start the cycle over, and over, and over, and over again with nothing in-between. Instead of enjoying the film for what it is, a popcorn-flick, you are instead constantly questioning the motives of the characters and what the central point/theme of the film is trying to communicate to the audience.

Secondly, despite having both Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler in prominent roles and a backroom cast containing the likes of Gregory Itzin, Bruce McGill and Sarah Lowell there isn’t one dominant character in the film. Both Butler and Foxx put forward barely adequate performances which allow the audience just a brief insight into the minds of the morally ambiguous Clyde and the strict judicial employee Nick. This insufficient characterisation also detracts heavily on the already ridiculous ending, not because we don’t expect it, but that we don’t understand it. When the lights go up in the cinema, you will be left questioning the whole moral dilemma the film has placed forth and in essence, what was the ACTUAL message of the film itself. Believe me it isn’t as clear cut as it seems considering the scenes that have gone before. It must also be noted however that Kurt Wimmer’s script does not act favourably toward the actors or actresses either. Most of the scenes which contain potential between Butler and Foxx simply end on a profanity and a simple yes or no answer. Not exactly Oscar winning material.

With a gleaming Hollywood cast of Jamie Foxx, Bruce McGill and the safe-grossing Gerard Butler, ‘Law Abiding Citizen’ certainly had potential to be something more than just another ‘revenge/retribution picture’, but unfortunately a poor script, a terrible plot and awkward pacing make this film one to miss this year.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Big Fan - Dir. Robert Siegel

Simplicity is a rare commodity in today’s fast moving, conglomerate world, but for Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt) there’s only one thing that matters in his life. Everything else is irrelevant in comparison and it isn’t his wife, or his child, or his family in general; it is the American Football team the New York Giants. As the self-proclaimed ‘biggest Giants fan ever’ Paul lives, breathes, shouts, screams, and sleeps everything about the team. He even situates a poster featuring his favourite player Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm), the Giants quarterback, above his single-bed. But when an opportunity arises to meet Quantrell, the player mistakes Paul for a stalker and violently strikes out causing his instant hospitalisation. Once released he has to come to terms with the fact that his simple, linear life is now starting to crash around him, like a fumble in the final moments of the Super Bowl, as his family, the media and the team all want a piece of the Giants ‘Big Fan’.

Written and directed by Robert Siegel on a minimal budget, ‘Big Fan’ is a surprising independent gem that attains the majority of its prowess from an outstanding offensive performance by Patton Oswalt as the man who lives for the Giants. His support is monumental as he travels week in and week out to merely sit in the car-park outside Meadowlands Stadium and watch the game on a portable TV with his right-hand fan Sal (Kevin Corrigan). While he spends his job as a parking attendant writing up witty remarks to use on the Sports Dogs nightly call-in Sports show – of which one participant called Philadelphia Phil becomes Paul’s nemesis over-time. There banter over the airwaves becomes one of the biggest driving forces of Paul’s life while he isn’t thinking about the next game. But after the assault takes place, his loyalty, and in turn his life starts to become torn apart. His family want him to turn the event in an opportunity to sue the player; the local authorities want him to press charges against quarterback, while the team are on a losing streak as Quantrell has been suspended while the investigation is on-going. All the while, all Paul wants is to support the team and nothing more. He doesn’t have the greed and the ambition that others do. To him the Giants are his life-support machine, and if you take those away he would flat-line in an instant.

While Oswalt’s performance is mesmerising, Robert Siegel’s writing and direction must also be commended. His script is honest and straight-to-the-point, he captures it captures all the awkward events of Paul’s life perfectly, including the argument between the brothers on the toilet. While he uses the space of the world around him perfectly to capture Paul’s subtle isolated life brilliantly and at the same time Siegel also uses the, sometimes overtly exaggerated, close-up shot to portray the characters emotions within this one man’s own perfect universe. ‘Big Fan’ is low budget, high impact film that thrives off a gleaming central performance by Patton Oswalt, and is definitely one of the best independent films of the last couple of years

Dogging: A Love Story - Dir. Simon Ellis

Dogging is as British as Earl Grey tea and frozen football pitches on windy January afternoon, and it is definitely an interesting subject in which to base a film upon. In case you are wondering, Wikipedia defines the sexual act of ‘dogging’ as;”engaging in sexual act/s in a semi-public place (typically a secluded car park in a car) and then watching others doing so.” This sexual act (or acts) is the pretext for the loose romantic plot behind Simon Ellis’s first feature-film in which four people’s lives and relationships revolve around the act of dogging.

Dan (Luke Treadaway) is an aspiring, unemployed journalist who is hoping to set the media world alight by writing an article on the act of dogging and what people attain from the activity. Being unemployed, he sleeps on his best friend’s Rob’s (Richard Riddell) couch. Rob is a man’s man, his job as an estate agent is only worthwhile to him as it allows him to meet and exploit plenty of mature, divorced women looking for a new abode. The film’s core storyline revolves around Dan’s deteriorating relationship with his girlfriend of four years Tanya (Sammy Dobson) and the unlikely relationship he strikes up with Laura (Kate Heppell), a young, curious and naive new member of the local dogging community. Continually the characters motives change within the film and we are given no indication or explanation why this happens, constantly keeping the audience at arm’s-length rather than drawing them further into the characters lives.

Ellis’s film, to be fair, does have its fair few moments of cheap humour, which almost entirely occur while the characters are involved on an excursion to a local car-park. Dan’s first adventure out within the world of the ‘doggers’ will certainly bring forth a few chuckles. But its main setback is that the central theme of relationships is incredibly shallow and only barely scraps the surface of what would have made for an interesting story. The combination of using both first (Dan) and third person perspectives (unknown owner of a night-vision camera who’s identity is later revealed) in the film also seems to be somewhat redundant and adds nothing but a few extra minutes to the running-time of the film.

‘Dogging: A Love Story’ had an interesting, and experimental premise that potentially could have made for very fun and engaging film, however it falls flat with a thin story and one-dimensional characters.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Up In The Air - Dir. Jason Reitman

In a world where everybody is looking to hook up and ‘not die alone’, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) and his flyaway fling Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) are the exception to this life-long rule. However when Bingham must show the young and naive Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) how his no-strings philosophy on life has improved his relationship with his job at CTC – we hire, you fire – he begins a journey which takes him - the man who has flown endlessly almost everywhere - into unknown airspace. Oh and then there’s the business of reaching a select number of air-miles... Jason Reitman’s (Thank You For Not Smoking, Juno) ‘Up In The Air’ takes a long-hard look at a life which thrives on loneliness and how this affects the relationships around him. It’s mildly amusing, touching at times, and a definite Awards contender thanks to the fantastic performances from the three main lead characters.

Ryan Bingham has worked for years at CTC, a company which makes its money straight from the mouth of corporate greed. When a company management official hasn’t got the spine to release an employee, they draft in CTC who send over somebody that can. But they do simply more than tell the employee that they have ten minutes to vacate the property, they attempt to ferry them across to a new avenue in the most fragile moment of their lives. (Beautifully appropriate, considering the recent devastating economic recession throughout the world and the rise in unemployment). Bingham lives for, and in, the air. He travels city-to-city firing employees while also hoping to give them a nudge down the right path. The only human connection he develops is with Alex, a fellow flight-hopper, who is the female equivalent of Bingham. She’s strong, sexual woman who has plenty of air-miles. Yet, his idyllic life is put under the microscope when he must show the young, vivacious and ruthless CTC member Natalie Keener how to live your life constantly on the move. Curiously, and with a hint of pity Natalie asks Bingham as they walk through to the airport security station; “Don’t you ever get lonely?” To which he replies, “Lonely? I’m surrounded by people everywhere I go.”

George Clooney’s central performance as Ryan Bingham, the man who lives his life avoiding commitment as a philosophy, is simply sublime. He lives his life on a schedule, just like the airlines he flies with, and this schedule leaves no time for others. Bingham is a man who is afraid of commitment and by flying for almost three-hundred and twenty days every year this allows himself to leave as little time as possible for social interaction. Social interaction, friendships, mortgages and even marriage are just another pointless blockade for this man who believes that the best way to live the ride of life itself is by carrying around an empty backpack – as this cannot weigh you down. Following Clooney, both Anna Kendrick (Natalie) and Vera Farmiga (Alex) both give equally engrossing performances as the two strongest female influences in this lonely high flyer’s life. Alex is Ryan’s match and the closest thing he has to a potential ‘love-interest’ – not that he believes in the notion of love. While Natalie becomes Bingham’s closest connection to humanity, despite putting up a strong front, she is built like the majority of other human beings; with a soft, sticky, fragile centre.

Coupled with the great on-screen performances, Reitman also hits the right note with both his direction and his adapted screenplay (which he began writing in 2002) of Walter Kirn’s original novel. Reitman employs the combination quick cuts and close-up shots of the menial aspects of Bingham’s life, such as the movement from his apartment to the check-in desk at the airport. These activities may be appreciated by those that have never flown before, or have only done so a few times before, but for a man that has clocked up 350,000 air-miles in the previous year; they are nothing but a minor inconvenience to a man who loathes an establishment without a queue for priority members. While the adapted screenplay script provides a concentrated balance of amusing comedic moments, and clever, entertaining drama which in turn creates a very enjoyable film. Quirky, funny, emotional, and thought-provoking dramas certainly seem to be Jason Reitman’s forte at this moment in time.