Thursday, 19 May 2011

Thor: sore with a lisp

Often the anticipation of a film can end up ruining the experience, this may well have been the case if on my first two attempts to see the film I had succeeded.  The first time it was only showing in 3D, and having left the house without my wallet I was fifty pence short of the extra cost.  I wasn't too fussed, I hate paying extra to see an effect that will inevitably inspire a rant or two and I wanted to see Hanna anyway, so I did.  The second time I was late, and an incredible specimen of a snaking queue meant that I would have missed the first ten minutes of the film, so again I went with another option this time involving more wine and less popcorn.  On Tuesday I finally got to see Thor, anticipation curbed, objective head on.

Of all the Marvel franchise Thor is probably my least favourite.  It's the story that relies most on fantasy.  Of course we are talking about superheros and there is little subject matter that relies more heavily on fantasy, but it is a particular flavour unlike any other.  We have fantastic characters that have come about under freakish circumstances that reside in the real world.  Whereas Thor's home world plays a part throughout the comic book adventures.  We often get the point of view from Odin (Thor's father) at home in Asgard, which gives the reader a whole other perspective to think about.  Of course the story is also rooted in Norse mythology, and as such it is familiar with most.  These points move it down in the ranks as far as I'm concerned but will make the film more accessible to people who may not already have such an affinity with the Marvel world.

There are differences between the graphic novels and the film, Thor has no alter ego in the motion picture and because of this his love interest has had a change of career.  Nothing too major and by making Jane (Natalie Portman) a scientist rather than a nurse it becomes easier to write valid contribution for the character.  Having said that, the writers seem to have ignored this fact, Portman comes across as dizzy and clumsy from start to finish.  In fact all three scientists on the whole seem nonplussed, Prof. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård, who I always confuse with William Hurt) is resigning and a bit useless, where as Darcy (Kat Dennings) is simply useless although she does deliver one or two good one liners.  Which brings me to the comedy in the film, of which there is plenty.  From locals struggling to budge thors hammer to S.H.I.E.L.D agents descriptions of the most recent residents of New Mexico, humor definitely plays a part in keeping your attention for just short of two hours.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) slamming about like a viking and raising eyebrow to the skies when a roll of thunder bellows also cause a wry grin. In a fairly tongue in cheek role he acts well.  His performance will see him in working in Hollywood at least for the time being. Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Thors brother) goes through a lot in the film, some of which could maybe have been saved for a later chapter.  Anthony Hopkins plays a very good Odin, which was a relief because he either hits the bulls eye or misses by a country mile.  The last character I'd like to mention is Volstagg of "the warriors three" this role must have been written for Brian Blessed, he's 74 this year but he would have been awesome nonetheless, Ray Stevenson just appears to be doing a poor Blessed impression.

For all it's faults I still enjoyed Thor.  If I'd seen it in 3D I don't think I would have.  I like the Juxtaposition between the highly polished, beautifully designed Asgard and a sleepy, dusty New Mexico town.  Though I do think it was holding back, The Avengers film will be with us soon and I expect to see the founding member putting his hammer to much greater effect next time.

You will more thank likely like this if you like super hero films.

You definitely won't like this if you're thinking that Brannagh is going to add a Shakespearean twang to the Marvel galaxy.


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Monday, 16 May 2011

Harry Brown: My first DVD review

So far, with the exception of two or three articles, I have been predominantly focusing on spoiler free cinema release reviews.  This is not reflective of my viewing habits, so, with a view to writing more I'm going to start a series of DVD recommendations.  I'm going to try and depend less on marks out of ten so much because that system makes it difficult to be objective, instead I will finish each review with a why you should and why you should not see a film section too.  Also, there may be a spoiler or two in there, although I will give you advance warnings.  So without further ado, here's Harry Brown.

Ken Loach has for a long time been a favorite of mine, his gritty truthful takes on 20/21st century Britain leave you both desperate and nostalgic.  During the first half of this film Daniel Barber (in his so far only feature film) does a very similar job, and does it well.  

We meet Harry Brown, his wife in hospital, taking the long way round to be with her, avoiding the local youth.  Lingering shots of his lonely life, struggling out of bed, eating solemn meals.  Drinking alone in the local pub, waiting for his only friend to join him for a game of chess. ** SPOILER START **  Without giving too much of the game away, Harry soon loses his wife, he witnesses a violent attack in the courtyard outside his Elephant and Castle tower block flat, and then to top it all his only his friend taken from him.  While mourning, a drunken Harry becomes the victim of an attempted mugging.  Exit Ken Loach enter Guy Ritchie.  This really is where a line is drawn in the film.  Michael Caine's expression leaves Harry Brown behind and becomes Jack Carter all over again.  Shots go from brown and grey and start to include stalking, horror inspired, dark frames tinted with ambers, reds and blues.  Harry becomes sadistic in his plight to gain vengeance, as he get's a view deeper and deeper into London's violent undercurrent he becomes more and more his former Marine self, but where will it all end? ** SPOILER END **

Largely the acting is superb, Michael Cain delivers convincing performances on both sides of his persona.  David Bradley (the caretaker in Harry Potter)'s desperate performance tugs at the heart strings.  Emily Mortimer (Lars and the Real Girl) is good, but as a detective that has requested this, one of the worst beats in London lacks development.  Plan B (Ben Drew) is unbelievable when put besides such fine acting talent, for one whose career is built on modern British youth dialect/accent his delivery seems contrived and unnatural.  The best performances in the film come from Sean Harris and Joseph Gilgun who are scarily believable, while I hope a little over the top in their depictions of drug/arms dealers.

DVD extras are pretty good, the commentaries are candid and often funny and the interviews give perspective to the area in which the film is shot.

If you like gangster or retribution films, you'll like this, it's a like a hard Gran Torino or Kidulthood meets Get Carter.

If you like Ken Loach then the second half will let you down, so don't expect your perfect film.

I very much liked it. 


Sunday, 15 May 2011

Hanna: An action film about music

One of the first things I thought about Hanna, before seeing it, was that I could guess the shock ending...  I was wrong.  Although, Joe Wright isn't exactly one for a twist ending, he is a story teller, and he tells it well.  

There are obvious comparisons with this film, Luc Bessons Leon and La Femme Nikita being the most clear.  Studying Bessons style, Wright's take on the unlikely killer pulls no punches, but with his history in period drama (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) I would expect him to have delivered more character development.  Having said that, it could be argued that this, his fourth feature film credits the viewer with a brain of his own.  Rather than developing the character before our eyes, he uses metaphor and script to imply adolescence and inexperience.  Sets include a Hansel and Gretel-esque cabin in the woods and a defunct fairground.  The main foe, Cate Blanchett, is referred to as "the witch".  Hanna herself is scared of the things that have been neglected in her education, fast cuts and erratic pans put us into her panicky position.  Her upbringing and education become clear without the need for flashback or montage.

When we meet Hanna, she has never heard music before, asking "What does music feel like?" the answer comes as a dictionary definition.  From here the film has a subplot told in tune.  The soundtrack really is great, featuring the Chemical Brothers it often emphasises and sometimes juxtaposes scenes, there is harsh and fast music, slow and sweet, dance, rock and classical.  Activity takes on rhythm.  One character even has a signature melody, which adds a very creepy tinge to the whole proceeding.

I think it's pretty clear that I liked the film, and there are many reasons for this.  Look out for the fight choreography, it is second to none, I'd be surprised if none of the actors picked up real and painful injuries.  Saoirse Ronan, who plays Hanna is very good, she's sweet and innocent, naive and deadly.  Tom Hollander is super freaky, he reminded me of the boys in the Austrian film Funny Games (later remade in Hollywood).  The direction is good and the on location shots are done delicately and well.  Often films set in many different countries become touristy, this does not, it relies on language, culture and script to let us know where we are as and when we need to.  

All the good stuff said though, I wasn't as convinced as some about the greatness of the film.  Eric Bana wasn't as bad as he was in Hulk, but only because he was forgettable.  He had some good scenes too, this could really have been a film to bring him up the Hollywood ranks.  Cate Blanchett was a great foe, we've seen her do hard before and she does it well, but she acts with a very thick southern U.S. accent which leaves you staring at the screen thinking "she's is acting with a funny accent":  The thing about this point, is that I get the feeling that it was a considered decision to give her such a thick regional tone, and I can't for the life of me figure out why.  Finally, Hanna's allies in the story are a middle class British family on their travels.  They don't inspire sympathy and they are completely unlikable but ashamedly with that comes believability.

I like the film but was left wanting.


Saturday, 23 April 2011

Source Code: Quantum Leap on Groundhog Day

This is proper sci fi, not a war movie with robots instead of terrorists, not a love story with an alien attack subplot, proper sci fi.  With talk of quantum mechanics and alternative time lines and ideas of inner space the main plot is well thought out, given a few minutes thought it would tie your brain up in knots.  Fortunately though, some very good writing convinces you that you get it long enough for you to stop thinking about it.  Very impressed.

The film begins with the score (and the shot) hitting you like Vertigo,  director Duncan Jones has either  been inspired by the infamous Mr. Hitchcock or Hanna Barbara cartoons (pure sensibility makes me suggest the prior).  The setting too is clearly an homage to Hitcock's Strangers on a Train, although these aren't the only influences to be noticed.  I am reminded one of my favourite writers, Phillip K. Dick who incidentally penned The Adjustment Bureau, released recently; obviously Quantum Leap with a deeper sense of morality and urgency; Groundhog Day;  The Outer Limits; anything that has ever touched on time travel.  This is hardly an original plot but it delivers it very well.

Jake Gyllenhaal is great, bringing the confused, higher sense of being of Donnie Darko to meet the "be all that you can be" of Jar Head.  You believe his confusion, supported by clever camera angles, his perplexed look is reminiscent of a young Dennis Quaid.  His dynamic with Michelle Monaghan is electric, I get the feeling that the two of them had a lot of fun making this movie.  She is comfortable on screen and I'm in no doubt that this film will land her many more great roles.  The same applies to Vera Farmiga who manages to convey emotion while preserving her military cold front.

Source Code delivers what so few films do these days, everything.  There's life and death, ethical dilemma, action, philosophy, romance, explosions, paternal angst, social commentary and even art.  Yes that's right, art, if you search the 6outof10 blog you'll find a happy little article I've written about Anish Kapoor.  The very same appears quite heavily in the film, his bean sculpture in Chicago being used as a metaphor for transforming the world from one state of affairs to another, brilliant.  All this and it manages also to be quite a light film, it will never be a chore to watch, which is good because it is almost certainly a film that will develop with multiple viewings.

I'm a fan 8/10

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Limitless: Limited

The title makes it sound like I didn't like the film, not so, I really enjoyed it.  But it could have been so much more.

It plays like a superbly complex book, which is no problem.  But when converting complex text to film, a decision has to be made; do you make the film long or episodic or do you chop bits and pieces out of the storyline.  This is a big decision and Neil Burger (The Illusionist) made it badly, or maybe not.  Mistakes could have been in the writing, direction or editing, but it's his name on the poster so I'm blaming him.  The problems I have are two fold:  Firstly, a very dramatic (like, the biggest kind of drama) subplot is started but not concluded.  And secondly, super good comic-bookesque scenes demonstrating newly found abilities wet your appetite for a meal that never arrives.

Problems aside though, the film is fast paced and frantic, you can't take your eye off the screen.  There is some very good cinematography showing the streets of Manhattan as you've never seen them before.  Rober De Niro is in it... awesome.  Bradley Cooper proves himself as a proper actor, believable performances on both sides of his super intelligent almost super human/down and out, slobby, hack writer personality.  Very good.

It will undoubtedly keep you talking all the way home.  If this were a a critique rather than a review I could go on for pages and pages, one very true thing about this story, is that the possibilities are Limitless.

6/10.  Bad decisions can't go unpunished.

A slap dash review this time, but I have a film to watch.  Let me know your thoughts, this is a conversation I could have over and over.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Trilogies, tetralogies, pentalogies plus. The world of the sequel.

I’ve watched a lot of sequels in preparation for this, and by and large they start well, some even end well, but let’s face it, most are poor quality money-spinners.  Some are episodic, some ignore the initial plot, and some are simply more of the same (remakes in one or two cases).  But what makes a good sequel?  Does the saga need to be one flowing story?  Does the lead character need to be the same?  Can a sequel trump the original?  And do particular genres lend themselves better to sequels?  I've had a look at the best and worst film series in modern cinema (there are quite a few), but do any maintain greatness throughout?
Alien covers the most bases in one series, so here’s my brief synopsis on the highs and lows of the cult series:
Alien (1979).  Ridley Scott, in only his second major film release and amid a Star Wars frenzy delivered a very different science fiction; Sci. Fi. Horror.  “In space, no one can hear you scream”.  It was ground breaking, Scott pioneered modern film psychology.  Extreme wide, dark and lingering shots, give the feeling of solitude.  A lack of outside perspective gives an understanding of their distance from home.  Eerie tones and creepy silences leave you on the edge of your seat.  The film is scary, but it doesn’t rely on gore or shock, instead embracing cinematography and direction.  This isn’t about one film though, it’s about four films (soon to be five). 
Aliens (1986), James Cameron directing this time.  With recent success on The Terminator two years prior, this film had Cameron’s signature all over it.  Aliens is an action film more than a horror, it is full of one liners and big guns, it is not intelligent film making, it is exciting film making.  This point along with the presence of Bill Paxton makes it possible to see this as a dumbed down version of the original (sorry Bill, I still love you in Club Dread).  Don’t get me wrong, I love the film, one of the greatest action films and one of the best sequels too.  Overall, a triumph.  But you can switch off your brain.  Oh and I wasn’t a fan of the fluffy ending.  Anyhow, on we go.
Alien³ (1992), David Fincher.  I like Fincher a lot, but this really had its flaws.  He obviously didn’t like the soft end to the second film either as he killed off two of the survivors in the opening sequence.  He’s trying to bring back the horror factor that made the first film so good, so the ship crashes into a space prison full of sex-starved murderers and rapists.  Not the kind of characters that you grow to love or are even a bit bothered about when they inevitably kick the bucket.  Ripley makes uncharacteristic decisions; this is the woman who was so insistent on quarantine in the original, now sitting down to eat with the worst criminals in the system, one of which she decides to bump uglies with.  All this odd stuff, just makes it impossible to relate to the characters or respect their decisions.  Add in some poor graphics and (some) bewildering shot composition (the shot when Ripley jumps into the lead, seriously, what the hell?) and you have a pretty rubbish sequel.
Alien: Resurrection (1997).  Jean-Pierre Jeunet, unrecognizable from his later triumphs in Amelie and A Very Long Engagement.  With Ripley good and dead at the end of the third in the series, resurrection is the only way to go to cash in on the brand (by this point even the worst Alien orientated films would be guaranteed profit makers on their opening weekend alone).  So 200 years after her death some bright spark decides to clone Ripley to get at the Alien inside her.  After seven failed attempts, Ripley’s back… sort of.  The design of the film is like a Terry Gilliam vision of the future meets a Frank Miller version of the original films, I love the mad scientist outfits.  But that’s where the love stops.  The script seems like it’s been revised and revised and revised.  Its cheesy lines cheapen the rare poignant scenes.  Winona Ryder appears to have been cast merely to help ensure the box office, and the rest of the cast is forgettable, only Hell Boy’s comic sexism sticks in mind.
So, there we have it.  Sequels can be great, they can be bad and they can be awful, all in the same series.  Hopefully they can return to greatness too, and with Ridley Scott back on board for the 5th in the series hopefully Alien will do just that.  All pointers about the film make it look interesting to say the least.  Ripley has been laid to rest which as it’s a prequel is probably best.  The Space Jockey seen on the ship found in Alien is thought to be the focus, maybe as a race who engineered the aliens themselves?  What this makes me think is that maybe this episode titled Prometheus (the titan who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mankind) will be that holy grail of the sequel… Original.

Not all series are the same though.  The Harry Potter heptalogy gets better as you work through them, the first being dire (re-watch it if you disagree, you’ll surprise yourselves) and although not my particular bag, the later ones are quite enjoyable.  The Lord of the Rings trilogy is basically one massive film, so one film can’t exist without the others.  Evil Dead 2 is a ground breaking awesome horror film that is simply Evil Dead with a budget.  Evil Dead 3 is a random sequel to say the least but continues the greatness.  James Bond with its 22 (soon to be 23) films and six incarnations are all so different to each other that you judge them each on different merits.  Often modern sequels (especially comic book adaptations) use the first film to introduce all the characters and so miss the mark on the story line, for example X-men 2 massively trumps X-men.  Some sequels only hint at their nature as a follow up, Enemy of the State is widely regarded as a sequel to The Conversation, even though officially it is not and the only common character (Gene Hackman) has a different name, he is clearly the same character and the later film even includes a still shot of him in the original.
Horror appears to be the genre of choice for the sequel, but lets not convince ourselves that they are all good.  Even great horror institutions like Friday the 13th can be butchered, Jason X sees Jason Voorhees way in the future, in space being made even stronger and more death proof with the accidental use of nanobots (his mother would be proud!), in short, it’s proper pants.   But what this particular genre has on its side against all others it the way it makes money.  They don’t rely on the box office, they rely on purchases, first VHS now DVD.  This makes less money but horror has a committed following, so if you keep giving them material to purchase they will keep buying it.
The horror sequel almost exclusively needs to have a familiar character.  Jigsaw, Freddy Krueger, Critters, Candy Man, Pin Head, the list goes on and on and on.  In this fact though, horror is not alone.  Buzz and Woody, John Maclane, Connor MacLeod, Shrek, Marty McFly, Indiana Jones, almost every successful sequel franchise has common characters.
As for what makes a good series, it seems to be that there are no particular rules that say that a sequel must be in keeping with the original directorially, however changes in actor especially when the character remains the same are difficult to accept (a recent example is the character of Rachael being played by both Katie Holmes and Maggie Gyllenhaal in the new Batman franchise).  Changes in genre too are OK as long as you don’t go too far.  Horror to action is clearly OK, suspense-thriller to rom-com might not work so well.  Above all, there needs to be good films in there, it doesn’t really matter where in the order they come, as long as they are there.  With all this in mind here are a few of my choices to inspire you:
The best action film series has got to be Die Hard, every film in the saga has its fans and its critics, importantly the later films are strong.
Family trilogies are difficult but in my humble opinion is Back to the Future beats all others, it’s a close call between this and Indiana Jones, but Huey Lewis gives it the edge.

The best epic production, even with the sacrilegious prequels Star Wars will always beat the likes of Lord of the Rings & Harry Potter.
The best comedy is clearly the Naked Gun trilogy, no two ways about it, and don’t even think of arguing with me!
Horror is difficult, but I’m going for Evil Dead, they’re ground breaking, cult films that are responsible for so much.  That & I really want Bruce Campbell to like me.
OK, so that’s that, I've said my peice.  I like sequels, and wether you like them or not, they're here to stay.  Let's just hope that in years to come we won't feel the need to cringe everytime we hear about a re-hash of an old favourite.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Anish Kapoor: Flashback

I rarely review art or exhibitions, it is a very difficult thing to do without alienating a section of (or even all of) the potential audience.

Art is often an inapproachable, difficult subject.  Particularly with modern art in mind it can also be very elitist, if you don't understand it, then you don't deserve to understand it.  Bullshit.  Art is for all, and with that in mind, we need accessible art.  By which I mean that sometimes interactive, sometimes pretty, impressive or interesting works are important in their own right.  That is not to say that art should be simple, no one wants, or needs to be patronised but sometimes blurring the line between the meta-physical and physical making a comment on the place of the archetypal alpha male in modern society communicated via the language of alternative dance can even for the best of us, be just a little contrived.  But great modern art can convert, it can be awesome, a little contrived, deep, beautiful and interesting, it can embrace the viewer.  Rothko made modern art accessible for me, by forcing me to be immersed in his work, by standing where he would have been.  I think Kapoor would have too, he was just beaten to the punch.

Anish Kapoor (CBE) is a Turner prize winning sculptor who has lived in London since the early 70's.  I don't like all of Kapoors work, piles of pigment don't really do it for me.  I do quite like his wax/wood or metal sculpture but purely on an aesthetic level.  But what really does it for me, and what I think will impress the dubious, the nervous and the unbelievers out there is his chrome sculptures.  Examples of these can be found currently in Manchester Art Gallery, his plates.  As you walk into the room it is a simple hall of mirrors.  As you move they do, picking up details in light and physical form, whispers from the other side of the room are clearly audible.  Stand a foot in front and you are immersed, your peripheral vision is full, you enjoy a total experience where slight movements change the art before you.  As you back away, the images you see drop away to leave the concave surface transformed, it is now a full view of the work behind you.  It is a personal experience, one that no two people will experience identically.

My co-conspirator, my five month old son, Felix, in this room had a smile from ear to ear, his eyes wide, occasional squeaks and giggles letting other patrons know he was impressed.  Getting down to his level, I saw glimpses of him in the top of the plates, a lava lamp melting pot of light fittings and building detail in the rest, not to mention the odd lanky figure.  Felix has no pompous notions of art, he is incapable, but he knows when something is fun, and he lets us know.
So if nothing else, if you're in Manchester and find yourself with a bit of time to spare, listen to Felix and go have some fun...

Flashback is on until the 5th of June and is free to enter.  

N.B. don't just Google him, go to the gallery, you need to experience the scale or it just won't work.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Catfish... don't watch the trailer

This is just great:  One of the most surprising Documentaries I've seen.

I can't go into much without giving the game away but here's what I can say:  It's a doc about an eight year old girl who paints a copy of a new york photographers picture hundreds of miles away.  He becomes friends with her family on Facebook and we see the relationship grow.  

It made me laugh out loud, it made me squirm in my seat and it is surprisingly poignant.  The guys who made it, Nev Schulman (who is also the photographer), his brother Ariel and friend Henry Joost, have a great chemistry.  They handle everything they come across in much the same way as I hope I would in the same situation.

I can't say much more without spoiling the adventure, give it a go, you wont regret it.

7 out of 10,  and seriously, I mean it, don't watch the trailer.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Battle: Los Angeles... Refreshingly generic

I like alien films, I also like army films.  This alien/army film, oh the joy!

I try to never put spoilers in my reviews, and this review is no different.  However if I was to say that Battle L.A. is Black Hawk Down meets Independence day, I've kind of given the game away.  But seriously, if you've seen the trailer then you've pretty much seen the film anyway.

The film has cliche after cliche.  It's actually quite funny how many are in there, even down to the fact that our hero; Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhardt) is on his very last day before retirement when alien invasion ensues, what rotten luck.  I'd like to tell you all about each and every generic back story and super obvious plot development but you can check it out yourselves and we can all share later, for now just know that they don't ruin the film.

Not many alien invasion films are original, the President is always wrestling with his conscience, our hero always manages to survive against enormous odds (as does his girlfriend and the dog) and America always finds a way through the attackers defenses.  With regard to alien films; Battle: L.A. manages to divert from the traditional, we start with our platoon and we stick with them; how we fight the aliens is explained and makes sense; nothing is mentioned of the soldiers lives outside the platoon; the girlfriend and the dog are not given pointless screen time, we are left to assume their fate.  It does however stick to the formula when it comes to army films, high fives and hoo ra's every time an enemy minion is taken down; bad ass girl with a gun; going beyond the call of duty; hollow characters with a lack of development (barring Nantz).  As an army film it is kind of obvious.

I kind of liked it, I went to the cinema with my baby boy in tow who seemed to get a kick from all the noise.  And what noise, the sound is fantastic, gunshots sound real and countered by the often immediate silences or 'ringing in your ears' effect gives an feeling that when teamed with the first person (shaky) camera puts you as 'on edge' as the characters themselves.  The special effects are great too.  The aliens appear to wear a sort of reverse scuba suit so that they can breath our air, they are believably conceived enemy soldiers and they move and interact like sentient beings.  Their technology appears to have had thought put into it too, individual ships break away and fit to each other like jigsaw pieces and side arms are surgically attached.  Nice.

Whether you see this (like many reviews that I have read) as yet another film to enhance the American populations fear of the foreigner or as I do, just a good honest extra-terrestrial war film, it was always going to be a no brainer.  It did deliver more than I was expecting, though it clearly could have been better.  The writing let it down, and it didn't have to, the flaws are obvious and plenty and should have been weeded out early on.

Oh and Ne-Yo is in it, weird.


Thursday, 17 March 2011

True Grit... It was too short!

Many highly regarded films have gone Oscarless, in that, True Grit sits along side the likes of Vertigo, Apocalypse Now and 2001: A Space Odyssey.  That it gets to join this club of forgotten greats I'm sure is of no consolation, the Coen brothers have a list of films that gain little accolade from The Academy.  Their only production to get best picture has been No Country For Old Men in 2008 with only Fargo 11 years prior, being recognised at all (that being for the screen play).

The only reason for not getting the best film Oscar should be that there was a better film made that year, and this year was a bumper year for contenders.  So should True Grit have won? Was it the best film of the year?  Well... I'm not the right man to ask, there are people out there who are much more qualified than me to make such decisions.  What I can say though is that True Grit is brilliant, the Joel and Ethan hit the mark again with some fantastic cinema.  What I like most about these siblings is that although they have their regular traits in film making, for example they try to have no heroes in their films, they make decisions with what's best for the film in mind rather than what's best for the "Coen" franchise.

The most surprising thing that I found about the film was the duration, at 110 minutes it is by no means short, but it does feel like it.  It seems to end abruptly.  We have only just met Tom Chaney played by Josh Brolin, his character hasn't had chance to develop, although maybe that can be forgiven as what he means to other characters is significantly more important than the character himself.  Matt Damon's character (LaBoeuf) too is a bit of a mystery, we seem to have only scratched through a proud, misunderstood veneer when we say our last goodbye.  Here too I find myself leaping to the defence of the directors; it is not always a mistake to leave the audience wanting more, LaBoeuf's last moments on screen are pivotal in defining his character, so when better to bid farewell.

Second most surprising thing about the film, even after the whole world harping on about it for weeks... Hailee Steinfeld's performance.  Just amazing, why she wasn't nominated for best actress I have no idea, she nailed it, the film could not be without her.  She was supposedly a "supporting actress", yet she appeared in near every scene and talks a damn sight more than anyone else too.  The support, I would say, comes from a near indecipherable Jeff Bridges.  I love drunks on film, and not since Blazing Saddles has one made me smile so much.  The genius behind Bridges' drunken Cogburn is that as much as he often seems to be overdoing it, the story requires it to oppose Damon's straight laced honorability.  Bridges plays some great roles, and to go from Tron, playing an almost Buddhist zen character, a god like creator, to the best, most sadistic drunk I've seen for some time shows what could only be described as, well... true grit.

I very, very much enjoyed this film, I wanted more.

8/10 by a whisker, just too short.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Avril Lavigne, Goodbye Lullaby: Buy yourself an advert

The album starts with a short intro track called "Black Star", which is OK until you find out that her perfume is also named "Black Star", this track is also the very track used to flog it.  Fair enough, the girl's got to make money but am I the only one that thinks this is a bit shameless?

I'm listening to Goodby Lullaby right now, barely getting over the contrived use of the word "shit" seemingly to punctuate her pop punk persona, and the not very poetic repetition of "I wish you were here" in track three titled (obviously enough) "Wish You Were Here".  I find myself groaning every few minutes at the bizarrely, shallow, 12 year old girl lyrics, "you know that I'm a crazy bitch, I do what I want when I feel like it".  We've moved on to "smile" now where she appears to be very happy about not remembering getting a tattoo the night before, fair enough again, she and her super cool boyfriend did get each others names tattooed on themselves after being together for a matter of weeks.  And as her demographic is clearly prepubescent girls, this is definitely dumb ass behavior that she should be promoting.

As the album continues it's more of the same repetition and poorly put together tracks, one sounds like a Katy Perry track, and on checking out the video to "What the Hell" that's a bit Katy Perry also.  The thing that's not very Katy Perry is that Avril, even for all her poncing about in her knickers and getting her downtrodden boyfriend to pay for stuff, doesn't appear to want to be there.  Her expressions are hollow and her eyes look vacant, I really think she's be better doing angry chick stuff.  It's also a shameless advert for Sony products, I was seriously shocked, so shocked in fact that I immediately had to go relax and play stuff on my Sony PlayStation.  If it manages to get to the TV I can imagine one or two complaints to the ITC.  Clearly the girl knows how to scrape every penny out of an album that's possible, fine on her part, but do you really want to buy an advert?

"Everybody Hurts" "4 Real" and "Darlin" (what's with the text speak? Can you BBM tracks now LOL?) could seriously be done by any recording artist on the planet, they're OK but enough to redeem the pain that she's put me through so far, I don't think so.

By track 12 we're in an emotional stupor, we're talking about "feelings running out the door" and other lines that end in "more" and "drawer", penultimately we have "Goodbye" where the strings and piano would be quite lovely if it weren't for the high pitch wailing of the track name.  This track ends with a full minute of silence before the last, supposedly hidden, track "Alice", which was the soundtrack to "Alice in Wonderland" this might actually be pretty good, but the fake ending to the album makes me begrudge the tracks existence, I don't care if it's good.  I want to turn it off.

2/10, I'd give it more as it's obviously kind of OK for its particular audience it it wasn't for the in your face advertising.

Unknown: Taken 2?

I was pretty excited about this film, I'm love Liam Neeson doing action, it's like a "proper" actor kicking ass.

Taken was an action film tour de force and on seeing the trailer for Unknown I was thinking of it as kind of a Taken 2.  It is set in Europe, there are car chases and explosions, Neeson even indulges in a little fisticuffs.  But don't be mistaken, Taken is a very well written film that it is based on some guy saving his daughter in the still original setting of human trafficking (only really comparable to Eastern Promises from the previous year).   It puts this narrative into an action driven yet superbly acted package.  Conversely Unknown takes an unoriginal plot, it's no spoiler to say that it's an amnesia film, which keeps you guessing in an OK whodunit kind of way.  It's a predictable flimsy actor driven action thriller.

The fact that it is actor driven is the problem, mainly because most of the actors are really pretty rubbish.  Don't get me wrong I still love Neeson, like a good chutney he gets better as he gets older, he carries the film, I can't think of anyone who would do a better job.  January Jones though, who plays his wife, is just terrible, I can't even get started on why, she's bland, boring and unbelievable, completely miscast.  Diane Kruger (mostly in my mind for being Helen in Troy) does well.  There are a couple of bad guys in there which are OK too, but Neeson's main adversary Aiden Quinn is soft, his sad puppy eyes just got irritating.  Bruno Ganz who plays an unapologetic ex-East German spy is good, as is Frank Langella (who I will only ever be able to think of as Richard Nixon).  If they'd have held out for stronger actors for one or two of the supporting (but very important) roles the film could have been really very good, but they didn't so it's OK, just OK.

A disappointing 6/10

Monday, 7 March 2011

Tangled 3D: Let down your... guard

Disney...  I'm not really a fan.  Or at least not a fan of their recent animations.  The new stuff is very difficult to figure out, for a good few years now they've either been losing the fight with Pixar or trying to be them.  Notable recent pictures include Bolt which I really enjoyed the first five minutes of but the rest was forgettable and Up, which is fantastic but is clearly a Pixar film which Disney merely 'presented' meaning that they stumped up cash to get their name on it.

The problem is that with the advent of 3D animation technology, they lost their identity.  When you look at Mickey Mouse, Belle, The Beast, Dumbo, Snow White, Happy, Grumpy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Bashful and Doc they are clearly Disney.  You don't need the opening credits to tell you, you just know.  It's more than this too, it is the way they move, the colours and the dialogue.  Disney films weren't all cotton wool and smiles either.  Two of the scariest scenes I can think of in film are the dream sequence from Dumbo and the donkey scene in PinocchioSamuel Armstrong directed many of these early films and he achieved a balance of sentimentality, drama and comedy perfectly to ensure entertainment for all ages.  The juxtaposition of harsh, scolding wicked stepmothers with the funny, cute friends of our heroes and heroins ensure that it is never too serious for delicate little ones and not too cutesy for us big hard men.

Anyway, I was not looking forward to Tangled, I put off going to see it for a couple of weeks just because I couldn't be bothered.  I went to a midday showing on a cold Monday afternoon with nothing better to do.  And it was great.

Everything that I like about the old films is there, but it's shiny and new, they've not gone back to the old times, they've brought themselves up to date.  Rapunzel (Mandy Moore; I have no idea who she is) is great, she is an up to date princess, strong yet vulnerable, pretty and intelligent.  Flynn (the male lead, Zachary Levi) is again a move forward for the Disney male, he is flawed but ultimately honorable, the chiseled jaw is not so chiseled and has a shade of boy band stubble.  Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) is a menacing captor, scary and funny, I'm also pretty sure she's modeled on Cher, which is nice.  Like the old films, the animals do not talk, Pascal the chameleon and Maximillion the horse are excellent supporting cast and comic relief, anthropomorphism is not over used and is effective.  

If you've ever read the Grimm fairytale you'll be in for a few surprises, this is largely an original plot with only the bare bones being true to the classic story.  The writing is funny, I laughed out loud at least once, N.B. keep an eye out for a scene where Pascal wakes Flynn up, I was willing it to happen but never thought it would.  The music is full production with an early sequence reminiscent of 'A Chorus Line'.  The animation is smooth and flowing, the hair technology particularly is put to very good use.  Even the 3D, which it is no secret that I think is over used to the point of insulting, doesn't get in the way too much, though the film clearly doesn't need it.  The much talked about paper lantern scene, which definitely benefits from cinema viewing, could still live without it.  I'm very happy I saw it, and like with most films, very happy I saw it on the big screen.

If you like Beauty and the Beast, Snow White or any classic Disney you'll like this.  If you like modern 3D animation you like this too.  If you only like films with car chases and explosions, maybe give it a miss.  Show it to the kids, watch it yourself, it's a good film. 


Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Mechanic, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Say what you like about Jason Statham, when it comes to action films, he can deliver.

There are holes in the plot, some very odd character development and one or two clichés.  But really, who gives a shit?

What really matters when a film's poster is a gun made of many guns? The answer is, well, guns.  Guns and explosions and fighting and killing all in newer and more innovative and exciting ways.  So good news.  You get that, and lots of it.  

You also get a fairly good plot,  an updated version of the 1972 film of the same name starring Charles Bronson.  Guilt drives an assasin (Jason Statham) to take on a rather risky protege (Ben Foster).  Things go not too perfectly and soon the two find themselves on a mission of revenge, although by my calculations one of our dynamic duo would have precisely no clue what exactly they are getting revenge for.  The action sequences are well worked out and the fighting is sufficiently realistic without going Rambo style over the top.

Statham is his usual cool as cucumber typecast self.  Foster's character is a little uncomfortable and unpredictable, exactly what the role needed.  Donald Sutherland plays Statham's boss and father figure, he does his usual good job later being replaced (in the boss department) by the other bloke from Ghost (apparently he has done other stuff since then), who also delivers a solid performance.

NB:   The film is a 15 certificate but if you're planning on watching it with a 15 year old, and I'm not here to judge, there is one sex scene which let's just say, I enjoyed very much.  I'm sure they will too.

Good action film, not disappointed.  7 out of 10

Friday, 18 February 2011

And all the awards go to... The King's Speech

Certain films are made with awards in mind, Slumdog Millionaire is one example, Titanic another.  The King's Speech is also up there.  Not that this is a bad thing, if Mr Darcy wants an Oscar and he delivers a performance deserved of one, for gods sake give it to him.

What I don't agree with and what is unfortunately yet another Hollywood foible (obvious example: Award dragnet Braveheart), is not letting the truth get in the way of a good story.  Two minutes googling will give you a barrage of information and misinformation on The King's Speech every piece of which is much too controversial for my little mind to comprehend, it's all pro-Nazi this and "sieg heil" that.  The only conclusion being that the average cinema goer wants to see an untroubled story of a poor little monarch countering his disability, so that's what they gave them.  


Unfortunately though, the rest of the film is too good to let that slide.  It is an intelligent film targeting intelligent cinema goers, the like of which do not merely accept what is in front of them. I am not the only one who will spend two minutes with a search engine, we are many.  And as there are many intelligent viewers out there, why take the gamble?  Why not surprise them with the truth, let them leave the cinema, go home shocked and a little dismayed, turn on their computers and find out... OMG, it's all true.

Colin Firth plays a good dad, a dutiful brother and an afflicted, put upon son.  It is an award worthy performance, you feel his discomfort and his embarrassment as if first hand.  Helena Bonham Carter is the queen mum, she just is.  The impression is uncanny.  Geoffrey Rush insists on calling the monarch Bertie but is (at times) scared of his own wife, a very nice scene is one where the two meet.  This leading cast has no low point.  

King Edward VIII was unbelievable, maybe not because of the acting though.  When we first meet Guy Pearce he is still a prince, as is Firth.  There is no stammering, only a comfortable brotherly conversation, the kind you have with a sibling you haven't seen for some time.  Later though there is reference to the fact that the Bertie stammers most while in the company of his father or brother, this is sloppy and a mistake that I am focusing on days after seeing the film.  A real shame.  George V, Michael Gambon: true thespian, great scary dad, honourable king, tough act to follow.  Then; frail, confused, lovable.  All while sporting a truly monumental beard. Timothy Spall as Churchill, uncanny, if a little skinnier.  Although, did they allow lit cigars in the presence of a monarch even then?

This is a very good film, it will get a crop of awards in ceremonies the world over.  Not least from the Academy.  Firth deserves honours. All the rest of the categories; I think there's better out there.

7 out of 10.

by Lee Power

Thursday, 17 February 2011

The Green Hornet... not as bad as everyone says.

Ok, I'll be honest, it's not great.  It is a very restricted production.  

Here begins the battle with Hollywood.

Michel Gondry, a late comer to the project, who brought us music videos made for the likes of Daft Punk and Bjork, was quite clearly tied down by the powers that be.  As good as the performances in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are, it is the free direction of Gondry that makes it great.  Not so with The Green Hornet, you'd be forgiven for not even realising that it was his picture.

Seth Rogen suffers the same fate, it seems that somebody behind the scenes (maybe even Rogen himself, as he co-wrote the screen play) wanted to make sure that this didn't become a his usual comedy.  Why not?  Suppressing his personality was always going to deliver a stunted performance.  I'm not a fan of Cameron Diaz, but she's OK in this, her character doesn't get chance to develop at all so she doesn't get chance to irritate too much.  Jay Chou, in his first English speaking role, delivers a good solid ass-kicking performance, having said that though Bruce Lee's performance in the 1960s TV series didn't give him much to live up to.  Christoph Waltz's villainous performance is precisely that, villainous.  The film is a comedy super hero adventure, but as Gene Hackman proved in Superman, the bad guy still needs to be believably sinister, Waltz is not even close, I'd go as far as to say that he is the low point of the film.  James Franco makes a surprise appearance early, I would have liked to see more of him.

Final Hollywood bad mouthing.  3D, no reason for it, please stop it.  Tron Legacy is the only film I've seen that uses it well and let's face it, it kind of lends itself perfectly to the format (review coming soon).  Whichever big multimedia or electronic company is paying Hollywood to shoot every flick in 3D, it may well be the biggest sell out in cinematic history.  Either that or they actually think that it's the future... God I hope not.  This is not the worst example of a 3D film, but it certainly lends nothing to it.

Bashing complete.

The film, even with all it's flaws, is watchable.  Good car chases, excellent action sequences and martial arts.  Cool cars, guns and technology.  Some very funny scenes and one liners.  Believable friendship and tension between Rogen and Chou.  Not to mention an awesome coffee machine.  It just should have been better.

Don't make it your first choice but don't write it off either.

5 out of 10, must try harder.

by Lee Power

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

And for the inaugural review: Black Swan

Firstly, having seen this last week, I read a review on the Guardian website which if I hadn't seen it prior would have ruined the whole film experience.  This review is safe to read if you've not seen the film yet.  That in mind it may seem a little vague.  If anyone would like to comment on specific scenes, please put a spoiler alert before you do.

Walking out of the cinema I heard a few people's first thoughts, they included "one too many lesbian scenes""well that was shit" (hopefully sarcastically) and "amazing, just amazing".  I think that this rainbow of comments heard on exit will be pretty standard in cinemas every where.  The reason for this is that people have judged the film before going to see it, always a mistake.  If you want to see a lovely light hearted film about the ballet, you will be disappointed.  If you're likely to focus solely on the girl on girl action, then you are missing a lot.  This is a deep film that will have you chatting about it all night.  It doesn't follow the Hollywood rules and it wasn't made simply to win awards.  Love it or hate it, this film will be talked about in decades.  

Cinematically stunning, very clever and a little disturbing.  It's as close to a Shakespearean tragedy as has been made in modern times.  Aronofsky's subtleties in direction shown in the Wrestler are apparent here too, but they give out as the film progresses to reveal the signature melodramatic shots found in his early work.  It's good to see that he's not lost his youthful exuberance.  Portman is stunning, believable, fierce and fragile at the flick of a switch.  Vincent Cassel delivers a largely overlooked yet brilliant supporting role and Barbara Hershey creeps me out just thinking about her.  I urge everybody to see this film, you may or may not like it or even understand it but it will keep you entertained long after the credits roll.

Marks out of 10, I'll give it 8.  If you haven't already, go see it.

by Lee Power