I'm still in the process of adding old film reviews to the Blog, just not very quickly, must try harder...


Film (70) Music (12) Photography (6) Television (1) Writing (3)

Sunday, 22 July 2012

We’re Not In Slough Any More...

'The Boss Of It All' is a wonderfully judged dry-as-a-bone comedy from Lars Von Trier, a likeably eccentric bunch of desk jockeys are led by an excellent central performance from Jens Albinus (Dancer in the Dark, The Idiots), with strong support from Peter Gantzler (Smilla’s Feeling For Snow); Iben Hjejle (High Fidelity) and Sofie Gråbøl (The Killing).

The story is nicely complex and suitably farcical, and there are touches of simple genius throughout, from nicely timed chapter headings in the form of Von Trier’s periodic sardonic narration, to the ‘careless’ editing that keeps the film grounded in ‘reality’. Albinus has a lovely comic touch, but LVT is the star, more comedy please, Herr Von Trier!

The Chilling

Unremittingly depressing Icelandic crime story, everything about it is miserable, the palette of colours, the settings, the scenery, the people, the food – definitely not sponsored by the Iceland Tourist Board. Jar City makes ‘Wallander’ (the Swedish version) look like Miami Vice – not a Faroe Island jumper in sight. The plot follows Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson’s hard-bitten cop Erlendur on a murder investigation that leads into the past. There are good performances here and solid direction by Baltasar Kormákur, who has just completed ‘Contraband’ (as of late 2011), directing Mark Wahlberg, Giovanni Ribisi and Kate Beckinsale.

There are some mechanical difficulties, like certain sections of flashback which are hard to pick up because there is no visual distinction between with the main action, and the subtitles are too fast in places with no obvious reason. But if you like your cops gritty, your stories grimy and your locations grey and inhospitable then you will probably enjoy this. Ultimately it is in the same territory as the likes of ‘Spiral’ and ‘The Killing’, and the story perhaps suffers a bit from not having the same amount of time as these for the viewer to become immersed in the detail, but Jar City is a good film and well worth the rental if you are looking for a gloomy thriller.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Pitt / Slater

Before there was True Blood; before there was Twilight; before Buffy, Angel and Vampire Diaries (pah!), there was 'Interview with the Vampire'. An excellent adaptation of Anne Rice’s first novel, Tom Cruise’s 'Lestat' leaps off the page in all his pomp and swagger. Pitt’s 'Louis' is the ideal foil, righteous and idealistic, their partnership melded by Kirsten Dunst’s 'Claudia' – a terrific performance at the age of twelve.

Neil Jordan has a good cast and employs them all well, brilliantly capturing the scope of the story and the essence of its characters. The soundtrack also deserves star billing, a spellbinding collection by Elliot Goldenthal that captures not only the action, but the locations and the era.

To me the cleverest layer in Rice’s story, from which she adapted the screenplay herself, is the commentary on the inability of some vampires to change with the times, ably highlighted in the closing scenes and the final moment on the Golden Gate Bridge, one of my favourite uses of popular music in film, and so very, very right for that wonderful closing line reprise. There is beauty and ugliness in equal measure, and a grand sweep of storyline that beautifully captures the span of time and the weight of years, the excitement and the enui.

Interview... is a great watch, a thrilling journey full of anguish and melancholy, glamour and guts – showing that vampires are by no means the ‘youthful’, glossy, beautiful creatures that the networks and studios now want you to believe for the purposes of primetime. So many 80’s movies do not stand the test of time, but this is one that will never grow old – a must for your list if you have never seen it.

The Girl with the Older, More Intelligent (Swedish) Sister

To start with I have to eat some words. I said in another review that I wouldn't see this film because I didn't want to tarnish my memory the superlative Swedish original and as a (very) minor protest against the crassness of Hollywood in remaking it, but I did see it after all.

It’s an excellent cast, even if there are only two Scandinavians (the superb Stellan Skarsgard, and Yorick van Wageningen as Bjurman) among the main players. Daniel Craig is, thankfully, not all action, which would have been inappropriate. Christopher Plummer is faultless as Henrik Vanger, and Steven Berkoff delightfully mysterious as his lawyer Frode. Skarsgard’s portrayal of Martin Vanger is also superb, although the character’s more subtle traits have been lost between book and script.

The inevitable question is how does it compare to the original film? The answer, pluses and minuses. Rooney Mara’s performance is excellent, but I found her portrayal of Lisbeth Salander a bit too repressed, almost dispassionate in places, compared to Noomi Rapace’s definitive original, and I was not entirely convinced by Yorick van Wageningen’s take on Bjurman, although it must be an exceedingly difficult role to play. Craig’s Blomkvsit has much to recommend it, but I think he is too dynamic compared to Michael Nykvist’s original. As a whole I think Fincher’s version is a bit too slick, diluting the sense of dogged investigation that serves the source material better.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s soundtrack for Fincher’s last, ‘The Social Network’ is note perfect, here I found it invasive to begin with, and although the musical interludes settle down, the soundtrack is close to dominating in places where the drama should have centre stage.

All in all I am glad I saw it, it’s a great film, but more a remake of Niels Arden Oplev’s 2009 screen version than a new adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s book, nonetheless well worth seeing if you can handle some violent scenes – but do wait 2 or 3 months then see the original Swedish films too (if you haven't), they are superb.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Moonrise Serenade

At first Moonrise Kingdom seems to try too hard to be eccentric and often has a very stagy quality, perhaps deliberately. Those aspects mark it unmistakably as the work of Wes Anderson and no worse for that. There are a couple of moments in the third act that stretch the audience's willing credulity, being on the point of clumsiness I think, but it would be a heartless viewer indeed who was not willing to forgive these facets, which give the film a fairy-tale quality reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands or The Truman Show, and are consistent with the Am-Dram sensibility of the piece.

MK's heart is pure gold, a delightful melding of the innocence and earnest enthusiasm of Arthur Ransom's 'Swallows and Amazons' with the sassy grit and knowing irreverence of Quentin Tarantino's 'True Romance'. The central relationship is delightful, his and her quirks and affectations of adulthood not in the least annoying (which is an achievement). Edward Norton is excellent (we expect no less) and Bruce Willis' turn is nicely understated. Tilda Swinton is also a standout and thankfully used sparingly otherwise her character would have overpowered the gentler souls around her.

At only 94 minutes it's tempting to think that the film would feel lightweight, but the arc of the story is well served by MK's compactness, and by the time it reaches the end there is nothing left unsaid. MK deserves to be considered among Wes Anderson's finest work. There are characters here to root for unlike those populating The Royal Tenenbaums and Steve Zissou: The Life Aquatic.

Hooray for Uncle Wes! Sandwiches and ginger beer all round!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Artistry and the Egotism

An ambitious and brilliantly realised film biography of the American artist Jackson Pollock, Ed Harris stars, directs and paints on-screen. Harris’ performance is a tour de force, superbly portraying a challenging (and challenged) individual, and Marcia Gay Harden is excellent (and rightly recognised by the Academy) as his wife, artist Lee Krasner.

It’s apparent from Mr. Harris' portrayal that Pollock was a difficult person to deal with and it seems clear that he had mental health issues – quite possibly being bipolar, in spite of his talents as an artist he is not a likable character for whatever reason.

But despite the fact that neither Pollock’s art nor his personality do anything for me, Mr. Harris’ film is absolutely compelling and a very rewarding watch. The painting scenes are remarkable, they have a hypnotic quality and in their raw creativity are a stark counterpoint to the destructive tendencies that the man exhibited at times. They also present moments of calm in the alcohol-fuelled whirlwind that apparently surrounded Pollock for periods of his life.

If you like biography I think you will enjoy this piece, it’s a career-topping performance and a brilliant portrayal of an intriguing talent and the people around him.

Four Thumbs Up

Beautifully constructed morality tale from Rupert Wyatt with some really remarkable visuals. The effects work and the actors’ interactions with their 'props' are so assured that the outcome is highly convincing to the point that you won’t notice the join, and it's a huge accomplishment that will (if there's any justice) deservedly catapult Mr. Wyatt into the big leagues.

It’s a good if rather predictable story, but satisfying to spot the delicately placed traces of continuity that link to the later phases of the PotA franchise. In the first half at least John Lithgow is the emotional heart of the film and his performance is extremely touching and effective. James Franco’s is a strong turn too and Freida Pinto provides a powerful counterbalance to Franco's character’s increasingly reckless pursuit of a cure. It’s also good to see Tom Felton casting off his robes and discarding his wand (although just as nasty as ever).

John Lithgow

In relation to Caesar and the other apes it is difficult to comprehend the skills that must be necessary to perform effectively with what must be highly invasive technology. Andy Serkis is obviously a highly skilled actor in his own right, as evinced by his performances as Ian Dury and in The Prestige, Brighton Rock and Little Dorrit (tv) to name a few, but is he really the only guy who can play these marquee motion capture roles? I don't mean to be critical, far from it, I think Mr. Serkis will be remembered as the first and possibly greatest exponent of this newest branch of thespian-ism, but only because of making the transition to 'live action'. I find it interesting to consider whether any of Serkis's fellow mocap-ers will ever have the profile that he has deservedly achieved.

Andy Serkis - I still say Bluetooth is yesterday's technology

In the end RotPotA is highly enjoyable effects romp but is best, perhaps unusually, not in its big set pieces but in the personal interactions at the film’s heart.

All four thumbs up - bring on the Dawn...

Groan Ups

Every bone in my body wanted to hate Grown Ups. Surely this would be another brain-dead Adam Sandler spliff, his partner in crime Senor Schneider’s presence like a red rag to a bull, and yes GU is often crass and tasteless, smeared with great dirty stains of crude and puerile humour, but there is something else going on here.

There is a resonance in the central theme of lost childhood and the simplicity of bygone days that speaks to our need for friendship and simple pleasures, and that enables me to forgive a lot of this film’s lazy failings. For me there was one reluctant laugh for every two inward groans, and shakes of the head were often followed by a nod of recognition and possibly even a smile.

There are some moments of effective slapstick and as we know from his better moments Sandler is capable of being likable. His posse of Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and the ubiquitous Schneider have an easy camaraderie that is watchable, and their significant others Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph and Joyce Van Patten provide effective foils for all the nonsense. Ultimately there is a sound message at the heart of Grown Ups and this is what redeems it.

Infantile, misogynist, heart-warming fun for all the family.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

X Marks the Spot

Take everything that was excellent about the first trilogy and put those ingredients in the hands of someone who knows exactly what they are doing with the comic book genre, then sit back and enjoy the results. Superb entertainment delivered by Matthew Vaughn of Kick-ass fame, directing an engaging and dynamic cast.

James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are entirely convincing at Xavier and Lehnsherr, and they have strong support throughout a well-constructed story from both A-listers and up-and-coming young stars alike.

Michael Fassbender throws stuff around
Jennifer Lawrence is again worthy of great plaudits essaying the troubled Mystique and January Jones is the screen equivalent of superglue to the eyeballs. Kevin Bacon has no trouble convincing as the personification of evil and the action hinges around his hideous masterplan, which is straightforward in its scope, but as usual with X-men it's the personal relationships where most of the real fireworks are flying. Great stuff - essential viewing for hero fans.

January Jones does bling

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Cherchez Le Pterodactyl

Highly enjoyable historical hokum from the man who brought you Leon; Big Blue; Fifth Element; Subway; etc. Auteur Luc Besson presents a whimsical but nonetheless entertaining comic-book adaptation from the pen of Jacques Tardi (9 comics from 1976 to 2007).

The material presented here liberally plunders Indiana Jones’ locker and is chock full of the trappings of ancient Egypt, but Adele does not have the depth of (arguably) Spielberg’s greatest character. Nonetheless our spunky, no-nonsense yet glamorous heroine is played with great verve and style by Louise Bourgoin.

There is also a lot of humour in her performance, which is very engaging and drives the film forward – polite reserve is not a part of Adele’s armoury, but her impatience with others can perhaps be forgiven in view of her sister’s plight. It’s all a bit breathless and the plot does somewhat stagger from frame to frame in the way of a comic, but despite the other characters being little more than caricatures, and Adele’s motivation being very one dimensional (albeit noble), Mademoiselle Bourgoin’s charisma is more than enough to carry the film. Not taxing but loads of fun.

Louise Bourgoin

Captain Courageous

Whoa there, hang on a minute, Chris Evans is Johnny Storm a.k.a. The Human Torch, what the heck is going on here?! Initial concerns are quickly swept aside however since Mr. Evans was clearly born to play the iconic Captain America, whether in initial pint-sized and weedy form, or once transformed as if he’s been chiseled out of Mount Rushmore.

Chris & Haley
Great turns from an excellent cast, especially the hard-bitten Tommy Lee Jones; the deliciously frosty Haley Atwell; a gloriously malevolent Hugo Weaving, and the myopically intellectual Toby Jones – and not forgetting excellent work by Dominic Cooper as ‘old man’ Stark. The film is chock full of glorious rock ‘em, sock ‘em comic book action, and ‘Cap’ hits all the nails square on the head, from the frustration of his employment as a War Bond figurehead, to his fearless forays into the heart of enemy territory with his own band of brothers, all present and correct.

Dominic Cooper
It’s actually quite refreshing to meet a hero who is not flawed, as seems to have become the norm over the decades. Steve Rogers isn’t dark, he isn’t conflicted, nor is he guilt ridden (yet), he’s just out to punch old Adolf in the eye – although as it turns out he has bigger problems to face. The emotional centre of the film is nicely handled, not overplayed, there’s a war on after all and duty comes first, but there is still time for some brief, tender moments that add a romantic strand which is nicely played by Atwell and Evans.

General TLJ
The toning down of Cap’s costume is a wise move and allows the use of a more muted pallet of tones that helps to root the film firmly in the forties, and the production portrays the period beautifully. All this helps to set the film apart from the Marvel fare that we have been served up to date, and adds all the more to the enjoyment of it. One of the greatest pleasures however, as with ‘Thor’, is the anticipation of something greater, and there is a jarring closing sequence which is very well handled, another promise of things to come. Good, solid, square-jawed fun.

One cube to rule them all... Hugo Weaving

Friday, 1 June 2012

Watch The Right One

I previously ‘reviewed’ this without seeing the film because of my outrage at the original being remade, but I knew that was unfair, I’m glad that I have seen ‘Let Me In’ now. For one thing I think the title is better than ‘Let The Right One In’ which is a straight lift from the book. ‘Let Me In’ has the same muted palate as the original film and looks just as atmospherically grimy and dark. For me Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee are not quite as engaging as Lina Leandersson and Kare Hedebrant in the lead roles. It’s easy to see why Smit-McPhee’s character would be picked on and is called ‘little girl’ by the bullies because of his androgynous quality, but I think that quality is unnecessary for the story.

Elias Koteas - Kodi Smit-McPhee
In terms of the setting, on the one hand it is to director Matt Reeves’ credit that the feel is not overtly American. Other than some of the accents there is none of the flag waving, none of the trappings of the US of A (notwithstanding the Pledge of Allegiance, which didn’t jar for me), and Elias Koteas presence plus Ritchie Coster’s Slavic(?) gym teacher as central characters at least provide some link to the European original.

It’s clear that ‘Let Me In’ benefits from the ‘advantage’ of a bigger budget, but the occasional CGI almost acts as a barrier between the audience and the film. The car crash is a positive inclusion, very effectively done and quite a jump when it happens, then again the underpass scene is inferior, less convincing than the original for me.
Ultimately it’s a different film, more of a horror story and less of the fairy tale than the original is, and to me that says that Matt Reeves has, either deliberately or through misunderstanding the original, taken a different path, despite many of the scenes being lifted directly from Tomas Alfredsson’s film. To be kinder you could say they are lifted from the original screenplay, to the extent that John Ajvide Lindqvist is credited prominently. I find it quite objectionable that the credit is ‘written for the screen by Matt Reeves’ because the vast majority of the work was done by Tomas Alfredson and John Ajvide Lindqvist before him, and there is very little that is new, it is clearly a remake of the film and not a new adaptation of the book.

Richard Jenkins
For all that I did enjoy ‘Let Me In’, the performances of Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas are excellent, and the central relationship between Owen and Abby is well handled and nicely played, but in the end I think ‘Let Me In’ succeeds because of the utterly engaging original story and brilliant source material, and only served to remind me how good the original film is. If you haven’t seen either film, treat yourself to ‘Let The Right One In’ first.

Far Beyond Driven

Jaw-dropping piece of cinema from Nicolas Winding Refn, there isn't a weak link in the chain from the top-billed performances of Gosling and Mulligan down to the knuckle-dragging henchmen, everyone brings their A-game. Refn has a unique voice as his previous work (including Bronson and Fear X) ably demonstrates and this must be his strongest outing to date. Gosling's performance is beautifully empty, the epitome of 'spare' while Mulligan effortlessly illuminates the screen, making it impossible to tear ones eyes off her in much the same way as in 'An Education' (or anything else she's been in).

Carey Mulligan
These two performances alone would make an excellent film, but it is in the 'supporting' roles that 'Drive' is elevated from a good movie to a definitive piece of modern cinema that will stand out for years to come as a beacon of what can be achieved with total belief in a good project. Ron Perlman and Christina Hendricks know how to captivate an audience. Hendricks owns every one of her scenes in the peerless 'Man Men' and Perlman is the godfather of the twisted soul, but thankfully is given the chance to play it straight up here and does so to brutal effect, whereas Hendricks delivers a nicely judged if brief appearance transitioning from bravado to a much truer, baser emotion.

Bryan Cranston
These four performances are to be expected from the individuals in question, but the standouts are those ones that come from left field. Albert Brooks was for so long the straight man in funny movies but who knew he had this in him. His turn as Bernie Rose is every bit as menacing as De Niro at his best/'worst', but Brooks' foil is possibly even more surprising. Bryan Cranston, for so long delivering howlingly funny often slapstick comedy as Malcolm's dad, in 'Malcolm in the Middle', turns in a beautifully nuanced performance as Gosling's mentor Shannon. None of the main characters is entirely good or evil, with the probable exception of Mulligan's 'Irene' and Perlman's 'Nino' and it is perhaps that facet that makes 'Drive' as enthralling as it is.

Albert Brooks
'Drive' could be seen as yet another demonstration that so much that is exciting in modern storytelling is coming from Scandinavia, however I think it is actually a vivid illustration that the best cinema comes from the melting pot, with no barrier preventing directors, actors, writers and all the other creative fields from coming together. It's strong stuff in places, but if you can get past that you are in for one of the most memorable films in the last 20 years.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Everyone's A Winner, Baby...

We really should not be surprised anymore when Paul Giamatti delivers another winning performance in a movie that nobody has heard of, the man is a class act and elicits a heartfelt and tender reaction from his audience, whether he is at the centre of an insightful family drama such as this excellent story from Thomas McCarthy (first time director of the excellent Station Agent) or chewing up the scenery in his cameo in The Hangover Pt.II, where he was a welcome touch of class (and I enjoyed H pt. II).

Win Win is every bit as delightfully oddball as Sideways, but places family rather than fraternity at its heart. Young Alex Shaffner's performance is wonderfully low key and makes the film, but it's well played all round and Giamatti is front and centre, and we root for him despite some questionable decisions because we know his heart is in the right place. Gently humorous and engaging from start to finish, highly recommended.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Mesmerising Mr. Nolan Works His Magic

Another masterful directorial outing for Christopher Nolan who has not put a foot wrong yet, The Prestige is sandwiched between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight and serves to once again highlight the wonderful diversity of his work. That he was overlooked for a directorial nomination for 'Inception' is to the eternal shame of the Academy.

The rivalry between Jackman and Bale's characters is loaded with intrigue at every mesmerising twist and turn, and they are supported by a superb cast of characters each presented with an engaging part that the audience cannot fail but invest in. But it is the story that is the true star, brought to life by Nolan, but beautifully imagined by author Christopher Priest.

The tricks are all explained but will enthral you nonetheless, as will this excellent film.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

What's That Coming Over the Hill?

Superb debut from writer and director Gareth Edwards, this is the kind of work that should give us all reassurance that there are some safe hands on the rise that will offer alternatives to the output of Hollywood that have great artistic integrity, genuine invention and will provide some new vocabulary for the language of modern cinema. Edwards beautifully captures the sombre and confused mood of a fictional near-future where aliens have arrived on Earth. The journey of his characters across this disorienting landscape is totally compelling due to Edwards’ deft touch with situations and dialog, and due to engagingly believable performances from his leads McNairy and Able. In these aspects ‘Monsters’ is in stark contrast to something like the effects heavy ‘Skyline’. Edward’s meagre budget and (necessarily) inventive filmmaking methods, and the wonderful outcome of his process, should be a lesson to big-bankroll directors and studios that truly substantive creation needs no budget to demonstrate its value. Superb filmmaking that you really should see if you have any interest in the future of cinema, well worth the rental.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Definition of Shift

I think that if you are going to try to create art with a camera the end result needs to be something that the eye cannot see unaided. As a result, pointing the camera and releasing the shutter is not enough in itself. Also, I've always been drawn to abstract images and so have, for some years, been trying to put these elements together. What I've come up with is not particularly clever in a technical sense, I'm no great technician when it comes to photography, I don't have the patience, but I think the results of my experimenting with movement of the camera are quite interesting.

This first image was taken in the Cannaregio area in northern Venice with my Sony, f/4, 1 second, ISO 320 (equivalent) and -0.7 step exposure bias.

The second image was taken on Olympiastrasse in Seefeld, Austria, Sony again, f/2.8, 1 second, ISO 320 (equivalent).

The Right One

Don’t let yourself be put off if you think that this is a vampire film, it most certainly is not. There may be some bloodletting involved and it could be considered to have horrific elements, but these are incidental, ‘Let The Right One In’ is so much more than what some of its constituent parts might suggest. A glowing recommendation from Guillermo del Toro should tell you what territory we are in here, and that Tomas Alfredson has crafted a thoughtful, intelligent, near perfect film from the source novel. The central performances from Kare Hedebrant, but particularly Lina Leandersson, are enthralling, beautifully capturing the tenderness and hesitancy of the relationship at the heart of the film. That Alfredson went on to create a definitive work like 2011’s ‘Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy’ will not have surprised devotees of ‘Let The Right One In’, there can only be great things to come from this superlative filmmaker. If you are not overly sensitive, treat yourself to a delightful and moving filmic experience.

In The Camera Eye

How do you review a film about your all-time favourite band? Probably not very impartially, I think you would have to be a fan of Rush to seek this out, but it’s also well worth seeing for music fans who don’t know them. Rush and their music might be considered somewhat eccentric by some, but in my view Rush have, over the decades, conducted themselves with absolute decorum, through good times and hard times, concentrating on delivering the most stimulating, challenging and enthralling rock music that I have ever heard and (I strongly suspect) will ever hear. No one can do what they do, the power, the virtuosity, the insight, the passion, the sensitivity.

Intellectualism; compassion; virtuosity; heart; mind; soul; poetry; science; history; Earth; galaxy; universe; The Big Bang - Rush's canvas is the entirety of human existence. No theme is too big or too small. They are truly masters of the possible and the impossible. How well does this film capture that, well I think it is clearly an act of heart-felt tribute by the filmmakers, and the talking heads who have contributed are very impressive indeed. In the end it’s a pretty standard documentary about an extraordinary band, as a piece of archive work it is excellent, well worth seeing for those who know Rush and those who want to know them.