Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Merry Christmas & theFILMblog Top 10 for 2009

Finally that time of the year is upon us, where every single media outlet is undoubtedly constructing 'top 10' lists for either the past year or in this instance, the past decade. Thought it was only fair to do the same.

After careful consideration and thought theFILMblog's top 10 films of 2009 are....

10. In The Loop - Malcolm Tucker. Enough said...

9. The Wrestler - Darren Aronofsky's most intimate and heart-warming film to date. Made Mickey Rourke a phenomenal Hollywood force once again.

8. Coraline - Sure there were a few other animated films of similar ilk such as Where The Wild Things Are and Fantastic Mr Fox, but Coraline was the only one that felt genuinely like a film designed for the whole family. Also a surprise package in that it was genuinely scary in parts.

7. The Hurt Locker - Defy any bloke who doesn't play Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 not to enjoy this. Intense, gritty and at times overwhelming, it sets the audience at the front line of the action, which is not necessarily, all guns blazing.

6. Moon - So it wasn't the most original story you will ever see, but it serves as a reminder to how brilliant Science-Fiction was back in its glory days of the 70s and 80s with nods to Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running to name a few. Also probably the best début of any director seen this year, on top of a mammoth solo performance from Sam Rockwell.

5. Inglourious Basterds - I walked in wanting to hate it, I walked out hailing it as Quentin Tarantino's best film. Features the best villain of 2009 in Christoph Waltz' performance as 'The Jew Hunter'. Someone give that man more work and awards!

4. Up - Really when Pixar make a film, is it ever not going to end up in my top 5 (never mind 10) of the year? Possibly the company's most hilarious film but definitely their most emotionally realised and visually striking film.

3. Star Trek - What?! This is a joke right? Wrong! This entry is purely on a personal level. I do not think I honestly enjoyed a film more than Star Trek this year. Made me smile from beginning to end, JJ Abrams managed to capture a beautiful balance to seriousness with the light hearted moments that were also associated with the original television series.

2. Let The Right One In - Beautifully written, filmed and acted. This was truly something special. If I had made this list two months ago, it would have surely got the number one spot if it were not for this surprise gem...

1. The White Ribbon - As I said in the review The White Ribbon is an example of cinema at its most beautiful yet most basic, if you stick with the beautifully realised dialogue and immerse yourself in the glorious cinematography your patience will be duly rewarded.

It's been a long year, there's been some good, some bad and some plain ugly films for 2009, would just like to give a massive thank you to anyone who has took time out to read my reviews this year as well as the wonderful illustrated works of Gillian Reid (thank you m'dear), it truly makes it all worthwhile! Will leave you with this final image of my favourite Christmas film of all time...

Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Avatar - Review

Ever stared into the abyss at 3am, after that third bottle of red wine and wondered; what would happen if you crossed Fern Gully with Apocalypse Now? Well dear readers, wonder no more! After a 12 year hiatus since his timeless love story, Titanic, (heard it made a few quid too...) James Cameron returns to set the standard for blockbuster film making once more with his latest offering - Avatar.

The film focuses on an epic conflict on Pandora, an inhabited Earth-sized planet orbiting the Alpha Centauri star. On the planet, human colonists and the indigenous inhabitants of Pandora, the Na'vi, engage in a war over the planet's resources and the latter's continued existence. The plot itself came across far better than I had originally anticipated. In a year where the giant, explosive blockbusters have been, for the most part, dire, Avatar succeeds with a simple story of right and wrong which has been used in plenty of films for some time.

When I originally seen the trailer the first thing that crossed my mind was the story of Pocahontas and frankly upon watching, the film, did little to change that opinion. Though Jake Sully (played by the latest action man of Hollywood, Sam Worthington) is hardly of the "John Smith" archetype. Coming across as a conflicted, selfish man upon the opening moments of the film he sets himself upon quite an uplifting, spiritual journey to his rightful place in the universe.

The cast on a whole were brilliant, and complimented each other to perfection. That said, the actors hardly had to stretch themselves with the characters they were given, you only have to look at Stephen Lang's CV to see he has probably practiced being a hard-ass military type on daily basis. Or Joel Moore playing that one truly geeky character present throughout the film that we all find endearing. The two stand outs of the cast besides Worthington and Zoe Salden was Sigourney Weaver as the very driven and very idealistic Grace Augustine and the under-rated Matt Gerald as the slimey coprate executive Lyle Wainfleet - deserved more screen time.

However lets be honest the film's main saving grace was not the writing or the characters despite how commendable they may all be. No, this film will be forever remembered for the jaw dropping, absolutely exquisite visual effects that are without a doubt a landmark in cinema for genuine imagination and photo realistic quality. I remember being seven years old and going to see Jurassic Park for the first time, and seeing the Brachiosaurus - the first dinosaur in the film, and being in complete awe, overwhelmed by that feeling of seeing something that looked so unbelievably real that you almost thought there was no way it could merely be computer generated. A similar feeling descended on me when I experienced the world of Pandora. Which is a surprise in itself considering I had images of the Star Wars prequels in my head initially...

The film however did suffer from a needlessly long running time and besides the epic third act did lack a hell of a lot of action - for a man who made Terminator 2 and Aliens, devote followers might feel a bit cheated. The 3D also felt a bit pointless in hindsight, as I don't honestly believe you lose much of the experience if you decided to see it in a standard cinema screen in 2D. Lastly the overall theme and, less than subtle, message Cameron was portraying to the audience of wrecking the world and depleting its natural resources is a theme in cinema that is starting to become slightly tiresome given the current world setting. That said it could of been worse...could have been a dig at the war in Iraq...hmm...wait a minute...

Final Thoughts
Film of the decade? Nope. Film of the Year? It ain't mine. What James Cameron has managed to achieve is, a beautiful mixture of two film styles, which has made him a giant in the world of film making. It has the action and explosions on par with some of his best cinematic moments, as well as the tender emotional - and overly cheesy side which served him so well in Titanic. This is a classic blockbuster in every single sense. Though whether I would rate it amongst my favourite blockbusters this past decade has given me is yet another thing to ponder after that third bottle of wine at 3am...


See this if you like...
Terminator, Pocahontus, Fern Gully, Titanic, Apocalypse Now, Star Wars prequels.

Avatar is in cinemas from today.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Where The Wild Things Are - Review

"It's going to be a place where only the things you want to happen, would happen."

After numerous years, a couple of mixed test screenings, going way over budget and a near revolt from Warner Bros, Spike Jonze's adaptation of the 1963 children's book Where The Wild Things Are finally hits the screens. The results were more than satisfying.

The story itself charts the tale of hyperactive kid, Max as he flees from his home in a fit of rage and anger after a fallout with his mother - played by frequent Jonze collaborator, Catherine Keener. Escaping on his ship, and sailing into the open sea, he eventually finds solace on a remote island populated by the most amazing looking creatures known as The Wild Things (I think...). With the original story consisting of minimal dialogue, Jonze enlisted the talents of author Dave Eggers to pen a much more expanded screenplay.

Having waited for this film since I originally first read about it many years ago, I could not contain my excitement, I was literally jumping up and down and never before been as bedazzled by a trailer than this. One of the most wonderful childhood books of all time envisioned by one of the most talented directors of the past decade is surely something worth seeing, arguably similar in approach to Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr Fox back in October.

However, where Jonze succeeded with Wild Things as oppose to Wes Anderson with Mr Fox was that he knew who the target audience was. Though fans of Jonze's previous films will adore the idiosyncratic style and dialogue evoked throughout the film, there is plenty for the children to marvel and love about it as well, which in my opinion is, frankly, the point.

One of the most stunning aspects of the film itself was the beautifully realised world of the Wild Things, with a vast array of elemental regions, from dark monolithic forests to a barren desert, snow-filled lands and elegant spring gardens. You could tell, in a purely visual capacity, that Jonze knew exactly how he wanted this film to look and feel.

Watching the characters being brought to life on screen was the most visually delightful spectacles you will see in a film all year, combining a mixture of animatronics from the Jim Henson Company with computer animation for their faces and expressions. The producers seemingly went to great effort to enlist a quality band of voice actors consisting of James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker, Paul Dano, Chris Copper (my pick of the bunch), Michael Berry Jr and Lauren Ambrose.

Worthy mention must go out to the very folky and earthy score performed predominately by Karen O, singer for New York act Yeah Yeah Yeahs with contributions from her band mates and other composers such as Cater Burwell and Daniel Johnston.

It does pain me to say that it wasn't the film of the year I was unprofessionally expecting or wanting. As the case with Spike Jonze's other films it may come across a bit too arty or 'out there' for general film audiences to really appreciate. The story had an air of over-anticipation about it, as if you were sitting there waiting for something truly magical to happen or appear out of thin air but it unfortunately never really came to be. Besides quite a dark verging on scary third act (for the kids I mean) the plot wore slightly thin in comparison to the spectacular backdrops and landscapes of the island and the loveable diverse characters on show.

Final Thoughts
A slow burner, and casual audiences may not immediately understand the point of it. However fans of the original book by Maurice Sendak or director Spike Jonze will rejoice with glee. Where The Wild Things Are is a wonderful tale that evokes memories of those lost childhood days where the imagination truly ran er...Wild. Spike Jonze has delivered a film that I firmly believe could stand the test of the time with generations of children to come, a visual assault on all the senses, a genuine treat for all the family on this festive period. Its the film equivalent of a fine wine, trust me it's going to get better with every viewing. Mainstream cinema as an art-form rarely looks this good.

7.5/10 (could go up a point by next viewing)

See This If You Liked...
Harry Potter, Coraline, Roald Dahl adaptations, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth.

Where The Wild Things Are is available in all cinemas from today.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Me and Orson Welles - Review

Hooray, Hooray, December is here!

To kick off the festive season I decided to go see a film from the director of School of Rock, starring teenage pretty boy Zac Efron. Hardly sounds encouraging. As with many times this year, I was pleasantly surprised with the results.

Set in 1930s New York, young Richard Samuels (Efron) can't believe his luck when he manages to land the role of Lucillus in Broadway's first Shakespearean production Julius Caesar, directed by none other than the legendary Orson Welles (Christian McKay). From this moment on his life is completely transformed, learning from extraordinary actors and catching the eye of a career-driven production assistant, Sonja Jones (Claire Danes).

From the moment the film began you can quite easily see this isn't High School Musical, nor is it cashing in on the cheap thrills and Jack Black humour of School Of Rock. No, this had a very classy, elegant tone fitting of the peroid. The same can also be said for Zac Efron. It was perhaps a bold move for the director to created such a beautifully imagined peroid drama, yet cast a teenage mega-star in the lead role, whose previous experience was essentially a trilogy of 'Straight-to-DVD' Disney films.

He was nothing short of brilliant, filled with confidence, heart and putting in tonnes of effort to hold his own among more established and experienced actors around him. This, of course, mirrored his character, Richard, a boy who loved to romanticize the world, thankful for just being apart of something so monumental.

What makes Me and Orson Welles so refreshing isn't just one break out performance, but two. Before this film people had at least heard of Zac Efron, for better or worse, you can decide. However, very few people would have heard of British actor, Christian McKay, but after his performance as Orson Welles, I have a feeling you will be seeing a lot more of him.

It's a big ask for any unknown actor to take on the role, the persona, the sheer presence of someone like Welles but to deliver it with such a masterstroke was nothing short of remarkable. His style, his delivery, his passion, everything was amazing. Efron was good, but McKay was excellent. If he does not make a Best Actor shortlist at the Globes or Oscars in a couple of months time then there is genuinely no justice. His performance made me want to watch it all over again

Besides the two lead performances, the support cast was stellar, made up of hard working actors such as Ben Chaplin, James Tupper, Leo Bill and Eddie Marsan - whose on screen banter and love/hate relationship with McKay made for some of the best moments in the film. Obviously it goes without saying that the beautiful Claire Danes was a joy to watch, her chemistry with Efron was natural and at times even heart-warming, despite the slight age difference. The film though wasn't 100% perfect, as the story itself, at times, lacked cohesion, with no real conclusion to speak of. This perhaps echoed Welles' real life adaptation of Julius Caesar judging from historical sources.

Final Thoughts
A refreshing, upbeat and highly enjoyable peroid drama. Zac Efron finally announces himself as a serious and creditable actor. The movie however belongs to Christian McKay, who should be someone to watch out for in the years ahead. On the basis of his perfect rendition of Orson Welles, he is capable of incredible things. Overall, Me And Orson Welles acts as an insightful, provocative entry into the life of working in the theatre industry, and the extreme personalities that go along with it. Whether it stands the test of time as other films of similar setting such as the wonderful 1948 classic, The Red Shoes, however remains to be seen.


See this if you liked...
The Red Shoes, Citizen Kane...High School Musical (just sayin')

Me And Orson Welles is in most cinemas now.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Law Abiding Citizen - Review

After experiencing the hard hitting, slow moving beauty of The White Ribbon less than 24 hours earlier, for the 'Friday Review' I decided to opt for something that required less thinking. Brought to us by the man who had the balls - and the stupidity - to remake The Italian Job, F. Gary Gray and starring two creditable leads in Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler we have that all nonsense, all action, answer: Law Abiding Citizen.

After an inexplicably brutal attack, the film tells the story of a man (Butler) who decides to exact justice on his family's killers, as well as challenging the painful flaws of the criminal justice system in the United States. On paper the story actually sounds quite reasonable, mimicking similar revenge tales such as Tony Scott's Man On Fire.

For the most part it's surprisingly an immense amount of fun, with the film makers creating a large amount of tension as the story progresses and Butler's character becoming much more erratic in his targets as he starts to focus on the district attorney's office of Philadelphia fronted by Jamie Foxx. The killings themselves were quite brutal, verging on Saw territory, involving some unrealistic gadgets and methods used, not so much to simply kill his victims but instead totally torture them. Gerard Butler increasingly became more of a super-villain than a mere 'law abiding citizen'.

The main problem with the film was the same pitfalls that film's of this genre usually face. At the start you truly felt for Butler's character, frankly who wouldn't want to seek vengeance on the people who killed their own families, that in a sense, is justified. Where it wandered into the obscene was when the convoluted and convenient back story was revealed where he just happened to be a genius and trained in Black Ops for the US government where he created gadgets (Q from James Bond any body?) to kill people discreetly.

Then there is Jamie Foxx who puts out a smashing performance as the straight talking attorney, who started the whole revenge plot rolling when he cut a deal with one of the killers to testified for a shorter jail term. This itself could have actually had the makings of an interesting court room drama where the American justice system is questioned and criticised beyond repair but the honest truth is, this film just had too much brawn for there to be any such development.

Final Thoughts
Entertaining, explosive and I could definitely think of worse ways to kill two hours. However the sad truth is there is far more entertaining and better realised revenge films already out there. Though I applaud the director and screenwriter for trying to challenge the questionable grey areas of the US legal system it simply wasn't intelligent enough to carry these ideas through. It won't change your life, but if you're sick of people talking about vampires and werewolves, this is a good way to take your mind off it.


See This If You Like...
Man On Fire, Taxi Driver, Dead Man's Shoes, Saw

Law Abiding Citizen is in all major cinemas from today.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The White Ribbon - Review

Michael Haneke is probably one of the most visceral and hard hitting film makers, in the world cinema scene, at the minute along with Gasper Noe and Lars Von Trier. However unlike his two counterparts he often sets his films in more realistic environments often documenting the problems and failures within modern society. Suffice to say, they never make for causal viewing. Already winning one of the most prestigious awards of the year the Palme D'Or at Cannes, The White Ribbon is not surprisingly any different.

The story centres around a small village in Germany just before World War I focusing on the local children's choir directed by the village schoolmaster, and their families: the Baron, the superintendent, pastor, doctor, midwife, peasants. From the opening scene strange incidents start to occur such as acts of vandalism and violence, which gradually assume the character of a ritual punishment.

One of the most immediate reactions anyone could have is the truly stunning cinematography. Very few films I have seen this year have made the most of the immense size of a cinema screen as The White Ribbon. Haneke smartly decides to present the story in black and white possibly reflecting the film's narrative of witnessing a cruel twisted world through mainly the eyes of children.

One of the most surprising aspects of the film for me personally was the story itself, thinking it might of been another World War I/II film from the German perspective, it is anything but. In essence it's a bit of a mystery, as the story progresses, you find certain characters do not appear to be all that they seem and the identity of the person who commits these acts keeps you guessing until the very end.

Where the film truly shines however is in the more intimate and innocent moments, reflecting the true beauty of childhood itself. One of the stand out scenes being where the youngest son of the pastor gave his father a bird to replace the one he had lost through a 'prior incident' because the boy could see how the loss of the bird made him very sad. Those aren't the moments this film will be remembered for but will be the scenes that truly add to how wonderful an experience The White Ribbon is.

Though there is no musical score present, it never needed one as the quality of the acting and screenplay was simply glorious. It would be unfair to single out any particular actor in this story as the entire cast complimented each other amazingly, but perhaps the honourable mentions would have to go to young Eddy Grahl for his performance as the mentally disabled child Karli as well as Christian Friedel as the teacher - his name is never actually given, however in this strangely diverse array of characters and personalities, he turns out to be probably the most innocent and incorruptible person in the entire village.

Final Thoughts
Catered more to the needs of die hard world cinema fans than a causal movie goer looking for a couple of hours to kill. Though it may at first appear to be slow moving, if you stick with the beautifully realised dialogue and immerse yourself in the glorious cinematography your patience will be duly rewarded. The White Ribbon is an example of cinema at its most beautiful yet most basic, bringing emphasis back to the actors and their performances instead of being bogged down by useless shock tactics or over-saturated special effects. As the decade draws to a close you can't help but notice how rare a thing that has now become.


See this if you liked...
Funny Games, The Piano Teacher, Caché (Hidden)

The White Ribbon is currently showing at the Queen's Film Theatre for until the 4th December. If you're a fan of world cinema this is a must.

Friday, 20 November 2009

The Informant! - Review

Steven Soderbergh is seemingly making films via an assembly line these days. Within the past year he has managed a release the epic two part biopic, Che, the intimate, classy yet completely hollow Girlfriend Experience and now his latest, The Informant! starring the ever brilliant and versatile Matt Damon.

Based on the book of the same name by journalist Kurt Eichenwald, The Informant! loosely documents the mid-1990s lysine price-fixing conspiracy case and the involvement of Archer Daniels Midland executive Mark Whitacre (Damon). Possibly because the events of the story itself were completely outrageous, Soderbergh decides to take quite a tongue and cheek approach to the movie adaptation going with jingles from 1970s TV shows - sounding as if it was lifted straight from the original Bewitched series.

Due to the nature of the whole affair it was hard to take any of it seriously, which was obviously the point, however it felt like it needed an injection of cold-hearted drama akin to the reality of the 'heartless' capitalist world to really lift it. As the film developed, the story didn't, making all the complex business of corporate espionage even more confusing than it, perhaps, is in real life. You really needed a lot of patience to 'get' the movie, as the tiny little white lies Mark spoke of slowly but surely spiralled into utter madness of the highest order, such as the truth about his parents and how much money he embezzled while working for the FBI. The voice overs did make me smile but only because they brought back memories of Christian Bale's eccentric performance in American Psycho.

Despite lacking something in the overall story, the acting of the feature was superb. All the cast did a tremendous job and it was great seeing the likes of Scott Bakula, Melanie Lynskey and Clancy Brown attached to such a high profile project. Unfortunately though my main criticisms are aimed at Matt Damon, who was not terrible by any means, however just never seemed believable as Mark Whitacre, never truly creepy or nerdy enough to be the best man for the role.

Final Thoughts
Similar to Soderbergh's Girlfriend Experience and his Ocean's sequels; it had tonnes of class and was presented beautifully, yet it left the audience feeling underwhelmed and empty. Coming across more a parody of the events instead of a genuine dramatisation. Though it was a refreshing black comedy, it was not even nearly as hilarious as it wanted or could have been, making The Informant! a disappointing experience. You have been informed...


See This If You Like...
Ocean's 11, American Psycho, The Lives Of Others

The Informant! is in cinemas everywhere now.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Harry Brown - Review

It's been a while since I've seen a Michael Caine film. Sure he's been in two of my favourite films of the last decade (The Prestige and The Dark Knight) but ask yourself, when was the last time you have actually seen a film that has starred Michael Caine in the leading role? Nope. Didn't think so.

Which brings me to the unofficial third instalment of 2009's "Pensioners Strike Back" series that has seen Clint Eastwood channel his inner-Harry Callahan in the brilliant neo-Western Gran Torino and of course Ed Asner as the wonderfully soulful Carl Fredricksen in Pixar's beautiful tale of Up.

Though obviously having more in common with Eastwood in Gran Torino than Asner in Up, Caine stars as Harry Brown, an elderly widower and former Royal Marine who has lived to see his East London council estate overrun by violent gangs, drugs and crime. When his best friend Leonard (David Bradley) is brutally murdered and the gang leader responsible walks free, Harry finds himself snapping. Soon, his desire for revenge leads to Brown facing up to the young thugs, with terrifying results.

Don't let the poor marketing of this film fool you, this is not another average Guy Ritchie rip off in the vein of seemingly every straight-to-DVD feature starring Danny Dyer. Debut director Daniel Barber has delivered a chilling insight into the decaying social state of Britain's working class communities, its cold, dark, gritty and a completely harrowing experience. The violence was perhaps over exaggerated (interviews in the media with the director suggest otherwise...) but it's hard to deny that Harry Brown was one of the most gripping cinematic showings I have witnessed all year.

Michael Caine has already proved time and time again over the last few years he can go toe to toe with the young guns of modern cinema, however this film proves that he can still lead a story with grace, integrity and sheer class. Though Bradley's brief contribution was indeed a gem to witness, the only other actor of any genuine mention goes to Emily Mortimer who was an absolute pleasure to watch on screen as the local detective keeping close tabs on Brown's vigilante crusade who desperately wanted to help Harry but was restrained by the red tape of the questionable British legal system.

Finally I must say that the cinematography of Harry Brown was genuinely excellent, really playing on the complete despair of the character's bleak surroundings, from his own home in the run down council estate to the almost surreal drug den that frankly would not be too out of place in the likes of Clockwork Orange or Bronson. As one of the characters rightfully says, you would not live here if you could avoid it.

Final Thoughts
Gritty, cold, violent and sometimes even quite unsettling. Daniel Barber has managed to capture some of the sobering truths of the hardships facing working class Britain today, and the anti-social behaviour that goes along with it. Michael Caine shows the world, once again, why he is one of the most treasured stars of the industry, combining with some top quality support and a bagful of suspense and hard hitting drama, though it doesn't quite hit the heights of British cinema's best revenge film Dead Man's Shoes however Harry Brown might...just might be the best British film of 2009.


See this if you like...
Gran Torino, Dead Man's Shoes, Man On Fire...most gritty ITV dramas ala Taggart, Silent Witness etc.

Harry Brown is in most cinemas from today.

Friday, 6 November 2009

The Men Who Stares At Goats - Review

One of my favourite things about George Clooney is that he tends to never take himself or his international status too seriously. For every box office smash, he is always more than willing to lend his talents to more indie affairs. The Men Who Stares At Goats very much falls into the latter category.

Based on a book of the same title by journalist/writer Jon Ronson, the film centres around the completely surreal tale of Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) who stumbles onto the story of a lifetime when he meets a special forces operator, Lyn Cassady (Clooney). As they embark on a new mission, Lyn reveals his twenty-year involvement in a top secret, psychic military unit and shares details of their activities, each more bizarre than the last - including staring at goats in order to stop their hearts.

The performances were nothing short of excellent, though giving the array of talent in the spotlight, its not hard to see why. Unlike last month's Mr Fox, Clooney actually reminds us there is more to his acting talent than simply playing himself (not that there is really anything wrong with that mind). I imagine when the producers of this film started casting, they must have thought that no one else except McGregor could play the main role of Bob, even more so due to the amount of sly "Jedi" jokes aimed at him the entire film (yes yes the irony is astounding...). He held his own starring opposite Clooney exceptionally well reminding the audience it was just as much his film as it was Clooney's. In support, and frankly the highlights of the film were the appearances of Jeff Bridges, playing on his Dude persona from The Big Lebowski , and also with a decent shout for a best supporting actor nod at the Oscars next year Kevin Spacey with some genuinely comedic moments that lifted the piece.

Performances aside, the production value was solid as a rock, and what you come to expect from BBC Films. However you never really felt as though you were watching something unique or special compared to some of the other films that these 4 actors have indeed appeared in this year. For a film that was touted for contention at the awards circuit next year, that is something of a let down. However though the humour was luke warm at best, when it was on song it almost came across like a live action version of some of the more insane moments of The Simpsons in its golden age (especially the brief appearance of Robert Patrick). In its final third it harked back to such war film classics as M*A*S*H and Catch 22. Unfortunately though these moments are few and far between.

Final Thoughts
Not quite the disaster as some of Clooney's other indie outings such as Leatherheads or Burn After Reading however it never quite lives up to the dark satirical undertones of such under rated classics as Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind or the punchy political Good Night and Good Luck. Performances from the four main players and quite a hilarious, albeit brief, appearance from Robert Patrick makes The Men Who Stares At Goats at the very least an entertaining enough way to kill a couple of hours, but don't expect it to be listed in the "Best Of" list of any of the actors...


See this if you like...
M*A*S*H, Catch 22, Three Kings...that's all I got...

The Men Who Stares at Goats is at cinemas everywhere now.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Halloween Special: Paranormal Activity & 9 - Reviews

Halloween is upon us once again, where the kids are out trick or treating, the antisocial are exploding illegally obtained fireworks and as sure as there being a huge boost in pumpkin sales: there is no doubt another shit sequel to another tired, worn out horror franchise circulating around the multiplexes. Thankfully this year I decided to steer clear of that whole affair and opt for a film that is actually scary.

It's a shame that UK audiences won't have a chance to witness this film over the Halloween weekend in the cinema. Despite sounding like a potential subtitle to a future Ghostbusters movie, Paranormal Activity is the recent 'big thing' to comes from the USA filmed in a similar vein to The Blair Witch Project. It tells the tale of a couple haunted by an unusual presence in their own home. The boyfriend Micah dismisses the bumps in the night and decides to document the footage to prove a point to his superstitious girlfriend Katie. As you can imagine events start to unfold and all is not what it seems.

In keeping with my own views on the supernatural, I approached this film with much scepticism. The first hour didn't help the film's case, coming across like an average episode of TV's Most Haunted. However, I must commend début director Oren Peli for creating such a well crafted story of agonising suspense from beginning to end. There is practically none, if any, special effects used, with the horror being entirely psychological with very little use of a backing soundtrack, very similar effectiveness to the 1963 version of The Haunting. From a story point of view it was interesting seeing the couple's relationship become increasingly more strained as the film's events developed building up to an extremely tense and shocking final few moments.

One of Paranormal Activity's stand out qualities is that it manages to create this atmosphere with virtually no blood/gore nor cheap jumpy shock tactics. Almost like Hitchcock in its execution. For a budget of $15,000 it was one of the most effective Indie films I have seen in quite some time.

Final Thoughts
Forget Saw 6 or Halloween 2, if you want a film that will genuinely disturb you over the coming season, Paranormal Activity is by far the essential option. 'Scariest film of all time' (as the poster suggests...) is a bit of a stretch but it's got a solid argument for the title of 'Most Disturbing Film of 2009' at the very least. Though the first 30 minutes are arguably quite slow moving the film is still unnerving, suspenseful and yes, I would say for a moment it was even quite scary. Paranormal Activity is a must for all fans of the horror genre. For desired effect, watch alone with all the lights turned out.


See this if you like...
The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, The Last Broadcast and Most Haunted (no seriously...).

Paranormal Activity hits UK cinemas 27th November 2009.

The film is also available on DVD through low level outlets on the web since it has been out since 2007.

The second film under the microscope this Halloween season, from theFILMblog, is yet another computer animated feature film in the form of 9 by director Shane Acker. Based on the Oscar nominated short of the same name, 9 is the tale of nine robotic puppets brought to life during an apocalyptic war between man and machine. Surviving the titanic clash it is up to them to preserve the essence of mankind now the human race is extinct.

Unlike the other animated films I have reviewed this month, 9 takes on a much darker tone to any animated film I have seen in quite some time, almost coming across as a spin-off plot to the Terminator series with some unsettling imagery of dead human bodies rotting within the post-apocalyptic landscape. Though only on the film in a producing capacity, Tim Burton's influence and presence on the feature is evident from beginning to end, especially in the character designs of the protagonists and antagonists. The demonic machines looking as if they were lifted straight from one of Burton's collaborations with Henry Selick.

One of the highlights of the film was the very creditable talents of the voice cast, featuring the likes of Elijah Wood (channelling his inner Frodo Baggins of naivety and misguided hope), Jennifer Connelly and Christopher Plummer. Combined with some incredibly original and provocative landscapes, 9 makes for some interesting viewing. When in comparison however, it never quite reaches the incredible heights of its rivals at Pixar or Dreamworks. Which is a shame because it had the chance to do something daring and shocking with the medium but instead bails out during the closing moments in favour of a poorly envisioned happy ending.

The film also fails in the 'moral message' it is trying to get across, using World War II-esque imagery of how mankind was before the fall. These images of a evil dictator using a super-machine to rule all of earth with an iron fist might of had some clout during the Cold War period, but in an age where mankind's biggest threats are global terrorism and the persistent warnings of climate change, it feels as though the message conveyed in 9 is about 30 years too late.

Final Thoughts
Despite some wildly provocative imagery, devastatingly bleak set designs along and a competant shift put in by the voice cast, 9 fails to deliver with some clumsy story-telling, and painfully predictable plot devices. It could have been dark, apocalyptic and genuinely disturbing but at the end of time when there is nothing left besides the cockroaches and a couple of rag dolls, you're left wondering "was that it?".


See this if you liked...
Terminator, The Matrix...Rosie and Jim?

9 is in cinemas everywhere now

Friday, 23 October 2009

Fantastic Mr Fox - Review

No matter how much one could argue that the Darjeeling Ltd was, in hindsight, an underwhelming experience Wes Anderson still ranks up there as one of the most stylish directors in American cinema at the minute. So when word broke out that he was to direct one of my favourite books from my childhood, Fantastic Mr Fox, words could not even begin to describe the excitement I had in anticipation of this glorious marriage of directorial vision and literary excellence. Combined with the inspired casting of George Clooney in the title role and Meryl Streep as his wife, along with Anderson's usual collaborators such as Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Defoe and Michael Gambon (amongst others), how could it possibly go wrong?

Well the sad fact is, it did. It wasn't a train crash of 'Michael Bay proportions' but it failed to live up to the hype, and it was contributed by a number of factors. Firstly the source material was, like certain previous Dahl adaptations for the screen, butchered to the point where the essence of the original tale was lost in a convoluted mish-mash of needless new characters and the odd inexplicible sub plot and change in the core character's personality. Perhaps bringing the source material in line with Anderson's other films, Fox was changed from a retired extraordinary hunter and reduced to a struggling newspaper journalist scraping to put food on the table with a suffocating wife and an angst ridden son just crying out for his father's attention and approval (Ben Stiller in Tenenbaums anyone?).

Secondly, you almost get the impression Anderson did not realise he was suppose to be making, first and foremost, a children's film. Certainly as I have argued excessively all year when reviewing any children's films such as Coraline or Up that the makers should never talk down to children or indeed patronise them. However with Mr Fox, Anderson failed to truly connect with the core audience, pandering mainly to the needs of his fans (granted I am one of them...) who may of criticise him for his previous film. If these characters were human and in a live action setting, you would almost believe their next door neighbours would probably be The Royal Tenenbaums or Fox's best mate would really be Steve Zissou. Finally as with the failings of some the other Dahl adaptations, for a quintessentially English tale, it felt far too Americanised at times.

If I manage to forget that Fantastic Mr Fox was one of the all time greatest novels of my childhood and suspend reality for a moment, as a stand alone film I thought it was actually a lot of fun deep down, the way Anderson incorporated aspects of Dahl's own personality into the book was tastefully subtle and actually a master-stroke of genius, from Fox's office mimicking Dahl's real life den where he wrote all his wonderful works, to basing the autumnal country side on the surroundings where the writer himself came from. The animation was possibly the highlight of the whole production, and where Anderson always tends to shine in his films for me, with the wonderfully warm woodland interiors of the animals' homes to the beautifully realised English village (which looked as if it was lifted straight from the set of Postman Pat) and the cold grey Orwellian farms of the antagonists. The dialogue though perhaps too fast and witty for some kids to comprehend, was excellent, with a real sense of chemistry between the actors who took part, the stand outs being Clooney himself for once again playing...himself. I'm a real campaigner for Jason Schwartzman being in more films and on the display of this performance, only furthers my argument. My only disappointment was that there could have been a bit more Bill Murray and Willem Defoe in the mix but as is always the way.

Final Thoughts
Ladies and gentlemen presenting to you, The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Wes Anderson. Not the Fantastic Mr Fox by Roal Dahl. Despite the frustrating flaws its still fun, witty, oozing with class and style and should at least have the Mums and Dads smiling and laughing even if all the children are doing is marvelling at the wonderful animation.


See this if you liked...
Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (not the Burton one!), James And The Giant Peach, The Witches, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou...

Fantastic Mr Fox is in cinemas everywhere from today.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

It's A Wonderful Life - Charity film showing.


APOLOGIES for the distinct lack of a review this week, was in hospital for an operation which has ceased all travels into the glorious world of film for myself for a wee bit, but fear not I will be back to the grand old cinema very soon!

Just posting an advertisement for a charity film showing in December in aid of the Fostering Network in the United Kingdom. No Christmas is ever totally complete unless you experience the 1946 classic, It's A Wonderful Life! So if all you kind and generous people in the blogging world are within the Belfast/Dundonald/Comber/Bangor/Ards area (or not even!?) get yourself down to the Tudor Cinema on Thursday 10th December for a true Christmas experience.

Tickets are £10. All the proceeds of the event go to the Fostering Network.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Up - Review

As mentioned in my review earlier in the week of Toy Story 3D, Pixar's imagination and talent knows no bounds. The same can once again be said about their 10th feature length film Up. The film centers around a grumpy old man named Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Edward Asner) and an overeager Wilderness Explorer named Russell who fly to South America in a floating house suspended from helium balloons. That synopsis however does not even begin to describe how beautiful and evocative Up is, taking Pixar's story-telling literally, to new heights.

Amongst the playful, imaginative narrative and wonderful adventure sequences, the film-maker's tackle themes not often seen in a "children's movie" namely death, greif, love and loss. And if you base Up on its stunning opening 10 minutes alone, that summarises Carl's life to date, you have a contender for film of the year. One of the brilliant things about Up is that everything is so preposterous and so 'out there' that it all compliments each other so wonderfully.

Only Pixar could make an old man the hero we all want to be, with a 12 year old sidekick, a loyal talking dog named Doug and a rare, nearly extinct bird called Kevin. It is almost visually like something out of The Wizard Of Oz or Alice In Wonderland. Despite all this, the director manages to humanise everything through the life experience of Carl and his handling of the grief for this recently deceased wife, Ellie. If everyone in this world had the courage and conviction to see out a dream, such as Carl, it would be a much happier and magical place. The villian of the piece, famed explorer Charles F. Muntz, is also handled exceptionally well, introduced in a Citzen Kane esque 1950s cinema news piece about his rise and fall, going into exile in South America with his trained up army of talking dogs and his daunting Zeppelin Airship. One of the stand out comedy moments of the film is both Muntz and Fredricksen having a sword battle, and both of them being over 60 or 70 feeling the ill effects of old age.

It's only tiny flaw, similar to 2008's masterpiece Wall-e, is that it kind of drifts away from the point around the midway mark, and falls into slightly more conventional action adventure trappings, but at the end of the day you have to cater for the 3-12 year olds as well. Darn... One of the reasons I think why Pixar have consistently got it so right over the years, is because all their films as something distinctly pure and innocent about them. A moment where time stops and the audience live in the moment, no matter how fantastic and outrageous it might seem. That's when iconic moments in film are made, and Up has this is abundance.

Final Thoughts
You will laugh, cry, smile and be left in complete awe and wonder (and that's just in the opening sequence). It does not pain me to say that Pixar have effortlessly, done it again. You will see very few films, never mind animated, this year as moving, hilarious and touching as the story of Carl Fredricksen in Up. With each release Pixar set new standards and raise higher bars for themselves and they always keep surpassing them, we all have our favourites (mine being Rataouille, Wall-e, Toy Story 1 and 2...and now Up) and we all have our lesser favourites (Cars, A Bug's Life and Finding Nemo) however no one can deny Pixar as the most important and innovative animators of the 21st Century so far. And the world is a better place for it.


See this if you like...
Toy Story 1 and 2, A Bug's Life, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, Wall-e, Cars, Ratatouille, The Incredibles and...well you get the idea...

Also look out for the traditional Pixar short film that precedes the main feature of Up, Partly Cloudy.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Toy Story 3D - Review

IT'S terrifying to think I was only 9 years old when Toy Story was originally released. Even more so because I am a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to animation, I still hold the original hand drawn Disney classics very close to my heart. So the whole CG animation generation that this film has brought with it still feels sort of like a relatively new experience for me.

First of all I should not have to say how absolutely wonderful and important Toy Story is in the history of animation, being the first entirely computer animated film and 15 years on still has not lost any of its charm. Charting the tale of two toys' rivalry to unbreakable friendship as they go on a journey from a colourful child's bedroom full of even more colourful characters to a Sci-Fi themed pizza restaurant and into the troubled kid next door's bedroom and back again. You should all know the story by now...and its sequel. If not, then shame on your soul.

Luckily for all you people who missed it the first time, now is your chance to experience it in Hollywood's new revamped medium, 3D! Having never experienced 3D until now I was actually pleasantly surprised at the results however not terribly blown away. Obviously being 15 years old, Toy Story is not the best example of the cutting edge technology in its element but even still, the 3D effect lifted the aesthetics of the movie beautifully.

What I hope however, is for the movies that are specifically made for 3D not to bog themselves down on the experience and still deliver a good film first and foremost. Toy Story is all of this and more, and being a good deal (not a great deal or significantly!!) older than when I originally saw this in the cinema back in 1995 it still did not fail to make me laugh out loud, smile with joy and nearly shed a tear, with touching performances from Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and co as well as iconic music from Randy Newman ('You Got A Friend In Me' anyone?).

Final Thoughts
With the highly anticipated threequel on its way, June 2010, this screening puts the audience in the right mood for its arrival to the big screen. The jury is still out on this 3D malarky, but that is very much a footnote here. 15 years on, Pixar's original baby is still as memorable and classy as you remember it to be. Anyone who never got the chance to experience this in the cinema I urge you to do this as soon as possible. And for those of you who have before, do so again...You'll believe a toy can fall with style all over again.

Film: 9/10
3D experience: 7/10

See this if you like...
...wait what do you mean you haven't seen it?

Toy Story in 3D is in cinemas that are equipped with the technology now. So in Belfast's case that's....two! Right? Correct me if I'm wrong on that one blogheads.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Creation - Review

I MUST admit, I have always had an interest in the works of Charles Darwin, having studied his book, The Origin Of Species, sporadically in university in conjunction with my degree. So it was quite exciting to find that the wonderful people at BBC Films were making a 'bio-pic' on the life of the man behind one of the most controversial subjects of the last 200 years. Starring in the main role is Paul Bettany as the spirited, open minded scientist and Jennifer Connelly as his devoted God-fearing wife, Emma.

Based mainly on real life events and adapted from the book, Annie's Box: Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution, the film centres around the trials and tribulations of Darwin constructing his book, and how his daughter Annie's death affected him and his views on religion. Pressured by his peers and closing himself off from the rest of his family, Charles finds himself so mentally ill from mishandled grief and personal self-doubt that it starts to translate into physical aliments slowly draining his life away.

I thought the look and feel of this film was simply wonderful, having one of the most eye-catching opening sequences I have seen in recent months. Jon Amiel produces an elegant period piece that is fitting of the BBC's history for similar adaptations and clearly a nod to their constantly innovative Natural History unit. However as exquisite as the aesthetics of the story were, the narrative was unfortunately very incoherent, getting lost and confused in the imaginative, fragmented world of Darwin's mind skipping back and forth between the present and the happier flashbacks of his life with his loving family and friends. Seemingly the only way the audience could tell was pending on Darwin's own receding hairline.

Due to the highbrow subject of The Origins Of Species, it has probably been regarded that Darwin himself is an arrogant elitist, however with Creation, Paul Bettany produces a fascinating portrayal of an innocent man completely conflicted by his own beliefs and thoughts as well as a playful sense of wonder for the world in which he inhabits. Adding a level of depth and class to the role of Emma Darwin, Jennifer Connelly was astounding in the supporting role, and the on screen chemistry between her and Bettany was a joy to watch. Honourable mentions should also go to the performances of Toby Jones as Thomas Huxley and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sir Joseph Hooker. Their biggest shame perhaps was that they were not utilised enough.

Final Thoughts
Not the experience I personally expected, with the Origin Of Species serving more as a footnote than the main subject of the movie. Creation is an elegant provocative piece of film making, similar to Coco Before Chanel released earlier in the year, it never needed to rely on the title character's most famous achievements and was able to tell a moving story of one man's life and the impact it had on the world. Regardless of your opinion on the works of Charles Darwin, you should not deny yourself the chance to actually get to know the man, despite how badly edited the narrative of the feature might of been.


See this if you liked...
Coco Before Chanel, A Beautiful Mind, Shadowlands

Creation is in cinemas across the UK now.

Follow up news: At the time this review was published, Creation has yet to receive a release date in the USA as no distributor is willing to pick up the rights due to the creation–evolution controversy. Shame

Friday, 18 September 2009

Away We Go - Review

After a producing a striking and engaging period drama earlier in the year, that dominated the award season, Sam Mendes takes time out from working with the wife on Oscar titans and opts for a slightly more reflecting and uplifting feature. Away We Go, stars John Krasinski (from USA TV's The Office), in his first major leading role along side the charming, indie comedian Maya Rudolph, as they embark on a soul-searching journey across the USA and Canada in search of a home for themselves and their expecting child.

Full of traditional quirks that are usually associated with this kind of film, Away We Go gives the audience something that has been absent from the big screen for a few months, and rarely seen at all this year; heart. The two leads produce a beautiful chemistry that looks and feels completely natural on screen, which coincidentally mirrors the entire backdrop of the feature where Mendes produces some stunning cinematography on both a grand and intimate scale. Unlike similar films this year that have fell into the same category, like Sunshine Cleaning or Funny People, you actually feel like the main characters lives have completely been transformed from the events within the film.

One of the biggest compliments I can give to this film is that it never once takes away from the wonderful performances of every actor within the story, there was not a single bad one in the pack, Rudolph and Krasinski are backed up by the hilarious supporting appearances of Catherine O'Hara and Jeff Daniels as the eccentric parents of Krasinski as well as West Wing's Allison Janney and the beautiful, scene stealing Maggie Gyllenhaal invoking some of her more insane quirks similar to her career defining stint in Secretary. A film arguably can only be as thought provoking and life affirming as the soundtrack that it is set against, and Away We Go probably has one of the best this year, composed almost entirely of songs from British singer songwriter Alexi Murdoch (I'm listening to it as I type, glorious. Simply glorious). Perhaps my only grievances with the film was that I did not see how these two rather mellow and perfectly sane people would be associated with some of the absolutely outrageous personalties they encounter on their travels but that does not take away from the fact I actually found myself laughing out loud more in this than I had in other films in the comedy genre this year. Also upon the film's conclusion, one would think why they did not just skip all the madness and just go straight to the location they found themselves in, in the first place? But where is the fun in that.

Final Thoughts
A touching tale of two people's search for a home that they can say is truly theirs. Though the formula has been seen many times before, its rarely been performed with such elegance than how Mendes has executed it in Away We Go. With a beautiful soundtrack and wonderful life-affirming performances from the entire ensemble. Hilarious, eccentric, folky and uplifting. A shining light to begin the Autumnal season for films. Also how can you not see a film with a poster that amazing looking really?


See This If You Like...
Garden State, Once, most Wes Anderson films.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Adventureland - Review

We all love the 80s, right? Even if you were not born in the infamous decade, unlike myself, you can not help but appreciate the massive contribution made to pop culture for the past 20 years. The toys, the music, the clothes and, of course, the movies. Off the back of his break out smash hit comedy, Superbad, Greg Mottola opts for a slightly more intimate and subtle story as his follow up, set in that very decade. Based on the director's own experiences, it charts the tribulations of a young graduate, as he spends the Summer, working in a mundane, crappy job in order to attain the money that will carry him towards his dream. We've all been there (hell I'm still there). In this instance, the film's "likeable loser" of the piece is played by Jesse Eisenberg, in his first leading role, working in a run down amusement park known as Adventureland.

Going into the film, under the impression that this would be an 80s version of Superbad (which I, admittedly, was not a fan of), featuring all the dick, fart, weed and sex puns that has populated mainstream American comedies for sometime now, it was actually surprising to see a film with a lot of heart and genuine warmth. Arguably similar in context to Funny People released last month in that it had a genuinely interesting story, but lacked a constant stream of side splitting humour. However unlike Funny People, it did not need to be. It is perhaps fitting in the light of the tragic loss of one of the 80s most iconic teen film directors, John Hughes, that in this film we can see a worthy tribute. Obviously not Mottola's intention considering the film was made before Hughes' death but the influences are rife from beginning to end, from the way it was filmed, to the contrasting stereotypical teenage personalities amongst the characters, the unexpectedly dark undertones and of course the memorable soundtrack featuring the likes of The Cure, David Bowie, Whitesnake, Judas Priest, The Velvet Underground, to name but a few. All was missing was the token montage...

The performances themselves made for very enjoyable viewing, with Eisenberg genuinely shining in his first leading role, as well as the support performances of Bill Hader, Martin Starr and Matt Bush providing the few laughs. The only annoyance was Kirsten Stewart's contribution, and once again it seemingly sums up the feelings I have for her as an actress overall, capable though she is, any time she appears in a scene she has this bizarre on screen presence and ability to bring the mood down massively, which may work fine when she is getting cosy with Robert Patterson on the Twilight series, but for this rather upbeat, coming of age, comedy drama it just does not quite fit. The positives of Stewart's contribution was during the more intimate moments of the film, where her chemistry with Essienberg felt warm, real and natural, unlike the awkward strained scenes she is given with her other "love interest" of the story, Ryan Reynolds (who was surprisingly dislikeable for the first time ever in the history of his career). As unprofessional as this might sound, my criticisms of the film are not necessarily clear cut, but compared to more superior films that were actually released during the 80s, Adventureland just is not in the same class as your Ferris Bueller's or Breakfast Clubs, lacking any truly memorable moments that will stand the test of time.

Final Thoughts
A comedy-drama in its purest form, with more emphasis on the drama. Mottola shows that, as well as, no doubt making a career of Apatow like comedies, that he can deliver a film with heart and an array of characters with depth. Stewart will go on to make more high profile films than this, however this production no doubt belongs to the performance of Eisenberg, who might just be a star in the making following in the footsteps of actors of similar build and mould such as Michael Cera and Paul Dano. Though based in the 80s, Adventureland, is somewhat multi-generational, harking back to the simpler times where we all had those dead end jobs, as a means to an end, but it also reminds us that with the right people, those jobs can be the greatest and most memorable you will ever have.


See this if you liked...
Superbad, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty In Pink, American Pie etc etc...

Adventureland is in cinemas everywhere from Friday September 11th...or at least one would hope...

Friday, 4 September 2009

District 9 - Review

The realms of Science Fiction know no bounds, for years all the best examples of the genre are used as metaphors for current political climates or religious themes. From the Christ comparisons in The Day the Earth Stood Still to Communist fearing 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers and most recently, the post 9/11, war on terror displayed in the re imagined Battlestar Galactica. Sci-Fis at their best can be provocative eye opening works of cinematic excellence when pulled off in such manner. This brings us to the latest entry in this selective fold, District 9, presented by the masterful Peter Jackson and directed by Neil Blomkamp in his feature length début in the director's chair, after his much mooted Halo adaptation was indefinitely put on hold due to budgetary constraints.

The story charts the tale of the arrival of an unknown alien species, who land on Earth during the early 1980s in the unlikely location of Johannesburg, South Africa. As expected, these new visitors to our planet, are not accepted with open arms and thus condemned to the slums of the city, closed off from the rest of the population in the area known simply as District 9. In the first decade of the 21st century, Multinational United (MNU), a military contractor, is placed in charge of policing and relocating the 1.8 million aliens to District 10, a new camp 240 kilometres north-west of Johannesburg. Enter the protagonist of the piece, Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) who is thrust to the front-line of this ordeal, after being exposed to a strange liquid substance where his life begins to unravel into complete chaos, and must choose a side; fight for a species he has little feeling for or become a victim of a terrifying experiment from his own people. The performance of Copely was for the most part very impressive, considering he improvised most of his lines in the documentary portions of the film, coming across as slightly naive to the whole situation due to his rather obedient nature in his attitude towards his superiors.

The story itself I thought was beautifully told, arguably similar to 2008's Cloverfield, with the fly on the wall/documentary perspective for the majority of the film, truly getting to the heart of the real issues Blomkamp wanted the audience to experience. Arguably more advanced and intelligent than our own human race, these aliens are treated with so much xenophobic abuse and social segregation that reduce them to nothing more than scavengers and horrific savages, with much comparison to how the political climate is on the African continent at this moment in time. Where Blomkamp succeeds with District 9, is his striking balance of a captivating account of moral and civil injustice with some truly ballsy effects laden set pieces on par with such movies as Aliens, Terminator 2, Starship Troopers to name but a few. Which brings us to the deal breaker of any Sci-Fi extravaganza, the special effects; which were frankly outstanding considering the budget was a modest £30 million. Designed by the highly innovative and ground-breaking visual effects artists from the Weta Workshop (Peter Jackson's own special effects company), the aliens themselves were some of the best photo-realistic CG characters I have seen on screen in some time, as well as the cold, gritty exterior of the brooding mother-ship hovering over the metropolis of Johannesburg. The alien weapons are another essential talking point in the film's overall review, and they are simply outstanding, and I'm sure fan-boys throughout the cinema would be drooling at the thought of them ever appearing in a computer game adaptation in the future.

Perhaps it was Blomkamp's intention to keep the aliens as mysterious as possible, but due to this ambiguous nature it became hard to truly feel for this species in the same way as the main alien protagonist Christopher, as the rest of the species was never shown to have any more of a soul as the terrifying bugs present in Starship Troopers. Also though the third act was explosive in every way, it slightly took away from the profound message the director was maybe trying to get across. These criticisms aside however, I thought the film itself played out masterfully, and on a purely cinematic basis, and considering the budget compared to lesser sci-fi blockbusters released this year, Neil Blomkamp shows the world that he is a director who needs to be noticed and with this film alone he displays enough sheer talent and ambition that will no doubt lead him to taking the reigns of more well-known franchises to come, with huge confidence from hardcore fan bases that he will deliver. With heavyweights such as the Star Trek reboot and the wonderful Moon already released on the back of District 9's arrival, this is certainly making 2009 the year Sci-Fi has become genuinely cool and trendy again.

Final Thoughts
District 9 will be regarded by most (and rightly so) as a film that truly gets to the heart of what is fundamentally wrong with the political state of the African continent as a whole. Dealing with such issues as the country under Apartheid, as well as the fierce racism and xenophobia which has reduced the poor to the slums and plagued the country for decades. Neil Blomkamp displays a directorial execution well beyond his years within the industry, which along side Duncan Jones bodes well for new exciting directors in the future. With intensely claustrophobic cinematography and some genuinely stunning visual effects as the backdrop to an edgy highly profound thriller, District 9 could well turn out to be the sleeper hit of the year.


See This if you Liked...
Independence Day, Aliens, Starship Troopers and...(yes bit of an odd one) Blood Diamond

Watch Blomkamp's original short film which laid the foundations for District 9, entitled Alive in Joburg here...

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Disney/Marvel Retrospective.

(Gill is on holiday so this is all I could muster on Photoshop at short notice...)

Watered Down Kiddy Comic Book Movies?! Noooooooooo.

If you live under the internet equivalent of a rock, you may not have noticed the news break yesterday that the Walt Disney company has purchased possibly the biggest publishers of comic books in the entire world, Marvel Entertainment, for a rather handsome fee of $4 billion dollars (roughly £2.5 million). This would entail all the characters in the Marvel brand, brought over into the Disney portfolio, including the likes of Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk, Fantastic Four to name merely a few. The question however on most fanboy's mind is, how will this effect the future instalments of their favourite comic book characters on the silver screen? Will Mickey team up with Spidey in a brotherly buddy comedy? Will The Beast from Beauty And The Beast replace the blue one of the same name in X-Men (or vice versa!?!)? Will the Fantastic Four have a death match with Pixar's The Invincibles?! won't.

Marvel Entertainment, has had a mixed history with the big screen adaptations of their best characters; some good (Spider-Man 2, X-Men 1 & 2, Blade, Iron Man), some OK (Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, DareDevil) and some unmentionable (Elecktra, The Punisher 1&2, Ghost Rider). This could be down to Marvel's inability to get the right people on board for their films or even down to how much commitment each studio puts into these adaptations. As it stands, Disney will not be legally allowed to start making all the next Marvel adaptations as they should choose. Unlike their main rivals, DC Comics, who have been owned by Time Warner since the early 90s and thus have exclusive rights to all DC adaptations for the foreseeable future, Marvel have sold their rights to various studios throughout the years, Sony/Columbia still own the rights and will indeed make the next three Spider-Man films, the same also applies to 20th Century Fox who hold the rights to an array of Marvel characters including the Fantastic Four, DareDevil, X-Men, Silver Surfer etc and Universal who produce The Hulk and have a related theme park. Both of which have agreements that means this will not change any time soon.

The Future.

Of course nothing lasts forever and Disney are not suckers. You do not spend $4 billion just to attain bragging rights over your competition, eventually Disney are going to want to exploit Marvel's assets and get their money's worth. Aside from the inevitable merchandising revolution and the theme park tie ins at the two Disneyland resorts in America, Disney will eventually start considering adapting Marvel's biggest characters themselves, however when you really think about it, is this truly a bad thing? As already mentioned Marvel have a mixed history with their comic book movies and if you look at the list of their releases since 2000, it honestly is not pretty reading, for the most part. For every Spider-Man and X-Men, there is unfortunately a Ghost Rider or a Punisher.

Disney themselves have went through a renaissance over recent years since their merger with Pixar having started to firmly establish themselves as the creative powerhouses they once were, and with their eagerly awaited return to 2D animation this Christmas, on the back of the consistently beautiful and evocative pieces of Pixar and the live action success of the Pirates Of The Caribbean trilogy as well as possibly the first promising computer game adaptation of The Prince Of Persia out next year, it only makes sense for both parties that this deal should in the long term reap massive benefits. The thought of Pixar making an epic theatrical adaptation of one of Marvel's properties is mouth watering, or Jerry Bruckheimer producing a high budget live action equivalent. With an absolutely stellar track record in making the most wonderful and awe-inspiring images to appear on cinema screens for over a decade, how could the prospect of John Lasseter over seeing any Marvel adaptations in the coming years truly be a bad thing? Still dreading those terrifying cross-overs? Look no further than the preposterously successful Kingdom Hearts series, if they can cross over Final Fantasy with Disney, then adding Marvel into the mix would be all kinds of excellence.

Similarly so, this will work both ways, besides their stable household superheroes, Marvel have released astounding graphic novel adaptations of literary masterpieces such as Stephen King's The Dark Tower and most recently a beautifully told, and drawn account of The Wizard Of Oz, so perhaps re imaginings of some of Disney's classic characters by some of the leading graphic artists populating the industry could be on the cards (though most likely not a Disney Zombies, one would imagine...). So in retrospect my friends, yes there will be tedious cringe worthy cross overs, and cheesey distasteful merchandising cash ins and theme park rides, but for the future of Marvel's movies, there are indeed worse hands you could leave them in than that funny looking topless mouse in the top image...

Friday, 28 August 2009

Funny People - Review

I personally have never bought into the "Apatow era" generation of American comedies such as Knocked Up, 40 Year Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad etc. I can not give you an exact answer as to why, they have just never agreed with me. There are only so much obnoxious dick, fart and sex jokes one can take from Seth Rogen and co before it becomes tiresome and predictable. That said however, until recent years I have always had a soft spot for Mr. Adam Sandler, having made some of the funniest films I have seen while growing up, before being lead astray by making dull, depressing and unimaginative family films, I must admit I had totally written him off as an actor. Which brings us to Funny People, written and directed by Judd Apatow himself and starring, seemingly everyone he knows in his phone book. Going in with slight hesitation on the basis that the director's previous work does very little for me, I was actually pleasantly surprised with the resulting outcome.

Funny People tells the tale of comedian turned movie mega-star, George Simmons (Sandler) as he is diagnosed with a form of cancer. Upon hearing this devastating news, it leads George to reflect on his past achievements realising that though he has became rich and successful that he unfortunately has also lead an extremely empty, lonely and unfulfilled life. This sobering thought brings him to rediscover his original passion for performing live stand-up comedy again, where he meets young, down on his luck, amateur Ira Wright (Seth Rogen). Being impressed with the young upstart's performance, he then goes on to hire Ira to write jokes for his new string of shows and thus develops a strained yet close bond with his young protege as George finally starts to realise (as they all do...) that money and success is not what makes a person truly happy, but the better things in life such as family, friends and love.

As I said in the opening paragraph, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the warmth that Apatow put into the story, and found myself sucked in with a smile on my face, as it was a refreshing break from the usual clichéd rom-coms that have it so easily could have been. However, with an engaging opening two acts, it was a dreadful shame that by the film's closing 30 minutes that it started to drag and lose its direction. This is no fault of the impressive array of actors on hand but of Apatow himself, as the film was far too long than it needed to be, at a bum-numbing two and a half hours long. The highlight for me personally was the performance of Sandler himself, as he gave personally the greatest performance of his career, though he has been funnier, I find myself truly stumped to name a movie where he has been a better actor.

Similar possibly to Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler earlier this year, you got the impression that the character of George was written especially for Sandler, mimicking the man's career as one of the heavyweights of American comedy almost a decade ago being reduced to starring in bland live action family movies (Click? Bedtime Stories? The list goes on...). Outside of Sandler's experienced heavyweight performance, Rogen performed extremely well as the heart and soul compared to the rest of the movie's ambitious, back stabbing and self congratulatory characters. However both are blown away in the comedy department from stellar support appearances of the wonderful Jason Schwartzman, Jonah Hill and Eric Bana who I thought were absolutely incredible and where most of the comedy came from. One aspect of the film I think most audiences will love, is the endless list of cameos that appear in this film, from all the usual suspects of the American comedy circuits such as Ray Romano, Sarah Silverman, Tom Anderson, Andy Dick, David Attell to the slightly unusual appearances from Eminem, James Taylor to even Bryan Batt (who you ask?! From the excellent Mad Men of course) as George's camp agent.

Though Funny People was one of the more absorbing comedies I have seen this year, full of life, exuberance and just a lot of good honest fun, I felt I was a little cheated by the fact that it was not actually that funny. I thought for the most part it was a wonderful, enriching experience, I just got the impression that this was more an exercise of Apatow showing off his little black book of celebrity pals, filled with inside jokes such as Rogen's room-mates poking fun at the actor's impressive weight loss (in preparation for his starring role in the Green Hornet reboot next year) to as already mentioned the state of which Adam Sandler's career has now become.

Final Thoughts
Sandler, Rogen and co have rarely been better actors, before this really touching Summer heavyweight. It could quite well be the best serious comedy you will see in a long time, but in all honesty when one goes to see a film called Funny People, you want to find yourself laughing hysterically from beginning to end, and for the considerably unnecessary length of the film there just was not enough laughs to justify it. Judd Apatow has made funnier films than this, but honestly he has made few better than this. After being on the fringes for so long, you can only hope the only way is up for Adam Sandler after this touching and miraculous performance. Not perfect, but still worth seeing...


See this if you liked...
Knocked Up, 40 year old Virgin, Anchorman, and some of Sandler's best films Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore and even (slight guilty pleasure of mine possibly...) Big Daddy.

Funny People is available in all major cinemas now.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Hurt Locker - Review

Kathryn Bigelow has been keeping herself, very much, under the radar since her break out hit way back in 1991, Point Break. Since then her catalogue of releases have been modest at best ranging from the under rated and practically unnoticed Strange Days to the high budget and rather mediocre, Cold War thriller, K-19: The Widow Maker. After treading the film making wilderness for many years she finally returns to the spotlight with her latest film The Hurt Locker, set against the very current affair backdrop of the second Iraq war. The film itself centres primarily around three soldiers in one of the U.S. Army's bomb disposal units as they near completion of their year's duty of the region charting the trials and tribulations that face them on a day-to-day basis.

From the film's opening moments the audience is swept into a world that very few would ever wish to experience hands on, as the characters deal with the most uncompromisingly tense situations ranging from the standard bomb diffusing exercise, to physically trying to remove a bomb strapped to a suicide bomber. While the action itself I felt was sparingly used to a much more potent effect, the film excelled leaps and bounds compared to its contemporaries, in building up that terrifyingly uneasy tension before all hell eventually broke loose. This comes across amazingly well through the performances of Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackle and Brian Geraghty, demonstrating a vast array of emotions, though not entirely sympathetic characters initially, I came to accept them for the flawed human beings they were and because of this The Hurt Locker stands a testimony to what these people go through every single day while on the front lines. Though physically tested, their mental health is driven to the brink with every single situation they are faced in the film, this was very much evident any time they were out in the field, and their paranoia is heighten immensely when seemingly every single Iraqi citizen in the immediate area must always be treated as a suspected bomber whether it is a full grown man, woman or child.

Furthermore Bigelow demonstrates the U.S military attitude to the Iraqi people, with a sly dig at the handling of the entire invasion (invasion? Did I say that...I meant "operation"), where the soldiers themselves are very negative towards the people they are trying to "save", thus distancing themselves in the process. This is signified when one of the main characters describes that they have changed the title of the whole mission from "Operation: Liberty" to "Operation: Victory" (oh dear). Though fascinating from beginning to end, I thought the story could have been more engaging than it was, coming across as slightly dull at times, almost like watching another tiresome Sky One documentary in the Middle East, next to the frantic and captivating intensity of the situations and characters put before the audience. The production values on the other hand were completely faultless however, with the cinematography from Barry Ackroyd setting you straight into the action making each scene more overwhelming than the last, similar in many ways to his previous work on The Wind That Shakes The Barley. Another stand out for me was the score from Marco Beltrami which was sparse but slowly built up the alarming intensity of the action scenes when the scenes notched up into overdrive. What might make The Hurt Locker stand apart from similar films is in the story's more tender and philosophical moments, describing in the movie's opening quote that war is "like a drug" and then in the final act William (Jeremy Renner) realising upon returning home to his beautiful wife and baby son, that civilian life is both dull, depressing and uneventful and that the only way to live again is to be dancing on the edge of sanity in the urban jungle of Iraq once more, which I personally thought was quite evocative and realistic. Makes one ask the question of, what place do men of war have amongst the sanctuary of civilisation?

Final Thoughts
Having virtually no preconceptions of what to expect from The Hurt Locker upon sitting down to watch it, other than I thought it was going another salute to the ego of the armed forces serving in the region, I admit I was pleasantly surprised. Intense, gritty and at times overwhelming, it sets the audience at the front line of the action, which is not necessarily, all guns blazing, taking the characters to the brink each time they perform a task for their superiors. Though it stumbles from a rather incoherent plot and portrayed more as a series of events, its injection of genuine suspense and harsh realism, is what drives the film forward and what makes it stand out next to every other war film you have probably watched before this. Regardless of your own feelings on the farcical nature of the war in question, The Hurt Locker is an assertion of honest film making where the characters and not the backdrop are at the epicentre of what makes this completely captivating. Sought this gem out immediately my friends, as it could be one of the best films you will see all year.


The Hurt Locker is meant to be in cinemas from the 28th August but with the U.K's distribution, who the hell knows any more....