Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Doubt - Review

In a nutshell...
Feels like a late review this one, having been out across the Atlantic since December, and already got plenty of praise from the big award ceremonies, finally Doubt comes to U.K cinemas for the first time. Adapted for the big screen from the stage play of the same name, by its creator John Patrick Shanley (this being his 9th film), he has assembled 3 of the best actors working in the industry at the minute, the legendary Meryl Streep as well as two of my personal favourites the consistently brilliant Phillip Seymour Hoffman and the beautiful Amy Adams. The film opens to beautifully bleak surroundings of early 1960s New York where Hoffman's character Father Brendan Flynn is giving a sermon on the nature of doubt, noting that, like faith, it can be a unifying force, which subsequently (and as the title of the movie suggests) becomes the underlying theme running throughout the film. This scene in question also introduces Streep's character, the strict, menacing, practical thinking principal of the school, Sister Aloysius, whose introduction is one of many, well captured, segments of the movie.

"Look you asked for my opinion and I gave you it. All I'm saying is that hat isn't a good look for you, no need to get upset..."

Father Flynn is, as you would expect, the hip and happenin' priest who wants to get along with everyone, and doesn't like to alienate any of this flock under any circumstances, even taking part in engaging activities, such as basketball practice with the boys, in true Hoffman fashion he plays this angle with honesty and warmth (in a way kind of like his role in The Big Lebowski) that you initially think this bloke ain't so bad after all. Of course if that were the case we wouldn't have a story. As the film develops questions or (dare I say) doubts are raised by the young, slightly naive, somewhat lacking in confidence, Sister James (Amy Adams) upon the nature of Father Flynn's behaviour towards seemingly the only black child studying in the school, which leads Sister Aloysius on a determined quest for the truth, channelling her Miss Marple groove in the process. This leads to various key encounters between Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius regarding his motives, of course getting them both nowhere, in turn raising more questions instead of answering them. Hell-bent (an appropriate term once you see the movie) on knowing the truth of the priest's relationship with the boy, she interrogates the mother of young Donald (played by Viola Davis) resulting in the biggest revelation of the film, unfolding a chain of events leading to the film's climax.

Visually this film was perfect for me, giving an almost Grant Wood-esque feel. Bleak and run down, capturing the mood of the time perfectly, similar to Frost/Nixon, except on a much more intimate level. Streep plays her character like the Mary Poppins from hell, or what you would expect if you ever met Darth Vader's mum intially, though throughout the film you start to see the cracks appear showing that she isn't completely incorruptible and is human after all. Seemingly Hoffman plays his character in the same way as Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius act as a counter balance to each other, both have their own unique takings on how religion should be expressed and practised that maybe if they had a better understanding could have built something very interesting within their community. One of the brilliant things about this film was that it always kept you guessing, even right up to the final scene, you obviously were rooting for Streep to be right because if Flynn's questionable nature was true it was inexcusable, however was Streep's blind faith so clouded that she was unable to see beyond what the images created in her mind? Priest + Altar Boy + Church = well... can't really blame her for having warped views on that one... Overall a captivating mystery which succeeded in keeping the audience on their toes from beginning to end which however was not without flaws. Doubt unfortunately felt as though it lacked direction at times, and felt a little clunky in its execution of its scenes, maybe that's partly down to adapting from the stage to screen or maybe its from the slightly oddly Dutch film angles it persisted on using. However technical difficulties aside, the actors performed amazingly well, and Viola Davis (for all one scene she was in) was unbelievably moving and did astonishing work to captured my sympathy, as an anxious, hard-working woman who's just trying to hold her life and family together, in those very brief few minutes of screen time she had (not sure if that totally warranted a Best Supporting Actress nomination but hey...). To conclude Doubt is a very enjoyable film, which may suffer slightly on execution at times but is beautifully acted, filmed and portrayed which makes us question our convictions and beliefs to the brink of madness and with all its ambiguous tones to its closing scenes will leave its audience questioning what exactly did happen with Father Flynn and that boy?

Stand Out Scene...
The encounter between Mrs. Miller and Sister Aloysius. If anything was revealed in this film (and there was a hellva lot left to the imagination) there sure was here...

Stand Out Quote...
"Sister, I don't know if you and me are on the same side. I'll be standing with my son and those who are good with my son. It'd be nice to see you there." Mrs Miller (watch the scene, morally chilling...)

See this if you liked...
Actually can't think of a similar film that I've seen that I could recommend. Just go see it!!

Doubt is in cinemas from Friday 27th February.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Academy Awards 2009 preview

Looks like it's a Slumdog Awards for 2009

Well its that time of the year again, the statues have been polished, the Academy have surely made their votes and the world waits with baited breath for the results. Though can we all assume that this is the most predictable Oscar race ever? Possibly even the most frustrating? Let's take a look at the big categories nominees...

"Sorry love you got something on your chin..."

Best Picture
Slumdog Millionaire
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
The Reader

Honestly I think this award is a foregone conclusion, Slumdog has dominated this year's BAFTAs and Golden Globes so unless the Academy really want to send a shock through the industry and pick one of the other contenders instead I think this one is a sure bet for the bookies. Though I really enjoyed Slumdog, I probably preferred Frost/Nixon that little bit more however I sincerely doubt it will get the nod if there is a surprise shock. Outsiders pick would go to Gus Van Sant's Milk though if you fancy a punt. While we are here I would like to express my sincere disappointment to the Academy snubbing The Wrestler, Wall-e and yes The Dark Knight (oh yes groan away but this was a well made cinematic masterpiece, comic books be damned!) for this award.

Prediction: Slumdog Millionaire
Worth a punt: Milk
My choice: If it were nominated, The Wrestler

"Just remember the deal Frost, you get your confession, but I get the Best Actor nomination. Got it?!"

Best Director
Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher - The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Gus Van Sant - Milk
Stephen Daldry - The Reader
Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon

With about 75% of the Best Picture winners usually receiving Best Director also, Danny Boyle is once again hot favourite to pick this up to add to his BAFTA and Golden Globe. Having already won back in 2001 it wouldn't be impossible to discount Ron Howard, and even though the film itself is an emotionless pile of trash David Fincher did do a great job with Benjamin Button, but great directing doesn't always mean a great film, which is where Fincher is likely to suffer. Once again if you fancy an outsider punt ol' Gus (nominated for the first time in 12 years since Good Will Hunting) is worth a go for his wonderful camp political drama Milk. The Academy are prone to shocking everyone now and again by giving one film Best Picture and a different film Best Director even though it makes little sense whatsoever. Also another injustice suffered at the hands of the Academy was snubbing Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, Christopher Nolan's epic work on The Dark Knight and Andrew Stanton's beautiful take on Wall-e.

Prediction: Danny Boyle
Worth a punt: Gus Van Sant
My choice: Christopher Nolan (OK so I loved The Dark Knight, deal with it)

"Ahh to be 22 again..."

Best Actor

Brad Pitt - The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Sean Penn - Milk
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
Richard Jenkins - The Vistor

As with the previous two categories this one is as much a sure thing as Man United winning the Premiership. The award season belongs to one actor, and one alone Mickey Rourke for his work in The Wrestler, no point arguing it. The man delivered a performance that would reduce anyone to tears and the role that will define his career. End Of. However if Rourke wasn't in the frame this award would have surely gone to Penn for his moving, heartfelt portrayal of Harvey Milk, in regards to the Oscar snubs this year, I was disappointed not to see Michael Sheen in the frame for his role as David Frost in Frost/Nixon as well as Clint Eastwood for his starring role in Gran Torino and most surprisingly young Dev Patel for his work in Slumdog Millionaire? It's a great film and it is going to get Best Picture and Director most likely, but deny its star? Really lads? Any chance?.

Prediction: Mickey Rourke
Worth a punt: If you want to waste your money on someone other than Rourke go with Sean Penn.
My choice: Have to agree with everyone else, Mickey Rourke

"If I have to smile one more time I'm gonna knock you the fuck out..."

Best Actress
Kate Winslet - The Reader
Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie - Changeling
Meryl Streep - Doubt
Melissa Leo - Frozen River

Is the world really prepared for another Winslet acceptance speech? They better be. If The Reader is going to win any awards on this evening, it will surely be this though it is actually a surprise that Winslet only got the one nomination, as her work on Revolutionary Road (although completely dismissed by the Academy got her the Best Actress award at the Golden Globes last month?!). However you can never discount Mrs Streep, having been nominated a staggering 15 times (and only won once!?...Well twice if you count her best supporting award) though I must admit, its hardly cinematic gold I'm surprised she didn't get a nod for her work on Mama Mia also. Angelina Jolie is also a dark horse with her solid work on Changeling. Um...that's all I got for this one...

Prediction: Kate Winslet
Worth a punt: Meryl Streep
My choice: Kate Winslet

Best Supporting Actor
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
Josh Brolin - Milk
Robert Downey Jr - Tropic Thunder
Philip Semour Hoffman - Doubt
Michael Shannon - Revolutionary Road

Anyone who hasn't been living under a rock will know of the tragedy the film world suffered when Heath Ledger died in his home from an accidental overdose so it is only fitting that if anyone is going to receive this award it's gonna be him. Won by technical default you say? Utter nonsense, watch The Dark Knight and you will see Heath Ledger didn't merely play The Joker, he WAS The Joker and that is the main reason there will not be an on screen appearance from another actor as The Joker in a Batman film for a long time. That isn't to say the other men don't deserve a nod, Brolin was excellent in Milk as was Downey Jr in Tropic Thunder (actually correction, he was the best thing in it) but again why the hell wasn't Michael Sheen or even Sam Rockwell in this category for Frost/Nixon?!!?!?! No justice I swear da god.

Prediction: If the Academy don't wanna receive a hate campaign, Heath Ledger
Worth a punt: Josh Brolin
My choice: Ledger.

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams - Doubt
Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis - Doubt
Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler

Now I gotta admit, unlike the Best Actress category, I'm a bit more up to speed on this one. Obviously on the back of a Golden Globe and BAFTA in the same category Penelope Cruz is the most likely victor for this award, and rightly so because she was absolutely fantastic in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and (as said in my review a couple of weeks ago) the stand out star of the film. However, this isn't who I personally wanna win, any loyal followers of the blog since its first review of The Wrestler will know I have been pitching for Marisa Tomei to win this award since I saw the film and I still stand by that. If Rourke deserves his Oscar then she deserves this award too, and it was just as much her film as it was his ("Comeback roles" be damned for a moment). Honourable mention does actually go out to Taraji Henson because her performance was one of the few things I actually liked about Benjamin Button.

Prediction: Cruz (unfortunately)
Worth a punt: Marisa Tomei
My choice: Marisa Tomei (I demand justice!!)

Are you people actually still reading?! Well done. Only going to analyse the other two big categories, so endure for just a tiny bit longer. You're a true champion for reading.

Best Original Screenplay
Happy Go Lucky
Frozen River
In Bruges

Now this is more fucking like it!? For the first time in this article I am actually stumped between two films (and coincidentally two of my favourite films of last year), in my opinion both Wall-e and In Bruges deserve this, both amazingly delightful to watch for different reasons and uniquely written in the way you expect from modern cinema. I really don't wanna choose one, but if I had to it would be In Bruges as it of course won the BAFTA. Of course that is just my opinion, I really do want to think of both Wall-e and In Bruges as serious contenders for this one, with the other being (possibly the likely winner) Milk. Decisions...decisions....

Prediction: Ahhh!?!....ummm....In Bruges!
Worth a punt: Milk
My choice: Wall-e (conflicted much?)

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Slumdog Millionaire
The Reader

Respect goes to Eric Roth on this one for squeezing just under three (very...very...very...long) hours out of a short story to produce Benjamin Button, however that doesn't mean I thought he succeeded so, sorry Roth I'm counting you out of this one. Slumdog Millionaire has won this award at both the Globes and the BAFTAs this year so it will most likely pick this one up as well. However I would love to see Frost/Nixon pip this one, has frankly you gotta give an amazing film an even break once and a while. The Reader is a serious contender for this one also but honestly as the title of this blog says, its a Slumdog Awards this year.

Prediction: Slumdog Millionaire
Worth a punt: Frost/Nixon or The Reader
My choice: Frost/Nixon

So there we go! Yes yes I missed out on a lot of other useless Mickey Mouse awards so to compromise I'm going to give you the straight quick run down for my choices for the winners of the rest (side commentary included but not needed).

Animated Feature: Wall-e (no contest)
Foreign Language Film: Waltz With Bashir
Animated Short: Presto (worth the Wall-e DVD alone)
Art Direction: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (though I'd personally like TDK to win!)
Cinematography: Slumdog Millionaire (but again TDK)
Costume Design: Australia (you gotta give it at least that right?)
Documentary: Man On Wire
Film Editing: Frost/Nixon
Make up: Hellboy II (though since the Academy seemingly hates comic book films Benjamin Button will most likely win)
Original Score: Wall-e
Original Song: Down To Earth by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman, though its an utter shame Springsteen wasn't even nominated for The Wrestler
Sound Editing: Wall-e
Sound Mixing (could someone please mail me the difference): umm...Wall-e?
Visual Effects: The Dark Knight but Iron Man does deserve a nod even though Ben Button will unfortunately win.

That was a hell of a lot of writing. Now that award season has virtually wrapped up, next week is back to old school reviewing. Some good un's to come! Watch this space.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Gran Torino - Review

In a nutshell...
For the best part of 50 years Clint Eastwood has provided cinema with some truly memorable moments, from both in front and behind, the camera, from the iconic Western anti-hero 'Man With No Name' to the anti-hero detective Harry Callahan to (my personal favourite) the WW2 ... um... anti-hero in Kelly Hero's plus countless other eh, anti-heroes. Although been fairly quiet on the acting front these past few years concentrating on his consistently fruitful directing career with such Oscar nominated heavyweights such as 2003's Mystic River, 2004's Million Dollar Baby (which coincidently was his last movie he appeared in, in an acting capacity) as well as 2006 war time epics Flags Of Our Fathers, Letters of Iwo Jima along with the recently Oscar nominated Changeling starring Angelina Jolie. Suffice to say old Clint has been around the block, beat up enough punks and won more praise and awards than most actors and directors will in a lifetime combined.

This brings us to his latest film Gran Torino, back in the director's chair once again, but more importantly, his first acting role for nearly 5 years. Eastwood plays the role of semi-racist Korean war veteran/retired car factory worker Walt Kowalski, who in the light of the opening sequence where he attends his wife's funeral is now alone for the first time in around 50 years. Angry and bitter at the mere sight of his two sons and grandchildren he finds solace in being alone (with his beautiful 1972 Gran Torino sport) until a chain of events brings him together with his immigrant next door neighbours, the shy Thao and his feisty sister Sue Vang Lor who live with their mother and eccentric grandmother. Over the course of the film you start to see Walt take down his own personal barriers and really grow to have a connection with the family, possibly having the family he always wanted, one who treats him with the respect he deserves and considers his company a privilege instead of a burden. Well, so far so summer children's movie about the curious kids and the grumpy old bastard next door. That is until Thao starts to be harassed by his 'gangster' cousin and without having the guts and determination to fend for himself he goes off and gets the next best thing. Yes, that's right, Clint Eastwood. In true Eastwood fashion he sorts them out harking, a huge chunk of nostalgia, back to his glory days of Dirty Harry and his films with Sergio Leone, proving that you should never underestimated any old man with a shotgun and a lust for killing.

One of the reasons I think Eastwood might have made this film with him as the star is because there could not be a more fitting way to mark the twilight (possibly even the end) of his film career as an on screen actor, at 78 we were never going to get that one final Dirty Harry movie so Gran Torino is possibly the next best thing. If you ever wondered how Harry Callahan would have dealt with being a pensioner, this film is currently the closest I could of imagined to it. Backed up by a solid, yet not overly stand out supporting cast (though look out for Clint's son Scott in a brief appearance has Sue's date), though Chris Carley deserves praise and an honourable mention for his role as Father Janovich, who kind of acts as Walt's unwanted conscience for most of the film. In my opinion Eastwood delivers another brilliant, accessible and most importantly enjoyable film that should be loved by anyone who has been a fan of his work. With scenes that reminds us of his glory days (though in fairness Eastwood has rarely not had glory days), along with scenes that reminds us of other great ethnic suburbia films such as the Oscar winning Boyz In The Hood to the doom and gloom environments of Mystic River. Beautifully shot with a moving score from Clint's other son, Kyle who has provided music to all of his films since 2002's Mystic River, Eastwood has pretty much done it again, and you know what? It honestly made my day (sorry for the pun I've been waiting the entire review to say it).

Stand Out Scene...
The scene where he attends a party at his neighbours home I found quite endearing and quite heart warming showing the first signs of a soul within the bitter lonely old man. Also the scene where he stares down 3 African-American hoods giving Sue a hard time. Pure Eastwood. Yash.

Stand Out Quote...
Walt - (to Father Janovich) "I think you're an overeducated 27-year-old virgin who likes to hold the hands of superstitious old ladies and promise them everlasting life" There is also a mountain of racist slurs I could list here but that just wouldn't be appropriate. Watch the film and you'll know what I mean.

See this if you liked...
Um Clint Eastwood movies? Also Boyz In The Hood.

Pop by later in the week for my (as promised) divine preview for 2009's Academy Awards.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Bolt - Review


In a nutshell...
So...Disney...For anyone reading this who knows me, they should know by now my undying love for this animation company since pretty much I was old enough to register images into my brain back when I was a tiny infant. From Snow White to Sword In The Stone to Sleeping Beauty to Beauty And The Beast To Aladdin and all the way back again I grew up and loved them all. Until that is, the late 1990s/ early 2000 came, 2-D animation is vast becoming outdated and Disney's storylines are becoming dull and frankly shite (Treasure Planet and Atlantis anyone? Really?) which resulted in Disney slowly becoming merely another childhood memory. "Getting fat and lazy, and he walked in and ups a daisy!" That man is of course John Lasseter, creator of one of the most important animation studios in the world, Pixar, that brought you the likes of Toy Story 1&2, Finding Nemo and my second favourite film of last year the ground breaking Wall-e, and now back where he started at Disney he is now the head chief creative officer for the company and vowed to bring it back to where it should be, and that's at the top of the animation mountain.

Bolt marks the 48th film under the title of Walt Disney Pictures and follows in the footsteps of its CGI predecessors, the dull and depressing Dinosaur, the film that could've been great but wasn't, Chicken Little and the distinctly average and forgettable Meet The Robinsons (what you say? Exactly). However with Lasseter at the helm of producer and a directing team of Chris Williams and Bryon Howard from one of the company's last great 2-D films, Mulan surely it can be better...right? Yes! Right! Bolt is a tale about a dog (voiced by the man who keeps coming back John Travolta) who has been sheltered for most of his life on a film set leading him to believe he is actually a super enhanced hero (imagine The Truman Show crossed with Buzz Lightyear, except...a dog) protecting his human or "person" as he puts it, Penny (voiced by some doll who all the kids love these days...Miley Cyprus? Cyrus? Stratus? Sterruss? Stratocaster? Ah who cares). With his delusions eventually leading him astray from his owner he embarks on a country wide travel from New York to Hollywood along with his travel companions, cat Mittens and hamster Rhino of course getting into all kinds of funky trouble along the way.

The visuals are beautiful and lush which, is what you have come to expect from Pix....um I mean Disney, and honestly would not look out of place in the Disney/Pixar film The Incredibles or to a somewhat lesser extent Cars. It was colourful, bright, cute and topped surprisingly with a witty enough script to keep the kids and adults amused for the whole duration, however what was a little disappointing was that it failed to deliver anything new or exciting to really announce Disney's "2nd Coming" as many other journalists have been putting this recent renaissance. The voice cast however do deserve praise and for me personally top props go to the cameos of the pigeons who actually made me "LOL" (jeez I feel so dirty for putting it like that) a couple of times. Animated and performed with true warmth and heart Disney have made the "Oliver & Co." of their CGI productions, and if history is to repeat itself, (the film that came after Oliver & Co was of course the legendary and absolutely spell-binding Little Mermaid) then the next film to come under the "Walt Disney Pictures" emblem is something truly to look out for. To round up Bolt is a loveable tale that, although been told time and time again in films like Homeward Bound, Oliver & Co, Lassie, Old Yellor! The Aristocats about a human and their pet, it should not take anything away from how much the kids will enjoy it. However as I'm sure the amount of traffic from people under 13 is low in these parts, to any devote bloggers out there who wanna watch an animation masterpiece, go watch Wall-e instead...or Beauty and The Beast. Walt, mate, you're nearly there but just slightly off the finishing line. One more try!

Stand out scene...
Any involving the pigeons for me, some comedy gold there.

Stand out quote...
Rhino (the hamster) with an upset stomach, "That meat lover's pizza is NOT loving me back"

If you liked this go watch...
The Truman Show or any Disney film involving talking animals!!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Review

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

In a nutshell...
As with Benjamin Button in my last review, Woody Allen falls into two categories for most people, you either like him (and I do) or you loathe him. Over recent years though Woody has broken away from his primary inspiration for his movies, New York, to chart across the Atlantic to experience other cities which has resulted in somewhat of a mixed bag. With his films over the past few years being mainly set in the UK, Mr Allen decided to head for sunnier and greener pastures in Barcelona this time round. Vicky Cristina Barcelona follows the tale of (you guessed it) best chums Vicky and Cristina (played by the beautiful Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson respectively, reuniting them in a film for the second time since 2006 film The Prestige) as they spend the summer in (wow you're all rather good at this, that's right!) Barcelona. Typical of Allen's portrayal of any city he sets his films in, Vicky and Cristina experience the beautiful luxurious side to the city dining in fine restaurants, drinking wine aged to perfection, mixing with the creative elite, which brings us to the male lead of the story Juan Antonio (played with a better haircut than he did in No Country For Old Men, Javier Bardem), who successfully attempts to woo both of the ladies into a crazed passionate affair with sex, booze and Antonio Gaudí architecture.

Though Vicky is engaged to be married to another man the committed but unromantic Doug (Chris Messina), she is always drawn to Juan Antonio though she eventually goes on to distance herself through guilt, this leads to a proper relationship emerging between Cristina and Juan Antonio, which blossoms through once again a lot of passionate sex, elegant booze and mixing with the creative elite. However through events which I shan't disclose for people who actually want to see the film, a string of events brings Juan Antonio's, bunny boiling, psychotic ex-wife María Elena back into the frame (played with utter brilliance by the film's true star Penélope Cruz) which leads to a strange and unique relationship emerging from the three characters in ways that they would never have expected. One of the aspects of this movie I really enjoyed, as with most Allen films, was the witty intelligent dialogue, with a dead panned narrator commentating throughout the film voiced by the mostly unknown Christopher Evan Welch (though for all "20-something" geeks who frequent the blog, he did the voice of Tails in the original Sonic The Hedgehog cartoon, how fucking cool is that!?), set to a backdrop of beautiful quaint side streets and luxurious buildings and high society life that if it was actually always like that, I'd be on the first flight to Barcelona and never come home!

Overall this is probably Woody Allen's best film in years and vastly better than his 2005 Oscar nominated film Match Point. However I will be honest and say this isn't the movie for the blokes to watch and banter about afterwards in the pub, it is very much a well written, witty intelligent romantic comedy for the ladies reading in the blogosphere, lead by an excellent cast and a solid, return to form, from the director. So to summarise if you are are a bloke and want to watch a movie with your mates and share in the experience, go watch The Wrestler, however with Valentine's Day vast approaching and wondering for a film that your lady friend will enjoy and frankly so will you, go see Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Stand Out Scene...
Any scene with
Penélope Cruz is simply wonderful and full of life with a brilliant mixture of comedy and intensity.

Stand Out Quote...
I was in love with the most incredible woman and she put a knife in me- Juan Antonio (he ain't kidding...)

If you liked this go watch...
Allen's best films, Annie Hall, Manhattan and (though critically not his best, my personal favourite) Life and Death. Also, though totally unrelated to this film, Hall and Johansson's first film they appeared together The Prestige.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button - Review

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

In a nutshell...
Question. What do you get if you cross Robert Zemeckis' Forest Gump with Tim Burton's Big Fish with a touch of Francis Ford Coppola's Jack? That's right! You get The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button! Now that isn't meant to be a negative comment, but this movie might not be as original as some people may have you believe. Benjamin Button tells the life story of a remarkable human being, who is born as a baby with the physical features of an elderly man, abandoned by his birth father and as luck would have it ends up in an old people's home and raised by an African-American family. Over the first few years it doesn't seem like Ben is getting any younger and thus is treated by most strangers, unbeknown to his condition, like an old man and thus experiences certain situations at (mentally) a relatively young age, such as drinking, sex and work as well encountering for the first time his soul mate Daisy played by the ever consistent Cate Blanchett.

This takes us to the second part of the story where Ben joins up with the drunken "Irishman" Captain Jack and becomes part of his crew (no they don't go looking for shrimp...) which eventually takes Ben to Russia where he encounters his first meaningful relationship with another woman played by Tilda Swinton with a level of warmth and innocence that I wouldn't usually associate with her performances. One of the beautiful aspects of this film is how his own life's events coincide with historical events such as WW2, Apollo shuttle launch, Wall Street Crash right up to the later day current events of Hurricane Katrina etc As time goes on the lives of Daisy and Ben's lives start to cross once again we start to endure one of the more frustrating elements of the story of the "will they, won't they?!?!" cat and mouse game which eventually leads to the grand love story of the piece as you might have already seen from the trailers. One of my main problems with this movie is how hard it was for me to really enjoy it, frankly on a technical level there was nothing really wrong with it, visually absolutely epic and breathtaking and the opening sequence is one of the most wonderful scenes I have seen in a movie for quite some time. However it just felt as though it was missing...something? Think possibly the comparisons with Forest Gump (and trust me there were many) left me uneasy as I gotta be honest it was a film I never really enjoyed, and it isn't even a case of plagiarism on the screenwriter's part as Eric Roth in fact wrote both Benjamin Button and Forest Gump.

The actors carry the film extremely well despite its somewhat hollow misgivings and Brad Pitt's leading performance is as consistent as it has ever been (seriously there are very few films I could name that he was shit in) though whether he deserved an Oscar nod is up for debate in all honesty. In terms of supporting roles it was good to see Jason Flemyng (known mainly for his roles in pretty much all of Guy Ritchie's earlier films) making the jump to Hollywood and quite rightfully Taraji P. Henson deserves plenty of praise for her performance as Benjamin's foster mother Queenie , and was in my opinion one of the strongest performances of the entire film. As already mentioned the film's visuals were beautiful and the visual effects boys do a fine job of mapping Pitt's face on to his elder/younger self. If there's one thing I found quite uplifting and endearing about the film was its provocative underlying message that no matter how young or old you may be, you are never too late to try something new or to start over and that is what life should indeed always be about.

To round up TCCOBB is a hard film to review, it's not necessarily a bad film, in fact its a very good film technically but its not the life changing classic that I had intially built it up to be in my opinion, I honestly think in years to come people will be talking about this film from two different arguing sides; from a set who absolutely love it and the group who simply, don't. Regrettably I feel I would be inclined to agree with the latter than the former on this one.

Stand Out Scene...
The beautiful opening about the story of a man who invented a clock for a train station that went backwards. Extremely Burton-esque.

Stand Out Quote...
Always thought this one summed up the point of the movie quite well, taken when one of the people in the old-folks home sums up love and death to the title character, "Benjamin, we're meant to lose the people we love. How else would we know how important they are to us?"

If you liked this film go watch...
Forest Gump, Big Fish, Jack

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Milk - Review


In a nutshell…

So this is a biopic about the first openly gay man in US politics by one of the most openly gay directors in Hollywood starring one of the most straight men in the film industry. I must admit I wasn’t that intrigued, considering the last film I enjoyed by Gus Van Sant was Good Will Hunting, and that was over 10 years ago (not counting his short film in the ensemble movie Paris Je t’aime). This film takes us through the rise of gay rights activist Harvey Milk, charting his journey from owning a small quaint photography shop, to the position of district supervisor of the now infamous Castro district of San Francisco. As already said at first I honestly was not that bothered, that’s not meant to be taken as a homophobic comment just these kind of movies have little interest for me, but I am willing to admit when I am proven wrong, this film was absolutely wonderful. Sean Penn delivers frankly the best role I have seen him in a long time, taken out of his comfort zone of the cold heartless bastards he usually is associated with and thrown into this very camp, charismatic and truthfully charming persona. One of the most fascinating aspects of the film’s journey was through the evolution of Harvey’s own disposition and how he started as quite a, dare I say, timid inwardly gay man who felt sort of down on his luck and approaching a mid life crisis into the full of life politician who wasn’t afraid to stand up for his people in the same way Martin Luther King did for black civil rights roughly at the same time. Unfortunately this would also be, ultimately, his downfall after encountering his political rival of the piece, Dan White, played superbly by the man of the moment Josh Brolin.

Interestingly Brolin’s character kind of acts as the opposite side of the coin to Penn’s Milk in that he is in politics for personal gain, wanting to provide for his wife and children by trying to put through such deals as pay rises for him and his peers, which in turn Milk objects to, concentrating solely on his life mission, as the two clash there is only one outcome, which for anyone familiar with US political history will know and for those who don’t, well go see the film and you will see for yourself. Delightfully filmed to mimic the 1970s and using old real life news reel footage to coincide with the film’s events, Van Sant brilliantly sets the viewer into the period without making it look like a contemporary film set to an original score by the consistently brilliant Danny Elfman (Tim Burton associations aside for a minute, he is fantastic). As with some of the other films I have reviewed of late, the stars are only as good as their supporting cast, and Milk, surprisingly had an exceptional set. Hats should go off, for their roles in this movie, to both Emile Hirsch playing Harvey’s right hand man for his campaign, Cleve Jones and James Franco playing Harvey’s first partner (in the movie at least), and also arguably his muse and inspiration Scott Smith which proves in my eyes that they are indeed stars to watch out for in the future, whoever the weakest character of the piece and one I honestly did not feel anything for was Milk’s second partner Jack played by Diego Luna who was too intense and over the top and actually fairly irritating compared to the rest of the extremely colourful likeable characters. Furthermore Van Sant does a tremendous job of making the audience (regardless of their sexual orientation) feel involved in the film and caught up in the drama which flows at a really pleasurable pace building up to a beautiful emotional climax which made this reviewer weep…a little…ok…a lot.

Milk is also, as some know, recently and rightfully been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars this year, and you know what it could well win it in my honest opinion. If I hadn’t already made up my mind that Mickey Rourke will win for Best Actor for The Wrestler I would have put money on Sean Penn to claim the prize for himself. Likewise for Josh Brolin, if I hadn’t actually put money (and I have) on Heath Ledger to win best supporting actor for The Dark Knight he could well have been a front-runner but alas it will not to be just like Franco and Hirsch shamefully didn’t even get a mention. To summarise Milk is a captivating portrayal of one of the most important gay men to live in America during the 20th Century and Penn gives one of the best most endearing and charming performances, you will see in the cinema all year. Well done Gus you have suddenly got my attention again.

Stand out scene…

Any scene Penn is seen smiling, seriously you will never ever see that in a movie again!!!

Stand out quote…

The movie has a lot of tear jerking quotes that are a little cliché but hey if it works for Optimus Prime why not Harvey Milk…

“All men are created equal. No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words.” Or “Without hope, life's not worth living.”

But I personally liked the tongue and cheek nature of this quote during a debate Milk had with another politician…

“If it were true that children emulate their teachers, we'd have a lot more nuns running around.”

If you liked this movie watch…

Van Sant’s best movie before Milk came along, the Oscar winning, Good Will Hunting