Wednesday, 29 April 2009

In The Loop - Review

Political satire has been around for decades and found its way into various different mediums within the media, from Newspaper cartoonists or Private Eye magazine to the delightfully hilarious Bremmer, Bird and Fortune or Have I Got News For You, the "great British public" has always took it upon themselves to have had a laugh at the same men they have helped elect into these positions of power. Over recent years however no one has quite captured the mood and tone of the New Labour era quite as well as Scottish born writer/director Armando Iannucci, in the form of BBC Four comedy The Thick Of It where a bunch of useless cabinet ministers are trying to go about their job in the department of Social Affairs while cowering in fear of the head of communications for the British Prime Minister, the surreal and indescribable Malcolm Tucker (clearly "not" inspired by former Blair aid, Alistair Campbell). Spinning off from this very show Iannucci, after a couple of years of trying, has moved into the realms of film for his cinematic début In The Loop, featuring various actors and characters from the original TV series, including the returning star of the piece Malcolm Tucker.

The plot itself revolves mainly around young minister Simon Foster (played by the evil Emperor Palapatine-esque villain from the last two Pirates of The Caribbean films Tom Hollander) as his political life is spiralled completely out of control when he utters a passing comment to the press regarding a possible confrontation in the Middle East (mirroring the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq back in 2004), from here on he is shipped to Washington along with his personal aid Toby Wright (played by returning Thick Of It alumnae Chris Addison, though I don't get why he can't just play the same character from the TV show...but anyways...) as they attend War committees and continue to deal with American politicians on the same subject. Bizarrely in a comparison to Jaws or The Joker in last year's The Dark Knight, Peter Capaldi's Malcolm Tucker doesn't so much as provide comic relief to already ridiculous situations, instead he pretty much crashes through each scene on a mission of his own like a steamroller or a stampeding rhinoceros, not giving a f**k who he runs over in the process. Throughout the film he becomes a man feared by the British, and underestimated by Americans, eventually playing both of them off each other for his own gain, does he want a war, or does he want peace? We're never quite sure. However after a confrontation with the devious US government official Linton Barwick you can't help but root for Tucker as he becomes the ultimate anti-hero of the piece. Though Foster is probably the film's main focus as the heart and soul of the story, as he is easily mislead and corrupted by outside influences, you feel some what sorry for him as he is also the victim by the film's closing moments, inadvertently plotting his own downfall as Tucker goes in for the kill.

As The Thick Of It was compared to The Office crossed with The New Statesman, the same can obviously be applied to ITL, similar in many ways to the original TV show, the cast provide an excellent comedic performance without trying too hard to make the audience laugh. It's often been said that the Americans themselves can't do satire as well as the British (unless you are Jon Stewart...) but James Gandolfini, Anna Chlumsky (yes! It's the chick from My Girl?! What the hell!), Mimi Kennedy, David Rasche and Zach Wood pull off a tremendous job on the American side of things. In the Loop is probably the best possible example of how ridiculous British/American relations had become during the Blair/Bush era, as the Americans more or less do their own thing, while keeping the British on a short leash or not taken them completely seriously demonstrating the lack of power the British have as a global presence in the 21st Century. Any negative comments? Well though this is meant to be a film, it doesn't feel awfully cinematic and does tend to draw out as a really long episode of The Thick Of It, though this might be a bad thing for some critics, I frankly was far too busy laughing my ass off to really care or notice. To summarise In The Loop is probably the funniest movie I have seen so far in 2009, though if awkward silences paired up with witty dialogue and a couple of screaming angry Scotsmen isn't your thing, then you might wanna stick to Seth Rogen and his lot. Me however, I'm backing Malcolm F**KING Tucker!


See This If You Like*...
The Thick Of It, The Office, Have I Got News For You, Bremmer, Bird And Fortune and The New Statesmen.

*Yes I'm aware these are television programs, but it is more or less a television movie...

Two useless facts you probably didn't need to know about In The Loop but I'm going to tell you anyway...
1 :: Number of swear words in the movie: 257 (averaging 2.4 per minute of screen time)
2 :: Film references used as insults: 28 (first being Harry Potter, last I Heart Huckabees)

In The Loop is out in (most) cinemas now.

Friday, 24 April 2009

The Damned Utd - Review

Due to the complete ineptitude of Belfast's cinemas not securing new films on their actual release date, this review comes slightly late. Peter Morgan has been a busy bee these last few years successfully scripting works of literature and theatre into fascinating cinematic experiences. With such works as the Oscar winning The Last King Of Scotland and The Queen to 2009's Oscar nominated Frost/Nixon under his writing CV, it's fair to say he has a pretty decent track record. The latest of this line is David Peace's 2006 controversial novel The Damned United, a half biographical/half fictional tale about one of the most successful managers to ever grace English football, the legendary Brian Clough, starring the only possible man to take on the job, to accurately mimic him, Michael Sheen (also seen as Tony Blair, David Frost, H.G. Wells, Kenneth Williams amongst others). The story itself charts Clough's infamous 44 days in charge of Leeds United F.C. as he tries and fails to impose his will on a team he inherited from his bitter rival, Don Revie and whose players are still loyal to their old manager. Interspersed are flashbacks to his more successful days as manager of Derby County.

Being an avid football fan myself, I was drawn to this film instantly and what was on display is sure to please anyone who is a fan of the sport, harking back to a time when English footballers were not so much athletes as real men. This is not meant to be a dig at the current crop who populate modern football teams, but this was truly a different generation of players who would sooner break a player rather than perform dashing tricks and demonstrate their superior pace, this is displayed to great effect when Clough himself, awaiting the glamour tie of facing Leeds Utd in the FA Cup for the first time, setting out ashtrays beside the players' half time oranges. One of my main loves of the film however is the chemistry displayed between Clough and his long time assistant Peter Taylor (played by the consistently brilliant Timothy Spall), best friends as well as colleagues, both essential to each other's success similar to Arsene Wenger and Pat Rice of Arsenal or Jose Mourinho and Steve Clarke at Chelsea as well as Alex Ferguson and Brian Kidd/Steve McClaren/Carlos Quiroz during the current supremacy of Manchester United. The entire support cast consisted of some of the hardest working actors found in British cinema at the minute, Jim Broadbent does a terrific job as the chairman of Derby County, Sam Longson as does Colm Meany (good to see him shed his Star Trek roots and shine as an actor) as Clough's nemesis Revie. Actually (sorry to digress) one scene in this movie is like for like similar to a scene in Sheen's previous film Frost/Nixon where Frost receives a phone call from a drunk Richard Nixon, however in this case its Revie who receives the phone call from a drunk Clough (one of the film's few references to his alcoholism, which is explored to great lengths in the book).

The film however is not without it's flaws, though its portrayal of Clough was actually pretty well recieved, it would be fair to stay it isn't a true adaptation of the book, where Peace went to great lengths to demonstrate Clough's paranoid intensity and alcoholism the film opts to show off his brash arrogance and frank demeanour which can be seen in a million and one archive television interviews of the man which in all honesty I found a little bit of a kop out on Morgan's behalf, also how hard would it have been to stay historically accurate to real life events? Seriously?! All that said however, Sheen's performance was almighty and once again demonstrates how much of a powerhouse in modern British cinema he actually is. He wasn't merely playing Clough, he was Clough. To round up The Damned United is a film that is as dramatic as it is light hearted and should be taken very much with a pinch of salt in terms of historical events however that doesn't take away from how much fun it should be for football fans as well as film fans. And whatever happened to Clough in his 44 days at Leeds, he should be looking down at them from beyond in their current situation with that famous cheeky smile. Best football movie ever? Until the upcoming 2009 film Searching For Eric, quite possibly.


See this if you liked...
Sheen's performances in The Queen and Frost/Nixon.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Review

The movie industry has been quite kind to fellow comic book geeks such as myself over the past year, with such epic blockbuster heavyweights such as The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Watchmen, Hellboy II gaining much praise around the globe. Having already three creditable X-Men movies under their belts (say what you want, but I liked the third movie) the lads at 20th Century Fox decided to continue milking their most successful comic book franchise in their ranks and opted to create a solo movie about the character who arguably the previous three movies centred around anyways. That's right folks, everyone's favourite cigar smoking, bub taunting, claw fighter, Wolverine. On the whole Fox actually get the blueprint right for this movie, bringing in an Oscar winning director, and recruiting a commendable cast for the roles backing up the often over looked and nearly always under rated Australian actor Hugh Jackman (going for a more hands on approach this time round by partly producing the film also), who once again slips into the title role for the fourth time, and the film also goes one better by placing certain mutants in the movie that were stupidly over looked in the previous X-Men movies. So far so good. Or is it...

The story opens with Logan as a child where through certain parental difficulties he encounters his "half brother" and life long friend/rival Victor Creed (to all non-geeks out there, the villainous Sabertooth) played by Liev Schreiber, replacing Tyler Mane, who played the role of the character from the first movie. Once discovering their powers they embark on a world wide journey where they eventually come to meet William Stryker (the villain from X-Men 2, though again replacing Brian Cox, played by Danny Hustin). Staying true to comic book canon Logan and Victor become part of a team known as Weapon X, featuring various mutants from the X-Men and Marvel universe such as The Blob, Agent Zero, John Wraith and of course the stand out of the ensemble the legendary Deadpool (played by Ryan Reynolds). Obviously being a prequel to the previous X-Men movies, the politics of the story are slightly different, this being a time where Mutants aren't really the main focus of the world and the majority of them are currently living in hiding to the rest of the populous. For those who want to experience the story for themselves I shall not delve too much into the rest of the plot....

Acting wise Jackman as you would expect carries the film very well evoking the charisma and dark, brooding and unpredictable nature he adapted from the previous movies, and the chemistry he adapts with Schreiber and his love interest of the piece played by Lynn Collins gave the film a much deeper fulfilling experience than you would usually expect from a comic book film. However I will be honest and say the story was a little flat and revealed nothing more than what has been revealed in Wolverine's flashbacks in X-Men 1 & 2. Unfortunately for Hugh the criticisims do not end there, although he should be commended for getting a visionary director such as Gavin Hood on board to direct and David Beinhoff to pen the screenplay, their lack of experience in dealing with a big budget franchise film such as this was very much evident, although the action pieces were impressive (the helicopter sequence simply: kicked ass!) I didn't get the impression they really cared for the characters they had the chance to explore within the story. Deadpool and Gambit who are stand out stars in almost every comic book I have ever read them in were extremely under used and under developed in favour of less interesting characters. I also didn't see the need to have a cameo from a young Cyclops which on the whole did not benefit the story in the slightest. Overall one of the biggest flaws of the movie was that, it was never quite sure whether it wanted to be a single solo Wolverine film or a proper prequel to the X-Men trilogy, disregarding some elements already established in the movie-verse yet also tying certain plot points into the grand story to set up the first movie.

To summarise Wolverine was a movie that promised so much for the genre which in the end offered very little new and exciting. It's not a bad film by any stretch, the film's main character's origins are established and expanded upon to accurate effect but unfortunately the story's supporting character weren't given the same treatment which left Wolverine a slightly underwhelming experience for me. And Fox take note, next time can we have better villains?


See this if you liked...
The X-Men Trilogy.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is released in all cinemas nationwide from the 1st Mat 2009

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Sincere apologies,

Would like to apologise to anyone who read my review of DITCHING, as there is absolutely no excuse for the blind ignorance on my part for an absolutely idiotic mistake by persistently calling it Drifting.

All corrected now, and once again my sincere apologises for any offence caused.


Sunday, 5 April 2009

Belfast Film Festival :: Prods and Pom Poms & Festival Round Up

Well its been a long, rather enjoyable, week. I had originally planned to catch two films yesterday however I thought I would give 50 Dead Men Walking a miss on the account of protests about it outside the cinema. So, in a somewhat sombre end to the festival where I have witnessed some truely extraordinary films, the last film I watched was unique in many different ways, clocking in at only 55 minutes long and a documentary (a local one no less) , ladies and gentlemen, no shit I bring you...

Prods and Pom-Poms

For the entire time I was at this festival this was my first and only time in the BFF's own studio cinema, which was absolutely wonderful and a venue I would love to watch a movie in again in the future. So yes, Prods and Pom-Poms, having read about this I was expecting the worst, and considering my luck with local film this week, from the disappointment of Drifting to the down right distaste for Cherrybomb, and not even managing to get to see 50 Dead Men Walking, I honestly wasn't expecting much from a documentary about a millbag cheerleading squad from one of Belfast's less well off areas. However its takes a big man to admit when I was proved very wrong. For those who aren't aware of this Prods and Pom-Poms delves into Belfast’s infamous Sandy Row, an area traditionally associated with hard-line paramilitaries and loyalist thugs. However this film tells the real life tale of the area's own cheerleading squad, the Sandy Row Falcons as they prepare their routines and for the Scottish Cheerleading Championships against some of the UK's best. Which is all fair enough, I have seen stranger documentaries in stranger settings, but what this film offers us is something a little bit more real than the likes of Bowling for Columbine, Grizzly Man etc actually having the ability to put a proud smile on this critic's face from beginning to end.

Gillian Reid 2009.

Though living only minutes drive away from this area of Belfast and frequent the area on the account my family GP is stationed there, this film raised points that I had not considered before. For those who don't live here; Belfast is a city currently regenerating, full of life, arts, culture, redevelopment yet this small community seems to feel its being left behind, with all the hotels, new apartments and redevelopments going on around it, the Sandy Row is still an example of Belfast's past. Trying to break the mould is one woman who offers the girls of the area something different to aspire to than being mothers by the age of 18, in the most bizarre and strangest of circumstances Prods and Pom-Poms is probably the most honest, heart-warming and endearing film about Belfast I have watched in sometime. Their experience minimal makes some of the dance routines hilarious and verging on cringe worthy but the film makers Ben Jones and Paul Hutchinson never set out to ridicule or take the piss out of these girls, letting these people carry the film themselves. On the topic of the film makers they do a tremendous job filming this movie, providing beautiful bleak interlude scenes with a wonderful ambient soundtrack that makes the movie as tasteful as it is honest. From scenes such as one of the young girl's son playfully dancing along with the routines, to the squad embarking into their own unknown and cheerleading at Belfast's St Patrick's Day parade, which some girls niavely question it's purpose when it isn't "their religion", Prods and Pom-Poms is without a doubt a local story for our city's times and gives a more eye opening and accurate portrayal of Belfast than anything I am likely to see for the rest of the year. Shocked? I sure as hell am.


Well that's that for another year. On the whole The 9th Belfast Film Festival was a huge success in my honest opinion, after copious amounts of red wine, wine gums and pop corn here is the blog's quick high's and low's of this week's events...

Film Of The Festival...
Was a hard choice between three utterly fantastic films in the form of Gigantic, Synecdoche New York and Let The Right One In however my choice of the week was possibly Charlie Kauffman's directorial debut in Synecdoche New York. Not everyone will enjoy it, however what it offered was something epic and original with an array of cast that had quality oozing out of their finger tips. A classic.

High points...
Gigantic, Let The Right One In, Sword Of The Stranger, Tokyo!, Synecdoche New York, Free Jamison's Whiskey, Wine Gums, Gill's Gigantic and Prods and Pom-Pom's artwork, John Goodman's performance in Gigantic, BFF's volunteers and staff for offering the city an excellent and diverse array of films.

Low points*...
CherryBomb, Festival clashes (really would've loved to have got to see Hunchback of Notre Dame in St Anne's Cathedral), protests against 50 Dead Men Walking, Ditching.

*Know it may come across that I'm anti local cinema, I am completely the opposite. Just didn't feel CherryBomb was an enjoyable or accurate tale of youth in Belfast. In regards to Ditching, it could have been the most wonderful film ever to come from Northern Ireland but for a film with such a high concept it needed the budget to match the maker's ambitions and unfortunately it didn't. Terry Gilliam if you are reading, pick that movie up and re-make it!!

Overall, great festival! Roll on next year's. Next week it's back to regular reviews. Been a pleasure and thanks for reading my coverage of the Belfast Film Festival.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Belfast Film Festival Day 5 :: CherryBomb & (non film festival movie) The Boat That Rocked

Apologies for not reviewing any films from yesterday's festivities so to make up for it I have reviewed a brand new film outside the film festival as well as a local film that many are calling the highlight of the week. Does it live up to this claim. We'll soon see but first....

The Boat That Rocked

And so the circle is complete, having reviewed Bronson three weeks ago, marking British cinema at its most extreme and cutting edge, to the blackly comedic but downright awful satire genre film Lesbian Vampire Killers the week after, we finally move on to the type of British film everyone from these shores has seen at least once. That's right "the Curtis and/or Elton comedy". Coming this time from the former, Richard Curtis has giving the film public one of the most interesting ensemble pieces in a British film for quite some time, bringing together the titanic comedy talents of *deep breath*... Bill Nighy, Nick Frost, Rhys Ifans, Chris O'Dowd, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Sturrigde, Katherine Parkinson, Ralph Brown, Rhys Darby and possibly the most frequent actor to this blog in the past couple of months the wonderful Philip Semour Hoffman as well as cameos from numerous other talents who I will get to as the review progresses. Off the back of famous successes such as the romantic comedy Four Weddings And A Funeral, to the other romantic comedy Bridget Jones' Diary, to ... ahem... the other romantic comedy Nothing Hill, to his (in my opinion) best um... romantic comedy Love Actually it's fair to say ol Ric has written all he can on the subject. Which brings us to The Boat That Rocked, which thankfully for me wasn't a romantic comedy.

To sum up The Boat That Rocked is about a band of rogue DJs that captivated Britain during the mid 60s, playing the music that defined a generation and standing up to a government that, incomprehensibly, preferred classical and jazz. Essentially lead by The Count (Hoffman), a big, brash, American god of the airwaves and the flamboyant Quentin (Nighy), the boss of Radio Rock -- a pirate radio station in the middle of the North Sea that's populated by an eclectic crew of rock and roll DJs including Gavin (Ifans), the greatest DJ in Britain who has just returned from his drug tour of America to reclaim his rightful position; Dave (Frost), an ironic, intelligent and cruelly funny co-broadcaster amongst others who seemingly annoy a fearsome British government official (Branagh) whose is out for blood against the drug takers and lawbreakers of a once-great nation. Sounds rather fun doesn't it? Firstly I just want to say that I enjoyed this film however not nearly as much as I think I was suppose to, TBTR is very much a nostalgia piece, possibly harking back to possibly Curtis' (wouldn't be that old surely?) own days where we all seemingly lived in a much simpler time, where the music was nothing less than "super sonic" or "f**king magic", as my father would put it most Saturday nights.

With the amount of comedy talent on offer I felt as though I was a little cheated and wasn't laughing nearly as much as I should if I was watching the likes of Darby in Flight Of The Conchords, or O'Dowd and Parkinson in the IT Crowd to Nick Frost in his films or television shows with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. That said however the chemistry between all the actors was fantastic, essentially leaving a smile on my face from beginning to end (though it could've been about 30 minutes shorter in fairness). It was clear to see that Curtis cared for these characters living on the boat, giving them all a chance to breath and develop on screen leaving none to waste from Sturridge's character finding his long lost father on the boat (won't tell you which one it is) to O'Dowd's character getting married to an American (played by Mad Men's stunningly beautiful January Jones) after only knowing her for two weeks to how much the crew disliked, yet tolerated Darby's character who, despite living on a boat can't actually swim. The weakest of the bunch was however Branagh and Jack Davenport (y'know that bloke from Pirates Of The Caribbean) who acted as the "square" MPs with the crap taste for music and were seemingly wound up for no clear or apparent reason. As if the main cast wasn't a treat to watch on screen, the cameo of Emma Thompson as the mother of Carl was brilliant as was the beautiful Talulah Riley and even "the most loathed Bond girl ever" Gemma Arterton kept my attention in the brief comedic scene she was in with Frost and Sturridge. In a movie like this however it is hard to pick out a stand out star though that award just about (and no more) goes to Hoffman and Nighy who between the both of them truly invoked the spirit of that decade with their total disregard for rules and regulations as well as their lust for the free spirit and fun living, as Hoffman rightfully quotes in the movie "these are the best days of our lives" and my only regret is I wasn't even born yet.

Richard Curtis on the whole, delivers a pretty solid film, maybe if he had injected a bit more comedy into it, it would truly be a genuine British classic in my eyes. However as it stands it merely only a decent verging on, good film, though as with his past films it never fails to deliver that feel good factor upon leaving the cinema that the likes of Love Actually and Four Weddings have given us for many years. Upon watching The Boat That Rocked, I will indeed say these looked like seriously fun times, however its an utter shame and crime with the actors on offer that they couldn't of been seriously funny times also.

3/5 (another mark off for the lack of a Rowan Atkinson cameo)

See This If You Liked...
Love Actually, Four Weddings And A Funeral, Bridget Jones' Diary

After a bite to eat and a pint of Guinness in the pub down from the cinema it was time for tonight's film festival screening. The locally made CherryBomb...


Having missed the première screening of this film on Monday night due to opting for Sword Of The Stranger instead, I was glad to have been given the opportunity to catch this on its second showing to see what all the fuss was about. Upon reading the description of the film I gotta admit the prospect of watching a movie with the ginger lad from Harry Potter (Rupert Grint) playing a binge drinking, pill popping 16 year old with a Belfast accent had absolutely no interest for me at all. Along with reading the general synopsis and seeing a few still photographs kicking about the interweb, there was only one conclusion I had for this, Skins: The Move (Norn Iron Edition). And in all honesty I wasn't proved wrong. CherryBomb follows teenagers Luke (the only actor of the 3 main leads who was Irish, Robert Sheehan), Malachy (Grint), and Michelle (Kimberly Nixon) as they embark on a wild weekend of drink, drugs, shop-lifting and stealing cars. But what starts out as a game turns deadly serious when the three discover that they can't get off the wild ride they've set in motion.

Before I tear into the negatives I will say that there was a few positives, the production team did a tremendous job with the overall filming of this movie, displaying Belfast as quite a beautiful, eye pleasing backdrop, though I still can't quite understand why seemingly everywhere in Belfast had a boat theme (The Titanic Leisure Centre?! The Boat House?! C'mon! I know what these places are really called and that ain't it). Also Grint's Belfast accent wasn't nearly as cringe worthy as I was expecting and actually delivered a decent performance as did Sheehan and Nixon, the stand out for me however was James Nesbitt who actually provided possibly the only comedic moments in the film. Right that's my positives, now onto the negatives...

Firstly these kind of films/TV shows annoy me because in 30 years time this decade is going to be remembered for kids acting like complete tools listening to shit music and thinking they're mad cause they smoked a ten deal they got hustled out of for £100 and frankly this film does very little to change that view, and as I said the Skins comparisons (except without any of the slightly comedic light hearted moments) were in their high numbers here verging on practically plagiarism which is actually a shame considering the screenwriter was the same man who brought us Middletown. There wasn't one single likeable character in this film and if they had of ended up in jail or died by the films conclusion I really couldn't have cared less for them. All that ranting aside however I will concede that this film clearly was not aimed at people of my taste or age group and will surely appeal to people who tune frantically into Skins on a weekly basis on E4. CherryBomb is not the best film I will personally ever watch from my wee country, nor is it even remotely the most original, however I will say that it was an impressive feat for those involved but that still doesn't change the fact that I'm giving it...


See This If You Liked...
Skins, cause you're pretty much getting an extended episode here.