Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The Girlfriend Experience - Review

Steven Soderbergh is who I'd like to consider to be a talented bloke. Never one to shy away from making cutting edge, classy, sophisticated and ultimately ambitious films, from Oscar heavyweights such as sex, lies, and videotape (always typed in lower case for some reason..) and 2000's biopic Erin Brockovich to all star ensembles of the Ocean's Trilogy and the wonderful Traffic. Now and again however Mr Soderbergh likes to challenge himself and his audience to something a bit more left field, having already presented film audiences to the colossal four hour two part film on the infamous Che Guevara this year his next release is a significantly more intimate and personal piece in the form of The Girlfriend Experience which, is already having people talking with the controversial move of having a well established adult film star in the leading role (*cough* Um...so I'm told...), Sasha Grey.

Set against a very current affair backdrop of the 2008 U.S.A Presidential election and the much talked about current economic crisis, the story was a bit of a mish mash affair in which I did not actually have any real idea what was happening for the first 20 minutes, consisting of a series of disjointed moments in which a high class escort girl named Chelsea (Grey) is interacting with her clients, a journalist and bizarrely her real life boyfriend. Unfortunately for Miss Grey because of her "other" day job she will of course be the talking point of this film regardless if she actually performs well or not, and some people will ultimately choose to see the film or not purely on that reason alone. Upon watching the film I would not go as far as to say she was terrible, but she never once looked comfortable the entire time, as if the thought of actually having to properly act was just too frightening to contemplate, and for this she came across far more timid than her character was possibly suppose to be which, to be honest is actually a real shame because in those very brief moments when she did let her guard down and just let it flow she came across as a potentially capable actress, especially in one stand out scene when she was having a heated argument with her boyfriend Chris (Chris Santos) it felt more real than anything that came out of Megan Fox's mouth in the entire Transformers sequel. Another aspect of the film I found interesting was Chelsea's conversations with the journalist character (whose name escapes me) where it developed more into a psychological discussion into why one person would get involved in such a business and the emotional demands that might have on their personal life outside of their work.

Stripped down to the bare bones with no real soundtrack and using the natural sounds of the city, the director makes the movie as a sort of mockumentary, with a fly on the wall point of view in which the audience never really gets a chance to properly connect and interact with the characters within the film but rather observe them within their real life (albeit slightly bizarre) situations. For such a really low budget movie I must commend Sorderbergh for how elegant the film actually looked, using state of the art RedOne digital cameras which is surely food for thought with future films in the industry. However ultimately the whole film felt a bit flat, having countless chances to make TGE edgy and controversial (outside of the leading lady choice) to get the audiences talking when in fact it felt at times direction less, slow moving and extremely bland. For a film about a call-girl there was barely any mention of intercourse, with all her clients seemingly hiring this lady to just "talk", surely a shrink would be cheaper? It nearly played out like an episode of Sex In The City minus the sex.

Final Thoughts
With minimising his budget, Soderbergh displays that with enough talent and know-how in the industry it is clearly possible in this day and age to make a film look visually stunning without the use of glossy post-production and special effects. Overall in a production sense there is very little wrong with this film it's just a shame however that the characters and the story for the most part never felt as real as the settings the director put them in. Miss Grey will no doubt always have her "other" day job to fall back on if she is cast out of her short lived stint amongst the Hollywood fraternity nevertheless I actually think if she keeps trying there is a decent actress buried somewhere in there, possibly overwhelmed first time round by her first experience working with an established mainstream director. The tag line for this film, you may have noticed in the poster above is "see it with someone you ****", you might as well because you ain't going to get any action watching this movie. Interesting concept but the execution wasn't entirely there.


See this if you liked...
Sordenbergh's superior film about sexual nature which earned him an Oscar and the Palm d'Or at Cannes in 1989, sex, lies and videotape.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Sunshine Cleaning - Review

Sooo from the producers who brought the world the delightfully quirky and completely fantastic Little Miss Sunshine we have um... Sunshine Cleaning which (I thought was hilarious) was also a hit at the Sundance Festival last year. Despite the bizarre coincidence in the title, the similarities do indeed end there...except that Alan Arkin is in it...and plays an eccentric Grandad...other than that we got a whole new film...honest. Sunshine Cleaning is another in a long line of "indie comedy-dramas" that is usually light on the comedy and actually still quite light on the drama. Starring two of the blog's favourite young leading ladies Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, Sunshine Cleaning is an intimate tale about a former high school cheerleading captain Rose Lorkowski (Adams) now a thirty-something single mother who cleans houses for a living. Wanting to send her trouble-making eight-year-old son Oscar to a private school, Rose decides to take her married lover's advice and get into the "lucrative" business of crime scene clean-up. Rose convinces her disillusioned, underachieving sister Norah (Blunt) to join her in the enterprise, which she calls (that's right) "Sunshine Cleaning." So far so relatively indie...

Being a huge fan of Adams and Blunt's work to date I was not surprised to see both of them lend their talent and class to this movie so seamlessly though it is unfortunate that the screenwriter could not have done the same, this might come across as quite harsh as the concept of the film is actually really good and the dialogue and situations were believable and well structured, however with a film that (from the trailers) looked like it promised so much it never actually had the chance to breathe and develop into the beautiful, uplifting, coming of age story that could have been. Due to this, certain characters/actors will suffer, and the victim in this instance was unfortunately Emily Blunt's Norah who at times was quite badly handled in comparison to Adams' much stronger and more focused Rose, but arguably that might have been the point, with Norah being the younger, rebellious and more outspoken sister of the two. Norah just never felt like she fitted into the story properly, from the uncomfortable estranged relationship she developed with a victim's daughter to her erractic exit from the story at the film's climax, you never really felt the director or screenwriter knew what they truly wanted from her. As already mentioned though Blunt delivers a terrific performance from what she was given, and took on a character type that she is not normally associated with, with complete grace. Arguably though this was Adams' film to once again show the audience she is a prominent leading actress, who will no doubt reap countless awards to go with her many nominations in the not so distant future. Outside of the two leading ladies, old veteran to the game Alan Arkin provides some genuine comical gold as the ladies' eccentric father obsessed with "get-rich-quick" schemes and actually developing a brilliant on screen chemistry (exactly like how he did in Little Miss Sunshine) with Rose's 'bastard' son Oscar played by the quite impressive, Jason Spevack, who once again was bizarrely handled in that he was considered to be a terror near the start of the film but never really showed any signs of being anything other than an imaginative active 8 year old boy.

Aside from the fantastic performances you would already expect from such quality actors, Sunshine Cleaning never felt like it delivered on its desired intentions it was setting out to do, which was a cleaning team who truly connected with their clients to help them handle death. Though arguably giving a positive uplifting spin on such a taboo subject, outside of the bizarre situation with Norah and the doctor in the blood bank I don't truly remember seeing any scenes in the film where the audience get to see the two leads really connect and help these people. Maybe this was due to poor editing or lack of budget that the creators had to cut some of the story but I personally was a little bit disappointed in this aspect. Story and character development aside the is little else to really complain about in terms of the production of this film, it did make me smile and despite its misgivings I found myself being sucked in with something wonderful to marvel at just as I thought it was maybe starting to meander.

Final Thoughts
A light hearted tale about the strong bonds between family in the face of real life struggles, Sunshine Cleaning gives the audience very much an enjoyable tale from two of the industry's most talented young leads, backed up with the sheer class and experience of the great Mr. Arkin. Though enjoyable it's ultimate failure was not living up to this promise of a completely uplifting experience and you felt that there wasn't really a huge change in any of the character's lives from how the film began to how the film ended, which is a huge shame because I really wanted to love this story for what it was. Unfortunately too short reflecting on this I honestly think (and this is without a doubt the first time I've ever even suggested this...) that Sunshine Cleaning would of had absolutely huge potential and worked brilliantly as a well made television series, I doubt however that will ever come to pass. Though enjoyable for the most part it was unfortunately a much ado about cleaning/nothing.


See this if you liked...
Little Miss Sunshine, Waitress, Me And You And Everyone We Know

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen - Review

Two years ago I got one of my dreams fulfilled, seeing Transformers brought to life for the big screen in a high budget, live action, extravaganza. At the time, the comic book geek in me, considered it possibly the greatest movie I had ever seen. Fast forward to two years later and in hindsight I realise maybe I was exaggerating ever so slightly. The film was not the perfect Transformers film I had dreamed and hoped for, though my criticisms are, perhaps not, ones of genuine critique but more a case of fan boy rants I could not deny that Transformers was a hell of a lot of fun. Fast forward to 2009 and in practically no time at all the good folks at Dreamworks have delivered its sequel, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen. Returning once again is the mighty and noble Optimus Prime (voiced once again by Peter Cullen) as he leads his heroic Autobots against the evil forces of the Decepticons lead by the sinister Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving), also returning is the film's main (human) protagonist played by America's on form young lead, Shia LeBouf along with his extremely gorgeous and frankly unrealistic girlfriend played by Megan Fox, as well as the first instalment's larger than life director Michael Bay.

Whether you love or hate Mr. Bay (I'm always verging on the latter admittedly), you got to give him credit, when it comes to special effects, huge action pieces and just simply blowing crap up he is very very good at it, so you know when it comes to him making a sequel that he is going to make far more explosions, have far more action and with a bigger budget have a hell of a lot more special effects, meaning of course in this instance, far more robots. As you can imagine Transformers 2 is a bigger scarier version of its predecessor and is completely unrelenting from beginning to end. The story takes place approximately two years after the events of the first movie, where Optimus Prime and the Autobots have settled on our world and in conjunction with military forces have sought out to eliminate the Decepticon threat once and for all, of course after a close encounter with a rather large Decepticon in the film's jaw dropping and fan boy spunking opening sequence, revelations unravel that set our story into motion. One negative criticism I have always had with Michael Bay films is that the plot usually suffers at the hands of the special effects, however with Revenge Of The Fallen I applaud Bay and his screenwriters for giving serious thought and insight into the development and history of the Transformers as a race even if their execution was a bit clumsy at times.

The human cast as with the original movie, served their purpose to the overall plot, Shia LeBouf once again showed us how versatile an actor he is becoming with some great comic timing and some genuine heartfelt moments, as with the returning heroic soldiers of the piece played by Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson (arguably under used this time round...) though all of them were outclassed by the frankly outstanding and grossly under rated John Turrturo (who coincidently also voices the Transformer, Jetfire). As for Miss Fox, it would be so easy for anyone to tear into her acting skills since she is such a pretty face but as she openly admits herself, she knows fine well why she is in this movie and it is not to win an Oscar. They are all however merely stage props to the real stars of the show, Optimus Prime and Megatron (who are greatly developed and given far more screen time), though whether its Autobots or Decepticons you always got a sense of awe when they arrive on screen, and there is at least five huge action pieces that truly demonstrate the limitless potential of computer generated imagery (brought to us by the talented lads at ILM), progressing leaps and bounds even since the first instalment. With roughly 50+ robots in the movie, fans who maybe thought they were short changed on the human:robot ratio last time round will be fully satisfied with Revenge Of The Fallen.

Negatives you ask? There were a few. Though I personally loved the humorous aspect that was included in the first movie, the second takes it possibly a tad too far at times for the tone Bay was trying to set with the film (that said it did not stop me from laughing out loud several times), miles darker than the first movie, almost achieving that degree of hopelessness you get when you see the Autobots getting killed all over the show within the original 1986 animated movie. Though, as already mentioned, there were tonnes more robots you never really get a chance to properly engage with some of the new characters on offer, especially one of my favourite Transformers of all, the darkly sinister Soundwave as well as the much hyped appearances of Devastator and of course the villain within the title, the mysterious Fallen. Finally though I did not want to admit this as a criticism it could have possibly been a fraction shorter, with possibly one sub-plot too many including some characters that were not necessary to the overall plot such as Sam's paranoid conspiracy theorist room-mate played by Ramon Rodriguez and the Decepticon human/hybrid Alice (actually the entire college sequence as a whole could have been completely left out...). And of course we come to Mr Bay, who as mentioned countless times already delivers his main strength of the huge set pieces, but unfortunately once again dives into the same pitfalls of a few inconsistencies and plot holes that are painfully evident throughout the movie, which for a movie this size there is absolutely no excuse for.

Final Thoughts

Bigger, darker and far more intense than the first movie, this was the "Empire Strikes Back" of the Transformers movies and one that gives the audience everything they would want from a tale where you have giant robots kicking the crap out of each other, however it was far from perfect, with too many basic film making errors and even poorer characters to ultimately drag it down. When Michael Bay made the first film he just about got away with all these imperfections, however with TF:ROTF he has created a louder far more offensive beast than even the most die hard of fan could possibly justify. Just like with his only other sequel Bad Boys 2, he has managed to take everything that was fun about its predeccessor and shove it in your face so hard that you can not bear it any longer. Yet another chapter in the tragic warped world of Michael Bay.


See this if you liked...

Transformers, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Independence Day *insert other alien invasion movies here*.

Good for a pub quiz...
  • Frank Welker, the voice of Soundwave, was the original voice of the character in the cartoon back in 1984 as well as the original voice of Megatron.
  • During filming Shia Lebouf damaged his hand in a car crash, watch out for this discretely incorporated into the film.
  • The character Alice is a nod to a line of Transformers known as Pretenders
  • The Fallen never appeared in the cartoon, but is adapted from the comics.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Encounters At The End Of The World - Review

Before starting into this review, I do want to point out that this film has been available in the USA for the better part of a year and a half, and actually came out in UK cinemas back in April 2009, however Belfast being Belfast, the good people of Norn Iron have only recieved this film on the big screen this week.

It is not very often I take it upon myself to watch documentaries in the cinema, however when it comes to Werner Herzog, exceptions must be made. Having a career that has spanned over four decades I feel shame upon myself that it is only within recent years I have became acquainted with his wonderful eye for film making in the form of 2005's beautifully eccentric and downright odd Grizzly Man and the film he produced after, starring Christian Bale in Rescue Dawn. Taking place predominantly in South Pole, the German film maker embarks on a quest along with cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger to Antarctica to meet people who live and work there, and to capture footage of the continent's unique locations. As Herzog explains quite cheekily at the start of the feature "The National Science Foundation invited me even though I made it clear I would not be making another movie about penguins," but a exploration the dreams of the people and the landscape. And apart from one scene he stays true to his word. Not so much a plot, EATEOTW is split into various segments with some of the most beautiful cinematography this side of the BBC's Natural History unit and just as emotive music to really signify the epic vision of the landscape of a region of the world that still remains relatively alien to most of us.

One of the aspects I thought Herzog captured extremely well was concentrating on the people actually living there in this somewhat hostile living conditions as oppose to just documenting the natural landscape, and possibly the most remarkable segments of the film were the film maker simply interviewing these men and women, and all of them giving their own unique story as to how and why they have assembled at "the end of the world" as such. From being sick of a normal mundane life as a banker in the USA, or being persecuted in the Soviet Union to merely feeding on the human desire of curiosity for the benefit of science, Herzog approaches these people as an innocent bystander showing a genuine interest in their lives, additionally to add to the genuine nature of the scenes Herzog often only met his interview subjects only minutes before he began shooting them. Strong and unpretentious Herzog delivers a documentary that could have easily been another self righteous poke at our fragile guilt at how we are slowly destroying some of the planet's natural beauty however he decides to not so much engross himself and the audience in the doom and gloom portion of some similar features such as Al Gore's visceral anti-Global Warming documentary The Inconvenient Truth but bask in the sheer wonder and unapologetic beauty that this part of the world offers, as well as the appeal it might have on the people who desire to experience it.

Final Thoughts
Before sitting down to watch this film I half expected just a standard Attenbouragh-esque documentary filled with absolutely stunning shots with an equally booming tear jerking soundtrack to boot in the same kind of vein of Sigur Ros' music documentary with a difference, 2007's Heim, and to be honest I got what I wanted, however much to my surprise I also recieved more than I could imagine. Werner Herzog gives the audience an absolutely breath taking and profoundly emotional study of human nature and desire in a quest for knowledge and understanding, not necessarily in the realms of science and nature, but of our own personal achievements and accomplishments against a haunting monolithic landscape of ice. Having never reviewed a documentary before on the blog I'm happy that the first was an absolutely wonderful movie from one of the most consistent and established film makers of all time, which is clearly a testament to Herzog's continuing drive and passion considering this was made in 2007 and his debut feature was way back in 1962. Go see. Now.


See this if you like...
Grizzly Man, Sigur Ros' Heim, An Inconvenient Truth

Encounters At The End Of The World was released....em...a while ago. It's available on DVD in America and will be available in the U.K. on DVD from the 31st August.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Terminator Salvation - Review

Cast your minds back to October 1984 (yes it was before my time too...), The first Terminator film was gracing cinema screens for the first time, and James Cameron let loose possibly one of the most iconic villains ever in film history to behold before our very eyes, but that was not all. He gave movie-goers a glimpse into a very grim, very disturbing, apocalyptic future that awaited the world where the human race was caught in a devastating war against machines, controlled by the collective known as Skynet. Unfortunately at the time, all we actually did get during that film was nothing more than a glimpse. Twenty five years and two sequels later the majority of Terminator fans have finally got their wish. There was however a couple of catches, firstly there is no major involvement from everyone's favourite ex-body-builder/governor and secondly we got arguably one of the most controversial directorial choices in recent memory. Off the back of mainstream works such as The O.C. and the devastatingly dire Charlie's Angels, the mantle of bringing Terminator back to our big screens was given to McG (aka Joseph McGinty Nichol to his Mum...).

With a saga completely wrapped in time travel, paradoxes and the power of fate, the film's plot is actually quite straight forward, similar to last month's Star Trek. With the events of Judgement Day already been and gone, the survivors are left to vend for themselves against The Terminators and Skynet, so far nothing we didn't already expect. The events of the film pick up early on when the humans figure out a method of bringing the machines down for good and tension for the film's protagonist John Connor (played by everyone's favourite franchise leading man at the minute, Christian Bale) really heat up when he discovers Skynet are out to kill his future father, which all Terminator fans should know is the infamous Kyle Reese (played by Anton Yelchin). Upon watching this film, I assumed I was watching a sequel to the previous trilogy and in turn continue the epic story, however as the film goes on you come to see that this acts more like a complete reboot than a straight continuation of the franchise, which of course is the latest in-thing with all major film franchises, from Batman, James Bond, Star Trek etc. Though the action is completely relentless from beginning to end, you only feel the movie is starting to really begin as it ends, acting just as Star Trek did last month as a conduit to bring all the major characters in the story together and thus set the future events in motion...or are those past events...? That said however I personally thought Terminator Salvation was a lot of good harmless fun, which is what a highly charged summer blockbuster should be, making me slightly giggle with joy any time the film made reference to the previous instalments, from Kyle Reese's famous line "Come with me if you want to live," to Arnie's "I'll Be Back", albeit uttered by John Connor instead of the T-800, an unexpected cameo from an old face, the "DU DU DU DA DU!" music in the soundtrack, hell even "You Will Be Mine" by Guns and Roses managed to find its way into the movie which I actually thought was a stroke of genius.

Overall I thought the cast did a solid job, Bale lead the way as always with his trademark broody, shouty self (gravelly Batman voice included), Anton Yelchin (big fan, expect big things in years to come...) was probably the stand out performer however, invoking very much the memory of Michael Biehn's performance in the original Terminator whilst stamping his own acting prestige on the role, arguably under-used in Star Trek, he shone in this. That said however, Yelchin probably having slight advantage over Bale in that he was playing the early makings of an established character as oppose to Bale having to be the end result of a character who has already had two previous portrayals (Edward Furlong and Nick Stahl respectively...oh and Thomas Dekker if we're counting that TV show...). The jury however is still out on action star d├ębutante Sam Worthington, who performed his role well as the mysterious Marcus Wright however his Australian accent came through far too often within his dialogue and I'm still to be convinced if he is capable of being the next big leading "action" man that I keep hearing him touted as.

As mentioned already one of my main loves for this movie is the nostalgia it brings for fan's of the previous three films, but I gotta admit as a stand alone movie I thought it was still massively enjoyable. However I can see why certain section of fans might not enjoy this as a "Terminator" film as such, though the set pieces and action sequences are absolutely fantastic (Charlie's Angels be damned, McG did a tremendous job with this movie) and the story does have quite an epic feel at times, I do feel somewhat cheated by this vision of the future the production team brought to the screen, I was expecting bodies everywhere, the tire tracks of the Harvester crushing over human skulls (harking back to the original movie), humans living in complete desolation and lack of hope, and to be honest I've seen worse, even Cameron's contemporary vision of the world in Terminator 1 and 2 felt more grim than some of this. Another aspect I felt was kind of lost within the production of this film was Elfman's soundtrack, who admittedly isn't one of my favourite composers, with his score feeling more like his work on Spider-man (heroic and just) than the haunting works by Brad Fiedel (which really gave you a sense of apocalyptic doom) in the original movie. And lastly one of the main elements of a brilliant Terminator film is a Terminator itself, yes we had the exoskeletons blowing up and killing resistance members all over the show, but what we lacked in Salvation was one Terminator on a sole mission to kill the protagonist, like a devastating psychological race of cat and mouse building up to one epic encounter. That's what made Terminator brilliant. Another reason the producers shot themselves in the foot with this movie was its marketing, if you watch the trailers you do get a lot of stuff revealed that if they had simply just teased at would have had a much bigger impact or shock value, such as Marcus' "true nature". That said however kudos for McG for trying something completely new and different with the franchise, even if his execution was slightly off at times, perhaps playing it too safe, especially with the rushed, cheesey ending (editor's note: the original ending was leaked on the net last year and was changed due to the outcry from fans, personally I thought the first ending was a brilliant, bold move and would have been far more satisfying than what was eventually shot on screen, I won't spoil it here, but it should be easy to find on the net somewhere).

Final Thoughts
For many a years film audiences have always had some sort of love affair with post-apocalyptic films where the human race is caught in an epic death match with killer robots or artificial evil intelligence, Terminator Salvation continues this tradition very much in the spirit of films such as The Matrix Trilogy, Michael Bay's Transformers films and the beautiful modern re-working of TV's Battlestar Galactica. Though not entirely what I was expecting or perhaps yearning from a Terminator movie and many fans of the original film will probably agree with that, I must say I thought it was a tremendous amount of fun, packed with a bucket load of action, well constructed story (granted with some ham-fisted dialogue courtesy of Mr. Bale) and a solid cast to carry it, essentially what you expect from a Summer blockbuster. This is the Terminator film to take the franchise properly into the 21st Century and whether die hard fans like it or not, I think its safe to say: It'll be back.


See this if you liked...
Terminator 1, 2 (and possibly 3...), Matrix Trilogy, Transformers.

Terminator Salvation is in the cinemas everywhere now.