Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Moon - Review

There is an age old saying when it comes to celebrating nostalgia be it movies, cars, houses, fashion, toys, cartoons etc that "they don't make 'em like they use to". For the most part this is usually a correct assumption however it is always so delightfully satisfying when something comes out of nowhere to take you by surprise and invoke those memories of years past. Perhaps quite fitting (or perhaps too convenient?) that the release of this film comes on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the first ever moon landing, Moon, directed by début director Duncan Jones (aka son of rock icon and general 70s/80s oddball, David Bowie) and starring one of the blog's favourite indie men Sam Rockwell, is set in a future where man has finally cracked how to use fusion as a solid, sustainable energy source by mining the materials straight off the moon's surface. The sole human mining the materials is that of Sam Bell (Rockwell), along with his trusty super computer GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey...ripped from 2001: A Space Odyssey). Coming to the end of his 3 year contract on the station, leaving behind wife Tess and 3 year old daughter Eve, things start to go a wary for Sam after he experiences a bad crash on the moon's surface which unravels a chain of events that will make him question his own very existence.

Sam Rockwell is perhaps one of the few modern actors I take great pleasure in watching on screen with an extremely wide range of emotions displayed in almost any film he has ever appeared in, criminally overlooked for a best supporting actor nod at the Oscars this year for his role as author James Reston Jr in Frost/Nixon, in Moon he delivers a performance that could arguably be the first genuine contender for a Best Actor nomination at next year's Oscars showing naive hope, crushing despair as well as a beautiful and endearing display of light hearted comedy. Essentially the only other actor to appear in the film (albeit in voice only) opposite Rockwell was Kevin Spacey as the voice of Sam's super computer, and though perhaps only present to inject a bit of Hollywood glitz into the affair, he performs his duties competently and in a very understated manner. With Spacey's voice coming across as emotionless, the effects crew add a clever addition to his computer body in the form of "MSN-like Emoticons" appearing on a small monitor, changing any time he spoke a word to reflect his mood and inner emotions, which served as light relief to the film's dark monolithic backdrop.

Capturing that sense of loneliness and isolation, Jones really impresses with the entire production of this film, making a fantastic, stylish looking sci-fi on a tight, modest budget of 5 million dollars, the set designs felt futuristic yet totally plausible to the point that you could nearly imagine this as the future in decades to come. One could rightly point out however, that the story does start to lose direction towards the film's climax and that a lot of the ideas are not entirely original (they aren't) however I prefer to see it as a homage to the films that clearly gave Jones the inspiration to make Moon into the film we see before us, with cues and references from the likes of Alien, Silent Running and 2001 as well as more subtle nods to the films of Hitchcock for its mystery and suspense. As already pointed out the film's main flaw is that the story does suffer half way through which is more a criticism aimed at the screenwriter Nathan Parker as oppose to the wonderful job Jones does at the director's chair, capturing some beautiful cinematography on top of the mesmerising score by the consistently brilliant Clint Mansell (previously works include most of Darren Aronofsky's movies, highlights being Requiem For A Dream and The Fountain as well as often appearing against car montages on BBC's Top Gear), also look out for a completely unsuspecting appearance by a one hit wonder chart single doubling as Sam's clock alarm.

Final Thoughts
Cold, haunting and claustrophobic. An impressive début from Duncan Jones, showing us that he is certainly a director to look out for in the coming years giving the audience an intelligent science fiction tale, featuring no aliens or fictional mumbo jumbo. Combined with Rockwell's titanic performance, Moon comes across as a very special and intimate film which, in an age of saturated CGI and over the top special effects, is very much a rare thing. Not the most original tale I will ever watch by any means and the script could have maybe done with a couple of tweaks, but without a doubt one of 2009's best films by miles in terms of style, acting, direction, musical score and ultimately its celebration of old school science fiction movies. My only disappointment was a lack of Major Tom references... Nevertheless a Triumph!


See this if you like...
Pretty much any science fiction movie from the 1970s and 1980s, because chances are this movie lifted cues and references straight from them.

Moon is in most cinemas now.

Any Belfast readers that frequent, it is regrettably only being shown in the QFT. Support your local art house cinemas!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - Review

After an agonizing two year wait, it's that time again on the film calender where children and parents alike come together for another instalment of the outrageously successful Harry Potter series. Before I get under way I just want to point out that I have never actually read any of the books, do not e-mail asking why, just have not got round to it yet, so I like to think I can approach the movies on a purely film basis instead of picking it apart, screaming at the screen why "such and such" did not happen, or was left out...it would be like the Golden Compass all over again.

When we last left Harry and his talented young band of wizardy misfits, he had just been through the battle of his life (so far...) with "you know who" resulting in the death of the only man he could seriously consider as family. A few months on and seemingly going off the rails slightly, with the help of his grand old mentor Dumbledore (played by the wonderful Michael Gambon) he once again starts the new year with a somewhat clean slate. Completely unsuspecting from my part, the students, unlike previous years are under attack from a very different adversary as adolescent hormones rage across the ramparts. Harry's long friendship with Ginny Weasley is growing into something deeper, but standing in the way is Ginny's boyfriend, Dean Thomas, not to mention her big brother Ron. Having romantic entanglements of his own to worry about, Ron has (new character to the fold) Lavender Brown lavishing her affections on him, leaving Hermione simmering with jealousy yet determined not to show her feelings (quite possibly the most frustrating "Will they? Won't they?" since Ross and Rachel in Friends). Once a box of love potion-laced chocolates ends up in the wrong hands everything changes. As romance blossoms, one student remains aloof with far more important matters on his mind. He is determined to make his mark, albeit a dark one. Love is in the air, but as tragedy lies ahead, Hogwarts, and Harry's own world may never be the same again.

Structurely I thought the film played out very well in terms of the film length and overall plot development, though was a little underwhelmed by the lack of darkness that promised from the film's trailers and the "edgy" 12A rating. This was still very much a children's film, which is not a criticism as such, but besides the story's final act there was not a big lot on offer for the adults to enjoy besides a few cheeky innuendos that would make young teenage girls giggle in delight, which dominated the majority of the film and is frankly a shame since one of the best films (never mind children's films) released this year so far, Coraline proved that you do not have to sacrifice one audience for the other. Despite the lack of genuinely dark themes the acting once again saw an improvement from Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. However they were all completely blown out of the water by the brilliant, pixie-like oddball Luna Lovegood (played by Irish born actress Evanna Lynch) who displayed some moments of sheer magic on screen with a beautiful mixture of spell-binding wonder and endearing sincerity. As always of course the support cast of the Harry Potter films is always promised to be its main saving grace, with the class of Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Mark Williams, Julie Waters and Jim Broadbent amongst other heavyweights of British acting, lifting the film's stock immensely.

Being a big fan of David Yates' television work, he is personally not my favourite of the Harry Potter directors (that award goes to the brilliant Alfonso Cuarón for his work on the Prisoner Of Azkaban), though he does an extremely commendable job with the look and feel of the films, capturing the imagination of many I'm sure, I felt that Warner Bros. were left with a missed opportunity to get some genuinely ground breaking visionaries to tackle these films like Burton, Del Toro and Gilliam that could have really took the production values and the darker themes to an entirely new level. Nicolas Hooper's score was beautiful and touching as expected though was extremely disappointed to hear a severe lack of the main theme created by John Williams all those years ago that is now synonymous with the movies. It was not all despair and disappointment however as the film did have some stunning cinematography really showing the size of the famous school, and its beautiful English countryside surroundings. They also combined extremely well with the special effects team in the opening shots of the Death-Eaters flying around London.

Final Thoughts
Not terrible by any means and will no doubt do extremely well at the box office in the coming weeks, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is an enjoyable way to spend two and a half hours, however it was unfortunately (as has been the case with some of the other films) not a spelling binding way to spend two and a half hours. With some great direction, acting and a fantastic final act, the film did just enough to hold my interest and keep me looking forward to the final adaptation (which is being turned into two films so they can milk it that little bit longer). Having not read the book I don't personally know what was left out to make up the story but maybe it should have been renamed Harry Potter and the Uncontrollable Teenage Hormones.


See this if you liked...
Well I'm hardly going to say Citizen Kane...

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is in cinemas everywhere from today.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Frozen River - Review

Having been released nearly a year ago in the States, to be considered for the coming award season, and faring favourably amongst such showcases as the 2009 Academy Awards and the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, finally the good people of the U.K. are given the opportunity to see what all the fuss was about. Frozen River is a tale set in the North County of upstate New York just on the Canadian boarder about a struggling mother of two, Ray Eddy (played by Melissa Leo) in the build up to the Christmas season, handling the aftermath of her husband abandoning her, and having to scrape by on paying off the bills and raising her two sons, while stuck in a dead-end job to nowhere. While on the search for her husband she encounters Lila Littlefoot, a resident of the nearby reservation for Native Americans, and from then on her life is hurled into a dark world of trafficking illegal immigrants across the boarder into the USA.

Having been possibly the only big film during the award season I was unable to view earlier in the year, I was quite amazed by how powerful the imagery in this film was despite never feeling awfully cinematic in the way it was filmed with the digital cameras. Displaying some bleak hopeless shots across a baron woodland landscape and a strong, verging on visceral portrayal of working class Middle America there is certainly enough on show, for a promising future for the debut director Courtney Hunt. The performances were certainly on par with the director's talent with Melissa Leo really making the role of Ray her own, and quite possibly giving the performance of her, extremely underrated, career. Touching flawed and ultimately real it is quite a shame Leo did not get the Oscar she probably deserved (but I suppose you had to give Kate Winslet a break eventually...). The support cast were excellent also though the shining star from the pack was definitely Charlie McDermott as the eldest of Ray's two sons, T.J who displays a huge amount of maturity having to handle all the domestic problems while his mother sorts out their financial troubles.

Final Thoughts
Driven by several tense, dramatic moments (including one involving a recently born child) the film rarely shows you any sign of pure uplifting, hopeful moments, giving the audience a very haunting story about the depths some people will go to support their family, and in troubled economic times serves as a reminder (albeit a slightly exaggerated one) of how some people less fortunate than ourselves are struggling to manage within the current climate. Full of enough suspense to keep even the minor fans of edgy thrillers entertained, Frozen River is an intimate tale of the hardship within working class Middle America amongst the racism and financial woes. The coldest, most depressing film you will see all summer. Grim (and I mean that in a good way).


See this if you liked...
I'm kind of at a loss with like minded films for this one so view the trailer here:

Frozen River is in (very few) cinemas from Friday.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Bruno - Review

It has been three years since Sacha Baron Cohen unleashed his sexist, anti-Semitic broadcaster known Borat on the silver screen to the delight (and surprise) of movie audiences world wide transforming the man behind the tache into a genuine film star, since then he has appeared in and shone in films such a Talladega Nights opposite Will Farrell and even went toe to toe with Johnny Depp in the Oscar nominated heavyweight musical Sweeney Todd. Fast forward to 2009 where comedies of all shapes and sizes have been doing well at the box office it was time for Cohen to release his third self created character upon the film screen in the form of Austrian fashion guru Bruno. First appearing (just like his preceding character) as part of the support cast to Cohen's original comic creation Ali G (remember him?), Bruno opens with the character fired from his show after disrupting a catwalk show during Milan Fashion week. Accompanied by his
assistant's assistant Lutz, he travels to the
United States to become a superstar

I must admit when I first saw sat down to watch Borat I was not expecting a great deal of the movie to appeal to me, but upon watching I couldn't stop laughing from beginning to end and furthermore never having been as shocked and appalled in a long time at the sheer audacity of Cohen making a mockery of the people who appear in the movie unknown to his actual nature of him shooting a Hollywood movie. Following pretty much the exact same formula Bruno carries on where Borat left off travelling across the world poking fun at the ignorance of Americans as well as Europeans and the Israeli and Palestinians. In terms of performances Sacha Baron Cohen must be applauded and frankly saluted at what he has managed to achieve in this film though one could argue that he was essentially rehashing the same jokes on different victims, the fact he was able to recreate that same level of shock and horror on people's faces I thought was utter genius. Though arguably the same structure to Borat it is without a shadow of doubt far more offensive and (trust me) the 18 certificate (Borat was only a 15 for the record) was completely justified with moments that I could not possibly list here because if you have not witnessed this film yet then it would be an utter crime to spoil what has not been shown in the trailers.

Bruno's main appeal however rests in the naivety of the character, who is not necessarily dislikeable because the horrific things he does, he does without any nastiness or malice and though completely obnoxious in some weird twisted way he always has the best intentions. From exchanging an iPod for an African child to trying to gain peace in the Middle East, Bruno may just be doing all this to better his own quest to superstardom but it is strangely satisfying to see he becomes a better man for it by the film's final moments. However though I enjoyed it, I felt it was a case of same movie, different clothes which is not essentially a bad thing but when he comes to making his next comic creation he might want to start thinking of changing the formula since two hilarious, offensive foreign broadcasters poking fun at middle/lower class America is certain "company" a third might be considered a "crowd".

Final Thoughts

Sacha Baron Cohen has once again created a comedy film that truly challenges the limits a film maker can go to when it comes to material that can just about make it past the censors. Unrelentlessly hilarious from beginning to end, if I wasn't laughing out loud I was in complete numbing shock at the outrageous images before me. At approximately 83 minutes in total, it is not a terribly long film and gets the length just about right never once feeling like it was dragging or that any of the content was purely "filler". However, its biggest (and only) flaw was that it all felt a little too familiar and that we might have seen it somewhere before. Either way it doesn't change the fact I thought that it was a clever, well made film which stands as a testimony to how ignorant the general public can be and its inability to take a joke. Excellent.


See This If You Liked...
Borat. And see this if you didn't like that god awful Ali G movie.

Bruno is in cinemas everywhere now.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Public Enemies - Review

Three films in the space of five days, yes I've been a busy lad. Michael Mann has an impressive history with films and television within the crime genre, though arguably none more spectacular than the 1995 epic Heat where he placed two of the greatest actors of a generation (Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino) and paired them off against each other in possibly one of the best "cops and robbers" films ever committed to the big screen. Fast forward to 14 years later and he intends to do the same, this time with the two most consistent and versatile leading men of the past decade Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. However instead of setting the story against a contemporary backdrop of down town L.A, Mr Mann has opted for 1930s Chicago during the Great Depression documenting the rise and fall of the infamous bank robber John Dillinger (Depp).

Adapted from the works of Bryan Burrough's non-fictional tale of Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933–34, the story is centred around FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Bale) as he sets his sights on American gangsters Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum) in an attempt to curb a rampant crime wave surging throughout the Midwest of America. One of my favourite aspects of the story was that Mann managed to make you watch this from an objective point of view, with Depp lending his charisma and class to the character of Dillinger to make him come across as a very hard man to hate, footloose and fancy free, he's a laid back individual who likes to bask in life's indulgences, yes he robbed banks and committed acts of cold violence but, in parallel to our current economic woes who could blame him? Of course as history shows the more he did it, the more his public image grew and the man became somewhat infamous, basically a Robin Hood of the Depression Era...except you know...he kept the cash. Bale in contrast is the polar opposition in his character, lives by the book of law and idealistic in his methods, believing what he is doing is genuinely the right thing to do, and again you can't criticise him for it. Both men are not necessarily good or bad in its most basic term, both show in the film that people are capable of good and bad things regardless of how true their intentions are, which is something I genuinely liked about the movie.

Though both men are excellent, Johnny Depp just nails it for myself, demonstrating a wide range of emotions from just one man, starting off cold and focused until he meets the love of his life Billie Frechette (played by the classy and gorgeous French beauty Marion Cotillard) in which he displays genuine warmth and affection and finally seeing that future for himself. Along with Miss Cotillard the supporting cast is excellent and one of the best I've seen in a film this year especially the excellent Stephen Graham as the sinister and insane Baby Face Nelson and (one of my favourite actors about) Billy Crudup's extremely impressive take on the influential J. Edgar Hoover (before all the controversy happened...). In the production department Mann effortlessly recreates 1930s Chicago to accurate effect, very much in the spirit of the 1987 film The Untouchables starring Costner, Connery and co. filmed with such elegance and beauty to make the film almost feel like you were watching a real life documentary as oppose to a fictional movie, however this came slightly at a price because at times the film sort of lost its cinematic granduer because of this and Mann missed a golden opportunity to create some epic cinematography. In true Michael Mann fashion though the violence from high speed pursuits to hotel shoot-outs was completely unrelenting and pretty full on, perhaps not entirely controversial it was however extremely fun. The score was another wonderful addition to an already classy period piece, placing a brilliant mix of country, blues and old night club show tunes into the movie to almost make you wish the film was shot in Black and White instead of standard boring old Colour in hope to recapture an era of cinema that is now lost to the archives where everything simply oozed class.

Final Thoughts
Though perhaps not the credit crunch parable some people might have been hoping for, Public Enemies is still a high charged tale for all who love their gangsters wielding classic "Tommy Guns" and robbing banks without the use of hi-tech technology but instead complete brute force. It was genuinely refreshing to see Christian Bale in a role that he actually had to act in once again as oppose to the usual grunt voice and shouty hysterics he has been doing in his high budget franchise roles as of late, proving him much better than the likes of Terminator and Batman sometimes give him credit for. This movie ultimately however belongs to Johnny Depp, with an excellent portrayal of the legendary folk hero, with some blistering chemistry that he brews with Miss Cotillard in the background to all the bank jobs he pulls, it might not win him an Oscar but on this form, frankly, who cares? Michael Mann has made an excellent period piece combined with the innovative style and filming techniques that he has brought to the genre from various films such as his Miami Vice remake and of course Heat. Whether Mann was trying to recreate the magic of a "once in a lifetime" experience such as Heat is debatable, regardless though he has managed to create possibly one of the most glorious movies to watch in 2009.


See This If You Liked...
Heat and after you see the movie you might want to check out Manhattan Melodrama (1934) starring Clark Gable (you'll know what I mean once you watch it)

Public Enemies is out in cinemas now.