Friday, 25 September 2009

Creation - Review

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

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

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

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

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


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

Creation is in cinemas across the UK now.

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

Friday, 18 September 2009

Away We Go - Review

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, 7 September 2009

Adventureland - Review

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

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

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

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


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

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

Friday, 4 September 2009

District 9 - Review

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Disney/Marvel Retrospective.

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

Watered Down Kiddy Comic Book Movies?! Noooooooooo.

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

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

The Future.

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

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

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