Friday, 27 November 2009

Law Abiding Citizen - Review

After experiencing the hard hitting, slow moving beauty of The White Ribbon less than 24 hours earlier, for the 'Friday Review' I decided to opt for something that required less thinking. Brought to us by the man who had the balls - and the stupidity - to remake The Italian Job, F. Gary Gray and starring two creditable leads in Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler we have that all nonsense, all action, answer: Law Abiding Citizen.

After an inexplicably brutal attack, the film tells the story of a man (Butler) who decides to exact justice on his family's killers, as well as challenging the painful flaws of the criminal justice system in the United States. On paper the story actually sounds quite reasonable, mimicking similar revenge tales such as Tony Scott's Man On Fire.

For the most part it's surprisingly an immense amount of fun, with the film makers creating a large amount of tension as the story progresses and Butler's character becoming much more erratic in his targets as he starts to focus on the district attorney's office of Philadelphia fronted by Jamie Foxx. The killings themselves were quite brutal, verging on Saw territory, involving some unrealistic gadgets and methods used, not so much to simply kill his victims but instead totally torture them. Gerard Butler increasingly became more of a super-villain than a mere 'law abiding citizen'.

The main problem with the film was the same pitfalls that film's of this genre usually face. At the start you truly felt for Butler's character, frankly who wouldn't want to seek vengeance on the people who killed their own families, that in a sense, is justified. Where it wandered into the obscene was when the convoluted and convenient back story was revealed where he just happened to be a genius and trained in Black Ops for the US government where he created gadgets (Q from James Bond any body?) to kill people discreetly.

Then there is Jamie Foxx who puts out a smashing performance as the straight talking attorney, who started the whole revenge plot rolling when he cut a deal with one of the killers to testified for a shorter jail term. This itself could have actually had the makings of an interesting court room drama where the American justice system is questioned and criticised beyond repair but the honest truth is, this film just had too much brawn for there to be any such development.

Final Thoughts
Entertaining, explosive and I could definitely think of worse ways to kill two hours. However the sad truth is there is far more entertaining and better realised revenge films already out there. Though I applaud the director and screenwriter for trying to challenge the questionable grey areas of the US legal system it simply wasn't intelligent enough to carry these ideas through. It won't change your life, but if you're sick of people talking about vampires and werewolves, this is a good way to take your mind off it.


See This If You Like...
Man On Fire, Taxi Driver, Dead Man's Shoes, Saw

Law Abiding Citizen is in all major cinemas from today.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The White Ribbon - Review

Michael Haneke is probably one of the most visceral and hard hitting film makers, in the world cinema scene, at the minute along with Gasper Noe and Lars Von Trier. However unlike his two counterparts he often sets his films in more realistic environments often documenting the problems and failures within modern society. Suffice to say, they never make for causal viewing. Already winning one of the most prestigious awards of the year the Palme D'Or at Cannes, The White Ribbon is not surprisingly any different.

The story centres around a small village in Germany just before World War I focusing on the local children's choir directed by the village schoolmaster, and their families: the Baron, the superintendent, pastor, doctor, midwife, peasants. From the opening scene strange incidents start to occur such as acts of vandalism and violence, which gradually assume the character of a ritual punishment.

One of the most immediate reactions anyone could have is the truly stunning cinematography. Very few films I have seen this year have made the most of the immense size of a cinema screen as The White Ribbon. Haneke smartly decides to present the story in black and white possibly reflecting the film's narrative of witnessing a cruel twisted world through mainly the eyes of children.

One of the most surprising aspects of the film for me personally was the story itself, thinking it might of been another World War I/II film from the German perspective, it is anything but. In essence it's a bit of a mystery, as the story progresses, you find certain characters do not appear to be all that they seem and the identity of the person who commits these acts keeps you guessing until the very end.

Where the film truly shines however is in the more intimate and innocent moments, reflecting the true beauty of childhood itself. One of the stand out scenes being where the youngest son of the pastor gave his father a bird to replace the one he had lost through a 'prior incident' because the boy could see how the loss of the bird made him very sad. Those aren't the moments this film will be remembered for but will be the scenes that truly add to how wonderful an experience The White Ribbon is.

Though there is no musical score present, it never needed one as the quality of the acting and screenplay was simply glorious. It would be unfair to single out any particular actor in this story as the entire cast complimented each other amazingly, but perhaps the honourable mentions would have to go to young Eddy Grahl for his performance as the mentally disabled child Karli as well as Christian Friedel as the teacher - his name is never actually given, however in this strangely diverse array of characters and personalities, he turns out to be probably the most innocent and incorruptible person in the entire village.

Final Thoughts
Catered more to the needs of die hard world cinema fans than a causal movie goer looking for a couple of hours to kill. Though it may at first appear to be slow moving, if you stick with the beautifully realised dialogue and immerse yourself in the glorious cinematography your patience will be duly rewarded. The White Ribbon is an example of cinema at its most beautiful yet most basic, bringing emphasis back to the actors and their performances instead of being bogged down by useless shock tactics or over-saturated special effects. As the decade draws to a close you can't help but notice how rare a thing that has now become.


See this if you liked...
Funny Games, The Piano Teacher, Caché (Hidden)

The White Ribbon is currently showing at the Queen's Film Theatre for until the 4th December. If you're a fan of world cinema this is a must.

Friday, 20 November 2009

The Informant! - Review

Steven Soderbergh is seemingly making films via an assembly line these days. Within the past year he has managed a release the epic two part biopic, Che, the intimate, classy yet completely hollow Girlfriend Experience and now his latest, The Informant! starring the ever brilliant and versatile Matt Damon.

Based on the book of the same name by journalist Kurt Eichenwald, The Informant! loosely documents the mid-1990s lysine price-fixing conspiracy case and the involvement of Archer Daniels Midland executive Mark Whitacre (Damon). Possibly because the events of the story itself were completely outrageous, Soderbergh decides to take quite a tongue and cheek approach to the movie adaptation going with jingles from 1970s TV shows - sounding as if it was lifted straight from the original Bewitched series.

Due to the nature of the whole affair it was hard to take any of it seriously, which was obviously the point, however it felt like it needed an injection of cold-hearted drama akin to the reality of the 'heartless' capitalist world to really lift it. As the film developed, the story didn't, making all the complex business of corporate espionage even more confusing than it, perhaps, is in real life. You really needed a lot of patience to 'get' the movie, as the tiny little white lies Mark spoke of slowly but surely spiralled into utter madness of the highest order, such as the truth about his parents and how much money he embezzled while working for the FBI. The voice overs did make me smile but only because they brought back memories of Christian Bale's eccentric performance in American Psycho.

Despite lacking something in the overall story, the acting of the feature was superb. All the cast did a tremendous job and it was great seeing the likes of Scott Bakula, Melanie Lynskey and Clancy Brown attached to such a high profile project. Unfortunately though my main criticisms are aimed at Matt Damon, who was not terrible by any means, however just never seemed believable as Mark Whitacre, never truly creepy or nerdy enough to be the best man for the role.

Final Thoughts
Similar to Soderbergh's Girlfriend Experience and his Ocean's sequels; it had tonnes of class and was presented beautifully, yet it left the audience feeling underwhelmed and empty. Coming across more a parody of the events instead of a genuine dramatisation. Though it was a refreshing black comedy, it was not even nearly as hilarious as it wanted or could have been, making The Informant! a disappointing experience. You have been informed...


See This If You Like...
Ocean's 11, American Psycho, The Lives Of Others

The Informant! is in cinemas everywhere now.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Harry Brown - Review

It's been a while since I've seen a Michael Caine film. Sure he's been in two of my favourite films of the last decade (The Prestige and The Dark Knight) but ask yourself, when was the last time you have actually seen a film that has starred Michael Caine in the leading role? Nope. Didn't think so.

Which brings me to the unofficial third instalment of 2009's "Pensioners Strike Back" series that has seen Clint Eastwood channel his inner-Harry Callahan in the brilliant neo-Western Gran Torino and of course Ed Asner as the wonderfully soulful Carl Fredricksen in Pixar's beautiful tale of Up.

Though obviously having more in common with Eastwood in Gran Torino than Asner in Up, Caine stars as Harry Brown, an elderly widower and former Royal Marine who has lived to see his East London council estate overrun by violent gangs, drugs and crime. When his best friend Leonard (David Bradley) is brutally murdered and the gang leader responsible walks free, Harry finds himself snapping. Soon, his desire for revenge leads to Brown facing up to the young thugs, with terrifying results.

Don't let the poor marketing of this film fool you, this is not another average Guy Ritchie rip off in the vein of seemingly every straight-to-DVD feature starring Danny Dyer. Debut director Daniel Barber has delivered a chilling insight into the decaying social state of Britain's working class communities, its cold, dark, gritty and a completely harrowing experience. The violence was perhaps over exaggerated (interviews in the media with the director suggest otherwise...) but it's hard to deny that Harry Brown was one of the most gripping cinematic showings I have witnessed all year.

Michael Caine has already proved time and time again over the last few years he can go toe to toe with the young guns of modern cinema, however this film proves that he can still lead a story with grace, integrity and sheer class. Though Bradley's brief contribution was indeed a gem to witness, the only other actor of any genuine mention goes to Emily Mortimer who was an absolute pleasure to watch on screen as the local detective keeping close tabs on Brown's vigilante crusade who desperately wanted to help Harry but was restrained by the red tape of the questionable British legal system.

Finally I must say that the cinematography of Harry Brown was genuinely excellent, really playing on the complete despair of the character's bleak surroundings, from his own home in the run down council estate to the almost surreal drug den that frankly would not be too out of place in the likes of Clockwork Orange or Bronson. As one of the characters rightfully says, you would not live here if you could avoid it.

Final Thoughts
Gritty, cold, violent and sometimes even quite unsettling. Daniel Barber has managed to capture some of the sobering truths of the hardships facing working class Britain today, and the anti-social behaviour that goes along with it. Michael Caine shows the world, once again, why he is one of the most treasured stars of the industry, combining with some top quality support and a bagful of suspense and hard hitting drama, though it doesn't quite hit the heights of British cinema's best revenge film Dead Man's Shoes however Harry Brown might...just might be the best British film of 2009.


See this if you like...
Gran Torino, Dead Man's Shoes, Man On Fire...most gritty ITV dramas ala Taggart, Silent Witness etc.

Harry Brown is in most cinemas from today.

Friday, 6 November 2009

The Men Who Stares At Goats - Review

One of my favourite things about George Clooney is that he tends to never take himself or his international status too seriously. For every box office smash, he is always more than willing to lend his talents to more indie affairs. The Men Who Stares At Goats very much falls into the latter category.

Based on a book of the same title by journalist/writer Jon Ronson, the film centres around the completely surreal tale of Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) who stumbles onto the story of a lifetime when he meets a special forces operator, Lyn Cassady (Clooney). As they embark on a new mission, Lyn reveals his twenty-year involvement in a top secret, psychic military unit and shares details of their activities, each more bizarre than the last - including staring at goats in order to stop their hearts.

The performances were nothing short of excellent, though giving the array of talent in the spotlight, its not hard to see why. Unlike last month's Mr Fox, Clooney actually reminds us there is more to his acting talent than simply playing himself (not that there is really anything wrong with that mind). I imagine when the producers of this film started casting, they must have thought that no one else except McGregor could play the main role of Bob, even more so due to the amount of sly "Jedi" jokes aimed at him the entire film (yes yes the irony is astounding...). He held his own starring opposite Clooney exceptionally well reminding the audience it was just as much his film as it was Clooney's. In support, and frankly the highlights of the film were the appearances of Jeff Bridges, playing on his Dude persona from The Big Lebowski , and also with a decent shout for a best supporting actor nod at the Oscars next year Kevin Spacey with some genuinely comedic moments that lifted the piece.

Performances aside, the production value was solid as a rock, and what you come to expect from BBC Films. However you never really felt as though you were watching something unique or special compared to some of the other films that these 4 actors have indeed appeared in this year. For a film that was touted for contention at the awards circuit next year, that is something of a let down. However though the humour was luke warm at best, when it was on song it almost came across like a live action version of some of the more insane moments of The Simpsons in its golden age (especially the brief appearance of Robert Patrick). In its final third it harked back to such war film classics as M*A*S*H and Catch 22. Unfortunately though these moments are few and far between.

Final Thoughts
Not quite the disaster as some of Clooney's other indie outings such as Leatherheads or Burn After Reading however it never quite lives up to the dark satirical undertones of such under rated classics as Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind or the punchy political Good Night and Good Luck. Performances from the four main players and quite a hilarious, albeit brief, appearance from Robert Patrick makes The Men Who Stares At Goats at the very least an entertaining enough way to kill a couple of hours, but don't expect it to be listed in the "Best Of" list of any of the actors...


See this if you like...
M*A*S*H, Catch 22, Three Kings...that's all I got...

The Men Who Stares at Goats is at cinemas everywhere now.