Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Merry Christmas & theFILMblog Top 10 for 2009

Finally that time of the year is upon us, where every single media outlet is undoubtedly constructing 'top 10' lists for either the past year or in this instance, the past decade. Thought it was only fair to do the same.

After careful consideration and thought theFILMblog's top 10 films of 2009 are....

10. In The Loop - Malcolm Tucker. Enough said...

9. The Wrestler - Darren Aronofsky's most intimate and heart-warming film to date. Made Mickey Rourke a phenomenal Hollywood force once again.

8. Coraline - Sure there were a few other animated films of similar ilk such as Where The Wild Things Are and Fantastic Mr Fox, but Coraline was the only one that felt genuinely like a film designed for the whole family. Also a surprise package in that it was genuinely scary in parts.

7. The Hurt Locker - Defy any bloke who doesn't play Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 not to enjoy this. Intense, gritty and at times overwhelming, it sets the audience at the front line of the action, which is not necessarily, all guns blazing.

6. Moon - So it wasn't the most original story you will ever see, but it serves as a reminder to how brilliant Science-Fiction was back in its glory days of the 70s and 80s with nods to Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running to name a few. Also probably the best d├ębut of any director seen this year, on top of a mammoth solo performance from Sam Rockwell.

5. Inglourious Basterds - I walked in wanting to hate it, I walked out hailing it as Quentin Tarantino's best film. Features the best villain of 2009 in Christoph Waltz' performance as 'The Jew Hunter'. Someone give that man more work and awards!

4. Up - Really when Pixar make a film, is it ever not going to end up in my top 5 (never mind 10) of the year? Possibly the company's most hilarious film but definitely their most emotionally realised and visually striking film.

3. Star Trek - What?! This is a joke right? Wrong! This entry is purely on a personal level. I do not think I honestly enjoyed a film more than Star Trek this year. Made me smile from beginning to end, JJ Abrams managed to capture a beautiful balance to seriousness with the light hearted moments that were also associated with the original television series.

2. Let The Right One In - Beautifully written, filmed and acted. This was truly something special. If I had made this list two months ago, it would have surely got the number one spot if it were not for this surprise gem...

1. The White Ribbon - As I said in the review The White Ribbon is an example of cinema at its most beautiful yet most basic, if you stick with the beautifully realised dialogue and immerse yourself in the glorious cinematography your patience will be duly rewarded.

It's been a long year, there's been some good, some bad and some plain ugly films for 2009, would just like to give a massive thank you to anyone who has took time out to read my reviews this year as well as the wonderful illustrated works of Gillian Reid (thank you m'dear), it truly makes it all worthwhile! Will leave you with this final image of my favourite Christmas film of all time...

Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Avatar - Review

Ever stared into the abyss at 3am, after that third bottle of red wine and wondered; what would happen if you crossed Fern Gully with Apocalypse Now? Well dear readers, wonder no more! After a 12 year hiatus since his timeless love story, Titanic, (heard it made a few quid too...) James Cameron returns to set the standard for blockbuster film making once more with his latest offering - Avatar.

The film focuses on an epic conflict on Pandora, an inhabited Earth-sized planet orbiting the Alpha Centauri star. On the planet, human colonists and the indigenous inhabitants of Pandora, the Na'vi, engage in a war over the planet's resources and the latter's continued existence. The plot itself came across far better than I had originally anticipated. In a year where the giant, explosive blockbusters have been, for the most part, dire, Avatar succeeds with a simple story of right and wrong which has been used in plenty of films for some time.

When I originally seen the trailer the first thing that crossed my mind was the story of Pocahontas and frankly upon watching, the film, did little to change that opinion. Though Jake Sully (played by the latest action man of Hollywood, Sam Worthington) is hardly of the "John Smith" archetype. Coming across as a conflicted, selfish man upon the opening moments of the film he sets himself upon quite an uplifting, spiritual journey to his rightful place in the universe.

The cast on a whole were brilliant, and complimented each other to perfection. That said, the actors hardly had to stretch themselves with the characters they were given, you only have to look at Stephen Lang's CV to see he has probably practiced being a hard-ass military type on daily basis. Or Joel Moore playing that one truly geeky character present throughout the film that we all find endearing. The two stand outs of the cast besides Worthington and Zoe Salden was Sigourney Weaver as the very driven and very idealistic Grace Augustine and the under-rated Matt Gerald as the slimey coprate executive Lyle Wainfleet - deserved more screen time.

However lets be honest the film's main saving grace was not the writing or the characters despite how commendable they may all be. No, this film will be forever remembered for the jaw dropping, absolutely exquisite visual effects that are without a doubt a landmark in cinema for genuine imagination and photo realistic quality. I remember being seven years old and going to see Jurassic Park for the first time, and seeing the Brachiosaurus - the first dinosaur in the film, and being in complete awe, overwhelmed by that feeling of seeing something that looked so unbelievably real that you almost thought there was no way it could merely be computer generated. A similar feeling descended on me when I experienced the world of Pandora. Which is a surprise in itself considering I had images of the Star Wars prequels in my head initially...

The film however did suffer from a needlessly long running time and besides the epic third act did lack a hell of a lot of action - for a man who made Terminator 2 and Aliens, devote followers might feel a bit cheated. The 3D also felt a bit pointless in hindsight, as I don't honestly believe you lose much of the experience if you decided to see it in a standard cinema screen in 2D. Lastly the overall theme and, less than subtle, message Cameron was portraying to the audience of wrecking the world and depleting its natural resources is a theme in cinema that is starting to become slightly tiresome given the current world setting. That said it could of been worse...could have been a dig at the war in Iraq...hmm...wait a minute...

Final Thoughts
Film of the decade? Nope. Film of the Year? It ain't mine. What James Cameron has managed to achieve is, a beautiful mixture of two film styles, which has made him a giant in the world of film making. It has the action and explosions on par with some of his best cinematic moments, as well as the tender emotional - and overly cheesy side which served him so well in Titanic. This is a classic blockbuster in every single sense. Though whether I would rate it amongst my favourite blockbusters this past decade has given me is yet another thing to ponder after that third bottle of wine at 3am...


See this if you like...
Terminator, Pocahontus, Fern Gully, Titanic, Apocalypse Now, Star Wars prequels.

Avatar is in cinemas from today.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Where The Wild Things Are - Review

"It's going to be a place where only the things you want to happen, would happen."

After numerous years, a couple of mixed test screenings, going way over budget and a near revolt from Warner Bros, Spike Jonze's adaptation of the 1963 children's book Where The Wild Things Are finally hits the screens. The results were more than satisfying.

The story itself charts the tale of hyperactive kid, Max as he flees from his home in a fit of rage and anger after a fallout with his mother - played by frequent Jonze collaborator, Catherine Keener. Escaping on his ship, and sailing into the open sea, he eventually finds solace on a remote island populated by the most amazing looking creatures known as The Wild Things (I think...). With the original story consisting of minimal dialogue, Jonze enlisted the talents of author Dave Eggers to pen a much more expanded screenplay.

Having waited for this film since I originally first read about it many years ago, I could not contain my excitement, I was literally jumping up and down and never before been as bedazzled by a trailer than this. One of the most wonderful childhood books of all time envisioned by one of the most talented directors of the past decade is surely something worth seeing, arguably similar in approach to Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr Fox back in October.

However, where Jonze succeeded with Wild Things as oppose to Wes Anderson with Mr Fox was that he knew who the target audience was. Though fans of Jonze's previous films will adore the idiosyncratic style and dialogue evoked throughout the film, there is plenty for the children to marvel and love about it as well, which in my opinion is, frankly, the point.

One of the most stunning aspects of the film itself was the beautifully realised world of the Wild Things, with a vast array of elemental regions, from dark monolithic forests to a barren desert, snow-filled lands and elegant spring gardens. You could tell, in a purely visual capacity, that Jonze knew exactly how he wanted this film to look and feel.

Watching the characters being brought to life on screen was the most visually delightful spectacles you will see in a film all year, combining a mixture of animatronics from the Jim Henson Company with computer animation for their faces and expressions. The producers seemingly went to great effort to enlist a quality band of voice actors consisting of James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker, Paul Dano, Chris Copper (my pick of the bunch), Michael Berry Jr and Lauren Ambrose.

Worthy mention must go out to the very folky and earthy score performed predominately by Karen O, singer for New York act Yeah Yeah Yeahs with contributions from her band mates and other composers such as Cater Burwell and Daniel Johnston.

It does pain me to say that it wasn't the film of the year I was unprofessionally expecting or wanting. As the case with Spike Jonze's other films it may come across a bit too arty or 'out there' for general film audiences to really appreciate. The story had an air of over-anticipation about it, as if you were sitting there waiting for something truly magical to happen or appear out of thin air but it unfortunately never really came to be. Besides quite a dark verging on scary third act (for the kids I mean) the plot wore slightly thin in comparison to the spectacular backdrops and landscapes of the island and the loveable diverse characters on show.

Final Thoughts
A slow burner, and casual audiences may not immediately understand the point of it. However fans of the original book by Maurice Sendak or director Spike Jonze will rejoice with glee. Where The Wild Things Are is a wonderful tale that evokes memories of those lost childhood days where the imagination truly ran er...Wild. Spike Jonze has delivered a film that I firmly believe could stand the test of the time with generations of children to come, a visual assault on all the senses, a genuine treat for all the family on this festive period. Its the film equivalent of a fine wine, trust me it's going to get better with every viewing. Mainstream cinema as an art-form rarely looks this good.

7.5/10 (could go up a point by next viewing)

See This If You Liked...
Harry Potter, Coraline, Roald Dahl adaptations, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth.

Where The Wild Things Are is available in all cinemas from today.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Me and Orson Welles - Review

Hooray, Hooray, December is here!

To kick off the festive season I decided to go see a film from the director of School of Rock, starring teenage pretty boy Zac Efron. Hardly sounds encouraging. As with many times this year, I was pleasantly surprised with the results.

Set in 1930s New York, young Richard Samuels (Efron) can't believe his luck when he manages to land the role of Lucillus in Broadway's first Shakespearean production Julius Caesar, directed by none other than the legendary Orson Welles (Christian McKay). From this moment on his life is completely transformed, learning from extraordinary actors and catching the eye of a career-driven production assistant, Sonja Jones (Claire Danes).

From the moment the film began you can quite easily see this isn't High School Musical, nor is it cashing in on the cheap thrills and Jack Black humour of School Of Rock. No, this had a very classy, elegant tone fitting of the peroid. The same can also be said for Zac Efron. It was perhaps a bold move for the director to created such a beautifully imagined peroid drama, yet cast a teenage mega-star in the lead role, whose previous experience was essentially a trilogy of 'Straight-to-DVD' Disney films.

He was nothing short of brilliant, filled with confidence, heart and putting in tonnes of effort to hold his own among more established and experienced actors around him. This, of course, mirrored his character, Richard, a boy who loved to romanticize the world, thankful for just being apart of something so monumental.

What makes Me and Orson Welles so refreshing isn't just one break out performance, but two. Before this film people had at least heard of Zac Efron, for better or worse, you can decide. However, very few people would have heard of British actor, Christian McKay, but after his performance as Orson Welles, I have a feeling you will be seeing a lot more of him.

It's a big ask for any unknown actor to take on the role, the persona, the sheer presence of someone like Welles but to deliver it with such a masterstroke was nothing short of remarkable. His style, his delivery, his passion, everything was amazing. Efron was good, but McKay was excellent. If he does not make a Best Actor shortlist at the Globes or Oscars in a couple of months time then there is genuinely no justice. His performance made me want to watch it all over again

Besides the two lead performances, the support cast was stellar, made up of hard working actors such as Ben Chaplin, James Tupper, Leo Bill and Eddie Marsan - whose on screen banter and love/hate relationship with McKay made for some of the best moments in the film. Obviously it goes without saying that the beautiful Claire Danes was a joy to watch, her chemistry with Efron was natural and at times even heart-warming, despite the slight age difference. The film though wasn't 100% perfect, as the story itself, at times, lacked cohesion, with no real conclusion to speak of. This perhaps echoed Welles' real life adaptation of Julius Caesar judging from historical sources.

Final Thoughts
A refreshing, upbeat and highly enjoyable peroid drama. Zac Efron finally announces himself as a serious and creditable actor. The movie however belongs to Christian McKay, who should be someone to watch out for in the years ahead. On the basis of his perfect rendition of Orson Welles, he is capable of incredible things. Overall, Me And Orson Welles acts as an insightful, provocative entry into the life of working in the theatre industry, and the extreme personalities that go along with it. Whether it stands the test of time as other films of similar setting such as the wonderful 1948 classic, The Red Shoes, however remains to be seen.


See this if you liked...
The Red Shoes, Citizen Kane...High School Musical (just sayin')

Me And Orson Welles is in most cinemas now.