Saturday, 20 February 2010

The Lovely Bones - Review

I often wonder every time I watch Lord of the Rings and then any of Peter Jackson's other films; is he a brilliant director or a man who struck lucky once - well thrice pending on how you view his holy trilogy. That is not to say his near decade effort in bringing JRR Tolkien's masterpiece to the big screen and the success which came with it was based on luck - it wasn't - but you could tell his heart and soul was evident within the film. However such films as Heavenly Creatures, The Frighteners and his remake of King Kong have often crossed over into the realms of unpleasant confusion and disorientating chaos. Unfortunately for Mr Jackson, The Lovely Bones is no different.

Based on the best selling novel by Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones is the story of a 14-year-old girl from suburban Pennsylvania who is murdered by her neighbor. She tells the story from heaven, showing the lives of the people around her and how they have changed all while attempting to get someone to find her lost body.

Firstly what I did like about the film was how gloriously lush it was, like an artist placing fresh, vibrant, colours on to a canvas for the first time. This was particularly evident during the 'afterlife scenes' - despite looking like they were lifted straight from that
atrocious Robin Williams film, What Dreams May Come. the visuals were also lifted in parts with the superbly crafted score written by the ever talented songwriter, Brian Eno.

However there were a number of surprisingly disappointing aspects to the film, firstly being the incoherent plot, which has left me - a good few hours afterwards - still comprehending what actually happened, and not my friends in a reflective David Lynch sort of way. Having not read the book I am not sure if this is attributed to the source material but for a man who adapted one of the most unfilmable fantasy novels, you would expect better.

You almost get the impression the film has been cut massively in parts and that a longer director's edition may surface at a later date, but from what I have already witnessed, I'm not sure if I would even bother. Jackson was unable to make me feel anything for the characters, similar to how I felt when I watched The Road last month, yes what happened to this girl was horrific but I never once felt choked up for her or her family, mainly because Jackson didn't actually let the audience see what happened. The film was delayed by nearly a year because Paramount were hoping it would bring the studio mountains of success during the award season, but you would think maybe that would have gave Jackson extra time to iron out the painfully unpolished edges.

The performances were competent at best, however what I failed to understand was why the actors and actresses were not allowed to speak for themselves, Saoirse Ronan's soulless, uninspiring narration got tiresome within the opening 10 minutes. This was quite disheartening considering the talent on offer.

Final Thoughts
I didn't want to hate it, but Peter Jackson didn't make it easy for me. Essentially The Lovely Bones was a test of patience I'm afraid I failed, waiting nearly two hours for something to actually happen and never once rewarding me for it. It failed to show any real human drama or intensity seen in superior films with similar themes. Despite the visuals being mostly breathtaking - save for some dodgy CGI moments - the film lacked any real connection between the characters on screen and the audience watching them. Sorry Peter, but you can do better.


See this if you like...
What Dreams May Come, but I didn't like that either...

The Lovely Bones is in cinemas everywhere now.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Crazy Heart - Review

Stop me if you've heard this one - you take a beaten, down on his luck, professional performer, put them through hell, then by the closing moments there is an uplifting sense of redemption? Yes I know I've seen The Wrestler too, but that's not what we're reviewing today.

There are very few actors in Hollywood today who are perhaps as endearing as one Jeff Bridges, he has lit up the screen time and time again with such infamous roles as "The Dude" in The Big Lebowski as well as his tremendous performances in films such as Starman, The Last Picture Show and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot - all three has earned him nominations for an Academy Award. As you may of noticed by now, his performance in Crazy Heart has just achieved the same feat, but can Hollywood's favourite dude go one better and take the Oscar home?

Crazy Heart tells a familiar tale of country-western singer, Bad Blake, once at the top of his profession, now earns a modest living by singing and playing his guitar at one-night stands, in small town bars, in the southwestern United States. Having a history of failed marriages, Bad is without a family. He is mostly on the road performing, staying in cheap motels and travelling in his old car alone.

Like its closest cousin, The Wrestler, Blake is the epitome of a man who feels alienated in the real world. Never really feeling truly alive or with any meaningful purpose unless he is on a stage singing the blues every night, finding comfort before, during and after in the bottom of a bottle. I know it is silly to say such things but it almost feels as though Jeff Bridges has been building towards this role his entire career. He conducts Blake's flaws with the reflection and knowings of a man who, like the character he's playing, has been down that rocky road time and time again.

Nothing sums up the emotion of the film more than the music flowing throughout, especially the main theme, "The Weary Kind" by Ryan Bingham - Whiskey has been a thorn in your side and it doesn't forget the highway that calls for your heart inside.

Much like Mickey Rourke's Randy Robinson, Blake finds redemption through the love of a beautiful woman, this time played by one of the blog's favourite leading ladies, Maggie Gyllenhaal, who adds an extra level of elegance and realism to a movie already streaming with it. The other supporting performances from Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall were also excellent, Farrell as the pupil who had surpassed his former mentor, and Duvall as the hardened bar tender there to help Blake back on the road to recovery.

In a movie where Farrell's character could easily had been "the asshole" of the piece, he proved to be one of Blake's saving graces. Where Blake showed bitterness to where his career had taken him as oppose to Farrell's Tommy Sweet, Tommy is always there to show his utmost respect to the man who made him what he was. The reason I mention this to other moments in the film is because it shows in Blake's fragile alcoholic state that his worst enemy is actually himself.

Final Thoughts
A simple, reflective piece of film making which shows off the titanic, institutionalised actor Jeff Bridges has now become. With brilliant support performances from Gyllenhaal, Duvall and Farrell, Crazy Heart is a beautifully told story of redemption, but also a sobering reminder that there a stories out there doomed to repeat themselves such as alcoholism that will ruin the life of a protagonist and their loved ones. However, if those films live up to the same standard set by Crazy Heart, like The Wrestler before it, I look forward to experiencing the next chapter in the tale.


See This If You Liked...
The Wrestler

Crazy Heart is in cinemas everywhere now.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

THEfilmBLOG Presents :: Short Film Tuesday


New feature to theFILMblog, every Tuesday I'm going to post up some of the best the Internet has to offer in short films.

The first, keeping with the Valentine's Day mood, is the wonderful, uplifting romantic comedy between a parking attendant and a DMV photographer in the form of Validation.

Writer/Director - Kurt Kuenne.
Starring -
TJ Thyne & Vicki Davis.

Spread the word and by all means I hope you enjoy.

The Legal...
theFILMblog takes zero credit for the making of any of the films shown, these are purely external links to youtube videos and this site has no association to any of the filmmakers or the people who upload them.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Ponyo - Review

You know, if I spent my time exclusively reviewing animated films, my life would be far richer for it. Admittedly I have already seen the original Japanese version of the film, over a year ago, but thought since most audiences would be venturing to the cinema for the dubbed version it would only be right to review it instead.

Besides my obsession with Walt Disney/Pixar the only other animation studio I would go out of my way to find time for these days is without a doubt Japan-based, Studio Ghibli especially the films of legendary storyteller, Hayao Miyazaki. Already producing memorable movies such as the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, the epic Princess Mononoke and the visually breathtaking Howl's Moving Castle, his latest animated film, Ponyo, very much lives up to the man's title as one of the best animated directors in the world at the minute.

Already being out in Japan for nearly two years, Ponyo - its full original title Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea - draws immediate comparisons with one of Walt Disney's most famous works, The Little Mermaid about a fish who yearns to be human after falling in love with a innocent boy named Sōsuke.

I remember initially seeing the trailer for the film and thinking that I might not enjoy it as much as the director's more famous works with the slightly less elaborate landscapes or epic scope along with the slightly childish nature of the whole affair, however its good to know you can't review a film on a trailer alone. The story from beginning to end was completely heart-warming, I would actually feel sorry for you if you failed to crack a smile at least once during the film's 100 minute running time, it was just so uplifting.

Miyazaki prevails in making a film that children will adore and adults are able to relate to as well. The way he was able to simplify the concept of love into such a sweet and innocent relationship between two children was glorious, as well as the more mature themes between the adult characters such as Ponyo's father - voiced by Liam Neeson - having to deal with the angst of his daughter wanting to grow up and branch off on her own I thought was handled in a way that adults would totally 'get' while not dumbing it down for children.

The animation itself once again proved that 2D as a medium is far from dead, the backgrounds may of not been as painstakingly detailed as Spirited Away or Howl's Moving Castle but the feel of it really suited the story. It almost felt like an animated child's painting from a playgroup class when you were a kid. Smart, simple, vivid and just fills you with innocently pure joy.

Unlike some other foreign studios when dubbing their movies into English - which I tend to find a futile task - Studio Ghibli have the luxury of Walt Disney handling their duties and always manage to draft in an all star cast for the occasion with Ponyo boasting possibly the most impressive voice cast to date. Featuring the likes of - as already mentioned - Liam Neeson, Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Lily Tomlin as well of course Noah Cyrus and Frankie Jonas in the roles of the central characters, Ponyo and Sōsuke respectively.

The orchestration was another particular highlight with long time Miyazaki collaborator, Joe Hisaishi providing a beautiful emotive score that never attempted to out-do the visuals and wonderful story unfolding before the audiences eyes. It succeeded leaps and bounds in enhancing an already pleasurable experience.

Final Thoughts
While not quite reaching the emotional heights and initial jaw-dropping experience I had when watching Spirited Away for the first time, you would be hard pressed not to let your heart be warmed by the title character's innocent playful nature. Ponyo is a magical journey that kids of all ages will surely adore for years to come. Visually beautiful, completely enchanting, if you're like me, hours after watching the film, you will surely still be smiling at the thought of it.


See This If You Liked...
Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, Kiki's Delivery Service, The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo.

Ponyo is in cinemas - hopefully - everywhere now.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The Wolfman - Review

With all the films classified as 'horror' these days such as [Rec], Let The Right One In, The Hills Have Eyes, Paranormal Activity or even the Saw series, you seldom ever encounter a modern film that takes on the old school horror tales. The only worth noting are possibly Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula in 1992 and the loose follow up - which was produced by Coppola - Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in 1994.

With vampires currently dominating TV and cinema screens as of late, it was time to shift to another old school horror monster in the form of The Wolfman - starring seasoned pros Benico Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins.

Set in the 1880s, the film mostly keeps the same plot of the original 1941 classic, with stage actor Lawrence Talbot returning to his original home in search for his missing brother, while being reunited with his mysterious father. Through a series of events and an encounter with a vicious beast Lawrence begins to see himself transform into probably know how that one turns out.

Purely because it has been years since I have seen a film such as The Wolfman I actually found it quite refreshing on the initial viewing. However, it was hardly the most original you are ever likely to see, you only have to dive into the hundreds of Hammer Horror compilation box-sets to get a similar feel, but that doesn't mean the film did not lack tonnes of atmosphere as well as an enjoyable ensemble of actors.

Benico Del Toro lead the line well as Lawrence, his usually broody self lent to the character's struggle and personal tragedies despite the story telling being a tad clumsy and convoluted. Anthony Hopkins' similarly played on his more famous character traits from his stints in the Hannibal Lecter films. The two main supporting actors were in my opinion the most interesting, Hugo Weaving as the clean cut Inspector Francis Aberlin - a play on the name Fredrick Abberline who was the main investigator into the real life Jack The Ripper murders, as well as, the elegantly beautiful Emily Blunt in the role of Gwen Conliffe, with whom Talbot falls in love.

Just because the film is essentially a remake, it did not need to keep the ridiculously overdramatic score - really couldn't they have got someone else besides Danny Elfman for once - along with such cringe worthy moments such as the werewolf howling at the moon during a tense scene in London. The blood, guts and gore factor was quite pleasingly turned up at 11 during the more violent moments in keeping with the old school merits of the horror genre at its height in the 70s and 80s, while the most uncomfortable scenes of watching the transformation of the werewolf reminded me of such films as An American Werewolf in London.

In terms of style and over all presentation, the Gothic feel of 19th century England created the film's dark atmosphere beautifully, reminiscent of one of my favourite Tim Burton films Sleepy Hollow. You could almost imagine if Guy Ritchie ever opts to do an adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles in his rebooted Sherlock Holmes series that many of the settings and locations seen in The Wolfman would indeed not look out of place.

Final Thoughts
Director Joe Johnston performed duties admirably in creating a stylish and even at times enjoyable, Burton-esque remake of the classic horror tale, though the cast were 'fine' the film itself was largely unremarkable. If it cut out the tired cliches that made this genre dated to begin with then possibly there is indeed a future and a demand for these types of movies, but until that moment where we get a 'Christopher Nolan' or 'Peter Jackson' to tackle such a film, with a genuine passion and new lease of life for the project, then I'm afraid its back to the grave for the 'Universal Monsters' for the time being. Shame.


See This If You Like...
Bram Stoker's Dracula, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Sleepy Hollow

The Wolfman is in cinemas everywhere now.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Panic Dots Podcast :: New Moon & Let The Right One In

Image property of Panic Dots

Earlier this month I was asked, ever so kindly, by the editor of Panic Dots, Richard Crothers to take part in a discussion of the vampire genre with two other film lovers Ross Thompson and Jude McCaffrey - top blokes.

In this surprisingly long discussion we talk about our very few likes and excessive dislikes for the Twilight saga thus far, while - perhaps unfairly - comparing it to the majestic Tomas Alfredson adaptation of Let The Right One In - theFILMblog's second best film of 2009.

The podcast in its entirity is available via the link below, and as far as I know also on iTunes under the Panic Dots' page. Enjoy.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Invictus - Review

Another year, another Clint Eastwood film boasting potentially Oscar winning gold. It was only a matter of time before there was a bio-pic made based on the life of the inspirational Nelson Mandela and let's be honest, who else was going to play him other than the institutional Morgan Freeman.

The story based on the John Carlin book, Playing The Enemy: Nelson Mandela And The Game That Changed a Nation, Invictus tells the story of the early days of Mandela's presidency where he uses the heavily criticised South African rugby team's journey in the World Cup in 1995 as a way to unite a divided nation.

Regardless of whether you love or hate sport I thought the film touched on something that is seen throughout every nation in the world. Nothing brings a country together better than a sporting event, be it , South Africa's rugby team in 1995, England's football team in 1966, Liverpool's Champions League performance in 2005 or in my own experiences, watching Northern Ireland beat England in a football World Cup qualifier in 2006. Beautiful moments, where time stops and social barriers are broken. The type that will be embedded in history, with the privileged few in the decades to come, look back and say "I was there...".

That is perhaps dressing up the whole affair, which is what Invictus was guilty of in places also. The troubled past and present social problems of South Africa being erased because of one remarkable World Cup run is being slightly naive. However it did not stop me being sucked in by the wonderful performance of Morgan Freeman as Mandela. He delivered his lines with an elegant wisdom which could bring a tear even to the most cynical person in the theatre. Matt Damon as rugby captain François Pienaar was competent but hardly worthy to stand up to the performance of Freeman for the role he was born to play.

The production itself does live up to Eastwood's incredible high standards, however I did feel it was a missed opportunity. Though I commend Eastwood for doing a slightly unexpected take on a film based on Mandela's life, what I really would have liked to have seen was a film based on the conflict, the pain, the sacrifice Mandela faced in his life. The film only really teased at events such as his life in prison or the personal problems with his wife.

Final Thoughts
Solid and enjoyable but not quite the monumental experience I was expecting it to be. Morgan Freeman's performance is wonderful and a joy to behold on screen, but the film was completely absent of conflict, coming across more as an episodic footnote in comparison to the inspirational life mixed with pain and redemption that the real man faced. Surely there's time for Freeman to play Mandela in a beautifully told prison drama? Right?...Oh wait...


See This If You Like...
The Shawshank Redemption, Frost/Nixon

Invictus is in cinemas everywhere now.