Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Clash of the Titans - Review

It feels as though you cannot watch an effects laden blockbuster these days without seeing the name Sam Worthington on the poster. Arguably the standout star of last year's underwhelming Terminator Salvation and of course, being the hero of the colossal 3D odyssey Avatar, the audience once again finds themselves viewing Worthington starring in the remake of the 1981 Greek fantasy, Clash of the Titans.

The film follows the original plot rather closely, telling the tale of a demi-god named Perseus (Worthington) as he seeks out the god Hades (Ralph Finnes) for the death of his mortal family. From this straight forward quest for vengeance sparks off an epic journey through the depths of The Underworld and featuring about as many token icons of Greek mythology as you are ever likely to find, this side of the game console series God of War.

Director Louis Leterrier - who is infamous for making box office profits on mediocre products such as The Transporter series and The Incredible Hulk - managed to take a straight forward plot and convey it so poorly through really bad editing, which made me wonder how much of the film is lying on the production room floor, but this is a minor criticism in the grand scale of the other problems the film was already facing.

It is so hard to sum up this film without getting into an 'Internet fanboy' rant but sometimes you just need to be brutally honest. Clash of the Titans was bad, and I mean epically bad. I don't necessarily dislike Sam Worthington but he has about as much charisma as my left foot, and you would think by now with the amount of high profile roles he could make a conscience decision on which accent he is going to use in a film. If he's using his native Australian accent, that's perfectly fine with me, if he wants to attempt to be American, again that's no problem Sam, just pick one and stick with it please.

The rest of the cast were equally as cumbersome, and yet again I find myself asking the question, who is Gemma Arterton sleeping with to land these high profile roles? She has zero presence, zero personality and is about as convincing an actress as my weaker right foot. Liam Neeson and Ralph Finnes try valiantly to lend their experience and class to the roles of Zeus and Hades respectively but they could unfortunately only do so much with the watery, wafer thin, dialogue presented in the screenplay.

Perhaps Clash of the Titans biggest problem was the entire budget probably being wasted on the film's special effects centrepiece, the gigantic Kraken (we won't dwell on the fact the creature is of Scandinavian origin...), but to be honest its no more impressive than its counterpart featured in the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels. Despite the epic scale of the creature, there was an uneasy feeling that the rest of the special effects and chilling mythological creatures such as the Medusa and army of scorpions were rushed in comparison, which again only fuelled further disappointment.

This brings us to the 3D conversion, which served absolutely zero benefit to the film and perhaps angered me even more because the studio made such a song and dance about the movie being screened in this format. Unlike Avatar which was specifically filmed in 3D, you will lose nothing from seeing Clash of the Titans in the standard 2D.

Final Thoughts
The film had all the ingredients for a potentially enjoyable popcorn blockbuster. However with poor leading performances from Worthington and Arterton combined with some terrible dialogue, confused editing and a needlessly insulting 3D conversion, Clash of the Titans became a laughable chore. As a dear friend of mine - who is notorious for bad puns - would say, "Clash of the Titans? More like Clash of the S***eans".


See This If You Liked...
Clash of the Titans (1981), Disney's Hercules, God of War Trilogy on the PlayStation

Clash of the Titans is in cinemas everywhere from April 2nd.

*Deduct half a mark if you actually paid money to see this.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Kick Ass - Review

Superheroes have been long standing pop icons for almost 100 years, and I, like many, often stop and wonder for a brief moment "Here Dave, why hasn't someone ever stuck on a costume and become a superhero?" After watching countless movies from the genre, director Matthew Vaughn also decided to ask that same question. The result? Well suffice to say, it kicked ass.

Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Mark Millar, the film tells the story of Dave Lizewski - Aaron Johnson - who sets out to become a real life superhero known simply as Kick Ass (not gonna lie it's a pretty awful name for a superhero...) and gets caught up in a bigger fight between fellow heroes Big Daddy -Nicolas Cage - and Hit-Girl - Chloe Mortez - against mobster Frank D'Amico - Mark Strong.

Obviously it would be unprofessional of me to mention this but I had a feeling I was going to love this film from the moment I saw the first trailer. Rarely this happens and works but Kick Ass went one better and even managed to succeed my expectations.

Many have tried and failed horribly (Superhero Movie anyone?) to poke fun at the lucrative genre but this film manages to pull it off while telling a rather superb story of its own. The comic timing of certain scenes would put most of Judd Aptow's best films to shame while the action was ten times more satisfying than most of the movies it was even trying to satire from the Spiderman trilogy -which was a clear reference point for the protagonist - to the painfully dire Punisher movies.

The performances however are the real talking point of Kick Ass, if young Aaron Johnson had not appeared in this, he would be a fair call to play Peter Parker/Spiderman in the upcoming reboot of the franchise, he was essentially the heart and soul in a movie full of cold blooded mobsters and vigilantes. It also pleases me to say, this is the first film in nearly a decade which featured Nicolas Cage and I didn't want to walk out in despair, he was actually brilliant, channelling a bizarre mix of Adam West with Christian Bale era Batman. While Mark Strong and Christopher Mintz-Plasse worked well in the villianous supporting roles, the true star above all of them was the frankly jaw dropping performance from young Chloe Mortez - the film could get by on hearing this little girl scream profanities and beat the crap out of men twice her size easily. On the basis of this performance she is capable of amazing things in the future.

The film even managed to defy my initial expectations of being a full throttle tongue/cheek affair, though it was full of genius comedic moments and some fabulous action pieces, it also had a few tender heartfelt moments to remind the audience of the pain and suffering being a superhero might cause - again mimicking the likes of Spiderman, Batman, Superman etc. A particular scene involving Cage and Mortez even left my dear colleague in tears. Bless her.

Visually Matthew Vaughn managed a highly stylish piece mixing the best elements of Tarantino's Kill Bill with comic book elements slightly reminiscent of Ang Lee's Hulk (maybe that's a bad example...) with an eclectic, head bopping soundtrack.

Final Thoughts
Kick Ass is quite possibly the funniest film you will see this year, with plenty of well constructed action, brutal ultra violence and perhaps most surprisingly, tonnes of heart. Nicolas Cage hasn't been this good in years and I really mean that. Though young Chloe Mortez steals the show rather easily, Aaron Johnson is also worthy of plenty attention for his leading performance as the title character. Kick Ass is the film equivalent of Ronseal Quick Drying Woodstain - it does exactly what it says on the tin....er poster...


See This If You Like...
Pretty much any superhero or comic book film ever released.

Kick Ass is in cinemas everywhere from Friday 1st April.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

BT Surprise Screening @ QFT Belfast

BT and QFT are joining forces to present an exclusive preview screening of a new and exciting film with the BT Surprise Screening from 9pm on Saturday 27 March.

The event is part of BT and QFT’s three year collaboration and will bring together the wonderful arthouse theatre’s history of showing the best of independent, classic and art-house to Northern Ireland and BT’s reputation for innovation through communication.

Susan Picken, Head of QFT said: “Our partnership with BT enables us to programme events which will bring excitement, entertainment and surprises to Northern Ireland audiences and the BT Surprise Screening is a key element of this.

“While the title of the film will remain a closely guarded secret until the credits roll, we will be releasing a series of clues over the coming days, to encourage people to think about, look at and discuss film in new and innovative ways. Watch the streets, the skies, your PC, and listen in to Citybeat to find out more!”

Funded by Arts & Business and supported by Citybeat, the BT Surprise Screening will be a memorable experience for audiences, with a special screening from one of modern cinema’s most exciting, award-winning directors plus pre-film cocktails and live music on offer.

Peter Morris, Consumer Director, BT said: “The BT Surprise Screening is a completely unique experience for cinema goers, we’re keeping the name of this sneak preview under wraps and audiences will have to make their best guess from clues released via the web and social networking sites. It’s really a type of digital treasure hunt.

BT is delighted to be working with QFT on this unique idea. Bringing together digital communication and film in an exciting way is something we are passionate about and reflects completely what we’re doing with our own digital TV service, BT Vision, delivering on-demand entertainment in a completely innovative way.”

Can you guess the film from these insane clues?!

CLUE 1: Our story starts in 1992 when our original bad guy ended up stuck in the middle of a shootout stand off…

CLUE 2: Same time, different place…Elvis is leaving the building…and the city.

CLUE 3: Far to the south an ill wind blows a dark magic across the land…

CLUE 4: Our (anti) hero is crazier than a fox (or should that be an iguana)?

Curious…and curiouser.

Tickets for the BT Surprise Screening are £10. Book online at www.queensfilmtheatre.com/BTSurprise

Exit Through the Gift Shop - Review

The street art movement of the past two decades is something I would never pretend to be an expert of, though eye catching, it just never interested me. That said, even people with the most basic of knowledge, such as myself, are at least aware of the artist known simply as Banksy.

Admittedly when I first heard that the iconic graffiti artist had produced a documentary on the subject, my eyes failed to light up and really take notice - hence why this review is slightly later than usual. After watching Exit Through the Gift Shop though, my attention might just have been caught...

The film begins with the obsession of Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant in Los Angeles, who became fascinated by street art and spent years filming the art and its creators. The twist in the tale comes when Banksy turns into the film-maker, while Guetta decides to become an artist, under the name Mr. Brainwash.

What immediately caught my eye was that the film felt more like a 'mockumentary' than a serious documentary showing the hidden beauty and eloquence of the urban art form. Banksy has had huge criticism from purists over the years for effectively 'selling out' and the impression I got from Exit Through the Gift Shop was; the film was his attempt of getting his own back and poking fun and summing up the complete absurdity of the art world in its enterity.

The complete absurdity in question is channelled through the unbelievable Thierry. He is to the street art world, what Spinal Tap was to heavy metal. As soon as the film ended I actually had to go home immediately and look up his website under his MBW identity because I thought he was some genius comedy actor taking the piss - he still may be? Banksy and his peers/colleagues reflective contribution to the creation of this street art monster was enlightening, their demeanour dry and the timing equally as humorous. Having Rhys Ifans provide the narration added an extra layer of authenticity to the viewing experience.

Perhaps being a novice to this world, I found the film visually a treat. Experiencing some of these wonderful works of art for the first time was a genuine joy that made me smile and awe in wonder. Banksy succeeded making more than just a cinematic art exhibition, by actually telling a story of the inexplicable rise of Thierry and his MBW persona from a mild mannered follower of the movement through family and friends, to defying logic and becoming Banksy's right hand man in the United States - the scene in Disneyland is quite priceless - then through some playful innocent encouragement from his new mentor and other peers who Theirry followed through the years documenting their footage he created his own identity on the street art stage.

If I didn't research the final part of the film afterwards I would find it really hard to believe it actually happened, proving an age old saying that there is very little people on our beautiful planet who don't have at least one crazy story to tell in their lives.

Final Thoughts
Exit Through the Gift Shop is an honest and extremely humorous exploration into the art world, its ultimate highs, and its shameful lows. Combining glorious imagery with some moments of genuine comedy gold and a wonderful soundtrack makes Banksy's first journey into the cinematic world a successful one. Thierry Guetta is a person who has to be seen to be believed, is he a genius? Or simply an idiot? Is he even real?! This debate looks set to go on long after this film has been and gone in film theatres. Essential viewing for all!


See This If You Liked...
Spinal Tap, Factory Girl, Enter the Art World

Exit Through the Gift Shop is in selected arthouse theatres now.

Suggested reading :: In the film Mr Brainwash's infamous debut exhibition "Life is Beautiful" is the lead feature in LA Weekly, here is that aforementioned article, tis worth a read :: http://www.laweekly.com/2008-06-12/art-books/mr-brainwash-bombs-l-a/

Thursday, 18 March 2010

I Love You Phillip Morris - Review

Jim Carrey is one of those extraordinary actors, who has defied his initial pigeon holing over the years. From starting out, making memorable, slapstick films such as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask and, quite possibly one of the greatest comedy movies of all time, Dumb and Dumber he then went on to prove he actually could act with wonderful, thought provoking features such as The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the often over-looked Andy Kaufman bio-pic, Man on the Moon. Evolving from the former category, can I Love You Phillip Morris live up to past heights? Or be another Dick and Jane...

The story begins with Russell - Jim Carrey - on his deathbed recalling the events of his life that led him there. Beginning his life in Texas, Russell is a happily married police officer who plays the organ at church, prays every night with his wife - Leslie Mann - and spends his off hours searching for the biological mother who gave him up as a child. That, and he’s gay. After a life changing accident, Steven leaves his life and family behind to go out into the world and be his true, flamboyantly gay self. He moves to Miami, finds a boyfriend and begins living the high life.

He realizes quickly though, that a life of luxury is expensive, leading this resourceful former cop to turn to a life as a conman. But when his con work finally catches up with him, Steven is sent to prison where he meets, and almost instantly falls in love with Phillip Morris - Ewan McGregor. From there the story becomes a Don Quixote-esque story of a forlorn lover who cannot bear to be separated from his soul-mate. He will go to any lengths to be with Phillip, including but not limited to breaking out of jail on multiple occasions, impersonating Phillips lawyer and fraudulently becoming the CFO of a major corporation.

Firstly it was somewhat comforting that you could easily tell Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor looked like they had a fantastic time making this film, it’s just a crying shame none of that enjoyment transferred over this poor soul reviewing it.

Not always but often I find it genuinely hard to enjoy a film when the story is not overly interesting or, more importantly, the main character is not the least bit likable. This was unfortunately the case for I Love You Phillip Morris. Watching Stephen’s refusal to sought redemption was excruciating, as if he had some sick addiction to compulsively lie to the people who loved him, even after realising how badly it hurt them, he still went and did it again. It regrettably conjured up the bad experiences I had of watching the 2009 feature, starring Matt Damon, The Informant! Or alternatively a far less glamorous take on the brilliant Catch Me If You Can.

Ewan McGregor on the other hand played his part beautifully, as the tender, loving title character Phillip. I found him to be an interesting disposition of untapped potential. In one particular scene he describes some of his past relationships to Steven and part of me wondered why the filmmakers failed to incorporate these moments into the film in some capacity.

Overall, the story suffered from too many loose ends never being truly fleshed out, such as Stephen’s ever loving and naive God-fearing wife – Leslie Mann once again being criminally under used - not having a problem with him suddenly deciding to up sticks and announce he was homosexual. This could have been a chance to inject a little bit of drama or conflict but alas it was not meant to be.

It just felt as though the movie was a series of random events broke up by Stephen’s numerous stints in prison. This was perfectly fine and dare I say quite humorous, the first time, and possibly even the second time, but by the time Stephen attempts to escape from prison the fifth or sixth time I thought it was past the stage of verging into the utterly obscene.

I am fully aware it was dubbed as a comedy, and apparently hailed as ‘the funniest film for 2010’ from other sections of the critiquing fraternity; if this is the case then I have lost a little bit of faith in the comedy genre. Yes I sniggered at one or two of the prison scenes but really Jim Carrey has produced far better than this.

Final Thoughts
It does not take much to make me laugh or cry, however I Love You Phillip Morris failed to genuinely do both. I concede it was smartly written in places and on a superficial level was even well-filmed but unless it’s a special effects extravaganza that is never enough. A flawed, incoherent and unbalanced feature, never knowing whether it wanted to be an insane satire on prison life or a new-age love story of two men who have found their soul mates in each other. I don’t hate you Phillip Morris, but I don’t love you either.


See This If You Liked...
The Informant! and Catch Me If You Can

Friday, 12 March 2010

Shutter Island - Review

Might as well get this little fact out of the way, I love Martin Scorsese's films. There's very few directors around these days, who truly value the art of the silver screen as he does, so whenever it comes a time for a new film by the cinematic maestro, you know you are definitely in for a treat. With his current favourite muse - like De Niro before him - Leonardo DiCaprio leading the way, Shutter Island is certainly no different.

Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island tells the story of a US Marshall (DiCaprio) who travels to a mysterious mental asylum on a remote island to investigate the disappearance of an inmate. True to form, the story takes some rather bizarre turns, leading the protagonist onto a bigger more disturbing revelation, while dealing with the personal demons of his own past in the process.

Instantly, from the opening scene, I was completely blown away by the striking visuals this film had to offer. The director turns the screen into a canvas, blending beautifully crafted images, with vibrant colours making Shutter Island first and foremost a brilliant film to consume the audience on a superficial level. The pace of the film must also be praised, despite its near two and a half hour running time, the story never left me wanting to check my watch or even give so much as a yawn.

Leonardo DiCaprio was glorious as always, seemingly nailing that Boston accent which was prevalent while watching Scorsese's epic Oscar-winning The Departed. His dark, brooding and intense portrayal of Teddy was equally as captivating as it was provocative. The supports were also wonderful, consisting of a classy ensemble featuring the fantastic Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams and the hard-working Mark Ruffalo. Special mention must go to the left-field appearance of Elias Koteas - to geeks of my age, Casey Jones from the live action Teenage Mutant Ninja/Hero Turtles films, honestly thought that guy was residing in the 'where are they now file'. Outstanding.

The film however is not without the odd fault, firstly some of the more mind melting moments of the story were a little disorientating. They were some of the best scenes constructed by Scorsese in years in a visual capacity, but made the main narrative slightly disjointed giving the impression the film was essentially going nowhere. It was also slightly disappointing that anyone with half a brain should be able to hazard a guess at the 'twist' revealed at the end.

Though the score was majestic, I felt it killed the mood in certain scenes, with its slightly over dramatic vibes during scenes which really did not need it, however these are all very small criticisms.

Final Thoughts
One of the masters of modern - and classic - cinema returns with a chilling, provocative and gritty psychological thriller. Regardless of whether you may guess the ending before the events are truly revealed, Shutter Island is without a doubt of the best films I have seen this year, so far. Distinguished performances combined with magnificent film-making. More of this please Marty...


See This If You Liked...
Playing Batman: Arkham Asylum on the X Box or Playstation 3.

Shutter Island is in cinemas everywhere now.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Green Zone - Review

You have to wonder for a moment the creditability of films based on the war in Iraq, while the conflict is still happening. However with Katheryn Bigelow's rather immersive Oscar-winning tale, The Hurt Locker, now the champion of Hollywood, surely Paul Greengrass' latest movie Green Zone could not have come at a better time?

Taking place in the infamous Green Zone at the centre of Baghdad, the film tells the story of a warrant officer - Matt Damon - as he searches rather fruitlessly for the much speculated weapons of mass destruction the nation were supposedly hiding. If you follow the news and general conspiracy theories one can probably imagine how those nature of events unfold.

Paul Greengrass has done a tremendous job of making a war film which was certainly more 'Black Hawk Down' than 'The Hurt Locker' resulting in a visceral attack on the senses, its just a shame the story itself was about as convincing at the government's reasons to pursue the war in the first place.

Despite my grievances with the plot, the actors lent themselves to the feature superbly. Matt Damon has once again shown his credentials as a leading action star despite being one of the more unorthodox choices on initial consideration. I always feel he looks a lot more comfortable on screen performing these types of roles than his appearances in films such as the completely dire Sordenburgh feature, The Informant!, and his supporting role in the competent, yet unspectacular, Invictus.

As luck would have it, Damon's supports in Green Zone were also glorious. The classy and scene stealing Brenden Gleeson - a personal favourite of mine - played the shady CIA role well, along with the stupidly under-rated Greg Kinnear as the somewhat grey government aid. These two characters sum up the feature in a way, there's never really any distinct good guy or bad guy, as they are all with an agenda. Be it Gleeson's character wanting to instill order amongst chaos or Kinnear's making sure Western civilisation have a puppet to control the government.

Other notable appearances in the production go to Amy Ryan's - from The Wire - portrayal of journalist Lawrie Dayne - a subtle take on the New York Times' foreign correspondent, Judith Miller - however I had little time for Jason Issac's bone headed special ops interrogator.

Visually the director puts the audiences right in the thick of it, similar to his Bourne films, dragging you through the claustrophobic bullet laden streets of Baghdad, with an unhealthy dose of shaky cam for good measure. It's not surprising that cinematography for the film was handled by The Hurt Locker's Brian Helgeland either. While John Powell's score wasn't quite as prominent as the explosions the audience are bombarded with from the moment the film begins - the opening scene is rather spectacular to be fair - it did however evoke memories of other modern action films such as Hans Zimmer's work on The Dark Knight.

Final Thoughts
I liked the look of the film, I liked the performances, I liked the intense, highly charged and explosive action pieces, I even liked the utterly absurd concept that Matt Damon is seemingly the only squeakily clean man in the United State's entire operation based in Iraq. However I didn't love any of it like I did when I watched The Hurt Locker for the first time, or even the likes of Black Hawk Down and similar films before it. An enjoyable fictional account of events, but probably best not to take it as anything more.


See This If You Liked...
The Bourne Trilogy, The Hurt Locker, Black Hawk Down

Green Zone is in cinemas everywhere now.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Belfast Film Festival Launches Once Again

As the home grown stars and press descend upon Belfast’s Black Box to witness the launch of the city’s 10th Film Festival, running from 15th – 30th April, as a genuine lover of all things cinema, you can’t help but be elated how the event has transformed over the past decade.

Starting originally as a small element within the west of the city the Belfast Film Festival has now become a main cultural fixture in the Northern Ireland calendar. Belfast might be an ever changing city, but what has not changed is its everlasting love affair with the cinema.

Lord Mayor of Belfast, Naomi Long, commented: “The Belfast Film Festival has grown to become a flagship annual event in the city’s calendar. It promotes our city and its people on both an international and national stage, and its reputation for innovation and creativity is widely regarded. The city of Belfast is extremely proud of these achievements and we look forward to the 20th, 30th and 40th birthday celebrations and beyond.”

The BFF once again continues to showcase the filmmaking talent coming out of Northern Ireland, with world premieres of locally made productions such as Empire – a film set in Belfast, shot over three years on a zero budget and loosely based on the Greek myth of Orpheus.

Other premieres include Five Day Shelter, starring BAFTA nominated John Lynch, a highly visual drama interweaving the lives of several characters in a contemporary urban setting over five days.

While indie cinema fans, of the weird and wonderful, are bound to be excited by Colin McIvor’s directorial debut, Cupcake, which tells the tale of a man who inherits his parent’s bakery which promises to be a visual feast for all the senses.

Serving as a reminder to the past is the imaginative Mickey B, a feature film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, made with serving prisoners as cast, in Northern Ireland’s infamous maximum security prison HMP Maghaberry

An eccentric range of innovative filmic events once again dominate the programme, including a screening of Stephen Sommers’ modern B-Movie hit, Deep Rising, while the audience sail down the River Lagan. The John Hughes 80s masterpiece, Pretty in Pink, shown in Belfast nightclub Slide. A workshop presented by BBC presenter, William Crawley, dissecting the ‘anatomy’ of the legendary 1957 courtroom epic, 12 Angry Men directed by Sidney Lumet, as well as, screening an episode from the cult 60s TV show, The Prisoner, inside the First Church of Christ which will be followed by a discussion on the importance of architectural heritage in Belfast.

Opening the BFF will be the UK/Irish premiere of Triage, starring Colin Farrell as war photographer Mark Walsh while closing this year’s festivities is the UK premiere of Tetro, the latest film from the institutional Francis Ford Coppola – also his first original screenplay since The Conversation.

In partnership with the Shruti Foundation and Lady Rana, the BFF will also have in attendance, Shyam Benegal – one of India’s most highly regarded filmmakers – who will give a public lecture at the Great Hall in Queen’s University on 22nd April. Two of his films Zubeidaa and The Making of the Mahatma are set to be screened.

One of the most appealing prospects of the festival, for most of the public, is the vast range of high profile productions set to screen over the 16 day programme including Noah Baumbach’s - screenwriter of The Life Aquatic, Fantastic Mr Fox and The Squid and the Whale - Greenberg, starring Ben Stiller, the Russian made Tsar – a film about the 16th Century Ivan the Terrible – as well a showing of Paul Schrader’s - screenwriter of Taxi Driver - Adam Resurrected, the quirky black comedy Dogtooth, the powerful Vincere – based on the life of Bentio Mussolini’s first wife, Ida Dalsar – the visually spectacular Japanese feature Symbol amongst many others.

The BFF also hopes to break the boundaries of offering audiences some visual treats mixing the sights of modern and classic cinema with contemporary sounds of performers such as Denmark’s Efterklang and the USA’s Wooden Shjips.

As a way to support the increasing numbers of aspiring filmmakers, writers and producers in Northern Ireland and their thirst to know more about ‘the business’. Organisers have set up a two day seminar called Northern Exposure = Deal Closure. The event will bring in key London sales agents, distributors, producers and literary talent agents for a series of four industry-focused panel sessions and discussion groups. Confirmed panellists include BAFTA nominee Tony Grisoni (Red Riding Trilogy), Robin Gutch (producer Warp X), Hilary Davis (Banksdale Films), Stephen Murphy (Optimum Releasing) and Nick Marston (Curtis Brown Agency) plus more.

Full information on tickets and the programme in its entirety is now available on the official Belfast Film Festival website at http://www.belfastfilmfestival.org.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Panic Dots Podcast :: The Sequel (Bio-pics)

Once again I was very privileged to be asked, ever so kindly, by the editor of Panic Dots, Richard Crothers to take part in another discussion of all things film with two film lovers of brilliant wit and passion - Ross Thompson and Laura Shearer.

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


Saturday, 6 March 2010

theFILMblog Presents :: Oscar Predictions 2010

Hard to believe it's been over a year since I was last sitting here writing the predictions for the 2009 Oscars - and being mostly right for the record - but here we are again my friends. Last year was rather amazing for the British, as they dominated the awards with Slumdog Millionaire taking the lion's share of the proceedings.

This year however the American heavyweights are likely to rein supreme with old flames James Cameron and Kathern Bigelow the likely favourites with their movies, Avatar and The Hurt Locker, respectively. Let's see how the nominations fare...

Best Picture

The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

As you may have instantly noticed, this is the first time since 1943, there are 10 films up for the top prize instead of the standard five. Cynically one could argue this is the Academy bumping up the list with more mainstream films to catch the audiences' imagination slightly but that said its still good harmless fun. Despite there being 10, its really going to come down between two films, Avatar - which took the Best Picture prize at this year's Golden Globes - and The Hurt Locker - which took the equivalent prize at the BAFTAs a mere two weeks ago.

I would find it hilarious if the Academy threw a curve ball and gave it to District 9, but that's frankly not going to happen. Also should be noted that the inclusion of Pixar's Up, is the second animated film to be nominated in this category, the only other being Disney's Beauty and the Beast in 1991. It was a shame the Academy did not use this opportunity to include a couple of foreign films into the mix.

Prediction: The Hurt Locker
Worth a punt: Avatar (because it's only going to be one or the other)
Editor's choice: Hmm...my heart says Up, my head says The Hurt Locker, and my feet strangely are walking towards Up in the Air.

Best Director

James Cameron - Avatar
Kathern Bigelow - The Hurt Locker
Lee Daniels - Precious
Jason Reitman - Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds

Though I did not hate Avatar as much as I perhaps act like I do, I can't deny that James Cameron has taken cinema into a new stage of its evolution with the movie - for better or worse I'm yet to decide - he should be praised for his innovation. I don't think as a film Avatar deserves Best Picture because the story was tiresome and predictable, but Cameron did do an amazing job in the seat.

Kathern Bigelow on the other hand also did a tremendous job and to her credit produced a fuller film despite its slightly episodic narrative. Same can be said about the other three in the category, who in fairness made films I personally enjoyed more than the two favourites but you still get the feeling that Daniels, Reitman and even Tarantino are yet to make their 'Best Director' pieces. On a separate note I was quite surprised Tom Ford's stellar debut for A Single Man wasn't included but there's still time yet for him.

Prediction: James Cameron
Worth a punt: Kathern Bigelow
Editor's choice: I'm afraid I'm siding with Cameron on this one.

Best Actor

Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart
George Clooney - Up in the Air
Colin Firth - A Single Man
Morgan Freeman - Invictus
Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker

This is a category destined to split opinions on the night. Early indicators suggest Jeff Bridges will finally get his first Oscar for his wonderful portrayal as Bad Blake in the intimate tale of Crazy Heart, however, Colin Firth gave the performance of his life in A Single Man (I never got a chance to review the film, but watched it last week and frankly loved every single minute), which would get my vote - and BAFTA's last month seemingly.

If Invictus had been about Nelson Mandela's entire life, instead of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, I would not have counted out Morgan Freeman for his superb performance, just a shame he wasn't in it enough to really give it his all. Though I loved Up in the Air, and I mean really loved it, George Clooney probably doesn't deserve a Best Actor award based on, yet again, playing himself, albeit with a bit more depth than usual. Jeremy Renner was also excellent in The Hurt Locker but sorry mate, you're playing above your punching weight compared to the rest of the lads in this category.

Prediction: Jeff Bridges - it has to be his turn surely?
Worth a punt: Colin Firth
Editor's Choice: Colin Firth

Best Actress

Sandra Bullock - The Blind Side
Helen Mirren - The Last Station
Carey Mulligan - An Education
Gabourey Sidibe - Precious
Meryl Streep - Julie and Julia

It's perhaps not appropriate for me to comment on this category as The Blind Side hasn't been released in the UK yet and The Last Station had a limited release meaning I never had the chance to review it. I have however seen An Education (similar to A Single Man, I never reviewed it but watched it last week also) and have practically fell in love with Carey Mulligan, even if the talk of Hollywood is suggesting its Sandra Bullock's year if Mulligan doesn't win it this year, she will win it eventually providing her career stays on track.

Gabourey Sidibe was brilliant in Precious, however she wasn't the best thing about the film - you can imagine what is, if you have already seen it, and scroll down to Best Supporting Actress to see what I mean - so I'm afraid she's possibly only just going to lose out. Oh and you can't possibly have an Oscars without the token Meryl Streep nomination. That's all I have got to say on that one.

Prediction: Sandra Bullock - unfortunately.
Worth a punt: Can't really count out Streep ever can you?
Editor's Choice: Carey Mulligan, Carey Mulligan, CAREY MULLIGAN!!!

Best Supporting Actor

Matt Damon - Invictus
Woody Harrelson - The Messenger
Christopher Plummer - The Last Station
Stanley Tucci - The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds

I'm going to be swift and brutal, Matt Damon was so dull and lackluster in Invictus, Stanley Tucci was the only semi-decent thing about an utterly terrible film, and Christoph Waltz produced possibly my favourite character in a film last year in Inglourious Basterds. He's winning because he's the best and practically stands out like a beam of holy shining light compared to an otherwise forgettable bunch.

Prediction: Christoph Waltz
Worth a punt: No point wasting your money.
Editor's Choice: I'm all about the Waltz.

Best Supporting Actress

Penelope Cruz - Nine
Vera Famiga - Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick - Up in the Air
Mo'Nique - Precious
Maggie Gyllenhaal - Crazy Heart

I frankly love all these women in their films for different reasons, and if Mo'Nique wasn't so gobsmackingly terrifying in Precious, which is surely going land her the award, I would have given it to the marvelous performance put in by Anna Kendrick for Up in the Air. Perhaps if Nine was better, this category could have easily consisted simply the female portion of that cast, but Cruz is simply the token nomination from an unfortunately disappointing film. If you know me, you already know, I am in love with Mrs Gyllenhaal, but she has performed far better and had much more meaningful roles than her character in Crazy Heart, which counts her out for me personally.

Prediction: Mo'Nique
Worth a punt: Anna Kendrick
Editor's Choice: I still have nightmares of Mo'Nique's character in Precious. Outstanding performance.

Best Original Screenplay

The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The Messenger
A Serious Man

Logic dictates The Hurt Locker will most likely win this for its chillingly gritty account of front line action in Iraq, however if it were up to me I would probably award it to A Serious Man or Up because they had moments of genuine genius in terms of dialogue and overall plot development compared to the favourite for the category.

Prediction: The Hurt Locker
Worth a punt: A Serious Man
Editor's Choice: Up

Best Adapted Screenplay

District 9
An Education
In The Loop
Up in the Air

I really don't have an overall favourite for this award, but I was so pleased to see In The Loop get some credit for its hilarious screenplay. Possibly because An Education is going to miss out on the bigger awards, if you had to give it something, this award is probably the best bet, but then again Up in the Air and Precious were so brilliantly constructed. District 9 is an interesting addition, just like its inclusion in the Best Picture award, commendable though it is, I just can't see it winning.

Prediction: An Education
Worth a punt: Precious
Editor's Choice: In The Loop

And the rest...
Best Animated Feature: Clearly going to be Up, let's be honest...
Best Foreign Language Feature: The White Ribbon - can't express more how much I loved it, least we forget it's the blog's number one film of 2009.
Best Original Score: Up
Best Original Song: The Weary Kind from Crazy Heart - listening to it as I type.
Best Sound Editing: Avatar
Best Sound Mixing: Avatar
Best Art Direction: Probably Avatar but I loved the look of Nine
Best Cinematography: The White Ribbon, it's how cinema is suppose to be experienced.
Best Makeup: The Young Victoria even though the geek in me wants Star Trek to pick up something.
Best Costume Design: The Young Victoria
Best Film Editing: Avatar because they're probably getting the majority of the technical awards.
Best Visual Effects: I can't deny Avatar deserves it hands down and though I hated it; I'm surprised Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen wasn't included.

And that's that.

Join me in the wee hours of Sunday night as I'm most likely going to be bored and will be tweeting my instant thoughts and reactions to the night's action. You can read it all here or simply follow me on via Twitter @theFILMblog.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Alice In Wonderland - Review

I have always had a love/hate relationship with Mr Burton's films. for having produced some of my favourite movies of all time - his first Batman film and, in my opinion, his masterpiece, Big Fish - he always tends to muck it up by producing some completely soulless duds - such as his woefully adapted Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the dire Planet of the Apes remake. However, even the most cynical of critics would be hard pressed to argue that Lewis Carroll's beautifully written novel, Alice in Wonderland, tackled by the stylised Gothic filmmaker wouldn't be a match made in heaven. Or is it?

To my surprise, the Alice of 2010 tells a different story to the brilliantly crafted animated adaptation Walt Disney made in 1951. Set 12 years after the events of the original novel, Alice Kingsley, now 19, attends a party at a Victorian estate shortly after the death of her beloved father. Alice spots a White Rabbit, wearing a waistcoat and pocket watch. In shock and confusion, she runs off and follows the White Rabbit through it. She eventually tumbles down a rabbit hole into Underland, more commonly referred to as "Wonderland" by its inhabitants where she once again encounters the iconic characters and spins off into a grander, more dangerous adventure than her first visit.

I must commend Burton for at least trying to tell a different story than rehash the tale we've all seen time and time again, however its such a shame that it lacked any real sense of magic and - dare I say - wonder, that should be associated with Alice in Wonderland. The overall plot reminded me deeply of another indirect sequel, Disney's Return to Oz, which was hardly perfect but still had a sense of danger and darkness that clearly Burton wanted to add to his Alice, but failed miserably. It came across more like the underwhelming Narnia series, than the beautiful psychedelic vision that Carroll had most likely envisioned. Or even Walt Disney after him.

Never one to think an artist's work should be hindered in any way, especially when it comes to filmmakers, I have always felt Burton tends to shine when he is given strict boundaries to work with as oppose to being let completely loose to do what he sees fit.

The performances mostly weren't as terrible as the ill-conceived plot, the standouts being Wonderland's inhabitants themselves. The likes of the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), the March Hare (Paul Whitehouse), the Caterpillar (Alan Rickman) personally stole the show for me but it was a shame they were merely supports to another of Johnny Depp's needlessly erratic performances - reference Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - and Mia Wasikowska dull and forgettable Alice. Special mention should go to Mrs Tim Burton for her quite comedic take on the evil Red Queen.

Visually Burton should have had this film in the bag, but alas because of his choice of taking the plot down a more of a pseudo-Lord of the Ringsesque fantasy route, Wonderland was merely a decayed shadow of what audiences had experienced in the vibrant animated version. The 3D did not help either, similar to my experiences of watching Avatar back in December, I felt the glasses hindered my enjoyment, dulling the already drab colours down further.

Final Thoughts
Save for a few fun performances and a surprisingly delightful score from Danny Elfman, Alice in Wonderland once again sums up everything wrong about Tim Burton as a filmmaker. Being let loose on a feature and stamping his authority on everything, he failed to make a film that was magical, inspiring and wonderful. If you want to watch a film based on Alice's journey through Wonderland, watch the original Disney film and not this poor contender to the crown.


See this if you liked...
Alice in Wonderland (1951), Return to Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia

Alice in Wonderland is in cinemas everywhere now...unless your local cinema decided to boycott it, which in fairness they're probably doing you a favour.

Stick around this weekend folks for theFILMblog's annual Oscars preview!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Review

Before I properly start this review I must concede my knowledge of Swedish cinema is somewhat limited to the phenomenal 2009 film, Let The Right One In, and for some silly reason I never bothered to investigate further into what the bleak Nordic nation had to offer the cinematic world. However, after experiencing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I have a feeling it will be hard to ignore the region for much longer.

Based on the bestselling book of the same name - originally translated Men Who Hate Women - TGWTDT tells a thrilling tale of Mikael Blomkvist, a middle-aged investigative journalist who writes for the magazine Millennium, loses a libel case against a corrupt Swedish industrialist and is sentenced to prison - and they say the UK libel laws are bad.

Before beginning his prison time, Blomkvist is hired by an aged former CEO of a group of companies owned by a wealthy dynasty, wanting him to solve the disappearance, forty years ago, of his great-niece when she was sixteen. Blomkvist is ultimately helped in his quest by Lisbeth Salander, a young punk who has been victimized or misunderstood by those in authority throughout her whole life, but who is also a brilliant computer hacker. The unlikely couple become an unorthodox detective pair.

Firstly I just want to say how absolutely sensational the film actually looked, the director Niels Arden Oplev, relatively unknown outside his native country, has a vision for the most spectacular shots that more established, mainstream peers could only dream of, making for some of the best use of cinematography I have seen so far this year. Perhaps it was partly the bleak locations he had to work with, conjuring memories of the visually provocative BBC detective series Wallander. The comparisons with the TV series are perhaps more than coincidental considering they're both from the same production company Yellow Bird.

I always find, rather lazily I may add, it can sometimes take a degree of effort for anyone to watch a film in subtitles but with TGWTDT the story was so gripping and powerful it would keep any avid member on the edge of their seat for its rather hefty two and a half hour running time.

The characters themselves were captivating and elegantly portrayed. The main protagonist Mikael, played superbly by actor Michael Nyqvist, showed off a range of emotions in some rather gritty uncompromising circumstances, subtly echoing the life of the deceased author of the original novel, Stieg Larsson. However, it is hard to deny the real star of the show was the character Lisbeth - Noomi Rapace - who was one of the strongest, most interesting female leads I have seen in a long time, with a rather horrific back story which should make for interesting viewing in the, already made and bound for UK cinemas later this year, sequel The Girl Who Played With Fire.

Final Thoughts
Regardless how faithful an adaptation it may, or may not, be, the film is a tense, explosive and perversely creepy thriller once again showing the wonders that the Swedish film industry has to offer the world. If 'whodunnit' shows such as Wallander and Inspector Morse mixed with more cinematic nuances such as Seven and the foolishly underrated Kiss The Girls are in line with your tastes then I can't recommend The Girl Who Played With Fire enough. Incredible. Roll on the sequel...


See This If You Liked...
Seven, Kiss The Girls and Wallander

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is in selected cinemas from 12th March. For Belfast readers it will be showing in the QFT.

*Changing the rating system back to marks out of 5.