Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Tetro - Review

Francis Ford Coppola's second film in 13 years - Tetro - has seemingly appeared with more of a whimper rather than a bang, which is perhaps slightly cruel considering the cinematic maestro's standing as one of the greatest directors of all time.

Being his first original screenplay since the 1974 Oscar-nominated classic The Conversation, Tetro tells the tale of Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich) as he travels to Buenos Aires to find his long-missing older brother (Vincent Gallo), a once-promising writer who is now a remnant of his former self. Bennie's discovery of his brother's near-finished play might hold the answer to understanding their shared past and renewing their bond.

From the opening credits it was clear Coppola was aiming for a classic silver-screen era aura to Tetro. Filming in black & white gave the film a vividly atmospheric mood to the beautifully chic surroundings of Buenos Aires. Opting to show the revelatory flashbacks in standard colour added an extra layer of depth to the whole production - dare I say it was almost Hitchcockian in its approach.

With references to vintage movies such as The Red Shoes and On The Waterfront, Tetro almost felt like a celebration of Coppola discovering his love and passion for cinema once again, which was both a beautiful and assuring thought.

Though Coppola has hinted some of the events are based on his own family's life, the characters themselves painted quite a fascinating picture. Vincent Gallo was excellent as the film's title character. A deeply troubled and conflicting soul, struggling to fight with his personal demons while not being able to accept the past for what it was thus creating a crippling inability to properly move on with his life.

While the audience were given a 'stand-offish' relationship to Tetro, his younger brother Bennie is where the main focus truly lies. Though the main themes of the film are based primarily around family, Bennie's journey acts more as a 'coming-of-age' drama, as he turns 18, discovering traits he never knew about himself while embracing other aspects of his life he may have never had the chance to until now. Alden Ehrenreich's stand-out performance certainly makes him a star to watch out for in future.

The supporting appearances from accomplished Spanish actress', Maribel Verdu (Pan's Labyrinth) as Tetro's feisty yet lovingly tender wife, Miranda and frequent Almodovar collaborator Carmen Maura as his one-time mentor/critic simply known as "Alone" only continued to raise the quality of a film with already high production values.

Regrettably however, it was not perfect. At times it felt as though Coppola chose to show-off his undeniably brilliant skills as one of the world's best directors, rather than simply just tell a brilliant story, using every film-making technique under the sun. It was a bit like watching a Steve Vai concert, yes we know he can play, but where the hell is the actual song?

Furthermore it was far too long than it needed to be. Yes two hours is the standard for effects laden blockbusters these days but for a film this intimate, this carefully crafted, it perhaps could have benefited from leaving the self-indulgent w**kery for another time.

Final Thoughts
The flaws are evident for all to see, but Tetro is still perhaps one of Francis Ford Coppola's best films in years. Not necessarily the return to form many fans would have hoped but certainly a step in the right direction. Underneath all the technical show-boating is a touching, personal story of family values, secrets and revelations which, if you haven't already fell asleep by its ending, will surely leave the audience pondering long after the curtain closes.


See This If You Liked...
The Godfather Trilogy, The Red Shoes, On The Waterfront.

Tetro is in selected cinemas across the UK now. Belfast visitors can see the film in the Queen's Film Theatre from Friday.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Whatever Works - Review

I've mentioned this once or twice over the existence of the blog, but I'll say it again. I love Woody Allen films, but to coin an old phrase, let's call a spade a spade, his films over the past decade have been nothing short of over-indulgent parodies of the sub-genre he made famous with stunning classics like Sleepers, Manhattan and Annie Hall. Films like Match Point and Cassandra's Dream were, simply, just horrid pieces of cinema. Pretentious? Yes. But enjoyable? Certainly not.

Having saved the last piece of creditability he had with the delightful romantic comedy, Vicky Cristina, Barcelona, he finally moves his trade back to, where his most brilliant works were born, New York in Whatever Works.

Attempting to impress his ideologies on religion, relationships, and the randomness of existence, lifelong New Yorker Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David) rants to anyone who will listen, including the audience. But when he begrudgingly allows naive Mississippi runaway Melodie St. Ann Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood) to live in his apartment, his reclusive rages give way to an unlikely friendship and Boris begins to mould the impressionable young girl's worldly views to match his own.

Over the past 10 years there has been mass hysteria for Allen not doing what he does best, which is clever post-modern tales in urban jungle that is New York. Yes we cried when he moved his trade to London, we despaired when he took it to Europe, and just when we were ready to banish him into the "has been" file he got it just right with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, however all was still not forgiven. So why is it, he finally moves back to his homeland, something feels missing?

The entire plot, the dialogue, the outrageous characters, its all text book Allen. None of these characters would have looked completely out of place in films like Manhattan or Annie Hall yet the whole production felt so superficially hollow.

The cast themselves worked well with the script they were given, Larry David in particular channelling the types of performances which made him famous in the wonderful Curb Your Enthusiasm. Evan Rachel Wood continues to show how versatile an actress she is, in the role of Melodie, which was as curiously innocent as it was endearing - poles apart from her emotionally heartbreaking role in The Wrestler. While Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr are completely outrageous as Wood's estranged (trust me when I say I use the term lightly) parents.

So the cast were excellent, the scenery was pleasant, but the writing from Allen was too familiar and overly pretentious - even by his standards. There was nearly an underlining impression he has, unfortunately, ran out of ideas and resorted to stealing material from David's brilliant Curb Your Enthusiasm.

This lack of originality in the screenplay was only emphasized by the fact there was an entire subplot of Vicky Cristina Barcelona involving photographs and a ménage-a-tois relationship used for one of the characters. Some die hard fans may claim its merely 'a reference' but I'm sorry to disappoint, it's just lazy writing. However the special relationship between David and Wood in the film could be considered 'a reference' to Allen's colourful personal life but we shan't go down that route shall we...

Final Thoughts
Whatever Works is named quite aptly. Despite fun performances from a high quality ensemble of actors, this was lazy, predictable, pretentious and completely soulless cinema. Woody Allen's work has unfortunately now became a parody of itself. It's with a heavy heart I find, like his leading character, all is left is a bitter twisted old man with nothing but complete contempt for a world that is frankly so much more than what he seemingly perceives. But hey, whatever works...


See This If You Liked...
Manhattan, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Annie Hall

Whatever Works is in selected UK cinemas now, while American audiences can purchase the film on DVD & Blu-Ray.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Get Him to the Greek - Review

The unstoppable force known as Russell Brand has slowly wore me down over the years. Once being completely repulsive, then gradually just being mildly irritating to eventually being just well...Russell Brand.

Having more or less offended everyone significant in media and television within the United Kingdom, he has since taken his business state-side hosting various awards shows for MTV as well as appearing in the surprisingly entertaining Forgetting Sarah Marshall (which is subtly referenced in this film). Though basically playing himself in the aforementioned film, the insidious Hollywood moguls felt he has warranted a spin-off movie of his own in the form of Get Him to the Greek.

A record company intern (Jonah Hill) is hired to accompany out-of-control British rock star Aldous Snow (Brand) to a concert at L.A.'s Greek Theatre. As you can probably imagine events don't quite work out as young Hill would hope as Snow drags him kicking and screaming through a warped world of drugs, alcohol, sex and rock & roll.

Despite being nothing more than a vehicle for marketing Brand's logic defying appeal in the USA, Get Him to the Greek was actually quite enjoyable. Coming across as a bizarre mixture of Spinal Tap (especially in Snow's songs) meets Judd Aptow, the film works well as a harmless satire of the entertainment industry in the 21st Century.

With Brand destroying everything in his path the film could have easily been a disaster waiting to happen. Thankfully picking up the pieces he leaves behind in his path are a bunch of fun and accessible supporting performances from Jonah Hill - as the token heart and soul loser of the piece - Mad Men's wonderful Elisabeth Moss - Hill's boring, controlling but endearing girlfriend - Colm Meaney - Brand's estrange moocher father - and a stand-out performance from Sean 'Diddy' Combs as the utterly insane boss of Hill.

There wasn't a big lot to truly hate about Get Him to the Greek but there wasn't a big lot to truly love about it either. Besides one eventful scene in a Las Vegas hotel room (which in fairness has to be seen to be believed) I'm struggling to really find anything which was genuinely hilarious or quotable, which at the end of the day is the real testament to any classic comedy.

Besides being a standard job any director could have taken, the film's soundtrack was definitely one of the more pleasing aspects of the whole production, featuring the likes of The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Rolling Stones, Mars Volta, Goldfrapp, T-Rex and hell even Dexy's Midnight Runners! Come on Eileen indeed...

Final Thoughts
Get Him to the Greek is essentially a film you will either welcome into your heart, and DVD collection or detest immensely pending how much you like Russell Brand or not. Being simply a causal fan of his work, at best, I only just enjoyed it, but let's face facts he's not an actor, I doubt he's really capable of anything more than this. On that note I say, let him have his fun for now but please sooner rather than later, can we 'get him out of the cinema'?


See This If You Liked...
Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Spinal Tap, Funny People

Get Him to the Greek is in cinemas everywhere now.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Chiko - DVD Review

Its hard to imagine in the year and a half existence of this blog, this is actually my first DVD review. The much tried and tested gangster genre often contains some of my favourite films of all time, from Francis Ford Coppolla's classic The Godfather trilogy, to one of my favourite movies released this year, Jacque Audiard's beautifully envisioned A Prophet, there's simply very little to hate.

So when I was presented with the opportunity to review one of the latest entries, Chiko, directed by Özgür Yildirim (won't even pretend to know anything about him...), I seized it with much glee and delight.

Presenting itself with striking similarities to Michele Placido's Romanzo Criminale, Chiko tells the tale of two best friends - Isa (Chiko) and Tibet - with visions of grandeur, and a pure lust for power. The former decides to use his ruthless wits to catch the attention of local drug lord, Brownie. Fighting for his respect, Chiko eventually becomes Brownie's most trusted right hand man in the extremely bleak setting of Hamburg's underworld - an endless abyss of drugs, violence and prostitutes.

Some people out there, in the English speaking world, have this mundane idea in their heads that if a film is subtitled it automatically qualifies as a significantly classier product than most of the output from the UK film industry or the big bad high-budget affairs Hollywood are churning out these days. However, though Chiko is hardly a horrible film by any of the stretch, its really offers little more to the genre than any of Danny Dyer's films in recent years. Acutally if they ever decide to remake it, Dyer is undoubtedly a frontrunner for the leading role.

The central character, played by an impressive Denis Moschitto, echoed similarities to Tahar Rahim in A Prophet, minus any of his endearing humanly qualities. Chiko's best friend, Tibet, however painted a much more compelling character as he struggled with the betrayal of his closest ally, while descending into nasty drug habits and his continuing angst of looking after his diseased ridden mother.

With the first hour essentially dedicated to Chiko's inevitable rise through the mafia ranks, it's a shame the film doesn't truly start to carve out its own personality, until the final half hour, when everything starts to spiral erratically out of control.

Perhaps it was a case of poor translating on the studio's part but the dialogue was clumbersome at best. The characters seemingly chose to end every other sentence with 'dude' or 'man', which one could argue is slightly realistic, but just comes across as lazy writing. In an otherwise average affair, the technical work was at the very least competent.

Final Thoughts
Chiko is a film of empty promises and near misses. It attempts to be darkly comedic but rarely reaches the heights of Guy Ritchie's early work. It attempts to be harsh and gritty but fails to unsettle an audience in the manner Shane Meadows' effortlessly presents time and time again. It attempts to touch on more philosophical issues but frankly doesn't have the brains of Jacques Audiard behind it. It simply attempts to be smarter and more original than it actually is. Watchable but stumbles in comparison to more superior titles already out there...

Film: 2.5/5
Extras: N/A

See This If You Liked...
A Prophet, Romanzo Criminale, Dead Man's Shoes, Snatch.

Chiko is released on DVD on June 28th 2010.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Cinema - Five Celebrations of Colour

Without sounding like every other tired pretentious film writer, 3D doesn’t interest me. The new age of high definition intrigues me but rarely evokes the emotive qualities of classic theatre experiences; it only succeeds in planting me more in reality than any human honestly needs to be.

Now Technicolor, not just a forged style or a flirtatious fad, for the first half of the 20th century it transformed cinema into a genuine art-form.

Call me old fashioned if you will, but when it comes to films, I’m both dreamer and an idealist.

Recently I’ve found myself diving into my classic cinema collection perhaps through a bad case of nostalgia, or just sheer frustration for recent technological developments, but they really don’t make them like they use to. Lush, crisp and almost unbelievably vivid colours, the likes the planet Pandora can only dream of.

Not all these films will necessarily change your life, and most likely you have seen all five time and time again.

However, next time you sit down to watch these films, take a moment to separate yourself from the narrative and performances and just let yourself absorb how gorgeous they truly are.

Maybe, just maybe, your life has been slightly more enhanced for it.

The Red Balloon

Winner of the coveted Palm D’Or, at the Cannes Film Festival, in 1956 as well as the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, Albert Lamorisse absolutely beautiful short film is arguably one of the greatest children’s classics of all time.

The film tells the tale of a young boy and his bright vibrant, seemingly sentient red balloon, as they light up the pale streets of Paris, with their innocent and playful activities.

A forgotten gem, climaxing in a scene which conjures up heart-warming memories of Pixar’s 2009 masterpiece, Up.

Long after its first viewing over 50 years ago, The Red Balloon still has the power to take the audience into a world of pure imagination and wonder.

Rear Window

Alfred Hitchcock has long established himself as the master of suspense, yet to be surpassed by his more modern predecessors.

Without a doubt one of the great thrillers of all time, Rear Window was also a film of true colour and elegance. Though set primarily on a single set of an apartment courtyard, Hitchcock captured the multi-layered beauty of New York inner-city culture magnificently.

And if you’re still to be convinced by Rear Window’s surprise entry into the list, I may point you in the direction of the immensely radiant and gorgeous Grace Kelly. Enough said.

The Red Shoes

Based loosely on the fairy tale of the same name – as well as baring no relation to The Red Balloon – the 1948 classic is, in this writer’s opinion, the perfect film to illuminate a cold winter’s night.

Though not necessarily catered for stern male audiences, The Red Shoes contains one of the most stunningly crafted and ambitious scenes in cinematic history with its 20 minute ballet of the folk tale it was originally based on.

Martin Scorsese personally oversaw its digital restoration in 2009, often citing the directors of the film, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, as primary influences on his own work.

“So many moments, so many conflicting emotions,” he says of The Red Shoes, “such a swirl of colour and light and sound, all burned into my mind from that very first viewing — the first of many.”


Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Based on the wonderful novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the 1971 musical was a beautiful example of psychedelic wonder and imagination.

Telling the tale of a boy’s journey through this seemingly endless world of chocolate, sweets and singing Oompa Loompas, fronted by the eccentric performance from Gene Wilder as the title character.

It comes much to one’s surprise however, to find the film was also subjected to heavy criticism by the author of its source material, Roald Dahl.


The modern exception to the list, no celebration on the colour of cinema is complete without this stunning, French-classic from Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

It is fitting that I mention this last it essentially personifies the spirit of this article on its own. Amelie isn’t just a celebration of colour it’s a celebration of life that is worth living. How the most, seemingly, insignificance acts can enrich someone’s life.

"All that I desire to point out is the general principle that life imitates art far more than art imitates life." - Oscar Wilde.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

The Brothers Bloom - Review

If I were to make up a list, of my favourite films from the noughties, you can bet Rian Johnson's début feature Brick would be a serious contender to grace said list. While his long awaited follow up, The Brothers Bloom, is poles apart from the ultra stylish neo-noire high school settings of his previous film the same spirit and slick ability to tell a truly interesting story still remains.

The film tells the tale of Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and his younger brother Bloom (Adrien Brody), the best con men in the world, swindling millionaires with complex scenarios of lust and intrigue. Now they've decided to take on one last job - showing a beautiful and eccentric heiress (Rachel Weisz) the time of her life with a romantic adventure that takes them around the world.

Something I felt Johnson captured beautifully with Brick he managed to, once again, recreate in The Brothers Bloom; a, seemingly effortless, ability to create a world you badly wish you could be apart of. Similar in many ways to Sorderbergh's Ocean's films in its overly indulgent settings and ridiculously suave characters.

The entire leading cast of the film were taken straight out of their usual comfort zones - except Brody arguably - with Rachel Weisz truly being the person who stood apart from the rest of the pack. The Mummy films aside she's never had the chance to just let loose with a character, the way she did with her mind-boggling eccentric Penelope. Acting as the audience's vessel into the deceitful world of the Brothers Bloom, slightly naive to the nexus of their whole operation, not quite realising whether she was an accomplice or merely a victim to their overly elaborate con.

While Brody and Ruffalo played on typical brotherly archetypes of "the sulk" and "the provoker", you couldn't help but be warmed by the post-modern bromance unfolding on the cinema screen. Perhaps one of the most delightful surprises was the appearance of Rinko Kikuchi, whom more seasoned film fans may know from the beautifully bleak film Babel, as the proclaimed "muscle" of the entourage with a particular enthusiasm for explosives and karaoke. It was slightly disappointing not to see her utter more than three lines of dialogue.

The structure of The Brothers Bloom conjured happier memories of watching Christopher Nolan's The Prestige for the first time. Where The Prestige told the film as if it was a magic trick unravelling the narrative, Bloom delivered the ultimate con, separating the movie's scenes into the various stages of the brother's formulaic plan.

Johnson gave the audience a film not bound by any specific time period, though the appearance of a very recent Lamborghini sports car reminded us all it was set in present day, the cultured European landscapes, the Orient Express-like train journeys, the extravagant hotels and apartments could have placed the movie alongside similar capers from the 1950s and early 60s, with costume design making the likes of Humphrey Bogart and James Stewart feel right at home. This was all capitulated by the glorious soundtrack from, Brick composer, Nathan Johnson.

Unfortunately though there were a few instances the film was guilty of having too much style over genuine substance, with the story becoming slightly muddled mid-way with perhaps one too many support characters cropping up, such as Robbie Coltrane's irksome rehash of his untrustworthy anti-hero from his subsequent appearances the 007 films, Goldeneye and The World Is Not Enough. Furthermore it maybe suffered from being a fraction longer than needed, with the suspense to find out the twist (if there really was one?) becoming far too drawn out for its own good.

Final Thoughts
Despite its passable flaws the true testament to, what I consider to be, a good film is watching it for the first time and immediately wanting to experience it all over again straight after the curtain closes. The Brothers Bloom delivers this and then some. The entire cast were a sheer delight while the story itself was one of the slickest comic capers you are likely to see this decade. Though it doesn't quite have the same lasting impact as Johnson's début feature, The Brothers Bloom is without a doubt one of the most easily accessible and enjoyable cinematic experiences I have had all year. No smart puns or play on words this week, I just want the film to speak for itself. Still makes me smile thinking about it...


See This If You Liked...
Brick, The Ocean's Trilogy, The Prestige

The Brothers Bloom is in selected cinemas around the UK from today. For Belfast readers it will be showing at the Queen's Film Theatre until June 17th 2010. Any visitors from American can grab the movie on DVD and Blu-Ray now.

Go further :: Check out my interview with Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel Weisz reminiscing their thoughts on the filming the movie along with their experiences working with Rian Johnson here or here