Thursday, 30 September 2010

Buried - Review

In the build up to Buried's release, two words or rather one name kept instantly coming to mind. Alfred Hitchcock. From the sparse, intelligent narrative, to the sheer suspense of the trailer alone, as well as, a poster and opening credits, which you would be forgiven for thinking, the legendary Saul Bass had risen from the dead himself to design.

Little can be said about the plot, other than it centres around Paul Conroy (Ryan Renyolds), a civilian truck driver stationed in Iraq, who wakes up to find himself buried alive in a coffin in an unknown location. In true Hitchcockian fashion he does however have his McGuffan, in the form of a mobile phone, which acts as his only hope for reaching the outside world in vain hope of being rescued.

Despite the clear nods to perhaps his biggest directorial influence, Rodrigo Cortes has constructed something truly special, and rarely been seen in mainstream cinema in the past five years. His ability to tell an interesting, provocative story with one actor in such a contained setting was quite astonishing. Faintly reminiscent of Duncan Jones' marvellous 2009 début, Moon. Whereas Jones' film was a heartfelt tribute to old school science fiction, Cortes' felt like a tribute to the master of suspense as well as old fashioned thrillers and horrors of the 1970s - or a much less convoluted entry to the Saw franchise.

Though Ryan Renyolds is often considered quite a laid back, charismatic individual with an effortless ability to lighten up the mood in any film he appears, with his role in Buried, he demonstrates the most versatile and intense performance of his acting career to date.

The whole narrative almost mirrors the, widely documented, five stages of grief and acceptance of death. Through a mixture of anger and bargaining towards the people who put him there and the utterly disgraceful administrated hell he is put through by his own government and enforcement agencies. His acceptance of the film's closing moments is not a pleasant one for audiences to experience. It did however make for some seriously compelling viewing.

While the mad and passionate fan in me was immersed in this sheer master-class of no thrills film-making, there were however a couple of glaring plot-holes which could have been easily been covered with one line of dialogue. I'll let go the fact he miraculously got a phone signal (clearly wasn't on Orange) underground and yes perhaps I am nit-picking, but I have the mobile the protagonist uses in the film and never once did he think to use or download the Google Maps app with the built in GPS which could have cleared this mess up pretty quickly. I'll leave you with that to ponder.

Final Thoughts
The glaring plot-hole aside, Buried is still a brilliant demonstration of fiercely intense, minimalistic and, ultimately, original film-making from director, Rodrigo Cortes. Ryan Renyolds gives a fantastic performance under hellish circumstances, and gives one hope of his box-office credentials for the mega-huge projects he's attached to lead in upcoming years. A must for devotees of Hitchcock.


See This If You Liked...
Vertigo, Saw, 13 (Tzameti)

Buried is in cinemas nationwide from today.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done - Review

Minutes into Werner Herzog's new film, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, you can already see echoes of his previous film released this year, the absolutely excellent, Bad Lieutenant. From the suburban noire vibes to the broody eclectic score, you would nearly be forgiven thinking it was a direct follow-up.

Just to spice things up a bit, taking on producing duties was none other than David Lynch. Though having written the script almost 15 years ago, I'm surprised it has taken until now for Werzog to make the film, which is loosely based on real life events.

The story centers around the deeply disturbed, Brad McCallum (Michael Shannon), who has recently just killed his own mother (Grace Zabriskie). Through a series of disorientating flashbacks, the audience is given glimpses into Brad's strange motivations for committing the act. At times these particular scenes only seemed to raise more, mind-boggling, questions than actual coherent answers.

Michael Shannon's performance however, was nothing short of remarkable. Brash, outspoken, childish, psychotic, disturbing and at times even quite comedic. Though Lynch didn't seem to have any real creative input, the film was scattered with nods towards his own work. Especially in the skin-crawling portrayal of Brad's controlling and psychologically suppressed mother.

While Willem Defoe was merely a bystander to the chaos unfolding, at the scene of the crime, it was through the stories of Chloe Sevigny and Udo Kier's characters where we begin to gain some sort of perspective into Brad's psyche.

Herzog's intentions were clear in his mirroring narrative to the ancient Greek tragedy of the Oresteia trilogy, as Brad became increasingly more obsessed with the actions of the main character. Going deeper, there was a sense Herzog wanted to delve into the darkness which lurks inside all men, their lingering doubts with religion and mythical higher powers, as well as the contempt for their fellow neighbours. It was a shame though this message got, somewhat, lost in the execution of the feature.

While the scenes with Brad producing the stage production of the Greek play made a degree of sense towards his resulting intentions. As did the utterly bizarre treks to his Uncle's ostrich farm where he even acquired the murder weapon in question - despite the Lynch-esque scene in a snowy neighbouring forest where a midget magically popped up dressed in a tuxedo. The production fell however, in the scenes set in Peru where he encountered a life changing event which offered very little explanation into his motivations other than the character was simply a very odd individual with no real sense of purpose or direction - however maybe that is the point.

Final Thoughts
Werner Herzog's latest is a strange, disturbing, and even at times, darkly comedic exploration into the mind of a killer. Unfortunately, the film often came off as slightly disorientating and muddled in its overall delivery, despite the fascinating leading performance from Michael Shannon. Though, perhaps it should be renamed My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Been On*?


See This If You Like...
American Psycho, Bad Lieutenant, The Killer Inside Me, Mullholland Drive.

*I concede that was poor, but I've been waiting all of the review to get that out of my system

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done is in selected cinemas nationwide now. Northern Irish visitors will be able to see it in the Queen's Film Theatre from Friday, October 1st 2010.

Friday, 24 September 2010

The Town - Review

Since the arrival of Ben Affleck's impressive directorial début, Gone Baby Gone, his Hollywood creditability has gone up tenfold. Long gone the days where his appearances in mediocre romantic comedies, and being the butt of J-Lo jokes stifled a once promising career. Lest we forget, he did nab an Oscar for the screenplay to Good Will Hunting and gave brilliant performances in two of Kevin Smith's best films, Dogma and Chasing Amy.

Building on the success of Gone Baby Gone comes his directorial follow-up, The Town, in which he also stars in the leading role. Similar in setting to his previous film and based on Chuck Hogan's novel Prince of Thieves, the story opens in the troubled Boston district of Charlestown, where Affleck and his modest band of bank robbers pull off their latest heist. Making sure the only real witness to the crime (Rebecca Hall) stays quiet, Affleck's Doug inadvertently pursues a romantic relationship with the woman. Much to the dismay of his main partner in crime, portrayed by Jeremy Renner.

Though nobody is ever quite sure what "IT" is, as cliched as it sounds, The Town, unfortunately ain't quite it. As a solid crime thriller, the film performs its duties admirably. However it often appears two-dimensional in comparison to other films listed in this seemingly endless sub-genre of Boston based crime movies, such as Martin Scorsese's The Departed. Even compared to Affleck's own, Gone Baby Gone which delves into some genuinely ethical grey areas or Clint Eastwood's Mystic River it ultimately doesn't pull off being more than it indeed appears to be.

Though the performances from the cast were entertaining, their characters filed into all the usual cops and robbers stereotypes. You had Affleck's broody, conflicted gang leader, praying for one last job which will be enough to leave his horrid life behind - with his innocent, forgiving girlfriend in his arms.

While Renner's role as his right hand man, is an erratic psychopath who could quite likely screw over his lifelong friend, if circumstances come down to it. No real direction or purpose, just the life he knows, which is riddled with violence and petty thuggery. Oh we also have the brilliant Pete Postlethwaite playing the token Boston Irish mafia boss - with an Irish accent stronger than mine (and I'm from East Belfast..).

The blog's current favourite leading man Jon Hamm (from TV's Mad Men, as if you didn't know!) performed, the role of the FBI agent bringing the robbers down, exceptionally well. However, there was very little time to see his character develop on screen to give audiences the chance to truly root for him. Rebecca Hall's continued grace lifted the picture, however it's Blake Lively who steals the show as the trashy, drug addicted sister of Renner and mother to, possibly, Affleck's child.

In reality, Affleck has taken a lot from what he learnt while making Gone Baby Gone, the only real difference however was injecting a lot of action into the proceedings. You could quite rightly argue it was very reminiscent of Michael Mann's Heat, or the opening sequence to Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight - albeit on a much more intimate scale. And no offence to Mr Affleck's vision, but a swooping shot of the Boston skyline every five minutes isn't going to change my mind on that one.

Final Thoughts
The Town at best is a very competent and intimate crime thriller, which is perfectly paced, action packed and contains some highly entertaining performances. At worst it is a bleak, grossly unoriginal entry into an already crowded sub-genre, painfully riddled with countless cops and robbers clichés. Whatever happened to the friendly Boston, where everybody knows your name?


See This If You Liked...
The Departed, Gone Baby Gone, Heat, Mystic River

The Town is in cinemas nationwide from today.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

The Bicycle Thieves (Peroni Nastro Azzurro)

Even those who weren't able to attend Belfast's Queen's Film Theatre, on a cold rainy Saturday in September, shouldn't need me to tell you how good, Vittorio De Sica's 1948 classic, The Bicycle Thieves, is. History has already decided on that.

The film has comprehensively been honoured worldwide by more seasoned critics and scholars than I, often appearing in countless 'Greatest films of all time lists' in the decades since its original release. Can anymore be said about this tragic, at times, heart-warming tale about one man's futile pursuit for his stolen bicycle?

Though considered to be the best example of Italian neo-realism in cinema, The Bicycle Thieves, first and foremost, is just a beautifully made film for all the family. Pure and simple. From the exquisite camera-work, to the powerful leading performance from Lamberto Maggiorani who delves between moments of sincere joy and complete despair.

However, where the film tends to stand the test of time, is in the magnificent - almost iconic - performance from the, then young, Enzo Staiola as Maggiorani's son. His youthful, mischievous spirit and honest observations carries the film, in a similar way Pascal Lamorisse did in 1956 short, The Red Balloon.

Alessandro Cicogrini's score exemplifies the ridiculously suave pieces of music attributed to this era of cinema, and the world feels like a lesser place when compared to some more modern examples. This certainly isn't to say modern cinema can't 'make them like they use to' but The Bicycle Thieves shows, effortlessly, that less can indeed result in so much more.

Final Thoughts
This hasn't been a straight review of a film but more a retrospective. There was certainly a good number of the audience present who have seen The Bicycle Thieves countless times before, but I imagine few - like myself - had the chance to experience this wonderful story on the big screen. It was almost uplifting to experience the sights and sounds in this context. The original English title for the film was The Bicycle Thief, but not until it was retitled as The Bicycle Thieves has the tragically ironic closing scenes become truly realised and continue resonate in the minds of cinema goers for many years to come.


The Bicycle Thieves was shown as part of the Queen's Film Theatre's Peroni Nastro Azzurro season, and currently widely available on DVD from all good outlets.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse - Review

You can say what you want about Direct-to-DVD features, but Warner Bros. Animation's line of graphic novel adaptations - based on iconic DC superheroes - has been consistently brilliant in overall production quality and voice acting. The latest sees DC's most popular characters - Superman and Batman - team up for the first time since last year's feature, Public Enemies.

Acting as a sequel to Public Enemies and based on the graphic of the same name - written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated marvellously by Michael Turner - the story centres around the introduction of Superman's cousin from Krypton, Supergirl. With The Man of Steel obviously overjoyed to have a family member from his own bloodline here on Earth, The Dark Knight is naturally sceptical of the timing of the event and keeps the newest superhuman to our planet at arms length.

While undergoing adjustments to her new home, Supergirl eventually catches the attention of supreme DC evil-doer Darkseid which leads to a devastating showdown between the ruler of Apokoplis (that's the fictional planet's actual spelling, not mine for the record) and Superman.

Like many similar features produced by WB animation, the production team use the environments and support characters found in the DC universe to great effect, and do a tremendous job of bringing Turner's unique hand drawn style to life on screen. Furthermore, reminiscent of Batman: Under the Red Hood, the team realise the stories found in DC Comics aren't necessarily aimed at younger audiences.

The film surprisingly contained elements which are more common in Japanese anime than what we have come to expect from the DC animated universe created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. More mature traits such as blood and minor swearing, and - without sounding like a total geek - even a touch of genuine sex appeal in the female characters.

Devoted Batman fans should be warned however, this is definitely more a Superman story especially when you consider the family ties. Nevertheless the Caped Crusader does have his role to play in the tale, and often gets the best lines and some rather impressive action pieces. Plus it's good to know, although Batman won't kill a fellow human, he seemingly has no problem at all with blowing up aliens from another world - I'm just putting that out there.

The voice acting was a pleasure as always, fans of the 90s Batman/Superman animated series' and Justice League cartoons will be delighted to see Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly reprising their signature roles once again.

It was also great to see Susan Eisenberg reprising her role as Wonder Woman. More surprising was the classy inclusion of Edward Asner (Carl Fredricksen in Pixar's Up) returning as the sinister Granny Goodness (shame the same can't be said about the character's name...). The stand-out geeky addition to the cast however, was the lovely Summer Glau - of Firefly/Serenity fame - as Supergirl.

Final Thoughts
It may fail to hit the amazing heights of Under The Red Hood, but Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is still a faithful adaptation and executed with enough precision to keep fans at bay for a little while longer until both characters make their much-anticipated returns to the bigger screen in a live action setting. Just a shame the story felt more like a well produced episode of Justice League Unlimited than a grander adventure worthy of a feature length release. I'd still watch it again mind...


See This If You Liked...
Batman: Under the Red Hood, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, Justice League Unlimited

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray from September 28th 2010

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Black Dynamite - Review

Sometimes you get films which, on paper, just simply shouldn't work. And to be honest more often than not, they don't. But now and again you get an exception to the rule, and thankfully that has come in the form of Scott Sanders' latest film, Black Dynamite.

Starring Michael Jai White (Spawn/The Dark Knight) in the title role, the feature follows tried and tested formulas often found in the old school Shaft movies, along with the 1972 blaxploitation film, Super Fly. Then proceeds to turn, the sheer absurdity of those films, way up to 11, resulting in some of the funniest moments seen on screen this year.

Most pleasing was the distinctly vintage feel, from the funky, jazzed up music, to the grainy 70s style of filming which lent itself marvellously to the film. What was perhaps an even bigger surprise was the plot not being completely ridiculous and managed to flow with some degree of clarity. Some may feel I'm talking complete nonsense considering you find the story climaxing with the main protagonist caught in a totally unexpected fight to the death with Richard Nixon (seriously...).

Black Dynamite was strangely at its most humorous however, when it was at its most subtle. Such moments as BD giving a speech and the audience noticing the boom mic purposely poking its head from the top of the screen. However it takes real talent to go one further and have the actor himself purposely look directly at it, and still make it funny.

You could argue the humour is aimed primarily at more stoner audiences but in reality I fail to see how anyone with a funny bone in their body couldn't laugh continuously through the film from beginning to end.

Michael Jai White - who also help penned the screenplay - probably gave the most iconic performance of his career, and after he's long retired he most likely be remembered for the role of Black Dynamite. However what was great to see, was the sheer amount of enjoyment he had while doing it, and if he wants to milk it for all it's worth, then he is more than welcome to it.

There wasn't any particular stand out mentions for the supporting ensemble, but they all poked fun at the typical stereotypes often associated with these films to great effect. Very reminiscent of the 1988 film, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka - am I the only one who remembers that film?

Final Thoughts
The best parody in years? Quite possibly. Leave common sense at the door and you will find a film which is surprisingly clever, outrageously funny and extremely sexy. Black Dynamite for the best comedy of 2010? You bet your ass motherf*cker...


See This If You Like...
I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, Shaft, Super Fly, Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood.

Black Dynamite is showing in selected cinemas now. Northern Irish audiences will be able to see it in the Queens Film Theatre from Tuesday 21st - Thursday 23rd September 2010. Seriously recommended viewing.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Tamara Drewe - Review

After growing up in a household where the theme tune to The Archers was relatively commonplace, I have to admit there was a, faintly nostalgic, attraction to Tamara Drewe. It's strange to think of all the comic book and graphic novel adaptations I have experienced over the last few years, that a story - a reworking of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Maddening Crowd - about a pokey little British village and its eclectic inhabitants would turn out to be one of the more enjoyable ones.

Avid readers of The Guardian will no doubt be familiar with the story which follows young journalist, Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton) as she returns to the village she grew up and partakes in sordid affairs and reacquainting herself with lost loves amongst other such events regularly found in most Ben Elton and Richard Curtis scripted comedies.

I've never made it a secret of my contempt for Ms Arterton, with playing bit-part roles as the damsel in distress or simply something pretty to look at on screen, I've never seen the need for her presence as an actress. However, I am man enough to admit when wrong. In her role as Tamara she was able to let loose. While appearances in Prince of Persia, Clash of the Titans and Quantum of Solace were hardly far films to judge her ability, in Tamara Drewe she was giving the opportunity to demonstrate her genuine class and wit to go with the natural beauty she brings to the big screen.

However, like most ensemble pieces, the support cast were far more captivating on screen. The main highlight being Roger Allam's portrayal of stuffy author and adulterer, Nicholas Hardiment. Despite the clever parallels to Tomas Hardy, his character managed to create this strange mixture of erratic comedic timing with detestable deviousness. His on screen chemistry with the brilliant, yet stupidly underrated Tamsin Greig made for utterly compelling viewing, especially when the love triangle with the other 'in-house writer' Glen McCreavy (Bill Camp) spills over to devastating results.

What, director, Stephen Frears demonstrated brilliantly with Tamara Drewe was this effortless ability of weaving all the characters' sub-plots together into a much larger and easily understandable storyline. Everything every character did in the film, no matter how small, had a consequence in the build up to the film's satisfying climax - which is something Ben Elton and Richard Curtis have failed to truly master in recent years.

Ultimately though the real surprise in Tamara Drewe was the amount of sincere enjoyment found on screen. It was a beautifully balanced feature from beginning to end, amusing when it needed to be, deep and thoughtful as well as being quite heated and dramatic through the film's more sobering moments. It maybe could have done was being a bit more sexy but I suppose there's only so far you can take a film set to this tranquil country setting.

Obviously it's not for everyone, and if your idea of perfect British cinema is more the works of Shane Meadows and Guy Ritchie than the likes of Love Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral, then best hold your cinema admission fee for another day. But if you're willing to give the film and its leading lady a chance to shine, the rewards can certainly pay dividends.

Final Thoughts
An intelligent and delightful British comedy, with a sexier twist than most to come before it. Gemma Arterton has finally put on a performance worthy of her hype. Backed by a brilliant script, classy support cast and exceptional direction from Frears, I'm surprised to say I look forward to visiting the colourful village of Ewedown again in the near future. Perfect viewing to begin the Autumnal season and make you forget of the loud, obnoxious mainly average blockbusters of this Summer's past.


See This If You Like...
Love Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Archers (radio)

Tamara Drewe is in cinemas everywhere from today.

Also if you've seen the film and fancy reading the comic strip, The Guardian have it all in its entirety here ::

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Certified Copy - Review

One could maybe argue Juliette Binoche's recent - unprovoked - spat with Gerard Depardieu couldn't have been better timed. With the release of her latest film, Certified Copy, the free publicity surely wouldn't hurt. Or would it?

Set to the beautiful backdrop of Tuscany, a French antiques dealer (Binoche) falls for a tall, handsome English writer (William Shimell). As the film progresses the relationship between the two, apparent, strangers seems to run deeper than the audience were originally led to believe.

It's perhaps quite absurd of me to say but, this is my first time experiencing any of, director, Abbas Kiarostami's films on the big screen. Though not being familiar with his work, I was very much aware of his widely acclaimed reputation as an innovative film-maker. Unfortunately for Certified Copy, his reputation very much preceded him this time around.

Though beautifully shot, the film's narrative often felt confused and direction-less, and these unfortunate shortcomings often crept into the leading characters chemistry. Which is a shame because the acting talent was clearly evident for all to see, Binoche's wide-eyed wonder and enthusiasm was just as captivating as her more melancholic moments, which provoked faint memories of seeing her for the first time in Three Colours: Blue - mostly justifying her Best Actress award at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

William Shimell's character, was almost a 'Yin' to Binoche's 'Yang', in some instances they were very similar, yet in others polar opposites. Watching their relationship unfold on screen was often quite frustrating, and the moments of sincere intimacy were subtle as well as few and far between. Kiarostami however, leaves the audience to decide whether the quirky, often conflicting couple deserved to stay together.

If the writing of the film left much to be desired - bogged down by needless philosophical and existential waffle - the director's technical execution was nothing short of breathtaking. There were several nods to suggest Kiarostami cared for his leading lady, and developed this unique chemistry, in the same way the brilliant Pedro Almodovar has often used Penelope Cruz in his films. I often found myself noticing a striking similarity in both director's styles with the face-to-face camera angles often deployed during the film's more intimate moments such as, the leading characters staring into a mirror or having a conversation in a cafe or restaurant.

Final Thoughts
Beneath all the convoluted, philosophical tosh spouted from the two main characters, lay a film yearning for some real direction and absolution. Though beautifully filmed and filled with the best of intentions, trying to offer its heart and soul to the audience, regrettably like its leading male Certified Copy often leaves you feeling cold and excluded from something which, could have been so much more meaningful.


See This If You Liked...
Three Colours: Blue, Chocolat, Journey to Italy

Certified Copy is in selected cinemas across the UK now. Northern Irish audiences can see the film in the Queen's Film Theatre from Friday.