Saturday, 26 February 2011

Waste Land - Review

I don't often get the chance to review documentaries, but when I do it always reminds me how bloody marvellous this medium of film-making can be, for getting a million and one different messages across to such a huge audience. Lucy Walker's Waste Land featuring South American born artist, Vik Muniz has already received worldwide critical acclaim since debuting at last year's Sundance Film Festival, even picking up a nomination for Best Documentary at the 2011 Academy Awards.

The film follows Muniz over a two year period as he attempts to produce works of art, from recycled goods taken from the Jardim Gramacho landfill site in Rio de Janeiro, in the form of portraits of a collection of low-level employees known simply as "pickers". I found the whole experience of Waste Land a profoundly humbling and uplifting experience. It wasn't just following the journey of Muniz and watching his works of art develop, nor was it some ham-fisted attempt to get yet another environmental warning across to the audience. The documentary was a chance to get to know these people who have lived and breathe this situation, pretty much from early childhood.

And the truly humbling aspect of this film was realising that this, supposedly, lower class of people were deeply honest, decent, reasonably well educated souls - considering the majority of them lacked any form of schooling. Some people with true aspirations for greater things in life and others who, heaven-forbid, actually enjoyed the work they did and valued the community spirit they have created within this workforce.

Waste Land also works well as a more moving and optimistic counter balance or companion piece to Bansky's Exit Through The Gift Shop, which it's going up against at the Oscars this year. Whilst Bansky's work is quite an honest yet extremely slapstick portrayal which highlight the flaws of modern art, Muniz takes something which sounds a little absurd or patronising on paper and creates something truly mesmerizing and positively life-changing . It also thankfully lacked that self-congratulatory smugness that sometimes comes with celebrities contributing to helping lower class citizens.

One of the truly provocative highlights of the documentary was whilst working with the small group of people from the landfill site, the artist's wife quite rightly questioned the morality of taking these people out of, what is probably considered, their comfort zone and offering them only a glimpse of a richer more indulgent lifestyle of making works of art, going to galleries etc. But I loved the positive effect it had on these people's lives as the credits rolled, the gorgeous pieces of art created from the photographs and the complete different stories each of them had to tell. Beautiful.

On a superficial level the film was simply a joy to watch visually, Lucy Walker created quite a stylish presentation and edited the feature beautifully. Also if anyone can tell me where I can acquire Moby's exquisite ambient soundtrack created specifically for Waste Land, I would be greatly thankful.

Final Thoughts
If Waste Land teaches you anything it's that one man's garbage is another man's treasure, in quite possibly every literal sense. A deeply thoughtful and delicately balanced documentary about an acclaimed artist giving something back to his home country, which doesn't overshadow the people he's trying to portray in his artistic portraits, and through Lucy Walker's tender heart-warming camera work. Uplifting, genuinely, moving cinema. Don't miss it. Your life will be better for it.


Waste Land is in selected cinemas now. Belfast audiences can see it in the Queen's Film Theatre from March 4th 2011.

Friday, 25 February 2011

The Hunter - DVD Review

Rafi Pitts' thriller, The Hunter opens in a stylish punk-rock fashion, with an almost pop-art presentation of a pro revolutionary photograph. A complete contrast to the brooding, provocative character piece which comes after. Directing and starring in the film, Pitt plays the quiet family man, Ali who deals with the grief of losing his wife and daughter in the middle of a dissident shooting. Unsure as to whom may have committed the act, he starts to brood uncontrollably as he soughs to learn the truth, with killer consequences.

The first act was quite an interesting experience, giving a fascinating insight into modern family life, in Iran. As the film progresses Ali paints a figure as forlorn and detached from the world as the cold urban surroundings he occupies. Not sure how often you can compare an Iranian to an American, but there was definitely comparisons able to be drawn between the main protagonist and George Clooney's excellent portrayal in last year's The American especially in the slow long drawn out moments with minimal dialogue - with even slight nods towards the classic film, The Deer Hunter. Despite the political tension which is ever present through The Hunter, it's never really the driving force or truly detracts from the story Pitts was trying to tell.

While elements of the story remain drenched in ambiguity it was, on a technical and visual level, a highly accomplished film. Epic cinematography with a real visceral use of the natural sounds of urban jungle, the protagonist uses. The last act which features a rather tense car chase and an exploration into a foggy forest is both serene and quite unsettling.

The additional extras on the DVD are as sparse as the film's dialogue, containing simply an interesting interview with Pitts into his motivations for making the film and how he was to become the film's lead actor. This isn't to say the film was perfect as it was, perhaps, too ponderous and psychological for its own good at times, and there were moments where it was crying for some action or an extra bit of violence here and there. Sometimes coming across as, well, boring.

Final Thoughts
The Hunter is a dark and emotional story exploring one man's struggle with grief as he seeks retribution on the people who wreaked this sadness upon him. The Hunter was a fascinating first venture into Iranian cinema for me, I'm intrigued to see what else is there, though despite the beautifully shot sequences and intelligent storytelling it often suffers from a lack of genuine spark, not to mention a stupidly abrupt ending.


The Hunter is available on DVD from Monday February 28th 2011.


Can't believe we're here again, and this is my third year blogging my Oscar picks - usually my most laid pack post of the year. Quite a variety of films in the running this year, but as always it's most likely going to come down to essentially two films, The King's Speech and The Social Network. If the Academy Awards went on solely my review scores alone, then it would between Inception, Toy Story 3 and Black Swan - how exciting would that have been?

So like always I'm going to go through the top six categories, then quickly bullet point the rest. In the words of the late (Oscar winning) Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, "And here we go..."

Best Picture
The Social Network, Toy Story 3, The King's Speech, Black Swan, True Grit, Inception, Winter's Bone, The Kids Are All Right, The Fighter, 127 Hours.

I'm still not totally convinced of having 10 films in the running for this category now, but nevertheless it gives misplaced hope and the chance for a some lesser known films to get some much needed exposure, such as the excellent Winter's Bone or two summer blockbuster behemoths such as Inception and Toy Story 3. However if The Globes and The BAFTAs showed us, there's essentially two films battling it out for the honour and that's David Fincher's The Social Network and Tom Hooper's The King's Speech. Both excellent films in their own right, but I think the King's Speech has (in more ways than just its central character) a slightly more regal quality and thus would like to see it win. But then, the Academy do love the Coen Brothers' films...

Moore's choice: The King's Speech.
Dark horse: True Grit

Best Actor
Javier Bardem (Biutiful), Jeff Bridges (True Grit), Colin Firth (The King's Speech), Jessie Eisenberg (The Social Network), James Franco (127 Hours)

If you're planning on betting the house on one category, probably best make it this one. Though I'd personally say Jeff Bridges' performance in True Grit overshadows his Oscar winning performance in Crazy Heart last year, nevertheless he's, cynically, had his turn. Colin Firth wowed audiences last year in, A Single Man. In The King's Speech he offered his heart and soul to the camera with the career defining role that isn't Mr Darcy. I can't comment on Bardem, but special mention must go to Eisenberg who was excellent in The Social Network, and it was only seeing it the second time I realised how excellent. But then, if you've seen his other films, you could argue he was only playing an even more warped version of himself. And in regards to Franco, if his time isn't now, it will be eventually.

Moore's choice: Colin Firth
Dark horse: Jeff Bridges

Best Actress
Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone), Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)

Admittedly I've not seen two of the performances listed here - Portman in Rabbit Hole and Bening in The Kids Are All Right - but like the previous category the likely winner is pointing towards Natalie Portman who frankly was bloody phenomenal in Black Swan. Yet I'd probably argue Jennifer Lawrence's visceral performance in Winter's Bone was that tiny bit better. Michelle Williams are probably the best part of a torturous experience watching Blue Valentine. The only real annoyance with this category is the absence of the breakthrough performance of Haliee Steinfeld in True Grit, who was been suspiciously relegated to the Best Supporting Actress category, yet carried most of the film herself and arguably featured in the film more than Jeff Bridges? Hmm... is The Academy being slightly ageist there?

Moore's choice: Natalie Portman
Dark Horse: Jennifer Lawrence

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale (The Fighter), John Hawkes (Winter's Bone), Jeremy Renner (The Town), Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right) Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech)

If you'd asked me before the award season started, and having just walked out of The King's Speech I would have instantly said Rush, and frankly still do say that. The King's Speech simply wouldn't have been nearly as glorious without his contribution. Yet he's facing a lot of competition from Christian Bale, who was fantastic in The Fighter. My gut still says Rush deserves it but Bale's time will come I think. Maybe in 2013 he'll get the first Best Actor nod for a superhero role in The Dark Knight Rises (I can but hope)? I'm glad to see John Hawkes get the credit for his performance in Winter's Bone but I don't think he has the pull to see him over the finishing line. Still honestly can't fathom how Jeremy Renner got in the mix with The Town, which I did fully enjoy as a no nonsense crime caper, but hardly the work of Oscar gold.

Moore's choice: Geoffrey Rush
Dark horse: Christian Bale

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams (The Fighter), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom), Helena Bonham Carter (The King's Speech), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit)

See the Best Actress blurb for my thoughts on Steinfeld, she's in the wrong category. Logic has been pointing towards Melissa Leo or Helena Bonham Carter, personally after seeing Animal Kingdom only just earlier in the week, I would have to say I'd love Jacki Weaver's bat-crazy granny, Janine to win. This category is a little contentious, for me, as frankly the best female supporting performance of 2010 didn't even get a mention and was cruelly overlooked at the BAFTAs and that was Lesley Manville's wonderfully eccentric and decisively tragic performance in Mike Leigh's Another Year.

Moore's choice: Melissa Leo
Dark horse: Helena Bonham Carter

Best Director
Tom Hooper (The King's Speech), David Fincher (The Social Network), The Coen Brothers (True Grit), David O Russell (The Fighter), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)

With the exception of David O Russell, all the directors deserve acclaim for the films they crafted. Hooper gave a king his voice, the Coens brought westerns to the mainstream again (not to mention being quite chummy with the Academy off the back of past success), Aronofsky made one of the most challenging and dividing big budget films of the last five years and Fincher miraculously made a film about Facebook a totally engrossing experience. And after years of nearly being there, the time has come for Fincher to accept the award, I think. Even if the film doesn't win Best Picture, he's truly done an amazing thing. There were a few notably criminal snubs this year unfortunately, firstly Christopher Nolan for his ground-breaking work on Inception, Mike Leigh for Another Year, Lee Unkrich for making the greatest threequel of all time in Toy Story 3 and Debra Granik for her work in Winter's Bone.

Moore's choice: David Fincher
Dark horse: The Coen Brothers

And the rest...

Foreign Language Film: Dogtooth (though where's Of Gods and Men?!)
Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network)
Original Screenplay: Christopher Nolan (Inception)
Animated Film: Toy Story 3
Art Direction: True Grit
Cinematography: True Grit
Sound Mixing: Inception
Sound Editing: Inception
Original Score: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network)
Original Song: I See The Light (Tangled)
Costume: Alice in Wonderland
Documentary: Exit Through The Gift Shop (c'mon everyone wants to see what Banksy will do...)
Film Editing: 127 Hours
Makeup: The Wolfman
Visual Effects: Inception

And for another award season, that's me signing off. If you have twitter be sure to tune in on the night for me tweeting nonsensical observations, and also be sure to watch out for the special Panic Shots Oscar Special with the fast talking Ross Thompson and the wonderfully articulate Laura Shearer and of course myself, which should hopefully surface before Sunday!

Much love.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Animal Kingdom - Review

Over recent times, Australia has become one of the true unsung heroes of world cinema. Never afraid to push the boundaries with innovative hard edged productions, while also managing to unearth some of the next big stars which will undoubtedly dominate the Hollywood blockbusters for years to come. Following in the footsteps of films such as the astounding Chopper - which herald the arrival of Eric Bana onto the world stage - and the classic Russell Crowe film, Romper Stomper comes début director, David Michod's cold, crime thriller, Animal Kingdom.

The film tells the story of young Joshua (James Frecheville), reeling from his mother's death through a heroin overdose, as he's forced to live with his estranged grandmother and uncles. As the film progresses it's evidently clear that Joshua's extended family are heavily involved in ambiguous illegal doings. The audience quickly learns it's seemingly not this band of crooks he should be afraid of, but instead the bunch of corrupt, trigger-happy, cops hell-bent on gunning them down, one by one.

Personally I found the film a bold and refreshing experience, especially in the light of how much average tosh I've suffered through lately. It conjured memories of early Tarantino mixed with Guy Ritchie's best work, at their most gritty and visceral. While, like those films it was, at times darkly comedic, it never once cheapened the feature with an over-saturation of sheer silliness. The film was also rooted firmly in basic family values and age old clichés such as blood being thicker than water, with broodier twists akin to last year's phenomenal, Winter's Bone.

This feeling was compounded by the fantastic and under-stated performance of James Frechville, who I would love to see more of in future. He didn't so much lead the line, like Hailee Steinfeld did in True Grit, as a shining light of moral goodness but tragically became a victim of circumstance as a result of his uncles' erratic actions. Bringing us onto the uncles in question, they were all simply brilliant. The best probably being the oldest, Andrew or 'Pope' played by Ben Mendelsohn was gloriously cold and twisted, buried in his own mental problems resulting in perhaps being the more brutal and notable of the four.

The leading performance of the whole feature, and whom quite rightly deserves her Oscar nod, is Jacki Weaver's bloody terrifying portrayal as the mother of the four brothers, and grandmother to Joshua. She sort of reminds me of Barbara Hershey's role in Black Swan, very passive but deep down very devious and quite a disturbing proposition as a whole. If this year's award season for any Best Supporting Actress category has taught us anything, it's play an emotionally repressed and wholly sinister motherly role and you're seemingly guaranteed a nod - also see Melissa Leo in The Fighter.

Special mention must go to Guy Pearce, not necessarily the most memorable performance of his career, but interestingly starting to carve a little niche for himself. He hasn't so much starred in many films in recent memory, but consistently lends his class to so many truly brilliant films, such as The King's Speech, The Hurt Locker and was one of the few highlights of last year's maligned adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. In Animal Kingdom he kind of channels some darker hybrid of Gary Oldman's Jim Gordon from the Batman films resulting in a strangely likeable performance.

Director, David Michod must also be commended for creating such a mature piece of cinema, upon first time asking, containing rustic elements of unrivalled independent features mixed with grand, ambitious, mainstream sensibilities. This isn't necessarily just an art-house film, this is simply a beautifully crafted thriller which could give Martin Scorsese a decent run for his money. The rich, stylish camera work, the gritty urban shots. Absolutely gripping.

Final Thoughts
Smart direction and outlandishly classy performances are the law of the land, in this kingdom. A broody, brutal and stylish crime thriller, exploring the moral compasses at both ends of the law. Expect to see Frecheville in plenty of films to come, after a solid début, and it'll be interesting to see how David Michod follows the weight of expectation from this impressive first outing. Watch it. Enjoy it. And just be bloody thankful Jacki Weaver's Janine Cody ain't your gran.


Animal Kingdom is in selected cinemas throughout the UK from Friday February 25th, 2011.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Paul - Review

Any 20-something sci-fi or comic book geek over the years will undoubtedly have a special place in their heart reserved for, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Be it the classic comedy series, Spaced or the delightfully clever Edgar Wright directed features, Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead you'd quite rightly believe these guys could do no wrong. So after the duo went off and did their own thing, with mixed to brilliant results, fans have been yearning for them to double up once again for another buddy comedy littered with countless pop culture references. This is where Paul comes in, and for the large part it's a typical Pegg and Frost collaboration, just not quite as we know it...

Paul follows the story of two British sci-fi geeks doing a road-trip of America's South Western states often regarded as the most common place to find UFO sightings, where of course they stumble across a little alien who goes by the name of, yes that's right, Paul. Long story short, Paul is essentially E.T for stoner audiences. Instead of finding a cute little alien who is quite misunderstood, Pegg and Frost stumble across Seth Rogen as an alien, doing, yet again, the same things Seth Rogen does in every other film - but I shan't go down that road again, check out my Green Hornet review for that old chestnut.

What Pegg and Frost do really well here, is litter the film in dozen of cleverly poised references and homages to sci-fi films past which included an opening scene which is lifted straight from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a final scene which is literally the climax to E.T (with a slight blend of Blues Brothers bonding thrown into the mix). What they regrettably and surprisingly don't do, is actually manage to make it genuinely funny.

I know that's blasphemous, and I feel dirty saying it, but for most of the feature I was struggling to honestly enjoy it. Whereas Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz felt so natural and subtle with its uniquely clever brand of honest British comedy, Paul felt so sluggish and forced, and so...American, with its tasteless smut and stoner jokes that became old four Kevin Smith films ago. And all this is a true shame because the film has some terrific, likeable, performances from the likes of Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Gregg Turkington, Bill Hader, Jane Lynch and the ever classy, Sigourney Weaver (unfortunately the film was a missed opportunity for the actress to utter any of her famous lines from Aliens).

After reviewing Scott Pilgrim Vs The World last year, I questioned that perhaps Edgar Wright was slightly lost or out of control without the constraint of Pegg and Frost to guide him towards the finishing line. Seemingly the other two thirds of this holy trinity suffered similar misgivings without the stylish vision and clever quick editing of Wright to make their sub-standard script come across more potently on screen. Maybe it's finally time to get the old band back together for the final part of their much celebrated, Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy.

Final Thoughts
There were brief moments and even the odd quick joke which made me smile or even giggle, but for the most part Paul was too bogged down in paying homage to Steven Spielberg to ever let itself be its own film. Lacking the brilliantly crafted humour of their past projects, I sincerely hope this is more a blip on the CV rather than the start of a tragic decline for Britain's favourite geeks. And, in regards to the rating, I wouldn't be that harsh if I didn't care...


Paul is in cinemas everywhere now.

Friday, 11 February 2011

True Grit - Review

Having reviewed the original True Grit on DVD last week, I was intrigued and even over-excited to see how the Coen Brothers would update this tale of revenge and retribution for the more desensitized audiences of the 21st Century. The results were surprising, as instead of doing their own interpretation of the tale they still borrowed heavily from the cues of the original, starring John Wayne. But has it got enough 'grit'?

The film stars big screen debutant Hailee Steinfeld as young Mattie Ross as she enlists the services of ageing US Marshall, Reuben 'Rooster' Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and a Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) to hunt down outlaw, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) for killing her father. Save for a few subtle differences and a much improved, more reflective ending, the film stays true to the upbeat spirit of the original film.

Make no mistakes however, and leave the 'romance of classic cinema' at the door as this is a far superior film to the original. Hailee Steinfeld was quite remarkable in the role of Mattie, taking on the characteristics of the original's Kim Darby with far less irritation and a bit more brooding - though I don't understand how she's only got a Best Supporting nod when she was just as central to the film as Bridges. Nevertheless, considering this is her first ever acting role, she very much held her own with the her more experienced and seasoned co-stars.

While Jeff Bridges seemed to owe arguably more to his Oscar-winning role in last year's Crazy Heart than he does to John Wayne's rendition of the anti-hero, Rooster Cogburn he was, as ever, a joy to behold on screen. He was brutish, inaudible, witty, decisively sincere and even at times quite vulnerable and knowing of the world around him. Matt Damon meanwhile was perfect foil as the polar opposite to Bridges' Cogburn as the more squeaky clean law enforcer, LeBeef...I mean, LeBoeuf.

Josh Brolin's presence, in the build up to his anticipated appearance, was probably more sinister than when he was eventually unveiled to the audience, but was still excellent. Special praise must be reserved for Barry Pepper's performance as 'Lucky' Ned Pepper though, channelling remarkably his inner Robert Duvall - who played the role in the original.

What the Coen's captured beautifully was the imagery and the values of the era, grounding the film heavily in god-fearing religious sensibilities - emphasized more so in Carter Burwell's emotive, soulful score. Even more remarkable was the sheer accessibility of the entire feature. I'm not even talking about people who haven't seen the original, but more people who have been put off by Westerns after sitting through the long and methodical pieces like, the bloody marvellous, The Assassination of Jesse James or the epic period 'Western' drama There Will Be Blood or even as far back as some of Sergio Leone's classics like Once Upon a Time In The West. Excellent films all of them, but even I'll admit they're not exactly easy viewing.

Final Thoughts
The True Grit of the 21st Century sheds the silly stigma that all remakes are completely needless and utter tosh - becoming a far more accessible and ultimately more mature adaptation of Charles Portis' novel than its predecessor. While Jeff Bridges deserves his plaudits and his Oscar nod, excelling in the role made famous by John Wayne, the stand-out star for myself was the extremely classy performance of Hailee Steinfeld. Go see it, and remember once again why the world fell in love with Westerns. True Grit, true classic.


True Grit is in cinemas everywhere now. Film geeks can also look further by checking out the original out on DVD (review below...)

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Never Let Me Go - Review

Never Let Me Go is a quintessentially British sci-fi, of ITV Sunday drama proportions - can already tell how this review is going to end, can't you. Based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, the film tells the tale of three people who become embroiled in a love triangle and disturbingly were genetically created for the sole purpose of becoming organ donors to severely ill people.

Though nicely filmed and featuring two of the best young actors in British cinema (and Keira Knightley), Never Let Me Go was ultimately an extremely hollow feature. Though being the stand-out performers, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield's love story was never given enough time to fully bloom into anything more than a extremely brief Shakespearean tragedy. While Knightly was an immature, selfish brat whom, even when trying to redeem herself was still as unlikeable as the first moments she appeared on screen.

Surprisingly however the young child actors playing the same characters, probably fared better than their older counterparts - plus kudos to the casting team for finding someone who is the spitting image of Carey Mulligan in the younger role of Cathy. In the first act, we got something which strangely felt like Gattaca crossed with the imagery of The Secret Garden, if that makes any sense. Had the story been centred on this period I personally felt we might have got a more challenging and engaging film, even if not the most accurate representation of the novel.

Equally so the headmistress and teachers who occupied the unsettling school of Hailsham, featuring the likes of the wonderful Sally Hawkins, the classy Charlotte Rampling and the elegant Nathalie Richard, painted morally ambiguous and far more, genuinely, interesting characters who never properly had a chance to stretch their abilities or delve into their personal woes.

I also felt the narrative was too sporadic and the dystopian themes, it was trying to convey, were unfortunately lost in the melodrama of the whole thing. There was never once any true suspense or urgency, just this stiff upper lip British acceptance that they were always going to be doomed from the opening scene and never once tried to fight the system or, save for a couple of flutterings here and there, never attempt to live a bit in the grotesquely short time they have in the living world. That's perhaps the most depressing and damning element of the whole film.

It might not have offended me as much as the god awful adaptation of The Lovely Bones last year, but a similar result to viewing Never Let Me Go is that the film has made me have little desire to ever read the book.

Final Thoughts
Never Let Me Go attempted to be beautiful, moving, morally challenging and equally heart-wrenching. However, it was unfortunately too soulless, dull, aimless and ambiguous for me to ever fully enjoy it. Which is a shame considering it was adapted to screen by Alex Garland who had a pretty proven track record until now. In conclusion, never let me watch it again.


Never Let Me Go is in cinemas throughout the UK from February 11th 2011.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

True Grit (1969) - DVD Review

Before we gear ourselves up for one of the most anticipated films of the year, in the Coen Brothers' adaptation of True Grit, take time beforehand to relish in the original adaptation of Charles Portis' novel starring the one and only, John Wayne - and if you look at the image above, now complete with 'gritter' cover art. Released in 1968 this tale of revenge is told through the eyes of young Maddie Ross (Kim Darby), as she embarks on a spirited adventure through Indian territory with a Texas Ranger played by Glen Campbell and an ageing US Marshall named, Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn (Wayne) as they attempt to track down her father's killer, Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey).

The historical merit of True Grit is slightly lost on me, especially as my only real connection to John Wayne was the distinctly non-Western, Ireland-based drama, The Quiet Man (as a child I actually visited the town it was filmed in). However given Wayne's prestige, I found it quite astonishing to learn True Grit was the only time the screen legend ever won an Oscar for Best Actor. Upon watching it though, it's easy to see why. You don't have to subject yourself to countless upbeat Westerns to know Wayne was infamous for playing the squeaky clean heroic archetypes in the majority of his films, however with True Grit he tosses that preconceived notion on its head, playing this witty, ageing, washed-up, alcoholic to near perfection.

While Glen Campbell was perfect folly to Wayne's knowing eccentrics, it was Kim Darby who impressed more so as the spirited heroine of the piece, Maddie Ross. She was confident, morally adherent, even if time has made her persistence in the film, verge on plain irritating. The random minor appearance of a young Robert Duvall did raise a smile though.

Where True Grit feels most outdated however is in the distinct lack of 'grit' it claims to be true to. Especially when you consider Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone were making the particularly gritty and ever-lasting classic Man With No Name Trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars/A Few Dollars More and, of course, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) in the years prior to True Grit's release. The film also lacked any kind of moody atmosphere for the story it was trying to tell, with the score being in line with Wayne's more infamous brand of Westerns - in which over time has simply conjured images of the Mel Brooks parody, Blazing Saddles, for myself.

If all that damning criticism hasn't turned you off from, curiously, viewing the film, even just to see how it compares to the upcoming remake, and if you're this way inclined, I would recommend going for Blu-Ray version if possible as the standard DVD is completely absent of all the additional extras such as, audio commentary from Western film historian, Jeb Rosebrook, executive editor of True West magazine, Bob Boze Bell and historian of the American West, J. Stuart Rosebrook. As well as, a trailer and a couple of featurettes, not to mention presented in glorious 1080p.

Final Thoughts
Having not seen the remake just yet (review next week), I imagine this version will only be considered a companion piece to what's to come. Regardless of which may be better, the film still manages to stand on its own feet as an entertaining Western adventure tale of slight suspense, shot in richly lush technicolor, featuring an iconic performance from one of the greatest cinematic presences of all time, in John Wayne. My only real problem with it? Lacks sufficient grit.

Film: 3/5
DVD Extras: 0/5
Blu-Ray Extras: 3.5/5

This reissue of True Grit is available from major suppliers on DVD and Blu-Ray from February 7th 2011.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Fighter - Review

For a man who isn't the biggest fan of the sport, I find it truly amazing and strangely fascinating to see films about boxing always, seemingly, dominate the award season. As far back as 1931 when The Champ nabbed a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards we've seen the likes of Rocky, Million Dollar Baby, Ali, Cinderella Man and Raging Bull practically guaranteed to be Oscar fluff. And why is that? Like or hate the sport, everyone loves a good underdog story, or tale about redemption, or drastic falls from grace, or real life icons immortalised on the big screen. The latest entry to the fold, The Fighter promises practically all four of these qualities. However, it unfortunately just fails to deliver.

The film tells the true story about former professional boxer, 'Irish' Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his half brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). The story centres around Ward's faltering career, reluctantly fighting duff matches through his mother's almost suffocating management. All the while, his eccentric and troubled brother, Dicky is filming a documentary about his crack addiction, unbeknownst to his family who believe he's simply documenting his much touted comeback.

Save for two remarkable performances from Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, I found the first half of The Fighter largely unremarkable, feeling it had as much cinematic merit as a high budget TV movie. Then suddenly it hit a specific half way point, when the audience and his family see Dicky's documentary for the first time and the hype of Bale's contribution and dedication to this role suddenly became justified. It was as truly heart-wrenching and grizzly as Micky Rourke in 2009's, The Wrestler, or superficially Bale's turn in the mind-bending film, The Machinist.

Mark Wahlberg's Ward was a very easy character to relate to, he was, quintessentially, a working-class family man. Ultimately wanting to do right by his mother and brother, while wanting to impress his new girlfriend and give his daughter a better life. These admirable qualities are compounded by a tentative naivety and being bullied into doing whatever his family feels he should do. His coming of age, underdog tale is what humanises this gritty film.

Though the film's two leading men deserve the plaudits, the two supporting ladies equally deserve the same. Melissa Leo was brilliant in her almost devious and tragic turn as this ageing, money grabbing old crone who rarely shares the love between her sons as evenly as she does her absolutely repulsive daughters. While Amy Adams shows her clout in the role as Ward's girlfriend. Slightly different for Adams, from the sweet, kind-hearted characters she's taken on over the years.

Where The Fighter stumbles, for me, is in director, David O Russell's lack of cinematic vision on the tale, really bereft of any genuine iconic moments and emotional grandeur for the occasion. If it hadn't of been for the larger than life performances the film would have wilted away into the background, as oppose to surprisingly appearing on nomination lists at the Golden Globes, Oscars and BAFTAs.

In truth, these accolades almost hinder the film's enjoyment and is probably best appreciated when forgetting it's going up against the likes of Black Swan, The King's Speech, Toy Story 3 and Inception.

Final Thoughts
The Fighter very nearly delivers on all the themes it tries to cover - reminiscent of all the boxing films past - but ultimately results in a film of two halves. It simply opens too slow and sluggish for my own tastes, but the beautifully acted second half more than makes up for it, as Wahlberg's journey from fame to shame to fame again is heightened by one of the defining performances of Christian Bale's career. The supporting turns from Adams and Leo add to this emotional working-class tale about family bonds and personal redemption. Enjoyable but there's similar films out there, which are better. Much better.


The Fighter is in cinemas everywhere now.