Tuesday, 27 September 2011


Sometimes I'm just not sure if Lars Von Trier creates films for pleasure, to entertain, to inspire. Or simply just to provoke an extreme reaction out of people. With his last effort, Antichrist part of me can kind of get the appeal. It's edgy, it's horrific, it's uncomfortable. It's not for everyone, frankly it's not really for me. All pro Nazi 'propaganda' from his latest Cannes adventure aside, his latest entry to his controversial filmography Melancholia is leaving me, well...kind of glum. However perhaps not in the way Mr Trier probably intended.

The film centres around the wedding of Justine (Kirsten Dunst) in all its melodramatic glory, and the strain relationships she has with her bitter mother (Charlotte Rampling), womanising father (John Hurt), passive fiancé (Alexander Skarsgard), overly tense sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and super rich brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland). Oh and all the while, the world is facing its impending apocalypse from an unknown planet set to collide with the Earth. Yeah...

Firstly I'll say Trier has probably made his most visually gorgeous film to date. Beautifully shot, striking special effects - especially in the closing scene - and to be fair one of his classiest cast ensembles since Dogville. Also the dynamics of the relationships with each character is well articulated, especially when combating their overwhelming fear with their undeniable fate.

The main problem is just it all felt so hollow, so empty, so frustratingly superficial. Arguably it had echoes of Terrence Malick's Tree of Life from earlier this year, especially in the spacey, Kubrickian imagery. The main difference however was that ponderous, philosophical, feeling I felt from that (Tree of Life) experience compared to this. I realise one could split hairs with how equally pretentious they both are, but least with Tree of Life I didn't want to gauge my eyes out with a rusty nail afterwards. Tree of Life was high concept cinematic art, this was just tortuously lacklustre given the devastating subject.

Though Kirsten Dunst's performance was a mature outing from the star, an attempt to be truly captivating, a bit strange, she - like the rest of the supporting cast - was just so darn dislikeable it mattered little to me by the film's closing scene whether they survive the end of the world or not. Perhaps this was Trier's point, highlighted in a section of the film's dialogue where Dunst's character explains our world is evil and it won't be missed. Given the characters in this and his previous films, Trier himself probably believes this point of view too and if that's the case I feel sorry for him, and his lack of soul.

Besides Charlotte Gainsbourg, the rest of the cast at least had a bit of modern Jane Austin-esque humour about them. Kiefer Sutherland's tragic optimism, John Hurt's drunken buffoonery and Charlotte Rampling's scene stealing bitterness. If twisted into some kind of comedy I would probably 'get it' more.

Final Thoughts
Tedious, superficial, pretentious guff. Lars, you disappoint me. What happened to the edginess? What happened to the controversy? It was so passive and blasé it genuinely hurt. The only thing saving this from only receiving a single mark out of five - and I say this in the most professional manner - is knowing Ms Dunst has a nice set of boobies on her. It's a bittersweet victory though. Melancholia. Yes that's exactly what I'm feeling right now.


Melancholia is in selected cinemas from Friday September 30th 2011.

Friday, 23 September 2011


As I take a quick glance at all the reviews I've done so far in 2011, I notice two things. Firstly my post count is very low on last year. Secondly, and with less vanity, there's been a genuine shortage of really classy action movies over the past year. Thankfully the arrival of Nicolas Winding Refn's - last seen in the director's chair with the Tom Hardy breakout hit, Bronson in 2009 - Drive which blew audiences away at this year's Cannes Film Festival and left Refn picking up the award for Best Director has made the wait worth it.

Based on the book by James Sallis, Drive tells the tale of an enigmatic stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) who moonlights as a getaway driver for criminals. When one last heist goes wrong, and he finds himself in trouble with the local mob, what unravels before the audience's eyes is one of the most visceral action experiences you'll find in the cinema all year.

Ryan Gosling is superb in the leading role, almost playing two distinctly different men in the way he conducted himself. The first side was this introverted, pleasant man of few words. Occasionally throw the odd warm glance or light hearted smile. Then the other side where he's this relentless, violent, absolutely mental human being who stamps men's heads in until they're near liquefied.

Equally so the supporting performances were littered with genuine class from beginning to end. Carey Mulligan as the love interest, who shared some lovely shoegrazey 80s influenced moments with Gosling. Bryan Cranston, now living it up as one of Hollywood's best since wowing audiences with the TV smash, Breaking Bad, was astute as the confidant/partner to Gosling's operations. Ron Pearlman as some deranged L.A. gangster. The true stand out performance however was the excellent Albert Brooks as Pearlman's partner who surely deserves a decent shot at the Best Supporting Actor category in next year's Oscars.

Nicolas Winding Refn direction was certainly worthy of his Cannes hype, making a film which puts even some of Tarantino's best to shame with the manner it's told and the violence factor - none more so than in Christina Hendricks' less than subtle demise. The comparisons to classic movies such as Bullitt shine through, but despite the glamorous cast, I enjoyed the stripped down indie feel, which of course carries over from Refn's background and a 'feel' I hope he can bring to the bigger projects likely to follow off this success.

Special praise must be made for the wonderful 80s esque soundtrack which also combined brilliantly with the tense, atmospheric, soundtrack by Cliff Martinez, which had faint echoes to Hans Zimmer's work with Christopher Nolan in parts. If I had one tiny complaint to the whole feature however it would be the sparse distribution and volume of the frantic car chases I had imagined, but the whole story, and sheer mental action sequences made up for it.

Final Thoughts
Ryan Gosling shines in a relentless leading role which was supported by true acting heavyweights such as Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks and Ron Pearlman. Nicolas Winding Refn has created a retro action film full of intensity, ultra violence and, heaven forbid, a brilliant plot. Easily one of the best films this year.


Drive is in cinemas everywhere now.

Thursday, 22 September 2011


As I mentioned when I reviewed The Fighter back in February, it still surprises me how the underdog/redemption/fighting formula made so famous by the likes of Rocky, Raging Bull and The Champ oh so long ago still manages to be the stuff of box office quality. Maybe it's because in sport we sometimes naturally want the underdog to win, maybe they appeal to the human side of us all in some quest for redemption and triumph, or maybe...just maybe we simply like to see two brilliant actors kick the stuffing out of each other. The latest in this very long list comes Warrior starring two of Hollywood's brightest acting talents, Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton.

Playing brothers separated during their teenage years, the film tells the dual narrative of how Hardy's Tommy and Edgerton's Brendan reunite in the confines of a MMA ring. Tommy the estranged, enigmatic and emotionally suppressed ex-Marine and Brendan the struggling, down to earth, high school teacher trying to support his family and keep their house by whatever means necessary.

I'll be honest beside changing the bloodsport from boxing to MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) it isn't at all original, especially as you only need to look to the Oscar winning triumph of The Fighter literally months earlier to see insanely striking similarities - hell watch the trailer and the film is essentially told from beginning to end there. Where Warrior manages to succeed however is in the brilliant performances from both its leading men.

I know a lot has been made about Tom Hardy's training regime in the build up to this film, with faint conjuring's of Robert De Niro's turn in Raging Bull mentioned from time to time. His stature though is probably no less impressive than when he blew audiences away with his portrayal of Charles Bronson back in 2009. Though Tommy lacked a true heart the audience could get behind, Hardy brought real soul to the role. A very flawed and in some ways a very tragic human being who shared very tender and emotional scenes with his father played by an astute Nick Nolte - who has a scene stealing moment with Hardy involving a bottle of whiskey and an audiobook of Moby Dick.

Whereas Hardy was this emotionally suppressed Goliath who destroyed any fighter in his path, Joel Edgerton however was the underdog, full of grit and heart, everyone could get behind. He struggled to beat his opponents, he fought with every last breath he had left, and in these moments every emotional string was pulled to the desired effect. Unlike in 2010's Brothers starring Toby Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal where I felt the two actors could've had more screen time together, in Warrior the build up and anticipation to the first meeting between the stars was smartly done and really heightened the intensity during their final encounter.

Director, Gavin O'Connor should also take credit for the way he presented the story without turning either characters into true protagonists or antagonists. He delivered on balancing the backgrounds of both brothers, their relationships with the people in their lives and the strained relationships they have with both their father and themselves. I'd even say it had more pace and cinematic panache than David O Russell's The Fighter, albeit with less of a HBO edge to it.

Final Thoughts
Warrior goes pound for pound with such greats that inspired it such as Rocky, Raging Bull, The Fighter and The Champ and nearly comes out on top. Boxing analogies aside, it's simply an entertaining film, full of likeable performances which by the time the curtain falls will have you at odds over who you really wanted to win. Even if it doesn't live long in the memory as a cinematic classic, it should serve a reminder that Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are quickly becoming two of Hollywood's most versatile and creditable leading men. One for the lads.


Warrior is in cinemas everywhere now.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy.

It's rare to see a cinematic adaptation of a modern literary classic, which has already been adapted to near perfection by the BBC in the late 1970s, be met with such universal anticipation. Though I suppose when you've assembled possibly the most impressive British cast of a generation, being directed a man who made one of the best films of the last 10 years, if you're not like myself and bursting with excitement, then you at least take a bit of notice.

Yes, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, the man who blew audiences away with his beautiful telling of Let The Right One In in 2009, has been handed the near impossible task of bringing John Le Carre's epic spy thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy to the big screen. It tells the tale of retired secret service agent, George Smiley (Gary Oldman) as he's ordered to find out which of his former colleagues is the mole leaking British intelligence to the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

From the bleakly detached narrative to the painstakingly authentic Cold War aesthetics of England during the 1970s, Alfredson has managed to create a magnificent and separate entity which can stand apart proudly from the book and the TV series. In essence the premise of the story is left unchanged from Le Carre's brilliant novel but it was heartening to see the way he presented the film not just be a drastically cut down version of the Beeb's telling of it.

That's not to say it's dumbed down to moviegoers. Far from it. The intricacies are all there from Smiley's quest to find the mole and his underlying troubles in his marriage to the brilliant overlaps with Ricky Tarr's (Tom Hardy) exploits in Europe and exploring the past which still haunts Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) which all ties nicely together with a series of flashbacks which flesh out the rest of the characters so wonderfully.

It's hard to follow up a presence such as the great Alec Guinness - just ask Ewan McGregor when taking the mantle of Obi Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels - but Gary Oldman takes George Smiley and makes the role his own. Unlike his predecessor, Oldman's Smiley is a much colder, crueller, soul and possibly the best and most understated performance of Oldman's career to date. His dialogue is minimum as he tells Smiley's tortured back story through the emotive suggestions of his eyes. One of his shining contributions comes while telling the story of his only encounter with the antagonist of piece, Karla. Told in a much more abstract and reflective way than the untouchable TV series presented it.

I could be here all day saying all the superlative buzzwords under the sun to explain my love the supporting cast, but I'll try and keep it brief. Tom Hardy's crazed Ricki Tarr, Benedict Cumberbatch's loyal Peter Guillam, Colin Firth's sleazy, womanising, turn as Bill Haden, Kathy Burke's blunt and outrageous Connie Sachs, Mark Strong's workmanship as Jim Prideaux, Toby Jones' stressful tendencies as Percy Alleline and John Hurt's darkly humorous and ultimately wise contribution as Smiley's boss, Control. All of them, excellent. It was probably only a Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman and Bill Nighy away from achieving perfection.

Tomas Alfredson should take much plaudits for his attention to detail and the atmosphere created in the film. The silent corridors, the cluttered rooms, the dull English landscapes and the eerily dim light. It's almost as if he wanted to give the story a subtle horror element - not too dissimilar from his adaptation of Let The Right One In in its overall tone. Yes his pacing of the story might come under question from more devoted fans of the source material, but as a film it's a mesmerising experience, especially when submerged in Alberto Iglesias' morose score.

Final Thoughts
Films like this don't come along very often. Rarely do we see one which showcases the talents of some of the best actors of a generation so eloquently. Gary Oldman was marvellous as the iconic George Smiley. Tomas Alfredson's reputation will surely continue to grow and bigger things now undoubtedly beckon. He's created a cold, dark, tense period drama with such painstakingly authentic detail. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: Go, see, right, now.

Favourite film of the year. So far.


Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is in cinemas everywhere from Friday.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Jane Eyre

Having forfeited to pursue English Literature at GCSE and A-Level suffice to say it's not until recently I've had any desired to read Charlotte Bronte's Gothic, masterpiece, Jane Eyre. Even at that getting it for free on my Kindle e-reader is perhaps the only thing that's even really made me peaked my interest. Now that doesn't really matter - says the ignorant film critic - because here's a brand new film adaptation from the director 2009's excellent, Sin Nombre, Cary Fukunaga. Now isn't that handy...

If you've read the book or seen the countless adaptations over the years, you'll already know the story. For those who don't it tells of the trails and tribulations of Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikoska) from her miserable upbringing with her wicked aunt who banished her to a horrible boarding school all the way to her time in the employment of one Mr Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender).

Inevitably, as is the case with most of these costumed affairs, Rochester and Eyre strike up a curious connection and so unravels one of the greatest love stories ever committed to paper. However the real beauty, like in any great story, lies in the secrets which are buried beneath, which I shan't spoil for those philistines such as myself who failed to read the book before entry to the cinema.

I was perhaps less than unkind to Mia Wasikoska when reviewing her Alice in Wonderland last year - describing her as having as much charisma as my left foot, if memory serves me right - but have since realised her talent after becoming enthralled in the brilliant HBO series, In Treatment. Starring as the title character she added a real level of depth to her performance, strong, witty and passionate while at the same time quite a tragic, suppressed and disturbed soul.

Likewise Michael Fassbender brought his signature intensity, which has won him plaudits in so many films over the last five years, to the role of Mr Rochester. Though maybe not matching Colin Firth's Mr Darcy in the BBC's institutional adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, still I can only imagine he will leave thousands of ladies across the world swooning in delight once the credits roll. The supporting turns were also as classy and elegant as their leads, with brilliant performances from Judi Dench, Jamie Bell and the particularly and the, albeit too brief, appearance of the slimy Simon McBurney.

I can't speak for the tone of the book, but the atmosphere created in the film was completely sublime to experience on the big screen. Fukunaga treats the audience to these striking, bleak, majestic landscapes and towering gothic structures. What sets it apart from these drab costume dramas I've been subjected to over the years - mostly against my own will - was this rather peculiar sense you were watching a period horror film with some distant ghostly sounds and stylish camera work. Dario Marianelli's score is seamlessly embedded into the feature just as his work on similar films such as Atonement and Pride and Prejudice did in the past.

Final Thoughts
How it holds up to past adaptations or its source material isn't for me to say, however I can tell you the Jane Eyre of 2011 is a dark, intense, brooding piece of Gothic romance which strikes a captivating balance between a costumed drama and some atmospheric, humanistic, horror tale so brilliantly. Even if you aren't a fan of this genre of film, I encourage you to give it a chance. You may be shockingly surprised.


Jane Eyre is in cinemas across the UK from September 9th, 2011.