Saturday, 28 January 2012


Roman Polanski's adaptation of the hit French play God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza is one of the most unassuming treats of the award season for me. Starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C Reilly and (blog favourite) Christoph Waltz the film is almost an exercise in what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, when two pairs of parents come together to sort out a little spat between the couples' children.

Set essentially on the single set of a New York apartment (shot originally in Paris due to Mr Polanski's ongoing legal predicament with the U.S.A), the film starts off slowly with the tension simmering over and the adults behaving reasonably responsible. With a few passive jibes here and a few obnoxious actions there and one of the most surprising moments of projectile vomiting seen in a film for as long as I can remember, it just explodes into this hilarious piece of train-wreck cinema. At the centre of the chaos comes four fine performances from the aforementioned leads.

With very little separating the four vile personalities on show, Jodie Foster perhaps just nips ahead the rest with a performance kind of reminiscent of a psychotic auntie on Boxing Day. You know the type; culturally pretentious, self righteous, emotionally suppressed, closet alcoholic. It was slightly reminiscent of Lesley Manville in Mike Leigh's similarly poised feature, Another Year. You'll watch it and keep thinking the entire time of that one person you know who is exactly like that, or if you're better than most (or at least me) you'll realise by the film's closing moments you are that person. I've never really thought of Foster as an acting talent who could make me genuinely laugh, but to her credit she excels herself here.

Similarly so was Kate Winslet in her first notable modern role for as long as I can remember - not that I actually watch many films featuring Winslet these days, more my problem than hers I assure you - as Christoph Waltz's tightly strung, fashion concious wife. As the whiskey is consumed and the madness descends, so does Winslet into a loud, often offensive, grotesque bully of a woman. The best part being; it's such fun to watch.

John C Reilly and Christoph Waltz were on fine form in their usual archetypal roles. As Foster's husband Reilly channels this calm, passive persona, which saw him give a creditable straight performance in 2011's outstanding We Need To Talk About Kevin, one moment then turning into this loud mouth, uncouth, red neck asshole the next. While Waltz was his usual slimy self as Winslet's morally grey, neglectful, husband. The way he occasionally listens in on the discussion then obnoxiously answers his cell phone loud and proud every five minutes, is the kind of idiosyncratic quirks absent of latter day Woody Allen films.

For people who want more of a 'film' from their stage adaptations than simply a story dominated by dialogue and confined to a singular set then you'll probably not be that moved by Carnage's narrative. Having not seen the stage show itself, I've been told prior to seeing the film the ending of Polanski's version has been altered to the original. How I'm not really sure, but I'd be intrigued to find out someday.

Final Thoughts
Roman Polanski's intimidate comedy hits a lot of pitch perfect notes with four fabulous performances from Foster, Winslet, Reilly and Waltz. It might not be the most cutting edge piece of cinema you'll see this year or the next, and the ending isn't much of an ending but more a sobering retrospective, but this relentless car crash of opposing forces is certainly worth your time. Complete and utter carnage.


Carnage is in selected cinemas from February 3rd 2012. Belfast audiences can see it from Queen's Film Theatre then also.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey

There has been two constants in my life ever since childhood and both whose influence I owe a lot to as a writer. One being the works of Walt Disney and the other being the works of Jim Henson. In this review we'll be concentrating on the latter as the title of this documentary suggests. More often than not documentaries are used as a way of delivering hit hitting messages (Project Nemo) or as a way to raise awareness of essential global issues (An Inconvenient Truth). Rarely, in recent times, has the documentary genre been used in the powerfully positive manner seen in Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey.

Narrated by one Whoopi Goldberg, the documentary follows puppeteer Kevin Clash, the man most famous for voicing the iconic children's phenomenon Elmo in the wonderful Jim Henson creation, Sesame Street. It charts his tentative beginnings of creating his own puppets from an early age, to getting spots performing on local television stations to eventually meeting the great Kermit Love and Jim Henson which set him on his way to global stardom.

Kevin Clash himself comes across as a truly likeable and sincere person. A man who devoted his life to his passion and through a combination of hard work and pure luck eventually paid off in the highest of rewards. Even in his early years, towards the end of his senior year of high school he was the one tipped to be a millionaire in the school's yearbook. Though his years working on local television and Captain Kangaroo were compelling, the documentary really hits its heights from the moment he meets legendary Henson collaborator, Kermit Love.

Clash's relationship with Love is almost like seeing a granddad take his grandson into his shed and show him the wild inventions he creates in his spare time. The chance encounter Clash gets by simply his mum phoning Love up and asking if his son can drop by and see the workshop is so baffling it makes one think, 'it can't be that simple? Can it?" Actually to be fair it probably can. From here we get to see Clash perform puppeteer duties on The Muppet Movie, to turning down duties in Henson's first non Muppet film The Dark Crystal to eventually getting another chance in the brilliant and equally terrifying film starring David Bowie, Labyrinth.

The interesting thing about Clash taking on the role of Elmo was that he wasn't the original puppeteer for the puppet. The characterisation of Elmo pre Clash was a husky Neanderthal-like creature which veterans of Jim Henson's workshop such as Richard Hunt and Carroll Spinney were on the verge of throwing in the bin. In a bid to do something a bit different and really make his mark on Seseme Street after a few lukewarm additions to the cast, Clash took Elmo away and one a heartfelt journey of self discovery he turned Elmo into an entirely different entity altogether and the one we're all familiar with today.

He seemed to do something that no one had thought to do on Sesame Street previously, but give the cast a character who has the same wide eyed innocence of a child. He gave it a soul. Someone who children could communicate with the other characters through. A character who any child would want as a best friend. It's only watching this you realise what sort of cultural impact that did on mine and the next couple of generations of children. From Sesame Street came the iconic Tickle Me Elmo teddy bear, the countless appearances on mainstream talk shows, the endless A-List celebrities doing scenes with Elmo on Sesame Street. You only need to go on youtube to see how this is felt even in 2012.

The impact of Elmo particularly felt in one potently emotional moment where Cash gets a request from a sick little girl to meet Clash and his puppet through the wonderful Make A Wish Foundation. Most children won't care who George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, Leonardo Dicaprio, Clint Eastwood or Brad Pitt is. However you stick Elmo or the vast array of Jim Henson's creations in a room, and it'll blow their minds. Clash is a superstar, yet if he walked past you on a street in the cold light of day you (much like myself) probably wouldn't give it a second thought.

Final Thoughts
Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey is a heartfelt and inspirational documentary. A salute to the creative types who dare to be different, dare to be ambitious, dare to dream big regardless of how silly their goals may seem. Though Clash and Elmo take top billing the film also serves as a beautiful tribute to the lasting legacy of Jim Henson himself. You'll laugh, you'll possibly even cry but you'd have to have a heart of stone not to keep smiling through this wonderfully charming documentary from beginning to end.


Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey isn't set for release in the UK at this moment in time.

The Artist

Considering every man and their dog had already seen this film before this review goes online, I kind of wondered if there was any point in me even doing this one at all. Though since I'm here and bored I might as well give my two cents. The Artist has already wooed many at last year's Cannes Film Festival, swept the Golden Globes and set to go toe to toe with Scorsese's Hugo for Oscar glory next month. For all the non cinephilies out there, you would be quite right to ask if a black and white silent film is worth the hype, or indeed your time?

Starring little known French actor Jean Dujardin The Artist tells the tale of Hollywood star George Valentin as he struggles to cope with the film industry's progression from the silent movie era into the 'talkies'. Parallel to Valentin's career slowly descending into obscurity is the rise of one Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) as the new darling of Hollywood to usher in the 'talkie' era. Their fates are tied together from the very beginning as George inadvertently sets her career in motion from a couple of impromptu meetings which sparks a classically sweet love story between the two, befitting of the silver age of cinema.

Charlie Chaplin and the odd George Melies film aside, silent films aren't something I'm overly familiar with. I can see the use of them in a slapstick, comedic, context for no more than 15 minutes at a time but I've never once considered how viable it would be in telling a moving love story which contains a hint of serious drama for the guts of 95 minutes, but to its credit The Artist pulls this off beautifully.

Jean Dujardin gives a fantastic performance as the overconfident, self assured, George Valentin. If you didn't know it was made in 2011 you could conceivably believe he was plucked straight from the era itself. Where he really shines is in watching his inevitable downward spiral deeper and deeper into the depths of desperation. From losing his huge mansion, his wife leaving him and eventually having to sell off all his assets. Makes you wonder how many silent movie stars suffered the same kind of backlash from the evolution of cinema into the 'talkie' era.

The sweet innocence of Berenice Bejo shined magically on screen. She was endlessly graceful, thoroughly likeable from her first introductions outside a cinema then onto seeing her meteoric rise through the ranks of Hollywood. Her feelings towards Valentin were some of the film's sweetest moments. Never once considering him to be a loser or washed up in his post silent film days, but instead a man she's eternally grateful towards for setting her on her way.

The supporting performances were littered with studious turns from the likes of John Goodman, James Cromwell and Missi Pyle. While the one getting the most plaudits and praise is quite rightly a little dog called Jack (his off-screen name is Uggie apparently) as George's 'best friend' and devoted companion. The laugh about the dog is that The Artist isn't even his first film, having already notched up appearances alongside Robert Pattinson and Resse Witherspoon in Water For Elephants and David Boreanaz in Mr Fix It.

Director Michel Hazanavicius recreation of 1920s Hollywood was inch perfect. The crisp black and white picture and the genuine glitz and glamour of a time when actors of Hollywood truly were stars. Obviously - being a silent film lest we forget - much of the plaudits (unless you're Vertigo star Kim Novak seemingly) should also go to Ludovic Bource for his stellar score.

Final Thoughts
Don't let all the award fuss deter you, The Artist is a beautiful piece of niche cinema for all to enjoy. Berenice Bejo and Jean Dujardin star in of the sweetest love stories seen on the big screen for some time, combining moments of sincere joy, old fashioned Hollywood suspense and one of the most endearing supporting performances from a dog ever seen. Everyone loves to be reminded now and again of way we fell in love with cinema, and The Artist does this in abundance. It's black and white, but undoubtedly set to be covered in gold (statues) next month at the Oscars.


The Artist is in selected cinemas everywhere now.

Thursday, 19 January 2012


Since the creation of this blog - now into its third year active - I've always had a somewhat love/hate relationship with the works of Steven Soderbergh, from the reasonably stylish yet superficial The Girlfriend Experience to the extremely dull and detestable The Informant. For the most part his films of recent times have just seemed to lack the sheer fun shown in his much loved Ocean's 11 remake back in 2001. That is until Haywire came crashing out of nowhere...

Starring former MMA fighter Gina Carano, Haywire tells the story of freelance covert operative Mallory Kane as she seeks to find out why her own company double crossed her and left her for dead, after an operation in Barcelona. Her journey takes her to Dublin, up-state New York and all the way to New Mexico. Yeah I know what you're thinking, and please don't roll your eyes just yet and think, 'so far so Bourne Identity'.

Where Haywire sort of sets itself apart from being yet another Bourne knock off or lumped in with all the daft one woman wrecking machine movies usually starring Angelina Jolie is in the superior and refreshing atmosphere Soderbergh immerses the film in. Gone are the tense Han Zimmer-esque thundering scores seen in movies like The Dark Knight or Inception and in their place these jazzy electronic pieces from Belfast's own David Holmes which gives the film an almost neo-noir vibe which both works and makes the film a thoroughly enjoyable experience - not too dissimilar from spy thrillers of the 60s/70s like The Ipcress Files.

Combine that with a genuinely likeable performance from a leading lady whom you could genuinely believe could kick your ass, with little effort, in Gina Carano. There's echoes of Noomi Repace's rendition of Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in her character, except with a bit more charm and much less emotional baggage. With no real notable acting experience to speak of before Haywire, she impressed with how natural she presented herself when standing next to actors with more prestigious pedigrees, especially in the scenes she shared with Michael Fassbender and Michael Douglas.

All the while Sorderbergh assembled a fantastic, A-List, ensemble of supporting male actors for Carano to play off. There's Ewan McGregor as her slimy boss/ex-boyfriend. Channing Tatum in probably in most mature role to date as Carano's colleague in the job which kicks the whole thing off. Michael Fassbender giving his best James Bond impersonation since probably X-Men: First Class. Just to complete this tidy things there's effortless performances from Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas as shady government officials as well as the underrated Bill Paxton as the woman's father.

There are aspects of the story which could've been expanded upon, but generally Lem Dobbs' screenplay is mysterious enough to keep you intrigued from beginning to end, while the general length of the film's running time of just over 90 minutes is just tidy enough not make you go looking for your watch. Despite its modest budget in comparison to its contemporaries Soderbergh shoots the film in a way that even makes Dublin look like an exotic location ripe for espionage, and this from a man who lives 100 or so miles up the road from it.

Final Thoughts
Gina Corano, the girl with no noticeable tattoos, goes toe-to-toe with some of Hollywood's finest male actors and floors all of them with a few swift blows. Haywire is an extremely enjoyable neo-noir spy thriller with a tidy low-key story and some of the most stylish action sequences I've seen in some time. A genuine surprise during a season where the cinema is crowded with films pushing for award-winning gold. Worth seeing and buying the soundtrack.


Haywire is in cinemas everywhere from January 20th 2012.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

War Horse

Let's start this review off with some blunt truths. I don't like horses and I'm not too fond of war either. So it's fair to say sitting down to watch a film called War Horse - based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo and a highly successful stage play of the same name - isn't exactly my idea of a riveting night out at the local picture house. But then again, read the fine print which says, 'A Steven Spielberg Film' and perhaps it's at least worth a go.

The film tells the tale of an enduring friendship between a boy named Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and his horse Joey he raises from its birth to the day his father (Peter Mullan) sells him to the British Army on the eve of the First World War. Separated and understandably expected to be the last Joey will ever see young Albert again, the film takes a massive shift into the war in Europe where Joey drifts through the ravage war torn lands of France and is picked up by an array of owners played by some of the best actors working today. It's pure cheese, but it's the type of cheese which appeals to the masses so much I'd say you'll have a heart made of stone if
you don't shed at least one tear by the time the film's closing credits roll.

The biggest dilemma in the praise of War Horse however is where to start with the cast, which - with the exception of Benedict Cumberbatch - features probably the best British acting talent not to appear in last year's phenomenal Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Jeremy Irvine was heartfelt and sincere in the leading role, Peter Mullan was terrific was his flawed, alcoholic, father, David Thewlis was typically dastardly as their smug landlord and Emily Watson is just simply lovely as Irvine's mother.

Then once delving into the war torn sections of the film the audience is then treated to the quality of Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Marsen, Toby Kebbell (huge fan) and Liam Cunningham amongst many others. Then just to top it off Spielberg throws in one of my favourite French actors in the form of the truly brilliant Niels Arestrup as the French farmer who takes the horse in for his granddaughter played by the virtually unknown Celine Buckens.

On top of the terrific performances, Spielberg has given the audience a film which the whole family can enjoy. Even with its hefty two and a half hour running time, it never once feels like a chore, even after its slightly slow start and this critic purposely resisting the thought of enjoying it. The aesthetics almost retain a nostalgic quality to them, obviously in its period setting but also in its traditional British production values.

Maybe it was the sincerely moving John Williams' score but it took me back to those films of the early 90s I watched with my parents and grandmother in the Curzon Cinema in Belfast. Films like War of the Buttons, The Secret Garden and (unsurprisingly I suppose) Black Beauty. Films which you may not necessarily 'get' as a child, but as you grow will look back on fondly because of the heart-warming stigma attached to them. War Horse does this in abundance. And though it isn't quite pushing the boundaries like last weekend's Shame, like The King's Speech before it if this triumphs at the Oscars next month I won't begrudge it one single bit.

Final Thoughts
It's cheesy, it's almost ready made for the Oscars but even with my lack of love for horses and war I enjoyed nearly every single minute of it. Steven Spielberg gives the world another wholesome, hopeful, traditional piece of cinema which only he can do best. This is proper family cinema you can marvel at on a giant screen, then curl up on the sofa and happily enjoy with your gran on a lazy Sunday afternoon with fondness and glee. Wonderful. Truly. Good horse...


War Horse is in cinemas everywhere January 13th, 2012.

Sunday, 8 January 2012


If Steve McQueen's follow-up to his 2008 controversial breakout hit, Hunger was nothing more than the first 10 minutes of Shame, it'd probably be considered a masterpiece in the context of short films. The way it chops and changes from Michael Fassbender's tragically perverted home life of masturbation and sleeping with prostitutes to him sitting there on a subway gazing at this beautiful, almost unattainable, woman set to this heartbreakingly tragic score by Harry Escott.

It's atmospheric, it's moody, it's ambiguous while still being genuinely interesting all the while it's beautifully told through the tired eyes of Fassbender himself. A truly mesmerising introduction to a film which...unfortunately just doesn't quite hit the mark for the rest of its duration.

Shame tells the tale of the elusive New York marketing exec Brandon (Michael Fassbender) who suffers from an almost suffocating addiction to sex in all its forms, from porn and escorts to one night stands and random masturbation sessions in the office toilets. Not really the stuff of 'first dates is it? It's okay, you can all relax, it's all apparently called 'art' these days, and not unadulterated filth.

Fassbender himself was unsurprisingly terrific, as this really fractured soul who can be this charming, polite, reserved person one moment to this fairly intense, frustrated, sexual predator the next. To a degree his manner wasn't a million miles removed from how Mad Men's Don Draper probably would've turned out in a modern day setting. I think the main problem however with him and the general film is it becomes too ambiguous for its own good, which will turn off some of the audience. Me personally, I quite enjoyed it even if it was a shameless example of style over substance, especially in it's frankly bonkers crescendo towards the end of the film.

Starring opposite Fassbender was the truly brilliant Carey Mulligan as Brandon's selfish, childish, sister Sissy. From the opening moments of them meeting e on screen, you can hazard a guess there's something more to their relationship that's never fully resolved or even really explained. To Mulligan's credit I think this is without doubt her most mature role to date (much more involved than she was in last year's outstanding Drive), and probably deserves the plaudits for her performance as much as Fassebender. I still question the necessity of her (non spoiler) stand out moment slowly singing New York, New York in an uptown bar, but hey it was still beautifully performed, so much so in fact I'm listening to it on my iTunes as I type.

I do believe Steve McQueen did achieve exactly what he perhaps set out to do with Shame. Which was to kill the very idea of sex being at all romantic in cinema. Not sure whether that's cynical of me or perhaps delusional to think otherwise but I fail to see how watching such a film could leave anyone feeling anything other than sorrowful and feeling utterly joyless. That said it's still gorgeous on the eye at times, and will leave your heart racing with its truly relentless final scenes. A strong drink could be recommended after...

Final Thoughts
I want to tell you this is 'the most hard-hitting, controversial, bravest' film you'll see in the cinema in years and you must see it right now. However, being left so bothered by the film's hammy, overacted conclusion and with how vile the characters were I kept thinking to myself, why on earth would one recommend to anyone to see this? Perhaps it's because I've got strong moral values I just can't, or perhaps deep down for the 21st century male it hits closer to home than one would ever care to admit. If the film is one thing it's certainly sobering and maybe there lies the true shame in it all...


Shame is in selected cinemas throughout the UK from January 13th, 2011.