Sunday, 26 February 2012

THEfilmBLOG presents... Oscars Preview 2012


It's that time of the year again, the statues are polished, the envelopes licked, the suits and gowns shipped out for one more run. That's right kids, the Academy Awards are here once again for its 84th year, equipped with extra Billy Crystal to make up for a distinct lack of Sacha Baron Cohen. Will The Artist clean up? Will Scorsese's magical, family, odyssey Hugo triumph? Will The Tree of Life annoy the masses and clinch the Best Picture prize? Can Clooney or Oldman finally get their much deserved Best Actor statues which are long overdue? Is there any point of the ladies turning up for Best Actress when Meryl Streep is in the running? All this and more in my yearly Oscar preview...

Here's my breakdown of the 'big six'...

BEST PICTURE

The Artist
The Tree of Life
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Descendants
War Horse
Midnight in Paris
Moneyball
Hugo
The Help

It's an interesting, if not a terribly inspired Best Picture list for the Oscars this year. Some glaring omissions in the form of Drive, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and We Need To Talk About Kevin makes you wonder if the Academy had bothered their arse to see every film submitted, as much as I have to not see Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - read the book, hated the book, moving on. If the Golden Globes and BAFTAs are any indication in these affairs - they usually are - there's no reason why The Artist can't make it a hat-trick of award successes. Predictable? Yes. Deserved? Very much so.

Perhaps just behind with an outsiders chance would be the beautiful Scorsese fantasy, Hugo and to a lesser extent Woody Allen's triumphant return to form with Midnight in Paris. Though I'd love to see the internet scorn if The Tree of Life manages to miraculously get the coveted prize. War Horse was maybe too guilty of playing out like an exercise of 'Oscars by Numbers' to get it this year, despite it being a thoroughly entertaining film. Same would apply to The Help too in my opinion.

That said, I'm pleasantly surprised to see Moneyball get there, as I don't honestly believe it deserves the flaming it got when it was originally nominated. One final thought though, I know there's not a 10 picture minimum on this category, but one wonders why they didn't throw a tenth film on the list just to make it an even number? Perhaps it says more about me that I'm more bothered by that seemingly anyone else...

Pick :: The Artist
Worth a punt :: Hugo

BEST DIRECTOR

Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
Martin Scorsese - Hugo
Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne - The Descendants

The most surprising inclusion on this list was yet again Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life, that said despite being, in a narrative context, an incoherent mess in parts I can see why he was included. Directors should be celebrated for showing off ambition and creativity like that, something which provokes such extreme reactions. They're the films which last a lifetime. Glaring omissions would be Tomas Alfredson for his incredible work on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Lynne Ramsay's exclusion for the haunting We Need To Talk About Kevin which perhaps isn't helping the stereotype that the Best Director category of the Oscars - The Hurt Locker not counting - is still very much an all boys club.

Woody Allen is probably due a lifetime achievement award (which he won't turn up for) soon and realistically has made better films than Midnight in Paris, so once again this is going to be between Scorsese - who won the Globe in January - and Hazanavicius - who nabbed the BAFTA. Since it was Scorsese's turn a few years ago for The Departed, and since Hollywood loves a film about...er...Hollywood, I think Hazanavicius will deservedly take the spoils for this one too.

Pick :: Hazanavicius
Worth a punt :: Scorsese

BEST ACTOR

Demian Bichir - A Better Life
George Clooney - The Descendants
Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Jean Dujardin - The Artist
Brad Pitt - Moneyball

Bet Ryan Gosling figured at one stage he couldn't lose with this, until the nominations were released. I said back in September, when I reviewed Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Gary Oldman was very much the man I would back for Best Actor at any award ceremony he was nominated for in the fantastic turn as the iconic spy George Smiley, frankly little has made me change this opinion. If The Artist was released any other year you would probably feel, having missed out on it for Up in the Air, this was Clooney's year.

Not quite sure why Brad Pitt is in there for Moneyball, not because he was terrible, far from it, just it was hardly as earth shattering as the rest of the nominees or even in terms of other performances by Pitt. If he wasn't winning it for Benjamin Button (which I was never a huge fan of to begin with anyway), he's not winning it for Moneyball. I'm more than happy to see the status quo remain with a Dujardin win here, a new star in Hollywood has indeed arrived. Or a new European villain for every upcoming action film, time will tell on that one...

Pick :: Dujardin
Worth a punt :: Oldman

BEST ACTRESS

Glenn Close - Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis - The Help
Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady
Rooney Mara - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Michelle Williams - My Week With Marilyn

It's hard to see past Meryl Streep for any category she finds herself in these days. However I'll humour you for one moment... somewhere Noomi Repace is wondering what Rooney Mara did that she didn't to deserve a nod for TGWTDT. Oh yeah that's right, she spoke in English. As countless films show, the Oscars love a good biopic so in another year Michelle Williams is probably a good bet for her turn as the rather sweet and tragic Marilyn Monroe. If the Academy had a sense of humour they may have put Glenn Close in the Best Actor category, for the sheer banter of it all.

Would yet again like to voice outrage for the absence of Tilda Swinton for We Need To Talk About Kevin and Olivia Colman for her stand out role in Tyrannosaur. Also I'm surprised Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet didn't get nods for their hilarious performances in Carnage and Charlize Theron for the fantastic Young Adult.

Pick :: Streep
Worth a punt :: Viola Davis

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Kenneth Branagh - My Week With Marilyn
Jonah Hill - Moneyball
Nick Nolte - Warrior
Christopher Plummer - Beginners
Max von Sydow - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Cynically one feels because Plummer and von Sydow, stalwarts though they are, are playing colourful old men they'll probably nip ahead with this one. I was genuinely happy to see Nolte in this category for Warrior as his turn as the recovering alcoholic father of the main protagonists was extremely heartfelt. Jonah Hill got a lot of needless flak when he was named in this category back in January, I would like to know how many of the people who were outraged by that had actually seen Moneyball. As a Northern Irishman it's always good to see Kenneth in there and could be a decent bet for his turn as the godly Laurence Olivier.

Pick :: Plummer
Worth a punt :: Branagh

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Berenice Bejo - The Artist
Jessica Chastian - The Help
Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer - The Help

Really the odds are with The Help in this category. Octavia Spencer has taken, as far as I'm aware, the Globe and the BAFTA for her appearance in The Help. Personally speaking I'd absolutely love to see Bejo take it for The Artist. The film's timeless charm is just as much to do with her delightfully graceful contribution as it is Dujardin's. Melissa McCarthy would be a brilliant choice for her outrageous and shameless turn in Bridesmaids plus it would be nice to see the Academy show their appreciation towards the comedy genre for a change...

Pick :: Bejo
Worth a punt :: Spencer

And here's my picks for the rest...

Best Original Screenplay :: The Artist
Best Adapted Screenplay :: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Best Animated Feature :: Rango
Best Foreign Language :: A Separation (only because The Skin I Live in was amazingly left out)
Best Documentary :: Hell and Back Again (where was Being Elmo?!)
Best Documentary Short :: The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom
Best Live Action Short :: The Shore (because it's set in my beautiful home country)
Best Animated Short :: La Luna (because Pixar dropped the ball with Cars 2...)
Best Original Score :: The Artist
Best Original Song :: Man or Muppet from The Muppets (shame they won't be performing it live)
Best Sound Editing :: Drive (because it shockingly was omitted from the big categories)
Best Sound Mixing :: Hugo
Best Art Direction :: Hugo (it looked beautiful...)
Best Cinematography :: The Tree of Life (because you can at least give it that...)
Best Makeup :: Albert Nobbs (it's Glenn Close...as a bloke!...)
Best Costume Design :: The Artist, but Jane Erye is good because this category loves a period costume drama...
Best Film Editing :: The Artist
Best Visual Effects :: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, because it's use of SFX was infinitely more impressive than Harry Potter, Transformers and Reel Steel combined. Though I do love Hugo...

And that's that. If I decide to stay up - which I probably will - join me on twitter for endless wit as the night progresses as I declare my outrage for once again getting it so wrong in the technical categories and being sadly unsurprised by the results of the 'big six'.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Rampart


Ever get one of those days where you just want to phone in a film review? Just me? Okay, then...Woody Harrelson joins forces for the second time with the director of The Messenger, Oren Moverman, for a broody, psychological, expose on the inner workings of a L.A.P.D. police officer in the midst of the Rampart scandal during the late 1990s. The film's street cred is enhanced tenfold by the original screenplay from celebrated crime author and writer of the excellent L.A. Confidential, one Mr James Ellroy.

When writing any review, I always like to pop on IMDB and just remind myself of an actor's CV up to this point. Upon looking back on Woody Harrelson's career, I sometimes forget he's more than the sickeningly pleasant nice guy who made his name in Cheers before even my time. Actually, that's a silly thing to say because Cheers is merely a footnote in such a terrifyingly versatile actor's career. He's been intense and shocking in The Messenger and Natural Born Killers. He's been funny and silly in the likes of Kingpin and Zombieland as well as being a consistently genuine Hollywood presence in everything from Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line to The Coen Brothers' No Country For Old Men.

His portrayal of Dave 'Date Rape' Brown in Rampart is as good as any role he's ever taken on. Possibly even the best of them all. He's gritty and brutal, darkly comedic and bizarrely articulate, downright despicable and amoral and also a bit of a family man who unconditionally loves his daughters. It's the stuff awards are won on - yes, yes not that it matters I know. Which is why it's a bit of an injustice to Harrelson that the rest of the film never really lived up to him.

That's not to say Rampart is awful, far from it. It contains some slick cinematography, terrific dialogue and an A-List supporting cast containing Steve Buscemi, Sigourney Weaver, Ice Cube, Cynthia Nixon, Anne Heche, Ben Foster and the ever brilliant Ned Beatty. Its real shortcoming however was the meandering plot which didn't really go anywhere outside of Brown's inner demons and constant paranoia which continuously haunted him from the film's opening moments right through to its end, resulting in the makings of quite a forgettable film a few years down the line. Or perhaps a cult classic? Only time will tell on that...

At times it even, unintentionally, felt like it was some sick love child of Drive, Shame and (especially) Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, but never quite had the style of Drive, never as a mind bogglingly full frontal as Shame and not nearly as mental as Bad Lt.

Final Thoughts
Sadly in the end, Woody Harrelson's excellent leading performance just wasn't enough to lift Rampart into the same league as its like minded counterparts. The deeply disturbing, slightly tragic and immensely fascinating character study didn't detract from a film which continuously went round and round in circles, with little resolution, but not even much of a beginning either. Disappointing...

3/5

Rampart is in selected cinemas throughout the UK from Friday February 24th, 2012.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Justice League: Doom (DVD Review)


And so it's that time of the year again, the obligatory, bi-annual, straight-to-DVD review of the latest feature length cartoon from the DC Animated Universe. I've had a lot of pleasure from reviewing these during blog's existence such as the brilliant Batman: Under the Red Hood, All-Star Superman, the various Batman/Superman team ups and as recently as the adaptation of Frank Miller's iconic Batman: Year One. The latest in this solid series comes in the form of Justice League: Doom.

Based loosely on the fantastic graphic novel, JLA: Tower of Babel by Mark Waid, the feature tells the story of how a secret society of supervillains brings down the entire Justice League using the contingency plans drawn up by Batman himself, if any of the JLA decided to go rouge.

The voice cast sees the return of many actors from the excellent Justice League Unlimited cartoons of the late 90s/early 00s. Kevin Conroy (arguably the best 'actor' to ever portray the character) once again reprises his role as Batman, as does Tim Daly as Superman. Also returning as The Flash and Wonder Woman respectfully is Michael Rosenbaum and Susan Eisenberg, alongside Carl Lumbly as Martian Manhunter. The highlight however is the brilliant turn from Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern - still in this blogger's mind the man who should've played him in the live action film last year.

The animation was top notch, and looks fabulous in blu-ray form. However the story isn't quite as inspired as the source material it was originally based on. Whereas Tower of Babel delved into Batman's personal paranoia towards the rest of the JLA members and presented him with temptations which I won't spoil here, Justice League: Doom merely hinted at these bigger themes and instead opted for another tired 'megalomaniac threatens to blow up the world' scenario.

The choice and portrayal of the villains on hand weren't bad to be fair, the nice hints at past clashes were there, especially between Green Lantern and his first love Carol Ferris who later turned into Star Sapphire. Though cynically the whole affair does beg the question, did the folks at Warner Bros have this summer's The Dark Knight Rises in mind when they, oh so subtly, threw Bane into the mix as folly for Batman.

Final Thoughts
Fans of Justice League Unlimited will find plenty to enjoy seeing their favourite heroes portrayed by the voices they all remember from the original cartoons. Unfortunately there isn't really a big lot of room for accessibility elsewhere especially as the story doesn't quite live up to the Tower of Babel material it was originally based on. That being said it's enough to quench the thirst for some new superhero action until the frantic superhero fuelled summer blockbuster season. But only just.

3/5

Justice League: Doom is available on DVD/Blu-Ray from February 28th, 2012.

Friday, 10 February 2012

The Muppets

It's a powerful thing, a very powerful thing, to create fictional characters which are larger than life itself. Characters which transcend time and the performers behind the scenes who give them life. Very few people who grew up with love and affection towards Jim Henson's creations would say the Muppets - be it Sesame Street or the lot featured in this movie - aren't living, breathing, international celebrities. Kermit the Frog and his friends aren't just some guys holding puppets, and the fact people believe that shows how wonderful and sincerely funny these characters are. If that isn't a lasting legacy to the legend of Henson himself, what is?

Which begs the question, is all this misty eyed romance just some idle nostalgia trip on my part, or is The Muppets' return to the big screen a genuinely entertaining family film which cinema has been crying out for since...well The Muppet Treasure Island? Bit of both, but stay with me for one moment...

The film's premise is stupendously simple, lifelong Muppet fans Gary (Jason Segal), his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) and brother Walter (the newest Muppet creation) travel to L.A. to visit the now decrepit Muppet Theatre where they stumble across a dastardly plan where an oil tycoon (brilliant turn from Chris Cooper) plans to destroy a theatre to dig for...well...oil, obviously. This of course sparks the trio to reunite all our favourite Muppets; Kermit, Piggy, Fozzy, Animal, Gonzo etc to put on one last show and save their theatre.

The most marvellous thing about the film is Segal's script caters very much towards fans who have grew up with the original Muppet films and television show. Any Henson geek can pick out a tonne of Easter eggs and nods towards the past efforts, summed up wonderfully when Kermit points out how to reunite the whole gang, "Haven't you seen our first movie? We drive!" Of course this isn't a film just for overgrown children like myself, the Muppets' innocent, loveable, old-school humour still remains and something all of the family can enjoy with sincere glee.

Very much like their past films, the movie is yet again littered with a delightful array of cameos from Jack Black, Dave Grohl, Sarah Silverman, Alan Arkin, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez and actors featured in all the hit US comedy shows at the minute from the likes of How I Met Your Mother, Parks and Recreation, Community, Modern Family and one outstanding cameo from a certain member of the cast of The Big Bang Theory.

Then there's the blissfully catchy musical score, written by Flight of the Conchords' own Bret McKenzie. Even walking out of the cinema I was humming the song Life's a Happy Song performed by all the cast at some stage or another at various points of the film, then there's the now Oscar nominated Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet? performed by Segal and Walter, Kermit's moving solo number Pictures in my Head and the classic song from the original Muppet movie Rainbow Connection even features to emotional effect towards the film's climax. And yes, Mah Na Mah Na even gets a play.

Final Thoughts
It's time to start the music, it's time to light the lights, it's time to get things started for the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, muppetational feel good family film you'll see in the cinema this year. The Muppets is simply delightful from the beginning to end. You'll smile, laugh and even at times shed a few tears. The songs, the performers, the colourful sets are just perfect. If you don't agree then...Mah Na Mah Na.

4.5/5*

The Muppets is in cinemas everywhere now.

*My 4 year old self wanted to give it 10/5

Thursday, 9 February 2012

A Dangerous Method


I've always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with David Cronenberg's work. Love, for recognising his ambition and imagination for creating some of the most horrific mainstream films ever seen on the big screen. Hate for the fact he unintentionally scarred me for life with his remake of The Fly. Anyway, since breaking away from the realms of sci-fi/horror he's had a good run in recent years with hard hitting, gritty crime dramas in the form of the excellent A History of Violence and the equally so, Eastern Promises. His latest film A Dangerous Method reunites him for a third consecutive time with Viggo Mortensen and in its own way treads similar themes of past endeavours concerning the body and the mind.

The film tells the story of the turbulent relationship between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), while documenting the origins of one of the first female psychoanalysts - and once Jung's mistress - Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). I wish there was a little more to it than that, but sadly there really wasn't...

It's actually quite sad the film was so subdued because the performances and characters were pretty fascinating. Mortensen's portrayal of Freud was most interesting, a man who loved to look down on all around him. So assured of himself, he was cold and heartless but in his own way longed for some warmth and adoration.

Meanwhile Fassbender's Jung was continuously questioning his own ethics and morals, something he developed from the loveless marriage he found himself in with his wife Emma - an extremely tedious, uncharismatic turn from Sarah Gadon. He was silently screaming for a way out, an excuse, a nod of approval from Freud. Something he never received and perhaps contributed to the demise of their friendship - but alas this wasn't explored to its full potential. Special mention must go, however, to the scene stealing and always brilliant Vincent Cassel as Otto Gross, who almost acts as the bad concious to Freud's good concious in Jung's personal conflicts.

Keira Knightley has been on the end of a fair bit of abuse over the years, sometimes justified I concede, but I found it comforting to see her attempt a role much more challenging than anything I've seen her in previously. It might not have always the right notes like Fassbender and Mortensen but there were moments of contorted fits which would make a viewer rather uneasy.

The production value was unsurprisingly high for a director of Cronenberg's prestige, but I think because of the choppy narrative which only merely gave the odd glimpse into the inner psyches of such complex characters it rarely felt like a truly cinematic experience. It was a film which promised so much from its trailer, and was subsequently so underwhelming. That said, one of the true highlights of the film was the excellent, haunting, atmospheric score from Howard Shore.

Final Thoughts
Though featuring brilliant performances from Mortensen, Fassbender, Cassel and even Knightley, in the end A Dangerous Method didn't turn out to be all that dangerous after all. In a film which initially promised genuine scandal, a dark sexual odyssey and a crazed bunny boiling nut job, it was disappointingly all quite boring and dare I say even pretty safe.

3/5

A Dangerous Method is in selected cinemas from February 10th, 2012.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Young Adult


Jason Reitman has been going strength to strength since his solid d├ębut feature Thank You For Smoking was released in 2005. Since then he's been consistently associated with award winning glory with the brilliantly quirky indie comedy Juno and one of the best films to feature George Clooney playing George Clooney in Up in the Air. It's a shame his dad made Ghostbusters otherwise Jason Reitman would be getting far more universal recognition! His latest film Young Adult sees him reunited with Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody for a tale which doesn't deviate too far from the formula of his past ventures but in his blogger's mind that isn't really a bad thing.

Young Adult tells the story of Mavis Gary, a divorced 37 year old writer of trashy teenage fiction, who decides to return to her home town in some haphazard bid to reunite herself with the man she fell in love with in high school. Seemingly the little technicality of him being happily married and now a father to a baby girl doesn't seem to phase her delusional trip of nostalgia.

Charlize Theron was genuinely terrific in the role as Mavis Gary if not entirely likeable. She's selfish, bratty, immature, and it's easy to see why she's so good at writing these works of fiction because she's never seemingly evolved from this mindset. Where the performance hits highs worthy of recognition is when the story goes deeper into her problems, the reason why she's so messed up and her depression and alcoholism come seeping to the surface so much. It all climaxes in one truly cringe worthy disastrous confrontation with a large number of people from her past life in the town.

Also deserved of plaudits was Patton Oswalt as the old high school nerd from Mavis' days and the only one she truly connects with the most since coming back to her home town. In a way they both act as a mirror for each other, still nursing old wounds from their high school days, and never really growing from them. You had to feel sorry for Patrick Wilson's character who was sort of oblivious (or was he?) to the irrational perving Mavis was doing to him while his wife was in the room.

Visually Reitman seemed to implored the same grungey, visual flair used in Juno while attaining a bit of the disconnected atmosphere he used so brilliantly in Up in the Air. In many ways the film's conclusion - which I won't purposely spoil - kind of mimics the closing moments of Up in the Air in the resolution of its central character.

Final Thoughts
Young Adult is a tidy and enjoyable film featuring a brilliant performance from Charlize Theron as the self absorbed "psychotic prom queen bitch" Mavis Gary. It may not deviate too far from other films penned by Diablo Cody, but it's without doubt her most mature outing to date. Darkly humorous and profoundly tragic.

4/5

Young Adult is in selected cinemas throughout the UK from February 3rd 2011.