Wednesday, 3 April 2013
"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgement. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defence of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends."
- Anton Ego (Ratatouille)
Quite fitting for the whole profession I think. This blog has opened me up to a new world and the closest thing I'll probably ever have to a vocational calling. If I didn't start doing it out of boredom in 2009 I perhaps would not have ever contemplated trying to make writing my career, meeting some incredible people along the way and writing books for children.
However time goes by, priorities change and with a heavy heart I can't give theFILMblog the time and attention I use to. And so with that I leave the archive up with 264 reviews of some of the best and worst films I've had the pleasure of watching over the last four years untouched and for all to read. It's been a blast.
Thank you for your time and continued support with my fictional works,
Thursday, 1 November 2012
It's been over two years since Jacques Audiard blew me away and near reduced me to tears with his stunning crime epic, A Prophet. Taking a slight detour away from the French underground, Audiard delivers an unlikely love story which results in one of the most powerful and emotional trips to the cinema you'll have this year.
Based on the short story collection by Canadian writer Craig Davidson, Rust and Bone tells the tale of the elusive, down on his luck Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) as he moves in with his sister alongside his son Sam. All the while the film's narrative follows the trials and tribulations of Whale trainer, Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) after her life is changed forever after a horrible accident which results in her losing both her legs. As the two leads' paths collide the audience is subjected to a vast range of emotions from profound sadness, real-life horror, uplifting sweetness and light hearted humour.
Audiard's wonderful cinematography is made a lot easier by the power in the performances of his leads. Like Tahir Rahim gave one of the classiest leading performances in A Prophet before them, Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts are simply majestic with their delivery and on-screen chemistry in Rust and Bone. This is made all the more tragic that they'll probably be typically and horrendously overlooked come award season with the Hollywood Foreign Press and The Academy.
Plaudits must also go to the director's handling of all the smaller subplots which resonated within the overall love story between Stephanie and Ali. Like his past films I've always enjoyed how accessible Audiard makes his films by the use of very mainstream music, most notably, with Rust and Bone, the opening and closing scenes being carried effortlessly by Bon Iver songs while (and please don't let this put you off seeing the film) Katy Perry's Firework is played prominently in two of the stand out scenes of the film featuring Cotillard, to rather amazing effect.
Rust and Bone is a film which teases mellow-drama, sadness and darkness but triumphs with goodness, warmth and above all, hope. Marion Cotillard delivers an astounding performance which frankly trumps her Oscar winning effort with Le Vie en rose and reminds the acting world of how badly she was wasted in her time working under Christopher Nolan. A multi-layered drama full which at times feel both tender and caustic in its approach but powerful and provocative in its result. You'd have to have a heart made of stone to not be moved by Rust and Bone*...
Rust and Bone is in selected cinemas everywhere now. Belfast audiences can see it in Queen's Film Theatre from Friday November 9th, 2012.
Friday, 26 October 2012
Marking 50 years since Sean Connery first graced the big screen with the utterly brilliant Dr No, paving the way for 22 other films in its path, sees Daniel Craig don the tux for the ambiguously titled (aren't they all?) Skyfall. Though in an age where catching spies and fighting wars with nothing more than a drone plane equipped with a couple of bombs controlled from a tiny room is there still a place in cinema for the high speed car chases, daft gadgets, glitz, glamour and Vodka Martinis that only Agent 007 can deliver? Well if you ask me, let the sky fall the day it doesn't...
Daniel Craig's third (possibly last?) outing as James Bond sees 007 on the hunt for a stolen hard drive containing all the MI6 agents currently undercover in terrorist organisations around the globe. While he's jetting off all over the world on the hunt for the madman who organised all this (Javier Bardem) his boss M (Judi Dench) is under attacked politically for letting the whole affair get out of hand in the first place. On the surface it all sounds like a relatively straight forward 007 plot, minus the Cold War storylines of the Connery era and Fleming's original books. However beneath the surface Sam Mendes has crafted not only a genuinely great action thriller, but probably the first great piece of cinematic drama ever seen in a Bond film.
The most fascinating and provocative theme Skyfall constantly drums home is the question of after 50 years whether if there's any real relevance to the likes of 007 anymore. With the latter days of the Pierce Brosnan era and even with Skyfall's predecessor Quantum of Solace you'd be forgiven that the world has moved onto younger, faster models like Jason Bourne and perhaps 007 should be confined to the pantheon of great cinematic franchises. Yet watching Skyfall - clocking in at nearly two and a half hours long - I couldn't help but smile thinking after so many years we finally have a Bond film grounded so eloquently in the 21st Century. Much more so than Craig's turn in the fantastic Casino Royale.
In one of the more character driven performances of the franchise's history, Daniel Craig delivers a refreshing take on an older Bond who feels bruised, bloodied and beaten in a world which hasn't felt like his for a long, long time. More so it's a Bond film which dares to delve into his extremely cloudy past and even so far as into his childhood and his parents. All the while still attaining the trademark attributes which makes James Bond one of the most enduring fictional characters in literary and cinematic history.
The star of the show however perhaps gone to the great Dame Judi Dench. Her take on M has been increasingly more prevalent ever since her first appearance in GoldenEye. With Skyfall we see her not only at her most fragile but at her best. Dare I say even worthy of recognition come award season in the Best Supporting Actress roles. In Dench's take on M, Bond has something of a kindred spirit, almost filling the gap of the motherly role left vacant from when he was a child and that dynamic is pushed home at its most in some truly terrific scenes in the film's truly breathtaking, action packed third act.
All the while Javier Bardem is one of the most memorable and interesting villains seen in a Bond film since Sean Bean went all kinds of mental in GoldenEye. If Mendes' claims are true that he used Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy as a key influence on Skyfall then there was definitely an air of The Joker about Bardem's mentally unstable, highly intelligent, utterly captivating, sometimes grotesque take as the mysterious Silva.
The supporting performances from past Mendes collaborators and 007 debutants, Ralph Finnes, Naomi Harris and Ben Winshaw (who shined as the new Q) just added that extra level of quality which has been absent in a lot of Bond films over the past 20 years. The great Albert Finney also makes a fantastic appearance late on. Perhaps the most disappointing part of the film was how underused the beautiful Berenice Marlohe was on screen, but then the Craig era of the Bond franchise was never as heavily burdened in the 'woman of the week' angle as much as his predecessors.
Sam Mendes not only brought his film-making experience to Skyfall, he also brought that much missed cinematic pedigree to the franchise - equipped with a brilliant score from Thomas Newman and even a perfectly listenable song from Adele. As well as the plot being genuinely tense and at times quite emotional with some stunning action sequences littered throughout the film it also had that much missed visual element, that grand scale which made Quantum of Solace seem like it was done on a TV budget in comparison. Genuinely memorable moments like the explosive finale in the sparse Scottish highlands or even as trippy as the fight scene in a tower block in Shanghai.
There's a moment in Skyfall where Judi Dench's M explains why the likes of 007 still matter in this world and that rings true the point of James Bond and why after 50 years he's still one of the biggest blockbuster draws that's not a superhero. He gives us glitz, glamour, action, tension, quick witted humour and with his latest entry a refreshing honesty and fragility which should make audiences all over fall in love with him again. Not only is this the best Bond of this century, but could perhaps be the best Bond of all time. Bold words but I stand by them. I personally can't wait to watch it again. One of my favourites of the year.
Skyfall is in cinemas everywhere now.
Friday, 28 September 2012
Rian Johnson is firmly cementing himself as one of my favourite film-makers. His first feature, the intimate neo-noir thriller Brick is one of my favourite films of all time. While his follow-up The Brothers Bloom is a slick and highly entertaining comedy caper. His 'difficult' third film sees him reunite with, Brick star and one of Hollywood's golden boys at the minute, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and action icon Bruce Willis for one of the most unique and best films of the year in Looper.
Set in the year 2044, Looper paints a claustrophobic and bleak vision of our future - not too far removed from Alfonso Cuaron's in the grossly underrated cult classic Children of Men - where the majority of the population are thrown into poverty and the cities are run by the mob. In about 30 years time from this point, the ability to time travel will be invented and instantly outlawed, used only by the wealthiest crime organisations. Joe's (Gordon-Levitt) role as a Looper is to get rid of the bodies the mob send back in time and thus erased off the planet entirely. In my honest opinion it seems like a bit of an arse about face way of going about it, but it's highly entertaining nonetheless. However, everything is thrown into chaos when the mob intend to cut all ties with the Loopers and Joe's future self (Bruce Willis) is sent back for assassination.
With notable contributions in the likes of Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, 50/50 amongst others it feels as though Joseph Gordon-Levitt can do no wrong at the minute. With Looper this is no different, and it was brilliant to see him carry such a frantic, mind bending action film so seamlessly. With the help of some impressive prosthetic work his face was altered to resemble a 'younger' Bruce Willis rather amazingly. Yet it wasn't just superficially, his mannerisms, the tough, gruff voice, that cold demeanour were all mimicked to such an amazing effect.
All the while Bruce Willis got to be well... Bruce Willis. Which frankly isn't a bad thing and, even as The Expendables 2 and RED showed, he's still got the gravitas and panache for the caustic action sequences. Truthfully the vibe and overall themes of the film weren't too far removed from one of Willis' other more memorable films, Twelve Monkeys. The supporting ensemble of Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, a slightly sinister Jeff Daniels, Rian Johnson collaborator Noah Segan and a genuinely creepy contribution from child actor Pierce Gagnon just gave the film so much depth and quality.
Rian Johnson's handling of the feature was truly remarkable, especially as it was so far removed from his previous two films, which were so dialouge heavy but lacking in the visual department. One of the most striking things was the level of violence, and truthfully how it even just got a 15 rating is quite a mystery. It doesn't quite reach the heights of Drive's messier moments from 2011 but it does come very close at times. You get the feeling if Warner Bros want someone to step into Christopher Nolan's shoes to carry on the Batman franchise, Johnson's CV is starting to make a seriously strong case.
Inevitably with the themes of the film you will encounter the odd plot hole here and there, but it just about gets away with it. The time travelling paradoxes of the film aren't nearly as extreme as the likes of Primer (one of the few films to give me a genuine headache) or quite as dumbed down as JJ Abrams' Star Trek. It managed to strike a fine balance of keeping the story predominantly character driven and heavy with the action and sci-fi visuals while also leaving you feeling ponderous of the cause and consequences upon the film's debatable open ending.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis team up for one of the best films of 2012. Its violence is satisfying, its action is most definitely packed, littered with a tonne of quality supporting actors and a truly absorbing story driven by character and not always spectacle. Don't miss.
Looper is in cinemas everywhere now.
Thursday, 13 September 2012
While The Caped Crusader has now taken a deserved leave of absence from the big screen for a while, his legacy still lives on in direct-to-DVD animated adaptations of his comic adventures. There are perhaps fewer comic books more significant and contributed more to the cultural impact on how we view a character today than the works of Frank Miller in the 1980s on Batman. One, which was adapted last year, is the now iconic origin story, Batman: Year One and the other is Miller's dark and caustic swansong for the character, The Dark Knight Returns.
The story, for those who haven't read the original graphic novel, takes place ten years after the last appearance of Batman, who has since retired and grown old and weary as his alter ego Bruce Wayne. He's brought out of retirement upon realisation that Gotham has spiralled out of control and being overrun by a new criminal organisation who call themselves The Mutants. A lot of moments in the film can very much be considered as the groundwork for what Christopher Nolan used in the final part of his cinematic trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.
Like many of these DC Animated Movies Warner Bros has churned out over the years, this one has stayed meticulously close to the original source material, almost to a fault this time around. Truthfully Miller's take on the character has been a little too extreme for my tastes, he gets away with it in Year One because it's a logical starting point, but his Batman is unique to Miller's own point of view, something which even DC Comics have sort of acknowledged over the years but tried to stay away from - his questionable use of firearms and extreme violence in the story being a particular controversial point with devoted fans. With TDKRs it's a story very much of its time both politically and even aesthetically. There's a sense of anarchy which The Mutants invoke along with their appearance which just screams the 1980s more than the 21st Century, post 9/11 world Batman has found himself in and been immortalised on the big screen by Christopher Nolan.
All that aside however, the voice acting was top notch. Peter Weller's cold, harsh tones really suited this older, battle bruised Batman and was unsurprisingly the stand out performer of the cast. In the quieter, more personal moments, which have always been the highlights of the original tale for myself, Weller is just simply fantastic at evoking emotion out of Miller's stone cold take on the character. Whilst David Selby take on Commissioner Gordon reminded me of Bob Hastings' turn as the character in the original Batman Animated Series of the 1990s. It was a shame though that we weren't given more than just a taster of Michael Emerson's Joker, whom will undoubtedly feature heavily in Part 2 out early next year.
The animation was terrific, and replicate the key moments of the original story to such potent effect. It's probably felt the most cinematic of DC's animated output since their take on Darwyn Cooke's Justice League: The New Frontier way back in 2008, but probably falls short of being as enjoyable as Batman: Under The Red Hood. There's also a couple of pleasant nods to Alan Moore in the background of key scenes, look out for the cover art from Swamp Thing and V For Vendetta buried in a scene which features Jim Gordon in a convenience store.
As good as The Dark Knight Returns (Part 1) is, it also suffers the same problem as all these cash ins to split potentially one reasonably long film into two. What we have here is essentially just half of potentially a good animated film. We won't know how good until the sequel pops up in Spring 2013. Peter Weller's croaky, weary voice lends itself majestically to an older, embittered Bruce Wayne/Batman. The accuracy should delight fans of the original source material, but not likely to turn heads of fans who came in through Nolan's film universe, or even the 90s animated series. Worth your time, but then so is the original book...
The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 is available on DVD/Blu-Ray and digital download from September 25th 2012.