Monday, 30 June 2014

How I Live Now
Dir: Kevin Macdonald
2013
**
Kevin Macdonald's How I Live Now is based on the 'young adult' book of the same name written by Meg Rosoff. Now, as far as I can tell, 'young adult' books are quite typically underdeveloped half-ideas based on successful stories that already exist, many being classics. No one can really accuse these books of being copies because they are generally so vague, How I Live Now being a prime example. We don't really know who the good guys are, we don't know who the bad guys are, we don't know why they're being bad but we do know that for some unexplained and no good reason, that we need to back to the house no one really wanted to be at in the first place even though we know it isn't safe. Poorly written and unconvincing puppy love will help us achieve this woefully unrealistic goal. It's fairly hard to review a film where nothing really happens. Interpretive films are good, they make you think but this one isn't trying to do that, it's really just the emperor's new clothes, except it's not new, it's old, very old, and it's stinking the place up somewhat. When I was a young adult I read the classics, that's when you're supposed to read them. You then re-read them 20 years later to remind yourself not to become a complete right-wing twat. I worry about youth, I really do. What saddens me more is that the authors of these rubbish books are people my age looking to make a quick buck at the expense of children's imagination and great works of fiction from long dead geniuses. I'm disappointed in Kevin Macdonald.
The Counselor
Dir: Ridley Scott
2013
****
Ridley Scott's The Counselor received some pretty harsh criticism on it's release, criticism that I find totally unjustified and fairly puzzling. The Counselor was written by Cormac McCarthy and anyone who has read any of his work will tell you this film is pure Cormac McCarthy, indeed it is a perfect visual realisation of Cormac McCarthy's words. In this sense it is faultless. In fact, my only criticism is that it's just a little bit too cinematic, for want of a better word. That is just a niggle though as it looks great. I suspect the audience expected something different based on the cast and the misleading post-production advertising, it's continually frustrating that the audience is now fast becoming the narrow minded element in cinema going rather than the greedy talentless executive producers. The cast do an amazing job, each one giving brilliant performances but making them look effortless. The script is sharp as a knife and would impress equally if it was just a radio drama. Like I said, it's pure Cormac McCarthy but it's only the audience that seem to have missed that. And everyone loved A Good Year? I just don't get it. The Counselor is unfortunately 2013's 'Killing Them Softly'. Poor old Brad!
Violet & Daisy
Dir: Geoffrey S. Fletcher
2011
****
I judged Violet & Daisy too soon. Direction and story-wise, I thought it was going to be a Luc Besson wannabe but would ultimately feel like another poorly conceived Luc Besson Produced film. Meow. I was wrong, and I am ashamed for committing that crime I hate most; judging a film at a glance. Violet & Daisy doesn't just look good, but it has real depth to it. The script is punchy and clever. I overheard someone liken it to a Tarantino script but I would argue that QT's scripts are nothing more than audio pop-art, Geoffrey Fletcher's script has meaning, it's organic,  it evolves and dazzles just as much as the visuals do. This isn't a bubble-gum glorification of violence either, if anything it is actually the polar opposite and a pretty neat alternative. The performances are pretty strong too, with Alexis Bledel at personal best, Saoirse Ronan proving her worth and the late great James Gandolfini reminding us for one of the last times why we both love him and will miss him. Violet & Daisy is hugely misunderstood in my opinion, people are missing the parody somewhat. The endless comparisons to Tarantino's films are tiresome, like he ever came up with an original idea? I would suggest Violet & Daisy is for people who would agree with my last statement so if you would like a bit of salt on that popcorn for a change, give it a go!

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Girl Most Likely
Dir: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
2012
***
I'm not too sure what Girl Most Likely has set out to say or is trying to be. Nothing is really resolved as such and every situation is generally answered by an unrealistic but relatively funny scenario. It is funny and if you concentrate on just the humour you won't be disappointed because nothing else really makes sense. Is it supposed to? Well, I don't think the makers intended it not too but I guess silly was deemed more appropriate then preachy and I suppose there is nothing wrong with that especially when you have likable and well performed characters and a fairly punchy script. It's likable nonsense.
White Oleander
Dir: Peter Kosminsky
2002
***
White Oleander covers some interesting and actually rather ordinary issues through extraordinary situations. Michelle Pfeiffer's character is very well written and she does the role justice, it's just a shame the other characters are all either exaggerated or cliched. The idea that a Mother can bring up her daughter while in prison is cleverly realised in the dialogue but some of the scenarios are so ludicrous, it spoils a lot of the good work. It has to be said too that if you are adverse to bad wigs as I am, then you may want to prepare yourself for pure disbelief. Much better than anticipated but the realism is a little too shaky to be taken too seriously. Watch for Michelle Pfeiffer's great performance.
You're Next
Dir: Adam Wingard
2013
***
After Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's The Cabin in the Woods the horror genre had to up its game. Some claimed that the film The Innkeepers did just that but I disagree. You're Next does come close though, bettering the idea of the 'Slasher'/'Man in a mask' film. You're Next feels more real than most horror films and the more real it feels the scarier it is. This works for a while until you start to find out who is behind the killings and ultimately the film becomes a predictable mess of body count + Inventive killings with a bit of misplaced humour thrown in for good measure. It's not perfect by all means but it is original enough to come as a bit of a relief. It's serious in places but doesn't take itself too seriously which I like. It's not the best horror film ever made but credit due.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

8 Million Ways to Die
Dir: Hal Ashby
1988
***
Could this be one of the 80's most overlooked films? It has everything a cheesy 80's action/thriller should have, it's pretty edgy too with violence and colourful language. It should have a minor cult following at least but alas, I guess it just wasn't publicised very well. Although, to be fair, it's not going to appeal to you if you had hoped for a Hal Ashby style film like he made in the 70's. Being There/Harold & Maude this definitely ain't but give it a go, especially if you like a bit of 80's nostalgia. The characters and performances make up for anything dodgy in the script or story.
Where the Green Ants Dream
Dir: Werner Herzog
1984
****

Werner Herzog’s 1984 film, his first venture into the English language, is a healthy mix of fascinating fact and his own wonderful imagination, although everything fictitious in Where the Green Ants Dream is based on some truth, in one way or another. The factual side of the story is based on the Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd case of 1968. In December 1968, the Yolngu people living in Yirrkala, who were the traditional owners of the Gove Peninsula in Arnhem Land, obtained writs in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory against the Nabalco Corporation, which had secured a twelve-year bauxite mining lease from the Federal Government. Their goal was to establish in law their rightful claim to their homelands. Sadly, Justice Blackburn found that the Yolngu people could not prevent mining on their lands. He categorically held that native title was not part of the law of Australia and went on to add that even had it existed, any native title rights were extinguished. However, Milirrpum led to the establishment of the Woodward Royal Commission and the eventual recognition of Aboriginal Land rights in the Northern Territory. In 1975, shortly before he was dismissed, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam drew up the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976 which was later passed (in a slightly diluted form) by the conservative Fraser Government on 9 December 1976. The court interpreter for the case was Galarrwuy Yunupingu, the son of a Gumatj clan leader, Munggurrawuy, who was one of the Yirrkala plaintiffs. Galarrwuy had earlier helped his father draft the Yirrkala bark petitions. He later became chairman of the Northern Land Council and in 1978 became Australian of the Year for his work on indigenous rights. In the film, the Aborigines claim that an area the mining company wishes to work on is the place where green ants dream, and that disturbing them will destroy humanity. This is, as you’d probably guessed, the fictitious aspect of the story, although there is a courtroom incident in the film where a certain secret artefact is revealed, much to the bemusement of the judge, which is based on a real incident and probably fuelled Herzog’s imagination (look out for Herzog’s cameo as everyone leaves the courtroom). The green ants themselves however are mentioned in Aboriginal folklore. Wandjuk Marika, the leader for the Rirratjingu people, an artist and musician who was involved in activism for Aboriginal rights, assisted Herzog greatly during the film’s production, and told him that the ant dreaming belief existed in a clan that lived near Oenpelli in the Northern Territory. Marika’s beautiful didgeridoo music is used throughout the movie and several members of his family who were all activists, some of whom were directly involved in the Milirrpum case of 68, were cast in the film. Herzog made sure the Marikas were paid well for their time and work and soon they had enough money to move from Yirrkala to their ancestral region of Yalanbara, Port Bradshaw. Herzog was criticized by producer and commentator Philip Adams, who was an integral part of the production, introducing Herzog to Marika and the area’s history, was so incensed at what he saw as an implication that the Australian Government was somehow against the Aborigines and wrote a scathing article entitled ‘Dammit Herzog, you are a Liar!’. For me, it doesn’t matter whether the green ant legend is true or not, it’s not really the point of the story, I like it because of just how Herzogian it sounds. The truth is that the Australian Government haven’t always been good to the Aborigines, the crux of the story is true but anyway, Herzog has, once again, struck a wonderful balance between reality and fantasy and has looked at the situation from a different angle than most people would. The really clever part of the film is the casting of the likable Bruce Spence, who, in the lead role, acts as the perfect protagonist, who helps navigate both the open and narrow minded through the real and unreal turn of events. It’s serious, fantastical but also rather light-hearted, which shouldn’t really work, but it does. It’s very Herzogian and I think it marked an important turning point in the directors career.
Chronicle
Dir: Josh Trank
2002
**
'Found footage' is overused in horror films these days, it was clever at first but then got annoying and some are barely watchable. To use it in what is essentially a Superhero origins story is original and a great idea. Unfortunately it fits into the barely watchable category as it just doesn't work - this is ultimately down to the poor direction. The story is excellent and I totally respect the fact that this film had a low budget, it's all the better for it many respects but there is no excuse for hiring 3 bad actors and giving them horrible scripts. This film is a huge wasted opportunity that would have been something very special had it been in the hands of a capable director and production team. It's such a shame, as this should have been the ultimate superhero film, if it were a horror film it could have been Halloween but instead it's Halloween resurrection. It honestly pains me to give this such a low rating.
Talk to Her
Dir: Pedro Almodóvar
2002
*****
Talk to her is not quite a romance and not quite a thriller. It's not a common melodrama either, it's much more than that and it's definitely not a comedy, but it's not devoid of humour. It's a Pedro Almodóvar film, if you're familiar with his work then that is all you need to know. This is another example, following All about my Mother of his move to more serious film making in the early 2000's, it's also one of his most Spanish of films. His country and its culture are celebrated and explored, from the bloodshed of the Bull fight to the extraordinary contemporary choreography of the late great Pina Bausch, making this one of Almodovar's more personal films. It also worships and celebrates Women, something that he does quite frequently.
Panic in the Streets
Dir: Elia Kazan
1950
*****
Panic in the Streets is a beautifully shot noir that is the Grandfather of all epidemic movies. It influenced Invasion of the Body Snatchers and many films of that ilk, Alien films, espionage films,  it influenced Outbreak and more recently the rather brilliant Contagion. Its influence is huge. It's still probably the best though, filmed back before modern technology got in the way of telling a good story. The performances are wonderful with a great cast including Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jack Palance and Zero Mostel. All are brilliant, it would be unfair to single out one of their performances because they're all great, I guess Jack Palance is probably the most memorable not just because of how chilling it was but because it was his film debut. The script is awesome though, it's very real, never over the top or sentimental. Honestly, I was pretty blown away, I love it!
Penelope
Dir: Mark Palansky
2006
***
Set in some weird New York London land and starring an eclectic mix of Hollywood a-list and England's finest 'light' entertainers, Penelope is understandably a little lost in where it wants to be as much what it tries to achieve. There is nothing wrong with being odd, or even quirky, in fact Fairy tales do much better when they are but unlike all fairy tales, Penelope doesn't really have a message, or should I say, it contradicts every message it tries to convey rendering it a little redundant and ultimately pointless. The odd cameo kept me amused and Christina Ricci was adorable I have to admit. I certainly didn't dislike the film, it just didn't really work. If only the script writers were drinking what the production people were having, then it might have been something very special, instead it is acceptably quirky but nothing more.
Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey
Dir: Constance Marks
2011
*****
If I could be anything I wanted to be then a Sesame Street puppeteer would definitely be in my top 5 along with astronaut and Superhero. Watching this documentary is like watching a life that I really want, a long time fantasy of mine come true, but unfortunately for me, happening to somebody else. Being a Muppet fan I loved it, you get to see some really good behind the scenes footage and hear stories from before Jim Henson's untimely death. There are moments of pure tenderness here, beautifully captured but never exploited. It captures everything I love about the Muppets and hopefully after seeing this people wont be so quick to make fun or judge us adult fans or use the term 'Muppet' in a derogatory way. The DVD extras are also brilliant for fellow Muppet fans. The documentary structure is nothing special but I'm rating this film on my enjoyment of it rather than for technicalities. It is astounding what a little red puppet can represent and how much it can mean to people, this documentary explains that perfectly, revealing the man behind the fur but without ruining the magic.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

My Neighbors the Yamadas
Dir: Isao Takahata
1999
***
Released between two of Studio Ghibli's best and most successful films to date (Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away) My Neighbors the Yamadas is a strange addition to the portfolio of work but it isn't an unwelcome change of style. Without wanting to sound stupid and obvious, it is very Japanese. Based on a popular comic strip, Isao Takahata wisely keeps a short-story vignette format and a comic-strip aesthetic to keep up momentum, to give each character their fair share of screen time and give the film a certain authenticity, even though it is a departure from the studios usual style of animation. Each story has a moral tale attached to it, some are clearer than others and some are just completely unfathomable. Based on the Manga cartoons of Hisaichi Ishii that appeared daily (four cells at a time) in Japan's daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun from 1991 to 1997 until the format was dramatically altered to concentrate on just one of the characters and renamed Nono-chan. The animation is simple but charming and incorporates a watercolour style but surprisingly, this is actually the first Ghibli film to be 100% digital. Not quite what hardcore fans of Ghibli want or come to expect but a big hit among fans of the original comic-strip. It's a nice one off but probably my least favorite from the studio but that is largely because I was unaware of the original comic, have come to expect something else from the studio and understood only half of the story that I believe looses something through translation. I would argue that Isao Takahata is capable of much more than this also.

Monday, 16 June 2014

The Man Who Loved Women
Dir: Blake Edwards
1983
****
I'm probably being quite generous by giving this film 4 stars but as dated and ridiculous as it is, I just can't hate it. Blake Edwards' remake of François Truffaut's 1977 version plays more for laughs which actually works better in some respects (but not all). Truffaut's version was hard to take seriously, the protagonist coming across as more creepy than sensitive. For some reason, as sexist and womanising as Burt Raynold's is (or was always portrayed as) he somehow seemed the most believable when it comes to women-worship. I believed he adored women rather than just merely leched at them. The flashback scenes of his mother weren't as strong as in the original, and to be fair this version is as cheesy as it gets but I think improves the flavour somewhat. The original was good but it was no 'Claire's Knee', I enjoyed both but for very different reasons and it's quite interesting to see the comparisons between the two considering they were made only 6 years apart from each other.
The Man Who Loved Women (L'Homme qui aimait les femmes)
Dir: François Truffaut
1977
****
There is something a quite dated about Truffaut's The Man Who Loved Women. It is a little creepy at times although it is  romantic at the same time and this does win through. It does touch on the fact that the main character Bertrand Morane has got a problem and his obsession isn't quite right but it's not always explained in a way that brings any sympathy, although it's never really needed as he is always very likable. You might think this is a dilemma for the viewer but funnily enough it isn't. The background story of his relationship with his mother are some of the more interesting parts of the film but the pop-psychology also dates it, even for 1977. The Burt Reynolds remake makes for an interesting comparison. It's worth mentioning Patrick O'Brien's obvious spoof - The Man with the Smallest Penis in Existence and the Electron Microscope Technician Who Loved Him, which the cynics should enjoy.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Time Piece
Dir: Jim Henson
1965
*****
Putting aside the fact that I'm the biggest Jim Henson/Muppet fan in the world, I would have to say this is my favorite short film ever. It was nominated for an Oscar but lost out to the great Claude Berri which I guess is nothing to be ashamed of, but Time Piece was better than Le Poulet. It is surreal, fun (as well as funny) and hugely inventive. It's quintessentially Jim Henson.
Shoot To Kill (AKA Deadly Pursuit)
Dir: Roger Spottiswoode
1988
***
Shoot to Kill was celebrated at the time as the film that brought Sidney Poitier out of retirement. He hadn't actually retired though, he directed three films between 1977 and 1988, one being one of the greatest comedies of all time 'Stir Crazy'. He still had it though, even when some of the worst attempts at comedy are thrown at him he does a good job. Shoot To Kill is pure 80's cheese. The action scenes are spoiled by the poor attempts at humour, that I have already mentioned, and the performances, apart from Mr Poitier's, are nothing short of lame. In its defense though and putting aside the rather dated and frankly unbelievable hostage scenarios, the suspense is spot on, edge of your seat stuff! As a whole it's not very good at all but there is something about that 80's synth music and electronic drum beat that make it hard to dislike and impossible to switch off.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie
Dir: Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim
2012
*
Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie is about as entertaining as a car alarm.

Tim and Eric seem to think that making repetitious loud and annoying noises is the key to good humour. It's not. Their funniest joke seems to be spoofing bad power point presentations and training videos. Again, it's not particularly funny. I feel sad for everyone they convinced to get involved in this awful film. Robert Loggia is old, he and William Atherton probably should have known better but as much as I like them I guess they need the money these days. I think Jeff Goldblum was tricked into it. Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis show just how unfunny they really are by getting involved, Ferrell in particular seeing as he also produced it. John C. Reilly is the biggest fool though as he is the only one here with an ounce of talent. Why he does this crap is beyond me. Truly one of the worst films I've ever seen and I don't say that lightly.
French Film
Dir: Jackie Oudney
2009
***
I thought French Film achieved what it set out to do quite well. I do wonder if this would be of interest to anyone who isn't a) British or b) familiar with French Films and directors such as Malle, Rohmer, Chabrol etc. It was subtle when it needed to be and didn't rely on stereotypes as much as I thought it would. I was expecting an over the top xenophobic awkward slap-stick farce to be honest but I couldn't have been more wrong. Definitely worth a look. The enigmatic Eric Cantona is great as always.
Studio DCAlmost Live
Dir: Krash R. Davenport
2008
**
All hair and teeth and devoid of soul (no, I'm not talking about the Muppets).The Muppets are great, it's just a shame about the humans. Seriously, is this what the kids of America see as good entertainment? Yikes! The Muppets have never looked more unpuppet-like compared to the talentless....who ever they ares/what ever they ares/what ever they do people who don't deserve to perform with such legends.

A Stitch in Time
Dir: Robert Asher
1963
*****
A Stitch in Time sees Norman Wisdom reprising his character Norman Pitkin for the third time, once again he's alongside Edward Chapman as the lovable and rather forgivable, Mr. Grimsdale. It's funny, still to this day if there is an emergency in our house we don't all shout "Don't panic Mr. Mainwaring, we shout 'Mr. Grimsdale!!!' I've said it before and I will say it again (and will fight to the death anyone who disagrees) but I love Norman Wisdom and in my opinion he is one of the greatest Englishmen of all time.
The Forgotten
Dir: Joseph Ruben
2004
*
Joseph Ruben's The Forgotten is like a crap episode of The X-files. On paper it reads like a really cool sci-fi thriller but the reality is that it is a badly written wannabe thriller, full of plot holes and mistakes in the story. It makes no sense at all, it is all about 'the twist' which i'm afraid isn't that clever and was pretty predictable after the first 20 minutes. The pace and flow of the film are pretty terrible too, everything seems a little too convenient on one hand and just plain nonsensical on the other. The acting is also of poor quality but I'm guessing they didn't really have much to go with. The Forgotten is set to become exactly that, forgotten, it's certainly deserves to be anyway.
PantaniThe Accidental Death of a Cyclist
Dir: James Erskine
2014
***
A good documentary needs to be careful how subjective it is, PantaniThe Accidental Death of a Cyclist is factual and also open to interpretation and yet somehow inconclusive. When covering what is essentially a bit of a mystery then it is important not to lead the viewer down the road to an answer if you don't actually have one. This is usually fine but in this instance the elusive Pantani still remains Pantani. I am now aware of his achievements but I do not know anything more about the man behind them. It's entertaining though, myself and my Wife were glued to the screen throughout and neither of us stopped it halfway through to make a cup of tea (this never happens) so it's got something right, I just felt a tiny bit cheated at the end.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Darkman III: Die Darkman Die
Dir: Bradford May
1996
*
I didn't think it could get any worse than Darkman II but I was wrong. For a Doctor, he's isn't very clever, just get a skin graft dude! The bad guys are pretty bad here, 1996 was pretty late in the day for the big-suited, shoulder-padded pony-tailed villain, no? Again, Bradford May relies on old stock footage from the first film and decides to shoot before actually writing a script. It's terribly dull and a shadow of the original.
Darkman II: The Return of Durant
Dir: Bradford May
1995
*
I really wanted to like the sequel as I loved the original but I can't kid myself, this was bloody awful. There isn't even the slightest hint of what made the original great here. Bradford May's direction is shoddy, he tried to imitate Sam Rami's style of film making but was too lazy to see it through and just used a 7 second 'rage montage' recapping the anger felt by Darkman from footage from the original film. Rubbish and pointless. Why doesn't Darkman just get a skin graft? They did have skin grafts in 1995. Huge waste of time and money.

Darkman
Dir: Sam Raimi
1990
*****
Probably my favorite 'alternative' superhero movie. It's Sam Raimi back when he was allowed to do his own thing, Batman mixed with The Phantom of the Opera in a noir comic book style. A cult classic and I love it. Like Evil Dead and Crimewave, Raimi does horror/thriller/action with a brilliant undercurrent of humour like no other director. It's cheesy and it's fun, not really what you expect from a horror/thriller but it's thoroughly entertaining and saddens me that films like this aren't made anymore. I'd watch this over Spiderman any day of the week! My only gripe is that there was not enough of Bruce Campbell!
Daybreakers
Dir: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
2009
****
Daybreakers was a very nice surprise, finally an intelligent Vampire film that is as clever as it is full of action and gore. It's has every component a good modern Vampire film needs and also questions what Vampirism is and what it means, all set within a future dystopian society. The film subtly approaches questions of hidden desires, addiction and religion and also that of control and power, over the years the Vampire has been used as a symbol of many different things, all are explored cleverly in this film. The cast is pretty good too, everyone pulling their weight and convincing in their roles. It's a great idea and they succeeded in bringing it to its potential, on quite a small budget in the grand scheme of things too. I applaud and look forward to seeing more from the brothers Spierig.
The Family
Dir: Luc Besson
2013
***
The Family feels very much like a cross between what you'd expect from a Luc Besson produced film and a Luc Besson directed film. I liked the premise; the ongoing struggles of an ex-Mobster and his family in a witness protection program. It's a comedy of sorts but not the dreadful bumbling spoof you might think. It's no masterpiece either though but pleasantly quirky and original enough to not fit into any one category comfortably. It's a film of performances rather than story, which works pretty well. Each family member has their arc but nothing too complicated but then nothing too ridiculous or contemptuous either. Drama, comedy and action are in unison with each other which doesn't usually work but this is where Besson plays to his strengths. That said, one does have to ask whether the action is there to perk up the lack of drama or consistency of comedy. I like it but I'm used to it now from him, he's still a director I love but I'm sorry to say this is nothing compared to his earlier work.
The League of Gentlemen
Dir: Basil Dearden
1960
****
The League of Gentlemen is a classic British crime caper. The caper itself isn't really the main attraction as such, although the initial heist in preparation (to gather weapons and ammunition while under the guise of the IRA) is pretty clever and entertaining. It's the characters and their development/introductions that draw you into its charm. The cast is strong, it's hard to say who comes out best as I can't decide between Jack Hawkins, Nigel Patrick and Richard Attenborough. All are brilliant as are the supporting members of the club. There are some unfortunate moments of homophobia but considering Basil Dearden made the brilliant 'Victim' only a few years later I'm inclined to think this was just an unfortunate sign of the times and not meant to be hurtful. The cameo from a young Oliver Reed kind of makes up for it anyway. It's clear to see that The League of Gentlemen has had a huge influence on heist movies ever since, most notably The Italian Job. Although many of those films don't have the same great cast of characters (Ocean's 11 aside) they have generally improved on the ending, which I'm afraid remains the low point of which is a fantastic film.
Double Jeopardy
Dir: Bruce Beresford
1999
**
The idea behind Double Jeopardy is great. The Double Jeopardy law in America used to state that you cannot be charged for the same crime twice. So when a women is charged for the murder of her husband who actually framed her, changed his name and left town, there is no stopping her from killing him, in broad daylight if she wishes, once she is released from prison. The premise for the ultimate revenge movie no? Well, no as it turns out. She just wants her kids back, which is fair enough but doesn't lead to much excitement. The acting is awful and the script is even worse. The courtroom scenes are toe-curlingly bad, the bachelor auction scenes are even worse! Many of the scenes are absolutely pointless, mindless action generally replaces clever writing. The logic goes straight out of the window, with pretty much every scenario stinking to high heaven. A great idea executed in the worst possible way. It's also really dated considering it was only made in 1999, it feels like a bad 80's movie rather than a bad late 90's movie. Bad movies are ten a penny but when the idea is so strong it makes the experience of watching that little more frustrating.

Friday, 6 June 2014

The Other Man
Dir: Richard Eyre
2008
**
The disjointed narrative was neither original nor clever. it was poorly thought out and confusing. This was the ultimate failure that broke what could have been a pretty decent drama, it distracted the audience away from what was important just for the sake of being non-formulaic. Although the fact that the lead character (Liam Neeson) is upstaged to embarrassing levels by the films supporting actor (Antonio Banderas) doesn't help. Neeson and Linney are not at their best, Romola Garai is dreadful and spoils the film while the pretty talented Craig Parkinson is given very little to do. A half decent idea executed poorly. The only reason to watch is for Antonio Banderas, who is actually brilliant in his role and thus saves the film from being a 1 star film, but only just!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Jimmy's Hall
Dir: Ken Loach
2014
*****
I saw Jimmy's Hall at my favorite local Cinema (100 year old Phoenix) and was lucky enough to go to a screening that was followed by a Q&A session with legendary director Ken Loach. It was fascinating to hear him talk about the film and the politics at that point in time in rural Ireland. He didn't need to explain the obvious similarities between the social atrocities committed then to those that exist now, those are clear, but to hear the true and simple story of Jimmy Gralton and his community Hall truly inspires to act against it. Ken Loach asked at the end of the film that we remember Jimmy now 80 odd years after his death and a member of the audience added that sometimes art wins out and 80 years after the records of Jimmy's story, life and death were purposely destroyed, he can now finally be remembered and will indeed have the last laugh. To dismiss the film as just a load of socialist propaganda would be to show how ignorant the right really are (still). Even the Pope can't deny the injustices made by the Church, although he already kind of has. This film is about people and people's freedom (real freedom, not the imitation of that the neoconservatives and republicans harp on about). Watch with an open mind and judge for yourself but remember, it's all true. Another brilliant film from one of the best directors of all time.


Filth
Dir: Jon S. Baird
2013
****
 Irvine Welsh adaptation Trainspotting came out at a time when cinema, particularly from the UK, was stagnant and in need of a shake up. The novel was popular enough for an adaption, throw in a catchy soundtrack and heavy promotion and it was a resounding success. It's still good in retrospect but not quite the classic it's been labeled in my opinion. I believe Filth is a better film. So was Filth unfilmable? Well, yes it is, but they came very close. The big disappointment is the lack of talking tapeworm, although this is replaced by large-headed (thus big brained) psychotherapist played by Jim Broadbent. It works, it's just not as good as a talking tapeworm. Everything else was a close adaptation of Welsh's book and intelligent crudeness. The cast is brilliant, James McAvoy takes on the lead role and grabs it by the balls, I can't say he was the first person I thought would make a good Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson but now I wonder if anyone else could have played it as well. The direction is appropriately punchy, not unlike the style used in other Welsh adaptations but a little more mature and less reliant on that one iconic scene. It's a celebration of the gritty and of debouched reality, it's a sly and sharp comedy as well as a uncompromising emotional drama. If that isn't enough to wet your appetite, it's got a David Soul sing-along cameo! What's not to love about that?
The Killer Inside Me
Dir: Michael Winterbottom
2010
****
Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me completely misses out all the great character development that made Jim Thompson's novel so brilliant. There are things a novel can do that a film can't and vice versa but Lou Ford could have been explored further and given the in-depth analysis he deserved. Simply putting the Bible next to a copy of The Basic Writings Of Sigmund Freud was not enough and a little lazy to say the least. However, to Michael Winterbottom's credit, the film was suitably dark and he didn't shy away from the brutal realism of the book when I'm sure it was probably suggested he did for marketing. Apart from the missing pieces I have to say I was mightily impressed. The cast were so much better than I had thought they would be and the set/music/direction were spot on. Is this really a Michael Winterbottom film? Don't get me wrong, he's a great director but I can't think of another successful film maker who doesn't have the slightest hint of a signature or a style of his own. You could call it versatility I suppose but then I remember 9 Songs. A subjective director either way, fitting that his best film (in my opinion) is of a particularly subjective book. Highly recommended but certainly not for everyone.  

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

What Just Happened
Dir: Barry Levinson
2008
***
An inside Hollywood film for people inside Hollywood films. There is a lot of in-jokes and back patting here and I'm afraid I generally have no sympathy for the average Hollywood film producer but I found this film very easy to watch. Barry Levinson is a good director, he's got a mixed CV but generally you can depend on him. For me it was all about the performances though, I loved the whole 'The dies story-line', good on Sean Penn for getting involved and Bruce Willis makes amends for his horrible self-cameo in Oceans 12. Almost anyway. Every one does well, De Niro is totally watchable but for my money, Michael Wincott steals the show, his is a great performance. I really thought this film was okay, I'm not really sure why it's so unpopular?
The Walker
Dir: Paul Schrader
2007
***
I really wasn't feeling it at first but it soon grew on me and by the end I could say that I enjoyed it. I would say the same of Woody Harrelson's performance too, the film and his performance are much the same thing; like his performance, like the film and vice versa. The supporting cast is impressive although no one really has much to do apart from a two minute scene each, but they all do very well at what they've been given. It's not your average murder mystery which is to its credit but it does seem to lack that certain something that would make it special. I think it could have been something special but it's worth a watch as it is.

Scooby-Doo Meets Batman
Dir: William Hanna, Joseph Barbera
1972
**
Zoiks, it's not as good as I remember Scoob! An odd chapter from my childhood, I remember Scooby-Doo meets Dick Van Dyke being stranger though. The animation is pretty bad and the story is rubbish. I loved it as a kid though. I almost wish I hadn't re-watched it recently now, I've shattered another happy memory. It's okay though, I'm over it. I still love everything Hanna/Barbera and I always will.





ParaNorman
Dir: Sam Fell, Chris Butler
2012
****
I love the way LAIKA are giving the world of computer 3D animation a run for their money. ParaNorman is a great little film. The detail is as good as the story, both are of a high quality. It's a bit scary for kids though but as an adult (and if I was a kid still) this would definitely be the one I'd go for. Stop motion all the way baby, it's sad how you don't seem to see many good story and good animation films, it seems to be either one of the other. I'm looking forward to seeing much like this from the LAIKA team.
West is West
Dir: Andy de Emmony
2010
****
I disliked East is East so I had very little interest in seeing the sequel. I really didn't see the point in it at all and judging by the amount of people who did see it (and their cutting reviews) I don't seem to be the only one. East is East was so over-hyped, 'It's the next Full Monty' people said, as if that was ever a good thing! The Full Monty was shit and over-hyped as well (so actually it was quite a good description). Anyway, I watched this film when it was on TV and I couldn't have been more surprised. Gone were the tired cliched stereotypes, the stupid Dog and the whole 'Aren't we all so different but also, aren't we all the same' nonsense. This film focused on the reality of growing in a different culture but also being of that culture and the difficulties involved. The story is of young and old, the Father and the youngest son. It was brilliantly handled and unlike the first film the humour and seriousness of the issue are balanced perfectly. It's everything the first film should have been, highly recommended!
East is East
Dir: Damien O'Donnell
1999
**
I know films have got to make money but I felt the integrity of this story was damaged by the fact that they compromised the story to try to be a little more 'The Full Monty'. British film really was feeble in the mid to late 90's because it tried so hard to please the wrong audiences. What should have been a revealing comedy of culture clash turned out to be just that little bit better then an amateur dramatics society take on a Carry On film but with badly timed serious bits thrown in to wake you up now and again. It's not without charm and I like all the actors involved but it was overrated then and has been long since forgotten for good reason.
A Bronx Tale
Dir: Chazz Palminteri
1993
****
There are quite a few films that tell the same kind of story but for what it's worth, I think this has to be one of the better ones. It shows the other side of Gangsters, maybe a more realistic side rather than all of the violence and bloodshed. It doesn't shy away from it when it has to but it balances it out perfectly. It's biographical of its writer and star, Chazz Palminteri who is excellent as Sonny (are they all called Sonny?). It's a shame what happened to the two boys who played Calogero, life imitating art imitating life. Anyway, a classic, highly recommended.

The Change-Up
Dir: David Dobkin
2011
*
The 1980's called, it wants its film back. Actually, its changed its mind, you can keep it. How long can the body-swap story-line work for? Anyway, although this kind of comedy isn't my thing it does have its place and serves a purpose. Well, sometimes anyway. I'm no prude but the swearing was overused. I love swearing, I do it all the fucking time but when it's overdone it looses its purpose and becomes annoying and redundant and certainly not funny. The film is part 'gross-out' (a term I dislike) and part 'Shock tactic', although the two generally go hand in hand these days leaving little room for decent writing. Okay, so you could argue that I'm taking it all a little bit too seriously but I'd have to ask why every actress had to get naked at least once? They were either portraying the nagging wife or a sex doll. Doesn't anyone find that a tiny bit wrong? As a man, I also feel a little tired of being stereotyped by Hollywood as it seems we are either sex pests or autistic businessmen. But the swearing makes it funny right? Or was it the baby smashing its head against the wall, was that the funny bit? The story is far too exaggerated too but then in the end all is back to normal and there are no repercussions whatsoever! Wow, did David Dobkin really write this or did he copy it off a 12 year old boy? Or is he just a unimaginative man that has somehow hit the big time and made it big in Hollywood because Hollywood has become a big dumbed-down money making cesspit of bad ideas?