Wednesday, 30 September 2015

What We Do in the Shadows
Dir: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
2014
*****
What We Do in the Shadows is based on a short film that Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi made in 2006. It is a fly on the wall fake-documentary about four vampires who live together in a house in Wellington. There is Viago 379, a Dandy from the 1600's, Vladislav 862, a Medieval butcher nick-named Vlad the poker (as he liked to use hot pokers on his victims), Deacon 183, a young rebel who became a Nazi vampire during the second world war and Petyr, a 8000 year old blood-sucker who resembles Max Schreck's Count Orlok. It is somewhere between The Office and Spinal Tap but with Vampires and much better. I haven't chuckled throughout an entire film for quite some time. Clement and Waititi know their Vampires, spoofing the genre has been done many times before but never as well. The subtlety in the performances is brilliant and the improvised extensions of the script are never milked or overcooked. I have never seen a film that is as consistently funny, every new scene bringing something more inventive and more hilarious than the next. It is a rare example of the fake-documentary style actually working and it puts many of the big budget found-footage films to shame. There is less than 10 seconds worth of CGI in the whole film, the bulk of the effects being performed with old-school techniques and looking all the more glorious because of it. The best scene of the film for me has to be when the Vampires and Werewolves square up to each other, with the sensible head of the Werewolf group struggling to control his pack but delivering some of the best lines of the movie ("Mind your language fellas, remember, we're Werewolves not Swearwolves!", "Remember to take off the clothes you want to keep before you transform"). It's an ageless comedy that is so silly that it will appeal to one's childlike/mischievous side but it's also so clever, that should hopefully up the ante within the sub-genre, both in comedy and horror. Easily one of the best films of 2014.
Monte Carlo or Bust! (AKA Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies)
Dir: Ken Annakin
1969
*****
After the success of Ken Annakin's 1965 mad-cap comedy Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, a sequel seemed like a good idea. Monte Carlo or Bust! or Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies as it was known in the USA (to make clear which film it was a sequel to) took the same idea of the original and fast-forwarded it a decade or so to the age of the motorcar. The car comedy chase/race genre was in full swing during the 60s with classics such as The Great Race, It's a MadMadMadMad World and Herbie's first outing, The Love Bug being among the best but I've always felt that Monte Carlo or Bust has been rather overlooked. The original film was a huge success, I believe the follow up is very different and should be looked as a very loose sequel but it is every bit as good, if not better. A few cast members return but are either new characters or the offspring of characters from the first film. It's an incredible cast that is hard to resist, including; Tony Curtis, Terry-Thomas, Eric Sykes, Gert Frobe, Susan Hampshire, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, with the great Jack Hawkins, Hattie Jacques, Willie Rushton and Richard Wattis in supporting roles and starring European favorites Bourvil, Lando Buzzanca, Walter Chiari and Peer Schmidt. The structure is very clever in that it follows the rules of the race, whereby competitors from around the world are timed and start from four different corners of Europe, which opens the story to various humorous situations in various different locations that leads to a creative and masterful exercise in hijinks. The main story sees Tony Curtis and Terry-Thomas settle a wager as to who would win a race, TT's car of choice being the 'Nifty Nine' and Curtis' being 'An overgrown roller-skate'. Eric Sykes is TT's long suffering assistant and Tony Curtis picks up the beautiful Susan Hampshire along route. In Italy, two traffic police Brothers (Lando Buzzanca and Walter Chiari) spend their life savings on a Lancia Lambda, one wanting to be the greatest Italian racing driver in the world, the other wanting to be the greatest Italian lover in the world. In Germany, ex-army inventors Major Digby Dawlish and Lt. Kit Barrington (Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) enter the race to test out their contraption heavy Lea-Frances O-Type alongside Gert Frobe and Peer Schmidt, escaped convicts forced to enter the race as a cover for a diamond smuggling attempt. Each car contains a wonderful double-act, with no pair letting the side down. Each story-arch leads to a climactic finish when all competitors meet in Monte Carlo for the last leg of the race. It's a fantastic comedy, consistently funny and also rather exciting. The performances are wonderful, the car chases and stunts spectacular and it's a lovely example of various elements of European humor coming together and working. An absolute classic and one of my favorite films of all time. If that weren't enough, the great Jimmy Durante provides one of the best theme songs ever.
The Incredible Shrinking Man
Dir: Jack Arnold
1957
*****
Jack Arnold's The Incredible Shrinking Man is an astonishing film. Overlooked by many as just another 50's B-movie, The Incredible Shrinking Man has been hugely influential but not just in the sci-fi genre. The idea of someone shrinking is far more than just that, this film explores what it is to basically disappear, to be misunderstood, to become forgotten or overlooked, almost a fate worse than death. You could attach any number of social, political or religious context to the story but that is exactly what good sci-fi achieves. It asks many questions most aren't used to asking, the interpretation is wonderfully subjective and the film is entertaining throughout. The science is obviously fictitious but its is also quite convincing and the turn of events aren't half as fantastical as you'd expect from the title. It's a far out concept but is almost believable at the same time.This is Jack Arnold at his best  and that is saying something. It is a truly wonderful work of sci-fi and is an absolute classic. The last scene is so haunting and totally unexpected it left me stunned. Give me these old-school special effects over CGI any day of the week. 
Youth in Revolt
Dir: Miguel Arteta
2010
****
C. D. Payne's epistolary novel is almost impossible to properly adapt due to the nature of its construction but in my opinion Miguel Arteta developed all the dark, juicy and best parts for his film. It was somewhat underrated and misunderstood on realise though it seems, with fans of the novel feeling short changed (not sure what they expected) and others possibly mislead by the poster/synopsis/post-production publicity. Youth in Revolt made me laugh consistently throughout the 90 minute run time, thanks mostly to the sharp script and the great performance by Michael Cera. The supporting cast is also impressive but are ultimately  unnecessary, as Michael Cera carries the film by himself, indeed it could have been a one man show with extras. It was a real breath of fresh air on release amid the usual bile inducing teen films of the last decade but then I think it's fair to say that this film is a little more universal than that, it's just been marketed badly. This is not the American Pie type of film the trailer suggested it was, sadly it wasn't as popular which is a mystery to me but I do think time will be favorable to it as I'm sure it will be re-discovered as the brilliant film it is.
Wide Awake
Dir: M. Night Shyamalan
1998
*
Wide Awake is M. Night Shyamalan's second directional project but his first mainstream film to have a cinema release. I have to confess that I absolutely hated it. It's not funny when it tries, it has a particularly annoying Julia Stiles in it, annoying nine year old boys talking like adults and a predictable ending, and not a particularly good one either. It tries to invigorate the feel of many a like-minded drama that were popular at the time and pulls desperately on the heart-strings but I'm afraid it fails with each and every attempt. This is down to inexperience and it is rather telling that the young Shyamalan's parents were the executive producers. It's lost millions at the box office and it's amazing that he ever worked again, more so that he made one of the most successful films of all time just one year later. It's basically a colour by numbers shameless attempt at emotional manipulation, except they only used one colour and went over the lines too often.
Margot at the Wedding
Dir: Noah Baumbach
2007
**
I really liked Noah Baumbach's 2005 comedy drama The Squid and the Whale and was really looking forward to his follow up, especially after all the hype but I have to say, I was bitterly disappointed. I liked the cast, every performance was first rate, even though that often meant that they all played 'annoying' rather well. You know a film isn't great when Jack Black is the light relief though and as well shot as this film is, it's also very shallow and devoid of substance. I'm a firm believer that films don't necessarily have to have a point but I do think they should be at least be entertaining if they don't. This obsession with young boys masturbating is getting a little tiresome as well, please Stop it Mr. Baumbach. The Squid and the Whale was a great film but Margot at the Wedding gives Independent American cinema a bad name in my book. Only worth watching for the ever wonderful Jennifer Jason Leigh in my opinion, the rest I'm afraid is irritating, boring at best.
Waterworld
Dir: Kevin Reynolds
1995
**
Waterworld has become quite the infamous Hollywood failure. However, while it's no masterpiece, the film itself is an average action film with an original theme/gimmick, it's not great but it's not terrible, it's just famous for loosing large amounts of money, even though in truth it broke even. Personally I don't judge a film by how much it makes or looses someone else, I rate it on how much money I feel I've spent on it, whether I feel it was money well spent or wasted. Many a great film has flopped and lost money, many a stinker has broken box office records. Creating a huge aquatic set was always going to be expensive but for what it's worth I thought it looked very impressive. For me the biggest issue was that too much was happening at once. The story should have been simpler and of two halves. The first half should have been a lost at sea experience with our protagonist living on his own self-sufficient floating island and with little dialogue. The second half should than have been the over the top Mad Max on water actioner it tried to be. The characters weren't particularly well written and a couple of the leads were unnecessary. The performances verge from standard to embarrassing but in my opinion it was all worth while for Dennis Hoppers bizarre performance as one of the strangest villains ever to be committed to celluloid.
We Own the Night
Dir: James Gray
2007
***
We Own the Night (the motto of the now disbanded NYPD Street Crimes Unit) is entertaining enough but ultimately it's forgettable among the many New York 'dirty Cop' movies made over the years. It's a very average addition to the genre, the story is fairly underwhelming but it is directed beautifully and the cast are all on good form. Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg make for a good double act, this being the second time they appear together, the first being director James Gray's The Yards. I found the sibling rivalry, high-testosterone and father issue themes to be a bit tiresome to be honest, a solid film but just not to my taste. James Gray is no Scorsese or Coppola yet but he's got a brilliant eye and I expect his masterpiece will come soon.
Sibling Rivalry
Dir: Carl Reiner
1990
*
Carl Reiner's 1990 comedy Sibling Rivalry is the story of one woman (Kirstie Alley) who, tired of her life and marriage, decides to take the advice of he sister and has a fling with a stranger she meets. Things get complicated when said man dies during intercourse and is subsequently found to be her husband's long lost brother. It is safe to say that even in 1990, this was a tired story line that had been done to death. It boasts an impressive cast including; Kirstie Alley, Sam Elliott, Jami Gertz, Bill Pullman, Carrie Fisher and Scott Bakula and it is directed by comedy legend Carl Reiner but isn't once funny or as likable as you'd expect from any one of those people. While it is in no way as bad as Reiner's follow up, Fatal Instinct, it is evidence of the funny man's creative comedy decline.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The MuppetsWizard of Oz
Dir: Kirk R. Thatcher
2005
**
The MuppetsWizard of Oz represents a dark chapter in the history of the Muppets. It was watched on TV by a record breaking audience, the popularity of the Muppets themselves never waning but almost everyone agreed that it just wasn't as good as they could be. It does have some funny bits, the Muppet magic is there if you look hard enough ("Lunchkins for munchkins", "Are you related to Frank Oz") but the constant references to the most fleeting elements of popular culture became tiresome pretty quickly, as did the constant cameo appearances, as if the Muppets couldn't stand on their own feet (you know what I mean). That said, I liked the Quentin Tarantino scene a lot but I thought Ashanti was a poor lead choice and that her overall dream of entering a talent show was far too shallow for Muppet theology. There wasn't enough Muppets either, always a mistake in a Muppet film. The hired writers were too young and inexperienced, I have no idea why the Muppet performers themselves never wrote the scripts. I'm surprised at director Kirk R. Thatcher and producer Bill Barretta though. Thatcher (Punk seen on the Bus going to Sea World in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) and Barretta (Pepe the Kind Prawn) are both very talented and funny people, I think they should have produced something greater that they were both very capable of. It's the Muppets though, so I cherish it.
Gandhi
Dir: Richard Attenborough
1982
*****
Richard Attenborough's 1982 epic Biopic begins with the statement; 'No man's life can be encompassed in one telling. There is no way to give each year its allotted weight, to include each event, each person who helped to shape a lifetime. What can be done is to be faithful in spirit to the record and to try to find one's way to the heart of the man'. 
With that in mind, this is absolutely one of the most honest and faithful biopics of one amazing individual. The Richard Attenborough's passion as a story teller is clear, I think many aspects of what was going on in India under British rule at the time was not mentioned due to the fact that this film is more about the man, rather than the world at that time, a time, place and situation can make the man but it can also dilute a story of its purpose. That said, it doesn't shy away from the brutality India suffered or indeed from Gandhi's message, that is still loud and clear for the audience to hear. The world would be doing itself a favour in revisiting the story of Gandhi and thanks to Attenborough's wonderful film and Ben Kingsley's amazing performance, we can at any time. A fitting tribute to a wonderful man.
Jesus Camp
Dir: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
2006
*****
2006's Jesus Camp is shocking. Not shocking because it tells us something society wasn't aware of as such, but quite how excepted the subject matter is. This isn't cutting edge investigative journalism, it's very simple stand and shoot stuff and that makes it quite a frightening watch. No one openly challenges the subject and everyone in the film seemed to be quite happy to contribute to the filming, all the better for documentary makers Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady and Mike Papantonio but terrifying that they were allowed in many respects. Their restraint must have taken a lot of will power, I applaud them for that. Personally, I wouldn't batter an eyelid if this film were to be re-categorized as a horror. The clever thing about this fly-on-the-wall documentary is the idea of acceptance. It's not the hate or ignorance that is on display that frightens the most though, we've seen this before. It is disturbing to see such young people mislead and manipulated, even more so when the manipulators actually say "I don't see why we can't brainwash them" but it is the acceptance of the parents, the believers and those involved that there is nothing wrong with what they are saying, even when they contradict themselves that really sends the shivers down the back. I liked the fact that the opposition, or 'voice of reason' if you like, came from a Christian, a real one that goes to a real church and believes religion and politics are two very different things. You have to be pretty naive to not realise that many of the worlds problems stem from religion but to see it up close and invited can be quite deeply disturbing, especially when it can be absolutely anyone who is doing the preaching.

Super Size Me
Dir: Morgan Spurlock
2004
****
Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me lead the way in what would become the beginning of a new era of investigative journalism at the beginning of the new millennium. Spurlock's mission is clear but never truthfully given. I like Spurlock at lot, he is a likable guy and that is why Super Size Me works but he is first and foremost a film maker, rather than documentarian or activist. He may be against something and/or enjoy something but filming it doesn't make it a documentary. Spurlock challenged himself to eat a McDonalds meal for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner for a 30 day period. He had to try everything on the menu at least once, couldn't eat food that wasn't purchased in a McDonalds and had to accept the offer of 'Supersizing' his meal when asked (9 times in total). The results were shocking but not really surprising. Throughout the film, Spurlock talks of America's obesity epidemic and discusses the issue with good humor and statistics but unfortunately his experiment is completely flawed as far as a clinical trial. It is an entertaining film throughout and it raises some very valid points and had impact in the world of fast food but it also paved the way for some somewhat unethical and misleading documentaries that would follow on from its success. It's a shame really, as I believe his results do stand up, they just can't be fully verified based on how he went about the experiment. A game changer, inspiration, fascinating case-point and a very funny film though, so credit due.
Babylon A.D.
Dir: Mathieu Kassovitz
2008
***
Mathieu Kassovitz's adaption of Maurice Georges Dantec's 1999 novel Babylon Babies is an odd, disjointed and puzzling production that is now famous for the various problems it encountered in getting to the screen and unfortunately, many of those issues are obvious when watching the film. However, I think that's what I liked about it. The script doesn't really work, the editing is irritating and it's not always a comfortable watch but there is something irresistible about it. It's got 'cult' written all over it with a healthy measure of 'guilty pleasure' thrown in for good measure. I can't believe they cut 70 minutes out of the finished film, although I can believe 70 minutes was cut out of it, as it clearly has something missing. Maybe one day we'll see an uncut version, although no one other than me thought the film had any merit. Personally I was full of intrigue, it was just short of a decent script and a couple of stand out scenes. Unfairly overlooked in my opinion, I do wonder if people will look at it differently in 20 years time.
Buy Your Own Cherries (AKA Rum vs. Cherries)
Dir: Robert W. Paul
1904
*****
A film way ahead of its time. It doesn't quite work within the timescale but the essence is there. Robert W. Paul brings moral drama to the table, highlighting the emotional possibilities that film can bring and thus opens a new chapter in the history of cinema. It's also an interesting historical document and an interesting example of early political and social propaganda, alcoholism being the biggest blame for poverty at the time. It is also the first film ever to me remade, just a year later.
Flypaper
Dir: Rob Minkoff
2011
*
It's quite quite surprising that 2011's Flypaper is Rob Minkoff second live action film. His first was the hugely impressive The Forbidden Kingdom, a massive leap from the animation work he was known for. Flypaper however, is a truly awful film. It feels like it's a cartoon, like one of his early Roger Rabbit shorts in fact, although it is desperately unfunny. The worst thing you could ask an actor to do is act like a cartoon but this seems to be exactly what happened here although I believe Minkoff thinks the story is really clever but it really isn't. Not even close. The acting is awful, the script is awful, the story is awful...it's a complete mess and it is unbelievable that is was ever green lit.
The Escapist
Dir: Rupert Wyatt
2008
***
Rupert Wyatt's prison escape movie, The Escapist, is a somewhat familiar addition to the sub-genre but is well rounded and entertaining throughout. My biggest gripes our the performances from Damian Lewis and Steven Mackintosh, two actors I'm afriad I don't have much time for. For me they really let the film down with their cartoonish performances in what should have been a serious film. The rest of the cast are brilliant, Brian Cox is thrilling in the lead role and Joseph Fiennes, Liam Cunningham, Seu Jorge and Dominic Cooper lend brilliant support. I'm still not sold on the ending or indeed the overall structure of the film but it is something original and that's important in a film of this genre.

Friday, 25 September 2015

FurAn Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus
Dir: Steven Shainberg
2006
***
It's an interesting idea. Diane Arbus' photographic portraits were somewhat radical in the 1950s, her subjects being of people with disabilities and deformities and of members of underground groups and counterculture in general. Her photographs have been praised by many since and she is recognised as a pioneer in the medium, although before her death she had declared that she hated all of them. Whether you like them or not, her legacy is clear. What this fictional film wants to depict is exactly how the daughter of wealthy 5th Avenue department store owners became such a rebellious creative force. This is actually all covered in Patricia Bosworth's unauthorized biography of the young artist, her influences are clear and well documented as are her conflicting thoughts on her own work. Steven Shainberg and playwright Erin Cressida Wilson have basically explored Arbus' metamorphosis by inserting her life story into both Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's Beauty and the Beast. There is also a strange eroticism at play in the film which isn't at all a reflection on Arbus' life or work but more because that's what both director and screen writer do best (see 2002's Secretary). It's an interesting theatrical experiment, it would have been nice to see a little more of her work in the film but then who knows what the intention really was here, I did like it, I thought it was different and quirky however a factual film of the artist would now be nice. Both Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr are good, I just wish they'd whispered less.
BMX Bandits
Dir: Brian Trenchard-Smith
1983
****
BMX Bandits' concept was ready to go and a provisional script was written before Brian Trenchard-Smith was hired as director. I can't help but think he saved the project somewhat. Written purely to jump on the BMX trend of the early 80s, Bandits' didn't really have that much going for it until Trenchard-Smith injected some of his creative genius. The shoot was moved from Melbourne to Sydney to take advantage of many of the City's locations which proved effective for many of the stunt scenes. Trenchard-Smith really went to town with the stunt-ideas and to this day it is still my ambition to go down a water-slide on a BMX. Interestingly, Trenchard-Smith has said that he was highly influenced by the Ealing Comedies when writing the film, although this was mainly in making the bad guys a little more cartoonish and less threatening for a younger audience. It's a case of a few middle-age men trying to profit on a current kids craze and getting it right. It remains one of the coolest 80's films ever made, although I'm aware that that is completely dependent on one's taste but if you were born in the late 70's like myself, I'm in no doubt that you'd agree. It's a cult classic. It is also Nicole Kidman's first film although all her stunt scenes were actually done by a man in a wig.
The Great Chase
Dir: Paul Killiam
1962
*****
The Great Chase is a fantastic compilation of silent cinema, documenting the birth of the action film, whether it be drama, comedy or adventure. Frank Gallop narrates the film in that typical 50's style whereby the obvious is stated in a likable but unnecessary "Uh-oh, looks like the police have arrived.." kind of way. It features great films, such as Buster Keaton's The General, D.W. Griffith's Way Down East, The Perils of Pauline as well as some early Keystone Comedies. It's a concise look at cinema's evolution from an interesting 60's viewpoint and a rather brilliant one at that. 
Bombón: El Perro
Dir: Carlos Sorín
2004
*****
Carlos Sorín's neo-realist comedy drama Bombon: El Perro (Bombon: The Dog) is a joy from start to finish. It's not the dog that steals the show though as you might expect, it's our down on his luck hero Coco (played by Juan Villegas), who is instantly lovable. After a spell of bad luck, Coco is unexpectedly gifted a Dog by a woman he helps by the side of the road after her car breaks down. He decides to keep the job and when his daughter with whom he lives with gives him the ultimatum 'It's me or the Dog" he chooses the dog and a memorable road-trip begins. Carlos Sorín's neo-realist approach works perfectly, as many of the characters are real people rather than actors which makes the magic of the story feel just that little more believable. The one man and his dog story has been done to death, the big difference here is that instead of the dog leading to trouble, Coco's luck actually changes for the better, giving the film a lovely feel of good karma. A beautifully directed feel good film.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Drop
Dir: Michaël R. Roskam
2014
****
Michaël R. Roskam follows up his provocative 2011 Bullhead with an equally quirky but stylish thriller. It's clear that Roskam has no time for formula, I thought Bullhead came close to what I think he wanted to achieve but The Drop certainly gets it right. Just when you think The Drop is going to descend into a convoluted crime drama full of cliche and hi-jinks, it lightens itself of any shackles and gets on with the story. It isn't a new idea as such, the scenario, characters and situation are nothing we haven't seen before but the order is different. This is what Roskam does best, he takes all the same jigsaw pieces and then makes a totally different picture to the one that's on the box. It's rather unique as thrillers go and is a refreshing change of pace. It's also a fitting last film for the brilliant James Gandolfini who died of a heart-attack before the film's release, as his character was what he was known for classically and his performance was effortless. Tom Hardy was very convincing in the lead role and Matthias schoenaert was exceptional in his supporting role, both actors going from strength to strength. Noomi Rapace is also impressive, The Drop being the first film in a long time she's felt right in. The direction is stylishly demure which gives off an eerie hopelessness that is also strangely comforting in a matter-of-fact way. Alternative but subtle, hopefully the beginning of a trend.
Big Hero 6
Dir: Chris Williams, Don Hall
2014
****
Disney bought Marvel Entertainment in 2009 and have been 'exploring' Marvel's back-catalog for properties to adapt ever since. Marvel's original Big Hero 6 is completely different to Chris Williams and Don Hall's animation, and while I'm not too sure how big the fan base is of the original, I'm probably going to upset them both by stating that it is a vast improvement. What was Marvel's attempt to tap into the MANGA market was turned into something quite unique that covers many styles and genres. Disney animation bosses have commented that the film not only helped them look at adaptions in a different light but it also helped them embrace some of the Pixar DNA they had acquired. It's a cute robot, MANGA style, superhero, mystery adventure with a little bit of Scooby-Doo thrown in for good measure. It's certainly feels like something new. The story is intelligent, the animation astonishing (although I don't love the movement of the human characters) and it is exciting throughout. However, the best part of the whole production is arguably the character of Baymax. The worlds first huggable Robot. The superhero element is okay, the super-flash animation is great etc but the simplicity and beauty of Baymax's movements and persona are exceptional. It's miles away from what the original character was like, it may have its origins in Marvel and it even has a Stan Lee cameo but Baymax is undoubtedly Pixar. Pixar doing Studio Ghibli that is. It's almost a shame that Baymax can't be part of the Avengers films, seriously though, it's great to see a charming, clever and heartfelt character come out of what is essentially the result of a profit motivated multi-conglomerate takeover. Good Robot.
Feast
Dir: Patrick Osborne
2014
****
Feast is an irresistible short animation that accompanied Big Hero 6 in cinemas in 2014. It is a short and simple story of a little Puppy's introduction into the world of food. Saved from the streets by his eventual owner, our Pup is tempted away with a chip, which leads to kibble and eventually leads to a whole feast of different foods. There is nothing quite as glorious as watching a hungry Puppy devouring his meal and loving every mouthful. The film changes pace once we realise that the Pup's owner suddenly finds love, and once his lady-friend moves in, the food goes back to being healthy and Dog-like. Happily things go back to normal when his owner splits from his love and the treats soon start coming again but at what cost. Our little Pup has to decide a life of endless treats or the happiness of the owner that saved him. It is beautifully animated, well written and utterly adorable.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Invictus
Dir: Clint Eastwood
2009
***
Clint Eastwood's Invictus, based on the book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation by John Carlin, is the true story of South Africa's progress post-apartheid thanks to the unity that sport, in this instance Rugby, can bring to a nation. Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa in 1994, tension was high in the country and he needed something that would unite the whole country. The national Rugby team, known as the Springboks, was historically supported by the whites and was a symbol of supremacy. Black South Africans would generally support the apposing team. Mandela pleaded with his people to support the team and he set up a nationwide tour of the team to win over the Black population. The Springboks weren't doing very well a year before the 1995 World Cup but thanks to Mandela's motivation, they were inspired enough and worked hard to eventually win the tournament. This was a huge step forward in the uniting of the people of South Africa. It may have been short lived, we're a fickle race, but Eastwood captures the magic the existed in '95 perfectly. Apparently, Nelson Mandela himself said that he would only allow Morgan Freeman to portray him in the film and so it was done. Both Freeman and Matt Damon deliver believable and moving performances. A large part of the film focuses on the people around Mandela, his bodyguards in particular. I believe this is the real strength of the film, as we see his Black ANC body guards and White security officers, who had served under De Klerk, slowly learn to respect each other and move on from the past. The Rugby world cup final that took place in South Africa that year, was a very symbolic moment in the countries political and social history and Eastwood delivers the story with dignity and refreshing lack of schmaltz.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Pride
Dir: Matthew Warchus
2014
****
Matthew Warchus' 2014 film Pride is based on the true story of the 1984 group LGSM (Lesbians and Gays support the Miners). It's not a story I was aware of which I think is quite shocking as the turn of events are hugely important in the politics of Great Britain. When Margret Thatcher closed the mines in the early 80s, whole communities lost their income and unions has their funds sequestered. A small group of Gay and Lesbian activists decided to support these communities as they saw them facing the same (but very different) problems, no less from the police and government. It was an act of civil support that was not only successful but changed the face of British politics, without many even knowing about it. Matthew Warchus has added fictitious elements to the story but these only emphasis the important areas of the story and show how hard it was to be Gay and/or a Minor at the time. The LGSM were eventually welcomed in the small mining town of Onllwyn and from there a seed of acceptance and friendship was born. After the mining strikes were called off, the miners unions showed their thanks and support for the group by marching with them in the 1985 Gay pride march in London. Soon after, the Labour party passed a bill for LGBT rights, thanks to the block voting of the miner's unions and they continued their support, most notably against the section 28 act of 1988. It's a wonderful true story of people coming together in support of civil rights in what would seem to be an unlikely match. Matthew Warchus provides the facts, most of the characters are real people who were all asked to participate in the film in one way or another and all supported his version. Although the character of 'Bromley' was fictional, it showed just how hard it sometimes was for a young homosexual to come out at the time and being new to activist and politics, he acts as a successful protagonist for the viewer. The portrayals of Mark Ashton, Hefina Headon, Dai Donovan, Jonathan Blake and Sian James are all very accurate with they themselves (apart from Hefina Headon who sadly died the day the film started shooting) gave the film their blessing. It could be said that there are a few stereotypes within the film and that is fair comment, however, compare it to the unrealistic and nauseatingly mainstream films it's been lazily compared to (The Full Monty, Billy Elliot) it's actually rather authentic. Matthew Warchus should be praised for giving the LGSM the thanks they deserve and for bringing this important piece of political history to the masses in such an entertaining manner. The feel good film of 2014.
Troll 2
Dir: Claudio Fragasso
1990
*
Troll 2 is often referred to as the best worst movie ever made. It's really not. The original Troll is a fairly bad film but is also quite wonderful, Troll 2 is very amateur, has no redeeming features and contains no Trolls whatsoever, although it's not really a sequel, nor does it have anything to do with the previous film, producers were (rightly) worried that it wouldn't do well and re-titled it from 'Goblins' to Troll 2 as a marketing trick, as is often seen with terrible horror films. In order for a film to be 'So bad it's good' it has to have something spectacular about it and Troll 2 doesn't, at all. Personally I think Shark Attack 3: Megalodon is the worlds 'Worst Best Movie', due to the shocking script (and what they left in) and the amazingly bad (but also quite good) special effects that sees a giant Shark eat a speedboat. I believe Troll 2 is rightfully regarded as one of the worst films ever made but I can't for the life of me explain how it has become a cult. The story was inspired by Claudio Fragasso's wife. In the film, the Goblins try to turn the humans into vegetables so they can eat them (they are vegetarian). Apparently, Fragasso's wife was so angry that a lot of her friends were turning vegetarian, she needed some kind of creative way of expressing her frustration. I wonder what the gluten free version of Troll 2 would look like? I understand the want of some people to watch it after all the hype about it but I advise you all not to. Life is far too short to be watching the likes of Troll 2, it's not 'So bad it's good' it's just bad.
Troll
Dir: John Carl Buechler
1986
***
Troll 2 seems to get spoken about far more than the original film, which is far more interesting. Both are bad films but there is something quite beautiful about John Carl Buechler's 1986 original. Firstly, Sony Bono turns into a forest. What other film can claim that? Not only does Cher's ex bloom out of existence, but Dr. Maureen Robinson from Lost in Space talks to a giant Mushroom face and enchanted sprites (who have taken over an apartment block) sing to their hearts content in one of the best musical numbers (sort of) of all time. It's low budget horror/fantasy that I love the 80's for. I also love it when SFX and make-up artists being film directors, they're films are consistently awful but always brilliant. 1982's Poltergeist is famous for young Heather O'Rouke's performance but Jenny Beck is almost as good as the little girl possessed by the Troll. Interestingly, both the father and son of the main family are called Harry Potter, and I've always wondered if J.K. Rowling was a fan. Troll also represents the acting debut of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, she's quite good too but she's often shied away from talking about on talk shows and obviously isn't too fond of it. I've seen some bad films, this is one of them but it is definitely of the 'So bad it's good' variety. Often in low budget films, particularly in horror, creativity undoes negativity and this is a good example of this. Unlike Troll 2 which is absolute crap.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Foxcatcher
Dir: Bennett Miller
2014
*****
Bennett Miller's 2014 Foxcatcher is a slow-burning thriller that will have your toes curling long before the climactic conclusion. The intensity is almost unbearable but what is really impressive is how this is achieved. The pace is rather slow but dignified, the performances are subtle but effective. It's easy to be distracted by Steve Carell's prosthetic nose and Mark Ruffalo's reseeding hairline at first but it is soon apparent that these add to the realism of the characters and that the performances speak for themselves. It's easy to make people look when casting a comedian in a serious role and to disguise a couple of well known actors but there are no gimmicks here, they were the best actors for the job. The preparation was grueling, both Ruffalo and Channing Tatum trained for six solid months to gain weight and technique while Carell watched hundreds of recordings of John du Pont so he could impersonate his mannerisms perfectly. While there are a couple of changes to the facts, it's only really the time scale in which events happened that have been altered. Each actor looks and acts just like the real people they portray and the three leads excel in their performances. Both Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo were nominated for a whole host of awards while Channing Tatum was quite unfairly overlooked, having only been nominated by MTV for 'Best Shirtless Performance', which he still didn't win. Good old MTV. Bennett Miller rightfully won best director at 2014's Cannes film festival but overall I felt that the film in general has been overlooked. The feeling of impending doom that the film cleverly conjures is astonishing and only adds weight to the feeling that Miller is one of the most dynamic and exciting directors of our time. He understands people, the characters he wants to explore and the people he casts to play them. It's a relief to see a film of such substance among so many pretenders and over-hyped charlatans during the award season. When Capitol Pictures boss Jack Lipnick asked Barton Fink to write a wrestling picture, I can only imagine he had this type of film in mind.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Host
Dir: Andrew Niccol
2013
**
While I don't think Andrew Niccol's The Host, based on the novel by Stephenie Mayer, was as bad as the critics say it was on release, it certainly wasn't perfect. I think The Host suffered before it was even released by the fact that Stephenie Mayer and her Twilight Saga series had dominated the media somewhat, cutting audiences right down the middle. Stephenie Mayer was idolised by many and hated by the rest. I'm not a 'young adult', so I haven't read the novel the film is based on and couldn't say whether it was a good adaptation or not. At first I was slightly appalled by the obvious Body-snatchers plagiarism, although parasitism isn't something that can be copyrighted the similarities were clear. It's also a little unfortunate that the actors depicting the humans in the story are wooden and so similar to each other as they seem more alien than the aliens. The futuristic style of the film is Andrew Niccol at his most relaxed, white suits and silver vehicles are fairly lazy ways of depicting a futuristic society and are a far cry from his previous work. However, somewhere beneath the dodgy acting, unconvincing romance and stale script is an interesting idea. Whether this idea works in the novel or not I couldn't say, it certainly doesn't in the film, which is such a shame. The possibilities that could lead from duel ownership of one body are vast, a slushy teen drama being pretty far from the best scenario. There are clever ideas floating about but essentially the story makes little sense and certain moral questions are picked up and discarded in ridiculous fashion. It's a rather shallow and unimaginative bit of sci-fi but Saoirse Ronan is very good and it's much better than any of the Twilight films.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The HobbitThe Battle of the Five Armies
Dir: Peter Jackson
2014
****
Peter Jackson's initial Hobbit outing; An Unexpected Journey, plodded along at a snails pace. The follow up, 2013's The Desolation of Smaug, was overlong and had questionable action sequences and special effects. It's fair to say Jackson corrected all these mistakes in the final installment, The Battle of the Five Armies. The film starts where the last one left off, making for an action-packed introduction but also raising the question why such an important part of the story was cut in half in the first place. Again, stretching the one book across three films really diluted the magic of J. R. R. Tolkien's original story. Rewriting a novel for a film is one thing but to add characters and chance the plot of a much loved classic just so you can stretch it out for profit is fairly bad behavior in my book, it's okay if justified but in this case I think two films, as was originally planned, would have been sufficient. However, The Battle of the Five Armies is a joy, nothing is rushed and the pace is consistently exciting. The special effects are vastly improved and the silly action sequences have been removed (although there is a short scene whereby one character rides a horse cart, sans horse, down a hill that looked like it was straight out of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, a film Jackson (over) produced in 2011). The battle scene at Dol Guldur that sees Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Radagast (Sylvestor McCoy), Gandalf (Ian McKellen and Saruman the White (Christopher Lee) fight the Nazgul and Sauron is a stunning bit of cinema, with amazing special effects and beautiful cinematography. It's a great scene for fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and a wonderful final performance from the late, great Christopher Lee. The concluding battle is an epic affair, there have been many epic CGI battles since Ridley Scott's 2000 film The Gladiator re-invented the genre but this has to be one of the better ones. Introducing Dain played by Billy Connolly was an act of genius alone. The last scene sees the trilogy come full circle and sets up the events of The Lord of the Rings perfectly and without the schmaltz I thought the Return of the King had. I believe Jackson learned valuable lessons from the previous films, I just wish he had got it right from the very beginning.

Monday, 14 September 2015

'71
Dir: Yann Demange
2014
****
It's been pointed out by many that even though it is never suggested the story of '71 is based on real events, the specific plot is fairly improbable and unrealistic. Set in Northern Ireland in 1971, it's not exactly a War film in the classic sense but can be considered one generically. A fresh recruit is left behind after a routine mission gets out of hand and he is left to find his own way back to his barracks. I have no idea if the areas or the people are accurately depicted but the film is intense and exciting throughout. Unfortunately, certain stand out scenes are slightly hindered by certain details that didn't feel quite right. A Pub bombing delivers the films big emotional scene that has quite the impact but I felt this was let down by dodgy wigs and poor acting in previous and subsequent segments. However, the energy of the film and the handling of the subject matter should be applauded. The emotional authenticity from both sides and the physical intensity is dizzying. The balance of action and political drama is perfectly handled and its conclusion is brutal but refreshing.