Monday, 30 November 2015

Shell
Dir: Scott Graham
2012
**
Scott Graham's eerie 2012 drama is set in a petrol station in the lonely expanse of the Scottish Highlands. Seventeen year old Shell lives and works at the lonely station with only her Father for company. Shell is regularly visited by an older man (Michael Smiley) who drives through twice a week and by a younger man from the nearest village (played by Iain De Caestecker). Both men are interested in Shell romantically and, although she is tempted, both men are shunned. After years of living alone with only her father for company, Shell seems to only have eyes for her Dad. This is where the film lost me somewhat. Isolation is an interesting subject, with many possibilities for storytellers to explore. I think it's a shame how living alone among amidst one of the most stunning landscapes on the planet somehow leads to a story of incest. It's a beautifully performed and directed film, I just think the content is lazy, a bit contrived and a bit insulting to all the many people who live in such conditions. It feels like a story born from the City's fear of the country, which annoys me and also bores me a fair bit. The Highlands is no place for French Existentialism in my humble opinion.
Book of Blood
Dir: John Harrison
2009
**
Reading Clive Barker's collective Books of Blood series are one of my most treasured memories of my adolescence. They terrified me and I loved every minute of it. Most of my friends were into Stephen King at the time but I found a certain maturity in Barker's work, not to mention a darker, more poetic venture into horror. Barker writes with a frightening degree of realism, one that is thus far unmatched in my opinion. However, much like his rival Stephen King, some adaptations of his work leave a lot to be desired. John Harrison's adaption is from where the series started, the place where I and many others got hooked but it's safe to say that if the written story had been as bad, the series wouldn't have got very far and I doubt a second, let alone a seventh, would have followed. The direction is great and the intro scene really did reel me in but somewhere towards the middle of the film everything became stale and utterly dull. The conclusion is somewhat of a payoff and again, the visuals were pretty impressive but it is the middle thirty minutes that ultimately ruin what could have been a compelling and suitably creepy thriller. I believe it is a four star film, it's just been edited so badly that the end result barely deserves the two stars I've awarded it. Such a shame.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Child 44
Dir: Daniel Espinosa
2015
**
Daniel Espinosa's direction is nothing short of beautiful, the dark greens and rich browns capturing the era wonderfully and making the production feel authentic, suitably bleak but often stylish, such was the time and trends. The visuals, set, costumes and overall production dazzle to the point that the performances had to be perfect. Unfortunately, they were not. Tom Hardy was praised for his performance upon the film's release but personally I think it's the least enthusiastic role in his career thus far. His accent was famously distracting in The Dark Knight Rises but it's almost a picture of utter eloquence in comparison. However, Gary Oldman, a generous actor indeed, does his best to take some of the heat off for him with an equally baffling vocal performance. If it was just the dodgy accents, of which everyone is guilty to be fair, it wouldn't be too much of a problem but the lack of suspense, intrigue and mystery is the real issue with the film, a real blow to the audience, seeing as such a story should have contained (nigh, demanded) all three. It is essentially a detective film but it never once feels like one. The story becomes extremely convoluted and starts to drag fairly early on with unnecessary sub-plots and unconvincing characters and scenarios. A whodunit that becomes a who cares very rapidly with only it's visuals, that also become a bit samey, left to enjoy. Daniel Espinosa is clearly great at visuals, but with a film full of talent, he really needs to work on his people skills. Considerably less than the sum of its parts.
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films
Dir: Mark Hartley
2014
****
Mark Hartley's Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is a great insight into the infamous movie studios that B-Movie/action fans (and cinephiles) have been waiting for. The studio was founded by Dennis Friedland and Chris Dewey, the pair famously never spent more than $300,000 on a movie and most of them were remakes of Swedish soft-porn films. The studio only really gained its reputation after Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus bought it in 1979 for half a million dollars. The amateur filmmakers changed the way films were made (and weren't made) from then on with their own unique business formula. They bought cinemas, took over the VHS market and ripped off every hit film that came out. They sold films based on posters they mocked up, they threw money at franchises and made cheap versions when their offers were accepted. Their films were mostly dreadful but gloriously so. Cannon Films defined an era of film making in many respects and I remember perusing their titles in the video shop every day on the way home from school, wishing I was old enough to rent them. They damaged cinema in many respects and paved the way for corruption which lead to a severe drop in quality but they are undoubtedly an influence to independent filmmakers, although many learn from their mistakes. You can't argue with their catalog of films though, ranging from awful to absolute B-Movie masterpieces, with the odd standard masterpiece here and there, the studio is almost a genre unto itself. Their films include the good; Breakin', Runaway Train, Lifeforce, the bad; Masters of the Universe, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, and the weird; The Apple, Bolero, Hercules, as well as modern classics such as American Ninja, Death Wish 2-5 and The Delta Force. All of them are below-standard but all of them are wonderful in their own little ways. Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus heard about this documentary and the buzz it was accumulating and decided not to participate, instead, they made their own, cheaper version and got it released on DVD four months before. Essential viewing for film lovers.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Orion: The Man Who Would Be King
Dir: Jeanie Finlay
2015
****
They say that truth is often stranger than fiction. The story of Orion adds a lot of weight to that particular way of thinking. Jeanie Finlay has a nose for a good story, her films seeming to involve music and the most fascinating of characters. She certainly hit the jackpot with Orion, aka Jimmy Ellis. Jimmy Ellis was an amazing singer and a great performer, the only problem was that he looked and sounded just like Elvis. He didn't want to work as an impersonator, so struggled to have success as an artist in his own right. He toyed with many different images but only found success once Elvis had passed away. Ellis' manager, Colonel Mac Weiman, had taken an idea from a novel written by Gail Brewer-Giorgo that was about a huge rock star who had faked his own death and applied it to his singer. The star in the book was called Orion and he wore a mask. From then on and well into the 80's, Ellis, or Orion, was suspected of being the real Elvis who had faked his own death and had reinvented himself. Finlay's documentary talks to his friends and loved ones and discovers the truth about the man and also raises a few interesting ideas on who he really was as well as who his father may have been. A fascinating and somewhat quirky documentary with a shocking climax, Jeanie Finlay is definitely a documentary film maker to keep an eye on.
Big Game
Dir: Jalmari Helander
2015
***
Big Game is director Jalmari Helander's second film following his brilliant debut rare Exports: A Christmas Tale in 2010. He is obviously a film maker who sees things a little differently and I have to say I like what I see. Big Game is as close to a comic/graphic novel come to life as I've seen in recent years, although it's not actually based on a comic, it will appeal to lovers of the medium. It is Finnish tradition meets the big cheesy action film, a loving tribute to country and the 80's action-hero genre. It's somewhat formulaic and treads on well trodden ground but also feels completely fresh and original. It's the little flares and odd quirks of random happenings and unexpected situations that really makes the film stand out from it's contemporaries. I love the idea; a young Finnish boy is told to go into the woods, hunt for one day and one night and bring back a trophy to the towns elders who will declare him a man, should he bring back something that warrants it. His father is famous for bring back a Bear, he ends up bringing back the President of the United States. It stars a wonderfully eclectic cast, including; Samuel L. Jackson as the President, Victor Garber as Vice President, Ray Stevenson as a Secret Service agent gone rouge, Jim Broadbent as a CIA adviser, Felicity Huffman as director of the CIA and Mehmet Kurtulus as a CIA agent turned freelance terrorist (and also one of the most charismatic villains of 2015). It's exciting, unexpected and often very silly. I loved the conclusion and although it missed a certain something, I'd love to see more like this.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The SpongeBob MovieSponge Out of Water
Dir: Paul Tibbitt, Mike Mitchell
2015
***
The SpongeBob MovieSponge Out of Water is SpongeBob Squarepants second feature film and an indication that unlike many a cartoon from the late 90s, he's still as popular today as he was when he first hit our television screens. There is something considerably comforting about the durability of silliness and SpongeBob Squarepants is the epitome of silly. A typical TV episode of the cartoon lasts for approx twenty minutes and can be rather exhausting I find. I found the prospect of sitting through 90 minutes of SpongeBob to be quite daunting, even though I enjoy his humour. I'm sure I wasn't alone either and it's clear that Paul Tibbitt and Mike Mitchell realized that three back-to-back episodes would have been too much for any audience. Instead, you can clearly see three chapters in the structure of the film with live performances involving Antonio Banderas and a few seagulls breaking them up and supplying the film with its introduction. The first chapter is a standard twenty minute episode that starts the story with a simple (but very silly) scenario. The second chapter is an experimental time-travel psychedelic trip involving a mix of animation styles and the final chapter is the big pay off, involving SpongeBob and his friends becoming 'real' and entering the world (land) as we know it. It becomes almost impossible to follow the story as it goes at breakneck speed, becoming more and more surreal as it speeds up. However, it never really seems to matter. Highlights include; the best visual example of a sugar rush I have ever seen, Antonio Banderas as an unstoppable fast food pirate, beautiful 3D animation and the brilliant Matt Berry as a Cosmic Dolphin. It's very funny but you may need a lie down after (or half way through in my case). Easily the most original film of 2015.
Seabiscuit
Dir: Gary Ross
2003
****
I'm always a little weary of films that are 'based' on a true story but after doing a bit of research into the events and characters portrayed in Gary Ross' Seabiscuit I'm pleased to discover that everything in the film is pretty much true, with only a few unimportant details left out. Seabiscuit was a real horse that really was somewhat of a symbol of hope during the great depression of the 1930s. Seabiscuits owner (Charles S. Howard), trainer (Tom Smith) and Jockey (John 'Red' Pollard) are all portrayed correctly, their personalities and actions accounted for. It would have been far easier for director Gary Ross to leave out certain scenes concerning George Woolf's involvement in the Seabiscuit story but credit to him, he saw the importance in the story and chose to tell it how it was. A race here and a character there are understandably left out but the essence of the story is true. When a story is worth telling then it is worth telling properly, a lesson often forgotten in Hollywood, making this (the second film about the famous race horse following 1949's The Story of Seabiscuit) somewhat of a breath of fresh air, particularly when everything about the film is near perfect. The direction is immaculate, with many of the racing scenes looking nothing short of stunning. The pace of the story is perfect, the lead actors coming together over time, giving the film the authenticity that is at the heart of it's success. Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper and Tobey Maguire all give perfect performances, subtle when they need to be and never over cooked or untimely. Elizabeth Banks, Gary Stevens, William H. Macy and Eddie Jones are all brilliant in their supporting roles and their are obviously lots of beautiful horses to enjoy. It's one thing to be a feel good film but to know that it is fact and is an accurate account of that story makes it even more enjoyable then it already is.
Danny Collins
Dir: Dan Fogelman
2015
***
Inspired by a letter written by John Lennon to folk-singer Steven Tilson, Dan Fogelman's Danny Collins is a far more flamboyant version of the truth but very much a welcome one. Al Pacino plays washed up rock star brilliantly, his performance being the real reason to watch the film but that said, Christopher Plummer, Annette Bening and Bobby Cannavale are all impressive in their supporting roles. The premise is simple, a story of redemption, family and rock and roll. Unfortunately the story becomes somewhat convoluted towards the second half and what worked because of it's simplicity soon gets a little tired due to it becoming a little too complicated. A sub plot concerning the sickness of one of the key characters seemed a little overcooked and unnecessary and a lazy way out for the writers who could have thought of something a little more original when steering the story towards the idea of forgiveness. The very last scene makes up for this somewhat but the way other relationships are left, particularly between Pacino and Bening's characters, makes it a little underwhelming in places. It's not a very well written film, it's even a little bit cliched, but it's incredibly likable and thoroughly entertaining, and it certainly gives the viewer some food for thought with a few laughs along the way.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Cartel Land
Dir: Matthew Heineman
2015
****
Matthew Heineman's Cartel Land is a fascinating and disturbing look into the world of the Mexican Cartels but more specifically, a look at the citizens that have turned vigilante in an effort to fight back against their reign of terror. Heineman looks at what is happening on both sides of the border. In the USA, we follow Tim 'Nailer' Foley, a once down on his luck user who turned his life around and decided to do something positive, becoming founder of the Arizona Border Recon, a group looked on with suspicion as it tracks down illegal immigrants. He explains with conviction that he's not part of a racist vigilante group as they are often painted by the media but is actually sympathetic with crossers, his intention being to hit the Cartel where it hurts. He's not always 100% convincing but his followers certainly aren't as educated and articulate. When we are shown what the Mexican people are putting up with a few hundred miles away, it's hard not to sympathize with them and Foley shows he understands this to some degree. The main focus of the documentary is on Dr Jose Mireles who lead the vigilante group Autodefensas. Dr Mireles is an educated man who is obviously prepared to stand up to the Cartels when the Police, Army and Government seem reluctant to do so. The people of Michoacan backed Autodefensas and regained control of the area and the group became heroes in society for some time, seeing off both the police and the army thanks to public support. They captured many a Cartel leader too, visibly beating them on camera by men whose family had been kidnapped and killed by them. It's hard not to accept these beatings when shown some of the truly horrific atrocities the men are guilty of. What happens to these men is never shown on camera but Dr Mireles makes it clear that they are to be disposed of. Typically when the law is taken into the hands of the public, cracks start to appear and the group becomes corrupt. It's a loosing battle with few winners, except for maybe the Cartel. It's a hard hitting and often brutal film that doesn't shy away from the unfortunate truth and it should be applauded for doing so.
Mega Python vsGatoroid
Dir: Mary Lambert
2011
**
You know what you're getting yourself into when you sit down to watch a film made by The Asylum but to my surprise, 2011's Mega Python vsGatoroid isn't completely terrible. Stalkers and 80's pop enthusiasts rejoice, as this isn't just a big scary monster 'versus' film, it is also a showdown between pop legends Debbie Gibson and Tiffany. How the pair got into making Asylum films is anybodies guess but after Gibson's appearance in 2009's Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus and Tiffany's in 2010's Mega Piranha they seem to be B-Movie hot property. I suspect they were cheap. There are many battles between Snake and Alligator but I do wonder how many people actually tuned in to watch the two former chart rivals go at it in small dresses, armed with nothing but cake and cream. Filth. The CGI is as terrible as you'd expect but the story does get going fairly early on with very little time wasted. It's pretty much action packed from the onset, which is something of a relief from an Asylum film. I didn't hate (like would be too strong a word) the knowingly tongue in cheek attitude and I think it is the best ending the studio have come up with so far. Respect due to the costume designer for managing to keep everything in but I do feel Tiffany's breasts deserved their own credit. At two stars, this is easily the best film the studio have made. Please don't misunderstand me though, it's still awful.
The Tale of The Princess Kaguya
Dir: Isao Takahata
2013
*****
Isao Takahata has made one of my least favorite Studio Ghibli films, 1999's My Neighbours the Yamadas. Compared to the usual visual flare you can expect from the studio, Takahata's animations are a bit too simple and dare I say, almost dull in comparison to their other great work. When I think of Ghibli and what I love about it, it is the mix of simplisity but with great regard to detail. However, while The Tale of The Princess Kaguya isn't always very colourful, it is bright and very striking and certainly never dull. Takahata's simplistic style is used far more effectively than in his previous work, the detail growing at the same speed as Princess Kaguya and the overall story. The detail, or lack of, gives the film a wonderful fluidity, which works perfectly for what it is. Based on the 10th Century Japanese Buddhist folktale, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, Isao Takahata's dream like style gives the film a certain level of timelessness and the story some reverence. The story is easily one of Ghibli's finest, mixing folk-law, Buddhism and fantasy beautifully and in a somewhat more mature way than you might expect. It's the best example of the notion of idealism I've ever seen, both children and adults could learn a lot from it, whether they're Buddhist or not. The last scene is nothing short of sensational, even more so than you'd expect from the studio. I'll be honest, I'd much prefer to watch My Neighbour Totoro or PrincessMononoke over this if I had the choice but there is no doubt that it is one of Ghibli and Takahata's most faultless masterpieces.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Tomorrowland (AKA Tomorrowland: A World Beyond)
Dir: Brad Bird
2015
**
I think any film that is essentially based on a theme park is going to be a tricky idea to sell but Brad Bird's Tomorrowland isn't half as bad as it could have been or indeed as it's initial box office takings would suggest. It's no masterpiece though. Loosely based on ideas Walt Disney had in his later years of an experimental prototype community of tomorrow (EPCOT for short) and influenced by childhood dreams and inspiration felt by many during 1964's New York World fair (indeed, many a western country had their own version during the 50s and 60s). It's a pretty neat idea based on a pretty neat idea. The visual effects, re-creation of the World Fair and the way the rides and attractions of the land found at all of the Disneylands are featured is very impressive. However, stylistically it looks a little bit disjointed, like there were two teams of designers working on the same film, which is probably the case, it's just that the opposing styles don't always fit together that well, the past's vision of the future looking far more futuristic than the future's, for example. The same can be said of the script and story. The George Clooney character's origin story is cartoonish and became incredibly tiresome quite quickly while Britt Robertson's character is handled in a far more mature and rewarding manner. All but one of the action sequences are a bit too heavy handed, although the one great action sequence (whereby Clooney and Robertson have to escape from his house in the woods) is easily the best part of the film. The pin badge scene is also very clever and shows a very skilled level of editing, which is actually quite frustrating, as the rest of the film is so poorly structured. The introduction to the film (Clooney and Robertson introducing the story via home video) is horrible and put me off the rest of the film if I'm being honest, even though the rest of the film was pretty good, I was expecting the worst right up until the end credits. There wasn't anything wrong the performances but I felt that Britt Robertson gave way more than everyone else and her's was the most entertaining. The humour often falls flat and there are a couple of times in the movie whereby the audience is meant to feel sad but I'm afraid I felt nothing. Disney have essentially asked a group of film makers to make a movie out of one of their commodities that really isn't right for the big screen. All things considered Brad Bird and team do the best they can, and the ideas is very clever, it just never clicks into place. I wanted to enjoy it so much more than I actually did.
Tea with Mussolini
Dir: Franco Zeffirelli
1999
**
Sometimes it's hard to fault an autobiographical film. I wasn't convinced by any of Franco Zeffirelli's semi-autobiographical film and yet it is a true story. Sure, it is semi-autobiographical (emphasis on semi) but I didn't really believe in the factual or the fictional. I believe the scorpioni ladies existed, I just thought the way this dramatization of their lives was handled looked like a badly written and rather cheap looking Sunday night TV drama. Certain characters have been exaggerated I'm sure but with some of the best British and American actors in the cast (Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Cher, Lily Tomlin) there isn't a great performances between them. For once, I think that Zeffirelli should have exaggerated their characters even more so, as Maggie Smith played the same character she always does but here it is somewhat sugar-free. Cher and Lily Tomlin probably give the best performances but again, they're nothing special. Supporting performances are fairly weak. There really isn't much of a story here but I think there could have been, Zeffirelli has embellished the true but hasn't really milked it for what it's worth. There is no suspense, intrigue or tension where there should have been and the comedy falls woefully flat. The film contains some of the worst examples of over-acting I've ever seen and the less said about the cross dressing scene the better. It has it's moments and is entertaining enough but overall it's a missed opportunity.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Dir: Stanley Kramer
1967
*****
Stanley Kramer's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is a masterpiece and I don't use the term lightly. It was a huge first in the history of cinema. The first mainstream film to tackle the huge taboo of interracial relationships and the first film on the subject to be universally excepted by the majority of viewers. It is amazing to think that interracial relationships (marriage and sexual), were still illegal in many states in America while the movie was being filmed. Interracial relationships were only legalised across the country two weeks after filming and six months before the film was released. It's an intelligent and beautifully crafted film, dealing with a subject that would have the majority of the country examining their own prejudices and in some cases, ignorance. Who better to tell the story than two of the biggest, dependable and respected names in Hollywood. Stanley Kramer really needed the weight that only Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn could bring to the film and this was understood through friendship and mutual respect and because the story needed to be told. In many respects, casting Tracy and Hepburn was the easy bit, although Kramer had worked with Sidney Poitier before he had a tough time convincing others that he was the man for the job. He certainly proved himself right, although Poitier would often get so star struck by Tracy and Hepburn, who he saw as giants, that he would do a lot of his own scenes alone with Kramer once everyone else had left. Tracy and Hepburn were both nominated for Oscars for their brilliant performances, Poitier was not and although he was good, I think that's probably fair. The whole cast are good, Cecil Kellaway is great light-relief and an interesting voice of reason to a faithless family as Monsignor Mike Ryan and Isabel Sanford is wonderful as the family's black maid, against the relationship, tackling a out dated way of thinking from a totally different angle. Katharine Houghton was perfect for the role in her acting debut, she got the job after her aunt, Hepburn, suggested her to Kramer. I've always thought that Roy E. Glenn deserves a lot of respect for being somewhat of a stooges in one of the cinema's greatest films but nominations aside, it is the beautiful Beah Richards, who plays Poitiers gentle mother, who I believe really steals the show. It's not just the performances that make it a classic though, it's the way Kramer handles stereotypes and often turns them around that make the film so great. This is down to the wonderful creative talent of one of my personal favorite screen writers, William Rose. Unfortunately, Spencer Tracy, who died just two weeks after the films completion. Tracy would never see the film and Hepburn later admitted that she had never and would never watch it as she knew it would be too much for her to bare, it being the last of nine films the secret lovers would collaborate on. It's one hell of a swansong though and easily one of his best performances, especially considering how gravely ill he was during the filming. Comedy and drama don't always go hand in hand but when they work, they really work and this is probably the best example of that. Like I said, a true masterpiece.
Tales from the Crypt
Dir: Freddie Francis
1972
****
Freddie Francis' horror anthology Tales from the Crypt has become somewhat of a cult classic since its release in 1972 and for good reason. The Tales from the Crypt stories from EC Comics were hugely popular in the 40's and 50's and have had something of a revival several times throughout the decades and have gone on to influence a whole generation of TV, films and Graphic novels including 2000AD's Future Shocks, George A. Romero's Creepshow, The Twilight Zone and indeed, it's own Tales from the Crypt TV series. The film begins with a group of five people being lead into a cave by a mysterious cloaked Crypt keeper (played by Ralph Richardson). He then tells each one a story explaining how they die. In the first tale, ...And All Through the House, we see Joan Collins being terrorised by Santa Claus (obviously influencing horror films such as Silent Night, Deadly Night and Santa's Slay). It's fun but not as interesting as the other short films. In the second chapter, Reflection of Death, we see Ian Hendry leave his family to be with another woman. After a car crash he walks from the wreckage back home only to find that he's been dead for two years and is in fact a walking rotten corpse. Poetic Justice is a little bit more heartfelt and is a good old fashioned feel good revenge story starring the wonderful Peter Cushing. I do wonder if it wasn't an influence on the original Nightmare on Elm Street. Wish You Were Here is a rather sad but dark tale that reminds the viewer to be careful what they wish for and was an obvious inspiration for 1997's Wishmaster. The final and most devious chapter is like an early Saw film. It's the most compelling and horrific of the five chapters and contains no humour what so ever. It's beautifully dark place to end, leading to the films devastating revelation. Few horror films break the 'fourth wall' as well as Tales from the Crypt does, parts are a little dated but it only adds to it's overall charm. A great British horror classic, with wonderful ideas and fantastic horror effects.
Infamous
Dir: Douglas McGrath
2006
****
It's a bit of a bizarre phenomena in cinema but nearly every year there are at least two films that come out in quick succession that are about exactly the same subject. There was no big reason why both Capote and Infamous came out within a year of each other, it was pure coincidence, and the unfortunate and rather typical result in these cases, was that the second film (Infamous in this case) was overshadowed by the first. Both films tell the origins of Truman Capote's hit novel In Cold Blood, a 'nonfiction' based on the murder trial and eventual executions of Perry Smith and Richard Hickock. Capote was allowed access to Smith's cell and the pair formed a bond. Capote's interviews with Smith formed the novel and it was a huge hit and is now considered a modern classic. Douglas McGrath's version of events plays out like a standard drama, with interweaving interviews with Capote's friends (supposedly taking place after Capote's death I think!?) and moments of pure fantasy. Unlike Bennett Miller's Capote, Infamous includes a lot of fantasy and Capote, quite rightly, is seen to be a bit of a fantasist who liked to spin a yarn. It's also safe to say that it is a more honest portrayal of the author in that he did take advantage of certain people and situations, he exaggerated and was somewhat two-faced. I don't doubt the late author would have hated both films but from what I've read and from what his close friends have said, Toby Jones' performance is the most successful performance of the two. While Philip Seymour Hoffman's award winning turn was more imitation, Jones' was more the embodiment of the man and his work. The fantasy elements all came from McGrath but one could argue that they were created in the author's style. It's subjective, much like Capote's novel. Toby Jones is awesome. The supporting cast is impressive but doesn't bring a lot to the film other than star power. I thought Sandra Bullock was just as good as Harper Lee than Catherine Keener was in Capote and I liked Jeff Daniels' Alvin Dewey and thought John Benjamin Hickey's Jack Dunphy deserved more screen time. The weak link in this production is Daniel Craig's Perry Smith. I found his performance to be unconvincing, particularly when up against Jones' powerful portrayal. If I had to pick my favorite of the two I would pick Capote for it's depth if story and realism and Infamous for the exploration of myth and character but the fact is they're both very different films and as good as each other.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Grace of My Heart
Dir: Allison Anders
1996
*****
Allison Anders's Grace of My Heart is one of my favorite films from the mid-nineties and one of the decades' most overlooked films. Although the story and it's characters are fictional, it is clearly based on very real movements, trends and careers. Illeana Douglas' Edna Buxton/Denise Waverly, a career best performance, is clearly based on the life, work and career of Carole King. John Turturro plays a Phil Spector type character, Eric Stoltz's is similar to Gerry Goffin (King's first husband and lyric writing partner), Matt Dillon's a cross between Brian Wilson and his brother Dennis Wilson and pretty much everyone else can be linked to a real person or act that once graced the famous Brill Building in New York. From the Pre-fab birth of the Pop group to the California Sound of the sixties, Grace of My Heart covers the life and times of a influential era in music. Each performance is exquisite and the script is perfect. The accompanying soundtrack is as stunning as it should be given the story, with many a Brill resident taking on writing duties. The film is edited by the great Thelma Schoonmaker and it's executive producer is none other than Martin Scorsese but all credit to Allison Anders for it's dream-like direction. It's a fictional account of a very real story and probably more reliable than most biopics made of the the people and music of the time. Over shadowed upon release by Tom Hanks' That Thing You Do of all films, it is criminal that this film has been so overlooked and underrated for so long.
Written on the Wind
Dir: Douglas Sirk
1956
***
Douglas Sirk's classic melodrama is based on the real-life scandal that involved singer Libby Holman and husband and Tobacco tycoon Zachary Smith Reynolds, although the similarities in story are only very slight. Written on the Wind sees Robert Stack play Kyle, the heir of a wealthy Oil tycoon, who's spoiled childhood and early death of his mother lead to insecurities and early alcoholism. His sister Marylee (played by the brilliant Dorothy Malone) is also rather self-destructive and spends most of her time luring young men to bed and tormenting those close to her. When Kyle falls for Lucy (Lauren Bacall), a young secretary from New York, he rushes her into marriage, unaware that his childhood best friend Mitch (Rock Hudson) is also in love with her. Things are complicated further when Marylee becomes jealous of Lucy's attention and vocal regarding her love for Mitch. Melodramas don't come much more melodramatic than this. The story is only really made more interesting by the fact that Kyle and Marylee are wealthy, giving the film stunning locations, beautiful cars and stunning interiors as back-drop. The real appeal of the film is the great performances. Dorothy Malone packs a punch when up against the force that is Lauren Bacall, both actresses are perfect. Robert Stack wasn't as good an actor as Rock Hudson but Hudson was generous enough to give him the space he needed to really expand the character. While the first half of the film is a little slow and uninteresting, the second half makes up for it with suspense, mystery, wonderful script and some unforgettable performances.
Saw VI
Dir: Kevin Greutert
2009
**
With the franchise starting to look very tired at this point, Saw VI adds a few interesting developments but not nearly enough to evoke the excitement felt upon viewing the first film back in 2004. The story picks up exactly where the last film finished and builds one things we learned as well as as dispel a few things we thought were fact. The film is so convoluted that if you tried to work out whether it actually made any sense you'd probably be in more pain than Jigsaw's victims. If the franchises continuity is in fact solid then congratulations to it's makers, however, while spending so much time trying to be clever, you have clearly forgotten about what made the series so appealing in the first place. The shock, horror and terror has gone. All that's left is gore. The viewer now no longer cares who the victims are, if or how they die and indeed, who is now killing them. It now feels like a TV series and in many respects maybe making it into a TV series isn't such a bad idea, the format would be much more effective in hourly collections rather than what feels like a collection of simple short stories being dragged to the 90 minute mark.