Friday, 29 January 2016

San Andreas
Dir: Brad Peyton
2015
*
There is nothing quite like a good disaster movie and 2015's San Andreas is nothing like a good disaster movie. It is, indeed, a disaster. The only congratulatory comments I've read about the film are in regard to the special effects but personally I thought they were some of the worst I've seen in a mainstream motion picture for quite some time. The opening scene sees a car drive off a cliff after being hit by a landslide and while it was nice not to have to wait too long before some action, it was spoiled somewhat by the fact the car looked like a cartoon and fell down the cliff's edge exactly the way a really heavy slinky would. I half expected to see a really fast bird run past shouting 'Beep beep' or a wooden box nearby with the word 'ACME' printed on the side. Talking of wooden, the film stars Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino in what is their third film collaboration and although they play husband and wife, they act as if they've only just met. Alexandra Daddario plays their daughter. She won't be winning any best supporting actor awards for her performance but she is in with a chance for least supported actress. Ioan Gruffudd plays the wealthy stepfather in what is easily the year's worst stereotype and Paul Giamatti is good as science guy but his character is completely pointless. In fact, the whole film is completely pointless. It's pure apocolipti-porn, to coin a phrase. I have felt short-changed in the past with disaster movies but without suitable back story or character development there can never really be the sense of dread or urgency that you really need to conjure the right level of thrill or suspense. I couldn't have cared less about the characters and got tired of watching buildings fall over pretty quick. The characters served no purpose, their chosen professions made little sense (although they were meant to) and there really wasn't any story or structure on which to focus on. Killing Kylie Minogue was the final straw. Special effects aside, structuring a disaster film is easy, they all work by the same set of simple rules, so you would have thought that even the director of Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, the two most pointless sequels in the history of cinema, would have got at least something right but no, Brad Peyton and co thought (incorrectly) that rubbish CGI and an ex-wrestler would be enough. It's one of the dumbest things I've seen for a long time, it's almost as dumb as....building on a precarious fault-line in the first place.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Big Short
Dir: Adam McKay
2015
*****
I liked Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and thought Adam McKay's script for Ant-Man was great but 2015's The Big Short is something quite special from the director who, it is safe to say, has been producing fairly repetitive and rather samey comedy films for quite a while, most of which star Will Ferrell and most of which I absolutely loath. Brad Pitt's production company Plan B hired him to adapt Michael Lewis' The Big Short: Inside The Doomsday Machine, a novel based on the financial crisis of 2008, because they wanted a funny approach but nothing too satirical. If it were up to me Adam McKay would have been one of my last choices but luckily it wasn't, as I would have been wrong. A couple of films have been released on the subject, both Margin Call and Inside Job are very good, Margin Call being the stylish drama and Inside Job the cutting edge documentary, The Big Short sort of comes in from left-field and turns the ins and outs of the financial crisis into understandable entertainment. The two previous films were education and relatively easy to follow but Adam McKay goes one further and gets in a few recognizable faces including singer/actress Selena Gomez, celebrity chief Anthony Bourdain and actress Margot Robbie to explain to the audience exactly how the crisis came about. Selena Gomez sits with economist Richard Thaler at a craps table and explains borrowing, Anthony Bourdain explains different mortgages by comparing them to the ingredients of fish pie and Margot Robbie says something that's probably very important while sipping champagne and bathing in a bubble bath with sea views. Naked. It's this sort of thing that makes The Big Short shine that little bit brighter and gets the attention of audiences who might not be all that interested in learning about economics. Thanks to the film's brilliant script, clever structure and fantastic editing, it soon becomes quite clear that everyone should be paying attention. The last line of dialogue is as eerily poignant as it is important for everyone to understand, so I'm thrilled the film has stirred up the hype it has, and it certainly deserves every success it achieves. The performances from the all star cast are brilliant. Christian Bale's depiction of Dr. Michael Burry is very convincing and Steve Carell and his team including Hamish Linklater, Jeremy Strong and Rafe Spall add some real guts to the story. Ryan Gosling glues the story together brilliantly as narrator and John Magaro, Fin Wittrock and Brad Pitt give the story that important down to earth feel that gives the audience their way in to the story as it were. The names have been changed but everyone depicted is real and what happens in the film happened in real life, unless otherwise stated, which it is on a couple of ingenious occasions. It is often hard to judge what is more effective; a thorough documentary or a dramatic reconstruction. Documentaries can be informative but also quite boring depending on the subject and dramatic reconstructions can be inaccurate and misleading. The Big Short is the best of both worlds, informative, dramatic but most importantly, on point. A fantastic achievement.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Minions
Dir: Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda
2015
***
I enjoyed Despicable Me and its sequel but much like everyone else, I enjoyed the Minions the most. I said from the very first Ice Age movie that Scrat should have his own feature length feature and yet they still keep churning out sequel after sequel with a very obvious decline in quality. Despicable Me 2 wasn't quite as good as the original, it wasn't as fresh or funny (not to mention fluffy). So when it was announced that Despicable Me 3 was in fact going to be a Minions movie, I quietly rejoiced. However, by the time the Minions movie was released I couldn't have been sicker of the sight of them. Minion mania got big and tiresome pretty damn quickly. Essentially, Minions the movie came two years too late. It's not a bad film though, quite the opposite, it's a fun adventure that will appeal to all ages but it really isn't anything new. I'm afraid Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures marketing was overkill. It is more of the same, without the bits people really didn't care for. I'm not sure the big name voice actors (Sandra Bullock, Steve Coogan, Michael Keaton) really lend anything special to it either. It's funny but I can't say it ever made me laugh out loud. I exhaled heavily from my nose a couple of times but that was about it. I give it three very healthy stars out of five but there is very little chance that I will ever sit down and watch it ever again.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Woman in Gold
Dir: Simon Curtis
2015
***
Alexi Kaye Campbell's script for 2015's Woman in Gold is thoroughly riveting from start to finish. I've been a fan of Gustav Klimt's work since my time at art school and like most people I am familiar with his Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (or The Woman in Gold as it is also known). However, I had no idea of the history of the painting or indeed who the Woman in Gold really was. The recent story regarding the painting seemed to have passed me by so it is brilliant that it has been made into this educational and entertaining feature. As far as content is concerned, I was engrossed throughout and having now researched the real story I can see that Simon Curtis, Alexi Kaye Campbell and company left few facts out of the film, although certain scenes now leave quite a sour taste in the mouth. It's such a shame that Maria Altmann died before the release of the film as for all the injustices she suffered in her life the final insult was in the way she was portrayed. Helen Mirren's portrayal may have been accurate to some degree but the way her character was written clearly wasn't. Her friends and few remaining family members were outraged when in the film we see her abandon her father in Austria to escape the Nazis. In truth, Maria and her husband left Austria after her father's death as she refused to leave without him. It might seem like a minor detail but when telling someone’s story I believe it has to be 100% accurate out of respect and if a story is worth telling, it's worth telling right. Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds were both fine in their performances but gave the film an unnecessary Hollywood feel. Daniel Bruhl and Tatiana Maslany were also good but it almost felt like they were staring in a completely different film. The flash-back scenes were far more interesting than the present day scenes but neither worked particularly well together. The editing was fairly shoddy throughout and the structure of the film really lets down the story. I feel this should have been an in depth documentary rather than a dramatization. I was interested throughout but feel somewhat short-changed, like I still don't really know the full story and that some of the more juicy aspects of the tale have yet to be learned.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Creed
Dir: Ryan Coogler
2015
*****
After 2006's Rocky Balboa I would have bet good money that that would be the last we would see of Sylvester Stallone's lovable fighter. I'm glad I never got a chance to bet that good money as I would have lost it all. Rocky Balboa left things in a relatively good place, I'm a huge fan of the franchise and was always happy to see Rocky return but only if the story was right. To have Rocky fight again would have been disastrous and thankfully Stallone and company clearly understood this. Rocky coached in the past but not to great effect but thanks to brilliant writing and an obvious passion for the character, Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington came up with the perfect next chapter for the franchise. Creed is classed as a spin-off but it is still part of the Rocky story. It tells the story of Apollo Creed's son, Adonis, who was born after his father's death to a women he had an affair with. Taken in and essentially rescued from a youth facility by Creed's widow, young Adonis has a privileged life. However, boxing is in his blood and he has fight in him that he can't seem to quench. After several illegal fights in Mexico, he finally decides that this is what he want to be but he wants to win on his own merit. Everyone associated with his father turns him away until he approaches Rocky. Rocky is now totally alone with only the running of his restaurant keeping him going. He keeps going but has essentially given up. Adonis finally convinced him and they both train together and become friends. On paper is sound like the same old stuff we saw in Rocky IV and Rocky V but it really doesn't feel that way. There is a very real tenderness in the old Rocky, the way he talks about characters now retired, some who have since passed. There is a particularly touching scene where he talks about his son, once played by his real son, who has since died in real life. I don't mind admitting that I've cried at Rocky, Rocky III and Rocky V but only once per film. Creed got me no less than three times. It is a Rocky film but it is also a Creed film, Michael B. Jordan very much taking the lead role and absolutely flying with it. Creed is far more than just another re-boot, it takes the essence of the original Rocky film, turns it on its head and does its own thing but with exactly the same magic. The final message of the film being a rather positive and inspirational one, maybe even better than the original Rocky. Much like the 1976 version, it really isn't about boxing, it's about fighting for sure but not the sport. I was thrilled from beginning to end. It was an absolute treat to behold and return to form as well as a brilliant new beginning that had me grinning throughout.

Friday, 22 January 2016

The Transporter Refueled
Dir: Camille Delamarre
2015
*
2002's The Transporter was a slick and enjoyable action film. Transporter 2 was more of the same but without the impact of the first and Transporter 3 was a tiresome cash-in and an exercise in horse-flogging. However, and quite typically with Luc Besson productions, those involved in his films don't seem to know when to stop and 2015 saw The Transporter Refueled. Jason Statham has made some stinkers in his career but even he wasn't naive enough to revisit this old banger of a franchise. Ex-DJ Ed Skrein didn't seem like a likely replacement for Statham's Frank Martin but clearly having a black suit, English accent and martial arts skills is all you need. Acting skill doesn't seem to come into it. It's not really clear whether this is the same Frank Martin or another version of the character, it wouldn't make sense if it were a prequel and even less sense if it is a sequel. Luckily no one really cares. The new characters are fairly two-dimensional, Frank's father (Ray Stevenson) plays a big part in the story and is the film's 'comic relief' and the bad guys are the usual copy and paste villains that could be from any of Besson's productions. The main story involves a group of prostitutes/strippers who decide to take revenge on their corporate pimp in what is a complicated and convoluted manner that goes some way to suggest that they're not just pretty faces. By the end of the film, and thanks to the awful writing and performances, it's clear that said prostitutes/strippers are just pretty faces and nothing else. Casting shop-window mannequins would have been cheaper and more convincing. For a film that should appeal to car chase lovers and martial arts enthusiasts there is a notable lack of car chases and martial arts. The Transporter franchise might have been refueled but unfortunately some idiot put unleaded petrol in the engine instead of diesel.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Magic Mike XXL
Dir: Gregory Jacobs
2015
*
Steven Soderbergh's original Magic Mike was an interesting, rather quirky drama. I can't say I'm really interested in male stripping but to make a compelling film about a subject many are not interested in is a rather clever trick to pull off. I was happy to watch the sequel and even though Soderbergh didn't direct it, I knew that his long-term collaborator Gregory Jacobs would probably do it justice in his place and besides, Soderbergh produced and acted as cinematographer, so how bad could it be? The answer is a resounding 'as bad as it possibly could'. Soderbergh is a hit and miss director for me, the only thing I have positive to say about this film is his cinematography. Everything else is abysmal. A definite contender for worst film of 2015. The acting is some of the poorest I have ever seen. These men aren't strippers cast for authenticity either, they are all real actors. I'm not sure the first film used improv or not, if it was then it was subtle and well done. In Magic Mike XXL (extra extra laughable) the improv is so incredibly painful to witness, your eyes and your ears will compete over which has suffered the most. The story, much like the script, feels like it was made up on the spot. The interaction between each cast member is consistently cringe-worthy, thanks for a heavy mix of smugness, bad acting and lack of direction. What is meant to be sensual just ends up being awkward and I don't mean I felt awkward watching men strip, I just felt sorry for the actors who looked as if they had been abandoned in someone else's film. I would imagine those who just wanted to watch men take their clothes off were also disappointed, as they remain fully clothed for most of the film. Everyone is horrible but the scenes with Jada Pinkett Smith and Andie MacDowell are a special kind of horrible. It seems that the thing that made the first film watchable was simply Matthew McConaughey, without him its really not worth your time.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

45 Years
Dir: Andrew Haigh
2015
*****
I was thoroughly impressed by Andrew Haigh's 2011 romantic drama Weekend and was awaiting his next feature with great anticipation. I wasn't disappointed, far from it in fact. 45 Years is the perfect example of what can be achieved with the simplest of ideas. After 45 years of marriage, Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and her husband Geoff (Tom Courtenay) are just days away from celebrating their anniversary party. They are celebrating at 45 years as Geoff was undergoing heart bypass surgery around the time of their 40th. Everything changes the day Geoff receives a letter in the post telling him that they have found the body of his ex-girlfriend, frozen and perfectly preserved in a glacier in an Alpine crevasse in Switzerland, fifty years after she first went missing. Kate is concerned and also slightly jealous but the more she finds out about her husband’s first love, the more and more she feels that her life has been chance and maybe wasn't really meant to be after all. It is devastatingly real, thanks to the triumphantly subtle performances from the two great actors. It could easily be a stage play and it could also be described as a thriller and even a ghost story. The story peals away bit by bit quite beautifully, it's never predictable and always striking. It is the quietest edge-of-the-seat drama I've ever seen, perfectly calm and utterly mesmerizing. The last twenty minutes of the film contain some of the best examples of acting and directing I have ever seen. Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling are faultless, and I can't wait to see what Andrew Haigh does next. 45 Years deserves far more recognition than it has so far received, it is easily one of the best dramas of 2015 and indeed the decade.


Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Room
Dir: Lenny Abrahamson
2015
*****
2015's Room finally sees director Lenny Abrahamson get the recognition he deserves. The Dublin director has been one of the world's best directors since his 2004 debut (Adam & Paul) but it seems he had to make a further four films before everyone realized it. I'm a huge fan of his work, his second film Garage cemented the fact he was a contender for me, What Richard Did proved he could do serious drama without the comedy and his fictional Frank Sidebottom biopic Frank is one of my favourite films of all time. Room, it is fair to say, is his first proper mainstream film although it is far from mainstream. Sometimes direction and performance are so powerful a film that would normally appeal to few people becomes universally enjoyed. Room is that film. Emma Donoghue, the author of the book the film is based on, wrote the screenplay, making it somewhat of an authentic adaptation. Her story is based on the case of Austrian Josef Fritzl. Fritzl kept his daughter locked in a basement for twenty-four years, repeatedly raped her and fathered several children with her. Elisabeth Fritzl eventually escaped with her children in 2008, their adjustment into the outside world being what inspired Room. Elements of the story are identical but Donoghue's version is more concentrated to just one woman and her single son. It's unimaginable to think what it would be like for a child who has never once left the room they were born in to enter the real world. Donoghue and Abrahamson explore that world quite movingly. It's a complicated journey, as I'm sure it was for the Fritzl family and it is treated appropriately. The film appears dream-like in places but this isn't art over substance, the visuals compliment the performances beautifully, and what performances they are. Brie Larson deserves the nominations and recognition she has received for her role as abducted girl turned mother. It's hard to think of a better performance whereby strength and weakness has been so brilliantly projected. Nine year old Quvenzhane Wallis was nominated for the Oscar for her performance in Beasts of the Southern Wild and much deserved she was but how or why young Jacob Tremblay wasn't nominated is a bit of a travesty. Hopefully he knows that awards mean very little to true actors, no doubt he has a colourful future ahead of him as his performance in Room is nothing short of magnificent. If his character had been portrayed by anyone of a lesser talent it just wouldn't have worked, without him it really wouldn't quite be the masterpiece it is. I don't use the term masterpiece lightly either.

    Monday, 18 January 2016

    The Revenant
    Dir: Alejandro González Iñárritu
    2016
    *****
    It has been fascinating to see the development and range of Alejandro González Iñárritu's work since his first film, 2000's Amores Perros. The same could be said about The Revenant's cast. I've always seen Leonardo DiCaprio as somewhat of a man-boy but I don't think I will any longer. Tom Hardy goes from strength to strength with another devilish performance that seemed tailor made for the actor, I certainly can't think of any other actor who could have played it as well. Both deserve their various award nominations and it's nice to know that neither could care less if they win or not. Will Poulter was quite a surprising addition to the cast and he really holds his own and Domhnall Gleeson is fast becoming one of my favorite actors, having been in most of my favorite films of the last few years and being brilliant in all of them. I imagine writing a screenplay about the life of Hugh Glass must have been pretty tricky but Iñárritu and Mark L. Smith did an amazing job of it. I have faith in Iñárritu's talent but Mark L. Smith is the same man that wrote Vacancy and Vacancy 2: The First Cut, so it seems there is a surprise around every corner regarding this film. Their screenplay is based heavily on Michael Punke's 2002 novel; The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge. Hugh Glass' story has been told on screen before in 1971's Man in the Wilderness although names and situations had been changed, a remake had been stuck in development hell for nearly twenty years but Michael Punke's novel was the turning point. The novel stays faithful to the story as does the film. Hugh Glass was known to rip a yarn in his day, many didn't believe his story but he told it until the day he died. Everything that happens in the film really did happen to him except for one detail. In truth, there was no revenge. The momentum that gives Iñárritu's film its strength is somewhat of a lie. It is the sort of thing that usually bothers me in films based on real life stories but not this time. It's a yarn and a very good one at that. People have accused it of being like torture-porn but I disagree. Hardships suffered in the film were very real for the people of the time, I don't see why we should shy away from what was reality. I found everything about the film to be astonishing. It makes quite clever comment on the settlers vs. natives debate, shows what we really are like as a race and what can drive us to do impossible things. It is the ultimate story that can be told at every occasion as it features everything that is important to us as a race with that added believable unbelievability. The spirituality that comes when you are at your most desperate, when hate forces you to survive the impossible, the emptiness of everything you've ever desired....it's all here, it's all beautifully filmed and brilliantly acted. Another outstanding achievement from one of the world's greatest directors.

    Friday, 15 January 2016

    Lost River
    Dir: Ryan Gosling
    2015
    *****
    I was thrilled and impressed with Ryan Gosling's Lost River from start to finish. His spectacular debut was met with harsh criticism from the critics who really only pointed out that his clear influences were from recognizable sources. Indeed, you can see elements of David Lynch, Mario Brava and Nicolas Roeg and also directors Gosling has worked with, including Derek Cianfrance and Nicolas Winding Refn. However, this is a truly original piece of cinema. I wonder if the criticism would be as harsh had his influences been a little less well known. Surely it tells us that Gosling isn't just a pretty face, he learns from the people he works with, is passionate about cinema and is growing as a film maker. I read a review in a national newspaper that stated that the film was 'dumbfoundingly poor' without really explaining why. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's a little bit out there but personally I found it to be an exciting exercise in existential symbolism but certainly not beyond the reach of the mainstream audience. It is visually stunning. I repeat, stunning. Its okay to prefer the films of David Lynch or Nicolas Winding Refn but credit is due. Set in the abandoned suburbs of Detroit, it is a rather relevant and quite poignant exploration of being lost and what the word lost really means. Iain De Caestecker is fast becoming an actor to watch and Saoirse Ronan goes from strength to strength. My only criticism is that I didn't think much of Matt Smith but then I never do. Christina Hendricks subdued performance was a nice surprise and Ben Mendelsohn is intensely brilliant as always. Eva Mendes is really only there because she looks good and is Gosling's lover but she is good in the few scenes she is in. If I made a list of cinema's most impressive directional debuts then Lost River and Gosling might just be on it, somewhere in the teens I'd imagine, it's that impressive.

    Thursday, 14 January 2016

    Still Alice
    Dir: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
    2015
    **

    For all the hype surrounding Still Alice, I thought I was in for a treat but when the end credits rolled up the screen I was left baffled as to why it has been regarded so highly? It is great that Hollywood is tackling subjects such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease but these conditions deserve better representation than this. Julianne Moore is a phenomenal actor but I didn't think her performance was as outstanding as I'd heard. She deserved to win best actress at the 68th Academy awards but not for Alice but for Maps to the Stars. At times her performance seemed forced and dare I say, a little over the top. There were a couple of scenes that were clearly intended to be the films big guns but I'm afraid I got nothing from them. There is a scene whereby Alice forgets where the bathroom in her own house is and unfortunately wets herself. This scene is handled with very little emotion, especially when you compare it to the very similar scene seen in Julie Walters' 2010 film Mo. I don't blame Julianne Moore entirely for this, to be honest she probably comes across as over-acting due to the complete lack of emotion her co-stars emit. Alec Baldwin's performance is one of the most lethargic I have ever seen. The lassitude in his performance made me care even less so for the characters, I was never once convinced they were a loving couple, that they had been together for years, that their children were theirs or that they gave a flying toss about each other. Kristen Stewart and Kate Bosworth couldn't have been more horrible in their ying vs yang roles if they'd tried. Kate Bosworth's performance as the rather cold, judgmental and rather insensitive older sibling is so convincing, I'm not altogether convinced she was acting. Her performance is one of a forced stereotype, a good actor would have rectified this. Kristen Stewart's performance style seems to come straight from the 'Smell the fart' school of method acting, as she merely juggles her thick brows over those big dead eyes of hers and occasionally flicks the hair out of her face. Watching her act at acting (her character is an actress) was one of the most painful things I have ever witnessed, totally distracting away from the poignancy of the scene, whereby Alice congratulates her on the play she’s just performed in, not realizing she is her own daughter. Is it poor acting or is it poor direction, I'd say a little bit of both. Award bait, and it looks like people swallowed it hook, line and sinker. The sad thing is that dementia and Alzheimer's disease is nothing like how it is portrayed here. It is a brutal disease that could only be done justice with a brutally real movie and this just isn't it. Passionless and misguided. Very few people who I've spoken to about the film agree with me about this, with the few that do being the only ones who have had to care for or have been close to an Alzheimer's sufferer.

    Wednesday, 13 January 2016

    Amy
    Dir: Asif Kapadia
    2015
    *****
    Asif Kapadia thorough and objective documentary on the late Amy Winehouse is devastating and beautiful. It's bare-bones investigative journalism featuring many unseen clips and interviews from those who were close to her and really knew her. Mitch Winehouse, Amy's father, has since criticized the film as he believes it paints him as a villain. The truth is, hardly anyone comes off in a great light, including Amy herself, but everything we see Mitch do in the footage is clear and isn't in the least bit subjective, the same can be said about everyone else featured also. Asif Kapadia brilliant 2010 documentary Senna shows you the kind of film maker he is, meticulous and fair. The fact that Mitch Winehouse and Amy's last boyfriend (who wasn't involved in the documentary) are now making their own film about the late singer says a lot about them and how they feel they have been treated, missing the point of what the film was about. During Amy's heyday it was impossible not to read shocking stories about her in the media. It is fair to say she was unfairly hounded by the press in quite a sickening manner, the truth behind these stories very rarely seeing the light of day. Here we're told by friends, family and colleagues what the truth was and actually, their stories are pretty much the same and much of the footage speaks for itself. The documentary really does go some way in exploring what fame and its effect is really is like and what it can lead to. The big revelation for me was actually how much integrity Amy had. We've all seen the photos of her looking the worse for wear but she was as intelligent as she was talented. She was manipulated by others who took advantage of her and that is what eventually killed her. Some of the revelations are devastatingly sad, indeed people who read the tabloids and such should take heed as there are lessons to be learned here for everyone. An incredibly sad reflection of our society and the death of something beautiful, it is a stunning film.

    The Congress
    Dir: Ari Folman
    2013
    ****
    Ari Folman's 2013 film The Congress is an intriguing existential multi-layered head-trip fantasy but with depth to back it up. Using Stanislaw Lem's science-fiction novel The Futurological Congress as inspiration, Ari Folman mixes live action with animation to explore the various levels of one's mental state. Robin Wright plays a somewhat fictional version of herself, her real films are acknowledged but her two children (Kodi Smit-McPhee and Sami Gayle), agent (Harvey Keitel) and home (aircraft hangar) are all fictional. In the film Robin Wright is regarded as somewhat of a washed-up actress and that her recent career choices are been a far cry from her earlier work, although this is all fictional, you can't help but think she was chosen for a reason. She is an awesome actor, I've always been a fan but it's safe to say that he 00s was not her best decade. It's clear she knows exactly what the score is and is obviously up for a challenge and that makes her perfect in the lead role. She's called into the Miramount (get it?) studios and given an offer; sell her rights to her digital image for lots of money, with this money she can retire and care for her son who is suffering from Usher Syndrome. With her digital image, the studio will be able to make films with her as the age she is for the next twenty years without her consent on which project her likeness is involved with. Stanislaw Lem's story was an allegory of communist dictatorship, Folman has switched it so that it would deal with dictatorship within the entertainment industry. The fall from politic to image may seem shallow but it really isn't, especially when the film goes some way in pointing out the very real situation those in the media go through. Things get a little bizarre when, once the twenty-year lease of her image is up, Wright ventures into the studio's futurological congress that is held in a hotel in Abrahama City, an animated city were people become animated avatars of themselves after drinking a chemical solution (cue Folman's trademark animation). This is where the boundaries of consciousness become blurred. Wright becomes trapped in an animated world and it becomes impossible to tell what is real and what is dream as she begins the search for her son who she finds had come looking for her. This is not for the casual viewer, it's a very clever idea and deserves full attention. The switch from real life to animation is beautifully handled and I think Folman is one of the few directors who could have pulled it off as well. Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel and Paul Giamatti (as her sons doctor) are all very convincing in their roles, the animation is spectacular and it is by far the most original film I've seen for quite some time. It's a stark but colourful satire that gives the audience things to think about that they didn't even know existed. It's definitely my kind of sci-fi.
    Tsotsi
    Dir: Gavin Hood
    2005
    ****
    Gavin Hood's Tsotsi was quite the sleepy hit upon release in 2005. It's a drama about redemption and hardship, set in one of the poorest places in the world. Presley Chweneyagae plays David, a gang leader and thug, also known as a Tsotsi in the South African slums. David and his gang are feared and unliked in equal measure but David's self-loathing reaches peak when he attacks his own. Deciding to go it alone, Tsotsi goes on somewhat of a rampage and steals a car in the process, shooting the car's owner in the process. Instantly filled with regret, David's world is turned upside down when he discovers that the car owners baby son had been sitting in the back seat all along. Instead of abandoning the baby with the car, David takes him back to his slum with a half an idea of looking after him. Do not be mistaken, this is not a story of a tough-guy softened by an infant, this is not Kindergarten Cop or Three Men and a Baby. Some of the scenes where it is clear David doesn't know the first thing about childcare can be quite disturbing. The setting and lives of those in the slums is brutally real, the treatment of the poor even more so. However, there is far more to the story then just redemption. It also shows the impossible situation some people inherit and it should go some way in explaining the desperate acts some of us can commit. It is a powerful drama, beautifully directed and brilliantly acted by an impressive cast of young actors.

    Tuesday, 12 January 2016

    The Hateful Eight
    Dir: Quentin Tarantino
    2015
    ****
    Quentin Tarantino's eighth film (if you count the Kill Bill films as one) is somewhat of a greatest hits compilation from the director. Much like Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino's first film, The Hateful Eight could easily be a theatrical stage show. It's rather brilliant but somewhat ridiculous that he would film it in glorious 70mm considering most of the film is shot in a cabin but it is this kind of over the top ridiculousness that I admire him for. Each character has their backstory, first seen in Pulp Fiction, and the script is plucky and direct. The use of different character point of view is reminiscent of Jackie Brown and it is fair to say that The Hateful Eight is as violent as Kill Bill, if not more so. The huge change in direction halfway through the film is just like Death Proof and this is a big production with glorious cinematography, just like Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained. Returning for more Tarantino mayhem are Samuel L. Jackson (his 6th), Kurt Russell (2nd), Walton Goggins (2nd), Tim Roth (4th), Michael Madsen (3rd), Bruce Dern (2nd), James Parks (4th) and Zoe Bell (5th) and newcomers include Jennifer Jason Leigh and Demian Bichir. In many respects The Hateful Eight is the ultimate Tarantino. The one thing for me that makes it stand above the rest is its originality. There is nothing quite like a QT movie but Reservoir Dogs is essentially a remake, Pulp Fiction a collection based on various European new wave films, Kill Bill a collection based on kung-fu films and Jackie Brown, Death Proof, Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained all channelling specific exploitation films and franchises. The Hateful Eight is influenced by many a TV western but it isn't a direct copy. When asked about the TV show influence Tarantino himself stated; "Twice per season, those shows would have an episode where a bunch of outlaws would take the lead characters hostage. They would come to the Ponderosa and hold everybody hostage, or go to Judge Garth's place — Lee J. Cobb played him — in The Virginian and take hostages. There would be a guest star like David Carradine, Darren McGavin, Claude Akins, Robert Culp, Charles Bronson or James Coburn. I don't like that storyline in a modern context, but I love it in a Western, where you would pass halfway through the show to find out if they were good or bad guys, and they all had a past that was revealed. I thought, 'What if I did a movie starring nothing but those characters? No heroes, no Michael Landons. Just a bunch of nefarious guys in a room, all telling backstories that may or may not be true. Trap those guys together in a room with a blizzard outside, give them guns, and see what happens." It's a fantastic premise and one he excels at exploring. The story is broken up into chapters and is mostly linear until the last few minutes. There is mystery throughout the story and each mystery remains so until it is time to be revealed, with absolutely no aspect of what eventually happens being predictable. It's as if Agatha Christie had written a Western and added copious amounts of violence, and the violence really is copious. It is reasonable to expect violence in a Tarantino film but with The Hateful Eight he really goes for it. There were a couple of scenes that took me by surprise, I honestly still can't decide whether the film is better for them or not but the fact that they've made me think about them probably means they have a place. It is important to remember the title of the film throughout viewing, the entire cast being the most likably loathsome people ever committed to celluloid. Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell lead the pack and give the film its momentum with Walton Goggins providing the films surprising stand out performance. Jennifer Jason Leigh is nothing short of amazing and I'm glad she finally getting the recognition she has long deserved. Everyone plays their part perfectly, with no dud performance or character. The script is one of Tarantino's best in my opinion and it really did feel like he was doing what he does best. The Hateful Eight felt like it could have followed Pulp Fiction in many respects, like the director had gone back to his roots. I liked that about the film but there was part of me that thinks maybe it is time to find a new trick to pull out of his sleeve. I'm happy with more of the same but I don't know for how long, a new genre is definitely needed but only because he has mastered this one. However, the film's score is easily the pièce de résistance. Tarantino annoyed Ennio Morricone when working with him on Django Unchained and swore never to work with him again but thankfully that wasn't the case. Morricone's score, his first western in thirty-four years, is sublime. He ended up using some music he wrote for John Carpenter's The Thing that was never used, which is funny as I thought of The Thing several times during the film. The film has its faults, this comes down to personal tastes though, I can't really criticise any of it. It was a pleasure to sit back in the cinema and allow myself to be submerged by it, indeed, it has been a long time since I've been as excited to see a film and to have been completely satisfied by what I had just seen. A simple, thrilling and appallingly violent pleasure.
    Diana
    Dir: Oliver Hirschbiegel
    2013
    *
    Without a doubt one of the most painful films I've ever sat through. The media ripped it to shreds and I don't think I've heard anyone say anything positive about it and for good reason. I had wondered whether the negatives were purely due to the fact it was about Diana Spencer, a now untouchable enigma, who the media and public alike won’t have a bad word said against. I'm no great fan of the Royals, no one is perfect, Diana certainly wasn't but I believe she was treated appallingly by the Monarchy but I digress...she was the most famous woman in the world, it's no surprise a film was made about her. Actually, it's surprising that no one had made a film about her before but that only backs up my theory, she's an untouchable icon in some respect. I digress once more. I find it staggering that this film was made by the same Oliver Hirschbiegel that directed 2004's Downfall. There is absolutely nothing interesting about this film visually, it looks and feels like a cheap TV drama, made in a hurry. Naomi Watts looks like Diana on the posters but less so in the film, she almost gets her voice right but ultimately she's unconvincing. I don't know much about Dr Hasnat Khan but I find it hard to believe he was the thirteen-year old boy in a man's body as he comes across as in the film, I'm a fan of Naveen Andrews but I'm puzzled as to why he or indeed Watts would want to be involved in something like this. I can only imagine they thought that this would enjoy the same success that Stephen Frears 2006 film The Queen enjoyed but surely they read the script? Diana's script is probably the worst I have ever heard. If you had watched my Wife and I watch Diana without sound, you could have been forgiven for thinking we were watching an amputation or a party political broadcast. The film is devoid of emotion, realism and intrigue, and absolutely nothing comes close to making up for it. I can't think of one redeemable feature.
    Carry On Henry
    Dir: Gerald Thomas
    1971
    **
    Carry On Henry, the twenty-first Carry On film of the series, is a substandard affair and unfortunately a precursor of what the franchise would descend to. The film was initially titled Anne of a Thousand Lays, a rather crude pun on Anne of a Thousand Days, starring Richard Burton, a double entendre too far for the censors. There is a fine line between risqué, cheeky comedy and smut and Carry On Henry comes very close to crossing it. Harry Secomb was the first choice to play the title character, half of me is curious what he would have been like in a Carry on but on the whole I think it's best they settled for series regular Sid James. The rest of the cast are all mainly present, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims and Terry Scott have rather sizable parts (oh Matron!), Barbara Windsor joins the film in its second act but Peter Butterworth and Kenneth Connor are given disappointingly minor roles. Unlike nearly every Carry On film made before Henry doesn't have that one big memorable scene, nothing that makes it particularly memorable or makes it stand out among the other films in the series. The beginning of the end of the franchise in many respects, with the series only reaching up to its usual high standards for one last time after this (Carry On Abroad).