Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Riot Club
Dir: Lone Scherfig
Lone Scherfig's film adaptation of Laura Wade's play Posh, is brilliantly written, very well acted, perfectly directed and has a fantastic script. It is also a very hard film to enjoy. The subject matter; a group of (no more than 10 at a time) young and privileged post-graduate Oxford students seek their places in the notorious Riot Club, a society born hundreds of years before at the University, that celebrates hedonism and the belief that money can buy anything, is so provocative it will make your skin crawl. This isn't a satire and it's certainly no 'Decline and Fall', it is a far more realistic version of the very real Bullingdon Club that lives under many of the same principles. The club rules, indeed most members have gone onto high positions in society, at the time the film was released three of it's former members (although you are always a member) are high ranking politicians - one being Prime minister. Money isn't really the problem here and power is subjective, the real hard to watch element is the audacity, the arrogance and the vile idea of entitlement. It's a brilliant film but it is so hard to watch as it will make your blood boil, no less so when you realise that this sort of thing has happened, is happening and will continue to do so. Lone Scherfig seems to have gone back to the 'poking the bear with a stick' attitude of the Dogme movement which is nice to see, the acting is painfully real and the script is one of the best of the year, with many a great line uttered.

The Ides of March
Dir: George Clooney
As plot lines go, 2011's The Ides of March is pretty predictable and not particularly original,  it is the great performances from the impressive cast that makes the film entertaining. George Clooney has already proved himself a talented director and his credibility remains very much in tact. He actually steps to one side on the acting front with this film, unselfishly and quite sensibly concentrating on Ryan Gosling's character. Gosling had a good 2011, he can proudly add this to his CV, as can all the supporting cast who include Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright and Evan Rachel Wood . Overall, it's a simple yet entertaining political thriller, nothing over the top but you'd have to be pretty naive for it to be a political revelation but it's entertaining all the same. It does have what was one of the worst movie posters of the year though, it's a wonder people went to see it.
The Witch Who Came From the Sea
Dir: Matt Cimber
Matt Cimber's 1976 horror, The Witch Who Came From the Sea is disturbing but the initial disturbance for me personally was that I couldn't help but see Millie Perkins as Anne Frank. After that, the only reason I can think of as to why it was banned for so long is because it is so incredibly boring. Okay, so it is quite nasty and deserves it's 'Video nasty' label, but I can't help but think its reputation precedes it somewhat. It's the sexually aggressive content that is the reason for its infamy but sadly it looks quite tame by today's standards. I can't think of anyone I'd recommended it to, if you're into these films the chances are you've already seen it.
Dir: Nathan Greno, Byron Howard
It's no secret that I'm a bit anti-Disney but I was pleasantly surprised with Tangled. It was recommended by people who generally don't let me down so I gave it a go. They've bought in fresh blood and have upped the animation, yeah sure they've re-invented a classic once again but this time they've done it without all the usual Disney cliches. Tangled, a retelling of Rapunzel, was actually genuinely funny too, without the samey slapstick and talking animals I had expected. I haven't enjoyed a Disney film since the early 90's and it's nice to see they're changing their direction and are not just relying on the same old formula. Just ease up on the unnecessary sequels though, ya big money making monster you.
The Railway Children
Dir: Lionel Jeffries
A classic British Children's story brought to life in this 1970's adaptation, which itself has become a bit of a classic in its own right. To be honest I was unfamiliar with the story until I saw a brilliant theatre production of this on what was the unused Eurostar platform in London's Waterloo station back in 2010. Now, I liked it but the story is a little dated, it's definitely posh kids literature and when you break down the story and writing it is a little insulting at times - I guess it's just a little old-fashioned but it's totally forgivable. There are some wonderful ideas in the story and as corny as it might be, it's full of tear-jerking moments and is quite famous for it. It's not usually my kind of thing but I'd be lying if I said I didn't really enjoy it. Also, it is directed by the much loved and sadly missed Lionel Jeffries and stars another British legend, the lovely Bernard Gribbins. It's impossible not to love.

Torn Curtain
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock
I hate to say it but Torn Curtain is fairly terrible. It's plot is thin, the script is awful and the lead acting and the story are a real let down. It's fairly well known that the production didn't exactly go to plan and many said during the filming that it was doomed from the start but to be fair, it does have some good points. The scene in the farm house is brilliant, pure Hitchcock and utterly unforgettable. The colours and many of the scenes are as beautiful as you'd expect from a Hitchcock film and the supporting cast generally do a good job. It is just the ridiculous plot that is the problem and Paul Newman and Julie Andrews's characters are pretty stupid considering they are rocket scientists. Newman's heart isn't in it and Julie Andrews is woefully miscast. A real shame.
Dir: Jean-Luc Godard
1985's Détective was a high point for Godard after a fairly unsuccessful decade. Visually, he was back and on form, I could see traces of his previous film that I had enjoyed greatly, the colours, the camera control and likable script etc. He also goes back to noir, a style he knows well, overall, Détective is stylishly shot and great to look at. Unfortunately, the muddling stories get confusing and I lost interest half way through, a real example of highs and lows that I find typical and frustrating with Godard's work (he'll never beat Alphaville in my opinion) but then this was a mainstream film to raise money for his more personal films. The lack of passion is unfortunately clear towards the end of the film. Detective lies somewhere in the middle of Godard's varied body of work.
The Tale of the Bunny Picnic
Dir: Jim Henson
I remember when The Tale of the Bunny Picnic was first announced, myself and my Sister were beyond excited, being big Jim Henson/Muppet fans. I also remember being just that little bit disappointed when it came out around Easter 1986. It was a big event when it was televised, as The Muppet show had gained popularity again after a string of re-runs. Bean Bunny wasn't that well known to us as a Muppet (and never really made it, making very brief appearances in tribute shows, a film and Muppets Tonight) and the lack of solid main characters was a slight disappointment. Not quite as good as the Muppets but still the big must see film that year (at least in our house).

Monday, 30 March 2015

Dir: Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater's Boyhood, which is 12 years in the making, has had its fair share of praise and criticism. Many have claimed that it is fairly shallow and watching young Mason (Ellar Coltrane) grow from boy to adult is nothing more than a gimmick. I think this is unfair, surely anything tried for the first time is a gimmick!? While I can understand why people might feel a little underwhelmed considering the hype, I do wonder if they have missed what is so great about it, and that is its wonderful simplicity. Mason's Boyhood is nothing like mine, this is a personal journey after all, but then there are many aspects of adolescence I can relate to. The film is at its best when Richard Linklater lets things happen naturally. Early attempts at a story (the part of the film whereby Patricia Arquette's character marries a lecturer who turns into a drunk) are less convincing than the kid's reactions and how they interact with one another. In short, this is close to being a reality film rather than a scripted story. There is an organic element to this film that I believe is 100% original and well worth celebrating. While it isn't a perfect film by any means, it is a great achievement and a real one of a kind.
The Smurfs
Dir: Raja Gosnell
In 2011, Pierre Culliford's (or Peyo as he was known) little blue Schtroumpfs were brought to life for the big screen. Originally a comic, the Schtroumpfs (or Smurfs as they soon became known as) became popular when in 1981 Hanna-Barbera gave them their own cartoon TV series. The world has loved them ever since. The Cartoons are almost sacred to some, as are many other Hanna-Barbera creations and 80's cartoons. It seems each one has taken their turn in being adapted for the big screen for a 'younger audience' and each one seems more disappointing than the next for the fans. Raja Gosnell's The Smurfs actually has a lot to its credit. Firstly, the mix of live action and animation isn't too bad visually. The voices chosen are good, especially the great Jonathan Winters as Papa Smurf and Hank Azaria was perfect as Smurf bad-guy, Gargamel. The humor was spot on too, with references to the Smurfs each taking their names from their own personality disposition, why there is only one girl Smurf and their questionable use of the word 'Smurf' in their language leading to laughs. The problem is the terrible story. The 'real' people are also a problem, some cast members (Jayma Mays) seeming more cartoonish than the actual cartoons. As well animated as the Smurfs are, the interaction between live action and cartoon just doesn't work, Neil Patrick Harris (as much as I like him) never convinces he is looking at anything other than either a wall or a floor. There is only so much the Smurfs can do on their own, maybe it was a mistake bringing them to 'The real world' and maybe they should have been left where they belong as it seems once again, humans are the real problem.

The Passion of the Christ
Dir: Mel Gibson
Whether you believe in Christ, his story, God or any religion, the story leading to Christ's Crucifixion is an interesting one and although Mel Gibson's version is more realistic than other version (and by realistic I mean graphic) he doesn't explore the story enough. It should have been called The Suffering of the Christ. I know that that is basically the point and what Gibson wanted to show, Christ suffered for our sins etc, but there is much more to the story that wasn't explored, the why, where and who are mostly missing. Apart from Caviezel and Shopov, the acting was fairly over the top and the inclusion of the Turin shroud as factual was cringe-worthy. All that said, Caviezel and Shopov's performances were very good in my opinion, the graphic detail was important and thank god (excuse the pun) it wasn't in English and was acted by people who looked like they could have come from that part of the world (apart from Christ who is a little bit too White). All in all, it has its big faults but it's not terrible but it's hardly the greatest story ever told.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Dir: Shekhar Kapur
Unlike the first and far superior film (1998's Elizabeth), the sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, is riddled with historical inaccuracies. It's actually quite shocking and insulting and I'm afraid Shekhar Kapur's reputation is in tatters because of it. The film looks beautiful and the Spanish Armada scene is visually stunning, it just needed to be longer (I'd like to see it have its own film to be honest) and more truthful, for example Sir Walter Raleigh had nothing to do with it, he wasn't even there and nor did he introduce the Potato! Visually stunning, brilliant performances but it makes a complete mockery of British history and it is both insulting and unforgivable. No wonder kids are so bleedin' thick these days. A real shame. Two stars for Cate Blanchett and Samantha Morton's wonderful performances only.
Dir: Shekhar Kapur
1998's Elizabeth is a stunningly beautiful film and as historical accuracy goes, it's not too bad either. My only gripe with Shekhar Kapur's direction are that he over does the down shots and the one scene that nearly ruined the whole thing for me was the very contemporary quick cut editing during Elizabeth's speech practice. I will put that one to one side though, as he more than made up for it with the stunning transformation scene towards the end, with Elizabeth emerging from the light. The imagery and symbolism work together beautifully. Certainly my favourite period drama in recent years, with fantastic performances, most notably from the amazing Cate Blanchett.
Code Unknown
Dir: Michael Haneke
Code Unknown is a relatively subtle piece considering it's from controversial director Michael Haneke, just when you think it is going to go down the somewhat cliched 'Chaos theory' route it doesn't, and his unfinished approach to his films works best here compared to his earlier and some later work. It can be frustrating at times though as some characters get more development than others but it also has its brilliantly intense moments that Haneke is now famous for. One scene in particular, whereby a little boy stands dangerously close to the edge of a pool is a real edge of your seat moment. A sturdy drama dealing with intolerance and hate, it certainly has hints of his later, and in my humble opinion, best work, so it's a good introduction for those new to the director's style.
How It Feels to Be Run Over
Dir: Cecil Hepworth
A great little film from the Hepworth Manufacturing Company who really did like their cars. Their special effects were quite advanced for the time but the real highlight is the last frame when 'Oh, mother will be pleased' flashes up on the screen. A classic from the silent era, and a good example of how the early filmmaker shrived to entertain and involve the audience in the experience. Looking good for a film well over 100 years old.
Dir: Neil Marshall
I really liked the idea behind Neil Marshall's Doomsday, it's not particularly original but I thought having Scotland as a segregated viral zone was quite an interesting premise. It was fun for the most part too, a bit silly in places but overall it was entertaining. The thing that annoyed me about it though was the tribal aspect. How many post-apocalyptic cyber-punks tribes have we seen now? I know it is part love letter to films such as The Warriors (anyone else spot the Baseball Fury?) and Mad Max but it comes off as poor imitation rather than tribute. The medieval tribe thing was handled particularly badly in my opinion, making it not such a great film by the end, which is a huge shame as the story had so much potential. However, Rhona Mitra makes the leap from my bedroom wall during my collage days to getting her first leading role rather well. She should have been Lara Croft. Sci-fi fans are also treated to other good performances from Malcolm McDowell and Alexander Siddig as well as everybodies favorite, the great Bob Hoskins. It's a bit formulaic and a bit too similar to the films that inspired it but it's good fun and entertaining throughout.

Dir: Ruben Fleischer
I have to say I was a bit disappointed by Ruben Fleischer's Zombieland. Shaun of the Dead is a favourite of mine so I never expected it to surpass it but I had hoped that it would at least compete. There was such huge potential after all and as funny and original as the whole Bill Murry thing was, it just didn't work in my opinion and the film never really knew what it wanted to be. I thought the use of typography was clever but it's not original, the pace was too jerky, the trashing of the shop was stupid and pointless and angered me slightly and the acting/casting could have been better in my opinion. I had no problem with Woody Harrelson but Jesse Eisenberg isn't funny (dare I say it, Michael Cera would have been a better choice), Emma Stone acts like a stone and Abigail Breslin seems to have grown out of her darling stage and them some. By the end of the film I couldn't care less about the characters and it looked less like a comedy/horror or comedy-horror and more like a computer game. Watch Shaun of the Dead and/or play Dead Rising on the PS2/Wii/Xbox instead.

Atomised (AKA The Elementary Particles)
Dir: Oskar Roehler
Brutally honest and not afraid to kick a few taboos in the balls, Oskar Roehler's adaptation of Michel Houellebecq's controversial novel Atomised is the ultimate film about 'all those things we don't want to talk about'. It never declares its self-importance or even declares it is right, in fact it's more about honesty being the best policy via Bondage, human cloning and masturbating over your own mother. Honestly, it's much better than it sounds. Tongue is in cheek when needed and it is very funny throughout, the often overlooked Moritz Bleibtreu is great in the lead and the beautiful Franka Potente is brilliant as always.

October (AKA October: Ten Days That Shook the World)
Dir: Sergei MEisenstein
The pen may be mightier than the sword but Sergei MEisenstein proved that film was just as powerful. Sergei MEisenstein is one of the most significant pioneers of modern cinema and October (or October: Ten Days That Shook the World as it has become more commonly known) is a perfect example of his use of montage (Intellectual montage to be precise), something that he argued was the very essence of cinema. The editing still surpasses most contemporary film and his use of symbolism has never really been matched (although very often copied). October is one of the most important, powerful and jaw-dropping films ever made, especially when you realise that most of the people in the film are actually playing themselves and were actually part of the October revolution that only happened 11 years prior. The scene with the horse dangling from the bridge is one of the most startling scenes in cinema history as far as I'm concerned. It would be wonderful to see a fully restored version that included the missing Trotsky scenes but unfortunately thanks to Stalin, this will never happen. Historically important and a masterpiece of cinema.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Dir: Tim Johnson
Home is an important film for Dreamworks studios and in my opinion they have done a fine job and deserve to succeed. Thankfully it's not your typical Alien meets Earth Child either. There is no hiding the Alien from ones parents or any other cliched story, this time the Alien invasion is very open and it's what happens after that is the focus of the story. The writing is relatively fresh for a film aimed at kids and this is definitely a kids film with adults in mind but without being unsuitable or going over the heads of the little ones. Okay, so there is some schmaltz present but not enough to spoil it, far from it in fact, the story is original and rewarding, the characters lovable and engaging and the animation a perfect blend of simple but detailed. I personally think it's the best film Dreamworks have produced for a long time. Jim Parson's is a big name star these days but he's obviously been chosen specifically for his voice and it suits the character Oh perfectly. Steve Martin as the voice of Captain Smek was a very pleasant surprise too but as good a job as Rihanna does voicing the young Girl Tip, the film could have done without so many of her songs, indeed there is one scene whereby Oh can't stop himself from dancing to one of Rihanna's songs and I personally felt it to be the most unrealistic part of the whole movie. That just my personal music taste though, the film itself is great fun.

La Jetée (The Pier)
Dir: Chris Marker
I think being a big fan of photography helped me in enjoying this film as much as I did but to be honest, and after hearing so much hype about it, I did loose a little of my concentration before the film was over. That said, this film is a visual treat with a surreal dreamlike story that is both original and thought provoking. Gilliam's version/remake is far more accessible but is a bit of a wasted opportunity when compared (although I still love it). Out of the two though, I'd watch 12 monkeys over La Jetee, but still, beautiful cinema!

Confessions (Kokuhaku)
Dir: Tetsuya Nakashima
Visually, Tetsuya Nakashima's 2010 drama Confessions (Kokuhaku) is a beautifully crafted film, the problem is that it feels like it was written by a miserable 12 year old. It has some great scenes; the dancing scene and the explosion at the end but unfortunately the desired effect of the story of a teachers revenge just comes across as stupid and badly written. The kid's acting is awful, it's a Japanese style of acting I know but this film is particularly overacted and forced. The twists and turns aren't as clever as the producers boasted, they are contrived and ridiculous at best. Nothing clever here apart from the cinematography. I wish more Japanese film makers would realise that there is life after High School.

A Nightmare on Elm Street
Dir: Samuel Bayer 
Samuel Bayer's 2010 horror A Nightmare on Elm Street is yet another pointless remake that totally misunderstands what was so good about the original. I'm guessing they thought they were making a better film by removing the comedy elements (which all good 80s horror films possess) and making the gore more realistic and Freddy that little more sinister. Firstly, it's the humour, the over the top effects that make the original franchise popular and as much as I like Jackie Earle Haley, Robert Englund is Freddy Kruger and he's so iconic in the role that you just can't replace him. It's forgettable too, I watched it just before writing this review and I'm struggling to remember how it ended already. Okay, so it has some nice effects but compared to the legendary original it fails in pretty much every way.
Days of Being Wild
Dir: Wong Kar-wai
1990's Days of Being Wild is a mere hint of what was yet to come from Wong Kar-wai and no where near as good as his later films. Wong Kar-wai's visual strength is obvious and impressive for such a young director, the influence that 60's Americana has had on him is also clear. Overall it's cool as a cucumber with cool characters to boot but the script really isn't great and some of the acting is questionable, to put it politely. It's good but it just doesn't work as a whole. An important turning point for Wong Kar-wai and indeed it brought Global recognition to Asian cinema but it's just an average film as it is.

Rooster Cogburn
Dir: Stuart Millar
I liked Rooster Cogburn very much. It's a different type of film to True Grit but The Duke is on just as good form as he was then and here you get a equally great performance from Katharine Hepburn. Watching the pair act off one another is an absolute joy, it may not be an amazing story but the performances more than make up for it. It's one of those films that, unlike True Grit, can never be remade, as the marriage of Hepburn and Wayne make it an original classic. I'm surprised that both director and screenwriter were replaced for the second film but it certainly isn't just a cash in on the success of 1969's True Grit and it stands on its own merit.
True Grit
Dir: Henry Hathaway
The real genius behind Henry Hathaway's 1969 classic Western True Grit is the brilliant script. The performances are very good, the direction, pace and music too but the script is as sharp as a knife. Marguerite Roberts's script is one of the best of the 60s in my opinion and to give credit it where it is due John Wayne delivered it perfectly. It's a bit of a surprise that Wayne even worked with Roberts after she was blacklisted by the house of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) but then I guess he saw himself as working on a film written by Charles Portis rather than Roberts. Charles Portis's novel is fine but it is the changes made by Roberts that I think is the real key to the films success. Rooster Cogburn remains one of cinema's favorite characters and True Grit one of America's greatest Westerns and deservedly so.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Voices
Dir: Marjane Satrapi
The Voices has split me right down the middle. I love a bit of Black comedy, The Voices is pure Black comedy, but it is completely disjointed and the lines are somewhat blurred. It was a shock to see that Marjane Satrapi of Persepolis fame directed it, not just because of the content but because I thought the directional style was completely amateur. A beautifully framed scene is followed by a moving steady cam shot is followed by shaky camera, pick a style already - cried everyone in the cinema. I was the only one in the cinema, so that's a true story. Ryan Reynolds and Gemma Arterton are two actors who I generally don't like but I was pleasantly surprised by both here and I hope this continues. I loved the talking pets, it is absolutely brilliantly dark and the script is sharp as a knife. It is quirky, for desperate want of another word. I don't want to say it but I can't help myself, a Coen Brother version would have been amazing. I do wonder if it was hoped that this film would appeal to the archetype Coen fan but Coen film it ain't, Satrapi's film is just good. That said, in retrospect it has grown on me somewhat and a repeat viewing is necessary so I give it credit for that. I really did like it, the ending in particular, it does have that certain je ne sais quoi but it just needed to be a little more refined.