Coming soon...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

I AM LEGEND (2007) - Francis Lawrence


I love science fiction. It’s a brilliant genre due to it’s very nature, almost anything is possible in the genre. As such, some amazing stories have been written and some of the greatest writers have made their names in the genre. One such writer is Richard Matheson. Aside from writing some excellent Twilight Zone episodes, his books have been made into films of varying quality. I Am Legend, released this month is the third adaptation of the book of the same name, although unlike The Last Man On Earth and The Omega Man, this adaptation retains the book’s title, and you would think, remains closest to the source material.

The year is 2012. New York City has become a desolate place. There are no signs of human life. All that remains are empty buildings, abandoned cars and the city that once never slept, is a decaying shell. However, one man remains. His name is Dr. Robert Neville and his is the sole survivor of a disease that wiped out 90% of mankind. Neville spends his days patrolling New York, hunting deer, playing golf, waiting for survivors who have heard the message he sends out at all times, and basically fending off the madness that can set in when you have no interaction with another human in any way. However, despite being the only human left in New York, Neville is not alone. The disease has changed those who aren’t immune into vampiric mutants, unable to emerge from darkness during the day. Neville searches for a cure for these mutants while they do their best to hunt him down.

At one point in time, the script for I Am Legend was itself somewhat of a legend. It was one of those scripts that people wanted to see, but was never made. Despite such high profile names such as Ridley Scott, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Johnny Depp being attached at different times, the film could not get put into production. And you know what, I wish it had stayed that way. Because the film that they’ve finally made deviates from what was a brilliant original idea, and turns the concept into a film that feels rushed and extremely disappointing.

Without giving too much away, in the novel, Neville is a man without purpose who hits rock bottom and finds a way back. He gains a purpose in his life and because of this purpose, he eventually becomes what the title says, a legend. The vampires of the book form a new society. Neville hunts them while they sleep. Ultimately, in a twist on the original vampire premise, Neville becomes a monster to them. He becomes their Dracula. Their legend. It’s a brilliant idea that’s completely lost in this film. Their are tiny little shreds of these ideas spread throughout the film. However, it feels like they diluted the plot of the book so much, that it’s barely an inspiration for the film.

I Am Legend isn’t completely terrible, I must say. The first twenty minutes or so of the film are quite promising. However, the film quickly becomes clichéd and redundant and becomes ultimately tedious. The ending is entirely pointless and a pointless character decision considering what has gone on for the rest of the film, and leaves you scratching your head, asking why Neville made the decision he made. It makes no allusion to the title of the film. In fact, the filmmakers continually make reference to Bob Marley’s ‘Legend’ album, which is a ridiculous script decision.

Will Smith’s acting is perfectly passable. He continues the trend of butchering sci-fi classics he started with I, Robot, and considering what he’s given with the script, he does his best, and it’s not terrible. But it’s the script that’s at fault when Smith doesn’t entirely convey his character’s descent into the madness he supposed to be experiencing. The mutants Neville is pitted against are almost completely CGI. And as such, they’re in no way menacing or scary. They look completely rubbery and fake. While it would have meant that the mutants weren’t as agile as they are in the film, it would have been a FAR better idea to use actors in make up. As they are, the mutants are just cgi monsters that have no shred of humanity and thus are stripped of any emotional connection to the audience, be that connection empathy or even fear.

It’s such a shame that this film is such a disappointment. The source material would have made a brilliant film, but this is what we’re left with. It feels rushed. It deviates almost entirely from the source. And it’s not even remotely scary. It’s a sorry way to end 2007 in terms of cinema going. But then, 07 wasn’t such a great year, despite some great films. And I guess the damp squib that is I Am Legend sums up the year perfectly.

Oh, and just for you American readers, No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood aren’t released here til next year, so while these films certainly seem to have elevated 2007 to something more than it was here, we haven’t gotten to see these yet!! Roll on 08!


Sunday, December 23, 2007

I'M NOT THERE (2007) - Todd Haynes

When is a biopic not a biopic? The answer is when it’s Todd Haynes’ examination of the life and experiences of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There. Dylan is one of, if not, the greatest songwriter of all time. As well as writing some of the greatest songs ever sung, Dylan’s life has seen the singer go through many different personas. After emerging as the great poster boy of 60’s folk music, enlightening a generation to social problems, alienating a great many of his folk fans by switching to electric guitar, to his ‘rebirth’ as a Christian, Dylan’s life would make for a pretty packed straight biopic. But Haynes departs from the conventional biopic and presents Dylan’s many personas through a number of different characters. This is not Walk The Line.

As mentioned, I’m Not There concentrates on six different characters, each of which personify either Dylan at a different time of his life, or an aspect of his life. Firstly we have Marcus Carl Franklin who plays an eleven year old boy by the name of Woodie Guthrie (after the folk singer and inspiration for the real Dylan) who travels the south in box cars, singing songs and spouting wisdom far beyond his years. Christian Bale plays Jack Rollins, a protesting folk-singer who turns his back on music in favour of devotion to God. Heath Ledger is Robbie Clark, an actor who makes his break playing Jack Rollins in a biopic of the singer. Ben Whishaw is Arthur Rimbaud who answers questions in front of what seems to be some sort of panel of agents. Cate Blanchett portrays Jude Quinn, who is the personification of Dylan we’ll be most familiar with. Quinn has just arrived in Britain to hoardes of fans, accusations of selling out, and more drugs than he can handle. And finally, Richard Gere plays Billy the Kid who has turned his back on society to live a life in solitude in some sort of anachronistic version of the old west.

As much an examination of what a biopic is as a study of Dylan’s life, I’m Not there mixes many different styles and techniques as it presents each story. For example, the segment about Jack Rollins is shot as a documentary that is a retrospective of Rollins’ life. Where as, the segment about Jude Quinn is more what would be expected from a conventional biopic. Haynes mixes up the stories and cuts back and forth between each character. The result is we never quite know what time period we’re in, and where things are happening. The Quinn part being the only sure part of the film since that period in Dylan’s career is probably the most famous. We see Quinn’s first live performance using an electric guitar, something that horrifies his fans and spills over to the tour of Britain he undertakes where cries of ‘Judas!’ are heard from the crowd.

In biopics, the performances of the actors portraying the real life person is always going to be under the most scrutiny. Having six actors portray the same person, or an aspect of that person does make for an incredibly interesting experience. Yet it’s not like you spend the film thinking ‘well, that actor is more the Dylan I know than that actor.’ In fact, every performance in the film is excellent, whether it’s one of the six central actors, or a member of the supporting cast. One of the best performances in the film comes from Bruce Greenwood, who plays Keenan Jones, a BBC journalist who personifies all the journalists who attacked Dylan for turning his back on humanity and the plight of his fellow man when he made the change from folk to electric. Greenwood also plays and aged Pat Garrett, the arch nemesis of Billy the Kid, who wants to destroy the town the Kid has come to love after turning his back on his former outlaw life.

However, the performance that is getting the most attention, and deservedly so, is Cate Blanchett, who plays Jude Quinn. Aside from the fact that Blanchett is a woman portraying a man, she also becomes a version of Dylan that is instantly recognisable. Anyone who’s seen Martin Scorsese’s brilliant No Direction Home will recognise what Blanchett has achieved when they see the footage of Dylan in Britain in the 60’s. Not only is Blanchett brilliant at portraying this pastiche of Dylan, she also puts in a brilliant performance of a singer at the height of his fame, and how the excesses, and his own personality are slowly destroying him physically. Blanchett’s scenes with Bruce Greenwood, and the moments with David Cross as beat poet Allen Ginsberg are among the highlights of the film.

It’s needless to say that the soundtrack is fantastic. Haynes doesn’t just go for the instantly recognisable songs from Dylan’s vast catalogue throughout the film. Of course, anyone vaguely familiar with Dylan’s music will recognise some of the bigger hits. However, Haynes also employs a number of artists to cover Dylan’s songs throughout the film. The characters sing Dylan’s songs, but sung by different artists. There are Dylan-sung Dylan songs in there, but by the cover versions add a refreshing twist to the film, and suit the scenes perfectly.

Of course the question begs, is there anything for non-Dylan fans in this film? While I’ll admit, being a Dylan fan, and having knowledge of his life certainly did add something to the film, I think there’s plenty to allow non-fans in. Like I said, I’m Not There is very different to the likes of Walk The Line. It’s certainly a more art-house film, and in no way a conventional biopic. But for someone as enigmatic as Dylan, it’s the perfect way to take a look at his life.


Friday, December 21, 2007

WE OWN THE NIGHT (2007) - James Gray

James Gray’s We Own The Night follows a long tradition of cop and criminal dramas. It’s heavily influenced by some great films such as The Godfather, but despite this, We Own The Night falls a little flat. It’s not a terrible film by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s just not remarkable either. Maybe I’ve set the bar a little high when it comes to movies, judging films as either incredibly brilliant or utterly terrible. Or maybe We Own The Night is just a very average film.

Taking place in New York in 1988, We Own The Night focuses on two brothers, one a cop, one a nightclub manager, and their father, also a cop. Joe Grusinsky has recently been appointed as the head of a taskforce charged with putting an end to the drug trade perpetrated by the Russian mafia. In order to do this, he needs his brother, Bobby Green’s help. Bobby has distanced himself from his family and ingratiated himself into the Russian community in New York. He’s a popular guy, and through his connections, he can be quite an asset to the police. However, Bobby is not willing to help his brother, unwilling to upset the status quo in his life. But as events unfold, and Joe closes in on the Russians, Bobby will be forced to choose a side in the war between the cops and the criminals.

The focus of We Own The Night is on Joaquin Phoenix as Bobby Green. He’s the catalyst for the film’s events and as such, the film pretty much rests on his shoulders. And Joaquin Phoenix does a fine job in the role. He’s a good actor, and as proved with Walk The Line, he can carry the film. However, the overall film is filled with some pretty contrived plot twists, lacklustre dialogue and clichéd characters. It’s this that brings the film down. Mark Whalberg, who plays Joe Grusinsky does a fine job with what he’s given, but it’s not much of a role. Robert Duvall and Eva Mendes round off the central cast, but both characters suffer from being unremarkable. We’ve seen these characters before. And we’ve seen them written better.

On the plus side, there is a very good car chase in the film. Shot during a torrential downpour, the tension is palpable as the gangsters close in on a number of the main characters during heavy traffic. It’s the only really memorable part of the film, and is quite good. The soundtrack is also filled with classic songs. It’s quite impressive that the Gray was able to get so many good songs to put into the film. It must have cost quite a bit in royalties. However, when the soundtrack is the best thing about a film, it pretty much sums up the weakness of the material.

As I’ve said, there’s nothing terrible about We Own The Night. It’s just not great by any degree. There are far better cop movies out there. And despite the best efforts of the cast, they can’t make a better film out of weak source material. A short review. But what else can you write about a film that is pretty forgettable once it’s over.


Raising hell... have gotten hold of the teaser for Hellboy II: The Golden Army. The sequel to 2004's Hellboy is once again directed by Guillermo Del Toro, one of the best directors working at the moment. His films always have amazing production design and special effects. It's the perfect vision for bringing Mike Mignola's character to life, and despite not being as big as the Spidermans and Batmans of this world, I thought Hellboy was a great film.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army arrives on our screens next summer.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

... and this is who he's looking for

Here's another image, hot off the presses. I like this one more.

He's watching...

The international poster for The Dark Knight has just been released, and... here it is!

At the moment, I'm kinda torn as to whether I like this or not. It's a very strong image, don't get me wrong. And I like the idea of Batman watching the city, waiting for his moment to strike. However, I think I'd have preferred him perched atop a building or something. Something more ethereal. Maybe it's just me.
The trailer will be released next week. And having seen it, may I just say, it's pant-wettingly good. Not to build it up or anything...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

THE GOLDEN COMPASS (2007) - Chris Weitz

Since the release of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, studios have been falling over themselves to release movies that capture the magic that Peter Jackson’s movies did so well. To the studios, these movies bring in mega bucks since they’re aimed at the family, the most lucrative of cinema audiences. To this end, they find any piece of fantasy fiction and immediately rush it into production. Unfortunately, the time and care that Jackson put into The Lord of the Rings isn’t always applied to these other movies, and the resulting films always seem to lack something. And this is blatantly apparent in Chris Weitz adaptation of Philip Pullman’s novel, Northern Lights. Or The Golden Compass, as the movie is known.

The Golden Compass takes Pullman’s incredibly popular novel, the first his ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy, and translates it to the big screen. Dealing with many different (and in some places, controversial) themes, this first movie concentrates on a precocious little girl named Lyra Belacqua. Lyra lives in a parallel universe to our own. A universe where peoples’ souls accompany them in the form of a animal who can communicate, and lives in harmony with his or her human counterpart. Lyra attends Jordan College. After her uncle, a scientist named Lord Asriel leaves for an expedition to investigate the possibility of parallel universes, Lyra comes into possession of an alethiometer, or golden compass which can answer any question Lyra cares to ask it. This alethiometer is something the Magesterium, the overlords wish to possess. To this end, they send Mrs. Coulter to take Lyra away from Jordan. Lyra doesn’t trust Mrs. Coulter and escapes her. She sets off to find her lost friends, who have been taken by Gobblers, who’s sinister plans put the entire world in peril.

That is basically the plot of the Golden Compass. Sounds kind of convoluted, doesn’t it? And in a way, it is. It’s not a difficult film to follow, but there’s a lot to take in. And the plot is fired at the audience so fast that you cant help but feel the film is an incredibly rushed effort. I’ve heard some great things about Pullman’s Dark Materials books, and I do intend to read them. This film really didn’t put me off doing that. However, it’s a badly made film.

As mentioned, the plot is incredibly rushed through. Events pass at a pace that makes you want to shout out at everybody to slow down for a moment at take a breath. But this isn’t a good thing. Everything seems skirted over. And to that end, there’s no sense of dread of events that are perilous for the world. Nothing seems incredibly important, and you just feel that things just keep happily falling into place. Characters pop into the story, and just seem to join Lyra on her quest for no other reason but having nothing better to do. And this is the major flaw of The Golden Compass. Things happen too fast and too easily with no sense of peril if things go wrong.

The direction, from Weitz, who (with his brother, Paul) struck box office gold with American Pie and the surprisingly good About A Boy, seems out of his depth. At moments, the camera makes bizarre swoops and the action cuts to odd angles, and it seems that Weitz is doing this just to add the feeling of something epic to otherwise small worldly events. The pace of the film is bizarrely slow for a film where events pass so quickly, and you will, at moments, find yourself very, very bored. The special effects aren’t bad. I mean, for a film of this magnitude, you’d expect the special effects to be spiffy, and while they’re not groundbreaking by any measure, they’re not terrible. As with the rest of the film, they’re just spectacularly mundane.

The acting isn’t terrible. Dakota Blue Richards (who sounds like some sort of country and western singer) isn’t as bad an actress as the trailer for the movie made her out to be. However, her character is incredibly smug and irritating. I don’t know if she is like this in the book, but in this film, you cant help but find yourself wishing, at moments, that she’d just lose! Daniel Craig pops up for about 6 minutes of screen time as Lord Azriel, and while he’s perfectly acceptable in the role, he has little to nothing to do. Nicole Kidman is in ice-queen mode as Mrs. Coulter. As with most of her roles, Kidman is pretty bland. This, I expect, is the point of the role. But for the film’s ‘bad guy,’ you just don’t detest her enough for her to make an impact. Sam Elliot is really imaginatively cast as an American gun-slinger cum airship pilot. And Sir Ian McKellan resurrects his Gandalf voice for his role as Iorek Byrnison, an ice-bear prince who dedicates his life to Lyra. Oh yeah, Eva Green pops up for a moment as a witch who you feel should be more consequential to the plot, but isn’t. There are other cameos from famous names such as Derek Jacobi and Christopher Lee, but again, their roles are pretty pointless.

The most disappointing thing about The Golden Compass is that you know there’s something to the story. The source material must be jam-packed with glorious detail. I’ve heard wonderful things about the books and I do look forward to them. But the film is stripped of all this. It just all seems rather pointless. And having heard there are themes of atheism that really got the Christians railed up, my interest is piqued even more. However, all this controversial material is removed from the film, and what is left is a really bland, uninspiring, and ultimately boring family film.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Drew Struzan delivers the goods... the GREATS!

If there are some things synonymous with Indiana Jones, they'd have to be, the hat, the whip, Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg and Drew Struzan. Struzan is without a doubt the KING of movies posters, and has created great images for every Indy film. And now, he's delivered another piece of classic cinema with the poster for Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.

Captures the essence of the Indiana Jones movies so well. It looks fantastic!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


The resurgence of the western takes one more step forward with the release of Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. After 3:10 To Yuma, you’d think that lightning wouldn’t strike twice for this, the genre that seems to produce the least amount of films. However, this western surpasses James Mangold’s film and is possibly the best film of 2007. In fact, it’s probably no exaggeration to say that The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford is a western that belongs with the greats, and certainly the best example of it’s kind since Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.

The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford is not a biopic of the famous folk-hero Jesse James. In fact, the early part of the film depicts Jesse and his brother Frank’s last train heist. With the brothers for the heist are a gang of men recruited from the hills in Missouri. Among the outlaws are the Ford brothers, Charlie and his younger brother Robert. Robert Ford has spent his life idolising Jesse James through magazines and stories. He sees this robbery as his chance to get closer to his hero.
After the robbery, James’ paranoia leads him to hunt down his former gang. Eventually James catches up with the Ford brothers. They have good reason to fear James. Despite this, they join him in his journey to catch up with his former gang. But as Robert Ford’s attempts to get closer to his hero are met with rejection and laughter, his obsession intensifies. If he cannot become close to James, he figures there must be a way to best him.

It’s impossible to know where to begin when analysing a film like this. There are so many elements that contribute to it’s greatness. Essentially, it’s an examination of the cult of celebrity and the effects it can have, not only on a ‘fan’ but on the celebrity him or herself. It’s fitting that Jesse James, one of the most famous men of his time should be played by Brad Pitt, one of the most famous actors of our time. James, in the film, is a figure who lives an almost mythical existence. In an early scene, Ford and James sit and share cigars. Ford is literally gushing over the stories of his hero, who turns to Ford and tells him they’re all lies. Instantly, you see Ford’s embarrassment at his attempt to get closer to his hero. Even way back when, stories of celebrity are blown out of proportion.

Yet it’s this celebrity status that makes Jesse James a melancholic and paranoid character. Brad Pitt, who I’ve enjoyed in maybe a handful of roles delivers a career-best performance as the outlaw. James is a quiet, contemplative character, yet underneath his outward control of every situation lies a man who is incredibly dangerous. The slightest provocation turns James from a quiet man into a cold-blooded murderer. When the Ford brothers are exposed to this side of James, they begin to realise how close they are to death. But despite this, James seems to be in a perpetual state of embracing death. It’s almost as if he expects it at any moment. Pitt conveys every side of James character so convincingly that it would be very surprising if his performance is overlooked come awards time.

Playing against Pitt is Casey Affleck as Robert Ford. It’s his performance that is central to the film, and he is outstanding as Ford. His character is in awe of James. He’s a young man who’s life has been shaped around the exploits of Jesse James. When his time comes to meet his hero, he’s does everything he can to endear himself to the outlaw. Yet his attempts are rejected outright. In fact, he’s laughed at by everyone from his own brother to James himself. And with each rejection, Ford descends deeper and deeper into resentment. After he kills James, in what is a cowardly manner, Ford builds a career riding on this one incident. Yet he finds that the celebrity he has garnered brings him nothing but misery. Instead of being a hero who brought down Jesse James, Ford is regarded as a coward, and finds himself as paranoid as his hero once was. It’s a brilliant contrasting performance to Pitt’s James. One of the film’s highlights is a scene involving Ford comparing his life to that of James. His adoration for his hero is met with ridicule bordering on contempt, and watching the two actors face each other is fascinating.

The rest of the cast, including Sam Rockwell, Sam Shepard, Jeremy Renner, Paul Schneider, Zooey Deschanel and Mary-Louise Parker all deliver brilliant performances. Yet in the face of the two central characters, these performances play second fiddle.

Aside from the brilliant cast, the other highlight of The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford is the direction and cinematography. This film is probably the most beautiful film of the year. Shot by Coen brothers collaborator, Roger Deakins, the film is incredibly reminiscent of the films of Terrence Malick, in particular Days Of Heaven. The west has rarely looked as beautiful and mythical. Andrew Dominik’s direction is sublime. The tone of the film is quiet and melancholic, like the title character. Dominik’s previous film, the brilliant Chopper, also dealt with a character who was almost a folk hero. Another outlaw who has achieved almost mythical status. There are some outstanding scenes, including a brilliantly shot train robbery. But it’s the character interaction that is in focus here. It’s a long film, running two hours and forty minutes in length. Yet, it’s not a minute too long or a minute too short and is edited perfectly.

The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford is possibly film of the year. I’d previously thought Eastern Promises would be the film that would emerge as the film of 2007. But after seeing this film, it’s a very difficult choice. The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford might have the edge. It’s just a stunning looking film with two incredible performances. What’s definite about it, however, is that it is absolutely memorable in every way, and that's the key to a brilliant film.


The Dark Knight gets a poster

Just released is the teaser poster for next summer's second biggest movie (after some film about an archaeologist or something...) The Dark Knight. In case you've been living under a rock for the last year, The Dark Knight is the sequel to Christopher Nolan's sublime Batman Begins. Even if I do say so myself, the poster is one of the best teaser posters I've come across. Suitably dark, in keeping with the tone of the movie, and still manages to whet our appetites even more!

The viral marketing on The Dark Knight has been kicking into overdrive over the last few weeks with all manner of Gotham related viral websites popping up on the internet. Included in the ever expanding list are-

Why So Serious?
Gotham Police Department

Gotham Technologies
The Gotham Times and the Joker-defaced Ha Ha Ha Times
Gotham National Bank
Gotham City Rail
Acme Security Systems

Gotham Victims Advocate Foundation
Gotham Unified School District
Betty's House of Pies

The list goes on. 42 Entertainment, the folks behind this marketing campaign are doing a fantastic job. It's quite possibly the best advertisement campaign I've ever seen for a film. If the film proves as well thought out and brilliantly executed as the work done by these folks, we're in for one heck of a film!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Post 100!! And Harrison's still got it!

Lots of speculaion has arisen since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was confirmed as to whether a 63 year old Harrison Ford would still be able to cut it as the world's greatest adventurer, Indiana Jones. Oh ye of little faith. As these images prove, without a doubt, despite the age, Harrison Ford still has it as Indy. The months cant pass too quickly til May!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

THE DARJEELING LIMITED (2007) - Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson is one of those filmmakers who you either get or you don’t. Since his debut feature, Bottle Rocket, released in 1996, Anderson has continued to divide audience opinion of his films. The Royal Tenenbaums, released in 2001 came the closest to uniting opinions on Anderson’s work. His style is absolutely unique, and because of this, some people just don’t get the type of humour that permeate his films. The Darjeeling Limited is Anderson’s fifth feature. Once again, it has some of the trademark Wes Anderson touches and themes. But it’s also one step further in Anderson’s maturity as a filmmaker.

The Darjeeling Limited once unites Anderson with his five-time collaborator, Owen Wilson who plays Francis Whitman, the eldest of three estranged brothers. He puts out a call to his two brothers, Peter and Jack to join him on a train journey across India. His brothers arrive to find Francis’ face has suffered quite a few injuries. What the source of these injuries are, Francis is hazy with the details. Peter, who’s wife is pregnant with his son, cannot get over the death of his father, one year previous. Jack is wary of this reunion with his brothers, and has a ticket to Italy ready for him to leave when he’s had enough. He’s also obsessed with his ex-girlfriend and constantly wants to check her answering machine.
Francis struggles to keep his brothers together, and while he has invited them to India in order for them to reconnect as a family, he has ulterior motives that he keeps to himself.

In a move that is new to Anderson, he presents the audience with a short film that precedes The Darjeeling Limited. Hotel Chevalier stars Natalie Portman and Jason Schwartzman, who plays Jack Whitman in both films. As I watched Chevalier, I was somewhat concerned at the lack of laughs to be found within. It was only as The Darjeeling Limited unfolded that the full effect of Chevalier could be appreciated. It’s an excellent move by Anderson and sets up not only the Jack character, but also the tone of The Darjeeling Limited, and some excellent jokes that pay off later in the film. The Darjeeling Limited is after all, a comedy, and while the short is intentionally far less funny than the feature, the feature itself has some excellent and hilarious moments.

Anderson’s humour has always been, and I hate to use this word, quirky. His characters seem to inhabit some sort of parallel universe, where everything you see is familiar, but there is just a different feel to everything. The elements that add to this tone, as seen in his previous films, are present here, but this time Anderson has made his characters a little more grounded in reality. And this works very well. The one thing that remains unchanged, and has so since Bottle Rocket, is the theme of family and belonging. In each of his films, Anderson has created characters that are struggling to find their place in this world. And here, we have three distinct and well written characters that are each struggling with this need in their own ways. While Francis’ objective of having the brothers find themselves is somewhat contrived and ill thought out, once the brothers allow themselves to adapt to what is happening to them, rather than trying to maintain control, they do find what they’re trying to achieve.

Wes Anderson’s direction is once again top notch. Even more so than his previous films. Almost everything on screen is meticulously thought out and executed, down to the soundtrack, which again, is perfect. There are some of the old stalwarts present once again, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones. But Anderson also employs music from the Satyajit Ray films, and the music fits the images perfectly. The cast, as always in these films are on top form. Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman, who have both worked with Anderson, seem right at home with their roles. And Adrien Brody, who plays Peter, is also a brilliant addition to the long list of Anderson collaborators. Even Bill Murray gets in on the act once again, in a tiny, but brilliantly funny (thanks to Murray’s ability to perfectly capture world weary ennui) dialogue-free cameo. Natalie Portman pops up in Hotel Chevalier in a small, but pivotal role and Anjelica Huston also returns to working with Anderson in an equally pivotal cameo.

As I’ve mentioned before, Anderson’s films are pretty much a matter of taste. Personally, I’m a big fan of all his films. I was slightly disappointed in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou after The Royal Tenenbaums, but The Darjeeling Limited once again shows that Wes Anderson is the master of this type of American quirky indie film making. It’s a beautiful film in every way, and one that will stay with you long after you see it.


Friday, November 23, 2007

BEOWULF (2007) - Robert Zemeckis

Cinema certainly has come a long way since the Lumiere Brothers first terrified Victorian audiences with images of a train arriving at a station. But the evolution of the art form has sped up in the last three decades, due in part to the use of computers. Director Robert Zemeckis has done plenty to promote the use of special effects. And with Beowulf, Zemeckis pushes the boundaries once more, using motion capture to create a film entirely out of CGI. It’s not the first time this process has been used, but Zemeckis raises the bar with his reimagining of the Old English heroic poem.

Beowulf opens with a celebration of the opening of King Hrothgar’s new meade hall, Heorot. The noise from the celebrations attracts Grendel, a monster that is the son of a water demon. Grendel attacks the hall and kills many of Hrothgar’s men, then disappears into the night. Hrothgar is at his wit’s end and needs a hero. Arriving from the sea is a host of men led by Beowulf, a brash, arrogant warrior who claims he will destroy Hrothgar’s monster and return peace to the land. Grendel once again attacks the hall, but becomes unstuck when battling Beowulf. Grendel limps back to his cave and dies in the company of his mother. Beowulf and Hrothgar celebrate Grendel’s demise, but during the night, the halls are once again attacked and many die. Hrothgar tells Beowulf that the second attack was perpetrated by Grendel’s mother and that Beowulf must also destroy her. Beowulf sets out to once again battle monsters. But his arrogance and lust for power may be his own undoing.

Obviously the main attraction of Beowulf is going to be the spectacle of seeing the film created entirely of CGI. And it is quite impressive. The landscapes are almost photo-realistic. The special effects are amazing. The production design is fantastic. And the CGI is the best in the industry. But while all this is great, I found myself asking what the point of the film is. The part of it that has me vexed, is that all the actors are all motion captured and then the models are made to look exactly like their human counterparts.

It is a showy piece of cinema. A kind of ‘look what we can do!’ exclamation. But again, why? I don’t really get what the point in motion capturing an actor and making him or her look exactly like they do in real life is (with the exception of Ray Winstone, who’s made look a lot slimmer and younger in the film). Either you film the actors, or you animate in CGI. As an animator myself, I’ve never been too impressed with motion capture. While it’s almost true to life, there’s always something missing from the motion that makes it feel unreal. And that’s pretty much what I felt watching Beowulf. It’s impressive, but something ain’t right.

As for the direction, well it’s pretty good. Unfortunately there are some rather silly moments in the film that had me laughing when I shouldn’t. Beowulf battles Grendel naked. While this is a good idea in the context of the movie, Zemeckis takes some drastic steps to ensure we don’t see Beowulf’s ‘sword’ and by doing this, the scene becomes a bit laughable. The battle with Grendel himself is a bit of an anti-climax. I’d heard bits and pieces about this poem over the years and I expected something a little more... epic, I guess. In fact, Beowulf’s battle with a dragon, the climax of the film, is far more impressive.

The acting, if you can really call it that, isn’t too bad. But the characters look soulless, so this kind of kills any nuances the actors may have brought to their roles. And that’s a little disappointing considering the cast includes Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich and Brendan Gleeson. The script by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary translates pretty well into modern English, even if there are one or two silly moments that are a little too modern. The story itself is pretty basic. Monster kills man. Man kills monster. Other monster kills more men. Man must kill other monster. But there’s plenty of visual moments to keep you interested.

Beowulf is an interesting benchmark in terms of cinema. It’s a good place to look back at how far the art form has come. And a good place to glimpse into the future at where it’s going. And if you get to see the film in 3-D, as I did, it’s a fairly amusing film to fill two hours. But as a film, it’s nothing really spectacular. More of a portfolio piece for a special effects company than a brilliant cinematic film.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

AMERICAN GANGSTER (2007) - Ridley Scott

There’s no doubt of the appeal of films like Goodfellas and The Godfather, or television’s The Sopranos. Everybody loves to take a glimpse into the criminal underworld where there are no rules, and life is cheap, but the rewards for the ruthless are attractive. The criminals are often charismatic sociopaths, while the cops are flawed heroes. We all have seen these types of films, we’ve all enjoyed them. So with the release of Ridley Scott’s American Gangster, you’d expect more of the same. Which might sound repetitive, but with heavyweights like Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington on board, there’s no doubt there’ll be something special about the movie.

American Gangster is a true story, based on Harlem gangster, Frank Lucas, a drug dealer who managed to fool the authorities and create a massive New York drug empire, and Richie Roberts, the New Jersey police officer who made it his goal to bring Lucas down.
Lucas started his criminal career as driver and collector for Harlem godfather and father-figure for Lucas, Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson. After Johnson’s death, Lucas took on his mentor’s business. But Lucas saw the power in heroin. But rather than being merely a pusher, Lucas went straight to the source in South East Asia. Using military planes bringing dead soldiers home to the US from Vietnam, Lucas was able to sell better quality heroin at a cheaper price, making enemies of rival gangs and eventually attracting the attention of the police.
Meanwhile, Richie Roberts is one of those rare things (at least in the movies)- an honest cop. Roberts stumbles on one million dollars, but rather than taking the money and running, he hands the money in. In the process, he makes himself a pariah. But recognising his honesty, Roberts is made the head of the new narcotics taskforce, charged with cleaning the streets of heroin. Eventually, he is made aware of Frank Lucas, and makes it his job to bring the drug kingpin to justice.

There are inevitable comparisons that will be made between American Gangster and the films that are similar to it. Certainly, Ridley Scott has taken inspiration from many of the great crime films. However, Scott’s technical brilliance as a director elevates American Gangster to a level a less talented director would never be able to achieve. The film is set in the late sixties and early seventies, and there is not one moment that isn’t steeped in the era. Not one second goes by where you don’t believe that New York is in the seventies. The soundtrack lends itself to achieving this, and is as good as anything Scorsese could have put together. This, coupled with the acting chops of the two leads are clearly the strengths of the film.

I’ve found Ridley Scott’s recent films to be a mixed bag of mediocrity and disappointment. Which in itself is a disappointment since Blade Runner and Alien are two of cinema’s great films. However, there is no doubting Scott’s technical ability, and it’s great to have a film from him that I was so impressed by in the cinemas again. The acting, not just from Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington is almost perfect, but it is the two leads who are the key to the film. It would be pretty easy to make either character the most interesting for the audience, but Scott gives both Lucas and Roberts ample screen time, to make you interested in both. It’s a similar structure to Michael Mann’s Heat, where both stories intercut, but you know that both characters will eventually have a showdown. And while Crowe and Washington do not share screen time for the majority of the film, when they do eventually meet, the ‘showdown’ is compelling.

The film is long. One hundred and fifty seven minutes long. And at moments, it does drag. However, it is an epic film, and the story justifies the length. With it’s technical brilliance, and two excellent performances, American Gangster is one of the best films of the year. It’s not a classic, but an extremely solid crime film.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

INTO THE WILD (2007) - Sean Penn

Before I start, let me just put a disclaimer- there will be spoilers in this one!

We all yearn to get away from the big city and go back to nature. There’s something inside everyone that feels the call of the wild. Most of us ignore it and get on with our lives. But for some, the call is too strong, and must be acted upon. One such man who could ignore the call no longer was Christopher McCandless. McCandless, an intelligent, young man from a wealthy family and with a bright future ahead of him, gave away all his savings, got rid of his worldly possessions and began an odyssey into the Alaskan wilderness. And he is the subject of Sean Penn’s new directorial film, Into The Wild.

As mentioned, McCandless comes from a wealthy family. He has just graduated college with straight-A grades. He does not get on with his parents, who have lofty hopes for their son, and are willing to help him through graduate college. But McCandless rejects their help, gives his money away to charity and sets off on a trip through America, with the ultimate goal of disappearing into Alaska. Along the way, McCandless meets an almost estranged hippie couple, a folk-singing young hippie girl, a good-natured, but law-breaking labourer, and an old man who lost his wife and child almost forty years previous. Each is profoundly affected by McCandless, who has also rejected his birth name, and renamed himself Alexander Supertramp. McCandless eventually arrives in Alaska, finds an abandoned bus and begins his life of solitude. But his inexperience and ineptitude, added to the trials of Alaska prove more than McCandless can handle.

I first heard about McCandless’ story a few years ago. Intrigued by this romantic story, I looked into it to see what exactly happened. However, I ultimately found McCandless to be a man with an ideal, but little to no experience. His ignorance and arrogance led to his death. While his plan was noble, it was badly thought-out, with McCandless tackling an incredibly hostile environment with nothing but a book on edible flora, a rifle, few provisions and a scant knowledge of survival in the wilds. It is because of this that it is somewhat difficult to be very sympathetic towards the guy. He came to a very sad and unfortunate end, and end that also woke him up to the reality of life, but it remains an end he brought about himself.

While I admit no personal knowledge of McCandless as a person, you do get the feeling from Penn’s film that the man’s story is heavily romanticised. There is no doubt that Penn believes in McCandless’ rejection of society, and his devotion to returning to a more simple way of existence (simple in it’s lack of material goods, not simple in it’s struggle for survival). In fact, Penn seems so enamoured with McCandless, that at moments, he elevates him to an almost Christ-like figure. Which really, seems ridiculous. McCandless is merely a man who is pissed at his parents and makes a foolish decision to do something incredibly dangerous. What seems strange is that at points in the film, the people who McCandless encounters and effects, tell him that what he proposes to do is foolhardy and dangerous. Yet McCandless is arrogant enough to ignore the sound advice and preach to them that solitude is the key to happiness.

There are some seriously misguided directorial decisions also prevalent in the film. Penn inexplicably breaks the fourth wall by having McCandless look directly into the camera. A decision that is baffling and unnecessary. While the cinematography is itself certainly is beautiful, there is something quite discomforting with how the McCandless character is handled. It just seems that he is presented in too lovingly a light. It feels as though we’re supposed to think McCandless’ fate was a beautiful tragedy when really it was a foolhardy waste of a life.

Despite all this, the performances in the film are quite good. Emile Hirsch plays McCandless. While his character is written in a manner that is over the top, he does well with what he’s given, and the deterioration of McCandless’ health while in the wild is performed well. William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden are given the unenviable job of playing McCandless’ cold hearted parents. Jena Malone, who plays McCandless’ sister Carine is given little to do but narrate. Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughan, Kristen Stewart all play people who encounter and are moved by the Christ-like McCandless. But it’s a cameo by Hal Holbrook which presents the stand-out performance in the film.

While Into The Wild isn’t a terrible film, it just seems a little too contrived. McCandless is a rich kid who committed an elaborate suicide, yet he’s treated like one of the great tragedies of the world. And Penn, a strong director from his previous efforts, seems to be trying to be Terence Malick in the way he presents the film. I didn’t hate the film. It has it’s moments. But again, it just feels like Penn is elevating McCandless to a level that seems unjustified.


LIONS FOR LAMBS (2007) - Robert Redford

Robert Redford has been in the business quite a long time. He’s been a megastar actor, Oscar winning director, patron of the arts, and founder of the Sundance film festival. His influence on the film industry is enormous, and this year, he returns to the screen, and behind the camera with another politically-charged film, Lions for Lambs. Another issue-tackling film that attempts to teach as well as entertain, it’s part of a group of films that arrive to our screens in a time where politics has never been more important.

Spreading it’s issues into three separate stories, Lions for Lambs opens with a meeting between a famous reporter, Janine Roth and one of Washington’s most powerful senators, Jasper Irving. The government has just put into action a new strategy for the war on terror, a strategy spearheaded by Irving. Irving hopes he can win over Roth, and through her, the support of the nation. Meanwhile, two Army Rangers, Arian and Ernest, are part of a platoon moving into the highlands of Afghanistan as part of this new strategy. Their helicopter comes under attack and Ernest falls from the helicopter. Arian, Ernest’s long time friend selflessly leaps out of the helicopter to help his friend. And back in the US, Professor Stephen Malley, Arian and Ernest’s college professor, struggles to inspire privileged but apathetic student Todd Hayes.

Lions for Lambs is Redford’s seventh effort as director, and so far, is his most politically ambitious. On a purely cinematical level, it’s a fairly basic film of talking heads. Two of the three segments take place almost entirely in one room, with two characters pontificating their different views on the war on terror, the men behind this war, and society in general. The third segment is the action part of the film. Strangely, the film was written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, writer of the woeful ‘The Kingdom.’ This film seems to be the justification for The Kingdom, the explosions out of his system, Carnahan now writes the film with a brain.

But despite it’s intentions, and they’re clearly very good intentions, there is something inherently lacking in Lions For Lambs. Firstly, the three segments don’t really gel together. The segment between Roth, played by Meryl Streep, and Irving, Tom Cruise presents something in the way of a counter-argument to the segment featuring Malley, Redford and his student, played by Andrew Garfield. Cruise’s Irving is a little too much of the clichéd slimy politician finding any route to the White House. Streep’s character attempts to counter his arguemnts, but ultimately comes off too weak.

The strength of the film is in Redford’s scenes. His Vietnam-vet, now liberal professor rings true, and his convictions are sound. He clearly states his disgust for the cowardly men that send lead his country into a war that has no sign of ending. A war that cannot be justified. He is saddened that two of his students with the most potential have marched to war, inspired by his teachings, yet he admires their reasons for doing so. He simply does not want to see a student with potential squander his promise.

The third segment, that of the two students who went to war, played by Michael Pena and Derek Luke, seems the most contrived. The most interesting part of this story is the flashback to a debate Arian and Ernest sparked off in class, but other than that, this segment feels tacked-on.

While Lions For Lambs is a box-office and critical failure, it’s certainly a noble failure. The performances are all very strong. Streep and Redford are old hands at this, and they’re well cast. Despite the negative press over his private life, Tom Cruise is still an excellent actor, always seemingly at his best when playing characters with highly questionable morals (see Magnolia for Cruise at his career-best). And the performances from Pena, Luke and Garfield are all very strong. But for all this, the film falls flat due to the script. I didn’t hate it as much as some people, but I can understand their complaints. And for now, I think I’ve had my fill of current political films!


Friday, November 9, 2007

Shane Meadows' new one!

As you may have gathered from reading my gushing review of This Is England, Shane Meadows is quickly becoming one of my favorite filmmakers. Next year sees the release of his new film, 'Le Donk,' a mockumentary about builder, rock drummer and roadie, Donk. Have no idea what this will be like, but it's a new direction for Meadows and should be very interesting.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

DeNiro! Pacino! Together at last!.... again.

The promo trailer for Righteous Kill has been released. Why the interest? Well, it's got the two legends, Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino sharing the screen for what will only be the second time in their careers (Godfather II doesn't count. They weren't on screen together!). At the moment, this just looks like a bog-standard thriller (although the 'fucking mut' bit at the end of the trailer is probably my favorite bit of any trailer this year!), but hopefully seeing DeNiro and Pacino on screen together will produce something special. Lord knows their careers could use something special right now. Unfortunately the inclusion of mumbling fuck 50 Cent is a big let down. We can but pray he's got minimum screen time.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007) - David Slade

The current Hollywood trend of translating comic books into movies shows no sign of slowing up with this month’s latest adaptation, 30 Days Of Night. The comic book in question doesn’t come from one of the two big publishers, Marvel and DC, instead it comes from smaller publisher, Dark Horse Comics. There are no superheroes in this film. Instead, the subject of this film are those pesky bloodsuckers who have seen plenty of screen time, vampires. Director David Slade, who previously brought the excellent Hard Candy to the screen, skilfully directs Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s comic with incredibly gory results!

The film is set in Barrow, Alaska, the northern most town in the United States. The thirty days of night in question are one month a year where the town is plunged into perpetual darkness, with no sunlight at all. As the sun begins to disappear behind the horizon, strange things start happening in the town of Barrow. On the case is Eben Oleson, the recently separated Sheriff of Barrow. While investigating the recent crimes, Sheriff Oleson comes across a trouble causing man who warns the Sheriff of impending doom for the residents of Barrow. The sun dips behind the horizon and hell is unleashed on Barrow as a group of vampires begin to devour the helpless residents. The struggle to withstand the thirty days begins for the survivors who have to rely on their wits to survive.

Comic book movies can be hit or miss. Horror can be very difficult to execute effectively. So it stands to reason that a horror comic should be extremely difficult and a near disaster. Certainly, since it’s release, 30 Days of Night has had it’s detractors. And admittedly, it isn’t perfect. The source material was pretty scant in terms of story. Sun goes down, vampires turn up, town is eaten, survivors struggle to survive. And in the hands of a director with less talent than Slade, the film could have suffered a helluva lot. As it is, 30 Days Of Night is one of the most entertaining horror movies of recent times. Slade’s previous film, Hard Candy consisted almost entirely of dialogue, which had to drive the narrative. The opposite is the case here, with dialogue taking back seat to spectacle. And Spade delivers with gusto.

The vampires in this movie are quite unlike the charming, poetic and graceful vampires from the likes of Interview with the Vampire. These vampires are horrific monsters. Vicious, blood-thirsty ghouls, hell-bent on devouring every last human in Barrow. And it’s the vampires that are the most interesting thing about 30 Days Of Night. When they’re not on-screen, you find yourself wishing they’d pop up again. When they do arrive, you find your skin crawling. And this is the success of the movie. The performances from all involved are pretty sound. Josh Hartnett, who usually makes a plank seem compelling actually puts in a solid performance as Sheriff Oleson. He and his estranged wife, Stella (played by Melissa George) have to rely on each other for survival and their relationship, while limited by the story is still interesting enough. The bad guys are the stars though, with Danny Huston chewing up the scenery (as well as the extras) as Marlowe, the lead vampire. Ben Foster puts in another deranged character performance as the stranger who heralds the arrival of the vampire horde.

30 Days of Night isn’t an incredibly taxing film. Nor should it be. It’s a film about a bunch of monsters eating the inhabitants of a small town. There doesn’t need to be much in the way of character development, except for setting the smorgasbord for the monsters. And this is how the film treats it’s characters. There’s plenty of violence and gore. And man alive, is it graphic. No punches are pulled, and the blood flows freely. In fact, there’s one scene that could qualify for one of the most gory in recent times. Those slightly squeamish should stay away!

David Slade did remarkably well with his first feature, and his sophomore effort is a very decent and highly entertaining horror. A genre that has suffered in recent times, it’s great to see something of quality on the big screen again. Don’t eat for an hour beforehand, disengage your brain, sit back and enjoy the spectacle. 30 Days of Night is a horror worthy of seeing.