Coming soon...

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 clich├ęd 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.


Saturday, November 3, 2007

That's a wrap!

Primary shooting on Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is now complete! That's right, it's done. It's finished. Somewhere, there exists a rough copy of a new Indiana Jones movie! Dunno about you, but that fills me with a warm gooey feeling. Of course, there's every chance it might suck, but to these guys, an Indy film is old hat (excuse the pun!), so I've faith. Seven months to go!

Friday, November 2, 2007

And now for something completely different...

Found on the always interesting youtube, this video features 100 quotes from 100 movies. All quotes are related to numbers. Well done to AlonzoMosley for creating the video! So far, I've gotten 84 myself. Anyone who gets 100 gets a secret prize!*

*actual prize may not exist.