Monday, 28 February 2011

Soundtrack to Life

I Have Nothing (Whitney Houston) - The Bodyguard OST

Check out a live rendition of the song below. Is there a female singer better?

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Largo Winch II (The Burma Conspiracy) (2011)

Image: Wild Bunch Distribution

Released in 2008, Jérôme Salle’s Largo Winch was a big screen adaptation of the popular Belgian comic book series, whose boardroom shenanigans and world-spanning action leave it somewhere between James Bond and The Apprentice. Buoyed by inventive direction, budget greater than French films are usually allowed and a delightfully eclectic international cast, the film was a roaring success in France and several other countries.

Now we have the follow-up, reuniting leading man Tomer Sisley with director Salle, and it is clear that efforts have been made to capitalise on this international popularity, and particularly to make the film more palatable for an English speaking audience. Primary amongst these is the casting of Sharon Stone as the film’s primary antagonist (sort of), international human rights lawyer Diane Francken. About half of the film’s dialogue is now in English, which the cast manage rather better than might have been expected.

The film sees Largo, unwilling inheritor of a business worth billions of dollars, deciding to sell up in order to create a humanitarian fund. Warned that this will make him many powerful enemies, Largo quickly comes into the sights of Francken, who believes him responsible for a massacre in a Burmese village where he once lived. This is Largo meets Rambo, pitting our hero against villainous generals as well as his usual nemeses: corrupt businessmen. The excellent direction of the first instalment, sometimes frenetic, without being headache-inducing, other times relaxed, without being soporific, works just as well a second time, as does Sisley in the lead role, a charming figure with just a dash of uncertainty and even danger about him. It felt to me, however, that in attempting to make the film acceptable to a more mainstream, Hollywoodian audience, sacrifices had been made. While the increased action quotient is no bad thing, it comes at the expense of a loss of almost all of the boardroom backstabbing which made the first film feel so unique. Likewise the well rounded characterisation across the board from the first film is not held up, and a few of the lesser players here are instantly forgettable.

I still found a lot to love, however, and Largo Winch II undeniably succeeds in many respects. The comic relief character, Largo’s personal manservant Gauthier, is given more to do this time around, and this promotion works well in terms of the film’s internal logic and plot in a way that, say, ‘let’s-send-Sam’s-parents-to-Paris’ in Transformers 2 didn’t. I will not spoil the finale, but suffice to say it is rather more low-key than these things usually are, which makes a refreshing change. That said, the filmmakers more than make up for lack of spectacle in the final minutes with the preceding action sequence, one of those tremendously silly but vital scenes which remind us that none of this is to be taken too seriously. A few commendably violent fight scenes and a very likeable supporting turn from Olivier Barthelemy as Largo’s new best friend top off an enjoyably unpretentious romp. Good to see Largo’s motherly Monneypenny of a secretary, Miss Pennywinkle, back for another cameo too. The film contains the final performance of veteran actor Laurent Terzhieff, and his last scene here is certainly a fitting end to a long and varied career.

And what of Sharon Stone? No longer the sexy young starlet of yesteryear, she actually succeeds in bringing charm to an underwritten role. One might question whether a human rights lawyer would wear such outfits in the heart of the UN, or engage in such frivolous promiscuity, but she has a nice chemistry with Sisley, and seems to be having a great time.

A word for the Anglophone audience…Just as the first film saw its DVD release in England under the title of Largo Winch: Deadly Revenge (yes, really), so this one is apparently headed for cinemas under the equally underwhelming title of The Burma Conspiracy. I do not predict big business, but would urge action film fans to seek out these films for something a little different.

A little too Americanised for its own good, Largo Winch’s sophomore outing is a flashier affair, but one which retains enough heart to make it well worth a watch.

3/5

MP

Friday, 25 February 2011

Waste Land (2011)

This man could be president.

Image: E1 Entertainment

It premiered over a year ago at Sundance and has picked up a couple of gongs along the way, but the critically acclaimed documentary about Brazilian landfill pickers has finally made its way into UK cinemas - a few days shy of Tinseltown’s most prestigious film awards ceremony, at which the film could walk away with the prize for best feature documentary.

Set on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, Waste Land follows renowned modern artist Vik Muniz as he connects with members of a recyclables picking association and gives back to their community by creating portraits of them using the recyclable materials they collect and sell.

Helmed by British director Lucy Walker (Blue’s Clues), Waste Land is the ultimate feel-good, uplifting movie. Lead by association director Tião Santos, the organisation shows us how citizens make ends meet in the city, whilst maintaining their pride and integrity. With little to their names, they rely on one another to survive: they eat together, give blood to save each other, and even go around quoting Machiavelli to one another, and it’s an affecting picture to behold.

With Muniz’s help, Tião and other selected members are able to create works of art that will change their lives, broaden their horizons and inspire them to dream bigger - this is especially highlighted when Tião is flown to London to witness the sale of his portrait at auction (prepare for tears!).

We all have preconceived notions of what people living in inferior conditions are like, but what this film does is naturally capture the beauty of an unassuming, charismatic, surprisingly literate family that will undoubtedly put those notions to bed.

A poignant art attack.

4/5

FG

Animal Kingdom (2011)

It’s a jungle out there and only the strongest survive.

Image: Optimum Releasing

Animal Kingdom is another film that opened to critical acclaim at Sundance in January of last year and that has finally made its way across the larger pond to bless us here in ol’ Blighty. And my word was it worth the wait.

Loosely based on a true story, Animal Kingdom tells the tale of Joshua ‘J’ Cody (James Frechevile), who is entrusted into the care of his grandmother, Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody (Jacki Weaver), after his mother overdoses on heroin. Having had little contact with his family growing up, J is suddenly thrust into the criminal underworld as part of the most notorious crime family in Melbourne, consisting of the matriarch (Weaver) and her three boys, Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren (Luke Ford).

When Pope’s partner in crime is gunned down by police and the Cody family exact revenge, the natural family order is disrupted and young J must work out where exactly he fits in.

Australian productions don’t often get an international release and so expectations weren’t necessarily high walking into the screening. But, right from the get-go, Animal Kingdom lures you in.

From the opening scenes, in which J sits unflinchingly by his dead mother until the police arrive, you’re warned that the film is void of any sympathy or sentiment, and the movie perhaps prepares you to believe the unbelievable, as J subsequently calls his grandmother and callously informs her of her daughter's death, setting up a movie of adjustment, drama and further tragedy, with mind games thrown in for good measure.

The film is as its title suggests. As we delve deeper into the lives of the Cody family it’s clear that the mother has an indelible power over her pride: she enjoys welcoming kisses with her sons (who are evidently apprehensive); she brings the family back together when members are down and out; she delivers Goodfella-style monologues when times are tough, and she protects her babies when forces from outside, and within, threaten her territory. The boys fall in line accordingly.

It seems unfair to single out individual performances because the film boasts a brilliant cast that turns in a superb ensemble performance, but there’s no question that Jacki Weaver deserves the Oscar for best supporting actress. Her role is devilishly played and she remains dominant without ever being buried by all the testosterone surrounding her. Mendelsohn also deserves recognition for his portrayal of the severely disturbed, perverted, merciless older brother, Pope. Why he’s not nominated for an Academy Award, or the film for that matter, is beyond me.

My only criticism of the film is its lack of vigor, somehow, during a few significant moments, including the sequence in which the police shot one of the brothers. The editing and camerawork fail to capture the intensity of the scene, to the point where I thought the brother hadn't actually been fatally shot (sorry for the spoiler). But minor quibbles aside, it's an incredible achievement on such a modest budget for first-time feature film director David Michôd.

Best film of the year so far.

4/5

FG

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Inception (2010)

Is all we see or seem but a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream?
Image: Warner Bros. Pictures
Following on from a film that grossed 1 billion dollars must be somewhat daunting. Whether or not it was entirely merited, Christopher Nolan’s last movie, The Dark Knight, was a resounding success, bringing in both big bucks and critical acclaim. For his next project, Nolan was given a great deal of creative freedom. Such freedom, in the wrong hands, can lead to terrible cinema. A lesser director than Nolan might have baulked at the task and delivered something safe, some big budget action film which would ensure bums on seats and full coffers worldwide. Instead, Nolan took himself back to his roots in inventive, intelligent drama (his breakthrough hit, lest we forget, was the twisty and marvellous Memento) and has managed to deliver a film with something for everyone.
Inception is a film about dreams, and as such revels in the chance to supply beautiful images for us to stare at in awe. However, Nolan is well aware that gorgeous images alone do not make a crowd pleasing film, and thus he also gives us characters that are instantly engaging, and add some real heart to the spectacle. Nobody is a letdown, but the outstanding stars of the piece have to be Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy. Both have been threatening to break into the mainstream for years now, and if this doesn’t do it for them then nothing will. They each bring the most out of somewhat underwritten roles, shining particularly in the moments when they get to play at being an immature double act. As you might expect from Nolan the direction is glorious, with action sequences which would not look out of place in a Bond film matched against crisp heist movie scenes cooler than anything we have since Ocean’s Eleven.
It should be pointed out, however, that Inception is by no means flawless. While the concept is high, the storyline itself is remarkably uncomplicated. Poor Ellen Paige, while likeable, is reduced to being a spokesperson for the less involved viewers, constantly asking for clarification of what is going on as though for the ease of those who might have nipped out for a quick loo break. This means that there is a distinct lack of surprises in the film, with only the rather cheesy final shot offering any sort of question as to what is really going on. It must also be noted that the film is not as original as it thinks it is, borrowing liberally from other films with bendy realities like Dark City and The Matrix. Also, despite the occasional use of dream logic – with a shifty staircase being the hilarious high point – the film does not go far enough in exploiting its fun premise. While Wes Craven gave us stairs made of porridge and a devilish bogeyman with unlimited dream powers in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Nolan seems content to leave us with pretty cityscapes and some neat urban realignment. More, we say! If this is a dream, why not have some fun with the concept? At one point Gordon-Levitt’s character explains the wonderful idea that the people in the dream will eventually start acting like white blood cells and attack the invasive dream technicians, but this scary concept never gets allowed to play out. Indeed, the fact that the film takes place in the realm of the imagination ensures that there is never much chance for suspense, which is a great shame, although it will never get in the way of the sheer enjoyment of watching. It is certainly to Nolan’s credit that such flaws do not occur to you until the film has finished, so finessed is the experience.
Nit picking aside, Inception is that rarest of beasts – a blockbuster with a brain – and as such it should be applauded. What is lacks in originality and tension it makes up for in brilliant direction and acting, and an irrepressible sense of fun which will stick with you even after the post-film debates and Facebook status admirations have passed.
Not as clever as it thinks it is, certainly, but incredibly fun and well acted, Inception is perfect summer viewing.
4/5
MP

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Pixar returns with a fond farewell.
Image: Walt Disney Pictures
10 years after Pixar packed away the toy box for, what audiences thought was the final time, the animating giants residing under that, now, incredibly weighty, Californian white lamp have gone and called for recess once again. Boys and their toys! When news broke that Pixar was planning a toy revival, there were doubts; Toy Story 2 had such a satisfying ending – the gang eventually rescuing Woody from the clutches of a relentless toy thief, and subsequently realising that they’ll still have each other even when Andy grows up and finds more exciting things to play with – that envisioning a third Woody and Buzz caper clambering out of an, already, well-remunerated franchise was difficult. But the guys across the pond obviously, and naturally, saw a loose end that needed to be tied up, which could be done whilst pulling out all the anthropomorphic stops to try and make a grown man, or woman, cry. And with Toy Story 3, a beautifully crafted, modern classic, they almost succeed - big girls don’t cry!
The third instalment kicks of with Woody (Hanks) and the gang desperately trying to gain the attention of Andy, who is now all grown up (17 going on 18), and ready to head off to college. From their worthless attempt, it’s clear that Andy has entered a new phase in his life which, for a while now, hasn’t left much time for the cowboy and co.. This is also apparent when Andy must decide what he’s going to do with his trusted toys. Will it be the bin, the attic or the day-care centre? An action-packed sequence follows, and a blown up buster, and a rubbish truck later, the toys arrive at Sunnyside. Yep. You guessed it. Day-care. And being the bright young things that we are, and understanding the nature of Pixar films, unlike the name suggests, we know that Sunnyside doesn’t represent the bright side of life. Consequently, after a cosy initiation, bedlam ensues, as does the striking of many emotional chords, as the toys race against the clock to get back to their beloved Andy.
Pixar has pitched this picture perfectly; managing to balance the simpler expectations of tiny minds with the demands of more mature audiences.
Unlike the previous two films, they opt to travel a much darker, sinister route with this movie – maybe done in an attempt to wrap up storylines – with a not-so-velvet teddy bear, a plastic infant sidekick, and an incessant cymbal-bashing watchman providing the thrills, while Michael Keaton’s turn as ‘man’s’ doll Ken, and a Spanish turn in one of the main protagonists provide the laughs out loud. A dramatic climax, involving a conveyor belt and burning flames, may also produce a tear!
For kids with weak bladders, this could go down as The Labyrinth or Wizard of Oz of their time (goblins and flying monkeys shaped nightmares!), and for adults, it’s a poignant, freakishly feel-good, and bad, all the same time, movie, with sentiments that will resonate with us long after Andy graduates. Some may say that this is a film for men. It’s not. It’s a movie for Mars and for Venus.
Like a fine wine, this franchise has gotten better with age. Move over Shrek, the toys are back in town!
4.5/5
FG

Sunday, 20 February 2011

True Grit (2011)

The Dude rides out.

Image: Paramount Pictures

The trailers for Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest would suggest a gritty, violent, and fairly action-packed thriller. Of course, coming from the makers of Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and Miller’s Crossing, you can’t really go in knowing what to expect.

The old west. Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) arrives in town looking to hire a Marshal to hunt down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), who murdered her father. She finds Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) a drunk who shoots first and asks questions later. Accompanied by cocky Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), they ride out in search of justice.


With its Western setting, promotional material booming that you can’t run from judgement, and the presence of Josh Brolin, it’s easy to compare this with the Coens’ recent, and multiple award-winning, adaptation of No Country for Old Men. Based on the novel by Charles Portis, rather than the John Wayne film, this is a much more traditional Western despite featuring much of the trademark Coen sensibility. The oddball, morbid sense of humour is present and correct, as are the shocking moments of sudden violence. However, it’s not as dark as some of their previous work would suggest.


True Grit is surprisingly funny. Early bartering between Mattie and a local businessman establishes her stubbornness and smarts and gets big laughs, while Rooster is introduced, heard but not seen, while refusing to vacate an outhouse. Much of the humour comes from LaBoeuf consistently losing verbal battles with Mattie before attempting to re-establish his dominance in the trio by one-upping Cogburn. This bickering trio make for surprisingly enjoyable company.


Bridges dons John Wayne’s eye-patch and adopts a sometimes incomprehensible drawl to play the drunken Rooster, and it’s a nice change to see him play tough rather than The Dude. He’s still loveable, but there’s a hard edge to the Marshal who has no problem shooting men in the back. Damon shows yet more range with the arrogant LaBoeuf, while Brolin gives a memorable turn when he appears late in the film as the hunted man. Much has been made of Steinfeld’s performance, and deservedly so. Plucky and precocious without ever being annoying, she essentially carries the film.


Most of the darkest moments in the film take place in front of Mattie. While she is affected by them, her pursuit of Chaney is of paramount importance to her. It’s often only the excited state in which she passes the bulk of chase which reminds us how young she is. The Coens take their usual approach to unnatural death, making it swift, unpredictable, and unpleasant. Bodies are left unceremoniously on the hard ground, as Rooster mutters, “Them men wanted a decent burial, they should have got themselves killed in summer.”


The pacing is occasionally a little uneven and it’s a sometimes a little too by-the-numbers Western, but it’s a very entertaining thriller that rewards in unexpected ways. It’s more accessible than No Country for Old Men, though it perhaps lacks that film’s depth. However, the cast is great, it’s beautifully shot by Roger Deakins and it is tremendously entertaining.


Excellent performances and a rich seam of dark humour make this a film worth hunting down.


4/5

JH

Friday, 18 February 2011

Paul (2011)

Get on board.

Image: Universal


For their first film without Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have gone across the Atlantic to make an American road comedy, but they haven’t strayed too far from home. Lacklustre trailers may have dented confidence in the pair’s latest effort, but Paul is no failure.

Clive Gollings (Frost) and Graeme Willy (Pegg) are two British nerds who have come to America to go to ComicCon before touring famous UFO hotspots in a rented RV. On their first night on the road they meet Paul (Seth Rogen), a foul-mouthed alien who’s escaped from Area 51. The trio set off on the run, pausing only for Reese’s Pieces and to sort of abduct Creationist Ruth (Kristen Wiig), while sinister Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) is hot on their trail, himself lumbered with incompetent FBI agents Haggard (Bill Hader) and O’Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio).

After something of a slow start, Paul quickly builds up speed once the titular alien is introduced. Pegg and Frost are clearly going for a bigger audience to match the bigger budget, but fans of the duo should not be disheartened. Their chemistry is still great, but Graeme and Clive aren’t as the pair’s previous creations. Of the two, Frost has more of a straight man role, which makes for a refreshing switch, but neither as cartoonish as, say, Danny Butterman. They’re socially awkward nerds, to be sure, but there’s a sense that the two leads are more toned down to balance the rest of the outlandish material.

Paul isn’t quite as much of a reference-fest as Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead, but there are more than enough affectionate in-jokes to keep us nerds happy. Director Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland) sensibly doesn’t try to ape Edgar Wright. He has a fairly relaxed style which suits the tone of the movie well, and he does handle the action well. The main reference point is early Spielberg, and it reminds us just how good those films were.

While the Pegg and Frost bromance is as prevalent as ever, the whole film has an unexpected warm tone that pushes it beyond a lot of recent comedies. The odd family unit that forms as Clive, Graeme, Paul and Ruth band together to get Paul back to his home planet is incredibly likeable and easy to root for. There is, of course, plenty of foul-mouthed humour, but perhaps fewer laugh-out-loud moments than might have been expected. There are a few duff moments, but they’re quickly forgotten.

A lot of Paul’s likeability comes from the cast. Pegg and Frost have sensibly surrounded themselves with some of the best that American comedy has to offer. Blythe Danner (Meet the Parents) makes a great late appearance, trumped only by the hilariously bruising last-minute cameo of a certain sci-fi goddess. But it’s Wiig (one of the two best comics on Saturday Night Live) who wins best in show as the born again Christian who has her world opened up by Paul. Bateman (Arrested Development) is tersely great in his best film role since Dodgeball, as is the increasingly psychotic Hader (the other best comic on SNL). Paul himself is an impressive CGI creation, with motion capture and Rogen’s voice performance creating a memorable and loveable creature.

It probably won’t win the duo any new fans, and indeed may disappoint those looking for more of the same, but if you can settle into it, the film’s heart and laidback humour will almost certainly win you over.

Funny and warm, with a wonderfully dirty mouth. It doesn’t match Shaun or Fuzz’s raucous laugh count, but it succeeds on its own merits and is difficult not to warm to.

4/5

JH

Thursday, 17 February 2011

The Skin That I Inhabit (La Piel que Habito)

The poster for Pedro Almodóvar's upcoming thriller has been unveiled, and it's a thing of strange beauty (you half expect the anatomical figure to swivel its head round to reveal a gothic two-face). 

Part Rock DJ, part Garden of Eden, with some warm Giuseppe Arcimboldo tones, the artwork succeeds in heightening curiosity and drawing you into the spider's web.... 

Image: El Deseo

FG

Never Let Me Go (2011)

“You have to know who you are, and what you are. It's the only way to lead decent lives.”


Image: 20th Century Fox

Adapting a novel that’s as well-regarded as Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 masterpiece was not going to be easy. However, director Mark Romanek and screenwriter Alex Garland (Sunshine) have managed to create a film that’s true to the source material but stands alone as a piece of art in itself.

Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are children at Hailsham, which appears to be a prestigious boarding school in England. They are told by the headmistress (Charlotte Rampling) that they are special. Their movements are monitored, and they are forbidden to leave the grounds. One day, Miss Emily (Sally Hawkins) explains to them what their purpose in life is. As they grow into adults, they must confront what their lives mean and how they feel about each other.

Never Let Me Go’s UK release date has been much delayed, something of a surprise given that it feels like such a British film. There were concerns about a lack of quality, and a lacklustre US box office performance. However, we can urge you to go and see it.
Mark Romanek’s first feature since 2002’s One Hour Photo (He was attached to The Wolf Man but dropped out just before shooting) is assured, wonderfully shot, and perfectly performed. The American former music video director captures the atmosphere of a British boarding school and resists the urge to overly romanticise rural England. The cinematography is frostily beautiful but never overtly stylised. Alex Garland’s screenplay may reveal a little too much too early but, given the quality of the rest of the film, it is a minor quibble.

The cast is superb, featuring Carey Mulligan (An Education) as Kathy, Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) as Tommy, and Keira Knightley as Ruth. Early in the film, Ruth sweeps Tommy away from Kathy, who is forced to look on as they become a couple. Mulligan (who also narrates the film) is perfect, giving a heartfelt and heartbreaking performance that seems to have been bizarrely overlooked. Garfield shows impressive range as Tommy, who is awkward, naive, and prone to fits of rage. Knightley is well-cast as the manipulative Ruth, whose coldness masks a terrible fear of being alone. Rampling and Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) also make their mark in small but crucial roles.

It’s difficult to talk about the film in any detail without giving anything away, but Never Let Me Go is incredibly moving for the entirety of its running time. Rather than recklessly tugging at your heartstrings, the film moves at its own pace and allows you to invest in the characters and their lives. Through odd moments of humour and the excellent chemistry between the actors, it’s impossible not to find yourself caught up in their story. Despite the weighty moral issues that the film deals with, it’s first and foremost about the people involved. And that’s certainly the point.

Ignore the lack of awards nominations. Never Let Me Go is beautiful, tender, and heartbreaking.

5/5

JH

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son (2011)

Oh, oh-oh-oh-oh-NO!


Image: 20th Century Fox

10 years after Martin Lawrence brought us the momma of all disguises, in the form of a sassy, overweight grandmother, he's back in Hattie Mae's shoes (for the third time) for more shenanigans, but this time, the FBI agent has brought along his stepson for the hip-hopping ride.


After witnessing a murder on a stakeout, agent Malcolm and his stepson, Trent (Brandon T. Jackson), are forced to hide out in an all-girls performing arts school. Donning his alter-ego fat suit - with Trent posing equally as the "big-boneded" Charmaine, the pair must find the killer before it's too late. Cue very little to do with catching a killer but what could actually be compared to films in the vein of Fame - if suffering from some kind of hearing impairment.


Trent wants to be a rapper and so most of the sequences are centered around him showcasing his "talent". He infiltrates the girls' group in order to obtain secret information to help Malcolm's case, but, like in all teenage musical dramas (the film awkwardly wants to sell itself in this genre), ends up falling for a fellow student (N.B.: their union is sealed with quite possibly the worst "improvised" tune in the history of film).


Lawrence is lazy in his role, opting for puns he thinks are funny as opposed to lines that genuinely are, and Jackson is obviously required for the storyline - and look oddly feminine as Charmaine - but doesn't bring the jolt necessary to revive this dead/dying franchise, or move it in a new direction - what producers are hoping for.


A bad momma jamma


1/5


FG

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Red (2010)

Still got it.


Image: E1 Entertainment


Like fellow action star Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis is starting to acknowledge his age. However, while Stallone surrounded himself with genre staples dourly wondering whether they’ll make it back from decimating a small army in The Expendables, Willis stars in Red, which features a vastly overqualified cast of thespians having a great deal of fun with a variety of costumes, locations, and heavy weaponry.
Willis plays Frank Moses, a recently retired CIA operative whose only respite from his boring new life is chatting to Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), the phone operator for the bank that sends his pension cheques. But when the CIA decide to get rid of Frank, he and Sarah must dodge the agency’s killers and their top man Cooper (Karl Urban), and reassemble his old friends Joe (Morgan Freeman), Marvin (John Malkovich), and Victoria (Helen Mirren).
There’s nothing in Red that’s particularly new or innovative. But that’s fine. Because when your film makes good and frequent use of an on-form Malkovich and features Dame Helen Mirren firing heavy weaponry while wearing a ball-gown, you’re pretty much guaranteed good will. For the most part, Red lives up to its promise to be a bright, breezy, fun action film. Director Robert Schwenke handles the action scenes well enough, staging one particularly brutal fight between Willis and Urban that frankly pushes the 12A boundary.
The cast all seem to be happy to be there. Willis does downbeat and doe-eyed, Malkovich has a blast as the LSD-frazzled Marvin, while Freeman is under-used but has good chemistry with Mirren, who is happily in on the joke. Meanwhile Parker (TV’s Weeds) has never been used better on the big screen, her giddy excitement contrasting well with Willis. The quality of the supporting cast is also impressive. Veterans Richard Dreyfuss, Ernest Borgnine, and Brian Cox all show up with big grins and twinkles in their eyes, while Urban (Star Trek) and Rebecca Pidgeon (Mrs. David Mamet) shoulder the dour seriousness.
The script, based on Warren Ellis’ graphic novel, could have used a bit more work, but Schwenke’s brisk direction and the enthusiastic performances lift the film when it sags. The romance between Moses and Sarah is nicely played, although the supposed passion between Victoria and Russian spy-master Ivan (Cox) is dead in the water, mainly because Mirren acts like Cox is utterly unappealing. The explanation for the CIA targeting Moses is fairly silly but there’s a lingering impression that no one involved really cares about it that much. They’re too busy enjoying each other’s company.
It’s disposable fun, with entertaining performances and Helen Mirren with a machine gun.
3/5
JH

Monday, 14 February 2011

Paul Lands In Cinemas Today

Check out this almost perfect picture. Can anyone spot the alien in the room? 5th row, specs?

Image: Universal

Soundtrack to Life

As Time Goes By (Dooley Wilson) - Casablanca OST

Inside Job (2011)

An insightful, hard lesson

Image: Sony Pictures

Ever wanted to know what led to the fall of the great wall street and every other financial service around the world, what cost over 20 trillion dollars and caused millions of people to lose their jobs and homes? Well, Inside Job, narrated by Matt Damon (we assume Morgan Freeman was unavailable) and accompanied by a fitting soundtrack, tracks the rise and fall of this rogue industry – with diagrams – from the Great Depression to the catastrophe in 2008 and its consequences, and uncovers the shocking truth behind the meltdown through interviews with major players in the field, including politicians and financial advisors-turned-Harvard professors.

It feels good to get a breakdown of this complex world from trusted inside man Damon, but an extensive knowledge of deregulation, lobbying, derivatives, CDOs and subprime loans is needed to acquire any sort of membership to this exclusive club - with prostitute, yacht, private jet and villa benefits. Must-see TV (or film, even).

4/5

FG

Friday, 11 February 2011

A View To A Kill

After reading a feature last week on romantic movie poster clichés, in which the "back-to-back" pose was thoroughly showcased, I couldn't help but think about one the best movie posters ever made and, hands down, the best back-to-back poster example.

Sure, Pretty Woman put the romantic twist on it, but the illustrative 007 stance is, undeniably, a view to, simply, kill.

Image: MGM
FG

Rabbit Hole (2011)

Things aren’t nice anymore.

Rabbit Hole
Image: Lionsgate

It’s been a while since Nicole Kidman reminded us of how good an actress she is. It’s all too easy to poke fun at her Oscar win for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf and her nose in The Hours, and the 2000s were full of more misses (The Invasion, Australia, The Golden Compass, Bewitched, Nine.....) than hits. But every now and again she brings her formidable talent to a smaller film that is deserving of it. Rabbit Hole, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, belongs to the latter group.

It’s been eight months since Becca (Kidman) and Howie’s (Aaron Eckhart) four year old son was killed in an accident. Despite their best efforts, things aren’t getting any easier. While Howie seems to be the more positive figure, encouraging their group therapy trips, he sits alone in the dark watching home videos of their son. Becca seems insensitive and cold, but despite her insistence on keeping everyone at arm’s length she is clearly in desperate need of comfort.

There’s always a concern when going into a film like this that you’re letting yourself in for two hours of relentless bleakness and despair. However, those who are worried that Rabbit Hole will be two hours of Kidman and Eckhart crying and yelling will be pleasantly surprised. Of course, there are scenes in which the characters pick open the scab of their trauma and scream at each other, but it’s also a very tender film, with surprising moments of humour.

It’s slightly different territory for director John Cameron Mitchell, whose previous work includes Shortbus and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, but he’s clearly interested in how people react in extreme circumstances. He also brings a surprising amount of colour and beauty to the film, with the sunshine and greenery of the upstate New York setting contrasting with the cold loneliness of the characters.

Kidman is superb as Becca. It’s a performance that really showcases her range, as the brittle veneer keeps threatening to shatter. She’s well matched by Eckhart (The Dark Knight), who gives Howie a sense of wounded masculinity that’s balanced by his care and love for his wife. The two work seamlessly as a married couple, their affection for each other is clear despite the distance between them. Dianne Wiest (Edward Scissorhands) is also excellent as Becca’s well-intentioned mother, there’s a solid turn from Sandra Oh (Sideways) as a member of the group therapy session who catches Howie’s eye, and newcomer Miles Teller gives a strong performance as Jason, a teenager who Becca starts following.

There are occasional missteps. There’s not much by way of a driving force in the narrative beyond the characters’ desire to feel better. There’s a subplot involving Becca’s pregnant younger sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard) and her new boyfriend which only works in the context of giving Becca something to feel bad about. But overall this is a superb drama that connects with the viewer and does not let go.

Excellent, with great performances from Kidman and Eckhart.

4/5

JH

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Guess The Movie Reference

We’ve been watching a lot of films and TV lately and have noticed some distinct similarities between scenes in these shows and iconic movies.

Due to the resounding resemblance, we’ve compiled a short list of films and TV shows that have paid homage to some of the greats. Can you guess what they are?


(Answers at the bottom)
1. One Tree Hill
Image: The CW
2. Set It Off
(Damn YouTube!)


3. Finding Nemo




4. Paris, Je t’aime




5. The Untouchables




6. The Simpsons
Image: 20th Century Fox
7. Shutter Island
Image: Paramount Pictures
8. Bridget Jones’s Diary





9. Tyler Perry’s Family Reunion



10. Pulp Fiction




11. Boogie Nights





Answers:
1. From Here To Eternity – Brooke and Julian getting frisky on the beach.
2. The Godfather – The round table scene.
3. The Shining – “Here’s Brucie!”
4. Amelie – Clients flicking through a book of hairstyles, in which there’s an image of a model resembling Amelie.
5. Battleship Potemkin – The scene in which the pram falls down the stairs.
6. Risky Business – The infamous dance scene.
7. The Red Shoes – Teddy running down the stairs with a close up of his feet.
8. Titanic – “I’m the king of the world!”
9. The Color Purple – Madea’s ode to Sofia’s Harpo speech.
10. Psycho – Marsellus seeing Butch in his car.
11. Goodfellas – The opening tracking shot.
FG