Saturday, 25 February 2012

Logical conclusion of Lansley's health reforms (Out this week - 24/02/12)

It's another exceptionally busy week again, with 13 releases competing for our bucks this weekend, although as always it's worth noting most of these films look rubbish or at least completely forgettable. Honestly will anyone be talking up this weeks Denzel vehicle in the year end best of lists. Talking of best ofs it's the Oscars this weekend and many pundits are predicted a near clean sweep for French silent movie The Artist, it's slightly apt that this weekend we have the release of one film that was cruelly ignored by the Academy and another that could well be bothering the voters next year, especially BAFTA with it's high calibre prestige cast list, indeed I can think of no excuse for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel not to reign forth as the film of the week.

By the way the post title references the current health bill making it's way through Parliament that may open up more competition into the NHS. The conclusion being outsourced off-shore nursing care.

Anyhoo, last week I was right in my box office predictions with Woman in Black holding the top spot and Nic Cage being the highest New Entry, surprisingly though the only new film in the top ten. This weekend we have to assume the double whammy of Dame's Judi and Maggie will charm the older crowd and when combined with a 426 cinema release (58 more than it's biggest rival) that Exotic will be box office champ too.

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

It's a comedy staring some of Britain's best loved movie stars (Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Dev Patel) set around an old people's home in India. It therefore pulls a huge amount of buttons for the UK's cinema-going public, and should do blockbuster figures on this side of the pond - note it's only getting a limited release in the US in May. I really don't understand the difference between the British and American audiences.

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Read on for a rundown of the rest of this weeks releases and a plethora of exciting trailers.


Perfect counterprogramming this weekend sees Woody Harrelson falling apart as a violent angry cop seeing his world burst open at the seems following filmed abuse of a suspect. Sigourney Weaver and Ned Beatty are among the classy supporting players in this James Ellroy scripted thriller.

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Safe House

I hear from American reviewers that this latest Ryan Reynolds vehicle is perfectly OK, does nothing flashy or genre-bending but does pass the time. Of course Ryan's hopelessly outclassed by Denzel Washington as the CIA traitor he needs to keep alive. Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga and Sam Shepard are among his suspicious superiors.

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Am I surprised that Melanie Laurent, star of Inglorious Basterds and Beginners has turned her skills to directing. Not really. Nor am I surprised at the whimsical quirky tone that some of the romantic elements of the trailer imply. I am surprised there seems to be a coma induced infidelity plot though, you don't see many of those.

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Red Dog

As hokey and silly as this true life Aussie shaggy dog tale seems I suspect there's an audience out there for it's homespun mythology and likeable characters. Not sure why Josh Lucas has the main role (excluding the eponymous Koko) but I guess he's a name that garners some recognition. Apparently Keisha Castle-Hughes is in there somewhere too. True fact I was part of the focus group that chose the poster.

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Black Gold

Historic part European part Qatari release that may usher in a dawn of Middle Eastern blockbusters, only slightly undermined by the casting of Mark Strong and Antonio Banderas as warring Sheikhs in post World War I America.

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Blood Car

Fun little premise from this strange American indie about a car that runs on blood. I expect the comedic team behind it are an acquired taste so it could build a cult following. Or be forgotten in 6 weeks.

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Gelecek Uzun Surer

Roughly translated to Future Lasts Forever. Or it at least appears to in this elegant existential Turkish drama about a PHD student who wanders off the beaten track and can't seem to find her way back.

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Jodi Breakers

If this romantic comedy about a gigolo who's paid to break up relationships by suspicious relatives then falls for one of his marks seems familiar that's probably because we had a French version of this, Heartbreaker, just two years ago.

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One for the Money

Do you remember when Katherine Heigl was all set to be a huge star? Neither do I, but apparently post Knocked Up everyone thought her career was all set. Unfortunately it's been down hill all the way since then and don't expect this laugh-free trailer to help her stem the tide no matter how much she persuades Debbie Reynolds to ham it up as her Gran.

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Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya

Bollywood producers seem able to wring romantic situations from the most unlikely set-up, including, in this case Stockholm syndrome. I expect the girl will turn out much better at being in control than her kidnapper, enough to make the premise more palatable.

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It's been so long since Danny Dyer last had a cinematic release I can't remember what it was. This time he's playing somewhat against type as a violent sociopathic serial killer on the run from Broadmoor. Will be in DVD bargain bins on Monday.

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Naachle London

Odd curiosity a completely British film in Hindi, in the style and design of a Bollywood romantic comedy and incredibly proud of it's roots. I'll be very interested to see how this does in the box office statistics.

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Readers with a long memory will of course know what's coming, but for those of you who don't I sort of have a thing for Danny Dyer. He's arrogant and in many ways the a prototype of the problems with modern Britain but I'll always be up for a quick BJ behind Lidl. Just feast you're eyes on my traditional picture of Danny in the buff.


Thursday, 23 February 2012

A Dangerous Method

2011. Dir: David Cronenberg. Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel and Sarah Gadon. ●●●○○

Right now I'm resisting a terrible urge, you could almost say I'm repressing a desire to sneak out a dreadful pun. I want to avoid bringing up the title of Christopher Hampton's play on which this psychoanalysis themed movie is based. Oh, but that urge is so strong. Why should I stifle my emotional needs, why should I risk damaging my id by holding back it's darkest aims, back in 2002 Hampton wrote a play about the shifting relationships between Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and Sabina Spielrein and he called it after the method they developed on their patients "The Talking Cure". So with a flourish I have to dub David Cronenberg's A Dengerous Method the "talky cure".

We open with Keira Knightley's Spielrein, a Russian Jew with pronounced hysteria, transported to the sparse mental health hospital in part run by the emphatically repressed Jung (Fassbender continuing his impressive run of star-making performances). In a series of short scenes we investigate the background to Spielrein's neurosis, with Jung coaxing out her emotional turmoil through a programme of one to one sessions. Knightley's performance has been the subject of huge debate both for and against her severe, jaw-clenching work in these early scenes. Personally I can't speak for the veracity of her work, but when contrasted and taken with the delicate almost blank work from Fassbender, the two of them make a compelling duo. As we see the methodology and results of Jung's technique the film both draws the audience in and shocks with the disturbing sexual fantasies plaguing Spielrein's past.

It isn't long though before the films derails, highlighting it's stage origins we then follow multiple duologues between the two main characters, Viggo Mortensen as the paranoid, pompous Sigmund Freud, anarchist and anti-psychiatrist Otto Gross (Cassel) and Jung's unfortunate slightly dull wife played by a winsome Sarah Gadon (who you might, but probably won't, remember from Dream House last year).

The most important relationships that develop are the father(figure)-son pairing between Freud and Jung, focussing on the similarities in their approach until their mutually exclusive theories concerning the future of psychoanalysis irrevocably splitting the two minds. We also see the coupling between Jung and Spielrein escalate into sado-masochistic physical and emotional relationship with Jung taking up the crop from Sabina's foreboding father.

That said whilst all of these individual scenes see some excellent performances and insightful dialogue regarding the competing ideas of the main players that is very much all they are. Each scene trips along giving another opportunity for two thesps to face off but without any of it really adding up to anything. They slow down too, each scene coming more ponderously than the last. At one point the film virtually stopped whilst characters wrote to each other then read these letters on their own, utterly tedious film-making.

What's worse is the subject could be really interesting, psychoanalysis is by it's very nature imperative to our understanding of our very souls, the discussions between Jung and Freud that confront the fundamental differences in their approaches should be extreme clashes of personality, philosophically engaging, dissecting theories that tore up societal norms up to that point. Instead we have broad pronouncements of medical scepticism, cheap shots at the fringe or over-simplified elements of their divergent theories, interminable discussions about dreams and - finally - an apparently true but still totally incomprehensible discussion about Ancient Egyptian civilizations and how that reflected their own situation.

The craft work on the film is, as I'm sure you can imagine in early 20th century design, impeccable and I'd especially like to call out the functional and character driven set decoration by Gernot Thöndel (although I understand Viggo Mortensen provided all his own props and the books in Freud's study).

Ultimately this film fails, Cronenberg is unable to lift the script from it's stage origins or add any spice to the proceedings once we leave the confines of Sabina's cure. I can recommend it only for the performances or - if you're a fan of Keira - the first 30 minutes.


Saturday, 18 February 2012

Trying to make sense of it all (Out this week - 17/02/12)

Now the more observant among you will have noticed that I haven't posted a review this week. Worse than that I didn't even make it to my local multiplex. This is almost exclusively because I am completely and utterly broke, currently being between projects which is no laughing matter I can tell you. So whilst I would love to regale you with my thoughts on Viggo and Michael tussling with psychological concepts in A Dangerous Mind that will have to wait - I will try and catch it this week, somehow, and give you my thoughts over the coming days. Of course I'm now at least one week behind, luckily the top film this week is such a complex case I'm happy to give it a bit of time before I see it - in fact waiting until it's DVD release later in the year might give me the opportunity to see it outside of the conflicting poor reviews/oscar nod pressures facing me - but let's not shy away from the fact that whilst there are 14 releases competing for our attention the RLAG film of the week goes to Extremely Loud and Incredible Close.

Last week, much to my surprise, Daniel Radcliffe proved he can open a film (on this side of the pond at least) and Woman in Black cruised to the top of the box office chart, significantly ahead of my puppet based prediction. This week I do expect he'll stay there but sniffing at his heels will be Nicolas Cage in leather vehicle Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

Extremely Loud and Incredible Close

It's bathos a-plenty in this second trailer for Stephen Daldry's adaptation of the acclaimed Jonathan Safran Foer novel about a boy with borderline Asperger's coping with his fathers death in the September 11 terrorist attack. It doesn't look subtle, but two Academy Award nominations (Best picture and Max von Sydow) convince me there must be something worth seeing here.

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Woman in the Fifth

That's the fifth Arrondissement of Paris, in case you wondered, and the woman in question is Kristin Scott Thomas, always ready to help a struggling writer like Ethan Hawke to breakthrough the writer's block with lashings of sex and maybe a mystery plot or two.

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Interestingly this low-key French picture from Bruno Dumont turned up in quite a few top ten lists last year, including John Waters! Essentially a parable about the dangers of blind faith and religious fervour Hadewijch is a novice Nun, who after getting kicked out of the order for over expressing her love for Jesus finds herself drawn to a group of Muslim extremists. Might make a strange and rewarding double bill with Extremely Loud.

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Ekk Dewana Tha

Fluffy looking Hindi romance that looks bland enough but apparently has a Romeo and Juliet like twist as she is from a strict orthodox Christian family. It'll work out alright in the end I expect.

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Fetih 1453

Turkish film about the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the collapse of the Byzantine civilization. Whilst some of the special effects look ropey this is the sort of historic epic they make very well in Turkey, could be worth a look for the costumes alone.

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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

The sequel nobody wanted for the superhero nobody cares about. Hey ho. At least the combination of Crank directors Neveldine and Taylor with an out of control Nicolas Cage performance seems like a match made in heaven.

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Danish thriller in part influenced by TV's "The Killing" - or at least it's cinematic release is - wherein an amnesiac wakes up in a river with only a shoe and a satchel containing loads of cash and a gun as clues to her identity. Is she connected to the assassination of a prominent politician? What do you think...

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Obscure elliptic Macedonia art-house release that mixes narrative and documentary styles over three storylines including a fake report of a flasher and a film-making crew in a deserted village.

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Simple Life

No it's not the big screen version of that Ritchie/Hilton reality TV programme instead it's a meditative Hong Kong feature about the shifting relationship between a 40 something year-old and his elderly amah following her debilitating stroke.

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Barbie in a Mermaid Tale 2

Just for half term, this kiddywink aimed movie opened during the weekdays in order to make a few bucks before it's majority income from DVD sales. It's bright, I'll give it that.

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Kadhalil Sodhappuvathu Eppadi

There are three Bollywood releases sneaking out this week with very limited releases and not much background information on the web. First up is this Tamil picture, as you can see there's an IMDB page but no content. From the trailer I can only imagine it's a high school set romance.

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Muppozhudhum Un Karpanaigal

Next up is another Tamil movie, which doesn't even have anything on IMDb. Frankly I was amazed to find a trailer. This too looks like a romance, only the chap in questions turns out to be an assassin. Great falling into bed shot in the trailer, mind.

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Older than America

Proving not all the bad films are coming from India this week is this dreadful looking horror junk about the interface between the Catholic church and Native Americans. I expect the bad guys are really neither side but an unseen extra cult of nuts.

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Pata nahi rabb kehdeyan rangan ch raazi

Finally there's this Punjabi release, with one of the longest titles I can remember, with a globe trotting romantic theme culminating in a Valentine's day proposal. (Sorry, spoilers.)

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Saturday, 11 February 2012

Tell me about your Mother (Out this week - 10/02/12)

At first it seems like a quiet week with only 7 new features released into cinemas. But of course my methodology is deliberately focussed so I miss the 3D re-release of George Lucas's return to the Star Wars universe and the non 3D release of Casablanca. I suppose I should consider the later for film of the week, and it would certainly give the ultimate winner a run for it's money but I don't want to go breaking the rules as it might reveal areas of my subconscious I'd rather keep hidden. Of course film of the week is David Cronenberg's Freud-Jung-Spielrein intellectual triangle A Dangerous Method.

Of course The Phantom Menace is also tickling the top of the box office charts and with an extra day of release it might be foolish to bet against it, however I'm a fool who remembers it's half term and The Muppets has an awful lot of retro value - I would even go as far as saying more so on this side of the Atlantic than in the States - and I wouldn't be at all surprised if it takes the crown.

Oh, and I was dead right about Chronicle being last weeks biggest seller, amazingly making 26 year-old director Josh Trank the youngest director to have a box office leader in both the US and UK.

A Dangerous Method

Second week in a row we have a stage play making the transition to film, and like Carnage the plot may in part revolve around the difference between morality and desire. Michael Fassbender continues his extraordinary run of performances as Carl Jung with Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen and Vincent Cassell surrounding him.

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The Muppets

The gang's all back. I imagine most 30 somethings or older have a huge place in their heart for the madcap antics, big-time show tunes and silly jokes of the not-quite puppets and will go out in droves with their small kids to try and revive those memories. Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo and Animal are all on board, as are Jason Segal, Amy Adams and Chris Cooper to drive the plot but an extra pleasure of the muppets is their fantastic cameos which include Alan Arkin, Whoopi Goldberg, Judd Hirsch and Mickey Rooney.

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Woman in Black

Daniel Radcliffe, him off Harry Potter with the glasses and the scar, you'd probably recognise the guy, has to sell off an abandoned house in deepest Devon. Only it's not completed abandoned as there's a sinister spirit at work trying to rip Radcliffe's mind apart in this Hammer gothic horror. Janet McTeer and Ciaran Hinds co-star.

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The Vow

If you in the mood for a non-challenging romantic drama about a couple falling in love for the second time following a car crash and bout of amnesia then this could be exactly the movie for you. Rachel McAdams is the girl forgetting her hubby with Channing Tatum either shirtless or wearing chunky knitwear to bring back those hidden memories and Jessica Lange returns in a key supporting role.

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Not necessarily what you would expect from the title of this Mayalaman entry. The synopsis states it's about an international businessman and playboy getting revenge on his girlfriends murderers through a reality TV show. WTF?

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Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu

Bollywood comedy set in Vegas (I know) slightly influenced by What Happens in Vegas as mismatched couple Imran Khan and Kareena Kapoor wake up hungover and married and must learn to love each other. Sweet.

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Big Miracle

Finally we have the boring looking family friendly based on a true story tosh about whales trapped under the ice and the massive rescue effort involved fishermen, the army and large groups of volunteers. I expect it's not as bad as I think, but I can't pretend it's the sort of film I want to see.

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Thursday, 9 February 2012


2011. Dir: Roman Polanski. Starring: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly and Elvis Polanski. ●●●○○

I think I may have nailed my colours a little too ostensibly on the mast. I generally try to list five performances at the start of the post, in this case choosing the first four was a piece of cake - they're the only speaking parts - but the next is a decision between the two boys, the sons of the warring couples, the spark that ignites the breakdown of the veneer of civilisation. Of course the real decision was based on the credits alone but it does give the impression I sided with the Cowans. Ridiculous I know, how could you side with any of the warped frightful animals at play in Roman Polanski's Carnage.

The film opens in Brooklyn Bridge Park, presumably filmed by a second unit director rather begging the question why Polanski didn't just film it in Paris in the French Yasmina Reza original used, where two adolescents play innocently until all of a sudden one is alone, victimised and in a sudden burst of anger he swings the tree branch he carries and...

Cut to:

Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly as Mr. & Mrs. Longstreet, parents of the injured party preparing a statement concerning the incident for Momma and Poppa Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz). They're in an apartment we won't leave until the end credits. They haggle, reasonably, over the wording. Armed with vs. carrying. Exchange pleasantries then the Cowan's make to leave, yet somehow they don't, somehow the two couples are trapped in a cycle of progressive discussion, liberal one-upmanship and intense bickering as the façade of bourgeois respectability is ripped away as the animal instincts and repressed tensions burst forth in a stunning display of aggressive inhumanity.

It goes without saying that Reza wasn't writing a plot based drama, the aim is to hold up a mirror to the hypocritical chianti-quaffing theatregoing literati, to remind us (and I include myself in the intellectual class that like to imagine we're above the type of behaviour exhibited on Jeremy Kyle) that we are just naked apes, a few generations on from our cave dwelling ancestors, able to slip back into that constant battle for survival and alpha status within the group.

In itself this is interesting and the shifting perspectives and loyalties between the couples as their individual moral standards are attacked and the deeper fundamental beliefs exposed and challenged. Each of the quartet is ultimately struggling with middle-class guilt and an inability to connect with their kids, the Generation X knowing both the disciplinarian parental style and the little adult hippie approach has failed but unable to find a third way. At the same time little nuggets of information, be it Reilly's dislike of hamsters, Waltz's corporate client, Foster's concept of justice or Winslet's relativism are carried through the piece, dropped quietly then lifted back into the conversation in bitter and unexpected ways.

The performances are a mixed bag, surprising for such a small prestige cast list. The stand out is Christoph Waltz's sly, self-aware and urbane lawyer, the first to highlight the hypocrisies around the room and to admit his own failings. At the other end of the scale is Jodie Foster, shrill and excitable she's playing to the back of the stalls. I also thought only John C. Reilly handled the later scenes effectively - whilst his co-stars were slurring and staggering for twenty minutes embarrassingly over-egging the drunkeness he was the only one with the common sense to remember that we try to not look drunk when drunk and hold it back.

Some reviews have picked on the staginess of the film, something almost inevitable when adapting a one-act single location play, and whilst it did reek of it's origins I don't count that as a failing. Polanski's own Death and the Maiden (1994) and Mike Nichol's 1966 masterpiece Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe were both stage plays with small casts that felt restricted, but the power of the theme or performances breaks that boundary. Here it's essential that the characters are trapped in the surroundings and luckily the setting makes us feel trapped too.

I would also like to praise the look of the film, from Milena Canonero's character specific costuming to Franckie Diago's set decoration, actually this felt perfect, everything from the art tablebooks to the ethic decor oozing a sense of intellectual entitlement. I've been to houses like these, neither the crumbling monasteries of academia or the child friendly homes of suburbia (I only remember one photo of the family and nothing in the house looked like the kids would be involved), they exist in order to be shown off at dinner parties and gatherings of like minded individuals. Equally Pawel Edelman's cinematography both accentuated the space whilst slowly disintegrating in form and function with the breakdown of the characters.

I also like the end shot, I won't spoil it but there's a satisfying return to playground politics that renders the whole breakdown of society mute.

Ultimately though this is all just an intellectual exercise, it's a piece of performance art, as such it works but dramatically it goes nowhere. Yes vomit is expelled, tears are spilt, whisky is downed and Kate Winslet vandalises a perfectly good arrangement of tulips screeching "Why are we still in this house?" but nothing really happens and the message is so obvious that there's little to stick around for. Earlier I invoked the parallels with Virginia Woolfe, where that stagey talky violence is a horrendous tragedy hiding behind a sexual farce whereas here we have a black comedy pretending to be serious. Waltz professes a belief in the God of Carnage, I have a belief in Melpomeme the Muse of tragedy and she wasn't worshipped anywhere near enough in this utterly missable hour and a half of vitriol.


Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Young Adult

2011. Dir: Jason Reitman. Starring: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt, Elizabeth Reaser and Collette Wolfe. ●●●●○

I have yet to see all of the nominated performances in the Academy Award for best actress this year, or at least six of the higher profile contenders that didn't make the cut, however it's hard to believe there are five more deserving, more lived in performances than Charlize Theron's monstrous Mavis Gary inYoung Adult. But to single out Jason Reitman's fourth feature for it's central performance feels as insubstantial as praising George Clooney in Up in the Air or Ellen Page in Juno, almost as if it's missing the point. Not only does Reitman coax out these superb characterisations he, along with screenwriter Diablo Cody, create these distinct believable roles for the actors to inhabit.

The ghost writer of a popular (waning but still generating enough buzz to render her with minor celebrity status in her home town) series of teenager fictional novels, gripped by writer's block and sensing a lack of direction following her divorce, Mavis journeys homeward in a vague but determined attempt to reclaim her highschool sweetheart, the popular jock Buddy Slade, played by Patrick Wilson. Unfortunately Wilson isn't just married but his wife (a special needs teacher with a pub band) has recently pushed out their first baby, or "baggage" in Mavis's eye.

Added to this the biggest emotional connection she seems to able to make in Mercury, Minnesota, beating out her parents and her dog accessory (another contender for best dog of 2011), is with a overweight comic-book geek Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt). A high-school alumni who she barely remembers as "hate-crime guy" - the result of a perceptive homophobic attack which left Freehauf unable to walk without a stick (as well as damaging other vital organs) - in spite of sharing neighbouring lockers for their entire education.

Mavis no longer fits in Mercury. She has ostracised herself, at once romanticising her recollections and editing out the emotional damage she caused to those classmates not in her circle, creating a secondary world where she was the victim of a small town that held her back rather than the bitchy spider at the centre of the web of teenage malice. In her memory the past was as rosy and perfect as the storylines of her novels, where she was lauded for her fair mindedness and beauty by all her classmates, where her self confidence and determination give her the rewards she deserves.

Charlize is able to bring all this out in her finest performance to date, a sneer, a squint, a complicated make-up routine all weapons in the arsenal to show disdain for her fellow humanity and to ensnare her former beau. Even her self-acknowledged alcoholism and delusional fantasies regarding her emotional levelheadedness seem to be engineered internally to make the grand gesture. Never for a moment do you not know how Mavis is feeling but at the same time it's obvious she believes she's never letting it on.

Oswalt is also a revelation, hitherto best known for his stand-up and TV comedy work, his holy fool of a character combines obvious provision of comic relief with his anarchic opinions and frank sexual talk and yet he is incisive seeing through Mavis and her plot machinations with ease. Everytime he talks you feel the resentment of the town as much as Mavis and with a much clearer peception and cause than her disgust, yet he is unable to escape, tied down by his disability emotionally and physically.

Like the real world Mavis both grows and doesn't grow over the period of the movie, the path she is on is both different and the same, she goes on a journey and yet ends in the same emotional space. Reitman and Cody expertly lets the back story permeate through the piece, saving the sucker punch of Mavis and Buddy's split until major monologue closing the second act. It's so perfectly rendered by all involved that we begin to sympathise with the monster, against all our better judgements we want better for Mavis. It's that empathy which allows us to put our own thoughts on the last scene, where does Mavis go after that will largely depend on where you would go. Would Mavis develop and learn? Only if you would.

Diablo Cody deserves a major shout-out for her delicious dialogue, it's not the geeky hipster speak she virtually invented in Juno (her detractors get some sly knocks her as she virtually admits to how she picked up on teenage dialects), but instead is nuanced as well as pithy when required.

I would love to give this film five blobs, but in all fairness it didn't blow me away like my previous lucky few to receive that accolade, that said this is a very strong four blob film and I heartily recommend it to all of my readers.


Saturday, 4 February 2012

I hate to hate you, baby (Out this week - 03/02/12)

It's a cracking week for film choices here in the UK, especially if by and large you don't like people. In fact there's glorious amounts of bile and wrath inviting us to our local multiplex and art-house venue, whether it's caustic writers, poisonous cults or twisted superheroes you're bound to come across some first class sociopaths. I am so happy for that.

I got my box office predictions wrong again last weekend as War Horse kept the number 1 spot whilst The Descendants galloped up to the second place, knocking my bet Monster in Paris down to fourth. This week I'm thinking that whilst Chronicle isn't in as many screens as a couple of other releases the two days previews and decent reviews will give it the top spot.

As for my top pick, I'm was torn between the more arthouse choices, however Roman Polanski has pulled together a terrific cast for Carnage and I'm going to have to reward that alone and make it film of the week.


Yasmina Reza's caustic four hander gets the big screen treatment from one of cinema's most notorious auteurs, trapping bourgeois Manhattanites Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly in an apartment and watching the veneer of respectability peel away. Delightful.

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Young Adult

Charlize Theron bristles as the teenage fiction writer returning to her home town to snare her former beau Patrick Wilson. It also marks the return of Jason Reitman and Juno scribe Diablo Cody. Expect spot-on dialogue and great performances throughout.

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Martha Marcy May Marlene

Sean Durkin's highly original first feature received massive praise at last years Sundance and was heavily buzzed throughout the year for his stylistic choices and Elizabeth Olson's breakout performance. Somehow it's never caught on with audiences and didn't receive a single Oscar nod. Saying that I think we can expect fantastic things from both of them in the future.

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Leading the rest of the pack, and by far the most compelling feature on wide release, we have this found footage superhero horror hybrid as three friends are bestowed with extraordinary powers only to discover the darker sides of their personalities. Will probably be remembered for a long time.

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Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

If you don't like your children I suggest taking them to see this horrid looking sequel to the 2008 semi-flop Brendan Fraser kids adventure. Note that Fraser been replaced by eyebrow raise Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson - not sure if that gets explained in the script - and Michael Caine gets a new house on the back of his role.

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Man on a Ledge

After it's disappointing debut at US cinemas last weekend I doubt Sam Worthington's latest attempt to display leading man status will fare much better on this side of the pond, regardless of supporting Jamie Bell's bigger draw here. Ed Harris and Elizabeth banks are among the other cast you'll recognise in this plot so simple they named the pic after it actioner.

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Best Laid Plans

British boxing movie that sort of uses the central relationship structure of Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" although I question whether it allows itself to have the bleak ending of that masterpiece. Steven Graham plans the chancer in debt to a Nottingham crimepin, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje his mentally challenged friend forced to fight for him.

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Jack and Jill

Finally, in the why bother to see this crap category, we have Adam Sandler's latest "comedy" where he plays annoying titular non-identical twins, no doubt learning some life lessons whilst farting and fighting in an irritating sub-slapstick way. In the trailers best (only) joke Al Pacino (along with Johnny Depp cameoing as himself) has his Oscar smashed by Jill. I suspect the Academy will want it back anyway after this dross.

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Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Descendants

2011. Dir: Alexander Payne. Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Robert Forster and Nick Krause. ●●●●○

I need to see Alexander Payne Hawaiian dramedy The Descendants again. This is not just because the story is insightful and the performances compelling - although they are - nor is it because I need to see it again to fully appreciate the complexities of the parallels between the two priorities pulling at Clooney's Matt King - although I probably have to. No, the reason I need to see the movie again is simple. At my screening Gorgeous George and the even more gorgeous vistas were upstaged by Mus musculus*, a brave example whose relentless search for abandoned popcorn led him up and down the aisle where I was sitting and in and out of the rows in front and behind.

Therefore please take this review with the tiniest pinch of salt. I may come back to it in October, watching the film again, and update, but for now even being distracted I thought it was a fine dissection of modern morality and the process for dealing with the complex emotional response to grief.

There are two main plot strands concerning our protagonist property lawyer Matt King, an expert performance from George Clooney, on the one hand his wife is in a coma, on the other the vast swathes of Hawaiian land his family have held in trust is reaching the end of it's legal tenure and a decision needs to be made on it's future. If that wasn't tough enough Clooney finds out, in the first half hour it's no spoiler, that his wife had been having an affair and the film develops a mini-mystery aspect as he identifies the man and finds a way to confront him.

Clooney once again proves he is one of the best actors of his generation building on his recent performance in Up in the Air he is the consummate everyman star, easily slipping into roles where you can forget he's one of the most famous (and attractive) Hollywood exports. Once of the most amazing things about the performance is how subtle it is on the dramatic stretches, quiet, still everything happening behind the eyes, a lesser actor would burst through the tough scenes with his daughters (Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller) or play the emotions when facing his wife's adulterous other half. At the same time he's unafraid of the comedy, the slapstick running and hedge scene are played to all they're worth.

The rest of the cast also do a fine job, Shailene Woodley as the elder daughter, conspiring with her father whilst constantly breaking boundaries has garnered the best feedback, as well as the mighty Robert Forster who came the closest to eliciting an emotional response during his wordless hospital visit. I'd also like to give a shout out to Mary Birdsong who as friend Kai has a couple of big moments with Clooney both and in and out of the hospital.

The land sale half of the plot, whilst latterly surprisingly connected to the infidelity, is a touch underdeveloped and the resolution is predictable and pat. It almost feels as if Payne was rushing that aspect of the screenplay in order to it the relevant marks for Clooney's personal growth, perhaps teasing it out a little more and allowing the final decision to feel more organic and less reactionary might have felt more natural.

As a writer Alexander Payne has always been able to dissect relateable even within extraordinary circumstances and Matt King is no exception, indeed the family unit as presented is more realistic in it's depiction than the majority of his previous characters, less obtuse than Miles and Jack from Sideways and less obsessive than the protagonists of Election or About Schmidt, they slowly seep into your subconscious, like Clooney's King you feel the turmoil of emotions when saying goodbye to the woman you love. At the same time there's a resultant lack of tension, King's reaction to the situation is how we all like to think we'd react, this safeness takes the edge off the piece.

Payne is most interesting as a writer than a director, and whilst this film is competently put together there's little of interest in terms of the filming styles, early use of voice over and Indiana Jones style flight paths aside. The pacing is good though and it's virtually unique seeing Hawaii as just a beautiful place with the same family troubles as everywhere else.

I think I can recommend the film, as gentle and predictable as it is, for being an interesting slice of life drama, although I do reserve the right to change my opinion later in the year.

*Note I am not going to reveal which mouse infested cinema I went to as they very kindly gave me a free Premier IMAX ticket to say sorry, which I'm going to save for The Dark Knight Rises in 6 months.