Saturday, 28 January 2012

Reflecting on what you didn't know (Out this week - 27/01/12)

So it's been Oscar nomination week, and as usual there have been a number of films that I thought were excellent that haven't come close to a nod, likewise quite a few I disliked that the Academy have swooned over. That said the 9 films listed as the best of the year seem like a good bunch even if there were some notable snubs elsewhere in the pack. Here in the UK we are still working through the big contenders as they arrive in cinemas, and one long considered favourite opens this weekend and naturally takes my top spot. Elsewhere we see wolves, monsters and doomed romances. Last week, to my surprise, Haywire was the biggest new release just beating Underworld: Awakening but missing out on the top spot to the second week of release from Spielberg's horse epic. I'm learning from my mistakes and given the imbalance in screens and it's likeable, kid friendly trailer I predict Monster in Paris will be the chart topper, although almost certainly second overall. The Runs like a Gay film of the week remains less commercial, but it should pick up some strong audience numbers, it's The Descendants


Gorgeous George has just picked up his fourth acting Oscar nomination, although Shailene Woodley as his daughter noticeably missed out, for this Hawaii set dramedy about a father coming to terms with the death of his unfaithful wife. Alexander Payne directs for the first time in 7 years, getting an Oscar nod for his efforts, and brings his caustic, unemotional gaze to family dynamics. Robert Forster also stars.

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It's Liam Neeson versus the wolves, as the Ulsterman's later career as a kick-ass action hero continues into even weirder directions. The basic premise of a bunch of oil workers getting picked off by the man eating artic residents sounds fairly watchable, even if the whispered oscar campaign for Neeson next year seems strangely optimistic.

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More Spanish horror, although with a geographical twist whereby we spend equal time in London as in Spain, following two families united by a teenage child with a monster in the cupboard. Clive Owen is the doubting father in the British section.

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Like Crazy

Highly buzzed Sundance title from 2011 with Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin entering into a doomed, mostly improvised romance bound to get caught up with VISA difficulties and enforced seperations. Jennifer Lawrence has a minor role.

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Monster in Paris

Fun looking French (no kidding) animation involving a radioactive flea with a remarkable ability to play guitar and a series of slapstick chases. It's been re-dubbed into L'Anglais and should do well in these kiddy unfriendly months of winter.

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Popular Bollywood adventure, which opened one day early to capitalise on it's pre-release buzz. Saying that the plot, which follows the standard rise to criminal kingpin then return to village story, seems fairly soapy and the trailer did nothing for me.

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Alls well ends Well 2011

Not quite the Bard update it seems like in the title, this Cantonese rom-com has been released to coincide with Chinese New Year. Not quite as barmy as last weeks sex shop romp.

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Berlin Kaplani

Turkish-German film collaboration (Berlin has a huge Turkish community in case you weren't aware) with a surprisingly chubby pugilistic protagonist looking for that miracle fight to propel him into the big time.

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House of Tolerance

Don't take your kids to this French movie by mistake, it's laborious, nostalgic look at the working of a turns of the century Parisien brothel may make for an awkward car ride home. Apparently the leopard steals the show.

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Polish Roulette

It's like a UN meeting at cinemas this week, with this Eastern European gangster comedy, sometimes known as Sztos 2, being the eighth state contributing to cinema this weekend. I've not seen Sztos 1 but the alternative title suggests that may not be completely necessary.

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Spanish Masala

Fish out of water Mayalaman comedy, like a reverse version of Like Crazy with an Indian national stuck, VISA less in Spain unable to return home. Only for a Spanish daughter of an Ambassador to rescue him and set him up as a chef.

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Acts of Godfrey

Odd British drama, with a distinctly unusual delivery style. Yes the entire screenplay has been written in rhyming couplets. As an exercise it appears to work quite well, however countless reviews indicate the story isn't compelling enough to make the film worth watching.

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Thursday, 26 January 2012


2011. Dir: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan MacGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum and Michael Douglas. ●●●○○

Imagine you're an international famous movie director, let's take Steven Soderbergh for example, and you're bored one afternoon, channel hoping distractedly waiting for Matt Damon to come over with some beer and you come across a female Mixed Martial Arts contest live on channel 179 and there on the screen is Gina Carano, a fighter perhaps best known for her stint on American Gladiators (she was crush). What would you then think? Well Steve thought that girl punching the hell out of the other girls has real skills, why not put her in a film and so Haywire was conceived.

To be fair this is not the first case of verite casting Soderbergh has indulged in, previously he launched the mainstream career of porn star Sasha Grey in the naturalistic and fascinating Girlfriend Experience, although I can't remember the casting story being quite as random. An Awareness of Carano's skills meant that Soderbergh could commission a script from The Limey scribe Lem Dobbs that simply propelled the character from fight to chase to fight showing off her considerable talents.

And be advised that is exactly what Haywire does.

Carano beats up Channing Tatum in a diner, courtesy of a little help from Michael Angarano (who has barely changed since "Will & Grace"), whom she then tells - thankfully using flashbacks - of the plot so far. You see it started in Barcelona where shady Government guy Michael Douglas and even shadier Spaniard Antonio Banderas hired Ewan McGregor and his freelance military taskforce (including Carano and Tatum) to rescue a kidnapped Chinese journalist which led to a massive chase through the streets for Carano just to knock out an unnamed goon. Then she's sent to Dublin to pretend to be the wife of MI6 agent Michael Fassbender who introduces her to more bearded Euro baddies then promptly tries to kill her then she runs and climbs through Dublin, outfoxing the Garda before ending up at the diner and getting into a snowbound car chase with Angarano and some local cops. Then there's the best bit of deer acting you'll see in 2011.

And breathe.

More people then get shot, there's a fight at Bill Paxton's house, a meeting in an abandoned aerodrome, another fight and Antonio Banderas gets a shave. Then the final credits roll.

Feel free to breathe again.

There is some connective plot involving everyone double crossing each other, and not everything in Barcelona or Dublin was quite what it seemed, but ultimately that doesn't matter ("It's always about money." as McGregor states in the trailer). Nor does it matter that Carano gives a performance that's dead behind the eyes, after all acting isn't really why she was hired and most of the heavy work is given to her co-stars, including a very impressive supporting turn by Paxton as her father, his thoughts projected plainly as he watches his daughter at work with a mix of fatherly pride and understandable shock.

How then does it work as a vehicle to showcase Carano fighting skills? The answer is surprisingly well. The melee in the diner, most of which is in the trailer, is perhaps forgettable but the chase in Barcelona, with Carano gaining on her quarry over 3-4 minutes shows her determination, commitment and fitness. You actually believe in these scenes that she could do this and take the guy out - I expect that's because she could. There's no wire work no stunts, the fights seem exceptionally real and Carano can clearly take care of herself, putting the usual action heroines (Anjelina, Milla) to shame.

The action scenes are also surprisingly interesting, the hotel set face off with Michael Fassbender (no spoiler it's in the trailer) is frantic and brutal, with the usual cliche's of broken glass shelves and smashing through doors incorporated well into the choreography. The final fight at a beach (I won't divulge who it's with) is also exceptionally well shot and edited together with each punch or kick bringing in a new shot at a more fascinating angle, providing the viewer with a 360 degree idea of the surroundings of the tense battle. We even get a chance to see her vulnerability, whilst climbing buildings through Dublin, Carano falls about 5 foot and it clearly hurts, winding her character and forcing her to rethink her strategy, being small rather than fast.

It's a great section of action scenes that really remind us of how punch-ups should work in cinema, there's always a understanding of the effort and geography of the battle, something which many of the more seasoned action director need to sit back and remind themselves of.

That said the utter lack of sensible plot or characterisation makes it very difficult to fully recommend this movie. Probably not worth the trip to the cinema, but if you ever tune in on a Friday night you will be drawn into the action and have to watch it until the end.


Monday, 23 January 2012

J. Edgar

2011. Dir: Clint Eastwood. Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench and Josh Lucas. ●●○○○

Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? I have asked before and I will shout it from the rooftops if absolutely necessary. Biopics (much like any other film genre) must exist for a reason, you must decide whether you want to draw parallels with the human condition, or prescient societal factors, or you must seek to restore or destroy a reputation, alternative aim to explain your protagonists public actions through their private history. J. Edgar does none of these. Instead it throws events and personal relations onto the screen, with three distinct elements of the film all failing to relate with each other and therefore failing to relate with the greater context.

The first element of the film, and perhaps the most compelling, establishes, through the unreliable narrative of Hoover himself played sympathetically by Leonardo DiCaprio, the origin mythology of the FBI from it's beginnings in the anti trade union movement through the war against organised crime in the 1930's and the development of modern police procedural to catch and prosecute Bruno Hauptmann, the kipnapper of Charles Lindbergh jr. (notably dubbed the "crime of the century" at the time). This section celebrates J. Edgar as a nerdy modernist standardising the process for catching criminals against a backward looking establishment. This alone may have been an interesting picture, in spite of it's glorification of his early achievements and the missed opportunities to discuss his political talents or his much publicised fear of Bolshevism not to mention the constraints of using the scientific method for raising convictions.

The first element is narrated by an older Hoover (during the Presidential tenure of JFK and later) a deeply paranoid man, clinging on to power through blackmail and illegal wire tapping. The film barely plays homage to the unspeakable acts of criminality and suppression that Hoover exercised through his COINTELPRO programme, a bitter taste in the mouth of anyone with a degree of knowledge of the civil rights movement, he may have associated equality with Communism but as we have no basis for the genesis of those beliefs there's no explanation for his acts (save a clunky scene with his dominant mother - Judi Dench - regurgitating anti-Black rhetoric).

What makes this worse is the disfiguring make-up plastered over the younger cast members by this time. Leo's jowls are surprisingly solid but he compensates with a determined physical presence and some possible expression, Naomi Watts as his long-term secretary Helen Gandy largely gets away with her transformation, but poor Armie Hammer playing Associate Director Clyde Tolson peers helplessly through an impenetrable mask of latex unable to contort any facial muscles even before his debilitating stroke. Given the excellent make-up work in The Iron Lady and the modern advances in CGI aging techniques (not something the one take Eastwood would be interested in I expect) this seems utterly baffling.

Finally crowbarred into the narrative is a attempt to clarify Hoover personal relationship with his mother and with Tolson, alluding to the rumoured relationship between the two but without firmly decided whether the rumours are true or not. The film seems to side with an asexual love affair, with Hoover admitting he loves/needs Tolson only to himself and the relationship remaining unconsummated. There are a couple of scenes of hand-holding and one fist-fight inexorably heading towards a kiss but nothing towards romanticism or even hidden passion. Even Tolson's occasional calls for restraint are ignored by Hoover indicating there's little shared intellectual or emotional connection.

I am confused about where the blame lies in this muddled production. I considered laying it Eastwood's door, after all if I believe in auteur theory than the strengths of the director as author are also their failures, however whilst this clearly fits within his back-catalogue it's also his most hack-for-hire directorial work since 2002's Blood Work. The workmanlike approach and unfussy editing is all there, but there's no great resolve for story-telling, even his trademark themes of guilt, retribution and repentance are absent.

I can't even lay it at the hands of cinematographer Tom Stern (although it was terribly dark) or Eastwood's over-present score.

No, the finger of blame lies with Dustin Lance Black, Oscar winning screenwriter for Milk he hews too close to the successful formula he used previously. In Milk Sean Penn, as the titular Supervisor records a statement to be read after his death on a dictaphone detailing his career and personal life. With Harvey the political was the personal, his campaigns relate directly to the discrimination he experienced and the private and public life were visibly entangled. Hoover is writing a (massively embellished) history of the early years of the FBI to a string of untrusted lower level agents, people he sacks merely for not identifying Lindbergh as the most famous American of the 20th Century, so therefore he is unlikely to slip details of his weekend pursuits with Tolson, let alone the kiss, in which case where did those memories come from and how have the audiences heard/experienced them?

It's almost as if Black is using alleged homosexuality as an excuse for his criminality. If he's one of us then he's alright. Compounded by the crass repression by his mother in the absurd daffodil speech, and don't get me started on the cross-dressing grief bit seemingly lifted from a Dummies guide to Freud. No, Dustin, the relationships Hoover had with Tolson, his mother and Gandy are irrelevant and unconnected to his career, or at least if you think they are why didn't you make the point clear in the screenplay.

Ultimately it's what I said in the opening paragraph, decide why you're writing this biography, what is the aim, and simply skirting around the possibility of gay men in power is simply not enough. Audiences deserve better.


Saturday, 21 January 2012

Who Watches the Watchman (Out this week - 20/01/12)

Things are hotting up in British cinemas this weekend, as we try to push through all the awards bait pictures before the BAFTA deadline, so this weekend there's FBI agents vs. Roman Generals vs. headline grabbing Royals. In terms of my most anticipated of these I will confess the poor reviews for Clint Eastwood's biopic have not significantly dampened my enthusiasm so film of the week is J. Edgar.

In terms of box office Haywire has the most screens this side of the pond, but I suspect that franchise familiarity may just help Kate Beckinsale and her lycanthropic frenemies will take the top spot.

J. Edgar

A couple of weeks ago the Margaret Thatcher biopic managed to squeak it's way to the top of my highly anticipated pile, even though it appeared to whitewash history, and suddenly here we are again with exactly the same thing only centred around the FBI's most notorious and mendacious head of. Still the performances by Leo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer (as his almost lover Clyde Tolson) sound like they could elevate the movie.

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Big screen Shakespeare is often a hit and miss affair, especially when bringing his work into modern dress (in spite of the tremendous success of modern design on stage), so there has been a noticeable trepidation from purists about Ralph Fiennes' update of the lesser known piece. That said the Chechnya like setting appears to work exceptionally well with Vanessa Redgrave and Jessica Chastain both receiving high praise in supporting roles.

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Steven Soderbergh exercises his action itch allowing MMA fighter Gina Carano her moment in the sun as nearly super-heroic Mallory Kane figuring out who double crossed her whilst fighting Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender and Michael Douglas.

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Nine Muses

I wasn't sure about including this as it's more documentary than narrative, indeed it started as a exhibit at the BFI. John Akomfrah's experimental film juxtaposes a retelling of Homer's Odyssey - using the UK immigrant experience in the 1960's - with images of an Alaskan winter. Beguiling trailer.

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Red Light Revolution

Billed as China's first and only sex shop comedy (unsurprising given the limited scope of the sub-genre) the trailer links together the kind of jokes you'd expect from any sexual aid romp regardless of it's national origin, including some stunts I'm sure we'd all do if we were locked into Anne Summers overnight!

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Did you think, whilst watching last years terrific King's Speech that what the world really needed was a sympathetic look at Wallace and Edward in the months leading towards the UK's only abdication. (I actually thought last year's movie was fairly even-handed about Wallace, highlighting the snobbery from certain corners of the Family). Apparently Madonna wanted more so we get more in the shape of this hagiography of the central relationship and endless shots of gaudy jewels.

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If Jonah Hill picks up and Oscar nod next week for his supporting turn in Moneyball it'll be dreck like this unoriginal comedy from David Gordon Green that prevents him from winning the prize. Certainly avoidable.

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Underworld: Awakening

It's not a critically lauded franchise, however the series has always produced decent returns and with Kate Beckinsale returning from her third movie hiatus this should clean up in the multiplexes. Stephen Rea sits on the didelines of the eternal battle between werewolves and vampires.

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X: Night of Vengeance

Oz-sploitation thriller about two hookers caught up in a very unlikely mystery. Just listened to a review online that plainly stated most plot moving conversations co-incidently take place in bra and panties or even less. I'm sure it's fine if you like that sort of thing.

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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

War Horse

2011. Dir: Steven Spielberg. Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis and Niels Arestrup. ●●●○○

Each film, each work of art in fact, has a story outside of it's plot of narrative. It's simply impossible in our era of electronic communications to avoid building expectations of a project based on it's genesis, the creative team involved or the relentless marketing drive including the reactions from press and critics. In the case of Steven Spielberg's War Horse, adapted directly from Michael Morpurgo's critically acclaimed children's novel - although clearly influenced by the award winning National Theatre production famed for it's innovative puppetry - the narrative revolves around the stories capacity to reduce otherwise robust individuals to uncontrollable crying machines, quivering with spasms of weeping. At every stage of the production process the audience have been reminded of the emotional resonance, the trailer brought a lump to my throat and even at the Royal Premiere here in the UK last week the papers obsessed with the Duchess of Cambridge's tears. And yet, and yet...

I watched the film and did not cry.

Don't get me wrong I am neither cold hearted (I cry when I hear the Marseillaise) nor am I resistant to sentimentalism, indeed last year I placed Warrior on my top ten best film list purely on it's impact on my lacrimal system. But War Horse failed to get a response.

Why did it fail? And what does that mean it terms of the quality of the movie?

If you haven't yet seen the movie (play/read the book) it follows a typical boy and his pet plotline, with the two apparent soulmates drawn together through a series of unlikely co-incidences followed by an even more horrific passage of separation which inevitable leads to reconciliation prior to a satisfying (or deeply shocking, depending on the writer) denouement. Here the Devon farming idyll (surprisingly comfortable looking cottage for a hand to mouth tenant, with a plough half buried in the middle of a rock infested field and Emily Watson threatening moustache twirling landowner David Thewlis with knitting needles) is shattered by the First World War whereupon Peter Mullan's cash strapped alcoholic sells the eponymous equine, Joey, to Tom Hiddleston's cavalry captain. The war than conspires to keep Joey and his trainer Albert Narracott (played winsomely by newcomer Jeremy Irvine) apart for the majority of the movie.

The film allows Albert's side of the story to slip into the background and bravely concentrates on the neutral animal innocently assisting it's latest owner, whether David Kross' teenage deserter, jam-making Frenchman Niels Arestrup or an underdeveloped German artillery sergeant, culminating in Joey's panicked gallop through no man's land temporarily paused by entanglements of barbed wire.

This episodic structure is largely responsible for my own lack of empathy, the many brief human handlers whisk by without developing the characters sufficiently, reducing their sacrifices to punchlines, mere obstacles for Joey to clamber across before that final inevitable reunion. Even the war is hell motif that we identify with the Great War is somehow softened, and I'm not just talking about the soft approach to carnage, an understandable concession in what amounts to a children's movie but the sanitised trenches and the lack of pause for the human (even horse) cost of the conflict. Supporting characters die, lush farmland is ravaged, the camera pans over fields of animal and human corpses, but all this is dressing to the horse and his boy plot. That said two metaphors did work for me: the gradual increase in violent imagery with the first character death pointedly offscreen and the final push over the trenches as visceral as you could expect (bearing in mind it's no Private Ryan) and rise of technology evidenced with the tank signifying the equine cost has been to no purpose. Although what that tank thought it was doing is anyone's guess.

The design and look of the picture is excellent, in interviews Spielberg has rightly talked up Dartmoor as being a character in it's own right, grounding the movies home front sections. Janusz Kaminski shoots the moor like a Fordian homage, complete with painterly sunsets and rugged landscapes. Later his lensing of the Western Front, whether in the nightmarish chase by Joey or the eerie coming together of two lowly corporals freeing the animal and evoking the Christmas Day truces, adds a mysticism sorely needed.

Ultimately War Horse doesn't rise to the occasion, and whilst I can grudgingly recommend it, I think it's safe to say the play may be a better option.


Saturday, 14 January 2012

Horror of the trenches (Out this week - 13/01/12)

Last week the Cruisemeister held on to the number one spot and Meryl Thatcher was the highest new entry at number 3 on the box office chart, so I'm feeling a little smug - what with my first box office predictions from last weekend being right. This weekend I'm seeing the film that I've chosen as top film and I suspect Steven Spielberg's World War One epic will deservedly take it's place at the top of the charts. If you're looking for something less mainstream there's Michael Fassbender shagging everything in sight and the collapse of the financial services system, both of which look excellent. Please note that we are also starting the year with our first complete dud, earning just one blob, but you'll have to find out what it is. First though, the film of the week is War Horse.

War Horse

Steven Spielberg proves he's a master tear jerker once again, and I mean that as a good thing, with his deliberately Fordian adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's classic children's story. I cry watching the trailer (thanks to John Williams and Benedict Cumberbatch) so goodness knows if I'll make it through the screening later today. Emily Watson also stars.

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Margin Call

Writer-director J. C. Chandor has won plenty of plaudits for his cinematic debut, with the first significant narrative based on the economic collapse in 2008. Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Jeremy Irons, Mary McDonnell and a dozen other recognisable stars form part of the chain of command trying to identify and ultimately offload toxic debt in this David Mamet like view of investment banking.

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The final of the three big hitters from this week. Turner prize-winner Steve McQueen's long hard look at sex addiction with Michael Fassbender as a seemingly high-flying executive who's life unravels as his addiction slips completely out of control. Carey Mulligan is his needy sister.

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Animated biopic, which seems unlikely, until you discovers it's about Manga pioneer Yoshihiro Tatsumi, whose short stories, also included in the narrative in part created the medium of Japanese graphic artistry.

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Useful Life

Interesting addition to the current theme of movies about/informed by movies (The Artist, Drive etc.) this Uruguayan picture follows a recently unemployed art-house projectionist filling his days unable to go to the cinema. I expect it's a narrative we could all relate to.

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Kartalus Son Darak

Turkish comedy, with a sextet of women trying to cheer up the psychologist who's just moved into their apartment block. It's a limited audience, but should do well in it's small market.

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Tamil comedy of which, as is traditional in these things, I know nothing about the plot or characters, other than the poster's very bright and the trailer's quite fast. Nanban is literally translated as friend.

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Police soap opera from India with two brothers, one of whom is a detective the other fighting crime outside of the establishment. Could be an interesting look at vigilantilism, but probably just descends into familial homilies.

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Darkest Hour

Yes, it's Chris Gorak's Moscow set alien invasion movie which garners the first all-important one blob excitometer rating. Saving the budget by having invisible aliens isn't so much the issue as saving the budget by having a weak script and uninvolving characters. Almost so bad it's unmissable.

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Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Mother and Child

2009. Dir: Rodrigo Garcia. Starring: Naomi Watts, Annette Bening, Kerry Washington, Jimmy Smits and Samuel L. Jackson. ●●●○○

As I said last weekend I was steadfast in refusing to see the Meryl does Maggie movie and so chose the less controversial adoption melodrama Mother and Child, and indeed this was a wise choice as Rodrigo Garcia's gentle paced picture was a delightful piece of sentimentality even if it slightly unravelled with it's slew of coincidences towards the end.

The film opens on a flashback/dream with the young Karen, later to become Annette Bening, making the sort of mistake many 14 year olds do and then offering the outcome to the local Nuns for adoption. We then move forward 37 years to the present day, Karen now outwardly a successful physiotherapist remains bitter and emotionally stunted, unable to connect with her co-workers or her maid/mother's carer. Meanwhile Naomi Watts is a high-flying attorney, with a penchant for asserting her authority through sex and struggling with abandonment issues stemming from being adopted. Have you guessed yet? Finally we meet Kerry Washington following the process to adopt, Juno-like from grad student Shareeka Epps.

All three women will find their lives changed by motherhood, and ultimately all three will learn that being mothers is the most rewarding and wonderful experience even if they won't get the opportunity to fully establish that sort of relationship. Perhaps oddly (perhaps not, let's remember the title) the men are defined purely in terms of their relationships to women, either as weak pawns of stronger characters (Washington's husband David Ramsey, controlled by his mother, Marc Blucas or to a lesser extent the snazzily dressed Samuel L. Jackson) or at best quite and supportive - Jimmy Smits as the patient colleague of Bening who eventually settles down with her helping her find a less painful existence.

The film bears all the hallmarks of being produced by Alejandro González Iñárritu with it's structural coincidences, especially in the final act as all the remaining loose ends get tidied up - although there's one neat twist involving Bening walking somewhere which makes for a nice opportunity to see her emotional as well as physical journey.

The performances are what really works in this film, Bening especially gives a wonderful turn as a woman who can not let get of the daughter she never met. The moment when she hears - second hand - of her own mothers regret at making her give the baby up is incredibly moving. The turn makes for an interesting companion piece to Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids are All Right and I imagine most fans of that film will also be drawn to Garcia's picture. S. Epatha Merkerson is also great in potentially a thankless role as Washington's mother.

The design of the film and direction is largely uninvolving, and overall the film could do with some hefty cuts as there are sections where it labours unnecessarily, nonetheless this is a fine melodrama and I look forward to seeing what writer/director Garcia does next. (After Albert Nobbs that is.)

By the way - to my readers this doesn't feel like one of my best reviews. I guess I'm a little rusty after a couple of months off. Next week I'm seeing War Horse which will hopefully put me back on track.


Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Blogger's not for Turning (Out this week - 06/01/11)

And we're back. An all new style of presenting the out this week column, with trailers attached. Note that I watch all the trailers, and I fully encourage taking a look at some if they are films you're not immediately interested in seeing. Luckily I'm also back in time for one of the most controversial releases in some time, dividing the friends and enemies of the former Prime Minister at the centre of the piece in loving and loathing this big screen adaptation of her life, and not always in ways you expect. Film is the week is unsurprisingly The Iron Lady.

Of the new releases there's no doubt that Meryl Streep's uncanny impersonation will lead the field in terms of box office clout, although I suspect Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol will remain the box office champion when all is counted up.

The Iron Lady

Hagiography or hatchet job, that might depend on your opinion of Thatcherism, the defining economic policy of the 80's. Personally I approve of some aspects of small Government and de-regulated industry, even if I disagree with the pursuit of low inflation at the cost of employment or most of the bleak social policies of the period and I am generally confused with the persistent hatred of Margaret by modern-day freedom movement protesters who weren't even born during her tenure. By all accounts though the movie soft-pedals the politics of the Tory Government and dovetails key points in her life (with little or no context) with a frail old woman struggling to buy milk. Distasteful and irrelevant I refuse to see this film in cinemas - although it's possible I'll pick it up later in the year and review then.

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Mother and Child

What I will be seeing is Rodrigo Garcia's family melodrama starring Annette Bening, Naomi Watts and Kerry Washington as three women affected by adoption trying to make sense of their lives.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●●●●●○○○○


The first of our Bollywood releases for the week is this Hindi thriller about an accountant who leads a double life as a master criminal about to commit the biggest Gold heist of all time. It certainly looks like they're not holding back with the action.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●●○○○○○○○


Seann William Scott's career has been on a surprise downward trajectory for some time, following the breakout success in American Pie many people thought he was going places, however the momentum has stuttered to a halt until he finds himself in this sports comedy (always the last refuge of a failing actor) actually the TV spots and reviews paint it as sweeter and funnier than I'm ranking it but this trailer does no good at all.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●○○○○○○○○

Uchithanai Muharnthaal

Tamil movie which confronts the widespread brutalisation of Sri Lankan women during the civil war and the continued mistrust of immigrants into India. Although oddly all I could think of watching the trailer is whether the distracting movement of the frame was deliberate.

Runs like a Gay Excitometer: ●●○○○○○○○○


Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year (Top 10 2011 and 20 films I'm most looking forward to in 2012)

Happy New Year!

Well, I'm back. My break has been good for the soul, although I must confess I've missed this only occasionally. So going forward the number of posts will be severely limited - I'm sticking to the weekly round-up of releases and my film reviews (I may also be tempted to write about running and auditions, but that's by the by). Saying that I feel it would be inappropriate to start 2012 without my top ten for 2011 and my most anticipated films for 2012.

Top Ten Films in 2011

Over the year I saw 60 movies, out of 495 releases (12.1%), which on one hand is pathetic but on the other shows now busy UK cinemas are. The majority of films released are American (45%) but there are also good showings from UK, India, France and Germany, personally I also saw films part funded from Canada, Spain, Denmark, Australia, Mexico, UAE, Sweden and New Zealand. A surprising number of the films I saw were really quite good, so making a top ten has been very tough. I really wanted to include The Ides of March, Margaret, The Skin I Live In, Hugo and Midnight in Paris, all of which are very well made movies but they ultimately failed to make enough of an impression on me.

1. Black Swan

Everything in Darren Aronofsky's balletic drama is cranked up to 11, but it's commitment to the themes of artistic sacrifice ensure there's substance under the style. See my review here.

2. The Messenger

I saw it in 2010, but it only got released in the UK this year. That's an incredible shame as Oren Moverman has crafted the definitive Iraq war movie, without actually visiting the front line. See my review here.

3. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I was late in the game getting interested in Tomas Alfredson's English language debut, but I was very glad to have succumbed. Leisurely paced and intensively intelligent TTSS was the perfect antidote to the over-stuffed holiday pictures. See my review here.

4. Hanna

It was a great year for female protagonists, with Bridesmaids and The Help both making extraordinary box office takings, but it's Joe Wright's fairy tale actioner led by Saoirse Ronan's super-hero teenager and Cate Blanchett's wicked witch of the deep south which showed what can be done in feminist cinema. See my Review here.

5. Animal Kingdom

On one level David Michod's Aussie crime drama is an extended episode of "Neighbours", complete with Guy Pearce in dodgy moustache, but the creeping menace and almost Shakespearean levels of inter-family violence make this unforgettable, and has reminded the world of the quality filmmaking from down under. See my Review here.

6. Melancholia

No-one destroys the world quite like Lars von Trier, with a unique two act structure delving into the effects of depression and anxiety, a majestic opening and superb performances from Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg you won't stare into the sky in the same way again. See my review here.

7. Rango

As a rule I don't watch comedies or animations, but this year I set myself a challenge of trying new things and I was very glad given that it gave me the opportunity to see this wonderfully funny pastiche, lampooning everything from Sergio leone to Chinatown and with outrageously creative design work. See my review here.

8. True Grit

I confess the Coen brother's glorious Western remake almost didn't make my list, but I rewatched it over the last week and remembered how detailed and evocative of a dying culture the movie was, indeed of this years top ten it is probably the one that I will return to more than any other. See my review here.

9. Moneyball

The only film that made the cut that has a good shot of getting an Oscar nomination for Best Picture this year, mind you I haven't seen many of the favourites. It's a sports movie that virtually excludes the actual sport and underlines the importance of commitment to an ideal over spectacular display. No review as it came out during my sabbatical.

10. Warrior

There had to be one bad movie in the mix, and even I have to confess Gavin O'Conner Mixed Martial Arts family drama is a bad movie, but it worked so well for me that it fully deserves its place here in the top ten. I may have predicted every beat of the plot but I also winced in the fights scenes and wept like a baby at the conclusion. See my review here.

For those of you interested the top performances of the year are as follows:

Lead Actor: Ben Foster - The Messenger (runner up Hunter McCraken - The Tree of Life).

Lead Actress: Natalie Portman - Black Swan (runner up Saoirse Ronan - Hanna).

Supporting Actor: Nick Nolte - Warrior (runner up Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet - Princesse de Montpensier).

Supporting Actress: Evan Rachel Wood - Ides of March (runner up Jacki Weaver - Animal Kingdom).

Read on for the 20 films I'm most looking forward to seeing in 2012.

20 for 2012

Over the past couple of years I've had a countdown of the 20 films I'm most looking forward to in the year, but this year in keeping with the soft foot on the brakes I'm going to list them all in one go, without much commentary, and not even in order. Feel free to comment over what you're most looking forward to.

Anna Karenina - Joe Wright tackles Tolstoy and reunites with his muse Keira Knightley, might have us swooning over the tragedy of it all or just rushing to the nearest train station in agony.

Argo - Is Ben Affleck trying satire? With the same producing team as The Men who Stare at Goats and it's theme of CIA agents faking movie making it could certainly be a departure for the Bostonian.

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - Holdover from last year, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith are looking lovely in the constant TV advertising on this side of the pond, expect a moderate hit.

Bourne Legacy - spies are all the rage this year, and Bourne without Bourne is only one of the two franchises I'll be queuing up for in the next 12 months.

Cogan's Trade - Andrew Dominik has proven himself a singular talent with just a couple of films, so reteaming with his Jesse James Brad Pitt is definitely a cause for celebration.

Company You Keep - There are a couple of franchise actors trying their hands at drama this year that I'd like to keep an eye on, first up is Shia LaBeouf who fits into an all-star oldie cast for Redford's stolen identity thriller.

Cosmopolis - meanwhile R.Pattz will be proving there's life after Twilight as he loses his fortune over one long torturous limo ride.

Dark Knight Rises - My only concession to comic book movies this year (the re-invented Spidey and superhero mash-up Avengers will need excellent reviews for me to change my mind) but Chris Nolan guarantees spectacle and social commentary. Worth the wait.

Dark Shadows / Frankenweenie A Tim Burton double bill, the later looks more fun, but both appear to be Burton doing what he likes rather than what the studios want him to do so should be worth catching up with.

Darling Companion - I'm a sucker for do movies, and the early pictures released of Diana Keaton and her perfectly groomed Border Collie look like this is one to still my heart - expect tears by the closing credits.

Flight - Denzel Washington hasn't enticed me into cinemas for several years, but hopefully his performance as a drug-addled pilot trying not to claim credit for crash landing his plane may be worth catching.

Gambit - Crime caper remake with Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz working on a Coen brothers script, I'm confident even though the last time Joel and Ethan used British comedy as a template we had The Ladykillers.

Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - When the trailer first appeared on the web a couple of weeks ago Peter Jackson managed to instantly bring us back to Middle Earth and boost up the anticipation for this simpler tale of a mythical quest.

Lincoln - It's going to be very late in the year so not to influence the US elections, however we will finally get a chance to see Spielberg's take on the iconic 16th President of the United States.

Nero Fiddled - Like a loyal puppy I keep returning to Woody Allen even when he lets me down, luckily Midnight in Paris was so delightful I actually look forward to his Rome project.

Prometheus - it's a year that looks to re-establish standalone sci-fi epics, and whilst Ridley Scott's sort of Alien prequel may not fit that template exactly there's little doubt it'll be one of the biggest hits of the summer.

Savages - stoners take on their shady underworld dealers in this kidnap revenge drama, could be worth a view.

Silver Linings Playbook / Nailed - OK, I don't believe for one minute that David O Russell's political satire will get released, but I am still looking forward to his relationship drama with Bradley Cooper coming out of prison and trying to reconnect with his family.

Skyfall - Bond is back in his starriest movie yet with Ralph Fiennes and Javier Bardem out to stop him expect Sam Mendes to bring a more refined look at the MI5 agent than we're used to seeing.

Summer of Monte Wildhorn - An unlikely trend for 2012 is writer's block with a number of films due to come out this year looking at the effects of such a slump, expect Rob Reiner's pairing with Morgan Freeman to be the most saccharine choice however it could well give him a chance to have fun with a irascible Western scribe role.

So those are the films I'd like to see. What about you? What movies are you most interested in catching, what would you pick for the best films of last year? Over to the comments.