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Into the Wild (2007)
My Opinion on Into The Wild
Into the Wild is a film about the last few years of Christopher McCandless's life; which was spent wandering aimlessly around the North American wilderness meeting all kinds of free thinking and free loving, tax dodging vagrants. Christopher, or Alex, as he is better known in the film, was from a privileged background. He ignobly decided to reject materialism and fall off the grid. Alex is an unsympathetic character, and throughout the film I struggled to muster not only sympathy, but also a semblance of comprehension as to why Alex took the path that he did, in such a brutally selfish manner. In a lesser film, this fact alone could ruin what follows entirely, but Emile Hirsch gives and incredibly tuned in and dedicated performance as Chris/Alex. The high level of this central performance helps to turn a dislikeable real life person into a complicated and interesting character whose stunning journey exceeds the limitations of his rather naïve, dubious, hurtful and silly motivations.
Emile Hirsch is the heart of this film and it excels because of his performance. There are, of course, other elements in the film which are exemplary, the supporting characters (for the most part) have limited screen time, but are all well written and form an important piece of Alex's puzzle. Particularly memorable are the quirky Danish couple that Alex encounters while canoeing his way to old Mexico. The soundtrack is brilliant and evocative and the cinematography is equally triumphant, dude. An early third act wobble with a tacked on romance and a regurgitation of already expended hippie characters is quickly remedied by a tremendously uplifting and moving encounter with an elderly loner (Hal Halbrook). His wisdom is inspirational to Alex; whose eagerness and vitality, in turn, rejuvenates the ageing recluse. It's a beautiful segment that provides the luxurious and creamy topping on an already tasty chocolate cake.
Into the Wild is a slow paced and well assembled film. Just as the film lingers, so do the questions that it raises. There is inspiration to be found here, a moving and unusual fiction that is more effecting and noble than the reality on which it is based. I personally rate Into the Wild as the second best film of 2007, sandwiched neatly in between Jesse James and Ian Curtis.
Simply the Best
Basically Excalibur is a contemporary retelling of Arthurian legend. The cast is an exceptionally strong ensemble of Anglo-Irish talent like Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson and Nicol Williamson. It's also got an epic feel to it (not surprising given the source material) with a lengthy running time and a plot that spans decades.
I don't think it's that outlandish to say that this film was Boorman's labour of love, it's very well crafted; sumptuous cinematography, lavish sets, lean dialogue, brilliant music (various Wagner efforts performed by the London Philharmonic) and a range of interesting characters that each has an arc that develops in tandem with the story.
Tonally the film (purposefully) wanders wildly from darkness to light; the acts are very clearly defined; first the Kingdom is established and flourishes; which leads to betray and the emergence of evil in the second, then in a blistering third act there is a muted sense of forgiveness and resolution. The first act is very entertaining and full of familiar stories (the Sword in the Stone & the Knights of the Round Table) the second act where Lancelot and Guinevere get their rocks off is all about the melodrama and the third act is a searing blend of startling imagery, fierce battles, sorcery and redemption that really does mark out Excalibur as an extraordinary piece of cinema.
There are some amazing moments that stick in the mind; the opening "teaser" (for want of a better word) in which Merlin counjours up the dragons breath so Uther Pendgragon can ride across a great expanse of nothingness to bed his rivals wife and play his part in creating the future King. Perceval's search for the grail through a nightmarish vision of medieval Britain, the bright red sun setting over the body strewn ground as Arthur and Mordred face off against each other in a brutal and bloody embrace....
Overall, all the ingredients of a great film are present and accounted for, and I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who have never seen or heard of this movie but who, should they ever see it, may actually end up loving it almost as much as I do.
Paranoid Park (2007)
Gus Van Sant's 'Paranoid Park' is a rare piece of cinema. It's alluringly cold aesthetic, understated performances and niche dialogue will either entice you in or push you away depending on your own preferential state of mind.
Alex (Gabe Nevins) is a young man, with a fine mullet, and eyes that scream "superstar" who is drawn to the visceral thrills of the East Side Skate-park. After a Saturday night filled with subs of the day and slow-burn alternate radio rock, Alex makes his way to the park, where a relentless desire for a new experience leads him onto the back of a moving freight train, with a man who looks like a murderer... Anyone familiar with Van Sant's style and body of work will understand that the words attached to a plot description are secondary to the mood, tone, themes and philosophical musings of one of America's finest film-makers.
There are barriers that can block an individual's enjoyment of this film. Long takes, slowed down shots, guttural linguistics and nervy amateurish performances may ruin the film for people who are unable to simultaneously watch, think and intellectually digest what they are seeing on screen.
As always in Van Sant's work, authenticity is the backbone of the film; the skateboarders in Paranoid Park are skateboarders in real life. The teenagers in the film are teenagers in real life and the way they talk, is the way they talk. This realism gives Van Sant an excuse (or reason?) to employ an off-world, experimental style aesthetic. Because no matter how bold the colours, how stark the shapes or how distorted the image, the film remains grounded in Oregonian authenticity.
Overall, Paranoid Park is rewarding and poetic piece, that has a lot to say about the state of the American education system and the breakdown of the nuclear family. These themes are cleverly concealed behind a fairly straightforward plot about guilt, sexual politics and redemption. Some viewers may find this film cold, boring and the twisted narrative unnecessary or confusing. But at its core, Paranoid Park is an intelligent and beautiful film that deserves viewing, more than once.
If I were to describe my political affiliations I would probably avoid using the word 'Liberal'. Moore's 'SiCKO', or just plain 'Sicko' in some regions, is in unashamedly shallow and biased piece of 'liberal propaganda'. But so what? A finely balanced, meticulously researched argument, delivered in a not partisan way by a drab man in a grey suit would not be half as entertaining as this is; However there are some pretty blatant flaws in the movie which for me where most obvious in Moore's glowing portrayal of the British NHS and the French healthcare system and that nations wider social model.
Firstly on his visit to London, England and particularly Hammersmith Hospital, Moore waxes lyrical at the "free" healthcare the patients receive. Now, I'm very proud of the NHS, I think its fantastic, but Moore never mentions the hundreds of thousands of people who needlessly die because of poor hygiene standards in the NHS or any of the other serious issues that our system is faced with.
Also Moore meets a doctor who earns in excess of £100,000 a year and Moore seems to present this as a good thing. Considering that the average wage in this country is around £17,000 a year it's obscene to pay doctors (with tax payers money) such a large amount for working in a system that lets them do less hours and be paid more. Yes, they should receive a decent wage that is well above the national average, but that doesn't mean we should make them millionaires by the time they reach 45.
The most interesting part of this segment of the movie for me was listening to Tony Benn talk succinctly and with great passion about the principles on which our system of universal healthcare was founded (again not a hint of the problems it faces).
On his trip to Paris, France Moore shows us new mothers with their government sponsored home helps and a group of American ex-pats praising the French social model, yet there is not mention of the failing economy that it is paying for these initiatives. In his romanticised vision of French society there is no hint at the high levels of unemployment or widespread race riots that have gripped the country in recent years... just lots of shots of wine drinking Frenchman and their beautiful bedfellows. Isn't France great? Yes Michael, it really is.
This is not a well balanced movie, and it doesn't claim to be, but Moore's expose of the American health care system is as times both shocking and moving and it elicits more than a hint of disgust as we listen to testimonies from wives and mothers who have needlessly lost husbands and children because the healthcare companies do everything they can not to pay out when something goes wrong.
Even though some of the figures don't add up and the argument lacks depth the message of the movie is a valuable one; societies are not built, and do not flourish on the strength of individuals but rather how we treat each other.
The movie grips throughout, the testimonies at times bring a tear to the eye and the images of destitute and disorientated patients being dumped on the sidewalk by hospitals that are supposed to be caring for them will live long in the memory.
It's a shame then that 'SiCKO' ends with a gimmicky trip to Cuba where 911 rescue workers (suffering from such ailments as ground down teeth) receive medial care from the pleasant people at Havana Hospital. Overall though it's hard not to recommend the movie and I feel like those who criticise its shortcomings are kind of missing the point; people are dying to maximise profit.
The Kingdom (2007)
I had very high expectations of The Kingdom, I thought the trailers were excellent and I was expecting a highly polished, cerebral action thriller. Firstly, the 'cerebral' part of that statement just wasn't there. I mean, apart from literally the last moments of the film, there is really no clear message to be found. I'm not saying that all films should have a message, but I feel like The Kingdom was marketed in a slightly misleading way, which admittedly is nothing new with regards to Hollywood.
I actually liked the movie a lot and it had plenty of good points which I will come to in a second. But firstly there were a couple of negatives...
The movie itself is a slightly less stylish and cool version of a Michael Mann film. I spent most of the two hour duration wishing he had directed it, and there are a few moments where I felt Peter Berg was basically just doing his best to imitate Mann's visual style, and frankly it just didn't work.
My main problem with The Kingdom is that it had a major identity crisis; it didn't have enough action to be considered an all out, balls-to-the-wall action flick, and it just wasn't smart enough to be a message movie. I also felt like the writers were trying too hard to inject humour into the dialogue at inappropriate moments and that Jason Bateman served no purpose other than to deliver these clumsy lines.
Now the good points; Jamie Foxx is as charismatic as they come and he anchors the movie exceptionally well with a knowing and capable performance. Chris Cooper, who happens to be a brilliant actor, is underutilised. Jennifer Garner plays to type as the chick with a gun. Bateman, as stated above, is a rather pointless addition to the cast.
Most of the film is made up of cat and mouse games with generic terrorists and a limited exploration of cultural barriers and differences which is played for laughs a little too often and is more interesting than informative. The dialogue itself is very smart in places (there is a sublime moment at the end of the movie that's well worth the admission price alone) but the action is a little too long in coming, however when it does finally arrive it's brilliantly done with a spectacular gun battle and car chase combo with a hint of Jihadi beheading thrown in for good measure.
Overall, The Kingdom is greater than the some of its parts. It's a visceral and exciting experience but there is a lot of squandered potential simmering beneath the surface of this polished and pleasing popcorn movie.
London to Brighton (2006)
London to Brighton' is Paul Andrew William's first feature length film. It's about a prostitute called Kelly (Lorraine Stanley) and a young homeless girl named Joanne (Georgia Groomes) who go on the run from pimp Derek (Johnny Harris) for reasons that I won't reveal because it might spoil you enjoyment of this nasty little film.
There are no heroes to be found here, no beautiful moments (with the exception of the final frame) just a lot of squalid violence and social decay.
There are many things that baffle me about this great country of ours; our obsession with celebrity non-entities, our persistent tea drinking, or constant discourse about the weather, our weak and self serving politicians, and why when a half decent British movie is released, the sycophantic press hype it up so much, and raise expectations so high, that should any one actually bother to watch it, they will leave feeling let down.
Unfortunately, 'London to Brighton' is not, as the critics would have you believe, the best thing since sliced bread. It is not a classic British thriller; it is not by any stretch of the imagination; a 5 Star, Grade A, piece of filmic genius. It is however a solid, if unspectacular, foray into the seedy side of life on the streets of our nations capital, and beyond.
The first thing that hits you about this film is it's gritty style, William's goes for the hand held look, but not in a gimmicky way, the camera shakes and wobbles but no so much that it takes your mind off the film. The camera is up close and personal with the characters, rarely more than a few inches away from the sweaty, putrid monsters; that are barely recognisable as human beings.
It's a style of film-making that some viewers will find off putting, as there is no wall between the film and the viewer. You are sucked into their world, and you are left dirty and downtrodden because of it.
As the story develops, a series of flashbacks occur to flesh out the missing pieces of the fractured plot (although I suspect most people will already have guessed the details of events that lead to the girls fleeing London).
The movie is anchored by the very strong performances from Lorraine Stanley as the duplicitous Kelly, and Johnny Harris as the low grade Pimp with a psychotic limp and an eye for amorality.
Generally the story moves along swiftly, in a predictable but nonetheless gripping and satisfying way. The dialogue is lazily over reliant on profanity, but manages to stay the right side of authentic and interesting.
A suspension of disbelief is recommended for anyone watching this movie. For example; Derek storms into random persons flat, holds them all hostage for a couple of hours with a shotgun, and then lets them go, yet they don't call the police? It's artistic license gone a little too far, and this lack of common sense harms the film throughout.
Another low point of 'London to Brighton' is the mob boss, Stuart Allen, who is so flat, two dimensional and uninspired that all his scenes drag the film down into a pit of spurious nonsense. Sam Spurell, the actor who plays Stuart, was obviously aiming for a menacingly understated performance, unfortunately what we got is just plain dull.
Overall, 'London to Brighton' has its moments. It's gritty, the direction is very good. The performances from most of the cast are excellent and for the large part it manages to avoid all those cockney clichés that have plagued British thrillers since the dawn of Guy Ritchie.
It's a good film, with plenty of flaws but overall an excellent first effort from Williams.
Near Dark (1987)
not as good as i thought it would be
Caleb Cotlton (Adrian Pasdar) is a young man living an unspectacular life in the dusty wilderness of Oklahoma. One night he encounters at lusty femme fatale vampire and this small town boy is changed forever... or at least for the next 80 minutes.
Near Dark has garnered a reputation as the thinking mans Lost Boys. Over the years it has attracted a cult following and retrospective critical plaudits. There is no denying that the film has many strong elements that are worthy of considerable praise but as a whole this film falls flat when faced with closer scrutiny.
The first thing that strikes you when watching Near Dark is the thick atmosphere that the dusty twilight generates. The numerous low angle long shots help carve the inhuman creatures into the scorched landscape and the moody, tension building score just about manages to avoid that oh-so 80's feel.
The ensemble cast, featuring Bill Baxton and Lance Henriksen amongst others, is a delightfully perverse and diverse bunch of freakish and menacing killers. But they are given neither back-story nor the exposition of time and space in which to grow or develop.
Kathryn Bigelow is a filmmaker comfortable with directing action. In fact she excels at it. A sequence in a redneck bar where our motley crew of vampire desperados massacre the patrons is expertly done, the sense of grotesque fear and hopeless desperation is emphasised with a series of fixed shots on straddled limbs and open wounds when most directors would flinch after a few seconds and point the camera elsewhere. Similarly the shootout with the police at the motel is a fantastic and gory adrenaline fuelled piece of slightly soggy popcorn entertainment.
While Adrian Pasdar's Caleb is both bland and one dimensional, Bill Baxton shines are the psychotic Severen. Paxton's wild eyed portrayal of a cowboy killer is one of the highlights of the film.
As the end of the movie approaches it becomes clear that all the promise is slowly being squandered alongside any sense of plausibility. The bad vampires burn up in the sun after only a few seconds, the good vampires last for weeks, Caleb blows up a truck but pulling a handbrake, a simple blood transfusion administered by a farmer cures our hero of his carnivorous tendencies and the once powerful uber-vamps cannot seem to kill a little girl and her teenage brother no matter how hard they try.
Overall Near Dark deserves praise; the evocative atmosphere is second to none, the action is brutal and stylish. But there is complete lack of plausibility in terms of plot. The lack of motivations for the characters and an unwillingness to grant even the most prominent with a back-story make Near Dark a near miss. More money and a longer running time and this could have been something very special indeed.
The Matador (2005)
Pierce Brosnan is a has been, a once was, a never will be again. As James Bond, Brosnan was suave, sophisticated and deadly. But as The Matador's Julien Noble he is James Bond stripped down to the bare essentials of sex, death and gallows humour.
Julian Noble is a shambolic assassin on a mission in Mexico. Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) is an average Joe on a business trip that may or may not save his career and his marriage. One evening in the Hotel bar the paths of these very different men merge.. Julien is exposed to Danny's life and universe which is built around his high school sweetheart, and wife, Bean. Julien envies the stability and homeliness of Danny's seemingly mundane existence; while Danny himself is excited by the charisma and charm of a man who is both reckless and calculating, masculine yet psychologically frail.
The movie itself is awash with themes of identity, Brosnan alludes to his past as Britain's most deadly export ("I've become a parody"), in many ways this is a humorous and paradoxical attempt at a character piece, although the actual character in this instance is so well established that Julien Noble could literally be the black sheep of the Bond family.
The Matador is a movie about what happens after the event; this is highlighted by key scenes being withheld until later in the narrative or excluded completely. What we are left with is a plot that twists and turns but never so much that it disappears completely from view. The dialogue is exceptional; witty euphemisms roll off the tongue of the slimy yet lovable Julien as he seduces Danny into a life of (comical) crime (capers).
Like every great movie the relationship between the lead characters it as the heart of The Matador. The flamboyant eccentricity of Julien is contrasted with the introverted politeness of Danny, the two polar opposite people, discover in themselves, something they see in each other.
Overall the witty dialogue, the smart comedy, the interesting set ups and plentiful plot twists make The Matador a must see. Richard Sheperd's astute direction and fresh and original screenplay deserve a lot of the credit, but the movie lives and dies on Brosnan's performance, which is outstanding. Quite simply, he owns this character and for a man not known for his acting ability, this movie is a revelation.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
The Best Film Ever Made
David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" is about T.E Lawrence, an English Officer in the British Army who led the Arab Revolt against The Ottoman Turk Empire during The First World War.
Lawrence of Arabia is an underrated film. Despite critical acclaim, box office success and seven Oscars, rarely does it receive the stature and acclaim that it deserves; quite simply Lawrence of Arabia is the greatest film ever made. There have been many attempts since the films release in 1962 to capture the epic scale of this production. Whether it's Ridley Scotts's "Gladiator" or Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy no movie or franchise has come close to achieving this goal.
In modern epics (how hallow this word is in comparison) we are bombarded with images of armies and battles generated at the touch of a button by computers and the artists who operate them. Lawrence is different; indeed in the dark ages of 1962 it had to be so. Despite all the technological advancements in movie production why does Lawrence still stand head and shoulders above its peers? The answer is simple, because everything we see on the screen in Lawrence is real; watching two thousand men on horseback smash through the Turkish defences to take Aqaba is more powerful and awe inspiring than a bunch of pixels bouncing around a blue screen.
The screenplay of Lawrence of Arabia is, for all intents and purposes, perfect. There is not an ounce of fat on it. Every word is measured, considered and delivered with passion and professionalism by a stellar cast of some of the generation's finest actors. Peter O'Toole as T.E Lawrence gives what is arguably the greatest central performance in a movie by any actor ever. It is a performance that, in my mind at least, surpasses that of Alec Guinness's in another David Lean classic "Bridge on the River Kwai". O'Toole is magical as the English soldier caught between two worlds. The depth of his performance is staggering; he presents us with a fascinating and unlikely anti-hero. O'Toole's Lawrence is a man who is tortured by the contradictions of warfare, the hypocrisy of the British perception of the Arabs at that time and a destiny that once achieved, becomes less desirable than an ordinary life. Omar Sharif as Ali also gives a truly excellent performance as does every one of the lengthy supporting cast.
There are many films that blur the boundaries between art and cinema. Lawrence of Arabia transcends both. As a piece of entertainment it's engrossing, action packed and seamless. As a work of art it is a beautifully crafted and perfectly executed masterpiece. Savour every shot, love every minute, feel the excitement and enjoy the adventure of a lifetime.
Better than its peers
Hellboy is about a demon who works for the FBI. The plot is generic, bad guys want to unleash Armageddon, good guys must stop them. But what this movie lacks in originality it makes up for in every other department..
Hellboy is genuinely fun and Guillermo Del Toro's eye for good composition makes a movie about a hideous brute, actually very beautiful. The action is well paced; the characters are shallow yet eccentric and interesting. One of my main problems with similar comic book movies is how the makers swamp the screen with enough CGI to sink the Titanic, and throw action sequences at the audience in the hope that some may stick in the mind of Joe Cinema-goer for longer than half a minute. Hellboy didn't have the uber-budget of a Spiderman (a franchise that bores me beyond belief) but Del Toro spent his pennies wisely and all the CGI effects are effective, seamless and limitedly spectacular.
Ron Perlman is excellent as Hellboy; his presence enriches the hero with a sense and genuine power and subtle, childlike wit. There are not many layers to the characters for the viewer to slowly unravel, each character plays to type (the scientist, love interest, annoying boss and so on) but the supporting cast all perform admirably. John Hurt helps the story progress with a fair amount of exposition and Jeffery Tambor is funny-bordering-on-hilarious as Hellboy's insecure and incompetent boss. Also David Hyde Pierce of 'Frasier' fame is perfectly cast as a clairvoyant talking fish.
The bad guys are a sight to behold; Rasputin is menacing but underutilised, Karl Ruprecht Kroenen (aka the gas mask wearing, knife wielding, gimp) is a grotesque creation and perfectly re-created from the rich source material of the comics.
Overall, Hellboy is a smaller movie than its peers, and it's all the better for it
Die Fälscher (2007)
Not Good, quite Bad
The Counterfeiters' is a film about a Jewish man, in a concentration camp, who forges money for the Nazi's (more on them later) to stay alive. I would suggest simply reading that last sentence repeatedly, rather than spending any of your hard earned money on seeing this film.
There are many powerful films about the Holocaust; 'Night and Fog', 'Schindlers List' and 'The Pianist' being amongst the best. Everything that happens in 'The Counterfeiters' has been done, before, better, by movies such as these. There is not a single identifiable original idea in this morally dubious and needlessly dull film.
It's hard to list all the films flaws as they were so persistent and obvious that any attempt to document them would surely make ones head explode. Technically the film is stubbornly unimpressive; the production design is decidedly grim but lacks any kind of distinction. The lighting scheme is highly inconsistent, the costumes are too clean, the direction is, at points, terrible, with crash zooms and steady-cam techniques employed like they are going out of fashion (we can but hope).
The characters are two dimensional, incomprehensibly cowardly, lack any kind of depth and, quite amazingly, despite the setting, do not elicit any kind of sympathy from the viewer whatsoever. Karl Makovics has a quite a lot of screen presence, mostly thanks to his interesting chiselled appearance but his performance is so restrained, low key and toned down that any hint of charisma is buried underneath a huge pile of sighs, frowns and long blank stares at nothing in particular.
Tonally, the film is all over the place; it's neither a comedy, social artefact, war movie nor drama (the film never reaches such heights) 'The Counterfeiters' plods along, going nowhere, for an hour and half (that will seem like three) and then unceremoniously ends.
Despite its uneventful and dull plot, vacuous performances and child like direction it's morally where the films biggest issues lie. Dubious lines of dialogue about communism representing freedom and equality are mixed in with a stubborn reluctance to identify the nation to which the Nazi's belong. There is some serious historical whitewashing going on here in this German production. Indeed the inmates speak of their reluctance to help the Nazi war effort; not the German one; read into that what you will. Also, despite the Jewish credentials of the cast and crew there seems to a fair amount of self loathing going on here; the representation of Jews as cowardly, subservient criminals makes for uncomfortable viewing.
The scale of the causal violence is also something I would like to hear the filmmakers try and justify including as it serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever and in terms of plotting and story it just doesn't help, inform and enhance anything. We all know what happened in those camps and I just can't see why we need to watch a Jew having his head blown off by a laughing German every fifteen minutes, these scenes only seem to have been included as a ploy to wake sleeping members of the audience, of which there will surely be many.
Overall, 'The Counterfeiters' is an absolute mess of a film but there is one scene that, in a better movie, could be extremely moving and powerful. The inmates go into the shower block, they are naked and vulnerable and have no idea whether or not they are going to get soaked by water, or choked by gas. It's a powerful and effective reminder of what this film could have been; given a dozen re-writes and a fresh perspective
The Best Film of 2007
I loved Control and I thought Into The Wild was extraordinary but I have no hesitation whatsoever in saying that Jesse James is the film of the year.
Its hard to know which amazing aspect of this film to mention first. OK, so the cinematography is a dazzling amalgamation of epic beauty and harsh, cold hostility.
The script is literate, visceral and gives the actors enough room to breath without ever straying to far from the core of the story, which itself is skilfully and painstakingly told with delicate charm and wit, intermingled with scenes of violence and debauchery.
The director, Andrew Domink has captured a moment in history that has been mythologized in American popular culture, and redefined it. This film is a place where realism and romanticism can sit side by side without fear of contradiction.
The entire supporting cast performs admirably; but its the two central performances that really capture the eye. Casey Affleck and Brad Pitt are Oscar worthy for this work. Affleck is great as the borderline psychotic, homo-erotic, nave young man who becomes equally obsessed and disillusioned with Brad Pitts charismatic and chilling, Jesse James, who has more than a hint of the supernatural about him.
Its easy to enjoy this film on many levels; technically its wonderful. The story is thoroughly entertaining and there is a visual and literary commentary on mythologized history and the nature of celebrity throughout.
Also the instantly classic soundtrack adds a thick layer of atmosphere to proceedings.
Its hard to find a weak spot, perhaps the film lingers a little too long after the key moment, but probably not. Overall, The Assassination of Jesse James is arguably the best western ever made, for my money it is, but others will disagree. But there is no doubt that this film sits comfortably in the upper echelons of the genre, alongside the likes of Unforgiven, The Wild Bunch and The Searchers.
Not Such A Brave-heart
watched Braveheart for the first time in many years recently and it's fair to say that I was genuinely surprised by how utterly and irredeemably bad this movie actually is. If you need reminding it won a whole host of Oscars way back in 1995 (including Best Picture).
I'm not a fan of Mel Gibson, not just because he hates me, but because he really doesn't float my boat in a dramatic sense. I think Braveheart is a really good film to highlight his chronic lack of on screen charisma and the notable absence of any real acting ability (that doesn't involve looking solemn or crazy). His performance in this movie is almost a parody, at points I felt like I was watching something from the people who made the likes of Date Movie etc. (which incidentally is probably a better movie than Braveheart!).
Mel's lack of charisma and ability are just two of the reasons I dislike this movie. There are however many other reasons. Firstly we are supposed to accept that it is perfectly fine for William Wallace to express indifference at the English occupation so long as his wife is with him. When wifey has her throat slit by an evil Englishman (more on them later) suddenly Wallace catches the highly infectious 'freedom at any cost' disease. He gets rival factions of Scottish tribes together and with no real chance of victory, he murders the English and drags his countrymen into a evidently and ultimately futile war in which thousands will perish and all to avenge the death of his wife; whose memory he abandons/desecrates half way through the movie when he sleeps with Princess Isabelle (who of course finds his ruggedness irresistible).
Wallace is portrayed first as an abject coward unwilling to oppose oppression and then as a selfish madman who gets off on butchering people with a large variety of obtusely shaped metal objects, and finally as a man-whore who can't keep his genitals concealed under his kilt for more than 5 minutes. And we are supposed to believe this man is a hero and that his acts are heroic? Come on!
Now I'm not really that fussy when it comes to historical inaccuracies in Hollywood movies; however I think artistic license is probably taken a little to far in this movie, particularly when every English character is represented as an inept, bloodthirsty, paganistic murderer and every Celt as a loyal, rugged, family orientated, God-fearing freedom fighter. Also Gibson, as director, seems to present, with the Prince Edward character, homosexuality as either a) a weakness or b) as being part of a type of madness. Seriously, this is straight from the Rambo textbook of social and geo-political representation. In other words; the complex Anglo-Celtic relationship is dumbed down so much that it becomes a laughable parody of a serious and interesting subject.
On a technical level Braveheart also falls foul of anything resembling a coherent narrative structure. As I have mentioned, Wallace's motivations are at the very least muddled, at worst incompressible. One event (usually a big battle or a shot of Mel's arse, or Mel stood on a mountain, or Mel holding a sword, or Mel giving a monologue about those pesky Jews, sorry English) leads to another with no real logical progression or explanation or fathomable reasoning. It's like watching a movie with every other scene missing.
Overall, I would love for someone to explain to me why they like this movie because I'm totally baffled as to why anyone would.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Good not Great
I've seen this film twice now and although I enjoyed and appreciated it the first time around, I was less forgiving about it after a second viewing. I personally think the Coen Brothers are brilliant filmmakers but No Country just doesn't work for me. First thing that bugs me is the folly of the films supposed primary theme; chance. Seriously, all the coin flipping is so blatant and un-subtle that surely it can't be what the film is about, can it? I've always found the Coen's work to be very refined, so to be bashed over the head with something so clichéd as a-man-flipping-a-coin-to-represent-chance just doesn't seem quite right for me.
Obviously, No Country isn't a bad film. Technically it's brilliant, in terms of cinematography; shot selection, lighting and framing everything on screen is impeccably done. Also, the acting is superb; Bardem's Chigurh is instantly iconic. Brolin's LIewelyn (surely a name that should be used more in movies) is strong but vulnerable, unapologetically simple, yet layered. Equally, Tommy Lee Jones's Ed Tom is an interesting and enigmatic character. However therein is one of the main problems I have with this film; the Ed Tom story thread just doesn't fit in this film; thematically and tonally it's at odds with the main story and all it does is succeed in giving the film a bloated feel. For me, it's a case of a good performance that has been added to the detriment of the rest of the film.
So what is No Country For Old Men about? It can't be about chance as that is too obvious. It can't be about getting old because it has so little to say. Is it about the insignificance of man off-set against the indeterminably powerful presence of nature and the relentless passage of time? Perhaps, but the Coen's have never been complex and pretentious just for the sake of being complex and pretentious.
I can appreciate the fact that No Country is a good film, well made with some great composite elements. However I don't feel it has the vibrancy of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, or the humour of Fargo, or the intelligence of Barton Fink. For me, this film is an un-satisfying mix of art house film-making and mainstream marketing, which benefits from great performances and an interesting central story but is damaged by poor choices in terms of muddled themes, sound design and the inclusion of an unnecessary sub-plot in what otherwise would have been a brilliant film.
Sharpe's Challenge (2006)
A Good Sharpe Adventure Almost Ruined by Poor Decisions
I finished watching Sharpe last night. I got the complete collection for Christmas. It's a hugely enjoyable show and probably the best mainstream British television drama ever. It's also a serious slice of 90's nostalgia, and for me Sean Bean's rough and ready Richard Shapre is as iconic as 007.
That's not to say it's a perfect show; there are some frequent and notable flaws. Firstly Sean Bean's acting ability can't always match the quality of the writing and during some of the more wordy 19th Century dialogue he struggles to give it any kind of emotional weight, you can tell he is not comfortable with saying it therefore it's not always believable. However, in every other aspect Bean is perfect as Sharpe and the show is NOT just about period drama it's mainly about action and boys-own adventure with a bit of sex and a fair amount violence.
The second flaw also does a lot to add to the charm and personality of the show. Major historical battles that featured hundreds of thousands of men are staged using about twelve extras and a distinct absence of long or establishing shots! That said though, the battles and action sequences in general are usually very effective and entertaining and some of the stunt work is exceptional, as are the costumes and make up.
The third persistent flaw in the show is the makers disregard for continuity of characters and a willingness to abandon the procedural nature that made the show so popular, and just plain brilliant, in the early days. This lack of continuity (or you could even say respect) for the minor characters is mostly manifested in the chosen men, who for me, are a great aspect of the show. Some of the chosen men drift in and out from week to week and characters who you like one week and not in it the next and just disappear without explanation. This is most obvious towards the end of the series with Hagman and Harris who aren't given a lot to do and are missing from a couple of episodes.
There is also quite a shift in quality and tone from the start of the series to the end with Sharpe's Rifles, Eagle, Company, Enemy, Honour, Gold, Battle and Sword all being focused on Sharpe and the Chosen Men's adventures; with plenty of action and not much of the (slightly monotonous) period dramatics that were prevalent in the later stages of the show.
These episodes (or movies) represent the golden age and very best of Sharpe; before it got bogged down with recurring plot lines that weren't that interesting. Sharpe jumped the shark with Sharpe's Regiment in 1996. It wasn't' a bad episode but it was the first that abandoned the procedural nature of the show. There were good moments such as Sharpe and Harper (his loyal colleague) pretending to be simple soldiers in the ranks again and also the very end of the show where Shapre gets his first sighing of France. But overall it was definitely downhill from Regiment onwards. Although subsequent episodes like Siege and Waterloo were excellent, the episode Mission was generic (although still very enjoyable) Justice was disappointing and Revenge (apart from the first twenty minutes) was abysmal. All these lesser episodes focused heavily on Sharpe's disastrous relationship with wife Jane who ran off with another man and stole all of Sharpe's money. It could have been quite an interesting storyline but the makers dragged it out for what seemed like an eternity. Thankfully, Sharpe's Waterloo was a return to form (although it still didn't reach the heights of say, Battle.) with more focus on Shapre, his Chosen men and the action and adventure side of things. Waterloo would have been a fitting send of..
In 2006 Sharpe returned to our screens with Sharpe's Challenge which was set in India two years after the events of Waterloo. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Challenge was also disappointing; which is made even more so by the fact that there is a good Sharpe movie in there somewhere.
There were several major problems with Challenge. Firstly the format; all the other movies were approximately 100 minutes long and shown in one complete part. Challenge was a whopping 140 minutes and was split into two parts; which was a fatal mistake as it made the story overly long and bloated in places. The makers also (criminally) abandoned the iconic opening credits and music, which don't look or sound dated, so I really don't understand that decision.
I believe there is a shorter version of Challenge, which although I haven't seen I should imagine is much better than this bloated two part movie. Another major problem was the recycling of old characters, Bickerstaff in Challenge was identical to the legendary Hakeswill of the original series, also the equally brilliant character of Simmerson was brought back to little effect as some kind of ridiculous caricature of his previous self.
Also for the most part in Challenge, Shapre and Harper were pretending to be from the ranks again (ala Regiment) and were holed up in an enemy fort which basically neutered Sharpe from doing anything until the last ten minutes of the movie. The bad guys (and girls) were all pretty forgettable as well (although Toby Stevens is a good actor and shows it).
There are some good points to Challenge though, it's great to see Sharpe back (albeit having aged significantly) on our screens and the movie clearly had a much bigger budget than previous entries so the action was fittingly epic and the locations and cinematography as a whole were brilliant. Overall though, some poor decision making from the makers and the network executives (two instalments mean double the advertising revenue) meant that Challenge was a disappointing entry in the Sharpe series. However, Sharpe will return later this year with Sharpe Peril and I for one, will be watching.
Lions for Lambs (2007)
A Brilliant Film that Deserves a MUCH Higher Rating!!!
I went to see Lion for Lambs this evening and I must say it was pretty close to being the best film I've seen at the cinema this year. I really liked how Redford constructed the story and didn't dwell needlessly any of the themes by letting it drag on until the audience was bored into submission. It goes without saying that the performances, without exception, were brilliant.
I'm not a liberal; or a fan of Tom Cruise, but this film, and Mr Katie Holmes himself are both worthy of Oscars; and in the formers case; lots of them. Cruise's character is totally convincing and even though he is essentially 'the bad guy' it's hard not to sympathise, if not totally agree, with the sentiment of what he is saying. There is so much depth in his performance; and I suspect he actually represents accurately what the most successful politicians inevitably are; charming and duplicitous. Occasionally Cruise lays it on a bit thick, the Evangelical aspect of his personality gets a brief but clumsy mention and the characters xenophobia is equally, and just as ungracefully, highlighted. Although the line about the Taliban & Associates (I added the Associates part) wanting to ignore fifteen hundred years of human progress, really hit a nerve with me; I thought it was a very blunt but concise way of summarising our enemies foibles while also acknowledging our own. But any missteps in Cruise's character are not of his own making; just brief lapses in an otherwise word perfect screenplay.
The two other segments of the movie feature Redford's character essentially trying to guide a young protégé in the right direction through life, and former Redford protégés (Michael Pena & Derek Luke) fighting a losing battle in Afghanistan. Redford's California University lecturer segment is probably the least gripping, but it's the moral centre of the movie and it gives the great man himself a chance to turn in another knowing and informed performance. The Afghanistan sequences are the most exciting and are essentially themed 'the consequences of failure' they pack the most emotional punch.
Probably the single strongest element of 'Lions for Lambs' is the sincerity with which the story is being told. It has a message, a position, but it's never preachy. It makes its case in an entertaining way and gives willing viewers a lot to think about.
Having being moved and thoroughly entertained by this movie I was somewhat shocked to discover that The Daily Mail, The Guardian, The London Paper and The Times all gave the film, one solitary star (out of five). I suspect that these ratings do not actually reflect the sincere opinions of the critics themselves, but are simply a rather reactionary stance to criticism of the press by Redford and Co.
Make no mistake; this is an expertly paced, intelligent and emotionally powerful film. Despite what critics and lesser mortals might say.
this was a great episode, the action was really intense. But it wasn't as good at the last episode in season 5.
In this this epsidoe the definant leads a combined fleet of Federation, Klingon and Romulan ships to attack Cardassian space.
I liked this episode a lot, and its a shame terry Farrell was killed off.
I assume from reading the other comment it was her decision, although I'm not to sure.
Gul Dakat (great character, not used much this season) beams on board DS9 and kills her, he also breaks a Bajoran religios artefact which makes the prophets disappear.
One of deep space nines biggest strengths was its cast, and they all play a part in this episode. Which is good considering the size of the cast, they all get a fair amount of screen time. The Quark/Bashir scenes are very funny.
Season 6 is a great season, but I prefer season 5 overall.
Miami Vice (2006)
An Criminally Underrated Movie Masterpiece
Miami Vice I watched Miami Vice for the first time today. I've been desperate to see it ever since it was released in the summer. Mixed reviews and a poor box office did not put me off one bit. Miami Vice is criminally underrated. This is a truly brilliant movie and every bit as good as, if not better, than Heat. Michael Mann's Miami looks stunning; the performances are restrained, minimal and calculating. The script is lean, complex and full of memorable one liners. The whole thing is paced almost perfectly, with only the Gong Li - Colin Farrell love affair subplot being slightly protracted. Restraint is the key word here, the gun fights and car chases are conspicuously absent for most of the movie, the later never materialising. But when the gun fight comes late in the third act, its violent, brutal, fresh and hyper realistic. Miami Vice is a Michael Mann film, and a man's film; girls, guns, glamour, speed boats, private jets and Ferraris galore. My favourite aspect of this movie (apart from the incredibly stylish visuals) was the Farrell/Foxx relationship; there were no buddy movie clichés or unnecessary banter, just consummate professionalism and trust.
Smooth, that's how we do it.
A Below Average Film Is An Effort to Watch.
I bought this because its Christmas and I thought I might enjoy it. I watched it as a child and have fond memories. Unfortunately I was extremely disappointed, this movie is a mess from start to finish. I like Bill Murray, he's always watchable but he cant do anything with this script, its dull, unoriginal, lifeless and very NOT FUNNY!
The end of of the movie especially is so pointless, its like the director just made it up five minutes before filming it. Its not sentimental, the message is confused (how is he supposed to help people if he has just lost his job by acting stupid?.
The more I write about this film the more I realise how much it SUCKED! Don't let nostalgia get the better of you, this movie is not worth your time or money.
Casino Royale (2006)
Bond Begins with the Best Film of 2006
If you take Casino Royale out of the context of being a Bond Film and examine it as a stand alone, action-adventure come thriller then you really begin to understand the true brilliance of this film. I've always enjoyed the Bond franchise, although I wouldn't say I was a big fan, more of a casual viewer.
Now, back to the movie. Daniel Craig is a fine actor and his scenes with Eva Green are electric, the dialogue is sharp and witty and the two actors clearly have a lot of chemistry. The first action sequence lasts for about ten minutes and its absolutely fantastic, there is a real sense of speed and danger; Bond bleeds like the rest of us, he is not a superhero in the traditional sense, just a man driven by demons and desires that are revealed later on.
Craig is truly IAN FLEMING'S 007 in a way that all the others (including Connery) were not. Craig is detached, brutal, efficient, dark, cold and above all else; human.
The second action sequence at Miami Airport is OK but I was starting to worry at this point whether the film was going to be a continuous carousel of carnage, rather than an efficient noir thriller. But my worries were elevated when post-Miami airport, Eva Green steps on the scene as the smart and sassy Vesper Lynd.
At the heart Casino Royale are two outstanding central performances from Eva Green and Daniel Craig, they make the dialogue work in a way that lesser actors (Halle Berry and Pierce Brosnan for example) could not. Martin Campbell saved the Bond Franchise in 1995 with Goldeneye and he has revitalised it for the 21st century with a stunning piece of direction, proving that he is an excellent all rounder with an eye for action and the good sense to be conspicuous when the material demands it.
There are flaws in Casino Royale, the rampant product placement for Ford, Jaguar, Omega, Ted Baker, Virgin Airlines and a dozen other companies does distract from the film for those of us who cant help but notice it. Also the incredibly-difficult-to-make-entertaining central card game does drag on a bit, although Campbell deserves a Knighthood, Oscar and a Congressional Medal of Honour for making it almost work by punctuating it with action sequences, one of which is an extremely violent fight in a stairwell that doesn't belong in a 12A movie.
That brings us neatly to the torture sequence which is lifted straight from the Ian Fleming novel. There is some fine acting by Craig again in this scene, more so than in any other part of the movie. Its brutal but also, rather perversely, gives the film its biggest laugh out loud moment, "the whole world will know you died scratching my balls".
The movie hits another rough patch with the post-torture romance scenes that follow. Again, this is lifted straight from the book and although for viewers with a short attention span it may drag on, I found them as enjoyable as any of the big explosions and fisticuffs.
The finale packs an emotional punch, again solely down to Eva and Daniel and the fact that we actually believe in their relationship and have invested some emotion in it. Its a relationship that can save Bond from a life of vodka martinis, easy lays and silenced Walther PPK's. But it just wasn't to be, and when the finale finally arrives we see the real James Bond for the very first time.
Now, I know a lot of people will accuse Casino Royale of being populist nonsense, or just another Bond film, but those same people probably think that the more boring and obscure a film is, the more intelligent it makes them for bothering to watch it (Ingar Bergman fans go wild!).
For me, Bond Begins is the best movie of the year. I loved every minute of this confident piece of escapist entertainment and I will be buying the DVD as soon as it becomes available.