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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Many missed this little slice of wonderfulness.., 4 May 2011
10/10

There is something about watching a film set so close to home, with such straightforward, down-to-earth style, that can make it feel a bit non-cinematic; "Brassed Off", "Educating Rita", "Billy Elliott", and "The Full Monty" are amongst those that find themselves solidly in that category. Now Nigel Cole's "Made In Dagenham" joins his previous hit "Calender Girls" alongside them, and I maintain that I would have none of them any other way, least of which "Made In Dagenham". This film has no frills; it is simply the very solid telling of a true story; that true story is of the women's strike at Ford in Dagenham in 1968, lead by Rita O'Grady.

This is a faultless cast. Bob Hoskins performs his usual trick of slipping effortlessly into the skin of a character you imagine him to be in reality, and is completely lovable; Rosamind Pike is perfect as Lisa Hopkins, wife to a Ford executive and supporter of the women's movement; Sally Hawkins is knockout in the lead role of Rita and is surely going to get a great deal more serious work, and as usual Miranda Richardson is on fire and absolutely captivating as the tenacious Labour Secretary Of State at the time, Barabara Castle, the woman who made it possible for the Equal Pay Act to be passed into law through sheer defiance of one of the most important industrial names to the UK economy. This is just the icing on the cake; supporting these great actors is a whole host of familiar faces, embodying the men and women involved. From the smallest roles in one or two scenes, to the husbands, to the members of Ford, not one actor is out of place or giving a performance that is substandard.

The sense of place and time is captured wonderfully, with clear thought having been put into every element of the production: the music, the location shooting, the clothing, new designs of dresses, the clear division of classes, the inclusion of cultural references, car adverts on television, news reports heard. In fact, I say this is no-frills, but on reflection, it is a hell of an effort to ensure you cannot question where and when this story is set.

The writing is top-notch, and possibly my favourite element of this film. Cole's ability to put together a movie that walks a fine line is on show in "Calender Girls", but with this he has outdone himself; when at its funniest, it doesn't forget the importance of the event, and when at its most sombre and emotional, it doesn't lose the energetic spirit of the piece. His ear for dialogue is impeccable, each character speaking exactly as they should; the character exchanges prove completely believable and of the time. He also manages to hold quite a wide scope for such a simple story; the effect of the event on the families of Britain is not overlooked, and we see the standpoint of everyone, including the American company top suits.

In a nutshell, "Made In Dagenham" takes the best of all the aforementioned British movies and weaves them together in this one, resulting in a close to perfect piece of cinema Britain can be very proud of. A film that is very emotional, funny, and spirit-rousing, often all at the same time.

Tsotsi (2005)
A little gem of a film, 28 April 2011
10/10

Having seen Gavin Hood's "Rendition", which I very much enjoyed, I was not surprised to find his debut "Tsotsi" (African slang for a thug or gang member) was fully deserving of the international acclaim it had been given. An up-to-date rendering of a book written in the 1970's, it tells the story of a young African man, David, who survives rather than lives, understanding only violence and crime; a man who has no family, and clutches to bitterness as a way of getting on in a place riddled with disease and poverty. A crime he commits against a rich family brings with it an unexpected dilemma, and an unexpected obligation; the film is the exploration of the moral struggle he encounters and the discovery of his humanity. Ultimately it proposes that no matter how awful a person, no matter what our preconceptions, nothing is black and white, there is always an explanation (which is very different to an excuse) for behaviour, everybody is a human being, and as such, redemption should always be possible.

He has a real eye for photography, as he proved with "Rendition"; he doesn't just display understanding of how to shoot something, but also the significance of a shot, of a composition, of a colour scheme; visuals regularly support similes and metaphors of the script and genuinely draw your eye, grab your attention, and make you understand things very clearly. He captures the landscape perfectly; there is both a beauty and a disgrace about this contemporary, disease-ridden Johannesburg; rich and poor are wonderfully illustrated, and there comes a point in the film where failure to understand the position and mentality of David and his gang is near impossible. Hood takes time to lay back-story gradually, building David's character through the film, so that by the final act we are completely with him. An intelligently used soundtrack emphasises this all the more.

The heart of the film is actually the central performance by Presley Chweneyagae, who is completely engaged, totally in the skin of David, and with every expression and slight gesture, portrays perfectly his emotional and mental state. By the end of the film you can see memory, longing and confusion in his eyes and movements, and etched clearly into his face by the tears he cries. The whole final act is masterful, so emotional, beautifully played, and with a very final shot that is haunting and iconic; a similar feeling is experienced to that which is felt at the end of "Full Metal Jacket", although perhaps a little more oddly positive.

"Tsotsi" does not have the surprise element Hood's next film would have, and in a way you can say it is quite a predictable story, but it is otherwise so sincere, so heartfelt, and so moving, that this complaint holds little sway. Any film that can setup a character one should not like and move the audience to the point of honestly caring about them, and understanding them better, is doing something right.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Not as good as his debut, but very impressive, 8 April 2011
8/10

Captain Colter Stevens wakes up on board a train heading to Chicago, in a body he does not recognise and with no knowledge of what is going on. The train explodes and he finds himself in an unknown place, being told by a woman calling herself Goodwin that he is going back and doing the whole thing again, in order to find the bomber, and that he has an eight minute window in which to do so. So begins a dual-challenge for Stevens: to complete the mission, and to understand why he is there in the first place and what is going on.

Duncan Jones is treading a slightly different path to his father, but is proving to have inherited the gene for creativity; I adored his debut "Moon", and although perhaps not quite as good a movie (it would have taken another masterpiece to have stood up to such an impressive first film), his follow-up feature is still very enjoyable and exciting. "Source Code" is not written by Jones, only directed, and is far more a balls-out thriller, but interestingly it still explores some similar themes and questions as "Moon". The slightly higher budget has been put to good use, although Jones is a director who proves that big explosions and incredible CGI effects are nothing without a brain, and that good filmmaking is more fundamental than those things; even in today's hi-tech, fast-moving world, a film still needs to do more than look pretty.

Just like its predecessor, "Source Code" sets you up with ideas you have seen explored elsewhere; where you could find the roots of "Moon" in "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Solaris", "Source Code" has closer kin in the likes of "Speed" and "Inception". In the case of both of his movies, though, what marks them out as great is what he then does with those ideas and how much heart the films have. Granted, "Source Code" is not quite as surprising as "Moon", but it still proves to be an intelligent, challenging piece. Another thing I like about his films is the science of them; they do not skip over explanations, and he works hard to lay what some might consider complex ground work for his audience, ala Christopher Nolan.

Despite some small quibbles with the movie, such as the fact Clint Mansell would have scored it better (I mention this because I know it was only timing and circumstance that prevented Jones working with him again), and the film actually having room for a bit more development in the central location (it is rare for me to say I feel a movie would have benefit from being longer), I still very much enjoyed myself and recommend it as a cinema trip! Jake Gyllenhaal continues to prove himself to be a terrific lead actor who can carry a film, and do not assume that the "Groundhog Day" idea of the same eight minutes replaying time and time again gets boring; just as you get to a point where you feel it might get stale, the film changes things up; those who have seen "Moon" will know just how surprising Jones is. The drip-feeding of information keeps you hooked, and just as interested as Captain Stevens in finding out what is happening.

If Duncan Jones just keeps doing what he is doing, staying ambitious and not becoming lazy, I see good things ahead for him, and I see myself being a big fan!

Happy to have seen..., 7 April 2011
6/10

Harry Brown is an ex-veteran who has lived a very simple, calm life on a rough council estate; he has lost a lot and is a fairly lonely man, with just one friend, Leonard, with whom he plays chess at the local pub. After suffering a great deal of harassment, Leonard takes on the local gang of thugs who control the underpass close-by, run drugs and are involved in all sorts of social disorder that we are all too familiar with, and although we do not see it, the news is delivered to Harry that he is dead. With the police restricted, and grief pushing him to snapping point, Harry turns vigilante in something of an updated "Death Wish" plot, and the rest of the film tracks the actions of both himself and D.I. Alice Frampton, who is convinced of Harry's responsibility for the nasty happenings taking place subsequent to Leonard's death.

The film opens with a sequence that I didn't understand the point of and felt should have been cut immediately; from there it sets up the lead character, and for the rest of the first act of the film, I very much enjoyed the calm, quiet nature of it, and found the subtle, visual storytelling to be admirable. Caine gives an outstanding, real performance, which is no surprise, not least because Caine is in many ways the character already, having been brought up where they shot the film, and having a similar background to Harry Brown.

After the first act of the film, however, I feel it falls too heavily into the revenge category; this is a shame, as I was looking forward to a film with more balance and intelligence. Instead, I found a film that is more muscle and brawn, when that is what it really should have stayed away from. That said, in a scene reminiscent of the Caine classic "Get Carter", and certainly one that is amongst the standout scenes in the movie, two young actors share a great amount of very tense, awkward screen time with Caine, and the performances present are knockout and genuinely scary. Another standout is the finale, which I thought played out very well. The scenes involving violence are unflinching and real, without being gratuitous or unnecessarily over the top. Strangely enough, the emotional distress of the film does not stem so much from physical acts as it does from the situation and what is said; in a few scenes, the dialogue is scathing, vicious and tough to listen to, not from being a prude but just from being a decent person; seeing just how nasty some of it gets becomes very disturbing.

On a scene-to-scene basis the writing is quite good, the performances are powerful, and I can see Daniel Barber has good intentions; I see echoes of "A Clockwork Orange" and "Taxi Driver" in it, but despite his best efforts, "Harry Brown" comes off, for the most part, as televisual, not cinematic. The whole thing gets a bit vague and bias when it comes to the police's side of the story, and the investigation into the initial crime. This is not to say, of course, that I am excusing the gang's behaviour, but aside from a slight touch on the topic at one point, it does not take the ample opportunity it has to explore, with some intelligence, the social issues that are at the root of it all. Neither does it look at the reasons the police do not fully investigate the murder of Leonard, or the D.I.'s restrictive Chief's reasoning for not taking her seriously; all of this side of the story is painted in a very broad, almost dismissive strokes. This surprised and disappointed me.

On the whole, a solid film with some powerful scenes and performances, and one I am happy to have seen, but one which was more brawn than brains when it should have been the other way around, and one I will not need to watch again.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
The masterpiece they say it is? No. Great film? Yes!, 6 April 2011
8/10

Jeremy Renner is the man! I thought I would get that out there to start with, just to emphasise how much he brings to "The Hurt Locker". If Sgt William James had been played by somebody with less presence of character, the film would not have worked anywhere near as well, despite what other praise one could give it.

Sgt First Class William James steps in to lead a bomb disposal team in Iraq; they have only a month left on their rotation, but the loss of their previous leader, Sgt Thompson, has left them shaken, with a gap that seems hard to fill. Sgt James's methods and general view of his job seem to Sgt Sanborn and Specialist Eldridge to be irresponsible and dangerous; this does little for Sanborne's requirement for order and discipline, and is especially threatening to the fragile Eldridge, who is already talking regularly with Colonel Cambridge, the group psychiatrist.

Not unlike "Jarhead" in its approach, it features very little violence for a war film, and no elements of what one might think of as "machoism" whatsoever. The whole thing focuses fully on the psychology of these men who step out every day ready to die, "rolling the dice", as Sanborne says in a key scene. Even one moment which does involve them volunteering themselves to each others physical violence is not actually about the macho violence, but about what is going on between the characters, the dynamic shifts occurring within the team, and how they view each other; in this regard, the scene brought to mind "Fight Club". There are numerous parts that rely on subtext, or on the audience's ability to read between the lines of what is being said and recognise that this is a character piece, not a "wham bam" action movie. One central scene in particular has a lot going on with very little dialogue; this is the nature of the film in general, asking us to recognise what is not being said as well as what is, and to pay close attention to the characters' interaction.

The film does not adhere to conventions very much; it is shot in a way that is suggestive of a documentary, with a feeling of not so much telling a story, but rather following a set of events. That said, it is cinematic, with some scenes where performance and subtle, clever use of sound ratchet up the tension very well. It is an unusual feeling, and it takes the first act of the film for us to get completely comfortable with the groove. Once we are, however, it makes for a notably unique experience, and the fact we are focusing on a group of guys that other war films have never really looked at only adds to the freshness.

As for criticisms, there are people such as David Morse, Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes in this movie, but they border on "blink and you miss them" roles, which is a shame. It could also be argued that when all is said and done, it does not feel like the film, for all its accolades, is really saying that much beyond its opening quotation; contrary to the hyperbole surrounding it, it is not a film trying to set the world on fire; it does not have any obvious political stance, it is not "anti-war", it is simply an exciting look at the psychology of the men we follow. There is a section of the last act of the film where it feels like the whole thing drops a gear, but it picks it back up again for a great ending, in which the look on Renner's face, and the final shot as Bigelow brings in a track by the band Ministry to introduce the credits, perfectly underlines the point of Sgt James's final monologue!

Not the astounding masterpiece some people might have had us think, and certainly not "the best war movie ever made", but very, very good.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Kubrick's best horror.....Kubrick's only horror..., 27 March 2011
10/10

Stanley Kubrick turns his ever-precise eye to Stephen King's novel, and although far more a supernatural horror than the familial psychodrama King intended, the film stands alone as an absolute masterpiece (and ironically far more exciting and memorable than King's own mini-series adaption). Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrence, a writer who takes a care-taking post at The Overlook Hotel for the winter period; he is intent on using the time to get a new writing project underway. After moving in, it quickly becomes apparent there is something wrong with the hotel, and its effect on Jack is apparently to drive him insane and desperate to destroy his family. Shelley Duvall and young Danny Lloyd play wife and child with nowhere to go.

Kubrick is a filmmaker's filmmaker, and as is nearly always the case with his work, one of the biggest stars of "The Shining" is the man's technical brilliance and desire to push the envelope. From the famous, grand shots at the beginning (it has been difficult ever since to see epic aerial landscape photography without being reminded of the opening of this film), to some of the best steadicam work you will see, even when compared to the movies of today, it is a cinematic tour-de-force. Kubrick's attention to details whose job it is, if only on a subconscious level, to put you constantly on edge is rather impressive; before the production, he read Freud's essay "The Uncanny", about the feeling of something being uncomfortably strange whilst remaining familiar, and was intent on working that theme in at many a turn. What better film to work it into than one about the man who is supposed to love you wanting to murder you? Not a frame is wasted, and rarely is a moment not visually arresting, tense of unnerving, due to unique framing, lighting, or noticeably exciting camera language. The result is a movie with numerous iconic scenes and startling imagery. The soundtrack also might just be one of the most jarring and haunting in horror cinema; dense, loud, dissonant strings and found sounds shred regularly at your nerves. One of the film's best moments combines all the above, and may leave you with nightmares of little boys muttering "Redrum" at your bedside...as if kids doing strange things wasn't creepy enough!

This is a film you may find you do not love immediately; as always with Kubrick, there is a lot to take in, and the sense that he is making the film to be interesting rather than necessarily realistic is never far away. Detractors of the film cite the over-the-top nature of Nicholson's performance to be one of the issues they have with it, but I think Kubrick knew the absurdity of the character, the dark humour played against the isolated horror setting, would really accentuate the pressure, discomfort and sense of entrapment, with nobody else to turn to, Wendy and Danny are suffering. After a few viewings, "The Shining" should start to reveal itself to you as the masterpiece it is.

Far more Kubrick's than King's, and his only horror film, this still retains its status as one of the best-made of all time. He never did things by halves.

Rendition (2007)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Almost perfect......if you get the point, 14 March 2011
9/10

"Rendition" is a 2007 movie that did not get a great deal of exposure, and did not do particularly well commercially; it is not hard to see why, and it has nothing to do with how good a film it is. It is a political thriller from Gavin Hood, the man responsible for "Tsotsi", and a director who is certainly not shy about presenting a political argument. The movie is about a CIA analyst who becomes uncomfortable when he observes an unconstitutional interrogation of a possible terror suspect. To say more is to spoil the film; people are a bit too keen to say too much, as a big part of the enjoyment is how it all unfolds, point by point, slowly ratcheting up the tension. The film does not use very much exposition at all, instead putting us straight into the situations with the characters, allowing us to learn things as they do, and get to know the characters as though we were a fly on the wall.

The cast is headed up by Jake Gyllenhaal in the role of the analyst, and next to "Zodiac" this is my favourite performance of his to date. It is a disquieting performance, unlike any I had seen from him before this film; he is a zombie, devoid of any interest and zest for his position, but about to get a big shake from his apathy. We also have Meryl Streep who, though not having a huge role, is as convincing as always; Reece Witherspoon, who does better than I expected, Alan Arkin, whose screen presence is almost overwhelming, the overlooked gem that is Peter Sarsgaard, and the great character actors J K Simmons and Bob Gunton, the latter of whom doesn't really have much to do, which is one of my few criticisms of the film. Although a lot of these actors do not really share many scenes, with the film's setting being split between America and Africa, due to the the way it is written and edited, we are nevertheless drawn into what feels like an ensemble piece.

In the first forty minutes we have a very slow pacing, which some would equate with being boring, but this is more of a slow-burn, which I really admired. As the film moves into its second act, there is a clear disconnection between parts of the story we are being presented, and as we reach the final act with that disconnection not appearing to resolve at all, for a little while I thought I was going to be disappointed; I foresaw the film simply petering out, with the film makers hoping that seeing two different situations unravel separately would be gratifying, which in this case it would not have been. Thankfully this is not the case. The film becomes one that I genuinely did not expect; it does not strike you as a film that is going to do to you what it does. I would compare it to a magic trick, the finale of which you cannot predict whilst you are participating in it, but once it is revealed, you realise you have seen similar things before; "Rendition" uses a technique we have seen before, but it takes you rather by surprise.

The film looks incredible; it is the best looking movie I have watched so far this year, with every shot beautifully composed and brilliantly lit, so full props to cinematographer Dione Beebe. It is superbly written, with realistic, fiery dialogue, with scenes where characters go toe-to-toe that prove to be very exciting.

With regard to this not being a 10/10 movie, aside from a couple of cast members not being able to properly shine, my only real issue is one plot point of the film. In fairness, upon finishing the movie, I thought about it, and the more I did, the happier I became with it. The issue is with regard to a plot point that is not addressed, but I must say that I personally understand why. There were only two options; going one way would have caused the film to feel like a preach, and the other would have undermined its central challenge to the audience, and so the choice is made to intentionally leave it unanswered. Upon first viewing, it does numb your enjoyment ever so slightly, because nobody likes plot holes, but the more you reflect on it, you realise it is not a plot hole, but a realistic hypothetical situation, challenging you to consider your own feelings about it.

Close to perfect; clever, great-looking, well performed, and well written; like "Dead Man Walking" and "American History X", it refrains from telling you what to think, relying instead on you to think for yourself, and hopefully discuss it with other.

True Grit (2010)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Not quite a masterpiece, but the Coens are on fine form here, 3 March 2011
9/10

Normally you expect a remake to be of something a bit more notable, so this is an odd choice, but the Coen Brothers are odd, so it should not be that big a surprise. Mattie Ross wants the hired hand, Tom Chaney, who killed her father, caught and hanged for the crime. She hunts down US Marshall Rooster Codburn who, under much duress, agrees to the job, aiming to bring the man in dead or alive. In the first act of the film a sheriff joins him, as he is on the hunt for the band of men Chaney has fallen in with. Mattie ambushes them, and the rest of the film charts the chase.

I am a Coen fan, I understood Hailee Steinfield's performance was fantastic, and I am a huge Jeff Bridges fan, so safe to say I was excited about this film for various reasons; I was looking forward to the guys getting back with "The Dude" and recreating the Western. The Coens have not referred to the 1969 movie, but rather to the original text for inspiration, to the extent that those working on the film who had not seen the rather "gung-ho" original were not allowed to. The result is a film that is not so much a remake, but a reworking of the book as they see it. This version feels more literary than the original probably ever did, in that you sense the book's weight, its use of metaphor really put on the screen directly. The enjoyment of this film is derived very much from the characters' exchanges, their relationship with one another, how they view each other, and how that shifts; the story itself ends up taking a back seat to the characters' dialogue and how they are actually relating to each other. "True Grit" is a performance piece, and so it is fair to say it relies very much on the actors.

There was always going to be comparison between Bridges and Wayne, and I think it is a silly comparison; John Wayne was not a good actor, but despite that, you have two actors from different eras of cinema, Wayne doing what he always did, and Bridges giving the real, studied performance. Which Rooster one prefers is ultimately a matter of taste, but as to which is the better performance? There is no contest; Bridges plays Rooster as far away from Wayne as he can, to the extent of wearing the patch on his other eye. There has been some talk of Bridges being, at times, pretty incomprehensible, and it is an interesting point. We expect any actor, stage or screen, to deliver lines clearly, and there is no doubt that Bridges is superb; I believe the Coens wanted him to play Rooster as this disgruntled, miserable bastard, and for you to really have to listen to catch what he's saying. There is a lot of heavy, fast dialogue to this story, so you are expected to be paying attention anyway. I can sincerely say I had no issue with understanding anything Bridges was saying, and I really enjoyed the performance which, much like Fenster in "The Usual Suspects", is far more about the character than the words anyway.

Josh Brolin plays Chaney, and does so with real conviction, defying our expectation of the character, which is built well through the first half of the film. Steinfield gives an outstanding performance, delivering lines and having exchanges with other actors on a level of heavyweights, and managing it perfectly. Despite not winning at the Oscars this year, I do not doubt we will see more of this girl.

"True Grit" looks amazing, and I am surprised it did not win the cinematography award at the Oscars. The film at times looks like a David Lean one; the sense of place is captured in a strangely gorgeous way, with a real earthy tone and a landscape that really drives home how this is trying to put the atmosphere of the book on the screen.

A criticism of the movie has been that it fizzles out rather than going out with a bang, and I would suggest this also is a literary reason. If you are into the Coens' work you are likely to be okay with it. I can understand people not being happy with the ending, but I took from it what I think you are supposed to. I do think "True Grit" is a story with the point of misjudgement, and how we can follow the wrong paths for the wrong reasons; if you're with the Coens' vision all the way, you will see this is stated nicely in the final act of the film, and be happy with the final scenes.

There was just one scene that I think was supposed to be offbeat funny, and it unfortunately just didn't sit with the rest of the movie for me; it is a scene I would have personally cut. Beyond that I must say I felt strange in the cinema, as though I was in on some joke that only a few people got, because almost every scene had something going on that made me giggle. Do not get me wrong, "True Grit" is not a comedy, and when it does serious it does it well, but these guys have a way of working their strange brand of humour into a film without ruining it, and if you are on the same wavelength as them, as has always been the case with their work, you tend to find a lot of things amusing.

This film looks great, the performances are terrific, and it is a solid story. Though I am hard pushed to say it is a masterpiece, I recommend it very much to Coen and Western fans alike, and if you're a film fanatic, there is a lot you will take away from it.

Nine Dead (2010)
19 out of 31 people found the following review useful:
Riding the wave.....badly!, 2 March 2011
2/10

Chris Shadley has been involved on a production level in various other projects, including big hits, but this is his first time directing. Patrick Wehe Mahoney had never written for the screen before this. Going by "Nine Dead", neither of them should try again. Harsh? Perhaps, but if you take the time to see this movie, you will quickly be on board with that view.

Nine people are kidnapped by a masked stranger, put in a room, and told they must deduce the reason they are there. Every ten minutes they will be asked, and if they fail to answer correctly, one of them will die. An intriguing setup, even if not completely unfamiliar to those who know of "The Killing Room", "Cube", or Agatha Christie, and clearly an idea that is trying to ride the wave of the "Saw" series, borrowing heavily from classic revenge movies and the exploitation cinema of the 70's in various ways. The fact it is rather derivative did not bother me so much (I am happy to watch a completely derivative piece of work if it is good as a standalone film). The problem is that they manage to make it look cheaper than it is, with a shooting style that you would expect to find in an impressive student film; clunky editing sewing flashback sequences in that just feel awkward; there is no excitement after the setup; no twists, no turns, no surprises, and when you finally reach the inevitable reveal of the connection, it is rather uninteresting, not to mention hard to believe that this person would have gone to this extent for revenge. It is like saying you're going to make a gorgeous desert for after dinner and all you can come up with is vanilla ice cream. If that isn't bad enough, imagine then throwing the ice cream on the floor! That, if you're confused, is my analogy for the ending. I enjoy a movie with a provocative endings, a movie that leaves you something to think about, provokes a discussion, or even a movie that is open-ended, so long as it is justified; this ending just screams that they did not know what to do with it.

I'm not necessarily a sucker for top-name casting and am always happy to see new talent and give it a chance, but despite a couple of exceptions, this cast is awful. Some may seem familiar from character work they have done elsewhere, but barely any can deliver anything without looking like they have just been told their lines from off camera; even the "bankable" lead Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina The Teenage Witch) fails rather miserably to deliver anything close to believable. This is of course not helped by the dialogue they are given, which from beginning to end is the most banal writing I've seen for some time! At points I even found it a bit insulting, Mahoney presuming that an audience, even those who are not dedicated genre fans, would relate to anything anyone in this film has to say; there seems to be, at points, attempts at social commentary (much akin to the early "Saw" movies) that is just trite, over-simplified rubbish! To believe that anyone interested in a film like this would accept and believe some of these characters' ways of thinking as being even remotely realistic is a big mistake on its own.

So you're wondering why a three-star rating, right? It is simply for no other reason than the fact I have seen worse; I liked the performance of the hostage-taker (certainly the most interesting character present), and I genuinely feel it is an idea that, if committed to the screen by someone who knew what they were doing with the material, "Nine Dead" would have come out as an enjoyable mystery thriller.

As it is, it is just completely forgettable, lacking the intelligence and intrigue of "Cube", the frightening social bite of "The Killing Room" and the cinematic panache of "Saw" all at once.

In short, do not bother.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Hmmm, 23 February 2011
6/10

I give this movie a 6/10 on the basis that it is by no means badly made, but is not one I wish to sit through again for any reason; a strange experience, which in itself could perhaps be the best review I can give.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Caden Cotard, a theatre director whose life is in disarray. With a marriage that appears to be in breakdown, bad dentistry, possibly fatal illness, and an unhealthy fascination with death, he begins to pump all his passion into theatre, deciding to write a play that will be brutal, real, and honest. It is not long at all before he is sucked into the recreation of his own life, which is being assembled in a huge, abandoned warehouse.

The film is sprawling with ideas, and confirms Charlie Kaufman, who directs for his first time as well as writes, to be a truly strange mind. If you are familiar with his previous work, you know pretty much what to expect, although even to that I would say you might be surprised by just how odd this is; if you thought "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" was tough, as they say, you ain't seen nothing yet! The offbeat humour in a lot of the dialogue is typical of Kaufman's writing, and the performances cannot be faulted, least of all Hoffman, who does not appear to be able to do wrong. Keener, Williams, Jason Leigh, the list goes on, but everybody in this movie gives a real, thoughtful performance, although one does have to wonder if any of them truly knew where they were going at times.

The film's main focus does appear to be on the fact we are all heading for death; it is the one and only certainty. Cotard's obsession with creating and being audience to his own life, having full control as director, is taken to extremes. The movie is full of visual metaphor, and the whole thing is the product of a creator who genuinely does not care if you are keeping up; he asks you to follow his logic and if you can't, it is not his problem. This is both what I admire and what I found annoying about the movie: technically we can see Kaufman's brain fires on all cylinders constantly, and we understand we must try to keep up with the logic. The problem, I found, was that the logic of it all was so twisted, the story curling in on and around itself over and over, actors playing different parts in scenes that repeat to reflect Cotard's own experiences, and the eternal struggle to write anything, which literally never ends, to illustrate his futile attempt to find some self-worth.

I have no problem with challenge in cinema, but there must be some sort of catharsis in it all, and I had the issue of not being able to fully grasp onto anything in the film. Yes, scenes are emotional and well played in themselves, but when all sewn together, the humour aside, I found myself lost, and not in an altogether good way. Add to this the film's insistence on being so brutal about our existence, about the loneliness we experience, the inevitability of death, the fact "everybody is disappointing, the longer you know them", and that the entire final section of the film brings the weight of these negative ruminations down so heavily, you feel suffocated by the truth of it all, and you have a rather bleak and, I think, convoluted film.

I do not deny the sharpness of the writing, nor the brilliance of the performances, and I even admire the fact Kaufman is being ambitious, trying to be completely honest about how he views human existence, not to mention experimenting with the form of cinema, ala Kubrick or Lynch. I do, however, find it tough to say it is completely successful; it is not a film I could properly connect with, or that I would recommend it to anybody.

It may be brilliant in some respects, and if offbeat, existentialist drama is your thing it's not a bad film at all, but it is bleak without apology, overlong, and rather bemusing.


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