Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Wild Bill (2011)
O Father, Where Art Thou?
Buried beneath the heavy concrete terrain of an east London skyline, itself swallowed up by the sprawling almost monstrous constructs of the imminent summer Olympiad, dwell the complex myriad of indigenous life which we peer into rookie director Dexter Fletcher's Shameless meets Eastenders Goldfish bowl , where the natives hide under the veneer of hooded tracksuits, baseball caps, West Ham United glyphs and shabby council properties. Fletcher's choice of aesthetic layers creates an effective personal space for his characters to bare all in what is quintessentially a snapshot of the contemporary urban British underclasses.
Fletcher embraces a plethora of themes which at times is problematic but also typical and honest traits of most directorial debuts, usually incumbent of the personal near self-biographical nature of maiden projects as well as the developing maturation of artistry and artistic discipline. There are shades of Fletcher's career history bursting onto screen throughout, there is the "guns and geezers" pastiche of the likes of Lock Stock and Layercake, pre and post-adolescent inflections no doubt drawn in some form from a past in children's TV. All of which manifest in a diversity and fluctuation of the tone and pace which encompasses comedic and dramatic flair with good measure.
The strengths of the piece are undoubtedly the earnest endeavours of the script, telling a most simplistic yet salient story of our times, whilst the ensemble cast produce a stream of coherent performances to both authenticate and entertain. When an ironically mild Bill (Charlie Creed-Miles) returns from an eight year stretch, he looks to instantly remedy the ills created by his incarceration by searching for his two sons, what he finds at the end of this process is that with sustained hiatus comes restrained welcome making re-assimilation all the more trickier. The biggest slice of resentment comes from the star of the show Will Poulter who in playing the eldest son Dean manages a performance that mirrors the plight of his character, a 15 year old who is forced to be a man though he is yet a boy assuming patriarchal control of his younger brother Jimmy and himself. Poulter's projection is a frowning determination delivering tough talk and home truths to "Bill", calling and in the same sense mocking him as just that and refusing to use the expected but as yet unearned epithet.
The narrative plays out key inversions, the closer Bill gets to parental reconciliation, the more caustic his relationship with the local drug dealers of his own nefarious past become. Whilst the more Dean and his troublesome sibling let their guard down, invoking their estranged fathers care that is alien to them, the more vulnerable they become. In the end Fletcher strikes gold by exploring socially corrosive subjects of absent fathers, drugs and violence against women with no shortage of charm, wit and heart warming humanity.
By no means perfect (few are at this stage) but a great way to get off the mark as a director.
The Fighter (2010)
Blood Is Thicker Than Glory
The key to success of most sports drama's is in its ability to capture a binding quintessence of both sport and hero or heroine. Boxing in itself embodies a wealth of humanistic teachings such as resilience, endurance and discipline. In the case of David O Russells biopic The Fighter manages to broaden the parallel past the notion of one man's fight into gripping family drama, a statement of brotherly and motherly love, galvanised by the thematic complexities of obscured loyalties and conflicted priorities.
Mark Wahlberg leads the line as Pro Boxer "Irish" Micky Ward, an embattled soldier like man of noble but crushed spirit, who we meet at a cross roads in his seemingly mediocre career. Wahlberg's performance bares shades of the hapless loss of control that eventually evolves in Boogie Nights (1997) as well as the bulldog spirit of Invincible (2006). Early in the film the question is raised about the validity of his tutelage. Ward is governed by a coalition of blood firstly inside the ring with star of the show Christian Bale, playing brother Dicky a decayed local boxing legend turned trainer, whose life is in near terminal free fall through Crack addiction and accompanying petty criminality. Bale gives by far the most authentic performance of his career, an emotionally rangy tour de force, maneuvering through Dick Eklunds crippling self destruction.
Outside the ring Melissa Leo in her portrayal of mother Alice Ward attempts at being the matriarchal adhesive that must forge Family and Business, whilst a pack of Hyena like sisters also seem to be feasting from Micky's trough. The disorganised managerial set up soon becomes an unsuspecting triumvirate when an incredulous Wahlberg falls in love with Amy Adams who plays a Charlene, a tough talking waitress eager to apply her own wisdom and perspective to the situation roundly rejected by the rest of the Ward clan. These performances provide the foundation for the feature, complimenting each other leaving sparks flying around the screen with Wahlberg's pathos comes Bales preposterousness whilst Leo's motherly devotion is countered by Adam's divisibility.
Beyond the character study is an effective social commentary as the Ward/Eklund family are products of their drab and at times oppressive surroundings of Lowell, Massachusetts. Boxing is an outlet for many to lash out in a controlled environment, whilst those who don't submit to the temptations of drug addiction, alcoholism and crime.
Other iconic Boxing films of differing eras will no doubt draw comparison but we aren't romanticising as in Rocky (1976) or partaking in the savage poetry of Raging Bull (1980). The Fighter finds a place of its own within the pantheon of great Boxing pictures telling a story both of and for its time.
The Social Inception
In a year that served us with the Social Network and Inception we have a piece in the way of Chatroom (2010) that as strange as it may seem manages to drop between the weightier concepts of its two more esteemed colleagues. Nolan's world is the looser comparison but whereas dream and dream space are used as an extension of the psyche, Director Hideo Nakata attempts a physical representation of the Internet chat room, caught somewhere between abstract fantasy and an extension of ones persona in a domain that allows endless creative freedom for it.
Whilst you will not find any reference to Facebook directly, there is clear comparison to the Social Networks look into the effect of the internet on younger generations and their communicative dependence on it. The insight however comes from a different angle as we see consequence- Ostracism, broken parental relationships and obsession. Thematically we are in a darker world of Paedophilia, Suicide, Self harm and so on, our Subjects are teen caricatures Aaron Johnson (Kick Ass) plays the lead as William a seemingly causeless rebel and leader of the group which includes posh girl Eva (Imogen Poots), loner Jim (Matthew Beard), geek Emily (Hannah Murray) and self doubting Mo (Daniel Kaluuya).
When it comes to the execution Chatroom suffers from an overdose of its own ideas, all of which never materialise into anything remotely as interesting as the abundant pretences. For example there are two occasions where the film breaks out stop motion animation sequences in a naive attempt to deliver some parts of the narrative. Naïve is also an apt way to describe the cast whose performance is little more than comprehensive school drama club standard, coupled with a script which paints it's characters as vaguely existential. Nakata must take some of the blame also, the film is horrifically paced and even the 90 minute run time feels like a slog, lack of discipline is his ultimate flaw here multiple ideas without substance are no match for substantial development of a single idea.
Sugar, Spice and all things Niche
From seemingly nowhere there has been a recent outburst of interest in all things Burlesque, transmogrified by fashion, dance and other mediums in an attempt to modify the niche into something more commercial and accessible. So it's no surprise that Hollywood would get in on the action with Burlesque (2010) a feature length debut for Christina Aguilera alongside fellow musical behemoth Cher.
Stylistically Burlesque is a musical, although luckily there are no spontaneous outbreaks of song and dance except for when Cher decides to sing us a song to signify how fed up she is. Ultimately everything is constructed around the theatre and performance, driven by a collection of music/cabaret video sequences glued together by what turns out to be a fairly interesting set of characters and stories. Centrally we have a little cliché, Ali (Aguilera) is a small town girl from Iowa who decides she wants to leave behind everything to pursue the dreams and promise of Los Angeles. Destiny guides her to would be mentor Tess (Cher) the divorced, struggling owner of a neo-Burlesque club "The Burlesque Lounge". Ali becomes enamoured with the club, as well as Jack (Cam Gigandet) a hunky barman whose already complicated love life is thrown into further turmoil when he find himself with Ali as a makeshift roommate.
The tagline reads "It takes a LEGEND... to make a STAR!" which is sort of embolismic of the Aguilera/Cher partnership, Cher herself has managed to put together a fairly impressive acting career and her young on screen protégé is quite impressive in this debut. We see Ali jumble the juxtapositions of her womanhood, love life, her career and the accompanying emotions they bring to good effect. Christina already has the look of a Hollywood star and the talent is on show here to suggest that she could have a substantial big screen future. Cher does her bit too playing the struggling business woman married to her struggling club which she faces losing, until Ali's hidden singing talents re-energises her club and show. The Sharks are circling meanwhile and Tess must fight them off if the club is to survive, among the predators are an Ex-husband (Peter Gallagher) she must buy out, an aggressive Tycoon (Eric Dane), and the destructive jealousy of her former star pupil (Kristen Bell).
There are some problems however, script and resulting dialogue are a little misjudged, often being overly fluffy and cute instead of really taking on some of it's themes with real bite. Hence the message of the film is a little lost somewhere between feminist empowerment and the true nature of Burlesque as an art form, with the latter summed up by the repeated lines "They're not here to hear us sing" which appears to fall on deaf ears. As a result Burlesque's audience is a little ambiguous possibly the price to pay when bringing a niche into the mainstream.
The Tourist (2010)
Romeo and Jolie
Stop me if you've heard this before in 2010: Hollywood A-list male and Hollywood A-list female thrust together in part funny, part romantic, part action-thriller movie madness. Ring any bells? Well cast your mind back to the summer where Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz teamed up in James Mangold's roller-coaster Knight and Day (2010). The Tourist appears to work along similar lines, most prominently we get another glowing partnership with co-stars Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp this time taking center stage, which in itself affords The Tourist slightly more potential due to Jolie and Depp's greater talents.
Venice is the beautiful and idyllic setting for the story to take place, a labyrinth of Canals symbolic of the divisive narrative awash with twists and turns keeping both audience and subjects off balance. Elise (Jolie) is an elegantly poised English beauty, whose demeanour combines a fierce sophistication with near aristocratic sensibilities. Elise is attempting to rendezvous with a criminal love interest named Alexander Pearce, whilst simultaneously shaking off surveillance from international law enforcement hoping to track down the same person. Elise fatefully becomes acquainted with Frank (Depp) the American tourist a widowed Maths teacher. The plot then takes on a Keyser Soze-esquire dynamic which sees all parties including a sinister Steven Berkoff searching Venice for Pearce yet his identity nobody knows or even can be sure exists at all.
Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck it would seem has a difficult job to knead the ingredients into something worth watching, he manages to abstain from the wall to wall buffoonery of the aforementioned Knight and Day by focusing more on the aesthetic delights of his stars and scenery, allowing Jolie and Depp room to conjure up an at times engaging on screen chemistry. The viewing experience in the end is fairly satisfying as the tourist does little more than flaunt its good looks in an entertaining fashion that masks successfully its flaws.
London Boulevard (2010)
Boulevard or Bust
London Boulevard is a big screen adaptation of Ken Bruen's 2001 fictional crime novel of the same name and a directorial debut for William Monahan of Departed (2006) fame, for which he contributed the screen play in Martin Scorcese's seminal Oscar triumph. Monahan manages to assemble a pretty interesting cast for the job matching big name attractions notably Colin Farrell for the lead of Mitchell an ex-con trying to place his life on the straight and narrow who finds complications aplenty but centrally in the shape of Keira Knightley playing Charlotte, a reclusive actress in need of Mitchell's muscle in order to fend off pesky paparazzi, perform some odd jobs around her abode whilst also seeking comfort in his softer side when making use of Mitchell as a confidante.
The strength of the piece is in the supporting cast who mainly transpire as conduits for Mitchells struggle with the temptations of a potential return to his old ways. Leading the second tier is Ray Winstone as crime lord Gant who genuinely creates an atmosphere of dread when on screen as he attempts to lure Farrell back to the dark-side. David Thewlis is equally adept as he plays Jordan a drug induced failed thespian who is Charlotte's business manager. There are also roles for Ben Chaplin as a blundering hood whilst Stephen Graham and Eddie Marsan are shamefully under used in their minor roles.
As you might be thinking there is a lot a going on here and that's sort of where Monahan gets into trouble, the narrative is littered with plot-holes and semi developed ideas and characters such as Anna Friel who pops in and out the story as a Mitchell's troubled sister, this is largely a product of the derivative nature of the project. Monahan seems to be tipping his hat at the types of movie he himself has indulged, for example there is clear a sense of early Guy Ritchie in style of the visuals, soundtrack and occasional attempts at humour. The mood and tone owes more to Scorcese traits such as an angry gratuitous racism and overly proud glorification of the gangster life style. It's a rarity when a film could be said to be too short, but one way London Boulevard could have been improved is an extra 45 minutes or so to pay attention to its many details.
The major task London Boulevard will have is proving it has any substance, it will be interesting to see if William Monahan will be encouraged to take this debut any further and perfect or enhance his directorial style with future work, if so this could be remembered more fondly as part of a bigger picture. If not it will fall through the cracks of irrelevance rather quickly.
True Identity (1991)
Laugh with Lenny
The comedic verve of Lenny Henry has flourished on both stage and television over 35 years for one of Britain's most loved entertainment personalities. However Dudley's finest son has never managed to translate his talent on to the big screen with much success. One of Lenworth's few attempts to break into Hollywood came in the 1991 release True Identity.
True Identity is a Comedy/Crime effort that owes much of it's scope and design to Beverly Hills Cop (1984), which will generate comparisons for those who have seen White Chicks (2004). Henry plays a struggling actor who involuntarily ends up on the Hit List of a want away Mafia crime boss played expertly by Frank Langella. To avoid assassination Henry utilises the make-up prowess of a neighbour to turn himself into a white man, whilst teaming up with burned out FBI agent Houston (JT Walsh).
Lets get something True Identity isn't the greatest work you'll ever see, but somehow the film kind of pulls off something worth watching, Henry's talent is obvious and with help from the supporting cast manages to get mileage out of the gags that do work, and the film delivers it's message while hovering around some potentially sensitive themes without ever taking itself too seriously.
Good for whom?
I really wanted to like RED, I couldn't help but be excited by the legendary cast and the promise of laughs a plenty. Yet somehow for me it ended with a pretty devastating sense of disappointment and emptiness.
I'll attempt to break down where it all went wrong by stating that the problems are in the main fundamental. Firstly the script is as unoriginal as it gets churning out tired old clichés and drab gags that tell themselves. Secondly the direction is confused and inconsistent, director Robert Schwentke seems to try too hard to be the star of the show using distracting and overblown visuals meshed in with an unforgiving collection of load expensive gun fights. Further the film lacks the ability to find it's audience, jumping fidgetily between generic action comedy and stumbling occasionally into attempts of deeper and more contrite self-reflection.
The least irritating element of the film is the cast, who with all mentioned previously are left with the unenviable task of trying to make something of out of very little. Bruce Willis leads from the front as the former Black-ops agent Frank Moses who endeavours to reunite his former crew (Mirren,Freeman and Malkovich) to help him solve an intricate plot he has unwittingly become part of, whilst dragging over-matched love interest Mary-Louise Parker along for the ride.
I can't help but feel that with such an illustrious cast and big budget that this was a wasted opportunity. RED isn't half as terrible as it is disappointing yet it's just hard to shake the feeling that the cast had a much better time making it than I and many others will have watching it.
The Social Network (2010)
Genesis not quite Genius
A few minutes into The Social Network we are presented with a fairly staggering piece of irony that stuck with me for the rest of the film, and that is that the would be creator of the ultimate social networking tool would himself be a socially inept outcast eager to find acceptance and inclusion within the Harvard University elite. So in tracing the genesis of the Facebook The Social Network whilst wrestling with concepts of creation and inspiration finds the idea in it's simplest form early on, defining the subject in it's own necessity from the outset.
Core to the film are relatively routine thematic dynamics such as greed, betrayal and of course friendship, those who are familiar with Director David Fincher's previous works such as Seven (1995) and Zodiac (2004) will recognise Fincher's look at the inner workings and purpose of his characters relationships, as well as the speed in which those relationships come and go in way reminiscent of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008).
The Narrative of the film is constructed cleverly through the use of two depositions which effectively provide a running commentary of two stories. Both depositions feature our central character Mark Zuckerburg (Jesse Eisenberg) as he attempts to stave off those claiming credit for the invention that would go on to define him "The Facebook". The first sees Zuckerburg headhunted to be chief programmer for ambitious entrepreneurs and athlete twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) and their associate Divya Narendra (Max Minghella). The trio ask Zuckerberg to help them build a Social Networking Website called "Harvard Connection" one of many notions suggested as a potential forerunner for the Facebook concept, the similarity of the sites leads the twins and Narendra to press for legal charges after Facebook explodes in popularity.
The second and more interesting of the depositions focuses on the creation and rise of Facebook, as well as the relationship of co-founders Mark Zuckerburg and Eduardo Saverin played by Andrew Garfield. It is here we are also introduced to Justin Timberlake's smooth talking portrayal of Sean Parker who attempts to muscle in on the Facebook frenzy. As mentioned earlier the inner workings, nature and strength of the relationships are inspected by Fincher and the cast here.
So what did I like? Well the cast does a sound job with the nicely calculated script. Eisenberg and Garfield are the highlights for me, both manage to bring conviction and whit to their roles. In addition those who indulge in Facebook themselves will enjoy seeing how the site along with many of it's intricacies were conceived, also there is much to relate within the film's references to how the site has impacted peoples lives and created new social behaviours.
On the flip side the subject matter is ultimately more captivating than it's subjects, who for the most part are reflective of over privileged American youth culture. The climax of the movie is pretty unremarkable and lacks any true climactic tension. With that said it's not enough to detract from what is a solid project, guided by fine work from all involved which should be a largely inclusive viewing experience for movie goers and Facebook lovers a like.
Go see it 7/10
Mr. Nice (2010)
Fun with serious intent
Mr Nice is a rare beast of a film, it swaggers, it spits, it dreams, it punches, it laughs, it cries and of course and likely above all it gets stoned.
Howard Marks is the central character played effortlessly by Rhys Ifans, a welsh school boy turned big city student and pothead. We see Marks transformation through a series of off beat scenes in which director Bernard Rose reflects on Marks' humble, banal yet honest origins. Then our protagonist through a combination youthful substance experimentation and a fateful convergence of circumstances is established as an international Drug smuggler,
We are gradually introduced to a plethora of interesting characters that vary from casual love interests to drug dealing allies, who materialise as Ifans travels deeper into Marks' world of dope, dealing and debauchery. Amongst the group are fine supporting efforts notably from David Thewlis who delivers the hilariously cranky IRA terrorist turned middle man Jim. Chloë Sevigny convinces as the overly supportive wife and mother Judy and Omid Djalili sparkles intermittently as the Pakistani pusher Saleem Malik.
The film takes us through the tumultuous times of sex, drugs, betrayal, greed, prison and pot which Marks and his merry men navigate their way through against a lush backdrop of 70's pastiche. By the time we get to the stories conclusion we have great connections with the characters motives as a result of the superb cast and due to an impressive directorial mesh of humour and grit from Rose what's left is the best British film of the year to date.