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Meek's Cutoff (2010)
What will Meek inherit?
Meek (Bruce Greenwood) is guiding three married couples and a few 'young uns' across the frontiers of 19th century America. His 'cutoff' refers to a shortcut that he has led them on in their route to their new homes and fortunes. Before they get there, they must deal with the guide's apparent lack of skills and direction, and what they will encounter along the way. Greenwood turns in a very good performance, in that he is extremely unlikeable, but I think it is fair to say that this film is stolen by the two performances of Michelle Williams and Shirley Henderson, both very well suited to their roles. Some critics have deemed the film a little too slow, but I think that is unfair - the pace is perfect, given the audience is accompanying horses and wagons. If you liked 'Old Joy' by the same director, you should enjoy her new work (if you didn't see it you should check it out). Dialogue is sparse, but there is a lot of meaning in the things the characters say - the ending is open to interpretation, so thinking about what you've heard may point you in the right direction.
Double Take (2009)
A 'McGuffin' of a movie
I'll start with an apology. I am unsure that I will be able to provide a meaningful description of this film. In saying that, I'm not sure I would have known I would have enjoyed this as much as I did, regardless of anyone's opinion. Truly, this is a film that is difficult to conventionally define – that's part of why I liked it so much. The film intertwines the classic cinema Alfred Hitchock created in his long distinguished career, with the significant historical events of the same time. So...have the classic imagery of birds, shower scenes, dead bodies...interspersed by Nixon's encounter with Khrushchev, JFKs televised presidential debate and the space race. The underlying theme is about doubles, and Hitchcock's double – both lookalike and soundalike feature. The voice over is hypnotic, and the film would have never had the same impact without the vocal performance of Mark Perry. I also felt myself hypnotised by the original soundtrack music of Bernard Hermann, and Double Take is a film I would watch at least twice.
Kandahar Break (2009)
Excellent locations and a very good film
Kandahar Break managed to break one perception I had before watching the film of where it would actually be shot. Admittedly, the crew did have to relocate and complete the film in Tunisia, but as this was due to the sad loss of Pakistani crew members, killed by Taliban insurgents. The filmmakers here took the brave and worthwhile step of filming in the afghani-Pakistan border, and made a film that is all the more enthralling for it. The storyline centres around an English contractor paid to clear minefields, and having to navigate the minefield of relations to the local people and the Taliban Government (the film is set from 1999). Lead actor and actress perform well, I think the actress is a newcomer and absolutely stunning. Keep looking for this director as I would expect this will be a good platform for him to move on well in the film industry.
How do you do a legend justice?
Bill Hicks had built up a large and very loving fan base in his adopted home of the UK before his sad and early departure. One of life's many contradictions is that the country that spawned a genius also spurned him, most notably David Letterman scrapping his final (of many) appearances on the late show. Bill felt it was a mere biological coincidence (listen to his routines) that he happened to be a Texan, and this comedian and social commentator belonged to the whole world rather than just two countries on either side of the Atlantic. He belonged to the whole world in my opinion because he had such a relevant and timeless message, that fuelled every polemic routine. I've been a fan of Hicks since I was 18 years old, making many of the discoveries this guy had made at the same age. For anyone who regards themselves alive enough to cherish self awareness and to contemplate questions such as why do the good guys die and the twisted little men thrive in their place, tune into Hicks (not Fox News). Fitting given his fan base that this documentary was made with love by two British directors. As I said, I consider myself a huge fan, but this film shed light on an already big star, especially his formative years and relationships with his friends and family. 'American' is a journey, a ride, and one you'll be very glad you came along on.
Could have used a bit more light.
Cuckoo has a very talented cast, which all equip themselves well for the three lead roles. Notably Laura Fraser provides a dimensional character, who has already lost her mother and may now be losing her mind. I would say the genre aimed for here is creepy thriller, and lots of the film is lit with energy saving lightbulbs in my opinion (a good thing, but not here). I expect films with this type of theme to be underlit, but didn't like the lighting here at all. The film is well shot, and the score is fantastic. There is an interesting plot, but the storyline isn't quite tight enough. Good atmosphere and worth a look with appropriate expectations
American Beauty (1999)
An amazing experience if you haven't forgotten whats important
Even when I think of this film, I can hear the sparse, beautiful soundtrack in my head. Everyone has a faultless performance, and something tells me all the actors involved knew they were making something...beautiful. Just like life, the film is tragic and uplifting, and always underscored with a real humour and vitality. A good movie generally has a few scenes that always stand out, but it seems American Beauty seems to go from one arresting sequence to another. Whilst I have mentioned that all actors involved bring so much, Kevin Spacey is really sublime, especially in the narration. It's a film I will never tire of seeing or recommending to people, and a reminder of how difficult it can seem to deviate from the paths we make in life.