Reviews written by registered user
jamesgill-1

9 reviews in total 
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19 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Seductive sounds and a disarmingly warm animation style, 15 November 2010
7/10

The new animated romance Chico and Rita follows the relationship of two young Cuban musicians: Chico is a gifted piano player looking to bring the sound of Havana to New York; Rita is a beautiful singer who treads the precarious path between Latin musicians and white investors looking to cash in on the popularity of this new music. Like all star crossed lovers, their journey is not an easy one – their musical and romantic tribulations will continue over 60 years against the striking backdrops of Havana, New York, Paris, Hollywood and Las Vegas.

The real strength of the film is its ability to portray a classic love story in both an innovative, sensual and sensitive way. The syncopated grace of Cuban Jazz combines with a disarmingly child-like animation to create a sparkling tribute to 1940s and 50s Havana culture.

The film exudes real passion for both the music of the period and the locations of the film, beautifully re-crafted within the animated landscape. The Cuban sound is brought to life with a truly uplifting assortment of records, including classics from Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie and Thelonius Monk. Like the heady improvisation of a be-bop trumpeter, this film bounces between soft melody and excited fragmentation, always bursting to give the audience something new and exciting.

Yet this does not mean that the film is purely for Jazz aficionados – the affection that directors Javier Mariscal and Fernando Trueba bring to their work ensures that this film doesn't become simply a musical tribute aimed at a conceited minority. The scale of the narrative will leave you breathless, and yet the story is all told through the seemingly innocent hand of traditional cartoon animation. In a post-Pixar world, this kind of hand-drawn animation has gained a retro charm all of its own. Chico and Rita is a delicate reminder that genuine action and emotion can still be expressed without the pixellated glossiness of CGI.

Chico and Rita really succeeds in bringing the colour and vibrancy of early 50s Havana back to life – from the delightfully evocative soundtrack, to the re-telling of a classic love story through the medium of hand-drawn animation, the film is a fitting expression of the vision and compassion of its creators.

Find more reviews at www.singleadmission.co.uk

144 out of 164 people found the following review useful:
Mike Leigh turns the trivial into the truly tragic, 25 October 2010
8/10

Mike Leigh's latest film Another Year follows the story of a happily married couple approaching their retirement years. Their warm relationship offers them security as the the film progresses. Their friends and family, by contrast, all struggle to some extent with unhappiness, and a sense that their best years may be behind them.

The film is a story of ageing; the small events that can make life either comforting or unbearable; and the refuge that companionship can offer.

Rut Sheen's role as Gerri is superb. Her open, welcoming face invites her friend and colleague Mary (played by Lesley Manville) to open up to her about her drunken fears of where her life is leading. Jim Broadbent's Tom is charming and self-effacing, confident in his own happiness yet nonplussed at the failure of his friend Ken – Peter Wight – to come to terms with growing old.

The film dwells on the small, predominantly non-verbal signals that reveal emotional and social insecurity. Leigh's direction reminds us that the sharpest insights into character lie in moments where we think we at our most concealed. Faces betray what we wish were kept private – at moments where verbal communication fails, physical expression lights up hidden fears, passions, failings and desires.

Leigh treats all his characters with a certain dignity – whilst there are moments where we are encouraged to laugh at their social inadequacies, for the most part we suffer along with them, knowing that their experiences are all too near reality to take lightly. We encourage Tom and Gerri to keep supporting their despairing friends, yet knowing at the same time that their married happiness can only serve to mock their friends' lonely lives further. The four strictly partitioned seasons of the film point towards a growing anxiety that it may in fact be too late for these lost characters. The cyclical nature of the structure suggests that there is no real remedy for those left unloved and lonely at the film's conclusion.

From the opening scene, where a woman silently struggles to recollect the happiest moment in her life, to the point when the dialogue slowly fades away to leave Mary isolated and forlorn, we cannot help but be both enchanted and dismayed by the emotional honesty of Mike Leigh's characters. This is what sets out the director as a truly gifted artist – his ability to heighten the routine into the dramatic; and to make the trivial, truly tragic.

Four Lions (2010)
140 out of 164 people found the following review useful:
A ludicrous pageant of ineptitude... a 'How-Not-To Guide' to martyrdom, 16 May 2010
7/10

Like Charlie Chaplin's Hitler, Chris Morris' 'Four Lions' shows that no subject can escape comic scrutiny; humour always seems to find the ability to expose the ridiculous in otherwise appalling situations. This satirical black comedy vents its disgust at the pseudo-morality of suicide bombing, whilst managing to portray its terrorists with an affection that allows the audience an unexpected emotional attachment with these supposed figures of violence.

The film follows a terrorist cell of blundering, inept, and impossibly stupid would-be suicide bombers on their quest towards martyrdom – we follow them failing miserably in a Pakistan training camp, trying to run through sheep fields whilst carrying bags of explosives, attaching bombs to crows, all the time creating a chaotic 'blooper' reel of attempted martyrdom videos. These suicide bombers are not the feared assassins of popular imagination, but absurd and easily led dupes who encourage laughter and ridicule – and significantly, in the end, pity.

The comedy of 'Four Lions' lies in the power of its bathos: the film reduces the dreaded spectre of suicide bombing to a ludicrous pageant of ineptitude. It's a film with fast laughs and dim wit in abundance, an absurd 'How Not-To Guide' to martyrdom.

However, the audience cannot help but feel pity for the characters as their plot reaches its climax. There is a sad inevitability to the group's last moments together; despite the horror of what the bombers are planning, the audience has been lulled into sympathising with their situation. The sadness of the film comes with the audience's realisation that these characters are regular, likable, funny, naive people – they are not monsters in themselves, but made monstrous by their susceptibility to absurd, immoral teachings.

The lead character Omar's interactions with his wife and young son are painful in their twisted depiction of the ideal family unit. At one point Omar (played by Riz Ahmed) tells his son a bedtime story about 'Simba's Jihad'. It is a scene that is touching, funny and uncomfortable all at once, a reflection of our responses to the film as a whole.

'Four Lions' is provocative in its comic parody of an emotional subject, but there is never any sense that it wishes to be deliberately inflammatory. Instead, the story is told with warmth and sharp humour; it offers us a fine concoction of derision and sympathy, pulling at our affections whilst cutting the terrifying down to the clownish.

James Gill ------ Find more reviews, news and previews at www.singleadmission.co.uk

11 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
A tragedy of lost childhood - a tremendously assured directorial debut., 14 May 2010
8/10

Director Tom Harper could have asked for no better calling card than this debut feature film. 'The Scouting Book For Boys', starring the burgeoning talent of Thomas Turgoose (known for his lead in Shane Meadows' 'This Is England'), is a dark story that follows the experiences of two friends on the cusp of adolescence, experiencing the tragedy of growing up far too fast as a result of the situation they plunge themselves into.

David (Turgoose) and Emily (played by Holly Grainger) are best friends living in the idyllic solitude of a Norfolk caravan park. Their sheltered lives are shattered when Emily is told that she will have to move away to live with her Dad, and so together the two plan to hide Emily in a nearby beach cave. The resulting police search reveals secrets about Emily that David was unprepared for; with his feelings for her growing stronger by the day, and with the real reason for her running away becoming clear, David's romantic existence unravels into a nightmare of strange, conflicting emotions.

The success of this film lies in the fact that the director and writer (Jack Thorne) have managed to capture that sense of desperate adolescent obsession. The teenage protagonists are created faithfully. There is never any inclination to patronise their confused emotions - instead, the intensity of feeling provides the main dramatic impetus, as the dynamic of a childhood relationship begins to change drastically in the face of responsibilities which they are simply not capable of dealing with.

Cinematographer Robbie Ryan in this film creates a love ballad for the Norfolk coast, drenching his shots in golden hues and hazy stretches of empty beach, superbly capturing a landscape caught halfway between land and sea. His work makes the tragic violence of the final scenes all the more unbearable, emphasising to the audience how far these teenagers have come in the course of the narrative, ripped from the dappled summers of childhood into the dank half-light of a cold cave.

The leading performances from Turgoose and Grainger carry the audience forward into the darkness of the final plot twists. Thomas Turgoose is undoubtedly an intriguing acting talent, creating in his character a restrained yet emotionally potent portrayal of adolescent love/obsession. Holly Grainger is admirable as the independent teenage girl who thinks she can take on the world and all it throws at her, unable to recognise how out of her depth she really is. The way she moves from being in complete control to utter dependence on David underlines an impressive understanding of Emily's emotional desperation.

The final turn of the plot has the potential to estrange some viewers, as the director leads his audience to the brink of emotional distress. But the layering of the film requires the charting of fallen innocence to be fully realised, and the director doesn't flinch at its execution. This is a daring introduction to the world of feature film for Tom Harper; its release marks the arrival of a significant new talent in the U.K. film industry.

James Gill --- Find more reviews at http://web.me.com/gilljames/Single_Admission

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A chillingly beautiful opening scene..., 28 April 2010
7/10

The opening scene of this film alone makes it worth watching - a stunningly photographed piece that sets the tone of domestic horror that will give the film its dramatic impetus. Like the serenely drifting balloon that belies the tragedy to come, the cinematography drives the film calmly yet compellingly towards its brutal climax.

This is a film that has the courage of its conviction in terms of narrative pacing - there are some stiflingly slow scenes that never feel the need to speed up, instead taking pleasure in winding our nerves ever tighter round the characters' distressing situations.

Daniel Craig arguably has more presence in this film with only a pair of spectacles than he would ever come to have whilst hidden behind bulging muscles and snappy cars as James Bond. Rhys Ifans works best in roles where he has the opportunity to have more of a tongue-in-cheek attitude to the character he is playing. Watching him in this film without any sense of his cutting irony, therefore, is unfortunately a slightly bland experience. At some moments, however, he does manage to display the kind of pitiable yet violent behaviour required for the role.

This film's star turn is down to the people behind the character. Unfortunately, the best moments of the film are in the first five minutes - the film always struggles to live up to these chillingly enchanting opening moments.

James Gill (Twitter @jg8608)

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Dragging and limp, a massive disappointment from Michael Mann, 28 April 2010
3/10

A hugely disappointing experience - I am a big Michael Mann fan: the coffee shop scene in 'Heat' is one of the most bristling moments of recent cinema history. Perhaps that's part of the problem. 'Heat' works because the entire film is drawing to a meeting of the colossal forces that are Lt. Vincent Hanna and Neil McCauley (played, of course, by Al Pacino and Robert de Niro). In the coffee shop scene the audience realises that what they are seeing are two sides of the same coin - they are the same people, and their confrontation can only end in self-destruction.

In 'Public Enemies' there simply isn't that kind of collision between the characters of Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. There's a brief, witty yet flippant meeting of the two between the bars of a jail in the first half of the film, which entirely dissolves the tension between these supposedly titanic enemies. A real flop after the fizz of Mann's previous work. In the end, I found that I just didn't care enough about the characters to stay interested.

The HD handy-cam style works perfectly in the slow dialogue of scenes like the race course scene, picking out every stitch in Depp's expertly tailored suits. Or in the half-light of a photographer's flare as the plane brings its prisoner onto a journalist-packed airstrip. But as soon as it tries to capture a fast-moving firefight in a cottage in the woods, the style collapses. Mann simply hasn't hit the mark with his cinematography. I have no problem with the style in general; it just doesn't work here.

Finally, Mann's enduring weakness with his female characters really stands out in 'Public Enemies'. When you have a screen presence such as Marion Cotillard at the beginning of the film and then take her away half way through the film, you really notice. Worse of all, to then bring her back only to beat her unnecessarily around the head for 15 minutes in a scene dangerously close to misogyny just grates. Give me more of her, and less of unwatchable shootouts in darkness please! I'm sorry, but it's an overly-long, overly-busy movie that could do with a few more days in the editing suite. 140 minutes - a real let-down for a otherwise praising Michael Mann fan.

16 out of 24 people found the following review useful:
Gervais brings big screen budget to small town Britain, 19 April 2010
7/10

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's nostalgic comedy drama of 1970s Britain has its heart in the right place. OK, there is nothing strikingly original here – think 'The Likely Lads' meets American buddy movie spliced with stock Gervais stand-up material – but the craft of this movie lies not in breaking boundaries. Instead, it offers its audience a chance to feel the warm cosiness of familiarity.

The film charts the hopes and dreams of three friends as they seek to break out of a small, stagnating community before they end up trapped in the same dead-end lives of their parents. Their loyalty to each other forms the heart of the story, even as they come to realise that their aspirations will inevitably lead them in different directions. The motivation for their friendship relies on a genuine apprehension that there may be no escape from the stifling 50s attitude that pervades their community. This is, as they so wryly remark, a town that the Swinging Sixties passed by.

The characters work well together – there's an engaging chemistry between the three relatively unknown actors. Christian Cooke plays Freddie Taylor, the boy with a job with an insurance company, hoping to leave behind the factory work of his father. Tom Hughes is excellent as the angry, rebellious Bruce, appalled by his dad's lack of spirit yet all too aware of his own grim prospects. The trio is completed by Jack Doolan as 'Snork', the hapless station announcer looking up to the flair of his closest friends. The three leads are ably supported by a cast that includes Ralph Fiennes and Emily Watson, as well as some familiar faces from the Gervais and Merchant back catalogue. A prize for anyone who spots Karl Pilkington's fetching moustache…

Whilst there are moments where the dialogue appears more than a little stilted, for the most part the action fizzes nicely between the three characters. He may only have a small role within the actual film, but Gervais' voice is clearly audible whenever there is an intelligent put-down or a comic observation. At times this intrudes on the authenticity of the characters, but generally the dialogue allows for a neat separation between Gervais' inclination towards biting comic scrutiny, and his more tempered capacity for gentle human interaction.

Including a jukebox medley of a soundtrack that includes 70s classics from, among others, David Bowie and T-Rex, the film has that reflective rose-tinted-spectacle feel that has become so familiar to us in American films, but is far less common with the British cinema industry. Perhaps it's the weighty budget behind this film that sets it apart from other recent British period pieces. Perhaps it's the ability of the directors to throw off their typical British scepticism and capture that sense of breezy reminiscence.

Whatever the answer, this is, for me, far more of an "American" film than movies such as 'Trainspotting', 'The Full Monty', or 'This Is England'. However, there is enough self-conscious humour and knowing sideways glances to make us realise that this is still a British film by a pair of British writers who, in 'The Office', gave us the best portrayal of British society for the new millennium. Gervais and Merchant have confirmed in this film that they are just about capable of making that dangerous leap from television to cinema. There is hopefully more to come, but 'Cemetery Junction' shows that their tongue-in-cheek blend of laughter and tears isn't likely to end with 'The Office' and 'Extras'.

James Gill Twitter @jg8608 Find more reviews at http://web.me.com/gilljames/Single_Admission

63 out of 74 people found the following review useful:
Banksy's humour is as sharp as ever - but just who is the target?, 14 April 2010
9/10

It took me a while to get a chance to see this film: anybody who was around Bristol last summer for Banksy's 'Homecoming' exhibition will be aware of the popularity of the city's most celebrated son, and therefore I shouldn't have been surprised that when the first three times I tried to see the film the cinema was sold out. However, I got there in the end.

In my admittedly naïve opinion, street art is one of the most significant art movement of the 21st century. Its attraction lies in the fact that it is one of the most democratic forms of visual art – there is a conscious rejection of the safety net of critical censorship or gallery authority. Instead, the public are engaged with artists' work throughout the course of their daily lives, and it is up to them to conclude which side of the line this kind of work treads – is it graffiti, a public menace and an eyesore, or is it a work of art that has a right to be displayed wherever the artist chooses? I'm rambling. However, I wanted to establish my feelings towards street art as a whole before engaging with Banksy's satirical and humorous representation of it within Exit Through the Gift Shop.

To the film…

Banksy's first foray into film-making drags his unique sweet and sour mix of humour and political satire kicking and screaming onto the silver screen. Anyone hoping for a revelation of his true identity is to be disappointed – the film opens with a blacked-out figure of a man in a hood, and whilst the Bristol accent defies the voice alteration, it's clear that this film is not designed to be a personal unmasking. Rather, Banksy's humour has a very different kind of revelation in mind.

The true hero (or perhaps anti-hero would be a better description) is the curiously care-free French shop-keeper/amateur filmmaker, whose interest in graffiti artists is borne out of a chance confrontation with the artist known as 'Space Invader'. The film follows Guetta's attempts to capture his encounters with various street artists, including the notorious Banksy, on camera, and in the process Banksy encourages Guetta to create a documentary out of the ridiculous amount of film that he has amassed over several years of his life.

Unfortunately, Guetta, although a handy cameraman, is quite clearly not a filmmaker. Part of Banksy's skill in creating this film is that it makes us ask just who is the director in this haphazard process. One of the frequently-quoted lines of the film comes from Banksy himself, saying "it's basically the story of how one man set out to film the un-filmable. And failed." The character of Guetta that we see on screen is simply ridiculous, and yet we are attracted by his attitude of naivety. He is a hugely entertaining personality, and even more so because he appears to take himself so seriously. Even Banksy cannot quite know what to make of him. Is he a disguised genius, or a fool who got lucky? Either way, Banksy's portrayal of the way in which Guetta engages with the art world breathes new life into that clichéd question of what actually gives art both aesthetic and financial value. With the help of Rhys Ifans' superbly wry narration, the film conducts us through the emergence of the street art counterculture, and how perceptions of it have changed within the political, artistic and social establishment.

There are so many things that could be said about this film, but it is dangerous to say more without ruining the sense of the unexpected that the film generates. That is a tribute to the intricacy of the documentary narrative, in which real life personalities generate the same thrill of the unknown as fictional plot lines. Suffice it to say, I left feeling lusciously confused – who was I in the end laughing at or with? In the face of Banksy's teasingly ironic vision, no one is left unscathed. Not even us. Not even Banksy himself.

James Gill Twitter @jg8608 More reviews at http://web.me.com/gilljames/Single_Admission

Green Zone (2010)
56 out of 73 people found the following review useful:
A thriller that doesn't forget its political foundations, 14 April 2010
7/10

The new offering from Paul Greengrass is an intriguing progression from his previous films. Marrying the political engagement of films such as 'Bloody Sunday' with the blockbuster attraction of the Bourne films, 'Green Zone' was always going to promise attractive viewing, and it doesn't disappoint.

Matt Damon's character, Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, is in charge of an American Armed Forces unit in search of Weapons of Mass Destruction during the early stages of the Iraq conflict. When their search proves fruitless, Miller begins to question the supposedly 'solid' intelligence that gave the locations of these WMD sites. The plot follows Miller's demand for answers from an unstable command desperate to hide them, revealing a political division at the heart of the U.S administration.

Yes, this is fiction, but Greengrass has become adept at tapping into our taste for conspiracy, contextualising his stories within a political reality that has become all too familiar to us since the invasion began in 2003. It's thrilling stuff, and I think that is the key word to remember when watching this film. Thriller. Yes, there is political content here, and yes, it does hold up to some scrutiny. For example, the opening of the movie portrays the sense of confusion of conflicting command structures particularly well, really getting into the disorientation and intrigue of a military operation that isn't going as planned. The role of journalist Laurie Dayne (played by Amy Ryan) also provides a well-executed analysis of how the media's coverage of the facts can be impaired by the manoeuvrings of political and military authority.

There are moments when this political engagement appears heavy-handed, but that is because the director's priority is always, first and foremost, entertainment. For example, there is nothing subtle about Damon's character walking into a scene of Americans drinking and lounging by the pool of one of Saddam Hussein's palaces. Furthermore, the film suffers from conventional Hollywood stereotypes when it tries to depict the 'downtrodden-yet-hopeful' Iraqi citizen, who works with Miller in order to expose the truth about his country. Khalid Abdalla (best known for his lead role in 'The Kite Runner') does his best with the material available, but the role lacks depth and complexity, and for me is one of the few disappointments of the film.

But, as I said, this a work of fiction, and there are plenty of moments where our taste for excitement and spectacle is satisfied. Greengrass' now familiar 'handycam' filming style is appropriate to the sense that we are never sure as an audience where the threat is going to come from. It provides a kick of adrenaline to the action sequences, making us feel the sand in our mouths as we are thrown to the floor, and adds docudrama realism to the events on screen. Some of the reviews I have seen complained about this style of cinematography, but I think Greengrass has managed to make the technique contribute to the content of his film, rather than becoming overly intrusive or threatening our cinematic experience.

There is a delicious feeling of melodrama to the piece as a whole – the moustached Jason Isaacs as the sinister Special Forces operative provides a gripping counterbalance to the inquiring Matt Damon. Brendan Gleeson is superb as the CIA agent that won't roll over and accept the demands of the military and political commanders. Indeed, the cast as a whole appears to work well together in a film that successfully marries the need for political engagement with the desire for cinematic spectacle. It is a film designed for box office appeal, and yet despite this it doesn't compromise on the political foundations on which it is based. Its climax is a fine reward for the audience's suspense – in short, a well-worked film that cuts to the heart of our craving for conspiracy and revelation.

James Gill (Twitter @jg8608)