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After almost 10 years of fannying about with motion capture technology, Robert Zemeckis returns to live action with Flight, a tale about a plane crash and the subsequent investigation into the pilot of the ill-fated crash. Said pilot is an alcoholic, which as you can imagine is where the majority of the drama spins from.
If anyone knows how to make great blockbuster entertainment, it's Zemeckis. The man is responsible for Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit but also some fine Oscar- bait in the form of Forrest Gump and Cast Away. Flight somewhat melds both sensibilities, being in some instances a terrific adrenaline-fueled spectacle whilst also being unashamedly dramatic. Much like his previous work, special effects are fully exercised to their potential but more importantly grounded firmly within the structure of the story, the air crash never quite being the centre of the movie.
The centre of the film comes in the form of Denzel Washington, an alcoholic, cocaine- snorting womaniser, who is found at the scene of the crash with alcohol in his blood. What follows the initial roller-coaster of the disaster is a more low-key depiction of his troubled psyche. His fragmented family life, his alcoholism and his uncommunicative nature are all portrayed with a delicately which makes this a cut above the rest in terms of blockbusters. On the other hand, Kelly Reilly's character verges on the 'pointless sub-plot' category, her caricature of a heroin addict contradicting the otherwise convincing dramatisation of addiction. Thankfully, the remainder of the supporting cast make up for it; Don Cheadle and Bruce Greenwood playing their roles with enough understatement to let Washington shine through, and John Goodman popping up every once in a while to provide laughs and take the lime-light off Denzel.
Flight can best be summed up as an above-average blockbuster with a terrific performance at its heart. It surprised me with how serious it too itself whilst still lacking pretension. Highly recommended.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
The best film of 2012 so far...
A sign of a good film is if it can put you on the edge of your seat, nervously awaiting what happens next. A sign of a great film is when it can do all of those things even though you know the outcome. Unless you've been living in a cave (or a small country mansion in Pakistan) you're probably aware that Osama Bin Laden, the effective 'poster boy' of international terrorism and the al-Qaeda, was found and killed by a group of US Navy SEALs almost two years ago. Zero Dark Thirty documents the hunt over a 10 year period, beginning with a sound collage of phone calls during the 9/11 terrorist attack. This opening pretty much sets you up for the kind of film this is; dark, menacing and uncomfortable.
I was a little skeptical going into this film, fairly certain that it would patriotically wave the flag for the USA and shove down our throats how 'great' they are as a nation. However, it's surprising how unpatriotic the movie is. Maya, portrayed astoundingly by Jessica Chastain, is almost a CIA-prodigy who becomes obsessive about the capture of OBL. She starts out as a fresh-faced new recruit in the US Embassy in Pakistan, initially overwhelmed by the brutality of torture, and gradually morphs into a reclusive and obsessive key-player in the manhunt. Chastain is incredible, being both cold and unlikeable while at the same time being human enough for the audience to still invest in her character. It is a remarkable performance matched by the stellar supporting cast. However, this is very much Maya's show, sometimes feeling more like a study of a workaholic than a docu-drama.
Conversely, when the big guns come out, they certainly come out. For the majority of its two and a half hour running time, most of the action comes from the offices and workspaces of the US Embassy or the CIA, that is not to say that there aren't isolated scenes of explosive action, but they are certainly secondary to the drama. However, this being a picture about a manhunt, the final 30-40 minutes is some of the most gripping and exciting cinema that I've seen in a while. Again, it's a credit to the filmmakers for taking a story we know well and making it into something that still takes us by surprise.
Perhaps the biggest snub of the Academy Awards this year was the lack of a nomination for Kathryn Bigelow, which probably has something to do with the difficult politics and subsequent controversy surrounding the picture. Her nomination would have been one of the most deserving, as the film's power and effect is almost single-handedly down to her direction.
In turns thoughtful, exciting and shocking, Zero Dark Thirty is the best film I've seen so far this year. Phenomenal.
My Blog: CelluloidRamblings . blogspot. co . uk
Django Unchained (2012)
If Quentin Tarantino wasn't making movies he'd probably be killing people, so we should all probably be a little grateful that he is actually still making movies. It's become commonplace to fall in love with his films, and then swiftly disregard them as the the exploitative rip-offs that they have become; films that riff off the success of Pulp Fiction. So, in some ways, Django is almost a return to form for the director, even if it still does contain a few of his tedious trademarks that he's developed. No one knows he is a talented director more than Tarantino itself, which is ultimately his main downfall.
Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first: QT makes an appalling cameo, the film is too long for it's own good and there is still a pungent whiff of his gimmicky narrative technique of flicking here there and everywhere. However when putting that aside one could almost surmise that Tarantino has almost, almost, come of age in this film, as the theme of slavery is treated with a definite seriousness, however cursory. To casual onlookers though, this is still Tarantino being a child behind a camera with a rich dictionary of naughty words and bucket loads of blood.
What sets this apart from his more recent output is that it has a story, a plot, and it's a welcome return to say the least. Jamie Foxx plays Django, a slave freed by Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz) who encourages him to become a bounty hunter, and subsequently claim back his wife from Monsieur Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). All three actors do a terrific job, especially DiCaprio, who suits the nutty-yet-dangerous character of Candie to a tee. Samuel L. Jackson is also worth a mention, as the head slave who is at once hilarious and threatening. What really steals the show is Tarantino's script (nominated for an Academy Award) which is very often hilarious; the audience I was with couldn't stop laughing!
It's the most un-Tarantino Tarantino film in a while, while still being, er, a Tarantino film. The plot twists and turns, the set-pieces are terrific and the violence is deliciously graphic, making this into a highly enjoyable film for fans of the director or otherwise. Go and see it.
My Blog: www . celluloidramblings . blogspot . co . uk
Les Misérables (2012)
I liked it, but it could have been better...
Nominated for a total of 8 Oscars, it's difficult to not go into this film with ridiculously high expectations. Not only have you got Tom Hooper at the helm, whose previous film 'The King's Speech' swept up the Academy Awards just two years ago, but you've got the likes of Catwoman, Wolverine and Maximus Decimus Meridius belting out the tunes made famous by Susan Boyle. And it's a musical. A musical. How's that going to get an audience? It's just a case of ticking all the right boxes. For the women, could be the best weepy since Titanic; for the lads, well, you may need a little more convincing. But it's certainly safe to say that fans of the stage production will be wholeheartedly satisfied.
Much like a subtitled film, it takes a little while to get used to the cast singing almost every single line of dialogue, and the film doesn't gradually work it in either. The opening scene is a sweeping long shot of a ship being hauled into harbour by bald and bearded convicts. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is among them; he stole a loaf of bread which resulted in a 19 year sentence. Javert (Russel Crowe) tells him that his parole has begun, making him a free man. However, when Valjean breaks his parole following a religious redemption, Javert embarks on a life-long mission to capture the elusive Valjean.
Watching this is like a wave of unsubtle emotion crashing over your face for 158 minutes, but it is somewhat refreshing. In a baron cinematic landscape where 'epic' usually means a lack of character, it's comfortable knowing that Hollywood still know how to make 'em how they used to; load, vast and unashamedly sentimental. However, the constant tear-jerk emotional reactions that the film is constantly trying to provoke, especially in the second act, becomes unintentionally grating. Also, some of the songs become extremely tedious; after all it's only musical theatre, no Bizet. Not only that, but there are times when the second act seems rushed, almost as if you barely know the characters that are meeting their demise. But that is not to take away from the astonishing raw power of the first half. Anne Hathaway steals the show as Fantine, providing a lump-in-your-throat rendition of 'I Dreamed a Dream' caked in tears and snot. If she doesn't get the Oscar this year, there is something wrong with the system.
Overall it's an enjoyable, solidly crafted movie, but it's not the weep-a-minute that so many of us were expecting. The second act doesn't live up to the brilliance of the first half, but nevertheless, it's a useful reminder that musicals are still alive and well.
My Blog: www . celluloidramblings . blogspot . co . uk
As a 16 year old, it's safe to say that this obviously is not a film which is aimed at me at all, being based in a retirement home for old musicians where cracking jokes about opera is, you know, hilarious. In fact, the screening I was in was filled with those with white hair. It's not often that I feel out of place at a cinema, but I on this occasion I did.
Quartet, as you probably know, features a stellar cast of older actors; Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay playing the reunited divorcées with a history; Billy Connolly as a pottering and senile old tenor, cracking double-entendres at every opportunity; and Pauline Collins, who in my opinion steals the show, as the ditzy ex-opera singer. What follows is an unashamedly predictable, but nevertheless solidly crafted and amusing drama that wouldn't look out of place on a Sunday afternoon TV slot. Minus the f-words, of course. Yes ,you can see its development from a mile off, and it rarely addresses the more serious and harrowing aspects of old-age as Haneke's 'Amour' did, but it's good natured, well scripted and amusing fun.
It's all through the typical rose-tinted, Downton-esque portrayal of Britain that we're all accustomed to, but with a cast like that and a gentle, sweet story, it's hard not to be eventually won over by its charm. I had a good time.
Lo imposible (2012)
Realistic, bleak, but ultimately life-affirming.
Disaster films have an odd reputation, often merely dismissed as popcorn fodder, so it's strange to have a film billed as such but to put character and drama over spectacle. Then again, as it's based on a true story, it's probably unfair to label 'The Impossible' as such a movie because the plight of the characters is at its heart throughout the entire duration. Perhaps this film is best described as a family drama with elements of disaster, then.
The Boxing Day tsunami was one of those events that put our lives into perspective, and the film achieves the same feat. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts play the parents of three children who decide to spend an exotic Christmas in Thailand. Suitcases are unpacked, presents are exchanged, but the sense of impending disaster is overwhelmingly unsettling. When the inevitable does happen, the following 15 minutes are intense, realistic and terrifying; an onslaught of terrific practical effects and incredible sound design. However, after that concentrated outburst, the drama shifts down a gear to a more intimate, personal level, which is no less frightful.
That is why this film shines; it's about the smaller picture. By focusing on the survival of this one family rather than the scale of the event itself, a better, and more human, representation of the disaster is displayed. The performances from the central cast are nothing short of spectacular, especially Tom Holland, who carries the film for a hefty chunk of the running time with a gravitas that many older actors would fail to achieve.
Many criticisms have been made in the press about the anglicisation of the story; in reality, the family was Spanish. To me, that seemed to be a decision to globalise this story to the maximum amount of people, a decision that was warranted in my eyes. Thus, the main issue with the film was the score to be unnecessarily overriding in certain scenes, adding an unwanted sentimentality to the film. The scenes which worked best were confrontational, uncompromising and, you guessed it, without a swelling orchestra. Nevertheless, this is a minor gripe considering that this is a film where tears are wholeheartedly justified.
My Blog - Celluloid Ramblings . blogspot. co . uk