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As Above, So Below (2014)
Went in with low expectations and still disappointed.
As Above, So Below has the premise to be a great horror film on paper but sadly on the screen just signals the death of a genre made popular by 'The Blair Witch Project' some 15 years ago. Do you want to make a film but can't be arsed? Then make a shaky-cam film as there is little or no skill required to produce an hour and a half of headache inducing wobbly action. Starting in Iran before moving to the catacombs of Paris the camera work is so frenetic that I couldn't make out what the hell I was looking at most of the time it certainly didn't deliver on the promise of the great setting as this could have been any old cave by the time they finally get round to going there, and that's the films main problem it's just dull and drawn out. I've been to the catacombs (one of the reasons I went to see this film) and it is a quite scary place, the person I was with had a panic attack and yet none of this comes across in the film and this is before it spirals down into a mess of supernatural mumbo jumbo which just makes the last portion of the movie laughable. Plucky brit Lara wannabe Scarlett leads her team in to the caves like a poor man's Descent, two of her party are clearly only there to be killed off and may as well of worn a red Star Trek top each from the outset. Once inside they quest for a magic stone that has the ability to heal you if you get hurt therefore removing any suspense that might have been left in this vacuous borefest. All it took to make this film is any old cave, a group of models and a handful of Go-Pros and a way of reducing the majesty and history of the Paris catacombs into nothing more than a gimmicky footnote to get people in to the cinema.
God Bless America (2011)
Goldthwait does it again.
'What's the point in civilisation if we can't be civilised?' asks Frank (Murray) quite early on in Bobcat Goldthwait's latest indie feature 'God Bless America' a darkly comic melodrama that aims to lampoon everything that is wrong with media, society, advertising and modern cultivated culture. After the brilliantly twisted 'Sleeping Dogs' and the underrated 'World's Greatest Dad' Goldthwait is carving himself out as an interesting writer/director to watch and this is no exception. While not always hitting its intended targets it is none the less a great little road movie with brilliant central performances from Joel Murray as Frank and Tara Lynne Barr as Roxy a kind of watered down Natural Born Killers meets Bonnie and Clyde but with elements of 'Falling Down' and to a certain extent 'Leon'. The script is sharp and the cinematography, for its low budget, is commendable so even when the film misses a beat it can really be forgiven and with a good use of music and humour to carry it along there is a lot to like about this movie. Some may not like how heavy-handed it can be with its message at times and at 100 minutes a feels a little long in places but Goldthwait always seems to bring it back round. While not as clever as say Palahniuk or as satirically accurate as Chris Morris it none the less has something to say and doesn't come over as too preachy at the expense of the entertainment on offer. Film fans will love the cinema scene at the halfway mark and the visceral opening monologue would be shocking if it wasn't so hilarious. Sadly certain nods to popular culture may date the film in time but for now enjoy what is another quirky but powerful film full of dark comedy and social commentary from one of America's leading indie directors.
Hard going but beautiful.
Artist turned director Steve McQueen first collaborated with Michael Fassbender on 'Hunger' the harrowing story of Irish republican Bobby Sands leading the inmates of a Northern Irish prison in a hunger strike. It was brave, bold and despite the subject matter, beautiful and now reunited they tread similar ground with 'Shame'. Here Fassbender plays Brandon a New York City resident with a crippling sex addiction and when his sister drops in for an unannounced visit it threatens his perverse routine to a point that will test them both and their relationship. Artfully shot in a style that McQueen seems to be developing it can at times be very intrusive, if you are easily offended by graphic sex then you should probably avoid this, its unflinching in it raw depiction and pulls no punches in stripping the actors bare both physically and mentally. The music is orchestral and sweeps up and down with the emotions of the viewer and as a whole package it is certainly a cinematic tour de force. Some people will no doubt be annoyed by the fact that the film asks more questions than it answers and being a snapshot of a time doesn't delve into why these characters are damaged or even how it will can resolved. But as with 'Hunger' the film is beautiful and striking in so many ways and if McQueen continues this career path then the art worlds loss is most certainly cinemas gain.
The Artist (2011)
I can honestly say that I haven't enjoyed a film as much as I did 'The Artist' in a long time; from start to finish this movie is absolutely superb. From the attention to detail in recreating the era of silent movies (it's black and white and even presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio) to the mesmerising acting, it is a loving homage that can't fail to entertain and charm. Dujardin, in a surely Oscar winning performance, is George Valentin a silent movie actor, who along with his dog (another scene stealing performance) is a big star, so what could possibly go wrong? Well the invention of the talkies and its rising starlet Peppy Miller (Bejo). Not only does George have a hand in the discovery of Peppy but he also falls madly in love with her. As her ascension continues Georges fame wanes and after a failed attempt to hold onto the old ways he admits defeat and becomes washed up, an outdated relic in a medium that's embracing the future. With amazing cinematography from Guillaume Schiffman it's a joy to watch as it recreates perfectly the films and feel of the time and while cleverly presenting a traditional love story it is both gripping and fascinating to watch. The music also goes a long way to help give it the desired effect as, apart from two scenes with sound, that is all you hear. In an age where we talk about the death of cinema and gimmicks like 3D are trying to woo audiences it's just so refreshing to see something that not only has a story but lacks the CGI that Hollywood so readily relies on. It was apparently the directors dream project and it shows but it was also clearly a labour of love for everyone involved making 'The Artist' simply one of the best films you'll see all year.
You know those great little indie films from the states like 'Junebug', 'Thumbsucker' and 'World's Greatest Dad' to name but a few, well now you can add to that list 'Cherry' a charming coming of age human nature piece that each and every one can in some way relate to. It's a simple enough story, Aaron leaves home to embark on his freshman year and falls for an older student Linda, Linda a recovering alcoholic has a wise cracking, old before her years, daughter called Beth, Beth falls for Aaron and a bizarre unrequited love triangle opens up learning curves, home truths and life experience for all three. The great thing about this movie is the quality of the script, the acting and the use of music, no CGI or special effects are needed to convey the very real story contained. It has ups and downs, laughs and gasps and at an hour and a half is perfectly paced. Without sounding twee or patronising if something like Transformers is a beer then this is a nice cup of tea and a sit down, which is no bad thing, some blockbusters feel like being repeated hit in the face with laptop but sometimes you just need to be told a good solid entertaining story, Cherry is just that. I just hope lots of people get to see this film because it deserves it.
The Guard (2011)
Not so great.
The poster describes 'The Guard' as Father Ted meets Bad Lieutenant, what because he's Irish and a corrupt policeman, lazy journalism. It neither has the intelligence and wit of Father Ted or the balls to wall nastiness of said Lieutenant. The reason I like 'In Bruges' (another film it has been miss-compared to) and 'In the Loop' was the imaginative use of swearing, unlike here where just putting the f**k bomb every other word is neither big nor clever. Judging from the font of the titles and the use of Calexico on the soundtrack the director clearly wants to be Irelands answer to Tarantino but the script and the direction fall way short of touching the heights of (early) QT. The other thing that bothered me was the mild racism with Sergeant Gerry Boyle often spouting about things that black people can't do (swim, ski) and why were they looking for white drug smugglers when they are all clearly black, his constant get out excuse being that he was Irish therefore its o.k., once would have been funny maybe but to revisit the joke several times was just tedious. Brendan Gleeson was great as Gerry but I can't help that think he would have been better with a stronger film around him, at times it couldn't decide if it wanted to be an offensive comedy or a gritty drama. The supporting cast has some big names Cheadle, Strong, Cunningham but all are underused really. Being part funded by the UK film council before its demise I would have expected more, I'm glad this film was made and is doing very well, sadly I just didn't enjoy it.
Stake Land (2010)
More than i expected.
I didn't know what to expect form 'StakeLand' as I've had my fill of vampires recently but I can honestly say I really enjoyed it. Atmospheric, bleak and well paced the film is like 'The Road' meets 'Zombieland' although there are no jokes here. Martin is the narrator of the story as he travels with vampire hunter 'Mister' across America, after his family is killed, searching for sanctuary in 'New Eden'. It's nothing new but the way its done is, some will find it to slow, there is action but it is limited and it's more about the struggle of the characters in a world where desperate men are as much to be feared as the vampires. The films trump card is 'Mister' a brilliant creation, brought to life by Nick Damici, part Paul Kersey (Bronson in Death wish) part Billy (Predator) but all bad-ass. This understated but moody performance underpins the whole film and will guarantee that you will want to keep watching. Another thing the film does really well is create characters you actually care about, something rare in a low budget American horror, but it works and so the demise of some of them is genuinely moving. Overall 'StakeLand' is well executed, actually has a story and is handled well by all involved. Don't let the fact that it is a vampire movie put you off, or like me you might just miss a treat.
Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)
Should have stayed as an idea.
Hobo with a Shotgun started its life as one of the fake trailers between the grindhouse Tarantino/Rodriguez double bill Death Proof and Planet Terror and just like Machete should probably have stayed there. Quite good as a short pastiche of old school b-movie schlock; here it is drawn out to painful lengths. Badly acted and poorly executed it is destined to be, like the films it copies, bargain bin fodder. Sadly it is also a reminder of the screen presence of Rutger Hauer, not since his early days have we seen him command this much attention, he is the best thing in it by a country mile. Apart from an interesting use of colour/film stock that gives it an aged feel, a technique achieved by Rodriguez with fake scratches and burnouts, there really is nothing else redeeming this movie. Bad effects, worse script and generally not funny where it was trying to be, some will band around the word 'cult' but actually we can just use the word 'rubbish'.
Barney's Version (2010)
Another great Giamatti performance.
If you're like me you can watch anything with Paul Giamatti in it and enjoy it even if it isn't that good (don't worry this is), he just tends to bring something to every role and Barney's Version is no exception. His performance throughout is remarkable to the point that by the end of the film you generally feel for the character even though he is outspoken, cigar chomping, drunk with questionable morals. The story is told over a thirty year period and across various countries as Barney reflects on a life lived. We see Barney through three marriages and plenty of ups and downs, some not his doing, but most are. He gets advice from his retired cop dad played brilliantly by Dustin Hoffman and ends up fathering two children with his third wife Miriam played again brilliantly by Rosamund Pike. Part drama, part murder mystery it is based on a novel by Mordecai Richler so the script is tight but even the dashes of comedy can't prepare you for the moving final act. Great cinematography, supporting cast and pacing all add to the central performances to make this one of the best indie drama films to come out of American in 2010.
Great little movie.
Set at an undisclosed time in the eighties 'Submarine' is a Welsh coming of age comedy/drama. Directed by Richard Ayoade (Moss from the I.T. Crowd among others) you can tell, as with other directors such as Joe Cornish (Adam & Joe show to Attack the Block), Edgar Wright (Spaced to Shaun of the Dead) and Paul King (The Mighty Boosh to Bunny and the Bull), that cutting his teeth on the small screen certainly helped with the leap to the big. Using some interesting techniques that never snap you out of the idyllic setting the warmth of the story and the characters (particularly Paddy as guru Graham Purvis who is clearly just having fun with the role and Noah Taylor who managers to portray so much with so little as Oliver's dad Lloyd) propel the film along with expert pacing. The music by Arctic Monkeys front man Alex Turner fits really well and is some of the best he's done. Like 'The Squid and the Whale' meets an episode of much loved sitcom 'The Secret diary of Adrian Mole' it should see, not only the unknown cast, but the director go on to bigger and better things. A film that everyone involved in can rightfully be proud of.