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Escape from Tomorrow (2013)
Ambitious and delirious
If you're reading this there's no doubt you've already heard the conditions under which this whole film was made. It's really quite remarkable even if the ultimate narrative doesn't entirely hang together.
This is a hallucinatory experimental film about dreams, nightmares and realities, the likes of which don't get made much anymore on the indie scene. Or if they do they very rarely cross over into the mainstream.
Reminiscent of the stark black and white insanity of "Pi" and the trippy visuals of "Fear and Loathing," Escape From Tomorrow is a must-see for fans of independent cinema and aspiring filmmakers.
You may balk at the content or you may just outright hate the film itself, but you can't deny the ambition and dedication and balls it took to bring this together.
I was expecting something much more shoddy than what I saw. For a film comprised from a patchwork filming schedule and a bonkers narrative, it's superbly coherent and well shot.
We start off in the banal reality we all know, then veer off into nightmare fantasy slowly being sucked into a bizarre hell before we ascend into dreamlike euphoria in the final minutes. If this film has any spiritual cousin it would be "Jacob's Ladder." Very similar ideas and narratives that question the nature of reality and fantasy.
It drags in a few places and is one of those head-scratching "what the hell was that all about" stories but in the end, this is why indie films are far more exciting, innovative and daring than anything Hollywood has produced in many a moon.
My advice, if you're an aspiring filmmaker or even working in the industry right now, see this film. It's an inspiring example of a guerrilla-style shoot and taking risks to see your "dreams come true."
Some people are bad-mouthing it for different reasons and that's fair enough. If you don't enjoy abstract storytelling or enigmatic narratives then this will most likely not be for you.
I'd like to see future budding filmmakers have the gall, ambition and imagination to take a gamble and make something as impressive as this.
Recommended from me.
Cute idea, terrible execution - FLUSH IT!!!
A man is stuck in a toilet stall during the zombie apocalypse. Sold!
Simple and effective horror comedy concept... totally amateurish and inept execution. The disappointment here is that with some actual talent behind and in front of the camera, this could have been a real gem.
Problems begin pretty much from the opening shot when you realise the lighting and cinematography are absolutely horrid. The film achieves this really cheap and cheerless look. It resembles an episode from one of those bad teen TV soap operas from the 1990's. This should immediately alert you to the fact that you're watching student filmmakers running amok with a budget.
Okay, so the cheap look can be forgiven because this is lo-fi comedy horror stuff. Fair enough right? Surely the film will make-up for that with wit and invention and gags. Right? Right??!
The next major (and most crucial) problem; the writer of "Stalled", Dan Palmer, is also its star. And this is one of those writers that fancies himself an actor. And not only does he not have the chops to carry an entire feature film by himself, he can't deliver a single line of dialogue with conviction. It's as if he's trying to remember how his script sounded in his head when he came up with the dialogue. He may as well be reading the script to himself on the toilet. He's awful. If Palmer had taken his own ego and misguided acting aspirations out of the equation, they could have cast a semi-decent comedic actor in the lead.
It starts off with the promise of a somewhat "silent" horror comedy where our main character doesn't seem to speak much, if at all. But then the dialogue kicks in and, since Dan Palmer has no idea how to keep the story going without it, we get endless "f bombs" being dropped every other sentence, horribly muddled and dull lines delivered by people who just can't act, and long interludes of Palmer monloguing and emoting with embarrassing consequences. Accentuating sentences in the wrong places, forcing emotion with no help from the clueless director, Christian James.
Add in some unconvincing zombie make-up effects and mostly unfunny gags, and you have all the ingredients of a desperate "Shaun of the Dead" knock-off without the wit, invention or the talent.
It's a shame because it's got some smart ideas and a few neat ways of sustaining its simple concept over 80 minutes. I even quite liked the punchline at the end but the journey there was so unimaginative and glib that ultimately the whole experience smacked of a bunch of student filmmakers who got a little money together and extended a short film concept into a feature.
And that's what this should have been - a student short film and nothing more.
As much as I like to support independent films, when they are this amateur and poorly executed in (almost) every area, it's advisable to warn others against crossing paths with it.
Sorry "Stalled" but you really do belong in the toilet.
Haunted - the show that became a ghost
Haunted was killed before it had the chance to really breathe. Now it wanders the dark hallways of cancelled TV show obscurity hell.
Most people have barely heard of it. In a way it's kind of cool because for those small few of us that do discover it will get to indulge in something so lost and forgotten it seems like you're the only one to have ever watched it. It just misses attaining the status of a "cult" TV show. Personally, I quite like that fact. It's a cult-cult kind of deal. A bit like for those people who remember Michael Mann's Robbery Homicide Division's short lived run. Shows that have great potential and a strong handful of episodes to advertise that fact but lack the buzz and word of mouth to continue their evolutions into bigger, more popular dramas.
In this day and age where detective series are still often successful with audiences, it seems a shame that no one gave Haunted its due diligence. It is evident from the existing episodes that it would have developed into an effective spook-tacular series that could have run for at least three seasons.
Atmospheric visuals and good story lines combined to create a genre based mystery of the week potboiler with a great central lead performance by Lost's Matthew Fox. His emotional investment and range as an actor keeps the whole thing together, especially in the poorer episodes.
If you are lucky enough to find this show available anywhere then there seems to be much difficulty in figuring out the real episode order that they were intended to flow in. I would suggest watching it like this -
1. Pilot (which I call "Simon Says.) 2. Fidelity 3. Grievous Angels 4. Blind Witness 5. Last Call 6. Nocturne 7. Seeking Asylum 8. Three Hour Tour 9. Simon Redux 10. Nexus
I have discounted one - the episode entitled "Abby" because it is so bad I would recommend ignoring it all together. It may put you off the rest of the episodes.
Also worth noting is that the episode that I have placed last called Nexus is really a "flashback episode" set a couple of weeks after the events of the Pilot episode. The reason for it going last is because it is the only episode out of all of them that gives any sense of closure to the story. Ironic considering the events it depicts are all set BEFORE the other episodes, but the final scene in it seems like a good place to leave the character of Frank and the over all story arc of the show. It says to us that he will control and eventually conquer his "demons," and that's about as conclusive as you're gonna get.
Haunted had potential to be as good as a similar show like Millennium and certainly would have marked an interesting journey for Fox's tortured soul Frank for us to follow.
If you can find it, watch it and wonder what could have been. If you stick to the order I suggested, it will provide the most satisfying conclusion possible for a cancelled show.
It's worth tracking down. Consider it's current status as "MISSING - PRESUMED DEAD." Let's hope it'll get a resurrection one day on DVD.
The Mist (2007)
Enter The Mist
Okay, I'm about to suggest something that is a complete oxymoron here, but what Frank Darabont delivers with "The Mist" is an intelligent horror movie adapted from a Stephen King novel. If anyone knows how to adapt the King, it's Darabont. The man always tells an awesome tale when he uses King's stories as his templates (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile) and this here, their fourth collaboration together, continues the love affair to the exemplary standard we have grown accustomed.
Darabont is one of those master filmmakers who expertly crafts character and story to completely draw you in to the magic of cinematic atmosphere. What he accomplishes here is reminiscent of classic Hollywood horror, when it was more about the people reacting to the horror and less about the spectacle pf the horror itself. "The Mist" refuses to be your basic creature feature, or gory monster hack 'n' slash. It keeps its head throughout the mounting crisis' while remaining unpredictable (for the most part) and keeping things on the slow burn flame of tension. What's more is that the cast is exceptionally good. And I don't just mean simply in terms of a fine ensemble of quality support actors filling out the roles of the besieged townsfolk, I mean every performance is mannered and refined to the degree where you believe in them whole heartedly. There is not one bad egg amongst them. How very rare. Thomas Jane proves playing an everyman lead can be more than simply a thankless task as he keeps the balance of believability of a normal guy thrust into an extraordinary battle for survival. No out-of-the-blue shotgun heroics here. He simply reacts as many Fathers would under similar circumstances. Very controlled and very impressive. But the real plaudits must go to Marcia Gay Harden as the crazed religious zealot who rallies in the name of a most disturbing God for a sacrifice to prove they are worthy of entry into the pearly white gates of oblivion. She pretty much steals the show. Andre Braugher, with shorter screen time, also nabs a "why isn't he in bigger roles" award, demonstrating some brilliant thesping abilities during the early chaotic scramble to understand just what lies outside in the mist. But as I said, this is an ensemble piece and Jeffery DeMunn, Bill Sadler and Toby Jones are just as good.
What struck me beyond the performances was the remarkable thought put into the situation that unfolds. This story is about human fear and weakness. It's about what happens when we're all alone, in the dark, with no hope of rescue and what effect that has on different types of people. The best scene in the film takes place as a conversation between some of the core group that reflects these themes about what people will resort to when they are afraid and desperate to be saved. The subtext is subtle but still dominant enough for the story to be considered allegorical of modern day America with The Mist symbolic for not just the unknown, but fear itself. The script splinters characters into separate, opposing camps, each vying for leadership and control. Again this sparks to life the idea that there are underlying messages and metaphors within "The Mist" that comment on contemporary American culture, ranging from religion to social class.
Darabont's non-showy, almost laidback direction allows a fluid camera to drift quite elegantly through the scenes, slowly conjuring the foreboding without ramming it in anyone's face. The subtleties in the music score compliment the visuals, so no blaring orchestral emphasis every time something frightening is about to happen. It all blends efficiently to make this seem less like a horror and more like a character piece. The CGI is admittedly less impressive than the rest of it but thankfully the special effects are sparingly used. The set-pieces themselves occasionally stumble because of such a wide character canvas to cover but for the majority of the film it all pays-off the slow building tension nicely. Plus, lack of explicit gore makes for a welcome change from all these inane torture porn fests we keep on getting. Finally a horror movie the grandparents might enjoy too. Don't let that put you off it though.
If you have read anything on "The Mist" then you may know that the ending has been widely criticised. The reason? I ain't telling, except to say it is quite possibly the bleakest Hollywood ending in years. Frank Darabont's anti-Shawshank resolution but with the same message: Never give up hope. This is an elegantly produced supernatural horror that is about people rather than monsters, reminiscent of "The Birds" and "Night of the Living Dead." "The Mist" is a remarkable entry into the modern Hollywood horror cannon. As in; it's actually a good movie. Sincerely recommended.
Southland Tales (2006)
Tales from the Shallowland
How do you follow-up a widely praised, wildly popular cult phenomenon such as "Donnie Darko?" This is the question that I am sure occupied Richard Kelly for many frustrating years. My retrospective advice to the overly-ambitious writer/director would have been to avoid trying to out-do his debut effort and simply concentrate on telling a strong and fascinating story as he did before. It was never the size nor the scale that made "Darko" a mini-masterpiece of cult cinema, it was the modest telling of an intimate and spellbinding story that gave it such resonance with audiences. Kelly follows many of the young, first time film directors in his sophomore effort by trying to produce an epic saga that is blatantly begging for cult status but ends up coming off as just a little bit too desperate.
Southland Tales has had a worrying release history that is so tarnished by poor word of mouth and unfocused marketing ploys that it would seem the film might never see the inside of a cinema. It was booed at Cannes, lambasted by critics, sold as a synergistic marketing device with ties to graphic novels and random merchandise, yet no one could truly decipher what the hell this film was actually supposed to be about. From the initial, excitable hype that he was following up "Darko" with another sci-fi laced puzzle box through to the increasingly negative post-production publicity, Southland Tales has been called every name under the sun, being championed as either a misunderstood masterpiece or a great big stuffed turkey. Whether Southland Tales is "misunderstood" or not is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, but to me it clearly is a complete and utter mess.
From the plot to the characters, the casting decisions and the back story, the visual effects and the designed look of this alternate 2008 Los Angeles, right down to the general flow of the narrative, Southland Tales strikes me as the biggest blunder to emerge from a promising filmmaker's brain since David Lynch muddled his way through "Dune." The comparison is justified too. Give an independent start-up too much money and too much control and you get an ego trip into their shallowest and most ostentatious thoughts (witness M. Night Shaymalan's catastrophic Lady in the Water as the best example of this directorial condition). Kelly has shaped an entire universe on the superficiality of good looking people, and then based an entire "plot" around the vacuous existences that they sleep walk through, whilst giving pretentious allusions to topical issues such as Iraq and using an Orwellian dystopia as his playground to parade his toys in. This may all be the point of a confounding silly story that revolves around an amnesiac action star, his porn star girlfriend, a Neo-Marxist terrorist organisation and a Republican Big Brother corporation policing the state. Yes, we get it. It's all very allegorical for where we are and where we may be headed, but its not original, or particularly interesting. Kelly is clearly having a cinematic w@nk here. It is almost imminently forgettable once he cums, leaving only a messy stain on the brain with very little resonance.
The worst aspect of this overlong, pompous movie is the cast. Let's just say that when the best performance of a film goes to Justin Timberlake, we're in trouble. They are all pretty terrible. The Rock is endearingly crap no matter what he's doing, proving to be Arnie's successor quite comfortably, while Sarah Michelle Gellar personifies pure sex appeal but is as plastic as a Barbie doll, though her comic timing compensates substantially. Sean William Scott proves he can play a slight variation on Stifler, but only just. Christopher Lambert and Jon Lovitz have entirely pointless cameos and are of the cringe worthy variety. Timberlake does good narration. That's it. This is quite possible the poorest ensemble a movie is ever likely to see this decade. Kelly's attempts to cast the hip up and comers of Hollywood were all popular in the late nineties/early millennium but he really needs to get with the times. With the exception of Gellar (because part of me loves her too much) this is the anti-thesis of a hip, trendy cast. Half of them can't act and those that can seem confused as to how to play their parts. It appears no one really understood what the director was trying to achieve. The feeling is contagious.
Occasionally Kelly musters some inspired, even beautiful visuals (his picturesque location shots stand out) while his abstract eye for the weird and wonderful seeps through from time to time (witness Sean William Scott's delayed reflection in the mirror). But a good eye for visual aesthetics does not make-up for a bad ear for dialogue. The prose of the vastly overwritten screenplay ranges from affectively cryptic to clunking chunks of p!ss-poor. Southland Tales is just too ambitious for its own good. Not to say it's as bad as everyone said it was, but it's a big letdown after such promising beginnings. Unlocking the deeper meaning of an enigmatic story is only fun when you make a film worthy of repeat viewings. For me, watching this unfocused creative muddle again would be way too infuriating and far too tedious. That said, there is a strange car crash fascination in watching it all unravel before your very eyes because it is so convinced of its own self-importance. It may come off as a maddening experience filled with impenetrable oddities, but it earns extra points for making me laugh by way of some scenes that are genuinely funny, or even unintentionally funny.
Southland Tales is not the worst film ever, but it is a long way down the road from ever reaching greatness. Watch it to see which side you fall on; misunderstood masterpiece or great big stuffed turkey, but I am very sad to say I am inclined to agree with the French on this one - Boo!!!!
The Invasion (2007)
It's the end of the world as we know it... and everybody's just fine
Depending on your opinion regarding the continual remakes of Jack Finney's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," you either champion the 1956 original as the definitive adapted version, or, if you're like me, feel the true masterpiece accolade belongs to Philip Kaufman's 1978 remake with Donald Sutherland. Either way, "The Invasion," has a lot to live up to. The whole concept has always been about paranoia and mass hysteria, each remake updating the setting, characters and underlying theme to suit their respective era, and out of all the multitude of flaccid remakes Hollywood churns out every other box office weekend, "Body Snatchers," was inevitably due its next progressive upgrade to reflect the new millennial fears of today. So it's a shame that the terrifying, allegorical screams of the classic originals fizzle out into a bit of a whimper in Oliver Hirschbiegel's already redundant version.
First of all, the casting is all wrong. Everyone in the cast fiddles around from delivering lacklustre turns to merely adequate ones (Kidman and Craig included). Fifty percent of the tension from these movies must be supplied by a surplus of convincing performances, plus the plot is not clearly defined enough from the start to allow you sit back and soak up the terror. It's all over the place, mostly borrowing heavily from Philip Kaufman's ideas back in '78. Even the wonderful Veronica Cartwright pops up for a cameo just as Kevin McCarthy did back in Kaufman's 1978 update. But it only goes to further the comparisons of this film to its parent originals, which does not help its case. Perhaps due to its lack of invention, that and the fact that the story is so familiar to us already, Hirschbiegel had great difficulty in recreating the suspense factor we have come to expect from such adaptations based on the famous Finney novel. Hell, even Abel Ferrara did a decent, if workmanlike job, on his military base set remake, "Body Snatchers," and that was only just perfunctory. Here, the alien assimilated humans come off embarrassingly like zombies from a Romero movie (see the silly car chase scene at the climax).
There are some interesting changes however. One is that the body snatching aliens are re-imagined as a virus that infects people like a flu epidemic or even more so, the AIDS virus, increasing the speed and economy of takeover ten fold, which is a neat little subversion on the dated pod people concept. The effects are just as gross though, each body snatched hybrid human spewing out infection as if they were Linda Blair in "The Exorcist." It works as an aesthetic plot device and carries with it repulsive visuals that make me want to spew too. Then there are the 'fashionable' allusions to anti-American imperialism. The biased media's spin on this imminent invasion causes the ignorance of a nation to ultimately be the end of them all (hinting at the media's appetite for continually feeding us disinformation on current events). The ideal aspiration of becoming a perfect world, where there is no war and no hate, is the ironical catalyst for this catastrophic change (John Lennon might be happy in this instance however). Hirschbiegel attempts to allegorically mutate this whole alien invasion into a metaphor for the invasion of Iraq and the enforcement of a collective ideology onto an entirely different culture. In this story even the Communists cease to be Communists because the terminal lethargy of the alien organism requires total submission from all of its victims. We become one race. There is no God in this story, only peace by means of assimilation and the extradition of all independent human thought and emotions. This may not have been the sole intention of the filmmakers however, but even the title of the film itself alludes to this metaphorical idea. I still commend it for at least trying to reshape Finney's ideas into something resembling modern issues.
No matter what the thematic intentions were, "The Invasion," is still distinctly unscary for the most part. There is no real sense of this global, paranoid pandemic engulfing us all, so instead of evoking dread in the audience, we get instead just an unhappy case of déjà vu for those of you well versed in Body Snatcher film history. One scene set on Kidman's doorstep is admittedly frightening when it happens but the tension is quickly left to deflate. There are a couple of moderately heart pounding interventions, I suspect added after the test screening process, but it is not enough to elevate this apocalyptic vision of alien takeover anywhere near the urgency mark it needed to strike. Any sense of fatalistic inevitability is constantly hampered by the fact you know you are watching a modern Hollywood horror that might just give us a happy holidays ending because everyone has forgotten the true nature of a downbeat, or disturbing horror ending. Things should not end well in a film like this. Donald Sutherland's other worldly scream reverberated around my head after watching the end of this self-proclaimed sci-fi thriller. It was bleak, unsettling and inevitable. That is true horror; something which cannot be stopped, something we must acknowledge is happening yet are helpless to combat against. Where is the fatalism in this translation? Where is the horror? This is glossy remake whoring at its most impotent and insulting with glaringly obvious product placement to boot. Playstation 2 mini-advert anyone?
If you want thrills, chills and spills, check out "Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978," if you want strong, concise and allegorical storytelling at its finest, check out "Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956," but if you want a half hearted amalgamation of both of those movies, then check out "Invasion of the Body Snatchers 2007." Recycled entertainment for desperate, remake ridden times.
Nick Love brought us the brash and thuggish movies "The Football Factory," and "The Business." I disliked both films immensely upon seeing them. However, "Outlaw," promised something different - something raw, something uncompromising, perhaps even political(?)
The opening sequence is a rather corny device used to establish Danny Dyer's lack of confidence in his own masculinity. It eventually recovers from this unpromising beginning as we are s-l-o-w-l-y introduced to our main characters. Sean Bean as the soldier come home provides psychological complexity to his role, and in comparison to Dyer's office worker, he still registers strongly on the radar as one of our better exports. So it's nice to see him in a homegrown 'issue' movie, its just a shame his choice of material was not more wisely considered. Lennie James as the devastated barrister is also brilliant, capturing the grieving anger of a man in the badlands of life quite superbly. Beyond Bean and James, the only other cast member up to the tough task of bringing some credibility to the proceedings is the always wonderful Bob Hoskins as the frustrated cop. Danny Dyer attempts to play a slightly different character in this than what he usually plays, but by the end he morphs back into what he does best: playing himself.
To be honest, the acting is not the real quibble with this movie. The problem is with the content and the themes of a story designed around vigilantism. Now in the beginning, some of the events are perfectly understandable in their birthing of such anger and the hunger for revenge, but Nick Love handles it all wrong. The justifications for revenge beatings, attacks and murders are almost emotionally palpable if not condonable, and because the film is very contemporary in its setting and with its presentation of our violent culture, our empathy is with these characters from very early on. It captures the feeling of many Brits who feel that they live in a criminal society where the law protects the wrong sides. It is believable and honestly realised. Then the fictional elements of the story kick in and Love gets so into telling a story about these characters he forgets he was originally telling a story of relevance about the undertow of violence in our society. The film loses its edge and its way because it gets off on the glorification of its anti-heroes rather than providing a balanced analysis of what they do, and how they do it.
It goes from an emotional place to a very distant and cold one, so much so that you feel like you were manipulated from the word go in siding with these guys who turn out to be just as bloodthirsty as any of the gangsters they hunt down. Perhaps this was the point. Perhaps this is much smarter than I am giving it credit for. But I suspect not. Just at the wrong moment the plot moves forward too fast and too soon, evolving very quickly into the anti-thesis of what it should be. Through these misjudgements in tone you lose most, if not all sympathy, for the main characters by the third act when they try to become like Butch and Sundance in a final moment of glory, and it simply falls flat.
By the end of this movie any point the film was trying to make gets lost in a hail of gunfire. The underlying message is muddy and so are the character motivations of Dyer and Bean in particular. It makes this dark story about vigilantism and revenge a contradictory and potentially dangerous venture. "Outlaw," is better than Love's previous outings, but it still is a confused and unfocused misfire.
The Queen (2006)
A Royal Knockout
I have never been a particular fan of the Royals, nor indeed of the monarchy itself. I also felt the mass hysteria that overloaded and in many ways out shone Princess Diana's death was of the most hypocritical kind in regards to a guilty media, and outrageously superfluous on behalf of a needy public. Yes, that week was truly a memorable one if you lived in Britain and owned a television set because you couldn't fail to be engulfed in the bleeding heart hysteria that followed on from Diana's untimely demise.
"The Queen," sifts through that week of high drama to tell an elegant and quintessentially British story about our values and our expectations of the family people love to hate. Helen Mirren looks every inch The Queen of England and quite exceptionally captures a portrayal of the woman by investing her with a heartfelt dignity, conviction and humanity, that the real Queen should be nothing less than flattered by. Mirren secured herself that Oscar the moment production wrapped; she is truly sensational, carrying us through the whole movie with a grace we rarely see on the big screen these days. Michael Sheen is also to be praised for his uncanny impression of Tony Blair, although he scratches deeper than just surface imitation and digs deep to unearth the once idealistic, and seemingly honourable Prime Minister in the early days of his premiership. Support also comes courtesy of a terrific James Cromwell who adds that light touch of comic relief in the role of Prince Philip, while Mark Bazeley as Alistair Campbell reminds audiences how instrumentally devious a spin doctor can be. Every performance is spot on and helps do justice to the brilliantly written script by Peter Morgan who somehow has drawn to light the different sides involved in that week of tragedy and media spin without being too intrusive in terms of the grief of Princes William and Harry, while Stephen Frears never turns the stock footage of Diana into something overly ghoulish or unseemly.
Ultimately though, this story is not really about Diana at all, her death merely serving as the catalyst for a deep and painful self-reflection for The Queen on her monarchy and personal aversion to Diana and the circus slowly gathering outside Buckingham palace. Further to that, the film is most sincerely, you could say almost whimsically, about the relationship between The Queen and Tony Blair, their differing views on modern Britain and the general public who populate it. I found myself seeing The Queen and Mr. Blair in quite new lights, putting more faith and respect in the decisions they made in that fateful week, and believing that solidarity, compromise and respect played a key role in laying Diana's memory to rest. It is also very amusing at times too, and when not tickling the ribs with a sardonic sideswipe by Prince Philip or a wry put down by The Queen Mother about Blair's "Cheshire cat grin" Morgan's script and Frears' controlled, beautifully unshowy direction combine to create the most tender and curious of scenes where The Queen encounters a lone stag in the wilds of her estate whilst at her weakest moment, and draws a strength from that rare meeting of beauty up-close. Another gem of a scene is where she is greeted by a little girl who is there not to simply pay her respects to the Princess of Wales, but to the Queen of England herself, with a bouquet of flowers. Very sweet, and very touching.
This truly is a strong piece of work, quite possibly one of the best films of its year, certainly as fine a British production that I have seen in some time. The characters are well drawn and strongly performed, the writing insightful and totally believable, while the warmth of the material makes me think I might start appreciating our Royal family just that little bit more. Certainly if The Queen's emotional wealth of character and strong, traditional values can survive and rise above cynical opportunism and media mined mass hysteria then I'm sure she can survive anything. But above all else "The Queen," goes to show that no matter how unjustly wealthy, obnoxiously powerful or goofily out of touch the Royals may be, as a family unit they are just as complex, dysfunctional and quirky as any other family in Britain. This truly is a royal treat, please do believe the hype and don't let Her Majesty pass you by.
World Trade Center (2006)
Modern Art takes on the tragedy of 9/11
How do we define the right time to make a motion picture about a recent and terrible tragedy? Was it too early for a cinematic retelling of a real life disaster? Was it in bad taste to recreate the event on celluloid with movie star Nicolas Cage fore fronting it for the box office? Was it an injustice to those who perished on that fateful day of September the 11th, 2001? The real question I asked myself before sitting down to watch the film was; is this just a cynical, manipulative Hollywood heroism feature designed to capitalise on the deaths of thousands of innocent people?
The casting of Nicolas Cage in one of the central roles was a foolish move for Oliver Stone, for while he is very good in the part, we cannot forget that this is a real event that is still fresh for many of those who lost someone, and to cast a movie star in the lead is to sell the idea to the public that this was as much about honouring the fallen as it was about ticket sales. This should have been much like "United 93," and cast with relative unknowns. The recognisable faces ultimately takes away from that feeling of reality that Stone brings to much of the horrific visuals recreating, almost unsettlingly, the iconic image of the towers wounded, bleeding and falling. Michael Pena fares much better as his low key, natural performance brings heart and soul to his scenes with Cage, trapped underground in their hellish environment. Maggie Gyllenhaal and Maria Bello are also brilliant in the roles of the waiting, worrying wives, Gyllenhaal particularly believable as the five month pregnant Allison. Most surprisingly of all is Stephen Dorff playing one of the brave emergency service workers who risked life and limb to save the few who survived amongst the smoke and debris. His performance stands out as the finest in a film overrun with actors thinking that it was the right time for this story to be told.
Oliver Stone ditches the conspiracy theories, shockingly doing away with his political ideals in the process and muting any such conjecture surrounding 9/11, although occasionally giving cheeky, yet subtle references to certain inconsistencies of that day, such as the pentagon being hit by a missile, united flight 93 being 'mistaken' for another flight, the way in which the buildings exploded and fell etc. Instead he opts for out and out themes of heroism, courage and the instinct for survival. Even the score for the film is what you would expect, understated melodies that are constantly reaching toward the life affirming.
With all of that said, it isn't a bad movie. The second act is where it falls down under the weight of its own melodrama, but the first twenty minutes and last half an hour find some honest moments and moving fragments of life amongst all the dramatic re-enactments. Like two grieving women embracing in an emergency ward, one black, one white, both strangers. The long hospital wall plastered over with the missing posters of loved ones in their thousands. The twisted metal, dusty rubble and rising smoke of ground zero itself. That beautiful bird's eye image of the decimated towers from the air, that grey cloud of smoke and fire reaching into the sky. The sense of unity and empathy so real and powerful between the people of New York is touched upon in the scene where hundreds of emergency service workers form a line over the mountain of rubble to help get these men out, suggesting that the ripple effects from the terrorist attack made them stronger, rather than weaker.
It is surprising that in a film by Oliver Stone, although inevitably certain for a film about 9/11, there is a patriotic, flag waving rhetoric disturbingly buried amongst the pieces of shrapnel and concrete along with our two protagonists. The marine who comes back to serve out of a sense that God has asked him to do so doesn't sit well and seems almost designed so he can deliver the uncomfortable line at the end, "Someone has to avenge what happened here." Revenge is a less honourable message, and certainly a much less empowering theme than love helps us survive the worst of times, and hope helps bring us together, while disaster turns ordinary people into extraordinary heroes. The religious element is puzzling too. Jesus comes to Michael Pena's character in a hallucinatory dream to offer him water, now are we supposed to buy this as the real deal, or simply a dream? I just found it wholly inappropriate when so many people still ask "Where was God that Day?" Apparently he was going around offering water to those who really needed a drink.
At bottom World Trade Centre is a well made movie, designed to pull the heart strings. Yes, it is manipulative. Yes, it is obvious. It is as you would expect a film so soon after the event to be. But Stone elevates enough moments and points out enough detail for us to find something of worth in the endeavour, at least beyond the immediate cynicism. The true life story sifts through the wreckage to find shreds of humanity and hope for those of us who like to hang on to these glimmers of heroism and find a semblance of good from that fateful day. Commendable for its initial intentions it might possibly be, but if I want to remember 9/11 I will watch the much more heartening, and real life tributes that are shown on TV each year to commemorate the event on its anniversary. Real world tragedy has always inspired art, but I would refuse to accept art masquerading as real life tragedy.
Inland Empire (2006)
Inland Empire: Weirder, Longer and Very Lynch
David Lynch is one of the most detail driven directors when it comes to disquieting atmospherics, symbolic enigmas and puzzle box plots, and here within the tantalising sub-reality of his latest concoction he achieves a magnificent feat; a three hour story that's not the slightest bit interesting. Okay, so it's a true saying that you either love Lynch movies or hate them, but to make this easier on those of you out there still undecided on which camp you fall in, if "Mullholland Drive," was the kind of film you immediately wanted to see again and enjoyed thoroughly from beginning to end then Inland Empire might just be for you.
It's good to see the wonderful Laura Dern back in a leading lady capacity even though her performance is a very twisted, dark and disturbing one it's still a pleasure to have her back in front of the camera. It is also a brave choice on her part to be the only character that appears in almost every pivotal scene for the three hour duration, a testament to her skill and daring as an actress whilst also a bold move for Lynch giving her that opportunity. Jeremy Irons, Justin Theroux, Harry Dean Stanton, plus various others, are essentially just bloated cameos although Theroux does get the most screen time next to Dern, delivering a warped incarnation of two very 'different' leading men, one a fictional character in the film-within-a-film structure, the other the actor playing the part of that fictional creation. If this all sounds like nonsense that's because it is, and especially if you are not a fan of Lynch's earlier works like "Blue Velvet," and "Twin Peaks." I personally find seventy percent of his output often very pretentious in tone and especially when it comes down to his intentions for meaning.
This effort feels distinctly empty, being surreal to the point of abstraction, and overly elaborate to the point of artifice. The whole endeavour seems designed for a bunch of wanky film intellectuals to muse about meaning and subtext using superlatives in the cinema foyer. The twisting fantasies that the story conjures up as excuses for scenes and sequences can be interpreted in the eye of the beholder, but ultimately the film is hinting at something very specific, and unlike he did with "Lost Highway," Lynch's script never winks about the whole thing being inexplicably bonkers for no reason, it simply drones on and on. A few sequences hit the jackpot, more notably the musical song and dance routine to the "Locomotion" of the prostitute elite, Dern running through her movie set into another time and place seemingly trapped inside her character, later on getting lost and going insane on the harsh streets of Hookersville, and a terrific dance number over the end credits to Nina Simone singing "Sinnerman." (the best part of the film is this time literally when the credits roll.) Okay, I can accept this art house drivel at just about two hours, but when this "Mullholland Drive" follow-up rambles on for an extra hour, rivalling "The Godfather Part II" in length, and lacking anything remotely resembling coherent substance to justify such a running time, I do weep quietly about the state of American 'artistic' cinema. This surrealist guff is really about a pretentious filmmaker wallowing in his own nightmares, being indulgent and excessive with his ideas, trying to dig for depth in shallow material to the point where 'film as art' becomes driven purely by his own sense of egocentricity. It's over elaborate weirdness is simply for the sake of weirdness. Somewhere inside this tangled web sits a very good story, but not much of it is left standing once you pick through the pretence of Empire's construction, and bloated length.
Inland Empire finally substitutes any genuine analysis for painfully prolonged nightmarish visions and dreams that try to string what little plot there is along. David Lynch is an extraordinary visual craftsman who can create terror in a sudden flash of light, or at the strum of a musical chord, and his exemplary direction here does leave the 'film school-appreciation geek' in me feeling impressed, but his usual captivating sense of mood is altered by the sheer tedium of events unfolding and ultimately the subtext gets lost in a maze of trickery, pretension and overly-stimulated directorial creativity. It's at times overwhelming, mostly overbearing, relentlessly dull, and if it were not for the powerful centre stage performance from Laura Dern, it would be near unwatchable. There are moments of finely tuned foreboding and drip-feed fear laced throughout the ensuing madness, even clever, wry comic moments (Harry Dean Stanton please stand up) but not enough to give the rest of the film a burst of life until the last five minutes. And it's too much like "Mullholland Drive," to be considered entirely original. The notions of identity, myth and reality being challenged have been done much better before, and often by Lynch himself. Cut down to ninety or so minutes Inland Empire could have been tighter, stronger and far more captivating than as it stands in its complete form.
A major disappointment.