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Moon (2009)
8/10
Solid sci-fi debut
1 January 2013
This was the feature directorial debut for Duncan (Zowie Haywood) Jones, formerly known as Zowie Bowie and son of David Bowie, and was shot with a relatively modest budget of $5m. That pushed the seven star rating I would normally have given this film up to an eight.

The story is set in the future and follows Sam Bell who is a miner approaching the end of a three-year contract working entirely alone at a lunar mining base. He has only an intelligent robot called GERTY (remember HAL?) for company, plus occasional video messages from his wife on earth. He is cracking up from loneliness and looking forward to leaving in a few weeks when a accident while working sets an unexpected series of events in motion.

Jones has clearly tried hard to evoke sci-fi classics from the 1960s up to the 1980s, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Silent Running (1971), and Alien (1979). That is visible in the writing, with the futuristic sci-fi context being used only to support the story rather than being allowed to take over as so often happens nowadays with special effects such a focus in sci-fi. It is also visible in the cinematography which uses the enclosed spaces of the lunar mining base to great effect and the colouring work done on the movie has given a real retro feel to the images. Gavin Rothery who worked on visual effects for the movie has some fascinating background on all of this on his blog at http://www.gavinrothery.com/moon-blog-index . All of this works really well and is impressive given the limited resources.

Where the movie goes wrong for me is that after a great build-up, it seems to fizzle out in the last quarter. There are many questions created in the mind of the viewer but never answered, and suggestions made that are not followed up, and many possibilities for deeper explorations of the reasons, meanings, effects of the issues raised that are never pursued. And so it leaves and unsatisfying taste in your mouth. Perhaps the story should have been paced differently to keep the big reveal of Sam's mystery until closer to the end? Or maybe the pacing was right and we just needed more depth of detail towards the end, which could have been dropped due to the tight budget of course.

Anyhow, this is on the whole an enjoyable, thought-provoking and solid sci-fi flick and I'll be watching out for Duncan Jones' next feature.

p.s. Since I've focused only on Jones, I should say that Sam Rockwell was excellent as the one proper character (Sam Bell) in the movie, and GERTY is ably voiced by Kevin Spacey also.
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Prometheus (I) (2012)
3/10
Extremely disappointing
22 December 2012
The ONLY positive thing I can say about this is that it looks great on screen, stunning actually at times. Everything else was disastrous. The biggest problem was the plot, which would have been naive and clichéd if it had been done well, but did not even live up to that and ended up being simply nonsensical. I could literally list dozens of contradictions, holes and unexplainable oddities in the storyline. Then there was the acting which was uninspired to be kind about it, which obviously leads you to wonder about the direction. I find it hard to understand how a movie like this which should have been great can go so completely wrong and not be caught by the studio quality control somewhere before release, or perhaps it was too far gone too fix by then. I find it harder to understand how people are giving this movie positive reviews. Major disappointment given the director's history with this genre.
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Black Swan (2010)
8/10
Original psychological thriller
9 December 2012
This movie is an examination of obsession, and a mother living vicariously through her daughter. Ultimately it proves to be a journey into madness. Natalie Portman is utterly believable throughout as the shy but talented Nina Sayers, and deserves the awards she is likely to receive for this performance. Mila Kunis plays the darker role of Lily with equal skill and style. For me, these two make the movie although they are very ably supported by Barbara Hershey as Ninas mother, Winona Ryder as the usurped prima ballerina, and Vincent Cassel as the company's artistic director.

Black Swan has to be one of the more original psychological thrillers in recent years. Although the first hour goes a little slowly, there is a complex plot building all the while. As the film goes on, and it becomes clear that the line between hallucination and reality is fading for Nina, the skills of director Darren Aronofsky really come to the fore. The production is superb, with beautiful camera work and light use of CGI to illustrate the hallucinations which are taking Nina over.

Overall this is a highly enjoyable and well delivered movie, with a tight story and plenty of surprises in store!
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Dogtooth (2009)
8/10
Brilliantly disturbing
9 December 2012
This was one of those movies that doesn't leave your head for quite some time after you've watched it. It manages to be both disturbing and funny at the same time. Indeed I can't remember the last time I saw a movie which caused a cinema audience both to laugh out loud and look away from the screen in genuine horror like Dogtooth did.

The movie takes on the concept of a family living in complete isolation from the world in a remote country home, with the ultra-controlling parents making up a reality as they go along to keep their three teenagers inside the home and inside the reality bubble they have constructed. Despite the insanity of it all, the film avoids the trap of becoming a classic horror and instead makes the characters human and relatable throughout.

While this is certainly not for the faint-hearted, those who give it a chance will find it to be thought-provoking, funny, scary and not a little crazy. My only criticism might be that the story left a lot of unanswered questions, but perhaps that is no accident, and the beauty of it is that it doesn't matter.
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Downfall (2004)
9/10
Brilliant!
9 December 2012
This film is a truly admirable attempt to examine the character and mindset of Hitler and those closest to him. Indeed, I think it must be the most engaging and thought-provoking WWII movie I have seen. If this had been a Hollywood production with Hollywood stars it would not have had this impact, but it is German-made and its director (Oliver Hirschbiegel) seemed to go out of his way to avoid leading the viewer to any conclusion, instead allowing everyone to form their own opinion based on the facts. Too often the horrors of WWII led writers and directors to depict Nazis as monsters, but this misses the real story; the question of how they became monsters. In a way, the human Hitler which Hirschbiegel shows us is more guilty than a raving monster since it is clear he made choices to do wrong.

Bruno Ganz is absolutely convincing as Hitler, Ulrich Matthes plays Joseph Goebbels wonderfully, and indeed the rest of the cast are all excellent.

Highly recommended viewing and well worth the almost three hours running time.
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3/10
Not for me
9 December 2012
Tried watching this last night and gave up after forty minutes, which I don't do often. Although Gondry has done some beautiful work here with stop-motion animation thats a feast for the eye, the story plays like an exhausted hallucination, disjointed and frustrating, much of it owing to the lack of chemistry between the characters and the sheer confusion of the dialogue.

It's hard to put into words the train wreck this film is. It was all too much. Too much scenery, too much thought, too much into every scene to try and get what was going on.

Not for me.
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9/10
Wonderful!
9 December 2012
I decided to read Cormac McCarthys book before watching this movie adaptation, having been a big fan of his more recent novel The Road. I loved the book and ended up uncertain if I wanted to watch the movie as I it was hard to imagine the Coen brothers being able to do it justice. Overall though, I was impressed with their treatment of the story, both in following the text closely and in terms of playing out the author's intentions rather than undermining or erasing them.

Having said that, there are some real differences between the two which to me meant the film didn't quite deliver on the story in the way the book did. Most of these differences probably came from a need to keep the running time down, but personally I would have been happy for the movie to be an hour longer and to follow more of the subplots of the book. The most important of those differences for me:

⢠In the book Carla Jean calls the coin toss incorrectly and Chigurh shoots her. They have pretty much the same conversation in both versions, but in the Coens version she refuses to call the toss forcing Chigurh to see it is he, not the coin, deciding her fate.

⢠The book explains why we meet Chigurh in jail, saying he permitted himself to be captured "to see if I could extricate myself by an act of will". Later Chigurh describes this as a vain, foolish act. These facts are not in the movie.

⢠The first hotel confrontation between Moss and Chigurh is altered in the movie; rather than punching out the lock and wounding Moss, Chigurh takes a key from the murdered receptionist and enters Moss' room, where a hiding Moss takes him captive at gunpoint, so they have a chance to see and know each other. Then Moss runs and the shootout begins.

⢠In the book Chigurh delivers the recovered cash to a man he's never met before, and a conversation ensues. In the film it is fairly unclear who Chigurh works for, which makes his character hard to understand.

⢠Where the film last sees Moss alive heading off to have a beer with a lady who calls to him from poolside at her hotel, the book has a whole subplot between him and a young female hitchhiker, to whom he gives money and advice. He actually dies because he puts down his gun when the Mexicans following him take her hostage. This was a big part of the development of the Moss character in the book, with it being clear that Moss was loyal to his wife and would not take advantage of the teenager even when propositioned, and afterwards the hanging question of what his wife would think when he was found dead in a motel with a teenage runaway.

Anyway, book versus film aside, this movie features some truly brilliant performances, and is an astounding achievement in storytelling and filmmaking. Wonderful!
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9/10
Fantastic feel good fun
9 December 2012
Danny Boyle has been a favorite of mine since Shallow Grave, and this has to be a strong candidate for his best film. It is visually stunning throughout with amazing Indian locations giving the film real colour. It's funny, sad, thrilling, and clever all at once. The soundtrack is brilliant. The acting is brilliant. The costumes are brilliant. You get the picture....

This is a rare thing nowadays -- a movie that really lives up to its tagline, 'the feel good film of the decade'. If you haven't seen it you definitely should, it'll make you laugh and leave a smile on your face for sure.
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Séraphine (2008)
7/10
Good (not great) French movie
9 December 2012
I love French film, and I was looking forward to this one. Yolande Moreau was excellent in the part of Seraphine de Senlis, and the production as a whole was impressive (locations, costume, acting, direction). It clearly showed the social context in which this artist existed, and was fascinating.

By the end though, I found myself losing interest in the story. The failing for me came in the lack of real drama or emotion between the characters. I enjoyed the movie and was glad to have watched it, but there was a necessary spark missing which could have turned this from good to great.
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8/10
Haneke at his best
9 December 2012
Michael Haneke said in an interview for Le Monde that he intended to make a movie about the roots of evil. He said that he believed that the environment of extreme, punitive and sexually repressive Protestantism in Germany has laid the groundwork for Fascism and Nazism. He also said that he saw the same patterns developing in fundamentalist Muslim societies today, and that it is those societies that today were spawning terrorists and suicide bombers. He said he wanted "The White Ribbon" to be a movie against ALL extremisms.

This is absolutely Haneke at his best. Stunning black and white film, with a real mystery that he leaves the audience to figure out for themselves. Throughout the film there is a sense of brooding and malevolence, personified in the children of the village (spookily played by one and all) who seem to be forces of evil. The events that take place in the village are never really explained, but that is the Hanneke experience, and serves to make the movie all the more thought-provoking.

A fascinating movie on several levels, which will leave you wondering long after the final credits.
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His & Hers (2009)
8/10
Revealing stories from ordinary people
9 December 2012
This film takes ordinary women in the Irish midlands as its subject, gathers a collection of small moments, and turns them into a fascinating narrative. It is remarkable how frank, open, and honest the participants are, and the result is poignant and often hilarious. I can't help but feel this could only have worked with Irish women, who seem to have a unique way of telling their story.

Wardrop does a wonderful job of establishing continuity through the film, by careful assembling the interviews from young to old, giving the impression of a life being described. His lighting and cinematography are first-class and give the film a seamless feel where it could have been disjointed. It's all the more remarkable since he shot every interview on one roll of film; about ten minutes per woman including all the cutaway shots.

All in all, this was a joy to watch and I'm looking forward to checking out more of Wardrops work.
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7/10
Beautiful but unfulfilling
9 December 2012
The animation here is really nice; a refreshing change for those of us all too used to CGI offerings from Pixar and others in recent years. It is stylish, charming, and looks beautiful ... obviously a lot of care went into creating this film.

Unfortunately, the plot fails to deliver in the way the visuals do. It is a classic story and well told, but the pace is just too slow. Perhaps as a short this would have worked, but at 82 minutes I really struggled to stay focused. The very sparse dialogue (French and Gaelic) is sometimes hard to understand and I realised in discussion afterwards I had misinterpreted some parts of the story for this reason.

All in all, this was beautiful to watch but a little disappointing as a whole.
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The Maid (2009)
8/10
Great watch
9 December 2012
La Nana (The Maid) was written and directed by Sebastiān Silva, and tells the story of a live-in maid working for an affluent Chilean family. The movie opens with Racquel (Catalina Saavedra) sitting alone in the kitchen eating a basic meal; whilst the family she works for dine in much more pleasant surroundings. After giving this first impression of an oppressed servant, Silva then gradually reveals the much more complex relationships which are at play, and Racquel, who has worked for the family for twenty-three years, is shown as more of a troubled member of the family than an employee. As the tagline says, "she's more or less family".

Racquel has no life outside of the family home where she has worked for so long, and is suffering a kind of mid-life crisis, causing her to become ill and clash with the family. The family try to help her by bringing in extra staff, which leads to some funny moments as she tries desperately to cling on to her position at the centre of the household. Eventually she makes a friend, begins to get a life outside the home, and disaster is averted.

The direction and cinematography are wonderful here; feeling at times more like documentary than fiction. Catalina Saavedra is utterly convincing in the lead role, and is well supported by all. There's very little music in this movie, but there is a theme song call AyAyAyAy which is entirely addictive. This is definitely worth a watch!
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Apocalypto (2006)
9/10
Great movie
9 December 2012
Mel Gibson's theme is revealed in an opening caption; that great civilizations only fail when they have first begun to rot from the inside. The movie does a pretty good job of delivering that theme, showing traditional rural hunter-gatherer society being ravaged by the city-dwelling Mayan culture. There seems to have been much comment on the historical accuracy of the movie, but this movie is more about high-octane adventure than historical documentary. Despite inaccuracies, the movie is a fascinating insight into what we know of this ancient culture.

Some scenes are quite gory but not gratuitous, with the most heinous, such as rape, occurring off screen. The locations, costumes and props are wonderful, and the action is great from start to finish. There are several extended chase sequence, most notably the forty minute final chase, which are intense and brilliantly put together. The acting from a cast of unknowns is impressive, and credit must go to the direction for this amongst other successes in this movie.

One the whole, thoroughly enjoyable and one I expect to watch more than once.
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Heartbreaker (2010)
7/10
Funny and fresh, for a rom com.
9 December 2012
Yes, it's *another* romantic comedy. And yes, there's nothing very original or groundbreaking here. But once you know what you're getting into, this is a really enjoyable watch with lots of funny moments. Perhaps it's just because the French style makes it feel a little different from the jaded American/British 'rom com' genre. Or perhaps the credit should go to the leads, Romain Duris and Vanessa Paradis, who were both great. Who'd have thought Paradis would pop up in this of all places. The movie for me was let down only by the ending, which was entirely predictable, but I still laughed along all the way! Recommended light viewing.
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9/10
Cinema at it's best
9 December 2012
This is it. Cinema at its best. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen until lights came up, and I never saw the final twist coming. A thriller, with likable characters, a sense of humour, and a plot that develops at just the right pace. The acting is wonderful, and the direction and cinematography support the plot perfectly. The camera work is fantastic throughout, and there is one scene with a single sweeping shot from high above a football stadium down to crowd level which is truly amazing. In the end this is a movie about two kinds of love and one kind of passion, but it's far from clichéd. If you get the chance to see this one, don't miss it.
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7/10
Good, not great.
9 December 2012
I have mixed feelings about this one. It gives a real taste of the harshness of outback farm life in Australia, and it is certainly well directed and produced. The acting performances are convincing, though the character of Toni seems a little over the top, or even unnecessary to the story. Speaking of which; the story is the weakness here. What could have been a psychological drama tracing taboo desires and their roots is instead allowed to develop into a father vs son struggle that we've seen too many times before.

Overall: dark, fascinating, challenging, but let down in the end by a plot without the depth to really carry it over the line. Worth watching though.
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Melancholia (2011)
8/10
Armageddon, Von Trier style.
9 December 2012
There are two stories here, one about a marriage that is doomed after the wedding night and one about the impending destruction of the planet. Kirsten Dunst gives the best performance of her career as the manic depressive bride. This was a truly intense and riveting watch. Von Trier uses his colour, tone and amazing imagery to make this a real epic mood piece, a modern danse macabre. The special effects were understated and enhanced the mood perfectly. Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish and another fine example of Von Trier making really robust and yet accessible movies. I look forward to a rewatch of this some time.
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Elena (2011)
6/10
Somehow I didn't get this at all
9 December 2012
This movie features some really impressive cinematography, with distinctive long single shots without edits often for several minutes. Excellent acting from all the key players, and especially the lead. The plot for me though really let this down and it lost my attention badly by the halfway point. I was left with the feeling there was a lot going on (constant background television talk, references to the Russian Orthodox Church) that went over my head.

There may well have been a moral/political subplot here that eastern European viewers would pick up immediately, but I just couldn't grasp it.
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1/10
Awful, just awful, what a waste of 119 minutes.
9 December 2012
This is essentially one (bad) joke repeated to death -- spoiled rich kid becomes a superhero/crime fighter, unaware his employee/sidekick is the one with the superpowers. Seth Rogen in the lead is neither a believable rich kid nor a believable superhero. Jay Chou does a better job as the sidekick, while Christoph Waltz is the least scary villain you've ever seen, and Cameron Diaz serves no purpose at all other than to look good. The humour is crass, the plot paper thin, and even the special effects are not that special. The fact that Rogen was producer probably accounts for nobody pulling the plug on this before release.

Really - don't bother, awful.
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Monster House (2006)
7/10
Scary family fun
9 December 2012
I've watched this with our kids quite a few times over the years, and it's still great fun. This film reminds me a lot of 80's movies which put kids centre-stage of a mystery, including E.T. and The Goonies. The animation is pretty good, the voices excellent, and the plot better than many an animated family movie. This film got a lot of criticism for being too scary for the little ones, and there may be some truth in that as our kids talked about 'the man who took that little girl's bike' for a long time, but really this is suitable for all ages so long as they've a grown-up with them to hide behind if it gets to be too much!

If you're looking for Halloween haunted house frights for all the family, look no further.
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Red Dog (2011)
8/10
Unexpectedly great movie
9 December 2012
A dog movie. An Australian dog movie. Not promising I thought. How wrong I was though ... this turned out to be an absolute gem!

The acting was not the best but that didn't actually detract from the movie because the focus was firmly on the story and it's star Red Dog, played brilliantly by Koko. This true story (with artistic embellishment no doubt) is laid out in a simple screenplay based on flashbacks to the 1970s recounted by various characters remembering the events surrounding Red Dog. The cinematography is great -- the Western Australian backdrop is really used fully to deliver varied light patterns, treeless plains, blue ocean, and the constant sense of dry heat.

I highly recommend this to dog lovers, cat lovers, those looking for a laugh, or a cry, or anyone else for that matter -- loved it! Go Red!
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Take Shelter (2011)
8/10
Suspenseful and engaging viewing
9 December 2012
Right from the off, Take Shelter is an atmospheric experience with long steady shots, sparse dialogue and a musical background that is constantly a step ahead of the visuals building a sense of impending disaster. The general mood of foreboding and unease generated by the style and direction is what makes this movie. I'm not sure I can put my finger on exactly why, but I couldn't shake the feeling throughout that this had a lot in common with Donnie Darko.

Michael Shannon is superb as Curtis, an average family man who has the good life but begins to come apart at the seams as we meet him at the beginning of the movie. Is he going mad, or is he having real premonitions of a terrible disaster that will destroy everything? He plays 'unhinged' brilliantly, and is well supported by Jessica Chastain as the wife who is trying to keep him together.

If I have a criticism of this movie it's the length. Although it never lost my attention, two hours was pushing it a little, and the is-it-real-or-is-it-a-nightmare sequences got a bit jaded in the middle section. A 100 minute directors cut would make all the difference.

All in all though, this was captivating and engaging, and definitely recommended viewing.
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8/10
Dreamworks deliver Avengers-esque tale for all the family
9 December 2012
The premise here is that four legendary characters - Santa Claus, the Sandman, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny - are a team of 'Guardians' protecting the world's children. We learn that they were brought together by the Man in the Moon, and it is he who introduces a fifth member in the form of Jack Frost to help them when the Boogeyman attacks. This is based on William Joyce's ongoing "Guardians of Childhood" book series, apparently inspired by his six year old daughter when she asked if Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny knew each other. The setup has a lot of obvious parallels with the Avengers, though aimed at a broader/younger audience.

The movie characters are clever re-imaginings of the traditional personae, with Bunny being a tough Australian more kangaroo than a rabbit and Santa ("Nicholas St. North") a tattooed smart leader for the group. Jack is the outsider protagonist, and Pitch Black is the spurned Boogeyman, and the similarity in their motives adds an extra plot layer that works well. The voices are great too without exception, though Alec Baldwin was especially good as North.

The animation is brilliant, the best quality I've seen in a while, especially the sand as it morphs into different shapes, objects, and animals. This was well worth seeing on the big screen in 3D as some of the effects are really impressive; the kids actually let out a few involuntary ooohs at the snowflakes floating off the screen.

I can imagine this spawning a sequel or two, and I think the characters are strong enough to carry it too.

All in all a great family movie for Christmas, or Easter, or any time really!
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