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Eden Lake (2008)
Hard hitting horror that's brutally close to home!
14 October 2008
First and foremost, I found Eden Lake a breath of fresh air. The directorial debut for James Watkins offers a slice of contemporary life that is shocking and thought provoking. It is perhaps important for those seeing this film to know that Eden Lake is no titillating-horror, it is a different breed to the various torture porn films and plethora of supernatural films that seem to be doing the rounds. The film begins with a young couple, Steve (Michael Fassbinder) & Jenny (Kelly Reilly) venturing to a lake to spend a quiet weekend, only to have it interrupted by a group of rowdy youths. The behavior of the youths prompts Steve to have a word, provoking the adolescences into being confrontational, disrespectful and menacing. From here on in the couples weekend steadily degenerates into a contemporary nightmare that will touch the very sole of every British citizen.

Various scenes and sequences in Eden Lake are shocking and during the screening two separate audience members got up and left. The deserting of individuals during a horror film can indicate the quality of the film; I like to think it's a good thing. I questioned one of the people that left and they told me that they found one particular scene too much to handle. The scene in question involved the goading of a teenager into committing an act of violence by a dominant youth. The beauty of Eden Lake lies in the fact that it takes root in the very essence of horror; it shows a world that is real and accessible; unlike a world of goblins, ghouls and zombies. The film is blatant in its attempt at tapping into contemporary societal fears; it investigates our fears of alienated youth and brutally incorporates that fear to expose our suppressed anxieties. Eden Lake depicts a world that is strikingly pertinent to the one in which live, making the film that much more disturbing. This is heightened by the scene in which we meet the parents; furthermore the ending is a chilling metaphor for "like father, like son".

People have drawn similarities to "Last House on the Left" but it reminds me of, among others, the films "A Clockwork Orange" and "La Haine" and although the gangs in those films were more organized all those films reveal a fringe of society that some of us choose to ignore, but that we all fear, and know, to exist. Eden Lake also had me thinking of many of the early 70's and 80's horrors that were often disturbing and shocking. Unfortunately Eden Lake isn't as good as those films of 30 years ago as I believe it to be too reserved. Examples of this lie in its treatment of racism - it's left up to the audience to decide, as nothing racist is muttered by any of the youths, only tenuously and cowardly alluded to by the filmmakers. The film also makes no real attempt to delve into the world of sexual humiliation or sexual torture, common place in many of the real-life crimes depicted in this film and often portrayed in many of the infamous horrors of previous decades. The language of the youths isn't that shocking, with their dialogue resembling some of the latter episodes of Grange Hill.

Despite my gripes Eden Lake is a brave film, but it does on some occasions resort to clichés and cheap plot tactics. Several times I found myself questioning the behavior and motivation of various characters, which was a shame because it distanced me from the film thus leading to me feeling too removed. The acting isn't bad and I'm sure we'll see more of all of those on show, the script is OK but some of the dialogue is waning in parts.

Eden Lake has been cited by some as a Daily Mail headline waiting to happen, something that beautifully and aptly sums it up. Although Eden Lake will not cause the controversy it deserves it will hopefully instill other filmmakers to raise the bar and push the envelope further. After all, it is only a horror film, and it fits that mould very well. If you are unsure of what constitutes horror or that recent horrors have deviated from the real-deal then go see it. Additionally, if you like to feel angry, upset and perhaps even fearful after seeing a horror then Eden Lake is the movie for you, ultimately it's a fine addition to the genre.
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Do we have plans to invade the Middle East? Are you Crazy? Am I?
13 September 2008
Released with the tagline "His name is Condor. In the next 24 hours, everyone he trusts will try to kill him." Three Days of the Condor (dir, Sidney Pollack) is a political suspense thriller first released in 1975. It is a fine example of the genre and a prominent precursor for the many similar films that have littered cinema for the past 30 years. Additionally it inspired Robert Ludlum's 1980 novel The Bourne Identity, the film is also an eerie harbinger for the world in which we now live as the final few reels reveal. The film centres on Joseph Turner (Robert Redford) code name Condor. The sign on the side of the building in which he works reads American Literary Historical Society. This is not strictly true as he is an employee of the CIA for whom looks for codes and foreign intelligence by reading books. One day Joseph leaves the building to get some lunch, upon his return he finds that every one of his work colleagues has been gunned down. He leaves the office and contacts his superiors asking to be brought in. Joseph arranges to meet his boss Higgins (Cliff Robertson) only to be shot at, he flees and kidnaps Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway) who becomes his only ally on his quest to discover the truth.

At its heart Three Days of The Condor explores the possibilities of the moral and ethical motives of an American government post Vietnam and Watergate. It attempts to show that one man can take on the might of the government and discover and expose the truth. It is an extremely familiar premise and one that has been employed a great deal throughout this genre. Various political films of the 1970's employ similar narratives including The Parallax View (1974), The Conversation (1974), All the Presidents Men (1976) and Marathon Man (1976). As mentioned Three Days of the Condor is directed by Oscar winner Sidney Pollack (They Shoot Horses Don't they, 1969; Jeremiah Johnson, 1972; Tootsie, 1982; Out of Africa, 1985; The Firm, 1993 etc), it is for this reason and the timely nature of Three Days of the Condor that I believe it to be the best political thriller of the 1970's.

The manner in which the film is directed conveys a sense of suspense that surpasses that of its contemporary offerings. Intriguingly the film is shot mostly during the day and for the vast majority of its running time is very well lit, when trying to illicit suspense I find this a bold move by the director as daytime and well lit scenes can be very unforgiving i.e. there are no dark passages, rooms or alleyways for the protagonist to hide. This choice of film-making leaves Joseph vulnerable and perceptible and whilst many directors would probably fail at employing this method , Pollack utilizes an array of tightly framed shots, moving pans and intelligently edited action sequences to create the tension that superbly complements the films narrative. The techniques utlised by Pollack established a benchmark for the many similar films that followed over the next three decades.

The narrative is both intelligent and well structured as it never resorts to cheap tricks or conventions to further its story and because it plays out in a few days the pace is perfectly apt. The acting on show is brilliant, which should be unsurprising given that Redford is at the peak of his career. His portrayal of the isolated everyman is captivating - aiding the films ability at tapping into audiences. Faye Dunaway incorporates a sense of anguish and hesitancy that doesn't detract from her impetus as a character, but rather helps the viewer to empathise and understand her motives. Max von Sydow as Joubert, the sly and devious assassin is also brilliant. If this film was made today, this type of character would seem very old-hat, but during the 1970s it was very much in vogue, as it had me thinking of Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man and Gregory peck in The Boys from Brazil (1978). It would be unsurprising to me if other actors have drawn on Sydow's assassin for their inspiration when playing similar roles.

Finally, I would recommend Three Days of the Condor to all those that enjoy a good political thriller. If you are expecting an earlier Bourne Identity, you will be disappointed. This film is not an all out explosion action fest and nor does it depict its lead as a man of unseemly abilities; it is far better and cleverer than that. In fact, if you liked last year's Oscar nominated Michael Clayton, which interestingly stars Sydney Pollack, then you should revisit Three Days of Condor and watch the film that inspired it.
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Doomsday (2008)
Childishly entertaining but apocalyptically poor!!!
25 August 2008
Written and directed by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, 2002; The Decent, 2005) I wasn't really expecting anything that would blow me away with Doomsday. The basic structure for the film is evident from its title; yes it's post-apocalyptic, dystopian and concerns mankind. Predominantly set in the near future the film depicts the aftermath of a deadly virus that took its root in Scotland. This virus leads to Scotland being quarantined and cordoned off via a huge wall and sea defences. After which the rest of the UK carries on functioning for several decades until the discovery of the virus in London. It then emerges that survivors have been spotted (from the air) on the streets of Glasgow. It is presumed that if there are survivors there must be a cure and an elite group, led by Major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra), are sent into Glasgow to locate and retrieve the cure. Once there they encounter hundreds of savages that litter the streets and buildings.

In his own words Neil Marshall stated that Doomsday is homage to the post-apocalyptic films of the past, and the film is definitely a hybrid of many, if not all, of those post-apocalyptic films. There's a belief with some film-makers that the word "homage" should be replaced with the word "plagiarism" and with Doomsday, they would probably have a case. The film isn't a parody, or a pastiche and nor does it have the grace of any of the previous offerings in this genre. It is, to put it bluntly, a rip-off.

Neil Marshall heavily references John Carpenters Escape from New York (1981), some of Sinclair's dispositions and idiosyncrasies are lifted straight from the legendary Snake Pliskin including her often pining for a cigarette, the fact she has one eye and her blatant disregard for authority. The difference here is that this lead has a vagina. Doomsday also heavily draws on Mad Max (1979), Mad Max: The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdrome (1985). This is perhaps most evident from Sinclair as she is a Police officer with a dark history. Doomsday also employs a road chase that may have been an outtake from Beyond The Thunderdrome, additionally the manner in which the gangs behave and operate is lifted direct from those films. Annoyingly the film makes no attempt to cover up it's "inspired" premise i.e. an elite unit embarking on such a mission shouts of films like Aliens (1986), Predator (1987), Screamers (1995) and Marshall's own Dog Soldiers (2002).

In sticking with its plagiaristic tones a train scene echoes a scene found in Walter Hill's The Warriors (1979), the similarities to that film doesn't stop there either as both employ gritty street scenes and centre on a small group that is both segregated and hunted down. An all-time cult classic in the post-apocalyptic genre is The Omega Man (1971) and Neil Marshall doesn't leave this film untouched either with its vacated city streets, gangs' night time mentality combined with the fact that each of the films explores the notion of mankind's survival in the aftermath of a deadly virus. A more recent "deadly virus" film that's referenced is Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (2002) and another recent dystopian film that strikes of similarities is Children of Men (2006). Doomsday also takes a medieval twist in the way of Excalibur (1981), and seeks to have the protagonist fight her way out of capture like Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott's Gladiator (2000). The manner in which the gangs scavenge for survival harks to Waterworld (1995) and their cannibalistic tendencies reminded me of Land of the Dead (2005) and The Time Machine (1960).

Ultimately I felt the film lacked any originality, but those that have not seen all of the above mentioned films might take some enjoyment in Doomsday. For me the film is far too formulaic, the characters clichéd and the script poor, Bob Hoskins as the cockney Captain Nelson is cringe worthy and the acting in general is all a little too tongue-in-cheek. Ironically a similar description would perhaps accompany all of the films mentioned, but with a cult film you do need a sense of the new and something that is both original and interesting. The only interesting point of Doomsday is trying to spot how many films have been copied.

Finally, it is safe to say that Neil Marshall cannot do cult and this is evident from the fact he has ripped-off so many other films. He is no John Carpenter, but interestingly there lies a sense of irony in the fact that when Marshall is awarded a larger budget he fails to deliver.
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Perhaps one of the most intellectual blockbusters to date.
30 July 2008
Directed by the unyielding Christopher Nolan, Batman's latest outing is the one of the most intellectual blockbusters to date. It incorporates every element that a blockbuster needs in order for it to live up to that billing, whilst simultaneously sticking firmly to its comic book origins. Nolan has been hired to make a massive film and that's exactly what he's delivered making Batman the most successful movie franchise ever. This time around The Dark Knight follows Batman (Christian Bale) incorporating the help of Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) to eradicate organized crime in Gotham for good. Unfortunately they fall prey to the criminal mastermind known as the Joker (Heath Ledger).

The Dark Knight starts like all good blockbuster should, with pace. For example the opening few scenes show an in-progress heist that echo's various crime films such as Die Hard and Heat giving The Dark Knight an immediate adult feel. These opening shots have been designed to create tension and Nolan executes them brilliantly. Additionally, and during the heist, the robbers are treacherously and meticulously executed by a counterpart - a great way to establish the malevolence of a baddie. This is because viewers will now be aware of his capabilities leading to his presence being viewed with caution and apprehension. Savvy audience members will also be aware that, despite the robbers' masks, the baddie is the Joker.

In pure blockbuster terms the film explores and delves into many of the attributes that make these films a success i.e. the compromised love interest, glamorous women, fight sequences, car chases, explosions, disposable baddies, social dilemmas, black comedy, secret organisations, expensive CGI, fast-paced editing, salient lines and ultimately the near floundering of a hero only for him to emerge stronger. Nolan has utilised these aspects and managed to combine them with various comic books motifs and his own stylish direction.

Blockbusters aside, The Dark Night is the best rendition of a comic book to date. Additionally the critics have not been wrong in their praise of the Jokers performance. It is the best Joker to date and talk of a posthumous Oscar nomination is not that far-fetched. Ledger plays the character with such conviction that he manages to command the eye of every audience member, perfectly illustrated during the fund-raising party as despite the actions of his henchmen and the panic of the guests, viewers will remain transfixed on him. It should also be noted that if his first introduction via the heist was not sufficient his second will go down in film folklore due to the entrance and the manner in which he disposes of a villain; it being both chilling and iconic. Batman's introduction is also dark, with him apprehending his helpers, exhibiting superhero strength and killing a dog - Bale fans and film buffs will also how notice how these shots hint at the chainsaw scene in American Psycho. Again this is Nolan wanting to establish a darker side of Batman. Some may also find is gravelly voice irritating, but it should really be expected and it again speaks to the roots of Batman.

Being a comic movie the film is littered with references to comic book iconography that are only really found in films of this genre. Examples of this lie in the numerous framed shots of Batman in a side-on pose as they hark back to the very first drawings of him; the fact that the Joker speaks of not killing Batman because he completes him is also the comic book approach to how Batman's villains mirror his character and his development (scarred childhood). Deft touches to the films misc-en-scene including the helium balloon shaped like a comic book speech bubble add to the films grace, as do the various methods the Joker employs to dispose of his victims i.e. a potato peeler, poisoned liquor, a tummy-bomb and a led pencil. These additions aid the film in sticking firmly with the comic mould. It's not just the Joker either as Batman utilises a sonar device that harks back to the comic book renditions of Batman being able to call upon his winged friends for help, in which a similar device is also used.

Ultimately Batman is a vigilante in a cape, he is there to fight crime and only he knows best. The Dark Night examines Bruce Wayne's psyche in deeper more conceptual way that its predecessor, here we see that vigilante abandon his code in order to defeat the villain thus shifting Batman further to the darker side. It examines the intricacies of what constitutes heroism in a thought-provoking and entertaining way, making it one of Nolan's most accomplished works. The film is dark but the shadows that are there are used to great effect because a lot of the time they complement both the story and narrative. This is brilliantly exemplified by the scene in which the Joker is interrogated, not only is it superbly directed but it had me thinking of Brando in Apocalypse Now. Cleverly the Jokers gentle submergence and re-emergence from those shadows aptly embodies the very essence of the jokers character; that of mystery. The action sequences are also very impressive, but again because of the lightening I felt little cheated, especially given that they seem to be the best from Hollywood in recent years.

Overall the film just falls shy of being a masterpiece, although it can be praised on so many levels from its cinematography to its direction and its performances, it lacks the icing on the cake. It pains me to complain at the films length and its lighting given its subject matter, but it was just too long and had a tad too much going on making the film feel a little cramped. I refuse to dwell on those issues because despite my gripes The Dark Knight is a wonderful film and an experience that should be relished.
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A spot-on sequel! Very funny!
24 July 2008
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is the overdue sequel to one of the decade's leading cult comedies, 2004's Harold & Kumar Get the Munchies AKA Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. The film begins where the previous left off with the pair about to travel from America to Amsterdam in search of Harold's (John Cho) love interest. Once on the plane Kumar (Kal Penn) retreats to the toilet and assembles a homemade smokeless bong in the aircrafts toilet only for a passenger to witness him. His bong is mistaken for a bomb and chaos ensues. The two are arrested in flight and the plane is turned around for them to be questioned. They are then believed to be part of a North Korean/al-Qaeda plot and incarcerated to Guantanamo Bay.

One problem that always arises from a sequel is it's originality as it is re-working trends, characters and conventions established in its predecessor. However, a sequel does have the power to utilise certain strengths that can aid the narrative and a fine example of this is familiarity. With Escape from Guantanamo this familiarity allows for the makers to concentrate on other characters and evolve the characters of both Harold & Kumar further. This leads to Escape from Guantanamo being slightly more emotional than its predecessor, this notion is supported by the subplot of Kumar's ex-girlfriend. This subplot consists of a flashback depicting a very funny Emo-Harold and a delusional dream of Kumar and his ex getting it on with a giant bag of weed.

The narrative structure of Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is almost identical to that of its predecessor as it employs a quest-narrative, evident from its title, and like the first film it charts the two as they embark upon a series of misadventures. Along this journey they encounter many characters, one of which is Ron Fox (Rob Corddry). Ron is the chief antagonist of the picture; he is an ignorant, obtuse, irresponsible and brutish representative of the American Homeland Security. Arguably, he embodies a stereotypical and overzealous xenophobic American. Unfortunately his red-neck, ill-bred attitude is a bit of a one-trick-pony, it is played too much and becomes a bit weary towards the end of the picture. The voice of reason and logic in the film appears to be in the guise of Dr. Jack Beecher (Roger Bart), and by being a doctor the character is clearly educated thus alluding to the dim-wittedness of Ron further. Ron's ardent nature is at times too pervasive and leads to those around him being ineffective in the gag department.

Despite those character shortcomings the beauty of the film is that it is laugh out loud funny and chiefly because it draws upon an array of contemporary issues. The film's crack at the war on terror is a little too timid for my liking and the decision to show Bush as a pothead is too old school. In fact the manner in which the film decides in general to lampoon America's behaviors in various political arenas is dated or, to concur with the film's release, overdue. However, the funniest political joke is perhaps the NSA officer being unable to translate Harold's parents, because he assumes they can't speak English, an apt and direct assault on America's foreign policy.

Actually, if the political comedy of the film is ignored then Escape from Guantanamo is incredibly funny. Fine examples of this include the pimped up red-neck pad, the bottomless party, the cock-meat sandwich, the cyclops child, the caring prostitutes, the KKK encounter and of course the return of Neil Patrick Harris. The return of "Doogie Howser, M.D." is one of the highlights of the film but this time around his drug of choice is mushrooms – which he takes whilst driving. His brief re-emergence also sees him brand a prostitute, flirt with hallucinations and tell Ron that his role in Starship Troopers convinced him to join the Feds; priceless. There are some jokes that will be perceived as racist, but they are all cleverly balanced out. The fact that the fanatical white American bears the brunt of the humour in the film fits in well with contemporary society - and is of course, very funny. A good example of this is the ignorant assumption that an Asian man on an airplane is a terrorist, again very funny, but if you've seen the trailer you've already seen one of the best gags.

Overall, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay wonderfully reworks the original film but on a larger scale, it is a comedy that is definitely above average as the jokes are well paced and mostly well written. It's not quite in the same class as its predecessor, but I strongly believe that upon multiple viewings it will become even funnier.
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Frontier(s) (2007)
Gloriously gory... but nothing new!
22 July 2008
Frontier(s) is a French horror film written and directed by Xavier Gens, also responsible for the computer game inspired film, Hit-man. The film begins in Paris with a group of criminals involved in a heist. As they are carrying out their robbery something goes wrong and it descends into chaos leading to the group splitting up and arranging to meet in a hostel out in the sticks. Unbeknown to the criminals the hostel owners are neo-Nazi degenerates with a hidden agenda, part of this agenda being the mutilation, torture and murder of their new guests.

Ultimately I did not warm to this film as I found it to have too many problems. Coincidently the first of which occurs in the very first few scenes of the film. These opening shots utilize frantic camera-work interlaced with rapid editing that both confuses and disorientates the viewer. On a personal note I find this method of film-making to be unnecessary especially when executed so poorly. This technique is superfluous, MTV-inspired and amateurish and does nothing but cheapen the film. The over arching feeling of the opening few scenes is that of the director trying his best to hurry the viewer or rather speed up the narrative in order to get us the "meaty" part of the film. In general the direction of the film was mediocre with dingy and overly stylized scenes, the final reels being a fine example of this.

Once the "meaty" part of the film arrives we are treated to some gruesome acts of violence and horrific forms of mutilation, which to give it its due are a lot more impressive than the film Hostel. When viewing Frontiers horror fans will notice the vast array of influences/rip-offs from the previously mentioned Hostel to The Hills Have Eyes, The Descent, Wrong Turn, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, House of a 1000 Corpses, Blair Witch… etc etc! In fact it draws so heavily from other films a case for plagiarism could probably be made, some critics citing it as the 'French Chainsaw Massacre'. Although it seems obvious to draw comparisons with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Frontiers lacks the suspense of that film and the ingenuity of direction that was so wonderfully conveyed by Tobe Hooper. On the surface Frontiers appears to have been made by people that have seen a lot of horror films but have failed to grasp the concept of what makes them successful, something a lot of horror aficionados can do – and probably would do if they were given the same resources. Frontiers fails to further the genre or create anything new, instead it offers the same old "been here, seen it".

Essentially the film lacks identity and this is due to it feeling too much like a Hollywood film. Often fans of the genre turn to other countries for something new or fresh or for something that isn't available in their own culture, but with Frontiers this isn't offered. Being so Hollywood in its construction with its stylized death scenes and MTV School of directing it alludes to the possibility of a director that is using this film as a cleverly engineered stepping stone in his career, and given his next feature it seems to have paid off. Basically Frontiers is a film that shouldn't have left the drawing board The redeeming features for Frontiers are its violence and gore content as it does contain some memorable death scenes - but even here I still feel it's trying too hard to compete with the Saw franchise. There has been a market for this kind of violence with some referring to it as "Torture Porn" but perhaps mediocre films like Frontiers indicate that it's nearing an end. This notion is further supported by the fact the film lacks any originality or intellect – the fact it tenuously draws on recent French history and has a Sarkozy lookalike on TV doesn't qualify as intellect.

Finally, the manner in which the film has been made hints at a director that is clearly full of his own ego and if this were the case it would help to explain the shaky camera-work in the opening scenes as maybe whilst filming he's masturbating furiously at his deluded talent. I would recommend avoiding Frontiers if you like your horrors to be engaging but that maybe you'd enjoy it if you're only after high levels of violence and gore - just fast forward the first few scenes.
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Hancock (2008)
A good idea... poorly executed!
5 July 2008
Hancock began life as a good idea and with a very intriguing premise; it bills itself as the alternative superhero film by aiming to show that the Superhero can be humanized. The film centers on a down and out alcoholic superhero called Hancock, played by the ever impressive Will Smith. He is a superhero that causes destruction and fuels his own public hatred where ever he goes due to his lifestyle and his indolence. It becomes fortunate therefore that one day he should save the life of PR man (Jason Bateman), who is married to the lovely Mary (Charlize Theron) and that in return for saving his life he chooses to help Hancock change his image.

The film starts well by introducing us to Hancock asleep, scruffy and unshaven on a public bench but ultimately establishing him as a lousy, grumpy oaf. As the film progresses Hancock evolves into a very endearing character, his apathy and self loathing - exhibited by his alcoholism, are all traits that manage to humanize the myths that surround super human beings. The fact that his physical prowess and lifestyle choice is his undoing is an interesting concept and in some quarters would be regarded as a microcosm of the manner in which gifted, black American men have been marginalized over the years (but this is a short review and I don't want to get that deep... however, examples that come to mind, and help to support this theory, are such great physical talents like Ed Moses, Shaquille O'Neil, Carl Lewis, Jesse Owen etc) some film scholars will no doubt give more precedence to this side of the film.

Many critics have labeled the film as being unequal and disjointed and I would have to say that I agree. The first half of the film is amusing, engaging and quite plausible (given its premise) but upon the introduction of a second hero with equal powers the film quickly descends into the farcical. For example, some of the early scenes have Hancock exhibiting his strength in often mundane scenarios from dragging a car up a driveway to dunking a basketball from over 50 meters away but given there placement in the context of the film they are clearly the conceivable actions of a super strong human being. During the latter stages of the film this demonstration of strength becomes inane and coarse, epitomized by a scene in which the two superheroes battle it out the sky, throwing each other across blocks and through buildings, and affecting the weather to such an extent that lightening, twisters and snowfall all takes place. This is ultimately where the film falls down as it resorts to the clichés that are so often witnessed in films of this genre. Ultimately this decline is driven by a foolishly executed back-story that has no place in the film and should have been erased the moment it was conceived. The internal logic of the film is preposterous and nonsensical and would remain so even if it was chief plot device in a Saturday morning kids cartoon.

When it comes to the direction it seems surprising to me that Peter Berg should be able to make the leap to making a blockbuster like Hancock, this is because Hancock was always going to be a commercial risk given its target audience and release date and his previous film The Kingdom was not a huge success. In these situations it is normally an established director that is chosen by the studio to carry films of this nature. This is evident from the manner in which the plot, story and narrative transpire to the screen as Berg's direction is gritty, with frantic zooms, sharp fast-pans and steady-cam sequences. His direction does not really complement the film, leading me to believe that in Hancock we have a director that is better than the film he is trying to make, a rarity in film making but it does happen.

Finally, Hancock is probably one of the biggest let downs I have had the misfortune to witness this year. The incoherent story has seriously affected the outcome of this film; it has led to it being almost incomprehensible. The futile subplot and unnecessary twist laid the foundations for the films demise. However, despite my immense disappointment I can still sit back and take light in the performances and the direction, but they can do nothing for my overall feelings towards Hancock.
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The Mist (2007)
A very courageous horror film. Well done!!
5 July 2008
As any film fan will know, if Frank Darabont adapts a Stephen King novel and directs it then you should really sit up and take note. For those that are unaware, Darabont wrote and directed the Stephen King adaptations The Shawshank Redemption and the Green Mile and now he brings to us The Mist, which is ironically a return to roots for Frank Darabont who started out writing on 80s horror B Movies. The Mist is a film about a group of townsfolk whose town becomes engulfed by a terrifying cloud that traps them inside a glass-fronted convenience store. The cloud contains strange creatures and various monsters that could quite easily kill the humans, should the mist make its way into the building.

As the characters converse inside the building they are forced to get along as best they can, shades of Lord of the Flies springs to mind and, characterized by their behavior, they begin to take sides and split into factions. Superbly written and wonderfully acted, all the characters portray a sense of realism that is rarely captured when trying to represent such hostile environments. Furthermore, being that we live in an age when reality TV and manufactured environments are created to imprison volunteers for the amusement of others, a film like The Mist has more bearing on our conscious than perhaps the makers envisaged. This connotation with contemporary sources of entertainment provides the audience with the ability to register and humanize with the townsfolk much more easily allowing for their dilemmas and disagreements to have an increased impact, which in turn intensifies the horrific nature of their circumstances.

The best performance of the film is by Marcia Gay Harden, who plays Mrs. Carmody, a religious nut that achieves a leadership through her constant preaching. The manner in which she plays Mrs. Carmody leads me to believe that she is a much underrated actress as during this film I truly despised her. The anti-religious notions that are ever present throughout the film are tainted with malevolent undertones and fanatical ideologies that brilliantly portray a level of fear rarely touched upon in contemporary horror. The Mist tells of religion as being fundamental to some peoples grasp of hope and that with it even the most apparently sane individuals will result in "lynching" others to achieve savior. It is an austere representation of religion that serves as a reminder to us all of its capabilities. The fact that the religion being pilloried in The Mist is Christianity has been dwelled upon too much by some critics, this choice of religion is merely fitting given the films location and setting, any other choice would have been inappropriate.

The Mist is a fine cult horror, so much so that it does not deserve to be viewed in a cinema. It is a film that would play out much better watched at home on your own TV. It is an intellectual film that will no doubt cause debate to ensue following the final reels. Ultimately, and as with previous Darabont ventures, the film is about hope. Its narrative is strongly embedded in the characters belief that there may be way out of their predicament and that their fate is not yet sealed. This is beautifully illustrated at one point in the film when one of the groups, which have emerged from the townsfolk, must make the decision of either staying with the brainwashed, or venturing into the outside mist; it is a choice of facing one of two fears – fellow humans or the unknown. Their fate sealed if they stay, but perhaps not if they leave.

The film is pessimistic in its outlook and serves as wonderful reminder of the importance of hope to us all. The ending has gained a lot of criticism, but I believe it to be by far one of the best endings to a film I have seen in a long time. After it had finished the despair and anguish I felt was in direct correlation with the characters and the story, thus the film had achieved its goal. I whole heartedly admire a director that has the courage to go against a studios wishes and audience expectations and provide an ending that is a bleak and daunting as the 120 minutes that have preceded it. Frank Darabont has stuck with the continuity of the narrative themes and left us with perhaps the starkest metaphor for hope ever to grace contemporary cinema.

Finally, The Mist is a contemporary B Movie, which is no surprise given Darabonts history in the area but also it is a wonderful social commentary that so happens to take its shape in a horror film, that also happens to be a Stephen King adaption. After seeing The Mist, Darabont has gone up a notch in my estimations as a director and writer. I thoroughly recommend The Mist to anyone that likes to leave a film feeling depressed, but immensely satisfied.
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Teeth (I) (2007)
A good idea... that lacks bite!
15 June 2008
Castration in cinema is a rarity and normally not a topic that draws audiences, but Director Mitchell Lichstenstein's Teeth is very different to the previous genre offerings that have tackled castration as both an anxiety and fear. The film begins with two step siblings playing "you show me yours I'll show you mine" in a paddling pool, only for Brad (John Hensley) to mysteriously sever his finger. The truth of the matter is Dawn (Jess Weixler) has a mutated condition, referred to in mythology as Vagina Dentata, thus explaining Brad's bleeding finger. The film immediately cuts to twelve years later and Dawn is now the prominent figure of a chastity group, thus conveniently explaining why she would still be unaware of her condition.

As the film progresses Dawn becomes curious of her body and is forced to confront her mutation during a rape. She inadvertently castrates her attacker and upon realising what she has done is equally as horrified. The man, bleeding profusely, flees the scene leaving her distraught. The scene, and several of the ones to come, are horrific and if watching with others you will notice that the males in the audience will be the ones wincing and cross-legged. Teeth is a film that reverses the predisposed stereotype of a female victim meeting her doom via the means of a phallic shaped object, usually a knife. Penetration, it seems, is a favoured form of execution in many horror films but here it is dismemberment by the means of castration. Having said this, it should be noted that Dawn is not a character that revels in her "ability" she is horrified upon learning her condition and seeks to discover more. She doesn't wield her power, and neither is she bent on revenge – unlike the films Carrie, I Spit on Your Grave or Baise Moi. In Teeth is a female character that has yet to determine what's best for her, only the final reels of her dealing with her step brother hints at what she has become or what she will be become - it could also be alluding to a sequel. Teeth struggles to establish itself, yes we know it's a horror, but it feels more tender and heartfelt than perhaps it should. Audiences are likely to feel compassion for Dawn and empathise with her condition, more than perhaps the makers were intending. In doing so the film amounts to tender portrayal of young girls' journey in dealing with sexual awareness.

Ultimately Teeth approaches male castration in probably the most primitive of fashions. It retells the perpetuated myth of the fear of the unknown to men, the vagina, and the mysteries that can lurk in its depths. It is a myth that has been told and re-told for generations and through civilisations, examples of it can be found in Greek mythology and artifacts that date back thousands of years. Feminists believe that its very existence is verification for an innate fear of women. For many psychoanalysts male castration anxiety is a favoured topic of exploration and investigation, some even cite it as being at the very foundations of all horror. Because the film tackles such a subject, and in this manner, it has raised some eyebrows as some critics believe the film to be derogative of men. This is due to it depicting them either craving sex, being violent, weak or as focal points of humiliation. Admittedly there are no strong male characters in this film, but give me a pen and paper and I'll a write a very long list of all the films in which there are no strong female characters, most of which will be horrors. The fact that the male is the victim in Teeth merely facilitates its story, it being about a toothed vagina.

Many of the film-making aspects of the film are, if anything, competent. Directorially though, the film is enjoyable. The camera doesn't shy away from the severed members as they fall to floor and nor does it restrain from showing the blood. One scene that illustrates this and through doing so sticks in my mind is the young man that, after being castrated during sex, ejaculates blood from his messy stump. Any mediocre horror will have a scene that plays on in the audiences mind after the end credits and for Teeth, it is that one.

Despite the fact I welcome Teeth to a genre littered with misogynistic films and weak female characters, I can't help but feel that it could have been better. For me Teeth fails living up to the promise of its premise, it is not the intelligent horror that some may have hoped for as it neglects to investigate or explore the myths. Instead it opts for a modern rendition tainted with teenage angst. Overall the film meanders along at slow pace, at 90 minutes in the length the first castration occurs almost 40mins in, and there are only 3 in total. I like the fact that the film is reactionary to the recent spate of torture porn films, but it is not as shocking and for some probably not as scary. Dawn is an interesting character and the manner in which her journey of discovery is told is also interesting, but that's it. Teeth is just a fun horror not to be taken too seriously, which is a shame because in doing so (pardon the pun) it lacks any real bite.
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11 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Last House on the Left is one of the most notorious of the infamous Video Nasties that were banned in the UK during the early 1980's. It has achieved a large cult following and is revered by many horror fans. The film is the first feature by Wes Craven and is loosely based on Inger Bergman's 1960 film "The Virgin Spring". In brief the film centers on two girls, called Mari & Phyllis, who on their way to a rock concert are kidnapped by four recently escaped criminals. During their abduction they are raped, sexually humiliated, tortured, mutilated, disembowelled and finally murdered by their captors. Once the ordeal is over the criminals then look to a married couple they stumble upon for help and accommodation, it just so happens that this couple live in the last house on the left. It soon transpires that they are the parents of one of the girls murdered and unbeknown to the escaped criminals the parents execute a bloody revenge.

Such is the notoriety of the film that upon its initial release in Britain in 1974, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) gave it an outright ban with them making clear that cuts would make no difference. Not only was the film not allowed to be screened in Britain, but Canada, Australia and New Zealand also banned it. However, and as mentioned earlier, the film did manage to become available on video in the early 80's but this was before the Video Recordings Act in 1984. This Act led to it featuring predominantly on the Director of Public Prosecutions top 60 'Video Nasty' list. The film also managed to achieve 113 convictions under the Obscene Publication Act in the UK between 1983 and 1987; yes One Hundred and Thirteen! In 1999 the film was again submitted to the BBFC, but this time they demanded that over 2 minutes of cuts were required. The distributors, loyal to their work, declined and the film was rejected a release. It was then re-submitted in 2001, this time the BBFC demanded 16secs to be cut. The distributors appealed, but unfortunately lost and the BBFC (now clearly annoyed) upped it to 32 seconds. As far as I am aware the uncut version is still unavailable in the UK so those that wish to purchase a copy should visit an American online store.

Controversy aside, it's worth taking note of the trailer for the film as it invites the viewer to relish the words "It's only a movie, it's only a movie...". In quintessential horror fashion the trailer teases the audience with its fiction; something that would later be parodied by Craven himself in "Scream". Those that have seen the film will understand how Last House on the Left is a film that embodies a deep and disturbing insight into the extremes of abduction and female humiliation. It is a horrific film and through being so horrific it perfectly epitomizes the very genre it is, a horror. I have huge admiration for this film, given its young director Wes Craven and producer (Sean S. Cunningham; Creator of the Friday 13th series) and the mere fact it really did push the boundaries of cinema. It can be argued that the acting is poor and the script bad, but the grittiness of the film stock combined with the poor acting and dialogue ironically make for a superb film, interestingly the very qualities that made Grindhouse cinema respected and adored.

I have seen this film many times and from my experience women will find it hardest to watch. It is not a film for the faint hearted and it does not rely on heavy chords or lots of suspense. Its effectiveness lies in the simplicity of the story. Albeit a story that is hard to digest, due to perhaps audience members finding it difficult to differentiate themselves from those on screen i.e. it's all too real. Furthermore given the films year horror movie clichés are avoided, in fact they are established leading me to believe that in 1972 the film was ahead of its time.

Finally I can't escape that the film was cut in the UK, cutting a film is comparable to obscuring part of painting, or tearing out pages of a book as it removes what the artist, writer or director intended which is ultimately restricting freedom of expression and freedom of speech. Those that do manage to get hold of an uncut copy could be disappointed as they might not have the patience for such an archetypal horror, as it does not live up to today's standards. However, horror connoisseurs, film academics and those that take a genuine interest in film and its history will probably be the only ones that will truly appreciate Last House on the Left and what it means to the modern horror.
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Mr. Brooks (2007)
A meticulous execution of a movie!
7 June 2008
Mr. Brooks is a film that follows a meticulous and deeply psychotic serial killer that executes his victims via a distinct modus operandi that sees him labeled by detectives as the thumb print killer. Directed by Bruce A. Evans and starring Kevin Costner, William Hurt, Demi Moore and Dane Cook the film deviates slightly from the familiar thriller genre with various subplots, portmanteau narrative and clever use of the doppelganger motifs and facets - the chief of which is the psychomachia, or rather the struggle between virtue and vice in the individual. Fans will know that this method of storytelling is also used films like "Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" and "Fight Club".

Mr. Brooks revolves around its lead, the serial killer Mr. Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner), and his fastidious methods of execution and punctilious attention to detail. The film establishes its motives quite quickly, through introducing his "imaginary friend" called Marshall (William Hurt) on a car journey back from a business event. On this journey Marshall intersperses Mr Brooks and his wife's dialogue with his thoughts. Shortly after the journey Marshall and Earl start discussing and bickering over the events that will be taking place that night, clearly here Earl is grappling with his conscience as he chooses whether or not to kill again after a gap of two years. His counterpart wins and Earl embarks on a mini voyage of execution only to succumb to a series of unavoidable occurrences that result in compromising his freedom. From here on in everything that happens seems to deviate into its own narrative, almost independent of the others at play. The beauty of the film lays in its ability and ambition at attempting this. This is due to the fact the meta-narratives culminate in the portmanteau narrative which, of course, leads to a single conclusion. This apparatus of story-telling has been used before in cinema, most notably "Amores perros", "Taxadermia" and the widely known "Magnolia", but here it is slightly different as the characters do interact that bit more and the finale is considerably more shocking, A favored aspect of the film for me was the use of music as at times it complemented the stylish direction and was ultimately one of the best aspects of the film. A great example of this is when Earl is on the prowl for a victim, as here the audience sees the neighborhood world from the comfort of his car. Each camera shot combines a slow tracking pan with melancholic music that elicits audience trepidation and apprehension at his next move. Despite the fact the scene harks back to of some of the early 90s "hood" films, because it has a distinct drive-by feel to it, it nevertheless still feels fresh and well executed.

The casting of the film is very interesting and although Costner's performance has divided some critics, it can be fair to say that this isn't the best film he's been in but it is, in my opinion, his best performance in a film. He has clearly matured as an actor, thus managing to conduct himself in accordance with the expectations of a character with such deep psychotic predispositions. William Hurt is equally as good, and as the plot progresses he brilliantly begins to exhibit some of the tendencies that were once the character traits of Earl at the beginning of the film. The fact that the two characters begin to switch in motives and rarely agree illustrates further the doppelganger narrative at play. The casting of Dane Cook as the aspirant and dilettante accomplice was a surprise, but was well received - much better than the misogynistic "Good Luck Chuck" he appeared in earlier this year.

Finally, Mr. Brooks is a good psychological thriller that is both well written and well directed, the performances are all good with perhaps the exception of Demi Moore, she gives a satisfactory performance but next to the other actors she unfortunately looks mediocre. The ending is a bit circumspect, alluding to the fact there could have been a final re-edit to please audiences, but as I have recently found out the film could be the first of trilogy and that would help to explain the final few reels. Mr. Brooks is a film that I would recommend to those that like films that are ambitious and veer off the beaten genre track... but in an interesting and creative way.
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Too late. Too elaborate. Too much.
26 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
For a fourth time we are treated to the legendry Hollywood vehicle lauded by audiences for its entertainment and despised by critics for its American Imperialism. Yes, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull stereotypes tribal folk, unfairly represents women, clichés foreigners and has more than its fair share of anti-Soviet propaganda - ultimately it's detrimental to everyone and everything other than American men. However, given that the film is a pastiche, the film-makers clearly believe they can excuse themselves from any such imprecations, and perhaps rightly so.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is set in 1957 and has moved away from the 1930's serials it parodied in the previous three and instead concentrated on the 1950's B Movies, noted for their depiction of invaders from space and other worlds. This decision has perhaps alienated a lot of fans, but if Indy's age difference is to be accurately addressed then a move like this should be expected. In addition to this the film would not really be a pastiche to those 50's movies if it did not on some level champion the All-American hero, the only problem is that in championing the All-American hero those around him result in looking a hindrance or expedient. Most notable of which are the double crossing cockney and the bumbling English professor.

Interestingly, and in accordance with its predecessors, there are many influences and homage's to 1950s cinema, the introduction of Henry Williams (Shia LaBeouf) is a direct homage to "The Wild One" and towards the end of the film audiences will be treated to various other influences, including "The Day Earth Stood Still", "Invasion of The Body Snatchers" and "Forbidden Planet". The fact the fourth installment has again chosen to do this highlights the director's and the producer's (Steven Spielberg and George Lucas) love of film.

With the godfather of blockbusters at the helm the direction of '…Crystal Skull complements the fast-paced narrative like no other director could. A prime example of Spielberg's ingenuity lies with the opening few scenes; a crane shot depicts Indy being man-handled to the floor, followed by his hat rolling to his feet and then the shadow of his torso on a car, finally the camera pulls to reveal his face as a gentle whisper of the call-to-adventure theme plays – it is pure Spielberg and should please even the harshest of skeptics. After this brief introduction, and in franchise-established fashion, the film reveals our hero to be in peril and surrounded by his new enemy, Russians. Comically Indy lightens the situation with his trademark grin and humorous banter, although the dialogue here is a little on the cringe side and alludes at the possibility that maybe the actors aren't as comfortable as they'd like us believe.

The films strength definitely lies with its direction and this is unsurprising given that it incorporates all the plot devices and mechanisms that have been established, created and employed by Spielberg over the decades. Examples of which range from the comical fist fights, the lovers tiff, the car chases, the dysfunctional family unit, use of score, apt camera-work and the pace of the editing. Coincidently, the most notable of the chase sequences is the one that take place in the Jungle which is perhaps the best chase sequence of the franchise, and probably one of Spielberg's best since Duel. The jungle scene does use CGI and many have disagreed with its use, but it's good, far better than the "blue screen" technique utilized for the rushing water chase in Temple of Doom, or the childishly animated booby traps at the end of Last Crusade, here we have special effects that finally work. The annoyance is that they are relied on too heavily and integrated into the film too much.

Paramount to this latest Indiana endeavor is that it is 20 years too late. The script is by David Keopp (Spiderman, Mission Impossible, Snake Eyes, Jurassic Park, etc) and has "financial-success" written all over it and, no matter what the critics write, it will be. Regrettably Keopp's script pushes the boundaries of plausibility to the extreme. He has sacrificed the credibility of the films predecessors in favor of maximizing the entertainment value. This is correlated by the decision to have the Crystal Skull as the chief plot device, it is something (that unlike the previous films) Indy doesn't really understand or really have a desire to understand, alluding to its mystique would have been better but to be so upfront with its origins and by tying it in with Roswell and then multi-dimensional forces is little too far, even for Indiana Jones. Furthermore, this has all been seen before in contemporary cinema, from "X Files: The Movie" to "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" and "Stargate".

Finally I feel that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull suffers due to a poor script, it is wildly entertaining but deviates from the previous three by being too elaborate and flamboyant. The direction is brilliant, the performances are great and Harrison Ford does pull it off despite the fact he is 63, furthermore Cate Blanchet as the Russian Stalin-like femme fatale is brilliant as is Ray Winstone. Some fans will appreciate the film and perhaps revel in the many jokes and in-jokes to be had, from the fading of the Paramount logo, the reappearance of the Lost Ark and the comical Back to the Future reference, others fans will not. However because we have a director that is fully aware of his audience it can only be noted that this film is aimed at children and it is that age group that will love it the most. But don't be surprised if you're in your mid-20 to 40s and you don't like it, I don't think Spielberg and Lucas were solely aiming to please you.
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Anamorph (2007)
This film could have been so much better!
16 May 2008
When it comes to cinema there's nothing I like more than stumbling across an independently made film with an intellectual story, an interesting cast and a fresh director. Anamorph is a psychological thriller that ticks all these boxes and combines them with a great premise, the only problem here is that the premise has been poorly executed. Directed by the up and coming Henry S Miller and starring William Defoe (an often underrated, but favoured actor of mine), Anamorph tells of a weathered Detective called Stan Aubrey, Defoe, who is assigned a homicide case that bears incredible similarities to a case he undertook five years previous. The film is based on, and gets its name from, the concept of Anamorphosis. For those that are unaware this is a technique of painting, employed during the Renaissance period, in which the artist manipulates the laws of perspective to create separate images on a single canvas.

The psychological thriller is one of the most difficult genres to pull off as in order to live up to itself the film will require an immense amount of concentration in both writing and direction to keep the viewer intact whilst simultaneously not boring them. Anamorph does itself no favours by utlising cliché storytelling techniques so often associated with this type of film. Examples are the ageing detective, a sombre piano score, stark lighting, mysterious strangers and the elaborate death scenes. Instead the film merely regurgitates past offerings, the obvious being Seven, Kiss The Girls, and the more recent Zodiac and combines them with yet another take on what makes a serial killer tick. Unfortunately the only thing that kept me compelled during this film was Defoe. His rendition of a troubled and obsessive detective ridden by guilt and heartache was very good, and would have been better if had not had been for the poor script. There are many problems that lie in the writing of this film, one of which is that the audience is deprived of any real character development and another is that it has poor dialogue (certain scenes had me cringing - they could have been penned by a child), the banter between some characters was clearly there to further the narrative which usually isn't a problem providing it is unnoticeable.

The direction and cinematography of the film were good, and the manner in which the flashback scenes of the previous case were arranged were both artful and creative as they alluded to dripping, the very process of either dripping blood or paint onto a canvas. The minimalism of Aubrey's apartment and the discussions on art that took place in the bar were very well directed and filmed. These scenes are probably the best of the film as they complement his character's bleakness with a muted aptness of style. The director's ability at portraying the concept of Anamorphosis was also good, although the fact he had to use a metallic coffee mug to further the plot and employ pretentious final visuals did taint a somewhat overall good effort. Furthermore, the elaborateness of the death scenes harks to the film Saw, but Anamorph is nothing in comparison - yes it is more intellectual and challenging but in this instance that doesn't make it a better film.

Finally, I feel that Anamorph should have been a much better film. Its basic idea, of a serial killer utilising a largely forgotten painting technique as his means of disposing his victims, is both fresh and original. However upon viewing it, the overall feeling is that the film was rushed and that it was hastened to release. There is no doubt that the film has been poorly written and, regrettably, when a film is poorly written it is much better to have a good and experienced director at the helm as only then will it at least stand a chance of being salvaged. Anamorph has failed to better itself from the indolent script it began with. Usually I feel that too many writers can ruin a film but here I feel that more were needed to treat the initial idea with the respect it deserved.
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Touching and emotional cinema is a rare thing. This is a rare film.
6 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
From the acclaimed director of Basquiat (Julian Schnabel) comes Le Scaphandre et le Schnabel (The Diving Bell & The Butterfly). The film is based on a French memoir by a man called Jean-Dominique Bauby. It depicts the life of Mr Bauby after he suffers a stroke that leaves him with a condition referred to in the film as "locked-in syndrome". The condition almost completely paralyzes him leaving only his left eye with movement. The doctors that work with him devise a method in which one blink equates to a yes and two blinks a no leading to the movement in his left eye being his only form of communication.

The film begins with Mr Bauby awaking from a coma in an almost birth like fashion with images shifting from light, to dark, to blurred, before finally fixing on those around him. These opening shots are accompanied by the narration of Mr Bauby, his speech is of perfect diction and is tainted with slight remnants of humour and cynicism. In executing such methods of film making so early on, and as the introduction, the film makes the audience aware of the fact that they shall by and large, be seeing events and occurrences through the eyes of Mr Bauby including how he now perceives himself, a great example of this being the scene in which he makes a comment on himself when seeing his reflection. The film allows the viewer to be a part of his experiences, his frustrations and primarily his self pity. The process of allowing the audience to become a part of his experiences is executed wonderfully, from the top to bottom fade outs (depicting blinking) and the many flashbacks that show us his recollections and regrets. One such flashback brilliantly literalizes his dignity by contrasting his dependency on others. It does this by showing the audience Mr Bauby shaving his father whilst editing it with scenes of him being bathed, naked and by others – in doing so it illustrates how his dignity has been compromised.

With an array of ambitious camera techniques the film has managed to represent his imagination in many ways. This representation is predominantly achieved through a variety of surreal metaphors, the most striking of which being the various images of Victorian women walking the corridors of the hospital (his suppressed sexual urges). There are also images of mountains, which are symbolic of the scale of his battle and the struggle against his condition. Another is a scene of him stranded on a platform at sea - this beautifully represents his isolation and his back is also turned on the camera, significant to his destiny. A gluttonous feast becomes symbolic of his ego and his overwhelming desire to experience the mundane, taken for granted, activities experienced by us all. However, the iconic scene of the film for me is of Mr Bauby on the beach with his family and when he speaks of how one of his sons has to dab his chin to stop him dribbling, to me this scene embodies the very essence of touching and emotional cinema. The Diving Bell & The Butterfly also pays little attention to chronology. For example the reasons of his condition are not revealed until the final reels and the insight into his character is explained by the use flashbacks and imagination.

The Director, Julian Schnable, is also a painter, and the manner in which this film has been put together hints at this. The Diving Bell & The Butterfly is littered with techniques and methods that are designed to complement the narrative, but in a very creative and intellectual way. It's performance and recognition on the art house circuit and it's accolades and awards from the bodies associated with that fan base and that type of film making suggest that this film has been brilliantly made and constructed.

However, in celebrating the beauty of a film the failings or floundering of story can sometimes be overlooked. Bluntly, I feel that The Diving Bell & The Butterfly has done itself no favours in choosing to alternate the camera-work from inside Mr Bauby's body to that of other characters. In depicting him in his wheelchair and showing the world functioning without his interpretation is where the film falters for me. In terms of the story the film began with a brilliant premise and almost fulfilled that pledge but in deciding to give the audience an insight into fellow characters served no real purpose and detracted from the plight of My Bauby. I feel this is because in switching to his outside world we then understand the other characters emotions and their perceptions on his life. This has been done before in cinema and took the film along a more melodramatic route, something I was hoping it would steer clear of. In my opinion the film would have been better advised to stick solely to Mr Bauby's reading of the world, and given the director and cinematographers pedigree this would not have been too much of a challenge.

Despite my gripes, the film is still emotionally reaching and those that practice in the art of psychoanalysis or enjoy the deconstructing of misc-en-scene will definitely relish in what is on offer here. Furthermore, those that are after a heartwarming story with emotional ratifications that perhaps exceed our own understanding of many human conditions will also enjoy this film. In fact you'd have to go pretty far to find someone that doesn't enjoy this film on one level or another.
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Been here, seen it!
21 April 2008
Directed by David Schwimmer, Run Fatboy Run is a warm hearted comedy that does nothing new for the genre but merely follows in the footsteps of previous offerings. The film tells of how Dennis (Simon Pegg) runs away from his fiancé Libby (Thandie Newton) and his unborn child only to have a sense of resolve five years later (now that he's grown up). And, here's the twist, in order to prove that he is now worthy of ex-fiancés hand he embarks on an attempt at the London marathon.

Regrettably any negative preconceptions of this film are confirmed from the outset, for example, in sticking firmly to genre conventions and expectation the film quickly establishes David as an unfit wimp by him being outwitted by a shop-lifting transvestite (clearly only a transvestite to elicit a smile), it also stereotypes his Pakistani landlord to the point of it being cringe worthy and it reacquaints us with the clichéd "smooth boyfriend" character - brilliantly played by Hank Azaria.

The film concentrates on Dennis and the struggles and pitfalls he encounters on his quest to win back his ex-fiancé, but in doing so it tiresomely emulates the media's obsession with sporting underdogs and how they are always winners on some level. Its chosen plot is something that has been played out, many, many times in cinema and it is disconcerting to see a contemporary comedy with bright actors and a fresh director regress to such tedious story-telling.

In a nutshell the film parodies modern masculine anxieties, from the worry of marriage, commitment and fatherhood to the ever more popular and relevant... "am I getting a belly". In satirising these notions the film epitomizes the generic conventions of all those films that have preceded it, from Big Daddy to the more recent Knocked Up. Run Fatboy Run is a film that could have quite easily starred Adam Sandler and have been based around the New York marathon; it tells a story that has no real relevance to its cast or locations. In addition I could imagine Hugh Grant playing the "smooth talking boyfriend".

Fans of Simons Pegg's previous offerings will not enjoy this as much as Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead, but will nevertheless gain some delight from the brief cameos of Stephen Merchant and David Walliams. Given that it centres around a marathon it is ironic that the film plods along at such a predictable pace, with the only sense of urgency evolving from the certainty that it has an end. There is no attempt at characterisation and the audience will not care what happens to the people on screen as no real empathy or identification with them is likely to occur.

Some scenes are funny, most notably his attempt to relieve himself of his groin rash, the moment he hits the wall and a blister popping in his friends face. The laughs are there (be them sparse), but given how they're executed and placed, it is clear they are gags that have been worked into the film to help make it funnier. Unfortunately the over worked idea and the clichéd plot devices take its toll on a film that would have been better if it the characters had been more distinctive, which is a shame because given the films short comings Schwimmer does manage to evoke heartfelt performances from his leads. Finally, the trait of predictability in a film will always pull an audience, as some viewers like well-worn ideas - the very notion proves they are a success. But if you're after something similar to Peggs previous work, that's inventive or off the wall, then this film isn't it.
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The greatest telling of our greatest achievement.
21 April 2008
In the Shadow of the Moon is a documentary film chronicling the American manned space missions that took place during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was made by the British company Discovery Films and shows the greatest achievement of humankind through the eyes of those that participated in it. In doing so it brings together 10 of the 24 men that have been to the moon.

In the Shadow of the Moon is a very well assembled documentary, it utilizes archive NASA and media footage and interlaces them with talking head footage of the astronauts. The manner in which the interviews are constructed purvey an endearing quality rarely captured during such routine methods, all of these old men have an air of modesty and graciousness to them that resonates with the viewer and a sense of soulfulness is also felt, as the documentary makers act with benignity and care. In speaking so freely the astronauts invite respect through their profound words of wisdom and invaluable insights into our world. They candidly speak of the beauty of our landscapes, the insignificance of territorial disputes and their experience of being able to blot the Earth out with only their thumb. How the astronauts talk of their trips to the moon is charming and this mere fact becomes enough to command any audience member into hanging onto their every word, trying to gain an insight, or even a taste of their experiences – which is ultimately something that only you or I can dream of.

Although the film brings together only 10 of the 24 men, there is unfortunately one noticeable absentee – Neil Armstrong. The fact that the first man to step on the moon has failed to contribute to this film, especially given that it concentrates heavily on the 1969 Apollo 11 flight and those first footsteps, is incredibly disappointing. This disappointment is also reiterated when witnessing those footsteps on the big screen as one can't help but wish for him to talk us through it. The disappointment is, however, short-lived because those images still draw tingles and awe and the fellow astronauts that take part in the film more than make up for his absence.

A cliché often associated with documentaries is that there is, somewhere along route, a distortion of the facts and In the Shadow of the Moon is no exception. A little bit of research reveals that some of Buzz Aldrin's renditions of events is inaccurate with NASA logs - something the documentary ignores. To counter this though the film does serve up some new interesting facts, such as the un-broadcast presidential speech (incase the crew failed to return) and that there had been three other planned attempts to the moon during 1969 had Apollo 11 failed.

Some of the world may view this documentary as propaganda, and that it's drumming up feelings of pro-Americanism. This couldn't be further from the truth, despite Americans being notorious for their patriotism and constant self promotion, the film tries very hard at avoiding turning the greatest accomplishment by humankind into a political achievement (as it was originally believed to be back in the early 1960s). This is perhaps due to the fact that it has a British film company at the helm, and the sole belief of the rest of planet is that it was a human endeavour. Hinted to during the film by Mike Collins, who states that everywhere he went, subsequent to the 1969 moon landing, people spoke of how "we had done it". The film has a constant an underlying theme of both our significance (humankind) and our insignificance.

The film will not quell conspiracy theorists that are, of course, adamant the moon landings never took place and the cleverly arranged snippets of the astronauts during the final reels can't help but elicit a smile from even the most die-hard of conspirators. Finally, the film is very well edited and very well made. It brings together wonderful people and tells their plight with beautiful footage and candor storytelling. To listen to these men speak and hear of their ups and downs during their time in the space program is a lovely experience and an experience I would thoroughly recommend.
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REC (2007)
A re-introduction to the term "horror".
10 April 2008
REC is a film that utilises the POV (Point of View) camera technique for the entirety of its duration. It is a technique in which the person behind the camera is a character that is integral to the plot, narrative and story of the film. In brief, REC is a horror film that begins with the crew of a TV show, called While You Sleep, making a documentary about firemen. As the film progresses the crew are lucky enough to accompany the fireman on a call out to a local apartment building.

Undoubtedly and unsurprisingly REC will be measured by the film The Blair Witch Project, especially given its plot and the manner in which the film plays out. Comparatively REC is also a horror, low budget, sticks to a female lead and has an ending that is very similar. Although The Blair Witch Project was a ground breaking film, given its illustrious marketing campaign and widespread fooling of audiences, if the two are to be judged purely on their viewing merits then REC is by far the superior – if anything REC is the film that the Blair Witch should have been. It is the film that I wanted to see when I queued up in the rain, 10 years ago full of hype, anticipation and adolescent excitement.

Despite REC being a better film than The Blair Witch Project some critics have attacked it for employing such a tired technique that has been used too much in recent films (i.e. Cloverfield and the forth coming Diary of The Dead). The method that has been employed in REC is, I believe, a method that is now firmly embedded in the medley of cinematic processes that a film-maker may chose to exert. It seems strange to me that once a new technique is discovered or employed and put to use regularly, people and critics complain – especially when it works. Granted, if we are subjected to a recent flurry of films all using similar methods then yes, it deserves further scrutiny and what usually surfaces is that greedy studios are exploiting market trends.

The film is co-directed by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza and they have clearly dipped into the bucket of clichés with REC, but in doing so they have created something that is both fresh and reinvigorating. It should be noted that clichés aren't always a bad thing and when put to good use can give the audience exactly what they came to see. It's true that the plot is minimal and there are loose ends, but then the vast majority of horror films often suffer from these traits, and sometimes purposefully, but with REC it doesn't make the film any less enjoyable. It is also evident from the plot and the methods employed that the film is very low budget, but this does not do it any harm, instead it complements the narrative and increases the films appeal.

I believe the true quality of the film lies in its ability to cleverly use the history of the genre and the bare minimal of resources to its maximum potential and, unlike Cloverfield, there's little room to doubt the reasons for the cameraman to continue filming and this is (like Blair Witch) due to the fact it's his job. He is there to film a documentary and in true cameraman style his instincts take over. The acting on show here is also a lot better than Cloverfield and the people all look normal, some are even unattractive.

To put it bluntly REC contains some of the most fear inducing and scariest scenes of recent times. It achieves a level of fear that's rarely experienced in cinema and if watching the film carefully it can be seen how. REC has been made by people that are incredibly familiar with the horror genre and fans will recognise the homage's and the inspirations used, from Evil Dead, to The Shining, to 28 Days later and many more. With such a wealth of horror-viewing-experience combined with inspired film-making they are able to draw upon some of the best moments in horror history.

Towards the final reels the film plays like an amalgamation of ideas and inspirations. One of which is the influence of contemporary video gaming as some scenes allude to how certain computer games work (most notably first person shooters) and this is supported by the POV technique as we, the viewer, live the character of the cameraman much in the same way a gamer lives the character he/she is in control of. This notion is furthered by the different levels in the apartment building, the films use of rooms, the final scenes and several allegories to various computer games including Resident Evil, Alone in the Dark and Silent Hill.

For a feature film it is incredibly short at only 75 minutes, in fact it is closer to the length of a TV documentary which is perhaps its aim. I cannot recommend this film enough and have even tried to construct my review in a way as to not give too much away; as it is a film that needs to seen. Watch it with the lights off, with a friend and in a small room. Enjoy.
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The Orphanage (2007)
Back to the routes of horror!!
24 March 2008
The Orphanage is a very well made, good old fashioned horror. It tells of a woman called Laura (Belen Rueda) that returns to the abandoned orphanage where she was raised, with the hope of re-opening it for a new generation of children. During the course of the film Laura's child goes missing and she is forced to shelve her plans of re-opening. The event compels Laura to spend more time in the house hoping that her child will return and results in her confronting her sanity. In sticking to an old fashioned premise the films employs a various amount of techniques and methods commonly attributed to films of this genre. The highlights being the big old house, creepy visitors, strange occurrences and things that go bump in the night.

It is quite conceivable to think that any film that utilises such clichés and generic scare tactics is doing nothing new and can be dismissed as being unoriginal and possibly unimaginative. To the contrary, in bravely addressing the very routes of the genre the director, and writer, have produced a masterpiece in contemporary horror. The film is an excellent rendition of the classic bedtime horror story, told with atmospheric direction and brilliantly placed plot occurrences. It is an emotional film that reaches to the very heart of fear whilst re-establishing the genre in the minds of contemporary cinema goers. The Orphanage is film that is intelligently made and will go on to become a definitive horror film, much in the same way as Jacobs Ladder, Don't Look Now, Rosemary's Baby and The Sixth Sense – all films that carry similar themes.

Those that aren't familiar with those previous films or wish to have their thrills in the form of Saw or Hostel will no doubt find The Orphanage tame and those that get their kicks from Asian horror (Gin gwai, Ringu etc) could also feel begrudged. In a disagreement with these films The Orphanage doesn't allow itself to be drawn into using one scare technique and continuously exploiting it throughout, nor does it prey on teenage anxieties or irrational fears. Instead the film embarks on a much more intellectual (and bold) approach and investigates one of the most basic primeval fears, that of losing a child. In exploring such a fear it is only fitting that all the characters be played well, and they are. Their fall from grace and their reaction to the events are brilliantly complemented by the well directed and paced plot. The timing of the scares and the execution of them are also done to perfection. All of these qualities add up to the film being a refreshing experience that, consequentially, sticks two fingers up to the recent and predictably made horror films churned out by Hollywood (1408, Vacancy etc).

Ultimately The Orphanage is an encouraging debut feature from the director Juan Antonia Bayona and shows a lot of potential. The film is dark, mysterious and harrowing like Guillermo del Toro's Pans Labyrinth - which also has child at the heart of the film. Both films also drive home the extreme capabilities of imagination and dissolution.The film is presented by del Toro and, in much the same way Tarantino presented Hostel, there is no real direct evidence of his efforts on the screen. Instead The Orphanage is more of a continuation of the style and characteristics associated with his film-making. Those that, like me, have been pining for a classical contemporary horror should look no further than The Orphanage.
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Any other year, a worthy Oscar winner!
18 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Ambitiously executed There Will Be Blood is a very impressive film. The backdrop and arrangement of the film alone will evoke such films as Gone With The Wind and Citizen Kane. That may seem like a bold statement but the ambition that is on show here is driven with such force and pedigree that it seems only fitting that comparisons to those films should be made, as will be explained in due course. The film tells of man called Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis), who discovers oil, refines his methods and steadily increases his wealth. One day a worker is killed and Plainview adopts his son and names him H.W. Plainview (Dillon Freasier), and by 1911 Daniel is one of the most successful men in California.

In keeping with the current Hollywood trend of echoing 1970s cinema the film has a slow burning plot and a lack of strong women. Furthermore, the lead character, Daniel Plainview is an archetypal anti-hero with a moral complexity and a classic rejection of traditional values. He is also a character with immense tenacity and an unrivalled drive for success. The first 15 minutes encapsulates all of these traits and lays down the foundations for his characters development. With no dialogue Plainview falls down a shaft and breaks his leg, but he manages to pull himself out and to the nearest town. The opening 15 minutes is monumental storytelling as without the tool of dialogue the director (Paul T Anderson) is able to establish a character with grit and determination; a strong, immovable man unwilling to let anything hinder his progress. Daniel Day Lewis's profound acting ability in There Will Be Blood, and Plainview's flaws and inability to be human, are very similar to those of another character and masterpiece of the same name, Citizen Kane, as Plainview is also a man that will stop at nothing to get everything.

As with the directors' previous works (Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love) the film carries a lot of religious imagery most of which are directly attributable to Christianity. In one scene a young man by the name of Paul Sunday visits Plainview to inform him of a place (his family's home) where oil seeps through the ground and that he can have the location of it for a small fee. In selling his family out to such a tyrant Paul becomes the Judas of the picture. Ultimately Plainview lies to the Sunday family about its worth and purchases the land at what can be only be regarded as pittance. In a beautifully metaphorical fashion Plainview ignores the advice of a preacher to bless his well and digs up the land, which intern results in disaster. He releases hell, flames shoot upwards, the sky turns black and his blackened demonic face emerges gleaming with excitement unable to hide his pleasure even after the near death experience of his son, H.W. Plainview. The scene is truly magnificent and had me harking back to Classical Hollywood epics (Gone With The Wind, Grapes of Wrath) the score that accompanies it is dauntless and the direction superb. It should also be noted that the sheer aesthetics of the film, from the intrepid soundtrack to the flawless cinematography, make it an immensely pleasurable experience.

Unfortunately I had issues with the various stereotypes the film employed. Primarily the film has strong homo-erotic undertones, that truly come to light upon the emergence of Daniel's alleged brother, Henry (Kevin J. O'Connor). During the film the two share quality time on a beach and quite clearly bond during an oil pipeline mapping expedition. Plainview is a man that exhibits the clichéd idiosyncrasies associated with homophobic tendencies. From his absent history with females, his statement at hating all men, his dislike of men and his outlandish dismay at the discovery of his Henry's betrayal. His reaction at Henrys lie confirms a sense of denial in Plainview, albeit an outrageous reaction, as he is clearly angry with himself for letting his emotions surface towards another man, thus adding prominence to his tears.

Further problems with the film lie with its story, it refuses to give away too much information and divulges key elements at irregular moments and weights them with too much emphasis or not enough. The scene in which Daniel and his son meet the other Sunday brother Eli (Paul Dano) for the first time is very well executed, as we the audience share with Daniel his bemusement at whether or not this is the same person he met earlier or if it's a twin. This scene is brilliant but it is left wide open and it is not really tied up, despite the fact that he attacks his father for allowing Paul to leave and divulge their location. His father is not allowed to retort, alluding to the fact that maybe Eli is suffering a character disorder; if this was the case it would be much more fitting. Additionally, at the end of the film, Daniel lies to Eli about how much he paid Paul for the information – confusing the matter further.

There Will Be Blood is a film that some might believe is ostentatious, but in unravelling the films layers and various metaphors it is a true joy. It is a brilliant examination of politics, fascism, greed and religion and in doing so becomes (perhaps unwittingly) an allegory for contemporary American society and the issues surrounding big business and religion. Daniel Day Lewis is truly outstanding, perhaps the finest physical actor of our generation, his mere presence makes the film compelling, he is undoubtedly every directors dream.

In being concurrent with the first scene, the final reels of There Will Be Blood deliver one of the greatest performances by an actor ever committed to celluloid (the milkshake metaphor is brilliant) and one of the greatest final lines in cinema history… "I'm finished".
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Jumper (2008)
Young teenage boys will love this movie!!
11 March 2008
Jumper is a film that panders unashamedly and meretriciously to the adolescent male, it is a technique in film-making that can often be found in poor Hollywood action pictures. It is also an approach that has been employed in some of the director's (Doug Liman's) previous work (The Bourne Identity, Mr & Mrs Smith). Jumper follows a young man called David (Hayden Christenson) and the discovery of his power to jump to any given space on the planet instantly. Throughout the film, or rather after eight years of "Jumping", he discovers that he is not the only Jumper and that there are an elite group of people hunting him.

In reaching out to it's largely pre-pubescent audience the film throws in the usual clichés, from a hot chick to stylish CGI and excessively edited action sequences. Audience members that pined for a change of identity after seeing Bourne (hoping that maybe they we're a really a 30 billion dollar investment) will probably find Jumper fraternally appealing, they will also relish the more outlandish aspects of the film.

Annoyingly the opening scene makes the arrogant assumption that everyone watching is a "chump" (unless you're a Jumper) and then proceeds to show David zipping about his pad and jumping a matter of feet to open the fridge, reach the remote or even venture outdoors. This use of dialogue and the manner in which his apartment has been constructed (it contains a motorbike) will probably have every 13 year old boy drooling. The film even attempts to signal its appeal to this age group through the narrative as in a flashback scene David robs a bank and then explains away his wrong doing by stating "I was 15, what would you have done?" To further this notion, the link the film tries to make with history being littered with examples of Jumpers being pilloried and murdered by notorious sects and groups over the centuries, is frivolous and childish.

Gearing itself at such an audience is not a problem, if executed well. However, in Jumper too many drawn out scenes punctuate the pace of the film to such an extent that the attention span of the desired viewer is likely to be tested to its limit. Some people will enjoy the film, providing you are able to switch off, become one dimensional, ignore the plot holes and buy into the characters. If this is not possible then you will find the film annoying, immature and an exercise in decadence.

At its very height the film exhibits levels of action that might invite the viewer to lean closer to the screen or pause on their pop corn chewing. The main example being the Double-Decker bus that ploughs into the desert, but if you've seen the trailer – you've already witnessed the best bit. Jamie Bells presence was the highlight of the performances on show, and he is actor that should go on to do better things. Samuel L Jackson reverts to type and offers nothing new and Hayden Christenson must have a pretty face, because his acting here is wooden to say the least. The direction is mediocre given its premise although Bourne fans will notice the frantic camera-work, rapid editing and the slow arching tracking shots (from a distance). To finish, Jumper is a film that should not have been made as it would have been far better suited to a television show.
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A wonderful family drama with a political edge.
1 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
La Faute à Fidel centers on the life of an indulged nine year old girl, called Anna (Nina Kervel), and her adverse descent from the luxuries of a bourgeois life to the cramped, destitute conditions of her parents new found belief. Situated mostly in Paris during the early 1970s and among the aftermath of the collapse of the De Gaulle government, the film tells of a change of prosperity that occurs after the death of her father's, (Fernando; Stefano Accorsi), brother-in-law. The death compels Anna's parents to readdress their political complacency causing Fernando to become part of the active opposition to Francisco Franco (of Spain) and Salvador Allende (of Chile). Consequently Anna's life is transformed and this is demonstrated through her constant bewilderment, intellectual expansion and amusing misinterpretations.

During the film the family's new apartment slowly grows hectic due to an encroachment of the "barbudos" (bearded men; or Chilean Activists) and as most of the story takes place there, the director (Julie Gavras), is able to create a feeling of invasion in Anna's life. This is played-out in a scene when the young Anna awakes to find her home swarming with "barbudos" and no parents. The camera here, and for most of the film, is at Anna's height. At this point the audience is aware of Anna's worry and concern. Gavras superbly complements this with her camera-work, as a lot of the shots are orientated around Anna. The shot reverse shots are either pointing down at Anna or up at an adult, the framing of her achieves narrative centrality and the film is littered with child like symbols (most notably the frequent shots of her sandals; perhaps an invitation for the audience to place themselves in Anna's shoes).

Through the eyes of a nine year old child the film manages to show us the problems, difficulties and effects that extreme political transformation can have on a family. Not only are the parents going through a period of enlightenment but so is Anna as she is bombarded with an array of terms and ideologies, including communism, activism, capitalism, Catholicism, conservatism, mythology and abortion all of which she tries make sense of. Despite this Anna is treated like an equal when among her parents and the "barbudos", because they make the effort to explain and reason to her the things she doesn't understand. The manner in which these adults talk with Anna is short-lived, because as soon as she dons a uniform and becomes part of the strict and religious system (that is her school) she is no longer that free-thinking individual. She is unable to question the system once she is a part of it; this supported by emphasized further when she questions her teacher over a story involving the dilemmas facing a goat.

The fact that the adults endeavor to relate to Anna on their level demonstrates a liberal upbringing and the understanding of children as equals. This is seen through her mother's (Marie; Julie Depardieu) explanation of abortion, her discussion on Dad's "dickie" and the Chilean activists attempt to discuss their ideologies with Anna. Furthermore, the family's abandonment of "Sundaying" is a metaphor for them resisting social constraints and re-appropriating them by, as Anna's brother points out, "Sundaying" on a Wednesday. This is interesting because it serves as visual allegory for rebellion as it's in direct contrast with the notorious aspects of Franco's fascist regime and his renowned focus on traditional values. This notion is furthered by Anna leaving the confinements of her school, dropping her uniform, mixing with another gender/race and being embraced; this sequence of events is her liberalisation.

As the title suggests, it is packed with political and literal metaphors and through centering on a child the film keeps itself amusing and fresh. But, ultimately and at its heart, the film is a fine family drama that utilises the backdrop of political angst and cultural change to help tell its story.
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A legal thriller with blinding performances!
26 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Michael Clayton is a film that chronicles the inner workings of a New York law firm over a four day period and through the eyes of its chief protagonist (Michael Clayton, played by George Clooney). Legal thrillers are a specific type of genre not suited to everyone as they usually have complex plots, intricately positioned dialogue and contain allegories to genuine corporate bodies. Michael Clayton does not deviate from this formulaic approach with the general premise for the film being inspired by an actual General Motors case from the 1970s in which cars would burst into flames upon impact, burning those inside to death (the case is also alluded to in Fight Club). In both the General Motors case and Michael Clayton a leaked memo reveals it to be more cost effective to pay out compensation on the company's malpractice than to change their methods of production. The company at the heart of the film, and this malpractice, is an agrochemical company called U/North. Interestingly the film is written and directed by Tony Gilroy, the man behind The Devil's Advocate; another film that interrogates the formalities of law and acts of malfeasance.

Unlike The Devil's Advocate, Michael Clayton is a film that has suffered too much at the hands of its writer, it has been suffocated by an over bearing plot that stifles the story and tests the audiences patience. It is a slow burning thriller that takes its time by methodically and unnecessarily dipping in and out of its sub plots causing the central plot to be diluted and confused. The impression given is that it was tinkered with right up until the moment prior its release, the rearrangement of the chronological narrative via a "four days earlier" edit seems conspicuous given the delayed progression of its central plot. Perhaps studios believed that having an exploding car 10 minutes in, as opposed to 110 minutes in, might bear better with audiences. Being that the film is so convoluted it seems ironic that Clayton should toss his watch and wallet into the burning car to make it look as though he died – a foolish disregard for the abilities of basic forensics. It is conceivable that given the overworked and laboured plot that such an occurrence was over-looked on the authenticity of everything else, although I doubt this, it is likely that the film is attempting to toy with plausibility i.e. if we believe other events then we should accept this.

There are, however, a few scenes that will prevail in people's memories long after the end of the film. The calm and collected murder that occurs is almost chilling, but the fashion in which it is executed is brilliantly metaphoric as it illustrates the procedural and meticulous manner in which a rapacious corporation can behave and instruct others to behave. The showdown between both camps during the final reels and the well-framed shot of Clayton as the credits roll are arguably some of the best moments of George Clooney's career. This is attributable to Gilroy's brilliance of direction, as his fresh and widely rudimentary approach is best suited to a film with such a demanding narrative. His framing technique is textbook as it superbly complements the narrative and in doing so elicits some of the greatest performances I've seen by the three leads. George Clooney, in what is his perhaps one of his finest performances to date, has been perfectly cast as a man of abhorrence and despair and one in which the audience will identify with. Tom Wilkinson is brilliant as a lawyer dancing on the edge of insanity as is the unscrupulous boss of U/North, Tilda Swinton; her character oozing iniquitousness.

Michael Clayton is a better American film than many other legal thrillers on offer, but it's poor attempt to reminisce with classics unintentionally proves it's not in that class of film-making. Perhaps if Michael Clayton had been closer in simplicity to Gilroy's previous outings as a writer (The Bourne Trilogy) then, as it's been stated, Michael Clayton could have been the thinking man's Bourne. Instead I feel Gilroy has tried too hard to better himself and not distance himself leading me to conclude that it is not his writing that stands out here, but his direction.
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The next Martin Scorsese? Not yet!
20 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Wes Anderson (Director of "The Darjeeling Limited") has been dubbed the next Martin Scorsese by none other than Martin Scorsese himself. One of the greatest and most talented directors working in Hollywood today sees some of himself in Wes Anderson, a fine accolade to pay to anyone. Being familiar with Wes Andersons work (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou etc) I can understand why Scorsese would believe that. During his career Wes Anderson has been a director that has exhibited audacity and experimentation similar to that executed in Scorsese's early work i.e. Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. However, resemblance can only be found in the fact that both have brandished something fresh and encouraging and not in their talent or artistic accomplishment. This is palpable to the fact that The Darjeeling Limited lacks artistic amelioration which can be attributed to Anderson's inability to progress artistically, and ideally, in other areas or genres during his 13 year career. This film illustrates how Wes Anderson is clearly a director that is still maturing in his abilities; it is just unfortunate that his chosen films all follow such similar paths.

In being congruent to Andersons previous works The Darjeeling Limited centers around a dysfunctional family, it draws upon their character idiosyncrasies, their awkward encounters and their eclectic motivations. It concentrates on three brothers and their spiritual journey across India. One of the brothers, Francis Whitman (Owen Wilson) has a hidden agenda that emerges during the trip. The agenda being that they are really going to see their mother who has become a nun. Stylistically the film is a joy to watch with it primarily being split up in two parts the first being a 13 minute short prologue called Hotel Chevalier in which the audience is treated to a back story, or prior understanding, of one of the brothers. To undertake such a decision (splitting the film) highlights Anderson's distinguished audacity as the only reason for Hotel Chevalier being a standalone chapter or even feature is that it establishes the second feature as being purely about the journey. The vast majority of directors would have incorporated this little tale into the main feature, or even dropped it all together. Once The Darjeeling Limited begins we are treated to a cameo by Bill Murray running for the train, only to be left behind on the platform – a lovely metaphor for Anderson leaving his last film (The Life Aquatic…)behind and moving onto to something fresh and new. Unfortunately the film doesn't, it quickly becomes another Anderson vehicle that borrows and re-appropriates ideas and themes from his previous films – just executed better.

Anderson utilizes an array of techniques including slow-motion, whip-pans, long-lens zooms and gliding tracking shots that are all stylistic in approach (and witnessed in his previous work) but not really aiding in the narrative. For example, if we hark back to the work of his admirer (Scorsese) we realize that all of his camera techniques were used to complement, illustrate and further the narrative – not just because they looked good. Quirky camera-work could complement a quirkier story (A Life Aquatic…) but in The Darjeeling Limited it is just pleasing on the eye. Furthermore because some of the techniques used are reminiscent of Bollywood cinema the films tinkers on the edge of stereotyping a nation, collaborated by its colourful imagery, spiritual platitudes and almost superficial script with lines such as "I love the way the country smells. I'll never forget it. It's kinda spicy". Although I love the manner in which Anderson works on screen I feel that his direction has now been confirmed as being rather formulaic, almost a one trick pony, much in the same way as the British director Guy Richie. Some fans will undoubtedly love his approach and crave his next release but artistically I feel hard done by that by this stage in his career he hasn't truly evolved.

Overall the film is a joy to watch, it is a lovely tale of three brothers coming together and putting their differences aside. It is heartfelt, pleasing and very symbolic to their goals - the luggage they carry around being particularly emblematic especially as they poetically shed it in the final scenes. The performances are good, the story evocative and the production is, for me, the film's most striking feature. Despite my criticisms though, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone wanting to see an American film that steers clear of the more popular and mainstream ideals.
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Juno (2007)
A pleasant, mild-mannered, well-written, emotionally amusing... little film.
17 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Juno is the first film to be written by Diablo Cody and has already gained much recognition for its caustic and apt renditions of youth. The film tells of a 16 year old girl called Juno who discovers that she is pregnant. She quickly explores the various options available to her before deciding on having the baby put up for adoption. The film then follows her through the pregnancy and documents her along the way. Juno is a film that manages to tug at the heart strings of those that watch it and many critics have drawn obvious parallels with fellow off-beat heart warmers "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Garden State" – films that are equally as good as, if not better than, Juno. What makes Juno better is that because of its chosen topic and amusing anecdotes it has a superior emotional appeal making the film more of a charm.

Juno is written with a sense of cynicism and wit that that feels both refreshing and pertinent to modern youth; her manner of speaking is aptly fitting for a 16 year old girl because it has been culturally influenced and reworked in her favour. Her quips, witticisms and sarcasm manifest themselves through her distorted grasp of language i.e. she utilizes words and phrases for her own benefit, as do many teenagers. Cody's ability to capture this style of speech has been appraised in many quarters with some interviewers even suggesting that she'd hung-out with teenagers before writing the film. She has denied this. My problem doesn't lie with the 16 year old Juno, but with all of the other characters – as I believe none of them stand apart from Juno. For example the banter between her parents bears similarity to Juno's distinct delivery, many of the lines delivered by her baby's father Paulie and her friend could have easily been said by Juno. To have these characters delivering quips and puns with such a readiness as Juno I found a little disheartening as it almost undermined Juno's incisive repertoire. Moreover Cody has since stated that many of the young Juno's attributes are ones that she'd have liked when she was 16. This information allows for more forgiving criticism as previously I had issues with a girl of 16 having such an extensive and knowledgeable background of punk music and Italian horror films. Unfortunately it doesn't bode well with your writing skills if you need to explain your motivations once the piece is finished.

Because the central theme to the film Juno is pregnancy it has been stated that it is championing pro-life (or dare I say it - American Christian Fundamentalism). I do not agree with this, but I do find it a little confusing that we never really know what goes through Juno's mind in the Abortion clinic. One such explanation is that perhaps it is an allegory for choice and, no matter her choice, no one (not even the audience) has right to know her reasons. With abortion being such a feisty issue I find it amusing that both camps have been stereotyped here. The receptionist of the abortion clinic is depicted as a sexually obsessed moron and the prospective patients are ridden with angst, but this is counter balanced by the lone pro-life protester outside that doesn't know what day it is or how to run her own life, let alone preach to others about theirs. Juno flees from both and there is no need to concentrate on the abortion clinic any further as Juno has made her decision albeit unknown as to why. Admittedly the premise of Juno could be frustrating to real-life pro-choice supporters, but to delve into these political connotations any further would be unjust to the film.

The music used in Juno feels like the makers are trying to impose their tastes upon us, much in the same way Zach Braff did with the band "The Shins" in "Garden State". A bonus in using such a technique is that it will increase the films cult status through strengthening its appeal and by possibly making it nostalgic in years to come, this idea is furthered by the final guitar scene. Directed by Jason Reitman, Juno employs certain approaches to this type of cinema that are steadily becoming clichéd e.g. the animated in-film titles or the various montages of stills but despite this the film moves along with a fluidity of pace that is both complementary and non-encroaching on the films themes. Overall Juno is a pleasant, mild-mannered, well-written, emotionally deep and amusing little film – it is film that will fill almost every audience member with amplitude feelings of placid merriment. All I can advise is to ignore the hype and go and see it in a small cinema with not many people or at home with a bottle of wine and you will not be disappointed.
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Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop making anymore now!!!
13 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
There was a time when the Alien series was a success with even the third installment, Alien 3, showing promise under the guild of a fresh and young David Fincher. The first Predator was a box office hit mainly due to its story, "in peak" star Arnold Schwarzenegger and director John McTiernan (Die Hard). The films Alien, Aliens, Alien 3 and Predator were all highly successful and created massive followings among general film fans and science fiction fans alike. Arguably Predator 2 and Alien Resurrection should have signaled the end for both franchises, but studios were undeterred and saw the opportunity to pander to the rumours among fans and combine the two. Step in Paul W.S Anderson, Alien Vs Predator, and now the Brothers Strauss (visual effects graduates, not even directors or writers). The problem was that by allowing such profound and revolutionary creations of the Sci-Fi genre to fall into the hands of firstly a mediocre director and now directorial newbie's has led to nothing more than profanity, epitomised by incompetence. Upon witnessing Alien Vs Predator Requiem (AVPR) die-hard fans will feel sick to their stomachs that this series could have got any worse.

One example of the cinematic deterioration of this franchise is in the opening scene and is likely to cause nausea among fans. The film begins with an Alien making its way onto the Predator ship, spurting from the predators chest, growing in to a full grown Predalien and bringing down the Predator craft (which now seems to have far less Predators on it than it did at the end of Alien Vs Predator) and all this occurs with the ship still in Earths atmosphere. Once the ship has crashed AVPR quickly resorts to cheap plot methods and basic narrative conventions, it makes no venture at utilizing any of the twists or subversions served up in the two original films. The wearisome plot progresses with tedious pace, punctuated only by the near rousing conflicts of Alien and Predator and when that runs the risk of boring us we are treated to either an alluring blonde in a bikini or rapid gunfire. AVPR is plagued by an endless array of continuity errors and plot holes with little or no narrative elucidation i.e. members of the public outwitting an elite military unit or the Predator not adhering to laws established in previous editions. This is a film that has a complete disregard for its predecessors, it breaks some of the most fundamental rules of a sequel and in doing so one gets the feeling that it is trying to set itself up as a stand alone feature. Independently the film has no heart, no conviction and no soul and with reference to the other films lacks even the most basic continuity. This is exemplified by the over arching narrative of the film as it undermines the basic premise of the first Alien. Because if the species had been encountered before then those in the first Alien film would have been more proficient and not so ill prepared when encountering them.

On a cinematic note the film is close to being dire, I felt urged at some points to shine a torch at the screen, the lighting was so bad. Through utilizing such gloomy and dark effects the audience may feel as though they are being cheated out of some the action – which is ironically its purpose and also indicates the films lack of budget. As with all science fiction one scene normally surfaces as being the most memorable, in this instance it is probably the hospital impregnation scene as it ever so tenuously draws on the themes of the original Alien by literalizing it. The directing is poor, performances weak and the script rotten. AVPR is the product of a conveyor belt system of film-making in which ideas and techniques are assembled by ineffective people and then the finished product distributed among cinemas. This is personified by the absence of gory death scenes and drawn out blood battles because the certification will not allow it – a lower certification achieving a larger target audience. AVPR was purely a business venture and nothing more.
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