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Saturday, 21 April 2012

THIS WEEK: Four Days Inside Guantanamo / The Ides Of March

0 - Avoid at all costs
1 - Bad
2 - Has redeeming features
3 - Good.  Rent it when you can
4 - Cinema trip/Definitely see it as soon as possible
5 - You must have this movie! 


Put together by Luc Cote and Patricio Henriquez, this is a film that is almost exempt from a rating for me as, whilst it is of interest, it is barely what one might call a film.

"The interrogation recordings of the underaged Canadian Guantanamo Bay prisoner, Omar Khadr, by Canadian intelligence personnel are presented with observations by his legal representatives and former cell mates." - IMDB.

Whilst it is not a movie you would want to rent for entertainment purposes, and certainly one you would want to follow up with something a little more....cinematic, it is an important film to see, even if not quite the education I had hoped for.  2.5 / 5


George Clooney reveals the cynical, political animal within, and shows once again that he is not a bad hand behind the camera.  As good as in front of it?  Tough call, but this film goes some way to suggesting yes.

Running alongside the almost mute performance in Drive last year, this movie give Ryan Gosling the opportunity to go to the other extreme and deliver more than one line at a time.  He is Stephen Meyers, an idealist campaigner for Democrat Governor Mike Morris (played here by Clooney in a surprisingly underwritten role).  Meyers finds himself caught up in a scandal that threatens not only his career, but perhaps more importantly, his own sense of morality.

The major strength of the movie lie in the casting.  With an entire cast who overshadow Clooney, including Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, and the ever-watchable Phillip Seymour Hoffman, it could have been in a less capable director's hands and still come out doing okay.  As well as this, despite the title giving some idea as to what the implications of the story will be, the twists and turns of the tale are rather nicely handled, as well as the point of scandal itself, which I must confess took me by pleasant surprise.  It is not all roses, however; Marissa Tomei is pretty much wasted, there is little to write home about in terms of cinematography and score, and it could be said that it is, at times, more convoluted than it need be.

For what it is though, this is well worth a rent!  If you're not into American politics it may lose some interest points for you, but once you have your head around what is going on (the film does well in making this clear if you're willing to go with it), it makes for a good evening's entertainment, and perhaps also a little food for thought.  3.5 / 5

Catch if it if you like:  A Few Good Men, All The King's Men, Good Night and Good Luck.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

THIS WEEK: The Cabin In The Woods / 50/50 / Taxidermia / The Way


Delayed by some financial issues and a distribution takeover, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard finally have their creation unleashed.  If you've seen the trailer you probably believe you have seen too much; by now you know this film has more to it than the trailer would suggest, and you might even believe you have filled in the blanks and know what to expect?  I can guarantee you are almost definitely wrong!  From the opening sequence, in fact, you know you are on the back foot, and even if you think you have some basic idea of what's going on with this film by now, I still promise that where they go with it will have you gawping!  What you think it could be?  It's not that...

Five American college kids head out for a long weekend at a cabin Kyle's (Chris Hemsworth) cousin owns.  When they arrive bad shit happens and they all die!  That is what you need to know.

It is a rare movie we can walk in to totally unprepared for what is going to happen, it is more rare for a marketing campaign to successfully shroud the film in mystery until you see it for yourself, and it is even more rare again for both of those things to be genuinely important to your enjoyment of a film.  You will remember how Wes Craven's Scream subverted the genre and became a geek favourite?  The Cabin In The Woods is that film for today's horror generation.  The difference is that Scream made us simply laugh at the tropes; The Cabin In The Woods sets out to not only subvert the current slasher/torture-porn genre, but to make us question our view of today's popular horror, and consider its unsettling implications.

How do they do this?  Well, that would be telling, but they have let their imaginations run riot and created an actual narrative idea that makes the tropes not just something to point and laugh at, but integral to the point of the movie.

This is not a masterpiece, and whilst I agree it has drawn a line in the sand that people involved in American horror won't be able to walk around easily (it will be impossible to watch another Cabin Fever or Hostel without thinking about this movie), I also realise that, on reflection, there are issues I have with the film, questions unanswered, blanks I think we are supposed to fill in ourselves that a longer first act might have helped make less of an issue.  More time with the chracters up front, getting to know them better, would actually have aided the film in more ways than one.  Due to a lack of knowledge about the film, audience expectation may also prove a bit of a downfall; the engine of the movie is one that will disappoint some as much as it enthralls the many, and it does sort of depends on your taste.  Of course I would like to talk in more detail about my qualms with the movie, but that in itself would spoil the whole point of it! Grrr!

Those issues aside, however, let it be said that this is a very brave, extremely subversive, smart, amusing meta movie.  It is not scary, but it is not a horror film, it is a film about horror, so it does not matter.  A special mention for Fran Kranz as Marty, who is pretty much a scene-stealer, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as a couple of terrific lab guys, and a final act that puts on show an incredible imagination, whose grandiosity almost overloads their budget, but not so badly as to take away from the "WOW" factor of the idea.  It is definitely the most ridiculously over-the-top, insane thing I have seen for rather a long time!     4/5

Catch it: If you are a cinephile who wants to see something smart and surprising


Joanathan Levine directs a surpisingly sensitive comedy drama about a young man who has cancer.  I generally am not a fan of Seth Rogan, but here he plays Kyle, best friend to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's cancer sufferer Adam, and despite his vulgarity, we see quite clearly that Adam could not have a more loyal friend.  Anjelica Huston is terrific as the mother and Anna Kendrick, despite being most famous at the moment for her role in a certain vampire series we won't mention, is actually very, very good as Adam's counsellor.  The balance of humour and drama is almost perfect, and is helped along majorly by JGL, a little powerhouse of an actor whose real might has yet to be fully recognised, but I think it will in time. 

The smart thing about the writing is that it never loses sight of the fact that the illness is obviously a horrible thing; it doesn't try to find humour in the illness, but rather around it, observing rather well how people react to the dying person.  The result is a comedy that is extremely humourous and honestly moving.  I did feel it could have delved deeper into the relationships in certain areas, and some of the peripheral characters simply did not come across as believable, given the situation, but generally I really enjoyed it.

This isn't one for your shelves, but is a definite one to rent as soon as you can!  3.5 / 5

Catch it if you like:  Good offbeat comedy


Do you want to see a "Scato-absurdist-expressionist outrage comedy" (Michael Atkinson, IMDB) that seems to be about Hungarian history and communism, could just as easily be about gluttony, involves fire penises, soldiers fucking holes in the wall, bodily excretions of every kind, eating competitions, self-surgery, makes little to no real sense at all, and is utterly disgusting?  Then this is the film for you, directed by Gyorgi Palfi, go root it out.  Some of it looks quite good.  1/5


Emilio Estevez directs his own father in one of the more surprising films of 2011.  Tom, a small-town ophthamologist who lives a quiet, content life, learns of his son Daniel's death overseas.  Upon arrival in Spain to bring his son's remains home, he instead decides to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compastella, the pilgrims' walk his son never completed; an attempt, we feel, to reconcile with him in his own way.

The movie is primarily about Tom's personal journey, but on his way he meets three other people, each from a different part of the world, and we discover what the walk means to each of them.  A simple idea, but as the movie has it, the pilgrimage is a very personal journey, and Esteves really does capture the complexities of each individual raher well, slowly and realitically unwrapping the layers of the characters, ultimately capturing the sense of cameraderie that grows between them, and distilling it wonderfully in a hotel scene we can all relate to.  It is superbly paced, beautifully shot and played well by all involved: Martin Sheen simply makes it real, Deborah Kara Unger looks perfectly ravaged by life and plays it spot-on, James Nesbitt is cast almost too well as travel author Jack, and most surprising is Yorick van Wageningen as Joost the "fat dutchman", a role in which he is immediately likable, and about as far away from his more recent part in Fincher's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo as you could imagine; I must confess I didn't recognise him!

My criticisms are few, but they do hinder the film: The second act has a feeling of being misjudged at times, and the need for Daniel to appear at various points throughout the movie, in the end even having a conversation with Tom, feels really unnecessary.  Thankfully the movie does end up paying off, but those things do hold it back from my full four stars, sadly.  

It is an eye-opening film, and one which, much like The Way itself, you find you get something from regardless of your religious affiliation.  Nothing too fancy, but a beautifully shot movie, with a subject which is generally well handled.  Not without flaws, this is one to see nevertheless.  3.5 / 5

Catch it if you like:  The Straight Story, The Kids Are Alright

Saturday, 7 April 2012

THIS WEEK: A Better Life / Drive / Vanilla Sky


From Chris Weitz, who is certainly what we might call a "hit and miss" film maker, comes a movie that sits nicely in the "hit" category.  Demian Bichir plays Carlos Galindo, a father working endlessly to ensure his son can enjoy a future, whilst avoiding immigration officials himself.  That is pretty much it; you couldn't have a more simple setup.

Directed with a similar eye we saw with About A Boy, this film is a charming and actually rather moving portrait of a father and son finding reconcilliation.  The characters are nicely fleshed out, their trials and tribulations staying very believable; no huge flashback or over-long exposition is ever needed to gather what you need to about why the father and his son are where they are, or why they behave how they do.  The performances from both guys aid this, with Bichir earning this year's Oscar nomination nicely!  Jose Julian does extremely well as the son Luis; despite his early apparent ignorance and his desire to be off the rails, he is never unlikable.  It is the underlying sense of there being somebody worth caring about that makes this whole thing work.

Beyond all of that, it is a nice, straightfrorward tale which tackles the Latino migrant struggle without being bias or mean-spirited, and actually does not lose faith in you as an audience to go with it to its final, natural conclusion.  It is nothing fancy, just a well-played film which, after settling into a groove after the slightly awkward opening twenty minutes or so, really works.  It is no blockbuster, and it is not quite what you might call feel-good, but it is well worth a watch.  3/5

Catch it if you like:  About A Boy, Kite Runner, Oranges And Sunshine


One of the best looking films of last year (how it wasn't up for a Cinematography award is beyond me), dripping with sexy style and boasting an astounding soundtrack that becomes a character all of its own, this film also features superb central performances from Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan.

Quiet and intense, Drive uses a look and gesture in place of lines of dialogue, holding of hands instead of an erotic sex scene, yet just as intimate, and wrings every ounce of tension from some surprising places.  It is an existentialist genre piece; a romantic, urban hero fairytale laced with flashes of explosive, tough violence.  Many have mentioned that it is over the top with its violence, but I can honestly say I believe that reaction is partly due to the fact the violence seems to come from nowhere; the reaility is the violence itself is nothing that graphic.  The violent moments play an important role in the chracter arc, they are short, sharp and shocking; they are quick to pass and we do not linger on them.  As a whole I do not think of this film as a particularly violent one.  Perhaps it is just me.

Drive has a silky, sexy slickness, an almost dream-like quality that brings Lynch's Mulholland Drive to mind, but with that is a focused, Scorsese-like directness to its narrative.  It will have, and indeed does have, its detractors for various reasons that I can see, but most of those reasons are ones for which I personally enjoyed the film all the more.  It is a movie that surprises you, a movie that draws you in; it is a strangely addictive, infectious, and I dare say even romantic movie, and it had to be in my Top 10 of last year!  4.5 / 5 

Catch it if you like:  Fear X, Mulholland Drive, Taxi Driver


A true divider of a movie, one which people seem to really respond to, either positively or negatively.  I guess that says a lot for Cameron Crowe's precision as a director in this case, if nothing else.  Inspired by the Spanish Open Your Eyes, arguably the better film, also startting Penelope Cruz, Crowe set about creating a film that, as he put it, would "meet you wherever you wanted it to", a film that would "find its greatest audience half asleep" as the film washed over them.  And so he has. 

David Aames has it all, he has inherited his father's company, can have any woman he chooses, and yet he finds himself in a nightmare after a car accident in which his "fuck buddy" dies leaves him physically scarred, suffering chronic headaches, and being charged with the murder of the one woman with whom he may have wanted a real relationship, a murder he cannot remember committing.  McCabe, David's court-appointed psychiatrist, has the job of unlocking David's mind and finding the solution to the puzzle.  To say more is to spoil the film, but the journey it takes you on is quite spectacular.  Tom Cruise, for all his apparent flaws in reality, is really rather good here, and he has a terrific supporting cast with him.  Most notable among these is Kurt Russell, playing McCabe, and Jason Lee as his best friend.

I had not watched this for some time before this week's viewing, and it has lost little of its initial shine for me.  Made by somebody who clearly has a strong affection for art, every frame is thought about, every piece of music is important.  Although its setup sounds like a standard psychological thiller akin perhaps to Jacob's Ladder, Vanilla Sky is really more of a moving exploration of humanity, of the people who touch our lives, and all the things that make us who we are.  And it is literaly all the things; with over 400 pop culture references, it is like an Andy Warhol installation.  Crowe's desire to make the film in this way becomes more interesting to reflect on after having watched it.  Vanilla Sky can make your heart soar with its conclusion; you can get more and more from it...if you choose to get on board with it in the first place.  Although I will confess it is not quite the masterpiece I remember watching at the theatre in the 90's, it still remains a very affecting piece of work for anybody who believes in the power of the art of cinema!  If you do not admire anything else, nobody can rightly argue that the opening scene is not brilliant!  4/5

Catch it if you like:  Director Cameron Crowe, Amelie, Magnolia

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Speed-Dating Questions!


1 – Do you like Twilight?

You must kick off with an important question that grabs her attention, and here it is!  There are really only three acceptable responses to this:  She likes the books but hates the films, she only read them, or best of all she gives you a blank look, indicating she has no idea what you are referring to.  If you get any other response, tell her to shush and move on.

2 – Did you enjoy Pirates of the Caribbean?

Again there are only certain responses that allow you to move forward with the conversation:  She only likes the first one for entertainment value and doesn’t understand why there were any sequels, she only saw the first one, or she “can’t stand them,” preferably spat through gritted teeth!  This is the best response, as it shows an intensely passionate disdain for the series over which you can bond.  If you get a response indicating any sort of admiration for the series, you may as well get up and walk away; she has only wasted hours of her life on this rubbish for one reason, we all know what it is, and any opinion she would offer from here on is rendered pointless waffle.  A thorough enjoyment of this series is pretty conclusive evidence that she has a vacuum where a functioning brain should be.  Abort!  On the assumption she gets this second question right, however, your potential partner is showing promise! 

3 – Do you have children?

You’re hoping for a big no here.  They get in the way, and they are a constant reminder there was someone’s no good for your ego.  While you’re trying to have your way with her, you don’t need her being distracted or having “more important people in her life”.

4 – Have you had a lot of sexual partners?

Once again honesty is best here, and we are really looking for a woman who is quite inexperienced, as close to a virgin as possible really.  You want to know that, regardless of your experience, hers pales by comparison; you certainly don't need someone who's put it about a bit.  You are going to be the man in the relationship, you are going to take charge, and the last thing we really want is someone who knows what she is doing.  What’s more, a woman with a lot of sexual partners.....let’s be honest, you probably can’t trust her not to sleep with your friends.

5 - Are you highly energised, do you keep fit, and are you quite flexible?

Obviously you need someone who will provide you with some fun times in the bedroom department, and this is a good way of ascertaining whether she will in a subtle way.

6 – Do you read?

At this stage it is fair to say you might have a woman with a reasonable taste in cinema, a past that does not deflate your ego,  and who is probably quite good in bed.  So now we move on to her attention span,  and ability to comprehend and be wrapped up in words.  If she says yes, push her for a favourite book, or something she has read recently.  Magazines obviously do not count!  You may consider testing your lady with a couple of long words; make them a few syllables, really push her!  If she does not read, you should politely advise her to move on.

7 – Are you well-educated?

Okay so you have someone not adverse to a book, but this is an important distinction:  She may read, but you do not need someone who thinks herself clever!  As we said before, you are the man and you will be taking charge; if anyone is going to turn to the other for the important decisions, it will be her turning to you, not the other way around.  If she studied politics, humanities, or any important-sounding subjects, it is best to leave it here; you don’t need her belittling you in front of your mates, or being outspoken and wiping out any chances you have for positive social networking.  If she studied something academic like English or maths to a high level, though she could come in handy in certain situations, I would still be careful.   It is mildly acceptable if she studied something a bit lofty, such as the Arts or sociology.  Ideally, though, she will be a bit of a dunce.  Likewise, if they hold a particularly prestigious job, you may want to avoid; you don't want to be outshone.

8 – Do you talk a lot?

This speaks for itself, but clearly, as your partner, she will need to understand when to keep her opinions to herself and not embarrass you.  Again honesty is the best policy.  

9 – Do you have any physical disability, deformity, or any mental issues I should know about?

Obviously we are striving for perfection here, so she needs to be up front right now about her missing toe, dodgy birthmark, or any other physical defect that  will reduces her rating when out in public with you.  Where you draw the line is obviously down to you, but remember this woman could potentially earn the right to be on your arm, and you will be in regular competition with your friends, so you need to keep the bar set quite high!  Any mental issues are probably going to creep up on and surprise you when you least expect it, so it is best you get it out of her at this point.

10 – Do you have HIV, or any sexually transmitted disease, as far as you know?

As long as the answer is a resounding no (preferably with evidence), you can tell her to grab her coat, she’s pulled!

And there you have it, simple!  So get yourself along to a dating night, stick to this regime, and I guarantee you will have them lining up!