Monday, December 3, 2012

M-Net Movies Marathon Competition


I'm not at all a competition fanatic, but when I heard that M-Net movies was arranging one, I knew I simply had to be a part of it. So, after writing my detailed motivation of why I should be chosen to take part, I waited with bated breath to hear if I my application would be accepted. And to the greatest of joy, I was indeed chosen as one of the 8 contestants to take part in the Sandton leg of this national competition.
I must confess that I was extremely impressed by the entire set-up when I arrived at Sandton city the day of the competition.

Each of the eight contestants would watch one of the brand new M-Net Movies channels on DSTV for a full 24 hours period. This, of course, taking place in complete movie going comfort, with each contestant watching their films on a very comfortable reclining couch and from a beautiful Samsung LED television set. Contestants would also have designated assistants to make sure that always have fueled with the best of movie going treats. Oh, and for those wondering, you do also get a few bathroom breaks in order to ensure no contestants experience discomfort during the competition.

Movie channels were chosen at random and I must admit, there were two channels I were dreading most: the showcase and family channel. As Murphy would have it, I ended up choosing the family channel. If you read my blog regularly,  you would have noticed that I don't ever review family movies and this is mostly because I really can't stomach the average overly soppy film about a talking animal. With the fear of having to watch Free Willy firmly in my mind, I bravely approached my couch to see what cruel destiny fate has brought upon me.To my elated surprise however, the new family channel was not as horrible as I was expecting it to be. In fact, I only had to struggle through one film about a talking animal (Black Beauty) and this alone was a stupendous victory for M-Net in my mind. Some of the films I had to watch included classic as well as blockbusters like Titanic, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Something's gotta give and Three to tango. 

To be frank, I was however very surprised (and a bit confused) to see some of these films showing on the family channel. Whilst Muppets in Space makes perfect sense on a family channel, I couldn't really justify why a film like Chain of Fools (2000), a black comedy about suicide and assassinations was showing. Not that I am complaining –  it was unexpected gems like these that elevated the whole experience for me. I guess I do need to consider the the time when these movies were playing, namely between 2 and 6 in the morning – even on a channels titled family, you can get away with a few more raunchier movies if it shows during an unorthodox timeslot. Nevertheless, I was very impressed with the sheer variety of movies being shown on the channel and my negative preconceptions about the family channel were shown to be unfounded and premature.

With 7 of the 8 contestants surviving the marathon without falling asleep, it was down to a movie trivia round to decide the ultimate winner. Unfortunately my fatigued mind let me down in the final stretch, but I truly believe the best man won. In summary, the M-Net movie marathon competition was one of those rare, once in a lifetime experiences that I was truly blessed to be a part of. Big ups to the organisers for a professional event that I will fondly remember for the rest of my life.

The back of my seat, detailing my entry for the M-Net Movies Marathon Competition.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Looper


Let me begin this review by categorically stating that I’m not the biggest fan of action movies. It’s not that I mind the over-abundance of gun shots and car chases that you would normally expect in an action film – on the contrary, I actually enjoy an old fashioned bullet storm every now and then. What I don’t however admire is the tendency of action films to over indulge in the trademarks of the genre, most often at the total expense of good old fashioned storytelling and characterisation.The Sci-fi/action hybrid, Looper, is one of those rare action films that is courageous enough to step outside the comfort zone of the action genre, delivering a thought provoking and hauntingly plausible portrait of the not so distant future.

Calling the shots are Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as two very capable and hardworking hitmen from the future. Gordon-Levitt plays a younger version of Mr Willis that desperately tries to reclaim his good name amongst his employers, after his latest target manages to escape – something that doesn't bode well for someone working in the assassination industry. Without giving too much of the stellar premise away, I do however want to mention that time travel is a major plot mechanism in Looper. But rest assured, this overused sci-fi gimmick is treated in a fresh and exciting way that helps set Looper apart from other B-grade time travelling movies.

But a solid premise alone is not enough to keep a film afloat and luckily for Looper, it’s got much more going for it than a shiny idea. Stylistically speaking, Looper is deliciously dark, with only a few scarce instances of lighter dialogue to lighten the dire circumstances of the protagonist. Some of my favourite moments of the film are dead quiet and involve Gordon-Levitt simply contemplating his next and possibly final move – this is a great testament to the artistic profoundness of the film. In Looper, human life is depicted as being very fragile and it is this uncertain, suspenseful atmosphere that keeps the movie-goer dangling from a thin line of suspense throughout.

Also refreshing is Looper’s approach to its action sequences. Even though there are obvious sci-fi elements at work in the world of Looper, gun confrontations never feel over the top and unimaginable. Fans of gore can also rejoice, as Looper contains quite a few instances of gory disfigurement that are sure to leave you cringing from sheer delight.

But with all this said, Looper’s stand out aspect still needs to be discussed, namely its high degree of emotional resonance, thanks mainly to brilliant performances by Willis, Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt. Willis delivers an especially powerful and stirring performance as a hitman haunted by his actions and the interplay between him and the younger version of himself is extremely satisfying to watch. It’s in these scenes that the film’s most thought provoking questions about the impact of one’s choices in life arises, some of which will certainly leave you scratching your head.

In summary, Looper is an action flick with all the right ingredients to propel it beyond its clever premise, providing a big chunk of social commentary that will leave you and your friends contemplating the division between right and wrong. Brilliant stuff.

Highlight: When a target escapes, the people that need him dead opt for a very creative way to get their man. 

Don't recognise this handsome fellow? It's Gordon-Levitt with a ridiculous amount of make-up to make him look like a younger Bruce Willis. It's kinda creepy stuff, but you'll get used to it.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Prometheus

Let’s face it, Sci-fi films just aren’t everyone’s cup of molecular tea. It requires a fundamental prerequisite, namely that you totally disregard what you believe to be the truth about the universe and accept the far-fetched world you are being sucked into. A brilliant Science fiction tale, like Prometheus however creates a world so seemingly plausible and immersive that it’s almost impossible not to get totally lost in its beautiful corridors of suspenseful fantasy.

“…a world so seemingly plausible and immersive that it’s almost impossible not to get totally lost in its beautiful corridors of suspenseful fantasy.”

Before I continue, please note that this review is not written from the perspective of a fan of the Alien series of films, which Prometheus is intended to be a prequel of. I do however acknowledge that many critics have pointed out their disappointed with the film’s inability to reveal further insights into the Alien/Predator universe. Having however not watched these films, I regard Prometheus as a totally separate film experience, basing my judgements solely on the film itself and not the expectations that Alien fans might have of it.


Michael Fassbender is the most human-like cyborg you'll ever meet.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let me say this: Prometheus is a superior, well rounded sci-fi splendour that should result in a truly memorable film experience for almost any type of film fan. Director Ridley Scott spins an enthralling web with a surprisingly simple and unoriginal premise: Two scientists/archaeologists/anthropologists discover a celestial pattern in a bunch of caves across the world and somehow convince a company with a very generous social investment budget to send them on a 2 billion dollar spaceflight to find proof of extra-terrestrial life.

The crew on board with them are a bunch of interesting misfits, which include one of the stars of the show, a Cyborg called David, played with an ironic level of authenticity by Michael Fassbender. Charlize Theron is also on the ship, fulfilling the role of corporate bitch and Guy Pearce plays a ridiculously old fart with an unhealthy obsession with alien life forms – Not their best performances by far, but good enough not to be too bothersome.

But this film isn’t about acting – It’s about aliens, blood and amazing special effects, with the most memorable achievement of the film definitely being its high aptitude for complete viewer engrossment. Before long, you’ll feel as if you’re fighting for your life alongside the film’s very unlucky protagonist, played remarkably well by the star of the original Millennium trilogy, Noomi Rapace. There’s a thick sense of dread, urgency and hopelessness here that is so hypnotizing that you’ll find it hard to snap out of this beautifully dark sci-fi trance once the credits start rolling. 

“There’s a thick sense of dread, urgency and hopelessness here that is so hypnotizing that you’ll find it hard to snap out of this beautifully dark sci-fi trance once the credits start rolling.”

Whilst the screenplay might be a bit jumbled and confusing, Ridley Scott definitely gets the pacing perfectly down. Once the film moves into its more serious and darker regions, it does so with a deliberate bang that is sure to catch you off guard in the most wonderful of ways. The sheer grotesqueness of it all is so unexpected and brutal that it will either shock you or make you purr with delight. Either way, this transition is the highlight of the entire film and alone will give you enough value for your movie ticket purchase.

All of this intense bloodshed however splatters on a magnificent canvas – Prometheus’ set design and visual effects are beautifully integrated and unified, resulting in a film that is oxymoronically as beautiful as it is terrifyingly dreadful. The corridors of the alien structures the crew explore are as beautiful untouched as they are when covered in the blood of the humans who foolishly ventured there.


Parental guidance should have been advised here...

Prometheus is a commanding and superbly balanced film that might just end nurturing a new sense of fearful respect for the universe within you. Be warned.

Highlight: You’ll know it when it happens. I’m never looking at parenting the same ever again. Ever.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

21 Jump Street

I'm not a fan of Channing Tatum at all and the fact that I'm even writing a review about a movie that he stars in is proof alone of how awesome the rebooted version of 21 Jump Street is.

It's a simple premise: Two former high school nobodies, one a brainless jock and the other a clueless loser reunite after getting signed up for a undercover drug investigation as recently graduates of their local police academy. Back at school, they get themselves into a series of quite ridiculous, but consistently hillarious situations, as they realize that a lot has changed since when they were kids – including people's tolerance of certain stereotypes and total embrace of others.

Jonah and Tatum make for a greatly ridiculous bromance. 
It all sounds  like very formulaic teen movie makings, which it is, but by the time the plot kicks into high gear, you won't notice at this at all as you'll be too busy laughing your socks and skeptiscims right off. There's a great balance between American Pie style stupid slapstick and intelligently off-beat Juno-like humour, with a capable ensemble cast that serve as the perfect vehicles for a varied array of jokes.

The bromance combo of Jonah Hill and Tatum really does work exceptionally well, each utilising a very different approach to comedy that works equally hillariously. Directors Phill Lord and Chris Miller has done a stand up job when it comes to the comedic timing and you're sure to be laughing harder as the duo gets closer  to unmasking the high school drug syndicate.

There's even a very unexpected and strange cameo that most movie fans are sure to appreciate.

All in all, 21 Jump Street is a highly accessible, very funny and feel good comedy that will be sure to make you recall memories of one of the worst or best parts of your life.

Highlight: I have to admit that I enjoyed Tatum even more than Hill in this one. The ex jock's turn to geekdom was especially hilarious to me.


Monday, March 19, 2012

John Carter

There's nothing better for me (in terms of cinema experiences) than being totally surprised by a film. And that feeling is just a bit more sweeter when the surprise comes from a film even in the light of heavy press criticism, worrying box office performance and mixed reviews from critics. The risky new Disney fantasy adventure film, John Carter however manages to overcome all these obstacles (in my mind at least) to deliver an epically creative adventure that I can't seem to stop raving about.

John Carter is based on the 1917 novel of Edgar Rice Burroughs, 'A princess of Mars', known as the first commercially successful entry in the then popular genre of interplanetary romance. The series went on to span 8 direct sequels and has also been confirmed to be a huge inspiration behind films like Star Wars and Star Trek. So in terms of originality,  Burroughs' far-out tale certainly has a lot of bragging rights.

The world of Barsoom, know to earthlings as Mars is inhabited by a wide range of strange creatures that will creep into your heart. 
But how well would this almost 100 year old tale translate onto screen, especially when compared to more modern and overhyped adversaries like James Cameron's thrill sell-out Avatar? To make things even more tricky, it's director Andrew Stanton's (the mastermind by Disney classics like Wall-E and Toy Story) live action directorial debut, which just adds to the long list of skepticism arousing factors around the project. Let me start off by stating that I wholeheartedly believe that John Carter is in all ways superior to most of the Hollywood blockbuster CGI cockfests it is doomed to be compared to.

I make a point of not regurgitating plot synopsis in my reviews, but let's just say that from the get go, you'll notice a few classic adventure film plot mechanic staples. But in the case of John Carter, this just doesn't matter at all, even more so if you take into consideration the true age of this tale. In terms of story, the film delivers to an epic degree,  with an enthralling screenplay that draws you into the political conflicts and cultural frictions present in the world of this fun fictional sci-fi/fantasy hybrid tale. Alien races seem foreign, but intriguingly familiar at the same time, making it very hard not to form an emotional connection.

Expert pacing means there's enough time to expose character's more sensitive motivations, whilst still keeping the plot moving along at an exciting tempo – something Peter Jackson could definitely take a few notes from. Some interesting plot twists to the end will result in a few unexpected 'aaah' moments as the story rounds off all major plot points to a satisfying degree.

"Expert pacing means there's enough time to expose character's more sensitive motivations, whilst still keeping the plot moving along at an exciting tempo."

Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights, Bang Bang Club) seems to be the perfect heroic protagonist, with a pleasing lack of cheesy dialogue and very straightforward, but honest motivations. It also helps that he looks less like a genetically mutated model and more like a merely well built bloke that doesn't only exist in the pages of magazines, making it easier to relate and connect to the strange predicaments he gets himself into. The rest of the cast supports the protagonist well, with Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton delivering the most noteworthy complementary performances, which all feel slightly unique and well imagined for a film genre overthrown with mediocre acting and stereotypical character archetypes.

The baddies are another highlight of the film, with evil puppetmasters that seem to have a very refreshing reasoning behind their diabolical deeds. Cover this in a thick sense of mystery and you've got the perfect recipe for a villain that intrigues as much as he disgusts. The fact that all these characters come to life so vividly is a great indication of the quality of the original source material.

The setting itself might not be a lot to look at, but that doesn't mean it isn't beautifully realised. The harsh and desolate terrain of Mars comes alive with small touches of natural detail as well as beautifully intimidating airships and mesmerizing technologically advanced metropolitan areas. And the fact that everything isn't filmed in front of a green screen just gives it all a bit more of believability. I have to make special mention of the costume design here too: Shady bureaucrats plot in classy robes, native races reflect the harshness of their circumstances with minimalistic coverings and heroes deserve attention with impressive battle garments. All of these are little details, but unmistakably help to add to the grandness of the overall film experience.

"The harsh and desolate terrain of Mars comes alive with small touches of natural detail as well as beautifully intimidating airships and mesmerizing technologically advanced metropolitan areas." 

It would be a sin to not also mention the fantastic action sequences in John Carter:  At first, Carter struggles to adapt to his new world, but with time he realizes that his human body is quite an advantage on Mars when it comes to physical prowess. Memorable scenes include the destruction of an enemy aerial armada, an emotionally charged group battle as well as a suspenseful hand-to-hand finale that are but some the treats action fans can look forward to.

Carter's female love interest is not your typical warrior princess and that's a good thing.























But all of this pales in comparison to John Carter's greatest accomplishment – Its ability to totally envelop your mind for 2 hours, transporting you to a world that feels nostalgically familiar, but at the same time, enthrallingly unique and new. The characters remind me of my favourite, unspoiled TV shows as a kid and the political backdrop brings up fond memories of my favourite Video games. In short, a wonderful mishmash of some of my most defining experiences as a child.

There's just something about the way all of the different elements come together that pleases me in a way I can't seem to put into words. In truth, a film in general hasn't struck me like this for quite a while, which is why I have no reluctance in adding it to my list of favourite movies of all time. Let the skeptics enjoy their Hollywood adventure clones – I can't wait for the Carter's next adventure.

Highlight: While intentional or not, I interpreted a particular fight scene that ends in Carter covered in blue blood as a very sneaky poke at a certain Cameron film. Much like Carter's defeat of the beast in this scene, so too does the film itself slaughter Avatar as a cinematic comparable.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Extremely loud and incredibly close

Everyone was quite surprised when the Academy decided to add Stephen Daldry’s (The Reader, The Hours, Billy Elliot) strangely hybrid ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ to the list of Best film nominations for 2011. It’s almost if the film came from nowhere, as there was no hype about the film before the mention, which obviously changed as soon as the nominees were announced. I have to admit that I was just as curious to see what all the fuss was about as the rest of the world, hence the existence of this review you are now reading.

You would think that Americans got over the whole 9/11 thing, but this film makes it clear that they really haven’t. But to the film’s defence, it does give an interesting twist to the whole aftermath of the events and how it affected those that were left to pick up the jagged pieces of their lives. Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock’s names are added to the poster for promotional purposes, but even though their presence in the film is felt (Bullock delivers a commendable performance), the true star here is definitely newcomer Thomas Horn, who plays the son of a 9/11 widow.

Horn plays a very complex role indeed, with his character suffering from an extreme disconnect from the world that isn’t made any more bearable by his outbursts of rage, his nonsensical monologues and distinctly disrespectful demeanour. He sees himself as a kid locked in the body of an adult and at times, he really does convince you that he might not be as delusional as he seems. Horn’s excellent portrayal of this intriguing boy alone is worth the price of admission as he keeps the quite flimsy screenplay moving along long after you’ve forgotten that the movie doesn’t really have much of a point.

".... he keeps the quite flimsy screenplay moving along long after you’ve forgotten that the movie doesn’t really have much of a point."

Yes, the film’s acting, which extends to a powerful ensemble cast of a-list actors is for the most part spot on, but the screenplay itself feels disjointed, unnecessarily stretched out and loses steam quite quickly, as director Daldry tries to focus on too many things that just don’t seem to matter in the long run. While the weird and jumbled-up pacing of the film might suit the mindset of the protagonist, it doesn’t translate as well to the normal audience members that have to experience it.

It’s an ambitious project, which scores more frequently than it misses, but these few flaws really do make it hard to understand why the film was nominated for Best film. It’s certainly an interesting film, but not best film material. Nonetheless, it’s a movie that I can recommend for its enthralling protagonist and interesting premise alone.

It's a highly emotional, strange adventure. 
Highlight: A moving confrontation between a young boy and a very old man reaches an intense climax that is sure to leave an impression on you.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Chronicle

I really have a thing for the modern handcam fad in cinema and I truly do believe that when done well, can result in some of the most engrossing film experiences imaginable. Cinematography is a crucial ingredient in all films and one that is all too often overlooked and under-appreciated. While the documentary style doesn't appeal to all movie goers, I surprised myself when I realised how many of my favourite films of all time make use of this experimental filming technique: Blair Witch project, Paranormal activity, Session 9, Cloverfield and Children of men.

I now have another handcam entry to add to this growing list of mine - Introducing the prolific and super intense, Chronicle. On the surface, there doesn't seem to be anything special about this 'teen movie for adults': The premise is noticeably overused, the actors noticeably unfamiliar and the plot noticeably predictable. But as apparent as these shortcomings might seem, so evident is the film's amazing use of cinematography that elevates all of the film's mediocre elements into the realm of unadulterated awesomeness. With the apology of coming over as a bit of a handcam acolyte made beforehand, I do firmly suggest that everyone sees this film as an outstanding example of experimental cinematography done exceptionally well.

"But as apparent as these shortcomings might seem, so evident is the film's amazing use of cinematography that elevates all of the film's mediocre elements into the realm of unadulterated awesomeness."

And it's not just a mere rehash of what has been done in similar feeling handcam style films like Cloverfield. The film uses the style in a multitude of creative and daring ways that for the most part, pays off in the form of astonishing movie brilliance. The handcam technique enhances the film's more light moments with a great sense of whimsicalness, but at the same time, imbues the film's darker moments with a painfully unsettling sense of immediacy, dread and above all, believability.

Film goers not used to the movie style might find it difficult to get into the film from the get-go, but director Josh Trank really has taken the utmost care to try and orientate his audience as much as possible, without subtracting from the film's crucial sense of realism.

You'll surely be gasping for air in more than a few of the film's action sequences and the experience of these moments alone makes it worth the price of admission. Be warned however that the film can be very unforgiving at times and you might be shocked quite greatly by some of the film's more graphic and intense scenes.

With all the handcam prejudice put aside, Chronicle is a wonderful mishmash of teen adventure comedy, moving drama, Hollywood action cheese and very creepy indie goodness that everyone should experience. Oh, and there's also a nice chewy piece of social commentary to be enjoyed, but it's really secondary to all the visual awesomeness that awaits your senses.

Much like a very scary rollercoaster, Chronicle is a rough ride, but one you will be delighted you took. 
Highlight: There could be a few, but there's one specific scene of graphic violence that I just can't seem to get out of my skull. Beautifully dark stuff.



Wednesday, February 8, 2012

J. Edgar

Highly factual and historically correct films is a difficult feat to pull off, but when I heard that Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino, Invictus, Changeling) was behind the  complex story of a very enigmatic FBI agent, I felt a sense of relief that things would pan out for the best. But sadly, J. Edgar is a very flawed gem with some parts brilliant, some parts average and some parts downright boring.

Let’s start with the good stuff, which I can easily condense into the name of one single actor: Leonardo Dicaprio. J. Edgar definitely wasn’t a simple man and Eastwood at least had the insight to know that he would have to use an actor with an amazing capacity for a dynamic role that would require many ups and downs of emotion. Even though I’m not sure how accurate Dicaprio’s performance is, he definitely manages to create a very interesting character that is at times infuriating, loveable and even extremely funny. Eastwood is known for the strong emotional connection to his films and whilst it takes a bit longer than you would expect it to, Eastwood does manage to give his film a nice chewy emotional centre.

"...a very interesting character that is at times infuriating, loveable and even extremely funny."

And then there’s the bad: For some reason, the film struggles painfully to get into a proper rhythm. Most of the story is told as a sort of recollection of Edgar’s career, but a lack of proper exposition throughout the film make it quite hard to keep track of what is happening. It’s almost as if the film should have come with a short bio on Edgar’s life as Eastwood doesn’t take nearly enough time to properly explain most of the film’s more important plot events.

 This becomes very ironic when you take into account the film’s extremely long runtime – It’s not as if there wasn’t enough time to properly explain certain plot developments better, but instead of guiding the viewer a bit, Eastwood tries to cram in too much of Edgar’s life. Personally I think the movie would have been much better without many of the laborious case discussions that appear later in the film and rather more scenes of emotional profoundness between Edgar and the few important people in his life. A revision of the final screenplay would have helped...

Also, it seems that there is a lot of unnecessary time lapsing in this film with Eastwood abusing time constraints to jump between the young Dicaprio and a gross wrinkly version enough times to make you a bit seasick. While some scenes of the older Edgar are very poignant, some just don’t seem to add to the story at all and only serve for some awkward moments of unintentional humour.

So while this does seem like a complete Eastwood bashing, I should add that the film’s cinematography is noticeably effective, that the ensemble cast (Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench) are outstanding and that the minimalistic use of a striking score adds a lot to the film’s more intense moments.  The degree to which you will enjoy Eastwood’s latest all depends on how forgiving you are of its flaws and whilst it’s certainly not Eastwood’s best, he does manage to tell his story with great detail and commitment.

Highlight: I’m not much of a dresser, but I must admit that Dicaprio looks fabulous in a blue dress with a stunning matching necklace. Oh, and it’s also the most powerful scene in the film. 

Old and perplexed... not a good combination. Nice suit though.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Drive

When a movie reminds you of another, then it could either be because of unoriginality or hopefully rather because it intentionally pays homage to a specific time in movies. In the case of Drive, it quickly becomes clear that the film consciously borrows from action films from a bygone era, but in such a way that it comes over as surprisingly clever instead of cheesily over used.

The key to Drive's success in this regard is the inclusion of small touches of nostalgia every here and there that, when experienced as a whole, plays out very satisfyingly. Clear examples of this to look out for are an amazing retro soundtrack, uncomplicated dialogue and an unusual dash of pink (as in the colour) every here and there.

A huge part of the movie's appeal however has nothing to do with old movie references but a lot with a very interesting protagonist, played by Ryan Gosling. Gosling plays the role with a noticeable sense of stillness and clam, but still manages to lend an immense amount of emotional poignancy to the film's more serious moments. But as the film's plot starts to kick into high gear, there's a clear change in Gosling's character, signalling the very intentional split between the film's first and second part. Long conversational scenes are now replaced with very graphic, but artistic action sequences that might leave more squeamish movie goers a bit unsettled.

"Long conversational scenes are now replaced with very graphic, but well realised action sequences that might leave more squeamish movie goers a bit unsettled."

A great ensemble cast that includes the very capable Carey Mulligan and Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad fame manages to highlight the lighter side of Gosling's character, whilst a gang of corrupt baddies including Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman help to bring out Gosling's more aggressive personality.

With all the cheesy action film references aside, Drive feels like a very honest film as director Nicolas Winding Refn allows the story to be told in a very blunt manner. Best of all, it’s one of those films that will appeal to both casual movie goers and die-hard critics, due its highly layered demeanour that includes both a simple love story and an in-depth character study. Don't expect any rosy endings and you’re sure to appreciate this amazing 'soon-to-be a cult classic' throwback to a simpler age in movie making. 

Bad assness personified. 
Highlight: It would have been easy to choose one of the very awesome and graphic action sequences, but to be honest, I prefer the emotional intensity of Mulligan and Gosling’s scenes.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen movies don't strike a chord with each and every type of film fan, that's a given. This is most probably due to his very eccentric style that includes weird dialogue timing, strange plot twists and his predisposition for certain types of actors. Nevertheless, there's always a lot of excitement around each new release from the mind of this quite comical little man – Everyone waits with bated breath to see if the next will be another big hit or another unsatisfying cinematic fail.

Luckily, Midnight in Paris is definitely one of the former: It successfully boxes all the things Woody does well and scents them in a fragrance of sweet sentimentality. It is part period piece, part comedy, part drama and a few parts crazy. But in Woody's weird and wonderful head, all of this comes together quite spectacularly in a film that might leave even your more hard film nuts showing a few emotional cracks by the time the credits roll.

"But in Woody's weird and wonderful head, all of this comes together quite spectacularly in a film that might leave even your more hard film nuts showing a few emotional cracks by the time the credits roll"

A wonderfully suited cast, with slight off-beat performances brings Woody's humoristic dream of Paris to life:  Marion Cotilard, Katthy Bates, Corey Stoll, Léa Seydoux, Kurt Fuller, Alison Pill and a greatly snotty, but believable performance by Rachel McAdams. There’s a lot of chemistry between the ensemble cast and Allen uses all of his actors well to successfully imbue different historical eras with authenticity and believability.

And then of course there’s Owen Wilson. It's certainly a contested statement, but I believe this might just be Wilson's best performance as an actor – it definitely is my personal favourite and most believable one from Wilson to date. Without giving too much away, let's just say Wilson gets treated to a fair degree of twilight events that immediately shines a harsh light on some serious issues with his intimate relationship that he till date, has tried to deny. Whilst Owen comes over as a bit confused for most of the film (which is understandable if you consider what he goes through) , it is his interactions with the rest of the cast that truly gives him the opportunity to flex his acting muscles. His Golden Globe nomination is well deserved.

All of this happens on a beautiful part period, part fantasy stage that Allen brings to life in a most accomplished manner. An enchantingly fitting score, amazing set pieces and inspired costumes all work together to make the film's strange turn of events all that more believable. Allen's brilliant sense of humour helps the viewer to understand that you are not supposed to take the events too literal – rather, simply enjoy the trip that you are taken on, relishing in the film's small touches of charm and interesting use (or should we say 'abuse') of French history. All of this care makes it clear why the film was awarded with the Golden Globe for best screenplay.

But what makes Allen's latest overcome the label of simply 'great' and transcend into 'outstanding' is the clever addition of revealing social commentary that one gets presented with as you travel the lively streets of Paris: People will always fantasize that life was easier, better and more exciting in past centuries. Whilst this might or might not be true, life is about accepting the bad with the good by living with complete conviction in the 'now' of your troublesome existence. It's a great lesson and one that Allen teaches with utmost sensitivity and ample plot backing.

This is a rare gem of a story that everyone should experience.

Even non-romantics will find a lot to appreciate here.

Highlight: As Wilson realizes that his adventure is nearing its end, he shares some comforting insights on human existence. 



Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The girl with the dragon tattoo (2011)

Remakes are always a tricky business, as it’s very hard not to compare the adaptation with its original and with uniqueness not being much of an option, the movie really needs to  be spectacular in every way if it has any hopes of impressing. This would explain why I was quite nervous when I heard one of my all-time favourite directors; the incredible David Fincher was attempting a reinterpretation of Swedish director, Niels Arden Oplev’s 2009 international hit. However, 30 minutes into the movie, all of my uncertainties evaporated as I realised that I was watching something truly brilliant unfold.

In my review of the Swedish original, I actually compare the 2009 film with one of Fincher’s intensely beautiful crime-thrillers, Zodiac, noting that it’s a great movie, but not quite as good as Fincher’s 2007 cult hit. Seeing the original ‘Girl with the dragon Tattoo’, Fincher obviously realised that the highly emotional journey of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander fits his extremely detailed film style perfectly. This must be why he embarked on this ambitious mission of making it more accessible to an international film audience.
 
And as I already hinted, he delivers in spades, bringing to life a mystery suspense drama that successfully combines great acting, tight storytelling and captivating cinematography in one well-rounded package of a film. True to Fincher’s signature ways, the film is highly detailed, as the audience is plunged in the centre of a heated media debacle involving the film’s protagonist. Fincher doesn’t waste time explaining the film’s background or introducing the characters and immediately starts getting to the good stuff:  An enthralling story that involves murder, rape and a disquieting list of sinister subject matter.

“An enthralling story that involves murder, rape and a disquieting list of sinister subject matter.”

Daniel Craig might seem like a bit of an unlikely lead as a desperate journalist who finds his world in turmoil, but you’ll find it difficult to critique his fittingly cold and detached performance. Rooney Mara also manages to silence the critics, as she introduces Western film audiences to one of the most ambitiously complex film characters of recent history. Veteran actors like Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Joely Richardson and Geraldine James serve as fantastic physical as well as emotional obstacles for the leads to overcome as they try to unravel the dark mysteries of a small island community.

Whilst Fincher’s meticulous method of storytelling help to keep every minute interesting, it’s the film’s more intense scenes that are sure to get your pulse racing – These include a few very graphic and disturbing moments that you won’t soon forget. Fincher does however take his time, resulting in an engaging mystery thriller that is perfectly balanced between drama and suspense. And because everything happens at a gradual pace, the film’s more striking moments come over as just that much more intense and poignant.

To sum up, Fincher manages to improve on the original in almost each and every way, resulting in a very detailed film that is surprisingly accessible. Great acting, pacing and more than a few highly memorable scenes make this a movie you’ll be talking about for quite a while. I’m terribly excited to see Fincher continue his work on this captivating trilogy.

If you were wondering about the name of the film...
Highlight: Stepping right into the lion’s mouth leads to a bone-chilling confrontation and an unsettling speech that’s sure to leave you uncomfortable. 


Friday, January 6, 2012

Ides of March

Movies about politics aren't for everyone, which is something I should probably take into consideration as I’m writing this review for George Clooney’s political suspense drama, Ides of March. But  that’s the best thing about this beautiful film of Clooney – Even though there’s an unmistakable political backdrop, the movie could have been about accounting, logistics or any other industry where people are fighting, crawling and backstabbing  their way to the top of the corporate ladder.  It’s this extreme relevance to any working person’s own struggles that imbues the film with much more accessibility  than you would expect from a movie with senators, governors and would-be presidents.


Clooney and his fantastic screenplay team of Grant Heslov and Neau Willimon do a stand-up job of making the film seem as realistic as possible as the amount of research that went into the plot is clearly visible from start to finish. Some might be intimidated by the heavy political jargon at first, but this is a crucial ingredient for internal validity that makes the film’s intense plot twists all the more credible and poignant. To make things even sweeter, Clooney never descends into the realms of predictably, as character’s choices never feel like mere plot inventions. Whilst the extremely honest and ‘real’ approach might bore certain film-goers, I personally didn’t have to force myself to enjoy each and every second of this marvellous take on modern politics.

The first part of the movie plays out like a drama about politics for the most part, as Clooney takes his time to introduce us to all the political players, their ideologies as well as the complex and dynamic relationships between each of them. Outstanding performances by a mammoth cast of A-list actors including Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood and Clooney himself means there’s a lot for drama geeks to indulge in and appreciate before the suspenseful action starts picking up. Sharp dialogue, a striking score and generously long scenes of conversation give Clooney and his cast a beautiful stage for playing out this highly relevant and timely drama.
"Sharp dialogue, a striking score and generously long scenes of conversation give Clooney and his cast a beautiful stage for playing out this highly relevant and timely drama."
The star, Ryan Gosling, deserves to be mentioned in a separate sentence (and paragraph for that matter) for his painfully believable performance as an aspiring campaign press secretary that has to deal with some massive events, forcing him to revaluate his political and personal principles. Gosling’s highly personal and emotional character evolution is the central  axis that the rest of the movie gradually starts to orbit around as he tries to keep himself from drowning in a growingly turbulent sea of political scandal, plotting and backlashes.  There are a lot of chess pieces on the board in this personally explorative film and each player manages to highlight another crack in Gosling’s seemingly indestructible moral compass.

All along the way, the audience is confronted with highly ambiguous moral puzzles that Gosling tries to solve in ways that fits his naive perception of politics and life the best way. Clooney gets his point across clearly: Even though mankind strives to react morally sound in all types of situations, this is sometimes just not possible when all the sacrifices and losses of certain choices are taken into consideration – How much are we willing to adapt to our own principles to get ahead and how deep will we throw others under the bus to achieve certain goals?

Serious film-goers who don’t require big explosions and extravagant plot mechanisms to keep their attention will struggle to find fault with Clooney’s masterpiece. That being said, fans of Vin Diesel and surfer movies should probably stay far away.

Gosling is troubled by a huge political oil spill.... Sjame.
Highlight: The inevitable confrontation between Clooney and Gosling is the film’s climax and each line feels like a brilliant knife to the heart – Perfect in more ways than I can verbalise.