Archive for January, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

January 20, 2009

Director – Danny Boyle

Writers – Simon Beaufoy (screenplay), Vikas Swarup (novel)

Starring – Dev Patel, Freida Pinto

Synopsis

Slumdog Millionaire is the story of Jamal Malik (Patel), an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, who is about to experience the biggest day of his life. With the whole nation watching, he is just one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”

But when the show breaks for the night, police arrest him on suspicion of cheating; how could a street kid know so much? Desperate to prove his innocence, Jamal tells the story of his life in the slum where he and his brother grew up, of their adventures together on the road, of vicious encounters with local gangs, and of Latika (Pinto), the girl he loved and lost. Each chapter of his story reveals the key to the answer to one of the game shows questions.

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Review

Danny Boyle makes another big splash with Slumdog Millionaire. Trainspotting, The Beach, 28 Days Later and Sunshine were all special films; but here Boyle reaches out to everybody with his talents.

Straight off the bat we are smothered by the visuals and engulfed into the story; one of the balsiest first five minutes in a film I have ever witnessed and one which will have you salivating at the thought of the next 115 minutes of your life. Racey editing and juxtaposed action from the two scenes caught me off guard; dispelling whats myths I had conjured in my head from watching the trailer and listening to every Tom, Dick and Harry recite how indispensible it is. Boyle hooked me. In the first five minutes, I was hooked.

After the five minutes of warm-up, Boyle cracks on with the plot. The characters gather depth as Boyle takes us from their childhood, with the kids giving great performances and seemingly having a lot of fun at the same time, to adulthood; with each of their personal traits and relationships being built upon resulting in truly believable characters that you really care about and understand. As for the plot itself – solid as expected. It sets up a lot of funny and shocking moments and is simply a fantastic adventure through India.

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Patel is on one in Slumdog, winning over the hearts of the audience and making you root for him (I remember saying in my head “please let him win!” towards the end of the film) while sharing an on screen chemistry, with Pinto, that makes their romance all the more believable. I’m pretty sure at least some of the credit has to go to Danny Boyle for each and every one of the actors (including numerous children) giving a credible performance.

While the narrative and shit-hot acting are huge parts of Slumdog’s success, Boyle shows off his artistic flare; whether he meant to or not. His imperfect shots (original in their imperfection); racey editing with low frame rate shots (reminiscent of Chungking Express); iconical soundtrack (a mix of new releases and more traditional Indian music) and vibrant visuals that could reduce a cat to tears, turn this epic love story into a landmark film.

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Overall – 120 minutes of pure gold. You’ll be so immersed that you’ll forget you exist.

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Che: The Argentine

January 12, 2009

Director – Steven Soderbergh

Writers – Peter Buchman (screenplay) Ernesto Che Guevara (memoir)

Starring – Benicio Del Toro

Synopsis

In part one of Steven Soderbergh’s biopic we see Che and a band of Cuban exiles (led by Fidel Castro) as they fight the Cuban army and government in order to seize control of the country. Over two years they mobilize an army and break the U.S. friendly regime of dictator Fulgencio Batista. Throughout the film we are shown Che as he travels to the U.S. attending political debates and interviews. Finally there is a short segment at the beginning and end of the film dedicated to Che before the revolution, when he first meets Fidel Castro.

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Review

Having not known a great deal about Ernesto or the Cuban revolution before watching this film, I decided to go in with an open mind; utterly believing in the films characters and the events and the way that they played out (if Soderbergh so permitted me to). I think this paid off for me; I was able to enjoy the film for what is and not have political baggage holding my appreciation for it back.

Steven Soderbergh gives a great insight into Che’s life as a revolutionary. Early on we get to grips with his biggest physical weakness; as we follow Che struggling through the Cuban jungle, his voiceover (talking to a reporter) tells us about his frequent asthma attacks. This immediately makes Che as a character more accessible; flawed and therefore human – and well aware of it himself. The character is well rounded (which you would hope for, with it being a biopic and all) – he makes difficult decisions and commands the respect of his fellow Guerrillas because of this. He has a sense of humour; stating in an interview that he would rather face a soldier than a reporter, along with other crackers throughout. He believes in love; letting the reporter know that it is the number one quality that a revolutionary should possess. Over all of this he is commited to doing good and ridding Cuba of its current regime; often before battle he will shout “For homeland or death!” despite being Argentinian.

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Steven Soderbergh is not the only one to thank for Che however, with Del Toro delivering a powerful performance in this first installment. He gives the character a feel that you can’t really put your finger on… Sort of like the “X Factor”. Anyway he did a lot of research for this role; speaking to people who knew Che, which I think made his performance feel natural, and personal towards the character, whilst not overpowering.

The cinematography is not quite breathtaking, but the scenery is certainly vibrant and caught well. Battle scenes are dealt with effectively (although there was a ridiculous gag in one of them, which the idiot next to me dutifully laughed at – he also laughed at the Volkswagen advert to give you some idea of his (non)sense of humour), but I never really felt that the rebels were in any sort of peril. Early on, when in Cuba, the film doesnt seem to have much of a sense of direction, moving in the general area of “lets crush the regime”. They get back on track by introducing tactical points that the rebels had to take; which is what they should have started with in the first place if you ask me.

Overall – A solid first half to the biopic, but it felt as though there was more chance of Che dying from an asthma attack than from a bullet. More peril needed.

Role Models

January 11, 2009

Director – David Wain

Writers – Paul Rudd, David Wain, Ken Marino, Timothy Dowling (all screenplay)

Starring – Paul Rudd, Sean William-Scott, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bobb’e J. Thompson

Synopsis

After his girlfriend dumps him, Danny (Rudd) and his coworker Wheeler (William-Scott) go on an energy drink fuel bender and crash their truck into a schools statue, whilst resisting arrest from a police officer. The court gives them the choice of 30 days of jail or 150 of community service working for a mentorship program. Danny tries to win back his girlfriends heart and understand his “little” (the kid he is allocated) whilst Wheeler deals with his littles bad manor and tries to score with some dudes wife.

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Review

Firstly, I think we need to think about what to expect from a film such as this. A basic and generic plot; a lot of toilet humour; flashes of female nudity and audience participation (ie people shouting shit at the screen when it pleases them). Role Models delivers on all accounts. However there is more to offer from this popcorn flick than you might think.

Paul Rudd and David Wain, who both worked on Anchorman, have done a nice job with the screenplay; keeping the story light and easy to digest for the typical target audience and delivering a few “big belly laughs” (according to James King of BBC Radio One)… Not sure about that, but the toilet humour is there for those who lap that kind of thing up and there are also subtle comedy moments for those that were dragged along to watch it.

Rudd does a nice job as Danny as he and William-Scott’s character Wheeler bounce off of each other well. Its a shame that they are split up for the most part of the film as Wheeler and his kid feel outmatched by the Danny/McLovin’ duo.

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If you are becoming as fed up with films attempting to reproduce the results of Anchorman as much as I am; then I would suggest you avoid this film. On the other hand if you are content with watching the same regurgitated gags again and don’t really give a shit about plot then I would recommend this one for you. All in all Role Models offers more than we are to expect from the trailer, so at least it isn’t a huge let down.

Overall – Light, fun and easily forgotten.

The Reader

January 5, 2009

Director – Stephen Daldry

Writers – David Hare (screenplay), Bernhard Schlink (book)

Starring – Kate Winslet, David Cross and Ralph Fiennes

Synopsis

Set in Germany during WWII, teenager Michael Berg (Cross) becomes ill and is helped home by Hanna (Winslet); a stranger twice his age. He recovers and returns to thank her and the two of them end up in a passionate, secret affair in which he reads to her and they make love. After a few weeks of romping, Hanna disappears and Michael is left confused and heartbroken. Eight years later Michael (still played by Cross) sees Hanna as the defendant in a Nazi war crime trial. As Hanna’s past is revealed, Michael uncovers a deep secret that will impact both of their lives.

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Review

“Der Vorleser”, written by Bernhard Schlink, topped New York Times bestseller list and, naturally, Hollywood wanted a slice of the pie. Ofcourse, the first obstacle to overcome was that it is a German book. The solution? Have the actors speak English in a German accent. Bad English. And not even good bad English! I must blame the actors for not doing their homework on what German people sound like when speaking English; in general the letter “w” turns into “v” which none of the actors picked up on. This resulted in Fiennes sounding English most of time (lets face it he’s a piss-poor actor anyway); Winslet sounding Australian, constantly referring to her lover as “kid” (which will drive you insane) and the audience being totally baffled as to what’s going on.

Hanna was a character that showed promise for me. How did she become so desperate as to sleep with a 15 year old? What affect would having an affair with a teenager have on her? These questions are dutifully unanswered by director Stephen Daldry, as he drowns the character of her background; his first act of character abuse. Daldry shows us at least 5 sex scenes between Hanna and Michael in the first act alone; whilst showing at most one shot of character development (a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of her single bed) that tells us nothing more than she is single. The first time you see Winslet’s pair its like – “yeah there’s her tits”, and then after seeing them a dozen more times in, quite frankly, ridiculous circumstances the novelty starts to wear thin. If this attracts you to see the film, do yourself a favour and watch Titanic; they are better and the reveal is timely and justified. Winslet does her best with a truly bewildering character that is basically just an angry book whore who accepts reading as payment for sex. How a character such as Michael supposedly falls in love with this creature is far beyond my knowledge; in the real world it could happen, but fiction needs to be believable and this simply is not.

Daldry’s woes do not end with Hanna and the relationship. He jolts between timeframes (of which there are 4) disjointedly and whimsically, in a desperate attempt to find the timeframe in which Michael is a character worth watching. Fiennes (the leech) has an unnatural and unrivaled ability to sap any charisma and energy out of the characters that he plays. Combine that with a wafer thin script (that will frequently have you clenching your fist in frustration) and an awkward German accent and the result is what promises to be the most boring character of the year. Daldry throws other characters into the mix; one of which is Michael’s daughter. The bizarre 5 minute scene in which she is introduced and breaks down into tears is a spectacle to behold and is just one of the many scenes that leaves you wondering “what was he thinking?”.

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After just watching the trailer for myself (partly to steal images for this review); the film looks to have an action packed court case. Alas, the trial will have you gritting your teeth and  in frustration with Daldry taking us outside of the courtroom to let us watch Michael light a cigarette and cry a bit every time it heats up. The score leaves you feeling unfulfilled and empty, while the cinematography showed some form of intelligence; with one shot in particular framing Winslet in the tram station.

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The Reader had the promise to do great things. If it had been done well it could have been a moving story of love, morality and justice. However, with the aid of David Hare and Ralph Fiennes, Daldry manages to suck the essence out of the story and leave us with a cold and confusing husk.

If you are still interested in watching this movie, please watch and listen to Fiennes in the trailer and see how long you can bear it for. It only gets worse.

Overall – About as much fun as Hanukka in Auschwitz

Top 10 films of 2008

January 3, 2009

As we counted down to the New Year I decided to reflect on what I’d acheived in 2008… Very little. I’d found myself a job, got out of debt and bought myself a ‘fuck-off’ home cinema system. Other than this I did watch a lot of films, which is why I decided to be proactive and start this film review blog for each new release that I see in 2009.

What better way to start the blog than my list of ‘Top 10 films of 2008’? I will try to keep each review succinct and please be aware that there are many films from 2008 that I was unable to see. Nonetheless I am proud of my list and will be happy to hear your thoughts on it.

10. Gone Baby Gone

Ben Affleck’s directorial debut shows that he belongs behind the camera rather than in front of it. He provides an intriguing perspective of morality which will leave you split as to which characters are the good guys. Affleck paints a picture of Boston in which, aside from our heroes, all of the inhabitants are the bearers of some gross deformity or disability; it takes some getting used to and distracted me from the plot. Ed Harris provides an excellent performance as the cop Remy Bressant whilst noone else from the cast really stands out. The film is not perfect but it was enough to raise eyebrows and is, in my opinion, a stellar debut for Affleck.

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9. Lars and the Real Girl

One of the underated films of 2008, Lars and the Real Girl is a sweet and engaging coming of age story of a chronically shy man in a small American town. I think that this film was misunderstood by many with Empire stating that it was “a shame that there wasnt a sex scene with Lars and the doll.” Yeah, they really missed the point. It runs along at an enjoyable rate with stellar performances from the cast and a solid and humourous script. While there is nothing spectacular about Lars and the Real Girl, it has a lot of heart and its originality makes it worthy of the 9 spot.

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8. Of Time and the City

Terence Davies’ love song and eulogy to the city of Liverpool. Putting aside the incredible accomplishment to get the funding for this, I really must give credit to Davies for creating something truly unique. IMDb class this film as a documentary, which is really the closest category that fits it; but it is so much more. Davies’ rasping voice is played over shots of Liverpool ranging from the 40’s to the modern day and truly captures the essence of Liverpool… I think. To be honest, I have never been to Liverpool and was born in the late 80’s and felt that I was missing something; most probably the experience of living in Liverpool in the 40’s. Although I feel that this film is perfect for someone that matches the above description, it is an educator for those who do not. I challenge you to watch this movie and not be moved by it.

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7. The Boss of it All

Run down actor plays a Danish companies CEO in order to help the business get sold to a cranky Icelander. We have the director – Lars von Trier leading us through the plot with the occasional voice-over and the ending says “fuck you” to conventional cinema. Oh, and the camera angles were selected by a computer. Its a fun film, trust me.

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6. Hunger

Is the story of a group of Irish prisoners who, led by Bobby Sands, participated in a hunger strike and a no wash protest. The heavy subject material was handled professionally by Steve McQueen. He never lets us know of the crimes that these men have commited (we see a man sentenced to 4 years, so they must have been serious), we only see the conditions that they are living in. The prisoners bodies are the last resort for protesting and they use everything theyve got – think shit on the walls and you’re getting there. McQueen uses creative cinematography – a 15 minute conversation between Bobby and a preist is taken in one shot; although the film see-saws between masterful and ridiculous during this shot. There are other interesting shots and one very unusual one which looks totally out of place and throws you right out of the film. Overall a good job by McQueen working with volatile subject material.

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5. The Bands Visit

The term “Less is more” has never been more relevant than when observing this little known masterpiece. A truly unforgetable performance by Sasson Gabai as Lietenant-colonel Tawfiq Zacharya, that, despite only having about 4 lines, should have nailed him an oscar. If there is one film that I will urge you to watch from 2008 – it is this one.

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4. Man On Wire

James Marsh’s documentary about Phillipe Petit and his crew plotting and carrying out the artistic crime of the century is the Heist movie of 2008. Petit explodes with as much energy and dynamism as is possible in front of a camera and the reconstructed scenes of them carrying out the crime will have you on the edge of your seat, yearning for the team to succeed. Marsh has done an incredible job with an incredible story and cast.

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3. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

This film follows Mathieu Amalric (better known as the villain in the latest Bond movie) as Jean-Dominique Bauby, a charismatic French fashion magazine editor, who suffers a massive stroke which paralyzes all but his eyes. With the help of a nurse he painstakingly communicates as she reels off the alphabet and waits for him to blink.

The instant that you see the POV shot of  Jean-Do waking in his hospital bed, as the eyelid flutters and various unusual colours and shapes form on the lens, you know these guys have done their homework and are making sure that this, mostly POV, movie will get the cinematography it deserves. The film concerns the stages of Jean-Do coming to terms with his disability and his relationships with the staff and his family. The first sentence that he gets the nurse to spell out is “I want death” (or something along those lines) but comes to accept it and eventually writes a book with the help of an assistant. Amalric plays the part brilliantly with a lot of voice-overs as he reacts to certain events, such as an electrician taking the piss out him, in ways that you would not expect, whilst the other characters assume what he is thinking. To help us understand his character further we get flashbacks and eventually see the the accident, which is worryingly natural and sudden. The children that play Jean-Do’s son and daughter give a great performance – the look on the sons face when he sees the state that his father is in is heartbreaking. An emotional and triumphant film that shows us the ressiliance of man and also his vunerability.

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2. No Country For Old Men

For those who havent seen this film the plot is split into two halves, each running along side each other and interacting with each other, whilst still being seperate. One half is concerned with what the title suggests and also with other matters such as greed. Two sherrifs share a conversation in which they question the younger generation.

“Its all god damn money, Ed Tom; money and the drugs. Its just god damn beyond everything. What’s it mean? What’s it leadin’ to? If you’d told me 20 years ago that I’d see children walking the streets of our Texas towns with green hair… and bones in their noses… I just flat out would’nt of believed ya.”

They attempt to answer it.

“I think once you quit hearing sir and ma’am; the rest is soon to foller”

“Oh its the tide. Its the dismal tide.”

This conversation epitomises this half of the film for me, considering the change that the older men cannot keep up with. There are many other fabulous conversations throughout this half of the film as the script is generally dynamite.

The other half of the film is the more action packed, as our old sheriff Ed Tom Bell is always one step behind the other two main characters: Anton Chigurh and Llewelyn Moss. I won’t spoil the film but the highlights are a man vs dog swimming race and an explosive shotgun dual scene, in which there is no victor. Stellar performances all round – we expect no less.

The Coens do their thing, with a twist late in the film; this time the majority were not in favour of it, with most either not getting it or saying “it’s rubbish”. It’s not.

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1. There Will Be Blood

Daniel Day Lewis steals the show in Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic drama based on the book ‘Oil’. His mesmorising performance as Daniel Plainview, which was a no-brainer for the Best Actor Academy Award, almost distracts from PTA’s brilliant screenplay and direction. Stylised, breathtaking shots including Plainview falling down a well and huge fireballs from the oil rig. The score is incredible, as always with PTA, and the supporting actors, despite having the task of stepping up with/against DDL, give stand-up performances. Although my words do not do this film justice it truly is a must watch; will withstand the test of time and will go down as one of the greatest films of all time.

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I hope you have enjoyed my first post and continue to tune in. Also I trust you will note that I cannot spell; my punctuation sucks and I have no idea/experience with writing film reviews. Bear with.