Archive for September, 2009

Moon

September 27, 2009

Director – Duncan Jones

Writers – Duncan Jones, Nathan Parker

Starring – Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey

Synopsis

Astronaut Sam Bell (Rockwell) is nearing the end of his three year contract on the Moon, where he works alongside his computer GERTY (Spacey), harvesting a resource that has helped diminish our planet’s power problems. After an accident in his harvester, things start to spiral out of Sam’s control; however he is determined to get home to his wife and children and will do whatever it takes.

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Review

Duncan Jones’ independent feature film is exactly what sci-fi fans have been looking for for some time. Using a minuscule budget of $5 million Jones managed to recreate the aesthetics of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s craft (albeit on a smaller scale) in his moon bunker and put together an intriguing think piece; a true science fiction film that questions the use of new technology and its consequences.

Sam Rockwell delivers a knockout performance as Sam Bell, a man in desperation who slowly unravels the truth behind the base he is stationed on. It is easy to see why Rockwell chose this role (for what would seem a rather cut paycheck) as it demands a spectrum of emotions, all of which which he proceeds to nail. From Rockwell’s performance came Spacey, who had expressed the desire to work with him. He spent a day recording his HAL-esque computer voice and it did the film a justice.

Duncan Jones manages to avoid the pitfalls many directors have in their directorial debut. The film keeps a solid pace and the plot holes are almost non existent. There is a section of the film where I questioned the reaction from Sam Bell, which I think was maybe cut due to time constraints, but the way that Jones handles his deterioration and the claustrophobic nature of being stranded on this base is nothing short of brilliant. He manages to take it to another level by raising some ethical questions to do with science (and thankfully one of them isn’t “are robots going to kill us all?”) without being heavy-handed about it. Basically, its a fucking shit-hot debut.

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To sum up – Awesome visuals; outstanding performances; excellent story; politics and a dose of comedy make this one of the top films of the year and top sci-fi films of the decade.

Rating – 8/10

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Public Enemies

September 16, 2009

Director – Michael Mann

Writers – Ronan Bennett, Michael Mann, Ann Biderman

Starring – Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marrion Cotillard

Synopsis

Set in the USA at the time of the Great Depression, Public Enemies follows folk hero John Dillinger (Depp) and his band of merry men as they perform lightning raids of banks and slip in and out of jail with ease (the odd extra takes a bullet now and then, but that’s by the by). Naturally this activity grabs the attention of J Edgar Hoover and his buddy Melvin Purvis (Bale), who just so happens to be the newly formed FBI’s top agent. They set out to capture Dillinger and make him America’s first Public Enemy Number One. Basically its Heat set in the 30’s.

public_enemies04Review

Despite just likening the plot of Public Enemies to Heat, there is a great deal that it falls short of in comparison to its far superior predecessor. With so many issues to speak of, I’m going to break it down in to the main three: Characters, Action and Visuals (and might sprinkle some more in between as a treat).

Whilst not being fanatical about America’s Great Depression and not having a great deal of knowledge of the personality of John Dillinger, I did go in to the movie with the expectation that Johnny Depp would inject a dose of charisma to his folk hero character and bring him alive. To my dismay, no such thing happened. In fact there was very little time to get to know the man at all, despite spending pretty much the entire film with him. Whilst Mann was cramming dozens of events and characters in to this 2 hour 20 minute suitcase, it would appear he forgot about his main man, who somehow (even with the Depp/Dillinger combo) manages to get washed up with the rest of the mess and who quite frankly I did not care about. Other character miscues include Melvin Purvis on two counts: 1 Casting Bale to play him; 2 Giving him about 4 lines and minutes of screen time (of which Bale manages to ruin anyway). And finally more restricted screen time for Marrion Cotillard’s character Billie Frechette, one of the most interesting and undoubtedly stunning characters in the film. So with all this lack of screen time for the characters, what is actually on the screen – action?

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Possibly a by-product of the visuals (which I’ll get to in a bit), the action in Public Enemies is disorienting and downright dull. This is especially highlighted in the shootout in a forest cabin towards the end of the film. Windows are smashed, guns are fired and people run around. That’s about all that you are sure of in this scene, possibly the climax and certainly the most highlighted gun fight in the film is absolutely uncinematic. You might be thinking that disorienting is realistic for a gunfight and I’ll give you that, but dull it is not. The editing was probably the main contributor to this, but also no tactical moves are made in the gunfight it is simply: hide, shoot, run and get away. This problem litters the movie.

Like his previous two movies: Collateral (good) and Miami Vice (bad), Michael Mann decided to shoot Public Enemies in digital format. Obviously he thinks that is something to this medium and with the a fore mentioned previous two movies he might have had something going for him. However, in the case of Public Enemies the digital format just didn’t work. Set in the 30’s (or around then), the typical visual aesthetic requires more grain than Ronan mill, whereas the eyewateringly crisp visuals presented before us make this production look like nothing more than a production. Mann’s reasoning for this was that he wanted to show this era in clear vision; as if you are there. Thanks for trying Michael, now we know it just doesn’t work.

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To finish the review on a high note, there is an individual scene that really stood out for me. Dillinger just manages to escape jail and is in the getaway car at a set of red traffic lights with unknowing police all around him. The emotional angst and tension builds up to an almost unbearable crescendo before the lights turn green, a scene that makes the rest of the film all the more disappointing, because it showcases Mann’s ability as a director.

To sum up – A huge disappointment. With a solid premise and cast, Public Enemies was let down in so many ways not least of all the characters, action and visuals.

Verdict – Do what you can to avoid it.

Looking For Eric

September 15, 2009

Director – Ken Loach

Writer – Paul Laverty

Starring – Steve Evets, Eric Cantona

Synopsis

The plot revolves around a football fanatic postman Eric Bishop (Evets) whose life is descending into crisis. Looking after his granddaughter is bringing him into contact with his ex-wife, and his stepson is hoarding a gun for a local gangster. At his weakest moments, when he considers suicide, his hallucinations bring forth visits from his footballing hero, the famously philosophical Eric Cantona.

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Review

Whilst spending several hours attempting to write this review, I’ve found that I have little to say about this little film. The performances are good, including a surprise solid performance from Cantona, the direction is fine and everything seems to be up to standard. I think that what is missing from this film is ambition.

The story takes place in middle England, following Eric Bishop who’s life is in crisis. It’s not exactly glamorous, epic or even very thought-provoking and although he has “never succumbed to the siren call of Hollywood” it’s difficult to see what Ken Loach saw in the script to make him want to direct it. I have to question whether the films plot, albeit an independent feature, deserves such exposure as it did, or whether it would feel more at home being showcased on an ITV channel.

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Having said this, there is an interesting scene involving Eric Bishop asking Eric Cantona what his best football moment was. Although not a football fan myself, the intensity of Eric’s descriptions along with the footage of each play makes for interesting cinema indeed. It’s a shame the rest of the film, including the final scene, couldn’t deliver on this level.

To sum up – With few bright spots to speak of and a less than cinematic climax, Looking For Eric achieves about exactly what it was able to from the script. The relationships seem genuine enough, but this little film about friendship might just be too genuine to care about.

Verdict – If there’s nothing else on give it a chance, just don’t expect to be blown away.