Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

2009: A Year In Review

January 1, 2010

2009 was a great year for film with plenty of innovation, new blood and advances in technology. Here is a closer look at what 2009 consisted of.

Blockbusters. Hollywood continued churning them out despite the worries surrounding the economy, and they proved successful. Though the CGI-reliant 2012 flopped (with several 10’s of millions of dollars still left to recuperate to break-even), other Blockbusters proved that the industry was recession-proof. Michael Bay and McG went head-to-head with Tranformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Terminator Salvation (respectively), vying for the number one grossing film of 2009, but were ultimately beat out by a bunch of kids, with Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. J. J. Abrams showed us that the Star Trek franchise still has plenty of life in it with his reboot, going by the name of… Star Trek.

Fresh faces emerged with overwhelming critical success with hits such as District 9; directed by rookie Neill Blomkamp, starring rookie Sharlto Copley. Along with Duncan Jones’ Moon and Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer, District 9 showed Hollywood that big budgets and household names aren’t nearly as important as talent, artistic vision and solid storytelling. Christoph Waltz burst on to the scene playing Colonel Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds, as did Michael Stuhlbarg playing Larry Gopnik in A Serious Man.

Change of pace was on the cards for various established directors, with QT directing Inglorious Basterds, which had a different setting, period and language than his previous films as well as a uniquely structured screenplay. Danny Boyle took Bollywood by storm with Slumdog Millionaire a story about a boy from the slums of India rising to fame and fortune; once again told in a unique way. The Coen brothers returned to focussing on their main characters inner turmoil with A Serious Man and Spike Jonze returned to his childhood with Where the Wild Things Are.

Vampires dominated the screen, with many different takes on the sub-genre being showcased. New Moon, Thirst, Lesbian Vampire Killers, The Vampire’s Assistant and, my personal favourite, Let the Right One In are but a few of the dozens of vampire movies released in 2009.

3D Revolution. The dawn of 3D cinema was upon us and it was up to films like Up and Avatar to prove to us that 3D was here to stay. They succeeded, at least in my eyes, using the technology to create a subtle layering and managing to cure the headaches (as long as you sit in the right part of the cinema) that caused such problem in 3D’s early days.

Anvil! It didn’t fit in to any of the aforementioned categories but Anvil! The Story of Anvil brought joy to many people. Whilst on the surface this looks like a chance to laugh at stupid wanna-be rock-stars (which it certainly is), the tested bond between lead singer Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, which is pushed to its limits throughout, makes for truly memorable cinema.

Top 10 films – Just quickly since these lists end up pretty much being the same for everyone. 10. Moon 9. Star Trek 8. Inglorious Basterds 7. Drag Me To Hell 6. Where the Wild Things Are 5. The Hurt Locker 4. Up 3. District 9 2. Slumdog Millionaire 1. (500) Days of Summer.

Top 5 scenes5. Opening battle scene – Star Trek 4. Eli steps in to Oskar’s house uninvited – Let The Right One In 3. SSgt. William James attempts to break off a bomb padlocked to a civilian – The Hurt Locker 2. Expectations vs Reality – (500) Days of Summer 1. Colonel Hans Landa bargains with a French farmer – Inglorious Basterds


Inglorious Basterds

December 20, 2009

Director – Quentin Tarantino

Written by – Quentin Tarantino

Starring – Christoph Waltz, Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth

Released – 19 August 2009


During World War II a group of Jewish-American soldiers known as “The Basterds” are chosen specifically to spread fear throughout the Third Reich by scalping and brutally killing Nazis. The Basterds soon cross paths with a French-Jewish woman who runs a movie theater in Paris which is hosting a Nazi film premiere and is targeted by the soldiers.


A deceptive marketing campaign did Inglorious Basterds a whole world of good; depicting it as a roaring rampage of revenge against the Nazi’s not only got the philistines involved but got a lot of free publicity by people like me who commented on it. Inglorious is not what the trailers would have you believe, with copious amounts of dialogue and long nail-biting scenes with the occasional spot of bloodshed. Regardless of this fact most people seemed to enjoy it which is testament to Tarantino’s writing ability.

In terms of his writing, he has never been better. It has been said that he was working on this project for 10 years which is not surprising when you see the end result. The film is split in to about 5 or 6 main scenes, each lasting around 15 to 20 minutes and each filled with a crippling amount of tension. If the first scene doesn’t make you smile from its sheer brilliance of film making then you should consider anti-depressants. Aside from a scene with Winston Churchill, which doesn’t sit quite right, the movie glides through at a faultless pace with plenty of gripping dialogue and gory action.

If I have one complaint it is with the soundtrack… that’s right, I have a problem with Tarantino’s soundtrack. Normally, with his films, this is something to look forward to, which is maybe part of the problem – he has a lot to live up to from his previous works. In Inglorious Basterds, particularly in the first half, we hear a lot of rehashed music that Tarantino had used in Kill Bill which threw me out of the picture and back to thinking about what scene I had heard it from. It’s not a huge problem but these are tracks that he made iconographic, and why he is trying to compete with his previous films for which it should be associated with I do not know.

Christoph Waltz is a real pleasure as Colonel Hans Landa. He is really the main character with Brad Pitt playing second fiddle, both in terms of the character and the performance. ‘The Jew Hunter’, as his character is known, brings a whole world of tension in to the scenes that he graces and his intelligence is his greatest weapon; he psychologically unravels a French farmer – my personal favourite part of the film. Waltz brings a great deal to the role. His face can turn like the nature of his character; a harmless and generous smile at one moment to a bloodthirsty glare the next. The subtlety in his movement and tone brings the character alive. Waltz’ performance takes Inglorious Basterds from a brilliant piece of film-making to something beyond that.

To sum up – Not at all like what the trailers will have you believe, but an outstanding and original piece of film-making anyway.

Rating – 8/10

In the Loop

October 7, 2009

Director – Armando Iannucci

Writers – Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin, Tony Roche

Starring – Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Gina McKee, James Gandolfini, Chris Addison


When mild-mannered minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) inadvertently appears to back the unannounced war on Iraq on prime-time television, he immediately attracts the attention of the PM’s venomously aggressive communications chief Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), who latches onto him like a hawk. Soon, the Brits are in Washington, where diplomatic relations collide with trans-Atlantic spin doctors and Fosters off-hand remark quickly spirals into an insurmountable mountain of conflict.



If, after watching In the Loop, you think to yourself that the premise and comedic style would suite a TV series give yourself a pat on the back; it is based on The Thick of It; one of Armando Iannucci’s many British comedy TV shows. After writing and directing many of the best episodes of I’m Alan Partridge and various other cult British television series’ Iannucci came up with The Thick of It; a comedy revolving around cabinet ministers and their selfish, but human ways. It seems that this was Iannucci’s golden ticket as, despite limited viewing figures on release, BBC Films and the UK Film Council liked the screenplay (which has an original story, rather than just an adaptation from the TV series) enough to back it.

The fact that the premise works fantastically for the TV series does by no means suggest that it doesn’t work well as a feature film; in fact quite the opposite. It’s refreshing to see a comedy that relies so heavily on dialogue actually having seamless, laugh-out-loud dialogue. If you’re not in to swearing, skip it because it really is a masterclass on how to swear; though I wont quote anything from the film as it’ll probably bomb the line.


One of the criticisms that some people have had is that in this film where politicians decide whether to go to war or not, the politics of going to war are never actually discussed. Apart from this being the fucking point of the movie, it works well for the comedy as we see some of the most powerful politicians in the world, the people who are making the decisions, acting like children; for example one of the pro-war characters sets up the “War committee” under a secret name so that none of the anti-war characters will find out about it and join. The film basically breaks down the politicians as selfish characters who are only worried about their own jobs (most of them not actually knowing whether they want to go to war or not), so the politics of war are irrelevant.

The comedy is fresh and the pace of the film feels fine, a smooth transition for Iannucci in this department, indeed. The cinematography is nothing to be revered, although for the budget (£612,650!) and type of film it is, this is not really a problem.  More importantly all of the actors do a great job in bringing their characters to life and Iannucci does an unbelievable job of juggling them, as the story focuses on about 10 different characters; all interesting and believable.


To sum up – An outstanding comedy that deserves every minute of its 106 on the big screen. Great to see another independent British movie shine.

Rating – 7/10


September 27, 2009

Director – Duncan Jones

Writers – Duncan Jones, Nathan Parker

Starring – Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey


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.



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.


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

Public Enemies

September 16, 2009

Director – Michael Mann

Writers – Ronan Bennett, Michael Mann, Ann Biderman

Starring – Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marrion Cotillard


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.


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?


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.


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


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.



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.


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.

Synecdoche, New York

August 23, 2009

Director – Charlie Kaufman

Writer – Charlie Kaufman

Starring – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams


Theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is mounting a new play. His life catering to suburban blue-hairs at the local regional theater in Schenectady, New York is looking bleak. His wife Adele (Catherine Keener) has left him to pursue her painting in Berlin, taking their young daughter Olive (Sadie Goldstein) with her. His therapist, Madeleine Gravis (Hope Davis), is better at plugging her best-seller than she is at counseling him. A new relationship with the alluringly candid Hazel (Samantha Morton) has prematurely run aground. And a mysterious condition is systematically shutting down each of his autonomic functions, one by one.



The directorial debut for Kaufman was set up for a knockout; with Philip Seymour Hoffman heading up the rotation of established actors and rising stars and Kaufman, after many successful scripts, getting the chance to perhaps show us exactly what he wants us to see from pen to screen.

When you look at Kaufman’s previous scripts (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine) that were all directed by other people, you’ll understand why this review was so hard for me to write; he’s one fucked up dude! Synecdoche, New York takes us deep inside the psyche of Kaufman (a hostile environment) and without an outside force to reign him in the film became a puzzle which I simply did not care enough about to solve.


The film starts off with Seymour Hoffman’s character, Caden Cotard, suffering through a bit of a mid-life crisis. This quickly gets weird with a visit to the hospital and despite your best attempts you’ll likely lose it in the 2nd act (if there are indeed acts).

There are quaint moments in the film which were pretty much all I had to grasp on to and grasp them I did; after all, I’d hyped this one up myself and had paid good money to see it.

To sum up – An astute viewer might be able to get more out of this film, but it will likely leave the average audience member frustrated and fed up. For once, perhaps, those pesky producers did not intervene enough.

Verdict – Stay away, it’ll do ye no good

5 movies you’ve never seen (and need to)

August 10, 2009

Swingers (1996)

Jon Favreau directs himself and a young Vince Vaughn in this charming buddy movie. Favreau plays Mike a heartbroken, middle aged introvert, whilst Vaughn plays Trent, Mike’s smooth-talking buddy who attempts to help Mike get over his ex by going out on the town and picking up “beautiful babies”. The performances are strong, the characters relatable and the whole thing stinks of feel-good; check it out.


Days of Glory (2006)

Directed by Rachid Bouchareb, Days of Glory tells the tale of World War II’s forgotten heroes; the North African Arab troops. The story follows 4 soldiers as they fight from Africa through to France and lead the way for their French counterparts. Not only are the acting, cinematography and script top notch, but the film raises important political issues, such as racial equality among troops, as the films main protagonist, Abdelkader, takes it upon himself to question those in command. Days of Glory falls just shy of the technical benchmark set by Saving Private Ryan, but its importance casts a sizable shadow on its American counterpart.


In Bruges (2008)

A film that many missed in 2008, including myself, as its marketing was less than stellar. Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes, In Bruges is a quirky, dark comedy/thriller about a couple of hitmen who are sent to Bruges (in Belgium) after a hit goes wrong. A tidy script full of twists and turns as well as a dose of hilarium make this the should-have-been hit of 2008 and one well worth a purchase.


The King of Comedy (1982)

Time to drop back a couple of decades to Martin Scorcesse’s The King of Comedy, in which Robert De Niro plays an aspiring comic by the name of Rupert Pupkin, whose craving for success results in him stalking his idol, Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), the host of a talk show who craves his own privacy. A tour de force from De Niro and great dialogue bring Rupert Pupkin to life in what appears to be Scorcesse’s most underated classic. The entire film builds up to an event which does not disappoint.


Before Sunrise (1995)

Written and directed by Richard Linklater, Before Sunrise follows Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), two strangers who meet on a train in Europe and wind up spending one romantic evening together in Vienna. The narrative revolves solely around the relationship between Jesse and Celine and therefore there is no conflict by conventional standards. This may not be to everyones taste, but the chemistry between the two main characters is enough to arrest the majority of the audience. There are some great set pieces and watching their relationship flourish as they find out more and more about each other, whilst knowing that they can only spend this one night together is an emotional experience and well worth investing your time in.


Star Trek

August 5, 2009

Director – J.J. Abrams

Writers – Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Gene Roddenberry (TV series)

Starring – Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana


Kind of a prequel to the TV series and other Star Trek films (as far as I know) whereby James Kirk (Pine) and Spock (Quinto) enlist at Starfleet academy and quickly gain the right to be on board the first starship – the U.S.S. Enterprise. Meanwhile the baddy, Nero (Bana), who has inadvertantly travelled back in time, is on the hunt for Spock whom he believes is responsible for the desecration of his planet. When all sorts of time travel mess occurs, the Earth itself is threatened by Nero and the U.S.S. Enterprise must take action.



First off let me say that the trailer for this movie was awesome – “Fire everything!” and while that line doesn’t quite live up to the expectations (how could it?) the film itself does not disappoint. J.J. Abrams had one hell of a job turning probably the largest cult phenomenon ever in to an accessible blockbuster but somehow he pulled it off and at all the while claiming some critical acclaim (from this critic at least); so who cares that he pissed off a bunch of sweaty nerds?

The first 15 minutes of the film are truly mesmerizing, as we start off with a David and Goliath style spaceship battle that paves the way for the rest of the movie. Abrams nails this battle sequence with excellent pace and well, its just a solid space battle.

Looking back on it, the plot itself is a little contrived with all sorts of time travel and different planets (yeah it is a sci-fi, Guy!), but Abrams manages to reign it in (for the majority of the movie anyway). This isn’t to say that the plot wasn’t enjoyable, infact it had some pretty interesting thoughts on time travel and the revenge mission of Nero gives him good depth, however the problem is there are too many characters and some of plot devices they use to introduce them are bordering on ludicrous. Also, some of the threads get lost along the way.


Abrams’ main concerns had to be the action and getting the relationship between Kirk and Spock right. He did just that as Pine and Quinto bring new life to their characters and create an interesting tension between each other. Again, some of their character building scenes (including a crucial one) seem contrived when looking back at it, but Abrams somehow gets away with this as you are swept up in his Universe.

To sum up – Littered with problems that include major plot points; it somehow comes out smelling of roses, which I put down to Abrams’ directorial prowess and a hot alien girl in her underwear.


Verdict – Love it

Let The Right One In

August 5, 2009

Director – Tomas Alfredson

Writer – John Ajvide Lindqvist

Starring – Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson


Terrorized by bullies, lonely 12-year-old Oskar befriends a new neighbor, a mysterious young girl whose arrival coincides with a series of gruesome deaths and attacks. Though Oskar realizes that she’s a vampire, his friendship with her is stronger than his fear.



Let The Right One In showcases some brilliant acting, great emotion, comedy, gore and tension and is a fresh look at the vampire subgenre. It basically has everything you could want from a movie of this genre, yet somehow I left the cinema with a distinct feeling of emptiness.

The script is solid and full of subtleties that did not go unnoticed and shows that the writer put a lot of thought in to the ethics and psychology of the vampire and others affected by it. Another thing worth noting is that the story is a constant mover but director does not often let it stray from its track.


Aside from all the scriptual goodness and suprisingly powerful acting from the children as well as the adults, the film is let down by its editing and inconsistency. It could have done with being 20 minutes shorter, and that isn’t to say that there was a 20 minute segment at the end of the film that should have been lopped off, but that throughout the film scenes ran on too long.

The set pieces are hit and miss, the ones missing often being the ones that rely heavily on the use of CGi. With what I imagine was a small budget I think they could have done with cutting the CGi cats out altogether.

To sum up – The tentative editing destroys the pace of what could have been a lovable movie. Not lovable, but still definitely worth a watch.

Verdict – Check it out