Archive for March, 2010

We are a quarter of the way through the new year already, British Summer time has been welcomed with typically British weather (It hasn’t stopper raining all week!). But how have things been at the movies so far this year? I would say pretty good, I have seen twenty-eight new releases, ten of them have received four stars, and a further ten have three, the other eight have all had two stars meaning I haven’t given any movie one or no stars. Last year we had three movies I would have given five stars (if I had been giving ratings, I only started this year) but the first of those didn’t come out until April. While I haven’t given any movie five stars yet this year two came very close.

So what has impressed me so far? The best movies so far have been:

  • Kick-Ass
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Shutter Island

The most pleasantly surprising films have been:

  • The Book of Eli
  • Youth in Revolt
  • Daybreakers

The worst movies so far:

  • From Paris with Love
  • The Lovely Bones
  • Ninja Assassin



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Just a reminder Desert Island DVDs is coming soon, a week on Sunday to be precise.  All participating bloggers will be listing their eight movies to be stranded on a desert island with.

Narrowing a list down to just eight movies is really tough as I am finding at the moment.  It’s not just a matter of picking your favourite eight movies, the movies you can watch over and over again may not be your all time favourites as and as mentioned by Kai from The List

There is still time to get involved take a look at here and here for information and leave a note below if you are interested.  And if you were wondering the posters are a sneak preview of just a few of the movies that have been selected.


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After working as a producer, most famously on Guy Ritchie movies Matthew Vaughn directed Layer Cake a movie that virtually reinvented the British gangster movie that was at the time suffocating under all the Guy Ritchie-alike crap. Layer Cake gave us a slick, stylish and exciting film that looked more like a Michael Mann than a Guy Ritchie movie. Three years later he made Stardust, a romantic fairytale co-written by Jane Goldman (Jonathan Ross’ wife) featuring Sienna Miller and Robert De Niro in drag. As terrible as the film sounded it was actually brilliant. So that brings us onto Kick-Ass based on the premise of what would happen if an ordinary everyday person decided to become a supper hero. Clearly we have already seen this all before last year in Watchmen, what can another movie offer other than a comedy spoof on the idea. Kick-Ass is so much more than a spoof on super hero movies, and strictly speaking it isn’t a comedy. It is funny, very funny but not exactly a comedy. It is a coming of age drama, a satire on human nature and modern society and a violent bloody action movie.

Dave Lipetsk (Aaron Johnson – John Lennon in last years Nowhere Boy) is a normal geeky high school student who along with his two even more geeky friends reads comic books. One day he wonders out loud why nobody has ever become a superhero. Despite his friends telling him it is dumb idea he (without telling his friends) goes ahead with the plan. After a false start that introduces a useful plot device Dave intervenes in a fight and is filmed by a kid with a mobile thus making his alter ego Kick Ass a youtube Phenomenon. Meanwhile Damon Macready aka Big Daddy (a surprisingly restrained Nicolas Cage) and his eleven year old daughter Mindy Macready aka Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz – Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s sister in 500 Days of Summer) have had the same idea about becoming super heroes and are on a quest for revenge involving local gangster Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong).

The casting is perfect Johnson plays geeky to perfection, Lyndsy Fonseca does well with what little she has to work with as the love interest. Strong is rapidly becoming Hollywood’s go-to guy for villainous roles both straight and comic, he plays them all with relish. Here he is well supported by fellow brits (and graduates of British gangster movies) Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher and Tamer Hassan. But the heart of the movie rests with Hit Girl, if the casting was wrong or the chemistry between Cage and Moretz was off the whole film would have failed. As it is she is the cement that holds the film together, I have heard many people compare her as a cross between The Bride from Kill Bill and Matilda from Leon, I think this is an accurate assessment. The great appeal of the Dave/Kick-Ass character is that (other than the fact he becomes Kick-Ass) he is an ordinary everyday guy with everyday issues. He has no real agenda or motivation, he isn’t looking for revenge or redemption, he is just looking for meaning, direction or in other words something to do. This sense of realism amongst the ridicules is refreshing but not the best thing about the movie, the best thing is its self awareness. Based on a comic book by Mark Millar, the movie knows it’s a comic book movie, this is alluded to in the voiceover that like the film itself references other comic books. Amongst all the fun the film has to offer, and it is tremendous fun there is also a lot of violence and a large body count. The dialogue is edgy, cutting, snappy and brilliant although many viewers will find it hugely offensive, for example Hit Girl uses the words cunt and cock and tells her farther that she is only fucking with him. All these things are done for comic effect as recognised by the BBFC. The shock value really adds to the comedy. Speaking of shock value, there is some really great uses of music, Bad Reputation by Joan Jett is a good fit for the movie, but it’s the songs that don’t fit that have a the most impact for example the Banana Splits theme and Elvis’ version of Battle Hymn of the Republic from An American Trilogy used in violent shootouts provides a memorable juxtaposition. Made for a reported $28 million but looking like it was made for a lot more it really should make money.

As the film goes on it gets darker without loosing its comic edge. It is all held together by the cutting dialogue and the John Woo style action. The movie ends with a Spiderman inspired postscript (with a reference to Batman) and like all great movies it leaves you wanting more hopefully they will have the nerve to leave people wanting and not cash in with a sequel.

Four Stars out of Five

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I have just seen the Scott Pilgrim vs. the World trailer where Mary Elizabeth Winstead seems to be sporting some unusual hair colours. So I thought I would compile a list of similarly wacky choices. (I know some of them are wigs!)

One of my personal favourites and most iconic looks from recent years: Franka Potente in Run Lola Run

Not to be confused with the more orange Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element

One of Kate Winslet’s looks form  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Pink wigs must have been the thing in the early 00’s, Natalie Portman in Closer

And Scarlett Johansson just a year before in Lost in translation

Angelina Jolie’s locks look conservative next to Ryan Phillippe in Playing by Heart

Will Chloe Moretz ever be able to get beyond playing such an iconic character as Mindy Macready/Hit Girl at such a young age?

Who have I missed out?

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Green Zone

I saw this movie a week ago and am only just publishing a review, why? Version one condemned the movie for not being as good as The Hurt Locker; Version two was a rant suggesting two former world leaders are war criminals for starting an illegal war; Version three was a lengthy explanation of how the movie differs from the Bourne movies. The following is probably a combination of all three rather than the new and original review it was supposed to be but I am not going to do a version five.

Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) is looking for weapons of mass destruction in post invasion Iraq its no great surprise that he doesn’t find any. When he challenges the intelligence he is stonewalled by people who have their own agenda. Before long he is following his own leads to which he receives both support and opposition for warring factions on his own side.

Directed by Paul Greengrass and staring Matt Damon the comparisons to the Bourne movies is inevitable but completely miss the point, true they share an actor and director and both have action but that’s where the similarity ends. The Bourne movies are concept movies based around Jason Bourne’s searching for his identity and his memory. Green Zone is about a wholly different character, what Miller is looking for isn’t in his head, it is very real and quantifiable. The problem is that the quantity in question is zero, Hans Blix failed to find weapons of mass destruction before the invasion of Iraq and yet The British and American governments went to war in the hope they would find some after the invasion. We all know that no such weapons were found. Millers realisation that he wasn’t going to find anything is the most telling thing about the film. The UK release of the movie couldn’t be more timely with the Chilcot Inquiry in full swing the so called “dodgy dossier” and the “Sexed-up” intelligence reports are back in the news. We have also had former Prime Minister Toney Blair giving a performance testimony worthy of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men.

Back to the movie, the real strength is the blend of the genres; it is an all action movie with a political point of view and more importantly a conscience. Matt Damon is looking every inch the movie star and like Linus Caldwell, his character in Ocean’s Eleven he has fought his way out from the shadow of his once more famous contemporaries. Damon is always centre stage but is well supported by Jason Issacs (and his moustache), Greg Kinnear and Brendan Gleeson. The one disappointment is Amy Ryan, after her brilliant turn in Gone Baby Gone she was a little wasted here, her character a necessary evil to introduce a plot device when it could have been a key part of the narrative.

Greengrass’ documentary style with its shaky hand held cameras has received plaudits and detractors in equal measure, whatever your thoughts on it, it is perfect for this movie. The film depicts a war that was fought in the public eye on CNN and Sky News, movies like The Hurt Locker and the TV show Generation Kill are based on stories by journalists. The style of the film gives it the same authenticity, it also benefits from the work of talented cinematographer Barry Ackroyd who also shot The Hurt Locker and worked with Greengrass on United 93.

As mentioned at the top it isn’t as good as The Hurt Locker but then it is a very different movie, while Green Zone blends genres, The Hurt Locker transcended its genre.

Four Stars out of Five

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The Crazies

David and Judy Dutton (Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell) are happily married, they live in a small town, he is the local sheriff, she is the town doctor; they are expecting their first child.  Two local men start acting strangely, what starts as strange suddenly becomes deadly, then the sheriff makes a shocking discovery that could shed some light on the situation.  Before they know it the outbreak of the infection is far less concerning than the faceless governments attempts to contain the problem. I say faceless as they literally are, we never see the leaders and the soldiers all wear gas masks obscuring their faces.

Whilst not one of George A. Romero’s best movies, his original version of The Crazies (1973) is still an interesting and enjoyable horror thriller.  Made in the last few years of the Vietnam War the film was a critique on society and a damming indictment on the war full of symbolism such as the moment a soldiers boot crushes toy soldiers under foot.  It is hard to look at the remake without comparing it to the current world situation.  The attitude of the military or more to the point the government who control them could easily be seen as a metaphor for American policy in recent and current wars. There is one incident that mirrors a lot of peoples view that criticise the institution without criticising the individual soldiers.  Regardless of any possible meaning the new film has retained its criticism of society and sense of mass hysteria but lost its black humour, it also doesn‘t have the originals most damming scene, where a cure is lost because of stupidity. In the remake human nature is summed up in one line of dialogue.  After their wives have been taken, suspected of been infected two of the characters are talking about saving themselves versus helping their wives: “Don’t ask me why I can’t leave without my wife and I won’t ask you why you can!”

The film is largely well made with good photography and lighting, the sense of time and space is well handled, this is something that is often lacking in movies of this genre.  The acting is good especially from Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell.  The only real criticism is the film could have done with more tension and even a few more cheep scares as well as a greater sense of dread. Directed by Breck Eisner whose previous movie Sahara (2005) was enjoyable nonsense, like that film The Crazies offers nothing new but is still enjoyable. It is also worth mentioning that Timothy Olyphant is slowly developing from a bad boy character actor and TV star into a genuine leading man.

Far from a classic and lacking the social and political commentary of the original but an enjoyable enough movie that is worth a look for horror fans.

Three Stars out of Five

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Desert Island DVDs Update

I have already emailed everyone who have confirmed they intend to take part. If you missed the email or if anyone else wants to join in here are the details:

Everyone publishes their own list on their own Blog. As well as my own list (on a separate post) I will publish a list of all the participants with a link to their list. Please include a link to this list, the link will be: http://wp.me/prVbF-17I  (if you try and use it now it won’t work, but trust me it will on the 11th).

We are publishing on Sunday 11th April at 11 am BST (that’s 10am Zulu, I will confirm the time for other time zones closer to the time if anyone is struggling). To give me time to set up my part you will need to send me a link no later than Friday 9th April.

Creating a link before publishing is easy on wordpress using the auto-publish feature. Anyone who needs help with this let me know. If you other blog publishing applications and are struggling let me know and I will see what I can do.

This is a list of confirmed participants. If I have missed anyone of or anyone else who is interested there is still time to join in: 

  • Fandango Groovers Movie Blog (Me!)
  • Thanks again to everyone taking part. And thanks to Kai who has already sent me his link.



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    The Next James Bond

    I noticed the other day that former James Bond Timothy Dalton recently celebrated his 66th birthday. This got me thinking it has been some time since I posted anything about James Bond.  So here it is in honour of Timothy Dalton’s birthday an idea for a slightly different Bond movie. 

    James Bond, now in his 60’s has retired and is living in Jamaica. For his last few years in the secret service before retiring he took a job training prospective double 0 agents.  Bond receives news from Moneypenny that one of his former students (now 006) was killed on a mission.  Because of the nature of the mission and his undercover status the body has not been recovered and a funeral will not take place. He receives a letter from the agent sent shortly before he was killed.  Bond launches his own investigation and is blocked at every turn by his own government making Bond even more determined get to the bottom of what happened.

    For added impact the movie should be made in total secrecy without anyone knowing it is about an older Bond.  In the usual build-up an announcement should be made implying a big name star, but not an obvious choice (I am thinking Colin Farrell) will play Bond.  He will in fact be playing 006 who gets killed at the end of an all action pre-credit sequence.  Enter the real James Bond, Timothy Dalton.  The film would be very plot driven with fantastic dialogue and the odd action set piece, very much like a good detective story. Along the way there can also be a subplot about Bond writing his memoires to the chagrin of his former employers (more on this in a later post).  There is a great opportunity to Have fun with the dynamic of an older Bond without turning the whole thing into a joke. And who could direct such a movie, there is only one man: Quentin Tarantino.

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    Shutter Island

    Having won an Oscar for The Departed (2006) what would Martin Scorsese’s next project be?  This isn’t what I expected.  Adapted from a 2003 novel by Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island is a drama/thriller bordering on a psychological horror.  US Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) are sent to an asylum for the criminally insane to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a patient.  Along the way Daniels feels his investigation is being hampered by the staff of the facility including psychologists Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and Naehring (Max von Sydow).  It also soon becomes clear Daniels also has his own motives for being there.

    Right from the start it is clear there is something wrong.  Parts of the setup just don’t ring true and the sometimes heavy handed and overpowering soundtrack has undertones reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo score.  The whole thing is just a little unnerving.  The island setting with its juxtaposition of opulence and decay including an old civil war fort turned asylum all set within beautifully manicured grounds add to the sense of dread.  This won’t be a straightforward investigation.  There are clues throughout the story as to what is going on, most of them you will miss, I certainly did.  There are others that are more overt that you will pick up on, making the twists and turns in the feel natural and believable.

    Set in 1954, if ever an actor was at home in a period film it is Leonardo DiCaprio and in Martin Scorsese he has a director able to make a movie that looks like it has come from the 50s not just set there. Quentin Tarantino is well known for borrowing ideas from other filmmakers, but Scorsese is a real student of film.  This is something that really comes out in this movie, there is a real sense of familiarity about the way the film looks without ever looking like a copy of a pastiche of anything else.  There is a scene with a spiral staircase that Big Mike Mendez, The Mad Hatters guest his “Matineecast” (episode 7) compares the spiral staircase scene from The Red Shoes (directed by Scorsese’s friend Michael Powell) while Kim Newman in empire calls the staircase “a dead ringer for the one in Robert Wise’s The Haunting”.  As suggested by The Mad Hatter in the aforementioned podcast, having finally won an Oscar Martin Scorsese is able to get back to Just making movies and stop trying to win an Oscar.  Although the epic The Aviator and Gangs of New York appear to be real Oscar bait I don’t think The Departed was. Firstly I’m not convinced it was as much of an issue to Scorsese himself as it was to commentators.  Secondly if you are chasing an Oscar would a remake of a Hong Kong movie be your first choice.  Whatever the reason The Departed, Shutter Island and Bringing Out the Dead prove what Scorsese can do when he makes an “ordinary movie” He really is the most gifted filmmaker working today.  This is very much a genre piece that comes is only his second attempt at a horror/thriller the other being Cape Fear (1991).  I am reticent to say Scorsese is cutting loose and having some fun as the movie is too dark to considered fun. Whilst not as disturbing it has the same dark tone as Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973).

    The cast is brilliant, as well as DiCaprio and Ruffalo (always reliable) most of the other parts are played by recognisable actors including Ben Kingsley, Max Von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Williams and Patricia Clarkson.  There are also memorable appearances from Jackie Earle Haley and Elias Koteas.  Putting a great cast together is one thing but getting great performances from them is another, that is something this movie has no problems with everybody on display is great and some (especially Kingsley) look like they are relishing the roles.  But this really is Leonardo DiCaprio’s show

    By the end of the film you realise you have just watched a film that is very different to the one you thought you were watching in the first half and certainly a different one to what the trailer depicts.  This is no bad thing although it may disappoint some viewers.  Ultimately though I think there is just enough ambiguity to satisfy casual observers and film loves alike.

    Four Stars out of Five

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    Back in October last year I started a series of blogs focusing on directors I consider to be modern auteurs (is that the correct plural for auteur?).  The main criteria to qualify as “modern” were directors who made their feature debut within the last twenty years.  Number one on the list was David Fincher and the blog consisted of a look back at my three favourite of his movies.  Number two on the list Quentin Tarantino still hasn’t seen the light of day for many reasons, one of them; I can’t decide on my three favourite Tarantino movies.  This brings me to the point of this ramble, comments two bloggers I respect Mcarter at themovies and Ross McG from Ross v Ross both suggested I was remiss not to mention Zodiac. At first I put this down the wild unfounded suggestions Ross is prone to making.  Then I spotted a Zodiac DVD in the bargain bin at ASDA for just £2, for that price I thought it deserved a second chance.  While I enjoyed it the first time around I wasn’t in a mad rush to see it a second time.  On the subject take a look at this great article from The Stories That Really Mattered.  So how did it live up to a second viewing?

    Zodiac is an epic story of obsession.  Starting in 1969 when the San Francisco Chronicle receives a series of letters from the Zodiac Killer.  The job of reporting the story is taken by the papers crime reporter Paul Avery (a brilliant as ever Robert Downey Jr.).  At the same time we see the police, principally David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) working the case with little success.  As they discover other possibly connected cases in surrounding counties they are frustrated by jurisdictional boundaries and cooperation from other forces. Over time the police and the press run out of leads but one man refuses to give up on the case.  As the Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) was the least involved of the newspaper staff to begin with. Over several years he makes new breakthroughs in the case that could finally lead to a conclusion.

    ** Warning: Working on the assumption that by now most people have some knowledge of the case there will be plot spoilers from this point on **

    It is no great surprise that Robert Graysmith is the central character of the movie; it is actually based on two books he wrote.  His involvement in the case begins with a “boy scout” interest if the ciphers the zodiac sends to the paper.  After first been discouraged he is ultimately he is encouraged to get involved by Paul Avery, a liberty taken with what really happened as the pair were not actually friends.  Dramatically a good liberty to take as the scenes they share are brilliant, playing on Downey Jr’s edgy near comic performance against Gyllenhaal’s wide eyed innocence.  The bar scene is the mark of a director who is totally confident in his craft.  A short build up followed by the shots of empty glasses could be dismissed a cliché 101, but in fact is the perfect way of cutting through the friendship building bullshit that works better in and implied way.  During this part of the movie Paul Avery himself makes some breakthroughs on the case himself even becoming a possible target for the Zodiac.  Ultimately his investigation falls away.  When we later see him living reclusively on his houseboat working for a deadbeat parochial paper it could be seen as a man defeated by the case.  The same could be said for Bill Armstrong transferring to a different department to get an easier job with better hours.  The way the case consumes Grayshith’s life both personal and professional could also be considered a defeat in a way.

    The casting is perfect throughout the movie with great performances also given by Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards as the cops and small but significant parts for Brian Cox and Philip Baker Hall.  The two main suspects are also brilliantly played by John Carroll Lynch and Charles Fleischer.  The only real disappointment is the lack of decent female characters. The most prominent is Chloë Sevigny playing Graysmith’s second wife Melanie, she is a disappointing character starting of overly understanding and later becoming very nagging.  This is an unfortunate side effect of the jump forward in time that narrative takes during a quite spell in the investigation.  The jump in time is possibly the only misstep in the direction.  It is so overt that it breaks the link with the viewer for a moment. It was however something that had to be done for the good of the narrative as well as the time constraints of the movie.

    There are many outstanding scenes in the movie a couple that really stood out for for me were when towards the end of the film Graysmith’s visits Bob Vaughn (Charles Fleischer)’s house and gets spooked.  A supremely well constructed and acted scene where a witness quickly becomes a suspect before our own eyes. The other is the opening “Hurdy Gurdy Man” killing where the tension is slowly built up.  This sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

    Comparisons between the Zodiac and Jack the Ripper cases are inevitable, there are countless Jack the Ripper movies that present possible explanations, some of them may even be true, however they all require a huge amount of speculation.  To its credit Zodiac avoids all of this by sticking to the facts (with a certain amount of essential artistic licence).  Most of the film is about the investigation and not the killings themselves.  We only see the Zodiac portrayed at times when there was an eyewitness account.  Film writer Kim Newman once said of the movie “Zodiac was fated from its inception to be an uncomfortable experience, a whodunnit with the last few pages torn out, a film biography of a faceless man.” Although true, it isn’t to the detriment of the movie, it is still compelling viewing. Not for the outcome but because of the journey we take to get there.  That’s not to say the ending is bad, whist not as memorable as some of the directors other work namely Se7en and Fight Club, the ending fits this movie as perfectly as their endings fit them.  In the hands of a great director like David Fincher it is no surprise that the journey is so good, after all great filmmakers are often at there most creative whilst at there most restricted or constrained. The ultimate success of the film is as a character study, it works so well because the characters are real and more importantly perfectly portrayed.

    Back the question I asked at the top: how did it live up to a second viewing? I have to say they were right it is a great film I enjoyed a second time around even more than the first. Subject to a third or even fourth viewing it will probably find its way into my Fincher top three at the expence of The Game but it won’t overthrow Fight Club or Seven at the top!

    Keep looking out for Quentin Tarantino and the rest of the series, I will get back to it one day.

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