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Archive for April, 2010

James Bond Will Return

I guess everyone has heard by now that production on the next James Bond movie has been suspended indefinitely.  A statement from producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson said “Due to the continuing uncertainty surrounding the future of MGM and the failure to close a sale of the studio, we have suspended development on Bond 23 indefinitely”

It is no secret that MGM have had their problems in recent years.  Last August the daily telegraph reported that a $250m credit payment would be due around now. The total debt was quoted at $3.7bn and is due for repayment in just over two years.  The same article explained that Stephen Cooper had taken over as CEO and vice-chairman and was “tasked with improving the health of the company’s balance sheet”.  They described Mr Cooper as a “well-known restructuring expert”. Variety called him “a turnaround specialist” and suggested company could auction of some of its assets including the James Bond franchise and the upcoming Hobbit movies.

The franchise has always made money with Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace combined grossing over a billion dollars and making around $850million profit.  The four Pierce Brosnan movies combined made over a billion dollars profit.  Making Bond something of a double edged sword for a studio in trouble; if sold such a profitable franchise could be help the studios finances but if they are still seeking a buyer the company will be far more attractive with Bond onboard.

What will this mean for star Daniel Craig and potential director Sam Mendes?  The last time a Bond movie was postponed was back in 1990 due to legal issues between UA/MGM and EON; the dispute lasted nearly five years and Timothy Dalton’s contract to appear in a third film expired.  Although talks were held an agreement was never reached and Pierce Brosnan was hired.  It is unlikely there will be a six year gap as there was between Licence to Kill and GoldenEye meaning the retention of Daniel Craig shouldn’t be a problem but Sam Mendes is sure to have other projects he wants to work on (IMDB have four listed). Whatever happens they need to wind up the “Quantum” storyline in the next movie before it becomes a millstone around the companies neck. What next for James Bond? Who knows but one thing is certain, as it always used to say at the end of the credits (do the new films say it? I have never looked):

James Bond Will Return

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The Ghost

I went into this movie with somewhat mixed expectations. I had read and enjoyed Robert Harris’ previous novels Fatherland, Enigma and Archangel but found the movies (and TV in the case of Archangel) adaptations a little disappointing, none of them were bad movies they just didn’t live up to the books.  In the case of The Ghost, I haven’t read the book.  There are a couple of things in this movies favour it is directed by Roman Polanski, a director who whatever you think about him it is hard to deny his amazing ability.  The second thing, the screenplay is adapted by Polanski and Harris.  

When the ghost writer working on the autobiography of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) is found dead they hire a replacement (Ewan McGregor).  McGregor’s character who is never named only referred to as “The Ghost” travels to Martha’s Vineyard where Lang along with his wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) and assistant Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall) are staying at a house owned by the publisher.  With just four weeks to produce a publishable book the Ghost quickly gets to work but soon realises things are not what they seem.  Is there more to the Prime Ministers “special relationship” with America than is commonly known and is that related to the death of the first ghost?

As I alluded to above Roman Polanski is a supremely talented director, he is also a old and experienced one with a career that has spanned nearly fifty years.  With The Ghost he has crafted an old fashioned movie. To call something old fashioned could be construed as derogatory, in this case it isn’t, it is a supreme compliment.  Where an average modern thriller has kinetic pace with shaky cameras and too many edits, The Ghost is slow and deliberate taking its time to unfold the story.  The editing forgoes the current trend for fast cuts instead choosing to linger on the subject.  The script, particularly the dialogue is excellent making the characters totally believable.  There are also nice touches and attention to detail with things going on in the background.  The camera lingers showing us things without the characters discussing them helping the story to unfold in a realistic way.  What Polanski has tried to do here is reminiscent of what Martin Scorsese did with Shutter Island but in many ways he is more successful than Scorsese was. He is helped by the fact that this is less of a genre piece but even so to make a better movie than Scorsese is an immense achievement.  As is often the case Polanski has got the best out of his actors: For the second time this month I am hugely impressed with Pierce Brosnan.  Ewan McGregor presents a likeable character despite his horrendous accent (I think it is supposed to be London.  There is nothing in the plot of the movie that would prevent him using his own accent).  The real star performance though comes from Olivia Williams.

As for the subject matter the comparisons between Adam Lang and Tony Blair are inevitable.  The former Prime Ministers recent appearance in front of the Chilcot Enquiry make the release of the movie quite topical. Taking “extraordinary rendition” as the reason to accuse Lang of war crimes rather than the allegedly illegal war that it has been suggested makes Tony Blair a war criminal helps keep the movie fictional without it losing its relevance. The fact the main character is referred to as “The Ghost” helps to reinforce the idea that Lang is haunted by his past. As The Ghost starts to uncover what his predecessor discovered this idea of haunting becomes more real.  It also makes the movie a classic investigation based whodunit reminiscent of movies of the 40’s and 50’s.  There is a scene early in the movie after it is announced that former British Prime Minister Adam Lang is to be investigated for war crimes; it is suggested that he should remain in America who don’t recognise ICC (International Criminal Court). A list of other nations that don’t recognise the ICC resulted in some somewhat nervous laughter from the audience.  The idea of a director who can not return to the United States making a movie about a man who can not leave the United States has a certain symmetry.  To add to this the movie mainly takes place on an island in a house that looks like a prison within a heavily guarded compound.  This is old ground for Roman Polanski who in Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion turned characters own houses and apartments into terrifying prisons.

The film isn’t perfect, the plot and its revelations are pretty simple and basic but it gets away with it because of the supremely confident and assured direction. What the story lacks in originality it more than makes up for in intrigue and mystery.  The Ghost is just Polanski’s tenth movie since his masterpiece Chinatown more than thirty-five years ago.  Whist none of these movies have lived up to Chinatown they have all been worth seeing and this one is no exception. Possibly a more a movie for movie lovers that for everyone but certainly a breath of fresh air for anyone who feels jaded by unnecessary sequels, mindless blockbusters and crappy gimmicks like 3D.

Four Stars Out of Five

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Shelter

The supernatural horror/thriller Shelter was shot two years ago, it doesn’t appear to have been released in America yet and it crept into UK cinemas this week with little advertising and no press screening as far as I am aware.  No press screening is often a bad omen but I took a chance as Julianne Moore is always worth watching, even if her movies aren’t. Remember The Forgotten? No you probably don’t, if ever there was an aptly titled movie! More often than not I don’t read reviews, I am happy to make my own mind up a bout a movie but it is nice to know the distributers have the confidence to let their movie be reviewed.  I must admit I sometimes check out the verdict and star rating to avoid the real turkeys.

Clara (Julianne Moore) is a forensic psychiatrist; she gets a shock whilst attempting to disprove a patients (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) multiple personality disorder.  Firstly she begins to believe that he does have multiple personalities, then she starts to investigate who they are.

The first thing I though of whist watching the film was how much it reminded me of Identity, a crap film about multiple personalities written by someone who thinks he is more intelligent than his audience but probably isn’t.  I didn’t find out until after I had seen the movie they were both written by Michael Cooney who was also responsible for Jack Frost and Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman, movies about a serial killer reincarnated as a killer snowman. Think of them as a low rent version of Childs Play, can anything actually be that low rent?

The developments in the plot a designed to confuse and surprise the audience, what they actually did is made me not care what was going on. The movie is truly rubbish and I struggle to find any reason to recommend the movie making it my first ever one star movie.  Interestingly at the time of going to press it has a healthy 6.5/10 on IMDB so some people must like it.

One star out of Five

 

 

As my first one star movie I thought I would look into what makes a one star movie. Since I started giving ratings back in January I have give nine two star ratings.  These movies all had something to redeem them and gave some kind of enjoyment for example although poor Legion and Solomon Kane where good fun and didn’t take themselves too seriously.  The Lovely Bones was well shot and had some great acting.  From Paris with Love and Ninja Assassin were really poor films but had some great action.  Shelter has none of this the best thing I can say about it is the acting is reasonable except Jonathan Rhys Meyers terrible accents and the production design is reasonably good. These redeeming features are crushed by the atrocious script.

Anyone who likes the idea of a supernormal horror I suggest you stay at home and rent a couple of DVDs such as The Exorcist and Fallen.  If you really want to see Shelter look out for the things it borrows* from these two movies.

*borrows is a euphemism for shamelessly steals

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Whilst waiting for a haircut last year I read an interview with Sasha Grey, I think it was in GQ but can’t be certain. The first thing that came out is what a likeable and level headed girl she appears to be. The reason for the interview and something that came up a lot was her upcoming (at the time) film The Girlfriend experience. A veteran of nearly two hundred movies that the euphemism “adult” is normally applied to, but lets not beat around the bush, Ms Grey is a porn star.

The Girlfriend Experience of the title refers to an escort who gives exactly that, the experience of a girlfriend not just a prostitute that the client pays for sex then she leaves. Chelsea (Grey) goes out for dinner, goes to the movies, spends the night, but most importantly she talks to them and listens to their problems. In a film that was shot in the time leading up to the US presidential election and at the time when the western world economy was taking a nosedive it isn’t any great surprise what the characters talk about. Part of what I have just described is based on observation of the movie, other parts of it are based on what I have read, been told and seen in interviews, this is a shame, it would have been better if I was able to discover it myself watching the movie. The one possible misstep of the movie and its weakest angle is Chelsea’s boyfriend Chris (Chris Santos). Comparison between Chelsea’s career as an escort and her boyfriends as a personal trainer are suggested but not explored and that is what sums up Chris, his character is never really explored or dealt with The times when the couple talk are, especially about Chelsea‘s clients is often difficult viewing.

The big question can Sasha Grey act? The truth is I don’t know and I don’t think anyone else who has seen this movie knows, in this movie Soderbergh keeps his keeps actors at arms length in favour of a documentary style. Two things I can say in her favour; I can’t think of an mainstream actresses who could have played the part better, secondly I am interested to see her in more straight acting roles. To the movies credit there are times when it really does feel like documentary and that we are watching real people the last time I felt this about a movie was a little over a year ago when I saw Che also directed by Soderbergh. This style was achieved with the use of none professional actors and improvised scenes, this combined with the non linear structure really help keep the viewers attention.

Throughout the movie as the characters go about their daily lives questions are asked but not answered, nothing is resolved a lot like real life. Strangely I think the movie will exist in future as a document of a brief period in history. The reason I say strangely is because the film went into production before the economic crisis hit but because of the improvised nature of the movie it adapted to the world around it the way its characters do, the way real people do. Not Soderbergh’s best work but an interesting movie that has a lot to admire and enjoy.

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Director and co-writer Walter Hill set out to make his idea of a perfect movie but not his perfect movie in 1984, his perfect movie when he was growing up in Long Beach, California in the 50’s reading comic books. Following the name of the movie and it’s subtitle a Rock & Roll Fable there is a further title card saying “Another Time, Another Place“, that kind of sums the movie up, it’s an urban fantasy. Instead of being set on far off planet or in a distant time the movie is set in world we can almost recognise as out own. The style of the movie is derived from this, a sort of future/retro blend. The cars and bikes mainly come from the 50’s most notably a stunning custom Mercury Convertible. The music is very 80’s and somewhat dated although some of it is pretty good. The costumes are a strange blend of 50’s and 80’s with the biker gang employing every leather clad stenotype committed to celluloid.

The plot is relatively simple. Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) is a big time singer (her singing voice is dubbed by Laurie Sargent), she comes back to her home town for a concert. Unfortunately things don’t go to plan, at the end of her first song the stage is invaded by a biker gang lead by Raven Shaddock (a young Willem Dafoe who looks like he hasn‘t had a change of cloths since The Loveless two years before) who kidnap her. The police don’t seem to be doing much so local dinner owner Reva Cody (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) sends a telegram (I told you it was retro) to the only person who can help, her brother and Ellen’s ex, Tom (Michael Paré) a former soldier and all round brooding hero type. Along with McCoy (Amy Madigan ) and Ellen’s manager Billy Fish (Rick Moranis) Tom sets of f to rescue Ellen. There are a few familiar faces along the way including Bill Paxton and Elizabeth Daily.

The cast, even the ones who became big stars were all pretty young and inexperienced when the film was made. Although a little by-the-numbers, the script is pretty good keeping the plot lean and simple. Depending on your point of view the dialogue is either brilliant or terrible. What sounds wooden and staid spoken by average and inexperienced actors in a modern movie would have sounded tough and great coming from Humphrey Bogart or Edward G. Robinson in the 40’s or 50’s.  Shot on location in Chicago, LA and on the Universal Back lot the city looks like a dystopian version of Chicago, the studio set included The Richmond main street complete with an elevated railway to match Chicago’s ‘L’. The unnamed city is split into at least four districts (three we see plus The Bayside that is mentioned but not seen) Each one has a distinct look. The Richmond (where Ellen and Tom are from) is an inner city working class neighbourhood, it looks old-fashioned all the colours are neutral subdued, the cars are old and dull. The Battery is a rough industrial area frequented by the kidnapping bikers. The colours are darker and harsher with lots of black leather. The Parkside District is vibrant and bright with a more 80s look complete with bright colourful neon lights and 80‘s fashion.

The acting is a bit of a mixed bag: despite only being eighteen Diane Lane had already made ten movies, her performance isn’t bad but she could have given it in her sleep, she does look as stunning as ever. Michael Paré is wooden at best as usual but pulls of the quiet brooding type well. Rick Moranis is truly bad, over acting all the way. Amy Madigan isn’t great but does deserve credit for her part in the production. She plays Tom’s tough, ex soldier sidekick, a part originally intended for a middle aged man. Convinced it was the best role in the movie she talked Hill to re-write the part for her. Willem Dafoe is the real revelation here showing what a great actor he would become with a cold villains stare.

The great shame of the movie is the lack of the song Streets of Fire by Bruce Springsteen from his 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town. The song gave the movie its name and was intended to be used towards the end of the film. Springsteen was initially keen for the song to be used but when it was decided it would be used as Ellen Aim’s final song it meant re-recording it by a female singer and negotiations stalled. As is often the case with Walter Hill movies Ry Cooder provides the score and on the whole it’s a good one. A lot of the songs are written by Jim Steinman hence the Bonnie Tyler/ Meat Loaf sound to Ellen Aim.

The movie meets the first and most important criteria of a cult classic, it bombed at the box-office grossing just over half its budget. In his early career Walter Hill made some great movies, while Streets of Fire doesn’t live up to his best (The Warriors, The Driver, 48 Hrs and Southern Comfort) it is still a lean mean movie with the look and fun of a comic book movie. If you haven’t already seen the movie I suggest you give it a go, you may hate it but what’s the harm in giving it a try. If you do like it check out Trouble in Mind starring Kris Kristofferson, Keith Carradine and Lori Singer.

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Remember Me

News Flash, Robert Pattinson can act.  Tyler Hawkins (Robert Pattinson) is a sensitive but tortured, rebellious and volatile young man, part Jim Stark and part Holden Caulfield. When he first meets Ally Craig (Emilie de Ravin) his motives aren’t exactly honourable but that soon goes out the window as the pair fall deeply in love.  Ally also has her problems, the cause of them forms the movies prologue ten years before the main narrative.  This prologue also give as huge clue to the movies conclusion. That is about as much plot spoiler you will get from me. As the story unfolds we also see Ally’s farther, a brilliant as ever Chris Cooper and Tyler’s parents Lena Olin and Pierce Brosnan.  We also get the sub plot of Tyler’s eleven year old sister Caroline (Ruby Jerins) who has problems at school surrounding her inability to make friends.  The narrative mainly deals with the traumas the characters have gone through in their lives and the issues they carry with them.  This obviously results in the type of people they are, it is no great secret that we are dealing with broken people looking for direction or meaning.

Director Allen Coulter has been working in television for more than twenty years but to the best of my knowledge this is his first feature, he does a great job with the actors getting emotional performances without descending too far into melodrama.  The film is also well paced and well constructed.  The basic idea of the setup involving Pattinson and de Ravin’s relationship has been done before but usually in teen comedies not more serious movies, it does work here though.  After his (intentionally?) wooden performance as Edward Cullen Pattinson was probably looking for a film where he couple prove his acting credentials, something that he more than does here. The scenes involving Pattinson and de Ravin are tender, warm and most importantly believable but the best scenes are reserved for his interactions with his screen farther Brosnan. Pierce Brosnan is an actor who can portray charming and charismatic but often strays into sleazy and slimy, this is why more often than not he struggles to get away from his star-making turn as James Bond; he is an actor of limited depth, here though, he is a revelation and easily the best thing in the movie.

I understand the movie has received a bit of a critical bashing, this is probably unfair as on the whole it is a well constructed and extremely well acted movie.  I can understand some critics distaste for the movie as the final act really doesn’t work the way in should have.  The outcome does fit the movie but anchoring it in history was a mistake. With a theme of loss and despair I can see where the filmmakers were coming from but the result is a misstep for the movie as whole.  They just tried to hard to make the movie more than it is.

Three Stars out of five

 

* * * Warning plot spoiler * * *

 

I suggest above that the filmmakers tried to hard to make the movie more than it is, for those who are still reading you have already seen the movie or you don’t care about plot spoilers. You probably know by now that the movie ends on September 11, 2001. By doing this it is almost like they want the entire movie be a metaphor for the loss, grief, anger and recovery from 9/11. The film doesn’t do that and is cheapened by the attempt. It will be interesting to see how the movie ages.

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Whip It!

 

“Be Your Own Hero”

 

There was a time when comic coming of age dramas were sickly sweet and of little interest to all but a very small demographic. In recent years with movies like Juno all that has changed, it is therefore no surprise that Ellen Page has become the darling of the genre. Drew Barrymore’s directorial début Whip It! Really does have universal appeal that isn’t limited to a small age group.

Bliss (Ellen Page) is a stereotypical character in this type of movie, not exactly an outcast but she only has one real friend, she has a part time job that that comes with an embarrassing uniform but most of all she is trying to find herself. Pushed into competing in beauty pageants by her mother (Marcia Gay Harden), she is torn between pleasing her mother and rebelling against what she clearly sees as a waste of time. Following a chance encounter in a cloths shop Bliss soon finds herself a member of roller derby team Hurl Scouts setting her on a collision course with her mother.

As Bliss now using the name Babe Ruthless (all the competitors use pseudonym based on witty puns) finds a certain camaraderie in her new team, the supporters and even her sometimes her opponents. More importantly she finds herself but in doing so she finds herself alienated from her friends and family. It is how she deals with these problems that makes the film and the character work. Bliss’ mother Brooke is trying to relive her glory days of competing in beauty pageants by proxy via her daughters, it would be easy to make the character who is overpowering and controlling into a villain, subtle direction, honest writing and a great performance by Marcia Gay Harden make for a more sympathetic character. As is so often the case for this type of movie it is set in a small town, in this case the fictional Bodeen, Texas. The small town and the escape from it acts as strong metaphor for growing up, leaving school or the family home or just breaking free of the constraints of childhood.

The supporting cast is full of recognisable faces: Ari Graynor (recently seen in Youth in Revolt and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist), Zoë Bell (star of Death Proof and Uma Thurman’s stunt double in Kill Bill), Eve (singer/rapper) Juliette Lewis (Oscar nominated actress turned rock star), Andrew Wilson (Older brother of Luke and Owen) and Drew Barrymore (no need for introductions!). There is also a cameo form Har Mar Superstar as a rival teams coach. Juliette Lewis and Kristen Wiig are both really good with the small parts they are given, it would have been nice to see them given a little more to do and develop their characters further but this is Pages show all the way. On the surface Bliss and her family are no more than Juno MacGruff in a different scenario. That sells the movie short, Bliss is less wisecracking and witty but more emotionally venerable than Juno, basically more real. She does however retain the actresses strength and sass, characteristics that come through more as the character develops.

What do you know about roller derby? Well I knew precisely nothing prior seeing the movie , to the best of my knowledge the sport hasn’t caught on in England. I am guessing most viewers will have little knowledge of the sport making it difficult for the filmmakers to know how best to inform the audience about the game without turning it into a contrived and boring description of the rules. The movie gets it just about perfect explaining the rules as we go along without breaking the narrative. Having looked it up the movie appears to be an accurate representation of the sport with the amateur DIY/leagues and participants with punk style and third-wave feminist views. The rival teams practising together is also a feature of the smaller leagues. The film should be accurate as the screenplay is by Shauna Cross based on her own novel Derby Girl, Cross is a real roller derby girl skating for the Los Angeles Derby Dolls and using the pseudonym Maggie Mayhem.

While it has become commonplace for actors to move into direction, it seems less common for actresses to make the jump. Sarah Polley, Jodie Foster and Salma Hayek all spring to mind, I’m sure there must be others but I can’t think of them off the top of my head. The big question is how does Drew Barrymore do? On the whole really well! The direction is well paced and letting the plot light story unfold nicely and with some really well handled scenes of sporting action. The direction does lack some focus with poor presentation of time, the supporting characters are underdeveloped and the roller derby scenes are a little brief. All these are minor concerns when put into the prospective of the whole movie. There are certain existential elements to the movie and some strong moral messages about family and teamwork but it never gets overly sentimental. It tries to push the personal empowerment angle a little too hard but gets away with it because it has real heart and integrity. That heart comes from Ellen Page, she has demonstrated in movies like The Tracey Fragments and Mouth to Mouth as well as the better know Juno and Hard Candy an ability to balance strength and vulnerability, this movie takes those ideas even further. An interesting directorial debut for Barrymore and another class performance from Page, I for one am interested to see what they will do next.

Four Stars out of Five

 

And if you are wondering the quote at the top of this review “Be Your Own Hero” spoken by Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) kind of sums up the whole movie!

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