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Archive for September, 2010

Tony Curtis: 1925 – 2010

Tony Curtis: 1925 – 2010

 

The internet is full of tributes to Tony Curtis who died today aged 85, what better tribute is there to an actor than to watch his movies and encourage others to see them too. He appeared in some memorable movies including: Sweet Smell of Success (1957), The Vikings (1958), Spartacus (1960) and The Boston Strangler (1968) but one movie stands out. Not only is Some Like It Hot (1959) amongst his best performances but as I may have mentioned once or twice it is also my all time favourite movie. Anyone who has seen it, watch it again, it gets better with age, anyone who hasn’t seen it, watch it as soon as you can, you won’t be sorry.

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F

Director Johannes Roberts has been kicking around the direct to video/DVD market for a decade, with this “fear of hoodies” horror/thriller he has found a mainline to the zeitgeist and received his first cinema/theatrical release.

English literature teacher Robert Anderson (David Schofield) is the victim of an assault by a student. A year later with his life falling apart, he has a drinking problem and his daughter who is also his student hates him. He also has a seemingly irrational fear of youths and youth crime (in other words a daily main reader) but as the saying goes: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. After keeping his daughter (Eliza Bennett) back for detention, they become part of a small group of people who fall victim of a gang of faceless (literally) “Hoodies” who attack the school in a sort of teenage cross between Assault on Precinct 13 and a slasher movie.

At its worst the movie looks like a cheap direct to video movie with poor overacting, predictable photography and some truly sick imagery. At its best it’s a taught slow burning and slow building thriller that is creepy and shocking. Whilst most of the violence is off camera there is some horrible imagery that is somewhat gratuitous. To the credit of writer/director Roberts the movie doesn’t pretend to be important of profound, it knows it is a nasty little horror.

Despite this sub-genre of movie The Daily Mail will be sorry to hear that England isn’t really been overrun by “Hodddies” this just like last years Harry Brown isn’t an important movie, but it is an effective horror/thriller.

Three Stars out of Five

 

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The Town

The movie starts by telling us that Charlestown, a one-square-mile district of Boston is home to more bank robbers than anywhere else in the world and together they are responsible for around 300 robberies a year. Pretty much as soon as the movie starts we are introduced to one of these crews:

Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) and James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) are like brothers, they have know each other all their lives, together with Albert ‘Gloansy’ Magloan (Slaine) and Desmond Elden (Owen Burke) they make up a small well organised team of bank robbers. After successfully completing a bank robbery they suspect that the bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) may be able to identify them. MacRay follows her for a time before introducing himself, the pair hit it off and against his better judgement they quickly start a relationship.

Based on the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, itself inspired by a real life robbery similar to one referred to in the movie carried out by Doug MacRay’s farther. The movie is always gritty and gripping with great and believable characters. The acting is great, Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner and Mad Men’s Jon Hamm are perfectly cast and give strong performances but its the women in supporting roles that steal the show; Blake Lively as Krista, James’ sister and Doug’s ex and the always watchable Rebecca Hall who gives a more low key and less showy but more emotional performance.

There is a recurring theme in Heist movies of the central character looking to get out of the business, this usually involves a woman and hope for, but not necessarily a search for redemption. This theme is certainly used but there is a lot more going on. If you set out to make a worthy film that is overtly about the limitations of ambition and prospects of people from a certain background (class, race, religion or socioeconomic) the story can be dull and contrived. But when you make a genre piece that has the confidence not to insult the intelligence of the audience that contains these themes and ideas you may just get the point across while entertaining the audience. The Town isn’t anything profound or amazing, just a really good genre movie with a bit of depth and intelligence below the surface.

Thanks to Michael Mann’s Heat the bar has been set pretty high when it comes to heist movies. This clearly isn’t Heat and it isn’t as good as Affleck’s first directorial feature Gone Baby Gone but it is probably the best example of the genre since Heat. Skilfully and confidently directed in such a way that you forget it is only the directors second movie.

Four Stars out of Five

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The Hole

“You’ve got a gateway to hell under your house, and that is really cool”

To make a credible horror movie that is both suitable and enjoyable for a family audience is a hard thing to do, Joe Danye managed it with Gremlins in 1985. A quarter of a century later he has attempted to recapture the magic with The Hole, but has he succeeded?

No cliché is left unturned in the plot of this movie, single mother Susan (Teri Polo) moves her two kids, Dane (Chris Massoglia) and younger brother Lucas (Nathan Gamble) from Brooklyn to a small town. Before long the kids have made friends with teenage girl next door Julie (Hayley Bennett, who in true cinematic convention was 21 when the film was made). The threesome stumble on a mysterious trapdoor in the basement floor secured with six padlocks. Do you think they open it?

The three young leads all do a good job and are believable (if a little too old in one case) and generally likeable. The plot is very simple and you will realise where it is going early on, this isn’t a bad thing. There are a few genuine creepy moments although nothing that will scare anyone other then the very young or the very nervous. By the time the kids actually go into the hole it loses its way a little but visually it is very effective looking, this has nothing to do with the 3D that is as pointless as ever.

In a lot of ways the movie is a little old-fashioned and belongs in the directors heyday of the 70’s and 80s, this by the way is a compliment not a criticism cinematically. It does however make me wonder if the film will find an audience. When I was 12, I was watching the Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street movies, so it stands to reason kids of that age are now watching Saw, Hostel and other similar movies. That’s why I see the audience of this movie being younger children and their parents but not necessarily teenagers. Now back to the question I asked at the top: if the question had been “is it as good as Gremlins” the answer would have to be no, however on its own merits, it is a really good fun movie. There is also a great cameo from the always watchable Bruce Dern.

Four Stars out of Five

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Oil City Confidential

As well as making movies and music videos, director Julien Temple has developed into a supremely talented documentary filmmaker responsible for the excellent Requiem for Detroit (2010) as well was the rockumentaries: The Filth and the Fury (2000)(about the Sex Pistols), Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten (2007) and Glastonbury (2006). This movie about 70’s Rock n Roll/ R&B band Dr Feelgood probably represents the pinnacle of his work.

For those who don’t know Dr Feelgood started out as a pre punk pub-rock era band who have a reasonable and fiercely loyal following but never really made it. Coming from Canvey Island, a strange reclaimed island in the Thames estuary (or the “Delta” as Wilko Johnson likes to call it) shaped their outlook on life and their music. Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn’s quote in the movie The Blues Brothers “We had a band powerful enough to turn goat piss into gasoline” applies just as much to Dr Feelgood as it does to The Blues Brothers. The original line-up of Lee Brilleaux, Wilko Johnson, John B Sparks and The Big Figure only stayed together for around a decade, the live album, Stupidity and the single Milk and Alcohol representing the height of their fame. Fantastically shot making the most of the unusual location, the movie is made up of modern day interviews and archive footage of the band interspersed with clips from old movies including British heist movie Payroll (1961). The overriding theme that comes from the movie is that they are basically a bunch of normal, everyday guys who got together for the all the right reasons, namely the love of music and split up for all the usual ones.

Like the band it is about the movie offers nothing new or revolutionary to the “rockumentary” genre but doing everything about as well as is feasibly possibly. This is one of the best documentaries I have seen in a long time. If you are a fan of the band you will love this insightful piece; if you don’t know the band, you will be a fan by the end of the movie; if you don’t like the band, shame on you! 

Four Stars out of Five

 

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Exit Through The Gift Shop

“I want to be a non-conformist, just like everybody else”  Banksy

A few years ago I remember talking to someone about The Blair Witch Project, they had been to see the movie with someone who thought it was a real documentary then suddenly realised what it really was. It has been a few days since I saw Exit Through The Gift Shop and still don’t know if it was real. Was I watching a documentary, a mocumentary or just Banksy doing what he does best, taking the piss? More to the point was it really made by Banksy? This all begs the question, does it matter? Elaborate hoax or honest and heartfelt doesn’t detract from the brilliance of the spectacle.

Thierry Guetta, a French born, LA based vintage cloths shop owner is obsessed with filming anything that moves with his video camera. Whilst on holiday in France he inadvertently finds a focus for his obsession when he starts filming his cousin, street artist “Invader” it opens the door to the world of graffiti/street art and its exponents. Eventually he captures the holly grail, the great white whale, the elusive British graffiti artist Banksy. Things take a strange turn when the roles are reversed with Banksy becoming filmmaker and using the pseudonym “Mr. Brainwash“ Thierry Guetta emulates the artists he is obsessed with.

Banksy is credited as the Director of the movie although most of the footage was shot by Guetta. As Banksy explains at the start of the movie it was Guetta’s intention to make a film of street artists but Banksy found Thierry Guetta a far more interesting subject. The problem arises with the fact I still don’t know what is real. Was the film made by Banksy? Is the person in the movie with the blacked out face really Banksy? Is Mr. Brainwash really Banksy? Some of Mr. Brainwash’s work is approaching brilliant, such as the Andy Warhol inspired spray cans, other parts of it are crass and crap at best. The movie also features the artists: Borf, Coma, Swoon, Dan Witz, Neck Face and Shepard Fairey (the man responsible for the Barack Obama “Hope” poster).

I never know how well known Banksy is, whilst he has some unexpected fans people I expect to know who he are utterly oblivious. Street art is also a contentious issue, some people see the exponents as artistic geniuses, others see them as vandals and criminals, whatever your point of view Banksy is one of the best known despite his identity being secret. One of the great things about the movie is insight we get into the secretive world of the artists at work. The story is edited together in suck away to always hold the viewers interest, it is helped along the way by the narration by Rhys Ifans and music by Geoff Barrow. The greatest accolade I can give the movie is that it is so well made it could be enjoyable for viewers even if they have no interest in the subject matter and don’t normally watch documentaries.

I’m still not sure what it is,  but I like it and that’s all that really matters.

Four Stars out of Five.

 

 

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Winter’s Bone

Seventeen year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) has a pretty crappy existence, her farther often goes missing to practice his chosen profession, to “cook” methamphetamine. Her mother is of little use and is only there in body not mind, Ree has taken on the responsibility to look after her mother as well as her younger brother and sister. As bad as her impoverished life is, it is her life and she is hanging onto it with every inch of her not inconsiderable will, she clearly loves her siblings and makes the most of what she has in life. When the local sheriff informs her that her absent farther has skipped bail after putting the family home up as collateral it becomes clear that her family problems run much deeper than a lack of money and parental support. Determined to succeed where the sheriff has failed Ree sets out to find her farther and save the family home. She soon comes up against a code of silence amongst the local criminal network and to make matters worse she is related to most of them!

Ree has a tenacity and a sense of pride that won’t let her give up, it is an emotional and challenging part that has helped the movie create a real star. At just twenty years old Jennifer Lawrence already has numerous movie and TV credits but nothing that compares to this leading role. It really is a leading role, not only is she the main focus of the narrative, but she is also driving the narrative making the movie what it is. With anything less than perfect casting in this part the movie would have failed and been mediocre at best, as it stands it is one of the best movies of the year. As one who often disagrees with the Academy I won’t predict the potential Oscar nominations but have to say Jennifer Lawrence certainly deserves a nomination if not the statuette. Next year she will join the mainstream when she takes on the role of Mystique in X-Men: First Class, hopefully as she develops into a movie star she also becomes a great actress.

Set in the The Ozarks in the south of Missouri somewhere near the border with Arkansas, Cinematographer Michael McDonough finds a strange beauty in the dark and hostile landscapes that seem to lack any colour or warmth. We never see the sun, it would be easy to believe that this place exists in a perpetual state of winter never seeing the springtime sun. The characters who inhabit the move are a perfect reflection of this bleak and hostile landscape.  The setting is so imposing with a sense of impending menace that the movie often feels like it should descend into a Deliverance style backwoods horror. The restraint that always hold back from this is to the credit of the director who has created an ambiance that is as important to the movie as the plot.  The story is simple but believable and always compelling, based on a 2006 “country noir” novel of the same name by Daniel Woodrell (the author of Woe to Live On that was made into the hugely underrated movie, Ride with the Devil 1999). Directed by Debra Granik who also wrote the screenplay, the movie has already won the Grand Jury Prize and the Best Screenplay Award at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, I’m sure there are bigger awards to come.

Perfectly paced and directed it isn’t a movie that you will want to watch frequently but it is certainly a rewarding experience not just for the great central performance. This is a taught and gritty thriller disguised as a family drama.

 

After waiting seven months for my first five star movie (since introducing star ratings to my blog in January) I can happily report that I am awarding five stars (out of five) for the third time in as many months.

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