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Archive for September, 2010

Groovers and Mobsters Present is back and this month after great work on Dark Comedy and The Vengeance Trilogy special Allison from My Film Habit is calling the shots, her chosen genre is Prison Movies:  Whether they are exploring the rights and wrongs of crime and punishment or expressing the drama and action of an escape movie or even just the daily dramas of a prisoners life (rightly or wrongly convicted), the prison movie has been a staple from the earliest days of cinema.

A Prophet (2009)

“Think you can last here without protection?”

Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) is a nineteen year old French-Arab. Sentenced to six years for an unspecified crime. Malik has clearly been in trouble all his life but this is his first time in “the big house” and things are against him from the start, he is only semi literate and has no friends on the inside. It isn’t long before he is targeted by the ruling gang who want to exploit him. Never accepted by the Corsican gang that rules the prison but because of his involvement with them isn’t accepted by the Arab prisoners Malik has to be one step ahead of everyone, just to stay alive, this is something he achieves. Does he have a supernatural or even a spiritual vision, is he a Prophet?

The racial tension between rival groups within the walls of a prison have been a mainstay of Hollywood prison movies for years, it appears things are no different in France. The relationship between the Arab and Corsican gangs are a metaphor, if not a microcosm of French society. At the heart of the tension Malik does what he has to do to survive, this results in a Yojimbo inspired power play making the movie a taught and tense thriller that you can’t take your eyes off. At first by accident and later by design he begins his rise through the underworld ranks. Confidently directed by BAFTA award winning director (for his previous film The Beat That My Heart Skipped) Jacques Audiard but the star of this movie is front and centre in front of the camera, newcomer Tahar Rahim is rarely off screen and relishes challenging roll. If the scene where Malik practices concealing a razorblade in his mouth isn’t the tensest scene you have seen all year, you must watch some pretty extreme movies.

Working as both an existential experience and a political statement but also existing on a more visceral level as a hard hitting dramatic thriller that is always compelling and often thought provoking, don’t let the subtitles put you off.

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Exam

Set in a single room with a cast of just ten people. Eight strangers must sit an exam, the last stage of applying for a unspecified but high-powered and much coveted job. They are given a few simple rules before they turn over the papers to start the exam only to find the pages blank.

If you are going to lock a group of strangers in a room in a movie you need a good concept, in the age of The Apprentice and Big Brother this is the best strangers in a room concept since Cube. Other movies like The Killing Room (2009) and Breathing Room (2008) have had good ideas but have fallen short in one way or another. As the movie plays out in near real-time the characters gradually reveal their hand with enough twists and turns in their personalities and agendas to keep the audiences interests. That’s not to say the movie isn’t afraid to bring out all the “strangers locked in a room” clichés, but they are so well handled it really doesn’t matter. Likewise the single room setting isn’t claustrophobic or stage play like except when it wants to be.  The cast of largely unknown actors, Colin Salmon and Jimi Mistry are the only ones I recognise, do a great job with standout performances from Luke Mably and Chukwudi Iwuji. While it is the men who provide the backbone of the story it is the women, Nathalie Cox, Pollyanna McIntosh and Adar Beck who provide the heart and soul.

Many movies start by telling us what year in the past, present or future they are set, this movie is described as being set “Soon” this gives a certain air of inevitability about the idea of where the world is going. Unfortunately it fails to take the opportunity to make any kind of statement that could have elevated it from a good movie to great one. Having said that it is still an impressive debut by first time writer director Stuart Hazeldine

Four Stars out of Five

 

Originally released in the UK on 8 January 2010, it didn’t make it to a cinema near me so I have just caught up with it on DVD.

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Tamara Drewe

Journalist Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton) returns home the small Dorset village she left ten years earlier, she soon meets her ex Andy (Luke Evans) and rock star Ben (Dominic Cooper). Meanwhile her neighbours, philandering crime writer Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam) and his long suffering wife Beth (Tamsin Greig) are running a writers retreat. The story started out as a weekly comic strip in The Guardian by Posy Simmonds, it was published as a complete work by Jonathan Cape in 2007. The story is loosely based on the Thomas Hardy novel Far from the Madding Crowd.

The movie has been critically acclaim and has received universal 4 and 5 star reviews, whist there isn’t anything overtly wrong with it the movie as a whole it just doesn’t gel together. The characters are good and the actors playing them do a great job but they are poorly served by a film that feels a little dull and often falls flat. I can happily report that Gemma Arterton has completely won me over in her last few movies as mentioned in my review of The Disappearance of Alice Creed, the way she looks doesn’t do any harm either! The interesting thing is how little her character is used. Love her or hate her she (both actor and character) is certainly interesting to watch but the movie is more an ensemble piece with the supporting characters getting as much screen time as the lead.

The film is full of interesting ideas that are initially brilliantly conceived but are never developed or evolved. The ultimate problem with the movie is that it failed to engage me as a viewer . I couldn’t relate to any of the characters which meant that I really wasn’t that bothered what happened to them. I did find some of the situations they find themselves in to be vaguely amusing despite being hugely contrived but little more. But it isn’t all bad, I have already mentioned how good Gemma Arterton is, she isn’t the only one, rising star Dominic Cooper is clearly having fun in his role as a vacuous rock drummer and it shows. Tamsin Greig best know for her part in the BBC radio series The Archers is also really entertaining with her portrayal of the put upon wife. But the greatest success of the movie is Jessica Barden whose character Jody is one half of a pair of fifteen year old schoolgirls who provide a grounding for the movie. As a bored teenage desperate to get away from he rural upbringing she could be the next Tamara Drewe in the making. As great as these supporting characters are I would just liked to see more of Tamara Drewe.

A film that had enough good things about it to make me want to like it more than I did. The acting is great but the film isn’t half as clever or as funny as it should be, or that it thinks it is for that matter.

Three Stars out of Five

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The Runaways

1975; Glam Rock is making way for Punk, LA teenager Joan Larkin, already calling herself Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) dresses like Suzi Quatro and dreams of being part of an all girl rock band. She introduces herself to record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) outside “Rodney’s English Disco” on Sunset Strip. Fowley in turn introduces Joan to drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) they quickly recruit other members including singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). Before long they are on tour and signing a record deal, but the cracks are starting to show from the beginning.

First time director Floria Sigismondi has a background as a photographer and music video director, the movie falls into all the expected clichés you would expect under these circumstances, it looks great but is a bit of a mess. I have heard a few people criticising the middle section of the movie that depicts the band on tour during their rise to fame in a disjointed haze. I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt here and take it as a depiction of a drug and alcohol fuelled haze from the point of view of the band members. What I can’t overlook is how the story isn’t about The Runaways, it is actually about Cherie Currie and Joan Jett*. It comes as no surprise considering the movie is based on the book Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story by Cherie Currie and Joan Jett worked on the movie as a producer and advisor. I was born in 1975, the year the movie was set, the year the Runaways were formed therefore it doesn’t come as any surprise that I wasn’t a fan first time around. I did however discover their music in the late 80’s via Joan Jett and Lita Ford who were both getting airtime on MTV at the time. So to put it into prospective I knew a little about The Runaways without knowing that much and here lies the problem, I’m not sure I now know anything about the band that I didn’t already know before seeing the movie. This wouldn’t have been noticeable on its own if we learnt something about the band members, we don’t! other than Curries sister and farther we don’t see anything of the bands personal life.

The two great things about the movie are the look and the acting. When I say look I am referring to everything from the costumes and makeup all the way to the photography combining to capture the look of the time perfectly. There are three fantastic performances: Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley, Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie and Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett. Jett has a very particular way of moving, especially on stage, she almost stoops and sways as she moves looking like a cat about to pounce, Stewart captures this perfectly, she also emulates the rock n roll attitude. Fanning doesn’t necessarily have the same rock and role presence but really captures the emotions of the character who goes thought he greatest transition in the movie. Both have proved over their last few movies to be talented actresses, although only one of them is getting the credit she deserves. Shannon is able to combine creepy and weird with compelling, he does this like no other actor, Kim Fowley is the perfect character for him to play with this. The soundtrack is also pretty good too as you would expect!

I have always wanted to like the band The Runaways more than I do, partly because of Joan Jett and partly for their place in music history. Unfortunately I find myself liking a few of their songs but not the band or their output as a whole. I feel exactly the same way about the movie The Runaways, there are things about it I really like but the movie as a whole is too much of a mess to really like.

Three Stars Out of Five.

*The producers acquired the life story rights of band members Cherie Currie, Joan Jett, Sandy West and producer Kim Fowley but not Lita Ford and Jackie Fox. It has been reported that Fox threatened a lawsuit, this could be why her character doesn’t appear in the movie and is substituted with a fictional character called Robin. Fox was in fact one of five Bass players the band had over time, Joan Jett also filled in on bass when they were without a bassist.

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Resident Evil: Afterlife

Alice (Milla Jovovich) is back four a fourth instalment of the video game based movie franchise. Giving a synopsis is kind of complicated, not because the plot is complicated, it is actually as thin as ever, the reason is the movie is kind of like three small movies that are tagged together to make the overall film. We begin with Alice out for revenge against The Umbrella Corporation. This is followed by her search for other survivors. The final act reunites us with umbrella in what is probably a setup for Resident Evil 5.

Part I: the opening in Tokyo is the all action madness you have come to expect from the franchise as Alice infiltrates an underground fortress killing everything in her path. This act is a link from the previous film “Extinction” making use of one of the final revelations from that movie. It also has a useful if slightly contrived plot device that helps ground the rest of the film. Part II: is set within the walls of a Los Angeles prison surrounded by the un-dead. There is surprisingly little action in the early part of this section of the movie, this isn’t totally a bad thing as it does have a nice echo of George A. Romero’s seminal classic of the genre Dawn of the Dead (1978). I say it isn’t a totally bad thing, but it isn’t good either, it falls a long way short of Dawn of the Dead (and its 2004 remake) and really breaks the action making the middle of the movie drag and sag a little. All this is forgiven as when the action does kick in and it features the movies best scene, Alice and Claire (Ali Larter) fight a giant wielding an oversized axe/hammer. Some of this can be seen in the trailer, and as is evident from the trailer the use of slow motion is totally ridicules but surprisingly effective just like the film as a whole!

Part III: is as important in leaving the door open for a fifth movie as it is in completing this one, its narrative is predictable, “this is a trap, lets walk into it” okay so they didn’t say that but you get the idea. Just like the previous part of the movie it fails or succeeds on the action, and while the action is good, there isn’t enough of it. And that is the ultimate failing of the movie, what should have been ninety-something minutes of wall to wall action tries to be something it is not. The movie is at its best when it is having fun and to divert from this is a mistake. The movie ends on the usual cliff-hanger, but don’t expect the next film to start where this one ends. Epilogue: it is becoming increasingly common for movies (especially those based on major comic books) to have a scene after the credits that only a small number of people stay to see (I tend to only bother to stay if I know there will be such a scene). Probably out of desire for more people to see the extra scene, they don’t even bother hiding it at the end (a bit like putting an “Easter egg” on a DVD and advertising it on the box), it appears at the end of the cast just a couple of minutes into the credits and features Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) from Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004), this adds an extra dimension to the cliff-hanger. Sticking with video game tradition and just like Jovovich’s Alice, Jill Valentine is sporting a new look, I have to be honest I didn’t recognise her.

With Paul W.S. Anderson, the director of the first film (and Milla Jovovich’s husband) back onboard as director after just producing the two sequels, the big question is whether it is any good? Movie snobs and the mainstream media will tell you the simple answer is no, but that really doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable. It delivers exactly what you expect of a Resident Evil movie, despite some problems with the plots particularly in the first two sequels none of the previous movies in the franchise have been unwatchable bad. The same is true of this one, as described above it has some great moments and it falls flat at times. The dialogue isn’t good but the acting isn’t bad, the production design and the photography are both good meaning it always looks good, both in the epic landscapes and the well designed interiors. What you really want to know is what I thought of the 3D, filmed using James Cameron’s 3D Fusion Camera System, it is by far the best live action example of 3D since Avatar (2009), in other words it is utterly shit and pointless. Please, please, please stop making 3D movies they are a waste of time and money.

Ultimately what I say here and whoever reads it is irrelevant as realistically few people who haven’t seen the other Resident Evil movies will come to see this one, the reason for the success of the other sequels is that a lot of people who had originally dismissed the first movie eventually saw it on home video and then went to see the sequels at the cinema/theatre, the same could happen here with a few new viewers attracted by The Emperor’s New Clothes that is 3D.

Three Stars out of Five.

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Paul W. S. Anderson

Paul W. S. Anderson is a British director formally know as Paul Anderson (not to be confused with American director Paul Thomas Anderson aka P T Anderson, also formally known as Paul Anderson), despite the fact he has spent most of his career in Hollywood he didn’t quite make it to my “The British Are Coming” article a few days ago. With Resident Evil: Afterlife, the movie that could be his biggest to date opening today (I will see it over the weekend) what better time to look back over his career to date.

Shopping (1994): The British movie was written and directed by Anderson, Shopping was a confident if low budget debut. Set in a world that hasn’t descended into dystopia but is on its way, the most frightening thing about the setting is how close it is to the everyday real world. On the surface it is a movie a about joyriding and ram-raiding teenagers, it is actually a cutting satire on consumerism. It is also notable as the first major leading role for Jude Law (he narrowly got the part ahead of Ewan McGregor) who met his future wife Sadie Frost on set.

Mortal Kombat (1995): Anderson quickly moved to America for his next movie. Based on the beat ’em up video game of the same name, the only positive thing I can say about Mortal Kombat is that it was better than rival game adaptation Street Fighter (1994). It was however very financially successful cementing Anderson’s credentials in Hollywood.

Event Horizon (1997): The Sci-Fi, action, adventure, mystery, horror, thriller is a hugely underrated movie, but don’t take my word for it, This is what Will from The Film Reel has to say about it.

Soldier (1998): Set in the same universe as Blade Runner with a fantastic story of the ultimate soldier who at the age of 38 has to face the fact that he is now obsolete and about to be confined to the scrapheap (literally). To top this of the soldier is played by Kurt Russell and the villains are played by Jason Isaacs and Gary Busey. Unfortunately the movie was rubbish and was a huge box office flop, it became infamous for Kurt Russell speaking only 79 words in the entire movie.

Resident Evil (2002): This movie has always been my ultimate guilty pleasure movie. I know it is disposable crap but it is such good fun disposable crap. Based on the computer game series of the same name it is a modern twist on the Zombie movie using a virus to explain the outbreak. With Milla Jovovich being one of the few credible female action stars (and looking great in the process), and Michelle Rodriguez in the supporting cast what more could you ask for in a guilty pleasure. With so many movies failing to make any money the success of this movie launched a new franchise that is still going strong, it also put Anderson back on track.

AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004): To follow James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) and Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) is an impossible task, but then on top of that is also a sequel to John McTiernan’s Predator (1987). The movie has its problems but by putting a strong female character, Alexa Woods played by Sanaa Lathan at the heart of the movie steers it in the right direction. The presence of familiar face Lance Henriksen doesn’t do any harm either. Although not a great movie, it was better than its sequel and it made money, lets not forget, cash is king in Hollywood.

Death Race (2008): The original Death Race 2000 (1975) was dismissed as a video nasty with gratuitous violence and nudity. A science fiction classic set in a dystopian future it is actually a satire in the vain of 1984 for a video nasty generation. The remake looses all of this but is actually kind of fun, Jason Statham is one of the few modern action stars who could have pulled it off and Joan Allen has a great time hamming it up.

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010): After taking a back seat and acting as just a producer for parts two and three in the franchise (Afterlife and Extinction) Anderson is back in the directors chair for part four. Filmed using James Cameron’s 3D Fusion Camera System, it could be a make or break moment for 3D. Look out for my review in the next few days.

While his budgets are too big to be taken seriously as a B movie director like fellow Brit Neil Marshal, Paul W. S. Anderson does make movies that are a little left of the true mainstream.

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Trucker

Diane Ford (Michelle Monaghan) lives life on her own terms, working as a long-haul truck driver, she owns her own rig and spends weeks on end on the road and has no real commitments. Her only relationships revolve around one night stands with random strangers and drinking with best friend Runner (Nathan Fillion) who despite being married doesn’t make much of a secret of his feelings for Diane. All this changes when her ex-husband, Len (Benjamin Bratt) is diagnosed with cancer and goes into hospital for an operation. She is forced to care for their eleven year old son Peter (Jimmy Bennett) who she hasn’t seen since he was a baby.

With Michelle Monaghan and Nathan Fillion, the most underrated and underutilised actors in Hollywood this movie was destined to be something special. First time writer/director James Mottern has sculpted a story with a certain honesty and integrity built on the foundation of an interesting and engaging main character. This is further elevated by perfectly casting and fantastic acting from that cast. The idea of “truck drive reunited with estranged son” is not an original one, most notably tackled previously in the Sylvester Stallone vehicle Over the Top (1987) a movie so thin on plot it had to introduce an arm wrestling subplot to fill its 90 minute runtime. For its plot, Trucker has no such problems as it sticks to the strained relationship between mother and son; and strained it is! Devoid of motherly instinct or affection, Diane repeatedly refers to Peter as “dude”, his most used name for her is “bitch”. A certain bond has to be created between this pair as much for the realism of the situation as the needs of the plot and story arc, but how far can it develop? Diane’s greatest desire is for her independence, Peter’s only desire is to be reunited with his farther. What the film lacks in depth and scope it more than makes up for in intensity, focus and the often brutal honesty of character.

If any more proof were needed that Michelle Monaghan should be given a leading role in a major Hollywood movie (and not a crappy rom-com) this is surly it, and if Nathan Fillion finds his way to be her co-star all the better.

Four Stars out of five

Made in 2008 and only receiving a limited UK cinema and DVD release this year.

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