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Archive for November, 2010

Movie Survey

I have just taken part in a Movie Survey, just a few simple questions about movies.  Click Here to take part, it only takes a couple of minutes. Amongst the questions you get the chance to name your favourite film of the year as well as give an option on the biggest/most overrated movie of recent years and some classic directors.

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The final part of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy”, following on directly from The Girl Who Played With Fire. Computer hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) is recovering in hospital after being shot in the head by her farther, who is in a neighbouring room recovering from wounds inflicted by Salander. Her half-brother (who would make a good henchmen for a Bond villain) Ronald Niedermann (Micke Spreitz) is on the run and out for revenge, to top it all off she is awaiting trial for the attempted murder of said farther. Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) sets to work proving her innocence and exposing a conspiracy that goes back to before Salander was born and responsible for her mistreatment from childhood.

The biggest problem with the second movie in the series The Girl Who Played With Fire is the way the two protagonists are isolated from each other for the vast majority of the running time. This final movie has the same problem but gets away with it more than the second film as it has a better story. The most interesting thing about the trilogy is how far the movie has come from the first instalment, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. That first film was a murder mystery this one a full blown conspiracy thriller, the second works best as a setup/bridge to this final part. It will be interesting to watch all three films together to see how they work together. One think that is clear, like Star Wars the first movie is the only one that works as a standalone story.

As with the other movies in the series the story is hugely simplified from the books. Interestingly this movie looses more of its subplots but does give its peripheral characters more to do. Lisbeth Salander is the heart and soul of the story in the books, it isn’t always easy to translate this to a movie, the issue is solved by the perfect casting of Noomi Rapace. Her performance makes the emotionally isolated and insular character both interesting and compelling. With all the rich supporting characters reduced to simplified caricatures it emphasises Salander’s character. Considering this it is no great surprise that the movies best moments come when it follows the story set out in Stieg Larsson’s novel, the best of these come in the courtroom scenes, not jus Salander’s appearance but her attitude and perfectly delivered dialogue.

But how good is it? To put it simply better then the second movie but not as good as the first (just like the books). If you have seen the first two movies you will probably see this too, if you haven’t seen the first two not only will it make little sense to you but it will be of little interest to you.

Four Stars out of Five

 

A note on the upcoming remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I am not completely convinced by it for three reasons: as a concept it is flawed, if they want to make an English language version with British and American actors they should have transposed the story to Britain or America. Secondly and more importantly, the original movie was so good I’m not sure a remake will live up to it. Finally the casting of the Swedish version was perfect how will the new cast particularly Rooney Mara work? The flipside to this is that David Fincher is one of my favourite directors and if anyone can do it, it is him giving the movie a dark tone and bringing action and suspense to the most mundane scenes. I would also like to see if he can make more of the flawed second and third movies. Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig over to you.

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Chico & Rita

Cuba 1948, pianist Chico (Eman Xor Oña) is intrigued and infatuated by beautiful singer Rita (Limara Meneses). Initially dismissive, she soon warms to him, in no small part because of his musical talents. But the course of true love doesn’t run smooth, as the story moves to New York and then Las Vegas there is always something preventing them from being together.

I have never made a secret of the fact that I am not much of a fan of animation. I have always felt that most stories can be better told by real actors in real locations but there is something magical about the images of this movie that look like a moving version of the pages of a graphic novel. The story is overly simple and its portrayal of time is crude and week but all this isn’t really important this is a story about love, romance and music. As fate and other people conspire against the couple you can’t help but want them to find happiness together. The best thing about it, the music, the original score by Bebo Valdés is sensational making the movie essential viewing for any jazz fan.

Not the most original story but a beautifully told and compelling one.

Four Stars out of Five

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Ingrid Pitt 1937 – 2010

As a huge fan of Hammer I couldn’t let the passing of Ingrid Pitt go by without a mention.

Ingrid Pitt was born Ingoushka Petrov in Poland in 1937 to a German father and a Polish Jewish mother, they spent part of the second world war in a Nazi concentration camp. After the war she met and married an American soldier and moved to California. After the breakdown of her marriage she returned to Europe before but was back in America before long perusing a career as an actress in Hollywood. Working as a waitress to support herself she appeared in supporting (often unaccredited) roles before receiving her big break in the Clint Eastwood/Richard Burton movie Where Eagles Dare (1968). Her next movie was The Vampire Lovers (1970) and thus started her most iconic image as the queen of Hammer horror movies. She also appeared in the classic British horror The Wicker Man (1973) and the brilliant BBC adaptation of John le Carré’s Smiley’s People (1982).

Check out The Telegraph for a full obituary.

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I have just been to see The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, review to follow in a few days when I have time to write it. Before the movie I saw the trailer for the new Russell Crowe movie The Next Three Days. It seemed like a good time to remind people of the original French version Pour Elle (Anything for Her) from 2007. Warning the final paragraph contains a spoiler.

Lisa (Diane Kruger) and Julien (Vincent Lindon) are a normal happily married couple with a young son. Julien is a teacher and has a difficult relationship with his farther and Lisa doesn’t get on with her boss, all normal occurrences for a normal couple in the real world. Then one day their life is shattered when Lisa is arrested for a violent murder. Sentenced to twenty years they appeal against the conviction but when it fails after three years and no legal avenue is left open to them Julien takes matters into his own hands. As an ordinary person with no criminal background he does not know where to start. The bulk of the film is made up of him slowly and carefully planning. First he interviews a man who has written a book about escaping from prison. Then he sets about getting fake passports (surprisingly easily) then he plots the breakout and where to go after that. All this whist trying to live a normal family life raising the couples young son Oscar (Lancelot Roch) and continuing in his teaching job.

A confidently directed first feature by Fred Cavayé the film unfolds slowly until the last third where the pace picks up as Julian makes the final preparations for the breakout. With over the top prison breaks such as on the television show Prison Break this film is refreshingly simple and believable mainly because of the setting of ordinary people put into a difficult situation reminiscent of the film Tell No One (coincidently directed by Diane Kruger‘s ex-husband Guilaume Canet). As you would expect Julian makes mistakes along the way, this adds to the believability and the emotional involvement with the characters. The settings and photography are suitably dull grey and downbeat giving a slightly oppressed feeling to the film that is lifted by great acting from the leading couple.

A flashback clearly establishes Lisa’s innocence or guilt, this is a shame as some ambiguity could have added an extra element to the plot but that is a minor criticism. One final thing to point out the film is French and is shown with subtitles; I hope that doesn’t put people of seeing this interesting little film.

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I recently saw the 25th Anniversary re-issue of Back To the Future at the cinema. I intended to review it at the time but have been really snowed under lately so haven’t got around to it. Not wanting to let the moment pass without mention I have gone for a lazy post. A reprint of my top five 80’s time travel movies. For a list that has more effort put into it check out “The List”, I am particularly happy to see the inclusion of three underappreciated recent movies, Timecrimes, Primer and Triangle.

  1. The Terminator (1984): The Terminator skilfully blends genres, as well as the time travel it is a great action thriller, it has elements of a war movie, it is great science fiction and probably the most mainstream cyberpunk movie ever. It is also the most significant movie of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career. The biggest problem with making time travel in a movie is justifying its existence, if time travel were possible why haven’t we heard about it before? In terminator that is easily brushed aside but the paradox of time travel isn’t, it lingers on after the movie has finished.
  2. Back To the Future (1985): Looking back twenty-five years (that makes me feel old) tells us what a great movie Back to the Future was. The clever script by Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale is just brilliant, the paradox of time travel is as well captured as in Terminator and dialogue is funnier than Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure. Everything is held together by a charismatic central performance from Michael J Fox. And one final note on the movie if you are going to make a time machine in the 80’s is there anything more iconic you could have made it out of than a DeLorean?
  3. Trancers (1985): Evil criminal Whistler uses his powerful hypnotic ability to transform the week minded into zombie like drones (trancers) to do his bidding. Avoiding capture he travels back in time from 2247 to 1985 inhabiting the body of one of his ancestors. He is closely followed by hardboiled detective Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson). Its cheep cheery fun that doesn’t have the budget or production values of Back to The Future but that really doesn’t matter. Also look out for a young Helen Hunt as the love interest.
  4. Time Bandits (1981): Director Terry Gilliam first foray into time travel. A young boy travels through a “time hole” in his bedroom and is taken on adventure with a group of dwarves who travel through time looking for treasure to steal. The movie boasts an excellent cast that includes former Pythons a future Hobbit and a former James Bond. The overall result is a bit of a mixed bag but the visual style set the tone for the director’s future work and has been very influential.
  5. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989): Before he learnt surf, before he discovered he was The One and before he found a bomb on a bus Keanu Reeves was Ted Logan, along with his buddy Bill S. Preston, Esq. (former Lost Boy Alex Winter) he travelled the through time and space to avoid failing his history exam and save the future in the process. The whole “Party on, dudes!” thing has been done to death so the movie feels tired now but is still worth a look if you haven’t seen it.

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Due Date

Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr) is all set to fly home from a business trip to his pregnant wife, Sarah (Michelle Monaghan) until an encounter with aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) wrecks his plans. The pair are ejected from the plane and placed on the No Fly List, thus begins a race against time to get home before Sarah’s scheduled Caesarean section. What follows is a series of ridiculously contrived events that complicate their journey.

Comparisons between this and the John Hughes classic Planes, Trains And Automobiles are inevitable but lets get one thing straight to begin with, Due Date isn’t in the same league. We are left with the other comparison; the movie shares a star and director (Zach Galifianakis and Todd Phillips respectively ) with The Hangover. Sadly it doesn’t really match up to The Hangover either as it just doesn’t have as many genuinely funny moments.

The biggest problem is neither of the characters are particularly likeable, furthermore, the re-teaming of Downey Jr. and Monaghan (who were brilliant together in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) never really happens as Monaghan is reduced to a forgettable supporting role. The best road movies tend to have an existential theme running through them or at a subtext that can give more meaning or gravity. Without that the movie has to rely on its comedy to get it through but it just isn’t funny. Even the idea of Peter’s journey towards redemption is kind of lost. Along the way there are some interesting cameos. These include RZA as a belligerent Airport security officer and Juliette Lewis as a dope dealer. The most bizarre of them is Jamie Foxx as an old friend of Peter’s, initially his appearance appears to be a misstep or at least strange interlude but it does serve to bring out the nasty side of Peter’s character.

If movies were people this would be The Hangovers less funny, less charismatic cousin doing a half-hearted impersonation of Planes, Trains And Automobiles.

Two Stars out of Five

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Review Catch-up

I have been falling a little behind with my reviews lately so here is a catch-up:

RED

Based on the three-issue comic book series created by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, Frank Moses’ (Bruce Willis) is struggling to handle retirement, this in itself is nothing unusual, but frank was a CIA black-ops agent. He spends his days ripping up his pension cheques to give him an excuse to talk to Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), who works in the call centre working for his pension office. When a hit squad attempt to kill Frank he soon realises Sarah may be in danger so kidnaps he to protect he (as you do!). Along the way he picks up Joe (Morgan Freeman) from a New Orleans retirement home, paranoid Marvin (John Malkovich) from his hideout in the Florida Everglades and Victoria (Helen Mirren), an assassin turned B&B owner. They also enlist the help of an unlikely ally, former Russian adversary Ivan (Brian Cox).

The plot is a little on the thin side and with no real twists or surprises but the characters are more rounded and likeable than you would expect in the genre. The true test of a movie like this is how it lives up to its contemporary competitors, and in a class that includes The Expendables, The A Team, The Losers and Knight and Day, Red is probably the best.

Three Stars out of Five 

   

* * * * *

The Kids Are All Right

Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening), are a lesbian couple who live in California with their two children Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). It transpires that both woman conceived a child via the same anonymous sperm donor, when Joni reaches eighteen, her brother Laser talks her into contact the sperm bank in order to make contact with heir biological father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo). Despite being keen to meet his farther it is it is actually Joni who forms a bond with him. As he gets to know the family the cracks begin to appear, but they are the cracks of a couple who have been together for a long time. From a prospective of sexual orientation the problems the family have to deal with are no different to those of any other family and leads to a great scene where the mom’s are concerned that Laser may be gay.

The thing that really stands out about the movie is how great the acting is, in the presence of Julianne Moore and Annette Bening it would be easy for the younger actors to get lost but Josh Hutcherson does a decent job and Mia Wasikowska is excellent. A film that can’t decide if it wants to be a comedy or a drama it is brilliant as both.

Four Stars out of Five

* * * * *

Let Me In

Los Alamos, New Mexico in the early 1980‘s, Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a 12 year-old boy, bullied at school and living with his mother after his parents marriage brake up. He forms a friendship with the new girl next door Abby (Chloe Moretz) who is also twelve but has been twelve for “a long time” and has a taste for human blood.

Whilst lacking the gravitas of Let the Right One In, this movie looks as good as the original and conveys the same story to a wider audience. Taken on its own merits it is intelligent and supremely well made, I just can’t help feeling there is something missing, a feeling I didn’t get from the original. Hopefully it will point a few more people towards the brilliant original.

Four Stars out of Five

* * * * *

Another Year

Set over the course a year and split into four segments representing the four seasons. Tom (Jim Broadbent), a geologist, and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a therapist, are a happy couple in their sixties. Unfortunately their friends and family are less stable and well adjusted and rely on the couple’s support and friendship. The most significant of these is Gerri’s work colleague, Mary (Lesley Manville).

Basically the title tells you everything you need to know about the movie, it is just about another year in the life of an ordinary family, to put it simply nothing much happens! This isn’t a bad thing, the movie is a very realistic and hugely enjoyable. I was amazed on leaving the cinema to discover that it was over two hours long, the time flew by.

Four Stars out of Five

* * * * *

We Are What We Are

When the father and head of a Mexican family dies another member must take charge and provide for the family. Unfortunately they are cannibals and providing for the family means finding people to eat.

Telling the story from the point of view of the family it is dark, disturbing and grim but also funny at times. There are also subplots involving the family that help ground the movie but in doing so it becomes even more disturbing. The subject matter and the slow moving narrative make the movie far from easy to watch or to truly enjoy but one you can’t take your eyes off. I get the impression the movie is supposed to be a satire on poverty and society, but it all gets a little lost in translation. I think it’s a movie that different people will take different things from. I really liked it.

Three Stars out of Five

 

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Modesty Blaise started life as a British comic strip in the London Evening Standard in 1963, written by Peter O’Donnell with art by Jim Holdaway. Featuring the character Modesty Blaise, a young woman with extraordinary talents and a shady criminal past, think of a female cross between James Bond and Simon Templar. As well as the comic strip her story has been adapted into a series of thirteen novels/short story collections and various comic books/graphic novels. With all this in mind it would be amazing if it hadn’t been made into a movie, what is truly amazing is that it has actually been filmed three times, they just aren’t that memorable.

Modesty Blaise (1966) was a comedy thriller (light on the thriller part and not very funny) directed by Joseph Losey and staring Monica Vitti as Modesty. Terence Stamp played her sidekick Willie Garvin, and Dirk Bogarde as the arch villain Gabriel. Hamstrung by script rewrites and a lack of cohesive vision the movie looks more like an Austin Powers movie than a James Bond one (and not as funny as either). Imagine looking back at Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels if Casino Royale (1966) was the only James Bond film to be made! Unsurprisingly the film was financially unsuccessful and a suggested film series never happened.

Modesty Blaise (1982): the next incarnation of the story was a one-hour pilot for a TV show that never got picked up. Set in America the characters and the actors who played them were American not British with TV regular Ann Turkel playing Modesty Blaise and Lewis Van Bergen as Willie Garvin. Slightly more serious and less camp than the 60’s version, I saw it many years ago and remember enjoying it but looking back now at clips online it looks typically cheep and cheesy like other 80’s TV.

My Name Is Modesty: A Modesty Blaise Adventure (2004) Miramax owned the rights to Modesty Blaise but they were about to expire. In order to retain them they decided to throw together a direct to video movie. Shot in just two and half weeks on a modest budget the movie acts as a sort of prequel to other Modesty stories; set before she ran the criminal organisation “The Network” and before her time with British Intelligence and before she met Willie Garvin. Typical B movie action, the movie is worth a look when it comes on TV but I wouldn’t bother buying/renting the DVD. With British actress Alexandra Staden taking the title role the cast is virtually unknown, the DVD box does feature a famous name, above the movie title it reads “Quentin Tarantino presents”. From what I understand Tarantino did no more than lend his name to the movie, he has however suggested on many occasions that he would like to direct a Modest Blaise movie. For those who haven’t spotted it, the book Vincent Vega is seen reading a copy of Modesty Blaise (the novel based on the first movie).

Has Quentin Tarantino got Modesty Blaise out of his system by making Kill Bill (2003-04) or is it still there in the background? When you consider he has been talking about Inglourious Basterds (2009) since around the time of Pulp Fiction (1994) I would suggest Tarantino isn’t one to let things go. The big question, who do you cast in a movie like this? As Uma Thurman proved in The Avengers (1998) and Charlize Theron in Æon Flux (2005) looking good (and they did look really good) isn’t enough, the movies were terrible.

 

Interestingly both these actresses have been suggested as a potential Modesty along with Kate Beckinsale and Jennifer Connely. Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Lopez also expressed an interest around the time of the Miramax movie that never materialised after My Name is Modesty. If I can throw a few more names into the hat; Modesty should be in her late twenties or early thirties, tall, slender, drop dead gorgeous, very tenacious and slightly aloof; two actresses that fit the bill and have been brilliant in everything they have done recently: Anna Hathaway and Eva Green.

And if QT doesn’t make the movie someone else will sooner or later, who else can direct an intelligent action movie but retain a deeply cutting sense of humour? The one man who springs to mind: Joss Whedon! I would like to see the movie made as a period piece set in the mid sixties but accept the fact it will probably be undated to the modern day. The setting should include England (particularly swinging London of the mid to late 60’s) as well as more exotic locations around the world. Whatever happens Modesty Blaise is a character who deserves a big screen outing to rival Bond and Bourne.

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Skyline

Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and his girlfriend Elaine (Scotty Thompson) travel to LA for the birthday of Jarrod’s best friend Terry (Donald Faison) who lives in a luxurious penthouse apartment. Early the following morning Beams of light appear in the sky, thus begins the alien invasion that the trio must try to survive along with a few friends and neighbours.

We have reached a tipping point in movie making, and I don’t like where its going. As a fan of B movies I love the way that that low budget filmmakers use their imagination to create something special on a tiny budget. The way Skyline differs from other low budget movies and the thing that worries me is the use of special effects. With over 800 visual effects shots (more than most big budget movies) and a quality of digital effects that wasn’t available to any director at any budget a few years ago. This comes from the use of the latest version of the Red camera and the fact the directors Greg Strause and Colin Strause (known collectively, and somewhat pretentiously as “the Brothers Strause“) who have spent the last decade and a half working on the visual effects of some of the biggest movies around. I have no problem with the effects Per se, the problem is that they have made the filmmakers lazy, there is nothing original about Skyline, it is like watching every alien invasion movie you have seen before, and to be honest there are times when I would rarther have been watching an Edward D. Wood Jr movie. Aspects of the production are true to the low budget ideals with the main filming location being the apartment building where Greg Strause lives in Marina Del Rey. The budget for this was around half a million dollars, the post production (mainly the visuel effects) cost anywhere from $10 to 20million depending on who you believe. The cast is relatively unknown with Eric Balfour and David Zayas the most recognisable from their TV work. This isn’t a problem, but the lack of acting ability on display is a real problem. At least it is better than the directors previous movie AVPR: Aliens vs Predator – Requiem, it could hardly be worse!

To its credit the movie does end on a suitable cliff-hanger as the movie takes a final act change of direction, I understand there is a sequel on the way in two years time, hopefully it will be more original. The best thing about the movie wasn’t actually the anything to do with the movie, it was the trailer for Monster shown before the movie. Due for UK release next month I hope Monster will be the movie to restore my faith low budget movies.

Two Stars out of Five

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