Archive for January, 2012

After a year without giving out a “Movie Star of the Month” award I thought it was time to resurrect old award. I’m not sure if at this time if it will again become a regular feature or if it is a one-off for this month. So what made me bring it back? It wasn’t one of the fantastic performances I have seen this month: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, great performances from great actors are to be expected but great performances from none actors is always a pleasant surprise.

Steven Soderbergh’s revenge action thriller Haywire has created a new action star: Gina Carano. Best known from her career as a mixed martial arts fighter and a season on American Gladiators Carano is probably the first credible female action movie star for a long time. She isn’t a great actress in the way Meryl Streep is, and to be honest never will be but that isn’t what being an action star is all about. Haywire (and Carano) seem to polarize opinion, I think you can tell where I stand on it. For those who haven’t already take a look and make your own mind up instead of relying on opinions of others. Not the most conventional of movie stars, but one I hope to see more off, Movie Star of the month Gina Carano:


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I have one more film (The Descendants) to see before I make my Oscar predictions. Until then, never one to agree with the academy, her are my top five omissions from this years nominations.

Best Motion Picture of the Year – Drive

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role – Tilda Swinton for We Need to Talk About Kevin

Best Achievement in Directing – Lynne Ramsay for We Need to Talk About Kevin

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published – Lynne Ramsay & Rory Kinnear for We Need to Talk About Kevin

Best Documentary, Features – Senna

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The Resident Evil movies have always been a bit of a guilty pleasure, they are far from great but they are always entertaining. September this year will see the fifth movie in the franchise, ten years after the original. After a poor first sequel Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004) (easily the weakest movie in the series) I probably wouldn’t have bothered with the third film Resident Evil: Extinction (2007) but then this happened:

The brilliantly constructed teaser trailer really caught my attention. As the impossibly cheesy advert for Las Vegas begins you think its an advert and not a movie trailer, then as the glitch appears in the screen and the camera pulls back we see sin city in ruins with an nice little nod to Planet of the Apes (1968). The movie itself was a great improvement on Apocalypse but didn’t completely live up to the great trailer. The trailers for Resident Evil: Afterlife were more conventional but still good, the film itself turned out surprisingly good and the best of the sequels. But now they have done it again with this teaser for Resident Evil: Retribution:

Looking like a advert for Sony or some other gadget manufacturer with a voiceover from Professor X/Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Baba O’Riley by The Who playing in the background. We actually get less than a minute of movie footage but there is lots going on, are they Dragons? The one notable thing we see is Michelle Rodriguez whose character Rain Ocampo was killed in the first movie.

Like the other guilty pleaser franchise, Underworld, I am actually looking forward to this.

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After a successful assignment in Barcelona freelance security contractor Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is ready for a holiday but her employer, Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) has other ideas. A simple job that should have been a “paid holiday” in Dublin goes wrong when she is double crossed. She goes looking for answers and revenge.

In 2009 Steven Soderbergh cast porn star Sasha Grey as a high-end Manhattan call girl in The Girlfriend Experience, it is no surprise then that when he set out to make an action movie he would hire a Mixed Martial Arts fighter, Gina Carano. Legend has it that Soderbergh came across Carano while channel surfing cable TV. Prior to this chance encounter the star and director had never heard of each other. I’m not sure if he saw her fighting or on the American version of the TV Gladiators where she had a stint.

The big question here that will result in the success or failure of the movie should be can Gina Carano act, but strangely it isn’t. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator and The Running Man (both 1987) Carano’s presence and charisma is enough to carry the movie despite the fact she isn’t a great actress. Had the movie not been as well directed, surrounding Carano with talented actors (Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton and Ewan McGregor) could have emphasise her acting deficiencies, it actually works the other way. The end result is a slick and enjoyable movie where the most distracting and detracting thing turns out to be Ewan McGregor’s terrible accent.

The way the film is shot is interesting. Using long takes, still cameras and short lenses giving lots of depth of field, takes the movie back to a pre Bourne time for action movies. It actually works well showing off Gina Carano’s fighting talents and letting us see what is going on unlike in other modern action movies. This simplicity and transparency extends to the plot that despite a nonlinear structure is simple and easy to follow, coupled with a brisk 93 minute runtime makes the movie easy to watch and enjoy. It all boils down to a simple revenge/payback thriller, but is actually the best I have seen since Kill Bill (2003/04). I don’t see Gina Carano having a great career as an actress but she is the first new credible female action star to come along in a long time and like Vinnie Jones and Dwayne Johnson she has enough going for her to suggest she could carve a niche in action movies. The only reel criticism I can throw at the film is that it does sometimes feel cold and clinical, something I have thought about some of the directors previous work. I also wonder how well it will be received by female audiences, outside the main character, women are largely overlooked within the cast. 

Whether the movie was a chance for Steven Soderbergh to tick off another genre on his cinematic CV or a genuine attempt to do something different, I don’t know but do feel it is a successful movie either way.  Like its star, it is a movie that will divide opinions, despite a few flaws my opinion is very positive. 

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As soon as the Golden Globe nominations were IMDB declared it “The Road To The Oscars”. I am never very excited by the golden globes for this exact reason, they truly are the starting point and an indicator for the Oscars but really have little or no right to be. For those who don’t know the globes are nominated, voted and presented by the 93 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. But who are the Hollywood Foreign Press Association? In the words of Ryan McNeil from The Matinee they are “one hundred or so anonymous star-fucker fans”. In the 1960’s it was revealed that the selection of winners was less than fair, suggesting that if the winner wasn’t in attendance at the ceremony, a new winner would be selected.

There have also been more other accusations made against the group, earlier this year in an article in the telegraph Anita Singh picked up on a joke make by Ricky Gervais during this years ceremony “I’d like to quash this ridiculous rumour going around that the only reason The Tourist was nominated was so the Hollywood Foreign Press could hang out with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. That is rubbish. That is not the only reason. They also accepted bribes,” she went on to say “The HFPA is currently being sued for $2m by a publicist who claims its members accept lavish gifts in exchange for supporting particular films. The HFPA denies the allegations.” Having said all that I don’t think they have done a bad job this time around. Here are a few awards I think they got right this year:

  • Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy: The Artist (2011)
  • Best Actor – Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy: Jean Dujardin for The Artist (2011)
  • Best Actress – Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy: Michelle Williams for My Week with Marilyn (2011)
  • Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture: Christopher Plummer for Beginners (2010)
  • Best Director – Motion Picture- Martin Scorsese for Hugo (2011)
  • Best Screenplay – Motion Picture: Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris (2011)
  • Best Original Score – Motion Picture –Ludovic Bource for The Artist (2011):
  • Best Actor – Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television: Idris Elba for Luther (2010)
  • Best Supporting Actor – Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television: Peter Dinklage for Game of Thrones (2011)

There are three possible reasons for the categories I haven’t mentioned: I haven’t seen the winning film – I don’t agree with the winner – I don’t care who won in that category.

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I don’t mind bad movies, I actually sometimes like them, there is something charming and fun about crap movies. Take a look at the works of Edward D. Wood Jr. Enzo G. Castellari or more recently Uwe Boll, none of them are particularly good but equally none of them are completely without artistic merit or entertainment value. These movies should not be confused with a far worse crime against cinema, disappointing movies. The Darkest Hour is certainly a disappointing movie. It has so much going for it but fails to deliver. There is an attractive and talented leading couple (Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby) and a director (Chris Gorak) who impressed with his debut feature (Right at Your Door), to add to all this Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch) is attached as a producer.

So what’s the problem? Before exploring the problems it is problem worth explaining what is going on for those who haven’t seen the movie, I think that my well be most of you! Two young wannabe dotcom entrepreneurs (Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella) fly to Moscow in the search of investors for their new social media website. Finding themselves shafted by a colleague (Joel Kinnaman) they head for a trendy bar to get drunk. They quickly hook up with two American (although one is clearly Australian) girls (Olivia Thirlby and Rachael Taylor) until things go wrong. A power failure in the bar signals the start of an alien invasion involving an invisible advisory that devours electricity. Not knowing how far the invasion has spread the group look for a way out.

Where to begin! Although clichéd, the characters aren’t bad thanks to the charisma of Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby and Max Minghella. Rachael Taylor lacks dimension but that is more down to the script than her performance. And that’s the big problem the story and the script. Given the huge global scale of the events, not a lot happens. The same can be said for the characters attempts escape from the aliens, they never seem to be in that much danger except from the stupid positions they put themselves in. While they are able to work out the aliens intentions and weaknesses with ease they still do senseless things and inevitably get themselves killed. The people who run upstairs when they should be running out the front door in a slasher movie display genius in comparison to some of their actions.

There is a convention in creature movies to not show the monster. As they are virtually invisible most of the time this is an easy trick for the film to accomplish. When we do see more of them towards the end of the movie they are like the movie itself, disappointing. And that’s the crux of it. Every good thing the movie does eventually falls flat and fails. To top all this off it claims to be in 3D. I don’t like 3D at the best of times but after seeing Hugo I am prepared to admit it can work however here, other than the opening and closing shots I couldn’t see any 3D.

The result is a movie that could easily have attained four out of five stars if all the parts had gelled but in reality it is so dull at times that I feel generous giving it two stars. The finall scenes suggest this is the setup for a sequel or franchise, good luck with that!

Two Stars out of Five ★★★★★

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I tend not to write about politics, lets be honest regardless of you political affiliation movies are more interesting than politics. But something this week has made me want veer towards politics, it wasn’t the Meryl Streep vehicle/Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady, it was our Prime Minister David Cameron.

Our role, and that of the BFI (British Film Institute), should be to support the sector in becoming even more dynamic and entrepreneurial, helping UK producers to make commercially successful pictures that rival the quality and impact of the best international productions” David Cameron.

To put things simply David Cameron has suggested British filmmakers should “aim higher”, unfortunately he isn’t suggesting they make better movies, he suggests they more commercial movies. The idea is that rather than unproven filmmakers receiving lottery funding, business should invest in movie with “mainstream potential”. I don’t think he gets it. How do you predict the success of a movie? The King’s Speech had a budget of around £8 million and would have be considered a financial success had it earned £25million, in fact it made £250 million. Slumdog Millionaire had a similar budget and box office return but at one time looked like it would skip cinemas and go direct to DVD. The problem, when the movies were conceived who could have predicted the box office or the awards? One is about a man fighting to overcome a speech impediment the other, a partly subtitled movie about child exploitation. The reason for their success was that they are great films not because they are commercially minded. But been great isn’t a recipe for success, just take a look at Citizen Kane or Blade Runner.

It works the other way. The Invasion is just one example of an unexpected flop. It had a talented director, Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall and The Experiment), it has a tried and trusted story (Jack Finney’s often filmed novel “The Body Snatchers”) and an A list cast including Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig (fresh from Casino Royale and it half billion dollar box office), despite all this it took around $15million having cost around $80 million to make. And this isn’t a small British movie, this is a Hollywood studio production. An industry that knows a lot more about making (and losing) money than our little cottage industry!

What part do the governments have to play in the British film industry? As I see it, directors like Gareth Edwards who made Monsters (ranked 3 out of the 111 new movies I saw in 2010) have proved that truly independent movies can be made. The governments role should be to distribute them so they are seen in UK cinemas and are sold around the world turning them into commercially viable products.

My point is that British filmmakers could sacrifice artistic integrity to make more commercially minded movies only for them to lose tens of millions. This the impact of this could be catastrophic resulting in little or no British film industry. I am not saying that if they find the funding British film makers shouldn’t make mega budget movies to rival Spielberg, Cameron or Bay but they shouldn’t do it at the expense of what they are doing now. I have no idea how much money Mike Leigh and Ken Loach movies make or lose, and have no intention of finding out, all I know is the world is a better place for their art. And on that subject I would like to refer the Prime Minister back to one of his predecessors:

The story as I understand it dates back to the Second World War; as the cost of war was escalating and the government struggled to balance the nations books a minister suggested cutting funding for the arts to prop up the war effort. Winston Churchill response was to ask the question “Then what are we fighting for?

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I have recently watched Adventureland and (500) Days of Summer for the first time since seeing them at the cinema in 2009. On first viewing I enjoyed both movies slightly favouring Adventureland, but how have they aged? Firstly for those who don’t know them here is a brief synopsis of each:

Adventureland: Following a change in their fanatical circumstances James Brennan’s (Jesse Eisenberg) parents are unable to help pay his rent whilst away at college and fund his long planned European vacation. Instead he is forced to take a summer job, to this end he finds himself working at a rundown theme park. The games are rubbish and the rides ancient but the place does have its charms most notably Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart).

(500) Days of Summer: Set over 500 days but dispensing with a linear narrative instead choosing to jump backwards and forwards to different parts of the relationship between Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel). Through this we gradually build up a picture of who these people are as well as what happened to them.

The big problem with Adventureland on its initial release is that it was very poorly marketed. Directed by Greg Mottola of Superbad fame the trailer and marketing suggest it will be a similar type of film. What we actually get is a far more thoughtful and tender film, the characters have the emotional vulnerability and depth of real people that is lacking in post American Pie movies that would probably be more appropriately labelled teenploitation than teen comedy. An extremely well written movie, it could have been set in any time or place but actually wears its 1980’s setting a well avoiding the usual pitfalls of “period” films with their ironic dialogue and nostalgic nods to the age.

The tone of (500) Days of Summer is perfectly set by the Author’s Note that appears at the start of the film: The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely Coincidental …….. Especially you Jenny Beckman……… Bitch. We are reminded that it isn’t a love story, a claim that is not entirely true, but it certainly isn’t a “rom-com” in the traditional sense. This is a good thing, a very good thing as is the skill with witch the none linear narrative is handled. The film also benefits from great dialogue.

Adventureland’s casting is perfect, Jesse Eisenberg’s James is the perfect blend of geek, hopeless romantic with just the tiniest glimmer of cool, think Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous or any one of a number of parts played by Michael Cera. The real star of the film is Kristen Stewart in her first post Twilight movie. The role of an emotionally damaged teenager isn’t a hugely demanding one but she is perfectly cast and shows ability far beyond what her detractors would have you believe she is capable of. Ryan Reynolds, provides good support and there is fantastic comic relief from Bill Hader and the always brilliant Kristen Wiig.

(500) Days of Summer is equally well cast, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who at the time was best known to me as the kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun) is excellent displaying great range and providing comic moments in his successes and his failures. Zooey Deschanel is only partly successful, she only seems able to play slight variations on the same slightly kooky character but that does work in this film but does nothing to enhance my opinion of her as a actress.

The second viewing has done nothing to change my opinion, I like both of these films but if anything my preference for Adventureland has increased slightly. If you haven’t seen these two movies they are well worth a look. If you have seen them and like them, here are five recommendations: Dazed and Confused (1993), Almost Famous (2000), Cashback (2006), Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010).

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I have just seen Detour for the first time having originally seen it nearly twenty years ago and though I would share a few thoughts. WARNING There aren’t many spoilers in the brief synopsis in the first paragraph but beyond that large parts of the plot are discussed.

Nightclub pianist Al Roberts (Tom Neal) is sat in a roadside diner in Nevada feeling sorry for himself. Told in flashback with the aid of a voiceover we learn his back-story. Hitchhiking from New York to Hollywood to see his girl Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake). He finally gets lucky when Charles Haskell Jr (Edmund MacDonald) picks him up and agrees to take him all the way to LA. Then things start to go wrong and Roberts enters a downward spiral fueled by stupid decisions.

Now regarded as a classic the 67 minute noir started life out as a B movie. Made on a tiny budget (between $10,000 and $150,000 depending on who you believe) the Lincoln Continental driven by Edmund MacDonald actually belonged the movies director Edgar G. Ulmer. The film was shot in under a month using very little in the way of locations. The most notable location were the desert shots in Lancaster, California, most of these were used as for the rear projection. As is often the case, with limitations come great artistic merit. The fog filled early scenes, the claustrophobic interiors and disjointed rear projection all done for price reasons actually add to the sense that we are participating In Roberts nightmare.

The opening shots give us a clue as to what we are about to see. A camera on the front of a car following the white line of the highway has been done many times before and since, but here we are watching a rear mounted camera looking back, a warning of the melancholic flashbacks of regret that we are going to see. But what is going on when the film gets going? Can we trust what we see and what our narrator is telling us? Everything is from the point of view of the central character, Al Roberts; he keeps telling us the police won’t believe him, and suggesting that we as viewers won’t either. Are we seeing things as they happened or (as many people have speculated) Roberts telling the story from his point of view with his own positive spin after her has murdered Haskell and Vera. What is the real nature of the relationship between Roberts and Sue? Where they ever a couple or did they just work together. Did she know he was on the way to see her? Are we seeing the delusions of a mad man? There are lots of clues to this such as the unusually staged telephone conversation between them, we see both parties but only hear Roberts’ side of the call. What does the title of movies major musical number “I Can’t Believe You Fell in Love With Me” tell us? Although I find these ideas interesting I tend to take the film as it appears n the surface. It is a morality tale of a man tortured by the stupid decisions he makes. But even this has a big question: how did Haskell die? Was already dead before he fell from the car and hit his head? What were the pills he was taking? Did he have a n illness such as a heart condition or were they some kind of narcotic that he overdosed on?

The real pleasure of the film comes from Ann Savage’s performance as Vera and the dialogue she shares with Tom Neal. Her prickly demeanour and venomous tongue is a perfect foil for the way Neal plays Roberts as self-pitying, self loathing looser who despite considerable talent is grateful for the crumby job he has. In a masochistic way he wants or needs to be imprisoned and punished by Vera. We learn little about Vera or her back-story, but the line “ Shut-up, yer makin’ noises like a husband” could shed some light on the damage done t her in the past. Vera’s entrance into the movie is a master class in simple tension. She gets into the car of a perfect stranger, as viewers we all know or at least suspect that she is the same hitcher Haskell described picking up earlier, what does she say? Nothing! She simply falls asleep forcing Roberts to think himself into another problem before she drops the bombshell: “What did you do with the body?” Its moments like this that stick in your mind and haunt your memories long after the rest of the plot has faded from your memory, Robert Siodmak’s The Killers (1946) and Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955) have similar moments.

As intriguing as what is going on during the film is what happens after the film ends? The end is deliciously ambiguous, as Roberts tells us of his fears of being picked up by the police, we see exactly that. But is that what is happening? Is he imagining it or is it happening? Are they just picking him up as he appears to be a vagrant wandering on the highway. Whatever the artistic reason for the scene, the reason it is there is probably to prevent the movie falling foul of The Hollywood Production Code. Looking at the situation logically, the police believe that Haskell made it to LA where he killed Vera, nobody knows who Roberts is! So if Roberts could make it back to Haskels body to recover his own identity his chances of being linked to either killing would be slim. The symmetry of this situation would fall nicely with Roberts masochistic tendencies as he would have to stay away from LA and with it Sue for fear that someone may recognise him as Haskell. This would send him back to where he started in New York. Does he escape to live unhappily ever-after or does he “wind up sniffin’ that perfume Arizona hands out free to murderers”?

If you haven’t seen the movie or like me it has been a long time, pick up a copy of the DVD or take a look online (according to Wikipedia “The film has fallen into the public domain and is freely available from online sources”) and see what you think.

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The BAFTA long-list has been announced today. The list is made up of between five and fifteen nominations in each category, it will be whittled down to five to create the actual nominations announced on the 17th of this month. As the British equivalent to the Oscars often has a strong home-grown leaning it is no surprise that My Week With Marilyn and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy lead the way with sixteen inclusions each.

The thing I find surprising is some of films that have been included: The Artist, The Descendants, The Iron Lady, War Horse, J. Edgar, Shame, Young Adult and Carnage. The problem isn’t that they are bad or undeserving films, it is that it haven’t seen them. Or to be more precise, that I haven’t been given the opportunity to see them yet. Two of the films I refer to went on general release today, the rest are yet to be released. This is a bizarre state of affairs for an award ceremony that is supposed to represent the best films seen in UK cinemas during 2011. A quick look at the BAFTA website explains the loophole in eligibility:

“Films must be released theatrically in the UK, within the Academy awards year: 1 January to 31 December 2011. Films that open between 1 January and 10 February 2012 inclusive may be ‘qualified’ by Distributors by being screened to Academy Film Voting Members by Tuesday 20 December 2011”.

I can only speculate the reason for BAFTA’s desire to include otherwise ineligible movies. If asked they would probably tell you that they want to be inline with the original release date of the movies and other award ceremonies. My opinion, they relish their new importance as the forerunner to the Oscars. While I don’t have a particular problem with either possibility I cant help thinking that if distributors want their movies to be eligible for awards they should show them during the “awards year” so ordinary cinemagoers like me can see them.

I also have another fear for the strange practice; providing they don’t screen utter crap, the voters could be unduly influenced by a film being put forward in this way. This already happens to a small degree by the time of year that a film is released. In last years best picture category (nominations: The Kings Speech, Black Swan and True Grit, Inception and The Social Network) three of the five nominated films were released after 31st December 2010 and none of the movies were released in the first half of the year. It isn’t just about the BAFTA’s, along with other early award ceremonies like The Golden Globe (awarded by the Starfuckers of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association) the awards help influence the nominations and ultimately the winners of the Oscars.

Aside from the complaining, I would like to express my delight at a some of the included films: Drive (isn’t a typical award film), Senna (I didn’t know documentaries were eligible in the best picture category). And in the acting categories: Antonio Banderas – The Skin I Live In (none English performances are often overlooked), Brendan Gleeson – The Guard (line foreign language, comedy are often overlooked), Christopher Plummer – Beginners (released back in July – the academy have short memories).

As mentioned the nominations will be announced on 17th January and the awards will take place on Sunday 12th February.

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