Total Pageviews

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Directors Roundtable: 2010

Some of the most interesting directors of the year including Peter Weir, Darren Aronofsky and David O.Russell get together to talk about their films and some of their styles and techniques. The video is over an hour long, but very interesting and very much recommended.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Year In Review: 2010

So what can be said for Cinema in 2010. Was it a defining year, or did it deliver disappointment after disappointment? The truth is, is that 2010 was like every other year. A few stand outs, a few turds, and plenty of average films in between. Drawn from the entirety of films you see above, I attempted to fit in as much variety and different types of films from all over, and not just Hollywood. Now my top 10 will offer no surprises for most people. You will see most of these films making every end of year list compiled and needless to say, if you have not seen any of those films, they should be checked out immediately. Not all of those films were reviewed here unfortunately. Some missed the beginning of the blog, some I saw too late in the year, long after they had left the multiplexes and some just weren’t that interesting for me to write about. Would a goal to review every single new release I see be completely out of the question for 2011? Time and my own procrastination will only tell. It should also be noted, that some films released in Europe and this year such as ‘Fish Tank’ and ‘Up In the Air’ were originally seen last year by me and therefore I decided not to include them. Other awards season contenders out very early in 2011 have also not been released yet and will not be included here. As for now, here is my own, personal Top 10 Films from 2010 and for various different reasons, some of the more memorable scenes from the year

1. Inception

Completely unsurprisingly ruling the year; it offered stunning images, a head spinning plot and will be remembered as a true classic many years from now.

2. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Edgar Wrights first foray into mainstream cinema, may not have set the box office alight, but it provided some of the most awe inspiring visual treats, a kick ass soundtrack and one of the most original visions on screen that no one other than Wright could ever have got away with.

3. Buried

A completely surprising and daring thriller; it’s first moments of ‘how are they going to sustain this?’ quickly gives way to ‘where did the last hour and a half go?’ Ryan Reynolds gives an incredible one man performance and the film is as thrilling and action packed as any multi-million blockbuster and twice as clever and exciting.

4. Exit Through The Gift Shop

Banksys hilarious debut feature documentary (or is that prankumentray?) offers great insight into modern art and features the years most endearing hero/villain.

5. Toy Story 3

Only Pixar could have made a truly fitting end to their classic trilogy and what could have been a shameless cash-in, is swiftly revealed as a touching and emotional finish for Woody, Buzz and the childhood in all of us.

6. The Social Network

The pairing of Fincher and Sorkin was a match made in heaven as Finchers technical visual expertise melds perfectly with Sorkins fluid, rapid fire dialogue. A film that in many years to come will be remembered as a defining snapshot to our times.

7. Shutter Island

It wasn’t the (admittedly quite basic) twist that made the film, but rather Scorsese’s stunning control of it mixed with DiCaprio’s heart wrenching performance. Looked on as more than a gimmick, and it is obvious the film delivered far deeper themes than what was initially expected.

8. Rec 2

The definition of how to deliver a sequel to a modern horror classic. Initially beginning as ‘more of the same’ it soon widens its scope to deepen the story and add more layers to it’s one note premise, along with some of the most heart stoppingly tense scenes this year.

9. How To Train Your Dragon

For the first time, Dreamworks step up as a very formidable opponent to Pixars all domineering animated kingdom. ‘Dragon’ mixed genuine heartfelt emotion with stunning 3D and fantastic action scenes.

10. Kick Ass

Matthew Vaughn offered the most out and out fun you could have in a cinema this year. Here the comic book heroes are either completely incompetent or slightly psychotic and the audience loves them all the more for it. In Hit-Girl, an icon is born.

Film Trends of the Year:

2010 saw the regular spate of remakes and comic book movies that are to be expected with any other year. However, this year had a few other trends running throughout. One of these was the ‘Ensemble Action Film’. From ‘The Expendables’, to ‘The Losers’, to ‘The A Team’, to ‘RED’, cinema loved getting a mismatched (and more often than not, elderly) group of thought to be down and outs to come and save the day. All of these films despite a distinctive retro tone running though them all, hardly set any action fans world on fire. They were fun, but instantly forgettable. However, if anything, it was nice to see such interesting casts assembled that relied more on chemistry and talent rather than star wattage to sell their film.

Much more successful was the ‘Single Location Film’. This was the relatively simple prospect of one location, one obstacle for our hero(es) to overcome. Most of these managed to overcome their boundaries and deliver on most fronts in their chosen genre, be it drama, horror, thriller or war. Included was ‘Buried’, ‘Devil’, ’Lebanon’, ‘Exam’ and the yet to be released ‘127 Hours’. The fact that these actually delivered what they set out to do with such minimalist ideals was quite refreshing and while the single location film is hardly new in the history of cinema, these all brought it back in barnstorming fashion. It proves that all you really need for a film is originality, good acting and talent on the directors part to overcome a potential hour and a half of visual dreariness. ‘Buried’ had one of the most heart stopping action scenes this year and that was set in a coffin in which our hero can barely move and visibility is always very low. ‘Lebanon’, set entirely in a very claustrophobic tank, offered some refreshing views on the familiar ‘war is hell’ routine and in that crying horse, had one of the more sobering images of the year. ‘Exam’ featured a fantastic cast of British actors and didn’t ponder to audiences; rather took them along for the ride, tantalisingly explaining tidbits of information both in and outside of that room and letting our imagination do the rest. And lastly ‘Devil’ showed that not everything M Night Shyamalan touches need turn to death. While nothing special, it was still a nicely diverting hour and ten minutes spent in an elevator.

The ‘Prankumentary’ also featured throughout the year. It seemed that more than ever, film makers loved toying with their audiences. A Prankumentray is not a Mockumentray along the lines of ‘The Last Exorcist’ or ‘Cloverfield’, but rather it is a film presented entirely as fact. In fact, the odd thing about these (‘I’m Still Here’ aside) is that it is not entirely certain whether these films are actually fact. So while Joaquin Phoenix went off the rails and no one cared or batted an eye lid when it turned out to be false shortly after the films release; the jury is still out on whether or not ‘Catfish’, or ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’ are. Of course to speak more about either of those would spoil the fun and surprises of both, but it is interesting to do some research after seeing both and let yourself draw your own conclusion.

While on the topic of ‘Catfish’ it is also obvious that ‘Social Networking’ made its mark in cinema this year. Of course both that and ‘The Social Network’ used Facebook heavily in their tales. 'Kick Ass’ used MySpace and YouTube to spread the word about his services as a superhero while Justin Long and Drew Barrymore used Skype in helping to enable their long distance relationship in ‘Going The Distance’. The just released ‘Chatroom’ showed the potential dark side of talking to faceless strangers online. These films and more show how much more closely cinema is using other forms of multimedia and is growing ever more connected to film. You just have to look at how important video game tie-ins are with big budgeted releases.

Lastly it should be noted at just how sick the creators of ‘Megamind’ must have been when they found that their supposed original idea of having ‘The Lead Character, be a Supervillain in a Kids Film’ concept had just been pipped by ‘Dispicable Me’ only a few short months prior. The ‘Antz’ vs. ‘A Bugs Life’ animation battle of 2010 anyone?

Best Scares: (Spoilers Follow)

While not a landmark year as far as horror goes, there were still some memorable scares. It’s lucky to see one truly good horror a year and this year my own personal count had two; ‘The House of The Devil’ and ‘Rec2’. Unfortunately I can’t truly justify including a link to ‘The House of The Devil’, as those who have seen the film will know it relies heavily on atmosphere and mood and anything taken out of context here will simply not work. While the film is certainly incredibly divisive, I will still thoroughly recommend it to those who have not seen it, and wish for something different from their horror. ‘Rec2’ however is a fantastic rollercoaster of a horror. It barely pauses for breath during its running time and fills as much nerve shredding terror as it can into it. A perfect illustration here puts the viewer perfectly between a rock and a hard place, or more specificly, an infected zombie and a bathroom.

Joe Dante’s grand return to Directing was a surprising minor success with 'The Hole'. Working as a veritable ‘best of’ of various horrors throughout the year added to its charm more than took away from it. A kids chiller the likes of which they don’t make anymore, it proved Dante still knows how to work an eerie scene. And while it may have its detractors ‘Paranormal Activity 2’ was another horror sequel actually better than the original. Following the exact same formula, it picks up before the last one ended and deepens our understanding of the original characters, while also adding more genuine action and horror into the mix, of which the first one was severely lacking. See this near climactic scene in which a Mother innocently goes to check on her baby igniting a fantastic shockwave of screams in the theatre.

Best Action Scenes: (Spoilers Follow)

The Summer blockbuster season was certainly where, without a shadow of a doubt, you could say the year was lacking. Christopher Nolan’s effort aside, no Directors really delivered on their one, very simple goal: escapism. An action scene is incredibly hard to craft. Sure, anyone can blow up a bridge as Michael Bay can attest to, but to make a truly memorable scene, you must first have a context in which to base it. Not purely action for the sake of it, if you want to give your adrenaline glands a work out, they must be invested in the characters, the story and most importantly, the stakes. The higher the stakes, the better the action scene. ‘Inceptions’ revolving hallway was remarkable for a multitude of reasons; the sheer awesome technical prowess that went into the set, the fantastic camera work, Jospeh Gorden Levitts real stunt work, and the fact that the stakes are growing higher by the minute, with everyones actions in their different state of consciousness reflecting back onto their comrades in deeper levels. When a scene is so unlike anything we have witnessed before, without the overuse of CGI, it can be truly awe inspiring.

‘Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World’ took the most unusual approach to fight scenes this year in Edgar Wrights filming them as if they were a musical interlude to the story. Inventive, witty and full of visual magic, they helped confirm Wright as being one of the best young Directors working today. They also served as a great metaphor for Scott’s conflicted mindset towards the girl of his dreams Ramona, and took a fascinating new take on the cliché romantic staple of fighting for the one you love; here Scott literally does fight those who oppose his and Ramonas love. Interestingly the world of ‘Scott Pilgrim’ could easily all just exist in the mind of our titular hero who has simply took a heavy overdose on pop culture, music and video games.

‘Iron Man 2’ got the Summer off to a satisfying start with this scene. Iron Man, for all his gadgets and cool fire power is really almost too strong for anyone to truly prove themselves to be a formidable threat to him. It was refreshing to see this then, in which Tony Stark finds himself at the whim of the psychotic bad guy without his suit.

‘How To Train Your Dragon’ featured stunning use of its beautiful animation in glorious 3D, however, what truly made the flying sequences work was the very simple act, that our lonely hero was finally making friends with the very misunderstood dragon. Not as twee as that sounds, I defy anyone not to get a small rush the first time Hiccup takes to the sky with Toothless.

There is something immediately stunning about the extended long take in cinema. Everything from Welles bravura opening to ‘Touch Of Evil’ to PT Andersons stunning steadicam in ‘Boogie Nights’, there is an incredible artistry to that one roaming sustained take. Alfonso Cuaron achieved stunning results in ‘Children of Men’, a film which by its sheer dedication to its world, put you in the heart of the action. This was obviously something The Hughes Brothers took on board when crafting this shoot out in ‘The Book Of Eli’. An exceptional scene in an otherwise unexceptional film.

All the action scenes featured here all did something new with their scene, so that while the context of some of them might not be anything new, it was the delivery of them that proved them being exceptional in some way. Now a basic hallway gun and fist fight is nothing new by anyones standards, but what if it’s a 12 year old girl laying glorious waste to a room full of henchmen in ultra violent fashion as ‘Kick Ass’ so ably demonstrated?

Shocking Moments: (Spoilers and Violent Scenes Follow)

I love shocking moments in Cinema for a variety of reasons. Outside of the horror genre, when these scenes hit, they hit you like a ton of bricks. Due to the fact that you are not usually expecting scenes of such force in these films, they shock all the more. For shocking scenes to truly work, they must come out of the blue, and yet be completely relevant to the story. As a result they force the viewer to become ever more enthralled in the world being conveyed and are quite hard to shake after initially seeing them. They jolt the viewer into something far stronger than a simple ‘jump’ you might experience in your regular teen slasher fare. They register deep inside. Needless to say, that all scenes that follow feature heavy spoilers and for their best effect, must be watched within the overall context of the full film for their true effect. Some scenes of a violent nature follow.

While it received some of the most glorious reviews of the year, I found ‘A Prophet’ to be slightly overrated. However, the film was a fantastic prison/crime drama in many ways, such as that razor blade scene. The brutal realism, the unflinching eye for detail and the slow pain staking build up contrasted with the release of the murder itself ensured it as one of the most nerve shredding scenes in recent memory. Malik is still fresh in the prison, young and easily relatable. The thought of having to murder someone in cold blood to save ones skin in as harsh an environment as the prison presented here is horribly realistically portrayed. The shock of explosion of violence when it comes to the fumbling and very messy deed is only matched by Maliks ‘training’ on hiding the razor behind his teeth. As unglorified a depiction of murder as you can get, it easily stands as one of the more stunning sequences this year.

‘Dogtooth’ easily must be recognised as one of the more odd offerings of the year. A story in which a Greek family is dominated over by their Father, to the point where all are prevented from seeing or experiencing life outside their home, until they lose their titular dogtooth (incisor). When life comes crashing in on the family in a variety of different ways, it makes the eldest daughter question everything she ever believed in. Caught in a world she knows to be false with a world she now cannot possibly understand or comprehend, she takes matters into her own hands by trying to get rid of her own dogtooth, by force - the only way she believes, she will ever be free. The end is as realistic (and stomach churningly) violent, as it is heartbreaking. More on ‘Dogtooth’ later.

‘Four Lions’ was certainly one of the more controversial offerings of the year. The subversive genius of Chris Morris was as evident here as it always has been; could anyone else have made a comedy farce about suicide bombers and got away with it. Morris never forgets the gravity of its theme amongst all the comedy. As events built very nicely towards a jaw dropping and hilarious climax, it was never forgotten than in between all the prat falls and misguided preachings, that bombs kill.

At ‘Toy Story 3’s’ climax events spiralled into very surprising and emotional territory indeed. The incinerator scene will go down as one of Pixars greatest ever achievements. As all seems lost for Woody, Buzz and co. They find themselves forced to deal with the fact that this may be it, and that they must confront their mortality. As nerve shredding as it is sad, the fact that such a scene happens in a kids Summer blockbuster shows that Pixar certainly don’t shy away from the bigger themes, while still never forgetting to entertain.

At the heart of ‘The Killer Inside Me’ was a stunning performance by Casey Affleck. In it he hinted at the vicious abyss of malice that resides just underneath the calm facade of his character. Throughout the film it always threatens to come out, but rarely does. As controversial as the film was, it should be remembered that it contained very little overall violence. However the two scenes in which there is, will be hard to shake for some, and show all what Lou Ford is truly capable of. The fact that the scene goes on for an unbearably long time and that previously, Jessica Albas character seemed to be one he held true emotion for, only adds to its vicious shock. A very tough and uncomfortable watch.

Funniest Moments:

If there was one genre in which 2010 never really delivered on, it was certainly the comedy. There were no true out and out great comedy successes of the year. Hopefully this will change next year, it just seems that for now, Hollywood is relying on the same tried and tested materials for any of them to truly deliver. A few stand outs from the year include Zach Galifianakis’s joyless laughter in ‘Dinner For Schmucks’. P Diddys entire performance in ‘Get Him To The Greek’ or this debate from ‘The Other Guys’. Certainly one of the better comedies was the gross out absurd stupidity of ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’. However, the two funniest scenes this year involved very unexpected sex scenes. ‘I Love You Philip Morris’ featured at its heart, a very touching romance about two gay men. It was also one of the more hilariously foul films of the year featuring fantastic turns from Ewan McGregor and this scene near the start introducing Jim Carrey and the fact that he is a homosexual. ‘MacGruber’ had to be the most purile comedy of the year for the sheer display of stupidity. In many of its moments however, it was very funny including this scene, which has to go down as my favourite sex scene in Cinema history.

Strangest Films:

2010 featured a few of the most gloriously deranged films in recent memory. Usually when films are almost too eccentric to watch, it holds very little enjoyment for me. The films featured here however, somehow managed to sweep me up, get in my head and against all odds, make an impression on me. They are all, in their own way, very odd. Nicholas Cage had a fantastic come back year with ‘Kick Ass’ and ‘Bad Lieutenant’, both featuring deranged and gloriously over the top turns from him. In ‘Bad Liutenant’ in particular he outdid himself as a drug addicted cop who seems to hold, amongst other things, an unlikely obsession with iguanas. This scene is but one in a film bursting with similarly odd and very strange sequences. Mentioned earlier on, ‘Dogtooth’ is a darkly comic and surreal trip inside the house of a very closed off Greek Family. The Father has his children completely forbidden from leaving the grounds and fills them with bizarre facts about the world (zombies are tiny yellow flowers) and makes them believe that planes are small plastic toys that fall out of the sky and into the garden. Slow moving with very little plot, the film relied more on its almost hypnotic visuals to create an atmosphere and it surprisingly managed to sweep me up. This is despite the fact that it was sometimes pretentious and featured scenes of explicit violence. I wouldn’t say the film is entertaining, but it is very memorable. ‘Valhalla Rising’ started off in very familiar, albeit violent and gritty circumstances. It soon however took a drug induced trip into the surreal, as a band of Christian Crusaders soon get lost on their trip. A very tough film and certainly not for everybody. And last but not least there was ‘Trash Humpers’-surely the most deranged film ever made?


It has to be noted that 2010 featured a surge of popular artists featuring on some fantastic soundtracks. Johnny Marr contributed the dissonant guitar line on the ‘Inception’ soundtrack. Upon reading ‘The Social Network’ script, Trent Reznor decided it might be worth paying attention to this little Facebook Movie after all and along with Atticus Ross, created very impressive soundscapes to mesh perfectly with Finchers vision. Speaking of soundscapes, has there been a more perfect matching than Daft Punk to the ‘Tron Legacy’ score? Some expecting the new Daft Punk album were surprised to find that this was a fully fledged score for the film. Taking their cue from Wendy Carlos’ original, by way of John Carpenter and their own distinct electronic stylings they created a fantastic Soundtrack to the film. In fact, one half of Daft Punk, Thomas Bangaalter also collaborated with Gaspar Noé on the drug trip musing on life after death that is ‘Enter The Void’. His psychedelic flourashes no doubt helped Noé’s hypnotic visuals take hold over the viewer and couldn’t be farther from his work on ‘Tron Legacy’. For his love letter to all things related to Music and Video Games, Edgar Wright enlisted a steller line up of super cool indie stars to appear or contribute to ‘Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World'. Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich contributed a fantastic score for one disc, while on the second Wright (with the help of the original comics creator Bryan Lee O’Malley) created a fantastic mix tape for fans everywhere, of mix tapes. Metric, Frank Black and of course Plumtree all contributed previous material while for the films fictional band Sex-Bob-omb, Beck wrote and recorded all their original material. In my eyes the soundtrack of the year.

Extreme Cinema:

The year was also notable for two very controversial films. Both made headlines around the world and both have since gone on to become notorious and in their own way, cult films. They were ‘The Human Centipede’ and ‘A Serbian Film’. I watch every kind of film and never turn my nose down at any genre. As a result I have got through a lot of films of wildly different tone and certificate this year. I can happily sit down with the latest animated blockbuster, (two of them made my top ten) or the new exploitation shocker. I’m only saying this so as to get a better understanding of where this piece is coming from. I understand genre and feel that whether you like or dislike any particular one, it still has its place in cinema. As a result, I feel nothing ever truly pushes me. I whooped and cheered along with audiences to the ridiculous gore on display in ‘Piranha 3D’ and ‘Kick Ass’. This will always come down to tone in a film. These two offerings, as fun as they were at times, were equal to a live action cartoon. It was hard to get worked up over the copious amounts of blood when they were delivered with such over the top gusto. Here, violence was fun. Now not to say I am desensitised to violence; I can get as squeamish as the next person over broken bones and bloody viscera, but I do recognise how tone and delivery can affect your enjoyment of such scenes in film. Scenes included earlier that shocked me, did so far greater than anything the ‘Saw’ films can muster up and I understand just how powerful a tool violence in film can be, when done correctly. The effectiveness of this was also detailed there. I intentionally left these two specific films here out of my lists. This is because they go above and beyond what cinema does and as a result of their schlocky and notorious reputation are swiftly turning from sick and highly offensive fare, to a dare on audiences behalf. The fact that for the first time in years, one of these was heavily censored by the BBFC only adds to my own personal theory that the video nasties of the ‘80’s are on the rise again. Only this time internet piracy is helping usher in a new age of it. Reputation built on by the worlds press and outraged parents and armchair pundits have taken these micro budgeted films with sick and shocking ideas at their core to the mainstream. If society doesn’t want us to see these films, then surely front page lambasting of them and outrage radio phone ins are not the way to do it? Try telling the eight year old in all of us not to do something and what effect does it have?

‘The Human Centipede’ is upon seeing it, surprisingly harmless. Its plot for those unfamiliar with it is as follows, and not for the easily offended. An insane German Doctor decides to sow together two women and one Asian man to form the titular centipede. Only the way he goes about connecting his victims, is by mouth to anus. Now as disgusting as it sounds the film does not stretch things much further than its initial concept. Violence is sparing and Director Tom Six never goes into too much detail on the operation or the scatological way the centipede must eat. Yes it’s shocking and disgusting but it is a very basic concept and the film never fully knows what to do with it when its centipede is finally surgically bonded. Hardly the stuff of ‘Most Controversial Film Ever’ as some broadsheets and tabloids have proclaimed. The film is more concerned with being a (pitch black) comedy rather than psychological body horror. It is decidedly unremarkable then and most certainly not worth the screaming headlines it has been getting, that of which I’m sure director Six is thanking his lucky stars for, as it has delivered an audience to the film it never would have seen without it.

Much more disturbing is ‘A Serbian Film’. The first film in years the BBFC has decided to cut and censor, and still awaiting release in most parts of the world. The plot as follows is not for the faint of heart. Milos, a retired porn star is lured back into the business with the promise of ‘that one last job’ setting him and his family up for life, with wealth beyond their wildest dreams. It’s not long before he realises that something is wrong, unfortunately by the time he does, it is too late and he finds himself at the whim of a psychotic director, intent on having Milos star in this snuff film. That the film is shocking is an understatement. It features explicit scenes of sex, violence and as a result, is unsuitable for most. As its makers might attest to, the film is meant as an allegory to the levels of violence and horror that they were subjected to by their countries own tortured history. In reality however, the film is an ugly and hideously depraved work. Some reviewers around the world have praised its aesthetic and proclaimed it to be while disturbing, also a work of art. Now while it is very well shot and acted, its sheer determination at breaking every taboo in cinema no matter what it is, is incredibly worrying. The film feels like exploitation writ large, except with no heed paid to social acceptance and delivered under false pretences. Now far be for me to ever say any theme is ever too taboo or in breaking of any social boundaries. Great films push societies endurance of what is acceptable on screen, not through forcing audiences to watch mankinds ugliest atrocities at its very explicit worst, but through looking inward and questioning themselves and society around them. To me, no theme is ever out of bounds. But ‘A Serbian Film’ it seems just wants to shock and in the ugliest possible way. There is simply no way to justify some of the unspeakable images this film presents us with. There are ways to justify its themes, but the almost nihilistic tone of destroying everything both in the film and those who watch it speaks of something far more negative. Its makers bred a film of all the most unspeakable things of the world, showed in all its unflinching glory and then tried to make their name and money off of it. Justifying it to those who never grew up in Serbia is simply not good enough. There are always better ways to speak of the atrocities of the world and far more effective ways to go about it.

I don’t see the walls of society crumbling to its bloody knees with the release of this film, rather am more concerned to see who will take these themes in ‘A Serbian Film’ and only exploit them further. There have been films throughout the years like this that can be found offering nothing but thoughtless and horrific mind numbing violence. Most of these no one has heard of nor do they want to. The only difference is that they have not been subjected to the media circus that these films have. The fact that people will now seek these specific films out as a result of reading and rereading just how depraved they are, can only add to their cult appeal. There is no reason to see these films only to see the heights of shocking scenes that they offer. Reports of people vomiting in theatres to ‘The Human Centipede’ and that the rolls of film of ‘A Serbian Film’ were burned in its developing labs by technicians not understanding what the film was only add to the films stature. Let the films be I say. Aside from if a film features real scenes of violence of any kind inflicted on people or animals, they should not be cut. Treat them like you would a child craving attention. Ignore them and they will go away. If you don’t want to see them and are appalled by them, then don’t see them. If the film finds its audience then so be it. Films like these are never going to inspire copy cat actions, will never be a mainstream cinema release and and should only ever be kept away from unassuming children. As for the rest of us, we are all adults, can tell right from wrong and should be let decide what is and what is not acceptable. Are the images and themes presented in ‘A Serbian Film’ acceptable? No, of course not, not to most people but no one is forcing you to watch it. And lest it not be forgotten, that the main reason you shouldn’t watch it, simply comes down to the fact that it is not very good, rather than how shocking it is.

Looking Forward: 2011

If there’s anything better than the year in film just gone, then it’s the fickle giddiness in looking ahead to see what next year has to offer. So while horrible scheduling on our side of the Atlantic means some of these have not yet hit as they have in the States, they soon will in a matter of days/weeks. Of course there will be misfires amongst this selection and more of them are blockbusters than drama/indie fare. This is only because the best little films are those that come out of nowhere and surprise you. So, in no particular order, are the films I am most looking forward to seeing in 2011.

‘127 Hours’

Danny Boyles follow up to Slumdog Millionaire has already been garnering serious critical buzz across the water. Thankfully we only have a few weeks to wait until January 5th.

‘Source Code’

Duncan Jones’ follow up to 2009’s classic in the making ‘Moon’ features an original science fiction plot, a twist on the familiar race against the clock and Jake Gyllenhaal in what looks to be his best film in years. After ‘Moon’, Jones could have turned out any old rubbish and I’d be excited to see it.

‘True Grit’

As if the incredible cast assembled for the Coens return back West wasn’t good enough, how about their first reunion with Jeff Bridges in 12 years? Any Coens film is always unmissable just by them being attached to it. Remake or not, this is an early contender for film of 2011.

‘Super 8’

No one gets hype like JJ Abrams and here he ramps his secrecy levels up to heightened levels; I may be as excited as hell to see this but I haven’t got the foggiest what it entails.

‘Cowboys & Aliens’

For that title alone.

‘Black Swan’

Darren Aronofsky has yet to fail to deliver a completely immersive theatre going experience that refuses to leave your head and when he gets all psychological undertones right, the results can be stunning. One of the most original directors going today.


Working from a script by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost is good enough, but when added to my favourite ensemble cast of the year and directed by ‘Superbad’ and ‘Adventureland’ director, prospects for this are very high indeed.

‘X-Men: First Class’

After the huge misfires that were’ X-Men: The Last Stand’ and ‘Wolverine’ you could be forgiven for wondering why this might merit inclusion. Apart from the fact that series Daddy, Bryan Singer is back supervising as Producer, a great ensemble cast has been assembled, it comes from the team behind ‘Kick Ass’. Mixed with a serious budget behind them, it is not unreasonable to assume they can take the series back up to the heights set by the first two films.

‘Hugo Cabret’

Scorsese does a kids film. His name attached alone brings it up to most anticipated levels.

Line of the Year:

Jerry O’Connells immortal delivery of this line in ‘Piranha 3D’ sees this film go up as one of the more outrageously trashy, stupid and over the top fun fests to be had this year.

Scene Of The Year

The scene of the year has to be the opening from ‘The Social Network’. How better to introduce the audience to characters and style of the film than a rapid fire, five minute opening that tells you exactly what you need to know about Mark Zuckerberg. Its pithy and wonderfully humorous dialogue is spurted out at a vitriolic pace. Any qualms any last minute naysayers had that a film about Facebook could not and would not ever move them, is answered in these first opening moments. Who would have thought a relationship breakdown could be so fun?

So thats all my thoughts and musings on the year. No doubt anyone who reads this will lambast me for not including some of their favourite films and moments from the year. Write in, let me know where I went wrong and I'll see if I can do better next year!

Here’s saluting 2010 and looking ahead to 2011.

Film in 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Trailer - "Making Ugly"

With the recent shocking news of the abolishment of the UK Film Council, independant film, more than ever is in need of support in this very tough and uncertain climate. "Making Ugly" is a truly independant and truly original foray into the darkness that everyone harbours in their soul. Made on a shoestring budget, it is currently in post production, looking ahead to a theatrical release in 2011. In film today, it seems even big budget productions are facing box office uncertainty if not based on previous tried and tested material such as a sequel or comic-book. You could be forgiven for becoming jaded in cinema especially in as lacklustre a year it was for truly great and original films as 2010 was. Independant Cinema can offer incredible results. With no huge budget to rely on, film makers are forced to adapt to the circumstances they are dealing with, and as a result, become more innovative and original. Some of the greatest filmic achievements have come from independant cinema and its recent threat is very worrying indeed.
Filmed earlier this year "Making Ugly" seems to offer some genuine originality to go with its gritty and dark themes. A stark, brutal and very gothic trip indeed, the plot brings together a mismatched group of seemingly unconnected and in their own way, very violent individuals. A tough and grim, but ultimately rich and rewarding experience waits, for those who support it. As the film is unofficially screened around the UK and Ireland for distributers in the coming months, I hope to get an early copy to review. For anyone with a true love of cinema and interest in up and coming Irish and British film making talent, I urge you to support the film, in any way you can. More information can be found here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Poster - "[.rec] Genesis" & "[.rec] Apocalypse"

Fantastic news for fans of the modern horror classic "[.rec]" series. Two posters have debuted online for the upcoming prequel/sequel. It seems that Directing team on the first two films, Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza will split up and direct one of the two films each. "Genesis" will be released in 2011 with "Apocalypse" rounding off the series in epic and bloody style in 2012. More information can be found here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Trailer - "Source Code"

Trailer - "Your Highness"

David Gordon Green has been carving out a very respectable career directing comedy recently, departing from his earlier indie days. If his first foray into stoner comedy, with "Pineapple Express" wasn't exactly reassuring, then his recent directing stints on HBO's fantastic "Eastbound and Down" show that he knows funny. Here he is reunited with his two previous stars James Franco (in a complete 180 after "127 Hours") and the great Danny McBride. It may not look big or clever, but it looks very funny. The film is released in Europe, in Summer next year.

Trailer - "Cowboys and Aliens"

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Enter The Void

Here's one for you: a film that is painfully long and never ending, self-indulgant and at times pointlessly gratuitous and seedy. Now imagine, said film while exhibiting these negative traits and more, is also one of the most visually dazzling and unforgettable films you may ever see. That is the conflicting mind warp of "Enter The Void", Gaspar Noé's third feature length film and his first in almost eight years. For the uninitiated, Noé made headlines in 2002 with his second feature and breakthrough film "Irréversible". One of the most polarizing and undoubtedly shocking and controversial films of all time, it was also noted for its daring linear trajection and stunning technical prowess. For some it was one of the masterpieces of the decade, and for others it was one of the most horrific cinematic experiences of their life, including me. A film that thrived on ugliness and shock tactics, it seemed to me that Noé made the film, with the intention of not actually wanting his audience to like it. Of course it didn't help that its two most infamous scenes offered extreme sexual violence and horrifically real gore. I found the film to be near unwatchable, significant only for its technical achievements. Odd then, that Noé, didn't seem to learn anything from that experience, and now presents us with "Enter The Void", a film that is also, in my eyes at least near unwatchable, however, not for the same extreme reasons its predecessor was.

Noé presents his film in certain ways we have not ever experienced before in cinema. It is a truly visually dazzling trip. We open the film experiencing everything from Oscar's (Nathaniel Brown) point of view. The audience is effectively him, we even see his blinks. However a drug deal goes horribly wrong, and Oscar is murdered. Except then the film shifts its perspective as we then become Oscars spirit hovering high above the streets of Tokyo, or delve into his strange past in a third person view, effectively looking over his shoulder and always presented with the back of his head. As a spirit he visits those closest to him as they cope with his passing, namely his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) of which he seems to share an unhealthy relationship with. From a young age the two promised to never leave each other after their parents were killed in a very traumatising (and frequently revisited) car accident. And that's it. For a film so very long and slow moving, this is all the plot we're left with. The film is interspersed with pointless scenes of a sexual nature (Noé has always been obsessed with sex) and very frequent shots into intense visions of bright colours and strobe lighting. Each time Noé repeats this, it becomes ever more tiresome and less effective. The whole trip seems to be in actuality, a huge ego trip for the director himself. It doesn't respect characters or plot and is only ever concerned with its visual aura and dreamy textures. Thank God he shied away from the extreme violence of his previous cinematic efforts as this here seems to be Noé attempting to mature. He attempts to ask profound questions on life and death but gets bogged down in his psychedelic and very far out images and hallucinogenic dreamscapes. The result comes off as pretentious in the extreme. Just because he himself once may have had a profound drug trip, does necessarily mean audiences wish to accompany him along on one, especially one as hollow as presented here.

The acting from all involved is dreadful. de la Huerta offers a brief scene of genuine intensity and truthfulness towards the end, but it is too late in the game. It seems she was chosen for the fact that she would not mind the copious times her character spends in undress, rather than her true acting ability. As the lead character, Brown registers remarkably little interest or memorability on the audiences part. So he once saw his parents have sex, but does that really explain his predilection for his sister and older women? Noé doesn't seem to care to get into any of the characters heads or mindsets, rather more so, chucking more colours and strobe lights at the audience. It doesn't help that all the action is shot from perspectives that prevent you from actually truly seeing any of the actors faces, and crucially their eyes. It holds little emotional significance for the audience looking at the back of everyones head, or gazing straight down on the action from above.

Which brings me to the one thing the film has going for it. Its visual style. It really is, one of the most awe inspiring technical achievements I have ever seen in film. Every single shot is punctuated by a 'how did they do that?' so effective is its photo real CG effects. Noé moves his camera in ways never seen or thought to be impossible before and does it effortlessly and with great craftsmanship. It's sound design and music (created with help by one half of Daft Punk, Thomas Bangalter) add to its conviction. Its colours and vibrant lighting is a visual tour de force unlike anything seen before. Unfortunately it is nowhere near enough to sustain interest in a film so pretentious and dreary. It screams with desires to be taken seriously and to provoke genuine spiritual response. It is too in love with itself and believes that because of its technical achievements and emotional and heavy handed undercurrents, you should too, without actually working to gain your interest or giving you anything to invest in. If a never ending 2 and a half hour drug trip, punctuated by ugly characters and bad acting is your thing, then by all means, check it out. Mainstream audiences steer clear and everyone else who is curious, check out the trailer and leave it at that. It really is not worth much more of your time.

Verdict: 35%
As far as basking your eyes in vivid images and colours, mixed with some the most seamless and stunning special effects and camera tricks you might ever see, it is dazzling. But as a truly transcendent theatrical experience it fails miserably, failing in almost every other department. For a film so up itself, it really offers next to nothing to hold your interest in its unmercifully long running time. Noé is an auteur and has created some of the most unforgettable films of all time, but until he grasps how important the warmth of basic humanity is in cinema, he will never make a truly great one.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Due Date

Last Summer, "The Hangover" went on to become the highest grossing R-rated picture of all time in the States. Its success came out of nowhere. It was a film that reveled in its debauchery, and lack of maturity. It was also, very, very funny. Director Todd Phillips benefitted from a very strong cast with impeccable chemistry and comic timing. That was where its success lied. You wanted to go on this adventure and no matter how zany everything became, it was the cast that held it together. Wether or not Phillips can capture lightning in a bottle twice will have to remain to be seen next May when its sequel is released. For now, we will have to make do with "Due Date" unfortunately. For everything that "The Hangover" achieved, it only goes to add to the glaring errors in "Due Date". Of course, expecting another film as surprising and absurdly hilarious as that would have been wishful thinking, but considering the talent involved, would it have been too much to ask for some decent and well earned laughs during its running time. Phillips et al, seemed to think so.

Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) is on his way home to LA, to reach his heavily pregnant wife (a wasted Michelle Monaghan) in time for her induced labour in only a matter of days. A very highly strung architect, things immediately go from bad to worse the moment he meets Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), an incompetant bumbling fool, slash would-be actor. Of course, Peter immediately has nothing but disdain for the man, so imagine his shock, when through a series of apparantly 'hilarious' events, he renders himself on the 'no fly list' and is forced to drive cross country with Ethan. Ethan, carrying a coffee canister filled with his recently deceased Fathers ashes gets the the duo into an increasingly bizarre series of accidents and incidents along the way, all the while ever more enraging the straight laced Peter. Obvious comparisons are there to be made to "Planes, Trains and Automobiles", John Hughes' beloved 1987 comedy. However even despite the alarming similarities, it also bears resemblance to almost every road trip comedy ever produced, including Phillips own "Road Trip". This again would not be a problem had Phillips chosen to litter the film with confidant tone and pace. As it stands, the out and out shock comedy does not blend well with the obvious emotional undercurrents Phillips was aiming for. If this was to be more of a 'mature' departure before delving straight back into the bawdiness of "The Hangover Part II" then why pepper the film with increasingly shocking and mean spirited humour? This might be down to Phillips desire to strike more darker sensibilities, but it really does not blend with the overall tone of the film. It seems that no matter how much I wanted it to be what I wanted it to; a hilarious throw back to the road movies of the 80's and 90's, it veered off into more confused and uncomfortable territory.

When a film comes from a Director and Cast that you're a fan of, it is quite surprising what you will forgive in terms of the overall quality of the film, that you wouldn't with other less favoured features. Unfortunately, there is only so much you can let go before you the film truly reveals itself. This is apparant near the start when Downey Jr's character punches a child in the stomach for supposed hilarious effect. Now far be it for me to suggest that certain humour is ever too uncomfortable or too taboo; I am a firm believer in the "South Park" tradition of holding either everything funny, or nothing. But what all this comes down to, is tone. Peter punches a very young child for no true deserving reason and gets away with it. As an expectant Father this renders the character thoroughly unlikeable and almost ugly from the off. Spitting on a dog and mocking a disabled Army veteren doesn't do the character any favours either. Downey can portray likeable in his sleep. The man was born with God given charm and charisma. It could be argued that playing someone like Peter is a way out of becoming typecast in those types of roles, but it does a huge disservice to his talent here. Not even he can save it come the 'lessons learned' finale. Galifianakis fares mildly better. A bloated, camp, man child, his innocent naivety, while at times slightly grating, does provide most of the laughs in the film. Of course Galifianakis has portrayed this character enough times at this stage; it may seem that after playing Alan once more he could give it a rest for a while. After all, he certainly does have range as his role in HBO's "Bored To Death" can testify to, along with his upcoming part in "It's Kind of a Funny Story" out early next year. The man does have incredibly honed comic timing, and can make next to anything seem funny. Paired with Downey Jr. should have been a match made in heaven, however the two share almost no chemistry, and in a feature like this it is the most important ingredient.

So what is the film at the end of the day? An immature musing on Fatherhood? An emotionally in touch comic road movie? A funny contrast of different relationships put under extreme pressure? Unfortunately nothing seems to truly work. Some weak plot devices (nay, holes) only add to the confused feel. It's clear that there was certainly something here, but most of the promise falls by the wayside. The film does offer laughs occasionally (Ethan displaying his acting skills in a roadside toilet), but for every half decent line or joke, there are three missteps in the opposite direction. Phillips for the forseeable future it seems should stick to what he knows best; immature men doing stupid things that rarely learn the error of their ways. In short then, the best bits are in the trailer.

Verdict: 49%
While not a cataclysmic failure it surprises all the more coming from a team that promised so much. Downey Jr. comes off as violent and cruel and Galifianakis' shtick shows signs of wearing a bit thin. Some laughs are there and unassuming audiences will lap it up on a Friday night but for now, this does not bode well for the imminent release of "The Hangover Part II".

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2

There is one very simple reason why the first "Paranormal Activity" was such a staggering success. Those people at Paramount sold their movie incredibly well. Sensing they had another 'Blair Witch Project" on their hands, they marketed their film as one of 'the scariest movies of all time'. Trailers showed just how terrified audiences were with real life camera footage (on a film about supposed real life camera footage) capturing all the jumps and scares in the cinema in all its grainy night vision glory. You were made to believe you had to see this film. As a result, curiosity changed from an original and ultra low budget indie horror experiment, to a film that effectively boiled down to a dare on the audiences behalf. And they accepted in their droves. The first "Paranormal Activity" is one of the most successful films ever made. From its original budget of a mere fifteen thousand dollars, it went on to gross over $193 million. However, with all this huge hype behind the film, the finished product could never withstand it all. I greatly looked forward to the films eventual release (I had heard about it quite some months before it was finally released) and felt it would be a very welcome surprise to see an original and inventive American horror in what seemed like a very long while. So while it was fairly original and certainly inventive, the final product just didn't impact me the way I had originally envisioned. Having said that, I can certainly imagine what it would be like walking into this film knowing next to nothing about it, and the shock it would have. But it is a tiny and very limited resource horror film. When the biggest of Hollywood blockbusters are struggling to meet the hype bar they are setting for themsleves, then what chance did this single location, zero CG effects, no name chiller have? And whats more all it had to fall back on was its gimmicky premise. Supposed 'found footage' in cinema has been going for decades now. Even more recently the marketplace (especially horror) has become crowded with them. So my opinion of the original was this: as a very cheap exercise in how to get an effective and neat little horror movie in cinemas, it worked. And at the very least the fact that the film attempted to create an atmosphere for itself, as opposed to relying on gore and cliche tricks of the genre, a lot must be said. However, as the experience it was built up to be, the film never once delivered. But with opening numbers like that, is it really so shocking that its sequel has been rushed into production in time for Halloween and in exactly a year since the first films release?

The "Saw" franchise has, for the first time in 6 odd years, a competitor to its yearly Halloween throne. In fact, the first "Paranormal Activity" was so successful, it seems to have buried the "Saw" franchise once and for all, with its supposed final offering out this week. While this should be cause for celebration in itself, especially if you feel the same way I do about the "Saw" films, then consider now, that "Paranormal Activity" films will now be clogging up the multiplexes every year for the foreseeable future. The films, so cheap to make, must be sending their makers laughing all the way to the bank. However, and this is something I never anticipated; but "Paranormal Activity 2" is actually rather good. It is exactly what a decent sequel should be: it opens out the world and provides some backstory, it ups the game and stakes, and it offers more of the same except, y'know, slightly different. If you detested the first one then Part 2 will do absolutely nothing to sway you, but I have to say, I more than once felt myself gripping my armchair in tension. Unfortunately it may also seem that me recommending this film, based on the first ones successful critical reaction, can do nothing but take away from the experience for you. If the first one couldn't withstand the hype, then chances are that this one can't either. After all, these are films based on waiting. Waiting for something to happen. Anything. And as a result, there is not really much action in the film at all. But if your up for going along with the film, then there is no reason why you can't get the shivers as I did more than once throughout the running time.

The plot initially surprises as being set before the events of the first film. This is one of the successes of the film, that in its mere story it actually improves the first one. Kristi and Dan move back home with their brand new born baby Hunter. Documented by Dans daughter Ali, we see the family and watch Hunter grow. The protagonists here are actually presented as likeable, compared to the slightly annoying owners in Part 1. With a family we relate to, more characters-one of them an infant, tension is immediately raised when all sorts of spooky goings on begin to happen. We learn that Katie, from its predecessor, is actually Kristis sister. Both her and the soon to be doomed Micah make appearances throughout adding a refreshing layer to proceedings. So we follow the exact same pattern as the first, as night time cameras are set up to document the house at night when its occupants have all gone to bed, and this is when all the eerie tension begins. Yes, the same title of 'Night #_' can initially become quite monotonous, what with the film intent on following the same tried and tested material, it is lucky the final product is as effective as it is. This is a particular wide frame with next to nothing happening in it. The sound turned low, your eye frantically searches the frame, looking for something that may be out of the ordinary. Then something loud or unexpected very abruptly happens. Yes, its cheap and yes it is not necessarily hard to scare audiences with it, but my God it works. It seems those in charge of the follow up also learned a few lessons of what was not particularly successful from the first one, and as such, the sequel features far more action and genuine scares, as opposed to just loud BANG noises of which the first had in plenty. Go along with it and you may find yourself shivering along to the scares, wether you want to or not. Acting is serviceable and all effects are competantly handled. When the action does kick off, he film itself is quite nicely reminiscent of "Poltergeist" and "REC2" from earlier this year.

So the film offers the audience more. It could be argued that in attempting to create a reason why the Demon has targeted all these people, takes away from the creepy unknown and random attacks of the first. But it also gives more drama and story in a franchise very much devoid of both. I know watching again won't give me anywhere near the same reaction, but the film actually had me at one or two points. To get that in major horror releases these days is rare. To get it from a rush-released sequel is rarer still. And yet "Paranormal Activity 2" succeeds despite this. It over comes its gimmick source, familiar origins and low expectation (hate in some peoples eyes) reputation to deliver despite everything going against it. It's not art, and it's no were near a classic, horror or otherwise, but it is cracking audience bonding flick. The collective tense-jump-laugh has rarely been this satisfying in quite a while. For attempting genuine fear and scares without resorting to shock tactics, "Paranormal Activity 2" must at least be given more respect than it has been getting. This franchise may be about to get old, but for now, Part 3 does not seem to be all that bad a prospect.

Verdict: 66.6%
A very surprising roller coaster horror, that shocks in actually being more effective than its predecessor. Two excellent jumps, one or two nail biting encounters and an effective sense of dread in the atmosphere equals a very fun night out at the movies. Nothing to it, dead easy to make and mass produce, but it doesn't take away from the fact that the franchise knows how to unnerve its audience. Naysayers will not be converted, everyone else will sleep with the lights on.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Social Network

How ironic it must be to Mark Zuckerberg to have founded the worlds biggest social networking site, when he himself, is anything but social. Now with David Finchers film bringing even more unwanted attention upon him, it must be a constant chagrin to Zuckerberg, when all he wants is to be left alone with his computer. Or so Fincher's ''The Social Network'' would have you believe. Based on Ben Mesrich's 2009 book, 'The Accidental Billionaires', the film is not, wholly based on 100% fact. This is something that writer Aaron Sorkin, or Fincher ever denied. Sorkin himself was been quite objective on his intentions. He has been quoted 'I don't want my fidelity to be the truth, I want it to be storytelling'. Sorkin wants to entertain, rather than educate his audience. Their intentions known from the start show just what they have achieved here. They haven't set out to fire out facts and events in black and white. They have set out to make a statement. It may be a document of our time, but not of the factual kind. It is yet another triumph added to the most excellent Fincher's list of impeccable triumphs.

When initial reports came out detailing Finchers new 'Facebook Movie', reaction ranged from baffled to outright horror. This was Generation X's movie punk wunderkind, and he was selling out? Fincher was a master of the macabre, of skewering perceptions of the serial killer genre, not once, but twice. He deals in worlds full of threat and darkness and menace. Of radicalizing notions of pop culture in cinema. Every shot is meticulously planned out, and every subject he draws upon, is researched to the max. Robert Graysmith, the author of 'Zodiac' maintains that Fincher got further than he ever did on the confusing, disturbing and very slippery case. Wasn't Facebook below him? Then something curious happened. Finchers backwards fairytail ''The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'' was released to much acclaim. Sure, some purists might have argued against his branching out to more saccharine subjects, but few could argue against the success of his wild genre change. An epic meditation on love and life, there was no severed heads to be found in boxes anywhere. If this was Fincher selling out, then the grace and beauty and simple power of his love story ensured that no one could argue his commitment to it. David Fincher is the consummate Director. He has too good an eye for detail, too much talent and too much range to simply sell out. Suddenly the prospect of David Fincher's Facebook didn't seem so bad. It was only when Aaron Sorkin was announced as writer, that people began to grasp what was in store for them. ''The West Wing'' is one of the greatest shows ever. While I myself have not seen the full seven seasons, I have seen enough of it to know just how finely tuned Sorkin's ear for dialogue is. It is a pleasure to listen to, and therein lies many of the reasons the show appealed even to those who had little or no interest in Politics such as myself. Sorkin writes drama stunningly. If he can make Politicians exciting for me, then surely he can make Facebook exciting for those who turn their nose up at such a subject. Despite what you may think, Sorkin takes Facebook seriously. Perhaps he takes it too seriously, I will go into more detail on that later, but for his commitment to the story he must be applauded. Because this 'Facebook Movie' is so far, front and center primed to take home a lot of awards come early next year.

Set in 2003/2004, the film concerns itself not with the rise of Facebook, but rather the rise of its creator, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), currently, the worlds youngest billionaire. The fact that he helped create the Facebook revolution is only all the more stunning that it came out of something entirely negative and ugly. Ridicule of others online. Zuckerberg himself is painted as someone who's genius is matched only by his ego. He wishes to be held by high esteem by everyone, yet holds nothing but contempt for them. Eisenberg portrays him wonderfully. He is a contradiction of mass arrogance. He seeks everyones approval and yet mocks them. He wants friends, and acceptance yet most people are a burden. A very unenviable task for Eisenberg, he is never less than compelling. Of course the legal spiderweb that entailed the creation of Facebook and its success is what focus is kept on. The linear shifts from its beginnings to the legal wranglings of Zuckerberg and his only friend, Eduardo Saverin, played here by Andrew Garfield propels the drama. That there is also the lawsuit of whether or not Zuckerberg stole the original idea from two Harvard rowing champion twins, shows the potential for much of the story to buckle under the burden of its talky weight. Fincher keeps proceedings fresh and distinctive and shows a wry eye for humour along the way. The soon to be the future Spider-Man, Garfield provides much of the emotion of the film. His fractured relationship to Zuckerberg fuels a lot of the drama on screen. At its heart, the film is all about relationships and the strain money and success places on them. Tension is only further exacerbated with the arrival of Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). The original founder of Napster, his reasons with getting involved with Facebook may not be entirely honourable and yet it is he, who Zuckerberg looks up to and wishes he could be more like. Parker is everything Zuckerberg is not, but in the end one gets the feeling, that Parker needs Zuckerberg a lot more than Zuckerberg needs Parker. Parkers genius lies in making those around him think they need him when all he really is, is a mouth. Unfortunately, of the three leads Timberlake is the only weak link. While perfectly serviceable I could never once get by the fact that 'Justin Timberlake is acting'. He is not wooden and he can certainly deliver a line, but it is his mere presence that is sometimes too distracting. While this might be what the character calls for, I ultimately found that to be too true to the case in point. Timberlake was portraying a character, next to Eisenbergs and Garfields real people.

Sorkin's script is 166 pages long. Usually each script page counts for a minute of film and yet the film runs to just over two hours. Finchers way of getting the running time down, while still including everything the story needed and deserved was to merely get his cast to talk fast. Really fast. That should give you an idea of how rapid the dialogue is presented. From the off in a fantastic pre-credit sequence Fincher draws us into our leads. Two characters involved in quick rapid fire dialogue across a table. Character traits are immediately established along with motives and shifting dynamics. It is the perfect introduction into this Harvard elite Fincher presents us with, and shows how rash decisions can lead to huge consequences. Like the founding of a multi billion dollar online empire for example. Eisenberg and Finchers new 'Lisbeth Salander' Rooney Mara trade insults, barbed delusions about the world and a complete relationship break down all in the space of four minutes. It is a masterclass in dialogue and is arguably the finest and most important scene in the film. Sorkin litters his screenplay with choice moments of necessary humour. The film might get bogged down were it not for this. And yet, I cannot help but wonder if a lighter touch still might have worked wonders for the film. It seems to be lacking from a true sense of drama as there never truly seems to be anything at stake or anything for the audience to invest emotionally in. There is next to no surprises in the plot for the film to be fully captivating. Zuckerberg himself, seems to take a back seat to Saverin and Parker in the second half, which is a shame, as his downward spiral into loneliness and social rejection was one of the most intriguing aspects for me. Fincher however surprises again with his film. He is comfortable dealing in any genre he feels like and his extraordinary vision is evident in every frame. And in those twins, he creates the most seamless special effect I have ever witnessed as one actors head is invisibly grafted onto another actors body. Twice. And you thought an ageless Brad Pitt was good?

Verdict: 78%
David Fincher adds another impressive layer to his bow and Sorkin reminds just how peerless he is when it comes to dialogue. Trent Reznor provides a fantastic debut score and Eisenberg excels. However, the lack of any true drama and urgency and Timberlakes casting takes it back down from masterpiece status. A fantastic nights entertainment with one of the best auteurs of our generation is waiting for those who decide to log on.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


There appears to be a new sub genre getting ever more popular amongst film makers. That is the single location and very claustrophobic thriller. Very recently we had the horror "Devil" set entirely in a stalled elevator where one of its five occupants is a seemingly malevolent entity. In early January of next year Danny Boyles eagerly awaited follow up to "Slumdog Millionaire" is the shocking true story of an extreme sports fanatic getting his arm stuck under a boulder and resorting to desperate risks for his survival. The film "127 Hours" promises a stunning emotional roller coaster ride upon its release. Now however we have Rodrigo Cortés thriller "Buried". A film that takes a huge risk in setting itself entirely within a coffin. Cortés' genius lies in his unfaltering committal to his story. While such a small and confining space could make for a very dull nights entertainment for some films, "Buried" surprises in being one of the most heart stopping exciting films of the year, making stunning and very cinematic use of its small spaces.

Paul Conroy awakes to find himself living every persons worst nightmare. He has been buried alive in a coffin and it is in here that we will spend the next 95 minutes. A normal blue collar truck driver, Reynolds plays the everyman with stunning conviction. He is the embodiment of being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is during his work in Iraq that he gets taken hostage by terrorists and finds himself in this terrifying predicament. With only the very low light of his lighter and mobile phone left for him, Paul must find a way out before time runs out. The unrelenting claustrophobia is evident from the start. The scarceness of oxygen is palpable amongst the audience as much as it is Paul, such is the films effect. You can feel the scratchy sand on your face and feel the walls closing in as time is running out. Kudos must be payed to Cortés for mining the concept for all its worth. He wrings plenty of ingenious camera angles and tense obstacles out of our heroes 'situation'. How the film never once grows dull or outstays its welcome is a huge success for Cortés and his team. Sound design is fantastic adding to the nerve shredding terror along with one of the best scores of the year, enhancing the excitement and tension.

However, a film like this would live or die on its central actor. It is he who the audience spends every second with and were they not up the task, the film would feel considerably longer than its 90 or so minutes. While casting someone like Ryan Reynolds in this part might initially seem disjointing, it is all the more stunning at how well he pulls it off. An actor known more for his looks and his razor sharp timing and moter mouth skills; a film like this goes almost entirely against image by casting him in dark shadows and having him react to anonymous voices on the end of his phone for much of its running time. Reynolds never once fails to captivate. It shows plenty of more strings to his bow and if there is any justice, Reynolds will be nominated come the awards season.

Cortés may be trying to make a statement with his film. The maddening ineffectiveness of those Paul turns to for help casts a damning eye over the American Government and murky Political implications of the Iraq war. Thankfully he does not let this over-power the story, rather aide and move it along. However, if his intentions were in showing the dark side of those in charge of helping American soldiers and workers in Iraq, then why paint the Iraqis themselves as such psychotic individuals. A minor criticism in an otherwise expertly maintained and stunning thriller. Reynolds gives an incredible one man performance and Cortés mounts a very claustrophobic yet very exciting small space for our hero to escape from. Along with a delicious sense of dark humour, all involved turn in one of the most memorable films of the year.

Verdict 82%
A Hitchcockian thriller that the man himself would have been proud to put his name on, Rodrigo Cortés takes its very simple premise to its extremes and delivers a fantastic cinematic experience.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Town

Ben Affleck has made a startling career transformation in a mere seven years. It was 2003 in which "Gigli" was released, an International box office flop that had Affleck rendered a laughing stock. Parody was everywhere; with Affleck it was just too easy and like shooting fish in a barrel. That career low, coupled with his disastrous marriage to Jennifer Lopez almost left his career in tatters. Stunning then that in just two films, Affleck has completely turned his fortunes around. No longer do people wonder how much more talented his original writing partner Matt Damon is, or if Affleck ever even had any input into "Good Will Hunting"? Now his name is a byword for smart and intelligent adult dramas that are actually entertaining movie fodder for a Saturday night. He entertains the masses, but does not ask them to switch off their brain to do so. He respects character and plotting and does not shy away from harsh or gritty themes. All this, from that guy in "Reindeer Games".

Affleck again returns to the seedy underbelly of his hometown of Boston. In his previous film, ''Gone Baby Gone'' he presented very unsavory characters that would sell their own child for drugs or money. He depicted just how tough the streets are and how easy it is to get lost in their moral murkiness. With ''The Town'', he presents us with 'Charlestown'', a small neighbourhood in the Boston locale, which we're told houses most of the criminals responsible for the 300 or so bank robberies committed there every year. It is here that we open on Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), as he and his team rob a bank. Affleck shows his progression as a filmaker from the off, as this expertly mounted and brilliantly planned heist, is echoed in Afflecks Directing skills. In fact each of the three or so major action scenes are all brilliantly orchestrated. Events are feverous and hectic but never do the audience lose track of what is happening on screen. Its shoot-outs in particular rank as some of the best I have seen in years. As MacRay and his team take hostage Claire, (Rebecca Hall), a young bank teller, MacRay then takes it on himself to keep tabs on her, to make sure she does not give away any details she may have witnessed about MacRay and his masked group, to Special Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm). As Doug and Claires relationship begins to grow, Doug soon realises that this may not be the life for him after all. But with the screws tightening from the FBI closing in and tension within the group itself, will he actually be able to make it out of Charlestown alive?

The ensemble cast are all superb. Affleck knows talented actors and litters his film with them. Hamm continues his role to superstardom as the very cunning and calculating Special Agent. In one scene in particular he jumps from slyly charming, to steel and beady eyed malice in a heartbeat. However Affleck does not drown his film with out and out bad guys. Characters here carry shades of grey to them. So while Frawley may be the antagonist, he is not all bad. Only Postlethwaite carries any of the panto 'boo and hiss' trappings of his villainous turn. Possibly the best performance of the film belongs to Renner as Jem, Dougs best friend. Exhibiting all the intensity that got him an Oscar nomination for ''The Hurt Locker'', his role provides a lot of the tension and emotion. A pent up ball of fury that may erupt at any time, his most heart stopping and stand out moment comes when he accidentally stumbles upon Doug and Claire on a date. His is a character borne out of his tough upbringing. Violence is all he knows and is the only way he knows how to express himself. He may not exhibit the remorse Doug has for his actions, but there is still something entirely sympathetic about him. A product of a rough and rotten upbringing, his downfall began at a young age when he killed another kid because he 'didn't like the look of him'. Under Renner's skilled wing, Jem isn't just the homicidal maniacal caricature he could easily have been, but something far more more sad and layered. Tension in the group comes from him at heart feeling threatened by Halls character. He doesn't want to lose his buddy and half brother and on these streets, family is everything. So when Doug tells him how he's 'getting out', what else can Jem do but fight? He is nothing outside of Charlestown and the prospect of existing in a world outside of it is too scary. Jealousy stems from Dougs ability to at least try to leave, something Jem could never do.

And then there is Affleck the actor. While this is undoubtably the best he has been in years, it is still outmatched by his skills behind the camera. One of the biggest strengths is the films ability to still seem fresh and entertaining when the the plot and themes are anything but. Boston crime in film is so common now, it could form a sub-genre onto itself. With Afflecks previous film, ''Gone Baby Gone'', it is also joined by ''Mystic River'' and ''The Departed'' in the familial stakes. That the film also shares parallel themes with the 1995 classic ''Heat'' and ''Point Break'', shows that Affleck is hardly treading on new ground here. It is this which while is certainly a big plus, it also means the film is prevented from 'classic' status. Events here have been covered plenty of times before and the film will offer you nothing new in the way of crime thrillers. It will however, offer a very solid and exciting evenings entertainment with some of the best ensemble acting in recent memory. Affleck should be applauded for making films for adults once again, and the films strong showings in both the US and Europe show that they are more than ready for films that don't have to rely on special effects to be a commercial hit. That Affleck has also changed the publics perception of his talent is astounding in itself. Tell anyone walking out of ''Forces of Nature'', that that actor will be writing and directing some of the finest and mature films appearing in cinemas in 10 years from now and they might have been liable to laugh in your face. In fact, I might have too.

Verdict: 79%
Ben Affleck cements his new found reputation as a very talented Director, with this expertly crafted and exciting crime drama. He builds on his Directing skills while also providing a more than solid nights entertainment. Expect to see this nominated for its outstanding cast come the awards season.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


I know it is the best interests for distributers to sell a film in the very best way they know how. At the end of the day, they want to get bums on seats, regardless of how they got them there in the first place. There has been plenty of intentionally misleading trailers over the years. Recent examples like the addition of far more alien laser sights fixed on Adrien Brody's torso in the "Predators" trailer and non stop and mindless horror thrills promised from the trailer to "The Last Exorcism" are two that immediately spring to mind. People who are forking their hard earned cash over to sit in a darkened room for two hours want to know exactly what they are getting, and more often than not, these misleading promos can usually do more harm than good. Why tell audiences that the thing that they may have paid to see the film in the first place is not there at all. It is frustrating on the audiences part and the feeling of being cheated can do nothing but harm the original films chances to do what it was originally made to do in the first place. "Predators" only had three aliens, not the multiple foes as promised in the trailer, but I still didn't let it bother me as it still proved to be entertaining in its own right. "The Last Exorcism" turned out to actually be quite a clever character study and offered more in the way (until that disastrous finale) than usual horrors have been giving us recently. That the film was actually ruined by loud and obnoxious members of the audience too impatient to sit through the subtle character details, and (very loudly) voicing their thoughts on the horror that may be in store for them only left me livid and intent on not enjoying the final film on its own terms; rather why it provoked the audience to react like this, and hence why the film was not reviewed here. That this happened to me again the following week when I sat down to "Cyrus" only provoked questions of why these distributers seem intent on harming their (sometimes very precious) films chances for finding its audience. Sure, they have to get an audience in the first place, but when it comes from such a misleading direction, prompts question of when does it change from 'selling' to 'lying' to the audience? That all these examples are very fine films in their own right begs the question; why compensate for something that isn't there? Have more faith in your film, and it will find its true audience if it is good enough. Which then brings me to this review.

Initial trailers for "Cyrus" promised a raucous indie comedy. Shades of infant, silly humour reminiscent of "Step Brothers" seemed apparant, mixed with a healthy dose of indie sensibilities so as to balance out the mad cap comedy on display. That it also featured Jonah Hill and recent comedy graduate John C. Reilly only perpetuated this. How strange it was then, to sit down and find that this was not the comedy with some occasional drama as expected; more so, a drama sprinkled with a few choice moments of humour here and there. The result as I was watching was while not disliking the film, I found myself irritated at my own preconceived notions. I believed I always let a film play on its own terms no matter what, and yet here I was, not doing so. I wanted and expected a comedy. If I had been sold the very decent and quite original drama that it is, I could have enjoyed the film more. Advertising took away from the film. This is all the more regrettable as the film is a very enjoyable one indeed. I may perhaps review this again on its own terms soon, but as for now, I am only left with my feelings as I walked out of the theatre.

John C. Reilly is John, a 40 something divocee. He still spends more time than is healthy with his ex and is seemingly unwilling to get over her. That mixed with his very lonely existence seems to be taking over his life. Imagine then his good fortune, when he meets Molly, played by Marisa Tomei. The two strike up a relationship and John believes his luck is finally changing as he finds himself, for once in a very long time, happy. This all changes however when he is introduced to Cyrus, Molly's 20-something grown son played by Hill, who immediately takes a dislike to John. The two butt heads over their affection (and in Cyrus' case, quite unhealthily so) for Molly. While this provides moments of quiet, subtle humour, focus is primarily kept on its quirky characters. There are no laugh out loud set pieces here. As befitting a cast this talented, everyone delivers knock out performances. It's been a while since Reilly has delivered a role this nuanced and reminded me of what a talented character actor he was and still continues to be. While excelling at his more recent and broader comedy output, it's refreshing to see he hasn't lost his dramatic sensibilities. Marisa Tomei continues her late career transformation into a very worthy actress, although some more character detail would be welcome for Molly (is she unaware of how unhealthy her relationship with Cyrus has become?). Catherine Keener has it in her contract to appear in every indie film ever and again gives a nice little performance. However, it is Jonah Hill who surprises the most. Previously seen very loudly spouting crude lines of dialogue for Judd Apatow, here he plays Cyrus with some very refreshing depth and respect for his character. Underneath that quite calm exterior, there is a wealth of aggression and emotion that he does not seem to be able to grasp onto. He expects and wishes everyone to treat him like an adult, and yet it seem he is still finding it hard to mature to one. This results in some very awkward conversations with John and what has to be, in this year anyway, the most cringe inducing dinner scene in recent memory. Siblings, The Duplass Brothers helmed proceedings and they inject some very real observations on human behaviour. This comes from their 'mumblecore' past, but giving the actors the scene and letting them improvise around it results in some very real moments. Of course this could have resulted in disaster, but letting the actors find their characters as opposed to being told what they are, is very refreshing. The only problem with this, is that giving the actors such free reign means that the film isn't especially good looking. Shaky hand held camera, mixed with frequent zooms means that while it adds to the realism, it hardly makes the film shine.

However, this brings me back to my minor quibbles with the film. The film is very well acted, and offers some very memorable characters and situations, but is not what I was expecting. These feelings were not to be put to rest as tension rose in the audience as they kept on expecting belly laughs that never came. The feeling became palpable among us. Cyrus has some very uncomfortable oedipal like tendencies to deal with, and it is a very unassuming and lonely man who is on the receiving end of his inability to deal with his emotions. While far from bleak or draining, it just isn't what most mainstream audiences will want to see. Which is fine, but why invite them in the first place?

Verdict: 66%
A very original and excellantly acted study of conflicting relationships. The film knows what it is and does it very well, just don't go in and expect the laugh riot as what was initially suggested.