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Monday, February 28, 2011

Oscar Night: 2011

Last nights oscars signaled the end of awards season. As is befitting the oscars there were next to no surprises to be found with any of the winners. It may just be me, but even a film as distinguished as "The King's Speech" winning most of the big awards is just small minded on the academys behalf. It gets very boring very fast to see the same film, no matter what it is winning all the awards. The thing with this years oscars was that all the nominees were very deserving and in good company with each other. It may be corny and old fashioned but all of them are winners in their own right. And of course it should not be forgotten that the oscars should never be considered as a true sign post towards how truly great a film is. There are always plenty of good films the academy fails to even recognise let alone nominate. Here are the winners in full:

Best Picture
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

Best Director
David O. Russell – The Fighter
Tom Hooper – The King’s Speech
David Fincher – The Social Network
Joel And Ethan Coen – True Grit
Darren Aronofsky – Black Swan

Best Actress
Natalie Portman – Black Swan
Annette Bening – The Kids Are All Right
Jennifer Lawrence – Winter's Bone
Michelle Williams – Blue Valentine
Nicole Kidman – Rabbit Hole

Best Actor
Javier Bardem – Biutiful
Jeff Bridges – True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network
Colin Firth – The King's Speech
James Franco – 127 Hours

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams – The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter – The King’s Speech
Melissa Leo – The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld – True Grit
Jacki Weaver – Animal Kingdom

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale – The Fighter
John Hawkes – Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner – The Town
Geoffrey Rush – The King's Speech
Mark Ruffalo – The Kids Are All Right

Best Original Screenplay
Another Year - Mike Leigh
The Fighter - Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Keith Dorrington
Inception - Christopher Nolan
The Kids Are All Right - Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
The King's Speech - David Seidler

Best Adapted Screenplay
127 Hours - Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
The Social Network - Aaron Sorkin
Toy Story 3 - Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich
True Grit - Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Winter's Bone - Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Best Animated Film
Toy Story 3
The Illusionist
How To Train Your Dragon

Best Foreign Film
Biutiful (Mexico)
Dog Tooth (Greece)
In A Better World (Denmark)
Incendies (Canada)
Outside the Law (Algeria)

Best Score
How to Train Your Dragon – John Powell
Inception – Hans Zimmer
The King's Speech – Alexandre Desplat
127 Hours – A.R. Rahman
The Social Network – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Best Song
Coming Home from Country Strong – Music and Lyric by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey
I See the Light from Tangled – Music by Alan Menken Lyric by Glenn Slater
If I Rise from 127 Hours – Music by A.R. Rahman Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong
We Belong Together from Toy Story 3 – Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

Best Cinematography
Black Swan – Matthew Libatique
Inception – Wally Pfister
The King's Speech – Danny Cohen
The Social Network – Jeff Cronenweth
True Grit – Roger Deakins

Best Costume Design
Alice in Wonderland – Colleen Atwood
I Am Love – Antonella Cannarozzi
The King's Speech – Jenny Beavan
The Tempest – Sandy Powell
True Grit – Mary Zophres

Best Art Direction
Alice in Wonderland – Robert Stromberg, Karen O'Hara
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 – Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan
Inception – Guy Hendrix Dyas, Larry Dias and Doug Mowat
The King's Speech – Eve Stewart , Judy Farr
True Grit – Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh

Best Visual Effects
Alice in Wonderland –Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 – Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian
Manz and Nicolas Aithadi
Hereafter – Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell
Inception – Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb
Iron Man 2 – Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick

Best Sound Editing
Inception – Richard King
Toy Story 3 – Tom Myers and Michael Silvers
Tron: Legacy – Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague
True Grit – Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey
Unstoppable – Mark P. Stoeckinger

Best Sound Mixing
The King's Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

Best Documentary Feature
Exit through the Gift Shop
Inside Job
Waste Land

Best Live Action Short Film
The Confession
The Crush
God Of Love
Na Wewe
Wish 143

Best Animated Short Film
Day & Night
The Gruffalo
Let's Pollute
The Lost Thing

Best Documentary Short Subject
Killing In The Name
Poster Girl
Strangers No More
Sun Comes Up
The Warriors Of Qiugang

Best Editing
Black Swan
The Fighter
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network

Best Make-up
Barney's Version
The Way Back
The Wolfman

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Nerds all over rejoice-Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are back. The two are poster boys all over the world for geek culture; two regular guys from the Midlands done good. In fact this is a part of their appeal for many, including myself. They are relatable guys you could easily imagine having a pint with. Of course the fact that they are very talented also adds to the appeal. They perfectly mix influence and homage from their many icons with great storytelling. Every joke and winking nod to pop culture feels like it was designed specifically for me. You feel apart of their outlook because they themselves are geeks and wear it proudly like a badge of honor. Today, that badge is "Paul", their first film writing together and as you might expect from the two, it offers in-joke, after knowing gag, after spoof, after homage to many of their favourite science fiction films. Unfortunately something is missing from the team. That person is Edgar Wright, the director and brains behind their previous classics "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz". After taking a brief break from each other to work on some solo projects (Wright: 'Scott Pilgrim', Pegg and Frost: 'Paul') before they complete their seminal 'blood and ice-cream trilogy', the lads handed over the gig to Greg Mottola. Veteran of "Superbad" and "Adventureland", with "Paul" he finds himself stretching his directing muscles, being that the film is effects heavy and high on adventure; something his previous films (even the misleadingly titled "Adventureland") lacked. As a result, the film feels like the perfect hybrid of the two; Peggs and Frosts unique British comedy sensibilities and pop culture nods, and Mottolas gorgeous, all American vision mixed with his lucky charm actors, Seth Rogen and Bill Hader. However, for all its fun and humour, "Paul" finds the two desperately missing Wrights cinematic vision and assured writing. It is a problem that the film fails to break out of for most of its running time.

The film finds two life long friends Clive (Nick Frost) and Graeme (Simon Pegg) on a road trip through America. Life long sci-fi fanatics, their tour of old alien sites is given an authentic boost when real life alien Paul (Seth Rogen) shows up asking them to protect him from hot on his heel agents. Of course the alien here is entirely CG, something that could have been the complete undoing of the film for everybody involved. However, what could have been to the films downfall is actually the films biggest success. Paul is an absolute perfect creation and completely believable throughout. Using Seth Rogens voice was masterstroke; here he is funnier than anything he's been attached to in quite a while. The foul mouthed, weed smoking, smart arsed guy is the films strongest suit, and offers most of its amusing moments. Able support is given by (funniest woman alive) Kristin Wiig, Bill Hader, Jason Bateman and Joe Lo Truglio. However, despite its very talented and funny cast, the film never fully gets off the ground. Mottola shoots his love letter to Spielberg very well and events build suitably to its exciting and action packed climax. Despite the copious amount of references to the genre the film is surprisingly broad. I'm sure with all the money going in to making Paul (the character) a success, Pegg and Frost did this intentionally. To risk alienating the majority of their audience could have have sign posted that "Paul" might not have been the box office success it was this week. Put simply they have their core geek friendly fans, those who will show up based on the Pegg/Frost brand alone. But it would not be enough for box-office, so subtlety and genuinely clever and original gags go out the window. The film is great fun, and sorely needed after the last few po-faced Oscar weeks, but when we have learned to expect so much more from these two, then why should we settle for less?

Verdict: 7/10
A very humorous and entertaining film, and with a classic CG character to boot. Just don't go in expecting it to scale to the dizzying heights of either Shaun or Fuzz.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Never Let Me Go

There is something irresistibly fresh in the tragic beauty of "Never Let Me Go". It is not often you see a film blend seemingly contradictory genres together and yet this film succeeds admirably. Science fiction and drama are mixed with period detail to create a wonderful and hauntingly subdued film. Possibly not to everyones taste as evidenced by its poor box office in America, it is nonetheless a very worthy cinematic experience. The film paints an alternate dystopian history, and yet for all its subtle sci-fi musings, the film is primarily concerned with romance. Kathy H (a heartbreaking Carey Mulligan) grows up in a boarding school with life long friends Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightly). Throughout the years she finds her feelings for Tommy grow while the seemingly jealous and calculating Ruth becomes romantically involved with him first. As the young adults progress we see how their restrictive fate mixed with Kathys eternal unrequited love for Tommy affects their lives. There is a strong sense of tragedy running through the film. The films chief existential questions weigh heavy on our heroine. What does it mean to love? What does it mean to have a soul? The film is not a cheery watch, and yet if you work for for it, its low key charms will soon reveal themselves and linger inside long after the credits have rolled. Director Romanek, known more for his flashy music videos, here uses an effective and simple technique, filtering his rain drenched England through a system of grey and blue hues. Make no mistake, that while the film may sound uneventful and dull, it offers plenty of tantalising questions for the audience to answer. The cast are all uniformly brilliant handling the trio of characters superbly. While some of their actions, especially the initially nefarious Ruth, may seem hard to condone, they are nonetheless understandable. Of course sci-fi as a genre is based on asking big questions and this is no exception. With writer Alex Garland (working from the original novel by Kazuo Ishiguro) it is no surprise that the results are as thought provoking as they are. And yet the film has so much heart running throughout, making its weepy third act all the more effective. The film earns your emotional attachment to it. This is grand intelligent film making on an emotional and engaging level. It's poor showing in the states hopefully might not be the same over here, but it is a very tough and strange film to market. Not many people may initially think they want to see a film like this, but it is more than worth it. Films like this rarely come along and must be treasured when they do, otherwise Hollywood runs the risk of making every science fiction film stuffed with explosions and over sized robots. In a genre chocked full of predictable and stupid trappings, this breathes fresh life into it.

Verdict: 8/10
A haunting and frequently devastating oddity. It blends several genres together, to create an original yet understated thought provoking experience. This deserves to be mentioned with some of the greats come the years end, and its ignoring this awards season is criminal. A very special film.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Trailer - "Dead Island" (Game)

I'm not an avid gamer - haven't been for years. It is then all the stranger for me to embed a trailer for a new game here - but having watched it, you cannot deny it is a very cinematic vision on display here. As much as I love zombies as a classic horror monster in movies, it is rarely ever done justice on the big screen. In fact, if I remember correctly, the last decent attempt was 2004's "Dawn of the Dead". Well the trailer here breathes fresh life into the stale notion of zombies and is violent, creepy, cruel and most surprisingly of all, emotional. And all in just three minutes.

Monday, February 14, 2011

True Grit

I'm sure even the most hardened Coen Brothers fan had some doubts upon hearing the highly illustrious brothers were considering another remake. After all, the last time they attempted one, was 2004's notorious "The Ladykillers", which along with "Intolerable Cruelty" is regarded as the least favoured in the Coen canon. However the Coens are far too astute to hamper themselves again. Part of me even thinks that they know something about those two films that we don't-after all, they are very noticeable blotches on their otherwise impeccable filmography. The Coens have always done what they meant to, which is part of what makes them such great film makers. Everything in their films is so perfectly judged, that the fact that "The Ladykillers" and "Intolerable Cruelty" are the misfires that they are, makes them stick out even further like a sore thumb. Although some have speculated it's their lack of 'Coen-isms' in the scripts I believe it to be something else. For "True Grit" is yet another fantastic achievement by the brothers, and yet for all its stunning wordplay, and oddball characters, it is as times, not very Coen at all. It is a Western, plain and simple. Delivered without any irony, the audience are transported back to a gritty, rough and unforgiving time. One that while it recalls the epic, silent landscapes and southern grit of "No Country For Old Men" and "Raising Arizona", it finds the brothers on new tides. Not that you'd ever know it; it offers something new to the great Coen pantheon while still more than living up to earlier classics.

Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is bereaved after the recent and senseless murder of her father. At 14 years old she is head strong, confident, and more than a little vulnerable, but no less capable of taking care of herself. Being all these things and more, she takes it upon herself to capture and bring justice to her fathers murderer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). In order to do this, she hires boozy US Marshall, Rooster Cogburn (a marvelously cantankerous Jeff Bridges), the only man with enough 'true grit' to get the job done. Along the way they meet Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a man also out to capture Tom Chaney and bring him back to his native Texan soil. Along with its plot, its characters are completely without fault-something which is the very least you can expect from the brothers Coen. Utilizing its chase movie set-up, they find ample room for quirky observations on the many 'characters' the Wild West had to offer and which are more than a dying breed nowadays. Within its themes of revenge, redemption and everything in between, they also allow the relationship between Mattie and Cogburn to grow. As Mattie, Steinfeld was called upon to do an awful lot. It is she who carries the film and grounds it around the more colourful characterisations of LaBoeuf and Cogburn. At merely 13 years old, she very nearly walks away with the film, so strong is her performance. No mean feat with a cast of this calibre, all of whom fire with all guns blazing. As Laboeuf, Damon gets most of the laughs. A slightly egotistical and proud man, his vanity and pride lend itself to the films funniest moments, especially when the aftermath of one action leaves him with a subtle, yet humourous speech impediment for the rest of the films running time. And completing the trio is Bridges' Cogburn. Much has been made of the John Wayne 1969 original film and the Dukes performance with which he won his only oscar. Here Bridges walks away with the role; in fact it is fair to say he completely dominates it over Wayne and will be remembered as the definitive actor for the part. Through his mumbled, slurred and thickly southern drawl, it is he who gets the film loudest performance and he is a pleasure to watch. His constant butting heads with LaBoeuf is a source of many of the most entertaining moments and his slow warming up to the strong willed Mattie gives the film its heart.

The film is not afraid to be funny when it has to while still retaining its smarts and originality. Every Coens film has wry moments of humour (even the blacker than black "No Country For Old Men") and "True Grit" is no exception. In fact its violence and harshness, is contrasted wonderfully with two of the most humourous characters seen in a Coens film for quite sometime in LaBeouf and Cogburn (a fantastic double act). Bridges' second team up with the brothers after the classic "The Big Lebowski" was always going to deliver, while Josh Brolin delivers in the few scenes he has. However newcomers Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon and Barry Pepper fit very comfortably with the Coens sensibilities. Pepper in particular steals the film in his limited screen time, which reminds the viewer of how talented he always was-completely unrecognizable here, he is better than ever before. When it comes down to it, the Coens always cast their films impeccably. When it came to remaking the original, they faced doubting looks not only from their previously burned fans, but from the lovers of the John Wayne classic. Although it shares vaguely the same plot, the Coens stick closer to the original 1968 book it is based on, and it is from where it gets its emotional weight. Dialogue stems from the novel but also shines with the best the brothers have previously offered. In the end with a surprising amount going against them, the brothers turn in their most crowd pleasing, yet no less effective work in some time. What they never forget is that while Bridges may hog the limelight, its title is not about him-it is our heroine Mattie who always had true grit.

Verdict: 9/10
Bridges chews up the scenery and all the supporting cast (especially Pepper) deliver while Steinfeld gives an incredibly assured debut performance belittling her young age. In the end it may be commercial and crowd pleasing but it is no less Coen and their stunning sensibilities linger throughout in Roger Deakins gorgeous images, Carter Burwells heartfelt strings, and their own inimitable and finely tuned dialogue. If this is the Coens selling out, then more of it would be very much welcomed indeed.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Trailer - "X-Men: First Class"

The first trailer for Matthew Vaughns new 'X-Men' has gone online. While the previous two prequel/sequels left fans and critics all over the world cold, this looks as getting the franchise back on track, especially after Vaughns sterling work with "Kick-Ass" last year. The film is scheduled for release on June 3rd later this year.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Trailer - "Submarine"

Now this looks to be something very special. Written and Directed by 'Darkplace' alumni Richard Ayoade, this tells the story of a fifteen year old teenager living in the 70's, struggling to lose his virginity while also trying to keep his parents marriage together. Anyone who has seen the aforementioned 'Darkplace' will be interested in this and it looks as featuring a very welcome Wes Anderson feel to it, while still retaining the directors natural original sensibilities. The film is due out in March.

Rabbit Hole

I feel I may have missed the point of "Rabbit Hole". Upon first hearing about this film (a couple deals with the recent untimely death of their four year old son) I immediately thought 'thanks but no thanks'; as would most normal people. I mean in all honesty, who wants to sit through something so morbid and bleak? Sure, there are opportunities for some nice insights and observations, but is it really worth it to be so thoroughly bummed out? Then I heard a few initial reports on the film. Praise was very high indeed, and even more encouragingly, those previews painted the film as while being very sombre, also filtered through with a nice bit of understated humour. I suddenly became more interested. Sure Nicole Kidmans acting skills disappeared the second she lost the power to emote due to overuse of botox, but this could be her big comeback. Aaron Eckhart is consistantly one of the most underated actors going and with the original writer of the play it's based on, serving as screenwriter here, all pieces were in place for a suitably darkly humourous study of grief. Of course oscars interest in it didn't hurt much either. How disapointed was I then to sit down and find it was exactly the film I didn't want to get. Bleak, morbid, depressing, sad; this is not what I signed up for. Yes, for while "Rabbit Hole" does feature suitably moving performances by the always reliable Eckhart and newcomer Miles Teller, it is completely bogged down in its own gloominess. Nicole Kidman may be better here than she has in quite a while, but that still doesn't disguise the fact that her role screams 'I want an oscar!' and that her characters natural coldness segues into how we emote to her as a person. A few choice moments of humour does not make this any more palatable. As both of our leads handle their grief in different ways; for him an unwise relationship with a fellow grieving Mother, for her, a strange relationship with the teenager responsible for her sons death, we see them gradually fall apart. To be fair director John Cameron Mitchell does good work with the material. A look back on his earlier films of a travelling transgender singer in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and the sexual explicitness of "Shortbus" initially might paint him as the one person who should not direct a film of this nature, yet he pulls it off with admirable restraint. In the end the film is nothing but a well intentioned study of grief. Everyone involved puts in good work and Eckhart was robbed of an oscar nomination, but it's just not something I wish to wallow in for the films running time.

Verdict: 63%
I fear I may have missed something here, but while the film is never less than watchable, with some very admirable performances, its heavy handedness casts a too bleak tone on proceedings.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Fighter

Mark Wahlberg could be forgiven for being more than a little hurt by the academys ignoring of his performance in "The Fighter". Wahlberg has spent the better part of ten years trying to bring the project to life. The film as it exists today, and that it is as good as it is, is down mainly to Wahlbergs persistence. After going through a multitude of different directors and actors, and non stop grueling boxing training sessions, it looked like the film would never see the light of day on more than a few occasions. But his dedication paid off. In Wahlbergs career so far, "The Fighter" is his towering achievement. Sure, his performance has been unfairly overlooked elsewhere, but as producer the man can safely take credit for the films success. Make no mistake, this is a Mark Wahlberg film. Of course the hiring of personal friend David O. Russell to direct was a masterstroke. At one point Darren Aronofsky (among plenty of others) was tapped to direct, but his indecision at stepping back into the ring so soon after "The Wrestler" led to O. Russell taking over. He retains his executive producer credit here and looking closely it was probably for the best; would Aronofskys naturally dark and glum style have lent itself to an uplifting underdog sports drama? Russell and Wahlberg of course have worked together two times previously. "Boogie Nights" and "The Departed" aside, O. Russell has been the only director to consistantly have been able to get a performance out of Wahlberg. As frustratingly hit and miss as he is, it is easier still to dismiss his films. For every "Three Kings" there was a "Max Payne". Wahlberg is a better actor and more savvy than a lot of people give him credit for. A lot of his films certainly are lacking in areas, but it seems he knows fully what he is doing. His more recent attempts at blockbuster status could be seen as paving the way for "The Fighter". Without those, he could have not have made or funded it. The truth is that the fact that Wahlberg initially seems like an afterthought to this film, shows he has done his job as far as his role was concerned. The real life Micky Ward does always struggle to get a word in edgeways when surrounded by his Brother and Mother. If Wahlberg takes a step back and lets his co-actors take the glory, then it could be argued that thats only because that is what the real life Micky Ward has done. And by that measurement, Wahlberg gives quite possibly, the very best performance of his career so far.

What are all great boxing films really about. Certainly not boxing. Sure, the sport features, but it is not what the film is ever truly about. As a non boxing fan it seems odd that my possible favourite film of all time is "Raging Bull". I never watch boxing on television. This is because the idea of two grown men beating each other up holds very little interest to me. Not without knowing the background of these people. The psychology is incredibly engaging; why do these men willingly choose to spend their life taking a beating? Of course in the best sports films, the metaphor of the sport always serves as something else. "The Fighter" is not about boxing. It is about family. Managed by his all-domineering mother (a great Melissa Leo) and trained by his crack addicted brother Dicky(Christian Bale), Micky's commitment to his family was (again, like Wahlbergs commitment to his story) unwavering and seemingly at the detriment to his own career. They might all have noble intentions but they are dragging Micky down with them. At thirty something years old, Micky took his very last shot at becoming a success and went on to fight for the welter weight title. As the trouble making attention seeking older brother Dicky, Christian Bale is a revelation. Charasmatic but selfish; likeable but dishonerable, Bale nails the very conflicting mindsets. Bale has been much quieter in his roles in the past few years, so it's great to see he still has what it takes to be a method powerhouse when it comes to his parts. His dedication to Dicky is incredible and he completely immerses himself in his part. Much has been made of his repeated weight losses for his films, but here it only ever adds to the character. Of course looking at Dicky, it is obvious what he is, but Bale is pitch perfect in getting into the mindframe of the real life version. As strong as his competition will be on oscar night, he deserves to take home the gold statue. Speaking of which, it is safe to say he will be joined by Melissa Leo as the mother and manager of Micky, and the family. She reigns supreme and strictly governs and protects her family life as she does Micky. With her sprayed hair and venomous tongue, she cuts a very intimidating figure indeed for Mickys new love interest Charlene (AmyAdams). Not to mention Mickys seven sisters all holding a grudge against her and it takes a very special lady to stand up to them to protect Micky, but that is what Charlene does. Breaking type, Adams is fantastic; sassy, tough, but also nurturing and tender. The problem is that each member of the family has noble intentions for Micky. If only they can each let their egos from overtaking the spotlight, Micky could be the great success he has it in him to be. One of the treats of the film is rendering the family at all times loveable, in some warped way despite all the nefarious things they do and how they act. They all love each other and to them family is the most important thing in the world.

It might have been easy for some directors to go heavy on grittiness of our characters and themes, but very wisely O. Russell simply lets the characters be. Sure they are sometimes ugly but they are never less than real. The dynamic is the most important ingredient and O. Russell handles it wonderfully. Of course this also leads to some fantastic scenes of humour; with a family like this, how could it not be? He brings out the best of his cast and story and manages to keep the possibly too bombastic story on track. Bale and Leo offer incredible performances, but that is only because the film is anchored in Wahlbergs self assured lead. The central relationship of Micky and Dicky is what drives the film. While the films many fantastic HBO style boxing scenes will bring all the fireworks, it is the love between two brothers that will be the long lasting impression left on you. At the end it is there for all to see: it's easy to take a few punches, in time those scars will heal. The deeper scars caused by those you love in trying to keep everyone together is what will always cut deeper. And it is all down to Mark Wahlberg.

Verdict: 83%
A fantastic sports flick and the best boxing film seen in quite some time. The film is funny, touching and moving, all bolstered by stunning turns from everyone involved. A possibly predictable story is shot through David O. Russell's assured eye and long after the glare of the fights scenes have faded, it is the touching dynamic of the family that will linger inside.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Real life stories by their very nature, face an uphill struggle with just how invested audiences are going to be with the tale. Most of the time, we all know how these types of films are going to end up. Recent examples like "127 Hours" offered us existential questions not only about our protagonist, but also our own lives to side step this problem. "The King's Speech" offered a delectably told story about the friendship between two very different men under the heavy shadow of World War II. They also had endings that anyone with access to a library or computer could discover very easily. It was about how they told their stories rather than the outcome. Simply put, with films such as these, it's the journey that counts, not the destination. Shame then that "Conviction" falls into the narrative trap. If we all know how the film is going to turn out, then why should we spend two hours getting there? To be fair the true life story "Conviction" is based on is extraordinary in itself. It was simply begging to be turned into film material. If this is going to be the case then, it must offer the audience more substantial meat to chew on. Unfortunately for"Conviction" it very easily finds itself falling into 'TV movie-of-the-week' territory.

In 1983, smalltown trouble maker Kenny Waters (Sam Rockwell) was wrongfully convicted of the murder of elderly woman Katharina Brow. Kenny had no where to turn for help. With a corrupt officer out to get him, no money to defend himself in court and a history of volatile behaviour, he was sent to prison for life. His loving sister Betty Anne (Hilary Swank), seemingly the only one left fighting for his innocence then took it upon herself to defend her brother. Over the course of twenty or so years, Betty put herself through school and college to earn her GED, her bachelors, her masters and eventually her degree from law school. Her support and duty to her brother was stunning, but even after straining every relationship in her life to achieve this, she still had to find the evidence in order to prove her brothers innocence. As the siblings our two leads are unfaltering. Swank shows unreserved courage and dignity in her determination at setting her brother right, when everyone else has turned against him. Her vulnerability is touching at times, especially in a later scene asking her two sons would they do the same for each other. The real Betty Anne of course did something many of us would have to think long and hard before ever undertaking. With so much going against her, her almost entirely unwavering obligation to her brother is very inspiring and Swank conveys this very well. As Kenny the never less than reliable Rockwell delivers another nuanced performance, as is typical of him. His range knows no bounds, and with any role he finds himself perfectly at home there. I am an unashamed fan of his and would gladly watch any film featuring just him and him alone, as the classic in the making "Moon" ably demonstrated a few short years ago. The supporting cast also add nice touches to the film. Driver who I have not seen in anything for quite some time brings an understated and much needed dose of humour and spark to proceedings. Melissa Leo, carving out a very respectable career for herself as a reliable character actor, again delivers as the officer with a grudge to Rockwells character. However out of them all, it is surprisingly Juliette Lewis who impresses most as the woman who may or may not hold the key to Kennys innocence. In just two short scenes she leaves a lasting impression on proceedings and easily walks away with them.

Yet again, the main problem however falls mainly down to the director and script writer. Director Tony Goldwyn, who some might recognise as a very decent character actor in his own right, unfortunately does not grasp the material as immediately as he should. Events carry a flatness and never really shoulder the dramatic weight that they should. Worse still, the script only accentuates these problems. The real life story, being as strong as it is thankfully keeps proceedings on the rails, but it never seems willing to delve further into the darker implications a life wasted and a life given can have. Worse still, a very tragic and shocking accident that happened six months after the film ends is completely excised and not once mentioned in order to achieve a happy ending. Surely with the films many shifts in chronology such an important fact could have been worked into proceedings. I won't spoil what it is here, but the fact that it might render a 'what was that all for?' reaction in the audience might count as a reason but surely a better handling of the material could have found a way to make it work.

Verdict: 58%
Two leads impress as always and the real life story the film is based on is far too incredible and dramatic in its own right to ever render the film fully 'boring'. But the lack of focus on characters as opposed to plot ends up conveying the same reaction you could get from reading an article about Betty Anne and Kenny, and in far less time. Nice but insubstantial TV movie fodder.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It's Kind Of A Funny Story

It must be tough for any film centred on psychiatric stress, set in a hospital ward for mental patients; it will always invariably end up being compared to "One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest". In fact such a stamp has that film made on the genre, it seems that any film attempting to deal within the same topics, it will always come off as cliche and more than a little derivative. Put simply, it is hard for any new film put its own stamp on a subject so fragile and delicate. However as great as that film is, there surely must be some new things filmmakers can say nowadays about such a topic. However that is not to be the case here; its shadow unfortunately covers over almost all of "It's Kind Of A Funny Story". A film with noble intentions, but one that never rises above 'sweet'.

Craig (Keir Gilchrist) is a very stressed 16 year old boy. After having contemplated suicide, he checks himself into a psychiatric hospital. After initial feelings of fear and intimidation, Craig begins to get to know the patients around him. Among them is Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), who takes Craig under his wing and whom he forms a friendship with. Can Craig learn to control his emotions and not cave under the immense pressure from his father/friends/school? Along the way he meets Noelle (Emma Roberts) a fellow patient who self harms. The film does run the risk of being too bogged in seriousness and a dour subject matter. Mental health isn't exactly fun. However play it the other way, take away some of the levity from the illness and you risk making your subject twee and not to mention offending any real life victims of the disease. This is where the film finds its one major flaw. It seems caught in between thse two worlds and never fully committing to either. Director/writers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have proven their talent after their previous oscar worthy effort "Half Nelson" four years ago. In short they should have been able to pull off a far more substantial and satisfying film than what we are left with here. Not to say the film is not good; it is very entertaining and watchable at times, but is that really what you want when it should have been so much more?

The cast are all meet the demands of the script admirably. Lead, Gilchrist is a very charming protagonist and one that is easy to root for despite the fact that he has not been seen in much previously. Emma Roberts sidesteps her tween-centric past to convey a girl with a lot of serious, deep problems. If she seems quite 2D at times, it is down more to the limitations of the script and her character rather than her acting skills. She certainly has it in her to carry more dramatic and serious fare. And then there is Galifianakis. Galifianakis's schtick is showing signs of wearing. There is only so many times he can do the loveable idiot man-child before it falls into predictable and one note territory. The man is a very natural and funny comedian and actor, and it is obvious he is very talented. His stand up shows darker signs underneath than any of his bigger comedy films have, and HBO's sleuth comedy show "Bored To Death" show there is certainly more from his personality to be mined. I am glad then that this film demonstrates the range this man has the capability to play. It may only be one small step, but it should lead to greater things more people want to take a chance with him on. The role is funny and quirky at times, but offers more going underneath the exterior with problems not nearly as easily handled as our leads. Galifianakis pulls it off very well and the film comes alive with every scene he is in. So the main issue comes down to how the overall theme is portrayed. The film is too nice to bear any greater dramatical weight. There is far more going on here that the script should have delved into, but it is simply more content with with being sweet and feel good. It is funny, but why not take it into darker and possibly more controversial territory. Laughs could come thicker and the true dark nature of our minds fight with itself could be dealt with better rather than the sometimes too saccharine offering we are left with. The film is good, but it's hard to become too involved in it when our protagonists main problem is too simply chill out and relax.

Verdict: 65%
A very pleasant and entertaining film. Performances all deliver and Galifianakis proves he has plenty of range underneath the beard, but the film refuses to delve too deep into its dark issues, leaving a rather muted aftertaste.