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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Romantic comedies are an incredibly difficult genre to wring any originality from. It has a tried and tested formula and one in which almost every single film of this nature follows to a tee. Which means that, to a certain degree, a romantic comedy is completely hamstrung by it's genre before it has even begun; there will never be any surprises in store for the audience. Well very refreshingly, Crazy, Stupid, Love approaches the genre from a very real and surprising place. For once, a romantic comedy has it's fair share of originality and twists that does wonders for the story. Led by the directors of last years uber-unconventional and very rude I Love You, Philip Morris, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, seem to have carved out a nice original niche in genre films. This films surprise factor plays a huge part in why the film works as well as it does. However, when a film is this tightly written and performed with spark by a great cast then any stale notions of what the genre might entail are swiftly forgotten. Love, it seems can drive people to do the most irrational of things. The most confusing and yet common emotion, the film rather smartly explores variations on the theme. Unrequited teenage lust, stale marriage woes and those first exciting springs of discovery in someone new are all smartly woven throughout the story. As a result, the film is most certainly romantic, but not in erring to the overly sentimental side of things. Unsurprisingly, sex has a huge part to play in connections with others. Steve Carell stars as Cal, a 40-something going through a very painful divorce with his wife, Julianne Moore. Frustrated by love and hamstrung by a very nerdish demeanor, professional womaniser Jacob (Ryan Gosling) takes him under his wing to help teach him the ways of the mysterious woman. So what follows is a Hitch of sorts, with plenty of comedic material being derived from Cal's unfortunate adventures in this strange new world. Of course, things are not as simple as that, and the film has plenty of more tricks up it's sleeve throughout. Led by a smart, sassy and sexy script, characters are subtly developed so that while certain motivations for things might not be initially obvious, the more time we spend with these people, the more we understand about them. Wisely the film does not spoon feed the audience, but rather let's it's characters naturally progress onto events and earn the confusion, emotion and comedy that the film does so well. The only thing that the film let's itself down in, in fact, is a trite denonoument that trips over all the cliches and conventions it had smartly avoided for most of it's running time. It's not enough to derail the film, but it does leave a bad after taste when everything before was so much stronger. Overall, the film is a refreshing success. There was plenty of potential pitfalls throughout but for the most part, the film is an entertaining, witty and smart take on an otherwise stale genre. It also has the best scene set on a lawn you will see this year.

Verdict: 7/10
Apart from a disappointingly mundane and cheesy ending, the film offers plenty to say on the reality of love and sex and everything in between. A tight script effortlessly interweaves through a fantastic cast and the film has a fresh take on romance than is usual for a film of this type. Who says romance is dead?

"Crazy, Stupid, Love." Trailer

Monday, September 26, 2011


How does Ryan Gosling do it? The man is in front row to be my hero of 2011. His acting talent grows ever more intriguing and varied with each role he undertakes and he has a great eye for picking fantastic parts in great films. Blue Valentine  is quite possibly one of my favourite films this year, this week he is in two notable release (the other being Crazy Stupid Love) and with George Clooney's The Ides of March garnering serious oscar buzz for later on in the year the mans star wattage shows signs of growing ever brighter. Hands in the air, I have a serious man-crush on the guy. However here he achieves greater acclaim for making a quilted sports jacket with a gold scorpion on the back while mysteriously chewing a tooth pick look like just about the most stylish thing you may see all year. Drive is for all it's hints of loneliness and existentialism is far more concerned with smooth and pretty surfaces. Like Gosling's unnamed character, the film might have torrents of emotion running underneath, but it rarely lets them out. Unless to cave someone's head in that is. Drive might be ultimately shallow and even perhaps contrived at times in it's storytelling but when everything is handled as well as it is, it's hard not to fall in love with it's arthouse/action stylings. Dutch director Nicholas Winding Refn (him off ultra violent and questionably pretentious fare like Bronson or Valhalla Rising) deserves applause for delivering stale plot threads and characters through anything but standard means. Through every frame, the film brims with gorgeous images and subdued, yet vibrant colours. The story goes that upon Gosling and Winding Refn's first meeting, the heavily medicated director, recovering from a cold, burst into tears in a flood of inspiration at hearing REO Speedwagon on the radio. This was their 'Driver'. A lonely guy who drives around on his own all night listening to 80's pop music. True to his word, Drive is the perfect marriage of 70's/80's car chase 'heist gone wrong' thrillers, updated with a cool indie sheen. And it's all breathless, adrenaline inducing stuff.

From it's credits of retro indie beats mixed with pink font you know there is something striking in store. Gosling plays the Driver with no Name who works as a Hollywood stuntman while moonlighting as a getaway driver at night. His life is one of solitude and never getting too close to anybody. That is until new neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) moves in with her son and the two strike up a relationship. As the Driver begins to melt his hard exterior and get close to this new family, his violent past comes crashing back into everyones lives. Along the way, supporting characters are filled out by fantastic character actors from Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston (his usual reliable self), Ron Perlman (having great fun), Oscar Isaac (about the only one who escaped from Sucker Punch untainted) Christina Hendricks (fans of Mad Men will not be happy with her limited screen time) and the usually typecast Albert Brooks. Brooks in particular is mesmerizing. Usually seen in childrens fare and nice guy roles, here he plays the psychotic main antagonist to fantastic effect. Interestingly, he is infused with layers making his violent actions all the more shocking and unpredictable. Surely an oscar nod can't be far off? And then there is Gosling. Given little to no lines throughout, Gosling gives a hypnotic and quietly powerful performance and one that is sure to be remembered in cult circles for years. Winding cast his film perfectly and everyone delivers in their respective parts. That is, apart from Mulligan. A usually fantastic talent, she is never less than entrancing in anything I have seen her in prior. Unfortunately here she seems distractingly miscast and is given little or nothing to do. One minor flaw in a fantastic film. Spontaneously prone to breaking out in hyper violence as it is in 80's synths, the film is certainly one of the more memorable you will see. Gorgeously shot and impeccably acted, Winding Refn has crafted one of the best of the year with scenes that will stick with you for a long time after. An art house version of an action film and one that is filled with as much quiet moments of introspection as it is in gun fights and car chases. Channeling the vibe of Bullitt and early Michael Mann, Drive is every bit as exciting and interesting as that might expect. While it's title might suggest revving auto parts; what it in fact refers to, is the driving force behind decisions and what consequences they may take.

Stylish, exciting and frequently adrenaline pulsing stuff, this takes the stale notions of what a crime movie might usually entail and turns them into a far more interesting and memorable experience. It may not be deep, but Winding Refn handles the atmosphere perfectly and delivers one of the sure to be favourites of the year.

"Drive" Trailer

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Trailer: [rec] 3: Genesis

The eagerly awaited teaser for the latest in the [rec] series has finally debuted online. A teaser in the true sense, this gives next to no plot details away and only a few tantalisingly gruesome images for the gorehounds. Taking the action out of the old apartment block that [rec]'s 1 & 2 so ably used in their stories, this time the action is transplanted to a wedding just down the road. Secrets are still in abundance, but you can be rest assured that director Paco Plaza (co-director on the first two: Jaume Balagueró is helming number 4 on his own) will have plenty of tricks up his sleeve and pack the film with the same rollercoaster ride of fear the series is renowned for. [rec] 3 is due for release in it's native Spain in March 2012.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Troll Hunter

It could be lazy to compare The Troll Hunter to fellow Scandinavian fantasy Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale from last year, but there are an abundance of similarities to be found. Both are fantastical tales, borne out of the dark side of fairytails. Both utilise their almost mystical landscape to great effect in helping to craft some of the fantasy. And then there is the fact that both come from histories steeped in rich mythos. So while Rare Exports centered on the fact that not only does Santa Claus exist, but he is a centuries old demon, imparting only terror and misery on those at Christmas time, The Troll Hunter rather matter-of-factly deals with the very real secret of giant trolls living in rural, remote Norway. The film begins on a small group of film maker students, interviewing the locals and trying to find the culprit behind the bear slayings in their town. Through this they find Hans (Otto Jespersen), a very private man reluctant to let any camera upon him or be interviewed. However, those pesky students follow Hans one night and find a lot more than they bargained for. As it turns out, Hans works for the Norwegian government as (very large) pest control for the problem of trolls. Disillusioned with his work and sick of being undervalued, he eventually agrees to let the small camera crew document his hunt for the various trolls that have breached their territories and the reasons behind this.

Through it's found footage mockumentary stylings, director André Øvredal has great fun in exploring the various types of troll, their behaviour and just how they have managed to exist all this time without the public knowing about them. Like the aforementioned Rare Exports it is also very refreshing to see films coming from somewhat smaller countries and competing with Hollywood in the broad entertainment stakes. While The Troll Hunter certainly had a small budget, it still delivers it's fair share of 'money shots' through the escalating set pieces and troll attacks. The film is a monster movie of sorts, as each of the trolls tower imposingly over our hero with each desperately eager to drink the blood of a Christian man. Hans is hilariously unfazed throughout. Wisely, the film doesn't take itself too seriously and this is personified in Hans. To the film makers and the audience, the events are frequently amazing and yet to him, it is all in a days work. The designs and effects of each troll is wonderful and original, giving valuable personality to many of the different creatures. The sound design must be applauded also for adding to the nuance and tension so that while the camera might not pick up what is stalking them, the various thuds and stomps let the audience know that something big and imposing can never be too far off. Alas, it's basic format seems to be the films main drawback. While it was obviously chosen as a means to paper over any budgetary concerns with the monsters, it seems that the 'found footage' format' is only growing old at this stage. Sure the film offers plenty of hair raising moments with great effects, but that is only ever followed by endless scenes of Hans driving through (admittedly stunning) Norwegian fjords and landscapes along with the dreaded Blair Witch patented effect of 'shaky cam running through the woods as something chases from behind'. Surely a more traditional narrative approach could have worked better while still keeping it's minimal effects to the basics. Don't forget that for Jaws the prosthetic shark on set barely ever worked which led to Spielberg having to come up with ever more ingenious ways of personifying danger without ever showing the monster. You don't need poorly shot shaky hand held camera for the audience to visualise themselves in the situation.

Verdict: 6/10
A frequently fun and exciting monster movie. Norway competes with Hollywood and for the most part admirably succeeds with it's effective low key CG effects and designs. It's themes and main character are original and it is only in it's mockumentary format that shows the genre is growing ever more tired and which takes some of the steam out of proceedings.

"The Troll Hunter" Trailer

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

30 Minutes or Less

Coming off the back of such mega successes as Ruben Fleischer had with Zombieland and Jesse Eisenberg with The Social Network, can always be tricky territory. Between Fleischers debut being the huge critical and commercial success that it was and Eisenberg's oscar nomination, it seems that all eyes are on them for what they will do next. I'm sure there might be some out there who bemoan the fact that they have turned their attention to something like 30 Minutes or Less, a film that flexes very little of it's brain muscles. However, while it may not be terribly bright, the film is terribly funny. Utilising a core group of hilarious up and comers in comedy to maximum effect, events coast by easily on the casts charms. So while some plot inconsistencies might be raised, they are quickly forgotten in a rapid quick fire assault of jokes and vulgarity. In a Summer crowded with R rated comedies (Bridesmaids, Bad Teacher, The Hangover Part II, Horrible Bosses) competition was certainly raised for 30 Minutes or Less. Thankfully, the film delivers laughs in spades and while it may not be the most memorable experience you will have in a cinema this year, it certainly packs in plenty of fun in it's sparse running time.

Eisenberg stars as Nick, an underachieving slacker/pizza delivery boy. Playing fast and loose with a very crude screenplay, it is nice to see Eisenberg ditch his usual nervy, love lorn and misplaced genius persona and give Nick an air of apathy about him. If previous Eisenberg portrayals had the problem of caring too much, then Nick cares too little - about his life, his job and his friends. He suddenly finds he cares a lot more than he thought when bumbling and incompetent local bums Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson) strap a bomb to his chest and order him to rob a bank for them. Sure Eisenberg still retains his usual 'Eisenberg-iness', but he casts an air of palpable panic to Nick and grounds proceedings in his drama. As the two would be criminals Mssrs. McBride and Swardson are their usual reliable selves. Swardson usually only shows up in bit parts or brief comedy sketches elsewhere, so it's nice to see he has the chops to deliver a genuine full rounded character without growing tired before things end. McBride gives another one of his 'red neck asshole' performances that where he not so pitch perfect doing it, would have grown stale long ago. Contrasting their plight with Nick and his best friend Chet's (Aziz Ansari) is nicely handled. Chet is the only one left to turn to when Nick finds himself in his predicament. As his partner and accomplice, it is great to see Ansari finally get the break out role that any followers of his will know, was a long time coming. Eisenberg and Ansari have great chemistry and in that bank robbing scene alone, we see how well they play off each other. In fact, the comedy builds steadily throughout, only heightening as events get more and more dangerous. So as things get more and more farcical, the laughs grow bigger and bigger. Fleischer delivers a funny, fast paced, thrill ride comedy and doesn't dilly dally as things are quickly wrapped up in no time. In fact at a sheer 80 minutes, it's running time is one of the reasons it all works so well. It's cast do great work with their profanity-laden parts and Fleischer proves that Zombieland  was no fluke. Sure it's not big or clever, but it sets out to deliver laughs across a high concept format and it delivers in spades. It's cast ensure that the jokes keep on coming and it's short running time is enough to distract you from any glaring plot holes or contrivances. All the film wants you do to is sit back and laugh at stupid people doing stupid things, so why should you fight it - especially when it's got a killer car chase set to this.

Verdict: 7/10
It's not going to win any awards, but Fleischer's film delivers jokes by the bucketload. Naysayers of any the cast before will find nothing revolutionary here, everyone else will be laughing too hard to notice. Short, sweet, punchy and very entertaining.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Kill List

There is a stunning sense of dread that permeates every frame of Kill List. It is unfair to call the film an outright horror - although things do get mighty horrific, building steadily to more disturbing happenings; the film rather, is it's own thing completely. It's own curious oddity. That underlying tension throughout proceedings helps subvert genre. Parts gritty drama, hit-man thriller and buddy comedy, the film is every bit as original as you might expect from such a blend. Taking such stale staples of cinema as it's starting point, Kill List then uses them to mould an increasingly bizarre, violent and disturbing tale and is one that come it's end, will leave a cold grasp on you. In fact that is perhaps where the film may get it's true power from; in letting some of it's more subtler character beats and plot developments mature in your head, you realise just what director Ben Wheatley and his cast have crafted. This is a film that makes you work for it and you will only get out what you put in. But if you're prepared to go the distance - and Kill List goes to some pretty dark places, then you will have one of the more original hard hitting films this year. Somewhat unfairly, the film has been proclaimed to almost 'instant classic' status by some reviewers; a move that while it will surely help it's box office, can only leave most somewhat underwhelmed by such a high benchmark. Not to say the film isn't good enough, rather it would seem that the film is simply too small for the masses. This is something that works best as a more cult finding. Those who discover it knowing as little as possible will be those whom the film works best on. I would even go so far to suggest not even reading this review for fear of only adding to the hype machine, but I digress......

Focusing on the minutiae of British suburban life, we open on Jay (Neil Maskell) and wife Shel (MyAnna Buring). Locked in a passionately violent marriage, the stress of bills and mortgages are taking their toll as their young son Sam (Harry Simpson) watches on helplessly. So far, so regular, until we discover Jay has the far from regular job as a hit-man. Eight months after what seems a disastrous job in Kiev, Jay reluctantly takes on another job with cohort and best mate Gal (an excellent Michael Smiley): the titular list. Of course in films, that 'one last job' is never a good idea and pretty soon, the two find themselves in increasingly murky territory as each hit on their list leads them down darker alleys. The cast are all uniformly excellent. Wheatley and the cast spent almost as much time improvising various takes as with scripted material and the result is incredibly effective. Maskell and Buring's relationship is painfully conveyed to almost too realistic effect. A couple that bicker and fight, only to make up seconds later; it is obvious to everyone but them, that they should not be together. At the heart of things however, is Jay and Gal. As the two embark on their murderous road trip, they paint a memorable couple. Killers with their own set of moral codes; they are fiercely loyal to each other. The two actors do a fine job in making the audience believe the bond between the two. Their core relationship also leads to some of the more wittier moments; never too far off it seems and perfectly breaking up all that tension and misery in between. However, as the List becomes unofficially longer, and the boys realise they are in over their heads there is only more and more unresolved questions stacking up. Who exactly is the man who hired the guys in the first place? Why do Jay's targets continually thank him before each murder? What exactly is that mysterious symbol scribbled on the back of the mirror in Jay's bathroom? All and none of these questions are answered. Mystery surrounds every corner of Wheatley's story and while he may not give a solid answer to any of them, you can rest assured that he has provided enough hints prior to let you connect the dots. It is also safe to say a second viewing will be almost as enlightening as the first, and help clear up some of the mystery. Throughout, Wheatley effortlessly builds tension. Though not much at all may be happening, there is a sea of violence just waiting to explode at any time. All this is only built on by the films atmospheric soundscapes, breathing deep unease into the images. Overall the film is an incredibly peculiar chiller. Not outright horror, drama or crime/thriller, it is hard to categorise.  Instead of this being a hurdle, the film uses this confusion to build a very original and disturbing tale, although definitely not for everybody. If you let the film work on you, by the time the lights come up you may be shocked, confused and just a little bewildered, but no less stunned. But don't listen to me, you're better off taking the film on it's own merits and finding out for yourself.

Verdict: 8/10
A frequently disturbing and odd film that effortlessly blends genres to stunning effect. Some will bemoan the lack of cohesion come it's end, but everyone else will be taken on a very uneasy and murky ride through the underside of British suburbia. Darkly comic and very unsettling, it is an experience you might not be able to shake soon after.

"Kill List" Trailer