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La La Land (2016)
An emotional roller-coaster which disorientates and fails to live up to the hype
La La Land, is a strange movie. There, I've said it.
It seems to leave the viewer with a somewhat split attitude, and will leave you pondering long after you've seen it.
It's been a long time since I've seen a movie which has inspired me to write any sort of feedback, but La La Land has done just that...
Depending on which review you read on IMDb, you'll either find a 10/10 which tells you that it is a musical masterpiece, hankering back to the old cinematic masterpieces of Kelly, Astaire and co, or you'll read a 1/10 which criticises each and every little detail of the movie.
Let's be honest, neither review is of help.
La La Land is a good movie. It has some great tunes, and for large parts leaves you inspired. There's no denying you'll come out of it feeling a bit of an urge to jump on top of the nearest car and dance.
However... it is not the masterpiece that is so widely reported.
There are times when both Gosling and Stone characters are infuriating, mildly pretentious and really rather whinny. Neither actor is perfectly cast, but simultaneously it is impossible not to be impressed by the fact that they've obviously trained hard at singing, dancing and (for Gosling) the piano.
It's a strange film. It really is.
I want to love it. I want to come out singing the praises and looking back at it with the fondness of old school movies, or even the more recent Artist. However, I can't. Something feels wrong about it. The cinematography is a bit off, the tunes don't always catch you, the story-line isn't always clear. It almost feels like the film tries too hard to be good. It knows there is potential, but it tries to force this ability, and subsequently lets itself down.
I enjoyed the Jazz, and there are scenes I look back on fondly. I want to watch it a second time, to give myself a greater understanding of it, but simultaneously I've not come out of the cinema and thought "I need to see that again." This is a bad sign.
You'll read a lot of praise for this film, you'll read a lot of criticism. You'll also read reviews a lot more detailed and knowledgeable than this one. I guess what I'm saying is that the film is not as good, or as bad as anyone says.
It's a film you should see. You'll need to make your mind up. Does it deserve the Oscars? Personally I don't think so. Will it win them? Probably.
Give it a go, but go in with an open mind. The critics can't help you with this one.
Mr 3000 (2004)
Predictable, not particularly funny. Worse ways to spend an evening.
There's something somewhat predictable about this film, but after 30-45 minutes of the film (yes, I'm reviewing it half way through), it's enjoyable.
The late Bernie Mac is Stan "Mr 3000" Ross. An arrogant, egotistical individual who never cared about his team or the fans. Instead all he thinks of is that 3,000 home runs and getting into the hall of fame.
When it becomes clear that the records are wrong, Ross assumes he can just walk back into the game and reclaim his name. Sometimes life doesn't work like that.
So, let's not beat around the bush, this is not an original film.
The plot is predictable and you can more or less write out the script in advance.
If anything though, that is part of the charm. You don't need to think about it, you simply watch and you simply enjoy.
Character personalities change over night, cinematography, soundtrack and direction fluctuate between mediocre and woeful. However the one endearing factor is that in the title role, Mac shines.
Yes, it's not a challenge role for him, but the film was never going to be an Oscar contender.
It is simply a fun, relaxed, happy film that you can watch and (dare I say it) feel inspired by.
Not one to go out and buy, but if it's on TV and there's nothing better to do, you might as well watch it. There are worse ways to spend an evening.
Star Trek (2009)
How a reboot can/should be done
There's an article referenced on IMDb from 2006 called "Spaced Out: Re- Booting Star Trek". Written by Bryce Zabel, he talks about the concept of re-booting a series now only 3 years off it's 50th anniversary. The Crew of the USS Enterprise, first hitting our TV Screens on September 8th 1966.
Well, saying "our" screens, my Mother would've been 15 at the time of premier, my Dad 14. It would be a further 16 years until I entered this world, and a further 5 years and the Premier of the Next Generation for my first discovery of Star Trek, and a love affair that would last for the rest of my childhood and most of my Adult life.
Anyway, back to case in point.
Zabel, like many others had a dream of bringing back a series and developing it into something new, something fresh.
Everyone in this life dreams of telling their own side to every story. Gathering the memories of life and taking them in a fabulous new direction.
Star Trek would eventually find this new life, this (to steal from another recently, successfully rebooted series) regeneration. It would find it thanks to the tender love and care of one of it's own fans.
J.J. Abrams, the man behind Lost, Alias and countless other hit series/movies, took hold of Star Trek and reinvigorated it.
After Jean Luc Picard's final outing on the big screen in 2002, Star Trek was flat out cold.
Personally, I'd never had a problem with the final film Nemesis, and a review written on IMDb way back in 2003 by yours truly (yes I'm referencing myself from 10 years ago, and no I don't care) showed that whilst at the time I enjoyed it, it never finished the series off properly. Admittedly the idea of the time whereby all surviving characters from the Next Generation, Deep Space 9 & Voyager would fight to the Death against an enemy (I even started writing a script where DS9 is blown up within the first 5 minutes) was a little far fetched, I honestly thought there was life in the series. The box office, and most other fans/pundits/critics felt differently. Star Trek was effectively KO'ed.
This meant that when Abrams got his hand on the series, there must surely have been only one option? A mainstay of Hollywood commercialism, a prequel.
At the time I shuddered and wondered how it could even work. A prequel is fixed within a universe, a point in time. Heroes shown as their younger selves, they cannot be changed, they cannot be written.
A character's life is written in scripts/novels and cannot be changed. So how can a prequel be anything other than a attempt to recapture youth and recapture a former glory?
Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, writers of this film find the only way possible. To create a prequel, to recapture the old heroes of your youth, whilst simultaneously telling a fresh and original story, there's only one way to do it. You need to make it 100% crystal clear that you are effectively creating an entirely new world, a parallel to the world of our dreams and memories. A place where anything can happen, and facts can be manipulated.
This Back To The Future style alternative reality, it allows for an entirely new future to develop. One where the characters can change and personalities rewritten.
Should a key actor quit, the story can accommodate this. Should they choose to blow something up, again, this is acceptable.
What makes the whole concept of these films so wonderful is that they ARE able to do this. The shock value in this movie of destroying Vulcan, the pure genius of this move, it is breathtaking, it is wonderful.
This isn't to say that there aren't tributes within the film to the original. The throw away lines to series, the introduction of nicknames like Bones and Scotty, they all add to the wonderful effect.
Include some superb (but not ground breaking) special effects, and the story takes on a life of it's own.
The acting is average, but acceptable, all actors mimicking the originals to varying degrees of acceptance. Karl Urban deserving special praise for his Leonard McCoy.
The film captures the mood effectively and does exactly what you'd expect really. It moves and enthrals. It makes you laugh, and it makes you think of days gone by. As a tribute it is superb, and as a fresh start, it is a masterstroke.
The sequel is due within the next month, and personally, there's a thrill and an expectation. Star Trek is firmly back where it belongs.
Bibliography Re-booting Star Trek by Bryce Zabel - http://bztv.typepad.com/newsviews/2006/06/spaced_out_star.html
Goal II: Living the Dream (2007)
Woeful sequel is a huge disappointment
SPOILERS Straight to the point, just like many other sequels, this is a woeful film. Badly directed, filmed, acted, written and made, it is a disappointing follow on to what had been a remarkably enjoyable original.
Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker) has been transfered to Real Madrid, but when you are a rich, spoilt footballer with more money than sense, life doesn't always run smoothly.
From the opening minutes, the flaws with "Goal II" become apparent. Whilst the original specialised in it's simplicity and rags to riches story, this is more about the fall from grace and corruption of the individual.
This story, this path to destruction, is told in such a weak, badly written style that not only do we loose any sort of connection with our characters, but eventually we actually end up loathing the entire concept of the film. In our first outing, we cared about Munez, we cared about those around him, we cared about Newcastle. Yet here we are, one film on, and nobody really cares about that over hyped, over arrogant bunch in Madrid. The humble nature of football is removed, at times intentionally, at times accidentally, from the entire story and the audience is made to suffer.
Away from the plot, we also have to face up to the awful truth that the whole cinematography has been ruined too. To give the first film it's due, it really managed to capture the footballing atmosphere perfectly, and when it slotted fictional characters into the live action, there was a degree of realism about it. So why do we now have some shoddy, artificial, attempt where everything looks more like a version of Pro Evolution Soccer than real life? The brightness of the light as Rutger Hauer's Dutch coach of Madrid would look at Munez on the bench, the whole feel, it looks ridiculously artificial.
Also, the film feels like it has been sped up too. When on the pitch, our first film was filmed at a relatively human speed, yet here we have fast action shots which look absolutely insane. It just looks nasty, pure and simple.
There is a lot else wrong with this film. The acting, the soundtrack (the first featured a rather stunning selection of Oasis tracks for some reason), the concept. Yet I'm going to avoid going into any more detail. This is a film which promised so much, and has delivered so little. It'll be interesting to see the third film at the World Cup, but my expectations are not that high. Stick to the first film.
Running with Scissors (2006)
Slow to start, and definitely thinks a lot of itself, but comes good
SPOILERS Let's be completely honest, if "Running with Scissors" really is the childhood experiences of Augusten Burroughs, then it's a miracle he has remained even remotely sane. A deranged, lunacy, the story of young Augusten is a fantastical tale of malcontents and nutters. Unfortunately, the film adaptation is also an inconsistent affair with positives and negatives in practically every direction.
Born to two parents who hate each other, Augusten (Joseph Cross) has a complicated life. His father, an alcoholic, supposedly violent man (Alec Baldwin) leaves his neurotic, fame obsessed, drugged up mother (Annette Benning) and somehow our young hero finds himself stuck in the home of the loopy Doctor Finch (Brian Cox). Will he leave this place with the slightest bit of sanity? Only time will tell.
Right from the outset, "Running with Scissors" puts itself up there as another of your surreal deranged movies with eccentric characters and outrageous surroundings. Not as funny as something like "The Royal Tenenbaums" but supposedly more realistic, it flirts constantly between dragging you into the story and spitting you out the other side. There are scenes of beauty when characters emotions are dragged to the forefront and their tension is released, and there are scenes of pure garbage for example an awkward poetry reading.
The film also manages to provide us with inconsistent acting standards. Annette Benning as Augusten's mother is absolutely magnificent throughout, and yet Gwyneth Paltrow's performance as a member of the Finch family makes you grind your teeth and scream with frustration. The standard is just so inconsistent, it defies belief.
Cinematography too manages to flicker between beautiful and dreadful. A scene where snow is falling on Benning is so crisply and moving filmed is a rare highlight, just like another scene involving the Finch family kitchen roof. Whilst on the opposing spectrum a scene involving Augusten and his mothers lover, a scene which should convey truly heart wrenching power, is filmed ineffectually and passes without merit.
Ultimately "Running with Scissors" just flicks from one side to another. Never knowing what it wants to achieve, it manages to fail to maintain a high standard throughout. Like the characters of the story itself, the film is never quite correctly balanced.
The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)
Well acted, but far too pretentious
SPOILERS If there is ever any example that one person can indeed make a difference, it is when you examine the evolution of our attitudes to nudity. Whether it is those who exposed more like Bettie Page or porn baron Larry Flint, or those who tried to have it covered up like Mary Whitehouse, the views of society have often been effected by the rare individual.
In "The Notorious Bettie Page", we get to learn about the enigmatic Ms Page and the ways her liberal attitude to nudity revolutionised the world. A story worth telling, it is also a role superbly played by Gretchen Mol. Yet, for all the decent acting, the film drags excruciatingly, and whilst black and white cinematography is so often used to great effect, here it comes across as pretentious and insulting. Playing on our emotions, the lack of colour tries to force us to feel emotions towards this character, which are at the same time undermined by the plot which tires and bores. The story is simply too much of the same thing and there's remarkably little substance.
All in all, "The Notorious Bettie Page" could have been something so much better. With some great acting performances and a story worth telling, there is potential there. It is a shame therefore that with a weak script and some truly awful cinematography, it would be such a dire film. If you fancy seeing some good acting, watch this film. Be warned though, it will bore you senseless.
The Thing (1982)
Scary, yet dated.
SPOILERS People have always told me how great "The Thing" is as a film. So it was with high anticipation that 15 years after it's release, I finally got round to watching it. It's a shame that I waited too long though. "The Thing" is a good film. It's tension builds nicely and the acting well above standard. Unfortunately it's also blatantly an 80s film, is ridiculously dated, and the special effects are practically Jim Henson standard.
Not exactly a complicated story, the beauty of this film is it's occasional twists. Set in the arctic, it tells the story of a bunch of scientists (including a young Kurt Russell) who are conducting experiments. As events unfold however, it becomes apparent that they aren't quite alone.
So taking the good points of "The Thing", it has great tension, the acting is up to standard, and occasionally it scares the bejezers out of you.
It's just a shame that despite all that the special effects have faded over the years and the creature itself isn't really that scary anymore. Still, for what it is, "The Thing" is pretty damn cool!
You, Me and Dupree (2006)
Daft, inspiring, entertaining fun
SPOILERS Always entertaining, there's generally something magical about Owen Wilson. Cheeky, eccentric, good natured, his characters just have an obvious likable element about them. In "You, Me and Dupree", it's exactly the same. As far as comedies go, this won't go up there amongst the best, but never mind, for a spur of the moment comedy, there's little wrong with it. Led by Wilson, it is a feel good buddy movie, and a romantic comedy, both rolled tightly together. It's inspiring and it leaves you feeling warm all over. That's a good film.
Carl (Matt Dillon) is getting married. Returning from his honeymoon with beautiful new bride Molly (Kate Hudson), life couldn't be better. That is, if it wasn't for two invasive individuals. Her father, the rich and intrusive Mr Thompson (Michael Douglas), and best man Dupree (Wilson). Unemployed and without a home, Dupree is too busy living life to settle. Moving into Carl's home until he finds a job, Dupree just goes right ahead and gets comfy, much to the annoyance of both his best friend, and his friends bride.
It was never going to be a high brow movie, but "You, Me and Dupree" doesn't need to be. Introducing us to the enigmatic Dupree, it brings us a brilliant character to grow attached to. A loose cannon, Dupree isn't really safe to be let out, but the predictable nature of the story means that we know he'll come good.
If there is one flaw in fact with the film it is that this predictability takes so long to get into gear. Stretching at 108 minutes long, "You, Me and Dupree" could almost be resolved after 60 minutes. It isn't a complex story, and towards the end it does tire. Still, it's enjoyable.
The one truly remarkable thing about this film, is a strange curiosity. Midway through, Dupree meets a girl. As events unfold, you think she might be an important character. Yet, for some obscure reason, we never once see this girls face. Is this intentional, or purely an error? It strikes me as odd that there would be no obvious meaning here. Still, it has little bearing on the film, and that can only be a good thing.
Yes, this won't ever win awards. It's not a classic in the making. Yet "You, Me & Dupree" is still an entertaining enough story to make you happy and even inspire you. Nice, simple entertainment.
Sport and Cinema oh so rarely mix
SPOILERS There is a remarkable inability between sport and cinema to actually cohabit. Despite the obvious importance in the lives of so many people, if you try to name films which actually capture the true essence of sport and translate it to the screen, they fail. Films featuring sport as a plot element, for example Fever Pitch, Escape To Victory, and so on, they can be good films. This is never for a sporting reason though.
As a result therefore, you can't blame the scepticism which comes with the whole concept of "Goal!" as a movie. A kid who plays football for Newcastle, well how riveting can you get? Remarkably, despite the predictable plot and the woeful acting, it actually is quite good.
Let's not be generous, I mean, there are major flaws. David Beckham's cameo in particular is so hideously dreadful, what with the bad delivery and the trimmed eyebrows, and the vast array of make up. At least though he is the only one. Other major stars, Alan Shearer, Raul, Zidane, etc, these stars have the good grace to appear, make a small comment, and then leg it off screen before humiliating themselves.
In regards to the acting of the professionals, that's another mixed bag. Anna Friel manages to talk through the role, as does Sean Pertwee, yet the main star Kuno Becker does alright. I wouldn't cast him in a movie if I was making one, but with the script and story provided, he manages to catch the mood acceptably.
So despite this mixed array, why should we enjoy this film? Well, whilst it's predictable, it does drag you in towards the end, and you do find yourself a bit hooked by the conclusion. Also, and this is the most remarkable part, they actually manage to make Newcastle look attractive. I mean, that doesn't make the film any better, but it's certainly hilarious.
Let's be honest, we should never expect anything from a film like this, and so yeah, the acting is varying from bad to acceptable, and the story is predictable, but when a film can produce the required attraction at the end of the film and simultaneously make a dump like Newcastle look attractive, you've got to give it credit. "Goal!" might be yet another example of sport and cinema not mixing, but there's enough about it to make you happy. Worth a laugh.
SPOILERS Once upon a time there was a cancelled television series called "Firefox". Popular amongst a few of my friends, but something I managed to completely avoid, it was cancelled very early on for numerous reasons. Written by Joss Whedon of Buffy fame, it was popular amongst it's fans, and as almost a relaunch of sorts, Whedon made a film based on it. That film was "Serenity", and I've seen that, and remarkably it's bloody good fun.
In a distant future, humanity has spread across the stars. After a bloody civil war, it has become split between the dominating alliance and an outskirts of rebels struggling to survive in the out planets. Aboard the spaceship Serenity, Mal, the captain of this motley crew is trying to make a living, whilst avoiding the alliance's forces. Unfortunately aboard his ship he has a girl with a past, and this past is about to come back and threaten everyone he cares for.
Beautifully shot, and well thought out, I could go on about the great things about "Serenity" for ages. I'm not going to though, mainly because there is one aspect of the film which demonstrates just how clever it is.
I'll confess here and now that I'm a bit of a science fiction fan. A Star Trek enthusiast (and former obsessive) since the Next Generation began when I was eight, I've seen series come and go and which have basically spent a vast period of time building up characters that we care for and bond with. As such, when you watch an one off film with no previous build up, the characterisation has to be pretty damn impressive to get the viewer hooked. Amazingly, "Serenity" does this with ease. Yes the characters are semi-predictable and the plot follows a remarkably familiar story pattern, but as we watch and absorb this film, we find ourselves growing attached to Mal the Captain and his rag tag band of renegades. It's impressive writing from Joss Wheldon, and if he ever branches beyond science fiction and fantasy, Wheldon could produce films to rival any other script writer. Only time will tell however.
"Serenity" is a quality action adventure film. Beautifully written and directed by a man with great potential, it is a thrill ride well worth watching. It is not difficult to see why it did so well amongst film magazine readers, and here's hoping that we get to see more of the same soon. Go watch.
28 Weeks Later (2007)
Not as good as the original, but still freaky
SPOILERS So it comes to this. Another sequel of a decent one off movie. I'd love to know how much of the decision to make this movie was down to the American studios. Distinctively more of an Anglo American project than the first movie, "28 Weeks Later" is a weaker movie attempting to blatantly create a series out of an original one off concept. Continuing the violence and gore of it's predecessor, however distinctively less character driven, it is a suitable Americanisation of a British concept. It's freaky and sometimes fun though.
Half a year has passed since the original outbreak of the virus. With Britain quarantined and the majority of the population dead or relocated, the infected have died out. With an American lead NATO force clearing out the Isle Of Dogs in London, so begins the gradual re-population of our fair country. With an American military assuming that everything is under control and civilians increasing in numbers, you just know that things are going to go wrong. So begins the onslaught.
It's remarkable how a film can repeat so many ideas and yet get them so hideously wrong. Just like the original film, here we have a deserted London (how the hell they managed to make certain places so devoid of life, I do not know) with landmarks left to grow aged and untouched. Just like the scene on the bridge in the original, so we have major landmarks shot beautifully with a grainy camera. Whether Canary Wharf itself, or more traditional locations like Big Ben and St Pauls, so we have venues which I know and love. Yet, unlike our original film, these are not clever, subtle moments, no, instead at times it is like we are watching some form of holiday programme working for the Tourism Board. Walking across the Millennium Bridge, for example, is completely unnecessary. Yet it feels like the location is added purely for the hell of it.
Most notable in the flawed advertisements of London is the use of Wembley. Filmed prior to the completion (Another example of the slow building affecting events), the interior of the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff was used instead. To most I confess this would not be obvious, but to anyone who has watched the FA Cup, or a rugby match, or any sporting event at that venue, the switch is pathetically obvious. If the filming couldn't have been done inside the stadium, change the script.
Away from the locations chosen, the story just isn't as good as the original either. So good because of the characterisation, the first film was a joy to watch. Shocking, unnerving, but ultimately brilliant, it developed characters fully, and then bumped them off without much of a fuss. Yet in this second chapter, blatantly following on the American style, here we have badly developed individuals killed in a beautiful moment of poetry. Well, that's the intention anyway. The ultimate flaw here is that this concept is the wrong way round. Like in the original, people are interesting beings, with lives, histories, and generally a personality. They are also ridiculously mortal and can die in an instant. So, how come in this film, they are all shallow, weak, basic characters who appear to fight through multiple scenarios and come out on top. It's insane, and closer to a Die Hard movie than real life.
Another complaint, albeit slightly less important than characterisation and location, is the way that a powerful song from the first film has quickly become a soundtrack.
In the first film, as we all remember, and if you are like me, adore, Jim invades the military compound to one hell of a good piece of music. Building up slowly but surely, this tune aided the film and developed subtly. It didn't overwhelm, it appeared purely once, and it fitted perfectly. So on to the sequel, and again we have it. Yet no longer is this piece of music gradual and poetic, now it has become a soundtrack piece to be used half a dozen times whenever something "scary" happened. Over used, it looses it's power. Yes we wanted to hear it again, just like how we wanted to see the virus take form, and see a few subtle landmarks, but like everything else of beauty in the first film, it is smeared on here in excessive proportions.
It's a weary route to try to bring back some sort of reprieve for this film now. So flawed in so many ways, I want to leave it be, and yet, like I said in my introduction, there are good sides to it. Well, one good side. Basically, it's fun, and it does hit the occasional right note.
Much more low brow than the first film, for all it's flaws, "28 Weeks Later" does provide the adrenaline rush required. Gruesome and often violent, it does leave you with an uneasy feeling. Like many other Zombie films, it is out to satisfy the blood lust which we possess, and it does that well. It also possesses the occasional joke, and allows us our brief British Xenophobic dislike for the Americans. It pushes those buttons rather well in fact. Like I've said though, it is distinctively low brow. Whilst the first film was a near masterpiece of British cinema, this effort feels distinctively more like a middle of the road American gore-fest.
All in all, "28 Weeks Later" is a bit of a disappointment. Vastly inferior to the original in all the ways that made it a classic, it is a violent movie with minimal characterisation, excessive tourism agenda, and an overuse of a subtle tune. If you want a blood bath though, and feel like walking out of there with a dislike for everything American (including the woeful set up for a third film), then you are in luck as it does these well.
Das Leben der Anderen (2006)
SPOILERS Communism is a failing theory. Surviving in China, history and the occasional student's misguided views, this bastardised socialism has all but fallen from existence. An ideal based system corrupted by the human need to be someone's superior, the theory cannot survive when put into practice.
Like most other "isms", Communism also remained fearful of alternative thought. Just like how Fascist Germany had the Gestapo to monitor people, so Communist East Germany (1945-1989) had the Staci. Believing that they should know everything about everyone, the Staci at their prime had most of the population working for them. In Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's "The Lives of Others", we focus on one fictional member of this group and the realisation of the true nature of his beliefs.
Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) has been a Staci member for twenty years. A quiet man, his ability to interrogate individuals and get the truth is respected and regularly used by his superiors. Yet when sent in to monitor a loyal writer, Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), Wiesler begins, through the lives of others, to doubt and question everything he stands for.
A worthy Oscar winner, "The Lives of Others" is a reminder of just how dangerous certain establishments can be. Beautifully demonstrating the dull mechanised state created by an all controlling regime, it captures our minds and shows just how the allure of a bright, passionate, free world (dressed mostly in vivid reds) is so unnerving to the powers that be.
Whether in the general organisation and decoration of a location, or the way the people are taught to speak, Donnersmarck's film is perfect at showing two contrasting worlds. Everything in Wiesler's world is so stale and plain, that even when he tries to inject passion into this surrounding, he fails. Compare this however to the free, flamboyant life of Dreyman the artist, and you begin to reach for the same lifestyle, you begin to understand what Wiesler so yearns for.
Two scenes in this film which stands out as truly outstanding and which demonstrate this comparison involve sex. At one point in our movie, Wiesler is sat listening in and is absorbed as Dreyman and his girlfriend are hooked passionately together. Yearning for this close feel and the passion of the environment, Wiesler hires a prostitute. As he sits in his dull, emotionless room, and buries his head into the prostitutes breasts, he is crying out for a connection, for a link. He of course never receives this, and when the prostitute ups and leaves due to another client in thirty minutes, our hearts bleed for Wiesler. Here is a man who we are meant to despair and dislike, and yet through a combination of mood, writing and acting, we struggle not to root for his every success.
If anything, these scenes are the epitome of the film. They capture the essence of the whole concept and they are perfect. Whether it is the outstanding soundtrack, the passion of the story, the acting, the cinematography, every element of the film is defined to a tee here.
"The Lives of Others" is magnificent. Beautiful to watch, and thoroughly enjoyable, I would recommend it to everyone. It is a reminder of a time when people were monitored by the oppressive state, and a reminder of why Communism ultimately fails. There are few films out this year that will come close to matching this title, and none with such relevant political views. Go out and see this today.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
A rare quality third film of a series
SPOILERS So it comes to this. Yet another superhero franchise moves beyond it's two film maximum. Just like how Batman went downhill after two films and Superman went beyond farce post it's second film, so you'd expect a similar pattern with Sam Raimi's Spiderman films (led by an awkward Tobey Maguire and your standard damsel in distress Kirsten Dunst, this series has all the makings of any other tedious example). So how come this third film is actually good? There are major flaws, but on the whole this is an incredibly enjoyable experience.
Life for Peter Parker (Maguire) is great. He's doing well in class, his long term love adores him, and everyone else in the city loves his alter-ego. When a film starts this positively, you know things are going to go wrong. Sure enough, when multiple "bad guys" arrive on the scene, Peter's life goes downhill as he must deal with not just new threats, but his own personality flaws.
Tobey Maguire remains a weak actor. Whether due to his own skill, or parts of the script, Maguire is at times excruciating to watch. Managing to look out of place both when serious or doing a John Travolta style dance sequence, Maguire's Parker is possibly the weakest part of this film.
It's amazing how these stories seem to unfold but yet again for all the weak superheroes, the story is saved by a well played super villain. In Spiderman 3, this character is Flint "Sandman" Marko played by Thomas Hayden Church. Both visually stunning for his CGI scenes, and well acted when human, everything about the Sandman is practically perfect. This is so accurate in fact that when Church is absent from screen, so the film suffers.
The CGI of the Sandman is even more impressive when compared with the cartoon like nature of Venom and the increasingly tiresome special effects of our hero. When the first film was released, Spiderman was fresh and beautiful on our screen. Years later though and the originality has gone. It's a tiresome fact, but I suppose there's no way around it.
All in all the third Spiderman film doesn't quite follow the typical Superhero trend. Whilst it is definitely a weaker film than the second, and the series is obviously getting tired, it is still a sufficiently pleasing experience to merit your time and attention. Go see.
A magnificent Spanish production
SPOILERS There's a limit to what I know about Spanish cinema. Restricted to Americanised remakes or the occasional Spanish language film, I tend to focus my attentions on the French scene. As a result when I watched Volver, it was a whole new experience, but at the same time a remarkably pleasant one.
Set in modern Spain, Volver tells the story of two sisters (Penelope Cruz and Lola Duenas) struggling in different ways to cope with the deaths of their parents and aunt. However with a visiting ghost and a murder thrown in, this is hardly your standard family drama.
Led by an outstanding performance by Penelope Cruz, Volver is an occasionally beautiful piece of cinema with some great cinematography. Bright and vivid colours give us a stunning start to the film, however when the script begins, it does take a short period to really kick into gear. The scene that starts this, including a powerful red stained kitchen roll soaking further and further, sets the film going at a more suitable pace and from this point on the film instantly grabs your attention.
Whilst I'm not the most knowledgeable of Spanish cinema, I appreciate a well shot and written film. Therefore I'm happy to admit how much I enjoyed Volver. A powerful, enjoyable movie with some touching moments, it's well worth watching. It does have flaws, notably the slow ten opening minutes and a badly dubbed musical sequence, but for the most part Volver is magnificent.
Children of Men (2006)
Well made and intellectually stimulating. Perfect entertainment
SPOILERS Jean Paul Sartre said that "Hell Is Other People". Taking the phrase out of context, let's ponder the annoying fact of life that children are there to annoy. So what happens in the world when there aren't any children? In Alfonso Cuaron's (Y tu mama tambien) latest film, unknown causes have lead to infertility across the world. With the increasingly popular basic camera style, "Children of Men" embraces the minimalistic approach. A beautifully filmed piece, the film is also well acted and superbly scripted. There are brief moments of infuriation, mainly in the middle part when the film drags briefly, but for the most part, "Children of Men" is a magnificent film.
Set twenty years in the future, we are introduced to the alcoholic, misery Theo Faron (Clive Owen). Living his life with a pinch of Jack Daniels in the middle of London, Faron is a character we associate with, before we even learn his reasons for his depression. When his ex-wife (Julianne Moore) kidnaps him with the aim of recruiting him to a terrorist cause, Faron suddenly finds himself enrolled in a mission for the fate of humanity itself.
Led by a suitably miserable Owen, "Children of Men" is a Dystopian story with a difference. Unlike recent additions to the genre, this is one film worthy of your time. If not simply for the beauty which is Michael Caine's performance. A rare gem, this is Caine's best performance in years. Playing a magnifically eccentric hippy, Caine's performance has depth and character of a quality often considered to be out of his reach.
Praise should also be reserved for débutant Claire-Hope Ashitey whose depth and character is vastly superior to the wooden performance by Julianne Moore. Her character is incredibly important, however Moore is so weak, we are relieved when she disappears.
When examining the film as a whole though, nobody is more important to the director and script writer, and in both cases Alfonso Cuaron deserves credit. A beautifully written script combined with sublime cinematography, this is Cuaron's movie. The gritty realism of the shot, the way we are forced to embrace the dirt and filth of the content, it is perfect. A similar style to "28 Days Later" and equally beautiful, this is a film the British can be proud of.
There are few films which have or will be released this decade which truly capture the fears for the future quite as well as this one. With magnificent direction, writing, and for the most part acting, this is a film I'd recommend to anyone. Well worth catching.
Match Point (2005)
Missing New York
SPOILERS Throughout his long and distinguished career, just how many films has Woody Allen set outside of his native New York? Not many spring to mind truthfully (older classics like "Sleeper" and "Everything you wanted to know about Sex... but were afraid to ask" for example), but with 2005's "Match Point" it might be that we are beginning to understand why. A firm believer in New York, most people would argue that he knows the place like the back of his hand. Relocating to London (for money?), Allen appears to be out of his depth. Creating an occasionally intense thriller, he gives us a perfect, tourist like view of London, distorted for the American audiences. With a cast of major British actors, he also manages to fill the two main roles with an excellent American and an awful Brit. Woody, for the sake of all the beautiful scripting that we know you can do, go home mate.
Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is a former tennis pro, now working as a tennis instructor at a posh London club. Falling for the incredibly rich Chloe Hewett (Emily Mortimer) things are going great. That is until he encounters the beautiful and sultry American Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson). Once Chris gets the image of Nola stuck in his head, it is stuck there.
It isn't difficult to see why Woody Allen considers Scarlett Johansson to be his new muse. Absolutely stunning throughout this film, she is the definite highlight. On top form with her performance, she gives us a strong and powerful character who we are never really sure what to think of.
In contrast to Johansson, Rhys Meyers is absolutely dreadful. An incredibly wooden actor, the guy is awful. Aside from the Queens English coming from an Irish character, he just never seems to click into place in the film, and for much of it, we really do develop a strong disliking for him. Whatever situation he finds himself in, there is no sympathy there. Now some might stipulate that this is Woody Allen's fault, and to a small degree this is true. Yes Woody wrote and directed the film, yes he wrote a script so painfully unBritish that you grate your teeth at times, but whatever Woody did, Meyers is the one who fails to give the character any sort of life, and who annoys throughout.
That point about Woody's script is worth going into further. Whilst a writer and director of great skill, let us not forget that his finest moments have come in scenes where he is in a New York café or where he is making some witty comment on a New York street. As Woody is from New York, he knows how they speak perfectly. Unfortunately with "Match Point", he manages to give us a script which is so hideously false that you wonder why more of his outstanding British cast (Brian Cox, Penelope Wilton, etc) didn't correct him more often. Woody writes New York perfectly, he writes British incredibly badly.
Woody Allen's last few films have been about ideas. Whilst "Melinda & Melinda" was an inconsistent film about comedy and tragedy, here we have another inconsistent film about luck. As Woody gets older, he seems to become increasingly more philosophical, and this is no bad thing. Unfortunately though, when he relocates from his native New York and begins casts awful British actors in the main roles, he wastes a perfectly good idea for a film. Woody, keep Scarlett, she's amazing, but please, for the sake of your fans, go back to America.
Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)
The True Freedom of the Press
SPOILERS In the English dictionary, the term 'Witchhunt' is described as "an investigation carried out ostensibly to uncover subversive activities but actually used to harass and undermine those with differing views." Dating back from the Dark Ages when witches were blamed for practically every negative event, a witch-hunt is always going to violate human rights issues.
With the second world war over, America descended into the paranoia of the cold war. Believing Russian communist spies to be everywhere, Americans watched as friends, neighbours and former colleagues were rounded up and systematically accused of communist sympathies. Led from the front by Junior Senator Joseph McCarthy, these witch-hunts undermined everything that was free and honest about the American people. Filmed by George Clooney as a piece of hero worship towards news reporter Edward R Murrow, "Good Night, and Good Luck" tells the story of Murrow's involvement in the fight back against the paranoid senator.
Right from the outset, there is a notable pretension about this film. Shot in black and white, probably as an attempt to make it feel more like a documentary, and also to allow archive footage to blend more easily, the film is never short of a firm belief in the message it delivers.
Whether "Good Night, and Good Luck" deserves the pretension it possesses is difficult to really know. Beautifully shot, and a labour of love by George Clooney (who directed, co-wrote and starred in a supporting role), it encourages us to really believe in the freedom of the press. Fighting for a noble cause and determined to make themselves heard, the film portrays Murrow and the whole of the CBS News team as being martyrs to the cause. Refusing to be silenced by threats from both the senate and their superiors, they knock on the door of truth and then force their way in.
Yet, for all the beauty and the well meaning message that Clooney gives us, there is an element of irony about the whole issue. Here we have a film which preaches the freedom of the press and the notion that people should be offered a balanced argument. It goes out of it's way to suggest that McCarthy was offered a balanced platform with which to defend himself. Yet when it really comes down to it, we are looking at the events from one side only. Whilst the use of actual archive footage of McCarthy is definitely impressive, it does limit the film to what the man can say. We are never properly presented with an argument in his favour. Whether we agree with his witch-hunts or not, it is weird that a film about journalism should be so one sided.
A labour of love by Clooney, this really is a beautiful film to watch. Magically filmed and magnificent in structure, it truly does inspire the journalist in all of us. It is just disappointing therefore that in his desire to create a shrine to his idol, Clooney forgot to offer the opposition some form of defence.
The Producers (2005)
woeful, tedious, generally abysmal, so many more problems
"Would you believe it? It's the worst show in town!" sing the opening chorus of Mel Brooks' film. Over a forty year period, via the theatres of Broadway and the London West End, "The Producers" has completed its comeback. Sadly, just like the opening song says, what we have here is woeful.
When Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) meets Producer Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane), he comes up with a brilliant idea. Produce a flop at a discount price, and keep the profits. Now, led by shyster Bialystock and aided with a neo-Nazi play, Bloom is dragged on the scam of a lifetime.
Let's not cut corners here, the 1960s version starring Zero Nostel and Gene Wilder was a classic. Funny, witty, hilarious, it is up there amongst Mel Brooks' finest moments. Clearing up at the Tony awards, Brooks' fresh new take was also magnificent. So where have we gone wrong?
Well firstly, there is absolutely no magic here. While the first film survived on it's unique feel and starring partnership, the theatre production survived on the simple fact that it was a Broadway show. It sounds confusing, and for that I apologise, but let's look at an example. Towards the end of the play, we have Bialystock locked up in prison. Recapping the story so far, the actor is required to sing and dance at heart attack pace and with such vigour that one or two performers have actually referenced this scene as the reason for their retirement. Come the film therefore and the scene SHOULD be a crucial moment, but no, disappointment. Perhaps the number one reason for this is that you are no longer seeing someone perform it in person. It's like watching a magician on television. You might think about the effectiveness of the trick, and in person you will be stunned. However, on screen doubts appear about the authenticity of the event. Here we have the same problem. How do we know Lane actually does this in one go, and truthfully, why should he? There is time to repeat it, he can do it in bits. Now where is the magic in that?
Next we have the obvious directional flaws. Directed by Susan Stroman, a lady who put the magic into the theatre production, the film is amateur in structure. So much of the time, it honestly looks like you are watching the stage show on the big screen. I say much of the time, but for one simple moment, I'd be tempted to suggest a constant. That moment is when Broderick and Uma Thurman are dancing together. Unfortunately, whilst he is relatively average built, Thurman is your blonde giant. So when we see the two dancing, Broderick strains the neck upwards. This in itself is fine and I have no complaints with this. When the scene cuts however the two are looking at each other straight in the eyes, you have to start wondering what idiot shot this movie. It's the most obvious blooper I have ever seen, and it just shouldn't be there.
Onto the acting, and firstly the one major highlight of the film. Nathan Lane.
For as long as the poor man can probably remember, Nathan Lane has played Max Bialystock. Taking over in London when the replacement dropped out, Lane played Bialystock across the world. In fact, he has played the role so often that he has it down to a fine art. Lane IS Bialystock, and for so much of the film, he is beautiful in his performance. Vivid and funny, Lane has all the best lines, and he doesn't fluff one. He also avoids the theatre attitude of the other cast members and avoids shouting every single line. Lane knows the characters subtleties, and he never once feels like he has to scream at the back row. In a film of bad performances, bad direction, and weak songs, Lane is the rare joy.
Finally let's have a brief rant about the other cast members. Ignoring the disappointing Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman, let's focus our attention on the dreadful Matthew Broderick. Broderick has never been a particularly good actor, but here we see him at his worst. I confess that when I saw the stage version in the London West End, Broderick was long gone. We were given the much more flamboyant Lee Evans, and truthfully I'd imagine he would have been better here working alongside Lane ("Mousehunt" anybody?). So I don't know how Broderick performed on the stage. I'm sure since the play was such a big success, he probably nailed it perfectly, so that makes this performance even more depressing. In this film, Broderick looks awkward and often does a feeble attempt to copy Gene Wilder. I mean, we know Brooks likes things done his way, but whilst Lane is a terrifying replica of Nostel, the character of Bloom is not somebody you can recreate. Wilder did his finest performance in the original film, and when it comes to screaming, baby like acting, few can match him. Broderick tries of course, but whilst Wilder made us laugh with his yearning for his blanket, Broderick makes us want to feed the blanket down his throat. He irritates, he makes you want to scream, and truthfully after ten minutes of the guy, I almost walked out.
I honestly wish that this could have been good. I adored the play in the West End when I saw it and to this day I still love the original, so yes I genuinely hoped this would be a favourite too. Boy was I disappointed. Like watching a recorded version of a live music event, here I felt that the magic had gone. The whole aura of the production has faded away. When the end credits role and the song plays with the line "There's nothing like a show on Broadway" I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly.
King Kong (2005)
well made, but overlong and forgettable
SPOILERS So here we go then. Yet another remake of a classic film. "King Kong" is a remake with a difference. Beautifully shot and well constructed, it is the latest work from well loved director Peter Jackson. Just like his other famous recent work, the film is a special effects laden piece of cinema. It's CGI packed, and it's beautifully shot. Unfortunately for "King Kong" that is where the praise runs dry. Instantly forgettable and far too long, the film is often a marathon to watch. So many films are over three hours long nowadays and this in itself is forgivable if only the film absorbs your attention and keeps you hooked. 'Kong' fails and more often than not you find yourself focused not on the action, but on the annoying couple sat talking on the other side of the cinema. A good film shouldn't let this happen, yet 'Kong' does.
Out of work during the great depression, Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) casts a sad and lonely figure. Unable to even afford food, Darrow is saved when obsessive director Carl Denham (Jack Black) offers her a role in a new movie. Travelling across the seas to a mysterious island, Darrow and the crew of unhinged characters find themselves face to face with a lost civilisation, and the enormous monster Kong (Andy Serkis).
At over three hours long, it's worrying how much Peter Jackson has fitted into this mammoth 'epic' of a movie. Like the "Lord of the Rings" extended edition, "King Kong" drags and feels like a full days television. This in itself has positives. The film is stunning to watch with some outstanding graphics and some camera angles taken almost directly from the original film. So at least when you spend what feels like eternity watching the film, at least you're spending eternity watching something beautiful.
Away from Jackson's personal touch and the lengthy story, the actors do a variable job. Whilst Naomi Watts is getting all the hype at the films release, personally the highlight is Jack Black's director. With an almost constant sense of sadness, the character is powerful and enjoyable to watch. This is Black's finest and most original performance ever, and he's the only thing even partly worth remembering.
Ironically for such a long film, there's little else to say about it. Beautiful but far too long, the film is stretched to it's limit and it is impossible to get hooked on. Not a disappointment, but definitely not a joy, "King Kong" is a special effects extravaganza and will do very well at the Box Office. That doesn't make it a good film though. A very mediocre affair.
Peter Pan (2003)
pointless, mind rotting garbage
SPOILERS Should tales be constantly remade? It's a tough one. In a Hollywood where remakes are endless, it's a strange feeling to actually see another retelling of a Victorian Children's tale. Unfortunately, just like any remake, what actually is the point? If you want a definitive tale of Robin Hood, you watch Errol Flynn, if you want most of the traditional comedies, you watch the original from the 60s or earlier. As Hollywood gets more and more money obsessed, and apparently writers get more and more lazy, so we get more and more remakes of both classic stories and classic films. At the rate we are going, by 2010 the entire Spencer Tracy back catalogue will have been remade, and truthfully it cannot be long before 70s gangster movies enter the recreation arena. It's one of those annoying facts of life that this happens, but what makes it worse is when the remake is not only pointless, but unbelievably dire.
PJ Hogan's "Peter Pan" is yet another take on the age old story of the boy who wouldn't grow up. Featuring a live action cast of youngsters who are barely held together by the magnificent Jason Isaacs as the evil Captain Hook, the film has no soul. It is a dire affair with weak special effects and some truly vomit inducing moments. There is little reason to feel any love for this film.
In the Darling children bedroom, Wendy, John and Michael (Rachel Hurd-Wood, Harry Newell and Freddie Popplewell) sleep. When the mysterious flying boy Peter (Jeremy Sumpter) arrives one night, the children are amazed. Taking them far away to the mystical place of Neverland, he introduces them to a whole new world. With pirates, mermaids and Indians, this is a world of wonder and the children are drawn in. Their happiness is not constant however, for around the corner lies Peter's nemesis, the evil Captain James Hook (Isaacs).
Let's not be too harsh on the acting of the child cast. Led by the irritating Sumpter, they are mostly awful. Irritating and annoying, they grate on the skin like chickenpox. It is for most however, their first real experience of cinematic life, and like the Harry Potter kids, they deserve time to really show that they have talent.
It is never harsh to criticise an adult actor though, but sadly that proves harder than expected here. Out of the novel collection of well known faces involved, the stand out performance in Jason Isaacs. Capturing the menace and despair of Hook perfectly, he rescues the film from being a complete travesty. He snarls, he scratches, he does everything he should, and truthfully he aught to be in pantomime.
Away from the actors though, and the film falls apart. With special effects more at home in the 1980s, we have visible strings, we have incredibly bad crocodiles, we even have a Tinkerbell that looks more like a lit flame in a jar. It's a good thing that the story of Pan is meant to be so magical, because the special effects really aren't.
The biggest flaw with this film though, and this is hard to get past, is just how pointless it's whole existence actually is. The tale of "Peter Pan" is hardly a new concept and has been dealt with brilliantly before. Disney did a near perfect edition of the tale, and we've had alternatives ever since. So why oh why did PJ Hogan even bother. Trying to capture the magic once more, he'd failed magnificently and done nothing to add to the tale. The whole notion of the film is a joke, and it really shouldn't have got past the drawing board.
Why bother to remake an already successful story? Like so many films in recent years, 2003's "Peter Pan" is an unnecessary remake. Badly shot, mostly acted by amateurs, it is a pointless production with little redeeming features. Jason Isaacs might be excellent as Captain Hook, but that really isn't enough to save the film. The special effects are lousy, the whole concept is pointless. Please, stop trying to make unnecessary re-tellings.
SPOILERS So here we go, the fourth of the series. It's four years since Daniel Radcliffe first put on the trademark Harry Potter glasses, and each year the series has gotten increasingly dark and more mature. Unfortunately though, as the films have progressed, as has J.K.Rowling's ego. Creating a mammoth book, there was no way that the Goblet could ever be properly transfered to the cinema, and it shows. At times rushed and at times slow, the film never really feels comfortable and the direction of Mike Newell leaves a lot to be desired.
It's Harry's forth year at Hogwarts, and it's the year of the great Tri-Wizard Tournament. Drawn out of the hat as a mysterious, under-age forth contender, Harry (Radcliffe) finds himself forced to undertake rigorous challenges whilst simultaneously dealing with typical teenage problems, not least his best friend Ron's (Rupert Grint) jealousy.
Since the source material is so overwhelmingly long, it comes as no surprise that this adaptation struggles at times. Whilst we are instantly thrown into the action with a ridiculously brief Quidditch World Cup, events slow to a crawl halfway through as certain scenes are stretched out to unbelievable lengths. Gone is the smooth feel of previous films, and instead we have what feels like a taster to the inevitable extended edition (due Christmas 2006 perhaps?). It's annoying that this has happened, but we have to question how much of this is to blame with the writers of the script, and how much is instead put at the feet of Rowling. By the time this book was released, the film series was well underway, so it's hardly like she was unaware that the story would become this media too. It's weird that she'd write such a ridiculously large story, but for so many it is the favourite book, so perhaps she deserves praise after all.
Script and plot speed aside, there are other flaws with the film. Like the rest of the series, the three main young stars still aren't what you would consider to be decent actors. Whilst Radcliffe, Grint and Emma Watson are all improving as the films progress, let's not fool ourselves by pretending that they are anywhere near acceptable standards. If anything, by the series ends, if all three see it out, we might finally see them reach a worthy standard to do more serious films. Ultimately though, it remains to be seen.
The special effects are also a bit of an inconsistent mistake here. Whilst nobody should see fault in the magnificent scenes involving Harry and the dragon, so much else in the film feels awkward, rushed, and awkwardly artificial. It feels like the entire budget was blown on that one scene, and whether the scene is amazing or not, that doesn't excuse the weakness elsewhere.
Mike Newell's direction too is hopeless and inadequate. Many of us held high hopes for the first British director in the series, but he lets us down massively. With disastrous camera shots and some equally fallible lighting, he never seems to fully grasp the mood of the film and as a result the film fails.
For all the complaints, this is still another Harry Potter film. Thousands will rush to the cinema to see it, and so they should, but it is a crushing disappointment. Arguably on a par with the second instalment, it never lives up to the hype that the book creates. With a story cropped to fit into a two and a half hour slot, the plot changes speed at ridiculous times and it's difficult to really get absorbed into the story. The third film was able to engulf the audience and really make you forget where you are. In this case you find yourself at times actually wondering what time it is and looking at the audience. It's a shame this has happened, and not something which was expected. With bad direction, mediocre acting and some woeful special effects, the film really isn't the masterpiece that it should be. People will still go to see it, but truthfully you are better off with the third chapter. A less than magical experience.
A Cock and Bull Story (2005)
Funny, but far too many in-jokes
SPOILERS The unfilmable novel. There are so many books out there that are so mammoth, there's no way it can ever be filmed. Always forced to miss events out, unable to capture the emotions, there's loads of reasons why particular books can't be turned into cinema. Still, that's no reason not to try.
Rather than trying to actually film the actual book of "Tristram Shandy", director Michael Winterbottom has hit upon a superb idea. Turning the trial of the filming into a film in it's own right, Winterbottom has created a fun piece of entertainment. At the same time however, as a result of the participation of Steve Coogan, far too many jokes are a direct reference to his former comic hit Alan Partridge. This in itself is a direct stab at how people perceive him, but it's only really needed once, not however multiple times we get it.
Michael Winterbottom (Jeremy Northam) is filming the unfilmable. Hiring Steve Coogan to play Tristrum Shandy and Rob Brydon as Captain Toby Shandy, he's gathered two great actors to play two great roles. How much of the film actually needs to be made though, and is it really that possible? From the offset, you can tell the film is going to be funny. Thanks to the magnificent pairing of Coogan and Brydon, you've fallen off your chair in laughter five times before the film has even properly began. It's a daft affair and that partnership really drives the story perfectly.
That is, the film would be hilarious if we could get past Alan Partridge. The Coogan character of many years, for so much of the film we are constantly given Rob Brydon's impression. The first time we hear it, there is a knowing laugh. After multiple times though, and the joke begins to get lame. It's a repetitive joke, and even for those in the know, it gets incredibly tiresome.
Still, aside from the in-jokes, the film can be funny for long periods. Aiding Coogan, Brydon and Northam are the best of British comedy. Ronni Ancona, Keeley Hawes, Dylan Moran, Shirley Henderson and David Walliams, the list goes on. Add to the magnificent list a brief appearance by Gillian Anderson (and thus a few "X-Files" jokes) and you know the story is going to be good.
Often funny, but perhaps too focused on the repetitive poke at cast history, "Tristram Shandy" is a clever enough film. It'll keep the audience entertained, and it'll leave you with a smile on your face. That's all you need really.
9 Songs (2004)
SPOILERS Love, sex, rock and roll. One of the most controversial films of recent years, in 2004 Michael Winterbottom released "9 Songs". Intended as an artistic piece to demonstrate the love of a relationship through sex and a passion for music, the film failed on so many levels. Featuring actual sexual content, the film revolves between music gigs and sex scenes. Whilst there's no argument about the music (one of the finest soundtracks in years), the whole point of the film and it's sexuality are irrelevant.
Matt (Kieran O'Brien) meets Lisa (Margo Stilley) at a gig. Lisa is an American and for a year she lives in London as the two embark upon a passionate love affair.
It's of little real surprise that Stilley didn't want her name associated with this film. Spending the majority of the film naked and in various states of sexual position, she manages to do the unthinkable and remove all emotion and eroticism from a highly erotic act. The sex is more hardcore than most pornography, and yet Michael Winterbottom manages to turn it into an emotionless and benign affair. The film is voyeuristic, but without any sort of relevance to it, the sex becomes irrelevant and after ten minutes, you begin to question why you are watching this garbage.
The actors are awful. Whether in bed or actually clothed (rare), they fail on so many levels to act. Stilley is a weak and aimless actress and O'Brien, whilst he obviously shows signs of standards, is woefully inadequate. This just makes the film even more irrelevant. Most flaws with the film could be easily forgiven if we could just feel any sort of connection or realism about the characters. For 70minutes plus, we watch them engage and communicate, but never once do we actually care about who they are and whether they will actually stay together or not. We know they are a fictitious couple, and through a combination of woeful acting and bad camera work, it is impossible to find any sort of reality.
Of course, events probably would have been better if Michael Winterbottom could have found two actors who have a bit of sexual chemistry. Introducing them to each other only a few days prior to filming, he's found two actors with a complete lack of chemistry and who feel forced.
In fact, mix the woeful actors with Michael Winterbottom's direction, and the film becomes even more dire in your eyes. Whether in the bedroom or at the concert, using a hand-held camera, Winterbottom gives you a vomit inducing image which is incapable of staying still. At the concerts, you feel like you are actually drunkenly dancing in the background to your favourite tracks. That's something really.
Just so as not to be completely unfair to Michael Winterbottom's farce of a film, the soundtrack really is immense. Franz Ferdinand, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Elbow, and others, at least we get to listen to decent music.
Seriously though, the idea of trying to show a year long British relationship is not a particularly bad idea, and the general theory behind the film is actually alright. The problem though is that his final piece is not up to the task. It is badly written, badly acted, badly planned, badly shot, and so unbelievably awful, that everyone involved should feel ashamed.
A good soundtrack and an original concept cannot make a film. By using awful camera angles, minimal plot, no characterisation and a pair of woeful actors with absolutely no sexual chemistry, Michael Winterbottom has created a farce.
Melinda and Melinda (2004)
half brilliant, half average
SPOILERS Is life a comedy or a tragedy? Arguably it seems more like a farce, but the notion of comedy versus tragedy is a brilliant one. Raising questions about the way we view the world, and whether we should be optimistic or pessimistic, Woody Allen's "Melinda and Melinda" is a clever piece of cinema. Based around two different slants on the same woman, the film splits itself between a half average drama and a brilliant comedy tale. Both parts are equally necessary to complete the film, but more often than not the dramatic lets the side down.
On a night out, a group of friends sit and ponder life. Two of the four are writers and when a story is raised, both view the story from different slants. Taking the story of Melinda (Radha Mitchell), the two men tell their tale either with a comedy twist or as a dramatic piece. The outcome is two stories with an unusual slant on life.
As far as Woody Allen pieces go, "Melinda and Melinda" is sadly only mediocre. Whilst it's difficult personally to actually think of a bad Allen work, this 2004 offering falls way short of older stories like "Sleeper" and more recent tales like "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion". Still, it has it's moments.
In terms of the comedy, Woody Allen is once again hitting top marks. Led by Will Ferrell in the Allen role, the story feels fresh and entertaining and is in possession of all the best lines. Radical and off the cuff, Ferrell thrives in his role, and aided by Steve Carell as his closest friend, Ferrell and Radha Mitchell both dominate the screen.
Unlike the comedy section of "Melinda Melinda" the drama is incredibly average. Whilst Mitchell puts in a much darker performance as this emotionally frail version of Melinda, her supporting cast lets her down. Jonny Lee Miller, Chloe Sevigny, Chiwetel Ejiofor, all the support manage to make it look like they're trying without actually producing anything of substance. It's a disappointment, but ultimately not a massive surprise considering that Allen is never at his best when dramatic.
It's such a mammoth difference between the two sides of the story, that it's often difficult to know what to think. The story in itself is a remarkably clever idea, but because Woody Allen is always at his finest when dealing with humour, the dramatic part fails. It's a shame really that the film couldn't have been a joint effort, but then it just wouldn't be an Allen film.
Good when funny, mediocre when not, "Melinda and Melinda" is a strange film. Taking a brilliant idea of attitude to life, the film does have promise. It's just a shame that the dramatic side of things is so unimpressive. Still, with Will Ferrell in the Allen role in the comedy, there's definitely something to keep your eye out for.
Everything Is Illuminated (2005)
occasionally funny, often powerful drama
SPOILERS A Jewish Frodo? Yep, that'll be Elijah Wood again.
Ever since the concluding part of "Lord of the Rings", Elijah Wood as Frodo has found it increasingly difficult to get away from that major role. Playing a football hooligan, a psychopath and now a young Jewish American, Wood has tried any route he can to escape this typecasting. Now, with "Everything Is Illuminated" he might finally have achieved this. Playing a role which isn't as radical as other efforts, he truly gets to the soul of his character. Still, it isn't like Wood does this alone. Aided by a magnificent adaptation by first time directer Liev Schreiber and a wonderful performance by newcomer Eugene Hutz, Wood has found a magnificent production to spread his wings. "Everything is Illuminated" is a magnificent, moving piece of cinema.
Jonathan Safran Foer (Wood), a young American Jew, sets out to the Ukraine to find the mysterious girl who rescued his grandfather and helped him get to America. Arriving in the country, Jonathan meets the all talking, all dancing Alex (Hutz) and his racist grandfather (Boris Leskin). Travelling across the country, the three slowly learn more and more about the history and relations that Alex and Jonathan never knew existed.
It's a strange feeling when the film progresses into it's second chapter (it is actually divided into four overall). The first part, whilst occasionally a bit funny, is mostly serious and intense. So when we are given a brief history of Alex and his family in the second part, to switch from serious to hilarious is a weird step. It doesn't quite work, but as the film progresses, it definitely learns it's lesson as this mix of humour and sadness merges finer as time passes.
To the ultimate credit of everyone involved, as the story does continue, so do we begin to fall for the characters more and more. Elijah Wood is magnificent, Boris Leskin is so intense and strong that it raises questions why Hollywood has never properly noticed him. Most notable of all however is newcomer Eugene Hutz. Playing an intensely troubled character, Hutz is absolutely brilliant. He shows the split between his relatives and the real world with almost perfect skill, and when his character is communicating with Wood, you genuinely connect with him on a deeper level. Without Hutz, the story is so strong that the film would still be magnificent, but with him, it hits the next level.
As a debut work for actor turned director Liev Schreiber, the story is also a brilliant piece to start. A work of passion (Schreiber's grandfather himself an immigrant to America), he manages to truly embrace the emotion of the content, and by presenting us with some truly beautiful scenery and some magnificent shots, he manages to really hit home. The final half hour in particular is so beautifully created, that it's a challenge for a tear not to form in any viewers eye. It is a moving story, and with Schreiber's help, it becomes even more powerful.
Constructed with love from a passionate director, "Everything is Illuminated" is a beautiful piece. A road story with a difference, it is magnificently acted and wonderfully written. It's a film that everyone should see, and it is the perfect way for Elijah Wood to finally lay Frodo to rest.