Archive for 2000

Gladiator * * * *

Posted in Action, Drama, History with tags on August 2, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Ridley Scott.
Screenplay: David Franzoni, John Logan, William Nicholson.
Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Derek Jacobi, Djimon Hounsou, Richard Harris, Tommy Flanagan, David Hemmings, David Schofield, John Shrapnel, Tomas Arana, Spencer Treat Clark, Sven-Ole Thorsen, Omid Djalili, Tony Curran, Michael Sheen.

When I went to see Gladiator on it’s release in 2000, I walked out the cinema bitterly disappointed. It went on to win 5 Oscars (including Best Picture) and received a further 7 nominations. This only added to my feelings of resentment towards it. As a result, I chose to avoid seeing it again and didn’t mince my words on my dislike for it. However, plenty of people – who’s opinions I respect – seemed to love it. For that reason, I chose to have a reappraisal.

During the days of the Roman Empire, dedicated soldier Maximus (Russell Crowe) loyally serves the emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris). When the emperor is killed, Maximus refuses to transfer his loyalty to his son and new emperor, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) and suffers the consequences. He is ordered to be killed but manages to escape, ending up in the hands of slave trader Proximo (Oliver Reed), who pits him into the Roman Colosseum as a gladiator. It’s here that Maximus realises he can still use the arena and the crowd to his benefit and plan his revenge on Commodus.

On only my second viewing of this film, my opinion has changed and changed for the better. I still have issues with it but it’s granduer is undeniably impressive and as a slice of entertainment it can’t be faulted. I can honestly admit now, that my scornful opinion of this film was slightly unjust. It was much better than I remember but still not the classic it’s proclaimed to be. For a start, it has a high tendency for melodrama. This is acceptable in some cases but with the acclimations that Gladiator has recieved over the years, I find it needs to be scrutinised a little further. One of the main causes for it’s melodramatic approach is some ridiculous dialogue. Reportedly, during production Russell Crowe himself had complaints with screenwriter William Nicholson’s dialogue, apparently telling him it was “garbage”. I found that to be the case in several scenes and when delivering it, the uncomfortableness in the actors looked apparent. However, they manage to carry it well enough; Crowe is a commanding presence in his Oscar winning role but it’s by no means his best performance. I think his abilities were better tested in previous films “L.A. Confidential” and especially “The Insider“, which he deserved the Oscar for. Phoenix is another actor I admire and he also delivers a good performance but unfortunately suffers with a poorly written and stereotypical character. He’s no more than a cartoon villain – complete with dark eye shadow – and he couldn’t really get any more nasty. Old hands, Harris and Reed phone their performances in and it looks as if Reed is just there for the beer tokens. Jacobi, however brief, shows his thespian abilities and the always excellent Djimon Hounsou is wasted in another poorly written role. There’s not a lot going on for the character’s, as ultimately, this is all about the spectacle. And a fine, grandiose one it is. With “Blade Runner” and most recently “Prometheus“, Scott has never been known to scrimp on the visual front and this is no different. It is
exquisitely detailed (kudos to cinematographer John Mathieson) and filmed in the grandest of scales. The director can’t be faulted in his ability to capture the hearts and minds of an audience and this is no more apparent than the impressively choreographed battle scenes and wonderfully ethereal afterlife sequences – shot with a highly artistic eye. Such scenes are afforded a greater power by a superb score from Hans Zimmer and the haunting vocal talents of Lisa Gerrard (for those unaware, check out her beautiful work with Australian outfit “Dead Can Dance“). On a visual and audio front, this film can’t be reckoned with but unfortunately, I found it to succumb to formula. Despite the fact that the real life Commodus did actually fight in the the gladiatorial arena, the ending stretched credulity for me but I suppose dramatic license is commonplace in film’s of this type.

I enjoyed this a far-sight more than I used to, as it’s undeniably epic and visually arresting. Essentially though, this is an action movie. A good one but not much more than an action movie dressed in the Emperor’s clothes.

Mark Walker

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Memento * * * * *

Posted in Film-Noir, Mystery, thriller with tags on March 14, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Christopher Nolan.
Screenplay: Christopher Nolan.
Starring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Mark Boone Jr., Stephen Tobolowsky, Harriet Sansom Harris, Jorja Fox, Callum Keith Rennie, Larry Holden.

Before his foray into the adventures of the Caped Crusader with “Batman Begins“, “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises” or even his mind-bending Science fiction actioner “Inception“, director Christopher Nolan delivered this independent, teasingly constructed, psychological thriller in 2000. It was based on an original idea by his brother Jonathan and was only his second feature – after his debut “Following” in 1998. It also marked the emergence of a brilliant directorial talent.

Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is a man who suffers from short term amnesia. He can’t make new memories. The last memory he has, is of his wife… dying. Leonard knows one thing; his wife was murdered. He doesn’t know by whom though and sets out to find her killer, with his condition causing an obvious problem. So as not to forget any information he comes across, it has to be taken, either in photograph or tattooed to his body. Every waking day he has, is a fresh start and a fresh investigation with people manipulating him along the way. Or is he manipulating his own mind…?

With the arrival of Quentin Tarantino in the early 90’s and his films “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction“, it became cool again, to deliver films in different time frames and to manipulate the chronology of the narrative. Tarantino was by no means the first, but he influenced a new generation of filmmakers. There was an abundance of low-budget crime thrillers that attempted to emulate his success. It wasn’t until Christopher Nolan delivered this though, that even Tarantino had been surpassed.
According to Nolan, the best place to start his story, is at the end. Who am I to question that? Who am I to question one the finest independant films to come across in years? He does indeed start at the end of the film, working his way back to the beginning and taking you through one of the most jaw dropping and confusing films I’ve ever seen… and I’ve seen a lot. Straight away, we know how this story plays out but the skill is in finding out why.
Not only is the narrative manipulated but the most impressive thing about this, is how we participate in the main characters frame of mind. He is us, as we try to decipher an elaborate murder mystery, in reverse order. If your not carefully listening or observing, this will leave you miles behind. Rarely does a film demand such unconditional attention and still have you scratching your head. It’s not only the accomplished direction or the vice-like script that’s impresses though. Guy Pearce’s central performance is also marvellous. He displays the perfect amount of vacantness, unsure of himself and others, with glimmers of paranoia and despair. Without a performance to capture this characters bewilderment, it wouldn’t have worked as well as it does.

The tag-line for this was… “Some memories are best forgotten”. The same can’t be said for this film. It won’t allow you to forget it. An absolutely gripping and perplexing modern noir from Nolan and one of the finest and most orginal films for a very long time.

Included in My Top Ten films.

Mark Walker

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The Gift * * * 1/2

Posted in Mystery, thriller with tags on January 17, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Sam Raimi.
Screenplay: Billy Bob Thornton, Tom Epperson.
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Keanu Reeves, Giovanni Ribisi, Greg Kinnear, Hilary Swank, Katie Holmes, Gary Cole, J.K. Simmons, Michael Jeter, Kim Dickens, Rosemary Harris, Chelcie Ross, John Beasley, Danny Elfman.

Anytime director Sam Raimi is mentioned in connection with the occult, the “Evil Dead” springs to mind. This however, is not quite the hilarious gore fest he’d produced earlier but a more character driven mystery.

Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett) is recently widowed and now a struggling single mother. She has psychic abilities and it’s in this that she tries to make ends meet by helping a few of the locals with her fortune telling abilities. Despite the skepticism of some of her neighbours and the local law enforcement she is asked to help in the investigation of a recent murder when all other leads come to nothing. But by becoming involved in the investigation, she puts herself and her children in danger with some people preferring that their secrets are left alone.

More similiar in structure to Raimi’s
“A Simple Plan” with Billy Bob Thornton (who co-writes this) rather than his horrors or blockbusters like “Spiderman”. It’s a well crafted supernatural thriller that keeps the tension high and the mystery elusive long enough to hold your interest. It also helps to have an impressive cast, which this certainly has. Surprisingly though, it’s not the Oscar winning/nominated actors like Blanchett, Hilary Swank or Greg Kinnear or even the excellent supporting actors like Gary Cole, J.K. Simmons or Giovanni Ribisi that shine in this film but it’s Keanu Reeves who steals the show in this impressive ensemble. He is entirely convincing as a menacing and abusive wife-beating redneck husband. Complete with skip-hat and beard. It’s probably his best performance to date and he should definitely play more unsavoury characters in future.

A tightly constructed little who-done-it? and worth checking out, even if it’s just for Reeves’ excellent powerhouse performance.

Mark Walker

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