Archive for 2004

Dear Frankie * * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama with tags on October 26, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Shona Auerbach.
Screenplay: Andrea Gibb.
Starring: Emily Mortimer, Gerard Butler, Jack McElhone, Mary Riggans, Sharon Small, Sean Brown, Jayd Johnson, Katy Murphy, Cal Macaninch.

After “One More Kiss“, the second instalment of my Scottish trilogy is this highly underrated little gem from first time feature director Shona Auerbach. It’s a film that shows a real delicacy and understanding for human relationships and a sensitive perception of life in general.

Frankie (Jack McElhone) is a 9 year old deaf boy has never met his father. His mother Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) left him years ago but never had the heart to tell her son. Instead, she concocts a story and tells Frankie that his father is working on a ship, sailing around the world. She also sends letters to Frankie, pretending to be his dad in far off places. Her story threatens to come to pieces though when Frankie discovers that his dad’s ship is due to dock at their hometown of Greenock. Instead of telling Frankie the truth, Lizzie employs the services of a stranger (Gerard Butler) to pretend that he’s Frankie’s father.

Every now and again you come across a low-key drama with real depth and honesty that when it’s all over you are left feeling genuinely touched; a tear may even well-up or for that matter fall. This is that type of drama. It’s a film that tugs on the heartstrings but doesn’t use any form of manipulation to do so. It’s just good, honest, storytelling that uses observation and an understanding of life and the heartbreaking complexities therein. It touches on the extent that parents will go to protect their children and also the difficulties faced by broken, impoverished families. What it also does, is put your faith in the kindness of strangers. That being said, this is not a film that’s depressing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s a life-affirming story filled with humour as well as pathos and everyone hits just the right note. It’s also a film that could claim to showcase the real charm and charisma of Gerard Butler before he hopped aboard the fame train. He’s an enigmatic presence and delivers a wonderfully subtle turn that gained him a lot more recognition amongst critics and filmgoers alike. The same could be said of Emily Mortimer; she is absolutely superb as a supportive but desperate mother striving to protect her son and further excellent support is delivered by young Jack McElhone as the eponymous and gentle natured Frankie. He doesn’t physically talk throughout the film but we get to hear his thoughts through the letters he writes to his absent and elusive father. It’s through these heartfelt, emotional performances that the film really resonates. That’s not to take away from writer Andrea Gibb’s endearing screenplay or director/cinematographer Shona Auerbach’s sensitive handling of the material though; everyone pulls their weight in capturing just the right tone here. It’s a such a shame that Auerbach hasn’t made a film since as on this evidence, she certainly has the ability and a 15 minute standing ovation at Cannes would further fuel that.

A sweet and poignant little drama with fantastic performances all round. A film with a head and a heart and good feel for the moment.

Next up… “The Angels’ Share“.

Mark Walker

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Starsky & Hutch * * *

Posted in Action, Comedy with tags on January 27, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Todd Phillips.
Screenplay: Todd Phillips, Scot Armstrong, John O’Brien.
Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Snoop Dogg, Jason Bateman, Juliette Lewis, Fred Williamson, Chris Penn, Amy Smart, Carmen Electra, Richard Edson, Terry Crews, Paul Michael Glaser, David Soul, Will Ferrell.

As film versions of classic Television shows go, this happens to be one of the most appealing, from “The Hangover” director Todd Phillips. The appeal comes from the fact that it sends up it’s original, rather than try and replicate it.

Detectives David Starsky (Ben Stiller) and Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson (Owen Wilson), have a lead on a new type of undetectable cocaine which takes them to the door of businessman and philanthropist Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn) who they become determined to bring to justice with the help of street-savvy informant Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg).

The styles (complete with cardigans), the cars, and the haircuts are all here and they are all exagerated to fine comedic results. Wilson and Stiller are a fine comedy duo and this is probably the most suited for their double-act. They are both perfectly cast as the crime fighting duo with excellent support from a handlebar mustachioed Vince Vaughn as their arch rival, along with furry mustachioed partner in crime Jason Bateman and a perfectly cast Snoop Dogg, with some sharp lines, as the eponymous informant “Huggy Bear”. Already an iconic character, here he’s re-imaginned to delighful results. Although, I’m not a massive fan, the cameo appearance of hair-netted convict Will Ferrell, with an affection for belly-buttons and dragons is hilarious as he displays a “Midnight Express” desire toward Wilson. The film itself is not entirely laugh out loud material but it is mildly amusing and maintains it throughout it’s entirety. The main goal here, seems to be fun and that exactly what it achieves, throwing in an enjoyable cocaine-fuelled disco dance-off scene.

Not normally my type film but its a good buddy-buddy cop movie that’s nothing more than light entertainment and works well, for what it is.

Mark Walker

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The Incredibles * * * *

Posted in Action, Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on January 27, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Brad Bird.
Screenplay: Brad Bird.
Voices: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee, Wallace Shawn, Lou Romano, Elizabeth Pena, John Ratzenberger, Brad Bird.

Pixar have had numerous heroic characters throughout their animations but here, director Brad Bird introduces us to a full-blown superhero story.

When Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), catches a jumper who doesn’t want to be saved, he opens the door to a wave of legal compensations that puts all superheroes out of business and into a relocation programme. Years later, Mr. Incredible, real name Bob Parr and wife Helen (Holly Hunter) – formerly Elastigirl – are trying to raise a ‘normal’ family when they receive a mysterious call for help, bringing them back into their crime fighting ways to save the world.

An interesting take on a similiar story covered by “Watchmen”, whereby superhero’s are resigned to living a normal life and attempting to fit into society, despite the superhuman powers they possess. The animation is second to none in the Pixar catalogue and it’s refreshing to have a cartoon with human characters as the main focus. There’s no cuddly sidekicks or talking animals, it’s all from the (human) heart this time, which is quite a brave change of direction for a Disney film. Thankfully for us though, it’s a winner and ranks as one the best that Pixar have produced. Great voice cast also, Nelson and Hunter are perfectly suited to their characters, as is Samuel L. Jackson as their sidekick ‘Frozone’ and Jason Lee as the evil nemesis ‘Syndrome’. They are all warm, humourous and believably written.

A bit overlong for younger viewers but bags of fun, once again, from the Pixar team. A real treat.

Mark Walker

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Kill Bill: volume II * * * *

Posted in Crime, Drama, thriller with tags on January 24, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Quentin Tarantino.
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino.
Starring: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks, Sid Haig, Larry Bishop, Bo Svenson, Samuel L. Jackson.

By releasing his film in two parts, Quentin Tarantino caused a bit of a stir. Questions were asked; Was it a producers money making scheme? Was it his inflated ego? But most importantly, Was it even going to work? The answer to all of the above is… Yes. And once again, the film geek had silenced the naysayers with a second part that’s as good as, if not better than the first.

Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) and O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) are out for the count but for the Bride (Thurman), there’s still unfinished business and three to go – the brooding brother Budd (Michael Madsen), the murderous one-eye Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), and of course, the top banana himself, Bill (David Carradine).

After the success of the first, it can be tricky to maintain the same level of quality. Wisely though, Tarantino changes the whole tone and mood this time. He doesn’t try to emulate the first. If anything he delivers the opposite. Where Volume 1 explored an eastern theme, Volume 2 is very much the western. It’s a clever structural device from Tarantino and my being a big spaghetti western fan this second installment just about shades it for me.
If the first one was his channeling of Akira Kurasawa and John Woo, this is his John Ford and Sergio Leone. This time around the characters are more fleshed out. We are given tons of backstory and the reasons for all the carnage we have witnessed. This is when it all comes together. The big reveal. What this lacks though, is some of the visual splendor from Vol. 1. There’s no scene that can quite match the climactic “The House Of The Blue Leaves” confrontation. What we get to make up for it, is an excellent modern spaghetti western complete with Ennio Morricone style music and a female frenzied fight between The Bride and Elle as well as the conscience ridden, snarling brother Budd and finally, the elusive Bill.

A third installment is now being discussed but if it doesn’t transpire (and maybe it shouldn’t) this is a fitting end to a marvellous double-feature from the imaginative mind of Tarantino.

Any film that has a martial arts move called ‘the five-point palm exploding heart technique’ is okay in my book.

Mark Walker

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Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy *

Posted in Comedy with tags on January 15, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Adam McKay.
Screenplay: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay.
Starring: Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Christina Applegate, David Koechner, Fred Willard, Holmes Osbourne, Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow, Danny Trejo, Luke Wilson, Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Tim Robbins.

Am I missing something about Will Ferrell? Granted, he was actually quite funny in “Elf” and his cameo in “Starsky & Hutch” was a hoot but really his humour is extremely childish and bottom of the barrel stuff.

In San Diego in the 1970’s, there is only one newsman with any clout and that’s Ron Burgandy (Ferrell). That is, until an ambitious young up-start arrives and threatens Ron’s perfect world. What’s worse is…she’s a woman. Ron being a bit of a male chauvinist not only sees this as a threat to his job security but also a threat to his manhood and enters into a battle of the sexes to keep his job and keep the male camaraderie in the workplace.

This film has a faithful following and lots of people seem to adore it but I didn’t find it funny at all. All the gags – if you can even call them gags – are forced and lazily written. I’m no comedian but I throw away better jokes than Ferrell’s on a daily basis. In it’s favour, it has a wonderful cast who all seem to be having fun and delivering fine comedic performances but its a shame they have no material to work with. Nice shows from Steve Carell and Paul Rudd and Ferrell’s Burgandy is also a good character with loads of potential but the jokes just don’t fly and it seems as if everyone is making it up as they go along. Maybe they were and maybe that’s the whole point but then maybe it’s simply just… shit.

A real insult to call itself a comedy. There is one joke that this film has and that’s the film itself.

Mark Walker

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Shaun Of The Dead * * * 1/2

Posted in Comedy, Horror with tags on January 12, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Edgar Wright.
Screenplay: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright.
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Dylan Moran, Lucy Davis, Bill Nighy, Rafe Spall, Martin Freeman, Tamsin Greig, Reece Shearsmith, Matt Lucas, Chris Martin, Trisha Goddard, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Vernon Kay.

I find there’s always been an element of humour to the old George A. Romero zombie flicks. Let’s face it, how hard does it look to get away from them? There were always plenty of thrills and I love those films, but sometimes it seemed they were taking the piss. With this film, there’s no doubt that it’s doing just that.

Shaun (Simon Pegg) is in a dead end job, just split up with his girlfriend and shares a flat with his idle best pal Ed (Nick Frost), who does nothing but play playstation, eat cornettos and frequent the local public house. Shaun’s life is frankly, going nowhere. However, when an outbreak of flesh eating zombies happen to start appearing around his neighbourhood, taking bites out of his family and friends, Shaun finds his purpose in life. Armed with a cricket bat and batch of old vinyl L.P.’s he sets out to save his loved ones and hide out in his favourite pub, till it all blows over.

An impressive pastiche of the zombie films of old, injected with some hilarious humour and fine comedy moments. Director Edgar Wright cut his teeth on the T.V. Series “Spaced” and brings the same cast to this, as well as some other familiar faces from British comedy shows like, “The Office”, “League of Gentleman” & “Black Books”. It’s Wright’s familiarity with the genre that’s most impressive though, he could quite easily have played it straight and still came across as a competent director of horror. He employs excellent use of atmosphere and structure with some wonderfully inventive camerawork. I was very impressed, considering it’s his first feature length film and it’s no surprise that Tarantino & Rodriguez had him direct one of the fake trailers on their “Grindhouse” double feature. On the down side though, I found some of the gags forced and the jokes (much like the flesh eating un-dead) became rather stale. With no fresh ideas after passing the hour mark, it started to show it was really a 30minute television episode, drawn out to feature length.

Still, there’s bags of fun to be had with fine performances from a great cast and Pegg and Frost are an excellent comedy duo.

Mark Walker

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The Terminal * * 1/2

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on January 12, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Steven Spielberg.
Screenplay: Sasha Jervasi, Jeff Nathanson.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Stanley Tucci, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Diego Luna, Chi McBride, Barry Shabaka Henley, Zoe Zaldana, Kumar Pallana, Eddie Jones, Michael Nouri.

Despite the two of them being perfectly suited to collaborate on a project, it took Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg a long time to finally get around to doing it. Then in quick succession, they churned out three films together. This being the third and least effective.

Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) lands at JFK airport, to find his homeland of Krakozhia has dissolved in a rebellion and his passport is no longer valid. Stranded in a bureaucratic no-man’s land, he must live in the airport, unable to go home and unable to venture onto American soil.

1998’s “Saving Private Ryan” was the first brutally realistic collaboration between actor and director, followed by 2002’s “Catch Me If You Can” which was more light-hearted with dark undertones. This 2004 film is lighter still and if going by this progressively gentler pattern that Hanks and Spielberg were to collaborate again, it would probably be a whimsy film version of “Little House On The Prairie”. That’s not to say that there isn’t anything to enjoy here. There is, but it seems like a step down for them. It’s still a light-hearted fable that’s hard to resist though, considering Spielberg’s knack for cranking up the schmaltz factor and Hanks’ knack for endearing characters. The performances from all involved are good (particularly Hanks and Stanley Tucci) but nobody is really stretched.

It’s not the finest hour from the names involved and probably best suited to fans of romantic-comedies but I still enjoyed passing time with it and it did raise the occasional smile with it’s uplifting positivity.

Mark Walker

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