Archive for 2006

The Departed

Posted in Crime, Drama, thriller with tags on November 18, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Martin Scorsese.
Screenplay: William Monahan.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Anthony Anderson, Mark Rolston, David Patrick O’Hara, Kevin Corrigan, James Badge Dale, J.C. MacKenzie, Robert Wahlberg.

When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?

Despite Martin Scorsese directing consistently good films since the 1970’s, the well deserved Academy Award always eluded him. He was snubbed for such classics as “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas” but he finally got his hands on that long-awaited gong for this remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs“.

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Bug * * * *

Posted in Horror, Mystery with tags on August 24, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: William Friedkin.
Screenplay: Tracy Letts.
Starring: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick Jr, Lynn Collins, Brian F. O’Byrne.

When Bug was released in 2006, I all but ignored it, thinking it was going to be nothing more than a cheap, straight to DVD horror flick with giant cannibalistic ants and shit. It wasn’t until I took notice of actor Michael Shannon that the film resurfaced again and found it’s way onto my ‘to see list’. I took me a while to get a hold of it though and as a result it fell off my radar again until I was reminded of it recently. Now, I’m glad to say that I have seen it and it wasn’t at all what I thought it was going to be. It far exceeded my expectations.

Agnes (Ashley Judd) is lonely woman who moves into a rundown motel to escape her husband Jerry (Harry Connick, Jr) who has just been released from prison. She is introduced to eccentric drifter Peter (Michael Shannon) who seems to be hiding something and is prone to the occasional conspiracy theory. Not before long, things start to unravel as a bug infestation takes over the motel room.

Based on the play by Tracy Letts (who also writes the screenplay) and set largely within the confines of a remote motel room, it’s easy to see why this material would have played well on stage. It’s claustrophobic atmosphere is captured straight away by Friedkin and his unsteady camerawork lends a perfect sense of unease within the characters and their confined space. It begins slowly building with a gradual pace but with the arrival of an on-edge and abusive Connick, Jr and an unsettling and creepy turn from Shannon, the pace escalates to one of unbearable and visceral intensity. This is less of a gory horror and more of a psychological, character driven chamber piece that benefits from three brilliant performances. Unsurprisingly, it’s Shannon who once again stands out. He’s an actor that possesses a natural intensity and this is a role that’s fully suited to his abilities. In fact, it might even be Shannon’s finest performance and that’s saying something. However, it could also be seen as to why Shannon has now, seemingly, been type-cast as a loon-ball. Particularly impressive is Friedkin’s handling of the material though and how it grips with a plot that’s entirely unexpected while exploring the heavy issues of psychological trauma, emotional dependency and delusional paranoid schizophrenia. It’s only towards the end that the film starts to show it’s faults. It does contain a lot of ambiguity but it’s rushed and plot holes do become apparent at this time. So much so that a couple of characters appear and disappear without explanation.

This will not appeal to everyone and those expecting an out-and-out horror will probably be disappointed but if you enjoy your horrors in a more cerebral, psychological fashion, then this certainly delivers.

Mark Walker

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Lucky Number Slevin * * * 1/2

Posted in Crime, Mystery, thriller with tags on July 24, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Paul McGuigan.
Screenplay: Jason Smilovic.
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, Lucy Liu, Stanley Tucci, Danny Aiello, Kevin Chamberlin Mykelti Williamson, Dorian Missick, Robert Forster.

The biggest thing I remember hearing about this film upon it’s release was the mentioning of Ben Kingsley’s Knighthood on the film poster. This seemed to create quite a stir, as professional credits don’t normally include this. It transpired that is was all just a mistake but it overshadowed the film itself. A shame really, as this is quite a tight little mystery/thriller.

Arriving in New York to stay at a friend’s apartment, Slevin Kelevra (Josh Hartnett) finds that his friend is missing and owes money to two very dangerous criminals – The Boss (Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley). Added to which, Slevin finds himself mistaken for his absent friend and soon involved in a lot of trouble with them both. With the help of his friends neighbour Lindsey (Lucy Liu), Slevin tries to clear up the confusion.

I’ve always been a sucker for films that twist and tease, keeping you perplexed and forcing you to keep up to speed. I like it when the script has actually been given some attention and one that demands the attention of the viewer. This is that type of film. It keeps you guessing and is not without a dark and lightness of touch either. It helps when there’s an impressive cast assembled also and each of the performers involved here deliver fine pieces of work. Seeing old hands Freeman and Kingsley play off one another is a particular highlight. Ultimately, it’s the convoluted nature of the story that impresses most though. Screenwriter Jason Smilovic and director Paul McGuigan add substance and style to the proceedings and keep you at just the right distance from the characters’ motivations. However, intricate and clever films also face the danger of becoming too loaded. For the most part, this film is a success but the denouement is a little muddled. For a film of this type to work, it needs to have a pay-off and this does have a satisfactory one. The only problem is, it has one too many. Without revealing too much, the fate of a prominent character seems like it’s been tacked on and stinks of studio involvement, letting down an otherwise intricate and cleverly constructed film.

A satisfyingly convoluted crime yarn with an impressive and eclectic mix of actors. However, the unravelling is a major demerit. Well… that and Willis’ ridiculous hairpieces.

Mark Walker

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A Scanner Darkly * * * * 1/2

Posted in Animation, Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction with tags on April 25, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Richard Linklater.
Screenplay: Richard Linklater.
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr, Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, Rory Cochrane, Melody Chase, Alex Jones.

In 2002, director Richard Linklater delivered a, little-seen, gem of a film called “Waking Life“. In this, he used an animation technique called ‘rotoscoping’. Basically it was animation added over live actors. The results were highly effective and he decided to use the technique here, on this adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s paranoid science fiction novel. Once again, the results are superb.

In the near future, Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) an undercover cop, is given the assignment to bring down a vast network of drug distribution, dealing in “Substance D” – which is highly addictive and mind altering. He fully immerses himself in the lifestyle, to the point were he has become an addict himself and even his superiors don’t know his cover story. As a result, they order him to spy on himself. Being under the influence regularly, it causes him to lose his grip on reality where nothing is clear anymore.

This was a film that had gained interest from a couple of notable players in the film business. Director Terry Gilliam (“The Fisher King“, “12 Monkeys“) was interested at one point and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (“Being John Malkovich“, “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind“) had actually drafted a screenplay that was eventually unused. One can only wonder at what might have become of this adaptation had they been involved but that doesn’t lessen the fact that Linklater has done a sterling job here. For a start, his decision to implement the “interpolated rotoscoping” animation again was a stroke of genius. On “Waking Life” it complimented the existential dream-like story and it is used similarly on this film. It’s a technique that could be in danger of overuse but when the story and characters themselves are operating from an occasional surreal point of view, rotoscoping is perfectly fitting. It serves as a metaphor for the characters’ drug induced alternate realities and allows us to identify with their paranoia and personal identity. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it might take away from the actors’ performances but it doesn’t. In some ways it enhances them. Reeves is an actor that has came in for some criticism throughout his career but he’s really rather good here and the support, from Harrelson and especially Downey Jr, is excellent. Who better to be included in a film of substance abuse than a couple of actors who have dabbled in their time? The script is also very faithful to Philip K. Dick’s writing. You can tell Linklater has invested a lot of his time in adapting, what is essentially, some of Dick’s own paranoid thoughts – he was heavily involved in the abuse of amphetamines and psychedelics – and explores the usual themes involved in his novels; the sociological and political aspects of human society under the control of an authoritarian government. If your a fan of Dick’s musings then you’ll find them all here. The only fault with the film could be found in it’s slightly lethargic pace but the visuals and thought provoking content are so astounding that the pace is forgiven. Sometimes Philip K. Dick’s stories are not given the proper treatment in movies. There are stinkers like “Next” and “Paycheck” but this ranks very highly alongside the successful ones like “Total Recall” and especially “Blade Runner“.

A thought-provoking head-trip of a film that delivers both intellectually and visually.

Mark Walker

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Cashback * * * *

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Fantasy with tags on April 22, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Sean Ellis.
Screenplay: Sean Ellis.
Starring: Sean Biggerstaff, Emilia Fox, Michelle Ryan, Michael Dixon, Michael Lambourne, Stuart Goodwin, Shaun Evans, Marc Pickering, Nick Hancock, Keeley Hazell.

Director Sean Ellis made an 18 minute short film in 2004 that won a plethora of International awards and received an Oscar nomination. Because of this, he decided to expand it to feature length and delivers a delightful little independent film.

Young artist Ben Willis (Sean Biggerstaff) breaks up with girlfriend Suzy (Michelle Ryan) which leads to him developing insomnia. As sleep is hard to come by, he takes on a night-shift at the local supermarket where he develops ways to alter time and indulge in his artistic imagination.

The best way to describe this film lies in a direct quote from the protagonist himself; “Within this frozen world I’m able to walk freely and unnoticed. Nobody would even know that time has stopped. And when it started back up again, the invisible join would be seamless except for a slight shudder. Not unlike the feeling of somebody walking over your grave”. And so begins, the journey of insomniac Ben Willis who stops time and undresses women to paint and sketch their female form. This is an imaginative and thoroughly rewarding little film from a promising new director. The New York Post compared Sean Ellis to “Clerks” director Kevin Smith, if he had “… a background in poetry and painting instead of comic-books and bestiality jokes“. It’s a good comparison as this film is as fresh and engaging as Smith’s earlier work. However, it’s also a prime example of how films can be almost completely buried if they don’t receive the right marketing campaign. Such a shame, that this hasn’t gained a wider audience. It’s a cleverly constructed and stylish debut with sharp dialogue and genuinely touching and hilarious moments. Ellis is a director that has now caught my attention and he draws excellent performances from a relatively unknown cast. The only apparent problem is over-length. To go from an 18min short to a 100min feature is a bit of a stretch and as a result, the film meanders toward it’s conclusion. However, this is a small gripe in what is otherwise an inventive and sophisticated little drama.

Skilfully handled by everyone involved and the kind of film that warrants more attention. A vastly underrated little gem.

Mark Walker

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Half Nelson * * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama with tags on February 2, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Ryan Fleck.
Screenplay: Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps, Anthony Mackie, Deborah Rush, Jay O. Sanders, Tina Holmes, Denis O’Hare, Monique Curnen.

Ryan Gosling is one of those actors that is in danger of his talents being overshadowed because he’s seen as eye candy for the female cinema going public – much in the same way that Brad Pitt has suffered. However, if he keeps producing high calibre performances such as this, then there will be no denying why he’s on screen in the first place.

Dan Dunne (Gosling) teaches in a poor school where his unusual approach engages the pupils. But out of school, frustration fuels his drug habit. One night troubled student Drey (Shareeka Epps) chances upon him while he’s high on crack cocaine, and a bond is forged.

It’s unfair to praise a film based solely on one person’s performance, especially when the writing, directing and supporting actors all do their fair share. But this is a film that’s hard to see beyond the lead actor. Gosling is the real deal; nuanced and edgy with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it subtlety. He’s an actor that possesses the unique ability to say very little but express so much. Full of subtle ticks and mannerisms, to convey his feelings. In this case, a struggling addict trying to function in his day-to-day life. It’s another marvellous and understated performance that garnered him a well deserved Oscar nomination – unlucky to lose out to Forest Whitaker’s grandstanding in “The Last King of Scotland”. This is a film of many layers, and writers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck cleverly introduce the theory of Dialectics – the process of change through opposing forces. Gosling and Epps – teacher and pupil – are exactly these opposing forces and only through each other will they ultimately find salvation. The first time I saw this, I enjoyed it for it’s indie style but missed the depth it had and didn’t really get what all the fuss was about. On second viewing though, it’s quality really stands out. This is a nourishing and deliberately paced slice of life that’s competently directed by Ryan Fleck in his first feature.

A rapturous round of applause for all involved in this beautifully crafted and wonderfully acted gem.

Mark Walker

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The Celestine Prophecy (x)

Posted in Adventure, Drama with tags on February 2, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Armand Mastroianni.
Screenplay: James Redfield, Barnet Bain, Dan Gordon.
Starring: Matthew Settle, Thomas Kretschmann, Annabeth Gish, Sarah Wayne Callies, Hector Elizondo, Jurgen Prochnow, Joaquim de Almeida, John Aylward.

I don’t know why I expect a film adaptation to do a book that I love justice. It’s always the same high expectations, falling short. This however, takes bad transfers from page to screen to a whole new low.

Based on James Redfield’s 1993 bestselling novel it tells the story of high-school teacher John Woodson (Matthew Settle), who undertakes a journey to find and understand a series of nine spiritual insights on an ancient manuscript in Peru, taking him on a spiritual awakening as he goes through a transitional period of his life. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church and government try to suppress the ancient psychological and spiritual beliefs he unfolds, putting his and others’ lives in danger.

Poor production value, hammy acting and a stifling screenplay. The author James Redfield can’t really complain though as he’s one of the screenwriters. The book deserved so much more than this. Where it succeeded in capturing your attention and imagination, this succeeds only in putting you to sleep. It’s boring and tedious pap and even as a television film it looks cheap. Maybe one day someone will adapt this properly, it’s certainly deserving of a better version.

Very little, if anything, to recommend it. Fans of the book will only be seriously disappointed and those who haven’t read the book will be lost, and will ruin what is a great read.
Stay well clear of this turkey.

Mark Walker

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