Archive for 2008

Waltz With Bashir * * * * 1/2

Posted in Animation, Foreign Language, War with tags on September 8, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Ari Folman.
Screenplay: Ari Folman.
Voices: Ari Folman, Ron Ben-Yishai, Ronny Dayag, Shmuel Frenkel, Zahava Solomon, Ori Sivan, Dror Harazi.

The Israel & Palestine conflict never makes an easy topic for discussion and tends to bring passionate opinions to the surface. As a result, it’s difficult for anyone approaching the subject. Here, however, we are given a film that wisely doesn’t address the politics of the conflict, choosing instead to focus more on the atrocity and brutality of war.

On realising he has no memory of serving in the Israeli Army during the First Lebanon War in 1982, Ari Folman tracks down his old buddies to hear their stories of the conflict, and try to solve the mystery of his own psychological blindspot.

Thanks in large to it’s strikingly powerful artwork, this is a documentary that’s one of the most original of it’s kind. It consists of a serious of investigative interviews with director and war veteran Folman and his comrades who served with him during the conflict. Like the stories they relate, the interviews are also included in the animation and had this been done otherwise this may not have held our interest as much as it does. It helps bind the film into a coherent and visually stunning experience. Having served as an Israeli soldier, Folman wisely doesn’t justify his actions – if anything he abhors them. As he pieces the stories together, the revelation of his deep rooted memories are harrowing and it’s no wonder he developed temporary amnesia. He psychologically blocked his memories due to the atrocities and sheer brutality of the massacre – that he was involved in – of Palestinian men, women and children. Despite, this heavy subject matter, amidst the backdrop of war and barbarism, there are still many scenes of such power and surreal beauty.

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Deservedly Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language film, this is a provocative, gruesome and visually stunning movie, that captures an eerie and haunting feel throughout. Within it’s shocking delivery, it carries a very important anti-war message while echoing the work of Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” or Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”. Absolutely superb and quite unlike anything you’ll have seen before.

Mark Walker

Wanted * * * *

Posted in Action, Fantasy with tags on November 25, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Timur Bekmambetov.
Screenplay: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas, Chris Morgan.
Starring: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann, Marc Warren, Common, Kristen Hager, David Patrick O’Hara.

Action is not normally a genre I’m drawn to but when it’s done without reservation, I can completely enter into it. I, normally, find that the genre always goes a little too far. That being the case, if your going to go far you night as well go all out and be as innovative as you possibly can. This can certainly claim to do that.

Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is a bored and downtrodden office worker who gets bullied by his boss while his best friend is sleeping with his girlfriend. His life is a shambles. That is, until he is approached out of the blue by the mysterious Fox (Angelina Jolie), a highly trained assassin who is part of a secret society called the Fraternity. Wesley’s father was also a member and now that he’s recently deceased, Wesley is heir to the skills of a master hitman and the Fraternity bring him onboard.

In his first English language feature, director Timur Bekmambetov brings the similar style from his Russian vampire movies “Night Watch” and “Day Watch” and proves that he’s a director that can certainly stage an action scene or two. There are cars that do 360 degree flips, people that leap from skyscrapers, bullets that collide with each other mid-air and even ones that bend round corners, buy hey, it’s based on a comic-book by Mark Millar (also responsible for “Kick Ass“) so anything goes right? The action scenes are sublimely hyper-stylised and delivered with a breathtakingly fast pace. It also stages a lot of the action in glorious slow-motion, encapsulating the moment and allowing the audience the wallow and appreciate even further.
To begin with, the film may instil a certain deja-vu as it borrows heavily from “Fight Club” in it’s premise of a disheartened man, in a dead end job, that finds a new lease of life. Mainly what it incorporates though, is the balletic skills of Hong Kong action maestro John Woo and the gravity defying works of “The Matrix“. Quite simply, it’s ludicrous stuff but riotously enjoyable all the same.
McAvoy struggles a little with an American accent but for the most part he’s good and his performance captures both a sense of humour and an impressive and convincing action ability. A heavily tattooed and vampish Angelina Jolie also gets her fair share of action moments, all-be-it, without much in the way of dialogue. As good as they are though, this is not a film that spends a lot of time or focus on character development. It’s an action movie that doesn’t pretend to be anything else and is all the better for it.

Visually astounding with a breakneck pace that rarely let’s up. It’s exciting, innovative and enjoyable, but most of all it’s fun. Exactly how an action movie should be delivered.

Mark Walker

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Hunger * * * * *

Posted in Drama, History with tags on July 15, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Steve McQueen.
Screenplay: Steve McQueen, Enda Walsh.
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham, Liam McMahon, Brian Milligan, Stuart Graham, Karen Hassan, Helen Madden, Des McAleer, Frank McCusker, Rory Mullen.

In 2011, “Shame” was released. It was a powerful piece of cinema and one of the most provocative and controversial film’s of the year. It was also one of the very best. But if you look back to 2008 and this previous collaboration with director Steve McQueen and actor Michael Fassbender, you’ll realise that provocative and hard-hitting filmmaking is something these two, seemingly excel at.

In Northern Ireland, 1981, Irish revolutionary inmates in the Maze prison begin a protest to attain political status and not to be seen as criminals. Their demands are refused by the British Government so one man, Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), leads a hunger strike. This was a defiant act against tyrannical British rule and one that would reverberate internationally.

I find it hard to be subjective in my views of the atrocities that the British Government imposed upon the Irish revolutionary movement. I’m disgusted and appalled at some of the parliamentary decisions and I make no excuses for my prejudices toward Margaret Thatcher either. The hunger strike of 1981, is a shameful and atrocious piece of history, of which, she was at the forefront. It’s a time in history that many will want to forget, but here, director Steve McQueen paints a vivid and unflinching portrayal of these harsh times and conditions. He starts by informing us that 2,187 people have been killed in “the troubles” since 1969 and that the British Govt have withdrawn the political status of all paramilitary prisoners. Irish republicans in the Maze Prison are on a ‘blanket’ and ‘no wash’ protest. We are then introduced to a prison guard, bathing his bloodied knuckles in water. Primarily, the warden we follow seems to be torn and struggling. However, it’s soon apparent that these prison wardens are only upholding the state, so sympathy wains. There is a struggle at heart here and the British Govt has a lot to answer for. Rearing her ugly head, Margaret Thatcher is overheard on a radio broadcast, refusing to accept any form of “political or criminal violence”. Anyone familiar with her time in office will be aware of her sheer hypocrisy here. She was known as “The Iron Lady“, no better than a fascist and throughout her time in power, was the very catalyst for many wrongdoings. My opinion may come across as biased but the atrocities that these young men faced in the fight for freedom is abhorrent. What this film has in it’s ultimate favour though, is that it doesn’t preach. It states the facts and for this, McQueen deserves the utmost credit and respect. Despite the grim material, we are afforded moments of artistic beauty; McQueen lingers long on shots and uses dialogue sparsely. At one point though, he film’s a highly impressive 22-minute conversation about semantics and political rhetoric and does 16-minutes of it without cuts. It’s a bold move that could stop the film in it’s tracks but actually, what it does, is reinforce the belief that this is a highly artistic and confident filmmaker you are witnessing. He even takes his time (about half an hour) to introduce our protagonist Bobby Sands and it’s here, he is aided immeasurably by his lead actor; Michael Fassbender’s transformation from a passionate healthy prisoner to one of starved frailty is astonishing and it’s easy to see why he made a name for himself after this. He truly is one of the very best and bravest actors around at present.
Rarely have political drama’s been so raw, unnerving and emotionally devastating. This is by no means easy viewing but it’s certainly important and essential viewing and it heralded the arrival of a visionary director and intense performer.

McQueen manages that rare achievement of delivering a piece of work that is both brutal and harsh yet touching and quite beautiful. This is raw and unflinching material that is told candidly and without reservation. Simply stunning.

Mark Walker

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Cloverfield * * * *

Posted in Action, Horror, Science Fiction, thriller with tags on July 14, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Matt Reeves.
Screenplay: Drew Goddard.
Starring: Michael Stahl-David, Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T. J. Miller, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman, Chris Mulkey.

Having recently watched (and thoroughly enjoyed) the latest of found footage film’s in “Chronicle“, I decided to look back at one of the sub-genre’s most critically praised. Now, when “Cloverfield” was released in 2008, I couldn’t really give two shits. However, I feel that might have judged this film unfairly and wanted to go back and give it another chance. After all, director Matt Reeves and particularly producer J.J. Abrams have built a steady reputation on the back of this.

While documenting a friends farewell party on video camera, a group of New Yorker’s find themselves videoing something else entirely. Their send-off is interrupted by an attack on the city as a massive and terrifying monster creates incredible havoc and tears the city apart.

As the film opens, we are given the gist straight away; middle-class yuppie-types with too much money and nothing to talk about. They have irritating mannerisms and deliver their dialogue in a resemblance of the kooky characters from the long-running TV show “Friends“. In this, I wasn’t sold. In fact, the only reason I persevered was just too see if any of them eventually got their heads ripped off. Thankfully, that wasn’t too far from the truth. After the long and protracted opening, the film suddenly jolts you to attention as panic sets in on the realisation that New York is under attack from some foriegn entity. The allegory to 9/11 is very apparent. As is the comparisons with another monster classic “Godzilla“. It’s at this point that you realise the dull opening was forgivable. Deliberate even. This isn’t a film about character development or even story. This is an unashamed monster/horror film about thrills and it’s a fine one at that. I have often proclaimed my dislike to a lot of found footage film’s and that particular style does become a bit irritating, not to mention disorientating here. However, it also works very highly in delivering the confusion and tension. The special effects are very impressive indeed and allow forgiveness for many of the film’s shortcomings. As mentioned, I had a real problem with the grating and shallow characters but, like most film’s of the found footage variety, you can imagine my delight at the realisation that there are very few, if any, survivors. That’s not say that I didn’t find myself rooting for them on occasion. I did, but that’s down the creativity of the filmmakers. Matt Reeves, (who done “Let Me In” – the American remake of the Swedish vampire movie “Let The Right One In“) does a sterling job in only his second directorial outing. He manages to mount the tension in abundance and he does it all, without the use of music. It was only after it was over and the credits were rolling that I realised my perception of this film had not been manipulated in any way, with an overbearing score.

You can see the clout that producer J.J. Abrams brings to the table here but his backing only allows a talented director to flourish. And that he does. This is a stylistically crafted, adrenaline filled, modern B-movie that commands your attention.

Mark Walker

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Zack And Miri Make A Porno * * 1/2

Posted in Comedy, Romance with tags on May 11, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Kevin Smith.
Screenplay: Kevin Smith.
Starring: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Jason Mewes, Craig Robinson, Traci Lords Katie Morgan, Ricky Mabe, Jeff Anderson, Justin Long, Brandon Routh, Tom Savini.

Writer/director Kevin Smith used to be a bit of an indie god. His debut “Clerks” was made on a shoestring budget and his films have normally had a real freshness and originality. His last three films; “Red State” “Cop Out” and this, are starting to show that Smith is running out of ideas though.

Plutonic flatmates Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are cash strapped with mounting financial debts. They struggle to even pay basic household bills. When their electricity and water are cut off, they decide to embark on a money spinning idea; to make a homemade adult film. Eventually, the long-time friends will need to have sex with each other but will they be able to keep their emotions in check?

The film starts brightly and yes, you guessed it, Rogen gets to crack a few dick jokes. He’s good at it though but when it’s Kevin Smith at the helm, you expect a bit more. The writing is not as fresh as his earlier stuff and the film resorts to some cheap gags. It also strays off the path of indie comedy and treads onto the well worn one of romantic-comedy. This may be rom-com with an adult twist to it but, ultimately, it’s still part of the genre that I don’t really care for. It’s the performances that keep it tolerable. The two leads in Rogen and Banks are very endearing and they are surrounded by a great supporting cast – Jason Mewes is, as always, hilarious and there is a brilliant cameo from Justin Long as a gravelly voiced, profane, gay porn star. I found it to be a film of moments though. It has several that are very funny – including a good “Star Wars” porn scenario with Hung Solo and R2 T-Bag – but it’s just not consistent enough and then resorts to hammering the love angle. When this happens, you just know the film has muffdived nosedived and it’s very unlikely that it will recover. As expected, it doesn’t. If you’re looking for a good comedy that delivers the same premise then I suggest “The Moguls“. A little seen Jeff Bridges film released in 2005 that dealt with similar material in a more tasteful and frankly, funnier way.

Not one of Smith’s better efforts and has been the start of a three film decline for him. It does have some qualities but squanders them in favour of a formula.

Mark Walker

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Doubt * * * * 1/2

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

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Director: John Patrick Shanley.
Screenplay: John Patrick Shanley.
Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Alice Drummond, Audrie Neenan, Joseph Foster II, Paulie Litt.

John Patrick Shanley is probably better known for the 1987 film “Moonstruck” which garnered Cher a best actress Oscar and also one for himself in the screenplay department. He went on to direct “Joe Versus The Volcano” in 1990, to mixed results, but here he’s back to his native New York, doing what he does best and taking only his second stab at directing.

In a Bronx Catholic school in the 1960’s, stern and moralistic school principal Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) suspects that gregarious priest Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has shown an unnatural and indecent interest in one of the school’s alter boys. She is so certain of her suspicions but lacks the evidence to prove it, leading to a battle-of-wits between them.

There are, easily, three main reasons why I enjoyed this film so much and they are: the three actors involved. Amy Adams is one of the strongest young actresses around at present and Streep and Hoffman are two of my all-time favourites. I never tire of watching them and to see them go head-to-head, chewing up the screen with powerful roles, is dramatic gold as far as I’m concerned. Such choice material though, ultimately rests with Shanley. His writing, not only has the characters in doubt but the omission of integral plot developments cleverly leaves the audience with doubts also. Is Father Flynn guilty of such indecency? Or, is Sister Aloysius bitter and slanderous toward the outgoing priest in order to retain her hierarchy? It’s an intriguing confrontation, masterfully played out buy a relentless Streep and victimised Hoffman. Adams, meanwhile, is caught between the two in a wonderful show of innocence and hope. All three were Oscar nominated for their performances, and deservedly so. Viola Davis, as the alter boys struggling mother, also deserves mention with some strong displays of emotion. It’s a film of performances and everyone is up to the task. Roger Deakins is another deserving of praise, with his exquisite cinematography. As always, his use of the camera captures the mood beautifully with some simple but lush and quaint images.

Ambiguous and tantalising. Some may find the ambiguity frustrating but I found that it kept entirely in-touch with the theme of the film. That being, quite simply… doubt.

Mark Walker

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The Brothers Bloom * * * 1/2

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

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Director: Rian Johnson.
Screenplay: Rian Johnson.
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Mark Ruffalo, Adrien Brody, Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane, Maximilian Schell, Max Records, Zachary Gordon, Andy Nyman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Narrated by: Ricky Jay

Following on from his modern noir and impressive directorial debut “Brick” in 2005, director Rian Johnson faced the tricky second feature syndrome. After a three year wait he delivered this… another convoluted tale, but with altogether different results.

Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and younger sibling Bloom (Adrien Brody) are a couple of con-men who criss cross the globe shafting the unwary. Their latest mark, however, is something new: wealthy recluse Penelope (Rachel Weisz) who, having spent her life mastering a miscellany of random skills (break dancing, banjo plucking, juggling chainsaws), is only too happy to follow them and their mute munitions expert ‘Bang-Bang’ (Rinko Kikuchi) to Prague where a priceless antique is ripe for the taking.

With this second feature it looks like Rian Johnson enjoys a good puzzling story. His debut was full of twists and turns and more than a nod or two to crime writers Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. This time he employs a subtext with nods to several classic literary novels and authors. The references are subtle but cleverly dropped into his tangled and intricate flim-flam story. Added to which are bags of visual flourishes and fine performances by the four leads. However, what is a strong and satisfying hustle soon becomes a bit too clever for it’s own good and as it draws to a close it ends up tying itself in knots. Leaving us with an unsatisfactory (and unnecessary) conclusion. Getting there is loads of fun though and Rian Johnson is shaping up to be a more than competent new director.

Four fun, enjoyable and sharply dressed characters play out their scams in an impressive and stylish addition to the Bunco genre. It’s just a shame it cons itself out of a convincing ending.

Mark Walker

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