Archive for 2012

To The Wonder

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on May 5, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Terrence Malick.
Screenplay: Terrence Malick.
Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams, Tatiana Chiline, Romena Mondello, Charles Baker, Tony O’Gans.

“You have to struggle with yourself. You have to struggle with your own strength”.

Say what you will about the stylings of Terrence Malick but he’s undoubtedly a director that puts his own stamp on things and refuses to tell a story in any conventional sense. He’s more interested in capturing moments and subtle glances while pondering the larger themes of love, life and religious beliefs. When you look back at his older works of “Days Of Heaven“, “The Thin Red Line” or “The Tree Of Life“, for example, you’ll find these themes in abundance. From a personal point of view, I often find Malick’s approach to be highly appealing but with “To The Wonder“, I was left somewhat distant and uninterested this time around.

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CLASSIC SCENE: “Infringement! You blinked”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 1, 2014 by Mark Walker

Film: THE MASTER
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson

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Setting the scene: Escaping from an upstairs party, FREDDIE QUELL (Joaquin Phoenix) is invited into the suite of LANCASTER DODD (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in order to sample some of Freddie’s homemade alcohol. Both men are just getting to know one another but Freddie is interested in joining “The Cause” – a cult, faith-based organisation of which Dodd is the charismatic leader (or Master). To test Freddie’s commitment, Dodd suggests that he goes through a series of questions known as ‘informal processing’.

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The Hunt * * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama, Foreign Language with tags on July 19, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Thomas Vinterberg.
Screenplay: Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm.
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelsteøm, Susse Wold, Alexandra Rapaport, Anne Louise Hassing, Lars Ranthe, Sebastian Bull Sarning.

There have been a number of films that have addressed the harrowing nature of child abuse; “The Woodsman” is one where Kevin Bacon’s character – just released from prison – admits his guilt, leaving the audience in an almost impossible position in showing any sympathy, whereby John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” left the audience questioning the guilt of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s afflicted priest throughout it’s entirety. This time, Thomas Vinterberg tackles the issue from the point of view of the innocently accused.

Mild mannered, nursery school teacher, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), lives in a small village where he leads a simple life. However, one of his young pupils accuses him of inappropriate behaviour and his life is thrown into turmoil by all around him as he struggles to prove his innocence.

Vinterberg sets his protagonist’s motivations from the off-set. He’s a humble man who is active in the community and seems to have a solid network of friends and a close relationship with his teenage son. To embody this kindhearted soul, Vinterberg chooses wisely in Mads Mikkelsen – who won best actor for the role at Cannes in 2012. Mikkelsen is the type of actor who, having such a unique physical appearance, can perform many different characters. He made a great Bond villain in “Casino Royale” and now confirms that he can completely win you over in a gentler role. He exudes an appealing demeanour that has you fully affectionate towards him and it’s this very affection that has you infuriated at the witch-hunt and complete injustice and turmoil he has to endure. The problem is, there are no bad people in this film. It’s layered and nuanced so well, that even those that choose to abandon and ostracise him are only doing what they believe to be right. As an insider, the audience are privy to all the information and it makes it easy to not just understand Lucas’ plight but to also identify with the shock and grievances that his friends and family have towards him. Quite simply, it’s a film that tears you in many different directions and refuses to let go.
The nature or subject matter of it, may originally put some people off but I can confirm that nothing here is uncomfortably or exploitatively dealt with. It’s entirely honest and innocent and that’s the very thing that it demands the utmost respect for. Vinterberg doesn’t balk from depicting human nature in a cruel or victimised fashion but he cleverly shows restraint in his approach, allowing the actors to deliver the realism and the dangers involved in condemnation through ambiguous gossip.

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A gripping and emotionally draining, social drama that manages to be both provocative and empathetic. Proof, once again, that the Scandinavian output of cinema is at the top of it’s game right now.

Mark Walker

Detachment * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama with tags on May 29, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Tony Kaye.
Screenplay: Carl Lund.
Starring: Adrien Brody, Marcia Gay Harden, James Caan, Christina Hendricks, Lucy Liu, Blythe Danner, Tim Blake Nelson, William Petersen, Bryan Cranston, Sami Gayle, Betty Kaye, Louis Zorich.

Having been a big fan of “American History X” in 1998, I was eager to see what else director Tony Kaye had in store. Unfortunately, he didn’t make that many films and those that he did – “Lobby Lobster” and “Black Water Transit” – didn’t quite reach a bigger audience. As a result, I was happy to come across “Detachment” which proves that Kaye hasn’t lost any of his style or starkness.

Henry Barthes (Adrien Brody) is a substitute teacher brought into a struggling urban high school to teach English and work with kids who are performing at a very low grade. Being a substitute is exactly the way Henry likes it as he deliberately tries to avoid making genuine connections with people (and that includes his pupils). As time goes on, though, Mr. Barthes realises the pupils’ need for his input and which forces him to confront his own demons and isolation.

And never have I felt so deeply at one and the same time so detached from myself and so present in the world.

As the film opens, this is the quote from French philosopher Albert Camus that’s scribed onto a blackboard before we are introduced to the protagonist and the personal conflict he finds himself in. On the one hand, he’s a caring individual but on the other, he deliberately keeps a distance from people as he’s consumed by a guilt that doesn’t belong to him. His detachment is also reflected in the frustrated and disillusioned pupils he teaches, making this a melting pot of emotionally dysfunctional people. It’s this very mirroring in the individuals that make this quite a thought provoking character study, as well as a diatribe on the state of the American educational system and the problems therein.
Kaye shoots the film with an edgy, fly on the wall approach, utilising the shaky-cam technique and numerous close-ups that bring you closer to the characters and their inner turmoil. There’s also the assembly of a very impressive cast, all-be-it, a lot of them are wasted in thankless, underwritten roles. The likes of Bryan Cranston, Blythe Danner and William Petersen needn’t have turned up at all, but James Caan lightens the mood whenever he’s onscreen and the young unknowns get a chance to shine instead; particularly, (the director’s daughter) Betty Kaye, who develops a crush on her teacher and Sami Gayle as a young prostitute who develops a similar infatuation. The real star, though, is a brooding and commanding Brody. He’s rarely offscreen for the entirety of the film and even though it’s no surprise that he delivers his usual reliability, he’s especially good with a very powerful and charismatic performance. However, the cast and the impressive handling of the material can’t save the film from being overly depressing, or when drawing to it’s conclusion, descending into melodrama from which it never fully recovers.

Cut from the same cloth as the, Oscar nominated, Ryan Gosling movie “Half Nelson“, director Tony Kaye delivers a good insight into the difficulties of teaching and the importance of instilling a good childhood and sense of self in our youth.

Mark Walker

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Sightseers * * * *

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on April 17, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Ben Wheatley.
Screenplay: Steve Oram, Alice Lowe.
Starring: Steve Oram, Alice Lowe, Eileen Davies, Richard Glover, Monica Dolan, Jonathan Aris, Richard Lumsden, Tony Way, Rachel Austin, Gareth Jones.

After the dark crime thriller “Kill List” in 2011, writer/director Ben Wheatley has decided on a slightly lighter approach for his follow-up. Just ‘slightly’ mind you, as the premise of this tale is equally as dark and deranged. However, it does contain a lot of humour and will most likely remain one of the blackest comedies all year. It’s also confirmation that Wheatley is definitely a talent to watch.

After accidentally killing her mother’s beloved dog with a knitting needle Tina (Alice Lowe), makes a decision to leave her domineering mother and go on a caravan holiday with her new boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram). What Tina doesn’t know is that Chris has a penchant for killing people who upset him. Tina soon becomes influenced by him and as they tour the English countryside, they leaves bodies in their wake at the camp sites, museums and tourist destinations that they visit.

After a brief introduction to our travelling odd-couple, Wheatley gets down to his turgid roadtrip where all manner of darkness ensues. Despite the, blacker-than-black, nature of the story he infuses it with a deadpan humour that counterbalances the events, disturbed behaviour and thought processes of the characters. After casually and callously despatching of unsuspecting, innocent victims our couple share their thoughts and warped sense of justification; at one point over dinner Tina suggests that “by reducing their life span you’re reducing their omissions“, to which Chris responds “so what you mean is… murder is green? I never thought of it like that“. Tina is also a character who likes to have intercourse while sticking her face in a bowl of pot-pourri and wearing hand-knitted, crotchless lingerie. These are just a couple of examples of their deluded outlook and off-the-wall behaviour. Believe me, there are plenty more on their travels. What aids the film immeasurably is the two superb central performances from Steve Oram and Alice Lowe who also happen to have written the screenplay. While playing out their own characters, it shows that they fully understand the material and what’s required to make them three dimensional. Meanwhile, Wheatley handles the extreme shifts in tone with absolute ease. There are some genuinely, hilarious moments that are coupled with a very twisted nature. For a film to have you laughing at it’s darkness, is a testament to all involved here. Black comedies don’t come much darker than this.

Having proved beforehand with “Kill List” that he could craft a sense of realism imbued with absolute horror. This time, Ben Wheatley shows excellent skill in balancing humour with an altogether different kind of horror and lunacy. It has been compared to the likes of “Natural Born Killers” and Mike Leigh’s “Nuts In May” but I’d refer to this thoroughly rewarding little treat, as “Badlands” in the Midlands.

Mark Walker

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The Paperboy * * * 1/2

Posted in Crime, Drama with tags on March 27, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Lee Daniels.
Screenplay: Pete Dexter, Lee Daniels.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, Macy Gray, David Oyelowo, Scott Glenn, Ned Bellamy, Nealla Gordon, Gary Clarke, Faison Love, Grace Hightower.

After his Oscar winning film “Precious“, which was an adaptation of Sapphire’s novel “Push“, director Lee Daniels decides to follow that up with another adaptation. This time it’s the 1995 novel “The Paperboy” by Pete Dexter and another exploration of highly dysfunctional personalities.

Naive reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) heads back to his home town of Lately, where he’s determined to exonerate convict Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), who awaits execution on death row for the supposed murder of a local Sheriff. Ward is accompanied by his brother Jack (Zac Efron), ambitious colleague Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) and flashy seductress Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman) – who has a fetish for incarcerated men and Van Wetter is her latest obsession. The murky details of the investigation soon uncover truths about everyone involved and truths that were better left alone.

This is a film that’s very much a mixed bag and it’s easy to see why some people just didn’t take to it. First off, the narrative is disjointed. At times, it doesn’t seem know to which direction it’s going in and the tacked-on, voiceover narration, doesn’t really help matters. In the earlier part there’s humour and it gives the impression that it’s got it’s tongue stuck firmly in it’s cheek. As the film and characters grow, though, it becomes progressively darker. So much so, that it will having you wincing in both disgust and horror. These shifts in tone are less than effortless and also threaten to undo the film as a whole. However, even though the tone is uneven it’s throws up many memorable moments; Kidman urinating on Efron’s face, Cusack and Kidman engaging in masturbation while 10 feet apart and other brutal and shocking revelations, which I’ll allow you to find out for yourself. It’s in these memorable moments that you realise where the film’s strengths lie; the characters are all three dimensional and the brave cast are uniformly brilliant. Efron has come a long way since his “High School Musical” days and looks like proper leading actor material; McConaughey continues his recent run of seedy and risqué roles; Cusack captures the intensity of a loutish psychopath and Kidman is a revelation as an oversexed floozie. Fine support is also delivered by a surprisingly talented Macy Gray and the enigmatic David Olywewo. It’s the very commitment from these actors that has you believing in the material even when their characters’ motivations are not always clear or convincing. Another big player in the proceedings is cinematographer Roberto Schaefer. He captures the searing heat and uncomfortableness of backwoods Florida to perfection while balancing the class divide and racial tension that drips from every pore.
Daniels’ direction may be a little hyperstylised at times and his grasp on the film’s structure is less than convincing. Incoherence does creep in and the film sags around the midriff, becoming in danger of losing itself entirely. At one point, when it should be wrapping up, it throws in further complications and character developments but to give the director his due, he knows how to drop subtle hints without revealing too much, leaving the story’s denouement more satisfying than first thought. There’s no doubt that this is a flawed endeavour but the scathing opinions of it are a little unwarranted – all-be-it, understandable. There is much to admire here. Yes, it’s trashy, tawdry and most certainly deranged but it’s also edgy and unpredictable, which is more than you can say for a lot of studio releases these days.

Sexploitation, exploitation and telekinetic masturbation. What more can you can ask from a film that doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a deranged venture into the American south with a committed cast that are game for anything?
This might have been booed at the Cannes film festival but for it’s trashy audacity alone, it deserves applause.

Mark Walker

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Frankenweenie * * * *

Posted in Animation, Family, Horror with tags on March 25, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Tim Burton.
Screenplay: John August.
Voices: Charlie Tahan, Winona Ryder, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Landau, Atticus Shaffer, Robert Capron, Conchata Ferrell, James Hiroyuki Liao, Dee Bradley Baker, Frank Welker.

Tim Burton has occasionally been involved in animated movies throughout his career, having served as producer on “The Nightmare Before Christmas“, “James & The Giant Peach” and “9“. However, the only time he’s actually been behind the camera on any of them was “Corpse Bride” in 2005 and his animated short in 1984 “Frankenweenie” – of which this is a feature length expansion of. Some may feel that he’s treading old ground here but there’s no doubt that this is still a highly successful endeavour.

Victor Frankenstein is a lonely young boy who’s best friend is his energetic dog, Sparky. When Sparky is run over and killed by a car, Victor is devastated but he refuses to give up hope of spending time with his beloved friend again. Inspired by his science teacher, he decides to rig up a laboratory and harness the lightning to bring Sparky’s corpse back to life. His attempts are successful but it soon causes havoc within his neighbourhood.

Burton has came in for a critical panning from many people of late (myself included). The major issue being his seeming inability to change his idiosyncratic style. With this latest venture into stop-motion animation, he has answered his critics with aplomb and it makes you wonder whether he even should change his approach when the results can be as good as this. Here, his gothic idiosyncrasies are entirely suited to this homage to director James Whale and his classic horror movies “Frankenstein” and it’s follow-up “Bride Of Frankenstein“. He also throws in some references to horror stars Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Vincent Price and includes a whole host of quirky characters – the one that stood out for me the most was ‘Mr. Whiskers'; a cat who can predict the future of others by the shape of the shit left in his litter tray.
Burton’s decision to film in gorgeous monochrome also adds to the proceedings, meanwhile, giving Mary Shelley’s classic literary tale his own spin and he (and us) has a lot fun in doing so. It also has a similar off-key suburban setting like Burton’s earlier film “Edward Scissorhands” and shares the same balance of that film’s darkness and humour. Younger children may balk at the unravelling of the darker tale but older kids and adults can revel in it’s decent into a reanimated, monster B-Movie which is entirely fitting and in doing so, never loses it’s sense of fun or feeling for the macabre.

A lot of animated films these days have an appeal for children and adults alike and the balance that Burton achieves here is proof that that’s not about to change anytime soon. One of 2012’s very best animated films and one of Burton’s best for quite a while.

Mark Walker

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