Archive for the Biography Category

The Iceman * * *

Posted in Biography, Crime, Drama with tags on August 19, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: Ariel Vromen.
Screenplay: Ariel Vromen, Morgan Land.
Starring: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, Chris Evans, David Schwimmer, Robert Davi, James Franco, Stephen Dorff, John Ventimiglia, Ryan O’Nan, Danny A. Abeckaser, McKaley Miller, Megan Sherill.

What more can be said about the acting chops of Michael Shannon? Despite being a household name now, he’s still happy to deliver supporting roles in the likes of “Mud” and “Man of Steel” while managing to work within the time constraints of television with “Boardwalk Empire“. Thankfully though, he’s not adverse to the odd leading role and “The Iceman” is the type of film that allows him to fully embrace centre stage.

In the 1960’s, Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) was a quiet family man, who secretly worked as a porn lab technician until the New Jersey mob that ran his employment, shut him down and persuaded him to become a contract killer. For decades, Kuklinski would kill over 100 people and gain a reputation for his cold blooded professionalism, meanwhile keeping his wife (Winona Ryder) and kids completely in the dark about where their money came from.

Based on actual events, the story of Kuklinski is quite an intriguing one. This was a man who managed to separate his work and family life for so long that he was clearly a very manipulative and dangerous sociopath.
Much like Kuklinski’s victims, though, the film seems strangely lifeless. Most mob films have you on the edge of your seat at least once throughout their running times but “The Iceman” never really manages to do that. Ariel Vromen’s direction is flat and he poorly handles the script’s leaps in time; relying on consistently changing facial hair as a narrative device. It just doesn’t work and as a genre piece, it misses a real opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the similarly themed “Donnie Brasco“.
Where the films strengths lie, are in the performances; Mafia boss Roy Demeo, is captured ferociously by Ray Liotta, who seems to be the go-to-guy for mob figures these days, and the likes of Chris Evans impresses in an almost unrecognisable role as Robert “Mr. Freezy” Pronge – another hitman that Kuklinski gets involved with. Added to this, are smaller roles for James Franco, Stephen Dorff and an awkwardly ponytailed and moustachioed, David Schwimmer. Ultimately, though, it’s Shannon that keeps this film afloat. Despite a fascinating character, the role is surprisingly underwritten, yet Shannon still manages to deliver a detached and menacing portrayal. Quite simply, without his presence, this would would be just another generic, colour-by-numbers, wannabe.


Good in places but ultimately, it’s restrained to the point of monotony. This is a film that has so much potential but squanders it on cliché and relies too heavily on it’s leading actor. Shannon delivers but he doesn’t really get anything back for his efforts.

Mark Walker

Raging Bull

Posted in Biography, Drama with tags on August 16, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: Martin Scorsese.
Screenplay: Paul Schrader, Mardik Martin.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty, Frank Vincent, Nicholas Colasanto, Theresa Saldana, Mario Gallo, Frank Adonis, Joseph Bono, Frank Topham, Don Dunphy, Johnny Barnes, Michael Badalucco, John Turturro.

You punch like you take it up the ass

While shooting “The Godfather Part II“, Robert DeNiro found himself reading the book “Raging Bull: My Story“, based on the life of 1950’s middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta. It was a story he felt very passionate about bringing to the screen and took it to his good friend Martin Scorsese. Scorsese was, at first, reluctant to do a boxing movie as “Rocky” had recently been released to massive success and he himself, was going through a personal crisis at the time due to the failure of their previous collaboration “New York, New York” and his spiralling addiction to cocaine and lithium – leaving him hospitalised with internal bleeding. They brought in screenwriter’s Mardik Martin (“Mean Streets“) and Paul Schrader (“Taxi Driver“) and the film eventually went ahead. It became a form of therapy for Scorsese and has since been lauded as a cinematic tour-de-force and voted – in numerous polls – as the best film from the 1980’s.


Italian-American, middleweight boxer, Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro) has inner demons and is prone to obsessive rage and sexual jealousy which threatens to destroy his relationship with his wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty) and brother/trainer Joey (Joe Pesci). In the ring, he a prizewinner but it’s outside it, that he seems to lose everything.


On the surface, “Raging Bull” could be seen as just another boxing biopic, much like Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, Russell Crowe’s Jim “The Cinderella Man” Braddock or Will Smith’s Muhammad “Ali”. Scorsese and DeNiro’s vision is an altogether different one, though. It’s not their intention to glamourise LaMotta or deliver a conventional film about pugilism. Their intentions lie in exposing the man beyond the ring – where his real fights took place. The biggest opponent for “The Bronx Bull” was actually himself and his struggle with a raging, psychosexual insecurity and his propensity for self-destruction. It’s here that DeNiro fully takes centre stage in what is, unequivocally, his finest moment (and that’s saying something) throughout an illustrious career of exceptionally strong performances. His transformation is near miraculous; while researching and preparing for the role, De Niro actually spent the entire shoot with LaMotta so he could portray him accurately and went through extensive physical training, entering into three genuine Brooklyn boxing matches and winning two of them. According to La Motta, De Niro had the ability to be a professional fighter and that he would have been happy to have been his manager and trainer. Following this, production was stopped for two months so DeNiro could pile on 60 pounds to portray LaMotta in his older years. His commitment to the role (and project) has now become legendary and highly respected amongst his peers. Quite simply, DeNiro’s smouldering (and deservedly Oscar winning) display is an absolute masterclass in the profession.
Scorsese’s skills manifest in his operatic approach; he’s less interested in cranking up the tension or theatrics of the bouts and more focused on the punishing brutality of the sport. He employs the use of flashbulbs, and several different sound effects – like smashing glass and squelching watermelons – to achieve an overall crunching effectiveness. He’s aided immeasurably by Thelma Schoonmaker’s sharp editing technique and Michael Chapman’s sublime, monochrome, cinematography which serves the film as a whole in it’s mood and noir-ish atmosphere. If the bouts in the ring are claustrophobic then the same could be said for the ‘quieter’ moments outside it; LaMotta’s personal life is uncomfortably scrutinised in his abuse towards his wife and brother. There are very personal scenes of fraught and jealous conversation that are unbearably tense, and fully depict how much of a brute this man really was. It’s testament to the commitment of the entire cast and crew that this highly unappealing and unsympathetic individual can make such compelling viewing.


A truly searing, cinematic classic, that addresses the unflinching, animalistic, behaviour of a man in need of absolution and redemption. It also happens to possess one of cinema’s most breathtaking and riveting performances. On this evidence, there’s no question that Robert DeNiro is a master of his craft and it’s arguably Martin Scorsese’s finest work as well.

Mark Walker

Trivia: To achieve the feeling of brotherhood between the two lead actors, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci actually lived and trained with each other for some time before filming began. Ever since then, the two have been very close friends.

The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford * * * * 1/2

Posted in Biography, Drama, History, Western with tags on August 30, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Andrew Dominik.
Screenplay: Andrew Dominik.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, Paul Schneider, Sam Shepard, Garret Dillahunt, Mary-Louise Parker, Zooey Deschanel, Michael Parks, Ted Levine, Alison Elliott, James Carville, Tom Aldredge, Pat Healy, Nick Cave.
Narrator: Hugh Ross.

In 2000, director Andrew Dominik exploded onto the scene with low-budget but powerful biographical film “Chopper” about Australian criminal Mark Brandon Read. It not only heralded the arrival of actor Eric Bana but also a new an uncompromising director. For his second feature he tackled another biographical feature about one of the wild west’s most notorious gunslingers and this time, Dominik took his uncompromising nature even further.

Retelling of the last months in the life of the legendary outlaw Jesse James and how his reputation was faltering. His gang had disbanded – either dead or in prison and Jesse was beginning to suffer increasing paranoia. After carrying out a train robbery he heads for Kentucky, only to reappear in Missouri for a bank robbery. Two brothers; Charley (Sam Rockwell) and Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) are part of his new gang but Robert has a dangerous and obsessive idolisation of Jesse and one that would finally be the outlaws undoing.

Few film’s ever get away with having a title as long as this one and even fewer get away with the manner in which this film is made. That’s testament to the skill of Andrew Dominik and the backing of Brad Pitt who refused to yield to Hollywood studios when they wanted to tinker with Dominik’s vision. Right from the opening, brutal, train robbery, this film’s style is apparent. It’s sense of realism is what commands your attention; it goes on to depict stark expansive landscapes, explosive bullet wounds and guns that don’t shoot straight but the actual gunslinging is kept to a minimum, while it focuses on the characters themselves. The pace of the film is deliberate, adding to the ethereal feel throughout and one that reminded me of the approach that director Terrence Malick would use. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is also a thing of absolute beauty. The entirety of every single frame of this picture is stunningly captured with meticulous attention to detail and Dominik’s direction is near flawless. He lingers long on shots and subtle facial expressions and captures the uneasiness in the characters and their situations. By using this methodical style, he manages to get under the skin of his two leading characters and allows both Pitt and especially Affleck the room to deliver sensational performances. Pitt is entirely commanding and charismatic, adding just enough of a glimmer of danger without losing the audience’s sympathy and Affleck is on top, creepy and unsettling, form. The chemistry between the two hints at all sorts of possibilities – including homoerotic tension. These two share an uneasy relationship and between them, there are contemporary issues at play; the nature of celebrity and hero worship and the difference between ‘the man and the myth‘. Even over 100 years ago they had this but although Dominik delivers this insight, he never fully explores it, leaving it all just a bit too ambiguous. I’m not looking for a film to spell everything out for me. On the contrary but for a film that languishes on detail and mood, it could have taken a little time to further explore these themes and the characters’ motivations. There’s a sense of bewilderment as to why James would even tolerate having Ford around when he, seemingly, knew that something wasn’t quite right about him. He was aware that sooner or later he would meet his impending fate but it’s unclear why he’d open himself up to it. Another area that lacks any attention, is the females in these men’s lives. They are fleetingly visited but are ultimately insignificant and the likes of Mary-Louise Parker and Zooey Deschannel are reduced to mere cameos. I can only assume that these issues could maybe make more sense in Dominik’s original 4 hour cut – that played at the Venice film festival before a widespread release reduced the film to it’s 2hour 40mins duration. That being said, this is still an aesthetically successful endeavour that, although not fully deserving of the masterpiece status that many consider it to be, it’s not far off it.

A contemplative and demanding film that requires the utmost patience. It’s highly ambitious, artistic and regularly poetic. Quite simply, it’s beautifully done and I found lots to admire but it meanders and like the title itself, it’s just a tad too long winded.

Mark Walker


Machine Gun Preacher * * * *

Posted in Biography, Drama with tags on July 10, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Marc Foster.
Screenplay: Jason Keller.
Starring: Gerard Butler, Michael Shannon, Michelle Monaghan, Souleymane Sy Savane, Kathy Baker, Madeline Carroll, Grant Krause, Reavis Graham, Peter Carey.

Marc Foster is quite a versatile director that seems to be able to turn his hand at many different genres. His fantastical “Finding Neverland” and comedic “Stranger than Paradise” are a far distance from say, his gritty debut “Monster’s Ball” or even his foray into Bond territory with “Quantum Of Solice“. With this movie, he has changed direction again and it’s no less accomplished than his previous film’s.

Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) is a drug using, violent biker who has just been released from prison. Upon his release he is soon back to his old wicked ways but having nearly murdered a man in defence of his best friend Donnie (Michael Shannon), he decides to turn his attention to God and find redemption. It’s at this point, that his spiritual journey begins and he finds himself taking up arms to liberate Sudanese refugee children from the LRA – the local militia, known as the Lord’s Resistance Army.

The very premise of this film seems like it’s has been concocted in some executive Hollywood office. I can just imagine it being pitched and how ridiculous it might have sounded. However, this is actually based on a true-story and the real Sam Childers is still, to this day, fighting for the freedom of African Children. That being said, I had never heard of Childers before or the ongoing struggle he is directly involved in and as a result I was left with the unfortunate title of this film and it’s slightly off-putting poster as my only information. After a few mindless action movies under his belt, you’d be forgiven for mistaking this recent Gerard Butler film as being in a similar vein. After all, the poster depicts him brandishing a rifle with the obligatory cowering child, hiding by his side. This very imagery and the more than dubious title completely misleads. It’s actually quite far from that type of film and more of a human and political drama. Thankfully, I still gave this a chance and left it feeling quite satisfied indeed. This is thanks in large to a charismatic and very powerful performance from it’s leading man. There is a real intensity to Butler’s delivery and it’s credit to the filmmakers that the flawed and distasteful behaviour of Childers is not ignored. He wasn’t someone that you’d like to cross paths with, yet Butler plays him with just enough edge and compassion – never fully losing your support or feelings of isolation from him. His transformation from violent misogynist to redeemed man of God and ultimately, saviour and mercenary is believable, if a little unexplained. Yes, there are flaws in the character development but it’s proof that given the right role, Butler can certainly deliver the goods. It’s his committed and passionate performance that forgives some big leaps in character progression. Ultimately, this fault is in the screenplay as the supporting characters also suffer; again, they are not bad performances but their roles are very underwritten. Michelle Monaghan is good but distant and this could be said even more for the very underrated Kathy Baker, who has absolutely nothing to do as Childers’ long suffering mother but the biggest waste of talent comes in the shape of Michael Shannon. With an Oscar nomination behind him for “Revolutionary Road” and a superb leading role in “Take Shelter“, this man should have been utilised more wisely. He still manages a presence but really, him and the aforementioned actresses melt into the background.
Slight over-length may also be an issue here but trying to condense anyone’s life story without causing some major bum-numbing amongst viewers can’t be an easy task.

This is a film primarily about one man – Sam Childers – and thankfully, the actor chosen to play him is more than up to the task. Despite some flaws, this is still an admirable and thoroughly involving biopic.

Mark Walker


Moneyball * * * *

Posted in Biography, Drama, Sport with tags on March 11, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Bennett Miller
Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Reed Diamond, Brent Jennings, Ken Medlock, Tammy Blanchard, Glenn Morshower, Kathryn Morris, Nick Searcy, Jack McGee, Arliss Howard, Spike Jonze.

A slow moving, dialogue driven Baseball film – that features very little actual Baseball – will almost certainly ostracise a large amount of viewers. However, this actually works on a surprisingly dramatic level from acclaimed stage director Bennett Miller.

Based on the true story of financially crippled baseball team, the Oakland Athletics and their general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), who tried to hold them all together. In order to make a winning team with no money, he had to change the sport. To do this, he enlisted the help of smart young analyst Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) and attempted to use a new formula of computer-generated analysis to acquire new players.

How this film manages to maintain your interest – with constant boardroom discussions and talk of Baseball statistics – is testament to everyone involved. Miller’s direction is low-key, adding an almost documentary feel; Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay is full of natural dialogue and Pitt’s central performance is subtly brilliant. This doesn’t rely on special effects – or even on the game itself that much – to entertain. It relies on a basic story well told. The formula of sports films are left far behind for this fly-on-the-wall approach to the business side of things. There’s no players pointing to the sky before knocking the ball out of the park: there’s no clock ticking as the underdog tries to overcome the big-hitters. Well, in some cases you could say this happens. But it happens less on the park and more in the offices and boardrooms of the backroom staff. This inevitably leads to talking. Lots of talking. But thankfully, the cast are more than up for the challenge. Pitt (in an Oscar nominated turn) is an actor that has grown in the maturity of his recent roles and handles the difficult role of Billy Beane to perfection. The normally profane Jonah Hill (also Oscar nominated) is effectively reserved and even Philip Seymour Hoffman, in a vastly underwritten role, manages to speak a thousand words with his expressions alone. The only downside it had was it’s over-length. At over two hours long, it’s hard to maintain your concentration with a film that is primarily concerned with number crunching. However, most of the time, surprisingly, flys by.

An unconventional sports film that focuses on a side of the game that is rarely addressed. In our current financial climate, this has been released at just the right time.

Mark Walker


The King’s Speech * *

Posted in Biography, Drama, History with tags on January 29, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Tom Hooper.
Screenplay: David Seidler.
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Jennifer Ehle.

Cleaning up at the Oscars (which this did) doesn’t neccessarily mean a film is a masterpiece. “Titanic” is proof enough that undeserving films can also sometimes triumph. This is not as bad as that earlier stinker but it’s certainly not as good as critics have hailed it to be either.

Prince George (Colin Firth), known as ‘Bertie’ to loved ones, has been afflicted by a debilitating stammer since his childhood. And when his brother Edward (Guy Pearce) abdicates the throne and war looms, he reluctantly turns to Australian Doctor Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a speech therapist whose unconventional methods bring faith to the new King’s voice.

Bias may be a problem in my review of this film, as I find it hard to be objective when the object of our affection is a pampered, privileged monarch who’s only concern is a speech impediment that prevents him from publicly addressing his royal subjects. Added to which, the man is also an arrogant self important prick. That being said, if taken as a depiction of human suffering through disability, it’s an admirable representation. A major jewel in it’s crown is that it’s beautifully shot with a very authentic feel for it’s 1930’s period. The performances are also flawless throughout. Firth and Rush’s lingual jousting is the highlight of the film and more than able support is given by Guy Pearce as Edward the abdicator, Bonham Carter as the future Queen mother and Timothy Spall makes for a very believable Winston Churchill – who also happened to suffer a speech impediment at one time.

One star for the fabulous performances and another star for the rich and gorgeous cinematography of this period piece, but it’s a subject matter I don’t much care for, and it’s very difficult to summon sympathy for one that probably got help to wipe one’s own arse.

Mark Walker


The Social Network * * *

Posted in Biography, Drama with tags on January 28, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: David Fincher.
Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin.
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Rooney Mara, Josh Pence, John Getz, Douglas Urbanski, Joseph Mazzello.

After the whimsical and slightly disappointing “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, David Fincher attempts another change of direction. However, It’s yet again, a surprising and not entirely successful choice of film from him.

In an act of revenge after being dumped by his girlfriend, Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) hacks into all the local college computers and writes a scathing blog about her and exposes her to everyone. People seem to love it and the site becomes very popular, so Zuckerberg develops plans for a social network site called ‘The Facebook’, which becomes a near-overnight success. As ‘The Facebook’ grows Zuckerberg soon finds himself being the worlds youngest billionaire but drifts away from his best friend and business partner while infuriating a pair of jocks who claim he has stolen their idea, resulting in law suits and legal battles.

Fincher forte is doing dark and I suppose in some ways this is just that, considering it captures the egotistical and greed fuelled invention of the world wide, social networking site “Facebook”. It’s just that his trademark style, seems to be absent. This could quite easily have been directed by someone other than the man that brought us “Se7en” or “Fight Club” as it mostly deals with the legal wranglings of Zuckerberg’s monetary compensation to friends and colleagues who claim the site was their idea. It’s long and it’s talky, if your not paying attention to the almost constant flow of dialogue, the film will leave you behind.
The story is interesting enough but lacked any real depth and I don’t really think it merited a film about it, certainly not so soon after the events. The real life characters are not really a bunch of folk I’d enjoy spending time with either, even from the comfort of my own home. That being said, the solid direction from Fincher and fine performances, particularly Jesse Eisenberg as the confilcted genius Zuckerberg and surprisingly, Justin Timberlake as fast talking “Napster” inventor Sean Parker, keep it ticking along, all-be-it, with some slight buffering.

I “like” it, but I wouldn’t “add as a friend”.

Mark Walker


127 Hours * * * 1/2

Posted in Adventure, Biography, Drama with tags on January 26, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Danny Boyle.
Screenplay: Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy.
Starring: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Clemence Poesy, Kate Burton, Lizzy Caplan, Sean A. Bott, Treat Williams.

After bagging a surprising best director Oscar for “Slumdog Millionaire”, Danny Boyle’s next project was always going to gather some anticipation. Wisely, Boyle didn’t go for anything too big but he could maybe have set his sights just a little higher than this.

Based on the true story of professional adventurer Aron Ralston (James Franco) who, while hiking in the mountains of Utah, falls into a crevice, where his right arm is crushed and trapped by a boulder. Faced with impending death, Ralston slowly realises he needs to make some difficult choices.

During our introduction to Ralston, riding through the desert on a bicycle, there is no mistaking that he is a thrill seeker with infectious enthusiasm and Boyle’s kinetic, energised direction does well to capture this. It has the same vibrancy shown in “Trainspotting” and “Slumdog Millionaire” and the same eye for the landscape as “The Beach”. Using a mixture of Aron’s video diaries and his fantasies and memories we live through the daily torment and ordeal with him, as well as hallucinations and desperation taking hold. Again, good narrative devices used by Boyle. Franco puts in a good one man show, going through a mixture of emotions; from shock through anger and disillusionment to the eventual acceptance of his predicament. A remarkable true story of one mans determination to survive at any cost and Boyle does well to keep the film flowing despite it being contained in the one place for an hour and a half. However, as much as this is impressively done, it’s also somewhat hollow and uneventful. I won’t give anything away but if you’re aware of the story about Ralston, it’s almost like treading water until your told what you already know. This gives it an air of vacuousness and serves no other purpose than being a warning about going out to play by yourself.

This is a film with loads of talent involved. Franco’s performance is captivating and Boyle’s direction is flawless but although I can’t criticise, I also can’t sing too many praises either.

Mark Walker


The Fighter * * * *

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


Director: David O. Russell.
Screenplay: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson.
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee, Mickey O’Keefe, Melissa McMeekin, Bianca Hunter, Erica McDermott, Dendrie Taylor, Kate O’Brien, Jill Quigg, Art Ramalho, Sugar Ray Leonard.

Director David O. Russell is better known for his quirky off-beat films like “Spanking The Monkey” and “I Heart Huckabees”, so it’s a surprise to have him craft an absolutely fantastic blue-collar, gritty, sports drama.

Based on the real life story of the legendary fighter ‘Irish’ Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), who triumphed over a very difficult family situation, including his crack-addict brother/trainer Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale), to become a welterweight boxing champion in the 1980’s.

“The Fighter” may seem like an un-original title for a film, but on the contrary. It’s a perfect title for a story that not only describes Micky Ward’s tribulations in the ring but also his ongoing personal disputes with his disfunctional family. Yes, it’s underdog narrative will be compared to “Rocky” but that still doesn’t take away from this fine drama. It’s also similiar in structure to “Raging Bull” where the fight scenes are secondary to the struggle of the man himself.
The performances are uniformly brilliant. Wahlberg plays his character right down, delivering a solid reserved show of stoicism and anchoring the whole film. The Oscar winning Melissa Leo as the arrogant and controlling mother lends excellent support. Also fine support comes from the Oscar nominated Amy Adams as Micky’s fiesty girlfriend and it’s nice to see the avuncular Jack McGee (from TV’s “Rescue Me”) getting a decent role as Micky’s father. It’s Christian Bale (also Oscar winning) who impresses most though. He lights up the screen whenever he appears, full of strung-out twitches, dark empty eyes, balding hairline and skeletal features. It’s an absolutely superb transformation from his recent Batman/Bruce Wayne escapades and despite always delivering fine performances in the past, here he has outdone himself. As the narrative arc treads old ground, there’s no mistaking this film is all about the acting, and it’s a fine ensemble working under the surprisingly assured direction of Russell – in this genre.

A tight, eventful, rags-to-riches sports flick with never a dull moment and career best performances.

Mark Walker


Into The Wild * * * *

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


Director: Sean Penn.
Screenplay: Sean Penn.
Starring: Emile Hirsch, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Vince Vaughn, Hal Holbrook, Catherine Keener, Jena Malone, Kristen Stewart, Zack Galifianakis, Brian Deirker, R.D. Call.

Sean Penn has not always delivered the most cheerful of films when behind the camera. There always seems to be a tortured soul as his protaganist (Viggo Mortensen in “The Indian Runner” and Jack Nicholson in both “The Crossing Guard” and “The Pledge”), so it’s a surprise that with “Into the Wild” he mostly keeps things upbeat and positive.

Based on the real life story of straight-A college graduate Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), who in 1992 destroyed his ID, changed his name to ‘Alexander Supertramp’, donated his savings to charity, spurned his parents – and America’s capitalist society- and, with no warning to anyone, dropped off the radar in search of a quieter, more personal fulfillment in the Alaskan wilderness. Along the road he met a variety of people who became something like extended family to him.

Sean Penn employs a completely different approach with this sweepingly beautiful road-movie/new-age affirmation. There are long methodical shots of gorgeous landscapes and a meditative pace throughout, showing that he’s in no hurry to tell this man’s story. You can see his admiration for McCandless as he paints a very nuanced and positive portrait of him and puts his faith in Emile Hirsch in carrying it off. Hirsch in return, delivers a wonderful, heartfelt piece of acting and it’s apparent that he has also invested himself in this film. Added to which are some great cameo appearances peppered throughout, with Vince Vaughn as a particular highlight, stepping out of his comedy comfort-zone. It’s a film that’s hard not to like, with it’s anti-capitalist, free-spirited message and a reminder to maintain a conciousness in our modern times of corporate greed and disillusionment.

For some, it may just come across as another Hippie-on-a-trippy but McCandless was a human-being that had an awareness and a bravery to live by his beliefs and Penn ambitiously depicts that, with poetic care and respect.

Mark Walker


Public Enemies * *

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


Director: Michael Mann.
Screenplay: Michael Mann, Ronan Bennett, Ann Biderman.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cottilard, Stephen Graham, Giovanni Ribisi, Channing Tatum, Stephen Dorff, Billy Crudup, James Russo, David Wenham, Carey Mulligan, Rory Cochrane, Casey Siemaszko, Lili Taylor, Shawn Hatosy, Stephen Lang, Leelee Sobieski, Emilie De Ravin, John Ortiz, Jason Clarke, Don Harvey, Matt Craven.

Director Michael Mann tackles the 1930’s gangster picture with the real life story of John Dillinger, famous bank robber and No: 1 on the F.B.I’s most wanted list.

Chicago, 1933: as John Dillinger’s (Johnny Depp) crime spree makes front-page news, the FBI sends its top man, Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), to stop the brilliant bank robber. Dillinger, meanwhile, is waylaid by the adorable Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard)…

Mann’s attention to detail and intricate stories, involving numerous characters have worked a treat in the past (“Heat”, “The Insider”) but with this he delivers an absolute mess. Depp can play weird and wacky roles in his sleep but as hardened, charismatic gangster Dillinger, he is seriously miscast. Christian Bale also looks lost in a thankless role. Although the look and feel of the film are spot on, the script is all over the place with characters appearing, then disappearing, without explanation and too much time was spent on Dillingers relationship with his girlfriend Billie and not enough time spent on what made him tick.

With “Heat”, Michael Mann delivered one the best “cops & robbers” films of recent times and with “Public Enemies” and fedoras, gangsters and tommy-guns, I expected more of the same. Sadly, nobody delivers in this one.

Very disappointing.

Mark Walker


Milk * * * *

Posted in Biography, Drama with tags on January 19, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Gus Van Sant.
Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black.
Starring: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, James Franco, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna, Denis O’Hare, Victor Garver, Alison Pill, Joseph Cross, Stephen Spinella, Lucas Grabeel, Brandon Boyce, Kelvin Yu, Jeff Koons.

When he’s not making ‘arthouse’ cinema or experimenting with his medium, director Gus Vant Sant is very capable of delivering well structured dramatic pieces. “Drugstore Cowboy” and “Good Will Hunting” are notable ones. This is another.

In America in the 1970’s, Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) was an openly gay man who became a pioneer for gay rights and equality. When he was finally elected an official, he changed both laws and perceptions throughout San Francisco and the world.

The rise and fall of Harvey Milk is an affecting and uplifting story skillfully told by Gus Van Sant and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. Seemlessly intercut with old news footage, the historical significance of Milk’s story is all the more believable and a marvellous device that adds to the dramatic weight. The life and impact that Milk had on society was a powerful one and Sean Penn’s intimate portrayal of him is very fitting. Penn has always been a superb actor with several blistering performances throughout his career. My personal favourites being “Dead Man Walking”, “Carlito’s Way”, and his Oscar winning turn in “Mystic River”. This is another superb delivery garnering him his second best actor Oscar. His effeminate mannerisms and gentle yet forceful nature perfectly capture Harvey Milk. I must admit, I was a bit disappointed that Mickey Rourke didn’t win the best actor award in 2009 for “The Wrestler” but there’s no denying that Penn was a worthy winner. This is a film that is still relevant today. In 1978, Milk was campaigning against ‘Proposition 6’ which was a conservative initiative to prevent any gays or lesbians from teaching in California’s public schools, so as not to ‘corrupt’ the minds of the young. When this film was released in 2008, ‘Proposition 8’ was passed which prevented the right of gay couples to marry. Only marriage between a man and a woman is recognised in California. The events of this film may have happened 30 years ago but the inequality is still the same.
If Milk were alive today, he’d still be campaigning and this is a poignant portrait of the man and his understanding of social injustice.

A wonderful film anchored by a wonderful central performance.

Mark Walker


Braveheart * * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Biography, History, War with tags on January 18, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Mel Gibson.
Screenplay: Randall Wallace.
Starring: Mel Gibson, Patrick McGoohan, Brendan Gleeson, Sophie Marceau, Catherine McCormack, Angus MacFadyen, Ian Bannen, James Cosmo, David O’Hara, James Robinson, Sean McGinley, Sean Lawlor, Peter Hanly, Alun Armstrong, Gerard McSorley, Tommy Flanagan, David McKay, Peter Mullan, Brian Cox.

My being Scottish is probably not going to consist of the most accurate of reviews regarding this film but I will be totally straight up and admit that it is historical inaccurate on more than a few occasions. However, there’s no denying the spectacle and grand scale of the whole thing, harking back to epic films of the past.

13th century Scottish peasant William Wallace (Mel Gibson), who after the raping and pillaging of his village and the death of his wife by the English army, takes it upon himself to make a stand and fight back. He assembles an army of his own and refuses to succumb to the rule of King Edward the Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan) inciting an uprising amongst the Scottish people against the tyranny and oppression of the English.

As mentioned earlier, there are several historical facts altered for dramatic effect but when the real history is looked into, I wonder why it was altered. William Wallace’s life needed no further exaggeration but then again it’s Hollywood we have on the battlefield here. Speaking of which, the battle scenes are brutally and violently depicted and expertly shot by Gibson. He takes us straight back to the harsh conditions and environment of the people at this time in history and manages to give depth to the characters involved, regardless of their screen time. McGoohan in particular is absolutley superb as the bitter and determined King Edward and despite a dodgy Scottish accent, Gibson equips himself well as Wallace. Wonderfully powerful music by James Horner also, not to mention some fine cinematography by John Toll.

An epic film that competes on every level with the best of the genre and the only reason I don’t give it five stars is incase my judgement has been clouded by Scottish bias.

Mark Walker