Archive for 2002

Far From Heaven

Posted in Drama with tags on March 11, 2016 by Mark Walker

Director: Todd Haynes.
Screenplay: Todd Haynes.
Starring: Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson, Viola Davis, James Rebhorn, Celia Weston, Bette Henritze, Michael Gaston, Ryan Ward, Lindsay Andretta, Jordan Elizabeth, Matt Malloy, June Squibb.

“I’ve learned my lesson about mixing in other worlds. I’ve seen the sparks fly. All kinds”

Todd Haynes has often been an experimental director throughout his career. He tackled the Glam Rock era with the dazzling, if mid-judged, Velvet Goldmine and had 6 different actors portray various phases of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There. Most recently his adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s Carol made many critics and viewers’ lists for the best film of 2015. Despite his creative ambitions, however, he’s never really been recognised in terms of awards. The only Oscar nomination he has received was, in fact, an Original Screenplay one for this film. I’ve yet to see Carol (which apparently shares similarities with this) but so far, Far From Heaven is Haynes’ masterpiece. Continue reading

Love Liza

Posted in Drama with tags on February 3, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Todd Louiso.
Screenplay: Gordy Hoffman.
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Jack Kehler, Stephen Tobolowsky, Annie Morgan, Kelli Garner.

I own a plane and it runs on gas and I wanna fly the thing right fucking now“.

In the wake of the saddening news yesterday that one of my favourite actors, the marvellous Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away due to a suspected overdose, I thought it fitting to look back at his first leading role where he proved his extensive talents.

Despite him regularly being the support with smaller roles, Hoffman was an actor that always managed to grab my attention with his consistently excellent performances, while the “bigger stars” around him struggled to keep up. Written by his brother Gordy, this was the film that gave him the leading role that helped cement his reputation as one the finest actors of his generation.

Continue reading

The Magdalene Sisters * * * * *

Posted in Drama with tags on June 20, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Peter Mullan.
Screenplay: Peter Mullan.
Starring: Geraldine McEwan, Nora-Jane Noone, Anne-Marie Duff, Dorothy Duffy, Eileen Walsh, Mary Murray, Britta Smith, Frances Healy, Rebecca Walsh, Eamonn Owens, Eithne McGuinness, Phyllis McMahon, Sean Mackin, Stephen McCole, Peter Mullan.

In 1998, writer/director Peter Mullan made his feature film debut with the blackly humorous, Scottish family drama “Orphans”. Four years later, he made his second feature and decided to drop any form of humour and surrealism and delivered this hard-hitting account of the agonising and torturous true-story of the abuse that young women in Ireland faced in the name of religion.

In the 1960′s, many young women are incarcerated in a Irish convent, run by the Catholic church. Charged for committing such wrong-doing as flirting with boys, becoming pregnant out of wedlock, and being raped, they’re personal nightmares didn’t end there as they are physically and psychologically abused by the head nun and her sadistic staff, who are convinced they are doing the Lord’s work.

Having based his screenplay on actual Magdalene inmates’ experiences, Mullan achieves an authenticity of what life was like for the young women that had to endure the injustices, humiliation and brutality of these asylums and doesn’t pull any punches in his depiction of the events. At times it’s very difficult to stomach, such is the sheer power and uncompromising telling of this harrowing story and he’s aided, immeasurably, by an overwhelmingly excellent cast. As Sister Bridget, the head nun, Geraldine McEwan gives a very memorable and chilling performance that’s reminiscent of Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched from “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” in it’s absolute personification of evil and Eileen Walsh is heart-breakingly compelling as the naive, downtrodden and religiously devoted Crispina. This is an actress that I haven’t seen since but she’s thoroughly deserving of more work and her performance was worthy of so much more recognition than she recieved. Speaking of which, the entire cast and crew deserved more awards attention on it’s release. It did receive numerous nominations and awards internationally, including a British Independent Film award for Ensemble Cast and The Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. However, it didn’t receive much recognition across the pond and had this been directed by someone with a higher profile than Mullan and his crew, this film would have been hailed as a masterpiece. As it is, it’s had to rely on word-of-mouth to find an audience but this doesn’t lessen the effect or superb work by everyone involved here. Mullan’s direction is flawless, the cinematography by Nigel Willoughby is stark, and almost de-saturated, adding to the overall feeling of desperation and loneliness of the women and as mentioned, the performances are perfectly pitched from the largely unknown cast.
It may be hard for some to accept this behaviour went on but it’s even harder to accept that these asylums lasted until 1996, when the last one was finally shut down.

A harrowing and emotionally charged drama that while based on fact, is highly subversive. If the Vatican condemns a film on it’s release (which it did with this) then there’s no doubt that you’re in for a hard-hitting film. Painful, provocative and very important filmmaking.

Mark Walker

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The Believer * * * 1/2

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

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Director: Henry Bean.
Screenplay: Henry Bean.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Summer Phoenix, Billy Zane, Theresa Russell, Glenn Fitzgerald, Ronald Guttman, Henry Bean.

Three years previous to this, director Tony Kaye and star Edward Norton addressed white supremicist racism in “American History X”. This shares similiar themes but focuses more on the hatred toward Jews. The real similarity between the films though are blisteringly powerful performances from both lead actors.

Daniel Balint (Ryan Gosling) is a yeshiva-educated young Jewish man in New York who rejects his heritage and chooses to become a neo-Nazi skinhead. His passion is frighteningly real which leads to looming dangers for himself and his community.

The comparisons are inevitable and although both powerful and controversial films in their own right, with “American History X” and “The Believer” it’s the tour-de-force performances from Edward Norton and Ryan Gosling that really take centre stage. Gosling is no less effective than Norton’s Oscar nominated turn and after seeing this, it’s getting to the stage that it seems there’s no limits to his acting range. He is this film. Don’t get me wrong, writer/director Henry Bean crafts some strong and intelligent dialogue, but it’s Gosling’s delivery of anti-semitic vitriol that packs the real power. The problems it faces are having a less than par supporting cast and a made for television budget. The flaws show but it’s still a savage examination of anti-semitism and one worthy of attention.

A brave film anchored by a bold and brave performance. It’s easy to see why this put Ryan Gosling on the map, he delivers a ferocious piece of work.

Mark Walker

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Once Upon A Time In The Midlands * * *

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

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Director: Shane Meadows.
Screenplay: Shane Meadows, Paul Fraser.
Starring: Robert Carlyle, Rhys Ifans, Shirley Henderson, Ricky Tomlinson, Kathy Burke, Finn Atkins, Andrew Shim, James Cosmo, David McKay, Vic Reeves, Bob Mortimer.

Shane Meadows is without doubt, one of the best British directors around at present. He knows his way around the working class lifestyle of Britain with a welcome and refreshing outlook that has, until his arrival, been commandeered by the likes of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh.

Waking up in a drunken haze Glaswegian crook Jimmy (Robert Carlyle) sees his ex, Shirley (Shirley Henderson), being proposed to on a daytime TV chat show. She spurns the proposal of Dek (Rhys Ifans) live on air, leading Jimmy to head back to his old town to claim back Shirley and his young daughter (Finn Atkins), that he left behind years ago.

After “TwentyFourSeven” and “A Room for Romeo Brass”, this completes Shane Meadows’ so called ‘midlands trilogy’ and with the actors involved, this has an abundance of quality. Despite this though, it’s the weakest of the trilogy. That’s not to say that there’s nothing to enjoy, there is, and its plentiful. It just seems a bit too lighthearted in comparison with Meadows’ other films. The excellent actors involved put in fine performances. Ifans and particularly Carlyle are two of the best in the business; Henderson is one of the most underated of actresses, deserving of far more attention and adding Kathy Burke and Ricky Tomlinson for some mild comic relief is always welcome. However, with this undoubted talent onscreen, it only makes it more frustrating that they aren’t pushed to the extent that they’re capable of. I suppose this is down to Meadows prefering a more humourous approach and if you’re aware of this beforehand then you might not feel as disappointed with the lack of danger that he normally applies to certain characters. His use of a spaghetti western theme throughout a ‘kitchen-sink’ family drama is a wonderful touch though.

A good little comedy/drama that certainly entertains but it lacks any real emotional punch and should have made more of the fine ensemble of actors. Meadows’ most impressive cast, yet strangely, one of his least impressive films.

Mark Walker

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Phone Booth * * * 1/2

Posted in Mystery, thriller with tags on January 28, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Joel Schumacher.
Screenplay: Larry Cohen.
Starring: Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, Katie Holmes, Radha Mitchell, Josh Pais.

I’m not a massive fan of Joel Schumacher. He’s a very frustrating director, who only occasionally delivers the goods. His limited talents are better served when working with a low budget and you don’t get much lower than practically a whole film set inside a phone box. It works though, thanks to a brilliant performance from Colin Farrell.

Stu Shepard (Farrell) is an arrogant, swindling, talent agent who talks the talk and walks the walk. At least, that’s what he thinks. Unbeknownst to him, is that somebody, somewhere (voiced by Keifer Sutherland) has been following his movements each day and decides to make him pay for his lies and deceit by holding him hostage in a telephone booth and systematically revealing to him, everything he knows and intends to expose.

Filmed in real time and never straying from the confines of the claustrophic phone box (with the exception of a few split-screen moments), Schumacher manages to crank up the tension with ease. It’s a simple idea but highly effective, which is in part to an absolutely fantastic Colin Farrell, channeling a tense DeNiro-like performance, full of amorality and disregard to eventual sensitivity and redemption. It’s a hard task for Farrell, considering he’s never off screen but he nails it and delivers one of his finest screen moments. There is also fine support in Forest Whitaker as the detective on the scene and Keifer Sutherland’s creepy monotone voice is a character in itself.

This film has it’s critics but there’s no denying the grip it has on you and the fine acting delivered from a very basic premise.

Mark Walker

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The Mothman Prophecies * * * 1/2

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

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Director: Mark Pellington.
Screenplay: Richard Hatem.
Starring: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Debra Messing, Will Paton, Alan Bates, Lucinda Jenney, David Eigenberg, Ann McDonough.

As soon as I see Richard Gere’s name in the credits of a film, I’m instantly put off. The man has made an absolute fortune without having any real ability and in this he, yet again, proves he has a very limited range. Thankfully though, there is more to this film than Gere and his usual dull repetitive approach.

John Klein (Gere) is a Washington journalist, who after the death of his wife in a car accident, is somehow drawn to Point Pleasant, a small town in West Virginia, where strange and unusual events are happening to the locals. They are all living in fear, having premonitions and reporting sightings of a large black winged figure around the area. This is also the same dark figure that Klein’s late wife claimed to have seen before her death, causing further obvious interest from the journalist and also putting his own life in danger.

Supposedly based on actual events, this is a surprisingly tight and engaging little super-natural thriller. As mentioned earlier, Richard Gere is a plank of wood but the support from the always excellent Laura Linney and the wild eyed Will Patton are very welcome indeed. There is brilliant use of atmosphere and low-key music that raise this film above a particular standard and has many genuinely creepy moments. It doesn’t try to be too fancy but wisely and effectively leaves a lot to the imagination and just gets on with telling an unsettling story. Which it does, to good and chilling effect.

Like a feature length espisode of “The X-Files”, this is a gripping little mystery.

Mark Walker

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