Archive for 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Still (x)

Posted in Science Fiction, thriller with tags on January 25, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Scott Derrickson.
Screenplay: David Scarpa.
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Jaden Smith, John Cleese, Kyle Chandler, James Hong, Robert Knepper, John Rothman.

Science-Fiction is normally a genre that has excitement, scares, great visuals and innovative ideas. Not something that is tedious, uninteresting and excruciatingly boring.

Astrobiologist Helen (Jennifer Connelly) is whisked away to help the government when strange goings-on herald an alien landing. The giant sphere that settles in New York’s Central Park carries an alien, Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) who comes to save the Earth – but perhaps not humanity…

The original was done in the 1950’s so a big-budget Hollywood remake was always likely to happen before long. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long enough. When will they ever learn that classics are better left alone? On very rare occasions a good remake can happen, just not on this occasion. Not only is it very far from a decent retread but it’s very far from being a decent film altogether. It has a tired ecological message of how we are destroying our world, which has been done better many times before. Reeves is passable in a suitably undemanding and disconnected role. Connelly is wasted and way above this, Kathy Bates and Jon Hamm have nothing to do and young Jaden Smith (son of Will) is an irritating little shit. Ain’t nepotism a bitch?

If we lived in a world that consistantly churned out stinkers like this, we SHOULD be eradicated as a species.

Mark Walker


Revolutionary Road * * * * 1/2

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


Director: Sam Mendes.
Screenplay: Justin Haythe.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, Michael Shannon, Katherine Hahn, Dylan Baker, David Harbour, Jay O. Sanders, Richard Easton, Max Casella, Zoe Kazan, Ryan Simpkins, Ty Simpkins.

“Titanic” in 1997 was the last time Leonardo DiCaprio & Kate Winslet were in a film together. It was also the last time I literally chuckled my way through, what was supposed to be a serious film. “Revolutionary Road”, brings them together again and a chuckle was the last thing on my mind. This is a very serious and astute look at the breakdown of relationships from director Sam Mendes.

Frank and April Wheeler (DiCaprio & Winslet) are two young lovers who have aspirations to move to France and lead the exciting lives they always dreamed of. That is, until April becomes pregnant and they both decide to put their dreams on hold and move into a nice suburban home on Revolutionary Rd, to start their family. Years later, Frank is still working in a job he hates and April is the stay at home mother/wife that she never wanted to be. They both find that their lives have not worked out the way they planned and they have become the very people they hate. This causes obvious resentment and continuous arguments between them, which build to devestating and shattering results.

Mendes has covered this territory before with his Oscar winning look at the underbelly of white picket-fence suburbia in “American Beauty”. However, this time he chooses to cut out the moments of humour and moments of beauty from that film and goes straight for the jugular here.
DiCaprio and Winslet have rarely been better. Their performances are an absolute knockout, each giving as good as the other. Their scenes together when arguing are electric and entirely convincing with both spouting such venom toward each other. The whole look of the film is spot on with wonderful cinematography, perfectly capturing the 1950’s era in which it’s set.
This film was shamefully ignored come Oscar time, receiving only a couple of nominations but it’s worthy of so much more.

If you want real drama, forget the dire “Titanic” and watch this painful and savage look at the anatomy of a relationship.

Mark Walker


Righteous Kill * 1/2

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


Director: Jon Avnet.
Screenplay: Russell Gewirtz
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, John Leguizamo, Carla Gugino, Donnie Wahlberg, Melissa Leo, Brian Dennehy, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Barry Primus, Trilby Glover, Oleg Taktarov.

After “The Godfather part II” in 1974, it was a long wait to see Robert DeNiro & Al Pacino in another film together. With “Heat” in 1995 that wait was over. And worth it. This would have you believe you are in for another treat. Actually, you’re not. You’re in for one of the most dire, most abysmal, most predictable pieces of nonsense, your likely to see.

Long-time partners Turk (Robert DeNiro) and Rooster (Al Pacino) begin an investigation into a serial killer who’s targeting scumbags. But as the evidence begins to mount up, it becomes clear that the killer is not only a cop, but might be closer to home than anyone realises…

I have never been so disappointed with a film in my entire life. How can anything with these two great actors, working together, be bad? Here’s how… the screenplay is an absolute mess with a so-called twist that’s apparent very early on and two actors who, by the looks of it, know they have nothing to work with. Added to this, it’s all in the hands of director Jon Avnet, who is an incompetent buffoon and relies completely on the two leads carrying him. They try. In fact, if it wasn’t for them, I’d have switched it off way before the insulting conclusion. To be fair, the fact that “50 Cent” was in the cast should have been warning enough. A real waste of a great opportunity to create something special.

Ultimately, it’s just a straight to TV turkey with nothing ‘righteous’ about it.

Mark Walker


The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button * * 1/2

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


Director: David Fincher.
Screenplay: Eric Roth.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Taraji P. Henson, Elias Koteas, Julia Ormond, Jason Flemyng, Jared Harris, Elle Fanning.

This film recieved enormous praise and awards recognition when released but personally I don’t really see what all the fuss is about. David Fincher is one of my favourite directors and his previous collaborations with Brad Pitt (“Se7en” & “Fight Club”) were superb but there is definitely something missing from this one.

Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is a person who, when born, has the physicality of an old man and as time goes on, he ages backwards. This causes him to be something of an outcast and he can never really connect with his peers. He does, however, lead a long and fulfilling life but at the expense of watching his loved ones grow old as he grows younger.

Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the screenplay was written by Eric Roth who also wrote “Forrest Gump” and on slightly closer inspection, you can see that it’s practically the same film. Gump was an outcast, so is Button; Gump worked on a fishing boat, so does Button; Gump was in love with a childhood friend, so is Button; Gump went off to fight in a war, so does Button, etc, etc. The list is endless and very tedious watching the same story over again, especially when it is done no better. The special effects with the ageing process are undeniably very impressive but effects alone do not a good film make. The story also seems to go on forever and I could empathise with a certain ageing process while watching it. Unlike Button though, my ageing process was not going in reverse. The performances, the direction and the look can’t be faulted but really the whole affair is rather dull.

Not a bad film, it’s just not a very good one either. A bit of a dissapointment really.

Mark Walker


Ponyo * * * 1/2

Posted in Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on January 19, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Hayao Mayazaki.
Screenplay: Hayao Mayazaki.
Voices: Tina Fey, Noah Cyrus, Frankie Jonas, Matt Damon, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, Lily Tomlin, Betty White, Cloris Leachman, Laraine Newman.

In a world of CGI animation it’s refreshing to know that Hayao Mayazaki (“Spirited Away”, “Howls Moving Castle”) will take us back to basics with his hand drawn art work, every so often.

This tells the story of Sosuke, a young boy who finds a little goldfish on the seashore one day. Sosuke and the goldfish become very attached and he decides to call her “Ponyo”. Ponyo has human features being the child of a magician and a sea godess and she longs to be fully human one day but her being out of the ocean causes an imbalance in nature and the balance can only be restored if she can be truly loved by Sosuke.

“Ponyo” is a treat for all ages and once again Mayazaki achieves in creating the look and feel of otherworldly places with his basic yet very effective art work. His characters are always endearing and well thought out but the only problem with “Ponyo” is that it lacks the darker side that “Spirited Away” benefited from. This leaves it a little whimsical and straying more to the childish side of animation.

However, this is a small criticism and it’s still difficult not to get swept away by the whole delightful adventure.

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


Blindness * * *

Posted in Drama, Science Fiction with tags on January 18, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director Fernando Meirelles.
Screenplay: Don McKellar.
Starring: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Gael Garcia Bernal, Danny Glover, Alice Braga, Sandra Oh, Maury Chaykin, Don McKellar, Douglas Silva.

After “City of God” in 2002, Fernando Meirelles has been a director that has really caught my interest, but his follow up “The Constant Gardener” in 2005, was somewhat disappointing and lethargic and this film suffers from similiar problems.

A wife (Julianne Moore) and a doctor (Mark Ruffalo) inhabit an unknown, modern American city that finds itself in an outbreak of sudden blindness and as panic soon strikes, the casualties are quarantined in an old hospital where after mistreatment and neglect, they start to form their own internal society with a reversion to barbarism.

An apocalyptic film from Meirelles which after his previous films is not surprising. He seems to focus on the sheer animal instinct in mankind and has no problem painting the picture of how easily we can be so brutal to one another when our societal structure breaks down and disharmony takes over. Each character is deliberately non-descript and unknown here and yet again Meirelles crafts a visually appropriate style to the story. Julianne Moore is absolutely brilliant (as usual) as the loyal and compassionate wife who has inexplicably retained her vision and the rest of the cast are entirely convincing with their ‘ghost’ like movements of blind people, maintaining very little eye-contact and enforced clumsiness. Everything about the look and feel of this society is bleak and uneasy but that’s also the problem with the pacing of the film. It starts off brilliantly, grabs you by the hand and guides you on but, like it’s characters, it unreliably leaves you stumbling and bumping into a few things now and again along the way.

A promising start, but ultimately a bit of a let down from Meirelles.

Mark Walker


Tropic Thunder * *

Posted in Action, Comedy with tags on January 13, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Ben Stiller.
Screenplay: Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux.
Starring: Ben Stiller, Robert Downey, Jr, Jack Black, Nick Nolte, Steve Coogan, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Toby Maguire, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Cruise.

Ben Stiller is on familiar ground with this, in covering the egotistical world of celebrities. He had a go at the fashion models in “Zoolander” and now he has a go at the movie stars in this. Both have similiar results and unfortunately these results are poor.

The story is also on familiar ground and was covered 20 years previously in “Three Amigos”. It follows a crew of over paid movies stars who, while filming (in this case a vietnam war film) find themselves involved in a real hostile environment against real enemies. All the while they are oblivious and think it’s part of the script and manage to stay in character throughout, despite real bullets and explosions all around them.

Stiller has always been a likable, if not entirely hilarious comedic actor. His talents seem to be better served in playing the goofballs (“Something About Mary”, “Meet The Parents”) rather than writing or directing them. Unfortunately, he is doing all three in this film and doesn’t achieve anything in either role. Instead the plaudits (surprisingly) go to the more serious actors in Tom Cruise and the Oscar nominated Robert Downey, Jr. They are both wildly over the top, adding some much needed fun to this film, which it doesn’t really deserve. Jack Black is as irritating as ever and has nothing to do but be Jack Black and when he’s got nothing to do, he’s even more unbearably irritating. I can’t fathom why Matthew McConaughey and Nick Nolte got involved and Steve Coogan should know better. Thankfully though, Cruise and Downey, Jr. are in it for our sake, otherwise this would have been an absolute waste of time. I give this film a star each for both of them but Stiller didn’t merit such commitment and excellent performances in this thunderous stinker.

A real waste of talent.

Mark Walker


Mesrine: Killer Instinct * * * * 1/2

Posted in Crime, Drama, Foreign Language with tags on January 12, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Jean-Francois Richet.
Screenplay: Abdel Raouf Dafri, Jean-Francois Richet.
Starring: Vincent Cassel, Gerard Depardieu, Cecile De France, Gilles Lellouche, Roy Dupuis, Elena Anaya.

The allure of the gangster lifestyle seems to be a constant source of entertainment for people (myself included). It’s a genre that has turned out countless classics and with this recent French addition, director Jean-Francois Richet has a good go of including his film amongst the best.

Part one “Killer Instinct”, covers the early career (1959 – ’70) of outlaw Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel), covering his military service in Algeria, apprenticeship with a Paris gang-lord (Gerard Depardieu), crime-spree partnership with soulmate Jeanne (Cecile De France) and escape from a tough Canadian prison.

Being only the first installment of this two-part, 4 hour crime flick. The word ‘epic’ may spring to mind. Strangely though, it never felt epic to me and I think this was mainly down to it not being about a criminal family but only one individual. However, it’s no less effective and has more in common with “Scarface” in Mesrine’s one man rise to power or notoriety and “Bonnie & Clyde” for his crime spree with a ladyfriend. What’s demanded from it, is also the thing that holds it all together and that’s a lead performance of power and charisma. This is where Vincent Cassel comes in. He’s absolutely captivating. He commands every bit of the screen with a tour de force show. Being one of the finest actors around at present Cassel can now officially change his name to ‘excel’ for his portrayal of this dangerous career criminal. Excellent support also from a sadly underused but menacing Gerard Depardieu, who shows great presence and the only one that comes close to Cassel’s powerhouse performance.

An exciting fast paced bio-pic that’ll have you hooked right from the excellent split-frame opening scene. Worth checking out for Cassel alone.

Mark Walker


Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 * * * * 1/2

Posted in Crime, Drama, Foreign Language with tags on January 12, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Jean-Francois Richet.
Screenplay: Abdel Raouf Dafri, Jean-Francois Richet.
Starring: Vincent Cassel, Ludivine Sagnier, Mathieu Amalric, Samuel Le Bihan, Gerard Lanvin, Olivier Gourmet, Georges Wilson.

I only wish more directors were willing to broaden the scope of their films in this way. If an audience isn’t willing to sit for too long then release it in parts. Recently, Quentin Tarantino (“Kill Bill”) and Steven Soderbergh (“Che”) done it successfully or just look at another classic French two-parter “Jean De Florette” & “Manon Des Source” by Claude Berri. Proof enough that it works.

Part two “Public Enemy No: 1”, covers the later career (1974 – ’79) of French outlaw Jacques Mesrine (Cassell), covering the bank robberies which made him France’s most wanted criminal, his partnership with a fellow prison escapee (Mathieu Amalric), his relationship with free spirit Sylvie (Ludivine Sagnier) and his violent death.

The testament to a good film is it being able to tell you the ending at the beginning and still manage to produce a captivating film. “Carlitos Way” was a notable other in this particular genre. It’s in the second installment that we see more of Mesrine’s ego. His growing obsession with his notoriety and his shrewd manipulation of the media to help boost his criminal-celebrity image and his belief that he was a revolutionary. He’s more confident and daring, taking more chances and applying his trade right under the noses of the law-enforcement – right down to an escape from a court room and posing as a police officer to the police themselves. In some ways Mesrine was a confidence trickster which makes for gleeful entertainment in his sheer audacity. I see both parts of the film as one complete whole and as a result, rate them both the same in their exploration of the cultural image of a gangster and the ruthless nature required, coupled with the undeniable appeal and charisma.

Over the course of 4hours you are asked to invest a little but the (many) escapades of this charismatic anti-hero keep the excitement going and the running time a pleasure.

Mark Walker


Shine A Light * * * *

Posted in Documentary, Music with tags on January 11, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Martin Scorsese.
Featuring: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood, Christina Aguilera, Buddy Guy, Jack White, Martin Scorsese.

Having already covered such musical talents as The Band in “The Last Waltz” and Bob Dylan in “No Direction Home”, director Martin Scorsese now turns his hand to iconic rock ‘n’ roll band The Rolling Stones.

The closeness that Scorsese achieves is nothing short of magnificent. He must have had cameras everywhere and manages to capture the vibrancy of this fabulous band during their “A Bigger Bang” tour, playing at the Beacon theatre in New York. He manages to get so close you can see every wrinkle, every pore and you can almost smell the whisky from Keith Richards. Having been going strong for nearly 50 years (they were formed in 1962) and each band member over 60 years old, they’ve still got what it takes and can still get a crowd going. Their vibrancy is second to none and you can see why they have lasted so long. Tour footage is intercut with old footage of the band in their younger days and rise to stardom. It also briefly shows how the film was put together with footage of Scorsese conducting his documentary as the legends on-stage conduct their music. You can see Scorsese has a love and a knowledge of this great band. Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t hear so many of their classic songs played throughout his films. It’s just a shame that the band members have aged. This would have been a much better intrusive film had it been The Stones in their prime. However, they’re still an exceptional outfit, Mick Jagger’s energy still impresses and they remain my favourite.

For Stones aficiondos only. If you count yourself as one, then you’ll love it.

Mark Walker


Taken * * *

Posted in Action, thriller with tags on January 11, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Pierre Morel.
Screenplay: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen.
Starring: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, Holly Valance, David Warshofsky, Xander Berkeley, Olivier Rabourdin, Katie Cassidy, Gerard Watkins.

What with the recent re-vamp of “The A-Team” and this successful actioner, it seems that Liam Neeson has now been re-invented as something of an aging action hero and surprisingly, it works.

Bryan Mills (Neeson) is a retired government agent, struggling to get back into the life of his teenage daughter (Maggie Grace). But after she’s kidnapped while holidaying in Paris, Bryan has less than four days to track her down before she disappears into the sex slave trade and in the process of his search, he dishes out some tough justice.

This was supposedly expected to be a straight to DVD deal but turned out to be an unexpected hit for Neeson and co. It was that well recieved that a sequel is in now in the making. You can’t go too far wrong either, when imaginative French director Luc Besson has written the story. It gets quite rediculous toward the end, but this is still a taut little thriller. Despite being full of stereotypical bad guys, who are no more than fodder for Neeson’s knuckle sandwiches, it still works. As long as you dont expect too much and just sit back and enjoy him bashing a few heads and crunching some bones. Neeson also gets to spout some tough Eastwood-esque lines…”I push one button and 38 agents are here before you have time to scratch your worthless balls.” He’s a brutal and unrelenting character but lots of fun to watch.

It is what it is, but for it sheer pace alone, it’s a cut above most of the (mindless) genre.

Mark Walker


Burn After Reading * * * * 1/2

Posted in Comedy with tags on January 10, 2012 by Mark Walker


Directors: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen.
Screenplay: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen.
Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, J.K. Simmons, David Rasche, Elizabeth Marvel, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dermot Mulroney.

Convoluted labyrinthine plots, sharp dialogue, eccentric characters and an exceptional ensemble of actors are what the Coen brothers are known for, and with this espionage comedy/thriller, they tick all these boxes once again.

In Washington, D.C., the lives of several oddball characters cross paths when CIA analyst Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) quits over a drinking issue and his memoirs unexpectedly falls in to the hands of dumb health club employees Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), who decide to try a bit of blackmail to make a coin for themselves. Meanwhile, Cox’s wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) is sleeping with horny treasury marshal Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) who has a secret or two of his own.

What more can you ask for, when the Coens amass a very impressive line-up of top notch actors and mix them up in a bit of espionage, extortion, illicit affairs, online dating and sex toys. They spoil us once again with their ear for side-splitting dialogue and wonderful actors to deliver it, not to mention the often zany, screwball antics of the well drawn characters. There were moments of pants-wetting hilarity in this, to rival some of the best of the Coens’ work. The performances are so good from the entire cast that peoples opinions differ greatly as to who was their favourite. Malkovich is at his maniacal best; Swinton once again nails the cold-hearted bitch routine; McDormand is perfectly goofy and endearing; Pitt is hilarious as a naive camp dope and Clooney once again shows his range with exaggerated expressive features of vulnerability and paranoia. It’s hard to pick a favourite but if I had to choose, it’d be the unsung and highly underrated Richard Jenkins. His performance is beautifully nuanced. His character is all about hiding his emotions and Jenkins’ subtle expressions are heartbreaking yet hilarious. He’s an actor that can do drama and comedy effortlessly and this is another of his consistently excellent deliveries. The only slight problem I had with the film, was the coherence. I loved every individual scene bit it somehow felt a little disjointed. However, this is a very small gripe from a highly entertaining experience.

The Coens strike comedy gold again, and after the the near mishap of “The Ladykillers” it’s good to know that they’ve still got their funny bone intact. Another strong argument for inventing an Oscar award for best ensemble.

Mark Walker