Archive for 2009

The Messenger * * * *

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


Director: Oren Moverman.
Screenplay: Oren Moverman, Allessandro Camon.
Starring: Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Jena Malone, Steve Buscemi, Eamonn Walker, Brendan Sexton III.

War films tend to show you the brutality of conflict on the battlefield; the blood and the guts; the firepower; the fear and the bravery. Few address the conflict at home, which is quite surprising as the ones that do, tend to be raw and personal stories. This one certainly is.

Decorated Iraq war veteran Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) is back home and dealing with various ailments. He’s assigned to the Casualty Notification Office, where he and his superior Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) have the unwelcome task of informing next of kin whenever a soldier dies.

A very impressive debut from director Oren Moverman who also co-scripted but also a very bleak and depressing drama, dealing with a part of war that is so often overlooked. Foster and Harrelson (in an oscar nominated role) both deliver intense and solid performances, every time they notify a next of kin, it’s unbearably nerve wracking. Each relative dealing with their grief in different ways. Some with anger and violence, some with devestation, some with remorse, but each one as powerful as the next. As the film progresses, it concentrates less on the job they do and more on their own personal suffering, and as a result, loses momentum. However, when the full extent of their own emotional suffering becomes clear we are treated to a masterclass of acting from Foster and Harrelson in what becomes a very personal moment between them. There are periodic lulls, especially when the film branches off into Foster’s romantic involvements with Samantha Morton and Jena Malone but these lulls are coupled with sporadic moments of brilliance. Ben Foster is steadily building a reputation for himself with his consistant portrayal of tortured souls and Harrelson – although not always a favourite of mine – is really starting to win me over with his shrewd choice of unselfish roles.

Stark and hard-hitting but the performances from the two leads and the raw emotional power it posseses make it quite captivating.

Mark Walker


A Town Called Panic * * * * 1/2

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Foreign Language with tags on February 1, 2012 by Mark Walker


Directors: Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar.
Screenplay: Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar.
Voices: Stephane Aubier, Bruce Ellison, Benoit Poelvoorde, Jeanne Balibar.

Stop-motion animation still has a place in film today despite the computer generated brilliance of Pixar and Dreamwork etc. “Wallace and Gromit” are still a success and with the arrival of this inventive adventure, it shows that there’s still some mileage left in the old stop-motion style yet.

Papier mache toys Cowboy and Indian’s plan to surprise Horse with a homemade birthday gift backfires when they accidently destroy his house. No sooner have they built a new home only for it to be stolen from beneath their noses by a stealthy and cunning assailant. Strange adventures ensue as the trio travel to the centre of the earth, trek across frozen tundra and discover a parrallel underwater universe where dishonest subaquatic creatures live.

As long as there’s still imagination and creativity in the world, there will still be works of art produced regardless of being at a disadvantage. This little animation is proof that millions of money isn’t necessary to produce something that works. Stop-motion animation is probably the most difficult and painstaking of techniques, making you wonder why they even bother in the first place. Fortunately they do bother and we are treated to this fantastic little gem. It’s basic in it’s setup and characters, with second rate little toys brought to life, injected with hilarity, detail and crammed full of creativity and imagination that it’s hard to resist. An absolutely wonderful little treat and very unlike most animation today. Yes, “Wallace and Gromit” are famous stop-motion characters but they are still miles from this surreal Belgian adventure from Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar.

It’s a pure joy that will shamefully be overlooked by many and deserves a wider audience for it’s originality alone. Added to which, it unashamedly boasts…”shown in glorious 2D.” Superb!

Mark Walker


An Education * * * *

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on February 1, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Lone Sherfig.
Screenplay: Nick Hornby.
Starring: Peter Sarsgaard, Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Olivia Williams, Emma Thompson, Cara Seymour, Matthew Beard, Sally Hawkins.

Having garnered some Oscar attention upon it’s release with nominations for Best Picture, Actress & Screenplay, I found this to be a film I should probably check out. It’s not something I’d normally be drawn to but in this case, I’m very glad I was.

Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is attractive, doing well at school and set to land a place at Oxford. Then she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), an older man. He dazzles her with the edgy world beyond her ’60s suburban life, and soon a very different destiny opens up before her. But everything is not quite as it seems.

Essentially this is a coming-of-age story but it’s handled with such care and restraint by Danish director Lone Scherfig, that it becomes so much more. It’s beautifully shot with a fine rendering of 1960’s English suburban life. A lot of attention has been given to this, and it shows. There are blink and you’ll miss them subtleties between the characters and the acting by everyone involved is first class. Alfred Molina as Jenny’s domineering but loving father; Peter Sarsgaard with his perfectly honed ability to be charming yet bordering on creepy; and Emma Thompson lends some weight with her matriarchal head-mistress. The real star though, is Carey Mulligan. She exudes wisdom yet naivete, confident yet doubtful. It’s a marvellous performance and thoroughly deserving of her Oscar nomination. Throughout the course of the film there is an anticipation of tragedy that never really transpires, but it doesn’t matter. What we are given is so much more believable with these very real and nuanced characters culminating into a quite beautiful rite of passage tale.

As Jenny finds it hard to resist the attractive and flamboyant lifestyle of David, so did I in resisting this film with it’s exquisite attention to detail and all round, solid, confident filmmaking.

Mark Walker


Zombieland * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Comedy, Horror with tags on February 1, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Ruben Fleischer.
Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick.
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard, Derek Graf, Mike White, Bill Murray.

Zombie flicks have always had an underlying sense of humour throughout them, which has also made them perfect fodder for an out and out comedy. “Shaun of the Dead” was a British attempt at it and this, in some ways, could be seen as it’s American cousin.

A virus has swept the world and turned 99% of the population into ravenous zombies. A few “normal” humans remain, like young Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), who hooks up with a gun-toting zombie-eradicator named Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). Their road trip gets detoured when they encounter two savvy sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) heading for an amusement park in California.

This film had me hooked from the beginning with it’s excellent fun packed introduction complete with Eisenberg’s life saving “rules” to surviving a now over populated world of Zombies and a hilarious slow-motion credit sequence with zombies, of all kinds, chowing down. As it progresses though, it begins to run out of ideas becoming a bit uneventful. This is mainly due to the characters having no real purpose in their lives and are left to just waste time on their travels. As a result it becomes a little stale but the arrival of a cameo appearance by Bill Murray playing himself, lightens up the proceedings and the amusement park finale is pure excitement. A perfect way to see our Zombies friends meet their fate. The four actors all put in good performances. Harrelson gets the juicy role but it’s Eisenberg who really shines, combining comedy with drama effortlessly. It’s good to see that he is getting some choice roles and continues his good streak. Ruben Fleischer does a fantastic job here and is definitely a director to watch. He has a creative and fun-filled visual style that keeps this film going, despite some periodic lulls.

Zombie fans should find plenty of enjoyment and fans of comedy won’t be displeased either. Roll on the sequel.

Mark Walker


Adventureland * *

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on February 1, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Greg Mottola.
Screenplay: Greg Mottola.
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Martin Starr, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Reynolds, Margarita Levieva, Matt Bush, Jack Gilpin, Wendie Malick, Josh Pais, Mary Birdsong.

Jesse Eisenberg released two films in the same year with ‘land’ in the title. Both featured theme park’s and both also featured him trying to lose his virginity. “Zombieland” was one and “Adventureland” the other. Unfortunately for this though, I’d personally choose flesh-eating Zombies to face-sucking teenagers any day.

When James (Eisenberg) is forced to take a summer job in a ramshackle Pittsburgh theme park, he fears the worst. But the friendships he makes, the lessons he will come to learn, and especially a bumpy romance with remote fellow worker Emily (Kristen Stewart) will ultimately end up becoming memories for life.

A teenage romantic comedy with emphasis on the teenage romantics and less on the comedy. It had a few laugh out loud moments though, with some well written, humourous supporting characters. Where the laughs come from is the similiar dick joke humour from Greg Mottola’s previous film “Superbad“, but this is a more serious rite of passage tale than his earlier film. Nice use of ‘Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground’ on the soundtrack and fine performances throughout, particularly Bill Hader as the eccentric theme park manager. However, anything that this had going for it was spoiled by the teenage love story at it’s core. It was a bit dull and seemed as though it had teenagers in mind as it’s target audience.

The teens wear their angst on their sleeves and if you find yourself still stuck in this difficult time of your life then you’ll find plenty to identify with… Everyone else should avoid.

Mark Walker


The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo * * * * 1/2

Posted in Crime, Foreign Language, Mystery with tags on January 29, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Niels Arden Oplev.
Screenplay: Nikolaj Arcel, Rasmus Heisterberg.
Starring: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Haber, Peter Andersson, Ingvar Hirdwall, Marika Lagercrantz.

Swedish Cinema seems to have hit a new high note of late with the successful adaptations of “Let the Right One In” (as well as it’s American remake “Let Me In”) and now novelist Stieg Larsson’s “Millenium Trilogy” (also remade in America). This is the first of the trilogy and proof that Sweden are delivering top quality material at the moment.

Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is hired by aged tycoon Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) to look into the 40 year-old disappearance of a favourite niece. Computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) checks out Mikael as a preliminary to his hiring, and is intrigued by the old mystery. The two investigators team up and find themselves pursuing several serial killers.

Former journalist turned novelist Stieg Larsson’s books were released after his untimely death, to remarkable success. Due to such success, they were always likely to be adapted into films. Well, here is the first and it’s a very faithful adaptation. A tightly structured and gripping whodunnit that takes it’s time in revealing the pieces to it’s elaborate puzzle. This film is in no rush and plays out in a way that respects the audience’s intelligence and patience.
Mikael Blomkvist is an endearing character, the moral male to Lisbeth Salander’s feral female. Both genders acting against type in Stieg Larsson’s misogynist world and both Michael Nyqvist and especially, Noomi Rapace are excellent in their roles. Rapace getting the part of a lifetime as one of the best heroine’s to hit our screens for a very long time. She takes no shit and turns the tables on the depraved men of society, who have nothing more on their minds than abuse and rape. Misogyny is a strong theme throughout. Even reflected in the original title of the film ‘Man Som Hatar Kvinnor’, which literally translates as “Men Who hate Women”. It’s a very dark and graphic film that has an escalating sense of foreboding from the get go. The only gripe I have is that, being a major part of the story, the Vanger family are a little on the underdeveloped side. It can often be confusing as to who is who and when the big reveal is made, it doesn’t quite have the surprise or impact it should. However, this is a minor fault in an otherwise taut and well structured thriller.

Murder mysteries don’t come much better than this. Thoroughly rewarding stuff.

Mark Walker


The Girl Who Played With Fire * * * *

Posted in Crime, Foreign Language, Mystery, thriller with tags on January 29, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Daniel Alfredson.
Screenplay: Jonas Frykberg.
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre, Peter Andersson, Yohan Kylén, Yasmine Garbi, Paolo Roberto, Georgi Staykov, Mikael Spreitz, Per Oscarsson, Hans-Christian Thulin.

Second installments of a trilogy have a history of being just the midriff of the story. They tend to lack the essential elements of coherence. No real beginning and no real end is the common problem. This has a few snags like that but it’s still a solid enough follow up.

Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) returns to Sweden, becomes a suspect in three murders and goes on the run. Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is sure Lisbeth is innocent, but realises she is being pursued by dangerous criminals who have a connection to her troubled past.

Not as gripping as the first, (which is mainly down to the investigation, it doesn’t have the hook the first one had). What it does have in it’s favour though, is the backstory of Lisbeth. We learn a bit more of her motivation and what her history has done to shape her character. Blomkvist doesn’t really contribute very much this time around, mainly just providing support and keeping the flag flying as a decent male character. This second installment is not afforded the same time as the first. It doesn’t develop the characters or story in the same way and as a result it seems rushed, as if director Daniel Alfredson was eager to get onto the third part. Like all middle segments, it’s stutters. Having a change of director can sometimes be a hindrance also, as is, the lack of any proper conclusion. However, it still grips and a major plus is having Lisbeth as the main focus this time, with Noomi Rapace once again a joy to watch, when handing out her form of tough justice on some unsavoury menfolk.

It was always going to be a hard task to emulate the first part, but the additional interesting characters add much more to the story in terms of Lisbeth’s history, preventing it from being just another mid-section.

Mark Walker


The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest * * * *

Posted in Crime, Drama, Foreign Language, thriller with tags on January 29, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Daniel Alfredson.
Screenplay: Ulf Ryberg.
Starring: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Annika Hallin, Jacob Ericksson, Sofia Ledarp, Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl, Mikael Spreitz, Georgi Staykov.

Stieg Larsson’s “Millenium trilogy” draws to a close with this third and final installment and after amassing a collective running time of nearly 7 hours, it still grips like a vice.

Outlaw hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) awaits trial for attempted murder. Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) gathers evidence about her tragic past to help her case. A Swedish intelligence agency wants her silenced and her maniacal half-brother (Mikael Spreitz) wants her dead.

What with the mystery of the first installment and the action of the second, now we are given the talky final act. The cover-up of all the past scandals and indescretions and justice handed out in legal forms. Daniel Alfredson once again takes the directorial reins after the Second film. This time though, he’s learned his lesson about pace. It’s not as rushed, preferring instead, the slow investigative pace from the first film. Once again, the hook isn’t as good but the tension builds slowly and assuredly as we learn the eventual fate of Lisbeth. Like the second also, Lisbeth and Blomkvist’s relationship is very distant. They share very little screen time and whenever they do, it is strained and awkward. Blomkvist’s love unrequited. Lisbeth is less active this time. She is mainly bed ridden and displays very little in her communication with everyone around her. This however, proves to be just another master stroke in her battle for survival. On the surface, it seems that Noomi Rapace has less to work with, now that her strong-willed character has been seriously wounded. Nevertheless, when you watch the ever so subtle facial expressions from her, as she tries to remain stoic, you realise how much of a wonderfully reserved performance she puts in. With less dialogue, it’s probably her finest display from all three films. Although this is an altogether more solid narrative than the second, some parts feel rushed and some questions are left unanswered. Still, it’s a very fine trilogy and the characters inhabit a world – although not altogether pleasant – that’s been a gruelling yet rewarding experience.

If the Americans (or director David Fincher to be precise) can capture half of the spirit of these films with his version of the trilogy, then hopefully, mature writing and exstensive filmmaking will become the norm.

Mark Walker


A Single Man * * * * *

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


Director: Tom Ford.
Screenplay: Tom Ford, David Scearce.
Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode, Nicholas Hoult, Ginnifer Goodwin, Ryan Simpkins, Teddy Sears, Joe Kortajarena, Paulette Lamori, Lee Pace, Adam Shapiro.

In the words of Colin Firth’s character: “If there’s going to be a world where there’s no time for sentiment, then that’s a world I don’t want to live in”. What with the subject matter and characterisation, ‘sentiment’ is exactly what’s required to fully enjoy this near masterpiece.

George Falconer (Colin Firth) is a closested homosexual English college professor now living and teaching in Los Angeles in 1962. At the height of the Cuban missile crisis George is only concerned and haunted by the death of Jim (Matthew Goode), his soulmate of 16 years, in a car crash. Over the course of a day, he fastidiously plans his own death as he cannot stop dwelling on the past and is unable to see his future despite advances from his long time friend Charley (Julianne Moore) and student Kenny (Nicholas Hoult).

Sometimes a film comes along that doesn’t grap your attention straight away. It’s only through time that the critical acclaim it recieved can be ignored no longer. This is that type of film for me. I’m also not Colin Firth’s biggest fan either. However, on both judgmental accounts, I have been very very wrong. This flawlessly detailed character study of a desperate, tormented and heart-broken man is one of the finest films and central performances of 2009. I have no idea why I consistantly allow the Oscars to sursprise me but this film recieved ONE nomination from that year. Deservedly, that one was for Colin Firth but how can the rest possibly be ignored? What about the screenplay, the cinematography and Tom Ford’s direction? I’m astonished it didn’t recieve more. Everything about this film oozes class; the 60’s setting is beautifully captured with it’s attention to detail and strikingly rich photography by Eduard Grau; the slow motion scenes with overbearing sound effects; the subtle changes of colour saturation providing an excellent technique in developing the mood and feeling of Firth’s character and a fitting soundtrack to accompany the lush imagery. Anchoring all of this artistry is Colin Firth with his stoic exterior and crumbling interior. He’s absolutely marvellous and delivers a far superior performance than his Oscar winning role in “The Kings Speech“. I’m starting to think the Academy gave him it a year later after realising that Firth really shouldn’t have lost out for this. If Jeff Bridges wasn’t so good in “Crazy Heart“, the award had Firth’s name all over it. What’s also hard to believe is that this is Tom Ford’s directorial debut. He handles the material skillfully and assuredly, delivering one of the most accomplished films in recent times and surely the only direction he can go after this, is down.

This is the film that the multi-award winning “The King’s Speech” wishes it was. It may be a bit bleak or risque for some tastes but this is sensitive, mature filmmaking of the highest order. An exuberant, unflinching masterclass from everyone involved.

Mark Walker


Away We Go * * * 1/2

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


Director: Sam Mendes.
Screenplay: Dave Eggers, Vendela Vida.
Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeff Daniels, Catherine O’Hara, Melanie Lynskey, Chris Messina, Paul Schneider, Carmen Ejogo, Josh Hamilton.

Director Sam Mendes may never reach the abundant award winning heights of “American Beauty” again, but he’s proved along the road (Revolutionary and Perdition included) that he can still deliver the goods. This is a change of direction for him altogether but it’s still a fine addition to his growing catalogue of family dramas.

Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) are expecting their first baby. When Burt’s parents, the couple’s sole reason for moving to their current non-descript town, decide to leave the US, the couple go on a trip cross-country to find somewhere to raise their child.

When the film opens we are given a introduction to the solid relationship that the two main characters share, as while performing oral sex on his partner, Burt candidly talks about the theory of different vaginal flavours due to menopause or pregnancy. This duly recieves a slap in the face mid-performance, and thankfully for us he was talking about the latter. So then begins the journey of Burt & Verona as they mould the future of their family. John Krasinski and especially Maya Rudolph are a delight as the two endearing parents-to-be. In fact all the performances are appealing and subtly real and the whole cast pitches in. The real highlights though are the eccentric characters on our protaganists travels, mainly Alison Janney as the witty and offensive ex-colleague and Maggie Gyllenhaal as the free spirited sister. They are particular standouts in an exceptional cast. Despite mainly being a humorous road-trip, it’s peppered with some wise and wonderful scenes and has some moments of heartbreaking realism. The soundtrack is also filled with wonderful gems of music and despite it’s style, it’s missing only one thing…a Nick Drake song.

Mendes has equipt himself well once more and delivered an unusually heartwarming and quite lovely little film.

Mark Walker


9 * * * * 1/2

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Fantasy, Science Fiction with tags on January 29, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Shane Acker.
Screenplay: Pamela Pettler.
Voices: Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Crispin Glover.

These days kids are spoiled with an endless supply of high quality animated films. As a nipper I was content with an episode of “Thundercats” but the beauty of modern film animation is that some are aimed at adults also. This happens to be one that falls into that category.

In a post-apocalyptic future, sackcloth doll numbered “9” (Elijah Wood) wakes up to find that human beings have been eradicated from existence. As he explores the desolate land, he finds a small society of his handrafted kind struggling for survival against terrifying machines. Self-proclaimed leader “1” (Christopher Plummer) keeps his troops in hiding, but when “2” (Martin Landau) is abducted, “9” convinces them that they must attack to survive. Along the way they discover evidence from their deceased creator that they personally hold the last of what’s left of the human soul and preserving themselves is to preserve humanity.

This animated feature has had it’s fair share of criticism but at a running time of 1hour 19mins it’s hardly a massive commitment. In fact, I found it to be quite a pleasure. Where the criticism has been directed is in the story. Too shallow for adults and too dark for kids apparently. Granted, the old tried and tested post-apocalyptic earth, where silly humans have gone and eradicated themselves again, is nothing new and a bit tired, but this is just a vehicle for director Shane Acker’s imaginative little creations to come to life. And come to life they do. The animation is absolutely striking and each little hand crafted ‘stitchpunk’ is given individuality with painstaking attention. The emotional depth and expression of such similiar designed little characters is stunning. I found them very appealing indeed, and a pure joy to watch them on their adventure. This originally began as an 11minute short film (also called “9”) that director Shane Acker won an Academy Award for in 2005. This Oscar success obviously drew the attention of producers Timur Bekmambetov and Tim Burton who have indulged Acker’s vision with money, allowing him to elaborate on his story, and thankfully for us they did. This is animation at it’s finest and on a par with the best that Pixar have produced.

I’m very surprised at the criticism this little gem has come in for as this is a deep, beautifully realised science fiction yarn and a post-apocalyptic world that I hope to visit again soon. A pure visually arresting delight.

Mark Walker


I Love You Phillip Morris * * * *

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


Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa.
Screenplay: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa.
Starring: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, Antoni Corone, Brennan Brown, Michael Mandell.

Jim Carrey’s goofy, rubber-faced, slap-stick material has been getting a bit stale recently. The best of his films have been when he has delivered a serious role; “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Truman Show” have been notable showcases for this, but now he can also add this to his growing catalogue of fine comedic and dramatic

Steven Russell (Jim Carrey), a southerner who marries his churchgoing sweetheart (Leslie Mann), then finally reconciles with the reality that he’s gay. In an effort to support a new, extravagant lifestyle he summons his latent gift for larceny and becomes a skilled con artist. Eventually this lands him in prison, where he falls in love with a fellow inmate named Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), and his real swindling takes over.

Despite Carrey and McGregor being two of the most familiar faces in film today, they still manage to give entirely believable performances as a gay couple, in a surprisingly heartfelt love story. It’s very brave and bold roles for them both. Carrey brings just enough humour and zaniness without overdoing it and McGregor adds a welcome naive and gentle innocence in their kinetic entanglement. It’s these strong, committed performances that propel this wildly inventive, modern romance. Some may be put off by the homeosexual nature of the story but they needn’t be. This is as valid and earnest as any heterosexual love affair and if anything, only serves to prove how much the actors have invested in it’s telling. It’s not too surprising that this was directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the writers of the lewd Billy Bob Thornton film “Bad Santa“, but what is astonishing is their ability to keep it all real and their impressive balance of the story. It has all the right ingredients; great characters, an interesting and exciting story, hysterically funny moments, scenes of powerful drama and two excellent lead performances. It never goes into exactly how some of Steven Russell’s swindles are achieved but it’s fun to watch all the same. His elaborate scams border on the implausible but for the fact, that this is based on true events, making it all the more impressive and enjoyable.

A fine and fresh directorial debut for the “Bad Santa” boys, helped by two of the most enjoyable performances of the year. Next up for this directing team is “Crazy, Stupid, Love” with Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling. Here’s hoping it’s half as good as this.

Mark Walker


Sunshine Cleaning * * * *

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


Director: Christine Jeffs.
Screenplay: Megan Holley.
Starring: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Steve Zahn, Jason Spevack, Clifton Collins Jr, Mary Lynn Rasjkub, Eric Christian Olsen, Paul Dooley, Kevin Chapman, Judith Jones.

From the producers of “Little Miss Sunshine” we are told. Unfortunately, a film like this is reduced to riding on the success of another to gain any attention for itself. What a shame, as this well crafted ‘dramady’ has quality all it’s own.

In Albuquerque, N.M., struggling single mum Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) starts a business mopping up crime scenes. She has no experience in this highly specialized field so she recruits her stoner sister Norah (Emily Blunt) to help out and both siblings become emotionally involved in the lives and deaths of the messily deceased, while rediscovering their self-esteem and creating a bond between them that they have longed for as sisters.

I can’t say that the tag of a film being ‘produced’ by the same people actually means anything. As far as I’m aware producers don’t add anything creatively to a film. Personally I’m drawn to films that have interesting storylines or people involved that I’ve enjoyed before, and in this case, it’s Amy Adams. Having seen “Junebug” and “The Fighter” of late, I’ve been really impressed by her superb performances which have lead me onto the path of this unanticipated treat. It’s an adept comedy/drama with beautifully understated performances. The balance of dark comedy with family drama is skillfully handled by director Christine Jeffs, from an impressive debut script by Megan Holley. Minus a couple more oddballs family members, this has much in common with the previous producers film “Little Miss Sunshine”. It has the same well drawn characters (Alan Arkin’s eccentric grandpa included, only this time heroine free), the same mix of humour and pathos and the same upbeat tone in downbeat scenarios.

After steadily building a reputation for herself, this is another choice role for the marvellous Amy Adams, who is without doubt, the actress to watch these days. A wonderfully structured little film that achieves a balance in the realism of it’s characters in slightly surreal situations.
An unexpected delight.

Mark Walker


Broken Embraces * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama, Foreign Language, Mystery with tags on January 28, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Pedro Almodovar.
Screenplay: Pedro Almodovar.
Starring: Lluis Homar, Penelope Cruz, Blanco Portillo, Jose Luis Gomez, Tamar Novas, Angela Molina.

Director Pedro Almodovar yet again delivers what he does best. Another portrayal of human nature and the complexities of relationships.

Harry Caine (Lluis Homar) is a blind writer who, while being supported with his daily duties, agrees to help a young man with his idea for a book. In the process of helping him, he is forced to look back at his own life. Revealing that 14 years ago, he was in fact, renowned film director ‘Mateo Blanco’, who shared a passionate relationship with his leading actress ‘Lena’ (Penelope Cruz) that put both their lives in danger, and lead to tragedy and Harry’s blindness.

Almodovar returns with his muse, Penelope Cruz and his usual convoluted story arches as well as his eye for beautiful imagery. As ever, his direction is methodical and visually splendid and draws another fine performance from Cruz – who really seems to raise her game when working with him. It’s Lluis Homar who impresses most though. At just over two hours, it demands a level of commitment but, as ever, it’s rewarding. Teasingly, releasing pieces of the story bit by bit and delivering his usual dramatic revelations with ease.

It’s by no means his best but it’s another fine addition to Almodovar’s catalogue of high quality film making.

Mark Walker


Micmacs * * * 1/2

Posted in Comedy, Foreign Language with tags on January 28, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Jean-Pierre Juenet.
Screenplay: Jean-Pierre Juenet, Guillaume Laurant.
Starring: Dany Boon, Andre Dussollier, Domonique Pinon, Nicolas Marie, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Yolande Moreau, Julie Ferrier, Omar Sy, Michel Cremades.

Director Jean-Pierre Juenet certainly has an idiosyncratic style and if your familiar with, and enjoyed, his other films “Delicatessen” and “Amelie” then you will find plenty to enjoy here. As it’s – in his own words – a cross between the two.

Bazil (Dany Boon) is film buff who luckily works as a video store clerk. Unluckily though, he witnesses a shooting one evening which leaves him with a stray bullet lodged in his head. After surviving the incident and learning that the symbol on the bullet is also the same symbol that was on the landmine that killed his father years ago, he sets about to bring down the arms dealers responsible and enlists the help of a group of former circus performers, inventors and all round social misfits to aide his revenge.

Jeunet’s usual visual flair and eccentric oddball characters are ever present as is, his knack for finding art in the every-day. There are very few directors working today with the vision and inventiveness that Juenet consistantly shows (the Coens being notable others). As close as your likely to get to a live-action cartoon, ranging from human cannonballs to a bowl full of wasps dangling precariously above it’s target with an alarm clock ticking, waiting to send it on it’s way. Very inventive and creative throughout but it suffers from being poorly paced and not entirely keeping you engaged and as Juenet would like to claim that it’s a mix of both “Delicatessen” and “Amelie”, it unfortunately lacks the surreal darkness of the former and the beauty and charm of the latter.

However, if you view this on it’s own merit, without comparison, you may well be less critical, as it’s still a fine addition to Juenet’s wonderful work and a very enjoyable and entertaining watch.

Mark Walker