Archive for 2010

Blue Valentine

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on October 10, 2017 by Mark Walker

Director: Derek Cianfrance.
Screenplay: Derek Cianfrance, Joey Curtis, Cami Delavigne.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, John Doman, Faith Wladyka, Mike Vogel, Marshall Johnson, Jen Jones, Maryann Plunkett, James Benatti, Barbara Troy, Carey Westbrook, Ben Shenkman, Eileen Rosen, Enid Graham.

“I like how you can compliment and insult somebody at the same time, in equal measure”

Back in 2004 when Ryan Gosling was still a relative unknown, he caught a break by starring in a little love story called The Notebook. It was a huge hit among the ladies and he charmed the knickers off many a bored housewife. Needless to say, Gosling became a star overnight and he developed a very enthusiastic female fanbase. Try asking a lot of women, or even some men for that matter, what they think is a good romantic movie and The Notebook will generally get a shout-out. As a little social experiment, I’d like to offer up an alternative to those who love Gosling, The Notebook and those who love to see romance triumph over adversity by suggesting they watch Blue Valentine. It’s the polar opposite of that sentimental and clichéd pap and could induce nightmares to those of a more sensitive nature when it comes to how relationships are depicted on screen.  Continue reading

I’m Still Here * * * 1/2

Posted in Comedy, Documentary, Drama with tags on July 18, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: Casey Affleck.
Screenplay: Casey Affleck, Joaquin Phoenix.
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck, Antony Langdon, Larry McHale, Sean Combs, Ben Stiller, Edward James Olmos, David Letterman, Tim Affleck.

In 2008, Joaquin Phoenix announces that he’s quitting acting to pursue a music career in hip hop. His bother-in-law, Casey Affleck, decides to film his every move over the course of a year and delivers a portrait of an artist at a crossroads in his life.

Beginning with home video footage from 1981 in Panama, of a young Phoenix jumping from a waterfall, this films sets it’s stall out in exploring a life that’s seemingly always been documented. Phoenix has been in the public-eye from a very tender age, having appeared as young as 8 yrs old in the television series “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” before moving onto “The Fall Guy”, “Hill Street Blues” and “Murder She Wrote”. His first recognisable movie roles came in the shape of 1986’s “Space Camp” or 1989’s “Parenthood” before moving into more edgier roles in Gus Van Sant’s “To Die For” in 1995. Up until then, he was better known as the younger sibling of (the late) River Phoenix but eventually gained the full respect of movie goers with two Oscar nominations (now three, since the release of this movie). It’s was through this steady rise in the film industry that brought so much media attention to his, seemingly, self destructive decision to abandon acting and become a rap artist under the guidance of Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.
This fly-on-the wall documentary follows Phoenix’s obvious lack of talent for rapping and the abandonment of his personal hygiene, while his fragile mental state increased due to a voracious appetite for cannabis and cocaine. As he’s constantly high and stoned, a frenzied media where clambering for his story and a reason for the meltdown of an actor in the prime of his career. Ultimately, though, the joke was on them (and us), as the whole thing was an elaborate hoax and an exposé of the nature of celebrity and their pandered ego’s and lifestyle’s.
Phoenix is entirely believable in his bearded, paunched appearance and his spiralling egotistical, mental anguish and arrogance. He even dares to tackle chat-show host David Letterman (in a now infamous episode) and when you consider that this was a role that completely consumed him – not only throughout the length of the shoot but in the eyes of the world, before and after – you realise how outstanding he is. It’s a powerful display of commitment and it’s probably one of the bravest and boldest moves that an actor has done.
As entertainment, though, it’s questionable. It goes on too long and there are points where the voyeurism pushes boundaries and comes across as bad taste. What could have been the downfall of a man going through a serious mental breakdown, struggles to decide whether it’s comedic or dramatic. That being said, it’s interesting viewing and it at least exposes the bitter behaviour of western media and how easily they can turn.


Being a fan of Phoenix, will certainly add to the appeal of this film, but if you can normally take or leave him, then this won’t hold much of an interest. It’s flawed, but it’s a bold and noteworthy experiment all the same.

Mark Walker

The American * * *

Posted in Drama, thriller with tags on July 3, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: Anton Corbijn.
Screenplay: Rowan Joffe.
Starring: George Clooney, Paolo Bonacelli, Violante Placido, Thekla Rueten, Johan Leysen, Irina Bjorkland, Filippo Timi.

He made his directorial debut with the life story of the band Joy Division’s frontman, Ian Curtis in “Control”. Now, renowned photographer Anton Corbijn shows some more control – and restraint – in his second feature, with a beautifully shot and unexpected meditative thriller.

Jack (George Clooney) is a hired assassin who goes into hiding in a small Italian village to let things settle after someone tries to assassinate him. Here he befriends a priest who he very nearly confides in and also falls in love with a local prostitute. His employer, meanwhile, sets up another job for him but all is not what it seems, and his identity is more exposed than is comfortable.

When a film opens with the Cloon-meister shooting an innocent woman in the back, you know things are going to be different. Although, not quite as different as what transpires. Done with a very slow, deliberate and meditative pace – reflective in the mood and existential angst of Clooney’s hitman – and as the title suggests, the only thing ‘American’ about this film, is this very character. Everything else is purely European; the supporting actors, the setting, the look and feel. Its almost an art-house thriller. Emphasis on the art-house (and arduous) as there are very few thrilling moments. When they do appear though, they are impressively handled by Corbijn but ultimately the very slow pace kills the action and on a couple of occasions we are treated to scenes of almost unbearable tension and then left unfulfilled as the tension dissipates, without the expected delivery. I enjoyed the simplicity of the whole thing but also found myself wondering if it was worth the time I was investing. I admire Corbijn’s attempt at going against the formula but it wasn’t entirely successful and I couldn’t help but wonder what could have been had he concentrated a little more on his obvious ability in handling suspense and jangling nerves. However, a brilliantly understated and subtly emotive performance from George Clooney, yet again, proves his versatility and holds the film together.

It doesn’t entirely excite enough for a thriller and isn’t quite as astute as a character study, but falls somewhere, awkwardly, in-between.

Mark Walker


NEDS * * * 1/2

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


Director: Peter Mullan.
Screenplay: Peter Mullan.
Starring: Conor McCarron, Peter Mullan, Greg Forrest, Joe Szula, John Joe Hay, Richard Mack, Christopher Wallace, Gary Milligan, Steven Robertson, David McKay, Stephen McCole, Gary Lewis.

Following up the quality of “The Magdalene Sisters” was always going to be difficult for writer/director Peter Mullan and although he achieves a similiar hard-hitting authenticity with “Neds” and delivers an impressive retelling of youthful gang culture, he gets himself caught up in some artistic flourishes that don’t quite gel with the stark accomplishment on-screen.

Glasgow, Scotland, 1973; the streets are filled with knife-wielding youths. Caught in the middle, is promising and aspiring teenager John McGill (Conor McCarron). He’s a bright and ambitious lad that’s held back by his alcoholic father (Peter Mullan) and the terrifying legend of his older brother (Joe Szula), who he feels the need to live up to. Peer pressure and a lack of chances in life, turn the young McGill feral. So much so, that his brooding anger surfaces to point of bloody violence, leaving him very little hope in achieving anything that he was fully capable of.

Having grown up in Glasgow, himself, Peter Mullan knows the time, the people and the city very well. This, undoubtedly, comes across in his choice of music, his eye for the style of the 70′s and his brilliant and effective use of Glasgow locations. He also assembles an impressive cast of young, unknown Scottish actors who deliver natural, colloquial, dialogue and excellent performances. Myself, being a working-class Glaswegian, could identify with these characters, their behaviour and the politics of gang culture and can confirm that this is an astute portrait of a very real problem that still exists in Glasgow today. For that reason, Mullan has to be given kudos in not only achieving such authenticity, but by delivering it so vividly.
Respected directors such as, Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, have made a name for themselves with similar ‘kitchen-sink’ dramas and Mullan’s efforts here, command a similar respect. However, despite the realism and attention to detail, Mullan makes the same mistake he did with “Orphans” and injects it with surreal moments – like visions of Christ – that don’t contribute anything positively to the story. It’s understandable why he’d make allusions to the power, manipulation and guilt that comes with a Catholic upbringing in a city like Glasgow – where there is a big religious divide – but they just seem as if they belong elsewhere. These moments are sporadic, buy they’re still jarring enough to make you believe that this is a director serving some egotistical delusion of his own artistic merit. Whereas, he could be concentrating on the very thing that he knows so well.
The film has a lot going for it in terms of it’s accurate portrayal of these times but as it draws to it’s conclusion and the unsure progression of the main character, the film ends rather ridiculously, not really knowing how to end.

Mullan’s attempt at profundity falls flat, but as a portrayal of Glasgow gang culture it’s very observant and accurate. It’s just a shame that he didn’t really know how to tie things up and delivers an ending that didn’t have the distinct aroma of desperation.

(For the record – and those that missed the poster above – NEDS is an abbreviation of ‘Non Educated Delinquents’. It’s the common term for the violent and anti-social youth in Scotland).

Mark Walker


Potiche * * * 1/2

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Foreign Language with tags on June 16, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: François Ozon.
Screenplay: François Ozon.
Starring: Catherine Denueve, Gerard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Jérémie Rénier, Karin Viard, Judith Godrèche, Sergi López.

French performers Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu are two household names in their native France but will also be familiar with English language filmgoers. Basically, they’ve been around and have delivered an incalculable amount of great performances throughout their careers. This is a film that brings them both together (although not for the first time) and serves as a reminder of how skilful and commanding they are on screen.

Suzanne Pujol (Catherine Denueve) is a “Potiche” – a decorative, trophy wife – who runs a household, while her husband Robert (Fabrice Luchini) runs the family umbrella factory and philanders with his secretary. A workers strike breaks out which leads to Robert having a heart attack and while he recuperates, Suzanne reluctantly takes control of the family business with her two adult children. However, Suzanne is more shrewd and clever than given credit for and she manages to regain the trust of the workers and turn the fortunes of the business around while steadily gaining respect from numerous corners of society including Maurice Babin (Gerard Depardieu), the influential Mayor.

It takes a little time to work up to “Potiche” as it’s very dialogue driven. So much so, that it’s quite difficult to keep up with the subtitles and it’s constant stream of verbal exchanges. However, it’s confidently handled and when it does get going it throws in many facets of an individuals life and the complexities and challenges that life throws at us all.
Where it’s strengths lie is in it’s perfectly pitched commentary on the struggle that women faced throughout the 1970’s in order to achieve the same equality as men. Denueve’s Suzanne Pujol is the perfect embodiment of a woman hanging up her apron and reclaiming her respect and dignity. It also shows a balance between the strength and vulnerability involved in such a time; on the surface, Suzanne is seen as weak yet she grows in confidence and even considers divorcing her husband. Meanwhile, her daughter Joëlle (Judith Godrèche) is seen as strong and independent yet ultimately can’t bear to be alone. One of the few decent male figures is Suzanne’s son, Laurent (Jérémie Rénier). He’s a prominent supporting character and even though he’s male and serves as his mothers rock, he seems to carry a certain femininity. This is one of the many clever little devices that provide this film with an astute commentary of the politics and the cognitive shift between the sexes during the 1970’s.
The only issue I had was the pacing; despite the wonderful story, quirky humour and solid performances, it fails to completely hold your attention. This is a small gripe but still one that I couldn’t ignore. If it delivered itself with a bit more urgency, then this would have been top class.

A subtly handled little dramatic comedy that manages to incorporate many facets of life and has a sumptuous rendering of the 70’s era. It could have been tighter, but it’s still a lot of fun.

Mark Walker


The Secret In Their Eyes * * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama, Foreign Language, Mystery, thriller with tags on May 4, 2013 by Mark Walker

Director: Juan José Campanella.
Screenplay: Eduardo Sacheri, Juan José Campanella.
Starring: Ricardo Darin, Soledad Villamil, Guillermo Francella, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino, José Luis Gioia, Carla Quevedo.

The 2010 Academy Awards category for Best Foreign Language film contained some strong contenders with the likes of Jacques Audiard’s “A Prophet” and Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon“; two films that could easily have laid claim to the award. However, it was this film that crept up from under their noses and took the Oscar. Whether or nor you pay any credence to the Oscars is neither here nor there as there’s no doubt that this is solid and absorbing filmmaking.

In 1999, retired criminal justice officer Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darìn) decides to write a novel about a murder case that he investigated in 1974. He decides to visit his old colleague Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil) to talk it over. The case had repercussions for everyone involved but Benjamin didn’t realise the direct effect it had on him or his deep, suppressed feelings for Irene.

With a title like “The Secret In Their Eyes“, this film states it’s intentions and stands by them. Director Juan José Campanella lingers long on shots and wisely focuses on the eyes of his performers. For a film that’s predominately dialogue driven, the abundance of close-up’s add another dimension where the eyes speak a thousand words. It’s a great technique that conveys a myriad of hidden meanings in the relationship between the two main characters, Benjamin and Irene. However, this relationship is not entirely apparent from the off-set. It’s only when the film’s layers are revealed that this comes to the surface, as in the meantime you’re too preoccupied with it’s murder-mystery plot developments. This mystery progresses into a manhunt, while taking time to explore the judicial system and political corruption that was rife in Argentina in 1970’s. It’s during this, that Campanella takes advantage of the thriller element in the story, delivery an absolutely astounding and very skilfully handled tracking shot through a football stadium, leading to an impressively assembled chase sequence. Just how they managed to do it is beyond me and needs to be seen to be believed. There are many moments of intensity when it matters (including a nerve-racking elevator moment that’s hard to forget) but it also knows how to ground itself and that’s were the performances come in; Ricardo Darin is a charismatic presence who more than holds your interest with unshakable ideals and a strong moral compass, while Soledad Villamil delivers a strong and reserved show. It’s the chemistry between these two wonderful actors that play a big part in the film’s, effortless, tonal shifts. It’s also not without humour or tragedy which is provided by Guillermo Francella as Benjamin’s alcoholic, but loyal and reliable colleague, Pablo.
Quite simply, it’s easy to see why this film took the Oscar, it’s has a bit of everything; a sharp and involving script that pays great attention to detail; skilful direction; rich cinematography and natural, committed performances.

A complex tapestry about life, love and chances rued, that’s built around the constructs of a thriller. It excels in everything it challenges and that’s exactly where it’s strengths lie.

Mark Walker


The Experiment * * 1/2

Posted in Drama, thriller with tags on January 4, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: Paul T. Scheuring.
Screenplay: Paul T. Scheuring.
Starring: Adrien Brody, Forest Whitaker, Cam Gigandet, Clifton Collins Jr., Ethan Cohn, Fisher Stevens, Travis Fimmel, Lavell “David Banner” Crump, Jason Lew, Damien Leake, Maggie Grace.

Once again, a brilliant foreign language movie (“Das Experiment“) is given an English language remake and once again, it fails to do the original justice in any shape or form. If any positives are to be taken from this, then a major one would be it serving as a reminder of how good director Olivier Hirschbeigel’s 2001 German film was.

Strapped for cash in order to travel to India with his girlfriend (Maggie Grace), gentle mannered political activist Travis (Adrian Brody) decides to take part in a behavioural psychological experiment whereby 20 or so men are chosen to live in a makeshift prison for two weeks. Each of them will assume either the role of guard or inmate but once the doors are locked and they are left to their own devices, things begin to spiral out of control.

The fact that this went straight to the DVD shelf when released says it all really. From the offset there are shades of a made for television appearance. This doesn’t last for the entirety of the film but the standards don’t rise very far above it and the voyeuristic nature of the story will appeal to fans of reality TV shows like “Big Brother“.
It’s strengths, unsurprisingly, lie in the performances; Brody is an excellent leading presence and fine support is delivered by a towering Forest Whitaker but the inclusion of Maggie Grace’s love interest is entirely unnecessary, adding little to no substance to the film and could have been completely dropped without it making any difference whatsoever. In retrospect, it’s a lazily written script that’s the films biggest downfall. Where the original instilled a sense of realism, this version just seems staged. The premise is still thoroughly intriguing though and all the more so, with the knowledge that it was based on a real experiment that took place in 1971 at Stanford University before it all got out of hand.
It’s decent enough to pass an hour an half of your time but don’t expect anything special. It’s the performances that make it worthwhile but overall, it’s just another example of a completely unnecessary remake.

If anyone is unfamiliar with the events or the original German film then this film will go down nicely. However, it’d be wise to seek out Hirschbeigel’s version instead.

Mark Walker


Everything Must Go * * *

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on December 6, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Dan Rush.
Screenplay: Dan Rush.
Starring: Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Michael Peña, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Laura Dern, Stephen Root, Glenn Howerton.

Anyone that’s been reading my reviews for any length of time will be aware of my dislike for the humour of Will Ferrell. Don’t get wrong, I’ve enjoyed some films of his: “Stranger Than Fiction” and “Elf” are a couple but for the most part his humour just doesn’t work for me. Thankfully, this is Ferrell minus his funny bone and as he plays it straight, he delivers some impressive work.

Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) is fired from his sales job for his reliance on alcohol. When he returns home, he finds that his wife has left him, locked him out of the house and left all his belongings on the front lawn. He refuses to accept this though and decides to camp out in his chair and drink beer for days on end. As this is not legal, his cop friend and AA sponsor (Michael Peña) suggests that he pretends to be having a yard sale to buy him some time. Not before long, Nick starts to makes friends with the neighbours who help him sell his stuff.

The problem with this film isn’t Ferrell as I’d expected it to be. The problem with this film is that the material doesn’t stretch far enough. It’s based on the short story “Why Don’t You Dance?” by Raymond Carver who was responsible for the serious of vignettes that made up Robert Altman’s magnificent film “Short Cuts“. Where Altman got it right though, was in keeping all the segments little tales of their own and never fleshed them out too far. This had been a short story for a reason; there just isn’t enough material to cover the ground of a 90 minute feature – and it’s shows. Despite a series of very good moments and the struggle and believable, emotional downfall of the protagonist, it has a series of lulls which just feel like padding. As a result the dramatic weight is lessened and your concentration begins to waver. That being said, there is still plenty to admire here and that mainly comes in the form of Ferrell, who flexes his acting chops in a more serious role than audiences will be used to. I’m not normally a fan of his brand of comedy but as a dramatic actor he’s actually quite good. Unfortunately, for him though, the whole film rests on his shoulders; most of the other characters are secondary with Laura Dern, particularly wasted, in a thankless bit-part. However, the theme of a downward spiralling individual forced to confront his past – and his addictive problems – is reflected well, in the coveting of material objects and their relevance to a person as a whole.

More of a tragi-comedy with the emphasis on the former. It has serious moments of lethargy but worth watching for it’s metaphoric approach to life and to see Ferrell command the screen with depth, in a rare dramatic role.

Mark Walker


Red, White & Blue * * *

Posted in Drama, Horror with tags on November 15, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Simon Rumley.
Screenplay: Simon Rumley.
Starring: Noah Taylor, Amanda Fuller, Marc Senter, Jon Michael Davis, Patrick Crovo, Nick Holden, Mary Mathews.

I’m not a fan of unnecessary violence in movies but when it’s delivered in a psychological fashion like Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” or possibly Shane Meadows’ “Dead Man’s Shoes” then I can certainly go with it and respect the skill of the filmmaker. This shares some similarities with those aforementioned films but ultimately became far too savage and obstinate for me to fully appreciate.

Erica (Amanda Fuller) is promiscuous Texan woman who has frequent, casual sexual relations with different men and completely indiscriminate in her choice of partners. One night she meets Iraqi Vet, Nate (Noah Taylor) and strikes up a genuine affection and friendship. However, Erica goes missing one day and Nate decides to look for her which uncovers some wrong doing and also brings out a sociopathic nature in the seemingly gentle Veteran.

A film of two halves: The first, slow and methodical as it builds the relationships between the characters. During this time, it’s filled with empty and loveless sexual encounters. It has a deliberate pace that may lose the interest of some viewers during this time. However, the second half of the film picks up the pace considerably and relentlessly. It’s filled with violence and retribution and falls into torture porn territory with a frighteningly realistic and ambiguous performance from Noah Taylor. It’s a shift in tone I wasn’t fully prepared for and, as a result, found it a little hard to stomach. This is saying something, as just days before, I had sat down to the dark and disturbing William Friedkin film “Killer Joe” and enjoyed it immensely. The content of that movie was was no picnic (in more ways than one) but this film outstripped even that in terms of it’s lasting and unsettling effect. If I had fully known what I was getting into with this, I’d probably have avoided it. That being said, I can’t fault the construction and skill of director Simon Rumley on his pervading sense of dread or commentary on modern America but the resultant material just isn’t for me. The most interesting aspect is seeing Noah Taylor flex his acting chops in a style that we’re unaccustomed to and proves that despite still being relatively undervalued, he’s a very fine actor.

A stark and uncompromising film that’s very well handled but when it’s disturbing and violent nature takes hold, the content is very tough going. Be aware, there’s a good chance this film will linger long after viewing it.

Mark Walker


Machete * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Comedy, Crime with tags on October 21, 2012 by Mark Walker


Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Ethan Maniquis.
Screenplay: Robert Rodriguez, Alvaro Rodriguez.
Starring: Danny Trejo, Robert DeNiro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Lindsay Lohan, Shea Whigham, Daryl Sabara, Tom Savini, Gilbert Trejo, Billy Blair, Nimrod Antal, James Parks, Stacy Keach.

In 1997, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez released their Grindhouse double bill which consisted of “Death Proof” and “Planet Terror” respectively. They also included a series of trailers beforehand. Of course, these trailers were fictional works but there at least two, so far, that have been made into feature films and director’s Eli Roth and Edgar Wright have expressed interest in adapting their trailers in the future also. One that has already reached the screens is Jason Eisener’s “Hobo With A Shotgun” with Rutger Hauer and the other is this unashamed, violent gore-fest from Rodriguez.

Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) is a former Mexican Federale who is set-up by his corrupt bosses, resulting in the death of his wife and child. He manages to escape death himself and heads over the border to the United States, vowing revenge on those that wronged him. Not before long though, Machete is involved in a failed assassination attempt on US senator John McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro) and again finds himself on the run. It would seem that both betrayals are linked and Machete will stop at nothing to get to those involved.

With a highly stylistic and candid Grindhouse opening that’s nothing less than impressive, it’s apparent very early on what you’re letting yourself in for here. This is not a film that will demand very much from you, other than checking your brain at border control beforehand. I’m surprised that I actually went with this, as I often find Rodriguez’s stuff to be very self-indulgent. This happens to be more of the same and shares Rodriguez’s propensity for some preposterous action scenes. That being said though, it’s still quite a lot of fun. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is and benefits from a great cast of deliciously nasty characters, spouting some choice moments of dialogue. A bit like Tarantino, Rodriguez seems to be able to command a plethora of acting talents and again like Tarantino, gives familiar actors – that have fallen on harder times – another shot onscreen. In this case, Don Johnson, Jeff Fahey and (amazingly) Steven Seagal get interesting characters to play. It’s also fun to see Danny Trejo in a rare leading role and the underrated – but fast rising – Shea Wigham also makes a welcome appearance. The biggest disappointed (as it often is these days) is a criminally underused DeNiro. All in all though, it’s the cast that play a big part in the enjoyment of this cliche ridden homage to 70’s exploitation flicks where it also can’t resist throwing in a satirical commentary on US immigration policy. Rodriguez’s style is, without doubt, an acquired taste and one that I admittedly don’t always have but if you’re a fan of his films then this should go down nicely.

Not a lot can be said about a film that is ultimately about showcasing the many different ways a person can perish at the mercy of a machete. You can either accept the premise and run with it or you can avoid it completely. Either decision would be entirely understandable, as this is a film that will only work on a complete suspension of disbelief.

Mark Walker.


Jack Goes Boating * * * *

Posted in Drama with tags on June 27, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Screenplay: Robert Glaudini.
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Richard Petrocelli, Thomas McCarthy.

Throughout the years – either in leading roles like “Love Liza” “Capote” and “Doubt” or supporting roles such as “Boogie Nights” or “The Big Lebowski” – Philip Seymour Hoffman has always delivered consistency. As a result of this, he has become one of my favourite actors and like many respected performers he now takes his first step into directing. For his material, he chooses a play that he’s familiar with (and one that he performed off-broadway). Wisely, Hoffman behind the camera doesn’t go for anything flashy but instead, delivers a solid low-key character study.

Jack (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a lonely chauffeur to Manhattan’s upper middle classes. He takes comfort in his reggae and secretly wants to be a Rastafarian. He also possesses a shyness which leaves him with very few friends. The one’s that he does have, are his neighbours Clyde (John Ortiz) and Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega). Playing match-maker, Lucy introduces him to another of life’s shy souls; Connie (Amy Ryan). As they awkwardly attempt to make a connection, they find that life doesn’t always have to be a struggle.

It’s because of the range and high level of Hoffman’s performances that I was so eager to see how he faired behind the camera. Now, this isn’t a film that will instantly have you singing his praises from the rooftops but what it is, is a slow moving and deeply involving drama that pays attention to it’s characters and their subtleties. This film is in no rush whatsoever but it’s all the better for it. It allows us to completely get inside the minds and the hearts of the characters and allows the actors (in this case, four of them) to take centre stage and provide the goods. In keeping with playwright Robert Glaudini’s off-broadway show, Hoffman casts the same actors; John Ortiz, Daphne Ruben-Vega and himself all reprise their roles. They all seem on very comfortable ground and new arrival Amy Ryan, no less so. Ultimately, this is a film about performances and they are all uniformly brilliant. They deliver vulnerable characters at odds with themselves and the world, showing extensive ranges of loneliness and weary outlooks.

An emotive and pragmatic slice-of-life that’s strictly for lovers of slow moving cinema. Some may find it tentative or cloying but I found it showed an awareness from a welcome new director.

Mark Walker


Casino Jack * * * 1/2

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


Director: George Hickenlooper.
Screenplay: Norman Snider.
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, Jon Lovitz, Rachelle Lefevre, Maury Chaykin, Spencer Garrett, Eric Schweig, Graham Greene, Christian Campbell, Yannick Bisson.

Throughout his career, director George Hickenlooper would switch from documentaries to feature films. He is probably better known for “Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse” where he brilliantly documented the trouble that Francis Ford Coppola had in making “Apocalypse Now“. His abilities in delving into true murky situations are also reflected in this account of a 2006 Washington D.C. political scandal.

Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey) is a self proclaimed family man, Republican and devout Jew. He also happens to be a lobbyist who wields a lot of influence with politicians and businessmen. Along with partner Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper), he decides to lobby a casino for a Native American tribe, stealing millions from them in the process. He also sets up an illegal chain of offshore casinos that involve gangsters and eventual murder. Abramoff is highly ambitious and lacks morals and that’s exactly what leads to his conviction on charges of conspiracy and mail fraud and the downfall of many politicians who were happy to do business with him.

If you’ve ever seen Kevin Spacey get interviewed then you’ll know that he has an ability to do impressions. This is a role where he is given a bit of leeway to show a few of them; Al Pacino, Ronald Regan and Bill Clinton among others. It’s also a role that allows him to give a few of the cocksure Spacey rants that we have become accustomed to. It’s one of the better roles that he’s had over recent years and he makes the most of it. It’s him that keeps this film anchored as it attempts to cover more ground than it can handle. It can’t be easy covering true events and trying to be as honest about them as you possibly can, without losing sight of a few things. Hickenlooper has a good go and doesn’t shy away from naming names involved in the scandal. He doesn’t change anything; Abramoff and Michael Scanlon are put under the microscope and political big-hitters like President George W. Bush (of course) and Senator John McCain are also implicated. It’s a brave move and Hickenlooper and screenwriter Norman Snider deserve credit for their bravery. Speaking of which, Snider’s writing is fast-paced and snappy. He starts with a bang and never really let’s up. He drops names into the mix and moves from person to person in quick succession, showing the extent and depth of the corruption that political figures, so often, finds themselves in. However, this is also part of the film’s problem: there’s too much going on and it attempts to move into comedy territory that doesn’t suit the seriousness of the characters’ downfalls. The inclusion of the highly irritating comedic actor Jon Lovitz was a bad move entirely. He seems as if he’s walked on to the wrong set. As mentioned though, Spacey keeps the film interesting and despite an underwritten role, Barry Pepper lends some excellent support as his partner in crime. What I found most intriguing though, was the story itself. Maybe I’ve been leading a sheltered life but I don’t recall this corruption being broadcasted or reported, despite it being compared to the scale of the Watergate scandal of 1972. I’d never heard of Abramoff either, who has been a colourful and highly influential figure in recent American politics. Not to mention, a producer and writer of the Dolph Lundgren movie “Red Scorpion”. Truth does indeed have a funny way of being stranger than fiction.

Political backhanders and downfalls are exposed in a fast-paced and comedic style. It’s doesn’t succeed on all accounts but remains an intriguing story.

Mark Walker


Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark * * 1/2

Posted in Horror with tags on February 11, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Troy Nixey.
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins.
Starring: Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison, Alan Dale, Jack Thompson, Julia Blake, Edwina Ritchard, Garry McDonald, Emilia Burns, Guillermo del Toro.

Having delivered such quality horror films in the past with “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan Labyrinth”, Guillermo del Toro does the producing and writing duties on this. He had the intention of directing it himself but due to a hectic schedule, the directing reins were handed to first time feature director Troy Nixey. Maybe, if del Toro had helmed this, it wouldn’t have been as uneventful. But then, he did write the script, which is the films ultimate letdown.

Young Sally (Bailee Madison), who’s neurotic, overmedicated, and feels unloved, is sent to live with her divorced father, Alex (Guy Pearce). He’s renovating a spooky old mansion with his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes), but the house has a terrible history. It doesn’t take long for the little girl to hear strange voices, calling to her from a boarded-up basement, behind a furnace vent. The voices belong to monstrous little creatures who mean to overtake her as their latest “friend.”

It builds slowly and assuredly the way a good horror story should. It has the vulnerable child; the disbelieving parents; the grand, dark mansion with it’s enigmatic groundskeeper and the, always reliable, things that go bump in the night. With everything in place, you expect it to take off at some point, but it never does. The good use of atmosphere is wasted and the acting is wooden but even they are overshadowed by a sluggish pace and dull formulaic script. When the little creatures are finally revealed, it looks like it may be onto something but as impressive as they are, they are ultimately underused. Even they couldn’t prevent the tediousness this film has. About half way in, my suspicions were realised as this was never really going to go anywhere and as a result my interest waned.

The fact that this film lay in limbo for 2 years, before being released, says it all really. Like so many horror films (and remakes) these days, it promises so much but delivers so little.

Mark Walker


Edge Of Darkness * * *

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


Director: Martin Campbell.
Screenplay: William Monahan, Andrew Bovell.
Starring: Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Bojana Novakovic, Shawn Roberts, David Aaron Baker, Jay O. Sanders, Damian Young, Denis O’Hare, Caterina Scorsone.

Having concentrated more on his directorial duties with “The Passion of the Christ” and “Apocalypto”, Mel Gibson had seemingly abandoned acting. This is his first acting vehicle since 2002’s “Signs” and straight away he’s back to doing what he does best; playing unhinged loose cannons.

When the daughter of veteran Boston detective Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson) is killed in front of him, police assume he was the target. But Craven begins to suspect it’s to do with the shady businessman Jack Bennett (Danny Huston) she was working for and begins to start digging to uncover the truth.

The advertising campaign for this film is quite misleading. This is no slam-bam actioner like they would have you believe, but if you are familiar with the 1980’s BBC television mini-series on which it’s based, then you’ll have a better idea of what to expect. This is a slow burning conspiracy thriller that’s very deliberately paced and certainly in no rush to tell it’s story. It’s mainly dialogue driven with Mel not giving too much away while teetering on the brink. Then all of a sudden there are graphic bursts of violence and action that have you jumping out of your seat. These moments are highly effective and realistic but unfortunately too few. The performances are good, Gibson can do this stuff in his sleep, the sleazy Danny Huston can do likewise, as can Ray Winstone playing yet another hard man. The problem is, they talk a good game. Sitting around bumping their gums when they should be bumping some heads and leave a few unexplained plot strands along the way.

A decent conspiracy thriller with highly effective and unexpected bursts of action. Unfortunately, the action is just a bit too sporadic for it to completely grip.

Mark Walker


The Next Three Days * * * 1/2

Posted in Crime, thriller with tags on February 1, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Paul Haggis.
Screenplay: Paul Haggis.
Starring: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Brian Dennehy, Liam Neeson, Lennie James, Olivia Wilde, Ty Simpkins, Daniel Stern, Helen Carey, Kevin Corrigan, RZA, Jason Beghe, Aisha Hines.

Having cut his teeth on Television shows (“ThirtySomething”, “L.A. Law” and “Due South” among others) and writing screenplays for Clint Eastwood (“Flags of Our Fathers”, “Letters from Iwo Jima”, “Million Dollar Baby”) as well as a Bond film (“Casino Royale”), Paul Haggis has only really directed a handful of films. Quite a surprise, considering he’s been around for a while but also quite consistant in his directorial duties.

Out of the blue, businesswoman Lara Brennan (Elizabeth Banks) is arrested and convicted of murder, her teacher husband John (Russell Crowe) the only one who believes her innocence. When appeals are exhausted, Lara becomes suicidal, and as their son is suffering, John decides to break her out.

This film reminded me of the type of material director Ron Howard would be drawn to. In some ways it even starts out how he would have made it; underwritten characters; emotional family upheavel; the every man’s fight to keep his family together. Something along the lines of Howard’s earlier film “Ransom”. That film happened to be one of Howard’s better forays but he has made some crap and the beginning of this film shaped up like the usual Howard Hollywood hokum. However, Haggis is in charge and with the normally reliable Russell Crowe onscreen, as well as some nice short appearances by the likes of Brian Dennehy, Daniel Stern and Liam Neeson, this film trancends it’s uncertain material into a gripping fast-paced thriller. Credulity is in question on several occasions and the lack of drive in the beggining threatens to sink the whole affair but it takes a dramatic turn for the better in the second half, having more in common with 1993’s “The Fugitive” and almost as exciting. It’s not often we get a jail-break film from the outside perspective and with Crowe’s subtle show of strength and dynamic central performance, we get a story that just about manages to suspend disbelief by taking you to the edge of your seat.

It may be a slight step down from Paul Haggis’ earlier films “Crash” and “In the Valley of Elah” but despite this, it shows that he’s a capable director of suspense and thrills. Two thirds of a fine film.

Mark Walker