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