Archive for 2011

The Son Of No One *

Posted in Crime, thriller with tags on May 10, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Dito Montiel.
Screenplay: Dito Montiel.
Starring: Channing Tatum, Al Pacino, Ray Liotta, Katie Holmes, Juliette Binoche, Tracy Morgan, James Ransone, Jake Cherry, Brian Gilbert, Ursula Parker.

Writer/director Dito Montiel made a great debut in 2006 with the autobiographical “A Guide To Recognising Your Saints“. He made good use of working class, New York locations and assembled an impressive cast. He does the same with this but the end result is far less satisfying.

Jonathan White (Channing Tatum) is a rookie cop who seemingly has the world on his shoulders. He is assigned to the same Precinct of his late father in the same district where he grew up as two unsolved murders from his childhood resurface. These murders may or may not involve him and/or retired Detective Charles Stanford (Al Pacino). Anonymous letters begin to appear from a person who claims to know the identity of the killer and Precinct Captain Marion Mathers (Ray Liotta) wants the case cleared up before it threatens the lives and careers of some possible corrupt cops.

Montiel approaches this with a real gritty realism and the film starts very positively. Name, after recognisable name, appear on the opening credits and the talented cast of excellent performers lead you to believe that this might be something quite special. This belief actually lasts for the first half hour or so, as Montiel builds the layers of his story and employs the use of flashbacks to do so. However, it reaches a point where you realise the film has no sense of urgency and that you’re none the wiser as to what the hell is going on. This is not because the story is complicated but because the actions and behaviour of most the characters are frankly, baffling. If Montiel had a coherent story to begin with, then he certainly doesn’t know how to tell it. It, quite simply, doesn’t make sense and the plot holes are insulting. I’d be revealing too much to go into detail but the denouement itself is absolutely ludicrous and you can’t help but feel sorry for the actors. Even they have a look of bewilderment. I often wonder what great actors see in a script and whether any of them even read this one? I can only assume that some of this film was lost on the cutting-room floor and that in script form it actually made sense because if it didn’t, I think everyone involved (including Pacino) should take a sabbatical.

90 mins of unintelligible, inarticulate pap. After this and stinkers like “88 Minutes” and “Righteous Kill” it would seem that Al is losing his touch in recognising a good crime thriller. In fairness though, this might just come down to a bad case of editorial yips.

Mark Walker


Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy * * * *

Posted in Mystery, thriller with tags on May 8, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Tomas Alfredson.
Screenplay: Peter Straughan, Bridget O’Connor.
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, David Dencik, Stephen Graham, Konstantin Khabensky, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Simon McBurney, Kathy Burke.

After the success of his Swedish horror film “Let the Right One In“, director Tomas Alfredson tackles the novel of John le Carre which first aired as a British TV miniseries in 1979 starring Alec Guinness. It’s a tough project to take on, when all eyes are on you but Alfredson’s abilities are perfectly suited to the material.

After a botched mission, the head of MI6, British Intelligence spymaster, known as Control (John Hurt) is sacked from the agency along with his number-one man, George Smiley (Gary Oldman). Soon after their sacking, information is revealed that a Soviet mole has infiltrated the Secret service and worked his way up to the highest echelon. Smiley is then approached to take on a new assignment: spy on the spies and find out who the mole could be.

The first thing to grab your attention about this film is its style. It captures London in the 1970’s to the minutest detail and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema deserves every credit for his striking work here. To compliment the lush imagery is a perfectly pitched score by Alberto Iglesias and within minutes the game, that is espionage, is set. Alfredson is a director that obviously likes to work at a certain pace. That pace may be excruciatingly slow for some people but it can also be highly effective. In this case, it’s the latter. This film ruminates long and hard on it’s characters and their subtleties. However, it is so convoluted and dialogue driven that the slightest lapse in concentration will leave the film incomprehensible. I don’t profess to have understood it entirely but I kept up to speed enough to be left satisfied with the outcome. My review of this may be posted a little early though, as this is a film that definitely requires at least two sittings. For that reason, I have settled on my current rating but that will only ever get higher if I ever get around to that second viewing. A couple of criticisms I had was a lack of any real action. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting Jason Bourne to make a appearance but it threatened a few exciting set-pieces and then didn’t deliver. The other was the identity of the double-agent; it became clear earlier than it should have which lessened the impact of the final revelation. These are small gripes though as the suspense and intrigue were engrossing and more than competently handled by the director and his eclectic cast of quality British actors – I happen to be an admirer of every one of them. It’s Oldman though, in the lead role, that is the real standout. He’s very reserved and it’s a performance that may disappoint fans of his intense roles like Drexl from “True Romance” or Stansfield from “Leon” but he holds a presence that hints of something darker to his character. At first, it was a performance that I didn’t really see what all the fuss – and Oscar nomination – was about. That was, until the film draws to close and you realise that Oldman has had you captivated for over two hours. The story itself is difficult to speak of as I’d be entering into spoiler territory, not to mention my review would be in danger of becoming very long-winded. Rest assured though, this is a thoroughly involving and accomplished mystery.

An enthralling and masterfully constructed spy thriller that is handled with such a deftness of skill that it doesn’t allow you to switch off for a second.

Mark Walker


Shame * * * * *

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


Director: Steve McQueen.
Screenplay: Steve McQueen, Abi Morgan.
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie, Lucy Walters, Alex Manette, Hannah Ware, Elizabeth Masucci, Rachel Farrar, Mari-Ange Ramirez, Robert Montano.

In 2008, director Steve McQueen made his directorial debut with the devastating drama “Hunger” about the last six weeks in the life of Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands. Michael Fassbender was his lead in that unflinching portrayal. Three years later, they reunite for this equally powerful drama about sex-addiction.

Brandon Sullivan (Fassbender) is a successful New York businessman. He leads a comfortable lifestyle, including that of a bachelor, where he spends most of his evenings sleeping with different women. It all seems normal on the surface but the unexpected arrival of his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) upturns a deeper side to him. It appears that his sexual appetite may be more serious than he’s been willing to confront.

Michael Fassbender has been steadily building a reputation for himself since he came to attention in McQueen’s debut and followed it up with consistent turns in Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds“. He’s an actor in very high demand at the moment and judging by this performance alone, you can see why. This is as good as any he has delivered. If not better. Sometimes actors go above and beyond the call of duty; Harvey Keitel in “Bad Lieutenant” and Charlotte Gainsbourg in “AntiChrist” are a notable couple. Fassbender can be, courageously, included amongst them. He exposes himself in every sense of the word and delivers the most fearless and vulnerable performance of 2011. His portrayal of Brandon is a deeply complex piece of work. He’s an enigmatic character that grooms and dresses immaculately. He takes pride in his appearance but not his actions. He cannot connect with people on an intimate level and as a result, develops a voracious appetite for sexual encounters and material. His lack of connection also extends to his emotionally fragile sister, who so obviously needs his help and it’s the very arrival of his sibling that brings his shame to the forefront. His use of pornography, prostitutes and masterbation can’t be hidden anymore. This is when he has to confront his own self-loathing and sexual addictions. His encounters are all meaningless and any that do show meaning, he can’t perform. This is a truly harrowing character study of the failure or inability to truly connect with people – especially in the times and congested environments we live in. Despite the numerous sexual encounters, there is nothing erotic about this film. It’s purely focused on the turmoil of one man’s spiralling journey of self-harm. Carey Mulligan cannot go unmentioned for her emotional performance here also. Her role is not as in depth as the protagonist and she has less to work with but she’s the catalyst for the unravelling of the film and brings a much needed heart into the mix.
McQueen’s direction is near flawless and meticulous in it’s detail. He takes a step back from his actors and captures moments in facial expressions and eye contact. Words don’t always need to be said and if anything, it’s all the better for it. He allows an intelligence from his audience and he’s aided by some stark and clinical cinematography by Sean Bobbitt, in capturing the emptiness in these damaged peoples lives.
I have now lost count of the amount of film’s and performances of 2011 that were, unforgivably, overlooked at the Oscars. This is most certainly one of them. The title of this film should be shouted continuously in the faces of the Academy voters. It’s a disgrace it was omitted.

This may prove to be a difficult or controversial film for some people. It’s certainly not for the prudish or sensitive of heart but I, for one, think it’s essential viewing. A powerful and provocative collaboration between Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender has developed and I can only hope they continue to make more films in the future.

Mark Walker


Crazy, Stupid, Love. * * * 1/2

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on May 5, 2012 by Mark Walker


Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa.
Screenplay: Dan Fogelman.
Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon, Analeigh Tipton, Jonah Bobo, Joey King, Liza Lapira, John Carroll Lynch, Beth Littleford, Josh Groban.

When the black-comedy “Bad Santa” was released in 2003, it brought some attention to it’s writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. They went on to make their co-directing debut in 2009 with “I Love You Phillip Morris” and showed that they are as good at direction as they are with words. This one, marks their second directing collaboration together and a different change of style.

Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) is a seemingly happy husband until one evening during dinner, Sally (Julianne Moore), his wife of 25 years, tells him she wants a divorce. Suddenly finding himself on his own and struggling, Cal meets lounge lizard Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), a young man who decides to take him under his wing and teach him the ways of being single, and how to seduce any woman he wants.

This may be slightly new territory for the directing duo of Ficarra and Requa but as they have proven in the past with “Bad News Bears” they are able to tone down their lewd humour for a more accessible audience. As a result they lose some of the risqué humour that makes their writing so appealing but another new thing is, they didn’t write this film. However, the directors still know how to deliver the laughs, even if they are toned down. Put simply, this is a romantic comedy and I’m not a fan of the genre. However, this aims a little higher than usual for the formula and hits the mark on more than a few occasions. That’s thank in large to it not being your standard boy-meets-girl scenario. Of course, it has elements of this but it’s structured in such a teasingly elaborate way that it keeps it fresh and maintains your interest. It also has a good understanding of the pathos involved with relationships, giving the actors some dramatic material to counteract the comedy. It’s finely tuned with good characterisation and handled well by endearing performances from an impressively assembled cast. With the exception of an underused Kevin Bacon, everyone else gets their fare share of screen time. Gosling shows some good comedic talents despite being better known in dramatic roles and Carell can do the tragic everyman in his sleep. The real comedy highlight though, is a scorned and neurotic Marisa Tomei. She delivers regular laughs whenever on-screen. Overall it’s a collective piece of work though and a real surprise that I enjoyed it as much as I did. Be warned though, the first half-hour is standard rom-com territory but if persevered with, it picks up after that.

It lacks the provocative and outrageous humour “I Love You Phillip Morris” benefited from but still has plenty of genuinely funny scenes. One of the better romantic-comedies.

Mark Walker


Rampart * * *

Posted in Drama with tags on May 5, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Oren Moverman.
Screenplay: James Ellroy, Oren Moverman.
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Robin Wright, Ned Beatty, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Sigourney Weaver, Ice Cube, Ben Foster, Steve Buscemi, Brie Larson, Audra McDonald, Robert Wisdom, Jon Bernthal, Jon Foster, Stella Schnabel.

L.A. Confidential” was an exceptional adaptation of hard-boiled, crime writer James Ellroy’s novel. Most other adaptations tend to be flawed. “Dark Blue“, “The Black Dahlia” and “Street Kings” had decent material but didn’t grip as well as they should have. This is another that suffers from a similar problem.

In 1999, the Rampart division of the Los Angeles Police Force is rife with corruption. Amongst, the main culprits is ‘Date Rape’ Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson). He’s a cop that plays by his own rules and lives by an old-school code. His reputation precedes him and is heightened even further when he’s caught on video assaulting a driver who crashes into him. To try and thwart the attention of the media and ever increasing public frustration, his superiors suggest retirement. Dave refuses and attempts a legal case but it only draws him deeper into his murky past.

Three years previously, Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster and Steve Buscemi were all involved in Oren Moverman’s brilliant directorial debut “The Messenger“. They all assemble again for this but where Moverman showed a skilful subtlety in his debut, he decides to get a bit flashy with this one. That’s his first mistake. He teases a powerful performance from Harrelson – like he did before – but he doesn’t utilise Foster or Buscemi the way he should. That’s his second mistake. And as if that’s not enough, he has James Ellroy himself, co-writing the screenplay with him, yet the focus is on one character – rather than tapping into Ellroy’s abilities in convoluted narrative arcs. Three strikes and you’re out Oren. That being said though, the character of Dave Brown and Harrelson’s strong central performance provide enough powerful material to hold your interest. There’s a real intensity to the man and Harrelson delivers the perfect balance of a man teetering on the brink of the immorality. He received an Oscar nomination for “The Messenger” but I actually think this is a better performance. Moverman doesn’t do him any favours though. He employs a flamboyant handheld approach that’s so distracting that is verges on awful and it detracts from the drama. A good director shouldn’t be noticed before his performers. Speaking of which, the supporting cast is impressively assembled but few get any substantial screen time, leaving the descent of Dave Brown the film’s main focus, much in the same way as Harvey Keitel’s “Bad Lieutenant“. Where that film succeeded though was in having the courage of it’s convictions. This threatens to but draws to a less than satisfactory conclusion.

If it wasn’t for Harrelson, this film wouldn’t have worked as well as it does. Moverman rightly received plaudits for his debut but he has gotten a bit ahead of himself here. Hopefully he’ll learn his lesson for next time.

Mark Walker


In Time * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Science Fiction with tags on May 5, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Andrew Niccol.
Screenplay: Andrew Niccol.
Starring: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Vincent Kartheiser, Olivia Wilde, Johnny Galecki, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew Bomer, Yaya DaCosta, Ethan Peck, Toby Hemingway.

Writer/director Andrew Niccol is no stranger to scientific ideas. In 1997 he delivered the Orwellian genetic engineering “Gattaca“. In 2002 he tackled computer generated imagery in “S1mOne“. He also penned the predictory script to reality TV in 1998 with “The Truman Show“. Fantasy and Science Fiction seem to be genres that he’s comfortable with but this is not one of his better efforts.

In the not too distant future, people stop ageing when they reach 25. If they are wealthy though, they can buy time. The rest, have to work for it. Lifespan has replaced money in this dystopian world. One of the workers, Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), is gifted time from a suicidal friend, which allows him to escape his poor background and experience the life of the rich. But there are state police, known as “Time keepers” who are out to thwart his new life.

The premise to this is quite an intriguing one and the dystopian futuristic setting is wonderfully captured by the Coen brothers’ regular cinematographer Roger Deakins. It’s just a shame that with such a strong base to work from, it becomes nothing more than a chase thriller and abandons any attempt to delve into some possible existential theories. Even as a chase thriller, it lacks any form of excitement. It has it’s moments but ultimately the film takes too long in getting to it’s destination. Time is of the essence for it’s characters and ironically, it also gets taken from us, having to slog through this. I’m not Justin Trousersnake’s biggest fan, but he delivers a decent performance. However, the progression of his character as a future ‘Clyde’ to Seyfried’s ‘Bonnie’ is uneasy and a little hard to take. Cillian Murphy’s ‘Time keeper’ police officer is quite an intriguing one but he has little, to no, backstory. When we are given a glimpse into his character it’s too little too late. It’s this overwhelming feeling of emptiness that, as a whole, the film suffers from.

I didn’t go into this film expecting a masterpiece or anything but I still expected more than I got. Despite looking good on the surface, it’s ultimately hollow. Fans of the likes of “The Adjustment Bureau” may find more to savour though.

Mark Walker


We Bought A Zoo * 1/2

Posted in Drama, Family with tags on April 26, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Cameron Crowe.
Screenplay: Cameron Crowe, Aline Brosh McKenna.
Starring: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Angus MacFadyen, Patrick Fugit, Colin Ford, Elle Fanning, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, John Michael Higgins, Peter Riegert, Stephanie Szostak, J.B. Smoove.

Director Cameron Crowe is certainly no stranger to maudlin sentimentality. I have found a few of his films rather good though. I enjoyed “Singles” and “Almost Famous” and despite some critical panning, I found “Vanilla Sky” to be a bit of a darker delicacy from him. Even “Jerry Maguire” was decent. However, the abysmal “Elizabethtown” didn’t sit too well at all and I thought Crowe couldn’t crank up the excessive mushiness any further after that. I was wrong.

Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is a widowed father, bringing up his two children by himself after losing his wife to cancer. Things aren’t going well though as his son gets expelled from school and he feels the need to quit his job on an L.A. newspaper. He decides that a fresh start is needed for them all and takes his two kids off to live in a run-down country house with a run- down zoo attached. It seems like lunacy at first but Benjamin decides to refurbish the place and bring the zoo back to life.

There is a question that’s asked between two characters at the end of this film… “If you had to choose between people and animals. Who would you pick?” On this evidence, I’d chose the animals. The cheese factor is so high on the people that they may as well be walking chunks of four week old camembert. I swear I could see the mould on them. The performances aren’t bad per se but Cameron’s direction is so high on the schmaltz that I was crying out for a Travis Bickle to come and wash this scum out of the park. Someone to just take this zoo and just… just flush it down the fuckin’ toilet. Damon puts in his usual, likeable, everyman job and shows good emotive moments. The rest of the cast are also quite appealing and even Johansson’s pout is kept to a minimum. The only glimmer of anything natural here though, is the animals. Everything else is completely manufactured tosh. As mentioned, the problem lies in Crowe’s direction. He doesn’t let the characters breathe and develop on their own. He forces you to feel for them. He feeds you more shit than it’s possible to shovel at a zoo and my emotional state felt violated at his insistence. Subtle, this film is not. Stereotypical and predictable, it is. There’s an integral, recurrent, piece of fatherly advice that runs throughout…”You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” Maybe Crowe shouldn’t have actually applied this advice to himself. He may have taken that twenty seconds of insane courage but something ‘great’, certainly, DID NOT come of it. There is one word that’s correct about that quote though… ‘Embarrassing’. Crowe must be in the midst of mid-life crisis or something. It’s the only way you can explain such nauseating cloyingness. Is he compensating for something, or did mommy and daddy not pay him enough attention when he was a child?

If you have a sweet tooth, then this will be a real treat but otherwise, stick to something with a bit more zest and sharpness.

Mark Walker


Young Adult * * *

Posted in Drama with tags on April 21, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Jason Reitman.
Screenplay: Diablo Cody.
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Mary Beth Hurt, Collette Wolfe, Jill Eikenberry, Richard Bekins, Emily Meade, Brady Smith, Louisa Krause, Jenny Dare Paulin, John Forest, J.K. Simmons.

Following the success of their previous collaboration “Juno“, director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody reunite to bring us another slice of small-town American life. Whether or not is as good as their last outing, depends on your expectations.

Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is a pathological, self-absorbed bitch. She’s already divorced, and dependent on alcohol as she tries to maintain her job as a ghost-writer for a failing series of adolescent books. Having received an e-mail, one day, of news of her ex-boyfriend Buddy (Patrick Wilson) becoming a new father, she heads for her home town determined to reclaim him back from his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) and newborn baby. Mavis will stop at nothing but ultimately, it’s herself that she’s harming most.

Since her Oscar winning role in “Monster” in 2003, Charlize Theron has had a couple of notable roles but nothing she could really sink her teeth into. This, however, is the best role she’s had since then. It’s a character she grabs with the scruff of the neck and delivers an excellent and potent performance. Other than her though, I didn’t find much else to write home about. Maybe this was because my expectations were too high.? I really enjoyed “Juno” for it’s likeable characters and quirky sense of humour and I expected much of the same here but there’s very little humour involved. It’s actually more of a down-beat character study, dealing with failed aspirations, depression and a path of self destruction. It doesn’t make for happy viewing and also doesn’t shed much of a positive light on the choices the characters have made in life. To achieve happiness in life is a matter of relevance. At least, that’s what I think the message was supposed to be but it could have at least had a character that embodied this. Sure, Buddy and Beth seem like a happy couple on the surface but there’s a bit of ambiguity involved. Patton Oswalt delivers some light comic relief as Mavis’ new friend and drinking buddy Matt but despite some lighthearted moments from him, he’s also quite a tragic character. What chance have you got, when your comic-relief is even struggling in life? As I mentioned, maybe if I was prepared for the down-beat approach beforehand, I’d have settled more into this. It’s not a bad film, by any means, but it is a bit sluggish and disheartening.

I’ve heard this described as a ‘tragi-comedy’. It’s a good description but I think the emphasis is on the former rather than the latter.Theron is on excellent form and the real highlight here but the material is a little tough to swallow. It has moments of brilliance but too few to fully satisfy.

Mark Walker


Tyrannosaur * * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama with tags on April 17, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Paddy Considine.
Screenplay: Paddy Considine.
Starring: Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, Eddie Marsan, Paul Popplewell, Ned Dennehy, Samuel Bottomley, Sally Carman, Sian Breckin.

Paddy Considine made a name for himself with dynamic performances in director Shane Meadows’ British, working-class drama’s “A Room For Romeo Brass” and “Dead Man’s Shoes“. Those were two great films that benefited from his intense input. Now, as a director himself, he makes his debut behind the camera and adds another fine addition to the realism and style he’s accustomed to acting in.

Joseph (Peter Mullan) is a widower living on a housing estate and prone to fits of uncontrollable rage. One day, in a charity shop, he meets devout Christian, Hannah (Olivia Colman), who offers to pray for him. Hannah has her own problems at home though, as she is being physically and emotionally abused by her husband James (Eddie Marsan). Joseph offers to help her, in return for her kindness, and allows her to take refuge with him but the consequences of violence still linger despite the chance of redemption.

When British cinema is afforded the best of it’s talents, it can deliver some very hard-hitting drama’s. This can be included amongst the finest of recent years, or any year for that matter. It’s raw, emotional storytelling, anchored by excellent central performances; Peter Mullan has rarely been better as a damaged and brutal man, full of inner rage and Eddie Marsan is perfect as an abusive and cowardly creep. It’s Olivia Colman – who’s better known from the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost TV comedy show “Spaced” – that’s the real revelation though. She is absolutely superb. Going on this evidence, Colman thoroughly deserves more dramatic roles in future. It’s quite simply, one of the finest female performances from 2011. Speaking of which, could somebody please explain why this was, yet another, quality drama with searing performances, that was omitted when the Academy awards were being dished out? Proof, yet again, that films of this type are so often overlooked across the pond. Thankfully though, Considine and Colman recieved Bafta’s for their outstanding work. Having already proved his writing potential with “Dead Man Shoe’s” this is another powerful drama that augers very well for Considine’s writing and directing future. If he continues to deliver work like this, he can consider himself amongst the great UK auteurs like Ken Loach and Mike Leigh.

A stark and depressingly ferocious film that also has heart and a real sense of hope. Like most films of this type, it can be difficult viewing but also worth it. British, working-class “Kitchen-sink” drama’s have rarely been better.

Mark Walker


Haywire * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, thriller with tags on April 17, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Steven Soderbergh.
Screenplay: Lem Dobbs.
Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Mathieu Kassovitz, Michael Angarano, Anthony Brandon Wong.

With a first-rate cast at his disposal, director Steven Soderbergh, decides to have them play second-fiddle to his unknown lead, Gina Carano – a real, mixed martial arts fighter – who has never acted before. Soderbergh himself is also on new ground with his first foray in the action genre. And the results, I hear you say? The results, happen to be rather impressive. Soderbergh’s gamble pays off.

Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is a no-nonsense, highly trained, black ops soldier who gets double-crossed during a government security mission. Assassins from across the globe target her every move and are out for the kill but Mallory turns the tables, in her bid for the truth and her survival.

Double-dealing’s, back-stabbing and espionage across international locations have been done many times before – most recently in the Bourne series. This may leave you feeling that your time is being wasted but it’s to Soderbergh’s credit that he still finds some mileage in it. That’s thanks in large, to his independent approach. The film is well shot throughout, with a minimal music score and excellently choreographed action set-pieces. The fisticuffs themselves are even delivered with the sound toned down, making them all the more realistic and Carano’s fighting abilities are very apparent and impressive. Her acting chops may leave a little to be desired but at the end of the day, she’s there to throw her weight around and that’s exactly what she does. The very fine supporting cast also pitch in and Soderbergh manages to get them sharing scenes with one another. It’s always a pet-hate of mine to see an excellently assembled cast that don’t share any screen time. This fulfils on that front. He also knows not to overstay his welcome and with a running time of approx 90mins, this doesn’t waste any time in getting down to the nitty-gritty.

The story is old-hat and the film has come into some mixed reviews but with an eclectic supporting cast of first-rate actors and a heroine (without the use of CGI) that can genuinely bust a few heads, what more do you want from an action film that pretends to be nothing other than just that. Good quick fun.

Mark Walker


The Rum Diary * * 1/2

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on April 4, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Bruce Robinson.
Screenplay: Bruce Robinson.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi, Amaury Nolasco, Marshall Bell, Bill Smitrovich.

The last adaptation of a Hunter S. Thompson novel was Terry Gilliam’s “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas“. It had the talent in front of and behind the camera but ended up a real mixed-bag. This second adaptation by “Withnail And I” director Bruce Robinson, again, looks like it’s in good hands but doesn’t fair much better.

In San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1960, Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) gets a job on a local newspaper. He also rooms up with fellow reporter Bob Sala (Michael Rispoli) and gets a little too indulgent in drugs and alcohol. Another job falls his way though, from local, ruthless businessman Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), who hires him to do some public relations work on a secret hotel development that will undoubtedly exploit the natives. Kemp soon finds out that everyone on this island is pretty much out for themselves.

Fear and Loathing…” didn’t have a coherent storyline and suffered because of it. This plays out Hunter S. Thompson’s story in a more tame and linear fashion but even this doesn’t work. Maybe Thompson is just one of those writers whose prose don’t transfer well to the screen. On this evidence, that would seem to be the case. It keeps threatening to deliver some chaotic behaviour from it’s drug and alcohol induced characters but never follows through. Instead, it meanders and ultimately ends up a real slog. This is surprising, as Robinson had covered similar ground with the boozy eccentricity of “Withnail And I“, yet he never really gets a handle on this one. The performances are good; Depp can do these off-beat characters in his sleep and there is fine support from Rispoli as his new friend and drinking partner. The highlights come from two of my favourite supporting actors though, in Richard Jenkins and Giovanni Ribisi. Jenkins, as always, is a treat as the short-tempered editor, throwing out line after line of sharp dialogue, adding much of the humour in the early part of the film. He soon disappears from view though which leaves it up to Ribisi to flourish. He’s the most interesting character, as a crazed and constantly drug-idled reporter, but unfortunately, he never really gets let loose the way he should.

It depicts both the glitz and the grime of Puerto Rico and has all the makings of a lunacy filled adventure but, sadly, doesn’t live up to expectations. Director Robinson hadn’t made a film for nearly 20 years… it shows.

Mark Walker


The Ides Of March * * *

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


Director: George Clooney.
Screenplay: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Mantell.

The last time George Clooney stepped behind the camera to direct a political drama – with “Good Night And Good Luck” – he delivered a skilful and vivid dramatisation. This time, with a star-studded cast in the line-up, it looks like he just might do it again. Unfortunately, this doesn’t live up to expectations and ends up, quite a frustrating, indifferent attempt.

Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) is an idealistic young man, helping Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) in his bid for the Presidency of the United States. However, he gets involved in a relationship with campaign volunteer Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) and gets caught between rival campaign managers Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), which show him that candidate Morris isn’t as squeaky clean as he makes out. Before he knows it, Myers is involved in a dangerous game of sex, betrayal and ambition.

The Ides of March” is a (commonly used by Shakespeare) reference to the slaying of Julias Caeser, who was stabbed to death by a group of conspirators, lead by friends, Brutus and Cassius. Using this term as it’s title, you would imagine a film about politics will have some double-crossing, on the level that met Caeser, but on this evidence… not quite enough. Right from the get-go we are thrust into a political campaign and the jargon that goes along with it. It takes a little time and patience to keep up with it’s constant flow of name dropping and rapid introduction of numerous characters and quite frankly, you’d be forgiven for finding it rather dull. Within the half-hour mark, it threatens to sink under it’s own weight. However, once a bit of corruption is thrown into the mix, it steps up a gear and delivers some great dramatic tension. Clooney is a very fine actor but he wisely takes a back seat in the acting stakes, allowing Gosling to be the front runner, with Hoffman and Giamatti biting at his ankles. It’s these three, bitterly fighting it out on the campaign, that bring the drama. When Clooney does show face again, it’s adds extra spice to an already boiling pot of corruption and double-dealing. But just when the film finds it’s feet, it draws to it’s conclusion. The performances are all strong by the aforementioned actors but the talented likes of Marisa Tomei and Jeffrey Wright are wasted in thankless roles. Ultimately, the film masquerades as political intrigue but the message that comes across is mainly about the corruption of youth and idealism.

A brilliantly assembled cast are given some juicy roles and they play them well, but like politics itself, it can be too loaded at times and leaves you feeling dissatisfied.

Mark Walker


Moneyball * * * *

Posted in Biography, Drama, Sport with tags on March 11, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Bennett Miller
Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Reed Diamond, Brent Jennings, Ken Medlock, Tammy Blanchard, Glenn Morshower, Kathryn Morris, Nick Searcy, Jack McGee, Arliss Howard, Spike Jonze.

A slow moving, dialogue driven Baseball film – that features very little actual Baseball – will almost certainly ostracise a large amount of viewers. However, this actually works on a surprisingly dramatic level from acclaimed stage director Bennett Miller.

Based on the true story of financially crippled baseball team, the Oakland Athletics and their general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), who tried to hold them all together. In order to make a winning team with no money, he had to change the sport. To do this, he enlisted the help of smart young analyst Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) and attempted to use a new formula of computer-generated analysis to acquire new players.

How this film manages to maintain your interest – with constant boardroom discussions and talk of Baseball statistics – is testament to everyone involved. Miller’s direction is low-key, adding an almost documentary feel; Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay is full of natural dialogue and Pitt’s central performance is subtly brilliant. This doesn’t rely on special effects – or even on the game itself that much – to entertain. It relies on a basic story well told. The formula of sports films are left far behind for this fly-on-the-wall approach to the business side of things. There’s no players pointing to the sky before knocking the ball out of the park: there’s no clock ticking as the underdog tries to overcome the big-hitters. Well, in some cases you could say this happens. But it happens less on the park and more in the offices and boardrooms of the backroom staff. This inevitably leads to talking. Lots of talking. But thankfully, the cast are more than up for the challenge. Pitt (in an Oscar nominated turn) is an actor that has grown in the maturity of his recent roles and handles the difficult role of Billy Beane to perfection. The normally profane Jonah Hill (also Oscar nominated) is effectively reserved and even Philip Seymour Hoffman, in a vastly underwritten role, manages to speak a thousand words with his expressions alone. The only downside it had was it’s over-length. At over two hours long, it’s hard to maintain your concentration with a film that is primarily concerned with number crunching. However, most of the time, surprisingly, flys by.

An unconventional sports film that focuses on a side of the game that is rarely addressed. In our current financial climate, this has been released at just the right time.

Mark Walker


Beginners * * *

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


Director: Mike Mills
Screenplay: Mike Mills
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic, Kai Lennox, Mary Page Keller, Lou Taylor Pucci, Cosmo.

Writer/Director Mike Mills’ long awaited follow-up to his 2005 film “Thumbsucker” arrives with this independent emotional drama that has a similar sense for the off-beat that his previous outing had. This, however, doesn’t impress as much.

Oliver (Ewan McGregor) is a graphic artist that is coming to terms with the death of his father Hal (Christopher Plummer). In his time of grief, he embarks on a romance with French actress Anna (Melanie Laurent), while remembering the past of his parents’ failed marriage and when his father revealed that he was gay, and dying of cancer.

I can’t honestly say that I was entirely drawn to this film upon it’s release. I only checked it out for Plummer’s Oscar winning supporting turn, of which, he made history by being the oldest actor to ever be awarded at age 82. The performances of McGregor, Laurent and Goran Visnjic are to be commended also though but Plummer does get the juicier role. As for the material itself, it was peppered with an original quirkiness that managed to just about see it through some periodic lulls. It was too slow for me but I have a suspicion that this might serve better on a second viewing. During my initial sitting though, I found it to waver and lose it’s momentum after the hour mark. Ultimately, it’s the zesty characters of Plummer and Laurent that keep the film ticking over and despite a good effort from McGregor, his character is a bit too dull and depressing to fully relate to. As it’s him that drives the story, the journey becomes somewhat repetitive.

A semi-autobiographical and highly personal story from Mike Mills that has an obvious air of catharsis. It just doesn’t allow you to engage, as well as it should.

Mark Walker


Warrior * * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama, Sport with tags on March 6, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Gavin O’Connor.
Screenplay: Gavin O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis, Cliff Dorfman.
Starring: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Frank Grillo, Jennifer Morrison, Kevin Dunn, Maximiliano Hernandez, Kurt Angle, Erik Apple, Gavin O’Connor, Noah Emmerich.

2011 was a good year for movies. Even the ones that tread old ground still achieved their own identity. Just look at the Oscar winning “The Artist“, for harking back to silent films; “Hugo“, for reminding us of the origins and the magic involved in making them; “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” remake also found an audience, a mere two years after the Swedish original. This is another, that manages to take an old formula and still make it work.

Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) returns to his hometown Pittsburgh after serving time as a Marine. When back, he prepares for the world’s biggest mixed martial arts tournament, reconnecting with his father, Paddy (Nick Nolte), who takes up his training. Meanwhile, his estranged brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), realises he has to return to his old fighting ways if he has any hope of saving his family from crippling financial debts.

This is no basic rags to riches sport flick; there’s personal history to the three main characters. It has the working class background and fighting montages that lead to the obvious comparisons to “Rocky” or more recently “The Fighter“. But even though this is on similar, well worn territory, it’s greatest achievement is in delivering something surprisingly fresh and all it’s own. The two lead performances are excellently delivered by Hardy and Edgerton but it’s Nolte, as their estranged alcoholic father, that really stands out. A great moment, in particular, between the tortured characters of Nolte and Hardy in a diner where the tables turn. As soon as Nolte takes over as trainer, he becomes the patriarch once more. Meanwhile, Edgerton (reminding me of a younger Russell Crowe) combines the family man with ferocious fighting abilities more than competently. The sport itself has rarely been covered on screen. David Mamet touched upon it in 2001 in his impressive film “RedBelt” but that didn’t take much of the fighting into the ring. This does. It has the usual sports flick cliches; the underdog; the montages; the friends and relatives watching at home; the opinionated commentary at ringside. If truth be told though, it’s a winning formula. But where this film succeeds is in it’s human drama. The characters are real and instill a sympathy and sensitivity while building to it’s inevitable conclusion. There are moments that genuinely have you on the edge of your seat and ultimately punching the air with delight. (particularly Edgerton’s fights).

Despite the formula and abundance of cliches, this still manages to transcend them and come out a winner. A great sports film that hits all the right buttons.

Mark Walker