Archive for 2011

The Thing * * * 1/2

Posted in Horror, Science Fiction with tags on March 6, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr
Screenplay: Eric Heisserer.
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Paul Braunstein, Trond Espen Seim, Kim Bubbs, Jorgen Langhelle, Jan Gunnar Roise, Stig Henrik Hoff.

John Carpenter’s “The Thing“, released in 1982, is one of my all time favourite Sci-fi/Horror movies. It would have been lunacy to attempt a remake and thankfully, they haven’t. This is a prequel to the Carpenter classic and has similar ingredients. What it lacks though, is the level of terror that Carpenter could achieve.

Palaeontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) recieves a rare summoning to a Norwegian base in Antarctica to investigate a discovery they’ve made: an alien ship, buried beneath the ice for thousands of years, and its sole survivor. When it awakes, though, Kate realises it’s a shapeshifting monster that won’t stop until it’s assimilated the entire crew…

One of the intriguing parts of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (which was a remake of the 1951 film “The Thing From Another World” and based on short-story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr) was the mystery surrounding the origins of the alien organism. Set three days before the opening of it’s predecessor, this sheds light on what actually happened, and how the marooned Norwegian scientists met their fate before the arrival of MacReady (Kurt Russell) and the American team in the 1982 production. The setting is captured perfectly with the Antarctic outpost recreated, from Carpenter’s vision, with meticulous detail but the intrigue of Carpenter’s production is the main ingredient that’s lacking and the atmosphere isn’t nearly as threatening. However, it’s still a competently handled horror flick by first time director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr, who, like director’s Ridley Scott or James Cameron uses a female as the strong central character. This doesn’t compete on the same level as the aforementioned directors’ science-fiction work but by using a female character – instead of treading similar ground with a Kurt Russell type hero – it brings a new vision that give this film a feel of it’s own. Winstead delivers a believable performance, with a bit of testosterone back-up from the reliable Edgerton. Between them, an able cast of unknowns and good attention to detail, this just about achieves what it sets out to do.

If you’re a fan of Carpenter’s film, then the chances are you’ll be interested in seeing this – if only, to get some backstory. If you don’t compare or expect too much, then you might just find that this works on it’s own terms. Nowhere near in the same class as Carpenter but it’s a decent attempt.

Mark Walker


The Muppets * *

Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Family, Music with tags on March 2, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: James Bobin.
Screenplay: Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller.
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Alan Arkin, Zach Galifianakis, Sarah Silverman, Emily Blunt, Whoopi Goldberg, Jack Black, Bill Cobbs, Jim Parsons, Neil Patrick Harris, John Krasinski, Judd Hirsch, Dave Grohl, Mickey Rooney.
Voices: Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Peter Linz.

It’s been a long wait (12 years) since the last theatrical Muppets movie and if this is the best they can come up with in that time, then I think the Muppets have had their day. It speaks volumes when Frank Oz, one of the biggest contributors to the furry little characters, dropped out because he was unhappy with the script.

Gary (Jason Segel) is the Muppets’ biggest fan. On a trip to Hollywood, with his Muppet brother Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) and girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), to visit his heroes’ studio home, he learns of a plot by evil business man Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to destroy the Muppet Theatre and drill the land for oil. The only way he can save the day is to find the disbanded Muppets and get them back together for a benefit gig.

‘Kermit’, ‘Miss Piggy’, ‘Gonzo’ and ‘Fozzie’ etc make their way back onto the screen for a new generation of kids, but in all honesty, I think it was more appealing to the parents who will fondly remember these great little characters from the television show “Sesame Street” which first aired in 1969. However, there is such a lack of creativity in this adventure that both generations should be disappointed. Yes, it’s great to see them again but their humour is seriously lacking. There are a handful (if that) of entertaining moments. It starts reasonably well and looks like it will be a good old fashioned slice of family fun but after the first couple of song-and-dance numbers (that aren’t all that great) you realise that this is all you’re going to get. Amy Adams is an actress I admire but she’s given little to do, leaving the limelight on Jason Segel who completely hams it up with some terrible acting. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting a thespian amongst a group of puppets but he seemed really self-conscious and out of sorts. The introduction of the latest Muppet ‘Walter’, was a decent device to be reintroduced to the old favourites again but it’s the lack of attention the “Sesame Street” gang are given that ultimately let’s the film down. The jokes are few and far between and the story (co-written by Segel) is weak and sluggish, to say the least. Added to which, the celebrity cameos – that have always served The Muppets so well – are even of a lesser standard. These old favourites deserve so much more.

This has received remarkable adulation since it’s release and I have to say, I sit on the side of the sceptics. A very disappointing reacquaintance that lacks the heart and wonder that these fabulous little characters brought to so many.

Mark Walker


Perfect Sense * * * * *

Posted in Drama, Romance, Science Fiction with tags on February 29, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: David Mackenzie.
Screenplay: Kim Fupz Aakeson.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Eva Green, Ewen Bremner, Stephen Dillane, Denis Lawson, Connie Nielson, Alastair Mackenzie, Richard Mack, Stephen McCole.

Director David MacKenzie heads back to the city of Glasgow with Ewan McGregor, after their first collaboration in 2003’s “Young Adam“. That was a gritty and powerful film but here, both of them have excelled themselves, in one of the years most criminally overlooked films.

Michael (Ewan McGregor) is a Glaswegian chef who falls for scientist Susan (Eva Green). She happens to be investigating an epidemic and as they are getting to know each other, people the world over, begin to develop some strange behaviour which leads to them losing their sensory perceptions. First, the sense of smell goes, then taste and so on…

This may be compared (with it’s apocalyptic theme) to the recent Steven Soderbergh, lethal epidemic, film “Contagion“, or more so, Fernando Meirelles’ similar “Blindness” but you’d be doing this film a disservice if you go into it with preconceived ideas based on those lethargic and jaded deliveries. This is a completely immersive human drama that packs some real power and has more in common with one of my favourite films of recent years – Alfonso Cauron’s “Children Of Men“. It has the same stark approach; the authentic feel for the frailty of our society and the same potential demise of humankind. If the end was indeed nigh, you’d expect a bit of chaos and people acting, more than a little, peeved but director Mackenzie and screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson never force this issue, allowing the drama to unfold at it’s own pace, with highly effective mood established by the great use of austere Glasgow locations and haunting music by Max Richter. The two leads also help by delivering believable characters with subtlety and McGregor is given a rare chance to show his range – which he delivers admirably. Fine support is also supplied around him, particularly, some slight comic-relief from his “Trainspotting” co-star Ewen Bremner. The film itself, is essentially a love story but it’s a harrowing and heartbreaking one. As the couple are getting in touch with their feelings and exploring their love for each other, they are losing their sensory perceptions one by one. It’s an intriguing premise that builds slowly and Mackenzie’s assured mirroring of the sensory perceptions waning, allow the audience to better understand how it feels, before delivering one of the most powerful and unrelenting endings of the year.

An unconventional, thoughtful and ultimately poetic, ‘end of days’ drama that deserves to find a wider audience. In a year of films dealing with the nature of our existence – “The Tree of Life“; “Melancholia” and “Another Earth“, this stands as good as, if not better. Simply magnificent.

Mark Walker


The Descendants * * * * 1/2

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on February 20, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Alexander Payne.
Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash.
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Patricia Hastie, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer, Robert Forster, Mary Birdsong, Rob Huebel.

Director/co-writer Alexander Payne’s (handful of) films always deal with similar themes and tortured, struggling protagonists. Matthew Broderick was a hapless schoolteacher in “Election”; Jack Nicholson was an angst-ridden widower in “About Schmidt” and Paul Giamatti was a social-misfit, wine connoisseur in “Sideways”. Now, it’s George Clooney as an estranged workaholic husband/father in Payne’s best film so far.

Matt King (Clooney), a descendant of one of Hawaii’s first white land-owning families, must decide whether to go ahead with a multi-million dollar land deal that will destroy a vast bit of Hawaiian forestry to be replaced with tourists and condominiums. At the same time, he faces a personal crisis. His wife has had a boating accident, leaving her in a coma. Matt now faces the decision to disconnect her life support and become a single father to his two daughters, 17 year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and 10 year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) while dealing with the frustration of the locals at his proposed business deal.

The key to a good drama is finding the right balance between humour and pathos. Alexander Payne has a keen sense for this. He sees the absurdity in every day experiences and paints realistic and flawed protagonists. His characters can sometimes have a comical element to them but they are never trivialised. They are not ‘movie’ characters. They are human with flaws and Payne’s skills in writing show this. He has consistently observed ordinary people in ordinary situations and rarely have they been captured so well. As a director, Payne’s skills lie in drawing marvellous performances from his actors and it’s here that George Clooney shines. He’s an actor that I greatly admire and one who makes intelligent choices. His range is also extensive with hilarious comedic roles in the likes of “O Brother Where Art Thou?” and “Burn After Reading” or serious dramatic roles in “Michael Clayton”, “Solaris” and his (supporting) Oscar winning role in “Syriana”. This film has garnered him some more Oscar buzz with his Third leading actor nomination. And rightfully so. Clooney delivers a subtle and soulful performance that’s not without regular humorous moments either. He’s not alone though. Shailene Woodley as his eldest daughter is marvellous also and lends great support in some heartfelt and hilarious tete-a-tete’s and brief but effective support is displayed by veterans Robert Forster and Beau Bridges. (The latter showing a glimmer of his brother Jeff’s iconic turn in “The Big Lebowski”). The Hawaiian setting could also be included as a character, it looks absolutely stunning playing it’s part as a real feast for the eyes.

Human drama’s don’t come much better or more nuanced than this. Great writing and great acting give rise to one of the year’s genuine gems.

Mark Walker


Take Shelter * * * *

Posted in Drama with tags on February 20, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Jeff Nichols.
Screenplay: Jeff Nichols.
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Shea Whigham, Kathy Baker, Ray McKinnon, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Katy Mixon, Robert Longstreet, Guy Van Swearingen, Tova Stewart, Natasha Randall, Scott Knisley, Ron Kennard.

Michael Shannon has surprisingly been around the acting game since the early 90’s. He even made a brief appearance in the Bill Murray comedy “Groundhog Day” in 1993 but it wasn’t until his scene-stealing Oscar nominated turn in the Leonardo DiCaprio/Kate Winslet film “Revolutionary Road” in 2008, that people took notice. Now, he’s getting regular work and on the evidence of his performance here, you can see why he’s in demand.

Curtis LaForche (Shannon) is a blue-collar worker who lives with his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and their young daughter (Tova Stewart) in the suburbs of Ohio. A series of strange shifts in the weather in the LaForche’s home town seem to signify impending disaster. Curtis quickly starts to kit out his storm shelter and stockpiling food but his paranoia soon frightens his family and alienates him from the town.

Be prepared for a film that’s in no rush to tell it’s story. It demands patience and a level of commitment but if invested in, it pays dividends. Despite it’s glacial pace, this film had me captivated throughout. Credit must go to writer/director Jeff Nichols for his restraint and the trust he shows his audience. He confidently handles the material, in only his second film (his first was “Shotgun Stories” in 2007 – also with Michael Shannon). Dave Wingo also deserves mention for his haunting music score that adds to the sense of foreboding. Ultimately though, it’s Michael Shannon’s solid central performance that’s the real highlight here. His state of mind is always kept elusive. Is there a storm coming? Or is Curtis suffering from paranoid schizophrenia? Either way, something always feels just around the corner. Whether you believe him to be right or not, doesn’t matter, it still has you gripped and it’s testament to Shannon’s skills that he has you completely sympathetic, yet fearful. The moment he finally cracks in front of his family and friends is powerhouse stuff. The ubiquitous Jessica Chastain is no slouch either. She lends some fine support as his patient and bewildered wife, adding to the convincing family drama while the film maintains it’s uneasy feeling of dread.

A provocative and nuanced film that leaves you with an uncomfortable feeling throughout. It manages to be both hopeful and frightening with a strong, memorable performance blowing in from Shannon.

Mark Walker


Another Earth * *

Posted in Drama, Science Fiction with tags on February 17, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Mike Cahill.
Screenplay: Mike Cahill, Brit Marling.
Starring: Brit Marling, William Mapother, Matthew-Lee Erlbach, Jordan Baker, Flint Beverage, Robin Taylor, Rupert Reid, Diane Ciesla, Kumar Pallana.

Director Mike Cahill and star Brit Marling make their feature film debuts after their 2004 documentary “Boxers and Ballerinas”. Their earlier collaboration focused on the lives of people from different parts of the world. This film has a similar documentary style and explores a similar theme.

Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) is a promising student who crashes her car one night, when news breaks that a duplicate Earth has been discovered. A family are killed in the crash but only her and the father John Burroughs (William Mapother) survive. On her release from prison four years later, Rhoda bluffs her way into Burroughs’ life as a cleaner, with the intention of easing her guilt and revealing herself as his family’s killer. Meanwhile, a competition is launched to find the first visitor to “Earth 2”, where the meeting of your ‘other self’ is a very real possibility.

This film has such an excellent concept, that’s so intriguing, that the delivery fails to do it justice. It’s slow and tedious. Keeping it as realistic as possible, Cahill’s handheld-camera is up close and personal to his characters. It add realism but ultimately fails to entertain. The philosophical questions posed are the closest you’ll get to any form of entertainment but these questions are better considered in your own time (read Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave”), rather than watching the tediousness played out onscreen. I normally enjoy speculative drama’s but this lost me about half way in. Not because it’s a noodle-scratcher but because it laboured on the grief and guilt of the main characters, rather than thoroughly exploring the possibilities of our doppelgängers from “Earth 2”. I can’t really fault director Cahill or the actors. They put in competent shifts but it’s the unexplored script that’s the problem. To start with such a hypothesis and then allow it to wallow and fritter out, is very discouraging. Granted, the budget isn’t high and it rests on it’s emotional and metaphysical core but it still falls into a very frustrating lull, from which it never recovers. It’s one that would play well alongside the existential films of Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia” or Terrence Malick’s “The Tree Of Life” but it’s nowhere near in the same league, despite it winning the Sundance Film Festival.

Maybe on ‘another earth’, this film was a masterpiece. On ours though, it’s frankly… dull.

Mark Walker


Fright Night * *

Posted in Comedy, Horror with tags on February 15, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Craig Gillespie.
Screenplay: Marti Noxon.
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Toni Collette, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Imogen Poots, Dave Franco, Chris Sarandon.

Yet another horror remake comes our way with this modern take on the 1985 original. Really though, all this latest one delivers is the use of CGI that wasn’t available in the 80’s. Added to which, the special effects from the original were actually rather good, so ultimately, this is no improvement whatsoever.

Charley Brewster’s (Anton Yelchin) teenage life is going pretty well. He has a good relationship with his mother Jane (Toni Collette); He’s dating the gorgeous Amy (Imogen Poots), albeit at the expense of losing his geeky friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and is about to finish high school. But then he begins to suspect that new neighbour Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a vampire and enlists the help of ‘vampire slayer’ Peter Vincent (David Tennant), to protect himself and loved ones.

Having the claustrophobic American suburbia as your setting, while sinister things are going on, is normally a winning concoction. It certainly looks this way, when we are introduced to our characters from the get go. However, we kind of know where the story is supposed to be heading yet it takes an age to get there. Too much time is spent on yapping and not enough on biting. It’s no big secret that Farrell is the bloodsucking villain of the show but it seems to waste a lot of time reminding you of this, instead of letting his fangs loose. Like the original, the mixture of humour and horror is competently handled (most notably from Mintz-Plasse doing his “Superbad” schtick and Tennant in the mould of a leather clad, ball scratching Russell Brand) and the film does deliver some dark and threatening moments. Overall though, it’s a bit stop and start and has far too many lulls to fully grip. The performances are what (almost) keep the film’s life from draining away. Farrell makes for an intriguing, brooding vampire, seemingly, relishing the role and Tennant adds some much needed zest to the proceedings. Wasting the talents of the wonderful Toni Collette is unforgivable though.

Ultimately, it’s a lacklustre affair that should appeal mainly to the “Twilight” generation of spotty-faced youths. There may be some biting involved here, but really, there’s nothing to chew on.

Mark Walker


The Inbetweeners Movie * * * *

Posted in Comedy with tags on February 8, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Ben Palmer.
Screenplay: Iain Morris, Damon Beesley.
Starring: James Buckley, Simon Bird, Blake Harrison, Joe Thomas, Emily Head, Lydia Rose Bewley, Laura Haddock, Tamla Kari, Jessica Knappett, Theo Barklem-Biggs, Theo James, Anthony Head, Greg Davies.

High-School Teen comedies of this type have been making regular appearances at our cinema screens. The “American Pie” series and “Superbad” are probably the most successful but although this may not reach the heights as those -in terms of revenue – it is a far better film.

Dumped by love of his life Carli (Emily Head), end of schooler Simon (Joe Thomas), along with mates Will (Simon Bird), Jay (James Buckley) and Neil (Blake Harrison), decides to head for Malia hoping for “sun, sand, sex, sea and sex”. Cue crap hotels, embarrassing sunburn, willing girls, alcohol and a boat party of a lifetime.

What makes this film work so well is the appeal of it’s well drawn characters. The camaraderie between the four friends is entirely believable and each of the performances are spot on. It’s hard to find good comedy that has you laughing out loud these days, and even harder for it to keep the jokes flowing. This does both. Within the first ten minutes you’ll get the gist of where this is heading when it depicts one of the main characters wearing a snorkel and using a pile of cooked ham to indulge his pleasures while watching Internet porn. As if that’s not enough, his mum walks in. This is pretty much the level of vulgarity throughout, but make no mistake, it’s side-splitting stuff. At one point, when our four protagonists have seemingly found love, the film looks like it may be losing it’s momentum as it delves more into serious relationship territory but this lull is short lived and the profane foursome begin to spout their quick-witted lued jokes and sexual behaviour once again. It’s when it gets back to doing what it does best that the film still manages to finish on a high note.

I didn’t see much of the TV series from 2008, of which this originated from, but I will definitely rectify that and have a look back. If this is anything to go by, then the series should be a treat also.
A consistently hilarious little comedy.

Mark Walker


Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes * * * *

Posted in Action, Science Fiction, thriller with tags on February 8, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Rupert Wyatt.
Screenplay: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver.
Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, John Lithgow, Freida Pinto, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Tyler Labine, Jamie Harris, David Hewlett, Ty Olsson.

In 2008 director Rupert Wyatt made his debut with British film “The Escapist”. It was a tense and excellently constructed prison drama that was seen by few. Thankfully, someone from across the pond took notice though and gave him a chance on a larger scale. He delivers big-time.

Will Rodman (James Franco) researching a cure for Alzheimer’s takes home a baby chimpanzee after its mother – supposedly a failed experiment – is destroyed. Caesar (Andy Serkis), the chimp, exhibits near-human intelligence, and comes to question his kind’s place on a human planet. After attacking a neighbour, Caesar is impounded and it’s here that he meets other apes and foments rebellion.

This is old school entertainment, in classic B-movie style. It has the hero with a heart and the stereotypical corporate villain. I don’t normally go in for big laden special effects films of this kind but it’s hard to resist when they’re this much fun. Andy Serkis seems to be the actor in the forefront of motion capture these days. His credentials including, “The Lord of the Rings”, “King Kong”, “The Adventures of Tintin” and the forthcoming “The Hobbit”. This, being no less effective. In fact, it may well be his finest yet. He delivers a subtle and soulful performance. As mentioned, the near flawless special effects play a big part in this and are, quick frankly, outstanding.
The biggest disappointment though, is the ending. It’s an obvious set-up for a sequel which leaves an unsatisfying conclusion and the feeling that you’ve just been teased.

As pure unadulterated entertainment this is second to none. One of the most fun-filled films of the year and my personal favourite from the apes franchise.

Mark Walker


We Need To Talk About Kevin * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama with tags on February 8, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Lynne Ramsay.
Screenplay: Lynne Ramsay, Rory Kinnear.
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly, Jasper Newell, Rocky Duer, Ashley Gerasimovich, Siobhan Fallon, Alex Manette, Joseph Melendez.

Scottish director Lynne Ramsay made her debut with the working class Glaswegian drama “Ratcatcher” in 1999. It was seen as an artistic breakthrough for independent cinema in Scotland but sadly it didn’t really catch on. She followed it up with “Morven Caller” in 2002 but no-one came calling. Then she was basically shafted for the duties on “The Lovely Bones” in 2009 – the studio preferring a more “experienced” director in Peter Jackson. Not to worry though as Ramsay has finally got us talking again.

Based on the novel by Lionel Shriver, this tells the story of Eva (Tilda Swinton), the mother of a teenager (Ezra Miller) who careers off the rails, and her struggle to cope with the aftermath of his devastating actions, reflecting on the boy’s childhood and the breakdown of her relationship with both him and her absent husband (John C. Reilly).

No less a horror than say, “The Omen” in it’s depiction of a troubled and dangerous child. But done in such an elusive and dramatic style that it falls into another genre altogether. If a horror director had gotten their hands on this material it would probably have been a slasher movie, but Ramsay brings dramatic weight. The story progresses with a certain distance from the audience, painting the characters in such a fragmented and elusive light, making us uncertain of the outcome. When the unravelling occurs it’s no less effective whether you predicted the outcome or not but that’s thanks in large to Ramsay’s hypnotic direction and intense performances from her actors. Ezra Miller channels the perfect malevolency and Tilda Swinton is absolutely superb as a mother (and person) at the end of her tether. Unfortunately, the talented John C. Reilly is given very little to do as the loving father in the chaotic household and doesn’t quite suit the role. However, the film’s main focus is on a mother and her son and any other characters are secondary. For this reason, I found it’s elusive nature a bit too distant and hard to identify with the characters.

An unsettling drama that packs a powerful punch, but it’s not entirely easy viewing and may leave a bad taste for some.

Mark Walker


The Artist * * * * *

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on February 8, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Michel Hazanavicius.
Screenplay: Michel Hazanavicius.
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell, Missi Pyle, Beth Grant, Ed Lauter, Ken Davitian, Joel Murray, Hal Landon Jr, Nina Siemazsko.

In our modern era of motion capture and CGI – controlling most of what we see on screen – it’s a bold decision for director Michel Hazanavicius to tackle the style of a silent film from the 1920’s. A bold move indeed, but it’s also a masterstroke. This is a true original.

In Hollywood, in 1927, silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is at the height of his career. He’s the toast of the town and loved by all. One day he, literally, bumps into Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). He gives her a head start in the film business but films are changing, with the arrival of the ‘talkies’. Peppy decides to go with the change while George thinks that talking cinema is just a passing fad. Soon his career (and life) is in decline while Peppy becomes the new starlet that everyone loves to love.

Hazanavicius’ attention to detail is flawless. He has the look, the music, the feel, and overall, the actors to pull it off. He also throws in some of his own artistic flourishes along the way, which include a marvellous dream sequence where George can actually hear the cacophony of sounds around him, yet can’t hear his own voice; or the often used billboards and posters that mirror the very actions onscreen.
The performances are superb, particularly Dujardin with his big shit-kicking toothy grin and endless supply of charisma. The man gets away with the entire film by acting with his teeth an his eyebrows but he also conveys a real depth to his character, without uttering a word – not to mention an obvious allusion to classic film actor Douglas Fairbanks.
I deliberated on how I should have rated this film, considering all the hype I’d heard and read beforehand. I didn’t have to deliberate too long though. For the originality – and sheer audacity alone, in not only conceiving the idea of attempting to entertain in a fashion that’s over 100 years old but also in the execution of it – it’s hard not to give this film top marks.

Worthy of the plaudits and superlatives that’s been thrown it’s way. This is one of those films that even though you go into it looking to criticise, you find that… you just can’t.
An absolute delight.

Mark Walker


Contagion * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama, thriller with tags on February 3, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Steven Soderbergh.
Screenplay: Scott Z. Burns.
Starring: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bryan Cranston, John Hawkes, Elliott Gould, Jennifer Ehle, Larry Clarke.

Director Steven Soderbergh is no stranger to switching a theme or two. If you look through the films he has delivered over the years – “Sex, Lies and Videotape”, “Solaris”, “Erin Brockovich”, “Traffic”, “Out of Sight” and “Che” to name a few – you’ll find it difficult to pigeonhole him to any particular genre. This is yet another change of direction from him.

As an unknown and deadly virus spreads across the world, a man (Matt Damon) struggles to cope with it’s tragic impact on his family and the death of his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow), while a World Health Organisation doctor (Marion Cotillard) seeks to find its source and the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet) fight to contain the epidemic and make a vaccine. Meanwhile, a blogger (Jude Law) claims he knows the true cure…

Surprisingly, there are very few of these types of films anymore. The premise is always a winner as it can genuinely strike fear into people but for one reason or another they never seem to reach the screen as much as they should. In 1995 director Wolfgang Petersen released the similarly themed “Outbreak” that dealt with an epidemic of deadly proportions. That film had a Gung-ho approach but the cruciality it had is exactly what this film lacks. Where Soderbergh falters is trying to squeeze in too much detail and not enough drama. His detail is impressively meticulous though which adds a frightening sense of realism but there’s also a feeling of distance from the characters. Despite this, it strangely still manages to hold your attention and even on occasion, your breath. There is some fine acting on show from a first class ensemble – particularly Damon – but with all that’s going on, the investment in the characters just isn’t there, leaving the impressive cast slightly wasted. The premise is a gripping one though and it’s horror in it’s most frightening and realistic form.

A bold attempt by Soderbergh and as a commentary on the fragility of our society it’s a winner, but as entertainment it’s lacks a sense of urgency.

Mark Walker


The Adventures Of Tintin * * * *

Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation, Family with tags on February 3, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Steven Spielberg.
Screenplay: Edgar Wright, Steven Moffat, Joe Cornish.
Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook, Daniel Mays, Gad Elmaleh, Joe Starr, Kim Stengel, Sonja Fortag, Tony Curran.

Herge, the writer and creator of “Tintin” apparently once said that Steven Spielberg was the only director who could truly capture his creation on the big screen. Thankfully for him then that Spielberg has got himself involved, along with visionary support in Peter Jackson.

Uniting elements from Herge volumes ‘The Crab With The Golden Claws’, ‘The Secret Of The Unicorn’, and ‘Red Rackham’s Treasure’, valiant Belgian reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell), along with brainy mutt Snowy, is on the trail of a lost family fortune, involving future friend and rambunctious soak Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis).

I do hope that when (or if) Indiana Jones 5 arrives that Spielberg has a better story to work with. The story here by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish is familiar Indy fare for Spielberg but it doesn’t have enough in the tank to grab you, leaving him to stage one action set-piece after another to keep the excitement flowing. These set-pieces are undeniably exhilarating though and his handle on the animation side is entirely successful. Before him, director Robert Zemeckis tried (and failed) with similar motion-capture animated features “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf” but Spielberg and Peter Jackson have cracked it. The motion capture is flawless and every pixel of animation is refined to perfection. The problem that Zemeckis had was achieving believable and realistic eyes in his characters. That problem is now gone here. It’s so good that it’s hard to accept that real actors are responsible for the performances. Jamie Bell is impressive as the eponymous man-boy reporter and Daniel Craig is a delight as the villain Sakharine, but the real treat here is Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock the bumbling seaman, complete with Scottish brogue and drunken mishaps.

Classic boys-own adventure and the stuff that Spielberg has been churning out for years. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t hold up to the exquisite visuals and rollicking action but it’s still a treat nonetheless.

Mark Walker


The Tree Of Life * * * * *

Posted in Drama with tags on February 3, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Terrence Malick.
Screenplay: Terrence Malick.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Fiona Shaw, Irene Bedard, Jessica Fuselier, Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler, Tye Sheridan.

Director Terrence Malick is an enigma all his own. He’s a closed book when it comes to his personal life and he never gives interviews. Very little is known about him but the one thing that is known, is that he was once a philosophy lecturer and this certainly shows in his visually poetic films.

On the anniversary of his brother’s death, troubled architect Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn) ponders his place in the universe, leading inevitably to powerful memories of his turbulent 1950’s childhood in Waco, Texas – in particular, his formative relationship with his loving mother (Jessica Chastain) and disciplinarian father (Brad Pitt).

The themes for this film will be discussed endlessly but essentially they come down to Birth, Life & Death. Ranging from astronomical to our very own existence. Our paths, be them intuitive, spiritual, empirical or material are also explored. Within this birth, life and death is the violence and cruelty. Most are essential parts of life, while others are unnecessary or learning curves in the journey itself and Malick ruminates on them all. This is quite unlike anything you’ll come across. The closest you’ll get will come from Malick himself, in his previous films. The man has a certain unmistakable style all his own. He’s slow, methodical, even ethereal and there is no other quite like him. I love his idiosyncracy and ability to magnify life and his wonder of it. “The Thin Red Line” still remains his masterpiece, but that took a while to grow on me much like I think this will. I loved this, but I have a sneaky feeling I’ve not taken it all in yet and it may grow to be something even more stupendous than it already is. This is a film that will require several viewings to fully appreciate and most certainly will not appeal to everyone. The beauty of Malick is his appreciation for nature in all it’s forms. Sometimes it can be like watching National Geographic but rightfully it plays a part in his creative process, as it plays a part in everything around us. There’s no escaping it and Malick is highly attuned to this, helped by Emmanuel Lubezki’s gorgeous cinematography. Not content with just some stunning shots of the flora and fauna from our planet, Malick branches out to show us the birth of the universe which is highly ambitious and nothing short of breathtaking. It may well split some peoples opinions of it’s relativity as a whole, but this is no simple family drama. The human element to this story is only the microcosm of the macrocosm. It may well have been possible to omit the cosmic section of the film but it’s inclusion is only a visual expansion of the point and themes that Malick is exploring.
Amongst all the visual splendour there are three fantastic performances. Hunter McCracken playing Jack as a young boy shows a great talent and as the vastly different parents Jessica Chastain is wondrously graceful, while Brad Pitt is astonishingly good at being stern and quixotic. Sean Penn however, is given very little to do and his talents are somewhat wasted.

Malick has achieved mainstream arthouse cinema with this transcendental contemplation of life. It’s an accomplished and ambitious film that’s highly spiritual and deeply philosophical. Simply put, it’s a majestic piece of visual poetry.

Mark Walker


Melancholia * * * * *

Posted in Drama, Science Fiction with tags on February 3, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Lars Von Trier.
Screenplay: Lars Von Trier.
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgard, John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling, Stellan Skarsgard, Brady Corbet, Cameron Spurr, Jesper Christensen, Udo Kier.

With his “Nazi sympathiser” outbursts at the Cannes film festival – getting him thrown out and declared ‘persona non grata’, you’d be forgiven for expecting this latest from director Lars Von Trier to be provocative and disturbing like his previous films. However, it’s far from it and probably the most restrained and technically accomplished film of his career so far.

At her own wedding reception, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is overcome by depression and alienates everyone, including her new husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), her devoted sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law John (Keifer Sutherland). When a new planet, “Melancholia”, appears in the sky and is on a collision course with Earth, some believe it will fly-by, others are not so positive… Justine believes it to be the end.

The intellectual weight behind this one is not as heavy as you might expect from Von Trier. The heaviness comes in the form of watching very unhappy and angst ridden people for over 2 hours. Von Trier’s understanding and personal portrayal of mental illness may seem uneventful, but it’s captivating nonetheless. That’s by and large to his wonderfully artistic eye and strong performances from Dunst, Gainsbourg and Sutherland. The constant reminder of the descending planet adds an unbearable sense of foreboding, again, expressed through Justine and her everyday struggle with depression. The science fiction element to the story plays second fiddle to the human drama but it’s no less impressive. Much like Terrence Malick’s recent “The Tree of Life“, Von Trier is happy to use wondrous images of star forming galaxies. But where Malick explored the birth of Earth, Von Trier explores the destruction of it, making this an unofficially strange, yet apt companion piece. The baroque style that Von Trier employs is also highly effective. From the dominating architecture and artistic flourishes to the haunting classical score, culminating to an eerie and visually striking piece of cinema.

Provocateur Lars Von Trier is not so provocative this time around. Instead he delivers a personal understanding of mental illness, with highly artistic and meditative filmmaking.

Mark Walker