27 June 2005

Gangs of New York (2002)

Written by Jay Cocks
Directed by Martin Scorsese.
Starring - Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, Henry Thomas, Liam Neeson, Brendon Gleeson.

Based in New York, in Lower Manhattan's Five Points district in 1883. The story is about a young boy, Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) who watches his Father, Priest Vallon, (Liam Neeson), a Catholic Immigrant from Ireland, killed while fighting in a wild brawl against his rival, William 'Bill the Butcher' Cutting.

The Butcher is the leader of a gang called "the Natives" who believe they have a claim to the area because they were all born in the USA.
The Dead Rabbits as a gang is destroyed and never to be talked about by anyone in the Five points again.

After his Father is killed the young Amsterdam spends 12 years in a Orphanage and then as a young man is released and returns to the Five Points area. He bumps into a few old friends and eventually comes into contact with the Butcher.
Amsterdam becomes close to the Butcher who looks after the young man and teaches him how things are done. Amsterdam is getting close so he can kill the man who killed his Father.

Intertwined with the main story of the film is the sub plot showing the issues of the time, the Civil war, and it's relation to the freedom of the slaves. Scorsese brings this into the film as if what was going on in Five Points was a part of the whole of the history and birth of New York (America?), and in a way it was, but the same story could have been told in a different city in a different country anywhere in the world.
Call me a cynic but I fail to see how a couple of street gangs affected Abraham Lincoln's decision making.


Overall, Gangs of New York is quite a visually pleasing movie, nothing like a bit of blood and guts to add atmosphere ;-).
The Set and costumes were great. The designers obviously went into a lot of effort to get the detail of the era just right. It was a credit to the people who put it all together. The set and costume design both received Academy award nominations too btw.
It was filmed in Rome, Italy (Cinecitta Studios) ... who, in my opinion, did a great job.

I watched this Film not long after it was released and watched it again tonight, it's an OK film but I believe so much more could have been done with it, and Leanado De Caprio just doesn't do the tough guy bit very well. There's so many young male actors who could have played the part with a lot more plausibility. Johnny Depp, Edward Norton and Brad Pitt all would have been more suited to the part...But thats just my opinion.

If you haven't already seen the film it might be just the thing for a night in.

22 June 2005

The Day After Tomorrow



Written and Directed by Roland Emmerich .

Starring -
Dennis Quaid
Jake Gyllenhaal
Emmy Rossum
Dash Mihok


I don't usually watch this type of movie (Hollywood disaster movie) unless it has had reasonably good reviews. This one didn't and to be honest the main reason I rented this movie was because 3 more movies only cost another 2 dollars and I've already watched most of the movies at the Video rental place, and this one had just come off the "Overnight" shelf and onto the "2 dollars a week" shelf ....So in the basket it went.

What was it like?
Basic plot ... A Climatologist all of a sudden finds out world is in danger, tells Government, they don't listen to him, he goes off to save the world from this climatic catastrophe and in the meantime his kid gets into danger, oh, and a couple of the main characters fall in love.
Hollywood disaster movies are just a bit too predictable.

If it weren't for the special effects this movie would literally have nothing to offer at all....The script was poorly written, in fact it was a slap in the face for anyone who likes a story with a plot. The main characters were one dimensional, there just wasn't anything you could really like or dislike about them and the story was completely disjointed with ridicules subplots.

I just get annoyed when these people make a film with a massive budget but still include scenes that look as though they have been written and shot at the last minute. It looks as though some of the scenes have been added just to fit in another Product Placement add. or something. The scene described below is one of those, it doesn't make sense and in a situation like the one the people were in, why risk everything when you don't have to?...Or the girl who cuts her leg, she leaves it until it has festered and she has blood poisening!...I mean c'mon ... she didn't even clean the wound when she went to the toilet? .... and considering there were first aid kits all over the place it seems even more unlikely. I don't mind a bit of Artistic licence but when there's no need for it why stretch a point so far that it actually spoils the movie? Why treat the paying audience like idiots?

So, we have a ship that has floated into Manhattan, the survivors split into 2 main groups, one group, the majority of the people, plan to walk south where it's warm and the other group, consisting of the son of the Climatologist and the girl with the cut in her leg decide to stay put. OK, the group that stays put needs food so he goes outside into the freezing weather to get some and while in this big freighter that floated down Manhattan they get attacked by these wolves that escaped from the Zoo...now, the people who are walking are dying in droves but of course the wolves don't go for easy pickings, they would rather risk their lives trying to attack the 2 healthiest and strongest survives left. That and a whole lot of other stuff just spoils a film that could have possibly had potential ....Anyway there were some OK special affects, but thats about it.

2 stars out of 10... only just.

19 June 2005

Undertow.

jamie (billy elliot) bell puts in a great performance with a very convincing southern drawl in this film, which tells the story of chris, younger brother tim and their widowed father.
john makes his oldest son work from dawn til dusk on his pig farm, trying to instill a sense of responsibility into his son who seemingly cant keep out of trouble in their small southern town.
little brother tim eats paint and anything else that will make him vomit due to an anxiety disorder, but his father refuses to address the problem, as his own sadness over losing his wife takes precedence.
one day, john's jailbird brother turns up (and we discover that john 'stole' his girl all those years ago..) and after learning of supposedly cursed mexican gold coins that the family has in their possession, uncle deel goes about changing their lives forever...

i'd never heard of director david gordon green before, but apparently he has a large cult following. i really liked this film, due to its 70's feel, (somewhat like 'mean creek' which ive also reveiwed.) and how the violence and sadness is intercut with the obvious love the two brothers share, and their adventure together. (although a FAR from perfect one!) the sticky hot southern atmosphere is captured to great effect and echoes 'deliverance' at times.
one minor gripe of mine is that the film is rather slow for a while, but i can let that go, i suppose.
PLUS, part of the opening sequence actually made me audibly YELP in the cinema! something that has never happened in my life! even having watched many, many horror/slasher type flicks! it has to be seen to understand what im trying to say, i guess!
all in all, an enjoyable yet slightly depressing thriller if you dont require non-stop action to float your boat. seven out of ten.

17 June 2005

Rounders


Rounders Still
First effort at a film review here goes.

Rounders is a character based movie set around moody poker dens run by nouveaux Soviet gangsters in 1990's New York. Originally released in 1998 it stars some of the best known faces about the Hills - Matt Damon, Ed Norton and John Malcovich. Playing the sophisticated law student, Gretchen Mol does a great job as Damon's straight-laced female foil.

Mike (Damon) finds himself spotting a huge gambling debt for his recently released friend Worm (Norton) - "I know all the reasons I shouldn't be here, but sometimes reasons don't matter, but no one's ever stood up for Worm". This is poker movie, you can guess the rest, right? It's Hollywood after all? Mike will play for his friend, Texas hold'em no limits and win the money and the girl.

Well, no actually. What is so good here is that it centres around the relationships of its protagonists. This is a character driven movie, not one where the writing gets hauled around behind the plot. There's some great tension in this film wound up by real depth in quality characters that don't get seen enough these days. In particular John Turturro plays something deviously close to Al Pacino's Carlito Brigante in Carlito's Way. He's only a peripheral player at most, but has a great presence as a seasoned grinder who does what he needs but without the ambition other than to grow old. Turturro is the voice of reason, for Mike, telling him to forget his friend and his debt. You can't help feel for Joey when Mike slashes out, echoing Worm's snide aside that Joey doesn’t have the balls for the big game.

Malcovich is supreme as the nouveaux riche Russian head honcho of an underground poker palace. I didn't even recognise the lad until his final few screen minutes. And what a wardrobe! Norton as Worm is superbly greasy and Gretchen Mol is temptation herself. Which left me with a few questions towards the end. That said, Damon never manages to shake off an axiomatic metaphorical theme: life as a (poker) game. He later asks of Mol "Why does this still seem like gambling to you? It's a skill game". By now, he's all in, life and all and he is literally playing by the seat of his pants, for the seat of his pants. To borrow an americanism.

But if poker is a turn off, don't fret. As I've pointed out, Rounders is much more about relationships than poker. There is some action on the green baize, and as you'd expect there is a grand finale of sorts. But there's far more revealing things done and said without the poker.

Recommended on video / DVD / etc.

16 June 2005

'Battlefield Earth'

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Travolta gets to grips with his agent...

My Flabber has never been so thoroughly Ghasted by the medium of film.

A review followed by a challenge to you all:

......So. Despite my misgivings, my curiosity got the better of me and, last night whilst bored, discovered that the aforementioned movie was on ITV2.

Intrigued to see if it really was as bad as people have said I switched it on and settled down to have a good snigger.

The first half hour was pretty poor: Modern-day-American speaking primitives living in wooden squalor, riding horses and hooting at each other occasionally whilst regaling each other with horror stories of the 'demons' that come from the sky.

One of these modern primitives gets in a huff that everyone is so oppressed by the fear of said demons and the fact that people in his tribe keep disappearing, so he leaves the village and his bird and goes off for a trot on his horse, where he meets up with some members of another tribe who take him to a shopping mall.

The shopping mall is part of a ruined city - clearly earth (bearing in mind this is all new to our hero - despite it seemingly being just over the hill from his rustic abode) and whilst fannying around gibbering about 'the gods' and various other things, the 'demons' (read: aliens) appear, zap 'em and capture them all

It is at this point we discover the Aliens are seemingly all members of Sepultura and Gwar that have been put through some kind of 'bigulator' and then dressed by Vivienne Westwood.

They live in a vast dome constructed over Denver (the aliens cannot breathe the same air as us and the gravity is all wrong) and have enslaved hundreds of our hero's hairy chums.

John Travolta appears as the aliens' chief security officer and laughs menacingly a lot.

Now it is here that the experience of watching this movie stopped become slightly painful and more akin to how I had always imagined having a stroke to feel like.

I have never watched a movie with so many plot holes, inconsistencies and dreadful concepts as this rancid steaming pile. I will not bore you with all of the details, but here are the most salient points so as you may (hopefully) feel my pain:

* An extremely lame plot involving senates, alien profit margins and a gold stealing scam emerges, with JT as the ringleader.
* JT Decides he needs 'man animal' help to do it (mine the gold that is) and decides to teach our hero the alien language (via some kind of learning bukkake machines which spunks sparkling knowledge into the eyes of its target).
* When JT is happy that our hero can converse fluently in alien-speak, he reveals to him that the aliens - now known to be called 'Psychlons' (shudder) - invaded the planet 1000 years ago and defeated all the forces of earth in - now remember this, as it is an important point - 9 minutes.
* Our hero, now seemingly gone from caveman to genius in about 80 seconds starts casually wandering around the aliens' base with all of his captured mates, learning all about his hosts, then JT sees fit to take him to an old human library where he tells him to read some books for no apparent reason. A pristine tome containing 'The Declaration of Independence' (remember this book is more than a thousand years old) is the first and only thing he picks up and reads. (Bear in mind at this point no-one has taught him written English, and that the aliens do not speak it either.)
* Hero decides that him and his captured hairy chums can defeat the alien overlords if they Try Really Hard And Believe In Freedom. He rouses the rabble and starts to teach them all his new found knowledge.
* JT decides our hero should have a go in an alien flight simulator.
* When our man is proficient enough in flying alien spaceships, JT tells him and all his pals to go and mine him some gold from this mountain range and then come back so as he can be mean to them again and rub his hands with glee over a large pile of gold. If he doesn't come back, he will kill his bird who has turned up and now has an exploding collar on her.
* Our cunning hero instead teaches all his mates about alien technology, and how to kill the aliens with nuclear bombs. He then flies them all to some army base where they all get to have a go on a flight simulator (Earth was conquered 1000 years ago, remember - not quite sure how this stuff is quite so pristine, let alone working).
* They then fly to Fort Knox where they break in and steal lots of gold so as they can give JT his goods and still have time left to play in flight simulators.
* The hero and friends then find a bunch of machine guns, nuclear devices and lots of shiny-fuelled-and-ready-to-go Harrier jump-jets.
* Our plucky band then hatch their plan, attack the bad aliens with the harriers, blow most of their ships out of the sky, destroy their protective dome and teleport to the alien home planet with a nuclear bomb where (as it turns out) the air is allergic to nuclear bombs and makes the entire planet blow up when it is detonated. Please remember, these are the same aliens who 1000 years ago defeated the entire planet in 9 minutes and now have had their asses kicked by 8 Harriers and a handful of unwashed mangy humans.
* The earthlings are finally free of alien rule and can play on flight simulators any time they damn well please.

#phew#

Apologies for the length of this but it is required to really get across the ineptitude and all round hatefulness of this film. If you have read this far, thank you.

Anyway, my point is that this is conclusively the worst film ever made. It has no excuses. It has no redeeming features. It fails to even be 'so bad that it is good'. It is just deeply, deeply, upsettingly poor. Surely the money that went into this movie could have been better spent on...well, just about anything really.

To sum up:

If 'Independence Day' (the movie, not the event ) contracted terminal amoebic dysentery, the final seeping, blood-and-mucus-ridden slime that slid out of its metaphorical anus just before it expired would be 'Battlefield Earth'.

My Challenge:

Find me a worse movie than this with full justification. You can't do it - it is impossible - but It would be good to see you try.

Cheers.

Review by The Groke

14 June 2005

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou


I watched this film unsure about what to expect. Groundhog Day is one of my all time top 5 films. It’s a masterpiece, a groundbreaking film, a work that manages to be at once simple and close, yet epic and deep.

When Lost in Translation came out I heard that it was Murray’s best film since Groundhog Day and was very excited to see it. I was pretty disappointed by that film.

But I digress. The Life Aquatic, for me, was much more enjoyable than Lost in Translation.

Bill Murray plays a washed-up old celebrity ocean explorer (Steve Zissou) with a massive fan base. The film opens in semi documentary style, showing him on a previous expedition where a close friend of his was killed by an enormous shark.

Then it cuts to the theatre where they are watching the film.

He plans a new adventure to go back and find, and possibly kill, the shark that killed his friend. His estranged wife (played by the ever-reliable Anjelica Huston) declines the opportunity to come with him, but a man claiming to be his son, named Ned, comes, as well as a pregnant news reporter (Cate Blanchett).

This is a truly unusual film. Its quite difficult to class it in one specific genre. One minute it is very funny, yet at the same time it has moments of high drama and tension, along with romance. It is realist yet surreal simultaneously. The ending is also fairly moving.

Jeff Goldblum also puts in an excellent cameo as the coast guard whose equipment they raid.

The part towards the end when, rejoined by his wife, Zissou descends into the ocean in his subterranean craft (which looks like something out of a Jules Verne novel) and they see the shark is pretty surreal too.

A lot of critics disliked this film, but I enjoyed it a lot more than both Lost in Translation and Wes Anderson’s previous slightly overrated (in my opinion) The Royal Tenenbaums.

If you like quirky films that mesh together different genres, this is well worth checking out. Finally Bill Murray is, of course, superb.

7.5/10


By Renegade Dog

'Salvador'

Dir: Oliver Stone :: Script: Oliver Stone & Richard Boyle
Photography: Robert Richardson
Cast: James Woods, Jim Belushi, Elpidia Carillo, John Savage, Cynthia Gibb
US :: 1986


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I first saw 'Salvador', Oliver Stone's gonzo-style, based-on-real-events, tale of an American reporter covering the bloody confllict in El Salvador, as part of the 'Moviedrome' strand, and I remember it fondly. But viewing it again there are many problems with it.

As a story, it's engaging: Richard Boyle [Woods] is an unpleasant American journalist on his uppers who, when he gets evicted from his apartment and his wife leaves him, decides to head down to El Salvador to get the scoop on the civil war brewing there in the early 80s. He takes with him his radio DJ pal, Dr Rock [Belushi], hooks up with the Salvodorean girlfriend he met the last time he was there, Maria [Carrillo], and tries to get down to business.

Guerrillas are in the mountains, the government has cracked down brutally, there are boozed-up death squads cruising around killing campesinos, nuns and journalists alike, and the army is massacring anybody who moves. Reagen has just been elected, and U.S. policy is visibly shifting, with a plainclothes 'State Department' spook and a cigar-chewing American Colonel both doing their bit to combat the Red Menace...

But Stone muddles and mangles real events, leaving the viewer confused by what is going on, beyond a character study of the slob-philosopher Boyle and the latest set piece. From the film, you don't get any sense of why the campesinos are up in arms, why there are paramilitary death squads, but for a brief sermon by Archbishop Romero. Stone reinforces the idea that the paramilitary death squads are just right-wing extremists outside of the government, when the reality is they were firmly under the control of the same oligarchy which backed the government. In comparison with the army, the death squads were small fry (see stats below). Stone also fails to explore the nature of the government at all, preferring instead the sideshow of 'Major Max' (based on 'Major Bob' D'Aubuisson), a communist-hating death squad leader... And even then he muddies the waters, implying he is the head of the Mano Blanco death squad, when in reality D'Aubuisson, a military intelligence officer, was in the Union Guerrera Blanca. And for some reason D'Aubuisson's political party, Arena, is renamed 'Arana'... Only details, but added together and they really do grate.

There are some good performances - Woods and Belushi both convey a brittle realism, and Cynthia Gibb as tabloid TV hack Pauline Axelrod is great - but the clunky speeches Stone sticks in all over the shop are embarrassing. It's a shame, because there are some beautifully structured and photographed scenes (like the government counter-attack on Santa Ana), and the story of El Salvador - and America's rabid attack on it - is a fascinating one. Don't get me wrong, it's enjoyable enough - but Roger Spottiswoode's 'Under FIre' is a far superior and more sophisticated Yankee hack's-eye view of Central America. And it also features Carrillo...

Further viewing:
'Under Fire'
'The Year Of Living Dangerously'
'The Killing Fields'
'Stage Of Siege'/'État De Siège'


Statistics of death squad, army and police killings
(June/July/August/October 1980):

(Office of Legal Aid for the Archdiocese of El Salvador)
Army killings - 1,597; Death squad killings - 404;
Rural police/unidentified - 790
(FMLN-FDR - military and political structure of the insurrection)
Army killings - 1,769; Death squad killings - 591;
Rural police/unidentified - 190

Team America: World Police


Written by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who do most of the voices for the different characters, and Directed by Trey Parker.

The Film uses Marionette puppets in the style of the Thunderbirds (complete with visible puppet strings!) and the filmmakers do a fantastic job.
Some of the scenes in the film are surprisingly realistic, like the one where the model cars are racing across the desert, where as the fight scene at the start of the movie with the 2 marionettes being jiggled all over the place is quite the opposite, one realistic and the other deliberately silly but both equally fun to watch. The scene that will really have you laughing out loud is the love/sex scene between Two of the puppets, it really has to be seen to be appreciated, it was so funny.
The Puppet masters and guy's operating the camera's along with the direction really did a great job.

The premise of the film follows along similar lines as the original children's marionette series "the Thunderbirds", a bunch of law abiding citizens being financed by a rich guy to save the world from all the baddies .... trying to do the right thing but with such a heavy hand they tend to make things worse in the short term, sound familiar? The boy's (Matt & Trey) do a splendid job of insulting all sides of the political spectrum, dishing out "irony" in spades to both the "Left" and the "Right" sides of the moral and political divide
This movie itself is totally irreverent and is meant to be nothing else but a good laugh, while parts of the story line do get a bit drawn out and there is a lot of the same thing, it's still quite funny, and at least Trey and Matt have enough sense to respect the viewing audience enough to know that they don't need to have a "moral to the story" spelt out to them....unlike so much out of Hollywood these day's.

I enjoyed it and will probably see it again, although I am glad I didn't pay full price at the cinema to watch it when it first came out.

If you are Fans of Trey Parker and Matt Stone then you will enjoy Team America: World Police.

13 June 2005

This is Spinal Tap

Example


Perhaps I'm a bit biased in writing this because I have wanted to see this film since it was released in 1984, I just never got around to it. But I am glad to say that I wasn't dissapointed, it was as much fun as I was hoping it would be.

The movie is a Documentry of a British Heavy Metal band doing, what appears to be their final tour of the USA . The filmmaker, Marty DiBergi (Dog food commercials no less) follow's the band around from city to city documenting the day to day drama's and internal politics of the band.
It's a complete mock up of course with deliberate mistakes and attention to detail that makes this movie great fun to watch. Scenes like the one where Nigal is stopped at the Airport metal detecter because he has a whopping great cucumber wrapped in foil stuffed down his pants are classic and the boy's all primed up for the gig getting lost backstage at a concert is one you have to see to appreciate .

If you are having a night in and are thinking about a Video or DVD to rent then this might be just the shot, lots of good laughs.

The movie stars Christopher Guest (as Nigel the Lead guitarist), Rob Reiner (Marty DiBergi the maker of the "Rockumentry"), Micheal McKean (David- vocals, guitar) and Harry Shearer (Nigal Smalls- bass, and who does many voices in the Simpsons), all of who wrote the script for the movie with Rob Riener directing it.




above - Nigel getting his "crotch" scanned at the Airport

Revengers Tragedy (2002)

Dir. Alex Cox Screenplay Frank Cottrell Boyce, based on Thomas Middleton
Christopher Eccleston, Eddie Izzard, Derek Jacobi, Diana Quick, Andrew Schofield, Anthony Booth, Joe Cottrell Boyce

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Always an interesting bod, Alex Cox, and chuck Christopher Ecclestone and Eddie Izzard into the mix, and it seemed a good bet for a sunday night movie. Perhaps I should have got a clue from the title, or even the fact that it was not so much based on, as actually a Jacobean tragedy, but it wasn't quite as light and ribald as I'd expected.

The tone is set from the opening quotation, a chinese proverb that says something like 'those seeking revenge must quicklylearn it is necessary to dig two graves'. It is what it says it is, a tragic tale of revenge - Vindici (Christopher Ecclestone with very bad hair at points) see's his wife (and most pasrty guests) killed by the The Duke (Derek Jacobi), because she wouldn't sleep with him. Pretty quickly it becomes only wise, and indeed necessary, to kill the Duke's son (Lussurioso - Izzard) too - another nasty piece of work, with design's upon Vindici's sister Castiza (Carla Henry).

Vindici endears himself to Lussurioso by kicking the crap out of his brother, and helping getting him arrested for attempted rape. From this advantageous inside position he connives to set the family even more against each other, and it doesn't take much at all. Pretty soon various brothers have been in and out of jail and/or embroiled in scandal, and Vindici's plans seem to go well - and with fairly healthy dose of very blck humour and ribaldry thrown in, to lighten the ongoing rape and necrophilia.

A couple of the cast couldn't quite handle the language, and we kept getting distracted as virtually every scouse actor from the last twenty years gets a role (Billy Corkhill, Sinbad etc). The combination of those accents and that language tho is superb, and keep the film firmly down to earth. It might have been a mistake watching it straight after a video of Dr Who as well, much of Ecclestone's mugging looked very familiar. But overwhelmingly the perfomances were spot on, zesty and full of fun, and it was the best role I've seen Izzard in. Visually the film looks magnificent (bar a crap special effect at the end), conveyng both the sense of the 1600's and of a post-apocalyptic modern city. The camera dives around and cuts wildly, with asides to the audience, and bizarre anachronims thrown in, in the way Cox sometimes, like now, is the master of.

There's a soundtrack by Chumbawamba, but even that's pretty decent - they don't sing until the closing credits!

Carlito's Way

Released in 1993 and starring Al Pacino and Sean Penn, this Gangster film is a great movie. One of my favourites.

Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino) is a former New York Heroin dealer who gets out of prison on a Technicality after 5 years. His time in jail has given him food for thought and he has decided to give up being a gangster and turn straight, by going in with a friend in Florida, renting cars to tourists...Easier said than done apparently.

His Lawyer (Sean Penn) is as crooked as they come and although he has a nose Hoover would like to patent... he has a mouth just as big! He owes money to a crime boss and asks Carlito for help, because Carlito feels he owes his Lawyer for getting him out of prison early he agrees to help, and ends up entangled in his lawyers problems.

A great script (one that you can actually believe is a pleasant change) and great Direction from Brian De Palma, who also directed Scareface incidentally, makes this definitely one of the best gangster movies I've seen.

12 June 2005

Cypher

Sci-Fi - Thriller
Blade Runner for the start of the 21st century. Jeremy Northam plays a geek called Morgan Sullivan, he's looking for a little bit of excitement and decides to sign up for industrial espionage at Digicorp. As he gets into his new role, his dreams of being a James Bond type super spy appear ludicrous and the spying role is very very dull (so dull I assume the writer added it for laughs). Then the film swerves and we find that there's something very unpleasant under the surface, the rest of the film is a fast past thriller following the geek's decent into a paranoid hell (I don't want to give too much away, get the DVD out today).
Highly recommended

Additional notes
  • Jeremy Northam is excellent but Lucy Liu also makes an appearance or two in the film.
  • The themes of the film, identity and faceless mega corporations as the enemy is very topical
  • Film was done on a very low budget, apart from the opening shot and perhaps the helicopter shots, it looks great.
  • Some of you might know that the director of this film also did the cube, cube was a very low budget film with a great idea and a plot with petered out towards the end. Don't let this put you off, cypher is a far better film

11 June 2005

White Chicks


Trailer

Saw this for the second time the other day and it was still a good laugh. The film stars Shawn Wayans and Marlon Wayans and is directed by their older brother Keenan Wayans (who also directed Scary Movie). If I had been told this beforehand I probably would not have watched it because I found Scary Movie a bit predictable and not that funny. But White Chicks has much better humour in my opinion. So if you liked Scary Movie you'll love this and if you didn't White Chicks is still worth a watch!


The plot whilst being quite basic is not boring. The film centres around two black men who are FBI agents and are continuously cocking up. They get put in charge of looking after two rich girls and manage to cock that up too. The rest of the film is basically what they get up to when they go undercover dressed as "white chicks". I have to say the make was pretty good and if you get this out on DVD check out "the making of..." it is worth watching.


The laughs are regular and not predictable, even those that are predictable have been well executed and do not come across as outdated. Just as you think the story or jokes are dieing the film picks up again or you get a really good laugh which keeps your interest. The acting is not over the top but quite sincere and most of the characters are quite believable.This is definitely worth watching with a group of friends (male or female). I think this film would appeal to all audiences, you could quite easily sell it as a chick flick but it's almost like a chick flick written for men.

10 June 2005

Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

It is the 12th century. Angst-ridden blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) discovers that he is the bastard son of Baron Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson), a famous Crusader and all-round heroic chap. Godfrey persuades young Balian to travel to Jerusalem where he faces the religious bigotry of both Christians and Muslims and ultimately must prove himself by defending the city from an unfeasibly immense Saracen army.

I liked this film. I really didn't expect to, previous experiences of Hollywood 'history' having soured my taste for historical epics (Braveheart, anyone?). But this film has many strengths, not least of which the beautiful and compellingly realised visuals. Medieval Jerusalem looks like a living, breathing city, not just a painted-on backdrop. All the characters are in need of a good bath. There are children everywhere (something strangely missing from most historical films).

Sights and sounds aside, there were some decent performances from the leads, although no career greats. Jeremy Irons was underused as the Marshal of Jerusalem, charged with keeping the peace in a religiously divided city. Brendan Gleeson and Marton Csokas ham it up considerably as the scowling villains (bizarrely Gleeson's character bears more than a passing resemblance to the modern-day eccentric, the Marquis of Bath). Orlando Bloom puts in a far better performance than some reviewers might suggest, although the romantic sublot featuring Eva Green as a miserable princess doesn't quite ring true.

The battles are excellent, recalling the grimness and confusion of Ridley Scott's earlier Black Hawk Down, and the final siege is every bit as impressive as anything from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Now the controversial part. The film sacrifices some historical accuracy for the sake of the story, but this is really no worse than most World War Two films, for example. There are few enough glaring anachronisms (no American accents!) for us to enjoy the film as it is, as a work of fiction with a historical setting. The religious aspect is dealt with fairly well, even though for the most part the Muslim soldiers are faceless aggressors, not nearly as well fleshed out as their European counterparts. In the end both sides are treated fairly even-handedly, and no-one comes out of this affair smelling of roses. Fanaticism in all its forms is the true enemy, we are led to believe.

Overall this was a far better film than I had expected, and despite some silly subplots (Bloom's character seems to know more about desert life than the Arabs themselves, for some reason), the whole experience was thoroughly enjoyable. I look forward to the director's cut on DVD.

06 June 2005

'Paths Of Glory'

Dir: Stanley Kubrick :: Script: Stanley Kubrick, Calder WIllingham & Jim Thompson
Photography: Georg Krause :: Cast: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Joe Turkel, George Macready, Adophe Menjou, Timothy Carey
US :: 1957


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"The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,  
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,  
Awaits alike the inevitable hour.  
The paths of glory lead but to the grave."
from Thomas Gray's 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard'

Based on Humphrey Cobb's 1938 novel, this early Kubrick is a bleak essay on the futility of war, and isn't shy on the matter of class either. It's the First World War, and the French high command has decreed a pointless assault on a German position, The Anthill. The unit tasked with this folly, the 701st Regiment led by Colonel Dax (Douglas), is battle-weary, and come the hour the offensive fails. General Mireau (Macready) sees it as a personal slight, and demands blood sacrifice - and so three ordinary soldiers are arbitrarily picked out to be court martialled on the charge of cowardice.

Corporal Paris (Meeker) is picked because he was a witness to the drunken incompetence a true coward - his Lieutenant. Private Arnaud (Turkel), something of a dug-out philosophe, given to great meditations on the nature of fear, is picked by lot - a rational man given a rational fate. Private Ferol (Carey), an uncultured peasant, is chosen because he is "a social inadequate". Dax assures them he will do his best to defend them, but we the audience do not hold out much hope...

**SPOILER WARNING**

"It's not really 'Twelve Angry Men'," muttered JTG as our hapless trio were rushed through their trial, held in a splendid château far behind the frontline to contrast with the bloody, muddy slaughter we've just seen them immersed in. And this is no shiny courtroom drama, where the key witness bursts in at the last minute with the vital evidence to set our heroes free: no, the generals stitch the chaps up faster than it takes to boil an egg, and condemn them to die the next day. So determined are they to send a mesage to the lower orders that when Arnaud is knocked unconscious in his cell the night before, they decree he be tied to a stretcher to face the firing squad.

Officers don't come off very well here: Mireau is self-important, vainglorious, hubristic. We soon mark his card when early on we see him inspecting the troops, serving up the same old spiel: "Ready to kill more Germans?" The only man not to give him the expected answer ("Yes sir!") is shell-shocked... except our general doesn't believe in such a thing, instead preferring to see the battle-scarred man as a coward who should be transferred out of the regiment lest "his cowardice spreads". Mireau's own superior, General Broulard (Menjou) is manipulative and incapable of compassion or idealism. Another officer brands Ferol a "social inadequate"; and yet another lies about Arnaud to save his own skin. Only Dax and the artillery officers who refuse to fire on their own positions when ordered to by Mireau come out of it okay.

Throughout the film you can see a director becoming more confident, both with his technique and his material. There are beautiful slow tracking shots - along trenches full of scared, tired-looking men as Dax inspects his troops before they go over the top; across No Man's Land as they try to take The Anthill, the camera fixed on their faces as they crawl through crater and wire; around a dancefloor as the generals throw a party; and over a parade ground as our three sacrifices are taken to their fate. Kubrick also throws some interesting close-ups into the bag, so we get up close to the victims, we can't shy away from them and their soon-to-be-dead faces. It's like he wants us to feel ashamed for what's about to happen, to accept some of the blame. He certainly doesn't want us to forget them.

Anyway, it's interesting that it has such a downbeat ending. Apparently Douglas (the bigger player at the time) didn't like the happy ending originally tacked on - reprieve at the eleventh hour and all that - and persuaded Kubrick that it would drive home its message better if the three men died. Well, Kirk, you were right.

Further viewing:
'All Quiet On The Western Front'
'Cross Of Iron'
'Stalingrad'

04 June 2005

Mean creek.

i'd call this movie the 'river's edge' of this decade...
young sam (rory culkin, macauly's little bro) is bullied at school, so his friends, his older brother and his brother's friend decide to invite sam's tormentor on a boating trip for sam's birthday, with the intention of teaching the kid a lesson.
george is your typical stereotype fat kid bully, or so we'd imagine. we as the audience get to see the human side of his personality before the other kids do, as he prepares for the big day.
the big day comes and as the older kids swig beer, sam's brother's friend trying to impress the younger ones, george's personality shines through and some of the gang actually realise that he's a pretty cool guy and attempt to end any plans of retribution...
i really loved the whole atmosphere of this film, i think it has a real seventies horror-movie look and feel to it (namely 'last house on the left', 'texas chainsaw massacre') and though it never comes close to the bleakness of 'river's edge', it has a pretty good try. the young actors are very convincing, shame macauly didn't get movies like this as his first roles! hah! home alone, anyone??!
go see this if you're looking for an intelligent, not your run-of-the-mill 'teen' movie. i loved it.

Nang Nak


Nang Nak is a real unknown gem from Thai director Nonzee Nimbutr. It’s a ghost story about a man who goes off to fight in an (unspecified, which adds to the story’s timelessness) war. Many of his friends die in the fighting. While he is away, his wife dies. He returns to his village not realising she is dead. His wife, Nak, seems fine, yet in a strange, mournful mood.


This isn’t a conventional shock-horror-bang-splat-die-with-sharp-things-in-you horror film. It’s a subtle, creepy, emotional, tear jerking, haunting film which will stay with you for weeks, even months, after watching it. It’s very rare that any film contains such striking emotional qualities (I can only think of a few), let alone a horror film.


The cinematography of the Thai village and surrounding countryside is also extremely lush, and captures the intensified, steamy atmosphere of it perfectly. Yet it isn’t a westernised, tourist take on
Thailand. Instead it reflects the love of the director for his own country and scenery. The film’s contrasts between the beautiful depictions of the scenery and the darker, more sombre tons of other parts, is striking.


If you check out one foreign film this year, make sure its Nang Nak, a film which even beat Titanic at the box office when it was released.


Reviewed by RenegadeDog

03 June 2005

Hero ( Ying xiong )

One Sunday afternoon I thought I would like to see a film, something different well I did and the film was called Hero (Ying xiong) a story of love, treachery war the lot this films got it, actors I have never seen let alone heard of, set in deepestpre-unified China the story of one man’s quest to defeat three deadly assassins, who are hell bent on killing the King of Quin.

The film crosses back and forth to explain a quite a complex story but there really is not one moment, you want to take your eyes of this film, the extras for the war scenes are amazing, the martial arts witch I do not like normally, I found griping and the more I watched the more relaxed as I became totally engrossed in the film. There are not too many down sides to the film, even the sound is good normally a draw back with some films from China, there is a rather poor sex scene that had me in fits, but I will not go into that, I will let you judge and I hope you like it as much as I did.

The Big Sleep


Trailer

Well, if you're going to blog a film, you may as well start with the best.

The Big Sleep (dir, Howard Hawks, 1946) is probably the most famous film noir yet made. The dialogue, direction and performances are all faultless, it's fast and witty, intriguing and disturbing, playful but deadly serious.

The plot is almost incidental to the films magnificence, and is tempting to skip over not least because of it's length and confusion. Hawks shot a scene that explained all the action for the viewer, but cut it as he thought it slowed the film down, and because it doesn't matter who exactly did what to whom, when or why anyway. Legend has it that at one point he dispatched someone to ask (author of the original novel) Raymond Chandler who had killed the chauffeur - and Chandler himself replied 'I have no idea.'

But let's give it a go anyway. General Sternwood, surrounded by his hothouse orchids, hires Private Investigator Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) to keep an eye on his youngest daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers) who is the victim of some kind of blackmail plot. It soon transpires (when the blackmailer is murdered) that this is only the tip of the iceberg - an iceberg made up of pornographers, nymphomaniacs, drug dealers, double-crossers, murderers, and femme fatales. In the midst of all this Marlowe meets Carmens older sister, Vivien (Lauren Bacall), rapidly falling for her. Does she for he? In this world of lies and
deception it's hard to know for sure - but if not, she's the only one who doesn't. Checks girls fall over themselves trying to speak to him, taxi drivers offer personal services, even a book store worker (who definitely looks sexier before she removes her glasses and lets down her hair in my view) shuts up store for him.

Everything seems tied up with the chauffeur who disappeared with a mobsters wife. Murder upon murder follows, it's impossible to keep track of who's killing who, but it doesn't matter.

What matters is the sparkling chemistry between Bogart and Bacall. Re-united two years on from 'To Have and Have Not' ('you know how to whistle, don't you Steve?') and six months before they married the desire and sexual tension they display is thrilling. The two scenes Hawks added, simply to give them more time together on-screen, positively tingle. The dialogue stretches the restrictive Hays Producton Code of the time to the limit - when Vivien talks of being 'in the saddle' we know exactly what she means, and when Marlowe gives her permission to 'scratch her itch' she goes at it with masturbatory zeal!
Perhaps the most famous scene is where Vivien calls the police - sort of. Swapping the phone back and forth, convincing the poor plod that it was they that called her (or was it her father, or his mother?), clearly she does love this man after all.

Despite being the most famous of the noirs, The Big Sleep omits many of its most notable features. There's no chiaroscuro lighting, flashbacks, voiceover, or urban jungles. But death (or, 'the big sleep')and deception, the decay of the city, and of the american dream, are everywhere - not to mention the femme fatales. The whole story is a no holds barred indictment of the hypocrisy at the heart of power. Long before David Lynch and other purveyors of what goes on behind those picket fences, Chandler and Hawks decry the depravity and the cruelty that drive America - and find the perfect foil in Bogart's world-weary, hardened, but utterly decent, honest even, Marlowe.

It's that depth that makes the film so enthralling, and rich, but it's in the playfullness between Bogart and Bacall that it truly reaches beyond the superb to the sublime.

02 June 2005

The Machinist

Brad Anderson (2004)
Christian Bale
Jennifer Jason Leigh

Essentially a film about the trials of the mind when starved of what it needs most, sleep.
The main character, Trevor (Bale) finds that his day to day life is becoming interrupted with unexplainable occurences, brought on through the lack of sleep. As he tries to piece these things together he finds himself asking even more questions. An insomniac (has not slept for a year) quickly becomes paranoid when looking for the answers.
Bale is superb in this role. Apparently he lost a third of his bodywieght to play the frail character through eating an apple and a tin of tuna each day for 3 months. Don't think it is just his appearance that gains merit, the performance was outstanding.
Good support from Leigh ensures that the Hitchcock-esq feel to this film, in my opinion one that is better than many of his originals, keeps the watcher waiting in intrigue. Fine music and dark direction add to the despairing nature of this film.
Fans of session 9 won't be dissapointed, Anderson has made another simple, atmospheric film to remember.
8.5/10

'His Girl Friday'

Dir. Howard Hawks :: Script: Charles Lederer :: Photography: Joseph Walker
Cast: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart, John Qualen, Clarence Kolb
US :: 1940

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"It all happened in the 'dark ages' of the newspaper game - when to a reporter 'getting a story' justified anything short of murder. Incidentally you will see in this picture no resemblance to the men and women of the press of today. Ready? Well, once upon a time..."

So begins the frenetically-paced Howard Hawks screwball comedy 'His Girl Friday'.

Based on a successful play by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht (a pair of script doctors from the golden age of the silver screen), it pitches Chicago newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) up against ace reporter - and ex-wife - Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) in a battle of wits.

She's quit the paper and is about to disappear off with new fiancé Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), a rather dull insurance salesman, and no match for the wiley Burns - but our Walter has no intention of letting Hildy go without a fight. "You've got some old-fashioned sense that divorce lasts forever, 'till death do us part'..." he tells her. "Why, divorce doesn't mean anything these days, Hildy, just a few words mumbled over you by a judge!"

But Hildy is adamant that she's had enough, that she's leaving the world of journalism behind her, and choosing a life of babies and housework in Albany... Not that Walter takes any notice, preferring instead to use any means necessary to hook her once more on the excitement of a good story. He stitches up Bruce in all manner of ways, whilst persuading Hildy to take on one last assignment - covering the impending execution of cop-killer Earl Williams.

Before long we're knee-deep in escaped prisoners, corrupt politicians, amoral hacks and a whole load of great lines, beautifully delivered machine gun-style by our two leads:

"Walter, you're wonderful, in a loathsome kind of way"

"This other fellow, I'm sorry I didn't get to meet him - I'm kind of particular, the kind of man my wife marries"

Anyway, rambling, sorry. It's a great film, full of tasty moments and snappy dialogue - which constantly overlaps, fitting the pace perfectly - and nothing too fancy in the visual department; just a really enjoyable story that trundles along at a proper gallop. It's no wonder it's been filmed four times - besides this twice as 'The Front Page' and then as 'Switching Channels' - with lines like this: "Take Hitler and stick him on the funny page! ...What? The rooster story? No, leave it, it's human interest!"


All that, and I never once mentioned Cary Grant is a Bristol boy... ;-)

01 June 2005

'Defence Of The Realm'

Dir. David Drury :: Script: Martin Stellman :: Photography: Roger Deakins
Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Greta Scacchi, Ian Bannen, Denholm Elliott, Fulton Mackay
UK :: 1985

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“Vodka, and Coca Cola... Détente in a glass!”
Vernon Bayliss (Denholm Elliott) is a veteran hack, and a very pissed one at the moment. He’s tired, past his sell-by date, a leftie serving out his time on a right-wing rag - and he’s just helped stitch up an old friend for his newspaper.

It’s the mid-80s, Thatcher era Britain. American nuclear missiles at airbases across the UK, privatisation, the ‘me’ decade, fag-end of the Cold War... Young reporter Nick Mullen (Gabriel Byrne) is keen to climb the greasy pole in the Street of Shame, and when Labour MP Dennis Markham (Ian Bannen) is caught up in a sex scandal, he sees his opportunity. He looks down at his nose at Vernon, a washed-up old sot, but he realises that Vernon may help him land a scoop on fellow traveller Markham. In essence Mullen is a parasite, feeding on whatever he can suck out of Vernon’s liver-spotted carcass. Venal, self-serving, cunning, Mullen gets his scoop, and Vernon sinks into booze-soaked depression - but we know that something is up...

So, what’s going on? Well, Dennis Markham - a former chair of the Commons Defence Committee - has been sharing a mistress with an East German military attaché. Cue snatched telephoto pics, doorstepped interviews and front page splashes; a man in disgrace. Vernon was the man given the job of putting the accusations to his friend. But despite his alcoholism, we see in Vernon an honour that the cynical, laid-back young Mullen just doesn’t have. That is, until guilt creeps in.

Written by Martin Stellman, who cut his teeth on ‘Quadrophenia’ and ‘Babylon’, and directed by TV specialist David Drury, ‘Defence Of The Realm’ is just the sort of film that isn’t being made in Britain at the moment. It’s unflashy, muted in places, and most of all, it’s got ideas, an agenda, points to make. ‘Snatch’ it is not. Red herrings and MacGuffins are thrown casually across the whole film, adding to Mullen’s increasing confusion, when the plot - both of the film and within it - is essentially a very simple one: corruption, conspiracy, cover-up.

The familiar motifs of conspiracy thriller are all here - deep throat sources, anonymous tip-offs, bugging, burgling - but script, direction and acting all raise it above the level of cliché. There are some hackneyed elements, sure - Mullen composes his final article to a classical symphony, his piano a typewriter, for example - but overall the film is an exercise in restraint. Nothing is over-explained, giving the audience a chance to lead itself down blind alleys. The use of TV and radio news reports in the background also helps move the story along, adding depth to many of the smaller plot points, which are rarely if at all, addressed. It’s a sophisticated approach, and one that doesn’t detract from the main storytelling. The point-of-view is subtle too, with the director resisting the temptation to reveal too much of the story from the eyes of anyone but Mullen. The effect? Oppressive, claustrophobic, plodding exposition, entwined with the sugar pill of the reporter-procedural, leading up to a frenzied climax.

In particular it boasts excellent pacing: it starts at a relaxed pace, but by the end, as the pieces fall together, as Mullen becomes driven, leaves behind his old, childish self like a snakeskin, everything quickens to a nauseous crescendo, more detail is painted in, new characters appear from nowhere, old characters reappear in different guises, and the viewer senses bad tidings. There are even hints that this is a tragedy, with an inevitability to the ending: Vernon is Mullen through the kaleidoscope of a lifetime, and we soon find out what that means... Mullen becomes paranoid, mistrustful, insular; he knows bad things are happening, but he doesn’t know who to trust or how to dig himself out. His only ally is Markham’s secretary, Nina (Greta Scacchi), but this is not Woodward and Bernstein uncovering the truth in ‘All The President’s Men’; this is a war of survival for them both. A meeting on the old Hungerford bridge, half-drowned out by passing trains, the footfall of passing pedestrians, and aeroplanes overhead (perhaps a nod to that classic of paranoia/conspiracy cinema, ‘The Conversation’) demonstrates that these are not two seekers after truth, but scared people caught up in something they know is far bigger than either could deal with. They are not waving, but drowning.

Also worth mentioning is the editing (Michael Bradsell) and photography (Roger Deakins). Cross-cutting and contrasting colours are both used to great effect in creating mood and moving the story along, especially in the final part of the film. It’s discreet as well, and has the effect of signalling a change in tone and pace, something many directors struggle with. The visuals certainly helped Deakins find work - he ended up a stalwart of Coen brother films - which shouldn’t be a surprise to viewers familiar with his slate of British films: ‘Stormy Monday’, ‘White Mischief’, ‘Sid And Nancy’ and ‘The Kitchen Toto’ all came under his lens.

A fine film, which brings in elements that still resonates today - think Dr David Kelly, government secrecy, terrorist attacks, it’s all in there - but in a trad thriller package. Find it, watch it, get scared.

Further viewing:
‘Edge Of Darkness’ (TV)
‘State Of Play’ (TV)
‘All The President’s Men’
‘The Conversation’
‘Shoot To Kill’

Sin City


Trailer

I never knew of the graphic novel before this film appeared so watched it with no prior knowledge or expectations. All I knew was that stylistically it was trying to look like a comic. I think the film definitely achieved that and it looked really great but once you get over the initial amazement of how it looks the film is pretty average.

The film is a dramatic thriller rather than being an action thriller I think. It looks into the lives of three men and how their relation with women has affected them…sounds like it could be your average run of the mill romantic comedy from that description but I assure you it isn’t, far from it actually. It is quite an interesting take on how passionate but strong male characters are enriched and then destroyed by their love of a woman but without all the patronising soppiness.

The film is quite dark in places but I think it loses some of its edge due to some of the rather bad acting although surprisingly I thought Bruce Willis was one of the better actors in the film; but that may have just been because he was caste quite well into one his "roughed up cop" roles.

The film is based on 3 linked stories and I think it suffers from an extremely prolonged middle section which to me also had some of the worst acting (mainly Clive Owen and his dodgy accent). I think if things had been focussed more on the main underlying plot a bit more then Sin City could've been excellent. But I don't think it managed to lock all 3 stories together cleverly enough. Although I didn't find the film fantastic I would still recommend it on the basis that it does keep you entertained and the end does pull itself together quite well. Mickey Rourke is excellent and if nothing else the film must be given credit for its unique style and approach.