Sunday, 28 August 2011

Inception (2010)

I had seen Inception at the cinema last year when it was released, but I had forgotten how good I thought it was. Now don’t get me wrong, I like the odd summer blockbuster. I have recently enjoyed Super 8, Cowboys and Aliens, and I’m looking forward to ROTPOTA; but Inception is a brilliant tonic to the usual fayre that we are used to digesting in the summer months. Christopher Nolan actually forces us to pay attention, think, and then apply what we have learned. We are introduced (whether we know it or not) to the concept of Lucid Dreaming; the idea that we can control our dreams, and in this case to dream within a dream. To an extent we are left questioning whether what we see is real; rather like The Matrix. What sort of a blockbuster is this? A ruddy good ‘un, that’s what!

Cobb (DiCaprio) and his associates Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Ariadne (Ellen Page), and Eames (Tom Hardy) are mercenaries who enter people’s dreams to steal information (short version!). The film centres around a job to plant an idea into someone’s mind, a process called inception. In this case the target is Robert Fischer (Cilian Murphy), son of a powerful businessman (Pete Postlethwaite) who is on his deathbed. The man who has commissioned this job is Saito (Ken Watanabe), a businessman in competition with the Fischers, who wants Robert to dissolve his father’s entire company. This is the idea that must be planted into Robert Fischer’s mind.

To try and explain the subtleties and nuances of entering people’s dreams, what happens at each level of dreaming, and the story arc of the main character Cobb, is far too ambitious. If you have already seen the film then you know what happens; and if you haven’t, then trying to explain it will just be far too confusing. Suffice to say, you should definitely see it. Christopher Nolan has crafted a very involved, somewhat complicated, thought-provoking, yet very stylish and accessible film. The central idea that this group can enter peoples dreams to steal information is one of those simple ideas that, with a few tweaks, is just brilliant (I’m thinking also of the game “Portal”, and “Blink”, one of the episodes of Dr Who).

The cast is all great. I think Ellen Page got a bit of stick for coming across as being a bit stupid and just being there for the exposition. I think this is unfounded; she is perfectly good, and let’s face it, someone had to be there to help the exposition. She was also good as the one person who stood up to DiCaprio’s character, as she was the only one who saw the danger that his unconscious posed to the operation. DiCaprio once again demonstrates his ability to lead a film, from his action packed introduction to the heartbreaking climax of his story. Tom Hardy is very smooth as the brains of the operation as much as anything, and Gordon-Levitt demonstrates that he can do action just as well as he can be a pretty boy.

Added to this are some fantastic special effects. Arthur’s fight in the hotel corridor is absolutely brilliant; not to mention Ariadne remodelling the Paris cityscape. Cobb’s limbo world also looks amazing, helped enormously by some wonderful cinematography from Wally Pfister (who seems to be a Chris Nolan favourite). The score from Hans Zimmer is also top notch, as they tend to be.

So, a blockbuster that’s a break from the norm, definitely; the best film of 2010, most probably. Great cast, great idea, great story, amazing special effects and wonderful music. Overall, a pretty brilliant film.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Cowboys and Aliens (2011)

When I first heard about Cowboys and Aliens I just assumed that it was the latest Pixar animation. Finding out that John Favreau was directing it piqued my interest; and upon discovering that Bond and Indy were it I became quite excited. Surely this couldn’t fail? Well, the critics have mostly lampooned this film; but I for one, found it very entertaining.

Daniel Craig’s character, Jake Lonergan, wakes up with a fancy new wristwatch, obviously not of this world. Very reminiscent of Bourne, he can’t remember anything. He slowly finds out that he is a wanted criminal; but before he can be taken away in the sheriff’s wagon, aliens attack! Several members of the community are abducted, including Percy Dolarhyde, son of the influential cattle herder Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). Many of the remaining men from the community of Absolution set off into the wild to track down the aliens and get their folks back. Lonergan goes too, as does the mysterious Ella Swenson...

I really enjoyed the first 20 minutes; the intrigue, Daniel Craig being gruff, the atmosphere of Absolution, the usual kind of Western stuff, I really love that. Once the aliens attack it is obviously less of a western, but the intrigue is still there (What are aliens wanting with these people? What has happened to Lonergan? Who is Ella?), Daniel Craig is still gruff, Harrison Ford is still cool, and Olivia Wilde is still good to look at. The aliens are cool and very well done, not really scary (this is only a 12a), but very well realised, especially since a lot of the action is in daylight.

Lonergan’s character is essentially atoning for his previous mistakes; though because he can’t remember any of it, he is getting a second chance to do the right thing. Daniel Craig is good in this role; thought Matt Damon did it a lot better as Bourne. Harrison is good as Dolarhyde, essentially a slightly villainous Han or Indy, who has some paternal and racist issues to get over. Lonergan and Dolarhyde also have history together which adds to some of the tension in the film. Also featuring in the cast are Sam Rockwell and Paul Dano, both of which are very underused and are capable of so much more. I’m not really sure why they were cast, their characters could have been played by anyone really.

Apart from the history of the main three characters the plot was fairly straightforward but didn’t clip along at the pace that you might expect; I did feel that there were sections where not very much happened. Then after a period of exposition it was time for the aliens to turn up again for some action; it all felt a bit formulaic. I thought that the cinematography could have been better. There were no expansive vistas to give that epic feel; though it was shot in New Mexico, so they could have done so much more.

The film isn’t without its silly moments either, particularly the clichés that have been used so many times before in so many middle of the road action films. Sam Rockwell can’t shoot for toffee, so he practises and practises; mmm do you think he’ll be a dead-shot at a really important part in the climax? “Hey son, take good care of that knife!”; do you think he might really need that knife later on? Despite Dolarhyde getting on with the Indians by the end of the film, it is still the one Indian in the party that sets out from Absolution who is the tracker! Another criticism would be that I never felt that any of the characters were in danger, I never felt that any of the main group wouldn’t make it.

On a more positive note: the music was very cool from Harry Gregson-Williams (the man who brought music to Kingdom of Heaven, Team America and The Tigger Movie - make your own mind up!), it’s very Westerny kind of music but modernised, and it works really well. Overall, I thought it was very enjoyable: a strong main cast, atmospheric, great effects, perhaps not the epic that the title may conjure up, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Planet of the Apes (2001)

We put this on our LoveFilm list in anticipation of seeing ROTPOTA in the cinema in the not too distant future. Mistake. I had been urged not to see it by fellow blogger Maynard Morissey over in his Horror Diary, but it was too late; it was already in the post, inexorably trudging towards us. The movie started off alright, after some random credits, but then after about 5 minutes an ape said “Get your filthy hands off me you damn dirty human!”, and the film went downhill from there. No character development, rubbish script, no fantastic Tim Burton design, rubbish script, nothing interesting at all, erm, rubbish script!

The film spent about 20 minutes cramming in everything that happened in the first 90 minutes in the 1968 film, and then the next hour making up some crap version of the ending. It was obviously meant to be more of an action film than the original, but leaving out all of the intrigue, emotion, plot, brilliant cinematography and acting ability! I was bored after 20 min, but there was still 80 minutes to go. And all the humans can talk!? Huh, in one fell swoop destroying one of the main narrative points of the first film. Mark Wahlberg was boring, Helena Bonham Carter was boring, Tim Roth was more interesting as Thade, the military general who just wanted to kill all humans; but it certainly was not a performance to rescue the film.

Rubbish, boring, and unimpressive. A waste of time. What a film for my 100th review! If you haven’t seen this film before, please do not.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Super 8 (2011)

As the basis for one of 2011s big blockbusters, J. J. Abrams has taken us back to 1979 in an attempt to recapture some of the spirit of adventure in films such as ET, Stand by Me or The Goonies. A group of young friends are hell-bent on making their own zombie movie with their Super 8 camera for a local competition . When filming one night at a railway station they witness a spectacular train crash. Soon after, the small town of Lillian, Ohio, starts to experience some strange goings-on (people disappearing, all the dogs running away from town, microwaves being stolen etc), which are compounded by the Air Force arriving to “tidy up” the wreckage of the train crash. It seems that something was being transported in the train that crashed, something that the friends caught on camera while they were filming.

Essentially a creature-feature, Super 8 was tremendous fun. The main characters were the kids, with the story being told through the eyes of Joe Lamb, brilliantly realised by Joel Courtney. His best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) is the driving force behind the zombie movie, along with Cary, who loves to blow stuff up, and Martin who is constantly terrified. Elle Fanning is Alice, a girl who the guys are seemingly in awe of at the beginning of the film, but who is brought in to be in the zombie film (initially only because she can drive). However, her presence soon threatens Joe and Charles’ friendship. All of the characters are very believable and all of the performances are spot on. There is enough back-story and emotional exposition so that we care about these characters; a crucial point as their friendship is the focus of the film. I also thought that Kyle Chandler was very good as Joe’s Dad; he is the deputy sheriff, thrust into the fore both as a father (his wife died in an industrial accident), and as a deputy, as the Sheriff disappears early on in the curious happenings.

An atmosphere of mystery runs throughout the film. There is a great deal of tension as the audience has as little idea about what is happening as the characters in the story. I say that this is essentially a creature-feature, but we do not really see the creature for a long time, the reveal possibly being only 20 minutes from the end. In my opinion this is great, it is all part of the mystery; revelation too early on would have ruined any emotional investment in the film. When we finally do see it, the alien isn’t really scary (that’s not the point), but still somehow slightly underwhelming; I was reminded a lot of General Grievous actually. A lot of the great atmosphere can probably be attributed to the wonderful cinematography by Zack Snyder favourite: Larry Fong.

Any criticisms I have of the film are really only superficial. The ending is really quite cheesy, and after all the compact storytelling leading up to this point, seems strangely bolted-on, like it doesn’t really belong there. There are also several unexplained mysteries that remain, well, unexplained by the end of the movie: disappearing microwaves, or car engines? The truck that causes the train crash at the beginning should have been absolutely mangled, with nothing left of it, certainly no-one left alive in it. In fact, given the enormous size of the train, and the relatively small size of the truck, there shouldn’t have been a crash at all; the train should have just ploughed straight through the pick-up! I also found some of the famous J.J. Abrams lens-flare distracting sometimes, especially when there wasn’t even an obvious light source to cause it, and yet there was flare all over the screen.

But these are only insignificant complaints. The film was great fun, very entertaining, featuring some amazing action sequences, not least the initial train crash (which was LOUD!). I though that the cast were great, and the story that revolved around the kids was very believable, aliens not withstanding!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Live and Let Die (1973)

Starting next month, all of the James Bond films that I watch for Blogalongabond are going to have to be on DVD, because Live and Let Die is the last of the series that I have on video. Pretty piss-poor taped-off-the-telly quality video at that! Obviously, whenever it appeared on TV, it caught me off guard as I missed the very beginning; the image blurs into focus just as one agent is getting fried through his hearing aid as a smug Kananga looks on.

As the exposition continues, it became apparent that I might not have missed that much, as two more agents are dispatched (stabbed, and death by unconvincing snake) for getting too close to discovering what the baddie (Kananga/Mr Big) is up to. James is therefore called into action to investigate. He travels to New York (where he meets yet another Felix Leiter), New Orleans, and finally San Monique in the Caribbean where Mr Big is in charge. It turns out that Kananga is producing lots of Heroin; he intends to give away two tonnes of it, flooding the market, putting his competitors out of business, creating many new addicts, and then making a fortune when he sells his product in the future.

Following the dirge of DAF, LALD is a breath of fresh air. OK, so Moore is old, slightly camp, has huge nipples and makes bad jokes; but where Sean was lackadaisically carried along by the events of the last film, Roger drives the film forward, is fairly engaging, and actually cares about what he’s doing. The third actor to play Bond in as many films, Roger is already 46 when he makes his first outing, 5 years older than Sean was in DAF. This is of no consequence in LALD however, as Roger still looks “young”, and being a bit older allows the character to be more sarcastic than he has been in the past; particularly as he rolls his eyes at Solitaire’s dogmatic belief in the tarot cards. However, at the risk of getting ahead of the Blogalongabond mission, when Sir Roger calls time on his 007 career it looks all kinds of wrong as he gets it on with the young girrrrrlssss (I’m picturing Father Jack Hackett here).

But for now Moore seems to be everything we could want from a 70s secret agent. Suave, sly (hiding Italian ambassadors in his cupboard), quick on his feet, and able to evade henchmen while driving double-decker buses/aeroplanes. Far from being the aged agent we perhaps all think of, Roger immediately seems completely at ease and perfectly capable of handling his license to kill. We are even treated to a rare view of international espionage’s most eligible bachelor’s pad; and we see that he is now a very modern agent with all mod cons. Well, a coffee maker with a milk-frothing attachment anyway; and some lovely golden cockerels on his kitchen wall. If he could just do something about those blazers...

So much for the main protagonist, what about the main antagonist? Yaphet Kotto is Kananga/Mr Big; and bugger me, I never knew that he was Parker in Alien! As Kananga (such a cool name), he is alright, nothing more. I think that because there is such a sinister Voodoo undertone throughout the film, this dilutes out any menace that Kananga has. He pops up every now and again, usually when 007 is disappear-ed from a Fillet of Soul club, but is generally one dimensional I thought. That is until near the end when he suddenly perks up as he is explaining his dastardly plan; just before his frankly ridiculous death!

The women were a bit wishy-washy I thought. Rosie tries to be her own woman, and stands up to Bond; cyanide apparently preferable to sleeping with him. Of course that only lasts 15 seconds until she is scared by a hat and demands 007 to spend the night with her! Solitaire’s character has more potential, but once the cards tell her that Bond will be her lover, her actions become inevitable. I know all the women are conquests for 007, but he seems to be particularly patronising towards Solitaire: “poor innocent girl believing the cards, I’ll make her see reason!”

Having said all that; from the iconic title song played over a flaming skull, to the moment that old-hooky gets thrown out of the train window, I thought that LALD was an entertaining mission for 007. Alright, so it had its hammy moments; not least the inflated death of Kananga, or the least convincing prosthetic attachment since Carl Weather’s wooden hand in Happy Gilmore; but rather than being tiresome, this kind of nonsense added to the fun. Even the irritating crazy yokel sheriff (who needed subtitles), was useful in the way that his antics broke up quite a long boat chase; which, although it was a bit Dukes of Hazzard, never got boring like the car chase in DAF did. I’m sure the music score was as good as usual, but given the poor recording quality I hardly noticed it I’m afraid.

Towards the end I was quite struck by the similarity with Enter the Dragon (bear with me). Heroin production, running around an underground base, and 007 was even wearing a black burglar outfit. Initially I felt sure that LALD must have taken the idea from Bruce Lee, but on further consideration I realised that they must have been released at a similar time. Actually the London premiere of LALD was 21 days before Enter the Dragon was released in Hong Kong! Quite a coincidence; or perhaps irrelevant! Anyhoo. All in all, at this stage, the future looks bright and blazing for Roger and 007, only time will tell whether this optimism is justified.

Friday, 12 August 2011

My First 12 Months in Blog

Contrary to all expectations, I have now been blogging for an entire year. 12 months of insightful reviews filmic wittering, 12 months of watching all sorts of films, and 12 months of writing reviews too late and forgetting what the movie was all about!

So I thought, what better way to celebrate this mini-milestone than choosing my favourite films from the last 12 months. I thought that simply choosing my favourite films would be too easy, so I chose my favourite from each month. This was harder than expected, especially since I watched Aliens, Raiders, and The Godfather in April, and February saw The Big Lebowski competing with Watchmen, From Russia with Love and The Damned United.

Here we are then, my favourite films of the last 12 months. I think I'm happy with my final choice; though I still can't decide: Raiders or Aliens, or Raiders, or Aliens...

Inglorious Basterds

This is one of those films I think is really great because everyone speaks the language they should (similar to Zwartboek). The Germans speak German, the British and Americans speak English and the French speak French. Brilliant! There is some cross-over but it's all done well.

I guess I generally like World War 2 films anyway, as long as they're done a bit differently (Zwartboek, Downfall, Enemy at the Gates, erm Where Eagles Dare?); and this is unmistakably Quentin Tarantino. From the irreverent casual chat between characters (which Christoph Waltz does so well) to the particularly gruesome, bloody violence. There is even some very similar camera tracking movements to Kill Bill, the main lobby of the cinema with it's staircases particularly reminded me of The House of Blue Leaves restaurant.


The Thing

I remember as a kid (probably age 10 or something like that) watching The Thing. I was probably trying to appear cool to my older friend from next door who watched a lot of horror. I remember saying something like "This could be my first horror film". Needless to say, it scared the bejesus out of me! Of course now I'm a lot older (not necessarily wiser), I can see it for what it is: a great film.

I've seen The Thing several times since, and I felt an urge to watch a film to restore my faith in movies, having watch Eragon the night before! The film starts with some Norwegians trying to shoot a dog. Doesn't sound like much, but the desperation of the Norwegians is brilliantly enhanced by Ennio Morricone's simple yet effective music.

Dominik Hauser – The Thing (Ennio Morricone)


A Town Called Panic

Well now...this is absolutely bonkers! That really is the best way to describe this film. Just look at the trailer!

For those who live in the UK, there's a good chance that you will be familiar with the Cravendale milk adverts. For those who don't know: a pirate, a cyclist, a cow and occasionally a chicken I think (all toy, stop motion animated) run around being generally crazy shouting "MILK! MILK!" Thus:

The creators of these adverts are Belgian duo Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar. This creative genius has now given us A Town Called Panic.

In a nutshell: A cowboy called Cowboy, an Indian called Indian live together with a horse called, yup, Horse. It all starts because of Horse's birthday. (Spoilers!) Cowboy and Indian decide to build him a barbecue, and go online to order bricks (from Briquenet)! While ordering 500 bricks one of them comes back from the kitchen with a mug of coffee and puts one mug down next to the computer; of course the handle knocks the zero key and they end up ordering, well 50,000,000 is the figure quoted (I think), but there were more zeros than that! So, all these bricks are delivered, and having built a barbecue (which horse loves) Cowboy and Indian hide all the other bricks on top of the house in a giant cube.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Now, I'm imagining that most people reading this will have read the book (otherwise why are you searching for blogs on Harry Potter), so my synopsis of the plot can be mercifully brief.

Harry has now come of age, and will no longer be protected from Voldemort at his muggle home. He flees this home with the help of Order of the Phoenix members, and arrives at Ron's house: The Burrow. While at The Burrow, one of the elder Weasley brothers, Bill, marries Fleur Delacour, but the wedding is plunged into chaos as a Patronus arrives from the Ministry announcing that the Death Eaters have taken over. Harry, Ron and Hermione immediately disapparate to escape.

Essentially the rest of the story involves the threesome moving around the country, camping in out of the way places to stay away from the Death Eaters, while trying to figure out a way of destroying the Horcruxes, which Dumbledore had informed them would destroy Voldemort. That doesn't sound especially interesting, but the story doesn't drag. Amidst this escaping around a damp countryside (though there are some lovely location shots) are the main exciting set pieces, ie The visit to Godric's Hollow, Breaking into the Minsitry, and being captured by "Snatchers" and the escape from Malfoy Mansion.


The King's Speech

On the face of it, a film about a guy with a stammer and his struggle to overcome said speech defect so that he can speak in public, doesn't sound like it would particularly get bums on seats. But make the guy Prince Albert of York (soon to be King George VI), get Colin Firth to play him, and fill the role of the elocution teacher with the excellent Geoffrey Rush; then play the film against the backdrop of George V's death, the abdication of Edward VIII and imminent war with Germany in 1939 and the result is a great film full of many dramatic and funny moments.

Essentially; Prince Albert has suffered from a stammer from a young age, but now that he is expected to make public appearances and speeches, his difficulty in speaking is quite a hindrance. Having seen many speech therapists his wife Elizabeth (played by Helena Bonham Carter, who is also excellent) finds a therapist with some unorthodox methods. This therapist Lionel Logue (Rush), finds it hard to get to know "Bertie", but following the death of his father George V, he starts to open up to Lionel.

With the Death of George V, Bertie's brother Edward (Guy Pearce) becomes King, but his desire to marry a twice-divorced woman (not favourable in the eyes of The Establishment) results in his abdication of the throne. Bertie is therefore crowned King, not as Albert (considered to Germanic to be appropriate in 1936) but as George VI.



How to start a review of one of my favourite films? The Big Lebowski is almost genre-less. It's mostly comedy, but being the Coen Brothers it's not straightforward comedy; but then it's not the black comedy of True Blood or Fargo. Above all it's a story about an ordinary Dude, who likes bowling, driving around and the occasional acid flash-back, who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or rather with the wrong name.

Jeff Bridges is Jeffrey Lebowski aka: The Dude, a lazy man, who becomes confused with The Big Lebowski (David Huddleston). The Big Lebowski is a successful businessman, but who's young wife Bunny (Tara Reid) disappears. Unfortunately Bunny owes money to a Porn film producer, and when his heavies come to collect, they go to the wrong Lebowski. So The Dude gets caught up in a tale of kidnap, ransom, Nihilists, sex, and of course bowling.

Jeff Bridges is always great in my opinion, but rumour has it that the Coen's had Bridges in mind when they were writing the character of The Dude; and he is just perfect. But not just Jeff, most of the cast is superb. John Goodman gives the best performance of his career as The Dude's best friend: Walter Sobchack. This 'Nam veteran is a great character, has arguably some of the best lines in the film, and on occasion drives the story forward as he influences what The Dude thinks.

                                           "Smokey, this isn't Nam, this is bowling. There are rules!"



Mesrine: Killer Instinct is the story of Jacques Mesrine (pronounced Mayreen) one of the most notorious gangsters in French recent history. Having been raised by a relatively loving family, he rebels and becomes a small time crook. With the help of mob-boss Guido, he becomes more confident. Eventually, though, he is captured by police, repeatedly, and repeatedly escapes from prison; even a maximum security prison. By this time we see that Mesrine is very influential, able to manipulate people on the outside to help him escape (even his lawyer), as well as bribing/manipulating guards to make his stay in prison more comfortable. Finally the police officer who is primarily trying to bring Mesrine to justice, is able to trap the gangster in traffic in Paris, and Jacques is shot dead.

The film is told in two parts, each beginning at the end, with the death of Mesrine. I left it quite a long time between viewing the first and second films, so I can't specifically remember if there was a clear theme to each. Thinking about it, I think the first film was really charting the rise of Mesrine, his influences, and ideas; whereas the second film rather concentrates on his influence and how powerful he has become on his way to being public enemy number 1.


Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark is the kind of film that is absolutely ludicrous, but is absolutely brilliant. On paper, the idea of trying to locate the Ark of the Covenant and rescue it from Nazis really shouldn’t work; but if you get Steven Spielberg to direct it, George Lucas to produce it (and to help with the writing), get a great cast, and it all works perfectly! So perfectly that “Raiders” is one of the most entertaining films ever made; even George Lucas admitted that it was the most fun he had making a film! Just to convince you of its greatness, here’s 5 things you probably already knew.

Harrison Ford
In 1981 Harrison Ford had made his mark as Han Solo and worn some excellent glasses in Apocalypse Now; but he was yet to solidify his position in film history. Between Indy and Decker he was assured of it. Indy is very similar to Han, only this time he is the main character. Some of the sex appeal that Han had is written into the character, and some of the cockiness removed, throw into the mix some archaeo-sleuthing skills and we have cinematic gold.

Steven Spielberg



Hanna is a young girl raised by her father, Erik, in a wooden hut in the middle of nowhere somewhere in Finland, within the arctic circle. Erik has taught her to kill, fight, and generally to take care of herself. It becomes apparent after a while that she has been trained as an assassin to take out one particular target, when she finally finds herself out in the real world.

Hanna is played very capably by Saoirse Ronan; she is able to swing between action sequences and her quieter scenes of self-discovery. Obviously Joe Wright sees something good in her, as she also plays the young Bryony in Atonement. Speaking of Atonement; remembering a tremendous one-take steady-cam shot, I was on the look out for one in Hanna, and wasn’t disappointed. Eric Bana (Erik - Hanna’s father) arrives in Berlin and is shadowed by CIA guys. As we follow him through a bus station, down into the U-bahn, he is confronted by 3 or 4 CIA guys, Erik manages to take care of them all, before leaving calmly. Very slick, very cool.


X-Men: First Class

After a successful and enjoyable X-Men Trilogy, started off by the inspired Bryan Singer, and an alright but fairly forgettable X-Men Origins: Wolverine; Matthew Vaughn has gone back to the origins of all the mutants. Back in the 60s, bad guy mutant Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon, who can absorb energy; Shaw, not Bacon) is playing the Americans off against the Russians so that they start nuclear war. At the same time Charles Xavier is completing his PhD in genetics at Oxford; whereas Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) is trying to track down Shaw to make him pay for killing his mother at a concentration camp during the second world war. Charles and Erik are recruited by the CIA and are then able to locate and recruit other mutants (brilliant cameo F-bomb during this montage); and ultimately confront Shaw narrowly preventing the escalation of the Cuban Missile Crisis to nuclear war.

I thoroughly enjoyed First Class. Despite Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart being so iconic in the first three films, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender completely make Xavier and Magneto their own, and are every bit as good. As well as the main good vs evil story, there is the other story regarding Charles and Erik and their different views about whether or not humans will accept the mutants into society. McAvoy and Fassbender work really well together, and the fact that we see them become really good friends makes their separation at the end of the film all the more emotional.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

From the opening understated scene of Snape looking out from a Hogwarts window (in a Galadriel/Elrond kind of way) HPATDHP2 is a very fitting finale to the HP series. The most financially-successful franchise in cinema has seen stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson grow from cute, bewildered (yet perfectly cast) 12 year-olds into proper actors.

The story takes off immediately from Part 1, which was nice; there was no “Previously on Harry Potter”. Though I am glad that I had recently watched part 1. The action is then fairly constant throughout the film; but not so much that the cast don’t get the opportunity to shine. It was great that Ralph Fiennes finally got to act! He has mostly been in the background in the previous films, but here he is really able to get his Voldemort on! He manages to be angry, intimidating, yet scared and uncertain. Alan Rickman is of course superb as always; though I did feel that the reveal of Snape’s history was slightly rushed, which lessened the impact that it should have had. Jason Isaccs is brilliant once again as the terrified, sycophantic Lucius Malfoy, and I have already mentioned that Daniel, Rupert and Emma are now all great actors.



Ewan McGregor is Oliver, a guy whos world had recently been torn apart. First his Mum dies, then his 70-something year old Dad, Hal (Christopher Plummer), tells Oliver that he is gay, and has always known that he was gay, even all through his marriage. Not long afterwards, Hal is diagnosed with cancer, to which he eventually falls victim. Soon after, Oliver meets Anna (Mélanie Laurent), and after a stuttering start, their relationship blossoms, until they move in together.

This synopsis sounds kinda run-of-the-mill, but that is to underestimate the film completely. For a start, the story isn’t in the chronological order I describe above. Oliver meets Anna towards the start of the film and Hal’s death is towards the end, with everything in between jumbled up. Ewan is fantastic, Mélanie is fantastic (and also gorgeous), and the chemistry between the two is brilliant. From the first time they meet, when Anna can’t speak due to laryngitis, to the end of the film, their relationship is wonderful and captivating. Plummer is a delight as Oliver’s Dad who now wants to explore all facets of being gay. His new boyfriend Andy is played by Goran Visnjic (Luca Kovac from ER), who is very affectionate and always slightly awkward around Oliver. Add to this mix a Jack Russell who has a vocabulary of over 150 words but can’t talk, and you have a rather fabulous film!


Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Beginners (2011)

Ewan McGregor is Oliver, a guy whos world had recently been torn apart. First his Mum dies, then his 70-something year old Dad, Hal (Christopher Plummer), tells Oliver that he is gay, and has always known that he was gay, even all through his marriage. Not long afterwards, Hal is diagnosed with cancer, to which he eventually falls victim. Soon after, Oliver meets Anna (Mélanie Laurent), and after a stuttering start, their relationship blossoms, until they move in together.

This synopsis sounds kinda run-of-the-mill, but that is to underestimate the film completely. For a start, the story isn’t in the chronological order I describe above. Oliver meets Anna towards the start of the film and Hal’s death is towards the end, with everything in between jumbled up. Ewan is fantastic, Mélanie is fantastic (and also gorgeous), and the chemistry between the two is brilliant. From the first time they meet, when Anna can’t speak due to laryngitis, to the end of the film, their relationship is wonderful and captivating. Plummer is a delight as Oliver’s Dad who now wants to explore all facets of being gay. His new boyfriend Andy is played by Goran Visnjic (Luca Kovac from ER), who is very affectionate and always slightly awkward around Oliver. Add to this mix a Jack Russell who has a vocabulary of over 150 words but can’t talk, and you have a rather fabulous film!

I thought Beginners was great. It’s funny, sweet, but because the film is essentially about loss and grief, it is of course sad. This is typified by the CD cover that Oliver is designing (as part of his job) concerned with the history of sadness; though this isn’t done in a lugubrious way, it is still lighthearted and understandable. The relationship between Anna and Oliver is very sweet, most of the time, and Arthur the dog (who misses Hal as much as Oliver does) provides most of the humour. I don’t feel that any of this does the film any justice; Mike Mills’ film is a brilliant character-driven depiction of how grief affects relationships. Sounds heavy eh? No, it’s brilliant and I think my favourite film of 2011 so far.

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Ninth Gate (1999)

Johnny Depp is Dean Corso, a book collector with an exclusive client base who employ him to track down rare/valuable books. When Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) hires him to uncover whether his book "The Ninth Gate" is the authentic version of only three in existence, Corso is wary, but intrigued by the challenge. However, when he discovers that the Devil himself is rumoured to have had a hand in writing this tome, Corso finds himself caught up in a mystery he wishes he could escape from.

In terms of atmosphere this film is great; there is a lot of tension as we only know as much as Corso. I also love the fact that everything revolves around lots of old books, which themselves have their own atmosphere. It’s just a shame that everyone smokes all over the books, it takes a French collector two thirds of the way through the film to tell Corso not to smoke in her library; a book collector should know better! Parts of the film are very Omen-esque, as a few people die or accidents happen as depicted in the Devil’s book; which all adds to the sinister feel of the whole film.

Roman Polanski doesn’t do anything particularly fancy as director here, but he does manage to create a sinister, almost claustrophobic atmosphere. Particularly in the shots where Corso is walking down streets, the camera is positioned very close to the walls to make them look as though they are really hemming the character in. Johnny Depp turns in an understated but overwhelmed performance as Corso. His character starts off very knowledgeable and slightly cocky, and gradually finds himself in situations that he can’t control, a character arc that JD carries out with aplomb. Langella is alright; other than setting up the main plot and appearing in the finale he doesn’t appear very much; but his deep gravelly voice at the other end of Corso’s phone calls is a constant malevolent presence throughout the film. Elsewhere, Lena Olin is quite good as Liana Telfer, a woman who has recently become a widow, but nevertheless is also after a volume of The Ninth Gate for her satanic rituals, she bites and scratches quite a bit too! Emmanuelle Seigner plays "The Girl" who seems to follow Corso around, (she actually becomes quite important), but she was just wooden and really didn’t seem to be into her character.

Although this is not an amazing movie, a good cast and a very spooky atmosphere make this an enjoyable thriller.