Archive for 2009

(500) Days Of Summer

Posted in Comedy, Romance with tags on December 30, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Marc Webb.
Screenplay: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Chloë Grace Moretz, Matthew Gray Gubler, Clark Gregg, Rachel Boston, Minka Kelly.

No! Don’t pull that with me. This is not how you treat your friend! Kissing in the copy room? Holding hands in IKEA? Shower sex? Come on! Friends my balls!

Before he was given big bucks and entrusted with reinventing the franchise of “The Amazing Spider-Man“, director Marc Webb cut his directorial teeth on this highly appealing and (un)romantic-comedy. For a debut it’s very impressively handled and brings a fresh approach to the tired old boy-meets-girl formula.

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Moon

Posted in Drama, Science Fiction with tags on November 20, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Duncan Jones.
Screenplay: Duncan Jones, Nathan Parker.
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Dominique McElliogot, Benedict Wong.
Voice of: Kevin Spacey.

I hope life on Earth is everything you remember it to be“.

Being the son of legendary musician David Bowie must put a lot of pressure on you, especially if your chosen profession is also to entertain. However, this is a pressure that director Duncan Jones seems to relish. His talents are used in a different medium from his father but equally as impressive with this relatively low-budget debut and he produces one of the finest science fiction film’s for quite some time.

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The Limits Of Control * * * *

Posted in Drama with tags on July 12, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Jim Jarmusch.
Screenplay: Jim Jarmusch.
Starring: Issach De Bankole, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Gael Garcia Bernal, Luis Tosar, Alex Descas, Paz De La Huerta, Jean Francois Stevenin, Oscar Jaenada, Youki, Kudoh, Bill Murray.

Jim Jarmusch has always been a director that’s very particular in his structure, his pace and his mood. Some of his films and approaches are more successful than others and often they are not everybody’s cup of tea. So, if your not a fan, I would advise that you avoid this one entirely.

A mysterious, nameless assassin (Isaach De Bankole) travels across Spain on some kind of criminal mission. Wandering throughout the picturesque city he comes across an incalculable ensemble of oddballs who join him in drinking coffee, passing him matchboxes with directions contained inside and delivering existenstial monologues and advice.

This offering from Jarmusch could been seen as a self-indulgent experiment and it will most definitely not appeal to everyone. The length approaches 2hrs and the pace is very meditative indeed. It’s quite possibly one of the slowest films I’ve ever seen. Yet, despite this, I found it also retained a sense of purpose. It always looked like it had a reason and a direction, although it was never exactly clear what they were. The first 20 mins alone, consist of De Bankole just wandering around… then he does a spot of Tai Chi… drinks an Espresso… more Tai Chi… the occasional, ambiguous meeting with eccentric strangers and their philosophical confabulations… more Espresso and then at least half an hour passes before he realises he’s forgotten to do his Tai Chi, and promptly does so again. Believe me, that’s about all that happens throughout, but I still found it strangely captivating.
The locations are wonderful and perfectly captured by the excellent cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who crafts a dreamlike painting of a film. If you can imagine a crossover between the pace of Anton Corbijn’s “The American” with the philosophical surrealism of Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life” then this would be the result. Also, if you are familiar with the documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop”, which explores the difference between art and pretentiousness, this would make a nice companion piece to discuss along with it. It’s undoubtedly a real audience splitter which I have heard many people disliking. In fact, I’m the only person I know that has rated it highly.

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Ostentatious and experimental filmmaking from Jarmusch that’s definitely not for all tastes. However, it’s brave, bold, odd and highly meditative while epitomising it’s very title in ‘the limit of control’.

Mark Walker

Le Donk & Scor-Zay-Zee * * *

Posted in Comedy, Documentary, Drama with tags on April 6, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Shane Meadows.
Screenplay: Shane Meadows.
Starring: Paddy Considine, Dean Palinczuk, Olivia Colman, Shane Meadows, Richard Graham, Seamus O’Neill, Alex Hunter, Matt Helders, Nick O’Malley, Jamie Cook, Nigel Reeks.

Director Shane Meadows is no stranger to low-budget filmmaking. In fact, most of his films to date have been made with relativity tight constraints. This time around, he goes that one step further and makes an all-out, fly on the wall mockumentary, which also happens to be his third collaboration with actor Paddy Considine.

Documentary maker Shane Meadows (playing himself) follow the life of music manager Le Donk (Paddy Considine), who reckons he’s unearthed a new talent in rapper Scor-Zay-Zee (Dean Palinczuk). As a slot with band The Arctic Monkeys opens up, the would-be manager and his protege hit the road to try and make a name for themselves.

If the brilliant “A Room For Romeo Brass” and “Dead Man’s Shoes” were anything to go by, you’d be forgiven for getting very excited about the prospect of Meadows and Considine working together again. I know I certainly was. Unfortunately, this film isn’t quite up to their previous high standards. In fairness, they’ve adopted a different approach but for a film with a running time of just over an hour you’d expect it to move briskly and get down to telling it’s story. In the early stages it does this, with some hilarious observational humour and “kitchen sink” drama that’s reminiscent of Ricky Gervais’ “The Office” but the delivery soon becomes a bit stale. The idea is good, the performances are good but for a film to enter into this mould it needs to provide more laughs than it does. I’m sure it probably will appeal to many people but for me, as a big fan of Meadows, I had set my sites too high. It loses it momentum and relies too heavily on the presence of Considine and his perfect balance of ambition and desperation. He’s most definitely the highlight here. However, there’s only so much one man can carry. The humour and awkward situations are well captured but it essentially there isn’t much of a story and becomes not much more than a showcase for real-life rap artist and freestyler Scor-Zay-Zee, who’s not that appealing to begin with.

An interesting, if unsuccessful, project from Meadows. He’s not made many bad movies and I wouldn’t say this is bad either. It’s just not as eventful as it could have been.

Mark Walker

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Fantastic Mr. Fox * * * * 1/2

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on September 13, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Wes Anderson.
Screenplay: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach.
Voices of: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Wally Wolodarsky, Eric Anderson, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Helen McCrory, Brian Cox, Garth Jennings, Roman Coppola, Wes Anderson, Jarvis Cocker, Adrien Brody.

Director Wes Anderson’s quirky indie humour and off-beat dysfunctional characters have been very appealing to me over the years. Upon the news that he was adapting a classic children’s novel, using animation, I thought he might have been going a little too far outside his comfort zone and wondered if his idiosyncratic style would actually transfer to a different medium. Thankfully, my curiosity was put to ease as this did not dissapoint.

Based on Roald Dahl’s story about a sly and egocentric fox that always strives for better things for himself and his family, while seemingly oblivious to the dangers his quest for status brings to his family. He sets out to rob the three local farmers Boggis, Bunce & Bean of their possesions and attracts a lot of unwanted attention for everyone in the process.

Anyone familiar with Anderson’s idiosyncratic style will know that, despite this being animation, his approach hasn’t changed at all. It still possesses his wit and charm in abundance. The stop-motion animation takes a little getting used to but once you’ve attuned yourself to it, there’s no let up in the pace of, not just, Anderson’s visuals but also the characterisation and his daring in not being constrained by the medium itself. His eclectic use of music and screen captions are also present, making this every inch a Wes Anderson adventure. Credit must also go the voice cast; each and every single one of them inhabit their characters and deliver the sharp and intelligent dialogue to perfection, bringing the little stop-motion animals to life. These little creatures have more zest and life than most live-action movie characters are ever afforded and they add to another odd collection of dysfunctional family members that seem to be Anderson’s forte and feature regularly in his oeuvre.
For many, this is actually their favourite Anderson film. Personally, mine still sits with “The Darjeeling Limited” but this is certainly one of his finest, eccentric and most unique moments.

Not only does this foray into animation not disappoint, it actually thoroughly impresses. This is how it should be done. A subversive, cerebral treat for adults and children alike. “Fantastic” indeed.

Mark Walker

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My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done * *

Posted in Drama, Mystery with tags on August 19, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Werner Herzog.
Screenplay: Werner Herzog, Herbert Golder.
Starring: Michael Shannon, Willem Dafoe, Chloe Sevigny, Udo Kier, Michael Pena, Grace Zabriskie, Irma P. Hall, Loretta Devine, Brad Dourif.

Sometimes a film comes along that although it hasn’t received a wide release or even a reasonable marketing campaign, it can capture your attention by the very people involved. This has prestigious director Werner Herzog; the go-to-man for troubled souls Michael Shannon; a host of talented supporting roles including the always reliable Willem Dafoe and it’s executive-produced by surreal transcendentalist David Lynch. I thought it’s lack of attention was maybe because the film was a stinker or maybe it was just a cult classic waiting to be discovered. Now that I know, I’d unfortunately put the film’s relative obscurity in the former category.

Brad McCullum (Michael Shannon) is a strange young man living in San Diego. One day, unexpectedly, he kills his mother with a sword and locks himself away in his home, claiming to have hostages. Detectives Havenhurst (Willem Dafoe) and Vargas (Michael Pena) arrive on the scene to get to the bottom of Brad’s seemingly sudden act of lunacy.

As this film opens it’s apparent, early on, that it’s going to go in a different direction. The use of music is eerie and the behaviour of the characters very off-key but then that’s entirely expected when David Lynch’s name appears on the opening credits. It even has a few of Lynch’s regular cast members in Dafoe, Brad Dourif and Grace Zabriskie but the most apparent thing that separates this from Lynch’s efforts is the absence of haunting composer Angelo Badalamenti. Without him, it’s just not the same. There are several moments to be admired and those moments are mainly fashioned with a Lynchian wierdness but it’s an ability that Herzog just can’t get a handle on here. Even though Lynch is weird, he is never boring but Herzog certainly comes across this way. Despite it’s intriguing atmosphere and sense of mystery, I found myself losing interest and losing it rapidly. The performances – as expected – are great and Michael Shannon adds another intense and off-beat character to his résumé but the tone and poor script let down any impressive work delivered onscreen. In fact, if it wasn’t for the reliable cast, I’d rate this even lower than I have. As an exploration of mental health culminating into Greek tragedy, it’s ambitious but the sheer strangeness of it all just falls flat.
In the same year, Herzog released “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” which was an another exploration of one man’s insanity but as impressive as that was, he doesn’t achieve the same balance with this one. I always knew I was taking a chance going into this but I really didn’t expect it to be as bad as it turned out to be. I held onto the fact that this it may have been misunderstood but I was, sadly, mistaken.

As the old proverb goes… ‘too many cooks spoil the broth‘; this might have worked better had either Lynch or, especially, Herzog had a clearer idea of what they were delivering. On this occasion I’ll be changing Werner’s name to ‘Herz-slog’. What he was formulating, I was receiving on a badly tuned frequency.

Mark Walker

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44 Inch Chest * * * *

Posted in Crime, Drama with tags on July 19, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Malcolm Venville.
Screenplay: Louis Mellis, David Scinto.
Starring: Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Dillane, Joanne Whalley, Melvil Poupaud, Steven Berkoff.

Remember the British gangster film “Sexy Beast” released in 2000? You know, the one where “Gandhi” goes ape shit? Well, this film brings some of the cast and crew back together again. Unfortunately, it seems that Ben Kingsley wasn’t taking ‘yes’ for an answer this time and isn’t involved. It does, however, have actors Ray Winstone and Ian McShane again, as well as screenwriters Louis Mellis and David Scinto. Now, this may not have gained the same acclimations as it’s predecessor but this is still an undeniably powerful film in it own right.

When his wife Liz (Joanne Whalley) says she’s leaving him for another man, Colin Diamond (Ray Winstone) refuses to take it. He enlists the help of his criminal friends Meredith (Ian McShane), Peanut (John Hurt), Archie (Tom Wilkinson) and Mal (Stephen Dillane) in abducting her lover (Melvil Poupaud). They take him back to an old flat and keep him in a wardrobe, while deciding on how to take revenge.

Where “Sexy Beast” had it’s English lowlife criminals sunning it up in the villas of Spain. This film has them on their own turf. It’s back to the grit and grime of dear ol’ ‘Landan’ where Winstone gets to be ‘the Daddy’ again. This is no bad thing though as it’s what Winstone does best. And… he’s not alone. He’s joined by an excellent cast of familiar British actors – who all get their turn at spouting some vitriol. It’s the performers that’s the best thing about this and having such choice actors as Hurt, Wilkinson, McShane, and the very underrated Dillane all backing up the lead, is a thing of dramatic gold. The performances are uniformly superb and it’s an added bonus that they don’t go anywhere. This is a moody and intense chamber piece that has all of the actors sharing the same limited space for almost the entire film, making it more akin to a stage-play. There is a brooding intensity to it that only benefits from the actors’ terrifying and multilayered performances. On the surface, the characters have such a ferocity that they resemble a pack of rabid dogs but there are undercurrents of repression and weakness, at times making them about as threatening as a poodle. It’s this very attention to characterisation that keeps this film going. It’s also wonderfully shot in a sepia hue that adds a stark and bleak environment to the match the material. It may be too grim and misogynist for some tastes but essentially this is a love story about men full of bravado but quite fragile underneath their tough exterior. That being said, there’s no denying it’s vehement and vigorous approach and the title itself is very fitting.

I greatly enjoyed “Sexy Beast” but it’s wholly unfair that this film was compared and ultimately overshadowed by it. This is an impressive, moody and claustrophobic chamber piece with an ensemble that deliver with all the force they can muster.

Mark Walker

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Mary And Max * * * * 1/2

Posted in Animation with tags on June 6, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Adam Elliot.
Screenplay: Adam Elliot.
Voices: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, Bethany Whitmore, Eric Bana, Renee Geyer.
Narrator: Barry Humphries.

Back In 2003, director Adam Elliot released an animated short called “Harvie Krumpet“. It went on to win an Oscar and like most animators after receiving this accolade, he went on to make a feature film. If this little film is anything to go buy, then it won’t be the last we’ll be seeing of this talented artist.

It tells the story of two, not so different but very unusual, pen pals; Mary, an 8 year old Australian girl living in Melbourne and Max a 44 year old man from New York. They both struggle to get on in life and have difficulty connecting with people yet miles apart, manage to strike up a heart-warming friendship that spans 20 years.

As we are introduced to young Mary Daisy Dinkle (voiced by Bethany Whitmore as a child and Toni Collette as an adult), we are told she has eyes the colour of muddy puddles and a birthmark the colour of poo. She gets teased at school and her parents are always busy. Her father is either working on taxidermy or attaching the strings to teabags and her mother is constantly ‘testing’ the sherry and listening to Cricket on the radio. The people around her have very little time for her. As a result, she randomly chooses a name from an American phonebook and writes a letter to Max Jerry Horovitz. Max (voiced by an unrecognisable Philip Seymour Hoffman) is just as lonely and finds the world very confusing and chaotic. He has trouble understanding people, is hyper sensitive and has trouble expressing his emotions. However, he decides to respond and an unlikely friendship develops between them. It’s the commentary on their individual lives and personal experiences that provides this film with some off-beat and darkly humorous ideas. Mary is able to ask questions like: Do sheep shrink when it rains? Why old men wear their trousers so high and if a taxi drives backwards does it save you money? She also tells Max of her neighbour who’s scared of going outside – “which is a disease called homophobia”. She’s sweet and innocent and like Max, shares that inability to fit in. Max is also allowed a rare chance in his life to open up. He tells her of his top five favourite-sounding words; “Ointment, Bumblebee, Vladivostok, Banana and Testicle”. He also informs us, that when he was young, he invented an invisible friend called ‘Mr. Ravioli’. His psychiatrist said that Max didn’t need him anymore, so ‘Mr. Ravioli’ now just sits in the corner and reads self help books. The humour is easy-going and possesses a freshness and originality. The use of animated clay dolls and monochrome and sepia settings are also brilliantly done, helping the humorous characters and dialogue perfectly compliment each other. Despite a lightness of touch though, it also addresses some deeper themes; alcoholism, mental illness, body image, suicide and depression which make this a film more suited to adults but that doesn’t stop it from being a delightful and highly inventive piece of work.

It’s been a long time since I seen Adam Elliot’s short “Harvie Krumpet” but I’ll be keeping an eye out for it again after this creative, emotional and poignant little treat.

Mark Walker

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The Men Who Stare At Goats * * *

Posted in Comedy, War with tags on March 30, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Grant Heslov.
Screenplay: Peter Straughan.
Starring: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Root, Robert Patrick, Stephen Lang, Rebecca Mader, Glenn Morshower.

Grant Heslov is mainly known for his producing and writing collaborations on some of George Clooney film’s. However, on this occasion he takes the directorial reigns, leaving me wondering what might have come of this film had someone with more experience been behind the camera.

In the 1980′s, reporter Bob Wilton (McGregor) stumbles onto the story of the ‘New Earth Army’, a bold, experimental unit formed by the U.S. It’s purpose is to train so-called ‘Jedi’ warriors to use paranormal powers, including mind control, for the use in battle and to help in the interrogation of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Then he meets one of the unit’s major players Lyn Cassady (Clooney), now supposedly retired, and tags along for a series of misadventures in Iraq.

Amazingly, this is based on a true story and with this prior knowledge and superior cast, you’d expect something quite special. Sadly, it doesn’t provide it. It starts off, looking very good indeed but after the half hour mark I started drifting when the realisation came, that it wasn’t going anywhere. The cast are excellent as you’d expect; Clooney, once again, shows nice comic touches and expressions, Spacey is under-used but still manages scene stealing moments and Bridges is absolutely brilliant as the spaced out, hippie commander Bill Django – which is a little reminder of his iconic portrayal of “The Dude” from “The Big Lebowski“. McGregor also does well, amongst these heavy hitters and has nearly developed a decent American accent. It’s just a shame that their performances were not helped with something that resembled a script. To be fair though, there are still some nice comedy moments and there are many interesting components to the story but it lacks drive. Maybe it’s because the assembled cast is so impressive that more is expected. Or maybe, it’s because it’s in the hands of a novice director – punching above his weight. Either way, it disappoints. This is a film that the likes of the Coen brothers could have taken to great heights. It has a similar sense for the brothers’ off-beat humour but lacks their creativity.

A passable comedy, that amuses sporadically but relies too heavily on it’s four main performers. It’s them that maintain your interest but the material should have been delivered with more confidence.

Mark Walker

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AntiChrist * * * *

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

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Director: Lars Von Trier.
Screenplay: Lars Von Trier.
Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Willem Dafoe.

By his own admittance, director Lars Von Trier’s intention with this film was not exactly how it turned out. He tried to turn his hand at making a genre horror film. Much like trying to make a musical with “Dancer in the Dark”, he can’t help but imbue it with his usual intelligence and artistic flourishes that take it beyond a mere genre picture. Von Trier doesn’t quite do genre.

After the accidental death of their child, a therapist (Willem Dafoe) and his wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) – listed in the credits only as “He” and “She” – retreat to a cabin in the perhaps haunted woods to recover. Eventually, they turn savagely on each other and bloody mayhem ensues.

There are many similarities with this and Von Trier’s most accessible film to date “Melancholia“. Not only in the exploration of mental illness in his leading female character but also in his recurrent theme of despair and chaos and his strikingly stylish, slow-motion prologue and use of music. Has Von Trier settled on a particular style now? If so, it’s a style that will serve him well. During the making of this, the director was himself suffering from depression (which was further explored in “Melancholia“) and it shows. You can see his understanding of the isolation of mental health not to mention the false hope in any saviour from it. This is brilliantly portrayed by two exceptionally brave performances from his actors. Gainsbourg in particular delivers one of the most daring pieces of acting since Harvey Keitel in “Bad Lieutenant”. The subject matter may be one that would be overlooked come awards season but she was certainly deserving of recognition. It’s a stunningly shot film with atmosphere and creepiness in abundance and disturbing images of the cruelty of nature. In some ways, Von Trier’s realisation reminded me of dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch and his fantastical paintings. In particular, Bosch’s most famous “The Garden of Earthly Delights” which depicts Adam and Eve in a wondrous garden before descending to Hell where punishments are handed out for sinners. The fact that Von Trier has his characters’ unravelling in a remote place called ‘Eden’ further fuels this.

Be warned, there are brutal and unbearable violent scenes, that I’m surprised the censors overlooked. However, it’s still an extraordinary, surreal and highly provocative journey. Just another day at the office for Lars Von Trier then…

Mark Walker

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