Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

60 years before the events of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Bilbo Baggins had his own adventure to be played out across 3 films, long before Frodo had his day. The mountain city of Erebor, home to the most powerful dwarf kingdom led by Thror, is invaded and overtaken the Smaug the dragon, who revels in the riches amassed by the dwarves. Later, Gandalf the Grey coerces a young Bilbo into hosting a party for Thorin, Thror's grandson, and his band of dwarves, as they attempt to recruit Bilbo as their burglar in their party in their quest to reclaim Erebor's treasure. The quest takes them through various perils and dangers, encountering numerous foes, but Bilbo alone meets someone with a preoccupation for his "precious"...

It hardly seems like 11 years ago that The Lord of the Rings trilogy began with The Fellowship of the Ring, and ended 9 years ago with The Return of the King. 9 years between now and then, 9 years in which fond memories or hated thoughts have developed of the next generation's trilogy, 9 years in which fans have speculated about how The Hobbit would be brought to life on the big screen. Finally, we reach the second trilogy, however accidental and troublesome it may have been. Guillermo del Toro came and went, Peter Jackson came on board as producer, then writer, then finally director. As if he could ever bare to let his universe rest in the hands of others. Bare in mind, the LOTR trilogy is probably the highest rated trilogy of all time, winning more awards, making more box office dollar, and gaining a more consistent reaction from viewers than any other trilogy ever. Now we return to the same universe, with a different story and different characters... Or do we?

It's hard to tell, because The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey seems an awful lot like a glad-handing, self-aware LOTR reunion instead of a true recreation of The Hobbit as readers worldwide know and love. Now that's not to say that the film doesn't follow the book and introduce these characters as and when Tolkien did, but this film seems to take glee in bringing back all of the original actors in their roles, almost as if it's nudging you, point and giggling, saying "See what we did there? It's him! He's back! It's just like the first trilogy... Remember that? You liked that. You ought to like this to. Like it. Please. We bought them back for you!!!" OK, the film probably isn't trying that hard and saying that much, but I found the introductions of returning characters overwhelming, and by the time they were out of the way and we were finally focusing on the story, it seemed like they were rushing toward the conclusion. They've created enough material that the two films they'd planned became three, I don't understand why so much had to be crammed into part 1.

My point can be explained thusly: The scene with Bilbo and Gollum. It's critical, the chapter everyone remembers, the scene everyone wanted to see, and it felt distinctly rushed. It could have been a fantastic cinematic moment if they had only spent some more time building tension and drama and making it the moment that it had the potential to be. It's a shame, but two films became three late in the game, and in hindsight, maybe some things could have pushed into part 2 so that the conclusion of part 1 could have come sooner with more time given to and scenes added into the existing material. Alas, it is what it is. All of that being said, there's not much else wrong with The Hobbit 1, it stands up well as its own film with a self-contained story whilst leaving other storylines open for 2 and 3, as well it should. The film also looks beautiful... in 2D. I didn't see this in 3D, so I was able to get the full effect of the 48fps in terms of colour saturation and sharpness. There were one or two scenes which went against the grand cinematic feel of the rest of the film and felt more like an indie production which felt quite jarring, but those aside, the film looked fantastic and Jackson can give himself a pat on the back for his bold decision. I will say, a few of the blue screen effects looked exactly like blue screen effects. They did the whole "hobbits and dwarves are smaller than people" thing much better in the original trilogy and we've had boundless technological advances since then, so I don't know why it looked worse than it did 11 years ago. The CGI characters looked fantastic, Gollum was fantastic again, and the New Zealand natural scenery looked amazing... but it's stuff we were first amazed by 11 years ago. Sorry to be a buzzkill, but it's lost its wow factor now.

The acting is superb, especially Richard Armitage as Thorin, an excellent cinematic presence and grabs the attention of the viewer in every scene, even more so than Martin Freeman as Bilbo. It's lovely to see such a strong British presence in the cast, with Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Ian Holm, Ian McKellen, Graham McTavish, Sylvester McCoy, and Christopher Lee all making appearances, recurring or not. As much as I previously moaned about the glad-handing returns, it is nice to see all the original actors return as their characters, especially seeing Christopher Lee return as Saruman, even though he's all but retired from film making, and Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown, it's a nerdist dream to see a LOTR/Doctor Who crossover like that, so that was a great call.

Overall, though, as unfair as it is to compare this film to the LOTR trilogy given how well received the first three were and that this is an entirely new story which should be seperate from the first three, the fact is it will be and should be, and this, in my opinion doesn't stand up to the first three visits to Middle Earth. It's a three hour long film, and instead of spending that time available to them telling a full story, they spend far too long reintroducing characters from the original trilogy and not enough time on the story they ought to be telling. I liked the film, but I didn't love it, didn't think it was anything special. I wasn't let down, but I wasn't blown away by it. I'm hoping parts 2 and 3 pick up now the intros are out the way, but this was... Fine. That is the only way to describe this. Fine. Fine is what this film was.

Rating: ***

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Skyfall

Bond is back. When a mission to retrieve a hard drive goes awry and Bond is shot, he's presumed dead. He, meanwhile, enjoys life as a ghost, until news emerges of a terrorist attack at MI6, an attack aimed directly towards M. Bond comes back from the dead to help M find and kill the man who possesses the hard drive and is seemingly posited towards making M's life a living hell until she is dead at his hands. However, upon finding Raoul Silva, he finds a cerebral man who is cleverer than he appears. And just who, what, or where is Skyfall, and why can't 007 face up to that word...

50 years ago, Dr. No was released with a Scotsman playing an English spy on a foreign mission to watch a woman in a white bikini emerge from the sea with a machete. Or something like that. 50 years and 22 films later, Daniel Craig is stepping out in his third appearance as the sixth Bond in Skyfall, directed by Academy award winner Sam Mendes and written by writers of the last five Bond movies (and Johnny English) Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, as well as three-time Academy award nominee John Logan. The elements are all there, the history speaks for itself, and the plot of a James Bond film writes itself. This could easily have been another "going through the motions with modern updates" Bond film like I found Quantum of Solace to be. Which is why I found Skyfall to be refreshingly different and yet the same, which makes Skyfall brilliant.

What I like about Skyfall is that it's an almost completely new approach to Bond whilst still looking over its shoulder at its history and making more than one less than obvious nod towards its past. James Bond has a mid-life crisis, and for a character that's been on screen for 50 years and played by 6 different actors, it's about time. But that's not the only difference here. There's twists abound and expectations that are played with and flipped constantly. Bond is not almighty. For once, Bond is vulnerable and is fighting a losing battle more so than ever before. Admittedly, he weakened in Casino Royale over Vesper Lynd, but this isn't an emotional, optional weakening in Skyfall, this is a man whose body is finally letting him down, whose mind is spent after years of ruthless killing. whose soul is finally carrying the weight of his actions. It makes for an interesting view, and gives Daniel Craig a fantastic storyline for the 2nd time out of his 3 Bond films, and as Meatloaf once said, 2 out of 3 ain't bad.

That's all fine and well, but it's the nods to Bond history which really grabbed me and got me going in Skyfall. To escape Raoul Silva, Bond and M use an Aston Martin DB5. The original Bond car, and the most recognisable. The silver paint job, the ejector seat button in the gear stick, even the original license plates; they're all here, and there's no subtlety to the nod towards Bonds of days gone by. Skyfall is an odd mix, however, of looking back and looking forwards. By the end of Skyfall, almost all of the traits of Bond films previous, even Daniel Craig's previous Bond films, have been erased and replaced with something or someone new, acting like a franchise relaunch whilst under the same actor, something which is unheard of within the Bond franchise. It seems they're either growing bored with what they had already, or they were unsure of what seemed to be a winning formula. Either way, Bond 24 promises to be a very different affair once again. A constantly evolving franchise seems to be evolving at a quicker pace now more than ever, and whether fans will keep on buying into it remains to be seen. And I still don't like the gun barrel shot being placed at the end of the film instead of at the start.

For all that can be said of how well Skyfall's written and how well it acts as a piece of Bond celebration, it still needs top quality actors to pull off the task at hand. Although Daniel Craig's performance as an unsteady Bond is good, it still doesn't seem as if he leaves second gear with it. There's a line between cool, cocky arrogance and unconvincing boredom and Craig contiually crosses that line with his dialogue delivery. As much as the moment where he jumps into a train as the rear is torn off and adjusts his cuff is undeniably cool, it's all pretty standard. There's nothing overly spectacular about the stunts or fight sequences, it is all now standard Bond, there's not much more you can do without making Bond a parkour expert... Oh wait, did Quantum of Solace touch on that? Forget that then, just enjoy for what he is and what he stands for, British triumph in the face of the rest of the world. Yay Britain! If Daniel Craig stays in second gear throughout this film, then Javier Bardem drives the perfect race, starting slow before shifting up into fifth, and then sixth gear by the conclusion. He excels in his role as the villain, with Heath Ledger's Joker coming to mind as having the same kind of on-screen presence and mentality. Clever and calculating yet absolutely batshit crazy. Perfect in my eyes. And what about Judi Dench? Incredible, as always. What's to say about Dame Judi that hasn't already been said?

Overall, Skyfall was hugely entertaining. It's a long film, sometimes unnecessarily so, and it drags from time to time, but it's most definitely a worthwhile watch. It definitely seemed as if they had one eye on what Casino Royale did right in order to recreate it and make Skyfall as enjoyable as it is, which makes Skyfall feel like it could have been the first in a new series of films, or at least the last in an old series which this almost certainly is given the amount of change that takes place in Skyfall, setting up Bond for an entirely new set of adventures in time to come. Even the song captures the right mood, Adele was the perfect choice, given she's the most popular artist on the planet right now (sorry, Psy) and can deliver that Bassey-esque Bond theme that is a signature of the series and something that's been severely lacking for years now. Skyfall isn't my favourite Bond film, but it's better than most, and a huge step beyond Quantum of Solace, which is what it needed to be first and foremost. The most impressive thing about Skyfall though? It doesn't only make, but keeps, Bond relevant. Bond is back in a big way, and it looks like he's here to stay for a while yet.

Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Dredd

In the future, the United States is an irradiated waste land. Lying on the east coast is Mega City One, an enclosed metropolis housing 800 million people. With 17,000 crimes reported daily, the law is enforced by Judges, who act as judge, jury, and often executioner as well. Veteran Judge Dredd is tasked with evaluating the rookie Judge Anderson, a psychic who's failed her judge tests. As they investigate the death of three men who were drugged, skinned alive and thrown from the top of a 200-storey slum tower, they encounter the Ma-Ma clan, who run the building and are creating and pushing a new drug, Slo-Mo, which slows the users perception of time to 1% of normal. They arrest a man responsible for the murders, but before they can leave Peach Trees tower, Ma-Ma herself seizes control of the tower security system and shits the blast doors, sealing everyone inside, and tasking her clan to kill the judges...

Judge Dredd is one of those tricky franchises where fans get very particular about how their hero gets interpreted. Not to say that every other comic/graphic novel adaptations doesn't have the same kind of fans, but Dredd fans get extremely vocal about their disdain for aspects of story lines and interpretations if they don't like it or they don't think it fits the canon. The first Judge Dredd adaptation (1995) was met poorly by critics and fans alike (he took his helmet off!) and news of another film version was initially met with scepticism. However, released images and test footage proved popular, and the promise of Dredd keeping his helmet on was more than enough to keep fans satisfied until they saw the final product... If I were a Judge Dredd fan, I know I'd be happy with this. In fact, I'd be delighted.

I've read enough comic books and graphic novels to know what I'm talking about with most things, but I've never read a single issue of 2000 AD, never read a single Dredd strip or book, never even seen the 1995 version, so I came into this with an open mind, only hearing good things about the character and quiet early buzz about how good this film was. Upon seeing it, I can safely say I enjoyed it greatly. The plot was simple and easily introduced non-fans into the Dredd universe, established the character of Judge Dredd quickly and efficiently, the pace was consistent and the film looked great as well. When I say it looked great, there were times where you could see the film was slightly lower budget than a mainstream blockbuster, but that didn't stop the sets looking fantastic and the visual effects looking stunning. In particular, the parts of the film showing users under the influence of Slo-Mo were beautiful, thank god for high-definition, high frame-rate cameras.

The acting was a bit hammy at times, but I think 70% of that can be put down to the (at times) terrible dialogue. Other than that, Karl Urban's chin did a fantastic job of staying in a fixed clench/snarl throughout the film and still gave more reactions than Kristen Stewart on a good day. Olivia Thirlby seemed a bit overwhelmed by her role at times and couldn't deliver a consistent performance which was a shame. However, major props need to go to Lena Headey as Ma-Ma, she is a total bad ass in this! Scars on her face, missing teeth, bad hair... The film takes away Headey's natural good looks and forces her to deliver a convincing performance as the ruthless gang leader and she more than does so, I dare say she's probably the best thing about this film, especially when she's been surrounded by a gang who deliver god-awful performances with over-acting and poor line delivery across the board. Woof. That's probably half the reason Headey stands out as being so good, she's a life raft amidst a sea of atrocious performances.

The violence in the film was impressively graphic too. I liked how they didn't shy away from showing someone being obliterated from a 200-storey fall or having half their face torn off by a Dredd special. It all looked great, and fit the aesthetic of the film perfectly. That said, it's kind of a shame that the film's in 3D (again, ruiner of all good things) because 95% of the film takes place in a sealed tower block with no natural light, which means everything's going to be dark, which means it gets darker still behind the 3D glasses. The Slo-Mo scenes looked epic in 3D, but that's because the colour in those scenes is super-saturated and is designed to look great despite the two black lenses covering the viewers eyes. Other than a couple of other select scenes (don't worry, no spoilers, at least no MORE spoilers), the 3D seems like a waste of time, just like it does in every other film I've ever seen in 3D.

Overall, this is an entertaining film that never gets complicated and never outstays its welcome, getting you out of the cinema after an entertaining hour and a half. It comes with a laundry list of faults, but Dredd is what it is, simply a good old fashioned violent action film with a good guy and a bad guy (or girl). It's not "so bad it's good", but it's not a phenomenal film either; it sits nicely in the middle, not promising anything and delivering nothing special but enough to warrant a viewing. The acting's all over the place, but Urban and Headey have enough to carry it through. The best thing about this film are the special effects though. If you're not seeing this in the cinema, please don't watch some crappy download copy. Wait until it's released on Bluray and watch it in HD on a big TV screen. Hear me now, thank me later.

Rating: ***1/2

Thursday, 23 August 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

8 years after the events of The Dark Knight, Batman is but a distant memory and Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, injured by his years of fighting crime and cleaning up Gotham. The Dent Act has kept Gotham a law-abiding city, but all that may be about to change with the sudden arrival of Bane, a mysterious mask-wearing hulk who seems determined to see Gotham City, and Bruce Wayne, fall. However, it's not Bane who catches Bruce Wayne's attention, it's the sudden introduction of a cat burglar by the name of Selina Kyle who intrigues Bruce, as she ends up setting off a chain of events that draws the Dark Knight out of retirement to save Gotham one last time...

I am a self-confessed Bat-freak. My undergraduate dissertation was 10,000 words about the evolution of The Joker in the 3 Batman films in which he appears, and it's likely my 15,000 word masters dissertation will relate somehow to one or many of Gotham's most famous residents. The Dark Knight is one of, if not my all time, favourite films and Batman Begins was incredible as well. Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy has the potential to be one of the greatest trilogies in cinematic history as long as TDKR delivers, and if the trailers and posters and endless promotional material is anything to be believed, it will. The Godfather, Star Wars and Spider Man all weakened with its third installment. The Lord of the Rings and back to the Future trilogies were the benchmark, and with The Dark Knight Rises... This trilogy goes to the top of the list.

It wasn't just that Christopher Nolan made Batman cool again (which he did), he made the character relevant, placing him in a realistic universe and making his struggles and the struggles of Gotham relatable. I may at some point write a blog about the trilogy (and just gush endlessly over how much I love it) so for now, I will remain focused on TDKR. It's clear what Nolan was aiming for with this - Finality. Closure. A definite final chapter. After the cliffhanger The Dark Knight closed on, it was going to take a plot line of epic proportions to bring back the Bat and then send him off, all in a convincing manner, all in under 3 hours. Call me a fan boy or whatever, but in my opinion, he does it, and does it with panache. There isn't a single wasted minute in the two and a half hour run time, every minute you're watching Bruce or Batman or Selina or Alfred or Bane or Miranda Tate or John Blake or Commissioner Gordon and it's all important, it all moves the plot forward, it never slacks and the only time it ever drops pace is when Nolan is being deliberate and methodical and wants the pace slowed. It's the sign of a great director who can maintain control the pace of a film with so much going on as there is in TDKR.

It's also the sign of a great director that he's clearly done his homework, with this film pulling its inspirations from the Knightfall storyline which featured the debut of the Bane character and the Dark Knight Rises series which saw an ageing Batman come out of retirement. With the framework in place and story built around it, all that's left is the acting to pull it off and bring this to life. Christian Bale's Batman voice has always annoyed me, but it is what it is, a disguise, and it's part of the ethos now, so we just need to deal with it, because otherwise we'd focus on that and not Bale's great execution of a more troubled, more fragile Bruce Wayne. I say Wayne, not Batman, because for the majority of the film, the caped crusader is absent in favour of the supporting cast or Bruce Wayne rather than his alter-ego. Anne Hathaway is good as the mysterious Selina Kyle too, which was surprising, as I was unsure of her as an actress prior to this, but she seems to have been a good fit for the character. As for Bane, Tom Hardy is awesome. He bulked up for this more than he did for roles in Bronson and Warrior, and it shows, as he looks physically intimidating and steals focus in every scene he's in. The voice, as well, is intriguing, as he gives Bane the voice of an English gent, not what you expect from this behemoth, but in a weird way it works, because it makes the character more of an unsettling screen presence, more so than the lack of facial expressions we're offered by the face mask. The best performance though, by a mile, is that of Michael Caine as Alfred. In previous films, Alfred was no more than Bruce Wayne's servant and a support character, but in TDKR, Alfred is given more screen time and becomes integral to the story, even delivering a monologue which is heartbreaking. It's a phenomenal performance that deserves recognition if nothing else.

Saying that, there are more things that deserve recognition. I won't say this should be the next Best Picture winner, because this just isn't the kind of film the academy will ever go for. But the cinematography is beautiful once again, another product of the hard work of Wally Pfister and more than half the film being shot on IMAX cameras. Also, Hans Zimmer's score is dark and brooding, becoming triumphant and uplifiting at just the right moments and is just as great as his Dark Knight score. Back onto the film itself, and considering how many plot points are given away in all the trailers and TV spots and adverts and features, the film was still able to offer a host of surprises and geek-out moment, drawing from the rich history of the Bat franchise to bring in things like the Batwing, the Nolan version of Catwoman, seeing Bane break Batman's back over his knee as he does in Knightfall, the reappearance of Ra's al Ghul and Scarecrow, the shocking arrival of Talia al Ghul, the subtle use of "Robin"... Yet it's all done so nicely that it all fits together and doesn't feel like any of the elements are being forced in.

Overall, the word epic is thrown around a lot nowadays when describing films but I believe TDKR is as close as you will get to a modern day epic film. It has drama, suspense, action, comedy, twists, turns, surprises, everything you could want not just from a Batman film, but from the concluding chapter of a superb trilogy. Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan and Emma Thomas should stand up and take a bow. The resisted the urge to recycle familiar villains like The Riddler and The Penguin and Poison Ivy, stuck to their vision of this trilogy, and only used the big names like The Joker and Catwoman where they wanted to, not where anyone else said they should. They've created a phenomenal trilogy with an epic final chapter, and after this it's hard to see where they'll go with the inevitable reboot in 20 years time without making it look like another Batman and Robin.

Rating: *****

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

God Bless America

Frank is an insurance salesman living in New York who hates what America has become: An endless stream of idiocy, selfishness and exploitation of the unfortunate and disabled. But he can cope with that being on his TV, and next door, and at work, until one day he's diagnosed with an inoperable, terminal brain tumour. Franks spirals into depression, and attempts suicide... Until he sees a spoiled brat on TV throwing a tantrum because her parents got her the wrong car for her 16th birthday. He decides that instead of killing himself, he's going to rid the world of this idiot. Unfortunately, he's caught in the act by Roxy, her high school classmate who happens to hate her. The two form an unlikely relationship and soon decide to rid the world of all the 'bad' people in the world, Bonnie and Clyde style...

Bobcat Goldthwait is a strange, strange man. After decades of doing stand-up under a larger than life persona, in recent years, he's become a writer/director of films which satirize the state of American society by visiting the extremes of human behaviour. In Sleeping Dogs Lie (2002), a woman finds her relationships with her fiancée, friends and family damaged when she admits to committing an act of bestiality with her dog in college. In World's Greatest Dad (2009), a man covers up the autoerotic asphyxiation death of his son by making it look like a real suicide and writing a heartfelt suicide note, which turns the dead son from social pariah into posthumous icon and revered writer. And now, in God Bless America, a man facing death decides to kill all the idiots he sees on TV and encounters in real life, along side his teenage accomplice Roxy. All dark, twisted, blackly funny films, and this is no different. Goldthwait has a very distinctive voice, and this has Bobcat written all over it.

Bobcat pulls no punches with God Bless America, he has all manner of annoying targets in his crosshairs, sometimes literally. Screaming babies? Throw them up in the air and blast them with a shotgun like a clay pigeon. Spoiled brats? Lock them in their car and set fire to their petrol tank. Vicious TV talent show judges? Well, I won't spoil the entire film but you get the idea. No-one is off limits here, and some would say rightly so. Given the amount of trash on TV right now, it was only a matter of time before someone wrote a film liked this. It just so happens that Bobcat was the first to do it in such an extreme way. Having said that, there are some semi-formulaic elements about God Bless America. Frank is given a sidekick in Roxy, an endlessly enthusiastic teenage runaway who revels in Frank's actions, someone who you assume is meant to represent the 'sane' members of society who refuse the Super Sweet 16's of the world. Their friendship is unlikely, but it's to be expected in an extraordinary film like this. They become like a modern day Bonnie and Clyde, even though their actions go unnoticed in the media at first. Roxy gets angered by this, but Frank finds a problem in that, becoming angry that Roxy is never happy. Goldthwait's characters are seemingly endlessly flawed, which is the sign of good writing. The rest of the film does not carry such hallmarks.

The plot is simple enough. but the pace is all over the place, though whether that was intentional or whether it was the fault of the editor is unknown. Either way, the pace is all over the place which has the danger of making the viewer more uncomfortable than the subject matter, which is somewhat surprising. The dialogue isn't great either, and there's nothing original either. It's all self-important monologues and constant conflict resolution. Don't be fooled by the way it's dressed up, the story and the dialogue is something we've all heard before. The direction is fine, if unspectacular, but then it's right that the direction isn't taking the headlines in a film like this. The film itself looks surprisingly good, getting the right mix of mainstream blockbuster and independent docu-drama in its visuals, and that stays constant throughout the film, which is pleasant to see. The acting is the main headline in God Bless America though, and rightly so.

Joel Murray is really, really good playing Frank, the depressed insurance salesman who finds a new reason to live despite his impending death. He plays the depressed, fantasy loving, angry loner well, and then as soon as things are ramped up, he clearly takes real delight in being the action hero and wielding various guns all over the place. He is ably assisted by Tara Lynne Barr, who plays the teenage Roxy with endless enthusiasm and is able to drop in the drama and seriousness at just the right times. Her role is written somewhat badly, given she is dealing with subject matter well above her station, and ideally the role would be filled by a 20-something actress/character, but Barr does very well, stepping up and maturing in a role which could have been difficult to fill. Other than those two, there aren't any particularly spectacular performances, people merely fill their roles aptly when needed, but thee focus needs to stay on the modern day Bonnie and Clyde. any other distractions and the film would have become cluttered and unfocused.

Overall, God Bless America is a film which above all else is symptomatic of an angry man at the helm. Bobcat Goldthwait has a lot to say, and though he isn't the most elegant of writers, he certainly gets his point across. It's not the best of films, not by a long way, but the conversation that could potentially be raised by a film like this is always welcomed. It's not often someone has the guts to do such a far-reaching satire, so to see it done here is a welcome sight, even if it does miss its mark at certain points. Also, some of the story feels forced and inevitable; despite the extreme content matter, you can see where the film's going from a long way off. The main shocks come in the first half of the film, and once those have passed, you feel comfortable and expectant of the shocks that do come. It's a shame that this loses its energy near the end, because if it had managed to maintain its focus and surprise element, this could have been a great film. Fact is, God Bless America is simply good, not that that's a bad thing,

Rating: ***

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Piranha 3DD

One year after a devastating attack from prehistoric piranhas, Lake Victoria, a once bustling spring break vacation spot, is a ghost town, abandoned by everyone. Meanwhile, in a town which is somewhere far away but not too far away from Lake Victoria, Maddy has returned home for the summer to oversee the running of the water park she part owns with her step father, Chet. To her horror, he has transformed it into a garish, adult themed park with 'water-certified strippers' instead of lifeguards and an adult pool with built-in 'cootch cam'. Chet's biggest change though is the illegal water pump supplying water to the park from an underground lake, where the prehistoric piranhas are waiting... And evolving...

Remember when Piranha 3D came out in the summer of 2010? Everybody loved it. It became one of those 'must see' films amongst teens and casual film goers because of how much fun it was. Piranha never took itself too seriously, it was self-aware grindhouse at its finest with a host of celebrity cameos (including THAT scene with Kelly Brook) and more than a handful of blood, guts, and gore, all tied together with some cheesy, laughable dialogue. More importantly, it made a surprising amount of money for Bob and Harvey Weinstein, and plans for a sequel were immediately put in place. However, it retained none of the original writers, nor the director. Instead, the writers of Saw 3D wrote the film to be directed by the man who brought the Feast franchise to the screen. Can you not see this going horribly wrong already? Well, it did. Drastically.

Piranha 3DD had a lot to live up to, to be fair, but it falls down on pretty much every point where Piranha 3D excelled. It's far too self-aware and loses its charm, the nudity is gratuitous and not sparing in order to keep the audience wanting, the gore is disturbingly sparse, losing its humour, and there aren't any shocks, surprises or tension-building moments. I'll give it this, Piranha 3DD is funny, but unintentionally so. The dialogue isn't 'self-aware bad', it's just plain bad and, at times, ludicrous. When one of the lead characters comes out with the line "Josh cut off his penis because something came out of my vagina", it's funny for all the wrong reasons. It's lines like that that just seem to exemplify the attitude of the writers. There was so much potential for higher thrills, better and gorier deaths, and the chance to do something different in this, but they've just gone ahead and made a sloppier, lazier version of the original, and that's probably the most disappointing aspect of all.

Probably the best thing is about this film is the appearance of David Hasselhoff, and that speak volumes in itself. He (shockingly) plays a washed-up, self-obsessed, fictionalised version of himself well, and comes across as genuinely apathetic in the face of the chaos and terror happening all around him. Elsewhere, Danielle Panabaker as Maddy is cookie cutter in this, given a typical role of the heroine who tries to stop everything happening but fails, leaving her to try and save everyone, though she's not helped by some poor dialogue and lack of character development, something which blights everyone in this. Her two romantic interests are typical bad guy and good guy, nothing special at all. Katrina Bowden gets the worst of it though, having to play the scream queen when she's clearly not cut out for it. Her dialogue, in particular, is atrocious, including the aforementioned line about something coming out of her vagina. David Koechner makes the same kind of appearance he now makes in every film; playing a more evil, worse version of Champ Kind from Anchorman. Christopher Lloyd's cameo is just a reminder of how good he is at playing an eccentric scientist, and Paul Scheer and Ving Rhames make a welcome return, though it's never explained why exactly the two of them are now friends in this, and their appearances are fleeting at most.

The biggest problem with the writing of Piranha 3DD is that the writers seems to have acted like a bunch of frat boys. There are SO. MANY. BOOBS in this, I actually started to get bored. And I love boobs. They also included as many crude double entendres as possible, and substituted those in for actual dialogue. There was no tension built throughout, there was no inventiveness in either plot or story: Water-based scenario established, piranhas come back, major bloodbath at water-based scenario, piranhas defeated. No surprises. It also comes in at a shockingly short 71 minutes. That's not a film, that's an episode of a TV series. This film has direct-to-video written all over it and yet it managed to score a wider release and more publicity than the better original. Nice try, Weinsteins, but no-one's buying it. The box-office should tell you that.

Overall, this is just a bad film. The original had charm and got the balance of everything just right. This one is all over the place. It would have been bad enough if this was just a copy, but somehow they managed to make a real hash of recreating what was a winning formula. I was really looking forward to this after the first one, and this has disappointed me so badly. If you liked the first one, don't see this, save yourself. If you didn't like the first one, definitely don't watch this, you'll want to tear your eyes out. If you didn't even see the first one, still don't watch this, go back and watch Piranha 3D, it's s much better than this money-making exercise. Oh, and the piranhas look crap this time.

Rating: 1/2

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Prometheus

In the late 21st century, a group of scientists led by Dr Elizabeth Shaw discover a star map, similar to those already found, all painted by different and unrelated civilisations. Their belief is these maps are an invitation to seek out mankind's creators, or "engineers". So, funded by an ageing Peter Weyland and his corporation, Shaw and a team of scientists have the trillion dollar vessel Prometheus bestowed upon them in which to travel two years through space to reach their destination: LV-223 and to try and find the answers to the creation of mankind. However, they very quickly realise that they may not find what they're looking for. God doesn't build in straight lines...

This is it. The film over 30 years in the making. The Alien franchise, one of the best known, best loved movie franchises of all time. The history of the franchise is impressive: Alien, the 1979 original directed by Sir Ridley Scott (with only his second feature film) is an instant classic. Everyone knows the story. Aliens, the 1986 sequel, is just as good and was helmed by James Cameron in only his third feature film. 1992's Alien 3, though looked on unfavourably, gave David Fincher his directorial debut and still stands up today. Finally, 1997's Alien Resurrection was written by the legendary Joss Whedon and was the only English language film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Finally, the series gets its prequel film, with Ridley Scott, the man who created it all, back at the helm, explaining everything Alien fans could ever want to know about facehuggers, chestbusters and space jockeys. Except it's not. And it doesn't. And it shouldn't. Prometheus is its own beast with "strands of Alien's DNA". Yes, it's a prequel, but it's not a direct prequel. This is a back story about the beginnings. And what a story it is.

Let me start by saying this: The sheer scale of Prometheus is incredible. The visuals are stunning, beautiful and grand. I guarantee this film would look epic on an IMAX screen. The sets are massive and give the film a grander, more event-like feel. The attention to detail and intricacies in the mise-en-scène make this film feel a little bit more special than it already does being associated with the Alien franchise. It shows just how much care and attention to detail has been paid by Sir Ridley, Damon Lindelof et al. Also, the 3D in this is totally justified. Scott's experimentation with the format has paid off, as his entire world becomes immersive. The 3D also achieves something which I believe it should be solely used for. Instead of making it feel welcoming, the 3D makes the audience feel uncomfortable, with things flying towards them and getting covered with goo and falling metal. It's like a cinematic ghost train, but in a good way. Also, the subtle references to Alien and the franchise made me happy, and by the sounds of things made a lot of other audience members happy as well.


From there though, things start to fall apart. Well, not fall apart, but become decidedly dodgy. There are a few scenes in the film which are completely unnecessary. They don't go anywhere, they don't explain anything and are surely only there to satisfy Ridley's appetite for filming erroneous footage. The main problem with this film though are the various sub plots. Some of them make no sense. Some of them are introduced and then forgotten about. Some of them reach a conclusion which is either unsatisfying or plays no part in the overall plot or both. The main crux of the story is good, and there's a lot of tension built up, but it's when we're diverted to a side story that things get confusing and illogical. Believe me, there's a huge amount of 'movie logic' at work in this, too many moments where you end going "What? No. That's not how science works. What?? Why are they doing that? Who would say that? Why go there?! Why are you trusting him?!" many, many times. In particular, the sub plot with Peter Weyland makes no sense in the context of the film, and the 'shocking twist' at the end of the 2nd act is illogical and is never revisited. Bad writing. As for the dialogue, 90% of it is natural and flowing, but there's a definite 10% margin for awkwardness, though I wonder whether or not that's the writing's fault.


I bring to your attention the performance of Logan Marshall-Green as Dr Charlie Holloway, love interest of Noomi Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw and surely the most athletic, good-looking and unlikely archaeologist of all time. Indiana Jones makes sense, this one doesn't. Marshall-Green is, for lack of a better word, terrible. He has no on-screen chemistry with Rapace even though they're supposed to be lovers, his choice of line delivery is questionable at best and even his movements are forced and unnatural. Having said that, he's the only bad actor in a crop of good ones. Charlize Theron has got the 'ice queen' thing down, and she delivers again here as Weyland's representative on board Prometheus. Idris Elba plays the cool, bad ass captain with his usual swagger and style. Michael Fassbender is creepy as hell as the humanoid android David, delivering a perfectly emotionless performance. This guy is money. However, the best piece of casting by a mile is Noomi Rapace. Sometimes her Scandinavian accent slips in, but aside from that, she's perfect. Her motions are natural, her reactions realistic, her delivery near-perfect, and as a side note, there's a scene which takes place in Vickers' cabin *cough cough* where the scenario she's placed in, her performance and her look (mainly her look AFTER the action in the scene) make her seem like a carbon copy of a young Sigourney Weaver from Alien. Seriously, it's uncanny, and it's a really nice touch.


Overall, does Prometheus answer every question the fans wanted answered? No, and it wasn't meant to: Prometheus was designed as the first of three prequels leading up to the events of Alien, so the plot and the conclusion of the film make sense when you look at the bigger picture. However, if you ask whether Prometheus answers every question it raises by itself, the answer is no. So many things are illogical, forgotten or left unresolved,, it's disappointing. I understand leaving some things open ended for future films, but you still need a satisfying conclusion and I don't feel like Prometheus ever achieves one. Having said that, the film is beautiful to look at and an uncomfortable joy to watch. Just don't judge against the Alien films: Prometheus is its own goo-dripping, face-hugging, chest-bursting creature just waiting to jump out at you.


Rating: ***1/2

Friday, 18 May 2012

Marvel Avengers Assemble

The Tesseract is a powerful energy source being stored on Earth under the careful gaze of Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. However, demi-god Loki opens a portal from Asgard to Earth to steal the Tesseract in return for a Chituari army with which he can enslave Earth. This leads Nick Fury to put into place the Avengers Initiative, gathering the world's most powerful superheroes: Steve Rogers aka Captain America, Tony Stark aka Iron Man, Clint Barton aka Hawkeye, Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow, the demi-god Thor, and Bruce Banner aka Hulk must put aside their differences and unite to defeat Loki and save Manhattan...

Fine, in the UK, it's officially Marvel Avengers Assemble, the film I watched was Marvel Avengers Assemble. I thought the name change was stupid, and that no-one would confuse it with either The Avengers UK TV series from the 1960's or the American film remake of the TV show from the 1990's, until I spoke to no less than three different people assumed The Avengers was another remake of the Patrick Macnee/Diana Rigg TV series. Name change justified. However, a name does make a movie not, and whatever you call it, this is arguably the biggest superhero film of all time. The 12 year renaissance of comic book based-films has led to this: An amalgamation of Marvel's finest heroes in one two hour spectacular. Does it live up to the hype? Well, yeah, but it was always going to.

It was always going to because Marvel has set a high standard for superhero films: Thor was surprisingly great, Iron Man was fantastic even if Iron Man 2 was disappointing, and Captain America was refreshingly different for what was becoming a very samey genre. Let's disregard the two failed attempts at making The Incredible Hulk a film franchise, Marvel knows how to transfer its characters from page to screen with relative ease, and given that the task of every MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) film since Iron Man has been to establish characters in the lead up to this, I would say mission accomplished, Marvel. I'll admit, I'm a DC man myself (think Batman, Green Lantern, The Flash), but Marvel have been turning my head for years with their films and now, after this, my head is fully turned and I'm willing to give Marvel my full attention.

In regards to the film, I think Joss Whedon did a great job with something that could have been extremely clusterfucky. He gives each character equal screen time and equal importance when certain characters could easily have stolen the show and hogged the screen time. The exposition was there certainly, given the massive amount of plot wrangling required to assemble the Avengers, but it was kept to a minimum and even then it fit the tone of the film. There was tension, PLENTY of action sequences, and even some Whedon humour now and again to which the film benefited greatly. The film doesn't drag in its 143 minutes, or at least the second half doesn't. While everyone's "assembling" and working out their problems, there's more exposition than usual to fill the gaps and it drags the film, but once everyone gets along, it whistles through to its conclusion. Also, the final climatic battle in Manhattan was fantastic, I won't lie. It so easily could have been another clusterfuck of action and flying heroes, but everything was kept under control by Whedon, who's impressed me yet again after constantly impressing me with his earlier TV work. Every hero is given their chance and their focus, and the camera work is impressive, especially the long crane tracking shots which gave every hero their 30 seconds.

One thing I was extremely pleased with was the development of The Incredible Hulk. For once, the emphasis of the character was placed on Banner, not "the other guy", and the film's re-imagining of the Hulk character pathos (Banner as always-angry but calm on the surface scientist able to keep Hulk under control) was great, and will no doubt lead to a third attempt at an Incredible Hulk film franchise launch within 15 years. However, I was left disappointed by another character. To me, Hawkeye seemed entirely unnecessary and only included because of his inclusion at the end of Thor. His role could easily have been taken by any other missing Avengers member (Ant Man, any one of the Fantastic Four, even Spider Man). Also, he isn't scouted out as a hero like the other Avengers, he's just an agent who's involved with the Tesseract and just so happens to be good at archery as well. It feels as if Marvel haven't given Hawkeye a fair chance before nowm and it reflects badly on the character in this, feeling as though they're testing the waters for a Hawkeye film AFTER this.

Overall, the Avengers film had quite possibly the best set up of all time, with 4 massive franchise films starring characters known the world over, so it was never going to fail unless it was poorly executed, which Joss Whedon was pretty much nailed on not to do. There's something for everyone, from not in the loop moviegoers to action fanatics to full-on comic book nerds (for once, a Marvel post-credits scene where almost no-one knew the tease!). It's hugely entertaining, but then, like I said before, you didn't need me to tell you any of this, because this film has reached $1 billion worldwide box-office faster than any other film. A lot of you have seen it, and though some may not have been as excited as others, the silence coming from the haters is deafening.

Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Academy Award Nominations: 2
  • Best Picture
  • Best Supporting Actor (Max von Sydow)

Oskar Schell is an intelligent but frightened young boy, so his father Thomas regularly sends him on scavenger hunts to try and cure him of his fears of interacting with the outside world. However, Thomas is killed on 9/11, leaving Oskar and his mother Linda devastated, as Oskar retreats into his own world again. As Oskar goes through his father's possessions, trying to keep his memory and connection with him alive, he accidentally shatters a blue vase, which reveals a small brown envelope with 'Black' written on it and containing a key. Oskar determines that this is his father's final scavenger hunt for him, and becomes determined to find out what it unlocks in order to try and keep his father's memory alive...

If there's one film this year that has "Oscar bait" written all over it, it's surely this one. A young boy as the central character. Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, two of the biggest actors in the world, playing his parents. A 9/11 tragedy forms the context of the story. No laughs, all tears. It may as well have been called For Your Consideration with the way this seems to be desperately craving Academy attention, and God bless the Academy, they went for it hook, line, and sinker. All the elements are there for a quintessential award winner, it's just a matter of putting them together and creating a likeable story with likeable characters that will appeal to a wide range of voters and audience members alike. Unfortunately, this is where the construct falls down. A better name for this film would have been Extremely Long and Incredibly Crass, because it is just that...

The main problem with this film is the central character. The young boy Oskar who losers his father in the 9/11 attacks and so goes on a quest to see what his father's key will unlock in the hopes it will lead him to something greater and keep his father's memory alive. Nice idea, yes, but the problem with that... Is that the kid is an asshole. I mean, a real little prick. There's no way you can feel any empathy for him when he is so consistently annoying throughout this film. There script makes a very brief mention that he had been tested for Asperger's syndrome but that the tests had been inconclusive. This seems like a very lazy way to explain why Oskar becomes as obsessed and neurotic as he is, as well as an easy way to explain why he's being such a dick to his grieving mother, his doting grandmother and everyone around him. I understand that grief takes many forms, but presenting it in this form makes Oskar thoroughly unlikeable and leaves the audience at a distance from the film, which is a major problem when the film tries to evoke emotion left, right and centre.

The only people who get close to evoking said emotion are the two main supports: Sandra Bullock as Oskar's mother, and Max von Sydow as the man who is renting a room with Oskar's grandmother. Bullock plays a grieving mother ignored and mistreated by her angry (?) son well, but is ultimately reduced to a cameo appearance. Max von Sydow, however, is probably the best, and probably only good, thing about this film. I put this down to one reason: The character is mute, and only speaks through a pad and paper and Yes/No tattoos on the palms of his hands. Why is this so good? Well it means he never has to open his mouth and say any of the terrible dialogue the other characters are given, and it means his brief statements and messages and expressions and acting have more impact than any other. Also, if anyone watched the BAFTAs, you'll know von Sydow is having trouble delivering consistent speech, so a silent role suits him down and he does really well here. Tom Hanks's best part of this film is probably the all-too-realistic voicemails he leaves for his family as he is stuck in the North Tower, otherwise when you do see him on screen with Oskar, he seems to be less getting Oskar over his phobias and more breeding Oskar to be an asshole. Viola Davis also makes a welcome cameo appearance as one of the people Oskar meets on his quest to what his key unlocks.

There's nothing wrong with the way the film has been shot, it looks fine and polished as you'd expect. The problem is with the plot and the dialogue and the characters. This entire film is overly romanticised, overly emotional, and extremely heavy when there's no need for it. Maybe as a light-hearted comedy with a serious core this might have worked, but as a serious drama, it fails. There's just no need for this film to be playing for such a strong emotional reaction all the time, it leaves you feeling underwhelmed with the entire concept when it doesn't hit home, so much so that when the film actually stands a chance of evoking the kind of reaction it's aiming for, you're so bored and dulled by it, that all you can do is sit and let the overly-emotional scenes wash over you. If you're anything like me, you'll sit through this to the end purely to reach the conclusion and answer the questions the film raises, not for any kind of morbid curiosity or because the film's enjoyable. Because to be honest it's really not.

Overall, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is Extremely Long and Incredibly Dull. This film has aspirations of being something so much greater but it fails to live up to its own expectations. Max von Sydow is probably the only good thing about this and makes the second act worth watching, other that that though I struggle to find reasons to recommend it really. It's just overly-hyped, overly-emotional slush which misses its target so often, it's incredible that this has made it onto the shortlist as one of the best films of the year. Every year, the Academy makes at least one big mistake. This might well be the mistake for 2011. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close? Extremely Loathsome and Incredibly Painful.

Rating: *1/2

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was released on 17th February 2012 and is still being shown in cinemas.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Tree of Life

Academy Award Nominations: 3
  • Best Picture
  • Best Director (Terrence Malick)
  • Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki)

The universe is born. Earth struggles into existance, dinosaurs roam the land until a meteor wipes them out. In the 21st century, Jack is depressed in his life, and a tree being planted at his office makes him reminisce about his upbringing. In the 1950's/60's, Jack and his two brothers are raised in highly religious Waco, Texas by his two parents: Mrs O'Brien represents the way of grace, teaching her children about the wonders of the world around them whilst being nurturing and supporting, whilst Mr O'Brien represents the way of nature, preparing his children for the harsh realities of the world through a strict and authoritative upbringing. As Jack grows up, he faces the conflict between grace and nature, and must decide which path of his parents' paths to follow, if any...

The Tree of Life is an odd beast, which is an understatement given it's the latest work by Terrence Malick, a filmmaker notorious for his privacy and gaps between work. He took a 20 year break between Days of Heaven in 1978 and The Thin Red Line in 1998, took another 7 years to release The New World in 2005, then took 6 years to release this in 2011. Even then, The Tree of Life is based on a script entitled Q, focusing on the origins of the universe, which Malick had been working on for nearly 30 years since the release of Days of Heaven, so it's little surprise that this is only Malick's fifth release since 1973. What it shows is Malick's insistence on fine-tuning and doing things right, even if it takes him a decade or so. Time doesn't seem to be an issue with Malick though, as he quite successfully covers about 4 and a half billion years of history in The Tree of Life in about 2 and a half hours.

The Tree of Life is a rare thing, in that it's a mainstream arthouse film. The ideas and concepts covered here are far beyond any standard film, and the way in which the film has been shot makes it seem more like a painting than a film; each shot has been carefully crafted and contains very little dialogue to get its ideas across. In fact, there's little to no dialogue throughout the film, the story is told almost entirely through striking visual images and brief lines of voiceover representing internal monologues, all set against a majestic soundtrack. The narrative is entirely non-linear as well, moving the family drama from the 1950's and 1960's into the modern day, before going back to the creation of Earth and somehow relating it to the family in Texas. It shouldn't make sense, but somehow it does. Everything fits together because of how artistically the film's images are created, leaving the film to resemble a poem or a painting, or any other art form other than a motion picture.

Obviously, because of the lack of dialogue, strong performances are required of its leading actors, and they deliver in spades. Brad Pitt is good here as the stern father, struggling to balance his love for his children with his desire to see them grow up and be successful and able to carry themselves in a world which he sees as having gone to hell. Jessica Chastain is also great here, arguably better in this than she was in The Help, and this without the help of words and extended dialogue to portray her character's desire to raise her children more freely whilst placating her depressed and aggressive husband. The kids also do well here, especially Hunter McCracken who plays the young Jack, as the plot essentially revolves around him and the choices he makes during adolescence. He performs well, especially so for a child actor, in a difficult role as a child being raised under contradictory and often clashing ways of thinking. Sean Penn makes a few brief appearances as the adult Jack in the modern day, but all he does is wander about and talk to a couple of people, not enough to warrant any kind of review for his 'performance'.

The Tree of Life deals with a lot of concepts, and even though it has a fairly long run time, it still seems excessively short for the amount of ground it covers. The creation of Earth is told through flickering lights and explosions, really beautiful and inspiring imagery. Then, there's the dinosaur scenes. Oh dear. The dinosaurs look terrible to begin, look totally out of place, and the scenes look out of place in the film in general. It doesn't dwell on that though, as most of the action focuses on Jack's Texas upbringing. Constant whispers of existential questions about life over the top leave its audience thinking about deeper things, which can be good, but not when you're also trying to watch and follow a film which makes its audience work hard enough to find their own meaning and answers. More than anything, The Tree of Life is a brave attempt to create a film with real meaning, and sometimes it nails it, but sometimes it's way off the mark.

Overall, The Tree of Life is not something to be taken lightly. If you're going to watch it, be prepared to pour in a lot of effort, energy and thought into it; this definitely isn't something you can fade in and out of in the background. The only film I can think to compare it to in terms of themes and what it's trying to achieve is 2001: A Space Odyssey, and whilst I think The Tree of Life is far more stylistic, looks far more beautiful on screen and adds more emotion, 2001 is a far, far easier watch and its plot line and structure makes it a more likeable film as well. It's a solid effort, and it definitely won't be for everyone this, but it might be worth giving it a go if you're in the mood for something more than your average Hollywood blockbuster as this is certainly the remedy for that. This may not be my kind of thing, but I can certainly appreciate the effort and artistry put into this. Let me put it like this: The Tree of Life covered 4 and a half billion years in 2 and a half hours. The Hangover Part II did nothing in 90 minutes. You decide which one is more worthwhile.

Rating: ***

The Tree of Life was released on 8th July 2011 and is no longer being shown in cinemas.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Midnight in Paris

Academy Award Nominations: 4
  • Best Picture
  • Best Director (Woody Allen)
  • Best Original Screenplay (Woody Allen)
  • Best Art Direction (Production Design: Anne Siebel, Set Decoration: Helene Dubreuil)

Gil Pender, a Hollywood screenwriter, and his fiancée Inez are holidaying in Paris with Inez's parents while Gil is struggling to write his first novel. Whereas Inez finds Paris as an opportunity to see its sights and view its art , guided by her pseudo-intellectual friend Paul, Gil is far more enamoured with the city, setting his sights on moving there. While on a night walk around the city, he gets lost, and at midnight, an antique car pulls up and ushers Gil inside. He discovers a number of people dressed in 1920's garb, ready to take him on an adventure in 1920's Paris, where he meets his literary and artistic heroes, finds inspiration and guidance for his novel, and meets Adriana, Pablo Picasso's mistress, with whom he becomes immediately enamoured...

I'll admit, I haven't actually seen many Woody Allen films, even though the man is legendarily a film-making machine. Of the ones I have seen, there have been a few I've hated (Match Point, Melinda and Melinda, Cassandra's Dream) and there have been a few I've liked, or even loved (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Manhattan, Annie Hall) and I'm not alone in that. Allen's films universally divide opinion, but the overwhelming agreement is that when he's bad, he's terrible, missing the point by a mile, but when he's good, he's fantastic, using a city and characters to tell a story of neuroses and life in general. Although his foray into London didn't pan out (You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger aside), his recent excursion into Barcelona won him plaudits and now he moves onto Paris, home of the great artists, something which inspires Midnight in Paris. So has he got it right, or has he got it wrong? This time, he's got it right. Very right.

Midnight in Paris is beguiling more than anything, romanticising Paris to an extreme, making this almost like a love letter to the city, something in the vein of so many classic romantic comedies where the protagonists meet at the Eiffel Tower. Allen's repeated image of Paris in the rain just sounds beautiful despite the fact you don't actually get that visual until the end of the film. Despite the fact Paris is a dirty, busy, overhyped cesspit, you start to associate with the protagonist Gil's enthusiasm for the city, and when his time-travelling adventures begin, the city and the 1920's period combined create an even more romantic vision of Paris, creating a beautiful vision of divulging artists and fascinating characters. Admittedly, the concept of the film is somewhat surreal (and later becomes meta when the device is repeated within itself) but that's not a bad thing; it serves to make the film more charming and generally more watchable. You feel without it, this would have been just another Manhattan, but thankfully it becomes its own film and excels because of that.

The film is carried squarely on the shoulders of Owen Wilson, who plays screenwriter Gil who goes to Paris looking for inspiration after struggling. You feel the character is heavily based on Allen himself, not just because of his situation and his quest for creativity in a different city, but because the character dresses like Allen and talks like Allen, using Allen's famous extended vocabulary and squeezing in facts and neuroses about life into very short, quickly delivered sentences. Wilson is able to pull off the pacing of the film, and with that, he holds the film together. A lesser performance, and the film would have fallen down, as it relies heavily on its fast-paced dialogue (so fast, in fact, the film only lasts 94 minutes). Rachel McAdams is reduced to somewhat of a cameo role as his wife, which is a shame, but also not, because she's quite wooden when she does appear on screen. Michael Sheen's brief appearances as Paul, as he plays an upper-class know-it-all quite well, surprisingly enough. Even Carla Bruni is alright in her cameo as the tour guide. In the 1920's, Tom Hiddleston (there he is again) is utterly charming in bringing F. Scott Fitzgerald to life, and Corey Stoll is fitfully deep and poignant and drunk as Ernest Hemingway. Kathy Bates doesn't seem to play Gertrude Stein, she seems to play Friendly Mother Movie Role Which Is Usually Filled By Kathy Bates, while Adrian Brody does a great cameo as Salvador Dali.

However, Marion Cotillard does fantastically well as Adriana, Picasso's mistress and muse who falls in love with Gil and vice versa. Her character seems to be a 1920's equivalent of Gil, with aspirations of something greater whilst reminiscing of an earlier period as a great time than the present. The characters fit together well and Wilson and Cotillard have a lot of chemistry, which is surprising given the short amount of time they're given to develop it in. Although their romance doesn't explore any new territory plot-wise, the fact that their relationship IS full of clichés about romance and Paris is never going to be more fitting than it is here. I will say, Cotillard's character seems far less complex than Wilson's character; Gil seems to be more a man of contemplation and reminiscence and vocabulary and neuroses, it seems as if more thought was given to creating this one character over any other, and as such, Gil dominates the proceedings throughout, becoming the tour de force in any given situation, for which most of the fellow leading characters suffer for, let alone the secondary characters and cameos. Their impact is lessened, but not unnoticed by any means.

Overall, it's a really interesting story Allen has devised here and he pulls it off well, hardly surprising given the years of experience he's had in delivering such films. The wide range of characters and the vast amount of fast-spoken dialogue mean you have to keep up with it; it is blink and you'll miss it at some points. Although some characters seem staged rather than natural, others are allowed to develop and flourish on screen and they do so greatly. The film looks beautifully shot, is directed well, and clearly written well as the dialogue is snappy and the story ticks along at a steady rate, reaching a firm conclusion. It may be full of clichés, but it's set in Paris, what did you expect? At least no-one gets engaged on top of the Eiffel Tower.

Rating: ****

Midnight in Paris was released on 7th October 2011 and is no longer being shown in cinemas.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The Help

Academy Award Nominations: 4
  • Best Picture
  • Best Actress (Viola Davis)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Jessica Chastain)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer)

In 1960's Mississippi, middle class white families hire black maids to clean their houses, cook their food, and raise their young children for them. 'The Help', as they are referred to, are a struggling underclass, and look to be degraded even more soon if a new bill passes and forces them to use separate outside toilets. Meanwhile, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan has just graduated from the University of Mississippi and aspires to be a journalist or a novelist. Upon returning home, she witnesses outright racism from her old friends who are all married with kids and hiring help. Coupled with the fact her own maid Constantine has mysteriously quit, Skeeter decides to write a book about the maids and tell their stories. At first they're hesitant, but eventually two maids step up: Aibileen, the maid to Hilly Holbrook, the 'leader' of the middle class wives in Jackson, and Minny, a maid with a reputation of being difficult...

The Help is one of those films that has 'For Your Consideration' stamped all over it on the surface: Famous faces telling the story of race relations in the south of America in the 1960's. It's award season fodder. However, to pull this off, the film can't be too schmultzy and nostalgic; it needs to be hard hitting and accurate with great performances throughout to live out the characters and give the film a sense of reality and believability. So what does The Help offer with its big screen adaptation? Emma Stone (one of the fastest rising stars in Hollywood), Jessica Chastain (one of the fastest rising stars in Hollywood), Viola Davis (former Academy award nominee), Octavia Spencer (famous character actor) and Bryce Dallas Howard (former Gwen Stacy in Spiderman and diaghter of Ron Howard). So some stellar and non-stellar names leading the way. Pleasingly, they all deliver stellar performances. The story though...

The story of The Help is touching and emotional and funny and realistic, and as a film, it works well. However, you can't help but feel walking away from this that the message of the film was "Black maids oppressed by middle class white families finally gained courage and found freedom with the help of a middle class white girl." The Help seems to suggest that the black maids needed help from white people to gain freedom from... oppressive white people, and that just seems wrong to me, to have that as the moral of the story if we're meant to be focusing on the strong-willed but oppressed black women at the centre of the film. Something seems drastically wrong with that. Don't get me wrong, Aibileen and Minny are the dramatic centre of the film, directing the plot and having the story narrated by Aibileen, showing how they fight against Hilly and her dominant racist views and how Skeeter helps them to gain a mall measure of revenge and equality. My problem is the entire film places Emma Stone's Skeeter as the protagonist, showing her entire life story and following her all the way through, and Bryce Dallas Howard's Hilly as the antagonist, reducing Aibileen and Minny to supporting players, and in a film that's meant to be focusing on the stories and lives of these two women as they try to gain some respect against an oppressive white majority, I find that shocking and downright appalling.

Unfortunately, it is what it is, nothing can be done about that, but Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer deliver two performances in this that blow almost everyone else out of the water, placing them centre stage and keeping them as the focus of attention, despite the narrative attempting to do otherwise. Viola Davis delivers an emotional, heartbreaking performance throughout and is rightly the narrator, setting the tone and becoming the example of the blatant racism and the fight against it. However, it's Octavia Spencer who steals the show, grabbing the focus and attention in every single scene she's in, playing her role as a feisty and strong maid with a heart and plenty of determination perfectly. It's Spencer and Spencer's character which make this film so immediately watchable and direct your focus throughout it's two hour run time, so she deserves a lot of credit for that. Emma Stone plays the cute, spunky, naive girl with a lot of heart here, much as she seems to do in a lot of her films, so her performance is good and solid enough, albeit unspectacular and unoriginal. Bryce Dallas Howard is also great in this, playing a character who is ostensibly 'a bitch' and making her truly unlikeable, using the character traits to portray the character's inherent racism and self-made authority amongst her friend group.

The mystery, or at least for me, is Jessica Chastain and her Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role here. I'd argue Howard portrays the better character and delivers a more striking and powerful performance. That's not to say Chastain isn't good in here role as the working class girl elevated to middle class housewife who needs Minny to teach her to cook and take care of her house, all the while trying to reinitiate herself into Howard's social circle. It's a semi-complicated role which Chastain plays well, but I'm not seeing this as a particularly special performance. She may be a great actress, but this wasn't anything special. Speaking of nothing special, the film has two endings, and though each ending does tie up one or multiple threads from the film, the way the final 15 minutes is structured seems to me to only ruin the impact of the endings. The actual end of the film is fantastic and moving and appropriate, but the film also ends about 10 minutes before that when it didn't need as that plot line could easily have remained open, and it distracts from the proper ending with Aibileen. Another shame, but after the way the film plays out, it's unsurprising, something I put down to the poor adaptation and poor direction of Tate Taylor.

Overall, it's a nice enough film to watch and tells it story solidly, it just seems to do it from the wrong perspective. The film confuses itself as to which side of the story its meant to be showing, and the entire concept of The Help suffers because of it. Saying that, if you're going to watch this film, you should do so for the performances, because there are some really great ones on offer here. The film looks good, but I put that down to the cinematographer rather than the writer/director, who doesn't seem to know what he's doing and only got this job as he knows the author (sad but true story). The Help could certainly use some help to tell its story, but its actresses need no help at all..

Rating: ***

The Help was released on 26th October 2011 and is no longer being shown in cinemas.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Descendants

Academy Award Nominations: 5 
  • Best Picture
  • Best Director (Alexander Payne)
  • Best Actor (George Clooney)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay (Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash)
  • Best Film Editing (Kevin Tent)

Matt King is a lawyer based in Hawaii and the sole trustee of a family trust that controls thousands of acres of untouched land, which they are about to sell to a local businessman for redevelopment. However, after an unfortunate boating accident, Matt's wife Elizabeth is left in a coma, forcing him to stop everything and re-assess his life. First priority is looking after his 10 year old daughter Scottie, as well as bringing back his 17 year old wild child daughter Alex from boarding school. When Matt finds out his wife won't recover, he begins the awful task of informing his close family and children. However, Alex has a more surprising revelation: Elizabeth was having an affair, and was on the verge of leaving Matt before the accident. Can Matt and his family cope with everything at once?

Alexander Payne movies are very quickly becoming highly distinctive and templates for fellow American directors: American social critiques with troubled main characters and a provocative supporting cast, where nothing much happens other than the everyday complexity of life itself, told with plenty of dark humour and satire. Before this, Payne wrote and directed Election, About Schmidt and Sideways, three really excellent films that established Payne as a 'force majeure' before he disappeared for 7 years, merely producing a handful of efforts rather than writing and directing. Finally, he's back with The Descendants, starring one of the biggest names in the world. So has he gone Hollywood or was he merely biding his time? Thankfully, it's safe to say he was biding his time, and biding it well.

Almost needless to say, this is another distinctive Alexander Payne film, where there are no major action points, and both plot and story are driven by character and dialogue. It's more a series of mini dramas held together by one leading plot thread, much in the same way his earlier works worked, and the formula hasn't gotten old yet. The Descendants can switch from laugh out loud funny to quietly tense to completely heartbreaking in the blink of an eye, hardly surprising given the subject matter and the range of characters that inhabit this world. It's a really well worked drama with elements of all manner of other genres thrown in for good measure. Payne has most certainly established himself as a great modern day American director, becoming the voice of the disaffected youth who grew up to nothing but disappointment. He lived out the disappointing future of Ferris Bueller in Election with Matthew Broderick, and now he's enlisted George Clooney to deliver a similar performance.

And what a performance it is. George Clooney seems to have only gotten better with age, and in The Descendants he delivers a similar performance to the one he delivered two years ago in Up in the Air, one which was also a perfect portrayal of a highly troubled character struggling to keep everything organised and in order on the surface. He was great in that, and he's great again in this, playing an absentee father, near oblivious to his family until he's forced to confront and control it. In my opinion though, his performance is enhanced by the chemistry he creates with his on-screen daughter Alex, played by Shailene Woodley. Woodley is only 20 years old, playing a 17 year old with a drinking problem and strained relations with both her parents after they ship her off to boarding school, and does so fantastically well. When Alex returns home, she becomes a confidante for Matt and becomes Scottie's surrogate mother in the absence of her real mother. Not only that, but she's the catalyst for the leading plot thread of the wife's affair, she's intrgral to the film's success and Woodley carries it off like a pro. It's a brave and striking performance, one that has gone somewhat unappreciated in the light of Clooney's, but I firmly believe the two of them have made each other better in this by creating a great on-screen relationship with a genuine connection and real chemistry.

Despite how good I've said this film is, I do have a few problems with some of the characters in here. I did say Shailene Woodley played Alex King well, but her character seems fundamentally flawed in that she's supposed to be a wild child, and yet all of that's forgotten by the beginning of the second act, becoming the stand-in adult female lead. It's a shame, because it's seem as if there could have plenty of things to go with down that road, but they drop her defining characteristics and give her new ones so quickly, it seems like a waste. Also, I don't understand the inclusion of the character of Sid at all. Sid is a friend of Alex who tags along with the family as Alex claims he'll "help to keep her calm", but he's completely unnecessary after the first half of the film, as Alex appears to calm herself down and Sid becomes no more than the comic shill, adding laughs which is just far too obvious and unnecessary given the gentle and dark humour already within the script. The supporting cast has problems as well in my opinion. The supporting cast is full of famous faces and names, but their roles are reduced to little more than cameos, which also seems wasteful, especially given the importance of some of these characters. Payne seem so fixated on keeping the focus squarely on Clooney and Woodley, he forgets to give almost anyone else a chance.

All in all though, The Descendants is a great watch, it really is. If you're already a fan of Payne's work, then you'll know what you're getting with this. If you've never seen any of Payne's work, then by all means give this a go, then go and watch Sideways. And Election. And About Schmidt. In that order. It's got some great performances in here, some really sharp and well-written, naturalistic dialogue with plenty of self-depreciating dark humour and genuine emotion coming through. It's funny, it's dark, it's engaging, it's emotional, it's everything you could possibly want in two hours, all with likeable characters and a well-constructed story to boot. The Descendants is so similar to all of Payne's earlier works, and yet different at the same time, and that surely is the mark of a great director: To make something instantly recognisable and yet entirely different, all in one film.

Rating: ****1/2

The Descendants was released on 27th January 2012 and is still being shown in cinemas.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

War Horse

Academy Award Nominations: 6
  • Best Picture
  • Best Art Direction (Production Design: Rick Carter, Set Decoration: Lee Sandales)
  • Best Cinematography (Janusz Kaminski)
  • Best Original Score (John Williams)
  • Best Sound Editing (Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom)
  • Best Sound Mixing (Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson)

In the early 1910’s, a farmer needing a plough horse instead buys a young colt his son Albert has followed since birth, and is soon named Joey. Albert soon trains the young horse to plough the field against all the odds. However, after the crops fail, Albert’s father has no choice but to sell Joey to a young Captain heading out to war in order to lead cavalry charges. Joey is trained by the army to be a war horse, and after the British cavalry charge is proven futile against modern machine guns, Joey is captured by the Germans and used to haul heavy artillery. However, his adventures don’t end, as one way or another, this horse is determined to return home...

I should start by saying this: I have not read the famous children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo written in 1982, nor have I seen the award-winning stage adaptation which has been running since 2007. I’ve heard many things about both of these versions of War Horse, and now there’s a third version: The big budget Hollywood film version directed by everyone’s favourite family film maker Steven Spielberg. Therefore, I will not be using this review to compare and contrast versions and adaptations; I will be using this review to review the film as a standalone text. Therefore, having watched War Horse with no prior knowledge of the plot and only general word-of-mouth surrounding the book and play, I can safely say this: Either War Horse is incredibly overhyped, or the film just isn’t that good.

Here’s the thing: I was told by various people that this film, although in particular the play, was highly emotional in certain parts. I was preparing to be an emotional wreck given the sources of said information. Yet watching it, I didn’t quite get those moments, they didn’t connect for me. Now this isn’t me being macho and pretending I didn’t cry when I actually did, I honestly didn’t. I felt the appropriate emotions in the emotional places of the film, but there was no blubbering or bawling. Maybe it’s because I’m not a big crier. Maybe it’s because I’m not a big fan of horses (I hate them after one of those traumatic childhood experiences). Maybe though, and here’s the big’un, the way the scenes and plot points were played out in this film had less emotional effect than they perhaps might have done in the stage adaptation. In my opinion, the points that are played out for major audience reactions are just so blatent and obvious in this, you can see them coming a mile off and they didn’t live up to expectations at all. I really expected more from the man who gave the world E.T.

That’s right, Steven Spielberg was directing here, and it’s no surprise either; the material seem ripe fodder for one of his family-orientated films with high emotions and a winning main character relationship running through the core. Don’t get me wrong, it’s shot beautifully, and the plot rattles along at a steady pace, especially in the second two acts. It just seems as if he wasn’t able to capture the same kind of emotion he was able to get in E.T. or Schindler’s List, which is a shame, Other than that, War Horse has the feeling of a proper family grandiose epic from the 80’s, something along the lines of E.T. or The Goonies, or even Super 8, which was in itself an homage to the Spielberg-ian family films of the 80’s. There’s plenty of interesting characters to drive the plot forward, and plenty of good performances to match.

From the off, the entire Narracott family are great on screen. Young Albert, played by Jeremy Irvine, is solid as the boy quickly becoming a man due to family life and war, and the relationship with his horse feels real. Parents Ted and Rose, played by Peter Mullan and Emily Watson, are also convincing as the struggling farmers, dealing with their own personal problems as well as trying to pay rent and keep their livelihoods. As the film progresses, Tom Hiddleston puts in another good performance as Captain Nicholls to match his recent good performances in Thor and Midnight in Paris (more on that soon). A pair of stand outs though, however brief their role may be, are Niels Arestrup and Celine Buckens as the French grandfather and granddaughter living on a farm, trying to avoid the war and happen to chance upon Joey after a series of events. Their relationship is genuine and probably one of the brighter spots in the film. The best actor though is the horse, or rather the various horses who played Joey. They’ve clearly all been well trained, and use head and eye movements to express emotion in place of dialogue. That’s all fine and well, but when everybody on screen is out-acted by a horse, even if the film is focused on the horse, there’s a problem.

Overall, War Horse is an odd film. It looks good, the premise is nicely played out and the acting is OK. It just seems to miss its marks in the major emotional moments, which is exactly where it needs to pick up and hit home. Obviously, this is just my opinion, other people I’m sure will connect with this film more deeply and will leave the cinema blubbing uncontrollably, but it just didn’t do it for me. It’s also the sheer amount of emotional moments in this film which has annoyed me, the film is full of them and eventually I found it tiresome, so when the big finale came around, not only did I know what was coming, but I didn’t care as much as I might have done.  Maybe I should watch the stage show, maybe I made a mistake in watching this first. But then, if the stage version is as good as people say it is, would I not be even more disappointed with this? I guess War Horse just isn’t for me, I’m afraid.

Rating: ***


War Horse was released on 13th January 2012 and is still being shown in cinemas.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Moneyball

Academy Award Nominations: 6
  • Best Picture
  • Best Actor (Brad Pitt)
  • Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian; Story by Stan Chervin)
  • Best Film Editing (Christopher Tellefsen)
  • Best Sound Mixing (Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Giammarco and Ed Novick)

The Oakland Athletics baseball team have done well in their 2001 season. However, success next season looks unlikely as budget restrictions means the team is about to lose their three star players to teams like the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, teams with multitudes of wealth. The team’s general manager, Billy Beane, sets about rebuilding his team, not by replacing the players themselves, but by replacing their stats, all on a limited budget. His scouting network comes up with suggestions, none of which Beane is happy with. However, on a recruiting trip to Cleveland, he meets a Yale economics graduate named Peter Brand, whose ‘sabermetrics’ approach to finding players could be just the solution Beane and the A’s need to have a competitive season...

Moneyball is the film of the book which is ‘based on the true story’ of the Oakland A’s 2002 season and how Billy Beane and Peter Brand used statistics to find cheap, misfit players and create a baseball team capable of competing with high budget, all-star teams. The unbelievable nature of the true story makes is perfect Hollywood fodder, but it faced a big problem. It’s a baseball film which isn’t about baseball, and it isn’t Field of Dreams. To put it simply, there’s an awful lot of talking and typing on computers in Moneyball. Luckily, the man tasked to adapting the book of the real life story onto the big screen has experience in writing films and television shows which involve lots of talking and typing on computers. As a matter of fact, he won an Oscar just last year for his last effort: The ‘un-filmable’, ‘un-cinematic’, ‘boring’ story of the creation of Facebook which turned into one of 2010’s best films. Aaron Sorkin, we thank you.

Sorkin has a knack of turning wordy, un-filmable stories into exciting motion pictures which still contain all that long stretches of dialogue and exposition, and Moneyball is no different. Sorkin’s trademark fast paced dialogue is all over this film, and really amps up the story. Sorkin seems to have a real skill in finding the drama and creating the tension in what is otherwise an unlikely scenario. However, saying that, the film also has many other merits which make this ‘business of baseball’ story more immediately watchable. The direction by Bennett Miller is pretty spot-on, the editing switches between fast and snappy and slow and deliberate, creating the right tone and pace for each scene, and the film itself is shot beautifully by Wally Pfister, the man who’s currently making Christopher Nolan’s Batman films look incredible and one of my favourite cinematographers at the moment. All these are pluses for the film, but with such a heavy and intricate script, the performances from the lead actors had to be spot-on, and thankfully, they are.

Brad Pitt is pretty much acting for fun nowadays, any performance he puts in seems to be effortless and the same applies here, acting cool as always and bringing the character to life with real vigour and believability. He captures the anxiety, quiet desperation and contained excitement of Billy Beane and translates it onto the big screen. However, Pitt is somewhat outshone in this by, and I’m even surprised I’m writing this, Jonah Hill. I’m not a big Jonah Hill fan, he’s been in a couple of funny films but he plays the same character every time, which was why I was amaze he got a look in for best supporting actor. Here though, he goes outside his range and it pays off big time. That’s not to say it’s a phenomenal performance, but he certainly puts in a better showing here than he has for his last few big screen outings. Playing the straight guy actually suits him, and when he decides to stop doing comedies, there may be life in his career yet. However, I wasn’t a big fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays the team’s manager in this. Whenever he appears on screen, the dialogue seems clunky and the delivery is no better. Also, the players Beane and Brand sign seem like sports movie clichés, with one being the cocky veteran, one being the unorthodox guy with real talent, one being the guy plucked from obscurity to take a leading role. There’s no imagination in the creation of these characters, and whether or not this was a deliberate choice in order to place the emphasis firmly on Beane and Brand I don’t know, but nonetheless I found these characters mildly cringeworthy.

Moneyball seems to be a film of two halves: The first half of the film is filled with a lot of set-up, explaining the situation of the characters, then the introduction of Brand and his 'sabermetrics' along with an awful lot of explanation as to how his economical approach to baseball players actually works. Then, the second half of the film begins, and things really start going from there. With all the plot devices and characters in place, all that's allowed to happen is for events to unfold and unfold they do, creating a seriously gripping piece of cinema. There's drama from watching how the team fares under this new way of thinking, there's glimpses of action as we see the plan put into action. There's even comedy from Beane and Brand as Brand, an economics graduate from Yale with no prior knowledge of the running of a baseball team, is suddenly promoted to assistant GM under Beane and starts asserting his authority, though mainly through Beane's insistence he does what's "part of his job". It's the great mix of all these genres in one film that make Sorkin films so instantly recognisable and watchable, it's just a shame it takes an hour to really get going.

Aside from this, Moneyball is a highly watchable film, definitely in the same vein as The Social Network, with some good performances on show and some fantastic dialogue to solidify said performances. The story drags somewhat for the first hour, but the second hour is the one that’ll reward you for sticking with it. Personally, given what we’re shown in Moneyball, I’d love to see Wally Pfister creating the images of Aaron Sorkin’s words far more often. This isn’t really an emotive film, it’s by far more clinical and factual, so if you’re looking for something that’s going to grab you by the heart, you’re in the wrong place. However, if you’re looking for something to make you think and deliver a great story for a couple of hours, look no further. Even if you don’t know your short stops from your Red Sox, it’s definitely worth watching.

Rating: ****

Moneyball was released on 25th November 2011 and is no longer being shown in cinemas.