Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Monday, July 30, 2007
Written & Directed By: Laurie Collyer
Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brad William Henke, Sam Bottoms
My rating: 4/5
Despite the vast array of substance addiction films available, few have managed to tap into the humanity of it all as Sherrybaby. It is an intense experience focussing squarely on its central character throughout. Sherry has just been released from prison, an addict and an overall broken woman. After her release she returns to the daughter she left behind. Complications arise when her brother and his wife, who have raised her daughter from birth are unsure of Sherry’s ability to care for a child. Don’t be put off if it sounds like your average daytime TV3 movie, it is far more conflicted, thoughtful and layered than that.
The film never strays from Sherry’s point of view but as the audience sees her engaging in questionable behaviour on several occasions, it creates an awkward feeling that her brother and sister-in-law may be right to oppose her taking back her daughter. Sherry is a complex woman, who we only get to know properly very slowly over the course of the movie. She is sweet and kind, but addicted, not only to drugs, but to the seedy side of life in general.
Director Laurie Collyer reigns supreme here by foregoing any fancy cinematography or the popular “shaky-cam” documentary style and just shooting the film as simply as possible. She remembers at all times to keep Sherry at the centre of every scene and forces the audience to identify with her and question her in equal measures.
The performances are fantastic from a largely unknown cast. Especially heart-wrenching is Brad William Henke who plays Sherry’s brother, caught between his love and pity for his sister, and his doubt in her ability to be a mother. Similarly to this year’s other indie addict flick Half Nelson, Sherrybaby has at its heart a truly beautiful performance from its titular character. Unfortunately the Academy felt Half Nelson’s Ryan Gosling more deserving of an Oscar nomination than Maggie Gyllenhaal. This is a powerful performance from a woman who is clearly not afraid of anything. She gives herself over to being a complete train-wreck of a human being, but always playing it likeably. She ensures she has enough innocence and sweetness to never allow herself to become a villain.
Overall, this is an intensely personal film, in which the audience can’t help but connect with due to its profound closeness to its protagonist. Not your average date movie, but despite a slightly frustrating ending, definitely recommended from this reviewer.-Charlene Lydon 30/7/07
Thursday, July 12, 2007
"I'm ashamed that the President is from Texas"
Directed by: Barbara Kopple & Cecilia Peck
Starring: The Dixie Chicks
My Rating: 4/5
A documentary about three loud, big-haired country music sensations may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but don’t let your feelings on The Dixie Chicks deter you from this riveting documentary. In 2003, Natalie Maines, outspoken lead singer of
The documentary’s broken narrative focuses on the time between the incident and the release of their subsequent album. Most of the time spent in the studio sees the girls struggling with how they need to react to this huge career setback and although they have their moments of doubt, they bravely take a stand and refuse to apologise for something they feel they had every right to say. Far from being a propaganda project for the band, it takes the audience through the self-doubt and the tantrums and the very un-rock n roll financial concerns that the incident caused. However, it does show the heroic stand that the girls took in sticking together and not giving in to the enormous pressure to crawl back to the public and beg for forgiveness.
What is so great about this documentary is that it is interesting on so many levels. It works as an interesting behind-the-music style documentary about a very popular band, it works as a Michael Moore-ish comment on the redneck delusion that seems to grip certain parts of the
Perhaps its biggest flaw is the focus on how sweet and wholesome the girls are. Of course, some empathy is necessary but there’s slightly too much indulgence in the “mommy” part of their lives, and how cuddly they all are. However, having said that, it is refreshing to see a music documentary which features morally heroic musicians instead of drug-addled rock stars and focuses on the very human struggle between commercial success and dignity.
Overall, this documentary is a pleasure to watch. Entertaining, frightening and uplifting; if you’re a fan of The Dixie Chicks, you’ll find the soundtrack an aural delight, if you’re not, you’ll tolerate it for the quality of the subject matter. Highly recommended!
- Charlene Lydon 12/07/07
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Written By: Don Payne & Mark Frost
Directed By: Tim Story
Starring: Jessica Alba, Ioan Gruffudd, Michael Chiklis, Chris Evans, Doug Jones
My rating: 3/5
With expectations for this franchise at almost minus level, it's fair to say that I was pleasantly surprised at the level of campy entertainment to be had from this pointless sequel. To be fair, 90% of the entertainment comes from the wonderful Silver Surfer character. Leaving any expectations for interesting characters at the door from my knowledge of the first film, I was pleased to see that the writers had created a sweet, simplistic character arc for what is certainly the coolest-looking comic-book character of the summer.
Otherwise, the plot is fairly typical. There's little to point out. The Invisible Woman and Mr. Fantastic attempt to get married, but once again work gets in the way of their union, with the titular Silver Surfer coming to Earth to herald the coming of an alien force that will destroy the planet. The Fantastic Four must combine their powers (quite literally, it turns out) to get the Silver Surfer to aid them in destroying their enemy before it destroys us. Thanks to Jessica Alba's skin-tight "uniform" and pouty, glossed lips the Silver Surfer suffers a moral crisis.
To see the involvement of former Twin Peaks mastermind, Mark Frost, in the writing of this screenplay disappointed me so much that I was tempted to take away a whole rating mark, just out of spite. However, one must judge films for what they are and this is a run-of-the-mill summer sequel that actually surpasses expectations and somewhat entertains us for 95 minutes. Extra kudos must go to any film that can stick to the 90 minute mark these days. It seems impossible to tell any sort of story in less than three hours anymore. The pleasing brevity of the story and the surprisingly welcome vacuousness of the film actually makes for a decent popcorn movie. Not that I'll be running off to see it again, or to recommend it to people, but if you only want to sit back, close your brain, and give another €10 to Hollywood, then maybe give this a try. It's shorter than Pirates of the Caribbean and, for my money, the Silver Surfer has at least 20% more coolness than Jack Sparrow.
- Charlene Lydon
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Written By: Mark L. Smith
Directed By: Nimrod Antal
My rating: 3/5
As far as "yuppie couple trapped by masked predator" movies go, Vacancy is a pretty good example of a very scary, very consistent one. It follows nearly-divorced couple David and Amy as they are stalked by a motel proprieter and his henchman, to presumably become carnage for a series of snuff films.
From about 20 minutes in, until about 45 seconds from the end, the film grips its audience on a very primal level. Its remarkably Hitchcockian tone fortunately feels more like an aid to the horror than a stolen stylistic stereotype. Antal's jarring unusual framing makes for some ugly filmmaking, but aids the film later as the usual indicators of an upcoming scare are null and void. As audiences, we have become unconsciously fluent in the language of cinema and have an understanding that if there's too much empty head room in a shot, the killer will probably fill it. We also know if someone opens a door, that when they close it, the killer will be standing there. Antal cleverly teases the audiences with enough false premises to ensure that they know they cannot trust the usual language of the horror film. He then progresses to scare the pants off everyone and make the audience feels nothing less than terrorised for the duration of the film.
There are good performances from the usually-dull Kate Backinsale and the usually-hilarious Luke Wilson. They aren't the most likeable protagonists, but their determination to be cleverer than than their celluloid counterparts keeps the audience on their side. The biggest flaw in the film is the abrupt and bland ending. Hopefully the evil Hollywood studio execs are responsible for the ending, because this story at least allows some forgiveness for the filmmakers.
Basically, this is a film for the cinema. It will most likely scare you stupid and although forgettable and about as deep as a puddle, it is most definitely 85 minutes well spent!
Monday, June 11, 2007
Written by: James Vanderbilt
Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Chloe Sevigny
My rating: 5/5
To write a film containing as much information as Zodiac is a daunting task. It is in great danger of getting bogged down in facts and figures while forgetting to establish characters and/or intrigue. However, films such as Alan J. Pakula's All the President's Men proves that such tasks are possible. The trick is to roll with the punches. Fincher steers well clear of the 3 act traditional structure, instead following the meandering drama, with all its ups and downs, forcing the audience to endure the torment of the wicked succession of heartbreaking dead end leads.
The film follows the story of three central figures in the unravelling mystery of the Zodiac killer. San Francisco Chronicle star reporter, Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) whose substance abuse starts as a fun, quirk and slowly disintegrates him until he has become a recluse. Dave Tosci (Mark Ruffalo) is the frustrated homicide officer who devotes a huge part of his life to the investigation. Paul Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist who decides to write a book about the killer and in the process solves the mystery of Zodiac's identity.
A typical serial killer flick this ain't! The murder scenes although harrowing, do not play it for scares and the gore is minimal. In fact, it is the matter-of-fact nature of the scenes that makes them so harrowing. The lack of any real resolution is something that makes for very frustrating cinema, but there was enough conclusion to allow the audience to feel satisfied. Because nobody was ever charged with the Zodiac murders, Fincher's story focuses on why nobody was caught, allowing the audience to question the system, and its alleged over-reliance on technical evidence. This unsettling look at "due process" and "protocol"'s failure to succeed is the real focus of the film. Instead of the usual cat and mouse serial killer story, this story deeply investigates the reasons why Zodiac was never caught.The tiniest details are included and the story moves so quickly that if your attention loses focus for even a moment, chances are you'll have missed something important.
With Zodiac, David Fincher has finally found the right balance of style and storytelling. Although he has made some of the most important films of the past decade, sometimes his flashy style can distract from the story and perhaps even cheapen its impact slightly. Zodiac is pure Fincher visually, but never gets bogged down in its aesthetics. It looks beautiful, with perfect 70's period recreation merged with a classical Hollywood film noir style. Some brilliant camerawork only helps the story along, and never draws focus away from the events taking place.
The performances in the film are a huge part of the reason this film works so well. Every single tiny character in this film full of tiny characters is perfectly cast. It is full of brilliant performances, especially from the three lead actors, each of which bring enormous charisma to their respective characters. In films like this, there is a thin line between forgetting to fully realise characters and getting too involved with the central characters. Zodiac sits perfectly on that very line. The three leads go through enormous changes and development throughout the film, but these details are tightly woven into the story, never ever losing focus from the story at hand.
Overall, I found myself unable to find any flaws in Vanderbilt's perfect script, Fincher's perfect direction and Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo and Jake Gyllenhaal's perfect performances. One must be warned to ensure that full concentration be given to the film. Due to its meticulous nature, it is full of tiny details that become very important later. If you force yourself to see one film in the cinema this summer, let it be Zodiac rather than a blockbuster. It deserves your attention more and may lose something in its small screen adaptation.
- Charlene Lydon
Friday, June 08, 2007
Written by: Olivier Dahan
Directed by: Olivier Dahan
Starring: Marion Cotillard
My Rating: 4/5
To tell somebody’s life story in one movie is like trying to condense the Bible into a pop-up book. This is something that filmmakers realised a long, long time ago. Because of this, the only way to make a biopic is to pick out the main events and adapt an episodic structure. With La Vie En Rose, the biopic of masterful French singer Edith Piaf, the director takes a slightly different route. He keeps to the episodic structure but truncates the narrative so that there are several periods of her life being told randomly throughout. Although original, and cleverly interwoven, this narrative style cheapened and detracted from the emotion of an otherwise beautiful, unbearably sad story.
The film tells the story from Edith’s early days on the streets, to the part of her childhood spent in a brothel, blinded by an inflammation of the eyes, to her days in the circus with her father, to her incredible rise from poverty to all the heights and glories of international acclaim. Although full of character and sparkling charisma, Edith was a troubled, hardened woman, having led an awful life of fear, poverty and instability. Her later years were spent as an incurable substance addict and her body became frail and elderly by the time she died at the age of 47.
The music in the film is used beautifully and highlights the natural talent of Edith Piaf. The film emphasises her lack of training and discipline and her ability to perform onstage no matter what emotional or physical condition she was in is. The songs are beautiful, the orchestration is beautiful and the deep soulful melancholy of the music is perfectly fitting with the story of her life.
The central performances are all very strong but Marion Cotillard’s portrayal of Edith Piaf may be one of the most stunning female performances of our time. She plays the physical fragility brilliantly and the emotional fragility even better. She sparkles in every scene, allowing the audience to compare the vivacious sensation that was Edith Piaf to the shrivelled shadow she became. Unfortunately, this film is in French with English subtitles so any hope that this film will be rewarded as Johnny Cash’s biopic Walk the Line was at the Oscars is doubtful. If there is any justice in the world, audiences will flock to see Cotillard’s performance and to see the story of one of the 20th century’s most gifted artists.
The film celebrates Edith Piaf’s gift without painting her as a saint. Her life was bitterly sad and not at all uplifting but the music, the story and the frankly astonishing lead performance is certainly worth the price of a ticket. While it doesn’t necessarily stand out among other biopics, it is as deserving of our attention as any other and successfully gives us an overall feel for the woman whose voice soared even when her heart was in the gutter.- Charlene Lydon
Friday, June 01, 2007
"I don't understand, Spiderman doesn't kill people! What happened?"
Written By: Sam & Ivan Raimi
Thursday, April 05, 2007
"I just wanna cut off your skin and wear it to my birthday"
Jeff & Craig Scott
My rating: 5/5
Silly, silly, silly – but possibly genius! Somewhere in between the unashamed ridiculousness of Anchorman, and the
Overall, the hilarious dialogue, the fantastic comic talent and the genius use of costuming make this film a must for anyone with a tolerance for Will Ferrell’s particular brand of comedy. By the time you leave the cinema the happy ending, the kicking soundtrack and the edge-of-your-seat climactic skating sequence will most certainly have you feeling satisfied and perhaps even euphoric. Highly recommended.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Neil Burger and Steven Milhauser
My rating: 2/5
"What a disappointment" was what I could be heard shouting all the way home after seeing this movie. The one thing worse than a bad movie is a movie that was well capable of being good but was obviously just too lazy to accomplish quality. The ever-lovely and talented Mr. Norton has a real knack for picking such films and The Illusionist is no exception. The story follows Eisenheim the Illusionist as he tricks and magicks his way to happiness with the love of his life, the Dutchess Sophie, betrothed to the dastardly Prince Leopold.
The simple plot allowed plenty of spce for magnificent conjuring and interesting set-pieces and while I kept repeating to myself that it's unfair to compare it to The Prestige, I found myself awfully disappointed in the fact that Eisenheims "illusions" were too far-fetched to ever believe they were possible. The difference between The Illusionist and The Prestige is that the former made no effort to make the audience believe in Eisenheims skill as a performer. He never claimed magical powers but they never explain how he gets butterflies to carry an audience-member's hankie back to her, or his use of holograms in the 18th century.
Another major problem was the stiff lack of chemistry between the two leads. Edward Norton probably knew his vast superiority to the awfully unconvincing Jessica Biel and they never got past the "polite" stage in their supposedly profound relationship.
On the plus side, the film looks absolutely stunning with oscar-nominated cinematography. Some of the stage performances were nicely designed. A strong performance from Paul Giamatti as the conflicted police inspector is also noteworthy. Unfortunately, Norton's performance never quite rises to the occasion. For a performer with Norton's famed intensity, it is disappointing (there's that word again) to see such a lazy attempt here.
As an extra disappointment, the film has a horribly executed "twist" ending. The only shock in that twist was that I realised I wasn't supposed to realise what was going on. Yet another film that depends on its twist ending but unfortunately treats its audience like idiots.
If you want my advice, forget The Illusionist and watch The Prestige twice instead. And if you're looking for a typically brilliant Edward Norton performance, don't waste your time with this, hold out for his magnificent turn in The Painted Veil instead.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Directed by: Robert De Niro
Written by: Eric Roth
Starring: Matt Damon, Billy Crudup, Angelina Jolie, William Hurt, John Turturro
My rating: 3/5
After De Niro’s last uneven foray in directing, A
With such a huge ensemble cast which includes Joe Pesci, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, Michael Gambon and an outstanding Billy Crudup, it is difficult not to be impressed with this film on some level. Overall, however, the film is over-long and drags in a few too many places. I recommend it for those patient souls who enjoy a smoky political thriller but who are willing to sacrifice three hours of their busy life in order to do so. A tough journey, but worth the investment.
- Charlene Lydon
Directed by: Stephen Frears
Written by: Peter Morgan
Starring: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell
My Rating 4/5
The Queen deals with the period of time just before and after the death of Princess Diana and the angry speculation surrounding the Royal Family’s staunch silence. The family’s disdain for the princess is not focussed on or frowned upon. Frears treats it as a matter of fact, rather than a controversy. When the messenger arrives relaying the news of Diana’s death, Prince Philip rolls his eyes and says “What has she done now?” This, along with the Queen’s solemn, pensive reaction embodies the overall detachment that the Royal Family felt from the Princess. The Queen didn’t feel that her death had anything to do with her family because she was no longer part of it.
As a film, The Queen unfortunately creates a rather “made by the BBC” visual tone. It has very little cinematic merit in that respect. However, absolutely every other aspect of it is pure cinema at its best. The delicate breaking-down of the title character is perfectly paced and perfectly well-rounded. The film isn’t trying to get you to embrace the monarchy again. It merely helps the audience to understand the intricacies of being raised as the future Queen of England.
- Charlene Lydon
Directed by: Marc Lawrence
Written by: Marc Lawrence
My rating: 1/5
To call this film run-of-the-mill would be an insult to the usual Drew Barrymore run-of-the-mill romantic comedies. The film struggles along, trying its best to be charming, but only succeeds in treating the audience like monkeys. Despite some funny, dialogue at times, it wastes the obvious talent of two of our generation’s most enchanting rom-com actors.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Directed by: Robert Altman
Written by: Garrison Keillor
Starring: Kevin Kline, Garrison Keillor, Jon C. Reilly, Lindsey Lohan, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin
Rating: 5/5"She had a Mount Rushmore t-shirt on, and those guys never looked so good. Especially Jefferson and Lincoln. Kind of bloated but happy."
For a man who remained a consistently prolific filmmaker since the 1960s it is very fitting that the last film in his hit and miss career should be such a wonderful piece of cinema. Robert Altman’s recent death has spotlighted his immense talent and reminded audiences of such gems as
The exceptional thing about this film is not merely the fascinating stories, not the wonderful music and not even the phenomenal performances: it’s about the swift anecdotal movement of the dialogue. The director’s skill at defining nothing and moseying though a backstage area of old friends and families who share a bond of years of working together but show little actual schmaltzy love for each other is nothing less than profound. It is hard to imagine that these characters are played by actors, no matter how familiar their faces are. The acting is so smooth and naturalistic that it is difficult to decide who stands out. Such is the nature of a perfect ensemble cast!
The sheer oddness of some elements of the plot is completely unexpected and perhaps some may argue that it is superfluous, but the inclusion of Virginia Madsen’s angel and Kevin Kline’s private-eye-turned-security-guard, Guy Noir, add beautiful levels of eccentricity, wildness and spirituality to the film. This is the core of why the film worked for me. The characters are shown as simple country folk and while they are never slighted, they are shown as a race all of their own. The general acceptance of the angel and of Noir’s sensational character shows a sweet naivety and a sense of welcoming for all kinds of people.
The film flows along quickly and easily and is a pleasure that I feel will warrant revisiting a number of times on its DVD release. While its unconventional storytelling style may not be for everyone, I believe A Prairie Home Companion is a heart-warming, compelling, simple film for anyone with an interest in truly human characters. It is also a masterclass in character acting, with fine turns from movie brat Lindsay Lohan, and Oscar winners Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep. Also worth mentioning is Lily Tomlin who manages to steal the show from right under Streep's nose despite being what could essentially be called her sidekick. The acting and singing are fantastic all round and even small contributions from Tommy Lee Jones and Virginia Madsen manage to impress.
With its gorgeous production design, gloriously colourful costuming and easy-going mix of comedy and drama, A Prairie Home Companion is at least an enjoyable visual feast for two hours and at best, the crowning glory of Altman’s already glittering career.