Wednesday, December 12, 2007

No Country For Old Men

"You can't stop what's comin'. It ain't all waitin' on you. That's vanity."

Written By: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Directed By: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Starring: Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones

My Rating: 5/5

It looks like the Coen Brothers, it feels like the Coen Brothers, it walks and talks like the Coen Brothers! No Country for Old Men is so vintage Coen it almost feels like it has always existed as part of their repertoire. Along the same vein as Miller's Crossing and Fargo, No Country reminds audiences of why the Coens are regarded as our generations most wonderfully vigilant filmmakers.

A rambling epic, part adventure, part western, part caper, this film cruises along in an almost random way, not unlike The Big Lebowski. The plot revolves around a hitman for hire, an unlucky cowboy who happens to find a suitcase of money and an old-fashioned local sheriff. Synopsis is best left brief, as the story is so wonderfully rambling that summary does it no justice.
The dusty cinematography in this film is so lovingly crafted that it recalls the scenery porn of Terrence Malick. However, the love of the landscape never detracts from the characters or story. The slow, steady pace of the film ensures there is plenty of time to take in the beautiful photography, but also plenty of time to enjoy the wonderful performances and to become involved in the plot. The pace of the film is an odd mix of slow and furious that makes the film feel almost as if it is shot in real time.
The central struggle of the film, which is most pointedly emphasised in the last twenty minutes is the adjustment of traditionalists to incoming modernity. In Tommy Lee Jones's sheriff's mind, the hitman (Javier Bardem) represents a lurking evil invading their sleepy town. It is an evil that cannot be stopped and cannot be ignored. This evil may be interpreted as impending modernity as much as just an evil man, bent on destruction. The title of the film, having nothing to do with the actual story, suggests a feeling of powerlessness in the older generation and a fear of the heavy changes which are weighing down upon a simpler way of living.
This film is flawless in every sense. It may take a couple of viewings to fully engage with all of the themes and intricacies on display, and especially due to an unexpectedly abrupt ending. However, in No Country For Old Men, the Coen Brothers have created a truly perfect work. They have created perfect works before, but not recently. The acting is absolutely superb from all concerned. The Oscar buzz is going towards Javier Bardem for his portrayal of Anton Chigurh, the crazed hitman, but equal consideration should be given to the other two leads, Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones. The three roles are worlds apart but all wonderfully played with old-fashioned machismo.
Overall this film hits the spot in every way. I would recommend it to any fan of the Coen Brothers. It may disappoint people in search of a run of the mill western adventure flick but stick with it because it will resonate for days!
- Charlene Lydon 12/12/2007

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

The Dixie Chicks: Shut Up And Sing

"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 America’s biggest selling female group of all-time, commented at a London gig that she was “ashamed that the President is from Texas”. News quickly spread from a small blurb in the British press to a big issue in the American press and quickly became the biggest scandal to hit country music. Because of America’s insecurity over its war against Iraq at the time, but the unwavering trust in their democracy, the U.S. public took this comment as unpatriotic and unsupportive of their troops and the former media darlings soon become known as “Saddam’s Angels” and “The Dixie Sluts”. Radio stations banned their songs from the airwaves and communities organised public CD burnings. The outrage even culminated in a death threat against Maines.

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 United States, but it also works as an interesting look at the music industry. It shows the commercial issues and how they are worked through but it is also a refreshingly frank look at a band crawling back to the top from rock bottom by doing exactly the opposite of what they should have: they released an angry album full of songs about how they refuse to forgive their detractors for their judgement.

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

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

"What have you got against capitalism?"

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


Starring: Luke Wilson, Kate Beckinsale, Frank Whaley

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!

-Charlene Lydon

Monday, June 11, 2007


"I am not the Zodiac. And if I were, I certainly wouldn't tell you."

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

La Vie En Rose

Written by: Olivier Dahan

Directed by: Olivier Dahan

Starring: Marion Cotillard
Gerard Depardieu
Sylvie Testud
Isabelle Sobelman

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

28 Weeks Later

"Step 1: kill the infected. Step 2: containment. if containment cannot be done then, step 3: extermination "

Written By: Rowan Joffe & Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Directed By: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Starring: Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Catherine McCormack

My rating: 3/5

As sequels go, 28 Weeks Later came as a surprising treat. Though not received particularly kindly by all critics, it has proven to be a successful successor to Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. Set 28 weeks after the events of the first film, the US military are tentatively repopulating England after it was ravaged by a zombie- making disease known as "the rage".
From the outset, it is firmly established that the audience is in for an intense 90 minutes of almost continuous peril. Whether it is the fact that the two main protagonists are children who, over the course of the film, lose both their parents, or perhaps the fact that the familiar landscape of London is a bit TOO familiar, this film really knows how to frighten its audience. Not just by delivering jumps and horrible gore, but by genuinely placing the audience within the pandemonium. Because the film becomes so catastrophic in the second half, the element of desperate running tends to make the viewer tired and relieved to be out of the nightmare of the past hour and a half. I mean this in a very positive way. The sight of the end credit made me feel like I had woken from a nightmare and found to my relief that it was, in fact, just a nightmare. This is the power of good cinema. Of course, this is nothing new, as those of you who have seen the first film will know. The incessant feeling of running for your life is traumatic and the unrelenting presence of the infected people make for an intense cinematic experience, to say the least.
Despite a number of very silly plot problems and contradictions, 28 Weeks Later easily provides its audience with a satisfying sequel to what has become an almost universally praised modern classic. The performances from the children tugged at the heart-strings and the infected were as ravenous as in the first film, but some of the main grown-up cast were lacking. There was a sense of aesthetic pleasure over acting skill, but this tends to be the nature of horror films. This doesn't jar too much though and overall it doesn't detract from the otherwise high quality of the film.
It may sound like a strange thing to say but what makes these films especially frightening is their mature and realistic portrayal of what might happen in a very hypothetical situation. On this level, the reaction of the military, the spread of the disease and the reactions of the children to the horror of it all was successful. At no time did I find the solace of the knowledge that this is set in a fantasy world. The film ensures that it all feels real and takes care to exploit the familiar tourist areas of London to remind us all that we've all been here and visited these places.
On that note, the special effects must be commended. To create the desolate London city must have been pain-staking but but worked beautifully and created a great sense of fear, tapping into the part of us that fears nuclear war or chemical attacks.
Overall, its not a perfect film, but it certainly deserves a look and turned out far better than was generally expected. Worth the price of your ticket.

Spiderman 3

"I don't understand, Spiderman doesn't kill people! What happened?"

Written By: Sam & Ivan Raimi

Directed By: Sam Raimi

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Topher Grace
My rating: 4/5

***Contains Spoilers***

For reasons unknown, the world has turned against our friendly neighbourhood Spiderman. The third installment of the enormously successful superhero franchise has been attcked ferociously by critics and audiences alike. Having loved Spiderman 3, I find myself in the same position as I was in after having loved the first Spiderman movie. I find that I must explain to people that they are missing the point of both Sam Raimi's intentions and of the intricacies of the story. Of course, I won't pretend I wasn't disappointed with Venom and Eddie Brock's miniscule screen time but that was more than made up for by the gloriously fleshed-out character of Sandman/Flint Marko and the wonderfully poignant character arc of Harry Osborn.

The main criticisms of Spiderman 3 seem to revolve around its clutter. Too many storylines, too many characters, too many villains. Well, in my eyes, the clutter in the story reflects the clutter in Peter's life, the clutter which led to the frustration which resulted in his gradual change to emo-Spidey. With problems in his reltionship with M.J., problems with his own self-esteem, and the shock news that Uncle Ben's killer is actually alive and still on the loose, Peter's frustrations mount, descending into that dark place that we all venture into during the hard times. However, most of us don't have evil space oil infecting our bodies and augmenting our dark side until it becomes quite literal. The glory of the comic book story is the literalisation of themes that reality just can't explore. This is never more spectacular than in Spiderman 3. Every action of emo-Peter is an augmented action of any hurt and disillusioned person.

Raimi should be especially lauded for allowing himself the indulgence of 20 minutes of pure silliness, a montage which shows "the new Peter Parker". He's hip, he's confident and he knows how to stand up for himself. Of course, as the montage progresses, the audience begin to realise that not only do we think he looks crazy, but so do the very people he's trying to impress. It dawns on us, at the same time it dawns on Peter, the seriousness of this new lease of life and the implications of the black suit. After a particularly kitsch scene in the bar where M.J. works turns very sour, Peter realises that the suit has affected him in ways he must now confront. In doing so, the oil infects Eddie Brock, Peter's rival at The Daily Bugle. The climax of the film gives Brock (as Venom) a moment of choice, like Peter had, a chance at redemption. Instead of taking it, Brock hungrily lunges after the alien oil ferociously rejecting any chance of humanity, thus resulting in his demise. Raimi's clever use of this mechanism allows the audience to compare hero to villain and therefore forgive Spiderman for his past indiscretions.

Such classic cinematic touches as this, and as the careful illustration of the brutish thug, Flint Marko's struggle with his alpha-male and paternal sides, are what makes Spiderman 3 one of the most cinematically articulate blockbusters of our time. This third installment addresses issues of masculine insecurities and also issues of sociological ideologies of crime and punishment, while never preaching and always keeping entertainment as the key priority.

Raimi commendably maintains the superbly comic-book visual aesthetic he created in the first two films, giving the audience the eye-candy they deserve in a summer blockbuster, but cleverly structures the film in such a way that Peter's character arc is central and connected to the stories of all the other villains. Unfortunately for Spiderman, the misunderstood masterpiece has been sidelined as a lazy action flick, but hopefully time will allow Spiderman 3 its chance in the limelight, along with its predecessors.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Blades of Glory

"I just wanna cut off your skin and wear it to my birthday"

Will Ferrell
Jon Heder
Will Arnett
Amy Poehler

Written by:
Jeff & Craig Scott

Directed by:
Josh Gordon
Will Speck

My rating: 5/5

Silly, silly, silly – but possibly genius! Somewhere in between the unashamed ridiculousness of Anchorman, and the Hollywood heroics of Dodgeball lies Will Ferrell’s latest brilliant comedy. After the disappointing Kicking and Screaming and Talladega Nights, Ferrell has returned to the genre of sports comedy, clearly determined to master it. This latest effort absolutely succeeds. It is full of jokes, full of heart and full of fun.

The story follows two rival figure skaters, the uptight, perfectionist Jimmy McElroy (Heder) and the drug-fuelled sex addict Chazz Michael Michaels (Ferrell). Both are banned from professional skating after a very unsportsmanlike fight on the podium. After a descent into the unglamorous world of gritty reality, the rivals find a loophole through which they may compete again in professional skating, but only if they agree to be partners. They must put aside their differences and learn to work together towards the championships in Montreal.

The performances in this film are superb, with Jon Heder showing he was not a one trick pony with Napoleon Dynamite. Playing a completely different character, he pulls off Jimmy McElroy with enormous charisma and perfect comic timing. The pairing of he and Ferrell works perfectly and their vicious banter never feels flat. Honourable mention must go to Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, real-life husband and wife who play the villainous brother-sister team of Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg. The hilarious duo play perfect foils to Michaels and McElroy’s fiery partnership.

The screenplay for this film features some of the cleverest dialogue I’ve seen onscreen in ages and luckily the cast more than does it justice. It never over-relies on jokes to keep the audience interested, but the simplicity of the plot leaves plenty of room for comic antics. The story moves along swiftly, never drags, and keeps the audience rooting for our heroes as the film reaches its typical “sports movie” high-octane climax.

The film does nothing new with the genre and never necessarily breaks from the formula (except for the highly un-masculine choice of sport). However, all of the skating sequences are brilliantly choreographed and convincingly carried out. The seamless construction of these sequences help to maintain the excitement necessary to keep the audience involved in the plot.

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

The Illusionist

"Everything you have seen here has been an illusion"

Written by:
Neil Burger and Steven Milhauser

Directed by:
Neil Burger

Edward Norton
Paul Giamatti
Jessica Biel

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.

Charlene Lydon

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Good Shepherd

"It isn't about dedication and loyalty, it's about belief in what we do."

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 Bronx Tale (1993), it is fair to say that audiences across the world treated the prospect of this film with mistrust. However, The Good Shepherd proves to be a pleasant surprise in all respects. The film tells the fictionalised story of the early days of the CIA and one of its most powerful figures Edward Wilson played brilliantly as always by Matt Damon. His life is chronicled in a truncated narrative that starts at the end and catches up over the course of the film. He is slowly sucked into the lonely life of a CIA operative, without ever really having any choice, but without ever really objecting. His detachment from his wife and children is the main focus of the plot, along with his lack of ability to maintain friendships in the cutthroat world of political intelligence.

De Niro has created a very dark portrayal of the soullessness required for what Wilson believes is patriotism. The choice of Damon as lead actor was inspired because there are very few actors who can play a person with no feelings, yet evoke sympathy in an audience. As he did in The Talented Mr Ripley, and more recently, The Departed, Damon plays a corrupt, abhorrent individual who remains quite human and allows his audience to sympathise with his situations.

While I’m sure the epic nature of the film was intentional, it is difficult to ignore the nagging feeling that if Mr. De Niro didn’t wear the crown of “The Greatest Actor Who Ever Lived”, the film would have been cut down to the two hours it should have been. At three hours, it moves along far too slowly and although the story is intriguing, it feels slightly vain to move the story along at such a painfully slow pace.

However, if you can sit through the first half, you will most certainly be so intrigued that the second half will fly by. The fluidity and layered texture of Eric Roth’s screenplay is captivating and as the story unravels, the film begins to feel like an enormous success.

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

The Queen

"Sleeping in the streets and pulling out their hair for someone they never knew. And they think we're mad!"

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.

The greatest accomplishment of The Queen is its perfectly balanced representation of its heroine. Never becoming propaganda, it both humanises her and shows the depths of her inability to engage with normal human emotions. The only person responsible for this accomplishment is Helen Mirren. At this stage in her career, the legendary quality of her acting accolades has become joke-worthy (perhaps not as much as Judi Dench, but not far behind), but this performance will certainly go down in history as one of the most accomplished performances ever committed to celluloid and the showers of awards are completely deserved.

Overall, an almost perfect film with faultless performances by all concerned. An interesting set of extra features makes this film a welcome addition to any DVD collection.

- Charlene Lydon

Music and Lyrics

"That's wonderfully sensitive... especially from a man who wears such tight pants."

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.

The main plot of the film revolves around Hugh Grant as former 80s idol Alex Fletcher. He is now washed-up and playing high school reunions and county fairs. When he gets the opportunity to write a song for a huge pop star, he must write an amazing song in two days. The only problem is, Alex Fletcher has an almost mystical inability to write lyrics. The audience is given no explanation as to why he wouldn’t even consider making an effort. Luckily, his replacement plant-waterer lady, Sophie (Drew Barrymore), begins butting into a lyric writing session with her airy-fairy rhymes and Alex is blown away, begging her to join him just to write this song. Chalk and cheese, this terrible twosome, her quirky ways annoy him, his frivolity disgusts her. However, over time, they develop a very special bond. Yadda yadda yadda.

The problem with Music and Lyrics is not merely in its impossibly obvious plot, nor can the dialogue be held completely responsible. Some responsibility must be taken by the lazy performances by its two stars who are supposedly doing exactly what they are both famous for: being charming. Hugh Grant’s cheeky, rich guy with no heart was perfected in films like About a Boy, but here he hams it up far too much, over-acting so much that it is impossible to believe anything about his character. The lovely Miss Barrymore, whose whimsical charm has made so many mediocre films tolerable just seems lazy here. Her acting is competent as always but as with Hugh Grant, she comes across as a parody of her own persona. The overblown inevitable climax is unbearably sappy and the couple are just as mis-matched as they were at the start, but are obliged to follow the exact structure of the romantic comedy genre.

In its defence, there is a very funny music video from Alex’s former band that gets the biggest laugh in the film and is quite accurate. If you have very, very low standards and have seen everything else showing in the cinema, perhaps you could tolerate this effortless mess, but overall, I’d rather be revisiting The Wedding Singer for the hundredth time

Charlene Lydon.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Prairie Home Companion

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 Nashville, The Player and Short Cuts. While the film industry will no doubt be saddened by his death, the man certainly left a very fitting swan song. A Prairie Home Companion is a film based on the real-life radio show which ran on American airwaves for over 30 years. The country music variety show was conceived by American legend Garrison Keillor, who wrote the script and stars in the film. The story is set around the final performance of the show and introduces a typically Atman-esque array of characters with whom we become familiar through subtle storytelling throughout the proceedings.

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.

Charlene Lydon