Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Road

Written by: Joe Penhall

Directed by: John Hillcoat

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smith-McPhee, Charlize Theron

Rating: 10/10

Having loved Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road for its contradiction of hopelessness and overwhelming sense of hope, I was awestruck to hear that Hollywood had chosen the perfect actor and perfect director to pull off the adaptation. The story follows The Man(Mortensen) and The Boy (McPhee) as they venture through America in the aftermath of some unnamed disaster which has wiped out all vegetation, all animals and most of humanity. They wander towards the coast and the film rambles with them keeping with the episodic structure of the book. This is not a film with a plot, but rather a film that tells the simplest of stories packed full of meaning and humanity.

One of the strongest points of The Road is the complexity of its central character The Man, played with ferocious grace by the outrageously talented Viggo Mortenson. His desperation is hidden under his resourcefulness and is only truly shown through his fear of other people and his harsh lack of mercy on whomever they meet along the way. However, our sympathy is won by his tenderness and genuine love for his son. He is so desperate to keep his son safe that there is nothing that he does not deem a threat. He is probably right, but at times it is difficult to stay on his side. Since the death of The Woman (Charlize Theron) which is briefly outlined through flashbacks, both Man and Boy truly feel her absence in every way. There is the sense from The Man’s gruff manner that there is something about a woman’s tenderness that cannot be replaced. Despite all attempts to keep his son safe, the maternal nurturing hands of The Woman is needed profoundly by both Man and Boy. The casting of Mortensen, an actor whose endless masculinity has long been exploited by David Cronenberg, and the glowingly beautiful Charlize Theron highlights the primal differences between the two genders and states quite beautifully the function of both in humanity.

The cinematography by Javier Aguirresrobe merges beauty with ugliness seamlessly. The palette of grey and beige never becomes anything less than riveting. He paints a world covered in a mix of ash and snow with black skies and manages to take our breath away. Aguirresrobe’s eye for desolate beauty is clearly well partnered with John Hillcoat, director of The Propostion, a masterclass in that very thing. Between them, this pair create a world so nightmarish that the determination of Man and Boy to survive seems all the more poignant. We can only ask ourselves if we would be so keen.

The character of The Boy is a fascinating one as he was born after the cataclysmic event so he has never lived in a world where anything existed but fear and suffering. His wide-eyed wonder at the slightest thing is touching to behold. A scene near the start where he innocently stamps through a pile of money and jewels on the ground, unaware that such things ever held any worth effectively bangs this idea home. He stares, amazed, at a mounted deer head, as he has probably never seen an animal in his life. In one scene his father asks: “You think I come from another world don’t ya?” And he really does.

Despite my ranting and raving and hysteric joy at what I deem to be the perfect adaptation of a perfect book, this film will not be for everyone. Perhaps some might feel it lays the sentimentality on a bit thick. Others may feel that it is aimless and slow. That is up to the audience themselves. What cannot be denied however, is the fragile blend of tenderness and stark horror that this film accomplishes. All I can say is, well done to all concerned for a job well done!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Box

"Your house is a box which you live in. The car that you drove to work is a box, on wheels. When you return home from work you sit in front of a box with moving images. You watch until the mind and soul rots and the box that is your body deteriorates, when finally you are placed into the ultimate box... to rest under the soil and earth."


Written & Directed by: Richard Kelly

Starring: James Marsden, Cameron Diaz, Frank Langella

Rating: 9/10

The Box has a very simple premise. A young, financially challenged couple (Marsden and Diaz) are given a box. Inside the box there is a button. They are informed that if they push the button they will receive a payment of one million dollars and somebody, somewhere whom they don’t know will die. Would you push the button? That’s the question asked in the film and from the moment they do (not a spoiler, this happens early on) Kelly creates a world in which they pay for their moral slip in the most hellish way imaginable.

Despite the simple premise, this is by no means a simple film. The story begins to take a bizarre turn as soon as the button is pushed. The couple begin to encounter zombie-like “employees” of Frank Langella’s infinitely cool proposition-maker Arlington Steward and they become embroiled in a huge conspiracy which reaches beyond NASA and the NSA, encompassing the supernatural, the philosophical and the spiritual.

This film contains about as much science fiction as Kelly debut effort Donnie Darko. It gives us just enough explanation to satisfy that they know what they’re talking about, but never gets bogged down in explaining every detail. This is one of the best, or worst aspects of the film depending on your own personal taste. Kelly’s script is airtight. It is clear that a lot of thought and hard work went into it. Packed with philosophical and moral weight, the script gives clues aplenty to the point of the film. I suppose the easiest reading of the film is to say that the couple’s moral failure led them straight to hell. A hell that looked and felt like reality.

Another thing to admire about The Box is the attention to production design. It is easy to forget that you’re watching a modern film. The colours, the costume, the set design, the texture, it all makes you feel like you’re watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The China Syndrome. As the film progresses and the situation becomes more dire, the palette of autumnal reds and greens fade to stark silver and blues. This attention to detail is admirable and really makes an argument for Richard Kelly’s competence as a director.

The Box might not be everyone’s cup of tea, often taking the audience to a level of discomfort usually reserved for when Lost starts to get so crazy even the most avid followers are unsure of how they feel anymore. However, apart from the plot, there is plenty to like about the film. James Marsden, the most underappreciated actor in Hollywood, gives a brilliant performance as the super-smart, sympathetic, Arthur. Cameron Diaz excels in a rare role where she actually acts. However, Frank Langella’s creepy Arlington Steward who arrives on the couple’s doorstep with only half a face, is an intriguing, frightening villain and steals the show from every other character. The other scene-stealer is the incredible score which adds infinite depth to the film written and performed by Canadian indie band Arcade Fire.

One of my favourites of the year and although it is sure to divide audiences with its complex, often insane plot, there is plenty more to admire than its trippy storytelling. Check it out, but take my advice; don’t get bogged down in figuring it all out, just roll with it and allow yourself to enjoy everything it has to offer.

- Charlene Lydon


Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Men Who Stare At Goats

Written by: Peter Straughan

Directed by: Grant Heslov

Starring: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges.

Rating: 6/10

“More of this is true than you would believe”...
This is how the film starts and as it progresses one can’t help but become fascinated by what the true parts are because every facet of this film is quite simply insane! The film revolves around journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) who becomes involved with former “psychic spy” Lyn Cassidy (George Clooney) while trying to get across the Iraq border. As he uncovers Lyn’s story through a series of very entertaining flashbacks he finds out more than he wants to about the lengths his government is willing to go to out-think the Russians and, later, the Iraqis.
The film stays somewhat on the fence about whether Cassidy is an eccentric super-soldier or a crazed hippie madman but the heart of the film lies in the tragedy of the corruption of something you believe in. Whether or not these people are insane doesn’t matter when you see the evil Hooper (Kevin Spacey) abusing what he has learned from the shaman-like Bill Django (Jeff Bridges). A genuinely likeable film, it pained me to see it go so downhill. But it nevertheless did just that. The plot began to ramble, losing all credibility along the way. It became obvious that Ewan McGregor wasn’t working in this role and was having way too much fun to even try. In fact, it began to feel a little bit like everybody was having way too fun and cared little about professionalism. By the time they put LSD in everybody’s drinking water, they had totally lost me.
It seems to me that an outlandish story, very importantly must keep its feet on the ground in every other sense. That is why a film like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or David Lynch’s Eraserhead can work, they make little sense logically, but they act as if they do. The Men Who Stare at Goats doesn’t really care about being coherent, clearly more focussed on having a laugh, and letting the actors go nuts.
Director Grant Heslov shows his inexperience and proves that he should stick to writing, a role in which he is clearly more disciplined. This film for all its insanity is very entertaining, extremely funny and George Clooney and Jeff Bridges turn in some hilarious performances. Also, for an Iraq movie, it nicely avoids waxing lyrical on the subject and keeps quiet to a large extent, remaining within its own world, only coming in contact with the war when it suits the plot.
This is a very unusual, very funny and very clever film, made all the more interesting because of its unlikely basis on fact. However, it does lose the run of itself midway and becomes a mess of epic proportions.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Lost Lovely Ladies of Hollywood

Marilyn, Audrey, Katherine, Lana, Judy, Greta, Marlene...
We are on first name terms with so many beautiful women from Hollywood's heyday. But what of the one's that got lost along the way? The women who had enormously successful careers and who shine just as radiently as the aforementioned stars but somehow got lost from the radar over the years. I would like to briefly mention some of my own personal godesses who have fallen from the public consciousness for some reason of another.

In my research I realised that their stories are more fascinating than I had imagined. Mental illness, scandals and feuds tearing them from the arms of the studios and therefore the public. Please feel free to share your own lovely ladies...there are many, many starlets who need saving from the depths of obscurity.

GLORIA GRAHAME:

Known for her strong presence and vast variety of roles, this lady could do "dark" like nobody's business. She played the disgraced Violet in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, a ganster's moll in The Big Heat and a bit too fun-loving Ado Annie in Oklahoma. Such was the variety of her range as an actress. She smouldered onscreen in her darker roles, vicious and complex, but in her lighter roles she could sparkle as frothily as you like! Despite working with acclaimed directors such as Frank Capra, Robert Wise, Vincente Minnelli and Nicholas Ray, her career flagged somewhat after the 1950's. Obsessed in real life with her looks, she never saw herself as beautiful. I beg to differ, Miss Grahame. Perhaps not a typical beauty, she had a wonderful face, and one hell of a body, not to mention that sex appeal that jumped right off the screen. Add to that a tumultuous personal life (caught in bed with Nicholas Ray's teenage son, while still married to Nicholas Ray!! She later married his son) and you've got a screen siren to match any of the rest of them.


GENE TIERNEY:

Peering out of the enormous painting as the titular character Laura in Otto Preminger's classic film noir, it is easy to see why these men couldn't help obsessing over this woman. A glint of danger in those otherwise innocent eyes, the dramatic cheekbones, the Snow White complexion, Gene Tierney was certainly one of the most beautiful women who ever graced the silver screen. Her ice-cold portrayal as the evil Ellen in Leave Her To Heaven is one of the most chillindg female performances I have ever seen. Not many women could balance nasty and sexy in this fashion. And I ain't talkin' heartbreaker. Ellen murders handicapped young boys! Despite her success and doubtless skills, Gene suffered from bi-polar diorder which meant a series of career disasters as she was in her prime. Attempted suicides and stints in mental hospitals plagued her in her latter years, perhaps accounting for her obscurity nowadays.


PATRICIA NEAL:

First coming to the attention of the movie-going public as the beautiful, masochist Dominique Francon in the big screen adaptation of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, Patricia Neal immediately grabbed the attention of the media with a highly publicised affair with the married and much-older Gary Cooper (she was 21, he was 49). Needless to say, this notoriety followed her and she was treated like a jezebel, thus never getting any of the glamorous studio roles she richly deserved. This did not deter her from becoming a fascinating actress who used her sad elegance to bring a touch of class to a variety of roles. Her most memorable role was probably in The Day the Earth Stood Still but she also won an Oscar for her role in Hud. Married for 20 years to children's writer Roald Dahl, Patricia Neal led a somewhat unglamorous life, herself and her children plagued with health problems.

ELEANOR POWELL:

"She 'put 'em down like a man', no ricky-ticky-sissy stuff with Ellie. She really knocked out a tap dance in a class by herself." - Fred Astaire
I discovered Eleanor Powell like so many others through the wonderful That's Entertainment movie and its sequels. She was celebrated by her peers for her fantastic dance skills, was titled "The Best Tap Dancer in the World" and is considered the only person who could ever out-dance Fred Astaire. But, boy, did she make it look easy! Her long toned legs seemingly taking on a life of their own while her lovely face never forgot that the audience was here to see a star, not just dance moves. Studio battles caused this lady to fade away young, but she left behind a legacy in the MGM musicals she had already starred in, most notably the Broadway Melody films and Born To Dance, alongside Jimmy Stewart.



ANN MILLER:

Another legend of dance, Ann Miller is a lady who starred in many opulent musicals and was a true superstar in her day who came and went without any scandal, but still rarely gets mentioned today. Considered a child dance prodigy, MGM bragged that she could tap 500 taps per minute. As it turns out, these taps were looped afterwards, but the lady sure could dance! Often said to have polularised the now-typical Hollywood dark bouffant hairdo and scarlet lips, Ann Miller was an icon in her day. Also, she was the first person to wear tights, instead of stockings. They were espacially made for her because she had problems with ripping stockings mid-show. Despite being a legend in her field and stealing the show from both Fred Astaire AND Judy Garland in Easter Parade as the wily temptress Nadine Hale, Ann finished up with Hollywood in the 1950s and apart from wowing audiences in a Broadway stint in Mame, she was rarely seen again until David Lynch cast her in a non-dancing and very creepy role as Coco in his 2001 film Mulholland Drive.


JANE WYMAN:

Most famous for her roles opposite Rock Hudson in Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows and Magnificent Obsession, Jane Wyman was never your typical sexy siren. She was an icon of good sense, temperament and classy beauty. Previously married to Ronald Reagan, she never spoke of him publicly after thier divorce, despite having three children for him. She is the only ex-wife of an American president.
Jane's career was consistent and stable and she was a remarkable actress, a beautiful woman and a class act. She started off as a chorus girl but as resilient and supportive Helen St. James in Billy Wilder's harrowing The Lost Weekend, she proved her acting chops. Later in her career she became the muse of Douglas Sirk and found a perfect outlet for her special brand of melancholy sweetness. She lived a simple life and despite resurrecting her career in Falcon Crest in the 1980s, she died alone, a recluse in 2007.


BARBARA STANWYCK:
Ok, so by no stretch of the imagination is Barbara Stanwyck to be considered "obscure" but seriously folks, this woman has to be one of the greatest actresses that ever lived, tearing up the screen in such gems as Double Indemnity, Lady of Burlesque, Stella Dallas and my own personal favourite All I Desire (yeah, yeah I know it's another Sirk, what can I say??). Again, not a conventional beauty but she still managed sultry, vulnerable and earthy all at the same time. She had the face of a girl next door but the sparkle of a vixen. Her strength lay in melodrama but as she proved in her ridiculously classy role in Double Indemnity, she could do noir just as well. She lived a long life onscreen and when she retired she slunk away into the night and working inconspicuously for various charities for the rest of her life. So, why isn't she more famous?? Any film buff worth their salt knows exactly who she is but she's certainly no household name. I have no idea! Makes no sense to me.


JOAN FONTAINE:
The child-like innocence, the porcelein skin, the image of a woman constantly on the brink of womanhood, Joan Fontaine made a career out of looking like a deer caught in headlights. The only Hitchcock leading lady to win an Oscar for her role (for Suspicion actually, not Rebecca), Joan Fontaine famously had an extremely bitter lifelong feud with her sister, fellow siren Olivia De Havilland. Both were nominated for Oscars in 1942, leading to a rumoured awkwardness between the two. Later, after having won the prize, Joan commented that she "felt guilty about winning; given her lack of obsessive career drive..." saucer of milk, table Fontaine! This feud led to Joan cutting off contact with her own daughters because they were maintaining a relationship with their aunt. Crazy lady, not the innocent beauty we came to know and love in such gems as Letter From an Unknown Woman, The Women and Jane Eyre.


ANNE BAXTER:

The best bad girl in town! The soulless girl with the wholesome face, who would suspect the mousy Eve Harrington was simply trying to steal the life of her idol Margo Channing in her triumphant turn in All About Eve? She narrowly missed out on the lead in Hitchcock's Rebecca at the tender age of 16 and at 21 she was cast in Orson Welles' doomed The Magnificent Ambersons in which she shone as the beautiful Lucy. She won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role opposite Gene Tierney and Tyrone Power in W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge, this time in a tragic role. She also starred in the very extravagant The Ten Commandments as the spoiled but heavenly Nefretiri, again cementing her star status. Her career flourished throughout her life, although her star faded somewhat over the years. Anne Baxter is one of those actresses that consistenly outshone everyone in any film she acted in, which is no mean feat considering the wealth of stars she appeared with (definitive example, All About Eve), but somehow still seems like a stranger to our screens.

Please feel free to comment and add some suggestions for your own lost lovely ladies of Hollywood.

** Disclaimer - most of my info came from Wikipedia...

- Charlene Lydon

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Taking Woodstock


Written by: James Schamus

Directed by: Ang Lee

Starring: Demetri Martin, Henry Goodman, Imelda Staunton, Eugene Levy, Liev Schreiber

Rating: 6/10

Director Ang Lee is certainly in no fear of being pigeon-holed. Just file him under “Miscellaneous”. His films have ranged from gay cowboys to period drama to super-heroes. His latest piece of work Taking Woodstock bears many of his signatures but is, yet again, vastly different from his previous work. This film tells the story of the notorious Woodstock festival from the point of view of young, desperate, motel-owner’s son, Eliot (Martin) who initially suggests his tiny town of White River as a possible site for the concert. As chaos descends upon the town it brings new leases of life in spades upon the town, but also brings its fair share of contempt from the locals.
The beauty of this film is the microcosm from which the story grows. The audience doesn’t get to see every little detail of the organisation of the festival, but only sees what Eliot sees. Eliot is smart as a whip, confident and sensible and he is cleverly introduced as a likeable, competent and resourceful guy but as the story progresses it is interesting to see how quickly he is pulled under the current of hippies and suits and farmers and family, barely keeping his head above water.
Lee, as always, creates a beautiful world. A world that shows as many sides of the story as possible; the lunacy of hippies, the beauty of hippies, the close-mindedness of small towns, the open-mindedness of small towns, the muck, the sunshine, the pain, the freedom, it’s all here in a mix of stories and characters.
What drags this film down is its pacing. Throughout the whole film, although it moves along constantly, it feels like it is dragging its heels. As it approaches the end of the film there is an ill-advised LSD sequence that not only takes the attention away from the story but also fails miserably in its effort to depict the trip as beautiful, but comes across as rather creepy instead. The script is poorly constructed at times with a wealth of superfluous characters creeping in and out.
Despite its flaws, this is a pleasant film to watch with some strong performances from comedian Demetri Martin in a very demanding but successful lead role and from two Brits (Staunton and Goodman) playing his wonderfully over-the-top Jewish parents.
This is probably not a very memorable film, but it is quite beautiful to look at and certainly invokes the spirit of a musical festival in all its glory, but be warned there is no actual Woodstock footage, so don’t expect a documentary. This film is staunchly centred on our lead character and his remarkable true story.

- Charlene Lydon

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox

"I don't have a bandit mask, but I did modify this tube sock."





Director: Wes Anderson

Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwarzman, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon

Rating: 8/10

How does one bring to life Roald Dahl’s woodland tale of the irrepressible but fantastic Mr. Fox? Director of The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore Wes Anderson brings his signature droll characterisation and rich, autumnal colour palette to the story and treats his audience to a beautifully realised and highly enjoyable adventure through the world of wild animals.
The plot follows Mr Fox (Clooney), a former chicken thief who gave up his wild ways in favour of settling down with his wife (Streep) and new cub (Schwartzman). As his son grows older, Mr. Fox sneaks back into his former lifestyle which sets in motion a disastrous pursuit by local angry farmers, putting the lives of his animal friends in danger.
The film has its share of ups and downs. It is clear by about twenty minutes in that there has been some necessary but not always successful stretching of the plot. At 87 minutes this is a rather short film but it still feels spread a little thin. However, if you are as enthralled by the film as I was, you will probably find you can forgive this.
The voice casting is immaculate and gives life to the simplistic characters. The script is quirky and hilarious, basking in its own playfulness while also showing a confidently mature sense of humour. Particularly enjoyable is the conflict between Ash, Mr Fox’s less-than-adequate son and Kristofferson, Mr. Fox’s very adequate nephew.
Perhaps this is too eclectic a mix for all tastes. It will delight some and irritate others but it will certainly charm audiences with its beautiful visuals and its sense of innocence and fun. Anderson instils in the film a knowing self-awareness of its own childishness, but manages this without the slightest air of pomposity. Definitely a bit of fun for both children and adults alike, and when compared with what’s been done with other beloved children’s stories (Dr. Seuss, I’m looking at you) this film proves to be refreshingly sophisticated.

- Charlene Lydon

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Thirst


Directed by: Park Chan Wook

Starring: Kang-ho Song, Ok-Vin Kim

Rating: 7/10

Touted as an antidote for the Twilight-weary vampire fan, this Korean vampire love story is certainly original. It tells the story of kind-hearted priest Sang-hyeon who puts himself forth for Ebola Virus tests. When these tests go wrong and turn him into a vampire (they never really get into the science here) the virginal, innocent priest slowly and to his horror begins to lust, not just for blood, but also for his friend’s wife, Tae-joo. From here the plot erupts into a volcano of madness with sex, gore, murder, ghosts and of course, vampire high-jinks. What starts as a tragic, fascinating examination of Sang-hyeon’s struggle with his bloodlust, ultimately turns into a madcap horror-comedy. It’s all very fun but there are too many changes in tone to allow this to compete with the director’s Vengeance Trilogy. Twilight it ain’t, but it’s no masterpiece either.

Triangle


Written & Directed by: Christopher Smith

Starring: Melissa George, Liam Hemsworth, Robert Dorman, Rachel Carpani.

Rating: 6/10

A group of friends set sail off the coast of Florida, presumably towards the Bermuda Triangle, though this is never mentioned. All seems well except for Jess (George) who shows up haunted and exhausted. She is vague when asked about the whereabouts of her son and despite her best efforts is having trouble socialising. Soon, they have found themselves victim to a storm, leaving them shipwrecked. Eventually a ship arrives and they board it, expecting salvation but receiving a mess of time loops, murder and identity crises.
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that despite how messy the plot seems, the script has been written with great care and thought. As each twist unfurls, it nicely fits into the questions that have previously been set up. As is often the case with time loop stories, Triangle seems unsure of how to end itself. However, it does manage to bring about a decent denoument, though the final scenes don’t quite explain themselves as nicely as it could have.
The film’s weakness lies in its tired premise. It is decidedly similar in design and tone to a particular episode of The X Files (incidentally called Triangle) and feels like an episode of The Twilight Zone except it’s dragged out for an extra hour, or the entire plot of Lost squeezed into a movie. There’s nothing cinematic here, therefore nothing to justify another time loop story making its way to the public. The amateurish CGI doesn’t help either!
Having said that, the film does entertain and it maintains a nice level of paranoia. Melissa George’s performance is consistently cold and distracted, always keeping the audience wondering what had happened before her arrival on the boat. As the third act begins and everything begins to make sense, Jess’s primal maternal urges begin to make sense and thus the film becomes an insightful psychological thriller.
This is my no means an original story, nor is it the most satisfying but it is a decent thriller and credit must be given for the careful script, the melancholy tone and the snappy pacing. It’s not one for repeated viewing, but if you’re a fan of mind games, this is actually rather satisfying.

- Charlene Lydon

Monday, September 07, 2009

Away We Go


"I can't believe you told your mother about my tilted uterus!"

Written by: Dave Eggers & Vendela Vida

Directed by: Sam Mendes

Cast: Maya Rudolph, John Krasinski, Maggie Gyllenhaal

From Sam Mendes, the Brit who dared to deconstruct and disintegrate the American Dream in his classic American Beauty and in last year’s profoundly tragic Revolutionary Road, comes a story that in some ways criticises several conventions of the modern American family but most importantly, at its heart, it shows great hope for the future of the America.

The story follows young couple, Burt and a very pregnant Verona, as they travel to various places in America and Canada in search of a place to start their family. Burt and Verona are very much in love. They share a very close friendship, respect and appreciation of each other. A relationship of that calibre is a rarity in these cynical times and it is lovely to see it portrayed without being overly-sentimental. It uniquely shows the audience a couple who make being in love look easy. This is indescribably refreshing.

Burt and Verona travel from place to place meeting an assortment of crazy friends and family, each with their own quirks and issues. They try to decide what kind of parents they want to be and what kind of children they want to raise. Being earthy, borderline hippie, but sensible people, they try to find the balance between normal and special. A main plot point is Verona’s reluctance to get married. She doesn’t believe in it. This fits in with themes in Mendes’ previous work of marriage as an unnecessary stunting bind between couples. In a touching scene towards the end, the script deftly resolves this issue while making an interesting statement about the institute of marriage in an increasingly secular world.

Mendes truly struck gold in his casting choice with Rudolph and Krasinski. Maya Rudolph positively glows throughout the film and manages to be both super-cool and accessible. Warm and wise, she radiates love and contentment…but not in an annoying way. John Krasinski tones down his nice-guy persona to a nice-but-quiet guy. His character is warm but quiet and charmingly sensitive. Their chemistry is remarkable and with both of their CVs being full of comedy it’s nice to see them handle the drama and subtleties so beautifully.

You may think this sounds unbearably sentimental and touchy-feely but I assure you there’s enough bite in this script to ensure that it doesn’t get bogged down. This is definitely a feel-good movie, but it is so maturely handled that it never descends into corny!

With its lacksydaisy pacing, its heart on its sleeve and its striking visual style, this ranks with Mendes’ best work, though far simpler than his previous films. Highly, highly recommended.

- Charlene Lydon

Sunday, August 30, 2009

District 9


"Get your fokkin' tentacle out of my face!"

Directed by: Neill Blomkamp

Starring: Sharlto Copley, Vanessa Haywood

Rating: 9/10

It’s mid-August, summer blockbuster fever is at its peak in the U.S. and along comes this scantily marketed, starless alien movie from and unknown director set in Johannesburg and bullets straight to the top of the box office! Sounds like science fiction to me. District 9 boasts only one star name and that is Peter Jackson, who produced the film.

The success of District 9 is certainly deserved but mystifying nonetheless. The story begins with the legally dubious evictions of aliens (yes, extraterrestrials) from a camp they have lived with since their arrival on our planet. They are being moved from mixed race slums (slums they share with humans) to an alien-only camp. As has been seen in human-kind for so many years, when underprivileged people are stuck into a slum, it soon becomes a ghetto and often, the minority is treated as a villain. This is the case here as the so-called “prawns” are villainised by their neighbours. The first act is a harrowing exploration of the very un-humanitarian treatment of the prawns during the eviction. However, as the second act kicks off, our hero (if this film could boast one) Wickus gets squirted by some alien black oil and begins to turn into a prawn. Most of the second act is a chase as Wickus, in all his dim-witted confusion tries to escape the giant corporation who want him to activate the alien weapons now that he shares their DNA.

There is no one thing that District 9 does right. I does everything right. It is a harrowing drama, it is an inter-species buddy movie, it is a wonderfully gory sci-fi flick and it is a killer action movie. In fact it is hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t enjoy it. I can imagine some people might have trouble with the upsetting parallels between the “prawns” and some of our very own species’ more impoverished people and the treatment of them by society; especially in the gruesome opening act, where these refugees are murdered with such relish by the MNU (Multi-National United).

Kudos must be given to the film’s star Sharlto Copley, a South African actor in his debut role. His character of Wickus is so multi-layered and morally ambiguous that it would take a genius to pull off the role. Copley gives it socks and although we see the big bad G-man at the start trying to prove himself, his character develops to reveal an unsure, big-hearted young man who tries to break the chains of his own prejudice throughout the film. His performance is hilarious and, this might not be the P.C. thing to say but the South African accent is probably the most amusing accent in the world.

This is the perfect anti-dote to big Hollywood heartless blockbuster (G.I. Joe, I’m looking at you!). Although it feels like Hollywood and its special effects and CGI have set a new standard for the big studios, this is very deliberately an anti-Hollywood movie. It has political subtext aplenty and it ensures that audiences can see that blockbusters can have the perfect balance of brains and brawn. Never descending into preachiness, District 9 gives us politics but never at the expense of brilliant gore and fun.

- Charlene Lydon

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1


Written by: Abdel Raouf Dafri

Directed by: Jean-Francois Richet

Starring: Vincent Cassel, Ludivine Sagnier, Mathieu Amalric

Rating: 9/10

The second part of Jean-Francois Richet’s epic telling of French modern-day outlaw Jacques Mesrine’s complicated, compelling life picks up where the first left off; with Jacques being extradited from Canada to France. Where the first film focussed on his audacity and wily ways, the second part focuses on his growing addiction to fame and notoriety. The first part of the film begins with a note on how every story has many different perspectives and that this is just one perspective on this man’s life. This is re-examined when Jacques becomes so infuriated at General Pinochet stealing his spot on the front page of the newspaper that he decides to write an autobiography. The script, whose source material is the autobiography up to this point, calls the books authenticity into question and suggests that Mesrine exaggerated a lot in order to garner more attention for himself.

As Jacques Mesrine begins to age, he begins to get more and more desperation to give his life meaning or, it could be argued, media relevance. He dreams of being considered a revolutionary and tries to make his crimes politically engaged, most notably the kidnapping of a notorious slumlord and the murder of a right-wing journalist. However, the film takes great pains to ensure that the audience knows that Mesrine’s motive is purely self-promotion.

Most of the film’s third act leads up to Mesrine’s death scene (which we have already seen at the start of the first film). A remarkable climax ensues, which shows the police setting up an extremely elaborate scenario in which to assassinate him. A now pudgy and still short Jacques Mesrine walks down a street and we see hiding policemen cower in fear beside him. This is an interesting view of his stranglehold on the world and how intimidating a figure he had made himself. The sequence follows his every step, quite monotonously and tediously, until we see in gruesome detail the aftermath of the police’s assassination.

The second part of this film doesn’t quite live up to the breathless exhilaration of the first part, but it keeps building on the character and allowing him to change and develop which is admirable. As in the first movie, Mesrine shows a soft side, only to prove it doesn’t run very deep. This happens on a number of occasions and it suggests on several occasions that although he may know that to be human means you have to love and be loved, Jacques Mesrine is not capable of it, as much as he tries.
This is a brilliantly made film. Stylish, yet never at the expense of the story. The performances are top-notch and there are enough political and spiritual implications here to keep this movie on your mind for days afterwards. However, politics and spiritualism aside, this is a cool movie with lots of gore and lots of action. It is by no means short of entertainment. As with the first film, I whole-heartedly recommend this to anyone, even those of us who aren’t fans of the genre.
- Charlene Lydon

Mesrine: Killer Instinct

Written by: Abdel Raouf Dafri

Directed by: Jean Francois Richet

Starring: Vincent Cassel, Cecile de France, Gerard Depardieu

Rating: 10/10

On it’s release in France last December, Mesrine: Part One – Killer Instinct grossed an incredible €18,000,000, pushing a certain High School Musical 3 completely out of the box office equation. Telling the story of France’s most notorious gangland superstar Jacques Mesrine, Killer Instinct has garnered huge praise in its home country and has been wowing festival audiences on the international stage.
Killer Instinct begins as so many biopics begin, with the main characters death scene. Mesrine notoriously died in his car under a hail of bullets from unknown assassins on a busy Paris street in 1979. It then skips backwards to Jacques as a soldier in the Algerian War. The sequence, while a little out of place is a great starting point in getting to know this very complex character. After his return to France, Mesrine soon becomes involved in the swinging sixties decadence of Paris and the sinister underworld that comes with it. It is clear that he has a certain moral greyness to him and also a quick-witted resourcefulness that moves him quickly up the ladder.
After a whirlwind romance, he marries a beautiful young Spanish girl and they quickly start a family. This prompts a brief attempt at trying to go straight, but Jacques quickly returns to his criminal gang and any romantic notions of being a husband and father are soon blown away.
The action moves to Quebec, Canada in the third act where Jacques and his new flame Jeanne (Cecile de France) get in most spectacular trouble with the law. The film’s denouement brings the audience through one of cinema’s most memorable prison escapes, memorable in its simplicity and audacity.
It is difficult not to compare this to Michael Mann’s recent Public Enemies but this is not an exercise in style as Mann’s film was. Although visually engaging, this film does not get bogged down in being “cool”. The film is concerned only with bringing the audience into the murky world of Jacques Mesrine and the film attempts the very difficult task of making us understand this vicious, heartless, romantic, arrogant, self-obsessed, sensitive gangster.
The cast is flawless. Each character is memorably played, especially the women in Jacques’ life. Vincent Cassel puts in the performance of his career (and that’s no easy task for an actor as accomplished as he) as Jacques Mesrine. The film clocks in at just over two hours and it is one of the most intense, exciting and brutal pieces of cinema you’ll see all year.
The film ends as Mesrine is just becoming the notorious superstar he eventually rose to be. With much of the story left to be told, the filmmakers leave us panting for more. Luckily there is not a huge gap in the release dates between movies.
Mesrine has universal appeal. It is not just a genre piece. It is an exciting, action-packed examination of a truly fascinating man. With flawless performances and unrelenting pace, Killer Instinct should have you hooked from the first scene to the last.

- Charlene Lydon 21/8/09

Inglorious Basterds

Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Christophe Waltz, Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurier, Daniel Bruhl, Diane Kruger.

Rating: 6/10

Wouldn’t life be so much easier if there were only good movies and bad movies? Mr. Tarantino has, yet again, frustrated the hell out of this reviewer by delivering a film which is in equal measure both exhilaratingly clever and incessantly indulgent. That’s the conundrum of Quentin Tarantino. We all know he’s got skills, and he’s got a certain trademark visual and rhythmic style but does he always have to sell his trademarks so heavily in every movie?

Inglorious Basterds is a particularly frustrating piece of work. The plot of the film follows a bunch of American Nazi hunters, the titular Basterds and a female (incognito) Jew who runs an art cinema. Both factions are, unbeknownst to each other, plotting to use a particularly high-falutin’ film premiere to blow up several of the most important Nazi leaders, including Der Fuhrer himself.

The plot is beautifully woven and the stories are intertwined nicely and delicately. Mathematically, everything in the script fits neatly together perfectly. However, as the long, drawn out scenes of Tarantino’s trademark witty banter continue to slow down the film, the audience can’t help but lose interest somewhat. The film feels as if it is compiled of about twenty very long dialogue sequences, and at a running time of over two and a half hours, one can only feel that there’s nothing but benefit in cutting a good 45 mins of useless, but oh-so-edgy dialogue out of it. Each sequence does push the story along, but only after putting the brakes on the pacing for at least ten minutes.

Negative aspects aside, there’s plenty to admire about Inglorious Basterds. The best thing, by a million miles, is Christophe Waltz’s maniac Nazi Hans Landa; a brilliant character, an even more brilliant performance and a crazy twist in the tale that truly makes it all worthwhile. In fact, it is all the European actors who stand out in the film. The supporting cast are great for the most part, despite a very conspicuous and unfunny cameo from Mike Myers. The American actors are quite irritating in their brashness (though I’m sure that’s the point). Brad Pitt’s southern drawl grates after about two minutes and his is a one-joke character. He’s a meat-head and a brute and likes to say “killin Neeeh-tzees” a lot. Tarantino insists, again, on casting his friend Eli Roth, who is actually a worse actor than he is director, as Donny Donowitz a notorious Nazi killer. In fact most of the scenes of the Basterds play out like Team America.

The cinematography in this film deserves definite mention, Tarantino sticks to his signature palette of rich primary colour and it works to tremendous effect here, with the cameras eye particularly focussed on swastikas, which appear in almost every scene. The film’s design, costume and movement are beautiful and luxurious to behold. As usual, Tarantino goes for the pop culture soundtrack which is jarring and doesn’t work as well as it does in his previous films, most likely because this is such a period setting. He also chooses to do things like introducing certain characters with their own freeze frame with their name blasted across the screen, and a very intermittent narration from Samuel L. Jackson. Because of their sporadic nature, these features seem really out of place and work to no great effect. As usual, style over substance.

Stuck in development hell for years, it’s a dreadful shame that the director couldn’t just rein his ego in enough to pare it down and make it the brilliant film it should have been and very nearly was. Some poor choices aside, it has a really great plot, a fantastic breakthrough performance from veteran German actor Christophe Waltz and beautiful cinematography. A very strange ending may leave you either stumped or exhilarated, depending on your mood by the end.

- Charlene Lydon

Saturday, August 08, 2009

A Perfect Getaway

Written & Directed by: David Twohy

Starring: Milla Jovovich, Steve Zahn, Timothy Olyphant, Kiele Sanchez.

Rating: 7/10

How much you like this film depends on how much you like films that sell themselves solely on the fact that there is going to be a twist at the end; and how much you enjoy the twist when it inevitably occurs. The set-up is classic. A couple of newlyweds, Sidney (Jovovich) and Cliff (Zahn) decide to spend their honeymoon backpacking to a paradise beach in Hawaii only to find on their arrival that there has been a grisly murder and police are looking for a young couple as suspects. They have, of course, encountered two other young couples, both of whom are oddly threatening, but possibly harmless. There’s Nicko and Gina a fun-loving, outdoorsy couple, but Nicko’s tall tales of being an “American Jedi” and Gina’s ability to gut a goat soon raise Sidney and Cliff’s suspicions. There’s also the creepy and clearly disturbed Kale (Hemsworth) and Cleo (Shelton) who are shadowy and suspicious, but are they dangerous?

The setup creates immediate tension and it’s only in retrospect that I realise how few scares there are in this film and how few actual threats appear throughout. The sense of looming fear is built up through the audience’s own paranoia as they try to figure out who the murderous duo is. Credit is due to writer/director David Twohy for managing to create this much tension without the cover of night. The entire film is set during the day, and in perfect sunshine. Few other films have used this conceit successfully and there’s irony to be found in the fact that this is the director of Pitch Black which works upon the opposite gimmick of being stuck in the dark.

Apart from some very irritating and sooo 90’s ironic dialogue about movie structure and plot devices between the characters this is a decent thriller with a lot going for it. However, I personally found the twist to be a little hokey and when the third act got into full swing it just started to get ridiculous. However, ridiculous can often lead to some really cool gore, which was the case here. An average suspense-thriller with a better than average cast (Olyphant and Sanchez are particularly great as the couple with the ever-evolving personas), A Perfect Getaway is by no means a great film but it is definitely an entertaining one.
If you’re looking for something to watch on a Saturday night you could do far worse than this.This is definitely an enjoyable piece of cinema, if not the most challenging. After a good first and second act it descends into madness in the third act and all plausibility goes out the window. On the other hand, it is well-crafted, nicely acted and delivers the tension required for a thriller of this kind.

- Charlene Lydon

Orphan

"I'm not your fucking Mommy"

Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra

Written by: David Johnson

Starring: Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder.

Rating: 7/10

Orphan is a remarkable thriller, one of the most sadistic to hit the cinemas in a long time. There have been so many evil children movies that it’s hard for one to set itself apart. This bizarre mix of ridiculous schlock and intense family drama is difficult to swallow but never fails to entertain.
The Coleman family are introduced as a picture perfect American family. A beautiful house in Connecticut, beautiful parents Kate and John and beautiful children Daniel and Maxine. Kate had recently suffered a stillbirth and in order to soothe that pain, they decide to adopt a child. They find a perfect addition to their family in a local orphanage in the form of beautiful, creative, charming Esther, a 9 year-old Russian girl. However, soon after they bring her home they start to notice some strange things about Esther.
What happens next is a series of nasty events that divide the family. The sense of “other” surrounding Esther allows the audience to believe that John could keep excusing suspicious events and slowly but surely start to believe that Kate has gone mad. Esther wears strange clothes, speaks with a foreign accent and has different mannerisms than her American counterparts. This sense of “otherness” is most evident with respect to the Coleman’s eldest child Daniel. He is disgusted with Esther and refuses to tolerate her quirks. Immediately a division is caused in the family.
The remarkable thing about this film is the sense of unease created by domestic dramas. The veneer of perfection at the start quickly peels away to reveal that Kate is a recovering alcoholic whose actions led to an accident which left Maxine deaf and it is suggested, it caused their child to be stillborn. It also becomes apparent that John has been unfaithful and that their sex life is suffering as a result. This family drama acts as a wonderful way to build tension, as if a murderous child isn’t enough.
The third act is where things start to get really weird! Esther’s true intentions are revealed to the shock of the audience and there’s a killer twist which in some ways explains the outrageousness of the events of the film.
This film is genuinely creepy with some delightful gore and an ice cold colour palette that suits the tone of the film really well. The filmmakers clearly went to great pains to create a clinical and very polished world within the film. The design of the Coleman family home brings to mind 1980’s David Cronenberg with its grave austerity and chilling lack of comfort. Apart from visually, the film also delivers a stern, smoothly pace. It moves slowly, but never at the expense of entertainment or drama. At almost two and a half hours, this is a slow burner and one that ultimately pays off as it reaches its climax.
From the stunning opening sequence to it’s very bizarre conclusion this is a striking film, but be sure to check your disbelief at the door as this is one preposterous story! Ultimately it is enjoyable and boasts some fantastic performances from its leads particularly a 12 year old Isabelle Fuhrman who, I must say, must have very obliging parents to allow her to play this extremely risky role. If you want a good slow-burning thriller, there’s a lot to like about Orphan. However, be warned, it gets very, very strange.

- Charlene Lydon

Friday, August 07, 2009

RIP John Hughes

"Demented and sad...but social"

Seriously folks, was there a better writer in the history of Hollywood? I know, I know, he made kids movies and he made teen movies and some of his latter year work was sub-par at best but if one looks at the actual quality of his writing, during his glory days John Hughes' contribution to cinema is hard to fault.

On hearing about his recent death at age 59, I felt more incredibly sad than I thought possible for a has-been filmmaker who was well past his sell-by date. "Why?" I asked myself. And then I started thinking about those films that have been part of my life for as long as I have existed. Those films that I enjoyed as a kid, but also the films I found later in life that just feel like home to me. John Hughes is known for being in touch with teen angst and writing realistic teenagers but what I really think his skill was, was writing people. Every character he wrote was charismatic, interesting, unusual and each character no matter how small was full of quirks and...well, character. Think of such people as Mr. "Bueller, Bueller". Or Long Duk Dong. Or the inimitable Duckie. Or Edie McClurg's chirpy car rental agent in "Planes Trains and Automobiles". These characters are memorable. But most of John Hughes' appeal was his ability to create characters you really care about. No matter how quirky, small or downright unlikeable his characters are, you still care about them.

In "The Breakfast Club" he manages to do the impossible and create characters who are stereotypes but write them as real people who, despite their labels are fundamentally the same as each other. Boiled down to their lowest common denominator, this jock, brain, prom queen, criminal and weirdo are just teenagers, dealing with all the crap that comes along with it. How's that for a statement on humanity? You may think that John Hughes made films for the MTV generation but what set him apart was his ability to find the tragedy and the joy in every character. His power as a writer was that he could show all manner of human stuggles wrapped in the fuschia taffeta prom dress of a teen comedy. Just because Duckie is the nice guy friend, doesn't mean Andie will necessarily choose him over rich-boy Blaine. And it doesn't mean that Blaine is a bad guy. Convention was a tool for John Hughes. A tool which allowed him to reveal the more unpoetic aspects of human nature.

What about the dark side of children as "Home Alone" shows how far an innocent little boy will go to protect his home. OK, so it isn't "Straw Dogs" but I can tell you which film made me laugh, cringe and cry more. Possibly his most gloriously multi-layered character is Ferris Bueller. How much do we all love Ferris? It's impossible to think of a more revered movie character. Yet, look at him. He's a total brat. He whines that he got a computer instead of a car for his birthday. He terrorises and abuses his best friend Cameron and he shows no regard for anything or anyone except himself. So what makes him likeable? Who knows! It's that magical ability that John Hughes had for creating characters and fleshing them out so well that you feel like you know them. Despite his flaws, there's not a person alive who doesn't want to take a day off with Ferris Bueller.

Apart from his undeniable skills as a writer, it's also important to note his skills as a director, particularly in relation to actors. Again, let's consider "The Breakfast Club", almost completely set in one room with five characters. Works a charm! John Hughes is known for "finding" people and making them stars. Just looking at his repertoire of actors it is difficult to deny this fact. But look at how many of his actors have gone downhill since he found them. The cast of "The Breakfast Club" is a prime example. Correct me if I'm wrong but for all concerned this was the peak of their creative work. Same goes for "Weird Science", "Ferris Bueller" and "Sixteen Candles". And as huge a fan as I am of Steve Martin, it has to be said that the performance Hughes pulled out of him in "Planes Trains and Automobiles" was darker and deeper than Martin usually goes, and he's also on the top of his comic game.

Reflecting upon John Hughes post-humously it strikes me that he may seem like the 80's equivalent of Judd Apatow or even Robert Luketic, but the fact is, he's the father of them all. He effortlessly weaved heart into his stories, rather than forcibly throwing in a sappy third act. That was John Hughes' power. And not only that but let's not forget the power to entertain!

- Charlene Lydon

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince


"Once again Harry, I must ask too much of you"

Written by: Steve Kloves

Directed by: David Yates

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman.

My rating: 9/10

Many years ago, when the Harry Potter phenomenon had first begun, I made a promise to myself that I would stick to the medium of film and enjoy the films as they emerged, without reading the books first. I am pleased to say I have stuck to this and having really enjoyed the films I find it frustrating at times to resist the temptation of picking up a book and continuing the story instead of waiting for the next cinematic instalment. However, given the overall quality of the films, it has definitely been worth my while. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is a definite pay-off for those of us who use the films as our way of learning Harry’s story.

Half Blood Prince picks up almost immediately after The Order of the Phoenix left off. It highlights Harry’s celebrity status and the fact that it is now widely accepted that he is the one chosen to destroy Lord Voldemort. The film follows Harry in his quest to stop creepy emo kid Draco Malfoy from carrying out Lord Voldemort’s wishes. There are many distractions in the form of raging hormones for all concerned. Ron has become a sports star and is now therefore surrounded by women. He learns the hard way that girlfriends are more trouble than they’re worth. Meanwhile, Hermione is not happy to see Ron enjoying the attentions of other girls and Harry has his own distraction in the form of Ron’s sister, Ginny.

This film stands out as one of the stronger of the series, not only because it balances so nicely the darkness and bleakness of the story with the cutesy teenager antics, but also because it truly is a well-made film. The Harry Potter films in general tend to suffer from the fact that they are very obviously adapted from books, often leaving the audience to fill in some blanks that there just wasn’t time to fill. This film has that vibe somewhat, but it still tells a very strong story and never loses its way structurally. The introduction of new character Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) was well executed and he is a welcome addition to the weird and wonderful elite faculty at Hogwarths.

It seems to me that as the years progress, the young actors involved have really honed their acting skills. Each of the lead actors here are dealing with difficult material and are dealing with it well, convincing us of their sense of peril, their acceptance of the very real threats to their lives, and also convincing us of their chemistry as a group of friends. Harry’s relationship with Dumbledore progresses nicely and his fatherly presence in Harry’s life is enhanced, and Dumbledore’s respect and admiration for Harry is one of the film’s more touching elements.

The cinematography and design of the film is outstanding, it’s colour palette recalling that of Alfonso Cuaron’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Dull grey, green and blue hues give the film a magical, murky and beautiful look throughout. David Yates does a great job of creating the world of Hogwarths and never patronises his audience or his characters. It is clear that as the series continues the characters are allowed to grow up and the situations are allowed to become progressively more dire with each instalment.

This is a grown-up children’s movie with enough depth to keep the adults involved and enough magic and wonder to prevent the kids from being left out, though they may be left traumatised by the rather grim third act. Definitely worth a watch! A thrilling, emotional, scary, wonderous and delightfully wicked sixth instalment of an ever-improving franchise.

-Charlene Lydon 9/07/09

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rudo y Cursi


Directed by: Carlos Cuaron

Written by: Carlos Cuaron

Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, Guillermo Francella, Adriana Paz, Jessica Mas.

My rating: 9/10

The first film from the newly formed Cha Cha Cha Productions, consisting of Mexico’s finest filmmakers Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, Rudo y Cursi is a hugely enjoyable warm-hearted genre piece which re-teams the writer and stars of Y Tu Mama Tambien, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna.

Though, admittedly, not my greatest area of interest, there is always something very engaging about the sports movie. This film is a shining example of the genre. It tells the story of two poor country brothers, Tato and Beto. Tato dreams of becoming a pop star and Beto dreams of becoming a goalie. However, when Tato gets picked up, by random happenstance, by a soccer talent scout, Beto is horrified. Tato sees it as an opportunity to become famous and therefore get a record deal. Soon afterwards, Beto is given a shot at being a pro at a different club and they both become soccer sensations. Trials and tribulations ensue and the whole film builds up towards the inevitable climactic game with everything riding on it; brother versus brother.

On some level this is an entertaining rags-to-riches story like all the other ones that have come before it. But there is a deeper level of sentiment at work here that allows the audience to engage fully with these characters and love them and hate them as necessary. The tragedy of simple men being seduced and quickly destroyed by fame is examined here, and to great effect due to the nicely rounded characters and undeniable chemistry between the two lead actors.

Writer and director Carlos Cuaron (who co-wrote Y Tu Mama Tambien) does a fantastic job here. There is not a superfluous scene in the piece and the dialogue is not only hilarious but also snappy and natural. The screenplay flows along so nicely that by the time the film ends, you wonder where the two hours went and feel sad to be leaving these characters.

A major problem with the film, particularly as a genre piece, is its lack of actual football footage. Most of the football is off-screen for some reason, perhaps the actors just aren’t very good footballers. This hampers the excitement and the build-up of the third act somewhat. It is a huge pity because with so much invested in the characters, it seems a shame to take the excitement down a peg by not showing the matches. This is however merely a tiny problem in an otherwise splendid film.

This is an impossible film to dislike. Devoid of sentimentality yet consistently heart-warming throughout, the lead and supporting characters light up the scenes throughout with subtle quirks and elegant tragedies. As dark as the story can sometimes get, it is never bleak, and always rousing. What more could one want from a summer popcorn movie?

- Charlene Lydon

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Last House on the Left (2009)


"It's the last house on the left in case you forgot."

Directed by: Dennis Iliadis

Written by: Adam Alleca, Carl Ellsworth

Cast: Garret Dillahunt, Sara Paxton, Monica Potter, Tony Goldwyn

Rating: 6/10

Naturally, when a remake is released there is a tendency to compare it to the original and point out how the new version fails in comparison. However, I have seen the original 1972 Wes Craven film which left me feeling somewhat nonplussed. A decent b-movie with a shocking rape thrown in but hardly deserving of its super cool tagline (it’s only a movie it’s only a movie it’s only a movie...). So, it was easy for me to put that film aside and watch the remake as a stand-alone rape-revenge thriller. However, as the film kept going it became clear that the grit and ugliness of Craven’s original is what gave it all its shock value. It became obvious to me that Hollywood just can’t do this kind of thing with any real punch.

The plot follows the Collinwood family, Emma, John, and their daughter Mari as they prepare to spend the summer in their secluded lake house (not a house for 6 miles so God knows where the title comes into it). Mari spends some time with her freewheeling friend Paige and they wind up smoking pot with a young stranger, Justin, in his motel room. You know the rules, never do drugs in a horror movie...you’ll pay with your life. Justin’s family come home and they happen to be fugitives so they must dispose of Justin’s new friends in case they rat them out. So, they take the girls out to the woods where they sadistically rape and torture them and leave them for dead. As awful as any rape scene is, it takes away some of the grit when it becomes clear that the actor is not allowed to show the actresses breast so he clumsily tries to keep his fingers under her bra. This is the kind of thing that shows that Hollywood ain’t cut out for real shock value. Apart from the mannered choreography, the rape scene is hideous and the young actress played it well, her innocent eyes giving the audience the empathy it needed.

So, naturally, an incoming storm stops the criminals, led by the particularly nasty Krug, from hitting the road so they stop into a nearby house for hospitality. What are the odds that this is young Mari Collinwood’s house? Well, it is. What follows is a turnaround in behaviours. When the Collinwoods figure it out it’s not long before they find themselves as sadistic and murderous as their enemies.

As a plot, this one is why we watch horror films. As Wes Craven himself says “a little bit of horror is good for the psyche”. Watching a film like this, you can’t help but meditate on the nature of human morals. Why not just tie up the perpetrators and let the police deal with them? Why not shoot them in the heart? No, these people are out for blood and they want revenge for what happened to their daughter. The gore is hit and miss, some of it is gratuitous but mostly it’s just the same old blood n’ brains.

The cast handle themselves well, even two of the dullest actors I can think of, Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn manage to pull of their characters nicely (their characters seem to be hopelessly dull people). The ever-wonderful Garret Dillahunt is wasted in his role as Krug. He’s extremely nasty but that seems to be all there is to him.

This film is an aptly-made, if a bit hollow. There is some nice tension developed throughout and although it doesn’t really shock and it has a severe lack of imagination, it does leave one thinking about the fragile nature of the human psyche.

- Charlene Lydon 9/6/09