Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

"They said I was gonna die soon but, maybe not."

Written by: Eric Roth

Directed by: David Fincher

Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett

My rating: 4/10

I cannot understand how such an accomplished group of filmmakers can take such a magical and potentially profound story as this and make it so contrived. It boggled my mind as I was sitting in the cinema how this mess of sentiment and dullness could have come from such talented people. It struck me that maybe they got carried away with the notion that this was such a great premise that could couldn't mess it up...but they did. Thinking about it, I suppose the magic that this film needed was a different sort of magic to the magic David Fincher works; technical magic. This film needed an injection of luciousness and beauty and poetry and, I suppose, heart. A romance is created with little more than the assumption that the leading man falls for the leading lady. Nothing is built up and therefore, there's nothing to care about. Also, apart from being a nice guy, Benjamin Button had no character. He wasn't given a whole lot to do except experience experiences.

The film has a lot going for it though, Cate Blanchett shines particularly brightly in this one. She is stunningly beautiful and elegant and gives the character the kind of light she needed. Her distraction with getting old and losing her gift for dance was well played and gave the film an emotional boost. Brad Pitt's performance was sufficient but all of his best work came at the start when he was playing a young boy in an old man's body, everything after that felt like autopilot. In fact, the best of everything came early. All the thought-provocation came early, all of the imagination came early and up to a certain point there was a lot of humour and brain candy to enjoy. When Benjamin grew up, however, it focussed on the love story which, in my opinion, held no water and felt as flat as a pancake.

Technically, the film is brilliant. Like, proper brilliant and will stand the test of time no matter what comes after it. The ageing make-up and even more so, the youth-enhancing make-up was spectacular. It was so good it wasn't even distracting. Both stars looked like themselves, only softer and more graceful. This element is stunning and as far as direction goes, Fincher doesn't miss a beat. I think his biggest problem is that he isn't Tim Burton and couldn't give the audience the spectacle and imagination the film so badly needed.

The most important thing about this film is the questions it should have asked about life and it's structure, but it shied away from those in favour of a sappy love story which is a shame and didn't do the story justice. In the hands of a less technical director, the film might have been more about the backward clocks and the man being hit by lightning and less about domestic issues and lost love.

Check it out if you want a standard Hollywood weepie, but don't go in hoping to be inspired, it seems they lost their passion halfway through.

- Charlene Lydon 12/2/09

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Revolutionary Road

"No one forgets the truth Frank they just get better at lying"

Written By: Justin Haythe

Directed By: Sam Mendes

Starring: Kate Winslet, Leonardo Di Caprio, Michael Shannon

My Rating: 9/10

Adapted from the notoriously cynical novel by Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road is a powerful dissection of the tendency that life has to tear people apart. The story follows Frank and April Wheeler, two smart and cultured young people who fall in love and agree that life holds something special for them. She gets pregnant and they move temporarily to the suburbs while Frank works his way up the corporate ladder. As he climbs, April is drowning in a desperate sea of frustration. Her life is empty. She hates the suburbs, she resents the people who live there and mostly she resents herself and her husband for being there. However, she refuses to give up and convinces Frank to use their savings to move them and their two children to Paris. She will be a secretary and he will have time to find himself. As it becomes clear that suburbia is not quite ready to let them go April and Frank start to resent each other and things fall apart.

This is not a film for everybody. It is intense, dark, and slow. One may be forgiven for disliking the two main characters. They are selfish and spoiled in a lot of ways. However, they are also fresh, smart and clearly wasted on the lives they inhabit. It is hard not to understand their frustrations. The sparks between Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio are vibrant. They feel very much like a couple in love and when we see them in the good times it is clear that love isn't the problem. They have a mutual respect and admiration for each other in many ways and it is not for lack of love that things start to fall apart. It is a realistic dissection of what can happen when one refuses to give up dreaming. The fight sequences are long and intense and there is some truly amazing dramatic acting from both leads. However, the only Oscar nomination for acting went to Michael Shannon who plays the neighbour's mentally ill son. His role in the film is as the only person who is not afraid to speak aloud in any situation. Their first ancounter with him gives them hope and inspires them to break free of their life. However, as their plans start to disintegrate, his honesty forces them to face up to realities that they are not ready to acknowledge. The role is small but brilliantly portrayed and so visceral that its importance to the plot and the film's threatening tone cannot be underestimated.

It is an unusually unsettling film to sit through. It reminded me throughout of another Oscar favourite House of Sand and Fog from 2004. Both films have very grey morals, a very dark tone and a brutal honesty from the actors that can't help but tug at the heartstrings. It also has the feel of a Douglas Sirk melodrama, except in this day and age, the darkness can be fully explored and not implied.

Although this may not have caused as much of a stir as Sam Mendes' breakthrough film American Beauty, it has just as much to say and is just as accomplished. A wonderful screenplay, brilliant performances and a sickening knowledge that this is not going to end well kept me hanging uncomfortably at the edge of my seat throughout.

- Charlene Lydon 12/2/09

Monday, February 09, 2009


"Life has a way of making the foreseeable that which never happens... and the unforeseeable that which your life becomes."

Written by: Robert Knott, Ed Harris

Directed by: Ed Harris

Starring: Edd Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger, Jeremy Irons

My Rating: 8/10

Appaloosa might not be the best film ever made, or the most original story ever told, but it sure is buckets of fun. If you enjoy a good western you will certainly enjoy this. It's slow and methodical, as has been the trend in recent years (almost every western I can think of since Unforgiven), but has a great sense of humour and colourful characters.

The story follows two hitmen, Virgil (Harris) and Everett (Mortensen) who work on the civilised side of the law, who arrive in Appaloosa to kill ruthless gang leader Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons). Along the way they meet vulnerable widow Ali French (Renee Zellweger). This causes complications as women tend to do and the three battle it out against the gangsters, and must face questions of future and growing out of gunslinging.

As we have previously seen in David Cronenberg's "A History of Violence" Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen have wonderful chemistry together. They are both powerful actors and both seem to have enormous respect for each other. These characters suit each actor perfectly, giving Ed Harris plenty of screen time for his steely glare and giving Viggo a nice change of pace in a very humorous role. He doesn't say much but his performance is wonderfully full of character nonetheless.

Supporting roles from Jeremy Irons and Renee Zellweger are strong but please someone put some makeup on that poor woman. She never fails to look haggard in everything lately, despite her beautiful face. It's also nice to see veteran gravel-voice Lance Henrickson return to our screens in a proper movie. His disposition is so suited to Westerns, I've decided to lobby for his inclusion in all future productions set in the wild, wild west (though as long as there's still hope for a Millenium movie, I will want to keep his schedule somewhat clear).

The film rambles along, keeping the story simple and amusing us with it's nice characters, interesting relationships and subtle humour. It's a really sweet little film which showcases the talents of all involved. Ed Harris tries out his directing chops here and keeps it slow and steady enough to prove he's got skills on both sides of the camera.

I definitely recommend checking this one out. Don't expect to be blown away with plot twists but just enjoy it as a pleasant little ramble through the genre.

- Charlene Lydon 10/2/09


Written by: Steve McQueen, Enda Walsh

Directed by: Steve McQueen

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham

My rating: 5/10

OK, I know I am the first person in the world to have not liked this film. But I really did not like this film. That's not to say it isn't a beautifully shot, very ambitious film. It is. There are some admirable scenes and the slow pacing was nicely even. Also, the performances were superb right across the board. A huge problem I had with it was the film's failure to give any information or background to any of the characters. What little nuggets we got were rare and meagre. Not only does this isolate the audience from connecting with any historical framework, but it isolates them from the characters. If you aren't going to give us a political context, then at least give us characters we can feel for!

Michael Fassbender gives us a clearly well researched and physically demanding performance, but due to a lagging script, it felt dead and pointless. No motivation, no characterisation. An encounter with Sands' priest begging him to stop the hunger strike is moving and informs the audience of the unflinching determination he has, and some of his reasons for doing what he is doing. Here, Michael Fassbender earns his stripes with a restrained discussion, veering wildly away from any kind of melodrama. This was a nicely written scene, a 20 minute scene, mostly shot from one angle and involving just two men. More of this would have been nice.

I hate to whine, especially when the film is receiving such acclaim, but it frustrated me to see the message and motivations behind such a tragic story lost in a sea of pretentiousness. The horror and sympathies are left behind due to the insistence of the filmmaker to show the monotony inside the prison. I appreciate the reasons behind the slow progression of the film, and I can appreciate a slow-moving story. However, I don't think this should leave a film feeling hollow, and that is exactly what happen to Hunger.

On a positive note, it is an interestingly shot film, admirably edited and worth a look in terms of art direction. Also, this is not for the faint-hearted. There are some truly horrific scenes of agony and squalor throughout that would make any man cringe.

- Charlene Lydon (09/02/09)