Thursday, February 25, 2010

I Love You Phillip Morris

Written & Directed by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Starring: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann

Rating: 7/10

The most extraordinary thing about I Love You Phillip Morris is the fact that it is based on true events. In fact, more of it is true than you would believe (like, McGregor’s last film The Men Who Stare at Goats). It is the story of Steven Russell (Carrey) who is introduced and unravelled in all his complexity in a superb first act. He is a loving family man, church pianist and all-round Truman Burbank kinda guy until after barely surviving a car wreck he decides to come clean about the fact that he is in fact gay and runs off to Florida to pursue a no holds-barred gay lifestyle. In order to maintain this lifestyle he becomes a con man and is eventually sent to prison where he meets and falls in love with beautiful, naive Phillip Morris (McGregor). However, their happiness is short-lived as Russell is released. The rest of the film is a series of escape attempts orchestrated by Russell to break out whichever one of them is in prison at the time.

From the lunatics who brought us Bad Santa, this shares the previous film's wicked, wicked sense of humour. At times filthy, at times downright nasty I found it consistently hilarious. Though this isn’t Jim Carrey’s best role, he plays the character in an interesting way, dark and creepy, but admirably human recalling his brilliant performance in The Cable Guy. I suppose a huge problem is the fact that we cannot possibly like this character. He is unreachably crazy, and destructive which makes it difficult to invest much in him. His one true love Phillip is a very underwritten character and is borderline offensive in his girlishness and naiveté. He is thoroughly loveable but McGregor’s portrayal is a tad immature and stereotypical, which lessens the film’s emotional punch. Having said that, the film does not condescend to its gay heroes, nor is it even an issue that they are of the same gender, which is great to see in a mainstream film.

This is a very entertaining film, not a great piece of cinema, not a classy meditation on homosexual life, but it is sweet, well shot and the story is beyond belief (I was so unconvinced that I researched it only to find it’s all true). I definitely recommend I Love You Phillip Morris for a few laughs and a truly amazing story, but don’t expect to be blown away.

- Charlene Lydon

Alice in Wonderland

"I love a warm pig belly for my aching feet. "

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter

Rating: 7/10

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland didn’t have me giddy with excitement. I thought the trailers and poster design suggested a messy, style-over-substance film. However, I was very pleasantly surprised when I attended the screening to find that not only was the film stylish but it also had the wit, charm and plot to back it up. Ok, “substance” might be a strange word to use because everyone knows, Wonderland is not about substance. It is about wonder! And this film has it in droves.

I’m not usually one for flashy visual effects but Alice in Wonderland’s 3D extravaganza damn near made my eyes pop out of my head. It’s difficult not to compare the aesthetic success of this film to the recent Avatar which has been criticised for sacrificing an interesting storyline for visuals and CGI. Alice sacrifices nothing. Insofar as it is possible for any visual image that Burton dreams up to be considered “subtle”, the design doesn’t actually interfere with the storytelling, in fact it acts to heighten it.

The film mixes the plots of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and therefore our Alice is older than she has been in previous films. Instead of a child, she is a 19-year old woman under pressure to be married but feeling that her destiny lies further afield. When she enters Wonderland, there seems to be a consensus among the crazy characters she meets that she is “the wrong Alice”, not understanding that she is merely Alice having grown up. The reason they need her is because Wonderland is now under the grasp of the Red Queen and they need her to slay the queen’s Jabberwock (dragon, in lay person’s terms) so that control may be given back to the benevolent White Queen.

The plot is pretty much the plot of every story (if Joseph Campbell has anything to say about it) but the colourful characters, the beautiful design and the witty charm compelled me to love it anyway. This is by no means on a par with Burton’s best work like Edward Scissorhands or Big Fish but if we’re never getting that genius back then I’ll happily make do with Alice in Wonderland over Charlie and the Chocolate Factory any day. Whatever anyone says about him, the man is a wonderful visual artist with an incredible eye for beauty and this is in evidence all over the film. From the lavish costume design to the most intricate production design imaginable, everything here is a feast for the eyes.

With charming performances, eye candy aplenty and a whimsically entertaining world opened by Burton for our pleasure, Alice in Wonderland was certainly a pleasant surprise for me. It’s definitely one that children will love too. It has some dark moments, but nothing too frightening. Splendid!

- Charlene Lydon 25/2/10

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2010

This year is gonna be a big 'un!

I'm gonna be one of JDIFF's offical bloggers this year which pretty much means I'll be running around like a lunatic trying to see as many films as possible in a short period of time and blogging about the going-on as they go on. Thanks to my lovely sister, I'm now in possession of the fantastic Nokia E63 which has a qwerty keyboard and great internet capabilities so my fears of back-breaking laptop luggin' have been allayed, thank God.

So, keep an eye on my blog either here or HERE for constant updates on how brilliant the festival is; 21 films in 10 days. Yowzaaa!

- Charlene Lydon 13/2/10

Monday, February 08, 2010

Crazy Heart

Written & Directed by: Scott Cooper

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall

Rating: 7/10

Every year, around Oscar time we get hit with a film like Crazy Heart. An ageing drunk gets chance after chance to redeem his or her-self but time after time they fail until they get a wake-up call and get back on track, or do they...? Last year it was The Wrestler, this year it’s Crazy Heart. Despite the fact that I’ve seen this movie at least twenty times before this was a pleasant experience overall. A nicely paced, superbly acted cautionary tale, this is certainly worth checking out and with two acting nominations and a nod for Best Song you should probably try to get to it before Oscar time.

The protagonist, haggard country singer Bad Blake (Bridges) is reaching the end of the line. He has been consumed by his alcoholism and is slowly coming to rock bottom. On the road, playing gigs in bowling alleys and dodgy bars in New Mexico, Bad disgraces himself night after night. At one of these gigs he meets beautiful young journalist Jean (Gyllenhaal) and they form a friendship which soon turns into a love affair. Despite their chemistry, the road to love is rocky due to Jean’s four year old son and Bad’s 50 year old addiction.

Much has been made of Jeff Bridges’ performance in this film and I believe deservedly. This character is never anything but loveable, despite his flaws. He is a good person and his “rock bottom” moments are difficult to endure. His singing is beautifully craggy and he sounds like a man who has been singing all his life. He is a shoo-in for the Oscar this year and not only because he is long overdue the recognition, but because this is easily the best leading man performance of the year (though, that didn’t help Mickey Rourke last year). A pleasant surprise is Colin Farrell’s extended cameo as Tommy Sweet, Bad’s one time protégé who has overtaken him and left him to the dust. He is a huge country star and for the first half of the film, he is set up as the villain of the piece. However, when we finally meet him, he is a genuine man who has been swept up in the corporate nonsense of country music, but still has nothing but love and respect for his mentor. Farrell sells this character really well, giving one of his best performances to date, and provides his own vocals to impressive effect. Man of many talents!

This is an enjoyable film. It is well paced, nicely shot and boasts superb performances all round. If you like backwoods, smoky country music then you’ll enjoy T-Bone Burnett’s songs which are plentiful throughout. Nothing we haven’t seen before but Crazy Heart is a highly enjoyable night at the cinema.

- Charlene Lydon

The Last Station

Written & Directed by: Michael Hoffman

Starring: Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, James McAvoy, Kerry Condon, Paul Giamatti.

Rating: 8/10

Director Michael Hoffman has given me some beloved guilty pleasure movies in the past, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Soapdish, but there’s nothing to be guilty about for loving The Last Station. The film examines the complex relationship between Leo Tolstoy’s avid followers and his family in the final days of his life. Both sides despise each other, for understandable reasons and a devastating power struggle ensues between his loving, but somewhat status-obsessed wife Lady Sofya (Mirren) and the leader of the Tolstoyan movement, Chertkov (Giamatti) who despite having a truly villainous demeanour, seems only to have the best in mind for his idol, Tolstoy.

The story itself, mediated by James McAvoy’s Valentin Bulgakov, a young Tolstoyan who finds himself caught in the middle, is admirably believable. Both parties involved are flawed yet both are genuine. Chertkov believes that Tolstoy’s work belongs in the public domain and should belong to the people of Russia, whereas Sofya believes the works should be kept in the family so that the next generations may be looked after. Both parties are trying to convince him of what to put in his will during the final days of his life, leading to blazing rows and skulduggery.

As I am truly a sucker for romance between elderly people, I found the scenes between Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer particularly moving. In between highly theatrical arguments, they share scenes of intimacy that are truly touching. Forty-year marriages are a complex business. Love is a messy affair and not always as cut-and-dry as most stories would have you believe. That is the heart of this film. Both lead actors give life and energy to their characters, along with a sense of understanding that they are reaching the end of their days.

Visually, this is a masterpiece. Hoffman has always been a man for lush colour palettes and luxurious, rich landscape but he outdoes himself here as every frame is delicately lit and sumptuously designed, but not so gaudy as to take away from the performances. Accompanied by a lovely score by Sergei Yevtushenko, the film takes on a dream-like quality, which allows the viewer to bask in its beauty, despite the melodrama on show.

This film is a joy to behold. A fantastically complex study of the unromantic side of marriage, the trials and tribulations that befall true love, The Last Station boasts brilliant performances by Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer and also by the strong supporting cast. Perhaps serious Tolstoy fans might find factual errors in the film, but otherwise let this film sweep you away on a romantic, political, morally chequered journey through the final days of Leo Tolstoy.

- Charlene Lydon