Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Stanley Tucci, Mark Wahlberg
It’s not that The Lovely Bones doesn’t have its moments of mind-blowing cinematic incredibleness, it’s just that such moments are all too fleeting. The first thirty minutes of this film was really impressive. It is beautiful, moving, tense, terrifying, involving and it instils a sadness into the audience because we know what is soon to become of the charming, fresh-faced Susie Salmon. The first act explains how Susie died and runs through her last moments. Knowing what is about to happen to her, I found the murder scene to be one of the most horrible things I’ve seen all year… and I’ve seen Antichrist! Gore-free, this sequence is horrifying because of Stanley Tucci’s menacing Ned Flanders-esque child killer. He is certainly the creepiest villain of the year and up there with the best of ‘em for inspiring nightmares later that night.
However, soon after Susie enters the “in-between”, a heavenly world that she inhabits with some random girl for no good reason (no spoilers here but the reason we learn later is very silly) the film begins to slow, sweeping itself up in the crazy visuals of a world created by a young girl’s imagination. Mostly, this world sucked! It was a little bit cheesy, which is something to be avoided when you’re telling a story with such big cheese potential to begin with. Running through meadows, dressed in silly hats just got annoying very quickly. The major problem with these not-quite heavenly interludes however is the fact that it distracts from the story, which is put on hold for the frolicking. To me, this was the fatal flaw of The Lovely Bones. Once we got back to the Salmon family, things started to look up. The story got back on track and the film was, once again, masterful. Peter Jackson proves why he is a household name. He is a beautiful filmmaker that can command exactly the right tone from his actors. Mark Wahlberg as the obsessed father and Rachel Weisz as the mourning mother were perfect in their roles. Susan Sarandon had a bit too much fun hamming it up in her role as frivolous, glamorous Grandma Lynn, but nevertheless she was charming to watch as always.
Undoubtedly, the stars of this film are young Saoirse Ronan, the best young actress working today in my opinion (and not just because she hails from my hometown), and Stanley Tucci. Saoirse’s performance was a lovely balance of melancholy, wide-eyed innocence and wisdom. She conveyed the character of Susie beautifully and by the midpoint of the film you really get a sense of individuality from this character. You know her like a friend, which seriously ups the tragedy factor. Because not only do you know her, you really like her. Stanley Tucci, on the other hand, is stone cold evil personified. He delivers an Oscar-worthy performance dripping with menace. He is frightening because he calls to mind the creepy man who lives on your street that you label as “harmless, but weird”. But this one is by no means harmless. This actor is a pro and horribly underused in Hollywood. If wishes were movies, mine would be filled with Stanley Tucci.
And speaking of wishes, couldn’t Peter Jackson have just streamlined his movie a little more, left the CGI on the cutting room floor and given us a story about a young girl trying to move on and the family she can’t leave behind? If he had done that, I think this would have been an incredible film.
This is a gripping thriller, a truly emotional drama, a supernatural teen movie and an arthouse film. While it would have been much better if Jackson had managed to balance these factors more gracefully, there is much to enjoy here. And certainly worth watching if only for the two great lead performances.
- Charlene Lydon 20/1/10
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Directed by: Michael & Peter Spiering
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill, Willem Dafoe, Claudia Karvan, Isabel Lucas
This surprisingly high quality Australian vampire-apocalypse film is certainly a tenner well spent in the local multiplex. Aside from it's subtle but adorable allegory for our own over-reliance on oil, this is also a very entertaining, very nicely made film. It is set in "the future" where vampires have very nearly wiped out the human race. Stupidly, they forgot to make provisions for their own need for blood and have found themselves in a sticky predicament whereby they must come up with a synthetic blood replacement. This proves more difficult than anticipated as vampire haematologist Edward (the only name for any respectable vamp these days) soon discovers. A side effect of blood deprivation is that the pale-faced ones find themselves turning into ugly, desperate, scavenging monsters. Edward goes off with some of the last remaining humans in search of a promised "cure" for vampirism. This, of course, viewed as the ultimate treason, Edward must outrun his own kind in his quest to save them.
A world without humans is clean, sterile and mostly painted in shades of grey. With its noir style and steely palette, Daybreakers ticks all the boxes in depicting "the future". Overdone stylistics aside however, this is an enjoyable lark, full of imagination, excitement and passion. Despite being a seemingly run-of-the-mill (especially this year) story, it proves to be a gripping one, full of twists and turns and it actually manages to create a sense of nostalgia about the human race. It isn't a film that is full of scares but it doesnt shy away from gore either. Part of its likeability is its maturity. The Spiering Brothers don't try to BE anything, they just tell their story and produce the best performances as possible out of it's fantastic Aussie cast (except Hawke and Dafoe). Some recognisable Aussie soap opera faces make a welcome appearance, most notably Home & Away's lovely Isabel Lucas who proves she's more than just a very, very pretty face and star of The Secret Life of Us Michael Dorman (who also did a great job in this year's Triangle) and Claudia Karvan. Ethan Hawke is his usual dependable self, playing the conflicted Edward with a nice level of emo and humanity (insofar as a vamp can possess this)
This is a great cinema movie, as it is a visual treat and is clearly made for big-screen consumption. Not the deepest or most intelligent film this year but certainly quality. Your tolerence for over-stylised "Matrix-looking" fare will be a factor in your enjoyment of Daybreakers but if you give it a chance, there more to it than gloss.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Starring: Meryl Steep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin
Although this is by no means the best film I sat through this year so far, (or even that day) this is not actually as bad as I had imagined. The trailer and the audience I watched it with were considerably more vomit-inducing than the film itself which, if taken as a text of some merit and not just a silly rom-com actually has a lot to say. I thought this about Meyers' last effort, Something's Gotta Give too, which also dealt with the trials of growing old alone. However, when placed side by side these films have an inexcusable amount in common. Both feature a bubbly, attractive older lady falling for a divilish older man with whom they should by no means be involved with. Both women are trying to find humanity in men who have proven themselves to be shallow cads. Originality aside, the story is simple and involving. Meryl Streep begins an illicit affair with her ex-husband (Baldwin) who is now remarried to a young woman in her twenties. However, Streep also finds herself falling for nice but nerdy Steve Martin. Y'see...it's complicated!
The performances are what makes this film special. Meryl Streep glows as the infinitely loveable if horribly misguided Jane and Alec Baldwin brings his familiar Jock Donaghy schtick with him from 30 Rock, playing her ex-husband Jake, a clueless idiot who only thinks with his pants and Steve Martin is spot-on as usual but is truly terrifying-looking as his eyes slowly seem to be disappearing into his brain due to some OTT botox work. Where the film lets the audience down is its dependence on comedy to mask some kind of disturbing and traumatic events. Dodgy comedy, at that. Also, Jane and Jake's now grown up children are as unlikeable a bunch of people that you'd ever find. They are selfish, spoiled and ridiculously touchy-feely with each other, not to mention way too sensitive about their parents divorce. If these things don't bother you, then maybe the over-indulgence in bad comedy might. It's hard to spot bad comedy when its being played by such gifted actors but if you look really closely you'll find that the script is made up of almost completely lame jokes!
That being said, this is a decent, good ol' fashioned Saturday night movie,with some laughs, an involving plot and plenty of movie stars. And watch out for a fantastically awkward John Krasinski, lighting up our screen as usual.
- Charlene Lydon 12/01/10
Saturday, January 09, 2010
Starring: Gaby Sidibe, Mo'nique, Paula Patton
My Rating: 2/10
While watching Precious, I was entertained. I felt that the plot was involving and that, although it was a bit cheesy, it was a decent enough flick that felt somewhat like a TV movie. However, after mulling it over in the coming hours I began to feel angry at its audacity and its nastiness.
The plot revolves around a 16 year old, overweight, black girl, Precious, who is abused by her stepmother, raped by her father and marginalised by society. Her rape resulted in a down-syndrome daughter and now, another pregnancy. To top things off, she's just been diagnosed as HIV positive.
The story is almost unbearably sad. What bothered me about it is the way in which the filmmakers revel in the abject horror of Precious' life. Particularly, the way they portray food, Precious' body and the almost comically OTT abuse from her stepmother. It struck me that they are not respectfully telling this story, they are making this as difficult to sit through as a Saw movie. This is not a true story, it is a work of fiction. So, basically, a writer sat down and wrote a list of the most awful, horrible things a person can endure then made a film about it. There is no emotional resonance to that. There is no tragedy in that. It is torture porn in the guise of social comment. Most insulting is the "happy ending. No spoilers here but I hate to break it to y'all but there's no happy endings with HIV! A HIV positive teenager with two children, one with special needs, the other presumably HIV positive. No job, no prospects. Where's the "happy" in that?? Oh, she learned to read. Congratulations!
The film does boast some great central performances by Gaby Sidibe and Mo'nique and the climactic showdown between mother, daughter and therapist is disturbing and powerful. However, something tells me the hysteria in the US won't fly this side of the water. Don't bother, unless you're desperate for a weepie.
- Charlene Lydon
Directed by: Jacques Audiard
Starring: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup
A Prophet is a gruelling parable of a young no-hoper's rise from nobody to kindpin during a six year prison sentence. This film is an accomplishment in storytelling as well as a gripping thriller.
Giving my adoration of last year's Mesrine films, I think French gangster prison flicks are now officially my new favourite genre. This is just as enjoyable, despite being devoid of any humour. Where Mesrine painted a hero and a lovable rogue, A Prophet is more of a "sink or swim" scenario. The protagonist Malik (Rahim) is a muslim with no friends or family on the outside. He is sentenced to a six year stretch in prison and is soon chosen as a patsy for the Corsican prison mafia to kill a fellow Muslim that they need rid of. In a brutally affecting scene he pulls this off and soon becomes slave to the Corsicans, slave with benefits. He is soon coordinating jobs on the outside for the Corsicans and beginning his own criminal endeavours.
At almost three hours, this is a long film and often difficult to endure. It is brutal, it is nasty, it is full of unlikeable characters and frustrating situations. However, it never stalls, not for one second. This is a beautifully constructed look at prison life and an interesting plot in which a man who has no loyalties and no education is bold enough to learn to take for himself after years of being used.
The central performances are flawless and newcomer Tahar Rahim is a revelation in an extremely difficult role. Introduced as an uneducated, naiive, somewhat ignorant and socially inept loser, Malik slowly proves that his wits are perfectly intact as he uses his job as "slave" to Cesar for form his own connections with big crime bosses on the outside. Rahim, in a role of few words, believably and gradually tranforms from slack-jawed yokel to steely-eyed man of the world right before our disbelieving eyes.
Jacques Audiard proves his skill as a director with a stylish and beautifully-paced drama. Unrelentingly powerful and skilfully woven, this film is a treat to any cinema fan. Not to mention one of the most chilling an brilliantly shot death scenes in recent memory. Highly, highly recommended!
- Charlene Lydon 09/01/10
Watch the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svRYjm8sr-c
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Mark Strong
Guy Ritchie’s butch reworking of Arthur Conan Doyle’s hero is not to everybody’s taste but it is certainly not as bad as it could have been. Downey Jr. makes a charismatic Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law is a suitably frustrated Watson. The core relationships are great. Downey Jr. And Law are fantastic comic actors and both very likeable and when they share screen time it is a joy to watch them play together.
Watson has just announced that he is to be married and will no longer be Holmes’ partner. Holmes takes this rather badly. Meanwhile, evil Satanist serial killer, Lord Blackwood, whom Holmes has recently foiled, has seemingly risen from the dead and seemingly plans to take over England and then the world. With the police at a loss, Holmes must figure out how to stop the dark Lord Blackwood.
Holmes’ relationship with the police is a highly entertaining strand. Police Inspector Lestrade, a grumpy, begrudging man played to perfection by Eddie Marsan brings a lot of the humour and one can’t help but take immense pleasure in Holmes’ one-upmanship.
However, a huge problem overrides the positive aspects. This problem is the frankly stupid plot. It is a ridiculously over-the-top story with a Harry Potter-style villain. Here is where the film strays most wildly from Conan Doyle’s famed storytelling. The Sherlock Holmes stories I’m used to feature a simple story that is eventually revealed to be more than meets the eye. This story is completely convoluted and is wrapped up by some of the most indelicate exposition I’ve ever seen. And Lord Blackwood is just too evil! He belongs in a fairytale, not a detective movie. Actor Mark Strong must have been owed a huge favour by Guy Ritchie because I can’t think of any other reason he would have cast him. If I had to guess I would say the role was originally written with another of Ritchie’s affiliates, Jason Statham , in mind. The role reeks of him and Mark Strong certainly feels like he was slotted in there to replace somebody.
This is a film that will certainly entertain. It has its moments of fun and the portrayals of Holmes and Watson are enjoyable. This feels like the perfect antidote to the other Christmas blockbuster, the long and heavy Avatar. Check your brain at the door and sit back and bask in the violence (cos there’s a surprising amount of it), the humour and the performances. Just don’t expect to throw out your Basil Rathbone collection quite yet.