Monday, February 28, 2011

A History Of Violence

 Another late night! And this time I started with A History of Violence and finished with Million Dollar Baby. Have you ever found how unintentional coincidences occur when playing two films back to back? Here in both films there are two characters that were blind in one eye! I couldn't believe it!
 I had heard so much about History that I finally got around to watching it last night. You know how it is, so many films , so little time ( and at times money!). I knew the plot through reading many reviews so I knew what I was in for here. But what always struck me was that Viggo Mortensen was constantly praised for his performance. He is very fortunate in having had the talent to move on from Aragorn quite quickly.
 He is very good in this film, as he is in the two previous films of his I have reviewed recently, The Road, and Eastern Promises. I like him in this role as he plays dual personalities within one film, a real test of acting ability. He plays an ordinary married family man, with an ordinary job, in any small American town. But he has a dark secret that is revealed when two hitmen accoust him and his staff in his diner. And it comes out in a very violent way, as we get to see the other guy within Mortensen's character, an ex-mob hitman.
 Maria Bello plays Mortensen's wife and is very good too. The whole cast isn't bad, and Ed Harris is particulaly chilling and believable as a mobster who has a score to settle from Mortensen's past. ( He is one of the characters with one eye I refered to earlier, Morgan Freeman is the other in Million Dollar Baby ).           
 Overall the film is quite good but I have one problem with it, and that is when Mortensen's family find out his past they instantly turn on him. I found this problematical beacuse it was too quick. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine how you would react. Would you instantly change your mind about that person? No, of course not, it takes time for something like that to sink in, and time to find how you would then feel. The movie done this too quickly. It would be a gradual process and not instantaneous. 
 The film was only one and a half hours long so it is realitively short. So it could have expanded on the family's disbelief and scripted in their changing emotions. I don't think the film would have suffered for being 10-15 minutes longer to do have done so. To me this is an important part of the story and was rushed. It felt noticable to me and really grated. Ulimately it has affected the way I view the whole film as I feel it is central to its message. 
 Besides this gripe the film is well acted. The fight scenes are quick, snappy, and brutal. They add to the dis-belief that this mild mannered man was once a hardened killer. There are several sex scenes and they, like the violence, leave nothing to the imagination. The first one is a stunner!! As stated the acting is good and lifts this film above the average violent film. While there is nothing really original in a plot of a person attempting to leave their past behind, this film doesn't lower itself into just another ultra violent revenge type film. This gives it real credibility and why it got such positive reviews when released.
 This is a good film with a quiet message on violence. It isn't original in that sense but the acting is very good and worth watching for that alone. But the script flounderd in the middle with an important message rushed through too quickly. This for me is a real bug bear as the family's reaction to it isn't portayed in the right way, and ultimately becomes a negative on the film. But I suppose the very end scene makes up for it somewhat.
 Still a very good watch, with some memorable scenes. But unfortunarley it couldn't lift itself higher by adding to its theme by adding a bit more length and expanding on some important issues that were too quickly brushed over.
 Recommended, but a film with a serious flaw.
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Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Outlaw Josey Wales

 Oscar rant over so it's on with the show! I stayed up late last night to finish watching this film. I started watching it after Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but started to fall asleep after twenty minutes.
 I have found this a very difficult film to review. I have sat down in front of my computer repeatedly and the words didn't flow. This is now my sixth attempt today! It isn't because it is a bad film, because it is not. I can't put my finger on why so I'll just have to do my best and let my fingers do the writing and not my brain. Hopefully what comes out is coherent and does justice to this film.
 I believe this is one of the very first films that Clint Eastwood directed. It is interesting to note that it is a western at a time when the genre had gone through terminal decline within Hollywood. It was made in 1976 so Eastwood was taking something of a risk in making it.
 It in someways mirrors his much later Unforgiven in that both are anti-western in content. Eastwood goes further with Josey Wales  though and states it is anti-war film as it is based immediately after the end of the Civil War. I like Eastwood for having starred in westerns and then making anti-westerns considering it was the genre that launched him to stardom. I think having done so gives him a unique position in which to examine both sides of the western as a genre.
 Unfortunately I had to watch this on an old VHS tape which was somewhat battered and grainy. I couldn't get a feel for the cinematography, but what I saw showed the earlier craftmanship Eastwood is renowned for today. The acting is very good from both Eastwood and Chief Dan George, in particular, who plays an old Indian. Like many Eastwood westerns there is some brilliant and very dry humour. Some of the banter between Eastwood and George is superb, very subtle but those with a sense of humour will pick it up.
 This is the film where Eastwood met Sondra Locke. She plays a role that highlights the rapidly changing attitudes within the Hollywood of the time to screen nudity. Sure there was full frontal nudity before Josey Wales but it was only a matter of a few years. Here Locke is going to be raped by a bunch of bandits who tear her dress and out pops 'one', then she falls over and they rip her dress off exposing her 'cheeks'. Very provocative stuff for the mid seventies. It does show how nudity today is so common place that we have become de-sensitised to it, while in 1976 this was still a big deal.
 I have found some writers and critics on Josey Wales have missed his character. He is a man out for revenge on Northern soldiers who killed his wife and son early in the Civil War. Many have compared him to Munny in Unforgiven but the two are poles apart. Wales only killed soldiers and not men, women, and children like Munny. He was a guerilla and at war and stayed within those bounds.
 And unlike munny he had a heart. He was a hard man to be sure but not heartless. He falls for Locke's character and there are some 'tender' moments between them. As he feels more settled with his new found life he softens and smiles more often Munny didn't smile and would never soften. He was and always would be a killer. Wales killed for revenge, Munny for the hell of it. They are two differnet types of men.
 I like this film. But it will not go down as my favorite Eastwood film. I love the name Josey Wales and for some reason I find it memorable. I suppose it is because as a character Wales has developed such a reputation that his name is spoken in awe and fear.
 My only critisim of the film is the length. It was marginally too long. There is a long scene where Eastwood and Locke's interest in each other develops to end in a bed scene. This was too long and took a bit of momentum out of the film at the wrong time. It was towards the end and the film felt like it was drawing to its conclusion so that love scene, while necessary to see Wales soften, is out of place for its length.
 This is a good film and I see that it has been placed in the Library of Congress due too its importance to American cinema. It is worth watching due to it being Eastwood's first directoral role. He does a fine job and he himelf rates it as one of the high points of his career. For me he has done better but if you are like me and really like Clint Eastwood then any flaws of this film will be overlooked just to see this legend of celluloid in action. A thinking persons western.
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The Oscars

 Well the Oscars have come and gone for another year, so I thought I'd just say a few words here about this years results. Are there any surprises, no.
 And this I'm afraid sums up the Oscars for me. They have just become too predictable. Sure it can be argued that it is sour grapes that our own personal opinions aren't mirrored by the judges, but I really feel that the best performances/films don't always get their due rewards.
 Natalie Portman deserves her Oscar and I am not a Portman fan. Read my post on Black Swan. I think Hailee Seinfeld is one of the unluckiest nominees ever. Sure Melissa Leo was good, but Jackie Weaver in Animal kingdom was better, Seinfeld though was their superiors. Her time may come but it probably won't be for her best performance.
 Awards are a neccesary evil. They can give due recognition where it is truely deserved but I feel they more that often don't. I feel a popular film or performance gets credit that is unwarranted.
 Just my thoughts. This years Oscars in a word, boring and predictable per usual.

Funny Games

 I watched this immediately after the abysmal Friday the Thirteenth, and what a contrast! I have taken my time to write this up as I have been looking at other reviews on this film and have found it to have garnered generally negative ratings. It is certainly a film that has devided people's and critic's opinions alike from , 'a remarkably thrilling and unique cinematic experience', to, 'anti-imaginative'. I personally liked it, alot, and have been thinking all day how to write about it.
 The yummy Naomi Watts stars and gives an impressive performance. This is an actress that so far in my eyes has done no wrong. Boy can she act. And if you never like this film you have to walk away from it impressed again with Ms Watts' talents.
 It was interesting to read after I saw this film that it is made by the same guy who made The White Ribbon, which I reviewed several weeks ago, Michael Haneke. White Ribbon was an unpleasant film and so is this. He seems to be forging himself a career out of the seedy and unpleasant side of human nature. Funny Games sees him in top form.
 I won't get bogged down in a synopsis as I am writing a review and always believe that a film is in the eye of the beholder. One person's opinion is not going to be anothers. And this film is, as I have already stated, dividing opinions.
 This film left me reeling after having watched it. Only several films over the years have done this too me. Pulp Fiction is one, and the brillilant Dead Man Walking the other. It is just so different, even though it is a scene for scene, word for word remake from the original Austrian film. I have not seen or even heard of the film before so I approached it as an original, and for me it is totally original in style and projection.
 It is of the psyhcological/horror genre. If you have seen Hostel you'll know the type. I didn't like Hostel, it left me feeling sick. I felt it pushed the boundaries between what was entertainment and our collective de-sensitising of screen violence and empathy with other people. How can we as humans go and watch this stuff for so called entertainment when we wouldn't actually dream of doing the things portrayed?? Funny Games really isn't much different. Here though we have a young family on the recieving end of  two sickos in their own home. And they are sick. This is a nasty film and not for the faint hearted.
 For all its nastiness and brutalising of fellow human beings it is a well made film. I didn't read the synopsis of the film when I rented it so as events transpired I was somewhat spellbound. It was shocking stuff but very clever in its delivery. I found it a remarkable, clever and original film, even with the content. I really liked the surprise I got when the main protagonist turned to the camera and spoke to the viewer. It was so totally unexpected and played on the viewers emotions and empathy for the brutalised victims. It is not original to talk to the camera but in this film you wouldn't think it would fit, but it does and engages you more in the unfolding events.
 Naomi Watts really steals the show. At one stage she is forced to undress in front of her assailants and family. She does it superbly as she portrays a woman who is being totally degraded. Not pleasant viewing, but for all the nastiness it is a film that doesn't condone the content. It really makes the viewer uncomfortable and at no stage do you'll feel enjoyment. It is a work of fiction, but like White Ribbon, it is unpardoanble to think that events like these don't happen in our society. This is what disturbed me about this film, it could and does happen.
 Tim Roth was surprisingly good as the husband of Watts. He gets his leg broken with a golf club and quite literally sits by and watches his son and wife brutalised mentally and physically. In fact the whole cast is quite good, but the two sickos are really something. They don't yell or scream, they just go about their sick game with quiet and chilling precision. They are just so natural it is hard to believe they are serial killers as they initially seem so polite and normal. But as the film progresses you find out just how deranged they are. Totally callous towards their fellow man and the emotional and physical pain they are inflicting.
 This is a different type of horror to the traditional genre. It is somewhat blood free with no real graphic violence, and a minimum of swearing. It is the calmness of the two murderers and the mental torment they put their victims throught that is the real horror. It is so well done, and genuinely scary. It is a well crafted film in that you can't believe what is happening. All the time you want the victims to live but somehow you know they won't. When the murderer starts talking directly to you the viewer you know they are doomed.
 The other thing that really impressed me about this film is the way it starts as Watts and Roth pull up to their neighbours house. The neighbour is there with two young men who aren't introduced. It isn't until they come over to borrow some eggs and events transpire that we belatedly learn their neighbours fate. It ends after they bump off Watts and family and they move onto another house and ask for some eggs, hence starting their murderous cycle again. Very cleverly done, and then film closes with one murderer looking straight at you the viewer.
 I can see why this film may not be popular, but I think it is outstanding. It isn't a nice film and will leave you somewhat shaken. It is nasty and highly unpleasant, and yet it is superbly made. It is very clever in its delivery, the acting is good, especially Naomi Watts, and an overall unsettling watch that is very good besides its dark subject matter. I think any true film watcher will 'get' this film, especially its brilliant crafting. It certainly isn't for all, but if you are looking for something really different then this is the film for you.
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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Friday The Thirteenth

  I have a new follower!! Thanks for stopping by Emily C, I quite like your blog so added it to my list of recommened blogs to visit. It is somewhat of a coincidence that the next film I'm reviewing is a horror!
 I actually caught the end of The Sixth Sense before watching this film.I had forgotten how good it was, and also how bad M. Night Shyamalan is now as a film maker. The Last Airbender last year was a shockingly poor film.
 Well, as alot of people who were once teenagers of my generation, they headed in droves to the flicks to visit Camp Crystal Lake. Jason Voorhees pre-dated Freddy Kruger by about seven years but for me Jason is the quintessential horror film character. Can any one deny that the scene where he jumps out of the lake into the girls boat in the first film , and Reagan's head turning through 360 degrees in The Excorsist are not the most iconic scenes in horror history?
 I saw all the films up to about part six or seven before moving on and I have never revisited Crystal Lake since. Until last night. I thought  I'd relive my teen years of horror films and in particular the Friday the Thirteenth franchise. What I saw was a bitter disapointment, and quite honestly, as poor a homage to the ealier films that genuinely scared cinema goers.
 This isn't horror, why?? Because it is not scary. Not at all. Not one scare, fright moment, jump out of seat, hair raising, cliqued horror film moment. I couldn't believe this film has got the title it does. Friday the Thirteenth films were synonymous with genuine scares and were among the leaders in the genre of slasher films. This, to put it mildly, is garbage.
 No scares in a horror franchise is like an actioner with no action, what is the point? I honestly sit here in utter disbelief that this film was ever made. Sure there is the Jason and his machete moments but, like the awful and equally unscary Nightmare on Elm Street of last year, what is about to happen is so obvious the makers might well of put bells on Jason to advertise his presence.
 There is of course the obligatory boobs and sex scenes but they are standard horror movie cliques. Big boobs aren't going to make this clanger any better. I was expecting better from this film and it shows one thing. The Friday the Thirteenth franchise should finally be put to rest. I'm afarid to say that Jason Voorhees has had his day and he is now well and truely eclipsed by newer and far scarier horror figures. He once set the standard but let it rest people! 
 A crying shame that such a horror film legend has been stooped to this level. A horror is about frights and this has none. A film from a legendary horror figure that scared millions of film goers and set the benchmark deserved better than this. Awful, garbage, rubbish, unscary, and finally a sad demise to a once great horror character. AVOID!!
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The Road

  After reviewing Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises I have decided to delve into my back catologue of film stubs and look at The Road, which I saw at the Century about this time last year. It of course stars Mortensen hence my decision to look at this film.
 It is based on a Pulitzer prize winning novel which I have never heard of and not read. It is on the forever growing to read list. Like so many films that I want to see there are just as many books I wish to read. Apparantly it is a very bleak book and believe me the film is extremely bleak. But is a beautiful bleak. It is somewhat fitting that I follow my review of Hellboy with this film because both are stunning visually to watch. The Road will take your breath away in its bleak, colourless rendering of an unspecified apocalypse.
 The story revolves around a man taking his young son south in an attempt to find a warmer climate as the earth quickly coldens around them. They must avoid bands of armed men that capture people to eat. As the earth is so cold nothing grows and they fed on other human beings. There is a harrowing scene where Mortensen finds a house with a basement full of humans that are slowly being eaten.
 It is a unique film in that right throughout the characters are never called by name. It stems from the book, and adds a surreal air of it all being the end as nothing will be the same again, and individuals become insignifcant compared to the events around them. It is a small thing but adds impact to the film.
 This is a film that you will walk out of going 'thank god I'm alive'. Bleak is the key word here, but never do you feel like leaving the theatre. I have never seen a film that has so portrayed a post-apocalyptic earth as this one has. The uniqeness is that almost all films with this subjet are zombie films. This hasn't any zombies and in our world of global warming it is closer to reality and the more chilling for it. Basically it is about the end of the world whilst portraying the human desire to keep on living.
The Road is one of those film that will stay with you for well after you have seen it. For me it is because of the starkness of a world at its end. Buildings are collapsed and rotted, there is no colour, nothing is growing, quite simply civilisation is at an end. And this film depicts it better than anything like it before. The recent I Am Legend, and The Book of Eli ( whose post nuclear war wastelands were excellent) just don't quite pull it off.
 In The Road you can physically feel it, and it scares, and then bewilders you because at the back of your mind you know it could happen. But what makes it work is the feeling of total delsolation. A good scene towards the end sees Mortensen swimming out to a beached ship in the hope of finding food. The ship is so real and yet so final that the viewer can't help but feel that ulimately their quest to survive is futile.
 I can not possibly stress the visual impact of this film. To see it on the small screen is to take away its impact. It has plot but its real story in the visualness of a dying planet. It is an incredible film to behold. Scary in a way no horror can possibly be, because it is within the realms of possibility.
  Mortensen is at his best and probably better here than in Eastern promises. Playing a man attempting to keep his son alive against all hope has shown his range as an actor. Charlize Theron has a small part as the boys mother who gives up hope and kills herself. Robert Duvall plays a dying man. The under rated Guy Pearce also has a small role, and the young boy is well played. But for me this Mortensen's film.
 See it, and marvel in some of the most harrowing and yet most beautiful apocalyptic images ever put onto celluloid. An absolute masterpice of visual film making.
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Friday, February 25, 2011

Hell Boy 2: The Golden Army

 Last night one of my many, many favorite films was played on television. I saw it three times on the big screen when it played in 2008. It is one of the most visually stunning films ever made in my opinion. The times I have seen it since on the small screen have robbed it of it visual impact.
 Guillermo del Toro is one of my all time favorite film makers. His Pan's Labyrinth is certainly in my top five all time favorite films. It is, like Hellboy,  visually stunning . Beautifully filmed, an original plot, and one of the best performances from a child actress you could ever hope to see, Pan's Labyrinth is as close to perfect as a film can get.
 Hellboy is not in that sort of league. It is based on a comic book character, which was made into a cartoon series. del Toro made hellboy into a film several years ago and while not bad it is inferior to the second film. This is because del Toro's abilities and imagination have come further, and it shows in the second film.
 It is a fantasy/action genre film and del Toro does fantasy extremely well. It is a pity that The Hobbit, which was to be filmed here in NZ, ran into troubles, as it is the type of subject matter that is perfect for his imagination and style. Hellboy 2 is certanily not remarkable for any originality in its plot. Sort of end of the world if a baddie isn't stopped type stuff. Its originality is in the visuals. And they are just stunning.
 Peter Jackson gets alot of cudos for his use of CGI but for me del Toro is better. Del Toro uses colour in his film beautifully, you have to see his films to appreciate them. But it is imagination that has captured film goers attentions. His sets and the creatures he has devised are totally original and with his use of colour and film techniques leave the viewer in total awe. The fawn from Pan's Labyrinth is simply breath taking.
 There are several fight scenes which have nothing new in them as far as moves go, but under del Toro's eye they become quite spectacular. It is a film that even a younger audience will enjoy and watch as it isn't riddled with swearing or graphic violence. My two nephews absolutely loved this film and even commented on how good it looked. It is one of those films that even if are not into the genre you should see for a master film maker at work.
 Certainly Hellboy will never go down as one of the best films ever made. But it isn't meant to be. It is fantasy and solely for entertaiment. I highly recommend this film, for even if you are not into the genre, it is a film that must be seen to be believed. Del Toro for me is the cutting edge of CGI in the world today. I hear he is keen on making a third Hellboy. This is one viewer who awaits with abated breath, not just for a third Hellboy instalment, but for any film this genius produces from his fertile mind.
 Not a great film but watch and be amazed, it is worth it!! Just pure, stylish entertaiment for the eyes! And if you haven't seen it yet, for goodness sake, do youself the favour and watch the brilliant Pan's Labyrinth.
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Christchurch Earthquake

 Thought I take a bit of time and post some pics on the Christchruch Earthquake. My beloved city of Napier held the dubious distinction of having suffered NZ's worse earthquake in 1931. Napier wasn't as big then and was virutally destroyed. Most of the land the city is now built on was lifted out of the sea and surrounding marshes.
 But Christchurch now owns the 'honour' if you can call it that in having had NZ's worse natural disaster. The city's cathedral has had it's spire demolished and 22 people were initialy thought to be a under the rubble. A crying shame as it is the city's symbol and one of NZ's iconic buildings.  Just an unbelievable event to see.
But hey New Zealand isn't known as 'the shaky isles' for nothing!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil

 Went down to the local video store yesterday and hired three DVDs. All are Clint Eastwood films and believe it or not it wasn't planned that way. It is just what I happened to pick up. But I'm a big fan of Eastwood, both as an actor and director, so I'm sure I won't die of Eastwood overload!
 I do remember this film playing here in Napier when it was released and no matter how hard I try I can't remember why I didn't see it. I do remember that I'd never heard of the book back then though. I have since read it three years ago and I suppose, like most, absolutely loved it. Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood as a non-fiction novel and recieved a huge amount of praise for it. I think Midnight is far superior though.
 I loved the eccentricities of the characters of the book. It is well written and paced, and totally original. Like any good book or film it just stays with you. So I was really looking forward to sitting down and watching its film adaptation, which I did last night with the company of three large scotchs!
 It took me a while to get into this film as I tried to remember what was happening from the book. Unfortunately Eastwood has fiddled with it somewhat and this is what threw me. Many characters have much smaller roles in the film than from the book. He also uses his daughter as the love interest to Cusack's character, which again isn't in the book. Besides these changes he has kept to the book relatively well and the viewer will recognise it.
 But it isn't all bad! This is an incredibly ambitious book to make a movie from. It is a film about people's characters and eccentric ways, and not so much a story type film. It certainly revolves around a murder but it is about people's minds and their behaviour. This is somewhat easier to write than to put onto celluloid. Eastwood gives it a good shot but somehow there is a flatness to his interpretation.
 I like Eastwood as a director and Midnight is technically excellent. I loved the cinematography and the editing is first class. Eastwood has even got the pace of life in Savannah right with the pacing of the film. The film runs to over two hours, but unlike many long films this one didn't feel too long. In fact I was surprised at the end to look at the clock and see how long it had been. It may have a slow pace but it is never dull or ponderous. It moves along subtely and deceptively.  Overall it is a very finely crafted film and I can't fault it.
 But it is flat. The performances are excellent. Spacey is superb and plays the murderer who knows he got way with it. Savannah is spectacular in its Southerness, and overall the visuals are truley engaging. So what is missing? It is hard to define. I really liked this film. The craftmanship of Eastwood is top notch as usual but, but, but. What is it? 
 For me Chablis wasn't extroverted enough. The character was good in the film, but her 'yah yeah yah's from the book weren't there.  I wanted them to be as it is what I remember most about his/her (?!!) character. And I suppose that is the crux of my problem with this films flatness. It is their characters.
 As I have already alluded to this should be a film about people and a warts and all examination of them as individuals. Remember it is said in the book and the movie that nothing happens in Savannah without anyone else knowing. Everboby knows everbody and that includes everything about them. And for  everything that I like about this film the essence of it is missing. Eastwood has watered it down far too much and everything that is great about the book has been watered down to.
 By surpressing some characters and toning down others, most notably Chablis, and introducing a non-book character Eastwood has taken the heart and sole out of the film. It is a crying shame as it is a great book and should have been translated to the big screen in a much better way. It is still worth watching because it is not a bad film. There is much to like, but if you are expecting the book you will be disappointed because what you will get is a watered down sanitised version.
 A superbly crafted film but with a palpable flatness about it. A film you finish watching and go 'that could have better'.
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The Towering Inferno

 After the awfulness of Sanctum it is a pleasure to review a movie that is quite decent. Ah but what a classic it is to! It played about a month ago on Television at about 1.00 p.m on a Sunday morning. I have decided to throw it in here as a contrast to Sanctum which has a drama theme to it. Of course The Towering Inferno is a straight disaster movie but the themes between the two films are similar enough.
 I can remember seeing this film on television several times in my much younger days. The days when television played good movies from bygone eras. I have always loved them and am starved of them nowadays. So it was with huge surprise to see this aired. I was in anticipation all day as I have always enjoyed this film, and it must be at least twenty five years since I last saw it.
 Inferno may have been, or is, the very first of the 1970's disaster films. A then new genre with which, in many respects, Inferno being the embodiment of them all. A then big budget, stella cast, and plenty of promotion, has seen this film forty years later become a true classic of its type.
 I really liked this film when I was young and after seeing it again I still like it, and like it alot. The special effects have dated and the interiors are so 1970's and really awful to more modern tastes, but it is still a great film to watch. It may have aged but this is what makes it so interesting. In its day the special effects were the height of their time. No CGi here. The tower is a very obvious model and the flames unrealistic but if you sit back and enjoy it for the film of the era it is then it doesn't matter.
 I always view films like this through the eyes and techniques of the times. It is the history lover in me. The past fascinates me and a film of a bygone era is a snapshot of it. The James Bond films were always renowned for being at the cutting edge of stunt work etc in their day but look almost lame by todays standards. To show that this film wasn't just a bit of 1970's kitsch it was nominated for several Oscars. So it is a movie that can't be dismissed lighty.
 There is nothing more that I can add to this film that hasn't been said already. But what a trip down memory lane! It is a film that unfortunately, because it is a disaster film, is not take too seriously. It is a shame because disaster films are a valid genre and there is good and bad. Inferno is certainly one of the best and in my opinion a better film that it is given credit for. It is also dedicated to firemen in general so behind the razz and dazzle there is a serious air to it.
 A true classic and what a joy it was too see it again. Loved every minute of it, and even though it has dated is still a very good film.
Click here for a synopsis and more;
Here for an interesting site dedicated soley to the film:


 It isn't Thursday night but there really isn't anything that is going to be released tomorrow that I want to see. So I headed over to Hastings to see Sanctum. I wasn't really fussed on seeing this film, it was just a feeling and after having seen it my hunch was confimed.
 All the fuss over James Cameron's involvement is nonsense. His input really is minimal and it is just a ploy to get bums on seats. It is becoming an annoying practise to do this, and I find it is insulting to my intelligence. So gripe number one is out of the way.
 Number two is that this film has got the most appaling acting in it since I saw The Last Airbender in October of  last year. To say the acting is wooden is to be kind! One critic has called the cast 'lifeless', and that about sums it up. I just couldn't help but groan at some it and sure other patrons could hear me.
 I'm not a fan of 3-D and consider it over rated. No cinemas in the Bay are 3-D equiped so 2-D it is for me.  But no matter what fancy film making gimmick you used on this film it wouldn't save it. There is nothing here that is original. There is no suspense, tautness, and no  physical or emotional engagement, in fact it was a relief that it ended so I could escape the carnage on my eyes and ears.
 I find it no coincidence that this film has been made. It is supposed to be direct competition to 127 Hours. But believe me 127 Hours has nothing to fear and is by far the superior film in everyway. 127 Hours was beautifully filmed, where as Sanctum doesn't have any awe inspiring camera work or scenery at all. It is just flat. One scene sums it up. A group of people are flying in a chopper over New Guinea but it is in a studio with a jungle back ground. I mean how lame is that??!!
 This film is just straight out awful and could have been so much more and provided serious competion to 127 Hours. It is a total failure and about as bad a film as you can get for all the hype.
 In a word, don't bother, see the far superior 127 hours. Not only a very good accident/drama/adventure type film, but a great film in the process.
Click here for more if you are even remotely considering wasting two hours of your life:
And here for more that just re-confirms my impressions:
And here for the waste of bandwidth that is the official site:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Eastern Promises

 Well if you been following my blog you will no doubt have found a recurring theme. Her name is Naomi Watts! Mmmmmm...Naomi!! I'm an unabashed fan and think she is one of Hollywood's premium actresses.
 Possibly the thing that impresses me most about her ( besides the fact she is a mega-babe! ) is she seems to pick her parts very well. So far she hasn't appeared in any clangers. Compare Charlize Theron who is brilliant in Monster but also appears in rubbish like Aeon Flux. The Ring movies certainly didn't challenge Watts's acting skills and yet they are still fine horrors. She gives them credibility through her talent.
 But wait! Anyone would think that she is the only person in this film! Excuse me for my Naomi ramblings! The very talented Viggo Moretensen also appears and this will make the ladies happy as he gets to fight and roll around naked in a sauna naked. And yes girls we see IT all!!
 This is not Watt's best performance or role. But Mortensen is outstanding as a Russian mobster who is not all he seems. In fact he is so good he was nominated for an Oscar.  Here is a long way from Aragon of The Lord of the Rings.
 The film centres around a young girl who dies after delivering a baby and the nurse, Watts, who finds her diary. It leads her into the dark world of the Russian mafia and enforced prostitution, or more commonly, the sex slave trade.
 Even though this is a film of fiction its content isn't pleasant. The young girl turns out to have been fourteen and a virgin when she was raped by the head of the mafia. He manipulates the incriminating diary from Watts and destroys it.
 Mortensen's character is not all he seems. Even as he is initiated into the mafia with a series of tattoos it is revealed he is working for Scotland Yard. Turn takes turn and the head of the mafia is brought down after a blood sample is skillfully taken from him and compared to the baby's to prove he is the father. Of course with the girl having been only fourteen he is convicted of statutory rape.
 There are some brutal moments in this film as throats are slit and a girl is seen to be having unwilling sex with Mortensen. The throat cuttings are unconvincing as the blood is too thick and red. A minor quibble but noticeable. But really it is a film focusing on the sex slave trade and the promises made to Russian girls that lead them into it. Of course once out of Russia and without a passport they find themselves trapped in it.
 The film of course is based on fact and is not nice because of it. It certainly brings this highly odious practise to the viewers attention in a convincing way. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the second of the Millennium trilogy also has this trade as a backdrop within Sweden. I like the fact that two films have been made bringing this practise to the worlds attention.
 In many respects they are better platforms than a documentary. People will pay to see thier favorite movie stars in a film, and if that can be combined with real life, factual scenarios then the message gets a better and wider audience. Maybe I'm reading too much into it but I hope the producers of Eastern Promises had this as a goal in making this film.
 Overall it is not in the great film realm. But it is certainly well above average to. Mortensen is very good and keeps his Russian accent believable right throughout. Watts is very solid and the film is very watchable. But it is film about a highly unplesant trade and I hope that the films whole intention was to bring this practise to the eyes of the world. A well made effort in using real practises within a fictional film.
Click here for a synopsis and facts:
Here for more:
For more:

Mulholland Drive

 Well after having read so much about this film from other blogs I decided to hire this film from my local video store. It is unusual in that I didn't see this on the big screen. I pretty much see everything that is played at our local cinemas so maybe this didn't play.
 It is fair to say that this is a film that has devided audiences like no other within the last ten years. My initial reason for wanting to see this film is because of Naomi Watts. Not only because she is a babe!! ( Liev Schreiber you lucky so and so!), but beacause she is such an outstanding actress. This was of course her break through role in Hollywood.
 It is interesting here because I saw 21 Grams only a matter of a few nights ago. I think she was far superior in 21 Grams. But her Mulholland role is very good to. I like the way her character changes from intially being a sweet, somewhat wide eyed innocent, to the woman who slides into insanity at the end. Two different people played by the same actress within the same movie. Great skill Naomi, and a joy to watch!
 Acting aside this film has been described as 'weird'. For me personally, it isn't weird it is dis-jointed, and gets lost in too many irrelevant sub-plots that go no-where. When I did  a bit of reading up on this film I found it had been initially been filmed as a pilot for a television series. David Lynch had filmed the bulk of the pilot but it was canned before filming was finished. So really, to be honest, this is film footage from an initial and unfinished project, with scenes filmed afterwards in an attempt to knit it all togehter.
 Unfotunately it is glaringly obvious. I admire his attempt to do so and I genuinely feel he could have done much, much better and turned a confusing, sub-plot heavy film, into a genuine masterpiece of non-lineal film making. He attempted it with too much initial film and tryed to make the most of it without really giving it the thought needed to get the best from it. It is a film of wasted potential.
 I can critise this film to kingdom come and the sad thing is I don't really won't to. I really want to like it.  But it's flaws keep getting in the way and I feel frustrated at the so many lost opportunities of this film. The film has too many joining scenes. The Silencio scene is unnecesary and plainly out of place. It is just joining two scenes together without adding to the plot. If Lynch had cut out the sub-plots that go nowhere, he could have skillfully weaved together this film much better. He has overly confused it and taken away so much from what it could have been.
 One other critism is right throughout the film there is an air of sinisterism. It is well done and I kept expecting right to end something extraordinary. It left me unsatisfied and wondering what all the sinister air was about. Again it was something palpable that led to nothing. Sure I've read of the dream scenario and hypothisis, but hey, the recent Inception was a dream movie and it felt just like that, a dream.
 To what I did like, because there is much to like, as much as there is to be confused and disappointed with. The acting is very good. Naomi Watts being the stand out. It is well filmed. It has a non-lineal plot that is a style I particularly like. It keeps you guessing.......but , and again we come back to this very simple problem, but.
 Believe me I have tried very hard to like this film after watching it last night. It is not that I don't like it because I do. It is unfortunately a film that has left me frustrated as it had the potential to be absoltuely incredible but instead subsides into confusion which destroys the ability for me to accept it as a great one. When I first saw Pulp Fiction I was absolutely gob smacked and left the theatre reeling wondering what had hit me. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before and that feeling has never left me. Mulholland tries to achieve the same thing but trips up over its own feet. Overly plotted and confusing, it is a film that ultimately leaves you unsatisfied because you know it should have been better.
 I am a believer of first impressions counting. I  absolutely love eccentric, off-beat, quirky films, but I doubt no matter how many times I see this film my feelings would change. They in fact would probably only deepen. This is a frustratingly flawed film that overly complicates itself and the viewer is left rueing what could have been. Simply, the chance to be a true masterpiece of non lineal film-noir that could have Pulp Fiction in its place.
 Watch, be dazzled, but ulimately be disappointed at what could have been.

 PS. It makes me laugh that people make so much of Lynch's silence over speaking about or clarifying this film. To me it shows he knows it is a cobbled together mess. He must be laughing behind his back at how he has pulled the wool over cinema goers eyes world wide and insulted their intelligence!! He is getting praise that he himself knows isn't justified.
 Click here for a synopsis...if you can possibly do so with such a jumbled mess!
And here for a site that attempts to justify this films existence!!
And more self justification!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Russian Ark

 This is a film from Russia and only one of two I have ever seen. The other was a fine film called The Italian. Russian films are so rare in New Zealand cinemas and to have only seen two in all my cinema going years is somewhat diasppointing. But what anyone who takes the time to read this must take into account is New Zealand is a small country of only four million people. It has a very small cinema going patron base compared to the amount of films that are made world wide each year. We only get to see a fraction of them.
 I am a big fan of foreign language films and have stated so in some of my earlier posts. I suppose with Hollywood being the biggest kid on the block it is natural that its films flood our cinemas. Luckily I have the Century Cinema here in Napier that caters for people like me. It has only one screen and again can only cope with a certain amount of films per year. 
 I envy some of the other blogs I have visited for the array of films they have had access to. Some really obscure stuff is out there and I just can't get my hands on any of it. I think a country like America say, is quite lucky in that it has a population base that can have cinemas that soley play the classics of bygone eras. Great stuff! I could live in a cinema like that!!
 But to Russian Ark!! Sorry for the rambling but hopefully someone may find it interesting and understand why I review a film such as this. I saw this film way back in 2004. I still have the ticket stub and it is the first stub I kept after deciding I would keep every one from every film I saw from that point on. You can imagine how many I have, hundreds! I now sorely wish I had one for every movie I have seen from childhood, as it would be an impressive number. 
 This film had a one only screening and it surprised me in that the theatre was almost full. The Century holds 330 people so this was quite impressive. What got me is this was a film with no promotion in New Zealand what so ever. So how it drew that sort of crowd is beyond me. I've seen films promoted heavily that people have stayed away from. I suppose that is the vagaries of the industry.
 It is an amazing film is scope, detail and ambition. I have read that it was shot in one complete take, but I find that hard to believe. It is just too big and busy with a cast of 2,000, so I'm sure that with that amount of people something was bound to go wrong at some stage. It takes place in the St. Petersburg museum, it starts at a side door into a kitchen and then finally exists down its main staircase. We follow a man who is also narrating, and the films main purpose is take the viewer through a quick tour of the museum. 
 But it does it in a very unique fashion. Instead of making a walk along documentary the makers have used a series of historical flash backs in each room the camera enters (33 in all). Certain periods of St. Petersburg's, and the then Leningrads, history are played out. In one scene a wall of the museum has been hit by German artillery fire and there is snow coming in and a Leningrader making a coffin. Of course this is reference to the 900 day siege of Leningrad during the Second World War.
 It is historical scenes like this set against the museum's backdrop that make it so remarkable and clever in execution. The cinematography is beautifully done and when the camera enters each room it is hard not to be stunned . The museum is an amazing building, and the film work captures it magnificently. It is one of those films that HAS to be seen on the big screen to be believed. It is just dazzling, and the small screen will just not portray the awe that the big screen would.
 It is perfect in every way and every detail. As the camera moves from one room to another there is no cut in the film. The camera moves seemlessly from room to room giving the viewer the impression they are actually there walking the museum and not watching it on film. It is an amazing cinematic experience. The museum is beautiful in every room and on the big screen it overwhlems you and you are left breathless by the end (which it does with a big historical ball and the guests leaving by the main staircase).
 Our narrater, who walks us throught he museum, is based on a Frenchman who visited Russia in the 19th century and wrote a widely read book on his travels. The multi layering of this film is incredible and I can't express enough the skill in turning what could have been a drab, dry , documentary style film into a visually sumptuous and technically rewarding piece of filmmaking. It is cleverly and skillfully made and a film whose physical beauty you will never forget.
 Try and see this film. The small screen will do it no justice but you will still get a feel of the museum's majesty and the film making that brought it too life in such a masterful way. Superb viewing.
 Click here for a brief synopsis and a few facts;
Here for more:

Kung Fu Panda

 Awesome!! I've decided to review one of most favorite animated films, Kung Fu Panda. Can you believe that this film is the 49th highest grossing film of all time! Surely it is an indication of how popular animation is and that it is a very valid film genre.
 I saw this on its release in 2008. In fact I saw it twice on the big screen. Both times I was surprised at the amount of adults present. Not parents as such but singles and couples who had come to see it. I have found this quite rare in animated films.
 This is one of the abundantly clear things about Kung Fu Panda as a film. It is very popular across all spectrums and ages of society. I recommended this film to many people who took my advice and told me later how much they loved it. I think adults have forgotten that when animation first hit the big screen with Snow White etc it was not specifically aimed at children. 
 It is a mistake that is slowly fading as I find more adults going to animated films at later sessions to avoid children and have an exclusive adult audience.
 Well this is a review of a film, and not a social commentary, so I had better get back to it!
 I, in a nut shell, loved Kung Fu Panda. It had me laughing from the opening scenes, which were animation within animation. you have to see it to understand what I mean there. Dreamworks along with Pixar, and to a lesser extent now, Disney, are one of the premimum animated film producers. I like their style of animation and it is always of a high quality. 
 This is one of the better films they have released recently. A sequel is due to be released soon , and it is fair to say it has big shoes to fill!. It is also a film that has spawned several short half hour television specials that have aired over the last few Christmases. My nephews ( and I!) particuarly liked the more recent one where Po had to provide an annual Christmas banquet for the kung-fu masters. Very funny, with a suicidal bunny who wanted to 'die with honour' for disgracing his village. We then see him trying to get Po to help him using various kitchen utensils. It has a moral, namely Christmas is for family and there is nothing more important at that time of year. 
  The film has, of course, its moral message. Here it is basically be all you can be, and be happy with yourself. Po is a wonderful character and is cleverly portayed by a Panda bear as the film is based in China. Who can not resist a Panda bear?! Very clever indeed. He loves to eat and is somewhat over weight but this does not preclude him, through some hilarious escapades from being chosen as 'The Dragon Warrior'.
 He then has to train with his idols who are all kung fu experts. At first they, and their resentful master, are sceptical of Po, but as the film progresses they find them liking and accepting him for all his faults. The film overall is one the funniest I've seen. I honestly had tears running down my face at times. The highlight of the film was when Po and master Chey fu are training in the mountains and are chasing the last dumpling to eat. Very, very funny and shows the incredible and seemingly inexhaustable imagination that goes into a film like this.  It ends with Po defeating an evil Kung Fu master and in the process discovering himself.
 Overall this film is as good as it gets. It is hard to credit that such a fine film can be bettered, and it was by the lovely Pixar film Wall-e, that won the Oscar for best animated feature film off 2008. But to be honest Wall-e deserved it. But this does not mean Kung Fu Panda is inferior to Wall-e as it certainly is not.
 This is a film for all. Animated films are slowly being recognised again by adults as a valid and entertaining genre. For me it is a shame that Kung Fu Panda didn't win the Oscar but it shows the quality of the opposition. Wall-e was just too good. Film companies also recognise the money maker they have and this opposition brings out the best in them to produce better and better films.
 Kung Fu Panda is one of the very best. A lovely story, superb animation, and wonderful characters make this a film you must see. Believe me you will enjoy it, for as Po would say, it is  'Awesome'!!!
Click here for a synopsis and some interesting facts:
Here for more:
For more:
For a specific animated site:
And here for the official site:

The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford

 I started to watch this after Monster two nights ago but started to nod off after half an hour. Well it was 3.00 am! So I sat up until the small hours of this morning and finished watching it.
 The film is based on the book by Ron Hansen, which I read last November. It isn't a book I can say I enjoyed, but I didn't dislike it either. The only way I can describe it is as strange, odd even. I struggled to finish it as it was difficult reading. I found there was no flow to it and Hansen's writing style made it hard to enjoy.
 The film mirrors the book in this way. It is a movie people either love or straight out hate judging from some reviews I have read. It does help if you have read the book. Strange and odd is how I described it and the film is the same, odd, odd, odd. And like the book I'm unsure how I feel about it. 
 One thing I have found is it is a very easy film to criticise. Here are some film critics examples, 'too long and too slow', 'a chore to sit through', 'a long, empty excersise in style'. I fully agree with each of those assessments. The first notable criticism is the length. It IS just too long. The problem is the film moves at a very slow, ponderous pace, and I did find it becoming more and more of a 'chore' to watch. ( The White Ribbon as a film suffered from this too). It should easily have lost forty minutes without losing anything from the plot.
 Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck put in superb performances, but Affleck becomes annoying and difficult to watch. Again the length is the problem.Too much of Affleck became just that, too much. He has got inside the character but the books oddness comes through in the film and it, with Afflek, overwhelm the viewer and ultimately numb their senses . Affleck's character annoyed me so much I wanted the film to end, but it just seemed to go on and on like a bad migraine.
 The cinematography though is beautiful, and quite simply stunning. It is some of the best I have ever seen in a film. It is a travesty that I had to watch it on the small screen where the majesty of it was so diminshed. This is the highlight of the film. Every scene whether outdoors or not is perfectly realised. Long after the details are forgotten to me the cinematography is what will stay with me most about this film. 
 One critic I have read called the film,' one of the most wrongfully neglected masterpieces of its era'. While I have criticised the film I tend to agree with this statement. It is a masterpiece. It is beautifully filmed, and acted in everyway. It is the clique of cinema as art, and it is art. 
 It is just unfortunate for everything that is good about this film it will  devide your opinions.  The book suffers the same fate. It is an unusual book and the film has followed that. There is so much I liked about this film. The cinematography I will praise profusely, as it is good as it gets. The acting is superb BUT, and here comes the crux of this film, it is far too long. 
 For me this film mirrors the book in being strange, and odd. It is a film I am having difficulty in deciding how I feel about. Do I like it or not? There are things I do like about it, but possibly after 160 minutes Casey Affleck's character got too much for me and I was relieved that it was all over. And I suppose that is my feeling. While stylish, beautifully filmed, and with some superb acting, it is a film that by the end you will give a sigh of relief that it has FINALLY ended.
 A difficult and strange film, and hard to recommend or not. A film that leaves you feeling ambiguous. Satisfying and yet........
Click here for a synopsis and more detailed facts:
Here for the official site:
Here for more:
And here for more:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Wave ( Die Walle )

 This is a film I had seen several years ago at the Centurty Cinema here in Napier. It is a cinema in a museum and it plays all the film-noir, classics and films aimed at a more intellectual audience. I've been going there for twenty years, but unfortunately it has shut as the museum is getting an upgrade and won't re-open until 2012.
 Every year the Century has a film festival about every August/ September annually, and they play about 25 films from around the world.
This is when I saw The Wave in 2008. I wanted to review it as I alluded to it in my review of The White Ribbon. It is one of the few German films I have seen, and the most thought provoking. Downfall was brilliant but the story of Hitler's final days are well known, but I still admire it as a film that  attempts to come with Germany's recent history.
 The Wave is a film based on a real experiment conducted in an American university in the late eighties. At its core is the seduction of fascism and its ultimate ugliness. I found this a brave movie for a German to make considering the Nazi era is so fresh in our collective memories. It is one of a raft of films that has been produced recentley from within Germany dealing with this era. The eighties were a time when American film makers made films on the Vietnam War that attempted to come to terms with that war on America. German film makers are now attempting the same type of thing and they are producing some fine cinema.
 The Wave is one of the best. Even though it is based on an American experiment the message isn't lost in the fact that this is a German film. And surely fascism never reared its ugly head so badly as it did in Nazi Germany? Sure there was Franco's Spain and Mussolini's Italy, but fascist Germany is what people associate most with when they think of fascism.
 It is interesting how a group of students can tell a teacher in his class on autocracy, 'We get it, the Nazi's sucked", and yet fall into the same seduction. It is the very point their teacher was making and yet the students still miss it. But not all. As in Nazi Germany there are dissenters who disagree with what is happening and protest, but they are ignored and swept away in the euporia of feeling better than those who don't join with them.
 And, like Nazi Germany, it starts out so well but then goes tragically wrong. It is so poignant that this is a German made film. In trying to come to terms with its past Germans have had to try and understand one fundamental point. How could it have happened? This film brilliantly exposes how easily it did. But it is not only aimed at Germans but all people. Fascism looks good, but it is in fact is a seductive evil that leaves nothing but a trail of tragedy, destruction and despair.
 I personally can not say enough about this film. It's message is crystal clear and is all the more powerful for being a German film with the German past hovering over it. It is thought provoking in the highest degree and very intelligent in its delivery. This is the sort of film I truely love. Not only because, above any other historical period interesting me more than Nazi Germany's, it delivers a message without compromise and judgement, but issues a warning.
 With German film makers who delve into this dark past of their country the key is to make a film that doesn't point the finger or blame. It is to expalin and enlighten and The Wave is an exceptional film that goes a long way in doing  this.
 Superb in its intelligent delivery of a still touchy subject, and hence unforgettable.
 Click here for a synopsis and more;
And here for more:
And here for more: