Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Paranoid Park - DVD - 31/3/10

Another Gus Van Sant film, this time he turns his eye on the world of skateboarders who, like many of the main characters in his other films, operate on the fringes of society. Here the attention is on 17 year old Alex who visits the local skate park, the Paranoid Park of the title, and kills a night time security guard by pushing him into the path of an oncoming train. His actions are not deliberate but are, in truth, motivated by self defence but nonetheless the guard dies as a result of what he does.

The most striking feature of this film is in Van Sants use of sound to disorientate, confuse and confound us. From unearthly clangs, bangs and electronic beeps to classical music and hits from the past the sounds play as important a part here as anything that we see. Not for Van Sant the safe road of a hits filled, ready to package, soundtrack but, instead, sound becomes as important a character and element of the film as the cinematography or the actors.

Again the use of browns, golds and greens is evident hinting at autumn perhaps which can be seen as a time of decay and death in nature. Again characters drift in and out of focus. Again the story appears not to be told in a traditional, linear fashion. It is "typical" Van Sant and that, in itself, makes it untypical of anything else.

This is a dark and disturbing story. Alex (Gabe Nevins) is a chilling and emotionally blank character. Despite the fact that his actions were not deliberately intended to bring about the death of the security guard and despite his initial horror at what he has done he is ultimately able to turn away from what he has done and carry on with his life as normal. He attends school, he skates, he sleeps with his girlfriend, he dumps her, he wastes time with his friends. Yes, he does write down what has happened in order to clear his conscience but he does so for his own benefit and not as an attempt to confess. He is emotionally blank in other areas of his life too, his parents impending divorce is dismissed by him; "...everyones parents get divorced" and he is able to dump his girlfriend shortly after taking her virginity without any effort or discomfort. It is a great performance from Nevins and another example of Van Sants ability to coax strong performances from inexperienced young actors.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Drugstore Cowboy - DVD - 30/3/10

Gus Van Sants breakthrough film from 1989 tells the story of Bobby (Matt Dillon) and his crew as they lie, cheat, steal and inject their way through the backstreets and bad neighborhoods of Portland.

An honest and compassionate look at the life of people on the fringes of society. The drug addicts in this film are a million miles away from the likes of Renton in "Trainspotting". Sure they are addicts, yes they operate in the shadows of life and it's true that they are not the sort of people that you would want to spend an evening with but they are more knowing, sharper and in control than the stereotypical Hollywood "junkie".

Looking at this early Van Sant it is easy to see the origins of some of the familiar themes and motifs; subculture, outsiders, loneliness, strong relationships between male characters that may, or may not, be homosexual (in this film there is a hint of the classic Greek love of the older man for the younger between Bobby and Father Tom (William S. Burroughs). Stylistically too there are hints of things that would come to be familiar in later works; I noticed the use of rolling clouds to acknowledge the passing of time here and in "Gerry" which I watched just a day or so ago and I'm confident that that particular flourish can be found in "Elephant" and possibly "Last Days" too.

The dialogue in "Drugstore Cowboy" is very theatrical at times, almost Shakespearean. In contrast with his "death trilogy" where dialogue is minimal to the point of being almost non-existant it was interesting to see how well Van Sant could write dialogue. Some of the voiceovers from Dillon are particularly well written and poignant.

Matt Dillon is a revelation here as Bobby. After showing early promise in "Rumblefish" and "The Outsiders" his career had, apparently, plateaued with projects like "Rebel" and "Big Town" but here he is super as the paranoid, street smart, sassy leader of the pack. He clearly impressed Van Sant as he returned to him for a role in "To Die For" (which also proved to be a career highlight).

Monday, 29 March 2010

I Love You Phillip Morris - Cineworld - 29/3/10

When "Brokeback Mountain" was released a few years ago the world nearly came to an end. A film about two men who fall in love and who struggle to deal with that fact in a world that is hateful and hostile. It was a beautiful, delicate and tender love story given life by a director, Ang Lee, who knows how to create beauty on the screen. That wasn't how the American audience saw it, or at least a vocal portion of it, they hailed it as proof positive that we were in the last days and that the world was coming to an end. It was wicked, evil and destructive. Oh dear.

Fast forward and we see "I Love You Phillip Morris" enter the public domain without any broo-ha-ha at all. It treads similar ground to "Brokeback Mountain" with a tale of two men falling in love and battling to stay together. It features constant references to homosexuality, sex acts and HIV/AIDS. Why then was there no controversy here?

Well, the difference, as I see it, is that this film is a comedy (although I didn't laugh a lot) and the only thing sure to make the fundamentalist Christian community throw down their pitchforks and torches is to make the "gays" funny. As long as we can laugh at them and their "disgusting" and "unnatural" behavior then that's OK.

Curiouser and curiouser.

The story here is, apparently, a true one and plays like a gay "Catch Me If You Can". Jim Carey plays Steven Russell a happily married husband and a father. He plays piano at his local Church and is member of the police force too. A near fatal car crash prompts him to come clean to his wife and confess that he is gay. Freed from the restraints of his false life he embarks on a new life with his boyfriend Jimmy. Unfortunately Steven can't afford the lifestyle that accompanies his new life and he becomes a con man until he is caught and imprisoned.

In prison Steven meets Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) and falls head over heels in love with him. When the two are released Steven returns to his former ways and it isn't long before they are both back behind bars as a result. Phillip is angry with Steven for his lying and the fact he is back in prison and refuses to have any contact with him which forces Steven to carry out the most improbable and dangerous con of his career.

It's all a bit "meh" to be honest. It's not particularly funny, it isn't shocking (which I think it wants to be) and it doesn't really have anything to say. McGregor and Carey are both fine but no more than that although you get the feeling that Carey thinks this is Oscar winning form from him. Your life won't be any the poorer for missing this, which is a shame because the story is intriguing and played "straight" could have made for a terrific film.

Gerry - DVD - 28/3/10

Casey Affleck and Matt Damon feature in this hypnotic, mesmerising and haunting tale of two young men who find themselves lost in the Utah desert. Written by the actors and directed by Gus Van Sant it has obvious echoes of "Good Will Hunting" but as films the two projects could not be further apart.

Gerry (Damon) and Gerry (Affleck) are two young men driving through the Utah desert. They stop to take a hike and to find the "thing" but end up wandering from the designated wilderness trail and become lost. In their own words they "Gerryed" things. Apart from a brief appearance of an out of focus family also walking on the wilderness trail we don't see anyone else until the final few seconds of the film and the dialogue is sparse and brief. Like many of Van Sants films what we see around the actors and what we hear aside from the dialogue is as important as the "stars" and their dialogue.

Here the desert is a brilliant vision of browns, greens and golds. Haunting piano music floats in and out of our hearing alongside the roar of wind, crickets and jarring noises. The two leads are shot from distance to highlight how insignificant they are in comparison to the landscape they have become lost in.

It is a film that I am sure irritated several critics and probably many audience members. It would be an easy film to dismiss. It's "arty" and, possibly, pretentious but it is also stylish, sleek and moving. As the plight of Gerry and Gerry becomes increasingly hopeless the tension rises and the films ending is shocking and surprising.

With so little to say the performances of the leads are all the more impressive. Their movement, the way they walk and interact with each other changes slowly and almost imperceptibly as the film progresses from strutting, confident and assured young men to shambling, shuffling, decaying shells. Both Affleck and Damon manage to convey a variety of emotions without ever having to give way to the temptation of signposting them by speaking.

This is genuine independent film-making. No desire to make money or impress studio executives here just a willingness to make something beautiful and artistic. Van Sant is a director who, increasingly, must be seen as one of my generations finest.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Kick-Ass - Cineworld - 27/3/10

Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is just your average high school student. He's average looking. He's averagely intelligent. He lives in an average home. In his own words he is "invisible". I mean, he's not literally invisible...he doesn't have the power to make himself disappear or anything. He doesn't have any super powers. In fact, he doesn't have any powers at all.

The fact that he doesn't have any super powers doesn't stop Dave from donning a ridiculous wet suit costume and attempting to fight crime. His first attempt ends up with his being beaten to a pulp, stabbed and then run over by a car. He's not exactly the Dark Knight. After his stay in hospital he wakes up endowed with amazing strength thanks to a pioneering new, he doesn't. He wakes up with some damage to his nerve endings and a lot of metal in his body but that simply means he can take a kicking a bit longer than any of his friends would.

Undeterred by his first crime fighting experience ending so miserably Dave sets to the streets again and this time enjoys a modicum of success by thrashing some gang members who are beating a rival up. When footage of this finds its way onto youTube Dave becomes an internet sensation...or rather his alter ego does.

"Kick-Ass" is born!

Lurking in the background are two slightly more able crime fighters in the shape of ex-cop turned vigilante "Big Daddy" (Nicholas Cage) and his eleven year old daughter Mindy (Chloe Moretz) who is "Hit Girl". Unlike Kick-Ass these two have an impressive array of weaponry and genuine crime fighting/street fighting skills.

Eventually the two crime fighting teams are brought together to bring down mutual enemy Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong) and his son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who poses as "Red Mist" in an attempt to lure both Kick Ass and Big Daddy into the arms of his father.

This is all based on Mark Millars comic book and, unlike the last adaptation of his work (Wanted) which was awful, this is a high energy, adrenalized, loud, brash, profane, violent, bloody and original piece of cinema which breathes a shot of fresh life into the comic book adaption world and the superhero genre.

Johnson, who was last seen playing over-rated Liverpool boy band member John Lennon, is fabulous as the awkward "Dave" and his attempts at crime fighting are brilliantly realistic. His question at the films start "Why aren't there any real superheroes?" is a good a world where we are bombarded with images in film and on television about vigilantes in silly costumes it does seem peculiar that nobody has tried it in the real world. I doubt that after seeing what happens to "Kick Ass" that anybody will be following his example.

The real star of the show is Moretz's "Hit Girl". She is foul mouthed, witty, independent and has a mean way with a butterfly knife. She is the type of character guaranteed to have Daily Mail readers wringing their hands and wailing "Won't somebody think of the children?". In other words she is wonderful!

"Kick-Ass" kicks ass.

Transporter 3 - DVD - 27/3/10

"You're the gay"

"No, I am not the gay"

That's a direct quote from the third installment of the "Transporter" series.

They are dumb, fast, furious and dumber.

The plot doesn't matter. You could be watching any one of the series and it wouldn't make any difference. Jason Statham is still Jason Statham...whipping his shirt off at any opportunity to show what a great body he has and then beating the crap out of a dozen Eastern European baddies.

Despite that and despite my better judgement I can't help but get a kick out of these films.

I'm so sorry everyone.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Darkman - DVD - 23/3/10

Released twenty years ago this Sam Raimi movie was based on a short story written by the director himself and is, at its heart, a homage to the horror and superhero films of the 1930's and 1940's. It features cartoonish villains, an anti-hero and a damsel in distress. It is also, undeniably, a Raimi film with wild visual flourishes, hammy dialogue but a strong moral at its heart.

Liam Neeson stars as Peyton Westlake who is a scientist trying to develop a synthetic skin. Unfortunately the skin he has created only lasts for 99 minutes before the cells begin to break apart...unless they are kept in the dark. When Peytons lawyer girlfriend takes possession of a document that could prove damaging for some gangsters he finds himself being horribly disfigured by the crooks and so Darkman is born.

What follows is a series of brilliant set pieces in which Darkman begins to take his revenge on those responsible for his awful predicament. It's easy to see the genesis of Raimis "Spiderman" films here and it is also possible to see the stylistic links to his "Evil Dead" movies. What isn't so easy to see or comprehend is why the studios didn't follow this up with real sequels instead of the straight-to-dvd sequels it did spawn.

An enjoyable, old fashioned comic book romp.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Samson and Delilah - Filmhouse - 20/3/10

Can you remember the last time you had some fast food?

If you're anything like me (at least when I was still eating meat) you probably got quite excited by the prospect of a Big Mac, or the equivalent, and you may well have felt that rush of adrenalin as you prepared to tuck in to something that your mind had convinced you was going to be really tasty. In your heart you knew it was a load of processed, mass produced rubbish but still...

Do you remember how hungry you were about an hour later? That hunk of meat, the cheese, the onions, the fries, the coke...all distant memories and in their place a gnawing desire for something more filling, something more real.

Compare that with how you felt the last time your mum made you a Sunday lunch or a Christmas dinner. Did you feel satisfied and full? I would wager that you were so full that you didn't feel the need for anything else to eat for the rest of the day. You may even have needed a lie down afterwards to properly digest what you had eaten.

The basic ingredients were probably the same...some meat, some potatoes, some sugar, some fats, some vegetables. So what's the difference? It's all about the quality isn't it? Well, no, it's not...I think it's more than that. I think it's about the knowledge you have about the person who prepared the meal for you. At a fast food "joint" it's been pre-prepared in some far away place by someone you don't know and who doesn't know you. It's food made by strangers for strangers. There's no real commitment on the part of those people to you...they don't care if you're satisfied at the end of your meal. They've packed their food with drugs; high levels of caffeine and sugars to convince you to come back. At home the meal has been prepared with the best available ingredients by someone who loves you and wants you to be satisfied.

Unlike the James Camerons of the world who rely on tricks and treats to try and convince you that what you are watching on the big screen is worth something you know that he doesn't care about anything other than repeat business...and you know that an hour after that sort of film is finished you'll be hungry for something more substantial...Warwick Thornton is a director who makes films the same way that your mum made a meal. He wants you to be satisfied at the end and he wants you to need time to properly digest it. He uses the best ingredients...real actors, beautiful imagery, story and love to provide you with something real and substantial.

"Samson and Delilah" is Thorntons first feature film and he has made one of the best films of the year. In fact, to hell with it, he has made one of the best films of any year. It is a beautiful film in every way. Visually and sonically it grabs you from the opening shot and then never lets you go. I cannot remember the last time I saw a film that left me reeling at its end and that kept me sitting in my seat right through until the end of the credits. It is a unique and startling piece of film.

The story is a simple one; Samson and Delilah are two thirteen year old Aboriginal kids living in an isolated community in the Central Australian desert. Samson is already addicted to solvent abuse and Delilah is dedicated to caring for her nana, Kitty. When Kitty passes away and Samson assaults another villager the two of them set off for the city where living on the streets, shoplifting and more solvent abuse become their world.

There is precious little dialogue in this film and what there is could easily pass you by. Instead the story is told through a series of beautiful shots, stunning scenery and powerful imagery. The fact that there is so little dialogue makes the fact that you are unable to take your eyes from the screen even more impressive. Sound is a vital component of this film though, Thornton personally selected every piece of music that is heard and there are many instances where sound is crucial to what is happening on the screen.

The use of religious imagery stretches way beyond the biblical names of the characters. Crucifixes, churches, sacrifice, fire, water, desert, journeys and more all feature again and again but they are used to highlight the fact that in a world where there is povery and a lack of hope salvation is needed but seems to be completely absent.

Does it sound like I am gushing?

I hope so. This is a film that matters. It's a film that leaves you totally satisfied. If I didn't ever see another film again I'd be really pleased that this was my last, I'd feel that I had finished my film watching life on a real high. When the awards come around I doubt that "Samson and Delilah" will feature but it is already the film to beat for me this year and I am sure that anyone else who sees it will agree.

Warwick Thornton...a director who cares about you in a way that the Hollywood hamburger film-makers never could.

Friday, 19 March 2010

The Scouting Book For Boys - Filmhouse - 19/3/10

When Thomas Turgoose first appeared on the big screen in Shane Meadows brilliant "This Is England" he looked like a genuine talent. He gave an honest, tender and funny performance in that film which belied his lack of any previous experience or training. He followed that up with a brief appearance in chav horror flick "Eden Lake" and the so short it was almost a short, feature film "Somers Town" (also directed by Meadows). With each film Turgoose has proven himself capable of tackling whatever is thrown in front of him; coming of age tale, violence, horror, interpersonal drama and now comes "The Scouting Book For Boys" which combines elements of all of those.

David (Turgoose) is a slightly awkward and uncomfortable teenager living on a caravan park with his club singer dad. Emily (Holly Grainger) is his best friend and complete opposite; fearless, brash, outrageous and confident. At the films start they are leaping from caravan to caravan via the roofs but when they approach a slightly larger gap between two of the mobile homes it is Emily who makes the leap with ease while David misses and ends up with a bloody mouth. This sets up the nature of their relationship and hints at where the power lies.

When Emily discovers that she must leave the park to go and live with her dad she conspires with David to fake her own disappearance. While she hides out in a cave on the beach all hell breaks loose above her as her mother struggles to cope with her absence, the police begin a huge manhunt and her secret lover, camp security guard Steve, is arrested on suspicion of having abucted her.

All of this puts David in an unusual position as he begins to exercise more control in his relationship with Emily. When he discovers the true nature of her relationship with Steve he is clearly upset but it is also the moment when he realises that Emilys future lies in his hands and at that point the film switches from a coming of age tale to a modern take on "The Collector". A shocking final third of the film gives Turgoose the chance to show that he is now an actor with real range and the ability to draw an audience into his world.

A film that contains real shocks and excellent performances from two young leads.

The Headless Woman - Filmhouse - 19/3/10

This slow burning thriller from director Lucrecia Martel takes a simple premise and draws from it a thriller that acts as a metaphor for the class issues in modern Argentina.

On her way home from a family gathering Veronica hits something, or someone, while she momentarily takes her eye off of the road. Instead of stopping to check what she hit she drives on and from that point is haunted by the crime that she may have committed. A series of characters float in and out of her life; her husband, her children, her lover all provide background into who Veronica is but ultimately of more significance they also provide the support network that enables her to rebuild her life.

It's not easy to say much more without giving away the crucial part of the plot but what I can say is that while you may guess what that is what you will not be expecting is the way in which that is resolved. Gosh that reads like one of those riddles that pop up on late night television...I'm sorry.

The performance from Marla Onetto as Veronica is absolutely breathtaking. She has little dialogue but what she says in her movements, her actions and her eyes is more convincing than any words. This is a subtle and hypnotic showing from Onetto and highlights, again, how much talent there is outside of the Hollywood hills.

The film is available to buy already for those of you reading in the USA and I really would urge you to make the effort to see this, you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

No Distance Left To Run - DVD - 18/3/10

It's difficult to explain to people who weren't there.

When Nirvana released "Smells Like Teen Spirit" back in 1991 the whole world changed. Of course, it didn't really but to me, an 18 year old boy, it seemed like it had. Everywhere I looked there were people in dirty clothes with even dirtier hair. The radio was filled with the sounds of American bands...none of them any good at all; Pearl Jam, Rage Against The Machine, Soundgarden and dozen of other "grunge" bands all peddling music that said nothing to me about my life.

I felt completely outside of youth culture. When you're young that's not a good feeling.

Then Blur arrived.

I'd known about Blur before as a sort of faux Madchester group who had had a few hit singles and then disappeared. But now they were back and they were back with a record that would become as important to me as any other album ever would be; "Modern Life is Rubbish". A record that was defiantly British and proudly, loudly so. They had also adopted a very British image. It was perfect.

Damon Albarn.

Graham Coxon.

Alex James.

Dave Rowntree.


They were the best British group of the 1990s and they made some of the best British albums ever. They were worthy heirs to The Kinks, The Small Faces, The Specials, Madness and The Smiths.

I loved them.

"No Distance Left To Run" tells the story, in their own words, of how it started, how it developed, how it went a bit pear shaped and how it all came gloriously back into the spotlight. I can't be objective about it because I love them so much. If you love them then you'll love this, if you don't then you're probably the sort of person who thought that Oasis meant something.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The Cove - DVD - 17/3/10

Rick O'Barry was the man who caught and trained the dolphins who became "Flipper". When one of the dolphins who "played" the role died O'Barry realised that keeping these animals in captivity wasn't right and began a crusade to see them all released. He's been doing it for over thirty years now, frequently arrested and often the object of hatred and vilification as well as very real death threats he carries on because he knows it's the right thing to do...which, coming from a politician, is normally a sign that the opposite is true but which, from O'Barry sounds absolutely honest.

Taiji, Japan, is home to one of the largest dolphin slaughters in the world. It is here, in the cove, that dolphins who are not purchased by the likes of "Sea World" are slaughtered and then sold off for their flesh. The footage which the film-makers covertly captured shows the waters in the cove turning red as dolphin after dolphin is butchered. From September to March each year these beautiful animals meet their end here. It is shocking and sickening in equal measure.

"The Cove" is a documentary that doesn't just shock it also inspires. As one of the activists points out; "If you're not an activist, you're an inactivist". I've already made a donation to the campaign which is aiming to pile pressure on the Japanese government to end this totally unnecessary murder of these beautiful animals.

Visit this site or this site for more information

Monday, 15 March 2010

Reasons To Hate James Cameron

1) Rambo: First Blood Part II - he was the "writer", giving an early indication of his talent in this field.

2) The Abyss - the first of his vacuous, effects heavy, anti-films

3) True Lies - an overcooked, overegged, muscle-bound, dumb, James Bond for people who don't do subtlety or irony.

4) Titanic - who cares about truth or historical accuracy when you can simply throw millions of pounds at a story, cram it full of special effects and give it the worst movie theme song in living memory? Oh, it nearly killed the idea of Leonardo DiCaprio as a real actor.

5) Avatar - the ultimate anti-film. Heavy handed, dumber than dumb and dumber, poorly written, effects over Art and of no value whatsoever.

6) This article which shows how he plans a THIRD "Titanic" movie...does this mans desire to squeeze every last penny out of his audience know no bounds? He is a hack. He might even be the devil.

The power of Christ compels you James Cameron...leave the cinema; if I can paraphrase Father Merrin.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Grey Gardens (2009) - DVD - 14/3/10

Not the Maysle Brothers documentary of the same name but the 2009 biopic starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange.

Telling this story takes a lot more time than I really have here so before I get started I would urge you to seek out the documentary which can be found here to give you some insight into who and what I am talking about. A taster can be watched here.

Edith "Big Edie" Ewing Beale was the wife of Phelan Beale who was a wealthy lawyer. Their daughter Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale was a socialite, wannabe cabaret performer and model. After the marriage between her parents collapsed and her relationship with former US Secretary of the Interior Julius "Cap" Krug (who was married) also ended Little Edie returned to her family home in the Hamptons; Grey Gardens, to be with her mother.

From 1952 until her mothers eventual passing in 1977 the two women lived in increasing isolation and poverty and the house, along with their mental health, deteriorated. Both women could, kindly, be deemed eccentrics. Only the intervention of their relative Jacqueline Onassis in the 1970s stopped both women being removed from the home on the grounds that it was in breach of myriad building regulations as well as being home to stray cats and raccoons.

This TV film about the lives of the women outside of the more celebrated documentary gives us an insight into the lives of the women before their self-imposed exile...the years when they were genuine socialites, throwing parties, having affairs and dreaming impossible dreams. The performances of Drew Barrymore (Little Edie) and Jessica Lange (Big Edie) are totally convincing and when viewed in quick succession with the documentary it is frightening how accurate their portrayals are. Barrymore, in particular, has never been better and gives a glimpse of the actress she may have been.

Their is a thin line between madness and eccentricity...the Bouvier Beale girls probably only fall into the latter category because of their links to Jacqueline Onassis and their own wealth. A sad, affecting, bizarre, inspiring and uplifting tale of love, loyalty and madness both films should be high on a "must see" list.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Father of My Children - Filmhouse - 13/3/10

French film producer with beautiful wife, gorgeous children, big house and a wealthy family runs into financial difficulties and shoots himself leaving his family to deal with the loss and his mess.

I lost interest long before the French film producer shot himself and had to fight off sleep before reaching the end.

One reviewer had this to say about "The Father of my Children";

"Authentic in its depiction of both the filmic and domestic milieux, this is delicate, incisive, touching and trenchant"

Any film that is praised for its depiction of any "milieux" is to be avoided.

If a reviewer is reduced to simple pretension instead of raw emotion and instant reaction it is a clear sign that he, or she, is trying to hard to convince themselves that the film must have some merit.

Far from being "delicate, incisive, touching and trenchant" this was dull, dull, dull and duller.

Shutter Island - Cineworld - 13/3/10

Martin Scorcese and Leonardo DiCaprio have now made four films together. Starting with "Gangs of New York" in 2002, a film that could have been terrific but will now only be remembered for yet another hysterical performance by Daniel "LOOK AT ME, I AM ACTING" Day Lewis. Next up was Howard Hughes biopic "The Aviator" in 2004 which many critics were sniffy about...claiming that DiCaprio wasn't right for the role of Hughes (wrong). In 2006 they made "The Departed" (a remake of Korean crime classic "Infernal Affairs") which won Scorsese his, long overdue, best director Oscar. Now we have "Shutter Island".

DiCaprio is one of my favourite actors. He has appeared in many of my favourite films and has continued to grow and develop as an actor and, in the process, has managed to outgrow his teen heart-throb "Titanic" phase. "This Boys Life", "What's Eating Gilbert Grape", "The Basketball Diaries", "Catch Me If You Can", "The Aviator", "The Departed", "Revolutionary Road" and now "Shutter Island"...all films I could watch more than once and all featuring great performances from DiCaprio.

Scorsese has made iconic, classic and groundbreaking films throughout his career; "Mean Streets", "Taxi Driver", "Raging Bull", "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore", "Goodfellas", "Casino" and the films already mentioned as well as too many others I haven't.

The film that most of the critics feel this most closely resembles is the Scorsese vision of "Cape Fear". That isn't meant as a compliment as many people feel that that film wasn't worthy of the director or his previous muse, Robert De Niro, and it was slated on release. I liked it. I thought it was an obvious nod to the films that shaped the young Scorsese and informed his style.

Like "Cape Fear" "Shutter Island" is filled with the style and atmosphere of film noir and through it's paranoid, twisted, dark plot it takes the viewer on a real journey. It tells the story of US Marshal, Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) as they investigate the case of a dangerous female patient who has escaped from "Shutter Island" which is home to a hospital for the criminally insane. The wardens, staff and doctors at the hospital all clearly know something that Daniels and Aule don't and they are further hindered by the sinister Doctors Cawley and Naehring (Ben Kingsley and Max Von Sydow).

What follows is an increasingly tense series of attempts by Daniels to unveil what exactly is going on. He is haunted by visions of his dead wife and his visit to Dachau at the end of the second world war when he was part of the US liberation force. In one, chilling, scene Daniels holds his, inexplicably wet, wife as she bleeds, burns and, finally, crumbles in his arms...the burning is a reference to his wifes death in a house fire but the water is only explained at the films end.

It's difficult to say much more without giving away plot spoilers but I loved this film. DiCaprio is brilliant and you can sense how much Scorsese enjoyed making this. It's full of twists, turns and sinister goings on as well as featuring great supporting performances from Ben Kingsley and Max Von Sydow in particular. Mark Ruffalo also provides further evidence to support his claim as most undervalued actor of his generation.

Catch this if you can.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Frozen River - DVD - 13/3/10

Melissa Leo was Oscar nominated for her portrayal of Ray in this superb film about family and the pursuit of the American Dream. Director and writer Courtney Hunt came from "nowhere" and delivered a film and screenplay that were the match of any of the other "big" films that year and for which she also received an Oscar nomination. All of this would lead you to believe that "Frozen River" was going to be something special; and you would be absolutely right.

Ray lives with her two sons in a beaten up mobile home near a native American reservation. In the days leading up to Christmas her gambling addict husband leaves home without warning and Ray is left without the means to pay for the families new mobile home or gifts for the children. A chance encounter with Lyla, a native American, leads to a life as a people smuggler as she attempts to get the money that will secure her families future.

As an outsider my perception of the American Dream is that it has drifted away from the pursuit of education, hard work, securing a future for ones family and happiness to being the pursuit of wealth above everything else. It has become a commodity to be bought and sold by major corporations in the same way that Christmas, Easter and all manner of other important dates and ideas have. The "blingification" of the American and ho's over work and family.

Hunt delivers a film that shows that for many Americans the notion of being rich, famous and powerful is of much less importance than securing a home and putting food on the table. With Leo delivering a performance of a lifetime and one which, really, should have secured her the Oscar ahead of her more celebrated peers "Frozen River" becomes more than just a thriller or a drama it becomes a powerful social commentary on the nature of life for many Americans whose dreams are more humble than those who put the pursuit of wealth ahead of everything else.

Dead Snow - DVD - 12/3/10

I like pretty girls.

I like zombie films.

I like evil Nazis getting what they deserve.

I like films that put people in impossible situations.

"Dead Snow" is a film that features zombie Nazis, pretty Norwegian girls, chainsaws, sledgehammers, people trapped in the snow and lots of blood and guts.

It's pretty much the perfect film.

Director Tommy Wirkola is, clearly, a student of horror cinema. There are references to all manner of other horror films (other films in general) and one suspects that the character of Erlend, a movie geek, may not be a million miles away from the real Wirkola.

Like lots of other good horror films "Dead Snow" contains moments that are scary, a smattering of sex, blood, guts and humour. What sets it apart from the likes of the "Saw" movies or the work of the moronic Rob Zombie is that it is lavished with loving attention and the desire to make something that doesn't just want to disgust its audience. All of the actors are convincing in a series of set pieces that are ludicrous...another sign that this is above average horror fare.

I don't think I've seen something that I have enjoyed so much in a while. This is, clearly, nonsense but it's delivered with conviction and is paced at little less than one hundred miles an hour for the majority of the time. There can't be many people who wouldn't enjoy a film where an army of undead Nazis find themselves being cut up, mown down, run over and smashed over the course of ninety minutes.

Or maybe it's just me.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Asyle - Filmhouse - 11/3/10

A film where nothing happens.

An unusual premise.


Nothing happened.

I mean, things happened...people moved, people talked, people slept and ate.

But NOTHING happened.


No doubt the director and various arty-farty sorts would be able to see a "message" in the disparate, rootless nobodies who gather at the "love hotel" which is the centre of the (in)action. Frankly, whatever they said would be a deliberate attempt to justify something that has no justification.


Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Non-Ko (Kaji Tetsuadai) - Filmhouse - 10/3/10

The first in the latest season of Japanese films showing at the Filmhouse. Focusing on films made by, featuring or even for women this promises to be an illuminating and interesting set of movies.

Nonko is a failed actress who, at 36, has returned home to live with her parents and lick her wounds after also seeing her marriage collapse. She is sullen, angry and selfish...relying on her good looks and the good will of others to see her through life. When Masaru (a young man) arrives looking to set up a stall at Nonkos fathers temple during a festival she finds herself drawn to his innocence. The scene is set, at this point, for Nonko to find redemption, happiness and true love. Director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri doesn't give us that and instead we see the ex husband arrive and, after an unsettling sex scene, apparently offer her a return to her old life in Tokyo; which, despite her feelings for Masaru, she is willing to jump at.

The performance of Maki Sakai as Nonko is fantastic. Further evidence that the pool of talent outside of Hollywood is deeper and richer than that inside. On a level playing field someone like Sakai would be as big a star as the likes of Kiera Knightly. The major difference between Sakai and her more well known peers is that she can act and doesn't have to rely on her physical appearance. This was a subtle, convincing and moving performance made all the more impressive by the fact that the character she was playing wasn't easy to like.

As I write this there is a trailer playing for "Clash of the Titans" (strap-line? "When Titans Clash"...I kid you not) and the depth of my despair at yet another CGI fest high on budget and low on artistic worth will draw in millions of pounds and hundreds of thousands of viewers while "Non-Ko" was seen by about 20 people here in Edinburgh tonight. Something is wrong, very wrong...the only way to fix it is for YOU to go out and see more independent, art-house films at places like the Filmhouse or equivalent where you live. If you don't have an independent cinema then you need to write to your local multiplex and demand these sorts of films. Do it. Do it now!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

FIT - Omni, Vue - 9/3/10

Did you ever have to sit in a sex education class at school or some sort of social issues class?

Did you ever have to watch one of those terrible "made for schools" films featuring people in their mid-thirties attempting to get "down" with the kids while using slang from the 1960's?

You must know the sort of thing. Films made by people who were never young, who never experienced any of the problems they were talking about and who didn't particularly like young people...but aimed at those very young people who are young, who experience real problems every day and who don't know how to deal with them.

The issue of sexuality must be the most difficult for young people to deal with. They are bombarded with images of what it means to be "normal" every day. If they feel differently to that it must create angst, depression, anger, self-loathing and fear on a scale most of us can't begin to understand.

FIT is a film that looks to tackle those feelings and to confront the issue of homophobia in schools by facing those things head on and not skirting around the edges. It is a film featuring young actors who are totally convincing, saying things that have clearly been influenced by many hours of workshops and interviews with young people struggling to come to terms with their sexuality.

Every reel feels real.

There is a warmth, tenderness, compassion and understanding running through it that makes it impossible for the viewer not to feel for each of the characters and their struggles. The responsibility for that lies not just with the performers but with writer/director/star RIkki Beadle-Blair, a man who clearly loves not just what he does but the people he is doing it for. His own compassion and understanding of the issues comes across loud and clear.

FIT probably won't get a cinema release, it won't get recognition come awards season, it may even lie gathering dust in some staff-rooms but there will be at least one awkward adolescent somewhere who will see it in one of those classes I mentioned earlier and who will suddenly realise that they are not a freak, they are not abnormal, they are simply themselves. That will be a big moment and will make the love and attention that this project was clearly made with worthwhile.

FIT...totally gay and thank goodness it is.

Oscars 2010 - 7/3/10

So Miss Bigelow takes the award for best director and, in the process, makes history as the first female ever to do so. I have mixed feelings about this; on the one hand I'm delighted that such a breakthrough has been made by a female director and for a film that is, ultimately, about men in extremes but on the other hand I'm not sure that she really was the best director this year or that her film was the best film.

What can be said for Bigelow is that she crafted an atmospheric and convincing film in "The Hurt Locker" and that she did so on a budget of around $11 million which is, in Hollywood terms, a very small amount of money. However, when I first saw "The Hurt Locker" at last years Edinburgh International Film Festival I had this to say. I think I stand by most of that, especially the bit about it appearing to be more "...Point Break 2: Surfing the Dunes".

I would have awarded the best director statue to Quentin Tarintino as he was responsible for delivering a film that contained two of the best scenes to hit the multiplexes last year (the arrival of the Jew Hunter and the tavern scene) and introduced the world to the joys of this years Best Supporting Actor, Christoph Waltz. While "Basterds" was far from being a perfect film it was, at least, original and entertaining.

The best film of the year, to these eyes, didn't even win the award in the only category it was nominated in...I speak, of course, of "Un Prophete" which was, quite simply, head and shoulders above almost everything else. The fact that it didn't even win the best foreign language award (it went to an Argentinian film that I am refusing to mention as a means of protest) says much about the Academy and about awards in general. In an ideal world "Un Prophete" would have been nominated for best film and not stuck in the ghetto of "foreign language" cinema. The idea that "Avatar" could be viewed as being a better anything than something as beautiful and glorious as "Un Prophete" makes my head hurt.

I'm ranting.

Best actor went to Jeff Bridges for his role as Bad Blake in "Crazy Heart" which wasn't a great film but it did contain a great performance and I'm delighted that Bridges has been rewarded after so many wonderful films. The actress award was given to Sandra Bullock (who also won the Razzie for worst actress in the same week and turned up to accept it) and, as you all know, even though I haven't seen "The Blind Side" I love Sandra and I am over the moon that she has won an Oscar.

More good news arrived in the shape of Mo'Nique who received the award for best supporting actress and thus ensured that simpering public school girl, and Kiera Knightly wannabe, Carey Mulligan went home empty handed. Mo'Nique was the deserved winner here but there is always the chance that the Academy will be won over by a posh girl in a pretty frock...thankfully Mulligan was wearing a really awful frock. Bitchy? Me? I think not.

The other big winners of the evening, dear readers. "Avatar" did not triumph and in the shape of "The Hurt Locker" (despite my reservations) a film made by a director who understands the importance of script and performance over computer wizardry won out. We should be thankful. The thought of enduring another nauseating James Cameron victory speech would have been worse than a bout of the norovirus.

Until next year.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Mum & Dad - DVD - 6/3/10

Written and directed by Steven Shiel "Mum and Dad" is the sort of horror film that could, very easily, be dismissed as a low budget addition to the torture-porn genre and never thought of again. However, that would be a serious mistake as it is, in truth, an ultra-realistic and all too believable vision of life in a house of horrors. Anyone unfamiliar with the stories of the Moors Murderers, Fred and Rose West or the Fritzl case in Germany might find the goings on in "Mum and Dad" fanciful but for those of us who have some knowledge of these cases they are chilling.

When Polish immigrant Lena misses her last bus home after finishing her shift as a cleaner at Heathrow she takes up the offer of help from her new friend Birdie and her brother Eldie. Following them home she finds herself plunged into a nightmarish world of physical and sexual violence at the hands of "mum" and "dad" who live in a world entirely of their own construction where pornography and not GMTV accompany breakfast, where beatings are acceptable punishment for breaking any of their rules and where the children are clearly suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

There are several disturbing and uncomfortable moments in "Mum and Dad" most of which feature Perry Benson as Dad. He is the sort of psychopathic patriarch that the tabloids fall into a frenzy over whenever they appear. Physically Benson has much in common with Fred West and the nature of some of the crimes does seem uncomfortably close to what occurred in his home when a series of young women (some of whom were his own children) were subjected to horrific abuse and, for many, death.

It is this closeness to the "truth" that means "Mum and Dad" should not be dismissed as just another horror film but should instead be seen as an attempt to force a nation that loves cases like these to look at what it is that they are really discussing around the water cooler.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Crazy Heart - Cineworld - 5/3/10

Jeff Bridges in Oscar winning form?


If we are being honest though this is far from being the best film of the past year. It tells a familiar tale of a once great, now down on his luck, country singer named "Bad Blake" (Bridges) who is reduced to touring the pubs and bowling alleys of middle America while his one time protege Tommy (Colin Farrell) enjoys huge success. Blake deals with this by drinking a lot of whisky and sleeping with a lot of tough looking women.

Salvation arrives in the form of a small town journalist, Jean, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Through her and her young son Blake finds that there might be something to live for after all. Dial-a-cliche anyone? Sure, but it's a heartwarming tale and, thanks to Bridges, it doesn't ever seem too contrived or trite. The film never quite manages to tug at your heart-strings or make you care in the same way as a certain other film about a former star fallen on hard times did but at an awards ceremony where "Avatar" has even been nominated as a best film we should all be thankful for a film driven by story and performance.

An aside...Maggie Gyllenhaal should be nominated for a Razzie for her utterly wooden performance which was, at times, laughable.

Equinox Flower - Filmhouse - 4/3/10

The final film in the Ozu season and also his first film in colour.

To paraphrase Rolf Harris; "Can you tell what it's about yet?"

Once again we see family life, tradition, love, marriage, creeping modernism and the beauty of Japanese culture spread out before us and we simply watch. How someone can take the same basic ingredients and yet constantly deliver something that seems unique is, perhaps, the true measure of Ozus genius as a film-maker. Looking back over the 8 films I managed to see from the season they seem to blend into one glorious entity.

"Equinox Flower" does bring some new ingredients, most notably references to the clash between traditional Japanese religious beliefs and the creeping influence of Western Christian views. There are mentions of the fox God (which I am going to assume is from Shintoism) and to God as well as glimpses of a Catholic run hospital. This may well be a metaphor for the central father figures conflicted views on marriage; advising his daughters friend to marry for love or when she is ready but being utterly appalled when his own daughter announces her intentions to do exactly that.

Once more Ozu delivers a slow, tender and thoughful rumination on the conflicts at the heart of the modernising Japan and one cannot help but feel that what is being lost is more valuable than what is being gained.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

House (Hausu) - DVD - 3/3/10

Most of my "reviews" here are really my thoughts and feelings about the films I've watched. All of these are written within minutes of the films finishing. I don't do any research, I don't read other reviews first or ask other people for their's all about how the films impact on me.

Paul Roquet has contributed a wonderful essay to the liner notes for the DVD release of "Hausu" and it's well worth reading as it gives a great insight into the importance of the film in Japanese cinema and of the importance of the director Obayashi. Well worth taking the time to read.

I'm not going to attempt to cover any of the ground that Roquet covers.

I'm going to stick to my "gut feeling" guns here.

There are not too many films which can boost scenes where men turn into bunches of bananas or where pianos eat young women...if you can think of another one then I would like you to let me know what it is so that I can watch it. "Hausu" contains both of these things as well as at least a dozen other, equally bizarre, haunting and memorable scenes of mayhem.

It is a dizzying, terrifying, confusing and amusing mish-mash of frights, laughs, stunning visuals, editing techniques that cause you to stop, pause, rewind and re-watch, animation, references to other films ("Kuroneko" would be one obvious example) and which also manages to set the template for the recent J-Horror movies (young girls in white dresses and long dark hair, strange goings on with mirrors, creepy cats and eery sound are all here in abundance). All of this means that at times "Hausu" is almost too much to take in; at any one time there are clever edits, new sounds, jokes, animations and visual techniques that take your breath away.

It is an almost stubbornly youthful film (Obayashi was tasked with luring back the youth market) filled with fast edits, bright colours and nonsensical moments and one can see why it succeeded in reigniting the passion and interest of young Japanese in cinema. It is fast, furious and fanciful...three things guaranteed to appeal to a teen audience. At the same time for fans of cinema of all ages it is obvious that this is a genuine classic and a film that can stand alongside the likes of "The Exorcist", "Halloween" and "The Shining" in terms of shaping (re-shaping?) the horror genre.

By the time I had finished with "Hausu" I felt exhausted as a result of its breakneck pace and almost never ending attempts to cram something new into every frame. Did I mention that it also contains a scene of a young woman being eaten by a piano? I did? Good, because it does and it's worth seeing...more than once.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Sandman - DVD - 2/3/10

A short animation about the horrible goings on of "The Sandman".

With a certain Eastern European feel to it this British stop-motion animation tells the story of Oscar who, after being sent off to bed, finds himself being tormented by the eponymous Sandman. By the films end little Oscar is left blinded, literally, by fear and the Sandman has returned to his lunar home to feed his children.

With knowing references to all sorts of horror films including "The Thing", "Nosferatu", "Alien" and "The Exorcist" this short film packs a lot into just nine minutes and left me feeling quite disturbed and upset by what I had just seen...almost the dictionary definition of a good film for me. Director Paul Berry saw this film Oscar nominated in 1992 and eighteen years later it still packs a punch.