Saturday, 14 May 2011

Insidious - Cineworld - 30/4/11

a powerful studio executive sits alone in his office.  he is surrounded by piles of scripts.  he has a haunted look on his face.  in front of him sits a junior executive who looks equally haunted.

Studio Exec: We're screwed.

Junior: We can't be screwed JC...we ARE Hollywood.  We're the dream factory.  There must be something...

Studio Exec: Listen kid, I've been in this town for a long time.  I've seen bad times before.  Hell, I was the guy who green lit "True Lies" and "Waterworld"...both enormous pieces of crap that everybody hated and that cost a shit-load of money to make and yet we just kept on rockin' and rollin'.  You gotta trust me when I tell you that this is different.

Junior: It's only a recession boss, the economy will turn around...things will get better, you'll see.  We'll be back.

Studio Exec: We're screwed kid.  Screwed.

Junior: What about a remake?  They're cheap, stupid people like 'em and we can churn it out in double-quick time.  Hell, even the critics bought "True Grit".

Studio Exec:  Ha ha ha ha ha ha...they sure did kid, they sure did.  But the thing is...the public have had enough, they want something "new" and "new" costs money and money we don't got.

Junior:  What about a "re-imagining"...it's like a remake but we can cut out anything expensive and pitch it as "art-house"?

Studio Exec: God bless ya kid, you got hope in your heart but I'm telling you that we won't get that past the public no more.  They've seen through it...they can smell marketing bullshit from a hundred paces.

Junior:  Wait...wait...I think...yeah, yeah this might just...I GOT IT!

Studio Exec:  What?  What have you got?

Junior: How about I give you something that looks new, that we can sell as new, that won't cost us big bucks but is in fact a whole lot of ideas from other movies that we will do with less quality?

Studio Exec:  I'm listening...

Junior:  OK.  We take bits of old horror movies that haven't yet been remade, we shoe-horn in some truly shitty "special effects", throw in a bit of "Paranormal Activity" and BINGO-BANGO we are BACK!

Studio Exec:  You think you can pull it off?

Junior:  Of course...look, what about this for starters..."Poltergeist"; we take a kid, a cute kid, have it disappear and then have a medium show up to tell the family the kid is on the "other side"?

Studio Exec:  Isn't this just a remake?

Junior:  No, because we don't call it "Poltergeist" and we make the medium wear a gas mask!

Studio Exec:  Kid, you are either a genius or a madman...either way I dig it!  What else you got?

Junior:  Boss, I got a whole load of second hand, stolen and ill thought out ideas that we can wrap up in 90 minutes of movie and with a trailer that doesn't show any of that and plays on the "Paranormal Activity" angle we could get away with it!

Studio Exec:  You remind me a lot of me when I was you're age.  I like you kid.  Which is why you're fired.  Get the hell out of here.  Now, somebody get me Patrick Wilsons number...

Friday, 6 May 2011

Thor - Cineworld, Edinburgh - 30/4/11

Confused.

Pretentious.

Not as good as people tell you.

Tired.

Lacking real evidence of talent or originality.

Hollow.

But enough about Kenneth Branagh...

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Ahem.

Seriously though folks, doesn't anyone else agree with me about Branagh?

I've been hearing for years about how great he is, how talented he is...but I haven't seen any evidence of it.  He's like the Tim Henman of British acting/directing; good if you define good as "not very good" but with nothing to show for all the positive press he receives.

A luvvy of the worst sort.

As for this, this...film well it really is cast in its makers image.

Awful CGI, a ludicrous script, performances so hammy they make "Babe" look like a Linda McCartney veggie sausage ad.

Don't waste your time.

This is thunderously bad.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Linda Linda Linda - Filmhouse - 5/2/11


I was in a band once.

I was.

Oh, you can laugh and crack jokes but the fact remains that I was in a band.

We wrote our own songs, we didn't do covers, we played gigs.

What did I do?

Singer.

Frontman.

Leader.

I mean, I say "singer" but that is stretching things a little...what I actually did was to honk like a seal doing an impersonation of Morrissey if Morrissey was tone-deaf (no jokes about Morrissey actually being tone-deaf please).

It was fun.

I had all the delusions that everyone else who has been in a band has...stardom, fame, women, front cover of the NME, spokesman for a generation.

It all ended quite badly and I haven't spoken to anyone in the band for over 15 years.

I'm a man who knows how to hold a grudge.

"Linda Linda Linda" is a Japanese film that captures perfectly what it is like to be young and in a band.  It's not achingly cool, it's not knowing, it isn't "dark", there aren't "layers"...it's just a film about four girls who form a band and who play at the end of term show.



It's uplifting and it is, at times, hilarious.

The title comes from the name of a song played by Japanese punks "The Blue Hearts" which is the song the girls decide to cover as part of their set.  It's a fabulous pop-punk song and when sung by adolescent girls it is given a glorious shot of emotion.



The girls in the band are not stereotypes...yes, one of the girls is a Korean who struggles with Japanese but she isn't geeky or awkward, there isn't a Spice Girls parade of sporty, ginger, baby, scary or dopey!  What you get instead is four girls dealing with the reality of being teenagers and chasing a simple dream.

Quite possibly the best film about being a teenager I have ever seen.

Waste Land - Filmhouse - 5/3/11



These are difficult and challenging times.

War, revolution, violence, depression, recession, repression.

Soaring unemployment.

Cuts, cuts and more cuts.

There isn't a lot of good news.

Cinema offers an escape from reality...it can also reflect that reality.

"Waste Land" paints a picture of a reality that is, on the surface, more depressing and challenging than the one we in the "developed" world are experiencing but then reminds us that there is hope.

Phew.

Artist Vik Muniz was born in Brazil but was offered a chance to study in New York.

He became a very successful artist and a very wealthy man.

"Waste Land" follows Muniz as he returns to Brazil to work with the catadores of Jardim Gramacho, the worlds largest land fill site.  The catadores are pickers...they spend long hours on the Gramacho picking out recyclable materials which are then sold on to large corporations who can then use them in their manufacturing work.  The pickers are, in the main, poor and working in terrible conditions.

As the people behind the "picker" are revealed we learn of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends of struggles, heartaches and pain.  Slowly they begin to work with Muniz to create art from the garbage they live in and on.  Ultimately they are offered a way out of the life they know and hope bursts into a world which had seemed hopeless.

The art created by Muniz is stunning, moving and powerful.

The stories of the catadores are equally stunning, moving and powerful.

This isn't an environmental film (despite the strong message that many in the environmental movement will pounce on for their own ends) this is a film about people with a message for people who are struggling all over the world.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Cure - Filmhouse - 4/3/11



The first in this years Japan Foundation season is a bona fide cult classic.

Unavailable on DVD in the UK this serial killer, horror, thriller from director Kiyoshi Kurosawa was the first in what was to become a glut of J-Horror to flood the UK market and to spawn myriad remakes and re-imaginings.  While that period (starting in 1998, one year after "Cure" with "Ringu") brought a handful of brilliant films including "Ringu", "Ju-On", "Dark Water" and "Audition" alongside some films that didn't feature girls with long dark hair like "Gohatto", "Ichi the Killer" and "Zatoichi" it soon became formulaic as J-Horror and East Asian cinema ate itself...at least it did here in the UK as uninspired media types bought the same film over and over again (give thanks to Third Window Films for bucking that trend!).

"Cure" is deliciously dark, deranged and demented while never straying too far away from being convincing.  A trail of dead bodies all killed in the same gruesome manner, but all at the hands of otherwise normal and completely unconnected people, begin to pile up in Tokyo leaving the police completely baffled.

Each body is mutilated with a bloody x carved into the chest and each of the perpetrators is found in close proximity to the victim but utterly unaware of why they have committed the crime.

When the police discover the link that ties the murders together it is a young drifter with a neat line in amnesia and all round weird things shift  from serial killer flick to supernatural/horror and things move from horrible to weird.

Kurosawa manages to juggle the various elements of the story beautifully and each of his characters is given room to develop where other directors may well have sacrificed character for cliche and fake blood.  Perhaps this is because the film is based on a novel written by Kurosawa himself and so his relationship with the characters is more intimate than it would have been in the hands of someone else.



Koji Yakusho delivers a brilliant performance as the put upon detective charged with solving the case and his role in the films chilling finale is crucial.  Unlike many Japanese stars Yakusho will be familiar to Western audiences thanks to his performances in "Babel" and "Memoirs of a Geisha".

There is no doubt that "Cure" is a very dark film and one that will leave you feeling unsettled long after the final credits role but it is also beautifully shot, wonderfully scripted and brilliantly directed...what more do you want from any film?

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Cold Fish - Third Window Films



Truth is stranger than fiction.

Unless the truth is then filtered by director Sion Sono.

What Sono delivers with "Cold Fish" is a deeply disturbing, shocking, amusing and twisted slice of cinema that will leave you utterly breathless when the final credits roll.

Based on the true story of Gen Sekine, a dog breeder from Urawa, who murdered and disposed of the bodies of four people with the help of his wife.  Sekine poisoned his victims after a disagreement over money in the early 1990's.  After poisoning their victims they took the bodies to a dog breeding ground where they cut them up, burned them and then scattered the remains.  An employee from Sekine's pet shop was also arrested for helping the couple dispose of the bodies.

"Cold Fish" presents the tale through the eyes of miserable Shamoto, a fish breeder and fish shop owner who is loathed by both his beautiful second wife and his wild child teenage daughter.  His life is empty and hollow...Shamoto seems to be similarly empty and hollow.  He is, absolutely, ordinary.  When his daughter is caught shoplifting he is brought into contact with fellow fish shop owner Murata who acts as peacemaker between the daughter and the store manager.  This simple act of kindness brings Murata and Shamoto into close proximity and soon his daughter is a live-in help at Muratas store and his wife is having an affair with him.



When Murata summons Shamoto to a business meeting it isn't because he values the downtrodden mans opionion but because he wants him to witness a murder.  Using poison Murata wipes out a business rival and then drags Shamoto into a world of violence, sex and darkness that may well be unmatched in cinema.  Murata and his wife take Shamoto and the dead body deep into the woods to a ramshackle residence where the husband and wife team slice, dice, burn and dump the dead body...lauging, joking and becoming aroused along the way.

From this point on Sono takes us deep into a twisted hell on earth that will leave even the most hardened of film lovers flinching and wincing right up until the bloody, brutal and blacker than black finale.  Make no mistake about it this is visceral cinema.  What sets it apart from the likes of the grubby shocking for the sake of being shocking "A Serbian Film" is that Sono has crafted characters who are believable and, particularly in the case of Shamoto, likeable.  Additionally Sono refuses to play by the "rules" films like this...redemption and a happy ending are not to be found which makes this a more satisfying film.

"Cold Fish" is not for everyone.  It is upsetting and genuinely shocking in places...even for those who may have spent many a long hour watching extreme Asian cinema or the gore soaked video nasties of the eighties.  However, this is also a rewarding film with incredible performances from all the performers and direction from Sono that marks him out as a man to watch.

"Cold Fish" is showing at cinemas across the UK please visit Third Window Films for details of a screening near you.


Images used in this review were obtained from Third Window Films

Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Adjustment Bureau - Cineworld, Edinburgh, 12/3/11

Sinister forces are at work in the world.

Your freedom to choose is defined not by the choices you make but the freedom you have to make those choices.

Look around you.

Are you free?

Are you a number?

How much choice do you really have?

It's not paranoia if you know they are out to get you.

Matt Damon plays a handsome, man-of-the-people, politician on the brink of making it to the US Senate.  Unfortunately his man-of-the-people schtick extends to "mooning" innocent passers by on drunken nights out and so he is thwarted at the eleventh hour.  Before making his concession speech he has a brief encounter with a beautiful woman in the mens room that turns his life upside down.

Unfortunately for Damon he was never meant to meet this woman and if the forces who control our lives have anything to do with it he never will again.  When Damon uncovers the fact that men in hats are, in fact, agents/angels acting on behalf of an unseen "higher power" his life is plunged further into chaos.

Determined to meet the woman of his dreams again he is aided by a rogue agent/angel and a battle of will and wills begins that will lead to happily ever after or misery.

With a glaringly obvious religious/spiritual slant that might leave you feeling like you've been hit in the face with a copy of the Watchtower "The Adjustment Bureau" never quite manages to move from preachy to philosophical.  Despite that it features another strong performance from Matt Damon and it is an enjoyable, feel good movie that is worth a bit of your time and attention.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Confessions - Third Window Films



When a young female teacher uncovers the truth about the murder of her daughter a chain of events is set in motion that will have devastating effects on everyone involved.

The film begins with an opening monologue from the teacher, Yuko Moriguchi, which is delivered to her pupils as they cat-call, text and treat her with less respect than they do each other.  The classroom is a zoo and the animals have taken control.  Moriguchi remains calm and never raises her voice as she tells the story of the murder of her young daughter.  Slowly, surely, the class begins to pay attention as she reveals that the murderers are in the room.  Towards the end of her tale she reveals that she has extracted blood from her HIV positive former partner and injected it into the milk of the perpetrators.  It is a shocking revelation made more so by how poised the person responsible is while delivering it.



In a world where awards were given based on talent and not on the amount of money being spent by publicists then Takako Matsu would be looking forward to her shelves heaving under the weight of Oscars, BAFTAs and Globes.  Her performance during this period of the film is incredible.  It will leave you reeling.  Matsu is little known here in the West but anyone who sees "Confessions" will never forget her.

Following on from this stunning opening act the film follows the intertwined lives of everyone involved with a particular emphasis on the Leopold and Loeb like murderers.  Lives unravel, revenge is served hot and cold, hopes and dreams are dashed, lives are cut short and a truly apocalyptic ending literally explodes across the screen to bring things to a terrible end.

There are hints of the twisted, lost, teens of "Battle Royale" and the dark, troubled teens of "Heathers" here but, in truth, "Confessions" is unlike any other film dealing with adolescence I have ever seen.  Questions are posed about the nature of family in the modern world and what impact the combined influences of economic meltdown, family breakdown and mass media will have on young people.  No answers, certainly no easy answers, are offered and instead director Tetsuya Nakashima simply allows the story to unfold before us and then leaves us to think about what we have experienced.



One of the adolescent murderers has been left to raise himself following his abandonment by his academic mother while the other is suffocated by a mother who can see no wrong in him even when confronted with the truth of his actions.  Dark reflections of each other and both cope with their newly found HIV positive status in violently different ways; much like Brandon and Phillip in Hitchcocks own Leopold and Lobe tale; "Rope".

Nakashima has previously delivered two very different films (Kamikaze Girls and Memories of Matsuko) which also deal with similar themes but neither has the sort of darkness that is present in "Confessions".  It is a difficult and challenging film to watch but the rewards are myriad; great performances, strong, original, intelligent storytelling and some beautiful imagery being just three examples.

"Confessions" is showing at the Filmhouse, Edinburgh from 29th March until 31st March.


Images in this article supplied by Third Window Films

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Elizabeth Taylor



Icon.

Legend.

Actress.

Elizabeth Taylor has, today, passed away.

While for many she is famous for her multiple marriages others will remember her as one of the most beautiful women ever to appear on the silver screen and, at her best, one of the great actresses.

"Cleopatra", "National Velvet" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?" are all worthy of a place on any "must see" or "classic" list and her work in them rightly affords Taylor a place in the movie hall of fame.

MyFilms send their sincere condolences to her friends and family and share with her millions of fans a sense of sadness and loss.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Confessions of a Dog - Third Window Films


When asked why he had made a film that serves as a damning indictment of the level of corruption in the Japanese police force director Gen Takahashi's response was short and to the point; "Because" he said "I hate the police."

For young men, like me, who grew up in less than affluent homes and who have spent a fair bit of time at football grounds across the country Takahashis explanation is one that makes perfect sense.  Few of us would be able to motivate ourselves to turn to the police even when we were in need of the service they are meant to provide.  Faith in the officers of the law is not something I have an abundance of.  I'm fairly sure that there are many, many fine men and women who are police officers but I am equally sure that as an organisation it is corrupt in ways that few of us could comprehend.



According to Takahashi, who is also a freelance journalist operating outside of the constraints of the mainstream media (an organisation he holds responsible, in part, for the corruption inside the Japanese police force) he has ample evidence to support the claims he makes in "Confessions of a Dog".  That the film was banned in Japan stands as a testament to the veracity of the directors work.

Telling the story of a police officer, Takeda (played by the awesome Shun Sugata), who is promoted quickly through the ranks thanks to his willingness to follow orders alongside his ability to ignore the obvious corruption that surrounds him Takahashi delivers a sprawling cinematic masterpiece that can genuinely be hailed as visceral, brilliant and unique.  From such a simple starting point he has constructed a layered expose of the sort of dishonesty and disregard for justice that renders the Japanese police impotent if there is even a shred of truth in what is portrayed. 



Officers on the beat construct situations where they will be able to make arrests in order to make themselves look good; a bicycle is left, by the officers, unattended in order to ensure an arrest for theft.  While, technically, a crime is committed and a perpetrator is apprehended one cannot escape the fact that no such crime could have taken place without the police. 

Further up the foodchain senior officers are involved in the supply of drugs and use their powers to protect their interests.  At the same time they present a display for the benefit of the public...regularly arresting those who have crossed them, those who are no longer of value to them or simply those who have been chosen as sacrificial lambs.  The illusion of justice.

This premise lies at the heart of Takahashis work...the police are as responsible as the criminals for crime. 

The biggest crooks on the screen are not the drug dealers, the pimps or the low level hoods on the street but the officers on the beat, their superiors and the media who fail to properly challenge what they know is happening.  A secret world of violence, corruption and collusion has built up inside the police force who wear their uniforms in place of the tattoos of the Yakuza.  For many young men the police force offers the chance of a career when they have failed at school...they quickly realise that the route to a better salary and a promotion is to follow orders and do the very things they are meant to be preventing.  It is a depressing story precisely because we know that there is, at least, an element of truth in it and that we suspect the same actions are being repeated in our own police force.

Running alongside all of this is reporter Kusama (Junichi Kawamoto) who acts as the moral heart of the film.  With the information he has about the extent of the corruption in the force he could cause the entire system to collapse in on itself.  Isolated and mocked by others in the media he is forced to wrestle with his conscience and decide what, if anything he should do.  Kusama is the closest thing "Confessions of a Dog" has to a hero; he is not without flaw or fear but the enormity of what he has discovered and what the consequences of going public could mean weigh heavily on his shoulders.



While their will, inevitably, be comparisons with Western directors and films like Scorcese, Coppola and the likes of "The Godfather" or "The Departed" it is worth noting that this is not a case of East immitating West.  Takahashi has crafted a film that is uniquely his and uniquely Japanese.  None of the things we associate with gangster chic in the West are present; no car chases and explosions, no glamour, no reliance on a period soundtrack and in their place a film that turns its eye on the issue that lie at its heart and then refuses to blink for three hours.

The destruction of good men by forces greater than they are and the lack of a fairytale ending combine to leave you stunned and breathless at the conclusion...a moment of cinema that is Shakespearean in its poetry and ability to say something about the human condition.  This is a film quite unlike anything else you will see this year...or in any other year.  We should be thankful that a film-maker like Takahashi exists and that he was brave enough to deliver a film like this.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

I Am Number Four - Cineworld, Edinburgh - 12/3/11


Hmmmm.

"Twilight" but with aliens?

The thing about this is that I can't quite decide whether this was hideous or a tiny bit fabulous.

I mean, the whole thing is utter bunkum...handsome alien "boy" arrives on earth along with several others after their home planet is destroyed by horrible, ugly, aliens.  He has, naturally, some superpowers and a weird amulet around his neck.  He is protected by another alien, equally handsome but a bit older, who doesn't have superpowers (something to do with his status on the home planet or something) and he constantly on the move to avoid being detected by some of the ugly aliens who have arrived on earth to kill him and his friends.

When he arrives in "Paradise" he meets and falls in love with former "it" girl turned moody photographer and befriends a boy who is obsessed with aliens and who suspects his father may have been abducted by some.  He also manages to hack off the star quarterback at the school and generally makes himself far too visible for a "boy" who is meant to be keeping a low profile.

Things build to a climax with a huge fight between the "boy", one of the other superpowered aliens (a "girl") who arrives on a motorbike, skin tight clothes and with an Australian accent and the band of ugly aliens who want to kill them.  They win, of course, and head off into the sunset determined to find their peers in order to protect themselves and the earth.

I say "boy" and "girl" because, as with most Hollywood "teen" films the "teens" are played by people in their late twenties and behave like people in their late-twenties pretending to be teenagers.  That isn't the biggest problem with "I Am Number Four"...that honor goes to the script which is clunky and charmless.  That is a shame because the story, while nonsense, is, potentially, fun and loaded with sequel possibilities.  Another problem is that it takes almost two thirds of the film before anything even remotely resembling being exciting happens...that is the big battle which, I'm afraid, isn't worth waiting over an hour and a bit for.

The performances are no less cliched and wooden than those in "Twilight" and unlike the likes of the odious "R-Pat" (more like cow pat...ba-boom-tish!) they appear to be having fun and enjoying things.  With more time spent on the script and a greater urgency on the action front the, inevitable, sequel to this may be a lot more fun.

Hideous?

Tiny bit fabulous?

I'm going to plump for a tiny bit fabulous...but only a tiny, tiny bit.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Battle Los Angeles - Cineworld, Edinburgh - 11/3/11

Have you ever thought about a career in the military?

No?

Neither had I...until I saw "Battle Los Angeles".

It is clear from this that being a US Marine is the best job in the world.

Of course it is fraught with danger and it takes a certain type of person to be able to go to a country you couldn't locate on a map in order to then kill people you have more in common with than not just because a politician tells you it is the right thing to do BUT...there are big guns and way cool explosions too.

Additionally you will also be the earths first line of defence should aliens from another planet arrive with hostile intent.

Somebody should have taken one of the Marines really big guns and used it to force director Jonathan Liebesman (who also brought us the classic "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Beginnings"...urgh) and writer Chris Bertolini to deliver a movie that wasn't; a recruitment ad for the Marines and a mash-up of "Independence Day", "Signs", "Speed" (I'm not joking) and a million other films that weren't very good.  Think about what would have happened to you at school if you had delivered, as an original piece, a script or essay that told a story about an alien invasion ("Independence Day") from aliens who want access to our water supply ("Signs") and where some soldiers ride a bus to the freeway only to find the ramp gone ("Speed").  You would have been hauled over the coals for plagiarism faster than you could say "THIEF".

Like the awful "Inception" this also suffers from a soundtrack that is so LOUD that it is, at times, impossible to hear what anyone is saying.  However, that may be a blessing in disguise as one characters main contribution to events is to declare that "I'm a veterinarian"...before using this skill-set to perform an autopsy on an alien.

Quite what an actor like Aaron Eckhart was doing in this tosh is anyones guess but he should be ashamed.  Paying the bills is one thing but to do that by performing in a movie that would be perfect for Bill O'Reilly and Anne Coulter on a date is quite another.

Horrible, right wing, derivative, dull piffle.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Rite - Cineworld, Edinburgh - 4/3/11

Have you ever seen "The Exorcist"?

Of course you have.

It's a wonderful film.

Beautifully shot, terrific performances, big questions about faith, the meaning of life, loss of innocence, who are we, what does it mean to be good, is there a God, is there evil in the world and it stands as a metaphor for the USA at the time of its production.

If you haven't seen it you should.

A young girl falls foul of demonic possession after she plays with a ouija board and what follows is truly horrific and terrifying.  Slowly but surely innocence is replaced by vulgarity and wickedness.  The impact on the girls mother, a famous Hollywood actress, is equally shocking as she physically and emotionally collapses...unable to understand what is happening to her daughter and then ultimately turning to a Catholic priest for help.

The priest is experiencing a crisis of faith.  He is haunted by his failings as a son and by the knowledge that he no longer possesses the faith necessary to serve God, the Church or those who look to him for spiritual support.  When he is eventually convinced that what is happening to the girl is more than a psychotic episode he is forced to confront the fact that evil is real and that only faith can save him and the girl.

The priest is supported in performing the exorcism by an older, experienced priest who we know has already confronted evil thanks to an astonishing opening scene when we are introduced to this priest as he supervises an archaeological dig in Iraq.  This priest leads the exorcism and guides the younger, doubt ridden, priest through the ritual.

It isn't just that "The Exorcist" is filled with horrifying images and shocking scenes that makes it one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, horror films of all time that makes it special; it is the fact that it is driven by serious questions and themes, features fabulous performances from everyone involved and has a script that is the equal of many more, supposedly, serious films that make it one of the the greatest films in any genre.

I have watched "The Exorcist" more times than any other film.

Each time it leaves me speechless.

It is, simply, brilliant.

It's power to shock, stun and provoke never diminishes.

It is a film about faith.

It is a film about family.

It is a film about the transition from childhood innocence to the awful state of adolescence and adulthood.

Read Mark Kermodes fabulous book on the film and then watch it again...you will be thrilled and delighted as much as you are shocked and scared.

What?

"The Rite"?

Hmmm.

A steaming, stinking, awful turd of a film that is unworthy of your time.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Animal Kingdom - Cineworld, Edinburgh - 28/2/11



Ring-ring

Ring-ring

Ring-ring

Ring-

Operator:  Hello, "dial-a-cliche" can I help?

MyFilm:  Yes, hello, my name is Mozzer.  I write film reviews and I've just been to see Australian crime thriller "Animal Kingdom".

Operator:  Yes?

MyFilm:  Well, the thing is, I try really hard not to read other reviews of films I'm writing about so that what I write is absolutely, 100%, my thoughts on things.

Operator:  Yes, so how can "dial-a-cliche" help Mozzer?

MyFilm:  Right.  So, the problem is that I'm fairly sure that every other reviewer will have enjoyed "Animal Kingdom" because it was, well, to be honest, bloody fantastic.  Have you seen it?

Operator:  No, no I haven't.  Good was it?

MyFilm:  Oh, you have no idea.  This was the sort of film that can wash away the foul stench of a million James Cameron movies or the ghastly sight of yet another Waylans movie cluttering up the screens of your local cinema.

Operator:  Sounds good.  What was it about?

MyFilm:  Oh, right.  Well, it's a Godfather style tale of a crime family but stripped bare.  No fancy cars, big houses and tailor made suits.  Just a, seemingly, normal Australian family who happen to be bank robbers and drug dealers.  They go to the shops, they are married, they hang out together but they are public enemy number one in the eyes of the police.

Operator:  So, it's another crime movie?

MyFilm:  No, no it's much more than that.  The crime element is important because it carries the film but this is really a film about family, love and the ties that bind us to other people.  So, for example, the key character is a teenage boy, J, who is forced into the arms of his grandmother after his mother dies from a heroin overdose.  His grandmother is the matriarch of a family of violent and dangerous bank robbers and drug dealers.  She wraps a loving arm around J but at the same time does nothing to prevent him being dragged into a violent and dangerous world with his uncles.  The whole idea of "blood is thicker than water" and "loyalty" is laid bare here.

Operator:  Thought provoking stuff Mozzer.  I don't understand how we can help though.

MyFilm:  Well, I just wanted a load of cliches I could throw into the review because I'm a bit tired to be honest and I can't be bothered writing about how following on from Warwick Thorntons incredible "Samson and Delilah" at about the same time last year this is further evidence of a renaissance in Australian cinema and signals a shift away from the sweet and tender comedies of "Strictly Ballroom" and "Muriels Wedding" say to something more dramatic and visceral.

Operator:  OK.  Well, let me see what we've got for you...um, hold on...how about this; "Animal Kingdom" is a dark and gritty contemporary crime drama that will have you gasping for breath.

MyFilm:  Brilliant.  Thanks a lot.

Operator:  Not a problem.  Thanks for calling "dial-a-cliche"

MyFilm:  Bye.

Operator:  Bye.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Oscars 2011 - Winners



Here are this years Oscar winners and, in brackets, my choices from the list of nominees;

Best Film - The Kings Speech (Winters Bone)

Best Actor - Colin Firth (Javier Bardem)

Best Actress - Natalie Portman (Jennifer Lawrence)

Director - Tom Hooper (David Fincher)

Actor in a Supporting Role - Christian Bale (John Hawkes)

Actress in a Supporting Role - Melissa Leo (Melissa Leo)

Adapted Screenplay - The Social Network (The Social Network)

Original Screenplay - The Kings Speech (The Fighter)

Foreign Language Film - In a Better World (Biutiful)

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Never Let Me Go - Cineworld, Edinburgh - 24/2/11

"Never Let Me Go" is, genuinely, thought provoking moving.

Moral, philosophical and ethical questions like; what does it mean to be human? What is a soul?  Is cloning inevitable?  Is there any price that isn't worth paying to extend human life?  Is it ever justifiable for society to sanction the killing of another human?

These are serious questions that deserve to be given serious thought and consideration.

Kazuo Ishigiro is a writer skilled enough and human enough to be able to handle these questions with the requisite sensitivity and honesty.  We should be thankful that there is a writer like him.  He may well be the greatest living author; that's not a question for an oaf like me to even attempt to answer.

Thanks to the power of Ishigiros writing and the work of the gifted Alex Garland in adapting the novel for the screen it isn't possible to view this film without being left moved by the story, the themes and the questions being asked of you.  

The characters of Cathy H, Tommy and Ruth are three dimensional on the page and are reduced to sugar coated puffs of air on screen.  That isn't because the writing isn't good...Garland has done a fine job with the script.  It isn't the fault of the director, Mark Romanek, he is a talented director...just one look at the deliciously dark "One Hour Photo" should prove that (he also directed Morrissey in "The More You Ignore Me..." so he is faultless for me!).

Where then does the fault lie?

How can it be that with such credible source material, adaptation from a gifted writer and direction from a genuine talent that "Never Let Me Go" is never convincing, that it falls flat, that it fails to connect with its audience?

The problem lies in the casting.

People say it is easy to have a go at Keira Knightley, that she is an "easy" target, that it's just lazy to attack her on the page...the reason for that is that she is unique.  Unlike every other actor or actress currently working who are more than capable of giving bad performances that make you question their ability, Knightley NEVER gives a good performance that makes you more kindly disposed towards the myriad awful performances.  She is, quite simply, a terrible performer.

She conveys none of the emotional depth required of her character and, at times, the character is so under-developed as to appear even thinner than the ghostly Knightley herself.  Honestly.  At times it is painful to watch and listen to her.  She is beyond hammy, she is stiffer than wooden and she is more shallow than a swimming pool filled with one tear.  She is where she is by virtue of her own unfathomable self-belief...this is a person, lest we forget, who demanded an agent at the age of three.  She is the stage school brat who has made it only because of who her parents are and who they know.

As "Ruth" she is meant to be a woman possessed by a desperate desire to live, who will stop at nothing to achieve a few years more on earth, who is beastly enough to rob a friend of happiness in pursuit of her own goals...in the hands of Knightley this becomes simply another performance of a posh, simpering girl being posh and simpering.

Her doppelganger Carey Mulligan manages to spend the entire duration of the film with only one expression on her face.  It never changes.  Ever.  Happy?  Sad?  Desperate?  Angry?  Lustful?  Same face.  I want to believe that this is because Mulligan is playing a clone and that she has decided to strip her character of emotion in order to suggest that something less than human may lie at her core...but I really don't think so.  I think that she is, like her dear friend Kiera, not a very good actress.  Do you know who she starred alongside in her first major role?  Hmmm?  You at the back?  That's right, well done, Keira Knightley.  Incest?  The game the whole family can play.

Andrew Garfield transforms the character of Tommy from a complex, anxious, angry and desirable man into Dustin Hoffmans "Rain Man" thus rendering the desire felt for him by both Ruth and Cathy H utterly unbelievable.  He is all ticks, twitches and vulnerability...it's a performance that makes you think that his casting as the next "Spiderman" may well see the worlds first autistic superhero hit the multiplexes.

I know, I know...you want the plot and a review of the film but trust me...you don't need it.  You just need to be warned about this unholy trinity of talentless but privileged non-entities taking a film that could have been something remarkable and instead making it the sort of luvvy fest that makes the British film industry look ridiculous on the world stage.  Just look at Rinko Kikuchi in "Norwegian Wood" in a few weeks and see what a genuinely talented actress can do with a script and great source material and then look at what Mulliknight have managed to do and tell me I'm wrong.

Friday, 25 February 2011

GFF 2011 - Cell 211



"Cell 211" is the second great Spanish film I've seen this year.

The first, of course, was "Biutiful" with its towering central performance from Javier Bardem.

"Cell 211" is tense, violent, shocking and built on a genuinely thrilling premise.

Juan Oliver arrives one day early to start his new job as a prison guard.  On his tour of the prison he finds himself falling foul of some loose masonry that knocks him unconscious at exactly the same moment as a riot breaks out.  His two companions, unable to carry him to safety, leave him inside cell 211 and make their escape.  Dressed still in his non-work clothes Juan comes to and sets about convincing the prisoners that he is one of them.

Simple but brilliantly so.

As the story unfolds Juan is dragged deeper and deeper into the world of the prisoners and further and further away from who he was at the start of the day.  Forced to make difficult decisions from the very start  he finds those decisions easier and easier by the films end.

Their are two key relationships in Juans life; the first is with his pregnant wife and the second is with the prisons "top dog" and resident psychopath Malamadre.  At home, with the beautiful Elena, Juan is shown as a gentle, loving, tender man who loves his wife so much that he is prepared to take on board the dangerous job of prison guard.  He bemoans his lack of education and can't understand why a woman like her would choose to be with him.  It is this very self-doubt and humility that he must cast aside in order to bond with Malamadre.

Malamadre is dangerous.  A man without any meaningful family ties and with no hope of release he, literally, has nothing to lose.  Life, even his own, is cheap and all that concerns him is the world of the prison and his dominant position within it.  Surrounded by goons and lunatics he is the dark heart of the prison.  He is also possessed of a native intelligence that makes him even more threatening...he may be unable to read and write but he can smell danger and is prepared to do things seemingly normal people, like Juan, would never even dream of.



On their first meeting Juan is forced to strip naked in front of a group of baying prisoners in order to prove that he is not wearing a wire.  With this simple test out of the way Juan proves himself to be a useful tool in the riot by suggesting that they keep one of the CCTV cameras intact in order to be able to control what the guards see and to facilitate negotiation.  Of course, at this point, Juan is acting out of self interest and self preservation...he knows that without the eyes of his colleagues monitoring him he is more vulnerable.

An interesting political dimension is introduced at this point as three ETA terrorists are revealed as inmates.  They are valuable bargaining chips for Malamadre and his cohorts.  Knowing that the powers that be will never risk the terrorists being killed for fear of reprisals the upper hand lies with the prisoners.  The soft voice of Juan helps guide Malamadre in this direction but again it is in order to protect himself and not to help the prisoners.

As the riot enters a lull news of it breaks amongst the general population and soon relatives have gathered at the prison gates demanding news of their loved ones behind bars.  Among them is Juans wife, Elena, who finds herself caught up in a mini-riot and being bludgeoned by a prison guard sent to break up the horde.  Caught on TV and soon relayed to Juan inside the prison the film takes a step towards its conclusion and to the conversion of Juan from wrong man in the wrong place to the right man in the right place.  His transformation is a remarkable thing to watch.



This is the sort of plot driven, original and exciting film that the British film industry seems reluctant, or incapable, of making (outside of Shane Meadows).  Football hooligans, Lahn-dahn gangsters, rom-coms and Richard Curtis movies regularly fill up the multiplexes before moving on to fill up the bargain bins in Blockbuster but something as good as "Cell 211" may well find a limited, art-house, release only and never even make it onto the shelves of any rental/purchase outlet.  Like last years "A Congregation of Ghosts" (a British film that was similarly driven by originality and plot) "Cell 211" may escape the audience that exists for it...that would be criminal.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

GFF 2011 - Of Love and Other Demons



Passion, desire, obsession, love, life, death, religion, faith and family...what more are you looking for in a film?

Based on the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez the basic story is of Sierva, daughter of Spanish nobility, living in a South American seaport and being raised by servants as her father attends to his affairs and her ailing mother lies physically and mentally exhausted in her chambers.  During a visit to the local market Sierva is bitten by a rabid dog and is sent to a local convent by the Bishop of the diocese as he fears that rabies is simply the devils means of entering a body.

The Bishop assigns a young priest, Father Delaura, to oversee the girls "treatment".  During the course of his visits with Sierva Delaura becomes obsessed by the beautiful young girl; haunted by visions of her he is unable to seperate his dreams from reality.  His devotion to God is replaced by his desire for the girl.

The clash of cultures between the locals, with whom Sierva relates, and the Catholic Church is played out against a backdrop of ritual, superstition, nature, science, repression and guilt.  All of this is encapsulated in the increasingly dangerous relationship between Delaura and Sierva.  The latter is played brilliantly by Eliza Triana in her film debut.  She beautifully captures the innocence and blossoming sexuality of the adolescent girl.  Her flowing red hair acting as a warning to those who fall under her spell and yet it also serves as a reminder of her innocence as she has vowed never to cut her hair until marriage.  Delaura is played by Pablo Derqui and like Father Karras in "The Exoricist" he is a bundle of conflicting desires; to serve God, to advance the Church from the dark ages and yet filled with a longing for Sierva that he is unable to control.

First time director Hilda Hidalgo also adopted the novel by Marquez and has created a beautiful film, rich in colour, filled with passion and containing many memorable scenes.  The success of the book should ensure an audience for this film and, with luck, that will happen before the inevitable Hollywood remake with Sierva now a 21 year old college girl who is pursued by a handsome young theology student...don't laugh, it could happen.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Glasgow Film Festival...Begins!

It's he-ere!

The GFF begins this weekend and for those of you who are based in Scotland I BEG you to get along to see something...anything...from a collection of films that genuinely provides something for everyone.

The GFF is now the third biggest film festival in Britain (I wouldn't bet against it overtaking the EIFF within three years) and remains customer centred and not industry obsessed.  As an Edinburgh boy I have a deep connection with the EIFF but, much as it might pain me, the GFF offers an experience that isn't easily beat...despite the huge range of films and activities on offer it still manages to feel intimate and cosy.

I'll be taking in as many films as I can over the next three days before the demands of work will force me into returning to Edinburgh but I hope that some of you manage to do the same thing over the course of the festival.

Visit the official site here and buy some tickets...you won't regret it.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

A Sense of Freedom - Filmhouse - 15/2/11


Screening as part of a short series of films about the representation of gangs in film this made for TV movie tells the story of infamous Glasgow gangster Jimmy Boyle; money lender, murderer and Scotlands most dangerous man for many years but also a man who found redemption in art.

The film delivers plenty of emotional punch and shocks with violence and scatalogical behaviour taking up much of the running time.  Even now some thirty years after its release the film manages to be difficult viewing at times, most especially during the prison scenes where Boyles own brutality is matched by the prison guards.  It's an old story...Glasgow is, notoriously, "no mean city" and one that has a long history of hard men but it is Boyles transformation from bad boy to establishment figure that sets him apart.

It isn't possible to watch "A Sense of Freedom" without asking questions about Boyle, the prison system and the type of society that creates a person capable of some of the things Boyle has done.  Nature versus nurture...was Boyle born bad?  Is he/was he evil?  Who or what was to blame?  Is it possible for a man like him to change?

Boyles name and his success as a writer and artist is enough to have some people foaming at the mouth...they are enraged by his new life and fame but surely he is the embodiment of what society claims to want; for people to become better, to change and to take a different path.

The role of Boyle is played by David Hayman who manages to convey a sense of danger whenever he is on screen and his hatred of the guards inside the various prisons he is detained in is worryingly realistic.  His ability to go from the life and soul of the party with his gangland chums to a screaming, ranting, shit flinging psychopath is a terrifying thing to watch.  Alongside a who's who of other Scottish stage and screen luminaries the film manages to give a sense of what Boyles life was like inside prison and how terrifying it must have been to be around him.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

True Grit - Cineworld Edinburgh - 15/2/11



Have you seen this yet?

No?

OK.

My advice would be...don't.

It's not very good.

Seriously.

I know you will have read reviews from "real" journalists who have ranted and raved about this but I promise you...they are lying.  Either they are laboring under the weight of their memories of the original or they have received a goody bag from the PR bods that was so wonderful that it would be rude to do anything other than give a glowing review.

I haven't seen the original and PR companies don't give me any freebies so I can give it to you straight.

This was yet another awful film from the Coen Brothers that can sit proudly alongside "Burn After Reading", "A Serious Man", "Tuileries" (from "Paris J'Taime"), "The Ladykillers", "Intolerable Cruelty", "The Man Who Wasn't There" and "The Hudsucker Proxy" (a film so awful that some people have convinced themselves it must be brilliant...it's not).

With each film that passes it looks more and more likely that the Coens are lucky as opposed to talented...sometimes what they conjure up works brilliantly but more often than not the whole thing is amateurish at best and dreadful at worst.

"True Grit" should have been brilliant.

A great story.

Like "No Country For Old Men" it is a Western revenge thriller.

Jeff Bridges.

Matt Damon.

An Oscar winning original film as a template.

A pulp novel much loved by people who like that sort of thing as the source.

Sadly all of that counts for nothing as messy editing, ridiculously over the top performances and a delivery from Bridges that is, literally, impossible to understand all combine to leave you with the cinematic equivalent of finding out that the beautiful girl you are meeting from the online dating service has used a photograph from ten years and four stone ago as her profile pic.  Disappointed, frustrated and yearning for what could have been.

Monday, 14 February 2011

BAFTA 2011


"The Kings Speech" won everything.

Who would have guessed?

I haven't seen it and I don't intend to see it so if you are interested you need to see it for yourself or read any one of the hundreds of positive reviews for a film that features dozens of posh luvvies playing even posher people in fancy costumes.

I went to see "The Mechanic" instead.

The Mechanic - Cineworld Edinburgh - 13/2/11


Expensive designer watches? Check.

Impossibly beautiful women? Check.

Very fast cars?  Check.

Naughty sex scenes?  Check.

Shot of "The Stath" without his shirt on?  Check.

Very high body count?  Check.

A script that nobody really cares about?  Check.

Yes...it's another Jason Statham movie.

There isn't anything else to say.

The plot?

Really?

OK.

Jason kills people for a living.

He has to kill his own mentor.

It turns out he didn't have to kill his own mentor.

He takes revenge by killing the man who had him kill his own mentor.

He trains his own mentors son.

He then kills his own mentors son.

He lives happily ever after.

Honestly.

Don't Look Now - DVD - 11/2/11


You may remember at the start of the year I confessed that I hadn't seen "Taxi Driver".

Now I have to admit that I hadn't ever seen "Don't Look Now".

I can hear you you know.

"Calls himself a film buff, ha!"

Look, it's not my fault.

I can't find time to see everything.

While "real" film journalists and critics are busy writing up lengthy essays on the new wave of new wave of new Spanish film or discussing the relative merits of Polish post-modern cinema I was out there watching "Megamind" and interviewing Alex Zane.

You tell me which side has more value.

What?

Oh, shut up.

In director Nic Roegs adaptation of Daphne Du Mauriers story we are taken into a dark, twisted, demented, hallucinatory and bizarre world where nothing is as it seems and everything must be treated with suspicion.

Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are the parents of a child who dies when she falls into the pond in their garden and drowns.  Their grief and desire to leave it behind takes them to Venice where Sutherland works for the Catholic Church as the supervising architect on a restoration project on a chapel.  While there Christie is confronted by a blind psychic who tells her that their child is happy on the "other side" and at the same time Sutherland is haunted by visions of a child in a red coat in the alleys of Venice...exactly the clothing that their child was wearing when she drowned.

The film is soaked in red, from the childs red plastic mac to the red coat of the figure haunting Sutherland.  There is not a scene where the colour red is not found, clothing, posters, shop signs, wine, paint...without their ever being any blood on screen it is impossible not to see blood everywhere.  Is it symbolic of the death of their child and the fact that they cannot escape it or a sign that life continues?

As important is the fact that the film is also drenched in water.  From the pond where the little girl drowns to the canals of Venice.  Does it offer evidence of the parents being washed clean of their sin in not supervising their child or is it a reminder that death is all around us?

Reflections, reflective surfaces and mirrors are also everywhere...pointing at a life after this one or a parallel world?  "Don't Look Now" is not a simple or straightforward film, it is complex and unsettling despite its relatively simple storyline.  It is a horror film that credits its audience with greater intelligence than most in that genre and is another example of why many believe the 1970's to have been the decade when cinema was at its peak.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Worlds Greatest Dad - DVD - 6/2/11


As you read these words you can feel your eye lids becoming heavy.

With each passing sentence it becomes more and more difficult to keep your eyes open.

You are feeling very sleepy now.

Very sleepy.

Sleepy.

Sleep.

Now you are under my spell and as you read these words (I know you're sleeping but just play along will you?) you will obey my instructions.

You will forget the following films;

"Hook"

"Fern Gully The Last Rain Forest"

"Being Human"

"Nine Months"

"Jumanji"

"The Bird Cage"

"Jack"

"Fathers Day"

"Flubber"

"What Dreams May Come"

"Patch Adams"

"Bi-Centennial Man"

"AI: Artificial Intelligence"

"Man of the Year"

"Night at the Museum"

"License to Wed"

Phew!

None of those films have ever been made.

You have no memory of them.

No memory.

When I command it you will awake from this slumber with the Robin Williams part of your memory extending only as far as "Dead Poets Society", "Insomnia", "One Hour Photo" and "Good Will Hunting"; you will not remember anything else...except "Mork and Mindy" because that was a lot of fun when you were a kid.

I will now type back from five and when I reach one you will be awake with a mind that only knows of Robin Williams as a stand up comedian turned actor who has made some excellent and very dark films.

Five...you have no memory even of "Mrs Doubtfire"

Four...there goes "Good Morning Vietnam"

Three...not even "Aladdin" remains

Two...you love Robin Williams

One...wake!

This film from Bobcat Goldthwait features yet another amazing performance from Robin Williams; an actor who has proven time and again that he has an ability to select only projects of the highest quality.  Not for him the career lows that so many other actors appear incapable of avoiding.  Williams has a "class" magnet that attracts him to projects that are golden.  Just look at his filmography; "Insomnia", "Good Will Hunting", "One Hour Photo" and "Dead Poets Society"...not a wrong move throughout his career.

It's remarkable.

Here he plays the father of the worlds most vulgar, obnoxious and irritating adolescents ever to appear on screen; foul mouthed, aggressive, a bully and, quite literally, an enormous wanker.  No matter what Williams says or does he is met with a tirade of abuse.

To compound the situation Williams is also a teacher at his sons school...he's not the cool, down with the kids teacher either; he's a total loser who runs a poetry class that doesn't even manage to attract enough emo kids for it to be a viable course in the next academic year.  Can I apologise for the hideously out of touch use of "emo" as some sort of cultural/pop-cultural reference?  I can't?  Damn.

When his son manages to kill himself during a bout of auto erotic asphyxiation Williams sees it as a chance to re-write his own miserable history.  He crafts a beautiful, poignant suicide note for his son that casts him as a misunderstood, intelligent, lonely and afraid young man instead of the shit he actually was.  The result is...messy, ultimately very messy, and a level of awkwardness last felt in front of a movie unheard of since Goldthwaits "Sleeping Dogs".

"Worlds Greatest Dad" isn't a film that will worm its way onto a gift list for Fathers Day...if it did both you and your father would be in for a very uncomfortable afternoon in front of the TV...but is deliciously funny and features yet another great performance from Robin Williams; this man can do no wrong.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Biutiful - Cineworld, Edinburgh - 29/1/11



In "Biutiful" Bardem plays Uxbal a man who has the ability to aid the dead on their passage from this life to the next.  He is also a gangster; running a group of illegal African immigrants who sell their wares on the streets of Barcelona, providing illegal Chinese immigrants to the building trade and helping out the man who runs a warehouse which produces fake goods made by an army of Chinese workers who are kept locked in the basement of the warehouse to stop them from escaping.

At the same time Uxbal is also raising his two children alone.  His bipolar wife is an upsetting presence and she is also sleeping with Uxbals brother.  When he does eventually allow her back into his life and the life of the children it ends badly for everyone.

This is a film that ponders on the things that make this life worth living; family, love, relationships as well as the things that make it so difficult; death, pain, suffering, heartache and loss.  It is, often, a bleak and difficult film to watch but thanks to the enormous presence of Bardem it is never anything other than compelling.  He is a mass of contradictions; spiritual yet obsessed with the pursuit of money, kind and loving but willing to buy and sell people at the drop of a hat, blessed with a gift that should bring comfort to people in need which he uses to raise a few extra euros.

This is director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritus first Spanish language film since "Amores Perros" in 2000. In between time he has brought us "21 Grams", "Babel" as English language pieces and while both are wonderful films it is obvious that working in his "native" language as both writer and director has allowed him to create something truly wonderful.

Inarritu and Bardem are two towering names in Spanish language film and here, together, they combine to leave the audience reflecting on their own lives and the things that matter most to them.  No easy, trite or glib solutions to the conflicts we all face in life but instead a look deep inside the soul of a man.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Glasgow Film Festival News



Legendary director Ken Loach will be in attendance at a screening of his new film "Route Irish" on February 23rd and will take part in a Q&A afterwards.  A wonderful opportunity to question and hear from a director who has a body of work that places him firmly in the "greats" category.



Also confirmed for the festival is another legend from the British arts scene, Creation records guru Alan McGee.  McGee will be in attendance at the screening of "Upside Down: The Creation Records Story" from directory Danny O'Connor.  The film will be shown on 22nd February at 9pm.

Are you excited yet?

You should be.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Glasgow Film Festival News


GFF today announced that Richard Ayoade (above) will be in attendance at the screening of his hugely anticipated new film (his first as director) "Submarine" on Friday 18th February at 20:30.  Also in attendance will be two of the films stars Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige.


With starring roles in everything from "Spinal Tap" to "The Simpsons" Harry Shearer (above) isn't someone you would want to miss and thanks to the GFF you don't have to as he will be in attendance at the screening of his new documentary "The Big Uneasy" which takes a look at the story of Hurricane Katrina and the communities affected by it.



Sunday, 23 January 2011

NEDS - Cineworld - 21/1/11



"Tongs Ya Bass" was the unofficial motto of 1960's Glasgow.  When young gang members from Calton watched the Hammer film "Terror of the Tongs" about the Chinese gangsters of that name it was adopted as the gangs own moniker.  The "Bass" part wasn't, despite what some people will tell you, an abbreviation of bastard but was taken from the Gaelic war cry "aigh bas"...battle and die.



Cumbie, Toi, Fleet, Shamrock and many more provided myriad headlines for tabloid writers and struck fear into the hearts of young men from further afield too.  My own father, no stranger to gang culture in Edinburgh, found himself isolated from his friends and being hunted by a group of Tongs who had decided to visit the capital...the end result was a land speed record from my father who was not known for avoiding a "pagger" or "square go" but the reputation of the Glasgow gangs and their propensity for using "blades" meant running was a much safer option.

Gangs have been part of Glasgow culture since the 1800s but it was in the 1960s with Mod culture and on into the 1970s that they enjoyed their most memorable and terrifying era.  The combination of the classic working class obsessions with fashion and music alongisde the uniquely divided nature of the city and its "hard because they had to be" attitude led to the creation of a gang culture during those two decades that still leaves scars across many communities today.



There has been at least one attempt to cover gang culture from this period already in Gillies MacKinnons flawed "Small Faces" but with "NEDS" director Peter Mullan gets much closer to the truth and the reality of life for many young men growing up in Glasgow during that period and, sadly, for many living there today.  Unlike the gangster chic of the likes of Guy Ritchie or the entire career of Danny Dyer there is no attempt at presenting this life as glamorous or desirable, instead the truth, the brutal truth, of what gangs offer, what drives young men and women to behave in such violent and destructive ways and the toll on the communities they inhabit is laid bare.  What we are given is an, at times, depressing, shocking, hilarious and uncomfortable experience that will resonate long after you leave the cinema.

In "NEDS" Mullan takes us into the life of John McGill (Conor McCarron), a bright, hard working young man who has to contend with a drunken, abusive father and the burden of his elder brothers reputation as one of the top boys in the local gang, the Car-D.  Finishing top of his class and looking forward to life at high school and beyond John has a chance encounter with an older boy that acts as the catalyst for his descent into gang life and that gives the audience its first taste of the random nature of the violence to come.  Threatened by this older boy as he walks home John turns to his big brother for help which arrives in the shape of a beating and humiliation that will scar the boy for a long while to come and which gives John a taste of the power associated with position inside the gang.



At school John is forced to join a lower set due to his brothers reputation but manages to focus on his studies and climb into the top set.  On his way home one day John is confronted by a small group of boys who take his money, threaten him and humiliate him...during this one of the attackers recognises him as the younger brother of one of the most violent boys in the estate and John is welcomed into the body of the kirk.

From this point on John begins his journey into a life of violence, fear and loathing.  Drink, fighting, girls, clothes and music are brewed into an explosive cocktail that allows some terrifying set pieces to take place, most noticably when John finds himself deep inside enemy territory, running for his life and finally taking refuge in a place that proves to be potentially very dangerous...the home of one of his would-be attackers.

In the background lurks the presence of Mullan himself as the drunken father, shouting obscenities, abusing his wife and creating an atmosphere of tension that is palpable inside the cinema itself.  He is a booze soaked, foul mouthed, vicious character who is, I have no doubt, the birthplace of the alpha-male attitude and actions of both John and his brother.  Thankfully Mullan doesn't overstate the case here, NEDS isn't a film that attempts to offer glib answers to these social problems and it is all the better for that.



The young cast are, in the main, untried and untested but they are all magnificent.  Each of them has the right air of desperation, nihilism and aggression required to carry a film like this.  McCarron is particularly impressive in his portrait of a young man drowning.  His physical presence is menacing but it is in his low, rough, Glasgow burr and in his eyes that the real power of his performance lies.  This isn't a young man play-acting, this is a young man living and breathing what he is presenting.

It isn't for nothing that Glasgow "enjoys" a reputation as no mean city, recent research shows that 9 out of 10 of the most violent streets in Scotland are to be found there.  Unemployment is higher, life expectancy is lower.  It is a tough place and, consequently, the people are tough.  It's easy to take the moral high ground over anti-social behaviour of the sort presented here but, in truth, when there is no hope and when life is cheap it is understandable, if not excusable, that people behave this way.  Mullan knows this only too well and in "NEDS" he has managed to create a film that, without ever preaching, conveys that message very clearly.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Black Swan - Cineworld - 21/1/11


Beautiful young woman is turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer, handsome prince discovers beautiful swan, prince falls for wrong swan, beautiful young woman discovers the prince falling for the wrong swan and promptly kills herself soon to be followed by the prince.

Darren Aronofsky isn't a director who is afraid to take chances or to follow his own vision...from the highs of "Pi" and "The Wrestler" to the twisted, dark, arresting "Requiem for a Dream" and then to the universally derided "The Fountain" this is a director who has done it his way.  He makes films that are driven by story and performance...he isn't a CGI freak or a man who requires a budget that could wipe out third world debt to make films that are interesting, disturbing, upsetting, inspiring and different.  With "Black Swan" he has excelled himself, this is a film that combines the weird and wonderful of "Requiem for a Dream" and "Pi" with the glorious storytelling of "The Wrestler".  It is as close to perfect as it may be possible to get.

Nina (Natalie Portman) is a ballet dancer who is short on confidence, nervous, uneasy and uncomfortable in her own skin.  The significance of her skin should not be understated as it is the source of much discomfort for her throughout the film.  When she is chosen by company director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) for the lead in "Swan Lake" it should be the cue for a new dawn, happiness and fulfillment but is, instead, the starting point of a hysterical dive into a schizophrenic hell that ultimately sees her follow the Swan Queen literally as well as metaphorically.

Nina is haunted by nightmarish visions of her own body changing, driven to the edge of despair and to the heights of ecstasy by her nemesis and friend Lily (Mila Kunis) and thrust into sheer desperation by Thomas and her feelings for him.  It is an unravelling and descent that is truly hypnotic...it simply isn't possible to take your eyes off of Portman as she delivers a performance that will stand as a career high in an already impressive career.

Throughout the film Aronofsky makes use of and reference to reflection...mirrors, windows, doppelgangers, portraits, look-a-likes all feature prominently as Nina unravels.  At times it is very difficult to tell what, or who, we are really looking at.  Is what we are seeing real or a mirror image?  Is Nina herself simply a reflection of herself within her own fragmenting subconscious?  On occasion Aronofsky even managed to tap into my own greatest fear...my reflection refusing to reflect and acting independently of me.  Barely a scene passes without some sort of mirroring or reflection...the enormous mirrors inside the dance studio, dark windows on the subway, dancers mirroring one anothers movements and, of course, the dark reflection of the Black Swan herself.

Metamorphosis is another key element within the film as Nina transforms, both literally and metaphorically, into the Black Swan.  But it is not only Nina who is shifting shape and transforming; her mother has changed from dancer to mother, Lily is desperately trying to become Nina, former prima ballerina Beth (played superbly by Winona Ryder) is transformed from "little princess" to cripple.  Nobody is who they appear to be and nothing is what it seems to be.

Much of the discussion on "Black Swan" has, naturally, centered on the dance...most importantly on Portmans ability to dance.  I have some experience in this field having appeared on stage with the Kirov and have actually appeared in "Swan Lake".  Admittedly I wasn't dancing and was simply an extra body used to "pad out" certain moments but it's closer than you've come to being a professional bloody dancer so...so...there!  I don't know how good or bad Portman was but I found the dance scenes to be convincing and beautiful.

I have a very close friend who has never forgiven Aronofsky for "The Fountain" which he described as "...a load of mince".  To that friend I say "Bobby, forgive Aronofsky, forgive him then see the Black Swan and have your faith in him restored".

Friday, 21 January 2011

Season of the Witch - Cineworld - 20/1/11



Did you know that there were Americans fighting in the crusades?

Neither did I.

In this historically accurate...

No, wait.

Let me just check my notes.

Ah!

In this hysterically inaccurate romp Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman desert the crusades, head for home and end up escorting a young woman accused of being a witch who has brought plague to the land to a castle full of monks who will determine her guilt or innocence.  On the way they pick up a guide in the shape of Combo from "This is England" who has, for reasons I don't really understand, decided to play the part with a New Yoik accent.  En route to the castle of monks they encounter a pack of zombie wolves, hallucinations and a rope bridge that makes the one Indiana Jones has to cross in "Temple of Doom" look like the Golden Gate Bridge.

When they eventually make it to the monkhouse they discover all the monks are dead from plague and, worse, the witch isn't a witch...she's the devil!  Satan!  Beelzebub!  Lucifer!  He who walks backwards!  The beast!  Seriously...he's got horns and wings and everything.  Unable to take care of Nic Cage, Ron Perlman and a pre-pubescent altar boy on his own the devil re-animates the monks and a battle between the living and the dead takes place for no real reason other than it gives everyone the chance to look grim faced while lopping off the heads of undead monks.

Quite clearly this is the greatest film ever made.

Sorry.

Let me check my notes again...

Um...

Oh, yes.

No.

Quite clearly this is a load of old tosh.

But, dear, dear reader, it was also gloriously, brilliantly, dementedly, wonderfully, awfully entertaining.  It can't all be Ozu and black and white Polish realist cinema you know.  Occasionally it does you no harm at all to simply sit back and let the pretty pictures entertain you.  "Season of the Witch" is, I think, knowingly camp and fabulously ridiculous...nobody involved would make any claim for "art" or a case for it being a film loaded with hidden meaning; it's a chance for Nicolas Cage to do, well, Nicolas Cage and for everyone else to enjoy getting dressed up and fight monks, devils and zombie wolves.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Glasgow Film Festival

It's back...

The GFF launched its programme for this year and what a programme it is.

With the return of "Fright Fest" (8 horror beauties), "Beyond Bollywood" (taking a look at the best in Indian cinema), a world cinema strand "It's A Wonderful World", independent cinema, Scottish film and much more it promises to be a really memorable festival.

Director Allison Gardner is keen that the festival offers "...something for all tastes" and this year seems set to do exactly that.

Roll on the GFF!

Get Low

This review originally appeared on MyFilms during the 2010 EIFF.  "Get Low" is given a cinema release from 21/1/11.






OK.

If I was a film-maker and I was going into see a studio executive with a pitch for a film there are certain things that would make me feel very confident about the meeting ending positively for me;

1) a good script

2) a great story

Those two things should be enough on their own but we all know the executive is looking at the Benjamins and not the Art.

Imagine though if I was able to go into the pitch with one and two as well as;

3) Robert Duvall.

4) Bill Murray.

5) Sissy Spacek

I would bet everything I had on the executive biting my hand off for my good script and great story on the back of a cast like that.

I mean seriously boys and girls we are talking about acting royalty here.

Robert Duvall?

Bill Murray?

Sissy Spacek?

I would crawl naked over broken glass to see a film with even one of those people in it.

To get all three together is just...well, it's just too much.

You could get the three of these people to star in "Avatar" and it would elevate it from ridiculous, pompous, overblown, cynical cash cow, cinema misery to high art.

Seriously.

Let's look at the type of people we are talking about..."The Road", "The Godfather", "The Godfather Part II", "Sling Blade", "Lonesome Dove", "Apocalypse Now", "Ghostbusters", "Lost in Translation", "Rushmore", "The Royal Tenenbaums", "Broken Flowers", "Groundhog Day", "The Straight Story", "Carrie", "Badlands".

What a list.

When you throw in some of the most beautiful cinematography, a sizzling script and a story that practically bleeds honesty and purity of purpose from its heart then you have a film that deserves to be seen by anyone who has even a casual interest in cinema.

This was, without a doubt, one of the best films I have seen...not this year, not at the EIFF, not in the last few years, just one of the best films I have seen. It oozes class. It's a film that will take its place on "favourites" lists of everyone who sees it.

Duvall plays hermit and local legend Felix Bush, a man with no friends, no family and, apparently, no interest in either. When he comes into town to plan his own funeral with a bundle of dollar bills that could make a rich man jump for joy local funeral director Frank Quinn (Murray) grabs the opportunity to arrange the funeral despite knowing that Bush won't make that easy.

Bush wants to arrange his funeral with one difference...he will be in attendance. He wants to hear what everyone has to say about him, to hear the myriad stories and legends that have sprung up around him during his years of self imposed exile. As the plans take shape it becomes clear that something from the past is haunting Bush and that his real purpose in organising his funeral isn't the one he has presented to Quinn.

A touching and totally convincing relationship between Bush and Mattie Darrow (Spacek) lends emotional depth and deeper tones to a film that is already full of emotion and that has been constructed with love and affection by director Aaron Schneider. When the truth comes out it is achingly painful but also uplifting as we see the tortured soul of Bush freed from the shackles of what has been haunting him.

It isn't possible to say enough good things about a film like this.

See it.

Then go and see it again.

Then take a friend to see it.

Perfect.