Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The Best and Worst of 2009

The Hit and Miss Films of 2009

The Worst
5. Funny People - Yet another Judd Apatow film that I just can't get into, and makes me wonder how he is hailed the way he is. I've tried my hardest to watch Apatow films such as Superbad, Knocked Up and Pineapple Express, all resulting in few laughs and boredom, but after a friend prompted me, I thought I'd give him one last chance with Funny People. Out of the ones I've watched, it is the best, but it's not saying much. There are nowhere near enough laughs as there should be from people who are stand up comedians, and the storyline takes so many turns it feels as if a new film starts halfway through. It constantly drags and I never feel sympathy towards the central character George Simmons (Sandler) because of the way he is to the others, which made me struggle to get into the story more. The jokes are very hit and miss, and I think you'd enjoy it if you were an Apatow fan. But for me, this was the last straw of these kinds of films.

4. The Hangover - The Hangover has it's moments, mainly from Zach Galifiankis playing not-quite-with-it Alan, brother of the bride. There are few witty one liners but most of the major jokes were ruined in the trailer, and the actual story is basically Dude, Where's My Car? in Las Vegas. The acting is pretty solid, and I was enjoying the film until Mr Chow comes on screen. Yes, he gives the story a bit of a turn in that the main group know what to do to find their friend, but it's the humour that they use through the character that really brought the film down. Swearing in high pitched tones, pretending to be a gangster and using all the catchphrases that made Apatow comedies "great" does not do it for me. I for one hope that this isn't the greatest comedy on 2009, as I only laughed a small amount of times.

3. Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen - Having not seen the first film, but only a shed load of trailers and adverts, I was only half sure what to expect. A non-stop thrill ride, filled with explosions, fighting and a cool storyline. Unfortunately, only the explosions and fighting where properly involved, and filling a $200mil budgeted film with them doesn't make a good movie. Half the time I found myself confused due to a number of reasons including the lack of plot, the over-the-top CGI fighting, scene changes to random places in the world and what the main characters were trying to achieve. What also annoyed me was the poor sound and soundtrack, although some of the scores where impressive. Highlights included the mother figure brilliantly played by Julie White, which provided some much needed comic relief at the beginning. A strong co-starring role for John Turturro and a nice cameo from Rainn Wilson where also well received, and after I realised that I much preferred the comedy side of the film than the actual action scenes, which can't be good for an action film.

2. Watchmen - The second most over-hyped movie of 2009 and what a major disappointment. Entertaining but looking back on it, ultimately an awful film. Through the stunning visuals we see one good actor, playing in a messed up storyline that never goes anywhere and has a poor ending. If there was an award for use of slow motion Watchmen would win hands down. It would’ve been an hour shorter if the speed stayed constant and it was a major distraction. There was also poor use of music that ruined the film even more. It felt as if director Zack Snyder had put his iTunes onto shuffle and just picked whatever song came on, even if it didn’t fit. This is highlighted by the cringeworthy sex scene with an awkward rendition of Cohen’s Hallelujah. Over hyped, but not as badly as my number one worst film of 2009.

1. Avatar - The storyline is predictable from the start, and ruins what could've been a fantastic film. There is little to no suspense throughout, and you're never sitting there second guessing. For the first 2 hours of film I was very bored and things only picked up in the last 20 minutes, where I was entertained. Going into this film I read that James Cameron was now "Master of the Universe" and had been hailed by most. The writing of Avatar is cliched, especially through Colonel Miles (Stephen Lang) whose every other line is directly taken from the "How Not To Write An Action Film" book. His direction of the action scenes are impressive, but are again ruined by quick zooms that look amateurish, random slow motion scenes and narration that is used a lot at the start, then forgotten about until the end. Very strange. The acting is all over the place. For every Giovanni Ribisi you get Michelle Rodriguez, whose acting is more wooden than a door. I could go on about other things that made this film disappointing but I feel I've made my point. Visually this film at times is impressive, but not enough to satisfy me from a film many, many years in the making. King of the World maybe, but James Cameron is not the Master of the Universe.
10 Years To Make That? Seriously?

The Best
5. Two Lovers - Perhaps the most underrated film of the year, and one that was overshadowed by the awkward turn in roles by lead man Phoenix. Dramatic romance telling the story of a man stuck between two women he cares a lot about. Fantastically shot and the acting it superb, especially from Joaquin Phoenix who excels in his last acting role to date. I urge everyone to see this film.

4. Drag Me To Hell - A fun and gory horror film which packs in as much comedy as it does horror. Alison Lohman and Justin Long play their parts well, and there are a lot of jumps to keep you entertained. Sam Raimi definitely returned to form with this film, back to his old school routes and not making more overrated Spiderman films. More horror films should be like this one.

3. Inglourious Basterds - It took a decade to make, and Tarantino stated that he "became too precious about the page" and he's been working on it, expanding and developing it ever since. Through that decade, it's been hit and miss for Quentin with the success of Kill Bill brought down by the disappointment of Death Proof, but he is back on top, top form with Inglourious Basterds. While some may not like it for it's dialogue (and subtitle) heavy premise, you have to like it for it's brave attitude, wonderful acting and humourous take on the Second World War. I have a feeling the last line in the film may have been what Tarantino said himself once he had finished the script.

"This might just be my masterpiece"

2. Up - Pixar can do no wrong. And Up is just another reason why they are so great. The storyline of an elderly man trying to fly his own house is incredible on it’s own. And not only is Up fantastic storytelling, it really pulls at the heart strings at the start, which I haven’t felt like at the start of any film let alone an animated one by Pixar. There are little running jokes which just get funnier every time and the lead role played by Edward Asner is genius, capturing the essence of Carl Fredricksen perfectly. A wonderful film, which is only enhanced when watched in 3D. Despite it being an incredible film, my number one goes to a film overlooked and probably not even heard of by many, which is a terrible shame.

1. Let The Right One In - What an incredible film. I’m going to try and keep this short because I could go on for quite a while on why this is a good film. But let’s start with the story. A teenage girl vampire moves to a new town and quickly befriends similar aged Oskar, a boy who is bullied often at school and is misunderstood by everyone. It’s the story of young love, and wonderfully told through a vampire medium, unlike other vampire flicks plaguing our screens cough Twilight cough. The way the film is shot is eerie and the romantic music score is purposely in contrast but fits so perfectly. The acting is superb from everyone on screen, and as each scene progressed the story just gets better and better. It is an incredible film, and one that everyone should definitely see, Quickly, before the proposed American remake Let Me In comes out and you miss the greatest film of 2009

The Best Film of 2009.. by far

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Classic Corner

The man behind the classic Ealing Comedies, Sir Alec Guinness

Alec Guinness has often been hailed as one of the greatest actors to have graced the silver screen, and after finally getting round to some of the 50s Ealing Comedies I had lying around, I can easily see why. The first of these comedy films I got round to watching was The Ladykillers.

The Ladykiller's brilliant storyline might be a bit dated, which is why the Coen Brother's tried (and ultimately failed) to do a remake, but you can't help but love this film. Five criminals succeed in robbing a truck, but then have the tough task of murdering the elderly woman who unknowingly played a part in the robbery. Every single member of the cast shines beautifully in their roles, especially Danny Green and Katie Johnson, but Alec Guinness' witty and all round creepy character "Professor" Marcus is wonderful to watch. If the character didn't utter a single word, Guinness' facial expressions still could've carried the film. The best scenes in the film come nearer the end, but I won't ruin it for everyone who needs to see this wonderful film.

In a completely different type of role, one of Alec Guinness' earlier Ealing roles sees him play inventor Sidney Stratton in The Man In The White Suit. Guinness' character is a stark contrast to "Professor" Marcus, which just highlights his ability and talent as an actor. After Stratton invents a fabric that won't get dirty and won't wear away, the clothing factories set out to stop him, as their business' would be in danger of going bust. It's a totally original storyline, and one I was interested in watching, and it just about manages to stretch out to the 80 minute run time. It's gently amusing, but not as funny as other Ealing classics, but Guinness is superb again as a shy and seemingly paranoid inventor. Shy and paranoid Guinness is something he pulls off with great effect, and he takes that role into the film The Lavender Hill Mob.

The Lavender Hill Mob is another crime comedy, which sees four men (two already criminals) try and cleverly export gold right under the authorities noses into France, where they can sell it for a whole lot of money. Guinness portrays a genius in disguise, Henry "Dutch" Holland, who works for a bank, in charge of gold bullion. He comes up with a plan after meeting Pendlebury, who owns a foundry that melts led into certain paper weights. The whole film is wonderful to watch, after a jumpy start, and the scene where the criminals (including the great Sid James) steal the gold is classic cinema. One of the best comedies I've seen, let alone one of the best Guinness films around. I'm still yet to see Kind Hearts and Coronets, but if it's anything like these three that I've seen, then I'm definitely in for a treat.

Sir Alec Guinness was a wonderful actor, who made fantastic films, and was best known in his latter days for his portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. His films and legacy will live on, and rightly they should.

Ladykillers - 8/10
Man In The White Suit - 7/10
Lavender Hill Mob - 8/10

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Eat My Shorts...

Federico Alvarez destroys a city and gets given $30million

Well, not exactly. But Alvarez's short film Panic Attack has made a huge impact on filmmaking, after catching the eyes of a few directors. Federico Alvarez made Panic Attack for a mere $300, and just a weekend after posting the video on the Internet, Sam Raimi's own production company Ghost House Pictures caught it and offered the director a big money deal to make a feature film. An incredible feat in independent movie making, and one that should inspire thousands of wannabe filmmakers out there.

The film is only 5 minutes long, and has a simple storyline of robots attacking the city. It's a simple story that many may think is far too easy to pull of but once you see the effects and scale that this film reaches, you wonder how it was made for so little. The musical score fits in perfectly, but this is a short to inspire. After seeing this, you can't complain about budget, and you can only think that everything in film is possible.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Holmes.. Sherlock Holmes

Guy Ritchie brings Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional character into the 21st Century.

Seconds into Sherlock Holmes and the soundtrack is already set at a quick and shuddering pace, as we fly through the streets of 1891 London, following a raid on a proposed human sacrifice ritual. After 10 minutes, we get a sense of how Guy Ritchie is taking the Sherlock Holmes character and story into his own world, and that Holmes is a changed character from the novels in the late 1800s.

With Guy Ritchie's back catalogue of films including Revolver, RocknRolla, Mean Machine and Snatch, taking on a detective film that is so close to people's hearts wasn't going to be an easy feat. But like other updated franchises such as Batman and James Bond, Holmes has been updated to fit what the new audiences want to see. Sherlock Holmes is now a badass hero who is more James Bond than Detective. This would probably be a huge problem for hardcore Sherlock Holmes fans but it isn't a bad thing for people new to the story.

Ritchie's direction is improving a lot, and he manages to capture the essence of late 19th Century to perfection, although some action scenes seem very over the top. Everything else is captured perfectly, and the execution of Holmes working everything out through his detective skills works very well. Some scenes are breathtaking and really have you on the edge of your seat, and shows Ritchie is really coming forward as a director.

Robert Downey Jr. gives an emphatic performance, carrying on his hot streak of films, following Tropic Thunder, Iron Man 1 and 2 and The Incredible Hulk, after a tough start to the noughties. Jude Law also gives a polished performance as trusty sidekick Watson, but you cannot hide away a fantastic effort from Kelly Reilly as Mary Morstan, Watson's wife-to-be, who's onscreen time is nowhere near enough to satisfy. Despite the strong trio, Rachel McAdams role seems a tad miscast, but other roles make up for it.

Holmes is a good movie for the newbies, but hardcore fans may be disappointed at the total change in Holmes' character, who has changed from normal detective to kung-fu, action hero. The story itself seems too unbelievable (based on black magic) but it seems to work well. However, after a upbeat and impressive opening 30minutes, the film starts to drag and then comes to a unsatisfying ending. Also, important scenes seemed to have been cut from the trailer, and disappointingly for some, Rachel McAdams in a corset is nowhere to be seen in the final cut.

A great new Holmes, but will disappoint some. The acting is perfection but will have to wait for the next instalment to see if it will totally satisfy.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 17 August 2009

The Basterds Are Here!

The film Tarantino has been working on for over a decade, Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds (Dir. Quentin Tarantino, Starring: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender)

First things first, this is a war film like no other. Set in an alternate history of the Second World War, Tarantino has stated Basterds is a "spaghetti western but with World War Two iconography". Sound interesting? Of course it does! The last time Tarantino tried something like this we were given Pulp Fiction, and there's nothing wrong with that.

The Tarantino style is still used to it's full effect, with a rock n roll soundtrack that somehow fits perfectly, the chapterised way of storytelling and what he is most famous for, the flawless dialogue, which I will first go into.

"Once Upon A Time, In A Nazi-Occupied France" is the title of the first chapter, and we are introduced to a farmer and his family in the early years of the war. Before we know it, Colonel Hans Landa (brilliantly played by Christoph Waltz), is on the scene, and we are given a full blown twenty minutes of brilliant, tense dialogue, in which Landa is interrogating the farmer about a family of missing Jews. As the scene goes on, it gets tenser and tenser, switching from French language to English and back again, with witty lines and superb acting, even from the cameo role of the farmer. Throughout the rest of the film, there is plenty of dialogue, which is mostly well written, but it does stretch the film out, and I can see a lot of people getting bored of this, while the action is pushed to the side. I myself enjoyed the dialogue, and if you love how it was used in previous Tarantino flicks like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs then you'll love this.

Basterds has an extensive cast list, boasting Brad Pitt, Eli Roth, Christoph Waltz (who has already won a Cannes Best Actor award for this), Melanie Laurent, Diane Kruger, Michael Fassbender and even a cameo British-character role from Mike Myers. There isn't a single actor in this flick who lets a scene down, despite the ridiculousness of Brad Pitt's Tennessee accent. Eli Roth shines as Donny Donowitz who is a major part of the story, and Michael Fassbender uses his on-screen time well. Christoph Waltz though is a clear best of the great bunch, played Colonel Hans Lander, AKA "The Jew Hunter", while also managing to speak fluently and perfectly in English, French, German and even Italian. (Watch for the Italian speaking scene, it's hilarious). Tarantino always seems to get the best out of his actors and he's done it again here, while also making room for some great cameos that you may miss.

The storyline is intense, seeing a group of Jewish Americans (The Basterds) travelling through France getting revenge on the Nazi's, while also scalping them for their leader, Aldo Raine (Pitt). Meanwhile, a Jewish survivor, Shosanna (Laurent), is also planning an attack on Hitler in her local cinema, and the two sides remain unaware of the others plans throughout, leading to the big climax. The story is brilliantly sliced into it's Tarantino chapters, and there is plenty of exciting action and Mexican standoffs to keep you on the edge of your seat.

It's been a decade in the making, and Tarantino stated that he "became too precious about the page" and he's been working on it, expanding and developing it ever since. Through that decade, it's been hit and miss for Quentin with the success of Kill Bill brought down by the disappointment of Death Proof, but he is back on top, top form with Inglourious Basterds. While some may not like it for it's dialogue (and subtitle) heavy premise, you have to like it for it's brave attitude, wonderful acting and humourous take on the Second World War. I have a feeling the last line in the film may have been what Tarantino said himself once he had finished the script.

"This might just be my masterpiece"

Rating: 8/10