Wednesday 26 October 2011

Films That Deserve your Attention - La Antena

This homage to silent films is a visually stunning Argentinian fantasy that harks back to the golden era of cinema when actors were seen but not heard. Film fans will enjoy recognising the scenes taken from famous movies by auteurs such as Chaplin, Lang and Lynch, whilst those unversed in cinema will still be mesmerised by the fantastical world that Esteban Sapir has created.

In a city without a voice, an evil villain controls its people by using the only TV station to broadcast hypnotic images that subdue the speechless population. A tight-knit family become unintentionally involved in a sinister plot after uncovering Mr TV's evil plans of domination, and soon become embroiled in a number of perilous situations.

I am genuinely surprised by the lack of people I've encountered who have seen this wonderful film, it is clearly the director's love letter to cinema but far from being the pretentious mess it could have been La Antena transcends its influences to bring fresh ideas to a forgotten genre. With The Artist currently winning over the festival crowds, I'm excited for the future of silent films as sometimes acting can be far more powerful and heartfelt when  words are replaced by a fitting score. I cannot recommend this film highly enough, and if anyone has seen any films that are even remotely similar I would be very interested in hearing from you.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

New Release - Machine Gun Preacher

Ever since the fateful day when I met Gerard Butler on a plane back from New York (he's quite a nice chap), I've kept a close eye on his acting career, and although he's made some questionable choices, he never fails to entertain, especially in his typecast as a strong stubborn man who usually has a lot of inner turmoil. His latest film is no different in this respect, with Butler portraying a troubled individual that heads down the path of righteousness.

Gerard Butler is Sam Childers, a born again Christian who is seeking to distance himself from his former life as a drug-addled biker, and he takes it upon himself to visit Sudan where he feels compelled to aid the innocent children caught up in the war. Machine Gun Preacher tackles a difficult subject, namely the persecution of children in Sudan, and as this is based on a true story, Marc Foster was faced with the unenviable task of creating an engaging film that stays true to real life events.

There is no denying that the events depicted in the film are inspirational - Sam Childers has clearly made a positive impact with his work in Sudan - however, the transition to screen does not serve the story justice, with certain scenes that appear to have been included solely to emphasise the 'Machine Gun' aspect of the title. Sam seems to have a knack of turning up to gunfights at the perfect moment, some of which are unintentionally hilarious, and this clearly serves to glorify his actions but in doing so it also diminishes the power of the true story; this is a real person, not John Rambo.

A number of characters feel one-dimensional, with not enough screen time given to their development, which is surprising when you consider a running time of over two hours, and in turn the emotional angle that Foster is aiming for just doesn't work. Michelle Monaghan and Michael Shannon do a reasonably good job of grounding the story with their portrayals of Sam's wife and best friend but the real star of Machine Gun Preacher is the blistering soundtrack, with a number of scenes set in dingy looking bars that are the perfect setting for Chris Cornell's dirty rock n'roll. 

Hopefully this film will increase awareness of the events in Sudan but I am fairly certain it will be forgotten about in a few years time. There are numerous films out there that focus on real life atrocities, the majority of which are far more powerful than Machine Gun Preacher, and it is a shame as Childer's story could have been adapted into a thrilling piece of cinema. Fans of Butler will probably not be disappointed, and whilst this film does have its moments, it is unlikely to invoke an emotional response from the majoirty of the audience.

6/10 -Just pray that Butler doesn't turn up at your local church

If you like this you will enjoy these:

Blood Diamond
The Last King Of Scotland
The Constant Gardener
The Killing Fields

Tuesday 18 October 2011

New Release - The Help

Having heard that the Help was a hot contender for the Oscars I decided to avoid reading any press about the film and even ignored the trailers. For the first few minutes I was slightly concerned that I had inadvertently turned up to a screening of the latest chick-flick but thankfully the female heavy cast did a fantastic job of bringing me round to the story, and the film managed to live up to its reputation as an Oscar contender as well as engaging my attention for the best part of two and a half hours.

Based upon the novel of the same name, The Help explores the lives of a number of African American maids in 1960s Mississippi as they encounter a young aspiring journalist who endeavours to document their hardships in order to combat the prevailing attitudes of racism and prejudice. It's hard not to read that sentence without the words 'Oscar-bait' popping into your mind, and true to form, this story tugs at the heartstrings with brilliant performances from all involved. It has already received comparisons to last years surprise hit The Blind Side but that is doing The Help a great disservice as it is far more accomplished and involving than the film which gave Sandra Bullock an Oscar.

Emma Stone has been slowly honing her craft as an up and coming actress with a number of star performances that vary enough in style to avoid her being typecast, with roles in Zombieland and Easy A standing out amongst her best. Here she is given a challenging role, but manages to succeed in portraying the hard-working writer with enough gravitas to make her motivations entirely believable. Nicknamed 'Skeeter', Emma Stone's character is a young lady on the outskirts of her social class due to her passion for work as opposed to the goal of finding a husband, which most of her peers have already succeeded in. When Skeeter finds a new job working as an agony aunt for a newspaper column that provides cleaning tips to its readers, she consults the local maids for assistance, and soon strikes up an unlikely friendship that proves beneficial to both parties.

Although at its core The Help is a heartfelt drama, there is enough humour throughout to lighten the tone, with a key scene involving a pie coming close to the hilarity of the infamous American Pie scene for its audacity and daring. Whilst there are upsetting scenes, they serve a purpose, which makes it all the more difficult to leave the characters behind as the credits begin to roll.

A film focusing on the Civil Rights movement cannot be complete without a message and thankfully The Help manages to avoid  the obvious cliches whilst still remaining relevant. The message is obvious without being obtrusive and the depth of the story means that audiences will be able to connect with the characters no matter their age, gender or race.

An exceptional emotional roller-coaster of a film, The Help is a must see for pretty much everyone. It certainly impressed me enough to seek out a copy of the book, and it is definitely worth catching on the big screen. With the current trend of pointless remakes and mindless action movies battling it out for your hard earned cash, do yourself a favour, and buy a ticket to watch The Help instead. You won't be disappointed.


If you like this, you will enjoy these:

The Colour Purple
Mississipi Burning
Made In Dagenham
The Blind Side

Thursday 13 October 2011

New Release - Footloose

Being born in 1987, I was far too late to latch on to the cheesy brilliance of the original Footloose, but after watching it recently, I found myself succumbing to its charms and would definitely class it as a guilty pleasure. The ridiculous storyline follows the arrival of a new teen in Bomont, and his discovery that due to a horrific car crash a few years ago, dancing has been completely banned. It is not long before he drums up support from his peers in order to turn this law around, resulting in excessive amounts of dancing from all involved.

Bearing in mind that the remake of Footloose is not a film I would usually watch I was pleasantly surprised with the film's direction, whilst some scenes were almost identical to those featured in the 1984 version, there is enough new material to make it relevant to today's generation without straying too far from the storyline in the original.

Kenny Wormald was fairly watchable as Ren McCormack, and whilst his appearance reminded me more of Johnny Depp in Cry Baby than Kevin Bacon's previous interpretation of the character, he provided Ren with enough charisma to keep the audience routing for him. Willard is played brilliantly by Miles Teller who has a fantastic comic timing and deserves to go on to much greater things. Although he had a lot to live up to stepping in the late Chris Penn's shoes, he somehow manages to improve on the original role by channeling what I can only describe as the characteristics of everyone's favourite horror rednecks,Tucker and Dale, into Willard - a naive innocence that shines in his key scenes.

A big disappointment with this remake is the soundtrack, and whilst the majority of everyone's favourite songs make a return, a large number of them are remixed or rehashed into almost unrecognisable melodies. I was pleasantly surprised  to hear a Smashing Pumpkins song make an appearance - Billy Corgan must be losing the plot if he's allowing his songs to be used for a Footloose remake - but that was the only redeeming feature of the soundtrack, with the decision to alter Bonnie Tyler's classic being a huge disappointment.

Fans of the original will be well aware of the scene involving a certain Bonnie Tyler song, which for me transcended pure cheese to become an utterly ridiculous yet somehow brilliant moment in the film. Unfortunately, whilst we still have a head to head between Ren and Chuck as they fight for the affections of a young lady,  it has been altered for a modern audience, and the lack of an adrenaline fuelled game of Tractor Chicken certainly hampered my enjoyment of the remake.

It's not going to win awards, and it's not going to impress fans of the original, but this remake of Footloose is not entirely pointless. Younger generations are bound to latch on to the charismatic characters and frenetic dance moves which I only hope will lead them to seek out the charms of the 1984 version. Everyone else should probably steer clear.


If you like this, you will love these:

Footloose (1984)
Pump Up The Volume
American Graffiti

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Ten of the best - Lifts in the movies

After watching Drive last week, every time I get in the lift at work my mind wanders to the disturbing scene where Ryan Gosling turns into a very violent man. With the beautiful classic music contradicting the brutal on screen violence akin to the juxtaposition Kubrick used throughout A Clockwork Orange, this could quite possibly be one of the finest scenes ever filmed in a lift.

Nicolas Winding Refn is not the only director to take advantage of this claustrophobic setting though, and here is a list of the most memorable lift scenes in cinema in no particular order.

Dark Water - This is the first of many horror films to be included on the list as lifts make the perfect environment for creepy occurrences. There is nowhere for the protagonist to run, and this lack of escape routes makes the appearance of the unexpected even more unnerving in such a confined space. The original Japanese film is far superior to the Hollywood remake which fails to replicate the subtle scares of its predecessor. After rescuing her child from a flooded apartment, Yoshimi believes all her troubles are over. It's only when we get a glimpse of her daugther that we realise things are not as they first appeared. Creepy as hell, and a standout moment in a classic J-Horror.

Angel Heart - Mickey Rourke has undertaken a huge transformation since his heyday as an actor, and this fantastic film features one of his finest performances before he turned into a beefcake. Troubled by nightmares involving a descending lift that appear more vivid as he comes closer to solving the mystery, Harry Angel is a private investigator involved in a deadly case. By the time we realise the significance of the lift, Harry's fate has been well and truly sealed.

The Eye - Once again I am referring to the original film, not the poor Hollywood remake, as Asian horror films tend to be far more effective than their American counterparts. Whilst the story lacks emotional punch, the scares are downright disturbing, with this scene set in a lift likely to unnerve even the most hardened horror fan. Our protagonist is sure there is someone else in the lift with her, and the reveal that she is not alone is not an instant shock but a relentless build up of dread as the apparition gradually appears only to stick around for the rest of the lift's journey.

Liar Liar - Moving on to less disturbing lift rides is this fantastic scene from one of Jim Carrey's better comedies. If you're a fan of the film then you already know the sequence I am referring to. Nothing beats a fart joke, and this one is almost exruciating to watch as Fletcher is forced to own up to farting in the lift thanks to an incident that means he can only tell the truth. The immortal line 'It was me!' is uttered, much to the surprise of his fellow passengers, making this one of the most awkward scenes filmed in a lift.

The Shining - Back to my favourite territory with this landmark horror film based on a classic Stephen King novel and also featuring Stanley Kubrick behind the camera, does it get much better? The lift plays a pivotal role as jack Torrance, played brilliantly by Nicholson, has a number of flashbacks pertaining to the violence that has occurred in the Overlook hotel many years prior to his arrival there. Although it is not the most frightening scene in The Shining - the lady in the bath wins hands down - it is still essential in creating the sense of dread that builds up as the film progresses.

The Silence Of The Lambs - I watched this film before reading the book and as such I was blissfully unaware of the incredible scene that would transpire in the lift as Hannibal Lector attempts his escape from police custody. As the lift slowly passes down the levels, the build up is almost unbearable as the cops guarding the ground floor entrance steady themselves in anticipation for the cold blooded killer. The final reveal as the police force storms the lift shaft is an example of extraordinary direction, and it is not until the following scene that the audience realise what has happened. Incredible film-making, and an essential slice of cinema for anyone with even the slightest of interest in the thriller genre.

The Apartment - Once again I felt compelled to return to lighter territory, with one of Billy Wilder's finest comedies owing the development of chemistry between the two leads to a chance encounter in the lift. Jack Lemmon is hysterical as the overworked and lonely Baxter who is duped into letting his boss and other company managers use his flat for their romantic trysts. Baxter's first lift ride with Fran is a wonderful moment and it is no surprise that The Apartment garnered five Oscars back in 1961.

Deep Red - One of the most memorable death scenes involving a lift, this scene from Dario Argento's Deep Red is a great example of the danger posed by the iron shutters that are supposedly there to protect the passengers. The film's protagonist, Marcus, has been on the trail of a serial killer, and in this sequence he narrowly avoids his demise whilst defending himself from an attacker. The woman in question is pushed back and her necklace becomes lodged in the lift's shutters. No prizes for guessing the outcome here, people familiar with the first Resident evil film will be well aware of what can happen when people's heads get stuck in lifts.

Aliens - No sooner do we think that Ellen Ripley has escaped from the Queen alien's grasp, heading to the safety of her ship's landing pad in a lift, we discover that the aliens have far more intelligent than we would give them credit for. The Queen Alien gets in the other lift shaft, and even manages to select the correct floor, what a clever lady, if you can call 'it' a lady that is. In all seriousness though, its a great scene, and the first of so many moments throughout the last part of the film when we believe that Ripley is finally safe before the relentless buggar makes another appearance, which is a direct reference to the final nail-biting scene of its timeless prequel. Aliens remains as one of the greatest sci-fi action films ever created, and thanks to the Alien's familiarity with lifts (it's probably seen most of the films on this list) we are treated to a spectacular showdown.

Mission Impossible - Emilio Estevez meets a cruel end in this fantastic scene from the first Mission Impossible when he is unwisely positioned on top of a lift. He plays Jack Harmon, part of a crack team of experts who are on a top secret mission that falls apart due to foul pay, leaving Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) as the sole survivor. When Jack loses control of the lift's operating system, it rises up suddenly and violently until he becoems impaled on a spike. Lovely stuff, and well deserving of a place on this list.

So, these are my ten favourite lift scenes, let me know if you agree or disagree on their inclusion or if I've missed out any of your favourites. And just be careful next time you take the lift, you never know who could be waiting in there for you...

Friday 7 October 2011

New Release - Real Steel

For some reason, whilst watching Real Steel I couldn't help but draw up comparisons to 80's kids films such as Flight of the Navigator and Short Circuit that are on Channel five nearly every Sunday afternoon. Now there's nothing wrong with those films, the problem is that this is 2011, I don't want to head to the cinema to watch a Channel 5 family film, if I had known I would have stayed in to watch Cocoon.

Okay, it's a lot better than I make it sound but Real Steel fails to break any new ground, choosing instead to recycle hackneyed storylines from a number of films as an absent father is forced to improve relations with his whizzkid son whilst competing for money in a vastly improved game of Robot Wars (All that's missing is Craig Charles). No prizes for guessing that Charlie's son Max has a lot to bring the table, much to his fathers surprise, as the two struggle to make a name for themselves with a robot they stumble across in the scrapyard.

There are bad guys and love interests, disheartening failures and uplifting victories, family feuds and make ups, but none of these come as a surprise which leaves us with a very predictable film. If there were no robots in Real Steel it would be very unwatchable as the acting chops on Jackman and co. just aren't enough to engage the audience. Thankfully there are plenty of robots, even some with two heads, and while they are nothing new in a world that has had three Transformers films, the fight scenes are fist-pumpingly good.

When it came time for Charlie to don his hoody and jogging bottoms to train the robot it all became too much, I was half expecting a montage scene similar to Rocky and was quite disappointed that we didn't get to watch a robot punching some hams in a giant freezer.

For a cold October evening,you could do far worse than heading to the cinema to watch robots beat the crap out of each other. It's just a shame that the story doesn't live up to the impressive visuals.

6/10 - 5 for robots, 1 for story.

If you like this, you will love these:

I, Robot
A.I.: Artifical Intelligence

Wednesday 5 October 2011

New Release - Tyrannosaur Feat. Q & A with Paddy Considine

Ever since his debut appearance in Shane Meadow's cult classic A Room for Romeo Brass back in 1999, Paddy Considine has provided us with a diverse range of characters in low budget wonders as well as appearing in a number of Hollywood productions. His acting ability seems to know no limits and it was with great anticipation that I awaited the opening credits of his feature length directorial debut Tyrannosaur, blissfully unaware of the gritty realism and brutality that was about to unfold before my eyes.

It was interesting to see that Brian Cox was also in the audience, it is clear that this actor turned director is respected not just by his audience but also by his peers. When the lights went down in the packed cinema a stark silence fell on the audience, the anticipation was enormous, and I was hoping that Tyrannosaur would live up to its name.

After the success of his BAFTA award winning short film Dog Altogether, Paddy decided to revisit the characters he first introduced to us back in 2007 to take an in depth look at their lives. For those unfortunate enough to have missed this short, it follows the path of an unhinged man, Joseph, and his encounter with a religious charity shop worker, Hannah, who will seemingly stop at nothing to help him. This scenario is revisited in Tyrannosaur and it is great to see that Considine stuck with the same actors, with both Peter Mullen and Olivia Colman putting in exceptional performances which are only enhanced by the inclusion of Eddie Marsan as Hannah's violent husband.

Comparisons to Shane Meadows work are inevitable but Tyrannosaur is an altogether different beast, with lashes of dark humour and depraved acts that would not be out of place in a Peckinpah film. It is incredible how Paddy manages to create a feeling of empathy towards Joseph, he is a violent brute with little or no concern for those around him but somehow also strangely likeable. His relationship with Hannah is the key to this as we see rare glimpses of affection which indicate a human side to him, even though we are well aware that deep inside there is a monster lurking.

Joseph is not the only one prone to violent outbursts, with Hannah's husband even more twisted and abhorrent. From the offset it is clear that there will be an inevitable confrontation between these two characters and the build up to this climax is outstanding. The supporting cast do a fantastic job of grounding the story, with a gripping subplot involving a young child and his suffering at the hands of his mother's cruel boyfriend.

For a debut film this leaves one hell of an impression whilst asserting Considine's position as a Director to watch out for. In my eyes it is the third great British debut of the year, following on from Richard Ayoade's Submarine and Joe Cornish's Attack The Block, and it gives me faith that our nation can compete with Hollywood when it comes to one of the most important aspect of film-making, the art of storytelling.

Paddy was gracious enough to appear at the preview screening I attended for a Q & A session following his film and the rapturous applause spoke for itself. I have encountered him twice before at gigs where he played with his brilliant band Riding the Low and he always comes across as a charismatic, down to earth guy with a genuine passion for his art whether it be acting, singing or directing.

It wasn't long before he mentioned his pal Shane Meadows, and not long after this Paddy's phone went off; "It's Shane telling me I better watch what I say about him" he retorted, reading his text message. It's off the cuff comments like this that make it so easy to warm to the man, and it was not long before we were all putty in his hands, listening to his fascinating anecdotes and eager to press him for as much information as we could in the time allotted.

My highlight of the session was Paddy's retort about filming on location; "You can't film Inception down Leeds fucking high street", and he went on to mention how the way a man came past walking his dog provided the idea for one of the key scenes in the film. In another scene shot in a pub, I was astounded to learn that the guitarist was given the part in order to stop him from pestering the crew. The song he created fitted perfectly with the mood of the film indicating that Paddy is unafraid to take risks with his film-making in order to provide us with the aspect of realism that echoes throughout Tyrannosaur.

One of the highlights of British cinema this year, Tyrannosaur is an outstanding debut with powerful performances that should not be missed. Fans of Considine will certainly be impressed by his decision to move behind the camera and those new to his work will be dumbstruck by the sheer brilliance of what could well be one of the next great British directors.

If you like this you will love these:

Happy Go Lucky
London To Brighton
Dead Man's Shoes
Fish Tank

New Trailer - John Dies at the End

For as long as I can remember a Bubba Ho-tep Sequel has supposedly been in the works with Paul Giamatti rumoured to star. Whilst we will probably be waiting for a good few years to see if it ever surfaces, the director behind the original, Don Coscarelli has partnered up with Giamatti to film John Dies at the End. The trailer makes about as much sense as Southland Tales, but I'm all for bizarre films with strange creatures so I'll be looking forward to this one. Check out the trailer below:

Tuesday 4 October 2011

New Release - The Lion King 3D

Most people hold a special place in the heart for The Lion King, not just due to childhood memories but because it's a story that has captivated audiences of all ages with its reimagining of one of Shakespeare's finest plays and the wonderful soundtrack from Elton John that is just begging to be sung along to.

With this in mind, The Lion King could be seen as a safe bet for Disney to convert to 3D, with its legions of fans and the opportunity to share the story with a new generation of cinemagoers, but was it really a necessary exercise?

Only two years ago, 3D was heralded as the future of cinema, and not for the first time in the mediums brief but exciting history, but it appears to have become a passing phase with numerous reports and articles indicating that the poor return on 3D film is no longer worth the investment for a number of studios. However, the success of The Lion King in USA has proven that cinemagoers will not be ready to throw away their glasses just yet...

There are some key moments throughout the film that benefit enormously from the addition of an extra dimension, the most notable being the final battle between Simba and Scar which is equally as epic as the climatic fights in recent successes The Fighter and Warrior and just as intense - not bad for a cartoon. Another heart pounding moment is the stampede sequence which demonstrates how the technology, when used correctly, can improve an almost perfect film, with the beautiful animation providing a fantastic backdrop for the breakneck speed of the stampede, which is only enhanced by the eye-popping 3D. Less action-packed but just as memorable is the iconic scene when Rafiki dangles Simba over the cliff near the start of the film and it was impressive to see that he was pretty much dangling right in front of me - I would easily have forgiven any child in the audience who tried to reach out and touch him.

The story remains as compelling as ever, with dashes of humour I never would have understood as a child - the reference to Taxi Driver being a personal favourite of mine - and an emotional edge that Disney somehow manage to get just right in almost all of their movies. For the people out there who are new to the world of Simba and Nala, go and see this film.

Fans of The Lion King, and there a lot out there, are sure to fall in love with Simba all over again, and newcomers are sure to be spellbound by the gorgeous 3D animation. It's an essential film for all cinema enthusiasts and one that should be introduced to the next generation of film fans, use your chance to see it on the big screen while you can. I only hope that one day my favourite film will be enhanced with a third dimension. A Clockwork Orange 3D anyone?

If you like this, you'll love these:

Laputa: Castle In The Sky
Pom Poko