WARM BODIES

Cold Body, Warm Heart

Director
Jonathan Levine

Starring
Nicholas Hoult
Teresa Palmer
Dave Franco
Rob Corddry
John Malkovich



Warm Bodies opens quite candidly with a narration from our lead protagonist, R [Hoult], confessing that he is in fact a zombie but not necessarily a bad person; just an afflicted individual, if you will. Through said narration, he introduces us to his existence, ‘living’ in an airport with fellow zombie, lost, confused and very alone. So, essentially your average teenager/early twenties individual. The exposition continues by explaining that these zombies evolve into wretched ghouls dubbed bonies or skeletons, who have lost all trace of their humanity, along with living tissue and distinctive features. This, as R confesses, is what he has to look forward to. Despite his zombified state, R and his friend M [Corddry] interact as best they can and can often summon simple words such as ‘hungry’ and ‘city’. Around this time we’re also introduced to the survivors, living behind a fortified wall, only venturing out to forage for food and supplies. The compound is run by General Grigio (or Colonel, I can’t remember) played by John Malkovich in a surprisingly unhammy performance. His only daughter, Julie [Palmer] is sent out on one such raid along with her boyfriend Perry [Franco] and several other teenagers – I don’t know why they don’t have adult supervision but whatever. The two plots violently collide when R and his undead friends happen upon the survivors and devour most of them. R explains that by eating the brains of humans, he can see their memories. In doing so, he consumes Perry’s thoughts and supposedly emotions as well, as he falls in love with Julie. Fearing for her life, R coats Julie in a handful of his coagulated undead insides juice and brings her home. After spending time together, the couple find common ground and R notices an affect their relationship has on the other zombies.

Adapted from Isaac Marion’s book, the key reasons this film is anything above direct-to-dvd nonsense is the direction of Jonathan Levine, who was responsible for the cutting but superb 50/50 and Nicholas Hoult’s performance. Without a convincing, funny and sympathetic R, the whole movie would fall apart. The continual ambling, shrugging and glazed stares never tire and viewers will no doubt sympathise with this social underdog, rather than being repulsed by the deplorable killer he actually is. But then Hoult’s a curious one: the guy you wished you hated. Every time he turns up people seem to bemoan his presence and roll their eyes, only to pull a one-eighty when the film ends and confess he’s actually quite talented. For example, About A Boy comes out and you want to hate this large eyebrowed little kid but he’s charming, so you let it slide. Then he appeared in Skins, older and a prick but somehow still cool. The bastard. Every now-and-then he’ll turn up in supporting roles in things like A Single Man and X-Men: First Class and you can’t help but feel defeated as you mutter, “Yeah, he was pretty good there too.” The score is rather underplayed and largely shrouded in familiar songs but Beltrami and Sanders provide enough tension and emotion to sell the on-screen antics. Then there’s the make-up, costumes and overall set design. It could be argued that making a street look ravaged by the horrors of an apocalypse would be quite simple: just fill it with crap.. or CGI the crap in later. In truth, it actually requires a great deal of effort to get right and Warm Bodies achieves a pretty decent level of production value.

Despite all the positive elements, I’m genuinely conflicted as this film effectively pulls a Twilight. Interspecies breeding is still the core focus here but rather than trying to palm us off by calling it ‘teen drama’, we’re given a silly comedy and it sort of works. The reason I’m conflicted is this kind of feels like taking a limo ride through a terrible neighbourhood while laughing at the Twilight fans who have to take the bus.. then get off the bus ’cause it’s where they live.. and.. we drive off. Ok, shit analogy, granted. But just because we’re parodying these imbeciles, doesn’t necessarily forgive the basic concept being so utterly utterly fucking stupid. If I eat their brains, I can dream their memories. Bullpiss! Our love can cure them. Fuck off! In an apocalyptic scenario, we would give John Malkovich a gun and put him in charge. Pffft! You see, I don’t want to be seen saying this film is very good and then have some snooty git (and I know plenty of them) turn around and exclaim, “How is this any different from that Twilight saga, you so vehemently despise?” And they’d have a point, the plot holes and frustrations are just as stupid. I’m convinced it’s simply better acting. Because we believe these lead characters are plausible, we believe the rest of the bullshit and even root for them.. until they kiss.. which is odd. Come to think of it, I’m equally conflicted by the Shakespearean nods. On the one hand, I like this interpretive spin on the zombie mythology and the bard’s tale but why base it so heavily and so clearly on Romeo & Juliet without keeping the downer ending? I won’t spoil the finale but I was kind of hoping for a big Shakespearean close, bloodbaths, crying, finger pointing and solemn glances.

I appreciate this review has been a bit of a non-sensical ramble and I apologise for that. In truth, I’m not entirely sure what to think of this film. It’s as entertaining and amusing as it is implausibly dumb and convenient. It’s not a good film but it’s the performances ensure it’s at least a memorable one.


Release Date:
8th February 2013

The Scene To Look Out For:
Every now and then, R will take an evolutionary step forward and rekindle a piece of his past self. Much in the way that we enjoy anthropomorphic displays in animals, watching R haphazardly rediscovering his humanity is oddly endearing and thoroughly engrossing.

Notable Characters:
Another large problem with this film is the supporting cast. Sure, Rob Corddry is quite funny and Analeigh Tipton provides a laugh or two but none of them are really elevated above “this dude’s a survivor and this dame’s a zombie. What more do you want?” So rather than highlighting a performance, I’d like to point to the extras and shout, DO SOMETHING! That’s all.

Highlighted Quote:
“I wish we still had the internet so I could find out what’s wrong with you”

In A Few Words:
“I wouldn’t say it’s anywhere near as good as Shaun Of The Dead or Zombieland but it’s a surprisingly charming number that at least merits a watch”

Total Score:

3/5

Cinema City Film Quiz #89

[27 January 2013]


Winning Team:
Django’s Unchained Melody

Genre – Musical western

Runners Up:
No Time For Love Dr. Jones
Genre – Time-travelling Nazis remove love from the world
Daylight Savings
Genre – Sci-fi thriller
New Moon Element
Genre – Fantasy


ROUND I: Pre-Production
1. What is the name of the US President’s private plane in Air Force One?
AIR FORCE ONE
2. Who played the title role in The Cable Guy?
JIM CARREY
3. Who directed Edward Scissorhands?
TIM BURTON
4. What colour is Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) Dodge Charger in The Fast & The Furious?
BLACK
5. Who are the two lead characters in The Notebook played by? (one point per correct answer)
RYAN GOSLING / RACHEL MCADAMS
6. What is the technical term for the animation style used in Fantastic Mr. Fox?
STOP-MOTION
7. Maverick, Ice Man and Goose are characters in which film?
TOP GUN
8. In which film is the town of Santa Clara under attack from a teenage gang of Vampires?
THE LOST BOYS
9. At the start of Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, Robin Of Locksley is imprisoned in which city?
JERUSALEM
10. How does Daniel come up with the name for Mrs. Doubtfire in the film of the same name?
NEWSPAPER HEADLINES

ROUND II: Filming [Time Travel Special]
1. Which of the following films is about time travel? Primer? The Birds? Three Men And A Baby?
PRIMER
2. Which of the following historical figures was not collected by Bill & Ted during their Excellent Adventure? Genghis Khan? Sigmund Freud? George Washington?
GEORGE WASHINGTON
3. What was the name of the subterranean flesh-eating beasts in The Time Machine? Eloi? Morlocks? Watchetts?
MORLOCKS
4. In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, the title characters travel back to which era? Feudal Japan? Medieval France? Revolutionary Russia?
FEUDAL JAPAN
5. What is the name of the title character in The Time Traveller’s Wife? Lucy? Michelle? Clare?
CLARE
6. A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court is considered the earliest time travel film. When was the first version released? 1908? 1921? 1933?
1921
7. The last scenes of 12 Monkeys feature and play homage to which Hitchcock film? Vertigo? Rear Window? Psycho?
VERTIGO
8. In Star Trek IV, the Enterprise crew travel back to 1986. What year do they travel from? 2186? 2286? 2386? [bonus point for naming the film’s subtitle]
2286 [The Voyage Home]
9. How many lines does Arnold Schwarzenegger have in The Terminator? 9? 13? 18?
EIGHTEEN
10. The first choice for Doctor Emmett Brown in Back To The Future was John Lithgow. True or False?
TRUE

ROUND III: Post-Production
1. To date, Martin Scorsese has worked with Leonardo DiCaprio four times. Name these films. (one point per correct answer)
GANGS OF NEW YORK / THE AVIATOR / THE DEPARTED / SHUTTER ISLAND
2. In which film does the character Patrick Verona sing Frankie Valli’s ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ from the stands, while Kat Stratford is playing football?
10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU
3. Who plays the title role in The Madness Of King George?
NIGEL HAWTHORNE
4. The following quote is from which film “I have never known birds of different species to flock together. The very concept is unimaginable”?
THE BIRDS
5. Which character shows Victor Fries a video, revealing that Poison Ivy killed his wife, Nora, in Batman & Robin?
BATMAN
6. Danny Boyle’s The Beach is set in and around which country?
THAILAND
7. What is the most expensive animated film (and second most expensive film) ever made, with a budget of $260 million?
TANGLED
8. Who cameos as Paul Sheldon’s agent, in Misery?
LAUREN BACALL
9. American Beauty was released in which year?
1999
10. Falkor the Luckdragon is a character in which fantasy film?
THE NEVERENDING STORY

ROUND IV: Promotion & Release
1. Who played Napoleon in The Emperor’s New Clothes? John Hurt? Ian Holm? Steve Buscemi?
IAN HOLM
2. Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Angela Landsbury and Christopher Lloyd appeared in which animated film? The Secret Of Nimh? Thumbelina? Anastasia?
ANASTASIA
3. What is the colour of Joseph’s flag in Far And Away? White? Green? Yellow?
GREEN
4. God’s Lonely Man, I Work The Whole City and Betsy In A White Dress are track titles from the soundtrack to which film? Bad Lieutenant? Taxi Driver? The King Of New York?
TAXI DRIVER
5. The Elephant Man, Rob Roy and King Ralph all starred which actor? Anthony Hopkins? John Hurt? John Gielgud?
JOHN HURT
6. What is the name of the character played by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s? Holly Golightly? Beatrice Silver? Tiffany Wainwright?
HOLLY GOLIGHTLY
7. Of the following actors, which is the oldest? Dustin Hoffman? Sean Connery? Peter O’Toole?
SEAN CONNERY (Connery 82 / O’Toole 80 / Hoffman 75)
8. The Godfather: Part II, The Great Gatsby and Blazing Saddles were all released in which year? 1971? 1974? 1977?
1974
9. How many films did John Hughes direct? 8? 10? 12?
EIGHT
10. Whilst directing the 1968 musical Oliver! , Carol Reed joked that directing Orson Welles in The Third Man was easier than dealing with even one child actor. True or False?
FALSE

BOUND IMAGE ROUND
Screenshots: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back / Pan’s Labyrinth / One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
Poster: The Omen
Actor: Clark Gable

MOVIE 43

So Many Actors. So Many Stories. So Many Laughs.

Director
Peter Farrelly

Starring
Hugh Jackman
Richard Gere
Halle Berry



I’ve credited Peter Farrelly as the director here but this is in fact a film made up of twelve individual segments with twelve separate directors: The Pitch, The Catch, Homeschooled, The Proposition, Veronica, iBabe, Super Hero Speed Dating, Machine Kids, Middleschool Date, Tampax, Happy Birthday, Truth Or Dare, Victory’s Glory and Beezel. That is, unless you’re outside the US, in which case, you don’t get The Pitch. Instead you’re given a weird net based skit about teenagers looking for a movie that supposedly ends the world. Before I press on, this won’t be in the style of a normal review, it can’t be. Unlike Coffee and Cigarettes, this is a series of short films by different respective cast and crew so I’ll briefly review each segment as a separate entity.

The Catch is the first sketch and stars Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet who have been set up on a blind date. Jackman’s character appears to be the perfect bachelor and no one can understand how he’s still single. Once the date begins, Jackman removes his scarf to reveal a pair of testicles hanging from his neck. Winslet does everything in her power to ignore this while baffled that no one else sees a problem with it. The jokes are based on the initial premise and the whole thing is incredibly two dimensional. The performances are surprisingly acceptable, the prosthetic ball bag is realistic and technically speaking it’s well filmed. It’s just not funny.

The second skit, Homeschooled, is actually one of the more amusing sequences. Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts play parents who are home-schooling their child, Jeremy Allen White but believe that high school should be the most horrific and emotionally scarring time of a young man’s life, so recreate the worst aspects of high school life. Moderately amusing, well-acted, shockingly uncomfortable but thankfully a reasonably satisfying punchline.

The Proposition is where it all starts to go so horribly wrong. Anna Faris and Chris Pratt have been a couple for a year and whilst out enjoying a picnic, Chris intends to propose to Anna. Unfortunately, before he can, Anna requests that he “poop on her.” This greatly unnerves and distresses Chris but wanting to please his partner, he agrees. The entire sketch is just a massive set up to someone uncontrollably shitting themself and not especially good. The leads do the best with the lines they’re given but absolutely nothing redeemable comes out of this sequence. Which is incredibly frustrating as I was pleased Faris managed to distance herself from her Scary Movie days and I really like Pratt, so seeing his involvement here is just mildly crushing.

Veronica is a surreal verbal exchange between exes Kieran Culkin and Emma Stone. She returns a crate of his possessions and the two back-and-forth between bad mouthing each other and seductively flirting, all of which is broadcast over a shop’s PA system. There are a few lines that brought a smile to my face and the performances are surprisingly intense considering the sub-par subject matter but I assume that was the whole point of the joke. It starts nowhere, it goes nowhere and it feels weird. But at least I wasn’t hideously offended throughout.

The next part explores an exec board discussion, headed by Richard Gere regarding their latest MP3 device, the iBabe. The titular product is a simple music playing device except for the fact that it looks and feels like a naked woman. The board discuss how to work around the mounting lawsuits made by young men who are having sex with the device and getting mangled on an internal cooling fan. It’s got nudity. The jokes are.. I don’t really remember any jokes. It’s got a few naked women and the males on the board don’t have a problem with this and one woman does. Literally nothing happens.

As a geek, Superhero Speed Dating was the biggest wasted opportunity. The general concept is that Batman sabotages Robin’s chances at a Gotham speed dating bar, while looking for a bomb planted by the Penguin. I’m not sure what irked me the most about this segment but I’m pretty sure it was the complete lack of humour. There are literally mountains of jokes you can make about comic book characters, the internet is overflowing with them and they range from cryptic in-jokes to obvious observations. His sketch contained nothing, the main joke appeared to be that Batman is a dick. At one point it’s implied that Superman (DC’s big blue boy scout) is effectively a sexually perverse, super powered stalker – the fact that he’s played by Bobby Cannavale only adds to this – but this idea fizzles out before it starts.

Middleschool Date is another brief example of an amusing concept. Jimmy Bennett and Chloe Grace Moretz are watching TV when Chloe has her first period. Jimmy starts to panic and believes his girlfriend is dying. Jimmy’s older brother, Christopher Mintz-Plasse only aggravates the situation by running around the kitchen pulling out various items to use as a sanitary towel. The events heighten when Jimmy and Chloe’s respective fathers arrive and react in an immature fashion. This is Elizabeth Banks’ debut and it’s one of the only highlights of the entire film. The acting is amusing and the reactions are ridiculous. It’s one of the only segments that doesn’t focus on female humiliation (sort of) and serves to highlight how men stupidly deal with things they don’t understand.

I think Happy Birthday was funny but I can’t really tell. I know the ending was shit but.. funny..? Not sure. To apologise for sleeping with Seann William Scott’s girlfriend, Johnny Knoxville captures an exceptionally violent and foul mouthed leprechaun, played by Gerard Butler. The two men argue and beat the leprechaun into revealing the location of his pot of gold, only to be attacked by the leprechaun’s brother. Reasonably well shot, amusingly crass, acceptable visual effects but a bit of a pointless conclusionary joke. If this were a few people online, I’d say it was partly pleasing but as this is Brett Ratner with a budget and a cast, it can fuck off.

Truth Or Dare is another blind date concept piece, which pits Stephen Merchant against Halle Berry. Tired of the usual getting-to-know-you banter, Berry quickly escalates matters by suggesting the two play truth or dare. The dares are vindictive, outrageous, offensive, dangerous and dumb, although blowing out the candles on a blind boy’s birthday cake before he gets the chance to.. was actually funny. Merchant is typically hilarious and performs well, Berry on the other hand feels a little out of place and the various fake boobery that she keeps whipping out has an air of desperation to it. Overall, typically Farrelly.

Elements of Victory’s Glory were amusing, or at least they started off that way before someone started fleshing out the ‘script.’ Terrence Howard plays a basketball coach, giving a pep talk to his team. The year is 1959 and the players are unsure how they will perform against an unbeaten white team. The idea of slapping aside that motivating “come together and do your best” clichés was funny, slapping it aside with “you’ll win, you’re black” was just stupid. Humiliating the white bullies for having no grounds on which to boast, funny. Having Terrence Howard screeching over-and-over “you’re black, they’re white”, not funny.

The last full sketch before.. and sort of during.. the credits is called Beezel and is based on the concept that an animated pet cat, named Beezel, is trying to come between Josh Duhamel and Elizabeth Banks forming a relationship. No new territory, nothing particularly engaging but a few moderate laughs come from Banks’ observations. Outside of that, it’s just gross out humour and violence.

The real treats are the adverts that intersperse the sketches. Contemporary marketing and advertising is fucking horrendous and every potshot at those phoney, hammy, cheap broadcasts are completely worthwhile. This film has three: the first comes before the iBabe sketch and parodies the typical Apple commercials with a group of people listening to music, dancing around the nude iBabe. The second immediately follows Middleschool Date and features two women swimming in the sea, one of whom gets eaten by a shark because she’s menstruating and using an inferior brand of tampon. And finally, the third is based on a charity that helps children in machines who receive regular abuse from adults who shout and strike vending machines. The entire thing was actually brilliant. A perfectly shot, well-acted parody of heart string tugging charity promos.

With so many people working on this film, there’s really only one overarching flaw: awful writing. When categorising “the worst film I’ve ever seen” one has to factor in a few things. Namely, is it well made? See, a film can be badly acted or horribly written but as long as you can follow what’s going on and doesn’t look like it’s been edited on a phone, it’s a film. Then you have to analyse whether these aspects are forgivable for comedic value, i.e. the ‘so bad it’s funny’ film. So, in essence, this is far from the worst movie I’ve ever seen, it’s just a badly script piece of shit. The real mystery is how these people were convinced to work on this horrific, unfunny nightmare. Money and calling in favours can’t be the only reason. You’d hope that these people had even a shred of artistic integrity. Well.. it’s out there now and I never tell people to definitely watch or avoid anything, I feel my job is to present fact and opinion and let others make their own choice. This film, however, should not be seen. At all. It’s an embarrassment and a powder keg of rage for anyone who’s ever tried to make something creative.


Release Date:
25th January 2013

The Scene To Look Out For:
During the credits, various clips, outtakes and extended scenes are played out. One of which was actually slightly amusing and should have gone in the sketch. The Happy Birthday piece ends with Knoxville presenting a mythological fairy who sucks men off for gold coins – not funny. During the credit sequence, Knoxville turns to Scott and whispers seductively, “And so do I” before the cast and crew burst into laughter… that should have stayed in the film.

Notable Characters:
I’m so disgusted with every actor for being involved with this that I can’t highlight anyone. That and all the characters were deplorable.

Highlighted Quote:
“Machines. They’re full of kids”

In A Few Words:
“Made up of nominees and winners of twelve Golden Globes, ten Emmys and eight Oscars.. I’ve never seen so much talent wasted so badly for so little”

Total Score:

1/5

LINCOLN

The Man Behind The Amendment

Director
Steven Spielberg

Starring
Daniel Day-Lewis
Sally Field
Tommy Lee Jones
David Strathairn



This is not a biopic, nor is it a factual account of the events surrounding the abolition of slavery, it is merely a mediocre political thriller set to a historical background. And without any uncertainty to the film’s conclusion, we are left with a very cold, drab and unfeeling spectacle, culminating in little more than a heavily patriotic history lesson. In earnest, it’s not even about President Lincoln specifically, more about the actions surrounding the passing of the thirteenth amendment.. so even the title feels out of place.

1865. The US civil war is in its fourth year but many officials speculate it will be over soon, leading to a northern victory. President Abraham Lincoln [Day-Lewis] has been recently re-elected and taken it upon himself to rid the union of slavery. Despite already setting in place the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln fears that however the war ends this Proclamation may be dismissed as it is not an official law. So begins a four month process of bartering and negotiating with undecided State representatives under the direction of the Secretary of State, William Seward [Strathairn]. Meanwhile, we are treated to the home life in the White House and arguments in the House of Representatives between the fiery democrat Fernando Wood [Lee Pace] and fervent abolitionist Republican Thaddeus Stevens [Jones]. If I’m blunt about the matter.. nothing actually happens for a good two hours and then the bill is finally signed.

For something so important, there’s a distinctly half-arsed feeling to this entire undertaking. The utilisation of long steady shots, which can immerse and captivate an audience, only served to slow the pacing and ensure a heavy air of tedium and pomposity; I appreciate focusing audience attention was the probable reason for this but it cripples the film as a narrative piece. With every monologue a calculated speech devoid of passion or immediacy, the content of Lincoln felt like a solid two and a half hour lecture and aside from the cold dark cinematography, this entire film is absolutely without cinematic flare. On top of that, we’re subjected to all the typical Spielbergian traits which plague the majority of his films: forced and often unnecessary father issues, arrogant self-important dialogue and a disjointed, thoroughly rushed conclusion. And to top it all off, we’re subjected to a wholly uninspired, lacklustre score from John Williams, which sounded like a series of recycled themes from Saving Private Ryan. Being a period piece, however, there are several positive elements, specifically the flawless hair and makeup which would no doubt have been applied to eighty or ninety per cent of the cast, not to mention the keenly crafted costumes used throughout.

Performance-wise, this film is very difficult to critique. On the one hand we have notable portrayals of historic figures with arguable accuracy, giving us an entertaining look into the political processes in Washington – Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader and Lee Pace come to mind but more on them later. On the other hand we have completely wasted acting talent in the forms of David Strathairn Joseph Gordon-Levitt Michael Stuhlbarg and Jared Harris, all of whom are decently cast but utterly neglected by a bloated script. In fact, any motives, opinions and reasons for the supporting cast’s support or opposition of the new amendment are completely lost outside of “I hate them damn negroes” or “Damn you, sir! All men should be equal and free!” It’s a strange testament that Quentin Tarantino said more about the nature of slavery in a western than Spielberg did in a film specifically about slavery! (excluding The Colour Purple and Amistad, of course). Which leaves us with the two lead Lincolns: Abraham and Mary. Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance is both the ideal portrayal of President Lincoln but also a completely laughable parody of the man; I’m not even sure how he achieved it. At times, Lincoln charms the room with his calm confidence and world weary gaze. His soft spoken tones reflect that of a man under immense strain but one who keeps this continual pressure from interfering with his occupational position. Yet, in other scenes, he has the droop and plod of an amateur performer’s impersonation and the ramblings of a doddering old fool. So much so, that whilst waiting for a message from Wilmington, Lincoln has somehow managed to sneak in and plant himself in the background, much to the chagrin of the Secretary of War who exclaims, “No! You’re going to tell one of your stories! I cannot stand to hear another of your stories!” And, dutifully, the President does indeed tell a story about a US delegate’s trip to Great Britain, all with the manner of an old man telling a story to his grandchildren. In stark contrast, Sally Field’s performance is so erratic that I had a problem understanding the nature of the character. Was she suffering from the burden of extreme headaches, depression and melancholy from the death of her son several years ago or was she simply teetering on the precipice of madness, afflicted with a weight of inadequacy issues? Fuck knows. All I can tell you is, she whinged a lot and that’s the only way Spielberg thought to portray her.

To conclude this review, I would just like to submit a minor defence. Being half English, half Irish, there is the assumption that I wouldn’t care about the actions of an American President some one hundred and forty odd years ago. And to a degree, that’s true. On the other hand, I am a bit of a US history enthusiast and a cinema obsessive and as such was greatly looking forward to this release. To discover this project boiled down to a tepid, dull, boring, bloated and unentertaining farce greatly disappointed me. And I can only assume that critical acclaim could be coming about due to the nature and importance of the subject matter, the lead performance and the fact that Spielberg has made a half-decent film for the first time in a decade, rather than actually being a good film.. which this isn’t. By all means, watch it yourself and make up your own mind but in my opinion, this is a horribly wasted endeavour that should have been optioned for a thirteen part HBO drama, in the style of John Adams.


Release Date:
25th January 2013

The Scene To Look Out For:
I would say this paragraph is rife with spoilers but as we all know President Lincoln was assassinated, that seems fairly moot. The end of the film was so disgracefully amateurish. I realise that I usually berate Mr. Spielberg for not knowing how to end a film but this was quite spectacularly abrupt. The one guaranteed way to ensure an emotional connection between the audience and the surrounding characters would be to depict (in some form) the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and it was denied to us. Instead we see Mr. Lincoln walking away like a horse on its hind legs, then we witness the reaction of his young son who learns the news of his father’s death in another theatre, before cutting to a deceased Lincoln lying on a bed like a messiah. As annoying as this was, it would have been perfectly acceptable if the camera didn’t clumsily pan to the right to reveal a candle and within the flame Lincoln delivering another speech! If it were anyone else, audiences and critics would rip the film to shreds for that alone.

Notable Characters:
I found both James Spader and Lee Pace’s characters the most interesting, possibly because they had the most character. The former has been long absent from the screen but this charming performance reminds us that he’s a completely commendable character actor. And as regular readers will know, I’m a bit of a Lee Pace fan and he tends to shine in the majority of the roles he adopts.

Highlighted Quote:
“This is the face of someone who has fought long and hard for the good of the people without caring much for any of them”

In A Few Words:
“A despicably average release bathed in undeserved praise on almost every level. A shocking disappointment and a criminally dull adaptation of one of the key points in US history”

Total Score:

3/5

ZERO DARK THIRTY

The Greatest Manhunt In History

Director
Kathryn Bigelow

Starring
Jessica Chastain
Jason Clarke
Kyle Chandler
Jennifer Ehle



Zero Dark Thirty is the only real chance for any form of cinematic closure on 9/11, the Iraq war and the invasion of Afghanistan. Unlike Vietnam there was no draft and any incursions have been kept secret on an international level. As such, there’s not a great deal to show for it. I’m not saying that’s how war works but it’s definitely how films about war work. Subsequently, a film on this subject matter is going to be a little slow paced and feature a lot of bungling. Considering there is a whole generation of children who are now starting high school having no first-hand knowledge of the 2001 attacks, movies like this one are how they will remember events (arguably). Despite the immense critical praise, I believe this film is a reasonably efficient thriller but its message is all but absent, leaving the whole thing horribly hollow.

The film opens a few years after the 9/11 US attacks to a CIA operative, Dan [Clarke], in an undisclosed location water boarding a captive to reveal information about how al-Qaeda and its terrorist cells operate. Watching the interrogation is a fairly new CIA officer, Maya [Chastain], who has been recruited out of high school and will be overseeing the pursuit of Osama Bin Laden. After rigorous sessions, they trick their prisoner into finally revealing a small piece of information about a high ranking courier using the alias Abu Ahmed. With this tiny strand of information, Maya begins building her case, following up on all leads and working through stacks of DVDs with detainee confessions and interviews. As the years go on, attacks continue and the press grill the President about human rights for prisoners, the locating of their target looks bleak. Subsequently, the CIA begin to pull funding and resources but Maya is determined that she is not only on the right track but that she will discover her target’s location and have him executed as soon as she can persuade her hesitant superiors.

From a technical standpoint, Zero Dark Thirty is brilliantly crafted. The direction and editing ensure that the excessive running time feels tolerable, the cinematography and set design really set the tone and oppressive feel of the various locations and Alexandre Desplat’s moody minimalist score solidifies the slow-burn tension that creeps in throughout. With this, The Hurt Locker and K-19: The Widowmaker, Bigelow has proven herself a master of military thriller pieces and exploring the human side of the services. Considering how Call Of Duty this could have been, it has been completely saved by Bigelow’s steady hand. Additionally, she should be praised for the plot’s clinical execution and honesty, illustrated by the fact that it laces itself with the shame and the fuck-ups to illustrate the rocky road to completing this mission. Furthermore, it’s devoid of that unnecessarily patriotic bullshit that could have so easily crept in and sullied the entire film. Unfortunately, this simply means it plays off like an overly long, dull documentary with a very good lead performance.

I’m not entirely sure but I think this film sort of endorses torture as a productive means of information extraction.. which, arguably, it is but that doesn’t mean it’s commendable. I doubt anyone set out to make a pro-torture argument and anyone who says as much probably has their own agenda but by ignoring the fact that torture techniques lead to erroneous claims, audiences can’t help but walk away from this film in the unarguable position that torture helped ascertain the location of Osama Bin Laden. As far as the narrative is concerned, Maya is our connection point, our empathetic lead from which we draw sentiment and emotion. It may sound preachy or high and mighty but I find it difficult to be drawn in by human sentiment when human lives are treated so brutally through torture (even if their actions deserve it). I’m not necessarily marking this against the film but everyone’s going to talk about it. What I will say, however is that witnessing this should have had a greater impact on the character, to allow us (as an audience) to connect with her – but I’ll expand on this in my highlighted character section.

Two of this film’s biggest flaws are scripting and character development. The story is long and drawn out, doing its best to condense ten years of fruitless sleuthing with interlaced reminders of successful terrorist attacks across the western world. This means that supporting characters are pretty hard to come by and are ultimately limited to a couple of scenes before disappearing. On top of that, there’s no real explanation for Maya’s drive, other than it’s her job and she sees terrible things on news reports and blames herself. In fact, the sheer lack of backstories, which should staple that these individuals are ‘all about the job’, simply leave the audience cold. One of the more disorientating scenes takes place in a corridor, as Maya and Joseph argue their positions. Maya complains that the CIA have aren’t giving her their full support and that by withholding means and resources, she will lose her lead on catching Osama Bin Laden. All very true and delivered with passion and earnest resolve. On the other hand, Joseph highlights that she may be chasing a dead-end lead that could cost hundreds and thousands of dollars to no avail, furthermore he insinuates that catching Osama Bin Laden is somewhat irrelevant, that while it may bring the country some semblance of closure it won’t stop attacks. Also a very valid point. So we have two points here of equal validity which is suddenly overruled by a reverse psychology line about ‘being the only station chief in CIA history who let Osama Bin Laden get away’. So when presented with a genuine argument about why the pursuit of this individual is necessary, why Maya is fighting so hard to find this individual (other than national vengeance) the script’s only response is a childish, “Because we gotta get Osama!”? Damn shame.

Zero Dark Thirty is a perfectly acceptable military/political thriller but only to the degree that Body Of Lies was. Nothing ground breaking or spectacular but interesting. As one with no political or philosophical thoughts on the real-life events (and if I do have any opinions, I wouldn’t let them cloud my critical assessment), all I can do is analyse and rate the film as a standalone piece and I have found it wanting.


Release Date:
25th January 2013

The Scene To Look Out For:
The actual breach of the compound in Pakistan is very well shot. In fact, it’s superbly executed in both its honesty and tense realism. I have no idea how accurate it actually was – I’m fairly confident this operation was rehearsed on a mock-up somewhere in the States but that’s not really important. What is important is the artistic flare with which the whole scene was executed and overseen. Tense, compelling and a nice payoff after two and a bit hours build up.

Notable Characters:
Chastain gives a great performance, there’s no doubt about that. Her laser-like focus and unwavering drive is engaging but it’s never really explained. So, while this is a great performance, she’s in fact a poor character. As previously stated, motivation outside of occupational obligation and civic duty are abandoned but more importantly, the first time we’re introduced to Maya, she is sitting in on a torture session, uncomfortable with the violence she witnesses. Despite this, she buries her feelings and utilises the same methods herself. But this transition is never explored. We aren’t offered an insight into how she made this transition or if it still plagues her. It’s an unfortunately missed opportunity and one which would have made her character a little more relatable.

Highlighted Quote:
“A lot of my friends have died trying to do this, I believe I was spared so I could finish the job”

In A Few Words:
“I’m grateful that a certain amount of tact, restraint and modesty was used to make this release but I shouldn’t have left the cinema feeling almost indifferent and unmoved. Disappointing”

Total Score:

3/5

THE LAST STAND

Not In His Town. Not On His Watch

Director
Ji-woon Kim

Starring
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Forest Whitaker
Johnny Knoxville
Rodrigo Santoro



Arnie’s been missing from the screen for a decade (excluding brief cameo roles) and this is his return to top-billing action films. And it’s bad.. it’s really, really bad.

Set in the sleepy border town of Sommerton, life is simple and slow for Sheriff Ray Owens [Schwarzenegger]. Having worked as a cop in Los Angeles, Owens appreciates the quite banality in a town with ‘no action’. At the same time we are introduced to the highly strung FBI Agent, John Bannister [Whitaker] who is overseeing the transfer of death-row prisoner and the third generation leader of an international drug cartel, Gabriel Cortez [Eduardo Noriega]. The transfer goes horribly wrong and Cortez escapes in a modified Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1 (I had to look that up.. I couldn’t give a shit about the car). Unable to catch him in conventional vehicles, all the FBI can do is plot where Cortez may attempt to cross the border into Mexico. Back in Sommerton, Owen’s young and inexperienced deputies stumble onto a small criminal contingent building something in the desert. Owens starts to piece everything together and quickly realises the jeopardy his town is in and so he begins preparations for an all-out assault on the high speed assailant.

Effectively, The Last Stand is a contemporary western and for all intents and purposes, the potential for a quality film is present, if not for the curious pacing, awful characters, tediously formulaic plot and the piss-poor dialogue (of primary school level immaturity). The cinematography, action direction and camerawork all seem to hold up without incident and the score hammers away fittingly from start to end but it’s the acting that strikes me as the worst element. Each and every character (other than the Sheriff) is horribly cliché and played as hammily as humanly possible. You’ve got the yuppie rookie, the ex-military rebel, the plucky female deputy, the crazy wildcard, the henchmen, the mastermind bad guy and the furious official. I mean, we’re talking about Peter Stormare, Rodrigo Santoro, Luis Guzman.. Forest bloody Whitaker for crying out loud! These are incredibly talented individuals under the direction of a fantastic director. How can this movie be so bad? Despite being a year younger than Sylvester Stallone, Schwarzenegger doesn’t seem up to the physical feats his past rival is striving for. And in a way, I’m glad. Throughout the film, I watched Arnie hurl himself about and operating huge weaponry but I think we’ve all seen that before. The scenes that I seemed to enjoy were the investigative elements. Which… if I’m not mistaken… means I preferred Arnie’s actual acting to the action. That’s a genuinely baffling concept to confess but there it is. In print. I liked Arnie’s acting and not in a vicious ha ha, look at the silly old Austrian fool! but a sincere enjoyment of a man tired and weary of the horrors of violence. But then again, I enjoy End Of Days, so take from that what you will.

In places this film is bolstered enough, toning down the fights, gunplay and cheesy one-liners but the whole thing is far too absurd to be taken seriously, so we end up with a mismatched mess. The whole experience is rather reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s The Quick And The Dead, only without the eccentric character types. Up until now, I don’t think Ji-woon Kim has made a bad film to date. Personally, I think he, Ki-duk Kim and Chan-wook Park, represent the finest directorial talent to come out of South Korea in the last two decades.. but this film is so horribly mediocre, robbed of all identity and substance that it’s honestly hard to believe it has been made by the same individual. It’s as if Kim’s opted for something safe, lowering the cinematic bar for western audiences who may not be too pleased with his style and humour. Alternatively, maybe this is a case of studio interference, budgeting issues, sponsorship strong-arming or perhaps the script was reworked so many times it became unbearable. Whatever the reason, whoever’s to blame, The Last Stand is an unfortunate undertaking. Compared to Arnie’s repertoire (let’s face it, most cinemagoers believe the lead actor makes the movie) this one is largely on par with things like Raw Deal and Eraser in terms of forgettableness – I feel it only fitting to use a word that doesn’t exist in an Arnie review. Following my initial reaction, I was going to mark this film significantly lower than a four but it’s a technically well made flick and reasonably entertaining action fare.. I think I’m just sorely disappointed.


Release Date:
25th January 2013

The Scene To Look Out For:
Cortez’s arrival is imminent, the town is as fortified as it can be and the hired gunmen are laying siege to the few who are standing against them. Then Arnie arrives, armed with a Vickers machine gun. It’s a typically cinematic moment and nonsense but I was thoroughly amused by it. Not because of the implausible stupidity or anything. The cause of my mirth was the fact that blanks in magazines are easily disguised.. as you never see the bullet. A blank on a belt is obviously a blank. In fact, a lot of the firearm choices were amusing: Stormare’s Navy Colt, Guzman’s Tommy Gun, a real medley of ridiculousness.

Notable Characters:
I liked Arnie the cop. Arnie rolling his eyes at the young’uns. Arnie investigating the scene of a crime. Arnie hanging up on Forest Whitaker.. twice. Arnie sitting in a diner ordering coffee but not drinking it. Brilliant stuff.

Highlighted Quote:
“You fucked up my day off!”

In A Few Words:
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a transition from Eastern to Western cinema, as bad as this”

Total Score:

1/5

DJANGO UNCHAINED

Life, Liberty And The Pursuit Of Vengeance

Director
Quentin Tarantino

Starring
Jamie Foxx
Christoph Waltz
Leonardo DiCaprio
Kerry Washington



Set two years before the US civil war, Django Unchained opens with the introduction of our eponymous hero [Foxx], a slave who is freed and recruited by the eloquent and loquacious German bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz [Waltz]. Schultz enlists Django’s help in tracking down three plantation workers known as the Brittle brothers. After his task is completed, Schultz recognises Django is incredibly gifted with a gun and the two partner up for the winter. It is during this time that Schultz learns of Django’s wife, Broomhilda [Washington], who was sold off separately. Moved by Django’s plight, Schultz agrees to help him locate his wife. On their adventures, they learn that Broomhilda is the current property of a deceptively charming but wholly sinister plantation master and Francophile, Calvin Candie [DiCaprio]. Fully aware that Candie will not simply sell Broomhilda, they concoct an elaborate ruse to buy her freedom.

Tarantino’s always been a fan of sixties and seventies pulp cinema; that merging of cheap directorial flare, exploitative themes, anachronistic scores and a melting pot blend of west, east and everything in between. These influences were present in his first three films (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown) but when the 2000’s rolled around, Tarantino stepped away from simple influence to flat out reproduction, with high budget grindhouse features such as Kill Bill, Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds. Django Unchained is very much a continuation of this direction albeit playing down some of the more jarring aspects, such as random voiceovers, colourful fonts and expository narrative jumps. The elements that remain almost serve to accentuate the excessiveness of the story; the ridiculous zooms, eccentric characters and the over-the-top violence and swearing. But the thing that separates Tarantino’s films from the slew of sub-par grindhouse productions is his impeccable dialogue, storytelling and the calibre of actor he employs. Almost as if he has taken the most exquisite cake ever baked and decorated it with crudely drawn naked stick people: it should be repulsive but it’s surprisingly spectacular.

With Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino seemed to set out with one solitary goal, to portray the face of Jewish vengeance (a quote which I highlighted in my review). Django Unchained bears a remarkable similarity to the extent that he has once again taken a previously popular genre and warped it to illustrate the face of African-American vengeance. Curiously enough, his choice to do this, being white, will no doubt cause immense controversy. Despite the fact that his depictions of a life in slavery are tame by comparison to the reality people were actually forced to endure, the excessive violence and use of the word ‘nigger’ is going to irritate a lot of people. Furthermore, I’m not exactly sure this film is one about black vengeance and more about white guilt but I could ramble about that for hours. Being an exploitative film doesn’t exactly help Django Unchained’s argument either but like every single Tarantino film, if people don’t like it, they don’t have to watch it.

Aside from the more ridiculous elements, this film is a technical delight. The cinematography is crisp and beautiful, the costumes and production design are breath-taking and the editing and pacing are so spot-on that two and a half hours sail by without notice. Whereas the score should be completely distracting, taking the audience out of the film, it almost immerses them further. I’m of the firm belief that music makes a film (whether used powerfully, softly or absently) and Tarantino has always held out that if someone else scores your film, you (as the writer/director) lose a lot of the creative control over the mood of the scene, hence his use of contemporary music and scores from other films – most often and most notably Ennio Morricone. Then there’s the acting. True Tarantino traits aren’t necessarily the use of violence and grisly deaths, it’s the memorable characters and their brilliant dialogue. Each and every actor is wonderfully cast, bringing an ingenious level of humour, wit, menace and charm – an observation that isn’t limited only to the leads but to the supports and extras as well.

The biggest flaw I can find with this film and the reason I’ve marked it down to an eight out of ten, is Tarantino’s grindhouse influences. As much as it serves him, it also cripples him, ensuring that the pulp elements overtake the credible weight. So what should be a clear-cut message piece becomes a trivial ‘fun’ (if you’ll permit me to use the word fun) piece and robs the plot of its severity at times. Furthermore, it’s not original. All you have to do is rent a handful of b-movies from the seventies, mash them up and you’ll see everything Tarantino has been striving for these last twenty years; the unfortunate truth that drawing on the work of your idols has the knack of producing something derivative. That and Tarantino’s indulgent cameo which, while amusing, was wholly unnecessary and really jarring.

On the whole this is a surprisingly entertaining film but for some reason, lacks the gravitas of a release such as Inglorious Basterds. Whether that’s due to the streamlining in character quantity or the subject matter itself, I couldn’t say but it remains a remarkably visceral, impressive flick.


Release Date:
18th January 2013

The Scene To Look Out For:
Two scenes that stand out, for wholly different reasons, are the lynch mob scene and DiCaprio’s explosive skull scene. The first is an example of Tarantino’s undercutting of a serious issue with humour and ridicule. Having successfully claimed a bounty from an atypical plantation owner, both Django and Schultz are set upon by a hooded lynch mob. The second they ride over the hill, flaming torches and rifles in hand, we are treated to a brief flashback, explaining that the masks were poorly designed and that none of the riders can actually see out of them. The second takes place shortly after Candie suspects the bounty hunter’s intentions. He removes from an ornate box, a polished human skull. As he taps and points with professorial precision, you can feel the tension building before Candie finally snaps and bellows at his guests. A prime example of how terrifyingly menacing DiCaprio can be when required.

Notable Characters:
The lead performances are exceptional but the one that really took me back was that of Stephen, the crotchety outspoken house servant, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Wily, bigoted, crass but devout and loyal, his combined malice and devotion are entrancing. A demanding role but one well met by Mr. Jackson and wholly befitting of his history with Tarantino.

Highlighted Quote:
“Christ, Stephen! What is the point of having a nigger that speaks German if you can’t wheel her out when you have a German guest?”

In A Few Words:
“One of the more surreal westerns I’ve ever seen but also one of the most fun”

Total Score:

4/5

Cinema City Film Quiz #88

[13 January 2013]


Winning Team:
A Linklater To The Past

Genre – Action adventure

Runners Up:
My Own Private Innuendo
Genre – In your end-oh (erotic horror)
The John Hurt Locker
Genre – Strangers On A Train remake
Got Nothin’
Genre – A bamboozling blank slate thriller
The Tear Itch Project
Genre – Sci-fi horror


ROUND I: Pre-Production
1. LA Confidential is set in which US city?
LOS ANGELES
2. Finding Neverland features the conception and writing of which play?
PETER PAN
3. Which actor plays the role of Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator?
LEONARDO DICAPRIO
4. What sport is the main focus of Cinderella Man?
BOXING
5. Which actor appeared in The Sting, Cool Hand Luke and The Hustler?
PAUL NEWMAN
6. What type of animal is Sid in the Ice Age series?
SLOTH
7. How many individuals make up the Parr family in The Incredibles?
FIVE
8. Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade is set in which decade?
NINETEEN THIRTIES
9. Who directed Delicatessen, Alien Resurrection and A Very Long Engagement?
JEAN PIERRE JEUNET
10. In Reservoir Dogs, the six criminals are given aliases. Name them. (one point per correct answer)
WHITE / ORANGE / PINK / BLONDE / BROWN / BLUE

ROUND II: Filming [Indie Films Of The 90’s Special]
1. Who wrote, directed and starred in Clerks? Kevin Smith? Bruce Willis? Quentin Tarantino?
KEVIN SMITH
2. How many students are making the titular documentary in The Blair Witch Project? Two? Three? Four?
THREE
3. What is the alias of the serial killer in Seven? Jack Ripper? David Mills? John Doe? [bonus point for naming the actor who portrayed him]
JOHN DOE [Kevin Spacey]
4. What is Barton Fink writing when he moves to California in the film of the same name? Script? Play? Novel?
SCRIPT
5. Who directed the 1994 release, Heavenly Creatures? Kenneth Branagh? Jane Champion? Peter Jackson?
PETER JACKSON
6. How many individuals feature on the poster for Trainspotting? Five? Six? Seven?
FIVE (Begbie, Diane, Sick Boy, Spud, Renton)
7. At what age was Karl Childers incarcerated for killing his mother and her lover, in Sling Blade? 10? 12? 14?
TWELVE
8. What is the name of the pre-op transgender character in The Crying Game? Jody? Col? Dil?
DIL
9. What was the budget for Pulp Fiction? 8.5 million? 12.5 million? 19.5 million?
$8.5 MILLION
10. Luc Besson’s Leon is an Independent film released in the 1990’s. True or False?
TRUE

ROUND III: Post-Production
1. Who directed Tom Cruise in Valkyrie?
BRYAN SINGER
2. What was the title of the 1989 comedy directed by Mel Smith, starring Jeff Goldblum, Rowan Atkinson and Emma Thompson?
THE TALL GUY
3. Dr. Frederick Chilton is the head of a psychiatric facility for the criminally insane in which film?
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
4. What is the name of John Hammond’s genetic engineering company in the Jurassic Park trilogy?
IN-GEN
5. The following is the poster tagline from which film, “Can two friends sleep together and still love each other in the morning”?
WHEN HARRY MET SALLY
6. Which Bond film opens with the assassination of a clown?
OCTOPUSSY
7. What was the title of the 2005 Gore Verbinski film starring Nicolas Cage and Michael Caine?
THE WEATHER MAN
8. Which chess piece is part of an in-joke between Edmond Dantes and Fernand Mondego in The Count Of Monte Cristo?
KING
9. Bill Cobbs and two other actors play the previous night guards in Night At The Museum. Name them. (one point per correct answer)
DICK VAN DYKE / MICKEY ROONEY
10. Harry Sullivan, Polly Perkins, Dex Dearborn and Commander Frankie Cook are characters in which 2004 b-movie throwback?
SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW

ROUND IV: Promotion & Release
1. Of the six IMF agents, how many die at the start of Mission: Impossible? 3? 4? 5?
THREE (Jack, Hannah and Sarah)
2. Which of the following was not a biopic of Truman Capote released in the 2000’s? Infamous? In Cold Blood? Capote?
IN COLD BLOOD
3. 1944’s Ivan Groznyy (Ivan The Terrible) was released in how many parts? 2? 3? 4?
TWO
4. In which year was Hitchcock’s Rebecca released? 1938? 1939? 1940? [bonus point for naming the lead actor]
1940 [Laurence Olivier]
5. What colour is Kaneda’s bike in the anime Akira? Red? Black? White?
RED
6. Which film did Cagney win an Oscar for? The Roaring Twenties? Love Me Or Leave Me? Yankee Doodle Dandy?
YANKEE DOODLE DANDY
7. Which of the following does Grenouille not try to distil the scent of, in Perfume? Glass? Cat? Glue?
GLUE
8. Before adopting the name of his home town, what was Vito Corleone’s surname (as seen in The Godfather: Part II)? Abbandando? Fanucci? Andolini?
ANDOLINI
9. The following quote is from which film, “This is the job. Don’t wait for it to happen, don’t want it to happen. Just watch what does happen”? Once Upon A Time In America? The Untouchables? Casino?
THE UNTOUCHABLES
10. The same child actor plays Mikey in Look Who’s Talking and Look Who’s Talking Too. True or False?
FALSE

BOUND IMAGE ROUND
Screenshots: Amadeus / Sunset Boulevard / A Fistful Of Dollars
Poster: Halloween 4
Actor: Paul Newman

LES MISERABLES

Fight, Dream, Hope, Love

Director
Tom Hooper

Starring
Hugh Jackman
Russell Crowe
Anne Hathaway
Amanda Seyfried



Les Miserables starts with the paroled release of convict, Jean Valjean [Jackman] under the warning that he will be watched by his former master, the unwavering lawman, Inspector Javert [Crowe]. Life after imprisonment is difficult for Valjean, scorned by the public and moved along by employers, he eventually finds himself at the doors of a church. The bishop takes him in and feeds him. Seizing the opportunity to make a quick getaway, Valjean pilfers the silverware and absconds in the night. Naturally, he is caught and brought before the bishop, who explains that he gave Valjean the items as a gift. The bishop then claims in doing this, he has bought the convict’s soul for God. Valjean, overwhelmed by this charity vows to make amends, using the money to reinvent himself. Several years later, we learn that Valjean is the mayor of a small village and a successful factory owner. One of his employees, Fantine [Hathaway], is discovered to have bore a young child out of wedlock. The shame and potential scandal leads to her firing but Valjean is preoccupied with the arrival of Javert, who has been posted in town on another matter. Fantine slips into desperation and despair and eventually sells both her hair and teeth before selling her body. Valjean learns that her fate is indirectly his fault and vows to the dying Fantine to take care of her child, Cosette. Javert surmises Valjean’s true identity and continues to pursue him. The story skips ahead, culminating in the June Rebellion (not the French Revolution), Cosette’s fate, Valjean and Javert’s rivalry and a group of students who speak out against the establishment.

As musicals are such a rarity these days, the novelty that a well-known actor can sing is enough to merit attention; unfortunately, this seems to cloud the overall performance. In this case, everyone does a spectacular job. Hugh Jackman has always been a very passionate actor and his roles over the years have more than proved his range as a thespian but he ultimately comes from a theatrical background. The fact that he can command a production of this scale and still manage to belt out powerful ballads before moving onto a gentler piece shouldn’t be that surprising – impressive, yes but not surprising. Equally, Anne Hathaway’s mother was a stage and musical regular, so her abilities should come as no surprise. Then there’s Russell Crowe, who people seem to have made their minds up about before seeing the film. Granted, Crowe’s rendition of Javert does not project the sheer operatic bravado of the stage production but I felt his more sombre, soulful take to be equally noteworthy. If anything, the real problems with the characters stems from the musical, which only fully develops select individuals.

First and foremost this is a musical and while I don’t believe ‘musical’ to be a genre type, it is certainly a stylistic technical type. So if you’re not a fan of musicals or the operatic style of acapella singing through certain lines rather than talking, you may find this jarring and unusual. On the other hand, it may sway the undecided and introduce them to a very different storytelling method. Either way, Les Miserables is an adaptation of one of the most successful stage musicals ever and as such, the majority was always going to be kept intact. Where cinema really thrives, leaving its board-treading cousin behind, is visual scope and scale and this film is chock full of production value, glorious sets, costumes and a sprawling, living, breathing nineteenth century France. To say this movie is a wondrous treat for the eyes is a bit of an understatement. The combination of Hooper’s distinct directorial style and flare for dirty, grimy period realism makes for one of the best depictions of life in squalor rivalling that of Perfume. The credibility of the setting goes a long way to secure the credibility of the continual, almost uninterrupted singing. And it’s the supposedly controversial decision to record the cast singing on-set, rather than miming to pre-recorded takes that really helps. Detractors will claim this hinders the potential quality of the performances and does a disservice to the songs themselves but with the actors incorporating the sheer emotional immersion of singing and acting, what we’re given is something powerful and moving but also unique.

As it exists, this film is an exceptional adaptation of the musical but in turn it inherits all the mistakes, making it a terrible adaptation of the novel. As such, the story’s focus changes from the overarching themes that the poor will always suffer, society allows women to fall into ruin and children are abused and underestimated to a simple love story with a neat ending. It’s called Les Miserables for a reason. Hounding, suffering, doubt, misery, squalor and the horrors man is willing to commit unto itself are the issues that should be rattling in your skull at the end of the story, not “Aww that was beautiful. What a wonderful tale.” No! Wrong! It’s a fucking miserable existence and you should be glad you don’t have to endure it yourself. But this is an unavoidable complaint about the “source material” (and by that I mean the musical) and I’m fully aware that had the story been altered to reflect the book, fans of the musical would have been in uproar. There are small developments and events that have been lifted from Hugo’s book that were not present on stage but without the actual point of the story, it feels like consolatory filler at best.

At over two and a half hours, it’s worth briefly mentioning that in theatre one gets an intermission… with ice cream. In the cinema, however, you have to plant your audience, sing at them for nearly three hours and hope their exhaustion is predominantly emotional rather than physical. But once again, this is all down to audience preference: if you don’t care for musicals, this film will be a long, boring, loud, never-ending exercise in pretention but if this is your thing, you’ll be completely and utterly bowled over in a state of bliss.


Release Date:
11th January 2013

The Scene To Look Out For:
I’ll keep this brief to ensure it remains spoiler-free. I’ve always liked the character of Javert and while the book manages to justify his final fate, both the film and the musical never really establish the drive and contemporary reasoning behind his actions. As such, this small development will tarnish the entire character’s presence and feel like a cheaply written resolve.

Notable Characters:
In addition to the main cast, many of the supports are granted brief moments of note. The oft reappearing Thenardier [Sacha Baron Cohen] and his wife [Helena Bonham Carter] are amusing enough, though hardly a challenge for these almost type-cast individuals. Marius’ role, played by Eddie Redmayne is perfectly acceptable but I’ve always found the character arrogant, spoilt, naïve and a pain in the arse, so it’s tricky to set aside those frustrations. The real standout is Samantha Barks who is reprising the role of Eponine, which she has portrayed many times on-stage. Her voice naturally puts many of her fellow cast members to shame but most notably, her acting is worthy of cinema, free of exaggeration and pretention. Whether she continues her screen career is hard to tell but if she chooses to, she certainly has the talent to go far.

Highlighted Quote:
“You know nothing of Javert! I was born inside a jail, I was born with scum like you, I am from the gutter too!”

In A Few Words:
“A love letter to fans of musicals and those of the original stage production, Les Miserables is an emotionally draining tour de force. For those who prefer a less melodic narrative, the entire thing will come off as a little bit much”

Total Score:

5/5

GANGSTER SQUAD

No Names, No Badges, No Mercy

Director
Ruben Fleischer

Starring
Josh Brolin
Ryan Gosling
Sean Penn
Emma Stone



There are two ways I can write this review. The first is laced with one-sided praise from a genre fanboy who loves the era, the setting and the style. On the other hand, I could review this film as an impartial, unbiased film critic, in the interest of producing a clear and concise breakdown of what works and what doesn’t in this new release. I’ll let you decide which one I’ve opted for.

Los Angeles. 1949. New York gangster Mickey Cohen [Penn] has bribed, murdered and extorted himself a powerful foothold in the west coast’s shining ‘city of the future’. For men returning home from World War II, LA has become a depraved cesspool where crime is rife and thugs thrive on the corruption of the police department. After Sgt. John O’Mara [Brolin] singlehandedly lays waste to one of Cohen’s brothels, he is recruited by chief of police, William Parker [Nick Nolte], to form a small unit of off-the-book officers to act as guerrilla agents, smashing Cohen’s reign in Los Angeles. We are then introduced to a colleague of O’Hara’s, Sgt. Jerry Wooters [Gosling], who takes a very lax attitude to his duties but ultimately his heart is in the right place. Jerry eventually joins the squad but not before making a successful pass at Cohen’s girlfriend and ‘etiquette tutor,’ Grace Faraday [Stone]. The group have a bit of a rocky start but soon begin to make a real dent in Cohen’s operation. But the more successful their destruction becomes, the more evident this is not the work of a rival gang but the actions of the police force and Cohen devotes his whole attention to ridding himself of these interrupters of progress.

Technically speaking, the cinematography, camerawork and score all work wonders. DP Dion Beebe’s dark, digital style really staples a gritty aesthetic in which Los Angeles hums with vibrancy and excitement. Laced over that is Steve Jablonsky’s tense score, pulsing and soaring over the action and drama. The production design is also exquisite and much like LA Confidential, the whole movie is filmed to contemporary standards, rather than utilising nostalgic techniques, angles and methods. While the casting is seemingly perfect, the performances can be divided into four clear categories: Penn, Brolin, Gosling, everyone else. In a similar way to Tombstone, the central roles are so fully explored and played with that there really isn’t a lot of time to devote to the supporting cast. As such, we’re glean glimpses of great performances that breathe a little but never expanded to the degree that we really know anyone outside of the big three. Equally, the female supports are compartmentalised into smart wife, sassy dame and a sea of forgettable faces. In Gangster Squad women are delicate, innocent and usually in need of saving. Whether this was true of the time or not, it does leave the feature a little gender one-sided.

**Bit of a spoiler in the last sentence**
Gangster Squad’s biggest problem is that it follows the formula laid out in The Untouchables from start to finish with varying results. At times, this film is enigmatic, enthralling, engaging and enticing, the rest of the time it feels like it’s trying so hard to replicate the power of Brian De Palma’s 1987 masterpiece, without ever really attaining that level of exceptional prowess. In other words, if you’ve seen a handful of gangster films, you’ll be able to piece together the entire plot within the first few minutes. That’s not to say it’s not very well produced with solid performances throughout but it fails to offer audiences anything they haven’t seen before. It’s more a repackaging of a classic for the kind of cinemagoer who won’t bother with films made more than five years ago (in the same way that Avatar was effectively Dances With Wolves). Then there’s the anti-climactic ending, which is an unfortunate but unavoidable element of a story based on the exploits of Mickey Cohen. For those unfamiliar with history, the man was jailed on tax evasion and died in his sixties in prison; subsequently, no amount of plot tweaking would provide an appropriately cinematic close to this story and what we’re left with is a little disappointing.

Every ten years or so a really spectacular cop/gangster flick comes along: The Godfather, The Untouchables, LA Confidential. Is this film as good as these examples? No, of course not, I’ve just listed three of the greatest films ever made but it’s certainly of the highest calibre for its genre. It’s more like Public Enemies (the best the genre had to offer in the 2000’s), fantastic performances, lavish visuals but a little too forgettable to really make a mark on cinema history. No doubt Fleischer will receive a bit of a wailing from critics for drawing so heavily on masterworks of the past but considering this is only the director’s third release and his first attempt at a serious drama, it’s a damn impressive leap forward.


Release Date:
11th January 2013

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Possibly a little spoilery**
Steering away from all too familiar scenes from various other noir and pulp films over the decades, I think a particularly amusing scene to highlight is the ‘gangster squad’s’ first job, rolling over a Burbank casino owned by Cohen. Without a real plan, the five men storm in with handkerchiefs over their mouths, brandishing guns in their hands, only to discover a troupe of off-duty cops. The whole thing ends in a chaotic retreat and two of the squad are arrested. A nice little dose of reality in an erstwhile fanciful plot.

Notable Characters:
As stated above, the real heavyweight dialogue and screen time is divided between Penn, Brolin and Gosling, all of whom shine and remind us of their sheer excellence. But that much is obvious so highlighting it again seems a bit moot. Instead, I should draw your attention to Sullivan Stapleton who plays club owner, Jack Whalen. He’s only really on-screen for short periods of time but he manages to hold his own with everyone and proves himself more than capable.

Highlighted Quote:
“I like having only one fork.. you never make a mistake”

In A Few Words:
“Playing out as more an homage to pulp/noir greats, rather than establishing itself as one of them, Gangster Squad is a thoroughly enjoyable romp but doesn’t exactly pave new ground”

Total Score:

3/5