Archive | June, 2012

The Deep Blue Sea

27 Jun

 

Director: Terence Davies

Writers: Terence Davies (screenplay), Terence Rattigan (play)

Stars: Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston and Simon Russell Beale

Motion Picture Rating: 12A

Runtime: 98 minutes

 

 

The British director Terence Davies is a national treasure. For many he is the best living British film director that we have. How many have heard of him and know his work? Not many. He is not prolific, he has focused on the past over the present for stories and his style is rather old-fashioned. The truth is that he is not well-known and this film, his sixth since Distant Voices, Still Lives in 1988, will not affect that status. Once again Davies delivers a small, tightly controlled and languid piece of cinematic art.

This film will not be for everyone. As with his other films, Davies does not play to the crowd. The film is incredibly still and atmospheric. It has weight. The fog, the smoke and the chill of London ca. 1950 pours from the screen. The sets are similarly heavy and the pervading colour scheme is brown and beige. Within this the three lead actors, Weisz as Hester, Russell Beale as Sir William and Hiddleston as Freddie, are mostly forlorn. As with the wrecked city they inhabit, they are all struggling to readjust to life after the Second World War.

The story, adapted from a Terence Rattigan play, is one of an unrequited love triangle. Hester leaves her loving husband Sir William for Freddie, but he in turn can’t reciprocate her deep love for him. Freddie is a cad, a bit of a bounder. Sir William is a lot older than the other two, mature and decent with it, but a privileged mummy’s boy at heart. Hester, sometimes strident and sometimes helpless, is left drowning in the sea that develops between the two men.

If you can get past the challenging opening section of this film it is a worthy, but sombre watch. There are echoes of Brief Encounter in it for me as well as other Davies’ films, especially scenes in smoke filled and cheery pubs. There is one exceptional scene on a London Underground platform during an air raid in WWII that is truly spellbinding. The acting is high quality too. Weisz may well become a national treasure, but Davies’ position is already secure.

Texas Killing Fields

24 Jun

Director: Ami Canaan Mann

Writer: Don Ferrarone

Stars: Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Chloë Grace Moretz

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Running Time: 105 minutes

 

 

I am a very big Michael Mann fan, to the point that I try and see his films on the first day of their cinema release, and all that he does in cinema interests me. With this film Texas Killing Fields he is the producer of his daughter’s first feature. Besides dad as producer, Ami Canaan Mann has the great Bonnie Timmermann casting this film and unsurprisingly she has benefitted.

The lead actors are Sam Worthington and Jeffrey Dean Morgan and both perform admirably as partnered detectives in the southern bayous of Texas. My actress of the year in 2011 Jessica Chastain also shows up well as a third detective and there are strong supporting roles from the prolific Chloe Grace Moretz and Englishman Stephen Graham. So far so good with what is described as a ‘thrilling crime drama’. Also, the south Texas serial killer storyline is inspired by true events upping the ante still further.

Unfortunately, there is more wrong than right here. It is a compact film and moves along quickly, but the result is a lack of continuity and a poorly managed set of seen before storylines. Dean Morgan carries the guilt of past failures as well as a religious vigour in his obsessive pursuit of the killer whilst Worthington struggles as the local boy turned detective. As with the (private) detective played by Casey Affleck in Gone Baby Gone, a much better film, he is uncomfortable patrolling his seedy and left-behind neighbourhood.

As with Gone Bay Gone this film shines a light on an underclass of Americans on the periphery of society and their ‘story’ is a dark one. Here it involves runaways, rednecks and teenage prostitution. The film, many secondary characters and the skies are menacing throughout. Another film that came to my mind is Zodiac with Dean Morgan’s obsession and with the serial killer eventually taunting the detectives. That is another better film than this, but Texas Killing Fields is not without merit.

My Week with Marilyn

23 Jun

Director: Simon Curtis

Writers: Adrian Hodges (screenplay), Colin Clark (books)

Stars: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne and Kenneth Branagh

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 99 minutes

 

 

What was it about Marilyn Monroe? The most famous woman in the world by the end of the 1950’s, she beguiled everyone. We are still intrigued 50 years after her death and this film goes some way to explain the attraction. Here we have Marilyn at Pinewood Studios making The Prince and the Showgirl with Sir Laurence Olivier. It is 1956 and Marilyn is a complete fish out of water with the British cast and crew. However, even away from Hollywood she puts all on set in a spin and suffers as those close to her bully, manipulate and shape her.

There is a good line early in this film from one of Marilyn’s entourage who tells Olivier, played fantastically well by Kenneth Branagh, that he ‘has to accept Marilyn on her terms’ because if he tries to change her ‘she will drive you mad’. That’s the crux of the film. Everyone wants a piece of Marilyn, but she’s a fragile mess herself and the unrequited affections and unfulfilled promises drive everyone around her to distraction. She is always late for filming, deeply insecure and reliant on a method acting coach for direction and confidence. The coach (Zoe Wanamaker playing Paula Strasberg) clashes with Olivier and that method acting versus ‘real stage craft’ is a decent sub-plot.

The main plot regards Marilyn’s friendship with a young and naive production assistant called Colin Clark (played nicely by Eddie Redmayne). The film is based on Clark’s two books – one a memoir and the other a set of diaries. His ‘affair’ with Monroe develops from their shared naivety and fish out of water status on the set (as this is Clark’s first post university job). Monroe feels as if she can safely confide in Clark and he is simply entranced by the film star. Their friendship is warm and mostly genuine although once or twice it seems a little too Hollywood to be true.

Playing Marilyn is Michelle Williams and she is excellent. I believe award nominations flowed heavily and that’s not surprising. She more than mimics Monroe and really brings to the surface Marilyn’s fragile mental state and little girl lost essence. Backing Williams up is a fine British supporting cast – Carter, Dench, Ormond, Jones etc. – and the film is engaging. It is by no means mind-blowing, but it is highly watchable. It stands next to An Education as a small, but almost perfectly formed movie and a fine depiction of Britain of its time and our fascination with celebrity lifestyles.

Chronicle

15 Jun

 

Director: Josh Trank

Writers: Max Landis (screenplay), Max Landis (story), and 1 more credit

Stars: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan

Motion Picture Rating: 12A

Runtime: 84 minutes

 

 

I saw this film on DVD last weekend with my 14 year old nephew. It proved to be an excellent choice of movie and I am sure that the studio executives that bank rolled Chronicle had that teenage audience in mind from the start. There is actually something adolescent about the whole production and it certainly moves along with youthful charm and vigour.

Chronicle follows three high school boys aged 16 -18 that gain telekinetic powers after contact with a strange subterranean crystal. The life-changing encounter is not important as it’s the acclimatisation to their new mind control powers that rightly dominates the story. The boys are friendly, but not best friends at the start. They naturally grow closer as the implications of their shared secret start to dawn on them. Testing their powers, trying to keep the secret and navigating their way through high school all take their toll on the three, but in different ways.

The unique element of Chronicle, as referenced in that title, is that one of the three boys records their activities with a video camera. He takes it almost everywhere and so much so that almost the whole film has that handheld Blair Witch / Cloverfield feel to it. Here the first time director really shows off some wit and ingenuity. When the main camera is off limits he ropes in mobile phones, CCTV and police helicopter cameras to continue the big brother aesthetic.

This is a fresh and clever film. It has some particularly good scenes in the middle as the three boys act out Jackass style stunts by testing their new powers. At those points it is a lot of fun. Towards the end it loses some of its charm as the action gets bigger and bigger, but it’s still a good popcorn flick and an achievement for its relatively inexperienced cast and crew.

The Grey

12 Jun

Director: Joe Carnahan

Writers: Joe Carnahan (screenplay), Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (screenplay)

Stars: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney and Frank Grillo

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 117 minutes

 

 

 

So Liam Neeson has a belated man of action film career. After great success with Taken in 2008 he’s back stretching his lean, muscled, but weathered frame in The Grey. This is less obviously an action film, but still it’s a role that could easily have been pushed towards younger actors such as Crowe, Cruise and Jackman. As it happens, Neeson is perfectly cast. His character Ottway is a world weary contractor working in security for an oil company in remote Alaska. He’s tired, moody and a loner. His specific job is to shoot wolves that venture too close to the oil workers and he does that job stalking the periphery of the base with rifle to hand.

The opening to The Grey is impressive. Whilst the camera pans the isolated base Neeson’s voiceover explains how the remote Alaskan location attracts loners, convicts and eccentrics. Whilst clearly one of that crew, Neeson’s Ottway is set apart and a troubled man. In that first section we start to feel some of his pain and to understand just how inhospitable the snow bound location is. It’s moody and atmospheric and sets the tone for the film.

The central story of The Grey is one of a fight for survival. There is a very well shot air crash early on that violently drops Ottway and 6 other oil workers into the snowy Alaskan wilderness. They aim to hike back to civilisation, but are stalked by a pack of wolves. As with the weaker Hopkins – Baldwin film The Edge in 1997, the air crash survivors are picked off by the unrelenting animals and the unforgiving wilderness as some rise to the occasion and others wilt. Neeson as Ottway rises furthest and takes charge of the group. He is the alpha male of that pack.

This is a very good film. It is clear that writer director Joe Carnahan set out to make a deeper film that contemplates man’s place in nature and how different men approach and deal with impending death. Neeson as Ottway is terrific from start to finish and he holds the film together. He has natural presence with his height and that voice. Here he also delivers emotion and real honesty to his portrayal of a reluctant leader fighting demons on all sides.

The Rum Diary

9 Jun

Director: Bruce Robinson

Writers: Bruce Robinson (screenplay), Hunter S. Thompson (novel)

Stars: Johnny Depp, Giovanni Ribisi and Aaron Eckhart

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 120 minutes

 

 

 

Every now and then I hear about film projects that instantly get me excited. A recent example is Prometheus that I had been following for 15 months before I saw it last week. I missed The Rum Diary at the cinema, but that was in part because it had a limited, and critically dismantled, run. Still, it has Johnny Depp reviving his Hunter S Thompson impression, last seen in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and it is written and directed by Bruce Robinson. That’s excitement enough for me and I am glad to have finally seen it. I am less happy with the quality of film, much the same unfortunately with Prometheus, but hype of any sort can weigh any (average) movie down.

The Hunter S Thompson book The Rum Diary is positioned as auto-biographical in this filmed version with Depp clearly substituting for the young and carefree author / journalist. Depp’s character Paul Kemp is an unpublished author that takes on a frivolous journalism job for a failing newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1960. He starts off carefree, cynical and drunken, but exposure to San Juan’s shady business and politics quickly sobers him up. That is the backbone of the film – the main character’s journey that ultimately delivers him railing at the profiteering “bastards” that aim to despoil the beautiful Caribbean island (and so much more).

Bruce Robinson’s first and most successful film was Withnail and I from 1987 and its cult success, especially in the UK, has weighed him down to the extent that The Rum Diary is only his fourth film in 24 years. Withnail is an amazing piece of comedy and pathos and revisited here in part with Giovanni Ribisi’s turn as Moberg, a truly insane alcoholic writer heading for glorious oblivion. His part, like that of the always underestimated Richard Jenkins as the paper’s editor, produces some nice comedic moments and The Rum Diary is very funny at times. There is a great car scene between Depp and Michael Rispoli and a nice voodoo turn late on.

The problem with The Rum Diary is that it is not funny enough. Also, that we have seen Depp as Thompson before in the much more wild and committed Fear and Loathing. There are elements of that craziness here, but they clash with about 3 other ‘stories’ that are crudely layered on top of each other. One of those brings Aaron Eckhart and Amber Heard into the film and their acting is poor, especially that of Heard as the love interest. Overall, it’s just a bit of a mess, and the dialogue is hard to pick up at times too! I am disappointed by this one as it starts off with a great premise, the cast is strong and it’s Robinson’s first movie for almost 20 years. What happened guys?

50:50

2 Jun

Director:  Jonathan Levine

Writer: Will Reiser

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 100 minutes

 

 

 

This is the story of a 27 year old man (called Adam and played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who develops life threatening cancer aged 27. It is the story of his battle with cancer, his interactions with a young female therapist and the wide-ranging reactions of his friends and family. As such this is hardly mainstream Hollywood fair, but the film has a wholesome, Cineplex friendly cast and the production design of a regular American drama / comedy. Clearly the film makers wanted to make a film on a difficult subject, but open it up to the widest audience possible. That is commendable. However, it is a big task and 50:50 ultimately fails.

In going mainstream and targeting a mass audience, quite a few proven elements have been thrown into the mix here. Seth Rogen, as best friend Kyle, plays the same role that he did in Knocked-Up. Anna Kendrick, as the inexperienced therapist, plays the same role that she had in Up in the Air. Adam’s dysfunctional family is all a bit Little Miss Sunshine and the soundtrack (with Radiohead, Roy Orbison and Eddie Vedder) could have come from any Cameron Crowe movie. And then there is Adam and Kyle, yet another twenty-something bromance. Gordon-Levitt and Rogen act very well together in this, but I kept waiting for Paul Rudd to turn up.

There are some genuinely funny and touching moments in this film and it rattles along nicely enough. The sequences with Adam and two older cancer sufferers are very well done and the supporting cast is talented (including Angelica Huston and Philip Baker Hall). This is not a bad film, but it does not really work and I walked away from it slightly unsure of my feelings towards it. It has its heart in the right place and the actors put a lot into it, but it still doesn’t deliver enough for me.

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