Archive | October, 2012

What to Expect When You’re Expecting

28 Oct

 

Director: Kirk Jones

Writers: Shauna Cross (screenplay), Heather Hach (screenplay)

Stars: Cameron Diaz, Matthew Morrison and J. Todd Smith

Motion Picture Rating: 12A

Runtime: 110 minutes

 

 

Movies about babies and fledgling families are all the rage. Along with this one, based on a best-selling novel, there have been 3 or 4 others out in the last year or so (Friends with Kids and I Don’t Know How she does It among them). Hollywood has clearly taken the pulse of 30 and 40 something’s and decided that films about making babies can make box office. That seems odd to me. If you are a couple trying to make or care for a baby why would you want to spend time and money on a babysitter to go out and sit through other couples’ baby related headaches and heartbreaks?

In this film we have 5 couples that are obsessed with babies, but that come from slightly different backgrounds and that face slightly different challenges. As such we get to see wanted and unwanted pregnancies, adoptions and a variety of birthing choices. It’s all in there – a nice spectrum of 30 and 40 something’s with a nice range of baby making dilemmas. Among the couples Cameron Diaz and Matthew Morrison share the most screen time with Elizabeth Banks and Ben Falcone a little behind them and then Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro further back.

The few decent elements in this film oddly by-pass the starring couples and are left to cameos by Rebel Wilson and Megan Mullally. Besides them, Anna Kendrick is rather good playing a young woman pregnant after a one night stand. That’s it for the positives. There are so many negatives!

Truly, this is an awful film. I would like to say that its heart is in the right place, but I can’t even do that. It is formulaic, manipulative and riddled with clichés. As a comedy I had to wait about 60 minutes for a first laugh and as a drama it resorts to ludicrous plotting including a simmering son versus dad plot involving Dennis Quaid (looking embarrassed to be in the film). At times the dialogue seems to come straight out of a self-help guide for first time parents and at the end we are told that making babies is really tough, but having them pays back tenfold. That’s the insight folks. That’s the reward for sitting through 110 minutes of pure mediocrity.

The Angel’s Share

26 Oct

 

Director: Ken Loach

Writer: Paul Laverty (screenplay)

Stars: Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw and Gary Maitland

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 101 minutes

 

 

Ken Loach and Paul Laverty is an established film-making pair. Together they have made some excellent films such as My Name is Joe (1998) and Sweet Sixteen (2002). Their latest collaboration remains rooted in the day-to-day lives of the Scottish working class, but is lighter than previous films. The setting is Glasgow with 4 friends on the edges of society and brought together by their anti-social behaviour. Robbie (Paul Brannigan), Rhino (William Ruane), Albert (Gary Maitland) and Mo (Jasmin Riggins) are put into the community payback scheme in lieu of custodial sentences with Robbie, the film’s central character, given one last chance at staying out of jail.

The story of Robbie drives this film along and is typically dealt with honestly and compassionately by the director. Loach has a keen and sincere eye for people on the margins of society and Robbie is a classic Loach (and Laverty) character. In the first half of the film we see Robbie’s darker side, his anger, frustration and his predisposition for violence. There is one moving scene in which he has to sit and listen to one of his victim’s account of the assault. Through that and beyond Robbie is supported by his partner Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) and the birth of their first child underlines just how quickly Robbie has to turn things around.

In the second half of the film, generally lighter, funnier and quicker paced, the 4 friends led by Robbie attempt to make some quick money. Their scheme is centred on whisky and the auction of a very rare cask of the stuff. Robbie is introduced to whisky by his community liaison officer Harry (nicely played by John Henshaw) and it is clear that he has some skill in appreciating the complex liquor. Robbie becomes fascinated by the whisky making process and convinces his peers of a plan to put his new found knowledge to good, if not exactly legal, use.

The Angel’s Share, which in whisky terms is the small amount lost from a cask to evaporation, is a decent hard-working film. It’s slightly old-fashioned at times and the mixture of social realism and comedy are at odds now and then, but it is heartfelt and eminently watchable. Brannigan in the lead role is very good and the others show up well too. There is one dodgy montage set to that famous Proclaimers song, but otherwise its heart is in the right place and the story of Robbie’s struggle to turn his life around rings true enough.

J. Edgar

24 Oct

 

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: Dustin Lance Black

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 137 minutes

 

 

John Edgar Hoover was one of the most influential American men of the last century serving in higher government office for some 48 years and under 8 presidents. Appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation in 1924, he was the key to its subsequent transformation into the FBI in 1935 where he then remained in charge until his death in 1972. Hoover achieved an enormous amount as director of the FBI, but retains a controversial legacy. It is very clear that he was power hungry, zealous, secretive and unscrupulous at times. He made a lot of enemies, but almost always kept ahead of them via intellect and stealth. It is less clear that Hoover was gay and his close relationship with his deputy Clyde Tolson also deeply affects his legacy.

The depth and breadth of the Hoover story is enough to fill countless volumes, but this film’s director (Clint Eastwood on reasonable form) and writer (Dustin Lance Black, the writer of Milk) focus in on J. Edgar’s private life. The big episodes, Hoover’s pursuit of John Dillinger, the kidnap of the Lindbergh baby, Hoover’s many tussles with the Kennedy brothers etc, are covered, but are not put front and centre. There we have Hoover, his domineering mother (Judi Dench), his loyal assistant (Naomi Watts) and his deputy Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). We get to see how these three closest confidantes influence and support J. Edgar. We also get to see how awkward Hoover can be in opening up and trusting them.

Without a doubt at the heart of this film is an excellent performance by Leonardo DiCaprio. He inhabits J. Edgar supremely well and manages to do so for the full 140 minutes and 50 years of the Hoover story. He is a fine actor. Around him Dench does well, Watts is OK, but Hammer struggles (both with the role and the poor latex ageing make-up). The direction and photography are fine once you get used to the intentional low lighting and almost black & white colouring. This is not, however, a great Eastwood film. He and the writer have delivered an interesting biography, but it is played straight and there are no shocks in theme, story or framing. They have also sat on the fence in terms of the Hoover – Tolson relationship. It would have been more interesting to see how a director such as Paul Thomas Anderson approached this subject.

Marley

13 Oct

 

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Stars: Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley and Jimmy Cliff

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 144 minutes

 

 

For all that has been reported about the late Bob Marley I found myself watching this documentary rather embarrassed by my lack of actual knowledge. Maybe we all feel that we know Nesta Robert Marley because of those amazing songs – No Woman No Cry, Buffalo Soldier, One Love etc. – and his high profile position as the face of Rastafarianism. I thought that I had a line on it all, but kudos to film-maker Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void and The Last King of Scotland) for going into such depth here and for gaining the trust and support of Bob’s family. As with the phenomenal documentary Senna, it is the private family archives that really lift this film on to another level – that and the music which remains special.

Bob was born in a Jamaican village in 1945 to mixed race parents. He did not get to know his father, a man from Sussex, England who claimed to be a Captain in the Royal Marines, but remained very close to his mother and extended family. At 14 Bob left school and focused on music. He recorded his first singles by age 17 and went on to form The Wailers with Bunny Wailer (his step brother) and Peter Tosh. Bob and his collaborators played some rock, a lot of ska and settled on reggae. That music suited his poetic lyric writing and his burgeoning beliefs in the Rastafari movement for which he became a figurehead. Reggae music is what Bob Marley is known for and he, as a solo artist, with The Wailers and other collaborators, produced the greatest reggae music of all time.

This documentary is a straight chronological biography of Marley (as well, importantly, as a study of Jamaica in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s). It is evidently made with a lot of love and reverence for the subject and it is blessed with that splendid archive footage and candid interviews from Bob’s family and friends. It is a comprehensive and insightful study. I found it interesting and very entertaining. It made me re-appraise Marley and my respect for him grew as a result. He was and remains a legend of a musician, he clearly touched almost all who met him, and his words, music and deeds live on some 30 years after his death.

The Raid

5 Oct

 

Director: Gareth Evans

Writer: Gareth Evans

Stars: Iko Uwais, Ananda George and Ray Sahetapy

Motion Picture Rating: 18

Runtime: 101 minutes

 

 

It is a great feeling when any film transports you to an unknown place and makes your jaw drop whilst doing it. That happened to me with a few Asian films by Park Chan-Wook (such as Oldboy) and by Kim Ki-Duk (such as 3 Iron) and it happened again with The Raid. This time the writer-director is a relocated Brit called Gareth Evans, but even as an outsider he has conjured up something quite extraordinary and fit to sit alongside the likes of Oldboy (as an ass-kicking Asian epic). The Raid is a sub-titled Indonesian film set in the Jakarta slums and it packs an almighty punch.

Evans has teamed up for a second time with actor Iko Uwais who in this one plays a mid ranking police officer called Rama. He is a part of a small SWAT team that raid a dilapidated tower block in order to take down the resident drug lord (called Tama and nicely played by Ray Sahetapy). The first 5 floors of the apartment building are captured and controlled with minimal fuss, but after that the SWAT team are caged in by endless thugs and attacked at every turn. Rama and his team have to fight for their lives as they battle up through the claustrophobic high rise to reach the mob boss who in the meantime puts a bounty on each of their heads.

The Raid is almost non-stop action and fighting. It is fast and furious and within the first 20 minutes combatants are dispatched by hammers, axes and machetes. It is a violent film, but the staging and filming of the fight scenes are honestly unlike anything that you have seen before. It is frenetic, but also balletic. Bones are broken and heads do roll, but the pace, timing and authenticity of the close combat demands absolute attention. Iko Uwais is phenomenal as Rama. He alone works through about 40 hoodlums and does so with a fine combination of brutality and grace. And all the time there is a solid storyline and enough humour to raise his role and the whole film up. This one caught me by surprise, hit me right between the eyes and got me up on my feet applauding it. Wow.

The Cabin in the Woods

3 Oct

 

Director: Drew Goddard

Writers: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard

Stars: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth and Anna Hutchison

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 95 minutes

 

 

Call me a snob, but I prefer my horror flicks to be smart and clever as opposed to sopping wet with blood and gore. I don’t enjoy the torture porn of the Saw and Hostel franchises and that’s roughly where I believe  Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard were coming from with this effort. Past collaborators on the Buffy TV series, they apparently aimed to re-invent horror and to turn the genre inside out. Certainly that’s the position taken by the large number of online commentators and fanboys who have dissected this film.

The start is classic scary movie territory. Five attractive students set out from campus for a weekend of fun in the woods at a borrowed cabin. There is an athlete, a bitchy prom queen, a pot smoking goofball, a pretty ‘good girl’ and a smart, but reserved mate of the athlete. The five hit the road and stop hours later at the requisite redneck gas station. There the standard in-bred local insults and warns them in equal measure. Slightly spooked, the group press on and reach the isolated cabin in time for an afternoon dip in the lake. That night, over beers, some exploration of the cabin – of course it has a cellar – and a game of truth and dare, the horror begins.

I am not going to write much more about the plot as I don’t want to spoil it. However, the opening 10 minutes of the film plus the trailer reveal that there is far more going on at the cabin than a conventional story. We see Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford in a high tech facility seemingly preparing for the students arrival. The cabin is under surveillance and Jenkins and Whitford have a small army of assistants to monitor and potentially manipulate the goings-on.

There are lots of early nods to classic films here including Friday the13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Evil Dead. It’s fanboy heaven to spot them and whilst reassuring for the audience, there is also plenty of smart dialogue to freshen things up. The film is also scary once the group enters the cellar. It handles the horror very well in the first 60 minutes, but gears are then shifted and the final third is something else altogether. Whedon and Goddard throw convention out the window and all hell, literally, breaks loose.

Now I agree that the last 35 minutes is ground-breaking – in fact it is utterly bonkers – but does it really explode the horror genre? I am not so sure. There is subversion certainly and the mashed up sci-fi and folklore elements are cleverly added. It is entertaining, and there are smart lines and popcorn shocks galore, but for me this does not turn the genre inside out. Whedon and Goddard have delivered a quick, slick and fun movie, but I can’t see it stopping or altering the current flow of Saw and Hostel copycats. Not even a killer unicorn could do that.

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