REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Nolan's back to finish off his Bat trilogy, but does the threequel live up to its predecessors?

REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Spidey's back, with Marc Webb's controversial reboot finally swinging into cinemas. Can he justify it?

REVIEW: Rock of Ages (2012)

So, as it turns out, yes, Tom Cruise *can* sing. What more do you want?

REVIEW: Prometheus (2012)

Ridley Scott marks his return to sci-fi with this sort-of-an-Alien-prequel. But does it live up to the hype?

REVIEW: Casa de mi Padre (2012)

Yep. It's all in Spanish. And it's all batshit crazy.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Oscar Nominations List 2012

The Oscar nominations are in, and big surprise: they're a load of crap.

But rather than drone on about how there's no Michael Fassbender, or only one bloody sound editing nomination for Drive, or how Transformers: Dark of the Moon effectively got THREE TIMES AS MANY NOMINATIONS AS DRIVE (*cough*), I'll just post the full list.

And get back to watching truly award-worthy films.

The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

The Artist - Michel Hazanavicius
The Descendants - Alexander Payne
Hugo - Martin Scorsese
Midnight in Paris - Woody Allen
The Tree of Life - Terrence Malick

Demián Bichir - A Better Life
George Clooney - The Descendants
Jean Dujardin - The Artist
Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt -Moneyball

Kenneth Branagh - My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill - Moneyball
Nick Nolte - Warrior
Christopher Plummer - Beginners
Max von Sydow - Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Glenn Close - Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis - The Help
Rooney Mara - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams - My Week with Marilyn

Bérénice Bejo - The Artist
Jessica Chastain - The Help
Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer - The Help

A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots

The Descendants - Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon &
Jim Rash
Hugo - John Logan
The Ides of March - George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
Moneyball - Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin
Story by Stan Chervin
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan

The Artist - Michel Hazanavicius
Bridesmaids - Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
Margin Call - J.C. Chandor
Midnight in Paris - Woody Allen
A Separation - Asghar Farhadi

The Artist - Production Design: Laurence Bennett, Set Decoration: Robert Gould
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Part 2 – Production Design: Stuart Craig, Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
Hugo - Production Design: Dante Ferretti, Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
Midnight in Paris - Production Design: Anne Seibel, Set Decoration: Hélène Dubreuil
War Horse - Production Design: Rick Carter, Set Decoration: Lee Sandales

The Artist - Guillaume Schiffman
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Jeff Cronenweth
Hugo - Robert Richardson
The Tree of Life - Emmanuel Lubezki
War Horse - Janusz Kaminski

Anonymous - Lisy Christl
The Artist - Mark Bridges
Hugo - Sandy Powell
Jane Eyre - Michael O’Connor
W.E. - Arianne Phillips

Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth
Liberation Front
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement
God Is the Bigger Elvis
Incident in New Baghdad
Saving Face
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

The Artist - Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
The Descendants - Kevin Tent
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
Hugo - Thelma Schoonmaker
Moneyball - Christopher Tellefsen

Bullhead - Belgium
Footnote - Israel
In Darkness - Poland
Monsieur Lazhar - Canada
A Separation - Iran

Albert Nobbs - Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston and
Matthew W. Mungle
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Part 2 - Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight and Lisa Tomblin
The Iron Lady - Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland

The Adventures of Tintin - John Williams
The Artist - Ludovic Bource
Hugo - Howard Shore
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Alberto Iglesias
War Horse - John Williams

Man or Muppet - The Muppets, Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie
Real in Rio – Rio, Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown
Lyric by Siedah Garrett

Dimanche/Sunday - Patrick Doyon
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore - William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg
La Luna - Enrico Casarosa
A Morning Stroll - Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe
Wild Life - Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby

Pentecost - Peter McDonald and Eimear O’Kane
Raju - Max Zähle and Stefan Gieren
The Shore - Terry George and Oorlagh George
Time Freak - Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey
Tuba Atlantic - Hallvar Witzø

Drive - Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Ren Klyce
Hugo - Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
War Horse - Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson
Hugo - Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
Moneyball - Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Giammarco and
Ed Novick
Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Peter J. Devlin
War Horse - Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and
Stuart Wilson

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Part 2 - Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and
John Richardson
Hugo - Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and
Alex Henning
Real Steel - Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg
Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White and Daniel Barrett
Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler and John Frazier

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Shame [Review]

Steve McQueen returns to direct again, after initial venture Hunger (also with Michael Fassbender) achieved critical acclaim. Its tone deadly serious, Hunger dealt with IRA politics and hunger strikes in 1980s Ireland. Shame is an equally adult romp (no pun intended), though one of a completely different nature.

Brandon (Fassbender) is a successful thirty-something businessman in the Big Apple. On the surface, he has it all; charm, wit, money, women - but it soon becomes apparent that the latter of those four successes is more than a headache for the compulsive personality of Brandon. Driven to a diet of physical encounters with women (and men) to feed his ferocious appetite, Brandon’s lifestyle becomes problematic further still when troubled sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) shows up.

Though it’s clear both shared a corrupted childhood, McQueen won’t spill, and their past remains a mystery. The film is ambiguous not only to that end; a loose structure only hints at Brandon’s development - more than a linear plot, Shame is rather an exploration of a condition. It’s beautifully done, though, with Fassbender again making his mark on modern cinema as one of the best actors around at the moment. Anguished, temperamental but charming in the giant office block that is downtown Manhattan - McQueen’s cynical reflection, perhaps - Fassbender deconstructs Brandon’s corporate pawn façade powerfully and eloquently.

Sissy is anything but her brother: where his means of suppressing his troubles is predominantly to remain cold, stone-faced and unemotional, hers is with an upbeat, active glee (subtly emphasised by McQueen through her lurid wardrobe colours, compared to the bland grey suits of Brandon) - but one that shows cracks as if they were to turn at any instant to canyons, shattering her resilience to the world. She self-harms for fun, reduces her brother to tears with a haunting, slowed rendition of ‘New York, New York’ and subjects herself to easy sexual encounters (notably with Brandon’s married employer).

On the outside, the two couldn’t be more different. Root below skin-deep and their plights are intertwined. Brandon pushes Sissy away, yes; his lustful craze seemingly extending to even his sister, he does all he can to keep her at arm’s length - but the two need each other more than Brandon lets on. The pair are superb - Mulligan carrying the same coy, knowing smile that she so effortlessly threw at Ryan Gosling in Drive, though this time hiding a very different life of disaster behind it, and Fassbender a haunted soul that matches exquisitely the haunted score.

Of course, the inevitable occurs - it’s a little too graphic at times, feeling somewhat unnecessary (particularly in one of Brandon’s later excursions, with more than one woman). The overbearing feeling of dread also remains, as we sit and watch in a horrid fear that Brandon might succumb to his compulsions while his sister is present. But Shame to some extent overcomes these through McQueen’s gifted direction and the two leads’ terrific performances; in all, it’s a powerful, engaging triumph, which sheds light on a different kind of addiction - but one that should be treated no less lightly.

See also: Hunger (2008)

Dir: Steve McQueen
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan
Film4, 101 mins, 13/01/12

Synopsis: Brandon lives a seemingly comfortable life as a corporate drone in modern Manhattan - but beneath the surface lies a sex-addicted, troubled soul, who relishes in the physical and rejects the emotional.

Monday, 9 January 2012

11 for 2011: The Year's Best

2011, and eleven films have come up trumps. I wanted to say there were a great deal more that I could have added to this list, but, there weren’t. So enjoy what little 2011 had to offer (though what it did have to offer was rather remarkable to say the least).

Michael Bay, this is how action films are done. Tom Cruise returns for his fourth Mission, as his team are framed and disavowed. Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner are on top form, but it’s the action sequences that will inspire here; in particular, a rather WTF moment in Dubai that sees Cruise scaling - and subsequently sprinting down the side of - the tallest building in the world. A tight plot, decent acting and convincing nature make Ghost Protocol a worthy nominee for this list. Oh, and it looks amazing in IMAX. A franchise reboot that proves Brad Bird’s genius with both live action and animated films.

Melancholia is so-called after a planet that’s discovered right next door to Earth. For much of the film this sci-fi apocalypse theme takes a backseat to two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and the challenge it poses to their already strained relationship. Justine is depressed despite her imminent wedding, though when Melancholia threatens to collide with Earth, she remains eerily calm. A beautifully shot film that will take time to appreciate, but leaves a lasting impact. 

Michael Shannon is quite simply incredible in this intense, powerful apocalyptic thriller. Like Melancholia, it’s laden with ‘Doomsday’ overtones, but also like Melancholia, at heart, Take Shelter is about its characters more than anything. Plagued by apocalyptic visions, Shannon’s steady family life crumbles around him as he prepares for an imminent storm. Think Donnie Darko, but… even better.

The Potter finale was in equal amounts over- and under-whelming, but dammit, it’s the Potter finale. If this list were judged by quantity of viewings rather than quality, Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 would surely top it, having been seen four times in cinemas by myself. With good reason - as a fan of the series from childhood, it’s a climax like no other. Nevertheless, as a film critic, it’s a climax that’s not perfect, but does the job. A couple of dodgy shots and some questionable screenplay choices stop it from coming in higher, but it’s still a great watch. And, as I said in my full review, we’re finally given a Potter film with almost no terrible acting. Well, it only took ten years… 

Sure, Super 8 has its flaws. It gets a little caught up in homages towards the end, and has a monster design that’s about as inspired as the modern pop industry. But it’s still oozing with charm, nostalgia and atmosphere, and harkens back to a time when cinema was pure. Magnificently structured and acted, by child and adult alike, this tale of a small-town (but out-of-this-world) disaster spectacle is the year’s best science-fiction.

The year’s best crime film, with a full review coming soon. Possibly. Lengthy but worth it, David Fincher’s latest bests his previous, The Social Network, in strides; a gripping screenplay, suave direction, and masterful acting by Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara as the two leads ensure The Girl’s place on this list. Luckily, despite poor box office takings, the sequels are still happening. Just like 2010’s Let Me In, it’s a remake of a recent Scandinavian film, but one that’s completely worth it. And it’s much better than that other crime thriller last year

The January/February period of 2011 was tremendous for film - topped off with Darren Aronofsky’s breathtaking Black Swan; a visual treat, replete with a twisting and increasingly complex narrative. Natalie Portman comes into her own, fully deserving of her Oscar for Best Actress as the unhinged Nina Sayers, while Mila Kunis is equally astounding as supporting character Lily (who spends the majority of the runtime subtly undermining Nina).

Like Black Swan, this Danny Boyle masterpiece is technically a 2010 film, but its UK release was the Oscar period of 2011, so it still makes this list. James Franco gives a career-defining performance as Aaron Ralston, the man who spent, yes, a hundred and twenty seven hours trapped under a rock in the middle of a canyon. The inevitable amputation scene isn’t nearly as grisly as has been made out - in comparison to many modern day films it’s relatively tasteful - and A. R. Rahman’s soundtrack is fittingly inspiring.

James Franco again proving his worth, this time against something a bit closer to human - Rupert Wyatt’s prequel-cum-reboot of the Apes saga is the only film of 2011 to make my jaw drop in surprise. And I’m not entirely sure why, looking back. But dammit if it isn’t entertaining, if it isn’t heartfelt, and if it isn’t superbly acted. I’m not usually one for films with non-human characters - I have little intention of seeing this year’s War Horse in cinemas - yet silly title notwithstanding, Rise is well worthy of the following accolade; for not only 2011, but possibly all of cinematic history… yes, it's my best Ape-Action-Drama. What are you talking about? Of course it's a genre!

Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel of the same name - which, by the way, is also excellent - might indeed talk about troubled teenager Kevin Khatchadourian in its title, but the real focus here is on begrudging mother Eva. Tilda Swinton gives a stirring performance in a captivating film that explores the ‘nature vs. nurture’ argument to great depth and effect; one that poses more questions than it answers, and one that somehow manages to make us - momentarily - sympathise with Kevin. No small feat, considering his actions…

1. Drive

Masterful. I don’t think there’s anything else I can say about it that I didn’t already say in my review, so here’s another link to it, plus a short excerpt:

"A unique, beautiful vision, executed with a suitably twisted grace, Drive is methodical, yet for the most part unpredictable - a stirring achievement from director Refn. Definitely one of the greats of the 21st Century - improbable sequel pending, you won’t see another film like it."


So that's 2011 out of the way. 2012 threatens to blow it out of the water with a single film - Batman, of course - but that's not to say there isn't plenty more to look forward to. Look out for a '12 for 2012' feature very soon...

Friday, 6 January 2012

2011 Review Round-Up: Part 2

Continuing the review round-up for 2011: the rest of the films I never got round to covering. Read and enjoy.

A Lonely Place to Die 
Underrated and overlooked, A Lonely Place to Die is thrilling, but simple - the characters have as much depth as the parent-and-toddler end of your local swimming pool, and the finale gets a little bit too wound up in itself; the majority of the cat-and-mouse action takes place in the remote highlands, and things get a bit clustered when things come to a head in a Wicker Man-style village fete. Still, this tale of a group of climbers who find a kidnapped girl is breathtaking.

30 Minutes or Less 
This small-town comedy hits the mark - but only just. Danny McBride and Nick Swardson play a couple of arrogant, selfish goons who strap a bomb to unsuspecting delivery boy Jesse Eisenberg (think Futurama’s Philip. J Fry) and tell him to rob a bank. Or else. This could easily have made for a Nic Cage action vehicle, but ultimately is done a much better service by Eisenberg and pal Aziz Ansari (of Scrubs). Not laugh-a-minute, but on the right end of the humour spectrum.

This one’s a grower, that’s for sure. My initial reaction was one of tedium; Lars von Trier’s end-of-the-world sci-fi about another planet colliding with Earth oddly has the doomsday scenario take backseat, in favour of The Depressing Tales of Kirsten Dunst. Yet, on reflection, a breathtaking mix of beautiful cinematography, fine acting (especially from Dunst’s pitiable husband Alexander Skarsgård) and a lasting impact make Melancholia a great watch indeed. But I still can’t stand Kirsten.

Midnight in Paris 
Everyone seems to have fallen for Woody Allen’s love letter to Paris and literary age, but I’m not so sure. That’s not to say it’s not enjoyable; a good few laughs were to be had and it’s definitely a feel-good hit. But Owen Wilson’s only playing himself, and a lot of it boils down to ‘oh look! It’s that well-known writer that I’ve heard of before! I can identify with this!’ It’s worth a watch, but emphasis on ‘a’. No need to sit through it again.

The Ides of March 
Ryan Gosling’s on fire lately. Crazy Stupid Love? Maybe not. But Drive and The Ides of March were two of 2011’s best. Attempting to illuminate political strife in local American politics, George Clooney’s drama is hard-hitting and possibly the cleverest film since Inception. It might not be the political exposé George intended, somehow failing to inform us of anything the media hasn’t already forced into our preconceptions, but it’s still a smart, funny and engaging drama that proves Gosling’s range - and Clooney’s ability both behind and in front of the camera.

In Time 
Justin Timberlake’s first serious action role as lead, after making a name for himself as an actor alongside Jesse Eisenberg in 2010’s The Social Network, In Time doesn’t really stand out amongst a crowd of sci-fi thrillers. The concept is fairly unique - hit twenty-five years of age and you have to earn more life or, well, die - but that’s about as far as it goes: the execution is bland, the acting blander, and ultimately it’s all a bit boring. Cillian Murphy is uninspired and romps through clichés left right and centre, though Amanda Seyfried is notable in a fairly diverse role (as opposed to her previous work - see Mamma Mia).

Tower Heist 
Assembling a cast of clowns and somehow ending up with the most serious comedy in years, Brett Ratner’s Tower Heist focuses on a group of employees who vow to get back at their big bad boss after realising he’s swindled them of their savings. Getting off to a slow start, and not really picking up the pace, the film provides nowhere near as many laughs as it could (and indeed should, considering its cast of Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick et al) - and where it does provide comic moments, they’re hardly subtle. Though for a film entitled ‘Tower Heist’ perhaps that’s to be expected…
Take Shelter 
Another slow burner, but like The King’s Speech, it only burns brighter because of that. Or, should I say, burns intensely - for this is perhaps the most hard-hitting, intense film of the year. Donnie Darko if done by Nolan, Take Shelter tells the tale of hardworking father Curtis (Michael Shannon), who is plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions. Coming to a head in one of the most powerful scenes in modern film history, director Jeff Nichols’ darkly themed drama is a brooding, psychological masterpiece that prompts as many questions of its audience as it answers.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol 
This one needs to be seen in IMAX to be properly seen, so catch it while you can. Tom Cruise’s action series returns for its fourth instalment, and defies all conventions attached to the modern fourquel (see Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or Die Hard 4.0). Ably joined by a now fully-featuring field man Simon Pegg and rising star Jeremy Renner (who will soon be taking over the Bourne series), Cruise’s impossible mission will take him to Dubai and back - and might involve a slight vertical climb up the tallest building in the world. A dizzyingly good action blockbuster: Michael Bay, take note.

And the rest...

Sacha Baron Cohen is the standout in Martin Scorsese’s foray into family film. Heartwarming but not spectacular.

Another Earth 
Science fiction without the sci-fi, but this is still a powerful drama with a frank message.

The Rum Diary 
Johnny Depp being Johnny Depp. A little overblown but still engaging and humourous.

Fine actors being finely wasted by Roman Polanski’s dull and drawn out film. With projectile vomiting.