Tuesday, 27 November 2012


I'm very behind on my reviews, I know. I've been insanely busy with work recently, and then I had to deal with the amazing Breaking Dawn week, so I've had hardly any time to do anything. But, I did see three five-star films within the space of five days last month and I feel the need to write about them, so I'm squishing them all into one post. I may expand these reviews some time, but I can't promise anything.

On The Road

Firstly, I saw the much-anticipated On The Road. I've been waiting a ridiculously long time to see this, because for some reason they released it two years after filming. After hearing mixed/average reviews from Cannes, I had to lower my previously very high expectations of this film, but as a result, I was very pleasantly surprised.

This film has been a hell of a long time in the making, over three decades, and a lot of people, including myself, were a bit skeptical about how anyone could adapt an almost plotless 120 foot scroll of narrative onto the screen, and yes, in some ways it fails. But it's bloody difficult to transfer this writing to the screen and still maintain that Beat vibe. Yes, it could have been more wild, more extreme, but really, if it had to be adapted, at least they did a really good job of it.

The acting is amazing. Just looking at the cast you can understand that statement. The three main stars are perfect in their roles. Sam Riley surprised me, since the last thing I saw him in was the appalling Brighton Rock, and it was very nice to see him in something that actually showcased his ability and didn't make me want to kick the tv at the end of the film. He plays Sal with the perfect naivety, vulnerable with a rebellious streak within, and is someone I think the audience will see themselves in. Kristen Stewart also proves again that she is judged far too harshly just because of her association with the Twilight films; here, she relishes in the character of Marylou, someone who could not be more different from Bella Swan, playing her with wild abandon that really shows her talent. After watching this, and knowing about her absolute commitment to the role, I can't imagine anyone else doing a better job of it. And, for the record, she was cast in this when she was sixteen, before she did Twilight, so shush please haters. It's also great news to hear that they're going to be lobbying for her to get nominated in awards season next year, and she fully deserves that recognition. But really, the real star of this film is Dean, played perfectly by Garrett Hedlund. He is probably the best thing about the film, encapsulating the rebellious and charming character, which I think the film probably hinged on. An actor has to be seriously charismatic and almost overwhelmingly charming to pull this role off, and Hedlund absolutely succeeds, constantly drawing our attention to him whenever he's on screen. The "Beat Camp" that the cast went on for three weeks before the shoot really pays off as well, as the three have great chemistry together and every interaction between them feels very natural.

The cinematography is amazing - visually, the film is stunning and absolutely transports the audience to an array of locations; you actually feel like you're there, writhing and sweating at a New Year's party, or cold and wet during a stop by the side of a road in the middle of nowhere. I didn't really know of Eric Gautier before this film, but I have massive amounts of respect for him as a cinematographer for what he achieves here.

The supporting cast are excellent. In some ways, the film reminded me of Cosmopolis with its conveyer-belt of cameos and bit parts - however, like Cosmopolis, everyone here manages to make their mark, whether it's Amy Adams' struggling mother or Steve Buscemi's salesman-with-a-secret-interest - they all stand out. It's lovely to see Tom Sturridge in this, I think he has real potential as an actor and I want to see him do more than just being Sienna Miller's babydaddy. But the biggest highlight was probably Viggo Mortensen, who steals the few small scenes he's in and absolutely dominates the screen when he's actually on it. Kirsten Dunst is another highlight; she brings Camille's character to the audience's attention and underlines the detrimental effects Dean has on himself and others, whereas we might otherwise be too charmed by him to notice. I'd like to see her in more serious roles, she's been a bit absent recently and this proves that she really shouldn't be.

In terms of sexuality... well, there's a lot. It was a litle disappointing that it didn't bring the undertones of homosexuality up a little more, but therein lies the problems of an adaptation - you just can't fit everything in. I'd also recommend buying the French dvd of this and turning the subtitles off, because the English version was cut (who knows why) and therefore there's more in the French version.

The question that remains is why Hedlund, Riley and Sturridge haven't been getting acting offers left, right and centre. They all give brilliant performances and I think they're being wasted at the moment.

Verdict: It's not going to be for everyone, but if you "get" this type of film, you'll absolutely love it. Watch it just for the acting and the beauty of the film itself if nothing else.


The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

After seeing the film, this book is now at the top of my "to-read-for-pleasure" list. This film absolutely blew me away and I wasn't expecting to be touched by it as much as I was, since I didn't really know much about it and it hadn't been that widely publicised. It's probably the best coming-of-age film I've ever seen, and although there isn't a huge amount of plot and nothing much is resolved at the end, the journey is definitely worth taking.

The primary trio of actors were amazing. The film received quite a lot of attention because it was the first film Emma Watson did post-Potter, and she could not have picked a better film to break away from that franchise. She sheds Hermione within the first minute of being on screen, being able to let go in a way that was always restricted before, being flirtatious and wild but also showing tenderness and vulnerability perfectly. And also, I got so sucked into her performance that I forgot she wasn't actually American, though in hindsight it probably wasn't the best accent in the world. Ezra Miller, previously known as the titular psychopath in We Need To Talk About Kevin, plays basically the complete opposite character and does it just as well. As the giddy and camp Patrick, he steals every scene he's in and I want a best friend like him. And also Logan Lerman, previously of Percy Jackson fame, was wonderfully sweet and naive, likeable and vulnerable. And I checked, he's 20, it's okay to have a little thing for him. And all three are just the right amount of understated - they could have been ridiculously cliched and over the top, but they play their roles with just the correct level of charm and, in Patrick's case especially, flamboyancy. I think a special mention also needs to go out to Paul Rudd, who is refreshingly good in a dramatic role, deviating from comedy but proving that he can do both well. He's gives a likeable and thoughtful performance and I'd love to see him do more dramatic work in the future. And I'd also like it on record how much I think Joan Cusack is an underrated actress. She completely shines through in her two minutes of screen time and she's just wonderful. Hollywood, why are you not employing her more? Get on that.

I think what makes it so special is the fact that the screenplay was written and the film directed by Stephen Chbosky, the author of the book. You can tell it's been created with such care and precision and every facet is just right. Apparently it's a brilliant adaptation, which I don't doubt, but I'll let you know for sure after I finally get around to reading the book.

Someday, somewhere, somehow, I'm doing this.

In the time it's set, it's completely up my street. The film references are great, the multiple performances of The Rocky Horror Show throughout are really entertaining and the soundtrack is amazing; I had it on repeat for days. If you like that late-80s/early-90s feel about a film, I can't recommend this enough.

Verdict: Yes, it will probably only connect with a certain audience, but that's purely because of the plot and themes it deals with, not because of the quality of the film. It could have been completely cliche, and appeared to be a product of the overworked imagination of an angsty fifteen-year-old girl because of it's subject matter and themes including social isolation, bulimia, sexual and domestic abuse, homophobia and unrequited love, to name a few, but it gets the tone just right so that it's emotionally raw rather than emotionally overdone. And also, be infinite.



Bond's 26th outing was hyped up from the word "go", with the world and it's mother touting it as the "best one yet" before it even went into production. The secrecy and mystery surrounding the plot and what the title meant and who the new cast were playing and all the rest of it didn't help, with speculation rife about every aspect of the film. I was so worried that it was going to be overhyped for me and that I'd just end up being slightly let down, but I can safely say that it not only met those expectations, but exceeded them beyond belief.

I'll try not to spoil it for any of you who have been living in a cave and have yet to see it, but there are some truly epic moments in it.

The cast are exceptional: Daniel Craig, returning for his third stint as 007, gives his best performance so far. There isn't really a lot else to say about it; if you've seen his other two outings, it's more of the same, in a good way. He's charming, debonair, deadly, and every other trait you've come to expect from Bond. What's really great in this one is the interaction he has with Dame Judi Dench's M, and we see a lot more of their relationship. Their closeness is really touching. She's the real Bond girl of this film, and I'm so happy she got a really dense part to get her teeth into, and of course she delivers with perfection, as you would expect. Again, I don't want to spoil anything so I won't say much else, but their performances are very special. The best new addition has to be Javier Bardem's villain, Silva, a creepy, camp, obsessive maniac (sounds like me) with terrible hair (not like me at all). There hasn't ever been a Bond villain like him, but he's one of the best yet. Not hellbent on world domination or anything like we've seen in the past, his vendetta is a personal grudge against M, exposing a lot of her secrets and drawing worrying parallels to Bond. I think the best scene in the whole film is Silva's interrogation of Bond, where both men showcase their fantastic acting talent. The chemistry between the three of them (and no, it's not sexual, that would be wrong - though Silva... well, you'll see) is electric, and though it is approaching two and a half hours, they make it go by so quickly that you don't even notice time passing.

One complaint I do have is about Bérénice Marlohe. I have nothing against her, I just don't understand why her part was advertised so much when she's only in the film for a total of about five minutes. Other additions aren't as disappointing, and include Naomi Harris' field agent Eve, Ralph Fiennes' government pen pusher Mallory and Ben Whishaw's new, young Q, who are particular highlights. What I think will excite true Bond fans is the fact that, without giving too much away, they'll all be back in the future, and that this is going back to classic Bond films, but with a cool, modern-day edge. There are even jokes about it between Bond and Q.

And that's the other thing - though it's very serious for a lot of the film, it's also very funny, mostly because of the one-liners and conversations between Bond and the bumbling Q. One other stand-out moment is Bond's reaction to (VERY MILD SPOILER) the destruction of his precious Aston Martin DB5 (also a hilarious moment when you see it in a screen full of die-hard male Bond fans - their gasps of horror and outrage made me laugh for about ten minutes). And also there's a bit of sexual tension between Bond and Eve, though I can't see anything ever coming of that if they stick to Bond canon.

Plot-wise, I understand now why Craig said he was even more excited after reading this script than he was about Casino Royale, which was previously my favourite. It's tense, and captivating, and most importantly, it doesn't feel like there are any redundant parts to it (well, maybe the whole fight with Ola Rapace which feels only very very slightly unnecessary). The whole film is very polished but it's still raw, especially when they get up to Scotland and there's none of this usual technology to help them out.

Verdict: I wish I could think of more to say but it's now been a month since I saw it and I've forgotten most of the points I had to make about it. But essentially, all you need to know is that it's amazing and even if you aren't a Bond fan you should see it. It's brilliant, and I hope Sam Mendes does come back to direct the next installment because he did such a fantastic job of it. Anyone who knows my film tastes well enough knows that it's a big deal for me to say that I prefer this to Casino Royale, and it's even more emotional, but it truly does deserve all the hype it got. Go see it now or I'll set Silva on you (some of you might not mind that wink wink). Seriously, go.


Friday, 23 November 2012

Breaking Down Breaking Dawn Part 2

Was it seriously a year ago that I posted my review of Breaking Dawn Part 1? I can't believe how quickly this time has gone, it felt like a year was unbearably far away when we left off. And here it is, the final installment of a franchise that, like it or not, has changed the face of cinema. And hell, does it bow out well.

These are the most decent posters out there. I always hate how much they photoshop them, there's nothing wrong with the way any of them look normally!

For the record, I'm going to try my utmost to make this spoiler-free - or as spoiler-free as an adaptation can be - because I'm so happy I didn't know what they had changed. I'd advise anyone who doesn't already know the big twist to really try to not find out before they see it, because the impact will be so much more massive.

For those of you who don't know (i.e. non-fans or those who have been living in a cave), Breaking Dawn Part 2 begins immediately after Part 1 leaves off: Bella has awakened as a vampire and is living happily with her new husband, hybrid baby and the baby's boyfriend, until a big misunderstanding puts the whole family in danger of elimination from the vampire head honchos, the Volturi. They therefore need to gather as many "witnesses" (a slew of new, previously unmentioned vampire characters) to come and fight with them. Then shit goes down, and surprisingly, it's brilliant.

Having seen it now four times, with a further two cinema trips planned, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this film is the best of the series, and it is my favourite. What is absolutely astonishing is that they were able to make an utter turd of a book into a very enjoyable, engaging and emotional film. Every part of  the film is at the peak of its brilliance, whether it be the acting (impeccable), the effects, the music, and actually, the story. This is one of those very rare occasions where the film is better than the book. Seriously.

We'll start with the acting. The central cast have had five films now with their characters, and the polished performances really shine through. Everyone seems a lot more relaxed, and that's probably because of the more light-hearted nature this film takes. Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart again showcase their chemistry and give their best performances of the series, probably because they're actually allowed a whole range of emotions (happiness, for example). Even Jacob gets to calm down and, excluding the weird paedophilia (try and explain it all you want, it's still not okay), he's actually quite amusing. I can't imagine Team Jacob will be too impressed with his comparitively limited screen time (Jacob's a wolf for a lot of the film), but to be honest, I didn't really care, I'm not a huge fan of his anyway, as you well know. Also, Michael Sheen is back! Yay! And he's even more mental than he was in New Moon. I'm a big fan of his anyway, he always puts so much into his work. He's ridiculously camp and creepy and wonderful, and deserves awards. And that laugh! You thought the one in New Moon was creepy... just wait. All the supporting cast are good too, but no-one really stands out, save for maybe Peter Facinelli (Carlisle). But you can tell everyone is giving their all and making the most out of their small roles. Finally though, I have to give a special mention to Billy Burke, who has played Bella's father, Charlie, so well for five films. He always makes me laugh so much and he can also make me cry, and he's just so lovely in this. I'm just sad we don't get to see more of him.

Without trying to sound pervy, I'd have liked to have seen more sex. It's mentioned a lot in the book, and I just don't understand how anyone can think that one scene would suffice, when they're meant to be at it like rabbits constantly. One scene fifteen minutes in and then tantalising teases throughout disappoints me slightly. And whilst I'm at it, another thing that annoyed me was the complete dismissal of the love triangle that's been going on for four films. I get that Jacob now has something new to obsess over (it's a baby! It's still creepy!) but seriously, there's only one very subtle reference about the fact that not two days ago (in the time of the plot) he was completely in love with his new love-interest's mother! I'm not saying that they had to keep bringing it up, but really, they needed to mention it in some way.

One of the things I was most nervous about before I saw this was how they were going to introduce the abundance of new characters in this film. I've never liked that aspect of the book, and seeing all the promotional posters for each individual new character (there are lots) made me wonder how on earth it was going to work. But actually, I was mildly surprised, in a good way. I thought they were all going to be badly underwritten and underdeveloped spare parts, which most of them are, to be fair. But they have some stand-out additions who I'm sad we won't actually get to see more of. In particular Garrett, played by the lovely Lee Pace (can he be in more stuff, thanks), who brought some nice humour and became one of the very (very) few new vampires we actually care about. I see potential for a spin-off with him if Lionsgate decide to actually go ahead and make more Twilight films (please God don't do that). But overall, not a bad job. Yes there are blatant racial stereotypes (the Irish are ginger and wear green, one of the Romanians looks and sounds like the Count from  Sesame Street and the Amazonians are accompanied by tribal music). And no, you won't even remember 90% of their names but actually it doesn't really matter; they're no more than glorified extras. It's just a little frustrating that these people take up screen time that could be spent on others (read: Edward and Bella).

Now, Renesmee. This was going to be tricky however they decided to do it. Stephenie Meyer famously delayed signing over the film rights to the final book because she didn't believe that special effects in films were developed enough to portray the baby realistically. Well, they still aren't. The baby/toddler just didn't look real, and therefore just looked bloody creepy. It's only when Mackenzie Foy actually gets to play her real age that Renesmee doesn't look like a doll or something even I could have whacked out with Photoshop. But on the plus side, she did a good job having to play so many different ages and be somewhat realistic, so kudos to her. And, if you look at Mackenzie, Rob and Kristen all in a row, it's really scary how much she looks like she could actually be their child; they look so similar! And also, Rob and Kristen are super-cute as parents.

I have to talk about the twist, without talking about the twist so as not to give anything away for those of you who still haven't seen it and haven't found out yet (how either of those things is possible is beyond me). It's really very clever how they manage to make a big event out of the notorious non-finale, and yet they still stay faithful to the book. It's the sort of effect I can only imagine working on screen, in text it just wouldn't have been the same. If you've seen the film, you know what I mean. I bet Stephenie Meyer was over the moon when she found out what they were planning to do since she obviously got bored with the story herself when writing it. But it's very shocking - I sat there the first time I saw it with my mouth agape in shock for about ten minutes, and my friend nearly broke my wrist clutching it so hard. Even second time round, when I knew it was coming, it still managed to shock me again. I'll say no more, but you won't see it coming if you don't already know about it. It's a bold move, and it pays off.

Not really important, but I wanted to mention the opening and ending credits, which I thought were very stylish and emotional respectively. The production team have never done opening credits before, but the little montage of freezing nature ws very beautiful and ramped up the anxiety for just a couple more minutes. And the ending credits were very special, letting everyone who has appeared in the films have their little shining moment to take a bow. And leaving the big three until the end and doing something even more extra-special for them was pretty much the twisting knife that lets you know it's really over. Sob.

As ever, I talk about the music. I've always championed the soundtracks and I think that people who don't even watch the films should listen to them because they're brilliant, and I think this one is my favourite. There isn't one song I dislike on it, even the one by Nikki Reed and her husband, who I was livid got on there in the first place. I can actually listen to the soundtrack and picture the scenes and cry because I get so emotional about them ("Ghosts" by James Vincent McMorrow and "Speak Up" by POP ETC are the two that get me every time). And of course, the score. I love it. I'm so happy Carter Burwell, composer of the first film, came back, and he did such a smashing job with it, and also incorporated the New Moon and Eclipse scores in there too even though he wasn't involved in them. I'm just annoyed that the Higher Powers (darn you, Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate!) have delayed releasing it so I can't have it on a loop as I go about my life.

Last time round, I think I said they did the best with what they had. This time, they took what they had and made it so much better than it is on the page. It may be the best film, but it won't convert any non-fans. But then it doesn't need to. It's just had the eighth biggest US opening ever and the biggest UK opening of an American film ever. It's going to be successful and, as the other films have proved, it doesn't need the approval of petulant, arrogant critics and isn't affected by the petty sniping of haters.

I debated a lot about what rating I was going to give this film, and in the end I couldn't decide. My head is telling me four stars, my heart is telling me five. So I'm going to compromise, and for the first time in the history of this blog, I'm giving it four and a half stars. Or nine out of ten, whichever works for you.


P.S. If you're a fan, bring tissues. The end is super emotional.

Also, for those interested, here are two interesting articles.
This one explores the aforementioned impact Twilight has had on cinema.
And this one, by the wonderful Mark Kermode (who I met at the premiere!), tries to defend Twilight from all you haters out there, and he makes some very interesting points.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Scores of Scores

I start again with another apology - sadly real life has got in the way again (new semester, moving out, the piles and piles of reading that comes with studying for an English degree...) and I haven't updated the blog in a long time. I'm fully aware of this, and I do want to be able to write more, but for now it's difficult to find times to regularly post. That, and the fact that I'm so rarely going to the cinema now (boo to being poor!) that I don't have anything to write about really any more.

However, saying that, I have missed writing for the blog, so I'm thinking of new things to post, instead of just film reviews. I had some free time and motivation for once this evening, and also some inspiration. I've been listening to film scores all day, and thought I should do a blog about them.

Film scores are not to be confused with film soundtracks. Whilst the latter are also an integral part of many films, I'm talking about all the orchestral music. I don't know how many times I've mentioned film scores to someone and they've replied "Oh yeah, I love that track that Person X did for that blah blah blah" and I've had to bite my tongue to keep from screaming at them. I know that all the covers say "Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" but it's not a soundtrack. They are NOT the same, and don't piss me off by confusing them.

Any regular reader of mine knows that I frequently mention a film's score in a review I post here, and for good reason. It's one of the things that I always listen out for in a film, if I haven't heard it before I even see the film, which I sometimes do. To me, the score is something complex and underappreciated in a film, when actually it's a very integral part. I may be making assumptions here when I say that people tend not to pay much attention to it, but I've found that this seems to be the general consensus: I never hear people coming out of a screen and commenting on the score, but rather the bigger picture - the acting, storyline, etc - whereas most of the time I'm thinking about all the little things. Maybe this is down to having a keen interest in the detail, or studying film to a certain extent on my course, but the more "minor" details like the cinematography, editing and scoring all seem to stand out to me just as much as the big details that most other people focus on.

Yes, it's always in the background, occasionally coming to the forefront in particularly poignant or epic moments, but what would a film be without it? I've watched films before where I've thought, what would this be like without the score? I think about the actors filming with no music going on, and realise just how different it would be. Imagine Harry and Voldemort's final battle in the war-torn grounds of Hogwarts just as it was filmed - it would just be some random yelling and the sound of sparks. Or the sinking of the Titanic - just some splashing around. The score is subtle, altering and emphasising the mood and tone of a scene in such a way that most people don't even notice half the time, but often feel the effects of. There are minimalist scores (Alien) and extravagant scores (Titanic). A score can make you sad (Atonement) or happy (The Artist), or can fill you with the indescribable feeling you only get when thinking of your favourite film. They can emphasise the grandeur and spectacle of a scene (The Dark Knight) and have you on the edge of your seat with tension (Jaws or The Shining). People may be pre-occupied with what they can see on screen, but they miss out on the fact that it's what they can hear that makes a film so special and heightens the movie-watching experience.

Of course, a good film doesn't always have a good score, and vice versa. X-Men: First Class and 2009's Star Trek were great films really let down by their scores, which were mediocre and forgetful, whereas Tron: Legacy was an average film (only critically - I love it anyway) with a brilliant score by Daft Punk that was actually cheated out of an Oscar (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network), with all due respect, jog on). However, a film has to work harder to achieve the same affect on an audience when it doesn't have the adequate score to support it.

There are obviously plenty of well-known scores that have become ingrained in culture, at least for certain tracks. I was having a conversation a while ago with my wonderful friend and regular blog-reader, Garen, where we discussed remaking the Harry Potter films, and we said that the most difficult thing about it would be the music because the theme is so iconic. It's the same for many other films or film series, such as James Bond, where society just knows the music without even having to think about it, or having seen the film. Think of Jaws, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Titanic, Psycho and yes, Harry Potter and Bond. I would bet that most of you could hum most of these tunes, but I would bet that it would only be the one track.

Scores pull many emotions out of me: I can listen to the WALL·E score and laugh at certain tracks, and of course, scores like Pan's Labyrinth and Black Swan have been known to make me cry. There was a time about 18 months ago where I cried in public listening to a score and couldn't even explain why because people would find me even stranger than I already seemed. I know I am an extreme case, but I don't think people take enough time to listen to scores as they do to other music. "Normal" people get excited about their favourite band's new album coming out; I get excited about a new film score - in fact, over a third of my iPod is taken up by scores. I just think that if people gave scores a chance then they would get the appreciation they deserve.

Going off topic slightly, they are also fantastic to work to (hence the reason I've been listening to them most of the day). I know several people who say they can't work in silence and have to have music or television on in the background for them to be able to get anything done, and I'm the same, except I can't focus on my work if I have any kind of words being spoken at the same time, or I end up writing what I'm hearing instead of what I'm thinking. I've read back through essays on more than one occasion in the past and seen lyrics in there (that don't make sense, otherwise I'd have left them in for a laugh), so it kind of rules out listening to more traditional music. But that's where scores are lovely, because they allow my mind to focus on the work as the music just washes over me. Only very rarely do I get distracted if I have a score playing, and that's usually only if I pause to appreciate a particular part of it.

So when people ask me what type of music I'm into, I always reply with film scores (and usually get a blank look in reply). You can keep your Adeles, your Rihannas, and *shudder* your One Directions, if you are that so way inclined (if your response was "yes" to the latter then please leave this blog, you are unwelcome). I'll take James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer, Alexandre Desplat and Thomas Newman any day of the week.

I'll leave you with a few of my favourite tracks from my favourite scores for you to peruse at your own leisure...

Encom, Part II, from Tron: Legacy, by Daft Punk


Perfection, from Black Swan, by Clint Mansell
A Nova Vida, from Breaking Dawn, by Carter Burwell
Denouement, from Atonement, by Dario Marianelli

Lily's Theme, from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, by Alexandre Desplat


Define Dancing, from WALL·E, by Thomas Newman


Rat Men, from Cosmopolis, by Howard Shore

Circus Fantasy, from Water for Elephants, by James Newton Howard


Thursday, 2 August 2012

The Weirdest Film You May Not See This Year

If you follow me on Twitter (emsuckle), you'll notice that I've been going on about Cosmopolis a lot recently. I'll admit that it first came to my attention due to a certain leading man who regular readers know I'm a big fan of, but I followed the news about it and read the novel it was based on, and the intrigue only grew from then on. I've probably delayed posting this review for so long that it isn't being shown in UK cinemas anymore (not that it had a wide release anyway), but I still think people should know about it. But I must say before we begin, I am NOT being biased when I write this. I've already had accusations of this, but I absolutely cannot stress enough that it isn't true.

28 year old billionaire Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) embarks on a cross-town journey to get a haircut. On the way, he encounters many people, including his wife and colleagues, as he travels in his limo, but a "credible threat" to his life and a deliberate loss of billions of dollars mean Packer is soon re-evaluating and questioning a lot of things in his life.

I can't really give you a lot more plot than that, because it would spoil the film, but it's one hell of a surreal movie to watch.

I've heard a few people complaining about the fact they "didn't get it"and walked out, but in my honest poinion I think that they just didn't give it enough of a chance, or focus enough. It's challenging, especially with the amount of dialogue and the not-so-coherent plot. I don't think it matters if people don't understand it - Robert Pattinson and David Cronenberg have been very open about the fact that they don't really get it. Also, it's Cronenberg, people! He makes strange films and I don't know why people are surprised that this was weird. I didn't see A Dangerous Method, but I've heard that comparitively Cosmopolis is much more his style, not to mention a lot better than A Dangerous Method, which received very lukewarm reviews.

Dialogue is a major aspect of the film, and every word out of the actors' mouths sound like poetry. A lot of people who have seen it have said that the dialogue was nearly incomprehensable, and I kind of see why they would say that - it's very dense, and admittedly there is a lot of it, so if concentrating on speech isn't your cup of tea then this maybe isn't a film you will enjoy very much. I seem to be the only person in my screen who followed it, which probably meant that I didn't get the film at all. But hey ho, I still absolutely loved it; it's so different to what I've come to expect in modern cinema - it feels like a film made for intellects, and not for general wide audiences. Yes, that sounds pretentious and elitist, which to some extent the film in general is, but those who get it will really appreciate it, and it's challenging, which is refreshing. Every sentence is carefully structured so it doesn't really sound like normal speech, it's far more stylised. But this synthetic way of talking only heightens the audience's awareness that nothing is natural, yet at the same time beautiful, just like the dialogue itself. But don't miss the humour. There's a lot of it; it's dark but it's there. I think people missed some of it because of the complexity of the vocabulary and the strangeness of the film, but it's something that should be appreciated about the film. (I apologise for all this analysis - I feel like I'm writing an essay - but these are all the thoughts I had whilst watching it. It's probably something to do with the way an English student's mind works.)

Every member of the cast is brilliant. What has annoyed me a great deal in both my excitement in the build up and the reverence post-viewing is how everyone assumes I'm being biased, but genuinely, Robert Pattinson was brilliant. He's in every scene, which is unusual for a leading actor in films right now, but the charisma he gives off proves he was a fine choice in casting. As Packer, he fantastically pulls off the mean feat of appearing to be cool and aloof to every aspect of his life, but also carefully calculating and energetic under the surface. There are a lot of subtle nuances that may go unnoticed to some people, but they are the difference between looking wooden half the time and actually producing an excellent display of acting ability. The few times he shows strong emotion are actually a bit of a shock, because it's such a contrast to how he is for most of the film, aside from the end where he is clearly full of joy and excitement at having his life threatened. I'm not even joking. From casual twitches to sweeping changes in facial expression, and, later in the film, frenetic energy and carefully placed body movement mean that he totally owns and carries the film. I hope that after seeing this people will stop judging Robert Pattinson solely on his appearances in Twilight, and accept that he actually is not only a very capable actor, but one who has the potential to be brilliant. This is definitely his best performance in a film so far, and I know a lot of you haters will be thinking, "Well, that's not hard," but actually just give him a chance. If people would stop hating and judging him so harshly only because of the franchise that made him famous, they would be able to see that he actually is a very talented actor. And get used to it, because after seeing this I'm thinking he's going to be around for a long time. David Cronenberg clearly thinks so, since he's reportedly cast him in a couple of his upcoming projects and publicly stated how much he enjoyed working with him - Pattinson is basically the next Viggo Mortensen, and that is by no means a bad thing. I spy the beginning of a beautiful partnership.

As brilliant as I think Pattinson is in this, he doesn't overshadow the other big names in the film. Samantha Morton was a stand-out for me, I'd like to see her in more things, and the banter between her and Pattinson was endlessly watchable. Sarah Gadon, playing Pattinson's detached wife, was another highlight for me, and I predict good things for her in the future. Again, their conversations were wonderful to watch, and their chemistry was great; they were both very convincing in their roles together. There were others like Juliette Binoche and Mathieu Amalric who were just glorified cameos, but that's not to take away from their performances: every single person who appeared in the film for more than 0.3 seconds contributed to it, and it's one of my favourite ensemble casts in recent times, if you can even call it that considering there are only about three or four characters who appear for more than ten minutes in total. All of the different actors, no matter how brief their appearance, made an impact and had the chance to shine.

I need to give a special mention to Paul Giamatti, who was absolutely superb. I've written about his other work before, and after seeing this I respect him even more as an actor - I think he's seriously underrated and he needs to be in more films, and more people need to be aware of his amazing talent. He and Pattinson are excellent together; they have such a rapport and the last 15 minutes with their one-on-one interaction is definitely the most engaging, helped obviously by the fact that it's the climax of the film and it builds to a massive crescendo. They bounce off each other flawlessly, and watching it, it's even more inconceivable that it was done in only a couple of takes, because that just proves how outstanding they both are in this scene. I shall be watching this scene on repeat a lot when I finally get the dvd.

Considering the novel on which it was based was written twelve years ago, it's quite eerie how well this film reflects modern times, even mirroring one real-life event. During promotion for this, Cronenberg said how one particular pie-throwing scene was filmed around the same time as Rupert Murdoch's pie-in-the-face incident, which was quite amusing. But really, it says a lot that a novel written a relatively long time ago can comment so accurately on our society today. It's a film that asks more questions than it answers, which I understand may annoy people, but it makes a lot of statements about the world we live in and the consumerist lifestyles we lead.

One particular aspect of the film I liked was the fact that 90% of the film took place inside Eric's limo. It made the film very claustrophobic in an almost neo-noir kind of way, and heightened the intensity of what was going on, but also it separated the philosophical conversations going on in the limo with Eric and his various escorts with the chaos and destruction that was going on outside, in society. It also added to how surreal the film was, as the rare times when Eric left his car during the film felt strange, that he didn't belong in society, like some kind of demigod. The film is full of contrasts, and asymmetry especially, and the set of the limo is so effective in bringing out these themes and intensifying the action and dialogue.

I don't write a lot of reviews without mentioning the score, one of my favourite pieces of any film usually, and this is no different. As I write this I'm listening to Howard Shore's (who has worked on every Cronenberg movie for the last thirty years) composition, which I downloaded as soon as I got in from seeing the film. (You should all know by now I have no actual technical knowledge of film scores, I just comment on the way they reflect the film and what they add to it.) It's eerie in a lot of ways, and also succeeds in building up tension, but in a very subtle way. It's obviously synthetic as well, not so much in the way a lot of 80s sci-fis were, but in a way that is clearly reflecting on the film's theme of non-naturalism and the way we live in the electronic era. I really enjoy it; I have some of Shore's other work, but this is among my favourite of his, and one of my favourites of the year so far.

Verdict: This is a film you will either love or hate, and I get that. Personally, I loved it. I think people judged it badly because of the complex dialogue and surreal plot, and didn't give it enough of a chance. But there's a reason it was selected at Cannes this year; people who are disbelieving of Robert Pattinson's acting ability must watch this, and Cronenberg has a fine return to form. I could not recommend this more, but this really is a film for the adventurous movie-goers out there.


Trailer: If I can be bothered, I usually only post one trailer. However, for this, you need to see both. The first 30-second teaser one actually took my breath away the first time I saw it, but I watch the second one occasionally even after seeing the film just to remind myself how much I loved it. But I probably wouldn't watch it if I had epilepsy, just so you know.

And just another fun fact for you: they filmed every scene in the limo almost in chronological order, which is almost unheard of nowadays.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Some Films I've Seen Recently...

I know I've been silent for a long time, but I've been away on holiday and been generally busy, so I can only apologise. But I've seen a few films recently, not new, but that deserve a review, so I'm going to do a few short ones in this post.

Attack The Block

I watched this film a few weeks ago and I still crack up when I think about it. It was refreshingly funny; the one-liners were superb, and based on this I think first time writer/director Joe Cornish has a bright future in this industry, and I'm excited to see what he's going to do next.

It was fresh and appealing to a wider range of modern youth, an audience which I don't think is targeted enough. Yes, you have all the franchises and comedies etc, which are supposed to draw in that sort of crowd, but I think a lot of teenagers will actually relate more to this film, mostly due to the fabulous cast and the dialogue, which uses more of the common teenage vernacular, and this use of slang is what is going to make teenagers sit up and take note of films being made if more are done like this.

I'd have liked it to have been scarier, but the original plot and the look of the aliens more than makes up for that slight disappointment. It is a nice revamp of alien invasion flicks, so much so that it sounds actually believable.

As for the cast, I think it was a good idea to have a young, relatively unknown cast, and the biggest name was Nick Frost, who isn't in it a great deal, which is good because I having seen it I'm glad that nothing detracted from the main youth cast. John Boyega (who portrayed Moses, the leader of the gang of yoofs), could have a very nice career if he keeps giving performances like this. (Side note: I feel like I should give a special mention to my good friend and regular commentor on the blog, Garen, who is followed on Twitter by John Boyega. She's immensely proud of this fact.)



Young Adult

I watched this on the plane to Florida recently, and had to try really hard to control myself so I didn't burst out in uncontrollable fits of laughter. It's very very dark humour, which suits me fine, but Juno writer Diablo Cody delivers another fine script. It's an interesting premise - what happens to that Queen Bee when she grows up? The answer, according to Cody, is a super-bitchy, self-centred immature creature - essentially an older version of the teenage thing.

Charlize Theron deserved more recognition for her performance as the narcissistic teen-lit author whose writings reflect her own life. I mentioned in a post earlier this year that a lot of people in the industry were confused as to why she hadn't been nominated for awards, and now I can see why - it's probably the best performance I've seen of hers (admittedly, I haven't seen them all, including her Oscar-winning role in Monster). But she gave a better performance than 99% of the other female leads I've seen, and certainly better than at least three of the Oscar-nominated performances this year.

I like as well that this film isn't predictable. I thought I was able to tell what was going to happen from early on, but it has a surprising ending which isn't necessarily pleasant, but it's certainly a good thing that it didn't go down the obvious route and become another superficial flick.



We Need To Talk About Kevin

Another of the female performances that was overlooked this year was Tilda Swinton's in this, which is even more of a travesty than Charlize Theron. But not just that, every aspect of this film deserved much, much more recognition than it got; it was virtually flawless.

It is a truly brutal and horrific film, but the subject matter is handled well, considering how dark it is. I hadn't read the book so I didn't know beforehand what was going to happen, though I was able to guess the general climax of the story.

Tilda Swinton has never been better, in my opinion, and that is saying a lot considering what a fantastic actress she is. But she was completely convincing and conveyed her character so well. Her supporting cast were also commendable, including John C. Reilly as her husband, who should do more serious roles, as he was a revelation; also, the two actors who played her son at different ages - Jasper Newell as young Kevin gave one of the best child performances I've seen for some time, and Ezra Miller is suitably sinister as the teenage Kevin.

Essentially, the film is perfect, and it's an absolute travesty that not only was it virtually ignored at the awards this year, but also that it hasn't reached a wider audience. I highly recommend that everyone sees this. It's by no means a cheerful film, but it has stayed with me for a long time.



The Descendants

So after all that positivity in my other mini-reviews, I'm closing with highly acclaimed The Descendants, which I did not enjoy by any stretch of the imagination. I went into watching this thinking it must be moderately good based on all the critical acclaim it got, but really, I was incredibly bored after three minutes and it didn't pick up as time dragged on. Yes, it's the hideously pretentious film the academies love, but really, nothing happens. It's slow, without a lot going on, and there's nothing to really engage the audience. The characters are not likeable, the plot is dull as dishwater, and George Clooney is very overrated, as is the whole film.

I can't believe it won Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars this year over films such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and films not even nominated such as We Need To Talk About Kevin and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, both of which deserved it more. And as for Clooney winning many awards and nominations for his role, well, it's not surprising since the Academy do like him a fair amount, but a lot of other more deserving actors were left out.

I didn't enjoy it, and personally I thought it was very overrated. I'm glad I didn't spend money going to see it, put it that way, but I'm annoyed I've now lost two hours of my life on this film which I could quite happily have gone the rest of my life without seeing.



Ok, that's it for now, but since I'm poor and my social life seems to have dried up I'm pretty much constantly watching films, so expect some more posts soon.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Fairest Of Them All

There have been two adaptations of The Grimm's brothers' Snow White this year, and from the moment those two trailers were released everyone knew which one was going to be the better. And I'm very pleased to say that Snow White and the Huntsman more than lives up to the expectations. Yes, there's blood-red lips, snow white skin and raven black hair, there's an evil queen, a mirror, a prince and an apple, but this is genuinely not Snow White as you've ever seen it done before.

In this re-imagining, the evil Queen Ravenna (played wonderfully by Charlize Theron) tricks the newly bereaved king, kills him on their wedding night and imprisons his daughter in a tower for years. Now, with her powers waning, her magic mirror tells her to consume the heart of the one fairer than her, Snow White (Kristen Stewart). Except, of course, she escapes her prison into the Dark Forest, so Ravenna recruits a widowed alcoholic Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to bring her back. But Snow White's good heart and pure nature make the Huntsman reconsider, and instead helps her lead a rebellion including eight dwarves and Snow's childhood friend, Prince William (Sam Claflin) to bring down the evil tyranny of the Queen...

It must be said that it's a very beautifully shot film, very artfully done. Director Rupert Sanders, previously a well-respected director of video game commercials, makes his feature-film debut in stunning style, and at times this almost overshadows everything else about the film. The special effects are dazzling, but also imaginative, and so detailed as well, it actually feels like a different world. It's clear to see the influence of other directors on Sanders, especially Guillermo del Toro - the comparisons are easy to make between this and Pan's Labyrinth in terms of style, and as that is also one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen that is by no means a bad thing.

In terms of performances, it's a little bit of a mixed bag. Charlize Theron basically steals the show - and quite rightly. She is absolutely perfect as the Queen obsessed with aging, power and beauty, and she's very chilling. She's scary, but at the same time she isn't a one-dimensional villain; her backstory actually makes her very believable and it's easy to see why she is the way she is. She's manic and terrifying, and does a lot of screaming at people, but never goes to the point of melodramatic. Even her possible insanity (where did that mirror man come from?) doesn't feel contrived or staged, but completely understandable once you grasp what's gone on in her life. I'm trying not to dwell too much on the borderline incestuous relationship she has with her brother (why is he watching her take a naked milk bath?!), but even that just effectively adds to how creepy the character is. Theron displays a performance here that reminds the audience of what a fantastic actress she is. She is my new queen.

I was a little concerned about Kristen Stewart, wondering whether she may not become a little annoying as the film goes on, but I'm very pleased to report that she does a fantastic job as the titular heroine. Having heard interviews with Kristen talking about the character, it's nice to actually see her dedication to the development of Snow, and to see that no, she isn't a perfect person as we all believe, and she isn't just a damsel in distress. I was also worried she wasn't going to be believable as a leader in battle, but seeing her journey and what she goes through does make it convincing (as is her accent, I might add!).

I do have a little bit of a problem with Chris Hemsworth, regretably. I adore him, I do, but he could have done better. It's nice to see his character journey, but I feel like the Huntsman could have been written better. He's definitely a role that could be developed further if the rumoured sequels do happen (more on that in a bit). But he does bring some comedy to the film in his early drunken state, and the relationship between him and Snow White is enjoyable to see unfold, for the most part. Where I have an issue is in the sudden development of a romantic relationship between the two, which feels really random. He says she reminds him of his deceased wife, and she doesn't say anything about her feelings towards him at all, but it keeps being hinted at in the last section of the film and it doesn't really fit. It's much better if they stick with the mentor-student type relationship, or an older brother kind of thing. Also, his accent just barely passable. I know they made him Scottish because they wanted to emphasise difference between him and the nobility of the Queen, Snow White and Prince William, but it just didn't work. Nobody would have questioned why he also had an English accent, they should have just stuck with that since we know he can do it from Thor.

The dwarves are kind of underused, even if they are brilliant in what we see of them. With the likes of Nick Frost, Ray Winstone and Toby Jones, among others, they bring a large part of the film's comedy in their interactions with each other and the Huntsman, but because they don't come into the film until about half way through, they don't really have time to develop properly; it seems like all the effort the actors exerted to play the roles - going to "dwarf camp" and having small actors teach them the movements - was almost wasted as they weren't really given their chance to shine. To be fair, there are moments when they really engage the audience, in particular Brian Gleeson, who plays Gus, who is so adorable. Now I don't like to say this, because he's a brillaint actor usually, but the one dwarf I didn't like was Bob Hoskins, whose only role seemed to be to repeat "she will end the darkness" and variations thereof constantly every time he's on screen. It didn't need to be said the other 357 times after Chris Hemsworth had got the message.

As for the more supporting cast, again it's a little mixed. Sam Claflin as Prince William is lovely, breaking the mould of fairy-tale princes and actually getting stuck into the action. His relationship with Snow is adorable and I still root for them to be together; it's helped, I think, by showing them as children, which is so cute and does tie in nicely to some of the stuff that happens later in the film. As for Lily Cole though, I don't know why they made a big deal about her being in it - I'm not a fan of hers really anyway, but she's in all of three scenes and one of those is where she gets the youth sucked out of her by the Queen anyway - she's really very forgettable, and actually not a character I want to be expanded if/when they make the next one.

Yes, it's a predictable outcome even before the film begins, but the only true rebellion against the original story is to have the Queen win, and that's just a little bleak (although actually there are times when I did root for Ravenna, but that's down to Charlize Theron's fantastic performance really). The ending could have been better - without trying to spoil too much, the "Messiah" comparisons were a little annoying, and the fact that nobody questions how Snow White had suddenly risen from the dead irked me. It was obviously left open for a sequel, but I don't actually know what they could do with it; there's still room for the characters to be developed further, but I don't know what a believable compelling storyline would be - it's all about the Queen really, isn't it?

Saying that, there were moments which were really special. Parts of the film that were unexpected, such as the encounter with the village of women were surprisingly enjoyable and I liked the way they were embedded into the storyline. The prologue part of the film, in which all the backstory is explained, is a particular highlight, as it's so detailed and perfect to fully understand the rest of the film. The changes in the characters are also welcomed - Snow White is not a damsel in distress, but also she keeps her femininity rather than just becoming a woman-being-a-man action hero. The Queen has such depth that it's hard not to empathise with her at least a little bit; even the prince isn't your ordinary run-of-the-mill fairy tale prince who swans in and saves the day but is actually just the most blah character in history, but he too has proper balls. It's dark stuff, too: Snow White has a mental magic mushroom-enduced trip in the dark forest, the Queen ages rapidly and repulsively and is clearly very mentally unstable, and it doesn't shy away from death and violence (keeping it at 12 levels, though, obviously - though it could have been pushed slightly more, I feel). I also liked the way they redefined all the traditional moments of the story, such as the poisoned apple and the magic mirror; it was refreshing, and it actually resulted in the film deserving to say it's a reimaging, and not just another average adaptation.

What's really good about this version of the tale is that it's really timeless. There are themes that can be related to modern day life, mostly in terms of feminism and the effect of what a child is told in their youth. Ravenna, having been told by her mother that a woman will only succeed if she is beautiful and young, is shaped into this power-hungry women because she believes that all women are used by men and then discarded - this could not be more relevant in today's society, where women are still valued for their looks and youth. Obviously they are trying to then promote the contrasting upbringing of Snow White, who is told that a good heart will lead you to good places, but both of these really stand out as themes which make what feels on the surface to be a very medieval tale into a timeless message regarding the perception of women.

In terms of the technical parts of the film, it really is brilliant. The costumes are gorgeous, and the detail they went into on Ravenna's outfits is exceptional - I love how every costume she wears has some sort of dead thing on it, whether it be feathers, fur or bones, to reflect her character bringing death and despair to everything. The sets were all spectacular, with the English coast being transformed perfectly into a battle ground, and the castles giving a striking feel of despair. But also the outdoor settings in the forests are beautiful, with the contrasting dark and blooming environments just emphasising how special both of them are (there's a lot of contrasts in the film, in case you haven't already gathered. I'm pretty sure it's intentional). The score (you know I love the scores!) is simply superb. I'm a big fan of James Newton Howard anyway, and his style really fits this film. It's probably the best score I've heard so far this year, and I will listen to it constantly for about the next month (I'm listening to it as I'm writing this). It matches the mood of each scene perfectly, and really is just triumphant. And it's so sad to know that it probably will not be in contention for any proper awards because of the type of film it is, and will be overlooked when it really is sublime and deserves proper recognition.

Verdict: Yes, there are parts that are to be expected from a fairy tale adaptation, but the way Snow White and the Huntsman so wonderfully revolutionises the story means that this isn't a standard film. It's genuinely one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen, and I'm looking forward to seeing what Rupert Sanders has to show us next, if this is only his first offering. A dedicated cast and crew must be commended for what they have managed to produce, and strong central performances from the leading ladies are what really make this film a must-see.


(I don't normally plug stuff like this, but the behind-the-scenes stuff and interviews from this film are really good, so check out the official Youtube channel for all their videos. Though don't if you want to avoid spoilers, because there's lots there.)