Monthly Archives: October 2011

THE HELP: Simplified story elevated by cast

THE HELP
Directed by Tate Taylor. Starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney. 146 mins.
Rating: Three/Five
In cinemas October 26
A WONDERFUL ENSEMBLE CAST ELEVATE THE EMOTION IN A WHITEWASHED RACISM-BASED DRAMA

A shrewdly popularized tale of racism in 1960s Mississippi, there was nothing subtle about Katheryn Stockett’s best-selling novel The Help, and in that sense Tate Taylor’s adaptation remains true to its source material. Eschewing any nuanced shades of grey, The Help’s characters are cartoonish archetypes; cancer subplots and revenge pies are mercilessly milked for tears and laughs; and each demographic of Oprah’s book club will feel included as one race’s journey to equality inspires one woman’s journey to self-enlightenment.

However, despite being a crude and whitewashed account of a harrowing era, The Help demonstrates the power of moving performances by a wonderful cast. Though superficially focused around the idealistic Civil Rights Reporter Barbie Skeeter (the charming Emma Stone), this truly is an ensemble piece. Viola Davis shines as a soft-spoken maid who reluctantly reveals the shocking treatment of her peers; Octavia Spencer provides buckets of sass, while Jessica Chastain will break hearts as a loveable ditz whose own outsider status has taught her how to be colour-blind.

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WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN: The Academy needs to talk about Tilda

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
Directed by Lynne Ramsay. Starring Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C.Reilly. 112 mins.
Rating: Four/Five
In cinemas October 21
DEEPLY UNSETTLING DRAMA EXPLORES A MOTHER AND SON’S RELATIONSHIP WITH HATRED AND EVIL

Is it always wrong for a parent to hate their child? What if the child is evil? Can children be evil? And if they are, is it their parents fault?
A terrifying interpretation of the nature vs. nurture debate based on Lionel Shriver’s bestselling novel, Lynne Ramsay’s difficult and visceral drama We Need to Talk About Kevin is an uncomfortable exploration of maternal ambivalence, character development and guilt. The magnificent Tilda Swinton plays Eva, who soon discovers that children aren’t always little bundles of joy. Kevin (the brilliant Ezra Miller) seems sociopathic from birth – emotionally abusive, violent and deliberately regressive; though he saves these cruelties for Eva, acting like the perfect son around his clueless father Franklin (John C. Reilly.)

Echoing the tone and themes of horrors such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen, Ramsey’s dark drama maintains a nightmarish quality throughout. Visually jarring, the harsh lighting, flashbacks and overlapping vignettes create a discomforting opening act, while the discomforting Aronofsky-like sound design and angry colour palette act as a constant sensory assault, allowing the audience to empathize with Eva’s inability to let her guard down, even for a moment.

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THE IDES OF MARCH: The danger of ideals


THE IDES OF MARCH
Directed by George Clooney. Starring Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Evan Rachel Wood, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei. 98 mins.
Rating: Three and a half/Five
In cinemas October 28
CLOONEY’S POLITICAL DRAMA IS SMART AND ENGAGING, BUT ULTIMATELY SLIGHT

Apparently not the season for original scripts, this fortnight’s third adaptation owes itself to Beau Willimon’s play Farragut North, loosely based around the 2004 Democratic primary campaign of Howard Dean. However, it was Obama who ultimately influenced the film, as director George Clooney delayed its production for years, reluctant to ruin America’s Obama-inspired elation with this dark and cynical representation of the political world.

But in delaying the films’ release, Clooney may have unwittingly made the film resonate even further with Obama’s time in office. Charting the respective fall from grace and fall from innocence of the (unbelievably) left-wing Presidential hopeful Michael Morris (George Clooney) and his naïve press manager Stephen (Ryan Gosling), The Ides of March becomes a parable about the impossibility of living up to an ideal.

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POM PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD*: *Title subject to sponsorship, not truth.

POM PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD
Directed by Morgan Spurlock. Featuring Morgan Spurlock, J.J. Abrams, Peter Berg, Paul Brennan, Noam Chomsky, Quentin Tarantino. 90 mins.
Rating: Three/Five
In cinemas now
LIGHT, FUNNY DOCUMENTARY ON PRODUCT PLACEMENT IS ALL SPONSORSHIP, NO SUBSTANCE

It was only a matter of time before Morgan Spurlock made a documentary like Pom Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. The affable aficionado of giving great sales pitches without ever really providing the goods to back it up, the cheeky director is perfect candidate to explore the phenomenon of product placement. Filming numerous meetings with huge corporations, Spurlock is completely transparent in both his method and his madness: he will wear sponsored clothing, plug products and endorse any company that pays, using their fees to fund the entire film.

It’s a fantastic premise, and Spurlock’s sheer cheek in hawking his film out to the highest bidder is hilarious. But when Spurlock’s opening negotiating schtick runs out of fuel, the director seems to be unsure of what to do next. Having spoken constantly about how products will be used in “the movie”, it soon becomes clear that Spurlock has no idea what “the movie” is. Unlike Spurlock’s similarly hook-driven Super Size Me, which delved into wider issues of obesity, previous lawsuits and socio-economic factors, Spurlock doesn’t seem to have any definite conclusions.

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ANONYMOUS: What’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually…

ANONYMOUS
Directed by Roland Emmerich. Starring Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis, Sebastian Armesto, Rafe Spall, Jamie Campbell-Bower, Derek Jacobi. 130 mins
Rating: Two/Five
In cinemas October 28
JUMBLED EXPLORATION OF SHAKESPEARIAN CONSPIRACY THEORY NEVER FINDS ITS TONE

Director Roland Emmerich has never been subtle, but his big-budget, CGI-laden movies at least have one distinct and unsubtle tone. In Anonymous, there are about twenty. Exploring the Oxfordian theory regarding the real author of the works of William Shakespeare, Anonymous boasts a terrific premise, but ultimately fails to blend its genres of political intrigue, period farce and romantic drama.

Stretching the Shakespearian allusions beyond the plot, Anonymous’ opening scene sees theatre actor and real-life Oxfordian Derek Jacobi delivering a prologue to a modern theatre audience, transporting them back to 16th century England. It’s a clever device, but the mise-on-scene remains firmly in the league of big-budget amateur theatre. The backdrops look stagey, the costuming is pantaloons by numbers and the often badly ADR-ed dialogue feels incredibly stilted.

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PERFECT SENSE: Finding meaning in chaos

PERFECT SENSE
Directed by David Mackenzie. Starring Ewan McGregor, Eva Green, Ewen Bremner, Stephen Dillane. 92 mins.
Rating: Four/Five
In cinemas October 7
BEAUTIFULLY SHOT SCI-FI ROMANCE IS AN INTIMATE EXPLORATION OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE

Another impressive addition to David Mackenzie’s increasingly intriguing filmography (we’re choosing to forget You Instead), his art-house sci-fi romance Perfect Sense is a beautiful, odd and immersive exploration of intimacy during a possible End of Days.

An awkward one-night stand introduces our two leads. Cold and arrogant, womanizer Michael (Ewan McGregor) can have sex with women but not sleep with them, while Susan’s (Eva Green) cutting irony and self-criticism betray a crippling vulnerability barely concealed behind a defensive wall. However when a worldwide pandemic hits, slowly robbing people of their senses, these two damaged individuals turn to each-other to find a sense of self.

The contagion is brilliantly handled and imbued with intriguing details, focusing not on widespread panic but the contained experience of individuals. Each onset of sensory deprivation is preceded by extreme, orgiastic episodes that highlight the sense’s role in the human experience, but are soon forgotten as people desperately seek to regain a sense of normalcy. As a chef, dependent on incorporating and accommodating the senses, Michael pragmatically switches his restaurant’s focus from taste to texture, colour and experience, becoming a symbol for resilience and hope.

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MIDNIGHT IN PARIS: Timless beauty

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates, Adrian Brody, Carla Bruni, Corey Stoll. 94 mins.
Rating: Four/Five
In cinemas October 7
WOODY ALLEN’S WARM, WHIMSICAL ROMANCE IS AN IRRESISTIBLE EXPLOARTION OF NOSTALGIA

A darling, whimsical examination of Woody Allen’s rose-tinted view of pseudo-European sensibilities and his nostalgic longing for the past, this self-aware sleeper film reveals a director who, in his eighth decade, has finally embraced the beauty of the present.

As with all of Allen’s leading men, Owen Wilson essentially plays the director himself. But eschewing his too-often too-idiotic surfer insouciance in favour of a naïve, childish energy, he’s utterly charming as the unfulfilled romantic Gil. As he spends time with his privileged fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her Francophobic Republican parents, Gil echoes his earnest but empty ambitions to write a novel, to live in Paris, to somehow live la vie de bohème.

But by a stroke of Peter Pan magic, Gil’s adoring midnight walks around Paris act as the applause that brings Tinkerbell to life. Gaining admittance to the delicious, exuberant world of the Roaring Twenties, Gil is introduced to literary geniuses, temperamental artists and a beautiful love interest (Marion Cotillard.)

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DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK: Clue – You won’t be

DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK
Directed by Troy Nixey. Starring Bailee Madison, Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce. 100 mins.
Rating: Two/Five
In cinemas October 7
FORMULAIC HORROR OFFERS CHILLING MOMENTS, BUT ITS ANTI-SMURF DEMONS FAIL TO SCARE

Depressed and lonely since her parents’ divorce, young Sally (the fantastic Bailee Madison) becomes the perfect target for murderous beings that dwell in the basement of her father’s (Guy Pearce) home. Preying on Sally’s vulnerability and her father’s belief that she’s psychologically disturbed, the light-evading beings slowly seduce Sally, promising her a better life if only she’ll join them.

From the bone-chillingly atmospheric prologue, to the potential exploration of a disturbed child’s mind, it’s clear why writer and producer Guillermo del Toro wanted to remake the 1973 made-for-tv movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Based around scuttling, psyche-scarring shadows, the film lends itself brilliantly to the Horrormaster’s trademark techniques of terror; a love of atmospheric settings, eerie lighting and creepy critters.

But perhaps too reliant on del Toro’s skill at maintaining tension, neophyte director Troy Nixey unveils his creatures far too early, completely deflating any suspense within the first act. With no surprises left and the molerat-gnome bullies proving frankly underwhelming, nothing remains to conceal the fact that the formulaic screenplay is riddled with as many outrageous plot-holes as it is potential jokes about Scientologist Katie Holmes starring in an anti-psychiatry film which finds her apprehended by sinister midgets.

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THE THREE MUSKETEERS: All for one & one for all…cynical franchise-seeking mess

THE THREE MUSKETEERS
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Starring Logan Lerman, Milla Jovovich, Matthew MacFayden, Orlando Bloom. 110 mins.
Rating: Two/Five
In cinemas October 12
NONSENSICAL ADVENTURE REMAKE IS ALL STEAMPUNK AND STUNTS, NO SUBSTANCE

Never has the phrase “All for one, and one for all” been interpreted quite so cynically. Unabashedly stealing from countless films to transform a classic tale into the broadest, most generic form of money-spinning Hollywood tripe, this lazy rehashing owes more to Pirates of the Caribbean and CliffsNotes than to Alexandre Dumas’ novel.

Not exactly renowned for his originality, Paul W.S. Anderson is best known for his work on the increasingly awful Resident Evil franchise, and he doesn’t improve the reputation of remakes here. Not only does this charmless adaptation lose the cheeky humour of the book, but its checklist of action-adventure rip-offs means it completely loses any sense of its own universe. As physics, logic and plot are abandoned in favour of steampunk zeppelins, Matrix-style combat and Errol Flynn heroics, I longed for the simple silliness of Disney’s 1993 version – and when one is reduced to yearning for the bland charm of Chris O’Donnell, Boy in Tights, it’s a sad day for everyone.

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PARKED: Darragh Byrne’s debut marks a director who’s going places

PARKED
Directed by Darragh Byrne. Starring Colm Meaney, Colin Morgan, Milka Ahlroth, Michael McElhatton, David Wilmot. 94 mins.
Rated: Three/Five
In cinemas October 14
COLIN MEANEY IS SUPERB IN UNDERSTATED BUT EMOTIVE IRISH DRAMA

With a grace, humour and understanding of the human condition that echoes the work of Tom McCarthy, Irish director Darragh Byrne uses his first feature film to explore the converging lives of three individuals straddling the fringes of society. Emigrant Fred (Colm Meaney) has returned to Ireland, only to finds himself destitute. Forced to live in his car, he strikes up a friendship with a similarly situated young drug addict, Cathal (Colin Morgan.)

Never condescending to his audience, Byrne chooses to keep Parked refreshingly exposition-free, understanding that by not exploring Fred’s background, his present feels all the more isolated and affecting. It’s a painful irony that Finnish music teacher Jules (Milka Ahlroth) has become a staple of the Dublin community, while Fred remains homeless in his own hometown.

This nod towards Ireland’s growing multiculturalism is one of many socially aware moments, such as the utterly believable farce that is social welfare office politics. But Parked retains a universal appeal thanks to Meaney’s beautiful performance. Restrained yet endearing, Meaney’s Fred is an immensely likeable and layered character, whose empathy and poetic writing reveals a man eager to find meaning in the mundane, and understanding in the most unlikely of companions.

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