Monday, 30 January 2012

Shame

“Shame” is not the kind of film you would take your mother with you to see, not unless you’re in dire need of some crippling awkwardness and a hard smack around the ear. “Shame” is a film filled with sex, the physical act presented sometimes audibly, sometimes visually, sometimes both, sometimes neither. But “Shame” is not a sexy film; it is in fact an uncomfortable film to sit through, and deliberately so. It is also haunting, which is also deliberate. It is a film that will linger in your mind long after the end credits roll, long after you leave the theatre and long after you get back home; whether or not you want it to linger in your mind matters not – “Shame” is going to stay with you.

The film is co-written and directed by Steve McQueen (no, not that one). It is McQueen’s second feature film, his first being the magnificent Bobbie Sands biopic “Hunger” from 2008. That film starred Michael Fassbender, an Irish-German actor who has since become something of a household name. It is in “Shame” that the actor and filmmaker reunite, and the result is just as raw, visceral and captivating as it was back in ’08.


In “Shame,” Fassbender plays Brandon, a handsome thirty-something New Yorker with a good-paying office job, decent fashion sense and a fancy high-rise apartment in Manhattan. He is also a sex addict, although it seems he is the only person in his life who is even slightly aware of this. Brandon’s daily life revolves almost entirely around sex; when he’s at work, he’s downloading porn on his office computer and masturbating in the men’s room; when he’s on the street or in a bar, he’s eying women up, asking them out and slipping his hand down their pants; when he’s at home, he’s either having sex, downloading porn or masturbating in the shower.

Like most sex addicts, or addicts in general, Brandon is deeply unhappy with his life; he does not enjoy giving into his addictions, but he must, lest he lose his mind. In one early scene, Brandon gazes longingly and lustily at a woman sitting opposite him on the subway train; the woman gazes back, apparently flattered, but the situation soon becomes uncomfortable for her, and she exits the train, promptly followed by Brandon, who loses her in the crowd. This is the searching. In another scene, we are shown a close-up of Brandon’s face as he is having an orgasm; his facial expression is at first one of physical pleasure, but quickly transforms into an expression of disgust and self-loathing. This is the result.


One night, Brandon comes home to discover a woman in his shower. This woman is Sissy (Carey Mulligan, “Drive”), whom we soon discover is Brandon’s sister, an aspiring singer. Sissy wishes to stay for a few nights, much to Brandon’s annoyance; however, he reluctantly agrees to let her stay out of some surviving remnant of brotherly love. Naturally, Sissy’s presence disrupts Brandon’s private life and daily routine, to which he wants no witnesses. Sissy is fragile, dependant, intrusive and very needy; upon first glance, she is the complete opposite of the emotionally detached Brandon. It soon transpires, though, that Sissy is just as screwed up as her big brother, if not more so.

“Shame” is a film that tells us everything while telling us nothing. Very little about the film is spelled out to its audience; for example, it is never explicitly stated at any point in the film that Brandon is a sex addict, nor is it even commented on – we just watch him have sex, masturbate, stare at girls, flirt with girls, watch porn, have cybersex and hand wads of cash to prostitutes. We are little more than witnesses  (or voyeurs, I suppose) to these abnormally frequent acts and are allowed to come to our own conclusions on the man who commits them; it is also of note that the film is rather non-judgemental of Brandon and the things he does, allowing our opinion to sway whichever way we wish it to.


The same goes for Brandon’s past, and indeed Sissy’s past. Again, there is nothing explicitly stated about what precisely shaped them into the people they are today, be it a childhood trauma or whatever else, but there are curious hints of it. “We’re not bad people,” says Sissy in a teary message left on Brandon’s voicemail. “We just come from a bad place.” It’s clear something unpleasant happened between these two siblings at a young age, but specific details go unmentioned, and the film is all the more powerful for it – some things in cinema are better left unsaid and unexplored, lest the film spoil the intriguing ambiguity.

Fassbender, a supremely talented actor, gives what is probably the best performance of his career as Brandon. His performance here is intimate, endearing, bold and brave; I struggle to imagine any other actor handling the role as well as Fassbender has done here. His character is a man who is unapologetic for what he is but at the same time feels intense shame when he does what he does, hence the title. He is a man whose life is eternally stuck in a loop, Brandon forever soullessly yearning to quench his unwanted desires. We are allowed to feel sympathy for Brandon’s condition and the misery of a life he leads, but at no point does the film beg for our sorrow, nor does Fassbender. As a man suffering from a scandalous addiction, Brandon is an undoubtedly complex character, and Fassbender handles these complexities with apparent ease; it’s of little wonder that the actor has received such widespread acclaim and attention for his performance.


Mulligan too gives a powerhouse performance as Sissy, a character just as fascinating as Brandon. Sissy is a woman forever trapped in her childhood years; she is incapable of settling down somewhere, instead moving from city to city, perhaps out of boredom, perhaps out of something else. She’s more outspoken and playful than Brandon, but is hiding a damaged soul, the damage of which can be unmasked by the simple rolling up of her sleeves, revealing several cut marks lining the insides of her arms. Mulligan proved herself to be a very fine actress in 2009’s “An Education” and last year’s “Drive;” here, she further cements this status, giving a supporting performance that is as effective and compelling as any other I’ve seen in some time.

McQueen is tremendously talented in the art of translating thought onto the screen; of course, the acting talents of Fassbender and Mulligan are a good deal of help in accomplishing this. In one scene, for example, a frustrated Brandon angrily paces back and forth in his apartment as he is forced to listen to the sounds of Sissy having sex with his douchebag of a boss in the next room. In reaction, Brandon marches to his wardrobe, grabs a tracksuit, goes to the street below and, in a sequence captured in a single, unbroken take, jogs his way down at least three whole blocks. There is no dialogue, no explanation why and no warning that it is going to happen, and yet we fully understand why Brandon is doing this and what is going through his mind as he pants away and pumps his arms and legs up and down the streets of Manhattan. It’s a breathtaking sequence orchestrated with startling beauty and commanding power by McQueen, much like the rest of this daring film.


To sum up “Shame” in one word, I’d say it’s extraordinary; I doubt many will walk out of the film feeling that it is not extraordinary in some way or another. “Shame” is an extraordinary piece of acting. It is an extraordinary piece of directing. It is an extraordinary piece of writing. It is an extraordinary piece of editing. It is an extraordinary exploration of sexuality. It is an extraordinary exploration of addiction. It is an extraordinary study of a complex man. It is an extraordinary portrayal of a life less ordinary. It is an extraordinary portrayal of a man who wants to stop himself. And it is an extraordinary portrayal of a man who can’t stop himself. It is extraordinary in so many ways, and in ways that will surely prove difficult to ever forget.

10/10

Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

It is with expected style and finesse that director David Fincher has both remade Niels Arden Oplev’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and adapted Stieg Larsson’s bestselling Swedish novel, which was originally branded in Sweden with the less marketable title of “Men Who Hate Women,” onto the big screen. Fincher, along with talented screenwriter Steven Zaillian (“Moneyball”), has succeeded in improving upon Oplev’s 2009 film version, which I must say I liked very much. Together, Fincher and Zaillian have also taken the novel’s atypical whodunit narrative and have spun it into a significantly more cinematic and intriguing experience than what Oplev achieved with his adaptation; they’ve taken what is essentially an unusually violent episode of “Midsomer Murders” and have turned it into something that is as relentlessly gripping and hypnotic as Fincher’s two previous whodunit drama-thrillers, 1995’s “Se7en” and 2007’s “Zodiac.”

Fincher’s adaptation almost immediately sets itself apart from Oplev’s; the opening titles, arriving a minute into the film, are like that of a Bond film, albeit much more morbid in mindset. Set to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ grungy reworking of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” with vocals by Karen O, it depicts several CG-rendered objects and figures, including electrical wires, a bald eagle and also star Rooney Mara (“The Social Network”), as they are drowned from head to toe in tattoo ink. They twist and turn, rise and fall, and embrace one another until Mara has her ink-splattered face violently bashed to bits by the inky knuckles of a man’s fist. It’s an uncommonly ambitious, unexpectedly disturbing and visually orgasmic hallucinogenic nightmare that certainly would have seemed stupendously out-of-place in Oplev’s rather restrained film; here, it fits perfectly, and faultlessly sets the tone for what is to transpire in this tremendous story.


Following this, we meet our two protagonists. Our first is Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig, “Cowboys and Aliens”), an investigative journalist who is going through some high-profile legal trouble in Sweden. We first meet Mikael just as he has been convicted of libel against undoubtedly corrupt businessman Hans-Erik Wennerström, meaning he must pay a hefty sum of money to the crooked git. Soon after his conviction, Mikael is contacted by Henrik Vanger (“Beginners”), an elderly millionaire who has a business offer for Mikael. Intrigued, Mikael travels to Henrik’s estate and discovers that Henrik wants him to solve a 40-year-old mystery: the disappearance and possible murder of Henrik’s beloved niece, Harriet.

Our second protagonist is Lisbeth Salander (Mara), a character who has become something of a phenomenon of modern literature. Lisbeth is what you might describe as an odd creature. Forever dressed as a cross between a punk rock chick and a gloomy goth, Lisbeth has led an exceptionally tough life and is, on the surface, a cold-hearted loner who cares not for anything or anyone. She is isolated, anti-social and emotionally tortured, yet still unflinchingly strong and uncommonly intelligent.


A freelance computer hacker, Lisbeth is secretly documenting Mikael’s every move at the request of Henrik’s people, who simply want a background check on the man. Soon enough, Mikael discovers Lisbeth’s actions and, not wishing to make the same mistake he did with Wennerström, requests her research expertise to help in the investigation; at first disinterested, Lisbeth becomes attracted to the offer once she discovers she will be helping in the tracking down of a “killer of women.”

The mystery is as such: 40 years ago, on the island inhabited solely by Henrik’s devious family, young Harriet vanished without a trace and was never seen again. The case has never been solved, but Henrik is 100% confident that she was murdered, and that the murderer is someone in his family, or, as Henrik describes them, “The most detestable collection of people that you will ever meet.” In addition, ever since Harriet’s unexplained disappearance, Henrik has been mailed framed flowers (the birthday gift he received from Harriet ever year before she vanished) on each of his birthdays; he believes the murderer has been cruelly taunting him for four whole decades with these “gifts,” and he now wants to finally find out who this person is.


It’s a fascinating mystery, but it’s one we’ve seen before. As such, it’s a testament to how well constructed Fincher’s redo is that this central mystery actually manages to captivate on a higher level here than it did in Oplev’s original adaptation. This time around, we know precisely who the killer is, we know their motivations, we know how the investigation pans out and we know the end result in full, and yet the mystery, against all odds, remains fully engrossing and exciting from start to finish, thanks largely to the irresistibly absorbing and mesmerising ambience that surrounds the film.

This is a result, in part, of the chilling, focused and atmospheric direction from Fincher, the smartly written screenplay by Zaillian, the crisp editing by Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, the beautifully orchestrated cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth, and the uncompromisingly haunting musical score composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Together, these elements create an all-consuming aura that pulls us in right from the aforementioned opening titles and refuses to let go until the end credits creep their way onto the screen after over 150 minutes of unyielding intensity.


We also have Craig and Mara, who both offer tremendous leading performances, although the focus is inevitably more centred on Mara. This up-and-coming American actress (pulling off a damn good Swedish accent) has a Noomi Rapace-shaped shadow looming over her for much of the time she is on-screen, and yet Mara somehow manages to overcome this, perhaps even equalling Rapace’s breathtaking performance in the Swedish adaptation. Mara’s performance here is as fascinating and beguiling as Rapace ever was, taking the character of Lisbeth, a damaged soul with a troubled past, and turning her into her own character, one that she fully commits to and immerses herself in; for almost every frame containing the sight of Mara, you cannot take your eyes off her.

Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a refreshing piece of mainstream cinema. It is a film made with incredible passion, skill and intelligence, although what else can you expect from David Fincher? It is both a splendid remake and a marvellous adaptation of Larsson’s original novel. It is movie-making at its most absorbing and hypnotic, and further cements Fincher’s reputation as one of the most gifted filmmakers working in Hollywood.

10/10

Monday, 23 January 2012

Haywire

With “Haywire,” director Steven Soderbergh achieves an uncommon achievement: making a girls-kicking-ass movie that itself kicks ass. Over the past few years, we’ve seen many failed attempts at this; we’ve had films such as “Tomb Raider,” “Aeon Flux,” “Ultraviolet,” “Resident Evil,” “Elektra,” “Salt” and, most recently, “Colombiana,” all of which didn’t so much kick ass as they did suck it. Only two recent examples spring to mind that rose above this menstrual stream of crap; these are Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” from 2003 and Joe Wright’s “Hanna” from 2011; “Haywire” is set to join them.

In the leading role of this girls-kicking-ass action-thriller is retired mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano, who some Americans may recognise as Crush from “American Gladiators.” This is Carano’s first acting role, a fact which admittedly rears its head on some occasions throughout “Haywire.” Nevertheless, Carano’s job here is all about the action and little about the acting; it is her job to fight good, and fight good she most certainly does.


Carano stars as Mallory Kane, a no-nonsense American superspy who handles jobs that often veer towards the murderous side of things. Mallory is a professional fighter, shooter, killer and rooftop-jumper. Get on her bad side, expect a few broken bones. Get on her good side, still expect a few broken bones.

In the opening scene, Mallory enters a small café in the middle of nowhere. There, she meets with ex-partner Aaron (Channing Tatum, “The Eagle”) and unexpectedly engages in a bloody battle with the buff potato-face. Soon enough, Mallory’s driving a car with its owner, stranger Scott (Michael Angarano, “Red State”), and telling him her story.


Through flashbacks, it is revealed that Mallory was double-crossed during a mission in Dublin that went a bit awry. Now a fugitive, Mallory is forced to go on the run from the law and from her own organisation. She’s gunning for revenge. But who betrayed her? Was it Aaron, was it the shadowy Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas, “Puss in Boots”), or was it ex-boss Kenneth (Ewan McGregor, “Perfect Sense”)?

For the most part, “Haywire” relies on its action, which is not a bad thing; it is an action movie, after all. The action is frequent, although not in a non-stop, “The Adventures of Tintin” kind of way. There’s a ton of action to be thrilled by, and thrilled by it we most certainly are. Scenes not featuring violent physical conflicts are rare, which is a good thing because “Haywire” is at its very best when it’s in combat mode.


The action is fast and lean. Soderbegh films and edits it with refreshing clarity. The action relies much on the fighting skills of Carano, who applies her mixed martial arts skills wherever applicable. She’s clearly endlessly talented in the area; she pummels guys in the gut, boots them in the face and bounces off walls with impressive ease; it’s mesmerising to watch, and also refreshing to witness – far too often is movie action reliant on special effects and wirework; good old-fashioned stunts will always be king.

Carano does a good job in the leading role, and not just on the ass-kicking front. She has a fairly powerful on-screen presence and succeeds in constructing a believable character out of a superspy action-chick. Sure, some of her line delivery is a bit off and can be rather wooden on occasion, but in terms of becoming and performing this character she is mostly successful. I predict a luxurious future for Carano in the movies, most likely in the action genre.


There’s also a superb supporting cast starring alongside Carano. As mentioned earlier, we have Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas and Channing Tatum (this is one of his better roles) lending their talents. We also have Michael Douglas (“Wall Street”) starring as a high-up official of Mallory’s organisation and Michael Fassbender (“Shame”) starring as a spy who works alongside Mallory in the ill-fated Dublin mission. It’s long been said that Fassbender will one day be James Bond; here, he’s the next best thing: a Bond girl.

This is Soderbergh’s 25th feature film. As he’s proven time and time again, he’s a wonderful director of mainstream cinema. With “Haywire,” he’s proven this again: he’s made a splendid genre flick that serves as a hopefully successful star vehicle for Carano. It’s a fun, albeit forgettable ride that provides impressive, bone-crunching action that astounds and enthrals; many action directors should take note.

7/10

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Underworld: Awakening

The very best thing I can say about “Underworld: Awakening” is that it’s visually luxurious. Like its three moody predecessors, it’s dark and gothic, taking place mostly at night time (for logical reasons). It features many action sequences, all stylised to high heaven, a la “The Matrix,” and all decidedly cool and awesome. It also maintains the metallic blue tint that director Len Wiseman heavily decorated the first film with. Now, that’s all well and good, but the problem is this: “Awakening” is the fourth instalment in the “Underworld” franchise, meaning we’ve seen all this three times before – surely by now this franchise should really be thinking about relying on something outside of stylish visuals, and by that I don’t mean slapping 3D onto the damn thing.

“Awakening” sees Kate Beckinsale returning as Selene, the pale-faced vampire warrior clad in a tight leather catsuit and armed with silver-plated bullets and silver spinning thingies. If you’ve been following the horror-action series, you’ll know that the third instalment, prequel “Rise of the Lycans,” did not star Beckinsale or her character (although it did oddly star a Beckinsale lookalike as another character). This one, however, continues Selene’s story from the first two films, taking place twelve years after the first sequel, “Evolution.”


At the film’s beginning, we are shown that the human population is now very much aware of the existence of vampires and Lycans (which are werewolves, basically). Both are fiercely hunted by the government, leading to the supposed extinction of the Lycan race. Both species, however, have left quite a scar on human society, with many now dead after attacks resulting from the species’ widespread discovery.

Selene and her vampire-Lycan hybrid lover, Michael, have been captured by the humans. After twelve years of being trapped in a state of cryogenic suspension, Selene finally breaks out of her frozen prison and, in a sequence resembling a scene from last year’s “Resident Evil: Afterlife,” effortlessly breaks out of the high-security research facility in which she has been imprisoned. That same night, there is another break-out from the same facility, this one by a 12-year-old girl, Eve (India Eisley, “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”), whom Selene discovers is not only a vampire-Lycan hybrid, but is also her very own daughter.


So, Selene must go on the run and protect Eve from two groups: on the one hand, there’s the organisation which captured the two of them and wants to use Eve to develop a cure against vampirism, and on the other there’s the not-quite-extinct Lycans, who have somehow managed to create a Lycan that is, as Selene observes, at least twice the size of any she has seen before.

The first two films in this mostly clunky franchise were directed by Len Wiseman, an art director turned film director; he is also Beckinsale’s husband. This time round, Wiseman serves only as a producer and one of the four screenwriters, the direction taken over here by Swedish filmmakers Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, who previously gave us supernatural horror “Shelter” in 2010. Here, Mårlind and Stein do a good job of copying Wiseman’s visual style, but do a very bad job at just about everything else.


With “Awakening,” the two directors deliver buckets of gore and a boatload of CGI, as one would very much expect from the franchise. The action is frequent and very over-the-top, with meaningful dialogue shoved to the side in favour of blood-soaked badassery. The Lycan effects are rather good, as is the stunt work. Beckinsale, as always, is perfectly fine in the leading role, doing a good job with what she’s given. With all of this in place, I believe hardcore fans of the series will get a kick or two out of the film; us non-fans, however, will just have to suffer through the whole thing.

I read that Beckinsale wished for this film to be more than just “lots of explosions and people running around in tight clothes.” “You really want to see stakes that mean something in these kind of movies,” she stated. By “stakes,” I assume that she is referring to the inclusion of the daughter character in the middle of all this gory violence, which actually raises the biggest problem with the film, and indeed with its predecessors: we don’t care.


We, as an audience, don’t care. Why should we care? We are given no reason to care, and thus we don’t. We don’t care because there are no characters in the script. There are walking cadavers leaping about and firing guns, sure, but there are no characters to help us become the slightest bit engaged in the plot. Why should we care about a bunch of stone-faced bloodsuckers who are entirely drained of any semblance of personality? Why should we care about their stupid little war with the equally insipid Lycans? Throwing a 12-year-old girl into that mix and placing her in a position of danger doesn’t suddenly make us care; why should it when the girl is as vacant and dead-eyed as everyone else in the film?

And from this, “Underworld: Awakening” becomes a dreary, boring experience that is exhausting even halfway through its 85-minute length. Sure, it may throw stuff at the camera, it may be loud, it may have bone-snapping and throat-tearing, and it may have Kate Beckinsale running around in tight leather, but it is not fun or thrilling, much as it believes itself to be; it is instead a chore to watch, and honestly, much as it pains me to say it, I’d rather be watching “Twilight.”

3/10

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Descendants

Since his feature-film debut in 1996, writer-director Alexander Payne has established himself as a fine maker of comedy-dramas, or dramedies. Over a fifteen-year career, Payne has previously given us four wonderful comedy-dramas in the form of “Citizen Ruth,” “Election,” “About Schmidt” and “Sideways,” each of which presented a balancing act for Payne to handle, and handle them he most certainly did. He continues this trend with “The Descendants,” his first film in seven years and fifth film overall; while his latest is most definitely another comedy-drama for Payne, it is a little lighter on the comedy side than his previous efforts.

“The Descendants” has as its leading man the dashingly handsome and roguishly charming Mr George Clooney. The film’s comedy-drama stylings play very naturally to Clooney’s many talents; Clooney has displayed his comedy chops in the Coen Brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Burn After Reading,” and also his dramatic chops in Stephen Gaghan’s “Syriana” and Tony Gilroy’s “Michael Clayton.” He also combined the two to much effect in Jason Reitman’s comedy-drama “Up in the Air” in 2009.


Here, Clooney plays Matt King, a lawyer who resides in Honolulu in Hawaii. Matt is a descendant of one of Hawaii's first white land-owning families. As such, he is the sole trustee of a family trust that currently controls 25,000 acres of land on the island of Kauai. However, this trust is going to expire in seven years; in reaction, the King family decide to sell the land to Kauai native Don Hollitzer, who plans to develop the land; Matt has agreed to let this happen, though many locals disagree.

As this deal approaches finalisation, Matt’s recently distant wife, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie), ends up in a boating accident, which leaves her in a coma; doctors are unsure if she will ever wake from this. Matt is consequently left on his own to care for his two daughters, inappropriate 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and foul-mouthed 17-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley, “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”). Matt is, as he calls himself, a “back-up parent,” and so finds being a father a tough responsibility.


To further complicate matters, when Alexandra returns home from boarding school, she reveals to her father that she saw her mother with another man some time ago. Matt then discovers that his wife was having an affair with a real estate agent called Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard, “Scooby-Doo”) up until the boating incident. He then becomes determined to meet Mr Speer face-to-face, although what he will say or do to him he is unsure of.

Like Payne’s previous three films, “The Descendants” originates from a novel, in this case the novel of the same name by Kaui Hart Hemmings, which I myself am unfamiliar with. Perhaps this is why, again like Payne’s previous three films, “The Descendants” is so rich in character; in a novel, a writer has as much space as they want to fully develop and flesh out a character with written description. In a film, this is naturally more difficult, but Payne somehow always manages to pull this off, especially when his characters have been previously portrayed and developed in a novel; his films, in essence, are played out like live-action novels, armed with a sharp sense of character and a staggering ability to express its characters’ inner complexities.


It’s in the subtleties of the acting and of the script (co-written by Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash) through which this is achieved. Clooney is and always has been an incredibly talented actor, and as such is fully capable of expressing these tiny hints of his character’s thoughts and motivations; I struggle to think of anyone else who could have played this role. The script, a tremendous piece of writing, spells out very little about its characters, of which there are many, yet somehow it expresses very much; it also shows that there is much more to a person than what lies atop the surface.

Take the character of Sid (Nick Krause), Alexandra’s boyfriend, for example. On the surface, Sid is a blithering idiot of a teenage boy; he’s inappropriate, inconsiderate, hopelessly dense and the very definition of a numbskull. There’s little movement going on in this boy’s head, we believe, as does Matt. And yet, in a late-night conversation with Matt, Sid is revealed to have experienced the pain and heartache of losing someone, which Sid talks about with touching sincerity; Matt’s opinion of Sid is seen to change, as we see in his shifting expression.


So, that’s the drama part taken care of, but what about the comedy? Well, “The Descendants” is strong on this side too, although the comedy is much less prominent than its dramatic counterpart. The script has a charmingly wry sense of humour and enjoys playing with its characters; at one point, it puts the limitlessly ignorant Sid in a room with Matt’s Alzheimer’s-suffering mother-in-law (Barbara L. Southern) and hard-ass, permanently stone-faced father-in-law (Robert Forster, “Jackie Brown”), leaving us to wait and see how long it takes for Sid to get punched in the face. A shot of George Clooney frantically running through the neighbourhood in his flippity-flopping flip-flops also raises quite a giggle.

Speaking of flip-flops, I can’t do this review without talking about Hawaii. The 50th American state is a prominent feature of the film, as opposed to just being an atypical setting; it’s as important to the film as Fargo was to “Fargo.” Every character in the film walks about in Hawaiian shirts, shorts and indeed flip-flops, even during business meetings. They all have prominent tans, the blisteringly hot sun always shining in the sky. The soundtrack consists entirely of ukulele tunes, accompanied by the soothing voices of many Hawaiian singers. The setting also works with one of the film’s themes: Hawaii may look like a never-ending paradise for its many inhabitants, but it’s not; in spite of the sun and the sandals, Hawaiians experience the same troubles and worries that us boring norms do.


“The Descendants” is another dramedic hit for Alexander Payne. It is a film that is handled with intelligence and is rich in emotion and humour; it is a beautifully acted and terrifically written look at the effects of loss and betrayal. I believe the film will enjoy much success come Oscar nomination time, and maybe even Oscar-winning time, and also do quite a big favour to the Hawaiian tourist board.

9/10

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Devil Inside

It’s sort of developed into a general rule that “found-footage” films must end abruptly. Earlier offerings from the presently popular subgenre such as “The Blair Witch Project” and “Cloverfield” helped to establish this rule, ending their stories without warning and thus providing a chilling sense of ambiguity. William Brent Bell’s low-budget horror picture “The Devil Inside” is a found-footage film that fully obeys this rule: the screen goes all fuzzy, it cuts to black without warning and promptly ends, surrounded by a whole ton of ambiguity. Clichéd as it is, this should be a perfectly fine way to end a film such as this – the problem is that this all happens at precisely the wrong moment.

Before its ending, “The Devil Inside” is a dull and boring rip-off of “The Exorcist;” it’s only during the last five or ten minutes that it gets the slightest bit interesting. It’s during these moments that the film seems to be teetering towards some big, probably overblown climax; very strange things are happening, people are dying and everything’s going a bit wrong for our protagonists. It’s clear that the film is building up to something big and, against all odds, has somehow managed to become slightly intriguing.


And then it cuts to black. And a title card comes up, telling the audience to visit a fabricated website to find out more details. And then it ends. And we, the audience, are angry. Very angry, in fact. We’re very angry not only because the film just ended as it finally began to become interesting, but also because we suddenly realise that we, as paying moviegoers, have been had – it is then that we begin to wonder if all this was filmed just to promote the film’s supposedly factual website. Imagine Heather tripping over while holding the camera as she and Mike find the abandoned house in “The Blair Witch Project,” and the film then immediately ending, telling you to go to a website to find out more details. It is indeed that annoying.

The film opens with a title card stating that the Vatican have not endorsed the film; given how awful it is, I can’t say I blame them. We then hear a recording of a phone call to the police from 1989. The caller is an American woman, Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley, “Wild About Harry”), who bluntly states that she has just murdered three people. We are then shown police footage of the horrible crime scene: three people have indeed been murdered inside Rossi’s home; they consist of two priests and a nun, whose blood has been splattered all across the floor and the walls. It’s a crime only a true monster could have committed.


Well, it turns out this may be true: it is soon revealed that the murders occurred during an exorcism that was being performed on Maria in her own home. Yes, Maria, who is sent away to a mental asylum in Rome, is apparently possessed by a demon, or demons. And in 2009, her 25-year-old daughter, Isabella (Fernanda Andrade, “Why Am I Doing This?”), is searching for answers: what exactly happened that night, why was her mother sent all the way to Italy, is her mother mentally ill, is she demonically possessed, and why on earth is this film so boring?

As I said earlier, the film is a member of the found-footage subgenre. The way it works here is that the film poses as a documentary following Isabella as she travels to Rome, meets her mother in an asylum and visits the Vatican School for Exorcism (which is like a much less fun Hogwarts). The problem with the format is this: the writing and the acting are so utterly dreadful that they render the believability of this supposed “found footage” inescapably low, leaving the film nearly impossible to become enthralled by. Last year’s found-footage exorcism horror “The Last Exorcism” also suffered from this problem, but made up for it by being entertaining – “The Devil Inside” could never dream of achieving this.


It’s also hopeless as a horror flick, failing to provide any sense of terror or dread it so desperately yearns for. It goes through all of the demonic possession tropes (the multiple voices, the swearing, the inhuman strength, the contortionism, etc.), yet is never scary, instead often veering towards unintentional hilarity. I must say, it’s mighty difficult to become scared by a middle-aged lady calling a priest a “faggot” and talking about “skull-fucking” – it was a much different story with the sweet and innocent little girl we watched slowly but surely turn into a monster in “The Exorcist” almost 40 years ago.

Give a stranger a camera, a slug line and a special effects budget, and they could probably make a better version of “The Devil Inside” than the one that’s currently stinking up a cinema near you. Unfortunately, the stranger that has made this film is Mr Bell, and the result is “The Devil Inside,” a tedious bore of a horror flick that will send you to sleep more than scare you to death. Demonic possession sounds like more fun than sitting through this again.

2/10

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

It’s interesting: The “James Bond” franchise has recently distanced itself from the use of high-tech gadgets while the “Mission: Impossible” franchise is now fully embracing them. Look at “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace,” 007’s last two adventures, and the closest thing you’ll see to a proper gadget in either of the two films is an in-car defibrillator that Bond-girl Vesper Lynd uses to get Bond’s ticker ticking again when he’s fatally poisoned – this is opposed to the famously ginormous assortment of sophisticated gizmos used in the previous 20 films in the legendary spy series, from magnetic watches to an invisible car.

Now take a look at “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” the fourth film in the very popular action series starring Tom Cruise as IMF Agent Ethan Hunt. Here, it’s like Ethan won that hilariously convoluted competition in “The Gadget Show:” we have magnetic underwear, electromagnetic climbing gloves, facial-recognition contact lenses, contact lenses that print its user’s sight when its user blinks twice, retinal scanners, a big screen that replicates the image behind it, a suit containing a massive inflatable landing platform and, of course, a device that can make flawless face masks. Also, in one scene, in a very unsubtle case of shameless product placement, an iPad is used (don’t you have enough money already, Apple?).


Yes, it’s gadgets galore in “M:I4,” and the film is all the better for it; “Ghost Protocol” is fast, fun, silly and fun – did I mention it was fun? This is the first film in the inherently goofy “M:I” franchise to fully embrace its inherent goofiness, cruising along with an endearing sense of humour without entirely mocking itself; we, as an audience, are often laughing along with the film, but we’re still fully engaged in the action-packed narrative and taking the whole thing fairly seriously.

In this perilous adventure, Mr Hunt is on a mission to stop World War III from materialising, a task he must accomplish while on the run from the law. Why’s he on the run from the law? Well, Ethan and his crack team (played by Simon Pegg and Paula Patton) are disavowed by IMF and considered to be terrorists after a sneaky raid for archive files in the Moscow Kremlin ends in the Kremlin being blown up by a bunch of villainous gits.


It soon transpires that the leader of these villainous gits is Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”), a Russian nuclear strategist and total nutcase who wishes to spark nuclear war between Russia and the USA. Ethan, Benji (Pegg), Jane (Patton) and mysterious IMF chief analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner, “The Hurt Locker”) must work together not only to stop Hendricks from attaining nuclear launch codes, but also to clear their names and blow some shit up.

At several points throughout its runtime, “Ghost Protocol” reminded me of Steven Spielberg’s very recent “Tintin” adaptation, in that both films consist of near-relentless action and seem to feed off of a never-ending source of energy and pizzazz. It’s true: “M:I4” is chock-a-block with increasingly outlandish and perfectly preposterous set-pieces that, as is always the case in spy movies, take us on a bit of a world tour; we go from Moscow in Russia to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and finally to Mumbai in India.


The set-pieces themselves, and there are many to mention, are magnificently exhilarating and uncontrollably lively, beginning with an intricate escape from a Moscow jail and ending with a punch-up in a multi-level automated car garage. But the most exhilarating set-piece is the one you’ve undoubtedly seen splattered all over the trailers and TV spots, and understandably so. Yes, this is the sequence set inside (and outside) the Burj Khalifa, aka the tallest building in the world, which Ethan is forced to scale using the aforementioned electromagnetic climbing gloves.

Like a fly on a 2,700 ft windshield, Ethan is left sticking to the windows of what is at the very least the one hundredth floor of this inconceivably tall structure. His life is wholly relying on these high-tech gloves, which stick to a solid surface after a hard slam and pull away via a curling movement; they also turn out to be more than a little faulty. At one point, he falls down several floors, which I’m not ashamed to admit caused my heart to nearly explode – I can’t imagine what the sequence must be like for an acrophobic to watch. Cruise apparently did this stunt himself; if so, he is either a braver or crazier man than most, or maybe both.


Perhaps the reason for the film’s unyielding energy is the mentality of Brad Bird, the film’s director. Bird, a two-time Oscar-winner, has previously directed three films; these are “The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” all of which are animated. As you probably know, animation is a medium in which much energy and imagination is required; Bird more than accomplished this with the three aforementioned films – it seems Bird has continued this mentality with “Ghost Protocol,” his first live-action feature, and I must say it works wonders.

I suppose you’re wondering where “Ghost Protocol” sits with its three predecessors. I’ll say this: It is better than “Mission Impossible,” it is substantially better than “Mission Impossible II,” and it is at the very least on a par with “Mission Impossible III.” Anyway, comparisons aside, “Ghost Protocol” is a breath-taking slice of white-knuckle action and a tremendous piece of blockbuster entertainment that should only be missed if you’re a severe acrophobic.

9/10

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Margin Call

At its beginning, “Margin Call” reminded me of Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air,” a 2009 comedy-drama which starred George Clooney as a man whose job it is to visit different companies and tell certain employees that they have been laid off. As the film went on, it began to remind me of two more films; these were John Wells’ 2010 drama “The Company Men,” which followed three businessmen as they dealt with the fact that they’ve been laid off, and the David Mamet-written 1994 drama “Glengarry Glen Ross,” which saw several real estate salesmen being told that only the top two sellers of the group will remain with the company come the following week.

These three movies are good movies; actually, one of them is superb, another is splendid and one of them is, in my opinion, one of the very best films of the ‘90s. I’m usually of the opinion that reminding a viewer of a very good movie is a ballsy move for a film to do, be it deliberate or accidental, as the viewer could end up wishing they were watching the very good movie instead. It’s a testament to how successful “Margin Call” is then that it more than holds its own when these daunting comparisons arise and also manages to find its own unique identity alongside these very good movies.


As you can probably guess from these comparisons, “Margin Call” is a film about men in suits. It is also a film about finance, probably the most boring topic in the world; well, next to mathematics. The film takes place in a large investment bank, which goes unnamed, at the beginning of the 2008 economic meltdown. We are presented with an ensemble cast, only one of whom is a lady, who all play employees and employers of this big corporation.

Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci, “The Lovely Bones”), a senior risk analyst, is laid off by human resources along with 80% of his trading floor. As he leaves the building with his big box of things, he hands junior risk analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto, “Star Trek”) a USB drive and tells him to take a look at what he has recently been working on. “Be careful,” he says ominously as the elevator doors close.


So, late that night, when the survivors of his floor are away celebrating, Peter takes a look at what’s on the USB drive. He completes Eric’s work and is a little shocked by what he finds: basically, the numbers on his screen show that the company is about to fall flat on its jewel-encrusted face. Peter gets co-workers Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley, “Easy A”) and Will Emmerson (Paul Bettany, “Priest”) to come over, who in turn get head of sales Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey, “Horrible Bosses”) to take a look.

They check the numbers along with head of risk Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore, “Bobby”) and head of securities Jared Cohen (Simon Baker, “The Mentalist”), and unfortunately find that the numbers are solid. By about 3:00am, an emergency meeting is called and in flies CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons, “Appaloosa”) in a big fancy helicopter with his associates. Together, the employees and employers of the company attempt to fix their soon-to-be-broken corporation before word gets out that, in layman’s terms, they’re completely screwed.


I’ve seen “Margin Call” being described by some as a thriller, which I’m not particularly comfortable with. The word “thriller” instantly gives the impression of something that is filled with excitement and suspense, and is usually tied to films that would be classified as “edge-of-your-seat entertainment.” “Margin Call” is not this and was not, I believe, intended to be like this; it is a dialogue-driven drama that is incredibly riveting and often quite intense, but not classically “thrilling” as the word would have you believe.

The film’s script is written with much intelligence and attention to character by J.C. Chandor. It is a script that gives us engaging characters and entertaining dialogue that, given what the characters regularly converse about, is mercifully easy to understand. It also manages to make the film accessible, an apparent impossibility in a film revolving around the impenetrable complications of the financial world; we may not comprehend every word that is uttered, but Chandor's writing succeeds in making the film tremendously compelling.


I don’t know if you noticed, but the film’s cast is utterly magnificent. Unsurprisingly, “Margin Call” is wonderfully acted, and is done so by actors of both an older generation and a younger generation. The older generation is represented by the endlessly talented Spacey and Irons, who play two big-name men in fierce opposition to each other. And the younger generation is represented by the likes of up-and-comer Quinto as a number-whiz ex-rocket scientist and a career-high Bettany as a money-minded rogue (in a good way), although Bettany’s American accent wanders more than Dion did in the ‘60s.

“Margin Call” is J.C. Chandor’s debut as both a writer and a director; it’s easily one of the most impressive feature-film debuts I’ve seen in some time. Chandor writes with the ease and finesse of a true professional, and directs with an eye for natural beauty. I trust we shall see many good things from this man in the future, so I’d say keep an eye on Mr Chandor.

8/10

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

War Horse

They say that in show business you should never work with children or animals; legendary director Steven Spielberg has certainly worked with children before, but “War Horse,” the filmmaker’s 29th film, marks his first big work with a member of the animal kingdom – well, that is unless you want to include mechanical sharks, genetically-engineered dinosaurs and torch-fingered extra-terrestrials in that mix.

“War Horse” stars, as I’m sure you can tell, a four-legged equine mammal in the leading role. This is Joey, who is played by fourteen different horses throughout the film – this is opposed to the stage play on which the film is based, in which Joey was a puppet controlled by puppeteers. The flesh-and-blood horses displayed on-screen here are beautiful creatures and, perhaps more shockingly, splendid actors. Joey acts as the film’s protagonist, although the film is more of an ensemble piece, much of the rest of the cast consisting of human beings.


The story revolves around World War I, as seen through the eyes of a “miraculous” horse. During a public auction in 1914, young Joey is purchased for thirty guineas by down-on-his-luck English farmer Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan, “Tyrannosaur”), who believes there’s something special about the horse. Ted’s kindly son, Albert (Jeremy Irvine, “Life Bites”), agrees and begins bonding with Joey. He excitedly teaches Joey to react to his whistle, trains him to be a plow horse, rides him and presumably showers him with sugar lumps at some point.

Unfortunately for Albert, Ted is forced to sell Joey to the British army soon after news of the war breaks out. Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston, “Thor”), Joey’s new master, promises Albert that he will take good care of Joey and return him safely once the war is over. Nicholls takes off with the rest of the army in the direction of inevitable carnage, though Albert vows that he will see his beloved horse once again.


And so begins an eventful adventure for this plucky little horse, as he is taken across war-torn Europe under the guidance of several different masters. One minute he’s with the British army, the next he’s with the German army, another he’s on a French farm, and soon enough he’s leaping over the trenches of both German and British soldiers, all the while yearning to be back in the arms of his true owner, Albert.

To say the film is slightly episodic would be an understatement; by its very nature it is episodic, its narrative structure consisting of different chapters connected only by the presence of this helpless horse. This is both a positive and a negative; on the one hand, each chapter introduces interesting characters, intriguing situations and acts as a very entertaining self-contained story; on the other hand, the narrative’s slackness can be a bit annoying on occasion.


Nonetheless, the film is fully engaging from start to finish, even with a story that is beyond far-fetched (Joey’s constant luck leaves one suspicious that he is in fact a hornless unicorn). The many characters with which we are presented are rich and full of personality and motivation; it also helps that they are wonderfully performed by actors who carry much charisma. Alongside Irvine, Mullan and Hiddlestone, we have the talents of Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Marsan, Toby Kebbell and Niels Arestrup. Spielberg has assembled a very fine cast for a very fine film.

There’s little use in denying that the story is cheesy; it’s cheesy with a capital C, in fact. Yes, sentimentality runs thick throughout the two-and-a-half-hour length as Joey the horse clippity-clops his way into dangerous situations and has an inexplicably overwhelming effect on those around him. The love and connection shared between Joey and Albert is also a tad corny, perhaps unavoidably so. Some will find this bearable and may even be reaching for sheets of Kleenex, while others will find themselves groaning their way through the thing – I myself found it tear-jerkingly effective as it neared its moving end.


Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kamiński remain masters of the camera; “War Horse” is surely among the most visually arresting films the pair have photographed together. From the beautiful sunsets of the French countryside to the bloody battles between German and British forces, the film is a visual marvel featuring set-pieces that are a wonder to behold – the sights of Joey leaping over trenches are in particular breath-taking.

Spielberg has directed three wartime films in the past: these are “Empire of the Sun,” “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.” While “War Horse” is not in the same league as these three masterpieces, it is still an excellent drama with a heart-warming and accessible story, superb acting, visual magnificence, a bold ambition and a beautiful horse.

8/10

Friday, 6 January 2012

The Sitter

Like last year’s comedy hit “Bridesmaids,” “The Sitter” begins with the unmistakable sound of a woman having an orgasm; this titillatingly naughty sound gives the immediate impression that the film one has begun watching is going to be vulgar and raunchy – indeed, the film doesn’t disappoint in this area, and is possibly the only area in which the film does not disappoint. What this sound also does, however, is a disservice to the film itself, because it immediately reminds one of the aforementioned “Bridesmaids,” which is a very good film, as opposed to “The Sitter,” which is a very bad film – there’s little worse that a bad comedy can do than remind the viewer of a good comedy that they may realise they could and should be watching instead.

“The Sitter” works – or doesn’t – as a vehicle for Jonah Hill, a talented comedy actor from such films as “Get Him to the Greek,” “Superbad” and “Cyrus.” Hill also recently starred in sports drama “Moneyball,” in which he showed that he is just as talented at drama as he is at comedy, if not more so. But no, “The Sitter” calls for Hill to go back to his increasingly familiar comedy routine, which oddly still works for the most part, but sadly does not come close to being enough to rescue this pile of garbage.


Hill stars as Noah, a suspended college student who, in spite of his biblical name, is not the kind of person you’d let babysit your children – he’s foul-mouthed, irresponsible, reckless and a bit of a drunk. However, in a hilarious turn of events, Noah ends up being – gasp – a babysitter, though thankfully for one night only – it is a night that turns out to be rather eventful, though unfortunately not the slightest bit funny.

Noah has to babysit the three horrible children of his mother’s friend (whom the camera lets us know has very large breasts) when the normal babysitter pulls out. The three children are as follows: Blithe (Landry Bender), an inappropriate celebrity wannabe who smothers herself in make-up; Slater (Max Records, “Where the Wild Things Are”), a glamour model wannabe with “issues;” and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), an adopted Mexican pyromaniac who enjoys running away from home and blowing up toilets.


As you can imagine, things go a little haywire once mummy and daddy are away, signalling the annoying little rats to play, and play hard they most certainly do. But it’s not until Noah gets an invitation from his slutty girlfriend for sexual intercourse that things really go down the shitter, the film included. What follows is, of course, an increasingly disastrous and deeply unfunny series of comedic events featuring crazy situations and colourful characters, including Sam Rockwell as a rollerblading drug dealer who owns a dinosaur egg.

The film feasts off of this one unexceptional concept (an irresponsible individual placed into a position of high responsibility) and lazily runs with it for almost the whole runtime. There is very little imagination put into the script (written by first-time screenwriters Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka), much of the film’s comedy relying on outrageously tired comedy tropes such as nutty drug dealers, grand theft auto, children swearing, the acquiring of cocaine, and angry, angry black people. The result is this tedious film that doesn’t so much as raise a smile as crush a soul.


My main problem with “The Sitter” is this: anyone with the slightest familiarity with both Jonah Hill and the objectives of babysitters could have very easily written this film, possibly more competently than Gatewood and Tanaka managed to do. All one has to do is copy the formula we’ve seen in previous films such as “Dude, Where’s My Car?” and “Superbad,” apply it to the irresponsible-babysitter plot, throw in some unexpected life lessons, and voila, we have “The Sitter,” the comedy film equivalent of a 13-year-old sniggering at the sound of a woman having an orgasm.

I mentioned life lessons there; yes, it’s true, “The Sitter” actually has the nerve to try and teach its audience life lessons. For example, there’s one about not hiding your true self and accepting who you really are – how enlightening. Now, I obviously can’t speak for the rest of the film’s viewers, but I myself am strongly opposed to having to listen to life lessons from a film that features, among many other things, a small child publically urinating in the middle of a Bar Mitzvah and another loudly shitting herself while seated in a minivan; those are pretty much the comedy highlights of this film.


The only real saving grace of “The Sitter” is its relentlessly frenetic pace, a sure sign of the writers’ short attention span; what the fast pacing means is that the narrative is gotten through very quickly, resulting in the film lasting a merciful length of 77 minutes. Nevertheless, 125 minutes of fellow babysitter comedy “Mrs. Doubtfire” is significantly easier to get through than half an hour of this R-rated rubbish.

3/10

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Young Adult

“Young Adult” marks the second collaboration between talented screenwriter Diablo Cody and very talented director Jason Reitman. The pair’s first film together was “Juno,” the surprise smash-hit comedy of 2007 about a teenage girl whose likability depended almost entirely on one’s tolerance for quirky-turkey dialogue. “Young Adult” is slightly different; it too is a comedy, albeit a very dark one, about a teenage girl, only this one is pushing 40, but whose likability depends almost entirely on one’s tolerance not for quirky-turkey dialogue but for juvenile bitchiness.

This character is Mavis Gary, played by Academy Award-winning actress Charlize Theron (“Monster”). At 37 years young, Mavis is a moderately successful author of “Twilight”-esque novels intended for young adults – as is the case with every writer to ever feature in a film, Mavis is suffering from a spot of writer’s block. And when Mavis is not staring blankly at the blinking cursor on her laptop screen in her pig sty of a condo, she’s chugging back gallons of alcohol like a hamster at its water bottle – the fact that Mavis suffers from alcoholism is undeniable, and has also probably helped shape the person she is at the film’s beginning.


As Mavis takes another hopeless stab at writing her new novel, her ex-boyfriend, Buddy (Patrick Wilson, “Insidious”), sends her an email inviting her to come to he and his wife’s baby shower in their small hometown of Mercury, Minnesota. Mavis suddenly realises something: that she and Buddy should be together; that Buddy and his wife, Beth (Elizabeth Reaser, “Twilight”), should not be together; that it should be Buddy and Mavis’ baby shower, not Buddy and Beth’s; that Buddy and Mavis were always meant to be together.

So, Mavis packs her bags, packs her dog and heads off to Minnesota to win back the heart of her happily married family man of a high-school sweetheart, seemingly oblivious to the sheer idiocy of her actions. Luckily, there’s someone to point out this idiocy to her: this is Matt (Patton Oswalt, “Big Fan”), a crippled ex-classmate of Mavis from whom Mavis receives some frank criticism when she bumps into him in a bar – still, Mavis does not listen to her brand new buddy and stubbornly continues with her not-so-noble quest.


I believe many will walk into “Young Adult” expecting light, breezy, R-rated fun with a caricature of immaturity stropping about in the lead role; strip the plot to its bare essentials and it certainly sounds like this. However, those who walk into the film with expectations such as this will be hit with quite a shock – “Young Adult” is in fact a very sad and frequently gloomy character study with touches of jet-black comedy scattered along the side.

I’d say the film is Cody’s most mature film to date, although that’s no difficult feat when your previous theatrical releases are a bright and bubbly indie comedy starring Ellen Page and a teen-oriented horror comedy starring Megan Fox. It is Cody’s first attempt at a proper character study, and she has given herself a fascinating character to pick apart and examine thoroughly – Mavis is also a fascinating character for us, as an audience, to observe and get some insight into.


Mavis is a woman suffering from alcoholism, depression and, as revealed later, trichotillomania (aka compulsive pulling of the hair). She is immature, arrogant, self-centred, unpleasant and self-destructive. She is a grown woman still desperately clinging onto her high-school days, a time when she was popular; essentially, she’s a 17-year-old trapped in a 37-year-old’s body. We are given no real reason to care about her, although some sympathy comes in response to how, frankly, pathetic she is. The film does not judge her, but it does not necessarily empathise with her either.

It goes without saying that Theron is magnificent in the role; she is a wonderful actress and also one of the most versatile in the business. However, not all of the acting praise goes to her; we also have Oswalt, a stand-up comedian and sitcom actor who impressed with his dramatic turn in 2009’s “Big Fan.” He is equally impressive here as a supporting character who bonds with Mavis over the course of the film. Like Mavis, Matt is also yet to let go of his high-school years, during which he was violently attacked for being gay, in spite of the fact that he is not gay.


The film is Reitman’s fourth, the American/Canadian filmmaker having previously directed “Thank You for Smoking,” “Up in the Air” and, as mentioned earlier, “Juno.” And while it may lack the flamboyant visual flair displayed in his previous films, “Young Adult” is beautifully handled by the very gifted director. I can also see what he sees in Cody: she’s a splendid writer with an ear for dialogue and a great sense of character.

“Young Adult” is a fearless film – it gives us a clinically unlikable main character and dares us to relate to her. It is an intriguing study of a complex character: a woman who is selfish and nasty, yet wholly authentic. While funny on occasion, it is also bleak and upsetting, leaving us with a lingering feeling of sadness. It’s a powerful drama and I’m sure in time it will prove itself to be an unforgettable watch.

8/10

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Every Single Film I Watched for the First Time in 2011

Listed below is every single film I watched for the first time in the long-gone year of 2011. It’s been a fun year of obsessive movie-watching; I viewed many flicks that were newly released and even more that were unseen classics/pieces of shit. So, take a look, or don’t if you're a douchebag (take a skim-read, at least!), and be amazed at my oh-so-amazing skill of sitting on my lazy arse and watching lots and lots of films. Note: rewatches are not included.

January

"The Heartbreak Kid" (1972)
"Little Fockers" (2010)
"Gulliver's Travels" (2010)
"127 Hours" (2010)
"Yogi Bear" (2010)
"Season of the Witch" (2010)
"True Grit" (2010)
"Deep Blue Sea" (1999)
"Dracula: Dead and Loving It" (1995)
"The King's Speech" (2010)
"The Green Hornet" (2011)
"Blue Valentine" (2010)
"I Spit on Your Grave" (2010)
"What Happens in Vegas" (2008)
"A Serbian Film" (2010)
"Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" (2010)
"The Company Men" (2011)
"Something's Gotta Give" (2003)
"A Single Man" (2009)
"P.S. I Love You" (2007)
"The Mechanic" (2011)

Monthly count: 21
Film of the month: "The King's Speech"

February

"The Rite" (2011)
"Neds" (2011)
"Vanishing on 7th Street" (2011)
"Agatha" (1979)
"Fantastic Four: Rise of 
the Silver Surfer" (2007)
"Sanctum" (2011)
"Sleeper" (1973)
"Diabolique" (1996)
"Taken" (2008)
"The Strangers" (2008)
"Tucker and Dale vs. Evil" (2011)
"Right at Your Door" (2006)
"No Strings Attached" (2011)
"The Roommate" (2011)
"Going the Distance" (2010)
"Leon" (1994)
"The Dilemma" (2011)
"Just Go with It" (2011)
"Starman" (1984)
"Paul" (2011)
"Unknown" (2011)
"Gnomeo and Juliet" (2011)
"Big Mommas: Like Father, 
Like Son" (2011)
"Office Space" (1999)
"Run Lola Run" (1998)
"High Crimes" (2002)

Monthly count: 26
Film of the month: "Neds"



March

"I Am Number Four" (2011)
"Animal Kingdom" (2010)
"Rango" (2011)
"Hot Tub Time Machine" (2010)
"Drive Angry" (2011)
"The Adjustment Bureau" (2011)
"Hall Pass" (2011)
"Superman III" (1983)
"One Angry Juror" (2010)
"The Edge of Love" (2008)
"Celine" (2008)
"TMNT" (2007)
"Battle: Los Angeles" (2011)
"Hard Target" (1993)
"Chaos" (2005)

"Bunny and the Bull" (2009)
"Cemetery Junction" (2010)
"Atonement" (2007)
"Hotel Rwanda" (2004)
"Crying with Laughter" (2009)
"The Howling" (1981)
"Limitless" (2011)
"Red Riding Hood" (2011)
"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966)
"Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961)
"Mars Needs Moms" (2011)
"3:10 to Yuma" (2007)
"You Don't Mess 
with the Zohan" (2008)


"Deuce Bigalow: 
European Gigolo" (2005)
"Rope" (1948)

Monthly count: 30
Film of the month: "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"









April

"Submarine" (2011)
"Magicians" (2007)
"Beverly Hills Cop" (1984)
"Source Code" (2011)
"Sucker Punch" (2011)
"Hop" (2011)
"Hobo with a Shotgun" (2011)
"Thirteen" (2003)
"Into the Wild" (2007)
"The Fog" (1980)
"Dirty Harry" (1971)
"Braindead" (1992)
"Mulholland Drive" (2001)

"Rio" (2011)
"Winnie the Pooh" (2011)
"Scream 4" (2011)
"Piñero" (2001)
"Tamara Drewe" (2010)
"Across the Universe" (2007)
"Hanna" (2011)
"The Notebook" (2004)
"Super" (2011)
"The Skeleton Key" (2005)
"Thor" (2011)
"The Return of the Living Dead" (1985)
"The Crying Game" (1992)

"Fast Five" (2011)
"Insidious" (2011)
"Up in the Air" (2009)
"The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942)

Monthly count: 30
Film of the month: "Up in the Air"





May

"National Treasure" (2004)
"A Few Good Men" (1992)
"National Lampoon's 
Barely Legal" (2003)
"Casino" (1995)
"Beastly" (2011)
"Water for Elephants" (2011)
"Naked Gun 33 1/3: The 
Final Insult" (1994)
"Attack the Block" (2011)
"Serenity" (2005)
"Priest" (2011)
"Sugarhouse" (2007)
"Apollo 13" (1995)
"Black Sheep" (2006)
"Something Borrowed" (2011)
"Fatal Attraction" (1987)
"The Usual Suspects" (1995)
"When Harry Met Sally" (1989)
"Magnolia" (1999)
"The Birds" (1963)
"The Wave" (2008)
"Baby Mama" (2008)
"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (2011)
"Blazing Saddles" (1974)
"World's Greatest Dad" (2009)
"The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975)
"Eyes Wide Shut" (1999)
"Hard Boiled" (1992)
"The Hangover: Part II" (2011)
"The Rainmaker" (1997)
"The Ten Commandments" (1956)
"Kung Fu Panda 2" (2011)
"Triangle" (2009)

Monthly count: 32
Film of the month: "Magnolia"



June

"X-Men: First Class" (2011)
"Chatroom" (2010)
"Lars and the Real Girl" (2007)
"The Lost Boys" (1987)
"Rear Window" (1954)
"Nosferatu" (1922)
"I Now Pronounce You Chuck 
and Larry" (2007)
"The Fall of the Roman Empire" (1964)
"Troy" (2004)
"Definitely, Maybe" (2008)
"Freeze Frame" (2004)
"The Shadow" (1994)
"Green Lantern" (2011)
"The Unloved" (2009)
"Braveheart" (1995)
"Night Watch" (2004)
"The Beaver" (2011)
"Bridesmaids" (2011)
"Cars 2" (2011)
"Trading Places" (1983)
"Spaceballs" (1987)
"My Dog Skip" (2000)
"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (2011)
"The Rock" (1996)
"American Splendor" (2003)
"Swimming with Sharks" (1994)

Monthly count: 26
Film of the month: "Rear Window"



July

"Glengarry Glen Ross" (1992)
"Blue Car" (2002)
"Working Girl" (1988)
"All the President's Men" (1976)
"Epic Movie" (2007)
"Bad Teacher" (2011)
"Gangs of New York" (2002)
"Metropolis" (1927)
"Armageddon" (1998)
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" (2011)
"Rendition" (2007)
"Doom" (2005)
"Capitalism: A Love Story" (2009)
"Zookeeper" (2011)
"The Tree of Life" (2011)
"Intolerable Cruelty" (2003)
"Schindler's List" (1993)
"Horrible Bosses" (2011)
"Empire of the Sun" (1987)
"Angus, Thongs and 
Perfect Snogging" (2008)
"Captain America: 
The First Avenger" (2011)
"Welcome to the Dollhouse" (1995)

Monthly count: 22
Film of the month: "All the President's Men"



August

"What Just Happened?" (2008)
"Trees Lounge" (1996)
"Boogie Nights" (1997)
"Arrietty" (2011)
"Memoirs of an Invisible Man" (1992)
"The Smurfs" (2011)
"Super 8" (2011)
"The Royal Tenenbaums" (2001)
"Cowboys and Aliens" (2011)
"Friends with Benefits" (2011)
"Planet of the Apes" (1968)
"Starsuckers" (2009)
"Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (1982)
"Sleepless in Seattle" (1993)
"Fish Tank" (2009)
"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (2011)
"The Help" (2011)
"Red Road" (2006)
"Spy Kids: All the 
Time in the World" (2011)
"Fright Night" (1985)
"Fright Night" (2011)
"Final Destination 5" (2011)
"The Skin I Live In" (2011)

Monthly count: 23
Film of the month: "Boogie Nights"

September

"The Change-Up" (2011)
"Apollo 18" (2011)
"Red State" (2011)
"13 Assassins" (2011)
"Rosemary's Baby" (1968)
"The Troll Hunter" (2011)
"O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000)
"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (2007)
"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" (2011)
"Warrior" (2011)
"The Inbetweeners Movie" (2011)
"Killer Elite" (2011)
"Rounders" (1998)
"Butch Cassidy and the 
Sundance Kid" (1969)
"Drive" (2011)
"Abduction" (2011)

Monthly count: 16
Film of the month: "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"





October

"Thank You for Smoking" (2005)
"To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962)
"Johnny English Reborn" (2011)
"Eddie Murphy Raw" (1987)
"The Apartment" (1960)
"Melancholia" (2011)
"Midnight in Paris" (2011)
"Stardust" (2007)
"The Three Musketeers" (2011)
"Real Steel" (2011)
"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" (2011)
"This is Spinal Tap" (1984)
"Contagion" (2011)
"Paranormal Activity 3" (2011)
"The Ides of March" (2011)
"Daddy Day Camp" (2007)
"Paper Moon" (1973)
"The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" (2011)
"Brief Encounter" (1945)
"Vertigo" (1958)
"The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)" (2011)
"Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" (2009)
"Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers" (1995)
"Ginger Snaps: Unleashed" (2004)
"Ginger Snaps" (2000)
"Halloween: Resurrection" (2002)

Monthly count: 26
Film of the month: "Vertigo"





November

"In Time" (2011)
"The Rum Diary" (2011)
"30 Minutes or Less" (2011)
"Tower Heist" (2011)
"Alvin and the Chipmunks" (2007)
"Ice Age 3: Dawn of 
the Dinosaurs" (2009)
"Management" (2008)
"Arthur Christmas" (2011)
"Whip It" (2009)
"Chicago" (2002)
"Hell and Back Again" (2011)
"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1" (2011)
"Vacancy" (2007)
"Mr Magorium's Wonder 
Emporium" (2007)
"Akira" (1988)
"Innerspace" (1987)
"Cloudy with a Chance 
of Meatballs" (2009)
"I Love You, Man" (2009)
"Tootsie" (1982)
"50/50" (2011)
"Moneyball" (2011)
"The Prince and the Showgirl" (1957)
"The 'burbs" (1989)
"St. Trinian's" (2007)
"The Astronaut's Wife" (1999)
"Robocop" (1987)
"Network" (1976)

Monthly count: 27
Film of the month: "Network"









December

"Take Shelter" (2011)
"Hugo" (2011)
"Escape from Alcatraz" (1979)
"The Thing" (2011)
"Jack and Jill" (2011)
"Deck the Halls" (2006)
"The Artist" (2011)
"Heavenly Creatures" (1994)
"Great Expectations" (1946)
"Westworld" (1973)
"Oliver Twist" (1948)
"Where the Truth Lies" (2005)
"Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (1988)
"Toys" (1992)
"Walk Hard: 
The Dewey Cox Story" (2007)
"Pom Poko" (1994)
"We Need to Talk About Kevin" (2011)
"Oliver Twist" (2005)
“New Year’s Eve” (2011)
"Nausicaa of the Valley 
of the Wind" (1984)
"Tyrannosaur" (2011)
"Bad Santa" (2003)
"Alvin and the Chipmunks: 
Chipwrecked" (2011)
"Nativity!" (2009)
"My Neighbour Totoro" (1988)
"Hairspray" (2007)
"A Separation" (2011)
“Cat People” (1942)
“Bedtime Stories” (2008)
“Kill List” (2011)
“The Heartbreak Kid” (2007)
“It’s a Boy Girl Thing” (2006)
“Sherlock Holmes: A 
Game of Shadows” (2011)
“The Darkest Hour” (2011)
“Oldboy” (2003)
“Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” (1981)

Monthly count: 36
Film of the month: “Oldboy”

Yearly Count: 315