Thursday, 26 February 2009

Dean Spanley: Movie Review

Dean Spanley: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: Peter O'Toole, Sam Neill, Jeremy Northam, Bryan Brown, Art Malik
Director: Toa Fraser
Sometimes a film comes along which takes you completely by surprise.
A film which you try and explain to people the basic plot of and they look at you like you've lost the plot completely.
Dean Spanley is one of those films.
Based on the book by Lord Dunsany, this film from New Zealand director Toa Fraser (No 2) is based in London Edwardian times and centres around a cantankerous Fisk senior (played with impish irascibility by Peter O' Toole) and his relationship with his son Fisk Junior (Jeremy Northam)
Junior spends every Thursday with his father - out of a sense of family ritual rather than a desire to be with him; but each visit drives a wedge even further between the two.
One day Fisk junior suggests they attend a seminar on reincarnation from a Swami Nala Prash; however O'Toole's character dismisses the entire meeting as "poppycock"
Tucked away at the back of the audience, is Dean Spanley (played by Sam Neill) - his attendance piques Fisk Junior's curiosity and he decides to invite the Dean to dinner to further explore his beliefs.
But the Dean has to be tempted to attend with the promise of the provision of a bottle of a Hungarian wine known as Tokay - a wine only given out by Royal Assent.
The problem is that this Tokay, when imbibed by the Dean, sends him back to a former life - as a dog.
Astounded by what he's seen, Fisk Junior soon finds himself on a quest to secure more Tokay so that he can explore even deeper the reality of the Dean's former life.
Dean Spanley is one of those films which will be given the label of quirky - but to do so, is to simply dismiss its warmth and story - plus the ending is such an emotional sucker punch that it'll catch you unawares.
Northam and Bryan Brown are good in their roles and O'Toole gives a sterling performance as usual - his eyes sparkle with a cheeky cantankerous fire.
(There's also a brief appearance from a new Shortland Street character (Tai Scott) as Harrington Fisk played by actor Xavier Horan - whose fleeting moments on film are pivotal to the Fisk's relationship)
But it's Sam Neill whose performance steals this film.
Initially, his Dean Spanley seems a little aloof and wary of the Fisks - but the more he imbibes the Tokay, it becomes clearer to the audience how much of Neill's performance is channeling that of a pooch.
From the jowly beard to the whimpering noises he makes when he first sniffs the wine, Neill embodies all the behaviours of a dog - but in a subtle and restrained way.

Dean Spanley is a tale of fathers and sons, dogs and their masters - of comradeship and relationships, reincarnation and reconciliation - this offbeat story will leave you with a whimsical grin on your face.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Zack and Miri Make A Porno: Movie Review

Zack and Miri Make A Porno: Movie Review

Rating: 4/10
Cast: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Jason Mewes, Craig Robinson, Traci Lords
Director: Kevin Smith
Dear, oh dear.
Kevin Smith has swapped that sparkling witty dialogue that he's become known for in previous films for smut and downright crudity - and if you like puerile, then you'll love this.
Zack and Miri Make A Porno is the story of Zack (Rogen) and Miri (Banks), two housemates and long term friends who've fallen on extremely hard times.
Just pre-Thanksgiving, the pair find themselves completely broke and with their power and water cut off and facing eviction from their flat.
However, matters are made even worse when they head to a school reunion and realize just how low their lives have sunk in terms of success and personal growth.
So, faced with ruin and life on the street, on the back of a flippant comment from Miri about how they're going to make money, the duo decide pornography is the way forward.
They begin to recruit a crew and actors, but faced with the reality they'll have to have sex with each other to make ends meet, Zack and Miri begin to realise how exactly they feel about each other.
Will true love out - or will porn win the day?
ZAMMAP (it's catchier that way) is to be brutally blunt, a major disappointment.
Smith's put together a good cast (although Rogen is playing yet another variant of those loser roles he excels so much at) but it just doesn't work as well as it could have done.
Granted, Craig Robinson (warehouse boss Darrell from the US version of The Office) is perhaps one of the best things in the whole film - he steals every scene he's in.
And there are some pretty funny laugh out loud moments scattered throughout - though honestly, that's because of a lot of fairly gross humour.
Smith carries on his Star Wars obsession - Zack and Miri's first attempt is Star Whores, complete with the characters Darth Vibrator, Hung solo et al - although word round the TV2 Movies office is that version already exists.
The problem with ZAMMAP is that it veers so violently into stereotypical rom-com schmaltz at the end that you actually end up feeling cheated out of the film's original premise.
Elizabeth Banks (JD's kooky part-time girlfriend and mother of his child on TV2's Scrubs ) starts off being a likeable character but ends up being annoying as she falls into moping for Zack mode - Rogen's Zack is, as mentioned earlier, a variant on all the roles he plays - although he does have some comic moments (sadly a lot of that is due mainly to crudity), they are few and far between.

There are funny one liners (which won't work by my quoting them out of context) and various pop culture moments - the team discuss what's actually going on on TV2's Lost while Zack and Miri have sex - but overall, Zack and Miri Make A Porno is lacking the money shot.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Hunger: Movie Review

Hunger: Movie Review

Rating 7/10
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham
Director: Steve McQueen
A film about the treatment of IRA prisoners during the 1980s was never going to be an easy watch.
But that's an understatement for Hunger , the story of IRA prisoner Bobby Sands.
I don't recall the last time I felt quite so uncomfortable during a visit to the cinema - or so brutalized by what I was watching.
This is an account of IRA prisoner Bobby Sands and his decision to go on hunger strike while in Her Majesty's Maze Prison near Belfast - known as H Block prison.
But you don't get to see the central character until a little way into the film.
It begins with a prison officer getting ready for work - his routine consists of checking under the car before starting it in case of a car bomb.
The scene then switches to H Block where a new inmate is being brought in - and in accordance with the blanket protest and no wash policy of prisoners, he's put in a cell.
But the minute he's in there, the truly horrific conditions within are revealed - with faeces smeared over all the walls, piles of rotting food and flies, this is really not the ideal conditions for anyone who wants to keep their sanity.
Within 10 minutes of this stunning film from Steve McQueen, it's clear the brutality on the screen is going to have a lasting effect on its viewers.
Rows of guards beat the naked prisoners as they run a gauntlet from one end to another; when officers forcibly wash the prisoners, it's a violent confrontation with scissors and one which leaves each prisoner with whelks and bloody sores.
It's at this point we're first introduced to Bobby Sands - and within minutes, it becomes clear his mind is made up - and the endgame is set in motion.
Sands' decision to initiate a hunger strike involving some 70 men in the prison is the centerpiece of this film - its centerpiece is a 24 minute, single camera shot with Bobby Sands debating his reasons with a Father Dominic Moran.
This scene, while intensely high in the philosophical stakes, also has its humour - albeit of the darkest kind.
It's also the scene which really shows off Fassbender's intensity as Bobby Sands; you really get to understand the motivation and reasoning for the strike - all of that comes on top of the daily brutal conditions the prisoners live in.
It's at this point the film really ramps up the discomfort as Sands begins his strike.
He lasted 66 days in real life - and Fassbender himself underwent a 10 week controlled fast to achieve the shocking physical effects of a hunger strike on the human body.
His emaciated, sore riddled body will stun you and make you squirm in your seat - as well as making you respect how far people will go for their beliefs.
Hunger is a film about the psychological and physical lengths some will go to when a conflict becomes so deadlocked and neither side is willing to compromise or concede.

Ultimately though it's deeply uncomfortable viewing in parts, shocking and stunning in equal measures; this film will haunt you for long after you've seen it.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

He's Just Not That Into You: Movie Review

He's Just Not That Into You: Movie Review

Rating: 9/10 for chick flick lovers, romantics and people wanting something to do on Valentine's Day; 5/10 if you're a cynic
Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Justin Long, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Connelly, Scarlett Johansson, Bradley Cooper, Ben Affleck, Kevin Connolly, Drew Barrymore
Director: Ken Kwapis
Ah human behaviour.
That most difficult of things to read - and the signs are even more mixed up when it comes to affairs of the heart.
In the movie adaptation of the best selling 2004 novel by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, an ensemble cast find themselves dealing with various problems of relationships while living in Baltimore.
Essentially centred around the story of Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin), a deeply insecure and desperate to be in love woman, He's Just Not That Into You (known from now on as HJNTIY) showcases a series of couples all having some kind of problems with their communication and lives and all intertwined in some way.
There's Beth and Neil (Jen and Ben) who've been together for 7 years and who show no signs of getting married (despite's Beth's continual insistence they do); then there's Janine and Ben (Jennifer Connelly and Bradley Cooper), high school sweethearts who married too early and now Ben's contemplating a lusty affair with Scarlett Johansson's singer Anna - who in turn is being vehemently pursued by real estate agent Connor (Entourage's Kevin Connolly).
On the fringes of these relationships and woven into the narrative via the old six degrees of separation are Alex - played by Justin Long - a bartender who guides Gigi's naive ship through the relationship minefields and Drew Barrymore's Mary, a small ads saleswoman.
Clearly, HJNTIY is aimed at a certain demographic - and judging by the screening I was in, it's 100% right to be pitched at its core female audience.
That said, it's not uncomfortable viewing for men as it has a light breezy frothy feeling to it as it charts its sometimes rocky course through the problems of love and happiness.
Of a pretty good ensemble cast, this film easily belongs to Ginnifer Goodwin and Justin Long.
Goodwin's Gigi verges at times on stalking as she tries to overanalyse each post date moment, neurotically scouring over every little detail with a fine toothcomb - but again, her character is never anything less than relatable (and possibly a bit too close to home judging by some of the groans and comments from the audience)
While Long's character Alex the bartender is heading pretty much on an obvious arc of redemption, he's pretty affable and makes the best of a role which could have seen him reduced to a caricature.
Drew Barrymore seems to be reduced to a sort of cameo performance but she makes the best of her (minimal) time on screen with a wonderfully realised speech about how we're all being dumped or contacted post dates in different ways.
Luis Guzman also deserves a mention as well for his brief hilarious performance as a site foreman who's caught in a moment with Janine's character - it's at moments like this, that you appreciate director Kwapis (the American version of The Office, Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants) and his deft touch to the proceedings.

He's Just Not That Into You is the perfect film for Valentine's Day, or for gathering a gang of girlfriends together - and I can guarantee you there will be at least one of your gang who'll relate to the antics of the ladies on the screen.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Friday the 13th: Movie Review

Friday the 13th: Movie Review

Rating: 4/10
Cast: Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Aaron Yoo, Amanda Righetti
Director: Marcus Nispel
Horror's gone full circle.
From the mockery and sly reverential humour of the Scream series to the out and out torture porn of the Saw franchise, it was always inevitable that horror would go back to just simply doing what it does best - killing off nubile, young teens who are dumb enough to go into the woods when there's a killer about.
Let's backtrack first and give you an idea of the plot of the reboot of the Friday The 13th series.
It's 20 years after hockey masked nutjob Jason Voorhees's mum went beserk at the Crystal Lake camp in America, and despite rumours of Jason still being about, a gang of 5 backpackers are out and about.
On a quest for weed, the gang end up in Crystal Lake and at the mercy of a rampaging Jason - who's currently wearing a cloth sack mask over his deformed face.
Shortly after that, Clay (played by Jared Padalecki of TV2's Supernatural ), the brother of one of the girls who went missing turns up looking for her - as she'd missed her mum's funeral.
As he distributes flyers he bumps into another seven people heading to the Crystal Lake area (seriously is this place not on a holiday non destination list?) for a fun weekend away at a family hide-out.
Shortly after they all show up on Jason's turf, he decides the only way to welcome them - is to kill them.
And that's really it for the plot - Friday the 13th is essentially an old school horror film.
The 20 minutes pre-credit slaughter of the 5 who go into the Crystal Lake Camp area is a pretty deceptive way to start the film; but unfortunately all the horror cliches are present (the randy teens having sex are killed, the camp fire story of how Jason was born is shared)
To be fair, for a reboot of the series, it's not a bad effort - and some of the death scenes are quite violent (albeit in a non-exploitative way a la Hostel and Saw ).
While the writers and director have taken elements of the previous films and incorporated it into this one (Jason finds his hockey mask early on in the first film- as opposed to the second film of the original series), it still feels like it could have done with some more polish.
The real problem is, however, that once again, we're supposed to care about a load of characters who are too dumb to be likeable or identifiable - and who don't seem to behave in the way anyone would do when faced with wholesale slaughter.

Ultimately though if you like your horror true to the basics, where young people make unfathomably stupid decisions, with a lot of female nudity and killing thrown in, you're really going to love Friday The 13th.

Changeling: Movie Review

Changeling: Movie Review

Rating 8/10
Cast: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan
Director: Clint Eastwood
A film from Clint Eastwood is always a reason to sit up and pay attention.
Despite now edging closer to 80, Eastwood shows no sign of losing his touch - Changeling is one of the most compelling films of 2009; by turns it's horrifying and engrossing - and the fact it's based on a true story makes it even more stomach churning.
Angelina Jolie gives a stunning performance as Christine Collins, a 1920s era Los Angeles telephone exchange supervisor.
One Saturday she's called into work and is forced to leave her son Walter behind - despite promising she'd take him to the cinema.
Upon her return, she suffers every mother's worst nightmare and can't locate her son. Worse still, the police refuse to come out saying missing persons are only investigated after a full 24 hours has passed.
Things get even worse for Collins when five months later, the LAPD - in the form of Jeffrey Donovan's Captain - claims they've found Walter.
Her initial relief turns to shock when the boy they return to her turns out not to be the real Walter - and he insists she is his mother and he's changed only because of the time he's been away.
Collins continues to insist the police have it wrong - her campaign is picked up by a broadcasting local activist Reverend Briegleb (played with clipped tones by John Malkovich) whose crusade is to expose the corruption of the Los Angeles Department.
To reveal any more of the twists and turns this film takes would be to majorly spoil what was a truly horrific case and would lose some of the shock impact director Eastwood has so masterly crafted (and anyway, if you're that desperate to know how it goes, there's always Google and Wikipedia)
Jolie is astounding as Collins - from pictures I've seen of Christine Collins, Angelina has captured the look to a tee (along with some excellent 1920s costuming).
But Jolie's performance is about much more than looks - Collins goes through such a series of mental and physical beatings and yet not once does her restrained air slip. Jolie's trademark lips are splattered throughout with red lipstick and is the only sign of life in her sunken sallow face as she endures horror after horror in her hunt for missing son Walter and the truth of what happened to him.
However, it's her turn throughout which finally demonstrates some of the star quality we've lost sight of the more she's splattered across the tabloids. It's a tour de force performance which saw her receive some Oscar recognition - but you have to co credit director Clint Eastwood.
He brings out the best of his actors - from an electrifying (if brief) turn from John Malkovich to the unbelievably repugnant performance from Jeffrey Donovan (who you'll know from TV series Burn Notice) whose piggy eyes exude menace and a reptilian lack of sympathy.
Like any investigation into a missing person, there are plenty of false ends to the film - just as you think it's about to finish, Eastwood pulls another emotional sucker punch and you're slap bang back in the middle of the action.

For a film which has such an horrific premise, Changeling ends on an extraordinarily upbeat tone - and showcases the best Eastwood - as well as Jolie - has to offer the celluloid world.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Marley and Me: Movie Review

Marley and Me: Movie Review

Rating 6/10 - 9/10 if you've ever owned a pet or like chick flicks
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson, Alan Arkin, Eric Dane, a host of Hallmark style puppy dogs
Director: David Frankel
The World's Worst Dog.
That's how the pooch at the centre of this film is referred to throughout.
Aniston and Wilson star as the recently married Jenny and John Grogan, a pair of journalists who relocate to Florida after the winters of Michigan drive them to despair.
Jenny's the tough journalist, given the major assignments, but her interest wanes after marriage as she starts contemplating kids.
Sensing his wandering days are up, Grogan does what any man would do in this situation in the movies - he buys her a puppy, hoping to delay the inevitable.
Enter the Hallmark parade of puppies - and Marley, the whirlwind force of destruction.
Within minutes of being at their house, Marley's asserting himself and wreaking chaos - as well as earning the title of the World's Worst Dog because of stealing food, chewing the furniture, refusing to be trained in dog classes and generally doing what untrained dogs do.
Marley's only weak point is thunderstorms which terrify him - but that's about all the rambunctious dog is silenced by.
However, Grogan uses his time with Marley as the basis for a series of columns with the Florida paper run by its editor (a wonderful turn from sarcastic and sardonic Alan Arkin)
And that's basically it - Marley and Me is essentially the tale of one family and their dog - along with the trials and tribulations of having children, and finding your place in the world.
There are a couple of nice touches throughout by David Frankel - a montage of the mundanities of daily life over a couple of months for the Grogans is concisely spliced together in the style of a music video (ie Went for a walk with Marley, wrote a column, saw the kids)
It's nice to see Owen Wilson flexing his proper acting chops rather than goofing around like he's done for so much of his career - his final scenes with Marley show an ability to convey real anguish and emotion.
And Wilson also accurately conveys a kind of empathy with Marley - where Marley's quick to be distracted by something else and chase after it, Wilson's Grogan does the same.
He's deeply envious of his buddy Sebastian Tunney (McSteamy's Eric Dane from TV2's Grey 's Anatomy ) and the high profile assignments he gets as a reporter - but the moment he's given a column on the paper, that's not enough for him and he chases after something else.
Aniston plays the same version of any character she's done before - she has the enduring charm - many of the people I heard in the cinema were remarking about how good she looks for a 40-year-old.
But the pair have a decent chemistry and work well sparking off each other - and with Aniston's Jenny reaching a near meltdown with three kids sapping her as well as a rowdy dog, she's spot on about the "joys" of motherhood.
The thing is with Marley and Me, you know exactly where it's going - (SPOILER ALERT) as they trace their life with Marley, it's inevitable he's going to succumb to the Grim Reaper.
That's not to say the end is mawkish - to be honest, anyone who's ever had a pet will easily recognize the pain and anguish of making that ultimate decision.
That said, there wasn't a dry female eye left in the house come the end of the film.
So you'd be advised to take along a raft of tissues - or at least pretend when the lights go up, that you have hay fever.

(Just make sure, if you do succumb to the charms of a puppy, you head over to the SPCA first and help some of the dogs who deserve it.)

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

The Map Reader: Movie Review

The Map Reader: Movie Review

Rating 6/10
Cast: Rebecca Gibney, Bonnie Soper, Jordan Selwyn, Mikaila Hutchison
Director: Harold Brodie
New Zealand is a long way from the rest of the world.
A fairly obvious statement but one which forms a major part of Harold Brodie's film The Map Reader, shot on Auckland's North Shore.
16-year-old Michael (Jordan Selwyn) has spent his life immersed in and surrounded by maps - they're his only way to escape from the mundanities of small town New Zealand life as he grows up without a father.
His single mum Amelia (Rebecca Gibney) is desperate to get him out into the world and see him socialize more - while at the same time, she's terrified of the day coming when he will leave.
Michael's an introverted character who's happy in his isolation - but that is shattered with the arrival of two women in his life; both from completely different walks of life.
The first is Mary (Shortland Street's Bonnie Soper), a blind and flirtatious woman who's on the verge of finding her own way in the world.
The second is his class mate, Alison (Mikaila Hutchison) whose happy outlook on life masks the reality of mocking from her peers and a more tragically dark domestic life.
However, both these different woman bring out another side to Michael - as he begins to work out what he wants from life.
The Map Reader is a pleasantly plotted film and a slightly different take on the traditional coming of age, rites of passage flick.
The main actors (Jordan Selwyn and Mikaila Hutchison) are both impressive in their respective roles and clearly have a bright future in film - Hutchison in particular manages to convey the awkwardness of growing up in New Zealand while trying to be accepted by her peers - and all the time, hiding the horrors of a violent father.
The Map Reader's director Harold Brodie says he wanted to make a film about people coming into lives and going out of them - and enjoying them while they're around.
He's certainly managed to do that as Michael is only really animated when he's surrounded by characters other than his maps.

Granted, The Map Reader does show a side of New Zealand which is a shameful one (the domestic violence); however, it's also responsible for showing how small time life can nurture people and bring out the best of them.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Sex Drive: Movie Review

Sex Drive: Movie Review

Rating 6/10
Cast: Josh Zuckerman, Amanda Crew, Clark Duke, Seth Green, James Marsden
Director: Sean Anders
When a film opens with what feels like a cast off scene from the first American Pie film, you're always left with a feeling something predictable and formulaic is coming.
Sex Drive is the latest addition to the sex crazed teen phenomenon so successfully mined by American Pie, Road Trip et al.
Josh Zuckerman is 18-year-old Ian Lafferty who's pursuing an online relationship with the implausibly named Ms Tasty.
Desperate to seal the deal and leave the virgin territory behind, Lafferty decides to steal his brother Rex's 69 GTO and drive 9 hours across America to get his leg over.
So grabbing his best friends Lance (Clark Duke) and Felicia (an Avril Lavigne looking Amanda Crew) he sets off on the journey, having (slightly genre predictable) adventures on the way.
Sex Drive is nothing new - it's at times a blatant rip off of all of the various teen sex comedies; as mentioned its opening sees a naked Zuckerman humiliated in front of his father and family (a la American Pie) and from thereon, it continues to plunder the typical situations so familiar to the genre.
James Marsden's character Rex is essentially the new version of the Stifler character from American Pie - he shows little depth to the bullying brother and yet, somehow he's quite likeable (even if the final scene revelation involving his character could be seen coming a mile off)
Clark Duke's Lance is the new pudgy entry to the lothario genre - he's essentially an inflated Austin Powers and wannabe Hugh Hefner - but unsurprisingly, his sexually confident swagger is just a fa├žade.
Granted you can see the ending of this film coming a mile off - Lafferty heads off with a female friend to lose his virginity to some "babe he met on the internet" (please don't make me solve the jigsaw for you).
But where Sex Drive manages to succeed (and is likely to spawn further sequels) is the journey is pleasantly enjoyable, even if it is derivative.
The road trip, rites of passage, sexual awakening and crass laughs are all played well - as is the constant use of Lafferty's embarrassment ending up on the internet (via Youtube) seconds after it's played out on the screen.
All three of the leads acquit themselves likeably - with all of them suffering from ritual humiliation as the journey goes on.
However, it's Seth Green's cameo as a sarcastic Amish villager which steals the show - his deadpan delivery and improvised schtick are a real highlight (and difference) in Sex Drive - and kudos to the script writers who only use him to hilarious effect sparingly - it could so easily have been overmilked and ruined.

Ultimately, some will feel Sex Drive has seen screenplays from American Pie, Road Trip, Eurotrip (and all the rest of them) thrown into a blender, pulped and formulaically poured back into the script; whereas the younger audience (whom this is squarely aimed at) will lap up its crudity, nudity (both male and female) and gutter humour.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Milk: Movie Review

Milk: Movie Review

Rating 8/10
Cast: Sean Penn, James Franco, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin
Director: Gus Van Sant
"My Name is Harvey Milk - and I want to recruit you."
Based on the life of American gay politician Harvey Milk, Gus Van Sant's latest is a compelling look into American political life during the 1970s, with a brilliant central performance by Sean Penn.
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California - but unsurprisingly, his rise to power was not an easy one.
As it opens, Milk is about to turn 40 and is picking up his much younger lover Scott Smith in a subway station.
But unsatisfied with his way of life, both Milk and Smith relocate to San Francisco hoping to find happiness as well as a greater tolerance for their relationship.
On their arrival there, they promptly open the Castro Camera a shop which becomes a regular hang out for a community which feels persecuted by bigotry and intolerance.
And that's the springboard which sees Milk catapulted into the idea of a political life.
However, Harvey soon learns the road to political acceptance is a rocky one - and comes at an extremely high personal cost.
Milk is an inspiring piece of film-making; some may find it bittersweet given what's happened in California with the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 - which parallels the anti gay rights Proposition 6 which is explored in the film.
Sean Penn is mesmerizing as Harvey Milk - and it's a performance which has rightly been recognized by an Oscar nomination - but it's James Franco's performance as Scott Smith which is the best of the film.
He's clearly Milk's soul mate, his grounding presence during the election campaigns show Milk where his priorities should lie.
Van Sant's done a commendable job of recreating 70s era San Francisco as well as pushing Milk's central message that you have to give people hope.
Josh Brolin is also quite brooding as Supervisor Dan White; his role as Milk's supporter on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is a relationship fraught with tension.
White's clearly slightly uncomfortable with Milk's open character - and there's plenty of insinuation during the film that White himself was a closeted gay man - and his feelings of betrayal towards the end of the film spark the explosion which brought Milk's career to a premature end.
It's a timely release for Milk - last year saw the 30th anniversary of his assassination - but the fact it's getting accolades may leave a sour taste in some people's mouths.
Ultimately, Milk rises on the performances of Sean Penn and James Franco - you'll be hard pressed to leave the cinema feeling anything less than emotional after the end shot of thousands supporting the candlelit vigil for Milk.

However, what they're clearly commemorating is the opening of acceptance that Milk's position in power gave them - and that hope springs eternal.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Valkyrie: Movie Review

Valkyrie: Movie Review

Rating 6/10
Cast: Tom Cruise, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Eddie Izzard, Terence Stamp, Kenneth Branagh
Director: Bryan Singer
Historical thrillers are a difficult beast.
Inevitably when concerned with real events, you almost always know the outcome.
So, when it was announced Tom Cruise would be involved in a film about the assassination of Adolf Hitler, attention switched to what Cruise would bring to the role (given history tells us Hitler ended his own life)
When we first meet Cruise as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg during World War II, he is voicing concerns about how Hitler's actions are damaging the view of Germany abroad.
Within minutes, he's ambushed in the Tunisian desert, and shipped back home - albeit without an eye, his right arm and several fingers.
Elsewhere, Kenneth Branagh's character General Henning von Tresckow (acting as part of a cabal who want the downfall of Hitler) is planting a bomb in some liquor which is taken onboard Hitler's private plane.
When that assassination attempt fails, it soon becomes clear the shadowy movement who want shot of Hitler will have to try something different.
Enter von Stauffenberg - who becomes pivotal in the plotting after being brought into the group by Bill Nighy's General Olbricht.
It soon becomes clear the group's only thought as far ahead as how to assassinate Hitler - not what will happen to Germany after it - so von Stauffenberg starts to mastermind the post assassination operation and plays a major part in the attempt to end Hitler's reign on July 20, 1944.
Valkyrie is an interesting conspiracy film - there will be some purists who'll be irritated by the mix of accents (all of the key players are American or English and don't attempt the German accent - despite them being seen to write in German) but to get hung up on that would be a major mistake.
Bryan Singer's film portrays a Germany which was in part radically in conflict with itself as it tried to separate duty for the country from moral responsibility.
Hitler's image is omni-present throughout the film - be it in paintings on walls or in radio broadcasts - he has limited screen time which makes every scene he's in particularly tense.
And thanks to Singer's subtle eye for detail, tension is a major part of Valkyrie.
It's interesting how some of the main players and instigators of the coup d'etat suffer from such indecision after the plan's set in motion - although with their lives at stake, it's easy to see why.
Cruise himself brings a steely determination to the von Stauffenberg role - but it's never anything less than human. While he teeters on becoming like Hitler as the coup unfolds and during the bomb attempt's aftermath, it's clear this man's passion is what is driving him - not a ruthless streak.
The tension in Valkyrie leads to some edge of the seat moments - one scene sees an order for Goebbel's arrest issued as the same arrest order for von Stauffenberg comes in - and a lot of that stems from the decisions made by some when faced with horrendous pressure and moral decisions.

Overall, Valkyrie is another step up for Cruise whose image has radically suffered during the past few years - and a sign that underneath all the couch jumping and Scientology debate, there really is a good character actor lurking in there.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Slumdog Millionaire: Movie Review

Slumdog Millionaire: Movie Review

Rating8/10
Cast:Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor, Ankur Vikal
Director:Danny Boyle
So it's finally here.
The film which
  • a) Is The most awarded of the season
  • b) Is The one which is picking up plenty of Oscar buzz
  • c) Is the most likely to sweep the board
  • d) Was destined to be released straight to DVD
Do you want to go 50/50 or ask the audience?
To be honest, it's highly unlikely you won't have already heard ofSlumdog Millionaire- based on thenovel Q And A by Indian author Vikas Swarup, it is as close to a feel good film as you'll get at the moment.
It's the tale of Jamal Malik, a former street child (The Slumdog of the title)
At the start of the film, he's just one question away from taking the top prize on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (hosted by Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor)
But Jamal's in a bit of a pickle - one which a phone a friend option won't get him out of.
Accused of cheating, he's being brutally tortured by the police who are desperate to know how one slumdog can know all the answers to such a wide ranging set of questions.
But Jamal starts to proffer up the reasons why he knows what he does - and in flashbacks, we see how life and destiny have taken their toll on him; as well as shaping his present day life.
From his relationship with his brother Salim to the love of his life Latika, this film winds together coincidence with reality so convincingly that you can't help but feel that Jamal's life is strongly controlled by destiny.
It's hard not to praiseSlumdog Millionaire- on close inspection, you can see why this film is doing so well with the critics.
It's about the triumph of life; and in these deeply uncertain economic times when life can be changed by the dropping of the exchange rates and the ongoing recession, Slumdog gives the viewer a feeling of the victory of humanity.
However, that being said - it's not an easy journey to get there.
Director Danny Boyle's latest is at times a love affair to a country and city (Mumbai) which has recently hid the headlines for the most hideous of reasons; terrorism.
But the squalor in which the film begins and the abject poverty will open many people's eyes to the reality of life in Mumbai.
It's difficult not to get swept away with the film - but it does require you to slightly suspend any reality because of how the questions on WWTBAM directly connect to Jamal's experiences.
Dev Patel (who you may know from TV dramaSkins) throws in a world weary turn as Jamal in the latter parts of the film.
However, it's the child actors (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail) who portray him and his brother in their early days who shine - and blow Patel out of the water.
Even when they face capture from a local crime lord who captures street kids to ultimately blind them to make money from begging, the two young boy actors are great at conveying a degree of innocence as well as a nagging desperation to break free from their life of squalor.
Ironically this film itself was nearly shut down and sent directly to DVD - so in some ways, its continuing acceptance at award ceremonies is a direct parallel to the journey made by Jamal himself.

Slumdog Millionaireis probably likely to sweep the Oscars later this month - it won't have you leaving the cinema with a giant grin on your face (although the montage over the closing credits is worth staying for) but I can guarantee you will enjoy the journey and you'll probably go home feeling grateful for whatever lot you have in life.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Role Models: Movie Review

Role Models: Movie Review

Rating 7/10
Cast: Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Elizabeth Banks, Robbie J Thompson
Director: David Wain

Danny (Paul Rudd) and Wheeler (Seann William Scott) are two energy drink salesmen on a tour of Los Angeles schools.
The pair sell (and drink) Minotaur energy drink - but despite that, they're diametrically opposed when it comes to towing the company line.
Wheeler loves the job; whereas Danny detests where his life has gone for the last 10 years - and things get worse for Danny when his relationship with Beth (Elizabeth Banks) falls apart.
So one day, on an energy drink and bitterness high, the pair end up trashing a school statue as well as assaulting a policeman and land themselves on the ultimate downer - a day in court.
However, Danny's ex Beth comes to the rescue and manages to get the pair 150 hours of community service as opposed to jail time.
The only problem is they end enrolled in a programme called Sturdy Wings (a kind of older brother scheme) - and matters get even worse when they meet their charges.
Danny's paired off with Augie (a post McLovin Mintz-Plasse) who's obsessed with live role playing re-enactments - and Wheeler's given a fifth grader named Ronnie (Thompson) who's blessed with a predilection for breasts and an extremely foul mouth.
Trouble is, after just one day with their charges, both Danny and Wheeler feel it'd be easier to spend time in jail rather than deal with the pair again&.
Role Models shouldn't work - it shouldn't be funny given you know what kind of character Seann William Scott plays (think variations of Stifler from American Pie)
And yet it does - sure, it's foul (you'll be shocked at how often you laugh at Ronnie spouting such obscenities as he does - including one very funny outburst involving a swear word and Miss Daisy) and yeah it's not the most sophisticated plot and you can see how the character arcs will end a mile off; but I just found myself laughing out loud at this.
That's mainly due to Paul Rudd, who wrote the script.
His turn as Danny is spot on for delivery as he fights exasperatedly against community service - his comic timing is a lot more subtle than the continual adolescent that Seann William Scott always plays.
Mintz Plasse is amusing as Augie, the nerd who lives in a fantasy world to escape the realities of home - but as Augie bonds with Danny, it's Augie who teaches Danny about respect and morals.
Also, it has to be said this film belongs to fifth grader Ronnie - whether it's because of his foul mouthed ways or the assured way he delivers his lines, he's a star in the rising (as long as he doesn't get typecast as a potty mouthed kid)

Role Models won't win awards for subtlety; it won't win awards for its obvious characterization - but it may win you over a whole lot more than you were willing to admit when you're in the queue buying the ticket.