Saturday, 31 January 2009

REVIEW: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

Visually and technically, this film is quite the achievement. In terms of its content however, to not say that it is anything but a disappointment is just to lie. It plays safe and behind the gimmickry and wowing effects we have a film that is in many ways simplistic and standard academy fodder. Or to put it more eloquently, it has no balls. And this coming from David Fincher! The same man who has brought us Fight Club, Seven and Zodiac, has made a film with no discernable stones. Still, I get it. Dude wants to win an Oscar, or at least get nominated. Which he did already, so well done Mr Fincher. And in fairness it is so well directed technically it wouldnt be entirely undeserved. But selling out is selling out man.

The film follows Benjamin Button, who ages Backwards. Born as an old man/baby hybrid, he gets younger as he gets older. It is an epic on off love story that flows through the 20th century, not too dis-similiar to a certain film beloved by the academy called Forrest Gump. Thus bringing me to the reason why this isnt the great film it should have been. Mr Eric Roth. Who also wrote that now seminal film, and appears here just to have ripped himself off. On a large scale. Almost entirely ignoring the Fitzgerald story from which the story gets its name, he uses Gump as a template and just changes enough so he doesn't get sued by that film's producers. But in terms of character, Benjamin is the same simpleton/innocent that gump was, always the nice and reasonable guy. Benjamin may be a smidge less mentally challenged, but the closeness is alarming. Secondly, Daisy, the film's female protagonist, abandons the small town benjamin to see the big city and have adventures and discover herself., finds it alienating and in middle age gets together with Forrest, I mean Benjamin. I make that lame joke because that's exactly what Jenny did in Gump. Ripped himself off. Anyways, it has the same sanctimonious tone as that film. Performance wise, Pitt is solid but is out-acted by his make-up. He was much better in Burn After Reading. Blanchett is ok, but has been infinately better elsewhere. Tajari Henson as Pitt's stepmother goes way too OTT and no-one else gets enough screen-time to make an impression. But Fincher carries the ball, with every shot looking suitably beautiful and as I mentioned earlier this is a technical milestone. Both Old and young Pitt are undeniably impressive to see. Disappointing because of who was involved, if anything.

To summarise, it turned out OK, but not deserving of 13 Oscar nominations. Not by a long shot. It feels wrong for me to criticise a Fincher film this way, but what else can I do. Its not a terrible film, and many may be taken in by it and find its simplistic view of things a pro rather then a con, but that just isnt the way im wired.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 26 January 2009

REVIEW: Let the Right One In

In terms of plot, this film shares a few similarities with Twilight. Both involve a misfit youth falling in love with a vampire who has recently moved into their neighbourhood. So for two films so similar in subject matter, its amazing how one can be so good and the other so average. It stands as the ultimate argument that the how is more inportant then the what.

Anyways, 12 year old Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is a bully victim who when we first meet him is fantasising about killing his tormentors. 12 year old Eli (Lina Leandersson) is a girl vampire, who does what vampires do. Including killing, which separates it nicely from the neutered vampires of Twilight. Yet this film isn't about the horror really. Don't get me wrong, it has its fair share of gore and horror, but above all this film is a remarkably moving love story. Largely helped by two of the best child performances Ive seen in a very long time. Leandersson in particular displays a surprising emotional maturity and many adult actresses will never give a performance this good. Another refreshing aspect of this film is it lacks the usual need to sugar coat the morality and its nice to see a film that knows characters don't have to be morally perfect in order to be sympathetic, something American horror movies in particular have no grasp of and it just adds to the higher level of story-telling on display here. It may well be the best horror movie of this decade, and is in itself a minor masterpiece.

A film to watch for all the people believing horror is synonymous with a lack of quality, as this will certainly put that theory to rest. Im sure it'll be remade within a couple of years, as all good foreign horror films are, but for now lets enjoy a film that reminds you why you love movies the way you do. The fact that it got no Oscar recognition in the foreign film category is a crime, and a testament to how square the academy truly is. Sidenote, the Rubik's cube gets more attention in movies then any toy I can think of. People are obsessed with the thing. Anyway, seek this thing out, itll be worth it.

Rating: 9/10

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Oscar Nominations - aka The Dark Knight snub

So the Dark Knight got blanked. To quote another classic completely ignored by the academy, I am Jack's complete lack of surprise. The worst thing about it is, TDK actually got 8 nominations and excepting Heath Ledger's supporting actor nomination (Which he will almost certainly win) they were all in tech categories. Clearly a consolation prize, it almost takes the piss even more.

Best Picture:


Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Slumdog Millionaire


The Reader

No beef with Milk, slumdog or Frost/Nixon but Benjamin Button is academy filler, a film thats so average in its attempts to please Oscar. The scam worked because it bagged 13 nominations. Forrest Gump mark two. Similarly, The Reader was good, but it has no right to be here in place of TDK. If it was getting snubbed for anything it should have been Wall E.

Best Actor:

Sean Penn, Milk

Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon

Brad Pitt, CCOBB

Richard Jenkins, The Visitor

This is essentially between Penn and Rourke. All other noms are filler. As is traditional with the academy, Pitt has been recognized for his most average performance. But he's earned it through other films so, I can make my peace. Unexpectedly awesome to see Jenkins here.

Best actress:

Meryl streep, Doubt

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married

Kate Winslet, The Reader

Melissa Leo, Frozen River

Angelina Jolie, Changeling

I just glad Streep didnt get nominated for Mamma Mia. Between Winslet and Hathaway really, Jolie's nomination is her victory.

Best Supporting Actor:

Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Robert Downey Jr, Tropic Thunder

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt

Josh Brolin, Milk

Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

I reckon the academy justifies TDK's absence by the inevitablity of Ledger's win in this category. If he doesnt win Oscar will lose every bit of credibility it has left.

Best Supporting actress:

Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler

Amy Adams, Doubt

Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Taraji P Henson, Benjamin Button

Viola Davis, Doubt

Doubt brought the noise with four acting nominations, yet another actress is nominated for playing a stripper.

Best director:

Danny Boyle, Slumdog

David Fincher, Benjamin Button

Stephen Daldry, The Reader

Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon

Gus Vant Sant, Milk

I love David Fincher. Which is exactly why I hope he doesnt win for what is his corporate sellout piece. Its all about Danny Boyle here. A great long overdue for recognition.

So, Ill be rooting for Slumdog Millionaire. But the best film available for nomination isnt here, yet again. One day films will be judged on how good they ar rather then what theyre about right. No.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

REVIEW: The Reader

This film is about to become the most hated of all Oscar-Baiting movies, due to its recent nomination ahead of the Dark Knight. This isn't entirely fair, because its a tight human drama and granted it ticks its Oscar checklist one box at a time but it does what it does well. It just doesn't do it greatly.

The plot sees teenage Michael (David Kross) have an affair with close-mouthed Hanna (Kate Winslet), who he falls in love with, only for her to vanish seemingly without a trace. 10 years later, Michael is now a law student witnessing a trial of women accused of allowing a barn full of Jewish prisoners to burn to death. Guess who is one of the accused. To go any further would be to go dangerously close into spoiler territory. This film is definately one of two halves, the first of which is a sexual coming of age tale, the second of which is a dark moral drama involving the holocaust and the transparency of morality. I can't honestly say that they fit together seamlessly, but each works pretty well in its own context. Even if the Flashback structure used here would have felt dated about 10 years ago. But with a film of this variety plot and story is not really what its about. They live or die on their performances, and in this case Kate Winslet salvages whatever qualms one may have about the film's structure, with a nigh on career best turn. Admittedly its a hell of a role, but she certainly earned her paycheque with this performance. Kross, as the young Michael does what he can without being remarkable and Ralph Fiennes as adult Michael almost seems like an afterthought.

The film has its moments of joyously powerful emotional manipulation of course, as any good Oscar Baiter will do, but sadly Oscar has made me dislike this film much more then is fair because of their ridiculous over-rating of it. Sometimes too much acclaim is a bad thing, even though the obvious thought would be that it would be otherwise. See it for a great performance by Winslet that rises above the somewhat second hand material.

Rating 7/10

REVIEW: The Spirit

2008 was a great year for the comic book movie. The Dark Knight, Iron Man and Wanted all received great reviewed and more importantly in the world of hollywood brought in plenty of dollars. Fitting then, that 2009 starts with what may be the biggest bomb this newfound genre has seen in a while. Frank Miller, whose Sin City was brought to such wonderful life in 2005 by Miller himself and Robert Rodriguez, flies solo directorally and aside from an eye for individual shot quality, has no idea what he's doing. He may be able to make pretty images, but thats not enough and his inability to do everything else is made quite evident here.

The story, possibly one of the most ridiculous I've ever seen in a movie, sees the Spirit (Gabriel Macht), a seemingly immortal, masked vigilante who does almost generically what masked vigilante's do. His nemesis, The Octopus ( played by Sam Jackson with the OTT meter cranked up to 11) is also immortal and for some reason wants to kill him. There's also something about the blood of Hercules, a femme Fatale named Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) and an ongoing obsession with eggs. In terms of story, this movie gets a giant WTF. But sometimes in the comic book movie, if other areas compensate then story doesn't matter too much. They don't. Gabriel Macht is as bland as can be, and the variety of women paraded infront of us in minor roles all get objectified in a way I haven't seen since Charlie's Angels. Not this is necessarily a bad thing, as the eye candy managed to distract me from the blood of hercules. Its just with Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson, Sarah Paulsen and Paz Vega involved, all who have been good at one point in their careers. It would have been nice to see them do something else other then being looked at. Mendes does OK, but is by no means great. Johansson doesn't just look lost, but seemingly is incapable of having fun on-screen, utterly wooden and uncomfortable throughout every second she appears. Maybe best to stick to sombre Woody Allen movies for now. Paulsen, playing essentially the movies straight man actually hold her own, which is impressive because the movie pretty much drowns in its own camp, and the more straighter role would usually have been the one to seem out of place. But the only actor who knows what movie they're in is Jackson, who in a succession of bizarre and unexplained choices of wardrobe, ranging from Nazi Uniform to Samurai get-up, gives it his all. And by all, I mean as for over the top as it is possible to go. Yet he is by far the best thing in the movie.

Now onto Miller, who both wrote and directed the thing. writing-wise, he is pretty much awful. Sure he shoots a decent line of dialogue our way every once in a while, but he has no idea how to structure a movie. The most painful example of this is Macht being forced to speak what was born to be a voice over in soliloqouy form repeatedly. Similarly, whilst a huge amount of attention is clearly payed to the look of each shot, one gets the impression that Miller barely directed his actors at all leaving them to do their own thing. This movie is very similar to the Avengers from 1998, which had a similarly ridiculous plot and aimed for the same deliberate camp. Much like that movie, everything just becomes embarrassing.

Rating: 3/10

Thursday, 15 January 2009

NWI Awards: Film of the year 2008

and breathe.. I told you it was a marathon. Anyways, to end things I'm doing a countdown of the years 20 best films, delightfully blurbless.

Film Of The Year 2008

20) Pineapple Express

19) The Mist

18) The Duchess

17) The Visitor

16) Sweeney Todd

15) Brick Lane

14) Gomorra

13) REC

12) The Savages

11) Lars and The real Girl

10) Persepolis

9) Margot At The Wedding

8) I'm Not There

7) In Bruges

6) Happy Go Lucky

5) Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

4) Waltz With Bashir

3) There Will Be Blood

2) The Dark Knight

1) No Country For Old Men

NWI Awards: Best Director

Of course all these great films would implode like a black hole if it weren't for a great director steering the ship, to use a seabound metaphor. Best Director beneath then...

Best Director

6) Todd Haynes, I'm Not There

Haynes is building a steady resume, what with Far from Heaven and Safe in his backlogue, but this may be his best yet. This may because of the terrific combination of great performances and superb visual style, which in itself is largely thanks to Haynes.

5) Fernando Meirelles, Blindness

Granted, the film is most certainly his weakest, but this is mostly thanks to scripting and aloof performances, because the film otherwise is terrificly directed and Meirelles is one great film away from being amongst the best of his generation.

4) Ari Folman, Waltz With Bashir

Almost every single shot in this film is breathtakingly beautiful, largely because of its fantastically detailed and controlled direction. Folman most probably will fade to back from whence he came, but this near classic is a great contribution to cinema full stop.

3) The Coen Brothers, No Country for Old Men

Many critics say its a shame the Coen's don't make more serious films, because when they do they always amazing. Its hard to argue with this, and No country for Old Men is close to being their best yet.

2) Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight

A gigantic superhero movie is practically a very tough job, but the impressive intensity Nolan Brings to the film through Direction is the real mark of his genius here.

1) Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

It may not be the best film of the year, but it is certainly the most impressively directed. Anderson gets everything right, from performances to shot composition to anything else you could think of.

Friday, 9 January 2009

NWI Awards: Best Actor

And thus we arrive at our final acting category. tenterhooks y'all be on. Look below for the best lead actor performances of 2008...

Best Actor

10) Robert Downey Jr, Iron Man

This movie is a greater mess then people will have you believe, but its anchored by a solid, charismatic performance by Downey Jr. He's clearly on autopilot, but given that Joe public has probably never seen him in anything but Ally McBeal, they see nothing but awesome.

9) Josh Brolin, W.

No Country for Old Men's forgotten lading man Brolin, puts in the performance of his life in a 7/10 movie. Shit happens. Hopefully he'll go on to greater things, but somehow I doubt, considering how good he is here.

8) Sam Rockwell, Choke

No-one on this earth was more perfectly cast as a sex addict who might be the messiah. Rockwell is slowly becoming the forgotten great of this generation, and he does nothing to hurt that image here.

7) Tommy Lee Jones, In The Valley Of Elah.

Paul Haggis makes painfully overwrought, clunky and cliched films. Sadly what keeps him in business is the great performances he also seems to get. Jones is fantastic in what otherwise is a heavy-handed in your face war is bad film.

6) Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Savages

Few actors could make Hoffman's self-involved charactet likeable, yet for all his flaws he becomes somewhat the voice of reason, and it took an actor of Hoffman's quality to get him there.

5) Richard Jenkins, The Visitor

In a category filled with such grandiosity and explosiveness, its nice to give something to a more subtle less trailer friendly performance. Jenkins is terrific in this film, and deserves every accolade that comes his way.

4) Ethan Hawke, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Of the two leads in Before the Devil Knows you're dead, Hawke has the weaker role, but its still a fantastic performance and a great study in nervousness, and we don't get enough of those.

3) Brendan Gleeson, In Bruges

On paper Gleeson's role is the less appetising one, but this nomination comes for his scene with Ralph Fiennes at the end of the film. People who've seen it will know exactly what I'm talking about, because it really is that good.

2) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

He'll probably be remembered for his Oscar-winning Capote role, but this is Hoffman's best performance to date. He is simply spell-binding in this character that steadily becomes more of a monster.

1) Daniel Day-Lewis, There will Be Blood

I can't do it justice with adjectives and compliments, so just go see the movie and marvel at one of the best performances you'll ever see.

NWI Awards: Best Actress

Watching great actresses on screen is often frustrating because of the glaring lack of good roles for women in mainstream movies. In a predominantly testosterone ran business though, that is regretfully the way it seems to be. Anyways here's some great female performances that defined 2008.

Best Actress

10) Michelle Williams, Incendiary

A classic case of good performance, bad movie. A kind of feminist tragedy skew terrorism paranoia. Whatever, Williams is much better then the movie itself.

9) Belen Rueda, The Orphanage

You think acting in a horror movie is easy? Hell no. In a role that could have been all over the top hysterics and OTT, she manages to create a genuine character that we can empathise with amidst all this craziness

8) Jessica Biel, Easy Virtue

The performance that proved most critics wrong in a single year must be this, in which Jessica Biel, yes she of Blade: Trinity, puts in the best performance in a film full of Brit mainstays.

7) Ellen Page, Juno

In Juno's second acting nomination from this blog, much to its bloggers dismay, Ellen Page's career-making performance is much better then it should have been and belongs in a movie slightly less kung powed by its own self-conciousness.

6) Angelina Jolie, Changeling

Not quite Oscar worthy in comparison to this year's competition, but from films released in the UK in 2008, her place is warranted. Ms Jolie adds a new dimension to the grieving relative thing she's had down since Mighty Heart.

5) Tannishtha Chatterjee, Brick Lane

In a fantastically introspective yet communicative performance, this is a great debut performance from an actress that in all probability I'll never see in a film again. And if that's not what's wrong about the British film industry..

4) Keira Knightley, The Duchess

Elizabeth Swann continues her campaign to be the next period go to gal in yet another terrific corseted performance. Its a shame she can't be this good in films set in the contemporary.

3) Nicole Kidman, Margot at the wedding

Yet another Grade A Kidman ice queen, with added intellectual snobbery courtesy of Director/writer Noah Baumbach.

2) Laura Linney, The Savages

Even though she has like I think 3 oscar nominations, one still feels that Linney is one of the more under-rated actresses. I don't know how I'm made to think that, but in fairness she is consistently awesome.

1) Sally Hawkins, Happy Go Lucky

This could have quite easily been one of the most annoying characters of all time. But Hawkins is so likeable that one can actually feel one's cynicism disappearing as the film progresses. Few performances can say that they've done that.