The Watchers

The Watchers

Monday, 27 February 2012

The 84th Annual Academy Awards

I love the Oscars.

This won’t come as any surprise to anyone who’s been watching or listening to the show, but it’s true. I love the Oscars. And I make time for them. Since 2002, I have watched the Oscar telecast and been amazed, moved, stunned and occasionally bored rigid by the night.

Last night/this morning was a night of few surprises but a lot of heart.

The biggest surprise seems to be The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo winning for Best Editing. Most of the other big awards went the way they were supposed to. But more of that later.

Billy Crystal was on top form, taking hosting duties for the ninth time. He made for an affable and charming host with the occasional barb thrown in for good measure (his little crack about being in Christian Bale’s eye-line before the volatile actor came on to announce Best Supporting Actress was rather nice). He also made a very touching personal tribute to former Academy producer Gil Cates, who passed away in the last year, before the ‘In Memoriam’ segment.

It may just have been me, but the ceremony felt a lot more streamlined this year. It may be due to the fact that there were nine films nominated for Best Picture, but they dispensed with individual segments for each of the Best Picture nominations; instead, they played together as a montage before the main prize was announced. Similarly, there was no full performance of the songs nominated for Best Original Song; a bit of an odd oversight considering there were only two songs, and I would have paid good money to see the Muppets on the Oscar stage. All of this brought the running time in to approximately three-and-a-quarter hours (including copious ad breaks).

On to the awards themselves.

Unsurprisingly, The Artist took Best Picture. It also took Best Director (Michel Hazanavicius), Best Original Score (Ludovic Bource), Best Costume Design (Mark Bridges) and Best Actor for Jean Dujardin. As you may know, I plumped for George Clooney in the Best Actor category but, hey, five out of six ain’t bad (and I did better than last year!). The Gallic exuberance of Hazanavicius and Dujardin in their acceptance speeches was truly touching and they are both very worthy winners.

Not to be outdone, the other paean to the art of the movies, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo also took home five technical awards (Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects)- again, all well-deserved. Even without the 3D addition, Hugo is one of the most visually stunning films of the last twelve months.

No surprises in the other acting awards with Meryl Streep picking up her third Academy Award, after twenty-nine years, for The Iron Lady; Octavia Spencer ‘freaking out’ after being awarded Best Supporting Actress for The Help and Christopher Plummer giving a very dignified and lovely acceptance speech when he picked up Best Supporting Actor for his role in Beginners (which makes him the oldest actor not only to win Best Supporting Actor but to win a competitive acting Oscar; at 82, he surpasses Jessica Tandy who won at the age of 80 for Driving Miss Daisy)

The guest hosts for each award, as usual, varied in quality. My personal favourites were Chris Rock presenting the award for Best Animated Feature (in those two minutes, he showed more edge and charisma than he did when he actually hosted the Oscars); Emma Stone and Ben Stiller presenting Best Visual Effects (with Stone skewering some of Stiller’s previous Oscar appearances, which I have personally found increasingly insufferable) and the cast of Bridesmaids who paired off to present the three Short Film sections. There was also some wonderful banter between Robert Downey Jr and Gwyneth Paltrow as they presented Best Documentary Feature.

All in all, an absolutely wonderful night celebrating the best in movies.

Below is the full list of winners at the 84th Annual Academy Awards:

Best Picture: The Artist

Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)

Best Actor: Jean Dujardin (The Artist)

Best Actress: Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer (Beginners)

Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer (The Help)

Best Original Screenplay: Woody Allen (Midnight In Paris)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash (The Descendants)

Best Animated Feature: Rango

Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation

Best Original Song: ‘Man Or Muppet’ from The Muppets

Best Live Action Short Film: The Shore

Best Animated Short Film: The Fantastic Flying Books Of Mr Morris Lessmore

Best Documentary (Short Subject): Saving Face

Best Documentary (Feature): Undefeated

Best Visual Effects: Hugo

Best Sound Editing: Hugo

Best Sound Mixing: Hugo

Best Art Direction: Hugo

Best Cinematography: Hugo

Best Original Score: The Artist

Best Costume Design: The Artist

Best Make-Up: The Iron Lady

Best Editing: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Congratulations to all winners!

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to bed - it's been something of a long night.


Saturday, 25 February 2012

Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (UK cert. 12A)

Christopher Plummer once described working with Julie Andrews like 'being beaten to death with a Valentine's Card'. There were scenes when watching Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close that I felt like I was being waterboarded with golden syrup. At times, the film is so sickly-sweet, so relentlessly sentimental that you can almost feel yourself drowning in schmaltz. It's also shamelessly emotionally manipulative, which is fair enough as it's dealing with an emotional subject. But it lacks any kind of subtlety.

The plot is fairly straightforward: a year after his father (Tom Hanks) dies in the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York, nine year old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) finds a key in his father's possessions in an envelope with the name 'Black' on it. He decides it is a quest left behind for him by his father and therefore decides to seek out all people with the surname Black who live in New York. Along the way, the hyperintelligent, precocious and very earnest Oskar starts to learn the lesson that sometimes in life there isn't an order to or reason for something happening.

When a film or a novel is told through the eyes of a child, I feel that the success (or otherwise) of the endeavour is directly related to how sympathetic you feel toward the child. Therein lies one of my main problems with the film. There are several moments in which Oskar's behaviour- most notably towards his long-suffering mother (Sandra Bullock)- made me feel incredibly unsympathetic towards him. There is an idea that Oskar may have Asperger's Syndrome- a test proved 'inconclusive'- but even with this condition to ameliorate or excuse or justify some of his behaviour, I still felt that his petulant outbursts undermined what I felt for him, particularly when he tells his mother he wishes she had died in the World Trade Center instead of his father. However, when his father is presented as such a saint (as the film does, and it's in these scenes which the treacly sentiment chiefly presides), his mother is always going to look second-best.

With an occasionally unsympathetic main character, it falls to the supporting characters to stop the film from becoming unwatchable. Luckily, there is a strong supporting cast here (with the exception of Tom Hanks who I found fairly bland). Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright add some real class as Abby and William Black, who are linked to the mystery of the key. There's also nice support by Zoe Caldwell as Oskar's Teutonic grandmother and Sandra Bullock turns in a nice low-key performance as Oskar's mother. Which leads me on to Max von Sydow, nominated for a Best Supporting Actor for his role as 'The Renter', a mute man who rooms with Oskar's grandmother and who becomes involved in Oskar's quest around New York. Von Sydow doesn't utter a word throughout but he puts in a dignified performance and, whilst the revelation of The Renter's true identity isn't exactly a surprise, he fulfils an important role in helping Oskar come to terms with the noise and the busyness of the city.

I'm going to be honest now, if this film had not been nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award, I would not have gone to see it. My main reason for going was to find out what made the Academy voters decide to acknowledge this movie with the top accolade.  Having now seen the film, the decision to put this into the race for Best Picture is a fairly mystifying one and makes the exclusion of better-executed and better-performed films (such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) seem an egregious oversight.

I want to make it clear that I didn't hate this film; I was just very aware of being emotionally manipulated throughout which really isn't my idea of a fun night at the movies.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Thursday, 23 February 2012

Death Wish (1974)

After I heard the news that this to be remade with Joe Carnahan at the helm (and no doubt Liam Neeson in the title role)  I realised I had never seen the original. I've seen Parts 2 and 3 but not the original – so why not track it down and take a watch?

Death Wish, directed by Michael Winner and starring Charles Bronson, is something of a classic and cult status movie. Released in 1974, and based on the novel by Brian Garfield, the premise is basic – Bronson's wife and daughter are attacked in their own home and his wife is killed, so Bronson starts to clean up the streets by himself as a vigilante.

The film is not an easy watch. I get the impression that the filmakers seem in part confused to what it wants to be. Is it a thriller? Is it a drama? is it a action movie as the latter 80s sequels became? (the sequels feel almost a parody of themselves). The original feels like a noir thriller. Bleak is the word that best sums up the style and tone of the piece. 

Let's talk about that scene and get it out of the way. We all know what scene- the rape and battery of his wife and daughter. Yes, the scene is haunting, disturbing and all the above- it's a difficult view. The main thing thats disturbing is the mother is beaten and the daughter is forced to engage in a sexual oral act.

Now here's the thing. After you've seen the film in full, you ask: why? Why did Michael Winner feel the need for this scene to be this strong? You would think to give Bronson's character a real motive for the things he does. Well, yes and no – the problem is Bronson never finds out what actually happened.

Sure, he knows his wife was killed. But his daughter becomes catatonic from shock and then during the film has a complete psychological breakdown and she never talks or tells anyone what happened to her. Not to be to graphic, but the medical staff wouldn't have known what had happened as penetrative rape did not take place. This is what is perverse to me– Winner directed this scene, he orchestrated such a graphic scene and there just is no need for it to happen for the story to progress. It's a horrible scene and a complete waste of time. Bronson's character would have had enough motive to become a vigilante without the rape – because he didn't know about it! It's a paradox– wrapped up with an obviously perverted director. 

Leaving that scene now.... the film has a plodding pace- where events just unfold without any great thought, where Bronson goes on a revenge murder spree. He starts off small and then slowly gets more daring and blatant with his killings of the muggers, purse snatchers and drug dealers of New York. What's unforgivable for a film is not caring for a character– and this film is guilty. I didn't care about Bronson. His performance is more wooden than a Chippendale wardrobe– he is just terrible. What is interesting is the politics within New York Mayor's office as Bronson strikes – the crime rate has actually lowered and the police officer in charge is told to find who's doing it and not to arrest them, but to get them to leave the city, to literally get out of Dodge! This is a nice nod to westerns and a nice touch overall.

The film leaves you with a mixed bag of emotions – namely this sick feeling in your mouth because of the unnecessary rape scene, a central character with the emotion of a chimp, a perverted old man directing and a hidden interesting thriller wanting to come out!

I will watch the re-make and I will hope for a version that's worth watching. I like the premise, I love (Spolier) that the central character never finds the peole responsible for his wife's death, he gives out justice on anyone he can find. I will be interested to see how they can make it believable in a modern city that someone could do this. I mean, we live in a modern media/tech world where every street has CCTV and every person has camera on their phone. I look forward to seeing these answers.

As for the original – avoid it, or just watch the TV version!


Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Mini-Countdown: Five Favourite Meryl Streep Performances

Last week, Meryl Streep was awarded the Honorary Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival. She is the most nominated actress in the history of the Academy Awards with seventeen nominations- fourteen for Best Actress and three for Best Supporting Actress- and two wins (Best Supporting Actress for Kramer Vs Kramer and Best Actress for Sophie's Choice). She seems almost certain to win her third Oscar, after twenty-nine years, for The Iron Lady. In honour of this genuinely classy lady, here are my five favourite Meryl Streep performances (in chronological order).

1. Madeline Ashton in Death Becomes Her (1992)

Streep is often considered to be a 'serious' actress but shows impeccable comic timing in this deliciously over-the-top black comedy from Robert Zemeckis. Appearing as a narcissitic, manipulative diva yearning to stay young and beautiful forever, Streep's performance positively crackles and she handles a good line of bitchy banter with co-star Goldie Hawn.

2. Clarissa Vaughan in The Hours (2002)

As the modern-day embodiment of Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, Streep gives a lovely performance in this Stephen Daldry drama. Whilst co-stars Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore were Oscar-nominated for their roles, Streep's performance was slighly overlooked in favour of her role in Adaptation. It's a real shame because this is a nicely judged performance in a truly special film.

3. Senator Eleanor Shaw in The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

It's no mean feat to remake a film and have it turn out as good as the original. Luckily, Jonathan Demme's adaptation of John Frankenheimer's classic 1962 political thriller is as good and that's in no small part to Streep's portrayal as the domineering and utterly ruthless mother of Sergeant Shaw. It's a steely, chilling performance with an unsettling layer of ambiguity with the mother-son relationship.

4. Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

Glacial, withering, a razor-sharp put-down never far from the pursed lips, Miranda Priestly is an absolute gift of a part for any actress and Streep plays it to the hilt. She  barely raises her voice to deliver devastating sideswipes to hapless underlings in a silky-smooth tone. Rumours persist that Miranda is based on New York fashion doyenne Anna Wintour; Streep really makes the part her own.

5. Julia Child in Julie & Julia (2009)

Streep's turn as chef Julia Child is a pure joy. It's a beguiling and consummate performance, going beyond mere minickry (although she's nailed Child's strident tones). Absolutely tenacious and strong-willed, the 'Julia' scenes of the film- as she attempts to become a cordon bleu chef amongst the men of 1950s Paris- provide a warm and wonderful heart for the movie 

So, there are mine. What about yours? Did Streep's performance in Mamma Mia! raise the roof, or do you prefer her as a suspicious nun in Doubt? Perhaps her performances as Lindy Chamberlin or Karen Silkwood do it for you? Or maybe her Oscar-winning performances in Sophie's Choice or Kramer Vs Kramer? Let me know in the comments box below.


Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Programme 8: Man On A Ledge, Real Steel and Oscar Predictions

Programme 8 is now available to view above! (click here to watch on VideoMajic.TV)

We take a look at Man On A Ledge, Rhys gives his take on Real Steel whilst Tez gives his predictions for who will win at this year's Oscars.

Podcasts can be found at Podbean and iTunes.


Monday, 13 February 2012

Review: The Grey (UK cert 15)

This is not going to be a typical review – rather a dissection, due in great part because of the way the film has made me feel.

But, fear not, I’m going to split this into two – I’m going to write a review without spoilers and then I’ll delve deeper with spoilers. So if you’re reading this and you haven’t seen the film – stop reading when you see HERE COME SPOILERS.

So the film! It’s the story of a group of airplane crash survivors, a plane that full of rough-round-the-edges men who all work at a remote oil refinery. The story of survival starts with seven survivors in the middle of an icy, snowy wilderness. This gives the film a visual palette that could have been easily overused, with photography danger of a white-out screen. Joe Carnahan escapes this visual representation of a snowscape – a director of photography’s nightmare. The director gives us a chilling enemy to our characters, in many ways twice as fierce as the story’s real villains- the wolves (which are unfortunately underused) When they are on screen they are great, scary and realistic. What lets them down is how the filmmakers have badly edited together the attacks of the wolves – using far too many close-up shots and the shaky cam technique!

Their journey over the course of film is, I’m glad to say, backed up by a quite frankly fantastic first act. The build up in the opening scenes, where we’re introduced to this lonely, outcast world the men live and work is just superbly carried out. Liam Neeson is set out as a man at the end of his wits, hearing his inner monologue was fascinating and well written and shot.

However, the film never lives up to this great introduction. The film revs its engines up and delivers a great 20-30 minutes of cinema. But, as soon as the plane crashes and dumps these men into wilderness, as does the director who dumps us into a wilderness of never ending clich├ęs and obvious plot devices – where (sadly predictable) one by one each man dies and leaves us with the star Liam Neeson alone to face the wolves! 

The film gives us an interesting premise but fails to deliver any real feeling of terror, any caring for characters and a lacklustre ending (which is not a spoiler, just an opinion!)

I would give it 2 out of 5- and I’m being generous.


The greatest misfortune this film has is the pace. We see characters die, namely the first two deaths – the first being genuinely scary (if predictable) when the first night of the crash they sleep in the wreck and each take watch – the first death is the man on watch taking a pee! From this moment on, it’s as if the director has taken a pee all over the movie. The next death is the weakest of them – who is walking at the back of them- this would never happen and such a disappointing death to what is easily the most interesting and well-rounded of the characters.

But what comes after this is, beyond a doubt, terrible – it was here that I said to myself  ‘one by one they’re going to die  and leave the star of the film alone at the end’ – what’s worse is I was right!

Each death become ridiculous – the only death that was fitting within the story was one of them dies in his sleep in the cold, the others are dispatched through drowning (while getting his foot stuck), one gives up and sits and waits for the wolves and the worse example of all – during one of the heinous dialogue scenes where they’re talking round a campfire sharing stories of home, one man actually says ‘when I get home to my little girl....’ ‘I heard this much and all I could hear in my head was … DEAD!  And guess what? One scene later, after falling from a tree, the wolves eat him at the bottom!

This film was about people travelling to survive – I was thinking all the time watching this ‘shall I travel to the exit and survive or see what the ending is?’  I waited for the ending – which is the worse part of the film – they all die. THEY ALL DIE!!! The film ends on a bleak note where Liam Neeson tools up with a knife and some broken bottles and the wolf runs towards him and....... that’s it! The screen went black and we’re left knowing he dies. Don’t get me wrong, bleak endings can work (case in point, The Mist) but it didn’t work here.

This film is by far the worse film I have seen in years. 


Sunday, 12 February 2012

Review: Coriolanus (UK cert 15)

If you asked most Shakespeare fans to name the Bard’s plays, it would be a rare occurrence for someone to name Coriolanus first. It’s arguably one of his lesser-known plays, written around 1608. It’s quite a tricky play and this is the first big-screen adaptation of it, directed by Ralph Fiennes (who not only makes his directorial debut but also plays the eponymous character).

The setting of the play has been changed from Ancient Rome to a modern Balkanised warzone, which ‘calls itself Rome’. Caius Martius (Fiennes) is a soldier for Rome, whose mortal enemy is the Volscian general Aufidius (Gerard Butler). After a particularly crushing defeat of the Volsces at the town of Corioles, Martius is lauded and given the name ‘Coriolanus’. When Coriolanus is asked to run for the Senate, his contempt for the hoi-polloi leads the public tribunes to denounce him as a traitor and have him banished. Coriolanus then tracks down Aufidius and offers himself as a soldier to the Volsces to bring Rome down…

It’s a powerful portrayal of the downfall of a great soldier, directed with some real visual flair by Fiennes (especially with the very visceral battle scenes especially, played without music so you hear every grunt, groan, stab and shot). The quieter scenes are no less powerful, as Fiennes allows the characterisation to grow surrounded by an eclectic but powerful cast.

I was as surprised to learn that Gerard Butler was doing Shakespeare as I was when he was cast as the Phantom of the Opera. Luckily, Butler can speak Shakespearean verse better than he can sing and provides a decent foil for Fiennes in their scenes together. Jessica Chastain rounds off a year of amazing supporting roles by playing the slightly thankless role of Virgilia, Coriolanus’ wife. She only has a few scenes but plays them well- starting as an anxious figure awaiting his return but growing in confidence throughout, to the point where she attacks the public tribunes who banished her husband.

John Kani and Brian Cox appear as Coriolanus’ comrades and friends, both of whom deal with Shakespearean verse as if it were second nature to them. There are two lovely performances by James Nesbitt and Paul Jesson as the public tribunes whose sly, wheedling, snake-in-the-grass politicking gets Coriolanus banished. To round the cast off, giving one of the strongest supporting performances I’ve seen this year to date, is the utterly brilliant Vanessa Redgrave. Every scene she’s in is so riveting and she speaks the verse so fluently that it’s a joy to behold. Volumnia is one of those great but oft-overlooked roles in the Shakespearean canon and Redgrave grabs it by both hands, never more so in the final scene where Volumnia goes to Coriolanus, now allied with the Volsces, to plead for Rome.

Updating Shakespeare to modern times is nothing new (you can thank/blame Baz Luhrmann for that) but there is something interesting at play to see what would have been messengers and soothsayers represented by scrolling 24-hour news. Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow pops up in a few places to deliver the dread news of banishment or victory. When Coriolanus meets the public, many of them have mobile phones recording the encounter; similarly, the public meeting where Coriolanus is denounced is done in a television studio. Bizarrely, none of this seems out of place, given the setting and isn’t overly intrusive.

This isn’t going to be for everyone. Coriolanus is an intense play and the transition to film hasn’t softened it. If you’re a fan of Shakespeare and haven’t seen or read this play, it’s an accessible and well-made film full of stand-out performances. Personally, I enjoyed it very much but I can appreciate it may have a rather niche audience.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Sunday, 5 February 2012

Review; Carnage (UK cert 15)

Yasmina Reza’s play La Dieu Du Carnage (‘God Of Carnage’) first premiered in Zurich in 2006. It was translated into English and had a run in the West End in 2008 before a Broadway production in 2009. Now, Reza adapts her own play for the movie version, directed in Paris by Roman Polanski (who also co-writes).

Two sets of parents- Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) and Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz)- meet to discuss a playground altercation between their sons. The fragile veneer of civility starts to crumble as accusations start to fly and irrational arguments and tensions boil over. Unfolding in real time over eighty minutes, Carnage is fun but ultimately insubstantial.

All four actors are excellent in their respective roles- Foster self-righteous and highly-strung; Reilly mitigating and balanced; Winslet neurotic and anxious; Waltz sarcastic and caustic. The interplay between the four characters, their petty squabbles and veiled snubs at one another, is the driving force of the film. For a piece that originated in the theatre, it is entirely appropriate that words should be what kicks things off. When writing their deposition, Penelope- a writer- suggests that the Cowans’ son was ‘armed’ with a stick; Alan- an attorney- challenges her on the use of that word. It is this pedantic use of language that causes some of Carnage’s finest moments.

Throughout the course of the eighty minutes, battle lines are drawn, alliances formed and changed; at certain points the women gang up on the men and vice versa, or husbands quarrel with wives. At times the children’s altercation lies abandoned as the four adults tear into one another. Arguably, Waltz gives the best performance- much of the humour came from his delivery and demeanour.

You can tell Carnage started life as a play. It’s very stagy in places and I’m not sure if that’s down to the script, the direction or both. For the most part, the action is contained within the Longstreets’ apartment with occasional forays into the lobby. There is a certain implausibility to the speed at which characters get drunk which may be forgiven on stage but not so much on film. There’s also a slightly ill-advised scene of gross-out comedy when Nancy, constantly nervous, vomits all over the coffee table which, whilst initially funny, seems out of place with the rest of the piece. It also just ends. No real resolution, just a fade to black as the characters sit around.

Nonetheless, it’s worth seeing for the quartet of brilliant performances given by the cast.

Rating: 3 out of 5


Review: Young Adult (UK cert 15)

Juno is a real Marmite film: you either love it or hate it. I think it’s going to be a similar case with Young Adult. Writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman re-team to tell a tale of a divorced writer of young adult fiction (Charlize Theron) who comes back to her home town in Minnesota with the express intention of winning back her old high-school flame, Buddy (Patrick Wilson). Only problem is, Buddy is happily married and his wife has just had a baby… but that’s not going to stop Mavis.

There’s no two ways about it: Mavis Gary is a total bitch. An arrested adolescent pouting and flouncing her way through life, with a self-absorbed and utterly selfish world view which (quite frankly) borders on the sociopathic at times. Despite a last-ditch attempt to soften the jagged edges with a big reveal of some painful secrets, Mavis remains fundamentally unlikeable throughout. So it’s kudos to Charlize Theron who takes the role of Mavis with both hands and inhabits it fully. It is the script that decides to humanise Mavis, not Theron. Lesser actors may try and find a way to mitigate or tone down Mavis’ utterly demented scheming. But not Theron. It’s a performance full of bile and fire and one of the most impressive I’ve seen on film so far this year.

Also great is Patton Oswalt (probably best known for voicing Remy the rat in Ratatouille) as a crippled former classmate of Mavis. A self-confessed ‘fat geek’ who was attacked by a bunch of jocks in high school and left with shattered legs (all for being gay, which he isn’t), he bizarrely ends up as confidante and moral compass for Mavis. It’s a wonderfully observed turn and he and Theron work well together. Patrick Wilson is a little bland but nonetheless likeable as the object of Mavis’ affection and delivers a devastating put-down towards the end during the big showdown scene.  Elizabeth Reaser is similarly good as Buddy’s wife Beth.

I had several issues with Juno, mostly surrounding the script. I felt it was trying very hard to be ‘cool’ and ‘quirky’ which ended up being incredibly grating after a while. So it’s good to see that the catchphrasy nature of Juno isn’t present in Young Adult. It’s a much more mature script by Diablo Cody (ironic, considering Mavis arguably acts more like a teenager than Juno McGuff did) and it’s nice to see the excesses toned down.

The humour is a little dark in places and Mavis’ truly selfish behaviour may not appeal to everyone, but there are stellar turns from Theron and Oswalt and a rocking soundtrack (from Teenage Fanclub and 4 Non Blondes amongst others). 

Rating: 3 out of 5


Review: The Descendants (UK cert 15)

George Clooney may need to do some rearranging of his awards to fit in another small gold naked guy, because his performance in The Descendants will almost certainly net him the Best Actor Academy Award in February.

Clooney plays Matt King, a land developer and disengaged father of two who has to step up to assume parental responsibility when a tragic boating accident leaves his wife Elizabeth in a coma. Unable to deal with his daughters, wayward Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and precocious Scottie (Amara Miller), he’s also in the final stages of overseeing a land sale which will bring his family a lot of money. All these things come together when Alexandra drops a bombshell; Elizabeth was having an affair…

If this synopsis makes the film sound relentlessly miserable, it isn’t. As with Alexander Payne’s other movies (Election, Inside Out and Sideways) there’s a great deal of humour- both intentional and otherwise- to be found. It strikes a good balance between comedy and drama, being funny and moving often within the same scene.

It’s an incredibly well-acted film, led by a strong performance by Clooney. He’s utterly believable as a frustrated father and a confused husband, openly admitting he’s no good with his own kids and having to come to terms with his own failings that made his wife stray. Because the character has so much to deal with, so does Clooney- he is barely off-screen for the entire duration of the film. And whilst certain aspects of the role might not exactly stretch him as an actor, he is never less than superb.

The family dynamic created by Clooney and the actresses who play his daughters is astounding. It feels utterly authentic. Amara Miller plays Scottie just right; it would be very easy for her to be twee or annoying but there’s a beautifully twisted edge to the character which stops her being too saccharine. Shailene Woodley, in her first major film role, is a revelation; hard-edged, spiky and rebellious to start with, but the edges soften as the film progresses. It’s a remarkable performance by Woodley, inexplicably missing from the Oscar’s Best Supporting Actress category this year.

That’s not to say that the other performances are anything less than excellent, either. Also worth noting are Robert Forster (as Elizabeth’s father Scott), Beau Bridges (as Matt’s cousin Hugh) and Judy Greer, in a small but very important role. Also worth watching is Nick Krause, who plays Alexandra’s friend Sid: often the comic relief, but a rounded character in his own right

Payne’s direction is slick and Hawaii has rarely looked more beautiful on camera. The script is well-rounded and well-paced with some very funny moments. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable comedy-drama and I’m glad it’s getting so much recognition during this awards season

Rating: 4 out of 5


Review: Shame (UK cert 18)

Critics do like to use the term ‘brave’ when it comes to certain types of roles, usually anything involving full-frontal nudity or sex. Unsurprisingly, this appellation has been applied liberally in other reviews of Shame, a cheerful little film about sex addiction.

Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) is a thirtysomething executive living in New York . He’s also a sex addict; watching online porn at work, hiring hookers and even not averse to a bit of man-on-man action to scratch the itch. His lifestyle leaves little room for emotional intimacy, preferring as he does to opt for the physical kind. Into his carefully controlled life comes his chaotic sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), an aspiring jazz singer, who throws things on their heads.

There’s been a lot of fuss over the fact that Michael Fassbender has some full-frontal scenes, thus showing that the age-old hypocrisy around nudity (female nudity, fine; male nudity, not) is still alive and well. It is, however, entirely appropriate in the context of the film; put the physical on display, keep the emotional hidden.

And that’s my main problem with Shame. There’s precious little intimation of the root causes of Brandon’s addiction (some allusions to a fractured childhood are dropped in), only the effect of it. But even that’s not fully explored. A dinner date with his colleague Marianne (Nicole Behari) hints at Brandon’s mindset- why tie yourself to one person for life? - but nothing more is developed.  Their fumbling sexual encounter leads Brandon to momentary impotence; she’s got too close for comfort. However, one prostitute later and he’s back on track.

It’s a powerful performance by Michael Fassbender even if the script doesn’t always serve him well. He’s unable to really get to the heart of the character because there is not much heart to get to. Nonetheless, it’s another strong performance to add to his already impressive roster.  Carey Mulligan’s performance is similarly impressive, but again there’s little development or explanation for her emotional neediness. That said, her story arc is more rounded and she gives a cool jazzy rendition of ‘New York, New York’. Her chemistry with Fassbender is undeniable, lending their scenes together (particularly the pivotal argument scene towards the end) some much-needed crackle.

It’s true that I have been thinking about the film since I saw it; in fact, I’ve been wondering exactly what I’m meant to have taken from it. It certainly doesn’t glamorise sex addiction; Brandon rarely looks fulfilled or content when he’s in flagrante and a traumatic twist at the end hints at some kind of rehabilitation, but my main feeling about this film is that it’s much ado about nothing.

A couple in front of me quipped at the end ‘it’s a Shame we sat through that’. I wouldn’t go that far; it’s worth seeing for the strong performances of Fassbender and Mulligan, two actors for whom I have a lot of respect. But the script does let it down.

Rating: 3 out of 5


Saturday, 4 February 2012

Programme 7: Haywire and Valentine's Movies

Programme 7 has been released!

As Valentine's Day is coming close, we decided to come up with our Top 10 romantic movies as well as a review of action flick Haywire plus the latest news.

Podcast versions can be found on Podbean and iTunes 


Wednesday, 1 February 2012

How To Drive Me To Despair!

I finally watched Drive starring Ryan Gosling.

From the opening few minutes of the film- with its lush, hypnotic retro-visual palette  - I could have easily been watching an episode of Miami Vice or Scarface. The beating retro soundtrack to match – I was hooked. I was loving this film.

It was witty, thrilling, intriguing and characters that are set out as well rounded and creative – with room to grow throughout the film. How mistaken was I!

Then. The complete opposite happened. I felt like the firm grip the film makers had on the hold of this film was slowly being released and what started out as a well oiled retro machine became a film that resembled some straight to DVD gutter trash that could easily be forgotten. 

As soon as the job goes bad – so does the acting, directing and all out class of this film. I find it hard to figure out what film the 'critics' where watching when they hailed this film as the epiphany that they take it to be.

The film is pretentious – it dares to see itself as more than what it is – this film has a weak plot, and worse still the film ends without an ending. No closure and thus I feel I should honour this film by finishing here. Leaving this unfinished.