Tuesday, 31 January 2012

J. Edgar

Clint Eastwood, Leonardo DiCaprio, January release, biopic. All of these things scream Oscar bait but disappointingly the film doesn’t deliver.

Based on the life of J. Edgar Hoover and starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role, director Clint Eastwood has delivered a solid if unremarkable film that skirts around the edges of much of Hoover’s life without delving deeply into any facet of it.

I found the film quite dull which it shouldn’t have been. Hoover was the head of the FBI for nearly forty years, serving under eight Presidents and responsible for introducing much of the scientific methods used to solve crimes today. He was also widely rumoured to be homosexual and that his long term second in command was, in fact, also his lover. Hoover also had secret files on thousands of high ranking political figures which he was able to use for his and the FBI’s own personal gain. With all that to work with it is perhaps surprising that the film is as boring as it is.

DiCaprio delivers a convincing performance as Hoover although one is sometimes reminded of his Howard Hughes in The Aviator, a vastly superior film. Armie Hammer, last seen playing twins in The Social Network plays Clyde Tolson with authority and is only let down by some dodgy prosthetics in scenes set in later life. Despite this, I felt that he played the older Tolson particularly well. Naomi Watts is given little to do as Helen Gandy, Hoover’s long time secretary but again excels playing the older version of Gandy. There is recognisable affection between Hoover and Tolson which is most obviously shown by Hammer who provides just enough bodhi to show that he has strong feelings for Hoover.

It is perhaps because we know so little about Hoover’s private life that the film is unable to give us many answers as to why he was the man he was. There are hints that his mother, played by Judi Dench, forced him to attempt to become as powerful as possible and her disdain of homosexuality gives some insight as to the secrecy of his personal life but the film is very balanced and unable to get off the fence. One scene in which Hoover wears his late mother’s dress and necklace could be viewed as either a way for him to grieve, to finally let his sexuality out or a combination of both.

Overall the film has a decent stab at portraying the life of one of the most powerful and controversial figures of the 20th Century but because of who Hoover was and because of who was behind the film, I expected more.

Friends, colleagues, lovers?


NEDS or Non-Educated Delinquents is the third film from actor, writer and director Peter Mullan. It is the story of a bright young Glaswegian boy who is corrupted by his surroundings, turning him into a psychopathic thug. Its lead Conor McCarron plays John McGill, a boy who studies hard and appears to be heading for an illustrious future. As the film progresses, McGill’s personal situation at home along with pressure from the area in which he lives drives him to become a leading member of a local gang and in turn he goes on to commit terrible acts of brutality and violence. 

The film has the look and feel of the mid 1970s in which it is set. I don’t know how it was done but the film has the grainy look of a 1970’s TV show and the colour pallet, set design and costumes and all superb. Mullan has also managed to capture the bleak hopelessness of a 1970s Glasgow council estate. Apathy is found not only in its youth but also in the adult characters such as McGill’s father, played by Mullan and his teachers.

Conor McCarron gives a sublime performance as John McGill, a boy whose boredom and anger lead violence. He is equally convincing as a knife wielding thug as he is as a book-worm school kid. His transformation from the latter to the former is both outstanding and terrifying. The rest of the cast are also very good. McGill’s gang is made up of well defined characters who beef up the feeling of apathy and boredom. The script is convincing and the dialogue sharp and realistic. I must admit to missing the odd word or phrase due to the thick Glaswegian accents which also help to give the film its realism.  

NEDS is a fantastic and often brutal look into the world of the 1970s delinquent and has many parallels with the world of the NEDS of today.


Love and Other Drugs

Here, Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jamie; a pharmaceutical sales rep in a small mid-Western town who meets Maggie, a young Parkinson’s disease sufferer played by Anne Hathaway and embarks on a whirlwind romance.

Both Gyllenhaal and Hathaway give capable performances in the film. Gyllenhaal manages to be smarmy and cock-sure while being likeable and Hathaway is credible as a quirky but confident artist. It is their relationship on screen where the film’s strength lies. You believe that both the actors and their characters enjoy spending time with each other and they appear to riff off one another with ease. When things start to get emotional however, Hathaway outshines Gyllenhaal who appears wooden.

The film grows from a comedy to a more serious feature as it and Hathaway’s Parkinson’s progress and this I believe is a good thing. Often the better Romantic Comedies are the ones who aren’t afraid to leave the comedy behind for long periods of time. The film also drew some attention for its nudity and bold sex scenes. While both actor’s bottoms and Hathaway’s breasts are on screen several times, I believe that it and the sex are done in a tasteful way which is integral to the storyline. There is nothing gratuitous or objectifying in any of these scenes.

One problem with an otherwise admirable film is that Gyllenhaal’s character appears to be a bit of a screw up in the first act and is ridiculed by his family for being the only member not to be a doctor when it is obvious from the outset that he is a smart and determined man. Why he is not more successful is unclear and he soon becomes a top salesman thanks to his gift of the gab and the invention of Viagra which he has no trouble selling. 

As with most Hollywood Rom-Coms there are ups and down in the relationship and the film but with more ups in both respects. It is an above average Romantic comedy with some fine performances by its lead actors.


The Duchess

Based on the life of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire The Duchess is set in late Eighteenth Century England. It follows Georgiana’s life from a teenager on her family’s estate and through her life as the wife of the Duke of Devonshire. Before the film I was unaware of her but her story is fascinating. Married to the Duke at a young age with the promise of bearing him a male heir, Georgiana settles in to a life in the spotlight with great ease, charming everyone she meets. Behind closed doors though, life is very different as her husband becomes increasingly angrier that despite three children, none are male. He looks elsewhere for a male heir, eventually inviting Georgiana’s closest friend in to their house as a second partner for himself.

Keira Knightley is well cast as the Duchess and gives grace and poise to the role. She is an equal match for the men around her and shows both great strength and vulnerability. She looks the part of an Eighteenth Century aristocrat, helped in no small way by the fantastic costume and makeup. It is not surprising that the film won an Oscar for its costume design. Each outfit looks wonderful and of the period. It must have taken months to design and manufacture the hundreds of dresses seen in the film.

Ralph Fiennes does a good job playing Knightley’s husband, The Duke of Devonshire. No one is better than him at playing an arrogant, grumpy bastard. Where the casting falls down I believe is in Dominic Cooper’s Earl Grey. I think that Cooper is a solid actor but here he seems out of place and hidden by the great performances around him. 

No one does grumpy like Ralph Fiennes 

I enjoyed The Duchess much more than I expected to. The story of a spoiled aristocrat played by an actress who I am not particularly keen on had little promise for me but the film makes the audience feel very sorry for Knightley’s Duchess, something that I believe is not easy to do. The story is interesting and the setting and costumes are impressive.


It's Kind of a Funny Story

Well, no, it really isn’t. It’s Kind of a Funny Story is based on the true story of a 16 year old New York teenager who seeks help for his suicidal feelings. He is checked into a mental hospital which he is forced to share with adults due to the teenage facility undergoing renovation. There he impacts on the lives of his fellow inmates and meets the girl of his dreams.

I have two main problems with the film. The first is the main characters name; Craig. While Craig is a fine name, it is the American pronunciation which I cannot stand. It appears the Americans are blind to the letter ‘I’ in the name and instead pronounce it Creg as in Gregg. I find this incredibly annoying so a film with a lead called Craig/Creg has to do a lot to impress me. One scene in which the entire hospital chants ‘Creg, Creg, Creg!’ is infuriating.

My second problem with the film is Craig/Creg’s reasons for being in the hospital in the first place. As far as I can tell he is depressed due to the pressures of being a teenager (getting good grades, impressing girls, being popular etc). While I empathise with this, most teenagers feel this way but he appears to have no reason to. He is worried he isn’t smart and has no talents when he goes to one of the top schools in New York City and is a talented artist and singer. He is in love with his best friend’s girlfriend and doesn’t think he will ever find love but during the course of the film, both the girl he is in love with and another girl throw themselves at him. I just find his reasons for depression to be a bit woolly.

Craig/Creg is played unspectacularly by newcomer Kier Gilchrist while Zach Galifianakis plays Bobby, a fellow patient at the hospital. Galifianakis is well cast and gives a solid performance as Bobby. He is able surprise the audience with his ability to go from stable to unstable and back again and keeps the audience on the edge of its seats as you don’t know when he might ‘lose it’ again. He also plays the role of mentor to Craig/Creg in a believable and loving way. Craig/Creg’s love interest is played by Emma Roberts who is convincing as a depressed and quirky teen. Her reasons for being in the hospital are never really explained.

While the film has some nice moments including a sing-a-long to Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure and the ending is typical Hollywood slush but nice the film falls down on its protagonists reasons for being there in the first place. I don’t want to sound as though depression is not an illness as it most definitely is but I just don’t buy into Craig/Creg’s reasons for his depression. 



In recent years I’ve come to expect good things from Director Clint Eastwood and actor Matt Damon (I still say it in the Team America voice) but I was disappointed with Hereafter.

The film’s protagonist, Damon plays George Lonegan, a man who can communicate with the dead. Lonegan does his best to hide his power after an earlier career making money from it left him unable to get close to people for fear of what he might discover. To him, his gift is in fact a curse. This is shown to be the case when his psychic readings wreck the beginnings of a promising new relationship.

Damon shares a moment of tenderness with love interest Bryce Dallas Howard

The two other strands to this story about a young boy who loses his twin in a car crash and a Frenchwoman caught up in the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004 are unfortunately dull. While the Tsunami scene itself is exciting, you are left feeling detached and wondering where all the locals were. (Most of the victims appear to be European).
The acting is for the most part, terrible. Some actors seem as though they are reading their lines off a piece of card in front of them for the first time. It must be said however that Matt Damon delivers a believable performance of a man troubled by his gift. 

It is perhaps difficult to get into a film about a psychic as the profession is in my opinion a disgusting attempt to use pseudoscience and guesswork to con bereaved people out of money. I could see past this in The Sixth Sense though so perhaps the fact that I was thinking about what bollocks psychic abilities are tells me that I was not gripped by the film.     


Crocodile Dundee II

Coming two years after Crocodile Dundee, 1988’s Crocodile Dundee II sees Paul Hogan reprise his role as Australian crocodile hunter, Mick ‘Crocodile’ Dundee. While the plot is largely forgettable and not really why one would watch a Dundee film, it involves Mick trying to acclimatise to city life in New York when his wife Sue is kidnapped by a Columbian drug cartel.

The enjoyment here doesn’t lie with the story but in watching Mick attempt to navigate through New York City, misinterpreting almost everything around him. It is fun to remember an age where a man coming from a developed country such as Australia would have so much trouble understanding life in another developed country. It is perhaps hard to imagine now in a world with social media, the internet and more TV channels than you could ever want to watch that Mick Dundee would be so out of his depth in New York. But just twenty years ago these things weren’t available and the world was a much larger place.

One of the pleasures of this film is to see New York as it was in the late 80s. While New York always looks beautiful to me, seeing it then reminds me of some of the great films set in the city around that time. Another reason to enjoy the film is the performance of Hogan who is loveable as Mick Dundee and it is not surprising that he eventually went back to the role in 2001 with a third Dundee film.

... This is a knife!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Life in a Day

Do you remember what you did on July 24th 2010? No? Well thanks to Life in a Day you can relive it through the eyes of people from all over the world. Life in a Day was created using the phenomenon of crowd sourcing. The producers asked people via YouTube to record themselves on 24/07/10 and received 4,500 hours of footage in 80,000 submissions from 192 nations. The 4,500 hours was then edited into a 95 minute film which represents almost the entire globe on that July day. 

A 15 year old has his first shave with help from his dad 

It is a genius idea which has spawned an interesting, funny and at times emotional film. Beginning in the early morning the film shows people from all over the world going about their day from getting up, brushing their teeth, going to school or work, having lunch and so on. Occasionally one person’s story is followed and we revisit some of the more interesting characters including my personal favourite, a Korean man who has spent nine years and thirty-two days cycling through 190 countries with the aim of uniting North and South Korea. Along with his, there are several other stories which would make an interesting feature film on their own.

I can count the number of films I’ve cried during on one hand but Life in a Day filled my eyes with tears twice; once during a surprise marriage proposal and again after a woman finished talking to her husband, a US soldier based in Afghanistan, on Skype. Many of the people we meet live sad lives but the vast majority are happy. We meet a man living in a graveyard with fourteen children who is happy to be alive. A young boy working as a shoe-shine is happy that his father provides him with fruit. These and other stories give the film a generally uplifting feel.

A man 'comes out' to his Grandmother

One of the greatest things about the film is that it shows us how similar we are to one another. Our lives, routines and customs are mostly the same whether we are from Kentucky, Kathmandu or Kabul. We all brush our teeth, we meet friends and family, we work, we laugh, we cry, we are born and we die. The film manages to show such diverse human life while at the same time bringing us together and allowing us to recognise our similarities as well as celebrate our differences.

The entire film is available for free on YouTube here.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

2007 was a very good year for Westerns with 3:10 to Yuma, There Will be Blood and No Country for Old Men all joining The Assassination of Jesse James in being released in that year. While Jesse James is a good film, I believe that it is the weakest of this quartet.

The film focuses on the last few years of the life of famed Outlaw Jesse James, played by Brad Pitt. Pitt is joined by a strong ensemble cast which includes Sam Rockwell and Casey Affleck as James’ assassin, Robert Ford.

The first thing that needs to be said about this film is that as with many modern takes on the Western, it looks stunning. Vast open plains are shot with a fantastic use of natural light and artificial light is superbly used during a scene in which the James Gang attack and rob a train during the night.

The acting is also top notch. Rockwell plays his oft seen ‘crazy guy on the edge’; Affleck is well cast as the young, impressionable Robert Ford who is out to prove himself to his idol, Jesse James, who Pitt plays perfectly. He has the audience on the edge of their seat, guessing about his next move and when his mostly quiet and thoughtful Outlaw will next burst into anger like a bullet from a six-shooter.

One of the problems with the film is that because you know that it is about an assassination you are waiting for it to come for the entire film and as a result the rest of the plot just washes over you. When the assassination finally does come it is well played but the final act of Ford’s life after the shooting I felt was only skimmed over.

In the end, the film lacks Yuma's punch, No Country's madness and There Will Be Blood's tension but overall this is a film that is well worth watching, if only for the performances of Affleck and Pitt and the beautiful countryside in which it is filmed.


Made in Dagenham

I’d wanted to go and see this film when it was on at the cinema but was unable to persuade my girlfriend to join me. I found this disappointing as at its core, this is a film about feminism. The story of female workers at a Ford Motors plant in Dagenham, Essex is based on real events from 1968 when a dispute with management with regards to a change of being classed as unskilled from semi-skilled labour provoked a series of events that ended up with the women demanding equal pay. This in turn helped lead to the Equal Pay Act 1970.

The film follows a young Dagenham employee played wonderfully by Sally Hawkins who becomes the unofficial spokesperson for her fellow employees. Hawkins as so often is the case comes across to the audience as a quiet, likable girl next door in the first act but as the film progresses unleashes a tirade of seemingly off the cuff speeches to various people and organisations about the women’s plight and eventually gains the attention of Secretary of State for employment Barbara Castle, played here by Miranda Richardson.

I felt that the film was a well told portrayal of life for a working class family in the late 1960s and the fight for civil rights. It is clear that the women’s fight is not an easy one and that the men behind them while mostly supportive, wavered from time to time.

I remember on the films release hearing an interview with producer Stephen Woolley who was outraged at the films 15 Certificate due to the use of the word ‘fuck’. Having now watched the film I can understand totally why he felt aggrieved and despite I think two or maybe three uses of the word would definitely encourage any young person to watch it. If I ever have children it will certainly be amongst the pile of films I will be showing them.

I think it is important the films like Made in Dagenham are seen by a large young audience at a time where female role models include The Only Way is Essex ‘stars’ and Jordan/Katie Price. I’d rather young girls were influenced by and inspired by the Essex girls of Made in Dagenham than by the Essex girls they see on TV in 2012.   

Barbara Castle meets with the strikers. But only the pretty ones...

If I was to have one criticism of the film it would be that in the important negotiation scene with Miranda Richardson, only the good looking girls were involved, once outside, the 'larger' ladies appeared from nowhere and joined in with the celebrations. I thought for a film with a strong feminist tone it was strange that of the 180-something strikers, only the good looking ones were involved in such a pivotal scene.   


War Horse

I’d been looking forward to Steven Spielberg’s War Horse for months and had squeezed my girlfriend’s hand each time I’d seen the trailer in the cinema. Unfortunately I left the film feeling disappointed. For me, a person with a deep fascination with the First World War, I felt there was a lot of Horse before we got to the War. I understand that the film is called War Horse so would obviously contain a lot of ‘horse’ but being unfamiliar with the source material my only knowledge of the story was the films trailer which was more Saving Private Ryan than Black Beauty.

The film however was not terrible and for me the touching scene featuring barbed-wire in No Mans Land was a standout. I felt that the film could have lost one of the strands which made up the story. Instead of the story with the old French man and his granddaughter, I’d have preferred to have seen more of the trenches, but this could well be due to my interest in the war.

One of my main problems with the film and which spoiled it for me was that the French and German characters all spoke English. This is a particular bugbear of mine and I think that the sorts of people who go to see War Horse are not the sort of people who would mind subtitles. It is not Ratatouille. This became even more stupid when two German characters were speaking English to each other while a German officer in the background spoke German.

I can understand why many people have found the film sad but as someone with no particular love for horses I felt indifferent towards it and didn't spend enough time with any ofhe hman characters to feel anything for them either.

War Horse is not a bad film but I found my excitement of the trailer nowhere near matched my enthusiasm for the film as a whole.



I found Shame to be a bleak, intriguing and tense film which stuck with me for a long time after watching it. It follows Michael Fassbender as Brandon Sullivan, a successful thirty-something in New York who has an addiction – to sex. Brandon is forced to juggle his addiction with his job and this is made even more difficult with the arrival of his emotionally damaged sister Silly, played by Carey Mulligan.

One of the first things that me struck about the film was how beautiful both New York and the internal sets looke. Steve McQueen is obviously a man with a great eye for beauty in simplicity, a trend that has continued from his earlier career as an artist. Another thing that struck me was Michael Fassbender’s penis. My girlfriend’s three word review of the film “it’s so big!” sums it up well. The film doesn’t shy away from sex or nudity which is refreshing in a world where 18 Certificate films are becoming much rarer. Many film makers see the 18 as something to avoid for financial reasons but Searchlight, the films distributor has called it a “badge of honour”.

Although the film focuses on sex addiction, it could be about any type of addiction. You are increasingly drawn in to Fassbender’s quest to scratch his itch as his life spirals deeper into depravity. You realise that he will do almost anything to get his fix and the parallels with other addictions are evident.

While sex addiction is at the forefront of this film I believe that its motif is the relationship between Fassbender and Mulligan. You are left wanting to know more about what lead them to become the people they are. They don’t seem like brother and sister and find it hard to act as though they are. This mystery is at the heart of the film.
Shame is a powerful and uncompromising film that delves deep into the subject of addiction and its impacts on us.       


Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Sitter

Had I known before hand that David Gordon Green, the man behind my least favorite film of 2011, Your Highness was also responsible for The Sitter then I’d have saved myself 81 minutes.

There is very little in this film worth savouring and the highlight for me was hearing Slick Rick’s Children's Story playing over the titles. From there it was all down hill.

The film stars permo-slacker Jonah Hill as Noah, a College dropout who is forced to babysit three caricatures of children so that his long suffering mother can go on a date with a surgeon. It is unfortunate for Hill that the release of this film coincides with his Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars for Moneyball as when we should be reminded of that time a few months ago where we began to believe there was more to him as an actor than wearing baggy T-Shirts while wise-cracking we are presented with him playing a baggy T-Shirt wearing, wise-cracker.

In the opening scene we are meant to feel for Noah as the favour is not returned after he performs a sex act on his girlfriend. I think this scene is also supposed to be funny but its hard to tell. It is difficult to feel sorry for Noah who despite the efforts and encouragement of his mother seems in no mood to do anything about his sad, lonely life.

The three child characters who Noah ends up babysitting are all annoying and ill judged. There is the South American adoptee pyromaniac who is at the heart of most of the ‘capers’ the film lumbers between, a wannabe celebrity daughter and son who seems to be playing Woody Allen in Annie Hall.

If only the film was a fraction as funny or enjoyable as that. I watched the film in a half full cinema with an average age of about 17, the films core audience, and barely noticed a titter. It’s a sad state of affairs that this sort of boring, unimaginative stuff passes for comedy these days.

A couple of years ago the screenplay for The Sitter was on The Black List, an annual poll of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood. If only it had remained so.



I’d half hoped that the cinema would be full of annoying teenagers who had seen the trailer for a Gerard Butler war movie and would be confused and disappointed when they realised that it was in fact Shakespeare. Alas this wasn’t the case as there were only five people in the screening and I was the youngest by a good twenty-five years.

I hadn’t seen the play so I was new to the story and was gripped from start to finish. First time director Ralph (don’t call me Ralph!) Fiennes choice of setting the play in the modern day is inspired. The story works perfectly within its setting and has the look and feel of 1990’s Yugoslavia. The direction is very good considering it is Fiennes first attempt while Barry Ackroyd’s Cinematography is apparent. This in particular helps add a thump to the battle scenes.

In quieter moments it is the acting that is bought to the fore. Fiennes Coriolanus is powerful and arrogant while Vanessa Redgrave gives a superb performance as Coriolanus’ mother, Volumnia. I left the cinema impersonating Fiennes monotone voice and speaking in pig-Shakespeare language.

I’m glad I got to see Coriolanus and look forward to Ralph Fiennes future directorial features.   


Mission Statement

I watch a lot of films and I enjoy discussing them with others so I thought I'd post occasional blogs about films I've seen and what I thought about them.

I have no background in writing, journalism or film criticism so there is no guarantee that what you read will be well written or well informed but we all do the best with what we have.

I hope you enjoy and feel free to comment.