Showing posts with label 2006. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2006. Show all posts

Monday, 6 May 2013

Night at the Museum

The perfect family film for a Bank Holiday Monday morning, Night at the Museum is a film in which history comes to life. Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is divorced and unable to hold down a steady job in New York City. His ex-wife believes that the constant uprooting is affecting their ten year old son and pleads with him to settle down and get a steady job. Larry takes a job at the Museum of Natural History as a night watchman but soon discovers that the job is much harder than advertised as the exhibits literally come to life after dark.

I’ve seen this film a few times now but I’m not really sure why. It’s quite fun and passes a couple of hours but it’s by no stretch of the imagination, a classic. Night at the Museum is one of those films that you can put on and turn off the brain, allowing the noises and images to wash over you as your eyes glaze over. What it offers is silly fun and a treat for kids. Unfortunately I watched it alone, in my pyjamas.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

United 93

I saw United 93 about three years ago and was well and truly shaken by it. I hadn’t seen such an emotional and harrowing film since Schindler’s List and wasn’t prepared for just how realistic and terrifying it was. I think I was expecting a sort of Independence Day-esque USA! USA! Saves the day! type film but what I got was a beautifully made, onslaught on my emotions. I watched it again last night to introduce it to my girlfriend. The film had the exact same impact on her and bought a tear to her eye. I found it just as traumatic the second time around and the fact that we are flying to Newark with United in a couple of weeks probably didn’t help our emotional state. The film left us both feeling drained and depressed.

United 93 tells the real story of the forth ill fated aircraft on 9/11. Almost brushed aside or forgotten about on that day and in the years afterwards, the plane was hijacked by four terrorists and heading for Washington (the film suggests The Capitol) when news of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon reached the passengers. Realising that this was a suicide mission, some of the passengers got together to try and force their way into the cockpit and a single engine pilot volunteered to attempt to land the place safely. History tells us this was unsuccessful.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Pan's Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro’s dark fairy tale Pan’s Labyrinth has been on my list of films to watch for years and I’ve finally got around to seeing it. I’ve had no excuse as my girlfriend bought it at least two years ago and it has been sitting on my shelf gathering dust ever since. I’ve found that Pan’s Labyrinth is the sort of film that comes up in conversation with people who generally don’t watch films that aren’t in English and won numerous awards upon its release. My girlfriend is a big fan and though I enjoyed the effects and historical side to the story, I wasn’t completely won over by it.

In Fascist Spain a young girl called Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is forced to leave her home and move to the countryside where he mother’s new husband is beating into submission the remnants of the anti-Fascist rebels. The girl has an affinity for fairytales and soon meets a fairy who takes her into a labyrinth. There she meets a goat like creature called a Fawn who tells her that she is a long lost Princess and must complete three tasks in order to be united with her Royal father. The fairytale is set against the backdrop of a vicious new regime made real by Ofelia’s new stepfather Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez).

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Black Book

Paul Verhoeven’s tale of injustice, romance, duplicity and war is one of just a handful of films I’ve watched twice this year. I saw it first in early January and was blown away by the story and acting and jumped at the chance to watch it for a second time. Carice van Houten, best known to English speaking audiences as fiery Priestess Melisandre in Game of Thrones plays a young Jewish woman in hiding from the Nazis in the Dutch countryside towards the end of the Second World War. After her hiding place is destroyed and following a traumatic encounter with the Germans she joins the Dutch resistance, going undercover inside the German Headquarters in The Hague where she agrees to seduce the local commander (Sebastian Koch - The Lives of Others).

Black Book is a fantastic film which is full of moral ambiguity set in a time of deep mistrust and hardship. One of the greatest things about it is that very few characters can be described as good or bad. The vast majority of the large cast of characters lie in a grey area somewhere in between and I think this adds reality to the film. The film bravely suggests that not all Nazis were bad and that not every resistance fighter was good or moral. There is a great deal of anti-Semitism even amongst the so called good guys. It’s an interesting idea which works incredibly well and helps to keep the viewer on their toes.

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Prestige

Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige is a story of obsession and sacrifice and stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as two up and coming magicians whose lives are transformed into an increasingly disastrous struggle of one-upmanship following a tragedy on stage. Each tries to out wit and out trick the other by disrupting each others acts, leading the other down blind alleyways and twisting reality through illusion and showmanship.

Mirroring the rest of Nolan’s filmography, The Prestige is a smart and beautiful film that is full of big ideas, well explored themes and unexpected twists and reveals. Nolan appears to take great delight in playing with his audience and treating them as intelligent equals, almost leading them along with him, through his twisted and mystifying subjects, knowing that by the time they reach the other side they will thank him for it. Nolan’s films are about ideas and he doesn’t shy away from presenting them to the audience without subtlety. Where he is perhaps more subtle is in his delivery which as usual is pitch perfect here.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Proposition

"Ah Australia. What fresh hell is this?"

After a gang commits a horrific crime in 1880s Australia, local Police Captain (Ray Winstone) offers to spare the lives of two Burns’ brothers if one of them, Charlie (Guy Pearce) kills their older brother Arthur (Danny Huston) who was responsible for the crime. As the youngest brother (Richard Wilson) rots in jail with his execution looming, Charlie has just nine days to track down Arthur and bring his body to the Captain.

The film’s opening titles show original photos mixed with stills from the set which are made to look aged. This is a nice little touch which helps to create the period setting. The look and feel of late Victorian Australia is captured wonderfully with a mixture of fantastic sets, costumes and locations. There is a fabulous juxtaposition between the Captain’s little bubble and the rest of the film’s locations. He often remarks that “I will tame this land” and his house, garden and wife look as though they have been neatly dropped from a London suburb. Outside of this however the land is sweaty, dusty and grim. People are unwashed and clothes are stained brown and torn.

Friday, 1 June 2012

GB Posters Blog - The Queen

GB Posters are celebrating the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and asked if I could write something for them. I thought about it and asked some people for suggestions and decided I'd write a review of The Queen, a film I hadn't seen but had heard was very good. You can visit GB Posters and see what I thought by clicking on the link below.

And you can read my other reviews for the website by clicking on the GB Posters tab on the right of this page.

Sunday, 8 April 2012


Set in a world of anthropomorphic cars, Pixar’s 2006 feature Cars is about an arrogant, rookie racing car called Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and his quest to win the ‘Piston Cup’. On his way to a final showdown in Los Angeles he ends up trapped in a backward town on Route 66 where he is forced by the locals to repair the road which he ripped up while trying to escape from the police. While in town he gets to know some of the local cars and helps them to rediscover their former glory before embarking once again to LA for the final race.

I’ve now seen every Pixar film except Cars 2. I think the Toy Story trilogy is amongst the greatest in the history of cinema, I love Finding Nemo and Wall-E is one of my favourite films. In my opinion Cars is the weakest film that Pixar has produced so far. It isn’t a bad film but compared to Pixar’s back catalogue it’s a bit weak.

On the plus side, the anthropomorphised world that the film creates is strangely believable and the film makers manage to get a lot of expression and emotion via a clever use of windscreens as eyes. The whole design of the film and the animation is unsurprisingly excellent. In particular I really liked the 1950’s look and design of Radiator Springs. The film isn’t as funny as some Pixar features but there are some very funny moments and ideas. I loved that the 1960’s Hippie VW Camper and US Army Jeep were neighbours. It felt like there was a sitcom in that idea. I also thought that the idea to use tractors in place of cows was very funny and clever.  The film also contains a nice message about the nature of modern motoring and its impact on the environment and small communities.

On the downside, I thought that it was far too long. It is 117 minutes which is far too long to keep children (and me) interested in a film of this quality. Up was only 96 minutes long, A Bug’s Life 95 and Toy Story only 81 minutes. It seems shorter is better in the world of Pixar. The idea to use cars instead of humans was nice but the story wasn’t up to scratch. At the end of the day it’s a pretty traditional boy meets girl and changes his outlook story. Finally I thought that some of the characters were a bit stereotypical and that’s a bit lazy of Pixar.

One of the best parts of the film came over the closing credits when the characters were at a drive in cinema and watched clips of Pixar films whose characters were cars. These included Toy Car Story, Monster Trucks Inc and A Bug’s Life (featuring a VW Bug) and they were really funny.

Overall, the film is below the standard I’ve become accustomed to from Pixar but it is still funny and enjoyable at times. It is far too long and lacks a little imagination on occasion but is a solid family animation.  


Monday, 2 April 2012

Happy Feet

2006’s Academy Award for Best Animated Feature winner, Happy Feet is the story of a young Emperor penguin called Mumble (Elijah Wood) who is born with an inability to sing but happens to be a fantastic tap dancer. In the film, a penguin must choose a song to attract a mate so Mumble finds it difficult to fit in. His dancing puts him on the outskirts of penguin society and he eventually leaves his colony in search of aliens (humans) who are stealing his colonies fish. Along the way he meets some Mexican (for some reason) penguins and has an adventure on his way to saving his colony.

For me the film can be viewed in to ways. The first is as a children’s animation and the second is as a contemporary political analogy. As far as being a good children’s film goes, I don’t think it is funny enough and lacks the adventure of the likes of Finding Nemo. The penguins are cute though and it is funny to see a penguin tap dance. I think the film is much more successful in its subtle look at modern political, racial and religious tensions. The film goes to great lengths to have its lead character treat religion as superstitious nonsense which is very brave for a children’s film. Mumble is at logger heads with the religious establishment throughout the film and tries to uncover rational explanations for questions that the rest of the colony attributes to their penguin god. Like the fantastic Wall-E, the film has strong ecological themes. It is a damming study of the problems caused by human activity in and around the Antarctic.

Where the film’s solid political stance falls down is in its racial stereotyping. The only black inspired penguin is portrayed by Robin Williams as a jive-talking religious preacher while Mumble is joined by four Latino inspired penguins that are all party animal, women harassing Adelie penguins. The female Adelie’s are even more stereotypical than the males. I think that this type of stereotyping is lazy at best.

The songs are all fairly modern and well performed and the dancing is funny. Unfortunately, not much else is. The jokes are cheap and fall flat. Also the films central romantic thread feels a bit forgotten. On the plus side the animation looks great. Some scenes look real and the film makes great use of camera angles.

Overall, the film is a bit of a letdown. While I think its attitude towards religion deserves praise and the animation is very good, it is quite boring and not very funny. It has a good idea at its centre and I liked the central character but little else.


Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Host

Creature feature The Host is set in Seoul where an American pathologist orders his reluctant Korean assistant to pour hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde down the sink which in turn ends up in the Han River. Fast forward a couple of years and a giant monster is spotted hanging from a bridge over the Han and the film focuses its attention on one unremarkable family who are thrust into the middle of the extraordinary events which follow the monster’s first sighting and attack on the citizens of Seoul. Song kang-ho (Thirst, Joint Security Area) is the lead, playing a lazy and slow witted man who works at his fathers food stand. His daughter, played by Ko Ah-seong is a smart little girl who is abducted by the monster. Her father along with his brother Park Hae-il, sister Bae Doona and father Byeon Hee-bong try to evade the authorities and hunt down the monster to help save the girl.

The film contains elements of drama, comedy, horror and political commentary and is very successful at slipping from one genre to another in an instant. One moment Song Kang-ho is doing something silly or odd and the next he is screaming as he is tied down to undergo a lobotomy. The political themes and anti-American stance run throughout the film. The film’s opening idea is loosely based on a 2000 incident in which an American mortician dumped formaldehyde down the drains and into the Han and throughout, the US military are portrayed as uncaring towards the Korean population and willing to usurp the Korean Government to do what it wants, when it wants. The Anti-American theme is further exemplified by the fact that the film was lauded in North Korea which is unheard of for a South Korean film. The Anti-American stance makes me wonder why a Hollywood remake is being produced and as usual I wish it wasn’t. I’d like people to see the original and stop being so lazy and closed minded when it comes to reading subtitles.

The story itself is very good and the family, well defined. As well as the obvious political statement it is a study of a family and each person’s roles within that family. Song Kang-ho (one of my favourite actors) is excellent, playing a completely different type of character to what I’ve seen him do before. Ko Ah-Seong is also very good and seems mature beyond her years. I’m not surprised to read that she won awards for the role. The direction is great with Bong Joon-ho utilizing camera angles that lead you to wonder where the monster is and which are designed to keep you on edge.

When I first saw the monster I thought that it was well designed but that the CGI looked a bit shiny. The more I watched however I realised that that was obviously done on purpose as the monster is predominantly water dwelling and in fact the CGI is very good. There is one sequence in particular when the monster is first spotted in which the GCI and direction come together wonderfully to create a magnificent chase scene. It is unusual in a monster film to be able to see the monster fully early on. In films such as Cloverfield you never get much more than a hint of the monster but here it is visible from the get go and I think that makes for an interesting and brave change.     

Overall the film is interesting and exhilarating and manages to fuse different genres and themes. There are laugh out loud moments and times where the film feels very poignant. In addition, Song Kang-ho is a joy to watch. 


Monday, 5 March 2012

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

Cairo, Nest of Spies is a classic Eurospy parody written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, director of The Artist, and also stars the leads of that Oscar winner. It is in fact where Hazanavicius met his future wife, Berenice Bejo and her Artist co-star Jean Dujardin. The film is a parody of the spy films of the 1950s and 60s, most notably, early James Bond. It stars recent Oscar winner Dujardin as OSS 117, a French spy in the mould of Sean Connery’s 007 who in the words of the film ‘foils Nazis, beds beauties and brings peace to the Middle East. 117 has all the style, charm and quips of 007 but without any of the intellect or wit. The films opening scene, a homage to classic Film Noir shows 177 foiling the escape of a Nazi in 1945 along with his partner, Jefferson (Phillipe Lefebvre). Fast forward ten years after a fantastic and funny 60s Bond-esque Title Sequence and 117 is sent to Egypt where Jefferson has recently been killed. His bosses believe there may be a link to a missing Russian ship and Islamic radicals and it’s up to 117 to put the pieces together.

Michel Hazanavicius shows that The Artist’s cinematography and set design was no fluke as this film contains impressive and authentic sets and costume. At first glance it feels like you could be watching Dr. No or From Russia with Love. The film rivals Mad Men for its fantastic attention to detail and design. The background and costumes are extraordinary. The look of early Bond is added to with some great homage to those early films such as obvious rear projection cameras whenever the actors are in cars and a slightly grainy look to the finished film.

The film on the whole is in a word, hilarious. For most of its running time I had barely finished laughing about one joke or incident by the time the next one arrived. It’s spectacularly funny and very silly. There are lots of running jokes, including one involving a man in a fez calling the bad guys every time 117 enters or exits a building. This is homage to Bond in which there is invariably a henchman waiting for 007 when he reaches a new location. Another running joke is the increasingly homo-erotic flash backs to 117 and Jefferson on a beach. Much of the rest of the humour comes from Dujardin himself. He is wonderful in the film. Somehow he manages to bumble is way through fights and crime scenes, missing blatant clues and making a complete fool of himself but at the same time remaining suave and cool and irresistible to women. Dujardin has an almost identical look to Sean Connery and from certain angles it looks like you are watching Connery. He is just as smooth and has the most expressionistic eyebrows I have ever seen. Some of the humour comes from the blatant political incorrectness and misogyny which again is reminiscent of the films it is parodying. 117 also knows nothing about his surroundings claiming the Suez Canal is over 4,000 years old and confusing a woman for a Pharaohs’ niece. There are several layers to the comedy.

Dujardin is supported by a good cast which includes Aure Atika as an Egyptian Princess who finds 117 irresistible and begs him to make love to her in every scene which they share. The Artist’s Berenice Bejo is the second lead, playing the assistant of Jefferson but as so often with Bond Girl types, there is much more to her than that. She is fantastic and gorgeous and fast approaching Scarlett Johansson at the top of my ‘women I’d like to ‘meet’ list’. She is the real brains of the piece and often has to lead 117 through the clues. Bejo plays an Egyptian but looks more like a French Socialite and wears ball gowns rather than a Hijab. She looks nothing like a 1950s Egyptian woman but this fits with the early Bond pastiche in which actors were rarely from anywhere near their character’s supposed home country. The film’s baddies all look and play the part and one in particular; Richard Sammel looks like he has walked straight out of an SS Training Camp. He has also played Nazis in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and the brilliant Italian film Life is Beautiful as well as a henchman in Casino Royale so has a fitting resume.

The film contains all of the great sets, locations, costume, puns and action which make early Bond films so wonderful but adds to this a great sense of farce. The film laughs at both the ridiculousness of the genre as well as itself and contains numerous wonderful comic moments. It’s a great spy film and a great comedy. It is far superior to Austin Powers in comedy and look and without it we may not have had The Artist.      


Thursday, 16 February 2012

The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others is a fantastic thriller set in 1980’s East Germany. Stasi officer, Weisler (Ulrich Muhe) is ordered to spy on playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) by his superiors. Dreyman’s apartment is bugged and Weisler sits upstairs for hours on end, listening to everything that is said and done below him. Weisler soon discovers that the surveillance is down to one of his superiors infatuation with Dreyman’s girlfriend, the actress Christa Sieland, but nonetheless continues with his round the clock surveillance. Weisler, married to his job and with no life outside of it becomes intrigued by the lives of the artists who he is listening to, hearing literature and music which is completely new to him. He begins to suspect that the whole operation is an abuse of power and has to choose whether to continue to be honest in his accounts of what is going on in the apartment below him.

The film is acted with great aplomb. Muhe gives the standout performance however. He is mostly stoic and expressionless which makes the very occasional outbursts of emotion that much more unexpected. His performance reminds me most of Gary Oldman’s in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It is the merest movement of a lip or raising of an eyebrow that gives away his feelings and emotions and is a wonderful performance. Sebastian Koch is also very good, playing the playwright who is under observation and Ulrich Tukur and Thomas Thieme are both well cast as the archetypal villains of the piece, playing the roles of a senior Stasi officer and Government official respectably.  

The film’s great strength is its subtlety and the way the tension creeps up on the audience without being obvious. Again, I have to compare the film to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in this respect. There is little in the way of action but the audience are kept waiting, on the edge of their seats for the story to play out. It is masterful story telling that is wonderfully directed by von Donnersmarck.  

Additional – For a review of a tragi-comedy film featuring the same events click here.


Sunday, 12 February 2012

Tell No One

Tell No One is a wonderfully confusing French thriller from director Guillaume Canet. It is the story of a man who, eight years after his wife is murdered, receives an anonymous email featuring a live video of her with the caption “Tell no one”. He then sets about trying to discover what happened on the night of his wife’s murder and if she could possibly still be alive.

I thought I had figured the film out three or four times during its two hour running time but was pleased to discover I was way off. Even when the film explains what has happened, there is still more to it and it was a pleasing conclusion to a complex story. The ending itself was lovely and touching to watch. The film is full of twists and turns which helps to wrong foot the audience.

The film appeared on a number of Top 10 films of the year lists and I’m not surprised by this. It is very good indeed. The acting is excellent throughout. There isn’t a weak link in any cast member and I thought that Francois Cluzet was outstanding playing the principle character. I also felt that British actress Kristin Scott Thomas was superb as Cluzet’s friend and sister in law and Gilles Lellouche was menacing yet kind hearted as gangster, Bruno. The film had a good mix of pace, featuring one or two fast paced action scenes and a lot of slower paced dramatic scenes. A scene where Cluzet has to run across a motorway was extremely exhilarating.

I wholeheartedly recommend watching this film if you like mystery-thriller films such as Zodiac or The Machinist or just very well acted and put together films in general.


Sunday, 5 February 2012

My Super-Ex Girlfriend

Starring Uma Thurman as an emotionally unstable Superheroine, 2006’s My Super-Ex Girlfriend was a pleasant surprise for me. Being let down so often by dull, unfunny romantic comedies, I found it to be a refreshing take on a tired formula.

The likable and affable Luke Wilson stars as the likable and affable Matt Saunders who meets a shy and seemingly uninterested Jenny Johnson, played by Uma Thurman on the Subway. When a man steals Johnson’s handbag, Matt pursues the thief and retrieves the bag. This act of heroism earns Matt a date. Several dates later, by which time Johnson has become increasingly neurotic and unbalanced, she lets Matt into her huge secret, that she is in fact G-Girl, a crime fighting Super Hero. When Johnson/G-Girl’s increasingly aggressive and jealous behaviour gets too much for Matt he decides to break off the relationship, a decision he could come to regret.

The film, while not incredibly funny is very enjoyable. I was watching with a smile on my face. Uma Thurman looks like she is really enjoying playing both characters and Luke Wilson is fine, though he is just playing Luke Wilson. A lot of the humour comes from Thurman’s wonderful portrayal of an emotionally unstable woman who becomes increasingly mentally unbalanced throughout the film. She is a joy to watch. Thurman and Wilson are joined by a strong cast which includes Anna Faris as Wilson’s co-worker and the fantastic Rainn Wilson (of The Office fame) as Matt’s best friend. Also joining the cast is English comedian Eddie Izzard who does a fairly convincing American accent but is not as convincing as a super villain.

Being both a Rom-Com and Superhero movie, there was only one place that the film could best set and that is in New York. The city looks fabulous but the CGI is sometimes shiny and unconvincing. A GCI shark looked about as real as a reality TV star’s face. I found it quite funny that G-Girl’s disguise is just a wig and glasses, but Superman gets by unnoticed with less.

While My Super Ex-Girlfriend is in no way a classic or even close to being great, it is a nice take on the romantic comedy genre with some funny moments and an excellent performance from Uma Thurman.