Showing posts with label Woody Harrelson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Woody Harrelson. Show all posts

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Now You See Me

For weeks, the cinema chain I pay my £14.99 to each month for unlimited movies has been teasing its clientele with the promise of a Secret Unlimited Screening. This one off, top secret screening would be open, free of charge to anyone with an Unlimited Card but the film was to be kept a secret. All we knew was that it would be a 12A Certificate movie and that it was being screened, across the country for one night only at 8:30pm, long ahead of its UK theatrical release. The brilliant marketing behind the scheme insured excitement, anticipation, discussion and a full cinema on a Monday evening for a movie which turned out to be Now You See Me. My initial reaction was one of slight disappointment as I was hoping for something like Pacific Rim which hadn’t been released anywhere else in the world for the selfish reason that a review would drive more traffic to this very page. I’d heard a couple of good things about Now You See Me from the States though so eagerly settled in for the next two hours.

Now you See Me is a heist movie in the vague style of the Oceans movies in that someone (a mastermind whose identity is unknown), draws together a group of experts in their fields to carry out heists on an epic scale. The difference here though is that the individuals chosen aren’t safe crackers, getaway drivers, contortionists or Matt Damon but are magicians. Their heists will involve magic and illusion to steal from banks and companies chosen by their puppet master. On the trail of the magicians is FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) who is teamed, much to his disliking, with Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent). Together the pair chases magicians Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt (Woody Harrelson), Henly (Isla Fisher) & Jack (Dave Franco) across the United States from show to show, always remaining two steps behind their cunning and trickery.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Natural Born Killers

I didn’t know anything about Natural Born Killers prior to watching it but saw that an angry looking Woody Harrelson was on the blu-ray cover and that was enough to sell it to me. During the frenzied pre credit sequence I thought to myself that it looked like the most Tarantino-esque film I’d ever seen. I didn’t realise at the time of course that the film was actually loosely based on a script written by Quentin Tarantino and that he received a ‘story by’ credit. The script though, was written by director Oliver Stone, Dale Veloz and Richard Rutowski and is set around a manic killing spree. Mickey Knox (Harrelson) and his wife Mallory (Juliette Lewis) travel around the South Western United States, randomly killing seemingly for the pleasure it brings. Both central characters suffered traumatic childhoods but enjoy the fame and notoriety that their actions bring.

The film is spliced together in a fairly linear structure but has the overarching look of a collage. A multitude of camera angles, effects and styles are used and the estimated 3,000 cuts necessary to piece everything together took around eleven months to edit. Camera angles and shooting styles will change from second to second in what feels like a psychedelic whirlwind. The effect is that Stone creates a movie that seems to surround you on all sides rather than emanate from the TV screen and it keeps you both off balance and highly entertained throughout.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Seven Psychopaths

Director Martin McDonaugh’s difficult second album, Seven Psychopaths is the Irish Director’s follow up to the 2008 sleeper hit In Bruges. The massively disjointed plot concerns a screenwriter called Martin (Colin Farrell) and his inability to complete his latest script which he has titled Seven Psychopaths. His writing is hampered by a drink problem and his disruptive friend Billy (Sam Rockwell), a dog kidnapper. One day Billy and his friend Hans (Christopher Walken) kidnap a dog belonging to gangster Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson). Martin’s script begins to take shape as he encounters more and more psychopaths but the three friends end up on the run while trying to escape the Mob.

I’ve been looking forward to Seven Psychopaths for a long time and when I first saw the trailer a few months back I instantly watched it again because I loved it so much. It’s with a heavy heart then that now having seen the film I have to report that it’s a bit, average. There are some clever ideas in there and some great little vignettes but on the whole there is far too much going on. Several times I thought to myself “That would make a good movie” but then it was dropped instantly. Despite several good performances, some great direction and a few funny moments I left feeling underwhelmed.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

No Country for Old Men

A film that is difficult to place into just one particular genre, 2007s No Country for Old Men saw the Coen brothers win their first and perhaps long overdue Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. In a year for which its main rival was the equally nihilistic and violent There Will Be Blood the Coen’s film won a total of four Oscars and three BAFTAS. Set in the West Texas desert in the early 1980s the film is based on the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy and tells the story of a man (Josh Brolin) who chances upon the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong and finds $2 million just waiting to be taken. He is chased by the vicious and merciless hit man Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) who is hired to get the money back. Both are in turn hunted down by local Sheriff Ed Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who despite in being way over his head maintains a calm exterior in the face of the task in front of him. No Country for Old Men is the sort of film that I’d be happy to watch every five years or so but wouldn’t want to see it any more often than that. It is a supremely made movie which features some stunning performances and an interesting story but I found myself drifting more and more as it went on.

Friday, 23 March 2012

The Hunger Games

As Twilight comes to an end and Harry Potter becomes a thing of the past, there is an opening for a new teen movie franchise and The Hunger Games seems set to take the crown from the two aforementioned cinematic behemoths.

Set at an undisclosed future date in North America, The Hunger Games has created a world in which the continent is reeling from an uprising some seven decades ago in which twelve districts rose up in defiance of the Capitol and were beaten into submission in a tale with echoes of the American Civil war. As a punishment for the twelve insubordinate districts, each year two children, one boy and one girl, between the ages of 12-18 are randomly selected from each district to fight to the death in an arena, a fight that is shown on television. Of the 24 ‘contestants’ there can only be one to emerge alive. In District 12, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) lives with her mother and young sister and hunts with her bow to get enough food for her family to eat. When reaping day arrives it is Katniss’ sister Primrose (Willow Shields) who is chosen to represent their district. Fearing her sister has no chance of survival, Katniss herself volunteers to go in place of her young sister and along with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) she travels to the Capitol to begin her training and take part in The Hunger Games.

I was unfamiliar with the source text as I am not a teenage girl and what I read and heard before going in lead me to believe that it was simply Battle Royale for the teen audience. This disappointed me as Battle Royale is one of my favourite films but I still went in to the screening with an open mind. While being probably as close to a Battle Royale remake America will ever dare to make, it is certainly no Battle Royale rip-off. The films look and design is excellent. District 12 feels like the back end of nowhere and its people seem well and truly downtrodden. Before the arrival of people from the Capitol, it feels as though you could be watching people from the late 19th Century. There is no computerised technology and the people seem to live very simple lives. The Capitol on the other hand couldn’t be more different. It is a gleaming, modern city with a futuristic look yet with a somewhat historical Communist iconoclasticism to it. This gives the impression of complete control over its citizens. The people of the Capitol look as though they are on loan from a Terry Gilliam/Tim Burton collaboration with their over the top hair, makeup and costume. Their look couldn’t be more different from that of the District 12 residents.

For me the film is split into two very distinct halves. The first part is the picking and training of Katniss and the others and the second is the Hunger Games themselves. Jennifer Lawrence gives an inspired performance as Katniss. She is fearless and motherly, headstrong and dedicated. She proves here that Winter’s Bone was no fluke and uses this film to show the world what a fantastic actress she is. Joining her in the Capitol is Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) as an outrageous and over the top presenter of the Games. He has got his character down to a tee and is excellent. Also joining Katniss in the Capitol is an almost unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks and Woody ‘Cooler than Sam Jackson in a fridge’ Harrleson, both of whom give fantastic if brief performances. Even Lenny Kravitz pops up and gives a solid performance.

The first part of the film gives us a chilling glimpse into the possibilities of our own future in which reality TV becomes ever more shocking and its contestants will go that step further to win. During the contestants time in the Capitol they are showered with fame and riches but then have to fight literally for their lives in what can be read as a simile for the world of reality TV.  

Before the Games begin, the tension is racked up and Lawrence’s Katniss is seen to be shaking with fear. The violence during the Games is kept to a few brief moments in order to get the certification needed to allow its target audience to see the film. The film makers had to tread a very thin line between the violence of the story and the fact that it is a film aimed at a young audience. For me, they did a good job but came down slightly too conservatively. I understand that here in the UK cuts were made to get a 12A certificate and obviously that is what the film makers wanted but considering this is a film featuring children murdering each other, the fights, gore and violence are quite weak. The Games themselves actually take a back seat to the story of survival and affection between Katniss and Peeta. There are dramatic fight scenes and emotional deaths but it is very much the story of two people willing each other to survive. This part of the film did remind me of Battle Royale and while I believe that film does a much better job of its battle, The Hunger Games creates a dangerous atmosphere which had me gripped. Unfortunately I felt that the Games ending were a bit of a let down but they are obviously setting us up for the second film in the series. The actors portraying the children were all excellent but Amandla Stenberg deserves special mention for her wonderful and emotional portrayal of Rue. She shows character and ability beyond her years.

The director Gary Ross has judged the tone correctly. He hasn’t given it a glossy Hollywood feel but is more melancholic. He has managed not to go too far in the other direction as well and the film remains very accessible. On the downside, considering the nature of what we are seeing, there are very few shocks in the film and all but one of the Games’ participants look far too old to be playing children. One character is often seen but we learn little about him and it is obvious that he will feature in a future film. I haven't read any of the future books but I can already feel another Edward/Bella/Jacob coming on. The film was also not bold enough for me but perhaps they are just setting the groundwork for the next film.   

To sum up, The Hunger Games is an impressive film with great performances throughout and a gripping and interesting story. It creates a world I want to find out more about and look forward to revisiting. It has its flaws and is likely to appeal more to younger viewers but is much stronger than the likes of the early Harry Potter films and is the sort of smart film that young audiences should be watching.    


Tuesday, 6 March 2012


Who knew the apocalypse would be so boring? If the Mayans were right and the world ends this year, at least it will probably be quicker than sitting through 2012.

This science fiction disaster movie, directed by Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, Day After Tomorrow) is set in the year 2012, the year that the Mayan civilisation supposedly predicted that the world would end. Dr. Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is an American geologist, working for the White House. He travels to India where his friend and fellow scientist has discovered that neutrinos (remember them?) from a giant solar flare have mutated and are heating up the Earth’s Core. The US President (Danny Glover) begins a top secret project which involves building giant ships in order to save around 400,000 of the worlds best and brightest (and richest). The more human side to the story comes in the form of John Cusack’s character, Jackson Curtis who spends the film trying to avoid the disaster and save his family.

The film has been lauded for its special effects, and they are spectacular. While it is impressive to see cities destroyed and mountains covered with waves, the characters never appear to be part of it. Even when John Cusack is driving a limousine through the crumbling streets of Los Angeles he feels distant and separated from it and you never get the sense that he is in any real danger. It never feels real. Perhaps part of the problem is the realistic knowledge that none of the main characters are going to be killed off in the first two acts and this takes away any feelings of peril.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
The script is really poor. The dialogue feels unrealistic and lacks drama while the characters are one dimensional. Much of the film is ill thought out; for example upon returning early from holiday, Cusack’s character suddenly receives a call to say he is late for work. He’s meant to be on holiday. Also, every time the US President walks into a room, the rest of the world’s leaders are waiting silently for him. I expect in real life they’d probably at least be talking amongst themselves about the end of the world and not always waiting for the US to sort everything out. Without giving too much away, the President also does something which he would never be allowed to do once the disaster strikes.

The acting isn’t very good. Many people are miscast. Danny Glover is unconvincing as the President and John Cusack’s wife is an empty shell. I expect some of this is down to the script and characterisation though. Cusack is affable but nothing more but Woody Harrelson shines in a small role as the token nut-job who was right all along.

"Stay perfectly still. Earthquakes can't see you if you don't move".
At 158 minutes, the film is about half an hour too long. It is too boring to keep you entertained for even two hours, let alone nearly three. Maybe the obligatory shots of the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben could have been lost. We get it, we are in France, we don’t need to see the bloody Eiffel Tower. As with any film of this nature there were plenty of moments where the audience are left thinking “come on! What are the chances?” Examples include the whole earth shifting on its axis so that Cusack and co doesn’t run out of fuel over the sea and a chance meeting with a Tibetan monk on a Chinese mountainside. I know I should cut the film some slack but come on!

There is plenty more wrong with the film but I try to keep these reviews fairly brief. It took over $700m at the box office so it must be doing something right. All I can say is that Independence Day wasn’t that good but it had more likeable characters and was shorter. The Day After Tomorrow had equally as good GCI, more likable characters and was MUCH shorter. And despite both having fairly poor storylines at least they didn’t have (SPOILER ALERT) a character called Noah saving everyone on an Ark and a parallel to the evolution of our species by resettling in Africa.


Monday, 27 February 2012


I’d been looking forward to Rampart for some time after hearing rumours of an excellent performance from Woody ‘cooler than Sam Jackson in a fridge’ Harrelson but left the cinema feeling a little disappointed. Harrelson stars as Dave Brown, an LAPD Cop who is from a different era and gets embroiled in scandal after scandal. He is considered a dinosaur by colleagues and friends for the way he goes about his police work and has no qualms about placing evidence on suspects, beating them or even killing them. We follow Harrelson as his character spirals ever deeply into trouble with both his family and the police department through a series of ill judged moves.

I felt that the film was quite boring. Despite a fantastic central performance from Woody Harrelson I didn’t really care what happened to him and it was obvious from the outset that there would be no way back for him. The film looks great. I am a big fan of the kind of beauty in urban decay shots found here and in films such as Tyrannosaur, Coriolanus and Lebanon. You get the sense of a never ending battle that the police are facing in both the visuals of the film and the actions of its characters. But as I said, I felt bored and the film seemed much longer than it was.

Woody Harrelson is fantastic as the bent cop, Brown. He is from a different era, the last of the renegade cops who sees nothing wrong is doing anything he has to in order to clean up the streets. His self destructiveness shows no bounds and he goes out of his way to piss off and alienate those closest to him. This is especially so with the female characters such as his partner and ex wives. The supporting cast is all good. Sigourney Weaver and Ice Cube are excellent and could have done with a bit more to do. There is a brief cameo from the always excellent Steve Buscemi but Ben Foster is the standout in the supporting cast as he wonderfully portrays a down and out, homeless Vietnam Veteran. He is quite superb in his few scenes.

Both Harrelson and Foster excell

Overall this is a film with a great cast, equally good acting and there is an interesting story in there somewhere but it just doesn’t seem to take off. Some of the director’s camera work was off-putting and for the most part it was dull. It’s a shame as the story and cast involved should have produced a much better film. While it isn’t terrible, it isn’t particularly good either.