Monday, 29 December 2008

Frost/Nixon: Movie Review

Frost/Nixon: Movie Review

Rating: 9/10

Cast: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon, Matthew Macfadyen, Rebecca Hall

Director: Ron Howard

There's no greater battlefield than politics.

In 1977, a disgraced Richard Nixon agreed to a fluff piece with British talk-show host David Frost. Nixon's aids viewed the interview as a potential inroad back into American hearts and politics after the Watergate scandal.

Frost seemed the most unlikely of journalists to tackle 'tricky Dicky'. A man more accustomed to interviewing pop stars, Frost initially chased the interview with hopes of securing high television ratings.

Naturally his priorities changed, and Frost found himself in the unenviable position of putting one of America's most corrupt leaders on trial on television screens worldwide.

Frost/Nixon is released in cinemas at the perfect time: as the world waits for a much maligned Republican president to exit office, the story of a former leader being held accountable for questionable decisions hits the theatres.

Fortunately Ron Howard has redeemed himself for the 'hiccup' that was The Da Vinci Code .

Frost/Nixon retains many facets of the successful stage production: playwright Peter Morgan adapted his script for the screen, and lead actors Frank Langella and Michael Sheen reprise their roles as Nixon and Frost respectively (Langella won a Tony for his portrayal of Nixon).

Neither are particularly prolific actors, and obviously their experience was valued over notoriety. It's a wise move: Frost/Nixon would be lost without their chemistry.

The two are ably supported by Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, Matthew Macfadyen and Rebecca Hall.

But this is really Langella and Sheen's film. The two manage to turn a homely 1970s lounge into a battleground. They take turns playing the hunter and the hunted. Yet the climax of this battle avoids cliché and sentimentality: has the winner really won? Would he regard this as a victory?

This is a refreshing change from Howard, a man fond of romanticising achievement (as seen in Apollo 13 and Cinderella Man ).

Multiplexes are crowded with films that increasingly rely on special effects and brute force to showcase conflict. Frost/Nixon marks a refreshing change: two guys using nothing but words to outwit the opponent.
Go see it - now.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Australia: Movie Review

Australia: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Brandon Walters, Bryan Brown, David Wenham
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Oh crikey.
So it's finally here - the much anticipated, ever so slightly mocked for being a gratuitous ad for Tourism, director Baz Luhrmann's Australia.
Set in 1939, at the beginning of World War 2, in the Northern Territories, English aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley (a very prim Nicole Kidman) inherits a cattle station. But with the rivalry over an army contract between the Carney company and any other would be stock seller, she soon realizes it's a cut throat business.
Teaming up with Hugh Jackman's Drover and Brandon Walters who plays native boy Nullah (the heart and soul of the story), they drive 2000 cattle across the countryside to Darwin.
But a bigger threat than petty cattle rivalries await them in Darwin, when the Japanese come calling after the bombing of Pearl Harbour.
Where to start with critiquing Australia? Baz Luhrmann was always probably the best choice to do this film - his eye for the epic and flamboyant put him squarely in the frame for this one.
Yes, it is at times, a long tribute to the land of Australia with plenty of panoramic, sweeping sky shots over the majesty of the countryside.
But it's also never shy in pointing out the racism, inherent in the country with their treatment of Aborigine - albeit sometimes in a naïve way.
While Jackman's Drover and Kidman's Ashley are perhaps stereotypes (Jackman's the rough man of the country, who washes from a bucket when out on the range - although it does give him a slow mo moment when the water washes over his toned body; whereas Kidman's the typically uptight English lady who's horrified at how uncouth people can be in Australia), it's Walters' turn as Nullah which is perhaps the best of the film, chanelling the beauty of the native race and the belligerence and wisdom of youth.
There are humourous moments which cut through the promos for Australia itself - one such moment finds Kidman's Lady Foster marvelling at the kangaroos jumping alongside their vehicle - a moment which screams "Where the Bloody Hell are ya?" - only to have the idyllic scene shattered when one of the creatures is shot and dumped on their car.
But there are also some atrocities committed against dialogue and stereotypes a plenty which bring the story down - Jackman's character is prone to outbursts of Steve Irwinism when under pressure (Oh crikey) and David Wenham's diabolical Neil Fletcher is simply missing a handlebar moustache to twirl as he goes about his evil machinations.
Let's be clear Australia is no Gone With the Wind - it's long, and the shoe horning in of the war seems to make it a film of two distinct extremes; Luhrmann's clearly gone for a crowd pleasing film (as demonstrated in the distinctly saccharine ending of the film) and to be fair, he easily showcases the best of Australia's countryside.
But what he has failed to do is provide some stronger characters which could have pulled the film out of cliché here and there.

Make no mistake, Australia needs to be seen on the big screen; a big sprawling sweeping film - but with a bit more restraint, this film could have been the epic they wanted it to be.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Twilight: Movie Review

Twilight: Movie Review

Rating: 9/10 for the emo kids; 7/10 for all others
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
There's nothing like seeing the first part of a cinematic juggernaut make it to the screen.
From the phenomenally successful Twilight series of novels by author Stephenie Meyer, this is the first of the books.
And as such, it's difficult to rate - it'll stand or fall on how the later episodes of the books are brought to the big screen.
The first of any trilogy, quadrilogy (whatever) is inherently about setting the scene - and Twilight is no different.
Kristen Stewart is (Isa)Bella Swan, a teenager suffering from the usual teenage alienation. Uprooted from her Phoenix community (where she never really fitted in as she never went with the rest of the gang) Bella comes to the little town of Forks in Washington to live with her father, the local law enforcement.
She's enrolled as a junior in the local school and immediately finds herself (thanks to her battered old ute) part of the slightly offbeat clique. And yet, she doesn't really fit in there either.
Her world is torn upside down, though, when she meets Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), part of the ethereal (and pasty - almost deathly - white) Cullen family who are definite the outsiders of the school community.
When Edward is forced to sit near Bella in lab, he almost gags and has to run away - because apparently her stench is over-powering.
Somehow, though, a friendship is begun - thanks to Edward saying to Bella early on "I won't be your friend" (always the sign of someone who's more interested than they make out) and when Edward stops an out of control truck from slamming Bella into early oblivion, she soon realizes there's more to him than meets the eye.
Bella's introduced to the Cullen clan; a kind of vampire moment akin to Meet the Parents - and finds as vampires, they're vegetarian and have trained themselves to no longer devour human blood.
Life for Bella will never be the same; as she fights her attraction to Edward (and he fights his natural urges - both teen and vampiric) the situation becomes dangerous when a new tribe of killers enter town - and have Bella on their menu&.
It's hard to know exactly how to judge Twilight - it's clearly aimed at its audience; from the emo overtones with the music and moping, it's evident the adaptation's going to hit all the right chords with the teen girls and boys.
But for others, it's all been done before - Edward is yet another variant of the James Dean outsider (even right down to the iconic hair) and Bella is your average teen girl.
And it has to be said that the threat of being devoured by the new arrivals in town feels tacked on towards the end of the film and suffers from a rushed denouement.
Yet the film is extraordinarily long - and at times had me wanting to scream at the main players - Cheer Up Emo Kids!- as they espoused some bon mots as "I've been dying since I was born"&.There are plenty of humorous moments scattered throughout as well - one finds Edward wishing to meet Bella's father as he cleans his police rifle.
It covers off every horror of the American teen years - the feeling of abandonment as a child's shuttled between divorced parents; the awkwardness of the prom and who to invite and what to wear as well as having a relationship with someone thought of as the black sheep of the town.

However, every generation needs its Lost Boys and Twilight adequately fulfills that space in the 2000s teens' hearts; there's plenty of foreshadowing of doom to come in future films (Bella's involved in a prophecy; the vampires seem to be wary of the native American Indians) and plenty of scope for this vampire genre to be around for a long time to come.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

The Visitor: Movie Review

The Visitor: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Richard Jenkins, Hiam Abbass, Haaz Slieman, Danai Gurira
Director: Tom McCarthy
Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under) plays a directionless college economics professor, Walter Vale, plodding away in suburban Conneticut in the latest from the team who brought us The Station Agent.
Reluctantly agreeing to stand in for a colleague at a New York City conference, Vale discovers a young couple named Tarek and Zainab have been scammed into illegally renting out his NY flat.
After initially turfing them out, he rescinds when he realizes the pair have nowhere to go.

Tarek warms to Walter and the pair form a friendship which is based in the first place on music.
So much so that Walter accompanies Tarek on one of his many drumming sessions.
However, on returning home, Tarek is stopped by the subway police and arrested under the flimsiest of reasons.
Matters are made worse when it becomes clear Tarek is an illegal immigrant and is taken to a detention centre - Walter is the only one who can visit him during his time inside - and along with Tarek's mother, they struggle to deal with the reality of the immigration system in America.
The Visitor will annoy some who view its take on politics as being somewhat naïve - while no-one's condoning Tarek's treatment in a post 9/11 world, the sad reality of the situation is that he is an illegal immigrant who's had his bid for asylum rejected.
But that would be to easily dismiss the film which has a warmth and heart to it - Richard Jenkins delivers another mesmerizing performance (and makes it easy to understand why this film's been so embraced on the festival circuit)
His aimless widower professor's been teaching the same course for years now, preferring to overwrite the papers each year rather than develop a new course; his passion and awakening (as played out via his djembe drumming) are beautifully realized and a natural progression of his frustration at trying to play the piano.

He's the heart and soul of the film and just about rescues it from mawkish politicking.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Still: Movie Review

The Day The Earth Stood Still: Movie Review

Rating 5/10
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith, John Cleese (an incredibly short cameo) and Kathy Bates
Director: Scott Derrickson
Klaatu barada nikto .
Three words which you will either know - or wonder what on earth I've been drinking this early on in the festive season.
To a horde of geeks (myself included) these were the words spoken by Michael Rennie's alien to his destructive robot Gort via Patricia Neal's character in the 1951 original version of this film.
The 1951 film is often used in sentences with the words "classic" "seminal" and "definitive" so it's with some trepidation that I approached a new version with Keanu Reeves as the main star.
In a nutshell, Keanu stars as mysterious alien visitor Klaatu who causes worldwide panic (including an economic crisis - sense any parallels here?) when his ship lands in downtown Manhattan.
In true American style, he's shot the minute he descends from the craft and is taken to a top secret military installation where he's questioned by Kathy Bates' Regina Jackson, who acts on behalf of the President of the United States, over why he's here.
Also among the scientists studying him is Jennifer Connelly's Helen Benson (who in this update/ remake) has a troublesome step child (aka Will Smith junior Jaden Smith).
Klaatu comes round and warns them that he needs to speak to the leaders of the world on an urgent matter which involves the future of the Earth itself... but he's scorned and a chain of events is set in place which don't spell good things for the planet's future.
Having seen the original seminal classic and definitive film (see what I said above?) this latest version was always going to be a disappointment.
Coming at a time when we know the Earth's under threat from global warming (be it manmade or otherwise - that's for another argument) it's easy to appreciate the reason for Klaatu's visit - and perhaps the reason for the remake.
Keanu has often been critiqued for his performances with some critics saying he has an other-worldly presence -and that's kind of obvious here; his stiffness as the alien visitor and awkward staccato acting seems to work - initially.
Although after a while it simply resorts to slow mo shots of him walking in a suit while others try to emote around him in the face of immense danger.
Connelly's astro-biologist is saddled with little to do after initiating first contact - she quickly becomes reduced to a taxi driver for Klaatu and is left with the troublesome kid to deal with.
And talking of the kid - Jaden Smith is the kind of uber moppet who clearly is going to have a big impact on the storyline of The Day The Earth Stood Still . With daddy and abandonment issues, it's obvious how his role has been included in the remake - although his involvement in the film's denouement could be seen from another galaxy.
John Cleese has an all too brief cameo as Professor Barnhardt - and the moment both he and Keanu stand in front of a blackboard discussing equations is quite the surreal moment.
The opening tension and suspense is handled well and it's clear a lot of the budget was thrown at the effects of this film - the new version of robot Gort is pretty true to the original (and seems to channel some of the new Battlestar Galactica baddies the Cylons at times); and scenes of destruction which show cities and people simply being whittled away are pretty effective (even if the attacks are akin to a biblical plague of locusts.)

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a disappointment - at times underwhelming but visually impressive for the most part - but unfortunately the message that we humans have to change our ways is lost a little among the explosions.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Quarantine: Movie Review

Quarantine: Movie Review

Rating: 4/10
Cast: Jennifer Carpenter, Steve Harris, Jay Hernandez
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Remakes of foreign horror films continue to be de rigeur in Hollywood.
And yet, the Powers That Be fail to realize that diminishing returns at the box office are a sign that the Hollywoodisation is just not captivating viewers.
Quarantine is the latest attempt to buck the trend - and sadly it fails.
A rehash (or as they say Based on - or as others say, a shot for shot remake) of Spanish horror [REC], Quarantine finds reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter, TV's Dexter) along with her cameraman (Steve Harris) out for a night with the local LA fire department.
The film opens with Angela filming life around the station house, hoping desperately to score an exclusive by getting a call.
That call comes in and finds the team (along with shadowing from the camera crew) dispatched to a downtown apartment, for reasons unknown.
As they enter the building, the fire dept along with the police and TV crew discover an old woman at the top of the complex whose screaming initiated the call out.
Within seconds of being there, the old timer is attacking people and just seconds after that happens, with no warning or explanation the building is locked down, hermetically sealed off and patrolled by armed guards.
Confused, under attack from people within the building and with no real clue what's going on, the TV crew and adopted fire family try their best to survive - but it soon becomes clear, they're fighting a losing battle& live and escape.
Quarantine is the latest film to come aimed squarely at the YouTube generation - with its handheld filming point of view and quick edits here and there, it's clearly pushing for the same audience who fell for Cloverfield.
Yet, while Cloverfield suffered as we didn't know too much about the yuppies who were being picked off by the invading monster, Quarantine tries to temper this by spending a good 10 minutes of the opening with the camera crew bonding with two members of the fire brigade.
It works to a degree as you end up caring more about Angela but comes a little unstuck as you still don't care about the fire crews. Carpenter puts in a good solid performance and holds the film together but her bravado falls apart a little too quickly when the true horror of the situation hits home.
There are few solid shocks in this and most of those which do happen, you can pinpoint coming a mile off. Although Quarantine does score some points for originality by using the actual camera to bash to death one of the invading marauders.

Ultimately though this kind of film has been done before (and better by the likes of 28 Days Later) and is no real addition to the genre.

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