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All reviews - Movies (49)

Hamlet review

Posted : 6 years, 9 months ago on 14 July 2011 09:35 (A review of Hamlet)

The sheer look and passion of the film are kind of amazing. It’s one of those films that looks and sounds so beautiful on DVD that I kind of ache to imagine what it looks like cinematically or at least on Blu-Ray. Branagh is effortlessly magnetic in this, giving power and emotion to scenes which should be rendered stoic by their cultural cache. He also delights in the wordplay of the character, really getting to the dichotomy of a character who is in mourning, but who is also devilish and quick-witted. He’s a brilliant wastrel gifted with purpose by his desire for revenge and it’s a great interpretation of a character who can often be defined by his melancholy. The supporting cast are great and whilst I think some of the stunt-casting is a little off (Robin Williams and Lemmon are both a little hard to get to grips with, Williams because he’s all persona and Lemmon because he really, really, mangles the language) but I think the odd bits of casting help to define all of the ancillary characters in a sprawling cast. Of the main cast I think the main weakness might be Winslet. Now Kate Winslet is a favourite actress of mine, but she plays Ophelia a little too academically. There’s supposed to be a wildness to the character which never quite comes through and she comes across as kind of am-dram in her madness.

I love how the film represents Norway as this ravenous force on the outskirts, an exterior danger to the internal machinations. In particular the quick cuts between the storming of the castle and Hamlet’s duel are a great way of framing the internal struggle. I think Branagh sees Hamlet’s desire for vengeance as at least partially self serving and overly destructive and he even frames Claudius in a rather sympathetic light. As such by allowing Norway control of Denmark, as in the original play, Branagh shows how destructive that revenge is on a national level.

The film is gorgeous, just everything from its costume design to the beautiful use of Blenheim Palace really creates this sense of resplendence. The costuming and wintery-scenery are a real feast for the eyes and they’re beautifully matched by Patrick Doyle’s gorgeous score. I love how there’s a singular motif in the entire score, with different variants on it in different sequences.

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Across the Universe review

Posted : 6 years, 9 months ago on 14 July 2011 05:42 (A review of Across the Universe)

God, I love Julie Taymor and it took me three seperate attempts to actually get through the film. It's torpedoed by the fact that

a) None of the characters are likeable

b) None of the characters are likeable because they're constantly singing their feelings

c) They're constantly singing their feelings and after a while the CONSTANT musical numbers actually wear you down.

d) They're constantly singing their feelings with bland, broadway, voices. Considering the actual music it's kind of sad to see such soulless performances.

e) It's crushingly literal at times.

f) Bono. God, just...Bono.

I LOVE musicals, but I just wanted at least a little respite between the musical numbers. Just a little breathing space, but I swear there are moments where musical numbers segue into musical numbers which segue into musical numbers. What it does it dilute EVERY song because you've no time to really appreciate what's going on. There are a bunch of fun numbers in this film, with some great staging, but the sheer weight of production sort of numbs your mind to them.

Over the course of two hours we get 34 seperate musical numbers.

It's a shame because when you're engaged the numbers are shot and choreographed with the style that Taymor's famous for. In particular I think the staging of 'Come Together' and 'It Won't Be Long' are great, they'd probably be standout numbers in ANY other film.

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Quiz Show review

Posted : 6 years, 9 months ago on 11 July 2011 05:34 (A review of Quiz Show)

I'm currently reading Down and Dirty Pictures by Peter Biskind (the Easy Riders, Raging Bulls guy) which details the independent movie scene in the 1990s. It's mostly centred on Miramax, but there's a lot of stuff about the Sundance Festival and Robert Redford's film community. It doesn't paint a particularly kind picture of Redford, but the stuff surrounding the creation of Quiz Show fascinated me. With the film apparently set up as initially a project for Steven Soderbergh before Redford himself took it on. I was never a fan of Redford's work, but the account of the films creation made me want to check it out.

Taken away from the politicing behind its creation the movie is kind of fascinating in of itself. For whatever reason this film feels vibrant and alive in a way that few Redford movies actually do, there are a number of shots and moments which just feel like they come from a completely different creative place from Redford's usual staid style. In particular a push in shot behind Van Doren, accentuating the audience he's staring at, is the kind of showy manouvere you don't often get in his films.

The story itself is fascinating and kind of tragic, exploring the inherent corruption of game shows in the 1950s. It seems to sort of represent a first clash between the government and television and it's a perfect indication of Redford's own views on Hollywood and the studio system. He paints both Herbie Stempel and Charles van Doren as people who made a mistake, focusing the film on their dissatisfaction at cheating and laying the blame on studio executives. The films final moments exemplify this with Charles van Doren's life in tatters whilst the TV producers, who concocted the sheme, are rewarded.

It's a very black and white look at a complex issue and it probably absolves van Doren and Stempel of their cheating ways. In particular the film goes out of its way to make van Doren into a tragic kind of figure, Fiennes polite and genteel performance really selling a kind of desperation to be accepted. It's an unusual, bitter, kind of David vs. Goliath story and I think it's succesful as a character study and as a shwocase for Redford's directorial talent.

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Batman: Under the Red Hood review

Posted : 6 years, 9 months ago on 11 July 2011 05:19 (A review of Batman: Under the Red Hood)

I had an odd reaction to this. The design and style of the thing was so close to the animated series, but the change in voice cast just sort of pulled me out. It was like someone pantomining the Animated Series corpse. In particular I could hear, exactly, how Hamill's Joker would have read the Joker's dialogue in this and it just distracted me from DiMaggio's performance. I get that he was trying another take on the character but it just really seemed to lack oomph, definitely my least favourite Joker interpretation.

Greenwood was bizarre as Batman, just a full on Kevin Conroy pastiche. I actually thought Jensen Ackles was the bright spot, voice acting wise, probably because I didn't have any preconceived notions of the character. I also liked Jason Isaacs as Ra's Al Ghul, largely because I just generally like Jason Isaacs.

The tone seemed off to me as well. Whilst I appreciated the choreography and the weight given to action sequences, I found it perhaps a little too 'grim-dark'. I guess if you're adapting, partially, A Death in the Family you can't avoid the Grim-Dark but it came across as a little much in this.

I actually thought more family orientated films like Mask of the Phantasm and Return of the Joker were more 'adult' in their tone and content than this.

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The Happiness of the Katakuris review

Posted : 6 years, 9 months ago on 10 July 2011 08:04 (A review of The Happiness of the Katakuris)

It is a sad fact that many people who love Takashi Miike films love the director not for his unique insight, his playful narratives, his genre busting, or his quirky sense of humour but for the visceral stomp that Miike has shown himself to be more than capable of providing.

I say this is a sad fact as in many ways one of the finest talents to have emerged from Japan is often times viewed as car crash movie making. His films seen as macabre theatres of blood, gore and general grossness. This is a real shame, as there are very few Miike films that don’t have something to say beyond the blood, semen and eviscerated guts.

I have seen roughly a quarter of Miike’s 50+ catalogue of films. And while a few films fit the criteria for the gore hounds out there, he is often at his best when he is sans the shock. Films like The Bird People in China, a startlingly poignant almost Ghibli like movie, Graveyard of Honor and the Happiness of the Katakuri’s show that he is a filmmaker who does not have to always rely on viscera.

The Happiness of the Katakuris in many ways has been his best received film over in Europe. Picking up plaudits that his other films missed out on due to their grotesque nature. It is easy to see why this film got so much attention. When you watch an average Miike film it is like watching a hyperactive David Lynch movie, when he is on form he is transcendental.

Happiness of the Katakuris is actually a remake of a fairly recent Korean film. The original was a dour, painfully unfunny satire about a family who set up a remote guesthouse and find that none of their guest’s can last the night. Faced with a growing number of corpses the family begin burying them out in the surrounding wasteland.

Happiness of the Katakuris follows this same basic story structure but charges the rather dull narrative with flashes of intense brilliance. While that may sound hyperbolic there is no denying that a film which starts with a little vignette about a goblin emerging from a bowl of soup, ripping out a girl’s tonsils, flying off and getting eaten by a crow which itself is mutilated by a steel clawed bear is playing by a whole new rule book.

In fact, while the original Korean movie was a dull black comedy the Happiness of the Katakuris can be only really described as a 1940s style musical, mixed with some hilarious black comedy and moments of absurdist fantasy that are guaranteed to get a least a chuckle. Someone once described this movie to me as a musical about how crappy musicals are, in many ways they are right.

The song and dance numbers are done with a wonderful sense of knowing camp. The dance moves are melodramatic, the singing ranges from gut wrenchingly awful to about karaoke standard, and the musical scores are almost always hilarious overdone. Despite this their seems to be a genuine fondness for the old musicals and while this film shamelessly rips on them you can tell a lot of care and attention has gone into the production.

There is no denying the absurdist charm of the movie especially when faced with characters like Richard Sagawa, played by controversial punk rocker Kiyoshiro Imawano, a half-British half-Japanese member of the US Air Force (no make that the Royal Navy) who is the secret lovechild of Queen Elizabeth’s younger half sister and whom regularly flies missions over Iraq. Sagawa is the main romantic interest for Shizoue Katakuri and in his limited screen time he directs a grand love song, flies into the air, gets poisoned, hit over the head, dropped off a cliff and much more.

The film is just jam packed with a cheeky exuberance which makes it both hard to take seriously and also unforgettable. The cast of characters is perfect from the determined husband and wife duo who lead the house, to the crotchety old granddad who steals every scene and musical number he appears in. Add to that a menageries of guests that include a singing suicide victim, a peppy schoolgirl and her gigantic sumo boyfriend, and a family who seem doomed from the moment they enter and it is almost impossible to get bored throughout the proceedings.

Takashi Miike was hired to direct Happiness Of The Katakuris by Shochiku Studios as their annual feel-good New Year's family film. Just as would be expected from the king of subversive cinema he released the film he wanted to release complete with talk of cutting up bodies, girls suffocated under their heavyweight lovers, sumos dropped out of windows, granddad burying a style live guest, the rabbit in the moon made to mount another, and the father of the piece floating across the screen dressed in full Von Trapp gear as his wife sings the film’s signature karaoke song. In the end Happiness of the Katakuris despite all the death, deceit, premature burials and zombie dance numbers is actually a really bright positive movie. It really is the feel good movie that Miike was hired to direct, just done in his own style.

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Rob Roy review

Posted : 6 years, 9 months ago on 10 July 2011 07:48 (A review of Rob Roy)

I hate Braveheart with an insane passion, loathe the movie and everything it stands for. Part of that is because the nationalism on show in the film always creeped me out a bit and part of it is because it managed to eclipse this absolute gem of a film.

It's a move that is consistently in my top 50, an all time favourite and part of that is because there's a sense of verisimilitude to it. It's not a particulalry accurate film, it's depiction of Scottish/English relations at the time is a little off, but it feels real and lived in. It feels grimy and it feels real, in a way that Braveheart never did to me. In a lot of ways the film reminds me more of Last of the Mohicans than Braveheart, using fairly grounded methods to tell a fairly lyrical story.

The cast in this are great, everyone does amazing work. Tim Roth, Brian Cox, Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange in particular all do amazing work. I think Roth delivers one of the great movie villains in this film, his Cunningham an odious, loathable, hateful little bastard who nevertheless is oddly magnetic as the main antagonist. He's got this peculiar brand of non-chalant evil, where he seems to exhibit practically no effort or thought when doing truly loathable things. Neeson manages to bring warmth and humanity to a character who could be paper-thin. He's a man who prides his honour above all else and effectively plunges his clan deep into hell to protect that honour, but he makes Roy sympathetic and likeable even as the consequences of his actions are fully felt. Lange, despite a slipping accent, is just fantastic as Mary McGregor. She's got great chemistry with Neeson and a steely determination which makes some of her scenes the standout pieces of the film.

The final fight is what Rob Roy is perhaps most famous for and it is truly magnificent, nice long shots allowing you to see the full extent of William Hobbs brilliant choreography. It's a swordfight unlike anything else in cinema, with a naturalistic ebb and flow and a toll taking on both characters just by swinging the swords. It's a great technical feat. lent real emotional power by the work of Roth and Neeson.

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X-Men: First Class review

Posted : 6 years, 10 months ago on 4 June 2011 03:32 (A review of X-Men: First Class)

Really fucking loved this, it's easily on par with X2 (and X2 is one of my all time favourite super-hero films). I think the film pales in comparison to X2 in overall structure (and nothing in the film matches the sheer energy of the Nightcrawler attack or the savageness of the Wolverine/Death Strike fight) but it towers over X2 in terms of characterisation and specific scenes. The cast are a joy to watch, the style of the thing is amazing, the script is surprisingly sharp (despite doing a prequel thing I hate and having to do the origin of a bunch of inane crap like the jet and the X-Mansion) and Vaughan's eye for incidental detail is brilliant. I just wish it felt more cohesive. There are so many great moments, but it often feels like you're watching a collection of FANTASTIC but loosely unrelated scenes.

I also loved the use of superpowers in this film, even little stuff like Magneto throwing the knife, and then pulling it back to stick into the guys hand again are made really great by the way Vaughan films things. He almost has a naturalistic take on the powers, sort of accepting their presence and filming them casually instead of making them specific money shots.

Fassbender is defintely the MVP, but I think Bacon does a lot with very little. His character is essentially beta-Magento (even his power matches Magneto in that it uses the tools of humanity against them), but he injects the character with life. He's almost delightful in his glee in his opening scene. Also love the score, really great piece of work, looking to see when it gets released on Amazon.

Edit: Oh, and I could watch an entire film of Magento and Xavier just recruiting people. That sequence was so much fun, it even made the end of it (which really should have made me groan) work.

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Thor review

Posted : 6 years, 12 months ago on 29 April 2011 12:50 (A review of Thor)

I really, really, enjoyed this. Out of the four Marvel productions thus far I'd say it's definitely neck and neck with the first Iron Man. It's genuinely entertaining and moves along at a fair old pace.

I've got a few quibbles, namely that the biggest and best action sequence happens within the first thirty minutes and nothing ever really matches it. I think Branagh has a better natural eye for action than Favreau and all of the action sequences are a lot of fun, but the Thor, Warriors 3, Loki, Sif vs. an army of Frost Giants battle is just great. The clips released online thus far really undersell the film, particularly the scene of Thor fighting at the hammer site. That's a bad moment in an otherwise great sequence and the pains the online clip went to edit around Hawkeye is ridiculous. The cast is uniformly great, but they're given very little to do. Even Portman as the main love interest only gets about twenty minutes of screentime, meanwhile Kat Dennings is on screen for five minutes...if that.

Chris Hemsworth is fantastic though and in terms of presence and charm he's almost up there with Downey Jr. Just a fantastic presence in the centre of the film and he's the reason the film works as well as it does. He's ably matched by Tom Hiddleston as Loki who is just brilliant as Loki, he's a loathsome, pitiable, genuine threat to Thor and Hiddleston makes every character beat work. He's a character who is deceitful by nature and it plays perfectly against the more physical heroes. In fact I kind of love that his deceitful nature means that we're not even really sure of what he's really trying to do until right at the end.

The set design, of Asgard, is amazing. There's an initial shot which travels through the solar system and up through Asgard which is kind of phenomenal. It's a real thing of beauty, and the film is just full of great looking shots. Branagh really makes the Asgard stuff work, finding an emotional core to scenes that could come across as Flash Gordonish. It's also funny, really funny. Not quite as laugh out loud as Iron Man, but it's got an amiable charm and some great jokes.

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Oranges and Sunshine review

Posted : 7 years ago on 18 April 2011 09:43 (A review of Oranges and Sunshine)

Between the turn of the century and 1970 Britain sent thousands of the children within its care services to Australia. Ostensibly this was for adoption, but in reality they were largely sent to work houses run by various charities and religious organisations.

This film is the real life story of Margaret Humphreys and her attempts to mend these wounded, dislocated, people.

The film is by Jim Loach, son of Ken Loach, and whilst I don't think it's capital G great I think it's a very worthy production and a great debut picture for Jim Loach. He has a touch of his fathers naturalism, although this film seems to pull its punches a little more than Ken Loach would. It's far more straight forward and far more broad in scope than a Ken Loach film and at times it feels like it's almost populated with pantomine villains (both the British government and the Australian adoption agencies come across as one dimensional monsters in their limited screen time). It's not a film that dabbles in grey areas, but that singular purpose actually allows you to really empathise with the situation.

The deportation programme is a dark history in both Britain and Australia's history, with the British governments cynical lack of care and the institutional abuse within the Australian adoption agencies creating an entire generation of broken people. Loach focuses on the people and in particular focuses on Humphreys' and the effect the work is having on her well being. The film is populated with great performances (Hugo Weaving and David Wenham are both great as grown up orphans) but Emily Watson is kind of astounding as Humphreys bringing a terseness and passion to the role which really helps to shade a character who could be potentially very one dimensional. Her performance is singularly devastating, as she essentially becomes an avatar for a thousand Orphan's grief, and it helps to tie the film together.

The movie, due to its scope, is very episodic with the story, and characters, progressing at an almost breakneck pace. The ancillary characters as such never really get to exist outside of their interaction with Humphreys and it's only due to the great performances by Weaving and Wenham that we really get a feel for the people.

But still, it's a fascinating insight into a particularly nasty piece of British/Australian history and it's a great start for Jim Loach.

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The Thing review

Posted : 7 years, 1 month ago on 25 March 2011 05:03 (A review of The Thing)

What’s amazing about the film is that the older I get the scarier the film is. I must have seen the film a half dozen times now. I first watched it when I was a kid, maybe 11 or 12, and I just kind of loved the gore effects. Was just riveted by them. Every subsequent rewatch has unsettled me a little more and watching it a few nights back the film struck me in a way that I wasn’t expecting. It literally had me on edge. I think the film works as a horror film both visually and conceptually, but I think the concept takes a little getting used to. The idea of being replaced and almost not knowing your replaced, having an enemy within, almost outweighs the body horror stuff in terms of sheer terror for me now. Maybe it’s a societal thing, maybe when you’re younger you care less about people around you and as such age you become more societally conscious. As such the idea of being a threat to people around you, and the people around you being a threat, doesn’t have as much power over an adolescent mind.

I will say this, the film looks incredible in Blu-Ray. Bottin’s FX work is just a marvel in Hi-Definition. It’s amazing to look at the transformations and see so many different things and concepts in there, stuff you might miss in the fuzz of Standard Def. It’s a testament to his work that it still holds up under HD scrutiny and actually works BETTER. There’s so many little touches which give the transformations a nightmarish quality, from the eye motif, to the wagging tongue as the head pulls away from the corpse, to the way windows twitches when he’s set alight. It’s ghoulish and it rewards your attention by being utterly chilling. This is easily my favourite Carpenter film, it’s just an amazing, tense, film and he creates an atmosphere that is almost Hitchcockian. The fact he can maintain full blown tension and paranoia for 45 minutes and never have it diffuse is just a marvel to me.

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