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Fanboys is a comedy based around a group of Star Wars obsessed geeks and is set in 1999, just before The Phantom Menace was released. The main plotline of the movie is based around the four guys planning a raid on Lucas' Skywalker ranch so that they can get to steal and watch the new film in advance of everyone else. They need to do this not only for the thrills and adventure but also because one of them has contracted cancer and is going to die before the film has its official release. With only 6 months to live Linus (Chris Marquette) has no chance of seeing it any other way.
Their journey across America takes in all kinds of little side trips... to the birthplace of James T Kirk, so they can make fun of Trekkies, to Texas to meet Windows online girlfriend (met via a Star Wars chat forum) and even to Las Vegas to meet a very special informant who can help them get into the Skywalker ranch.
Fanboys is very stupid and is certainly aimed heavily as Star Wars obsessives more than anyone else. The number of Star Wars references I didn't spot is probably 3 times that of those that I did! That said it is just as much fun for those not heavily versed in the ins and outs of the universe created by George Lucas.
While the storyline and comedy is based around the geekiness of the four guys and the movies they are fixated on the underlying statement the film is cleverly making is one of being who you want to be and not what someone else wants you to be. You don't have to lose your childhood loves just because you get older, that being grown up doesn't mean you have to lose all vestiges of who you are and that being a geek is actually ok.
The subtle way this is done kind of creeps up on you. Not only are you not expecting it at all but you don't really see it coming while you are busy laughing at the stupid lines and spotting the stars in their amusing cameos.
This is unexpected in a film of this type and shows a level of writing above what would be the norm. You go into this expecting to see a comedy along the lines of an Apatow/Rogen vehicle without their little human touches. Instead you get something not all that dissimilar to their output.
The twisted, geeky, over the top laugh out loud moments are there in enough quantity to throw you off the underlying story being told. This doesn't make Fanboys a masterpiece but it does make it a lot better than you expect.
The main foursome of Hutch (Dan Fogler - at the time the only recognisable one of the four!), Linus, Windows (Jay Baruchel) and Eric (Sam Huntingdon) all perform more than adequately. None of them are exceptional but they all work well together creating a believable group of friends. The best performance though belongs to Kristin Bell who surprisingly, well to me, provides a subtle and quiet piece of acting that steals the show from the four main leads.
For lovers of cameos and star spotting Fan Boys will be a dream come true. Among those to look out for are Star Wars alumni Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams and Ray Park alongside Seth Rogen, William Shatner, Danny McBride, Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes. They appear in various guises and for varied lengths but almost all are likely to make you burst into laughter. I am sure that there are many more and would be very surprised to discover that there were not some appearances by people who played very minor characters in the Star Wars saga. It is the kind of film that would do that kind of thing, to bring a smile to the face of true FANS of Star Wars by just having a recognisable face appear in a very small role.
M Night Shyamalan is back with yet another spooky, mystical thriller that attempts to confuse and distract you from what is actually happening until he throws in his trademark little twist. After the debacle and massive flop that was Lady In The Water he certainly has something to prove this time. Question is will he salvage what is left of his tattered reputation or rip even more shreds into it.
Modern day New York, everything is peaceful and quiet. It is looking like a lovely day and people are out and enjoying the sun. Suddenly the light wind stops, everything goes unnaturally silent and without any prelude people start killing themselves.
Soon this news is broadcast all over the country. An attack of some kind was made in Central Park but no one knows how, why or who? As the suicides continue New York is evacuated, but then the same thing happens in other major cities.
The country is in the grip of fear, without having a clue as to what is happening.
In the smaller towns everything seems to be ok but the inhabitants of one of these towns are finding themselves cut off more and more from the outside world as thing escalate.
When the 'agent' causing the suicides seems to be heading their way a small group (including Mark Wahlberg, John Leguizamo and, indie girl actress supreme, Zooey Deschanel) decides to head into rural America for safety.
The Happening builds up the backstory and then follows the little group as the attempt to find a haven from whatever is attacking America.
The Happening, like most of Shyamalan's films, has a very intriguing idea behind it. Alas, also like most of his films, it manages to ruin that idea completely and while it might not bore you into somnambulance it will get very close to it.
The biggest problem whith the film is that it moves soooooo verrrry slow-w-w-ly! After a bright start that does actually grab you everything just loses all forward momentum and in the end, when you do finally find out what is going on, you really don't give a damn. In fact it is so down played that it doesn't even become a big revelation, but then that might just be because it is so bizarre you are not sure whether you heard it right. You want to wash your ears out and hear the line again, just so you can hear what they really said instead of what you think you just heard, problem is that you just heard it exactly right.
Shyamalan has managed to form a career on the basis on one truly original and brilliant film, Sixth Sense. After that his creations have been very hit and miss... and a lot more miss than hit in my opinion. Having said that people still seem to be willing to go and see his latest movie (me included of course!), probably as much in the hope that he will reclaim whatever it is that has been missing since that original breakthrough.
The Happening does not do that but as bad as it is The Happening is still better that Lady In The Water, his last movie, but then of course there is very little around that could ever be as bad as that.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is based on the now famous trilogy of books written by Stig Larssen. The books became a worldwide smash hit after the author had died and this is the first of the trilogy to be adapted to the big screen.
Having never read the book I had no expectations ahead of seeing this, other than knowing that it was meant to be very good in print form. Being a lover of mysteries and thrillers I was sold on seeing this film just from that side of the story... and the fact the top Scandinavian thrillers are almost always very good plot wise.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (henceforth GWTDT) is all about Mikael and Lisbeth. One, Mikael, a reporter for Millennium magazine who has just been in court and sentenced to a prison sentence after being set up by a businessman he was investigating.
Lisbeth on the other hand is a 24 year old goth computer hacker who doesn't like people, has a hair trigger temper and an unrevealed dark background.
The two of them seem like they would be very unlikely allies but when Mikael is asked to use his investigative skills to find out what happened to a young girl who went missing many years ago by her grandfather their paths soon cross and they discover they can help each other out.
There are two things that make GWTDT a terrific movie. One is the character of Lisbeth (played by the stunning Noomi Rapace), a female lead who is most unlike any other I have ever seen before, and all the more intriguing because of it. While I found it hard to believe that she was actually a goth, as opposed to an actress dressed to look like one, she plays the part with such ferocity, such animated fury that you take to Lisbeth, even though she should be completely unlikeable and that she is one angry, angry woman.
The script was adapted from the book by Nikolaj Arcel, who also wrote King's Game another extremely good Scandinavian thriller. He has a great knack for taking a very complex story and keeping the complexities intact while also making the story not only very accessible but also very easy to follow. This is by no means an easy task and is one that all to often script writers fail at.
GWTDT is one of those films that you really cannot imagine the Americans being able to remake without completely ruining the overall story and, especially, the characters, though of course they have already announced that they are going to do just that. Much like 'Old Boy' (the American remake of which was much talked about and yet still hasn't appeared, probably because of the near impossibility of being able to translate it into something the Americans could cope with) or 'Let The Right One In' the real care taken with the characters and story would have to be toned down for a mainstream American audience, something that would really dilute the nature of the characters.
The movie is very dark, the characters are not perfect in any way, especially the two main characters, and the storyline is the same. The look of the film is the same, dark streets with shadows everywhere. This gives the whole movie a real sense of menace that reverberates around you as you watch.
Here that doesn't happen, Lisbeth inst really someone you would want to know and because of this and her unlikeable nature she isn't really what you would consider hero material. The rage inside her is a palpable thing that makes her who she is, but also makes her a real danger to herself and anyone who gets close to her.
The teaming up with Mikael seems to be completely against her nature but it makes for a great story. The two of them make an engrossing team, a team unlike anything we have seen before, and work so well together you want to see more of them. This is as much to do with the actors as the characters. The both fit so perfectly into their roles that you cannot imagine any Americans playing either part, it just wouldn't feel right, much like Kenneth Branagh as Wallander.
Lisbeth is a creation that could dominate any story, a character you really 'need' to read and find out more about. The whole story could have been built around her and this would still have been an excellent movie. When you add in a mystery of the finest kind (even if the overall mystery side of it is fairly familiar) you end up with a movie that simply blows away most stories in the genre. This is a movie that is possibly one of the best of its kind and one of the best mystery thriller movies for years.
TGWTDT is released over here, in cinemas, on March 12th and seems to be getting a big enough push, no doubt based on its big success in novel form, that it is going to appear in major multiplexes. See it whether you have read the book or not.
Seen at the Cambridge Film Festival 2009.
The second film is already out on DVD in Sweden and the third has been made.
Lastly if someone who has read the book sees (or has seen) his please tell me how it stands up. I am curious to know especially as I have no intention of reading any of them before seeing all three films.
A Prophet come highly lauded, winner at Cannes and of Best Film at the London Film Festival 2009, the first time they have ever awarded such a prize. It also came out top in the Sight & Sound (the British Film Institute's own monthly movie magazine) critics poll for film of the year 2009.
For once A Prophet is a film that cannot have enough praise thrown in its direction. It is a powerful tour de force that will keep you on the edge of your seat for most of its three hour long running time.
It is a near faultless film that is without doubt one of the best films I saw during 2009.
The film tells us the story of Malik El Djebena (Tahir Rahim) a French African who has been arrested for assaulting a Police Officer. We first see him as a 19-year old entering prison. He is scared and doesn't have any idea of what to expect while inside.
The film follows him as he tries to find a way to survive, as he 'works' for a Corsican gang, much to the disgust of fellow French Africans inside, and tries to build his own life ready for his eventual release.
A Prophet is one of those truly magical films that manages to pull you into its world and trap you there, spellbound. It is nearly 3 hours long but doesn't feel a bit like it at all, a true sign of how good everything in the movie is.
Jaques Audiard, the director, has a liking for crime thrillers that are just a little bit different, he was also the driving force behind the wonderful Read My Lips (with Vincent Cassel) and the even better The Beat That My Heart Skipped. A Prophet is better than both of these, something I would have thought near impossible. Audiard is a man who seems to love to take a decidedly different approach to crime drama, something that the French are fantastic at anyway. They love Police based dramas and they have easily made a large share of some of the best in the last decade or so.
In A Prophet the fact that none of the characters are nice guys, and some of them are only barely likeable at the very best, something that 99% of the time will put me off a film completely, again shows how tight the story is and how brilliantly the characters are written.
The journey Malik takes, from green inmate to 'friend' of the Corsicans all the way to how it ends is the main focus of the story. Everything revolves around his life and how he deals with all that is thrown at him. For this to work the lead actor NEEDS to be more than just a good actor. He has to look the part, you have to believe that he really is suffering to get involved in the story. Rahim does this, helped a lot by the feeling of realism that all the scenes set inside the prison gives you.
The dark, depressing nature of what you need to do to survive is almost too much. Cleverly though Audiard manages to capture the brutality and violent nature without going over the top and showing us so much that it overtakes the storyline, becoming the predominant memory of the film instead of the characters.
A section of the film where Malik practices hiding a razor blade in his mouth is a masterful piece of filming. You watch as the blade continually cuts open his mouth and lips getting a feeling running up your spine that is far worse than any scene of real brutality.
A Prophet is such a great movie because it has a blend of story, well flushed out characters and a realism that stays in your mind. It keeps you guessing (much like his last two aforementioned films) as to what is going to happen all the way through it. There is a style to it that is so unlike Hollywood thrillers that you haven't got the head start of knowing how these sort of films work.
A Prophet was released in some cinemas on 22.01.2010, probably only Arts Cinemas sadly but hopefully some big multi screen ones as well, and deserves to get a much bigger audience than it will get.
Anyone who managed to see the excellent Spiral II tv series on BBC4 at the end of last year recently and enjoyed it should certainly make a concerted effort to see this. It is very similar in style and content right down to having one of the same actors in it!
Seen at a mini French Film Festival at the Cambridge Picturehouse Nov 2009
I have to say that I have never been a great fan of The White Stripes music and am not keen on musical documentaries at all. Seeing this at the London Film Festival 2009 was not even remotely on my list, even more so when it was being shown on the South Bank late at night and would finish after 1am, making it getting back to St Pancras a journey in itself.
Unfortunately for me the friend who was joining me in seeing some of the films at the festival adores Jack White and insisted we were seeing this film, documenting their tour of Canada just before they broke up, and so I ended up agreeing to go and see it with her.
Their tour of Canada was arranged mainly because they had only ever played the large cities in the country and Jack wanted to play in smaller towns and at least one place in every single province.
Along with these aims he also wanted to do something even more radical and do small shows during the day of their gig in unusual places... for example an old persons home, a very small café and a town square.
While this is probably best classed as a documentary it is really a misnomer as, like I said, I knew very little about The White Stripes and after watching it I know very little more. In fact the only reason I do know more is that the one thing I did 'know' about the duo turns out to not be true (something I am sure all fans will know anyway!) I know a bit more about the working relationship between Jack and Meg and I now also have discovered that while their music does very little for me their lives shows, as only a duo, are simply phenomenal.
I would guess that most people who are likely to watch this will almost certainly know that though so the film needs to be something more than just a bunch of live performances.
This is where the film takes off and begins to get more interesting for a more casual viewer. As there is only the two of them in the band it is very easy to follow them without the film meandering into numerous talking head sections as the band are interviewed during the travels.
What makes the film so very interesting is the relationship between Jack and Meg.
Jack is loud, bold, outspoken and knows exactly what he wants to do. He is just like the music the duo create... brash and powerful.
Meg on the other hand is so quiet that you would almost describe her as mousey. The filmmakers often have to use subtitles when she speaks as she speaks so softly that you cannot hear what she says. While not enough time is spent on the dynamics between the two, it is a movie documenting the travels through Canada after all, it is this what becomes the fascinating part of the movie.
This is a couple that, for a long time, said that they were brother and sister when they were actually husband and wife, a fact that makes you look at the interactions between them in a whole new light (again probably not if you knew this!) How they interact and relate to each other makes the non music segments intriguing to watch, much more than it would with a normal band, or if they had been brother and sister.
You wonder about the reasons behind the charade, something you imagine was Jack's idea as he is, obviously, by far the more dominant personality.
As I said in my first paragraph I didn't want to see this but that fact probably made this a lot more interesting, as did my complete lack of knowledge about the band, Jack and Meg.
I doubt anyone who knew very little about The White Stripes will learn anything watching this but it does make interesting viewing if only from the viewpoint of seeing the couple out of the limelight of being on stage and because of their incredibly dynamic musical performances. The energy expended on stage is incredible and, while I still think I wouldn't be keen on their recorded output I certainly wouldn't mind experiencing them live.
The strange thing is that there is probably little point reviewing this. Anyone who likes The White Stripes will probably buy it as soon as it is released while those who don't (like myself) will really not be interested. That said if you are interested in people and how the interact it might be worth a watch just for that.
By the way according to me friend the film is absolutely amazing... I think that reiterates my last paragraph!
Beeswax is the latest, and third, film from one of the top Mumblecore* directors Andrew Bujalski.
Bujalski, born in 1977, previously released Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation (currently (Feb 2010) free to view on the excellent site indiemoviesonline.com) and Beeswax continues on in his very own unique, Mumblecore style.
Beeswax is the tale of two sisters, twins, who live together in Austin Texas (now also the home of Boston born Bujalski)
Jeannie (Tilly Hatcher) is wheelchair bound and runs a second hand/retro clothing store. She is worried that her partner in the business is going to sue her. For what I am not exactly sure, I don't think it is ever clearly explained.
Laura (Maggie Hatcher, yes they are real twins) has just lost her job and broken up with her boyfriend.
The third main character in the film is Merrill (Alex Karpovsky), an ex-boyfriend of Jeannie and a man about to pass the bar and become a lawyer. He helps Jeannie out with legal advice but wants to become a lot more involved in her life again.
The rest of the characters are more peripheral to the story being told, if story is the correct word for what we see. Beeswax is less of a precise story orientated movie and more like dropping in on someone real life for a short time. We get to see a short period in the life of Jeannie and Laura, joining it at one period and then leaving at another. Like life itself the story begins before the camera joins them and will continue on after we have 'left' them.
This isn't to say that there is no story here at all because there is, but it is almost in the background. We know that there is a story going on but it doesn't really matter, it is the characters that drive the movie and the characterisation that makes you watch and enjoy.
This way of making the film, combined with the use of non-professional actors and a realism to the dialogue almost makes you feel like you are watching a documentary or a reality show.
Beeswax is an incredible film, you feel a real warmth towards these characters and even though nothing really happens you cant help but not only enjoy the movie but come out with a smile on your face, for no real reason other than you have been expertly entertained.
There is something about the film that so goes against everything you are used to seeing in a movie that it gives you the realisation that movies ARE so much more than the big Hollywood over produced, cliché ridden, formulaic crap. I enjoy that kind of movie as much as anyone but it is movies like this that give me that kind of buzz I got when I first started going to the cinema of my own accord. It also makes you realise that anyone can make a movie these days if you really do have the desire and a little bit of talent. Bujalski has a lot of talent and this film must have been low, low budget but it doesn't really show that much. The acting isn't brilliant but it is more than capable, the film looks very unglossy and it isn't edited to an inch of its life just to make everything move fast and furious and try and make people keep up with it. Creating false impressions of speed just by angle changes and the like.
Bujalski has a natural flair for simplicity, great camera angles and for getting the best out of his actors. Would he ever make a good Hollywood director I don't know but he doesn't need to be, while he can make excellent films like this then who cares.
This isn't to say that Beeswax is perfect, the popping in and out of the twins life means that we do miss stuff, and when it is something we want to know about it verges on frustrating, but it never actually reaches that (unlike most Hollywood films would do if they tried this technique).
We never really know why Jeannie thinks that she is going to be sued, or what the reason for the possible suit could be.
At the start of the film Corinne starts work at the shop, a line of dialogue tells us that she replaces someone who left under unusual circumstances, but we never hear any more than that.
There is also an unexplained scene with Corinne crying in the back room of the shop. Why we have no idea at all and never find out.
At first this is distracting and bothers you a bit but after a while you realise that all the minute details are not important to the story. All that really matters is the characters and the characterisation, their lives and how these things intersect and affect them. In that sense Beeswax is head and shoulders above most films.
Beeswax is a real gem of an indie movie and the viewing of Bujalski's other two films (which I have to admit were already on my list and his name was what attracted me to this at the London Film Festival 2009) have just leapfrogged up my list of movies to watch!
Seen at the London Film Festival 2009 with Bujalski in attendance. Still seems to have no release date in the UK.
*Mumblecore is a term derived to categorise very low budget films that concentrate on people in their twenties and their relationships.
The scripts are often improvised from a basic plot structure and the actors are non-professional ones.
The films are built around how the twenty somethings fit into the world and how they are going to cope with everything now that they are out of college.
Bujalski's Funny Ha Ha is acknowledged as the first Mumblecore movie though he is not the only proponent of it.
Keanu Reeves as an alcoholic, violent cop who is accused of killing his partner and will do everything he possibly can to clear his name seems like something you could only ever imagine in a dream, or a nightmare! Who would cast Keanu in such a role? He has never really done dramatic roles that require a high level of acting ability and has concentrated, mainly, on comedy, action or lightweight roles.
The selling point of Street Kings is seeing him in such a role, alongside much better actors like Forrest Whittaker and Hugh Laurie (again showing what a marvellous American accent he can do) and the fact that it is the creation of David Ayer, the writer of Training Day and writer/director of Harsh Times, two excellent movies.
Storyline wise the two sentences pretty much cover it all. Keanu, as Tom Ludlow, is suspected of killing his own partner and has to dig deep into the murky world of corruption in the Police force to try and clear his name.
Whittaker is his Captain who is looking forward to and imminent promotion to chief, and wants the Ludlow problem sorted out as soon as possible before the stain of a corrupt cop in his department ruins his chances and Laurie is the head of Internal Affairs who is interested in Ludlow for his own personal reasons.
To answer the first question that will cross people's lips... Keanu is just about OK. He does a fine job of looking the part of a cop with everything going against him but he just doesn't have the amount of gravitas, that deep, dark commanding presence that the role needs, especially in scenes with an acting powerhouse like Whittaker or Laurie's quiet, understated but forceful IAD captain.
Street Kings starts with a beating and then a bullet frenzied gun battle and never really slows down much from that frantic opening.
Behind the action there is a decent, though often seen, story about police corruption, brutality and the redemption of a man who was on the very edge. Street Kings could have been an above average movie, which would have surprised everyone, much like the Wahlberg/Phoenix cop drama that came out not that long before it 'We Own The Night'. Sadly the very predictable story, and Keanu as the lead, certainly drag it down.
Given the choice watching Training Day or Harsh Times (or the above mentioned 'We Own') again would give you a much better dose of what Street Kings offers you.
The styles are the same and the mood, look and violence is a major part of all the films.
The underlying theme of redemption and corruption are there to but all three have actors much more suited to the seriousness of the themes (Training Day having Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke and Harsh Times Christian Bale).
Getting past the bad casting may have been possible though if the story hadn't been so clichéd. If you cannot spot what is going on very early then I would have to say that you either haven't watched many cop dramas or just are not playing much attention!
Whittaker and Laurie both show how Street Kings could have been a much better film with a better cast lead actor. Someone who is used to playing the kind of role that Ludlow is, someone with a better pedigree that Keanu. I still don't think it would have been a great film but it might have got close to it!
Having seen the wonderful 'Beeswax'* at the London Film Festival in 2009 I quickly decided that seeing the other two films made by its writer/director Andrew Bujalski was something of a necessity.
Mutual appreciation was his 2nd film, made in 2005, and is freely available to view on the excellent Indiemoviesonline.com website (just make sure you have a good internet connection!)
Mutual Appreciation is the story of a musician, Alan (played by Justin Rice of American indie pop group Bishop Allen) who moves to New York to further his career. His best mate from college, Lawrence (played by Bujalski himself) and his girlfriend Elli Rachel Clift) already live there and know a few people who might be able to help him out.
The film is about all three of the, their relationships and Alan's journey into the New York music scene.
There is nothing more to Mutual appreciation than that, there is no ordinary arcing plotline that needs to be followed to a conclusion... there is just three people who are friends and going about there everyday lives. Mutual Appreciation is a true blue Mumblecore** movie, it is almost the antithesis to every Hollywood movie, even the Hollywood Indie ones. Mutual appreciation is a segment in time, an almost voyeuristic look into the lives of three regular people doing the sort of things that we all do.
Alan is a successful musician whose band, The Bumblebees, seems to be on a hiatus, Lawrence is a teaching assistant and Ellie works in an office. These are, apart from the musician of course, pretty normal jobs and this is what Mutual, and Mumblecore for that matter, is all about.
Other characters flit in and out of the story, a female DJ who likes Alan's music (and him) and her brother, a drummer Alan recruits for a showcase gig, are the two main ones but the focus is entirely on the three main characters and what they get up to.
Justin Rice is very obviously a pretty good guitar player and vocalist. The scene in the film where he is playing a gig proves this. As an actor though he is not as good, but then a Mumblecore movie doesn't really need great actors, it thrives on the realism and the naturalness of what you are watching.
The same is true of Bujalski and Clift, so much so that sometimes it doesn't feel like you are watching a movie (helped by the fact that there isn't really a definable storyline). It, and Beeswax for that matter, are amongst the closest you will ever see to documentary without just plunking a camera in front of real people and asking them to just go about their normal business. Yes you can at times see some form of stage-ness to it all but there has to be some of that just so some things you are watching can get tied up and have a modicum of advancement of the story.
This is especially noticeable in some very unusual camera shots. The main one being when Alan and Ellie are in a café chatting and a friend of Ellies' turns up. The guy leans over where they are sitting and talks to them both. You only ever see his face in long shot. The close up shots of the conversation keep Ellie or Alan centre shot even while the other guy is chatting. It is very strange not seeing the person talking properly on camera and stands out, not really sure of the point of it but it does make you pay attention to the scene!
I get the feeling that, much like Kevin Smith (Clerks, etc), Bujalski has been influenced by Richard Linklater's (Before Sunrise, Fast Food Nation) seminal movie Slackers. The difference being that Smith thought... 'Hey if that's a film I can do that!' whereas Bujalski just took the idea and expanded it into a slightly more traditional style of movie. You can see the similarities between Slackers & Before Sunrise and this Mumblecore style.
Mutual Appreciation is something that deserves to be seen and appreciated (no pun intended!) for what it is, a simple movie about people, relationships and life in general.
Beeswax is a big step forward from this but the elements are the same. The fact that this is available to watch on Indiemoviesonline.com (and also on a certain DVD rental site if you have the right sort of account) means there is no reason... repeat NO REASON, at all for people who want to try something a just a little bit different at least trying it... after all it isn't going to cost you anything to do so!
*Beeswax review will follow when I can find a way of getting it added. There is still no sign of it getting even a limited cinema release let alone a DVD one at the moment.
**Mumblecore is a term derived to categorise very low budget films that concentrate on people in their 20's and their relationships. The scripts are often improvised and the actors non professional.
The films are built around how the 20 somethings fit into the world and how they are going to cope now that they are out of college.
Bujalski's own first film 'Funny HaHa (2002) is said to be the very first Mumblecore movie, though there is now a bunch of other people making them as well.
This paragraph taken, and paraphrased, from Wikipedia
Martin Strel, a 53 year-old Slovenian endurance swimmer, is not your average athlete. For a start he is pretty old to be active in a physical sport. Add to that that he is more than just a little bit overweight and his training regime includes drinking two bottles of wine a day and you can start to see there is something a little bit different about the man.
Strel is a national hero in Slovenia, having already swum the length of the Mississipi and the Yangtze before the start of this documentary. He is recognised everywhere he goes in Slovenia and this does give him certain advantages.... for one he happily parks his sponsored car wherever he likes knowing that he will not get a ticket. In a similar vein he manages to get away with drink driving just because he is Martin Strel and, presumably, no one wants to arrest a national hero!
This doesn't mean that he actually possesses any money though, he once was a professional gambler and that addictive part of his personality that makes him dedicated to swimming also surfaces in his desire to go out card playing more often than his finances would like him to.
Big River man is a documentary about the man and his attempt to swim the Amazon, yes the complete length of it, all 3700 odd miles of it! The film briefly shows us his life in his native Slovenia and short footage of his two previous long swimming expeditions (including some horrific footage of him in the Yangtze with all sorts of unbelievable crap floating by him!) but concentrates mainly on the amazing, and slightly crazy, feat his is going to attempt.
The Amazon isn't the most hospitable of locations and there are numerous dangers lurking in and below the water, dangers they list for us before he starts his swim just in case we didn't already realise how dangerous this is going to be (their plan for dealing with piranhas, if they should come across them is laughably naive)
Narrated by Strels son and manager, Borut, the film is an incredible insight into the capabilities of the human body abd the frailties of the human mind. Strel has the stubborn determination to swim for hours and hours on end and the strength to enable him to be able to physically do it.
What he didn't seem to have is the mental capacity to cope with an environment totally different to anything he has come across before. America and China are, to an extent, civilised countries, much of the Amazon runs through parts of South America that are completely the opposite.
Not only that it has so many offshoots that it is never easy to be sure what tributary is the right one to take. Especially so when the map reader is an amateur, a friend who is there just because he wanted to help out. This puts an incredible strain on the accompanying boat which has to be able to tell Strel which way to go. Keeping abreast of where to head is not any easy thing to do when you don't have professional guides with you!
So many things cause problems (the heat, the creatures, how to pass liquid and food while swimming, etc) that you can see Strel's mental well being deteriorate as the film progresses.
Big River Man is a documentary that could have been edited so that it came across as a slick, fast moving document of Strel and his obsession. Instead what we get is a raw, real, warts and all look at the man and what he went through to try and fulfil his aim. They don't sugar coat anything that happens and because of this it feels much more like a true documentary than a lot of the very biased, one sided ones that appear all the time these days. You end up admiring the man for his tenacity and strength while also thinking he is a complete and utter nutter!
I was lucky enough to see the outside, on a big screen, by a river, the premiere showing in the UK (back in September 2009) with Martin and Borut in attendance. Seeing and hearing the man himself (just about his English isn't that good at all) in person after watching his adventures and everything he went through adds a real emotional touch to the film. It makes you realise even more that what you have seen is real and that it isn't all made up, something that makes his attempt all the more incredible and amazing!
Even without that extra bonus though Big River Man is a documentary well worth seeing... I would almost guarantee you will be amazed and astounded by his swim.
Kevin Smith burst onto the movie scene with the B&W, low budget gem 'Clerks' back in 1994. It was the start of an illustrious career that, so far, has only been marred by a couple of dud movies. After one of them, the truly abysmal (for a Kevin Smith film at least) Jersey Girl Smith went back to his first, and in my eyes greatest, film and set out to make a sequel to it.
Clerks II is a good film, but that is it. It does have some class scenes and the trademark quick fire rude and crude Smith banter but compare it to the rawness of Clerks or the way out genius of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and you soon realise that it doesn't hold a candle to them.
In this sequel it is ten years on from the original and Dante and Randall haven't really moved on at all. They no longer work at the Quick Stop or Video store but that is only because Randall managed to burn the two of them down by leaving the coffee pot on. You know that if the two stores were still there then they would still be employed by them.
Jay and Silent Bob are still around but are drug free now, well they no longer partake in them, they are still happy to hang around selling them outside the local burger emporium, where our two erstwhile 'heroes' now work.
Randall is still a foul-mouthed, customer un-focused, lazy b'stard. He spends his time at work discussing serious issues with Dante and mercilessly picking on the younger, nerdy member of the team.
Dante meanwhile has grown fatter and is now engaged to be married to the girl who ignored him all through high school.
New to the major cast is Rosario Dawson as Becky. She runs the Burger Emporium for her uncle and has to deal with the antics of Dante and Randall every single day!
They always say you should never go back and in Clerks II's case I think they very nearly have a case in point. Clerks II is a fun film and if you love the View Askew (Smith's name for the world where all his films are situated) Universe then you will take some enjoyment from it. It is full of the trademarked Smithisms and the same irreverent humour as the original, but with a lot more money behind it. Because of this is loses that indie, down home and dirty feel to it which was a lot of what made the original such a breath of fresh air when it came out.
There are moments of genius in Clerks II but they are generally ones that replicate scenes from the original. There is an argument between Randall and a customer (Kevin Wiseman from Alias) about the merits of the Star Wars trilogy vs the Lord of the Rings trilogy that is very reminiscent of the whole Death Star discussion between Randall and Dante in Clerks.
There is even a scene where the two of them manage to get onto their workplaces roof for a bit of fun, no hockey match this time though as we get to see Becky teaching Dante how to dance to the tune of Jackson Five's 'ABC'. Not only is this the best scene in the whole film but at least this time it has a real purpose to it. The old hockey match always seemed rather anticlimactic.
In retrospect I think I will re-evaluate Clerks II in a year or so when I watch it again, without all the high expectations I had for it first time around. The original is one of my favourite films of all time so the sequel was always going to have a lot to live up to, especially as it was so eagerly awaited. Looking back now I can think of a fair few scenes that were odd, weird, over the top, foul mouthed and just plain funny, all the kind of things that a Smith film should have. I think expectations were just to high and the first viewing didn't stand a chance. If you are a Smith fan this is going to be right up your alley, everything you expect from one of his films is here in spades!
The guest appearances by Ben Affleck, Jason Lee and Wanda Sykes, as customers, are great little vignettes. They may be completely pointless but they are funny and that is what Clerks II is all about... messing about and having a laugh. Even though this first viewing did disappoint me I am sure that if you watch this then you will get exactly what you expect, there are some great lines all about the forthcoming (at the time) Transformers movie from the nerdy member of the cast which are pure Smithian. It is all more of the same and who can argue with that after the awful (for a Smith film at least) Jersey Girl!
Bernie is down on his luck, but then that is nothing unusual for him. In fact his whole life and livelihood is based on him not only being incredibly unlucky but also, strangely enough, exuding some kind of strange bad luck aura that infects those around him.
He is a 'Cooler', someone employed by a casino to 'cool down' the winning streak of someone who seems to be on a roll. Shelly (Alec Baldwin) runs a Las Vegas casino and uses Bernie (William H Macy) to stop these players from ruining his business and maximise profits for his bosses. This seems to work as Bernie's bad luck always seems to rub off on someone who sits next to him, preventing any real big winners in the casino.
Bernie may not be exactly happy but with his bad luck he never expected to be able to do anything. At least Shelly is a friend, looks after him well and pays him a wage for not really doing anything at all.
When Bernie meets Natalie (Maria Bello), a waitress in the casino, he takes a liking to her immediately. He doesn't expect anything to happen when he talks to her, nothing ever goes right for him, so when they seem to hit it off and she appears to really like him Bernie is more than a little surprised.
Will this stroke of good luck for a change transform his whole life? And if it does how will it affect his work?
The Cooler is a film with a difference. I guess it could be categorised as a thriller but it is only that by default. It is more of a character study of the downtrodden loser that is Bernie. Played by the wonderful William H. Macy, a man who is ideally suited for the role. Macy has cornered the market in this kind of role (see Edmund or even the comedy Wild Hogs). He has an almost permanent hang dog expression that makes you immediately see that Bernie never expects anything except the worse to happen to him.
This is the story of a man who maybe, just maybe, has found a way out of his miserable existence; a way to break the bad luck aura that surrounds him abut may not be able to get the confidence to grab his chance with both hands while it is there!
The Cooler is superbly cast because it is full of actors, by that I mean people who are generally better known for their acting ability rather than their life of the screen. Alec Baldwin may have been a personality, as opposed to an actor once, but ever since he stopped being a star he has turned out to be a damn fine actor, something I never would have expected at all.
Maria Bello, has always looked the part of a star but has also been quite willing to take roles that are not 'beautiful' women. Here she does the same again. Natalie is no ugly duckling but her life and career don't give her the chance to be a stunner. She plays Natalie as a girl who does what she has to to survive and if that means letting a casino customer pat her ass every now and again she can put up with it. The fact that you can tell this about her says a lot about her acting ability. You read more into Natalie because of Bello, rather than her just doing what is needed for the part. She manages to go from light comedy to drama with ease here.
The up and coming Shawn Hatosy (who plays Mikey, Bernie's son from a previous relationship) is also superb. He doesn't have abig part but his appearance is vital to the story arc.
Both Bello and Hatosy add a dramatic tension to their scenes and with a secondary cast of their ability it takes some doing to give a performance that isn't upstaged by them. Macy though does manage this, and with ease.
Bernie is a Macy character to a tee, it is one of those times that you can truly believe that the character was written for him (whether it was I don't know). I don't think that anyone else could have played Bernie (much the same as he is the only one who could have played Edmund as well in the film of the same name).
Macy captivates you and, along with a script that is pulsating with vigour and energy, makes you feel sorry for Bernie and just will him on to get that success he dearly desires.
The Cooler also departs from Hollywood expectations. Being a smaller movie and having a star who isn't an image orientated actor means that the film can delve into the depths, to go where no mainstream movie would go. Whether this will happen in The Cooler is for you to find out, should you wish to watch it, but I will guarantee that you will never be certain what will happen next, or how it will eventually end, something that you cannot say about many big movies!
Cold Souls is a strange, strange movie. There is nothing at all that can be compared to the weirdness that permeates every bit of the storyline it puts in front of us. Maybe a mix of Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, with its memory erasing procedure, and Synecdoche, New York, the surreal existential meandering through the oddness that life can throw up. Neither of them are real comparisons though and possibly the closest match to Cold Souls is the Kaufman scripted Being John Malkovich. They share a few similarities to each, especially the main conceit of having an actor play himself.
In Cold Souls Paul Giamatti (Shoot 'Em Up, Sideways) plays himself. He is rehearsing the Chekov play Uncle Vanya for stage and is finding that the darkness of the play is spreading into his real life and making him feel depressed and morose even at home. He is weighed down by the part and feels he needs some sort of respite.
An article in the New Yorker about a company that removes souls gives him an idea. He will go to the company, who have their headquarters on Roosevelt Island, New York, and get them to take out his soul and store it for him. That way he will not be burden by his soul and he can have his soul replaced after his run in the play is over. He thinks this would remove the darkness encircling him and he will not have his personal life made worse because of the play.
When this doesn't quite go according to plan he finds himself teaming up with a 'soul smuggler' to travel to Russia and find out more about this strange process he agreed to partake in.
Cold Souls is going to be a marmite movie, you will either love it or hate it. The story is just so preposterous that if you are not willing to go with the flow (much like Being John Malkovich) then all it is likely to do is wind you up more and more as things get crazier and crazier. There is no logic to it all so all you can do is sit back and enjoy the weird journey that the story is taking you on.
There is an awful lot to enjoy in Cold Souls. It has some genuine laugh out loud moments and some terrific lines spouting from the straight faced and bewildered Giammati
Giamatti is an actor who, I think, is often not appreciated for how good he actually is. Here he once again shows how he can do pretty much anything. The main character in Cold Souls has to be someone you know and someone who can make you believe in what he is experiencing. Giamatti can pull of drama, action and comedy with equal aplomb. Playing himself could be said to be not that much of a stretch but you would hope that he has never experienced any situation like this before to draw on.
He is aided by two great character/supporting actors around, Emily Watson as his wife and David Strathairn as the doctor who owns the soul removal business. Strathairn was perfectly cast in this role as he has the air of authority and knowledge that actually makes it seem as if his business is almost plausible. Part of the charm of Cold Souls is the way everyone seems to not bat an eyelid at this strange soul removal idea.
Cold Souls could have so easily lapsed into whimsy and just pushed things to far into broad comedy, you cannot say that the subject matter wouldn't have suited that direction. Instead Cold Souls manages to be extremely funny without coming across as a comedy, much like BJM and Eternal Sunshine managed as well. Instead what it does is managing to be a science fiction comedy adventure that breaks away from all that we expect from an American movie and marches forcibly into new ground, making you think as you watch as well.
This is the first film from director/writer Sophie Barthes who got the idea from a dream she had after reading Jung's 'Modern Man in search of a Soul'. After seeing this I cant wait to see what she next comes up with as both the script and direction show not only a lot of style but also exhibit someone who likes to go their own way and not follow conventions of film.
Cold Souls was seen at the London Film Festival Oct/Nov 2009, appeared very briefly in cinemas late 2009 and is on DVD from 15th March 2010.
A black and white image of a swinging lightbulb opens the latest (2006) film by Lukas Moodyson, creator of amongst others the beautiful, moving, uplifting Together. This iconic image of Memfis Films, Moodysons' own production company, is possibly the only thing that connects this movie to any other that he has been responsible for. In fact I could go further than that and say it is the only thing that you will see in the next hour or so that bares any resemblance to any other movie I have seen before.
Container is without doubt the hardest film I have ever tried to review because there is nothing in it that is similar to any other film. There is nothing I can compare it to to give you an idea of what it is like. There is no real connection between what you are seeing with your eyes and what you are hearing from the speakers.
Visually Container is filmed in Black and White. The camera focuses on a largish man who dresses as a girl, seems to have an Asian woman living with him and just does the weirdest of things. We see rubbish all over the place, not always in their/his? Home but just strewn everywhere. The images that the camera captures seem to have nothing to associate them together from scene to scene and even less to do with the vocal track the accompanies them.
The vocal track accompanying the images is that of a youngish woman. A very feminine voice that talks over what you are seeing on the screen. Randomly going on about being a woman in the body of a man, porn stars, Chernobyl and even about being in the film. She never stops throughout the whole of the film, talking non stop about those and other things in a stream of consciousness way.
I have never seen a 'film' like this before. I say 'film' in quotation marks because I don't think you can really call it a film as such. Yes it is a collection of images that are on film, or maybe Digital DVD, but to me a film should have some kind of story or at least attempt to have something that you can follow.
Container has nothing like that and I would imagine that most people who come across it are likely to switch off and stop watching it after 15-20 minutes. I very nearly did but there is something about it that, while incredibly annoying, is also fascinating. I cannot tell you what this is at all but once I had become accustomed to the way the film was I started to think of it as less as a movie and more as a piece of conceptual, surreal modern art. It is probably classified better as a piece of art rather than as a movie, I have seen stuff in the Tate Gallery that is very similar to this.
The focus starts to become more on the poetry in the words and the simplicity of the images. When the two marry up and crisscross with each other (for example when the voice is telling us about some of her favourite things and the screen is showing us them in the hands of the man) you do play more attention.
Container is nothing like the hippy family drama/comedy Together (Moodyson's work of genius and biggest success) or the dark and bleak Whole In My Heart. In fact, as I have said, it is like no other film I have ever seen.
As intriguing as it is it is something that is very hard to imagine who this is aimed at. If you love film as a medium then it is something that is worth seeing, you should give it a go just to see how film can be used in a very different way. I am glad I have seen it but would have no interest in ever wanting to see it again. It is just too weird even for me!
Otherwise I would say avoid at all costs because you are really not going to find much of interest in Container. It is too strange, too weird and just too off the wall to interest anyone other than film students or Moodyson fanatics.
The film runs for 72 minutes, a blessing really, and has a very sudden and abrupt ending, this is the one thing that will really catch your attention and wake you up from your stupor as you are not expecting it at all!
In the world of Sherlock Holmes there are two very well known screen portrayals of Conan Doyle's immortal detective. Jeremy Brett on the TV screen in the 80's and 90's and Basil Rathbone on the cinema screen in the 40's. There have been many other versions of the character in both formats but most of them are lesser versions, unable to match the style and quality of these two.
Before even Rathbone played Holmes though there was a British series of Holmes films starring one Arthur Wontner.
The Sign of Four was made in 1932 and is one of five Holmes films made in the thirties starring Wontner. One of these is lost forever, a second is rarely seen but the other three are all available on DVD very cheaply. My copies came from the much lamented Murder One shop in central London, a shop that sadly vanished very recently from its location near Leicester Square Underground station.
The Sign of Four is one of Conan Doyle's classic novels starring our favourite detective, Sherlock Holmes. This version was made in the UK and its star, Arthur Wontner, was said, at the time, to be the definitive Holmes and that no one would ever be able to better his performance as the logical, music loving, drug taking genius.
In The Sign of the Four Holmes and Watson, played by Ian Hunter, are visited by the young Mary Marston. She has received a threatening letter from an escaped murderer who is after the fortune in jewels that her father was involved in stealing away from a far off land.
The killer wants revenge on the men who betrayed him and to get hold of the riches he so rightly deserves.
Has Holmes brilliant logical mind finally met its match?
It is strange to think that this film is now older than its running time of 75 minutes. The thought that this film was made 77 years ago in 1932 and yet is still capable of being viewed today seems quite amazing. The fact that it is still quite enjoyable to watch is a testament to the longevity and skill of Conan Doyle's original storytelling abilities.
The Sign of Four is one of Holmes best adventures and this movie captures the essence of it extremely well. The opening few minutes sets up the background, out in a prison camp in Africa somewhere, very effectively. The direction and camerawork gives us a mostly downbeat start that plays up human nature to a tee. The greed and violence in man shown in moody shadows and atmospheric visuals.
The true proof though of how good the whole opening sequence is though is that you don't actually notice that Holmes hasn't even shown up yet. When he does finally make his first appearance, with his customary logical deductions about what Watson has been doing, it is only then that you realise that 21 minutes (over a quarter of the films running time) has passed by.
Once Holmes and Watson appear things start moving at a very brisk pace, moving the plot along rapidly with a number of well set up scenes, especially considering the limitations of the time period.
Wontner makes a great Holmes. His angular features look very similar to the illustrations of the great detective originally published with the stories in The Strand Magazine. He has that laid back air of aloofness that Holmes, in the written form, always seemed to possess.
The rest of the cast is adequate, though there is that common tendency of early cinema to over dramatise everything, mainly due to the fact that the actors were all stage trained and used to acting in a certain way. Stage acting has to be a lot more over the top because you need everyone to be able to see and hear what is happening. There is nothing actually wrong with this style of acting, it is the only thing they knew back then, it is just very apparent how different it was to the style of today.
The Sign of four is a good movie without being anything special. If you are a huge Holmes fan then watching this will give you a certain level of enjoyment, especially when you consider that this film was made not that long after the stories were written.
If you are not then as you are never going to see it on TV then you will not have to worry about it too much, after all you are not going to go searching for it are you!
You can find The Sign of Four on a very basic Region 1 DVD fairly easily and it will only cost you a couple of quid to buy it.
He Walked By Night is a 1950's version of what is now called a docu-soap or a drama documentary. It takes a real life case from the Hollywood Division of the LAPD, a case they considered at the time to be one of their hardest ones to solve, and brings it to the big screen.
It tells the story of Ray Martin (Richard Basehart, the only name I recognise in the cast list), a seemingly mild mannered inventor who is spotted breaking into a store by a Policeman on his way home. When stopped and questioned his response is to pull a gun and blast away at his erstwhile questioner.
A citywide alert is put out and a net starts closing in on Martin. He is a clever man though and has ways of staying one step ahead of the dragnet surrounding him. It may be commonplace now but his use of a tinkered radio to tune into the police radio and listen in to their activities was something they didn't expect back then. Only his genius enabled him to build his own version so that he could stay one step ahead of his pursuers.
He Walked By Night is a film noir styled telling of a true story. It has an official sounding voice over that dictates, in a staccato like fashion, the facts of the case. It reminds me of the style of Dragnet, the much loved American TV series of the 50's, or at least I imagine it is having never seen the TV show. It is very like the Dragnet radio show from the 40's and 50's though so I would imagine it is the same.
'Just the facts ma'm' was the catchphrase of that series and the style of HWBN seems to be very much based on that idea. The radio series followed the same format and style, taking real cases and dramatising them in such a way as to tell the story and show how good the police were at catching crooks while also entertaining.
While the film is obviously dramatised (so much of what they show has to have been surmised rather than known) it has that police procedural feel to it that gives it a real sense of authenticity to it.
The director concentrates on creating an atmosphere of tension and despair in Ray Martin, as he tries to escape the forces of law that are on his trail. Mix it in with the desperation and intensity of the Police and FBI who are determined to catch the man that so brutally murdered their colleague and fellow official of the law.
Basehart benefits from a script that focuses mainly on his actions and he uses this to his advantage. Even though he is the bad guy in the story he is also the only character you get any real handle on, you still will not like him but he is the only one more than a cardboard cut out like character. As Ray Martin Basehart really does make you squirm and twist and getting angry with the ever encroaching police every time he manages to slip their grasp, sometimes through blind luck, sometimes through clever thinking.
The final scene, reminiscent of the end game of Orson Welles' classic British spy thriller The Third Man, is movie making at its cheapest and at its most thrilling. As the net closes in on Ray the tension and you get totally caught up in the moment. You can almost smell the sweat dripping from his brow and your arm hairs tingle at the nervous energy exploding out from those that are trying to capture him.
The rat-a-tat storytelling style is what made this an enjoyable film. Most of the actual plot is basic crime reporting done movie style. Nothing that hasn't been done before, or after, this was made but done in such a way that it is at least a little bit different.
That is not a real complaint though as there is rarely a new and novel approach to storytelling, or in the stories told, these days. Crime and mystery thrillers have been around so long now that the interest comes in the storytelling flourishes of the director and the writer.
With this in mind HWBN has a style to it that makes it well worth watching, at least if you are interested in 50's film noir movies that don't quite follow the standard, and expected, formula of that genre.