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Obsessive fanhood is something we have all, on one level or another, either seen or experienced in our lives. Not necessarily on the levels of stalking, but as soon as someone starts talking as if they are going to marry a celebrity one day, or starts imagining what someone famous might be like in real life, or Google image searches their favourite movie star to see what they do and don't look good in, they are showing a tendency to desire the attention of the respected that exists in most human beings. The thing is, in most cases, we don't think about it as obsessive behaviour or wonder about the sanity of the person in question because it has become quite an ordinary thing in our society to worship the famous - however, there are limits to this. Of course, stalkers are dangerous people. Many of their obsessions have gone to the point where they feel they have some kind of personal involvement that doesn't exist with a public or private figure, and the most dangerous ones can be those who have no capacity to realise that they are doing something wrong. I Think We're Alone Now explores these issues through two individuals, who have never met and are both completely obsessed with late-1980s pop sensation Tiffany, who appears in the film several times.
Jeff Turner is a 50-year-old Californian with Asperger's syndrome who has been a Tiffany fan since she first shot to fame in 1988. As Jeff claims, he and Tiffany have developed quite the friendship over the years, ever since she "made a point" of kissing him, and only him, on the cheek in front of 500 fans at one of her concerts. Travelling the country to attend as many of her events as possible, Jeff regular ensures he gets some time to talk to his "best friend", even inviting her to take his hotel room number if she would like it. Kelly McCormick has known Tiffany for years, by her account, ever since they attended school together. Kelly insists that everything she has achieved in her life is because of Tiffany's influence and she knows it is their destiny to be together. Born hermaphrodite, Kelly has struggled her whole life with gender confusion and has made steps to becoming, physically, the gay woman she believes herself to be. As we follow Jeff and Kelly in their build-up to meeting and attending a Tiffany concert together, we will learn how easy it is to get lost in obsession, how heartbreakingly desperate some of the people in this world are and ultimately just how fickle human emotions can be. We'll also question the fine line between 'obsessed fan' and 'stalker'.
Depending on your approach to it, this is a film that people will find to be one of three things: cringingly funny, desperately sad or quietly troubling. Some, like me, will find it to be all three in equal parts. It's a very clever little concept for a documentary. When many people think of a documentary, they think of facts and figures, history and analysis. There are many different kinds, though, and my favourites tend to be the ones that lean heavily toward character analysis, as I Think We're Alone Now does boldly and brilliantly. What Sean Donnelly has chosen to do most cleverly is strip the film of any effects, even to the point of holding pieces of paper up to camera to identify interviewees, soaking the audience into the people and the people alone. So engrossing, so fascinating are our two main characters here that no frills are required in order to tell their individual and eventually intertwined, always amazing stories. As we learn more and more about these intriguing, albeit morally and socially questionable people, it becomes more and more difficult to decide whether they are confused, damaged and worthy of sympathy or dangerous, sinister and to be avoided at all costs. They both have friends who admire them, but there is no doubt that these people are not feeling able to fully express their concerns about the person they are being asked to describe.
There are moments in this film, which avid and keen-eyed film lovers will spot, when it is clear that there is a certain amount of exploitation and manipulation taking place here. It is obvious from the editing (take particular notice of when certain sections of interview are being cut away from, or into) that these filmmakers want to, or feel obligated to, present these people in a certain light. Particular in the case of Jeff, about whom I am still undecided. He comes across as genuinely menacing at times, but when you take his Asperger's syndrome into account, it's difficult to accept that he is aware of the social incorrectness of his behaviours. This is no more prevalent than when he is rifling through old newspaper articles that describe him as a dangerous stalker, only stopping to laugh at the fact that they use Tiffany's full name. His collection of books on the subjects of stalking and psychosexual obsession point toward him being rational and wanting to understand his disorder, but this is counterbalanced by his insistence that he is able to communicate spiritually with Tiffany through the use of a homemade machine. He is clearly a very confused and troubled man, but whether or not he is dangerous is a point of constant ambiguity throughout, something that only serves to make him even more engaging as a character.
In some ways, Donnelly has done an incredible thing here. Any documentary is ultimately a story, and any documentarian will manipulate that story to be told the way that they want it to be. He is guilty of over-manipulation to a certain extent, but such is the feeling of uncertainty and ambiguity that the audience is left with after this experience, it can only be said that he has in many ways made a brilliant film. Balanced, entertaining, engrossing and upsetting in equal measure, it's impossible not to be sucked into the lives of these two unusual people. Four years since the release of this film, it would be interesting to see where Jeff and Kelly are now. They're clearly extremely vulnerable people, past traumas and chronic loneliness having made them what they are at the point of allowing their story to be told. It would be very easy to judge them quite harshly if it wasn't for the very fair-minded approach taken in I Think We're Alone Now, and I have no shame in saying that I came out of it thinking one thing and one thing alone. Wherever they are, whatever they're doing, I really hope they're okay.
NOTE: If you would like to watch this film, it is available for free online at http://www.snagfilms.com/films/title/i_think_were_alone_now - it's completely legal, with advertising revenue being sent to the filmmakers in exchange for attracting traffic to the site. If you would prefer, I Think We're Alone Now is also available on DVD from many retailers and is available through various other streaming services.
It's that time of year again, when most of our days are concerned with what's going to be happening in a months time. There are presents to buy, foodstuffs to stock in, parties to attend and members of the family to invite. There will be socialising, drinking, music and merriment and full bellies. One of my favourite things about this time of year, regular readers of my reviews will not be surprised to find out, is the movies. Whether it's catching them on television or making sure you've got your favourites on DVD (or Blu-ray, of course) to enjoy, everyone has their list of films to watch at Christmas time. Whether you prefer the Christmassy ones (like It's a Wonderful Life and Jingle All the Way), or the alternative Christmassy choices (like Die Hard), or just the ones that tend to get shown around Christmas (like The Great Escape or, more recently, the Harry Potter films), most people will have their little film-watching habits over the festive period. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I've made a bit of a tradition now of watching Moulin Rouge on Christmas Eve. Well, there's a new contender for the Christmas tradition. It won't be to everyone's taste, but A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas is undoubtedly destined to be added to the lists of teenagers and stoners everywhere for years to come. And, why on Earth not?
After several years without seeing each other, Harold and Kumar's lives have become very different from each other's. Kumar, played by Kal Penn, is exactly the same as he used to be, if not worse. After being dumped by Vanessa (whom he met during their Escape from Guantanamo Bay adventure), he has been down in the dumps, not tidying his apartment, growing a beard out of laziness and, of course, getting constantly high. On the other hand, Harold, played by John Cho, has cleaned himself up - with a beautiful wife and a high-flying job, he hasn't smoked weed in years now and has no intention of going back. When a parcel arrives on Kumar's doorstep, addressed to Harold, he has every intention of dropping it off on his doorstep and not disturbing his old friend. Caught in the act, however, Kumar uncontrollably brings his troublesome influence back into Harold's life when a prized Christmas tree is set on fire and the estranged stoners must reunite to venture through the city in search of a replacement. With mob bosses soon on their tail and a spell of musical theatre to stumble into, can Harold and Kumar find the perfect replacement tree? Can they rekindle their friendship? And, when is Neil Patrick Harris going to show up?
The two predecessors to this film were great fun, but they were very much targeted at an audience willing to put up with a massive amount of silliness, profanity, nudity, drug use and toilet humour. So if that's not your kind of thing, then this certainly isn't for you - and don't let your children anywhere near it, by the way! A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas is more of the same, just not made quite as slickly as the previous episodes in this series of guilty pleasures. The best moments tend to come when their past adventures are referenced, but those references come thick and fast in the main, so there's plenty to be enjoyed. There are some new jokes, for instance the toddler who inadvertently becomes addicted to hard drugs in a matter of hours and the mysterious figure that Harold accidentally shoots out of the sky. There's a wonderful moment right at the start, referencing the blatant product placement that all three films have depended on so far. The return of Neil Patrick Harris is a delight, as ever. He's so likable at the best of times that it's great fun to see him being foul-mouthed and dirty in these movies. In any franchise, beyond the main stars, there's often someone who it wouldn't be the same without, and Harris is that element here.
It's not all fun and merriment, by any means. All the crassness can get a bit wearing, so it needs to be consistently brilliant to keep you entertained. In this case, it is not. Many jokes, if they don't fall flat on their face, tend to raise little more than a smile and the story is the weakest of the three so far. Of course, the story is not overly important when the main attraction is the silliness, but the arcs can be so daft at times that they are groan-inducing. Obviously Penn and Cho get the best of the amusing moments, leaving very little for the rest of the cast to pick at. Amir Blumenfeld and Thomas Lennon share some decent exchanges, particularly when they are trapped in a closet hiding from Elias Koteas' violent mob boss. But so much of the comedy seems forced and predictable that it drags everything else down around it, especially in the case of the Wafflebot's inevitable desire to protect its new owners. Of course, all this could be pushed aside in exchange for just sitting back and enjoying the ride, but any great, or even really good, comedy needs to have the characters and/or story to make it so. A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas has neither, and that is the main area in which it falters.
There really is plenty to giggle at, though, as long as this is your kind of thing. It's possibly better watched in groups of like-minded individuals, where the grossest moments can be gurned at and laughing out loud is encouraged. "That is so wrong" will no doubt be the catchphrase of the night, so be warned. This won't end up on many lists of mandatory Christmas viewings, but it will have its following and those followers will be quoting it for many Christmases to come. With very few gross-out comedies managing to be quite as likeable as this series always is, there's no doubt there will be more in the future. I'd like to say they will improve in later episodes, but that's unlikely now - much more likely is that we'll get more of the same. Whether that's a good or a bad thing is down to the individual, but this reviewer will certainly be watching out for the next adventure. It's not big, it's not clever, but it certainly is fun.
Being a film director with a signature style can be a difficult thing to maintain, especially throughout an extended career. Adversely, it could be argued that when something works, why change it? Wes Anderson undoubtedly has a signature style; one that is very popular amongst his fans as well. Where it becomes difficult is in alienating people who don't appreciate your style, because if they don't like one of your films then, chances are, they're not going to like any of your others. I happen to be a Wes Anderson fan and, despite a few problems with it (which I will go into later), am in love with his very personal, very unique, completely adorable style of filmmaking. From the first time I saw The Royal Tenenbaums (my first Anderson experience) to his most recent film, before this one, Fantastic Mr. Fox, every single one has been charming, funny, rich in both character and plot, utterly engrossing and altogether enjoyable. I suppose it's a rare thing to have his kind of consistency across nine films (his tenth being currently in the works), but as mentioned before, when you have a signature style that delivers over and over again, why change it? I'm certainly glad that he hasn't.
Scout Master Ward: Jiminy Cricket, he flew the coop!
Scout Master Randy Ward (played by the brilliant Edward Norton) has just discovered that one of his Khaki Scouts, namely Sam Shakusky, has 'resigned' from his duties and gone missing. Rallying a search expedition, he brings in the help of Police Captain Sharp, Bruce Willis, who soon discovers that another child, Suzy, has gone missing from her home. When it emerges that the two missing children have been corresponding via letter for months now, it becomes clear that they ran away together and are seeking refuge somewhere on the island of New Penzance. As Sam and Suzy hike through the wilderness, using Sam's scouting skills to set up camp as they go, they fall further and further in love, only serving to make them more determined to stay together. But there are other factors at play here. Sam, unbeknownst to his guardians, is no longer welcome back to the home of his foster family, meaning he must be detained in the custody of Social Services, a great cameo from Tilda Swinton. As a cataclysmic storm approaches the island, can Sam and Suzy elude their superiors and grow up together as they wish? And if not, can they at least convince the adults that their love is real and they should be allowed to see each other as often as they like?
Suzy: I always wished I was an orphan. Most of my favourite characters are. I think your lives are more special.
Sam: I love you, but you don't know what you're talking about.
Suzy: I love you, too.
I don't think I'm overstepping any marks when I say that this really is a wonderful, wonderful film. From start to finish, as is the case with so many of Anderson's films, I was thoroughly entranced and completely charmed. Both of the young lead actors, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward (who play Sam and Suzy respectively), give mesmerising and brave performances - especially considering they were both twelve years old at the time of filming. The chemistry between these children is truly palpable and I defy anyone to not get on board with their plight. In fact, there's not a single member of this brilliant cast that fails, including (very) regular Wes Anderson collaborator Bill Murray and his onscreen wife, Frances McDormand, who play Suzy's somewhat lacklustre parents brilliantly. Of course, with dialogue as strong as Anderson's (with help this time from Roman Coppola), it's easy to attract the people who will deliver it in the best way possible. And, boy, is some of the dialogue beautiful.
Suzy: You can touch my chest. I, uh... I think they're gonna grow more.
There are great lines for everyone here, but Sam and Suzy easily get the cream of the crop, their innocence balanced with a wonderful maturity excused with their individual troubles, which play out as the film develops. It might be too early to say, but I expect to see their relationship on a list of all-time great romances at some point in the future. Not only because they are children, with all the extra wonder and uncertainty that being a child can bring to a love story, but also because it's a genuinely fantastically handled romance, the likes of which come along all too rarely. As the story builds and builds toward its climax, amidst a little over-dramatising and forced tension (it has to be said), you really have no choice but to hold on tight in hope that this doesn't end in tragedy, all-the-while wishing and aching that your childhood had been anything as romantic as this. It's really quite something.
Laura: I'm sorry Walt.
Walt: It's not your fault... Which injuries are you apologising for? Specifically.
Laura: Specifically? Whichever ones still hurt.
Walt: Half of those are self-inflicted.
I mentioned a few problems with Anderson's signature style, which I will mention now. Firstly, his soundtrack choices can be fairly alienating, invasive and altogether distracting. I'm not a fan of the word at all, but many would describe his musical interests as 'hipster' - some might even venture to call it pretentious. While I often end up liking his choice of music, as it tends to fit the mood very well, if I am particularly unfamiliar with it then I will find my attention drifting toward it and away from the images at times. Especially as his soundtrack always seems to be so loud and piercing, which gives you no choice but to notice it. At times, I was even struggling to hear the dialogue underneath it. Along with this, his camera movements tend to be very repetitive and angular. I realise what he's doing with this, making everything seem connected; together. He's creating a sense of 'unreality' that is often wonderfully juxtaposed with the very human emotions that he conveys so well. But again, this can be very distracting, as it certainly was to me. I found myself creating a map of the Bishop household in my mind at one point, which pulled my attention away from the action onscreen.
Sam: Those sons of bitches. They got him right through the neck.
Suzy: Was he a good dog?
Sam: Who's to say? But he didn't deserve to die.
Moonrise Kingdom will stay with me for a while. I'll watch it again, soon. When people ask me what was the last really good film I saw, I'll point them towards this one for a while. Not just because it's funny, or charming, or incredibly sweet. Not just because it's brilliantly written, or because the romance at its centre is played out so marvellously. No, not just that. This film has affected me, in a way I couldn't have expected before going into it. It makes you yearn to be young again, not because it was fun to be young or because you had more freedom then. It makes you want to be Sam or Suzy, to see the world as they see it and to fall in love the way they do. To be confident and so sure of the future, just the way they are, and to believe, no matter what, that what you're feeling will last forever. It makes you yearn for all of it to be true. Yes, the film is flawed and, yes, some of those flaws are annoying, but that's barely the point here. The point is to allow yourself to be roped into this wonderful adventure of community and affairs of the heart, but to be ultimately reminded of how much it can hurt to be in love.
Unless they asked express permission, I'm fairly sure that regular cowriters Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis should be getting sued. Why, you might ask? Because they've stolen the concept and formatting of cult TV show Lost (on which they used to be writers), reshaped it, twisted it into a fairy-tale setting and trundled it out to the masses... and they've done it fairly blatantly. Not only that, but they've done it with a TV show that lacks the writing quality, characters, imagination, production values and expert casting that its predecessor possessed. Not to say that Once Upon a Time is all bad; it has its moments, but they are few and far between. I should say at this point, in order to be forthright, that I have only made it six episodes into this series and given up. I tried, I really did, but was finding more and more that it felt like a chore to sit down and watch it properly. Arguably, that would be grounds for not reviewing something. But in my opinion, if a TV show is not engaging and you've made a genuine effort to give it a chance, then continuing to watch it is bordering on self-harm. It's certainly a waste of time that could be spent seeking out something you'll enjoy, which is precisely what I'll be doing after I write this review.
Jennifer Morris is Emma Swan, a troubled bounty hunter determined not to allow attachment or emotion into her life. That is until Henry (played by Jared Gilmore), the boy she orphaned years ago, turns up on her doorstep with a strange plea: he wants her to visit the town he lives in now. Realising she has to take him home anyway, she ends up visiting his town and not being able to leave. The more Emma sees of Henry's life, the more determined she becomes to stick around and make sure he's okay. But there's not just something odd about Henry's life, there's something odd about the entire town. Convinced that everyone who lives there has been trapped by an evil queen in a fairy-tale universe, and that Emma is the key to unlocking the spell that has been cast upon them all, Henry must now convince Emma to stay and see what happens as she becomes more and more connected with the community. Can Henry get Emma to stick around for long enough to convince her that there really is something special about this strange, insular town?
I must admit, I don't think I am necessarily the target audience for this particular show. Target audience aside though, I don't see any reason why a TV show should be put out there without at least a little something for everyone. The fairest thing I can probably say here is that they seem to have tried, but mostly failed, to not alienate certain audiences. For the most part, Once Upon a Time is nothing short of twee and frequently annoying. As the story develops further, revealing fairy-tale counterparts for each member of the 'real-world' town, there is an unrelenting sense that the writer's want to be doing something dark and mysterious, but are being stymied into producing a safe, underwhelming set of episodes that teeter on catering to an adult audience, but never quite convince us that they are meant for anyone over the age of sixteen. There are moments to be enjoyed, but they are merely moments and they come too rarely. Ginnifer Goodwin is frequently adorable in her role as Mary Margaret Blanchard/Snow White, with Robert Carlyle suiting his role as Mr. Gold very well, but never coming across as anything more than a pantomime baddie in his 'fairy-tale' role of Rumplestiltskin. The rest of the cast can be pigeonholed into one of poor, ordinary or relatively insignificant.
I mentioned that this show has blatantly stolen from Lost, so it's only fair if I explain. Once Upon a Time is a show about a large group of people who are trapped in an isolated place, initially unaware of the strange circumstances that have brought them there. They share connections they are as-yet unaware of, there are enemies among them that they think are on their side, and as time passes they will learn more and more about the strange land they inhabit, leading them to follow lines of enquiry and get into scrapes/adventures. Added to this, the story is told through present-time events being juxtaposed with insights into their lives before they got there, showing who they were before they came to be trapped and 'cleverly' mirroring events across the worlds to make the whole experience seem more magical. Fans of Lost will have already gotten my gist, but for those unfamiliar with it, sufficed to say that those previous three sentences could easily have begun with "Lost is..." The difference, of course, being that Lost was successful in its endeavours the vast majority of the time and was certainly far more engaging within its first six episodes.
After only six episodes of this series, I'd seen enough to know that it definitely was not for me. I'm sure it will be enjoyable for many other people, particularly since I've seen a couple of reviews that rate this very highly. There were times when I found this show to be quite sweet and even amusing in parts, but it was never as intriguing or exciting as I'd hoped it would be at first, or hoped it would become over time. It can be difficult to stop watching something when you've invested a certain amount of time into it, certainly for me anyway. But with so many other television shows out there to be enjoyed, when one like this gives you the overwhelming feeling that it is never going to have much to offer you, it must be time to let it go. Am I curious about where it was going? Yes, I am. Is there any part of me that will be tempted to go back to it one day and find out if it manages to improve in later episodes? That is a resounding no.
I can't claim to have ever been particularly well affiliated with the works of William Shakespeare. Besides various teen comedy reimaginings, one or two more serious film takes (chiefly among them, Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet) and an amateur production of Hamlet that I was once fortunate enough to film and edit in Nottingham, I have had very little experience of his work. Having always wanted to see more, but never having taken my chances to, I was more than curious when it was announced that Ralph Fiennes would be working on a Shakespeare play I had never heard of before, in which he would not only star but also direct. Then, when the trailers for the film started coming out, I got even more excited. Here was a Shakespearean experience, modernised into the present day, that looked accessible, mature, brilliantly acted by a great cast, and genuinely cool. Only time would tell if this would be the film to reignite a generation's interest in the eponymous bard. I knew very little of the story and, as mentioned, had never even heard of the play before, but it probably goes without saying that Coriolanus had me hooked.
The citizens of 'a place calling itself Rome' are displeased. Amidst the city's ever-growing food crisis, General Martius (Fiennes) has suspended civil liberties, citing the ongoing war against the Volscian army and his part in winning it thus far as his reasoning. Following an intense battle, in which Martius comes face-to-face with his nemesis Tullus Aufidius (played by Gerard Butler), Martius is honoured by his city's dignitaries, being given the new name Coriolanus and becoming the new favourite for replacing the current Consul. Before this can happen though, he needs to win the voice of the people who despise him, requiring him to eat some humble pie and associate himself with the classes he so looks down on. Unconvinced and insulted by his attempts to patronise them, the citizens rally harder than ever before, demanding a death sentence but ultimately settling for Coriolanus' banishment. Homeless, alone and feeling betrayed even by those closest to him, the once feared and celebrated General will befriend his once true nemesis and set about avenging the city that threw him out. With newfound leadership and a new people to impress, is there any way that Coriolanus can be stopped before a real tragedy occurs?
I have to say, this will not be to everyone's taste. Besides the commitment this team have made to the language of William Shakespeare, making this at times difficult to follow for those not adept in the bard's tongue, it is also a very serious film. Rarely is there a light-hearted moment in Coriolanus and whether or not those few moments are perceived as light-hearted is very much down to the individual's perception. But this is meant to be a serious film, saying serious things, so if you are able to get beyond that then there is much to be celebrated here. The performances are fantastic, right across the board. Fiennes' angry, unreasonable General is a masterclass in theatrical brooding and rage-tinged outbursts. Gerard Butler seems uncomfortable with iambic pentameters at times, not always delivering his lines with aplomb, but suits his part brilliantly otherwise. The supporting cast I can't speak highly enough for, among them Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, James Nesbitt, Paul Jesson - everyone excels. None more so than the beautiful, mesmerising Jessica Chastain, whose performance in its early stages put me in mind of a more mature Juliet, as played by Claire Danes, but which develops very nicely and with great subtlety as the film develops.
Along with some wonderful performances, the film also looks fantastic. The cinematography is often bleak and rugged, perfectly befitting the mood of the film, but I would like to make special mention of the camera movement here. Some ingenious choices have been made over where to put the camera and how to move it, the effect at times being nothing short of electrifying. Calm, considered monologues are generally met with a still, staring camera, allowing focus not to be put anywhere other than on the character who is speaking. Adversely, frantic, emotional monologues (the best of which are delivered by Fiennes in his character's most incensed moments) are met with a camera uncertain of where it should be, floating around the subject as if uncomfortable, confused - itself frantic by proxy of the characters mood. As well as during monologues, moments of general turmoil - especially during the protest scenes - are met with a camera insistent of swaying around, moving right into the faces of its subjects, determined to make the audience feel involved and claustrophobic. For a first-time feature film director, Ralph Fiennes has excelled here. This is no actor-turned-director vanity project, this man really knew what he was doing and he did it with confidence and no small degree of success.
As I said, this will be a challenge for some, as it certainly was for me. Meeting that challenge, though, has a large amount of reward in it for anyone who chooses to take it on. Another wise choice that was made was to shorten the play, condensing it from what I believe usually comes out at around three hours to a much more friendly two-hour sitting. Whereas this does make the story feel a little rushed at times, it also makes for a much more accessible movie, and one which I will certainly be watching again one day. It's only as serious and difficult as its namesake, which in some sense fits the telling of this tale perfectly, so it's only right that it should be that way, really. Coriolanus gave me everything the trailer promised: a mature, brilliantly acted take on a Shakespeare play that I had not been aware of beforehand, that was gritty, involving, at times mesmerising and definitely very cool. Whereas before I may not have taken my chances when it came to getting to know Shakespeare's work quite as well as perhaps I should, I certainly will be now. And maybe you should too.
I promise, this will be the last time I reference the review I wrote for Unthinkable, which I submitted four days ago now. In fairness to me though, I did mention during that review that I had since been intrigued by another project by the same director. I hadn't particularly enjoyed Unthinkable, but having also seen Gregor Jordan's brilliant Buffalo Soldiers, I was making the point that I hadn't quite given up on his work yet. Boy, do I wish that I had. Based on a novel by the now seminal Bret Easton Ellis with, for the first time, a screenplay co-written by the author himself (along with Nicholas Jarecki - perhaps unsurprisingly, a writer of very little note), this seemed like an interesting prospect and one that I was genuinely looking forward to watching. Having also enjoyed American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction (both very good films, both based on Ellis' novels), I was anticipating at least a decent marrying of writer and director. I was convinced even further when I saw the quite brilliant cast list, and sat myself down for what would surely be a refreshing improvement on the disappointment of Unthinkable. Right? I couldn't have been more wrong.
The year is 1983, the setting: Hollywood, Los Angeles. A time when the top of the pile are disparate and the bottom of the pile, nothing short of desperate. A generation of lost, over-privileged youngsters have little to do other than drink, take drugs and sleep with each other over and over again. A generation of lost, over-privileged oldsters have nothing to do but drink, take drugs and try and sleep with the youngsters over and over again. The people tasked with serving them are barely noticed and often disrespected, desperation leading them to either do despicable things or hold out for the chances that they know will never come. A movie producer torn between his wife and his ex-lover, the wife torn between her husband and her bright young thing. The bright young thing distracted by his music videos, unaware of the pain his two three-way relationships are causing. The debauched music legend spiralling towards a life of drug addiction, self-harm and sexual violence. The doorman whose uncle has involved him in something he is desperate to find a way out of, if only he could find a way out of his own painful existence. All strands will intertwine, all lost souls will cross paths, but will anyone come out of it okay?
Sounds good, right? And it probably would have been, if this film hadn't been so utterly convinced of its moralistic stance that it felt nothing more was required. Ellis has trodden this ground before, many times and with repeated success. His satirical analysis of a privileged, amoral youth is precisely what has won him so much critical admiration, but he has always seemed to tell his stories through the eyes of likeable, or at the very least approachable, characters. Not so here, where basically all but one minor character is one or more of childish, snotty, disrespectful, unapproachable (from a viewing point of view), unforgivable, without clear motive, badly written, whiney, boring, without arc or just plain impenetrable. So it is then that the majority of the film is spent not really caring who is happy, who is sad, who will live or who will die. Apart from in the case of one character: Jack, played by the late Brad Renfro (this his last film), the lonesome doorman whose uncle (played by Mickey Rourke) has dragged him down a path of kidnapping and the wrath of dangerous criminals. Amongst all the direness, Renfro manages to put in a really decent showing and makes his character's sub-plot easily the most engaging and satisfying element of The Informers.
On the subject of casting, I found it to be one of the strangest things about this flick. With the older generation being played by a relative smorgasbord of big-name talents (Billy-Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Rhys Ifans, Winona Ryder and the already-mentioned Mickey Rourke), it seemed as though many of the younger roles had been handed to equally relative unknowns. Whether or not this was a conscious decision on the part of the filmmakers, or the actors who got the roles were just deemed the most worthy of these parts, I am not sure. What it came across as, was an utterly pretentious attempt at 'discovering' a new generation of hot talent - something that, if this was the case, has fallen flat on its face and broken its cheekbones. Perhaps the casting of such unfamiliars was due to the amount of gratuitous, at times just bizarre, nudity that was (not) required for these roles. Either way, what they have ended up with is a group of poorly considered, badly written youngsters played by less-than-average actors in a film that surely should never have been made, let alone released. I lost count of the number of times I nearly turned this off and chose unconsciousness as a much better alternative. If it hadn't been for Renfro's sub-plot being conveniently portioned throughout, I might never have seen this to the bitter, pointless and quite frankly obvious end.
In 2013, Bret Easton Ellis will grace us with The Canyons, a film being made from his first original feature-length screenplay and directed by Paul Schrader (who wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull). The tagline: "Youth, glamor, sex and Los Angeles, circa 2012." Sound familiar? Only time will tell if he is the terrible film scribe that The Informers has made him out to be. As for Gregor Jordan, I give up. Two out of three is terrible in this case, and in future I will hesitate to watch a film that has his name attached to it. Not satisfied with making a film containing vacuous, reprehensible and uninspiring characters, this team also chose to cram it with patronising moralistic undertones and loose, tiresome storytelling. If one of the underlying messages here is one of cautionary values meant to highlight the misunderstanding of HIV and AIDS in the early eighties, there are two problems with this. One: there is no need to be so crass about it, and two: if you want us to get the message, you need to keep our attention in order to do so. With some really cogent points to take on board during these 90 minutes, at no point did this viewer find himself caring what these artists were trying to tell me. That, in no small way, is where The Informers failed most abysmally.
I've never been a massive fan of chocolate. There, I said it. Denigrate or, indeed, celebrate me as you will. That being said, it's not as if there are no chocolate bars out there for me to enjoy. My all-time favourite has to be Snickers, with close competition from Cadbury's Crunchie bar. Are you noticing a theme here? Yes, the less significant the chocolate and the more significant the filling, the more likely I am to be a fan of the chocolate bar in question. This has always been, and will continue to be, the way it works for me, so it is not very often that I find a new chocolate treat to (literally) get my teeth into. Oh, and did I mention that I AM a massive fan of peanut butter? Imagine my delight then, while browsing the sweet shelves trying to find a little pick-me-up for tonight's babysitting session, when I spot Hershey's Reese's NutRageous bar. Oh. My. Goodness. Described tantalisingly below the name as 'crunchy peanuts, peanut butter, creamy caramel & chocolate flavoured coating,' this sounds right up my sugary street.
The packaging is in keeping with the Reese's line, most well-known for that great American export, Reese's Pieces. With it's bright orange colour and big, yellow 'Reese's' logo, it would be nearly impossible to walk past this in the shop without being blinded by the skilful, no doubt carefully thought-out marketing. The name of the bar is brilliant, I don't hesitate to point out. Not only is it a very simple, yet very effective pun, but capitalising the 'R' to separate the word 'Nut' from the rest of the title is a canny move indeed. Next to the brand and the name of the bar can be found a mouth-watering image of the contents of the package, cross-sectioned to reveal the innards which have sealed the deal for me on this occasion. A generous-looking peanut butter centre, surrounded with chunky-looking peanuts in caramel, all encased in a relatively thin (yep! thin! yeay!) layer of 'chocolate flavoured coating'. Now, I'm not quite sure what 'chocolate flavoured' means, but the suggestion seems to be that this is not real chocolate, which is absolutely fine by me.
Further inspection of the bar starts to reveal details that will be of interest to certain people, but which I and probably many others couldn't care less about. The net weight is 51g (or 1.8oz), so it's a slightly smaller bar than some - Snickers, for instance, being 57g (or 2oz). There is no nutritional information on the packet, but I think it is safe to assume that, if there was some, it would read: this is not good for you. Beyond this, there is nothing other than a list of ingredients and a line reading 'Manufactured in the U.S.A. by The Hershey Company' then giving the relevant addresses for any letters you might want to send (I'm assuming these would be to thank The Hershey Company for such an awesome bar). An address for customers within the EU is included. The main ingredients are as follows:
Chocolate Flavoured Coating (40%)
Skim Milk Powder (cow's milk)
Whey Powder (cow's milk)
Milk Fat (cow's milk)
Peanut Butter (17%)
There are other ingredients, but to list them all is unnecessary I think. Safe to say, if you have an aversion to peanuts, dairy products, 'E' numbers or things that taste amazing, then this definitely isn't for you.
Upon opening the packet, there is not even a glimmer of disappointment. The bar itself looks exactly like the image with which it is advertised on the packaging, and as soon as I saw it I knew I was in for a treat. This is simple, unadulterated pleasure for appreciators of the simple things. For me in particular, with my specific set of preferences, this ticked all the boxes. The layers of flavour, the various textures. The chocolate can be tasted, sure, but it blends so beautifully with the innards of the bar that it becomes part of one whole, satisfying flavour. The peanuts are indeed crunchy and very sizeable, ensuring that their presence is not missed - something that I cannot always say about a Snickers. The peanut butter is divine; thick, creamy, salty, sweet and divine. Although the bar is smaller than some may have come to expect from other brands, this is made up for in spades by the quality of the product itself. I may be waxing poetical at times in this review, but this really is a gorgeous, delightful and brilliantly unusual treat. I've mentioned a couple of my long-standing favourites in this review, and have always been a fan of Limited Edition 'peanut butter' versions of other brands of chocolate bar, but this has shot to being in the list of absolute bests within the space of one sitting.
In terms of availability and price, I picked this up from my local Co-Op store for 62p. I'd never seen it anywhere before, hence being so delighted to have spotted it tonight. Whether or not NutRageous is available in other stores, or which stores they would be, is beyond my knowledge at this point. However, from seeing other reviews, it would seem this product has been around for a good few years now, so it would surprise me if it wasn't stocked elsewhere. Oddly, single bars can be purchased from Amazon and ebay, but seem generally to be priced fairly extortionately from what I can see. Multipacks can be bought online in various places. However you go about getting hold of this product, if indeed you even do, I can assure you it is well worth it, providing the ingredients are to your personal liking. It's picked me right up this evening, not only because of the sugar content and other energy-providing aspects, but also and quite simply because I found it in the first place.
In my most recent other review (for political/psychological thriller, Unthinkable), I mentioned how exciting it can be to stumble upon a film you've never heard of before but that looks intriguing. Just as, if not even more, exciting as that, is stumbling upon something and heading into it without the first clue what it's going to be like, or even what it's about. As it was with Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel, when I came across it one evening while flicking through the catch-up TV listings looking for something unusual to watch. And boy-oh-boy, did I find something unusual! I know I'm late to the party (this was first released in April 2009), but it really is encouraging to know that every now and again there can be something as enjoyable as this made on such a low budget, with such a talented bunch of performers. My mother joined me in viewing this halfway through and, even having missed the vital opening scenes, enjoyed it thoroughly and is desperate to see it the whole way through. Now my sister has seen it as well, and is equally desperate for a sequel. Something I have to say will never happen, but would be wonderful to see.
Chris O'Dowd is Ray, a science fiction (NOT sci-fi) and time-travel obsessive whose job it is to teach kids about time-travel in a fun and exciting way. Except that, one day, he goes way too far, scaring his pupils to the point of tears and vomiting and getting himself fired in the process. While being consoled by his two closest friends, Toby and Pete (Marc Wootton and Dean Lennox Kennedy respectively), they all decide to go down the local for a few pints and debate away the night as usual. Things take an interesting turn however, when Ray goes to the other side of the bar and encounters Cassie (the delightful Anna Faris), who claims to be a 'fan' from the future who has jumped at the opportunity to meet the Great Ray while trying to find and fix a time leak in the area. Convinced his friends have set this up, Ray relays the story only for his friends to think he's making it up. That is, until Pete later exits the men's room in a distant future where everyone in the pub has been violently killed. He manages to find his way back to the present, but when he tries to show Ray and Toby what happened, so will begin an adventure that will change all of their lives forever...
I'm a big fan of Chris O'Dowd and his ability to be massively charming while truly hilarious at times, so I was excited to find that he was in this. While very similar to the way he tends to be in most things, he gives a typically excellent performance here. As do the rest of the cast, ensuring that this excellently written, very cleverly played out little film is kept funny and engaging the whole way through. Where this film excels the most is in its pretty seamless storytelling - something with which its writer, Jamie Matheson, must be most highly credited. I don't claim to be an expert on the subject of time travel, but I think it's fair to say we've all seen some pretty poorly laid-out storylines around the concept in the past. Not so here, though, where everything ties up very cleverly towards the end and every now and again is a cute little nod to a seemingly inconsequential part of the story from earlier in the film.
My one gripe would be with a scene towards the end (the start of the climactic sequence, I suppose) where things almost unravel and become a bit silly. It gets reined in eventually, but for a few minutes there the film becomes akin to that play your kids did in the living room, when the big bad guy appears out of nowhere to tiresomely explain their motivations. Aside from that one blip, however, this is mostly really enjoyable stuff. By turns funny and intriguing, silly and engaging, frat-boyish but very sweet at times, it seems rare these days to stumble across something this good without having had it rammed down your throat as a must-see at some point in the past.
Going back to my sister's point about wishing there was a sequel: Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel is one of those experiences I suspect many people will come out of wanting more. I certainly felt that a sequel could be warranted, or even that it would have been brilliant if this had been a pilot for a television series. There's plenty here for them to have expanded on even more, and the characters are so likeable that you'd be more than happy to find out what happens next. Also, with some brilliant and frequently funny nods to other time travel series like Back to the Future and Doctor Who included, there's also a lot of material out there that they could have taken inspiration from. With Chris O'Dowd now headed to much bigger things, and with director Gareth Carrivick having unfortunately died in 2010, it's unlikely that we'll ever see more of the adventures of Ray, Toby, Pete and Cassie. While that is a real shame, as this is the kind of thing could have garnered a real cult following if it had been marketed correctly and had continued in the same vein, it's not exactly the end of the world. Or is it? Only time will tell...
Stumbling upon a film you'd never heard of, but that looks intriguing, is always an exciting thing, as it was when I came across the trailer for Unthinkable one day recently. A strong cast delivering seemingly powerhouse performances, a screenplay with a seemingly gripping central premise; this seemed right up my street. I did a little research and discovered that its director, Gregor Jordan, had previously helmed the brilliant Buffalo Soldiers. Safe to say, I was sold thus far. Of course, these things don't always turn out as we imagine or hope that they will. Not that Unthinkable is entirely disappointing but, for the most part, it doesn't deliver anywhere near the promise of what was a truly engaging trailer which presented a film that looked quite different from the average politically outspoken thriller. I usually tend not to be naïve about these things, and can often gauge quite safely how much I am going to like a film, so it's not very often that I feel like I've wasted my time. On this occasion, I'm afraid to say I would quite like to get my 90 minutes back. Or, at least, 75 of them.
It's a normal day at the office in the Counter-Terrorism Unit of the FBI Los Angeles Field Office. Agent Helen Brody (Carrie-Anne Moss) is going about her daily business, delegating tasks for the day and being firm but fair with one particularly over-eager agent, when suddenly a news report sends her down a path she couldn't possibly have seen coming. Steven Arthur Younger (or Yusuf as he prefers to be called, played by Michael Sheen), a devout American Muslim, is on the run from the authorities as a suspected terrorist. Almost as soon as Agent Brody is able to put the feelers out in an attempt to find him, she is swept away to a secret location where Younger is already being held and is keeping secret the locations of three nuclear bombs he has planted for the purposes of mass destruction. Brody is quickly, and reluctantly, recruited by the mysterious Henry Harold 'H' Humphries (Samuel L. Jackson) to assist him in his questionable methods of interrogation. Dragged down a path of intense physical and psychological torture methods, Agent Brody will question the very foundations of her personal ethics as H becomes more and more determined to find the locations of the three bombs in question.
The film is not without its plus points. It's a fairly brave undertaking in this day and age to create an American film that questions the manner in which its own government treats its dissidents. Without choosing sides, the at times intelligent script manages to argue both sides with some degree of reason, whilst at times shooting both sides down by showing their representatives (in character form) to be increasingly uncertain of the approach they argue the toss for. Michael Sheen is wonderful in his role as the strong-minded but ultimately broken protagonist and later into the film delivers the best monologue available with aplomb. The rest of the cast do a mostly decent job with the material available to them, but do seem at times a little uncomfortable with the twisty-turny arcs they are forced to follow. Jackson manages to be typically brilliant now and again, but whereas his H becomes more fractured and dangerous as the story develops, the acting performance becomes less and less convincing to me. Which is frustrating, since fractured and dangerous is something he usually excels at.
Where Unthinkable fails most of all is in its confusion about what kind of thriller it really is. Alongside its central theme of political commentary as race-against-time flick is a psycho-thriller about a man so determined to find the truth he is willing to take any steps he deems necessary, seeming to relish more and more the opportunity to punish a man he sees as nothing other than a source of information. Genre mixing can be a great thing when handled properly, and some of the greatest films of all time can be credited with finding a perfect balance of two or more genres, but the lines need to be seamless for it to work. Not so here, where this viewer felt as though he was being dragged from one kind of film to another without any real reason for it. Along with this, regular on-the-nose streams of dialogue and some pretty poor editing lead to the message being rammed down the audiences throat in a manner that is nothing short of preachy and uncomfortable for the majority of the film. This is no more present than in the final ten minutes, where Peter Woodward (who wrote the film) seems to have run out of things to say and closes proceedings in the least shocking, most noticeably contrived way possible.
All that being said, I have not been put off of Jordan's work for good. As previously mentioned, I really enjoyed his Buffalo Soldiers and have now been intrigued by his film The Informers, based on a novel by Bret Easton Ellis. There are flashes of decent filmmaking in Unthinkable, but these parts in no way manage to improve the whole to the extent that this is a truly enjoyable experience. The simple truth is that it's never anything more than decent and for much of the running time can be described as nothing more than shoddy. In such a saturated market, where films that initially seem as interesting as this one did manage to escape the attention of even the most avid film buffs, it is no wonder that there are so many movies going direct to DVD, as this one did in the UK. It's a shame to have to say it, but sometimes, as with Unthinkable, that's exactly where some films belong. Had I paid for a cinema ticket to watch this, I would not only be wanting some of my time back, but also a decent chunk of my money.
Following on from the high-octane double-whammy that was Smokin' Aces then The A-Team, director Joe Carnahan has returned here to the slightly grittier pastures of his 2002 film, Narc. A move which, in many ways, seems to denote a return to form in subject matter, character development, storytelling, cinematography, tension... and many other important filmmaking facets. In fact, The Grey is so good it made me wonder why he even bothered with those previous titles in the first place. Not that either of them are particularly bad as such (I'd go so far as to say I enjoyed The A-Team), but when you're capable of making films like this, surely those other films pale in comparison? What am I saying; there's absolutely no doubt at all, those other films definitely do pale in comparison.
Alone, aching and ready to die, Liam Neeson's Ottway - fantastically performed, along with the rest of the excellent cast - is the man whose job it is to protect the oil workers of an Alaskan rig from the man-eating wolves that surround it. So when, on their seasonal journey home, the plane crashes and kills the majority of people on board, Ottway is the man the remaining passengers must turn to in order to have any chance of surviving the cold, harsh, wolf-infested wilderness. Never destined to be easy, their journey south is made all the more difficult by thigh-deep snows, impending blizzards, fraught nerves and the possibility that, instead of moving away from it, they could actually be headed toward the wolves' den...
The first ten minutes of this film had me very worried indeed. Sort of a mash of stall-setting sequences, out of narrative order and poetically narrated by Neeson's troubled and desperate main character, I was not enjoying it at all. However, by the end of this opening, it had become clear to me that the tone was not yet quite being set; we were merely being introduced to the character, which was fine by me. Once this is all out of the way, from the moment the group boards the flight home (as it were), this is a wonderful movie. The plane crash sequence grabs you by the throat and is the ultimate example of what this film has to offer. Tying together some fantastic film editing by Roger Barton and Jason Hellman along with the amazing work of the sound department (led by sound designer Bob Kellough), it's a viscerally exciting sequence that I defy anyone to not be sucked in by.
However, The Grey is not without its issues. The film is guilty of being somewhat implausible in places - something that was probably very difficult to avoid, but is still a little bit distracting. The various characters that inevitably meet their fate are picked off one-by-one in a series of set pieces increasingly as frustrating as the teenage girl who runs upstairs in the trashy horror flick. None of the men seem capable of heeding Ottway's advice at any point, leading them to be vulnerable in situations that could have been more cleverly written. Along with this, the special effects on the wolves are not fantastic so, while most of the scenes involving them are brilliantly tense and at times truly shocking, there are a couple of times where this takes you out of the moment.
None of which is enough to take away from the fact that this is, in the main, a marvellous movie to behold. Some moments are so jolting (both wolf attacks and transitions from dream sequences) that they really convince you of the events that are unfolding. Added to this, with theories of 'purgatory' and other sub-textual ideas being suggested, there is plenty here to warrant repeat viewings. I've always been a big fan of films that are open to audience interpretation, and The Grey has the rather rare distinction of being able to fit that bill without being in any way pretentious or having to compromise in its story or characters in order to do so. Great stuff.
Where on Earth did Josh Trank come from? In 2007, he wrote and directed episodes of a cancelled TV show, The Kill Point, and five years later bursts onto the scene with a critically acclaimed twist on the superhero genre, apparently having worked on nothing else in between. Honestly? I kind of hate the guy. There, I said it. At the ripe age of 26, he has managed to garner the kind of success many filmmakers spend their whole careers trying to achieve, and he's done it with a film not unworthy of the attention it's receiving. Utilising the 'found footage' method of filmmaking, typically reserved for the horror genre, and combining it with traditional 'superhero origin' fare, Chronicle makes for a decent watch and will no doubt garner a large cult following. For me, where it mostly fails is in depending too much on its special effects and, while also having a decent story and characters to go along with, never quite reaching the dizzy heights it had the potential to.
Andrew Detmer, captured brilliantly here by relative newcomer Dane DeHaan, is a fairly typical, angst-ridden teenager with some not-so-typical issues. With his mother on her deathbed and his father spiralling ever further into alcoholism, Andrew decides it's time to document his life on film as a kind of defence mechanism. Unpopular to the point of being bullied at school, Andrew one night attends a house party that will change his and his only friends' lives forever. A mysterious hole in the ground, leading to a cavern containing strange rocks and light formations, has given Andrew, along with Matt and Steve (played by Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan respectively), powers of telepathy. These powers, in their infancy, seem exciting and offer the three boys opportunities way beyond anything they had dreamed for themselves. However, as they learn to harness their powers further, they become more and more irresponsible in their actions, leading them closer and closer to conflict and challenging them to choose between good and evil.
It's an engaging film, led solidly by an engaging central concept, and one by which I was never bored. The characters develop nicely and, aside from a seemingly pointless romantic sub-plot (the function of which seems only to be to introduce a new camera angle), the story moves along at a relatively decent pace. Chronicle seems to accelerate as it nears its climax, in fact, gathering momentum along with the weight of the events that unfold before us. There are plot holes, it has to be said, but they are fairly inconsequential ones. The hole in the ground is never explained, nor are the origins of the powers wielded by these three young men. The hole in the ground is closed up and the area being cordoned off, but this never comes to anything other than to give us the suggestion of administrative interference. Such things should be forgiven here, though, as the point of this film is not to over-analyse; it is to sit back and enjoy the ride.
The thing that stood out for me the most in this film was the thing that came closest to spoiling it altogether. I am not against 'found footage', as it were, but I do believe when it's being used it should be done with care and attention. The Blair Witch Project (1999, dirs. Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez) is arguably where the fascination started and it is probably one of my favourite films of all time; certainly the only film that has ever really, truly scared me. The tradition has continued, notably with the popular Spanish horror film [Rec] (2007, dirs. Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza) and online crowd-sourcing success The Tunnel (2011, dir. Carlo Ledesma), but to be done right it is important that the reasons for the camera (or cameras, as the case may be) to be running do not need to be over explained. In Chronicle almost every scene or character introduction (particularly in the case of the previously mentioned romantic sub-plot) seems to warrant a line of dialogue explaining why the camera is running and where in the scene it is placed. Aside from being distracting, this really does very little to inform the audience at all. Yes, the cameras are running, we get it - that's what the film is set around... is it really necessary to constantly remind us? That said, towards the end of the film, there is one particularly delightful sequence where the phones and pocket cameras of members of the public are telepathically snatched from their hands and placed all around the action - it's a silly device in terms of the story but for the few moments where it occurs, it makes for a nice touch.
So while I was never overwhelmed by Chronicle, it is indeed worth seeking out. While the special effects are a little obvious and the film spends far too much time explaining away its central hook, there is a lot to be enjoyed in following the story of these three charming characters through their adventure. It does have a great sense of adventure, this film, and at times it is genuinely hilarious. It strikes a really good balance of playfulness and underlying tension, before unleashing all of its rage on the city in which it is based. Something that can just as easily be said about the performance from DeHaan, who surely has announced himself as one to watch in future. Will it stand the test of time and become the cult classic it is threatening to? I have a feeling it might, but let's first consider this: are there sequels in the pipeline and is this the start of franchise? I'm not sure whether or not that would be a good thing.
Director James Bobin is no stranger to sharp, intelligent comedic fare. With over ten years of comedy television under his belt (including The 11 O'Clock Show, Da Ali G Show and The Flight of the Conchords, all of which are brilliant), he was a clever choice for a new Muppets movie. He has a history of putting forward playfully hilarious, leftfield sequences that can charm and amuse simultaneously, so with a strong script from Jason Segel (who also stars) and Nicholas Stoller (Yes Man, Get Him to the Greek) it seemed as though all the pieces were coming together... and they really were. This is a wonderful film with some really delightful moments to behold. There are so many jokes to take in that it demands repeat viewing, but even if there weren't as many, you would still want to watch it again. I walked out of the cinema feeling like I was on a cloud, desperate for all around me to burst into song so that we could do a dance number together. It's a rare thing for a film to make you feel that good, but for me The Muppets managed it in spades.
Gary (played by Segel) and Walter, voiced by regular Muppeteer Jason Linz, have always been together, watching each other grow - or not grow, as the case may be. Having always felt an affinity to the Muppets, whom he has loved since their heyday, Walter is delighted when Gary reveals that they are to travel to Los Angeles and visit the original Muppets theatre, where all the magic used to happen. However, it does not turn out to be the dream world Walter had envisioned. The theatre has been long shut down and the legendary tours are a major disappointment. So when Walter discovers that oil magnate Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) is to tear down the theatre and drill the land on which it stands, he finds himself in a race against time to reunite the Muppets and save the day. Of course, it won't be easy. Tex Richman will do whatever it takes to stop the Muppets from succeeding, and all the while Walter and Gary must come to terms with the idea that they cannot always be together as they used to be.
Right from the get-go, this film is all-out, unapologetically cute. With its upbeat opening credits, sweet nature and fast-paced wit, it's a whirlwind of delight that is so easy to become swept up in. With barely a blink of an eye, we have the first musical number, which leads us from Gary and Walter brushing their teeth in the bathroom right through to a song and dance session in the streets of Songtown, the imaginary world in which our protagonists live. Soon after, we are introduced to Gary's girlfriend, Mary (played by the wonderful, sumptuous Amy Adams), and this is where the film really starts to set out its stall. Mary takes issue with the amount of time Gary spends with Walter. She feels so strongly about this, she soon leads into a song around the issue that ends up being so funny I'm pretty sure my laughter was worrying the little girl sat next to me in the cinema. (It's okay, her dad was there and didn't seem to mind to much.) With too many cameos to list, although I will say that Neil Patrick Harris gets a great line, there's plenty for everyone young and old to enjoy.
The Muppets is a small way off from being flawless, though. The middle-section of the film takes a dip, which seems to last for a while. It's mostly while the Muppets are renovating the theatre where the script seems to be struggling for decent gags and feel-good moments, but this deviation from joyousness doesn't last and before long it gets right back on track. While most of the cast deliver little other than charm and pure watch-ability, particular Segel and Adams (about whom I can't speak highly enough - I think I'm a little bit of a lot in love with her), some of the performances are a little self-conscious. Whether the problem lies with the script or with the fact they may not have adjusted very well to communicating with puppets I couldn't quite decide, but there were moments where this completely removed me from the illusion. Not all of the jokes are fantastic, either. I suppose it's difficult when you're trying to pack a movie with gag after gag after gag, but sometimes it does fall flat on its face.
All being said, there's no reason for any of these flaws to spoil what really is a fantastically upbeat experience. To not be swept up by the pure, unadulterated joy of it is, in my opinion, to be quite a cynical soul indeed. It's glorious to behold at times and all builds up to quite the face-ache of a finale. I was smiling from ear to ear, almost literally, to the point where I can still feel the strain on my jaws as I write this. With all that's going on in the world today, I suppose the movie-going experience boils down to little more than a distraction. But when the distraction is this much fun, I'll take it over the ten o'clock news any day. Go with friends, take your children - heck, go on your own if you have to - it really doesn't matter. With so much to give and very little wrong with it, the rest of 2012 is going to be hard pushed to deliver a film that has the potential to lift an audiences spirits this high. It really is time to start the music...
I suspect, but cannot confirm, that Man on a Ledge is what I like to refer to as a 'passport to Hollywood' movie. I don't claim to know the inner workings of the film industry, but I do get a sense from time-to-time that directors are being brought on board to make a throwaway, popcorn cinema-type affair in exchange for a future project of their choosing; or, at least one that will be more open to negotiation. It seems odd, otherwise, that this project would end up in the lap of Asger Leth, who has never directed a fictional feature before and whose only previous directing credit is for little-known documentary Ghosts of Cité Soleil. That said, he certainly doesn't do a terrible job here, taking an incredibly silly, high-concept story and making it as enjoyable as I think anybody possibly could have.
Ex-cop Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) has escaped from prison, where he was being held for a crime he claims he did not commit. On the run and with seemingly nowhere to turn, he stages a hotel room to give the appearance that he might be suicidal and climbs out onto the ledge, where he waits to be noticed. Before long, members of the public are lining the streets to watch the drama unfold before them as police and the media gather, all eyes on Cassidy thirty floors up, while right behind them Cassidy's brother (Jamie Bell) and his brother's girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) are staging the heist of the century. Assigned to negotiate Cassidy down from the ledge is Lydia Mercer, played by the lovely Elizabeth Banks, whose task soon changes from trying to work out if this man is suicidal to trying to work out if this man can be trusted. Is Cassidy trying to prove his innocence? Or is he trying to profit where he initially failed to do so? And amidst all of this, is someone in the police force trying to keep Nick quiet before the truth finally comes out?
Now, that all probably sounds like a bit of a mess - and the simple truth would be, yes, it is. The film sort of trundles along, never feeling like it needs to fully explain itself, offering snippets of information here and the odd massive reveal there. It's almost as if the filmmakers know their central premise is ridiculous, they know the audience are going to see the plot holes, they know they've got too many loose ends to tie up, but they really couldn't care less. They're just having fun, and they hope that you will too. And the truth is, I really did. I allowed myself to just go along for the ride this time and not ask too many questions of it, and I found that that was probably the best way I could have possibly approached this film. My biggest problem with Man on a Ledge was probably the way it ended. Screenwriter Pablo F. Fenjves seemed to have spent so much time constructing this convoluted, albeit scrabbled, tale only to cop out and go for the easy option right in the dying moments. I won't go so far as to spoil the ending, but if you do watch this film then keep an ear out for the most ridiculous 'let's tell the audience it's all over now' moment I've ever seen, from a reporter who appears several times during the film.
Some of the supporting cast do a really nice job here. I'm not usually one for boring people with lists of names, but when you have the likes of the brilliant Ed Harris, the always-decent Edward Burns, Titus Welliver, Anthony Mackie and even a small role for William Sadler (whose part in Die Hard 2: Die Harder will always make him a legend in my eyes) you can be fairly sure your characters are in pretty good hands. Bell and Rodriguez, as the two attempting to infiltrate a diamond vault, are really quite charming throughout and lend for a sweet, but altogether unnecessary, little epilogue. No one is on their best form here, but how can they be expected to really show up when all around them is the foul stench of potential disaster? How they even got this cast to sign the contracts is beyond me, quite frankly, but by some act of sheer alchemy, it all seems to come together to form something like entertainment.
Right smack bang in the middle of awards season, it's nice to sit down every now and again and watch a film that you don't have to think too much about in order to enjoy it. It might be silly, and yes it's high-concept cinema of the most questionable form, but Man on a Ledge is the type of film where you really can (if you allow yourself to) just sit back and be taken for a ride. It's not always pleasant, and you might come out feeling slightly less intelligent, but it's fun and cathartic and, when done right, it will give you a little thrill here and there. It will never be placed on any list of greats. In fact, it will no doubt be placed in the bargain bin soon after it's released on DVD. But that's not why these films get made. They get made so that we can root for someone, so that we might wonder when the twist is coming and what it will be, so that we will spend time in the company of friends laughing at how ridiculous but sort of cool that bit was, or this bit should have been. That is precisely where this film, in some perhaps uncertain measure, has succeeded.
Films that are, in and of themselves, a celebration of cinema or filmmaking are a tricky thing to pull off and have rarely been done brilliantly, in my opinion. The most outstanding example of one that works for me would be Singin' in the Rain, and that was made in 1952. The thing is, when you make a film designed to speak lovingly or, in some cases, not so lovingly about a certain era in film, or a certain movement, or even a certain star, you need to choose carefully the style in which the film itself is made. You certainly need to make as accomplished a film as possible, surely? You wouldn't be doing the art-form any justice otherwise. Well, there's a new great love-letter to cinema for us all to enjoy. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, completely worthy of all the plaudits being bestowed upon it (most recently at the BAFTAs). It is powerful, funny, uplifting, inventive, exciting, tense, joyful... the list goes on. It is everything cinema should be. It is The Artist.
George Valentin, played by Jean Dujardin, is the poster boy of the silent era. The most famous man on the planet, he is adored by everyone and his films are anticipated with riotous enthusiasm by the masses. One day, on the red carpet, a member of the public stumbles out of the crowd and literally bumps into him - a moment which captures the imagination of the press, and will lead them both down a path they couldn't have imagined. That member of the public turns out to be Peppy Miller, Bérénice Bejo, an up-and-coming actress. When the film world starts moving away from silent movies toward 'talkies', this spells the end of Valentin's career, but merely the start for Peppy Miller. As one spirals downward, while the other rockets toward international stardom, the pair grow quickly apart. Alone, miserable and desperate, George hits bottom and it's not long before he is contemplating suicide. There is only one person that can make him realise that life is worth living... but can she get through to him in time?
This is a truly wonderful, wondrous film. Its majesty lies in the fact that not only is it in itself a silent film, but it recognises that it is an ode to the era and dares to reference that directly on a couple of occasions. Michel Hazanavicius, who writes and directs, has such a clear understanding of the silent era, but also of cinema itself and all of the powers which it holds. This, while being shown in every scene of The Artist, is no more evident than during a dream sequence which occurs almost halfway through. So brilliantly constructed, and so clever it is, that the effect is completely jolting, pulling the audience out of the story for a while and making them question the very fabric of the world which these characters occupy. So magnificent, in fact, is the effect that I was almost drawn to tears. Not because of anything that was happening to the characters (although, it has to be said, it is a perfectly emotional scene) but just because it was so brilliant, I found myself having an emotional response to the actual filmmaking prowess.
The only flaw I, personally, can find with this film is that some people won't like that it is silent, and that's a shame. I don't know about the rest of the world, but certainly in the UK there have been several instances where people have gone to see this film and ended up asking for their money back... because there's no dialogue. There's so much to be loved about this movie, the lack of dialogue actually being one of those things, that I find it difficult to understand how someone could let that spoil their enjoyment. It is such a refreshing film, the kind which comes along maybe once in a generation, that dares to explore a way of communicating with an audience that wouldn't usually be considered. It's fast-paced, upbeat, hilarious... and there's Uggie, the dog. This is no ordinary animal role. This is a dog seemingly possessed in the best possible way. He exudes personality in a manner that I have never witnessed in a film before, and it is nothing short of exhilarating at times. So watchable is this animal, he even get scenes where he is the centre of attention, his performance holding the film together and keeping the audience on the edges of their seats. He also contributes to the comedy in a big way, managing to fool you into believing he possesses a sense of humour.
Everything that has gone toward the making of this film is, while perhaps not all perfect, at the very least, brilliant. The cinematography, the music, the art direction. All of the performances are wonderful, not only from the three main stars, but also from the supporting cast in John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, the list could go on... There really is so much to be taken away from the film. It's pure entertainment while also being a history lesson. It's a history lesson while also being a celebration of the cinematic art-form. It's a celebration while also being dramatic, engaging and at times incredibly thrilling. My review may not seem particularly balanced, but believe me, I have tried to think of some flaws to put forward to you - anything that I could reasonably assume would be worth relaying as a fair criticism of the The Artist, but I can't. It's cinematic gold, the kind that we don't even dare wish for these days. In an age dominated by films into which very little thought seems to go, how delightful to have something different to experience. It's something to cherish.
I'm not quite sure when I stopped being bothered about Steven Spielberg. He's a strange director. Aside from seeking out the next opportunity to make an audience cry, jump or go 'ooh', I'm not really sure what he does. That said, he has made some brilliant, brilliant films - some of which are undoubtedly among my all-time favourites. And, of course, whenever his next project is announced, I'm always as curious as I was when it was confirmed he would be making the popular novel and stage-play War Horse into a movie. Curious, but never excited.
The plot revolves around the relationship between Albert Narracott (played by Jeremy Irvine) and his self-trained working horse, Joey. Soon after succeeding to train Joey on the family farm, Albert's father (Peter Mullan) is forced to sell the horse to the army, enlisting him in the First World War and separating man and horse for what could be the rest of their lives. However, Albert has other ideas and eventually enlists himself, hoping to one day be reunited with Joey.
I have to admit that, while hoping to be proven wrong, I was expecting to find this film quite boring before I set about watching it. Something about the serendipitous circumstances under which it was already clear to me that the story would have to play out was very off-putting. Within the first ten minutes, I was squirming in my seat. I couldn't get over the horrible dialogue at all, with all these stereotypical Yorkshire 'folk' being all middle-England and annoying. Along with this, the story plods along so tiresomely that I really was phasing out from time-to-time, my attention drifting to when Spielberg knew how to really grab an audience by its throat.
None of which is to say that War Horse is completely without merit. There is some gorgeous cinematography from Spielberg's regular director of photography, Janusz Kaminski, most of which can be found within the setting of the war. There are also a handful of really exciting sequences, the most outstanding of which comes around twenty-five minutes before the end of the film, and most of the supporting cast are worthy of attention - particularly the likes of Emily Watson, Benedict Cumberbatch (also fantastic in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Niels Arestrup in a performance so good I expected him to get an Oscar nomination.
There were moments where I thought this film was really quite silly. The manner in which Joey travels through his adventures and near-misses gets more and more unlikely as the film goes on and, while necessary, the awareness and intelligence of the animal became something of an annoyance to me. He's a beautiful horse, and there's no doubting that there is some power in his story, but it's something to which I was unable to fully connect at any point; something that Spielberg himself surely has to take the blame for. It seems at times as though the film has been quite lazily directed, with very little thought for the best shot angle or the wisest choice of edit for the pace of the film. Have I been put off Steven Spielberg movies forever now? No. Will I get as excited about his future projects as I used to in the past? Absolutely not.