Posts Tagged ‘ film reviews ’

The Act Of Killing

The_Act_of_KillingDirector Joshua Oppenheimer’s surreal and harrowing documentary The Act of Killing takes an unusual look at the mass murders of suspected communists in Indonesia in 1965.

After a military coup the paramilitary took over and small-time” movie-theater gangsters” turned into ruthless executors. They modeled themselves on their silver-screen heroes and like the men in the mafia movies they felt no remorse or pity when doing the most horrendous of acts. Continue reading

Film Review: World War Z

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Hollywood’s latest zombie movie World War Z (WWZ) is based on the book written by Max Brooks. However ‘based’ is all it is, as unlike the book it doesn’t deal with any of Brooks’ big questions concerning corporate power, corrupt governments or even the illegal trade in human organs. And instead of narrating the intricate, investigative tale through a series of interviews with survivors the film is happy to play it safe and have our hero just save the day.

Continue reading

Pilgrim Hill

“Plenty of people are on to the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.”

So speaks John Givings, the lucid schizophrenic of Revolutionary Road. Jimmy, the farmer we encounter in Pilgrim Hill, would meet with John’s approval. As the forlorn hero of the piece, he shows real guts. Jimmy doesn’t speak like a hero, he doesn’t act like a hero, he doesn’t undergo a heroic transformation of character. But he does face the reality of his existence like a hero, seeing the hopelessness around him with perfect clarity, and it is this brave acceptance of his situation that renders him painfully sympathetic. Continue reading

The Sessions

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Boston born poet and journalist Mark O’Brien is the inspiration for Ben Lewin’s latest film The Sessions. Following a crippling attack of Polio as a child O’Brien lives his life mostly confined to the restrictions of an iron lung.  The Sessions   follows O’Brien’s autobiographical writings of his sexual coming of age.

In 1988, at the age of 38, Mark O’Brien (John Hawkins) decides to lose his virginity. Restricted by his inability to move anything but his head he seeks the help of professional sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt).

In several sessions Cheryl engages with Mark physically and helps him discover and understand his own sexuality.  To better understand these sexual encounters Mark seeks the advice of Father Brendan (William H Macy) and in a series of “confessions” he describes his experiences. These frank discussions between Mark and the often dumbfounded priest are tender, honest and quite funny.

Luckily The Sessions is never overly sentimental, gimmicky or affected. This is mainly due to the combination of superb acting and the natural flow of the storytelling. Hawkes excels at portraying the immobile O’Brien, with his head always tilted, his back constantly uncomfortably arched he shows all emotions in his face. Never going overboard but playing O’Brien with an appropriate mixture of sincerity, naivety and sense of humour.

But Hunt in the role of Cheryl is no less impressive. Hunt plays Cheryl as a strong, independent, intelligent woman, undoubtedly comfortable in her own body and very aware of her own imperfections and desires.

The Sessions is quite a special film, a story beautifully told, never saccharine or condescending but tender, honest and very real. It really is no wonder that it won both the Audience and the Special Jury Prize at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. Sadly with staggered and limited release it could be quickly overlooked.

By Jensine-Bethna Wall

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A Dark Truth

Andy Gracia in "A Dark Truth"

Radio talk show host and ex-CIA agent Jack Begosian (Andy Garcia) is trying to make sense of his past by seeking the truth in his nightly radio show. But when he is hired by heiress Morgan Swinton (Deborah Kara Unger) to uncover a water crisis-spurred massacre in South America, Begosian sees his chance for redemption.

Sadly The Dark Truth aspires to more than it delivers. The combination of third world exploitation, corporate cover-up and a leading man trying to do the right thing aims to be highly dramatic, yet still weighty, but only succeeds to feel like a made-for-TV movie.  And even though Garcia tries to hold the poorly written script together it is just not enough.  The action scenes are underdeveloped and bland, the plot too fragmented and the characters have no depth. In addition to this the viewer can’t help but feel that well-known actors like Forest Whitaker and Eva Longoria are past their prime.

It seems as if the aspirations of Director/Screenwriter Damian Lee and his budget were too far apart. His attempt to create a disturbing drama like “Blood Diamond” or an action thriller like “Tears of the Sun” with A Dark Truth failed.  And even the cynical and world-weary monologues of Begosian in his recording booth fail to inspire as everything is to obvious or clichés to actually make the audience think.

The Dark Truth may have good intentions but is boring and filled with lacklustre stars, and truthfully not worth the price of a ticket

Argo

Argo, the new Ben Affleck movie, is based on the real life events that took place in Iran in 1979.  It kick-starts when an angry mob storms the American Embassy in Tehran and take 50 Americans hostage.  Six embassy workers escape through the back and seek refuge in the residence of the Canadian Ambassador.

Back in Washington everyone is up in arms and the task to get the six back home falls to the C.I.A “extraction” expert Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck). Many plans are being considered, but none seem feasible or safe.

Faced with this problem Mendez comes up with the ridiculous idea to get the six out under the guise of making a SciFi film. With the help of special-effects expert and Academy Award winner John Chambers (John Goodman) and prominent producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) Mendez creates a bogus film company called Studio Six and even invites the media to a fake press conference. With posters, storyboards and a buzz backing up the story Mendez then enters Iran under the pretense of scouting for locations and issues false identities for the six Americans in hiding to fly them out.

The story sounds so implausible it’s hard to believe that it is true, that it worked is even more unbelievable. This incredible story wasn’t declassified until 1997 and really makes for a good movie. Affleck proves his doubters wrong again and surrounds himself with formidable actors, even in the supporting roles.

Argo is a great film and even though Affleck takes the liberty to spice up the action a bit towards the end, the film has an authentic feel to it. After all Argo never claims to be a documentary. The only downside to the film is that the science-fiction film Argo was never actually made, a film that Goodman’s character Chambers describes as ‘a twenty-million-dollar Star Wars rip-off” and you can’t help but feel that Arkins as Siegle is right when he stipulates “If I’m going to make a fake movie, it’s going to be a fake hit.”

The closing scene of Argo also seems to be too drawn out, there is no need for it and it detracts from the clever suspense filled film that Argo otherwise is. But overall Affleck has done good and Argo is well worth the price of a ticket.

On The Road…

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn…”

With the help of one all star cast which includes Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Kristen Stewart and Tom Sturridge director Walter Salles has finally done what so many before him have only ever dreamed of; brought to the big screen Jack Kerouacs 1957 novel On The Road. Adapting such a well known and well loved novel was never going to be easy but fortunately for the Brazilian director, the novels legion of die-hard fans, and of course all those fantasists that came before him I can honestly say that he has risen to the challenge and done quite the respectable if not somewhat predictable job here. When I say predictable I am of course referring to Salles earlier film The Motorcycle Diaries which On The Road undoubtedly echoes. Perhaps 2004s effort was simply the directors way of warming up? Who knows!

Set in the late 1940s On The Road tells the story of a group of young hipsters all of whom are yearning to experience something real, something beautiful. Although the story belongs to Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) the real star of the show is the charismatic Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) who is all but determined to live his life against the conformist grain. Following the death of his father aspiring writer Sal who is desperate to escape the bout of writers block that has been plaguing him for far too long now, begins frequenting various dive bars with the poet Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) only to find little in the way of inspiration or indeed relief. But then, suddenly he meets the freewheeling alpha male that is Dean and everything changes. Both the audience and Sal are first introduced to a stark naked Dean who has apparently been enjoying a tryst with his 16 year old bride Marylou (Kristen Stewart) So fascinated and inspired is Sal by this sexually charged and free spirit who seems so gloriously unbound by the restrictions of life, doing what he wants when he wants, and determined to avoid all sense of responsibility that he actually embarks upon a series of cross country road trips with him. Of course these aren’t just any old road trips rather they are the adventures that inspire Salles furious scribbling of notes for a would-be novel.

Predictably, Marylou joins the guys on the road and it isn’t long before Sal develops a sort of infatuation with the saucy youth but somehow it never feels genuine and viewers get the feeling that he doesn’t really care about her and that this infatuation may in fact be the result of one seriously displaced homoerotic bond with Dean. Hrmmm! Throughout the entire film we the audience are treated to a birdseye view of the non conformist life. A life in which drugs, experimental sex, jazz and black culture are all embraced – eagerly! We are also introduced to a whole host of equally weird and wonderful characters including the eccentric couple that is Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen) and Jane (Amy Adams) as well as some very angry women who have been used and abused by the men of the film such as Camille (Kirsten Dunst – so good to have her back!) Camille, in case you were wondering, is the much more stable woman Dean eventually divorces Marylou for in order to settle down and start having babies with. As you can imagine, that doesn’t exactly work out and the films stud quickly returns, again and again, to the ever tolerant and ever willing arms of his ex-wife. Let the drama (or should I say even more drama?) begin…

Although, On The Road does carry with it a sort of touching sadness whereby Dean eventually becomes the used up and left behind raw material for a book destined to make Sal a wealthy New York big-shot the films impact is at best variable. This, I don’t believe can be attributed to any one thing. A film adaptation of the novel was always going to prove difficult after all throughout the novel there is a complete lack of dramatic structure as the book focuses on not one but several unique journeys which ultimately results in a fitfully episodic narrative. All of these are issues even the best director would struggle to overcome and as a result Salles deserves our respect as do the actors and especially the actresses who give it their all. Truly the women of this film do a brilliant job in each of their respective roles and in my opinion really steal the show. It is, after all, their shrill yet futile anger that proves to be one of the most raw and convincing elements of the entire film. And believe me I hate to say this but Stewart (Best known for her role as Bella in Twilight or perhaps for cheating on Robert Pattinson – the horror) who was chosen for the role of Marylou almost five years ago after giving a stellar performance in Into The Wild is perfect, in fact she is beyond perfect. As a long term fan of cinematography I have to say Eric Gautier makes great use of superb and diverse locations such as New York, Canada, Mexico and Argentina making this film, regardless of its overall success one truly worth seeing. Also wonderful is the overall sense you get when looking at the clothes, the decor and hearing the vast range of music that this film was researched to its very limit which not only lends a wonderful sense of authenticity to the movie but makes it an absolute pleasure to watch.

Just remember this; it is extremely rare for any adaptation or interpretation of a song, book, film or any other creative piece to live up to it’s original self and I can guarantee you will enjoy this film!

Film review: Brave

Disney is back and this time around the Princess is Scottish and animated by Pixar. This not so typical fairytale is set in the Scottish Highlands and the heroine is the feisty redheaded and hot-tempered Merida (Kelly MacDonald).

Forced by her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), to learn everything a princess needs to know and how to act in a courtly manner, Merida sneaks out whenever she can to ride her horse and shoot her bow and arrow, with her flaming red hair always free flowing and wild.  King Fergus (Billy Thompson) loves his daughters’ wild nature but bows to his wife’s will and understands the importance of tradition.

But when Merida discovers that she is to be married off to one of the neighbouring clans to preserve the peace and fulfil a promise made long ago she breaks with tradition and enrages everyone in the process.  Not getting her way Merida runs away in true teenager style and finds a way to change the course of her life, with disastrous consequences.  Of course in true Walt Disney tradition there is always a way for those who believe.

This beautifully coloured and painted animation shows the true talent behind Pixar and although this is their first venture into the world of fairytales and also their first true female lead it is much more a Pixar than a Disney film.

This truly beautifully painted story about nonconformity, real relationships, emancipation and taking life into your own hands is another wonderful Pixar film and everyone in the family will enjoy the trip to the movies.

Film Review: Detachment

Director Tony Kaye (American History X) is back in Cinemas with his latest film Detachment and this time around the hell he explores is a public high school somewhere in New York. Filled with disillusioned teachers, unmotivated, dysfunctional students and indifferent parents the school is on the verge of being shut down because of its low test scores causing property values to drop.

Adrien Brody plays the lead in this fractured film, his character Henry Barthes is a substitute teacher, and although Barthes is dedicated to his students he not really willing to commit and make a lasting difference in their lives. In his free time he regularly visits his sick, slightly senile grandfather in a nursing home, cares for a 15 year-old run-away prostitute and writes his thoughts into journals.

While the story pivots around the saintly figure of Brody his supporting cast includes big names like Marcia Gay Harden as the besieged principle, Lucy Lui as the stressed out guidance councillor, James Cann as a pill-popping cynical teacher and beautiful Christina Hendricks as a colleague who tries to initiate some romance with Henry. And although tiny glimpses into the faculty members home lives try to give reasoning and depth to these characters and their actions most scenes seem too unrealistic and bleak. .

Newcomer Sami Gayle as Erica the runaway prostitute however is vibrant and vulnerable and most of the better and tender moments of the film are between her and Brody. And although her transformation from mistreated prostitute to homemaking surrogate daughter is a little too fast, she is the only positive light in this dark film.

Detachment tries to mask its somewhat over the top storyline by using arty tricks like crude chalk drawings, quotes by Albert Camus and Edgar Allan Poe, grim monologues directed at the camera and garish disjointed flashbacks. Instead of enhancing the flow of the story or giving depth to it these interferences often fracture it more and feel too forced.

Ultimately Brody excels in his performance as Henry Barthes, his calm exterior and obvious inner turmoil beautifully brought to screen in subtle actions and quiet moments. But sadly this is not enough to make Detachment a good film.


Jeff Who Lives At Home

Jeff (Jason Segel) is your quintessential slacker, he loves smoking weed nearly as much as he loves M. Night Shyamalan’ s film “Signs”. He rarely ventures out of his mother’s basement and tries to figure out the meaning of his life and destiny by looking for hidden messages and signs in everything.  One morning Jeff is forced to leave his comfort zone when his mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon) sends him on a quest to buy wood glue and fix her kitchen cabinet and a mysterious caller tells him to find Kevin.

Jeff’s brother Pat (Ed Helms) wants a bigger life than he can afford and tries to be a mover and shaker which only ends up annoying everyone, including his wife (Judy Greer).

Sharon spends her day in a small cubical worrying about Jeff, gossiping with her colleagues and thinking that her life is over. But when a secret admirer starts sending her messages she discovers that her dreams are still very much alive.

As the story unfolds Jeff plays basketball, gets beaten up, bumps into his brother, starts stalking his sister in law, jumps on an ice-cream truck and is always on the lookout for signs and “Kevin”.  The intertwining plot is filled with twist and turns and at times it is hard to see where the story is going but with the surprising climax and strong characters Jeff who lives at home is a clever and sweet film.

The brothers Jay and Mark Duplass wrote and directed  Jeff who lives at home and like their offbeat film Cyrus family is the very much at the centre of the plot. Sticking to their independent roots this new film lacks Hollywood glamour and shows a real insight into the grittier aspects of siblings, families and shattered dreams, while somehow still staying positive and at times very funny.

Jason Segel is endearing as the anti-hero Jeff and manages to be witty, insightful and very childlike in equal measures, although at times Jeff does seem a little bit pervy and you just know he smells a little bit unwashed.

Overall Jeff who lives at home is a good film, funny at times and  relies on strong actors, good dialogues and an interesting plot. So leave your 3D goggles at home and enjoy a film that just wants to tell a story and does so well.