In-House Review: Nightcrawler (2014)

imageNightcrawler:

“The closer you look… the darker it gets.”

I have to say, for me personally, this was one of cinema’s highlights last year and it certainly lived up to all i thought it was going to be. Well, almost….

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a bit of a nobody; a loner with obsessive tendencies. Someone who will happily walk over a corpse if it means he’ll get to what he wants.

The film opens with Lou Bloom attempting to find a job in construction, but after refusal, heads on out into the night frustrated and looking for something, anything, better to come his way. Driving on the freeway he inadvertently stumbles across a car accident where his attention is drawn, not to the accident, but indeed to camera man Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) who is by chance on scene filming the carnage. And it is here his obsession starts.

imageAfter being refused by Joe Loder to give him a job as an assistant, Lou Bloom realises that he doesn’t need help. In fact all he needs is a camera and to be at the right place at the right time to capture life’s unfortunate events and to sell the footage to the highest bidder. In steps Rene Russo, Nina Romina, who is the morning news director for one of larger tv networks. She agrees to buy his footage and encourages him to continue his work and promises more exposure and more money within the tv network.

imageAs Lou Bloom’s obsession becomes more controlling of his personality he realises that to be able to get the best out of every unpleasant event, he needs a second pair of hands. This unwitting character is Rick Carey( Riz Ahmed) who, like Lou, is down on his luck and looking for any work that will pay and is happy not to ask too many questions. His weak character plays right into Lou’s hands and Lou knows now he can push the limit of acceptability with regards to what and more importantly, how, he films each event. And this is where I shall leave the plot so as not to spoil anything.

Nightcrawler is a clever mix of modern with retro, kind of in the same vein as Drive with Ryan Gosling. Its story of freelance camera men being “ambulance chasers” is what works so well in giving it that retro feel. It puts you back in a mind-set before the likes of Facebook and Twitter and the 24 hours a day news channels. That rush to get to the exciting story before anyone else and to show it to the world as “yours” must have been something very unique and special for those involved and which, for me, feels well captured here.

imageI have to admit that there were one or two little things that popped up where I thought… “hmmmm would that really happen…?!?” But I forgave it that because the rest of the film was so well-balanced and written to the point where later in the film I actually gasped in shock out loud. So to Dan Gilroy on his writing and directorial debut, I say “Bravo!”

So, simply put, I highly recommend Nightcrawler. In fact, thinking about it, I could have just said that at the beginning..

Reviewed by Ben

In-House Review: Fury (2014)

fury-reviewFury:

“War never ends quietly.”
Now, like most *ahem* young men like myself, I love a good war movie. Stuff exploding, people shouting obscene language, large guns, and the fight over good and evil taking centre stage once again. What’s not to like?! So when I heard two years ago that Brad Pitt was doing a realistic WWII film I was quite excited, naturally. But sadly, like opening a market-bought Christmas cracker and finding the feeble attempt at a gift inside, I was a little disappointed.
Set in 1945 during the last months of WWII, the films follows a US tank crew lead by grizzly
voiced, scarred, battered and weathered Don Collier also known as “Wardaddy” (Pitt).  His five-man crew, partly consisting of Shia LeBoef, Michael Pena and Jon Bernthal, have been together through almost the entire war campaign, namely from Africa to Europe, and have taken part in some of the most ferocious engagements of the war. Sadly for them, their long-standing machine-gunner is killed whilst fighting in Germany and their new gunner, fresh-faced typist Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), is an unexpected and, to some extent, unwanted replacement.
Unsurprisingly, the crew’s initial time together is not harmonious and with a reluctant soldier at the trigger of the secondary weapon in the tank it is only a matter of time before something goes wrong and lives are lost. (I’ll say no more on that as it’ll be a bit of spoiler).
Brad Pitt;Logan LermanAs the war rages on, Wardaddy and his crew find themselves further into Germany where the fighting intensifies, especially against the die-hard elite SS units and German Panzer tanks. The realisation of what they are up against starts to become an ever pressing thought and with death all around them, the crew stand to wonder how long it’ll be before their luck runs out.
Now, for me, the film is well shot and produced. It’s gritty and violent in all the right places with the violence never seeming to be out-of-place or even gratuitous. But there’s just something missing. There is one segment in particular where Wardaddy (Pitt) and new boy Ellison (Lermen) enter a house and have a slightly uncomfortable engagement with two women which includes an awkward breakfast and adult interaction for Ellison in particular. Now while I’m not against a nice breakfast and a bit of adult interaction, the scene for me was unnecessary. It doesn’t add anything to the characters or the story. I get that the film writers wanted to add a scene where there was no fighting and death, which I appreciate, but this scene was not the answer. I’m not by any means saying I know what the right scene should be, but it isn’t that.
BradPIttCloseFuryNow, as I said, the film lacks a little something. Something that I still can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe its the fact that none of the characters really draw you in, or, to be honest, are even that original. The five man crew seem to be a mix of characters written for Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers which were all good for their respective film/tv series, but not original for Fury. Or maybe its some of the accents that are used, which for me made some of the lines inaudible.
 It could be that the story line itself is in fact not that original either. Namely: ‘Tightly nit crew has horrible moment, new person turns up, causes friction and risks people’s lives, then builds to crescendo where lots of death occurs and only a few survive”. Yup, sound familiar…? Its Saving Private Ryan! Sorry, I mean Fury…
Fury Tank in the Hayfield Battle in Columbia Pictures' FURY.My final note is once again about the BBFC rating of being suitable for 15 year olds. I am truly astounded that it’s not an 18. Seeing someone explode and limbs go everywhere or another guy’s head explode as it gets crushed by a tank is not in my mind suitable for a 15-year-old. Let me put it this way, Top Gun upon its release was a 15… See what I mean…?
Anyway, overall, as I started out by saying, I was disappointed. I’m a big Brad Pitt fan and I’ve even come round to like Shia LeBoef, but this film just doesn’t hit the heights it should do with a cast and budget like it had. Maybe the fact that they were filming in England on remembrance Sunday should have been the first give away that they weren’t really paying attention to detail about WWII and what should have been expected of them.
brad-pitt-in-furyFury…? More like mildly irritated.
posted by Ben

Preview: The 87th Annual Old White Guy Awards

gurus-top8-021815It seems like the biggest stories of this year’s Oscars have been those films and people not nominated, rather than those who were. Much has been made of the fact that not a single nominee in the Best Director or either Screenplay categories are either female or African-American, despite the presence of presumed contenders Ava DuVernay, who directed Selma or Gillian Flynn, who adapted her own novel Gone Girl from page to screen. Add to this the fact that the Academy also nominated 20 white actors in its acting categories, one almost gets the feeling if it could nominate 10 old men for the Best Actress categories it would, if only the rules would allow it.

imageBoyhood.

Moving on from these and other snubs, though (LEGO Movie, anyone?!), the race for Best Picture seems to have come down to two very different films: Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, which has the backing of most critics, and Alejandro Gonzalez-Iñárritu’s Birdman, which seems to have the majority of industry support. The criticism has been leveled at both that they are merely gimmicks, in Boyhood‘s case that it was filmed over 12 years and in Birdman‘s that it is made to look like one single continuous take from beginning to end. But both are brilliant, unique films that completely deserve their nominations. So which is going to take home the big prize?

birdman-01Birdman.

Right now, the smart money is on Birdman. It is this year’s most-nominated film (tied with The Grand Budapest Hotel with 9 apiece) and all the recent momentum seems to have swung its way. It also seems likely to take home awards for Director, Original Screenplay and Cinematography. Of course Boyhood is certainly in with a shout and if it manages an upset in Picture it will almost certainly take Best Director too, but at the moment it looks like a solitary win for Patricia Arquette’s magnificent performance in Best Supporting Actress for the one-time frontrunner.

Birdman is a film of the moment, edgy and fast-paced and it’s about ‘the business’, precisely the sort of back-patting ego-inflater the Academy loves (I mean, it also happens to be an excellent film which helps, at least). But one can’t help the feeling that if it isn’t Boyhood‘s name called on the night, it may just be the latest in Oscar’s long-running tradition of should-have-won films that we look back on in years to come with hands on heads. Boyhood is sure to go down in history as a great piece of American cinema from Richard Linklater, some would say his generation’s greatest American director  – but is it what the Academy likes?

the-theory-of-everything-eddie-redmayne-2-3Eddie Redmayne as Hawking in Theory of Everything.

The only major award Birdman seems likely to lose is Best Actor, which is surprising considering Michael Keaton’s mammoth performance. But in a tight race it looks like it’s Eddie Redmayne’s to lose. Redmayne has surged late in the running with his remarkable work as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. The Academy loves a true story and a physical transformation, and Redmayne nails both with aplomb. Although Bradley Cooper scores his third consecutive nomination for his flag-waving work in American Sniper, he and fellow nominees Benedict Cumberbatch and Steve Carell will all just be happy to be there.

What a pity that far and away the year’s best performance, from David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, jr. in Selma has been ignored. I wonder why. I mean, the Academy did nominate Laurence Olivier for playing Othello in blackface…but that’s none of my business.

still-aliceMoore in Still Alice.

The other acting categories are all but sewn up. Julianne Moore will get her long overdue statue for her work in Still Alice, while JK Simmons (Whiplash) and Patricia Arquette (Boyhood) will complete this year’s line-up with deserved wins. In another year without Moore perhaps Reese Witherspoon (Wild) or Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night) might have challenged but both already have Oscars of their own and the Academy’s old white men- I’m so sorry, old wise men have decided its ‘time’ to honour one of the best actresses working for the last 20 years.

Ida1Ida.

There are still a few unpredictable races scattered throughout, like Best Foreign Language Film. Despite many predicting Pawel Pawlikowski’s majestic Ida, this category has seen many upsets in recent years, so don’t be surprised to hear Argentina’s Wild Tales called out and that’s what I’m predicting to win. There’s even an outside chance of Russia’s searingly powerful Leviathan taking home the award, but in the past US foreign relations have played a bigger role than they maybe should have in determining this one and so it seem unlikely we shall see a Russian winner. On the documentary front it would seem that Edward Snowden doc Citizenfour  is going to be the one to beat, though keep an eye out for the wonderful Finding Vivian Maier, an in-store favourite, although it’s unlikely to be an upset this year.

Things to Keep an Eye Out For:

  • Neil Patrick Harris is the latest brave soul to take on the task of hosting the ceremony. Can he revitalize the world’s most popular roomful of old white millionaires?
  • Best Cinematography sees veteran Dick Pope finally nominated for Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner. Can either he or equally overdue legend Roger Deakins (Unbroken) claim a statuette or will we see Birdman’s Emmanuel Lubezki win for a second consecutive year (he took it home last year for Gravity)?
  • Just how much support will dark horses Grand Budapest Hotel and American Sniper have? Both could easily come away with 3 or 4 statues of their own. If any films are going to sneakily prove popular choices, it’s these two. Expect Sniper to challenge for both Sound categories, Editing and perhaps even Adapted Screenplay. Expect Grand Budapest to be up for it in Costume, Production Design, Hair and Make-Up, Cinematography and maybe even Original Screenplay if it’s really loved.
  • With no Gone Girl in Best Adapted Screenplay, it could go anywhere. Expect it to be one of the Brit biopics. Either further love for Theory of Everything (along with Best Actor and potentially Score) or a consolation for The Imitation Game.
  • Animated Film frontrunner The LEGO Movie was a shock omission, so will the completely wonderful Boxtrolls get it’s due or will we be learning How to Train Your Dragon?
  • The one nomination LEGO did get was for it’s hit theme song “Everything is Awesome”, expect song to come down to this versus Selma’s Glory”, which might end up being the ‘sorry-we-were-racist’ prize for 2015.

And finally, will it be Inarritu and Birdman or Linklater and Boyhood that come out on top? While some are predicting a split between Best Director and Best Picture, this is rare (ignore the fact that it’s happened in both the last 2 years, it’s RARE I tell you!) and whichever man wins is likely to see his film win too.

Selma-FilmSelma.

Fingers crossed on this end for Boyhood (or, in a perfect world, Selma – but that’s so unlikely it’s actually past the point of parody) but regardless of which film wins, either would be one of the most artistically daring projects the Academy has ever gone for, so good luck to all!

Posted by David.

In-house review: Gone Girl (2014)

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 Gone Girl – dir. David Fincher, starring Ben Affleck and Rosumund Pike.

Reviewed by Ben.

Now where to begin… where to begin….?

The problem with writing this piece is trying to not give anything away and spoiling it for all you lovely people reading this…but I volunteered, so here goes…

Gone Girl is the adaptation of a book of the same title by Gillian Flynn from 2012. Directed by David Fincher (Girl with the here Dragon Tattoo, Fights Club, Seven), it tells the story of the disappearance of Amy Dunne (played by Rosamund Pike). Featuring Ben Affleck, who plays Nick Dunne (Amy’s husband), the story is in essence a ‘who dunnit?’ With lies, betrayal and murder on the agenda, it’s left to the audience for the first half of the film to try to work out who is guilty and who is throwing the red herrings about the place.

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Now, while I have no issue with a good psychological thriller, there are several elements of this film which did annoy me… greatly…I won’t say what they are as it would give away too much of the plot, but for me the second half of the film definitely saves the first half. Ben Affleck is pretty average at best, especially compared to Rosamund Pike who holds your attention from start to finish. Nick Dunne’s sister, played by Carrie Coon, is also a worthy mention for its her character that in a round-about way plays the audience, for she is completely in the dark about all the events that lead up to the disappearance, so as she learns of what’s been happening behind closed doors, so do we.

I’m going to leave it at that because I really can’t say any more without giving the plot away.

But, to answer the obvious question of would I recommend it?  Yes I would. Just be prepared to have an open mind about certain things for the sake of a good, old-fashioned Hollywood thriller.

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***

Interview with Gone Girl cinematographer, Jeff Cronenweth.

 

In-House Review: The Equalizer (2014)

image“What do you see when you look at me…?”

Well, Mr Washington, I see a man who looks bloody good for someone who is over 60! But enough about that, lets talk The Equalizer.

Set in Boston, Denzel plays Robert McCall a man with a hidden past. His life consists of sticking to a very regimented pattern, whereby he spends his days working in a home depot store and then frequenting an all night cafe drinking tea and reading classic books. He is a man of conviction, a man who seemingly wants to help those around him for no personal gain and is happy to disappear into the background of hum-drum life where no one will bother him. However all this changes after an encounter with a fellow patron of the all night cafe, Teri (whose real name is Alina played by Chloe Grace Moretz).

imageTeri/Alina is a young girl who has been forced into working as a call girl for a Russian gang and after witnessing the abuse that she is subjected to, Robert (Washington), realizes he cannot stand by and do nothing. But after years of living a lie and suppressing his old life to the shadows, can he go back to being the man whom he’d rather forget?

I know that those of you reading this will think ” Here we go… another mindless Hollywood action film” and, yes, there is a little bit of that woven into the film. But having said that, I think there is definitely enough extra to set this film apart. To me, its well shot, slick and it plays to Denzel’s strengths. To give a comparison, it sits somewhere between “Taken” with Liam Neeson and Denzel’s “Man on Fire”.

imageMy biggest word of warning, though, is I’m not sure who watched it and gave it a “15” certificate, but clearly they weren’t watching the same film I was. At moments it has very strong violence to which even Saving Private Ryan would blush.

Overall, I would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a better than average action thriller that’s slick and easy on the eye… and the brain!

Enjoy!

 

Posted by Ben.

Lowdown on ‘The Golden Dream’ (2014)

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reviewed by Rob Munday.

A teenager stalks dusty favela streets. This is Juan. He goes inside to pack his bag and stash a roll of dollar bills. Samuel abandons his work looking for slim pickings in an endless mountain of rubbish. Sara cuts her hair short and straps down her breasts to become ‘Osvaldo’ – a safer option for the obstacles that lie ahead. So begins the debut feature from writer/director (and former cameraman) Diego Quemada-Diez.

The Golden Dream here is to get to America, the Promised Land where a better life awaits. Our juvenile heroes often say they are simply going “North” as if heading up represents a higher purpose.

As they set out walking along overgrown train tracks you can’t help recall Stand By Me and we will gain similar affection for our protagonists (although Richard Dreyfuss and his Amstrad remain thankfully absent). This is a classic journey movie, both a coming of age tale and a comment on the wider politics of America’s attitude toward its southern neighbours. This is shown by the appearance of Chauk, a Tzotzil Indian who speaks no Spanish. Juan’s attitude to Chauk mirrors a wider racism in believing this unknown quantity must have base instincts and no redeeming purpose. But Chauk is a kind soul and a counter to the narrow viewpoint of the others.

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The trains drive the film. They lumber restlessly through the lush splendour of the Guatemalan landscapes and beyond. They set the pace, create a soundtrack, and plant the thought: What is the real cargo? Is it the contents of the carriages or the hundreds of potential low paid workers who ride on the top breathing the humid air as they dream of the north?

The film rests on young shoulders but the acting is pitch perfect (and was rewarded with Best Ensemble Cast at last years Cannes Film Festival). The characters feel real and truthful throughout. Often they remain silent as we observe and yet their stillness and the thoughts that churn behind their eyes say everything. Diego Quemada-Diez has worked with many acclaimed directors (including Ken Loach, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Fernando Meireles, Spike Lee) and the influence of Loach is evident in the clear-eyed humanity, support of the underdog and belief in the redeeming power of hope.

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Whether riding the train or watching the internal conflicts of a life in transit this is cinema that moves and Diego Quemada-Diez is a director to keep your eye on.

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Truffaut Revisited – Part 2: Jules et Jim (1962)

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Review by Rob Munday
Welcome to Paris. Early 20th century. Before the war.
Take a ride with me on this merry-go-round, Francois Truffaut seems to say, the opening sequences here a bravura display of editing and narration to create the city as circus. Here is a story of two men (Jules and Jim) and one woman (Catherine). Early on Jules et Jim pre-empts Godard’s Bande a Parte with it’s love triangle and in the playfulness on show in front and behind the camera.
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The use of stock footage to fill gaps fits into this tone. It’s part of a refreshingly flip attitude to period drama – a genre that often becomes more about frills than thrills. These three aren’t characters from history but simply three modern people in a world from the past.We follow these free spirits driven by Catherine’s lust for life but interrupted by the war. Separated by conflict, love pulls them together. That sounds sentimental and perhaps it’s where the problem lies as there is a disconnect here between the director and his material (a book by Henri-Pierre Roché).
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As it goes on the cracks start to show. You find yourself caring less and less – Jules is simply a sad sack, Catherine (although brilliantly played by Jeanne Moreau) becomes infuriatingly self-centred, and Jim is little more than a nose on legs – first with a moustache and then without.Perhaps Truffaut should have stopped shooting halfway through this story and picked it up at a later date when his world-weariness could match his characters post war selves. As it is Jules et Jim limps towards it’s conclusion as if weighed down by period dramas of the past.

Truffaut Revisited – Part 1: Shoot the Pianist (1960)

Tirez+1Review by Rob Munday

Shoot the Pianist

Francois Truffaut’s second and third films reflect the tastes of the French New Wave. So here we have a (very French) film noir based on American pulp fiction that was followed by a period epic that puts two fingers up to the bloated French cinema that preceded it.

What can a movie be? After a life spent worshipping at the altar of cinema Truffaut’s answer is clear: Everything.
Shoot the Pianist is a no holds barred assault on standard filmmaking. It is, by turns, thrilling, funny, pulpy, tender, tragic, simple, grand, irreverent and romantic. Sometimes these collide so suddenly your head spins – the possibilities are endless, and it all looks effortless.

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The pianist in question is Charlie Kohler (Charles Aznavour), a bar room piano player who keeps himself to himself. Meanwhile his past is running down the street, pursued by gangsters and about to crash into Charlie’s solitude and force him to confront the man he once was. For Charlie was Edouard Saroyan, a man who broke free from a family of criminals into the big-time as a classical pianist.

This feels like a film made on the fly. It’s as if Truffaut felt the success of 400 Blows could die any second so why not go out all guns blazing with this: a scampering tale where fingers must pick between tickling the ivories or the trigger of a gun. What really makes it great cinema is the heart that holds it together. Put simply, Truffaut cares. He cares above all for this talented, elusive, playful, scared little man who is hovering between two identities knowing he is doomed to make the wrong choice.

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All this in 82 spine-tingling minutes.
Sometimes that’s all you need to show what movies can be.

STAFF A-Z OF FILM: ‘G’ is for Great and Gorgeous (films and staff :) p.t.1

SIMON SAYS:

garage-movie-poster-2007-1020546151G is for GARAGE (2007) – dir. Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did, 2012 and Frank, 2014 starring Michael Fassbender)

Ok, I know what you are going to say: “He likes bleak films.” Yes, I do, but only when they’re as good as this.

Garage is a little gem of a film whose central character, Josie (played by Pat Shortt), has spent all of his adult life working in a run-down petrol station on the edge of a small town in rural Ireland. He is lonely, and a bit of a misfit, but seems content in a rather strange way until, one summer, with the arrival of David (Connor Ryan) at the petrol station, his life changes and we are given an extraordinary insight into how difficult and isolated Josie’s life is. It also vividly illustrates how much most of us are wrapped up in our own lives with our stopping to give a moments thought to those around us.

Garage+(2007)It’s a wonderful snapshot of just how difficult life can be in a small rural community – lookout for Abrahamson’s new film, Frank, starring Michael Fassbender and Domnhall Gleeson which will be released on DVD on the 15th of September.

***

BEN SAYS:

So… where to begin…?
 Not suprisingly there’s quite a hefty amount of really good films that I could choose from!
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I mean, should I go with Robert Redford’s Great Gatsby? Or John Travolta as Chilli Palmer in Get Shorty? Matt Damon as the special operative on the hunt for WMD’s in Green Zone? The Italian dark drama / thriller Gomorrah set in, well, Italy about the power struggles and violence that comes in the wake of the mafia crime families? What about Tom Hanks and Sam Rockwell in The Green Mile…? Or the heroics, lies and violence of my guilty TV pleasure Game of Thrones? Or even the ultimate childhood family great, Ghostbusters with the now sadly departed Harold Ramis…? Wait.. what about Good Morning Vietnam with the great Robin Williams or The Goonies…? Did I mention Russell Crowe’s emperor-defying soldier-come-slave in Gladiator...? In fact, cue the music, The Great Escape…oh G*d… hold on… this could take a while….
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 2 days later….
Right… I’ve decided. I’m definitely, maybe, choosing one… no, make that two films to share with you.
Firstly, God Bless America from 2011. This film in my humble opinion was largely over looked and very quickly made its way to the cult comedy shelf with not too many a customer giving it the chance that it really deserves. What swayed me to choose this film is as I was sitting down to write this segment, an advert for the X Factor appeared on the TV. As I am, to say the least, not the greatest of fans of these kinds of shows, it reminded me of the film in question. So, let me give you a brief rundown of it.
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G is for God Bless America (2011) – dir. Bobcat Goldthwaite (World’s Greatest Dad – 2009).
 God Bless America follows Frank (Joel Murray – Mad Men / The Artist), a man to whom life seems to have dealt an unbelievably s**tty hand. His wife has left him for another man. His daughter seems to despise him unconditionally. He works in a place where he cannot stand his co – workers. Then , just to top off the disastrous life, he finds that he has a severe illness, where by, due to it and the medication, he ends up being awake all night watching television shows about people whom he grows to despise because of their seemingly undeserved good fortune.
    Unsurprisingly, Frank reaches breaking point – not unlike Michael Douglas in Falling Down – and makes the ultimate decision that these pseudo celebrities that have become the bane of his life need to be gotten rid of. However, Frank is not a trained killer… in any way.. shape… or form…! Now I should state that this film is a dark comedy, not that I’ve described it as one, but I promise it is and it’s in this bumbling attempt to get rid of his nemeses where the comedy lies. As Frank’s killing starts he meets an unlikely friend and accomplice, 16 year old Roxy, with whom he shares many an opinion about how and why American culture appears to be going to the dogs and who are responsible. Let the unlawful, but not necessarily unjust, killing start….
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 As I said, this film is a comedy, written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait (yes thats a real name and yes its pretty cool) who is himself a comedian, which is more than apparent when its comes to some of the cutting lines Frank exchanges with his ex wife… This film may not tickle everyone’s funny bone, but if you’ve enjoyed In Bruges, The Guard, Calvary or indeed just really dislike reality TV shows, then this film is a must for you. It is an 18 rating so expect some strong language and violence to say the least… but if you’re dreading the winter TV schedule – ahem X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and the like – then rest assured this will ease the pain of what everyone will be talking about around the water cooler at work!
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***
 My second choice is a film I’ve loved for a long time and I’m sure for many of you it’s one that you have seen in the near 30 years since its release.
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G is for Gorillas in the Mist (1988) – dir. Michael Apted.
 I am of course talking about Gorillas in the Mist from 1988, starring Sigourney Weaver. The film follows the true story of Dian Fossey, an anthropologist who embarks on the adventure to follow, study, record and understand the gorillas that live in the depths of the Congo mountains. As she arrives in the Congo and finds her way to the edges of civilisation, she realises that these incredible primates are barely understood and that their way of life and habitat are in serious danger from the humans that share their lands
    As the years go by, Dian faces many a danger not just from the gorillas themselves but from militants and poachers who have their own agendas at heart. But, thankfully, her persistence and unequivical bravery allows Dian to be a part of the gorillas’ social group and is ultimately accepted by the alpha male. This, in turn, enabled her to be allowed for days at a time to live, study and move freely within the group without being perceived as a threat. Because of her unique study, Dian’s efforts are noticed by National Geographic back in the US who, in return for her work, help fund her research out in the Congo.
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I don’t want to say too much more on this film because if you have never seen it then it really is something that I believe everyone should watch. I would also heartily recommend it as a family movie, for i think its engages people of all ages. I should say, although it may seem obvious, that there are dark moments in the film which come from her fighting poachers and militias, to those that want to take the gorillas to zoos around the world for profit. But despite these darker moments, I believe that the true story’s message and inspiration to go out to the unknown and become a pioneer in whatever interests you should be something that is encouraged to everyone, especially those of a younger age where it seems social media is more enticing than going out to discover what an amazing world we live in…
***
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REVIEW: Starred Up (2013)

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Reviewed by Rob Munday

With this title and a lead character called Eric Love you might guess that this was a tale of a wannabe pop singer or perhaps a trainee accountant who dreams of a more glamorous life – you’d be wrong. Starred Up is a prison drama that hits you right between the eyes with a visceral power not seen since the days of Alan Clarke.

This Eric Love is a violent criminal who despite his tender years has been ‘starred up’ and placed in an adult jail. There’s no doubt that Eric is a dangerous man and early on this film plays like a straight version of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson. However, this doesn’t last, and Starred Up develops into a far more real and involving story.

The film opens with Eric’s inception into the prison, a dehumanising series of procedures, before he’s banged up in his cell. Eric has to find his way in this intimidating world with it’s own unwritten rules and alliances.

starred-up-bgThrowing a spanner in the works is the presence of one old lag called Neville (Ben Mendelsohn) who just happens to be Eric’s dad. Nev is an intense presence who can flip without warning between concern and intimidation. Mendelsohn puts in a characteristically captivating performance confirming him as one of the finest screen actors working today.

06-STARRED UP_Publicity Still 4 by Aidan Monaghan_0The camera takes the role of another prisoner. It observes the rivalries and unspoken communications, it sees Eric’s fear and anger, and it follows as Eric bowls down the walkways like another wounded dog in this giant kennel. There’s a growing sense that Eric and the other inmates are caged animals with the Victorian surroundings and harsh sound effects adding to the feeling of brutalisation. What this film does, with Eric as our guide, is dismantle the prison system piece by piece.

starred-up-bg-4In many ways it is a standard prison drama featuring violence, the prison ‘Daddy’, drugs, corruption, cigarettes, the childlike hierarchy of treats (a Mars Bar is near the top), and the liberal volunteer (Rupert Friend) trying to make a difference. But there are vital differences: Former prison worker and first-time writer Jonathan Asser has written a script dripping in authenticity to rise above the usual prison clichés. This is aided by a uniformly strong cast and an on-form director. Here David Mackenzie realises the promise he had shown with previous films such as Hallam Foe and Young Adam to establish himself as a major British director.

At the heart of it all is Jack O’Connell as Eric with a performance of raw truthfulness. As with Tim Roth’s volatile Trevor in Alan Clarke’s Made in Britain the more we watch Eric the more we feel for him and the more we doubt the system he has become a part of.

'A hint of the young Malcolm McDowell': Jack O'Connell as Eric in Starred Up.It’s a hard knock life but Starred Up shows that with vitality, humour and an unflinching eye it can be unmissable cinema. Critics and audiences went mad for A Prophet – this is better.

***

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SIMON SAYS: The Lunchbox (2013) is a tasty treat

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Directed by Ritesh Batra. Starring Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur.

Amidst the chaos and colour of a wonderfully hectic Mumbai, comes this simple yet charming tale of love and culinary excellence!

Saajan, a grumpy office worker, nearing retirement, has only 30 years worth of tedious paperwork to look back on and contemplate, when unexpectedly the wrong lunch box is dropped on his desk.

Ila, the sender, intends it for her cheerless, ungrateful husband. Disappointed by his lack of response, she includes a letter the following day, not realising the lunch box had never reached her spouse.

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Saajan, meanwhile, so impressed by the delicious food, decides to write back and the correspondence begins!

A wonderful mix of ’84 Charing Cross Road’ combined with ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ ensues, with the aromatic spice of India thrown in.

the-lunchbox05Saaja’s eyes are finally opened to Ila’s mission in life – but will Ila find the happiness she deserves? Watch it and find out.

***

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3 Grrrls VS the World: WE ARE THE BEST! (2013)

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Reviewed by Rob Munday
Lukas Moodysson won deserved plaudits for his first two features Fucking Åmål (aka Show Me Love) and Together. Since then he has explored darker stories and anyone who saw Container (screened at LFF in 2006) witnessed the implosion of one of Europe’s best directors. Thankfully, We Are The Best! is a fresh blast of youthful fun.

This is early 1980s Stockholm and 13-year-old Bobo isn’t happy. Her mum’s having a house party but Bobo just wants to hide in her room and listen to punk rock. At school Bobo gets flak from the boys because of her cropped hair but at least her mohawked friend Klara will back her up. They present a united front against the uber-80s girls (all blonde hair make-up and spandex) who say punk is dead.

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While at the community centre, Bobo and Klara get frustrated at the noise coming from the rehearsal room. But Klara spots a loophole – the band haven’t put themselves down on the rota, so she signs in – if someone’s gonna make a noise it might as well be them. The weak-willed manager has no choice. So Klara and Bobo have the space and the equipment – now they just need the music. Driven by school frustrations they pen their first punk song and recruit the quiet but talented Hedvig to complete their three-piece.
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Based on Coco Moodysson’s comic, We Are The Best! has a natural spirit and perfectly captures the childhood need to stamp your personality on the world. Punk music provides a chance for these three to rail against the status quo (and Status Quo) to create something that is really theirs. The performances never hit a false note with a truth and emotional honesty that sucks you in. So while these girls are finding their feet you can’t help but get wrapped up in their world.
This is real childhood and like Klara’s bass guitar it resonates: the intense focus on music and magazines, the grand plans, the friendships, the utter bafflement at your parents’ behaviour. As with the kids, these parents are real characters: fallible, silly, unpredictable, but loving.

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As these girls go through squabbles, mixed allegiances, and the spectre of boys so their musical chops develop and they become a proper punk band with a suitably fuck-off attitude to their audience.
Growing up is hard to do but with We Are The Best! Moodysson has rediscovered his light side and created a story of adolescent outsiders full of vitality and heart.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)

MV5BMTQ0NzU4NjQ5N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzM1MTQ3NA@@._V1_SY1023_CR26,0,630,1023_AL_Review by Rob Munday

Following the re-issue of Michael Cimino’s flawed opus, Heaven’s Gate, comes the crisp Blu-Ray revival of his debut Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (also available on DVD).

The star-name here, however, was not the tyro director, but its grizzled star, Clint Eastwood. This is an odd-couple-road-movie-cum-comic-crime-caper concerning Clint’s stolid old crook and Jeff Bridges’ eager chancer.

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It’s an enjoyably hokey adventure in which our heroes stay on the move pursued by inept gunmen on both sides of the law.

This is Clint in comic knockabout mode clearly indicating his move toward the slapstick orangutan hi-jinks of Every Which Way But Loose and its successors (that also featured the ‘just been caught with his pants down’ face of Geoffrey Lewis). Both Eastwood and Bridges add weight to underwritten roles. Clint’s Thunderbolt is gruff gravitas in slacks, a tough individualist forced into sharing a ride. As his fresh-faced companion, Bridges’ Lightfoot is an affront to this typical Eastwood persona. He showers Thunderbolt with love and affection – determined to make the granite face crack a smile.

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Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is 1970s America in the sunshine: the glory of the open road, the windswept haircuts, the Honky Tonk soundtrack, a brief appearance by Gary Busey, and an attitude to women that’s equivalent to a seaside dirty postcard. In fact the whole venture is a postcard from another time with lovingly captured panoramic vistas and an enduring holiday mood.

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For a director known for his excesses this is a modest but defiantly epic work. There was no way Clint would put up with doing fifty takes and whilst this film belongs more to the star than it’s writer/director, Cimino does bring a sure-handed grandness to proceedings. Although very different in tone, you can’t help but notice the hints of Cimino’s future work: the close attention on a few circling characters all set against a vast canvas; the adoration of the American landscape and push toward the mythical. Despite the quality on show here you get the nagging feeling that Cimino already had one eye on the icy peaks of Pennsylvania and those elusive deer. Great things were to come and you can sense the optimism in the air.

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The Deer Hunter (1978)

***

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Speaking Parts (Atom Egoyan, 1989)

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In a hotel where an uncanny reality makes moves against the isolated desires of the characters, Speaking Parts (Atom Egoyan, 1989) is a cold trip. It is loaded with unrequited love, quiet anguish, subtle and not-so-subtle power plays, technological alienation and the consequences of unruly passions.

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This film is full of curly black hair. Gabrielle Rose gives a wonderfully measured performance as a writer who is losing control of her work to a film production. Arsinée Khanjian, Egoyan’s wife, plays the insular and dreamy housekeeping staff who is obsessed with her colleague, an aspiring actor played by Michael McManus, whose blankness is chilling. Although the film shares a great deal with the spooky dreamscapes of David Lynch and the weird modernity of early David Cronenberg, Speaking Parts seems most closely akin to the kinds of crises we find in Joseph Losey’s Accident (1967). Having painted this quiet grey picture, I must add, the film is not without humour and the sentimental speeches made by the stoney faced David Hemblen as “The Producer” are golden.

This film gets bonus points because it has scenes set in a video shop.

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Check out the amazingly vintage website of Speaking Parts star Michael McManus:

http://www.michael-mcmanus.com/

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posted by Tom Moore

 

Nebraska (2013)

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Reviewed by Rob Munday

Nebraska, one of those states you can’t put your finger on unless you’re looking at a map (and even then it may take a while). Florida, New York, California all come with pre-wrapped expectations: sun and sand, New York New York, and Arnold Schwarzenegger; but Nebraska is largely a blank. And that works for this film, as Alexander Payne’s latest is about a lost America, a place strangely devoid of the life it should have.

Woody (Bruce Dern) is out on his own. Coat flapping, cotton wool hair torn apart by the wind, he walks along the great American pavement (or highway as it’s better known). Woody has purpose, he’s off to Nebraska, keen to collect the million dollars promised to him in a letter. But he has ignored the small print; the letter is just a circular. Woody’s no millionaire, he’s just a deluded old man.

NEBRASKAHorrified by his antics, his wife Kate, a lady full of grouch with a foul mouth to match, calls in son David for help. But David is ill equipped for this task; his life ain’t going so great and he’d rather not deal with this old man who never did much for him. Woody’s having none of it; he’s going one way or the other – maybe a road trip to Nebraska is just what David needs.

This being Payne, Nebraska is no ode to the open road but instead a chance for these characters to get to know each other. Woody and David get diverted on the way and become caught up in their past – back in the small town where they once lived. The shadow of recession looms large here. There is nothing much happening in this town beyond beer and TV; the streets lie empty and forlorn in the hope tumbleweed may provide some excitement.

They stay with relatives who all seem stuck in arbitrary lives. The mum fusses pointlessly, the dad sits watching TV along with the two fat sons who may as well be called Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. A beer in their hands they all seem happy to wait for the apocalypse. For David you can see the creeping horror, this is what happens when you get caught in the flow of everyday poverty. Meanwhile word gets around of Woody’s fortune and excitement spreads. We see the stink that money brings, the praise heaped on those who have it and the base instincts its lure encourages.

NEBRASKAAs time slips by David learns more about his dad’s past and his view starts to change. Maybe Woody is less a drunk that’s lost his marbles and more damaged goods after living a life too open to abuse in a cynical world. There is pathos in Woody and this is down to Dern who holds the screen beautifully with his usual mix of unpredictable magnetism. He’s aided by the casual evil of Stacy Keach (who plays his nemesis Ed Pegram) and understated support from Will Forte as David.

This is the first of Payne’s features not to be written by him and yet Bob Nelson’s script is not only based in Payne’s home state but fits right in with his output. There is a sadness in Payne’s work, a disappointment with people in general but also a willingness to care for them and laugh at their foibles.

nebraska-movie-image-01Nebraska moves at a casual pace and has the solid feeling of a well crafted film but there are missteps. Scenes are played flat and slow which can lead to deadpan delights but when the acting falters, proceedings soon become stilted and lifeless.
This is a gentle and effective comedy but you may yearn for the bite of Payne’s sharp debut Citizen Ruth, a film that starred Bruce Dern’s daughter Laura.