Thursday, 31 January 2008

Penelope Review

For a pitch of twenty five words or less you could do a lot worse than, "A girl is born cursed with the face of a pig. Only when she finds true love will the curse be lifted." With Christina Ricci playing the little piggy and James McAvoy as the one man who may look beyond her snout there is a real potential for something sweet in the reverse Beauty and the Beast set up.

Unfortunately thanks to some dire choices made by the writer, the director, the crew and nearly all the cast it starts turning sour before the end of Reel 1. And by the end of the film you leave with a step by step guide as to how to ruin a half decent concept. So the film makers of Penelope if you're listening, I know you are, here's some tips to stop me wanting to feed your corpses to wild boars.

1. Decide when and where your movie is set and tell the audience. Is it America? Possibly because the very British Richard E. Grant, Nick Frost and James McAvoy spend their screentime trying, and failing, to sound Yank enough. But then the blue blood aristocracy thread (Nigel Havers et al) and location seems to suggest England. But maybe its a make believe land which would keep with the fairytale element. So why have the British actors playing American in the first place?!
2. Using Voiceover and Spinning newspapers to tell your story is lazy. I'm not going all Robert McKee in Adaptation here as Voiceover can be witty, unique, even essential. Here it isn't any of them.
3.Don't take camera work tips from Battlefield Earth. The 'third tripod leg lowering' technique to make everything a bit wonky needs to be used for a reason.
4. Employ actors. Don't hire second rate impressionists (Ronni Ancona) and unfunny comics (Lenny Henry!!!). Or in the case of Russell Brand both. Is there really such a shortage of talented actors in need of work?
5. And finally, if you need a scene asking children what the point of the movie was. Then you've missed it.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

In the Valley of Elah Review

Haggis - a traditional dish made up of the offcuts of several different meats, boiled down to make one meal. Scottish myth has tricked many stupid people into believing its made from one furry creature that sounds like a bagpipe. Its not.
Paul Haggis - a director/screenwriter whose work resembles the offcuts of several more talented filmmakers, boiled down to make one point in a horrendously cheap way. Hollywood myth has tricked many stupid people into believing he isn't a cheap hack. He is.

The latest work to deal with Iraq has Tommy Lee Jones play Hank Deerfield a retired army officer investigating why his son has gone AWOL after returning from a tour of duty. Chalize Theron pops up to little effect in a cliche and underwritten role whose sole purpose seems to be to make Hank look great at his job. Once Hank starts searching for the truth he uncovers, not surprisingly, that y'know war isn't that fun and that people don't enjoy being in a country where nobody wants them. Surprise!

With Crash, Paul Haggis oversimplified the idea of racism to stating "Everyone is a big fat racist of Bernard Manning proportions" (except, of course, him cos he made a film about racism, so he can't be racist and besides he's got loads of black friends). In Last Kiss, he oversimplified the nature of relationships into women are shit and men are also a bit shit and relationships well they are definitely shit. Now In the Valley of Elah he's decided that war makes ALL people not cuddly and fun to be around.

The idea that every soldier that comes back from war turns from All American Hero to torturing for fun, child killing, mysogonistic, crack heads seems a little extreme even for a Guardian reading leftie as myself. No responsibilty whatsoever is placed on the soldiers for their horrific acts, its all because of the nature of war. I'm pretty sure after World War 2 (you remember that war that people HAD to go to because of conscription) our grandparents didn't return, one to a man, hating life in all its forms.

As for the appaling David and Goliath metaphor that the film takes its title from (almost as cheap a trick as the upside down flag) it seems to be saying that the American Military is the little man trying to stand up to the big bad world. This film actually asks for our pity for poor old America. With every television screen playing the face of Mr. W Bush all it does is remind us that they bloody elected the fool. Twice.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

He Was Ledger

I've never much cared for public outpouring of grief for someone that people don't know personally. This is probably due to the hypocritical media shitstorm that surrounded the Princess of Wales untimely death. But as a friend put it the news of Heath Ledger's death has 'weirdly bummed me out.'

Of course his age has a lot to do with it but young people die everyday. So I will leave it at simply being upset at the loss of a rare talent whose work seemed to be getting better and better. After 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knights Tale he could have chosen the heartthrob, big money roles. Yet with the trio of Lords of Dogtown, The Brothers Grimm and the film that really raised his standard Brokeback Mountain, Heath Ledger seemed to be an actor who genuinely cared about making interesting films.

His role in I'm Not There was as good if not better than any other and in an ensemble such as that you can't get much higher praise. The Dark Knight will be a little harder to watch now. His place in cinema history is now sealed. Hopefully he will be a role model for other actors to follow so when it comes to choosing parts they take a leaf out of Heaths book and look for the quality over the paycheck.

Lust, Caution Review

While Ang Lee may jump from period novel to comic book from western to wushu, at the heart of his films lies a love story that isn't meant to be. And as with any good tragic romance there should be hurdles for the lovers to overcome. For this director it seems the hurdle should be 10feet tall.

In 1942 in Shanghai, Wong Chia Chi is a student/actress turned amateur spy/honey trap hoping to ensnare and eventually assist in killing Mr.Yee, a government official responsible for capturing, torturing and killing rebels such as she. I can't give you more on the historical relevance of the time and setting and you won't learn much from the film itself, but this never intends to be a history lesson. Instead it is a meditation on, well, lust and caution.

Conjuring up the same subtle longing looks as Crouching Tiger and Brokeback Mountain, this take on the doomed lovers tale, never seems like a take on the doomed lovers tale such is the complexity of the two main leads. I've been a huge fan of Tony Leung for a long time but this could quite possibly be his best performance. At times moody and sexy, at others vile and hateful. Tang Wei as the main lead holds the film together in a way that would make you believe she'd been acting for years. Her heartfelt yet duplicitous (nice word use) nature adds to the 'never stop guessing' ending.

When the end does come, after a fairly hefty 158 minutes, you don't feel that you've been in the cinema for close to 3 hours. And with some films that extend their running time to levels of bum numbing intensity, that is high praise indeed. Oh and I didn't mention the sex scenes once...

Monday, 21 January 2008

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Review

Pineapple on a pizza, Gary Glitter in a childrens home, Me on a day off, somethings just don't work. Cockneys belting out high notes about old London town and the kind of violence you see in a torture porn film also shouldn't go well together. So does it work? Well read on, dear friend read on.

For those unaccustomed to the ways of the Todd (not the humorus sex-pest from Scrubs but the loveer-lee sex pot Johnny Depp) his is the tale of a Barber who slits his customers throats only for his partner in crime, pie maker Mrs Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) to dispose of the evidence in said crust based food item. The original tale was that of a merciless thief killing for coins. This version, however, gives Sweeney a backstory that makes the tale one of vengeance. But this is no twee, fairytale of a man done wrong. Instead its a blood soaked tale with a tragic vein as thick as Symapthy for Mr.Vengeance or OldBoy.

The film plays a lot like a stage play (which isn't surprising as its based on one), with the action rarely moving from the bakery and the barbers of Fleet Street. And while you may have been prepared for the cast to burst into song, by the trailer and, well, the fact thats its a musical, you may not be quite prepared for how much singing there is. From the first line to the last barely a scene is fully spoken. Thankfully though everyone handles their singing roles well and most importantly the songs work. They are toe-tappingly entertaining and fit the narrative just as well as the dialogue, even if its fair to say you may not be singing along to them on the radio.

After the disappointment of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Depp and Burton partnership seems to be back on the dark track they both enjoy walking down. So in the end it works like sausages and mash, a junkie wanting a fix or Mel Gibson at a Palestinian convention. In other words, very well indeed.

Friday, 18 January 2008

AvPR: Aliens Vs Predator - Requiem Review

So appalled was I by this latest piece of tosh that I thought of just posting five or six acroynms showing my anger along the lines of Almost Validates Poking Retinas, A Victory Pour* Retardation, A Vision Polar (to) Ridley's, Anti Video Piracy Response, etc, but considering I'm using French* words, adding prepositions when I need them and I probably need to explain what I meant by that last one, I decided that would indeed be A Very Poor Review. I thankya. It would also mean I put more effort into this review than anyone put into the making of this 'film'.

Taking, for some reason, the worst bits about the original films throwing it into a bowl and shitting into it to make the concentration of said product a little bit thicker, The Brothers Strause, then blend it all up and toss it at the screen in such a way you start to wonder if the Alien or Predator franchise had raped their grandmothers and they want revenge by making the beasties so unscary and basically crap that even a six year old with a nervous disorder wouldn't be troubled by these once fearsome creatures. Isn't it strange how when you get angry one sentence can go on forever. Well he we go again.

The risible love attempt at a love story, the ineptitude of the Predator, the worthless new Newt, the female heroine who pisses on the memory of Ripley by just giving into the army without any argument, the 'comedy' stoners, the Paul W.S Anderson inspired direction!!!, the weak attempt at an open ending, the fact that the film is so fucking boring. All of these reasons and oh so many more mean you should never, ever, ever watch this film. Not even on dvd to laugh at. Even if it comes on TV and the only other option is Strictly Come Dancing. Watch Bruce Forsyth instead. The fact that he's still got the moves aged 128 is much more terrifying than this bag of codshit.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

I'm Not There. Review

This film wasn't actually released at the cinema I work at, so therefore not in contention for my stupid challenge. But I'm so commited to this cause that I'll review it anyway. Because I'm great. A bit like Bob Dylan (in the greatness stakes not so much in the singer/songwriter stakes).

I'm Not There is an extremely unconventional take on the music biopic that has done so well recently (see Walk The Line, Walk Hard but not Walking Tall). This time the icon to be (de)mythologised is Bob Dylan. 'Young' Dylan, 'Folk' Dylan, 'Electric' Dylan, 'Recluse' Dylan, 'Movie' Dylan and 'Jesus finding' Dylan are all present and accounted for, each one played by a different actor.

It is worth a mention that Todd Solondz film Palindromes did the whole 'many actors playing one part thing' before but the shapeshifting nature of Dylan as a character means this approach is spot on. Everyone from Gere to Whishaw to Ledger and Bale play their parts differently yet all play 'Dylan'. Before going in I was convinced that Cate Blanchett was getting all the plaudits just because its 'a woman playing a man!' but I have no doubt now that she is the 'Central' Dylan and thus worthy of every award she's destined to get.

It really is unique in many ways and, while it may teeter at times, its just the right side of pretentious. Sadly I think there are only certain people that will like, or 'get', this film. Those that know, or think they know, a lot about Bob Dylan and those who want to know a lot about Bob Dylan. I'm right in the middle of those three groups. And I enjoyed it all the more for it.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Charlie Wilson's War Review

Everything about the trailer for Charlie Wilson's War suggests an out and out comedy but in the hands of director Mike Nichols and West Wing screenwriter Aaron Sorkin
you should be warned that this film is designed to make you think just as much as it is there to make you laugh.

The premise is that congressmen/lathario/alcoholic Charlie Wilson is inspired to take on the Soviet Union without the help of the American military but with the help of a texan socilaite (Julia Roberts), a bored CIA agent (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and, what will, ironically, eventually become, the Taliban. The film kicks off with the talky talk that you would associate with Aaron Sorkin and sets the groundwork that while you may be in the cinema to see Charlie getting up to mischief, Charlie himself is much more distracted by the CBS news. And you should be too.

While it is fair to say that the film takes a little while to get going once it does it becomes close to the 'crackeryness' I promised in earlier reviews. It is also fair to say that this is because of one man, Gust Avrokotos, played with full gusto (yeah thats my bad pun over for this review) by Philip Seymour Hoffman. He is not only both the crudest and wisest character he also manages to lift the performances of everyone else around him. Whether he's chatting up Julia Roberts in appaling fashion or espousing words of wisdom such as his final "We'll See"speech the film only truly comes alive thanks to the man who is "No James Bond".

Closing with a quote by Charlie Wilson himself, ("These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world... and then we fucked up the endgame") you get the feeling walking out just how real the main hub of the film really was. And so we're back to the start of the review, thinking as much as laughing. Which in my eyes is a pretty good thing.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Walk Hard : The Dewey Cox Story Review

After a formidable run of form, Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, 40 Year Old Virgin, Superbad) has finally tripped, stumbled, picked himself up and looked around sheepishly to find that nobody really noticed too much.

This spoof of musical biopics (Walk The Line and Ray to The Doors and, the very little seen Bobby Darin biopic, Beyond The Sea all get a look in) tells the overly familiar story of a genre setting musical genius with a troubled childhood. Dewey Cox, played by John C Reilley with his usual childlike exuberance, goes through every motion of drug addiction, creative turmoil and marriage problems all played as straight as possible for as many laughs as they can get.

Walk Hard sits uneasily in the comedy canon between the good, Anchorman, and the terrible, Date Movie et al . Some jokes, most notably the cameos (the best being Jack White as Elvis) and the idea of John C playing a 14 year old, are dappy enough to raise a good gut laugh. But when the film resorts to all out stupidity in the form of people being macheted in half and our hero losing his sense of smell the groans outway the sniggers. Sadly from reel 3 on its mainly stupid groans.

Walk Hard could even be the epitome of hit and miss but when the jokes dry up from repitition there is absolutly nothing left in the flimsy story to keep you entertained, and entertainment is really the point of you going to see a film like this in the first place.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

No Country For Old Men Review

I am a huge Coen brothers fan and agree that The Ladykillers was a mistep but if it hadn't been for the four year gap no other reviewer would be harking on at how they've lost their way. So here is a promise; This review will not feature the words 'Return' 'To' and 'Form'. Well it might contain the word 'To' as its quite a common preposition.

No Country for Old Men deals with that Coen regular, a big stack of cash. Said cash is found by Llewllyn Moss (Josh Brolin), he is then huntered by hitman/psychopath Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) tries to put an end to the bloodbath that the killer creates. Forgetting those inventive character names for a moment the true genius is just how much tension the film creates from such a simple premise. And boy does it create tension.

Playing at times like a Coen brothers best of (the caring law enforcer of Fargo, the Southern U.S of Blood Simple, even a couple of 'Nam references for the Lebowski-ites and a crotchety old lady straight out of The Ladykillers) No Country expands upon all their past work to great effect and shows the wait was worth it.

The good, the bad and the man in the middle are all fully rounded and represented here. As the middle man Josh Brolin isn't eminantly likeable yet we still root for him to survive, to stay one step ahead. How Tommy Lee Jones has not been used before by the writer/directors is confusing to say the least when he fits so perfectly into their world. His hang-dog, world-weariness this time taking on a sadness that pins the story down, evoking the message that he just doesn't understand the bad things he sees. The baddest thing of all being Anton, the kind of villain that can give a grown man nightmares. He will kill you if you see him and he will kill you if you inconveniance him. For him there is no difference. That he can bleed and he can be stopped only serves to make him more terrifying.

Without having read the book its hard to say which are McCarthys words and which are the trademark Coen dialogue but either way there are lines and phrases that I'd give my left ball to be able to conjure up. (My personal favourite being "A true story? I couldn't swear to every detail but it's certainly true that it is a story.") High parise also has to go to regular Coen cinematographer Roger Deakins who shot both this and The Assasination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford. Two of the best looking films in years in the same year. Well done sir.

Having to watch every film this year is starting to look a lot easier. The problem will now be finding the time to watch the great ones more than once. And this is a great one.

Dan In Real Life Review

When I first saw the trailer for Dan in Real Life I, like others, couldn't help but make Little Miss Sunshine comparsions. It appeared to deal with dysfunctional families, it was a comedy drama, it had Steve Carell in it. After seeing the film a fairer comparison is Garden State meets Meet the Parents. The end result sits somewhere just beneath both in terms of success but will keep a smile on your face and may give you a few laugh out loud moments before the end.

The titular Dan, is a widower (take note P.S I Love You, this is how you deal with the loss of a loved one) looking after his three ever changing daughters. Dan meets and wooes Marie (Juliette Binoche) in one of those ridiculously amazing meetings that mainly happen in Woody Allen films. Sadly for Dan, Marie has just started dating his brother Mitch (Dane Cook). Dan only discovers this when trapped in a holiday retreat with his entire family. The family, by the way, are the most twee family in the world. Excercising together, engaging in heated crossword competitions, etc. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, its a lovely ideal to aim for but I'm pretty sure the title mentions Real Life. Maybe its an American thing.

Steve Carell is always watchable and continues that here. Even after the cinematic diarrhoea that was Evan Almighty I don't remember anyone coming out and saying how awful he was. When Dan's jealousy bubbles, Steve plays it with just the right amount of bitterness and sadness. Juliette Binoche does a great job with a very rare commodity, a well written female role. However the rest of the cast is let down by poor characterisation. This is typified by Emily Blunts afterthought of a role. As soon as she turns up, you know how she will fit perfectly into the happy ending.

And that may be the biggest let down of the film, an ending where everything is wrapped up so neatly. It may have even been ignored had it not been for the 'happily ever after' credits. You know the ones where people dance around in wedding dresses. Credits for those people who need closure like diabetics need insulin. A fitting end to the review then a reference to a dangerous level of sweetness.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Films of 2007

A good friend has just pointed out how hard the undertaking of watching every movie is going to be considering such pearls as The Sex and the City film, First Sunday and The Bank Job are all released this year. Plus my natural aversion to all things bloody and guty (it is a word, look it up) all translates to me becoming half the man I was by this time next year.

But this week we have some potential crackers in the shape of Lust, Caution, Charlie Wilsons War and the less crackery (thats a word too) Dan in Real Life.

So in celebration of all things exquiste and lame here are my films of last year. There not necessarily the best films or worst films just the ones I enjoyed/hated the most. And they're not in any particular order.

The Lives Of Others
The Fountain
Tell No One
Bridge to Terrabithia
The Bourne Ultimatum
Hot Fuzz
Knocked Up

Evan Almighty
Hannibal Rising

Yeah, yeah where is so and so, and that film sucks, Owen you blow, etc, etc. Eat me. Oh you completely agree with me on everything and plan to give me lots of money for my opinions, good. Thats made me very happy.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

P.S. I Love You Review

Q. How many women does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. It doesn't matter they're only worried about karaoke, shoes and a deep dicking.

Offensive isn't it? But with less than a year until a female might be the most important person on the planet, (I doubt it but Barrack is gonna need an Obamamobile to stay one step ahead of the rednecks) Hollywood is still making films that suggest sex with strangers and shoes can save the day.

Hilary 'I am a great actress but what I really want to do is mainstream films' Swank plays Holly, a girl stuck in a rut, bitching about life to her husband Gerry (Gerard 'I thought he was Irish until I saw this film' Butler). Luckily for Holly, Gerry dies. Harsh I know but its the best thing for her really, now she can discover herself and make the aformentioned shoes. This apathy for Gerry and Hollys relationship is triggered by a terrible opening scene where the couple argue about money, babies and all those things that are designed to make the audience go 'yeah i worry about those things too, she's just like me' but instead leave you thinking 'chill the fuck out Swank!'

The swiftness that the director wants you to want Holly to move on is astonishing. At her husbands funeral Lisa 'maybe women shouldn't have equal rights after all' Kudrow is desperately trying to have sex with anything that moves (thankfully Gerry has been cremated so no involuntary spasms to attract said nympho). This appears to be written in just so Harry 'I can't think of a funny middle name to give him' Connick Jr can make eyes at the recently bereaved Holly without seeming like such a sleaze. It doesn't work.

Its also one of those films that doesn't so much underestimate the audiences intelligence but dangles a rattle in front of the viewers face and says coochie coo. For example, "Gerry says I have to go on holiday", "Cool where are we going?" Cut To: Rolling hills and Celtic music. Where might we possibly be, considering Gerry is from Ireland? Still don't know. Don't panic, the director chooses to put IRELAND in big Fecking letters on the screen just to give you that extra nudge you braindead simpleton. Why not add some dancing leprachauns too you plum.

I know I said this film was bad in my first blog without having seen it and yes I'm not a woman (most of the time) but it didn't need to be quite so awful. The premise is actually quite sweet and I like Hilary Swank. That may be why this misfire of a movie affected me so much.
Please Avoid.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Kite Runner Review

So here it is, Review number one, my opinion spilled out in electronic form on the off chance it might be read in the future and I be hailed as a king and bought back to life using technology that we couldn't even dream of yet. Yeah The Kite Runner, its good, I'd recommend it...
Will that do. No. Well then, first a little about the film.

Now living in America, Amir (Khalid Abdalla) receives a phone call from his native Afghanistan. This call triggers a reflection on his childhood and most importantly his relationship with his best friend Hassan. This call spurs him onto a journey of atonement and redemption.

This is all I'll say for the plot and I urge everyone else to skip the trailer and read as little as possible about the film. Too many websites and reviews have the third act as the plot outline, which kinda spoils any element of surprise in the first two thirds. I was lucky enough to go in cold to this film, knowing only that it was directed by Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction) and based on a highly praised novel.

The film itself is 'worthy.' Now 'worthy' films fall into two categories those that people like because they are well made and those that people like because they tackle hard subjects and go a bit slow. Thankfully The Kite Runner is firmly in the former camp. While it does deal with some issues, namely Middle Eastern Politics, that will have the chin stroking brigade (I confess I am an occasional member of this brigade) kept happy, the reason you should see this film is for the memorable characters and their relationships.

As the two children torn apart, not by war as the trailer suggests, but by a horrendous act and true cowardice, Zekeria Ebrahimi and Ahmed Khan Mahmidzada are exceptionally good. Without such good performances at the start the film wouldn't take off (I'm proud of that word play so its staying). But the heart of the film is Amirs father Baba (Homayoun Ershadi). Easily one of the the most noble yet flawed characters since The Lives of Others Stasi-Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler.

It is this two dimensionality present in the cast that makes The Kite Runner such good cinema. It is only in the last act which becomes disappointingly formulaic that you remember that it is an American film after all and so cliches and implausabilities do rear their heads. This doesn't mean you won't be moved by the end, I've never cried at a kite taking off before now, and doubt I will again. It just means that despite what has come before, as a whole, its not a bona fide classic.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

This is the Universe. Big, isn't it?

Hello and welcome to Confessions of a Projectionist. This is a UK website dedicated to up to the minute, completely biased film reviews for the year 2008.

I've started this blog for two reasons. Firstly after recently viewing I am Legend I couldn't find any UK reviews until way after its release to see if it was just me who couldn't believe the terrible ball dropping by everyone involved during the last third (it wasn't just me). Secondly a fellow projectionist set a challenge to see if we could watch every movie released at our 14screen multiplex during the year of 2008. For some reason I thought this was a good idea. Probably some bad christmas turkey.

Agree, disagree, send me flowers or call me names, I like to think of this as a service. For those big films where the studios won't let press review it before hand, Confessions of a Projectionist, will be here to help. You see we have to watch the films first to see if the reels are the right way up.

I will also be praising/chastising the latest trailers and such too. Example, The Dark Knight trailer makes me feel weird in my pants. In a good way.

So for the week commencing 04/01 we have 2 new releases, The Kite Runner and P.S. I Love You. One of them is good, the other isn't. Oh and I've only watched one of them... I told you there'd be bias.