Sunday, 30 September 2012

Casino Royale (2006)

I have reviewed Casino Royale before, but I felt that re-posting it would be a bit of a cop out for Blogalongabond; and since that review was a lot of synopsis I really had to write another one. Also, of course now I have my wealth of Blogalongabond knowledge to say more! *cough*

Where there were precious redeeming features in DAD, there are few things wrong with Casino Royale. The violence is bone-crunching, Daniel Craig and Mads Mikkelsen are superb, the plot doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator and David Arnold’s music is again wonderful. In Daniel Craig the producers seem to have once again found someone who can act rather than just “do” Bond; in particular Craig’s scenes with Judi Dench and Eva Green bristle with wit and tension. Danish-born Mads Mikkelsen is brilliant as Le Chiffre, the gambling, knotted rope-wielding baddie. Rather than having any designs on world domination Le Chiffre is actually on the back foot for half of the film, trying to win his money back; and I think that this role-reversal (almost) makes the story all the more interesting.

The first 30 minutes of the film are absolutely brilliant, and some of the best of the entire series. The pre-credits scene depicting James Bond’s (no 00 yet) first two kills is sublime; the clinical straight lines of the office building in Prague clashing with the high-contrast gritty bathroom and the very messy scrap. Added to this is a moment of inspiration using the bathroom as the backdrop for the famous gun-barrel shot.

Straight into some of the coolest credits of the series and a great song by a man with such an ace voice; I’ve been a fan of Soundgarden and Audioslave for years, probably because I think Chris Cornell’s voice is brilliant. The title of the song is perfect too: “You Know my Name”. After a four year break and a change of Bond we don’t have it shoved in our faces - we know who he is, we know what he’s about and we know his name; very apt that the James Bond theme isn’t played until the final scene. Following the theme song there is a spectacular chase in Madagascar as Bond pursues a free-running bomb-maker through a building site; all of which is just amazing.

The only disappointment (other than the frankly baffling way that having directed this clever and sophisticated film, Martin Campbell goes on to direct the confusing, over-blown and frankly boring Green Lantern), is the sound. I don’t ever remember it when I saw Casino Royale in the cinema, but the three other times I’ve seen it (two different DVDs and on a plane) the sound keeps getting suddenly quiet, particularly in action scenes. A quick google tells me I am not alone in this, and that is terribly disappointing; it really spoils what is otherwise an excellent film.

Stunning set pieces, a very smart script/screenplay by Crash director Paul Haggis, excellent performances by the three main actors as well as a wealth of supporting cast make Casino Royale one of the best films in the series.

Order of Preference so far:

Saturday, 29 September 2012

A Night to Remember (1958)

A truly British account of the disaster that befell the "Unsinkable" ship; the Titanic.  Rather than concentrating on two pointless characters who fall in love and whose plight we are supposed to care about, A Night to Remember shows us how different people cope with the tragedy, how professional the crew were, and perhaps most strikingly the difference in traveller class (First Class could cost upward off £800 whereas steerage was only £12!).

The cast is very much an ensemble; though if there were any main character then it would be Kenneth More as Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller, who just seems to be un-flappable in any situation.  The other characters with which we become familiar are Captain Edward John Smith; the chairman of the shipping company - J. Bruce Ismay; and the ship's designer - Thomas Andrews.  The only other "star" would be Honor Blackman, but her character doesn't really get much screen time. As well as depicting everyone's way of dealing with the horrendous situation, the film also shows events on the Carpathia (the ship that rescued survivors) and the Californian; who despite being in visual range of RMS Titanic did nothing as they had unplugged their radio for the night.  In the aftermath of this disaster all ships were instructed to man their radios constantly.

Despite being over 50 years old, the special effects really hold up; undoubtedly helped by the massive model that was constructed during production.  I wonder how the digital effects from the 1997 film look now?  A very good film, without the need to focus on relationships between characters it almost documents the disaster rather than weaves a story around it, and is all the better for it.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Dredd 3D (2012)

I think I've only ever read one Judge Dredd story so I don't really know the Mega City One canon; but having suffered through the 1995 abomination with Sly Stallone, I wasn't especially keen to see this one.  With Stallone's butchering of Dredd's most famous line "I am nnlaaaaa!" still ringing in my ears I found myself going to see this because I had read and heard such good things about it. My verdict? This is the film Max Payne should have been!

Brilliantly gruesome, tremendous sound all round (guns, explosions, bone-crunching and thumping soundtrack) and Slo-Mo.  I was worried that there was going to be too much Slo-Mo after the first 10 minutes, becoming over-used as the film's gimmicky feature, but happily it calmed down.  Karl Urban was pretty good considering we only ever see his chin, he was grim, gritty enough, and seemed to fit being an aggressive bastard perfectly.  Though his constant frown must have been exhausting.  Lena Heady was a suitable psychopath (looking a lot like Nina from the first series of 24), but apart from the flashbacks I didn't feel that there was enough menace about her.  Olivia Thirlby was also good as psychic newbie Judge Anderson; wanting to become a Judge, she is really thrown into it when Dredd is told to take her into the field for assessment.  Initially not sure about making decisions under pressure, she slowly comes into her own, before finally coming to a choice about her future.

The level of detail in Peach Trees (the tower block investigated by Dredd and Anderson) is very good; the kisoks, info-booths right down to the cages protecting the CCTV cameras.  The cityscapes of Mega City One look tremendous, but obviously take more than a little inspiration from  Bladerunner.  The 3D was OK, I guess the Slo-Mo scenes were specifically made for it, but otherwise I'm sure it wouldn't have lost anything by being in 2D.

Director Pete Travis has done well to turn a very simple story into and exciting, engaging film that manages to steer clear of being naff, cheesy or clichéd.  This was probably helped by a smart screenplay by Danny Boyle favourite Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go).  Everything adds up to a surprisingly good film, proving that even simple blockbusters can be fresh and intelligent.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Lawless (2012)

Set in 1930s America during the years of prohibition, Lawless tells the sometimes violent story of three brothers in Virginia who distil their own moonshine and make quite a tidy profit by distributing their product.  The Bondurant brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf) are operating quite efficiently (even selling their illicit liquor to the law), until a new Special Deputy from Chicago (Guy Pierce) comes to town with the remit to close down all of the stills in the area to stymie the flow of illegal booze to the city.

The driving force behind the story is Forrest, he is the main guy that pulls all the strings of not only the Bondurant operation, but all of the distillers in the region.  He is obviously a dependable and well respected member of the Virginia moonshine trade, and as such Tom Hardy is brilliant.  I feel he is almost this years Michael Fassbender; appearing in several very different films and absolutely capable of delivering a superb performance no matter the character.  As Forrest he has a wonderful screen presence (much like Bane), and you never really know what is going on behind those restless eyes; you never know how he is going to react to a situation.  It is this unpredictability that makes Forrest such a powerful character, and Tom Hardy plays it wonderfully.

The film has many great qualities, but perhaps the most amazing one is that director John Hillcoat (of The Road fame) gets a pretty good performance out of Shia LaBeouf!  I enjoyed him in Transformers, I felt he was just right as the excitable kid who becomes friends with giant robots, but then he became a whiny bitch in Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon; and he is just lamentable in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  Here he plays the youngest of the Bondurant bothers just right. The runt of the three, he initially has a hard time convincing Forrest and Howard that he is serious about getting involved in the business; but while the elder brothers are out of the picture for a while he takes the initiative to drive to Chicago and sell their hard liquor to notorious crime lord Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman - magnificent as always), and comes away with a huge amount of cash.  Jack then spends all his money on fancy clothes, cars and on efforts to woo local church elder's daughter Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska). Much like Sam Whitwicky, LaBeouf plays this exuberant and excitable character very well.

As Howard Bondurant, Jason Clarke doesn't actually say very much, and given that he is constantly drinking their own product, when he does speak he isn't that coherent!  I've already said how great Gary Oldman is, but his first scene where he is driven into town, callously guns down a competitor with his Tommy gun, gives Jack a barely noticeable wink, and then drives off is wonderful.  He doesn't say a word at any point, just winks at Jack, but he really doesn't have to. Guy Pearce is also wonderful. Well his character isn't, he is a slimy, sinister and sadistic guy, but Pearce is perfect with it.  Thinking about it, his character is very similar to Forrest's, though on the side of the the law; but despite that he is clearly the villain of the film.

Additional to some great performances the film looks amazing thanks to DOP Benoît Delhomme, particularly  some of the tree-scapes that are in the film!  The music is also very cool; Nick Cave and Warren Ellis score one of my favourite soundtracks (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) as well as The Road, and there are moments in Lawless that sound very familiar, though the overall ambience is nothing like either The Road or TAOJJBTCRF.  I was also surprised that Nick Cave wrote the screenplay for Lawless too, but he certainly did a great job.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lawless, excellent cast (even LaBeouf is good), unpredictable (even up to the final scene),  explosive moments of violence, cool music and beautiful to look at too.  I'd heard that there were mixed reviews about this film, so perhaps my expectations were lowered and the film accordingly exceeded them.  Either way, I would definitely recommend this to anyone who is perhaps thinking of going to the pictures and isn't sure about Dredd or a remake of a classic Arnie film.

Friday, 7 September 2012

District 9 (2009)

I'd heard good things about District 9, but I still expected something akin to Battle for LA.  What I didn't expect was a documentary style sci-fi film that was more of a commentary on the politics of Johannesburg townships and refugee camps than a film about shooting aliens.  Though what was even more surprising was the fact that the first name that appears on the screen was Peter Jackson!  How did I no know that?!

The film opens by saying that everyone expected aliens to land in the US, so for them to appear in South Africa took the world by surprise.  Though when no aliens appear from the mother ship, humans make their way in and discover aliens in an extreme state of malnutrition and disease.  A health station is set up in Johannesburg to help the aliens recover, but over time this area becomes a slum, known as District 9, and has all the usual problems associated with slums.  The main human character Wikus (Sharlto Copley) works for MNU (Multi National United - a kind of OCP company) and his role is to convince the Prawns (as the aliens are derogatorily known) to move to a new township.

Sharlto is really good; the wit, attitude and emotion he brings to Wikus is brilliant, as is his accent when he swears.  His character arc is very reminiscent of Seth Brundle in the fly, and I feel that there were several nods to that film.  I thought that the Prawns looked really good, nothing that fancy or grotesque, but they were very realistic and really looked like they inhabited the township they were in.  I think because I was expecting a shooty-aliens style film, I was really amazed by the completely novel take on the genre and really quite complex plot; not to mention the complex dynamic of humans living alongside the aliens including all the people who exploit the township for personal gains.

A very good film; well shot, cool special effects (WETA of course, being a PJ Wingnut production), nice documentary style and a very different take on the alien invasion genre. Well worth a look.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Bourne Legacy (2012)

Legacy was perhaps a completely unnecessary sequel, but I actually enjoyed it nonetheless. Jeremy Renner made a good "Bourne", and had Matt Damon not been available, then Renner would have been a pretty good choice for the original trilogy. Rachel Weisz was as alright as usual, playing a similar character to Evy in The Mummy but rather more capable. There was some attempt to give a reason for why the "assets" are as bad-ass as they are. Now I am usually one of the first to complain about "Spacker Science" in films, but I thought that the claims they made (however implausible) made sense within the scope of the film. It is certainly nowhere near Midichlorian territory! 

Impressive action scenes and solid performances from many respected actors including Edward Norton and Albert Finney make Legacy an enjoyable younger brother to the Bourne series. Fun and exciting, but lacking the impact of the original.

The Imposter (2012)

This really is an incredible story, but then often the most amazing stories are true.  This one is about a French guy by the name of Frédéric Bourdin, who is a serial identity thief.  In this case he pretends to be an American kid called Nicholas Barclay, a boy who went missing from Texas three years ago. Despite being  in Spain, Frédéric finds out that an American family are looking for a lost child and so he poses as Nicholas.  The most amazing thing is that the family take him in, so desperate are they to find Nicholas!  No matter how crazy it is that Frédéric pretends to be Nicholas, it's very weird that the family take him in - no questions asked!

The film is shot as a documentary but there are sections of drama which are often seamlessly merged into the documentary sections.  Director Bart Layton also makes tremendous use of light; whether it is dawn over San Antonio, light shining through blinds and showing the passage of time, or simply dramatic sunlight through oppressive cloudy skies.  This all adds up to a movie that is more than just a documentary, it looks stunning too.  Definitely worth seeing; a film in the mould of Catfish, but  better looking.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The Wizard of Oz is one of those films that everyone has seen, apart from me. When I admit this, friends ask me "What did you watch on Christmas Day?". Well, I was watching Empire Strikes Back or Raiders of the Lost Ark; sue me! Also, as I've probably said before, I am no fan of musicals (Rocky Horror Picture Show, Little Shop of Horrors and Moulin Rouge notwithstanding), so I would have given “Oz” a wide berth. So, was I wrong to avoid it for so long? Well, maybe. I think having not grown up with it, the magic that I guess a kid would get out of it wasn't there for me. I am also tempted to say that it was all a bit obvious, but that's probably only because at some level I knew what was going to happen; lion and his bravery, tin man and his heart and all that.

No doubt Judy Garland can sing, and a lot of the sets are quite impressive, but because it is a film that is so ingrained in the psyche, it's hard to be objective. Viewers probably fall into two categories: those that have grown up with the film and love it, or those like me who come to it later in life and don't really get it. Would I set out to watch it again? Probably only with kids. I can see where the magic lies, it's just not for me at this stage of my life.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Hugo (2011)

Hugo is the story of Hugo Cabret, an orphan who lives in the clock mechanisms in Gare du Nord in 1930s Paris. He is obsessed with a toy maker who has his stall in the station, and as the film progresses it becomes clear that this toy maker is none other than Georges Méliès the famous film director (played by Ben Kingsley). The film then becomes a quest to reignite Georges passion for film-making, and as such becomes a celebration of film.

Featuring quite an impressive cast including (as well as Ben Kingsley) Christopher Lee, Jude Law, Ray Winstone, Richard Griffiths, Chloë Grace Moretz, Emily Mortimer and Sacha Baron Cohen (yup, you heard right!), Hugo really conjures up the ambience of a bygone era of classic cinema, in a similar way to Cinema Paradiso. All the cast are great (yes even Baron Cohen), though for the most part are restricted to cameo appearances as regular features of railway station life. Rather the story concentrates on Hugo (a very mature performance from Asa Butterfield), Georges Méliès, and his goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz).

This is not the kind of film I would normally associate with Martin Scorsese, there is none of the hard gritty feel of many of his films, Hugo is far more fantastical and none the worse for it. Super cast, some amazing special effects, a heartwarming story transporting you to a simpler time and intelligent direction from Scorsese as ever. I’m writing this almost four months after I saw the film, and it’s making me want to see it again.