Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Film Review: Wreck-It Ralph (Rich Moore) 2013

Wreck It Ralph

Trying to succinctly explain the narrative arc of a Disney/Pixar film is an exercise in insanity.  But to explore all of the interesting elements of the film requires a rudimentary overview of the plot. So...

The universe of the film is set in a network of video game worlds within a video arcade.  Each game has a separate aesthetic and physics system that means that characters from each game move and interact in different ways depending on the advancement of the game system in which they emulate.  The film centers on Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly), who is a character from an ‘80s arcade game who has an identity crisis about being a video game ‘bad guy’.  He decides to leave his game console (via the power cable) and try to win a medal from another game system in order to impress the characters that reject him in his own world.  On his adventure he meets a video game ‘glitch’ (Sarah Silverman) from a candy-decorated world of a racing game aimed at girls who he must help win a race to defeat the Candy King at the same time as stopping an army of cybugs who threaten to destroy the arcade due to their ‘virus’ like nature...
(for more information see here, here or here...!)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Upcoming Films - Easter Holidays...

Seeing as most people have some time off for Easter it is the perfect time to go to the cinema again...  Obviously the cinemas will mostly be flooded with popcorn nonsense as the kiddies are at home from school.

There are some upcoming films that look intriguing though:

Trance (Danny Boyle) 2013

The latest film from the director of Trainspotting and Shallow Grave is a heist film with a psychological twist.  The whereabouts of the coveted piece of art is hidden in James McAvoy's mind.  Features Vincent Cassel in villain-mode.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Film Review: Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh) 2013

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh’s new film is a film that shows the pain of a dysfunctional mind with the dangers of an opportunistic society.  New York City is represented as a mass of venture capitalists, medicated trophy wives and heartless medical-insurance vampires – and amongst them lis this thriller starring a young women and her psychiatrist.

The plot of the film follows a graphic designer called Emily (Rooney Mara) who is battling with depression due to her husband being sent to / released from jail for insider trading (he is just getting out as the film starts).  She gets offered a role on a medical trial involving a new medication from her psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law).  The drug has unexpected side effects (to say the least) and the film becomes a meditation on who is to blame for the actions of heavily medicated people: the doctor who wrote the prescription, or the patient who has acted in an unexpected way.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Film Review: The Spirit of '45 (Ken Loach) 2013

The Spirit of '45
After just returning from a multi-cinema simultaneous exhibition of the new Ken Loach Documentary I feel like I have just experienced two very different films:  One was a nostalgic documentary about the post-war period that was made mostly of stock footage and interviews, and the other was a socialist party political broadcast making the historical case that Clement Attlee has been unfairly forgotten and Margaret Thatcher is the source of all of our contemporary social problems (from drugs to ipods!).

The documentary is shot in black and white to match the stock footage of the time, and the narrative such as there is in a factual film, is played out chronologically and split into two chapters.  The film starts with the nightmare of the 1930s poverty and unemployment before introducing the key players that helped the economic reprise of the ‘40s: Prime Minister Clement Atlee and Aneurin Bevan, the founder of the NHS.  These two men are shown as visionaries reacting against the tyrannical status-quo of Winston Churchill and the conservative party.  The film then has a crucial turning point as Thatcher arrives (to boos on and off screen) and the utopian ideals of the Marxists gives way to the corporate, brutal isolation of the Neoliberals.  As this crescendo rises and falls the focus of the film moves from the NHS to include the mining industry, the railways, the utilities (gas, electric and water) and Royal Mail.

Friday, March 15, 2013

(not so) Silent Cinema

This week I have come up with a new way to watch films - watching silent movies from a hundred years ago but replacing the soundtrack with something excessively modern.  Some people might think that this is sacrilegious, and I have sympathy with that as I believe that the original soundtracks are fascinating, but it is a temporary fad that I'm really enjoying.

I have provided links to three superb films that should all be watched immediately: Dr Caligari is an amazing German Expressionist horror film that has amazing set design and mise-en-scène; Joan of Arc is a heartbreaking reenactment of the trial and execution of Joan of Arc filmed in intense close-up and unsparing detail; and finally Man with the Movie Camera is a radical Soviet experiment attempting to define an international visual language through montage and juxtaposition (how communist...)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Film Review: Cloud Atlas (Tom Tykwer, Andy & Lana Wachowski) 2012

Cloud Atlas

Does a film need three directors?  It reminds me of the joke that a camel is a horse designed by committee.  Cloud Atlas then is an art-house blockbuster designed by committee.  The novel that this film was based was nominated for The Man Booker Prize, and instead won the Richard & Judy book of the year.  For those that don’t know, the Booker prize is like an Academy Award or a Nobel, whereas the Richard & Judy book of the year is like a commendation from McDonalds book club – unfortunate.

Cloud Atlas tells 6 simultaneous stories that encompass a Pacific seamen from the 19th century, a bisexual musician in 1930s Belgium, a journalist investigating nuclear power in the ‘70s, a present-day bumbling Englishmen trying to escape a home for the elderly, a revolutionary cyborg in neo-Seoul and finally a post-apocalyptic society in Hawaii.  In the novel these narratives are each split in half and told in ascending and then rescinding chronological order peaking in the central post-apocalyptic story.  In the film they are edited together seemingly at random to create an epic three-hour multi-stranded collision of different plots.  The spiritual meta-narrative is that all of the characters are connected and each act of kindness/selfishness in each of the eras affects the next character, a message that is only projected through multiple characters being played by the same collection of actors (mainly Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Donna Bae, Jim Broadbent and Hugh Grant).

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The scary open road...

I set out to watch two very different films in a row today and through a strange coincidence both of them used the same seemingly innocent urban location as a sinister and lonely area of uncanny danger and fear.  They both used motorway petrol stations.

The first was Michael Winterbottom’s Butterfly Kiss, which is a British film about a troubled and violent women named Eunice who travels around motorway service stations in the north of England trying to find her lover Judith.  The second was Sluizer’s Spoorloos, a Dutch film about a troubled and violent man named Raymond who uses service stations in the south of France in order to kidnap women.  It was only after I had watched them both did I consider how they connected thematically and started to think of other films that used petrol stations and motorways as symbols for danger.

Friday, March 8, 2013

International Women's Day

Seeing as it is International Women's Day today, here is a list of films for women and about women that should be watched and enjoyed today:-

Better Than Chocolate
Better Than Chocolate (1999)

A beautiful Canadian film about a lesbian activist bookshop and two of it's clients that fall in love.  A fun and playful film about women in love that is exciting for women without being too sexy for the male audience. 

A Question of Silence (1982)

An incredibly hard to find Dutch film about a trio of women who have never met who decide to team up and kill a man in a department store and face trial together as an act of solidarity.  An incredible feminist masterpiece that is dangerously underrated.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Film Review: The Master (P.T. Anderson) 2012

The Master

After learning about New Religious Movements for my degree I have always been interested in Scientology (among other groups).  The charismatic leader, the evolving dogma, the intense recruitment strategies and the secretive inner-narrative have in turn led to a fascinating movement – one in which we will be forever ignorant of unless you join the inner circle, something that I am not willing to do.  The new P.T. Anderson film then is a thought experiment to what it might be like to join such an organization (much like Martha Marcy May Marlene explores what it must be like to leave…)

In memory of Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chavez, the leader of Venezuela has died aged 58 losing his battle with cancer.  He was a crazy enigmatic leader who will be missed by South Americans.  He wasn't perfect but he seemed to care about the average population whilst attacking the USA and the elites.  Time will tell about his legacy but I think it is worth rewatching this documentary by Oliver Stone...

BBC - Hugo Chavez dies aged 58

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Upcoming Films - Post-Oscar season...

Now that the desperate Academy Awards season is over, what interesting films are there being distributed in the UK?

Here are some that have caught our eyes...

Monday, March 4, 2013

Film Review: Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell) 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

There is a rich tradition of indie films set in midtown America that have the central message of ‘the suburbs make you crazy’.  In the last month I have seen: Revolutionary Road, Garden State, Evolution and The Birds – all drastically different but all rely on a series of musings about the absurdity and claustrophobia of suburban, middle-class America.

The central premise of Silver Linings Playbook is that there are a number of ‘crazy’ characters that tell more truths than the ‘sane’ people that surround them – a typical indie-film love story.  Pat (Bradley Cooper) has just been released from Baltimore psychiatric institution back into the neighbourhood with his parents (Jacki Weaver and Robert de Niro).  He is trying to rekindle his failed marriage with his wife who cheated on him when he gets introduced to Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who has recently lost her police officer husband and also never hesitates to speak her mind.  The film follows the classic late-September / Halloween / Christmas trajectory in order to provide a happy ending where characters have overcome a number of obstacles to coincide with New Year – but even though the conventions are all firmly set in place the script is much better than the average romantic comedy.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Film Review: Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino) 2012

Django Unchained

Tarantino has spent the last decade exploring the difference between revenge and vengeance:  Revenge is nasty / Vengeance is philosophical.  Revenge is personal / Vengeance is political.  Revenge is an individual burden / Vengeance is cultural retribution.  Kill Bill was a revenge movie.  Django Unchained is a movie about vengeance.

The story follows Dr. Schultz (Christopher Waltz), a German bounty hunter, and Django (Jamie Foxx), a freed slave, as they journey across southern America in search of Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) – along with assassinating white people.  They eventually find out that she is being kept as a house slave for a ruthless plantation owner called Calvin Candie (Leo Dicaprio).  Schultz tries to strike a deal to purchase some ‘Mandingo’ fighters off of Candie in order to covertly smuggle Broomhilda out to freedom – Lots of people get shot and tortured along the way.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Film Review: Argo (Ben Affleck) 2012


It is interesting that since the days that George W. Bush labeled Iran as part of his ‘axis of evil’ (it seems so quaint in hindsight – almost cutesy), Iranian cinema has had somewhat of a renaissance period with films winning prizes at Cannes, Venice, London and even an Academy Award.  It seems like all of the political rhetoric simply fuels a public interest in the country and its way of life.  Iranians are clearly very skillful at exploring their modern history in intelligent and exciting ways, from the fascinating film about young girls being denied access to a football game in Offside (2006), to the graphic novel adaptation of Persepolis (2007), to the truly unpredictable film about a family deciding whether to leave the country or not in A Seperation (2011).

Friday, March 1, 2013

Film Review: Lincoln (Steven Spielberg) 2012


I am a political junkie.  I am fascinated with the romantic Machiavellian machinations of inner government, and nowhere is this more idealised than in Washington.  There is a whole subset of the culture industry that survives by decrying the absurdity, hypocrisy and corruption of the city on the hill.  From the Twilight zone, to The X-Files, to Homeland – television has been in on it.  Hollywood has a whole genre (political thriller) dedicated to the one-man-against-the-machine narrative – and it sells.

In a time of intense backlash against the government, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln seems like the film that can appeal to both political teams and give them both hope: the social-justice loving Democrats, and the industrious Lincoln-loving Republicans.  Obviously ‘Honest Abe’ Lincoln was a Republican so rightwingers are going to love him.  Plus, the film is abolitionist so modern-day Democrats will love the racial egalitarianism they feel that the contemporary Repubs have lost ground on.