Monday, 31 May 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World - trailer 2. Woo Hoo!

Love, love, love this new trailer. It looks like some whacked out crazy shenanigans from Edgar Wright. Dunno the comic but the film looks like a bonkers blast. Can't. Wait. :D

A child's life...

unloved,Lucy,UK,Samantha Morton,abuse,Robert Carlyle

The Unloved

*UPDATE - 6/06/10* Congrats to Samantha Morton and co. for winning the 2010 Bafta award for best Single Drama

I caught this quite by accident late on TV last night. My curiosity was peaked seeing as it’s the first film directed by the excellent actress Samantha Morton and is also semi-autobiographical of her own early life in foster care and various children’s homes.

The Unloved tells of eleven years old Lucy (the excellent Molly Windsor) who’s been abandoned by her estranged mother (Susan Lynch) and then has to bear the brunt of her father’s (Robert Carlyle) violent anger. As a result she is placed in a grim, clinical, chaotic children’s home. We see all of this through Lucy’s eyes and watch as she struggles to cope with the cold, unfeeling, bureaucratic system while finding some limited comfort in her Catholic faith and the belief that she is being watched over and protected by God.

The main point of The Unloved is about how some children become lost and ignored within society and within the systems we supposedly create to help them, systems where getting one's expenses for petrol comes before attending to a lonely child. Systems that become more about the systems themselves than about what the actual individual child needs. Love. That’s all Lucy is seeking all the way through, to make a connection with someone and to feel loved and wanted. But the cold clinical world around her only isolates her more, while no adult, no person of authority will properly answer that most simple of questions she keeps asking: "Why can't I live with my mummy?" Which can also be interpreted as: "Why doesn't anyone love me?" Towards the end of the film she finally manages to ask her mother directly: “Can I live with you?” To which her mother has no proper answer, being too caught up in her own issues. The film ends with Lucy being sent back to the children’s home by her mother. The last shot is of the little girl sat on the bus, alone, staring blankly around before looking deep in to the camera lens pulled up tight on her face. It is a long unbroken take lasting several minutes. It is directly challenging the audience to look at her, to face the reality of the life many children like Lucy are forced to lead. To do better for them.

Films like this are not fun, nor do they make for particularly pleasant viewing. They usualy don’t have a happy ending. But they are important. Not all films should be escapist entertainment with pat resolutions and happy ever afters. We have an almost endless supply of those. And thank God for them. But some films should raise social issues; should ask important questions; should reflect the real lives of others; should challenge us to do something to improve things for those less fortunate. The Unloved is one such film. And I was impressed with the job Samantha Morton did with it. Some people have compared her approach and style to that of Ken Loach or even Shane Meadows. But it really isn’t. It is far more reminiscent visually and artistically of Asian cinema (Japanese or Korean) while also being rather Kubrick-like too. Although the grim subject matter lends itself to the likes of social realists such as Loach and co. and the excellent acting is of that same naturalistic method, Morton has instead attempted to create something different. This is a film that tells its story and highlights its issues and themes and makes its emotional and social points in a mainly visual manner with limited dialogue. There are long, steady takes and long scenes where nothing is said, with only images and sounds and sometimes music. Lucy is constantly absconding from the chaotic children’s home she’s been placed in, journeying around the city, searching for what she needs. The often-handheld camera chaos of the home contrasts wonderfully with the imagery of the world outside. The wide, soulless, motionless cityscapes, the big empty grey skies, the huge monolithic buildings that dwarf the child, the dark abandoned tunnels she must travel through. The most beautifully shot scene in the film is the graveyard where Lucy goes and plays alone under the trees amongst their fallen blossom, a place where she seems happy and that is a link to her faith, something which is a constant theme. While in the graveyard she sees a deer casually grazing amongst the headstones. So she just sits down and watches it, perhaps feeling kindred with the animal, both of them getting something of what they need in the most unlikely of places. There is a strong fairytale vibe in all of this: a child figuratively or literally lost in the world; isolation and loneliness; adults as potentially dangerous or just plain unfeeling figures; the quest for love and for belonging. Pan’s Labyrinth did something similar in a fantasy form as did the amazing Let The Right One In. Even new Doctor Who is now riding the same train.

Hey, what can I say? I’m a total sucker for this stuff. It’s my thematic nirvana.

The Unloved may not be perfect, but, overall, it is a very well made, heartfelt and affecting little film that largely achieves what it sets out to achieve. So I say well done to Samantha Morton. 4/5


The Unloved on 4onDemand

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Nobody loses with The Losers

The Losers

Wow! So…um…The A-Team has a lot to live up to this summer.

The Losers is an action movie based on a comic book from DC/Vertigo about a band of special forces guys who get framed on a job they were doing. Left for dead in Central America, they eventually get the chance to return Stateside in order to enact their revenge and clear their names. So far so very A-Team. Now I’ve not read the original comic this movie was based on so I have no idea how much of a rip off…I mean homage to the much loved eighties TV series it is. All I do know is that, as a movie, The Losers rocks! The story of The Losers is pure nonsense. But it doesn’t matter. The script by Peter (The Rundown, Hancock) Berg and James (Zodiac) Vanderbilt is fun, tight, fast-paced, witty, and sharp as sharp can be. The direction by Sylvian White is stylish mixing glossy, fast cut MTV/Michael Bay-isms with a hefty dose of Peter Berg’s own hand held grit. But neither styles overplay themselves, they just mix wonderfully and give The Losers its own distinctive comic book look and feel.

But above all else it’s the terrific cast that truly makes this film. Right from the get go each and every one of them radiates effortless charisma and charm. They all seem immensely comfortable playing off each other, like riffing jazz musicians in one of the coolest bands you’ve ever heard. But at the core of it all are four great performances. The team’s leader is the tough, laconic and hugely charismatic Jeffrey Dean Morgan. You might remember him as Edward ‘The Comedian’ Blake in Watchmen. Dean Morgan is like a more world weary Robert Downey Jr minus the smartass. And spookily he looks a lot like him too, only a beefier and more rumpled version. His gruff sparring with the also great Idris Elba is a wonderful character cornerstone to the movie. Chris Evans plays the teams tech guy and the main source of comic relief. Evans once again shows why he is a big star just waiting to go stratospheric. He brims with charm and humour, but, as he proved with the likes of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, he is also a genuinely strong actor. Plus he isn’t afraid to take the piss out of himself as he does to great effect here. His character in The Losers is a bit of dork who can’t talk to women and is mostly unaware of his own dorkishness. The sequence where he infiltrates a tech company to steal info from a computer is hilarious. I never laughed so hard at a Journey song. Luckily for us Chris has been cast as Captain America in Marvel’s upcoming movie adaptation of its legendary patriotic hero, which means he will also play the dual lead with Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man in Joss Whedon’s movie of The Avengers. Wow! My head nearly exploded just attempting to contain the enormous geeky coolness of that sentence. And then there is Zoe Saldana in the femme fatale role. Ah, Zoe. I’m so in love with this girl it ain’t funny. Last year with Star Trek and Avatar she proved she was a wonderful actress with so much natural poise and feeling to her performances. Here she is just as good, although her character doesn’t have as much depth to work with as in those previous two films. But she is still an intense presence who looks stunning and who moves with a seductive feline grace. Maybe it’s the trained ballet dancer in her but she moves like nobody else on screen. You can tell Zoe from only her silhouette, purely from the way she moves. Also, in this movie, she is in what is probably THE greatest single shot of the year: stood tall and poised atop a cargo container while firing a rocket launcher from the hip. In slow motion. As sexy and lethal as all hell. But for all good heroes you have to have a good villain. And with The Losers we do get a good villain, a very good one. Which brings me to the fourth top-notch performance in the movie: Jason Patric as the vicious, sarcastic Max. He’s coldly evil, casually shooting a girl dead just because she accidentally moved the parasol she held over his head to let in some sun. And then, later on, he is bitingly sarcastic to his main henchman in what are some wonderfully amusing put-downs. It is that nasty sarcasm that does the trick. You rarely get that in films - especially American films. But Patric does it so well here. He really is a cold, snide, ruthless, ghastly monster. And what more could you want from a comic book bad guy?

So, in the end, despite the visual razzmatazz and the very cool action, it is the cast and the characters of The Losers that stays with you. It has that feeling of a perfect group coming together to make magic happen. It’s like watching Firefly/Serenity, or Predator, or the new Trek movie. Every role has been perfectly defined, cast and played, with the group chemistry being immediate and evident. Together this band of brothers (and sister) light up the screen, and by films end you just wanna be able to hang out with them and have a few beers and a few laughs. I loved The Losers. A lot. I had a huge grin on my face all the way through (when I wasn’t drooling over Zoe). It entertained me in a big way. And I can’t wait to see it again. 4.5/5

The Losers trailer

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

R.I.P. Lost

(Sorry about the Radiohead song)


Okay, so the last ever Lost was an emotional experience.

I don’t care what some critics or disgruntled fans say…

It was brilliant!

To my mind the people who didn't like it just didn't understand it and hadn't really been paying as close attention to the show all these years as they probably thought they had. So, for all you pissed off knuckleheads, here’s a wakeup call…

Ladies and gentlemen...Lost was NOT a show about plot.

Like all the best meaningful storytelling, Lost was about something more. It wasn't really about twists and turns and polar bears and smoke monsters and hatches. All of that was just surface mechanics designed to keep the real story powering along in order to get the characters where they needed to be and to help play out the ideas and themes underpinning everything. No, Lost was a show about a core group of interesting, compelling characters who had all become lost in life somehow. It was a show about meaningful and timeless themes with the likes of faith, destiny, redemption, finding ones place in the world and finding a purpose in life being amongst the strongest. And to my mind it all paid off handsomely. The Island and the Light were, in the end, just macguffins to get that particular group of people to where they all finally needed to be. Together. I admit it. I was tearing up at the end. It was sad yet also incredibly joyful to watch this series boiled down to its most basic idea, an idea brought to such a beautifully told conclusion.

Ultimately Lost was a very human and a very spiritual (not religious) show that tried to give its viewers a taste of something a little bigger and a little more hopeful without ever being overly sentimental or obvious. It was always exciting, always challenging, always ridiculously compelling and always, always utterly unmissable. And in the end, it gave us something else too. It gave us sight of something more: an end and a beginning together with those who mean the most to us. Something I wish with all my heart to be true.

For a great summary of what Lost and its finale was all about, click the following link written by an alleged writer on the show. Even if he/she wasn't really a writer on the show, it is still insightful stuff.

So long Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, Libby, Locke, Jin, Sun, Sayid, Claire, Charlie, Desmond, Juliet, Ben, Boone, Shannon, Rose, Bernard. It’s been a privilege knowing you all.

Friday, 21 May 2010

I must protest...I am NOT a merry man!

Oops…I meant…

( ^ He's not a merry man either.)

Ridley Scott's Robin Hood.

Firstly, let’s get this straight…

Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood is not a terrible film as I’d heard from some quarters. In fact some elements of it are really rather good. Unfortunately it’s not a film I found myself enjoying while I was watching it. To be honest I felt rather bored and disconnected from everything that was happening on screen. I just wasn’t pulled in to its (admittedly) well-realised world or engaged by its tangled, charmless story or its bland characters. It looked good but overall it left me cold.

What did I like about it?

Well, being a Ridley Scott film, it looks very nice indeed and is certainly a handsomely mounted production with wonderful sets, great costumes and some excellent photography. And it was quite refreshing to see a movie employing some real large-scale action – hundreds of men on horseback and real castles as opposed to thousands of CGI enhanced fighters and battles and landscapes. But, even so, like I said, this movie left me cold.

So what went wrong?

I mean...Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett with a script by the writer of LA Confidential. How could it be anything less than awesome?

Personally I found the whole thing utterly unengaging and unnecessary. The story it was trying to tell I thought was convoluted and kinda dull. At its core it is the bog standard hero’s journey thing we’ve seen a million times before which leads Robin to become, finally, at films end, the hero we know from legend. But it isn’t very well constructed. It just didn’t ring true to me at all. For a start I didn’t for a moment buy Crowe, a very good actor, as a proto Robin Hood. He still has his natural rough, tough charisma, but plays it too low-key and undynamic. And you never really know what kind of a bloke he is. He’s a bit roguish, pretty mercenary, but then he is also unfailingly honest and will risk his life for seemingly no gain after he’s taken the belongings of men he’s killed. I didn’t get any real sense of his character nor of a character journey to show how and why he ends up as the man he does. He (conveniently) remembers some things about his past but doesn’t seem to change or grow as a character. His actions and motivations are rather muddled and unclear with silly things happening like his afore mentioned sudden miraculous memory of his fathers once great importance. And all it took was Max Von Sydow to say “close your eyes” for him to remember all of this vital plot stuff. Huh? Stuff just happens in this film to service the plot and for little other reason.

Another big problem for me was Robin and Marion’s relationship. It felt hollow, bland, forced, a mechanical necessity to the plot rather than one of genuine feeling. Crowe and Blanchett are excellent actors, but here they both just about managed to be solid. Part of the problem is that, when together, they have absolutely no onscreen chemistry so you don’t buy in to what is one of the central pillars of this story.

And as for the so-called merry men…

What a ragged and utterly forgettable bunch including a couple of North American actors who plainly had no idea where these guys were supposed to hail from.

Which brings me to all those accents.

The range of bizarre and awful accents in Robin Hood is one of the most entertaining (for all the wrong reasons) things about it.

And another reason why I didn’t enjoy Robin Hood was this. The whole enterprise was seriously lacking a sense of humour or any sense of fun. What little humour there was came off as mostly forced or just plain lame. Mark Addy as a bee keeping comic relief Friar Tuck was hopeless and simply not funny. None of them were. I don’t think I laughed or broke a smile once in this film.

So what's left?

Well, at least the film’s action and battles were pretty decent. The opening castle siege stuff was pretty good and suitably grubby and noisy. The French attack on Nottingham was very good and by far the best sequence in the movie. And the end beach invasion battle was pretty darn good too, playing like a medieval Saving Private Ryan…only with the heroes defending the beach. I liked how its scale was big but not overly so. This is pretty good stuff.

But wait...

Dang it all, Marion suddenly turns up with a bunch of kids!


And then she has to be saved by Robin!


I suppose you could argue that it would have been good for her to arrive and then kill Mark Strong as it was he who killed old Man Locksley whom Marion was very close to. But she doesn’t kill Mark Strong. Robin does. Marion turns up and then fairly quickly has to be saved by Robin. That is her sole role in this battle. Now, just think back to the awesome Return of the King. Eowyn fights and defeats the main henchman – the Witch King. For story, character and theme this was a HUGE moment…and one of the greatest “YEAH!” moments in modern cinema. She was an integral part of that battle. What the hell was the point of Marion in the battle at the end of Robin Hood? Did the gaggle of woodland kids she brought with her really make a difference against a major French invasion force? Puh-lease!

For most of Robin Hood’s running time I was teetering on the edge of boredom. I’m all for reinventing old heroes and looking for new takes on old tales. But if you have nothing actually new or interesting to bring to the table, then why bother? The original concept of this film did sound like an original take on the legend. Robin Hood was the villain and the Sheriff the hero with both roles to be played by the same actor. A meditation on duality, about how point of view can determine who is a hero and who is a villain. The one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter thing. But the film we actually got, to me, felt immediately redundant. It was overly serious, po-faced and unengaging. It was so determined to show us 12th century politics and the grim life back then that it missed out on showing its audience (or me at any rate) a good time. This is no Gladiator. Gladiator succeeded due to its grand sweep and the real dramatic, mythic weight it carried with it, along with the sterling acting from all involved. It also provided its hero with a clear journey and clear motivations. You cared about Maximus and his plight, about what was done to him, about the obstacles he had to overcome to achieve his goals. You cared about the friendships and relationships in the film, the themes of honour and love and friendship and family. They all shone. They all had weight. Nothing in Robin Hood had any real weight.

Sorry Rid and Russ, for all its faults I’ll take Costner and Rickman in the daft pantomime of Prince of Thieves any day. But above all I’ll mostly stick with the classic Robin of Sherwood TV series as the definitive take on the Hooded Man. 2/5

Sunday, 9 May 2010

My Weekend: A Mind Blowing Trailer. A Kick-Ass Movie. A Creepy Book. A Time Lord in Venice.



Inception (trailer)
HOLY CRAP! If you haven't seen it already, check out this new trailer for Inception, Christopher Nolan’s follows up to The Dark Knight. Nolan is the master at making intelligent thrillers with complex narratives and strong adult thematic underpinnings. This just looks stunning. Basically it is a high tech sci fi crime/heist film set in the world of dreams. I'd be mightily surprised if Inception doesn't end up as the best film of 2010. Jaw meet floor.

(Sorry, couldn’t find an embed.)

Iron Man 2
Good but not great. The first one was better. This time around the story was too unfocussed with all of act 2 being just long stretches of talk and virtually no action. Mickey Rourke, though good, was rather an underused villain. Also the films 'wow' factor was pretty much absent this time - except for the great race sequence in Monaco.

But despite its flaws I still enjoyed it quite bit. For a big summer blockbuster superhero film it might be too shallow to be quite so talky but then again when you have the likes of Robert Downey Jr. and Sam Jackson verbally sparring on screen then that’s real talent and charisma overload. Throw in the wonderful Gwyneth Paltrow, whose chemistry with Downey Jr is still pleasingly sparky, the fun Sam Rockwell and the gorgeous ass kicking goddess who be Scarlett Johannsen, plus some pretty cool (when they happen) action sequences, and IM2, for all its faults, is still a cut above. Oh, and if you’re a superhero/Marvel geek then hang around until the end credits are over for a foretaste of the next big Marvel movie. A certain Norse thunder god is on his way. 3.5/5

I watched Kick-Ass again this morning. God I love this film. It is just bursting at the seams with such creative, irreverent, yet weirdly warm and affectionate energy. If you’ve ever loved superheroes and wondered why nobody ever tried doing it for real (or maybe you secretly dreamed of doing it for real yourself) then Kick-Ass is for you.

Kick-Ass is directed by Mathew Vaughan (Layer Cake, Stardust) and adapted from Mark Millar’s excellent graphic novel of the same name. Aaron Johnson in the title role is perfect. He comes across as an even geekier version of Toby Maguire’s Peter Parker and a lot more realistic as an ordinary hormone fuelled teenager with dreams of masked heroism and of getting the girl. But it is a certain pint sized psycho moppet who truly steals the show. Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl is a phenomenon. She’s an eleven-year-old whirling dervish of mayhem, death and profanity. And with a vicious curled lip that would make any grown man quiver in fear. Quite simply this kid in this role is an instant pop culture icon. A lot of the stuff she does and says is very, very wrong for such a little lass. And yet she does it so darn well. As her daddy, Nicolas Cage is almost as brilliant. When in his Batman-esque costume, Cage adopts an Adam West style persona that just kills. Watching him in this you remember why he actually is a movie star.

Kick-Ass is the best film I’ve seen this year. And the most fun film I’ve seen this year. And the most wrong film I’ve seen this year. I mean watching nasty Mark Strong punching an eleven-year-old girl in the face repeatedly is a mightily disturbing sight. But don’t worry dear reader, he soon gets his comeuppance. Oh yes indeed. 5/5


The Reckoning
I’ve just finished The Reckoning, book three in Kelley Armstrong’s Darkest Powers young adult series.

Fifteen year old Chloe Saunders, a troubled but powerful young necromancer, is on the run from Lyle House Children’s Home along with bitchy witch Tori, handsome arty sorcerer Simon, and Simon’s adoptive brother, the hulking, bad moody Derek, a fast maturing werewolf. Hot on their heels is the mysterious and deadly Edison Group, a shadowy organisation who’ve been doing some very nasty secret experiments on supernatural children for years. Chloe and her new friends seem to be the culmination of those experiments. And the Edison Group wants them back.

This third book wraps up the first trilogy of the Darkest Powers series in a fitting and exciting way. The Reckoning is a cracking read full of realistic and witty dialogue, great characters, dramatic action, high emotion, nasty monsters and supernatural shenanigans. There are a lot of chases, fights, double crosses and supernatural showdowns as well as some cool payback and destruction. But, as always with Kelley’s books, the characters, relationships and the emotions are always kept at the forefront. The fact that this is part of a young adult series doesn’t matter. The Darkest Powers series is still set in Kelley’s Otherworld universe and her usual writing style is kept 100% intact. Content-wise the action, humour and horror is all still there. But (as only to be expected in a YA book) the fairly graphic eroticism that plays a role in her adult work is not present here. Instead we get elements of teenage angst along with some burgeoning conflicted feelings; feelings which never amount to anything more physical than a hug, the holding of hands or a tender kiss. And that’s fine. For the teens in this series are so well drawn and so layered and complex in their characters that you totally accept it. It seems truthful and real. You really do like these kids and feel for them in their plight. Kelley Armstrong gives great character.

Anyway, I’ll miss Chloe. She was a great narrator who went on a fun, scary and challenging journey over the three books from a stuttering, insular and rather timid little daddy’s girl to someone of burgeoning power, intelligence, maturity and courage. The fact that she was also a major movie geek (especially horror and action films) and an aspiring screenwriter was just the icing on the cake. Although this part of Chloe’s story is now over, the book’s ending sets up the bigger tale with new and dangerous future missions to undertake. The next Darkest Powers trilogy will have new main characters, new stories and a new narrator, but Kelley says that Chloe, Derek, Simon, Tori et al will be back at some point, most likely as supporting characters rather than leads. And I look forward to meeting up with them again. 4.5/5


Doctor Who
Doctor Who is still great. Matt Smith now owns this role so much it ain’t funny. I much prefer his Time Lord take to that of David Tennant. I liked Tennant but preferred Chris Eccleston. Now I prefer Smith to them both. And Amy Pond is just sublime. She’s gorgeous, smart, fiery, funny, perfect. The stories so far have varied in quality from the excellent opener, the brilliant Weeping Angels two-parter, to the fun but flawed Victory of the Daleks, and the okay but not great second one called The Beast Below. This week’s ep was Vampires in Venice from Being Human writer Toby Whithouse. It was a fun romp made all the better by the wonderful location filming in Croatia (doubling perfectly for Venice), Whithouse’s witty, funny, insightful dialogue, and Matt Smith knocking it way out of the park as The Doctor. Watch and revel in his quiet, subtle scene with the main villain as they debate about what to do next. He gives a level of mature restraint, thoughtfulness and sly wit that Tennant would have had trouble in selling. My two main criticisms of this episode are:

1) The actual plot is very samey to new Who tales that have come before. Think The Runaway Bride meets The Fires of Pompeii.

2) The FX. The Mill FX house dropped the ball here with some of the crummiest CGI recently seen in the show. The Doctor climbing the tower at the end is embarrassingly bad, as is some of the obvious CG water added throughout to make the location look even more Venice-y.

On the big plus side, though, the gaggle of female vampires are a foxy lot with even The Doctor getting a bit overexcited at times. And Whithouse’s script is full of many wonderful lines and some great character based humour. Next week sees The Doctor and Amy trapped in a world of dreams and having to find their way out before they die. It looks very interesting and suitably weird.