Monthly Archives: July 2012

Movie Confessions Blogathon

So this is a blogathon. I haven’t done one before, so thought I’d give one a whirl. This comes courtesy of Myfilmviews, and more details can be found about it here. So let’s get on with it.

Which classic movie don’t you like/can’t enjoy and why?

I watched Godard’s ‘Weekend’ as part of my uni course and just didn’t get it. Apparently it’s a big deal French surrealism/New Wave cinema but it did nothing for me. ‘La Règle du jeu’ was also one that I couldn’t get on with. I haven’t watched them again since though, so maybe I should revisit them, or maybe I’m just culturally inept.  I also can’t stand The Sound of Music.

Which ten classic movies haven’t you seen yet?

Wow, this could get ugly. There are a number of classic films that still haven’t found their way into my eyes, and I really need to remedy that.

1. Schindler’s List

2. Apocalypse NowI hang my head

3. The Godfather: Part II

4. 12 Angry Men

5. Dumb and Dumber

6. Metropolis

7. To Kill a Mockingbird

8. The Great Escape

9. Platoon

10. The Deer Hunter

I intend on starting a new feature soon entitled ‘Films I Should Probably Already Have Seen But I’m Only Just Getting Around to Watching’. Or something like that. Hopefully a few of these can make it onto that.

Have you ever sneaked into another movie at the cinema?

I can’t say I have to be honest. How very boring.

Which actor/actress do you think is overrated?

I think maybe Johnny Depp, but that could be due to his playing virtually the same character in every film over the last few years. I think he’s a good actor but needs to diversify a little. I’m not a fan of Jude Law, but I don’t know whether he’s rated enough to be classed as overrated. In terms of actresses, I think Julia Roberts is overrated. Good in ‘Erin Brokovich’ but I’ve not seen much else to convince me of her greatness. Happy to be proved wrong though.

From which big director have you never seen any movie (and why)?

I have never seen a George Romero film, probably because horror isn’t my favourite genre, and I haven’t seen anything by David Lynch, Federico Fellini or Akira Kurosawa. There are also a few other directors whose catalogue of films I have barely scratched the surface, such as Woody Allen and David Cronenberg. Need to get cracking.

Which movie do you love, but is generally hated?

Well when I was younger I loved ‘Armageddon’ and I still would probably watch it if it came on TV. Could be to do with Liv Tyler though. Back off Affleck.

Have you ever been “one of those annoying people” at the cinema?

Never. I don’t even like my friends talking to me when we’re watching a film. I seriously don’t understand people who go to the cinema and spend their time talking or checking their phones. Go. Home.

Did you ever watch a movie, which you knew in advance would be bad, just because of a specific actor/actress was in it? Which one and why?

I don’t really pay a huge amount of attention as to who is in a film in terms of deciding whether to watch it or not, but I may have watched ‘One Night at McCool’s’ because of the aforementioned Liv Tyler.

Did you ever not watch a specific movie because it had subtitles?

The only time I have done this is when I’m tired and can’t be bothered reading the subtitles. Other than that, I’m more than happy to watch a subtitled film.

Are there any movies in your collection that you have had for more than five years and never watched?

Quite a few I think. I tend to purchase films on a regular basis purely because I will probably want to watch it at some point in the future, but then never get round to it. I bought Hitchcock’s ‘Strangers on a Train’ after I got in trouble at uni for missing the screening of it, but still haven’t watched it.

Which are the worst movies in your collection and why do you still own them?

I have ‘Broken Flowers’ with Bill Murray that I thought was terrible, and there are a few others that made me want to hurt small animals, including ‘Changing Lanes’, ‘Hard Candy’ and ‘Closer’. I don’t like getting rid of films just in case I have a sudden urge to watch them. I’m a bit of a hoarder in that way.

Do you have any confessions about your movie watching setup at home?

No confessions as such. I used to have all my films in alphabetical order but I got fed up of people deliberately mixing them up. I tend to try and watch Blu-Ray more than standard DVD if I can now after watching ‘Alien’ on Blu-Ray and being blown away by the quality of it.

Any other confessions you want to make?

My cinema snack of choice is chocolate covered raisins.

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Quickie: Rampart

'Date Rape' Dave BrownDuring the fallout of the Rampart corruption scandal in the late 1990s, veteran police office Dave Brown is caught on camera viciously beating on a suspect. His life then spirals out of control as he tries his best to keep it all together.

Dave Brown is somewhat of a twisted fellow; he lives with his two exes who happen to be sisters and both of whom he has children with, he reportedly murdered a supposed serial date rapist, and he isn’t shy about whose bed he happens to fall into. To be honest, it’s hard to feel any kind of sympathy or empathy with Brown and as such, it’s sometimes difficult to care about what happens to him. There’s much more to his past (and his present) that we’re not shown and there are suggestions that his two exes aren’t the only members of the household he has ‘been close’ to. Again, this doesn’t sit well with a protagonist the film seems to want us to identify with.

Having said that, Woody Harrelson is excellent as usual. He worked with director Oren Moverman on The Messenger and it’s clear the two work well together. Moverman, on the other hand, does the film no favours with his constant use of over-the-top and disorientating camera techniques. Used in moderation they can be effective but the overuse is a little distracting. One particular scene featuring Harrelson, Sigourney Weaver and Steve Buscemi could have brilliant but the constantly revolving camera succeeds in only detracting from the dialogue.

Rampart isn’t a bad film, it’s just one that doesn’t really do anything new or go anywhere particularly interesting. However, the performances are generally solid, particularly from Harrelson who appears in every scene, but outside of that the film will unlikely stick in the memory.

Words: Chris Thomson

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New Feature: The Quickie

Quickie - for when time is shortI’m introducing a new feature to the blog – the Quickie. This isn’t some big flashy thing, but simply scaled down reviews. I was finding that my reviews were taking a little while to write and some were coming in at around the 800-1000 word mark. The Quickie will be no longer than 300 words (hopefully) and will detail my overriding feelings of the film rather than going into the finer details.

This won’t happen for all films, but just for those that either I don’t feel merit a full review, I don’t have time to write a full review for, or for films I’ve left it a little to long to write a full review for and can’t actually remember everything about it. I will still, of course, continue with full reviews, but this will give a bit of a change of pace. This has been riffed a little from ClaratsiMovieBlog and his ‘Turbo Reviews’ but it was something that I was considering beforehand; I thought I’d give a little name check where it’s due anyway.

The first Quickie, Rampart, is up now to read.

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Film review: Carnage

It’s not that often that you can pinpoint the source of a film. Obviously there are some films you know are based on books or plays, but if you had absolutely no knowledge of that film whatsoever, its origins might prove a little more difficult to ascertain. However, Carnage is so obviously based on a play that it might as well have curtains rise before it starts.

It’s an incredibly simple story: two couples gets together to discuss a fight that has broke out between their sons. What starts off as a relatively amicable meeting soon descends into chaos as tensions run high, each couple refuses to accept their child was responsible and there’s a particularly nasty case of vomiting from her that was in Titanic.

Carnage

Plot-wise there isn’t much more to it than that. It is little more than a series of uncomfortable and awkward scenes, set in ‘real-time’, as these ‘normal’ suburban families are slowly revealed to be a facade; a mass of insecurities and flaws that they do their utmost to hide away. Its theatrical roots (Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage) are plain to see: the film is set in a single apartment, often in one room, and features just four characters of equal billing; it’s all very straightforward. Very much a character examination, there’s no exuberance and no pazzaz, except for a well-written script and impressive performances.

The two couples are of very different backgrounds – Alan and Nancy Cowan (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslett) are the upper end of middle class, with their smarter clothes and higher powered jobs, whilst Michael and Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C Reilly) are at the other end, with their modest apartment and what would be perceived more regular jobs. However, the film makes the point that all these characters are flawed in some way regardless of their backgrounds and that they inevitably end up acting no better than their children. In fact, their children are nothing more than a sub plot to the parents’ games of oneupmanship and desire to appear superior.

Carnage is director Roman Polanski’s Bunuel-esque attack on the middle class (that Alan and Nancy seem unable to leave the apartment harks back to The Exterminating Angel) as neither of the families come out of the film with any kind of redeeming qualities. They place far too much importance on trivial things, whether it be fancy art books or the ingredients of a cobbler. They don’t really seem that concerned with addressing the real issue of their fighting children; Alan spends most of his time on the phone, Nancy seems more preoccupied with Michael’s treatment of the family hamster, Penelope constantly tries to out-Cowan the Cowans, and Michael (for the most part) is happy to just go along with whatever.

With such a simple story and location, there is nothing to hide behind and in a film such as Carnage, the actors are under greater pressure to pull superior performances out of the bag. In this case they are moderately successful, but it is the males who really stand out. Both John C Reilly and Christoph Waltz outshine their female counterparts with impressive performances that keep the film ticking along. Both female characters are somewhat less inspiring, and Jodie Foster in particular can be a little hammy at times. Despite that, the quartet work well together and they do well with a script that has peaks and troughs; it can sometimes get a little slow but overall is witty and helps provide an intriguing examination of the characters.

The film has a claustrophobic quality to it, thanks in part to its singular environment, that may not be to everyone’s tastes, but persevere and you’ll find a film that provides a deeper social commentary for those who want to delve into it and a more lighthearted take on relationships and parenting for those who want to take it at face value.

Words: Chris Thomson

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Batman Begins and The Dark Knight revisited

With The Dark Knight Rises concluding Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, I thought I’d go back and revisit the two films that preceded it, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

Warning: contains spoilers for the four people who haven’t seen either of these yet.

Batman BeginsBatman Begins

Before Batman begins, Batman’s origin story hadn’t really been explored to great extent and the franchise in general was in dire need of an overhaul. As such, Batman Begins was the perfect Batman film for its generation. Taking a much darker and more realistic tone than previous films, it brought Bruce Wayne and Batman into our world rather than, as in the past, taking us into his.

There’s something special about an origin story. Maybe it’s because we get to see the normal person (us) transformed into something greater (what we aspire to be), but whatever it is, Batman Begins is the perfect example of how to go back to a story’s roots. Pretty much everything important gets covered; we see where Bruce’s fear of bats comes from, we see the death of his parents, and then his transformation into Batman. However, it’s this final point that is the film’s most intriguing storyline.

Bruce goes off around the world in hope of learning the skills to bring justice to Gotham and is taught a variety of martial arts and ninja skills by Ducard (who later turns out to be the mysterious and supposedly immortal Ra’s Al Ghul), a member of the League of Shadows. This is where it gets really interesting as we actually see Batman learning his skills. Before we have just had a Batman who is resilient, skilled in hand-to-hand combat and can seemingly disappear at will. Now we see how he apparently learnt all of that badassery.

Origin stories can be tricky to do in that the filmmaker needs to include how the superhero came to be but also a further storyline involving an antagonist (or in this case two). This can lead the film to be a little on the long side (looking at you The Amazing Spider-Man), but Batman Begins manages to balance the two distinct parts of the story perfectly without stringing things out unnecessarily.

The villains chosen for Batman Begins are also excellent picks. Batman has a substantial rogues gallery and the duo of Ra’s Al Ghul and Jonathan ‘Scarecrow’ Crane work superbly together; Ra’s symbolises the father that Bruce lost as a child whilst Scarecrow represents the theme of fear that runs throughout the film. Both villains are suitably different enough to provide variety in their characters and both Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy play their respective roles very well indeed.

And then at the end of the film we get the tease of a certain someone’s calling card that, along with the anarchy ensuing throughout Gotham, sets up the following film perfectly.

The Dark Knight

The Dark KnightThe first Batman film to actually drop the ‘Batman’ from its title, The Dark Knight always promised to be something a little different. We knew from the end of Batman Begins that The Joker was going to be Batman’s key adversary but no-one really envisaged just how much of an effect the character would have on the film and the entire Batman franchise as a result.

Heath Ledger had been a controversial choice to play the Joker with many unable to see him in the role of Batman’s oldest and most famous enemy. However, Christopher Nolan clearly saw something in Ledger that most did not and it wasn’t long before it became clear that Nolan knew best. Whilst Jack Nicholson’s Joker was considered a near perfect take on the character, it’ll be Ledger’s portrayal that will forever be the benchmark.

Ledger’s death as a result of an overdose of prescription drugs prior to the film’s release was a tragedy and ensured an even greater air of mystery surrounding the part. There were reports that he had locked himself in a hotel room for weeks on end to prepare for the role and that the whole experience had had a detrimental effect on his mental state. Whatever really happened, Ledger gave a performance so absorbing that it will go down in history as one of the greats. Some have said he was overrated in the role, but he wasn’t. He simply wasn’t. Everything from his licking his lips facial tick (originally an irritation at the face paint, but Nolan liked it so have him carry on) to the variations in his vocal tone comes together to create a truly unsettling performance, but one that perfectly exemplified the Joker.

Elsewhere, The Dark Knight continues to carry on the excellent foundations laid by Begins. Michael Caine and Gary Oldman reprise their superlative supporting roles as Alfred and Jim Gordon respectively, and we get the introduction of district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). The only blot in the copybook in terms of continuity was Katie Holmes not reprising her role as Rachel Dawes, although Maggie Gyllenhaal did a fine job as her replacement.

Dent is a fine and necessary addition to the roster, although the Two-Face side of the character feels somewhat underused. It’s not until we near the end of the film does Dent transform into Two-Face but seemingly within the blink of an eye he falls to his death and the character doesn’t really get a chance to fulfill its potential. However, to incorporate that would require a longer story and with the film already feeling a little on the lengthy side, there wasn’t really much space to cram in any more.

Many have argued that The Dark Knight is the finest superhero film of all time and it’s hard to argue with that, although some have since passed that accolade onto Avengers Assemble. The Dark Knight Rises has a lot to live up to, but just as long as it doesn’t try to emulate its predecessor but rather try and build upon it, it should do just fine. Nolan has created two masterful comic book adaptations; who would bet against him doing it again?

Words: Chris Thomson

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Film review: The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-ManWith this reboot of the Spider-Man film franchise coming a mere ten years after Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, it was always going to be under huge scrutiny. When it was confirmed that Spider-Man 4 was dead in the water and Sony were going to start afresh, thousands of Spidey fanatics swamped message boards to give their opinions. There were those who were outraged at a reboot and another origin story happening so soon, whilst others were hoping that this time they would finally “get it right”.

In The Amazing Spider-Man we get the same origin story we got a decade ago, and the first act feels a little too familiar – geeky outsider Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) gets bitten by a radioactive spider giving him all sorts of arachnid-like abilities. He then learns to come to terms and use them before his not-long-for-this-world Uncle Ben gives him some spiel about ‘responsibility’. However, the film does have its own identity, and this time we get more a focus on Peter’s parents and how he ended up living with his Aunt and Uncle, as well as a new romantic interest in the form of Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone).

There’s also a new villain in the form of Dr Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), an Oscorp scientist with one arm obsessed with learning the secrets of regenerative lizard DNA to help grow back his missing apendage. In true super villain style his experiments go awry and he transforms into the imaginitively named Lizard. Of course it’s Spidey’s job to put a stop to his evil plans.

For those concerned whether this reboot was actually needed, the good news is it feels fresh enough to stand alongside Raimi’s trilogy. Spider-Man 3 marked a considerable downturn in the series after the high of número deux, and with the studio and writers and director and actors all at odds about the direction of the next film, a reboot wasn’t actually the stupid decision that it first seemed.

Dr Curt Connors So out goes Tobey Maguire and in comes Andrew Garfield. Despite clocking in at 28 years of age, Garfield has the youthful looks and gangly physique perfectly suited to a high school Peter Parker. One problem some had with Tobey Maguire was that they just couldn’t see him as Peter Parker, but they should feel a lot happier with the Garfield in the role (complete with mechanical web shooters).

Garfield brings just the right amount of athleticism, vulnerability and comedy to the role of Spider-Man, although he does seem a little too cool at times for the supposedly outcast Parker. The rest of the casting is also pretty spot on. Emma Stone is very good as love interest Gwen Stacey, replacing Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane, and Martin Sheen and Sally Fields are a class above the previous incarnation of Uncle Ben and Aunt May.

As previously mentioned, chunks of the story are still a little too fresh in the memory, but it does just enough to stand alone as the start of its own franchise. The dialogue is wittier and the whole thing feels much more like a comic book brought to life; again Garfield has to take a lot of the credit for this. However, the action set pieces are a mixed bag. The pick of the bunch is arguably smaller scale bridge rescue which has a lot more emotional punch than the somewhat disappointing climactic showdown with the Lizard. The film is also a little on the long side, although that can be an ailment of origin stories, having to cram so much information into a relatively short period.

For those who would no longer consider themselves ‘young’, ten years between origin stories probably seems like no time at all. However, for anyone under the age of 25 or so, it probably seems a lot longer. There is most definitely a place for The Amazing Spider-Man, although it won’t be until the sequel roles around in a couple of years’ time will we really see whether the reboot decision is vindicated. A slightly lengthy running time, patchy set pieces and the worst use of a Coldplay song in the history of film don’t hold The Amazing Spider-Man back from being a solid comic book adaptation that will no doubt inspire a whole new generation of wannabe web-slingers.

Words: Chris Thomson

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The Complain Game – Black Swan most complained about film in 2011

Is Black Swan too graphic?The BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) has recently announced that they received more complaints in 2011 about ballet-horror Black Swan than any other film. The film received a 15 rating here in the UK, yet it still received 40 complaints (which isn’t that many really) from audience members, most of which stating that the lesbian scene between Natalie Portman’s and Mila Kunis’ characters was inappropriate for the rating.

I must admit that the scene in question is rather graphic, particularly for a 15 rated film, but it’s only one scene in the entire film and no other scene would warrant a rating any higher than a 15. This then begs the question, should the scene have been trimmed down or cut completely or should the age rating have been raised to an 18? Well there is no way that Black Swan demands an 18 certificate. Granted, the lesbian scene is one to raise a few eyebrows, but it’s not gratuitous and it’s nothing that most 15 or 16 year olds aren’t aware of or haven’t seen before. Sure, if you watch the film with your parents, it may lead to a little awkward shuffling or a well-timed tea break, but that says more about people’s attitudes rather than the suitability of the material.

What’s even more worrying than people’s prudish nature is that some have complained that the film should be rated 18 or that scene should be cut simply because it is of lesbian nature. To me this verges on homophobia, suggesting that same-sex relationships are taboo and are only suitable for those of a certain age. This is such an archaic attitude and I can only dread to think what those blinkered bigots would make of something like Brokeback Mountain or something altogether more risqué.

Off the back of the Black Swan complaints, the BBFC has announced that they have commissioned a major research project into audience’s attitudes to sexual violence in films. Whilst this would no doubt be very interesting reading, it needs to be pointed out that there is no sexual violence in Black Swan. There are scenes of a sexual nature and there is a level of violence, but the two a kept separate. This distinction needs to be fully understood and it’s dangerous to brandish such labels around.

Should The Woman in Black have been rated higher?The Lovely Bones and Beowulf have been past winners of the ‘most complained about film of the year’ award again because some thought the age rating was too low. Both films were given a 12A here in the UK, which means that anyone under the age of 12 must be accompanied by an adult. Admittedly, this makes the distinction between 12A and PG rather blurred and some parents may feel it’s fine to take their children, no matter what age, to a 12A film. However, this is most certainly not the case. Whilst I feel both The Lovely Bones and Beowulf feature very little that will mentally scar children, The Woman in Black is a different cauldron of frogs.

The Woman in Black was also granted a 12A rating by the BBFC and is the most complained about film of 2012 so far, and to be honest, it’s not hard to see why. At time of writing, the BBFC had received 120 complaints about the film, which makes Black Swan’s 40 complaints even more paltry in comparison.

Whatever your opinion of the film itself, it’s hard to argue that it would more than likely frighten a child. There’s nothing wrong with 12 or 13 year olds getting a bit of a spook, but when you consider someone could take a seven year old to see it, then you can see where the issues lie. And for all those saying it wasn’t scary anyway, it made me jump a fair few times and I’ve never experienced a cinema so on edge as during that film, so just imagine how a child would fare. Granted, you could question the parenting choices of taking a child to see a film such as The Woman in Black, but that’s a different issue.

The Woman in Black problem could have been solved very simply – do away with the 12A rating. The PG rating covered this age range adequately and then 12 certificates represented that slight step up in maturity. A little more thought into how a film is classified and the target audience should help eliminate a fair amount of issues.

Films Hanna, Sucker Punch and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – part 1 also attracted a number of complaints. A pattern is emerging. Many of the films mentioned in this article have featured prominent female roles, which suggests that it is people’s views of the portrayal of women in films that is the deeper rooted issue. That particular topic, however, is an absolute minefield and one that countless books could be written on, let alone a simple blog post.

With these and many other films, a change in the viewers’ attitude would be the best solution of all. If you watch a film with material you find offensive or disturbing, you have the option of walking out. If you know you are sensitive to certain things in films, then research a film before going to see it. Or you could simply adopt a ‘well I didn’t really like that part of the film’ view and move on. It’ll save everyone a lot of time and effort.

Words: Chris Thomson

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Film review: The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker

Aside from perhaps low budget horror and Jean Claude Van Damme straight-to-DVD action flicks, war is probably the most saturated of all film genres. But with every new conflict comes new interpretations on the perils of war, and the events in Iraq over the past decade or so are prime for filmmakers to tackle from a multitude of angles.

With The Hurt Locker there is no plot as such, but rather we follow, documentary style, a three-man EOD bomb disposal team over the last month of their duty. The film essentially plays out as a series of tension-filled scenes rather than having much of an overarching story, but this is what gives the film an edge of originality. Whilst each character does have his own set of morals, desires, attitudes, and personalities, these often play second fiddle to the action portrayed on screen. This may sound as if the film is lacking in substance and story, but with such a naturally engrossing environment a dense plot is unnecessary.

You could argue that what elements of plot have been introduced on top of the action feel a little shoehorned in at times, and for short periods the film loses some of its direction. The documentary feel of much of the film sometimes gives way to a more traditional form that can feel a little jarring. However, those moments are minimal and rarely detract from the film’s overall focus.

Jeremy RennerAlthough The Hurt Locker scooped six awards at the Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, as well as a host of other awards, the film was heavily criticised by those of military background for being totally unrealistic. There were complaints of incorrect uniforms, too much breaking of protocol and generally a feeling that not enough research had gone into the film, despite writer Mark Boal having been embedded with an American bomb squad for a couple of weeks in 2004.

The fact is that no film is ever truly going to be able to recreate what war is really like, but it can certainly give us non-military folk a feeling of what it might be like and, to be honest, that’s enough. You could get into the debate of just how realistic and accurate a film should be and whether a film should try to get every detail spot on to appease everyone, but that’s another blog for another time. Or perhaps not. Having certain inaccuracies doesn’t detract from the film except for those who have specialist knowledge, which would likely equate to a very small number of those who will watch this film. Whether that’s acceptable or not is, again, another blog for another time. Or perhaps not.

However, there are certain parts of the film that are likely to not sit right even with those with absolutely no military knowledge whatsoever. Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner) is somewhat of maverick and likes to do things his own way whatever the consequences. At several points in the film he endangers the lives of his fellow soldiers and breaks protocol on a number of occasions. Granted, this is to add a bit of flavour to the character, but some of his actions would simply not be tolerated. For example, setting off a smoke boThe blast suit that features heavily in the filmmb to obscure his colleagues’ vision so he could disarm a bomb all on his own is something that would very likely be dealt with incredibly severely. This does detract from the realism a little and it’s easy to see why those with military experience may feel a little aggrieved at scenes like that.

This was Renner’s breakthrough role having had lesser known roles in films including 28 Weeks Later and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and he certainly grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He plays the role of the loose cannon antihero who is, for the most part, pretty hate-able but clearly lives for his job and is very good at it too. Occasionally we see James’ human side bubble to the surface and this adds a lot more depth to the character. Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty are also excellent in their roles as Sergeant JT Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge respectively, and it’s the relationships between the trio that give the film some downtime from the tension of the action scenes. You may notice the names of Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes appear on the billing, but don’t take too much notice of that. After all, on a battlefield it doesn’t matter who you are.

Amongst some, The Hurt Locker is best remembered for the ‘battle’ for the Oscars between director Kathryn Bigelow and her ex-husband James Cameron who was also nominated pretty much across the board for Avatar. However, behind that gossip column sub-plot, is one of the most memorable war films of recent years. It might not be 100% accurate in every area, but it’s tense, exciting and has superb performances from its cast. Its direction gets a little muddled at times but overall is a worthy addition to an already crowded genre.

Words: Chris Thomson

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Film review: The Guard

The GuardThe Guard is a film that really should have attracted more attention. With very little hype surrounding it, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s no more than a throwaway film featuring no-one of note. However, when you find out that it is written by John Michael McDonagh, brother of Martin McDonagh (writer and director of the acclaimed In Bruges), and features stars such as Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle and Mark Strong, you may be surprised the film didn’t garner a little more exposure.

The film sees the unorthodox Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) team up with ‘do-it-by-the-book’ FBI agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle) to tackle a drug trafficking ring that has chosen the unusual location of Ireland’s County Galway as its smuggling point. Those are the bare bones of the story but that’s pretty much all you need to get going. There are, of course, other plot points going on, but the basic premise is a very simple one.

To be honest, the story isn’t The Guard’s strong point. The whole ‘straight guy gets teamed up with maverick, they don’t get on but find a mutual respect for each other to fight a common enemy’ sub-genre is pretty specific, but has nonetheless been done countless times before. However, The Guard manages to stand out from others in this area, partly thanks to the film’s location and partly thanks to its excellent script.

First of all, the location. The area of Connemara on Ireland’s west coast hasn’t been the setting for many big films and, to be frank, it’s not hard to see why – there’s just nothing much there. Set most other films there and they’ll disappear into dreariness, but set a dark comedy filled with drug smuggling, grizzly murders, wild shoot outs and prostitute threesomes in the picturesque but somewhat dreary locale and it turns out to be a masterstroke. The counterpoint of the film’s subject matter against the Gaeltacht backdrop is something that really sets the film apart.

Gerry Boyle and one of his favourite hobbiesThe script also helps to give the film its unique voice. It’s clear that writer John Michael McDonagh is from the same writing mould as his brother as the dialogue is very reminiscent of In Bruges, and it wouldn’t be too difficult to imagine some sort of collaboration had occurred between the two. The script is packed full of quotable one-liners and witty interchanges between characters that help turn a pretty standard story into something much more memorable. There are plenty of sharp exchanges, especially involving the three drug smugglers, with Mark Strong’s Clive particularly good.

However, it’s Brendan Gleeson’s Gerry Boyle that is the film’s driving force and, as you’d expect, it’s he who gets most of the best moments. With a weakness for prostitutes (two at a time) and happy to take a tab of LSD from a fresh corpse, Boyle likes to do things a little differently but is nonetheless passionate about catching the bad guys and saving the day. From his casual racism to his insistence he was an Olympic swimmer, Boyle is somewhat of an enigmatic character and one that everyone seems to abhor and adore in equal measure. Despite his don’t-give-a-shit attitude, we are also allowed to see Boyle’s more human side as he cares for his terminally ill mother. This doesn’t really do much to further the story in any way, but it’s nice to see the other side to Boyle’s character.

The film’s western-inspired finale gives the film a fitting ending and is a lesson in how to do an open ending with just the right amount of closure but enough of a chance for the audience to draw their own conclusions. The Guard isn’t a film that is going to revolutionise a genre, but it is one that can stand proudly amongst other similar films. The witty script, unique location and diverse characters all combine together to help a film succeed where it may otherwise have paled into mediocrity.

Words: Chris Thomson

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