Monthly Archives: December 2012

Quickie: Seven Psychopaths

Seven PsychopathsMarty (Colin Farrell) is a screenwriter with writer’s block. However, when his best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) kidnaps a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu, Marty becomes involved and gets more inspiration than he was hoping for.

2008’s In Bruges was somewhat of a cult hit, so when writer Martin McDonagh returned with Seven Psychopaths, there was a fair bit of anticipation. Whilst it doesn’t quite live up to the aforementioned Belgium-based rib tickler, Seven Psychopaths still has a lot going for it, particularly its witty script and some excellent performances. Rockwell and Christopher Walken especially give top-notch performances and steal pretty much every scene they’re in. Farrell also seems much more at home in this type of thing than straight up action films.

The story is somewhat scatterbrain with characters and plot threads jumping here, there and everywhere (a metaphor for scriptwriting and writer’s block?), but the interesting characters and sometimes hilarious dialogue keep it glued together. It is a brilliant script that has huge amounts to dwell upon once the credits roll and is a film that almost demands a second viewing. It’s also full of self-referential moments that tread the line of clever and covering up for the odd occasion of lazy writing, but it’s nowhere near enough to spoil what is a worthy follow up to McDonagh’s debut, even if it doesn’t quite hit the same high notes.

Chris

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My (Movie-Related) Letter to Santa

Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

I guess I’ve been good this year. I ran a marathon in aid of dying kids; that’s pretty good I think you’ll agree. And anything naughty I did, well, it wasn’t my fault, honest. I mean, I thought airlines just frowned upon that kind of thing. I didn’t realise it was illegal. And how was I supposed to know what is and what isn’t a suitable house pet. I realised it after a few weeks anyway.

Anyway, taking into account all the good stuff I’ve done, I was wondering if you could have a read over my letter and see if you and your elves could make my movie dreams come true for 2013. I would like:

1. For my local cinemas to show a wider variety of films

This is my main wish. If you only grant one, I want it to be this one. I have two local cinemas – a Vue and a Cineworld. Spoilt for choice you may think, but not so. Both cinemas, for the large part, only show the big blockbusters. This is understandable to a point, as these are the films that are likely to be more popular. Supply and demand – I get that. However, I have missed out on a fair few films this year largely because they have either been bumped completely or have been given dodgy show times to make room for extra showings of other films. Just recently, I missed out on The Imposter, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Ruby Sparks, and Rust and Bone, all films I was looking forward to seeing. My local Cineworld didn’t even show Argo or The Master at all – two of the most anticipated films of the year.

Therefore, Santa, in 2013 I would appreciate it if you could have a word with the men in suits at these cinemas and ask them nicely to show a wider selection. I would love to be able to travel for an hour to another cinema but I simply don’t have the time.

2. For NetFlix UK to sort itself out

Here in the UK, NetFlix is still a relatively new service and, at first glance, it appears to be an excellent service with loads of stuff to watch. However, scratch the surface and it really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The US service dwarfs the UK version and the rate that we get new stuff is pretty slow. There are still a few gems on there that I haven’t checked out, but I’d like more of an indication that they are committed to adding new and up-to-date stuff, not just documentaries that have been around for ten years or crappy straight to DVD releases. The US version has recently signed a deal with Disney and has had an influx of of Disney films recently. I’m a little confused as to why the UK service does not work the same way. I know I could biff NetFlix off and go elsewhere but the only other streaming service out there is LoveFilm, which has its own problems. I would rent more films from iTunes or wherever, but as the UK doesn’t have widespread fibreoptic Internet, it can take literally hours to download a film. First world problems, eh?

3. For other cinema-goers to learn some manners

Of course, I know this does not relate to any of my fellow bloggers; we know how things go down once the lights do (not as seedy as it sounds). However, not everyone is as considerate as we are, and I would very much like some cinema-goers to just take a minute to think about other people who are also watching the film. Do we want to hear their conversation? No. Do we want to be distracted by them checking your Facebook? Definitely not. How about I constantly kick the back of their set and see how they like it.

4. More time

I realise I’m pushing it with this one, but I would absolutely love a bit more time to squeeze in more films. I’d watch films every single day if I could but time simply does not permit this. Sometimes I’m lucky if I watch more than a film a week. So, Santa, if you could somehow magically make it so I have more time, that’d be great. Obviously, this doesn’t mean getting me sacked from my job. I know what you’re thinking.

5. The Stanley Kubrick Blu-ray collection

This would be ace. I think you can probably get it off Amazon.

So there we Santa; those are my Christmas wishes. I know you’re pretty busy this time of the year but if you could see what you could do, I’d appreciate it. I’ll make sure to leave an extra mince pie out for you.

Best wishes,

Chris (aka Terry Malloy)

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Film Review – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit

Ah it’s good to be back. During the first 20 minutes of The Hobbit when Bilbo is, without choice, inviting a number of dwarves into his home, it’s as if Peter Jackson is doing the very same to us. We’ve been away awhile but we’re back and Jackson is inviting into the place he clearly feels most comfortable. He wants us to kick back, put our regular-sized feet up and return to Middle-Earth and, for the most part, he does a stellar job in making us feel like we’ve never been away.

As we all already know, The Hobbit is set before the events of Lord of the Rings. The film starts of with a prologue of sorts, providing some exposition that will become the basis of the film, much like there was in Fellowship of the Ring. The Dwarves’ homeland, Erebor, has been taken over by Smaug the Dragon. However, a band of dwarves, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) are determined to take it back. They team up with Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) who tells them that they should enlist hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as a ‘burglar’ to help them. Despite himself, Bilbo agrees and they go on their way.

Sometimes when you return years later to somewhere you have fond memories of, things might not be quite how you remember and you’re left feeling a little disillusioned. Not so with Middle-Earth. Within moments, you’re right back in the comfortable world of The Shire and Bag End, as if it’s nary been nine months, let alone nine years, since we last visited. The fields are lush and green, there’s whimsy in the air and the pitter patter of huge Hobbit feet in and around Bag End. And the first faces we’re greeted with are one we’re very familiar with, that of Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Bilbo (Ian Holm) exactly as we remember them in LOTR. This familiarity continues throughout as we meet other characters we’re already acquainted with, including Saruman (Sir Christopher Lee), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and, of course, Gandalf.

Bilbo and a few of many dwarvesHowever, it doesn’t take long (mere minutes, in fact) to establish that this story is to be told in a very different way. There are many similarities at this stage between The Hobbit and LOTR - a Hobbit joins a group who trek a long distance to achieve a seemingly unachievable goal – but this is handled with much more humour and lightheartedness than Frodo’s adventure. This is unsurprising considering Tolkien wrote The Hobbit primarily as a children’s book whereas LOTR was much more adult orientated. The dwarves add a layer of humour that wasn’t there in LOTR which does detract a little from the epicness of the story, although, again, this isn’t LOTR, it’s a different story altogether that happens to be set in the same world.

Unfortunately, it is when the film meets the few direct crossovers with LOTR that it really hits the high notes, specifically the Riddles in the Dark sequence. This is perhaps the most famous section of the book, where Bilbo meets Gollum and engages him in a game of riddles. It also absolutely fundamental to the entire LOTR story, giving it much more significance than most of the rest of the film, as we already know the consequences of the outcome. Andy Serkis is superb as ever as Gollum, his sinewy movements and raspy voice both creepy and mesmerising, adding a much needed darker layer to the story.

Whilst Andy Serkis’ Gollum was always a money in the bank moment, the other standout performance is Martin Freeman as Bilbo. Within but a few minutes of meeting our diminutive protagonist, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role. Freeman displays the perfect combination of fussiness, humour and humility to perfectly embody Bilbo and make him a more interesting, identifiable and likeable character than Frodo ever was. Jackson’s casting has been consistently spot-on and it’s easy to see why he was so adament that Freeman was right for the part.

What has it got in its pocketses?Aside from the usual Middle-Earth stalwarts, many of the new characters are rather forgettable, specifically the dwarves. Simon Armitage does a decent enough job as Thorin Oakenshield, an Aragorn/Boromir hybrid, but many of the other dwarves simply don’t have enough about them. Of course, with so many of them (13 in total) it was always going to be difficult to give them each enough screen time and Jackson’s hands were somewhat tied by the book, but many of them are relegated to background characters and are really rather pointless.

One criticism many have had of The Hobbit is that it’s too long and there is some weight to that argument. There are a good few sections that feel lengthy and unnecessary, particularly during the first act when the story takes a little too long to get going. However, once it does find its feet, it rattles along at a fair old rate and is very well paced with several standout moments. Having said that, the action does feel a little samey after a while; each orc battle seems to blend into the next and having Gandalf turn up and save the day for the nth time feels a little too easy. It’s actually rather impressive that Jackson is spreading The Hobbit out over three films, although this means that he is incorporating sections that aren’t actually in the book. Gandalf’s wizard brethren Radagast, for example, actually only appears in LOTR rather than The Hobbit yet has a reasonably significant role. It’s not going to matter to most but may irk purists.

As part of a trilogy, The Hobbit doesn’t quite work as well as a standalone film as Fellowship did, but it’s still an immensely enjoyable experience. It genuinely feels like a worthy accompaniment to Frodo’s story; a separate story entirely whilst having its feet firmly in the same universe. Any misgivings this film may bring should be reviewed once the second and third films have been released, but this is a solid start that bodes well for the rest of the trilogy.

About the 48fps HFR

Jackson’s argument in favour of the new 48fps high frame rate is that it builds a much more immersive experience, but, to start with at least, it’s little more than distracting. At times, everything seems to be almost double speed with Bilbo scuttling around like a pint-sized Benny Hill. It also makes much of it look like a TV movie, which does detract from the overall experience a little. However, you do get used to it as the film goes on and it significantly improves the picture quality of the 3D. It makes everything look crystal clear which really increases the breathtaking scale of the amazing New Zealand vistas, although it does actually cheapen the CGI, making it evident that a lot of green screen action is going on. It’s an interesting experiment from Jackson but the old adage of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ springs to mind.

Chris

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Film Review: Rise of the Guardians

Rise of the Guardians

Aaaaand cue the annual big Christmas family movie. There are only three things in life that are certainties – death, Nicolas Cage accepting a film role, and a family friendly festive film to warm the yuletide cockles. Last year we had the lovely Arthur Christmas and this year Dreamworks have taken on the mantle with Rise of the Guardians. What? Wait, that can’t be right. It’s set at EASTER?!

Plot thus: The children of the world are looked after by four Guardians – Santa (Alec Baldwin (voice only, it’s all animated)), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), and the (voiceless) Sandman. However, an ancient evil known as Pitch Black (Jude Law) threatens to turn all of the children’s dreams into nightmares and make them stop believing in the current Guardians. To combat the threat, a petulant Jack Frost, struggling to work out the reason for his existence, is enlisted to join the legendary group.

So, yeah the film is set at Easter. A pretty bizarre move from Dreamworks considering the time of year the film has been released and that one of the main characters is Mr Claus himself. However, as the film involves kids questioning the existence of these childhood figures, basing the whole thing at Christmas might lead to a few too many awkward questions this time of the year. Much safer to bash Monsieur Lapin instead. Despite that it is still essentially a Christmas film in all but time of the year. There’s loads of snow and ice, a bloke with a big white beard riding a sleigh, and plenty of fun and frivolity. Pretty much all you need.

Hades...I mean PitchRise of the Guardians presents said Guardians (some of them, at least) in a genuinely refreshing way, which helps it stand out from the usual incarnations. Santa has a Russian accent, carries a sword and has ‘naughty’ and ‘nice’ tattoos on his arms, making him seem like something from Eastern Promises, whilst the Easter Bunny is a 6’1″ boomerang-throwing Australian. However, not all the characters are quite so interesting. Emo Jack Frost is a disgruntled, angsty teenager (complete with stylish spiky hair and hood) who for the most part of the film is just a bit whiny, although he does become more of an interesting character as the film progresses. Similarly, the Tooth Fairy spends much of her time fawning over Jack or crying: hardly a strong female role. As the big bad villain, Pitch (bearing more than a little resemblance to Hades from Disney’s Hercules) is also really quite boring. Visually, he’s as interesting as an office chair, whilst his motives are more than a little wishy-washy. His scary demon horse things are pretty cool though.

It’s an interesting universe that is created here, inspired by William Joyce’s The Guardians of Childhood book series, and there are times that you wish for a little more insight into the characters’ backgrounds. If all the Guardians were once normal humans, why were they picked to become the Guardians? We learn Jack’s story but no-one else’s. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how much you liked this film), there is ample room for potential sequels which, if this does well, will surely follow.

The story isn’t really anything new at its core, however. It’s a ‘face up to your fears’/’coming of age’ story that has been told plenty of times before, although this does offer its own unique take. There are some overly corny moments fresh from the Big Book of Vomit-Inducing Cliches but as it’s essentially a children’s film, that can be overlooked. Despite that, there are a couple of darker moments (not just the visual ones caused by the 3D) that do give the film a bit more depth. Talking of depth, the aforementioned 3D works pretty well for the most part aside from a couple of blurry moments and delivers a couple of genuine ‘jump out of the screen’ moments. Whether that’s a good thing is entirely up to you. The visuals in general are very impressive whilst lacking the spit and polish that comes from some of Dreamworks’ competitors, namely the Mouse House and associated studios.

Like the journey a humble carpenter and his suspiciously pregnant wife (supposedly) made all those years ago at this time of year, many families like to make a trip to check out a good ol’ family film come the holiday season, and they could certainly do worse than Rise of the Guardians.

Chris

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Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop:

Catalin over at CinEnemA kindly asked me to take part in the 3 for 1 series he’s currently running. He gave me the year 1982 and I had to come up with three films from that year that had a common denominator – one that’s a ‘must see’, one that’s ‘worth watching’, and one to ‘don’t bother’ watching. Big thanks to Catalin for asking me to get involved!

Originally posted on CinEnemA:

swweeded

Hello gophers, glamorous ghouls and gargoyles,

It’s Monday again. That can only mean one thing: 3 for 1 !

This week, Chris Thomson of Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop mega-fame has  been kind enough to supply us with his choices for 3 for 1. In case you did not visit his blog yet (you must be one strange person!), you should do that immediately as he writes about all sorts of awesome movies.

Let’s get started, shall we?

3 for 1 – Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop

The year: 1982

The movies: E.T., The Thing, Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan

Common denominator: They all have aliens in them.

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Quickie: Once

OnceWhen a struggling musician (Glen Hansard) meets a girl (Markéta Irglová), the two of them decide to record an album together whilst trying to work out their feelings for each other.

Once was filmed on somewhat of a shoestring budget and it shows. The whole thing has the production values of a student film project, right down to the cinematography and editing; it just feels sloppy and amateur all too often. One thing that also jumped out immediately is that it comes across as little more than an advert for Glen Hansard’s, and to a lesser extent Markéta Irglová’s, music. There are several moments in the film where Hansard proceeds to sing one of his songs in full and the whole thing just feels like one of his music videos with some narrative tacked on. The music is generally pretty good, however, so fans of his will likely find enough to enjoy.

The films is billed as a sort of indie musical but it doesn’t come across as such. Musicals use the music to help tell the story whereas this seems to simply intersperse the story with musical interludes. Once does improve as it goes along and the non-formulaic ending is welcome. There are some nice sentiments to be taken away from the film and the performances are generally fine, but there’s not enough here to convince it’s a sum greater than any of its parts. The high acclaim is, quite frankly, bemusing.

Chris

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Film Review: Hunger

Hunger

Hunger is the film that introduced the world to Steve McQueen. Not the iconic Bullitt actor, but the English film director who had previously worked predominantly as an artist. It was also the first time he teamed up with rising star Michael Fassbender (the two would later work together in Shame and the forthcoming film Twelve Years a Slave). If this was indeed the first time people had heard of McQueen and seen the collaboration with Fassbender, then they should count themselves lucky as they are witnesses the emergence of a director and partnership that appears to have a very promising and potentially significant future.

Set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Hunger tells the story of Republican prisoners and their attempt to regain political status after it was revoked by the British Government. The main focus of the story is that of Bobby Sands who led the 1981 hunger strike that claimed his life and that of five others. Prior to Sands’ arrival, we see the prisoners amidst a no wash protest, smearing excrement on the wall and refusing to wear anything but blankets. Upon Sands entering the prison, focus switches to his story as he refuses to eat and becomes thinner and increasingly frail.

The thing that immediately hits you as you watch Hunger is the lack of dialogue. For the first 40 minutes, barely a word is uttered; it doesn’t need to be. We get most of the information we need through what we are seeing and McQueen does an excellent job of showing no more and no less than we need. It’s brutal and disgusting and paints an ugly picture of the whole issue. We then come to the film’s middle third, the section for which it is perhaps most famous. This is a hugely impressive 17 minute long take of Sands talking to a local priest about his motivations for taking part in the hunger strike. Shot in one continuous medium long shot, it is an enthralling scene that contains nothing but dialogue as cigarette smoke dances between the two. Being so starved of dialogue up to this point, it’s a dramatic change of pace for the film and one that comes at just the right time to keep you enthralled. Following this scene, there is once again very little dialogue, perfectly framing the middle section of conversation.

Upon watching Hunger, it’ll come as a shock to few that Steve McQueen is an artist by trade. Quite simply, the film is beautifully shot; every shot is meticulously framed, showing exactly the detail that McQueen wants you to see. It’s amazing how fantastic he can make walls smeared with feaces look. Each frame could be a painting, a work of art in its own right and a disgustingly beautiful artistic snapshot of the time. Because that’s what Hunger is – a snapshot. There is little actual narrative and it’s not the character study some may expect. The characters we see in the first third of the film are not seen again and, aside from the aforementioned conversation with the priest, we don’t really get to understand much about Sands either.

Bobby Sands and a local priest, shot in one continuous 17 minute take

Bobby Sands and a local priest, shot in one continuous 17 minute take

Furthermore, for those with little to no knowledge of the situation in Northern Ireland at the time, Hunger may be a little alienating. There is little to no exposition and you’re not really any wise by the time the films comes to an end. This is nothing that can’t be rectified with a little background reading, but it may frustrate some who are looking for something with a little more narrative. McQueen, though, is entitled to make the film he wants to make and this is clearly his preferred format.

In terms of how it views the political issues, the film does appear to sympathise slightly more with Sands and the IRA. Again, this is the side that McQueen has chosen to take so that needs to be respected, but it may alienate those with particular political leanings. McQueen does include a couple of scenes that show the other side of the coin but these are few and far between.

Now pretty much a household name, Hunger was one of the pictures that made people aware Michael Fassbender. As has since become expected of him, he is superb as Bobby Sands, and his commitment to the role is without question. Production was shut down on the film so Fassbender could undergo a medically monitored crash diet before filming the scenes as Sands during the hunger strike. Reminiscent of Christian Bale in The Machinist, Fassbender slimmed down tremendously, which at times is quite harrowing to see. We also get to see his now revered acting skills during the 17 minute conversation, showing that he is one of the most talented actors working at the moment.

Hunger won’t satisfy those looking for an in-depth discussion of the Troubles or even those looking for a character driven study of Sands and his fellow prisoners. However, it is a work of art and, visually, is one of the most fastidiously created pieces of cinema you could hope to see.

Chris

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What is… Chiaroscuro?

Chiaroscuro, Italian for light-dark, is a lighting technique created by stark contrasts between light and shadow. It is used in almost all forms of art and was popularised by Renaissance painters to give depth to three-dimensional objects in their work. Caravaggio was one of the biggest proponents of the technique, as shown in an example of his work below, Judith Beheading Holofernes.

Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes is an example of chiaroscuro in Renaissance paintings

Fast-forward a bit from the Renaissance era and chiaroscuro is used to great effect in films, too. Nosferatu, the 1922 vampire flick, uses shadow very effectively, whilst it has become an integral part of some directors’ work, Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock to name but two. See below for a couple of examples…

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