Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Rum Diary Review

Autumn 2011

Genre: Biopic/Semi-autobiographical Comedy-Drama.

Starring: Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, Michael Rispoli, Richard Jenkins, Aaron Eckhart and Giovanni Ribisi.

Running Time: 120 mins. Approx.

Certificate: 15.

Seen At: Didsbury.

On: Saturday, 12th November, 2011.

From the weird and wonderful mind of Hunter S. Thomson, after at least four long years in development, and under the directorial eye of Bruce Robinson (of Withnail & I fame, making his first film in fifteen years), comes The Rum Diary.
  Based on the 1998 novel – formally a manuscript found by Johnny Depp in Thomson’s basement - it tells the story of Paul Kemp – a boozy journalist sent to nineteen-fifties Puerto Rico to write for a failing newspaper The San Juan Star – the only problem is, he soon falls for one of the local’s girlfriends, and gets lost in a debauched, drug-riddled journey of self discovery.
Obviously Kemp is firmly based on Thomson himself – this particular incarnation marks his pre-gonzo period of journalism, the fully-fledged version of which is shown through yet another of his alter-egos – Raoul Duke, in Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
  The very first shots of this film are of a bleary-eyed, bloodshot, and severely hung-over Depp as he recovers from drinking a hundred and sixty one miniatures. ‘Are they not complimentary?’ he later whimsies teasingly. Such is the tone for the rest of the film, razor-sharply written, beautifully shot and quietly - extremely funny.
  It’s a world away from Depp’s glossy, gothic, family-friendly collaborations with Tim Burton. He’s exchanged fairytale landscapes and magical chocolatiers for grimy, rum-soaked typewriters, sunshine and (in some cases quite literally) ‘acid’-tongued humour.
  Depp himself has never looked more comfortable in a role - tanned, relaxed and – incredibly youthfully preserved for a forty-eight year old who’s supposed to be playing a character in his twenties. Surely an Oscar must be far too long overdue.
  Many of the supporting roles are also finely acted – but none quite so good as Giovanni Ribisi’s permanently inebriated Moberg – again, a likely awards contender.
 Unfortunately Amber Heard’s Chennault, the bewitching love interest so lovingly described in the book, translates into a rather hollow, somewhat flimsy caricature on screen, and isn’t really given that much to do, except act like the stereotypical ‘blonde bombshell’.
  Tonally, the novel is far darker and more serious than the film – a subplot involving domestic abuse is explored – but is thankfully spared here.
  Much of the surprising humour is visual, including drinking the water from a fishbowl. Two standout scenes both involve cars – one without a front seat and one that is continually revved, pelting along a deserted road. Another hilarious moment sees Kemp and his photographer associate in court, after inventing a flame-thrower via alcohol consumption, where a poor, unsuspecting and anciently-elderly local proceeds to vomit over the dock in all the excitement.
   The entire screenplay only ever utilizes two lines of dialogue from the whole novel  – a choice informed by Robinson’s apparent admission that he just was unable to write in Thomson’s very distinctive and particular vernacular. This, again, is cleverly mirrored on-screen as Kemp muses: ‘I don’t know how to write like me’.    Despite only making references to the source material very gingerly, Robinson succeeds in capturing the spirit of the novel perfectly – seemingly idyllic, with occasional, sudden undercurrents of alcohol-fuelled bursts of violence. Listen carefully, and a pounding political backdrop is also ever-present, jammed full of attacks on almost every social comment indicative of the time; from the criticism of Nixon’s Presidential technique, to the full realization of the gradual collapse of ‘The American Dream’.
  Only at the very end is the savage subtext fully explored, with even the very final line of dialogue retaining all of Thomson’s inimitable trademark quirk.
  It probably won’t get the awards recognition it so richly deserves, but this is nevertheless a superior take on a true modern classic, a real gem, in which Depp solidifies his status as the actor who really can play anyone. This is the role he was born to play.

Rating: * * * * *

Johnny English 2 Review

Autumn 2011

Genre: Spy Action-Adventure Spoof/Sequel

Starring: Rowan Atkinson, Rosamund Pike, Gillian Anderson, Dominic West, Stephen Campbell-Moore and Tim McInnerny.

Running Time: 98 mins approx.

Certificate: PG.

Seen At: Didsbury.

On:  Wednesday, 19th October, 2011.

The spy genre is certainly a varied one. From Bond, to BBC One’s Spooks to Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids to the outstanding Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – a box-office smash earlier this year.
  At the other end of the spectrum is of course good old spoofery, in the shape of Rowan Atkinson’s inept, bumbling spy – MI7’s Johnny English.
  A full eight years after his first adventure, this time he’s in locations as diverse as London, Switzerland and Hong Kong.
  This film, whilst silly, infantile, wildly over-the-top and just not as hilarious as it could and should have been (considering it’s directed by Oliver Parker), is at least marginally funnier than the original, thanks to its more streamlined, linear structure, as opposed to the former’s rather episodic pratfalls.
   The caliber of the supporting cast this time around is also a vast improvement. Refreshingly, all playing it absolutely straight are the likes of Dominic West, Gillian Anderson and, an actual former Bond-girl from Die Another Day, Rosamund Pike – as English’s beautiful love interest. It’s also great to see a classically-trained actor like the brilliant Dominic West have some fun as Ambrose, the dastardly double-agent.
  The gags this time are, as you might expect predominantly visual, with all manner of jokes involving cats flying out of windows, helicopters cruising along motorways, wrongful application of lipstick, painful training devices and Chinese killer-cleaners.
  It does have a very funny sequence involving a super-speed wheelchair, but otherwise, distinctly average.

Rating: * * *

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Three Musketeers Review

Autumn 2011

Genre: Mythical Fantasy Action-Adventure

Starring: Logan Lerman, Matthew Macfadyen, Luke Evans, Ray Stevenson, Milla Jovovich, Mads Mikkelsen, Christoph Waltz, Gabriella Wilde, Juno Temple and Orlando Bloom as The Duke Of Buckingham.

Running Time: 110 mins. approx.

Certificate: 12A

Seen At: Didsbury

On: Saturday, 15th October, 2011.

After numerous adaptations, with stars including Richard Chamberlin, Oliver Reed and Christopher Lee each seen portraying one of the infamous Musketeers, audiences finally have the first cinematic version of the tale that ventures into the revolutionary third dimension.
   This is a huge-scale, effects-laden, blockbusting take on the classic, and while it may not always be entirely historically accurate (customized airships with built-in flamethrowers), it is brilliant fun from start to finish. Every artistic element is inventive, from the toy-town-inspired opening credits sweeping through a gigantic map, to its utterly unique use of the much-maligned 3D.
  Many films either completely over-use the tool, with the result often a blurry mixture of indistinction constantly being flung at the audience, or fail to include it nearly enough, not realizing it’s full potential.
  Here however, the perfect balance is struck between allowing just enough surprising moments for it to flourish (whether it be for showing the intricate motion of a booby-trap, a slow-motion close-up on an approaching cannonball, or the staggering sight of guards on mass), but always allowing it breathing space.
  It’s enhanced further by an extremely effective technique known as: ‘speed-ramping’ – which means to either frantically speed-up or suddenly slow down the action, simultaneously (this works particularly well during the many great sword-fighting sequences).
   The basic narrative structure remains about the only aspect that hasn’t changed. The once-heroic Athos (a straight-laced Matthew Macfadyen) Porthos (a brawny Ray Stevenson) and Aramis (a cool Luke Evans) are brought to the fore once again, with young protégé D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) to defeat a quartet of dastardly villains – three of which are the Cardinal (Christoph Waltz), a conniving, beautiful and deadly seductress (Milla Jovovich) and the mysterious, eye-patched Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen).   
   The predominant villain is the Duke of Buckingham. The role makes for a triumphant return to the big screen for Orlando Bloom (this is his first mainstream blockbuster in four years, since finishing on the colossally successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise in 2007). It’s well-worth the wait however, as he completely steals the show – relishing being so evil for once, in his fluorescently green, blue, and puce pantaloons. He twirls his mustache with glee in one of the truly great, Oscar-worthy performances of the year. It so easily could have descended into pantomime, but he skillfully plays it the absolute fun side of menacing, with some great one-lines: ‘Look at what the cat dragged in!’. Make sure you wait until the very final shot to discover his, and another character’s fate, with a conclusion that so clearly sets it up for a sequel and hopefully even a franchise. Amusing, exhilarating, gloriously colourful, of epic proportions and with its tongue firmly lodged in its cheek, this is one of the most surprising and very best films of the year!

Rating: * * * * *

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Review

Autumn 2011

Genre: Spy Drama/Conspiracy Thriller.

Cast: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Hardy, David Dencik, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes, John Hurt and Kathy Burke.

Running Time/Duration: 127 mins. Approx.

Certificate/Classification: 15

Seen At: Parrs Wood Cinemas, Didsbury.

On: Saturday, 17th September, 2011.

Over thirty years since the much-loved 1979 TV series was originally transmitted, the highly-anticipated film version now arrives in cinemas. Based on John le Carre’s extraordinarily labyrinthine novel of rouge espionage, it centres around the morally ambiguous George Smiley, first immortalised by Sir Alec Guinness.
   The year is 1973, and Smiley is brought out of retirement, to help root out a mole, who’s infiltrated their way into the ‘circus’: the then-codename for the Headquarters of the MI6 British Secret Service. It’s up to Smiley to deduce who the culprit of this betrayal is, before their web of deceit closes in...
   The novel, whilst entertaining, I found as heavy as lead, convoluting between the present and flashbacks.
    Thankfully however, this adaptation is, quite simply, stunning from beginning to end. It’s challenging certainly, but never in a frustrating or confusing way, but rather utilising the far cleverer, more perplexing method of luring its audience in slowly, and gradually unfolding. It is, in its own slow-burning way absolutely gripping.
   Each of the characters, whether they be the potential suspects or not, are wonderfully well-drawn and distinctive. Mark Strong’s tragic Jim Prideaux, David Dencik as the conflicted, supposed loyalist Toby Esterhase, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Guillam, the squeaky-clean pretty-boy, who, like all of the characters on display, may just be hiding a deep dark secret…
   The head of the circus, known elusively only as Control, seeks Smiley’s aid in uncovering the identity of MI6’s: ‘rotten apple’ – it is one of five men, each appointed with a respective single-word codename, to which the film’s title refers...
     The choice of director here is unusual. Tomas Alfredson burst onto the scene a couple of years ago with the foreign-language vampire-romance shocker Let The Right One In. This, his debut into not only mainstream but also English-speaking filmmaking, makes for a radical change of pace.
    Artistically, the film is a triumph. The attention to period detail is extraordinary, whether it be from the click of a typewriter, or the whirl of smoke from one of the tireless worker’s cigarettes. The overall aesthetic, this edgy, drab, downtrodden look that envelopes almost every shot, is one that ingeniously evokes a crumbling, rain-lashed, almost post-Dickensian vision of early nineteen-seventies London, only serving to  further authenticate the reality of the spy profession for the actors.
   A searing shot of colour is injected in the absolutely electrifying scenes which see each of the agency’s men seated in a boardroom lit by a fluorescent gold egg-box-esque wall. You can almost hear the inner-working of each of the suspect’s ‘little grey cells’ working overtime, as they are interrogated by John Hurt’s prickly Control. The atmosphere emitted from this film throughout,  is tantalisingly intense and palpable with tension.
   The cherry on this crème-da-la-crème cake of British acting talent, is most certainly Gary Oldman’s meteoric landmark performance as Smiley. Menacing, cold, and quietly terrifying, he is a monstrous, striking presence on screen. If Alec Guinness’s interpretation of the character was of a man you’d instantly forget, then Oldman’s is of a shady, antiheroic manipulator you wouldn’t trust an inch. Yet, he’s always understated, portrayed by Oldman as an observing, insular figure. The key is locked in Oldman’s great capacity for subtle nuances – his posture in a chair, or the fractional readjustment of his glasses. It is his best ever performance – surely an Oscar-nomination for Oldman – the ultimate character-actor, often known for taking on even dangerous roles, is long overdue.    
  The other two standout supporting roles come from Colin Firth as Bill Haydon, and fantastic rising star Tom Hardy, terrific as the rough and ready defector Ricki Tarr - the scenes in which he travels to Istanbul only to uncover the torturous treatment of his girlfriend are hugely powerful. The film’s occasional spurts of bloody violence, sparse as they are, are made all the more shocking by the fact that they are so brief. This doesn’t embody the blockbusting, action-packed, special effects laden qualities of a fantastical Bond film – it’s a complex, intellectual and supremely crafted adult thriller.
  My only observation more than a criticism, is that there are only ever two women in the entire film. However, one of them is brilliant - it’s wonderful to see Kathy Burke acting again, looking so different than in her usual comedic roles, as Connie Sachs, the shunted former employee with a weakness for a small tot of sherry and a filthy vernacular, with one particularly rude line of dialogue especially amusing.
   In the film’s tone, as dark, murky and serious as it is, the screenplay hasn’t left out the important element of humour, in either the Christmas party scenes, (which feature a cameo from le Carre himself), or during an insight into the audit interpreter’s choice of relaxing listening – in this case being a George Formby rendition of Mr. Woo).
The musical score – almost hypnotic in its ability to draw you in immediately, also features two great songs – Sammy Davis Jr.’s Second Best Secret Agent (played, again in the Christmas party scene, and Julio Iglesias’s La Mer, at the very end of an emotional dénouement, once the mole has been identified.
    This really should do brilliantly in next year’s awards season, with Alfredson, Oldman, Firth, Hurt, Hardy and Burke all fully deserving of recognition.
   Not only is this the film event of the year, it’s also the undisputed best film of the year. I hope it receives all the golden masks, globes and statuettes it deserves.
     A classy, near-faultless adaptation of a classic, has now become an instant classic all of its own. A twisty, classy whodunit, almost red-hot to the touch with suspense, that’ll keep you guessing who the perpetrator is until the final moment.
    Utterly absorbing and truly outstanding.

Rating: *****