Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Artist Review

Winter 2012

Genre: Silent/Black-and-White /Comedy-Drama/Romance.

Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle, Malcolm McDowell and John Goodman.

Running Time: 100 mins.

Seen At: Didsbury.

On: Saturday, 28th January, 2012.

With awards season in full flow, and both the Bafta and Oscar ceremonies fast approaching, an interesting observation to make, after the release of last week’s Academy-Award nominations, is that the two films with the highest number of nods – The Artist and Hugo, both revolve around exploring the inception of cinema.
  Obviously proving a popular choice of subject matter in Hollywood – the birthplace of that most beloved of art forms – the motion picture, so it’s perfect that this is a film about the movies, and more specifically, all about movie-making.
  The elements which have been added, or rather taken away here, are words and colour. This is a wonderfully authentic, black-and-white, near-silent (albeit for a few very important words right at the end), celebration of the industry’s golden age, in a similar mould to Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s second collaboration Ed Wood, in 1994.
  Director Michel Hazanavicius’s decision to go down this classic, age-old route serves several functions. It reinforces the fact that you don’t always require dialogue to tell a simple, fantastic story such as this certainly is.  The deeply nostalgic, retrospective novelty appeal in the way that it’s made in the interests of posterity, really distinguishes it from its contemporaries, and, it really feels like a lost gem, straight out of the archives from nineteen twenty-seven Hollywood. The result is truly exceptional. Absolutely joyous all the way through, it’s the ultimate in an uplifting, endlessly entertaining cinematic experience.
 At its romantic heart, it’s a love story, and the two French leads who play the couple, have gone from relative unknowns to now being catapulted to superstardom.
  The wonderful Jean Dujardin is George Valantin, the number one Hollywood star of the silent movie era. Together with his brilliant dog Uggie, they prove to be a seemingly unbeatable double-act. Uggie should also win an Oscar in my opinion, his adorable personality really shines through, thanks to the amount of amazing tricks he performs, including playing dead. There’s a wonderful scene set at the breakfast table, where George and Uggie mirror each other’s actions in perfect unison, while sporting the same innocent ‘puppy dog-eyed’ expressions on their faces.  In fact, expression is a key aspect to the film’s monumental success. All the cast, particularly Dujardin, possess being so gifted and expressive with their faces, that what they’re feeling is made so clear without the need for words. They’re a master class in mime. It’s as if Dujardin were a product of the twenties, with flashes reminiscent of Chaplin or Keaton.
  The bright, optimistic young starlet Peppy Miller (a bubbly Berenice Bejo) is initially a fan of George’s, later hired as a dancer and capturing his heart, much to the disapproval of his stern, disparaging wife Doris (a suitably austere Penelope Ann Miller).
  Soon though, it’s Peppy rather than George who’s flavour-of-the-month, with the inevitable arrival of the new phenomenon dubbed as: the ‘talkie’. Refusing to adapt with the changing times, his popularity dwindles and he’s forced out of work. Can Peppy save him...?
Many clever moments of imagery are utilized. One sees Peppy alone in George’s dressing room, pretending to be arm-in-arm with him, but really putting her own arm in his coat on the coat-stand. Another, has George literally ‘reflecting’ on his descent from stardom in a shop window, where his head just fits into the tuxedo and top-hat on display, attire to which he was once synonymous.
  Artistically, the film greatly recaptures some fantastically intricate period detail. Peel-eyed viewers will notice that the famous Hollywood sign reads ‘Hollywoodland’ here, and the quest for authenticity even boils down to the Variety newspapers and magazines of the time, that people are seen reading.
  Ludovic Bource has composed an extraordinary soundtrack. The glockenspiel-led main theme is extremely lively and memorable, and the score throughout revels in every snap of a clapperboard or ascending strum of a harp as a door opens. Bernard Herrman’s famous love theme from Vertigo is even used, and fits perfectly.
  In terms of genre, another part of this film’s appeal is its crossover of themes. It is both comedically very funny and deeply moving by turns, but most of all heart-stoppingly romantic. It also fully embraces its musical sensibilities; with two breathtaking tap-dance routines that are simply a joy to watch. The film’s two stars both have a great physicality and musicality during those set-pieces – they’re the new Fred and Ginger! The phrase: ‘They don’t make them like they used to’ is no longer true – they do now! This is an amazing, charming movie, one that I think will be the most likely to win the Best Picture Oscar – it’s deservedly taken the world by storm!

Rating: * * * * *

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Iron Lady Review

January 2012

Biopic/Political Drama.

Cast: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Olivia Colman, Nicholas Farrell, Roger Allam, Richard E. Grant, Alexandra Roach and Anthony Head.

Running Time: 105 mins.

Certificate: 12A.

Seen At: Didsbury.

On: Sunday, 15th January, 2012.

Biopics continue their current trend of being extremely popular in recent months. We’ve had Marilyn Monroe, released this Friday there’s the very different double-whammy of J. Edgar Hoover and Wallis Simpson, but, towering above them all is the 16-time Academy Award-nominated Meryl Steep, as the much-contested, contentious first lady of politics – Margaret Thatcher.
   For one half of the public she’s still regarded and idolized as one of this country’s finest politicians, with her badly-needed radical shake-up of policy, for the other (depending upon where your political views lie) she’s this forever-tainted ‘monster-mother’ figure, where the population are said to still be recovering from her time in office. 
   It’s perhaps fitting then that structurally, this is distinctly a film of two halves, one charting her meteoric rise to power in the ’79 election, focusing on her political life,  and the other controversially depicting her in the present day, as a frail old lady suffering from dementia, under the illusion that her husband Denis is still alive.
  It’s for this latter half that the film has received some much-publicized criticism, with people, in the press and public alike, expressing their view that it’s cruel to show the effects of someone living with Alzheimer ’s disease.
  But actually, while I can certainly understand their point, on this occasion, I disagree. The portrayal of Lady Thatcher’s rapid decline in health, is actually dealt with truthfully, sympathetically, and very tenderly. It’s by no means intrusive in any way, and I look on it as a brave choice to make.
 The problem is, the balance is somewhat uneven. In fact only about forty percent of content actually focuses on her as the politician, and surprisingly the majority of the film actually occurs in the present day, with a lonely, older Margaret as she is now, reflecting through utilizing the rather odd format of flashbacks.  
With this heavily one-sided ratio, what you’re in fact left with, is predominantly an incredibly sad film, made most saddening for the stark antithesis of once seeing such a powerful figure in her heyday, with all that power suddenly taken away.
Dare I say, to me, the trailers have been quite deceptive, in making the film seem like a far more lighthearted affair, with the inclusion of the first bars of the eighties hit Our House now feeling rather misjudged after having seen the finished film.
While the film itself was said from the outset to be completely politically impartial, at times it’s evident that it doesn’t paint her reign in power in a particularly favorable light, with the emphasis seemingly being on her decision to apparently widen the ever-increasing margin between the wealthier upper-classes and the poor working-classes.
  The film has also been criticized for being ‘political-light’. I really don’t think it’s political-light at all, it crams an awful lot of key issues into its comparatively short running time, sometimes using actual news footage. These include that famous speech and her final entry into No. 10 in that iconic blue suit, the Falkland’s War, the riots, the rising poll-tax and the bombings of both Brighton’s Grand Hotel (from which Margaret and Denis narrowly escaped), and the fatal car-bombing of her colleague Airey Neave.
  The element of including the real archive footage for some of these issues is worth mentioning, as it helps provide the audience with a real sense of truthful and authenticated urgency.
  Of course, while the film itself may have a few minor misjudgments in terms of either structure, format or tone, what it does contain is an absolutely flawless, superb portrayal from Meryl Streep.
  It feels inaccurate to describe what she does as acting – at no point did I feel I was watching a performance on the screen. From the first frame to the last – she was Margaret. It’s the closest interpretation of a real-life figure I’ve ever seen. I’ve no doubt that she will win countless awards fully deservedly, including a long-overdue third Oscar. Every aspect, from the posture, to that unmistakable authority in her inimitable tone of voice, the hairstyle, even the prosthetic make-up used for her as she is now, are all beyond uncanny, particularly when she’s in her unstoppable speech-mode.
  Abi Morgan’s brilliant screenplay does include some much needed witty dialogue with lines such as: ‘The Falkland Islands belong to Britain…and I want them back'. When at an appointment with the doctor, who murmurs: ‘You’re bound...to be feeling...’, she simply replies in her velvety tones: ‘What? What am I bound to be feeling? What we think, we become. And I think I am fine’. My favourite line is: ‘I may be persuaded to surrender the hat. The pearls however, are absolutely non-negotiable!’.
  Thomas Newman’s excellent score, is melancholic in the present day sections, while being frenetically charged with tension as it charts her public career, really informing the audience throughout.
There are strong performances too from Jim Broadbent as the bumbling Denis, and Olivia Colman is spot-on as her daughter Carol. Anthony Head and Richard E. Grant make all-too-brief appearances as Geoffrey Howe and Micheal Heseltine.
  The film is at its strongest with Streep’s scenes which occur in the heated debates of The House of Commons, and is a brilliant account of one phenomenally tough lower middle-class woman’s triumphs, in a world dominated by men.
  It really is a superb, and deeply moving film, made infinitely better with the sublime Meryl Streep.

Rating: * * * *

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

My thoughts on the Nominations for The 2012 Orange British Academy FilmAwards

Best Film

No surprises then that the silent film THE ARTIST leads the way with 12 nominations including this one, for Best Film. If it wins the best picture at The Oscars, it’ll be the first silent film to do so since 1929!
  It’s a real mixed bag of genres this category, with a stylish neo-noir thriller, (NICHOLAS WINDING REFN’s DRIVE), an intimate family dramedy (ALEXANDER PAYNE's THE DESCENDANTS) emotional civil-rights drama THE HELP, and of course, my favourite, the outstanding, electrifying TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY. 

I was very disappointed that MARTIN SCORSESE's wonderful HUGO wasn’t in the running, as was the case for BRUCE ROBINSON's brilliant THE RUM DIARY. 

As much as I would have loved to see RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES or THE THREE MUSKETEERS on the list, I’m not surprised that neither made it, as is the case with comedies, big, effects-laden blockbusters almost never obtain recognition. I think they should include a Best Blockbuster category. 


 Who I think will win: THE ARTIST

Best British Film

To help increase TINKER TAILOR’s chances, it’s included again here, though I feel it may be foreshadowed by either the gritty SHAME or the disturbing WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN.

Not including THE IRON LADY here is as surprising as it is interesting, again reinforcing the general, much-publicised consensus that Streep’s performance is far stronger than the film itself. It’s nice to see MY WEEK WITH MARILYN included. 
Just because a film has won Best Film, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee the double-whammy of also going on and winning Best British Film. But that’s not to say that a film can’t equally go on to win both, as THE KING’S SPEECH did last year. I found this category the most difficult to choose.


Who I think will win: WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

Best Animation

Who I’d like to win: ARTHUR CHRISTMAS 

Who I think will win: RANGO 

Best Director

Interestingly, BAFTA have favoured NICHOLAS WINDING-REFN’s DRIVE over SHAME, so there’s no entry for the popular STEVE MCQUEEN. Thank goodness MARTIN SCORSESE is deservedly nominated for HUGO, MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS is once again up for THE ARTIST, probably being the most likely contender, but don’t underestimate TOMAS ALFREDSON for TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY or, LYNNE RAMSEY, on stylish form in WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN.

Who I’d like to win: MARTIN SCORSESE for HUGO.


Best Original Screenplay

Ironically, silent film THE ARTIST has no dialogue but is still nominated for its screenplay. It may win on the merit of that novelty. There’s three more unusual comedic entries for WOODY ALLENs MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, BRIDESMAIDS and THE GUARD, and the interesting choice of ABI MORGAN for her unique account of THE IRON LADY.

Who I’d like to win: ABI MORGAN for THE IRON LADY.


Best Adapted Screenplay

ALEXANDER PAYNE’s THE DESCENDANTS won big at the Golden Globes, and seems to be edging ahead of THE IDES OF MARCH. AARON SORKIN and STEVEN ZALLIAN have had high praise indeed for MONEYBALL’s freight-train-like, rat-a-tat-tat dialogue that’s now become their trademark. In my mind however, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY had a truly brilliant adapted screenplay.

Surprisingly, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, THE RUM DIARY and HUGO weren’t nominated.



Best Actor

THE ARTIST’s JEAN DUJARDIN is already firm favourite to win, but surely GARY OLDMAN’s faultless portrayal of Goerge Smiley is in with a chance. All the other three also have a very equal chance of winning: MICHAEL FASSBENDER in SHAME, GEORGE CLOONEY in THE DESCENDANTS and BRAD PITT in MONEYBALL. There’s no real outsider.

There are four big names that I was quite shocked to see weren’t included for best actor, all fantastic in their very different films: JOHNNY DEPP for THE RUM DIARY, BEN KINGSLEY as film auteur George Melies in HUGO, JAMES FRANCO in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT in 50/50. I thought they all had a real chance.


Who I think will win: JEAN DUJARDIN for THE ARTIST

Best Actress

Probably the easiest one of them all to call, surely MERYL STREEP will win for her beyond-uncanny portrayal of Margret Thatcher in THE IRON LADY. VIOLA DAVIS has also received good reports for THE HELP and MICHELLE WILLIAMS was magnificent in MY WEEK WITH MARILYN as was TILDA SWINTON in WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. BERENICE BEJO in THE ARTIST is probably the outsider. 

There are four actresses who unfairly, didn’t make the list, most notably KEIRA KNIGHTLEY for A DANGEROUS METHOD, and several of my fellow critics couldn’t believe OLIVIA COLMAN wasn’t nominated, brilliant in TYRANASOUR. It’s surprising that neither JODIE FOSTER nor KATE WINSLET were nominated for CARNAGE.

Who I’d like to win: MERYL STREEP for THE IRON LADY

Who I think will win: MERYL STREEP for THE IRON LADY

Best Supporting Actor

CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER has already received a Golden Globe for BEGINNERS,  and is probably the favourite to win, although KENNETH BRANAGH can’t be far behind, hilarious as Sir Lawrence Olivier in MY WEEK WITH MARILYN. JIM BROADBENT does well as Denis Thatcher in THE IRON LADY, and the outsider in the category is probably JONAH HILL in MONEYBALL

There are five brilliant actors that I really thought should have made it onto the list and didn’t, all in completely different roles. ORLANDO BLOOM made a truly great return to the mainstream, stealing the show in THE THREE MUSKETEERS, GIOVANNI RIBISI was just inspired as drunken reporter Moburg in THE RUM DIARY, and three great supporting roles in TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY totally slipped under the radar; those of JOHN HURT, COLIN FIRTH and TOM HARDY.



Best Supporting Actress

CAREY MULLIGAN has been nominated for DRIVE and not SHAME, the one that seemed the more likely contender. JESSICA CHASTAIN seems to have had an incredibly busy year, and impressed in THE HELP, but I’ve a feeling she may get pipped to the post by her co-star OCTAVIA SPENCER in the role of Minnie, probably the favourite to win. But you never know, our very own DAME JUDI DENCH was splendid in MY WEEK WITH MARILYN...

The trio of actresses I each expected to make the list didn’t – it’s a great shame, they're three great character actresses in entirely different roles. HELEN MCRORY gave the best performance in HUGO as Jean Melies, ZOE WANAMAKER stole the show in MY WEEK WITH MARILYN as Paula Strasberg, Monroe’s acting coach, and KATHY BURKE made a triumphant return to acting as Connie Sachs in TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY.


Who I think will win:  OCTAVIA SPENCER in THE HELP

To Conclude…

THE ARTIST leads the way with 12 nominations, with TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY hot on its heels with eleven, HUGO with nine and MY WEEK WITH MARILYN has eight.
 My top three films out of those nominated, are TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, HUGO and THE ARTIST. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for those three in particular! :)                                                                                                                 

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol Review

New Year 2012

Action Adventure/Thriller

Starring: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Josh Holloway, Michael Nyqvist, Anil Kapoor and Tom Wilkinson.

Running Time: 133 mins.

Certificate: 12A.

Seen at: Didsbury

On: Saturday, 7th January, 2012.

The Mission: Impossible franchise has endured somewhat of a lull over the past few years. After 2007’s underwhelming third installment, a reboot was needed, arriving in the rather unusual form of Brad Bird, who has only previously directed CGI characters in Pixar’s superhero spoof The Incredibles.
  It’s largely admirable for a debut into live action. The intention was presumably to take the franchise back to basics, and the result is a predominantly more linier, simpler structure - which is as uninventive as it is wise and exhilarating.
  As the film opens, a rather non-descript agent played by Josh Holloway is betrayed during what should have been just another routine mission. His glamorous girlfriend Agent Carter (Paula Patton) is predictably out for revenge, but there’s the somewhat more pressing issue of the IMF team (as they’re collectively known), being betrayed whilst foiling a plot to infiltrate the Kremlin. Accused of being held responsible for the bombing, they’re forced to go rouge against the clock, to avert a not-so-crazed megalomaniac from unleashing nuclear havoc on the entire planet.
  The trouble is, at no point is there any indication whatsoever as to why this uncharacteristic, un-engaging run-of-the-mill villain wants to commit these acts – there’s absolutely no back-story or motivation. I don’t think either of those crucial elements were of primary importance to the filmmakers though – their attention was obviously more focused on the critical task of how to devise new, suitably thrilling action set-pieces. It’s on this front that they really do succeed, particularly during the first half. It all seems to take rather a while to get going, but certainly when the picture moves to Dubai, the pace does, at last, pick up.
  Of course, the film’s main selling point for audiences, much-publicized either in the trailer or on posters, is Cruise’s death-defying climb of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khailifa. It is a fantastic spectacle to watch, appropriately vertigo-inducing, particularly if you see it under the brilliant, revolutionary tool of IMAX in selected cinemas.
  Dubai’s sandstorm is equally impressive, especially with a car-chase directly in the middle of it.
   The supporting cast is a decidedly mixed bag. I just don’t find Simon Pegg funny at all, to me, he’s just irritating. I like Jeremy Renner though, playing the morally ambiguous Agent Brandt. Tom Wilkinson continues to astound with the range of movie choices he makes, but he is underused.
  The cinematography is expectedly glossy, showing off colourful cityscapes, state-of-the-art sports cars and glamorous locations from Russia, Dubai and a conclusion in India. There’s a well structured finale which neatly cross-cuts between a tense fight in a car factory and the half- convincing effects simulating a rocket plummeting towards Earth.
  On the whole it’s too long, and why screenwriters always find it necessary to only have Russian villains in espionage thrillers is an unimaginative mystery. What’s even more frustrating though is that they never have an identity or agenda that’s unique to them.
  The shameless product-placement doesn’t go unnoticed either. Apple seem to have been a major endorsement to this film, with an array of iPads and laptops being used throughout.
  Still, for all its faults, what is undeniable is the appeal of having an incredibly well-preserved nearly fifty year-old Cruise back in the role of Ethan Hunt, especially when Lalo Schifrin’s classic violin-lead theme kicks in as the fuse is lit...

Rating: * * *

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Review

Winter 2011

Genre: Thriller/Mystery/Drama.

Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Geraldine James, David Dencik, Goran Visnjic and Joely Richardson.

Running Time: 158 mins.

Certificate: 18.

Seen at: Didsbury.

On: Wednesday, 28th December, 2011.

With the festive period sadly drawing to its conclusion, this Hollywood adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s sensationally popular trilogy of novels, under the inventive directorial eye of David Fincher, is a world away from Christmas jollity. It’s bleak certainly, and bitterly pitch-dark in its tone, but never using methods that feels depressive. It’s a fiendishly complex thriller aimed solidly at adults, featuring a completely original entity - a radically different, new kind of heroine squarely in its centre.
  The most striking aspect of the whole notion of this production, is the fact that the unfairly dubbed ‘Hollywood Machine’ – (continually used terminology that does not in any way reflect the great reputation of the ever-changing face of the industry) – have found a necessary appetite for releasing a mainstream remake in such quick succession after its Swedish predecessors. It is a real testament to the phenomenally international appeal of the original source material, particularly when tackling such hard-hitting subject matter.
  The most unique element which really sets this narrative apart when compared with the plots of other contemporary thrillers, is the stark antithesis between its two protagonists. Mikael Blomkvist, a supposed ‘ordinary’ private investigator, whose intentions are seemingly straight-laced but may be more inclined towards vendettas of moral ambiguity, contrasted against this deeply damaged social pariah, a rebellious outcast in Lisbeth Salander, a delinquent product of the post-punk era.
  Blomkvist is hired by reclusive Industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Harriet, a young relative of the family whom he is convinced has been murdered. His only contact with the outside world is being the recipient of a pristine white rose mounted in a photographed frame, from a mystery culprit every year for thirty years, on Harriet’s birthday, presumably from her killer…
  To help Blomkvist establish the facts, Vanger recounts: ‘You will be dealing with thieves, misers, bullies, the most detestable collection of people you will ever meet – my family’.  It’s from there that he crosses paths with computer-hacking expert Lisbeth, skilled with an instant photographic memory, but peculiar-looking – laden with piercings, a shaven head and the serpentine tattoo to which the title refers.
 To say her past is checkered is a major understatement – her sexuality is completely open to dangerously high levels, throughout her life she is subjected to a catalogue of senseless and violent abuse.
 It is at this stage I must emphasize that several scenes are not for the faint hearted – the sequences depicting the sexual abuse Lisbeth goes through are among the most highly explicit I’ve seen. They are shown rather graphically, which does make for occasionally uncomfortable viewing as do the sequences of sexual, pseudo-masochistic torture when the perpetrator finally endures his comeuppance. They boarder on gratuitous levels, and yet sadly, do seem somewhat relevant – if not necessarily integral – in order to make the plot plausible.
  Fincher directs in his inimitable style of ensuring that the cutting-edge, at times ultra-modern proceedings rattle along at breakneck speed, which counts in the film’s favour considering it runs for over two-and-a-half hours, but actually goes very quickly, feeling far less. The narrative’s thematic darkness is mirrored by the suitably dreary cinematography that drains the colour from the screen.
 Steven Zallian continues his and Fincher’s trend set by The Social Network, with rapid-fire delivery of dialogue that hits you like a freight train, but really does terrific handling of condensing a mammoth novel into a taut, succinct screenplay. As well as the disturbing imagery of violence against women and twisted ideas of gratification with religious, ritualistic undertones, there are much-needed hidden droplets of razor-sharp wit – not least Blomkvist’s foul-mouthed, novice attempts at using a laptop.
  Daniel Craig makes for a mild-mannered everyman as Blomkvist, in a role that could be interpreted as just bookish and dull. It’s a real counterpoint from how he’s usually seen – almost an anti-Bond.
  Newcomer Rooney Mara has already earned a Golden Globe nomination for her uncompromising portrayal of the enigmatic Lisbeth, which for whatever reasons will inevitably have comparisons with Noomi Rapace’s very different interpretation just a year before. She’s a difficult character to contemplate in many ways, not least because nothing whatsoever like her has gone before – which is a big attraction for readers. Joely Richardson is among the best supporting talent, bringing a great sense of vulnerable fragility to her character – even if the finally revealed twist has more of an anticlimactic damp squib than a surprising sting in its tale.
   Speaking of Craig as Bond, the bizarre opening titles sequence feels heavily reminiscent of Bondian credits, with nude silhouettes of oil-drenched women that is either oddly exhilarating or blatantly unsubtle – either way, it ultimately has no bearing on the film itself. It is however accompanied by Trent Reznor’s trademark droning thump of a soundtrack.
     With distributors already pushing ahead with plans for Fincher to continue helming the next two chapters of the saga, it looks as though the current cult craze of the Millennium Trilogy is set to be around for a while. An intense, visceral viewing experience that’s as memorable as it is impactful.
Rating: * * *

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Arthur Christmas Review

Christmas 2011

Genre: Festive Seasonal Family Animation.

Starring: (the voices of): James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Ashley Jensen, Imelda Staunton, Michael Palin, Jane Horrocks and Ramona Marquez.

Running Time: 97 mins approx,

Certificate: PG.

Seen at: Didsbury. 

On: Thursday, 22nd December, 2011.

As the Christmas holiday approaches, your local multiplex is offering a wealth of yuletide-themed movies, leaving us really spoilt for choice. They’re ranging from Martin Scorsese’s brilliant and magical Hugo, to the shamelessly product-placement-heavy New Year’s Eve, sporting a cast that includes just about every Hollywood A-Lister you can think of. There’s also a trio of animated treats for children, with Puss In Boots, Happy Feet Two, and, one much more Christmassy and traditional – Arthur Christmas.
  It’s the latest feature from Aardman Animation, the studio behind lasting favourites Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run. Except, this time filmmakers have made the choice to move away from the ‘clay-mation’ technique with which they have become synonymous – instead opting for the route of using computer-generated imagery, as well as the currently popular tool of 3D.
  This actually proves to be a wise decision, counting very much in the film’s favour. The animation is bold and facially-expressive, as well as some of the most inventive and original this year. Its 3D element is utilized in a refreshingly subtle way that serves the narrative extremely well, which in turn makes for an opportunity to marvel at its exquisite detail. The film answers the age-old question of how Santa delivers all those presents in one night. It tells the story of Santa’s son, Arthur, who is, Christmas personified. In charge of sorting the children’s letters to Santa, he lives somewhat in the shadow of the favourite son, the power-hungry, technologically minded Steve played by Hugh Laurie. But when one child’s present is misplaced, it’s up to Arthur to save Christmas!
The festive season in the zeitgeist of Arthur Christmas, is one lovingly gift-wrapped in technology. Santa’s sleigh isn’t actually a sleigh at all at first, instead being a giant red state-of-the-art spaceship – the S-1.
 The opening sequence is a fantastically clever homage to the spy genre, which sees hoards of elves in secret-agent mode delivering presents to households James-Bond style. There are dozens of intelligent nods hidden away to the likes of Mission: Impossible, which see elves lowered in on wires. Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll even see a toy of Shawn the Sheep towards the end.
  The film boasts a terrific voice cast – Jim Broadbent is a joy as the big-hearted Santa, playing on his advancing years and a weakness for mince pies. Imelda Staunton is lovely as the dependable Mrs. Claus. But it’s the always-excellent Bill Nighy who completely steals the show as the 126-year-old scrabble-loving Grandsanta, complete with his false teeth that appear to keep leaping out the screen of their own accord – another great use of 3D! He keeps forgetting the names of the reindeer so just calls one Bambi instead, and can’t understand all this, as he mispronounces it – ‘techmology’.
  The child who Arthur is racing to save, is voiced by Ramona Marquez, who manages to translate her adorable Outnumbered cuteness into the spirit of Gwen. An intelligent screenplay plays host to a flurry of relevant contemporary references. Gwen enquires in her letter to Santa: ‘How come I can’t see your house when I look on Google Earth?’.
  The character with the least appeal is actually the protagonist. Arthur’s constant goody-two-shoes aims to please quickly become mildly irritating.   But this is one minor trait that does nothing to detract from the film’s effervescent sense of joy. Funny, without being childlike and touching, without being overly sentimentalized, this is enormous fun, and the best animation of the year. It really is the most charming film.

Rating: * * * *

Monday, 2 January 2012

My Week With Marilyn Review

Winter 2011.


Starring: Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Julia Ormond, Dougray Scott, Zoe Wanamaker, Dominic Cooper, Emma Watson, Derek Jacobi and Dame Judi Dench.

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 99 mins. approx.

Seen at: Didsbury

On: Saturday, 17th December, 2011.

Biopics – that is the profiling of a real-life figure, currently seem rather flavour-of-the month on film. Starting off the New Year in January, of course we have Meryl Streep as Margret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, but first we have this charming true-life tale of Norma Jean, better known as the original blonde bombshell – Marilyn Monroe.
  One would hope this present popularity with the biopic will continue its trend of translating well in awards season. A prime example would be The King’s Speech, with Colin Firth’s magnificent portrayal of King George VI.
  Equally impressive here, is the beautifully talented Michelle Williams, faced with the near-impossible task of playing Monroe. She succeeds wonderfully – while she may not look exactly like her (although the likeness is often striking) – what she really does manage to capture perfectly is the voice, as well as her many distinctive mannerisms. That tilt of the head, the dreamlike, high-pitched register of a breathless voice, almost reminiscent of a na├»ve child floating on air.
  The film’s opening sequence is Monroe’s rendition of the musical number Heatwave from There’s No Business Like Show Business. During that short period of time, set against a black stage backdrop and the deep red gels of the lights – Williams expertly encapsulates every wiggle of the hips or airy kiss blown to an adoring audience member in Monroe’s inimitable manner.
  The films perspective is seen from Colin Clark, a young assistant who goes to work for Pinewood Studios. It is his account of one week in 1956, when Monroe, on her very first visit to London, came to make the film later released as The Prince and the Showgirl.
  It was of course directed by and starred the great infamous legend of screen and theatre, Sir Laurence Olivier. This film charts wonderfully the contentiously tempestuous relationship between the inexperienced Monroe and the demands of the exacting Olivier.
 Kenneth Branagh, perhaps even the theatrical equivalent of Olivier in his day, is also wonderful in that role, (again, a real physical resemblance, as well as his lisp),  injecting cutting comments of humour at her expense occasionally, which displays just how strained their working relationship really was. ‘Teaching Marilyn Monroe how to act, is like teaching Urdu to a badger!’ - he incredulously remarks at one stage.
  There’s shining support too from a real stellar cast.  This includes the likes of rising star of Mamma Mia and The Duchess Dominic Cooper as studio manager and producer Milton Greene, Harry Potter star Emma Watson as wardrobe girl Lucy, and Julia Ormond as Olivier’s wife and star of Gone With The Wind Vivien Leigh – sister of Janet.
  Also featured are Dougray Scott as Monroe’s then-third husband Death of a Salesman playwright Arthur Miller, and Dame Judi Dench playing another Dame, fantastic as the stage veteran, Dame Sybil Thorndike.
 The true standout performance really does come from the fabulous Zoe Wanamaker, a pure joy as Marilyn’s acting coach and confidant Paula Strasberg, wife of Lee, the famous founder of a School of Acting.
 Thickly bespectacled in giant, black goggles – she is the character whose performance is captured most perfectly, while also providing the film’s main source of humour, almost as her mother figure. ‘Open the door Bubbalah’ she says, in an effort to coax Marilyn out of her locked room. It was her job to educate and support Marilyn, when the pressure of acting and stardom became too much. ‘Think of the things you like’ she tells her at one point. ‘Frank Sinatra. Coco-Cola! Use your substitutions’. She tried in vain to act as the mediator between her and Olivier, stating: ‘Charlie Chaplin took eight months to make a movie!’.
 These are just some examples of dialogue in a screenplay that often sparkles with wit, but is also not afraid to tackle the darker issues in an ultimately tragic life, namely Marilyn’s untimely struggle with her addiction to prescription pills to cope with the extreme fame. There are moments when she is mobbed by the press intrusion of a swarm of paparazzi, whilst out on a simple shopping trip. It is in these scenes that Williams best embodies that unique mixture of vivacious sex appeal, and fragility of innocence that made Marilyn so fascinating. She even asks Colin at one point: ‘Shall I be her?’ – meaning the Hollywood persona of Marilyn that was projected in the media.
  This is a frequently humorous, yet often moving film, filled with superb, Oscar-worthy performances, with Williams and Branagh the most likely to collect deserved accolades in February’s approaching awards season.

Rating: * * * *