A Shakespeare conspiracy, now there’s something new! Did he or didn’t he write his great works!? It has been up for debate for centuries but chances are it’s all a load of bollocks started by aristocrats that couldn’t accept he was a genius. But of course no one will ever know. But it’s not like that has stopped Roland Emmerich from throwing his opinion in, he has created a political thriller questioning the greatest writer in history. Known for his disaster movies, Emmerich is trying something new – Fair play for that I guess. Out 28th October.
My Week With Marilyn
Michelle Williams takes the opportunity to play the iconic film star Marilyn Monroe, in this ‘true story’ of Marilyn’s intense relationship with Sir Laurence Oliver as they shot The Prince and The Showgirl.
Another film inspired by true events, 50/50 is a comedy that deals with cancer. Not the most likely of pairings but so far reviews have been extremely positive. Seth Rogan and Joseph Gordan-Levitt look a good match if the trailer is anything to go by, keep an eye on this one and go see it in cinemas on the 25th November.
Anyone else a bit unnerved by this trailer? A modern, twisted retelling of the popular fable of the same name, this looks sinister, stylish and interesting. Find out for yourself if its any good this Friday, I know I will be.
I recently looked on the website of my local multiplex to find out when Drive was showing and was horrified by its absence on the list of films. After drying my eyes and several hours of comfort eating I decided to pick myself up and go to see The Debt. Today I sat down and opened my laptop with the intention of writing a review for The Debt, but my concentration very quickly lapsed and I found myself thinking “what’s the next thing I should see at the cinema?” So again I looked on the website of my local cinema to find the following films are showing (split into two very imaginatively named categories):
Films I have a problem with:
Johnny English Reborn – we already had Austin Powers so I don’t know why we needed the original never mind a sequel. 3D and 2D Lion King – I don’t have a problem with cinemas showing classics, however, I don’t like that they have retrofitted The Lion King with 3D in order to charge customers extra. Moreover, when you have 2D and 3D versions, they take up screens that could be used for other films. 3D and 2D The Three Musketeers – A tired-looking adaptation of Dumas’ classic which is currently sitting at 33% on Rotten Tomatoes from a director who boasts a lowly average of 27.8% on the same website. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – An averagely reviewed remake of an old movie starring Katie Holmes (I didn’t realise Tom and the Scientology clique were still letting her act) and written by Guillermo del Toro (so maybe it is worth watching). Abduction – Tim Robey of The Telegraph calls this “the least thrilling thriller of the year.” Friend With Benefits – Quite well reviewed rom-com. Crazy, Stupid Love – Decently reviewed rom-com. What’s Your Number – Poorly reviewed rom-com. Rascals – Apparently it’s awful. 3D Shark Night – Clearly a terrible movie and trying to reproduce the success of last summer’s Piranha 3D but failing.
Films I do not have a problem with:
The Inbetweeners Movie – Incredibly successful movie version of the popular TV show. Warrior – Rocky meets The Fighter with MMA. Midnight In Paris – Woody Allen films are usually worth seeing. I like Owen Wilson too. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Great film – read my review. The Debt – Pretty decent, read my revie… oh yeah, that’s where this all started, now back to my point.
So as you can see, this list has some good in it but contains an awful lot of crap. My main issue, therefore, is with the rather gaping omissions of the 3 movies which I was REALLY LOOKING FORWARD TO; namely Drive, Melancholia and Tyrannosaur. This is why I’m crying.
Thanks to some brilliant acting and directing Drive may just become a modern cult classic – 9/10
Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn
A lot has been said about Drive, some claim it is one of the movie highlights of the year, whilst others suggest it is more a case of style over substance. Despite split opinion, Nicolas Winding Refn won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival and Drive was nominated for the Palme d’or, highlighting his competence as a director. Refn provides us with beautiful shots of Los Angeles alongside some brilliant artistic tricks that fit perfectly with the hyper-stylized approach. Some may have mistakenly pinned Drive down as a big budget picture but thankfully it avoids the usual lazy habits of mega budget films and is more akin to Art House and Noir films, as well as displaying traits of the B-Movie tradition. The result is that Drive is an absolute treat on the eyes and ears. It is entertaining, engaging and on a technical level Refn’s direction is superb.
The story orbits around one man known only as the Driver (Ryan Gosling). During the day he is a stunt man for movies, at night he lends his impressive talents to crooks as a getaway driver. As said in the film, Driver is a ‘hard man to work with’ – he lives by a rule to which he strictly adheres whereby the robbery needs to be completed in 5 minutes or he will leave his colleagues to find their own way out. Oh, and he never carries a gun. This methodical way of getaway driving makes Driver the best you can get, as the opening scene demonstrates he calculates every police move and counters them.
Not much back story is provided for Driver and he rarely speaks but Gosling puts in a convincing, nuanced performance as the enigmatic, lightly spoken anti-hero. His relationship with the other characters helps flesh out, in our minds, what this Driver is like. It is not what is said that matters, but the physical responses that count. In this way, Driver’s relationship with Irene (Carey Mulligan) works excellently. The chemistry between them is believable, if at times a little too delicate; the long stares and little smiles produce an understated romance which is only achievable because of the performances of both actors – so credit to Mulligan’s gentle performance. Similar interactions are seen between Driver and Irene’s ex-convict husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), their hatred for one another is conveyed by contemptuous glances and the two share a silence that says it all. Nevertheless, they agree to accept each other, in the interests of Irene, and true to the film’s laconic nature it provides no dialogue to tell us this.
What Drive may surprise viewers with is the sudden shift between sentimentality and violence. At the start, Drive is concerned with the delicate moments of the characters’ lives, but images of happiness and romance are quite suddenly juxtaposed as the film veers in an entirely different direction. From this key moment things get ugly, as Driver demonstrates his capacity for extreme violence. This may be confusing for some but I found this to be enjoyable and it raised questions of the Driver’s psychology. The film convinces us at first that Driver is a good man, as evident from his kindness to Irene and his relationship with her son Benicio. However, this impression is quickly altered by his willingness to resort to extreme violence; at one stage he caves a man’s head in. It is important to reiterate that Drive is a very stylized film, at times it is almost surreal. The iconography of Driver in particular, his scorpion jacket, the tooth pick, the gloves, his refusal to compromise and the effortless cool of his character exemplifies this approach. This isn’t a film that embraces realism as the world in which it is set forces us to suspend disbelief.
Drive entertains from start to finish – the opening scene was stunning and had me immediately captivated. Kudos to Ryan Gosling who has proven he is a likable screen presence who has the caliber to enthrall with the subtlest of performances. Let’s hope that there are more lead parts to come for him. Whilst I haven’t mentioned them yet, Ron Pearlman’s and Albert Brook’s performances cannot be overlooked as the villains of the piece – superb work from them. Also, Refn’s clear love for the ’80s can be felt across the whole film, especially in its excellent soundtrack and the retro iconography – an artistic choice that the film certainly benefits from. Refn is in a promising position now and given his technical ability it is worth keeping an eye on his future projects. The retro, uber-cool aesthetic, the sublime soundtrack and the sheer entertainment it provides make Drive undoubtedly the coolest film you will see all year and it has easily nestled itself at the top of my best films of 2011.
“You have to assume they’re watching you…” A safe assumption for the deceitful men who inhabit smoke-filled rooms in this brilliant adaptation – 9/10
Dir. Tomas Alfredson
The 1970s TV series was wonderfully received by critics and Alec Guinness is considered to have made George Smiley his own; consequently, Tomas Alfredson and Gary Oldman had a lot to live up to. Alfredson will be known to readers for his 2008 Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In and is leading the charge of Scandinavian directors who are making waves in the English-speaking movie world. Oldman heads a stellar cast (see poster above) in something of a who’s who of British acting talent that have been perfectly selected by casting director Jina Jay.
Without giving too much away I will reveal something of the plot. Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) is a top agent for MI6 (referred to as “The Circus”) who is sent to Budapest on a mission. Something goes wrong, however, and he gets shot. Questions are asked and people scapegoated for the calamitous affair. Those at the top of MI6 – Control (John Hurt) and George Smiley (Oldman) – are forced into retirement. But when Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) calls in some information about a potential mole in the upper echelons of The Circus, Smiley is secretly called back to uncover the truth.
Intrigue abounds and as Toby Esterhase (David Dencik) says “things aren’t always what they seem.” It plays out as a beautifully constructed and thrillingly clever Cold War spy film. Having said this, the central theme is not espionage or the Cold War – Tinker Tailor is worlds apart from James Bond. Ultimately, this is a film about deceit. It’s about a group of colleagues – clever and talented men – who are so blinded by their ambition and disconnected with reality that they can no longer operate effectively. It’s about men trying to get ahead; playing empires, playing spies. As one character puts it, all trying to make “his mark.”
Tinker Tailor is grey and grainy as Alfredson expertly reconstructs Cold War Britain. Nostalgia for WWII and British imperialism is central to the psyche and paranoia of this film as the central characters strive to make Britain – and themselves – relevant once more. The action of the usual espionage thriller is replaced by hidden agendas and sideways glances; every look has a double meaning. The use of shallow focus catches us off guard at times as Alfredson strives to make us unsure of our suspicions and alert for clues. Alberto Iglesias chimes in with a suitably melancholy soundtrack which crescendos in all the right places and adds to the tension.
Some criticism has been levelled against this version of Tinker Tailor because it strays from both the source material and the TV series. My response to this is A) If it didn’t move away from the TV series then there wouldn’t be much point and B) This film works as a piece of cinema on its own terms and it therefore doesn’t matter if it differs from the book. What does matter in adaptations is that the central themes of the book and messages of the story are transferred effectively from page to screen; Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy achieves this splendidly.
Wasikowsa perfectly embodies Jane in an excellent retelling of a classic tale – 8/10
Dir. Cary Fukunaga
Fukunaga, who directed 2009’s Sin Nombre, displays in Jane Eyre an assured and confident work in cinematography. We are treated to hauntingly beautiful landscape shots and an elegant art direction that captivates from start to finish. It is impressive to see a director understand so well the Gothic nature of Jane Eyre and to nail the visuals accordingly; Fukunaga creates a 19th century the viewer can believe in. It is not just the visuals that leave you transfixed however, as the lead performance by Mia Wasikowska is outstanding. Mia pulls off the nuances and details of such a complex character as Jane so well – I can’t imagine a better Jane on-screen. Mia is supported well by the always excellent Michael Fassbender, who plays her lover Rochester. Rochester comes across as imposing and dominant, as well as enigmatic enough to raise suspicions of a dark, unnerving secret in his past. Whilst Fassbender is good, the performance that comes second only to Mia’s is that of Judi Dench; playing the nattering, loyal housekeeper of the Rochester estate, Dench is exemplary.
Jane Eyre purists may have a hard time swallowing such a condensed telling of the story.The film moves through the events of the book at a rapid pace, leap-frogging from scene to scene, never really willing to dwell on powerful moments of the story. Maybe it is this then that leaves the central romance, whilst heartfelt, a little lacking in comparison with the aching, smouldering passion found in the book. However, due to the limitations of time in a feature-length movie, this in my opinion is understandable and doesn’t diminish a solid adaptation. If anything this film just proves that Charlotte Bronte’s classic is the romantic novel that most modern literature can only look up to.
Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Erin Brokovich) has a new film out in the US. Allegedly the penultimate film of the Director’s long career, Contagion is a disaster film concerned with the struggle to survive in a society falling apart from a deadly airborne virus.
As you may already know, Steven Spielberg is trying his hand at an animated Tintin film, dubbed The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of The Unicorn.
George Clooney sits in the director’s seat for his debut film The Ides of March, a campaign thriller about a young press secretary who gets caught up in political scandal that threatens to destroy his candidate’s chances for the presidency.
The third installment of the Paranormal Activity franchise just got a new trailer to tease us with.
Paddy Considine‘s debut film Tryannosaur has been received well so far by critics, this gritty ‘Kitchen-sink’ drama focuses on a man haunted by a history of violence and alcohol abuse and his redemption through an unlikely source, a christian charity worker who has a dark and equally horrific history of her own.
2 French language films, 2 English language reviews:
Farewell is an entertaining but unremarkable French spy thriller based on extraordinary real events – 7/10
Dir. Christian Carion
It’s the early 1980s and the struggle for No.1 Superpower status between the USA and the USSR is still very much alive. In the heart of the KGB, however, Sergei Grigoriev (Emir Kusturica) (loosely based on Vladimir Vetrov) has decided that enough is enough; the communist experiment was admirable but ultimately a failure and the Cold War has to end. Moreover, given that he is a high-ranking KGB agent he is perfectly placed to engineer that change – even if he risks everything doing it. In order to achieve his goal, the enigmatic and reckless Russian decides to hand over secrets to the French and the unwitting engineer, Pierre Froment (Guilleme Canet), becomes his accomplice and sole confident.
The plot is intriguing and the historical backdrop acts as the perfect setting for an espionage thriller. This backdrop is fully capitalised upon by director Christian Carion, who presents a coherent piece which captures the period well. Canet and Kusturica play the unlikely lead pairing brilliantly, particularly Kusturica who portrays the idealistic, Francophile Russian with some verve. The final half-hour pulls this slow burner tight, providing a suspenseful and emotionally engaging finale. This emotional engagement is, however, both the film’s downfall and achievement. Prior to this finale, Farewell spends a lot of time on Froment and Grigoriev’s character development and relationship. This allows us to sympathise with them on a personal level, but it also means the film plods along in parts. In addition, the scenes involving US President Ronald Reagan (Fred Ward) and French President Francois Mitterand (Philippe Magnan) feel out-of-place and awkward.
There are many nice directorial touches in this film and the contrast between East and West is subtly but effectively shown. Farewell makes a point of being underplayed and is relatively low on thrills. Some might say it requires a little patience, but there’s much to admire and it’s well worth the watch. Also, lovely soundtrack by Clint Mansell.
Of Gods and Men
Sad, profound and beautiful in equal measure, this is not a film that you will easily forget – 8/10
Dir. Xavier Beauvois
Of Gods and Men portrays the true story of 9 Trappists monks living in the monastery of Tibhirine, Algeria, before 7 of them are taken and killed by terrorists during the Algerian Civil War in 1996. Prior to being held hostage, the monks lived in harmony with their Muslim neighbours and much of the film shows their metronomic routine of life and worship. The monks make a considerable contribution to the community, particularly in their provision of medicine. They therefore struggle to comprehend the idea of leaving Tibhirine, despite the obvious danger, and the film predominantly focuses on the monks’ decision to stay and risk their lives.
Of Gods and Men was highly acclaimed and won several awards including the 2010 Cannes ‘Grand Prix,’ and for the most part these accolades are deserved. It is – in line with the subject matter – sombre without being mawkish and considers the issue of martyrdom without having delusions of grandeur. Clearly religion is central to the narrative but the film does not try to convert the viewer. Of Gods and Men is beautifully shot; it is contemplative and restrained throughout and this tone can be sharply contrasted with the way in which the monks were treated by their captors. Christian (Lambert Wilson) and Luc (Michael Lonsdale) lead their fellow monks in discussing what is the right thing to do. However, we learn most by studying their wonderfully expressive faces and it is clear that the monks never intend to leave their post. Although it is hard not to feel that the monks’ courage, loyalty or piety lead to a tremendous waste of life, Of Gods and Men is a brilliant study of their motivations and psyche.