No Country For Old Men

19 Jan

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As I continue my extended attempts to catch up with films I really should have seen, the back catalogue of the esteemed Coen Brothers has proved interesting. I strongly dislike Burn After Reading, I couldn’t get into Fargo and I loved The Big Lebowski. However, it is their 2007 Oscar winning effort No Country For Old Men that has held the most appeal for me so far – I’m finally reviewing it after my third watch.

After lone hunter Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon an apparent drug deal gone wrong, he makes off with more than $2m of somebody else’s money. Now, if you find $2m in cash that doesn’t belong to you, it’s a safe bet that somewhere there will be somebody looking for it.  In this case, those people are a group of Mexican’s trying to get what’s theirs, and merciless hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). A tense story unfurls as Llewelyn tries to avoid Chigurh and keep the money for himself, whilst avoiding any harm coming to his wife (Kelly Macdonald). Continue reading

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The Wolf of Wall Street

19 Jan

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Hotly anticipated 2013 release (2014 in the UK) The Wolf of Wall Street see’s master filmmaker Martin Scorsese turn his directorial eye on the true-life story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). Desperate to be rich, Belfort moved to New York as a young man so that he could become a stockbroker. After his first employer fails, leaving Belfort jobless, he takes a job with a much smaller stockbroker. He quickly earns himself a small fortune and sets up his own business, where he goes on to make millions of dollars. The problem is, a lot of Belfort’s business is illegal and it would seem to be only a matter of time before his ‘chickens come home to roost’, as one character so aptly puts it.

The story comes from the memoirs of Belfort himself, which is where the movie takes it’s name from. Large parts of the film are dedicated to highlighting the levels of it’s lead characters’ debauchery, which only gets worse as he makes more and more money. Belfort loves drugs, sex and alcohol to an extreme level, and Scorsese shows us much of it in great detail. Critics of the movie have slated the director for glamourising the life of the protagonist, but my take on the movie couldn’t be further from that. Continue reading

A Hijacking (Kapringen)

14 Jan

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2012 Danish movie A Hijacking (or Kapringen, to give it it’s Danish title) tells the ‘inspired by real events’ story of a Danish cargo ship that is hijacked by Somali pirates. This is a film that’s been on my radar since seeing the excellent Paul Greengrass directed movie Captain Phillips. There are obvious similarities between the two that make it all-too tempting to draw direct comparisons, but there are enough differences to make each film enjoyable on their own, as well as being good companion pieces.

Where Captain Phillips focused largely on it’s title character and the emotional journey undertaken by him, A Hijacking looks closely at the effects on the loved ones of those crew held captive and the process of negotiation between the cargo ships owner and the pirates. Continue reading

12 Years A Slave

8 Jan

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12 Years A Slave tells the true story of Solomon Northup, (Chiwetel Ejiofor) a free black man from New York in 1841. He appears to be relatively affluent and well respected, living side-by-side with white people. A skilled player of the violin, Northup accepts an invitation to earn some extra money with a travelling circus. He is then abducted and sold into slavery, at which point he has all of his liberties taken, even being reduced to accepting a name other than his own. As a slave, he becomes knows as ‘Platt’. For 12 years, Northup endures the most horrific conditions and treatment imaginable, traded as ‘property’ by merciless slave owners. This truly remarkable film charts those 12 years, and how.

First of all, let me preface this by pointing out that I have not reviewed a film since September 26th, 2013. Not because I stopped watching movies or having opinions on them, merely that I have just not felt compelled to write. I ‘lost the bug’ somewhat. Well, having been fortunate enough to attend a preview screening of 12 Years A Slave, I can’t shake the urge to get back to my keyboard and share my feelings on it. Continue reading

Prisoners

26 Sep

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Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal star in tightly woven child abduction thriller Prisoners. Jackman plays the oddly named Keller Dover, a father whose daughter Anna (Erin Gerasimovich) is taken early on in the story, along with a friend of hers. Gyllenhaal is Detective Loki, who is assigned to this case. Over the two and a half hours of the film, there are several twists and turns and multiple suspects in the case.

At it’s best this movie is entertaining, dark and highly engaging, inviting the viewer into a sense of hopelessness and extreme sadness felt by the families of the missing girls. It is also intelligent and provides a level of social commentary in the way suspects are treated and what desperation will drive a person to do, especially in War-on-Terror era America. Continue reading

Run Lola Run (Lola Rennt)

15 Sep

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After her moped is stolen, Lola (Franka Potente) fails to pick her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) up from a deal where a large amount of money is involved. This sets in motion a chain of events that leads to Manni losing 100,000 Deutschmarks that are owed to his boss. He phones Lola to tell her that if he doesn’t manage to get the money to his boss within 20 minutes, he knows he’ll be killed. He quickly conceives a plot to rob a nearby supermarket of the money, much to Lola’s disapproval. She instructs him to wait, and says she’ll get to him in time, and tries to plan a way to get the money.

The film is relatively short, clocking in at just 80 minutes. Within this time, we see the story played out three times. Each of them starts with Lola hanging up the phone to Manni and making a run from her flat down a spiral staircase. For this, the picture deviates from live action to animation. I liked this touch; it adds a quirky element to the film that never feels forced or out of place. In each of the three versions of the story, Lola sets out to run to a bank where her father works in the hope of convincing him to give her the money. Along the way, she encounters several different people. These include a woman with a pram, a man riding a bike alongside her, a man driving an ambulance and a few other characters. Continue reading

Schindler’s List

11 Sep

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I’ve made it to 25 years of age without seeing Schindler’s List. I’m not sure how. Maybe, in the back of mind, the idea of sitting down for three hours to watch a film that I knew would depress me was off-putting. However, my desire to watch it and remove another ‘must-see’ movie off of my ‘not-seen’ movies list finally lead me to watch Steven Spielberg’s classic film about Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson). In Poland during World War II, Schindler is an industrialist concerned with making money. As he witness the persecution of his Jewish workforce over the course of the war, he becomes more and more concerned for their welfare.

In 1939, the Germans moved Polish Jews to a ghetto in Kraków. Spotting a chance to make some money for himself, Nazi party member Schindler gets himself a factory and a deal to make supplies for the German army. In a ruthless business decision, he opts to employ Polish Jews rather than Catholics as their labour comes cheaper. He employs Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) to help him, owing to his contacts in the Jewish community, and Stern sets about having as many Jews as possible deemed ‘essential’ for the war effort.

Both Neeson and Kingsley give excellent performances. As Schindler, Neeson is able to take advantage of the best character arc in the film. Starting off as a business man hoping to profit from the war, and slowly becoming a sympathetic man determined to help his workforce and save them from the horrors of the concentration camps, he more than does justice to the man at the heart of this remarkable story. Continue reading

The Way Way Back

10 Sep

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The Way Way Back is a small-scale inspirational/feel-good film about Duncan (Liam James), a 14 year old boy who has trouble fitting in. He’s going on summer holiday with his mum (Toni Collette), her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his daughter. As they meet up with old friends of Trent’s, we see that they’re not exactly a happy family.

Duncan is extremely awkward and, on the journey to the house where they’ll spend their summer, he is insulted by a wannabe-pep talk on life from Trent. As Duncan grows to hate the company he is keeping on the break, he heads to Water Wizz, a local water park full of kids having fun and friendly staff. Chief amongst them is Owen (Sam Rockwell), a wise-cracking employee of Water Wizz.

Predictably, a friendship blossoms between Duncan and Owen, providing many amusing moments. Rockwell is, by some distance, the best thing about this film. If I’m honest, I was worried about where the film was going until he arrived on screen. Initially, I found a lot of the characters to be extremely irritating and the film was annoying me a little bit. Perhaps this was the intention though, to highlight just why Duncan is so unhappy around these people. Rockwell, thankfully, has several lines that made me laugh out loud, and still make me chuckle now when I think about them. He plays his part perfectly, being incredibly likeable and, quite honestly, his Owen is somebody I wish I was friends with.

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Liam James is good as the awkward teenager at the centre of the story, successfully portraying a young man growing up with all the frustrations of having separated parents. Steve Carell is also good as Trent, an easy-to-hate character, almost pantomime-esque in his villainy.

The writing and directing from Nat Faxon and Jim Rash is successful in achieving everything it wants to. There are plenty of sad moments and a few scenes that might just leave you with a lump in your throat. I’d suggest there’s slightly too much exposition early on in the film. It doesn’t take much to realise that we’re supposed to see Duncan as something of a loser, but the film rams this down our throats over and over again.

With some good acting and aesthetically pleasing cinematography, The Way Way Back is a good film. If I’m honest, it isn’t the run-away success I was hoping for. With some irritating characters, extreme foreshadowing and clichéd ‘buddy’ moments, it’s fair to say this is a film with flaws. It does tick most of the boxes of a good feel-good film though, and occasionally is genuinely moving. Despite being enjoyable on first viewing, the only reason I’d revisit The Way Way Back is for the show-stealing performance of Sam Rockwell.

7/10

Attack The Block

8 Sep

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Attack The Block is the 2011 directorial debut from England’s Joe Cornish. In South London, a gang of seemingly no-good teenagers are forced to defend their block from an alien invasion, requiring the help of a woman they had mugged earlier in the night.

I would normally say that being predictable, clichéd and refusing to stray from genre conventions are all things to criticise a film for. Strangely though, these can all be said of Attack The Block, yet I found them to actually be strengths, rather than weaknesses. I knew within five minutes who the hero would be and the type of journey they were going to take. What Joe Cornish manages to do as a writer though is work in plenty of in-jokes and tongue-in-cheek nods to familiar plot devices that made me smile plenty of times. Continue reading

Rush

5 Sep

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With Rush, Ron Howard turns his directorial attention to the 1970’s Formula 1 rivalry between English racer James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl).

We get a great early indication of the kind of character James Hunt is when at the start of the film he turns up at a hospital injured, dressed in full race gear, and tells the nurse that his wounds came as a result of a fling with another racers wife. Naturally, he then charms her into sleeping with him too. So there you have it, as markers go, Hunt is well set up as a play boy, 2 parts arrogance to one part charm. The first time we see him race is in Formula 3 where he is established as a top racer. It’s here that he comes across Niki Lauda for the first time, and their great rivalry is born.

Lauda is nowhere near as flashy as the Englishman. Instead, he is a devoted, rather dour individual, incredibly skilled at racing and extremely knowledgeable in the setting up of a racing car. Not willing to hang around in the lower divisions, he finds a team short of money and buys his way into Formula 1, prompting Hunt’s team to do the same thing. Continue reading