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The Babadook

Relying on tone and atmosphere rather than just being jumpy!
Horror is a genre I have a love/hate relationship with. Many aspects of the genre are what got me interested in cinema in the first place. The music, the low angle shots, the sense of dread and unease and the memorable and tense scenes. However, I feel especially with modern horror, you really have to dig deep to find something of an alternative to the formulaic so called 'cattle prod' cinema which is churned out at such an unduly excessive rate. If you were to dig so deep and end up 'down under', you will find quite possibly a new saviour of this stagnant genre named Jennifer Kent who wrote and Directed this excellent film 'The Babadook'.

The film focuses on a family consisting of a struggling single mother Amelia (Essie Davis) and her wayward 7 year old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). The background of the family is revealed to us in Amelia's dream sequence showing her husband dying in a drowning accident on the way to the hospital to give birth to Samuel. Now that his birthday is coming up, Amelia is haunted by this memory and prefers to celebrate Samuel's birthday a week or two after the actual date. With Samuel's over-active imagination, his obsession with making weapons and his fear of monsters under the bed and in the closet, Amelia becomes increasingly concerned. Her concern increasingly turns to anxiety and madness when his behaviour harms his young cousin when he pushes her off a tree house. When Amelia reads a story to Samuel at night when he gets scared, he picks out this mysterious book on the shelf called 'The Babadook'. The book has morbid, Gothic illustrations depicting a demon who comes into the house. When the narrative gets too scary, Amelia stops reading, but what she starts noticing is that more illustrations and narration appear on the pages, completing a horrific story of a women possessed murdering her dog and child. The Demon starts to appear in a cloaked, menacing, shadow like figure, turning Amelia's world into something frightening with a constant sense of foreboding. With her son's behaviour becoming more difficult, Amelia finds herself becoming like the character in the book.

For me, the film works brilliantly on a symbolic level. The book and the demon itself represents Amelia's darkest thoughts and what she is capable of if she keeps her tragic past buried. It is a film about the plight of a single mother and the terrifying thought that beneath the compassionate maternal motherly instincts of protecting her child, there may be dark thoughts of freeing herself from what can sometimes be a hopeless situation, particularly if you are dealing with behavioural problems. The story unfolds itself at a perfect pace and the scare's are more subtle and rooted in the characters. It is not only a film to scare, but a film which really connects in an emotional level making you feel sad at Amelia's situation, and you have much sympathy for Samuel too. Instead of concentrating on individual frights, I feel Jennifer Kent was going for a darkly atmospheric tone which remains consistent throughout the whole movie. There is constantly an unnerving sense of trepidation as you feel the narrative revealed to Amelia in the book is going to manifest itself in reality. You really don't want it to go that way as you care for the characters so much, but because 'you can't get rid if the Babadook' it feels like it might just happen.

There are a wide range of influences Kent utilises from both classic and modern horror respectively. We see Amelia watching old silent horror movies with a monster looking similar to the Babadook and there were parts that reminded me of 'The Grudge'. I feel that Kent really understands the genre, which is why I feel this is a step up from the majority of horror films which rely solely on fright and shock.

Essie Davis gives a very strong performance as the single mother who has an underlying fear and resentment of her child and Noah Wiseman gives an equally stunning performance as the boy who is in fear of his mother. I feel this kind of taboo subject matter works brilliantly in horror films as we are all afraid of our deep, underlying feelings which we choose to bury and ignore. Kent has made a fantastic debut here. Not only could it easily be best horror film this year, but one of the best films! Check out my film blog -

Maps to the Stars

A surrel and atmospheric Greek tragedy.
I was more than happy to learn that Director David Cronnenberg was returning to the trademark weird and atmospheric tone he was once most well known for in films like Videodrome. Here he takes a satirical look at Hollywood, a place which seems to be an easy target for identifying shallow, over privilege and screwed up stereotypes by people like Bret Easton-Ellis, but with an added injection of Cronnenberesque weirdness making it something closer to David Lynch's Mullholland Drive (Although not that weird).

Maps to the Stars contains many characters who seem divided into separate story lines, but as the film progresses, you learn they are all connected thematically and narratively. Dr Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) is a successful 'pseudo' therapist who has embraced Eastern new age mysticism and has made a fortune through his massage technique where he claims the whole body stores memories, as well as his self help books and lectures. His son Benjie (Evan Bird) is a child star who experienced too much at a young age and went to rehab at the age of 9. After coming clean, he is re-cast in the show 'Bad Babysitter' the show which made him famous, only to find he is outshined by a younger boy. One of Stafford's clients, Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) is a famous actress who lives in the shadow of her mother, Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gadon) an iconic actress who died tragically in a fire while she was still young and beautiful. Havana has had life long difficulties in dealing with past sexual abuse by her mother, but at the same time, wants to be her by chasing a role of a remake originally starring Clarice Taggart. Also, Havana is frequently haunted by visions of Clarice, taunting her and telling her she will never be as successful. A mysterious girl named Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) turns up, wanting to be part of the Hollywood scene. She quickly gets a job working as Havana's PA and dating a limo driver and fellow aspiring actor Jerome (Robert Pattinson). We learn she is in fact the estranged daughter of Dr Stafford Weiss and has darker intentions after being released from a sanatorium.

The main theme prevalent throughout is the concept of age and the fear of growing old. This is achieved using abstract symbolism with an added supernatural element. Benjie and his friends have amusing but disturbing conversations about people they know in their early twenties which to them is 'old'. Havana is middle aged but has undergone surgery and still tries to act young so she can continue getting work and also to fulfil her motherly issues. Maps to the Stars also pokes fun at pseudo spiritual fads which is embodied in the John Cusack's character, even though he is an irresponsible parent who has clearly failed his children. Although his son Benjie has attained everything many children dream of, he still craves parental attention and is plagued by feelings of guilt as he, as well as Havana, is haunted by a girl he visited in hospital who died. Both these characters have past demons embodied in these visions which make them act out in a way that is harmful to themselves and others.

Julianne Moore, as usual, gives a remarkable performance as Havana Segrand, a character who is the mixture of a stereotypical, self interested and shallow actress, a manipulative careerist and a desperate emotional wreck. Mia Wasikowska possibly steals the show as the quietly psychotic and elusive Agatha, a character who romanticises the concept of death and sees it as the only way out of the hell that is superficial social order of Hollywood. For most of the film, you never quite know what her intentions are or what she is capable of. All the main characters are repugnant people to watch, but that is the point. I have never had a problem watching films full of generally unlikable characters because usually, I find them entertaining, and that is certainly the case in this movie. Each character has their personal demons and are self centred and very superficial as a direct result of the industry they are affiliated with. In an age where Hollywood movies and the media have an obsession with eternal youth, customary image and egotistical goals, this is exactly the environment that can prove damaging. The film is also bout the sins of the parents passed through generations which is mostly illustrated through the Weiss family. The disconnection within the family and the pushy parenting creates damaged offspring who are plunged into an over-stimulated world.

The film plays out like a modern Greek tragedy where there is a sense that everyone will meet a tragic end. We are in a darkly satirical world where there is no way out but death, which is seen as a means of ultimate peace. It may sound morbid, but the film is often very funny with it's weird and observant humour and is largely entertaining to watch. Some people may find it a hard watch, but I think it is one of the films this year not to be missed. I feel it is a film I will watch and enjoy again and a film where David Cronnenberg is Back on form after a few lacklustre efforts.

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20,000 Days on Earth

A Unique 'Documentary' that is just as much about the creative process.
Documentary profiles of famous musicians are ubiquitous and they are mostly rather repetitive, but this is a breath of fresh air. This unique and challenging gem goes for a different approach about the much celebrated Australian musician and writer, Nick Cave, who in this film is marking his 20,000th day on Earth. One of the unique things about this documentary is that in many ways, it is not a documentary as some of it is fictional and scripted. It is generally difficult to tell if it is fictional or if it is genuine Nick Cave. I cannot imagine this kind of approach suiting any other musician other than Nick Cave as he is a rather odd character who probably sees a world where fiction and reality blur.

On the 20,000th day, we see Nick Cave playing a version of himself going about his day in a nicely shot and artful account of what is routine. He drives around Brighton first going to an interview, then visiting his friend and band mate, Warren Ellis, in his idyllic seaside home for a seafood lunch. He has what seems like imagined conversations with random celebrities who appear in his passenger seat as he drives and he goes to his archive studio where he examines photos and bits of writing he did in the past. Interspersed between these scenes are a mixture of studio performances and live concert footage of Nick Cave performing mainly new material from his last album 'Push the Sky Away' with the Bad Seeds.

The documentary starts off with a surreally beautiful timeline of Cave's life filled with quick appearances of personal stock footage and various pop culture since 1955 all edited at a rapid fire pace. As it progresses, we see Nick Cave ponder many things like existence, the creative process, inspiration, memories and other philosophical and poetic musings. This coming out of the mouth of a less experienced musician would sound like a pretentious fart, but since Cave is notorious for his dark eccentricity, it is pretty much expected from him. The interview near the start shows this very well as it is a revelatory and candid conversation as he talks about very personal memories which make him who he is today. Nick Cave does have a darkly poetic perspective, and the imagery supporting his powerful voice make this experiment something of a cinematic experience. One chief example in particular is a spoken word piece which he wrote many years ago. I remember reading it when it was on display at the Nick Cave Exhibition in Perth, Australia and thinking it was a particularly well worded expression of love at first sight which stuck in my head. It is about how he first met his wife and the feelings experienced at that moment completely exceeded any other experience of women through real life and pop culture (Cave worded it far better). It was interesting to see this written text come to life with the rapid edit of stock footage with Cave's voice reading it.

The scenes in Cave's car are surreal, especially when notorious British actor, Ray Winston appears in his passenger seat to discuss performing art. Cave discusses his form of expression from a musicians perspective while Ray Winston makes comparisons to his acting experience and complaining about the weather! Also, Kylie Minogue, a one time collaborator with Nick Cave, appears in Cave's rear view mirror much like the character Betsy in the closing scene of 'Taxi Driver'. Her and Cave discuss audience connection.

It may be a partially fictional documentary but somehow it seems less self-aggrandizing with this approach as Cave seems to be playing a version of himself where he could only be perceived as weird and interesting, playing up to an image which already exists. In my opinion, I think it helps to appreciate his music in order to enjoy the film as there are extended performances of what is an acquired taste. I generally find his music interesting, but that was not the most interesting thing about it. I felt it was not just a film about Nick Cave, but about existence in this convoluted, manic and complex world and how one fits into and draws inspiration from it. It can be seen as unique and original, albeit a little pretentious in parts, but I have never seen any profile of a musician done this way.

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Inspirational and coherent film.
For some reason, I had low expectations when going to see this. I think it was because I had little knowledge as to what is was about and by the look of the clips I saw, it looked like typically predictable British humour. It turns out I was very wrong as it was about a very important alliance which happened and I had no knowledge about.

What the film depicts is the alliance between Gay Rights activists and the National Union of Mineworkers against the Thatcher Government who sees both groups as 'the enemy within'. We are introduced to one of the only fictional characters of the film Joe (George Mackay) who is a young gay man coming from a privileged family who do not understand him. He turns up to a Gay Pride march where he meets Mike (Joseph Gigun) and Mark (Ben Schnetzer) who both start a fundraising group called 'Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners' (LGSM). Mark is the leader as he is very passionate about not only supporting Gay rights, but the rights of everyone. Since Miners have similar struggles, they sympathise with the miners and therefore try and raise money for them. Some of the gay community are reluctant to get involved as many of them have had bad experiences with miners. Also, Miners unions are initially reluctant to accept donations as they are worried about the possible PR complications which may arise from being associated with a 'perverted' group. LGSM start to have direct dialogue with a Union leader from a small Welsh mining town named Dai Donavan, a charismatic speaker who along with local housewife and gay rights supporter Sian (Jessica Gunning) convince the town that there is no shame in uniting with a gay rights group. LGSM start to visit the town to deliver their donations personally which directly fund the families and pay for a bus so they can be transported to the picket line each morning. They are mainly welcomed by the local towns folk, but there is a minority of opposition who try to report this story to a tabloid newspaper. When the headline 'Pits and Perverts' reports negatively on the alliance, Mark has the idea to use the headline as the title for a fundraising gig headlined by Bronski Beat. It turns out to be a very successful fundraiser.

When making a film which contains many characters, many films cannot handle multitude of character and the many story threads which come with this. What Director Matthew Warchus and Writer Stephen Beresford manage to achieve here is giving each and every character enough screen time to make them believable and lovable characters which we all care about. There are fine performances across the board, especially by Ben Schnetzer who gives a passionate performance as the indefatigable Mark Ashton and rising British star George Mackay as the initially timid Joe whose character grows in confidence through his experience with LGSM. Also, Bill Nighy gives a more softly spoken performance as Cliff, one of the local miners who has been hiding who he truly is for his whole life and Dominic West who plays Jonathan Blake, one of the first men who became HIV positive.

The film does very well to be both serious and funny. It is very serious about the unlikely alliance of Gay rights and miners unions and the struggles of both groups against the political class. Also, there is an underlying theme of the beginnings of the AIDS virus and the propaganda and prejudice surrounding it. There is a lot of humour and feel good moments which make you want to punch the air and marvel at what humanity can sometimes achieve in times when solidarity is very much needed. It may be romanticized in a way, but not too laboured as it is anchored by the decent writing and coherent direction making this one of the most entertaining and educational films of the year so far. Very well done! Check out my film blog -

The Rover

A scarily plausible post-apocalyptic world!
Despite the predominant sunny weather in Australia, many films of an intensely bleak nature have been set there. Themes include drug addiction (Candy), serial Killers (Snow town, Wolf Creek) and because of featureless dessert, isolation (Tracks, Wake in Fright). This film adds to a long list of bleak films set in Australia, but this time with a similar theme to the intensely bleak situation in Australian Director John Hillicoat's 'The Road', only this time, it's an unspecified economic collapse. At the beginning of 'The Rover', it is referred to as 'the collapse' and we see soon enough that it has created an isolated land of desolation and a kill-or-be-killed environment. People are trying desperately to survive, everyone is paranoid and baring arms is a natural reaction to a stranger rather than a warm greeting. In a amongst all this is an un-named man (he is Eric in the credits) played with biting and fearful intensity by Guy Pearce. He seems like a man who has witnessed the worst aspects of humanity for the last ten years since the start of the economic collapse, that it has driven him to become cynical and misanthropic with no regard for human life. He has his car stolen by a gang of thieves and one of the thieves, Rey (a virtually unrecognisable Robert Pattinson) is left for dead on the road. Eric who is desperately in search for his car finds Rey and eventually teams up with him to find the people responsible for stealing his car.

The plot may sound un-interesting and a little too simplistic, but it is more the journey and the violent encounters in a hostile and hopeless environment that had me interested. The character Eric is a man who does not speak much and only converses when he really has something to say. He asks direct and confrontational questions usually to point out the futility of hanging on to a way of life that has become obsolete. Money has become worthless, policing has become impossible and society has pretty much broken down. The endless roads and dessert acts as a way to further emphasize the isolation experienced by the characters. You get subtle hints as to what is going on in the cities and internationally, and it's not good either.

It becomes apparent that Eric does not just want his car back, there is something in it which he values and will not stop until he gets it back. It is somehow strange to think that Eric values anything anymore, but it is nice to think that there might be a smattering of humanity left inside this damaged soul. It is revealed at the end what this is, but like I said, it is about the journey with Rey, a simple man who was let down. There is an uneasy bond which develops between the two characters and they help each other out by shooting their way out of situations. For a film with not much dialogue and fairly leisurely character development, there is a surprisingly high body count! It shows that humanity is reduced to cold blooded killing for survival.

The bleakness of the film could be too much for some people, but I think the message was as ever important. Like 'The Road' it serves as a plausible narrative to what direction we are heading in, and it ain't pretty! David Michod has written and Directed something that is chilling and memorable, and seems like the new Australian Director on the scene to take notice of.

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The Congress

A boring and convoluted mess!
Dystopian ideas are great. When watching the trailer to this film, I could detect themes like escaping reality through hallucinogenic drugs, celebrity image and the obsession to stay young and thirdly, the ability to attain complete freedom. Sadly, all these great ideas and thought provoking themes turn out to be anything but great or thought provoking. Instead we are presented with a dull mash up of unfocused and confusing story threads. It does begin with an interesting set up of Robin Wright playing herself. She gets herself scanned as she is owned by the studio and they want a computerised version of her image with all the emotions included so they can do whatever they want with it. The scanning scene itself is very dull as we see a scanner trying unsuccessfully to make Robin Wright to feel each and every emotion while the scanning process is happening, but then Robin Wrights manager Al (Harvey Keitel) saves the day with a dull story which contains an emotional response of every kind and seems to go on forever! It then jumps to 20 years later when Robin Wright is a bit older and she ingests some sort of drug which enters her into a limitless, animated world. It seems quite unrelated as to what has happened before but we go with it anyway as the visuals and music are really quite lovely. What follows is a convoluted mess that is needlessly confusing and ironically shallow for a film that is satirising the shallow nature of celebrity. It is also very surprising that for a film where so much is happening and with all the great sound and imagery how boring it is. It really is dull because of the mess it finds itself in as the film goes on and I did find myself losing interest in all it's fragmented disarray.

It really is sad to watch as there was obviously a talented team of creative people which made the great transitions from animation to live action possible. It is very meticulous and achieved brilliantly and for that I applaud the animators and visual artists. I think the pretentious and unfocused writing let it down and the need to cram in as much as possible so much so that not even the lasting memory will be wow! that looked fantastic, but more like, wow! I can't believe how boring that was!

Night Moves

Slow and un-compelling!
After viewing the trailer, I thought the film seemed largely uneventful. Sometimes certain films are difficult to make a good trailer out of, but in the case of this film, it is because this film actually is boring. The place where the film is set is interesting as the main characters work in a co-operative, self sustaining community and the subject matter involving eco terrorists blowing up a dam sounds quite thrilling, but for most of the film, there was not much happening.

The film starts off with Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Dena (Dakota Fanning) who are friends and both share radical environmental beliefs. They are meeting up with the shady Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) who possesses the know how to blow up a dam. The scene when they blow up the dam is quite tense without the use of music or dramatic affect. It is a well executed set piece which serves as the highlight of the film. The rest of the film is the characters dealing with the aftermath as they find out that a camper died from the result of the flooding caused by their terrorist act. Josh is trying to keep himself calm, but Dena is feeling guilty and is considering turning herself in. Unfortunately, Harmon, the most intriguing character of the film, does not come back in the film. The story takes a wrong turn which involves Josh killing Dena in what is a poorly executed scene as I felt it served as more for dramatic contrivance than what would actually happen between these two characters. It then ends with one of those annoying non endings which made me feel that I wished I never sat through the whole movie just for that pretentious piece of anticlimactic balderdash.

This film seems to be rather respected by critics, but I just can't share their enthusiasm. It does posses this self awareness and that overly subdued tone which involves people walking into rooms and not communicating effectively. It may serve as a comment on mans meddling with nature and what dangerous acts people with radical environmental views are willing to do which will only serve as counterproductive to their whole world view. All this is interesting, I just wished these themes were explored in a better film.

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Beneath the insanity lies a Buddhist parable.
If you are slightly squeamish or easily offended, then nothing can prepare you for the shocking and subversive content which permeates pretty much the entire film. Although it does seem like an exercise of shock value and bad taste, there is a twisted Buddhist parable to be found beneath if you see the penis symbolising desire and ego, which in Buddhist belief must be eradicated. I think you see what I'm getting at!

Korean Director Kim Ki Duk uses some strange stylistic choices, most notably the fact that there is absolutely no dialogue in the film, only gasps, screams and moans of pain and pleasure. Personally, I found it a bit jarring at first, but after a while, you get used to this as there is a lot of action and content which do all the talking. For me it also shows social disconnection in society. People in this film use each other for sexual pleasure or are in some sort of emotional or physical conflict with each other, signifying a world where people only serve their ego's.

Kim Ki Duk also wastes no time into getting down to the nitty gritty. Within the first ten minutes, most men in the audience will be sitting cross legged and wincing in general discomfort. It starts with a seemingly normal family consisting of a man, wife and son (with the lack of dialogue, you never learn their names). Man goes to meet his younger mistress (Also played by same actress who plays his wife!). While they have sex in a car, the wife sees them and notices the son is also there watching them and getting turned on by it. In a fit of jealous rage, wife attempts to cut off man's penis when he returns home. After failing that, she proceeds to cut off her sons penis while he sleeps, eats it, then runs away!

Now that the son has no penis, he finds it hard to act upon his intense desire he has for his father's mistress who he regularly visits in the shop she works in. With the forced removal of sexual pleasure, he tries to find other ways to experience this feeling with his father's assistance. After some internet research, father finds out that extreme friction of the skin can bring a man to orgasm as well as stabbing instruments. We see scenes of son and father rubbing their skin with a stone and experiencing pleasure, but as soon as the pleasure sensations fade, they are left with the intense pain which follows the temporary pleasure. Son starts to have an intense sexual relationship with mistress which involves her stabbing him in the shoulder with knife and digging it in him, causing the friction needed to bring him to orgasm. This signifies again the lack of human compassion and warmth during intimate moments, giving way to human cruelty and it's projection through self loathing and insecurity.

When a surgical procedure takes place involving the father's penis being transferred to the son, the son has to face the Freudian nightmare that he has sexual feelings for his own mother. It is interesting how the same actress plays both the mother and the younger mistress as I think it means the son has discovered that the woman he wants is a projection of his mother. Kim Ki Duk does not shy away from the incest theme here as he continues to make the audience feel uncomfortable. When events inevitably lead to tragedy, son finally realises he needs to remove his desire (penis) and then lead a monastic and happy life. One of the principal teachings of Buddhism is to eliminate desire in order to have a non-judgemental understanding of the world without emotional attachment which only seeks to distort your perceptions and happiness. Of course there are probably nicer and more palatable ways of illustrating Buddhist principles, but I personally find it admirable that Kim Ki Duk made these shocking choices without compromise. It is baffling, uncomfortable, intense and graphic, but never dull and full of symbolic possibility.

The Inbetweeners 2

A bigger budget and bigger location, but sometimes to the films detriment!
After the first Inbetweeners movie making a stack of money, a sequel has to made, this time with a bigger budget and set abroad. Yet another young person's right of passage is explored, in the last film it was the lads holiday, in this film it is the gap year in which they travel Australia.

Will and Simon are both at Uni. Will has not made any friends and Simon is having a hard time with his girlfriend who has become very obsessive and possessive to the point where he wants to break up with her. When Neil meets up with Will and Simon, they learn that Jay has embarked on a gap year trip to Australia. Jay of course is still a compulsive liar and has exaggerated his experience there. He tells them he is a resident DJ and owner of a major club in Sydney, lives in a mansion and sleeps with many women. When the boys get to Australia, they quickly learn this is far from the truth. Jay is hiding the fact he wants to get back with his girlfriend who works far in the outback somewhere. Will bumps into a childhood friend Katie, who is of course, attractive and vibrant and becomes the object of Will's affections. Learning that Katie is going to Byron Bay, Will convinces the rest of the gang to go with him. During their experience, you get what you more or less expect. There are sight gags that involve penis's or poo, casual sexism, the accidental killing of a dolphin and cringe-worthy acoustic guitar performance from Will to impress his 'hippy' friend. Sometimes the jokes are funny, but sometimes it goes a penis too far or is ill thought out opting for tactless vulgarity instead of wit. I think where the film does well is it's depiction of posh travellers on a gap year who think they are spiritually enlightened hippy's which is embodied in Katie's character. This stereotype is also more embodied in Ben, who is a dreadlocked posh boy and Will's rival for Katie's affections. He likes to out-do other people's traveller stories by recounting something comparatively more intrepid to the point where it is not true and tries to humiliate or patronise Will at every opportunity. When Will realises that Katie and Ben are not his type of people, his articulate derision of the pretentious and the pseudo spiritual makes you want to cheer as I found it rings true, being as I travelled Australia myself. It was nice to recognise the Byron Bay location where they filmed, which was a hostel called 'The Arts Factory Lodge', where I stayed during my time in Byron Bay. There are other scenes that were surprisingly well done, like when the four boys drive in the middle of the outback in search of Jays ex-girlfriend then run out of petrol and become stranded without any water or food. The scene where they accept their fate and all hold hands is surprisingly touching.

The film had the same problems as the last film. I feel it works better as a TV series where there seems to be a rhythm with the jokes. Here, they have to have bigger ideas and with a bigger budget. This takes the authenticity out of what is a simple TV premise and makes it into something it is not. The jokes are more crass and after a while, it starts to become more tiresome. Also, the last two minutes of the film, they squeezed in an entire Asia trip which explored all the lazy and obvious stereotypes you can think of. How many films have made that stale Thailand and lady boys association.

The writers don't seem to know how to write decent female characters. Every female in the film fits the mould of a negative male fantasy where they are psychotic, pretentious or generally annoying. At the end, it seems like another one will be made. I hope this does not happen as the boys are not at an in between age anymore and I think they have milked this franchise as far as it will go.

L'écume des jours

Annoyingly twee mess of a film
After making 'Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind', a film that had heart, creativity, was emotionally engaging as well as occasionally funny, Michel Gondry has been getting steadily worse over the years. 'The Green Hornet' was further proof in my opinion that Gondry is a one film wonder and is better suited to music videos. I would like to think this film would prove me wrong, but it didn't. It just irritated me with it's quirky and overly random ideas and a playfully twee tone which I have grown to hate.

Romain Duris stars as the wealthy bachelor Colin who lives in a converted train where pretty much anything turns into an animation. He has a live in lawyer who is also a chef named Nicolas (Omar Sy). He also has a friend named Chick (Gad Elmaleh) who has an unhealthy obsession with an existential philosopher Jean Sol Partre (obviously a play on the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre). In his house, he has a door bell that comes to life when someone rings and it crawls around the room until someone steps on it. Also, people's legs go all noodley when they dance, Colin's shoes run away from him, there is a piano that makes cocktails and many more. There is not a single scene that goes by without multiple visual quirks or whacky, random events which just happen for no reason. It is as if Gondry made an endless list of any daft idea he can think of and decided to cram every single one of them into this film to annoy his audience into boredom. It is very tiresome after the first 20 minutes, and most of them are not funny. Why some members of the audience were laughing at every little thing that happens really escapes me. All these ideas did not add much to the characters or the story much which for me starved the film of any emotion when Colin meets Chloe (Audrey Tautau), falls in love and then goes on a date in what looks like a space ship attached to a crane. I found all the falling in love parts just mainly annoying and airy fairy. Too much twee makes John want to smash the screen into silence, just like Colin wants to smash a radio into silence when he hears a cheesy power ballad.

Later in the film, it does take a progressively darker tone as Chloe accidentally inhales a water lily which starts to grow in her lung. When things go all sad and Colin has to work extremely random jobs to fund Chloe's recovery, I did not feel much in the way of emotion, I just felt mainly annoyance that these daft ideas were still happening in rapid fire pace. When the film ends, I just felt exhausted. That was enough quirkiness for me for one day (Although because of my occupation, I had to sit through this 3 times). Also I was surprised by the downer ending. As the relationship gets more difficult between Colin and Chloe as well as everyone else in the film, the hues become gradually more pallid until the final scenes where they are black and white. Some of the scenes looked very good and colourful, but for me, more suited to a music video.

I feel the film was trying to say something more deeper and meaningful. Was it some kind of dream like allegorical tale of life. It may be vague, but it was all I can come up with as I was so distracted by all the stupid stuff. Sure a lot of hard work has gone into making all the animation and effects happen on screen, but it doesn't mean I have to like it! It does not give me great pleasure to say that this is in my opinion yet another mis-step from Gondry. I don't think he will make another great film on par with Eternal Sunshine. I'm sure he will still attract a devoted legion of fans who are into the quirky and the twee, but I shall not make much of an effort in future.


A solid and satisfying coming of age film.
The main theme in Jeff Nichol's latest is the adolescent idealism of youth vs the run down world of adulthood. Ellis (Tye Sheridan), a 14 year old boy is living in a world where the adult members of the community are unhappy, having failed relationships or stuck in a loveless marriage like his parents. His best friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) shares his idealism and sense of adventure, so when Ellis is told by Neckbone that he found a boat stuck in a tree most likely caused by a flood, they both go to investigate and to claim the boat as their own. They head across the Missisipi river to an island where they find the boat, but also find fresh food and footprints. Eventually, they find Mud (Matthew McConaughey). He turns out to be an armed fugitive waiting to meet up with his long term girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) so they can escape together. Ellis and Neckbone assist him with this task by bringing him food, delivering notes and gathering supplies and boat parts. Inevitably, they encounter danger as bounty hunters are after Mud, seeking revenge for Muds murder of their relative. Mud tells Ellis and Neckbone that it was a crime of passion after this man beat up Juniper savagely. All these situations come to a climax in a satisfyingly slow pace.

One of the many strengths of this film lies in the interesting characters that we care about. Mud is a criminal, but the audience get the impression that he is a nice man who is a victim of love like all the other adults in the film. Ellis sees in Mud a quest for true love, something which Ellis believes in at a time when his parents are going through a divorce. As the story progresses, Ellis finds out the hard way the harsh realities of love. The characters are well anchored by strong performances. Matthew McConaughey has recently broken out of the the romcom love interest mould and started playing more credible characters. This is the best performance I have seen him in and he plays a character with a shady past, but who the audience can sympathise with. He is a man who has had many bad things happen to him, and much of that is shown in his face. Tye Sheridan is a rising star. He experiences his own journey through assisting Mud, through his parents splitting up and selling up their river boat they live in and through his own relationship with a girl. He refuses to believe the negative views of his adult peers, especially his father who claims that you can never rely on a woman to love you.

Another strength lies in the films setting. It is set in a river community in Arkansas. It seems lovingly Directed by Arkansas born Jeff Nichols. He gives the audience a child's perspective, a place where a child can have endless adventure. You never see a child sitting around watching TV, they like to take the boat out and look for things and use their imagination. I was reminded of films like 'Stand By Me' and 'Badlands' and Mark Twain creations such as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. The story was very well told and maybe a bit too polished and nicely wrapped up. It gets away with it as it seems so unselfconscious and it does not concern itself too much with integrity. What we get is a nicely told story which gets its point across. The mythical element of Mud helps get that point across. He is a superstitious man who appears and disappears out of situations. It is from a child's perspective after all. I have not seen the previous films of Jeff Nichols, but something tells me he is becoming a Director of great importance.

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The Look of Love

An ill disciplined but well performed biopic of a British eccentric
Yet another collaboration with the Director Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan, and their second biopic together, the last one being 24 Hour Party People. It seems like Michael Winterbottom thinks that Steve Coogan has a knack for portraying charismatic men with too much money and who are innovators of their time. He is right, Steve Coogan puts in one of his best performances.

Steve Coogan plays Paul Raymond, the king of Soho. He earns this title because he was responsible for owning many of the strip joints in that area of London. We are taken through a wild ride from the beginnings of his travelling nudie shows, to the sophisticated private mens clubs of Soho, to porn publication to being a property magnate. The story mainly focuses on the three main women in his life. First his wife Jean (Anna Friel), his girlfriend Amber (Tamsin Egerton) , who later changes her name to Fiona Richmond when she becomes a famous model, and his daughter Debbie (wonderfully played by Imogen Poots). Paul Raymond likes to have open relationships with multiple women in which Jean has a liberal attitude towards, but when this starts to take its toll on the relationship and family life, he is drawn to the young and seductive Amber. He introduces her to his world and gets her parts in various nude stage plays and ends up having a long term relationship with her. His daughter Debbie comes back into his life and is also introduced into the excesses of Paul's life. She gets into all the drugs and the partying which meet a tragic end. This is mentioned at the start of the film while we see a dejected Paul Raymond being hounded by reporters. He proceeds into a dark room and watches a film of the 'glory days', and this is what the film becomes. A series of memories through the eyes of a man who has seen better days.

It is another one of those what-comes-up-must-come-down films where a man starts off with nothing, then becomes the richest man in Britain through his publication of magazines like 'Men Only' and 'Razzle' and through property. However, it is still fun to watch because despite Paul's selfish ways, he is a likable and charismatic man who conducts his business well and really believes in what he is doing. He maintains throughout that what he is doing is not pornography or exploitation and uses negative press condemning the nudity in his plays humorously to his advantage. It also shows mostly the vulnerable side to Paul, mainly through his relationship to his daughter Debbie. He basically picks her as his favourite and has little to no part in his sons life. The scene between the two characters are a mixture of happy moments and disturbingly damaging moments. He spoils her rotten, lets her snort an enormous amount of cocaine and lets her party far too much. One disturbing scene is when Debbie is in labour and Paul gives her a line of cocaine to ease the pain. The continual drug taking only gets worse, and on top of that, she is diagnosed with breast cancer! She eventually dies of a heroin overdose and this has a massive effect on Paul as she was the one who was to inherit his empire. He then picks his oldest grand daughter as his favourite towards the end of the film, posing the question, has he learn-ed anything and will he ever change? The answer being no if the dejected man watching his past is anything to go by.

We see much of todays British comedic talent turn up in this film. David Walliams has a minor part as a lecherous vicar, Matt Lucas has a cameo, Chris Addison has a major role and puts in a good performance and Simon Bird (Will from the Inbetweeners) has a small part. He turns up wearing a ridiculous wig and sporting an equally ridiculous moustache and marries Debbie briefly, then does not turn up in the film again. That is one of the big flaws of the film. It covers 4 decades of a mans eventful life, but some events still seemed rushed. It is merely mentioned that Debbie had a close relationship with Fiona Richmond, but this is never shown. Also, a different husband (or maybe boyfriend) of Debbies turns up later in the film, but we didn't even know her marriage ended. I have a feeling there was a more fleshed out script, but it was edited due to time constraints.

It was an entertaining look at an industry which is shown impartially. Whether you think Paul Raymond is a purvey sexist or a liberator is down to your point of view, the film only hints at what Paul Raymond thinks. I thought he was a damaging person who made bad choices which led him to being lonely and unhappy to his death. Yet another case of money does not necessarily buy you happiness.

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À perdre la raison

An unsettling and claustrophobic tragedy.
Belgian Director Joachim Lafosse takes on a very uncomfortable subject. We are practically told the subject of the film from the beginning when we see 4 small coffins coming out of a plane. We then go back to happier times when the central couple first get together. Obviously this is going to lead up to the tragic finale when the 4 children are murdered, so there is always an impending sense of doom and unease when watching the film. The cinematography adds to this very well as the frames always have something out of focus in the foreground, almost a voyeuristic perspective like they are being watched all the time. Also the frame always seems cluttered and the shots always close up giving a claustrophobic feel.

The couple in question (most notably the wife) undergoing this scrutiny and claustrophobia are Mounir (Tahar Rahim) and Murielle (Emilie Dequenne). Mounir is a Morroccan immigrant who legally lives in Belgium because of his adoptive father Dr Andre Pinget (Niels Arestrup). He lets Mounir live in his house and has also given him a job at his practise. As a man of considerable wealth, Dr Andre Pinget helps the couple when they get married and has them both living with him, and tags along on their honeymoon. He has also married one of Mounirs sisters, purely as an arrangement so she can live in Belgium. Basically I see Dr Pinget as a man who wants to free people from the 'oppressive' Muslim culture of Morrocco so they can live 'free' lives in Belgium. With the whole arrangement of Mounir and Murielle living under his roof with 4 children, and with Dr Pinget's influence over Mounir, this proves very stifling for Murrielle. Murielle is expected to look after the children at all times and is blamed entirely if anything goes wrong. While Dr Pinget proves useful for any medical and financial assistance, he lacks emotional sensitivity and compassion. He makes Murielle feel guilty every time she protests about the situation and feels she can't talk to her husband as he always agrees with Dr Pinget. With seemingly no way out, Murielle gradually sinks into a downward spiral towards a pit of depression. The face of happiness you often see at the start of the film descends into a face of despair and desperation. This obviously leads to the tragic event which is done with subtlety, but still shocking.

This is based on a true story which took place in Belgium. I feel the Director re created these events not to gain the understanding of an audience, but to have the audience ask questions and come to their own understanding of such an horrific event. I feel one point which is raised and not often discussed in reviews I have read is about how in some ways Western culture can be just as oppressive as Muslim culture. I feel this is significant, at a time where many of the worlds problems tend to be blamed on Muslim culture, which I feel is a very misguided view. Part of the blame of Murielles downfall is because of a masculine household, lack of compassion from the male characters and inability to express true feelings. I found the only compassionate character was Mounir's mother, a devout Muslim. She is the only person who shows sympathy towards Murielle, especially in a tender scene where they embrace at the airport. The desperation in Murielle's face and her inability to let go shows her desperation for feminine connectivity.

The more you think about it, more questions arise. Did Murielle really have a hard time? She has everything she needs. Does she have a history of mental illness? The film does not hint at this and is left open. Is Dr Pinget a bad person or is he doing what he feels is right? Should we feel sympathy for Murielle? These are only some of the questions I had. I felt there where too many questions and some story threads were left unfinished. One of the biggest flaws of the movie was the fact that Mounir was not featured in the final 30 minutes of the movie. I felt his character needed some closure…and at least a scene with Dr Pinget. As far as performances are concerned, it was expertly acted. I feel Emilie Dequenne is one of the best performances I have seen this year so far this.

A memorable film for obvious reasons, but not a film I would want to experience again! Check out my film review blog -


The Extreme Dangers of Obedience Without Question.
When reading what the film was about and watching the thrilling trailer, I knew I had to see this film. The issue of obedience without question is something I feel is of paramount importance – and this film certainly does not skirt around the issue, it is as blatant as it gets!

First of all, a little bit of background. The start of the film mentions an experiment carried out by Stanley Milgram which was an attempt to explain the driving force of the Jewish Holocaust. This probed the question 'Are Germans evil or is it possible to make anyone comply with the orders of an authority figure?' After an elaborate experiment, which consisted of a teacher who was ordered to shock a student (an actor) with ever increasing voltage every time they got a question wrong, the answer was the latter according to Stanley Milgram's findings. The majority of the subjects complied with the orders, many not even concerned by the cries for help from the student. Stanley Milgram concluded with this statement – 'The ordinary people who shocked the victim did so out of a sense of obligation—an impression of his duties as a subject—and not from any peculiarly aggressive tendencies.' The story which unfolds in this film concern ordinary people who are following rules, with no aggressive tendencies and are acting out of a sense of obligation. The indoctrination of this mind set is frightening.

After the mention of the experiment, the film goes on to say that it is based on a true story and none of the events are exaggerated. I carried out some research and found the facts about this particular case matched the film, save from the names and the location. The story takes place in a fast food restaurant named Chickwich on a busy Friday. Manager Sandra receives a phone call from a man claiming to be a police officer and is informed that one of her staff members, Becky, a teenage girl, has stolen money from a customer and must undergo a strip search. Sandra does as she is told and takes Becky into the office on the assumption that what this man is telling her is all true. The man who is making this call uses all sorts of manipulation tactics to have Becky strip searched and makes Sandra take all her clothes to her car. While the restaurant is having a hectic night, Sandra leaves her fiancé Evan to look after Becky. The 'police officer' takes advantage of the fact that Evan has had a few drinks and subjects Becky to various forms of sexual humiliation and abuse.

Whenever I thought Becky has had enough humiliation, the film seemed to go further. The main puppets to 'the police officers' show I felt were normal and moral people who have probably never broke the law and have been indoctrinated with the idea to comply with authority figures like the police. What this film shows very blatantly is how these characters are the victims of brainwashing to the point where moral obligation is no longer the contributing benefactor to decision making. Not only does this apply to Sandra and Evan, but also to Becky as she complies without question. Feelings of unease and discomfort dominate the viewers perspective. On reflection, I felt the whole situation was a microcosm of how a compartmentalised authority structure in our society works, by using manipulation and fear to get people to do exactly what they want.

I was reminded of the Abu Ghraib prison torture situation in Iraq and the damning photos of US soldiers posing gleefully next to tortured Iraqi's. In the news clips, the US soldiers in question all said the same thing, 'we were following orders, we did what we thought was right.' The same misguided logic can be applied to any act of torture or genocide. The disturbing thing is Sandra says more or less these words.

It is a film which cannot be enjoyed, but more admired in my case because of the unflinching message which will play on most peoples minds. The performances by an unknown (to me) cast were all excellent. Ann Dowd is convincing as the hopelessly naïve Sandra who is trying to get this situation to a close but fails to realise what is really going on. Dreama Walker plays the victim of it all brilliantly and Pat Healy plays the alleged police officer/prank caller with Machiavellian menace. He achieves this elaborate prank so nonchalantly while making a tasty looking sandwich in his comfortable home.

Some people may have a problem with the fact that the film was made in the first place and that it is insensitive for cases like this being made into an 'exploitation' movie. I disagree with this as stories of this magnitude and importance need to be portrayed to a wider audience in order for them to be reminded of the society that we live in. If this was a work of fiction, the majority of the audience would question its plausibility. I myself was thinking 'How can they be so stupid!?' It is funny how we think this way, given the fact that all the world's major atrocities happen through people simply following orders without question or moral integrity. It is all around us! Check out my film blog


A beautiful and bleak fable of human cruelty and redemption.
This title reminds me of another recent film where the tile comprises a characters first name, which is 'Mud'. Joe may have similar character attributes like a dark past and a will to change his life, but Joe is more unhinged. This may be because of the fact he is played by Nicolas Cage, an actor with a notoriety for on-screen freak outs which have mostly become comical to many. Here, he does give a more restrained performance and it is nice to see him play a good role effectively after many recent poor choices to pay the bills.

David Gordon Green I feel has taken a step up here from last years overly subdued film 'Prince Avalanche'. I see this as his return to form. One of the strongest aspect of this films is the performances, not only by Nicolas Cage, but by Tye Sheridan also. He plays Gary, a 15 year old kid from an impoverished family. His Dad Wade is very desperate, cruel, sadistic and a drunk. He beats up Gary any chance he gets and tries anything he can to get money, including taking it from Gary who has worked hard for it. Gary gets a job working for Joe. Joe runs an illegal operation poisoning trees as the law states that you cannot cut down trees that are alive. There is a lot of symbolic possibility in this particular occupation. My interpretation is this represents people, especially the characters in this setting who have nothing to look forward but a slow, steady decline because of a hostile and harsh society. Also, this town is full of desperate, uneducated people who need to do any kind of work. It is a very bleak state of affairs, but this film is not afraid to show it. Gary proves he is hard working and trustworthy towards Joe, however, Wade is making the situation more difficult as Joe knows he is an abusive drunk. Joe has spent some time in jail and wants to live a peaceful life so at first chooses not to get involved.

As the film goes on, a connection is formed between Gary and Joe. They start to hang out more and Joe becomes a role model, albeit not entirely a good role model, but a step up from Wade all the same. Of course, the more Joe Connects with Gary, the more Joe's life starts to spiral out of control as the violent past starts to surface. This works it's way to violent confrontations in the end and the symbolism of a new start for Gary when he gets a job planting trees.

Like any other meditative David Gordon Green film, the cinematography is beautiful. Nature is usually a huge presence in most of his films and here he portrays it in all it's darkness and light, not only through the poisoning and planting of trees, but through the dogs and how they are used as a deterrent to intruders and a companion to the lonely characters of this film. It presents the themes of cruelty, masculinity, extreme desperate measures to temporarily escape poverty, or in a brutal scene involving Wade and a homeless drunk, just simply wanting a drink. The characters Joe and Gary have a lot of depth and are very convincing together on screen. There are a few scenes when they are drunk together which is a point when it moves into comedy. Nicolas Cage turns on his comical acting without over doing it and has some moments of vintage Cage freak outs, but again with some restraint. One of the only flaws was the character Willie-Russell (Ronnie Gene Blevins) who is the town's bully and coward. His character is a little cliché and he plays up to that typical bad guy like he does in his other films. That said, this is without a doubt David Gordon Green's best film since his days of making films like 'George Washington' and 'All the Real Girls'.

Captain Phillips

A solid thriller which explores both sides.
The debate on the effects of globalisation is increasingly becoming an issue as time goes on, and while this is not a film about globalisation, it is certainly something which highlights the effects without being too overbearing about it.

Tom Hanks stars as Captain Richard Phillips, who is in charge of a container vessel delivering aid somewhere in the African continent. While crossing the Somali waters alone and unarmed, they are pursued by Somali pirates led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi) who intends to board the ship and hold them to ransom. After what is a rather thrilling chase, they board the ship and make their demands through Captain Phillips. After much deliberation, the pirates are given the money in their safe amounting to $30000. When the pirates leave in the lifeboat, they take Captain Phillips hostage as Muse makes demands for more money, which gets the American Navy involved.

Director Paul Greengrass handles the film well. He succeeds in telling the story very clearly from many vantage points. We see the points of view of Captain Phillips and the key members of the crew, the pirates and the Navy. The cinematography reflects the frantic situation experienced from all these vantage points with the use of hand-held camera. The editing is fast paced and shows us the full story so the audience is never lost. As mentioned before, the main theme of globalisation is hinted at. At the start of the film, Captain Phillips is having a conversation with his wife Andrea (Catherine Keener) about his concerns of the increasingly competitive nature of the job market and how much more difficult it is for this generation in comparison to how it was in his day. Also later on in the film, Muse explains how he was a fisherman before he became a pirate. When corporations took all the fish from Somali waters, there was no alternative but to resort to crime for survival. It gets more interesting when Muse starts to loose his grip on reality. It seems to me that over the years, his demands have increased in proportion with his ambition of living a more Western lifestyle. He wants enough money to escape his impoverished nation. Of course, as the Navy are executing a perfectly planned operation to rescue Captain Phillips and making the situation more hopeless for the pirates, Muse continues to believe he is winning and that he is going to accomplish what he has demanded.

There is also the whole irony of how the pirates are hi-jacking a vessel which contains food and water help will help their people. The reason why aid is sent to these countries in the first place is because of globalisation, which is also the reason why these men take to the sea to rob American ships. For me, it explains the hopeless cycle of greed and crime, two integral benefactors of globalisation. While we make efforts to help the countries most effected, it is doing very little unless this cycle is eradicated.

The performances are very competent by the two leads. Tom Hanks as usual puts on a very solid performance. He pulls out more of his acting chops in the final half hour of the film. There were moments when I thought he would say something like 'You can't kill me, I have a FAMILY…..I HAVE KIDS!' Fortunately, Paul Greengrass refuses to yield to this kind of cheesy sentimentality, instead opting for more human performances. Barkhad Abdi I feel had the most memorable role. I liked the fact that the pirates/terrorists were portrayed as desperate human beings resorting to crime rather than monsters which so many stupid action movies stoop so low by contributing to the continuity of this ridiculous narrative that the West are victims of an evil ideology hell bent on taking over the world.

Captain Phillips is a solid, well made film which reflects these times without rubbing it in your face. It is not set to be a classic, but a thrilling watch all the same.

La jaula de oro

A subtly brutal account of young people's experiences of fleeing poverty
Known more for his work as a cinematographer, Diego Quemada-Diez has made his feature debut, and what a debut it is. Initially set in a slum in Guatemala centred around children trying to cross the US border to seek a better life, Quemada-Diez researched the story by interviewing real life young people who have attempted this themselves and the horrific experiences they endured doing it.

Juan, Sara and Samuel are three teenagers who escape their slum to begin hopping freights to the United States. Sara has to cut her hair short and disguise herself as a boy as she understands the risks of being a young girl attempting something this potentially dangerous. During their travels, they meet Chauk, a native American who cannot speak a word of Spanish. He joins the group despite Juan's initial hostility and together they endure many awful events that happen to them. When things seem to be going well for the group, the train is suddenly raided by people traffickers looking for young women. Also, there are teenage scammers working for illegal employers which the characters fall for. When these events happen and the characters are prised apart from each other, your heart sinks like a stone. Later, the remaining characters have to deal with border patrol and they need to attempt to find people they can trust who know of a way through the American border.

What the Director has created here is something very harrowing. It is what you don't see that is most disturbing. The writing is also very clever. The dialogue is very minimal throughout the entire film as there is a character who cannot speak Spanish. There is still a lot a of character depth through the actions they choose to escape poverty for a better life. It is also a very confronting film pointing out the problems of de-regulated capitalism and all it's inequalities and how it has effected countries in central America. It is a very bleak and complex situation which most people either turn a blind eye to or would treat these human beings like dogs. The lack of compassion from not only Americans, but their own people is astounding. It reminds us that atrocities like these continue to be a daily occurrence which needs to be looked at.

This for me is a film which everyone must see. It is not just an educational film, but a fine example of visual poetry. It shows the beautiful rural dwellings of Guatemala and Mexico and how such human cruelty and barbarism could co-exist in this natural beauty. The performances are excellent as it is more in the children's faces which give us all we need to try and understand their plight which we could never imagine or fully understand. I could not help but compare this to Ken Loach's 'Bread & Roses' and coming to the logical conclusion that his is far more superior! Truly exceptional work.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

A lacklustre and selective account of such a controversial and enigmatic figure!
Like Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diana, another key leader is getting his life adapted into a generic, 12A version of an extraordinary life. I can see the problem with making a dramatization of controversial leaders as there is a lot of pressure to conform to a narrative that will not offend anyone and to keep the content more family friendly to reach an maximum audience potential. With these kinds of restrictions, you will get a film which is largely unmemorable.

The main reason for this is because the film covers over 30 years of Mandela's life, from his career as a lawyer, to his presidential election. The film attempts to show as much as possible. Mandela (Idris Elba) is shown to be a flawed human being. He sleeps with prostitutes and treats his first wife poorly. He quickly becomes disillusioned by the law over a savage beating of a black person at the hands of the police. He starts making inspirational speeches on the streets and quickly gains a following. We are also taken through him meeting Winnie. A few corny love scenes in the countryside later we see him join the ANC where he starts resorting to violence after peaceful methods have no effect. This is represented by a few explosions which leads to his arrest and incarceration for 27 years. There are a few key dates of when unarmed black people are murdered, some of them women and children shot in the backs. Some of these key events are shown quickly, or on TV in a passing scene or heard in the background on the radio. I guess you are starting to see the films fundamental problem. There is a lot to cram in, and it does not even begin to cover half of it. The scenes of incarceration are largely uninteresting. I actually preferred the parts where Winnie Mandela (Naomie Harris) has to cope on her own. She is constantly intimidated by the police and is arrested a few times. Her time spent in jail makes her bitter and resentful, which leads her to be one of the leading dissenting voices for a violent revolution. Her intensity is portrayed well by Naomie Harris and it is a shame she does not get as much screen time. When Nelson Mandela begins his negotiations, we do not get an insight into what they are actually discussing, we just get snippets into key moments of bickering leading to the triumph of his election which signifies the end of apartheid.

I feel film dramatizations of key political leaders never do any justice to their life and legacy. No matter what one thinks of Nelson Mandela, I think he deserves more than a standard film which seems to tread on eggshells. Basically, I think people like him have had too much of an eventful, extraordinary and controversial life which is subject to so many perceptions and opinions it is almost impossible to make a film that will live up to all these expectations. I feel if you want to know about someone like Nelson Mandela that will encourage insight, study and debate, it is best to read a well researched book or watch a documentary. You will find nothing new, interesting or unique in this film.

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slick film making, but hollow and silly.
For a man that has attempted most cinematic genres, Danny Boyle sure does deserve some admiration. Over the course of his career, we have seen black comedy, sci fi, horror and Bollywood to name a few! In my opinion, he has produced hits and misses in equal amounts, and with his latest attempt at brain scrambling, stream-of-consciousness thrillers akin to films such as 'Inception' and 'Memento', unfortunately, this film is a miss. I feel it lacked the grandiosity and ambition of 'Inception' and the intelligence of 'Memento'.

The film does have an interesting concept, which was mostly the reason I was looking forward to it so much. It is basically a highly organised heist of an expensive Goya painting which goes wrong. Simon (James McAvoy) steals the painting for a group of criminals led by Franck (Vincent Cassel). During the heist, Simon gets hit on the head and loses his memory. At some point, Simon has hid the painting in a secret place, but cannot remember where he put it, so Franck, in a desperate plea to find this valuable painting, hires a hypnotherapist, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to go inside his head and subconsciously locate the hiding place.

We are then plunged into a puzzle where the three main characters all have ulterior motives and hidden agendas. They all seem to know more than they seem to know, especially Rosario Dawson. The film reveals more as it goes on, with many twists and turns in a world where reality and fantasy blur. Like all Danny Boyle films, the imagery and editing is very slick and brightly coloured, with a pounding soundtrack to match. It seems that more time was spent on making the film visually impressive rather than creating a story with interesting characters. All characters were not well developed enough, therefore zapping the film of potential enjoyment and involvement. There are many plot twists, especially towards the end with all the plot exposition. The last third got a bit too silly to the point where I didn't really care about what the ending really meant. It was one of those open endings which I pretty much shrugged my shoulders at. Vincent Cassel was wasted in this film. He is an actor I greatly admire, and it was a real shame seeing his talents reduced to such a one dimensional character. The writers wanted to write something too clever, and this held back what could have been a more enjoyable and emotionally engaging experience.

Apparently it is announced that he is going to Direct 'Porno', Irvine Welsh's sequel to 'Trainspotting'. Hopefully that will live up to what I still think is his best film.

Blue Jasmine

A great central performance, but somewhat veneered.
It is admirable that Woody Allen keeps churning out films at the rate that he does and continues to be one of the most hard working Directors. They are maybe not consistent in quality, but still, he has had recent successes like Vicky Christina Barcelona, and especially Midnight in Paris, which was seen as his return to form. In Blue Jasmine, he takes a more serious and dramatic tone, despite the usual Woody Allen touches of his romantic portrayal of cities and touches of his trademark humour.

Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is a New York socialite who was married to Hal (Alec Baldwin), a wealthy and successful businessman who turned out to be a swindler frequently participant in extra marital affairs. Following the imprisonment of Hal which led to his suicide, Jasmine has everything taken from her and has to move to San Francisco to stay with her poorer adoptive sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). The film plays with time as it simultaneously tells the story of Jasmine attempting to rebuild her life in San Francisco while she remembers her life in New York and how it all went wrong.

Jasmine is generally quite an unlikable character, but at the same time, watchable and sympathetic due to her past mistreatment by Hal. She still retains her snobby views of the working class which she developed during her comparatively luxurious lifestyle in New York. She frequently criticises Ginger's apartment, even though it is a perfectly livable place. She also criticises the men that she dates, from her ex husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) to her current boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) by referring to them as losers. Although Chili is typically macho, he is also sensitive and loving towards Ginger. He is comparatively much nicer than Hal who is basically a swindling sleaze-ball! One of Jasmine's flaws in her marriage was she seemed to be very much in denial as to who Hal really was. With moving to San Francisco, she has unrealistic goals and expectations, given she has no work experience or skills. She feels she is above doing menial work when one of Chili's friend knows a dentist who is looking for a receptionist. She does try by taking the job while at the same time taking a computer course, but she meets a rich man at party named Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard). She lies about who she is and her past to be with him, which shows she is not really learning anything about her experience. She still continues to look down on people and still wants a more privileged life. On top of that, she talks to herself in public, even while she talks to someone. She starts to waffle about her life in New York to strangers and at one point to Gingers kids. She seems to constantly pop pills to quash her anxiety and she drinks pretty much constantly. We are basically watching a character making the same mistakes and falling apart before our eyes. Cate Blanchett will receive an Oscar nomination for sure and perhaps will win it as her performance is astonishing. The supporting cast are also excellent. Sally Hawkins is always a reliable choice who plays what I think is the more likable character of the film. She is a flawed person, but she is humble and really tries to help Jasmine, despite Jasmine's past mistreatment of Ginger. Bobby Cannavale and Andrew Dice Clay are also great in their roles.

The problem with the film was I felt it was holding back a little bit. It might be my own personal taste, but I think it should have taken a darker tone. There were some scenes which I felt were annoyingly Woody Allen-Esq to the point were it was trying to make light of a harrowing subject matter. It was a great performance piece, but by the end, there was something ultimately unsatisfying about it. I felt it was undeserving of the huge hype it got from many reviewers. It is still worth a watch and is one of Woody Allen's better recent movies.

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet

If you take out the quirky visuals, there is nothing much to see here!
I have never been much of a fan of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. I find his films a bit too twee. At least with previous releases like Delicatessen and Amelie, they were interesting and fun, although never bowled over, but this film has very little to interest the viewer other than some nice visuals.

T.S Spivet (Kyle Catlett) is a young child prodigy who invents the perpetual motion engine. After a call from the Smithsonian museum claiming that he has won a major Baird prize, T.S leaves his humble ranch and journeys to New York to collect the prize. Over his journey, he ponders his eccentric family. His mother Dr Claire (Helena Bonham Carter) who studies insects is distant from her husband who is a cowboy. Also, he ponders the accidental death of his brother which he may or may not have been involved with and wonders if his dad cares about him.

When he arrives, he gets his prize and people start to exploit the fact he is a child. The artifice and manufactured emotions of television is explored not very well and the wonders of science and the potential of such a revolutionary invention is not really looked into. For a bright and quirky film, it really is dull and essentially nothing much happens. I think Jeunet spent too much time making the film look good. I read the writers said they could potentially have a hard time making Spivet's journey interesting as it does take up most of the film, but according to them, it turned out not to be the case. Oh how wrong they were!

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Cold in July

A cool and experimental genre piece which does not quite tie up.
Better known for his TV acting especially as the title character in 'Dexter', it is a pleasure to see Michael C. Hall take on a leading role and doing it effectively as the mulleted Richard Dane.

The film starts off as a straight up revenge thriller set in Texas, 1989 (hence the mullet) and really starts off with a bang. The mild mannered Richard shoots an UN-armed burglar in his living room. This is seen as an heroic act from the towns locals as he has rightfully defended his property. The police reveal the burglar to be a man named Freddy, son of a man named Russell (Sam Shepard), who is to be released from prison soon. Of course, when Russell is released from prison, he waists no time in going after Richard for revenge. The film starts to cross over into horror territory, reminding me of John Carpenter films, mainly because of the music, and horror/thrillers like Scorcece's 'Cape Fear'. Russell is like a mythical, sinister character, who appears out of nowhere and indirectly threatens Richard's family.

In a thrilling scene taking place at Richard's family home where his family are used as bait, Russell is caught. Things then start to take a strange turn when Richard sees a wanted poster of the man he apparently shot, but with a mug shot that does not match. The police dismiss Richard when he brings it up which leads to Richard doing some investigation of his own. When driving to the police station at night, he sees Russell being forced into a police car. Richard follows them to a train track where Russell is forcibly injected and left to die on the track to make it look like an accident. Realising he has witnessed something wrong, Richard saves Russell and has him chained up in his Dad's old shack.

Russell moves from being a sinister, mysterious character into someone you can sympathise for in what is an effective plot twist. We find out Russell's son, Freddy was not the burglar shot by Richard, but a criminal who is under a witness relocation programme. The police had effectively faked Freddy's death and wanted Russell dead to tie up loose ends, but unfortunately, it is never revealed the extent of police corruption and involvement into this case.

Enter Jim Bob (Don Johnson), a maverick private detective dressed like a wealthy stereotypical Texan who is also a pig farmer and an old friend of Russell. He reveals the aforementioned information to Richard, who then becomes involved in the case to help Russell find his son. This segment of the film starts to take a gritty turn through shocking revelations involving Freddy and real life snuff videos and a final shoot out which Directors like Rodriguez and Winding Refn would be proud of.

Director Jim Mickle uses diverse styles and genre's effectively, moving from thriller, to horror, to comedy, to b-movie aesthetic and dark comedy without being too intrusive and undercutting too much of the drama and suspense. The central characters are well played by Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard and Don Johnson respectively. The only weak link is Richard's wife, Anne played by Vinessa Shaw. She is a weak character and could have done with featuring more strongly especially in the latter half of the film. The ending also poses some loose ends, some of them already mentioned. The film needed more exposition, especially where the extent of police corruption was concerned and the real identity of the man who was shot at the start.

Apart from that, I found it an enjoyable film with some inventive stylistic touches, making this film like 'Drive' set in Texas or what you would imagine a film Directed by Rodriguez, Winding Refn and Carpenter would be like!

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Casse-tête chinois

An enjoyable and sweet film brought down by it's cliché self awareness!
What I did not realise when watching this was the fact that this is the third in a long running trilogy with the films 'Pot Luck' and 'Russian Dolls' being the previous films all directed by Cedric Klapisch.

When reading of this revelation after I viewed the film, it made perfect sense as to why there were pictures of the characters in three stages of ageing in the opening credit sequence and why there are characters who drop into the film suddenly like we are supposed to know them. However, as a person who did not see the two previous films, I did get to know the many characters quite well and I did care about them in what I thought was a surprisingly enjoyable film.

Romain Duris stars as Xavier, a man whose relationship with Wendy (Kelly Reilly) ends. Wendy meets a man in New York and takes the children with her. Xavier makes a snap decision to move to New York to be with his kids. He initially stays with his lesbian friend Isabelle (Cecile De France) who moved to New York to be with her lover, Ju (Sandrine Holt), who is also having an affair with her babysitter who is also named Isabelle (Flore Bonaventura). Also, Xavier's past lover, Martine (Audrey Tautou) keeps dropping into New York for work related reasons and meets up with Xavier a few times. Could they start to re-kindle what they had before?

The great thing about Chinese Puzzle is it's portrait of New York which it shows in all it's racial and sexual diversity, but not feeling forced or annoyingly politically correct. It felt more like this is the reality of New York being the crowded and multi cultural city that it is. It is refreshing to see New York portrayed in that way as opposed to post card aesthetics used by many, especially Woody Allen. It also shows the difficulties Xavier faces trying to stay in New York and fitting into a strange city. He meets interesting people, gets cash in hand jobs as his holiday visa deems it illegal for him to be in employment, and he gets married to an Asian-American girl in order to stay in the country. It is compelling to watch his character settle in, develop and grow in his new place of residence and how he gets involved with the main characters around him in these intertwining stories. The stories were interesting and it had me routing for the characters, who despite their flaws, are genuinely believable and likable characters. What did end up annoying me about the film was the fact that it went for the cliché narrative-within-a-narrative structure. While the story is unfolding, Xavier is writing a book about his experiences and his agent is commenting on his ideas. When the story threads culminate into a last minute dash to get the girl who is taking a bus out of New York for good, the agent comments on how the ending is too happy and cliché. For me, this self awareness is worse than just having the cliché ending. For the most part, it was enjoyable and it meant well.

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The Two Faces of January

Not quite Hitchcock, but an enjoyable thriller all the same.
The Two Faces of January is a thriller taking place in an idyllic setting. Rydal (Oscar Isaac) is a tour guide working in Athens and an occasional con artist who short changes unsuspecting tourists. He crosses paths with the glamorous American couple Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and his younger wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst) and gets involved in a murder of a private investigator who is out to bust Chester for fraud. Rydal agrees to help the couple hide, creating a tense atmosphere between the three characters. Rydel has feelings for Colette and Colette may be responsive to his feelings as she is becoming afraid of her husband. It is difficult to tell where the film is going as you think that Rydel may have some kind of agenda other than love and Chester may have more sinister revelations up his sleeve. As the film unravels itself through the two male characters trying to get the better of each other, there are fatal consequences and unexpected things happen.

I ended up enjoying the film. It did keep me guessing, I liked the period early sixties setting in Greece and I did find the characters interesting as well as sympathetic, especially Kirsten Dunst's character who comes out of this difficult situation the worst. After many tense dialogue set pieces and scenes of constant cigarette smoking, the last act of the film becomes more action orientated, driving the film to an interesting climax, although it is a wonder no one dies of lung cancer before then! Many of the right buttons were pushed in this film and although I generally enjoyed the film, I felt it was not a film entirely for me. It was a meat and potato's thriller which will prove to be forgettable as time goes on. It was a case of being too entrenched to a formula and a genre which I am not a great fan of, and only certain genius's can pull off with gusto. Hitchcock it isn't, but still worth a look all the same.


An inspired re-imagining of a cult northern figure.
First of all, this is not a straight up biography of Chris Sievey whose stage name was Frank Sidebottom. The film is inspired by journalist Jon Ronson's article about his time spent playing the keyboards for Frank Sidebottom. What we see in this film is the inspiration taken from Frank Sidebottom's iconic papier mache head, only it is worn by a character who resembles many iconic front men whose image is shrouded in mental illness and mystique. While Frank is the title of the film, he is not the central character. Domhnal Gleeson is the Jon Ronson character who narrates the story about having a pedestrian job and living in a small town, but having aspirations to be a song writer. In his spare time, he walks around the idyllic beach town he lives in looking for lyrical inspiration, but never seems to come up with anything good. During a chance meeting with eccentric avant guard band with the unpronounceable name 'Soronprfbs', he is offered to replace their keyboard player for their show as he is trying to drown himself in the sea. When Jon turns up and plays keyboards for what turns out to be a disastrous show due to technical hitches followed by a band squabble, the enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender) is impressed that he wants him to be in the band.

Jon leaves his town and travels to a remote studio in Ireland with the band. Problems arise as he tries to fit in to this band of misfits. He has to get used to the idea that Frank never takes off his head….ever! While he is impressed and in general admiration of Frank and his general eccentric demeanour and his nonchalant ability to write beautiful songs about rudimentary objects like a tuft in a carpet, the rest of the band is hostile towards Jon, especially Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who does not trust him. She thinks that his rather generic approach to song writing will negatively affect Frank. Frank and Clara seem to be a solid experimental song writing duo, but Jon wants some song writing input. In a key scene, we see Jon who after a few unsuccessful attempts, has an idea for a song. While on the keyboard playing his idea to Frank and Clara, Frank starts to make suggestions to make the song more interesting. Clara starts to join in and the songs evolves into something completely different, prompting Jon to storm off.

Due to the band been isolated and overworked, this gives way to much odd behaviour which is fitting to the bands eccentricity. Jon is capturing a lot of footage and putting it on Twitter to raise the bands profile. He manages to get them a gig in SxSW in Texas. The whole situation is exacerbated by increasing tension between Jon and Clara and Frank's mental illness.

I was generally very impressed with this film for so many reasons. The balance between the comedy and the level of depth it goes in to themes like mental illness and creativity is really impressive. Some scenes have a lighter and comedic tone, but it is not afraid to be dark and tragic when it needs to be. The character Frank embodies the enigmatic tortured genius's such as Daniel Johnston, Captain Beefheart, Anton Newcomb and Syd Barrett. Michael Fassbenders performance, although largely a vocal performance due to the constant wearing of a papier mache head is brilliant. His performance is more reliant on vocal and physical expression which he executes with aplomb. Domhnal Gleeson gives a good performance as a character who becomes increasingly unlikeable as the film goes on. Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a fine moody and irritable performance as the other song writing genius Clara who is not interested in fame, unlike Jon who has more ambition.

What impressed me most of all is the portrayal of the music involved. I feel it was Directed by someone who understands experimental music and the people behind these crazy sounds. The music itself is very inspired and the performances are also very well executed by the cast. The last performance near the end of the film is nothing short of beautiful, not only for the music, but it's point made about mental illness. It shatters the myth reflected in the character Jon's naivety about how mental illness is synonymous with song writing credibility. In another crucial scene where Jon goes to look for Frank after he has ran away, he finds him at his family home in a place similar to Jon's hometown. This is shown rather subtly by repeating the image of a man spraying his garden and waving at Jon. It happens at the beginning of the film in Jon's hometown, then happens again when he goes to Bluff, Kansas which is Franks hometown. Jon sees through Frank's well kept home and his seemingly level headed parents that he has come from a normal and prosperous background rather than the tormented and dark image of Frank he had in his head. The parents tell him that Frank had always been musical and that his mental illness hindered rather than enhanced his song writing ability.

The message of the head is an interesting one. I think Frank wears the head because there is something inside him which wants people to like him, so he wants to create an iconic image which is positive due to the cartoonish expression. It gives this mystique and eccentric charisma needed which he could not achieve if he did not have a head. As Jon asks 'What goes on inside the head inside that head?' The answer is a combination of many attributes creating one of the most interesting characters and one of the most remarkable films so far this year.

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