SnakesOnAnAfricanPlain

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Ink
(2009)

Ink (2009)
Ink is a spectacular little low-budget film. At night, as we sleep, two groups of different warriors battle over our souls. There are the Storytellers that give us dreams, and the Incubi that give us nightmares. There are also drifters, that are kind of trapped between worlds. One of these drifters, Ink, kidnaps a young girl and it is up to the storytellers to rescue her. WHat I loved about this film is that you can see the passion and hardwork that has gone into it. It doesn't allow for its budget to become a limitation. The film also uses simple but very effective effects. There is a fight scene early on where things get smashed up but then magically put themselves back together again. It is probably just footage in reverse, but it works a charm. The designs of the characters are also very original, at least for this kind of story. The film is one you have to stick with, as it reveals its intentions and story over time. Some scenes seem completely unrelated which can cause the film to drag in the middle, but stick with it because the emotional ending is very powerful. Lower your expectations in terms of lighting, acting, and fight choreography, and you should find a lot to love in this little film that refuses to be held back.

Bernie
(2011)

Bernie (2011)
Bernie is the tale of the nicest man in the world, Bernie Tiede. He's good at his job, as an assistant funeral director, and he gets on well with most of the community that he lives in. One day Bernie Tiede tries to make friends with recently widowed Marjorie Nugent. Bernie takes pity on her as the rest of the community seem to have a distinct dislike of her. However, she soon becomes very possessive of Bernie and there's only so far you can push someone. Bernie is a wonderful dark comedy that looks at social conventions and how sometimes no matter what, peoples perceptions are never changed. The whole point of the film does strongly suggest that we should be nice, but also know when to step away from something that is unhealthy for us. Jack Black gives a fantastic performance, possibly his best, as the sweet natured man that just can't say no. MacLaine also brings a lot to her role. She isn't just cold and heartless, she has just been very lonely for a very long time. This means it is hard for her to maintain relationships. McConaughey is also on form as Danny Buck, the enthusiastic DA of the small town. He really comes into his own in the last act when he is simply confused by everyone's reaction to the case. It has the humour but is also very heartfelt, and also works as a social commentary. The absurdity of the townspeople is quite understandable, but it is also pointed out how they accepted money from Bernie. Linklater does well to frame the film as an almost documentary. Real life townspeople play themselves and talk to the camera about their experiences, and it is amazing that after all this time they are still behind Bernie. This is a wonderful look at human nature, and questions if being nice is all it takes to be excused from unspeakable crimes.

Frisky Dingo
(2006)

Frisky Dingo (2006)
Frisky Dingo is a bizarrely titled, and simply bizarre animated comedy that comes in 10 minute episodes. Over the course of two seasons we followed Killface, an evil supervillain, and Awesome-X a superhero. However, this is very different to everything you've seen before. The hero is a complete jackass, and not in the cocky kind of Tony Stark way. He is stupid and arrogant, but somehow his enthusiasm makes him very likable. He acts how he majority of us would probably act with superpowers. He has great powers and no responsibility. Killface is also not the typical villain, especially in season two when he runs for president. Killface is bringing up a son, and also has to deal with paperwork and politics of being a bad guy. It isn't as easy as just being evil. The world is also filled with wonderful side characters that seem to each want their own moment in the sun. The writing is very quick and has some wonderful lines based on absurd premises. The series does become too reliable on a particularly one note character come the second season, and it's a shame the story never really continued. What we do get is a show that's easy to digest in short increments or a lengthy marathon session.

Kureimoa
(2007)

Claymore (2007)
Claymore is a complex and action packed anime. Claymore are a series of warriors that are half human/half yoma (demons) that must protect humanity from yoma, even though humans are very wary and fear the Claymore. Run by a mysterious organisation, the subject of the series is Clare, the lowest ranked Claymore of all. Over the course of the series we find out why she became a Claymore, her troubled past, and look at the relationship she develops with a young boy that wishes to stay with her. Throughout the series we meet a number of different characters and the events lead to a dramatic conclusion.

The animation is gorgeous, focusing on darker and paler colours. The whites, silvers and greys create an unforgiving world where these monsters and warriors could easily exist. Clare is a fascinating character, as are most of the Claymores as they must avoid using too much power lest they turn into the very demons they fight. The world that Claymore is set in becomes very complex, and a lot of the rules seem to be made up just in the nick of time to save our protagonists.

The biggest problem for me is something I find in a lot of animes, and that is constant dialogue that explains everything. We hear about character motivations, characters' interpretations of other people's motivations, why they are doing certain things etc. etc. Even when in the middle of a huge battle, characters will prattle on.

Luckily the characters do keep ones attention, even if it was hard to tell the difference between the Claymore as they all have the same colour hair, costumes, and eyes. The action hits at a blistering pace, with some really painful gore.

I did find it hard to concentrate on the last few episodes, because it just kept flashing back and after everything it just seemed as though people wussed out in order to push forward a second season that never happened. But if you like monsters, big swords, and large mythical tales, Claymore could be for you.

The Dark Knight Rises
(2012)

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Nolan ends his Batman trilogy successfully, even if it is quite disappointing. When taking into account my absolute love of the first two films, my love of the comics, and my own personal preferences, there is almost too much to say. It's been 8 years since The Dark Knight, and Bruce Wayne has given up his cowl and become a recluse. Meanwhile a terrorist mercenary known as Bane is looking to take over Gotham. Will Batman return? First of all let me put some of my personal gripes out there. Batman giving up for 8 years is ridiculous. I'm sorry, but it really made me dislike the character. Next the film is simply Batman against a terrorist. I've always preferred Batman when he is fighting crime, not international villains hell bent on world domination/destruction. This is why the first two films were great, they focused on him cleaning up the city of crime. The film does well as a final chapter. It rounds off many of the themes of the first two and gives a solid conclusion to the trilogy. Unfortunately it takes many lengthy twists and turns to get there. The film is filled with needless characters which take up time. To balance this, Chris and Jonathan Nolan use painful shortcuts in their screenplay, such as characters just knowing who Batman is. The editing is very sloppy and is unable to create a sense of distance between locations, a sense of time passing, and has multiple flashbacks and even a scene in the wrong place. I never expected this film to live up to The Dark Knight, but it just failed to have the same emotional punch that its predecessor displayed, as it also goes for spectacle. The best part by far is the first fight between Bane and Batman. It has no music, just bone crunching sound effects. This is rare for a Nolan film, but is something he should do more often. I enjoyed it very much so. But like previous Superhero sequels, the flaws just stood out as I was watching it.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1
(2012)

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 (2012)
The Dark Knight Returns, is for me, the best Batman film of the year. The animation is superb, especially when the action kicks off. It sees Bruce Wayne return to crime fighting after a 10 year absence. Unlike his Nolan counterpart however, he was Batman for a damn sight longer than just a year. His return is depicted as an obsession that finally grabs control and pulls him in. He barely even notices it when he shaves off his mustache as it just becomes a natural part of the process. A new threat, called The Mutants, rises in Gotham, and Batman has to sort them out. His age becomes his weakness as he must go up against the leader of The Mutants. he film is littered with cuts to TV shows and newscasts discussing whether or not Batman is a help or a hindrance. Peter Weller does a great job as the voice of Batman, and it's nice to see a Batman with a dark and dangerous sense of humour. As an adaptation it remains fairly close to the source material, but manages to capture the ferocity of the violence without being too graphic. Gotham looked and felt exactly how I remember it when I was growing up. This is great stuff, and is a huge tease for Part 2, where we will see The Joker once again.

Psycho III
(1986)

Psycho III (1986)
Anthony Perkins jumps in the directors seat for this third installment, and he does a mighty fine job. There are still some rough parts around the edges, but for a first time this is great. It's obvious he is finding his own style by incorporating the skills and techniques of others. The cinematography has a very 80s, nostalgic feel, and is certainly taken from Blood Simple. Perkins also uses some tricks he seems to have picked up from Hitchcock. I love the toilet kill scene, as we see the roll of toilet paper roll down in a similar way to the shower curtain being pulled in the first film. The film picks up where number 2 left off, with Norman having reverted to his old ways after his real mother confronted him. This means there is a true lack of mysterious suspense surrounding the film. Having seen the second film, Bates is still a character to root for, as we know he has the capabilities to be good, but it's the insanity around him that causes him to slip. There are many parts that feel forced, and it smells of studio interference. The last shot, for example, completely undoes the ending and what it should have represented. A great addition for a rather surprisingly awesome trilogy.

Psycho II
(1983)

Psycho II (1983)
Psycho II is the surprisingly fantastic sequel that flies in the face of what you would expect from a gap of 23 years and a different director (let alone someone trying to match Hitchcock). Psycho II works by being an emotionally charged and thought provoking film first and a horror second. The film sees Norman Bates deemed sane and let out into the public once more, much to the annoyance of Lila Loomis. Bates is returned home to where it all began, and he starts a job at a diner. However, things starts going wrong when Norman begins hearing voices and receiving notes from his long dead mother. It also seems as though someone is in the house with Norman, and it isn't long before people start dying. The film works as a nerve shredding psychological horror. Despite having killed people before, Bates is entirely sympathetic. He really is trying to get on with his life, and battles hard against his demons. There's a wonderfully human scene in which Bates recalls the cheese toasted sandwiches his mother used to make him. He seems so innocent now, that it really hurts to see people react violently and hostile towards him. Bates strikes up a friendship with Mary, a girl from the local diner. She is both a help and a hindrance to Bates, comforting him one moment, and then making him uneasy with her suspicions the next. Franklin does well in underplaying his techniques. After all, they'd always be compared to Hitchcock. He plays some cinematic puns, especially when one character takes a completely innocent and threatless shower, but Franklin uses the same shots as the infamous scene in the original. Perkins' performance is very sympathetic, but he also knows that this vulnerability is what makes him so terrifying. Just a single glance at a knife has our eyes open wide with fear at the possibilities. I also loved the supporting characters as they would often defy convention. Hugh Gillin is excellent as Sheriff Hunt, as he isn't the typical "I got my eye on you boy" police officer. He is very caring, reasonable, and actually looks fondly at Norman. The film is about second chances, and how sometimes society is just as much to blame in their treatment of certain perpetrators,. Is Norman behind these latest killings? If he is is it the behaviour of others that leads him down this path? Is it best to forgive and forget? Great questions in an intense and involving film. This should be looked at when constructing any sequel.

XX (ekusu kurosu): makyô densetsu
(2007)

X-Cross
Kenta Fukasaku isn't the most focused of film makers. So, with film dealing with multiple narratives around the same time, it's a jumpy and patchy horror that could have been told straight. Still, it allows him to chop up some bits and pieces and assemble some moments that would seem obscure otherwise. Mainly, the scissor wielding woman whose presence is enjoyable, but befuddling. The rest of the film is a Wicker-Man with cellphones, which is interesting, but leaves you wondering why the police aren't phoned more often/at all. The performances are suitable and sometimes border on emotional, which adds to the scenes of real horror. Towards the end the pace levels out but remains furious.

Hebi ni piasu
(2008)

Snakes And Earrings (2008)
Like the wonderful book this was based on, the film is a small little gem. One that revolves around just three people. It explores the 'dark' world they come from, full of piercings, tattoos and rough sex. The film is very sensual but doesn't exclude passion from proceedings. Everything in the film is detailed as some form of release from the suffocating world each character finds them self in. Shot with utter simplicity, the development of the main tattoo is the perfect metaphor for the development of the female lead, as she becomes entwined with demons. The shots are calm and well considered, each one bringing to life a darker world in an accessible way. An excellent adaptation.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
(2009)

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
A complete and utter surprise. It's so easy to get lazy with animated films, even more so when those films are designed for 3D. It's with a great big smile as ridiculous as the film itself, that I can announce Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, to be one of the most hilarious films in recent memory. For laugh out loud moments it beats such brilliance as Up!, even if it does rely on it's ridiculous plot to see us through. The voice cast is fantastic, with Neil Patrick Harris excelling as a monkey that just shouts a few words. Luckily, each of those words has the comical impact of a meteorite. It was fun, entertaining and even left me having to catch up with the jokes at certain parts.

Precious
(2009)

Precious (2009)
My instant favourite for the fast approaching award season has to be this little gem. Relentless and constantly surprising, this is a film full of darkness for forever headed towards hope. The biggest surprise of the film has to be the cast. Gabourey Sidibe stuns in her restrained but ferocious debut performance. Even two musical stars (Kravitz and Carey) show up and give very good performances. Both are unrecognisable. The real star of this show though is Mo'Nique. An 'actress' that has, in the past, irritated me. Even her stand-up is too vulgar/crass and unfunny for my taste. Here, she excels on every level. It's hard to gain sympathy and understanding towards a character that is so unlikable and has ignored the sexual abuse of her child for years. Incredibly, Mo'Nique does it, keeping her distance from the audience before the films final moments. Lee Daniels directs well, mixing the real and fantasy without going overboard. He knows when to use fancy camera work, and when it's time for his actors to take charge. This film is difficult but riveting.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
(2009)

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
Obviously the film has problems, but when taking into consideration the circumstances behind the film, it's pretty darn great. I was completely swept away by the magical imagination sequences. The CGI bringing bizarre and wondrous things to life. The performances were also very strong, with Andrew Garfield given such a layered performance you can't really see where he will end up, especially when he comes into conflict with Ledger. Ledger gives a fine performance, but given his character has lost his memory it's also a fairly flat role. All of the revelations about Tony come in the imaginarium, which gives the interesting meaty parts to Depp, Law and Farrell. Farrell standing out a great deal as he gives a us a marvelous turn around. Each of the three 'replacement' stars plays their part well, they aren't trying to outdo each other or Ledger. Stealing the show is the musical God also known as Tom Waits. Here he plays the devil with all the charisma, charm and seedy sinister motions one would expect. He's simply fantastic, making the devil more than just an evil villain, he's also a guy having fun. It's a fascinating treat that one wishes Ledger could have completed.

It's a Wonderful Life
(1946)

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
As undeniable classic in every imaginable way. It's A Wonderful Life is the feel good Christmas movie above all others, despite the fact it paints a fairly depressing picture. It tells us not to take life for granted, and that we shouldn't be so selfish as to assume our life is for our own benefit. It clearly highlights how Jimmy Stewart's life has influenced all those around him. As his life takes a nosedive and his dreams go unfulfilled he begins to lose all hope. Other than the necessary schmaltzy ending, the film is well grounded in reality and avoids insincere sentiments. Capra's wonderful handling of the material make this a surprisingly gripping film, one that may climax at Christmas, but can be watched anytime of year.

Party 7
(2000)

Party 7 (2000)
Scattershot and hyperactive in a way only Japanese cinema can get away with, Party 7 is an enjoyable frantic mess. After a speedy animated introduction to 7 different characters, we are suddenly thrust into a narrative about some stolen money. As the man hides in a hotel room, he has no idea he is being watched by some professional peepers (one dressed in super-hero garb and calling himself Captain Banana). As people come looking for the money, the hotel room gets crowded, and twists are revealed. It's very claustrophobic, being set in just two rooms, which is painfully awkward given the over-the-top style. The humour is broad and weird. Funny and fun, even though I was disappointed that the image on the DVD case is nowhere to be found in the film :(

Halloween II
(2009)

Halloween II (2009)
To it's credit, it's better than the majority of sequels in the original Halloween series. Unfortunately, the flaws are just too big to ignore. Zombie is obsessed with creating his own vision and this leads to some bizarre choices and plot details. As before, Zombie wants us to sympathise with the villain, so he is now followed around by a white horse, a younger version of himself and his mother. A choice that cynics will imply was just to get Zombie's wife some more screen time. Mane's ferocious strength translates well, but when walking around as part of the odd-bunch, it becomes distracting. Zombie tries his hand at some artistic flourishes, which would be welcome, and would feel right at home in an original piece. As part of the Halloween mythology, it just sucks out all of the fun. An acceptable slasher, but one that mixes the laughable with the horrific in a tasteless mix.

An Education
(2009)

An Education (2009)
An Education is an excellent British film. It captures 1960's England well, taking a glance at education vs. love. It presents both sides well and does argue the case against further education well. Until the ending that is. Which is a shame, considering the large amount of graduates failing to obtain a job after their studies. Perhaps it should have stuck to it's course. Sarsgaard uses his wonderful talent to great use in this, his best performance. His accent is spot-on and never once fades. He uses his charm to create an older man seducing a teenager anything but creepy. He is even able to deliver the 'questionable' moments with a bizarre but understandable childish nature, making them almost likable. Molina is brilliant as the father, the hypocrite that delivers most of the humour, even if half of it is aimed directly at him. It's fantastic in every respect, let down only by a cowardly and disappointing ending.

Das weiße Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte
(2009)

The White Ribbon
Haneke returns to form after his very good, but unnecessary, remake of his own Funny Games. The White Ribbon focuses on a small village where mysterious things are happening. Not supernatural things, just weird and dangerous things. This is the kind of town where a "tragedy" is someone slicing up the Baron's cabbages. On many levels this is an exploration of inexplicable hate, the kind that often surfaces during childhood. There is no real reason for it, other than the child's view of injustice. A lot is left to the viewer, is this a single campaign of terror and hate? Or separate incidents aiding a myth? The perfect cinematography creates a peculiar, yet welcome, dream like fantasy world. It feels like a paranoid fairytale or Gothic fable, but always grounded in reality. It's a marvelous achievement and the perfect way to end 2009.

The Great Mouse Detective
(1986)

Basil, The Great Mouse Detective
My favourite Disney animated movie. Unlike much of Disney's output, this is one for the boys. There's only so much of that princess crap a guy can take. Basil is pretty much the mouse world's Sherlock Holmes. He's a genius, arrogant and a bit emotionally disconnected from other mice. However, he leaps at the chance to rescue a young girl's father when he discovers it might lead to his arch nemesis. Professor Ratigan is probably the greatest Disney villain. Voiced to utter perfection by Vincent Price. Ratigan has it all. The charm, the humour, the incessant unstoppable drive, not to mention he's blooming terrifying when he's angry. The dark stages, characters and events make it all the more enjoyable. Fidget is a twisted creation and causes a jump every time he shoves his face at the camera. Great action, great humour and the most goosebumpily climax in any Disney film.

In the Loop
(2009)

In the Loop (2009)
It's about time such an intelligent and hilarious writer such as Iannucci took on the silver screen (Chris Morris' effort is just around the corner). In the Loop is a very observant and hysterical look at the world of politics. Like all great comedies the lunacy is amplified by the (probable) basis in fact. Exaggerated, but not past the realms of belief. Capaldi and Hollander steal the show as a modern day double act that mostly work separate. The shouty, aggressive and the vacant, confused are an endearing team to watch. Insults, embarrassing situations, perfectly placed swearwords and ridiculous references make this a quotable, witty and ingenious treat.

Dead Silence
(2007)

Dead Silence (2007)
Ventriloquist dummies are scary, there's no denying that. Just look at the absolute classic that is Magic. That being one of my favourite films meant that I was bound to look at this film as some kind of cheap failure. Surprisingly, James Wan focuses more on the possession element than that of the dummy. The story is nothing new, crazy nutjob back from the dead seeking revenge etc. It is pretty entertaining, even if the characters do stupid things. The ending was a surprise and played out well. The visual style goes for the dark and Gothic and for the most part creates an impending sense of dread. A decent enough horror to pass the time.

The Cove
(2009)

The Cove (2009)
The Cove is a hard hitting documentary that focuses on dolphin hunting in the seas of Japan. Probably the best espionage thriller of the last 20 years. It just so happens to be a documentary. The Cove succeeds in delivering it's important message by knowing when to crank up the intensity. One of the documentarians compares his group to Ocean's 11. As his group assemble reconnaissance information in order to place cameras so they can film the slaughter of dolphins. There are a lot of messages that come with this film and it isn't all 'tree hugging hippy crap', there are the cultural and health implications as well. It builds to a shocking and disturbing ending, but one that will hopefully make a difference.

The Messenger
(2009)

The Messenger (2009)
After paying his dues with thankless supporting roles, Ben Foster finally gets to display his leading man chops. What fine chops they are too. Foster oozes confidence on the screen. His natural talent shines through. Here he plays a man given of the duty of informing soldier's next of kin of their demise. Teamed with Woody Harrelson, the pair visit a number of homes. Each one is like some new episode of a fascinating series of shorts. Each family deals with the grief in a different way. It's a great insight into that brief 10 second moment in life where everything changes. It's also hard to capture that gut-punching realization, something this film does very well. Towards the end the film wonders off, becoming a buddy road movie in the vain of Sideways. I felt the wedding scene was unnecessary, but as a whole this should be one of the strong contenders come award season.

The Invention of Lying
(2009)

The Invention of Lying (2009)
The Invention Of Lying takes place in a world where people just can't lie, until Ricky Gervais makes up he world's first lie and realises he can use lies to his advantage.Great concept but the execution is a little shabby due to a generic Hollywood love story. The not-lying is pretty much verbal abuse, which takes up most of the film. Sometimes it is delivered well, such as the quips from Fey. Rickey Gervais shines in moments that are reminiscent of his stand-up, such as the pizza-box religion scene. The religious themes begin to overshadow the film towards the end. This made it all feel a little uncomfortable and spiteful at times, but there was still enough charm to see it through. When you add cameos ranging from Edward Norton to Barry off Eastenders, you're in for a surefire winner.

A fost sau n-a fost?
(2006)

12:08 East Of Bucharest
Romanian films are certainly where it's at. The past 5 years have thrown up simple yet engaging works unmatched by the majority of the world. They have the ability to comment on Romanian society, with a sense of dark humour and without being too preachy. 12:08 East from Bucharest tells of a small town and whether or not it had anything to do with the 1989 revolution. The film sets up it's three protagonists and the world they live in. It manages to use the small town setting to it's advantage as we get a lot of back-story through the townsfolk recollections of each other. Over half the film is a TV broadcast, making it almost static, given humorous life by an incompetent cameraman and his less than adequate tripods. Luckily the dialogue, bickering and mystery is enough to keep the audience fully entertained. It's amazing how brilliantly scripted dialogue can be more enthralling than car chases, explosions and slapstick. The cinematography is also beautiful, with an exceptional silent climax as the streetlights come alive at dusk.

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