Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Movie Premiere Of The Year : AVATAR

Some movies come with a bit of hype. This one comes with so much, you might think it was the second coming of Christ. Well, sort of. But after seeing the trailer for the James Camerons' new movie Avatar, it looks like it might actually justify the hype.

Cameron is the director that bought us Aliens, the second movie in the Alien quadrilogy, and considered by name critics to be the best. Add to that the first two Terminator movies, and the enourmous commercial success of late 90s Winslet/Decaprio vehicle Titanic, and you have a master of big budget, visual extravaganzas.

Avatar is his first venture into directing since Titanic, with a whopping budget of $200 million dollars, and the prospect of it being shown in 3D in some theatres. The movie will make use of a modern version of motion capture techniques similar to those used by Robert Zemekis in The Polar Express, and the director, who originally wrote an 80 page script for the film back in 1994, has insisted he had to wait until now for the technology available to be true to his artistic vision. As well as being visually stunning, and full of action, Cameron,  will be exploring themes of the kind that made his previous movies such a special combination of action and thought-provoking sci-fi. From what you can see in the trailer, the movie can be viewed as a metaphor for American Imperialism, and a comment on man's greed and the current climate crisis, as humans seek to mine a planet with precious mineral resources, intending to infiltrate and kill the native population who stand in their way, as he explained earlier this year at Comic Con 2009, "the humans in the film, even though there are some good ones salted in, represent what we know to be the parts of ourselves that are trashing our world and maybe condemning ourselves to a grim future.". It's also refreshing to have a central character in Australian Sam Worthington (last seen in Terminator Salvation), who is wheelchair bound, playing a marine called Jake Sully who has been wounded in combat on Earth. While this all sounds great, and the trailer looks good, let's hope it's a triumph of moviemaking, and not a hilarious big budget turkey in the vein of Battlefield Earth or The Postman.

Official Avatar Movie

Thursday, 29 October 2009

London Film Festival Roundup

As the 53rd London Film Festival winds up today, it announced the winner of it's inaugural Best Film award to be french prison flick Un Prophete (starring Tahar Rahim, pictured), which follows the story of a young Arab man who ends up spending six years behind bars. The forthcoming adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's post apocalypic novel The Road, which stars Viggo Mortsensen and Charlize Theron was also shown at the festival, was also singled out, recieving praise from a jury which included Angelica Huston and Jarvis Cocker.

Best British Newcomer went to Jack Thorne (formerly a writer on Channel 4 program Skins), the screenwriter responsible for coming of age story The Scouting Book For Boys.

Tonight, the closing night, includes a showing of Nowhere Boy, a biopic about John Lennon's childhood, and his difficult relationship with his aunt aunt and mother, as well as his friendship with a certain Paul McCartney. The movie stars David Morrisey and Kristin Scott-Thomas.

This year's Festival has been bigger than ever, screening over 200 films, with appearances by the likes of George Clooney, the Coen Brothers, John Hurt (who was awarded a BFI fellowship), and Bill Nighy, as well as a host of newcomers. On receipt of the award, Hurt told journalists, "For me, the BFI is the heart of British cinema," Hurt said. "I consider it the highest honour possible to be awarded a Fellowship."

Monday, 26 October 2009

The All New A-Team

However unlikely it may be that the remake lives up to the original, the first press images of next years' A Team movie have been released (click the piccie to get up close and personal). Starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper (from the Hangover, reviewed below), Quinton Jackson and Sharlto Copley (District 9), shooting for the movie got underway last month, and the team, who, as you may remember, escaped from a maximum security stockade while under arrest for a crime they didn't commit, will be joined by Jessica Biel. It remains to be seen if B A Baracus will forced to get in a plane, but chances are, he probably will, though writer Michael Brandt has suggested a less camp, more serious, character driven movie, referencing The Bourne Identity, Die Hard, and Casino Royale. Watch this space.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009


Ahhh, autumn, autumn. The leaves are going brown and falling from the trees, the days are shorter and colder, it's back to school and college for many of us, and the festive hat trick of Bonfire night, Halloween and Xmas awaits. Oh, and everyone is indoors, huddled around their TVs to enjoy a packed autumn schedule, which , aside from the X-Factor and Strictly, this year once more bring us another raft of big US TV dramas. This time it's Generation Kill (C4) from the makers of The Wire, ultra-cool vampire series True Blood (C4), Stargate Universe (Sky 1), with the return of much loved series Heroes and Lost to follow next year.

Then there's FlashForward, a new series premièring on Monday nights on Channel , which is based on a 1999 novel by Canadian writer Robert J Sawyer who devised the show along with co-creator David Goyer (writer of The Dark Knight, and Blade: The Series, amongst other things), and and Brannon Braga (24). The major league pedigree is complete with a cast which includes top notch British actors, as usual, this time in the form of Joseph Fiennes who plays FBI agent and recovering alcoholic Mark Benford, his wife Olivia (Sonya Walger, an escapee from Lost), somewhat bizarrely, Jack Davenport, best known to older viewers as posh toff Miles from ground breaking nineties drama This Life, and more recently the Pirates of The Caribbean movies. With American John Cho (last seen rolling an enormous joint as Harold in the Harold and Kumar movies), and, somewhere in the first season, an appearance by former Hobbit and hairy-faced Mancunian Dominic Monaghan also in the cast, the list of vaguely familiar faces is complete.

The show is clearly a contender hoping to follow in the footsteps of the televisual behemoth that is the ratings and critical success of Lost, and as such, it is centred around a “high-concept” premise ; everyone in the world has blacked out for precisely 2 minutes and 17 seconds, with many experiencing a dream like vision, which turns out to be a “Flash Forward” to where they will individually find themselves 6 months from now, at 10pm on 29th April 2010. Such an inscrutable mystery poses countless questions, which will no doubt be strung out over countless episodes with not much resolution and more questions than answers. Thankfully, frustrated fans of Lost will be glad to know that the makers promise it will be nowhere near as convoluted as the show it hopes to replace in their affections.

In the early shows, we have already found that the central character of Mark Benford has envisioned his descent back into alcoholism, the collapse of his marriage, and his future role as an investigator of the mystery posed by these visions. As the FBI officers struggle to make sense of the ensuing global crisis, they have set up a website, Mosaic, for people to describe and compile their visions, to see if they correspond. Meanwhile, Marks' surgeon wife Olivia is disturbed to find the man with which she has had visions of having an affair walk into the hospital where she works, and Benfords' partner Dimitri (Cho) is troubled that he has no visions at all : in this future, is he alive? Are these visions of the future “real”? And who is the mysterious man clad in black, caught on CCTV walking through a baseball stadium in Detroit, while all around him, and the world over, everyone else has blacked out?

Flash Forward continues on Mondays, 9pm on Five.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

'The Hangover' Review

Another bromance movie following in the Hollywood tradition of recent years, The Hangover stands at the crossroads between 2 hollywood genres - the "what stays in Vegas" movie, and the road trip movie, as 4 male friends go away for a weekend of pre-wedding debauchery, but end up losing the groom and the plot. Indeed director and co-writer Todd Phillips' first feature was in fact 2000's Road Trip, and his second was the hilarious 'Old School', and it particularly shares the latters theme of misbehaving buddies old enough to know better.
The girls are an afterthought, either villains, super bitches, or sweet caring and perfect like Heather Graham's hot stripper/mom. But the accusations of mysogyny are missing the point. This movie's not about the girls, but the friendships between the dudes.

If the territory is familar, the execution is not without its' charms. In particular, the charming weirdness of Alan, Tracy's brother, with his fat Jesus appearance and his sweet, innocent yet insane personality (Zach Galifianakis) a counterpoint to the worldly cool of Bradly Cooper's Phil, and geeky dentist Stu (played by Ed Helms). These 3 musketeers spend most of the movie trying to piece together what happens the night before (when Zach's character accidently slipped them all a date rape drug instead of Ecstasy), which somehow involves a real life tiger, an actual baby, a missing family heirloom/wedding ring belonging to Stu, and the mysterious disappearance of their friend and husband-to-be Doug (Justin Bartha).

As road movies go, The Hangover is a fun ride, hitting all the right notes with such fun ingredients, including a cameo from an air-drumming Mike Tyson, but the film never quite lives up to its' potential, and is likely to provoke laughter among the more literal-minded American viewers at which it is aimed, as the US reviews of this movie largely confirm. For the more discerning British viewer, however, some goofy ingredients like a tiger, a hooker with a wedding ring and date rape drugs will not compensate for the hit and miss humour of the movie, and a slight shortage of wittier banter or richer characterisation. For me, Phil isn't enough of a bastard, Stu isn't enough of a dork, and Alan could be just a touch weirder - in the directors' similar former movie Old School, the characters played by likes of Owen Wilsion, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn are just bigger and brasher, making for more fun.

The Hangover, then ; like a great breakfast with some awesome ingredients after a great, messy night out, only slightly undercooked.

Hack Rating 3/5

Thursday, 16 July 2009

It's Been Too Long!

Ok, it's not you, it's me. I have been away, pursuing another of my passions for the past few months, and neglected this fine blog, started with such enthusiasm. Shame to waste all that effort....

I have however, diligently been watching films throughout the year, and I'd like to give you a flavour of what I've been seeing and loving....

1. Magnolia (1999). Intrigued by the movie since I caught a moment of it on TV a few months ago, I was absolutely blown away by this, and particularly Tom "Respect the cock" Cruises' killer performance as a angry, mysogynist self help/sex guru, at the heart of the movie. With an ensemble cast and something like 12 different, connected narratives, this is ambitious film making from a young director (Paul Thomas Anderson) who had just completed Boogie Nights to much acclaim. There's much more to it than just Cruises' performance though. The sheer ambition, confidence, and balls of the film making is worthy of props, with a randomly interspersed musical number in the middle, and a bravely arbitrary, yet poetic ending "shit happens" ending. As the movie says "We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us".

2. Total Recall (1990). I know. An Arnie movie surely doesn't deserve respect? Well, my opinion of the man is being reformed as I reconsider his work now, as an adult. With limited acting ability, he made the most of his skills in Terminator, and, a couple of years later, this similarly futuristic / sc-fi dystopia flick. Based on seminal writer Philip K Dick's "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale", as a kid I completely missed the subtle moments of symmetry in this, where dream and reality are played off against each other throughout, and the duality keeps you guessing what's really going on. This got me thinking that Dick's contribution to Hollywood has been massive, from Blade Runner, To I, Robot, Minority Report, the list goes on. Genius, even if it looks hugely date now.

3. Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). I made it my job to sop up the last of the big movies I had missed from Oscar season, and finally got round to this one, which failed at the last hurdle against Slumdog Millionaire, which ended up sweeping this years' awards - it seems like a lifetime ago already. Having seen both, Slumdog is clearly the better movie, though both are somewhat flawed, the latter is less so. Watching Brad Pitt, a major handsome Hollywood star do "ugly", like so many Oscar hunters before him, isn't enough.

The essential premise of a man who is born old and grows young as those around him die is in some ways pointless - it would have made no difference if he had lived his life forwards, the poignant moments of the story would still work the same, and the themes of bereavement, love, and value of each human life would still come through. Still, an enjoyable movie. and worth it partly for the exquisite aesthetics, courtesy of David Fincher, who previously worked with Pitt on mutually their most famous flick, Fight Club.

4. Hard Eight (aka Syndey) (1996). Paul Thomas Anderson's low key debut, I chased this up since, after Magnolia, I'd seen and enjoyed everything he's done in his career, from the seedy glamour of Boogie Nights, to 2008 Oscar winner There Will Be Blood. I'd began to draw some conclusions, self evident stuff. Each film is ultimately a dissection of family, and a critique of patriarchy. Magnolia in particular is the work of someone who is very, very angry at Daddy.

Hard Eight sees a young John C Reilly taken in by father figure Phillip Baker Hall, a classy retiree who teaches him how to work the slot machines and tables in Vegas to find a day's food and board. Hall though, isn't as benevolent as he seems, and behind his kindness lies a guilty secret, in this noir-ish tale, which sees Gywyneth Paltrow and Samuel L Jackson play against type. Paltrow is a cocktail waitress who moonlights as a prostitute, while Jackson is intriguing as as insecure, easily slighted low-level hood who lives among the seedy motels and darkened restaurants of Vegas. A big ask, particularly as only a year earlier in Pulp Fiction he had played possibly the cockiest, coolest, afro-wearing, gun slingin dude in movie history. Hard Eight is a subtle pleasure, slow moving, and compelling.

Well, it's getting late. This past few months, I also enjoyed:

1. Sunshine (2004, Danny Boyle). 7/10
2. The Lives Of Others (2006) 9/10
3. The Wave / Die Welle (2007). 7/10
4. Gran Torino (2008). 8/10
5. Groundhog Day. 8/10
6. Step Brothers. 7/10
7. Role Models. 6/10.
8. Punch Drunk Love. 6/10.
9. RocknRolla. 5/10.
10. The Wrestler. 9/10.
11. Tyson. 6/10.
12. He's Just Not That Into You. (2008). 4/10.
13. Frost/Nixon. 7/10.
14. Paths Of Glory. 8/10.
15. On The Waterfront. 8/10.
16. Slumdog Millionaire 7/10.