DVDs This Week 22 & 29/03/10

Twilight Saga: New Moon
I am not going to be converting anyone with my comments on this film: chances are if you love it or hate it (and there is no middle ground), me telling you that it is a steaming pile of faeces aint gonna change your mind. I have no problems with REALLY bad films like this becoming massively popular, I like Taken, the Scooby Doo movies and have probably seen Dude, Where’s my Car around 15-20 times. We all have our guilty pleasures. My problem with this series of films is that there seems to be a complete lack of love for this film by the people who made it. Both films seem rushed, with bits missing and what is possibly the biggest lack of chemistry in cinema. Two(or in this case, three) leads having little chemistry is annoying but forgivable in, say, Transformers 2 (another film I absolutely can’t stand) because it’s an action film, but in a romantic film it’s an abomination. That says, it comes just above the Transformers series for me for the simple fact that it cost a hell of a lot less. This will probably break records for DVD sales and although completely undeserving, I am willing to consider in the same way as the topic of old people sex. I realise that it exists, just don’t talk to me about it otherwise I may vomit.

Harry Brown
If this wasn’t such a quiet weeks I would have just reviewed this with the words ” Michael Caine’s in it, therefore it’s a must see”. Caine has got to have been one of the most consistent actors of modern times and if it’s true that this will be his last film as said in press interviews during release, it will be a massive loss not only to British cinema, but to Hollywood too. This revenge tale is intelligent and relevant in ways that a lot of modern revenge tales avoid. While it is enjoyable to see Caine’s transformation from accidental killer to ruthless murderer, the film is no slouch in it’s re-enacting of modern Britain. Young gangs controlling areas, pensioners left to fend for themselves and the feeling that the police are unable to help are all issues in Britain that have been happening for years. An impeccable performance by Caine and great supporting cast made this a big hit at the film festivals last year, but it deserved more than the limited release that it got. Catch in on DVD.

Paranormal Activity
It’s easy to compare Paranormal Activity to the Blair Witch Project. While it seems lazy journalism to make the connection, there’s no shaking the similarities, and not just the amateur footage style. Paranormal Activity followed tips on market from Blair Witch and it paid dividends. Also, like Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity is a very important horror film. These small films that make a huge return (and they are horrors in the majority) serve a purpose to show the studios that you don’t need to remake a successful movie or throw heaps of money to get a blockbuster on your hands. Both films try to concentrate on the FEAR itself, rather than the events, but Paranormal is definitely not as intelligent a film as the first Blair Witch and this is probably it’s failing. The Blair Witch Project didn’t need jump scares, loud noises or even something to be scared of.  It was essentially a character study in the arising of fear and how when it becomes conscious, how it can envelop you. Granted, there was something to be scared of in the Blair Witch, but we didn’t see if, just the outcomes of it’s actions. It was about a small group being isolated, growing in fear and reducing in hope and then a stark realisation that their fear was rational, that they were in danger.

So while Paranormal Activity was an important horror film, I think it doesn’t need a sequel and that repeat viewings of the film are not favourable. Maybe rent the DVD, then buy The Blair Witch Project, Rec, or Lake Mungo (which probably sell for less than a fiver now).

2012
Watch the trailer and you will pretty much immediately know what to expect from this film. Fantastic CGI, a wafer thin plot and poor characterisation. I always have time for films like 2012 because they don’t intend to be anything else. You get characters that wise crack despite it being the end of the world and limousines doing handbrake turns. This is a film I would love to be made into a theme park ride, because essentially the film is a ride – big, dumb fun. From a film critic’s point of view, it’s a bad film, but it’s one of those films where you can just switch your brain off and get a few friends around and just have a really good laugh.

Bunny and the Bull
Here is another film I saw at Leeds Film Festival (surely we must be near the end of them now?!). Right from the off, this film is inventive. Reminiscent of Gondry in style with a lot of guerrilla special effects (a theme park made from clock mechanisms), but able to be it’s own style, those expecting a Mighty Boosh movie will be SLIGHTLY disappointed. The humour is to some degree the same as Mighty Boosh, but is not as laugh out loud funny as the tv series. In fact, it’s quite short on real laughs to be honest, but in some ways that is to it’s benefit because it adds emotion into the mix. The film is bleak for the most part and is essence a story about someone who is not mentally sound. But there are out and out MAGICAL cinema moments (especially the scene with the titular bull).

This is a film which will follow suit with the Mighty Boosh in that it will gain cult status and it is definitely deserving. It may miss the mark a lot of the time, but when it delivers, it does so in such an original way that it’s hard not to be impressed.

Also out this week: Glorious 39 – Caprica (Pilot Episode) – Dread

Killing in Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass is undoubtedly a truly fun experience for watching. It’s filled with stabs of smart, profane humour and knowing touches and nods to inspirations peppered throughout. The performances, particularly from the future superstar Aaron Johnson and the ridiculously precocious Chloe Moretz are superb. The action sequences, though occasionally creaking under budgetary concerns, are packed to the gills with energy and kineticism. They may occasionally lose touch of themselves, but they have a slick vein of humour that drives all the events which occur.

But… I have seen precious little comment about the way that the violence is depicted, not on an aesthetic level but on an emotional, consequential level. As with Wanted, also based on a Mark Millar graphic novel, Kick-Ass revels in the violence and killing perpetrated by both the good and bad guys. We are consistently told to chuckle at the ultra-violent content, including a man exploding, one being eliminated in a car crusher and numerous splattering headshots.

I’m not preaching that this is necessarily wrong, director/writer Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman are going for something, and they mostly succeed. This is supposed to be a post-modern superhero story which nods and winks at its knowing, desensitised audience. You could even make an argument that the film is so arch as to be specifically pointing out this macabre sensibility in its audience, akin to Haneke in Funny Games, but I don’t think that’s where is going. If so, this is a film which has its cake, the person’s next to it and then eats everyone’s.

The killing that happens is so fetishised and so cheered it’s very hard to feel anything but a little discomfort at what you are seeing. There would appear to be a stupefying lack of emotional consequence to the violence which happens, even though much of the violence which happens is driven by emotional concerns. Sure, the Hit-Girl and Big Daddy characters are seeking revenge, but shouldn’t there at least be a slight acknowledgement in Hit-Girl’s character of the amount of murder she takes part in? Many of the human characters in the film, henchman though they may be, are dispatched with such a sense of glee, with no remorse or consequence for the perpetrator. There is no recourse to the violence, it just happens and we are supposed to cheer and laugh. It may be in a comic-book world, but there just seems too much having and eating of cake going on for me.

DVDs This Week – 15/03/10

Zombieland
Good fun and definitely rewatchable zombie comedy. I am still unsure whether I find this or Shaun of the dead a better zom-com (although I still would take Dr S Battles The Sex Crazed Reefer Zombies over both of them).

An absolutely blinding title sequence and a fair hit count of good laughs helped me to enjoy this film a lot at the cinema and at times, it does look gorgeous, but I found it hard to escape the feeling that Jesse Eisenberg was essentially playing Michael Cera. While he did a decent job of this it felt a bit strange given that I was already getting a feeling of overkill with Michael Cera playing Michael Cera in his films.

By now everyone should know about the cameo, but I have to admit – I found it a massive disappointment. It is so forced and the only laugh it gave me (which was probably the biggest laugh to be fair) was in the character’s eventual death. The film is the perfect length so that it doesn’t feel too long and it’s great to see that a director can show restraint and knows when to finish a film before it gets too stale.

Overall, this film is definitely in my top 3 comedy films of 2009 and I highly recommend it, although at times the gags can be hit and miss possibly due to the high gag count. It looks really good for a comedy film and shows some moments of ingenuity, but may be guilty of trying to many tricks to gain it’s own style.

White Ribbon
Michael Haneke’s Palme D’Or 2009 winner also came very high in a large number of film critics films of the decade. The plot of the film involves a school teacher recalling memories of the year that he met his fiancee, where a number of strange occurrences take place in a German village during the twelve months between July 1913 and 1914..

As seems to be the case with Haneke’s films, White Ribbon can be described as both ‘violent’, but also ‘subtle’. I recently decided to rewatch Cache, another Haneke film starring my favourite foreign actor and actress, Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche. On first watch I didn’t enjoy the film but I decided to rewatch because I realised I had missed a hell of a lot of the plot because a lot of things happen in the background, and unlike a Hollywood film, isn’t telegraphed. I expect White Ribbon to be similar to Cache in that respect and Haneke is definitely a director that commands attention.

Cold Souls
I managed to catch this at the fantastic Hyde Park Picture House (my favourite UK cinema ever) late last year and while the movie is watchable, it is far from a great film. Paul Giamatti plays Paul Giamatti preparing for the Chekhov play “Uncle Vanya”. To deal with his growing anxiety regarding the role, he decides to follow up an advert in a newspaper to store his soul in a storage facility until the play is over. The plot is amazingly high concept, but it just doesn’t seem to work. It tries to be subtle, but then hammers home some comedy elements (as though the writer was questioning the audiences’ intelligence). Also, rare for a Paul Giamatti film, he is guilty of some horrific overacting.

In summary, despite a great concept, the film never lives up to its premise. Cold Souls tries to be intelligent, but doesn’t have the brains that it thinks it has.

Also out this week: A Serious Man – Survival of the Dead – Paranormal Entity

DVDs This Week – 08/03/2010

An Education
This Oscar-nominated film tells the tale of Jenny, a 16-year-old girl who is seduced by a 35-year-old man. If you are reading this after the Oscar results have come in, then you will already know that Sandra Bullock has robbed Carey Mulligan of a deserved Best Actress Oscar (my prediction of events anyway – (ed. well played, sir)). Carey’s turn is without doubt completely deserving of an Oscar win and even with a strong supporting cast, she manages to totally steal the show. The film contains a great story, is completely involving and as mentioned features without doubt the best actress performance of 2009. I cannot recommend An Education enough.

Julie and Julia
Another Best Actress Oscar-nominated, this time for the most consistently amazing actresses in Hollywood. Which makes me feel bad to say – I don’t think she necessarily deserves an Oscar for this performance. Whether it’s because I didn’t enjoy Julie and Julia as much as I was hoping or whether it is because Meryl Streep has acted better in other movies and has set the bar so high I am unsure. This film has had a LOT of great reviews and that Streep has received a nomination for Best Actress probably indicates that this is a good movie, I didn’t find it outstanding and at times found it a little annoying. This opinion is probably not shared by a hell of a lot of people, but I think for this year Carey Mulligan has out-acted Meryl Streep and An Education I found to be a better film.

As this is another quiet week for DVDs, I have decided to mention a couple of horrors due for release that sound quite similar in plot to other horror films

Starting with CUT, a slasher that stars (and I use the term as loosely as possible) Danielle Lloyd! The plot follows  5 friends who are returning from a party. They discuss how urban legends are a load of rubbish before the night takes a horrible turn (Urban Legends anyone?). What interests me in this one is that the entire movie is one continuous shot!! Now the presence of Danielle Lloyd makes me feel like this will be godawful, but the one continuous shot sounds fantastic. I will be getting round to watching this movie soon (being a british horror, I wasn’t able to get my hands on an early import) and will possibly do a mini review in the near future. Next up is THE GRIND, the tale of a man heavily in debt to a mexican mob who sets up a voyeuristic Big Brother style website to generate revenue, which sounds not too dissimilar to BigBrother.com and My Little Eye. Inevitably for a horror/slasher, things don’t go to plan. Finally IMURDERS (probably not an Apple inc official product!). This stars Tony Todd and Billy Dee Williams, which can’t be a good sign. Members of an online website are murdered one by one. While I am not aware of a niche social network based horror, but for examples of killer websites look no further than tv series Killer net or the absolutely terrible Untraceable (or Unbearable as it should be known).

Oscar Predictions: Best Picture

The Nominees
Avatar
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious
A Serious Man
Up
Up in the Air

The expansion of the category has had some impact on the talk around the Oscars, mostly negative. It would appear that you could easily eliminate five films from the top category as being also-rans, if still good films. Where last year it would have served mostly just to allow The Dark Knight its nomination and sate the anger of so many over-hyped fanboys/girls, this year it felt as though the Academy was just reaching further to grab films from all corners, as if to indicate that they are not scared of honouring ‘popular’ films. The fact that they have never really done this and the actual small films almost always get screwed, that was left to the side of the discussion.

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Oscar Predictions: Best Director

The Nominees
James Cameron for Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels for Precious
Jason Reitman for Up in the Air

This category seems to break down into three categories as regards the chance each has of winning the prize. In the last category, essentially the no-hopers, are Lee Daniels and Jason Reitman. Reitman is the kind of director who will consistently struggle to win this prize as his skill comes through his ability to manage performance and tone rather than anything visually spectacular or inventive. Up in the Air is a pristine film with some well-composed images, but it’s script and performance-driven, similar to Juno and Thank You for Smoking. He deserves plaudits, but they won’t be sufficient for the prize. Lee Daniels has promise as an inventive director, but too many choices fall flat in Precious and he won’t win.

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Oscar Predictions: Best Actor

The Nominees
Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart
George Clooney for Up in the Air
Colin Firth for A Single Man
Morgan Freeman for Invictus
Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker

This one feels like it’s been complicated in recent weeks, too. I still don’t think Jeremy Renner will have the momentum to take the prize and I would be shocked if Clooney wins, even though I would cite Up in the Air as his finest performance. He should also, as argued by Stephanie Zacharek, be rewarded for his great role in Fantastic Mr Fox, but unfortunately that film, like Clooney, will go home empty-handed.

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Oscar Predictions: Best Actress

The Nominees
Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side
Helen Mirren for The Last Station
Carey Mulligan for An Education
Gabourey Sidibe for Precious
Meryl Streep for Julie & Julia

Okay, let’s get going. This undoubtedly to be the most interesting category of the lot, if interesting for you is having four possible winners. A couple of months back, I was pretty sure that Carey Mulligan was a shoe-in to win this – she had all the momentum and buzz to get her over the line. Then things started to shift and, as I said, I think there are four possible winners here. Before we kick off then, let’s just say, Helen Mirren won’t win.

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Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actor

The Nominees
Matt Damon for Invictus
Woody Harrelson for The Messenger
Christopher Plummer for The Insider
Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds

A few months ago, this would have been a serious race between two of the contenders. Really, up until anyone with a Twitter or blog saw The Lovely Bones, Stanley Tucci was the major frontrunner to take the prize. After seeing that performance, I would argue strongly for his inclusion, but for his role in Julie & Julia instead. Due to the poor reviews for Peter Jackson’s horrendous film, Tucci will have to give up his leading place in the category to Mr Waltz.

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Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actress

The Nominees
Penelope Cruz for Nine
Vera Farmiga for Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal for Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick for Up in the Air
Mo’Nique for Precious

Filling up three paragraphs on this category is going to prove difficult, hence the start of this section being guarded with meta-waffle about the difficulty of writing this column. The reason it’s difficult is precisely the same reason it is difficult to fill three paragraphs on any complete inevitability. I could probably waffle on for even longer about such inanities, but I’ll get stuck in now. Mo’Nique will win.

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Oscar Predictions: Best Original Screenplay

The Nominees
Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds
Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman for The Messenger
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen for A Serious Man
Pete Docter and Bob Peterson for Up

Having taken home the BAFTA, it would seem that The Hurt Locker has positioned itself for a potential clean sweep at the Oscars this year. The film has garnered almost uniformly excellent reviews and its meagre box-office take appears to have had little impact on its chances come Awards season. To get it out of the way at the start, this is going to be the Iraq film to compete for the awards, to The Messenger will have to put up with being the year’s second-best semi-apolitical Iraq movie.

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Oscar Predictions: Best Adapted Screenplay

The Nominees
Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell for District 9
Nick Hornby for An Education
Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Ianucci and Tony Roche for In the Loop
Geoffrey Fletcher for Precious
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner for Up in the Air

There was at least a degree of surprise at the BAFTAs this year that it wasn’t one of the English nominees that took home this prize. After all, An Education managed to garner eight nominations overall and ended up walking home with little in return from the one place it would have felt most favoured. I’ve never been a big supporter of that film – it’s beautifully acted but the construction ends up feeling rushed and gives the film a slightness which undermines the acting – but, even with that known, I don’t think Nick Hornby has any chance of going home with this.

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Oscar Predictions: Best Cinematography

The Nominees
Mauro Fiore for Avatar
Bruno Delbonnel for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Barry Ackroyd for The Hurt Locker
Robert Richardson for Inglourious Basterds
Christian Berger for The White Ribbon

I have a slight problem in this category as I’ve been debating whether Avatar should really be eligible for a cinematography prize given that everything being filmed has been created. There has always, to me, seemed a need for the cinematography prize to be handed out on the basis of the photographer having captured what is tangibly in front of him. I’ve come around to the idea, however, as Avatar’s spectacular look is achieved, if not through literally filming the world of Pandora, through the advice and guidance that the cinematographer would have given. This advice will have contributed to the immersive nature of the film and, so, I’ll happily accept and applaud Fiore’s nomination.

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Oscar Predictions: Best Animated Feature Film

The Nominees
Coraline
Fantastic Mr Fox
The Princess and the Frog
The Secret of Kells
Up

I don’t know that there is even much point in putting anything after the jump for this category. Though other studios in the animation world continue to put out good stuff for the most part, absolutely nobody is close to competing with Pixar on storytelling, complexity of characters or catering to a wide audience in a satisfying and stimulating way. Up will win and, probably, should win purely for the opening ten minute sequence, easily the finest piece of filmmaking in the past year.

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News Round-Up

Odeon/UCI back down in Alice in Wonderland dispute

The news that Odeon had refused to show Alice in Wonderland was discussed earlier this week, dependent on your viewpoint the good/bad newsis that the cinema chain announce today that they now WILL be showing the Tim Burton remake after an agreement was struck between the two parties. Full story here.

Cooper chooses another hangover over war

Bradley Cooper has pulled out of This Means War, a rom-com directed by McG and also featuring Reese Witherspoon. Initial reports suggest that Cooper pulled out because of scheduling conflicts between this and The Hangover 2, not because the plot of This Means War sounds pants.

New Nightmare on Elm Street Trailer

Looks pretty pointless and in parts looks like a shot for shot remake. Also features the most ridiculous villain voice since The Punisher.

A shortlist for Paranormal Activity 2 directors is announced….

…. and there is one definite surprise in Brian De Palma. While I would be interested to see what the Scarface director would come up with, my inclination is with Brad Anderson, the director of two fantastic films Session 9 and The Machinist (possibly Christian Bale’s best performance). Full shortlist here.

Marlon Wayans on playing Richard Pryor

This is something I am completely on board with. While he was in the Scary Movie series, White Chicks and Little Man, it’s easy to forget he was also fantastic in Requiem for a dream. I had him down on my list for  “Actors We Could Make Great” and I think this could be the film to do it. In this article with the LA Times, Marlon defends some undefendable films, talks about getting the role ahead of Eddie Murphy and discusses why Pryor deserves a film about him. Note: White Chicks and Little Man grossed $215 million in total and a White Chicks 2 is on the way.

Zach Galifianakis is a miracle worker!

He must be, he carried everyone in The Hangover! Galifianakis is set to star in a supernatural buddy comedy (might sound like a made up subgenre, but check out the fantastic The Revenant when it finally manages to get released – makes Shaun of The Dead seem as funny as Epic Movie). Will be good to see ZaGa (it may catch on if I use it enough) shake his comedy muscles and no doubt I will be completely onboard by the time a director is announced.

DVDs This Week – 01/03/10

Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant
A watchable but not great film adapted from Darren Shan’s series of books. Starring John C. Reilly (Talladega Nights and Step Brothers) and the relatively unknown Chris Massaglia. There is a shortage of quality laughs, but possibly redeemable just by seeing Salma Hayek as a bearded woman. Maybe more of a rental watch more than one to buy on release day.

Triangle
A fantastic film  directed by Christopher Smith (Severance and Creep, 2 cracking films). It works because it veers towards cliche at times then sidesteps them at  the last second. While the twist at the end is very predictable, the acting is solid (especially Melissa George) and the  multi-layered story is excellent. I thoroughly recommend it and look forward to Smith’s next film, Black Death.

Ghosthunting with McFly
I had to put this up as a featured release just because how I imagine this in my head is a hundred times better than the reality of this pile of trash. While not having watched this if it is anything like how I imagine it it will be the story of Ghostbusters 2 with McFly with Dr Poha played by Chris De Burgh.

Chaw
I managed to catch this movie last year at the Leeds Film Festival. I looked forward to it based on the premise alone – a korean movie about a town being attacked by a giant wild boar. Unfortunately, it doesn’t live up to the premise as it is a Sci-Fi Channel-quality style of film, but there quite a lot of people who will like this film simply because it is Asian cinema and give it a bit of leeway in it’s rubbishness. I am a fan of a lot of Asian cinema, but I would like to think I know a bad film when I see one. The film is all over the place in terms of tone, has no real characters to connect with and has a terrible CGI monster . Once again it was possibly a greater idea in theory than in practice.

Seventh Moon
This is another film I managed to see at the Leeds Film Festival at a horror movie night. Now from these two reviews of DVDs I don’t want you to think the festival was only full of rubbish movies, I had some fantastic films – Dr S Battles the Sex Crazed Reefer Zombies, Cold Souls, A Thousand Oceans, The Bunny and the Bull and loads more), unfortunately Seventh Moon isn’t one of those. This was one of my weirdest cinema experiences ever. First up the film is bad, and I don’t mean watchable bad, or “some good performances but just fails in some parts” bad, I mean “a film devoid of anything good at all” bad. It was made by the one of the directors of the Blair Witch Project, who has now decided that a horror film doesn’t need tension, good acting, a decent script or good framing. In some parts the film is so dark that you can’t see ANYTHING and just have to depend on the sound to get some idea of what is going on. But that wasn’t where the strangeness started. After the film, there was a Q&A session with the producer of the movie. It was like car crash entertainment, this man had no idea of the onslaught he was about to get. Some of the genuine questions asked to him were “What was the point of that film?” and “Did you think about hiring lead characters who had some hint of chemistry?”. It got so bad that the organisers of the event had to offer a prize to a person asking a genuine question and not criticism.

Also out this week: Survivors: Series 1 & 2 box set – When Comedy Was King – Cash – Zombeak – Miss March

Bourne Again?

At the UK premiere of Invictus, Matt Damon has said that the next Bourne film is likely to be a prequel or a reboot (shudder!!). Add to that the reboot of Spiderman which is on the way and the only comment I can make is “What the heck are movie companies thinking of?”

First off, spend five minutes with me and you will realise I am not a big fan of reboots. The only film that was rebooted recently and was likeable (Batman Begins aside) was in my opinion Star Trek, which I thought was very good, but I have seen it three times now and each time I like it less, so this is subject to change. My main problem with reboots of recent years is that they seem to miss the point. The first that springs to mind is the upcoming remake/reboot of Lake Mungo, a flawed but very good Australian horror/thriller. This film was made on a shoestring budget and is shot like a documentary (the film has a very Discovery Channel feel to it), and the shocks mainly come from this premise – clips are re-shown and zoomed in to reveal that a parent’s dead daughter is in the frame. Now I speak the honest truth here when I say the reboot is about to be made without ANY documentary style footage. My first reaction to this would be “then it’s not a reboot, it’s a different film”!

That is like making The Red Shoes without any dancing, Jurassic Park without dinosaurs, rebooting Clerks with a $300m budget.

My second problem with this news is that the Bourne Supremacy got its ITV premiere in 2009, that is, less than a year ago this film was seen for the first time on terrestrial TV; the trilogy was released on Blu-ray in June 2009. Now to me, this is probably at least 10-15 years too early for a re-imagining of a show, I mean, to be honest the final film in Paul Greengrass’ trilogy is still quite fresh in my mind, the DVD hasn’t even got a scratch on it yet for god’s sake and I double up DVDs as beer mats!

Thirdly (and finally you will be pleased to know), what are they trying to achieve? The three films gained critical acclaim and as previously stated in my top films of the decade, forced Bond to reinvent itself. They also grossed $945 million worldwide, so in what way can they improve with a reboot? With Spiderman, while it didn’t receive critical acclaim, the 3 films manage to acquire a large amount of moolah for all parties involved.

Now, I am by no means an oracle – these films could surprise me and be great and make me say that the originals were trash. My opinions of reboots could change if a few came along where the director has obviously made a conscious effort to keep the spirit of the movie, if they started rebooted bad adaptations (Silent Hill for one), but when you start messing with classic films like Predator, Halloween and Robocop they are fighting a losing battle.

Chris

A Riposte to Lovely Bones Praise

There is plenty of criticism to fling at the article written on The Quietus this week by Josh Saco seemingly in defence of Peter Jackson, currently drowining under a flood of criticism for his The Lovely Bones adaptation. Just for the purpose of keeping this simple, I’ll concentrate on the assertions made about the film itself and its place in Jackson’s body of work.

“In The Lovely Bones he plays out his darkest, most macabre, and most mature film to date, exploring the afterlife and life in ways he never has before.”

I would agree that Jackson definitely explores the afterlife in ways he, indeed no one, has done before. Jackson’s CGI-rendered afterlife, or ‘In-Between’, involves shifting landscapes of mountains, perfect green grass and glistening bodies of water. The CGI (and I realise how much I have marked myself out as a luddite-misanthrope as regards this technology) is unbelievably poor for the man behind the creation of Golem. There are moments in which it resembles a PS1-era edition of Final Fantasy, while the man appears pathologically intent on using effects work even when simply having a camera move through a window. Not a spectacular, otherworldly window, just a basic window which could have been built without even one computer in the room.

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Alice in Neverland?

Wow! Who saw this coming?!

Cinema chain Odeon & UCI Group, the largest cinema chain in the UK, has announced that it will not be showing Tim Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland. This announcement is a reaction to Disney’s plan to cut the time between the cinema and DVD release to only 12 weeks, down from the standard 17. At writing, there are no plans by other cinema chains to follow suit.

This is a massive call by Odeon and they are sure to lose a lot of cinema takings down to this move. Maybe it is just a threat to try and get Disney to retract their plans for fear of harming the $150 million remake, but trying to call The Mouse’s bluff is a risky game. While Disney claims the plan to reduce the showing time is not the shape of things to come, Odeon obviously sees this as a threat to the future of the medium. Ironically, the premiere of the movie is still to go ahead in Odeon Leicester Square!

While the stakes are obviously high it will be exciting to see the takings for the movie (obviously with 3D premium to top it up) as somehow there is still demand for Tim Burton remakes after the offensively terrible Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, also starring Johnny Depp. Maybe the chain is hoping for higher returns for films such as Legion (due out the same day as Alice in Wonderland), Green Zone, Shutter Island et al to accommodate for the loss.

Disney has chosen this shorter window allegedly to boost DVD sales. The question remains on how well a 3D movie will look on the small screen and whether the 2D will be lacking from the 3D version. Secondly it reeks of desperation – surely a film that is good enough on it’s own merits will get people going to the cinema and then buy it on DVD when it is released.

So what do you think of Odeon’s decision? Is Odeon/UCI cutting off its nose to spite its face? Is it fighting a losing battle with Disney? Does it have a right to expect a return on its investment in 3D screens? Or, do you think Disney is the distributor and should call how long a cinema is allowed to show its movie?

DVDs This Week – 22/02/10

Michael Jackson’s This Is It
While I am a fan of MJ’s music and do think he was the greatest solo artist of all time, I am in somewhat of a quandry with this release. While I could easily watch him perform rehearsals on a constant loop for the rest of time, I have to question the morals of this documentary. The man was a great performer, but mentally and physically unwell for a long time before his death and had been accused of quite a large number of horrific acts. Also, a lot of people came out of this film on release saying how it showed how MJ was manipulated by those around him – surely buying this DVD would just fund these people? I think a different type of documentary would have still raised the same concerns but surely a more appropriate documentary could have been created with a little more insight into the man? This is still going to shift a massive stack of DVDs, because a lot of people idolised the man and some of the songs are phenomenal.

Jennifer’s Body
Listen to Episode 45 for more on this film. I have to say NOTHING could get me to see this movie. I really dislike Diablo Cody and my disdain for Megan Fox (less an actress, more of a prop) knows no bounds and the two of them together sounds like my idea of hell.

9
Really enjoyable but very flawed ‘stitchpunk’ movie which while being entertaining, is never challenging Pixar or Disney. The visuals are fantastic and the voice cast is a nice mix of well known actors , but the story is a little disjointed and it tries to appeal to the masses a little too much. It ends up being a little too creepy for small children and too childish in plot to fully work for adults. So while it is more than watchable, you can’t shake off the feeling that it could have been a lot better.

Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever
I thought the original Cabin Fever wasn’t a bad little horror/thriller. It was a mix of traditional and teen horror and was well received after being made for only $1.5 million, and a great example of how to use a low budget well. Which is why it is such a shame that this terrible film shares it’s name. I think it was made for at least the same amount of money as the original, but boy, does it show! There were rumours that the Director Ti West (the director of the fantastic House of the Devil) disowned the film after claiming that the film was edited in such a way as to dwell on the gory elements of the film. Although without seeing his original version, I couldn’t tell whether studio intervention hurt the film, the fact that House of the Devil was so good does make me question it.

The Crazies (1973)
The George Romero original set in Evan’s City, Pennsylvania where a biological virus turns the townfolk insane. This is a classic, but under appreciated horror which hopefully will become more popular with the soon-to-be released remake starring Timothy Olyphant (which looks like it could also be very good, if the trailer is anything to go by)

Also out this week: Shinjuku Incident – The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard – Katalin Varga

Our BAFTA Predictions

You can listen to the podcast on which we ‘discussed’ these here but, for the purposes of finality, here are the predictions we made for this year’s BAFTAs. Also, make sure to follow us Live Tweeting the show this evening.

Continue reading →

Implications of a ‘Hollywood Stock Exchange’

Cantor Fitzgerald, the Wall Street investment house, is reportedly harbouring plans to make its ‘Hollywood Stock Exchange’ fake money spread-betting game a reality, offering investors the opportunity to make real-money bets on the financial performance of films.

Though the concerns around this are far beyond the movie world – insider trading likelihood, expanding the volume of risky products at market etc. – this could likely have some serious consequences for the quality of movies that come out of Hollywood.

Studios are already overly-focused on money-making in the films they release. This is not necessarily a negative; movie-making is a business and all movies, all of them, are not made with the aim of losing money. But the skewed view which has been fostered in Hollywood is that bigger is better or, more expensive is better. Blockbusters like Transformers 2 and Avatar, and before them the superhero and comic book adaptations, have become the central currency of Hollywood.

Audiences have been conditioned not to see films because of the talent behind them, but because of what the film is about. This has driven the growth of the wide universe of films based on existing properties (superhit children’s books, superhero comics) and has caused nothing but problems for the auteur-based projects out there. Even when you see an anomalous hit (Inglourious Basterds and District 9), this seems to have almost no influence on what kind of movies are coming out of Hollywood. They continue to operate on the assumption that the more money you spend, on production and marketing, the more money you will make at the box-office.

It’s hard to argue that this isn’t normally the case, though the reason that these films do so well is never down to the quality of the product. The behemoth summer releases are scattered across the season in a bid to make sure that, essentially, there is no other choice for the passive movie-goer. When they turn up at the cinema looking to see a film, there is a good chance that Transformers will be on in five of the twenty screens at their local multiplex and probably starting every half-hour or so. What we snobby critics and cinephiles would describe at the ‘worthy’ releases get relegated to sparse showings at inhospitable times of the day, or are just ejected from multiplexes altogether, meaning that casual watchers, those who really drive up box-office, don’t see them through a combination of inconvenience and ignorance.

Should this Cantor plan come into play – and any improvement in the economic environment and return of confidence to investment markets would make this almost inevitable, if only in germ form at first – it would surely only encourage studios to focus on huge movies, placing all their available energy into the tentpole releases so as to make them as profitable as possible. There is a chance that this could well mean that studios take more notice of aspects like script, character and direction if they do this, therefore maximising the change of turning a profit. But the incredible success of Avatar, for all its qualities, would, I venture, communicate to studios that big and simple is the best way to go. Unfortunately, the component they would fail to note would be James Cameron (or, The Talent) which is what actually turned the film into something special and successful. Chuck a journeyman behind the camera and Avatar would have fallen into the annals of flop history.

In addition, making a spread-betting market for movies would instantly shift the business aspects further to the centre of investor thought, meaning that any concerns over the quality of movies would become further sidelined (check out this Raw Story article on the news). Through neat trickery, brokers would be able to shift enough money around that even bad or unsuccessful movies become profitable, something which would remove that consideration in the minds of executives to make films, you know, ‘good’.

This is all conjecture at this point. It could well be that studios will become more cautious with budgets and spread marketing spend across their properties to achieve profit from all releases. The drop in production budgets could well have the influence that so many wanted District 9 to have this past year in making directors have to improvise and get creative due to constraints in what they can do. Plus, spreading around marketing budgets would give many independent films a significant boost in the amount of money they have to promote themselves. It’s possible that this could be a hugely positive move for the quality of output in Hollywood.

Of course, the actual problems with this lie in the risk profile of such investments, so whether the quality of films coming out of Hollywood will rise or fall will be of little concern to financial regulatory authorities. Still, worth a thought as to whether a shift in the financial model of Hollywood could prove good or bad for the industry, because heaven knows the current model is resolutely failing to promote everything equally and has skewed the focus from art to business.

Intimacy in A Single Man

I liked Tom Ford’s debut film quite a bit. An adaptation of the Christopher Isherwood novel of the same name, the film is meticulously constructed throughout, both in terms (predictably) of the costumes and set design and the editing style. The latter probably harms the film somewhat, especially during the first few scenes in which Ford and editor Joan Sobel intercut and jump-cut all over the place. It does have a jarring impact which reduces as the film goes on, but it causes the first ten/fifteen minutes to be confrontationally creative and difficult for the audience to sink into.

The film succeeds through two components. The performances are excellent; Julianne Moore is superb but she does slightly suffer from her English accent which dives between the Queen’s and an East London trader in her closing inflections. Colin Firth though, who I’ve never been a fan of, is astounding. So easily is this the best performance of his career, that you worry that he will end up missing out on the Oscar (probably owing to Academy atonement towards Jeff Bridges) on the one occasion when he has absolutely found a synergy between his style and a character. More of that on the coming podcast.

The other thing that A Single Man does perfectly is intimacy. The relationships between all the characters are pitched just right. Firth and Moore, playing old friends and former flames – before Firth fell in love with Matthew Goode’s enchanter – manage to communicate all the years of hurt and regret which would exist between friends in which friendship is the desire for only one of the two. Moore, despite the accent issues, carries in her eyes all the years of quiet heartbreak which erupt into unintended attacks in a couple of barbed exchanges. Better though is Firth and Goode’s relationship. The two complement each other beautifully, and the scene in which the two are listening to music, huddled on a sofa and both reading, wholly captures the kind of quiet intimacy that any long-term, utterly right-for-each-other couple would have.

On Valentine’s Day weekend, in which the television screens will be bombarded by constant romantic comedies and the cinema is clogged by the shit-tacular-looking smugfest named after the day, you would be well advised to take the moments between Firth and Goode in this film as both an antidote to the saccharine crap being pushed onto you and as a touching representation of true love.

DVDs This Week – 15/02/10

It is a really slow week for DVD releases this week. As the featured DVDs I was close to having to review a horror/comedy starring porn stars about a possesed penis where the tagline was: if you see it coming, you’re already dead. Fortunately, I managed to sidestep that natural disaster and instead opted for these four below:

Up
Pixar’s latest offering arrives on DVD after receiving massive critical and commercial acclaim. Having received five Oscar nominations (including Best Picture), expect to hear much more about this movie. While whether this film is better than previous Pixar films is purely down to personal preference (general online consensus seems to be that it is not as good as Wall-E, I am more of a fan of Monsters Inc), the global phenomenon that is Pixar has made this film a complete success. I would also be slightly disappointed if it won Picture – I think Up in the Air and District 9 are more deserving movies – but wouldn’t take anything away from it getting Best Animated.

Up also benefits from the fact that it will lose nothing on DVD by being in 2D, the only other film 3D film I know that does this is Coraline. This DVD will sell by the absolute shedload.

Pandorum
From a multi-award-nominated and critically-acclaimed movie to a big steaming pile of crap. This sci-fi/thriller is set on a spaceship where the crew awaken with no memory of past events. Note: I actually watched this film on a recommendation from a friend, the recommendations from whom I will now ignore. It has drawn comparisons with Event Horizon but comes nowhere near. While the CGI isn’t terrible (the film was made for $40 million and it definitely gets its money’s worth), the story is predictable and the acting is terrible. Probably one for a drunken night’s rental at best.

Open Graves
Horror film  starring Elisha Dushku where a tale of a group of friends who play a mysterious game where the losers lose their life in the way the lose in the game.

Ong Bak: The Beginning
Tony Jaa-starring martial arts movie. This is an enjoyable film if you know what to expect. It is never going to win acclaim for storytelling or plot progression; it is simply all about the fighting. Tony Jaa is probably the greatest martial artist since Bruce Lee, and as always Jaa does all his own stunts. And the stunts are ridiculous: a crocodile get punched out, there are backflips off elephants and there are flying knees that are on fire. Turn your brain off, get a few friends and enjoy an entertaining but effectively stupid martial arts masterclass.

Also out this week: Kurbaan – George Carlin: Life is Worth Losing – Borderland – One-Eyed Monster

DVDs This Week – 08/02/10

Harper’s Island Season 1
A fantastic whodunit set on the titular island. This series starts as quite a light, almost predictable entertainment, but later on shifts to a much darker animal. The show manages to pull off a movie feel and although the main conceit is quite gimmicky (essentially the story is just finding out who the killer is over 13 weeks; each episode name is onomatopoeic of the method of death of the character) it manages to establish itself as a very made and very dark thriller. Give me this over Heroes or Lost any day.

The Time Traveller’s Wife
Robert Schwentke (Flightplan) manages to create a solid romantic drama that convinces as a standalone movie, but doesn’t quite cut it as an adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s novel. Whilst its shortcomings are staples of adaptations – omits too much of the nuances, doesn’t manage to recreate the tone – the chemistry between Erica Bana and Rachel McAdams still allows this film to illuminate at times.

The Ugly Truth
This rom-com stars Gerard Butler. I am out. That is all.

Tony
An inventive, unsettling British thriller with a fantastic turn by Peter Ferdinando. This has already been compared to Taxi Driver in some circles and whilst I definitely wouldn’t go that far, I advise people to check this out.

Run Bitch! Run
A ’70’s exploitation style film that, from the trailer, appears to have no redeeming features other than a comedy title and one of the most batshit mental trailers since Robogeisha (Check out both these trailers).

Also released this week: Adventureland – Couples Retreat – Love Happens – Paper Heart – I Love You Beth Cooper

Smith asks fans to finance Red State

Kevin Smith has made an appeal to fans to donate to back his next movie, the long-delayed horror movie Red State, after heeding a suggestion made to him through Twitter.

There has been some backlash against the idea, and it doesn’t seem even close to fullproof, but this could prove a really interesting acid test of a new financing model for moviemaking. Smith is a famous enough director, with his first studio film (and first non-written director project) coming out soon, that he will garner much in the way of press coverage for the move. If successful it could open some doors for those with difficult and uncommercial projects to get to market.

The problem, as I see it, is unfortunately potentially multifold. First, there is a need to consider that you are making a commercial product which will seek to generate a profit. Taking donations to do finance this could prove troublesome unless Smith pledges to put all profits into his next project or redistribute the profits to the donors, effectively transforming them into investors. That would undermine the process in the first place to a degree, although the lack of clarity over how the system would work is, in itself, slightly troubling. If this is to work then Smith will have to put together a real-life business plan to outline his plans

The second major issue is the potential backlash which could come should the fans decide they want to have a little creative control over the project. If there are particularly hefty donors, which is a problem which could easily be remedied through creating an actual business plan and providing information on how much one could donate, there is a danger that, given they are currently not going to be expecting any kind of return, that they will want to get special consideration on their creative desires. Any sense that this would be turning into a crowdsourced movie could well end up with a supersize disaster/experiment which Smith won’t want to get involved in.

However, if successful, it does put the fans into the power seat, at least in a very small way. The people who actually care enough to have a movie made, people you could argue are true fans of moviemaking, would have a hand in the industry, something which may drive young filmmakers to start to consider the method for financing their own smaller pictures. Though it would require a significant amount of money, and a strong donation infrastructure, to succeed, this could definitely start a grass roots movement in moviemaking if the right intentions are able to take precedence.

There has yet to be a great use of the internet as a distribution model reaching a wide audience for new filmmakers. What is out there appears often too niche or exclusive (the very cool but uber-artsy Garage, part of The Auteurs) to really capture the imagination. I have only cynicism that the likes of Michael Bay will ever be defeated by the small, heartfelt independent moviemaking which keeps the art form rolling, but at least a black eye could be dealt to the industry if enough smart, committed people can take the germ of the idea from Smith and run with it.

Batman & Robin: Worst Film Ever?

Lists are made to be argued with, so I won’t deny that primal urge, but I do feel obligated to hold onto Movie Overdose’s position as the only, and it does seem only, defender of Batman & Robin as a movie experience.

The film was today voted the worst film of all time by Empire Magazine readers, something I just cannot agree with. I don’t deny that Batman & Robin is a terrible film, but what was everyone expecting? Batman Forever is a far less joyful and dumb experience, one which still believed that things were going down a good path. Joel Schumacher has proved again and again that with a budget, he’s a douche. I was never expecting Batman & Robin to be great and, therefore, why not just sit back and enjoy the relentless stupidity of everything that happens.

Also, consider what it’s actually doing. This is not a film which is pretending to be cool or clever. Everyone in it, especially the dead-eyed Clooney, completely understands that this is a terrible film. Even Schwarzenegger has to bring his quip A-game to the party to attempt to ring some fun out of his insane dialogue. To contend that a film with such low aims doesn’t manage to succeed to meet them is one that lies to opinion. If you feel this film didn’t meet its aims, it probably is among the worst films ever. But I would argue this film meets those low, low aims perfectly well.

Yes, Batman & Robin is a terrible film, but it wholly crosses the line to be so bad it’s watchable. If you are watching this movie with The Dark Knight in mind, shame on you. That film was expected to be, and was, really good. It took a better storyline, better villains, better actors and a much better director and, shock horror, resulted in a better film. Batman & Robin took a dying franchise which thoroughly deserved to die and be taken in a completely different direction and thuddingly, camply thrust the knife into the heart of the series.

Without this overblown mess, you would not have what followed in the future, and there are many more bad films which have pretensions of grandeur and greatness which thoroughly deserve to be consigned to the shitter of history. But let us keep Batman & Robin, the most gloriously terrible superhero film we have.

Razzies Thoughts…

It’s only fair to talk about another awards ceremony at this time of year, one which has managed to maintain its staunch anti-commercial stance and has never sacrificed its history to allow higher-grossing films into its top categories. This is partly because the films which tend to get given Razzies are often seen by millions of foolish people, a pattern which dictates future movie release schedules and therefore repeats the feat, making more bad movies which more people see and therefore perpetuating the need for the Razzies.

This year’s bunch, in full here, are particularly righteous, with Land of the Lost and Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen leading the ignominious. So, a few bulleted thoughts on the nominations:

  • Sandra Bullock ‘does and Eddie Murphy’ and gets nods for Best Actress at both The Oscars and The Razzies. She gets it here for All About Steve, a film which I have not seen but is purportedly so awful as to have made some member of the MOD’s extended family spew expletives beyond the recognition of well-bred English-speaking people. Whether this nod will hurt her chances for winning for The Blind Side, as I would suggest Norbit did for Murphy when he got his Dreamgirls nod, remains to be seen.
  • Nice barbed stab at The Jonas Brothers as Worst Actors. A band which appears to be attempting to disseminate abstinence-only teachings to your children, a tactic which will only end in massive number of underage pregnancies amongst fans of the stupifyingly pointless band, deserve to be kicked, beaten and knocked down at every possible point.
  • Shia LeBoeuf and Megan Fox for Worst Couple is perfect. The entire pair of those films looks as though he is frightened to touch her for fear of having his hands smeared in sweat-ravaged fake tan or the germs of other men. Her nod for worst actress though perhaps should be paired with her comically inept performance in Jennifer’s Body, in which she mistakes ‘sexy’ for ‘late-80s New York hooker’.
  • Also, praise to the board for the dumps taken on Hugh Hefner, Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley Cyrus and Steve Martin, on of whom can do better and the rest of which should be consigned to a dumpster to live in shame.

As it’s the end of the decade, they’ve also released their nominations for Film, Actor and Actress of the Decade, worst that is. My predictions and views are below.

  • Picture: I think Battlefield Earth may have to take it on this one, though the competition is tough. I Know Who Killed Me probably didn’t offend enough people to take the prize, but Gigli is a worthy challenger. Freddy Got Fingered probably has too many dumb revisionist cult movie fans to win this one.
  • Actor: Travolta and Murphy will battle it out for Worst Actor. The nod for Myers is absolutely right, especially after he attempted to shit on Inglourious Basterds this year, as if he had yet to destroy enough over the past ten years. Affleck been okay in some stuff so doesn’t really deserve it and Rob Schneider, everyone just wants to forget about Rob Schneider.
  • Actress: For Worst Actress, Madonna has always been terrible but she may not have done enough to earn the title. Lohan has Mean Girls to prevent her dropping in to the race. Gigli places Lopez in a strong position to win while Carey has had Precious to redeem her a little. So it has to be Hilton, an STD which has blighted cinema for ten years now and should be deservedly eviscerated.

Oscar Thoughts…

You can read a full list of nominations here, but I thought it best just to note a few little aberrations and nice surprises which the Academy threw our way this year.

  • The Blind Side for Best Picture – I don’t know how, why or for what reason this has happened, but awards boards and ceremonies are becoming increasingly too interested in rewarding the most popular rather than the quanitifiably ‘best’ films of the year. How this syrup-fest slice of mawkish shit has managed to score a few nods, I really don’t know. This nomination does give hope however to all those Hallmark/Lifetime movies about retarded children in inner-city schools or single mothers dealing with cancer that they could one day make the leap up.
  • District 9 for Best Picture – Rewarding a film which was not only popular, but broke all the present rules of blockbuster filmmaking – intelligent plotting, no on wearing catsuits and made on a budget which didn’t allow egomaniacal directorial masturbation. Blomkamp strikes on for all the people out there convinced that summers can be better.
  • Lee Daniels, Best Director for Precious – Not that Precious isn’t specifically well-directed, but there seems a much better argument to have Neill Blomkamp in there for District 9 given his handling of his material. Some of the decisions in Precious make the film play a little flat, which means that some of what should be the most powerful scenes lose much of their intended force.
  • Penelope Cruz for Nine – Yes, she is the only person that comes out of the film with real dignity left intact. No, this does not mean she should be rewarded over Diane Kruger in Inglourious Basterds. Julianne Moore in A Single Man and Rosamund Pike in An Education would also have been more deserving.
  • No Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – A film which not only should have been given a nod in the expanded animation category, but also for its sparkling script. Probably one which many Academy members failed to see on the same terms as a film like Up which, my opinion only, it is just as successful as.
  • An Education for Best Adapted Screenplay – The characterisations are not what made An Education a decent film. That is a movie saved from flat direction and a weak script by great acting, so the script getting a nomination, over the wonder that is Where the Wild Things Are, is a travesty.
  • In the Loop for Best Adapted Screenplay – A fantastic, completely deserved nomination for a film which has some great performances but, like The Thick of It, is driven by the foul-mouthed poetry of the script.
  • Avatar nine, but no script – Avatar gets nine nominations in all the right places. Undoubtedly a breathtaking cinema experience, I’ll allow its Best Picture nod. But the Academy had the sense only to reward Cameron’s direction in the upper categories, meaning that it rightly competes to take home, deservedly, every technical nod it can be given.
  • Nine for Hurt Locker, Eight for Inglourious Basterds – I’ve had a short-term turnaround in Inglourious Basterds, a film I didn’t enjoy in first watch, liked more on second and now fucking love. Eight nods is right. The Hurt Locker, the only film from the past year considered for my Best of Decade list, is a deserved recipient of nine nominations, with the script and Bigelow’s direction the most likely places for it to be triumphant.

DVDs This Week – 01/02/10

Broken Embraces

Though far from his best work, Almodovar indulging himself has been earned and this, despite occasionally leaning close to self-parody, is him toying with his own form. Hitchcockian in plotting but completely Almodovar in execution, the film does include some great acting performances from its men and, in Penelope Cruz, an actress entirely in sync with her director and shot as if she is the quintessence of beauty. Not close to his finest (for me, Talk to Her) but undoubtedly worth watching and, coming in the wake of the difficult Bad Education, extremely fun.

In Treatment: Season One
HBO’s first half-hour drama series ran five nights per week for nine weeks. I’ve only sampled it, but I’m very interested to get stuck into this one.

Burma VJ
Intense documentary filmmaking on an entirely required subject.

The Invention of Lying
Slight misfire but reasonably enjoyable Ricky Gervais vehicle. Major atheist overtones.

Sin Nombre
Not seen, but reportedly a tough but tender love story.

Away We Go
Only-okay Sam Mendes quarter-life crisis movie which strays too close to cuteness but is saved by great performances by Maya Rudolph.

Surrogates
Pointless and witless sci-fi action starring Bruce Willis. Only beaten by Gamer as last year’s worst avatar-based film.

Also Out: The Firm, Aliens in the Attic, The Peter Serafinowicz Show, The Soloist, Avatar: The Last Airbender Book 3

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