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Saturday, 16 March 2013

THIS WEEK: Mama / The Perks of Being a Wallflower

MAMA - (2013 - UK Certificate 15)


Mama is a poetic ghost story with a slightly haunting quality, featuring a lot of the trademarks with which Del Toro is clearly in love, so we see why he produced it.  Two girls go missing after their father murders their mother, kidnaps them, and attempts to end their life along with his own, only to be stopped by the mysterious titular character.  Five years later the girls are found, having survived, and are brought to live with their uncle and his reluctant rock-chick girlfriend, who the movie ends up being as much about as anything else.  The big question is, what was this mysterious character that appears to have saved the girls, and where is it now?  The story, predictably, deals with the mother/daughter bond in what turns out to be rather a "round the campfire ghost story" manner.

This sounds promising; indeed even the trailer whet the appetite nicely and prepared us for a film that looked set to follow in the footsteps of preceding Del Toro-produced successes.  Unfortunately, whilst it is carried fairly well by some familiar faces, most notably the chameleon-like Jessica Chastain, overall it has a sense about it of having been rushed, which shows not only in her character arc, but in the delivery of certain plot points which don't feel entirely thought through and, at times, a tad passe.  The whole thing lacks the creeping intensity of the first half of, say, Insidious or Sinister, as one might expect, and it also features the effects and lighter sort of scariness we saw with The Woman in Black and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.  Given its theme and ultimate denouement, what it really needs is more of The Orphanage and The Devil's Backbone.

The negatives and some unmissable, lazy inconsistencies aside, however, this remains a perfectly passable, creepy flick.  A lot of credit should go to a director who extended his short to make this as his first feature, but don't expect to see it sitting alongside any classics in a few years.

2.5 / 5


THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER - (2012 - UK Certificate 12)

Based on his own book, Stephen Chbosky adapts  The Perks of Being a Wallflower and captures rather well a time and place, and a group who aren't just cliches, but genuine people we care about, even with their flaws.  Logan Lerman plays Charlie, the troubled wallflower of the title, entering his first year of high school and facing all the trials that are part of coming of age.  Upon meeting Patrick and Sam, a fantastic Ezra Miller playing completely different to how most last saw him in We Need To Talk About Kevin, and Emma Watson, he becomes part of the out-crowd, discovers the joys and pains of love, the importance of music and sincerity, being yourself, and ultimately confronts the ghosts of his childhood, defying them to shape his future.

There is a question mark over Watson, not because she gives a bad performance, but just because some may feel she was miscast.  There is also the occasional anachronistic element, as well as some oddly under-written roles.  That said, a great deal of the film has a very sincere spirit, and an ambition to tell an honest story that comes to feel very real.  "We are infinite" is a tagline for the movie; whilst the film will perhaps not be infinite as such, it is certainly worthy of your attention.  Whether you are the age of the characters or not, it does a rather smart job of capturing a specific feeling, what it is to find real friendship, and distilling it in to images, like a moving photo book.  In some way we catch glimpses of The Catcher in the Rye, a story told in such a way as to elicit reflection on our own formative years, and maybe find some empathy for adolescents we truly care about.

3.5 / 5


On DVD/Blu Ray
Catch it if you like:  Donnie Darko, Juno, The Man Without a Face

Sunday, 10 March 2013

THIS WEEK: Arbitrage/Frankenweenie

0 - No Redeeming Feature

1 - Poor

2 - Passable

3 - Good.  Rent it.

4 - Excellent!

5 - See it now!!


ARBITRAGE - (2013 - UK Certificate 15) 


This nuts-and-bolts thriller doubles as an interesting character study of a powerful patriarch who uses his position to cover up an awful error of judgement that ended a life.  Set in the top-end world of finance, it certainly displays an assured confidence that defies its director's inexperience; he draws his characters as more real and complex than a lesser writer may have, with a particularly keen eye for detail and empathy for its central character, the very flawed Robert Miller.

Whilst not doing anything that unique or original, it is lifted from your average fare to holding watch-ability by a surprisingly solid Richard Gere, and a fun performance from the forever reliable Tim Roth.  Also starring Susan Sarandon, Arbitrage makes for an intriguing, well shot thriller, and definitely very good debut for Nicholas Jarecki.

3.5 / 5

At cinemas
Catch it if you like:  Disclosure, Margin Call, Wall Street

FRANKENWEENIE - (2012 - UK Certificate PG)

A perfectly fine animation piece from the King of this style Tim Burton.  The heartwarming idea is of a young outcast who brings his pet dog back to life through techniques learned in his science class; the moral of the tale is clear from quite early, and the film makes some not-so-gentle allusions to preceding classics Frankenstein and Godzilla.  It is held back a bit by a general sense that we've been here and done this all before; in fact, in general the film has an overall feeling of being a little rushed, with a lack of character, which is surprising given his previous work in this area.  Basically, Burton's been better, but Frankenweenie is still worth a watch, and features some genuinely creepy elements.



On Blu Ray/DVD
Catch it if you like:  Corpse Bride, Nightmare Before Christmas

Saturday, 2 March 2013

THIS WEEK: Antiviral / Beasts of the Southern Wild / The Flowers of War

0 - No Redeeming Feature

1 - Poor

2 - Passable

3 - Good.  Rent it.

4 - Excellent!

5 - Buy It!!


ANTIVIRAL (2013 - UK Certificate 15)


I don't know if Brandon Cronenberg minds living in the shadow of the respected master of body-shock, or whether he ultimately wants to make his own way, but two things can be said: His name undoubtedly helped him helm a film that drew more professional and critical attention than many debut efforts, even capturing the attention of cult favourite Malcolm Mcdowell (yes, him of A Clockwork Orange), and that not only does the apple not fall far from the tree, but this particular piece of nastiness is effectively on the same branchAntiviral, as an idea, could easily be part of his father's early canon; what sets it apart is the lack of experience, which does show a bit.  

Obsession with celebrity has gone far beyond Celebrity Big Brother and it is now the norm to consume meat derived from cell cultures of the famous, and you can buy colds and infections carried by your idol, if you can pay for it.  The story is of Syd, working for an agency whose business is the buying, selling and administering of these infections.  Through an act of carelessness Syd finds himself hunted for the disease he carries, and on the road to death because of it.  There are those who will talk about the extreme silliness of the idea, but if art is not free to push the boundaries of metaphor and ideas, what is?  In any case, this is not the first time we have seen a troubling idea taken to a disturbing extreme; aside from the aforementioned similarity to his own father's more fleshy, extreme work, you may easily see reflections of Darren Aronofsky's Pi here.

The film features a solid lead in Caleb Landry Jones (No Country for Old Men, X-Men: First Class, Contraband), who plays Syd with a coldness that fits right in with the starkness of the world Cronenberg creates.  It must also be said, he works the extremely ill look pretty much naturally; no offense to the guy but his grim, dour, pale and naturally malnourished appearance does make him a perfect fit.   Alongside him is Sarah Gadon, who has appeared in three Cronenberg films in as many years, with the last two being David''s all getting a bit incestuous, actually.

She is also perfect casting, and although given fairly little to do other than lie down a lot, I suspect there is thinking behind the idea that she is little more than a beautiful star for people to fawn after. In selling herself to The Lucas Clinic, the company for which Syd works, she represents the rather spiritless (talentless?) artist who has only to exist in order to be celebrated.

The film has its pacing issues, could have been trimmed, and even hits a hurdle in the middle, where it goes a bit 'conventional thriller' mode, but for a first timer Brandon Cronenberg puts together a solid, visually exciting, sufficiently unsettling body-shock drama to live up to his family name, although it could be said it never gets as extreme as some may want it to. Whilst it does not tie up as well as it could, Antiviral certainly makes for a strong debut, and suggests great, better-honed work in future. Well worth a look.

3.5 / 5 

To buy or rent
Catch it if you like:  Pi, David Cronenberg.

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012 - UK Certificate 12)


Benh Zeitlin's film about a six-year-old member of an ignored, poor, self-supporting community the wrong side of a sprawling levee, who survives an awful storm and learns early lessons in life and love, drew a lot of critical attention and even earned a couple of Academy nominations this year.  This is why I feel I've missed something, as I did not really like Beasts of the Southern Wild; I would go so far as to say that I found myself, at points, wondering when it was actually going to draw me in.

This is not to say it doesn't have its charms, such as the score, the central performance, and it is impressive that for a nothing budget it comes out so solid, clearly echoing and commenting on events in America's very recent history, but it ends up feeling like it has more to say than it actually does; for the most part it lacks engagement, which is frustrating given that the final ten minutes are rather poetic.  Had the rest of the film hit the same height, perhaps I would have been more impressed.  There is potential here, and clearly I am in a minority, but I just didn't get to grips with it; my recommended alternative to this is the gorgeous New Zealand film Whale Rider.



To buy or rent.

THE FLOWERS OF WAR (2012 - UK Certificate 15)


Yimou Zhang brings to the screen an astonishing, brutal beauty that looks at a situation where pure humanity and bravery stood against the evil that men do.  The less said about the synopsis here the better; it is enough to know it is set in 1937, the fall of Nanking at the hands of the Japanese, and that it is beautiful and terrible in equal measure.  It takes a mature look at the loss, or perhaps we should say theft of innocence, and the sacrifice and virtue of the brave.

A terrific, subtle performance from Christians Bale, which was hugely and unfairly overshadowed by his other films around the time of its release; this is the performance that should have won him the Oscar.  The women playing the prostitutes are good, but the young girls in the roles of the schoolgirls are incredible!  The photography is fantastic, but this is no surprise from the director of House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower, although it is understandably a generally darker pallet than his previous work.  Tough when it needs to be tough, and tender when it needs to be tender, this film does not fail to move you.

The only things holding it back are a few misjudged moments, and even with these the intentions are clear; they simply do not play as well as they could have done, which is strange given how well balanced and observed the movie is as a whole.  Nevertheless, simply by virtue of the fact nobody saw it, and that it is the dramatization of an important, overlooked, and even a denied part of history, this is a film you must watch.  The critics did not respond well while audiences were far more generous; in this case, the critics were so wrong, and the audience are so right!

One of my picks of 2012.



To rent or buy
Catch it if you like:  House of Flying Daggers, Letters to Iwo Jima