Marking the first of few belated reviews that will be hitting the page soon is Aronofsky’s Biblical epic, Noah. The films received some varied reviews, and I did approach slightly apprehensively. Though I’m a huge fan of Aronofsky, the sword-and-sandal historical epic starring Russell Crowe has had more than its fair share of duds, but boring casting aside I entered with an open mind and came out pleased with what had been produced.
Telling the famous story was never going to be an easy task, not least because of the minuscule length of its source material. Obstacle one would be to stretch this short story into a two-hour screen epic. What’s been added is a battle between two groups of humans, one led by Noah and including some giant rock monsters formed by angels and the other headed by Ray Winstone and a load a sinful heathens against the destruction of the entire planet. It is, as you’d expect, absurd and slightly mad but it manages to pull it off. The characters are very well drawn particularly Noah himself who is not shown as a holier than thou know-it-all but a troubled man battling internally with what he believes he must to for his God and what he feels is right for his family. He is far from perfect and as the plot bears on it becomes more and more apparent that he may, in fact, not be the hero his family once believed him to be. He’s held in place though by his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) who provides the films standout performance in a challenging role. Emma Watson also performs as would be expected and the rest of the cast, though not brilliant, just about hold things together. I found though that what gives Noah is real quality is the pacing and build of tension which is kept throughout its run time. The fight scenes are given a sense of urgency from Mansell’s score which is repetitive but highly effective.
When every other blockbuster is a superhero movie and the ones that aren’t a sci-fi it makes for a nice change to have something Biblical and Aronofsky does a good job of keeping the action alive while honouring one of history’s oldest stories and injecting it with a style not many other directors would be capable of. While Aronofsky purist will be pining for a more artistic affair this delivers on the levels you would expect of something on this scale.
2011’s reboot of The Muppets was exactly what the furry troupe needed with Jason Segel sentimental yet warmly funny script and Brett Mckenzie (of Flight of the Conchords) trademark comedy song writing we were treated to a movie which stood up to the original series and in some aspects surpassed them. It was a box office smash and now being a Disney property a sequel was inevitability. This time round Segel’s no longer on board but with a replacement human lead in the form of Ricky Gervais and more original songs from Mckenzie this crime caper adventure still held promise.
Muppets Most Wanted begins exactly where The Muppets left off, it literally begins with the ‘The End’ firework that closed the first movie and we immediately found ourselves treated to our first musical number, ‘We’re Doing a Sequel’ and from here on the laughs come thick and fast. The plot sees Gervais’ Dominic Badguy assuming control of The Muppets and offering to take them on a world tour. Little do they know Badguy is not all kosher and is in fact in cahoots with the most wanted criminal in the world and Kermit doppelganger Constantine. Together they’ve hatched a plan to switch places with Kermit seeing the friendly frog sent to stay in Gulag while Badguy and Constantine find a way to the crown jewels framing The Muppets as they go. Hot on their trail though are Sam the American Eagle and French police office Jean Paul Napoleon (Ty Burrell) who provide us with perhaps the best laughs of the film most of which come from the ridiculous stereotypes exemplified by Burrell’s delightfully over-the-top Frnechman. Similar amounts of humour are to be found in the Gulag scenes as Kermit is entailed to teach inmates, who include the likes of Danny Trejo and Ray Liotta, how to perform a Broadway musical. Though the laughs don’t stop this film does suffer from a lack of heart, that sentimentality that Segel managed to inject into part one is missing here and by the films overlong climax this does become quite apparent and unfortunately for me the last ten to fifteen minutes don’t manage to keep the momentum going.
Overall though this is a sequel that on a comedy aspect is perhaps even better than the first part, however, its lack of heart means that as a while this isn’t quite a complete piece of work. Definitely worth a watch though for some light entertainment with good jokes and some great songs.
This week I got gifted to a free preview screening of this new prison drama starring Jack O’Connell. Eric (O’Connell) is a young offender with a real violence issue who is transferred for the first time to adult prison. He is prematurely transferred as the term ‘starred up’ means he has caused too much trouble for the juvenile prison to contain him. Things don’t go well to begin with at the new prison and then he runs into his father, Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), who is himself very quick to anger and has caused Eric some real emotional trauma in the past by being absent (presumably behind bars). An anger management counsellor, Oliver (Rupert Friend), tries to take Eric under his wing and begins to make real progress but Neville doesn’t like to think that someone is doing a better job with his son than he is and what follows is a gripping, gritty and important prison drama for our times.
In all the reviews I’ve read for the film so far the acting has been the main source of praise, and it’s hard to argue with that. O’Connell’s troubled youngster is so believable its hard to separate the actor from the character. A perfect example of the kind of kid that society has given up on. Mendelsohn is also brilliant, his Neville is short on brains and an obvious pointer to why Eric is the way he is, he’s made into a fully fleshed human being by Mendelsohn and is exactly the kind of character you imagine would exist in jail. The writing deserves commendation as well creating a simple plot that remains gripping throughout and really manages to gain an emotional attachment with the audience, it is only let down by an abrupt ending that seems a bit out of place and far-fetched, it’s as though they previously thought the ending didn’t have enough punch and ended up rushing an over dramatic set piece finish. That said it’s not enough to make you view the film as a lesser piece of work, this is one of the most complete British drama’s you will find at the cinema this year.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Starred Up would be a cheaply written, youth oriented prison drama for the Kidulthood generation but in reality this is a gripping, realistic portrayal that brings forward some important issues about our society. One of the very few great British dramas around, go and see it!
Wes Anderson for some time now has been one of the biggest indie directors around. With a slight dip in form occurring with 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, both of which are enjoyable but lacking a certain heart, Anderson seems to have rediscovered himself following on from his animated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. So in 2014 he returns with The Grand Budapest Hotel, a sprawling crime caper with a cast bigger than one of those terrible ‘New Years Eve’ type movies. Starring Ralph Fiennes as the spectacularly posh/camp owner of the Hotel, M. Gustave, a character who has always had a special relationship with his older lady visitors is gifted a priceless painting by one of his closest visitors when she is murdered. This doesn’t go down particularly well with her sons though and this begins a manhunt for Gustave with an aim to frame him for the murder.
This is perhaps Anderson’s most precise work, known for his meticulous style The Grand Budapest takes this a new level, at least in live action. It’s so perfectly framed with every little detail designed to be just so the film often feels like an animation in the same vein as Fantastic Mr Fox. And here the script really suits the style, the script and the aesthetic merge together to create what could well be Anderson’s best realised comedic universe yet. The casting is flawless too, Fiennes’ performance is inspired as the rather bizarre but inifinitely likeable Gustave and other highlights come from his lobby boy, newcomer, Tony Revolori who is Gustave’s protege and best friend. Willem Dafoe as Jopling, is a psychopathic son of the murdered Madame D. and with very few lines he brings probably the most laughs of anyone. The cast is so large, though, and all of them perform so well that I can’t mention tham all as much as I would like. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a bit slow to kick things off and it does spend slightly too long setting the scene but when events do start picking up it is well worth the wait and as it builds to a climax the visuals become more and more impressive in equal measure to the humour. This is a prime example of an auteur confident, accomplished and at the top of his game.
This may not be a film for people who aren’t familiar with Anderson but for those who are this is certainly one of his best. And a prime example of his unique style. Although I wouldn’t go as far as this is his best film this continues a blinding run of form for the writer-director and is up there with his best works.
Zandalee looked very much like a promising venture for Cage. Featuring one of the most insane Cage meltdowns and casting the man himself as a manic artist who acts on impulse and is, supposedly, really sexy. What ensued however was one of the worst things I have ever witnessed in my life.
The plot, if you can call it that, follows Zandalee (Erika Anderson) who is having marriage problems with her poet husband, Thierry (Judge Reinhold). Being such an emotional sol Thierry has deemed himself unfit to have sex with Zandalee anymore, this is explained through his ridiculously non-sensical and just plain boring dialogue. It actually beggars belief just how absolutely awful his dialogue is, its as if with every line he’s attempting to speak poetry but none of it sounds good nor has any meaning. After watching this film for ten minutes you learn that it’s actually impossible to pay any attention to any of the dialogue because its such utter drivel. So, anyway, Zandalee and Thierry are having their problems and then Cage turns up and Zandalee falls for him eventually leading to a sexual fling. After a couple encounters between the pair Thierry catches on to what’s going on between them and starts to go about dealing with the issue in a really bizarre way. There are ridiculous scenes in which he talks in his strange anti-poetry and explains that he should be angry with someone for sleeping with his wife but is actually grateful that he’s satisfying her in a way that he can’t. When things draw to a climax the three of them go on a trip away with a speed boat and things kick off in what is possibly the lamest resolution ever written. After this Cage has his meltdown, in which he covers himself in black paint.
As great as the meltdown is this makes up for five minutes of an hour and forty of completely awful shit. This may well be the worst film I’ve ever seen, perhaps, even worse than Stolen and not even a Cage meltdown can save this, its a wonder anyone involved in this movie went on to have a career in the business.
So the Oscar season may have drawn to a close but that’s not to say there’s not a load more quality films to get excited about in the coming weeks. This week saw the release of Jim Jarmusch’s vampire romance Only Lovers Left Alive. Starring Tom Hiddlestone and Tilda Swinton the indie auteur takes us on a dark yet warm trip with this rather unconventional couple. In his distinctive unusual style the film is not especially plot-driven but is an artistic depiction of these two incredibly interesting characters and array of their acquaintances.
The casting here is superb and can’t be faulted. Hiddlestone’s Adam is a reclusive, suicidal music lover, with a particular taste for funeral music. He is taken care of by Ian, (Anton Yelchin) a human, or zombie as the vampires name them, who delivers Adam anything he needs mainly guitars and in exchange Ian spreads his music into the club scene, albeit without naming Adam at any point with unmarked plain records. Swinton’s Eve is a very different personality to Adam, she is excited and amazed by any knowledge she can gain and has some friends in the outside world, including a fellow vampire Marlowe (John Hurt). Swinton looks absolutely incredible throughout, he back-combed silver-white hair coupled with her otherworldly features, especially her big, dark eyes, have never looked better. Jarmusch manages to create an authentic look for all the characters as a matter of fact and that authenticity is really at heart of why I liked this film so much. Another great character Ava (Mia Wasikowska) is also brilliantly written, turning up un-announced she really provides with an idea of just how different these vampire can be. Music is pumping through this films veins, at times there are long sections of just music without dialogue and these work particularly well to create the Jarmusch’s desired mood throughout.
If there was a problem it would be a lack of tension or excitement, perhaps, it could have done with a more plot-driven script. However, overall this perfectly crafted mood piece is enough to carry you through to the end and leave the cinema having witnessed two characters who define cool and redefine why vampires are such an interesting idea. very much the anti-Twilight the vampire genre deserved.