30 November 2012

NATIVITY 2: DANGER IN THE MANGER! Review

Back when I was young(er) and stupid(er), I swerved a cinema viewing of Nativity! for reasons involving Alan Carr acting. A mustachioed Alan Carr, no less. One year later, the family watched it on demand, despite my protests, and I actually quite enjoyed it. There's definitely a gap in the market for Christmas films that aren't entirely secular and commercialised, which aren't bug-nut insane. And so, as unconcerned with the commercial side of Christmas as it was, they've now made a sequel!

Nativity 2: Danger In The Manger! brings back demented manchild-cum-teaching assistant Mr. Poppy and his beloved primary school class, as they attempt a last minute entry for the prestigious Song For Christmas contest. After much trouble in securing a replacement for Martin Freeman's Mr. Madden, the headteacher manages to get David Tennant's Mr. Peterson to look after Class 7. He's not on board with the Song For Christmas plan, so Mr. Poppy and the children kidnap him and begin a quest to Castle Llewyn in Wales.

29 November 2012

END OF WATCH- Review

David Ayer is a screenwriter who's best known for a succession of films set in South Central Los Angeles, focusing on either criminals, police officers, or the relationship between them. From Harsh Times to Dark Blue, from the Oscar calibre success of Training Day to the franchise-launching success of The Fast and the Furious, the man loves his LA crime movies. And yet it's his latest, End of Watch, which has been described as the best cop movie ever made.

Set apart from the duality and corruption exhibited by cops in Ayer's previous films, this one centres around a couple of straight-up good guys, Brian Taylor and Mike "Zee" Zavala, as their patrol is reassigned from one district of South Central to another, more dangerous one. Brian is undertaking a filmmaking course to earn credits for his pre-law degree, and decides to film their working lives as a project, meaning that the film switches between an objective view, and the view of cameras belonging to the characters. Over a number of months, Brian and Zee manage to antagonise a powerful drugs cartel, and they just might be in over their heads.

28 November 2012

HOLY MOTORS- Review

Holy Motors is the kind of film you need to watch more than once. It's not because it's esoteric, and it's not because it's tough to understand, or inaccessible. It's because you'll really, really want to see it again, for all of its subtle lunacy. For the central performance, for the story, (such as it is) or simply for the truth that's woven into the very soul of the thing- they seldom make 'em like this any more.

All of this is my high-faluting, but honest way of saying that Holy Motors is pretty damn good. In a film with multiple interpretations, we follow Monsieur Oscar from his home, into a white stretch limousine, as he goes about his day of appointments. Using the wardrobe and make-up in the back of the car, he transforms himself into an elderly woman and, for his first appointment, begs for money on a crowded bridge. He changes his appearance and persona for each and every one of his subsequent appointments too, and over the course of the day, we're shown something of the effect that Oscar's unusual job has upon the world, and upon himself.

25 November 2012

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK- Review

Most of Silver Linings Playbook seems to take place on a Sunday, standing in the middle of the road, and both of these things serve to make points about the film itself. You could almost have mistaken the different days depicted in the film for one single Sunday, if it weren't for the progression of time from Halloween to Christmas, and it's just the kind of movie that might be best watched on a Sunday afternoon.

The themes and subject matter wouldn't necessarily point to that conclusion, but then the charm of the piece lies in its unsophisticated manner. Pat Solitano Jr is a disgraced high-school teacher, who's spent time in a mental institution after nearly beating his ex-wife's lover to death. He has an undiagnosed bi-polar disorder, and so when he's released from the institution, he moves back in with his mother and father, and sets about trying to save his marriage. With a restraining order between himself and that silver lining, he tries to set things right by befriending Tiffany, a young widow who is something of a kindred spirit.

21 November 2012

GAMBIT- Review

Producer Mike Lobell has been slaving away on a remake of the 1966 crime caper Gambit for some time now. Through 15 years of development, it attracted multple directors, from Alexander Payne to Robert Altman, stars like Hugh Grant and Reese Witherspoon, and, most pertinently, a script by Joel and Ethan Coen. Reading around the film's imperilled journey to fruition, I'm not sure if they've touched it since their initial rewrite in 2003, but it's their names that grace the poster all the same.

So, Gambit reinvents conman Harry Dean as a long-suffering art curator, who hates his boss, a billionaire shitbag called Lionel Shabandar. Planning to exploit Shabandar's obsession with acquiring a Monet painting and completing his art collection, Harry enlists the help of a master forger known only as the Major, and P.J, a cowgirl whose G.I. grandfather was amongst the Americans who liberated Haystacks from the Nazis. The plan seems foolproof, but the world doesn't always look the way that Harry sees it, and the longer it goes on, the caper does more and more damage to Harry's bank balance, to say nothing of his dignity.

19 November 2012

THE MASTER- Review

When properly executed, counter-programming makes my job that much easier. With Breaking Dawn Part 2 swallowing up seven screens in my nearest megaplex, (and possibly even more in yours!) some genius at Entertainment Film Distributors decided to capitalise on the widespread indifference of threatened fanboys by expanding the latest Paul Thomas Anderson film beyond the capital, where it's been playing for the last fortnight, in order to serve those who haven't the slightest interest in seeing how that old saga wraps up. Either way, you're going to see Rami Malek.

Other than that, it should go without saying that The Master could not possibly be more different to Breaking Dawn Part 2, and it's certainly not as driven by narrative obligations. Seaman Freddie Quell returns from naval service during the Second World War, traumatised and grappling with major alcoholism. Trampling his way through a number of post-war careers, he eventually encounters Lancaster Dodd, a writer and scientist who leads a group of devout followers in pursuing The Cause, a remedy for psychiatric conditions that apparently encompasses a trillion years of life on Earth.

16 November 2012

BREAKING DAWN PART 2- Spoiler Review

This review contains SPOILERS for all five of the Twilight films. You can read my spoiler-free review of Breaking Dawn Part 2 on Den of Geek.

Even with the final, batshit crazy book of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga getting cleft in twain by studios who wanted to give the more surreal elements some room to breathe, and pocket double the box office returns along the way, the film adaptations have had a remarkably quick turnaround. The annual rate of release means that we've had five films out since 2008, culminating in this "epic conclusion that will live forever."

Yes, Breaking Dawn Part 2 takes on a burden that none of your more serious movies had to deal with this year- it has to deal with the fallout of the previous movie, which ended on a werewolf falling in love with a baby. More importantly to the main plot, however, Bella Swan is a new vampire, as well as a new mum. Beyond the issues of finally getting everything she wanted, she and the Cullen family are once again pitted against the Volturi, when a vengeful and jealous vampire reports their new arrival. Creating an immortal child is a great sacrilege, and it seems like vampire king Aro is done with the Cullens' bullshit.

13 November 2012

BlogalongaBond- SKYFALL Review

Over the previous 22 months, I've evaluated each Bond film in spoiler-iffic detail, and so it's only fitting that Skyfall gets the same treatment. Even though the film looks set to break all sorts of records at the UK box office, it's only fair to assume that some of you might not have seen it- I know my dad is still dying to see it for instance- so if that's the case, maybe you want to wait before reading this instalment of BlogalongaBond.

To reiterate the conclusions of my original, spoiler-free review, the most impressive thing about Skyfall is that it manages to move towards the past, while retaining the modern momentum of Daniel Craig's tenure thus far, and yet covers equal ground in both directions without ever feeling torn. It's a rollicking and dramatic adventure film, more fun than Casino Royale and more comprehensible than Quantum of Solace, but I still have problems with the film that I couldn't have gone into with a spoiler-free review. With that in mind, SPOILERS will commence after the jump...

9 November 2012

THE SAPPHIRES- Review

The Weinstein Company starts its annual run-up to awards season before most have got out of bed in the morning. One of their big acquisitions at Cannes this year was The Sapphires, an Australian dramedy upon which they have clearly pinned their hopes for a feel-good contender for the Oscars. But then again, I find myself in a holding pattern at this time of year, where I keep saying in my reviews that it doesn't matter, but having to mention it in order to do that. Away with you, awards bullshit!

Of the film itself, which was clearly made without such preoccupations, there is much more to enjoy. Adapted from a popular play, The Sapphires follows four Aboriginal girls on their journey to become famous singers. The girls are all related, and their roots are in the Outback town of Cummeraganja. Alcoholic Irish musician Dave Lovelace washes up in the town and sees them perform country and Western music for an indifferent white audience, and persuades them to have a bash at American soul music instead. He also volunteers to manage them, as he gets them a gig performing for the American troops in Vietnam.

7 November 2012

ARGO- Review

Along with "for your consideration" and "the winner is...", there's one phrase that you won't hear the end of until the coming awards season is done with, and that's "based on a true story". The artistic licence that can be taken with material from real life events is certainly apparent in Argo, the latest directorial outing for Ben Affleck, but it also helps that the details of the mission that inspired the film, which were declassified by President Clinton's government in 1997, are already interesting.

Set during the Iran hostage crisis, Affleck also stars in the film, as CIA extraction specialist Tony Mendez. He becomes instrumental in a frantic mission to rescue six diplomats, who have avoided being captured at the American embassy, only to become stranded in Tehran. Inspired by the popularity of Star Wars, Tony enlists an Oscar-winning make-up artist and a veteran movie producer to construct a cover that will allow them to rescue the diplomats without alerting the militants or the Iranian authorities- a fake sci-fi movie that is undertaking a foreign location shoot.

6 November 2012

RUST AND BONE- Review

Having decided to avoid reading reviews of films before seeing them, I'd have hoped to avoid a plot spoiler about Rust and Bone that several critics have given away. Alas, I knew about Marion Cotillard's character in this latest film from Jacques Audiard, before going in. Perhaps because the plot development happens so early in the film, some feel justified in writing about it, but I'm not going to get into the details here, especially when the concentration on her character overlooks something of the film's essence.

The protagonist is actually Ali, the shiftless father of an estranged 5-year-old son called Sam, who's forced to move in with his sister for support when he's left bringing up the kid on his own. As he searches for work, he goes through a stint as a bouncer at a nightclub, and meets Stephanie, a whale trainer. He looks out for her, in an act that she does not forget when tragedy strikes, shortly after. Their friendship draws her out of isolation, but Ali's lack of responsibility doesn't make for a smooth romance.