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Garden State, Film Review

12 August 2010 1 comment

This cult film, written, starring and directed by Zach Braff (his feature film debut) is bizarre from start till finish and unfortunately a bit of a jumbled mess. Considered a ‘major success’ for the Scrubs actor it loses direction and meanders through to the end with no real climax or feeling of satisfaction for watching it.

Garden State

The film has an overall relaxed feel to it, reflecting the serene nature of the lead (Zack) and the drugged up medicated world he’s trapped in since actions in his tragic past whereby his father began dictating his life into a prescription-guided haze.

It’s all about him finally returning home to New Jersey (the Garden state) after receiving word from his father that his mother has died. He hooks up with his old friends who still live there and also meets and ends up falling in love with an equally eccentric person (Natalie Portman).

The film is full of oddball characters and awkward relationships that you probably wouldn’t relate to unless you were really unlucky (especially between him and his dad). It relies too much though on this for laughs as it doesn’t really feature any written jokes, though it will make you laugh out loud in places with its awkwardness and just plain bizarreness.

The themes of the film are about love and awakening (one of the scenes towards the end of the film where they all scream into the ‘abyss’ is a scene of rebirth for the main character). It’s just that these aren’t really formulated into a film with any direction or real meaning.

I haven’t seen a film in a long time where I’ve been waiting for the end credits to finally roll.

Categories: Film Reviews

300, Film Review

12 August 2010 Leave a comment

In 480bc an alliance of Greek city-states fought the invading Persian Empire at the pass of Thermopylae in central Greece. History states that although vastly outnumbered, a small force led by King Leonidas of Sparta blocked the only passable road against the massive army of Xerxes I of Persia, resulting in three days of battle before the Greeks were supposedly betrayed by a local resident named Ephialtes.

Gerard Butler in 300

The Persians took the pass but only after heavy losses compared to those of the Greeks. The fierce resistance of the Spartan-led army offered Athens time to prepare for a decisive naval battle at the Battle of Salamis where the Persian Empire’s navy was destroyed and Xerxes I retreated back to Asia.

The Spartans finally assembled a full strength army and defeated the Persians decisively at the Battle of Plataea, ending the Greco-Persian War and the expansion of the Persian Empire. This was a pivotal moment in history stopping the Persian empire at the height of it’s power, and the spread of their religion and culture into Europe.

Frank Miller’s graphic novel is based on this true-life story (somewhat embellishing of course) and the film 300 is basically a shot-for-shot adaptation of the comic book. Even Zack Snyder the director photocopied pages from it and planned exact screen shots using the illustrations.

Shot almost entirely with bluescreen to enable exact duplication of the imagery of the graphic novel, 300 is also framed by a voice-over narrative by the Spartan soldier Dilios. This soldier is revealed at the end of the film as telling the story to a Spartan audience before the Battle of Plataea, and allows the film makers to make the film so fantastical as it’s through his storytelling that the film is told.

The film is a macho action-packed blood-fest with plenty of gore, and to do this effectively CGI is heavily used – a total of ten special effects companies handled post production of the film which lasted for an entire year. Colours were manipulated (the contrast was increased and colours tinted) to give the film a gritty illustrative feel to match the graphic novel.

The ‘West’ (goodies) vs ‘East’ (baddies) polarization of the film was jumped upon, especially in Iran where they labelled it an attack on their historical identity. It doesn’t help that Xerxes is portrayed as a 8ft androgynous Kemal from Big Brother 6 (UK version). It is however missing the point as it’s just a heavily stylised film that is basically about guys slaying and kicking the crap out of one another. There’s no political agenda behind it.

The characters are one dimensional and the ultra-aggressive Spartans all sport bodies that would put the Chippendales to shame – they jump around easily slaying grey clothed Persians who look like they’re all on a deathwish. The spraying blood and lost limbs all add to the constant action and feel of the film. It’s not really shocking, but more entertaining in the way Tarantino’s Kill Bill action sequences are.

As such it’s very much stuck in that genre, but is one of the best in that category (better than Kill Bill anyway). A macho, heavily stylised film, it’s one that dazzles with it’s action sequences and battle scenes.

Go watch it if you haven’t seen it! Sparta!!!!!!!

Categories: Film Reviews

No Country for Old Men, Film Review

12 August 2010 Leave a comment

No Country for Old Men is a gripping ‘cat and mouse’ film that is well worth watching for it’s violence, suspense and most notably, the excellent character of Anton Chigurh, the unstoppable sociopathic assassin central to the plot (played brilliantly by the mop-topped Javier Bardem).

Javier Barden is brilliant in No country for Old Men and alone makes the film worth seeing

The Leon Brothers stay true to the original Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, but focus on their usual themes of time and place, moral choices, immoral certainties, human nature and fate.  The film is also notable for its minimal use of dialogue, relying mostly on imagery and editing to create the film’s dramatic tension and feeling of danger.

The storyline’s main character Llewelyn Moss, a retired monosyllabic Vietnam Vet played by the excellent Josh Brolin, stumbles upon the aftermath of a botched Mexican drug deal and makes off with a suitcase holding two million dollars in drug money.

The rest of the film involves the deadly assassin Anton who chases Llewelyn for the money and the indiscriminate death and destruction he leaves in his wake – amongst his armory includes a captive bolt pistol, his signature weapon, which he also uses to break into places by blowing out lock cylinders.

All this destruction exasperates the ageing Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who is growing weary of the changing times and in not being able to make a difference (hence the title of the film No Country for Old Men).

It’s an engaging, captivating film due to the suspense and the clever ways the characters chase/manage-to-avoid one another. The script is lean but well written (and funny in places too – especially between Javier Bardem and a shop keeper who doesn’t realise how close he comes to being killed). There’s a great cast and the acting is flawless, and of course the directing is fantastic and amongst the Coen Brother’s best.

The only quibbles I have though are with the storyline – one of the main characters doesn’t get the send-off he deserves, and Woody Harrelson’s character is overall a bit pointless (I guess though that this is a case of the ‘unstoppable evil’ winning over what you think is the good guy in the film).

The other thing which many film viewers may find disappointing, considering how good the rest of the film is, is the ending which trails off and doesn’t feature a neat round up of all the surviving characters (though it could be said this ending is very much in keeping with the whole feel of the film and the characters it contains).

All in all a brilliant film and one you should definitely see if you get the chance.

Categories: Film Reviews

The Pianist, Film Review

12 August 2010 Leave a comment

Watching a film about the Holocaust is never easy, and I for one always go into watching such films with guarded emotions of what I’m about to watch. All the atrocities and suffering the Jews lived through in the 1940’s is unimaginable compared to living in today’s society, and can be upsetting and disturbing to watch (rightly so of course).

That said, I enjoyed watching the Pianist and was impressed with how well made the film is. I also felt like I had learnt something about history after watching it. The film has the overall feel of an expertly crafted and detailed piece of work, being both visually stunning to watch (some of the sets such as the levelled Warsaw are fantastic) and also giving a really believable impression of what it must have been like to live as a Jew during the Nazi occupation of Poland.

Told through the eyes of a professional piano player Szpilman, it starts with his life before occupation and it’s decent into chaos over the coming years. With great detail it shows what how the Jews were gradually separated from the rest of the population before being moved to the large and small Jewish ghettos. It then depicts what daily life in the ghettos was like, where occupants face hunger, persecution and the ever present fear of death or torture by the SS. Finally Szpilman is living alone in the ruins of Warsaw after escaping deportation and living in various hiding places provided by Jewish sympathisers.

It’s these situations that are told with such attention to detail that really make the film. Real-life events such as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Warsaw Uprising are also included. There’s also accurate references to real life figures such as the hateful figure Josef Blösche, a specialist for finding remaining, hidden Jews, and who executed about 2000 for no reason and with no mercy, including pregnant women and infants. Two scenes resemble Blösche’s typical actions as witnessed by victims or former SS comrades – both are chilling to watch and show how inhumanely his victims were treated.

Adrien Brody as the lead character gives a good performance and plays Szpilman for the humble man he really was. His acting is understated in some scenes but it must have been what the Director Roman Polanski wanted. Overall The Pianist is a fascinating film and one i’d recommend as a must see film.

Categories: Film Reviews

This is England, Film Review

12 August 2010 Leave a comment

Set over the summer holidays of 1983, This is England focuses on Shaun, a lonely and bullied 12 year old boy who after moving to a run-down coastal town with his single mum, falls in with and joins a group of (surprisingly friendly) older skinheads. The Gang’s leader Woody provides a new role model, and Shaun’s new found friends act as both a new family as well as a new lease of life in parties, girls, Ben Sherman shirts, Doc Martin boots and shaven hairstyles.

The easy-going camaraderie and innocence of the gang is soon split though by the arrival of Combo, a much older man previously known by Woody before doing time inside for 3 years. Something that Woody managed to avoid due to Combo ‘keeping his silence’ for some past crime they did together.

Fresh out of prison, combo (who reminds me of a white version of Craig Charles) is now a dangerous, racist, National Front member who blames England’s economic woes, growing unemployment and post-war grievances on the influx of foreign minorities. He splits the gang in two asking members to join ‘his fight for England’. Shaun turns his back on Woody and joins Combo, feeling somehow that he owes it to his dad after his death in the Falklands War. Soon he submerges into the seedy world of National Front meetings and violence towards the local Pakistani community.

The film captures the mood of the time well and is interlaced with library footage of Roland Rat, Margaret Thatcher, Rubik’s Cubes, the Royal Wedding, The Falklands War etc, all adding to the feel of the film. It handles themes of masculinity, rejection, role models, violence and race-hate with ease. However although being a good film to watch, it’s spoilt by two main things;

Firstly the story and script has a feeling of improbability about it so you can’t help forgetting that it’s only a film you’re watching (although it is supposedly based on the personal experiences of Director Shane Meadows).  The gang are surprisingly welcoming to Shaun who’s roughly 4 years younger and well over a foot shorter in height. His standing in the group also seems a bit too high and he even get’s a 15 year old girlfriend who looms over him. Even the relationships, interaction and conversations between gang members seem at times too adult and just odd. This nagging feel to the film unfortunately takes away the emphasis on the great acting on show – Thomas Turgoose is cast brilliantly as the main character Shaun and plays his part very well. I’d even say he makes the film.

The 2nd thing is that the film ends far too abruptly. Combo who reveals his own emotional battles with rejection turns his prejudicial rage towards and then seriously assaults (even kills? – though you never find out) one of the main characters, thus instantly changing Shaun’s viewpoint. The film then launches back into various library footage of the 80’s before ending with a frankly naff final scene. At a little under an hour and 40 mins long it could easily have been tied together with a couple more scenes exploring what effect this fallout has, but as it stands the writing just trails off leaving it with an unfinished dissatisfied feel. Open ended films do work, but not so here.

As such this dissatisfied feel dampens the film, stopping a blatantly good film from being a great one.

Categories: Film Reviews

Animal House, Film Review

10 August 2010 Leave a comment

Again like many other films I’ve seen I saw it on the basis that it is regarded as a classic. So much of a classic that in America in 2001 it was deemed ‘culturally significant’ and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. It was also voted first on Bravo’s ‘100 Funniest Movies’ and 36th on the American Film Institutes list of the 100 best American comedies (Some Like it Hot being the first).

Animal House

So I went into this with high expectations for it to be a comedy classic and of hilarity to ensue. Unfortunately though what I found was that it is an amusing but unfunny film with virtually no plot to speak of. Although being a fore-runner to modern day American comedies (Road Trip and American Pie are often mentioned), it can’t and doesn’t live up to today’s standard of comedy film that feature better writing and are just a whole lot funnier to watch.

The first in the series of National Lampoon films (that are well known for satirizing American politics and popular culture and which vary from funny to downright abysmal), Animal House centres on a frat house full of miss-fit lads that all just want to party. The by product of this is they’re all failing their grades and have made an enemy of the College Dean who wants to throw their Delta House off the Campus and who eventually manages in doing so.

John Belushi is the original Jim Carrey/Ben Stiller/Will Ferrell (the wacky guy) and this is largely recognised as his best role. He doesn’t disappoint and although not being in the majority of the film or being the lead actor, he plays his role of the oddball joker easily and well. There’s also plenty of other young soon-to-be-well-known actors in there (Kevin Bacon and Karen Allen among others).

It just feels so dated and the writing and plot runs out of steam half way through leaving you bored. Supposedly full of good one-liners and gags I failed to spot any really funny or classic ones. The chaotic end at the Homecoming Parade is the climax to the film after all the students of the house are expelled, but it just feels stupid. Perhaps that’s the point. A stupid end to a stupid film.

Although audiences at the time loved it and the film has turned out to be one of the most profitable movies of all time with an estimated return of more than $141 million, I still don’t hold it with much regard, or even a Classic.

Categories: Film Reviews

Requiem for a Dream, Film Review

10 August 2010 Leave a comment

This film starts off dark and actually gets darker – though surprisingly for such a depressing storyline about shattered dreams and lives ruined by addiction it’s very easy to watch. If it wasn’t for such a creepy and intense score it could well have got away with being more of a dark comedy (some scenes are funny and light hearted).

Requiem for a Dream Film Poster

The films premise is that it tells the story of 4 people and of their struggles and ultimately individual downfalls with drug addiction. It’s a great film and so much better than Aronofsky’s other highly rated film Pi.

Ellen Bursytn as Sara Goldfarb (the mum) is fantastic and puts in a great performance (missing out on the Academy award for best actress in 2000 to Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich).

The direction and editing throughout the film is prominent – the film is full of montages of quick cuts, split-screen shots along with extremely tight close-ups, long tracking shots (including those shot with an apparatus strapping a camera to an actor, called the Snorricam) and time-lapse photography. All very stylistic devices that give a great feel to the film.

At the end , there is a short period of serenity during which the character’s idyllic dreams of what may have been are juxtaposed with portraits of the four shattered lives.

All in all a good film with great direction and editing and one I’d recommend if you don’t mind depressing storylines.

Categories: Film Reviews
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