Do we really need yet another heist movie, another cops-and-robbers tale showing burnt-out officers of the law pursuing a bunch of flashy crooks having the time of their lives? Well, when there’s a bit of self-indulgent exhibitionism thrown into the bargain, there’s always room for one more. This is the attraction of Ocean’s Eleven and the like because there’s nothing more thrilling than seeing life lived on the edge and to the max – plus we love it when a plan comes together then rapidly backfires.
There’s been a lot of discussion about Buried, or ‘nit-picking’ to be exact about a whole manner of alleged plot slip-ups. This actually implies that when critics can’t think of anything really wrong with a film, you’re onto a winner. Indeed no-one will dispute that 94-minutes worth of utterly gripping and terrifying drama, all shot in one location in a wooden box is nothing short of sheer brilliance. Rodrigo Cortés’ thriller is a master class in storytelling using minimal cinematic tools and relying purely on a strong script (by Chris Sparling) and even stronger acting and shooting talent. The result is a virtual real-time claustrophobic puzzle that places you in the box with its prisoner, with no means of explanation or escape, unless the protagonist finds it out for the both of you in time.
Ryan Reynolds plays the sole character, truck driver and family man Paul Conroy who we discover has been working in Iraq for a private company, before finding himself in his current predicament. The heavy breathing in the dark at the start, before any dialogue is spoken, gets the hairs standing on end, as the situation dawns on all. When Conroy begins panicking and using a lighter’s flame to illuminate and make sense of his surroundings, whilst eating up valuable oxygen, you want to scream at him to snub it out and pull himself together – but how would any of us fare in all that inky blackness?
The story is so effective that you can almost feel the tension rise in your own throat. It’s mental anguish watching as you desperately hope for some sort of aboveground reference as to where you are hidden. You don’t get it, which is the film’s noteworthy accomplishment. And then the phone goes off. This is plot boob number 1: Not only is the phone model not available when this film is allegedly set (early Noughties), but Conroy somehow manages to get a half decent signal under all that compact earth – do let me know his service provider, please.
Back to Reynolds, though, who demonstrates a remarkable new string to his acting bow that you very easily forget it’s the wisecracking Canadian actor famed for his dry wit entombed inside this wooden container. That said as Conroy, the Reynolds sarcasm is never far from the surface (pardon the pun), as he desperately points out the farce of telephone answering machines and corporate bureaucracy. This provides the film’s lighter relief moments – of which there are few, so grab them whilst you can – that simultaneously demonstrate the extraordinary human will to survive, triggering not only the hope that Conroy will live (and we will get out of the box, too), but we will get all the answers.
The fact is we are not altogether clear, whether we really like Conroy as a person from what transpires from the phone calls, but we do sympathise with his plight. And he has a ‘friend’ visit, which is boob number 2, it appears, because a) the box miraculously grows to accommodate said visitor and Conroy’s fire-throwing skills, and b) this particular tricky customer is not indigenous to the desert location. Some might argue, who cares? This moment in the plot scares the hell out of you, anyway. The ending is equally nail-biting, too…
Try this box for size for a unique suspense and terror trap that hasn’t been witnessed since the likes of Hitchcock and his single-shot filming style. Comparing Cortés to this cinematic legend may seem a little premature, but the former marks an exciting entry to mainstream cinema, as well as providing a suffocating assault on the senses with Buried.
By L G-K
A film adaptation of a popular book held dear to many loyal fans, globally, is always a difficult feat to pull off, considering all the nuances and thought processes involved in the latter. So, the honest true about Eat Pray Love: Ignore the cynics out there, many of whom haven’t even read the book, let alone finished it: this is not a bad film. Nevertheless, it could have been much better as there are some elements to the plot that are not fully explained to the uninitiated. Also, and to be perfectly frank, if you aren’t female (of a certain age) and appreciate the hidden talents of Sex and the City sisterhood, this film is hardly going to grab the attention. It also won’t have as great an appeal on those fully content with their lot in life. But what this film does achieve is a sense of worldly wonderment and karma in some stunning spiritual places around the globe, even if it does fall pray to being a tad smug and unintentionally preachy at times: Is the only way to be a ‘whole person’ to run off to a retreat in remotest, mosquito-infested India, or mingle with wise, old, toothless gurus in Bali – if only we had the opportunity…
That said Eat Pray Love does allow us to take stock of where we are in our lives and contemplate making some much needed changes, and in ever turbulent financial situations at present, this story reaches out to those it needs to nudge, regardless of whether it’s conclusions are right or wrong, almost like a wise old friend, giving you the gentle encouragement to embrace change. So, my cynical friends that cry tedium at this decidedly lengthy dramatisation, is that really such a bad thing? Having a character do the leg work and research on the road to the meaning of life, while getting a front-seat cinema ride seems like good way to spend a couple of hours? Admittedly, this film could have done with a trim, or two, and a few less clichés in its script and ‘dream’ sequences, but like the film’s celebrated and ancient place of love, Roma, people like old-fashioned and predictable romance, even if the story will enrage feminists out there, suggesting that the only path to true happiness is with a man – as advised by a man (the toothless guru).
Julia Roberts plays the lead ‘pioneer’ and character of the book, Liz Gilbert, a travel writer who feels stuck in her marriage and privileged lifestyle in New York (boo hoo) and longs to feel alive once more. Gilbert admits that she has never been without a man supporting her, emotionally – making the moral of the story that she needs love (i.e. a man) to achieve life balance slightly ironic. Feminists 1 – Traditionalists 0. That said there has never been a better-suited part in recent years for Roberts to encompass – and she does so with great aplomb. She embodies Gilbert and really lives her ups and downs in a convincing way that will appease fans of the book. The actress has actually never looked better, too, simply glowing with health and vitality in the role. Opposite her as her ultimate love interest is the Hispanic seductive charms of the delightfully mumbling Javier Bardem as wealthy Brazilian ex-shipping magnate Felipe – the feminists’ eyes raise to the ceiling again because this suggests that a woman will be fine, providing she ensnares a wealthy, hot man. The fact that Bardem is incomprehensible at times is by the by – he looks relaxed and charismatic and is a weeper (resounding female sighs).
The stellar supporting cast also includes Six Feet Under’s Richard Jenkins as ‘Rich from Texas’, a broken soul who Gilbert first dislikes in her Indian retreat then finds a kindred spirit in him, and James Franco as the younger artist/actor David Piccolo who appears to be the opposite to hubby Stephen (Billy Crudup) but is actually equally emotional. The fact that Gilbert gets all the men she encounters to open up is surely a feat of womanhood strength in its own right?
Perhaps all who watch this can appreciate the moments of ‘food porn’ in Roma that cause dribbles from the mouth and rumbles from the belly – be advised to have a meal beforehand as this is not a film to watch on an empty stomach. It’s a shame that summer is up, too, because this adventure will have you rushing to book one last trip to the sun.
Eat Pray Love makes for a decent girlie night out of escapism and female bonding – kind of like the impact of a SATC film, but with only one woman’s issues to deal with, instead of four. And like the characters, it’s by all means not perfect and rather nauseatingly predictable at times, but as it’s a true story, all is eventually forgiven and accepted. Whether Liz Gilbert’s story is affecting remains to be seen but it is one of many inspirational ones that was crying out for cinematic translation, and those not familiar with the book will find ample satisfaction from this.
By L G-K
For a thriller to be effective these days it has to have a situation that we could all potentially find ourselves in. Ok, so not everyone skis, but everyone can imagine being left behind in a public environment that changes mood from active and populated during the day, to terrifyingly desolate when the lights go off. Frozen by Hatchet director Adam Green captures and plays on those primal fears of isolation, where a ‘fight or flight’ survival reaction kicks in. It’s this drive to stay alive that propels this gripping tale forward and makes for an agonising and nail-biting watch.
Only one thing that doesn’t seem that tangible and niggles throughout: Are we to believe that there is not a single mobile phone between our three teens, Parker (Emma Bell), Joe (Shawn Ashmore) and Dan (Kevin Zegers), who find themselves stranded on a ski lift several feet up in freezing conditions, after dopey ski resort staff mistakenly clock off for the night – and the week. Don’t know about you, but there aren’t many youngsters, let along teens that don’t have a mobile as an extension of their person nowadays. Even some reference to a lack of a signal would at least have crossed that particular rescue possibility off the list, surely? That said Frozen does get the old grey matter working and thinking up all possible rescue routes, including the inevitable wire scaling. It’s not that this is clichéd as such, but like the characters, you can’t help thinking through the situation in real time. The slow realisation of the seriousness of the situation doesn’t hit home, until the lights go out. We know they are in dire straits, the question is, how will they get out of it – and prove us right or wrong? That’s the power of this fairly linear plot.
Green ticks the boxes in terms of cast – three attractive and fit youngsters in the prime of their lives. But that alone does not guarantee success. Bell, Ashmore and Zegers give believable, panic-stricken performances, from unity one minute, to bickering the next. Even though Green sets them up for their next challenge – or fall (to the wolves) – this doesn’t distract from the tension that expertly builds up and literally reaches breaking point. The special effects and injuries are superb, accompanied by some tummy churning crunching, smashing and squelching sound effects that don’t leave anything to the imagination. As the acting is on the mark, we feel their pain and the freezing elements.
Perhaps Green could have been more ambitious, though, without conforming to the standard simpering, girlie girlfriend (naturally, dressed in baby pink). We are also exposed to the clichéd rallying line of ‘he died so we could live’ that causes eyes to be raised to the ceiling. Apart from these small gripes (and the lack of a mobile in the vicinity), in terms of a terrific example of escalating terror, Green absolutely masters it. Obviously, Frozen is bound to make you think twice, before merrily taking to the ski slopes – which is exactly what it should do, but it sustains the interest right up to the last minute and quite literally leaves you hanging. This is a must-see for fans of this genre.
By L G-K
Ever felt like life has dealt you a series of bum cards, like everyone else around you appears to be zooming along in the fast lane, whilst you get left behind waiting for your ultimate ride? It’s the concept behind former stand-up comedian and writer/diector Bobcat Goldthwait’s World’s Greatest Dad, a comedy of the deepest, darkest hue that it’s truly wicked and daring in the same light. It also stars Robin Williams who like many of his comic contemporaries (Jim Carrey, Steve Carell etc), ironically, appears to be far more enticing to watch in straighter, edgier roles that explore the fine line between comedy and pain, than he is in straight comedy ones. It’s also a welcome return to form for Williams – even if we see an awful lot more of him than expect.
As hapless Lance Clayton, a downtrodden teacher by day, but a struggling writer and tormented father of awkward teen potty mouth Kyle (Daryl Sabara) by night, Williams is immensely refreshing and a little bit risqué in this delicious and cinematically subdued indie production that reveals subliminal, satirical humour through the poignant everyday situations Clayton experiences, as his life begins to unravel. Aside from One Hour Photo, this is perhaps one of the most compelling parts Williams has ever tackled, allowing him to visit the full breadth of the emotional spectrum, combining both laughter and tragedy in one truly rich character on the fast track to near middle-age breakdown. But Clayton gets a different kind of break through a personal tragedy, after experiencing the searing pain of losing someone close. The trigger point in the story is portrayed in one of the most memorable, climatic and artistically enacted grief scenes to date that proves quite unsettling to watch, but is not without its twisted sense of humour waiting in the wings.
What transpires after this turning point and takes the film to an amoral dimension that is a whirlwind of fun to follow is a father not only trying to cope with his grief, but battling his guilty conscience at having the dream opportunity and time of his life. Similar to a 2010 version of Heathers, this story looks at all manner of sins, including greed and vanity and the modern-day unhealthy obsession with fame. However, it inevitably sides with morality – only after the damage has been done.
The film adds lashings of cynicism, almost mocking our expectation of a neat return to order. We are still undecided on the ending that seems to suggest that if you stand on the outside of conformity, you always will, and ought to expect this is your lot, but it’s tricky to think of how better to end this film, and its conclusion is as good as any other for such a sharply executed tale from an aspiring director.
By L G-K
Ben Affleck is developing into quite a director, first demonstrating his impressive skills with his 2007 feature debut Gone Baby Gone that introduced the international audience to Boston and its working-class charm that cries the same ‘lost community’ song as other films dealing with urban change. Now his second and latest film, The Town, set in the Boston Projects is far grittier, but has not lost that sardonic, dry wit of the first and laid-back attitude that feeds within the hardship and serious social issues afflicted on the area. Affleck’s skill is keeping an impressive balance between calmer, pensive moments, before the inevitable storm, almost like miniature Bostonian character studies, where little is said, but what is, is monumental, with the sporadic bursts of violence, anger and wild street chases, reminiscent of Kathryn Bigelow’s energetic and gripping Point Break (1991) – minus the beach surfing chic.
In fact the parallels are highly apparent. Bigelow’s crime caper deals with armed bank robbers greedily needing that one last heist (and adrenaline rush), before early retirement. They also wear comical but intimidating masks in the process. In the Affleck film, though, the violence has been ratcheted up, with criminals that are more desperate, less likeable and more prepared to kill. The action is well edited and the chase scenes make for some exhilarating twists and turns through narrow, picturesque streets.
Affleck takes the lead role as bank robber Doug MacRay who has his heart stolen. Affleck effectively gives the kind of soul-searching and pained performance we’d expect from him, without breaking a sweat or delivering anything new to the status quo. But his portrayal pales into significance against the powerhouse of Oscar-nominated talent that is Jeremy Renner, a screen force to be reckoned with, again playing the tightly sprung wild card that he is becoming known and applauded for as Doug’s best friend James Coughlin. ‘Jimmy’ is the past Doug longs to escape from and he acts as the nostalgic ‘old country’ reference – with Irish memorabilia cluttering each location in the film to the point of amusement. Jimmy brings his wayward friend back to earth and reminds him of his roots and his duties to family and community that he cannot turn his back on. As Affleck makes sure to develop all his characters – and hence each Boston-based film’s appeal, he gives them a solid grounding, a purpose and a very real soul, full of anguish and passion for their heritage – as with Jimmy. This goes to firmly cement the film in a believable environment and build on the characters’ credibility.
Like Point Break, the social divides are constantly flagged in The Town. Rebecca Hall plays bank manager Claire Keesey and Doug’s eventual love interest, a good, educated, middle-class girl or ‘Tunnie’ (yuppie) who falls for her robber – unbeknown to her. What could be construed as fanciful, if not slightly clichéd actually works: It’s a fact that good girls love a bad boy, especially those stuck in an affluent rut, and this makes the love affair all the more exciting to watch implode, but passion. Hall’s accent waivers at times, but her persona is well and truly suited to this role, after her confused but sensible girl portrayal as Vicky in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. It’s Blake Lively, like Amy Ryan in the supporting role in Gone Baby Gone who steals the female lead thunder away from Hall, playing Jimmy’s drug addled sister Krista who still loves Doug. Lively combines sexy and tragic with intense effect. There are also some rather commendable performances from Mad Men’s Jon Hamm and Pete Postlethwaite as a gangland boss posing as a florist.
Is Affleck a one-trick pony, making films about a niche subject and area that he is passionate about? He has demonstrated his directing skills in this sense. What would be interesting is him working on a totally different project to see how well his talent translates.
By L G-K
‘True India lies in its village’ was Gandhi’s infamous and wise quote. The heart of any country lies in its roots – both in the literal and actual sense, and not in the urban metropolis that springs up around them. This lively satire set in the small fictional village of Peepli is a credit to these epic words and unfolds to demonstrate the true sense of the saying ‘media circus’ in the time of election fever with comical but tragic circumstances.
What starts as local idle chit chat about how best to save a family’s farm from auction turns into a national issue, twisted out of all recognition by spin doctors and their masters; the politicians and the media. The authorities use poor, ignorant farmer Natha’s (Omkar Das Manikpuri) threats of suicide to gain alleged government compensation and save his family’s legacy against their opponents, to the point where even Natha begins questioning whose mental state is on test here, increasing our sympathy for his plight. Government corruption is a common theme in film, but it is always the local cultural take on such farcical events that give Peepli Live its unique charm, vitality and colour, coupled with lively musical medleys.
The story begins at the slower pace of life expected of rural living, albeit a little too drawn out and languid to the point of disinterest at times. Thank goodness for the hilarious shrieking matches between the family’s women members – the age-old mother-in-law and daughter-in-law ‘slag off’ – who actually have the upper hand over their incompetent men folk at home, but who are deemed financially powerless in society’s and the caste system’s eyes. It is these wonderfully staged scenes that give the film its spirit and contemporary insight on cramped and basic living conditions. That said the issues the farming family faces ring true, globally, in all in these times of credit crunch.
Peepli Live also provides an intriguing character study of the different roles and social etiquette for women in Indian society, from rural housewife to ambitious TV correspondent. In fact the film is a series of juxtapositions, mainly past clashing with present. But it is the very real emotions and humanity that win through in every situation to unite all backgrounds.
The hypocritical political stench that is raked up is visually portrayed when the circus trundles out of town, leaving a trail of destruction in its path. This is the most poignant visual moment in the film with the debris of containers and bottles left for the perplexed villagers to clean up, whilst attempting to return to some form of normality – a tall feat, considering some have now been exposed to a more affluent and media-savy way of life.
In terms of audience appeal, this may be a foreign-language art-house picture and not to the average cinemagoer’s taste. However, with some clever box office promotion, it could reach a wider UK audience because of its lunacy, social messages and nostalgic sentiment of a simpler life from yonder years. Interestingly, its star Natha looks crestfallen in the end scene, possibly pining for just this – ironically, something he had. Peepli Live also provides a much-needed wake-up call to any rapidly developing region that happiness is never found in worshipping consumerism, fakery and even celebrity – the latter being something Bollywood counts on. But without the right push, Peepli Live is in danger of going the same way as its namesake village and becoming forgotten in film-making history.
By L G-K
It starts in school. If you’re not one of the popular guys, you long to be. Become one of them, and it’s tough staying at the top. Saturday Night Live writer Adam McKay’s gargantuan giggle fest of deadpan lunatic proportions, The Other Guys, takes this concept and places it bang-slap in cop territory, where the opportunity to feel alienated is rich comedy pickings for writers. And he doesn’t disappoint.
The Other Guys stars SNL colleague Will Ferrell and film action-man Mark Wahlberg in the leads as hapless, mismatched cops Gamble and Hoitz – the former happy to push paper for all eternity, but the latter wanting the action-packed glory and danger of the star cops on the force, Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Danson (Dwayne Johnson). Ferrell is normally an acquired taste, whilst Wahlberg appears to be shedding his tough guy roles more frequently (Date Night, for example). But Ferrell paired with Wahlberg is nothing short of comedy genius that shows off the talents of both in the best possible light.
Ferrell plays down his trademark idiocy, unleashing it in parts, but taking on more controlled and serious traits as Gamble. Wahlberg thrillingly sends up his stereotypical film persona (angst-ridden and pumped) as Hoitz to the point where both actors seem to be having a blast doing so and experimenting along the way. Thankfully, their chemistry and timing is such that we never tire of watching their team antics and the consequences, which is a good sign that this casting works.
There is also a deliciously funny ensemble of supporting cast members that simply add to the film’s overall strength. Without giving spoilers away, once Jackson and Johnson exit, having provided ample laughs in hammed up, inflated roles, it’s down to Michael Keaton as tricky Captain Gene Mauch to take up the baton, injecting Mauch with all the unpredictability and quiet insanity we come to expect with a Keaton performance, except – as with Ferrell – all the standard ingredients are there, but they are mixed up a little to deliver a character not so routine as first thought, which keeps all on their toes. There is a masterful joke throughout to do with all-girl group TLC that needs to be experienced to appreciate how hilarious it is, every time Mauch is on screen. Rather than becoming tedious, it actually gets funnier as the film goes on.
Eva Mendes is Gamble’s intelligent and drop-dead gorgeous wife, Dr Sheila Gamble, who oozes sex appeal, but is unaware of her impact on the opposite sex. Mendes reverts back to her The Women character for understated slapstick value, and seems as comfortable playing comedy as Mrs G, as any other role, having fun torturing Hoitz whose tongue she virtually trips over whe he comes around for dinner. The weaker link in the line-up is Steve Coogan whose corrupt entrepreneurial character David Ershon never really finds his true value and doesn’t quite make the grade as a camp ‘baddie’ of sorts. That’s not to say he isn’t amusing, just not as witty as first hoped for.
Whilst a comedy cannot be a laugh a minute, the downside of The Other Guys is it has a couple of flat moments, where the gag falls flat or it’s dragged out too long. One prime example is when we first meet Hoitz’s love interest, innocently taking a ballet lesson with a male, which Hoitz misinterprets as more, accompanied by imbecile jeers from Gamble at the door. That said it could be argued that these bizarre scenes merely have you scratching your head even more at the farce before you, and wondering whether among the divine subtlety you are actually missing something quite innovative in deadpan delivery? Perhaps not…
Nevertheless, The Other Guys is a hoot a minute and well worth a trip to the cinema for overall entertainment value and a great cast. Both Ferrell and Wahlberg can safely preen like a couple of peacocks after this.
By L G-K
The Hurt Locker is a superb film, well cast, well acted, well written and well directed – as its awards went on to show. The trouble is something more true to life was bound to come along and steal its thunder. Film-makers Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger have done just that with the real deal, an unforgettable documentary that says ‘this is war on the frontline’, and there is nothing any fictional account, regardless of how well made, can do about it. The Winner of the Grand Jury Prize Documentary 2010 at Sundance, Restrepo places you right in the heart of the action with no rest bite, but a front-seat view.
Restrepo is a claustrophobic dose of hardcore reality with haunting but gripping reactions, filmed whilst Hetherington and Junger followed the Second Platoon, Battle Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade, during their 14-month deployment in the deadliest place on earth, the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. It flies you in and leaves you and the boys behind with the almost faceless enemy, the Taliban, whilst giving you the ‘safest seat’ to witness the terror, hope and irony, a visual picture of man’s triumph will to survive in the starkest but most stunning surroundings.
Restrepo is the name of a fallen comrade, a well-liked medic who loses his live and comes to symbolise the platoon’s reason to push forward. After his death, and rallied by a solider with one of the toughest jobs on the planet, the enigmatic and no-nonsense leader, complete with potty mouth, Capt. Dan Kearney, the platoon build a firebase in the mountains to take out the Taliban. The film just allows events to play out with no commentary, apart from the post-deployment, close-up interviews with some of the men who symbolise everything you need to know about the effects of war on the soul.
The documentary highlights the contradictory nature of war, the almost ‘pointlessness’ of it all as normal existence carries on regardless, alongside sporadic pockets of fighting and ‘army family’ relationships. After films like The Hurt Locker, trying to separate this experience from fictional film accounts is tough, though, and this is demonstrated within the footage with the lads playing video war games. It is all very surreal and exhilarating that you dare not turn away for a second, for fear of missing any crucial moment – much like its ‘actors’.
Even humour can be found among the insanity that is wartime, with Kearney and co having weekly pow-wows with the dyed-bearded town elders who seen to have all the power in their hands, including nipping Taliban support in the bud, and hence, localised fighting. But like a bunch of stubborn gangsters enjoying the mock deity and attached power too much, they do little to change things and bring peace. It is these scenes, including the death of a cow, that are particularly fascinating as an anthropological study of different cultures and values. You can’t help but wince/snigger every time Kearney says the F word at the meetings that seems to have little effect on his audience.
If we are honest, there is also a morbid fascination, like rubber necking on a motorway after a crash, in waiting to see possible carnage – as a fictional film would depict. But like all well-censored news reports, the film-makers wisely steer clear of the obvious, angling for a solid balance between action and reaction from the soldiers to drive the film’s impact home, climaxing with the final relief you and the Restrepo boys feel that most of them are going home. As with the video games they play, there is a feeling of glee and satisfaction when a Taliban sniper is taken out (again, you do not see this), but you are brought back to earth with a thud at the injuries and death of local villagers, resulting in the consequences and responsibilities flooding back. Yes, this is a biased account, but it is merely an overwhelming snapshot of one single experience that captures the true heart of combat, as well as tackles man’s awesome ability to process the ugliest of experiences and sense of loss.
If you must see one depiction of what war, see Restrepo – it’s like working in a newsroom environment again, only with the gore and imagery of death edited out. In addition, a separate warning to those who suffer from vertigo with some of the breathtaking ‘on-top-of-the-world’ panoramic views that envelop the screen at times. Restrepo will affect and stick with all who go to watch it – it is true on-the-edge action.
By L G-K