In Veronica Roth’s future-dystopia story, Divergent, the first of an as yet unfinished trilogy, the post-nuclear war society of Toronto has been split into five factions of like-minded people. The idea is to apply lateral thinking to the prevention of future wars by nurturing a culture that upholds certain qualities; the virtuous opposites to five of the human flaws that give birth to conflict. Thus ideal led to the creation of Amity, Candor, Dauntless, Abnegation and Erudite, the five factions designed to counter aggression, dishonesty, cowardice, selfishness and ignorance respectively. Everyone in this rigid society must conform to one of these character types and those that don’t are considered dangerous. Continue reading
Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to the Best Picture Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker began life as a chronicle of the failed hunt for Osama bin Laden. Then the Americans found him necessitating a hasty rewrite. The film has garnered a great deal of attention and hype, not all of it desirable, but it is among a core handful of films sharing most of the big Oscar nominations this awards season. Continue reading
When a book is labelled ‘unfilmable’ you can bet a whole bunch of directors suddenly become interested. It must be a badge of honour among film-makers to have in their filmography a successful picture adapted from such a publication. Now Ang Lee has added his name to that club with this highly anticipated big screen version of Yann Martel’s novel about faith and survival, Life of Pi. Continue reading
In 1979 revolutionary Iran the US Embassy in Tehran was seized by Iranian students taking most of the staff as hostages. Six Americans managed to escape and took refuge at the residence of the Canadian Ambassador. With the world watching and the safety of the survivors becoming more and more at risk CIA man Tony Mendez cooked up an extraordinary plan to sneak the six out of the country, by creating a fake science-fiction film called Argo and passing himself and the six off as movie people on a location scout. Continue reading
From the opening scene shooting through a cross-section of a family home that gives it a distinct dolls house aesthetic it’s clear to Wes Anderson fans that we’re in familiar territory with Moonrise Kingdom. Arriving fresh from its successful debut at Cannes the film features all of the whimsical director’s regular tropes including deadpan zingers, rigid horizontal shots and emotional detachment but this time features a sweet central romance that penetrates the wall of disconnection. Continue reading
With Harry Potter over with and the Twilight saga wrapping up later this year it’s time for another wildly successful teen lit series to make its big screen bow. I went into this adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ book of the same name more or less cold having never read the source material and only aware of the basic concept. Does this latest example of the 21st century phenomenon of fan bait hold up as a movie in its own right? Continue reading
The recent darling of cinemagoers of all types has been this multiple Oscar-nominated black and white silent film from Michel Hazanavicius, one I’d been meaning to take in for some time and finally got round to recently. And I’m very glad I did because it’s the best film I’ve seen so far this year. Okay, I’ll come clean it’s technically a 2011 film because it went on general release on the 30th of December but it’s too late to include The Artist in my Top Ten Films of 2011 which it most definitely would have been good enough for so I’ll hold it over until next year. I can tell you now it will have to be one hell of a year for The Artist to be left off that list.
The Artist is a very self-aware film since its subject matter is precisely what it is. Jean Dujardin plays the charismatic and arrogant George Valentin a silent film god of the 1920s who plays to crowds, infuriates his co-stars and acts alongside his loyal Jack Russell (Uggie) in all his films. With the world at his feet he gives young hopeful Peppy Miller (a seriously appealing Bérénice Bejo) a leg up into the industry and sneers at his director’s (John Goodman) new interest in talkies. Betting against the fresh craze George’s career takes a nosedive to coincide with the stock market crash while Peppy’s popularity soars.
Part of the reason why the film is such a delight is in its beautifully judged tone which ranges from whimsical and light to downright Capra-esque sad as scenes demand. So much of this is achieved by the musical accompaniment which is present pretty much throughout and perfectly guides your emotions to compliment the masterful acting. Jean Dujardin has definitely earned his Oscar nomination by striking the right balance between charming and smug to create a deeply flawed character that is still very easy to sympathise with while Bejo is a delightful screen presence, lighting up every one of her scenes. Together they are the epitome of what made the silent era so popular, easy, charismatic and light. The supporting cast are all on fine form, particularly Goodman who seems to be having a lot of fun as the long-suffering director and Uggie is an immediate hit as the faithful pooch with a bright career ahead of him (Nintendo has already signed him up as their official spokesdog).
If you’re at all concerned that the lack of sound (other than that wonderful score) might inhibit your enjoyment of The Artist I can confidently reassure you. I’d never previously seen a single silent film in my life and had no difficulty whatsoever in enjoying the unique pleasures the classic medium has to offer. The use of title cards is actually quite sparing, reserved for moments in the script in which facial expressions and body language aren’t quite enough to tell the story. In one case in particular they’re put to extremely effective use as a clever piece of misdirection. There’s also a brilliant dream sequence to look out for that plays a beautifully-judged trick in a pretty direct reference to the quirks of the silent genre.
The only possible downfall with going to see The Artist in the cinema is not a fault of the film as such. Since this is a silent film any noise in the theatre will be that bit more audible. I was lucky enough to have seen it as part of an impeccably well-behaved audience with only the odd cough puncturing the silence in the auditorium but my buddy Ryan’s viewing of the film was slightly spoiled by a pair of old ladies who evidently hadn’t grasped cinema etiquette and talked throughout. It’s a shame that this can sometimes be the case because the film deserves the full attention of audiences for being just the most breezy, well-judged and heart-warming backwards glance at the history of film. It’s a triumph and gets my highest recommendation.
Short on spoken dialogue but long on uplifting entertainment, The Artist is an instant classic sure to inspire countless inferior copycats, a great homage to the early days of the medium and downright brilliant film in its own right.
I’ve been suffering from a spot of review congestion brought about by having lots of different things to write reviews for and not enough time to write. All I can do is keep plodding on and bash them out one by one. Reviews for Mattimeo and those three animated films I bought on DVD are coming and yes, so is that all important verdict on Skyward Sword but for now we’ll have to make do with one of the best films of the year.
I was still recovering from food poisoning when I saw this film, once again with my good buddy Ryan, and my relatively delicate state had an unforeseen effect of heightening the immersion since 50/50 is a film about illness, specifically cancer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a twenty-seven-year-old neat-freak with everything to live for, he’s got a good job working at a radio station with one-track minded buddy Kyle (Seth Rogen), a steady girlfriend and his own cool little pad but after seeing a doctor about back pains learns he has a rare form of spinal cancer from which there is a 50/50 survival rate, and, as you can imagine, his life changes.
That phrase I used there ‘as you can imagine’ is critical. One of the most powerful effects this film achieves is that it makes you imagine what it would be like coping with cancer in a way you might not choose to normally. In my case I think this effect was probably increased by my own weakened condition. I’m not going to compare food poisoning to cancer but I suffered some very unpleasant long-term digestive health problems as a result of a previous bout of gastroenteritis (yeah, breaking out the medical terms now) that required specialist treatment and I survived a very serious, life-threatening illness when I was a kid so I understand what it’s like to be really unwell and the reality that 50/50 offers is so strong it’s scary. The film really focuses hard on Adam, there’s barely a scene he’s not in and we follow his journey through chemotherapy and how his relationships are affected in plenty of detail before building up to the inevitable make or break moment. It’s a beautifully measured film, perfectly balanced to portray an accurate and painfully believable depiction of a killer disease without getting too depressing.
Hollywood tends to use cancer as the perfect platform on which to build a good weepie but this is actually a comedy full of bawdy lines, awkward social interaction and amusing observations. Kyle’s reaction to his buddy’s illness is to try and make the most of it and get both of them laid while Adam’s overbearing mother (Anjelica Huston), already looking after her Alzheimer’s suffering husband begins mollycoddling her son even further. Then there’s Anna Kendrick’s therapist whose greenness at her job (Adam is only her third patient ever) makes for some amusingly awkward moments. It’s a funny film to be sure and Rogen gets most of the best lines but the comedy never once trivialises the seriousness of the disease or strays into inappropriateness. The middle part of the film contains plenty of scenes that give us a break from the bleakness of Adam’s situation and it’s a good thing too because as the ending approaches the film becomes almost unbearably emotional. I honestly can’t remember the last time I got this emotionally involved in a film and this is thanks largely to Joseph Gordon-Levitt whose immense likeability and wonderfully human performance make it effortless to get behind Adam, I found myself desperately hoping he doesn’t die.
There are a few faults, the biggest of which surrounds Bryce Dallas Howard’s character Rachael, Adam’s girlfriend who tries to do the right thing but blows it. Howard does about as good a job as you can reasonably expect playing a thankless role as a character who receives no sympathy from the script despite being in a horrible situation. True, what she does is far from heroic but considering how well-balanced the script is otherwise her character’s treatment feels rather unfair. Other than this there are a couple of moments that don’t feel natural, such as Adam’s mother’s initial reaction to the news of his cancer and the doctor who breaks the news to Adam doesn’t seem to give a toss. But these are all fairly minor quibbles in an otherwise overwhelmingly well-executed movie.
The supporting performances are all note-perfect, Anna Kendrick is sweet and very funny as Adam’s therapist Katherine, Anjelica Huston nails the concerned mother role but it’s Seth Rogen’s performance that is the most interesting, which brings me to how the script came to be written. Will Reiser was himself struck down by cancer in his twenties and Seth Rogen was his real-life best bud who stuck by him through it. The script is based on his experience and Rogen is effectively playing himself in the story which adds a huge amount of maturity to his performance. He’s still full of profanity and bawdiness but this time it’s accompanied by a sensitive humanity that is clearly described by what must have been a harrowing ordeal for him playing the role for real. One rather touching moment when Adam drops Kyle off drunk at his apartment and discovers something surprising illustrates how the character has been written to give the actor more to do than his usual spiel.
50/50 may not be the most outright hilarious film I’ve ever seen (and given the subject matter how could it?) but it is nonetheless the best comedy I’ve seen this year because it treats its theme with maturity and grace barring a couple of stumbles and I’ve long been of the opinion that poignancy is all the more powerful when delivered alongside lightness (Blackadder Goes Forth anyone?). Needless to say the film triumphs.
A thoughtful, funny boy’s weepie that will really get you thinking about how you would react to the same situation and deliver a karate chop to your heartstrings. One of the best films of the year.