Greetings folks! My blogging has taken a slump as of late, due to University Work… and just generally forgetting really. A lot of big films have come out over the past three months that I just haven’t had time to cover on this blog, slipped beneath the radar as it were, to the point where it seemed too much time had passed to warrant a full review. So, just before I dive in to another batch of essays, I thought I would deliver a quick round up of films I have seen over these first few months of the year, following up with a full review of a new film that sees nationwide release this Friday (check back soon for that). Well then, lets not beat around the bush, lets do this thing!
A new Quentin Tarantino movie is always something to get excited about, and Django Unchained was no different. With impressive buzz, both critically and box-office wise States-side, the tale of Jamie Foxx’s vengeance seeking free slave seemed to be shaping up to be another Tarantino genre-blending classic. And lo and behold, he has certainly pulled off that trick again. Although still hyper-kinetic in its style and editing, there is the sense with this picture (and his last, and arguably best, Inglorious Basterds) that he is becoming a more assured, controlled director. He no longer needs to prove he is the new kid on the block. He now completely owns the block. Sure, he’s hardly a reserved director in the Malick vein, there is just much more of a sense that he is a director whose style and talent has been confirmed, and there is no need for him to show off anymore (hence the abandonment of a non-linear narrative). He can simply make the movies and tell the stories that his soul desires. And while his story of a freed slave joining forces with a bounty hunter to save his wife from an evil plantation owner has received somewhat of a negative reaction from certain people (*cough*spikelee*cough*), Tarantino still crafts a highly entertaining, at times very mature, and exhilarating tribute to all things Spaghetti Western, Grind-house and the wonder of B-movie logic. Filled with quick-witted dialogue, unforgettable scene after unforgettable scene, all played along to the tune of a cracking soundtrack, supported by a barrage of exceptional performances (I’ll never understand why both DiCaprio and Jackson weren’t nominated), Django Unchained is most certainly in the same league as Tarantino’s classics and will surely go down as one of his best. 5/5
The other Awards-Season movie concerned with slavery. Albeit with much less gore. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln may have only won two of its 12 nominated awards on Oscar night; but that does not stop it from being one of the impressive pieces of cinema to come out this season. Sensibly deciding to focus on a landmark moment of Old Abe’s presidency, Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner manage to craft a tense, witty and suitably emotional account of the President’s struggles to pass the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery in the United States. With Daniel Day-Lewis in the main role, you already know that you are going to be in for a film with a high caliber of acting class. And while Day-Lewis vanishes completely into the iconic mold of America’s perhaps most cherished President, it is the supporting players who perhaps stop the film from being simply a misty-eyed love letter to the 16th President. While the first hour is bogged down by a seemingly endless string of anecdotes, the film gets a good old kick up the arse in the shape of Tommy Lee Jones and the shift to focusing on the intricate details that led to the passing of the Amendment. Quite how Spielberg managed to construct such a level of tension around a subject in which we know the outcome is still beyond me, but darn nabbit, the master does! With sumptuous cinematography from Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg demonstrates once again quite why he is the master of iconography; constructing a great sense of grander around the legend of Lincoln, whilst also allowing for a very human portrayal to shine through the long stature and shadow of Abraham. Pacing issues aside, Lincoln stands as Spielberg’s best film since Munich, a film of masterful strokes, powerhouse acting and pure Spielberg-emotion. 5/5
Hitchcock received somewhat of a lukewarm reception from critics upon its release. Which somewhat puzzles me. Yes, it is a little too light and frothy, and yes it barely scratches the service of why Hitchcock was regarded as the master of suspense, as well as being rather slap dash with the rather darker sides to his personality. But is it fun and wonderfully entertaining? You’re damn right it is. Using the making of Psycho as the central plot device, Hitchcock‘s main focus is upon the relationship between the titular Alfred Hitchcock (a heavily prosthetic-clad Anthony Hopkins) and his wife and editor Alma (Helen Mirren), who long had to deal with living in the great shadow of her famous husband. A film with these two talents as the leads says something for the quality of the performances on show; from the undeniably impressive Hopkins, to the stunning Mirren to the little character performances from the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel, Danny Huston, James D’Arcy (uncanny as Anthony Perkins) and Toni Collette. While there certainly isn’t too much meat on its very glossy bones, the charms of Hopkins and Mirren engage effortlessly, providing an insight into a relationship of Hitchcock’s life that many people may not know much about. The period detail is also incredibly impressive, particularly in relation to its recreation of scenes from Psycho; the attention to detail is second to none. I am sure there is a much better film to be made of the genius that was Hitchcock, but for now, you could certainly do a hell of a lot worse. 4/5
The favourite to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar (perhaps unfairly losing out to Brave), Wreck-It Ralph certainly was another film that had a high degree of critical buzz surrounding it, some critics even claiming it to be up there in the league of the Toy Story trilogy. This was somewhat of a big statement to make, and I never believed it would live up to that hype. And it didn’t. But that is not to dis-credit the film, Wreck-It Ralph is one of the most original Disney hits of recent years, and it is most certainly much better then the last two Pixar efforts. The tale of Arcade bad guy Wreck-It Ralph’s quest to be the hero for once is filled with brilliant video game references throughout its glorious first hour, set within the realms of game central before Ralph begins to game hop in order to earn a Hero’s Medal. This is by far the film’s best segment; smart, witty and filled to the brim with nostalgia. Once Ralph beings game-hopping, the concept loses a great deal of its creativity in the world of Sugar Rush. Sarah Silverman is adorable as Vanelloppe Von Schweetz, and the world of that game is still rich with wondrous design, stunning animation and inventive action, but you cannot shake the feeling that a Disney executive may have popped his head round the door and asked Rich Moore’s creative team to ‘Stop right there, gives us something more conventional and child-friendly.’ The older audience such as myself would have been perfectly happy to continue reveling in the joy of spotting all the references, but I suppose there is another demographic to please. There is certainly plenty to explore in this rich and vast world and I for one happily welcome a sequel on the strength of this installment. 4/5
The last time I watched a Guillermo Del Toro produced horror movie, it was the incredibly silly, stupidly entertaining Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark. While I had fun with that movie, it was hardly what I’d call scary. It seemed like the sort of film that kids would have loved if it had been released in the 80’s (Gremlins-esque in a way). With Mama, I was expecting much of the same thing, and while it certainly does share an old school spirit with Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, it shook me up much more. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself with a roller-coaster of a horror movie; one minute me and my friends were jumping out of our skins before quickly laughing to ourselves at the ridiculousness of our behavior. Jessica Chastain seemed to be having funny letting her hair down (well, cutting it and dying it black) as the girlfriend of a man who after five years of searching finds his long lost nieces, who have grown up in the wild, seemingly alone. When the pair bring the two back home with them, the girls appear to have bought something back from the forest with them in the form of a jealous evil specter known only as Mama. With assured CGI creature design and assured direction in the staging of its jumps and scares. The ending is horribly contrived, with a strong sense that the writers simply did not know how to round off proceedings. Despite this, Mama is one of the more enjoyable horror experiences I have had at the cinema in quite sometime. I know deep down that I really should not have enjoyed it as much as I did, but hell, sometimes you’re just in the mood for a creepy gothic elongated limbed crazy ghost type thing. 3/5
Oz: The Great and Powerful
I was very nearly tempted to write a full review of this film, but I think a lot of the buzz concerning this film has certainly died down very quickly, so a few hundred words should be more than enough to justify my opinion of this latest dive into the wonderful world of L. Frank Baum’s Oz. James Franco is Oscar Diggs, a travelling circus magician/con-man who is magically transported from 1900’s black and white Kansas to the bright and colourful Oz. The inhabitants of Oz soon begin to believe that Oscar is the prophesied Wizard who shall bring peace to the land of Oz. He soon gets in too deep and finds himself tasked with killing the Wicked Witch. Sam Raimi appears to direct this film within a very confined space. This being a Disney movie, Raimi was most definitely working within certain confinements. Yet within these confinements, he does what he can to throw in certain techniques and camera angles to remind the cinema-savvy audience that they are still watching a Sam Raimi movie. This was incredibly refreshing, as I was incredibly worried that Raimi was going to become yet another cog in the Disney machine, but his Oz surprised me. It is neither absolutely spectacular, nor is it a train-wreck like a certain Mr. Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. It is simply a bright, simple, innocent and very sweet yarn with a refreshing old-fashion spirit mixed in with some very impressive (but heavy-handed) CGI work. The cast are also incredibly game, with Franco proving to be a charismatic leading man in a rather unlikeable role. The three witches consisting of Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams all turn in a mixture of charming and deliciously wicked performances (extra points particularly go to Kunis) while Zach Braff and Joey King are very sweet in their respective sidekick roles (a cute flying monkey and a brilliantly animated China doll girl). The only thing that stops Oz from being truly great is its scripts apparent lack of being able to construct a truly memorable spectacle. The plot moves along at a steady and brisk pace, you’re never particularly bored, but you can see everything that is coming your way. The world however, is lavishly designed and the 3-D is definitely worth the extra ticket price, bringing the world to vibrant life, while Raimi is not adverse to throwing many an object at his audience. A fun, good-natured ride with an unmistakeable Disney spirit mixed in with a good dose of Raimi darkness. 3/5