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The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)
This is definitely one of those films that is best seen with as little prior knowledge as possible. I saw The Broken Circle Breakdown at a small cinema in Plymouth with only a vague idea that it had something to do with bluegrass music, of which I knew hardly anything. The music was actually very good but the film is far from a story about Belgian musicians playing American music. In fact, this is a fairly simple tale and, although told in a interesting way, there isn't an awful lot going on. However, what this delightful film manages to do brilliantly is throw up some big questions on topics such as love, life & belief that really get you thinking.
The past-present-future style works well to gradually unfold the details of what is happening. I found that this added very much to the tension and emotion of the film, not unlike Incendies (2010) which, although very different in subject matter, had a similar feel. Broken Circle is not as 'heavy' as Incendies and even has several smile-worthy moments to balance out the intensity.
I can see why some people might be upset by certain anti-religious aspects of the film but I thinks it's healthy for beliefs to be challenged. Similarly, some people seem to have been annoyed by the time-line jumping about but I think this actually works to great effect, especially if you don't know anything about the story beforehand. Overall, I would highly recommend Broken Circle; it's refreshing to see something genuinely different that generates real feelings for the characters and stays with you for more than ten minutes after the ending! 8/10
Django Unchained (2012)
Having looked forward to Django for a very long time, I saw it last night (the UK release date) and it was almost too good to be true. Few things in life live up to your expectations, but this film delivers on virtually ever level.
Django Unchained is stunning to look at; the cinematography is incredible from the very start and it soon becomes clear that Tarantino has put his heart & soul into this film. I would highly recommend seeing it on the big screen; there are so many scenes that take your breath away and several that justify the (rather expensive) cost of seeing a film at the cinema these days.
The story gets going very quickly and, although not the most complex plot in the world (as with other QT films), it is very engaging with many surprising moments and easily holds your attention for the whole 165 minutes. Some have said that 120 minutes would have been plenty, but when a film is this good I'm more than happy for it to keep going!
As you'd expect from a Tarantino film, the characters are well thought- out and quite intriguing. Several stand out as very interesting indeed but it would be hard to go into that without spoilerage. However, I will say that the portrayal of these interesting characters from the cast is fantastic with Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel Jackson delivering career-best performances in my mind. Jamie Foxx is also brilliant but it's certainly not all about him (despite the title!) and although he's perfect for playing Django (especially the attitude), his character is quite straight-forward. Walton Goggins is also very good and appears perfectly cast in a role that he seems to relish. The sudden appearance of Quentin himself brings a smile and I loved the back-and- forth between him & Django. I don't think there's any danger that he'll be stealing any acting Oscars though!
Along with the characters, the dialogue is first class with so many fantastic moments that it's hard to describe what a great screenplay Tarantino has produced. Shultz and Candie have some incredible lines to deliver and some of Django's insolent one-liners are instant classics. Along with the length of the film, another often-heard criticism is the 'excessive language' used. I didn't find this at all and found the language to be appropriate and proportionate to the times and the situation. Violence and language are just favourite sticks that some like to wave at Mr Tarantino in order to get a reaction. We all know what to expect from a Tarantino film and if anyone is concerned about swearing or bloodshed then a wide berth would be recommended.
The topic of slavery is refreshingly different and I think it's a brilliant idea for Quentin Tarantino to tackle it in this manner. It feels like we the audience are experiencing disgust at this repugnant world through the eyes of Dr Shultz, the foreign outsider. As you would expect, it is very shocking in places and we are left in no doubt as to QT's opinion on this shameful part of America's history. That said, it feels like he has held back to a certain extent and, although he walks right up to the line, he doesn't cross it in my opinion. You get the impression that he could easily have been far more graphic, but that would have changed the overall feel of the film. As it is, Django Unchained succeeds in being simultaneously funny, informative, shocking, intriguing, rewarding, surprising and, above all, highly entertaining. Great stuff.
So far I have only given 10/10 to two films; Pulp Fiction and Leon. Is Django as good as those two? After just one viewing it is hard to say but, at this moment in time, I would say yes. It is most certainly a 9/10 but my experience suggests that most Tarantino films tend to get better with multiple viewings so I think a 10 is appropriate. Can't wait to see it again!
A very well-crafted work of art
The first time I watched Persepolis it was a joy to see something refreshingly different that was so informative, entertaining and moving. It really does stand out as a very well-crafted work of art.
The story of Marjane's younger years is interesting enough, but the highly-stylized delivery of the (mostly) black & white animation gives an added dimension that transforms the film from brilliant to classic. It's quite fast-paced from the start and there is no time wasted on ponderous scenes. In fact, I would go so far as to insist that a second viewing is necessary to fully take it all in.
It would give a false impression to describe Persepolis as 'educational' but it certainly is eye-opening and the times during which Marjane grew up are pretty historical. However, the background of the politics and the unfolding of the Iran-Iraq war are explained in a fairly simplified manner that fits well with the story being told from the perspective of a young girl. By the end of the film I found myself feeling very much more informed on Iranian history and also having a new-found respect for the people who live there. But it's also the story of Marjane finding her place in the world and remaining true to herself, which transcends the setting and could be applicable to anyone, anywhere, at any time.
The pace slows down towards the end, which is a little unfortunate, but I guess it ties in nicely with Marjane growing up and moving on. The ultimate clincher for me was that I didn't want the film to finish and felt sad when it finally ground to a halt. Persepolis should never be dismissed as just a cartoon about Iran; it's so much more than that and should be seen by as many people as possible. I would also recommend the DVD 'making of' extras; it was very interesting to see Marjane herself talking about creating the film and to discover quite how much work goes into making it look (and sound) so good!
Taxi Driver (1976)
Doesn't stand the test of time
Taxi Driver is clearly an iconic film that has gone down in history with many memorable moments. But it's an ideal example of a film that's nowhere near as good as it thinks it is.
De Niro is superb and portrays his complex character absolutely perfectly. Jodie Foster is good (for her age) but Harvey Keitel doesn't particularly shine (he seems a bit miscast) and the rest are kind of average at best (especially Cybill Shepherd).
From a plot perspective, Travis Bickle's search for a purpose in his trouble life is an interesting theme that holds the whole film together. But as good as it is, Taxi Driver now feels very dated and parts of it seem a bit laboured. The 'big scene' towards the end is not well handled at all in my opinion and just looks unrealistic. I'm sure it was all very shocking and groundbreaking in its day but it doesn't stand the test of time.
At the time of writing, Taxi Driver has an IMDb score of 8.5 – that's pretty high for a film such as this and actually puts it in a higher position (currently) than Reservoir Dogs, Full Metal Jacket and No Country for Old Men. It's nowhere near as good as any of those three and one would expect to see a much better film than Taxi Driver based on such a high IMDb score. However, I hate it when people deliberately give a film 1/10 just because they think a score is too high and they want to influence the average. It doesn't deserve 8.5 but it's still a good film. 7/10.
The Tree of Life (2011)
Magnificent but dull
Tree of Life has stunning images, spectacular cinematography and excellent acting. But it is also incredibly dull. And I don't mean 'deep and meaningful' dull, I mean 'check your watch' dull.
Having read several reviews beforehand, I was more than ready to be relaxed and let the film 'wash over me' without being judgemental. It wasn't easy though; the scenes were more like random thoughts in a dream, which can work in films sometimes, but not here. I did actually get excited towards the end when I realised there was only 20 minutes left to go and that we might finally be approaching something that would make the previous two hours seem worthwhile. There was nothing.
Some films dare to be different, push boundaries and result in a surprising, entertaining or moving experience, but Tree of Life is not one of them. However, the film did have some genuinely amazing cinematic moments. There were some superb performances from the cast and the relationship between the father (Brad Pitt) and his sons was quite intriguing. I've therefore decided to give it a realistic 5/10.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
What a terrible shame. Tinker Tailor looks great on paper; superb acting, brilliant cinematography, authentic feel to the period, all very promising. But the film is simply not good enough. The delivery of the story was shockingly poor and barely watchable.
There were little glimpses of greatness, sure, but it just didn't flow and felt like a big lump of poorly-chewed pie trying to work its way down an overly-narrow throat. As for the characters, I honestly couldn't care less if they lived or died. In fact, the best moment was the end when the overwhelming wave of disappointment came crashing onto the beach of relief. I think 5/10 is quite generous really; that's partly because I'm giving the benefit of doubt to those who have read the book and say that they enjoyed the film (which is often the case I guess) and also that the acting is extremely good in places (which makes it an even greater shame!).
Final bit of advice; if you like this kind of cold-war/communist type stuff then check out 'The Lives of Others'. Yes, it's a slightly different theme, but it brilliantly demonstrates how you can make a slow-burning thoughtful film with excruciating attention to detail of the era BUT still leave the viewer caring for the characters and gripped by the drama.
Crazy Heart (2009)
Not bad, but could have been so much better.
Crazy Heart is not a bad film at all. Jeff Bridges is excellent (as always) and the opening scene in the bowling alley is a great bit of fun for those who've seen him in The Big Lebowski. The film continues to offer much promise; the music is both authentic and enjoyable, the characters and locations both add to the genuine feel and the main character, Bad Blake (Bridges), quickly lets us know what he's all about. However, the initial momentum of the film seems to very slowly fizzle and, although it remains interesting and enjoyable, Crazy Heart just doesn't really go anywhere.
Now, this isn't to say that all films have to have a complex and intriguing plot, but there has to be a little something extra that helps a well-made film like this go from 'good' to 'great'. This is a terrible shame because Crazy Heart wouldn't have needed much to push it into the 'great' category. It was so nearly there. For example, in contrast to what some other reviewers have found, I just didn't feel any chemistry between the Maggie Gyllenhaal character and Bad Blake himself. Her acting is great, don't get me wrong, but I didn't buy into their feelings for one another. Just look at 'Walk the Line' (not a totally dissimilar film) for a perfect example of how it can be played with utter believability; the chemistry between Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix is simply electric. It's similar with the relationship between 'Bad' and the Colin Farrell character; their friendship is presented to you as what could be an interesting side-plot but, as with so much of the film, it simply doesn't deliver what you might hope to expect.
In summary, Crazy Heart is a good film. It's quite disappointing that it could easily have been so much more with just a bit more effort on the story and/or character development.
Midnight in Paris (2011)
Ah, they don't make them like this any more
I'd been meaning to watch Midnight in Paris for ages but, I have to confess, I was put off by the presence of Owen Wilson, who I could not really envisage as the lead in a Woody Allen film. He was actually surprisingly good though and did a decent job as the vessel from which Allen's brilliant dialogue could be heard. However, this is not an actor-driven film or even a story-driven film; its beauty lies in the simple but clever script and the easy-going laid-back style that you'd expect from a Woody Allen film all about nostalgia.
To be fair, I can completely understand why there have been so many negative reviews of Midnight in Paris. There isn't a great deal going on superficially and the characters are all gloriously stereotypical. This doesn't matter though because, although the film is quite simple, it is at the same time wonderfully clever and thought-provoking. However, you do probably have to be in the right mood to watch it. I saw this film on a lazy Saturday afternoon and wasn't expecting too much, so when I was left both entertained and thinking about the past, the present and the future, it was a pleasant surprise. There are few films these days that still have you thinking about them several days later – this is definitely one of them. What do you want from life, with whom do you want to experience it, and why are we always so dissatisfied with where we are and what we've got? Like I say, quite thought-provoking!
It's incredibly ironic that some critics go on about how Woody Allen films aren't anywhere near as good as they were back in the seventies and that he's a has-been pseudo-intellectual, when here he is making a film about nostalgia and poking fun at pseudo-intellectuals in both an obvious and also a more subtle manner. Midnight in Paris is full of self-parody and interesting contradictions, but not everything is immediately apparent and I believe that some viewers of the film may have simply taken it at face value and consequently been left thinking "is that it then?".
On a slightly more negative side, I am perplexed that some people have praised the cinematography and the wonderful images of Paris in the light, in the dark and in the rain. To me, the use of colour and imagery are not too impressive and I would argue that Paris has looked far better in plenty of other films. The music can be a little annoying too – especially in the opening sequence, which seems to go on for ever!
As I said before though, Midnight in Paris is primarily about the dialogue and the interesting ideas that it throws out to the audience. Catch them if you like, and run with them. It's a great easy-going relaxing film that'll hopefully leave you both entertained and thought- provoked.
It was very exciting to hear that 'Untouchable' would finally be shown in the UK after appearing in so many other countries first. Having read plenty of hype about this film I was preparing myself to be disappointed but, luckily, the film felt engaging from the very beginning and went on to be a wonderfully touching and funny experience. There is also a fair amount of excitement and romance thrown in for good measure!
Despite appearances, Untouchable is not really about race, disability or class; it's about friendship. The two main characters both feel disconnected from society for various reasons, yet the connection between these two outsiders is so genuine and believable that you are drawn into their relationship. In fact, the performances from Omar Sy and François Cluzet are simply incredible. The massive amount of meaning conveyed in the slightest look between them is acting at its very best. On many occasions, you find yourself laughing with them and the fact that one is a rich white guy in a wheelchair and the other is a poor black guy fresh out of prison ceases to be an issue.
One of the most interesting themes for me was the effect that Driss's lack of pity had on Philippe. I understand that the film has been applauded by many disabled groups and I can see why. Pity is a very selfish and unpleasant emotion and I can imagine that the effect of such pity would be quite destructive on a person in Philippe's situation. Driss simply reacts to him in natural and honest way, which is extremely refreshing to see and a lesson for all those who would look down on anybody with pity.
The film is not without flaws however. It is a little 'lightweight' in places and there are a few clichés here and there (even though the film manages to avoid most of the more obvious stereotyping). The subtitles are also not brilliant in places and some of the meaning is slightly lost on occasion, but I guess that happens all the time. Overall, I would have said that this was a lovely 8/10 'feelgood movie' but the superb quality of acting easily bumps it up to a 9. Unmissable.
Respire - Regarde - Voilà!
Angel-A is an easy film to knock. Superficially, there isn't a great deal to endear it to any particular type of audience. For example, there's barely any action, no sex or nudity, there are no big Hollywood stars, it's not sufficiently intellectual to be an 'art-house movie' (despite being black & white!) and, although it has amusing moments, it's hardly a comedy. In addition, the film is only focused on the two main characters and, even then, it's only really about one of them. The remaining participants are (quite deliberately it appears) straightforward stereotypes who allow the simple story to progress. The quality of acting from Rie Rasmussen seems far from impressive but, to be fair, she's not speaking in her native language. Mind you, her awkward portrayal of the titular character seems to work well and she certainly stands out as a 'fish out of water'.
But despite the film's potential short-comings, there are three saving graces that transform Angel-A from a rather average 7 to a brilliant 9 in my eyes: the breathtaking cinematography (thank you Luc Besson), the magnificent casting (Jamel Debbouze is perfect as André) and the heart- warming gentle story (which stayed with me long after the film had finished). In fact, I would go so far as to say that Angel-A could leave you examining your own life and wondering when was the last time you stopped to 'respire and regard' the beautiful world around you and consider how the way you feel about yourself might well have a direct impact on how others treat you.
However, Angel-A is one of those films that you have to be in the right mood to watch. If you don't allow yourself to relax and be drawn into the fairytale, the story can easily fall flat. You also have to give it a chance to get started; the fast-paced dialogue at the beginning makes it hard to watch the pictures at the same time as reading the words (unless you're French of course!). But once Angela enters the frame, the story takes off on a stunningly gorgeous wander around Paris and the way that the tale gently unfolds in the second half of the film is wonderfully touching. There are many moments of outstanding beauty and even the superficially simplistic long-shots of Angela & André crossing the Seine have a mysterious magical quality about them. Actually, the whole film feels slightly unreal; this is partly down to the subject matter but also to the way it was filmed in an almost-empty Paris at odd times of the day.
So, in summary, I love Angel-A. It's one of those films you can watch again and again quite happily and find new insights from each viewing. There are so many scenes that quickly become favourite moments as you watch it multiple times. The contrast between the giant Nordic goddess and the shifty little North-African seems to work brilliantly and the backdrop of a beautiful black & white Paris with incredible lighting more than makes up for a few minor flaws. 9/10
I am stunned by the number of negative reviews on here. We went to see Ted last night (the UK release date) and it was fantastic. In fact, it was the funniest film I have seen for years! The humour throughout is both obvious AND subtle, with masses of trademark Seth MacFarlane jokes as well as some expansion to his comedy repertoire made possible by having a live action film instead of an animation.
Some people have commented on all the 80s references - that's the joke in itself - Seth always over-focuses on the 80s and he's poking fun at himself by doing it even more! He liked Star Wars, Indian Jones, Flash Gordon, Top Gun etc. So did I - which is partly what makes it all so cool! Fans of Seth's humour will love these little (and not so little) references as they have all been used extensively in Family Guy. You don't have to be 'over 35' to get the references, you just have to get that Seth is a big fan of the 80s and has great fun referencing stuff he likes. Some might call it self-indulgent but I thought it was very funny. Perhaps you have top be on a particular wavelength, I don't know.
To suggest that he's being racist is also to misunderstand Seth MacFarlane - he's actually ridiculing people with stereotypical ignorant racist attitudes. Once again, he has done this in Family Guy and been similarly misunderstood. It's OK to make fun of racism or even the public's lack of knowledge on subjects such as 9/11 - neither of these mean that you're racist or pro-terrorist!
In reference to the acting, Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis were very good (especially Mila). Ted was also superbly played (by Seth MacFarlane) and it was interesting to note how after a while you didn't even really think of him as a bear; he was just another character in the film. Lovely to hear Patrick Stewart's voice used again too. In addition, there was a generous use of Family Guy people, who were all great fun (especially the guy who does the voice of Joe Swanson) and looked like they were clearly enjoying the opportunity to be in Seth's film debut.
In summary, if you don't like Seth MacFarlane's humour, there's a good chance you will not enjoy this film. However, if you like Family Guy and you have the ability to look beyond the obvious, then you might well love Ted as much as I did. I thought it was brilliant and can't remember the last time I laughed so much at a cinema!
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Smiles from start to finish
I had high expectations for Moonrise Kingdom. The trailer looked great, the cast was brilliant, the story sounded wonderful and there were very positive reviews thrown in for good measure.
From the very start, this film has a magical feel about it. There's an innocent charm throughout that simply leaves you smiling. The film is both beautiful and heart-warming, providing a feast for the eyes and the ears along the way.
The story is fairly simple, but it still had me on the edge of my seat in places. The real power of Moonrise Kingdom is not the story though; the quality of the acting and the cinematography are superb and Wes Anerson's highly stylized delivery is a breath of fresh air in a world filled with stale re-hashed bland rubbish that tries limply to pass for entertainment these days.
Brilliant film. Highly recommended if you feel like smiling :)
The perfect film
Not only have I watched Leon more times than I can remember, but it has already been very well reviewed on here to the extent that there's not much more to add.
However, just in case anyone wishes to see a short and to-the-point review; this film is perfect! There are characters you actually care about, there is a beautiful and touching love story, there's a simple but clever plot, there are moments of superb cinematography and there is plenty of action. Want any more...? There's a great ending too!
Luc Besson is brilliant but he's not faultless. He has only done one other film that I rated VERY highly (9/10) and that's Angel-A. Both films share the theme of having a very unconventional love story at their heart and both are stunning to behold.
A Serious Man (2009)
I couldn't begin to write an adequate review of this awesome and incredibly clever film. In my opinion, A Serious Man is quite simply a philosophical masterpiece. However, it seems to have passed through the cinema quite quietly and remains almost a well-kept secret.
At the end of my first viewing I have to confess that I was left rather stunned. What is this film? What the hell's going on? What have the Coen brothers done to me? Where's George Clooney? Where's Frances McDormand?? In fact, I can totally see how the film has received so many (very) low scores.
However, this is one of those films that needs a day or two to float around in your mind. Think about it. What happens? Why does it happen? The more you think about the story, the more it slowly sinks into your subconscious. I've seen it four times now and it gets better & better with each viewing.
Almost every time I hear somebody say "but that's not fair", I am instantly reminded of A Serious Man. Hats off to the Coens for a brilliantly subtle non-mainstream film that was clearly a very personal one for them rather than any attempt at box office success.
Luftslottet som sprängdes (2009)
Mesmerising & Satisfying
I re-watched The Girl Who Played With Fire just prior to seeing this final film of the trilogy and it left me itching to discover what would happen next.
The relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael is utterly fascinating and a refreshing change from the usual movie 'love interest' thrown in to appease audiences. If you've seen the previous two films you'll be unsurprised to learn that there is a lot going on with multiple characters and a twisting plot. However, for me, the underlying glue that holds the whole story together is Mikael's belief in Lisbeth and her difficulty in accepting his help and expressing her feelings for him.
In this film and throughout the trilogy as a whole, there is an air of total believability in the story and the characters. Everything from the ordinary-looking actors to the everyday locations gives an impression that this is all real and I felt totally drawn in.
Overall, I would say this is perhaps not quite as good as the second film. However, the breathtaking courtroom scene was a joy to experience and completely different to how a 'Hollywood-style' film would have portrayed it. Brilliant stuff. If you enjoyed the first two films, you'll love this one. My heart was pounding by the end and the only downside was the knowledge that there's an English language version due out at the end of 2011. There's no way it can capture the same atmosphere as the Swedish films but I guess we'll see soon enough...
Your Highness (2011)
5 out of 10 - Very lame!
I watched this film last night primarily on the back of the trailer and the fact that Natalie Portman is in there. Also, my 20 year old son was with me and I thought he might enjoy Your Highness because he loved Pineapple Express.
What a waste of time. Sure, there were a couple of quiet giggles and a few mild smiles but overall the film just fell flat. All of the ingredients were there for a really fun romp using the 'medieval quest' genre as a clever vehicle for some great gags. However, many of the moments that could have been hilarious seemed to be missing that little something extra (such as a clever twist or even a punchline!).
It's not all bad though. There are several reasonably amusing moments and some funny characters, as well impressive CGI and an overall 'big budget' quality feel. However, the excessive use of the F word for obvious laughs and the extremely poor script are unforgivable. Maybe a group of 14 year old boys would think it was amazingly funny - but only if they were a bit drunk and/or stupid.
At the end of the film and after a fizzled-out disappointing finish, my son turned to me and wrinkled his nose. "What do you think?" I asked. "5 out of 10" he replied "and that's generous!". I agreed. Probably the weakest film I've seen at the cinema for quite some time.
I just saw this film last night and I have to say that I was very under-whelmed. Yes, it's a children's film - I know. But, other so-called children's films seem to entertain adults quite easily (most of the animated Disney films as just one example). I would concede that my enjoyment may have been spoilt by the fact that I was aware of the negative publicity surrounding the film. All the way through I couldn't help but notice the heavy-handed religious symbolism. The sickly-sweet sentimentality was also quite hard to wade through. For the first time in quite a while I found myself longing for a film to reach the end, which was pretty predictable and far from exciting - despite the impressive visual effects. My teenage kids thought it was OK and they didn't notice the Christian sledgehammer, which backs up my point that the publicity might have ruined it for me. I hear that there will be more Narnia films appearing in the cinema over the next few years - but not for me, thanks.