Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Special Relationship

Directed by: Richard Loncraine
Produced by: Ann Wingate
Frank Doelger
Tracey Scoffield
Written by: Peter Morgan
Starring: Michael Sheen
Dennis Quaid
Hope Davis
Helen McCrory
Music by: Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography by: Barry Ackroyd
Editing by: Melanie Oliver
Studio: Rainmark Films
Release date(s): May 23, 2010 (HBO), September 18, 2010 (BBC)
Running time: 93 minutes
Country: United Kingdom/United States
Preceded by: The Queen
Allo, allo, everyone, finally I am reviewing The Special Relationship at long last (blame fresher’s week and laziness to be honest). It's just as well that I have a timetable for the year which means I can plan out EXACTLY whenever I can have the time to do my reviews, because I know that if I am getting sick of my delays and excuses that you are too.

To get all the hooey out of the way, we now move on to The Special Relationship. Now, I know that the film has not received theatrical release, but I do things a bit differently on my blog. As far as I'm concerned, whether released as a TV-movie, direct-to-DVD or theatrical release, it still counts a movie in my book. The Special Relationship is third film in what Peter Morgan calls his "informal Blair trilogy", being that it is his third script to be written with Tony Blair, played by Michael Sheen in each instalment, as a main or supporting character.

The film covers from 1992-2001, following "The Special Relationship" between Tony Blair, played by Michael Sheen and Bill Clinton, played by Dennis Quaid. Of course, the plots take into account all of the historical events that took place during this time, and through this, Morgan scribes a dramatic picture, which, if not entirely accurate, does work in a narrative sense.

Peter Morgan is a terrific scribe, having written in the past, not just the other two parts of the "Blair trilogy" The Deal and The Queen, but also The Last King Of Scotland, Frost/Nixon and The Damned United, all but one of which star Michael Sheen. So, you've got a screenwriter who is in familiar territory of translating fact into a strong dramatic picture, with a sublime degree of wit and entertaining dialogue, all contributing to fascinating and highly interesting character studies in the films he writes. Also, it is clear that he has done his research and knows his topic; therefore any inaccuracies which one might find (but should be able to ignore) can be bypassed in a thoroughly absorbing blend of fact and fiction. Structurally, whilst taking the basic three-act routine, Morgan is always able to avoid mundanity and the traditional problems found in this linear form of writing through the clear (but not demeaning) outline of the central plot and the relationship between Blair and Clinton. Of particular interest is the way in which the power balance of the relationship between the two leaders changes during the course of the film. Finally, Morgan is a writer who knows how to write for his actors, and really caters to their specific abilities, meaning that for the most part, we have highly interesting and distinct characters on display, particularly in the case of Sheen, and thus a very actor’s piece to be enjoyed. Morgan is a fine writer whose work I admire, and this is another great showing of his talents, and I am thoroughly anticipating his next screenplay Hereafter coming to screens in a film starring Matt Damon and directed by the ever magnificent Clint Eastwood.

For a film that is such an actor’s piece, it is only appropriate that we devote a period of discussion towards the acting. Now, as one could imagine, Michael Sheen is once again fantastic as Tony Blair. The chameleonic Sheen has no problem in switching shoe sizes between journalist and media personality David Frost and former Derby County, Leeds United and later Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough, and as such his grand return to the role of Tony Blair becomes a homecoming of sorts. However, given a great scope with which to portray Blair and the changes he goes through during the course of the film, Sheen shines, moving from the determined yet slightly tentative Blair we see at the start to the media playboy and powerful political figure that he becomes. Sheen plays this with all the subtlety in the book, opting for the more logical progression and transition as a character as opposed to a sudden change. This is what they call "acting" at its finest, proving Sheen once again to be one of the finest actors today and surely a force to be reckoned with in the acting world for the next 20-plus years. However, whilst I am as ever gushing over Sheen, special attention must be given to Dennis Quaid's great performance as Bill Clinton. Now, I don't dislike Dennis Quaid by any means, a better actor than he is often credited for, not helped by the fact that he has racked up some stinkers of late, The Day After Tomorrow in particular, alongside the disappointing but interesting oddity (in the loosest sense of the phrase) Pandorum coming to mind (by the way, Dennis, if you're out there, you're one of the best things about that film). His performance as Clinton in this film is tremendous, and he really does the job in portraying him really well. Having gained 35 pounds and getting his eyebrows trimmed, Quaid really did a good job of transforming himself physically for the role and once he dons the wig of the famous Clinton "silver fox" hair, he really looks the part fully. Also, he nails the Arkansas accent brilliantly, although not going too far to make it a pastiche and giving him more space as an actor to flex his muscles. Speaking of which, he does this also brilliantly. Although by all means he has the more showy performance over Sheen, it is the face behind the charm and the quick with that portrays a landscape of emotions, portraying Clinton as a man who has come to the realisation that he has become his own worst enemy and setting up for his own political downfall in the eyes of the people of America. Also of note certainly is the performance of Hope Davis as Hillary Clinton. She too nails the accent and does indeed transform herself for this performance. It is also particularly interesting Davis' portrayal of Hillary in the context of her relationship with husband Bill. At first, she is the voice in his ear, his special advisor as such. Politically she is involved, but she is still the subordinate figure of the two, but by the end of the film, we see her rise in power as her own person, acting politically outside of her life with Bill. Davis gives a great performance in this capacity, showing a progression in her character which sets up the context of her current political position very well.

I would also like to give credit to the solid and efficient direction from Richard Loncraine, who does a good job that is appropriate for the film and the cinematography of Barry Ackroyd, whose work as the cinematographer of The Hurt Locker would have won if it weren't, once again, for the Burmese VJ's of Burma VJ: Reporting From A Closed Country. Sorry, little plug there, but Ackroyd does a wonderful job on this film, proving himself further as an ace cinematographer.

We are unfortunately done with the good and about to get rolling with the bad but hopefully not the ugly (an obvious reference, I know, but I couldn't resist it).

I said "for the most part" Morgan writes a script in which the actors can flex their muscles. Unfortunately, his writing for Helen McCrory as Cheri Blair is at fault. Certainly, his decision to make Cheri and Hillary as the wives different is understandable, but I just felt that the role of Cheri was underdeveloped and made her come across as a clichéd and symbolic character of the loving wife, which in the context of the rest of the main actors in the piece, just doesn't work. Also, whilst McCrory certainly does her best with the performance and provides some good moments, it is kind of like the flawed writing for Ché, in that it heavily impacted the performance of Benicio del Toro and denied him from delivering what would have been a classic role to its fullest. The case is the same here, although to a far greater extent, and it comes across as a blotch in an otherwise fine actor’s film.

To be criticised, and deservedly to a massive extent, is the score for the film by Alexandre Desplat. Now, I have done my research and it turns out that the man has done work on such "esteemed" films such as The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Maybe I'm telling myself this in the context of this display of an audio equivalent to tinnitus, but the other two scores were rubbish. All that comes to mind with regards to the score in those films is "grand and sweeping" orchestral flourishes and in the case of New Moon the occasional guitar melody or female singing voice. Here in The Special Relationship, because it's a drama with lots of fast dialogue, we have the little minimalist bouncy type of music that is so intrusive and irritating and different bits throughout the film. Whenever one enters the room, there’s a sweep, a recognition of sorts, but all together a completely demeaning and patronising intrusion to the audience, kind of like the old crash (not as much a crash but a light crash) of the cymbals whenever a villain entered a scene, which is now absent in film due to countless parodies. And then you have the "feel" moments as I call them, most apparent in a scene in which Sheen/Blair and Quaid/Clinton are hosting a joint-press conference. Defending Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, we have the rising violins, slowly rising, following by additional string instruments, and of course, no grand "feel" scene is complete without a brass section coming in there somewhere. No audience should be subjected to this rubbish, and for someone such as myself who if I may be frank if not necessarily agreeing with popular tastes in music, listens to a lot of music, it is very insulting to have to listen to a score such as this.

On the topic of music, I bought (yes, bought!) Killing Joke's new album Absolute Dissent yesterday and honestly, it is the best thing I have heard all year and already I think it might well be one of the greatest albums ever, so please check it out. No Joke (no pun intended!).

So to finish on the films negatives, it is unfortunately, like many TV-films, restricted by its format and could have done with perhaps more running time, in which case we might have got a film like Frost/Nixon. It is obvious to me that cuts were made to this film (and its script) in order to meet its running time, and whilst I advocate a lean film which should shorter rather than longer, in this case, it’s the exception to the unwritten rule (that's why they can be broken) and needs more time under its belt I think.

Despite these problems, it is an expertly handled film, if not a great one, with a mostly solid script by Peter Morgan, terrific performances from Michael Sheen (another nod for you methinks come year-end awards), Dennis Quaid and Hope Davis, strong cinematography from Barry Ackroyd and efficient direction from Richard Loncraine.

The Thin White Dude’s Prognosis – 7.8/10

The Thin White Dude’s Self-Diagnosis – Rockin’ (to The Sex PistolsGod Save The Queen)

P.S. Anyone notice my new editing style? Hope you appreciate it. It’s designed to be more readable. Hopefully the blog will improve sooner or later, now that I seem to be into digestible presentation. (Oh no, Lou Reed’s The Kids came onto the shuffle! Kill me! As depressing as the song is, it’s horribly infectious!) Stephen King’s On Writing, Wikipedia and Danland91’s fantastic blog, which has got me to step up my game presentation wise, has to take some degree of credit for this new gig. I will of course maintain my usual good wit and critical eye. Toodles!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Other Guys

I Hope to make this a fast-paced, yet thoroughly in-depth and entertaining review, for I've got about an hour before I have to make time for my next assignment (The Special Relationship). Anyway, here we have on our hands The Other Guys, a buddy-cop action-comedy starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as two leads. To give a quick run-up in context, I am somewhere in a neutral middle with regards to Will Ferrell as a comedian, for I do find that as much as he has done some good stuff such as Anchorman, he has also done some really poor such as Land Of The Lost, giving me the apt catchphrase in my Ferrell impersonation, "I'm Will Ferrell and I'm loud and fat and I wear various assorted wigs and moustaches and speak in a very funny and stupid (pronounced "stoopid") voice. Also, whilst I do think Wahlberg is a talented man, he has really mad some rubbish work, with The Happening and Max Payne coming to mind. So, basically my point is I went into this film wanting to like this, but was also faced with ambiguities in case it ended being another assembly line comedy. In The Other Guys, Ferrell and Wahlberg play Detectives Allen Gamble, a forensics accountant who is more interested in desk work than field work, and Terry Hoitz, a detective with a bad temper who has been assigned to desk work with Allen after shooting baseball player Derek Jeter at the World Series. After an opportunity arises (I won't spoil, it's a really funny gag), Allen and Terry are presented with solving a case involving multi-billionaire David Erschon, played by Steve Coogan. Key to the reasons that the film works in the parts that it does is unquestionably Adam McKay's presence as the writer-director on the project. Having worked with Ferrell on three previous occasions on Anchorman, Talagedda Nights and Step Brothers, he is a skilful writer who also seems to be able to get the best out of his actors, particularly in the case of Ferrell. The script, co-written with Chris Menchy, is snappy and laced with some edgy and genuinely funny dialogue exchanges and set pieces during the course of the film. The two as writers really seem to play around with a really good balance of light and dark humour, with certain "frat" humour in familiar territory coming in certain places in the film, although by no means is it overindulgent in this sense. Ferrell's Gamble being assigned with a wooden gun after misusing his own brings for much hilarity throughout the film. However, there is also some really dark and black humour in different points at the movie which is executed really well, not least "the opportunity" that arises which I have made reference to. Also, in terms of casting, this is an all-round terrific comic cast of actors. Ferrell delivers what I feel to be one of his finest performances as Gamble. Playing the "straight guy" in the buddy comedy sense, Ferrell shows great restraint and highlights the eccentricities of his character at the moments when most appropriate and in doing so is really funny. Did I enjoy it because of his restraint? I'm not sure, but maybe so. Wahlberg too is equally good as Terry Hoitz, holding up his end of the buddy comedy formula as the "the mad guy" really well. His Hoitz is a cop with a bad attitude, but in a good way that parodies the entire "bad cop" routine of these types of films. His character, desk-bound, expresses himself in often horribly and uncomfortably funny abusive ways, more often than not at Allen's expense, because of his wish to, in his own words, "fly like a peacock." Wahlberg portrays this loose cannon brilliantly. Also of note are Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. (Mothafuckin') Jackson as supercops Danson and Highsmith. In these really good supporting performances, they exemplify in a very hilarious manner the excesses and absurdity of many of the buddy-cop comedy films of this genre. The Jack-Swagger (anyone get the reference, it's a new nickname I've given arrogant, big-headed types) arrogance and bravado on display by the two is insane and come off with more funny bits of dialogue and set pieces in their scenes than a good few comedies do in their entire running time. However, the best supporting performance in the film perhaps belongs to Michael Keaton as their police captain Gene Mauch. Having already shone in a great vocal performance as Ken in Toy Story 3 only a few months ago, Keaton has had a really good year and proves himself time and again that he is a great actor.

P.S I stopped at this point last night, as I can never make deadlines and went down to watch The Special Relationship, review due in course.

Oliver Wood shoots a good film as cinematographer, making it look both really high-budgeted and spectacular whilst keeping it firmly entrenched in the realm of comedy/parody, the parody elements of which are enhanced by the little saxophone flourishes by Jon Brion, bringing to mind a lot of late '80s American action films and John Woo's Hong Kong Work. However, while The Other Guys works on a good few different levels, it is not without its problems. For starters, whilst the script is laced with brilliant dialogue and set-pieces, the story of the film has no real emotion due to the fact that underneath all of the comedic genius involved, it's a very simplistically structured film. This is your typical, uninventive and unoriginal screenplay manual structure that does not really attempt to do anything really interesting with the plot. It's all very murder-by-numbers with your introduction, turmoil and redemption. Not to spoil the movie, but it is obvious from the start where it is going, and there are a number of jokes where you do know where they are going or where you just sigh in frustration at their lack of genuine intelligence. Also, tonally I think there are problems with the film. On occasion, it does not seem to know whether it is a parody in the Naked Gun sense of the word, or if they are going for black humour, or the frat humour seen in the films involving McKay and Ferrell. It tries to infuse elements of these, but does not balance them out well enough to make it seem like a stronger piece. Don't get me wrong, the light and dark humour works well together, but once the parody and self-referential elements start to work their way in, it just becomes stupid and unfunny. What The Other Guys needs to do is remain a self-existing entity of a film, as opposed to being a pop-culture phenomenon, bringing me on to my next point. I'm not sure if this makes the film any worse by any means, but it seems as though they are putting themselves on a leash to make it get a 12A certificate in order to get a larger box-office and wider audience. As any of you who follow this know, I am not a moral philanderer in the sense of appropriate age certificates, but this film really pushes the 12A certificate to the limit. With drug references, pretty dirty humour and swearing, it still feels like a film that is restrained by the 12A certificate as opposed to being allowed much more freedom on the 15 certificate. I saw young children of about seven and eight in the cinema, and I can tell you that they are either the smartest kids in the world or they simply did not get most of the jokes in the film and simply laughed along like I used to when I watched Friends at that age. It does very well inside the 12A certificate, but with the 15 certificate I just feel that they could have done so much more and that the film is 1) inappropriate for children - I don't care, their your children not mine and 2) they won't get it. So, my verdict on The Other Guys is that while certainly it is of a superior brand of comedy, boasted some solid writing and great performances from the cast, alongside good cinematography and music, it is structured in a very base and simplistic manner which demeans the overall hilarity of the piece when distracted by this problem, along with problems arising tonally. Whether the questions regarding the 12A certificate is anyone’s ball-game, for I felt they worked well in the restriction, although it could have been so much more. It felt like an advertising teaser for the film or a stripped version of a far funnier film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Amused (by the film's best gag, the "gag" that presents The Other Guys their opportunity for serious work)

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Thin White Dude Needs Help!

Despite having a B in GCSE I.C.T, I am rubbish at computers due to a lack of patience and would be very grateful to anyone who could suggest any potential improvements to the blog and how to do them. Cheers.

Monday, 13 September 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

As mentioned in my last review, I promised a bonus review, and here is one of them, because I have a second one on the way. As Tony Montana would say, "I always tell the truth, even when I lie" (conundrum that it is). The lovely piece of work that we have our dishes today is The Human Centipede. This film has been doing the runs on the horror-film festival circuit, winning a number of awards for Best Horror Film. Writer-director Tom Six has been picking up a lot of attention for this film, and is one of the few films in the past couple of years to pick up much of its audience through word-of-mouth. Basically, to give a brief synopsis, Lindsay and Jenny, played by Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie respectively, are on a road trip around Europe, when their car breaks down in Germany. They go to the nearest house, which unfortunately is the house of scientist Dr. Heiter, played by Deiter Laser. Being held captive, along with Katsuro, played by Akihiro Kitamura, by Dr. Heiter, they discover that Heiter plans on using the three to create a hybrid being, "The Human Centipede." Now, the reason the film has been getting so much hype is because it does to be fair stand alone in the recent schlock of horror cinema we are becoming so accustomed to. I believe that the era of Hostel/Saw and horror remakes is coming to an end, and we are going to see more horror films, like this, with original ideas as opposed to simply pilfering the back catalogue. This brings me to my point on starting with the good about this film. The central concept and idea is genuinely nasty and horrendous, bringing about some good scares and some of the most original scenes in a horror movie for some time. I won't spoil how the whole human centipede idea is meant to work biologically and be medically plausible, but the scene in which Dr. Heiter reveals how he intends to create this creature is really creepy, Six's writing and Laser delivery of the lines creating a scary scene out of words. It shows how the power of the imagination is so much more powerful than most people would think after being shown an overdose of blood and guts in recent years. For the most part, the central concept is able to hold together its plausibility, if not in the medical science accuracy then certainly in just how repulsive and vile an idea it is. It is one of the strongest aspects of the film and holds up pretty well. Another strong aspect of the film is the performance of Dieter Laser as Dr. Heiter. Taking the perennial mad scientist role, Laser manages to transcend a very clichéd and well-worn horror film archetype and deliver a great performance. Heiter is a villain of great terror and crucially, is more frightening than the monster(s) he creates. Laser portrays Heiter as a man who seems to have a Messiah-complex, but also, in a Cronenbergian/Burroughs type of way, seems to gain erotic and fetishistic pleasure from the most disgusting and repulsive things (though not in a mad kind of way, it is more subtle) Laser's performance gives us one of the best and most plausible horror movie villains for some time. The Cronenberg influence is written all over this film, especially the early work of Cronenberg which were essentially really nasty films with a strong central idea. The script by Tom Six is good for the most part, especially in the dialogue sense, with Laser dominating the screen in a great performance, executing his dialogue brilliantly but also leaving much to physical and facial expression. Technically, it is good, shot well by Goof de Koning, who uses an interesting lighting and lense colour palette for the film. Finally, the music by Patrick Savage and Holeg Spies is suitably minimalist and atmospheric, adding tension to the film very well. Thankfully, the score does not intrude in any way throughout the course of the film. This brings me to my points regarding the negatives of the film. Now, alot of critics have had massive problems with the film, giving it really bad reviews. Poor Roger Ebert fared no better in his review, being unable to judge it by his usual star rating, claiming "It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don't shine." Ebert makes a good point here, because I myself don't think that it is a conventional "film" by all means. There is no character journey, no plot progression in the conventional sense. To compare it David Cronenberg's early work is appropriate, although in Crononberg's work, the characters were never as one-dimensional. I feel that The Human Centipede is more appropriate being classed as an exploitation film, although not in the negative sense. I won't lie, as a general rule I do have a problem with exploitation films, the reasons being that they only exist to serve a certain purpose, be it lots of sex, violence etc. The film does possess some of the lesser attributes of the exploitation film. For starters, it’s not like Six is planning to make a great horror movie: this is balls-to-the-wall nastiness at its most base. With regards to the nastiness, because it is so reliant on the central concept and doesn't make any expansions from this, it unfortunately runs out of steam in its final half-an-hour and becomes a murder-by-numbers exploitation film. The final half-an-hour just seems like it was just shoved in there for filler. More time needs to have been put into the script to eradicate this problem. In this sense, it cannot be judged as a great exploitation film, but as a good one. By all means, there is a good lot of genuinely scary material in this film to elevate it from the schlock (I mean schlock negatively, because there can be good schlock, I'm just talking about most of mainstream horror today). It isn't a bad exploitation film. That place is reserved for the likes of Lucio Fulci's The New York Ripper, the most overrated horror film of all time period. However, unlike the films of Cronenberg, which seem to transcend their exploitation frivols, Six's film remains entrenched in it and is pretty conventional underneath the central concept. However, this is a good, fine film, which shows Six as a potentially interesting director in the future, being only a young filmmaker, for this has a genuinely nasty concept and his direction and dialogue enable a great performance by Dieter Laser to be captured.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Repulsed
P.S. Again, well done to marketing for another crap poster.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - 44 Inch Chest

Okay, so I broke the idea of doing a daily review, but hey, here I am, and I've got a surprise review on the way as a sort of consolation gift from me to my readers. Alright, I confess too that this surprise review was always on the cards and the idea of me doing the next review as consolation in complete baloney, but either way, the show goes on, and films are still being churned out, yadda, yadda, yadda. Anyway, the film that I am reviewing here is 44 Inch Chest, the debut film by director Malcolm Venville, who has a background in advertisements and photography. The film is scribed by David Mellis and Louis Scinto, who had previously written the 2000 gangster flick Sexy Beast. An introduction to the film would sound something along the lines of this: Ray Winstone stars as Colin Diamond, who has an emotional breakdown after he discovers his wife Liz, played by Joanne Whalley, has been having an affair. As a result of this, his friends, the suave homosexual Meredith, played by Ian McShane, the crotchety and grumpy Old Man Peanut, played by John Hurt, down to earth Archie, played by Tom Wilkinson and the combustible Mal, played by Stephen Dillane, kidnap Liz' "Loverboy", played by Melvil Poupaud, with the intentions of torturing and murdering him. To start with the good about this film, it really is an actor's piece, where the script is written around and specifically catering to the talents of the actors in their specific roles. Whilst all are solid and deliver good performances, even the symbolic characters of Liz and Loverboy, the standout performances of the film would have to be Winstone's Colin, McShane's Meredith and Hurt's Old Man Peanut. Winstone proves himself once again to be a far more chameleonic actor than meets the eye. It's often easy to dismiss Winstone as a big, gangster brute, but if you look at his back catalogue of films, such as Scum and Nil by Mouth, Winstone is a terrifically varied actor. As a man going through a nervous breakdown and consistently in grieving and on the edge, Winstone pays off in what could have been a potentially annoying role. Never overly whiny and talkative nor overly bravado in his grieving, Winstone uses his fantastic physical and facial expressions to do as much talking as his character. Also, McShane is unbelievably suave as Meredith. Despite being a Jack Swagger self-contended type, he still manages to retain a sense of cool and delivers a really fine performance. The ever calm and meditative presence in the film, he portrays Meredith with exactly the right tones and feeling. Whilst a homosexual, he does not perform him as overtly homosexual or stereotypically homosexual in an actorly way, but merely in that confident and nonchalant manner, creating a really memorable character. He is akin to a purring cat, enforced by his calling of his friends by the nickname "kittens", and McShane, for a man nearing his seventies, manages to be believable as Meredith in a wonderful role. Finally, we come to the absolutely mad and scene-stealing performance of John Hurt as Old Man Peanut. Having seen John Hurt in numerous different films and roles, this is Hurt as you have never seen him before, in a role in which his character is both intimidating and hilarious at the same time. Hunched over and with a constant sour look on his face, Hurt embodies the typical curgeomony old man, but not without bringing something interesting to the page. He is so good in this performance that you do take notice of even the tone and intonations with which he delivers his dialogue and of course, his frequent scowls and gesticulations of disgust. 44 Inch Chest truly is a fine acting piece. The dialogue of the script is written very well and really enables the actors to make the best of what they have got. Also, we have the very fine original score by the great Angelo Badalamenti and Massive Attack's Robert "3D" Del Naja. Badalamenti, who is one of the best composers in the world and could make grass seem like something to attention to (see Blue Velvet), contributes some music which is very different for him. Gone are much of the electronic instruments and here we have orchestral arrangements. Now, I usually have a problem with orchestral arrangements because of their intrusiveness, but here it just melts into the film and actually fits in perfectly. The sonic sounds of the film have been saved for 3D, who does some really interesting and uncongenial things with the sound of the film, creating a strange but oddly fitting collaboration with Angelo Badalamenti. Finally, the cinematography by Daniel Landin is good and captures the action unfolding very well, creating an interesting claustrophobia in the setting of the room in which much of the action takes place. However, these good things said about the film, it is unfortunately a flawed film in the midst of all its good parts. For starters, while the dialogue of the script is written well, the plot in pretty flat and uneven in its development throughout the course of the film, particularly in the final act of the film. Many critics have complained of an anticlimax, but it's not this that is the problem, because there is a logical progression in this, but the overall tone of the piece. Certain scenes shine and are touching or intense, but on other occasions they fall flat and just do not seem to work in the context of the overall piece. Coming to mind is a scene in the final third of the film which takes place in the mind of Colin Diamond in which he is paranoid of the idea that Mal has a sexual interest in Liz, imagining him as Liz's personal chauffeur. Also, the breaking of the fourth wall for me takes away from the idea of Colin having internal turmoil, whenever, in this context, he is using the audience as consolation. The breaking of the fourth wall in an unwise move and fails here, telling the audience things that they already know. It is the fault of the screenwriters to have focused too much on the dialogue of the actors and failed to have developed the plot in what is a more logical progression as opposed to going a bit off the rails. Unfortunately Venville fails to notice this problem himself. As a first film this is good, but really, you cannot put it down to rookie inexperience, whenever films such as Four Lions are debut features and are far more well-balanced. Saying that, the work shown in this film shows that Venville has potential as a film-maker. A big problem for the film is the fact that it is one of those cases of work which would be more appropriate for a different medium. I see 44 Inch Chest as more of a stage production, which I was so glad Kim Newman also took note of. Being an actorly piece, this would have given it great credibility on stage, but unfortunately as a film it fails to come across as convincingly as it might have on stage. Nevertheless, 44 Inch Chest boasts some great dialogue to let each of the actors involved in the production, particularly Winstone, McShane and Hurt, and a cracking score by Angelo Badalamenti and 3D (credited as 100 Suns), but is unfortunately an unbalanced and flawed piece.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Tired and disappointed

P.S. Note marketing has done the tremendous job of ballsing up the point of the film (and the alignment of actors face to actors names, a common but vaguely humorous quibble against marketing of mine) on the poster in order to try and make more money under the guise of a "Brit-gangster flick." Morons, sacrificing brains and dignity for The Almighty Dollar (in caps, because let's face it, it has become the official religion of the world). Make sure it doesn't stay that way. Peace out.

Monday, 6 September 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Four Lions

Just to head off on a digression before I even get started (great opening comment, I know), I just want to say that it is about time a film like this comes along. Not to give away anything about the direction the review is going before I get started, but this is a topic that has needed addressed in films for a long time. The reason it has taken so long is because everyone is pussyfooting around the idea of political correctness and what-have-you. Ever since 9/11, Islamophobia has been rampant to the point that members of the Islamic faith are viewed as folk devils and not human beings. Saying that, this is not helped by the reactions of the minorities of this faith who act wrongfully in their vilification and as such condemn the religion to mass criticism. The logic of these people, who believe that is wrong to challenge the ideas of Islam, is completely entrenched in bigotry. Christians and Jews are slagged off on a regular basis, but if people slag off Islam and Scientology, it's all a lack of respect and political correctness. There is no such thing is double-standards as far as I am concerned, and as such it is a good thing that films like this are getting made. Anyway, the reason I am getting on my soapbox is because the new film I am reviewing is Four Lions, the debut feature film by British satirist Chris Morris. The film was on release addressed with a degree of controversy, but thankfully not much, because of the films plot and topic matter. The film satirically depicts the struggles of a group of young Muslim men in Sheffield who become radicals and decide to become suicide bombers. Now, I understand the concerns of Muslims who might have been worried at the depiction of their religion, and I would consider the film to be wrong and highly insensitive if it had addressed the topic without a degree of sensitivity to the religion of the protagonists. I feel exactly the same with regards to addressing religions of all sorts and their depiction in the media and it would not be fair to address this without taking this into account. The sensitivity and fine line that is balanced in this film really well is perhaps the films greatest strength. The script and direction by Chris Morris address this with great skill. It is a sensitive film that is not without its touching moments, particularly between Omar, played wonderfully by Riz Ahmed, and his family, or the friendship between him and Waj, played by Kayvan Novak. However, not forgetting that having the film as a piece of entertainment, which it is, gets across the message of the film better, and the film succeeds tremendously in this department. Making light of the hypocrisy and misinterpretations of the meaning of Jihad, Morris, along with Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, have masterfully crafted a hilarious script which remains sensitive to the group depicted in the film. Little things, such as the "most Jihad of the lot of us" Barry, played really brilliantly by Nigel Lindsay, being English are important in showing how things can be misinterpreted and the absurdity of becoming radicalised Muslims. Just to stay on Nigel Lindsay, he delivers a real performance of comedic genius as Barry. In a performance reminiscent of John Goodman's Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski, Lindsay's Barry is both a figure of absurdity and intimidation in this film. It is both hilarious and frightening because it is quite possible that figures like this exist, and he plays this character just right down the line. Casting for the film is wonderful, with each of the performances balancing each other out, creating a film which is highly sensitive but also highly funny at the same time.

(It is at this point I last had the review saved. Unfortunately, I stupid slight-of-hand on my part caused the page to be reviewed and the rest of the review to be wiped. Very pissed off at myself, so I'll try my best to work it out from here)

It is important that films like this get made, both for the sake of freedom of speech, something which is a universal right and must be preserved at all costs, but for also highlighting misinterpretations regarding the Islamic faith, both for young Muslims and for those outside the faith. Worth noting is the fact that Jihad translated into Arabic translates to the word "struggle." If you ask me, that leaves the true meaning of Jihad open to interpretation, after all, isn't life a struggle? Somewhere down the line, some absolute bigots and complete wazzocks have used this to their advantage, wrongly radicalising members of this faith "in the name of Allah." The activities of the Christians during the Crusades "in the name of God" are now looking upon as absurd, primitive and savage, and the same case is happening in the misinterpretation of Jihad as "armed struggle." It could be legitimately interpreted this way, but it is a universal trait of man, regardless of faith, to be non-violent and live in peace and harmony. Anyway, off the soapbox, this is a film review after all, and not a podium for my views. With regards to criticisms, there are a few that must be addressed that are apparent to me. While it is obvious to me that for the most part the line between serious and comedy is balanced very well by the film, unfortunately it is not entirely consistent throughout and does on occasion falter. This does make light of the seriousness with which I took the film for the most part and denies me from being able to view it in a better light. There are scenes in the film in which it seems too much like a drama or too much like a comedy, rather than a perfect counterbalance between the both. Maybe I ask for too much, but I think the audience should demand more, especially whenever there exists films such as Withnail and I and An American Werewolf in London in the same genre. Furthermore, bar the topic that is foremost at hand in this film, there really isn't much else to it. At times, there are hints of potential plot elements or subplots which, one, are not developed and left at surface level, and two, digress from the topic at hand. Saying that, I found this to be a great and solid film, on the basis of the performances of its main actors and sensitive handling in both script and direction by Chris Morris. Some critics have said that they found the film offensive, but I think that anyone with a degree of common sense, of which we all have, who puts an effort to actually think about this film will realise otherwise, and that this is an important film to watch, both as a satire and something that is sending a message.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Smiling (with regards to the film)

Sunday, 5 September 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Valhalla Rising

Okay, here I have the first in a batch of four reviews which will be coming up over the next week. Originally, it was meant to have been a review for 44-Inch Chest, but unfortunately half-an-hour through the film the disc started messing up, and it was a long ten-minute scene so I decided to forget the idea of watching the film without a significant portion of the film. The following morning, I reviewed this film, Valhalla Rising. This is the new film by Nicholas Winding Refn, the director of Bronson, for which Tom Hardy won last year's Kevin Spacey Award for Best Actor from myself, and the Pusher trilogy, which I have yet to see. I really liked Bronson, and this stars Mads Mikkelsen of Casino Royale fame, so I was interested to see this film, and to be honest, was quite lucky I chose to rent it out, because thanks to the geniuses at marketing, it was almost not to be. I have searched on Google Images, and it seems that there are better and more appropriate posters to fit the film, but the DVD sleeve of the film (and the disc itself) gives the impression that the film is some 300-type film with lots of scenes of battle and what-have-you. Let me just say from the offset before I start properly reviewing the film that Valhalla Rising is only similar to 300 in the vaguest sense of the word. It would actually be safe to say that one of the only similarities between the two is that they are period pieces, if you kind of get the impression of how similar they actually are, so well done to marketing for condemning your film amongst testosterone-junkie-Danny Dyer's-Hardest Men-watching types (I'm trying my best to remain within the English language with regards to my terms, but sometimes it is so limiting). Now, for the short synopsis. Set in 1000 AD, the film follows One-Eye, played by Mads Mikkelsen, named so by his boy companion Are, played by Maaran Stevensen, as they venture on a crusade to Jerusalem with a group of Christian Vikings. There, that's all you need to know, because really, the enjoyment of the film comes from not knowing where the film is going. To start with what is good about the film, Mads Mikkelsen delivers a tremendous performance as One-Eye. Having the task of being unable to use speech to help him deliver his performance as the mute One-Eye, Mikkelsen delivers a tremendous performance. As someone who has to use his actions to speak for him, Mikkelsen does this really well and is able to get across the intent of the character to the audience. That said, I think that one of the most important aspects of the performance is the air of mystery that is consistent throughout. Despite being able to send us messages through his actions, Mikkelsen's performance only gives us the basest message, so that the nature of his character is to be ambiguous, whether or not he is a demonic figure or a Christ-like figure. Neither is certain or concrete and it makes for an interesting performance. Finally, the physicality of Mikkelsen as One-Eye is very interesting. An indifferent, solitary and almost benign presence when not threatened, it makes for genuinely frightened and quivering moments when the animal inside him explodes in savage brutality, before returning to his former state of meditation. Seeing as how the film relies much on whether or not the performance works, Mads Mikkelsen delivers in bounds, in what is certainly to be up for consideration for the best actor shortlist at the end of the year. Another high point regarding the film is the fantastic cinematography by Morten Soborg, who does an impeccable job on the location shooting. For a film that was shot entirely in Scotland, the atmosphere that is created by this stunning photography contributes greatly to the film. The concept of the location being Scotland melts out of your consciousness as we are taken this journey into the abyss (metaphorically speaking, it's not an underwater film). This is one of those classic cases of what is captured on camera speaking where the dialogue will not. Framing both the landscape of Scotland and the face of Mads Mikkelsen, Soborg shows himself as a very accomplished cinematographer. For a film that was shot for 30 million Danish kroner (£3 million), it looks like something with a much higher budget. Also, the original score for the film by Peter Kyed and Peterpeter is something of a sonic masterpiece. Powerful pulsating electronic sounds penetrated by occasional tribal drums, clanging noises and electric guitars have never sounded so good in a film. This score is one of those things that really need to be listened to. I have been unable to find the original score, so if someone has a copy and is reading this, I would be very grateful for one of you to send a copy. Not that I am endorsing file-sharing. In any way. Whatsoever. Anyway, this score, alongside the tremendous cinematography, create an amazing atmosphere which inhabits the film consistently throughout. I haven't seen a film with an atmosphere like this in a long, long time. The score is intense and gripping. For anyone who cares to guess what the score sounds like, think of the work of one of my favourite electronic/ambient artists Klaus Schulze or perhaps the Popul Vuh score for Aguirre, The Wrath Of God. This brings me to my next point. It is clear that Nicholas Winding Refn is a student of the history of film, and he seems to use the source of his influences to his advantages greatly. As mentioned already, there is a Herzogian (a new term. It doesn't sound bad, so I'm claiming coinage) type of atmosphere, reminiscent of Aguirre, The Wrath Of God. Also, 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick would be worth mentioning. Apocalypse Now is also there, but there is obviously an influence from spaghetti-western films by directors such as Sergio Leone and The Great Silence and Django by Sergio Corbucci and El Topo by Alejandro Jodorovsky. Anyway, enough of the influences, because you can tell from the work of both this film and Bronson that Winding Refn is a writer-director to watch. It must be thought of in this context, because while there are similarities between the two, Valhalla Rising is a far more abstract and experimental film than Bronson, which, no disrespect to the film, is dominated by Tom Hardy bombarding us with "My name is Charley Bronson." The skill with which Winding Refn writes and directs this film displays a range of palettes which is not really common among young directors under 50 these days. The bad? Well, it was coming down to this, I mean, that's the scripted format. The film is at times frighteningly slow, and does require the viewer to keep up with it. Forget Inception, this is the real deal. I respect Winding Refn for not patronising the audience, but it is at times too slow for its own good. At its best moments, Valhalla Rising is highly gripping, but at its lesser moments can be occasionally be boring. As such, rewatchability is hard to contemplate with Valhalla Rising. However, unlike its critics have said, it is not self-important, but is instead a greatly crafted meditative work on religion, war, violence and nature (both of metaphysical reality and of man), boasting solid direction from Nicholas Winding Refn, a transcendental score by Peter Kyed and Peterpeter, tremendous cinematography by Morten Soberg and a towering performance of physicality and minimalism by Mads Mikkelsen. Roll on the clichés. But no really, Valhalla Rising is a really great film and should be watched.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - In a mode of pensive thought (quoting myself now)

Thursday, 2 September 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Grown Ups

Okay, so I didn't exactly keep to my schedule. Yeah, I saw Marmaduke on Monday, but I missed Scott Pilgrim on Tuesday and on Wednesday ended up seeing this film instead of The Expendables. Still, they are on my to-see list, but I also have definite reviews coming up for 44-Inch Chest, Four Lions and Valhalla Rising. Anyway, this film which I went to see is Grown Ups, a new comedy with an ensemble cast of comedy veterans Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade and Rob Schneider. The five play a group of school friends who as youths won a Basketball Championship under their coach. Thirty-two years, they re-unite at the coach’s funeral and decide to rent out the old lake house (which has significance for reasons I can't remember, nor does my reliable Wikipedia source seem to help) and of course, a whole variety of humorous shenanigans ensues. It all sounds pretty textbook to anyone who applies a degree of common sense, and to be fair it AHEM! AHEM! All the revelations will come in due course. I have a procedure and structure to follow here, and I am seeing it through till its end. To give the movie its due on the good points, it is a charming and completely inoffensive film. The cast to be fair are pretty well-balanced. Each of them has their own moments in which they can flex their comedy muscles and no one is attempting to steal the show from the other here. Chris Rock as ever in these movies seems to get saddled with the best lines, but then again maybe it is just his delivery, because Chris Rock could make pretty much anything seem like comedy gold. The best role in the film is actually, perhaps surprisingly, the role of Rob Schneider as Rob Hilliard. To be fair, I have found that Rob Schneider has always been saddled in roles which are rubbish, and as a result I have found him to be an annoying onscreen presence. However, I have a newfound respect for Schneider after this role, played a thrice-divorced vegetarian guru-type who is married to a woman 30 years older than him. This was a genuinely funny comic role. Also, the script, while not by any means a stretch is alright. There are some funny lines and set pieces. On the recent relevance of the topic of annoying, not-funny funny talking dog movies, there are a number of funny gags involving a dog that has had its vocal cords clipped so that it sounds like a turkey (something that should have happened to Marmaduke long ago). In conclusion, Grown Ups is an enjoyable enough comedy for all the family... except this is not the conclusion and this is not an overly enjoyable comedy for all the family. The great and outstanding problem with this film is not that it is a bad film, because it certainly isn't, but that it is a representation of the kind of indifferent and lazy assembly-line film-making which is plaguing Hollywood and particularly comedy of late. It has become a trend of many of these American comedians to come together in a film in which they are together, with a whole "let's get the gang together for a laugh" kind of attitude and make a movie while we are at it. These men clearly from their past catalogue of work are more talented than this, and for me it just seems as though they have all went on holiday with a camera crew, made up new names for each other and the kids so they can claim it is a new film. As I said, the script isn't bad, but by no means does it seem like an effort is being made in any way. Like I said, assembly-line film-making 101. Credit where it is due, the funeral stuff at the film is pretty funny. Maybe there was a film in there somewhere, because the funeral gags would indicate that it would have been far funnier if it had centered on the funeral. Chris Rock's declaration of his mother-in-law as "Idi Amin with a propeller on her head" is great, and Rob Schneider’s Ave Maria is just wonderful. But really, the rest of the film is saturated in complete nonsense. I wonder if the script was written with a calculator in hand to count the number of minimum necessary gags. Adam Sandler really should have tried better both as the scribe and lead actor, because he actually comes across as boring in this film. Director Dennis Dugan directs very flatly and completely down the line here without any attempt to make a semblance of a good movie. It must be said before I finish the review that you have to wonder if they felt restricted by the 12A/PG-13 rating. A number of the comedians involved in this film obviously work better in the more 15+/R territory, Rock in particular. Not that a movie has to be vulgar to be funny, I mean, look at Toy Story 3, but it certainly limits what you can do. I believe that they have sacrificed this freedom to write better gags for the box office, and the film does really read like something that a marketing executive would draw up for a film. I am lost for words now regarding this film, because like a number of films this year, it is inoffensive yet completely uninspired film-making, which seems to have just been churned out on a factory assembly line or on the actors' holidays. These guys really need to do more stuff like Funny People, because it really caters more to their talents, and not this boring and lazy film which is bound to fill their kitties for a few years. It must also be said that while I laughed a good number of times at this film, it must be judged on this basis of being an assembly-line film, which it so clearly is, making it a completely superfluous and forgettable release.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Bored