Untouchable (Les Intouchables)

This is the film the French are really proud of, and rightly so.  Some critics have panned this movie as overly safe, and not challenging the issues and stereotypes that need to be challenged. It ignored them, or dealt with them in a way that said we do not consider this a problem.  American critics have been overly sensitive to the race issue; poor black man working for a rich white man. The Parisians would probably see it as a guy on benefit, needing to have a paper signed who ends up with the job he did not expect.This movie is simply about two people who despite, or perhaps because of their differences become friends.

We should not look for issues, where there are none. Indeed, I think central to this movie is the very noble though that, we as humans are all to be treated with the same respect regardless of colour, race, wealth, background.  Sure we see people from different backgrounds trying to adjust to the lives they currently live, but we see them succeeding.

T his is not a movie which sets out to challenge us and force us to live good and decent lives being nice to all of those about us.  This is a movie about some fundamentally decent people who happen to hit off a mutually beneficial friendship which provides us with a very rewarding movie along the way.

In many ways this is a road movie as out two heroes Driss (Omar Sy, Micmacs 2009- Sy won France’s César Award for Best Actor, 2011, ahead of Jean Dujardin in the Artist – see below) and Philippe (François Cluzet, Tell No One, 2006)  an extremely rich  quadriplegic who needs a new carer.  Philippe is restless and sees something, a spark, in Driss which intrigues him.  Philippe’s other staff eventually warm to Driss and friendships are formed when all realise he has his employers best interests at heart.  Never trained as a carer there are moments of great humour as his new duties unfold.  As with his discovery of his living quarters, the luxury contrasts with the crowded squalor from which he came.

This movie does not set out to change the world. If it has a perceived failing it is that it may lead some people to think that was its aim. However if you sit back and let the journey unfold, travel with them you will be rewarded with some great urban cinematography as well as great areal gliding shots.

This movie is nothing more than a well made light hearted comedy, there are no hidden agendas. It is based, so the credits say on a true story. This I can believe because only a true story of two people crossing paths could generate a further story with no particular aim other than to retell the history of their relationship.

The use of genuine situational comedy is excellent we are almost in tears looking at scenes, which in another context would never have come near provoking a laugh. Driss’s thoughts on modern art, together with his attempts to engage with the same are smartly used to culminate in a second joke, Philippe is able to poke fun at his society friends and in the course of events do the right thing.

Rating 9/10, it is not perfect, after all there were a couple of shots where Sy, was hanging off the dolly-grip, some careful editing might have avoided them, also, a slight pet hate – the sub-titles should actually translate what was being said rather than add a particular English (or American ) turn of phrase. The context of the wording does not always works ( I say does not always work, I only noticed the differences a few times and it only jarred once.

Go see this movie – no ifs, buts, ands or maybes, just go and watch it, enjoy it. This movie is France’s second highest ever grossing film and is the French nomination for Best Foreign Film at next year’s Oscars; there is a reason for these two events.

Looper

First off, this is a smarter than average piece of Sci-fi.  As I’ve mentioned before, there are some movies I will see purely for their pedigree, even before I know the plot, Looper was one those movies.  Written and directed by Rian Johnson (Brick, 2005) it also stars Joseph Godon-Levitt who also took the lead  in the same neo-noir classic.  Throw in Bruce Willis for some fun and we’ve a good mix.

In statistics two does not usually make a trend, but in cinema it might just.  This is the second major movie this year where the lead characters are the same person but from different times. We saw this first in Men In Black III (Barry Sonnenfeld, 2012, see below) In tha movie our heroes went back in time to affect the future. The comic nature of the movie allowed Josh Brolin to do an excellent impersonation of Tommy Lee Jones’ character “K”. With Looper we do not have an established character such as “K”, so we could not as readily pick up on the mannerisms and peculiarities of the character, the physical characteristics had to be the key.

Now any of you old enough to remember Moonlighting (1985) will remember know that J G-L is not a dead ringer for the younger Bruce Willis. However some neat special effects and make up gave us two actors playing the same character, check the eyebrow movements and even the shape of the nose.  I have to say the altered JG-L took a little getting used to , especially since Premium Rush (See Below) is so fresh.

All that aside the story revolves around a young man who has become a “Looper”, essentially a mafia hit man with a difference.  In the future time travel is perfected and quickly outlawed.  However other advances in biometrics also mean that the killing and dumping of victims has become almost impossible. As a result the mafia in the future employs the illegal time travel, all one way in to the past and sends one of its top men, Abe, (Jeff Daniels, The Lookout, 2007 – also staring Joseph Gordon Levitt) back to the “present” of the story and has him set up his own crime organisation.  Daniels and Gordon Levitt are two very versatile actors not afraid to stretch their range and always know just how far to stretch. There is a cold danger to the Character of Abe which comes across nicely.  As part of this he hires a team of young men to act as Loopers. They go to a certain place at a certain time and the victim appears, they quickly shoot them, take the payment silver bars attached to the body and then dispose of the body. All very neat and tidy.  Earning all concerned an nice living (with the exception of the now dead victim). Life is good until Loopers start getting paid off by their future bosses. The nature of the pay-off is the issue of concern, They unknowingly kill their future selves; the problem is that when their victims appear they are hooded and in straight-jackets facing away from their executioner.  But things go wrong, one survives and people find out what is happening – they get paid off in gold and know they have about 30 years of life left.

With our main characters this goes spectacularly wrong, future Joe, survives, manages to convince present Joe of the issue and while both are being hunted by the mafia, Noah Sagan (you guessed it…Brick) is a hapless mob lieutenant not in good favour with Abe who takes the hunt for Joe extremely seriously and eventually captures him and takes him to Abe, with deadly results for most concerned. Meanwhile older Joe is hunting down the person,  who in the future will be the crime king-pin who has the loopers killed.  Joe Junior goes to one of the addresses, which turns out to be the one. A lone mother, (Emily Blunt, The Adjustment Bureau, 2011), who as it turns out is protecting a very gifted child in an isolated farm.  Ultimately the battle culminates in this isolated farm…

This movie is based on very philosophical science, and I thought I noticed the soundtrack (at least twice) sounding very Whovian at the point where the  time travel occurred . They successfully managed to convey the plot while carefully avoiding all of the science but keeping within the rules of time travel as understood (I’m sad enough to principles of the science involved). This is good solid entertainment.  It slows a little in the middle but picks up again building to the climax.

Entertainment from a cast largely used to working together and it shows.

Rating = 7/10

The Watch

I’m not sure why I’m even bothering to write anything about this movie. It just does not work. I’ve never been a great fan of American situational comedy which all too often depends of the farcical and stupid to get a laugh.

This is a movie which just does not work for me. It is in some ways similar to Grabbers (see below) in that it involves a group of locals trying to defend their home from an alien invasion. That is where the comparison ends. The Watch is at the polar opposite  end of the scale to Grabbers. Don’t bother with it.  When I started this blog I ranted about W.E., the horror that Ms. Madonna inflicted on us. I said then it was technically one of the worst movies I had ever seen. Well, The Watch is not far behind, it just did not work.

Akiva Schaffer (Saturday Night Live, 2005-2011)  directed this movie and his lack of experience shows. The story evolves around small town store manager Evan, (Ben Stiller, Zoolander, 2001) forming a neighbourhood watch. The only takers are a rag-bag bunch of; Bob, the family guy (Vince Vaughan, Couples Retreat, 2009); Franklin, the want-to-be GI Joe (Jonah Hill, Moneyball, 2011) and Jamarcus the English IT guy…in every sense, ( The IT Crowd, 2006-).

After the usual male bonding and compensatory attempts at humour the team go out on patrol and quickly realise something is wrong. People are dying and going missing and Evan’s super-store seems to the centre of all that is happening. After more stupidity they eventually start to fight the aliens and ultimately of course win – sorry if I spoiled the ending. It seems that rather than try to find humour in the fight with the aliens the writers put in a load of male insecurity  and team building jokes which, all too regularly, seem like they are there just to fill time.

The supporting cast ranges from the usual fodder to the down-right stupid.  his movie is not funny, the attempts at humour are forced and often badly delivered. There is big difference between scripting a 3 or 5 minute comedy sketch and directing a 90+ minute feature.  This movie feels like the writers, who for the sake of their careers, I won’t name, came up one night with the outline of a movie and then as they had ideas filled in the missing bits over the next few days or weeks as they had a beer or two.

Rating 4/10 and I’m not even sure why I am being so generous. This movie is simply not good, W.E. was a vicious assault on the brain. Some people like the Stiller brand on anarchistic, lowest common denominator humour, not me.  Watch this at your own risk and remember it is time you will never get back. Or maybe this was a sketch which grew legs, that was the  nasty monster here.

The Imposter

This is an interesting film both in terms of format and content.  It is essentially the story of a boy being found in Spain in 1997, wet and silent, not talking to anyone.  After some trying he eventually reveals he is a young boy who went missing three years previously…or is he.  Having taking the identity from records at hand and through phone calls where he persuades US officials that he is the missing American boy.

The authorities put the boy in touch with his family, with his sister travelling to Spain to be reunited with him. Despite obvious physical differences he is taken in by the family.

The movie is the boy, now grown, a Frédéric Bourdin, retelling what transpired.  As the boy was reunited with his “family” back in Texas certain inconsistencies start to arise. One local private detective and another FBI agent independently look in to things. Why are the family so accepting of him? Are they hiding their own secret?

Eventually the answers to the boy’s identity come to light, and what we have is an astounding history from Bourdin.  I am not going in to detail as it is the uncovering of these details as the movie progress that makes it good cinema.

Director, Bart Layton (Banged up Abroad, 2006) has made his name in TV this is a rare trip to the big screen for him with a format which is often more typical of cable TV and often mind numbingly bad. This is not. It is well timed, well shot and keeps you engrossed to learn the eventual outcome.

This is a short note but the movie is straight forward and moves clearly.

Rating 8/10 this is a different piece of work which I was skeptical about prior to seeing, now I recommend.

Lawless

This movie just works is an understated way which moves at a pace which doesn’t outrun itself of get clogged down in slow tedium, it brings you along with the story and keeps you always wanting to see how a particular scene works out. I was happy to see it was based on a book (The Wettest County in the World, Matt Bondurant), which might be worth buying. Nick Cave (The Proposition, 2005) wrote the screenplay.

I mention The Proposition because the Director on that project was John Hillcoat (The Road, 2009), who ofcourse directed this offering. Set in Franklin County, Virginia during the prohibition years of the Great Depression it tracks the lives of the Bondurant brothers who apart from running a diner and garage just outside town also are some of the leading moonshiners in the county. The brothers are led by the quiet and cautious brother Forrest,(Tom Hardy, The Dark Knight Rises, Bane See below) who despite his calm demeanour is more than capable of swift well aimed violence. The middle brother , Howard (Texas Killing Fields, 2011) and of course the youngest of the clan, Jack (Shia LaBeouf Transformers, 2007) who as with all in his position wants to grow up fast and show the world that he is as good as the rest of the family.

The problems start when the Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia bring a new Special Deputy down from Chicago, Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce, Lockout 2012)brought in Commonwealth’s Attorney. Fighting an honest lawman is one thing, or living with the local police who know when not to take action is manageable, but Rakes is a crocked as the rest and more vicious than most. Forrest has built up a business by being careful and steady while younger brother Jack is headstrong and eager to succeed.

This of course causes some tensions with Forrest having to clean-up after Jack more than once. Jack however manages to do business with the Chicago mafia, represented by a very under used Gary Oldman (Dead Fish, 2005), if I have one complaint is it the use of Mr. Oldman. His role is essentially a glorified cameo and although it works, I suspect he presence on set had a lot to do with box-office pull.

The movie progresses through a few short years as the brothers battle the police, other boot-legers and themselves until the final showdown. This comes quickly when it comes and is done well.

I mentioned the movie is understated, don’t mistake that for “slow” it is not a slow film, it is a steadily moving story which brings you along with the characters as the story moves along.

This is a good old fashioned prohibition era gangster movie, Mr. Gagney would have worked well here. The cinematography works well with the director using the natural cycles of the surrounding countryside to mark the passing of time.  The use of various signs and props also allows us to almost get a feeling of normality as life goes by.

Rating 8/10

St. George’s Day

This is a capable piece of entertainment, at times it perhaps attempts to be something greater than it is, but overall entertaining. Director by Frank Harper (This is England, 2006) who also co-wrote thje screenplay with  Urs Buehler  who up to now has been mainly technically involved in movie projects supporting camera and electrical work. Harper also stars in the production as Micky Mannock. Micky together with his cousin Ray Collishaw (Craig Fairbrass, London’s Burning, 1990). Craig wants to get out of the family business, His cousin Micky who runs the business with him agrees to buy him out.

This is where the trouble starts. Needing a sizeable amount of cash quickly Micky agrees to smuggle in a drugs load for the Netherlands.  This is where things go badly wrong. Firstly he is working with Russian Mafia who life up to all of the stereo types for violence. This is a fight on the boat over – the boat is capsized in a storm and the Russian on board is shot.

As a result of this, the Russians want vengeance for their man, along with their £20 million; this would be troublesome enough except for the fact that they also have the police after them in the guise of two of Scotland Yard’s finest Inspector Nixon (Jamie Foreman, Layer Cake, 2004) and his subordinate, Proctor (Sean Pertwee (Dog Soldiers, 2002).

This all leads to a spot of bother where the two cousins need to raise the necessary cash and try also guarantee their safety. In order to buy themselves some time they engage the services of Trenchard, (Charles Dance (Michael Collins, 1996), a London underworld kingpin who is in a position to negotiate a truce and make arrangements for the cousins to pay back the money.

Paying back the money is the problem, but crime partner Albert Ball (Vincent Regan, Troy, 2004) who arranged the original shipment and is based in Amsterdam knows of a blood diamond smuggling route via one of the carriers.  Working with the cousins they begin to formulate a plan for the diamonds.

In order to get the diamonds they piggy back to Europe with other family members and friends who happen to be football hooligans on their way to a match in Europe for an organised fight at it’s fringes.

Using the fight as cover they hatch a plan to rob the diamonds and get out of trouble.  The Russians and the police close behind them thanks to an informer add more pressure than is needed. What unravels is a decent crime caper with a well-populated supporting cast. It perhaps looks to its background alongside movies as The Football Factory etc. but perhaps it also has pretensions to classics such as The Long Good Friday (John MacKenzie, 1980), it falls short here. It should be said in their defence; TLGF is a very high target to aim for.

The many twists have a feel of Deus ex-machina after a while, where one wonders if they are used to strengthen plot weaknesses.

Rating 6/10 an entertaining yarn which should keep gangster and underworld movie fans happy. All of the clichés are here and the movie very much panders to the jack-the-lad London image of rough diamond jingoism masking as patriotism.

Tower Block

Directed by two first timers;  James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson, they take their experience and create a very passable offering.  Once you have overcome certain  hurdles with the setting first.

The setting is that of working class estate tower block which is being emptied with the residents moved else where. This comes on the back of a murder about a year previously where the killers got away because the local would not help the police.

As the film opens we are given small glimpses of our main characters, a drunk, some thug, working families, single mums and generally ordinary people As our “heroes” wake up one seemingly uneventful morning only to have a sniper fire in through their windows and start killing whoever he sees.

This, obviously, brings the survivors out to the corridor where they size what happed. Stopping here to reflect for a moment we need to forget the logistical issues, for example a tower block with residents only on one side, and those residents are on the top floor, the Health and Safety guys could make a whole other movie out of that.

I had to get that out of my system.  Once the shooting starts and the cast come together we have real start of the movie.  Within seconds it is obvious, we are not talking (Attack the Block , 2011 ) where our heroes defend the block (and the Earth) against terrifying aliens, of even (Dredd, 2012) where he battles out major urban warfare  both something  more subtle.  I was immediately put in mind of Lifeboat (Hitchcock, 1944) or Das Experiment, 2001).

What we have here is not a lecture in social ethics and morals, it raises the questions and answers them through the various cast members, we are then allowed to almost “judge” the characters by how they respond to being trapped and frightened.

Jack O’Connell (Skins, James Cook, 2009) plays the local yob Kurtis, who a day previous was forcing extortion money from his neighbours such as Becky (Sheridan Smith, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, 2001), a single women going about life as best she can. It should be noted that Smith flawlessly transitions from her normal comedy roles, as a matter of fact a number of the cast are better known for their more humorous roles.

As the story develops and people get killed we get shown more and more of the personalities of the people involved. Russell Tovey  (Grabbers, 2012, see below) plays a lonely depressed alcoholic trying to come to terms with life, while Ralph Brown (Killing Bono, 2011) plays Neville a retired soldier who together with his wife just wants a quiet life. In the chaos following the initial shootings it falls to him to deal with Kurtis.

This is a good and very watchable ensemble piece which thankfully stops short of patronising us. The supporting cast is made of some of the UK’s better known young actors and this definitely helped. What we have here is our cast trying to escape and in so doing needing to overcome the physical obstacles of the building, traps by the sniper and their own selves.

We are brought along as much by the characters as by the movement of the film itself. I am deliberately being vague about the plot; simply put the survivors need to escape, overcoming the sniper, themselves and their environment. This had the potential to be bad but managed to escape it

6/10 engaging movie which knows where to hold back and not patronise to the audience any more than necessary.