John Wick

This seems to be getting great reviews , personally I have to say I was not inspired by it, in anyway. This is an old-fashioned “shoot-em-up” directed by Chad Stahelski (300, 2006) and written by Derek Kolstad (The Package, 2012). The film opens with the scene being set: John Wick (Keanu Reeves, 47 Ronin) is a man grieving for his recently departed wife. Helping him get over this grief is his puppy which was a gift from his wife. For anybody else this would be possibly enough to get back on track with life, but Wick is retired and just getting on with life.   It is in getting on with life that everything goes south. His luxury home is invaded by some Russian thugs who want to clear it out, of Wick has different ideas and defends his home, in the course of which his dog is killed. It turns out these protagonists are Russian mafia, indeed one of them is the son (Alfie Allen, Game of Thrones, 2011) of the mafia head (Michael Nyqvist. The Girl with The Dragon Tatoo, 2009). Now this is where things go East (or South) very quickly. Having defended his home with more than a little noise, the local police call over after getting a report of a disturbance at the house. The Police officer at the door see inside to bodies lying on the ground, and just confirms with Wick that it is work and leaves him alone. Wick is out for vengeance now so he digs up the tools of his trade – from the floor of the basement. Kolstad tries to give us something different. Wick was no ordinary mob- enforcer he was one of the best hit-men in the business and the thug who attacked his house is the son of one of Wick’s former employers. Wick announces his intention to get revenge against his former employer, who although respecting Wick is forced to put a price on his head to defend his son. As Wick gets back in to the groove we see that there is a certain guild of assassins with Wick quickly making contact with old fellow assassins to determine the game ahead. He bases himself in a down-town hotel which is actually a “neutral ground” for people in his business. All expenses by the way are paid for by gold coins – everything from clean-up crews to hotel bills. Viggo knows what’s coming for his son and explains that Wick is not the Bogeyman, he’s the guy you call to kill the bogeyman. The supporting cast is good, with people like John Leguizamo (Moulin Rouge, 2001) as the garage owner who recognises Wick’s stolen car and refuses to have it in his Chop-shop and Ian Mc Shane (The Pillars of The Earth, 2010) who plays the hotel owner, keeping the peace among the underworld figures assembled. This movie involves a body count, with the usual vengeance plotline, however it is done in a fairly original manner and is not as hammed as many others of this genre. It is a night-in modern day western for the boys. The plot is wafer thin, but manages to work. It could be a lot worse. 6/10

Men Women & Children

This film takes a look at the lives of a group of young people and their parents as they navigate through life. What makes this film different from many others is that it takes the view through the technology which we all use to go through life.

It is a very personal view as we look to life through not just the kid’s perspectives but also that of the adults. Modern technology allows us more freedom and wider communications, but do we need or want such freedoms. Directed by Jason Reitman (Juno, 2007) who seems to be fitting in to a certain groove, this is a “warts-and-all” view of life. Seeing Adam Sandler (Grown Ups, 2010) as Don Truby in the initial scenes playing the part of a bored father using his son’s computer for masturbation is a new take, in the process of doing this he sees his son’s porn collection. His son has some very specific tastes. This reflects on the old issue of a parent finding pornography under a kid’s bed, only now it is more, well…

What we have is life and technology intersecting the lives of families, from the accept it approach of the Trubys who use the malware ridden old computer of theirs to relieve their marital boredom, a use which obviously has consequences. In contrast to the Truby family is Patricia Beltmeyer (Jennifer Garner Dallas Buyers Club, 2013) who is paranoid to an extreme about her daughter’s (Kaitlyn Dever, The Spectacular Now, 2013) internet usage. So bad is the level of surveillance that not only is the child’s digital life scrutinised down to the level of program logs but the mother also intercepts texts and suchlike deleting what she feels in inappropriate for her daughter. Needless to say there are work-arounds.

Reitman may be guilty of trying to fit too much into the movie, but I think he gets away with it by rationing out the issues through each of the families. Another aspect of the life and digital age challenge comes in the form of Kent Mooney (Dean Norris, Breaking Bad, 2008) who is struggling to keep it together with his son ( Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars, 2014) since his wife divorced him (and is now getting remarried). Kent does however meet somebody who just might shake him out of his malaise, however there is an issue. Donna Clint (Judy Greer, Archer 2009) is a mum wanting the best for her daughter ,Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia, Palo Alto, 2013) the problem is the best is around acting and modelling. In the course of events Donna allows her daughter to model for a local photographer in suggestive clothing. Donna also adds to this with a website of her daughter. This all back fires when after auditioning for a talent show, she is disqualified because of the sexual nature of the website. This shocks Donna, who was so focused on her daughter’s career that she was naïve to the other aspects.

Everyone of Reitman’s characters are flawed, but with just enough flaws for us to accept them as ordinary people grappling with a situation.   A couple of interesting observations, firstly around 9/11 being a history project, with some of the kids involved not being alive when it occurred. Also the changing communication habits such as the three girls talking in the gym, while two of them are using their phones to have a private text conversation about the third girl.

The film build to a logical but not overly signposted conclusion, which is well done and closes the movie nicely. Coming away from it I got a sense that, we had it easy as kids, or at least less difficult, with none of the technology we have today. Do all the communications devices actually do anything for us?

A very entertaining and sometimes slightly shocking look at family life in the web 2.0 age. The cast is first class and if-anything largely underplay their respective characters to keep the technology in focus. A final word on Adam Sandler; I have mixed opinions on him, but what I will say is that I prefer him in straight roles such as this, rather than the usually hard-put-upon character he often plays for comedy.

8/10

The Guest

Directed by Adam Wingard (V/H/S/, 2012) and written by Simon Barrett (also V/H/S), the production stars Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, 2012) as a soldier returned from “The war”, this one in Iraq. The film opens with a young man, David, jogging in to town with a full pack. We then see him calling to a house, it is the home of the Paterson family. He is met by the mother, Laura, (Sheila Kelly, Matchstick Men, 2003) who while initially sceptical of the stranger at her door, she allows him in and begins to relax, especially when he shows himself in a photograph the family have, he is posing for a group picture next to their dead son.

Over the course of the afternoon the mother invites David to stay with them for a few days. This of course is not greatly received by the rest of the family, most so with the father, Spencer, (Leland Orser, Taken, 2008), however once they start talking they get on well. Over the course of their talking David learns that Spencer has been passed over for a regional manager’s job. In the end they all get on and are glad to have somebody there who knew their dead son/brother. The Petersons have two other children, Anna (Maika Monroe, Labor Day, 2013) and Luke (Brendam Meyer, Mr Young, 2012). Anna is the self-assured 20 year old still living under her parents’ rule at home, balancing a waitressing job with a boyfriend, who as far as her parents know is history. Luke on the other hand is being bullied at school.

Pretty quickly, David begins to “help” the family. He sets up a situation with the boys who bullied Luke where he quickly inflicts sharp violent pain on them and subsequently advises Luke not to hold back when dealing with bullies. As the film goes on we also learn that the person who took Spencer’s job mysteriously commits suicide. Against this background Anna is suspicious and makes some phone calls only to learn that officially David was killed in a fire at a military hospital he was in. In the course of doing this David is red-flagged and a dark shadowy official is notified, he quickly pulls a team together and heads to Texas to find David.

Various bodies die in mysterious ways up to when the official, (Lance Reddick, Fringe 2008), who we learn is military police, raids the home. Once this happens the body count multiplies.

It turns out David was the subject of failed medical experiments, in short David will do anything to protect the family from danger or difficulty, this is his mission. At once both charming and polite while also a cold killer when his mission mode “kicks-in”

I’m not sure if this is one of the worst movies I ever saw or one of the smartest, I’m tending to the latter. The film overall has the feel of an eighties thriller even down to camera styles and soundtrack. Not only is the soundtrack a very eighties style the recording is also of the time with the soundrack abruptly breaking as a scene changes. As we prepare for the denouement we even get, wait for it; smoke.   In a number of places the movie tends to play to stereo-type but always manages to rescue itself from becoming a train-wreck. One of the reasons for this is Dan Stevens himself – his face is pure rubber. He has a stare which could burn through brick and a facial range which many actors would envy.

It is a subtly stylised movie which could have easily have failed but for some very tight direction and of course for Stevens’ own acting ability.

Get the DVD or stream it, you should enjoy it – 3.5/5, 7/10

Kingsman: The Secret Service

While Mark Millar (Kick Ass, 2010) and Dave Gibbons (Watchmen, 2009) gave us the original comic book, Jane Goldman (Stardust, 2007) and Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, 2011) gave us the screenplay for this movie. Vaughn also directed it.

This is an homage rather than a rip-off of the James Bond franchise. This is not just a cheap parody, it stands up as a spy-movie in its own right. As we know from James Bond, the world is full of secret evil organisations all vying for world domination but what we have here is a highly secret group of good guys who ensure the world’s governments can act. That said one might also comment on it being a parody of the poor guy/gal does good movie, whether My fair Lady (1964) or Pretty Woman, (1990).

About 17 years ago a young agent on the verge of completing his training was killed in action. He was Killed because agent Harry Hart, better known by his service codename “Galahad” (Colin Firth, The Railway Man, 2013) missed a trap. Now today that agent’s son is in a some trouble at home. Many years ago the agent’s widow was given a medal with a number on it and told to ring the number if there was an issue. Today in a police cell, the son, Eggsy (Taron Egerton, Testament of Youth, 2014) rings the number and almost immediately things happen. Now rescued Galahad suggest that the young Eggsy joins their organisation, he agrees.   The issue here however is , Eggsy’s social class, he is working class, most of the other agents are members of the aristocracy, for reasons best explained in the film.

All of this goes on against the background of mysterious dealings and missing people all somehow associated with billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson, Django Unchained, 2012), as the movie moves along both groups learn more about each other, the Kingsman agents striving to foil Valentine. Eggsy begins his training with his fellow intake, only to fail at the last hurdle, however as with any of these films that becomes a minor technicality and our hero goes on to save the day. The humour both through the situations and the script itself, with Galahad and Valentine musing about old “fun” spy movies.

The plot will not win any prizes for originality, but who cares. One of the reasons the film works is its speed, there is not a scene in the movie which should not be there, there is absolutely no padding. The support cast is first class, indeed we have Mark Strong (The Imitation Game, 2014) playing a “Q” type character, generally managing the secret agents as and their training progresses. I am still getting used to Strong playing good guys., while Sir Michael Caine (Interstellar, 2014) take the role of the head of Kingsman.

One other person who should be mentioned is Mark Hamill (Star Wars: Episode IV – a New Hope, 1977) who has the opening scene as Professor James Arnold, managing to set the tone for the film to come.Egerton, gives an excellent performance as the young man making the transition from drifting youngster to a highly trained agent. I could discuss the plot, but in reality the plot is secondary, we know from the start how the movie is going to go, the entertainment is in how they go to where they end-up. This is a smart movie which stands on its own as well as a parody of previous productions. I walked away wanting to check if there is material for a sequel, hopefully. It works as a spy-movie, a comedy and general all-round entertainment.

Another **** movie.

Whiplash

This must be one of the most intense movies I’ve seen in a long time. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle (Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, 2009), it tells the story of a first year music (drums) student, Andrew (Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now, 2013) who wants to be the best out there, he’s driven and not afraid of practice and effort. One day while practicing he is interrupted by Mr Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, Men, Women and Children, 2014); Fletcher is one of the College’s foremost lecturers, he’s a renowned Jazz musician and leader of the college’s Studio Band.

The college is one of the US’s top music conservatories, so those there are already a cut above the rest. Fletcher’s Studio Band is the cream of those students already ahead of the curve. Fletcher is a gruff un-mannered individual who pushes his students hard. From the very start we see the relationship between teacher and student is going to be a tough one. After being picked to attend the band practice, we see straight away how unorthodox the relationship is going to be. Told to be at practice for 6.00am, Andrew arrived only to wait until 9.00am before people arrived. His first impression is of military discipline among the students, down to and including them snapping-too when their Leader arrives in.

The relationship between students and master is not a particularly happy one. He is pushing them to perfection. At one stage another band member is out of tune, he notices and tracks down the culprit, however the culprit remains and another student who was convinced he was out of tune by Fletcher is thrown out, on the basis that he did not know whether he was out of tune.; this is in Fletcher’s eyes is worse than being out of tune.

As the training progresses we see how Fletcher pushes Andrew and the other students to and beyond their limits. It is vicious; there is no room for mistakes. In one particularly hard scene Fletcher drives Andrew to breaking while trying to get him to play to Fletcher’s Tempo. The manipulations and stress continue right up to a pre-competition breaking point when Andrew and Fletcher come to blows.

Out of the college, Andrew, now beginning to live a normal life, is persuaded by his father (Paul Reiser, (Life After Beth, 2014) to join an action against Fletcher, supposedly secretly. A while later Fletcher and Andrew meet in a jazz bar where Fletcher is playing and it would seem that the meeting was friendly, Fletcher even invites Andrew to play I a jazz band he is fronting at an up-coming jazz festival. Andrew agrees and turns up to perform.

What happens next is a mixture of pettiness, cruelty and public humiliation, betters by a fighting spirit and genuine talent. Fletcher excuses his actions by telling us how he is driving great artists to be even better, to be all that they can potentially be.

What does it take to be a world class musician, talent, strength, determination and   much more. This is a very intense movie and although centered around a college Jazz band it is a very engaging movie, which even had me sitting quite literally at the edge of my seat waiting for a wrong note or a breakdown.

This is an excellent movie which at time seems almost claustrophobic for the band members. I have absolutely no musical talent, and looking at this, if I had, I would keep it at a purely amateur level. J.K. Simmons who plays Fletcher give a master-class in how to be the bad guy, manipulating and bullying the students under his control, but all seemingly for the greater good. **** probably best described as an excellent, intense 4* production.

The Great Dictator

At a time when we are again questioned as to the importance of satire, and given that I recently rediscovered this movie in my DVD collection, I thought it might be worth commenting on. Much has been written on the background of this film and how it is positioned in the works of the Great Charles Chaplin (Modern Times, 1936). It is his first truly “talkie” movie, which when you consider it was made in 1940, essentially 10/15 years after everybody else went to sound it says something. Chaplin honed his craft in the silent era, and of course it shows, this is a very physically dramatic piece.

Chaplin directed, wrote and starred in this production, which for the seriousness of the subject matter is still capable of some classic comedy. Chaplin said in later life that had he known about the suffering of the concentration camps when he was making this movie in 1939/1940 he would never have made it. I can see his point, but looking further back in time, and viewing it against the evil it satire, I think it add value. I know if I had been around in 1940, I would have “qualified” for the camps, and I still think this work is worth doing and certainly worth seeing.

Written and produced before America entered WWII we see it start back in 1918 when one of our heroes (the nameless Jewish barber saving the military pilot, Schultz.   The Barber is however later injured and suffers from memory loss.

Years later the barber escape the hospital and is given shelter in the very ghetto no supervised by Schultz. Later Schultz is ordered to “ethnically cleanse” the ghetto but refuses.   Over all the plot is almost secondary to the message. The roles are often stereo-typed but this is a satire and so they may need to be, an example of this is the boot-boy thugs of the dictator.

Chaplin’s by no classic performance with the globe together with his addressing the people in a very Hitleresque (if there is such a word) style are equally heart stopping. We see his designs to conquer the world and make alliances very much reflecting the world around him at the time.   Some say “Modern Times , (1936) is a superior film, technically it maybe, but they are sufficiently different not to be too closely compared to each other.

The Great Dictator showed us that Chaplin was more than a tramp or slap-stick comedy actor. We know his business dealing from history and the impact they had on Hollywood, but The Great Dictator is a significant film, a classic and an important piece in the history of cinema.

It would be unfair not to mention Paulette Goddard (Hold Back the Dawn, 1941) who plays the Jewish neighbour in the ghetto who helps our barber , while Reginald Gardiner ( A Yank in the RAF, 1941) plays the part of Schultz, the rescued soldier who went on to command units of the Hynkel’s storm troopers until he, having witnessed the atrocities of the dictator, changes sides and protects his barber friend. One should also mention Jack Oakie (Little Men, 1940) who played the part of the Benzino Napaloni, Dictator of Bacteria, a not very veiled parody of Mussolini. Nominated for 5 Academy Awards, both Chaplin and Oakie received acting nominations for their roles here.

As powerful as this film was at the time, it has not lost any of its power and indeed is arguably as relevant today as ever, if not more so.

**** This is a level above the rest and should be viewed not just for the cinematic history but also how it fits in to the wider world.

Taken 3

Yeah, some of the editing is a bit rough and yeah our action hero does not seem to like running much and let’s face it the plot is rubbish, seeming to grow as the movie went along. One almost gets the feeling that the words “Let’s try this here” were used a lot in the scripting. Now that’s the negative out of the way, let’s look at the facts.

This is a EuropaCorp movie, Luc Besson (Lucy 2014) is one of the co-writers so we know what to expect. The movie itself is directed by Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3, 2008) and opens on familiar territory. Once again based around ex-CIA operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson, A Walk among The Tombstones, 2014) and family. Almost in the opening shot we learn daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, Lockout, 2012) is pregnant and not long after we see how Bryan and Lenore are on the best of terms. Indeed we soon see how she is having difficulties in her marriage to her current husband, Stuart, (Dougray Scott, Hitman, 2007) and pretty soon after that Lenore is found dead in Bryan’s apartment. What does this have to do with Russian mafia? No sooner than our hero gets home to the site of his ex-wife’s dead body do the police show up. He quickly escapes from them and so the hunt begins.

Our Hero is helped by the fact that the Detective in charge( Forest Whitaker, The Butler, 2013) is actually “smart”. I say helped, you’ll see why as the movie progresses. So now the fun begins. Whereas in the previous offerings the chase was a private affair almost, here we almost have a mix of two movies – The Fugitive (1963, 1993) and Taken (1 or 2). It helps that being ex-CIA and still having friends in the business means he is not alone. On the run, being chased by would-be killers and trying to find answers (sound familiar?), Mr Mills begins his traditional search and destroy. Of course no Taken would be the same without a variation of “I will find you” which I’m glad to say we have here.

This is a typical EuropaCorp vehicle, light on the brain, set piece moves and just enough of a plot and general action to keep the watcher happy. If I have to make one negative comment it is that I felt the plot was being developed as the team went along with the filming, but that said it still worked. Sam Spruell, (Good People, 2014) works well as the Russian ex-special forces bad-guy.

Without ruining the plot, the movie ends with the by-now traditional scene of family bonding on the pier. Watch it, enjoy it and remember it is only meant to be fun.

*** It does what it says on the label.

A Most Wanted Man

Based on a John le Carré novel this movie director by Anton Corbijn (Control, 2007) is a good old fashioned spy movie, indeed it sits well along-side another Le Carré work – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011). Staring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as Günther Bachmann in one of his last starring roles where he play the head of a specialist counter terrorism unit currently based in Hamburg. Bachmann has a history and many think his posting to Hamburg is a punishment for a mission which went wrong in Beirut, however there is the suggestion that the power-that-be are okay with this rumour as it gives him and his team cover to track down the subject of their efforts.

While Corbijn plays with the various inter-interdepartmental rivalries ( as well as political manoeuvres both within Germany and internationally with the Americans) within which Buchmann must operate he at least has the loyalty of his own team. This helps because a lessor director might have tried to add a level of intrigue, and that would have been bad. Buchmann’s second in command is Irna Lenz (Nina Hoss, Barbara 2012) and works the part well. She is calm and professional against Buchmann’s self-neglect, but the two are different sides of the same coin. It is never clear just how deep the relationship between them goes. One cannot but suspect that there is a deep friendship but their combined professionalism means nothing will happen. Other team members include Maximilian (Daniel Brühl, Rush 2012) who despite almost no script to himself, still manages to make his presence knows.

During his investigations Buchmann and team track an illegal immigrant from Chechnya (Grigoriy Dobrygin, How I Ended This Summer, 2010)who may or may not be a risk. Other departments want to arrest him, but Buchmann uses his connections to keep him free and followed. While this is happening his team are getting close to the money man (Homayoun Ershadi, The Kite Runner, 2007) they are following. On the surface everything looks squeaky clean, but something does not ring true with him.

Then a stroke of luck, it turns out that the Chechen has an interesting past, indeed so does his (now dead) father which brings him into contact with a private banker in Hamburg (Willem Defoe, The Fault In Our Stars, 2014). All of this is arranged through a human rights lawyer, Martha (Robin Wright, The Princess Bride, 1987) working with immigrants The excellence of Hofmann’s Buchmann is exemplified through his polite but yet condescending attitude to the banker, always calling him “Tommy” rather than “Herr Brue”.

As with any spy story there are twists and I don’t want to destroy any of them. Suffice it to say that the story brings you along fully and the acting, not least by Hoffman, Dobrygin, Defoe and Wright carries you along in an understated manner. This movie has a very European feel to it, not just because of cast and location but the lack of gun-play. The tension is psychological rather than purely violent. This works to the extent that when violence comes, it is short and sharp.

**** an excellent piece which will keep anybody over the age of 21 (mature enough not to need all of the cast murdered by half way through) happily engaged and entertained.

Two Night Stand

I’ll start of by saying I enjoyed this movie and only saw it on the recommendations of a friend. I say this because one or two others have not been too kind to the work. Directed by Max Nichols, this is directorial debut, and a good one at that. The premise is quite simple. Out of work and out of love Megan (Analeigh Tipton, Warm Bodies, 2013) is cajoled by her flat mate in to going out to a party, only to find she has no ID and cannot attend so back home. At home she decides to take the advice offered by everybody; get on line and find a guy.

After some time dithering about, she eventually cobbles together an on-line profile and enters the fray. Following a few minutes of the usual jokes she comes across “Alec” (Miles Teller, whiplash, 2014) who seems like a genuine guy; he does live on the other side of the city though, however she goes for it and heads over to Alec’s. after what is presumed to be a satisfying night Megan decides to slip out.

There are two issues with slipping out, firstly the front door is alarmed and causes here to jump back to bed before the siren sounds. This gets fixed only to have the morning after discussion with Alec rr as she mistakenly calls him; Alex. Many of the jokes/scenarios here are not new, but they are not hammed either. Indeed is their very recognisable nature which contributes to the scene, as we inevitably identify with various parts of the discussions. Finally leaving the apartment Megan has one last major obstacle to overcome; the New York snow, unfortunately the snow won as she is trapped inside , with no further option Megan returns with Alec to the apartment. What follows is the traditional awkward silence following the discussion they had earlier when they thought they would never see each other again. This is of course an ages-old gag; people insult each other only to be forced in to a situation together. What makes this work is the ability of both cast members to work well together and have a snappy script supplied to them by the screen writer (Mark Hammer, Skins episode 2011).

Having checked the weather , it looks like they are trapped together for at least another night, remember this is early morning. Eventually they settle done to a delicate “truce”, a truce which is put in jeopardy by Megan when she is in the bathroom and reads an article on the type of women who use dating sites for one night stands, she identifies as #2 – Damaged. Clearly still hurting she rips out the page and flushes it down the toilet. The only problem is the flood that follows. From here the disaster mounts. Alex has no plunger, but his neighbours have. The neighbours are away and Alex does not have a key, so the two of them gear-up and via the fire-escape go round to their neighbours’ apartment. The windows are frozen solid, normally a problem with the building’s windows would have meant they were open. Megan does what she needs to do and they get in, much to Alec’s shock and amazement.

Once the piece is recovered from the toilet, they have a discussion and the issue quickly passes, or does it? Following a smoke of a certain herb, they relax and after making a “blanket tent” relax for the evening. While talking they decide that their situation might allow for some Science – namely feedback on where they went wrong the night before. Queue night two. In the best traditions of love’s labours being lost, Megan leaves for home the next day, but under a cloud.

While Megan has been open about her relationships, Alec has been less so. What seemed like a budding friendship might just have failed at its second hurdle. Back at her apartment Megan’s flat mate, Faiza (10 Cent Pistol, 2014) and her boyfriend, Cedric (Scott Mescudi, Need For Speed, 2014) have news for her – she has 4 days to find a new place. Alex now has a similar predicament owing to items left in his apartment (see for yourself). So nothing else to do, it is time for the New Year’s eve party, which needless to say, is a bit of a damp squib for her, or at least it is until the police come looking for her. The consequences of her entry to Alec’ neighbour flat come back to haunt her. It seems as if this is Alec’s doing, she is in a holding cell and he’s trying to bail her out, unsuccessfully. The last few minutes of the movie you can check out for yourself.

This could very easy have been a painful saccharine affair (no pun) but with snappy script and delivery it turned the movie in to something well worth watching regardless of whether or not you are trapped behind a wall of snow.

A very solid ***

Frank


This film by Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did, 2012), is loosely based on the memoirs of Jon Ronson who had been keyboard player to the original Frank. And that was my problem.
You see being Irish, I remember the original Frank (the late Chris Sievey) who was a comedian and musician, the head was an on-stage persona and I have to say he kind of freaked me as a kid. Thankfully Abrahamson did not go with the original instead, he used the memoirs as an inspiration for what he went on to make. So with that in mind what did he do?
Abrahamson took the idea of Frank (Michael Fassbender, Hunger 2008) and his band and turned it in to a highly entertaining, witty and original piece. It is essentially a one-trick donkey but the trick carries throughout the film. The trick is about Jon Ronson , or more particularly his character Jon Burroughs (Donal Gleeson, About Time, 2012) who is a frustrated song writer who meets a rather eccentric group just as they lose their key-board player.
Whiling away his life trying to write songs from the life around him Jon is a study on mediocrity, even his twitter account is only more than a dozen people, but on lunch one day he comes across the band and is invited to gig with them that night (replacing the current keyboard player who has just tried to drown himself). Jon heads to the gig, which turns out to be a case-study in chaos. The gig ends , they drive off and Jon is left disillusioned and more-than-ever dreaming of musical success. Then out of the blue one day, they ring him and ask him to join them for something they are doing in Ireland, Jon gladly says yes and heads off for what he thinks in a weekend in Dublin.
Pretty soon is becomes clear to Jon that the band member s are all quite eccentric and not just Frank. Indeed there is a certain hostility to him from some quarters. He quickly befriends the band’s “manager” and former keyboard player, Don (Scott McNairy) from whom he learns that Frank and Don met in a mental hospital. The rest of the band is made up of the Theremin playing Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart, 2009) who resents Jon’s presence as much out of jealousy as any other reason and who give an intense performance such as to the extent that Jon at one stage asks her what she was in hospital for; to which she clarified that she was not mentally ill, his dead-pan response was that he had presumed she was mentally ill, it was a matter-of-fact reply with no malicious intent, nicely delivered.
Frank never takes off the head, and also has a medical cert to prove that he has a psychological condition, this of course intrigues Jon. As he begins to experience Frank and the band Jon jumps in with all the vigour of one new to the experience, only to learn very quickly not to expect his contributions to be noted or used. His fascination with Frank and the Band actually grows and Jon is swept along with the experience, even if he is capable of realising just how unique an experience it is. He wants to find out what is it that makes somebody a great song writer, he is convinced it is the experience of live, for the other it was situations like mental hospitals or prisons, this would be his mental hospital.
Jon ends up financing their year- long stay in a cabin in Ireland . It took a year due to Frank’s exactness and refusal to record anything until he is happy with the sound. This is an excellent piece of cinema, original, challenging and ever so much slight “off-track”, however it always stays on the right side of the joke, never tipping into obscurity. Much happens in the year long journey which eventually sees them making their way to a gig in Texas, but before they do they, must deal with the loss of Don whose daemons finally over-came him. The gig in Texas came about from Jon putting clips on the band on Youtube and tweeting about them, it becomes clear that he is getting a following. Frank is amazed and agrees to Texan while Clara is against it – she is only in it for the music and might even prefer if they had no fans.
While in Texas things become intense resulting in Frank going missing and Jon setting off to find him and bring him back, some months later he tracks him down to his parent home. The music to the film is original and performed by the cast. In some places it is highly experimental, while in others it resembles a Sigur Rós album (which is a good thing). At one point watching Maggie Gyllenhaal perform on stage I was reminded of the Midnight cabaret from Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 1999) indeed much of the story line is similar, people leaving all they have to chase a dream, a dream that does not always come true, but they keep chasing. That said, another Irish based movie also springs to mind; Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be The Place, 2011. A musician looking for his place in the world, a not very conventional place, but one none-the-less
And why not, a person may not find their dreams but maybe they will find something else along the way, perhaps something ,more valuable.
****stars, Original and smart, it will keep you entertained.

Short Term 12

At first glance one might be tempted to write off the movie as potentially just another case of teen hardship and angst as they are confined to a place the y do not want to be in and watched over by social workers who are little more than prison guards, but if you did you would be wrong. Written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, this is only his second directorial feature (the first being I Am Not a Hipster, 2012), but it certainly benefits from being previously a short story which he filmed in 2008.

What we have are a number of carers or social workers including one new to the short-term facility, who to be brutally honest are not much older that the teens in their care. The stars of the show are Grace (Brie Larson, Don Jon, 2013) and her fellow carer/boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr. Jonah Hex, 2010). Her introduction to the kids comes in the shape of Sammy on one of his many attempts to run away (Alex Calloway, 50 Kisses, 2014). This is an example of the stress children and adults are under, however there is one kid, Marcus (Keith Stanfield, Selma, 2014) who is now coming to an age where he will need to leave the system he has been in for so long, he has anger issues and you can’t really blame him. There are also a number of other kids with their various issues which challenge the staff physically and emotionally. The relationship is supportive and caring from the adults, it is a refuge not a prison.

Even with this we see how the work influences the counsellors, the older members of the team have come to terms with many of the pressures of the job, while the newer, younger counsellors come to terms with their charges and how to deal with them. This is not a TV movie where the kids’ lives are transformed in to a world of happiness. No, there are issues, some cannot mix, some won’t; some are leaving but are not ready, others might be. This story is told through the kids in the facility but it is as much about the carers and how they grow into the role; how it shapes them. Although the centre is essentially the centre of all their lives, we do get glimpses of the Grace’s and Mason’s lives at home, they live together. We learn their own histories and see the motivators that brought them to where they are today and which will drive them to make the decisions they need to make, especially after Grace’s unplanned pregnancy

The ground covered by Short Term 12 is well travelled and could have been a lot less effective except for the sharp script, snappy edits and Cretton’s ability no know just…well actually his ability to do his job well. He gives us characters we can engage with, who we want good things for. This is an engaging and entertaining offering well worth the time. Each of the stories, whether of the carers, the kids under care or even all of them, has some sort of a climax, maybe not a clean ending but a climax.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

I had to stop and think about this one; not so much as to the quality of the film; it is excellent, but rather its nature. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a movie for its own sake. BSW (for obvious reasons) is the story of life in the Bathtub as told through the experiences of a six your old girl called Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis, Annie 2014). Drawing its inspiration from her play “Juicy and Delicious”, Lucy Alibar co-wrote the movie with director Benh Zeitlin. This is Benh’s first feature length movie, and it does not show.

On one level BSW allows us to experience life through Hushpuppy’s eyes but on another level it also show the complex relationship between her and her hard drinking, independent father. By extension we also get to witness the lives, interactions and even society of those who live in the Bathtub. The Bathtub is an area of forgotten and neglected swampy, bayou, or at least it was. The locals are under orders to remove themselves. There are no big houses or estates here, this is the land of the dispossessed, what homes are here are those cobbled together by their inhabitants.

The people are proudly independent of the city. Indeed the sense of independence and social isolation is reflected in the child’s own living arrangements. She lives with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry, 12 Years A Slave) however they live in two separate “buildings” she in the shack on stilts and he in the wreck of a bus. The whole community is somewhat similar, even down to her education. The community here are essentially Cajun hippies, but that does not do them justice.

The background and cinematography is excellent and indeed just as the characters endear us to them, so too does the camerawork to the place and time, we get to experience some of what it is like to live there and experience some of the hardships. Life is not perfect for them. Pressure is on to remove them from the area and this looms large in the background. There is drama in the relationship between Hushpuppy and Wink and the others living there.

When we see the storm strike there is a very tangible sense of dread and foreboding, this continues to dread and nervousness during the storm to be followed by a certain sense of relief. The people of the bathtub are still alive. Wink in his makeshift boat/raft visits round his neighbours as he does they slowly come round or meet him. There is no “woe am I” from the community, this is life. This is what these people signed-up for.

One cannot help but wonder if the real message of the film is that we can be happy with nothing except our friends and neighbours around us and the most basic of shelter and food. Indeed the feeding regime differs little between human and alligator, chicken carcass or fresh fish.

Not overly burdened by script but beautifully shaped and presented. This is certainly worth a couple of hours of your time, time you will not miss. The plot is simply life and how we deal with what we have in life.

In To The Woods

What a pleasant surprise! I usually cannot stand musicals, with the exception of “The Producers” and strangely enough both of either production (Mel Brooks 1967 or Susan Stroman, 2005). Usually it is a mediocre story further ruined by senseless prattling and dancing about while attempting to give voice to song that should be instantly forgotten. So you can imagine the kind of thoughts going through my head as I sat down to watch this movie; they were the types of thought normally reserved for the dentist’s chair.

Bob Marchall’s (Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, 2011) work here gives us a mash-up of Grimm fairy tales based on the musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. While some interpretations of Grimm can be dark and serious, while other try to stay “realistic”, this version is both light & humorous while at the same time keeping a shadow of darkness. There is just the hint of the darker nature of the original Grimm works, while firmly also taking a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at the stories

Having been given an introduction to jack struggles with a cow that will not milk and a mother that needs income, Little Red Riding Hood’s visit to her granny, the childless baker and his wife and even Cinderella (Anna Kendrick, Rapture Palooza, 2013)with an appearance from Rapunzil with of course the necessary Princes, Charming etc. We see our heroes going through their dark lives wishing for things to be better.

The film opens with Jack (Daniel Huttlestone, Les Misérables, 2012) ) being told by his mother (Tracey Ullman, The Corpse Bride, 2005) to sell their cow, who jack regards as his best friend, while at the same time Little Red Riding Hood(Lilla Crawford) is stocking up at the baker’s (James Corden, Gavin & Stacey, 2007+)) getting bread for her granny living in the woods. Life is not too good for the baker and his wife (Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow, 1014) either, they have no children despite their best efforts. While a little away Cinderella is having her usual step-sister/ball issues which need to be sorted. All of this is put in to context how they all have a wish for something better. And this being a fairy tale , the old witch (Meryl Streep, The Hours, 2006)has to turn up, she lives next door to the Baker and his wife.

Now it turns out that some years ago the witch put a curse on his father and the family in general – no further off-spring; something which goes a long way to explain the couple’s child-baring difficulties. However there is some hope. The spell can be reversed , but only on the blue moon in three days’ time.

Sounds easy enough, but there is a catch the spell needs some items like a blood red cloak, a milk-white cow and hair as golden as a corn husk, oh and a golden slipper. As you see a wish-list such as this can seriously impact on a number of fairy tales. The fact that jack has some giant troubles does not help either. Against this The baker and his wife (despite her heading home a number of times) trek in to the woods to find the items in question, with absolutely no idea how they might find them. Through a series of misadventures they eventually bring together what is needed, only of course to find out that things don’t work as well as they need, so a quick fix is needed.

Throughout the search we are introduced to the various fairy tales as part s of the story. Johnny Depp (Dark shadows, 2012) plays a smoothly menacing Wolf to Little Red Riding Hood, while Chris Pine (Star Trek, 2009) plays Cinderella’ s Prince to a lightly comic effect. As if one prince was not enough, Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy, Brother’s Keeper, 2013) also has her prince (Billy Magnussen, The East, 2013).

James Corden is “stand-out” in the role, really adding to the part, while Meryl Streep’s witch is worth the price of admission just for her. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an animated Streep in any role. You will note that I’m not mentioning much on the plot, well you can guess what happens Jack when he sells the cow and gets the beans from the baker, or Cinderella’s social challenges. We all know the stories, but what we don’t know so much about is the world these people live in and how.  Overall the casting works extremely well. Every effort has gone into giving us characters which match the years of imagination that have gone in to them, not least of all Jack’s mother through Tracey Ullman.   In a world of coincidences we see the great Frances de la Tour (The History Boys, 2006) playing the Giant, it was in the The History Boys that the world took note of Corden and his work.

This is the perfect movie for a grey winter’s day when you just want to pass an hour or two and enjoy it. The pace is continuous and reasonably quick. The story moves along at a nice pace and stays original all things considered.

Over the years there have been many dramatizations of Grimms’ work, some have worked while other have been painfully bad. This one certainly work. It reminds me of some of the Disney cartoons in places while as a movie it falls firmly alongside The Princes Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987). This is a good thing. Any movie whish stands up to comparison with TPB, can hold its head up high.

Go have some fun and watch this movie, or see the musical J and like all good fairy tales there is a message to it – be careful what you wish for , you might just get it, oh and fairy tales do come through and people can live happily ever after.

American Sniper

It took me a little while to get in to this film and indeed even at the end I was trying to rate it, my initial score now seems harsh after some time to digest the film. Having read some of what has been written about the movie I was interested to see what it would come out like.   What I got was in some way a movie which is very different from much of what Clint Eastwood has produced previously, while at the same time very much the same. The cinema style is different , the wide airy shots are replaced by close-up almost claustrophobic scenes, smooth flowing scenes are replaced by the ragged, clipped fight scenes and tension . There is some of this also to be seen in his earlier work Letters From Iwo Jima (2006) with its own stylization and the telling of the story trough the person of   and his men even down to their dysentery.

Whatever of the style, the sense of detail is still there, we see this from the start. While competing in a local rodeo event he hurts is hand and in the shots that follow we see him use an ice bag. Seeing this I wondered if it would have an impact of the story; no, it was just how Eastwood details a film. The initial story-line may seem different from much of what else Eastwood has done, but at closer inspection it is much in line with previous efforts.

We are told a story about a young man who has a gift, a gift which he knows comes with responsibility and must be controlled. The film is based on the book by Chris Kyle and co-written by Scott McEwen and James Defelice, with Jason Hall writing the screenplay. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, 2012), play the part of Chris Kyle. WE quickly learn that Chris was brought-up with a string sense of justice and the need to protect the weak “the sheep” from the “wolves”. After floating about as a “cowboy” in his native Texas he realises there is something more to life and he want to do something with his life so after seeing the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the news he decides to sign-up. Joining the Navy SEALs he discovers and develops his skill as a sniper.

From the start of his mission we see a man willing to use the great power he has to kill, but only if he has to. Will he shoot a child or mother? What is their risk. Not long after deploying we learn that there is an Iraqi sniper, Mustafa (Samy Sheik, Lone Survivor, 2013) a Jordanian mercenary fighter who is killing US troops and it soon becomes a recurring theme of his time in Iraq, the hunt for his nemesis. Cooper’s character is haunted by the need to do something, to contribute, this is a driver which we see he takes home with him and it is on his return from his first tour that he meets Taya (Sienna Miller, Foxcatcher 2014) with whom he quickly develops a relationship and marries.

As the movie progresses through his tours we begin to see the personal effect on him and the troops around him. Returning to his second tour, he meets his brother, Jeff also deployed. Jeff is a shadow of his former self, clearly shaken to the core by what he has witnessed. There is a certain shock to Kyle in this. As the years progress and we see his life punctuated by tours of duty and spells home the pressures mount. He is a person still struggling. He is driven by an absolute certainty and any diminishing of this certainty will cause a person to question themselves, what they are doing and ultimate lose their focus and concentration, ultimately paying the price for such with their lives. He feels comfortable back “in country”, there is a certainty to what he is doing.

While home he cannot shake the effects of Iraq. Cars are watched in case they are following him. The attitudes of people back home acting as if nothing is happening all weigh on him. On his last tour he recognises the self-doubt and exhaustion he has seen in others, in himself; it is time to get out. When he eventually leaves we see how he has difficulty adapting back to civilian life until he finds his calling helping other returned veterans, those with physical and mental injuries arising out of their time in Iraq. Indeed this is the last thing we see of him is preparing for another day’s journey, this time with another veteran, presumably Eddie Ray Roth . The last scene being his funeral scenes, returning his body home.

This is very much in the tradition of Eastwood’s movies; we see a young talented individual lost but with a gift that can allow them to find meaning and direction in the world. As with many gifts there is a price to pay, often a deep personal one.

This as it turns out is an excellent movie and the first time I have been able to watch Bradley Cooper in a role without wanting to leave the movie early. You will either love or have this movie. Is it the 4 or 5 star production many say it is, I am not sure. It is certainly a 3star and possible a 4 grade movie. Watch it, it is a cut above the rest and really focuses on the personal aspects of the conflict.

Monsieur Lazhar

This unassuming piece of work by director Philippe Falardeau (The Good Lie, 2014) is one of those that just pulls you in as you watch it. Set in a Montréal high-school coming to terms with the suicide of a popular teacher. There is a sense of intimacy to this work that allows the watcher to get involved in the emotion of the movie. The film is adapted from the play by Évelyne de la Chenelière with what seem like only minor changes to the plot. The film opens with a pupil, Simon (Émilien Néron) discovering one of his teacher’s having hung herself in the classroom as he delivers the day’s milk, the mundaneness of his act clashing with the horror of what he witnesses. The school quickly responds with all of the correct moves, shepherding the children elsewhere; all but one of the students manage to escape the scene, only Simon’s friend Alice (Sophie Nélisse) also witnessing the scene.

Working by the book the school quickly begins to manage the grief and shock of all involved. All evidence of the terrible event is stripped away with a grief counselor being brought in and the classroom repainted. In the middle of all of this is the head teacher (Danielle Proulx), herself under pressure who is suddenly presented with an option which might help things. A man comes to her looking for a job as a teacher, he just turns up with his CV. The man is an Algerian immigrant who finds himself in Montréal after fleeing very real personal tragedy and suffering. His name is Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag, What the Day owes the Night, 2012) Falardeau tells us this man’s story through moments of reflection and memory as well as how his past is influencing the present and the children around him.

Against this background of chaos and disorder, the head teacher hires this stranger. As he starts we see that Bachir is certainly a contrast to the events around him. Bachir is literally what might be described as “old school” these days. His style far more conservative and traditional that what the pupils had been used to. This period of unease and adjustment could have been the film in and ofg itself, but the subject matter needed to be explored further, One of the challenges facing him is overcoming the grief of the pupils, or at least their overcoming of the grief. Bachir has been instructed not to interfere with the grieving and healing process, despite how he sees it not working as effectively as it should. What we see is a man who cares about those around him, adults and children; a man who despite his own loss and suffering can still recognise the value and worth in everybody.

The film is also full of detail. The story is told not so much through narrative but through the detail of the picture the trinkets from home, his food and so on. The fact that he may not be fully qualified to teach also adds a dimension to the piece. This movie is not about answering some of life’s big questions, rather it seems to be more about how we deal with those questions; how do we deal with loss, with trauma, with pressure, and not just how do we deal with such things but how also do we deal with the effects of them on us and others.

I recommend this production as one which will stay with you for a long time after you have seen it.

The Castle, 1997

Over the years Australia has managed to produce some excellent cinema, not least of all in comedy. Straight away The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (Stephen Elliott, 1994) or The Dish (Rob Sitch, 2000) spring to mind, indeed talking of Elliott, another movie comes to mind first; The Castle, which Scott directed in 1997.

The Kerrigan family headed by the father of the house, Darryl Kerrigan (Michael Caton, the Sullivans, 1976/77) are happily living their lives. Life is not perfect, but together they overcome any challenges that might pop-up. This is about the “typical” ordinary Aussie family.

Home, to the Kerrigans, is their house and “Castle” nestled between the airport runway and a high-voltage power line. Darryl’s wife Sal (Anne Tenny, Dead Heart 1996) is his perfect partner. With their three sons, one of whom is in prison and a daughter, newly married.

Life, however takes a side-step however when the airport next door announces its intentions to expand. And just where do they plan to expand? Exactly. Darryl and neighbours spring in to action and after trying some of their own actions, resort to the Courts. With this in mind they hire local solicitor Dennis Denuto. Dennis has one major failing; he is useless as a lawyer. With Dennis fighting their already seemingly hopeless case, there is not much they can do.

After trying things his own way and acquiring a set of “bloody good gates” along the way, they look to see what else they can do and just as when all seems lost, along comes barrister Lawrence Hammill, (Charles Tingwell,    Breaker Morant, 1980). This is very much a Little-Man versus the Machine movie and for the little-man to overcome the fight ahead of him he needs a very capable mechanic, in this case a first rate QC. Despite being completely different people from totally different backgrounds and against all odds Lawrence and Darryl overcome their social differences. This is perhaps just as important a part of the movie as the overall fight to protect a person’s home.

Darryl and Lawrence are two very different people, one schooled and polished, the other a diamond in the rough; one a working-class man who will not accept what he see a bullying, while the other is firmly a member of the establishment. Darryl’s naivety, or lack of diplomacy contrasts with the careful reserve of his barrister, but the two hit it off.

It will not be too much of a spoiler to know Darryl and family win their case, but watching the journey to the end point is a very enjoyable experience. I had seen this movie some years ago and have watched it since, enjoying it every time. Some evening when the world needs to be kept away for an hour or two, get the DVD or stream this movie and by the end (most certainly before that) you will have a smile on your face.

**** A simple honest classic. As I have mentioned before, I like situational comedy, comedy when despite the seemingly straight acting of the cast and their script in response is the comedy. The more mindless, slapstick type rarely works for me. This situational scenario works just nicely. Oh and have a look out for a young Eric Bana.

Caché (Hidden) (2005)

This work from Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon, 2009) opens with a street view which we soon discover is actually video footage of a couple which was left on their doorstep. Why was this done, is somebody playing a prank on the couple or is something more sinister brewing. The couple, Georges (Daniel Auteuil, The Widow of Saint-Pierre, 2000) is a TV host while his wife Anne, (Juliette Binoche, An Open Heart, Mila, 2013) ) who works in publishing. Anne thinks a fan of Georges is responsible for the recordings.

This is only the beginning though. They soon after receive another recording , wrapped in a gruesome picture of a child vomiting blood, the same picture which is sent to their young son. As the tension surrounding these events grows, Georges again receives a new communication, this one leads him to his childhood home.

As George tries to get to the bottom of the hidden secret he descends to an almost comical version of himself. The Search for answers brings us to Majid (Maurice Benichou, La Grande vie, Kowalski, 2009) an old childhood friend who provides us with evidence of a dark past impacting today’s life.

This is a Haneke film, so it need not be shot in a tried and tested conventional manner. He does not necessarily follow the chronology of the story, often mixing scenes, showing clips out of time, but which ultimately build to the conclusion.

What makes this film so significant is its use of allegory, much of the film can be seen as a reflection on aspects of France’s colonial past. The cinematography is essential to the film, with Haneke daring to use full takes which work to build the scene rather than just carry forward the story.

This thriller is based on a mysterious event, from the start we are left to ask the questions, it takes up on to the very last scene before we can say the question has been answered and that which was hidden revealed. What past secrets do we carry with us, hidden from the world?

There is something very Hitchcockian about this movie, it is the mystery which drives us with the characters and cinematography being carefully sculpted to tell a story. It must be watched in full to appreciate just how well it works. The fact that the primary actors are two of Frances greatest in their profession also helps deliver a very worthwhile movie.

**** and a bit more.

What We Do In the Shadows

Once more the folks from New Zealand have managed to provide anotherclassic and as with much of the output from New Zealand, there is a calm “home-grown” feel to the work. Mocumentary films have generally left me feeling unsatisfied whilst the Point of View or “discovered lost footage type films also generally do very little for me; although As Above As Below (2014) was a notable exception. Often these films try to be too earnest or try to achieve too much on too small a budget to disastrous effects.

What we have here is a perfect example of knowing what you can do and making it work. As the film starts we are introduced to the cast of characters through Viago (Taika Waititi, The Green Lantern, 2011) a 350 year old vampire who, we learn, came to New Zealand in search of the love of his “life” after she moved there. The fact that his servant put the wrong postage on the coffin meant that it took him 18months to reach there, by which time she had fallen for another. Such are the stories which brought Viago and his flat-mates to where they are. We have Anton (Rhys Darby, MIB 3, 2012) and Vladislav, (Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords) the lothario or the group, but we learn his powers have been seriously weakened by his crossing paths with “The Beast” and Petyr (30 Days of Night, Heron, 2007) who is the oldest vampire and resembles the classical “Nosferatu” given to us by Max Schrek ( Nosferatu, 1922). Deacon (Jonathan Brugh The Almighty Johnsons, Mascot man, 2011) the youngest and most rebellious of the group, he has serious issues about doing the washing-up.

Together, they make up a “normal” group of flatmates who are basically trying to get on with life (or death) as normally as possible. We see the flatmates through various stereotypes ; organised & controlled, sloppy , “divil may care” etc. The plot as such is that of a camera crew following the guys in the weeks leading up to the Un-holy Masquerade Ball. This film should not be funny because many of the standard vampire gags which you might expect are all there and in many cases are well sign-posted. But for those that are sign-posted there are many other gags which also work just as well which are fresh to the production. We see the guys go about their lives and join them on their night’s out and feeding habits. Their feeding is facilitated by Jackie (Jackie van Beek, Shortland Street , 1999), Vladislav’s human Familiar who through her not very competent efforts finds them two not very virginal virgins to feed on, they subsequently end up turning Nic (Cori Conzalez-Macuer (Eagle v shark, 2007) in to a vampire, much to Jackie’s disgust as she has been wanting to be turned for quite some time. Nic has a friend Stu who he invites over to meet the guys and against their better judgement the they strike up a friendship with Stu who heads out with them on their nights’ socialising.

Such is the friendship that he is invited to the Ball by the guys, the fact that he is alive does not go down well with a number of the guests, including “The Beast”. A subsequent run-in with some of the local werewolves provides for a minor comic twist near the end, capping out the story.

The movie works for a number of reasons, the script is sharp and flows well with some quit finny lines spread through-out. Dealing with a subject matter of vampires one might expect hugely expensive visual effects or indeed attempts that are so pitifully awful they make us cringe. Not having the budget for the former and too much class for the latter Clement and Waititi who both directed the film struck the right note. The special effects are kept to a level which does not over-extend their abilities while at the same time restricting them for best comedic effect.

This is not an overly long movie, which moves quickly while bringing you with them all along the way. The jokes follow the situations with some excellent delivery. **** movie.

300: Rise of an Empire

Whereas most follow-on movies are either sequels or prequels , this movie parallels the original 300 (2006) allowing director Noam Murro (Smart People, 2008) and writers Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad the vehicle to run with Frank Miller’s material from the graphic novel Xerxes. What we see here is a continuation of the style first seen in 300 but a nuancing to actually make the work more watchable. The original scored through the visual effect and mythical character of the story-line while throwing vast amounts of testosterone across the screen.

What we see in this film is the story from “another angle”, Murro looks to the “back –story” of Xerxes’ (Rodrigo Santaro, The Last Stand, 2013) attack in to the Greek States. His attack is one of revenge having been manipulated in to the position by one of his greatest admirals, Artimesia, (Eva Green, Casino Royale, 2006) who works her manipulations in the shadows, removing anyone who would or could be of influence to the King. Green makes a worthy adversary to Stapleton

There are a number of “sword and sandals” productions out over the last 12 months, with the majority being rather poor, Noah (Darren Aronofsky, 2014) and Pompeii (Paul W.S. Anderson, 2014) being two examples. Noah for being too preachy and Pompeii for just being nothing great. Both had vast budgets and both failed to meet expectations, at least from my perspective. What we have with “300: Empire” is a director and writers who knew how not to ruin a work.

There is a good deal less of the mythical in this offering which is more focused on the battles. The movie works to set up the final dénouement from the very start; there is a story. The Greek states are being attacked, The Spartans are defending at Thermopylae, while General Thermistokles (Sullivan Stapleton, Gangster Squad, 2013) has assembled what he can of a Greek navy/army to meet Artimesia and here grand fleet. In to the mix of this Thermistokles is aided by his generals Aeskylos (Hans Matheson, Sherlock Holmes, 2009) and Scyllias (Callan Mulvey, rush, 2008) with an earnest Jack O’Connell (’71, 2014) playing Scyllias’ son Calisto who is more than eager to enter the battle despite his father’s natural reluctance, what follows is the usual plot line, it does not take from the film and adds a slight distraction.

Generally the work feels less theatrical than the original. The graphics and special effects are excellent and carry the film. Indeed the digital and physical staging needed for the naval battles works well. This movie will never stand tall on a plinth when it comes to the history of cinema, but it is not bad. This movie does exactly what it sets out to do; it tells a story in a graphical manner. It should be noted that the graphical nature of the movie is not just for the special effects, there are some gruesome battle scenes which when you consider the movie is 3D offer some gore for those who like their battles bloody.

Speaking of 3D, I am generally speaking not a fan. I have nothing against 3D but for the fact that it is often done poorly. That said, it worked here; adding to the overall effect. Watch the DVD or download, there are many worse things you could do with your time. Noah was barely a ** movie, so it seems a little callous to make this offering a *** star effort. But Noah was barely a ** while 300: Empire is firmly sitting where it should.

Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler opens by introducing us to a young man, Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal, End of Watch, 2012) looking for an income and work. We very quickly get a picture of him as he sells stolen metal to a building site. Using negotiating skills he observed/learned from others he tries to maximise his income. Trying to turn the situation to his  benefit he asks for a job, only to be refused, pushing for roles, the site-supervisor tells him out-right that he will not hire a thief.

As he tries to make a living he come across an accident being filmed by a stringer, Joe Loder (Bill Paxton, Edge of Tomorrow, 2014) who fills him in on what is happening. This is something Louis thinks he can do. Buying a new camera (financed through the theft of a sports bike) he begins to film accidents and issues using a police scanner to get to incidents. Trying to always stay one step ahead of the others he meets and develops a working relationship with Nina (Rene Russo Outbreak, 1995) , a night news director at a local news station.

As each night progresses he learns from those around them and shamelessly robs ideas from them always trying to stay ahead. As part of his attempts to move forward he interviews and hires an young out-of-work assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed, Four Lions, 2010) on what can only be described as “slave-labour” terms. The interview process and subsequent interaction shows us in no uncertain manner just what kind of guy Bloom is.

As business grows for Bloom we see that it is on the back of others, always moving forward and quite happily at the expense of others. As we see the relationship with Nina develop we are left sitting in a mix of shock and wonder. This is clearly a man whose moral compass is different to ours. The increasingly complex relationship with Nina is mirrored in his relationship with Rick, his assistant. In no “legitimate” organisation would Bloom’s behaviour be acceptable but young Rick is desperate and needs the job.

Bloom is a person who sees a problem and works to a solution, regardless of whether or not the solution is ethical or legal.

This approach to those around him leaves us considering if Bloom is actually sane. Those around him question likewise. The movie develops along with Bloom to the extent that when he decides to take a very unconventional step with life-changing consequences we firmly see just how twisted he is. As he says himself, his issue may not be that he cannot communicate with people but that he does not like people. Beating the police to a home invasion Bloom discovers more than he bargained for. Breaking into the house he films ultra graphic scenes of the murder, but also captures the images of the murders (which he does not release to the police or other media). Thinking only of his advancement “to the next level” bloom orchestrates a series of moves which entail him avoiding police arrest (for being on the scene) and ultimately tracking down the people responsible for the home-invasion so that he can film the arrest and gain more prestige in the industry. A move that has tragic consequences.

Is this movie good? It is okay. Is Jake Gyllenhaal any good in the movie? He is brilliant. This is probably Gyllenhaal’s most significant acting role, watching the movie I see Louis Bloom not Jake Gyllenhaal. The one weakness I would have is the treatment of Rick by Bloom, surely no employee could be so hard-up as to continue for as long as he did with Bloom, paid so little and abused so much. The dialogue is excellent through-out with Gyllenhaal’s Bloom fully succeeding in creating a character we dislike EVERY time he opens his mouth.

Rene Russo’s Nina is a very smart character, an ideal foil to Bloom. The developing relationship is worked to a surgical precision, with the relationship echoing closing the unfolding events, events which lead up to the high-octane denouement.

With a different cast this movie could have been a poor reflection of itself, as it stands it has been tightly directed with a cast who were able to deliver more than just the lines required of them. The characterisation is key to this film, with events working to supply the characters with the ammunition needed to portray the roles just as needed.

This is a **** Movie. There are certain plot gaps which I felt took away from the “perfect” label many have attached to this movie, but don’t let that take away from the experience, it is an excellent film.