Friday, 28 January 2011

It's a Wonderful Life

1937, U, Directed by Frank Capra
Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers
This classic, which sees James Stewart’s suicidal George Bailey restore his faith in the world with the help of Clarence the Angel, is as much a part of Christmas as pulling crackers… and what a cracker this is. Truly a film for the ages, this is one of those rare treats that you do not just have to sink your teeth into at the festive time of year. To say this is dated in a detrimental manner would be an atrocity – intriguingly, this was a flop on release – but part of the film’s charm lies in the fact that it was made in the thirties. Capra manages to deliver on such a level that It’s a Wonderful Life has slotted into generational status; deliciously heart-warming without ever resorting to over-sentimentality.



Thursday, 27 January 2011


2010, 15, Directed by Jorma Taccone
Starring: Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe, Val Kilmer

You may have heard of Austin Powers - a crazily successful and hilarious trilogy that spoofed James Bond: the jokes are genuinely funny; the characters charming; the plot enjoyable. None of this applies to the completely irrelevant MacGruber, a send-up of decades-old show McGyver. However, Saturday Night Live regular Will Forte deemed it necessary to introduce the world to his bumbling buffoon of a character who reassembles a team to defeat adversary, ‘hilariously’ named Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer, in a role which drags him a hundred steps backwards from the brilliant Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). There’s not a lot else to say apart from the fact that Kristen Wiig manages to steal the show with an unfunny line… In all seriousness? The whole thing is a mess



Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The Searchers

1956, U, Directed by John Ford
Starring: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond

As the opening credits to The Searchers roll before you, it is near impossible not to realise you are about to witness a classic Western, revered by scholars, loved by all. As John ‘The Duke’ Wayne appears on screen, drawling his lines in a nonchalant manner, you cannot help but glare at the screen and feel charmed by the legend’s presence; for somebody so cool, calm and collected, his Ethan Edwards can be so painfully harsh in his comments (he controversially assumes a quite racist tone on the subject of Native Americans). John Ford crafted a true gem here, one that is ever bit as entertaining as it must have been on release, and one that – as the closing credits roll before you – will seal the deal on seeking out more Westerns.



Monday, 24 January 2011

Black Swan

2010, 15, Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey

Darren Aronofsky’s first film since The Wrestler follows a near-identical formula: a character cannot deny their addiction to a talent they pursue powerlessly. Whereas Mickey Rourke’s wrestler was the protagonist in which that film was based, Black Swan focuses on Natalie Portman’s ballerina, Nina. Her every moment is shaped by ballet and it is this obsession which shapes the film (the opening sequence is a dream of Nina dancing as the Swan Queen, the role all ballerinas covet). We are permitted an immediate glimpse into Nina’s sheltered life, which aptly starts how Black Swan means to go on. You will question what is grounded in reality or what is in the mind, largely due to the digital trickery Aronofsky revels in shaking-up his audience with. Vincent Cassel’s expedient director, Thomas, makes no secret about the fact that Nina plays the White Swan to perfection, but that she just cannot convey the seductive scarred sexuality necessary for the Black Swan. Together with the forceful pressure placed onto her by the presence of new ballerina on the block Lily (Mila Kunis), Nina begins to make a tantalising transition. The casting here is inspired, with Portman epitomising Nina’s fragility in a beautiful manner – 8 months of dedicated training for the role is strongly indicated, causing the ballet scenes to be as awe-inspiring to even somebody who has no interest in dance. Cassel and Kunis impress, each adapting to their character with relative ease, whilst Barbara Hershey as the suffocating Mom of Nina plays just the right amount of mental-cased menace necessary so as not to belittle, but to partly influence her daughter’s inevitable spiral. But extreme kudos to Portman – she lingers in almost every shot: a shadow here, a reflection there (highlighting the extreme importance of mirrors). The amount of screen time she occupies in a film as challenging as this is pretty unthinkable and deserves to be rewarded (pay attention, Oscar).

Vitally, Aronofsky’s insistence on focusing on the intricacy of what his cast are doing is completely present – the scintillating cinematography will enable you to witness Swan Lake closer-up than you ever thought possible, experiencing every crack of the toe or toe out of line that Nina experiences. The camerawork on display effuses naturalism and surrealism simultaneously, birthing an uneasy feeling throughout: the claustrophobic camera constantly breathing down Nina’s neck; the technical flair of the camera matching her actions; the ingenious ability of capturing the beautiful and not-so-nice elements of the performances. The film insists upon weaving genres, but this simply adds to the unsettling nature at play and sets you up in such a way that you will welcome the scenes that will embed Black Swan into cult status forever more (and trust me, there are some seriously out-there moments).

Suffice to say, Black Swan is not for everyone, yet love it or loathe it there is no denying its palatable power. This is serious artistic ingenuity and Aronofsky has certainly defined himself as a genre director. Black Swan is the most horrific psychologically charged thriller there is. Prepare to be mesmerised.



Sunday, 23 January 2011

Winter's Bone

2010, 15, Directed by Debra Granik
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Lauren Sweetser, Garret Dillahunt

Winter’s Bone, like its title might suggest, is a bleak, cruel and unhurried adaptation of Daniel Woodrel’s novel, which sees newcomer Jennifer Lawrence’s Ree Dolly searching for her wayward father in the frozen backdrop of Arkansas. Although extremely slow in pace, this is the point; lines are delivered tediously and monotonously to reflect the surroundings, and not for one second do you doubt Lawrence’s truly great, naturalistic performance. Never doubting her desperation to avoid the imminent danger that beckons, this causes for truly tense encounters. Another highlight is the casting of Deadwood’s John Hawkes as Teardrop, Ree’s unpredictable uncle. The beauty of Hawke's performance is in the way the audience can fear him and rely on him from one scene to the next. Once you’ve glimpsed the landscape where the town folk live by their own rules as opposed to the ‘law’s’, it becomes astoundingly easy to translate this into reality. If you fetch Winter’s Bone, you will be rewarded.


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In the Loop

2009, 15, Directed by Armando Iannucci
Starring: Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Chris Addison, Gina McKee

Physically and grammatically, the characters of In the Loop are squarely out of it.

What is clear is that they are more caricatures… embodiments of real-life figures (Peter Capaldi’s scathing, profanity-barking Malcolm Tucker being Alastair Campbell). What is unforeseeable is war, according to Tom Hollander’s bumbling minister of international development Simon Foster; and so begins his climb of a mountain of conflict as he accidentally begins a military invasion. His grammatical error causes a war inside the loop people are so desperate to be in, which in itself is an embodiment of the world crisis these hapless politicians are so desperate to avoid. A step-brother of BBC’s The Thick of It, In the Loop is an embodiment of a ticking bomb that rests dangerously close to the bone. Once detonated, resignations are filed, garden walls collapse – and the viewer is more In the Loop than these political plonkers ever will be