Saturday, 7 January 2012

Contagion

2011, 12, Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Jude Law



Steven Soderbergh must have the best casting agent in Hollywood; a few Ocean's films and the upcoming Haywire provides proof of the credible casts his films contain. Unsurprisingly, Contagion is no different. Not only this, but the skilled helmer is so content with his efforts that he has no trouble killing one off before the film’s barely begun. Gwyneth Paltrow is the unfortunate would-be heroine who, after returning home from a business trip to husband Matt Damon with suspicious flu-like symptoms, dies (in a scene so shrouded in domesticity that you will be left feeling numb). And so it is, a global pandemic is under way as the unseen contagious and very deadly virus infects anybody within reach, and we bear witness to certain strands of action: Damon attempting to deal with the sudden loss of loved ones; Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet as scientists attempting to contain the inescapable virus; Jude Law, a goofy blogger (yep, you read that right) attempting to stir up a conspiracy. It's full-on stuff from the outset.

In terms of dread, Soderbergh nails it, whether this be through the use of captionsto locate and inform us as to how many inhabitants are at risk, crucially using population figures, or the camera shots that linger on door handles and drinking glasses for just the right amount of time in order to highlight the presence of something you cannot see. Yes, a true sense of danger is present in such a way that most horror films aim for, and usually fail. Which is where the A-list cast aid what could have been a generic B-movie outing. All of the aforementioned, not to mention Marion Cotillard, John Hawkes and Jennifer Ehle - add to the worry that any of the characters these actors portray could die at any moment. In other words, all bets are bloody off. It has to be said however that the plot strands flit just a bit too frequently, and in some cases investment proves tough - whilst in others, more exploration is required leaving a particular character’s climax invariably rushed (thoughts go out to you, Marion).

All in all though, Contagion is better than it had any right to be. Cliff Martinez's thrilling, pulsating score tracks the palpable fear that the virus is inevitably going to engulf you, ensuring that once the film has ended, a simple action like, say, coughing will be a much more different experience than normal...


 3.5/5



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Thursday, 5 January 2012

Tyrannosaur

2011, 18, Directed by Paddy Considine
Starring: Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, Eddie Marsan, Stuart Bottomley


If the title mistakes you into believing that this film features plenty of spectacle involving paleontology, you will be forgiven – but only once you’ve endured this breathtaking and completely tragic character exploration into what people do when they are helplessly and hopelessly involved in awful situations. Here, Paddy Considine debuts his skills behind the camera with an extension of his short, Dog Altogether, which sees Peter Mullan’s Joseph – an angry, belligerent and extremely violent figure – collide with Olivia Colman’s softly-spoken, charity shop worker Hannah. Both appear direct opposites, but both are victims of circumstance; Joseph exerts his unnecessary rage onto his beloved dog, whereas Hannah contains understandable rage for reasons that should only be discovered on-screen. For a film that tackles domestic issues to an extreme nature, it is wholly commendable to Considine that he manages to ensure Tyrannosaur is not completely disparate of smiles, albeit weak ones that are directly followed by a not-so-metaphorical punch to the gut. 
Through his actors, he has crafted something that deserves to be witnessed the world over. Mullan, further proving his worth, is Joseph. For all of his violence and c-word spouting, the viewer – like Hannah – sees something special in the guy. Underneath the aggressive exterior, he means well, whether this means looking out for the friendly kid neighbour on the estate who is terrorised by the pitbull of his mother’s boyfriend, or the daily visits to a dying friend - Joseph has a heart. Colman, best known for her comedic chops in Peep Show and Green Wing, is best summed up by one word: sublime. She displays a performance that rivals that of Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk about Kevin. Behind every action, emotion and word she utters, you feel precisely what it is Hannah conveys, despite the fact that the majority of us will thankfully never have the displeasure of experiencing the events she does. The ending may displease on a small scale for its admittedly rushed nature, but when a rarity like Tyrannosaur comes along, it hardly matters. Considine has found his true calling. Get excited.
5/5

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Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Crazy, Stupid, Love

2011, 15, Directed by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Starring
: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone

Crazy, Stupid, Love displays that rare instance where comedy and drama are merged in a large scale to pure success. The film follows Steve Carell’s Cal, a middle-aged married average Joe, whose world is rocked by wife Julianne Moore’s announcement that she wants a divorce. Over to the brilliantly-named womanizer Jacob then (Ryan Gosling, on charismatic form) to take Cal under his wing and restore him as a bachelor to be reckoned with. Cue sharp chat-up lines, delivered whilst wearing the sharpest suits – Carell really evolves as the film endures, Cal becoming a truly dependable protagonist.
The first 5 minutes of Crazy, Stupid, Love sets the tone for what is to come in a fitting manner, the realistic dramatic main course offered with a side-ordering of comedy. The way in which the comedic moments are almost underpinned by drama is the secret to this film’s success. However, unlike an Alexander Payne film, convention manifests as the film endures, but it is to the credit of the filmmakers – and the scarily top-notch supporting cast (Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, etc.) – that this doesn’t hinder events. In fact, a left-field out-of-place plot twist provides the cherry on top purely for the way in which it defies convention with its occurrence, yet would leave the film lacking that extra punch if absent.

Okay, so the ultimate product may be verging on unbelievable, which drags a film that heavily relied on upholding realism downwards - but surely it becomes irrelevant if by the end credits you have a smile fixed onto your face, or dare I say it, tears rolling down your cheeks? The most unforeseen charming film to shout about for a long while, Crazy, Stupid, Love is what it says on the tin: it’s a crazy concept with stupid moments… but you’ll love it.
4/5

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