Stay (2005)

Director:  Marc Forster

Staring: Ewan McGregor; Ryan Gosling; Naomi Watts

Length: 99 Minutes

In a Nutshell

While filling in for another doctor, psychiatrist Sam Foster (McGregor) encounters a suicidal patient who’s story becomes increasingly strange, so much so Foster himself starts to lose grip on his own reality.

Trailer

Review

David Lynch has sort of cornered the market on the “what the hell is going on here?” Genre; though that doesn’t stop other directors sticking their size 12’s in his front door every now and then.  One occasion where this perverse act of trespass occured was in 2005’s “Stay.”  A film so determined to emulate Lynch it might as well have paid him royalties on its takings.

Everything you expect to see and importantly, hear, is there from the off. The low synth and buzz you find in Lynchs best work, the odd smiling characters who occupy off screen space for no reason other than to confuse, main characters who slowly descend into madness without a clue why they’re doing so, i could go on but if you’ve ever seen a Lynch film you’ll know what your getting yourself into here.

The film focusses on Ewan McGregor’s clinical psychologist who meets the typically offbeat Ryan Gosling (pre-makeover) who proclaims he intends to commit suicide in a week and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.  Against his better judgement McGregors character Sam Forster runs the NY streets attempting to find Gosling before he hurts himself.  Along the way he finds himself meeting dead people, going round in temporal circles a la groundhog day and getting attacked by a big dog.

Gosling is interesting as "Henry Letham"

There is of course a point to all this subversive nonsense; it’s that, at some point, a plot twist will be revealed and you’ll finally realise what you’ve been watching.  This event takes place at the end and although nicely handled, it really only serves to render the rest of the film pointless and frankly banal.  Surprising when you consider some of the excellent actors on display.

There are things to like; the framing and editing is excellent, quick snappy and inventive but it reminded me of a bad version of “the Mothman Prophecies” a film which i still think is extremely underrated. If it’s on TV, stick it on but don’t you dare go out and buy it.

Fair Game (2010)

Director:  Doug Liman

Staring: Sean Penn; Naomi Watts; John-Henry Butterworth

Length: 108 Minutes

In a Nutshell

Undercover CIA agent Valarie Plame (Watts) finds her identity splashed on the inside pages as a government leak seeks revenge for an article written by her academic husband (Penn)

Trailer

Review

I’m a sucker for any political film, especially one that teases a bit of conspiracy and intrigue. Fair Game, the latest film from Doug Liman, does just that, though whether it delivers anything remotely interesting is another question. The story of an Undercover CIA agent played by Naomi Watts and her vociferous, academic husband played by Sean Penn, it takes a look at the “evidence” gathering that led to the 2004 invasion of Iraq.  Apparently based on true events the most alarming aspect of the film is that this may have happened, though in such a format, we may never know.

Naomi Watts

Naomi Watts fails to reach previous heights

There are some excellent scenes in Fair Game, with some terrific tight scripting which immediately grips. But it’s in the downtime between these scenes that it really falls flat.  It has difficulty juggling the drama at home and the drama in the hushed corridors of the CIA.  If they managed to strike that balance a little better, we may have been looking at a heavyweight film, unfortunately we’re left with a battered and bruised lightweight, stumbling back to his corner in search of a cotton bud.

The acting talent on show is extremely good. I’m a massive fan of Naomi Watts, especially since her world class performance in Mulholland Dr. Unfortunately ever since, she’s been attracted to roles like this; intellectually satisfying perhaps, but failing to give any real lasting effect. Sean Penn though is strong throughout and you can tell he had passion for this cause off screen as well as on.

Without a true focus this film becomes simply another political drama that will gather dust in the memory, rather than the knockout it probably hoped it would achieve.

Another Earth (2011)

Director:  Mike Cahill

Staring: Brit Marling; William Mapother

Length: 92 Minutes

In a Nutshell

Rhoda Williams (Marling) an ambitious and highly intelligent student is involved in a tragic accident on the same night that scientists confirm they’ve discovered a duplicate planet Earth. These two events will change her life forever.

Trailer

Review

Hot on the heels of Lars Von Trier’s “disaster” movie Melancholia, Another Earth, a successful Sundance entrant hits the big screens this week.  Although virtually nothing like Melancholia it shares a tactic that will either delight or annoy film goers in equal measure.  Another Earth, an extraordinary film from former documentary director Mike Cahill seeks to redress the genre balance, fighting to bring back the very core of what makes Sci-Fi interesting. Drama.

Sure, there’s nothing wrong with a Sci-Fi with an action element, the two go hand in hand, especially the idea of Space Combat and future dystopia. But the very best films manage to use the science fiction element as a jumping off point; a person in extraordinary circumstance. How do they cope? How do they react? Think Children of Men, Moon, Donnie Darko etc.

Brit Marling, star, and scriptwriter of Another Earth

Another Earth is gripping and harrowing from it’s opening scenes. Rhoda Williams a gifted student preparing for a stint at MIT is distracted by a radio announcement declaring the discovery of, you guessed it, Another Earth. She peers out of her car window and mistakenly piles into another car head on. She’s caused a fatal accident and will spend the next four years in Jail. Upon her release she’s hell bent on apologising to the loan survivor, but bottles her opportunity, posing as a cleaner she finds herself becoming attached to her victim in ways she never expects.

There is simply nothing to dislike about this wonderful film, the cinematography is beautifully methodical, the colour palate cold and introspective. The score, though classical, has a rich indie feel and the acting talent is fantastic. Brit Marling a relative newcomer carries the film as if vastly more experienced, an amazing feet when you consider she also penned the script. I expect her to be knocking on the Academy door in the future if this performance is anything to go by.

The biggest compliment i can pay the film is that it’s bleak, emotional feel reminded me of last years standout Winters Bone, while the Sci-Fi bubble it includes brought back memories of the excellent Moon. It’s a real shame this film won’t be more widely seen as it’s one of the most haunting, life affirming pieces i’ve seen for some time. Easily my favourite film of 2011 so far and one to seek out if your lucky enough to live by a theatre showing it.

Trespass (2011)

Director: Joel Schumacher

Staring: Nicholas Cage; Nicole Kidman; Cam Gigandet

Length: 91 Minutes

In a Nutshell

Kyle Miller (Cage) is struggling to find a buyer for his latest diamond haul and his wife Sarah (Kidman) is growing frustrated with their lack of interaction.  They are both forced to re-evaluate their relationship when they fall victim to a violent home invasion.

Trailer

Review

Although the so called “torture porn” genre has definitely had it’s day, there’s still a messy trail left by it’s success. That trail is the “home invasion” movie, and more broadly the “ordinary man; extraordinary (VIOLENT) circumstance” theme. If you’ve seen a Liam Neeson movie recently you’ll know what I’m talking about. All you need is a lead actor, a family member in danger and someone for him to beat to a pulp in order to save the day.

Trespass the new feature from Joel Schumacher, (Batman Forever; The Number 23) attempts to place itself somewhere in between the violent ‘Funny Games’ and David Fincher’s Panic Room. Unfortunately it only succeeds in being exceedingly dull and formulaic and about as shocking as a walnut whip.

Nicholas Cage plays a “Diamond broker” who’s busy furiously dialling phone numbers on his Blackberry while his wife, played by a screamy Nicole Kidman attempts to get his attention. Something is clearly not right in their marriage and to make matters worse they have an off the rails daughter, who just wants to party.  The daughter is played by Liana Liberato, who you might know from ‘Trust’, yet again she proves she is way above tripe like this and certainly set for big things in the future.

Once the family becomes victim to the aforementioned “Home Invasion” the film descends into ‘carbon-copydom.’ There’s the usual crazy burglars who all hate each other (Panic Room), yes, one of them is a psychopath who just wants to hurt people (Panic Room) and we have countless minutes of footage where masked men monologue in the face of a sweaty and bloody family who “Just want their life back” (Panic Room.)

It’s not a complete disaster, there are some gripping scenes at the start but the script is weak and the twists fall flat, barring a terrific performance from Liberato you’re just left with a newer version of Panic Room without any of the intrigue.

Crazy, Stupid Love (2011)

Director: Glenn Ficarra; John Requa

Staring: Steve Carell; Ryan Gosling; Julianne Moore; Emma Stone

Length: 118 Minutes

In a Nutshell

Cal Weaver (Carell) is left stunned when his wife Emily (Moore) drops the divorce bombshell. Worse still she’s been cheating. In an attempt to rediscover his Mojo he enlists the help of smooth lothario Jacob Palmer. (Gosling) But who is really helping who?

Trailer

Review

Romantic comedies are dime a dozen nowadays but few actually succeed in striking that balance of drama, comedy and on screen chemistry to keep you amused and intrigued for 90 odd minutes. Crazy, Stupid Love, although victim to one of the worst titles imaginable, almost gets it right.

A multi-facited piece which decides to look at love from the view of a diverse set of age ranges. Weavers son and his babysitter make up an odd love triangle, while Gosling and Emma Stone pull in the 18-25 group and of course Carell as the charming 40 something struggling to rekindle with his wife Moore. It’s an admirable attempt but some of the story strands do fall flat, particularly from the viewpoint of the son.  It’s just too much of a reach to assume a 12 year old would act in such a ridiculous manner for the affection of a babysitter a few years his elder.

Oh love, so crazy... and stupid.

Another fault to level at the film is it’s length, it’s just too darn long, somewhere at least 20 minutes could have been shaved off, maybe getting Gosling to speak faster might have done the trick. That’s not to say it doesn’t grip in places, Carell is actually fantastic in the leading role, i found myself wanting more time dedicated to his strife rather than the boring whimsey of Gosling and Stones perfect looking, over privileged, spoilt brat nonsense. Jealous? Moi?

There is a fantastic twist at the end of the film which is dramatic, funny and well worth trudging through some of the boredom that precedes it. If romantic comedies are your thing i suspect you will devour this film, while those who usually avoid such things will still find plenty to like. A well cast, well acted comedy with plenty to like but just a bit too long and contrived to hit the high notes.

Top 5 Worst Posters

The Dilemma

Horrific in every way imaginable. Kevin James face looks like it’s been moulded out of clay and Vince Vaughn appears to be giving his verdict on the film. A Photoshop nightmare of the worst kind.

Paul

Ok, so this isn’t actually a poster (it’s a blu-ray cover) but look at it. This might be the dumbest thing i’ve ever seen in my life. I can only assume these pictures were taken after the actors were forced to watch Paul.

Killers

A poster with the two stars airbrushed to within an inch of humanity. Kutcher looks like he’s had hours of facial surgery and Heigl looks like a wax work starting to melt. They also thought it would be a good idea to emblazon the terrible tag line right across the front of the poster.

The Hottie & the Nottie

For this poster to work, you have to believe that Paris Hilton is the most beautiful woman in the world. They even put her famous catch phrase “Thats Hot!” next to her face just so you know what to think. Imagine any teenage girl looking at this poster who has braces and a few spots a massive self esteem boost no doubt. Bad… bad… bad.

I Now pronounce you Chuck and Larry

One of the worst film titles in modern history, Kevin James, and then this poster. Talk about hard times. What on earth is going on in this poster it beggars belief. Why does Sandler look so sad and Kevin James looks like he’s just won the lottery? And why is he wearing a fireman’s helmet? Just stop!

Red State (2011)

Director: Kevin Smith

Staring: Michael Parks; Melissa Leo; John Goodman

Length: 88 Minutes

In a Nutshell

3 Teens answer a sex ad from a local woman. When they meet her they realise they’ve made a massive error of judgement.

Trailer

Review

Director Kevin Smith has unfortunately become more well known for his Twitter account these days rather than his films. In truth he hasn’t made a good film for years, Cop Out (Terrible) Zach and Miri make a Porno (not funny) Clerks II (unnecessary) and Jersey Girl, well, everyone knows that was rubbish. But lets not forget this is the man that brought us the brilliant Clerks, Mallrats and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back so maybe the talent is still hiding in there somewhere.

Cue Red State, Smiths latest, a film thats caused so much controversy the major cinema chains are even shying away from it, mainly because of the perceived anti religious sentiment of the plot. In reality though Smith takes aim at all sides of the religious debate. The fundamentalists and the ridiculous over reaction of media types and law enforcement to the threat of terrorism.

Kerry Bishe gives an incredible performance

Smith almost… almost makes a terrific film here. There are moments of incredible drama and truly frightening horror. Kerry Bishe, who plays Cheyenne, a mixed up fundamentalist, is incredible. The rest of the cast are also strong; Goodman and Leo stood out. Smiths direction flits the film between hand held shaky action and slow methodical long takes which give the film terrific bite. The deaths in the film are random, frequent, violent and pretty shocking; mainly down to Smiths decision to do away with the notion that if you’re a big name, you won’t die; a very clever and very effective ploy.

While the film is excellent and Smiths best work for years it still has major problems, mainly in the script. In the more dramatic parts it grips but in the down time between action it labours. The start of the film is also incredibly weak, the potty mouth swearathon of the three central teenagers was frankly boring and reminded me of an unfunny Superbad. The ending of the film also doesn’t impress, i get the feeling Smith just ran out of ideas and thats a shame because the middle of this film is amongst some of the most exciting work i’ve seen this year. Unfortunately it was bookended with some real rubbish.

A must see despite it’s problems.

The Caller (2011)

Director: Matthew Parkhill

Staring: Stephen Moyer; Rachelle Leferve; Luis Guzman

Length: 90 minutes

In a Nutshell

After breaking up from her abuse boyfriend Mary (Leferve) moves into a new apartment. Unfortunately she starts to receive sinister calls from a woman she has never met.

Trailer

Review

Horror films are sort of like sheep; where one goes the rest will follow. You can date the slasher film way back to the 30’s if you try hard enough but “modern” (very modern) slasher films started with Scream, then came countless clones with good looking 30 somethings playing high school kids getting cut up by a weirdo. We then suffered through the American Fascination with remaking far eastern horror of which there were very few successes. Next was “Torture Porn,” probably the worst trend since flared trousers; mindless banal films with “watch through your fingers” gore and no plots to speak of (think SAW and Hostel.)

The current trend has lurched us back to Cannibal Holocaust and Blair Witch with “found footage” disasters like “Paranormal Activity” and now “Apollo 18.” The Caller, the new film from Matthew Parkhill, falls somewhere in the middle of this rather big mess.

The film stars Twilight alum Rachelle Leferve as “Mary Key” a 20 something divorcee who has fled to Puerto Rico following an abusive marriage. She moves into an apartment only to find she’s pestered by increasingly odd phone calls from a woman she’s never met.

Without giving the plot away the film sits as a sort of cross between Stir of Echos and Frequency, and it’s fairly successful at delivering some decent jumps. But are “Jumps” scary? Not really, and thats where horror has lost it’s value and The Caller is no different.

The acting is worthy of praise though, Rachelle Leferve, who was unfairly dumped from the Twilight films, is a interesting character actress and Luis Guzman is always great to watch. The director does a good job of maintaining mood and the script bounces along without much schlock.

Decent but nothing new in the horror gene pool.

Woody Allen Retrospective Part IV

2004

Melinda and Melinda

2004 saw this “Sliding Doors” style tale of comedy and tragedy; two Melinda’s, played by Rhada Mitchell, see their lives stretch out in very different ways.  Though the film is not especially bad, it’s not especially good either; It’s overlong and frankly boring in places. Both Melinda’s are drab uninteresting people and the supporting cast is hugely annoying. Will Ferrell, who i do like a lot, is appalling in this film and wildly miscast. The film does spring to life halfway through thanks to a fantastic performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor as a Harlem born Pianist, his influence doesn’t last though and we’re back to Melinda worst luck!

2003

Anything Else

On the face of it this does look like a train wreck; look at that poster! And Jason Biggs? Thankfully it’s not at all. A very charming tale of a pair of struggling comedy writers musing on life, love and everything inbetween. Fairly straightforward Woody staple but definitely a stand out in this decade. Woody himself is on top form here with Biggs as a decent sidekick. Christina Ricci is a very clever actress and is great here as the volatile Amanda. Nothing groundbreaking but definitely one to kick back with and enjoy on a rainy day.

Woody Allen Retrospective Part III

2005

Scoop

London again for Woody in 2005 and another appearance for Scarlett Johansson. The tale of an aspiring Journalist who is visited by a ghost who informs her of an earth shattering story he never got to break. She sets about investigating with the help of Woody Allen as the hapless magician “Splendini.” A nothing film in many respects; harmless and perfectly enjoyable sunday afternoon TV fair but extremely bland and lacking any visceral or intellectual punch.  Not particularly funny either mainly down to a disoriented Allen who seems unsure how much “shtick” he should lay on this quiet drama.

2004

Oh dear… Woody’s attempt at a glance into the british “upper crust” staring, you guessed it, Scarlett Johansson.  Atrocious cliche ridden mess from the start, of course you will know if you’re British we all live in London lofts, we all own Yachts and we all work for Daddies company, but you know one day i want to play tennis ya ya. A real stinker of epic proportion which was strangely well received by critics. I’ll put that down to American critics thinking England is actually like this and mistaking it for a documentary. Please Woody don’t re-visit Kensington.

Just for kicks here’s Jonathan Rhys Meyers (yes him) hamming it up with Johansson. Unintentionally hilarious.

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