Monday, December 12, 2011

L'Age d'Or (The Golden Age)

PCMR Verdict: Sensationalist, scandalising and surreal, Bunuel's second collaboration with Salvador Dali, and his first full-length feature picks up where Un Chien Andalou left off. It is more coherent and narrative-driven than it's predecessor, and perhaps hits more of its targets. Dali's early departure from production means that this picture better represents an example of Bunuel's work.

PCMR Rating: 7/10

When you slash an eyeball in the opening scene of your debut short film, there has to be a moment when you ask yourself: "where do I go from here?" Well, after 'Un Chien Andalou', Bunuel collaborated once more with fellow provocateur Salvador Dali to produce a full length feature named 'L'Age d'Or' that was so controversial upon its release, it was banned for more than 50 years. Not bad, eh? In any case, this was the last movie that Bunuel made before returning to Spain, and after sufficiently aggravating the fascist authorities there in a similar manner, he wisely decided on a move to Hollywood.

No stranger to controversy, Bunuel's eyeball-slash is followed here with a scene where the female lead fellates the toes of a statue of Venus... surreal and controversial all at the same time.

Dali and Bunuel fell out before this movie started shooting, and although Dali still has a writer's credit here, his influence would no doubt have been anarchic, reducing concern with such trivialities as story, narrative structure and rational explanation. Due to his absence from shooting, it's probably fair to describe l'Age d'Or as more of a representation of Bunuel's work than Dali's (although the toe-sucking scene certainly has a whiff of the painter's influence).

The movie is divided up into a series of vignettes, tied together with themes of class warfare, the madness of high society, the effects of sexual repression, and of course, attacks on organised religion. Surrealism is also liberally sprinkled throughout proceedings, so in Bunuel's world, we should not be surprised when we find a cow in the bedroom. Seriously. However, the surrealism is used more as a device to enhance the satire, so in other words, it's more 'Spitting Image' than 'Monty Python'.

The attacks on high society are more coherent and sustained. At a black-tie gathering a maid screams and falls through the kitchen doors as flames pour out behind her. The party continues uninterrupted. Outside in the courtyard, a child is unjustly shot dead. The party is momentarily interrupted, but carries on. Then, there is a sudden breach of decorum by one of the tuxedoed revellers, as he slaps a female guest across the cheek. Well, at this, the wealthy revellers, ever inward-looking, stop to express disgust, eject the miscreant, and console the dejected victim.

While the party continues, a consistently interrupted, star-crossed couple illicitly meet in the garden, where the infamous statue-toe-sucking scene takes place. More disturbing for me though, is where the pair suck on each other's fingers, and his fingers disappear. In a subsequent scene, the girl's face is clearly being stroked by a fingerless hand, and it is not a special effect. Is this Bunuel warning of the results of sexual repression? Earlier in the movie, after the couple were found kissing and forcibly separated for the first time, the guy begins expressing violence towards random passers-by, in one instance knocking down a blind man. This appears to a clearer warning of the effects of sexual repression on men, and it's clear why a message of this kind would be seen as controversial and corrupting by the religious authorities.

However, the religious authorities themselves make a couple of cameos too, but their presence is more satire than surreal: a bishop plays fiddle in the band at the party attended by the high society. In the beginning of the movie, we see four bishops - possibly cardinals? - mumbling in prayer until they rot into skeletons. Another bishop is thrown from a second floor window, although we see him walking away. Bunuel's message to the church is not a positive one.

I have to say, although it certainly has it's moments of unusual imagery, the movie is not as visually arresting as 'Un Chien Andalou'. Perhaps credit is due to the brilliant madness of Dali for some of that. That aside though, I love the irreverance of Bunuel, and his open challenges to high society and the religious establishment are compelling. In this, his satire and surrealism is not simply unfocussed and defying explanation: quite the contrary, it is rational and targeted.

Our own generation could probably confess to thinking that artistic scandal and controversy are somehow unique to us, but when you see this movie, made more than 80 years ago, that conception is instantly exploded.

L'age d'Or is available to watch on youtube here

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Un Chien Andalou

PCMR Verdict: Today, these first 15 minutes of Bunuel's cinematic career still have a big impact, but in 1929 - that's a full 82 years ago - Bunuel's surrealist handshake to the world of cinema must have been seismic. It's surreal and non-linear, and co-writer Salvador Dali stamps his presence on a number of scenes. It's confusing and strange, but is certainly memorable!

PCMR Rating: 7/10

It seems only proper to start this retrospective of Luis Bunuel at the beginning. In 1929, Luis Bunuel co-wrote 'Un Chien Andalou' - a.k.a. 'An Andalusian Dog' - with Spanish compatriot and surrealist artist Salvador Dali. The film is a short, at only 15 minutes, but it has certainly had a lasting impact.

It would be unfair to call it incoherent, but the film is essentially a collection of unrelated images. While making the movie Dali and Bunuel challenged themselves to not provide any rational explanation for the images presented on screen.

It's tempting to believe that controversial art has only existed in our own generation, but in the first few seconds of this film, Bunuel explodes that conceit, and slashes a woman's eyeball with a cut-throat razor. In reality, the eyeball belonged to a calf, but the effect is startling. Dali's imagery is also prevalent: one of the main characters' hands is crawling with ants.

The soundtrack is Richard Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, and is also memorably jaunty, providing a light counterbalance to the strangely dark imagery on screen. An amazing foot-note is that Bunuel himself played the score live at the movie's premiere in Paris in 1929!

This fiteen minutes features sex, death and a death's head moth, which you might recognise from 'Silence of the Lambs'. The surrealist imagery is jarring and disjointed at times, but the film is never dull, and always visually interesting. It's mind-blowing to think that it was made more than 80 years ago. If the rest of Bunuel's work is half as interesting as this, then this retrospective should be an interesting trip!

You can watch 'Un Chien Andalou' on youtube here.

Director Series: Luis Bunuel

In a bit of a departure from the usual reviews, for the next few posts I'm going to work my way through a set of movies directed by Luis Bunuel. I'll confess to owning a box set of his movies for around four years, and only ever watching one of them (which I reviewed way back in 2007!), so this will be education for me, and hopefully I can recommend the ones worth watching.

If you're unfamiliar with Bunuel or his work, he's probably one of the most influential directors in movie history, but certainly the most celebrated Spanish movie director of all time. In his very early career, his surrealist inflences led him to work with Salvador Dali on the notorious short surrealist film 'Un Chien Andalou' ('An Andalusian Dog'). Staggeringly, made in 1929, this short film announced Bunuel's arrival, and includes a sequence involving a razorblade and an eyeball that might still make headlines were it included in a movie released today.

The surrealist influence continued throughout his career, and I should probably confess up-front to being a big fan of Salvador Dali and surrealist art. When surrealism is done well, as with a lot of Bunuel and Dali's work, it can challenge and excite audiences, and make even the most formulaic piece of drama suddenly seem subversive.

Bunuel's later career had this subversive surrealism, and he was renowned for his perceived attacks on organised religion, which put him at odds with the fascist establishment in Spain, and ultimately led to him leaving the country. As a result, many of his movies were made in France, and are in the French language. Perhaps his best known, Belle De Jour is a great representation of this wilful subversive cinema, and I'll certainly be including that.

This should be the ideal project for the Christmas holidays and early new year, so I hope you enjoy these movies as much as I'm going to!

Here's the complete list of Bunuel movies I'll be watching and reviewing:
Un Chien Andalou
L'Age d'Or
La Joven (The Young One)
The Exterminating Angel
The Diary of a Chambermaid
Belle de Jour
The Milky Way
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (here's my previous review)
The Phantom of Liberty
That Obscure Object of Desire

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

My Week With Marilyn

PCMR Verdict: Light entertainment of a pretty high standard, someday this movie will make a great accompaniment to a Christmas Day nap. Michelle Williams is very good, Kenneth Branagh is great. It's nicely put together and the time flies, but it may flatter to deceive.

PCMR Rating: 6/10

A lot of popular entertainment is about impressions, and if you were unlucky enough to spend an odd Saturday evening watching ITV in the 90's, you probably remember one example. You see, before the polished, cosmopolitan 'X-Factor' vomited onto our screens, the telly-watching public were subjected to comparatively less cultured 'Stars in their Eyes', featuring Matthew Kelly, a dressing-up box, and a karaoke machine. "Tonight, Matthew", they would say, "I will be... Kiki... DEE!". And then lo and behold, through the magic of telly they transform, and in fact often do bear a resemblance to their celebrity chum... until they start singing anyway.

What 'Stars' demonstrated week after week was that, once the uncanny resemblance is out of the way, there has to be something more, something new and idiosyncratic that the impersonator brings to the party. Without that certain something extra, the impression falls a bit flat, and we're reminded of the dressing-up box.

In 'My Week With Marilyn', Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh are in full impersonation mode, to tell the true story of a certain Colin Clark's encounter with the world's most famous actress. The film is set in Pinewood Studios in 1957, and narrated by Clark, who is played very competently by the unfeasibly youthful looking Eddie Redmayne.

In 1957, Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) is already a household name, and is shooting 'The Prince and the Showgirl' at Pinewood with Laurence Olivier (Branagh). It's Clark's first job, as a 'third' or 'third assistant director' (essentially a go-fer), and as the movie begins we see him leaving home to make his own way, starting from humble beginnings, yadda yadda yadda.

Monroe and Olivier conflicted on set for many reasons. For one, Marilyn was a movie star, and Olivier was an ac-tor, which you can't pronounce correctly without saying 'darling' afterwards. Ironically, each coveted what the other had: and this is the driving theme of the movie. Olivier wants to be a star, Marilyn wants to be respected, and Clark wants to bask in their reflected glory.

Williams' Marilyn is insecure on set, requiring constant reassurance that she belongs. Off-set, her marriage to third husband Arthur Miller appears to be rocky and, after Miller leaves the set to return to the United States, a lonely Marilyn seeks solace in the uncomplicated company of the innocent local named Colin. (Wait, Marilyn Monroe had a fling with a guy called 'Colin'? - Ed) In Marilyn's eyes, Clark is uncorrupted by the movie industry, and this innocence appeals to her (more coveting? - Ed).

This relationship is effectively the core of the movie, and to a large extend the two complement each other pretty well. Williams does a fine job as Marilyn, but although Redmayne does an ok job, his character is perhaps a little too clean-cut, homogenized to the point where he's a little dull.

As rounded and capable as Williams' performance is, Branagh's Olivier is more fun, a sweary, bombastic alternative to the romantic flippencies of Marilyn and Colin. Branagh's is more of a supporting role however, and although he's not in the film nearly as much as Williams or Redmayne, he steals a lot of his scenes. Judi Dench provides further gravitas, and the very capable Emma Watson even throws in a nice turn.

The thing is, it's all rather nice, but unfortunately, much like Colin himself, it's a little bit throwaway (er, spoiler alert? - Ed). The story is enjoyable because it's true, so it works as a historical document, but the theme of 'be careful what you wish for' is pretty lightweight. Also, although Williams' Marilyn is very good, her performance never really elevates beyond faithful impersonation for me, which contrasts with Branagh's breezy take on Olivier. So, some good performances, but if you think that this is heavyweight, Oscar-worthy drama, then PCMR thinks you may have the wrong impression.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Take Shelter

PCMR Verdict: Fraught, atmospheric, layered story of a man's mental disintegration. Remarkable performances from Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain.

Undeniably quality for me, but the mental illness angle is a tough sell, and my 'atmospheric' could be your 'a bit dull'.

PCMR Rating: 7.5/10

'Take Shelter' tells the story of Curtis (played by Shannon), who is very much an everyman as the movie kicks off. He has a beautiful wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and a young daughter, he works for a paycheck, and he lives in an unnamed part of suburbia, USA. His buddy on the job is his drinking buddy off of it, and, outwardly at least, everything is going fine for Curtis.

Until the dreams start. Curtis begins dreaming about a storm, or at least an awful event on the horizon. His dreams quickly escalate in severity, and before long they begin having an impact on his waking life. Curtis's worries about whether he is going crazy are escalated by his Mom's story. She was committed to permanent care for schizophrenia in her early thirties: Curtis is also in his early thirties.

After the dreams begin, some of Curtis' initial decision-making is not great. He talks to his doctor, who recommends he see a psychiatrist. Curtis initially baulks at the idea, but soon goes to see a counsellor instead. Meanwhile, however, he leaves his wife in the dark, partially out of embarrassment, but she very quickly picks up on the fact that something is wrong.

This is a layered story, and is not just about a man dealing with his apparent onset of a medical condition. It's a story of the fragility of relationships, and how even subtle changes in the ones we love can cause untold damage. Curtis's mental breakdown isn't dramatic, at least not until the third act, it's more about subtle changes in Curtis' behaviour, barely perceived by strangers, but keenly felt by those closest to him: his wife, his brother, his buddy at work.

At it's core it's a psychological drama, but Take Shelter plays with some of the same tropes of the home invasion horror genre, especially in the dream sequences. Michael Haneke's 'Funny Games' is called to mind when Curtis dreams of standing in front of his wife in his kitchen, shaking his head as she reaches for a carving knife. The payoff of the dream is unimportant: the moment of dread is simple, evocative and powerful.

Shannon's performance here is really remarkable, and - one shouty Pacino-esque scene aside - for the majority of the movie, he is portraying a slow, gradual escalation of an inner struggle, without an awful lot of dialogue. His unconventional face and the intensity of his turn may invite comparisons to Christopher Walken, but that's only a measure of how good he is here. One scene in particular, where his brother attempts to intervene, is particularly memorable.

The unique atmosphere is a slow-burn though, and this might put some people off. Is the movie delicately building tension? Or is it a bit dull and baggy in parts? In this reviewer's mind, it's the former, although discussions were had after the screening I was at: perhaps not everyone will agree with me!

Take Shelter is unique in terms of its atmosphere, and also in its ambiguous conclusion, which leaves the viewer with something of a challenge. I enjoy this kind of ending as it prompts discussion, but it might annoy some viewers.

All that in mind, PCMR reckons this one is worth a look for Shannon's performance alone. Chastain, also, is showing some pretty serious chops of late, and is a very hot Hollywood property indeed. On the basis of this performance, it's no surprise: she's also really very good. Considering all of the above, and also considering the theme of mental illness, it's a high rating, but a qualified recommendation from me.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Le Gamin au Vélo (The Kid With a Bike)

PCMR Verdict: Uncomplicated, entertaining character study of an underdog kid who struggles to find his path.

PCMR Rating: 6/10

Conversational filler makes the world go round, especially in Ireland. Consider the sentence "this is it": a classic piece of conversational grout, plugging an occasional silent (potentially awkward) moment in an otherwise pleasant chat about the weather. Example: Paddy Irishman, chewing on a spud, addresses you with the gambit: "The weather's taken a turn today, hasn't it?". The correct response - "Ah, sure this is it." - is polite and deferential, will be appreciated by Paddy, and is more of a social convention than the Incorrect Responses, which include "what? who are you?", stony silence or a bitch-slap, among others.

The point here is that, although on the surface you appear to be saying very little to Paddy, what you are giving him is a familiar social convention to take the edge off a potentially awkward interaction with a stranger. Maddening as it can be to hear this phrase too often, it's providing tiny doses of social anaesthetic in this country, administered many thousands of times a day.

'Le Gamin au Vélo' is similarly deceptive. On the surface, it's a plain, slice-of-life movie, but layered into it there is real depth, subtly delivered. The relevance of this movie is in the characters' reactions to difficult events, and how we learn more about them as a result. Which, you could say, is just like real life really. But sure this is it.

PCMR has banged the drum for subtitled movies in the past, and often defended them against any number of claims from people who "wouldn't watch a subtitled movie". Top of the list of reasons for this wilful ignorance is a perception that French movies are intellectual: this is a generalisation I find difficult to understand, and 'Le Gamin au Vélo' is an example of why. If it is intellectual, it hides it under a bushel, and this makes it a likeable film.

The movie is a window into the life of a kid going through a difficult adjustment. The Kid of the title is Cyril (Thomas Doret), an orphan. As the movie begins, he's in a home, acting up a bit, and is struggling to come to terms with his father running out on him. He's fostered by Samantha (Cécile de France), who bonds with him when she finds his bike, which his deadbeat Dad had previously sold. She takes him out of the home at weekends to her own home, and he gradually gets to know the other boys in the local neighbourhood. As he starts to fall in with the wrong crowd, Samantha tries to protect him, but will she succeed, or will he go totally off the rails?

Gradually, we get an idea of Cyril's character, and how he might turn out at the end of all this. His story is not particularly epic or unusual, but it is realistic and believable, and you can't help but root for him. The kid himself (Doret) is brilliant, simply for not having any affectations, and for providing a totally realistic performance of an enigmatic, testy pre-teen.

If you are to look under the surface, 'Le Gamin au Vélo' is about Cyril becoming aware that he can choose a path. Although initially he's a victim of his father's weakness, he slowly learns, thanks in no small part to an act of kindness, that his choices can play a big part in his own fate.

I will confess to not being on familiar terms with the Dardenne Brothers' other work, although on this evidence, I would definitely watch out for them again. Be clear though folks, don't prepare for explosions or car chases, this is very uncomplicated drama. So, although the rating isn't too high for this one, I would give it a guarded recommendation, perhaps for a DVD night in. If I'm brutally honest, it might be more of a one for the movie buffs really. But sure this is it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Voyez Comme Ils Dansent (See How They Dance)

PCMR Verdict: It's called 'See How They Dance', but PCMR recommends you avert your eyes, and avoid spending two hours in this kind of company.

PCMR Rating: 3/10

Life can't be easy for people who are easily offended. Just imagine being shocked by the simple fact of someone on TV swearing before nine o'clock in the evening. Mind-boggling, really. It's tough to imagine how life's actual hard knocks will impact on people so sensitive. After all, things could be an awful lot worse. For example, only last week PCMR heard one of the kids totally drop the c-bomb on 'DeGrassi'. He didn't even prefix it with a "no offence, but.." or anything! Which of course, would have made it totally fine, because as everyone knows, using that prefix means you can say anything you like to anyone and they aren't allowed to get offended. (Well, duh! - Ed)

The thing is, if you blog regularly, the state of being offended is a useful maguffin, even if it is, let's say, artificially enhanced for creative purposes. PCMR may have even employed such a device on this blog over the years, but recently I've realised that the habit of being offended is something I'd like to try and kick. The thing is, when you're offended by something, where do you go from there? Folks, the journey from measured critic to air-wasting troll starts with one angry review.

So, with this alarmingly grown-up resolution in mind, I'll not get too worked up about 'Voyez Comme Ils Dansent', which I should first point out, is completely and unreservedly terrible.

This meandering fluff tells the story (arguably) of a famous performance artist and total douchebag named Vic (already annoying - Ed), and the two women who love him. First, he (James Thiérée) has an affair with his doctor, Alex (Maya Sansa), and divorces his wife Lise (Marina Hands). Then, he emigrates to a remote part of Canada to be with Alex, where he subsequently does something even more douchey to her, which, according to the house rules, I would spoil by telling you about. Considering how bad this movie is, I seriously doubt that, but rules is rules.

So, Lise then somehow contrives to travel across Canada by train, and, lo and behold, her train ends up delayed in Alex's remote tiny village, and she urgently needs a doctor! I know, right? How mad is that? That Lise ends up moving in with Alex for Christmas is probably a low watermark for the bonkers twists and turns that this movie takes. The plot feels improvised and haphazard at best, as if the director would prefer to forget about such trivialities as story structure (pfft!) and get on with filming the Canadian countryside instead.

Given that Vic himself is such a douchebag, it is difficult to sympathise with the two women who fell in love with him. His wife Lise doesn't have too much character to speak of until she gets divorced, whereupon she somehow engineers a work project in Canada. Humm. Her train journey from one side of the country to the other involves carrying a movie camera and smoking the occasional joint. She's complicated like that, you know?

The conceit of her contrived meeting with Dr. Alex is my biggest problem with this movie. The thing is, without it, the film would be dead in the water after about half an hour, and though it pains PCMR to say it, that would improve this film immensely.

Alex (Maya Sansa) probably comes out best from this movie, as she's a more likeable character than Lise, and clearly has better boobs. Director Claude Miller gives us a peek at both female characters' breasts, with both shots comically gratuitous in the style of a lot of French yoghurt and cheese adverts. (Although perhaps Alex needed to go for a naked swim in the lake, and I'm just being cynical). As if to redress the balance of gratuitous nudity before the end of the movie though, we also get a male full-frontal shot, with Vic's junk also put up there on-screen for us, all arty and challenging like.

On the positive side, there are some nice location shots of Canada.

It's pretentious, and a lot of old nonsense, and Maya Sansa is the only one who might come out of it without terminal career damage. 'Voyent Comme Ils Dansent' even has an annoying title!

So avoid this one if you can, but if you do happen to catch it, PCMR asks you to try and imagine the opening credits start with the words: "no offence, but..."

Monday, November 28, 2011


PCMR Verdict: A solid, blue-chip Hollywood product, that somehow never quite reaches the sum of its parts.

PCMR Rating: 6.5/10

Police procedurals are a well-trodden path for movie writers, with some of PCMR's favourite movies unashamedly in the genre. The French Connection, Fargo, L.A. Confidential and Zodiac all earn credibility from their portrayal of policemen at work, and all would be seriously diminished without it. But procedural dramas aren't limited to the cops and the detectives, oh my no. Audiences like watching lawyers too, and politicians and the military, especially once they're played by Hollywood actors with craggy faces and zippy lines, or their veneers and their boobs and their sexy uniforms.. (Steady! - Ed)

Aaron Sorkin is a grand-master of the sexy procedural drama, essentially getting under the covers of a profession for a story, populating it with attractive characters, and penning fizzy, dialogue-driven scenes between them, generally involving dense professional discussions loaded with innuendo and doublespeak. 'The West Wing' should need no introduction (sexy politicians), but also on his CV is 'A Few Good Men' (sexy lawyers, sexy military), the ill-fated-but-very-good 'Studio 60' (sexy TV producers) and most recently 'The Social Network' (sexy, er, programmers?).

As Mark Kermode put it in his typically succinct terms, 'The Social Network' was about as entertaining as a movie about a bunch of men in offices arguing about copyright could be. Harsh perhaps, as the Social Network was a very good movie, but Kermode nailed the fact that when he took on 'The Social Network', Sorkin took the procedural drama to precarious places, and wrote a Business Procedural. He came out the other side of that unscathed, but the question with 'Moneyball' is: can Sorkin make the world of baseball interesting and sexy, and resist falling into cliché?

Well, no book is unfilmable, but Moneyball must have been a real challenge, even for Sorkon. Adapted from the Michael Lewis's book, it tells the story of Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics baseball franchise, and how they introduced statistical analysis to baseball in 2002, in order to better evaluate players... and Brad Pitt's in it! (Phew, nearly lost me there! - Ed)

The interest in a story like this lies in the fact that Beane achieved amazing success against the odds on a shoestring, and radically changed the sport he loved in the space of a single season, by taking a big chance on using these statistical techniques pioneered by Yale graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). You don't necessarily need to love baseball - or statistics - to enjoy watching this story unfold, in what is an extremely solid package of a movie.

On the package: director Bennett Miller is formerly responsible for Capote, Stephen Zaillian also worked on the script with Sorkin, and his last gig was American Gangster. Brad Pitt - looking more like Robert Redford every day - is good in the lead, ably supported by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright and Jonah Hill, and the Cinematography is by a certain Wally Pfister. Now this last detail might not seem that important, but let me tell you: this movie looks beautiful, and Pfister takes a lot of the credit for that, just as he did for much of the look of Chris Nolan's Batman movies.

Unfortunately, despite the presence of all these heavyweights, Moneyball never really enters the stratosphere for me. It's entertaining, sure, and the story is great. Pitt is very solid in the lead, and delivers his acres of dialogue capably enough, as we know he can. In particular his scenes with his young daughter, and with the unrecognisable team manager Hoffman, are good, but Jonah Hill was a little wooden for me. The story is the real star, but the movie also looks just amazing, so it is never a chore to watch.

At just over two hours, it's quite long, but the time never really drags. It would be harsh to describe it as 'about as entertaining as a movie about men introducing statistics to baseball can be', but I'm afraid some element of that is true. To its credit, it never lags into lazy sporting cliché, but does suffer from being a little, well, dull.

If you're a fan of baseball, or lived through the story and watched it happen, you'll probably love Moneyball. If on the other hand, like me, you're a fan of sport, or management, you'll probably just like it, maybe even a lot. If this had been a similar story, but set against the backdrop of the football world cup of 2002 for example ('Saipan - The Movie!' Yes! - Ed), I might have been a bit more invested, but it just didn't grab me. Dunphy would say "no, Bill, no, it's a good movie, not a great one."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Poupoupidou (Nobody Else But You)

PCMR Verdict: Suspicious suicide is investigated by a novelist in a wintry setting in this decent noir drama. Features a very creative cheese advert.

PCMR Rating: 6/10

Some icons are built to last. Their impact is so far-reaching, their stars shine so brightly, that they live on long after they've stopped working, after their death even. Marilyn Monroe is one such mega-star, and somewhat improbably, she is enjoying something of a mini-resurgence on cinema screens of late. To some acclaim, Michelle Williams is currently filling the shoes of the original sex symbol in 'My Week With Marilyn', and here, in Gérald Hustache-Mathieu's noir drama 'Poupoupidou', Sophie Quinton's character channels Marilyn to create a persona, and just might believe herself to be Marilyn reincarnate.

'Poupoupidou' is a slow-burning noir drama, and tells the story of the apparent suicide of local starlet Candice Lecoeur (played by Sophie Quinton). The story begins with novelist David Rousseau returning to Mouthe (pronounced mooth) - his rural home town on the Franco-Swiss border - to hear a reading of a will. Rousseau is prompted to investigate Lecoeur's death, after her snow-covered body is found clutching a pill bottle in the no-mans-land between the French and Swiss borders, and he slowly becomes tangled up in a web of intrigue, corruption and the desire to find out the truth about what really happened to Candice.

The lead character Rousseau is likeably played with a touch of humour by Jean-Paul Rouve, who sports a salt and pepper beard in this movie and bears an uncanny resemblance to Tommy Tiernan. There is a fair dose of dry humour in a lot of Rousseau's dialogue with the residents of Mouthe as he learns more and more about the demise of Candice. There is also humour in Candice's rise to fame, such as the cheese advert that launches her career, which is a genuinely funny sequence.

Rousseau gets his hands on Candice's diaries, and through the diaries we learn the story of Candice's rise to fame. We learn early on that Candice Lecoeur is a stage name and apparently comes with a built-in blonde bombshell persona, assumed by local weather girl and aspiring actress Martine Langevin as she rises to fame (or local notoriety at least). Rousseau also gradually wins over local copper Bruno, who shares Rousseau's curiosity, and worries about a cover-up.

Poupoupidou is a classic French polar: a noir police story involving corruption, intrigue and lots of twists and turns. The sure-footed script and generally likeable main characters mean it is a comfortable journey for the audience, and the unconventional setting mean it avoids too many clichés of the genre, until the third act at least, when the investigation comes to a head.

The wintry setting and dry, gentle sense of humour throughout prompted memories of Fargo for me, and although Poupoupidou never outright imitates the Coen Brothers' masterpiece, it is probably fair to say that it has taken some inspiration from it. This is a plus point for me.

Rouve is likeable company in the lead role, but Quinton is excellent as the fragile starlet who channels Marilyn Monroe for her ego, her confidence. Her story is nicely told through her own voice, and there is enough humour in the narrative to keep the tone from becoming too dark. Of note too is the prominent soundtrack, which features some off-beat contemporary choices a la Quentin Tarantino, but the music fits the mood of the movie, so it never jars.

On flaws, I've mentioned some clichés in the third act, but there is also a strange theme of mysticism in this movie, involving details such as repetitive numbers (the number 5 in particular), fate, and the reliving of past events that is never satisfactorily resolved for me, but that certainly adds an interesting element to Poupoupidou.

All in all, it's an enjoyable story, and despite its flaws, it's a neat movie that should hold your attention. Not a classic by any means, but a nice character-driven tale with enough personality and twists and turns to keep it a level above bog-standard fare.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


PCMR Verdict: Not straight, but very forward, 'Weekend' is intense, intimate, tightly scripted and beautifully realised. Features two excellent central performances and tells the story of a single weekend that will change two lives.

PCMR Rating: 8.5/10

'Weekend' is the story of two guys who meet on a night out, sleep together, and spend an intimate weekend in each other's company. Russell is a quiet, unassuming, straight-acting lifeguard, while Glen is confident and extroverted, and although he is fully comfortable in his homosexual shoes (You can get gay shoes now? - Ed) he's perhaps not so happy in his professional life as an aspiring artist.

After waking up together the morning after a meeting in a night-club, they initially bond after an early exchange involving one of Glen's art projects, where he puts a tape recorder under Russell's nose and invites him to describe their more intimate moments from the night before.

This is a pretty intense form of ice-breaker, but it sets the tone for much of the exchanges between the two as the weekend progresses. Their chats cover a lot of personal ground in quick time: previous relationships, coming out, confidence, the desire to settle down, but all these discussions serve to ramp up the intimacy between the two, as they quickly learn about each other, and grow to realise that they might be genuinely compatible.

However, when Glen reveals that he is moving to the States on the Monday, the two men are faced with some difficult choices, especially as their meetings and discussions increase in their intensity, and they become closer. Gradually and inevitably, Monday morning begins to loom large between the two. Will Glen pluck up the courage to leave for the States to follow his dream, or will he stay and take a chance on this fledgeling relationship? Will Russell ask Glen to stay at the expense of his dream move, or risk losing the first man he has been genuinely intimate with? Whatever the outcome, the two men both gradually begin to realise that this will be a defining weekend for both of them.

What Andrew Haigh has crafted with the script of Weekend is a real achievement. These two characters are so finely nuanced that they are true and real, even in the brief time we spend with them. Cullen and New are both excellent, with Tom Cullen in particular providing an understated, but affecting performance that should comfortably provide a platform for a career. Chris New is also excellent though, and the portrayal of their gradually developing relationship is a credit to them both. In what is essentially a romantic drama, the success of the movie depends on their chemistry, and they certainly embody a completely credible couple, complete with fragility, fights and, well.. the physical side! It's all unashamedly up there on screen.

I'll be honest folks, I really loved this one, and heartily recommend it. I can only compare it to 'Lost In Translation' as a reference point, but this is a far braver, more honest piece of cinema, and genuinely deserves your attention. Two central performances of genuine courage and a tightly directed, beautifully realised script make this unmissable for PCMR. Trust me, it's going to win some awards.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

La Guerre est Declarée (Declaration of War)

PCMR Verdict: Intimate, affecting and entirely believable, France's official submission to next year's Oscars has a real chance of winning.

PCMR Rating: 7.5/10

Funny, you wait weeks for an intimate character driven portrait of an ill-fated couple, and two come along at once. (Hilarious - Ed) Purely by coincidence, PCMR has been to see 'Declaration of War' and 'Weekend' in the last few days, and they are a remarkable duo, companion pieces with more in common than might first appear. But anyway, more on 'Weekend' to follow, maybe tomorrow. First, 'La Guerre est Declarée'.

This film is the story of a couple whose only son (Adam) is diagnosed with cancer, but it's by no means a weepie, as from very early in the film, we learn that Adam pulls through. So, what does this leave us with? Well, interestingly, the movie becomes more about Roméo (Jérémie Elkaïm) and Juliette's (Valérie Donzelli) struggle to stay together. With knowledge of Adam's safety in the bank, we can concentrate on the two main protagonists, and whether they will be able to survive as a unit.

The film is also scripted by the pair, and directed by Donzelli, and it must be said, they are a remarkable duo. Their on-screen characters are very likeably played, if a little saccharine sweet while they fall in love in the first twenty minutes. However, while some of the early musical interludes might jar a little, they don't feel entirely out of place with the scenario. Their relationship forms the beating heart of this movie though, and they play off each other beautifully, gradually winning the audience round, and permitting forgiveness for the conceit of their characters' names!

Bringing a rather sudden end to the romantic beginnings, new baby Adam arrives on the scene, and all is not rosy in the garden from very early on. Parents beware, the quarter of an hour that gradually builds up to Adam's diagnosis is as genuinely affecting a movie sequence as PCMR can remember from any recent movie outing (and I'm only an uncle!).

And from there it becomes about coping, about managing, and about survival. As I said, the audience is blessed with the foreknowledge that the couple do not have, so we're in a privileged position, but as Roméo and Juliette soldier on, rising to every new challenge and facing up to every fresh heartbreaking piece of news, you are still right there with them. Their support networks too, play an important role in the movie, but really this is the story of Roméo and Juliette's struggle to survive.

If cinema is about escapism, then 'Declaration of War' will certainly transport you, placing you right in the middle of this young couple's lives as they battle with something you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.

I can't recommend it highly enough for lovers of French film, or possibly even just for parents who need a reminder of how lucky they are. It's bordering on stereotypical, picture-postcard French in the opening twenty minutes as the two central characters tombent amoureuses... but kind of suits the mood and is perhaps intentional. Two excellent central performances make it very watchable, but an excellent narrative device elevates this story from a traditional weepie into entirely more interesting territory. PCMR's current front-runner for the Oscar nod next March.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Exit Through The Gift Shop

PCMR Verdict: Stranger than fiction, this is an incredible tale of a man's journey through the world of street art, and how he transformed it forever.

PCMR Rating: 8/10

America has long been a fervent supporter of the culture of celebrity. Hollywood, with its fantastic promises of wealth beyond your dreams, a glamourous lifestyle, your name in lights, and a star in the walk of fame, this is the place above all that prizes the trappings of success, and unashamedly worships the successful individual. Remember when George Clooney was a fairly run-of-the-mill actor in ER, struggling to break into Hollywood movies? .. sometimes, with all the bright lights and facade of the entertainment business, it can be tough to remember a time when someone so iconic wasn't part of the glitterati.

It is strange to consider in the abstract, but celebrity culture is predicated on the fact that we reward individuals who entertain us, and when we find a Hollywood star we love, we reward them to a ludicrous degree. Movie actors especially are laughably overpaid, simply for providing us with a couple of hours of light entertainment once every couple of years. Here's a fact that might just ruin your day: Adam Sandler earned $50 million in 2010 for two movies: 'Just Go With It' and 'Jack and Jill'. Yup, 50 mill. And no, I didn't see them either.

Artists too, can enjoy this kind of incredible veneration for reaching the top of their game. Damien Hirst is another member of the 50 million club: in 2008, the asking price for his diamond-encrusted skull, entitled 'For The Love of God', was £50 million. In 2011, his work is a Red Hot Chilli Peppers album cover: he's a celebrity.

The thing is, when us mere mortals, inexpert and infrequent visitors to the artist's milieu, see stories of art like this, our instinctive reaction is to wonder: does the emperor actually have clothes on here? I mean, it's a nice looking skull, for sure. Ok, so he used diamonds worth $15 million to make it... but is that single act of artistic creativity worth a markup of £35 million to somebody? Really? And those animals cut in half, they're worth a fortune too? Really?

The achievements of artists are sometimes fanatically venerated, but these guys are often standing on the shoulders of giants, even copying shamelessly to the point of downright plagiarism, and this is one of the themes brilliantly explored by 'Exit Through the Gift Shop'.

Set against the backdrop of the world of street art, this documentary is surprising in its main target, given that initially it purports to be about the elusive, anonymous, but somehow eponymous street artist named Bansky. However, the documentary takes an excellent left turn early on, which I won't spoil, but I can at least tell you that it's not only about Banksy, and is all the better for it.

It's probably more fair to describe this documentary as the story of the film-maker, Thierry Guetta, and how his life changed once he started immersing himself in the world of street art, and ultimately came to know Banksy. There is an excellent sequence in the movie when Guetta shows Banksy the progress he has made on the documentary so far, and, tantalisingly, we get to see some of Guetta's original version of the documentary ourselves. The movie turns sharply after this point.

I can't say too much more at the risk of spoiling the experience for you, but if you have any interest in street art, the process of creativity, celebrity culture or the machine of consumerism, then you will find something to like in this documentary. I can't remember enjoying a documentary more, possibly since 'The King of Kong'. Unconditional recommendation from me.

The 40 Highest paid stars in Hollywood
Damien Hirst
Banksy's brilliant subversion of The Simpsons opening credits

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Beaver

PCMR Verdict: Hits its marks, and disappointingly manages to not be terrible. Knowing, off-beat, and featuring a solid central performance from Gibson, 'The Beaver' is a little bleak, and perhaps not quite as smart as it would like to be.

PCMR Rating: 6/10

PCMR has a well-honed sense of schadenfreude constantly at the ready, and so was really looking forward to watching 'The Beaver'. You see, in the last few weeks especially, I've been spoiled with a half dozen above average movies, so some gleeful hand-rubbing and knowing giggles accompanied the opening credits of 'The Beaver', Mel's first outing in front of the camera since 'Edge of Darkness' (No, I didn't see that either - Ed). Oh, did I mention that in this one, Mad Mel plays a manic depressive who speaks via a puppet? That's probably important...

So, with said schadenfreude in mind, I should also say that PCMR's Law of Movie Expectations is hard at work here. To explain, after seeing the bleak trailer, where a depressive Gibson voices his Beaver puppet with a mockney accent, I was cheerfully expecting a full-on car crash of a movie. The problem is, after seeing it, PCMR has to concede that 'The Beaver' is actually not completely awful. So, is it any good, or were my expectations just sufficiently low? Hmm, that's a more difficult question.

We don't need to dredge up Gibson's off-screen shenanigans again (google them - Ed), but safe to say, at the time The Beaver was shot, he wasn't exactly Hollywood's poster boy. However, PCMR has a feeling that all the negative stuff going on in Mel's life might have actually helped him portray this role of a manic depressive on the verge of jacking it all in: his performance is actually pretty good.

As the movie opens, Walter Black (Gibson) narrates a tale of woe. He's successful, with a beautiful house and a nice nuclear family, but is profoundly depressed, and just wants to sleep all the time. Black (ah, I see what they did there - Ed) has tried numerous therapies, but can't seem kick his middle-class first-world mid-life crisis.

At a low point, he finds a puppet in a skip (or as they're known in Hollywood, a dumpster) and picks it up on impulse. At an even lower point, Black begins to speak through the puppet, much to the initial horror of his family. Bizarrely though, it seems to give him a kick-start. The beaver is even a hit at the office, and his work life starts to pick up. His youngest son takes a shine to the beaver (ahem - Ed), and their relationship starts to improve as a result.

As the movie progresses, we also get to know Mel's wife, (Jodie Foster) and two sons (Anton Yelchin and another youngling). Yelchin's story in particular has parallels with his father's, as he sells ghost written essays for other kids in his high school. (Ah, communication problems, no voice of his own, eh? - Ed) Yelchin's character earnestly tries to avoid turning out like his apparently crazy dad, but as the movie progresses, his struggle seems more and more in vain.

These two narrative threads form the backbone of The Beaver. Mel's story is the more interesting of the two, and the first few beaver scenes are so bizarre, they're actually a little dark and knowingly comedic. Yelchin's story is relatively less satisfying, as it revolves around the writing of a graduation speech, which is a pretty heavy-handed device (and what, the puppet isn't!? - Ed).

But you know what? Despite its failings, 'The Beaver' isn't terrible. Black senior's genuine depression is deftly set alongside Junior's normal teen difficulties, putting both in their proper perspective. Mel Gibson's capable performance makes his character gradually more likeable as the movie progresses and for the most part, I was morbidly curious to see how it would play out.

It gets good marks for script and crazy Mel's fragile, honest performance. There's a good narrative thread, and the story is reasonably well put together. Unfortunately, the device of the Beaver does get a little tiresome, and you might struggle to sympathise with this guy who is doing extremely well for himself, despite his first world problems. The device of the graduation speech is also a little laboured, but perhaps not as cheesy as it could have been.

PCMR cannot wholeheartedly recommend that you seek out The Beaver, but it's not a complete train wreck, which is actually a little disappointing really... For a movie about depression, it's about as entertaining as you might expect.

Monday, October 03, 2011


PCMR Verdict: Three brilliant performances underpin what is at times an uncomfortably intimate tale of a bond between two lost souls. It's hard-hitting and hardcore, but never exploitative. Stunningly, it's Considine's first film.

PCMR Rating: 7.5/10

When PCMR heard that Paddy Considine had gone and directed a feature film, interest was registered. Then, after seeing the trailer before Tinker Tailor last week, curiosity was aroused. (Careful now - Ed). But after learning that the man himself would be coming to the IFI to chat about the movie after a preview screening, well.. the camel's back and all that.

You see, since the heady days of Paddy Chayevsky (the Paddy C who penned the line "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it any more") there just aren't that many Paddy C's out there making movies. (I think he might be the only one - Ed) So I did feel obliged to show some support and be a bum in a seat. Solidarity. That's all I'm saying.

Well, not quite all, a few words about 'Tyrannnosaur' would be appropriate first I guess. Right, well, 'Tyrannosaur' is Paddy C's feature-length directorial debut, but it's based on his short film 'Dog Altogether' which won a BAFTA no less, so the boy's certainly got some chops. After the movie, it was no great surprise to learn however, that he started out in life as a photographer. He certainly retains the photographer's eye, as he really fills each frame.

In 'Tyrannosaur', Peter Mullan - who is so good in this, he should really have the official prefix 'the incredible' - plays Joseph, angry, working-class, and down on his luck. Joseph seems to eke out a kind of survival on his council estate, but is never too far from violence. Put it this way, in the opening scene of the movie he kills his own dog, and things go downhill from there for a while. (wow - Ed)

Olivia Colman, who you might recognise from the excellent BBC Series 'Peep Show' plays Hanna, a middle-class charity shop assistant, who has a comfortable life in the suburbs, and an apparently unshakeable religious faith. Their first meeting is fractious, but she offers to pray for him, and shows him some unquestioned warmth for what must be his first time in a while. Falteringly, their relationship starts to develop.

Until, that is, Hanna's husband James - played powerfully by Eddie Marsan - gets wind of things. Things get pretty hardcore for a while around this point, and suddenly the relationship between Hanna and Joseph becomes more essential for both of them.

This film is powerful, and not for the faint-hearted. Olivia Colman is surprisingly effective in what is really the lead role, and this is genuinely as far from Peep Show as you can get. Peter Mullan, too, is just awesome as the coiled spring who doesn't understand his own anger, but who somehow meets this woman at exactly the right moment in his life.

It's a love story, but not a traditional boy-meets-girl type of deal, oh dear lord no. Mullan and Coleman's real achievement is to effortlessly portray the growing bond between these two people that seems to be made of something more permanent, something that exists outside of the events in the movie. Considine said he wanted the two characters to be like old soldiers at the end of the movie, and in PCMR's humble view, he achieved that.

A gritty tale of domestic violence might not be up everyone's street, but I'd urge you to seek it out in the cinema if you can get an opportunity. 'Tyrannosaur' is tough viewing at times, but it is also beautiful and has real heart behind it. It's a good story, well played and well told, and is an sure-footed debut for Considine. Also, considering it was made for less than a million quid, your tenner will actually make an impact on its box-office, and hopefully mean that Paddy C will get another run at the director's chair.

In the Q&A after the screening, Paddy Considine had an entertaining little chat-cum-interview with Jim Sheridan, who appeared to have seen the movie for the first time. PCMR was a little over-awed to be in proximity to greatness, but certainly had the opportunity to notice that Sheridan seemed genuinely impressed with 'Tyrannosaur'. And let's be honest, who are we to argue with Jim Sheridan!?

'Tyrannosaur' is showing in the IFI this month, here's the trailer.

Sunday, October 02, 2011


PCMR Verdict: The form over content rule applies here: it looks and sounds great, but ultimately is hollow and forgettable.

PCMR Rating: 6/10

You don't need to watch the E! network (the exclamation mark isn't a typo by the way) and you don't need to follow Perez Hilton on twitter to be aware of a rising star by the name of Ryan Gosling. In their words: he's, like, so hot right now. Gosling is very much in demand: his chiselled features are brooding on loads of posters in your local cinema at the moment, as he's currently starring in no less than three Hollywood productions that are all on release right now.

PCMR should probably first point out that this apparently sudden rise probably started about four years ago, with Half-Nelson. That was a great movie by the way, and earned Gosling a surprise, but deserving Oscar nomination. It seemed then that Gosling's future was assured, but after making a couple more movies ('Fracture', 'Lars and the Real Girl') he went on hiatus for a while. Since last year though, he's back for real, and now seems determined to be in every movie that gets released.

The first of his current trio on release, 'Crazy, Stupid Love' appears to be an American re-imagining of 'Love, Actually', but with more nudity. And where there's nudity, PCMR isn't too far away, so watch this space for more on that one. (For your own information, Gosling is the one in the trailer who is asked if he is photoshopped).

The second - 'The Ides Of March' - is a worthy political thriller, written and directed by George Clooney. This is one that will probably make some Oscar waves, maybe even for Gosling himself, so again watch this space for a review pretty soon.

And the third is this one, which I've just seen so can happily fill you in right away.

'Drive' is a stylish heist drama with great looks, but perhaps not too much going on behind the eyes. Gosling plays an unnamed L.A. resident, who drives professionally for the movies by day, and for gangsters by night. Bryan Cranston (from Breaking Bad) plays the Whistler to Gosling's Blade, so to speak: he's somehow taken him under his wing to work in his auto shop (so make that three jobs - Ed), in a kind of a father figure type deal. And he has a limp. (Hence the Whistler thing).

Irene (Carey Mulligan) is Gosling's neighbour, and he strikes up a relationship with her and her kid, even though her husband is about to get out of prison. This risk taken by Gosling's character is the event that kicks the action into gear. Once Irene's husband gets out, he's quickly required to do one last heist job to clear some debts with some less than savoury characters, and the driver finds himself drawn in... What do you think happens folks, reckon it all goes well?

The dialogue in Drive is sparse, and Gosling's scenes in particular are often punctuated with long silences, or smiles. He does have an undeniable charisma, and although I gave all this the benefit of the doubt at first, it soon got a little trying. The point of all these silences was seemingly to demonstrate his calming influence on Irene, which I guess makes sense, and these scenes were undeniably pretty to look at, with a great electro soundtrack in the background. It's probably damning though, that the best scenes featuring Gosling and Mulligan were the ones without any dialogue.

When the bad men appear, and things turn a little violent, the change in tone is sudden, and the violence is shocking. There are only two or three scenes of real violence, but this is very bloody ultra-violence, almost harking to Tarantino, or his Japanese manga influences in certain moments (there's one moment featuring a bullet and a hammer that is unpleasant to say the least).

So, it's a love story crossed with a heist, and when the body count starts to build up, it gets a little ultra-violent, Tarantino-ish even... what's not to like? Well the thing is, there just doesn't seem to be a heart to the movie. Events play out with panache, and the action unfolds with style, but I never really found myself rooting for anybody. Gosling's character in particular, never really tries to win over the audience. He doesn't have a name, which is supposed to make him mysterious, but is a device that has been overused. He wears a jacket that has a scorpion on the back, but when something is trying so hard to be cool, isn't that uncool!? The few driving scenes are certainly done extremely well, and generally make Gosling look good, but that aside, he doesn't really have any good dialogue, which makes it very difficult to warm to the character.

I haven't read the book that this is based on, so it's very possible that the movie is faithful to the source material. Director Nicholas Winding Refn has a good eye and the film certainly looks great. The soundtrack is also achingly cool, featuring French female vocalists crooning over synthesizers as as Gosling guns his motor around the L.A. nightscapes, reminding the viewer of Michael Mann's Collateral, or Miami Vice perhaps.

The problem is, 'Drive' is pretty, but also a little vacant. I enjoyed watching it, but found it a little too self-conscious to earn a glowing recommendation. The love story aspect lacked chemistry and the violence was shockingly brutal, but the few driving scenes were great. On balance however, it's the lack of likeable characters that really makes Drive difficult to fall in love with.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

PCMR Verdict: Solid, well-scripted, well-acted. You'll like it a lot, but you mightn't love it.

PCMR Rating: 7.5/10

Tomas Alfredson's 'Let The Right One In' was an unexpected treat for PCMR a few years back: one of those unhyped quality movies that earn the 'sleeper hit' moniker. A sleeper hit is a successful film that the pundits didn't see coming. In other words, while bloggers and fanboys were busy generating buzz, via masses of column inches and blog posts about the tiniest pre-production details of the 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' movie, Tomas Alfredson made and released one of the best movies of 2008, with nary a blogger trumpeting its arrival. (Not before they'd been to see it, at least).

Part of what made 'Let The Right One In' so good was an inscrutable period setting, which made it difficult for the audience to pin down exactly where and when the film was set. Also, the colour palette he puts up on screen is striking in it's blandness, its austerity. Finally, his characters do not always speak their minds, leaving it up to the audience to figure out motivations and reasoning for themselves.

These characteristics are all part of the DNA of 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy', the most recent adaptation of John Le Carré's spy thriller. Everything feels very 1970's London, although there are no orienting shots of Big Ben or subtitles on the screen to tell us this for certain. Even the scenes in flashback are not announced, with the device of a new pair of glasses for Gary Oldman's character - Smiley - subtly letting us know when we're in the past, and when we're looking at current events.

The catalyst for events in Tinker Tailor is the presence of a mole in the upper echelons of the British secret service. The alpha-male characters in the movie all have their own agendas to defend, and their actions are all open to interpretation. In the presence of so many potentially unreliable narrators, the audience are continually left guessing about who is telling the truth.

When a script and it's cast are as good as they are here, each interaction between the players becomes open to interpretation. The character actors here are all very capable, but also quite restrained, and to a man they are able to breathe real lives into their parts (Ooh, matron! - Ed)

Oldman plays against type as the understated Smiley, but he is ably supported by a supporting cast that can only be described as an embarassment of riches: John Hurt adds a touch of gravitas, Benedict Cumberbatch proves a striking presence, and Tom Hardy does a good turn, following on from his breakout role in Inception. Colin Firth and Mark Strong are effective as ever, as is Toby Jones - the poisoned dwarf - and the always solid Ciaran Hinds.

There's no doubting that Tinker Tailor is a very good movie. PCMR's reservations, reflected in my 7.5 rating, are mainly due to the movie's payoff sequence. The setup is excellent, tightly scripted and tense: there is a mole and here are all the players. By contrast, the payoff, where we identify the mole and see what happens next, fell a little flat for me.

That said, there is a lot to like, if not to love. It's a very solid trip to the flicks, and Tomas Alfredson's future is guaranteed.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Guard

PCMR Verdict:A sharp script, a fun story, and Gleeson is excellent in the lead role. This is the movie equivalent of going for a quiet pint, and then ending up on session.

PCMR Rating: 8/10

PCMR doesn't envy the label of 'character actor'. For men, this label represents the velvet rope division between the elite group of VIPs with jaws just square enough and appeal just sexy enough to be called leading men, and the rest of us. It has less to do with acting ability, more with how traditionally good looking you are. Steve Buscemi is a character actor: you know, the one in Fargo who was “kinda funny-lookin'.”

There can't be many such equivalents in other professions. PCMR struggles to imagine people being refused the role of team leader in the I.T. department because they're not handsome enough. “It's just that, we think of you more as the team leader's best friend. You know... helping with his character's exposition, without stealing the limelight.”

Despite his undoubted talent, and being in possession of that ephemeral quality of innate likeability, Brendan Gleeson has found himself in the character actor bracket throughout the higher-profile side of his career. In his Hollywood roles, he has dutifully provided exposition opportunities to leading actors in an impressive string of high profile productions such as 'Braveheart', 'Troy', 'A.I.', '28 Days Later' and, more recently, three of the Harry Potter movies. (Surely, there is no better nod to one's standing in the Acting Firmament than a recurring Potter role).

In Irish productions, by contrast, Gleeson's place on the billing is often more reflective of his abilities, and he has taken the lead in some fine movies to emerge from these shores in the last twenty years: 'I Went Down' and 'The General', among others.

In more recent years for Gleeson, Martin McDonagh's 'In Bruges' has upset this dichotomy, providing him with a lead role in an Irish movie that has deservedly enjoyed international recognition. Also, it seems a family dynasty was created with that movie, because McDonagh's brother, John Michael, is the man behind 'The Guard', and in PCMR's humble opinion, it is just as good a movie, even if it is an entirely different animal.

Gleeson plays Gerry Boyle, a small-town country copper with a penchant for Dublin whores, who finds himself embroiled in a drug-smuggling investigation so big that the FBI are interested. Don Cheadle is the imported FBI agent who finds himself dealing more and more with Boyle, and tellingly, he declares that he can't decide whether Boyle is “really smart, or really fuckin' dumb”. It's essentially a cops and robbers story, with the gangster contingent including the workaholic, omnipresent Mark Strong, as well as a couple of other, more familiar Irish bad buys, Liam Cunningham and David Wilmot (more character actors!).

It has to be said though, the story of the Guard plays second fiddle to the really excellent dialogue, which gives the characters... well, proper characters. The phrase 'inner life' probably best describes this by-product of good writing, where the actors have room to breathe around their lines, and the audience can enjoy guessing whether they're telling the truth, or leading someone up the garden path.

The excellent writing gives Gleeson all the material he needs to reminder us just how good he really is, and he's excellent in this. Cheadle does well in support, and the three gangsters (Strong, Cunningham and Wilmot in particular) all seem to be enjoying themselves, but Gleeson and McDonagh are the big winners here.

The Guard is punchy, witty film-making, and deserving of your attention. Gleeson is at his endearing, charismatic best, and if this doesn't get him bigger, better roles in Hollywood movies, then I'm not sure what will.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Source Code

PCMR Verdict: Everything is iterative: particularly this tidy, enjoyable popcorn actioner that shouldn't disappoint.

PCMR Rating: 6.5/10

Louis C.K. has a great bit of material where he makes an observation that has a hint of genius about it: "everything is amazing nowadays, and nobody cares." Think of how apathetic we have become to so much modern technology that enables our lives: things like high-speed broadband, routine air travel and, er, high-speed broadband on planes. (Nice - Ed) Louis' point - or at least PCMR's take on Louis' point - is that technology itself isn't a problem: it's just that we're so bombarded with technological progress these days, apathy has become an understandable coping mechanism. ("Oh look, there's another new version of iTunes? ... meh...")

The lesson here: over-exposure to technology - even the awesome stuff - can engender mental fatigue. A case in point related to movies: CGI.

'Rise of The Planet of the Apes' demonstrated how the technology could be used, both for good and bad, but surely one man above all has become totally synonymous with the abuse of CGI, and caused mental anguish to thousands of over-25's the world over in the process. 'Bay Syndrome' effectively defines this apathy towards movie CGI: after the 47th massive explosion, the CGI might still be as awesome as the 46th, but I just don't care any more.

Happily, Michael Bay had no involvement in Source Code. Instead, a certain Duncan Jones has the reins for this, his sophomore flick. If you've not seen his first, the most excellent 'Moon', then dear reader, I encourage you to take a two hour break from reading this review, and go seek it out. As a convincer, among its many great qualities, 'Moon' features the best use of emoticons in movie history. (Competing with..? - Ed)

And this is one of the fundamental differences between Jones and Bay: understatement. Or, to put it another way, Jones understands the power of technology in movies, and how to use it sparingly, to greatest effect. Kevin Spacey's GERTY robot in Moon only has a small number of simple smiley faces to express his so-called 'feelings', but the device is chillingly effective: when GERTY's smile changes to a frown, the audience's mood shifts with it.

The writing credit for 'Source Code' goes to Ben Ripley, and interestingly, he seems to share this understated approach. From early on in the movie, the dialogue encourages us to forget about the technology that is enabling this crazily imaginative premise. Jake Gyllenhall is constantly told not to think, just to 'do'. The focus is more on people and details than on expensive gadgets or green-screen whizz-bangs..

On the premise: in a nutshell, Gyllenhaal is repeatedly reliving 8 minutes on a train as someone else, in order to prevent a terrorist attack. It's unashamedly borrowing from a number of influences (Quantum Leap, 24, Groundhog Day, 12 Monkeys) but somehow it nimbly avoids being overly derivative.

Much of the credit for this has to go to the skill with which Jones reshoots the 8 minute iterations, with subtle differences each time they re-play. Credit is also due to the likeability of his main players. As befits an action-hero role of the "what's happening to me?" genre, Gyllenhaal is suitably grizzled and Keanu-confused (is that a real word? - Ed) Also, Michelle Monaghan manages to somehow resist being annoying, even as she repeats a line for the 7th time. And Vera Farmiga (who you might remember from 'The Departed') is very well cast as Gyllenhaal's military guide, who just might be sympathetic to his plight.

The story itself is tidy and lean, and should keep you guessing throughout. And, as the final credits roll, PCMR was left with the enjoyable head-scratching moments that only a time-bending tale can deliver. (Triangle, Twelve Monkeys, Primer etc)

So, all in all, PCMR enjoyed this one, missed it in the cinema, but it's a quality DVD night in.

(Oh, and as a reward for making it to the end, here's that Louis CK link)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

PCMR Verdict: Four hands good, two hands bad (except John Lithgow). Overall, not bad, but falls a couple of branches short of greatness.

PCMR Rating: 5.5/10

PCMR doesn't just watch movies all day, oh no. For 40 hours a week I work the stony grey soil of software development, yoked to keyboard and mouse, engaged in all manner of dark arts.

PCMR understands that most people aren't really interested in what a programmer does for a living. Occasionally though, this wisdom temporarily escapes me, and I embark on a futile attempt to impart some technical information that's 'really interesting'... you can imagine how it goes. Oh, I know, I really do, but I foolishly feel the need to retest the waters every now and again: "surely this is remarkable!?" (It really very rarely is)

You see, techno-babble is complex information, like comedy: you either get it or you don't. For those that don't, you can always explain it... but at the risk of further tumbleweeds... and so it goes with technical stuff. No amount of "but don't you see? That's amazing!!" will convince someone who didn't immediately marvel at your new fart machine phone app.

And so it goes with 'Caesar Begins', aka Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I enjoyed much of the special effects, especially in the prison-break sequence, and the motion-capture performances of the apes is genuinely interesting: this I get.

In this part of the film, Andy Serkis ably demonstrates that computer generated (mo-cap) characters can act, and act well. Unfortunately though, the human actors don't fare so well.

James Franco plays an incredibly irresponsible, and thoroughly two-dimensional scientist. (The whole 'apes taking over the planet'? That's pretty much his thing). His girlfriend (Frieda Pinto) is unquestionably a girl, and also quite friendly, but she doesn't really contribute anything at all, except hotness, and one timely diversion in the third act. Franco's boss is a risible corporate caricature, with some truly awful dialogue. Brian Cox, too, is present, but without much purpose, and his henchmen (Bad Cop and Not So Bad Cop) also make up the human numbers.

The exception is John Lithgow, who gives an effective turn as Franco's father, an alzheimer's sufferer, and the catalyst for the ultimately unfortunate research.

In the final third, special effects dominate once again, but when the camera flies freely, either scaling trees Avatar-style, or flitting around the Golden Gate Bridge at impossible angles, these CGI illusions are far less absorbing than the mo-cap of the second act.

So, Lithgow apart, the apes carry this picture, especially in the middle third. The thing is, for PCMR, there are too many flaws in 'Apes: Episode I' for it to earn a glowing recommendation. It's perfectly fine, but it ain't great.

It should deservedly pick up some technical Oscars, and it certainly is a great technical achievement, but technical achievement alone cannot elevate this movie above the 'just alright' category.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Kill List

PCMR Verdict: Whoa, Nelly! This sure ain't a date movie, but it does manage to be compelling, shattering and original, dark, evil and twisted all at the same time.

PCMR Rating: 8/10

At its best, cinema is transportation. The best stories quietly shift spectators from their surroundings, and, for a couple of hours at least, send them somewhere else entirely. Of course, this displacement is nothing but a pleasurable illusion, in which the audience is entirely complicit. Willing, even. However, even with a willing audience, this most delicate form of transit can be brutally derailed by any number of small missteps in script, dialogue or story.

Occasionally though, the magic is maintained right through to the end, and this makes a film more memorable. Seven, The Matrix and Twelve Monkeys all managed it for PCMR, but everyone has their own personal list of flicks that were fully and completely absorbing for themselves. As I emerged from the cinema blinking and disoriented after watching 'Kill List', I found myself enjoying the singular feeling of being completely blind-sided: Kill List has a genuine claim to join PCMR's list.

Director Ben Wheatley has divined a number of influences for this confounding horror/thriller/domestic cautionary tale, but has somehow packaged them together into something new and interesting. It's best described as a horror, but frankly and violently resists traditional pigeon-holing.

It begins quietly, with an up-close view of a family, with all its domestic tensions, from a perspective not unlike Mike Leigh's. A row at a dinner party quickly gives way to guns in the garage, however, and suddenly there is blood on the screen. All too quickly, there are eerie Michael Haneke-style undercurrents in play which unsettle and swerve, before the movie shifts gear into full blown bloody violence, horror, and ultimately, the jaw-dropping finale.

In less certain hands, these shifts in tone might seem sudden or jarring, and perhaps shatter the illusion, but somehow Wheatley keeps momentum and maintains a compelling pace.

Kill List won't be to everyone's taste: it is shockingly violent, from early on. One scene in particular still sticks in the mind (pardon the expression) and even if the recipient arguably deserved the treatment being meted out, I still found it tough going. But hey, it's a horror movie, and I was horrified, so I guess it was doing something right!

So, all in all, if you're made of stern stuff, and can handle horror in small doses, then I would recommend Kill List, albeit with the above reservations! It deserves a wider audience, which it probably won't get, sadly, but at least Wheatley should get a crack at a few more movies: should be a name to watch out for in future.

(Recommended viewing in a crowded cinema by the way, if only for the reaction to the final credits!)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fright Night (2011)

PCMR Verdict: Good fun, bring low expectations and you'll enjoy your popcorn.

PCMR Rating: 6/10

The 80's was something of a heyday for low-budget horror. PCMR spent many a happy evening in my tweens browsing the local Xtra-vision with a few buddies, trying to resolve the weekly debate of whether '976-Evil' was going to be better than 'Braindead', for example. We'd either choose by the cover alone or by trailers, neither of which was foolproof. (That said, the terrible ones were usually more memorable.) Before Arnie and all those dumb 80's actioners came on the scene, horror was very much the coolest section in the video store.

Despite all those evenings in the horror section, the original 'Fright Night' somehow passed me by. I was vaguely aware that it was a vampire movie though, and with Colin Farrell in the lead 'vampire next door' role. I was quietly hopeful he might play it with his own accent. (A Dublin vampire would be bleedin' sound, so it would!)

Before giving the skinny on Fright Night, let me just set out my vampire stall. Like most right-thinking people, PCMR is of the opinion that movie vampires should be a little bit more 'Lost Boys' than 'Twilight'. So, no, Edward, when you step into sunlight you don't become an emo discoball. The, reality (ahem) is that you burn. Horribly. I know this is true because I've seen Near Dark and The Lost Boys. And Salem's Lot. And er, The Monster Squad. It's the rules, and you can't just go re-writing this stuff. And as my final word on this whole unnecessary debate, I'd just like to point out that I live on the street where Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, so I win.

Happily, 'Fright Night' also subscribes to this old-school point of view, neatly ignoring the Stephanie Meyer (spit) 'vampire-as-emo-dreamboat' rulebook. The Fright Night vampire, thankfully, is a hungry, lecherous carnivore who will eat your mom if he's invited in. Colin Farrell plays the bad man without a hint of camping it up, which to his - and Fright Night's - credit.

Fright Night's teen hero is more than a little unlikeable, which means you're never quite sure if he's going to redeem himself, or get some of the just desserts treatment that's so often dished out in horror movies. Anton Yelchin plays it quite well, although the best the audience can hope for in this type of movie is that he's not annoying. (He's not). His hot girlfriend is also quite good (the amusingly named 'Imogen Poots'. Tee hee) and his mom is Toni Colette, who in Hollywood speak, is a banker. (Although not literally).

David Tennant also throws in a decent turn as a Russell Brand-ish Las Vegas Vampire Hunter, and sneakily gets a Hollywood movie under his belt, the wee pup. (And life after Doctor Who used to be so difficult). So a good cast then, and we haven't even got to McLovin yet.

All in all, Fright Night is a decent popcorn movie, and it manages to steer clear of enough vampire horror cliché to retain interest. The story rumbles along at a decent pace, with some decent twists and turns, but it's never really genuinely scary. The comedy's nicely played, and even though the plot has so many holes it's letting in an alarming amount of sunlight, the whole thing builds up to a satisfying finale.

So, all told, low expectations required, but it does the job.

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