Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Following only two years after the original, Swedish, adaptation of the book and it's ensuing wake of critical acclaim, this 2011 English-language version of Larsson's book had a lot to live up to.

The film follows a recently disgraced journalist (Daniel Craig) who is hired by a wealthy businessman to solve the 40 year old case of his niece’s murder, in exchange for information that will help him get his credibility back. Eventually, he enlists the help of a quite unconventional research assistant in the form of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the titular Girl.

Coming in at about two and a half hours, the film is quite a heavy experience, both in its manner of storytelling and in the way of content. There's an unusual structure at play here, with the first two acts (I'd say the film is split into 5 acts rather than three) having two almost completely separate stories, one of which is forgotten about and only tangentially referred to after the two main characters meet up. This serves as brilliant exposition though, if a bit long. You get a real insight into the multiple sides that make up Lisbeth: the strong and independent, take-no-prisoners badass, the lonely soul and the fragile and damaged young woman who stumbles from one f*cked-up situation to another. I've gotta say, Salander is one of the best written and portrayed characters I've seen in recent years in a big blockbuster movie like this.

I'm particularly happy with the casting of the two protagonists. Craig works well as Mikael Blomkvist, giving the role the much needed tact and a portrayal of genuine concern for the case and those around him. He's like a polite version of Kenneth Brannagh's Wallander (another Swedish-written detective played by a Brit). From what I've read, other people including Brad Pitt and George Clooney were considered for the role, but I think the former hit too close to another David Fincher film about a detective investigating a gruesome murder case with Brad Pitt in the lead (Se7en), and the latter wouldn't really fit in my opinion (plus, Lisbeth's boss looks exactly like a provincial Clooney). But the real masterstroke in casting is with Mara as Salander. Not exactly an unknown, Mara hasn't had many starring roles in larger productions, but has worked with Fincher in the past on The Social Network, and was probably a risky move considering some of the names that were banded around for the role (including Natalie Portman, who despite my adoration of would not have worked nearly as well, alongside Anne Hathaway, Ellen Page, Emma Watson and Scarlett Johansson). Mara delivers a near perfect performance though, and her willingness to commit everything, appearance-wise, to the role is endearing.

As for the film itself, it's beautifully executed, and is very much a David Fincher film. I can't nail down exactly what it is, maybe it's the humble grey, white and blue tones throughout, but the film just feels very Scandinavian. The atmosphere gives everything that clean, stoic manner with hints that just below the surface things aren't as well behaved as they appear. When you do see the underside, it's unforgiving. There are two scenes in particular with Salander and her government-appointed guardian that really cut close to the bone. The first of which triggered in me, for the first time in a long while, the response that I had to remind myself that they're just actors and it's not real. It's just a horrific scene. When we return to the situation though, there is somewhat of a shift in power, and although the same sort of terrible things happen again, a sense of justice makes it much more bearable. To show a similar situation twice and evoke such different reactions is a hallmark of good direction.

Just a final word on the styling of the film. Whoever did the costume design (and hair/make-up and all that jazz) for Salander, did a stellar job. She looks fantastic and her appearance fits the character phenomenally well. it would have been easy to just go the "goth it all up" route, but there's a much more nuanced and subtle approach taken here.

So in conclusion, it's a wonderful film. A little bit emotionally draining at times, so I wouldn't watch it after a particularly exhausting day, but brilliantly executed and beautifully constructed. David Fincher solidifies himself as one of my favourite directors even more with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

TL;DR: Film good. Go watch.

Office Space (1999)

There seems to be a theme in films I really enjoy these days. The whole young adult being dissatisfied with their life and doing something about it, whether it's wiping your memory, kicking the medication, or in this case, sticking it to the man. Office Space is the story of how rundown office drone Peter Gibbons comes to realise that there's more to life that spacing out in your cubicle and doing roughly 15 minutes of actual work in a week. Alongside this, the company he works for is going through a streamlining process and laying off staff left, right and centre, leaving many of Peter's friends either jobless or scared of becoming so.

The mundane office atmosphere is captured beautifully considering it's such a boring place. From the ever growing stacks of boxes in places, to the faulty printer, to the TPS report coversheets; everything is wonderfully tedious, sometimes to the point of absurdity. As the films inspired by a series of animated shorts it's easy to see that a lot of it was constructed like a series of standalone comic strips, a lot like a sketch show. But it works, and don't think I mean that there's little attention paid to the narrative, because there is, just that there are a lot of scenes that would work well by themselves.

To be honest, there isn't all that much to say about Office Space, except that it's great fun. Even if you've never worked in a cubicle farm, you'll have been in situations or dealt with people like the characters somewhere along the line and been infuriated by them, and a little comedic catharsis can be great for the soul. There's one scene in particular that I'm sure anyone who's ever printed a document in a school/library/office/university can live vicariously through.

Garden State (2004)

I'm a bit of a sucker for films like Garden State. Written, starring and directed by Zach Braff, it follows the personal journey of a mid-twenties actor who returns home for the first time in nearly a decade to go to his mother's funeral. Cue a lot of soul searching and self-discovery as he reconnects with people he used to know, attempts to fix broken relationships and falls in love.

With a general feeling of detachment and being lost, it deals with a lot of feelings that I imagine most people deal with when they first move away from home. There's one scene where Braff's character talks about how your idea of "home" changes after leaving the family house, where you've been away "home" long enough that it doesn't feel the same any more and the new place you live only feels like a place to keep your sh*t, it's a pretty relatable concept. I see a number of my friends from back home in some of the supporting cast too, as I imagine everyone will. You've got the guy who's pretty successful in terms of career/money but has no idea at all what he actually enjoys doing or wants to do, the guy who just seems locked in a time-freeze where nothing's changed for him since leaving school and the guy who's completely flipped in what everyone expected of them.

Then you get people like Sam, the kind of quirky eccentric who at first seems to have a unique world view and is enthralling but turns out to be a bit crazy. She reminds me a lot of Kate Winslet's character in Eternal Sunshine, the kind of girl that's a bit of an adorable oddball who's a rollercoaster of emotion. Actually, the film has a lot of parallels with Eternal Sunshine, with the lost, numb main character and the journey he goes on with one of those girls. It's probably why I liked it so much.

For a writing and directorial debut, Garden State's a triumph. Enjoyable and engaging for a relatively low-key affair, it's quite deserving of the ranking it received in Empire's Top 500 Films of All Time (393).

Leon (1994)

A film I've been meaning to watch for a while but have been putting off again and again. It's quite high up on IMDB's toplist (#31), despite being quite off the radar for most people, so I was quite intrigued by the film. It's directed by a frenchman, Luc Besson, and it's pretty noticeable. While being set entirely in NYC, there's a certain atmosphere throughout the movie, particularly in the set design, that makes it feel very continental. It's hard to pin down, but I'd put it down largely down to the colour palette. Lots of beiges and browns without coming off as overly dirty.

Anyway, the basic plot follows the relationship between a hitman (or "cleaner") and a young girl, whom he takes in after her family down the hall from him are killed by a bunch of corrupt cops. It's a strange relationship, between a very young girl who's in a rush to grow up and has had no real romantic role models in her life, and a psychologically scarred, much older, man who grows to love her but in a much different way than she does him. Apparently I watched the extended cut of the film which, according to wikipedia, includes a large number of scenes dealing with the relationship between the two. I imagine the original cut was actually pretty boring, even if a bit more uncomfortable (from what I gather, a lot of the scenes where it's established that Leon doesn't want the same thing as Mathilda aren't included in the original cut). There's a cut scene in a restaurant that was really powerful in conveying the distance between the two, and I can't believe it wasn't included. Even with the additional scenes, the whole dynamic still left me with a pretty uncomfortable feeling though, which I imagine was the intent.

I've been a hardcore Natalie Portman fan for quite a while, but still it shocked me how good she was in this. Seeing as she was so young I was expecting typical child-actor fare, but she delivered a great performance with all the hallmarks you can still see in her work today, I guess she's got a natural talent that she's just been honing from the get-go. I've never seen Jean Reno in anything before, at least not that I can remember, but that's probably because I don't watch too many foreign films. Regardless, he's probably the standout here, striking a good balance between the troubled, broken hearted lonely guy and the man who does what he has to do to get his money. not erring too close to either end of that spectrum creates a believable character in a not-so-believable situation. Gary Oldman, as corrupt DEA agent Stansfield, delivers the most over the top performance of the piece, painting the picture of a psychotic killer with a power complex. the character might be a bit ridiculous, but it's entertaining and isn't so out there that it feels out of place with everything else.

All in all, a very well crafted piece with a strange, and at (quite a number of) times, awkward dynamic between the two main characters.

Attack the Block (2011)

Joe Cornish's (of Adam and Joe Show fame) is a pretty interesting collision of the hoodrat film and the alien monster movie. The basic premise, for the unaware, is that a group of young hoodies are out being chavs one night when they mug Sam, a young undergraduate nurse. During the mugging, and alien crash lands next to the cast, and the film follows the unlikely team as they battle against the alien invasion. An alien invasion centred directly on their block of flats, no less.

So yeah, the premise is a little ridiculous: hoodies attempt to fight off alien invaders with council-estate standard weapons. Other than that though, the film's pretty grounded with respect to the central cast. You often get films where the cast has elements that are unlikely to work together, but they do so without any issue because of the crisis. Sam is quite understandably apprehensive to stick with the boys considering the circumstances in which they first meet. Of course, for the movie to work it is overcome, but it's nice that even a film that's arguably just harmless fun doesn't make its characters act like unemotional robots. Speaking of the central cast, pretty much everyone in the film is a relative unknown due to the indie style of production. Most of them are still straddling the line between child actors and legitimate actors in their own right, coming just down on the side of the latter. Regardless, great performances are given all around, particularly from John Boyega (as Moses) who lends his role enough subtlety that, towards the end of the film, he is much more than the one-dimensional character he is through the first two acts. Alex Esmail (as Pest) manages a convincing mugger with a heart of gold, too. The much more experienced Jodie Whittaker is the most believable though, as Sam, managing to create a strong and determined character going through a rollercoaster of emotions in a pretty hectic situation.

The film as a whole's really enjoyable. Striking a perfect balance between action and comedy, you get a well crafted piece of cinema with a good sense of pace. Considering that the film is the director's first feature film, the production values are remarkably high. It's apparently shot mostly on location as far as I can tell, and some of the shots are fantastic. There are two great scenes that play out in the corridors of the titular block that are really reminiscent of 80s/90s monster movies too. You can really tell that Cornish has made his name in the industry before this simply by absorbing so much media and analysing and critiquing it.

The aliens themselves are great too. They're relatively simple, but their two defining, and pretty much only, features (the jet black fur and the glowing teeth) create something quite iconic and instantly recognisable. They give off a real primal vibe, similar to the alien from the original Alien: strong, fast and born to tear you apart.

I'd definitely recommend it as a good comedy monster movie. It's an achievement for a budding director to have such a fun film so close to the start of their CV too.

Fight Club (1999)

This film is one of those that the internet seems to be in love with, one that most of the critic world actually agrees with for once (unlike V for Vendetta). On first watch, it does seem worthy of such praise, on the whole at least. Above all, I enjoyed it.

David Fincher's fast becoming one of my favourite directors. I'm only really just getting into films now, so I don't know much about the whole industry, but Fincher is someone who stands out as someone I like. I've also got Seven, his film before Fight Club, to watch on that list. The narration and the visual segments breaking the fourth wall, e.g. the scene establishing Tyler's backstory, work really well and aren't jarringly different to the overall feel, and Tyler's co-operation as well as the narrator talking in those scenes just adds to it. The constant "little things" throughout add up to make me want to call the film stylised, but it really isn't all that much. The little "subliminal" flashes of pornography and pictures of Tyler, the fact that the house is so dilapidated, everyone is so beat up. It all adds up to give the film that strange half-asleep feeling where things look real, but bubbling just below the surface is the twilight world of the not-quite-awake.

Obviously I knew the twist going in, the film's been out for more than two thirds of my life, it'd be hard to make it this far without knowing. That said, I don't think it took it that much out of the experience. Sure a bit of the confusion was lost once the clues start appearing about mid-way through, like the first interaction "Jack" has with Marla in the house but it was still enjoyable to see the character's try to work out what was going on. If anything, foreknowledge makes Tyler even more charismatic. You lose the question of "how could anybody actually be like that?" because he's just the delusion of a sleep deprived man going through a complete breakdown. The twist itself is well executed, in my opinion. Obviously it isn't exactly realistic, and makes great use of movie-logic, but as part of the narrative it works very well, it's foreshadowed especially well; stuff like the reason they cut off the balls as punishment in Project Mayhem stemming from the testicular cancer support group and Tyler's abusive relationship with Jack in that he doesn't let him talk about him, which is how a lot of mentally ill people treat themselves.

Of course, part of that comes from the performance too. The acting across the board is pretty much spot on. Edward Norton gives a performance that reminds me a lot of Neo from The Matrix, at least he does in the first act of the film. He gives a great portrayal of a man on a personal journey, from the man who literally has no idea how to change his life in the bgeinning, through a man with a real purpose, finally arriving at someone who is prepared to do what he has to to do what is right in the end. And Norton delivers at all points. Helena Bonham-Carter as Marla, despite the fact in all other circumstances the character would be a nutjob, actually grounds the film more in the real world during the final act. She is someone who is f*cked up, but in a not-creating-an-alter-ego-to-try-and-otherthrow-the-financial-system kind of way, which is a bit refreshing when you see all the other characters. She's just trying to deal with having a sh*tty life and caring about someone who's an asshole. But of course, the real star of the show is Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden. Pitt is just able to pull off that self-assuredness with such a slick approach that the result is someone who is hyperconfident without being just straight up arrogant. The man just oozes cool and charisma, which is Tyler to a tee because he was created to be everything "Jack" wanted to be. Even dressed in track pants, a hawaiian shirt and those ridiculous sunglasses he's still someone who you'd follow in a crisis.

As for the whole underlying message that people seem obsessed with in regard to the film, I think it's ridiculously simple. It's not advocating anarchy, or even satirising it in an attempt to discredit it. What I took from it, if anything, is that we should all be willing to step up our game a bit and have the balls to better our lives, but not to overreach yourself for fear of going to far. If there's one quote from the library of good lines that makes up the script that should actually be taken seriously it's that we should all aim to have "the ability to let that which does not matter truly slide". To me, that's as deep as it gets.

All in all, a deeply enjoyable film that I'm really glad I watched. One that actually lived up to the expectations I had going in, too. I can see why it's so highly lauded by so many people.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011)

Thanks to the power of DVDs I have, these past few months been catching up on the series. I got bored of reading the series about halfway through the fifth book and I couldn't be arsed actually reading the rest, so the films will have to do.

Something that does translate well from the books to the films is the strength of main cast, but even more impressively, the supporting cast. Thanks to being able to use eight feature-length films and ten years, pretty much everyone gets reasonably developed (at least, as far as they're going to get in what is, ultimately, a children's film). Over the series, watching Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson grow up and become proper actors is a pretty unique experience. Hell, I've f*cking grown up along the same time as them (I can still remember my class at primary school going to see the first film).

I digress, like I said, my favourite part of this film in particular is the supporting cast. Resolutions to minor arcs all over the shop: Malfoy's family finally being not terrible, Neville becoming a badass, why Snape is actually a good guy, Ron and Hermione finally getting their sh*t together and a lot that I'm probably forgetting. I'm also fairly certain that Helena Bonham Carter gives us one of my favourite secondary characters in film as Bellatrix Lestrange. It's probably just because I have a thing for HBC, but the scenes where she is playing Hermione masquerading as Bellatrix are particularly impressive. Apparently they had Emma Watson act out the scene herself (which they used the voice off) then had HBC do it for shooting, so you've got HBC acting like Emma Watson acting like Hermione acting like Bellatrix.

The film works great as a feel good film. I'm pretty sure you can guess that in the end the good guys win. If it weren't what it is, I'd say that it felt a little too neat of an ending. There was a lot of carnage in the final few set pieces that just gets glossed over a little bit, and a lot of things that one particular character should be bothered about at least (one of Ron's brothers is killed off, and he doesn't seem particularly shaken by it at all in the next scene). But I can accept that, even with the darker tone that the later films have taken the series would always have had a largely good ending. One thing I really couldn't enjoy was the epilogue, waaaayyyy too short. A two minute scene catching up with only the main characters is fine in a stand-alone film or anything up to a trilogy. But an eight film series? Come on, I've waited ten years and sat through something like 18+ hours to find out what these characters end up doing. I didn't even see any of the supporting cast (apart from Malfoy) in the background in that last scene. What the f*ck happened to them? I'm honestly considering going out to buy the book just to get the proper epilogue, and if it's just as bad in there I don't know how I'll handle it.

But yeah, all-in-all I love these films, particularly the later ones. It might be the rose tinted glasses of a childhood favourite, but they're really well produced and give you a lot of great moments between the main cast, even if they are so cliched they're signposted from outside the theatre.

Easy A (2010)

It might just be because I'm pretty much slap in the middle of the target demographic (insecure 19 year old who gets emotionally involved in films ridiculously easily), but I really loved this. It has a great charming quality to it in a way that I haven't got from a movie in a while, probably since Fantastic Mr Fox. That stems from the caricature view of the high-school life you get, I think. Things like the ultra-christian group with the signs and flyers and what not are a bit out there, and literally everyone turning to watch Olive as she walks down the hall; they're a bit unrealistic until you remember that we're just getting Olive's account of how everything went down, so of course it's going to be a little exaggerated.

The charm is thanks in buckets to the humour, which in turn owes itself to the cast. Olive's parent's in particular stand out as great secondary characters with some hilarious moments. Little gags like the gay boyfriend and the brother's parents instantly warm you to them. Of course, Emma Stone stands out as Olive. It's a great performance, convincing both in delivery of one-liners and of heartfelt emotion. I genuinely felt bad for her in the scene towards the end where she reflects on what happened to her teacher and his wife. But similarly, her comic timing is great and her sassy, deadpan delivery had me laughing out loud throughout. I reckon she might be one to watch in the future.

The only real weak point was the whole Scarlet Letter parallel. It felt a bit unnecessary and just made Olive come off as a bit pretentious. I guess it is a believable thing that a younger teen would do in an effort to make a statement though. They do kind of draw attention to it with the whole "you always seem to study something that reflects your life" line, which can easily be turned around to mean that Olive is just projecting onto it.

It's not the sort of film that generally appeals to me, but I really got a kick out of it. It reminds me a lot of (and probably owes a lot to) Mean Girls, which also falls under the umbrella of "the sort of films I typically don't like but actually loved".

Zombieland (2009)

Let's be honest, a film like this was never going to win any oscars or elbow its way onto any credible list of classics. But who watches a zombie film for that stuff anyway? I watch zombie films for a small cast doing a lot of violent killing in a variety of unusual and comedic ways, and Zombieland delivers on all cylinders.

It's kind of refreshing for the zombie genre (I think with the saturation level we're at, it counts as a genre) in a slight way. We've had the definitive zomcom in Shaun of the Dead, but even then it was a little satirical and subtle in some respects. It had a very British take on it. Zombieland though, Zombieland sticks two fingers up to that approach and shoots it with an uzi from a merry-go-round. Banjo kills, cutaways to "Zombie Kill of the Week", sh*tting-your-pants gags and montages of road journeys where everyone bickers over how the twelve year old should learn to drive the Hummer: all part of the fun. Not to mention that there's a lot less brown and grey going on than the pure-horror zombie movies. I don't care if technically all the power grids would be down and ash and dirt would be everywhere, it's a lot more visually interesting, and in-keeping with the tone of this film, to have a sunshine yellow hummer and a (near) fully stocked and lit grocery store for the cast to f*ck around in. It's like Dead Rising made into a film, but not as sh*t as that sounds. The little motif with the rules poping up on screen was nice too, and would've been easy to overdo but it was balanced well I think.

Speaking of the cast, not exactly outstanding but a great laugh nonetheless. Harrelson plays a great brain-to-off-mode action hero, with an actually quite convincing soft side when it comes the inevitable teary moment. Eisenberg is pretty much the "socially maladjusted but actually a really nice guy" that he's pretty good at now (as he should be). Emma Stone would be pretty forgettable to be honest, if she wasn't so hot (as is Amber Heard in the bit part she has near the beginning). It's not that she's bad, but the character's pretty flat and uninteresting. It was really nice to see Bill Murray's cameo (spoilered because I know I would've liked to have gone in to it not knowing), and Tallahassee's reaction to meeting him put a big smile on my face.

All in all, great fun. It doesn't bring anything new to the table, but that's not really been a problem for pop culture and zombies recently has it? There are certainly worse ways to spend an hour and a half.

Black Swan (2011)

I didn't quite know what to expect to be honest. Obviously it had already garnered a lot of critical acclaim and the awards, so good performances were expected. It is definitely a very carefully made film; it feels as if everything was purposefully chosen. The actresses (Natalie Portman in the lead and Mila Kunis in supprot) were perfect for their roles. Portman really manages to capture the uptight and cagey Nina in both the standard acting and even the dancing, but is able to pull off the final transformation in the finale too (which is probably what bagged her the academy award). Similarly, Kunis encapsulates the well meaning, slightly chaotic free spirit of Lily, and it comes off in a way that I imagine everyone feels they know someone a bit like her.

Costume and makeup, two things that don't often cross my mind, were done particularly well too. Looking past the obvious black/white difference between Nina and Lily, everything strives to take the two equally stunning women to different ends of the spectrum: Nina is very much the classical beauty while Lily is hot and attractive. It's just all the little hints that add up to make the film beautiful itself.

As for the actual plot, I feel it was left a bit wanting. It's a bit too obvious, especially in the last act, in the subversion of Swan Lake, and I barely even know the plot of SL. I did enjoy the psychological thriller aspects quite a lot though. Nina's delusions are something you can never quite be sure about. The ending was terribly disappointing. I suppose, given how it followed Swan Lake, it was the only real way you could end it but the execution was a little lacklustre. That's the only real gripe I had with the film, but after all the good it did leave a bit of a bitter taste.

Just as a footnote, I knew the name Aronofsky, but wasn't sure if I knew his other work. After looking him up I can totally see the influence from doing The Wrestler had on the production of Black Swan.

Scream (1996)

Picked up the original trilogy of this series today for £11, probably on sale after failing to sell for halloween. So yeah, I'm a little late to the party on this one.

I remember a few months ago asking a mate if Scream was the parody slasher flick and he just looked at me dumbfounded and told me that no, that was Scary Movie. I knew I was right; it's probably the best parody I've seen, of anything really. It's really well crafted in that the film is so self aware and yet manages to be a legitimate horror film in itself. The constant references to horror cliches, "the rules" and lines that are just a pause and a wink short of breaking the fourth wall create a hilarious atmosphere, where you stop trying to predict when a jump scare will come because you know the film-makers have already pre-empted you and subverted it. The scene with the movie clerk character shouting at a horror film where the killer is behind a girl, while the killer is behind him, and he's being shouted at by people watching him on a camera is ridiculously contrived, but somehow still stays tense because it's not clear if the killer is actually after him or not. The voice of the killer on the phone secures the same sort of tension too, it oozes that sense of a smoothtalker who is perpetually just seconds away from turning into a psychopath. From the first time Kacee answers the phone you know sh*t's going down straight away.

It's strange that the film still feels quite fresh 15 years on, especially considering the effect it had on horror films that followed. I would've thought it would feel like just another horror flick like all the others from the past decade and a half. The final act, where the killings are all explained still holds as original though, I honestly didn't see the twist coming at all, especially the involvement of a second killer in the form of Stu.

V for Vendetta (2006)

Watched this for the first time last night. I was pretty apprehensive, after certain parts of the internet’s love affair with the film//source material and the main character. I wasn't left disappointed, but it was a bit muddled at times.

At face value, it works really well as a film. The acting is great throughout: Hugo Weaving pulls off the silver tongue of the title character very well, even if the script does make him sound like one of those slightly autistic kids who tries to act all gentlemanly and is overly verbose for no good reason. I might just be projecting what that goddamn mask means to me when I see it now onto the character a bit there though. I was pleasantly surprised to see Stephen Fry appear, as I had no idea he was in it, and I really liked his character. Although you can hardly praise his acting as he is essentially playing himself in an alternate universe. Natalie Portman does seem a bit stale throughout though, and it's hard to tell at times where that ends with the character and begins with the actress.

The imagery and themes of the film are something that I take a bit of an issue with. I thoroughly enjoyed the film but a lot of the design seems a bit heavy handed, something I reckon is a hangover from the source material. The Nazi theme that runs throughout the design of the ruling party and its associates is just too in your face. It's easy enough to point out that these are the bad guys with the fact that they install nationwide curfews and feed the media constant lies without dressing up main characters like storm troopers and calling the elected-as-a-saviour-in-a-time-of-crisis national leader "Chancellor".

On the flip side, there was very little attention paid to the fact that V himself, with all his good intentions, a terrorist in the worst way. He sets up buildings full of innocent people to die (the TV studio) and uses barbaric, cult-like brainwashing to convince Evey to assist him. The movement isn't fuelled by a dissatisfaction with the state of the government but, oddly enough, a personal vendetta, everything else is just a pawn in his game to kill those who hurt him. It's all glossed over with one line about "equal and opposite reactions", and not referred to in dialogue again particularly, sure it's implied, but not strongly enough I think. What I took away from the film was that both sides in this are pretty terrible in their own ways, but I think I only got that because I'd heard over and over again how powerful the political message in the film is.

I did enjoy it though, a lot of the little touches were really telling of the fact that a lot of work had gone into the production, specifically with bringing it up to date from the source (published in '89, I think). Just little things like avian flu popping up on the news as one of the big scares.

Thor (2011)

The Thor franchise is one of the comics book series' that I know literally nothing about. I don't follow or read any comics/graphic novels, but being on the internet a lot, you tend to absorb a lot of info by osmosis and get general understandings of the big ones, but Thor slipped through. Anyway, it's pretty much your standard superhero movie and doesn't deviate from the template much. That's not necessarily a bad thing though, it's a good standard film.

I'm not too big on the whole cyber-nord feel you get from Asgard and its residents. It's just weird that these nordic, viking gods live in massive towers of shiny, polished metal and not a great, big longhouse-tavern in the sky. That said, it's just the art direction that I don't agree with, the execution was still pretty good and both Asgard and Jotunheim looked great. The contrast between the other realms and small town America was pretty nicely done too.

Something I could really get behind was the humour. I hate it when superhero films try to take everything dead seriously all the time, especially when you've got some guy running around in spandex and a cape for half the film. I loved all Thor's confusion with this new world he's just been dropped into. Scenes like when he first wakes up in the hospital and the scene in the cafe were perfect. Chris Hemsworth really pulls off the brash, no holds barred leader of the pack. This is the first I've seen of him, but I can see him bagging a few more big leading roles in the future.

Not to mention Natalie Portman. But I tend to love everything she does anyway, 'cos she's just cool as f*ck.

Inglorious Basterds (2009)

For those of you who haven't seen it a quick summary: the film follows the progress of two fictitious plots to kill off a large number of Nazi command figures, one by a Jewish woman who evaded capture and took a new identity and one by a group of US soldiers (the titular "Basterds") who are waging a guerilla war on the Nazi army.

The film goes along at quite a slow pace, with certain scenes being very long and drawn out. This is not a bad thing though, the richness and attention to detail, from the characters' mannerism to individual close up shots of something inconsequential like a bowl of cream, gives a real feel of quality and dedication to the production. Every feels like it was done completely on purpose, and done exactly as envisaged. I think it's these production values that have turned me around to Tarantino, his films all feel very rich and authentic.

There are two particularly stellar performances on show in the film: Brad Pitt's Lt Aldo Raine and Christoph Waltz's Col Hans Landa. Raine is your typical, over-the-top man on a mission and he just seems to secrete charisma and a sense of power. The scene in the theatre's lobby where he is masquerading as Italian but doesn't even try to cover up his Tennessee accent sums him up perfectly. Waltz as Landa is a different but equally impressive performance. Landa is oddly hilarious and suave while simultaneously chillingly sinister. The opening scenes in the farm house where you just know he knows what the farmer is hiding is one of the best opening's I've seen in a while.

It's also pretty refreshing to see the heavy use of subtitles and languages other than English being spoken for once in a mainstream movie.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

If you told me a while back that one of your favourite movies featured Jim Carrey as the central character I'd have probably thought you were a bit of a div. Well, you might get a pass for The Truman Show.. But he's amazing here, opposite the amazingly enticing Kate Winslet, in an ironically unforgettable film.

The basic premise of the film is that the two main characters recently went through a messy break up. Thanks to a strange new technology, Clementine (Winslet) decides that she wants to undergo a procedure to remove Joel (Carrey) from her memory completely, and Joel struggles with the reality of removing Clementine from his life. Explaining more would really ruin the plot and how it unfolds. Essentially it's a love story that explores the ideas of fate and the highs and lows of life. If you take anything away from it, it should be the thought about whether, given the opportunity, you'd choose to simply erase all the bad things that have ever happened to you, and if it would be worth it.

Seriously, I can't recommend the film enough. Out of all the films I've posted about in this topic, this is the one to see.

Salt (2010)

Had this for a while and only just got around to watching it. I'd put it off for a while because I knew exactly what it was and just haven't been in the mood for it; it's a balls to the wall action film with little-to-no basis in reality. With that in mind, I can't say it disappointed on any level really.

I'll start with the plot: completely ridiculous. In the "classic" action movies you tend to have an unbelievable situation that itself is pretty straightforward (until the inevitable twist midway through the final act). Not in Salt, the whole premise is pretty standard fare and itself very reminiscent of Enemy of the State (another good action/thriller). The way it plays out though is not so straightforward. There are so many twists and turns you to wonder if it's modelled on a drunk's walk home through the city. At night. Blindfolded. That said, it did hook me. I wasn't sat there indifferent, I was engaged to some degree even if it was just thinking "what the hell? this makes no sense". It does pan out in the end with pretty weak motivations and an even weaker tether to reality.

It's great for what it is. The stunts are slick and produced in a quality becoming of the hefty budget. Only one set piece actually looked a bit silly, and considering some of the action undertaken in the film, that's a triumph. It's also pretty interesting that the title role was originally filled by Tom Cruise, but was later rewritten for Jolie. Thanks to this, Salt herself comes off as pretty non-gendered and would've worked pretty well either way. From what I can gather there was nothing major changed regarding the swap, and maybe that's a testament to changing attitudes towards gender in Hollywood. More likely though, I'd say it should be credited to Jolie herself. She was pretty much born to do this stuff, and she definitely looks great doing it.

The Social Network (2010)

Really enjoyed this film. Went into it thinking that it was most likely the latest overhyped decent film, being heralded as the second coming of Citizen Kane. Well I didn't quite get that, but it was well good. Granted, I do know that a lot of the character of Zuckerberg and others in the film was a bit misconstrued and twisted from the truth, but just looking at it as a work of fiction gets rid of that. A good work of fiction too. The struggle between friendhsip and success, not necessarily money but success, creates a great dynamic between Mark and Eduardo in the different time frames. You can see that underneath, they both still want to be friends but two big egos and drives for success keep that desire in second place.

Eisenberg does a brilliant job with the character of Zuckerberg especially. A performance that leaves the audience wanting to like the protagonist, despite every individual thing about him making him seem like an asshole. You can see that, through all the ass hole act, the backstabbing and the arrogance is just a pretty socially inept guy who needs to succeed to validate himself, a validation he'll never actually achieve.

However true to life it is, I've got to give it to Fincher, the ending is delightful. You've got the creator of the most social thing ever in human history sat alone, waiting for a friend that won't come after battling it out with the only real friend he ever had. A beautiful irony that, I hope, you only ever really get in film.

Trainspotting (1996)

Finally watched Trainspotting in full for the first time. I've seen the full film in fragments before which really annoyed me, i.e. had to leave before the end a while back, then later on came into it late. I must say it's a lot more enjoyable as the full feature. A great combination of an early Ewen McGregor as the lead married with an early Danny Boyle at the helm makes for a unique experience. It focusses around McGregor's character of Mark Renton, a heroine addict in late 80s Edinburgh and his struggles with both the drugs and his associates. The characterisation is particularly good with characters not falling into archetypes and all with some kind of depth in that none of them are complete angels or demons. You get a real sense for this world, separated from normal everyday life, and the people in it.

I may be biased because of my adoration for Robert Carlyle (Begbie- far left above) and Ewen McGregor (far right).

I never did get the title though, I guess it's explained in the book.

Monsters (2010)

Pretty straightforward 90 minute film. Set "years after most other monster movies end, when people aren't running and screaming, but life is going on",as described by director Gareth Edwards, it's the story of photojournalist Caulder and his boss's daughter Sam as they make their way through the dangerous infected zone to get back to the US after being trapped in Mexico.

While it's set in a world where gargantuan aliens have taken over a large swathe of land, it's not a film about alien invasion. The monsters themselves are really just the necessary complication to bring the two protagonists together. That's not to say the monsters are irrelevant, far from it, but to put it in a rather cliched way: it's not a film about monsters it's a film about people. In particular, the two stars, who share such a chemistry that you'd think they were husband and wife (they are now). There's a lot of subtlety and rawness in the acting I think, probably due to the way the film was scripted (or rather not scripted).

The production's quite interesting in and of itself too. The film was shot entirely on location in Central America, with Edwards and a crew of 7 travelled around shooting, filling in most of the parts with non-actor locals. Then there's the fact that all the CGI was done by Edwards himself, literally in his bedroom, with some standard software. Pretty neat little story.

All in all, it's a pretty good film. I hesitate to call it beautiful, a word I usually attribute to films that are brilliant, because this film's not a classic masterpiece. It's a really good film, with some element that I can't quite place that makes it beautiful, without making it great.

Star Wars Episode 3: Return of the Sith

Just finished watching Star Wars Episode III: Return of the Sith, as I've been rewatching the prequels throughout Jan on ITV. I do think it's the best of the prequels, but it still ain't great. There's a lot less of the camp slapstick once sh*t actually starts happening, which is a plus. The first two prequels had way too much of this and it detracted from the narrative I think.

The whole shtick of trying to highlight the similarities between the Jedi and Sith goals and their weaknesses fell down over itself though. It's an interesting idea, with both sides wanting peace and just using different methodologies to achieve it. I couldn't help but wish that the political differences (dictatorships vs democracies) should've been more prevalent rather than just good vs evil. It's just brushed over with one line by Padme about liberty.

Similarly, for all the labouring of Palpatine's speech about the two sides being so similar just gets slapped in the face by the visuals and styling: the Sith dress in all black, cover their faces, are covered in wounds and wrinkles, have evil eyes etc. Not to mention the fact that General Grievous, and Obi Wans fight with him, seems to be lifted straight from an anime. Some of the styling's bang on though, specfically the stuff that leads into the original trilogy: stuff like the clone troops helmets gradually becoming more storm-trooper like and a lot of the vehicles the clone troops/the (soon to be) rebels use.

Hayden Christensen still can't act when not shouting though, Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor pretty much carry him through it.

Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones

I posted last week about watching Star Wars Ep 1 A Phantom Menace last week, and I guess ITV are showing each of the movies (well the prequels at least), one every weekend. So yeah, Just finished watching Ep II: Attack of the Clones. Once again, not nearly as good as I remember it being from childhood.

The thing is, Phantom Menace was a pretty bad film but it had some resemblance to the original three in style if nothing else, AotC just seems like it's taking the piss out of itself. You've got the slapstick comedy stuff from R2D2 and C3PO, which has always been there, but here they're just too much. At one point you've got C3PO's head on a battledroid body shouting "Die Jedi! Die!". It really hit me that someone involved at least must have been taking the piss in the arena/execution scenes: Padme (Natalie Portman) is being attacked by some jaguar alien beast, dressed in some bodysuit, only to have it slash at her and somehow take half of her top clean off with no injuries. That's not even horror B movie standard, that's parody. Alongside this you've got Hayden Christiansen, playing an angsty teenager who's as easy to relate to as a beetle in a sewer drain.

Overall, I'm starting to come round to the idea that the prequels are totally unnecessary. I always thought those people were dicks, but not so much now that I'm actually going back and watching them again. That said, it is nice to see some of the Star Wars universe done with more special effects methods at the disposal of the Lucas, some of the battle scenes and the arena scene were still quite impressive.

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

I managed to catch one of my childhood favourites on TV today: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

Boy was I a stupid kid. The movie is nowhere near as good as I thought it was back then, and Jar Jar Binks may just be what took it from an ok film to a bad film. He's just so fucking annoying. There's also the fact that Qui Gon Jinn and Obi Wan Kenobi are basically the same character, neither one would be sorely missed if their plot roles were taken up by the other. On the upside, the effects hold up reasonably well, considering the film was made over a decade ago. A good balance between the still-proving-itself modern CGI and physical effects.

One thing that did throw me a bit was the resemblance between Natalie Portman (Padme) and Keira Knightley (Padme's decoy). Obviously this was intentional but it's still striking, especially considering the latter was only 14 and the former 18, though to be fair Knightley looks quite old for her age and Portman very young for hers. Also, I thought the ridiculous costumes for Queen Amidala were stupid when I was a kid, I now realise that they're fucking awesome.

PS: This may be a bit premature by the way, I'm not even finished watching it yet. That's how much it's engaged me.

Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)

I caught Fantastic Mr Fox in the past few days (my viewing got split in two when something came up), and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. I'd dismissed the film when it first got released thinking it wouldn't match up to the children's book just like the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It's actually quite a charming film though, and as far as I can remember, quite true to the story with a bit more added at the beginning and end. The most stand out point is the animation, it has a sort of quality where it blurs the line between computer animation and stop-motion and the style it's done in is very reminiscent of the really old and quite creepy clay-motion cartoons when the medium was still young. I can't think of a word that describes it better than charming. Second to the animation is George Clooney as the titular Mr Fox. He brings his trademark coolness to the role and really pulls it off, the character is exactly like I imagined he was when I was 5 or so.