Friday, 29 June 2012

10 Trailers Which Caught My Eye

Trailers are a huge part of the movie industry and, as a form of advertising, can make or break the commercial future of a movie. With a good trailer a bad movie can do pretty well, with a poor trailer even a great movie can be financially disappointing at the box office. I strongly believe that you can't accurately judge a movie by it's trailer, after all they only show you exciting and eye catching footage out of context. But I also believe they are more than just the cover of a book; trailers show you glimpses of acting quality, plot structure and a general feel of the movie's atmosphere.

There are plenty of movie trailers which have caught my attention this year, for various reasons. Here are 10 trailers which caught my eye in a positive way-

1. The Master

The combination of director Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia) and actor Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator, Walk The Line) is enough to send shivers down the spine of any movie buff. Both are very talented artists that have shown that they can be amongst the best in their respective fields.
The Master is set in the 1950s and charts the rise of a faith based organisation in America (which is likely to have comparisons with Scientology). Phoenix's childish giggling, combined with his eerie stare and the repetitive, tribal background music makes this teaser trailer incredibly ominous and exciting. 

2. Django Unchained

I was a little bit disappointed when I found out about the plot of Quentin Tarantino's latest movie. It's a revenge movie closely linked to a very painful period in history, in which one ethnic group were mistreated by another - sound familiar? That being said, Inglourious Basterds is the best movie Tarrantino had made since Pulp Fiction and this also features the fantastic 'Jew Hunter' himself, Christoph Waltz - so I'm now excited.

3. The Dark Knight Rises

I don't think I need to say a lot here, I just really liked the latest trailer. I can't wait to see how Tom Hardy does as the new central villain. The Joker was the antithesis of Batman, posing an intellectual and moral challenge; Bane will be Batman's biggest ever physical challenge, a force to be reckoned with (and if the comics are anything to go by, Batman is in for a very painful ride).

4. The Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrmann, director of Romeo + Juliet, teams up again with Leonardo DiCaprio in this envisioning of an American classic. The styling of the movie looks great; everything looks authentic and Leonardo DiCaprio is at the perfect point in his career for the role of Gatsby. It will also be interesting to see if Carey Mulligan can keep up her amazing streak of movie choices/performances and if Toby Maguire can get properly back on the horse after the Spider-man trilogy...which was just awful.

5. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Again, not much to say here. I loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit is a great book and judging from production blog videos on youtube, they are putting an incredible amount of effort into developing this.  There was some criticism at a preview screening regarding it's 48 FPS frame rate - apparently it looked too realistic and clear cut. Doesn't really sound like a criticism to me but I guess it may lack a certain cinematic feel. I personally can't wait to see how Peter Jackson does with this chapter of Middle Earth's history (particularly with my favourite chapter from The Hobbit, Riddles in the Dark).

6. Taken 2

Taken really surprised me when I first watched it; I was expecting a mindless action movie but Liam Neeson's performance elevated it to something more (along with plenty of great action sequences). I think part of its success was also the clever and resourceful ways in which Neeson's character would outsmart (and beat the crap out of) the unscrupulous bad guys. In Unknown he had an equally physical role but it didn't quite work as well. I hope that Taken 2 has that same special quality that the first one had.

7. The Bourne Legacy

I dreaded this movie when I first heard of it's production. I love the Bourne trilogy, it's rare in the fact that it's  both exciting and cerebral in equal measure. I really didn't think following it up with another Bourne movie was a good idea - especially one without Jason Bourne in it! But after seeing this trailer and the effort that has been taken to integrate it into the canon of the original trilogy, I'm now quite excited. The addition of Edward Norton to the cast is also a huge bonus.

8. Brave

Pixar creates an incredible amount of quality animated movies and this one certainly doesn't look like an exception. Brave appears to be along the lines of a Celtic Mulan and could possibly be up there with the likes of Up, The Incredibles and Wall-E. It features an all Scottish cast, including the 'Big Yin' himself Billy Connolly. Should be great.

9. Total Recall

I'm a pretty big fan of the brutal, Paul Verhoeven original (even with the incredibly dated special effects and over-egged acting). The general concept is based on the short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, written by the brilliant and prophetic Phillip K Dick. There are some very big differences between this version and the original, the main one being that none of it is set on Mars. But before you panic, don't worry it still has that prostitute with three boobs in it. Also, Brian Cranston will be playing the role of Cohaagen, which is a very exciting prospect.

10. Looper

I really like Joseph Gordon-Levitt and in Inception he showed that he was capable of high octane action as well as small indie movie rolls. This movie's concept is interesting, although time travel is a dangerous plot device and often leads to paradoxes and things that don't technically make sense (often forcing the audience to suspend their disbelief). I hope it's done well and I also hope that it explains why future gangsters go to the trouble of sending people back in time to be shot (thereby also changing the future), when they could quite easy kill people themselves.

There you are, 10 trailers which caught my eye. There were plenty which I missed out, feel free to comment below and let me know which movies you're looking forwards to. I'll be writing some short reviews of Snow White and the Huntsman and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter soon!

Friday, 15 June 2012


I saw Prometheus pretty much as soon as it came out, I could hardly contain my excitement for several main reasons. The first being that it was directed by Ridley Scott, the creator of certain movies which are nothing short of special -  Blade Runner, Gladiator, Black Rain and Alien (loosely related to this movie) to name a few. The second element of my excitement was the genre and aesthetic of Prometheus - a slick and profound science fiction movie which explores broad ideas relating to the human condition, exploration and the notion of a higher power. The final reason was the tantalising viral marketing campaign ("Happy Birthday David") which worked a treat on me and made the sci-fi fan within squirm with a heightened sense of anticipation. 

The response to Prometheus was somewhat mixed, generally varying from two star to five star reviews. Many people went into the cinema expecting Alien 5 - a gory and thrilling science fiction horror that would have people watching intently from between clasped fingers, popcorn being flung into the air every time there's a jumpy part. As a result many were left confused and disappointed by what Prometheus actually turned out to be. I didn't make the same mistake. As previously mentioned, I knew what Ridley Scott and the screenwriters intended to create and in many interviews they stated quite clearly that this would be an all together more cerebral experience and not an Alien prequel.

That being said, I was significantly disappointed by this movie. 

I'll start with the positives. The cast were great in their respective roles - particularly Michael Fassbender who stole the show as David, the polite and well spoken synthetic human with a devious Machiavellian streak (very much in the tradition of Ash and Bishop from the Alien quadrilogy). Fassbender's career has really taken off and he's demonstrated a fantastic range and charisma in recent roles (I will soon be reviewing Shame, the second collaboration between director Steve McQueen and Fassbender). I thought Noomi Rapace was enthralling as the central character Shaw, a religious scientist hoping to meet her maker and find some answers. Shaw is a strong female heroin, not as much through violence like Ripley, but through conviction. I think the dynamic of a scientist with religious faith is incredibly interesting and the internal turmoil that this creates at times is great to watch. I personally also liked Idris Elba as Captain Janek. His Southern drawl and odd one-liner added a comedic element to the movie. 

Prometheus was also very easy on the eyes. The set pieces were stunning and Scott's combination of CGI and old school special effects really worked well. It didn't have that artificial feeling that completely CGI movies usually have, where things look great but they don't look real. The combination of the ship's cold, technological minimalism and the rugged, ancient feel of LV-223 contrasted brilliantly as well. The only visual issue for me was the make up used to make Guy Pearce look like an elderly Peter Weyland. It was so bad it was laughable and it just made me wonder why Scott didn't use an elderly male actor.

There was one main thing that I didn't like about this movie - unfortunately that thing was the plot. I wont mention anything specific from the movie but needless to say, the plot should be the engine which drives a movie forwards and give it momentum and zeal. Unfortunately this movie was somewhat schizophrenic and couldn't quite make it's mind up about where it was going. One moment it would feel like it was heading down an interesting and thought provoking route, then all of a sudden it would trail off and descend into misplaced science fiction action/horror (never quite doing either well). Furthermore, at certain points in this movie certain characters suddenly lose all intelligence and do the most ridiculous things, putting peoples lives at obvious risk in order to push the plot along. It becomes harder to care about a character's life when they obviously don't. 

Because of all of these higgledy-piggledy and unnecessary parts of the movie, the central questions which are broached upon earlier are barely discussed. This leaves the movie feeling shallow and rushed. I don't like to be spoon fed a movie, but the amount of unanswered questions in Prometheus is nothing short of frustrating (hence the mixed  reviews which it has attracted). One of the writers, Damon Lindelof, wrote for Lost - maybe that's why there are so many questions with absolutely no answers. Scott has shown interest in making it part of a trilogy and it often does feel like Prometheus was designed in order to introduce something else and not stand alone. Unfortunately, this movie didn't live up to the promise of the viral marketing used to promote it. Case in point - 

Nowhere near it's potential but worth watching for the performances and visual effects.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Iconic Scenes - 'Made in Britain'

I've decided to stop referring to these short entries as "scene of the week" because I don't always have time to do them and they tend to be quite sporadic. So from now on they are my "iconic scenes". Knowing me I'll probably end up doing them weekly now.

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Alan Clarke is arguably up there with the most influential British directors to have ever shouted action. He was primarily a television director but his "social delinquent" trilogy - 'Scum', 'Made in Britain' and 'The Firm' - remains some of the most powerful cinema I have (and probably ever will) see. Each one covers a frustrated and violent demographic of Britain in the late 70s and 80s, people who felt left behind in a time of bleak political and economic prospects under the shadow of Thatcher's Britain. His work also broaches upon topics such as the inadequacies of our prison and school systems, racism and the mentality of the mob. Very few directors have ever shown Britain's imperfections in such a truthful light (Shane Meadows is one of these few).

The trilogy also features blistering central performances from three young actors who would go on to become some of the most talented and versatile exports that these shores have ever produced - 'the young offender' (Ray Winstone), 'the skinhead' (Tim Roth) and 'the football hooligan' (Gary Oldman). These movies are powerful and so honest that it hurts. Think twice before watching one of those watered down, hollow monstrosities (probably starring Danny Dyer) which try and emulate how raw Clarke's creations are - they always fall embarrassingly short. 

This scene (starring a 21 year old Roth in his first feature) is one of my all time favourites. The neo-nazi is like an animal in a cage, his hatred flows forth like lava as he releases a tirade against the hypocrisy and double standards of a "civilised society" which on one hand, calls for decency and yet casts the vulnerable aside with the other. His reckless hatred and racist vitriol is a stark contrast with the civilised condescension of the authority figures which confront him but, in the end, only prove his point.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Dark City

"First there was darkness. Then came the strangers. They were a race as old as time itself. They had mastered the ultimate technology. The ability to alter physical reality by will alone. They called this "Tuning". But they were dying. Their civilisation was in decline, and so they abandoned their world seeking a cure for their own mortality. Their endless journey brought them to a small, blue world in the farthest corner of the galaxy. Our world. Here they thought they had finally found what they were searching for."

'Dark city' is the creation of Alex Proyas, a man that I have had mixed feelings towards for a while now. On one hand he directed 'The Crow' and 'I, Robot', two exceptionally stylish and exhilarating written works which he brought to the big screen with fantastic precision. On the other hand he also directed 'Knowing', one of the worst movies I have ever seen. (I really can't stress this enough. It's an abhorrent, big budget black hole which managed to be both boring and cringeworthy at the same time. It also features a ridiculous performance by Nicolas Cage, in which he flitted repeatedly from tediously wooden to inexplicably mental. The horror!) It baffles me that Proyas could go from such stylish cinematic zeniths to such a crushing nadir. Thankfully 'Dark City' is of the former category.

Again, the main strength of this movie is it's rich aesthetic. As mentioned previously I have a soft spot for dystopian science fiction (hence my adoration of masterpieces like 'Blade Runner' and 'Brazil'), 'Dark City' manages to perfectly occupy that surreal corridor between science fiction and film noir. The world here is one of perpetual night and the cityscape periodically shifts and alters like clockwork under a veil of sinister shadow. There is a constant inkling that the central characters are rats in a maze, that they are being specially positioned and forced down avenues in a city which never truly feels tangible. This constant feeling of conspiracy bubbles beneath the surface throughtout.

Aside from the powerful visual and atmospheric qualities of 'Dark City', the plot is also very engaging. A man wakes up in the bath of a strange hotel room, no name, no memories and no recollection of the city around him. Soon he begins to tumble down the rabbit hole and becomes entwined with murder and manipulation. Faces and buildings keep changing and he knows there is something fundamentally wrong with this place. Proyas demonstrates with great panache an ability to write a screenplay which is fantastical and morbid in equal measure, whilst at it's core being essentially a "small guy versus the state" story. It could almost have been written by Gilliam himself...almost. It also, like all good science fiction, raises cerebral questions along the way - questions surrounding our memories, our individuality and how humans are more than the sum of their parts.

Rufus Sewell is suitably baffled yet rebellious as 'John Murdock', whilst William Hurt and Jennifer Connelly put in characteristically solid performances as the cantankerous detective and sultry love interest. But it is the darker characters which seem to have the most presence. Kiefer Sutherland completely steals the show as 'Dr Schreber', an eccentric and miry psychiatrist with a gasping voice who never seems completely trustworthy. But well judged performances aside, it will be the villains of the movie that linger in the mind.

"The Strangers" are telepathic lifefoms with a hive-mind. They move and talk in eery unison, draped in black trench coats, gliding in and out of shadow and always watching. They are pretty terrifying and the appearance of black leather on cold, white skin is reminiscent of the masochistic bondage imagery employed in 'Hellraiser'. I also believe that the Wachowski brothers owe a lot to 'Dark City'. It may have only come out a year before 'The Matrix' but I find it very hard to believe that the 'Agents' of 'The Matrix' were not heavily influenced by "The Strangers" of 'Dark City'. There is even an 'Agent Smith' like character in 'Dark City' called "Mr Hand". The plots are also very similar in many ways too. It seems that the Wachowski brothers didn't solely plunder 'Akira' and 'Ghost in the Shell' for "inspiration". This is not to say that I don't like 'The Matrix' (I don't like the sequels, but that's another thing entirely). It is a brilliant movie and so much slicker but the thing I like about 'Dark City' is that it's more subtle and thoughtful in the scenes that really count.

'Dark City' more than holds it's own against 'The Matrix', it relies more on dialogue and doesn't give you answers on a plate. It's a tremendous backdrop to become absorbed in mystery. I would recommend this movie to fans of science fiction and of surreal and morose fantasy alike. The most concise way that I can describe it is 'Memento' meets 'Metropilis'. It's a potent cocktail of clashing elements which surprisingly accentuate each other and lift the movie to a higher note. This collage of ideas and themes doesn't lend itself to great commercial success (like 'The Matrix') but it will ensure that 'Dark City' continues to be a cult classic. See you at Shell Beach. 

The following is a great video that I found which illustrates the suspicious similarities between 'The Matrix' and 'Dark City' as well as their unique strengths.  

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Scene of the Week - Rushmore

This is the brilliant revenge sequence from 'Rushmore', my personal favourite of the movies written and directed by Wes Anderson. Just like other great Anderson exports, such as "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Darjeeling Limited', this movie manages to be hysterical whilst also being apathetic and heartfelt at the same time (as you can imagine, this is an incredibly difficult and contradictory line to walk). There is nobody writing or directing in cinema today quite like Wes Anderson and this scene is very characteristic of his work.

A peculiar schoolboy (Jason Schwartzman) and a depressive millionaire (Bill Murry) fall for the same woman and they go from being unlikely friends to bitter enemies. The sequence that follows is fantastic, it's absurd the way their one-upmanship escalates to such a serious level in such a short space of time. 

Both actors really shine in 'Rushmore' - Bill Murry is particularly brilliant in his usual dry, stonefaced, man-child sort of way and Jason Schwartzman really made a name for himself in it (they have both featured regularly in Anderson's movies since, including his quirky yet faithful animated adaptation of Roald Dahl's 'The Fantastic Mr Fox'). 

I'll be writing an entry on the movies of Wes Anderson at some point in the future, he's an acquired taste but one that is certainly worth taking the time to acquire. 

Monday, 15 August 2011

Scene of the Week - La Vita è Bella

This scene is from the hilarious and tragic 'La Vita è Bella' ("Life is Beautiful"). It's plot centres around an Italian Jew named Guido who is taken, along with his family, to a concentration camp following the spread of Nazism's shadow over Italy. Guido is established early on as a slapstick character that can find the funny side of anything. Once he is in the infamous striped pyjamas he is determined to keep up appearances for his son's sake and turn the concentration camp into a game. 

The juxtaposition of Guido's silliness with the horror surrounding them is a striking contrast. Seeing the holocaust through the eyes of an innocent child is also an extremely effective lens through which to view something so tragic (as also recently shown in 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas'). At it's core this movie is about a father protecting his son and insisting that life is beautiful even though everything around them screams the contrary. At first glance some people would say that Benigni's performance is daft and that he overacts, but his entire performance is laced with desperation, fear and anguish (his mouth is smiling but his eyes are often not). This is an incredibly fine line to walk and ultimately why he is one of only three people to have ever won the Best Actor oscar for a role in a non-english speaking movie. Superb.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Scene of the Week - Annie Hall

This is the introduction to what many people believe is Woody Allen's magnum opus, 'Annie Hall'. I could have picked so many standout scenes from this movie but in the end I settled on the superb and very original opening scene. 

In it Woody Allen's character breaks what is known as the "fourth wall" and engages the audience directly, blurring the line between fiction and reality. This is a technique most commonly associated with the theatre - often a soliloquy in which a spotlight appears on the actor as they bare their soul to the audience, giving an insight into their internal monologue. This is an incredibly powerful theatrical tool and I can think of many examples where it has been used to full effect in other movies - e.g. hilariously in 'Fight Club' (splicing pornography into children's movies) and disturbingly in Michael Haneke's incredibly original 'Funny Games' (the wink and the dead dog).   

The other amazing thing about this introduction is that within the space of about two minutes you already have a very accurate sense of him, a feat which some film makers can't ever really achieve in two hours. He tells you his character. This may sound trivial but only a very gifted comedic writer and actor could do this with any real sincerity and natural flair.

Woody Allen would be a fantastic topic for a future blog entry, he's an iconic director and one of the snappiest satirical comedians ever. Movies like 'Sleeper', 'Everything you wanted to know about sex*' and 'Manhattan' are all undeniable testaments to this. Anybody who ends a sex scene with "that's the most fun I've ever had without laughing" and "I'll never play the piano again" is obviously something a bit special and worth writing about.