Brazil

Somewhere in the 20th Century, the world has become an Orwellian dystopia of farcical proportions. In a world where no mistakes are acknowledged, a random swatted fly falling into a typewriter causes a man named Buttle to be arrested in place of rogue terrorist heating engineer Harry Tuttle (Robert De Niro). Tasked with tying up the error’s loose ends is Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), a menial yet essential worker within the Department of Records who his boss Mr. Kurtzmann (Ian Holm) would be lost without if he were ever promoted. Sam finds his quest to rectify the situation exacerbated by the likes of his plastic surgery-obsessed mother (Katherine Helmond), less than efficient government-employed heating technicians (Bob Hoskins & Derrick O’Connor), executive desk trinkets and his own dreams which see him flying around saving his literal dream girl (Kim Greist) from monstrous demons.
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The Crying Game

A small group of IRA members take an English soldier captive and attempt to trade him for one of their own who is being held hostage elsewhere. During his captivity, the soldier, named Jody (Forest Whitaker) befriends one of his captors, a man named Fergus (Stephen Rea), and makes him promise that, should Jody not survive his ordeal, then Fergus must track down Jody’s partner, Dil, and tell her Jody was thinking of her when he died. Whilst the hostage negotiations don’t turn out necessarily as anyone expected, Fergus still finds himself tracking Dil down, but he didn’t expect to fall for her himself. Continue reading

Kate Winslet: Naturist

Kate Winslet, it seems, is more than just a disembodied pair of breasts that sporadically unveil themselves at inopportune moments in movies. Apparently there is a voice associated with those mammaries (and therefore, one assumes, a mouth, tongue, trachea and who knows how many other body parts too), and it is a voice that has become familiar to the public at large. It was only natural then that the lady in question would use said voice within films, as is the case here with two semi-documentary dramas that focus heavily on nature: The Fox And The Child and Pride. After all, it’s no secret that voice acting is a great deal easier than full-body acting, as there’s no hours of make-up, preparation of scenes and lighting or extravagant costumes to put on (or take off, as the case may be). Unfortunately, the appeal of an easy job can cause a lull in judgement in choosing said work, as is the case with both of these films. Continue reading

Iris

Iris Murdoch (Judi Dench), the celebrated British author, is writing her 26th, and ultimately last, novel, Jackson’s Dilemma, when she begins to experience the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Her husband, John Bayley (Jim Broadbent), always the less dominant half of the couple, struggles to cope with the situation and care for his wife. Meanwhile, we see the beginnings of their relationship, as their younger selves (Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville) meet as students at Oxford University whilst she attempts to get her first novel published.
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Gangs of New York

New York, 1846. Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson), the leader of a group of Irishmen going by the name of the Dead Rabbits, has roused other rival gangs to join together and fight Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), the leader of the tyrannical New York Natives, over ownership of the Five Points. When Neeson is slain, his son escapes and leaves the city, returning sixteen years later as Leonardo DiCaprio, who understandably has a score to settle with Bill over his father’s murder.

I can see what Martin Scorsese was trying to do here, basically a mid-19th century Goodfellas, but if Henry Hill had a vendetta against Paulie, but unfortunately he was quite a way off the mark. Whilst Gangs of New York isn’t a bad film, it’s no match for Goodfellas in terms of story and generally being awesome. What Gangs does have, though, is a lot more violence, and of course Daniel Day-Lewis in full on mental mode. His Bill Cutting is easily the best and most memorable aspect of the film, with his hair plastered immobile to his scalp, with his fringe greased down and intimidating moustache twisted up. As always, Day-Lewis gives an intense, extreme yet believable performance as the film’s most rounded character, and the fact that he lost to Adrien Brody for The Pianist (one of ten Oscar nominations the film failed to pick up trophies for) is beyond me, though Brody should definitely have been nominated. Bill is, at times, downright terrifying, most notably during the knife-throwing scene, where his “Whoopsy-daisy!” sends a shiver down my spine, and waking up to see Daniel Day-Lewis, draped in the American flag, may well soon be a recurring nightmare of mine.

By comparison, DiCaprio’s Amsterdam is something of a disappointing hero, dithering about with Cameron Diaz’s petty thief Jenny, who also happens to have a connection with Bill, as he quickly rises through the ranks of New York’s gang culture. He’s a bit bland to be honest, although really who wouldn’t be when compared to Bill the Butcher? and the dance scene he and Diaz share is insipid and awkward, far more than I feel it should be. The supporting cast fares better, comprised of the likes of Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly and Brendan Gleeson, as well as Henry Thomas (Elliot from E.T.!), Stephen Graham and Eddie Marsan making up the lower ranks, but all making their marks. 

The script is largely good and often quotable, with such gems as “You see this knife? I’m going to teach you to speak English with this f**king knife!”, “She’s a prim-looking star-gazer,” and my personal favourite, “I don’t give a tuppenny f**k about your moral conundrum you meat-headed sh*t sack!” The occasional black comedy was nice – the town has 37 individually run fire departments, who spend more time brawling over who gets to fight the fires than they do actually putting the fires out, and Broadbent’s politician’s solution to people hassling him is to hang some people – but no-one important of course. And there’s so much floor-spitting it’s a wonder everyone doesn’t have to walk around in wellington boots.

I feel I must mention the violence in this film, as there’s an awful lot more than I was expecting. At times it’s fairly comical – Neeson’s priest setting bludgeoning people about the heads with his cross – but elsewhere it’s less appreciated, for example a woman who rips off ears (she then uses them as a form of payment at the local bar), and there are far more animal carcasses than I really wanted to see. This is only to be expected – Bill is a butcher, after all, but we see more here than during a Rocky training montage. Along with the violence and dead pigs, there’s also enough racism to make even Prince Philip blush. No racial slur goes uncussed.

My main problem with this film is the lack of subtlety. There’s a pretty blatant metaphor spelled out in the opening scene, as Neeson recounts to his son the tale of St. Michael, who cast Satan out of paradise. It becomes pretty clear than in this parable, DiCaprio is to play the part of the saint, Cutting is Satan (his main office is referred to as Satan’s Circus) and paradise is New York, more specifically Paradise Square, the centre of the Five Points. This metaphor is handled pretty heavily, and flashing back to this opening scene every time Amsterdam encounters someone from his childhood really doesn’t help. I approved of the parallels between the two warring sides – they both pray to the same God, as do the law enforcement out to stop them, all believing they are on the side of justice and their Lord. The politics wasn’t bad either, though again it was less subtle than it could have been, with conscripts to the civil war boarding onto a boat as coffins are simultaneously unloaded from it directly in front of them.

The scale of the scenes is very impressive, with hundreds of extras across multiple storeys of buildings and far into the distance, occasionally pyrotechnics and a hell of a lot going on. This, along with Daniel Day-Lewis, is the only part of the film really worth watching for, so I can’t recommend it all that much.

Choose life 6/10

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Yep, the questionably necessary fourth Indiana Jones instalment is on the List. And if anyone has any problem with that (like me, for example) then the only place to point the finger of blame is at the public, as the List it appears on is the one voted for by Empire readers. Granted, the film came out in 2008, the year the poll was taken, so many readers who may have only ever seen 10 films would have been forced to put it in their top 10. This also explains the inclusion of Transformers and Juno on the same list, and it’s pretty much assured that if the poll were taken again, these films would be unlikely to retain their positions. But the important thing is that the film is on there, and I had to watch it.

When I first saw the film in the cinema, on the weekend it was released, I didn’t actually think it was that terrible. Hell, if anything I enjoyed it, and left the theatre happy and fulfilled. Granted, it was certainly no Raiders of the Lost Ark, or even The Last Crusade, but it was a damn sight more fun than The Temple of Doom. I was somewhat shocked to discover that these feelings were not necessarily shared by the rest of the world, but now, after a couple more viewings, I have realised my mistake.
For me, the film has four main problems, all of which I’m sure have been covered many times before, but not by me. Firstly, the movie seems to be completely devoid of a strong narrative path. It’s more like a bunch of scenes that the writers thought would look cool, all strung together without really flowing into one another. On their own, or within a more cohesive plot, some of them would work fine. Case in point: the opening, in which Indy (Harrison Ford) and his ally Mac (Ray Winstone) are taken to the warehouse at the end of Raiders in search of a sporadically magnetic alien skull, is in itself a pretty entertaining scene, and a great way to start off the film. The use of Indiana’s instantly recognisable profile (when he’s wearing the hat, anyway) is well implemented, and the eventual chase through the warehouse is frenetic and action-packed, even if Ford no longer looks like he’s quite as capable of offing army thugs as he used to be. After this scene, we go straight into the now infamous fridge-nuke catastrophe, a scene which has no place in any film, let alone directly after a really fun, if a little silly, opening action sequence. This problem occurs again later, when some pages from a low-budget 80s B-movie are accidentally stapled in, when out hero finds himself in quicksand, a genre staple that I’m fairly sure has been made illegal.

The second problem, and this is a big one, is Shia LaBoeuf. The man is a scourge to cinema. Every film he touches becomes a travesty. Seriously, look down the guy’s resume and you’ll find some of the worst reviewed films of the past few years: the Transformers sequels, Charlie’s Angels 2, Dumb and Dumberer. If he’s the sidekick or plays only a small part in the film, he’s the worst character or in the worst part (I, Robot, Constantine, Bobby) and yet, he still makes movies. In fact, he’s soon to appear in Lawless, in which I can only imagine Tom Hardy will overshadow him in every way possible as the two play brothers. Honestly, the film is going to put LaBeouf up against Gary Oldman! Though I sincerely hope that Shia’s performance in Lawless blows me away, insomuch as he wins an academy award for it, I highly doubt this will be the case, and it may even ruin that film, that I’m otherwise looking forward to, for me. In Crystal Skull, LaBeouf plays Mutt Williams. If you’re a fan of the Indy franchise, it should come as no surprise that (SPOILER) Mutt is Indy’s son, mainly because Indiana is famously named after his own father’s dog, and Mutt is of course another term for a canine. From his costume, it’s clear LaBeouf is foolishly attempting to emulate Marlon Brando from The Wild One, which he pulls off to absolutely no effect, and if anything it’s a reminder of just how terrible LaBeouf is. The fact that there were rumours suggesting this film would see the handing over of the reigns from Ford to LaBeouf to continue the saga still give me nightmares to this day. I’m almost tempted to announce Mutt as being more annoying than Short Round. Almost.

The Mutt/Indy connection brings me on to my third issue. Crystal Skull tries far too hard to be a member of the Indiana Jones family. I’ve got nothing against a sequel making subtle references to it’s predecessors, offering knowing nods and winks to fans, but here there is far too much time spent to this effect. Whilst Karen Allen, returning as Raiders’ love interest Marion Ravenwood, Mutt’s mother, is a nice touch and offers a believable romance with Indy that you are willing to at times root for, there were all too many moments and scenes that felt like the film-makers were just trying too hard to make it an Indy film. Unfortunately, they only succeeded in making it seem more like the parodies of the Indiana films that filled the gap during it’s 21-year hiatus. This felt far more like National Treasure 3 or The Mummy 4 than an Indy film.
Finally, there’s just too many characters and subplots fighting for screen time. Jim Broadbent filled in for the sadly departed Denholm Elliot as Indy’s fellow university staff member, and John Hurt was a nice inclusion as a crazy old former colleague, but both felt very sidelined, as did Ray Winstone, who should have been pretty integral to the plot. Sadly, they, and Cate Blanchett’s questionably accented Ukrainian skull-hunter were at times almost forgotten in favour of Jones’ relationships with Marion and Mutt.
There were ways that the film could have been fixed. Raiders and Crusade proved that Indy doesn’t need a sidekick, and Temple proved that he shouldn’t have one, so nixing Mutt is pretty much a given. At least 2 scenes should have been cut, as the film feels like it runs at half an hour longer than it’s two hour runtime. I’d suggest the fridge and the diner scene with Mutt. Keep Marion, but make her be in love with John Hurt’s Oxley or Winstone’s Mac, to give Indy a bit of rivalry, and change that goddamn ending. About five minutes before the end of the film, when I first saw it in cinemas I burst out with raucous laughter at how ridiculous the climax was, and this time around it felt even more ludicrous.All that being said, it’s not exactly a horrible film, there are some entertaining sequences – I really enjoyed the jungle-set car chase, up until Mutt starts swinging with the CGI monkeys for no reason whatsoever – and it’s always thrilling to see Harrison Ford wearing a fedora, even if its not the only thing looking a bit dusty these days. I always used to defend the film for being good, just not when compared to the rest of the franchise, but I now know that even if you take it on it’s own, it still really isn’t worth it.

Choose life 5/10

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 & 2

I’m a strange breed of muggle. I’ve seen all the Harry Potter films, most in the cinema. I’ve read all the books. Hell, I own them. Double hell, I was first in line queueing up outside Morrison’s on the morning book 7 was released. But I wouldn’t call myself a Harry Potter fan. So why have I kept with it? I read the first book in school, and found the wizarding world to be quite wonderful, a dream of a place to escape to. Granted, by the time the much darker later books came along I became much happier that this world of dictatorial terrorists with almighty magical powers didn’t actually exist (or so I’m led to believe) but back then it was nothing short of fun, and the fact that I was of a similar age to the protagonist when the books were released made it all the more so.
The books were perfect for film adaptations, and the stylistic choices throughout the series have been close to faultless. Most of the negative aspects, other than the questionable acting abilities of the children early on in the franchise, can be blamed on the books being too labyrinthine to be condensed down into a 150-minute movie, and there are arguments to make as to whether each book would have been better off as a TV series, but it’s doubtful they’d have received such a hefty budget or impressive cast, or made nearly as much money.
Of the films, part 3, Prisoner of Azkaban, is widely regarded as the best, with director Alfonso Cuaron unleashing the franchise’s dark potential, redirecting away from Chris Columbus’ more child-friendly first parts, but personally I prefer part 4, Goblet of Fire, because it’s easily the most fun and structured, following the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and it has dragons in it, which are awesome. Parts 5 and 6 are, in my opinion, the weakest, with my reasoning being that I can barely remember anything that happens in them other than some character deaths and casting decisions, but the final films really kick things into gear.
Many have questioned the decision to split the final book into two halves, citing financial gain as being the true reason, but having seen the results I approve of the choice. Whilst the earlier books could stand to lose some of the lesser plot points without the plot suffering, the amount of closure given in the finale could not have been achieved with a similar level of editing. Whilst the total runtime for the final two films could have been a little shorter than the 4½ hours achieved here, getting it down to a length the core Potter audience would be willing to sit through without complaining would have resulted in almost catastrophic levels of cutting.
The most impressive aspect of the film franchise has always been the cast. Whilst the three leads, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, were never expected to be incredible actors (and, for the most part, lived up to this promise) the film studios ensured this wouldn’t be a problem by surrounding their stars with almost every British actor working today, with more added every film. To list them all would be senseless, but the fact that, Richard Harris’ untimely demise notwithstanding, every actor returned to their roles for every subsequent film shows that the films must have been great to work on too.The Deathly Hallows alone saw the inclusion of Bill Nighy, David O’Hara, Rhys Ifans, Ciarin Hinds and Nick Moran into a cast already including the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs and Maggie Smith, and the fact that so many notable actors returned for such minuscule roles is incredible. Jim Broadbent, John Hurt and Emma Thompson are barely on screen, but the fact is they are.
Part 7 is the only one of all eight films not to feature Hogwarts, the wizarding school where our young heroes are taught, and therefore doesn’t feel like part of the Potter pantheon. Freed from the structure of lessons, Quidditch matches and Harry being picked on by Slytherin, the film feels a little meandering, as Harry, Ron and Hermione scour the country looking for a series of magical Maguffins, horcruxes, that for one reason or another must be destroyed to help bring down the evil Lord Voldemort. The film opens strongly, with Harry’s escape from his home assisted by his wizarding friends transformed to be replicas of him, but it’s not until a later infiltration of the Ministry of Magic that any more excitement is had. There’s an awful lot of tension and relationship issues, exacerbated by a locket that builds negative feelings in whoever wears it (so… put it in a bag rather than wear it?) and a particularly cringeworthy scene wear Harry attempts to alleviate some tension by dancing with Hermione in a tent, but it feels empty without the action-balance provided by the second film. The brief animation, depicting the origins of the Deathly Hallows that grant the owner power over death, is easily the highlight of the series in total.
If watched as one long film, the two halves join together to form a perfectly balanced picture, with the final hour-long battle a rewarding epic culmination after a mammoth build-up, so if watching make sure to set aside the best part of an afternoon, however just watching part 8 alone is also acceptable. The infiltration of Bellatrix Lestrange’s Gringott’s vault, with Helena Bonham Carter gleefully impersonating Emma Watson, is tremendous fun (there’s another dragon!) and now they’ve got all the teenage angst and worrying out of the way it’s time for good and evil to get scrapping. The finale is equal parts devastating and spellbinding, as the regular cast is treated with a sporadic survival rate, literally anyone is up for the chop, up to and including Hogwarts itself, as various sets we’ve grown to feel at home in are burned to the ground. Some aspects of the battle feel crowbarred in – Mrs. Weasley’s showdown against Lestrange, Ron and Hermione’s inevitable kiss – but for the most part it’s a cinematic marvel that doesn’t disappoint.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1: Choose life: 6/10
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 : Choose film 7/10
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 & 2: Choose film 8/10