Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Forgetting Sarah Marshall

DIR: Nicholas Stoller • WRI: Jason Segel • PRO: Judd Apatow, Shauna Robertson • DOP: Russ T. Alsobrook • ED: William Kerr • DES: Jackson De Govia • CAST: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Russell Brand, Mila Kunis, Bill Hader

Finally, a romantic comedy that is both funny and romantic has fallen onto the big screen, and it is down to none other than the creator of Superbad and Knocked Up. It has been a while since a rom-com has done exactly what it says on the tin.

This film is the king of all comedies so far this year. It leaps straight into the main point of the film and doesn’t drag on for ages. Just a few minutes into the film and the laughter starts bursting out.

The first funny scene is definitely one for the ladies. Composer, Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) gives the audience an eyeful of, well, his bits, something not be sneered at. This all happens while he is being dumped by famous TV star girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). On advice from his half brother, Brian (Bill Hader), Peter decides to go on a break to Hawaii by himself, only to find his ex-girlfriend Sarah staying in the same hotel alongside her new musician boyfriend, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Peter puts on an ‘I don’t care, I’m so over you’ face in front of Sarah but the hysterical crying coming from his balcony at night tells the receptionist Rachel (Mila Kunis) a different story. Rachel tries to help Peter in any way she can, as she herself has been hurt in a past relationship. It is fairly obvious from the start that these two could be more than just friends. Rachel seems to be a quiet and sweet receptionist but during a date with Peter her ex-boyfriend turns up and a humorous, wild side to her suddenly pops out. There are so many funny moments throughout the film. Peter hanging from a cliff after falling when trying to decide whether to jump into the sea or not will have you in stitches.

The legend of Superbad, Jonah Hill, also stars in this classic comedy, but his character is pointless in the film. He definitely wasn’t needed and doesn’t offer anything funny.

Surprisingly, Russell Brand’s performance is very good. He plays what seems to be a sex-obsessed singer to the best of his ability. He throws in a couple of funny moments when trying to teach a guest at the resort how to make love to his wife. Amusing stuff.

There are times where the humour disappears and the serious part kicks in. For instance, when Sarah and Peter (at different times) have flashbacks of one another, it is romantic.

Jason Segel’s performance is undoubtedly one of the best in this rom-com. Kristen Bell is a good actress but she doesn’t ooze that funny factor as much as the rest of the cast.

Overall this is the best comedy around for ages. It is a must see for anyone that loves a laugh and that doesn’t mind the occasional nude scene. It will have you in stitches throughout some of its best scenes.

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Persepolis

Persepolis
Persepolis

DIR/WRI: Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud • PRO: Xavier Rigault, Marc-Antoine Robert • DOP: Darius Khondji • ED: Stéphane Roche • DES: Marisa Musy • CAST: (Voice) Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Iggy Pop, Sean Penn, Gena Rowlands

From the popular graphic novel of the same name, Persepolis is a tour de force, an animated coming-of-age tale about a young girl growing up in Iran, based on its author Marjane Satrapi’s life story. Framing the narrative are transitional airport scenes set in the present day, which ultimately carry a strong symbolism of being uprooted, and constantly in limbo, whether Marji (as she’s affectionately known) opts to return to Iran or stay as an exile in the West.

The main story begins with Marji as a small, feisty child, obsessed with Bruce Lee and wide-eyed about the political persecution of her uncles. As the political situation escalates into a full-blown revolution, with the toppling of the Shah, for a brief period it looks like the dawn of a new, democratic era. Khomeini, however, is installed, and the country is plunged into a religious, orthodox rule. Marji’s parents send her abroad to Vienna to be safe. After a shaky start, Marji makes friends with a group of metal-rocking, nihilistic French teens, but she never shakes the sense of her otherness. Blossoming into a young woman, she experiences her first heartbreak, with near fatal consequences, and ends up back in Iran, but to her dismay, she finds she is again the outsider. Especially hard to accustom to are the new, oppressive codes of dress and conduct imposed on women, and the still independent-minded Marji knows she can’t survive in such an environment.

The visuals stay true to the graphic novel’s style, with various influences readily apparent: the swirly, gothic renditions of trees and architecture have a Burtonesque feel; the adolescent transition is conveyed via a cubist sequence, and Picasso’s vision can also be felt in the Guernica black, white and grey tones. Munch’s ‘Scream’ finds a re-imagining in Marji’s own silent scream. The political complexity is conveyed in a very simplified but surprisingly to-the-point summary, and besides, Marji’s story, no matter how rooted in the political, is primarily a personal one.

The film’s greatest achievement is in conveying the pluck and heart of this headstrong heroine, and her loss of will to live is a tragic indictment of a regime that failed all of its people. The tone is very much in the tragi-comedic register – several heart-wrenching moments are mitigated by an exuberant, humane humour. Moments that stand out for their comic genius are Marji’s perusing of the black market for music tapes, with the suspicious-looking Arab men each barking out their respective bands; also funny is the life drawing class in Marji’s Teheran art school, where instead of a nude model, a girl dressed from head to foot in a burqa offers little in terms of anatomical training. Marji’s main source of solace is her Grandma, who is a mentor figure and partner in crime, whether it’s accompanying her to the cinema for the likes of Godzilla, or cheering her up about her impending divorce. And it is Grandma’s advice on keeping fresh jasmine flowers in your brassiere that echoes again at the end of the film, as we see Marji once again at a crossroads, missing her Grandma’s wise presence. There’s no tidy ending, with a happy-ever-after (how could there, given the present situation in Iran?), but Marji has come to certain realisations, and that’s a start. In that light, the ending is both fitting and realistic.

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Funny Games U.S.

Funny Games U.S
Funny Games U.S

DIR/WRI: Michael Haneke • PRO: Christian Baute, Andro Steinborn, Chris Coen, Hamish McAlpine • DOP: Darius Khondji • DES: Kevin Thompson • CAST: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart

Funny Games U.S. is Austrian director Michael Haneke’s shot-for-shot American remake of his 1996 film of the same title, in which a middle-class family are terrorised in their holiday home by two effete, creepy young men (played by Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet), who occasionally break the fourth wall for Brechtian asides intended to point out that we’re watching people suffering for our entertainment. It’s an interesting choice for a remake of one of his own films, because Hollywood produces just the kind of films that presumably inspired this one, thus making an American version more on-target. The fact that the title acknowledges its remake status at least shows a commendable honesty.

The film itself is extremely well-made. There’s a gradual tension built up largely through slow, wide shots, seemingly mundane actions (with the occasional rather obvious planting of set-ups – though these are subverted somewhat later on), and eerie performances. There’s also some fine acting from Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Devon Gearhart, which almost justifies the remake.

There’s very little onscreen violence, but lots of tension (who knew the Nokia theme could sound chilling?), and pain, which is harder to endure than good old no-consequences blockbuster violence. It’s all bathed in a milky white light (at least during the daytime), both through art direction and lighting. This has several effects – one is to make it look more European, another is presumably stylistic, representing a cleanness that will be sullied, and of course, it’s unsettling, and untypical of American movies of this type. There’s a stillness that brings a feeling of menace from the very beginning.

The original film polarised critics when it came out. Possibly it was hated for offering little in the way of hope (and in places explicitly denying the audience hope), or because at times you get the feeling the director is judging the audience for watching his film. It has points to make about screen violence, but whether it succeeds in making those points is open to debate. It would be interesting to see how fans of torture porn would take to this movie, but they may not get a chance to see it, as it’s likely to be showing mostly to art-house crowds.

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Awake

Awake
Awake

DIR/WRI: Joby Harold • PRO: Jason Kliot, John Penotti, Fisher Stevens, Joana Vicente • DOP: Russell Carpenter • ED: Craig McKay • DES: Dina Goldman • CAST: Hayden Christensen, Jessica Alba, Terrence Howard, Lena Olin

Poor Jessica Alba. It seems no matter how many films she stars in, none of them ever really seem to set the world alight (Sin City perhaps being the only exception). True to this pattern, Awake, the directorial debut of Joby Harold, will fail to do so either. Working on a rather interesting premise – that of patient, Clay Beresford (played by Hayden Christensen), still being awake during an operation, in a state of ‘anesthetic awareness’. The film opens with figures for the numbers of patients who encounter this every year – ‘Every year, one in 700 people wake up during surgery’ – and indeed this is a scary notion for anybody who has had surgery or may need to in the future. Yet, soon into Awake, Harold’s script loses focus and purpose and what started as an interesting examination of an altogether unnerving personal experience turns into a messy, stunted thriller.

While Joby Harold’s script suffers from a lack of direction and proper structure, the characters on show are all so underwritten and two-dimensional that come the film’s not altogether spectacular but somewhat interesting plot twists, the audience will care very little. Christensen, playing the film’s protagonist Clay Berseford, a young billionaire, is rather wooden and that monotone voice of his, so irritating in the Star Wars trilogy, comes back to haunt the viewer once again. His performance seems committed, but the script gives him so little to work with it that it’s no surprise his performance comes off uncommitted. The same goes for the film’s other stars, Jessica Alba as his wife, Sam Lockwood and Terence Howard as his best friend Dr. Jack Harper (Clay clearly doesn’t have many on the basis of their friendship). Awake isn’t terrible yet much of the blame for the film’s faults must lie with director and scriptwriter Harold. The romance between Alba’s character and Christensen’s is stunted and awkward and Lena Olin as Lillith Beresford, Clay’s mother, is perhaps the only person to come out of Awake with their acting credentials improved. Harold abandons what appeared the initial premise of the film, a worrying operation situation, being awake while under the knife, to pursue an ill-thought out thriller of double-crosses and triple-crosses. Unfortunately, many of the twists are signposted in advance and all of the characters suffer from Harold’s lack of directorial focus. In the midst of Awake, a good story was waiting to be told but got muddled as Harold tried to weave a thriller with little or no script. One hopes Christensen, Howard and indeed Alba make better career choices in the future. Too many more of these and they may all fall off the Hollywood radar.

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There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood
There Will Be Blood

DIR/WRI: Paul Thomas Anderson • PRO: Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Lupi, JoAnne Sellar • DOP: Robert Elswit • ED: Dylan Tichenor • DES: Jack Fisk • CAST: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier

Something strange has been happening to US cinema as of late. At some point towards the end of last year, Hollywood remembered how to make great films. In the past few months we’ve been treated to some excellent work from all ends of the cinematic spectrum. Juno has shown that you don’t need big stars to make a successful comedy, while on a bigger budget, Cloverfield has offered the YouTube generation their own Star Wars experience. Meanwhile, The Assassination of Jesse James and the Coen Brother’s No Country for Old Men have legitimised the western for the 21st Century and given the Oscars their best selection in years. There Will Be Blood, the new film by Paul Thomas Anderson (his first in five years) sits comfortably alongside the latter two, but may outshine both of them. Already hailed as the best film of last year by countless American critics, showered with awards, and a solid bet for at least one Oscar, the film arrives here with a considerable burden of expectation. That some critics have compared it to Citizen Kane should be indication enough of the film’s pedigree.

It’s not a bad comparison – a lengthy, complex and rich American epic set in the early 20th Century, There Will Be Blood is pure cinema, but at the same time genuinely unlike anything you will have ever seen before. An astonishing opening sequence sets the tone – essentially, it is an eleven-minute silent masterpiece unto itself, as we witness Anderson’s protagonist Daniel Plainview searching for silver. Entirely free of dialogue, the sequence is instead imbued with a sense of dread and power by Johnny Greenwood’s remarkable score. Following Plainview as he builds his oil business, at the cost of the life of one of his workers, it is nearly a quarter of an hour before he opens his mouth; but when he does, what a voice it is. As Plainview, Daniel Day- Lewis gives a towering performance that should go down as one of the finest in cinema history. Even by Day-Lewis’s impeccable standards, Plainview is an extraordinary creation; a man who claims to value family but uses his adopted son as a sales pitch. A man who hates everyone, yet demands their attention, be it in the form of love, respect or fear. A man whose desire for power extends beyond oil, beyond wealth and beyond reason, he is rarely anything less than pure evil, but he avoids caricature. The plot, and the outside world, run alongside Plainview, occasionally interfering with his plans but never stopping him from getting what he wants. Plainview is not merely the subject of the film, he is the film.

By 1911, Plainview has established himself as a wealthy, charismatic entrepreneur, and has moved into the oil business with his adopted son H.W. as his partner. After a tip from a local, Plainview arrives at a small town called Little Boston, and begins buying land in order to drill the oil that lies underneath it. There, he is met with little opposition except for Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). Sunday, whose family own a crucial piece of land, is a teenage preacher who wants Plainview to pay part of the oil money towards his church. How the relationship between the two develops alongside the creation of 20th Century American capitalism is the driving force behind one of the most vital, bold and fascinating films of recent years. Alongside Day-Lewis, Paul Dano is not to be overlooked; in a terrific breakthrough performance, he infuses his scrawny teenage frame with fiery intensity whilst in his church, and acts as a cold, calm foil to Plainview’s bellowing outside of it. The two characters show the ugly side of two principles on which modern America was built; capitalism and religion, and the two’s uneasy relationship with another. For Sunday, commerce is a means for him to spread his message, while for Plainview, religion is simply another sales tool. It’s a compelling, darkly humorous competition.

Anderson, best known for his superb ensemble pieces Magnolia and Boogie Nights, is on new territory here. While there are occasional similarities with his earlier work – the sudden, shocking burst of violence recalls the climax of Boogie Nights for example – this is a far more mature and concentrated work. The self-conscious cleverness which accompanied Magnolia’s key moments is entirely absent here – there’s no raining frogs, no cast sing-along. Instead, There Will Be Blood offers filmmaking and storytelling in the purest, most electrifying form possible, and positions Anderson as one of the most fascinating directors working today. It’s a tough film, and one that values character over plot, but rewards attention and suggests that further viewings are required to understand all of its nuances and themes.

Nothing more clearly illustrates the film’s difficult, divisive qualities than its ending. Though it deals with familiar themes – the dark side of the American dream, a man driven mad by greed – there is nothing about the film that treads on traditional narrative ground. Just as the wordless opening sequence catches you off guard, so does Anderson’s earth-shattering climax, as Plainview mutates into a new kind of monster. It’s a truly surprising, memorable moment, complete with a catchphrase (‘I drink your milkshake!’) that has already earned the film infamy in the States. Rest assured, there’s truth in the title.

A truly staggering work, There Will Be Blood is a film loaded with fascinating contradictions. Visually, it’s stunning, Anderson painting grimy but beautiful landscapes. Greenwood’s score varies from dominating industrious noise one minute to graceful classicism the next. The performances, while there may not be many of them (Plainview is such an all-consuming figure that there are few speaking parts besides him and Sunday) are uniformly superb. And the screenplay feels like a vast epic, despite the film only really focusing on one man, who, at the heart of it all, has a character that is made up of some of the biggest contradictions of all. It’s a fascinating, challenging masterpiece, and essential viewing for anyone serious about the art of film.

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Waz

Waz
Waz

DIR: Tom Shankland• WRI: • PRO: Michael Casey, Allan Niblo, James Richardson • DOP: Morten Søborg • ED: Tim Murrell • DES: Ashleigh Jeffers • CAST: Stellan Skarsgård, Melissa George, Selma Blair, Ashley Walters, Tom Hardy, Paul Kaye

‘There will be pain.’ What Waz promises, it delivers. Waz is going to be a divisive picture, people will either dismiss it as ‘torture porn’ or look at it for what it is: a smart, well-made entertaining horror-thriller that is at turns harrowing, clever and brutal. Filmed on location in New York and Belfast, location is utilized brilliantly, reflecting the characters’ interior lives – Stellan Skarsgård’s hardboiled, tormented detective, Melissa George’s emotionally scarred rookie and the maniacal glee of Selma Blair perfectly mirror the grainy cityscape.

When the body of a pregnant woman is fished out of a river with the letters ‘Waz’ carved into her stomach, Argo (Skarsgård) and squeamish rookie Westcott (Melissa George) are assigned the case. ‘Waz’ is part of an equation that proves there is no such thing as altruism in nature. The killer is coercing people into torturing their loved ones to death. When Westcott discovers a former case was thrown out of court, she realises that Argo and the killer share a deadly secret.

Waz is the directorial debut of writer Clive Bradley and director Tom Shankland and one of the most interesting and thought-provoking films of the year. Could you butcher a loved one? Selma Blair seethes pure hatred, but Melissa George is unfortunately given very little to do, which is a shame because her character is intriguing. Skarsgård is the real gem of the film and he shines (or bleeds profusely) in the film’s nihilistic denouement.

The film has moderately good direction, excellent camera-work and it will be interesting to see where this director goes next. But be warned, this film is at times excruciating to watch.
Waz works because it seems to be quite straightforward; the killer showing up thirty minutes into the film, the noirish story-specifics which lead you to believe that you know where the writer is taking you only for you to stand on a plot landmine which detonates in your face. A unique indie horror/thriller, if only other horror writers and directors would take note, perhaps we could occasionally be given horror with a mind (and a heart) behind it.

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Be Kind Rewind

Be Kind Rewind
Be Kind Rewind

DIR/WRI: Michel Gondry • PRO: Georges Bermann, Julie Fong, Ann Ruark • DOP: Ellen Kuras • ED: Jeff Buchanan • DES: Dan Leigh • CAST: Jack Black, Mos Def, Danny Glover, Mia Farrow, Melonie Diaz

This new movie from director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is another quirky, off-centre motion picture that has a life and originality all of its own. While maybe not being quite up to the task of filling out the 100-minute running time, the basic concept of the film and its obvious charms make it an entertaining, watchable and fun flick for the not-too-critical viewer.

Jerry (Jack Black) is an off-the-wall, paranoid and eccentric (to say the least), junkyard worker who believes his brain is being melted by the local power plant. He is sure this is a government conspiracy to control his every thought and brainwash his already demented mind.

While attempting to sabotage the local plant with comical stealth at night he is electrocuted by a massive pylon that proceeds to magnetize his whole body and spin him in the air for a bit too.

The next day he visits his friend Mike (Mos Def) who works in the local run-down video store that still rents out only VHS tapes. While the two are chatting in the shop Jerry inadvertently magnetizes all the videotapes by just being in the general vicinity of them and every rental movie is completely erased. This all happens while the store’s owner, played by Danny Glover, is away on a business trip.

The two friends go into a complete panic over the blanked tapes and cannot see a way out of their predicament. A loyal customer (Mia Farrow) attempts to rent out Ghostbusters and Mike tells her he will have it the next day. After phoning around to attempt to acquire the movie and coming up a blank, Mike asks Jerry to help him film their own version of Ghostbusters and try to fob it off as the real thing.

Surprisingly, the woman likes their version and word gets around about the miniscule-budgeted remake. Soon Mike and Jerry are being asked to make their own versions of a collection of classic movies as requested by customers. They call them ‘Sweded’ when completed and charge higher rental fees for them too. King Kong, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rush Hour 2 and countless others are on their remake list. They are soon using the help of local people as cast and crew. Business booms until they are handed a writ pertaining to an infringement of copyright law by a government agent, played by Sigourney Weaver, raining on their parade.

All is not lost however, when Mike, Jerry and many locals help in making a movie about the life of jazz pianist Fats Waller, who was brought up in the area. It’s not a remake so they believe they can legally get away with this one.

Although it’s probably not worthy of a second viewing, this movie provides pretty fair entertainment value and can be forgiven for being a bit sloppy and dragging in places. There are enough laugh-out-loud moments to carry the film through these dips and Jack Black is always a hoot to watch. It’s not a classic by any stretch of the imagination but give it a shot and I don’t think you’ll feel let down!

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Meet the Spartans

Meet the Spartans
Meet the Spartans

DIR/WRI: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer • PROD: Jason Friedberg, Peter Safran, Aaron Seltzer • DOP: Shawn Maurer • ED: Peck Prior • DES: William A. Elliott • CAST: Sean Maguire, Carmen Electra, Ken Davitian, Nicole Parker, Kevin Sorbo

Strange things are happening to me. For instance, this morning: without any warning whilst loitering in the lobby of the Savoy cinema, the shrill house alarm system was triggered, and for no good reason. Not especially uncommon I hear you say. It got stranger. Immediately after the final credits, whilst beating my hasty retreat down the steps to the foyer, suddenly the projectionist loomed up, stammering ‘It’s n-n-not over yet, I’m after skipping the second last reel.’ We were duly paraded back into the auditorium to view the missing ten-minute segment. Never before in my short and somewhat grubby career have I experienced such a strangely disjunctive movie experience. Now you need to bear with me here, because reflecting on this morning’s events, they have morphed – ahem – into extraordinary missives from ‘beyond the grave’. I now believe these manifestations were extra sensory perceptions, transcended from the realm of the cinematic gods – those vexatious, undead directors, scriptwriters and actors who protect our sensibilities from beyond the celluloid, behind the silver screen and from within the very folds of the rich, ruby velvet.

It has been three days now and I still believe that those restless souls fully intended to scupper the press screening. But what could it have been that enraged them so? Are Altman, Hitchock and Kubrick communicating to their progeny by manipulating the natural order here in the mortal realm? Have filmmakers, Jason Freidburg and Aaron Seltzer (Scary Movie, Spy Hard, Date Movie, Epic Movie), insulted their memory by stepping over an invisible line? Or is it just another frat movie? Let’s dig in…

In structure, Meet the Spartans is basically a cheap rip-off of 300, loosely following the plot of the original film. Expect lots of juvenile gags, bodily fluids, crummy slapstick and questionable ‘funnies’ and ‘lookelikees’ performing over-the-top parodies of their more famous counterparts. Notably K-fed, Britney, Paris and Lindsey come in for major schtick. The overall effect is a confused and corny mishmash. A homoerotic ‘subtext’ is evident throughout; the standard greeting for the men is a french-kiss. All women are untrustworthy and promiscuous, and therefore obliged to wear chastity belts. Meanwhile ‘ripped’ pretty boys smothered in baby oil and sporting black leather jockstraps prance into battle. By contrast, their rivals the Persians are theoretically represented as ‘the other’, with dark cloaks and hideous masks with long hooked noses. Ha-bloody-ha.

God knows I tried, I really wanted to laugh, but I couldn’t even muster a solitary snigger. I must confess that neither did I detect a snort, chuckle nor mild titter from the assembled audience. However, the most irritating thing about this flick is the product-placement pandemic – sweet jehova, save us from corporate bean counters – I counted over thirty different US multinational companies. One (of many) especially stomach-churning scene brought the entire assembled cast together for a song and dance number about a beer brand, which shall remain nameless, whilst clutching replica red and white cans. All of which I felt was about as well-conceived as a chocolate teapot.

Unfortunately, Meet The Spartans is not even a scintilla as good as benchmark anarchic slapstick classics (Think Airplane, Kingpin, Ace Ventura) and this is important. If major US studios think they can churn out substandard films, using product-placement to cover the cost of scatter-shot television advertising as a route to box office success, then they, like the Spartans themselves, are doomed.

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