Big Eyes

Big-Eyes-Movie-Pictures1

DIR: Tim Burton • WRI: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski • PRO: Scott Alexander, Tim Burton, Lynette Howell, Larry Karaszewski • DOP: Bruno Delbonnel • ED: JC Bond • DES: Rick Heinrichs • MUS: Danny Elfman • CAST: Christoph Waltz, Amy Adams, Krysten Ritter

As unfair as this is on the man, the best Tim Burton films are often the least Burtonesqueone. While the cartoonish Gothic shtick has certainly served him well – most obviously in his early career – many would surely agree it has led to rather diminishing returns in more recent times. He’s clearly a talented, individual director, but one who dances perilously close to self-parody on occasion. That’s not even mentioning the something of an over-reliance on certain collaborators, no matter how ill-suited they are to the task at hand.

 

That’s why it’s refreshing on those rare occasions when he breaks out of his dominant mode of expression – I for one definitely would not object to another film in the vein of Ed Wood, or even Big Fish. On the surface, it looks as if Big Eyes should capably serve that purpose – heck, it doesn’t even feature Johnny Depp! Excepting the absence of the earlier film’s star, the similarities to the delightful Ed Wood are fairly striking – they’re both based on bizarre real-life stories, they’re both period pieces, and they even share screenwriters (Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander). But while Ed Wood was an atypical Tim Burton film in a refreshing way, Big Eyes instead comes across as disappointingly anonymous.

 

The stranger-than-fiction tale at the film’s centre is that of Margaret and Walter Keane, played by Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz respectively. As the film opens, Margaret is leaving her first husband, and she moves to bohemian San Francisco with her daughter Jane. Margaret wants to be an artist, and her particular skill is the creation of portraits of wide-eyed ‘waifs’. While trying to sell the portraits one day, she meets charming amateur artist Walter. The two hit it off, and are soon married (a decision aided by a legal letter from husband number one). Walter is dedicated to striking it big with his art, but while holding an ‘exhibition’ in a jazz bar’s corridor, he discovers that it’s actually Margaret’s art that is making the biggest impression. One thing leads to another, and he manages to convince Margaret he should take credit for the paintings, because ‘women’s art doesn’t sell’. Soon, the waifs are a huge commercial hit. Margaret covertly toils away at creating the paintings while Walter takes credit, but it’s a secret that starts eating away at her.

 

Big Eyes’ evocation of the 1950s and 60s is a peculiar mix of pleasant and bland – which, to be honest, sums up the film as a whole. Everything is kept ticking over without grave offense being caused, but it consistently fails to really explore the material in a satisfying or surprising way. Take the relationship between Frank and Margaret. There’s an interesting dynamic of domination and submission, but Burton and the writers never tease the nuances out, relying instead on the broadest of brush strokes.

 

The only obvious DNA Big Eyes shares with sections of Tim Burton’s filmography – barring a very weak Danny Elfman score – are the bigeyed waifs. Margaret Keane’s style must have influenced the director’s animated work in particular, subconsciously or otherwise. In this case, though, the film as a whole suffers due to a lack of authorial signature. There’s one or two well handled sequences where the Keane style seeps into the real world with the aid of some imaginatively creepy effects work. In fact, other compositions in the film are sometimes inspired by the wider world of mid-century pop art in quite witty ways (a Warhol reference during a supermarket reference is not subtle, but still serves as a neat throwaway visual gag). Those are the rare moments when some of the film’s otherwise confused themes and underwhelming visual identity are operating on roughly the same page, and one wishes the rest of the film operated as effectively.

 

One of the film’s major problems is that it boasts a great cast, but a script that does not offer them anything in the way of meaty material. Amy Adams acquits herself well enough in what is easily the closest thing the film has to a three-dimensional role. Waltz gives it his all, but cannot possibly elevate a character that is written as a crude caricature. Walter Keane is portrayed as a transparently manipulative, selfish and domineering con artist – albeit with a rougish charm. While it may be somewhat true to life (it goes without saying I am not in a position to make that assessment), it’s a point made sufficiently early on, and the writers’ disdain for him only increases as the film progresses to the point of pettiness. As a result, Keane becomes more and more of a one-note character,  and no amount of Waltz’s talent can save Walter as he transforms into a pantomime antagonist. At least Waltz has plenty of opportunity to chew the scenery. Spare a thought for Jason Schwartzman and Terence Stamp, playing an arrogant gallery owner and snooty art critic respectively – two already crude stock types, written in an even cruder way.

Buried somewhere in Big Eyes is a debate about the nature of art and entertainment; the conflict between elitism and populism; an ode to authorship; an exploration of mid-century gender politics. The story itself is so straight-up odd that it cannot help but be strangely compelling, not least the farcical legal proceedings that brought the core conflict to something of a close (and easily the dramatic and comedic highlight here). Big Eyes, though, is not a film that explores any of that in anything more than a perfunctory, mildly entertaining way. Tim Burton films often suffer from a surplus of character – Big Eyes could have used some of the overflow.

Stephen McNeice

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
105 minutes.
Big Eyes
is released 26th December.

Big Eyes  – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Her

her-joaquin-phoenix-3

 

DIR/WRI: Spike Jonze  PRO: Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze, Vincent Landay   DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema ED: Jeff Buchanan, Eric Zumbrunnen   MUS: Owen Pallett   DES: K.K. Barrett   CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara

Theodore (Phoenix) decides to alleviate the perpetual loneliness he’s felt since his wife (Mara) left him by purchasing one of the new-fangled, fully sentient operating systems that exist in The Future. Each operating system is personalised to your needs so Theodore’s manifests as Samantha (Johansson); a funny, brash but sensitive female companion who quickly becomes a valuable presence in his life. As their relationship develops, Theodore begins to question the boundaries of just what we currently understand a relationship to be. Meanwhile Samantha begins to evolve too and what looks like a very typically-structured love-story about relationships morphs into a quirky drama about life, love and the existential quandaries of creating a constantly evolving, sentient artificial intelligence that has to deal with the tangled mess of human emotion that comes with love.

Her is a fascinating film to experience, partially for the contrast it constantly confronts you with. On the one hand it is a very conventionally told love story but the actual characters involved in the story are what make it stand out. You’ll constantly catch yourself having to be reminded that you’re just watching Joaquin Phoenix talking to a disembodied voice, so convincing is the situation the film presents. The key to that success is two-fold. Firstly, the word-building is seamless. This is unquestionably one of the most eerily believable depictions of the near-future we’ve seen in recent years. There are no flying cars, just neater smartphones with more impressive screens and the ubiquitous presence of a Bluetooth-style headset.

The film also trusts its audience in terms of how this world is presented. It never patronises the viewer with some bland audience-surrogate character that has to have everything explained to them. Rather the film simply presents its world as is and trusts you’ll pick it up as you go. It helps that the dialogue and writing in general are very natural; it never feels exposition-y. There’s also far more humour than you might expect, this is a genuinely laugh-out-loud funny film. Be it the film’s surprisingly well observed commentary on videogames, the humour that innately arises from the nature of the leads’ relationship or just good old fashioned, well-timed swearing; Her never takes itself too seriously which helps add weight to the more grounded and sombre moments.

As important as the world-building is, Jonze’s direction is the real triumph. The poster for this film is far more indicative of the viewing experience than you might think. It’s a simple close-up of Phoenix’s face and that is in essence most of the film. A lesser director might have featured some kind of animated woman or hologram (or a blinking red light if they were feeling particularly ‘clever’) to visualise Samantha but Jonze just elects not to ‘show’ her. Since a shot-reverse-shot is out of the question, the camera simply stays on Phoenix’s face throughout the couple’s conversations and it works far better than it should. You may feel by the end of the film that you’ve seen Joaquin Phoenix’s face from every possible angle but it really is to Jonze’s credit that he can shoot that in such a way that it’s constantly interesting to watch. It’s also a fiendishly clever work-around to compensate for the inability to show Samantha’s reactions. An actor of Phoenix’s talent and ability to disappear into a role is an ideal choice to carry an entire film such as this with his face alone.

It’s quite difficult to find much wrong with Her. To an extent the story loses momentum toward the conclusion and slightly contrives an endpoint to Samantha’s arc in a manner that feels like it was done out of a sense of requirement to the genre more than anything else. Throughout even this portion of the film though, the dynamic between the leads remains engaging and Phoenix gets to show off even further. Similarly the various facets of this vision of the future continue to be interesting to see and learn more about.

In any other year (read: any year where 12 Years a Slave wasn’t a contender), this would be a worthy film to win ‘Best Picture’ and it’s a film that definitely embraces the true spirit of sci-fi. It never comments on the society it’s created, it merely details and explores it and lets the audience come to its own conclusions. The world is believable, the characters are well-rounded and the performances (especially Phoenix and Adams) are effortless and compelling to watch. Her is much more than a simple love story yet it’s also, at its core, a thorough exploration of a relationship that just happens to be a little unconventional.

Whether your interest is comedy, drama or sci-fi, this film caters impressively well to all. Besides, Arcade Fire provides most of the music, what more could you want in a film?


Richard Drumm

15A (See IFCO for details)
125  mins

Her is released on 14th February 2014

Her – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Man of Steel

M_Id_392862_Man_of_Steel

 

Emmet O’Brien takes on Superman.

DIR: Zack Snyder • WRI: David S. Goyer • PRO: Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Emma Thomas • DOP: Amir Mokri • ED: David Brenner • DES: Alex McDowell • Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe

With 75 years of stories and countless versions of the character the essence of Superman can be a very hard thing to capture. It can’t be bottled like a shrunken Kryptonian city. The essential beats will always remain, doomed planet, last son, the hope and the blue streak careening across the sky. There is an old complaint about the character that he is too hard to write for, too unrelatable. This has always felt off to me. Within the Superman myth you have so much scope for how to approach it. You could play up a poignant sense of alienation or ramp up the sci- fi elements, play the sparky Daily Planet set up or instead go global with him solving problems all over the world. Love triangles technically between just two people, alien prison dimensions, mad scientists, giant robots, a colourful rogues gallery and if so inclined you can go for biblical allusions and an earned uncynical sentimentality. The world of the Man of Steel is a blessing for imagination and we’ve only barely scratched the surface of that S-Shield.

In 1978 an indelible version of the story was crafted, featuring a generation defining slant on the character. Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of a nerdy bumbling Clark Kent contrasted by the cool and assured Superman characterisation casts a shadow as big as Krypton’s destruction on Kal-El. While I adore the performance in the Donner films, I’m not as beholden to them as full films as other people seem to be. They were of their time. Parts have badly dated and certain plot elements for me seem utterly out of place in retrospect but what you can’t fault those films on was the amount of charm they had.  Superman was dryly funny and had a calming confidence to himself that radiated the inherent virtue of the character. The arc of his life, if paced a bit too slowly, was brilliantly conveyed over the first half of that film.

Following the Bryan Singer Donner-aping Superman Returns which I would label an interesting misfire, too slavishly indebted to an older sensibility but still thoughtful enough to at least demand respect rather than love, it was clear the slate needed to be swept clean. The architects of this new take is a triumvirate of fluctuating talent. Christopher Nolan, the dry and serious creative force behind the Dark Knight Trilogy, a riveting and mature if occasionally ponderous exercise in grounding the fantastical elements of Superhero films, Zack Snyder a hyperactive man child whose filmography is a flashy but very often hollow example of style over substance, of effect over empathy and finally the hit and miss scripting duties of David Goyer. For every hit Batman Begins, we have something risible in Blade Trinity. Fans were aghast at Snyder’s choosing initially but believed that these three, working in unison, could cancel out any weaknesses and instead unite and create something truly special. For all of Snyder’s weaknesses he has an eye for action sequence, Nolan could ground the excess and Goyer could provide a solid foundation marrying the outlandish with the ordinary.

They come so close to succeeding. Man of Steel is a vibrant re-imagining, the opening Krypton prologue may be heavily indebted to Avatar and the Star Wars prequels but no matter. It is a bracing introduction and for someone who loves the crazier sci-fi elements of the property, seeing an alien world so teeming with strangeness proved a refreshing opening. How the tone of this could ever fit in with the world of the Dark Knight films is beyond me but it isn’t soon before literally and figuratively the film crashes down to Earth and gives us a more recognisable world. The film is sly with its chronology giving us Man of Steel action much faster than I assumed it would, the inevitable scenes of young Clark being flashbacks elegantly woven across the films narrative. I was very happy it eschewed a straight ahead progression in favour of a more interesting approach. Spectacle wise the film has some dazzling sequences and the last hour or so of straight ahead Kryptonian action is a bruising set piece, blurring figures barreling through more buildings and landmarks than you can count. I’ll admit a certain fan boy glee in finally getting an intense action scene in a Superman film. Cinematically Superman has always struggled in this area, the threat never seeming big enough, the action never that important.  There is an energy to the fight scenes that can go along way to making this a distinct entry for the character but alas it’s just not enough.

For me, the best Superman story would mix such high-octane thrills with something a bit more thoughtful. The potential to do that was here. All the talk of ideals and inspiration, which I think is the single most important aspect of the character are present but oddly muted in the actual film. It feels more like characters are telling us that rather than we are seeing something inspiring on screen. It might have to do with how they approach Superman as a character here. Obviously this is his first adventure and they seed in certain doubts and insecurities but despite extensive flashbacks it amounts to very little character wise. We see events and lessons learned but Superman is still essentially half sketched. It’s hard to know why exactly but we never get to see him in his moral fortitude before those morals are challenged by the films villain, General Zod.

Throughout the whole film, relationships are barely defined, scenes are more exposition join up points than characters talking. After two brief scenes between Lois and Clark a dynamic is set up that I don’t think the film has earned. Within the story it is clear why a certain level of trust has been established but it’s happened off screen, in between more disjointed scenes. Snyder can handle the big moments but it’s the basic moments that strengthen a narrative that seems to be lacking. The producers make a big point that they had to pretend no other Superman film had ever been made before this. Now I’m well aware the tropes of the material are embedded in pop culture but if this was a fresh take on new characters I’d never feel like I’d gotten to know these people to care enough.

This is felt with various characters, the Kents are underused, in particular Jonathan Kent as played by Kevin Costner. His scenes are important for the arc but he feels more like a mouthpiece for a view point rather than as a real people. Despite being a similar presence Jonathan was always more of a character than say, Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben. But we don’t get that here.

Oddly enough the most explored character throughout the film is Jor-El, Superman’s birth father. While Kal remains a little aloof Jor-El gets meatier moments than what we should expect and provides the film with a clear through-line. Russell Crowe does seem an awkward fit at times but he largely succeeds.

And that’s how I’d view the film overall. Making Zod more morally complex gives Michael Shannon stuff to work with and Cavill as the Man of Steel has a quiet dignity. I can easily imagine him growing into the role over time and becoming the wiser Superman of various stories. Amy Adams’ Lois is a fine version of the character, nothing too different there. Although an early  scene where lazy shorthand is used to make her a tough cookie in the face of arrogant male characters felt very easy and half hearted. In the end there are flaws and missteps but nothing that is Kryptonite to a big blockbuster film. Most are forgivable in the service of a brand new take and some may even be necessary for modern audiences to embrace the character but it still seems like another draft away from being the truly great Superman film I was hoping for. A dark moment in the third act is troubling too and seems to be setting us on an angst ridden road that I think has been well trod by the citizens of Gotham these last few years. I don’t want my Superman moping around, I want him to soar majestically.

By no means a failure and nothing to be cast into the Phantom Zone any time soon, I still think that for it to have truly worked it needed to be that bit more thoughtful and fully rounded from a character perspective. Superman is my favourite superhero and he is all about heart and hope, not just whizz bang pyrotechnics. Kent we have it all next time around?

Emmet O’Brien

12A (see IFCO website for details)

142 mins
Man of Steel is released on 14th June 2013

Man of Steel  – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwYatpwrs8s

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Cinema Review: Trouble with the Curve

DIR: Robert Lorenz • WRI: Randy Brown  PRO: Clint Eastwood, Robert
Lorenz, Michele Weiser • DOP:  Tom Stern • ED: Joel Cox, Gary Roach • DES:
James J Murakami  • Cast: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake,
John Goodman

When Clint Eastwood stepped out in front of the camera for 2008’s
excellent Gran Torino (which he, of course, also directed), it was
assumed that it was to be his acting farewell, and given how memorable
a character Walt Kowalski was, it is easy to see why.

Indeed, the man himself had intended to stay behind the camera (he has
directed Invictus, Hereafter and J. Edgar in the meantime), but the
postponement of his planned A Star Is Born remake with Beyonce Knowles
has freed him to star in his long-term collaborator Robert Lorenz’s
debut feature Trouble with the Curve.

In many ways, Clint’s involvement with this film sees him coming full
circle, because whereas it has now become the norm to expect him to
direct rather than act, Trouble with the Curve finds him acting in a
film that he didn’t also helm for the first time since Wolfgang
Petersen’s In the Line of Fire back in 1993.

The four-time Academy Award winner stars as Gus, a veteran baseball
scout who is under pressure to deliver the goods on his latest
scouting mission, as he silmutaneously attempts to hide his
deteriorating eye sight from his employers. Concerns about his
condition leads to his boss, and best friend, Pete Klein (John
Goodman) sending Gus’ high-flying lawyer daughter (Amy Adams) along
with him on his latest trip.

It is here that we get a real sense of the estrangement between the
two, and as they struggle to get along, Justin Timberlake crops up as
a former hot-shot college player turned Boston Red Sox scout, who
re-connects with his one-time recruiter Gus, as well as becoming a
potential love interest for Adams’ Mickey.

To compare Eastwood’s performance here to what we saw four years ago
in Gran Torino is perhaps unfair, as it would be asking a lot to
expect him to deliver the goods to the same extent this time around.
It doesn’t shy away from dealing with serious and sensitive subject
matters, though, as Gus’ inability to catch the action as it happens
become a central point in the drama.

Lorenz, who has worked on a total of 16 Eastwood films in a variety of
roles, approaches the job of directing in the same kind of unfussy and
leisurely manner that has become a trademark of his mentor in the past
few decades. There are also some nice touches to Randy Brown’s script,
but it does suffer from having a somewhat predictable and unremarkable
story.

However, if you are an Eastwood fan (and despite his bizarre episode
with an empty chair a few months ago at a Republican Party Convention,
a large number of people are), it is hard not to find some sort of
charm in the way the film is played out, especially when Eastwood’s
grizzled presence is balanced out with Adams’ endless charm.

The Unforgiven star’s iconic status has been there for all to see
since the Dollars Trilogy back in the 1960s, but equally Adams is one
of the finest young actresses working in Hollywood today, and can
currently be seen in scene-stealing form in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The
Master.

Timberlake shows once again that he is a very solid screen actor, and
it is refreshing to see that his character is the one with the
supporting romantic angle, as that is a burden that is so often left
at the door of an actress. Goodman is fresh from an excellent role of
his own in Ben Affleck’s Argo, and you are left to wonder why himself
and Eastwood haven’t worked together before now, as they have a very
easy chemistry with each other.

With small but pivotal characters also played by Matthew Lillard, Bob
Gunton and Robert Patrick, Trouble with the Curve never stretches
itself too far, and if it is a long way from the classic Clint of the
past, it is still something of a pleasure to see the great man on the
big screen once again.

Daire Walsh

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)

111 mins
Trouble with the Curve  is released on 30th November 2012

Trouble with the Curve – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Master

 DIR/WRI: Paul Thomas Anderson • PRO: Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison, Daniel Lupi • DOP: Mihai Malaimare Jr. • ED: Leslie Jones, Peter McNulty • DES: David Crank, Jack Fisk • CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams

In many ways The Master is Paul Thomas Anderson’s biggest film yet. It may not have the vast landscapes of There Will Be Blood, or a fraction of the characters of Magnolia, but it is shot in many more assorted locations and its themes about faith and belonging are as enormous as any in his previous films. Despite this, however, the previous film of Anderson’s that The Master most brings to mind is Punch-Drunk Love, his small, quirky 2002 romantic-comedy-drama.

The connection is due solely to the two films’ lead characters; both frustrated outcasts with fractured ties to their families, prone to violent rages and uncontrollable crying fits (which they both deny). But unlike Punch-Drunk Love’s Barry Egan, there is little solace or redemption for The Master’s Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). His attempts to calm his anger and find himself lead him down a very strange rabbit hole.

Discharged from the US Navy following World War II, Freddie flits restlessly from job to job, seeking women to satiate his sex addiction and gulping his own brand of moonshine to appease his alcoholism. Lost in a new America, he stumbles onto the yacht of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an enigmatic, suspiciously over-qualified writer with an original take on the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. Freddie soon finds himself sailing to New York with Dodd’s family and cadre of followers, and is rapidly indoctrinated to Dodd’s teachings, called ‘The Cause’.

In little time we can be certain that The Cause is nothing more than a cult built up around Dodd’s increasingly bizarre creations – claims of past lives, a trillion-year-old universe and the threat of a sinister ‘invader force’ from beyond. But Freddie, disillusioned and uneducated, does not see it as such, or chooses not to, or chooses to overlook it; so eager is he to find somewhere to belong. But as The Cause grows in strength and numbers, how poor a fit Freddie is for The Cause, and The Cause is for him, becomes ever-more apparent.

Clearly taking its start-off point from Scientology and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, The Master has no interest in attacking that religion, and is far more concerned with the personalities behind it; of those who build it, those who are seduced by it and those who cannot be. As much as Freddie thinks he needs The Cause, Dodd needs him. He needs him to prove he can brainwash anyone to his beliefs, but he also needs him because at a base level Freddie cannot be won over. As the success of The Cause skyrockets, Dodd’s Frankenstein’s monster spirals out of control, and Freddie remains his only anchor to humanity, and his only potential escape. It is Dodd’s wife, Peggy (Amy Adams), who sees this element to Freddie, and keen for there to be no limit to her husband’s greatness, observes Freddie and Dodd’s relationship suspiciously.

As Freddie, Joaquin Phoenix gives the strongest performance of his career to date. Hunched in posture and speaking always out of just one side of his mouth, he effortlessly portrays Freddie as the damaged goods he is. His shell-shock, disillusionment, and regret all combine to form this bubbling kettle of frustration that Phoenix holds together throughout the film. He shows Freddie as a man incapable of believing the things he is told, but like a good solider willing to fight to the death to defend those same (dis)beliefs. The film’s two most intense sequences both detail Freddie’s indoctrination to The Cause, first as a mere member and later as an acolyte. In the first instance, Dodd breaks him down psychologically by asking him personal questions in quick succession, with the only rules being Freddie may not stop to think or blink. If he blinks, they start over. Shot in a series of unflinching close-ups of the two men, the scene is exhausting and difficult to watch, but brilliantly defines their relationship. For the next tier of his indoctrination, Freddie is forced to walk back and forth endlessly across a room, describing his sensations at each end. Part of a seemingly unending montage, Phoenix brilliantly captures Freddie’s escalating frustration at not being able to achieve or feel what is needed. Unable to look away, we can understand what he is feeling.

Hoffman plays off Phoenix beautifully, as his mentor and father-figure. Channelling Orson Welles’ greatest monsters, Hoffman makes Dodd larger than life in public while showing his all-too-human doubts in private. Dodd could be the love-child of Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday from There Will Be Blood, fusing those characters’ ruthlessness, devotion and passion for corrupting others. But behind every great man there is a meek but terrifying woman, and Amy Adams steals much of the film as Mrs. Dodd. Her natural shyness and sweetness come across as wholly menacing here, and there are few moments when it is not clear how much power she is actually wielding.

Anderson’s script and direction rarely falter, and he manages to keep the drama building and the audience’s attention throughout the film’s 140-minute runtime. Somewhat disappointingly, The Master is not as breathtakingly pretty a film as one might expect, especially in the wake of There Will Be Blood. Robbed of his regular cinematographer Robert Elswit, Anderson has here teamed up with Romanian D.P. Mihai Malaimare Jr. The photography is crisp and the camera is wielded finely throughout, but there are none of the visual flourishes of the Anderson/Elswit union. With the exception of one beautiful, oft-repeated shot off the back of a boat, representing Freddie’s constant drifting from life and responsibility, The Master never overwhelms with its imagery. This of course lets the characters be the real focus, but fans may find themselves less than pleased with this film’s look.

Johnny Greenwood’s assorted score is similarly incohesive, with each piece of music sounding like it comes from a different soundtrack. This has a brilliantly disjoining effect, and allows for a great variety of instruments to come to the fore: frazzled strings, pulsating bass, the joyous tinkling of a piano.

The Master is an easy film to admire, but a difficult one to love. The portraits painted of Feddie and Dodd are hugely impressive, but it is a struggle to find anything in either character to relate to. Still, full of sharp dialogue and energetic scenes, and with three astounding central performances, it is not an easy one to forget. It is one viewers will find themselves wanting to revisit, whether they even liked the film or not. Like The Cause itself, The Master is a strange seducer.

David Neary

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)

143 mins

The Master  is released on 16th November 2012

The Master  – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ1O1vb9AUU

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The Fighter

The Fighter

DIR: David O. Russell • WRI: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson • PRO: Dorothy Aufiero, David Hoberman, Ryan Kavanaugh, Todd Lieberman, Paul Tamasy, Mark Wahlberg • DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema • ED: Pamela Martin • DES: Judy Becker • CAST: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams

After any decent boxing match, we all like to analyse the performances. Funnily enough that’s what we do with films too. So when it’s a boxing film, better stand back…Because The Fighter comes out swinging, immediately clinching your attention with some heart-felt, energetic performances, before slugging you senseless with realistic, visceral bouts.

Roughly chronically the comeback of real life boxer Mickey Ward, Mark Wahlberg begins his portrayal as a fatigued pugilist, passing his prime and attempting to shake a string of losses and step out from the considerable shadow cast by his older brother, Dickey Eklund.

For any Marky Mark haters out there, take note: the man can act, and carries this film on sculpted shoulders, both metaphorical and literal. His almost bashful quietness betrays a vat of simmering emotion, like when you drop a coke can. A coke can of PASSION! He has help along the way with interesting direction via David O. Russell, who begins the feature as a documentary. Yet, shortly the camera pans, revealing the production crew as part of the arching narrative. This technique allows for the honesty and proximity of the documentary style, yet remains unhindered by its storytelling limitations.

Amy Adams, ever willing to exhibit her considerable acting chops, is more than on form as Mickey’s girlfriend. She shines as a support strut for the loveable fighter, coming to blows, both verbal and in one instance very physical, with his interfering mother and sisters. Also the exploration of their blossoming relationship seems fresh as the pair hook up within the first act. Unfortunately for Adams and Whalberg, if they wanted their acting to stand out, they shouldn’t have starred in a film with Christian Bale.

People seem to have forgotten about Christian Bale. Perhaps it’s due to his temper tantrum in the relatively bland Terminator Salvation? Or being overshadowed by Ledger’s iconic portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight? Either way, people seem to have forgotten that Bale is, without doubt, the finest actor working today. Watch The Fighter and you’ll recall. You may even feel compelled to write a letter of apology to the man for such oversight. Honestly, his performance as crack-riddled, fallen-from-glory, local pride Dickey Eklund, who once knocked down the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard, is a revelation. Perhaps ‘re-revelation’ is the more precise term, considering his astonishing physical and mental commitment to powerhouse roles in American Psycho, Empire of the Sun, The Machinist, Equilibrium, The Prestige and Rescue Dawn.

Hilarious, upsetting, disgusting, sympathetic and occasionally inspirational, Bale channels all the facets of the storied boxer expertly, and is a joy to watch, even if he’s doing nothing more taxing than asking a passer-by whether or not his dog is a Springer Spaniel.

Spoiler: It was.

Mercifully, Bale’s talents actually amplify the tale’s potency. Sensitive, intelligent direction couple with a cacophony of brutal fights, in and outside of the ring, spoken and otherwise, The Fighter is a boxing film that actually manages the fine balance between entertainment and resonance.

And, if that’s not your thing, dudes get hit in the face real hard and in slow motion. Yes!

Jack McGlynn

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
The Fighter
is released on 2nd February 2011

The Fighter – Official Website

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dmq0DtvpqSM[/youtube]

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The Fighter

Micky Ward (MARK WAHLBERG) and Charlene (AMY ADAMS) in THE FIGHTER

Director David O. Russell, and stars Amy Adams and Christian Bale talk about their film The Fighter, which is released in cinemas today.

Director David O. Russell

What is the movie about?
Bleach blonde mother with seven bleach blonde sisters who all form a gang, and they train two brothers, one who used to be a star locally, who’s become a criminal, the other who’s the younger brother who’s trained by the older brother and the mother who wants to rise up. The red headed bar tender who’s sexy comes in and everybody reacts to that big time, that’s Amy Adams, she comes in and says to the younger brother, you need a better way and he says ‘how can you say that about my family!’, and there’s the movie. To have all those people in ways that you see the mistakes they’re making, but you still love them, and can laugh at them but still have them break your heart, that’s to me the movie.

What made you want to make a movie based on this family?
The brothers, with this crazy dynamic of older brother, younger brother, and they are both fighters and they have this really crazy relationship, and the older brother almost seems to be the favourite of the mother, all that made me want to do it.

What do you make of the way the actors went about portraying their characters?
Every actor works differently you know, so it was really an honour and sort of very humbling to be able to work with this variety of actors. Mark is sort of more from the Spencer Tracy school, ‘acting’s good, don’t let them catch you doing it’, so he is going to do the subtle performance, that is the guy who’s the centre of the storm, who’s reacting to the storm and emotionally anchoring the movie. Spinning around him is the asteroid of Christian Bale, at the other end of the spectrum completely! He inhaled the character of Dicky, he lost 30 pounds, he shaved his head so he had a bald spot, put these horrible teeth in, and become this chaos maker who’s charming and talented and bedevilling. Then Amy Adams breaks type, she shows up to break type saying ‘you know I don’t want to be enchanted in this one, I want to be the girl who can throw a punch’, and that girl Charlene did throw a punch with the sisters and she did know how to stick up for herself and she helps Micky stick up for himself in his life, he needed a little help against all the odds in the family. Melissa Leo is the mother who always fought for the fact that listen I see how this movie is portraying me, as a little bit like the mother’s making all the bad mistakes but I also want to be the mother who loved all her children, nine children, which Mark comes from the same family, nine children, so Melissa fought for that, so that makes you love the characters, to me that’s what matters.

What did you think Mark brings to the role of Micky?
Mark trained for as many years to want to fight like Micky, and to look real is a huge accomplishment, but in addition to that, to be like what he is like in his own family, Mark Wahlberg is in his own family of nine children from a working class background, the one kind that had to deal with an older brother, Donny Wahlberg, who was the favourite of the mother and who was the first successful one, I mean the parallels are kind of amazing. So this is an even more intense version of that, where he came equipped knowing what it’s like to have this brother who’s your hero, who’s your ticket to the world who has to train you, in this case to fight, but who also is kind of being destructive and then tearing you down, so that’s what Mark brings to it.

How were the real Micky and Dicky involved in the movie?
Well if anyone is having a real story told about them, that’s going to be a little prickly isn’t it? You’re going to be a little concerned of how that’s being told and I wanted to always say we were always coming from a place of loving these characters. Which happened to be the truth, sometimes you have to tell people that and it’s not the truth. In this case it is the truth. I didn’t know how I would feel about the Wards and the Ecklands when I met them and I really love them so that enables me to tell an even better story. But the sisters will come up and say hey that girl’s not as pretty as me, why is she playing me. Dicky more than anybody had a lot of controversial stuff that he did that is in the movie. I said ‘it can’t be any worse than the documentary HBO did about you that made you the scandal of Lowell, so we’re only going to go up from there that I’m portraying you in a sympathetic light that shows you getting past that! So let’s not fixate on that!’ Micky of course loved the picture, I think Micky knew that he won a championship and he knew he was the one who came through it, and that Mark being sort of the godfather of the picture, I think Micky Ward knew he was in good hands.

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Amy Adams

What attracted you to playing the role of Charlene?
Well initially it was David O Russell, he sent me twenty pages of the script, they were sort of writing Charlene and kind of beefing her up a little bit and he asked if I’d be interested in playing Charlene. I mean how could I say no, first half it was David O. Russell who I’d met and really had a great time talking to, and then knowing it was Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg, Melissa Leo, I was the last one to come on out of that group and I’d love them all, I’d met them at different times of my life and I just was very excited! Charlene is a girl who has to work really hard in her life for what she has and has maybe made some mistakes, and when we meet her she’s kind of pulling herself back up and she meets Micky and sees in him something just so remarkable and so much potential and she sees his family just really pulling him down and she really wants to encourage him to be his own man and stand up and be the man she knows he can be.

How was it working with Mark Wahlberg?
You know I never felt the producer hand of Mark Wahlberg, I think because we worked so closely, our characters, most of my scenes were with him and very intimate scenes so, I never really felt that side. I mean the filming was a great experience and there was a lot of energy, a lot of love, a lot of passion, a lot of hard work and I could only think that that has to do with him being one of the producers as he really just put so much of him into the film, not only as a producer, as an actor, and being in Lowell, he knows that area, he put so much time into making everybody from that town feel a part of the movie. He did a great job. The Fighter is so much more than just a movie about boxing. It has a love story, it has family drama, because it’s true, its real life, it’s telling people the real story and in that there’s humour, there’s laughter and there’s tears and the boxing just adds an element of energy that make s you really excited when you watch the film.

What will people take away from this movie?
I think everyone’s going to feel something different but hopefully, they all had a really good time, and they walk away wanting to see it again. That’s what I keep hearing, is like ‘oh my gosh, I just want to go back and see it from the beginning!’ From the response that I’ve had, we’ve had some teenage girls see the film and just go crazy for it and then we’ve had young men. I just think, pretty much everybody. It’s probably not suitable for a really young audience, there’s some adult language, but aside from that I think everybody should go see the film.

Christian Bale

What was it like training with the real Micky and Dicky?
Just essential, you know, I mean Mark was always leagues ahead because he’d been training for this for so long anyway; he has his own boxing ring in his house. For me it just was a wonderful opportunity to hang out with Micky and Dicky, get to know them, get to understand their fighting styles to use it as a means of dropping the weight that I needed to lose in order to look like a welter weight and then a crack head. I just enjoyed it immensely, I enjoyed their company.

How did you transform to get into your role?
Same with anyone you know, you kind of start off and you go, ‘yeah I like this story’ and then you go ‘holy crap, how am going to do it, I’ve forgotten how to do this’. I never took any classes, I just go like ‘I better wing this one again and make it up!’ Slowly, you find ways brick by brick of building it up, and it feels like hard work and you feel like you’re going to fail everybody. Then eventually it’s just kind of happening and it’s slipping in, then you forget that you went through the hard work and you think it was all easy.

What are the main themes that emerge in The Fighter?
The Fighter is about brotherly love, it’s about loyalty, about family, family dysfunctions, the need to change, the pain of change, but ultimately, the triumph of people who love each other, managing to find a healthy way to unite and that they’re unstoppable at that point.

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
The Fighter
is released on 2nd February 2011

Read Jack McGlynn’s review here

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Leap Year

Leap Year

DIR: Anand Tucker • WRI: Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont • PRO: Gary Barber, Chris Bender, Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman, Jake Weiner • DOP: Newton Thomas Sigel • ED: Nick Moore • DES: Mark Geraghty • CAST: Amy Adams, Matthew Goode

In 1930, a screening of Smiling Irish Eyes in The Savoy cinema was interrupted when a group of students voiced their protest against this romantic comedy populated by stereotypes that was no more than ‘a travesty of the Irish life and an insult to Irish people’. The film received its fair share of criticism and together with the demonstration saw the swift cancellation of its run. In 2010, we get Leap Year. If only history were to repeat itself.

Now, we all know how common it is and in keeping with Irish tradition that a woman can take the opportunity once every four years and propose to a man on the 29th of February. Leap Year presents the tale of one of the millions of lucky women who have this once-every-four-year opportunity. Amy Adams is Anna Brady, whose snobbish, Blackberry-addicted, materialistic life is meaningless without a ring on her finger. When her lizard-looking boyfriend fails to pop the question and heads off to Dublin, ‘Ayerland’, for a convention, Anna decides to take matters into her own hands and follow him to the Emerald Isle so that she can demand his hand in marriage on that magical day that is the 29th of February. Sadly, on this moronic premise a film was made – a romantic comedy that is neither.

Leap Year ineptly contrives hubby-hungry, Dublin-bound Amy to leave the US and land in Wales (what?!), take a boat to Dingle (what?!) and secure the escort services of local barman with alien accent Declan (Matthew Goode) to get her to Dublin in 3 days (what?!). The gruff loutish rogue and the stuck-up prissy damsel take an instant dislike to each other – what could possibly happen? From here on in, we’re presented with ludicrous stereotypes of a retrograde Ireland as the pair set off from Dingle to Dublin and get into cockamamie scrapes that see our Declan win the heart of Amy and show her what real life and true love is (if only the poptabulous music combo Foreigner had had Declan when they sang that poignant song of longing in the ’80s).

The entire film seems to be the product of a random generator of Irish stereotypes thrown on top of a trite romcom story cobbled together by witless dullards. Step forward writers Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont (begetters of The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas). On top of the crude representation of Ireland, there is also the feebleminded portrayal of  the foolish posturings of the lead female. Is there really a need in 2010 for a film that tells the story of an uptight, stuck-up narcissist who is shown the error of her ways by a brutish rogue by undergoing a series of ritual humiliations that are more offensive than funny?

There are some mind-numbing scenes of bewildering incredulity; not least the squirmingly contrived first kiss scene, and a script that beggars belief. At the stage when Anna drunkenly tells Declan that he’s a big lion with a thorn in his paw, you know it’s time to hunt down every copy of this film and destroy it – future generations will thank us.

The sloppy script and narrative set-ups assimilate any talent Amy Adams attempts to bring to proceedings. What can Adams do? A likeable actress at the best of times, she has screen presence but cannot breathe life into this corpse of a movie. She tries. Imagine the Monty Python ‘Dead Parrot’ sketch. Amy Adams is Michael Palin, the shopkeeper, trying his best to convince that there’s some sort of life in the parrot. And the audience is John Cleese, the customer, protesting the shopkeeper’s claims that there are signs of life. Now, imagine that Leap Year is the parrot: ‘This film is dead. This film is no more. It has ceased to be. It’s expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late film. It’s a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. Its metabolical processes are of interest only to historians. It’s kicked the bucket. It’s shuffled off this mortal coil. It’s run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-film.’

I feel better now.

Steven Galvin

Rated PG (see IFCO for details)

Leap Year is released 26th Feb 2010

Leap Year – Official Website

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