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Post on TSR and win a prize! Find out more... 10-04-2014
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    Drive

    If you’ve ever played the PlayStation classic Driver, then the opening sequence of Drive should look inherently familiar. It’s a car chase the way car chases should be done; it’s not over the top, it’s exquisitely directed, and carries the cool, collected ambience of John Tanner’s effortless vigilantism. It’s an exceptional introduction to an exceptional film; one that oozes style and charm whilst blending an amalgam of genre conventions into what can only be termed an ‘arthouse blockbuster’.

    Following the story of a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway vehicle for local crooks, Drive immediately introduces its protagonist’s proficiency behind the wheel through a precise and skilful chase sequence - one that sees the unnamed Driver (Ryan Gosling) help a pair of burglars escape a helicopter pursuit. It’s an effective introduction, and immediately sets the tone of the film through the distinguished camerawork - Gosling enjoys plenty of low angles to establish his control of the situation - and beautifully executed lighting, in the neon nightscapes of Los Angeles.

    Such landscapes, emphasised through the scenic panning shots of the opening titles, indicate a neo-noir vibe to Drive that’s mixed to great effect with an ensemble of other genre conventions. At times it drifts towards something of a 70s slant, reminiscent of the Scorsese great Taxi Driver (1976), whilst the hot pink, cursive titles and lavish use of gore suggest something of a Tarantino-esque grindhouse format. Whilst these features are not so unique when each is presented alone, the mesh of all leads to something quite untypical - so it’s with great credit to director Nicolas Refn that it’s executed so beautifully.

    Bursting with symbolic flair, Refn’s vision is unique; it’s a slower-paced effort, but one that manages to capture its audience with gracious ease. Unlike Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the slow, methodical storyboarding here works to great effect, absorbing the audience into the melancholy mind of The Driver, as his true persona is laid bare.

    In many ways, however, Drive is deceptive; not least in its titular form - at just four points in the film does Gosling sit behind the wheel for any extended period of time. Indeed, following the opening sequence, Drive takes rather more of a romantic turn, through the introduction of neighbour Irene and her son Benicio in our protagonist’s life. Thus follows a sepia-doused montage of Gosling seemingly playing the natural doting father to Benicio, whose own paternal influence lies incarcerated for an unknown crime. While seemingly out of place in terms of what we’re shown beforehand, these nostalgic and uplifting moments give Drive a well-placed injection of heart and soul.

    But of course, as must inevitably happen, Benicio’s father, Standard (even Irene asks at one point, “where’s the deluxe version?”), shows up again - released from prison, and carrying baggage, in the form of a hefty debt of protection money. It’s not long before Irene and Benicio are threatened, and so in steps The Driver to help. Matters become awry after a fatal pawn shop robbery, and soon we’re knee deep in a web of treachery, lies and deceit. It’s not exactly ground-breaking stuff, but it’s often enough unpredictable that it’s suitable for purpose. Sadly, the finale bows to storytelling convention maybe a little too heavily, but such a slight flaw can easily be overlooked for all that’s come before it.

    Gosling himself is superb; forever emblazoned with that unique vacant determinism, his character is just as absorbing as the film. He’s a modern day Travis Bickle in many ways, if slightly more ambitious behind the wheel. Just like Travis, the unnamed Driver’s character has flaws; he is effortlessly awkward, and yet carries a certain charm and nervous smile that so brilliantly mask his psychopathic tendencies that the Driver’s acts of violence feel as though they are a twist in and as of themselves. The character’s wild extremes suggest something of a hyper reality about him; the representation of each of us, of our highs and our lows, drawn out and plastered onto a screen, in the form of this beautifully menacing, reserved and yet likeable Driver.

    It’s a stunning but shattering lecture in storytelling from Refn; his characters all with an impetus to an end that so define their status. Carey Mulligan delights as the soft-spoken, kind-hearted and motherly Irene; again, a character with flaws - just look at her choice of husband - but one who you can’t help but sympathise for. Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman lie opposite our convoluted heroes, both excelling in their twisted nature; Perlman the self-serving, belligerent mobster, and Brooks the coldly apologetic investor. At times one might even sympathise for Brooks’ actions, though as the film progresses and his true character is revealed, it is not sympathy Refn draws on; merely a sheer contempt for his deeds. The role reversal is implemented perfectly, in stellar efforts from both screenwriter Hossein Amini and Brooks himself.

    A unique, beautiful vision, executed with a suitably twisted grace, Drive is methodical, yet for the most part unpredictable - a stirring achievement from director Refn. Definitely one of the greats of the 21st Century - improbable sequel pending, you won’t see another film like it.

    10/10
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    Farewell

    Released just over two years ago in France to critical acclaim, L'affaire Farewell sells itself as a true story, based on the actions of the high-ranking KGB official Vladimir Vetrov. It was released in the US some nine months later, dropping the first half of its title, but none of its charismatic charm. Adapted from a 1997 French novel by Serguei Kostine, Farewell follows disillusioned KGB analyst Sergei Grigoriev (Emir Kusturica) as he feeds Soviet secrets to the French through a most unwitting and unwilling character.

    As political thrillers go, Farewell is quite the exception to the rule, refusing to simply follow the norms and conventions of the genre - there’s little sense of adrenaline or rush about it all; instead, director Christian Carion focuses on building tension and character, pacing his story to a graceful climax. It’s to his credit that it is pulled off so remarkably, remaining engaging and engrossing without ever feeling unwarranted.

    And yet the core theme of Farewell is not one of espionage, thrills or even politics - it is instead simply that of sacrifice; the constant sacrifices each player of the spy game must make in their quest to change the world. By focusing so inherently on these acts of martyr, Carion shifts the tone of the film from any kind of typically labyrinthine and convoluted matrix to a remorselessly sober effort - one that allows no justices to its characters, but, in doing so, draws wonderfully on audience sympathies and the coveted reaction of pure admiration.

    The unwitting accomplice to Grigoriev’s efforts is Pierre Froment (Guillame Canet), a naïve French engineer working in Moscow. Following the first transfer of information, as Grigoriev attempts to expose the network of Soviet spies obtaining Western secrets, Pierre confides in his wife, Jessica (Alexandra Maria Lara) - who, rather determinedly , insists he should stop for the sake of his family. Of course, Grigoriev persuades him to continue, and thus places greater strain on an already stretched Pierre.

    By always heading back to the family aspect of both characters - Grigoriev is wound up in illicit affairs and estranged relationships with his son - Carion grounds the film in reality and the home; never does the tale reach heights of disbelief, and in this way manages to elicit relatable characters in a genre that convention would disallow. The sacrifices each man makes for his family, and for the greater good - Grigoriev believes he can change the world, but he’s only doing it for his son - are total in their commendation. Farewell allows us to back its characters, and feel for them in spite of their faults and flaws, and in this sense is truly remarkable.

    And yet despite this sense of grandeur in its scripting and characters, Carion’s film still manages to construct an absorbing world in which its story can unfold; the cinematography of the piece is no mean feat - filmed in the 21st Century Farewell may have been, but its atmosphere and charm feel like they have come straight from 1981. Carion’s cameras are visceral in their nature, and draw the audience back to the sense of a modern era film, but the hazed focus and listless autumnal landscapes of Soviet Russia, collided with wintry sleets and snowy palettes - inescapable trademarks of the location - give the impression of a more classical production. The blend of the two styles is superb and to great effect; Carion’s direction is exquisite, particularly on just his fourth film at the helm.

    Farewell boasts tenderness, sacrifice and humanity in an eclectic and cold world of espionage, but is never complacent about it; the direction feels effortless but unparalleled in its grandeur, and the acting standard is commendable. A stellar achievement, Carion’s political thriller is removed from its genre, but not to the extent that it forgets itself. This is still a tale of espionage; a tale of treachery, secrecy, lies and deceit - it is simply rooted in all that makes one human, and through this becomes a political thriller that not only engages its audience, but also connects with it on a more intimate level. Farewell stands as an intriguing story with intriguing characters, rooted in reality to extraordinary effect.

    9/10
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    Real Steel

    The producers of Transformers had a problem. Their money tree, which had so far grossed almost three billion dollars, was coming to an end. The cast and crew were moving on, keen to try something new after the trilogy. But there was still easy money to be made in CGI creations hitting each other. So, they went and found Real Steel to produce.

    Real Steel can be basically described as Rocky with robots, but that phrase implies a critical misunderstanding of what make Rocky so good. It isn’t good because we get to see Rocky and Apollo Creed knock seven shades of **** out of each other. What makes it good is that the audience gets wrapped up in the emotional nature of the journey. Rocky isn’t about the end fight; it’s about what happens to get us to that point. Trying to replicate this with computer generated bits of metal will never work, because when it comes down to it you simply won’t care about either of the combatants when they start trying to knock each other senseless. The script does make some cynical attempts to manipulate your emotions, but the whole thing is so poorly pieced together that it’s laughable. The main character (Charlie Kenton, played by Hugh Jackman) is seen trying to kill a bull for money, and then later sells his son Max (Dakoto Goyo). These are the actions of a scumbag, and yet we’re supposed to emphasise with this character in some way. This is by no means an isolated incident, as the entire plot is filled with flaws that don’t withstand a moment’s examination. With the money Charlie gets from selling his son Max he buys a robot. He then immediately takes it to a fight and gets destroyed, so he goes to a scrapyard to salvage a robot for free. If you can do that then why would you buy a robot in the first place? And if you were going to pump your last $50,000 into buying a robot, wouldn’t you try and preserve its life a little beyond 5 minutes?

    This is before we even get onto the fights themselves. By the third act Charlie and Max are fighting in the WRB, a professional league rammed with media attention and sponsorship. The robots competing cost millions of dollars to make. Here’s a tip; if you build a boxing robot with unlimited funds, don’t include a very human flaw like having a clicking shoulder, or forget to put in enough power. Having a robot get tired in a boxing match is one of the most ludicrous plot machinations of recent times.

    I can think of almost nothing in defence of Real Steel. It could be argued that this is just a piece of entertainment for kids, but when the film accepts advertising from Budweiser I’m not sure that argument holds true. This is a very sorry excuse for a film. It seems to have been constructed by people wanting to make money without any care, interest or passion in what they were creating. It reeks of commercialism, from the obscene amount of product placements to the range of action figures already available to purchase. It has no redeeming qualities. Avoid this.
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    The Help


    Released almost two months ago in America, The Help quickly became something of a phenomenon. It grossed 7 times as much as it’s initial $25m budget, had praise lavished on it from critics and polled the highest feedback possible from moviegoers. I couldn’t help but be a little suspicious of it before seeing it, knowing Hollywood’s penchant for rewriting history, and certainly some of those fears were not unfounded. But The Help is not a bad film; it’s well made, it’s entertaining, it just lacks any real substance.

    An adaptation of a novel by Kathryn Stockett, the film is set in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early 1960s. A news report declares Mississippi to be one of the most racially intolerant places in the country, and from the evidence we’re shown that is certainly true. The only job available for black women is to serve as maids for the white families - cooking their meals, cleaning their houses and raising their children – and for this they are treated with contempt. One of the homeowners, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), goes so far as to make it her mission to ensure that they have to use separate bathrooms, an action that nobody but Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) has a problem with. Skeeter is a young struggling writer, and from her unhappiness with the treatment of the black “help” she decides to write a book from their perspective. She gets off to a slow start due to everyone’s unwillingness to whistleblow, but as events progress she finds more and more people ready to expose the scandals going on.

    The film is universally well acted. Emma Stone takes more of a supportive role than audiences might be used to seeing her in, connecting and grounding every aspect of the film without many attention-grabbing moments. Her role is vital in keeping the audience’s focus throughout the long runtime, and she allows other actresses to stand out. In particular, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer shine as two maids who have sacrificed their lives in servitude. The main issue though is the caricatures that all of these actresses have to inhabit. Many of the white homeowners are depicted as so cartoonishly evil that the film simply doesn’t feel remotely connected to reality. There is one brilliant scene late in the film when we find out what happened to Skeeter’s own maid. It works so well because the actions were carried out due to weakness and stupidity and not just because the characters are evil. The ultimate emotion from that scene is one of regret, and it adds layers of resonance to the film. Unfortunately this moment throws the rest of the film into sharp relief, showing how straightforward and flat the majority of it is. And without any depth, the story lacks any meaning.

    It’s difficult to hold too much against The Help. I enjoyed seeing it, and the audience in the cinema were one of the most receptive of the year. I have little doubts that it will do well come awards season. But I have serious doubts that anyone will remember it in a few years time.
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    My review of Drive, which I posted on my blog.

    Drive

    Drive is a wonderfully minimalist title, and one which not only describes, but encapsulates the very existence of Ryan Gosling's vacant, ghostly driver, whose cogito ergo sum as he imperatively puts it is, 'I drive.' The film opens with 'The Driver' assisting a robbery as a getaway driver in most probably the coolest opening to a film in recent memory, and later it is revealed he daylights as a stunt driver and is poised to become a racing driver under the patronage of a local garage owner, Shannon. However, there is mob interest in the form of Albert Brooks' menacing Bernie Rose, and the driver's life soon veers off course into a web of indebted money and murder. Notice the several driving metaphors I'll be using here - as many have interpreted the film, Drive is a modern continuation of the existentialist road movie: life is a drive, albeit without the sentimental chaff about twists and turns.

    But that is exactly what happens to Gosling's driver, and it takes on a much more disturbing path. His straight shooting driver only knows one thing, and has rigidly defined principles: on getaway drives he gives 5 minutes to get in and out, anything longer and they're on their own. He resembles to an extent Robert de Niro's Neil McCauley in Michael Mann's Heat, whose discipline is never to get attached to anything that he can't walk out on 'if you can't spot the heat around the corner', and who is a similarly cold character. And the comparison doesn't stop there, as both men inhabit a visually cold environment with coldly murderous characters, as with Albert Brooks' ostensibly calm but murderous mobster. When the driver gets involved in the murky business of debt and blood money, his principles are thrown out the window, his life is ripped apart and he reacts with a psychosis comparable to that of Travis Bickle or Patrick Bateman. It is tantamount to trauma for the driver, and Ryan Gosling plays the switch from passive observer to avenging angel with a superbly disturbing modulation in performance. The explosions of violence that attend to his path of vengeance are genuinely shocking, and despite protestations by some viewers of gratuity, it is entirely part of the driver's character, whose spectrum of morality is so confused and polarised that he can only respond to injustice with the most excessive retribution. The film itself is split into two halves, as the second half is so in contrast with the dreamy lethargy of the first that it should be understood as a deliberate and masterful control of atmosphere by Nicolas Winding Refn. His direction is fresh if indebted partly to other directors such as Michael Mann, and with any justice, he should be duly nominated come awards season.

    The extreme stylisation of the film from its neo-noirish visuals to its synth 80s throwback soundtrack also swathes it in a mood of dreaminess, and as the driver's life descends into disarray the stylisation serves to represent the psychotic fantasy he has entered. In one unnerving, brilliant slow motion sequence the driver visits the diner to revel in the last moments of his next target, Ron Perlman's Jewish gangster, his face concealed by a blank rubber mask he uses for stunt driving. That he uses the mask is also wonderfully ironic, in that the expression Ryan Gosling's driver wears for the majority of the film is immovably blank. The face seems but a mask for the driver, who is surely crumbling inside.
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    We Need to Talk About Kevin

    Lionel Shriver herself has called this adaptation of her 2003 novel We Need to Talk About Kevin ‘terrific’. Fans of the book should need no more justification nor persuasion than that to head out right now and watch the film. Newcomers to the twisted tale of the teenager gone so horribly wrong; to the cereal-and-videogame nuclear family, blasted apart by the devastating effects of the actions of one cynical psychopath, should read on.

    The teenager in question? Kevin Khatchadourian (Ezra Miller), the fifteen year old so disillusioned with the world that he feels the need to exact a brutal revenge upon it and its inhabitants. But Kevin’s actions are not nearly the primary focus of the film, though still the most deplorable and shocking; instead, they act as simply the backdrop, while the emphasis lies with mother Eva (Tilda Swinton), and her struggle to deal with the consequences of her offspring over an eighteen year period - a period which director Lynne Ramsay showcases through five distinct stages. Before Kevin is born, we see Eva happier than we ever witness her again; jovial and full of life with husband Franklin (John C. Reilly). During the pregnancy we see Eva’s own psyche deteriorate as she becomes depressed at yoga classes - and Kevin’s infancy only proves testament to his actions in later life. It is the nature, or nurture, by which Kevin brings himself to commit such atrocities that form the principal themes of the next two periods: as a young boy, played by a forever unsettling Jasper Newell, and as a teenager in the form of Miller. The final time period Ramsay focuses on is the primary one; the aftermath of Kevin’s deeds and the consequences of them on Eva’s life. The intricate web that Ramsay weaves around these five stages can be jarring at times, particularly during the opening scenes, but while the narrative may take some initial decoding, the stop-start, reflective nature of it works to great effect.

    Much of this is done through the tense construction of suspense, as we are greeted with images of the fateful event just moments into the film - and so the film becomes a question not of what, but of how, and why. It is here that Ramsay excels in her representations of Shriver’s characters, in exemplifying all their flaws and strengths into unravelling the cause-or-effect argument that is Kevin himself. As the film builds slowly to a final climax of the nature of Kevin’s actions, foreshadowed by a darker, downwards spiral of events, we are given some evidence as to the reason for his detrimental view on society. But, much like the film’s scattered structure, this is never clear - but for good reason.

    For Ramsay enjoys her craft, and enjoys her control over her audience still more - juxtaposing her arguments for Kevin’s twisted psychosis in striking, nurtured parallels, but also in opaque natures, the film serves little on a plate; this is a meal you have to sink your teeth into to digest fully. The common belief in the townsfolk is that of the nurture argument; Eva finds herself the most despised mother in all of America, attacked in the street and the victim of constant vandalism. This is contrasted through the lifelong feud between mother and son; an embedded, almost natural hatred between the pair that Eva so desperately tries to overcome, but for her son’s bitter, cynical outlook on life. From the off, Kevin cries and cries and cries, and Eva almost punishes him (or else attempts to drown him out) by parking herself next to a pneumatic drill. But Kevin lies silent when dad Franklin carries him - perhaps reflecting a natural instinct to cause his mother hell.

    Yet still Eva’s cynical, monstrous offspring is increasingly propagated throughout the film as a product of his mother’s upbringing; the visual parallels they strike - take the extreme close ups on mother and son’s mouth as each pulls either fragmented egg shells or broken fingernails from their lips - seem to reflect the disparaging nature by which Eva fails to correctly raise her disobedient son. Franklin remains oblivious to any of this, as one parent always seems to in such situations, and so Eva is left to psychological ruin at the hands of her own child. It’s a startling treatise for parents, soon-to-be or otherwise, that may just cause its audience to rethink their own stance on the subject.

    But not only does Ramsay enjoy tormenting her audience, dangling threads to questions she refuses to answer, she also clearly revels in the opportunity to splatter the silver screen with Shriver’s words. Bloody and stained, the direction is blemished with all manner of reds - paints; lights; even fruit in a blatantly foreshadowing (yet slowly chilling) opening scene which sees Eva before Kevin’s birth. Perhaps the most poignant and striking aspect of Kevin is indeed Ramsay’s exquisite imagery; splattered crimsons douse the melancholy milieus across all five time periods the audience are tasked with piecing together. Such is the emphasis on the colour connoted so frequently with danger that even Kevin’s wardrobe choices are resplendently fitting, in the form of a royal red jacket he sports so convincingly.

    Oh yes, the cast are indeed convincing. Ezra Miller ensnares and terrifies; cold, calculating and cynical, he almost manages to make the audience empathise with Kevin’s mindset in some ways - his deconstruction of the smallest of human interactions during dinner with his mother is startlingly awakening, and his belief that his parents want to divorce due to him is instantly relatable to anyone who might have been there at some point in their life. John C. Reilly offers a stark contrast to Eva; the parent whom Kevin seems to bond with effortlessly, but also the parent who is unquestioningly unaware of Kevin’s psychotic degeneration.

    But it is neither of these faces which so blemish the posters, billboards nor indeed the screens of Kevin - it is Eva herself, stunningly portrayed by an actress full of contradictions, Tilda Swinton. Fragile yet determined; graceful and effortless yet distinct and emotionally powerful; Swinton delivers on all fronts and takes the limelight as the woman whose entire world crumbles at the hands of a brutal, victimising son. And yet the closing scenes of Kevin leave further mystery as to her decisions towards the soul who has unfathomably ruined her existence; Ramsay gives no answers, but shrouds us in an emotional enigma that requires more deciphering than even the convoluted timeframe she flits between with such enjoyment. But then, to fully deconstruct the psyche of a mind such as Kevin’s would ultimately be unworthy in the two lines he is allowed to explain himself, and criticism here may well be undue.

    So do we need to talk about Kevin? Lynne Ramsay certainly gives us plenty of conversation. Her thought-provoking, haunting and ultimately shocking horror lies more within the realms of the psychological thriller, but still provides a chilling reprise of a family so torn apart by cynicism and twisted mentality - and only further brings into light the question of nature vs. nurture. Kevin is a worrisome watch for mothers-to-be and a shocking insight for the rest of us, and one that will stay with us long after the credits roll.

    9/10
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    (Original post by DrummingThunder)
    We Need to Talk About Kevin
    Hmmm... I was left quite underwhelmed by this one. I had finished the book two days before seeing it, though, maybe thats why - But the whole thing felt quite choppy and was like a trailer towards the beginning, no semi-clear plot really evolved until halfway through the film. I felt there wasn't enough dialogue between her and Kevin throughout, either.

    Just out of curiousity, had you read the book? They left a lot of stuff out in the film which made Kevin seem geniunely evil, involving a girl with eczema and a sexual assault charge against a teacher. Furthermore, the ending seemed very anticlimactic to me, in the book it ends with
    Spoiler:
    Show
    Eva turning on the backyard fog lights and seeing Celia's body, having been shot into a standing position against the archery target, illuminated at the end of the garden and not noticing Franklin's body until she nearly trips over it whilst running screaming towards her daughter. In the film they're just lying there.


    However, other than that, I thought the casting was absolutely perfect, no complaints there.
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    I haven't read the book no; it's currently on the way to me via Royal Mail though so I didn't click your spoiler :P

    I agree it was quite jarring at first but once you wrapped your head around it, and isolated each time period so you could figure out what was going on when and where, it was fine.

    I also preferred the scenes with teenage Kevin as opposed to kiddy Kevin, so I didn't really feel completely engaged with it at the start, but looking back over it I'm not entirely sure why, as I can't really find fault with kiddy Kevin... aside from the fact I just preferred Ezra Miller.

    Also slightly disappointed with the vague ending, but hopefully the book will provide more answers.
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    We Need To Talk About Kevin

    When the film's title- "We Need To Talk About Kevin"- followed a question concerning my occupation later that night, I called on the decision making portion of my underused mind. Do I want to go and watch a film whose title reminds me of "The Kids Are All Right", and whose content may tangentially be treated with the same appeal to the latent-libertarian-lesbian in all of us. No, I did not. But, being a slightly better than awful friend, I checked the trailer, which consolidated, by use of Kevin's (I presumed) carefree contempt for radio-listeners, TV watchers and the employed, my preconceived opinion that this was a film whose protagonist I could hate without seeing. But, being a slightly better than awful friend, I went, and found, to my surprise and annoyance, that I hated Kevin for different reasons. Ready to walk out to illustrate my stance concerning hipsters with an Amazon Super Saver delivered Nietzsche and thereby an air of philosophical sagacity that is like chlorine gas to me, I flexed the legs and began to twine intricate schemes that would let others know I was not merely going to the toilet; nay, cinemagoers! I illustrate a point! My stretches gradually subsided as my interest in the film rose, and it dawned on me what an impulsive and judgemental genital I had been. This film is jarring. Damien from the Omen (without the Satanic lineage) meets Robin Hood (without the Merry Men) meets a young Charlie Manson, in a quiet suburb, and under the auspicious parenthood of that kind of ugly guy who plays one half of a half-witted pair in Stepbrothers, and Tilda Swinton, a travel writer. It would be quite hard to argue that Kevin wasn't born evil, especially if you, like me, construe excessive crying as a sign of possession, and call the exorcist who takes your child to Italy and informs you by post that little Michael was freed from Mephistopheles at the cost of his own life, and you are grateful and recommend him to your friends but cry yourself to sleep every night on a bed of shaken faith.

    It is not Swinton's child rearing methods that produced the sociopathic Kevin, nor is it due to his dad's interference, or lack of, in early childhood, though something remains to be said about his nurturing, rather than quashing, Kevin's pre-adolescent proclivities for violence. If you like English Literature A level you will like this film, because it is potentially a 3000 word essay on symbolism, a theme I am not willing to discuss beyond a few succinct and lacking examples: a lychee for an eye, red paint for blood. Kevin evokes little to no empathy in any who are not predisposed to attractive Bryonic-villains, or had friends at school, until, that is, the end of the film, when his concrete desire for destruction has seemingly been shaken and he professes his uncertainty in the principles that led him to embark upon a school shooting. This seems greatly out of character in one who had no feelings of affection, and active feelings of contemptuous distaste, for his mother before he could enounce the words "I hate you", and suggests that had Kevin not led such a cushy life (lower-middle-class students beware, you know who you are), his nihilism would have been checked by his understanding that the world carries on after you have moved out of the limelight, off the news. Apart from this glitch in an expertly depicted reality, I found little aesthetic or narrative fault in the film, and in the script there was much to admire. Such pieces as Kevin rapaciously ripping apart a cooked-chicken following a dinner invite from his mum, and the vile abuse Swinton, undeservedly, receives from all quarters, are strangely revolting and gripping. My eyes did not falter all film.
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    Chugging away on a Tintin review at the moment...
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    Long, long overdue.

    Drive

    Earlier this month, the media was abuzz with the news of an extraordinary lawsuit filing by a woman disgruntled after going to watch Drive in the cinemas: her complaint, apparently, was that the trailer misrepresented the film, and it wasn’t what she was expecting; in her words, because it ‘bore very little similarity to a chase, or race action film’; in short, as she supposedly remarked in a less official statement, because it wasn’t much like The Fast and The Furious. Almost instantly, the watching world pounced: readers and entertainment journalists alike were unsparing in their mirthful disdain, with some questioning how the woman in question had managed to get a lawyer to help her contend such a case. In this backdrop, one incredulous forum-member noted, ‘If you're expecting The Fast and the Furious and you get Drive, the only proper response is to be grateful’. The essence of this statement is, somewhat paradoxically, in accordance with the woman’s above assertion: Drive is not your typical autophilic action film.

    The opening of the film is perhaps its most conventional sequence: a driver (Ryan Gosling) hires himself out to criminals. His conditions are clear: he will wait five minutes outside the scene of the crime, and provided his clients return within that time, he will get them out; anything outside of that time-frame is none of his concern. This arrangement turns into a short but fascinating chase scene that makes up the pre-title sequence of the film; this sequence introduces us to the chief character, the driver, and his two main character traits: this driving ability and his complete impassiveness. It is not long after, however, that the film takes a more human turn, with the driver becoming romantically aroused by a fellow tenant in his apartment building, Irene (Carey Mulligan) – and almost immediately after, a turn back towards ultra-violent action with the return of Irene’s husband (Oscar Isaac) and a criminal financial mash-up that threatens the bubble he’s created around himself.

    The driver of Drive is Ryan Gosling, an actor who has for a while been touted as one of the most promising and talented of his generation. In Drive, however, there is something of a U-turn away from the kind of uncompromisingly human performance he delivered in his Oscar-nominated role in Half Nelson: the driver’s presence is defined by eerie pauses and a minimalist approach to conversation that borders on and sometimes under the believable. Accentuating minimalist dialogue is minimalist characterization: we have very little background information about our protagonist, or any sense of his motivations. In most other films, the last qualification alone would be enough to consign the film to the list of inadequately developed stories that put to waste the talents of its actors; with Drive, however, it is persistently clear over the course of the film that this minimalism is deliberate – the fact that the protagonist’s name goes unrevealed, for instance, is surely a device, like the rest of the unanswered questions, to emphasize his enigma. As such, perhaps Gosling’s performance should be seen as a mark of versatility; his best moments in this film, however, do always come when the cracks in his character’s shell widen. As such, it would be difficult to argue that he delivers the best acting in the film, especially given the consistent excellence of his supporting cast-members.

    The case for recognition that Drive presses most strongly, however, is that of director Nicolas Winding Refn. The 41-year old Dane is fairly well known in Denmark for his Pusher trilogy, but has also released a string of generally well-received movies in English; Drive, however, represents the peak of his career so far, picking him up the Best Director Award at Cannes. And it is not difficult to see why: one might say that technically, Drive is easily one of the best films of the year so far. A nod here does go to those in charge of the two outstanding elements of the movie – Newton Thomas Sigel for cinematography and Cliff Martinez for sound – whose work makes Drive perhaps the only film this year so far to come within touching distance of Terence Malick’s aesthetically spectacular The Tree of Life, but it is the overall direction that ultimately underlines the film’s effectiveness: it is how the music and the cinematography have been put together to bring to light the conflict beneath Gosling’s stoic exterior that really gives the film heart.

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    (Original post by Christien)
    If you're expecting The Fast and the Furious and you get Drive, the only proper response is to be grateful.
    :awesome:
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    The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

    With over 200 million copies sold in over 50 languages, The Adventures of Tintin series is even better travelled than its titular character; the former is now a household name in most countries, the latter, one of the most iconic characters in 20th century art and culture. As with figures iconic on such a scale, any sort of adaptation was always inevitably going to have a great deal of pressure to handle the franchise with care; just as inevitable, of course, was the fact that there was going to be numerous adaptations (and other forms of cash-ins) in various media regardless. The latest take on it – The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn – however, is lent an air of credibility by the fact it is helmed by a man Hergé (Georges Prosper Remi), the creator of Tintin, himself endorsed to take upon the project: Hergé is reported to have declared some years before his death that he ‘thought Spielberg was the only person who could ever do Tintin justice’, around the same time Spielberg got hooked to the comics. At first glance, it is a match well made: Spielberg has directed some of the most iconic movies, characters and sequences in cinema history, including Jaws and Indiana Jones.

    In terms of script, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is rather misleading: there is of course the well-known Tintin comic book, The Secret of the Unicorn, but it is not the sole source material for the movie-script; rather, the film draws from and changes elements of The Secret of the Unicorn, Red Rackham’s Treasure and The Crab with the Golden Claws. There will of course be those who say this mishmash is little more than a selective process designed to milk the franchise to its potential commercial value, but the script has thus far met with largely positive reviews from mainstream critics for its pace and entertainment value. As far as pace goes, this is certainly a high-tempo storyline: we begin as Tintin, browsing the street-market, eyes, falls for and purchases the model of a sailing-ship – The Unicorn; immediately, he is accosted by characters alternatively warning and pressing him to let it go. Sensing a story, Tintin rejects these advances and sets to dispelling the mystery surrounding the ship – when his apartment is ransacked, a man shot on his doorstep, and himself kidnapped, caged and put on a ship bound for North Africa. Here he meets Captain Haddok, a dishevelled alcoholic sea-captain practically kept a prisoner on his own ship, and who holds, somewhere in the recesses of his memory, the key to understanding the root of all the fuss about The Unicorn.

    Much of the reaction to the original comics focussed on Hergé’s distinctive artwork, with much praise for the blending of a modernist simplicity and the attention to detail of a more conventional realism; much scrutiny has thus understandably been exercised in evaluations of Spielberg’s take on Tintin. For many, the experience has leaves one conflicted: the performance capture filming and cinematography by Spielberg, long-time cinematographer Janusz Kamiński and co-producer Peter Jackson is of very high-quality; the motion-capture technology in particular has been used to great effect, pulling one over other acclaimed examples from this year such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes. One persisting criticism, however, is that the animation reduces the human elements of the characters: even with two black dots and almost irreducibly simple style, Hergé’s Tintin always seemed human; in the film, there is something of a blankness in his stare that disconcerts.

    Formalist criticism is not the most fashionable of perspectives at present, however, and The Secret of the Unicorn has garnered impressive critical ratings so far for its entertaining script; there have also been fans of the original comics, however, who have little other than deep criticism for what they feel is a travesty of art. Of course, the nostalgic attachment such critics may have for the original series is liable to have blurred judgement; The Secret of the Unicorn does engage, if nothing else. That’s not a whole lot to go by when probing the merits of a movie, however, and the film does float a little light. While there is much to be enjoyed in the ever-excellent Andy Serkis’ performance as Haddock, it does somewhat remind one of the famous quote from one little boy, who said of the older animated adaptations, ‘Captain Haddock doesn’t sound like he does in the comics’; this is a pretty powerful testimony to the life in Hergé’s art, and here, also an indication of a letdown, not from Serkis, but perhaps from the characterization of Haddock: there is not enough of the impulsive, angry, rambling captain form the comics, and too much of a whinier element.

    Somewhat similarly, Daniel Craig lends an appropriately chilling air to Sakharine, the arch-villain of the story, but he is at his best in a part where he is not even on the screen: when Haddock gasps ‘it’s not even about the treasure – it’s me he’s after!’ There is even a sense of intriguing ambiguity at that point about the moral validity of his motivations. Towards the end, however, as he and Tintin square off in a forced exchange of assets, his actions suggest that it is very much about the treasure, and the darker, more intriguing side of the story is relegated behind the moral-tale-style dimension. And this, centrally, is perhaps where the film loses a bit of substance, and the glossy exterior seems, somewhat unfairly, like an ostentatious cover-up.
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    50/50

    When it was announced that Seth Rogen was to produce and star in a film about cancer, there were likely some alarm bells tinkling somewhere in the film-watching public’s consciousness: the 29-year old is almost entirely a comic actor, and the comedy would probably be the last genre one would have deemed appropriate to handle an issue so sensitive. The discontent might have been louder had it not been made quickly clear how the film was part-autobiographical: the events of the film reflect (but are not specifically depictions of, Rogen noted) what happened to Will Reiser, the film’s writer and Rogen’s friend, who was diagnosed with cancer and given a 50% chance of survival; in an interview with The Guardian, they explained how they felt most depictions of cancer seemed to deny that ‘funny things happen in tragic situations’, and that the film was partly an attempt to balance out this image.

    The film opens to a glimpse of the pre-complication life of Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt); Adam is a man in his twenties who works in radio with his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) and lives with his (presumably just-moved-in) artist girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard). Following what seem like ordinary back-pains, Adam takes a trip to the doctor’s – to discover that he has a rare form of back-cancer ("Malignant schwannoma"), and a 50% chance of survival. As he settles into the shock, his interpersonal relationships begin to strain: Rachael pledges her support, but maintains a distance between ‘this world and that world’, refusing to accompany him further than the hospital’s parking lot during appointments; Kyle reacts initially with distress, but soon seems to become more than comfortable with the situation, even using it to his advantage when pretty girls are in the mix; and when Adam finally manages to tell his mother Diane (Anjelica Huston), who already has Adam’s Alzheimer-afflicted father (Serge Houde) to take care of, she becomes stricken and in her worry smothers Adam with attention. As he enters chemotherapy and makes friends with a couple cancer veterans (Matt Frewer, Phillip Baker Hall), he also begins seeing a therapist: Katherine McKay (Anna Kendrick) is a young, relatively inexperienced therapist who is appointed to help him psychologically through his struggle; some professional boundaries are crossed when a spark becomes evident. In the midst of all this, as Adam nears the date for the surgery that will determine his survival, he deteriorates both physically and psychologically.

    50/50, originally titled I’m With Cancer and renamed Live With It before the makers settled on its current heading, has given rise to the coining of the sub-genre ‘the cancer-comedy’. The term may, however, quite fundamentally be a misrepresentation of the film: while Rogen has retained his attachment to comedic elements, what makes the film tick is not the jocular take on its subject, innovative as it may be – it remains the underlying poignancy of a character in shocked helplessness. Funny situations arise, Rogen cracks jokes and some of the extras simply act out the humour their characters have been built into, but at the centre of it is the degeneration of Gordon-Levitt’s Adam, and his desperate struggle to find something to hold on to; as such, the film is at most a drama-with-funny-moments. In this context, a large proportion of viewers and critics alike have praised Rogen for plumbing depths he had previously left hidden; without holding up this role fairly closely to his previous performances, however, one struggles to see this perceived depth: despite the obvious good intentions and the twist that seeks to hold him up as a catalyst for catharsis, Rogen’s character is blunt, obnoxious and difficult to like. Further complicating the role is the fact that the advertising and publicity made it abundantly clear that Rogen was to be the supporting character in the storyline – this is less than apparent in the movie itself and until the very end, Adam cuts a lone figure, albeit partly by design.

    In terms of its acting, however, 50/50 does receive a large tilt towards the positive due to solid performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt – fast establishing a reputation as one of the best young actors in Hollywood – and Anjelica Huston, whose performance is perhaps the most effective in the film. In their smaller roles, there is also some decent work from Dallas Howard and Frewer, but anyone who has watched Up In The Air may find disappointment in the fact that Kendrick’s role is essentially the same: while she is far from bad at it, it may be a stereotype that does her critical reputation little favours in the long run. Structurally, her role has been pushed alongside Rogen’s to the forefront of the film; in the actual story, like Rogen, her character seems to do little of actual substance. And there, perhaps, the film has missed a trick: while Gordon-Levitt does a commendable job of holding the film up, sacrificing the exploration of some intriguing interpersonal relationships – Rogen, Kendrick and especially Dallas Howard – diminishes the scope the film might have had. With more running-time, more attention to detail and a little better direction, 50/50 might have been something that felt less rushed, less forced, and a little less commercial.

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    Posted in separate posts to facilitate readability; I think that should be fine...
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    War Horse


    Towards the end of the 1990s Saving Private Ryan grossed half a billion dollars, spawning a host of pretenders looking to cash in on the renewed interest in World War II. Films set in World War I have never been as popular with Hollywood, but with War Horse Spielberg may have once again sparked resurgence in the genre.

    Based on Michael Morpugo’s bestseller, War Horse has a story that could have been tailor-made for Steven Spielberg. It begins as the Narracotts buy the wrong horse for their farm and their son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) quickly forms a bond with the beast he names Joey, culminating triumphantly in the ploughing of a field against a village of naysayers. However, all too soon the First World War sets in. Joey is sold to an officer despite Albert’s protests, and from here the film really kicks off as we follow the horse’s progress through the war; from foolish assaults to time as a German stretcher carrier and tank dragger. Perhaps most touching is the brief respite he finds as the plaything of a young French girl. The story is perfect for Spielberg because it allows him to play to so many of his strengths. There’s room for grand scenes detailing the spectacle of war (one sequence at The Somme emulates the scope of his Normandy landings in Saving Private Ryan but in a far more dynamic manner that draws you in with the action), and enough screen time is dominated by a non-human that he can pull off his old trick of surprising the audience by how much they end up empathising with the character. Spielberg’s forte has always been to humanise dramatic situations, to start with something grand and make it personal. Here the multiple narratives allow him to do that to the full. As the horse flits through the lives of soldiers and civilians you may only spend a few minutes with some of them, but Spielberg uses that time to explore a different perspective. Consequently you see good men and bad from both sides of the war, bravery, fear, sadness and hope.

    The storytelling is combined with a breathtaking cinematography by long time Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kamiński. Shots are framed to maximum effect, with details everywhere providing stark context to the action. When Joey is enlisted by the Germans to pull artillery, there is not just the implication of danger but evidence, as the camera pulls back from the horse to show the hastily dug mass grave filled with animals. There are sharp contrasts throughout the film, and one of these is the sudden shock of isolation. Throughout many of the scenes the backgrounds are filled with motion and noise, but when Joey finds himself tangled in barbed wire needing to be cut free by a German and a Geordie, the atmosphere is one of complete desolation.

    The acting is excellent throughout, with every character highly believable and multi-dimensional. Of particular note is newcomer James Irvine with a strong performance that makes it hard to believe this is his first cinematic outing, and veteran Niels Arestrup (previously in A Prophet) as a complex French grandfather.

    War Horse has something for the entire family, in much the same way as the book and stage versions. Spielberg teases out the stories and performances in very moving ways, and provides a stunning backdrop to match. It’s a bold claim, but this may just be his masterpiece.
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    Like Crazy

    Since 1978, the Sundance Film Festival has been a platform for independent cinema, often serving as the initial springboard to recognition for films now considered staples of the type, including Reservoir Dogs and sex, lies and videotape, as well as for now-notable directors, such as Darren Aronofsky and Paul Thomas Anderson. Despite lamentations that it has turned in recent times from an honest endeavour to promote independent filmmaking into a commercial paparazzi-fest, acclaimed films have continued to come through Sundance, with recent years seeing some of the official festival prizes going to such lauded films as Primer, Man on a Wire, Precious and Animal Kingdom; last year’s winner of the Grand Jury Prize (for best film), Winter’s Bone, went on to receive a host of awards from other international festivals, as well as picking up four Oscar nominations. Winter’s Bone was about a gritty young woman out in a man’s world to garner only fragments of the story of her father’s death; this year’s winner, Like Crazy is about love. Interpretations or portrayals of love tend to seem an over-charted territory, with many takes on it stumbling down a cheese-fest of sunshine and flowers. Like Crazy does begin with this approach – and arguably pulls it off.

    Like Crazy begins by showing the audience an uninitiated but existing attraction; shy and suggestive glances and smiles are thrown as the two leads, Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones), are built into their thematic roles. The two are college students in Los Angeles; Anna is a UK national, in the USA on a student visa, studying journalism, and Jacob is a student of furniture design. Early on in the film is the breakthrough: there is the approach; the ice and then bread is broken, and the film enters a montage-styled sequence depicting the best of times in a relationship. From under this fractured imagery, however, rise pragmatic problems: as the two finish college, Anna’s student visa is set to expire, and she must go back to England for an entire summer before applying for a work visa – until she decides to stay for the summer and make a shorter visit later. Of course, this is the point of complication, and immigration officials pounce on Anna as she attempts to re-enter the USA later; she is deported back in tears, and the two are forced into a frustrated long-distance relationship.

    What is most appealing about Like Crazy is the sense of honesty on screen, a trait that stems largely from its unconventional production: in an interview, director Drake Doremus stated that there was no conventional screenplay for the film; ‘We had a 50-page outline, that's really specific, more specific than most scripts, because it's got all this backstory in it, and scene objectives, character breakdowns, subtext, plot points, but what it doesn't have is exact lines of dialogue. It does have some lines, but not that many.’ The actors were thus to improvise almost all of their lines, and, as such, the film has little of a melodrama that is so precarious, that can either elevate or weigh down into parody the conventional romance. The lines are fraught with the indecision and awkwardness that line reality, and the sense of realism is accentuated by the simple, shaky cinematography; Doremus claimed on this note in the same interview that the film was shot on a Canon EOS 7D DSLR camera, a $1500 still camera (also used, notably, for the filming of Black Swan and 127 Hours), while the entire budget of the film was reportedly an impressive $250,000. In this regard, Like Crazy is both conceptually and production-wise the kind of film Sundance seeks to promote; its Grand Jury Prize win is, perhaps, a matter of little surprise.

    That is not to imply that the film does not have its artistic merits. Yelchin, previously best-known for his roles in Terminator Salvation and Star Trek, turns in an impressively restrained performance, but it is Jones who grabs most of the attention, delivering her performance with winning emotional sincerity. There is also some good work from the supporting cast: Oliver Muirhead is decent, if one-dimensional (though this may be a problem with given character outlines rather than acting), as Anna’s father; Alex Kinston as her mother is better, showing more depth, but it is the unheralded Simon Bewley, known previously only for minor roles in the Twilight films, who evokes most of both antipathy and sympathy in a minor if pivotal role. In comparision, Jennifer Lawrence, who, as star of last year’s Winter’s Bone, has had roles in two consecutive Grand Jury winners, has too little a role to evoke a similar response. This, perhaps, is indicative of the film’s pervading weakness: while there is impressive sincerity, it is undermined by the sense of underwritten roles; in a more intellectual setting, the characters might stand for something and work as cogs in the screenplay, but in as human a drama as Like Crazy, it becomes an impediment to identification, denying the film that bit of extra emotional depth.
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    (Original post by Phalanges)
    Real Steel

    The producers of Transformers had a problem. Their money tree, which had so far grossed almost three billion dollars, was coming to an end. The cast and crew were moving on, keen to try something new after the trilogy. But there was still easy money to be made in CGI creations hitting each other. So, they went and found Real Steel to produce.

    Real Steel can be basically described as Rocky with robots, but that phrase implies a critical misunderstanding of what make Rocky so good. It isn’t good because we get to see Rocky and Apollo Creed knock seven shades of **** out of each other. What makes it good is that the audience gets wrapped up in the emotional nature of the journey. Rocky isn’t about the end fight; it’s about what happens to get us to that point. Trying to replicate this with computer generated bits of metal will never work, because when it comes down to it you simply won’t care about either of the combatants when they start trying to knock each other senseless. The script does make some cynical attempts to manipulate your emotions, but the whole thing is so poorly pieced together that it’s laughable. The main character (Charlie Kenton, played by Hugh Jackman) is seen trying to kill a bull for money, and then later sells his son Max (Dakoto Goyo). These are the actions of a scumbag, and yet we’re supposed to emphasise with this character in some way. This is by no means an isolated incident, as the entire plot is filled with flaws that don’t withstand a moment’s examination. With the money Charlie gets from selling his son Max he buys a robot. He then immediately takes it to a fight and gets destroyed, so he goes to a scrapyard to salvage a robot for free. If you can do that then why would you buy a robot in the first place? And if you were going to pump your last $50,000 into buying a robot, wouldn’t you try and preserve its life a little beyond 5 minutes?

    This is before we even get onto the fights themselves. By the third act Charlie and Max are fighting in the WRB, a professional league rammed with media attention and sponsorship. The robots competing cost millions of dollars to make. Here’s a tip; if you build a boxing robot with unlimited funds, don’t include a very human flaw like having a clicking shoulder, or forget to put in enough power. Having a robot get tired in a boxing match is one of the most ludicrous plot machinations of recent times.

    I can think of almost nothing in defence of Real Steel. It could be argued that this is just a piece of entertainment for kids, but when the film accepts advertising from Budweiser I’m not sure that argument holds true. This is a very sorry excuse for a film. It seems to have been constructed by people wanting to make money without any care, interest or passion in what they were creating. It reeks of commercialism, from the obscene amount of product placements to the range of action figures already available to purchase. It has no redeeming qualities. Avoid this.
    Good review. I watched it anyway and found much of what you said was true. Hugh Jackman's character was just so :facepalm2: They really did ruin a good concept. Oh and there is a sequel on the way.
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    (Original post by Aj12)
    Oh and there is a sequel on the way.
    I'm not surprised at all, given how much money it made (it was in the top 20 films of the year on box office grosses).
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    Margin Call

    There’s a line in Margin Call that offers an easy way of evaluating the film. In order to be a success, the film posits, you must either be the first to do something, you must be smarter, or you must cheat. As the first fictional retelling of the financial collapse, Margin Call will probably be remembered in the same way as World Trade Center, the first major film about 9/11.

    That is quite a reductive way of looking at the film though. It’s also grossly unfair; while World Trade Center was an insipid melodrama that has since been far outshone by the greater emotional depths of United 93, Margin Call has not sacrificed any polish or complexity in a bid to be first. The film takes places over a 36-hour period at a very successful investment bank loosely modelled after Lehmann Brothers. It starts with downsizing and the firing of Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), who slips a simulation he’s been working on to young risk analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) before he slips himself out of the office. Peter inputs some numbers and finds out that the company is in an awful lot of trouble, calling in his boss from a nightclub to see the damage. From there boardrooms and managers progressively scale up as each man calls in his superior, resulting in the CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) flying in for a crisis meeting.

    Margin Call is a film made like few others. Outside of Hollywood blockbusters, how often do you hear of a first-time director making a film with a cast of the calibre of Jeremy Irons, Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Stanley Tucci and Demi Moore? And this film is far removed from blockbuster territory, made on a budget of just $3.5m. The heavyweight cast performs fantastically, and are complemented by several rising stars that manage to hold their own, such as Zachary Quinto and Penn Badgley. Jeremy Irons outshines everyone and tears up the scenery as the CEO, managing to emanate a terrifying presence that affects everyone in the room. When contrasted with Robert De Niro’s lacklustre performance of much the same character in Limitless, the difference is staggering.

    The story is well paced, and while it initially seems a little jargon-heavy and meaningless it comes into its own during the middle segment when the consequences of everything mentioned previously are laid bare in some fiercely debated scenes between Irons and Spacey. It is to the film’s credit that it never reduces its morality to black and white, instead showing you the magnitude of tough decisions where there are no right options. While the last act, a panic-stricken firesale attempted before everyone cottons on, initially seems anti-climatic, on reflection it is pitched perfectly. You expect Kevin Spacey to walk into a room filled with his traders and deliver a rousing battle cry to rally the troops. Instead, it’s given a muted delivery. His character is spent, and his world has just spent a day crashing around his ears. The whole story is as thoughtfully crafted as this, and it never takes the easy option to descend into demonising melodrama.

    Margin Call probably won’t be the definitive tale of the financial crisis. The situation takes a little too long to be realised (there will be more than a few sighs of relief when Tuld asks the situation to be explained as if he were a five year-old), and its commitment to balance makes it difficult for any decisive conclusions to be drawn. But with an intelligent plot and a veteran cast performing some of their best roles in years, it’s well worth seeing.
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    Carnage

    Comedy is one of the hardest genres to get right. Films that succeed rank amongst our fondest memories, and we go back to them time and time again. Films that get it wrong are painfully awkward to watch and instantly forgettable, as anyone who has watched one of the many incarnations of the … Movie franchise can attest. Roman Polanski’s Carnage is definitely one of the former, and one of the funniest films I have seen in years.

    The setup is simple: two 11-year olds have a playground argument, which leads to one of them hitting the other with a stick. The two sets of parents decide that the issue needs to be addressed, and the Cowans head to the Longstreets’ Manhattan apartment to try and sort things out. The rest of the film is contained in this apartment and the corridor outside, reflecting the director’s love for confinement as well as the fact that this was adapted from a play, Yasmin Reza’s The God of Carnage (she also wrote the screenplay with Polanski). It’s a basic premise, and in a traditional sense very little happens in the film. And yet from a personal perspective, you see everything.

    The four actors perform magnificently in their roles. January has already seen a lot of fantastic characters played by actors at the top of their game, yet Carnage has four that threaten to eclipse them all. Jodie Foster is Penelope Longstreet, a high-minded outraged liberal who, we are told, makes the best cobbler around. Cobbler so good, in fact, that Nancy Cowan projectile vomits it over the room. Played by Kate Winslet, she is a busy professional trying not to hate her husband, Christoph Waltz’s Alan. Threatening to steal the show, Waltz struts around the set without care for any other person, constantly talking into his Blackberry and antagonising the others with sly jabs. Making up the quartet is John C. Reilly as Penelope’s husband Michael, a man clearly uncomfortable with his social status and with a seeming hatred of most things. He abandoned a hamster on the street, and sees nothing wrong with that. These four archetypes are deconstructed very efficiently in front of your eyes as the situation degenerates into utter carnage. The script zings with line after line of cleverly constructed snark, delivered with great enthusiasm by a cast put through their paces and managing a full range of emotions from poised professionalism to hysteria. If there is a moral to this story, it is that humans are, at their cores, awful people. We can dress up in suits and pretend to be polite, but deep down we can’t wait to rip each other to pieces. And that message makes for enormous comic potential.

    Carnage is going to be a hard sell to audiences. An 80-minute film on a single set doesn’t sound that thrilling compared to the frenetic special effects offered by something like Chronicle. Furthermore, a comedy from the man who brought you serious dramas like The Pianist and Chinatown doesn’t necessarily sound too fun. But you would be wrong. Carnage is perfectly paced and doesn’t outstay its welcome, the script is pitch-perfect, and the cast clearly revel in their roles. Above all else, it’s hilarious. Even if you’re not convinced, go and see it. You won’t regret it.
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    My housemate has never heard of a Clockwork Orange. I don't want to live on this planet any more.

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