Sunday, 6 March 2011

Review Round-Up | February 2011

Hard Candy (2006)

A simple story told chillingly and stylishly through two great performances. Patrick Wilson is excellent throughout; it is a pre-Juno Ellen Page who steals the film with a calculated, mature and genuinely frightening performance that sends shivers down your spine. The direction from David Slade is high quality throughout, bringing a claustrophobic edge to the film which intensifies both the horror and psychological thriller elements. The film's refusal to paint the characters and events it shows you as definitely good or bad but frequently an uneasy mixture somewhere in the middle is key to its success, drawing you into a violent, extreme and uncompromising world. Brave and powerful cinema.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

The performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger are outstanding throughout, with Gyllenhaal's raw emotion providing many of the film's most powerful scenes. The understated turn by Ledger, smouldering with intensity and suppressed passion, is the film's highlight and now tragically an indicator of a brilliant acting career cut short before it could truly take off. Support from Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams is solid, although the film is at its best when Gyllenhaal and Ledger share the screen. At times the story feels a little too slow and loses momentum, and parts which don't focus on the relationship between Ledger and Gyllenhaal's characters feel a little underdeveloped at times. Ultimately a powerful film which, without agenda or prejudice tells, a fascinating story of two ordinary people.

The Prestige (2006)

Christopher Nolan's unmistakeable moody, unsettling and highly polished feel gives the film a luscious authenticity whilst at the same time remaining undeniably modern. Christian Bale puts in a strong and convincing performance throughout; it is Hugh Jackman however who makes the part of Robert Angiers his own, delivering a magnificent mix of obsession, passion and showmanship to make the magician a truly engrossing character. Michael Caine is reliably excellent in support, counterbalancing the increasingly extravagant and emotionally charged of Bale and, in particular, Jackman with a grounded and humble turn. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Scarlett Johannson who appears out of her depth in a role that never really comes into its own. The story is regularly and pleasingly dark told through a grippingly mysterious plot which unfolds with energy, never losing momentum and keeping you guessing right until the final moments.

Intolerable Cruelty (2003)

An underrated Coen Brothers gem. Whilst this might not be the brothers' best, their unique take on the romantic comedy that also pays tribute to the screwball comedies of Hollywood's Golden Age is finely crafted and immensely enjoyable. Clooney never misses a beat as Miles Massey, and whilst I usually find Zeta-Jones decidedly average, here her performance is a great counterbalance to Clooney. The supporting cast are also top notch, with Adelstein as a perfect comic foil to Clooney and Thornton giving a wonderfully caricatured performance as oil tycoon Howard D. Doyle. Whilst the Coens' unmistakable style is not quite as apparent as in previous films, it is most certainly present throughout the film with some gloriously dark moments (a magazine called "Living Without Intestines" has to be one of the brothers' finest creations). The film also presents some wonderfully intelligent cinematography with an ingenious choice of colour used throughout. Often too easily dismissed as the Coens' "sell-out" or "mainstream" picture, upon closer inspection this is a comic masterpiece that stands proudly next to the brothers' other work.

Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

Surely one of the quirkiest and most ludicrous ideas for a film ever conceived. A B-movie-style delight full of charm and held together by a unforgettable performance from Bruce Campbell as Elvis Presley. Ossie Davis also does well in support. The first half is slow, albeit entertaining, but this is remedied nicely with a final act that pulls out all the stops. The script is strong with some pleasingly philosophical sections that never feel out of place, as well as some fantastic comic lines scattered generously throughout. Go into this with the right frame of mind and expectations and you can't help but have fun and enjoy it.

The Fountain (2006)

Jackman shows depth and diversity in a challenging and demanding role - his excellent turn in three separate yet intertwined roles is a key part to what makes the film great. Beautiful cinematography and effects bring to life the three stories (although some are closer to motifs or visual concepts than definite narratives) with artistry and lustre; Aronofsky's deliberate ambiguity as to how, if at all, the three are connected adds to the enigma making the film constantly captivating. This is brave film making which demands your attention to grasp its themes, ideas and structure. An excellent piece of cinema provided you are prepared to give it the commitment necessary.

Memento (2000)

Now over a decade old, Nolan's first big budget outing is still striking and bold, delivering stylish and intelligent cinema that never dips in quality. Pearce is strong throughout, bringing an authentic yet outlandish quality to Leonard, and making the anterograde amnesia from which he suffers both believable and not gimmicky. Pearce is supported ably by Moss and Pantoliano who ably ensure you are kept guessing about their characters roles and motivations in Leonard's story until the end. Occasionally the film gets too wound up in its own premise, although Nolan makes sure things never become self-indulgent; this is a minor niggle in what is a brilliantly original and constantly gripping film that may still be Nolan's best execution of a non-linear narrative structure.

The Fugitive (1993)

The first hour outshines the second, where the pace slows a little too much, but this is a gripping thriller from start to finish with a handful of great action spots scattered throughout for good measure. It is Jones and Ford who elevate this from very good to excellent however, with fantastic performances from two Hollywood stalwarts both arguably at the top of their game. Ford's emotional and adrenaline-fuelled turn is complemented perfectly by Jones' US marshal entirely lacking in sympathy and hell bent on recapturing his man. Thoroughly enjoyable if somewhat imbalanced.

Following (1998)

Genuinely intriguing not just as a film, but as an early document of Nolan as a writer and filmmaker. It is clear from start to finish that this was made on a minuscule budget with an unavoidable "film student" feel throughout. Whilst in itself not a bad thing, this does however hand the film some shortcomings. The acting from the non-professional cast, whilst never terrible, often comes across as flat and amateurish, which in turn affects the flow and clarity of the film at times. However, Nolan's skills as a storyteller are as apparent here as in his later work, and whilst his skills in direction and cinematography are limited financially and by the cast at his disposal, this is still a stylish and very intelligent film which concisely tells a fascinating story.