All posts tagged Film

Source Code: Review

Published 03/02/2013 by crimsonghad


Groundhog Day meets Speed meets Quantum Leap – this is how best to describe the fast moving, confusing and ambitious film that is Source Code. Luckily I’m a big fan of all three and so I also adore Source Code. Duncan Jones has just been announced as the director of World of Warcraft and Source Code has its UK network premiere tonight so the timing for this review is perfect.

The film is about Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) who awakes on a train in Chicago. He has no idea how he got there or what he is doing there – his last memory was flying a helicopter in Afghanistan – but the passenger opposite him Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) knows him and calls him ‘Sean’. We eventually realise that Stevens is in fact in the body of teacher Sean Fentress – Quantum Leap style – in a parallel dimension and that he has to find a bomb that is on board the train – Speed style – before it blows up. However, every time it does blow up Colter awakes in a capsule as himself with only a camera link to Captain Colleen Godwin (Vera Farmiga) and Dr Rutledge (Jeffery Wright) as company. We are told that he has a repeated eight minutes – Groundhog Day style – inside the ‘Source Code’ (a kind of time realignment device) to find the bomb and bomber to stop an impending attack in this world. Both worlds alter slightly on each occasion as time is running out to save the world from the catastrophe. Following? No? Tough. Watch the film. It’s a unique and intriguing movie dealing with time, space and string theory in about as simple way as possible.

© 2010 Vendome Pictures
At the heart of this complex film is a burgeoning love story between Colter and Christina as these two slowly evolve an eight minute relationship which takes place over an hour and a half of film time. This is where the film excels as Colter is forced to come to terms with the reality of his situation within his own world with Godwin and Rutledge as company.

Gyllenhaal is one of my favourite actors and gives a superb performance with a constantly evolving character who has to deal with so many things. Likewise, Monaghan and Farmiga give good performances in roles which are very constrained due to the nature of the film but are crucial to our perception of the worlds.

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Director Duncan Jones, meanwhile, does a fantastic job of balancing the claustrophobic and paranoid elements with the requirements of an action film as there are only really three major locations throughout the movie. It runs at such a fast pace and yet manages to keep the audience involved because of the emotional investment and character driven essence of the performance. You can see elements of his previous film Moon in this as that has similar constaints of space and dealt with paranoia and claustrophobia as a main theme.

Other films you can compare Source Code to include Looper, Deja Vu and Inception as they are all thought provoking, intelligent films that you can invest in because of how the material has been handled with a loving care that blockbusters all too often fail to follow. Some people will interpret the ending in a different way to that of the writer and director (available on the DVD commentary) but that is the beauty of the film. It is not the greatest film you will ever see but I defy anyone to watch it and be bored or dissatisfied as it reaches out to you with action, love and an intelligence that encompass many different tastes.


Dead Man’s Shoes: Review

Published 28/12/2012 by crimsonghad

dead man's shoes

Put simply Dead Man’s Shoes is a revenge movie in the tradition of Straw Dogs, Mad Max, Death Wish and Once Upon A Time In The West but set in the rather less glamorous location of Matlock, Derbyshire. One man avenges the poor treatment his handicapped brother suffered at the hands of a drugs gang by exacting a concerted, bloody revenge. In these times of heightened feelings towards gun crime in America, following the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, films like this are all the more likely to be studied and castigated for their portrayal of a romanticised violence and yet those who condemn it are missing the point.

The director Shane Meadows is a particular favourite of mine. His localised Midlands stories have a charm to them that is very unique, very personal, very British. He tends to cast original actors for their raw energy and character rather than actual ability. Sometimes it works (Paddy Considine, Vicky McClure, Joe Gilgun) sometimes it doesn’t (most of the others) but in this particular case the lead character of Richard (Considine) is perfectly cast as a disturbed ex-soldier who shows no fear or remorse. He becomes consumed by this need for revenge and nothing or no one will stop him as he is accompanied by his brother on this journey.

Dead-Mans-Shoes-richard and anthony
Considine himself also wrote the script with Meadows and long-time Meadows co-contributor, Paul Fraser and this is shown in the performance as Considine’s own personal influence seems to shine through. The thoughtful musings and conversations between Richard and his brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell) were a chance to show the character as loving and relatable when the fact that he was murdering people should have disconnected the audience with Richard. The mob mentality often displayed by young groups of males is to the fore as these men tormented a young disabled boy and yet when confronted by their own mortality seem to be scared, remorseful and almost affable. It is up to the viewer how they wish to react.

This is a film about vengeance but it is also a love story because of two strands: Richard and Anthony as well as Mark and his family towards the end. These bookend the film as the viewer has travelled from violence at the beginning through copious bloodshed to the end. Dead Man’s Shoes does not preach or glamorise violence. It just shows all actions have consequences and that revenge is not always what you wished.


Tyrannosaur: Review

Published 27/12/2012 by crimsonghad


Bit behind the times with this review of Tyrannosaur but deaths, domestic violence, animal killing, sadism, child maiming and women on a hen do. On the surface this seems like an X-rated version of The Hangover – I’ve never seen that or the sequel(s) so I’m presuming – but watch it. It is sensational. As with all the best films it is a love story that is so much more than that simple premise.

And there are no dinosaurs. Sorry.

The acting is uniformly superb. Eddie Marsan is at his best as disturbingly tranquil psycho, James. Peter Mullan’s Joseph is the heart of the film with his detachment from life and his gravelly voice could send women to climax in seconds – I’ve never seen that so I’m presuming.

Last but not least, Olivia Colman. Wow. Just wow. I’ve heard how good she was in this film but Christ on a bike she is brilliant. And Christian. And not a generic lovely, insulting Christian but an in-depth character with so many levels it would make Tetris blush. Tragic, loveable and beautiful in equal measure I can’t think of a better female lead performance in movies in recent memory. Only perhaps Vicky McClure in This Is England 86 and 88 along with Emily Watson in Appropriate Adult on TV. She deserved all the awards she obtained and more on top.


To the writing. Paddy Considine was already a superb actor and writer. Add director to that now. The understated why in which he treated such delicate, horrific subject matter is masterful. I won’t give away the plot because doing that would be a disservice to a film that demands you watch and pay attention to it. Suffice to say it is hard to watch but it will reward you so well.

If you like serious, well-written, superlative acted drama then please watch Tyrannosaur.

Inspire A Generation: American Beauty

Published 28/10/2012 by crimsonghad

“Remember those posters that said, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”? Well, that’s true of every day but one – the day you die”

1999 was a brilliant year for films: Fight Club, The Matrix, Eyes Wide Shut, Toy Story 2, The Blair Witch Project, Dogma, American Pie, Magnolia, Boys Don’t Cry and Being John Malkovich. Amazingly, none of these were even NOMINATED for Best Picture at the Oscars the following year. And yet, whisper it quietly, the Academy may have got it right for once when American Beauty won the Oscar. Sam Mendes rightly drew praise for his brilliant directing and with Skyfall in cinemas this week the timing of this review is quite purposeful. However, it is writer Alan Ball and his Oscar winning script that I will seek to concentrate on.

At its heart American Beauty is a darkly comic study of suburban America. Our preconceptions often get the better of us as one person may be a successful in their career but a horrible person in their home life while the other may seem a failure in their career but a wonderful person in their home life but as Ball says, ‘the truth is somewhere in between.’ The mundane nature of these characters’ lives is such that we wouldn’t normally think about caring about them because we all know people who are like them. The subtlety of the work is in making us care.

The piece is a character driven marvel as each of the five (sorry Colonel Frank, Buddy, Barbara and the Jims) principal players begin a journey – which always invokes memories of cheap talent show tricks in my mind but please bear with me – that takes them from one spectrum of our expectation and beliefs right through to the opposite side. The best way to examine this film is, perhaps, by studying how each major personality changes.

Lester Burnham – the main protagonist who embodies the film. He begins the film in narration by warning us of his impending death, ‘I’m 42 years old. In less than a year I’ll be dead…of course I don’t know that yet. And in a way, I’m dead already’. A perfect way to start a film. It’s not a whodunnit by any means and yet by the end of the film we can see why all of the characters may want to kill him.

Lester himself begins as a man without a cause, “I feel like I’ve been in a coma for the past twenty years. And I’m just now waking up”. His despair at his job leads to a midlife crisis of epic proportions encapsulated by his early remarks to Buddy, ‘Oh, it’s ok I wouldn’t remember me either.’ He becomes selfish and ego driven but ‘happy’ alienating his family to the point where Lester’s obsession with his daughter Jane’s friend Angela leads to her derision and hatred. His life implodes and everyone hates him. There is of course a call back to his conversation with Buddy when he says, ‘we’ve met before but something tells me this time you’ll remember me’, after catching Buddy and Carolyn having an affair at the drive-thru. This happiness was a mere facade and by the end Lester realises true happiness was Jane and Carolyn.

Carolyn Burnham – a woman who seems to have everything perfectly under control. Fantastic salesman, loving wife and mother with a perfect house. Underneath the surface, however, she is in turmoil, ‘I refuse to be a victim!’ She is not the best salesman and seeks solace with The Real Estate King, Buddy Kane, who becomes her illicit lover in comically aggressive sex scenes. The repetitive dinner scenes are representative of her life in microcosm as she likes everything to be what she wants until eventually her husband and daughter snap and her life disintegrates. Eventually Lester persuades her with passion but her unwillingness to allow Lester to potentially ruin her sofa brings it to an abrupt halt indicative of her nature, ‘This is a $4,000 sofa, upholstered in Italian silk. This is not just a couch.’ She cannot change her nature but all of her family change and her lack of control drives her to despair and potentially desperate actions against her husband. Her selfishness is another factor in her daughter’s voyage, ‘Honey, I’m so proud of you. I watched you very closely, and you didn’t screw up once!’ This drives Jane on towards leaving.

Jane Burnham – she begins by hating herself, her family and the ‘freak’ across the road but her journey is almost the entire basis of the film. She discovers beauty in the form of love and happiness. She claims to hate it when her parents attend her cheerleading, ‘My parents are coming tonight. They’re trying to, you know, take an active interest in me’ and yet this is the attention that she yearns for. They, though, are too interested in their own feelings (Carolyn) or Jane’s friend Angela (Lester).This is the void that Ricky fills. The scene where Ricky, her neighbour, films her undressing should be disturbing as she is underage and he is essentially a voyeur, and yet it seems beautiful. She learns not to care about what others may think of her because she is beautiful and there is someone who recognises it. Her relationship with Angela throughout is also indicative of this approach as Angela tells her once more that Ricky is a freak, ‘Then so am I! And we’ll always be freaks and we’ll never be like other people and you’ll never be a freak because you’re just too… perfect!’ However, Angela is envious of what Jane has.

Angela Hayes – ‘There’s nothing worse in life than being ordinary’ says Angela, perhaps conscious of the fact that that is exactly what she is. And yet, this is not a conclusion reached for a long time during this film. She is the object of Lester’s desire. ‘Spec-tac-ular’ says Burnham as he daydreams of Angela, covered in roses. The use of vivid red imagery is striking throughout this film where the colour is often used to enhance the scripts more surreal and critical moments, such as the roses, the blood and the plastic bag. Angela portrays herself as the experienced grown up, desired by all around her and yet her journey is one of introspection. However, she is plagued by self-doubt and the genuine interest of Lester in her merely gives her real confidence and allows her to confide in him. She reverts from fake grown up to real school girl in what may seem like a horribly tragic regression but is shown by Ball to be magical and inspirational. As well as Lester’s obvious influence on Angela this is largely caused by Jane’s complex beau, Ricky Fitts.

Ricky Fitts – possibly the most interesting role in the entire film is Ricky Fitts. A young man who has serious problems and seems to most outsiders to be beyond repair. He has been thrown out of school and his parents have given up on him to point where when he and Jane are considering running away Jane muses, ‘My parents will try to find me’, Ricky replies, ‘Mine won’t’. And yet he is, in some ways, the heart of this film as he sees beauty all around. He films Jane because she is beautiful and not in a sycophantic teenage caricatured style but a genuine belief underpinned by his other actions. He films a dead bird due to this and, of course, a plastic bag in one of cinemas most famous scenes saying, ‘it was one of those days where it was a minute away from snowing and…this bag was just, dancing with me…’ Ricky is the fulcrum for four main characters. He does not change his views or outlook but his actions and influence change Lester, Angela, Jane and Colonel Frank Fitts.

You are probably wondering why I have not highlighted the influence of Colonel Frank Fitts since he plays such an important role. Well, I find him the least interesting and complex person in the piece. Even his moniker of Colonel makes it fairly obvious he is an authoritarian presence in counterpoint to his browbeaten, depressed wife and they are more there to highlight why Ricky has become the man he is.

Alan Ball says, ‘It is about searching for meaning in your lives.’ This is achieved by all of the individual characters going on a voyage of self discovery which converge at the same time. The other nominations for Best Picture in 2000 were: The Insider, The Cider House Rules, The Sixth Sense and The Green Mile in addition to those well-known movies mentioned earlier. Other movies from 1999 may have had more unusual and grander ideas than this list the Academy chose. However, when you look back at American Beauty it does not seem dated because it resonates so markedly with anyone and everyone at almost any time in the last 30 years and will continue to do so. Ultimately, the film is about beauty. This film is there to prove that beauty is all around us. From a young girl who hates her body, to a boy who can film a plastic bag. Those who can’t see it may have it staring them in the face and realise it all too late.

If you liked this:

Recommendations by this writer:

  • Six Feet Under
  • True Blood


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The Sapphires – Review

Published 16/10/2012 by crimsonghad

I’m going to make a prediction: The Sapphires will be the sleeper hit of 2012.

Last night saw the UK premiere of this enchanting film charting the trials and tribulations of the first female Australian Aboriginal vocal group. I was in Australia during September and watched a film that had been hyped as ‘The Australian Dreamgirls’ and ‘the film Dreamgirls wished it could be’. While Dreamgirls was probably a more rounded Hollywood style movie, The Sapphires ticks many of the same boxes but with a story far less well known and does it in a more pleasing manner for me.

It is based on a true story of four talented Aboriginal girls (in real life this included writer Tony Briggs’ grandmother) who suffer from the segregated society pervading Australia in 1968. The film juxtaposes powerful imagery and footage of the US Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War and Australian unrest at the time to great effect as it creates an emotional link inside of the audience.

Standout performances come from the continually impressive Chris O’Dowd as the gloriously ramshackle Dave Lovelace who provides wonderful comic relief throughout. He also maintains real gravitas in spite of this and to his credit never roams into hackneyed drunken Irishman territory. However, equally as good is the matriarch of the group Gail McCrae, played by Deborah Mailman, who brings a fabulously tender intensity to an at times dislikeable character.

At times the writing seems clichéd and takes a simplistic linear approach but this should not detract from what is a wonderful experience as a viewer. Indeed the audience I saw it with ranged from the very young to the very old, albeit with a heavily female dominated demographic. The dramatic scenes are not for the faint-hearted and some of the racism is hard to watch – indeed the reveal that the government stole Aboriginal babies that could be ‘turned white’ genuinely shocked me. That said the film generally kept a light-hearted attitude and the cinema abounded with laughter throughout. The woman sat next to me (in her late twenties to early thirties) had a fixed smile on her face almost entirely throughout.

As things stand The Sapphires is due for release in the UK on 7 November and has no release date in the US, although, with the backing of Harvey Weinstein and a gathering momentum of praise expect that to change. While not the most groundbreaking piece of film making in history – despite its unique subject matter – I highly recommend viewing what is a wonderfully uplifting cinema experience that I guarantee will leave you smiling all night long.

Inspire A Generation: Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno)

Published 15/10/2012 by crimsonghad

“Hello, I’m Princess Moanna and I’m not afraid of you”

Fairytales are very important to us. We all heard them as a child. We all tell them to our children. We all smile when we remember our favourites. Pan’s Labyrinth, put simply, is a fairytale. However, it is so much more than that. I could concentrate on many aspects of this film: cinematography, acting, special effects, costume and set design, score etc and while I will touch on them I am going to concentrate on Guillermo del Toro’s wonderful writing and the many levels on which he manages to engage our emotions. He does so through a set of themes that I shall touch upon.

The film is a Mexican/US/Spanish production set in 1944 Francoist Spain. Del Toro has described this as the sister film to The Devil’s Backbone – also set during the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War – in that a child’s experience of war is often left out of Hollywood films because they do not take part in actual fighting. And yet it can be just as important and compelling. The film centres on Ofelia, a young girl who is suddenly caught up in the guerrilla war waged after the official end of the Spanish Civil War as her pregnant mother, Carmen, is forced to move in with the child’s father, the fascist leader Captain Vidal. This causes Ofelia to create a world (or is it real?) filled with magical and mystical creatures such as the faun (not Pan as the English title suggests), fairies and monsters.

Ofelia’s innocence is immediately demonstrated by her clutching a book of fairytales but her mother dismisses it as, “Fairytales. You’re a bit too old to be filling your head with such nonsense”. Inevitably Ofelia sees/believes she sees a fairy like creature emerge which then follows her to her new home with the sinister Vidal whom she immediately dislikes due to his indifference and superiority towards her, “He is not my father. He’s not my father. My father was a tailor. He died in the war. The Captain is not my father.” This protest was aimed towards Vidal’s head servant, Mercedes, who gradually becomes a surrogate mother to Ofelia as the film progresses.

A theme of disobedience and rebellion runs throughout as the all of the main characters reach an impasse at certain points where they must makes decisions. Ofelia has to decide between obeying her mother and new father or believing in the faun and fairies.  At one point Doctor Ferreiro says, “ …to obey- just like that- for the sake of obeying… without questioning… that’s something only people like you can do…” Of all the characters the two most juxtaposed are perhaps Carmen and Mercedes. Carmen obeys everything Vidal tell hers to do without question, partly because of her pregnancy but also as she is afraid and tired of fighting a life of loneliness. Mercedes meanwhile is perhaps the most disobedient as she decides to hide her true feelings and motives from the one real monster, Vidal. The allusion of the two sides of the war is present here as are the transfer of motherhood responsibility from Carmen to Mercedes.

The idea of motherhood and fallopian imagery is another recurring and powerful theme used by del Toro in the film. The obvious pregnancy of Carmen is the obvious example and the lullaby hummed by Mercedes has a powerful effect throughout the film enhanced by the vivid pictures that often accompany it. The bleeding of Ofelia’s storybook begins a downward spiral in her and Carmen’s lives as it mimics reality. An image of a fairytale rose growing early in the film references child birth and the fallopian shape of the faun’s horns also does so along with the imagery of a tree Ofelia enters in a show down with a magic toad. The emphasis of nature is crucial to the understanding of the film as we are all subject to its forces.

Greed and gluttony are symbolised by the toad in the tree which is also an insinuation aimed at the fascist regime and Catholic Church of the time that were both rampantly corrupt. This voracity is also shown by the barn full of rations that Vidal keeps locked away from the people who need it as well as the unnecessary amount of food on the Pale Man’s table in spite of his diet not requiring it. Ofelia also fell foul to it on a lesser level as she ate from the table causing her problems, although, her repentance reaction perhaps shows that we are all capable of mistakes and can overcome them.

The idea of bravery vs. cowardice is another subject matter running through the film as all the characters are at a crossroads in their life. Carmen has to decide whether to fight on alone or rely on a man who doesn’t care for her. Vidal has a literal war to fight but he prefers to torture those cannot fight back. Mercedes is working for a man she despises and finds it tough to carry on the charade as does Ferreiro. Ofelia herself is faced with the ultimate decision at the end of the film.

In the end the film is a dark fairytale but, as del Toro puts it, he’s created a “fantasy world as real or scary as the real world”. He believes the point of the film is to have the violence and fantastic together at the same time. The colours of the scenes are important as they signify Ofelia’s journey. The red warm colours show her journey in the fantasy world whereas the cold blue palette is a reflection of the real world. She is reborn during the film and the fantasy and reality almost become one with devastatingly moving consequences. Del Toro has created a masterpiece of juxtaposition with far more symbolism and connections than I could possible go in to here or even understand. A work of pure genius that has to be seen multiple times to be truly appreciated.

If you liked this:

3 recommendations by this writer:

  • The Devil’s Backbone
  • Cronos
  • Hellboy


3 top scenes :

Inspire A Generation: The Wire

Published 13/08/2012 by crimsonghad

“No one wins. One side just loses more slowly”

“Fuck the casual viewer”

David Simon, writer and creator, said this in an interview regarding the audience of The Wire. And he did, literally. Not. That is an example of the kind of uninspired, insipid and frankly lazy writing that pervades a vast swathe of generic young TV shows these days. This is a trap that Simon never falls in to during five glorious seasons of The Wire.

Whilst creating a story that spanning all social classes in the US city of Baltimore, The Wire simultaneously maintains a dialogue that appeals to the disaffected black youth that the majority of the show portrays, as well as a middle class, white well-educated fan base making it almost unique. But how? Through his background as a Baltimore Sun reporter Simon has an extensive and unparalleled familiarity of the subject matter. Throw in writers like Ed Burns (former police detective), Bill Zorzi (Baltimore Sun politics correspondent), George Pelecanos (fiction author) and you soon see how an encyclopaedic knowledge has evolved. What they managed to create was a complex masterpiece that is my own personal favourite.

From the deadly consequences of childhood life to the comedic relief of the serial Kafkaesque intoxication of Bunk Moreland and Jimmy McNulty in Season One right through to the moral ambiguity of newspapers and changing of an empire in Season Five, The Wire asks questions of us and those around us at both macro and micro level of society.

Simon has created a world where no one belongs. Everyone feels trapped by some form of societal occurrence. Be it work, family, social class or even their race, no subject is left untouched by this genius. Even the characters are different from the norm. From night school attending drug kingpin Stringer Bell, to lesbian police enforcer Shakima Greggs and gay drug robber Omar Little- all are given fully fleshed parts defying stereotypes.

WARNING: – This is not easy to get in to. As Simon said, “Fuck the casual viewer”. In fact, I myself had four attempts at Season One before finally becoming obsessed. Season Two also comes as a shock starting with an almost entirely new cast and storyline in a different setting and subculture. However as Slim Charles says during Season Three in a veiled reference to the Iraq War (covered by Simon in the brilliant Generation Kill), ‘once you in it, you in it’.

The drama will enthral, the comedy will relieve tension and the almost unintelligible Baltimore drawl and slang (I am not distracted by subtitles so have watched all five seasons with and without them finding that it enhances my own personal experience) used in the writing creates yet another impressive layer to the authenticity of the piece.

If you liked this:

3 recommendations by this writer:

  • The Corner
  • Homicide: Life on the Street
  • Treme


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