Sunday, 27 February 2011


Dir.: Greg Mottola
With: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen.

It is such a shame that good comedies are so hard to come by. I like Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and I was really hoping that their third collaboration would be at least as good, if not better, than their previous films. Sadly, ‘Paul’ is a veeeery mediocre movie. There are some good ideas in it and I think the basic concept of having a film about a badass alien is great in itself, but it seems like these ideas weren’t taken far enough for them to be actually amusing.Seth Rogen was a good choice to voice Paul, the wisecracking, E.T.-gone-bad alien. Some of his stunts are entertaining but overall his character is pretty flat too. The only real highlight of the film was Paul encountering a devout creationist girl and ruining her whole belief system just by existing.

Apparently, ‘Paul’ is full of references to other famous sci-fi movies, I’ve only picked up a couple and maybe this marred my appreciation of it, but still, it’s just not very funny. There were a couple of moments when I smirked but nothing stands out in my mind apart from a very fine cameo by Sigourney Weaver. It’s like they really expected the audiences to laugh just because the words faggot and cocksucker are mentioned about 50 times throughout the duration of the film. Don’t get me wrong, these words can be very funny when used sporadically and at opportune moments but in ‘Paul’ the script simply relies on swear words as if it was written by a 10-year-old.

It’s not like I expect comedies to have an amazing plot with unexpected twists and turns (just think of ‘Airplane!’) but at least some sign of respect for the audience’s intelligence would be nice.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Hosting the Oscars

The whole Oscar hoopla is largely overrated. I think that the main reason it generates so much discussion is because the winners instantly become the most bankable actors, directors, writers etc. It is the equivalent of winning the lottery in filmmaking. The show itself drags on and on, there is too much cheese, people you don’t really care about and people who are present in the audience for no apparent reason (like J-Lo). By the time the winners list all their family, friends, dogs et al, an average viewer will be most likely snoring loudly in his or her pyjamas. So it is really down to the hosts to liven it up a little and give us something to talk about apart from the often-appalling frocks and the overlooked nominees. The record holder is, of course, Billy Crystal, who’s presented the show eight times.

Here is a list, in no particular order, of the best attempts, which were sometimes completely unintentional, to make the Oscars a little less drab and a little more show biz.

David Niven and the streaker. 46th Award Ceremony.

Hugh Jackman Opening Act. 81st Ceremony.

Billy Crystal Best Film Montage and Medley. 69th Award Ceremony

Billy Crystal Great Films Montage. 72nd Award Ceremony. (embedding disabled)

Will Ferrell and Jack Black, Comedians at the Oscars. 79th Ceremony.

So, Anthony Hopkins, you can laugh, but someday soon you’ll see – Helen Mirren and the Oscar will be coming home with meeee!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

REVIEW: The Fighter

Dir.: David O. Russel
With: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale.

All sports films are alike. There is always a struggling yet talented protagonist (sometimes a team) who must overcome some kind of an obstacle, personal or otherwise, to become the best of the best. Also, there is often a foxy lady involved, providing inspiration and motivation for our central character. Boxing films are even more similar to each other, with a couple of possible variations. The story always starts with an underprivileged upbringing, initial dismay and lack of self-belief. Then someone or something happens to the boxer and he goes on a mad training streak (often with an upbeat soundtrack at hand), thus winning title after title.

The Fighter does not fight this stereotype, however, it does not mean that it’s a boring or predictable movie. The boxing is nicely interwoven with the family dynamics. There are some really good performances by the core of the cast. Micky (Mark Wahlber), although he is supposed to be the brutal fighter of the film’s title, is passive and constantly manipulated by his family from hell. Dicky (Christian Bale) is the one-time boxing champion, Micky’s elder brother and the centre of everyone’s attention, despite his crack addiction. He is very physical in this role. Emaciated, twitching and angular, he is quite disturbing to watch. He also seems to be much brighter and more perceptive than his younger brother, which becomes one of the main reasons for Mickey’s eventual success. Micky and Dicky’s mum, Alice, played by Melissa Leo, is the epitome of the controlling, strong and powerful matriarch. Alice, Dicky and his seven terrible, white-trash sisters (god knows where they found such fragrant-looking actresses) torment and suffocate Micky’s quiet soul. He finds salvation in the hands of Charlene, a gold-hearted bartender played by Amy Adams.

When Christian Bale was accepting his Golden Globe for The Fighter, he said that it was easy to give a loud performance when he was being anchored by a quiet one, meaning Wahlberg’s character. I have to say I agree with this appraisal. I also find that it shows Christian Bale’s more professional and understanding side (as you might recall his reputation was marred by his crazy outbreak on the Batman set). The Fighter received two other Oscar nominations in the acting category, for Amy Adams and Melissa Leo. All three are richly deserved.

I think that the best thing about The Fighter is the felt-through depiction of sibling rivalry and all the problems that stem from it. Forget about boxing, this could have been a story of two musicians or politicians (maybe the Miliband brothers will get a movie made about them in the future).

It was quite sad to see the real Dicky and Micky at the end of the film, both seemed pretty worn out, their faces have clearly taken many a hit. A fun fact about The Fighter is that O’Keefe, Micky’s trainer, is played by the real person, this just makes the story slightly more endearing. 

Saturday, 19 February 2011


Dir.: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman.
With: James Franco, Jon Hamm.

‘I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix’.

Thus begins the poem ‘Howl’ by Allen Ginsberg, a poem that caused an uproar after its first publication in 1956. The film attempts to deconstruct the poem’s origins and its effect on the public. It is not a biography per se, nor is it a documentary, however every line in the film is taken from an official recording or an interview with the people involved in the scandal. Essentially, what we get is a mixture of the courtroom drama at the obscenity trial started against the poem’s publisher, Allen Ginsberg’s revealing interview after the publication, a black and white montage of his life before 1955, his first public recital of the poem at a coffee house and a surreal animation that attempts to evoke some of the poem’s imagery.

My favourite part of this mish-mash is the interview; James Franco gives a very measured yet naturalistic performance as Ginsberg. When you hear him speak of his life, its ups and downs and the reasons for writing Howl, it is as if a light has been shed on the creative process. Somehow, without anyone pinpointing as to why, Ginsberg’s motifs and motives become very clear and intuitive. The recital part of the film is equally as compelling; Franco’s balance of fervour, irony and pain as he reads out the poem make it a mesmerising watch.

The courtroom drama part was considerably weaker, but the fact that Jon Hamm was in it, doing his Don Draper shtick, was of a huge consolation to me : ) Still, as much as I hate saying this, his dashing ways seemed out of place when compared to James Franco’s much subtler performance. The witnesses’ testimonials as to whether the poem had any merit were quite interesting. Personally, I found the animated part of the film a bit lame; it looked like some extreme fan of the poem spent a sleepless night at his home computer trying to produce a digital homage to his beloved work.

The film was released in most of the world last year, it was in the official selection at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals. I don’t know why it is only coming out now in the UK. I would recommend watching it if you are feeling rather mellow and cultural or if you are a fan of the Beatnik generation (I know I am not); or if you like James Franco and Jon Hamm (like I do), which is perhaps the lesser, but no less vital, reason for watching it.   

Sunday, 13 February 2011

REVIEW: True Grit

Dir.: the Coen brothers
With: Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon.

I never really watched westerns, partly because they are the kind of films you’d watch as a child and I never came across them and partly because in my mind they were always testosterone-fuelled tales of brutish men shooting at each other. True Grit is very different from this cliché. Firstly, the protagonist is a 14-year-old girl Mattie, who is extremely likable in all her earnest, strong-minded and bloodthirsty ways. She is extremely well played by Hailee Steinfeld with a surprising mixture of maturity, vulnerability and humour. The men of the film are not your average heroic cowboys – there is a one-eyed boozy marshal Rooster Cogburn played by Jeff Bridges and a dapper and slightly ridiculous Texan ranger LaBeouf played by Matt Damon. Both performances are of a very high standard, Jeff Bridges is comical, pathetic and menacing; Matt Damon, with his enviable facial hair, makes the character’s trajectory from an annoying and proud fool to a humble hero very realistic.

As I said, there is a lot of humour in the film, not the kind that would make you laugh out loud, but rather chuckle in a pleased sort of way. The thing that I liked the most about it was that it reminded me of all those adventure novels like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn that I used to read. There is the same sense of wilderness, danger and a roguish kind of attitude to life in this film; the equal amount of blood, cruelty and corpses. There are the bad guys and the good guys and the distinction is made very clear (although in the case of Rooster Cogburn we judge him on his merit and good heart rather than his moral and professional code); and there is the young protagonist who is full of fire and curiosity. One of the best scenes in the film is when Mattie bravely swims across the river on her horse with the two men staring at her agape.

I haven’t seen the original True Grit from 1969, but according to the reviews that I read this modern version is just as good if not better. It is also much closer in its bleakness to the novel it’s based on. One minor criticism is that Jeff Bridges’s slurred speech was quite hard to follow at times, but I guess it was him really living in his character’s shoes. Also, the bandits in the end turn out to be only half as dangerous as you’d like them to be, crooked teeth and all.

Whenever you watch a film with famous actors in it, you know that you are watching George Clooney and Johnny Depp. This time, the acting was so convincing that I found that I suspended my disbelief and bought into the characters completely, which is always a mark of high professionalism and good directorship. I’d also like to mention the cinematography, which was rather brilliant; the sepia hues made the film look much like an old photograph coming to life.

Thursday, 10 February 2011


I, by chance, came across two videos, one of them is Tim Burton's early animation 'Vincent' which he wrote, designed and directed. The other is Tarantino's first ever film 'My Best Friend's Birthday'.

Vincent is very funny and adorable, but you can already notice Burton's dark anglophile tendencies. There are many similarities with the Corpse Bride and Nightmare before Christmas.

Sadly, Tarantino'd first film is cut in half and we'll never know what happened at the party because the last 34 mins were lost in a fire. Nevertheless, the dialogues are extremely entertaining, Quentin the actor is young and the 36 mins here make for an enjoyable watch.

Monday, 7 February 2011


It is that time of the year. Noses all around are blocked, coughs get worse and voices deepen. Then one day you wake up and realise that you’d rather write an extra 5,000 words for your dissertation than get out of bed and even your dear flatmates tell you that you look “kinda shit today”. So, once you accept your fate and decide to stay at home, you’ve got to prepare yourself for a long day of doing nothing. Lemsip, honey, paracetamol, water, vitamin C, tissues, and nasal spray are on your bedside table and you succumb into a long and troubled sleep. Until about 12-ish. And then what?

Reading is out of the question, working too. Your brain seems to have disintegrated into a mushy sponge and you can’t really torture yourself with any kind of logical/analytical/verbal exercises. Therefore, unless you’ve been blessed with a great collection of audiobooks (apparently Stephen Fry is the narrator to go for), your DVD collection or the wonderful world of the Internet are your companions for today.

Checking your facebook becomes boring after a while, so maybe you should watch something – something not too long, not too depressing and not too demanding; in other words, a feel good movie with a high entertainment factor that you perhaps have seen before. Here is a list of films I would highly recommend to any fellow bed-ridden sufferer, these are relatively short, uplifting and not too sickly-sweet. Gesundheit!

1.     The Goonies. 1985
      Dir.: Richard Donner
      With: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin.

      This is one of my favourite children’s films. A wonderful treasure hunt with some Spanish gold, awesome baddies, really charismatic children and some truly funny lines. This film became a classic but not many realise that both Sean Astin and Josh Brolin play the main characters here!

2.     Zoolander, 2005.
Dir.: Ben Stiller
With: Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell.

I don’t know any other comedy that has been recycled into so many memorable lines like Zoolander. It also features many great cameos from a huge amount of people. Mind you though, watch only if you are really, really ridiculously good-looking.  

3.     Some Like it Hot, 1959.
Dir.: Billy Wilder
With: Marylin Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon.

Another classic. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are two misshapen musicians who witness a mafia execution. They decide to flee Chicago and disguise themselves as part of the all-female band going on a tour to Florida. I especially marvel at how masterfully Tony Curtis could transform into a woman. Some Like it Hot is so ridiculously funny for many reasons, but its final scene is perhaps the greatest one out there.

4.     Little Miss Sunshine, 2006.
Dir.: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
With: Abigail Breslin, Tony Collette, Steve Carell.

This is slightly more serious. Still, a comedy, although more on the black side, Little Miss Sunshine was the indy hit of 2006. Even my parents have seen it. It’s a lovely and realistic story of a dysfunctional family on the way to California in a broken van for the daughter’s beauty pageant. The little girls in the pageant make for a seriously disturbing show.

5.     Groundhog Day, 1993.
      Dir.: Harold Ramis
      With: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell.

      Bill Murray – gooood! Andie MacDowell – baaaad. But the film is still great. What would you do if you were stuck in the same day for the rest of your life? I think any film with Bill Murray is worth watching, especially if  he plays  the asshole type.

6.     The Royal Tenenbaums, 2001.
Dir.: Wes Anderson.
With: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller.

I love everything Wes Anderson makes. I think he is a real auteur of contemporary cinema, with a completely unique style and sense of humour. I only picked the Royal Tenenbaums because it is perhaps his best-known film, but any other ones would do as well – Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Darjeeling Limited, Rushmore, etc. This particular one is a story of a dysfunctional family, like all his films, with a great cast: apart from the parents played by Hackman and Huston, there are the children – Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson and appearances by Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Danny Glover.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

REVIEW: Rabbit Hole

Dir.: John Cameron Mitchell
With: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart.

Some dramas based around the theme of loss and grief can be extremely manipulative, melodramatic and sentimental. Rabbit Hole cleverly avoids this foul trap. Based on a theatre play with Cynthia Nixon of SATC and John Slattery of Mad Men, which in its turn is based on a Pulitzer-winning book, Rabbit Hole is a calm, measured story of a married couple who try to cope with their son’s accidental death and preserve a sense of normalcy in their lives. Now, that doesn’t sound particularly enthralling. You’d be surprised though – there is something life-assuring in both characters; as much as they suffer on the inside, their buttoned-up natures push them into trying to move on and come to terms with what had happened. They both find their redeemers in the unlikeliest of people.

Nicole Kidman gives a good, even performance as a smart, used-to-be-in-control, reserved woman who can’t help rationalising her grief. Aaron Eckhart’s character is more raw and his way of dealing with the trauma is perhaps more human in its weakness. There are some really nice scenes between Nicole Kidman’s character and her new friend, a shy teenage boy; they are easily the best and most natural scenes and dialogues in the film. Other than that, the characters and their lives appear rather sketched-in and are not persuasive enough. Maybe this was consciously done in order to focus on their emotional states, but the lack of detail in their stereotypical existence undermines the whole film. This kind of approach works better in theatre I think.

Much has been written about Nicole Kidman’s immovable forehead. I honestly tried to make up my mind about it whilst watching the film – and it proved to be extremely hard! There are definitely wrinkles on the forehead when she raises her eyebrows, but at other times it looks pretty porcelain-like, and not in a good way. So I don’t know what to think.

She is nominated for an Oscar for this film, which is a well-deserved achievement. Her acting here is certainly well calculated, in a way, it is quite similar to her character in The Others. Whether she will win remains to be seen – Natalie Portman’s insane ballerina is of course more of a knockout performance due to the nature of Black Swan. Kidman’s role in Rabbit Hole is quieter and more mature. What will the critics pick?