Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Wind that shakes the Barley (2006)

Directed by: Ken Loach

Written by: Paul Laverty 

In choosing a movie to watch for this week’s review, there was one deciding factor on the cover of The Wing that Shakes the Barley, which caught my eye– the badge of the Palm d’Or award from Cannes. Having watched fellow trophy recipient The Tree of Life (2011) last week I felt a sense of excitement and anticipation well up within me for this feature. However after two hours of watching Ken Loach’s award winning piece I was left rather bemused as to why this film picked up top honours at Cannes. It left me overall unmoved and unspired, despite a few moments worth remembering.

The story is that of two brothers, Damien and Teddy who join the Irish Republican Army in the 1920’s struggle against the imperial ‘Black and Tans’ of England. Damien and Teddy conduct a series of ambushes against the English forces, until eventually a truce is declared and a decision must be made between joining the Republicans and serve under the authority of the throne of Britain or continue to fight for complete freedom and independence. Teddy feels their victory is significant enough and joins the Republicans whilst Damien believes their socialist ideals are yet to be fully realised. Thus civil war erupts, with the brothers now finding themselves on either side of the battle lines. Ken Loach paints a very sordid picture of the English imperial forces with harrowingly realistic scenes of troops beating and murdering Irish civilians. His depiction of the English immediately establishes them as the ‘evil forces’ whilst the band of IRA fighters are depicted as ordinary civilians concerned and passionate for the freedom of their land and countrymen. Having said this, the sheer cold-blooded murders of the British at the hands of the IRA are chilling to watch. Clearly no side was blameless in this struggle. Loach portrays the IRA’s violence with a somewhat nonchalant attitude, which comes across as a necessary evil and therefore justified.

The performances weren’t stellar by any stretch. Cillian Murphy (Damien) probably did the best job of all and his interaction with his brother Teddy was central to the storyline, yet it wasn’t inspiring nor ground-breaking. There needed to be more drawn out from the two of them. Plot wise the film failed to deliver anything beyond average. A major problem for me is that 80% of the film is dedicated to the struggle against the British with only a fraction of the film set during the civil war struggles. This detracted from the film, as there wasn’t enough time to highlight and develop the tension and strain on the brothers’ relationship. This was where Loach needed to expound more and draw out more emotion from their newfound allegiances. The cinematography itself was fairly lackluster as well. It didn’t do much to add to the emotion or narrative. Yes there are some nice scenes of Ireland and the tones of the interiors and costumes correspond well to each other, but to be honest you have to try pretty hard to make Ireland look bland.

This feature seems to be caught in no man’s land. It is not a an overly entertaining action drama that one may expect from Hollywood, but it is neither an inspiring or thought provoking drama that masterfully explores the relationship and tensions between two brothers and the ideals they believe in. If anything it leans to the latter but doesn’t do a great job of that. Thankfully it did have plenty of raw fighting scenes to keep one fairly entertained otherwise it would be a tremendously bland movie indeed.

Plot/Development: 6.5/10

Performances: 6/10

Cinematography 6/10

Quality Rating: 61%

Entertainment Rating: 6/10

Tree of Life (2011)


Directed by: Terrence Malick

Written by:Terrence Malick

Cinematography by: Emmanuel Lubezki

Starring: Sean Penn, Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain

At first glance The Tree of Life (2011) has the all markings of a brilliant film. The DVD cover is stamped with the Palm d’Or award from Cannes and the cast includes the legendary likes of Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. However if you watch the film of Life expecting a typical Hollywood popcorn entertainer, you’ll be left sorely disappointed and probably very confused. The latest work by director Terrance Malick is an artist’s masterpiece in the medium of film more than anything else. The fact that Malick is the man behind the work should give some indication to what kind of experience you’re in for – think Thin Red Line and Badlands. There’s no popcorn Hollywood here.

The Tree of Life is an exploration more than a storytelling. It explores the relationship and interaction of nature versus grace, survival versus nurture and the fundamental questions regarding the beginning of the universe – a fairly ambitious task. The film juxtaposes images of nature in its purest form (volcanoes, dinosaurs, landscapes) and the galaxies with the microcosm of a small town Texan family set in the 1950’s. Brad Pitt plays the role of Mr O’Brien, the authoritarian father of three boys in their preteen years while the gentile Jessica Chastain plays their graceful and quiet souled mother. Sean Penn plays, Jack, the oldest of the three boys, in the midst of a midlife crisis in modern day America. The narrative cuts between scenes of Jack as a young boy growing up with his brothers and Jack as midlife architect vividly remembering his childhood.

Pitt outdoes himself as a loving yet overbearing father and husband. One gets the sense he genuinely loves his boys but his outbursts of anger are harrowing and fearful. Jack grows up resenting his father and seeking mercy in the arms of his loving mother. Sean Penn hardly utters a word in any of his sequences but his expressions and body language express his torment and inner strife superbly.

Malick does an excellent job of bringing out the best in all his characters, allowing the filming process to be as natural as possible. Pitt explains in the commentary that the fight scene between Mr and Mrs O’Brien was a completely natural and un-choreographed sequence. The boys interaction seems completely natural and unscripted. A great piece of directing indeed.

The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is breathtaking. From the epic shots of the raw and wild earth to the sequences of stars and planets, virtually every shot is a beautiful frame in itself. Even the sequences around the home and garden of the O’Brien’s are fluid and beautiful. Natural lighting is used in the home, giving the colors a soft and pastel feel whilst the outside scenes are full of warm glows and lens flares. Tree of Life is visual storytelling in its purest form. The narrative isn’t carried by the dialogue but rather the by beautiful, raw and juxtaposed visuals of nature and the family.

The film is not for everyone. What it does do is show that film-making can be so much more than a temporary blip of entertainment in our lives. The Tree of Life is a work of fine art in amongst a collection of graffiti. Unfortunately industry is more interested in creating graffiti as that’s what makes the money. Thankfully directors like Malick exist who are willing and able to create something beautifully different.

Plot/Development: 7/10 (I struggled to follow it without the aid of the commentary)

Cinematography: 9/10

Performances 9/10

Entertainment Rating: 8/10

Quality Rating : 83%

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Se7en (1995)

Se7en (1995)

Director: David Fincher

Cinematography: Darius Khondji

Editor: Richard Francis-Bruce

Starring: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey

Se7en (Seven) tells the story of a retiring city cop (Freeman) who takes his eager replacement (Pitt) under his wing for the last 7 days of his remaining contract. Instead of the last week being uneventful, the two detectives have to work together to catch a serial killer who methodically chooses and executes his victims according the seven deadly sins.

Se7en has been dubbed one of the greatest crime films ever made. It is masterfully pieced together into a cinematic crescendo of performance, directing, cinematography and editing that are all brilliant in their own right and work together to create a masterpiece. A word that adequately describes Seven is ‘timeless’. I watched it again last week and was amazed at the fact that it was produced over 15 years ago. It honestly could be released this year and be considered a brilliant film by todays standards.

A few notable features stood out for me. The first is the namelessness of the city the story takes place in. Visually it looks a lot like New York but the surrounding desert landscape rule this out. The decision to set the story in a city that is nameless and has no recognizable landmarks allows the story to be transcendent across all of humanity’s urban settlements. The idea of punishment and retribution towards those guilty of ‘sin’ echo throughout the horrific murders that take place. The serial killer, played chillingly by Kevin Spacey takes it upon himself to exercise punishment on those he deems guilty of committing one of the deadly sins. He acts as a divine authority choosing who gets to live and die.

One cannot watch the film and not be struck by the title sequence. Se7en started a trend towards well thought out and produced title sequences that have attracted nearly as much attention as films themselves. Se7en’s titles send a cold shiver throughout your body and masterfully foreshadows the killers meticulous dedication to committing murder.

The performances by Freeman and Pitt are central to the film’s success and their chemistry on screen is felt from early on. We see a much younger Pitt than what he is today and his eagerness and tenacity is great to watch, as he is far more measured in his performances these days.

Se7en will go down as a classic of the 20th Century. It is a brilliant example of every element of the film working towards a common goal of telling a spine chilling story. The final twist at the end is anything but predictable. The film could have ended brilliantly without it but its inclusion really does add to the epic nature of the story. In my mind it is a film that was way ahead of its time. A must see for all film lovers.

Plot/Plot development 8.5/10

Characters/Performances 9/10

Cinematography 8/10

Quality Rating = 8.5/10

Entertainment Rating 9/10

 

 

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Trailer: Gangster Squad (2012)

Gangster Squad is becoming one of the most anticipated films of the year. Set to be released in November it boasts a quality cast. These snippets of art direction, cinematography and storyline hint at an epic film coming our way.

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Thor (2011) Review: High Ambitions, Low Delivery

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Writers (Screenplay) Ashley Miller &  Zack Stentz

Stars: Chris HemsworthAnthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman 

With all the hype that is surrounding The Avengers and the latest announcement that it broke the box office record for opening weekend ($200.3 Million) I thought I should put in the leg work and watch Thor before I try and enjoy The Avengers. Halfway through the film I realized an unfortunate truth – that this film had woefully disappointed and was unlikely to resurrect itself in the final moments.

The film is set in the fantastical realm of Asgard where the arrogant heir to the throne, Thor is cast out by his aging father (Antony  Hopkins) and sent to dwell on Earth, having lost all his power and relegated to the status of mere mortal. The problem with the film is that it aspired to do too much and failed to deliver anything. It felt like I was watching a film that aspired to be in the same league as’ Lord of the Rings’ but could only deliver a B-grade production.

To begin with the performances were dismal. Natalie Portman was cringeworthy from start to finish. Perhaps she was cast out of her comfort zone but the onus must fall on director Kenneth Branagh for failing to draw out of her anything convincing. Her performance alone relegated to Thor to the discount shelf in the liquidating DVD store. To be fair Chris Hemsworth wasn’t terrible. He was believable and played the part of the annoyingly arrogant heir well. The string of other characters were nothing to write home about. Hopkins did well but that’s no surprise, unfortunately his character and performance were too little too late to help the fim.

If the performances were dismal, the plot was woeful. Once again I finished watching the film feeling betrayed by the poster (see the review for Drive). I expected the film to be set in the middle ages, with the warrior hero Thor smashing up evil enemy forces by the thousands with his mighty hammer. For a film about a hero and his hammer, there was very little hammering. Instead I had to try force myself to keep awake (I failed for about 5 minutes) as the plot bumbled along uneventfully. There was hardly any character development – apart form Thor and his slimy brother Loki. Thors four friends that come to earth to assist him felt like random bystanders that didn’t know what they were doing or who what were supposed to be. It seemed like a page of the script that developed them them was lost during  filming and no-one felt the need to do anything about – except just carry on.

The plot attempted to get a little more exciting towards the end with the final battle between Thor and the  but even that was uninteresting and lacked the excitement I had expected. You cannot set the final showdown between  inter galactic beings in a one horse New Mexico town. It’s bound to be lackluster.

After watching Lord of the Rings I had changed my views on fantasty films. LOTR showed that even the most hardcore realist could appreciate and accept the mystical and fantastical worlds created in fiction and cinema. Thor however took me back to my pre-LOTR days and rejuvenated my skepticism and disdain for poorly made fantasy. The costumes were ridiculous, the CGI wasn’t anything to write home about and for a superhero movie there was very little action.

Somehow Thor did reasonably well in IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes receiving a 70% average score. I do not know how this happened or what people saw in the film. I hope The Avengers is infinitely better because Thor was simply a disaster.

Rating:

Plot and Development: 4/10

Characters and Performances: 5/10

Costumes: 5/10

Quality Rating 46%

Entertainment Rating: 4/10

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