Friday, 25 January 2013

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

To quote Kate Winslet in the third episode of Ricky Gervais’ popular sitcom Extras, “you’re guaranteed an Oscar if you play a mental.” Bizarrely, in the case of Bradley Cooper in David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, that could very well be correct. For this isn’t your usual romantic-comedy. It’s about crazies so it’s got depth… supposedly.  For this film has been eaten up by critics and the Oscar voters alike as a refreshing and exciting new direction for the now incredibly stale genre. It is certainly the type of film that was bound to get plenty of attention during award season. I think we all have to be thankful that Russell’s follow-up to his Oscar nominated The Fighter wasn’t also set during World War 2 otherwise Cooper would be a certainty for the Academy Award for Best Actor. So it was in the midst of all this hype that audiences flocked to see two of Hollywood’s most bankable stars step into the quirky and thought-provoking world of mentally ill romantic-comedy. But could it live up to it?

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (2012)

When talking animation there is one studio that is often overlooked thanks to such superpowers as Pixar and Studio Ghibli. That studio is the vastly talented Aardman Animations. The studio is known for its work using stop-motion clay animation, in particular the series of films featuring the popular man and dog team, Wallace and Gromit. It easy to see why Aardman doesn't quite have the presence of other studios as its number of feature films to date is only 5. They started off on a high with two critically acclaimed stop-motion films Chicken Run in 2000 and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit in 2005. It was their third attempt and, incidentally the first film to move into CGI, Flushed Away, that broke their streak. This and the run-of-the-mill Arthur Christmas were perhaps telling Aardman that it was time to go back to their roots. Thankfully, their 2012 feature film The Pirates! In an adventure with Scientists! shows us what this company is really capable of and it sort of feels very much like the kind of film they've wanted to make for years. Now I admit that I'm an unashamedly massive fan of all things animated and I am particularly fond of the more traditional efforts. There is still something so magical about stop-motion animation (so wonderfully displayed in the likes of Wes Anderson's The Fantastic Mr. Fox) and there is no doubt that there will always be a feeling associated with these works that completely computer-generated works will never be able to achieve. The films being produced by this quiet Bristol-based studio in particular have what can only be described as a definitive spirit that comes across from the opening credits onwards.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Life of Pi (2012)

I have to be upfront with you all, my loyal readership, and say that I haven’t actually read the incredibly popular Booker Prize winning novel by Yann Martel. Life of Pi was one of those novels that everyone initially considered unfilmable until Ang Lee only went and bloody filmed it. Who would have thought it would be possible for an award winning director to produce the beloved story of a teenage boy getting into trouble on a journey from India to Canada and drifting for 227 days with only an adult Bengal tiger for company? Attempting to achieve the impossible is becoming a major theme in Hollywood lately with major adaptations of, to name but a few, On The Road, Midnight’s Children and Cloud Atlas. The road to Life of Pi hasn’t been easy with one big name after another stepping into the spotlight and back out again (namely M. Night Shyamalan, Alfonso CuarĂ³n and Jean-Pierre Jeunet). Then in strolls Ang Lee to rise to the challenge aided by his dreamy visuals and incredibly life-like computer generated tiger. Lee is not new to the world of literary adaptations with critically acclaimed versions of Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm and Brokeback Mountain as evidence of his suitability. And whilst I can’t comment myself, I’m reliably informed that Lee didn’t move too far away from Martel’s novel, which ought to keep any Pi-hards out there pretty happy.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Hobbit (2012)

(I found it hard to try and maintain an objective view whilst writing this as I openly admit to falling in love with this film (is that possible? Hell if people in Japan can marry video game characters I can love a film) from the opening sequence. Apologies for any gushing praise that may infiltrate this piece… although not really because, as we all know, “love means never having to say you’re sorry”.)

I made a conscious decision to avoid reading any reviews for Peter Jackson’s latest Tolkien adaptation until I had seen it. I finally got the chance to see it today. I left the cinema this afternoon feeling all warm and happy inside and so could finally indulge my passion for criticism. Needless to say, my fuzzy feelings quickly disappeared and I found myself despairing at my fellow man. There’s so much hatred for this film out there that I’m starting to believe a load of film writers were actually shown a fake, shit version starring the cast of Hollyoaks wearing rubber facemasks. To those criticising the decision to make three films out of the book and declaring it “not very Tolkien” I only have one answer: Tolkien was one of the most sedate writers I can think of and it’s the very reason that I love him. It took me several attempts before I actually managed to get through the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy but by the time I did I adored his lush descriptive passages and constant distractions from the plot. It sort of felt like listening to an elderly relative recount a tale from their past and having to make your way through a multitude of tangents before you reach the climax. If you ask me, Tolkien would have been a fan of this three movies thing and, you know what, had he made them he’d probably have dragged it out even longer.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Dark Shadows (2012)

“Hey, have you heard? Tim Burton and Johnny Depp did another film together.”
“Not again.  This bromance is getting out of control. If they like each other so much why don’t they finally just get it on and leave us all in peace.”
“I think he’s already married to that actress who always turns up in his movies.”
“Of course he bloody is. Who can even remember how many films the two of them have made together anymore?!”

Of course, dear reader, we all know that the number of Depp/Burton collaborations to date is, in fact, eight (the number he made starring his wife is a slightly less obsessive 6). The latest being Burton’s big screen version of the cult gothic soap opera of the 60s and 70s, Dark Shadows. I was incredibly excited to see this film (even if it did take me about 7 months to actually get round to it). Not because of the connection with the show (as a child of the 80s/90s I only became aware of it thanks to this film) but because I unashamedly adore Tim Burton. Yes that’s right, dear friends, I am Murdocal and I’m a Burton-holic. I’ve started to discover a growing number of people who are quick to criticise his gothic genius and I simply don’t understand it. I realise that some of his films have missed the mark of late but, like Woody Allen, I remain loyal and naively go into every new Burton film believing it will be his best. So, like a child heading to bed on Christmas Eve, I sat down to watch full of an innocent hope that a distinctively dressed man would deliver the present I’d been dreaming of.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

2012 was, without a doubt, the year of the comic book movie. Back in April Avengers Assemble brought together some of Marvel's biggest names in a fantastic (though not without its flaws) group effort that paves the way for a potentially epic franchise. It was the year that Christopher Nolan fanboys had been waiting for with the release of The Dark Knight Rises, the disappointing end to his Dark Knight trilogy. In between these two highly anticipated releases came the reboot of Spider-Man. After three increasingly terrible Toby Maguire fronted films it was down to Marc Webb (who I assume was approached mainly based on the suitability of his name) to try and breathe new life into the well-known origin story of everyone’s favourite web-slinging geek. Considering it had only been five years since Spider-Man 3 brought an end to the Maguire/Sam Raimi relationship, the question on many people's lips was "is this really necessary?" From the initial announcement of the reboot back in 2010 the internet came together to denounce the film with the expected mix of hyperbole, hysteria and CAPS LOCK. It’s safe to say, there was an awful lot at stake here.