30 December 2010

Mini-Mad Prophecies- 2010 Wrap Up

It's still technically 2010 and there are a few films I haven't yet documented. Rather than do a load of longer posts today, I'm going to do what they do to Christmas presents on December 25th in Soviet Russia and wrap them all up. In just the one post. With the worst pun in the post already out of the way, let's get right into it.

Love and Other Drugs (now showing in cinemas nationwide) is a departure for director Edward Zwick, who's more often found to be making big epics with historical resonance. Here he follows Jake Gyllenhaal as Jamie, a pharmaceutical representative who hits the big time when he lands the new viagra drug, and his relationship with Maggie, a woman who has early onset Parkinson's disease. It's muddled in the way of that game on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, where the performers are required to change tack mid-skit at the whim of the host's buzzer.

One minute it's a romantic comedy. The next, a harrowing drama. The next, a romcom once again. Overall, the tone is both comedic and mature, pitching a grown-up love story for an audience poorly served by 12A Katherine Heigl-starring bullshit. This one rescued from its confusion by a stellar performance by Anne Hathaway and almost damned by an annoying and cliched turn by Josh Gad. With copious nudity to enjoy along the way, Love and Other Drugs should prove stark relief both to exasperated fans of the romcom form and to unwilling boyfriends who see this in exchange for getting her along to see Season of the Witch, or whatever.

On the polar opposite end of the scale, The Way Back (now showing in cinemas nationwide) is precisely the kind of film Zwick normally directs, but it's helmed by Peter Weir. It chronicles the journey of a group of escapees from a Siberian gulag as they trek to the Himalayas to escape their oppressors. With the determined Janosz spurring them on, they're eventually forced to overcome their distrust of one another and rely on their comrades to survive the harrowing hardships they face on their journey. If it doesn't sound like Christmas or New Year fare, that's cos it's not.

What it is comes as something of a relief- a great performance-led piece that re-announces Weir after a seven year absence from cinema. Even if it's not his best work, there's a lot to admire about his consummate direction and the beautiful cinematography by Russell Boyd. There's a danger of the landscapes overpowering the characters, but Jim Sturgess, Saiorse Ronan and Ed Harris are more than capable of engaging an audience. The Way Back might drag its feet over a two hour period, but the resolution is enough to make you feel like you've travelled, and you'll get further with it than you ever would with Gulliver's Travels or Little Fockers. However, if you're not into this kind of film, you're clearly looking to Love and Other Drugs for your last cinema trip of the year.

A Town Called Panic (now available on DVD) is one of a few films I've been hoping to catch up with for a long time and I finally got around to it last week. It looks like those Cravendale ads extended to feature-length, and the plot- centring around housemates Horse, Cowboy and Indian- is even weirder for its larger proportions. Nevertheless, its surrealism is consistently hilarious, and it's short enough that you miss it when it's gone instead of tapping your foot waiting for an end to weirdness. The animation is very nice too, and it even boasts one of the best action sequences of the year in its closing movement.

After that, I sobered considerably to watch Mother (now available on DVD and Blu-ray), a Korean film in which a mother's unconditional love for her mentally challenged adult son is put through the wringer when he's arrested for murder, and she's the only one who believes he didn't do it. Playing the eponymous matriarch is the excellent Hye-ja Kim, who's as good a left-field contender as any for an Oscar nomination this year, if the Academy can get past its usual segregation of better world cinema from Hollywood awards season fodder. It's perhaps a bit longer than it needs to be, but it's an arresting mystery that misleads without even becoming contrived.

I'm similarly way behind the curve on Black Death (now available on DVD and Blu-ray), a British horror drama set in the time that pestilence swept the country. Sean Bean is Ulric, an avenging knight who believes a healthy community is harbouring a necromancer, and Eddie Redmayne is Osmund, the monk who's enlisted to guide Ulric's motley crew of soldiers. Both are good, but the real surprise in acting terms is Tim McInnerny as a creepy village elder who gets the meat of the film's allegorical message- zealotry of all persuasions will come to no good. It's more reminiscent of The Wicker Man than of Solomon Kane, and for the audience I watched it with (my silly family), that was something above its station. However, they are very silly, and this is actually a very interesting and thoughtful historical drama that brings forth more subtle religious horror than expected.

More outright frightening is Frozen, (now available on DVD and Blu-ray) a film I caught during the recent cold snap that brought most people to a standstill. It's apt then, that this is a film in which a ski-lift is brought to a standstill as the ski resort closes for the week, leaving three people stranded hundreds of feet in the air in freezing cold conditions. It feels restrained even in its gorier moments, and as I've remarked before, horror grounded in reality is often more frightening to me than supernatural gubbins, slasher flicks notwithstanding. Even beyond its initial premise, a lot more can and will possibly go wrong. Without any critical irony, Frozen chilled me to the bone, using great performances and some expertly intense pacing to keep my rapt attention from start to finish.

Done! From tomorrow, we'll be getting into the Best/Worst of 2010 stuff, as well as looking forward to 2011.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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