30 January 2012

MONEYBALL, and Other Awards Season Beasts

I've spent much of the last few months writing 6,000 words about Doctor Who and political satire, in partial fulfilment of my university degree, so that's why posts have been a little more infrequent than some of you might have grown to expect. I'm still seeing plenty of movies, I've just had less time to write about them afterwards. But enough of my busy schedule, cos it's time to catch up and talk about some films I haven't yet mentioned.

When the Oscar nominations were announced last Tuesday, there was quite a bit of love for Moneyball, which received six nods, including acting nominations for its stars Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, and one of the nine Best Picture slots. I'll be reviewing that first, but I'm also going to look over a couple of overlooked films from this year's awards scramble- Take Shelter and J. Edgar- and spend a minimal amount of time grousing about how the subjectivity of the Academy doesn't match with my own.

27 January 2012

CORIOLANUS- Review

I don't exactly rate Ralph Fiennes as one of the greatest actors in the world, and I find the measure of his best roles are the ones where he least reminds me of Leonard Rossiter. But he does make interesting projects, and ahead of his hobo Voldemort reprisal as Hades in Wrath of the Titans, he's come out with his directorial debut, Coriolanus, updating a less celebrated Shakespeare play to contemporary eastern Europe- "a place calling itself Rome."

Fiennes plays Caius Martius, a fierce and decorated soldier who is loathed by the people for his infractions of civil liberties and his general lack of the common touch. After a victory against rebels from Antium, and his hated rival, Aufidius, he returns to Rome triumphant, and is coralled into a political career by his mother. But his campaign for the esteemed role of Consul goes disastrously wrong, to the point where Martius is banished from his own country.

23 January 2012

UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING- Review


Underworld: Awakening is interesting, in just one respect. Somewhere in the last ten years or so, long-running film franchises have tended towards large arcing continuity over a succession of standalone features, like the James Bond series or the myriad sequels to A Nightmare on Elm Street. The Harry Potter saga concluded last summer, and before that, the Saw soap opera drew to a close. And that seems to be the problem with horror franchises that attempt this world-building narrative- they become like soap operas.

Read my full review of this shit-heap over at Movie Reviews...

20 January 2012

HAYWIRE- Review

Coming just a couple of months after his viral paranoid drama Contagion, Steven Soderbergh directs Haywire, a nuts-and-bolts action movie that stars MMA fighter Gina Carano as Mallory Kane, a deadly covert operative who beats the shit out of A-list actors. Soderbergh is clearly as diverse as he is prolific, but the two films do bear some similarity, in their respective debts to B-movie cinema.

At the beginning of the movie, Mallory arrives in a diner in upstate New York, only to be confronted by a colleague, Aaron. They throw down, and a concerned teen, Scott, tries to break up the fight. Mallory quickly dispatches Aaron without his help, but recruits Scott, and borrows his car, to help her escape the men who are looking for her. She tells Scott the tale of how her employer, Kenneth, betrayed her during a mission and left her stranded overseas. Now that she's back in the States, it seems the plan is to find everyone involved in the sting and punch their faces.

18 January 2012

WAR HORSE- Review

The Searchers is reputedly one of Steven Spielberg's favourite films, and one of the films he revisits before each of his directorial efforts. With this in mind, I've been waiting for some time, to see if Spielberg would make a Western, and it sort of puzzles me, that he hasn't. He's one of the great American filmmakers, and yet his only real involvement in the great American genre has been in his producing duties on the Coen brothers' version of True Grit and Cowboys & Aliens.

For that reason, I don't believe I'm reading too much into War Horse, which is based on the children's book by Michael Morpurgo, to say that its epic journey is very much influenced by Westerns, and The Searchers. The obvious differences are that it doesn't take place in the Old West, but in the West Country, and latterly the Western front, and Ethan's quest is replaced by the odyssey of a horse called Joey. This horse is pretty much the loveliest and most resilient beast that ever lived, but the spectre of the First World War divides him from his trainer and, I say it without irony, his friend, Albert. Survival becomes an adventure to Joey, in a tale that spans the whole length of the war.

16 January 2012

The Final Problem- SHERLOCK vs. A GAME OF SHADOWS

Last night saw the second series of BBC One's much-acclaimed Sherlock come to a close, after another three weeks of feature-length adventures. Unlike the first series, which aired in 2010, this series aired at the same time as the bombastic Hollywood version of Conan Doyle's detective was still playing in cinemas, in Guy Ritchie's sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Obviously, I have to compare them, and so from here on out, there will be spoilers for both the new film and the whole of Sherlock Series 2, but especially last night's finale.

14 January 2012

BlogalongaBond- OCTOPUSSY Review

Five minutes earlier, I thought "Something really stupid is about to happen..."
I saw most of the Bond movies for the first time during an ITV marathon in 2000. The ones I haven't seen, largely of the later Roger Moore canon, were missed because my dad, who then decided my bedtime and what channel would be on TV, decreed that they weren't worth watching. Octopussy was one of these overlooked titles, and ever since, I've had the misconception that it was going to be the nadir of BlogalongaBond. Instead, it's not even as bad as The Man With The Golden Gun.

This isn't to say that the plot holds any great surprises- it's still a Bond movie. The titular Octopussy (heh heh, titular) is the head of an exclusively female cult that also has a line in jewellery theft. Her agent in the field is Kamal Khan, an exiled Afghan prince who is mucking about with dodgy Fabergé eggs. After 009 is killed in the line of duty, delivering one of these eggs to the British ambassador, James Bond is assigned to untangle the confusion. He doesn't do a great job, but he is beguiled by his unknown connection to Octopussy, and presumably, by the assumption that she has eight of something.

13 January 2012

THE ARTIST- My Thoughts

As I keep telling you, the movie business is currently engaged in one of the most open awards seasons in recent memory, but that hasn't stopped a few favourites emerging. To give you an idea of how "meh" the last 12 months have been, in spite of having provided a host of good, if not awards-worthy pictures, one of the surprise candidates for Best Picture at next month's Oscars is Hugo. Good, yes. Best Picture good? Not really, and in some ways, the almost dead-cert winner of this year's Best Picture award, The Artist is comparable.

Created by Michel Hazanavicius, and the same team he worked with to bring the OSS 117 spy movie parodies to the screen, the main conceit of The Artist is that it's a vérité silent movie, operating with all the same rules and modes of address that were used in Hollywood's infancy. The story begins in 1927, and George Valentin is the movie star idol of a starstruck young woman, Peppy Miller. A chance meeting between the two gets Peppy a walk-on role in George's newest picture, with consequences that neither of them could have predicted. When talking pictures become the newest big thing in Hollywood, George's prideful dismissal of the technology threatens to tip him into oblivion, while Peppy becomes a stratospheric mega-star.

11 January 2012

GOON- Review

You'll have to forgive Goon's unfortunately awful marketing campaign, if you set any stock by my reviews, because it's a hell of a lot better than it looks. The film isn't due a US release until March, and this, along with the peculiarity-cred that comes with a Magnet production, is one of the indicators that the film isn't the haltingly unfunny disaster that might be suggested by sub-Dreamworks straplines like "Dumb As Puck." And truthfully, this hyper-violent but essentially sweet Canadian curiosity has more in common with Super than with Superbad.

It's a hockey movie, or, more aptly, a movie about competitive fighting, on ice. Nickel-headed doorman Doug Glatt is a kind-spirited lug, who violently defends his friend from an irate hockey player at a local league match. The team manager scouts out Doug for his enviable talents as a bruiser, and signs him up to play as a semi-pro enforcer, or goon- basically, a tough guy who doesn't play hockey so much as prevent his opposite number from damaging his team's properly talented players. He is prodigiously successful in this field, but his sweet nature is often mistaken for thuggery.

9 January 2012

THE IRON LADY- Review

This time last year, The King's Speech opened up the year in style. It lingered in the memory long enough to make my top 25 for 2011, and more notably, it went on to load Colin Firth's mantelpiece with plaudits, during the awards season. It was a far better film than this hanger-on, The Iron Lady, which also exploits that apparent fascination that Americans have with British history.

As per the film's shockingly uncanny poster, Meryl Streep plays Margaret Thatcher, in this slightly tenuous biopic of the much derided, and yet longest-serving British Prime Minister. Aged up, we first meet Streep's Maggie in her dotage, grieving her late husband, Denis, by conversing with his ghost and dreaming about past glories. It is from this present-day anchorage that we see the younger Margaret ascend to the top of the government with firmly held ideals about restoring the greatness of Britain, even if it means being unpopular with the electorate.

1 January 2012

The Mad Prophet's Top 25 Films Of 2011- #10-1

2011's done and dusted, but will Animal Kingdom top my list?
We've run through the worst of the worst from 2011, and 15 of the films I really, really liked last year too, so now it's time to count down my favourite movies of last year. You can watch the now-traditional video countdown after the jump, or scroll through my picks if that's more convenient.