Saturday, 22 March 2014

Quote of the Week Review: The Damned United (2009)

By Thomas Broome-Jones

"I wouldn't say I was the best manager in the country. But I'm in the top one."

It must be said, football isn't for everyone, that's just a fact. As much as fans of the beautiful game like to think that everyone loves it, there are those who don't. Personally, I'm a big fan of football but I'm sure those who have watched this film will agree with me that you don't have to enjoy football to enjoy this film. It's much more than a sports drama, this is a human drama with themes of redemption, obsession and man's lust for competition.

The Damned United retells a semi-fictional version of events surrounding and leading up to the late Brian Clough's ill-fated spell as the manager for Leeds United. His tenure lasted only 44 days after he drove one of the most dominant clubs in English football into the ground, blinded by his own ego and determination to carve out a legacy to make his name synonymous with the club. Clough is played scarily well by one of my favourite British actors, Michael Sheen. The Welshman almost effortlessly recreates Clough's Middlesborough twang and carries the character with just the right balance of swagger, charm and cynicism to create a highly compelling performance.
Tony Blair's post Prime Ministerial career got him more in touch with "common folk".

Backing Sheen up is the ever-welcome acting chops of Timothy Spall, the veteran actor plays Peter Taylor, Clough's assistant manager, talent scout and personal friend. As Clough's world seemingly falls down around him, Spall's portrayal of Taylor accurately reflects the frustration of an unsung hero. His ability to spot exceptional players to improve the squad goes unnoticed as Clough is showered with praise. Such frustration is only natural and it is visibly evident in Taylor's apathy towards Brian as the film progresses.

The rest of the cast is fleshed out with some wonderful talent, notably Jim Broadbent, who, despite having won an Oscar not too long ago still appears in smaller British productions, bringing his irresistible charm and likability to every role he plays. The cast make a very solid script come to life as the rise and fall of Clough plays out over the course of the narrative, in which flashbacks providing essential character back stories aid the viewer in engaging with the plot. The on-screen chemistry of the cast is outstanding, all of their interactions with one another are natural and organic, making their arcs feel developed and wholesome, even for some of the smaller roles.

Director Tom Hooper, who would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Director two years later for The King's Speech, crafted a very simple story here but told it so brilliantly that the simplicity doesn't matter. At times it may be a task for the viewer to engage with the psychological pathos of Clough and his actions, but it all comes full circle in a lovely ending, the whole thing feels distinctly British.

My only criticism is of Clough himself, as strong as Sheen was it was hard to like or bond with the character. By the time the film ends he has truly found redemption, but at times I did start to wonder why I was supposed to care for him at all. But this is only a minor problem as it is more than resolved in the underplayed finale which really proves that less is more.

Overall, a great watch and a really strong platform for a truly talented man in Michael Sheen to showcase his abilities. Biopics are always about the acting and Sheen hit it out of the park with this one in a performance that I do truly believe should have received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Looking at the nominees from that year's ceremony there are definitely a couple that could have been swapped out for this one. I think this film can appeal to both fans of football and non-fans alike, it has universally accessible themes, blistering performances and a warm center. The Damned United is damn good

Thomas Broome-Jones is on Twitter, you can follow him @TBroomey.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Quote of the Week Review: Evil Dead II (1987)

By Sean McDonnell


In the sort of sequel to The Evil Dead, Sam Raimi creates a more interesting cult horror than the previous incarnation which is super violent, fun and most of all, silly! Raimi originally intended for his previous effort The Evil Dead to also be a horror comedy and as much as I find the hyperbolic gore and dialogue in the first film to be kind of hilarious, it is nowhere near as good as this beautiful masterpiece of horror! The film sort of picks up where the first film left off (I will warn there’s lots of continuity errors in this beautiful franchise) following the hero of the trilogy, Ash (the man, the myth, the legend - Bruce Campbell) who discovers the "Necronomicon Ex-Mortis" (The Book of the Dead) and accidentally releases an evil demonic force. Now Ash must use his courage to battle against evil, with very funny results!

There's a time and a place for this face, when I think of one I'll let you know.
The brilliance in this film is the pacing. The first film took a good - but understandable - while in developing the discovery of the book. This film however, only takes a few minutes. The iconic POV sped up shot of the evil kicks in, removing a plot build up but still keeping the suspense and excitement in what Ash will face. It’s just so simple, removing a little bits of horror development for the love of cheesy dialogue, alright acting (sorry Bruce, you’re an awesome dude because of your acting don’t worry!) and of course...GORE! The violence is what you’d expect if you’ve seen the first film, but it’s all the more funny because of clumsy Ash as he faces flying limbs, blood fountains and even his sanity! The special effects such as the stop motion are also top notch and definitely beat all the over the top CGI you’d see from a current spoon feeding “horror”. Raimi's use of makeup once again is also amazing, the detail on the demons' faces for a modern audience looks old but it really works a lot better than nowadays, such as CGI being used for Freddy Krueger for the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street.

It’s understandable why this film is a cult classic, it’s Sam Raimi and Bruce "Chin" Campbell at their finest hour (how were they involved in Spider-Man?). It’s a perfect film for any horror fan who wants a scare and a righteous laugh out loud. Evil Dead II is a low budget B movie classic that captures so much entertainment in 90 minutes that it deserves to be the best out of all the trilogy with its comical acting, amazing effects, camp script and all round sense of entertainment. It’s quite simply...*intense Ash voice* groovy.

Sean McDonnell is on Twitter, you can follow him @seanmcdonnell_. 

Sean also has his own blog, which you can find here.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Quote of the Week Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

By Thomas Broome-Jones

"Why would I not understand the context? I am the context."

Stylish, slick, but overall a relatively underwhelming experience. I wasn't particularly impressed with We Need to Talk About Kevin. The premise is highly promising, I haven't read the book on which it is based but from what I gather it is vastly different in style, with the book being a series of letters that tie together the plot. The film follows Eva, played by Tilda Swinton, an ex-travel writer who must cope with the consequences of a high school massacre committed by her son, Kevin, played by Ezra Miller. The story is told through use of flashbacks, with the psychological aspect of Eva's personality being explored in the present day scenes.

The main reason I didn't enjoy this film was what I perceived to be a lack of dramatic strength, the film felt empty and bereft of likeability. My dislike of the film isn't as simple as me thinking it was "bad", but I just couldn't find an access point. I didn't find any of the characters to be particularly likeable or interesting, despite Swinton turning in an outstanding performance. A lot of the scenes felt like they were simply hammering the same point home, Kevin has something wrong with him. After I gathered this it just became a chore to sit through more scenes depicting his acts of cruelty leading up to the massacre, which made for a boring watch for me.
I must say, making a dark sequel to Caddyshack was a bold move.

There is some merit in the technical level of the film's execution, although I found the cinematography to be uninspired and clumsy, the sound was remarkably employed, adding real tension to a film that lacks a lot of dramatic pay off until the very end. Speaking of which, the ending is the strongest part of the whole thing for me, I won't spoil anything but it does give a real dramatic punch to your gut that I'm sure will stick with me for a long time to come.

The acting wasn't anything special outside of Swinton, John C. Reilly is an actor that I have a lot of time for but he served his purpose and nothing more, his character was bland for the most part. Ezra Miller I feel was miscast as Kevin, I didn't find him all that intimidating or disturbing, I mainly just saw him as a bratty kid who partook in aggressive and erratic behavior to torment his mother. I didn't think there was any real power behind his performance, I've seen psychopathic kid acting done much better, Damien in The Omen springs to mind.

Overall, a film I'm glad I watched so I can say I watched it, but it seems to be without thematic direction. Is it about motherhood? Is it about psychosis? Is Kevin the subject or is Eva? Nothing is explored in great detail and it leaves me feeling unaltered by the viewing experience, it could have been worse but given the premise it could have also been a lot better. 

Thomas Broome-Jones is on Twitter, you can follow him @TBroomey

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Room Review

By Sean McDonnell

Where shall I begin with The Room? Maybe the fact it’s dubbed “the Citizen Kane of bad movies” by Entertainment Weekly? Maybe the fact that 10 years on it still sells out theatres across the globe? Maybe the fact it is one of the worst films I have ever seen in my life? No kidding, considering the poor acting, TERRIBLE editing, meme generating script and such. But wait, The Room is also one of my all-time favourite films, I’d go as far as to put it in my top 50 films list! The film department’s probably in tears hearing this, but they have to understand that The Room is just something else: Once you enter The Room, you can’t quit The Room! Tommy Wiseau as the director, star, writer and producer predicted over 10 years ago that this film would conquer the world and look at how right this mystery man is. Basically, this film is bad.

Wiseau stars as Johnny, a successful banker in San Francisco whose life begins to crumble as his friends betray him one by one. A very simple plot, but the main narrative isn’t the major problem with this film, I won’t go into massive detail but I’ll ever so slightly hint. Firstly, the editing doesn’t make sense as a whole and the acting is beyond poor, Wiseau’s performance as an example is just so odd for various reasons. He has a very unusual accent which is so humorous and hard to understand at times but you really can’t help but love his ever so dramatic (sarcasm intended) portrayal of a sweet guy. Because of his mysterious persona, he refuses to reveal where he’s from. Many believe France, some Eastern Europe and some even go as far to state he is in alien! Because of the poor acting, a lot of the dialogue had to be dubbed but it is so out of sync with the film itself due to editing. That's it! I will say no more, just watch The Room and forget everything you know about film!

In December 2013, I did my usual routine of searching through what the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square was screening and discovered that TOMMY WISEAU AND co-star Greg Sestero would be there in person for a Q&A screening in February 2014. I immediately booked my ticket and learned that they sold over 1000 across one single weekend. So there I was, first in line queuing an hour and half early before the Q&A begins, when suddenly, half an hour before...there they were, Greg in all his glory bearing a Drive Scorpion jacket who walks straight into the cinema after giving me a quick smile. Tommy runs along the line of the queue wearing nighttime glasses and two belts whilst people cheer his name. He then comes up to me with a simple “Hi. How you doin’?” offering his hand which I gladly accept. The PCC lay down the ground rules: No metal spoons, no American footballs, no booze. Simple. I entered, dropped my coat off at the front and ran to get a signed DVD and a pic. I was to a certain degree starstruck, just at the fact these guys are involved in a cult phenomenon...and of the fact Tommy is one of the weirdest people I’ve ever met. Greg passes the DVD to Tommy who insists on shaking my hand again two more times. Then after the picture (see below) I walk away offering my thanks when suddenly Tommy grabs onto my shoulder and once again, insists on shaking my hand for the forth time!

Sean (centre) had the "honour" of meeting Greg Sestero (left) and the man, the myth, the legend, Tommy Wiseau (right).
The Q&A experience was fantastic and downright hilarious! Questions ranged from “Favourite film?” to which Tommy would answer what everyone expected: “Citizen KAAAANE!!!!”. Tommy also offered blessings and dog-tags on stage to whoever bought Tommy Wiseau brand pants, and of course the blessing was beautiful “*name* In the name of the Father, the Son and the Goly Dhost hope you have a happy 2014 MOVE ON!!”. The film was screened and without a doubt it was one of the best cinema experiences of my life. The crowd was so enthusiastic about the whole thing, just constant cheers and screams of the film's flaws along with devout participation; such as the repetitive tracking shots of San Francisco, to which the audience is meant to scream: “MEANWHILE IN SAN FRANCISCO!”. There was also the throwing of plastic spoons, but I’ll let you as the reader find out the purpose of it. The whole thing was an hour and a half of me just laughing away at a screen which I’ll never forget. Seriously though, please watch The Room.

Sean McDonnell is on Twitter, you can follow him @seanmcdonnell_. 

Sean also has his own blog, which you can find here.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Quote of the Week Review: Capote (2005)

By Thomas Broome-Jones

"I have 94 per cent recall of all conversation. I tested it myself." 

A master at work: Hoffman steals the show convincingly.
The untimely passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman was one that shocked the world over, the hearts of so many were beautifully opened in tribute to someone who may just be the finest screen actor of his generation. I was devastated to discover that one of my favourite actors was no longer with us, especially as I thought his best was still yet to come. Hoffman was transitioning into directing and his acclaim throughout all fields had him shaping up to become somewhat of a modern-day Orson Welles. But the body of work he has left us with is rich in towering performances, among some of my favourites are his collaborations with Paul Thomas Anderson, a true genius and maestro of modern cinema, I have a particular adoration of Boogie Nights and Punch-Drunk Love.

Capote is statistically Hoffman's finest hour, it's the role that won him his sole Academy Award and it was thoroughly deserved. Simply put, Hoffman carries the entire film on his shoulders with one of the greatest biographical performances I've ever seen. After watching the film I took it upon myself to watch clips of the real Truman Capote, Hoffman's portrayal is more than just uncanny, he IS Truman Capote. The voice, the mannerisms, the facial expressions, I don't know how Hoffman did it but as an actor myself I can't help but adore the fact that he did.

The film's story concerns the process of Truman Capote penning what stands as his most acclaimed work, 'In Cold Blood', a unique non-fiction book that is widely regarded as having started the true crime genre of literature, or at the very least popularizing it. The idea of this genre is a book that uses fiction techniques to craft a narrative around actual criminal acts that have happened, using real names and interviews but arranging the facts in such a way that they tell a story. You may be familiar with the use of such methods in Asif Kapadia's acclaimed 2009 documentary Senna, which portrayed the life and death of Formula One legend Ayrton Senna using entirely archive footage, but still crafting a narrative.

When I say Hoffman carries this film though, I really mean it. Unfortunately I didn't feel like it was anything special outside of his performance, the supporting cast were fine but I'm somewhat confused as to why Catherine Keener received an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' author Harper Lee. The real thing that holds the film back though is the painfully uneven pacing, on the one hand, the scenes don't develop enough, we are rapidly whisked from location to location without being given any time to immerse ourselves in the narrative. But the isolated scenes aren't the only problem, the film as a whole feels far too long and whilst it does have an ending that packs an emotional punch, we're too exhausted from unnecessary over plotting to care all that much. "Speed up, slow down" pacing is almost always a deathtrap for a film.

There isn't really much else to say about the film, it doesn't deal with anything too complex, it's less about narrative and themes as it is about Truman Capote and his methodology. I recommend this to anyone who's a fan of Hoffman's work though, it demonstrates his versatility just as well as any other film. Not the best in his library, but certainly one of his strongest performances and one that will only make you appreciate the man's talent even more, Capote is definitely something you should devote your time to, who knows? You may even fall in love with it. 

 Thomas Broome-Jones is on Twitter, you can follow him @TBroomey

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Quote of the Week Review: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

By Thomas Broome-Jones

"These are my books. I like stories with magic powers in them. Either in kingdoms on Earth or on foreign planets. Usually I prefer a girl hero, but not always."

There's no wedding like a Wes Anderson wedding.
Masterful, loving, warm and heartfelt. Some choice words for Wes Anderson's incredible achievement known as Moonrise Kingdom. If you were to compile a list of true all-time great films from the 2000s it would be a short one, but this belongs on every single list on such a subject.

Anderson is renowned for his quirky and offbeat approach to filmmaking, his distinct style has earned his well-deserved acclaim from the public as well as critics. So, teaming up with Roman Coppola, the son of the legendary Francis Ford Coppola, Anderson has crafted something special and almost transcendent of every other film released within the last 10 years or so.

From the scorching opening sequence enriching the frame with vivid colours and whip pan camera movement to keep the pace up, a unique story is set in place. This is a story about love, but the film is so much more than that. Don't go into this thinking you'll be given a simple romance, the word "simple" is most definitely not an adjective applicable to the work of Wes Anderson. Childlike innocence, the absence of authority and guidance, the importance of human connection, this film is about humanity.

The plot concerns a runaway scout who desires to be with a girl he has fallen in love with, his scout leader, who is portrayed magnificently by Edward Norton, goes on a mission to track him down. The location of an isolated island seemingly inhabited by talented actors builds an almost dream-like world for the audience to lose itself in. This is a real strength that Anderson possesses, his films almost feel unreal and yet the problems within them are so easy to relate to, it's like the impossible meeting the possible, negativity in what should be a perfect world.

The comedy is spot on, which is to be expected with the talent involved both behind the camera and in front of it. I'm talking of course about Bill Murray, a man who is widely regarded as the finest comic actor of his generation, and rightly so. Murray is piercingly funny and despicable at the same time here, something at which he is somewhat of a veteran at. Whether he's throwing his shoe at Edward Norton or getting drunk and chopping down trees whilst his apathetic children dutifully ignore him, he's stealing the scene whenever he's in frame. A real return to form from the man who was in not one but two 'Garfield' films, oh, the pain.

The focus on children feuding with one another is reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, but at the same time feels like an original plot element. The children are remarkably able to hold their own with a cast that consists of two Oscar winners and two Oscar nominees as they shatter the preconception that child actors aren't up to par with adult performers. Their characters are believable as well as empathetic, their darker sides are balanced with morals and other human qualities.

Not many films I have seen feel as genuine as 'Moonrise Kingdom', which is somewhat ironic as it toys with reality at numerous intervals. It's something beautiful that I have fallen in love with, Wes Anderson has stolen my heart as a film lover and has sold me on his upcoming feature The Grand Budapest Hotel, which sports a few cast members from this particular picture. The genius in the craft work of Moonrise Kingdom caresses the soul and hits you with Cupid's bow, a romantic film in both the philosophical and figurative sense that can be enjoyed on more than one level, you have to see this.

Thomas Broome-Jones is on Twitter, you can follow him @TBroomey

Quote of the Week Review: Shrek (2001)

By Ben Hanna

"I like that boulder. That is a nice boulder."

Shrek, a wonderful fairy tale about an ogre that spends his days fending off the village people and living out the normal life of an ogre. This hilarious animated tale is about an ogre, Shrek (Mike Myers) who goes out on a quest to get his swamp to the way it was before it was overrun by fairytale creatures sent by the evil Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). On his travels, he encounters a donkey played by Eddie Murphy who accompanies him on his journey which takes an unexpected turn.

No, this isn't a photo from Lindsay Lohan's wedding, we've checked.
Shrek is one of those films that I can personally remember from my childhood as being, well, just brilliant. One of those family films that you will always be able to go back and watch, one that never gets old. An aspect of the film that I always have found to be great is the humour that’s used. Shrek can appeal to a younger audience with the silly characters with a fairy tale picture but it’s also enjoyable for older audiences. Subtle jokes and one-liners that are very amusing indeed. That’s what makes Shrek so versatile and enjoyable and definitely on of the reasons why it’s so well regarded. I personally don’t know anyone that doesn't enjoy a bit of Shrek.

The casting for the film is perfect, Mike Myers portrays Shrek as a loveable character that’s witty and funny. What’s interesting is the idea that Shrek, as an ogre is the main protagonist rather than a knight in shining armour. It really puts a spin on the traditional fairy tales but works so well. Eddie Murphy again is an excellent choice to play the excitable Donkey. Shrek’s faithful companion accompanies him through his adventures and definitely portrays that idea of true friendship.

Although Shrek has branched out into three more films, I still believe that this Shrek, the first one, is definitely the best. The story is richer and is more like a fairy tale which makes the film so interesting. The other three films all have elements of a fairy tale but it just doesn't feel the same. Never the less they are all great films and Shrek is definitely here to stay.