Get on down to the Dendy Cinemas this week as the Windows on Europe Film Festival still has 3 days to go!
We are introduced to Benito “Benny Lacun” Lacunza who is living a rock-star life in Madrid as a jazz trumpet musician, playing in bars and celebrating his performances with plenty o’ booze. Soon his Aunt from his family home in the village of Estrella calls with bad news: his father is on his death bed. Benito returns home to visit his father and along the way finds out that his shy and sensitive brother Lalo (Julián Villagrán) is to marry Benito’s former crush Nines (Emma Suárez). Convinced that his brother is making a terrible decision, Benito decides to save his brother from himself. Soon however, Benito creates a bond with Nina’s young daughter Ainara (Violeta Rodríguez), and, amidst tragedy, Benito flourishes, taking control and offering his assistance in his own type of way, reconnecting with his long distant family and village where wackiness ensues…………..
The film is rich with cultural texture and humour. A joyous, but at times quite sad, look at what it means to be a part of a family. I watched this during the wonderful cultural food fair and ran straight out afterwards to get a chicken-tortia and a Sol beer! I highly recommend it!
In a remote village in Lapland we meet Nikolas, a young boy who tragically loses his parents and young sister in an accident. The villagers decide to take turns looking after Nikolas, with Nikolas living in each of the 6 houses in the village for a period of a year. At the end of each year, on Christmas Day, Nikolas is moved to a new home where he leaves toys for the children of his household as a final, anonymous, goodbye present. Soon however, the villages’ fish supply is cut tragically short. With none of the villagers able to support the young orphan during the lean Winter months, young Nik is sent to work as an apprentice for the cruel, hermit carpenter, Iisakki, where wackiness ensues......
Does for the Father Christmas legend what Casino Royale did for James Bond and what Batman Begins did for Batman! A lovely holiday tale, although quite sentimental in parts.
Set in early 20th century Corfu, we meet the proud, but debt-ridden, Ofiomahos family who, in order to save their fortune and lavish lifestyle, pressure their daughter into marrying the wealthy doctor Aristidis. From here, a domino effect takes hold, and the downfall of the family mirrors Aristidis’ romantic and political rise, where wackiness ensues......
This is a Greek melodrama epic set against the rise of the Greek bourgeoisie, where, akin to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and Eugene O'Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, the tragedy of the family's fate keeps unrolling, until only the credits give relief. Unfortunately we do not see much of the landscape of the beautiful Corfu. However, this is a wonderfully acted piece, if you like this sort of thing!
We are introduced to high-school student Ben (played by the intense Greg Timmermans), who is quite different from the norm. Suffering from a mild form of autism that prevents normal communication, Ben emerses himself in the online fantasy game ArchLord, where he is the strong and courageous hero, Ben X. In the real world however, Ben is regularly tormented by bullies, with his fate largely ignored by teachers and unknown by his parents. As the bullies' attacks escalate to humiliating cyber-bullying, Ben is pushed further and further towards the edge. Suddenly however, the girl of his dreams and online partner, Scarlite, appears to advise him of the perfect ‘endgame’ plan to confront and get revenge on those that have made his life so miserable, where wackiness ensues...................... Based on director Nic Balthazar's novel Nothing Was All, inspired by the unfortunate true story of a boy with autism who committed suicide as a result of bullying, Ben X is a tense first-person narrative of what it is like to experience bullying in the time of one’s life where not many options seem available, especially to one who has trouble connecting with others in the first place.
Tonight I am off to see Portuguese movie That Dear Month of August, directed by Miguel Gomes. 'Set in the Portuguese mountains where the population and its activities swell during the month of August', we follow the inhabitants as they enjoy their beautiful lifestyles amongst picturesque environments. The movie sounds like a mini-holiday! Should be good!
The Fighter is a biographical sports movie directed by David O. Russell.
We are introduced to professional welterweight boxer "Irish" Micky Ward (played by Marky-Mark Wahlberg) and his older half-brother Dicky Eklund (played by The Dark Knight’s Christian Bale). Under the coaching of his never-do-well brother Dicky, who is “the pride of Lowell, Massachusetts” for having knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard back in his glory days, and his overbearing mother (played by a fantastic Melissa Leo), we see Micky get pushed into a fight that he should never have been in in the first place. After receiving a vicious and humiliating beating, Micky is quick to rethink his career and his professional relationships with his family and also his love-life. Picking up the phone to call the young and attractive bargirl (played by Amy Adams) wackiness soon ensues......
Marky-Mark really is the quiet centre of a family drama. Without his restrained and very subtle performance, the movie would probably descend into a screaming mess. As it is, he is the bedrock where very colourful characters inhabit. Christian Bale loses himself in his interpretation of real-life character Dicky Eklund, absolutely deserving of his best supporting actor Golden Globe award. The pair’s mother played by Melissa Leo is reminiscent of Jacki Weaver’s Oscar nominated performance in last year’s brilliant Animal Kingdom: a mother who forgives/ignores her families’ dysfunction, choosing to have them to stay together no matter what. Amy Adams is also very convincing as a wrong-side of the track “MTV girl”, her looks being made to look an attainable and familiar beauty. One could easily say that Marky-Mark is the weak link as his star doesn’t shine as nearly as bright as others on-screen. Like his onscreen character, Marky-Mark is a stepping-stone, allowing his co-stars a leg-up, confident that he is centre-stage. Mark was integral in getting the film made, keeping his physique in top condition over a 5 year period on the off-chance that he would enter production at a moment’s notice. Like Natalie Portman in Black Swan, Mark went through a gruelling boxing-training regime to convincingly convey welterweight, giving a lot of thought into the psychology and technique of boxing (as seen in the movie).
The texture and atmosphere of the movie is extremely rich and authentic. It is as if we are transported to Masechusis America, complete with not-very-good-looking average locals (special mention goes to Micky’s many sisters). This is more-so than Black Swan which, admittedly, probably wasn’t trying to be at all realistic, given its horror film aspects. The film makers had real-life source material and references at their disposal that they have used extremely well.
The camera-work and cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is great. Switching from film to digital-broadcast quality during fight-scenes, we bounce from docu-drama to becoming a sporting spectator getting the best of both worlds: a great front seat to amazing action sequences, and bearing witness to the intimate relationship between boxer and trainer.
Critics have suggested that there is not enough actual boxing in The Fighter, but obviously this is more of a family drama then straight out boxing movie (hell, even Rocky was a drama first!). The obstacles Micky has to overcome are influences on his life such as his family, his management, his girlfriend and ultimately himself, that seem to only want the best for him. In reality however, either consciously or subconsciously, such influences are hiding ulterior motives of their own redemption and financial gain.
First linked to Darren Aronofsky after directing The Wrestler, this movie could have been quite a different beast, tuning the subject matter with more dark and serious overtones. As it stands however, Russell does a good job referencing the negatives of Micky’s life, (Micky’s internal doubts, his savage beatings and his drug-addled brother) while maintaining the focus on Micky’s rise above his various obstacles.
One could argue that amongst all of the drama and negative/poisonous environment that surrounds Micky, the movie seems to come together too neatly at its conclusion. This may be in tradition of such sporting films but it also occurred in real life. Marky-Mark has commented that the story was chosen as it makes a great cinematic story, thus art imitating life. After watching the lead up, I was satisfied with the final blow.
Great performances, great atmosphere and action sequences. A real sucker-punch to the tear-duct – 4 jabs out of 5
Luke McWilliams February 2011
We are introduced to the introspective Nina Sayers ( played by Natalie Portman) who is competing for the lead part of a reimagining of the classic ballet, Swan Lake. Nina must face fierce competition from other members of the New York dance academy, most notably newcomer Lily ( played by That 70’s Show and Family Guy Mila Kunis) and the relatively aging predecessor to the part Beth MacIntyre (played by Winona Ryder ). Amongst Nina’s stresses is her resentful and overbearing mother (played by Barbara Hershey) and the uninvited attention of her ballet director (played by Vincent Cassel ). As Nina begins training within this extremely stressful environment, attempting to channel and inhabit the Black Swan character, psychological wackiness ensues....
Black Swan is very similar in style to Aronofsky’s 2008 The Wrestler : the camera moves very closely to its actor’s shoulder, almost in a documentary style of filming. We are invited into their world through their eyes. Both characters make a living through expression through their bodies as opposed to everyday relationships. Whereas one lives for his low art, Natalie’s introverted ballerina chooses to be manipulated in her pursuit of high art.
The claustrophobic and insular world of the ballerina is expressed well, inspired by Polanski’s apartment trilogy (most notably Rosemary's Baby): we see Nina as she lives in her tiny apartment with her over-bearing mother, her crowded room filled with naive, virginal objects, shuffling into a tube train and then into the narrow halls (that look like a sewer dwelling) of the ballet school. Only in practice under the oppressive director and (finally) on stage can this bird spread her wings and be free!
The symbolism is extremely obvious and blunt: characters are dressed in black and white, with Nina wearing a white feathered boa and there are many references to mirrors and reflections, obviously symbolising Nina’s burgeoning dual personality disorder. Nina’s environment is also literally dolled up – teddy bears and other such toys crowd her room, shoving the infantilised, virginal princess idea down our throats. The metamorphous that Nina experiences is also so literally handled that it verges on the comical. The movie is also unfortunately extremely clichéd, with scenes such as the resentful mother actually telling her daughter “I gave up my career for you!” and the sleazy ballet director imposing on our young heroine.
In regards to Natalie Portman’s performance, either she gives a timid, shallow performance, or she gave a magnificent performance of Nina’s timid, shallow White Swan persona. The only scene where Natalie comes alive, or seems at least interesting, is her turn as a rebellious brat that is reminiscent of the lively Lily that only lasts a minute at best. Compared to Nina, Mila Kunis’ Lily is a fun and welcome site. Perhaps that was the point, but a great character arc may have served the character better. Natalie and co. apparently went through months of training to achieve dancer’s bodies and also to give a convincing performance as a ballerina on stage. Due to the very tight action shots however, the experience is a bit too crowded, with an audience missing out on seeing the full extent of the ballerina’s performance, like the ‘finishing move’ in The Karate Kid 2 we are left to fill in the blanks: oh, I see. Her expression is pained, her ankle is twisting, she must be giving it her all. One can of course argue that this is a film solely about the psychological stresses involved in the performance of high art expressed as a horror film as opposed to the dancing itself. It is interesting what real ballerinas thought of the film regardless.
In regards to the film’s script, Perfect Blue is a 1997 anime that dealt with issues similar to Black Swan, such as fame, perception of self and subjective reality. Darren Aronofsky owns the rights to Perfect Blue as he recreated a scene from the film in the fantastic, challenging and disturbing Requiem for a Dream. Perfect Blue is an amazing Hitchokian psychological thriller in its own right. It seems that Aronofsky is milking this one great reference instead of just dedicating himself to a fantastic live-action remake. Heck! Even the main character in Perfect Blue is called ‘Mina’. It should also be noted that Black Swan is also an off-cut to The Wrestler. Originally, the film was to mirror the lives of a wrestler and a ballerina in their various art forms, however Arronofsky obviously chose to split the two, now calling Black Swan a companion-piece to The Wrestler.
Not as challenging as Arronofsky’s previous efforts, the movie follows this year’s Oscar hopefuls as a flat, straight forward story (True Grit). Black Swan may be a fine movie by itself but in no way is it in the same league as previous Arronofsky films or Perfect Blue. Too blunt, too obvious and too clichéd when compared to its references, Black Swan is an underwhelming experience: 2.5 fingernails out of 5.
Luke McWilliams February 2011
We are introduced to Kevin Smith-like playboy slacker Britt Reid (played by Gen Y’s comedy slacker Seth Rogen ) who is the son of James Reid millionaire publisher of the Los Angeles newspaper The Daily Sentinel (played by the always awesome Tom Wilkinson). Once his father is found slain by an allergic reaction to a bee's sting, Britt finds himself at the head of a publishing company that he has no-idea how to run. After a burgeoning friendship with his father’s genius mechanic Kato (played by Asia super-pop-star Jay Chou), and an impromptu rescue mission of a damsel in distress, the duo decide to dedicate their lives to rid their city of gang-related crime, where wackiness ensues.......................
The movie is surprisingly very funny. I could not help but laugh at the improvised comedic delivery of Seth Rogen as he plays his child-like exasperation reacting off of the radiating, effortless coolness of Kato. Seth’s energy and enthusiasm is enough for us to empathise with Kato: it is easy to see why such a straight-laced genius would fall for Seth’s enthusiasm and be allowed to be swept along for the ride as his side-kick / partner. The child-like wonder is akin to Adam Sandberg’s The Lonely Island’s frenetic amazement that they have winded up on a boat! This is a gag that is used throughout the movie, let alone the Green Hornet mythology itself – if Kato is the one literally doing all of the footwork, what does he need the Green Hornet for? The relationship is well established in the movie as it is shown that, however idiotic Britt Reid is presented, he is the ‘ideas’ man, whereas Kato is the practical genius. Britt comes up with the ludicrous ideas, unleashed via his stupidity, whereas Kato’s logical genius is his Achilles heel – he can only see the logical side of things, taking Captain Kirk’s ideas and putting them, Spock-like into reality. The yin and yang, the logical and artistic, the right and left hemispheres working perfectly well. It is also great to see what happens to the duo when they are separated, and how they cannot function without the other, falling back into their apathetic ruts from whence they came.
The action scenes are great. The first scene where the duo fights the would-be muggers is excellent, establishing the pairings working/crime-fighting relationship – The Green Hornet is the mouth, and Kato is the fists....and feet and demonstrated in the TV series. Gondry’s bag of visual tricks are well delivered here, delivering a fight reminiscent of The One and The Matrix while putting his own unique, fun spin on it.
The movie falters however as soon as Seth puts on the The Green Hornet uniform. Instead of a heroic reveal a la Batman, Superman etc....Seth Rogen does not become the character, instead he is simply Seth Rogen wearing a mask. The 60’s television series was akin to the Batman television series although it was played straight and was actually very James Bond cool, especially with the incredibly cool Bruce Lee as Kato. Instead of looking into the character of the Green Hornet, Seth as star and co-writer simply bends the character to suit his on-screen slacker persona.
This movie’s script makes a conscious point to play AGAINST the ‘normal’ interpretation of the classic comic-book hero genre, even making references to the ‘problem’ with other comic-book heroes. The Green Hornet however is a 30’s invention spawned by The Shadow, The Lone Ranger and the same influences that gave birth to Batman. The Green Hornet has many similar facets as Batman: a death in the family leading to a ‘road to Damascus’ moment, a secret hangout, a contact within the police force, a mask, car and side-kick. The Green Hornet and Kato were even paired with the 60’s Batman TV show at one point. To have so many similarities in the first place and then try to play away from type within the same genre is an arrogant mistake.
From the second act, the movie derails. As soon as the duo are in their car, Kato asks The Green Hornet “where are we going?” to which the Green Hornet answers “I don’t know. I thought you knew.” This is a similar problem with the script: the duo become heroes for no real reason other than to have fun, and they get their act together before finding a goal or simply a reason for being. There simply isn't a plot to hang onto.
An action sequence during the day at a building site is also uninspired. The pair’s avatar’s, like Batman’s, do not ‘work’ during the day. To top it off, the unnecessarily convoluted plot and an illogical and muddled ending set-piece is disappointing when compared to the movie’s first fantastic action sequence. When Gondry is not directing a fight scene, the energy is left up to his improvisational comedy star to hit-and-miss the scene pretty much on his own.
The violence is also striking. The film is a cool comedy that young teens can really enjoy, complete with Iron-Man and Batman Begins gadgetry establishing the origins of a hero and his interrelationships with his team-members. Its fun stuff. However, scenes of explicit and cruel violence are quite jolting. The tone therefore is uneven. Digital stunt men are introduced under falling cars, objects and buildings. The camera then, unnecessarily, focuses-in on the dying men’s twitching limbs.
The ‘heroic’ finale is let down by vicious and cruel straight-up murders. I am uncomfortable with hero’s murdering their foe: Batman swore not to use guns or kill people due to his parents being gunned downed, but in the 1989 Batman, he has no problems blowing up a gang along with the Axis Chemical plant with a hand-grenade, dropping the Joker off of a cathedral after telling him “I’m going to kill you” or in Batman Returns shoving a stick of dynamite down a gang member's pants and then giving said gang member a sick smile before hurling him into an open sewer, leading to an explosion. Hell, even Christian Bale’s Batman tells the film’s uber villian in 2003’s Batman Begins “I’m not going to kill you, but I don’t have to save you” and lets the villian to his fate in a crashing train. However, in The Dark Knight, he saves Heath Ledger’s Joker from falling to his death...hmmmmmm............. Iron-Man even shot a group of men in a single shot, and then blew up a tank, presumably with a driver in it. He then reveals himself to be Tony Stark at film’s conclusion. I’m amazed that Iron-Man 2 was not subtitled “Dead Man Walking”. The heroic Optimus Prime in Transformers 2 goes out of his way to hunt and exterminate ‘evil’ Decepticons, and tells his opponent at films end to “give me your face” and then proceeds to rip his face....off. Bumblebee also rips the spine out of a Decepticon puma’s back, but that’s okay see...cause they’re ‘evil.’ It seems perhaps instead of all of these expensive gadgets, such ‘heroes’ should just take a leaf out of Death Wish, save a few bucks and just buy a gun.
I could go on further with what was lacking in the movie, suffice to say all in all, a very mixed effort. A sprawling, unguided comedy, with jolting Gondry camera tricks disturbing the balance. An unfortunately expected result from its troubled production history, something along the straight lines of the original television show or French short film would have been welcome.
2.5 Hornets out of 5
Luke McWilliams February 2011
Tron is a 1982 science fiction movie written and directed by Steven Lisberger, starring Jeff Bridges
We meet Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges) who is trying to hack into his old place of work, the software company ENCOM. Ed Dillinger (played by David Warner) previously stole Flynn’s video-game designs and, passing them off as his own, scaled many rungs on the corporate ladder, becoming the company’s senior executive. While Flynn is searching the mainframe for evidence of Ed’s wrong doing, he is consistently blocked by the extremely oppressive authoritarian Master Control Program (MCP) that controls the mainframe.
ENCOM employees Alan Bradley (played by Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora Baines (played by Cindy Morgan) inform Flynn that Dillinger knows what he is up to and has thus tightened security clearances. Flynn manages to get his friends on board his mission and they all break into ENCOM so that he can get them into the system and place Brad’s security program “Tron” within it: a program which would monitor communications between the MCP and the outside work. Once inside the ENCOM lab however, the MCP takes control of a matter-digitising laser which is aimed at Flynn’s back where digital wackiness ensues..........................
Tron was groundbreaking back in the 1980’s. The special effects incorporated classic animation, computer animation and live action elements using back-lighting techniques. It was extremely brave of Disney to take this project on as it was cutting edge: nobody had seen anything like this before and it was a risk. Similar to 2008’s Speed Racer, it was a hard film to define: was it live action or a cartoon? Even the Academy Awards snubbed the film for its special effects as they believe the production team “cheated” by using computers, of course now-a-days such CG use is the norm as it is relatively cheaper and safer.
Tron has excellent action sequences that are well paced and brilliantly realised: the light- cycles races and disk-battles are always coupled with a sense of urgency and danger, while all the while looking really cool with speed and glowing-ghosting of images leaving their trace across the screen.
The story of being sucked into a computer and playing along with the programs was a popular theme in the 80’s. The Star Wars two player arcade video game had a pilot and a shooter guiding its X-Wing through the Death Star with 3d vector graphics throwing themselves across the screen. It is with this influence amongst early video gaming verging on 3D that lead to the theme of playing inside the machine. The Last Star Fighter had its hero being lost in the story of his local arcade machine, an escape from his trailer park life. Unbeknownst to him, the arcade machine was actually a recruitment program which selects him to battle amongst the stars in his own space-ship.
At the time, video / arcade machines were a social venture, allowing players and viewers to be transported to a fantastical land. With the introduction of home consoles and desk-top computers, video-gaming became much more introverted whereas now, gaming can be done with a wealth of strangers online, albeit on your couch. Games however have now become so realistic, that the fantasy element has suffered. Instead of exploring other worlds with sci-fi technology, we are privy to stealing cars and participating in wars. It is interesting to note that early video-game movies which have placed their characters in the real world (Super Mario Brothers, The Wizard) suffered as a result, and that movies based on ‘realistic’ video-games underperform (Silent Hill, Alone in the Dark).
Tron shares a few religious philosophical themes usually reserved for a Manga film, particularly the religious belief in ‘users’: programmers responsible for their programs within the computer, god-like beings that, when descended into the Tron world, yield supernatural abilities.
The idea that programmers imprint their souls onto every piece of code that they write can be likened to any work that anyone does – a piece of us, our attention, our expertise and / or love is dedicated to every piece of work that we do, be it technical, artistic or caring for another. Tron represents this idea through using the actors playing the programmers to double-up and play their counterpart programs. This simple expression of this idea is executed perfectly, with soul imprints reacting to each other as they would in the ‘real’ world. This is a refreshing visual interpretation of the idea of what it means to be human compared to the verbose Ghost in the Shell. Kevin Flynn’s Clu program acts in the way I would have expected a ‘program’ to act – specific and robotic. However, ghosting of souls from programmers lead to a natural evolution of complexity to the programs having feelings and relationships, evolving beyond their ‘written’ purpose/destiny.
Disney excels at anthropomorphic characters, what with first giving a mouse a voice, then a dog, a duck and so on (heck, come to think of it they even did cars and furniture). Over time their characters started to look similar to their real-life counterparts, making their plight even more emotionally involving as we felt for them. Tron does keep this tradition going but with almost clairvoyant predictive clarity: in an era when computers where cold, beige pieces of furniture, Tron made us feel for programs: things designed to assist us, the real. Tron developed a social class but put a face to it as well, before Macintosh made computers a piece of high design, where people felt for tamagochi pets and where computers emitted sounds of delight or disappointment with our actions.
Of course now we can design our computers and convergent devices to our tastes, leading to an emotional connection with them. Will Smith’s character asks a robot designer “why do you make them look like humans” in I, Robot. Why indeed. Where children were flushing their newly acquired clown fish down the toilets to free them and keeping all of their old toys from the rubbish, should we really be thinking twice before deleting a program or Word document? Oh..that’s right: Windows does ask you if you REALLY want to carry through with that action, along with an emotional beep.
That being said, the plot and themes of Tron are tied in with programming theory and language. For a general audience member, let alone a child watching the film in the 1980’s where the internet didn’t exist and computers were more common taking up half a room in an office building, this may have been a bit daunting. In the computer tech-savvy millennium however, audiences should be able to follow this easily.
Obviously all of these themes and visual cues (especially comparing live circuit boards to a living city) were executed in the brilliant Matrix trilogy (which picked to death similar themed Manga films, of note Ghost in the Shell), encompassing many eastern themes and marrying them up perfectly with a wealth of psychology, philosophy, religion as represented through complex computer programming. Tron did it first, perhaps too soon for a general audience and therefore alienating itself. However the audience did select this movie through time and that is why it is now a cult classic.
Fun fast and flashy, this user gives Tron 4.5 disks out of 5
Luke McWilliams,January 2011