Archive for March 2010

The Blind Side Review by Sam

March 29, 2010

After a delayed release to Australia and a delay in myself getting to the movies to watch this film, I finally got the privilege of seeing what most would call a “dark-horse” hit.

This movie surprised a lot of America when it was released. Made on a reasonably small budget of 29 million (small compared to today’s standards), The Blind Side came in at 2nd place at the box office with 34.1 million for it’s opening weekend, it’s entire budget, plus some nice gross. What some thought was a lucky weekend turned out to be a victorious run, jumping up (which is extremely rare) to 17.6% on its second weekend to 40 million. It was still in 2nd place at the box office, yet that was soon changed the week later, when even though it made 20 million, it finally hit 1st position. Word of mouth did this movie greatly, and over the films entire run in the U.S. alone, it made 254 million dollars! It’s still got a fair bit to make as well, due to the fact it has only recently been released to the rest of the world.

Ok, enough about money, and on to the actual film.

The Blind Side

As you may or may not have realised, I really enjoyed this film. It was a great feel-good story, with great drama. The performances of the film were outstanding, especially Sandra Bullock, winning her first Academy Award for her performance as Leigh-Anne Tuohy.

Sandra Bullock

Sandra Bullock shines in The Blind Side

She really stood out in this film, connecting viewers to her character and her emotional ties to Michael Oher. An honourable mention should be given to Quinton Aaron who, in what some would call his break-through role as the struggling man, Michael Oher, gives a solid performance. I’m not too sure how he does it, but Aaron manages to portray the silent attitude Oher has, yet evokes immense emotion through his performance. On a whole, the entire ensemble cast did a great job.

The actual story of this film was a highlight, and really worth discussing. It follows the true story of Leigh-Anne and Sean Tuohy who take a young African-American homeless man, Michael Oher, into their home, and offer him love and support. They provide him with a family. The Blind Side offers a heart-felt and touching story that really goes beyond a typical, corny film, and brings to screen something much deeper.

Initially, I thought this film would have a lot more football in it. I actually really enjoy football movies (Remember the Titans being one of my top films),

Quentin Aaron in The Blind Side

Quentin Aaron in The Blind Side

and so I was quite thrilled at the prospect of watching what I thought was a film following the tracks of some of the great football movies we’ve all witnessed before. I was actually quite surprised to see something quite different to what I was expecting.

There’s a lot more focus to the struggles of Oher’s life in the film, showing the audience his difficulties with school, his issues with relational skills, and more importantly; the immense complications involved with his biological family. That’s not to say there weren’t some great football scenes, which provided a great sense of satisfaction for the character of Michael Oher, as well as some uplifting and well-timed comedic relief.

John Lee Hancock has brought together a fine product in The Blind Side. He struggled in his previous work in 2004 with The Alamo, which was a box-office flop and was poorly received by critics. But in this film, he brings together a concise plot with appropriate visuals in a not-so predictable way. This unique approach allows the strong themes of family and not worrying about what others think of you to overpower any predictable plot lines and/or corny dialogue, which may have been evident if it had been handled in a different way.

With this film, it wasn’t so much the cinematography, the music or even the editing that was a standout. Which is why, I’m guessing, it wasn’t nominated in any of these categories at the Oscars. The director chose to downplay these technical elements to bring more focus to the story, which was an extremely respectable decision. That’s not to say that they technical elements weren’t great, which they were. They were used in a subtle way so that the viewer’s attention was directed to the more important elements.

The Blind Side

Family is a strong theme in The Blind Side

In a lot of my reviews, I find it easy to highlight all the technical aspects of the film that made it an enjoyable viewing, but rarely (and there are some exceptions), is the story the standout feature of a film. The Blind Side’s story was the standout, and was a great relief for some of the more technically focused films I’ve seen of late.

I give it 4 film reels.

4 Film Reels

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The Hurt Locker Review by Dave

March 29, 2010

On a friday night I was sitting on the couch with my girlfriend flicking between channels. Having made a full circuit of the available airplay twice, from memory; in my disappointment I flicked across the film Pride and Prejudice. A conversation ensued.

My Wasted Money

Probably resulting from my blatant disregard for Mr Darcy who, in my opinion, looked like some serious bad side burns gone wrong, it was soon discovered that I had not seen the film and it was most likely that I was never planning to- nor had I read the book or contemplated the mini series. Somehow it became necessary that I perform one of these arduous tasks: watch the film or mini series, or read the book. Neither option seemed fair and somehow we decided that she would read the book to me- which, I might add, I have my doubts about.

Now we come Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. As a illustration of my appreciation of this film, let me say this: if I was given the choice of watching Bigelow’s film or suffering through the sideburns of Mr Darcy- I would watch Mr Darcy, study him, and shout his praises from rooftop upon rooftop. Then I’d watch the mini series thrice- not twice. That introduction was way too long but my point is short: The Hurt Locker was terrible. Please join me as I recapture the brilliance.

Straight off the bat, yes I’m aware that The Hurt Locker (which herin I will refer to as “Hurt” due to prolonged pain it caused me) was nominated for a huge 9 academy awards, of which it won 6 including Best Picture and Best Director. Yes, they are perhaps the two most coveted awards. Yes, it beat Avatar.

Let me inform you of a democratic phrase which fundamentally governs the world: majority rules. Hurt was the lowest grossing film to have ever won Best Picture. Can anyone else here understand? The populace did not want to see this film! The critics will point to the trophies and snarl. I point to the empty seats and wasted time of those who briefly occupied those seats, enduring discomfort and boredom- the likes of which no ticket-purchasing individual should ever experience. Those hip pop-psychologists and critics among us will suggest that the fast-paced, mega budget epic films like Avatar desensitise us to the refined, sophisticated masterpieces like Hurt. Give me a break!

But what about the cinematography? Can you not recall the powerful desert scenes where the camera is almost still for two full minutes, and the struggle and depth of character it demonstrates? No direction has ever captured the reality of war in such a respectful and holistic manner. There is no way you can skirt around the uniqueness of this cinematography.

Give me a drive-thru Big Mac with fries and a super-sized coke and I will be on my way! Putting all red-wine-sipping-critical-appraisal aside, Hurt was akin to watching a mid-shot of a overflowing trash can on the off chance that a beautiful lady beetle would emerge for a mere second. This artistic mumbo jumbo might win awards, but the real award lies with the people. And the people have spoken… And the people have declared this film, bogus.

Did anyone else notice the complete lack of plot? There was no sense of progression or light at the end of any tunnel. Sure, there was a number that would appear on the bottom of the screen to show how many days were left in a particular war assignment. But this was so obviously an afterthought, and without it, there would have been a complete absence of plot progression. I guess the critics like something different. Most films aim to a captivating plot, how about this year we glorify the opposite: no plot? Great. Super. Now let’s award it with Best Picture!

People watch films to escape. I watch films to be entertained and relax. Indeed, a documentary is a legitimate form of film-making. But Hurt was not presented as a documentary. Perhaps it attempted to borrow from Dan Brown’s fiction which cloaks itself as fact. To this I would say, well did you ask permission? Fair enough, the direction and sound gave a realistic impression of the trauma of war and, in these politically sensitive times, Hurt earned the risk-taking card. But that is all the sparkle I can muster on this vintage chevrolet.

Due to its critical acclaim, I have no doubt that any potential below-expected box office results will be sumptuously rectified by DVD and Blu-Ray sales. But in my mind, my viewing was money wasted and time better spent watching the likes of Mr Darcy. I rest my case. Does the defence wish to cross examine the witness? Haha…

I give this film 2 reels out of 5- and a lucky 2.

The Hurt Locker Review by Sam

March 25, 2010

I was planning to review this film over a month ago, but times were a changing, and I kept putting it off. It’s funny how my opinion on this film has varied up and down over this past month, and I’m not really too sure where to start. There are both positive and negative points about the film.

One thing I want to say from the get-go is that I do not believe it deserved the Best Picture title.

The Hurt Locker

Now, let’s sift through the contents of the film, taking a closer look at what I did like and what I didn’t like.

Firstly, all the acting was superb. Jeremy Renner (Staff Sergeant William James) definitely deserved his Oscar nom, and I would even say that Anthony

The Hurt Locker Still

Anthony Mackie and Jeremy Renner

Mackie (Sergeant JT Sanborn) would definitely be deserved of receiving a nod. Their portrayal of the characters was outstanding, and heartfelt. I was convinced by their emotions, and through their performances, I came to understand the trauma and suspense their lives revolved around. It was also interesting and even somewhat confusing to see the three biggest names of the film; Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes and David Morse, have no more than 10 minutes of screen time each. I’m not too sure what the intentions were there.

Secondly, the cinematography was up to standards. Now, in saying this, I think Kathryn Bigelow took an easy and even lazy option here, knowing that the gritty look and the edgy and shaky camera movements are the latest craze. Nonetheless, it was quite good, and it really did emphasise the raw atmosphere, and compelled me to feel sympathy for the characters.

On a side note, I did enjoy the suspense that some of the scenes brought. For example, the opening scene of Guy Pearce’s character walking to and from the bomb was great, the first half of the sniper scene between Anthony Mackie’s character and Jeremy Renner’s character was enjoyable (the second half proved to be way too long and unnecessary), and even the scene during the raid of the warehouse where Renner’s character stumbles upon the dead boy was exciting.

Other than those few elements I found the film to be confused in the direction it was taking. The script was dull and didn’t lead anywhere, the direction seemed confused, and there was a whole heap of pointless scenes that tricked the viewer into thinking something great was going to occur, when it never actually did.

Throughout the film, I found myself wondering when the actual story was going to begin. Sure we had the setup, introducing the audience to all the prominent characters, but there was nothing after that. No complication/development, and no real conclusion. Basically, the film was a highlight of events. This had me utterly confused at the fact that this film won the Oscar for Best Writing, as I found there was no real concise story.

As previously stated, there were plenty of pointless scenes that appeared as if they had been added in to create tension, and served no real point to the story. An example of this is the raid on the warehouse where Renner’s character thinks his market-place friend, Beckham, is dead. This was interesting and intriguing, and he spent some time trying to confirm if it was in fact the boy or not, and it appeared as if it was. Then towards the end of the film, Beckham reappears, and the audience realises it was not him who was dead after all. A disappointing reveal to say the least.

Finally, the direction was a bit muddled. Whilst Kathryn Bigelow did portray the difficulties these characters were going through extremely well, I felt she didn’t spend enough time nailing some of the scenes to make them less confusing for viewers, which meant unnecessary time wouldn’t have been wasted.

All in all, I would say that I enjoyed the film in a strange way. I will admit that I was disappointed when the film won the Directing, Writing and Best Picture awards at the Oscars, as I felt Avatar deserved it much more, and Inglourious Basterds should have won the writing award. But I won’t let the poor decisions by the academy (in my opinion) bring down the rating that I give it.

3 film reels.

3FilmReels

Green Zone Review by Sam

March 24, 2010

It was interesting to note that this can literally be described as a mix between the Bourne series (no shock there) and The Hurt Locker, and that’s it. Plain and simple. I would honestly say that it’s like the films have melded into one, with the visuals and the settings of The Hurt Locker and the storylines and pacing of the Bourne series.

The Green Zone

This is a hard film to review, as it wasn’t poor, yet it wasn’t awesome. It just didn’t stand out. I think there was too much expectation of Paul Greengrass (the director of the latter two Bourne instalments, which were outstanding, might I add) to make an amazing film. He had his buddy Matt Damon by his side, and everything was looking on the up. I think that may have been its problem as well as the fact it was too similar to things we’ve seen before.

Director: Paul Greengrass

In the Directors chair: Paul Greengrass

The realistic settings and handheld camera movements combined with the corrupt special intelligence plotline seemed a little too contrived. Although the film is credited to be inspired by Imperial Life in the Emerald City, a non-fiction book by journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the story still feels a little out of place.

One technical aspect I would like to comment on is the cinematography by Barry Ackroyd. We’ve seen his work before in works such as Greengrass’s United 93, and more recently, The Hurt Locker, the latter of which he was nominated for an academy award. Some elements we fine, and I enjoyed about 65% of the filming, but it was this other 35% that had me complaining. Firstly, the amount of grain/noise we could see in the night scenes was too much. It was always on my mind, and then one particular scene where Matt Damon’s face was completely pixelated had me moving in my chair. Some other elements worth mentioning was the use of focus. There was one particular scene I remember where the camera zoomed in on some characters, and took its time to get back into focus. It just got to a point where it was somewhat distracting, and whilst they were trying for that realistic approach, they needed to draw the line somewhere.

On a more positive note, the performances were fine, the flow was quite good, and I was entertained as the movie progressed. Matt Damon delivered another reliable performance yet again, as did his co-stars Greg Kinnear and Brendan Gleeson.

Regardless of the strange mix of realism and corrupt special intelligence, it still intrigued me, and kept me wanting to know how it was going to end. I think there was a relief on my behalf that there was a consistent story, with a setup, a development/complication and then a resolution (unlike the more critically praised Hurt Locker).

I’m going to give this film 3 film reels.

Shutter Island Review by Dave

March 18, 2010

Leading up to my viewing, the only knowledge I had at my disposal was the film’s acting/directing combination of Dicaprio and Scorsese. Apart from this basic knowledge, I was under the succinct impression that the film was based on an island, and it was something to do with mental patients.

DiCaprio and Ruffalo looking down to the Lighthouse

Admittedly, the plot seems a little weak initially: a US marshal is urgently needed to find a lost patient on an isolated Island- I say as if there were some other kind. Yet from the outset, there was a lurking darkness about the plot- or maybe I was simply taken by the thick dark clouds so effortlessly hovering in the background.

Travelling to an island also gave Scorsese the unique opportunity to show off his directing talent. If you watch closely you will notice the elaborate, varied- and surprisingly effective- camera work which, combined with a twisted, melancholy sound backing, offered an intriguing and exciting commencement to the film. The combination of helicopter shots, vehicle mounts and a lot of smooth fixed-camera work assisted in crafting a seamless direction.

Peddocks Island was to become Shutter Island for the filming. Perhaps not enough emphasis is placed on this beautiful location. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peddocks_Island for more info.

Peddocks Island: the location for filming

One of the most outstanding elements was the costume design. Specifically, the plain white collared coats and pants worn for the majority of the filming were extraordinary. Why? Because they oozed plainness and clinical solidarity? Not quite. I found they offered somewhat of a blank canvas to illuminate the sinister background and focus the audience’s attention on the acting at hand. Truth be told, I’m a hug fan of clouds and rain and most things coastal but the plain whites only served to magnify the superb location for filming and pinpoint our lenses to Leo’s complexity.

I have mostly considered DiCaprio’s acting as a little one-dimensional. Yet his portrayal of Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island was believable and considered.

The flashbacks were visually powerful. They were potent agents in establishing the Teddy’s mindset as busy and embattled. These must be commended.

I’m tempted to pick up my shovel and dig into the historical human-testing-brain-adjusting issue that was raised but perhaps that will be saved for another time.

In all I was sufficiently confused and intrigued and subsequently enlightened to the extent that I would say this: It was an awakening experience. I give the film 4 reels out of 5.

4 Film Reels

Alice in Wonderland Review by Sam

March 13, 2010

Alice in Wonderland! One of the most anticipated films of 2010, what with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp reuniting once again (on what is there 7th collaboration together) for what is a classic and lovable fantasy story that has been passed through many generations and follows a girl named Alice and her crazy adventures through Wonderland. Alice in Wonderland has had over 20 film adaptations since 1903, and it can be easily debated that it is one of the most popular children’s novel of all time, hence the anticipation.

Alice in Wonderland

Now, onwards to the review!

I found this to be an extremely visually amazing film with great performances (most notably Matt Lucas in his role as Tweedledee and Tweedledum, as well as the always great, Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter), and I have to say that I loved the film.

Johnny Depp in Alice in Wonderland

Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter

As soon as I heard there was going to be a Tim Burton adaptation of Alice with Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter, I was stoked. Upon the release of the film, I was unable to see it straight away, and I continuously heard poor reviews, stating simply that visually it was amazing, but the story was lacking. Nonetheless, I was still going to see it, and about a week after it premiered, I did.

I couldn’t understand what all the negativity was about. Mostly I think it was because people expected to see the original story, which wasn’t used in this film, and so they came out feeling disappointed.

Luckily for me, because of the bad reviews, I went in with somewhat low expectations, and was pleasantly surprised.

Let me explain the specifics I enjoyed about the film.

First and foremost, as stated before, the visuals were absolutely stunning. The design of each and every scene was amazing and surreal, and it allowed the viewer to be taken into a completely different world. The animation was fantastic and the motion-capture characters were extremely well done. I found it extremely exciting to see how the creators had transformed each of the actors into the characters that we know and love.

Another highlight was the performances of the actors, and watching each and every character coming alive. The actors departed from there normal selves and literally became the characters they were portraying. My favourite characters were Tweedledee and Tweedledum, as portrayed by Matt Lucas.

Matt Lucas in Alice in Wonderland

Matt Lucas as Tweedledee and Tweedledum

He stole every single scene he was in, and provided hilarious comic relief. As well as this, he made the character his own, departing from a lot of the previous “Tweedledee’s and Tweedledum’s” that we’ve seen. Another honourable mention should be given to Johnny Depp, again taking the audience on a wild adventure with his portrayal of The Mad Hatter. This is a great performance by Mr. Depp, and again provides his own interpretation of the character we all love. A mention should also go to Helena Bonham Carter who transformed wonderfully into The Red Queen, giving the audience a character we love to hate. The voice acting was superb also, especially Stephen Fry in his role as the Cheshire Cat and Alan Rickman as the Blue Caterpillar, both immersing themselves completely into the characters. I will also quickly mention the leading lady, Mia Wasikowska, who I am proud to say is an Aussie, like myself, and holds the fort well as the one and only Alice Kingsley. A great performance by the ensemble cast.

Another mention should go to the composer Danny Elfman. He provides an amazing score for the film, creating great emphasis to the crazy yet wonderful world Wonderland is. The music he created for the film is beautifully composed and, in my opinion, this should score Elfman his 5th Oscar nomination, and hopefully his first win.

I think the only down-point of the film was the length. It was actually quite short, and I felt it needed some more developing to the story lines, and a more in depth ending to make it a complete success. I mean Alice in Wonderland needs a lot of time to explore!

Nonetheless, I think Tim Burton has done an amazing job with his handling the world of Wonderland and bringing his version of Alice in Wonderland to life.

I give it 4 film reels.

4 Film Reels