Tag Archive | 2011

We Bought a Zoo is an emotional exhibition

We Bought a Zoo, Cameron Crowe’s latest effort neatly spells out its premise in the title.  Based on the true story of journalist Benjamin Mee, We Bought a Zoo sees Matt Damon’s Benjamin doing exactly that, impulsively buying a zoo.  Yet, this isn’t really a film about animals, despite many getting camera time, but rather focuses on a family coping with loss and finding a way to move on.

We Bought a Zoo buys... a zoo(?) 16 March in the UK

There are some striking thematic similarities between We Bought a Zoo and the shockingly Academy Award best pic nominated Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.  Both films take place in the wake of children having lost a parent to an untimely death and depict the struggles of the remaining parent introduced into their lives.  However, the similarities end there, as We Bought a Zoo deals with the subject manner in a heart-warming, classy manner that Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close would be too busy exploiting 9/11 to even be able to dream of.  Much of the charm in We Bought a Zoo is down to Damon’s measured portrayal and the undeniably adorable performance from Maggie Elizabeth Jones as Benjamin’s daughter Rosie.  Meanwhile, Benjamin’s eldest child, Dylan (Colin Ford), presents the difficulties of a pre-teen whose life has fallen apart. Scarlett Johansson’s head zookeeper leads the too-zany staff that Benjamin assumes responsibility for upon purchasing his new home.  The literal journey in making the dilapidated, struggling zoo a success provides a colourful backdrop to the personal journey Benjamin and Dylan take in the process.
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In Darkness enthrals

A film entitled In Darkness can really be only one of two things: either a Dreamworks kiddie flick about the late-night misadventures of CGI raccoons and possums or it could be a beautifully crafted, but harrowing real-life story about a group of Jews fleeing from certain death via the sewers of a Nazi-occupied Polish city.  Given that In Darkness was one of five nominees for best picture in a foreign language at the 2012 Academy Awards, it’d be best to look elsewhere for light-hearted, family-friendly fare.

In Darkness illustrates the plight of Jewish Holocaust survivors who, thanks in large to Polish sewage worker Leopold “Poldek” Socha, took to the sewers beneath the city for 14 months in an attempt to save their lives. Based on Robert Marshall’s “In the Sewers of Lvov”, a compilation of stories from survivors the film depicts, the film is expectedly dark in both content and presentation.  Director Agnieszka Holland wisely skips establishing the threat of Nazi Germany beyond a handful of incidents directly plot related.  Instead the most immediately threatening presence is that of Ukrainian commander Bortnik (Michal Zurawski), who happens to be an old friend of Poldek (here played to perfection by Robert Wieckiewicz).  The realities of horrors faced by persecuted Jews and anyone ending up on the wrong side of the Third Reich are ever-present as In Darkness portrays this incredible struggle for survival.
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Trishna checks into the best tragic Indian hotel

If there is one thing British cinema has taught us in 2012, it’s that Indians like to run hotels.  Hot on the heels of fluffy pensioner-bait The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel comes Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna, the tragic tale of the forbidden love between a wealthy hotelier’s son and a beautiful, but poor young woman from a lower caste.  Based on Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Trishna stars Riz Ahmed and Freida Pinto and paints a vivid portrait of life in India, for better and for worse.

Trishna opens on 9 March in the UK

It’s whilst on holiday with his mates that Jay (Ahmed) first meets the stunning Trisha (Pinto) and instantly falls for her.  Though they come from different worlds, Jay soon decides that he must be with her.  Following a car accident that severely injures Trishna’s father, Jay offers her a job in his father’s Jaipur hotel so that she may be able to provide for her family and so that he can win her heart.  Before long, Trishna finds herself torn between her familial responsibilities, her ambitions and loving a man she cannot be seen publicly with.  As the story swings from Mumbai to Bombay to Rajasthan, many sides of India, modern and traditional are left on display, including societal attitudes that remain archaic beyond the country’s metropolis.  Beyond its bad romance, Trisha is a poignant commentary on the heartbreaking and unnecessary consequences of India’s caste system.
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New documentary highlights an ongoing showdown: Khodorkovsky vs Putin vs Justice

When German filmmaker Cyril Tuschi set out to create a dramatised portrayal of Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s life, he found that the real story behind is rise and eventual imprisonment was far more fascinating than anything he could spin.  He went on to spend over five years being researching the story and interviewing those involved (minus any statement from the Kremlin, of course), in attempt to present an accurate portrait of this controversial figure.  Khodorkovsky is the unfinished, finished work as the subject still sits in a Siberian prison while Vladimir Putin celebrates victory in a presidential election marred by claims of fraud.

Khodorkovsky is now in cinemas and available on demand online

Opening with a creeping panoramic view of snow-covered Russian oil fields, the film switches to a stylish black and white animated sequence illustrating Khodorkovsky’s arrest on board his private jet by Russian special forces.  Tuschi sheds light on Khodorkovsky’s communist background and how the neo-liberal became the face of capitalism in Russia thanks to ownership of banking enterprise Menatep and petroleum company Yukos.  Becoming Russia’s richest man thanks to corruption at government level, Khodorkovsky went on to bite the hand that fed him, angering Putin in the process, and openly supported the opposition parties.  Tuschi’s documentary spends time with former business partners of Khodorkovsky, his first wife, his oldest son and various politicians (as well as a surprise appearance from a hungry hippopotamus) as letters from the imprisoned oligarch himself enables Khodorkovsky to give his side of the story.
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Review: Rampart

Woody Harrelson is “Date Rape” Dave Brown, a police officer at the core of a scandal-embroiled police station in director Oren Moverman’s Rampart.  Penned by James Ellroy, the most prolific author in American crime fiction (LA Confidential, The Black Dahlia), the film tells the tale of a dirty cop in the eye of a public and political firestorm that threatens to ensure his downfall.  As a semi art-house take on the corrupt cop genre, Rampart is a haunting personal view into a rogue’s crumbling life.

As is Ellroy’s trademark, Rampart places a fictional story in the midst of true events; in this case the Rampart scandal that consumed the LAPD’s anti-gang division of the same name.  In Ellroy’s world, Brown, a Vietnam vet, is a key figure who has repeatedly withstood the charges with his career miraculously intact.  However, the impact on his personal life has been far greater.  The bizarre family dynamic between his two daughters, ex-wife and current girlfriend is a powder keg waiting to blow. His eldest daughter, Helen (Brie Larson) is the only one to have her father sussed for the womanising, racist, bigot he is.  As the noose tightens around Brown’s neck professionally, his desperation expands: blackmail, murder, robbery; Rampart is akin to watching a man drown.  There is little presented here to like about Brown.  His tactics are never glamourised and there is no real sense of heroism to him as it becomes increasingly clear that he’s in well over his head and not clever enough to evade comeuppance.
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Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Set a year after the 9/11 attacks, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close focuses on a young boy’s struggle to come to terms with the loss of his father.  That may sound well enough on the surface, but when that boy is one of the most unlikable protagonists in the history of cinema and the film utilises the terrorist attack only in order to evoke an otherwise undeserved emotional response, the outcome is anything but tolerable.  Inexplicably nominated for an Academy Award for best picture, those responsible for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close shouldn’t even be allowed into the (formerly) Kodak Theatre, let alone in the running for awards.

This may as well have been the official poster for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Based on the Jonathan Safran Foer novel of the same name, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (henceforth to be referred to as Extremely Grating, for short) stars Tom Hanks, doing a Jewish New Yawker accent in the flashbacks prior to his untimely death, as the father of 9 year old Oskar (Thomas Horn, either amazing or horrible here, depending on whether or not the intention was for the viewer to hate the character).  Sandra Bullock is the grieving widow who has to deal with her son’s inability to process emotions correctly.  Yes, added to the mix is the possibility that lil’ Oskar may (or may not) have Asperger’s syndrome. Perhaps that possibility is meant to drum up more sympathy for his character or somehow diminish the wish that 9/11 had been Take-Your-Son-to-Work day.  If so, it fails.  Miserably.  So after Oskar finds a mysterious key in his father’s closet, it’s time to suffer through his mission to discover exactly what secrets it unlocks.  No longer being a dick just to his mother or the doorman, the aggravating little shit takes his show across the five boroughs, harassing anyone with the surname of Black.  Luckily for Oskar, most of them are able to manage being in his presence without choking him right back into his father’s waiting arms.  A lot of nothing happens and then Max von Sydow turns up as the mysterious Renter of Oskar’s grandmother’s spare room.  Seemingly there to offset Oskar’s ridiculously high volume, von Sydow plays a mute who helps the boy on his journey.  His performance is the only aspect of any value in Extremely Grating.
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Review: Young Adult

Young Adult marks Jason Reitman’s first film since 2009’s critically acclaimed Up in the Air. Written by Juno’s Diablo Cody, the dramedy centred on CharlizeTheron’s emotionally stunted ghost-writer initially appears to be fitting companion piece to Reitman’s powerful depiction of a career-dedicated life.  However, despite a terrific turn by Theron, the film is marred by a third act devoid of heart, substance and sensibility.

Young Adult is released on 3 February in the UK

Theron is Mavis Gary, a 37-year-old author of a fiction series for young adults.  Recently divorced and being pressured to complete the series’ final book, Mavis trudges through life with her loyal Pomeranian by her side.  Her life of boozing and laziness becomes disrupted by a birth announcement from her former beau, the now married Buddy (Patrick Wilson). Mavis sets out to rescue her ex from family life- which is likened to being held hostage.  Returning to her home town from Minneapolis under false pretences, Mavis encounters an array of blasts from the past, including “hate crime guy” Matt (Patton Oswalt), left disabled after a high school beating and now living with his completely under-developed sister (Collette Wolfe).  Aware of Mavis’ true intentions, Matt acts as her confidant, drinking partner and the voice of reason (duly ignored, of course).  Stubbornly insistent on reclaiming her past glories, Mavis presses on with her plan to steal Buddy away, resulting in painfully awkward consequences.
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Review: Carnage

From Yasmina Reza’s play God of Carnage comes the Roman Polanski feature film Carnage featuring a charismatic ensemble of Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and John C Reilly. Set in a New York apartment, Carnage retains its stage-like quality as it plays out like an 80 minute comedy sketch.  Deeply cynical and wickedly funny, Carnage’s only agenda item is to entertain and it accomplishes that with flying colours (which are often shades of blue).

John C Reilly and Christoph Waltz help create Carnage in the UK on 3 February.

The opening credits run over a sequence that sees a playground dispute break out amongst a group of young boys.  One lashes another in the face with a branch and flees the scene.  The next shot introduces what will become a very familiar location, the apartment of Penelope (Foster) and Michael Longstreet (Reilly).  Joining them are Nancy (Winslet) and Alan Cowan (Waltz), the parents of the stick-wielding boy who has “disfigured” the face of his classmate, the Longstreet’s son.  Meeting to discuss the incident and find a way to resolve the ill-will between the children, what starts off as an icy, awkward clash of perspectives and personality, slowly unravels as tempers flare and Scotch flows.  The static, enclosed apartment setting creates a restlessness felt by the viewer and reflected in the deteriorating civility of the afternoon. Through apple crumble, constant phone calls, nausea and ethical debates over Africa, allegiances form and dissolve, bonds are forged and broken and couples are left looking much like children themselves.
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Review: The Descendants

This year’s Academy Awards appears to be a two-horse race.  The odds-on favourite is the delightful, classic Hollywood charm of The Artist; however it would be a mistake to write-off the silent film’s stiffest competition, Alexander Payne’s heavy-yet-hysterical The Descendants. With George Clooney at his finest, a star-making contribution from young Shailene Woodley and an intelligent, edgy screenplay, The Descendants makes a serious run for the title of Best Picture for 2011.

The Descendants, one of the best films of 2011 is in UK cinemas 27 January... 2012.

Set in the Hawaiian islands, The Descendants quickly moves to dismiss the notion that life there is any less imperfect or painful than elsewhere.  Clooney is Matt King, an attorney whose wife is rendered comatose following a water skiing accident.  He is also the sole trustee of over 25,000 acres of untouched island property, that he and his cousins, all descendants of Hawaiian royalty, are looking to sell off.  Faced with the accident’s tragic consequences, Matt is desperate for a second shot at his failing relationship (at this point unaware of how far gone the relationship had truly become) and struggles to cope with his ten year-old daughter (Amara Miller), who is acting out as she struggles to come to terms with the absence of her mother.  At this point, Clooney gives a steady, remorseful performance, but once the bad news begins to flow, Matt is sent careening down a wild emotional river.  Collecting his oldest daughter, Alex (Woodley) from boarding school, the final piece is now in place to elevate The Descendants from merely good to astonishing.
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Review: J. Edgar

Rebounding from his 2010 dud Hereafter, director Clint Eastwood presents Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer and distractingly crap make-up in J. Edgar.  The biopic of the legendary director of the US government’s Federal Bureau of Investigation brings another dose of flashback/flash-forward that has been all the rage of late (The Iron Lady, W./E.), but does so in a clumsy manner that derails any significant attained momentum.  What could have been a gripping drama instead becomes steeped in a variety of awkwardness that detracts from the material and performances.

J. Edgar, silly rubber faces and all, opens in the UK on 20 January

That Eastwood and writer Dustin Lance Black have presented a compelling, controversial figure in such a dull and, at times, silly manner is a feat in itself.  The film starts off somewhere in the 1960s as an aged Hoover(DiCaprio, looking especially rubbery in the face) recalls his rise through the ranks, strengthening the FBI (and his own position) by any means available to him, bending the law when felt necessary.  DiCaprio and J. Edgar as a film are at their best in the flashback sequences that illustrate how a straight-laced momma’s boy came to head the powerful and feared intelligence agency.  Taking on communists and gangsters during the great depression, the film illustrates how Hoover recruited and ran the FBI.  With his right-hand man, Clyde Tolson (Hammer) on board, Hoover’s FBI was feared by criminal and politician alike, as he gathered information through wire-taps and bugging in order to ensure his own success.  J. Edgar hits its stride with its telling of the infamous Lindbergh baby kidnapping .  It’s here that the film becomes most engaging and shows how much better it could have been were it presented in a linear fashion, as the inertia is immediately halted once the film again jumps forward; this time to Hoover’s issues with the Kennedy’s and, later, Martin Luther King, Jr.  The film struggles to regain any engaging footing, even when tackling Hoover’s allegedly secret lifestyle.
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