27 February 2015

The Dark Horse, 2014 - ★★★★

A solid start to the 16th Keswick Film Festival but a slight disappointment because it was one of the films I was looking forward to the most. It's such a well made film with incredibly strong performances that you barely notice all the key points of the underdog/disability/contest story are checked off one by one. It's a good sign that it is perhaps obvious where things are going but always engaging and never feels cliched.

February 27, 2015 at 12:36AM

23 February 2015

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, 2012 - ★★★

Fun but nothing special with no surprises other than it was co-written by Noah Baumbach (how did that happen?).

February 23, 2015 at 11:01PM

Frozen, 2013 - ★★★★

I wasn't expecting to like this as much as I did and it's easy to see why it's so popular. If I had problems they were minor such as how parts of the dialogue and lyrics feel too contemporary which may date the film badly. There were also some issues with some of the crowd animation which looked like poorly motion tracked fx work from a much cheaper film and not the lovingly crafted animation we should expect from Disney.

It's quite rare for songs to work so well upon first hearing (and perhaps they have all slipped into my consciousness from elsewhere) but all the songs here are strong. It's strange that it stops being a musical half way through though.

February 23, 2015 at 10:55PM

La Haine, 1995 - ★★★★★

With a live score by Asian Dub Foundation.

If nothing else, the loudness of Asian Dub Foundation added a lot to the experience. When their music kicked in it took the whole film to another level and the subtitles meant it wasn't an issue drowning out the dialogue.

I've seen the film before but couldn't remember much about it which seems shocking now because it's so good. It's twenty years old but still feels so fresh and inventive and reminded me what an exciting time the mid nineties were for cinema.

I want to see the original version to see how much ADF added, I have a feeling that their soundtrack made quite a big difference elevating the film to level of greatness it previously only touched on.

February 23, 2015 at 10:50PM

Man of Aran, 1934 - ★★★★

With a live score by British Sea Power.

Last year when I saw British Sea Power perform to From the Sea to the Land Beyond it took a while for the music to feel like part of the film. In this performance the music starts of strong and continues to be great throughout. The film starts off quite dull offering little more than a video backdrop to the band. Fortunately things pick up when the film takes a more dramatic turn and becomes engaging and exciting. The frantic editing fitted wonderful with the music, so much so that I started to question if the film had been re-edited for this score. As the film became more dramatic and visually impressive I also started to question if it was a documentary and if it had actually been made back in 1934. Some research after the film confirmed that there was more to the film than meets the eye but it was the genuine thing.

February 23, 2015 at 10:28PM

22 February 2015

Foxcatcher, 2014 - ★★★

After Whiplash and Birdman (which I saw last year) this was the award season film I was looking forward to the most. That anticipation may contribute to some of the disappointment but I thought this was only good when I was expecting it to be great.

*some none specific spoilers about the nature of spoilers/shocks follow *

I'd managed to avoid finding out the real life outcome despite some critics incorrectly thinking it isn't a spoiler if it's based on true life. It's always clear that there is more to the story than initially meets the eye, mostly due to Carrel's creepy performance, but the final revelation is the film's biggest problem. Knowing something was coming was a distraction and, if the story is well known in the US, it seems odd that the film keeps throwing out suggestions about different darker turns it may eventually take.

The final revelation may come as a shock (there were several gasps in my audience) but is such an anti-climax compared to what the film has previously teased. It isn't clear if the film is trying to suggest other things have happened, the change in one character would imply so, but the moment is only fleetingly covered in one scene which would be easy to miss. Perhaps this is deliberate but if the filmmakers are not brave enough to follow through perhaps it should have just been left to speculation instead of being the main driving force for one character. The real life character is apparently unhappy with the portrayal which is completely understandable but the doubt only damages the film rather than provide ambiguity.

I complained about Fruitvale Station starting with a real life event and then working up to it but that is a structure that feels like it would have worked here. In fact, it always feels like there is a much better edit of the same material that would make a far more compelling film.

February 22, 2015 at 03:41PM

Selma, 2014 - ★★★★

Coming out of Selma I felt a similar way as to when I recently watched The Help, which seems unfair because, despite both films turning up in awards season, Selma feels much more authentic. Both films shocked me by portraying things I knew about but had never really seen or thought about. It was the nature of the shock that perhaps had most impact, it's good that these things are so appalling because it's not that long ago that many more would find them acceptable.

Selma is a better film than The Help, primarily because it doesn't feature a "white saviour" coming to the rescue. There's almost a documentarian feel to the film which helps convey the messages. If there are problems it's perhaps that, like so many documentaries with fascinating subjects, it is the story that carry the film rather than the filmmaking. To say that about Selma takes something away from all the wonderful (and mostly British) performances but that didn't stop me wishing that there was something more special about how the film was put together. It doesn't matter though because the end result is still incredibly effective.

February 22, 2015 at 12:33AM

21 February 2015

Jupiter Ascending, 2015 - ★★★½

Jupiter Ascending is not a bad film but it's also not a great one either. Apart from a drab opening 20 minutes on Earth it deserves much more credit than any of the one star reviews it's receiving. Once Sean Bee-an turns up, things kick into action and some interesting ideas are presented in a fresh ways. Some of the finer details of the plot may get lost along the way but I wasn't sure if this was down to bad writing or the poor acoustics in King's Hall. There are a few clunky lines but funnily enough not the "I love dogs" ones which have been taken out of context in many discussions.

I also feel like I have to defend Eddie Redmayne as well. This isn't a bad performance just an odd choice about how to play the character. However it is consistently performed and surprisingly fitting for a millennia old man in a young body.

The effects are all good and there are no issues of blending CGI with live action which continues to be a huge problem for most special effects heavy films. I think I may have awarded an extra star just because the finale doesn't feature a floating structure falling apart over a city.

Apart from that first act (which causes some drag towards the end of the running time) it's always entertaining and never boring which can't be said of something like Inherent Vice which was all over the place.

February 21, 2015 at 12:08PM

20 February 2015

Gattu, 2011 - ★★★★

A simple but completely charming film that's only let down by a somewhat intrusive score.

February 20, 2015 at 05:59PM

15 February 2015

The Theory of Everything, 2014 - ★★★★

Utilising practically every award baiting trope (biopic of a disabled genius) The Theory Of Everything shouldn't work but it's all done so solidly that it's difficult not to be swept along. It's the performances that really stand out. Redmayne just disappears into Stephen but it's Felicity Jones as Jane that deserves more credit. Jones conveys so much without words (which is odd when you consider it's Stephen who loses the ability to speak), watching Stephen playing croquet and the realisation shown in her face is just the first of many great moments.

February 15, 2015 at 08:35PM

Jules and Jim, 1962 - ★★★

A lot of the impact may have been lost on me because I've seen the things it inspired first. This was not what I was expecting and I'm still not entirely sure what I made of it. I suspect it's a film that will take some time to sink in and fully appreciate.

February 15, 2015 at 08:19PM

Harold and Maude, 1971 - ★★★★★

There's always a danger when you finally see a film you've only heard great things about that it will disappoint and you'll be left wondering why all the fuss. Fortunately this was absolutely not the case with Harold & Maude. I can't remember the last time I've completely fallen for a film. It was nothing like I was expecting; funnier, darker, more charming and beautiful than it has any right to be. The soundtrack is absolutely wonderful and it feels like it could've been made yesterday not forty years ago.

A new favourite.

February 15, 2015 at 08:02PM

The Armstrong Lie, 2013 - ★★★

A solid but unremarkable documentary which isn't as interesting as the story it tells. Perhaps understandably (considering how the purpose of the film changed) the structure of the film feels messy and repetitive and all the revelational moments are rushed into the final 15 minutes.

February 15, 2015 at 07:49PM

10 February 2015

Big Hero 6, 2014 - ★★★

Baymax is one of the greatest characters of modern cinema; incredibly funny, charming and just a pure delight to watch. It's such a shame that this wonderful character is let down by such a weak and predictable story. I had no idea that it was based on Marvel comics but it should've been obvious when the climax features a strange entity in the sky destroying everything below (seriously this has to stop now).

I need a term to describe when there's a plot point that I don't believe and prevents me from accepting the rest of the film. This was my biggest problem with this story. If it had been a magical fantasy in the style of Ghibli (which seems like a strong influence) rather than implausible science I'd have bought in to the proceedings a lot more than I did. Instead I was left with nagging questions about the practicalities of it all.

Whenever Baymax is on screen it's such a wonderful experience and I don't remember the last time I laughed as much. So perhaps not Big Hero 6 but definitely Big Hero 1.

February 10, 2015 at 11:34PM

Feast, 2014 - ★★★★

A truly remarkable film that looks so simple but is incredibly deep and covers so much in such a brief amount of time.

February 10, 2015 at 11:16PM

08 February 2015

The Black Cauldron, 1985 - ★★★

One of the lesser known Disney films which doesn't seem entirely fair. In many places the animation is absolutely sumptuous and makes you long for a return to traditional two dimensional hand drawn animation. It's the story that lets things down, not a lot happens and it isn't really that interesting.

February 08, 2015 at 09:16PM

Surviving Life (Theory and Practice), 2010 - ★★

When Jan ┼ávankmajer introduces his film by describing it as a "psychoanalytical comedy, but one you won’t find particularly funny", it was probably meant as a joke but it turns out to be accurate. The mixture of live action and Gilliamesque animation starts off as an interesting hook and offers many moments of surrealist humour. As the film moves on the same techniques get rolled out again and again and it all starts to feel quite repetitive and hard to maintain interest. The psychoanalytic parts went over my head and didn't offer much to really get hold of. Ultimately the entire film is just too long and you're left thinking that much more could have been done in a series of shorter films.

February 08, 2015 at 08:59PM

06 February 2015

Film of The Week 2015

Setting out to prove that there's a film released each week that is worthy of your time.

Each week I pick one new film.

Based on UK release dates.

  1. Birdman

  2. Foxcatcher

  3. Whiplash

  4. Ex Machina

    A close call between this and the other Oscar Isaac film out this week, A Most Violent Year. I suspect A Most Violent Year may be the better film but I was more interested in seeing Ex Machina.

  5. Inherent Vice

    I nearly went for Big Hero 6, especially as I ended up not really liking Inherent Vice that much.

  6. Selma

    I also considered Shaun The Sheep but I may cheat and put that next week when it will still be in wide release and there isn't much else out.

February 06, 2015 at 01:24PM

05 February 2015

Inherent Vice, 2014 - ★★★

It took me a while to tune in (or more accurately tune out) to the frequencies of Inherent Vice. Even when I did all the great stuff ended up being heavily diluted by everything else in the excessive running time. I didn't have a problem not fully understanding what was happening (I don't think I understood Chinatown, The Big Sleep or numerous other noirs). I can understand how parts of the film are likely to sink in and have more significance on subsequent viewings but I have a problem with a director making a two and half hour film and then claiming it requires multiple viewings to appreciate. I liked less than half of the film so why would I subject myself to it again?

February 05, 2015 at 11:32PM

04 February 2015

Big Eyes, 2014 - ★★★½

If there is a problem with Big Eyes it may be that it feels so conventional that it could've been directed by anyone, this isn't a "Tim Burton" film. Despite the early blandness things really pick up once Waltz's Walter set his own big eyes on the New York World's Fair and the film builds to an extremely satisfying finale.

A Boxing Day release in the UK, had I seen it in time it would have made my end of year list (in fact I'm going to go and update that list now.)

February 04, 2015 at 09:45PM

02 February 2015

10 Rillington Place, 1971 - ★★★★

The kind of film that is so terrifying unbelievable that it had to be based on a true story. Seeing Attenborough being so creepy is almost as alarming as seeing a young (and welsh) Hurt, both are fantastic and really make the film. In the latter half the pacing feels wrong resulting in disjointed scenes and feeling rushed when the build up was so slowly paced. None of this detracts from the overall creepiness of the whole film.

February 02, 2015 at 10:27PM