Sunday, 29 January 2012

Competition: Win Yamada: Way of the Samurai Blu-ray!

With the success of our recent competition for The Debt Blu-rays as well as the current Thor giveaway, it's time for yet another competition (I bet you can barely believe your peepers)!

This time it's for the Japanese action film Yamada: Way of the Samurai which is available from Monday 30th January on Blu-ray & DVD. To celebrate the release from Cine Asia, we have a copy on Blu-ray for one lucky winner and it couldn't be easier to enter!

HOW TO ENTER:

STEP 1: FOLLOW me on Twitter here and TWEET the following:

COMPETITION: WIN WAY OF THE SAMURAI on Blu-ray! RT & FOLLOW @littlestpicshow to enter! Details here: http://tiny.cc/68eca #competition #film

STEP 2: Follow this blog (click 'follow' at the top left of the page) to keep track of my latest reviews, articles & future competitions!

NOTE: If you are not on Twitter, then you can email the above quote to mike@thelittlestpictureshow.co.uk including your name, with 'WAY OF THE SAMURAI COMPETITION' as the subject title.

TERMS & CONDITIONS:

Entries must be in by February 3rd .
The winners will be randomly selected and notified on February 4th.
Open to UK residents only.
No cash alternative.
Entrants must be 15 or above.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Blu-ray Review: Drive

It's not been in cinemas since September, as Nicolas Winding Refn's indie cult classic is finally released on Blu-ray and DVD this Monday, so rather than regurgitating September's review (which you can find here), below is a brief summary, with a focus on the Blu-ray release: the picture quality, sound, extras and the actual transfer itself. 

But before that, here's a condensed version of what I had to say for my cinema review last year:

"A roaring success at Cannes this year, Drive won Best Director as well as a nomination for the Palme d'Or after receiving a standing ovation. Essentially Drive is an indie production, constructed through filmic and cultural influences. It falls nicely into the cult category without the need to follow suit with mainstream conformity, as it shows the quality that can be produced on a mere $13m budget."

"There's no denying Gosling's appeal: a bewitching, charismatic charm he brings to the table that gives audiences no choice but to be 'wooed' by his alluring, yet reserved presence."

"It doesn't try to be cool, it is cool - he pulls it off with ease, which makes Driver a man with desirable attributes that viewers will surely be drawn to."

"Drive is a gripping, yet emotionally charged action film with notable performances from Gosling, Brooks and Mulligan. It's consistently thrilling, hugely likable and accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack that makes this the complete package. Winding Refn avoids succumbing to clichés as it progressively becomes more intense and violent before its boiling-point and fitting conclusion"

Now onto the Blu-ray disc and what it has to offer:

PICTURE QUALITY: It's sharp and beautiful to look at. Consistently impressive, it's perhaps the cityscapes that look more spectacular at night that not only sets the tone for the movie, but makes it a genuine delight to watch. Close ups of Gosling especially look crisp and the detail in general is visible and adds to the overall enjoyment.

SOUND: Whilst it wasn't experienced in surround sound, the dialogue was clear and the soundtrack was audibly great. If you haven't got surround sound, then cranking up the volume will make the songs sound just as emotionally powerful as they did in the cinema.  

EXTRAS: Possibly the weakest element of the release is the lack of bonus content to shout about. We're given a theatrical trailer, a TV spot and a slideshow of some stills, as well as the stages of the development of the quad poster for the film. The best of the extra features is a 41-minute Q&A session after the BFI screening with director Nicolas Winding Refn, hosted by Telegraph critic Robbie Collins. This was an interesting feature with a witty exchange between host and filmmaker, followed by a selection of audience questions, where Winding Refn offers some nice insight into the creative process.

In a previous interview he has stipulated that an Ultimate Edition will be released later this year, therefore the January disc is a bare-bones edition, so as long as you don't pay over the odds you're fine (Sainsbury's had the Blu-ray available for preorder at just £9.99 for example).

OVERALL DISC & TRANSFER: The main menu has some clips of the film in the background that fade in and out with a snippet of the excellent music from the film. The disc in general is pleasant but lacks the meatiness we all wanted in the extras section. The included content suffices, but it's the actual film punters will buy this for, and it certainly doesn't disappoint in that respect: having seen it once before and being overly familiar with the incredible soundtrack, it made a re-watch all the more special. 

The only problem I experienced was at around five different points of the movie, as a new shot began, the picture would stutter for a split second. Whether this is a problem with the disc (which it shouldn't be) or the Blu-ray player is in need of an update (which it could be) remains to be seen.

FILM:      
EXTRAS: 

Drive is released on Blu-ray & DVD on Monday 30th January

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Oscars 2012: The Noms, Predictions & Snubs

So, the Academy have just announced the Oscar nominations for this year with the help of the lovely Jennifer Lawrence but, as predicted, there were notable snubs for 2011's big hitters, Ryan Gosling and Michael Fassbender, as well as the absence of animation heavywights, Pixar. There was no place for acclaimed documentaries like Project Nim or Senna either, and no sign of my beloved Carey Mulligan. But enough negativity; lets take a look at who was included shall we...

BEST PICTURE

Nominations:
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Hugo
Midnight in Paris
The Help
Moneyball
War Horse
The Tree of Life

My winner: The Artist
Predicted winner: The Artist


Thoughts: Some good, if not great film choices here (bar The Artist and The Tree of Life). War Horse shouldn't be anywhere near this category and neither should Moneyball, but what about inexplicable inclusion of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close? Yeah, I've never heard of it either.

___________________________________

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Nominations:
Demian Bichir (A Better Life)
George Clooney (The Descendants)
Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
Gary Oldman (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)
Brad Pitt (Moneyball)

My winner: George Clooney
Predicted winner: Jean Dujardin/George Clooney


Thoughts: A mixed, but strong selection here with notable turns from Pitt and Oldman, even if some the films themselves weren't amazing. Clooney feel like the favourite after his Golden Globe success, but faces stiff competition from Dujardin and even a sterling effort from Brad Pitt.

___________________________________


BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Nominations:
Best Supporting Actor
Kenneth Branagh (My Week With Marilyn)
Jonah Hill (Moneyball)
Nick Nolte (Warrior)
Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
Max Von Sydow (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close)

My winner: Nick Nolte
Predicted winner: Christopher Plummer


Thoughts: Perhaps the fiercest category of the lot with some very strong performances here. Both Hill and Branagh are solid, but Nick Nolte was superb in Warrior and is probably not getting the credit he deserves. However, as per his Golden Globe win, Christopher Plummer seems odds on.

___________________________________


BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Nominations:
Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs)
Viola Davis (The Help)
Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)
Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn)

My winner: Rooney Mara
Predicted winner: Meryl Streep


Thoughts: This has to be my least favourite category as being a fan of Williams, I was vastly underwhelmed by her role in My Week With Marilyn. Similarly, Streep's Thatcher isn't the most popular of sorts, but most likely to win. Rooney Mara, for me, was the most appealing so she gets my (some say outrageous) vote.

 ___________________________________


BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Nominations:
Berenice Bejo (The Artist)
Jessica Chastain (The Help)
Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)
Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs)
Octavia Spencer (The Help)

My winner: Berenice Bejo
Predicted winner: Octavia Spencer

Thoughts: There's a distinct lack of Carey Mulligan here (predominantly for Shame, but also for a subtle effort in Drive) and I'm not happy. There's also an interesting nomination for Chastain who was superb in Take Shelter and just as good in The Tree of Life, but it recognised for The Help. My most likeable choice is Bejo in the fantastic The Artist, though.

___________________________________


WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)


Nominations:
Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
JC Chandor (Margin Call)
Asghar Farhadi (A Separation)
Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids)

My winner: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
Predicted winner: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)


Thoughts: The surprise for me is how Bridesmaids is present; not only because it's a mainstream comedy, but for the fact it's a funny, albeit average film. Nice to see Margin Call here but again, The Artist steals it for me, even though Woody Allen could swipe it.

___________________________________


WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

Nominations:
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxton, Jim Rash (The Descendants)
John Logan (Hugo)
George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon (The Ides of March)
Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian (Moneyball)
Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughn (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)

My winner: Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian (Moneyball)
Predicted winner: Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughn (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)


Thoughts: A good collection, but Aaron Sorkin has a slick, well written film in Moneyball, but the panel might opt for the Brit ensemble thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, even though it was hit-and-miss with audiences, including myself.

___________________________________


DIRECTING

Nominations:
Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)
Alexander Payne (The Descendants)
Martin Scorsese (Hugo)

My winner: Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)
Predicted winner: Any one of them


Thoughts: All worthy contenders and, in truth, I can see any one of these directors walking away with the prize. Malick is probably the outsider, even though The Tree of Life is a fantastically made film, but Scorsese will almost certainly be battling it out with Hazanavicius and Allen.

 ___________________________________


ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Nominations:
A Cat In Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots
Rango

My winner: Rango/Chico & Rita
Predicted winner: Rango 


Thoughts: The lack of Pixar's presence is the big shock (or is it after Cars 2?). Rango is a wonderfully dark, quirky and beautifully animated movie, which has winner written all over it. Saying that, Chico & Rita is a lovingly made and charming foreign film.

___________________________________


CINEMATOGRAPHY 

Nominations:
The Artist
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Hugo
The Tree of Life
War Horse

My winner: The Tree of Life
Predicted winner: War Horse/The Tree of Life


Thoughts: I didn't enjoy War Horse, but the thing I took from it was the battle scenes and visual scale of it. Having said that, Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life is a thing of sheer beauty, so therefore gets my vote.

___________________________________


BIGGEST SNUBS:

Drive
Shame
Senna
The Skin I Live In 
Take Shelter
Submarine
Tyrannosaur 
Melancholia
50/50

Thoughts: Pretty self explanatory here. The worst ones left out are Drive and Senna, which I rate extremely highly and it's also a shame to see British flicks Submarine and Tyrannosaur forgotten as well. Oh, one final word: Shame.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Blu-ray Review: The Debt

Based on an Israeli film from 2007, this American remake of The Debt is penned by Kick Ass scribes Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman and is directed by period drama enthusiast, John Madden (not to be confused with the ageing NFL ex-pro and commentator).

With the original gaining little attention at the time, the heavyweight ensemble of this version alone earns it more attention and not just because it stars the legendary Helen Mirren. She's joined by rising talent Jessica Chastain, who plays the younger version of her, as well as the likes of Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds and Sam Worthington, too.

The story takes place in 1997 where Rachel (Mirren) is thrust into the media spotlight as she (and more so her daughter) promotes her book of memoirs from her time serving in the mid 60's as a Mossad agent in Israel, as she- along with team members Stephan (Tom Wilkinson) and David (Ciarán Hinds) - attempt to track down and capture Nazi war criminal Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen). 

The story frequently shifts from one time period to the other; as we witness the younger versions of the trio (including Marton Csokas as Stephan and Sam Worthington as David, respectively) undertake their mission as an intriguing plot and tense thriller unfolds.

Notably, the acting is great, especially with the talent involved, however their questionable accents are the obvious flaw in an otherwise strong array of performances. Whilst it would seem Chastain has been in pretty much everything in 2011, this is by no means one of her stronger contributions, yet she competently portrays an emotionally layered role convincingly, with worthy support from Csokas and Worthington at her side. What unfolds is a dangerous game of secrets, lies and cover ups as a gripping against-the-clock scenario presents itself. What's more is that the central characters embark in an emotionally provocative love triangle that has repercussions both in 1965 as well as 30 years later.

The script is well written and tightly structured, as the bulk of the plot takes place during the 60's; the decade switches aren't as confusing or poorly executed as one might expect, but are expressed coherently and should avoid disorientating viewers.

VERDICT: The Debt ultimately lacks that killer touch and the level of high suspense that transforms it from a great thriller to a superb one. However, solid acting coupled with a well paced exploration of its character arcs prove that sometimes a remake can succeed, as Madden invites his audience to experience the thrills and intensity this has to offer.

DISC EXTRAS:

A Look Inside The Debt
Every Secret Has A Price: Helen Mirren In The Debt
Feature Commentary With Director John Madden & Producer Kris Thykier

Very disappointing if truth be told, with only a couple of minutes of interviews and footage that are repeated in both the featurettes.


FILM:       
EXTRAS: 


The Debt is out now on Blu-ray & DVD.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Competition: Win The Debt on Blu-ray!


Starring Jessica Chastain, Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Sam Worthington and Ciarán Hinds, The Debt is a  gripping and intense thriller that boasts a superb cast and engaging story to boot.
With the imminent release of the film, The Littlest Picture Show is giving YOU the chance to WIN one of TWO copies of the film on Blu-ray!
HOW TO ENTER:

STEP 1: FOLLOW me on Twitter here and TWEET the following:

COMPETITION: WIN THE DEBT on Blu-ray! RT & FOLLOW @littlestpicshow to enter! Details here: http://tiny.cc/29h63 #competition #film #bluray


STEP 2: Follow this blog (click 'follow' at the top left of the page) to keep track of my latest reviews, articles & future competitions!

NOTE: If you are not on Twitter, then you can email the above quote to mike@thelittlestpictureshow.co.uk with 'THE DEBT COMPETITION' as the subject title.

TERMS & CONDITIONS:

Entries must be in by January 26th .
The winners will be randomly selected and notified on January 27th.
Open to UK residents only.
No cash alternative.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Review: J.Edgar

Rating: 15
Duration: 137 minutes

It's fair to deduce that the decades of being a film star have served Clint Eastwood well during his transition from on camera to behind it; a change that has seen him embark in more directing and less acting, especially over the past ten years.

With acclaimed titles like Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino and Changeling to his name, it would seem the ageing maestro can do no wrong after what can only be described as a glittering acting career. Recent form has dipped though, following the drab, plod-along bore fest of Invictus that invites you to take forty winks after the opening minutes, and one mustn't forget Hereafter, which by comparison would induce you into a coma.

J. Edgar is a biographical drama based on the life the FBI's founder and first Director John Edgar Hoover, as his early life is documented with his rise through the ranks to power. From the beginning we are granted mere snippets of his childhood and early manhood where his mother (played by Dame Judi Dench), features as an overbearing, controlling matriarch that uncomfortably forces an opinion of a man renowned for privacy. 

Explored also is his private life and alleged romance with his Associate Director and esteemed friend Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), as both Edgar's personal and professional life are portrayed in detail with the use of flashbacks and flash forwards that are stylishly cut, yet overwhelming (especially in the opening twenty minutes) with the constant switch in time periods. In fact, these sporadic shifts can confuse and stifle the enjoyment somewhat as Eastwood over-ambitiously attempts to squeeze too much content into badly constructed plot. Other than the odd moment of confusion, the majority of the story plays out in a fairly digestible manner as we become familiar with the certain aesthetic of different time frames, thus following the narrative easier.

Arguably the biggest logistical problem - after all, this is a biopic based on real people and events - is that a lot of what we see in Edgar's personal life is simply speculation: the relationship behind closed doors with his controlling, assertive mother, social liaisons concerning his PA Helen (Naomi Watts), as well as the ongoing, supposed relationship with Clyde aren't based on any evidence. Juxtapose this with the fact-based events of Edgar's career, innovation, ideas regarding forensic evidence and so forth, it feels rather imbalanced in terms of an authentic depiction.

What is conveyed well are particular elements of the story, most notably the atmosphere that's created: scenes in restaurants, bars, clubs, character attire, all ooze 1930's gangster culture and the power hierarchy of the time. During such scenes, and indeed for the entirety of the movie, Di Caprio gives a strong, solid performance with a dynamic presence that essentially carries the film. Watts, Dench and Hammer provide good support too, with their character inclusion spanning most of the narrative's sixty or so years.

Whilst some biopics can feel laborious, this never becomes too strained and only really suffers in the conclusive stages in terms of sluggishness. For the most part J. Edgar is an entertaining film that is surprisingly accessible considering the subject matter and context, and aside from the sporadic time shifts, it's a simple tale in comparison to other film counterparts.

Unfortunately, as with a lot of biographies, the two hour seventeen minute length is a little over-long. In honesty, at least thirty minutes could be cut and the audience would be none-the-wiser, with the film perhaps being too sentimental at times, whereas it might have benefited from a slicker and more direct pacing.

Apart from the clumsy manner in which Edgar and Clyde's relationship is handled, other personal relations flow smoother and the material Eastwood uses is handled well, if not subjective. Not that the exploration of a gay relationship is anything to frown up, but when it is constructed as awkwardly as it is here, not to mention the fact it's not based on any proven truth, it ends up providing the piece with mere invented frivolity, whereas focusing on Edgar's success within the FBI would have made for a more interesting study.

VERDICT: J. Edgar is a solidly made and pleasant film to experience. Eastwood directs to his assured and more than competent ability, but struggles to squeeze his enormous amount of source material into the already lengthy duration, instead opting for a rather selective approach. Di Caprio offers a confident and sparkling performance alongside Watts and Hammer, but some story threads feel a little forced, especially as the moments intending to emotionally evoke are based on sheer speculation rather than fact (this is a biopic after all). It's surprisingly accessible, if not a little disorientated with its interjected scenes and, due to the way certain parts are executed, doesn't engage with us as much as previous efforts.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Competition: Win Thor electronic action figure worth £35!


Whilst 2011 was a packed year for comic book/superhero movies, it wasn't always in the most positive of lights (just look at Green Lantern for example). There were also some very average attempts such as Captain America, but there were some solid efforts such as X-Men: First Class.

However, the biggest surprise was Thor: starring Chris Helmsworth, Tom Hiddlestone, Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman. The Marvel hero flick, directed by Kenneth Branagh, was a well made, funny and entertaining film.

So to celebrate Thor as my FAVOURITE SUPERHERO FILM OF 2011, The Littlest Picture Show have teamed up with Hasbro to give away a fantastic prize:

THE PRIZE:
Thor Electronic Figure

The Thor Electronic Figure stands at an impressive 10” tall with its supremely sculpted and detailed design. Featuring electronic phrases and sound effects from the movie, as well as a light up hammer and additional battle accessories, this Thor figure is a great addition to every fan’s collection!

(Prize RRP £35)

HOW TO ENTER:

STEP 1: FOLLOW me on Twitter here and TWEET the following:

COMPETITION: WIN THOR merchandise worth £35! RT & FOLLOW @littlestpicshow to enter! Details here: http://tiny.cc/tpkjj #competition #film


***Multiple Twitter entries are welcome and will be tallied when it comes to the draw!***

STEP 2: Follow this blog (click 'follow' at the top left of the page) to keep track of my latest reviews, articles & future competitions!

NOTE: If you are not on Twitter or signed up to Blogspot, then you can simply email the above quote to mike@thelittlestpictureshow.co.uk with 'THOR COMPETITION' as the subject title.

TERMS & CONDITIONS:

Entries must be in by February 21st .
The winner will be selected and notified February 22nd.
Open to UK residents only.
No cash alternative.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Interview: Ryan Gosling talks Clooney's pranks, Drive, future projects & his band

With the imminent release of a trio of Ryan Gosling films (Crazy, Stupid, Love and Drive are due out at the end of January), The Ides of March is not only his first politically focused role, but his first encounter with legendary talent (and prankster) George Clooney.



The following is an interview with Ryan Gosling from September of last year: 


What can you tell about your character Stephen Myers, that young idealist campaign strategist working for a democrat governor hoping to gain the nomination of his party in the next presidential race?
I think he is well intended and wants to affect the changes in the country and he is faced with that moral dilemma with his candidate [played by George Clooney ], and so he does the dishonourable thing which is to jump ship so he can eventually get into the White House and affects change. He severs his heart from his brain at a certain point and struggles and fails to connect.

How toxic do you think it is to be involved in politics and power?
Pretty toxic even though I was not that involved in the world itself. Just the filming. The thing I like about the film is that it’s set in this political world but you don’t really need to know much about politics in order to enjoy it. It could be set in Hollywood or on Wall Street for that matter.

Do you see a parallel in the movie with Hollywood? Is it hard to keep ones integrity through the process and to make it?
I think it’s very hard to be honest for the jobs. You can’t really tell the truth because everything you say is cut off, taken out of context. You have to be careful about what you say. So I related to the character in that way.

Did you ask George why he chose you?
Well he said he chose me because everyone else said no! No one else was available! But that’s fine with me.

Did you see his previous films as a director?
Yes and I loved them. It’s interesting: I was on a plane right before I went to do The Ides of March. In the classics category for movies on the little screen in the seat, there were five: 2001, Citizen Kane, Good Night, and Good luck and 2 others. And I thought whoa. With only having made three others, he’s made an impact. More than anything I love his television shows. Unscripted was incredible. The style and originality. Very experimental.  So strange. And K Street is one of my favorites.

Describe George Clooney as a director?
Well, he’s very specific and he knows exactly what he wants. There are not a lot of ambiguity in his decisions and directions.

How different is it to be directed by a director who is also an actor?
It did not feel that different. When he was directing, he was able to kind of compartmentalise to a degree which was interesting. But he was doing so much you know. It’s his project. He co-wrote it, directed it, produced it, and starred in it. At the same time he is checking the situation in Darfur on his cell phones. And he has twenty, at least ten practical jokes in the works at all time. Multitasking you know!


George’s inspiration was some of the iconic seventies films like Network, The Candidate or All the President’s Men. Did he ask you to watch those or others to get a feel of what he wanted?
Actually he didn’t. He had us watch a lot of documentaries not those films. He didn’t specifically ask although he referenced them a lot while we were making it. I guess he just assumed we had seen them and did not want to live in a world where we hadn't!

He is famous for playing pranks. How did you deal with it? Did you have to be on the alert all the time?
Yes you do have to be on the alert all the time.

Did he get you?
Yes he did.

Did you get him back?
No. It’s impossible.

What do you think the reaction for the public and political world to Ides of March will be?
I have no idea. I don’t think George was making a political statement or that the movie has a political message but I do think he was interested in starting a dialogue. And it will be interesting to see what that dialogue is.

What does the poster represent for you? Those two faces, yours and George’s characters kind of blending…maybe means that in the end, it doesn’t really matter who is the president?
No, it says that George Clooney is trying to show how much better looking he is! My mother saw that and called me. She was so excited and said “You are on the cover of Time magazine”! But I told her it was just the poster for the movie!

How different is it for you as an actor to play a silent type character like in Drive, compared with Ides of March where you have so much dialogues? What do you like more as an actor?
They were different experiences and each offered something different. A kind of balance. I feel there is something nice about not talking. Like you can say more by actually saying less. It’s nice to have space in the film and the silence. So, it’s much rarer to be able to work that way. I enjoyed it.


How was it working with Nicholas on Drive?
We are just wildly different guys but I think we share a brain. I’ll have an idea and he’ll have the exact same idea. When we first met, I had the feeling that the film should be about driving and not about driving fast but just the actual experience of driving, sitting in your car listening to music. The first thing he said to me was that this movie should be about a guy driving around in a car around listening to music. The only way he knows how to feel and I thought how can I be so different from this person and at the same time we are sharing the same dream. Right now we are trying to exploit that…

What is next for you?
Right now I am working on The Gangster Squad, a 1950’s gangster picture, with Sean Penn who is playing the mobster Mickey Cohen, Josh Brolin, Emma Stone, Robert Patrick, Michael Pena… A great cast.

How is it to be working with such amazing actors?
Scary! A lot of them are my favorite actors in some ways, so it was a huge opportunity for me and they all have very different styles in the process so it was interesting to have to go between those processes with them.

You seemed to have been working no stop, you are everywhere, the “It Boy” of the moment. How changed is your life with all that attention?
Well I am pretty sick with myself! It seemed a pretty good idea at the time. Around the time I turned 30, I started to feel very creative, more creative than I had been before which is good and I like that.

Is directing something you would like to try?
Sure. Yeah. I have plans. But I’ll wait until they happen because something could always interfere…Like checks I can’t cash.

How different is the pleasure of acting for you today compared to when you started?
Yes it’s different. I am at a point where I want to work with the same filmmakers over and over. I used to have a whole list of guys I wanted to work with but I am at the point where I want to work with the same ones. I have been really lucky between Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) and Nicholas Winding Refn (Drive). I just finished another film with Derek called Beyond the Pines and it was the best experience of my life and I can’t wait for people to see it. Derek is a very special filmmaker. It is very different from Blue Valentine and the performances are great. Bradley Cooper; people are not going to believe how great he is and Eva Mendes; it is the best performance I’ve been around to see.

You recorded an album two years ago with your group. What are your tastes in music?
I grew up listening to a lot of fifties and sixties. That’s what was in our house. Buddy Holly, Del Shannon, The Shangri Las… It gave me a taste for that style of music. And I still listen to those a lot.

We have to know: what car are you driving?
Oh, I’m driving my car from Drive!

The Ides of March will be reviewed next month ahead of its Blu-ray & DVD release.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Review: War Horse

Rating: PG
Duration: 146 mins

With the release of War Horse comes a new year. It's a film that will conveniently be fresh in everyone's mind just in time for Oscar season. Do not mistake intention for coincidence, mind, as Spielberg emerges from a successful 2011 with Tin Tin to begin the year with his adaptation of the beloved 1982 novel penned by Michael Morpurgo, as well as the acclaimed theatrical play of the same name.

However, one must take into account that this is based on a children's book, and the content is just that: from the off-set Spielberg plays it overly safe, with too many scenarios that feel anything but threatening or genuine, as the glossy construction of the backdrops and lighting remind us that we're in the midst of a movie world. 

The translation from page to big screen can debatably be deemed successful. Indeed, War Horse will entertain and appeal if you are visiting the cinema with the family on a care-free Sunday afternoon, whom have the capacity to embrace the unadventurous, secure nature of the story. If you don't fall into such a category and plan on seeing this as a precursor to a Friday night pub visit, you'll end up so deflated that you'll skip the beers and head straight home to weep in the corner of the utility room.

Undoubtedly, Spielberg shouldn't be discredited for a decade-long dip in an otherwise glittering career, either; renowned for directing some of the most enchanting movies of the 20th Century, his ability is unquestionable, yet his latest epic feels as if it's simply going through the motions. It relies upon an unadventurous audience happy to embrace Spielberg on reputation alone, who will watch in awe as he constructs a mundane and continuously safe narrative, and one that never once strays into even half-daring territory.

The biggest problem, aside from Spielberg showing his dealt hand right from the beginning is the drab pacing as, considering the 146 minute length, it noticeably drags. Furthermore, the characters he gives to us are so one dimensional that we never even begin to engage with or relate to them.

Having said that, War Horse is competently directed and produced: some visual aspects looks delightful thanks to some wonderful cinematography and a compelling, if not memorable score courtesy of John Williams adds for some atmosphere, but it never ventures from its overtly constrained boundaries, nor does it change into a higher gear when it needs to.

Arguably the best scenes are the ones that focus on the physical nature of war: the build up to enemy encounter as troops emerge from the WW1 trenches is vaguely reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan, which is where the similarities end. These well produced segments are unfortunately weighed down with an uneventful narrative and whimsical characterisation that plods along, as it fails to convince.

Emotionally, the acting never quite connects, as we are gifted an ensemble of British talent such as Peter Mullan, David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddlestone and lead, Jeremy Irvine, but instead feels like a who's-who merely fighting for advertising space. What doesn't translate particularly well is how an emotionally complex, caring protagonist is demonstrable through the eyes of a horse. Unwisely, Spielberg decides to force physical expression and emotion where it simply cannot and should not exist: one memorable shot sees Joey (the horse) turn to glance behind him; a sad glint in his eye, followed by a troubled grimace. Priceless. Possibly a bad case of wind, but either way such portrayal doesn't bode well if one is to believe the story and buy into it without it appearing ridiculously contrived.

In short, we never witness any genuine danger or conflict: the entire film fails to challenge its audience, instead relying on family-friendly securities with a horse’s plight that seems impervious to harm as virtually everyone emerges unscathed: it's too damn considerate for its own good.

VERDICT: War Horse is typically classic in its Spielbergian storytelling, but never builds any momentum. At times it is pleasant and can be perceived as enjoyable on the most basic of levels. It boasts a talented cast that aren't utilised in a movie that gracefully, yet safely translates as a largely uninspiring tale. Ultimately it's far too comfortable and lazy, and Spielberg knows it.

One final note: look out for the comic relief in the form of a farmyard goose: a real contender to pip The Artist's Uggie the dog to the accolade of Most Charming Performance by an Animal.