Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

'Out of the blue' is one way of describing Stephen Daldry's tale of a grieving boy struggling to come to terms with the death of his father during the September 11th terrorist attacks. Perhaps the most interesting notion is how suddenly it came to prominence with not one, but two, Oscar nominations (Best Picture and Supporting Actor). Adapted from a novel; Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) pens a screenplay that solely aims to evoke emotional tension using 9/11 as the story's premise.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close focuses on Oskar (Thomas Horn); an irritatingly prim boy with suggested Asperger's syndrome, which proves a defining element in both character and plot, as the youngster struggles to accept the death of his father played by Tom Hanks. Discovering a key and a cryptic clue in his dad's closet, Oskar embarks on  a mission to uncover the location of the lock, in the hope of seeking closure to his painful suffering.

The biggest problem here is a combination of two things: firstly using 9/11 as a basis for a film is not unusual (see World Trade Centre et al), but rather than as a mere backdrop, it explicitly tries to evoke horrendous memories relating to that day, rather than create an independent story. Through conversation or flashback we are constantly reminded of September 11th and how relentless it was - as if we didn't know.

The second flaw is the way Oskar is portrayed. An effort to create a naive, fragile soul that has mental health issues as well as trauma complexities is a difficult task, and fails to work on the basis that we are encouraged to sympathise: one moment, a poignantly articulate narrator gradually begins to generate some audience engagement, but is instantly banished when the obnoxiousness of a foul-mouthed brat rears his head. Little annoyances build up; for example, when he embarks on a 25th Hour style monologue that feels like it goes on for all eternity, and then some.

The extreme sentimentality of the piece is unlikely to faze the sceptics amongst us, but on a basic level the moments of embrace, tenderness and loss will indeed strike a chord with some viewers. However, for the most part it is a shameless plug for a stateside patriotism that in fact generates a lot of prejudice, hatred and anger in relation to the forceful reminder of 9/11.

Using terrorism as the basis for Oskar's heartache is unnecessary. His father could have died in a hundred other ways on a thousand different days if the filmmakers so wished, but instead decide to target the single most devastating moment of the past twenty years in an obvious attempt to engage its audience. Were the narrative to be about a man who dies in a car crash, void of Hollywood heavyweights Bullock and Hanks, would anyone batter an eyelid, let alone gift Oscar nominations?

This leads us to another factor: the supporting role of Max von Sydow. A talented actor, having been in some excellent movies over the decades; his inclusion as an ageing German mute doesn't lift the film to a newer or more respectable height, as his character proves terribly gimmicky and ultimately irrelevant in the scheme of the plot, too.

VERDICT: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is awfully crass at times as it goes straight for the jugular at every opportune moment. Hanks and Bullock have small roles, allowing von Sydow to step in and offer an interesting, yet contrived contribution. Its inclusion as a Best Picture contender is baffling, and can only be credited with such due to reasons of a political nature, because there's nothing here that justifies association with any awards.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Forget 3D & 4D; Are 'Fine Dining Experiences' the future?

3D, 4D or Tea-D?

The film industry is always on the lookout for other ways to generate money, create fresher and more interactive experiences, and evolve cinema to line their pockets. New elements have been integrated, with the most recent and obvious gimmick being 3D, which has divided audiences as to whether popping on plastic specs actually enhances an experience or indeed, hinders it. Similarly, 4D is currently being introduced to Cineworlds across the UK, where audiences will have the (dis)pleasure of their seats moving and vibrating at every car chase, scare and explosion.

So, opinion remains varied, but for every Mark Kermode (noble advocate of 'classic' cinema with a vengeful  distaste for 3D), you'll have a trio of Michael Bays that insist the bigger and louder the explosion, the more enjoyment people will get out of it.

However, upon whetting your appetite for yet another 3D debate, that is unfortunately where it ends, as an even newer service is being introduced to the world of cinema. You can now place yourself in a comfy-looking, freshly built fifty-seater auditorium such as this...

...Impressive, isn't it?

Odeon Cinemas - Whiteleys of Bayswater, London specifically  - have recently opened Britain's first high-end, fine dining cinema where customers can enjoy an atmospheric bar to relax in, luxurious cinema interior, as well as freshly prepared, high quality meals and tipple as you enjoy your film. The Lounge will also offer an on-site concierge desk and private bar stocked with fine wines, champagnes, beers and cocktails for guests, run by Mixologist Ian Stewart – former Bar Manager at some of the UK’s most prestigious hotels, including The Ritz and The Savoy. Sounds nice enough, but are there any draw backs and just how much will this cost?

Recession, what recession?

For the luxury of an exclusive over 18s bar, individual seating, and - get this - sound proof tables (the mind is officially blown), there is obviously a literal price to pay and it's not particularly cheap. For the thrifty people amongst us there's a real sting in the tail, as the standard adult and student ticket price is £18 (and that doesn't include any nibbles).

Should you wish to indulge in the cuisine (and after all, why would you attend The Lounge and pay the premium if that wasn't your intention?), the menu is mouth-watering and is created by top chef Rowley Leigh. It's divided into three categories: finger, fork, and spoon, which you can view here. If the photos are anything to go by, then it seems like you're in for a delicious time indeed. However, the price for a decent meal and glass of wine won't leave you much change from a twenty, so the question is this: is a night out at a fancy cinema worth £40 a head? Sure, if you can afford it, then why not dabble? If money is no object, then seeing The Descendants whilst munching a plate of fish and chips, as one sips a glass of Pinot Grigio will surely be a pleasant way to pass an evening.

But beware: every 'package' has its downfall. Imagine for a moment, if you will, that you're settling down having spent almost half a ton to see the words One For The Money appear on screen in front of you. Obviously it'll make you even more cautious as to your choice of film simply because of the excessive price you are paying. For example, who would pay such inflated prices to see Adam Sandler parade around dressed as a woman when you can do that in front of the mirror at home for free? Take a moment to recover from all that and you'll see the current, if not limited, screening selection does in fact include a few belters like the Oscar-winning The Artist, as well as stinkers like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close; so for the love of God, choose wisely.

For the average punter, it's a service that would rarely be called upon aside from special occasions such as a birthday, in which case surely you'd go out to an actual restaurant rather than pay for the privilege of a movie whilst essentially eating your tea on your knee.

Don't get me wrong; I love the idea of a high-class cinema experience, but it doesn't strike me as something that can be integrated into everyday life. I don't think it's achievable. I'd happily try out a night at The Lounge; a few drinks pre-screening in the relaxing atmosphere of the bar, followed by a tasty meal as I watch something on the big screen, sounds like an intriguing prospect, if only as a fad as it seems a little implausible for this to take off in a broader sense. For those who can afford it, you'll soon forget the gimmick of  dull, nauseating 3D, and find yourself content with the new surroundings Odeon has to offer, ensuring you don't spill your champers and lasagne all over yourself in a rumbling 4D chair.

I'll leave you with one thought...

...Is this  really the future of cinema?

Friday, 17 February 2012

COMPETITION: Win Demons Never Die on Blu-ray

It's time for another competition at The Littlest Picture Show, and this time it is for the Brit horror flick Demons Never Die written and directed by Arjun Rose and starring Robert Sheehan (Misfits), Ashley Walters (Get Rich or Die Tryin') and Jason Maza (Fish Tank).

SYNOPSIS: The story focuses on a group of high school teen who, after one of their classmates commits suicide, devise a pact to commit mass suicide at an upcoming party. However, when they begin to prematurely succumb to a mysterious slasher, the gang must track down and find out who is killing them off and interfering with their big plan.

We have TWO copies of the film on Blu-ray to give away, and entry could not be easier. 


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

COMPETITION: #WIN DEMONS NEVER DIE on Blu-ray! RT & FOLLOW @littlestpicshow to enter! Details here: http://tiny.cc/7yidn #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 'DEMONS NEVER DIE COMPETITION' as the subject title.


Entries must be in by February 24rd .
The winners will be randomly selected and notified on February 25th.
Open to UK residents only.
No cash alternative. 
Entrants must be 15 or above.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Review: The Descendants

Rating: 15
Duration: 115 mins

It's just shy of seven years since Alexander Payne gifted us the comedy drama Sideways, as he announces his return with a quaint drama that's generated heaps of Oscar buzz - having already nabbed the Golden Globes for Best Picture and Actor - and is sure to bag some big awards come February 26th.

In honesty, it would be no surprise to see The Descendants waltz off with success, and not merely because George Clooney puts in a powerhouse performance either. Payne constructs a screenplay that delves into the deepest depths of the soul, as it explores how a family cope with loss,  betrayal, emptiness and tragedy.

Matt King (Clooney) resides in Hawaii with his wife, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) and two daughters, Alex (Shailene Woodley), and younger sibling Scottie (Amara Miller). However, when Elizabeth is involved in a serious water skiing accident and left in a coma, Matt must pick up the pieces and assume the sole parental role; one that he is completely unfamiliar with, having spent most of his days heavily focused on his law practice and land baron duties imposed onto him by family descendants. 

As the grieving three are forced to re-connect, on some initial level at least, it becomes apparent just how much Matt struggles because of his cluelessness in regards to his girls. What Payne illustrates brilliantly are the inadequacies of a man who is incapable of emotionally relating to his children; a man that struggles to deal with revelations concerning his wife, as well as the idea of losing her. 

Payne masterfully writes and directs Clooney's character who is suddenly thrown into the deep end of parental responsibility and forced to take control, whilst succumbing to his own grief. In fact, it isn't just Clooney that makes this work so wonderfully, but the aide of Woodley, Miller and Nick Krause (who plays Alex's best friend, Sid) who allow each personality to interact, bounce off, and gel with the subtly consistent  character development. There is very little to criticise in regards to the acting ability or plot: pacing is fluid, comedy and dramatic elements are perfectly balanced, too.

Perhaps the most important, and arguably poignant, scene is where Matt asks the seemingly immature and uncouth Sid, for advice. This is the point where it hits home that Matt is struggling to cope with everything going on, but also alters Sid's character dramatically from annoying douche into mature confidant; and it's these turning points and moments of despondency that add genuine heart to a film that'll make you laugh-out-loud and just as quickly have you in floods of tears. It really is that finely balanced, as it takes you on the emotional rollercoaster alongside Clooney's character. 

The only elements that perhaps scupper a very strong movie is the way things conclude too neatly; Payne packages a palpable ending that feels a little clean-cut, considering the emotional turmoil of the proceeding narrative. That said, it's a satisfying finale to a more than satisfying story, yet one cannot help but feel Matt's agitated and agenda-driven persona should have seen him mess up on more occasions and create some longer lasting problems rather than the flippant, inconsequential ones that blow over. Some irreparable damage might have made Matt more relatable, but wouldn't have made him, or indeed the film, as tonally appealing as it is.  

From a director's stance, the composition of shots are beautifully juxtaposed by the serene soundtrack. The surroundings are visually stunning as Payne takes full advantage of this to complement the subtlety of the acting that equates to a most pleasurable filmic experience.

VERDICT: The Descendants is a wonderfully engaging drama that boasts a lot of funny moments and some utterly sad ones, too. Clooney is marvellous and is sure to be in strong contention for an Oscar for a troubled, yet touching performance. However, the story isn't quite as hard-hitting or problematic as it could have been; specifically our lead's decisions and subsequent actions. 

Friday, 10 February 2012

Exclusive: The Avengers Collection (Stills)

The Avengers movie isn't out until the end of April, but to celebrate the release, here is the latest collection of action figures to tie in with the film. Below are a few exclusive photos and I'll admit, I'm not overly into action figures at the ripe old age of 27, but they do look pretty detailed and rather cool.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Event: The Littlest Picture Show to host #MTOS this Sunday

So, The Littlest Picture Show has been invited to host the wonderful Movie Talk On Sunday (#MTOS) on Twitter (you may have heard of it?) to discuss the topic of TRILOGIES. 

If you're new to this craze, then below are a few paragraphs from co-founder @Raghav about what #MTOS is and how it works:

"It really is simple. There are 10 questions. We will throw out 1 question relating to the week's topic every 10 minutes starting at 20:00 GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) every Sunday evening. All the questions and subsequent answers/discussions, by you, should simply be followed by #MTOS. In your Twitter "search" you can type in #MTOS and follow what everyone is saying and henceforth answer back and take part. If you "like" someone's answer simply Re-Tweet it like you would normally on Twitter."

"#MTOS is all about you. We will try and make the questions open ended with multiple answers. Let the discussions go off in a tangent if you find someone who agrees/disagrees with what you think. Just remember to #MTOS everything so someone neither one of you follow can also join in."

Below are the (amazing, I'm sure you'll agree) questions I devised in my brain, so check them out:
  1.  Name your favourite trilogy! #MTOS
  2.  What aspects make a great trilogy? Is it the character/s? Setting? Concept? SFX? #MTOS
  3. Which director would you say is best suited to making a trilogy and why? #MTOS
  4. Which trilogy would you remake and why? #MTOS
  5. With some memorable ones out there, who is your favourite trilogy character of all time and why? #MTOS
  6. Which trilogy should NEVER have been made in the first place? #MTOS
  7. What individual film (or one with a sequel) would you like to see made into a trilogy? #MTOS
  8. Do the first 3 films in a franchise constitute as a trilogy, or does a 4th, 5th, render it invalid? Discuss.. #MTOS
  9. With news of JURASSIC PARK 4 on the way, which franchises should never have gone/go further than number 3? #MTOS
  10.  To finish off, what are your top 3 trilogies of all time? Rank them! #MTOS

Here is a comprehensive list of trilogies: 

And here are films series with 4 instalments: 

See you all Sunday 12th February at 8pm sharp, or else!

Monday, 6 February 2012

Review: Chronicle

Rating: 12a
Duration: 83 mins

So the found footage genre has been done to death, but please cease with the heckling already. Granted, the eye-rolling prospect of going to see such a movie will no doubt evoke memories of Apollo 18 and Paranormal Activity 3, but for all the mediocrity plaguing our screens, there are some fine gems that genuinely work well: with The Blair Witch Project, Troll Hunter and [REC] as fine examples.

Relative newcomers Josh Tank (director) and Max Landis (writer), present an overused format whilst incorporating an interesting sci-fi drama. Refreshingly, the three leads are unknowns: the cast consists of social misfit Andrew (Dane DeHaan); his on-the-fence semi-jerk cousin Matt (Alex Russell); and the local high school's Mr. Popular Steve (Michael B. Jordan), to complete an unlikely trio of pals. One night at a party the threesome discover a gaping hole in a field and decide to venture inside to see where a tremor-like sound is emanating from, naturally. The boys emerge from the experience with an inexplicable telekinetic abilities after coming into contact with mysterious living crystals, a la the Fortress of Solitude, as they begin to bond with their new found powers and decide what, if anything, should be done with them. Chronicle is different in the sense that it explores the superhero genre in a more humanistic way; asking what a group of teens would really do with powers, rather than take a squeaky clean Clark Kent approach.

The character types are laid out in an obvious fashion: Andrew is the unpopular, social outcast with some obvious brooding anger buried within. Steve, however, is the opposite: good with the ladies, charming and uber popular, with Matt comfortably on the fence between the aforementioned polar opposites.

The entire film is shot from a home-made point of view, and without it actually being 'found footage' per se, the opening sees Andrew ponce around with it to rather annoying 'I'm filming cos I want to' effect. Immediately the concept of a teenager recording his life (simply as a weak plot device) at school and at home for no apparent purpose seems a little blasé. However, as we quickly learn, it can be attributed to his teen angst, which most viewers will forgive, or at least overlook.

For a mere £7.5m, the frequent special effects and impressive set pieces prove that multi-million dollar budgets don't necessarily make it better (as we glare in Michael Bay's direction for the first time this year), as the script itself is a coherent and well structured story that uses the amateur, no-frills style effectively, which makes the special effects appear more convincing. As the third act builds in pace, Tank opts to cut to various security and TV cameras in an attempt to jazz up the action sequences and certainly benefit: moments of a silent, grainy surveillance camera oscillating as walls explode works surprisingly well. 

Chronicle boasts some excellent visuals, notably once the boys discover they can fly. It's a film that'll leave you satisfied, especially after the heart-racing climax, with well executed CGI set pieces ranging from the torture of a spider to the destruction of a fleet of police cars. In honesty, it's the more subtle occurrences that make it engaging on a human level, as well as a realistic one: the manner in how the teens initially use their powers covertly for their own amusement feels natural, bar one mischievous scene where they scare the bejesus out of a young girl with a teddy bear.

The supporting cast is minimal and somewhat weak, with an aggressive role for Michael Kelly as Andrew's unemployed, drunk father, and a seemingly pointless love interest for Matt in the form of school pal, Casey, who also likes to film people. In essence, it's all about the leads and how they handle their new gifts, as they decide how to accept them in what is a solid genre piece.

VERDICT: Chronicle succeeds where many shaky-cam films fail. Yes, the opening wobbles, but once the story kicks in and the SFX woo the audience, it's hard not to find something in each character to relate to and perhaps even sympathise with. A steady build up and fantastic finale levitates this to the summit as one of 2012's best so far. And we were so close to a pun free review, too.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Review: Carnage

Rating: 15
Duration: 80 mins

Carnage is the latest film directed by ever-so-slightly controversial filmmaker, Roman Polanski, that's based on the 2006 play by Yasmina Reza, with who he has teamed up with to adapt into the screenplay. Originally set in Brooklyn, the film is filmed in France (due to Polanski's US criminal convictions), it retains the illusion of an American setting, yet has a slightly European aesthetic to it as well.

Essentially it's a situational comedy in its purest form and is only 80 minutes long, which initially seems like a more-than-manageable duration. The story focuses on two sets of parents who set up a meeting to discuss the conflict between their bickering sons, culminating in one of them cracking the other over the head with a branch. On the 'victim's' side are the somewhat traditional, working-class, Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C. Reilly), whose world collides with the fast-paced, high-powered lives of Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan (Christoph Waltz), as the discussion of their offspring's altercation ends up in a childish battle of pride and self preservation. 

From the moment we are introduced to the parental characters, the script maintains a witty and snappy pace that, on the surface, comes across as a dramatic piece with subtle comedic undertones: mannerisms, facial expression and body language gradually become more overt as their squabbles and point-scoring become more juvenile. 

The majority of the short film flows smoothly as the script is well paced, snappy and charming with its entertainment. However, as it turns out it could have, and probably should have, shaved 15 minutes off the end, as the final few scenes tend to stutter a little and runs out of steam in comparison to the rest. That said, the film is a whimsical experience and as the interaction heats up, we begin to see the personalities and diversity of each character displaying their traits, as the rounds of scotch flow, everyone becomes more opinionated and much more honest in their opinion. 

Each of the four main characters are strong, with Waltz perhaps being the most alluring with his effortless charisma, but everyone - in one way or another - contributes something different that equates to a solid exploration of situational comedy that is wholly amusing.

This isn't a typical film you'd associate with Polanski, having recently made films such as The Pianist and The Ghost, as entering the comedy route after the aforementioned dramas is a complete change of pace for him. With his years of experience, he competently, if not dazzlingly directs this bare-bones piece in a straightforward manner, and rightly so considering the anecdotal context.

VERDICT: Carnage is a solid collaborative effort and a sharp and intelligently produced adaptation, even if it does falter towards the final push. Polanski creates a humble film that exudes a Europeanness (specifically in its opening and closing), whilst retaining a slice of intended Americana.