Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fost/Nixon (2008)

Exuding class and almost effortless direction, Frost/Nixon is probably Ron Howard’s best film to date. Before giving him all the credit however, it needs to be said that the film succeeds so well mainly because Peter Morgan had already given the director a decidedly juicy script to work with. Without it, cries of boredom may well have been heard as let’s face it, this is a film merely about a few interviews between two men. Meaning, its success has more to do with writing and performances than direction. Howard does create a sleek and perfectly paced two hours of course - no mean feat in itself when you have such a dialogue driven setup. To make it compelling, almost edge of your seat material as well, is even more of an accomplishment. Ultimately, the combination of Morgan’s muscular writing and Howard’s increasingly developing flair behind the camera has proven a real winner.

Album Review: All Shall Fall - Immortal (2009)

Having anticipated Immortal’s first album in seven years for almost 12 months, I finally got my hands on it and after about three full listens, first impressions are simple: it is a punishing collection of songs. In fact, the onslaught is so much on first playing, I couldn’t even tell if it was any good. With an almost flawless production behind it, moments of brilliance do shine through without doubt and as expected, the atmosphere does reign supreme. It can’t be denied All Shall Fall is another grim, worthy frost bitten entry into the band’s legacy, but after seven years is it that much different, new or exciting? Not overly, but if you are a fan, almost any new Immortal material is an essential purchase.

Buoyed by Demonaz’s grandiose lyrics, Abbath’s cave troll vocals splice the guitar wall and pummelling drums with relief filled confidence. Perhaps surprisingly though, Fall incorporates elements from many of the band’s previous work as opposed to moving forward drastically like they did with 1999’s At the Heart of Winter. Overall, the album is short (clocking in at just over 40 minutes), but slower in tempo. Ferocious moments reminiscent of 1997’s Blizzard Beasts (‘Hordes to War’) are there, along with the epic notions of their last album, Sons of Northern Darkness (‘Unearthly Kingdom’, ‘Norden on Fire‘) and even a riff or two that sounds like it could fit into Abbath’s heavy metal-esq side project, ’I’ (’The Rise of Darkness’).

Is it all a step backwards then perhaps? I don’t think that would be fair to say as it is hardly dull. At the same time, it is definitely the sound of a band more re-finding their feet back into that wholly mythic universe of theirs. It is not a domination of it. I personally find it to be a testament to the notion that Immortal have always helmed grand plans with their art, believing in what they do almost frighteningly. If you don’t like it; it‘s of no real consequence to them. Their epic and constantly praised live shows are reminders that if you do have faith, you will be rewarded however.

Only time will tell if All Shall Fall will be end up being regarded amongst their best work, but when the disc finally spins to a stop, it and the band demand your respect. And if you call yourself a fan of extreme metal, it is hard not to look up and take notice. Despite it being a difficult album to devour, fans should rejoice while newcomers or sceptics will probably struggle to find anything new to grab them. Creating interesting Black metal in 2009 is a challenge in itself, and I think Immortal have at least proved with this "comeback", that they're still relevant.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Album Review: The Chair in the Doorway - Living Colour (2009)

Most people around my age would have heard of Living Colour. Their monster 90’s hit and FM radio staple, ‘Love Rears it’s Ugly Head’ saw to that, but I think people mistakenly write them off as one hit wonders even if they still heard the anthem that was ‘Cult of Personality’ from a few years before. Far from the truth of course because despite their respect and influence within the industry since the late 80’s claiming different, 2009 sees them finally release their fifth album in 21 odd years, The Chair in the Doorway, and it’s pretty solid.

I didn’t really catch their under-the-radar released 2002 effort, Collidoscope (a record and reunion apparently born out of reaction to the 9-11 attacks), but it is known to be an auspicious release given the long time between recordings. Having disbanded after 1993’s hard-rocking opus, Stain, a few live guest appearances started to happen in the early 2000’s, then Collidoscope came after which another (recording) hiatus ensued. Luckily for us, they have regrouped yet again, with what feels like more energy than in the past, and picked up where they left off in ‘93.

With a not overly clean production, hard-hitting Helmet-esq riffs puncture the heavier numbers of Chair. Songs such as ‘Decadance’ and ‘Out of My Mind’ could be virtual Stain B-sides with their black denim attitude. Not to say they haven’t evolved beyond or in that particular sound, more that they still thankfully retain it with a passion. They have always encompassed so many styles however, it was never easy to define what their sound was. The colourful early days of Vivid and Time’s Up saw them incorporate everything from soul, rock, blues, pop, reggae, punk and metal as well. Chair still embraces them all and what is achieved is a schizophrenic combination of the harder-edged Stain and the inspired creativity of songs such as ‘Cult of Personality‘or 'Bi'.

Guitarist Vernon Reid - once touted as the next Hendrix (though more like a black Tom Morello), impresses whether espousing metal-tinged chorus riffs or providing grand sweeps in tracks such as the instant single, ‘Behind the Sun‘ & the unforgiving ‘Hard Times‘. Reid’s manic solos still remain a highlight as they did over a decade ago too. Behind it all, the simplistic but absurd brilliance of Will Calhoun’s drumming is more than complemented by the precise bass work of Doug Wimbish. Vocalist Corey Glover’s distinct tone punctuates and soars over the three piece’s impressive musicianship, giving us a collection of songs that are just a pleasure to listen too. The lyrics on Chair explore themes of identity crisis and purpose - a possible reflection on the band’s present and unpredictable future states of mind.

Overall and defying the odds, Living Colour have once again produced something that goes beyond trend or what is designated as ’mainstream’. If only they had kept it up after 1993, they would deservedly be more well known as one of the most important American rock bands - black or otherwise - in the last 20 years. Better late than never, The Chair in the Doorway sees the band pick up where they left off with definite confidence. For some it may seem lacking and only occasionally great, but for fans, it’s in impressive return to form even if it doesn’t quite match their formidable previous albums.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Film Review: Funny People (2009)

In the third film from director Judd Apatow, Adam Sandler plays George Simmons, an arrogant, hugely rich movie star with a legacy of dire looking “family” blockbusters that dominate the box office. Bored with his excessive lifestyle, we meet him as his doctor explains he has a disease that seems to be incurable. Put on experimental medication, Simmons looks for happiness in his time remaining by returning to his roots as a stand up comedian. Here he runs into Ira (Seth Rogen), and they bond as Simmons asks Ira to not only write jokes for him, but become his assistant after he confides about his illness. Eventually lives start to grow, and then spiral as George becomes obsessed with getting back his ex-wife, Laura (Leslie Mann), before its too late.

It would be fair to say I had high expectations for Funny People, but at the same time not really knowing what to expect. To its credit, parts of it are gut busting hilarious and other parts equally dramatic. I was surprised by the sheer amount of crude humour used in the many stand up sequences however, given that story wise, this was probably Apatow's most mature work. It still had the director’s confidently unique trademark mixture of crude and poignant.

The main problem was the film’s second half. When it declares George is able to get better, things get bogged down finding a conclusion. For as great as Eric Bana’s appearance late in the proceedings (as Laura’s overwhelming Aussie husband, Clark), there were plenty of clumsy elements and rushed ideas that just seemed unrealistic towards the end. Relationships turn on a dime and while I feel a lot of it felt true through most of the first ninety minutes, there are moments that threw me off in the final thirty. For a film this long - though it never once felt like it was dragging, it was surprising to see such rapid extremes that appeared only to serve to conclude the story as quickly as possible.

Definitely the character of George Simmons was well realised, with his fake films looking so horrendously bad, it seemed too perfect and ironic that Apatow's longtime friend Sandler, was the lead. He was great in that sense then, but I truly believe the actor did not have to stretch much when his true nature (i.e. cruelly humorous arsehole) comes out in parts of the film. Seth Rogen is very good as Ira. Playing more down to Earth than usual, this is probably his best performance I‘ve seen. Aubrey Plaza as a friend, Daisy, was a highlight and the sheer number of cameos was bewildering, but fun. Judd seems to like to cast his wife in his films, and it started to feel a little self-indulgent by the end unfortunately despite the gorgeousness of Leslie Mann. Jason Schwartzman and Jonah Hill were integral as Ira’s roommates, but nothing overly special - though their sitcom, Yo Teach! was the perfect Welcome Back, Kotter parody.

Overall it was a good movie, but with obvious flaws. The narrative - which made it feel like a film in pieces rather than flowing, and Judd's direction being the major culprits. Direction wise, it was pretty bad at times - at least compared to his previous film, Knocked Up. Any of the deeper messages explored are only really bubbling under the surface, and perhaps a second watch will help me realise that this film works better than I think it does now. So far then, Funny People is merely an applaudable - if a little clunky - achievement.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

District 9 (2009)

District 9 is the name given to the vicinity used to house the 1.8 million members of an alien race found inside a giant mother ship after it stalls itself above Johannesburg, South Africa in 1982. Cut to 2010 and MNU, a government agency created to handle any an all alien related situations, has decided to relocate them - given D9 now resembles little more than a slum, and send in newly promoted everyman, Wikus Van Der Werme (Sharlto Copley) to head up the task. Wikus and his team travel to the foreboding camp to issue notices to its inhabitants about the move. As if inevitably, everything starts to go very wrong for both the aliens and Wikus himself.

Presented in a pseudo-doco style, we receive a briefing at the start of the film on the twenty odd year history of events with interviews from several people involved. This is all faultlessly done and given the upmost realism, especially in the "archival" footage. These scenes also hint at an incident that was about to happen. The opening centres the film's intelligent themes that range from comments on third world society, social perceptions, racism, violence, immigration and media saturation. Soon it does become though, for better or worse, an eye popping action piece complete with Starship Troopers-esque violence and over the top alien weaponry.

One of the first things you do notice about District 9 however is the jaw dropping CGI. The seamless looking creatures (dubbed derogatorily as "prawns" due to their appearance), interact and move in a way that truly surpasses all expectations. The "humanity" given to them is a major achievement and not once does it remove you out of the genuinely compelling story. It is the story that keeps you intrigued, bewildered and devastated equally as it plays out in it's feverish pace. First time actor Copley excels as Wikus, combining innocent humour with downright brutality (a trait all the humans seem to share here); it is hard to imagine a big name drawling a fake accent and pulling it off any better.

The director has hinted that his main influences were the hardcore sci-fi action movies of the 1980's. The works of Paul Verhoeven and films such as Predator, Aliens and the Terminator. This becomes obvious as the film goes on and despite what the first hour potentially offers us, it does feel more akin with those influences than one might have first thought. There are also obvious nods to the likes of David Cronenberg, but this is action sci-fi - or at least that is what it becomes. It should be said that the blatant plot holes and occasionally clunky script do expose it as an imperfect movie, but no such things ever really halt the adrenalin or excitement. Blomkamp has labelled it a "South African Hollywood film", and that is probably an apt description, though it is more than fair to say that this Peter Jackson produced effort definitely offers more depth and emotion - not to mention social and political commentary, than your average US blockbuster.

A film definitely in two opposing halves, overall is a major accomplishment despite some truly, easily ignored flaws. On a technical level, it is hard to falter. Though the promising, brilliant first act turns into something a little more, well, generic, it makes the finished product no less entertaining or powerful. I hope that given the opened ended conclusion, a Blomkamp helmed sequel is not too far away.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Film Review: Public Enemies (2009)

On paper Public Enemies looked like a dream come true for any genre film fan. An authentically re-created gangster flick about John Dillinger, directed by Michael Mann with Mr. Charisma himself, Johnny Depp, essaying the infamous bank robber. Couldn't possibly fail, right? The tricky part however, is that when you are doing a film about a real life person or event, you have two ways you can go about it - make it as accurate as possible, or let your “artistic license” guide the story over solid facts. Sometimes the latter is better, and certainly can make for a better piece of entertainment. Enemies is undeniably in the latter group. The historical accuracy of John Dillinger’s life is dubiously muddled and lacking depth here, but without doubt, it is also presented in a way that keeps you glued to the screen.

The film’s biggest downfall is clearly the screenplay. The director has not exactly let it soar despite still fluffing the facts to his advantage, making it an off kilter hybrid of biopic and blockbuster, ala the (more accomplished) Mann produced, Martin Scorsese directed, The Aviator. Granted the dialogue is smart, snappy and significant at the right moments, it still only serves to help cover up the overall clumsiness of the writing. The relationships are not explored enough to have significant meaning or emotional impact, the jail escapes feel far too easy for Dillinger and the robberies, well, they are too short to be overly compelling. The action however is well done; an exciting forest shoot out midway through is handled perfectly by the HD video Mann favours so much these days. There is no denying Public Enemies is very accomplished on a technical level. An award worthy production design recreates the era immaculately, the editing is sharp and the score rises at all the right emotional peaks. The substance of the story just fails to match it unfortunately.
The performances are fairly good and even though Christian Bale, as the complicated Melvin Pervis, is often labelled with the “wooden” tag of late, I saw enough in his wordless nuances for it to be a convincing portrayal for me. I think it was a nicely subtle effort from him. Of course, I lapped up Depp’s (or Dillinger’s?) charm for sure. Depp seems to have become a very effortless actor - making it a fine line telling if whether he is actually being very good or just average. I thought he was good here, but again, the uber-cool dialogue he drawls probably helped to convince me of the former. The support cast was excellent. So many familiar faces; from TV actors to some older, recognisable character performers, the standouts were easily Stephen Graham and Billy Crudup, as Baby Face Nelson and J. Edgar Hoover respectively.

If you like it, the next obvious question seems to be: is it in the same class as Heat? The short answer is not even close, despite several similarities to the 1995 film (including the line “We here for the bank’s money, not yours”). To be fair, it was always a lofty height to actually reach for a director who seemed to be losing his touch with his last couple of films. What cannot be denied though, is that at its core, Public Enemies is solid entertainment and for better or worse, Mann’s best effort in a while. Worth it for the escapism, not the history lesson.

Monday, August 10, 2009

John Hughes R.I.P

John Hughes, one of my favourite film directors and a film making icon to angst ridden teens the world over, died last Thursday the 6th of August of a heart attack. He was 59.

Hughes’s films were equally impressionable and hugely entertaining to me as a pre-teen in the 80’s and a teen in the early 90’s. Films such as The Breakfast Club, Weird Science and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off were integral in forming my initial love for movies. He taped into the mind of a teenager like no director before or after as a writer/director, melding hilarious moments and powerful drama to truly memorable effect. His later films, Planes Trains and Automobiles and Uncle Buck saw him moving into more family oriented comedy drama, proving his ability as a writer - something that was definitely his greatest gift, was unique and without peer. To this day, the blueprint of the man’s films still casts a heavy influence on all others who work within the genre of the "dramedy".

Even though he gave up directing in the early 90’s - though continuing to write, sometimes under pseudonyms, his death was still a shock to this fan and he will be sorely missed. His legacy of films remains a sign of an era, but also a body of work that remains timeless.

John Hughes
1950 - 2009
R. I. P

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Drag Me to Hell (2009)

The idea of cult director Sam Raimi returning to his horror roots with Drag Me to Hell was an exciting prospect. Add to that enthusiasm an impressive trailer and strong word of mouth and you've got some fairly high expectations. Virtually from the get go, they're almost bettered with a prologue that deafeningly slams you into your seat. It's a powerful effects belter and provides early evidence that Raimi is in his element here and that he is definitely approaching it with a nostalgic attitude. The fact that the original treatment was drafted up not long after Army of Darkness was completed is not surprising.

The thunderous prologue gets the ball rolling informing us of the existence of a demon, the Lamia, who can be summoned via a gypsy curse to torment its victim before, after three days, literally drags them to hell. Unfortunately for farm-girl-all-grown-up Christine (Alison Lohman), rejecting an old woman’s begging to grant an extension on her mortgage at the bank where she works, proves to be a disaster. The old woman, Ms. Ganush (Lorna Raver) subsequently unleashes said curse on Christine for her revenge. As the three days play out, we see a strong willed, but morally flawed Christine dragged through a briar patch of unseen spirits, bodily fluids, hallucinations and insects as the Lamia prepares to take her soul. Seeking help in the form of fortune tellers and séances, she is taken on a roller coaster ride with Raimi pulling out all the swift camera zooms, tension building edits - with brilliant use of sound effects, putting us through the ringer as much as Christine herself. It’s a fast paced ninety minutes and never really lets up until after the startling ending.

Alison Lohman shines as Christine, being in almost every scene. Her flaws as a person revel themselves subtly as she slowly starts to lose her mind pushed to her limits during the three days. The supports are fleshed out well for such a film, with Raver’s Ganush a deliciously grotesque creation in particular. The score, handled by original Hellraiser composer, Christopher Young, is suitably gothic adding plenty of depth to the stand alone scare tactics of the sound editing. Overall, Drag Me to Hell is a tour de-force of unmistakable Raimi style and outrageous humour, packed with nods to the films his reputation was built on and a virtual instant classic itself. A totally self contained, well-crafted tale of the supernatural assembled around an idea befitting the genre - all without steeping to far into the ludicrous (we‘re in the territory where leap of faith plot devices or not so subtle twists are all a part of package after all). Darker in tone to Evil Dead 2 for example, but still with plenty of similar (intentional) belly laughs.

Besides it being that pure entertainment indulgence, the film is a revealing stake through the heart of the contemporary Hollywood horror movie genre which though it might be shunned by some of the stiffer filmgoers out there not familiar with the director‘s earlier films, it retains the spirit of what makes horror such a fun experience. At times, it felt like Raimi was rewarding the fans for their patience putting up with so much torture obsessed and remake dross over the last ten years. Its flaws are minor and resemble little more than forgivable genre traits making Drag Me to Hell a unique, memorable entry into what can sometimes be a gruelling, unfun catalogue of recent efforts.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Film Review: State of Play (2009)

As expected after his previous first three memorable films, director Kevin McDonald has put together a technically flawless looking picture with State of Play. One with great performances and a script that at first, I worried might suffer from having too many cooks (it has three credited writers). Couple this with the fact that it is an American interpretation of an already well-respected BBC mini-series. It is relieving to report that the writing is re-soundly excellent considering that the subject matter could have potentially become derivative. The details of chasing leads and deadlines amongst a busy, yet struggling major newspaper for example, was shown believably and grippingly. Perhaps not on the level of similar themed films, it stands up well by having a substantial modern theme of online based “new-media” competing with the once leading edge print standard. Happily, the film flies the flag defiantly for the latter, with both insight and humour.

Working as a reporter for The Washington Globe, reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) sets out to a routine murder victim headline, but as more facts start to manifest, a much bigger story begins to unfold of a political cover-up involving defence force distributors, corrupt senators and even more murders. One of the main ideas behind State of Play however, is the parallels that appear between Cal’s handling of a hugely expanding conspiracy story and a police investigation. “It’s not a story! It’s a case”, Cal is abruptly told by the chief detective at one point. Nevertheless, Cal is determined for the same objective - the truth. The tension unfolds subtly with a nice cat and mouse sequence at the centre making it less a droning ‘talky’ as it is a gripping thriller with constant, finely realised twists. Kevin MacDonald knows this genre well and hardly falters bringing the script to life.

Ben Affleck as Senator Stephen Collins at the centre of all the interest suits his role and played it as well as one could have expected; straight laced with few extrovert qualities. Helen Mirren’s newspaper boss shines through with little to do and representing the new age of ‘blog reporting’, Rachel McAdams’ Della Frye counters Crowe’s McAffrey surprisingly well. Russ is top flight as always, proving that his ability to inhabit a man and all that makes him tick, makes him almost second to none within his generation of performers. Robin Wright-Penn channels her real-to-life wife scorned experiences with not surprising ease, adding weight to the supporting cast alongside small but pivotal roles from Jeff Daniels and Jason Bateman.

With such written films however, genre rules always tend to appear and even though the revelatory ending did not feel worse or better for the film, I might have been more satisfied if a reasonable, but rushed extra twist at the eleventh hour wasn't thrown in. Overall, I was thoroughly impressed despite thinking it doesn’t quite match McDonald's outstandingly tense Last King of Scotland. It is easily one of the best films of 2009 so far and as a film for adults goes, it’s a damn fine entertainment.

Film Review: Diary of the Dead (2008)

For his fifth zombie film, genre legend George A. Romero chose to re-stage the beginning three days and nights of his initial outbreak, thus making Diary of the Dead forever linked (for better or worse) with his original film, Night of the Living Dead, more than any of the others. Rather than just being a re-tread of that groundbreaking movie however, Romero opts to modernize the situation, giving us a very 21st century essay of the events.

This concept is echoed mainly through Dairy’s literal presentation, with the whole film viewed through the home video recordings of one Jason Creed (Joshua Close) which has been spliced together into a film within the film, “The Death of Death”. Jason’s motive is to upload his footage as they try out run the situation to offer, what he believes, the media is failing to do, by not covering the events truthfully and without censorship. Yes the media is firmly the target or Romero’s angst here, though somewhat less veiled than his other films sub-texts’. Diary is a small film in almost every concern, including its ambitions.

What is noticeable about Diary though, is the numerous homage’s to earlier films of the director (Dawn of the Dead, The Crazies), in-jokes and even a cameo from the man himself. This all proves that it was a much more labour of love than his previous effort, the decent but studio-driven Land of the Dead. Happy to be returning to his independent roots, it shows with his fans being rewarded with plenty of in-the-know quirks. These will be lost on non-Romero fanatics however and thus it is ultimately more enjoyable if you are one. Not to say that it is alienating, rather that it is made for a certain type of audience and if you are not part of it, you’re less likely to enjoy the film as a whole.

On top of that, as a film it has its problems. Of the leads, only Debra (Michelle Morgan) & the Professor (Scott Wentworth) really stand out. The whole idea of the internet being a lone truth telling hero amongst society‘s great lying media is a bit muddled and unconvincing at times. However, it comes from a rushed script that if expanded a bit more, could have proved more feasible. Its surprisingly short length doesn’t help and it is over all very quickly. The slight lack of zombie carnage may disappoint some gore hounds, but there is some great gore moments of course with Romero proving, even though zombie is the ‘new black‘ in Hollywood, he’s still unique when it comes to putting his beloved undead on screen. Overall, it is a worthy (re) telling of the zombie apocalypse, which initially was only planned for a much more subdued, direct-to DVD release. That might have actually benefited the film, as it is strictly for Romero hordes - anyone else might be hard pressed to see what all the fuss is about.

Finally, the biggest issue by far is the fact that the director made it in the first place. Part of me does wish that “going back to the well”, as Romero has done with here, is not the best he has left to offer. I’m not sure how many more films he has in him, but it would be nice to see something different than him clinging onto a legacy he can’t really match anymore. There is still fun to be had with Diary, and it is a very well put together effort, it just seems all very unfortunately forgettable. It would be a great film if he hadn’t already made it better 35 years ago.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Film Review: Trees Lounge (17-05-09)

The title of this finely humble film, Trees Lounge, is the name of a New Jersey bar that acts as thirty something Tommy Basilio’s (Steve Buscemi) second home throughout it‘s running time. We initially find him hung-over, waking up in the Trees fifteen minutes after last call, demanding a shot of Wild Turkey. Tommy has just been fired, broken up with his pregnant girlfriend of eight years whose now involved with his once friend and former boss Rob (Anthony LaPaglia). Despite unable to keep his own car running, Tommy mooches around town looking for work as a mechanic, but spends most of his time getting drunk at the Trees making strained if appropriate acquaintances with some of the locals. Namely one Mike (Mark Boone Junior), who himself has his own domestic issues but has chosen to spend his “vacation” coming to the Trees everyday.

One thing becomes clear to all around Tommy - including his family, that he is a bit of a sad sack loser. A leech that expects everything but is unwilling to do the work required for a person to change their life situation. Unable to really get over his previous relationship or find work, he ends up taking over his recently deceased Uncle’s Ice-Cream truck, causing more trouble than it’s worth involving the seventeen-year-old niece of his former girlfriend.

Made in 1996, Trees Lounge reminds you of what a real independent film feels like. In recent years, the line seems to have become blurred in the mainstream as too who or what exactly constitutes such a thing. However, this film is the debut work of a true artist in writer/director/star Buscemi. Made for less than two million dollars, the film’s confronting reality of the almost pointlessness of life at times, alongside an ensemble of great performances from the likes of Junior, Chloe Sevigny, Elizabeth Bracco and Daniel Baldwin give the film a real spirit and ironic humour.

Buscemi himself, as the central Tommy, plays out a meditation in all things loserdom excellently. Bad choices, selfishness, alienation, you name it; Tommy justifies such a label to himself and to all around him. Coupled with all that happens up until the poignant, almost depressing ending, it is difficult to sympathise with or for him. Not that Buscemi as writer/director expects or even wants us too. The laidback, but hardly laconic script slowly draws out circumstance in a very observatory way avoiding influencing the audience too much about how we should feel about these people. We can only gauge their actions, not really react.

The lesson then is that life is what you make it - and sitting around in a dive bar all day will not help your cause. Tommy, and many like him, are destructive people to all who are close, never fully realising until it is too late. In short, and incorporating a great soundtrack to boot, Trees Lounge is a deeply humorous, albeit bleak slice of life that, if you let it, can help put your own into perspective too.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Film Review: 10 Rillington Place (18-04-09)

Made in 1971 and set during the 1940’s, 10 Rillington Place tells the story of real life UK serial killer, John Reginald Christie, who murdered several women (including his wife) and destroyed the lives of a young couple who rented his upstairs flat. Distraught at the idea of having another baby they cannot afford, the couple, Beryl and Timothy Evans, turn to Christie who manipulates them into letting him conduct an amateur abortion with murderous results.

There is apparently still some controversy in the UK regarding these events despite Christie eventually confessing and being hanged. Regardless of what really did happen, this an amazing film. Horrific and intense - though with little actual onscreen violence, director Richard Fleischer’s effort is easily one of the best ever made about a serial killer and reminiscent of a similar masterwork, 1960's Peeping Tom.

At the centre of the film is two brilliant performances by two of Britain’s best actors. Richard Attenborough’s John Christie is a chillingly cold portrayal. No doubt an influence on certain elements of Anthony Hopkins’s essay of one Hannibal Lector, he is a soulless man, his inadequacies’ fuelling his need to murder, boarding up his victims inside the home’s crawlspace or burying them in his back garden. Opposite him is a young John Hurt, outstanding as the simple-minded, naïve Evans. He stands little chance against Christie’s manipulation of the facts during an eventual trial involving both men. Both rise to the challenge, being utterly convincing in their interpretations.

Based on a book written in 1961, it is the perfectly sombre realisation of post-war Britain that first strikes you as a major achievement for the film. The score is muted, barely rearing it's eerie head helping the film produce an even more creepy atmosphere as number 10 itself becomes a quiet house of horrors. Despite all it’s flawless moments of construction however, the pace does lag getting started, making it not easy to get into. Regardless, 10 Rillington Place's main intention is to highlight a certain dark chapter in UK legal history as well as examine capitol punishment unflinchingly. In that sense, in succeeds remarkably. See it for the acting, stick it out, and admire it for everything else it manages to accomplish.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Film Review: Watchmen (10-04-09)

With it‘s bleak concepts, black humour, non-linear narrative, convincing script and the occasional superb output of violence - bordering on squeamishly cartoon and ultra realistic, Watchmen makes for a very entertaining two and a half hours without - thankfully - overly pandering to the tent pole crowd. Everything on the surface points to it being a blockbuster, but it is not what you would expect. It comes across a dystopian offspring of The Dark Knight and Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, and though it never tries to bury it’s comic book origins, it ultimately still feels more sci-fi than fantasy. Having never read the graphic novel, I can only applaud director Zack Synder for being able to achieve a certain reality here though. The Watchmen universe is a beautifully overcast one that from the first frame in The Comedian’s apartment or the outstanding history montage that is the opening credits - complete with Bob Dylan crooning “The times they are a-Changing” (a sign of things to come for the film’s unconventional but outstanding soundtrack), has you rooted in it’s sense of place almost as quickly as a Dr. Manhattan teleportation.

Set in an alternate 1985 to our own, with none other than Richard Nixon sleazing his way through a third term as US president, the world is on the brink of nuclear war with both Russia and the US having their fingers poised on the buttons. From the start of the film, we are already at “five minutes to midnight” - midnight being the point at which war is unavoidably imminent. Amongst all the chaos of this and an already turbulent world history, a story unfolds of a group of costumed vigilantes that has been active since the 1940’s. First branded as the Minutemen and later, when a new younger group take the reigns, the Watchmen. However, by the time the cold war story takes focus, the Watchmen have completely disbanded after being outlawed. One of the most recognisable of them is Eddie Blake aka The Comedian. His history is relevant to the story in sutble ways, and things are set in motion after he is brutally murdered in the opening scene. Dr. Manhattan is also a key figure - one who glows blue and has the perceived ability of a god after an accident changed him from a normal man to something otherworldly prone to helping the government get out of a bind (the Vietnam war for example). The film eventually expands into much broader territory beyond the Watchmen themselves, despite them staying completely central to it all. The story in fact is so encompassing, I will not even try to summarize it all, even if as some say, it couldn’t possibly be as deep as the much lauded source novel.

The casting proves to be spot on with almost everybody a seemingly perfect fit for their respective roles, particularly Patrick Wilson as the almost too-sensitive Nite Owl, and the brilliant Jackie Earle Haley as the hard-as-nails Rorschach. Some scenes or lines do fall a bit flat - while it is impressive to hear Rorschach yell “I’m not locked in here with you, you’re locked in here with me!” during a prison scuffle for example, it’s impossible to not cringe slightly at the same time, but it surely comes with the territory. By deconstructing (amongst other things) the superhero concept the way he has, Alan Moore’s Watchmen is a unique beast, and even though I’ve never put much stock in Zack Synder as a filmmaker before, he clearly has stepped up and proven that he is capable of handling the material. I wait anxiously for the director’s cut to make the film feel even more complete, as watching the movie, and especially during the second half, it becomes clear that Synder’s true vision has been cropped down with a few parts feeling not only rushed, but almost out of place. These are trivial flaws but a director’s cut will no doubt give an even fuller, more rewarding film experience.

The overall ideas and concept of Watchmen may have stemmed from Alan Moore’s book, making comparisons here unfair, but the film, as Zack Synder’s Watchmen, is a worthy achievement that seems to have done the impossible: something that can be enjoyed by those familiar with the source material and those that are not. It can be heavy going at times for someone expecting say, Ironman, but overall, it works despite probably not being as philosophical as it wants or deserves to be.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Film Review: Gran Torino (02-03-09)

Gran Torino's minimal story is certainly a relevant and emotional one, but the fact that the production seemed to be rushed so it to be ready and able to contend within the so-called 'awards season' exposures its flaws too greatly to be able to ignore them (which, when the dust settled, failed to garner any Oscar noms despite several other highly regarded nods leading up to them). Maybe I'm being too cynical about it all, but it felt like Oscar bait. Still, it was not the major reason why it failed to deliver for me the way the director's more recent output, such as Million Dollar Baby or Mystic River, didn't for example. It may have it's roots firmly stemming from a more independent film mindset, but that doesn't make it better. But then maybe those films shouldn't be compared with this, such a more personal exercise for Eastwood.

The film's title comes from the beloved car Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) owns as well as having his hands literally in it's production "back '72” at the Ford factory where he worked for fifty years. The grizzled Korean War veteran is now retired and finds that his not so glamorous neighbourhood has been infiltrated with disrespectful gang youths and Asian (Hmong) families he has more than a little trouble accepting live next door. Walt is a straight shooter, and his prejudice attitude defines his character. Coupled with the estranged relationship he has with his two sons and the recent death of his long time wife, he is now a lonely, angry man. He smokes and drinks constantly despite coughing up blood regularly, uses terms such as gook, slopes, spooks and zipper head to the recipient's faces and pulls his rifle on anybody spending too much uninvited time on his lawn.

As the film unfolds, Walt slowly breaks down his walls and after intervening in a tussle involving gang members and his neighbours he finds himself befriending the very people that he had no time for. Confirming this, he and Thao, a young man from his neighbour's family, form a skeletal, but invaluable father/son bond. However, gang members persist to harass Thao and his family with violence and intimidation. The film falters the most here as the structure and dialogue used to frame the initial story comes off as unrealistic and clichéd too often. Perhaps more experienced actors or a more authentic script may have helped fix these flaws, but when Walt's savage, racist barbs are what's keeping the audience's attention - both intentionally and unintentionally funny; it becomes clear something is missing. It is just not convincing enough and the first half of the film clunks along before the more emotional driven second redeems the story as best it can.

In short, the character of Walt is a thinly veiled Harry Callahan or Gunny Highway living out his twilight years, which makes it perfect fodder for Eastwood. Fans of the gruff exterior, straight talkin' cynical bastard he is famous for will have plenty to enjoy here. Indeed, it is a tailor made, obviously very personal film to the director, amplified by his passionate performance. It almost seems to be a closing chapter in many ways for those particular much-loved characters of his in that sense too. If it starred anybody but Clint, it could have been a much different film. As it stands, parts of it almost seems like caricature or parody because of it. This is a shame as the drama wants to be and deserves to be heavy going, but by the time the credits roll with Eastwood himself mouthing an ode to the car at the centre of it all, Gran Torino only really feels mildly moving despite saving it's most poignant and emotional moments for the excellent final act.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Film Review: Milk (23-01-09)

The centre piece of Gus Van Sant’s film Milk, is Harvey Milk himself; A forty year old gay man passionate about changing how his fellow citizens see his “people”, but at the same time unsatisfied with his current existence. Seizing the moment, Milk moves to San Francisco with his partner and sets up a camera shop. Seeing the place of his work and residence, Castro Street, become a growing hub for the gay community, as well as witnessing his friends beaten and killed whilst being ignored by the local police because of their lifestyle, Milk decides to try to make a difference. Eventually he and his team, along with the help of the community to which he finds himself the principal voice, create enough noise to have him elected into public office. As Harvey’s influence grows, so does disgust and confusion towards homosexuals in the San Francisco district and beyond.

The biopic of late has had a bit of resurgence thanks in part to the commercial success of films such as Ray, Walk the Line and The Aviator. All were decent films, but strictly on a mainstream appeal. The story of a celebrated gay rights activist’s last eight years alive is one that does not strike you as having as much conventional mainstream attraction, confirmed by it being very political in its chronicle and choosing not too show our central protagonist’s younger years for example. In the hands of curious, yet accomplished director Gus Van Sant however, the finished product, which resembles less a biopic of one man, than an account of a moment in time, is a film delivered in a way that it can be embraced by the broader audience, whilst retaining a bit of the director’s natural quirk.

To say Sean Penn inhabits the central role of Harvey Milk could almost be an understatement. The hardened performing veteran, with help from selective prosthetics, evolves into the personality with such ease and grace, you wouldn’t believe he was the same man behind a character such as the intimidating Jimmy Markum from 2003‘s Mystic River. Emile Hirsch and James Franco deserve mention for their equally passionate turns, but it is Josh Brolin as Milk’s political contemporary and eventual enemy, Dan White, who shines the most in the supporting roles. His portrayal is both subtle and unhinged. Plus it is an achievement provoking empathy over demonising someone who would be best described as ’the bad guy’ in a film.

Unique visual and sound editing helps the film greatly, giving it distinctive structure as we jump between Harvey documenting his thoughts on a tape recorder, to the actual events of the time. This device also helps distance Milk from being just another biopic. While it is still immensely watch able, the film is not without it‘s flaws. To be fair though, most of the concerns are unavoidable when working in such a genre, and being political by nature, Dustin Lance Black’s Oscar nominated screenplay still avoids getting bogged down with such jargon, allowing the emotion to filter in - although perhaps not enough to wholly satisfy. Overall, bringing such an important man and moment to life in what is seen as a medium more focused on entertaining than reporting, the combination of director, screenwriter and actor have given us the best we could have hoped for.

Mastodon's Crack the Skye Cover!

Mastodon's Crack the Skye artwork has been revealed!

Keeping a similar feeling to 2006's Blood Mountain, it's epic in everyway! Check out under the pic for a link to a huge 1000x1000 version. Current release date is March 24th with the first single, Divinations apparently coming out on the 27th of Jan in the in just a few hours then.

Mastodon are one of my current top three favourite bands and have been since late 2005. CtS has been a long time coming. Blood mountain blew me away and if I had too choose, it would be a contender for my fav album in the 00's so far. Early reviews of CtS have pointed to a much more rock based, prog sound (which was always going to be the case), which just makes my expectations even higher.

Expect gushing and/or unapproved man-love for the lads as the album release date gets closer....How sweet would this look on a vinyl??


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Film Review: The Wrestler (18-01-09)

“Doc, I’m a professional wrestler” is the response from Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) when after just having bypass surgery following a heart attack, he is told by his doctor that he must stop putting steroids into his system and can only perform mild exercise. The significance of that assertion to Randy’s story of a once great wrestling icon, now twenty years later relegated to Community Hall matches and unsatisfying signing appearances, is cemented by it being said with such conviction and pride. He is a wrestler. That is what he does. That is what he knows. Rourke embodies Ram and all his flaws in such a sincere way; the authenticity of his colossal performance raises the bar for realism.

Unconventional director Darren Aronofsky has shaped a documentary-like film with The Wrestler, and like the central performance is unflinching, gritty and driven by severe emotion. It is debateable whether the character of Randy is a likeable one, but you are not really asked to choose anyhow. We follow him through his present day-to-day life and the film’s major achievement is that you cannot help but empathize with him - as if it was real life. As if The Ram is a wrestler in our world. In that sense too, the film avoids sentimentality but still manages to be profoundly affecting and at times, painful to watch.

It is clear Mickey Rourke has drawn on the parallels between his real-life erratic career and Randy’s. No doubt it has helped the performance, and it’s a tribute to our director for pushing the actor to dig deep. The reward is a fascinating, hugely immersive journey regardless of Ram’s motives, outcomes or choices. Evan Rachael-Wood and Marisa Tomei complete the roles of Randy’s estranged daughter and aging stripper cum-love interest respectively. Both shine in their emotional responsibility, but Tomei’s Cassidy, whose story mirrors Randy’s in many ways, is finely convincing.

The deft cutting is reminiscent of earlier Aronofsky films, Pi and Requiem for a Dream, and works well here to keep the pace brisk and break up potentially tedious dialogue-free scenes, as well as adding energy to ones such as when Randy is working behind a supermarket Deli counter. A subtle, precise acoustic score from Clint Mansell blends appropriately amongst the eighties hair metal Randy holds so dear, ultimately confirming that on a technical level, The Wrestler is scarcely flawed. The wrestling matches themselves flow with authenticity. It’s a credit to both Rourke and Aronofsky for not flinching during the handful of fights shown - making them feel real was essential, and they‘ve completely succeeded.

Exploring a relatively uncharted world in cinema, scriptwriter Robert D. Siegel gives us material that on the surface does resemble a clichéd story, but praise must be given to the eye for detail towards the underground wrestling circuit he demonstrates. It effectively kills any chance of formula pulling us out of Randy’s psyche of frustration and eventual acceptance of what he believes his life to amount too. Struggling to complete any relationship he has besides the ones he shares with his loyal fans, it’s seeing Randy risking his life trying to hold on to that what makes him feel human the most, which is genuinely heart-breaking. It's also what make The Wrestler an unmissable film.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

More of Spike's Wild Things revealed...!

So if there is anybody out there whose stumbled upon this hotchpotch of opinion known as a blog and is excited about Spike Jonze’s upcoming film adaptation of the children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, you’re in good company. It sits amongst my top five most anticipated films of ‘09 alongside Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, Synedoche New York and The Wolf man remake. The latter rest assured is simply the guilty pleasure of seeing top bloke Benico Del Toro as a lycanthrope - a creature I have a lot of time for.

Jonze’s vision has been under a cloud of “complications” it seems since it began production almost a good two years ago. This was always going to be a film with a heavy post-production period, but rumours of the studio initially rejecting the director’s first cut, requiring re-shoots and worst of all, potentially replacing Spike, seemed to have turned out to be just that; rumours. Even so, the film was pushed back too over a year from its initial release date. Jonze never commented, but words from the studio’s execs and one Forest Whittaker (he voices one of the Wild Things along side Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini) claiming all was well, was….well, reassuring.

Now….brand new pics have surfaced after only really seeing glimpses in the past and all I can say is that they do not disappoint. The Wild Things themselves look freakin' gorgeous. I dare say the puppet master, Jim Henson, would have been proud of this kind of work. Of course, if you have ever read or seen and interview with one Spike Jonze (or at the very least, seen one of his two films), you would know he is quite the quirky chap. Not content with just releasing pics, the man whose all about coolness and oddness equally, has decided to take advantage of the promotional opportunity and print these images on a limited edition run of skateboards from the boarding fanatic’s own company.

Is this the coolest shit or what? I think so.

Film Review: Bottle Shock (11-01-09)

Set in 1976, Alan Rickman is shop owner and wine connoisseur, Steven Spurrier, who looking to broaden the world’s palette and break the stranglehold French vinos had over the market at the time, heads to California in the perception that something ’big’ is happening amongst it’s vineyards. Not expecting major quality, he meets a variety of locals and decides their wine is actually good enough for a tasting competition he is holding back in France. The rest they say, is history.

For a film based on a seemingly important chapter in wine history, Bottle Shock’s major flaw is its almost forced elements of the relationships between its leads. It is not that padding such a distinctive story with dramatic liberties is bad, more that it is just not done that well here. A film like this does need something to keep the interest of non-wine aficionados in the audience, so the idea is acceptable, but the script fails to deliver a little more than a few solid moments of comedy and drama amongst a traditional Hollywood relationship arc. It is nothing you haven’t seen before, but its positives make it worth a watch (only once) with Rickman and wine fans certainly getting the most out of it.

Bill Pullman and Freddy Rodriquez add some convincing dramatic weight to their roles of stubborn father to Chris Pine’s Bo and Mexican cellar rat with wine making ambitions of his own respectively, but they’re never given really too much to work with. Pine is fine enough as our lead who needs to pull his attitude, but the surfer-hippy wig he dons was borderline overly distracting to be honest. Rachael Taylor’s character of Sam is performed well enough I suppose, but it would probably help if I felt she needed to be there at all. The love triangle between her, Bo and Rodriquez’s Gustavo is clearly the films weakest link. As expected, Rickman is playing to type, but he is so much fun, every scene he is in is the film’s highlights, particularly ones involving him and a slightly eccentric Dennis Farina.

Director Randall Miller follows suit with the standardized story by not really being overly inspiring, though the California scenery is on show in all its bright glory, which makes the experience easy on the eye, also dubiously allowing the script’s flaws to wash over a little easier. Comparisons to the superior Sideways (one of my favourite films of recent years) would be unfair to both films and even though Bottle Shock would have benefited expanding on the actual wine making process over the love triangle guff, as it stands it is predictable, enjoyable fare that you could do a lot worse than with your favourite chardonnay on a lazy afternoon.

Film Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (27-12-08)

I'd assume if one was to think about the technology and money that helped bring this affecting story to life, it would be almost intimidating. To have just about every other element of the film, technical or otherwise, bond so wonderfully that it makes you forget about how Brad Pitt’s face is on that old man’s body, and just see Pitt as an old man, is something that deserves praise. I hope Fincher didn’t have too many sleepless nights over it though, because from the opening oddity about a backwards clock and the man who invented it, we are transported into what resembles an intriguing modern fairy tale. It seems to have an aura that few films do or attempt to create anymore. Something that even if you did not enjoy it, it stays with you, but if you did, it is nothing short of utterly absorbing.

Themes of opportunity, love, growth, life and death are consistent as we follow the unambiguous linear storyline, constantly moving forward. Engaging and quirky characters interweave the film throughout, with roundly excellent performances from all involved. Beyond Pitt’s effortless essay of Benjamin, Blanchett again proving she is the best female actor working today, Taraji Henson’s Queenie and Jason Flemyng as Thomas Button, deserve to be mentioned. The narration used to tell and introduce is delivered as well as one could have hoped with Pitt’s New Orleans’s drawl finely convincing.

I recoiled initially from the chosen narrative, of the journal being read by Daisy’s daughter to her on her deathbed. Beside the fact that this device brings unwanted comparisons to the vastly inferior, Forest Gump (note the same screenwriter here), a cut back to Daisy’s hospital room in present day, too rue or explain her regret about a certain situation, started to grow slightly tedious and almost into muddy cliché. Luckily Fincher pulls back before it becomes a nuisance or overly sentimental. It’s a close call, and I perhaps would rather have just seen the story unfold without it.

The film’s sword - the one for which it lives and dies by, is that for all it’s tear jerking storyline and emotional performances, it’s sentimentality is trod around like on a razor but declines to tip over, despite constantly threatening to do so - especially during those hospital scenes. There is no denying it is a sentimental film, but not in a groaning or manipulative way like other Hollywood films can be so guilty of. It’s a delicate boundary to dwell in, but Fincher’s steady hand coupled with its uniquely mature and darkly funny script, lifts the film above any of its peers and raises the bar for anything wanting to be in its company.

If you find yourself a bit too cynical too endure the message it provides of simply enjoying life and it’s never too late, it would not be so surprising, but you would be missing a wonderful experience. One that proves Fincher is someone who won’t be pigeon holed and without doubt, one the most interesting directors working out of Hollywood today.

Friday, January 16, 2009

An opinion on M.Night Shayamalan: Part Two - The Happening

It’s almost as if people were saying this before they even saw it, but the now clichéd, “nothing much happens in The Happening” comment is not that far from the truth - but as always with Shyamalan, there is something that makes his films unique, and much like I did in the superior, but widely unpopular, The Village, I almost found it in this one too. The hype machine certainly didn’t work in this film's favour, though. Building such a film up the way they did, and then have not much really materialize is bound to bring calls of “worst film ever” from the sadist IMDB crowd after all.

In no way are the films similar, but it can be at least said that The Happening is an improvement over Night’s last film - the bizarre and pretentious Lady in the Water - and a step in the right direction getting back to what he knows whilst NOT being the nail in the coffin of his career some would have you believe. Taking it in it’s stride, the film’s fairly preposterous concept of an airborne toxin that blocks out a chemical in the brain, one that prevents us from doing self harm, is chilling enough if you choose to accept it and the script is smarter than it probably should be given the Twilight Zone atmosphere. Not allowing a concrete explanation for the events which would take away some of the fun, supernatural element, we are still surrounded by math and science teachers constantly reminding us to think logically about the whole thing. The initial terrorist panic reaction is a fairly realistic one in a post 9-11 world, but that is soon done away with as more and more people off themselves allowing the theories to flood in. Night injects some much needed, but certainly odd humour as well. Working the paranoia effectively, the whole film is reminiscent (in a positive way) of classic B-grade efforts of the 1950s.

The horror is done pretty well overall too, and certain scenes that include the various ways people kill themselves, are effective and dripping with intensity without being overly blood splattered or corny. This is the film’s strength because as it goes on, it becomes clearer that our main characters don’t really have much to do besides run from the wind. That might sound peculiar and tedious, but Night has some old school style and he paints a bright looking film that takes advantages of using more of the actor’s physical emotions with some slightly startling (at first) framing. Zooey Daschanel (playing Elliott‘s estranged wife) and Mark Wahlberg (who plays our hero science teacher, Elliott) are fine despite not really getting to develop much given all the running away they do. I won’t deny it though, there are some moments of cringe worthy deliveries, and perhaps Wahlberg just wasn’t the right guy for the role. I like him, but there’s no argument here that the guy is a wooden performer. But, and besides a few disasters bit player wise, the acting overall is not as bad as some reviews have made it out to be.

The Happening is a good example of what Night does these days - he has great ideas and even though he can make the execution look and sound good, they all end up being fairly hollow and forgettable. It’s climax is a disappointment, but I suppose the plan was to be so invested in our lead couple we should appreciate the unexpected, slightly positive ending - a tacked on ‘it‘s not over’ moment should really have been left for after the credits though. Worth seeing if you’re a fan, it’s best to just make up your own mind. It’s purely glossy B-grade fun and I don’t think the director intended it to be much more than that. Everyone should just chill out with the ‘worse film of the year’ comments - this isn’t Date Movie people.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

An opinion on M.Night Shyamalan: Part One

It is a shame that M.Night Shyamalan painted himself into a bit of a corner early in his career, because the guy does have some talent. But by sticking to the same formula for so long and making the audience pin his film(s) on some big reveal he’s spent the whole movie laying out has alienated a lot of people - at least it did after refusing to drop the gimmick before it became overly predictable anyway. That has made him fairly unique however, because the expectations, both good and bad, heaped upon every new film he announces (still even after all these years) are heavier than most major genre directors, and in most cases, both extremes are never met. Yes, I am happy to give examples too.

With the exception of 2006’s Lady in the Water, they’re never as unpleasant as some claim to be (I'm talking to you, The Village haters), but at the same time and despite dropping the twist gimmick, he seems to have hit a major wall in the last few years when it comes to finalizing his pictures. His latest oeuvre, The Happening, does contain a fresh take on the epidemic idea (ludicrous or not - and if you say it is stupid, then you must also dismiss a bunch of now regarded 'classics' of similar ilk), but in the end it can only be considered ordinary at best. So it seems Night is well and truly unable to re-create what he achieved in his most impressive work, Unbreakable.

The big question is though, was his breakthrough film, The Sixth Sense, that good anyway? If you believed the critics, he was the second coming of both Spielberg and Hitchcock. While it was interesting and original, it hardly has replay value. Perhaps the man, who arguably set the re-invention in motion of ‘the twist’ in mainstream cinema, gets a bit too much attention then. Shouldn’t we just drop the bar for the little guy already? It could be people ripping him to shreds or tripping over themselves in overstated praise, but the bottom line is, he is only a genre director with "Hitchcockian" ambitions, so why can’t he just make films without such scrutiny? Being egotistic is not enough to justify it, because there are HEAPS of egotistical filmmakers in Hollywood who don't cop it as much.

I consider the guy a decent storyteller, so I always walk into one of his films with only really that in my mind. I don’t think Night has really done anything to permit the size of the spotlight that’s on him is my point, but he’s no hack either. Brett Ratner is a hack. Woody Allen is an auteur. Stanley Kubrick is a master filmmaker. M.Night Shyamalan is none of the three really, but I understand it is easier to criticise than to praise. Maybe he should just focus on his strong point - the idea and conception, and then let someone with their feet closer to the ground take over. But he’s afraid to fly! He should be the most grounded filmmaker working today!

Part Two, the Captain's review of The Happening coming soon..