EDtv (1999) Film Review

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Ed (Matthew McConaughey) is a normal guy; in his thirties, working in a video shop, hanging out with his family, especially his brother, Ray (Woody Harrelson) and his girlfriend, Shari (Jenna Elfman). Then a television station has a competition to find a face for their new reality television show, and suddenly, they are all on tv, 24-hours-per-day. It’s exciting until it starts to cause some real problems for them all.

Sometimes in culture, zeitgeist throws up things that are similar yet still different. In the late nineties, it was reality TV, with this coming up only a year after The Truman Show. Yes, there are similarities, and in their own way, both of these films work. EDtv is fun. Fun characters, tough decisions, great gags. I felt the need to watch this after recently watching the disturbing and difficult True Detective series, and really wanted to see Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson having fun. It’s not rocket science, but it is ace fun. And Jenna Elfman? Come back. I miss you.

The Hunger Games : Catching Fire (2013) Film Review

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Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) have to put on a show, touring the districts as the first ever joint winners of the Hunger Games. But it is not good enough, and Commander Snow (Donald Sutherland) needs to come up with another way to bring her down and quelch the uprisings that are happening across all districts. Gamemaker Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) comes up with the idea of a special Hunger Games bringing together old winners. With the assistance of Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), they enter the arena again. And what of her mother and sister, or her handsome friend Gale (Liam Helmsworth)? Well.

I was a bit worried about this film, having read and loved the book. Though I am more concerned about the next couple of films, because the books get extremely violent. I guess I just get so caught up in Katniss’s life that I bought everything; every moment, every emotion, every betrayal. Plus, because I have such a terrible memory for the books that I read a few years ago, I couldn’t remember exactly who did what. I kind of knew what was coming, but not properly. That was nice. One of the problems with these series that happen over a matter of years is that you are just left hanging. I want the next two movies NOW. I can only hope they have more equally ridiculous jumpsuits.

The Hunger Games (2012) Film Review

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The twelve districts of Panem are ruled by the Capital. As a punishment/reminder of a past war, the Hunger Games are held each year. Two teenagers, one male and one female, are drawn from each district and put into a massive arena (as big as a whole separate world) two fight to the death. When Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers for her sister Primrose (Willow Shields), she and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) need to work together to survive.

Films based on books can be tricky, making the right choices about what goes and what stays in; what works best for the story of the film and what will work to tell the rest of the story. I felt that this representation was pretty darned good. The casting was fantastic; Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Liam Hemsworth, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Now You See Me (2013) Film Review

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J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKenney (Woody Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are four magicians (of different varieties) who are brought together by a mysterious other, they don’t know why. They appear as a big new act in Las Vegas; “The Four Horsemen” and do a performance that lead FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol Agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) investigating their every move. The magicians are being bankrolled by multi-millionare Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) and the authorities are being assisted by a magician who now makes his money revealing tricks, Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman). But who is who, and what is really going on?

I’m not a massive fan of magic. It’s not that I don’t get it; I reckon I get as wowed as most people. I just don’t really care how it’s done. I’ll go along for the ride if I must, but I’d be just as happy avoiding it. What I do like is a really clever film that has everyone one step ahead of everyone else… or, at least, you never really know who is doing what for who and why. And I really, really love that moment at the end of a heist film where everything is revealed, or the final plan takes place. Spy films, too. What is really ace about this film is that there are several times when all this happens. It is fast, constantly confusing and totally amazing.

Loved it. Lots.

No Country for Old Men (2007) Film Review

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When out hunting, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) comes across a group of dead bodies at what was a drug deal gone bad. He tracks down the money to take he and his wife, Carla Jean (Kelly MacDonald) to a different life, initially unaware that he is being hunted down by psychopathic killer Anton Chugurh (Javier Bardem). Meanwhile, Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is following, trying to make sense of what he sees.

This film is totally and utterly brilliant. Tense and scary with the odd edge of humour, weighed down by morality and the lack of morality. I expect a  lot of the Coen Brothers, and more often than not, they produce solid, strong, good films. Every now and then, they chuck out perfection. Big call, I know, but I’m putting it out there.

No Country for Old Men won Oscars for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Javier Bardem) Best Achievement in Directing (Ethan and Joel Coen) and Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay (Joel and Ethan Coen) and was nominated for Best Achievement in Cinematography (Roger Deakins), Best Achievement in Film Editing, Best Achievement in Sound Mixing and Best Achievement in Sound Editing.

Seven Psychopaths (2012) Film Review

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Don’t ya just love going in to a film not knowing anything about it or anything to do with it? It is a total hit or miss, although I find that even a really bad film is better if it is unexpected. Seven Psychopaths was totally a hit.

From Martin McDonagh, writer and director of In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths is just that – a film about seven psychopathic people. Or more specifically, a film about Marty (Colin Farrell), an alcoholic screenplay writer who is trying to write his new film, titled Seven Psychopaths. As he does this, the relationship with his Australian lover, Kaya (Abbie Cornish) is struggling as he spends too much time with his actor friend Billy (Sam Rockwell). Then things get complex.

There is so going on in the plot of this film that it is really difficult not to mention anything further without major spoilers. It is very violent, but very funny. Really and truly laugh out loud funny. The dialogue is extremely amusing (comparable to the wit of Reservoir Dogs, only less like a stand-up comedy routine, and more like conversations that real, witty people might have.

For me, the film was carried by Sam Rockwell, although I have to mention the performances of Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken. Harrelson is so strong and funny, and Walken is magnificently understated.  Harry Dean Stanton and Tom Waits and I’m pretty happy. As long as you don’t mind a bit of violence (including some very hilarious violence), get out and see this film.

Wag the Dog (1997) Film Review

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Ages ago, I reviewed The Ides of March and felt that it was quite average for a political thriller, especially compared to films such as Wag the Dog and Primary Colors. Since, I’ve discussed the film and read other reviews, and it seems that most people thought it was a much better film that I did. I do want to revisit it, however I wanted to see the others first for some comparison.

Wag the Dog tells the story of a Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro) and Winifred Ames (Anne Heche) who are working in the last fortnight before a presidential election to bury the story of a sexual encounter between the President and a young girl. They bring in Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) to produce the appearance of a war with Albania, along with victims, heroes, the whole kit-and-kaboodle.

It’s fabulous. It totally plays into the idea of a massive conspiracy. It couldn’t be done now; with the internet and wikileaks, it would be very easy to disprove. In fact, it couldn’t have been done then. There is no way the media would just go along with the stuff that is being fed to it – regardless of how cleverly the leaks appear are done. But what the films shows is how it could almost be possible – and if it could happen, this is how it would go. It’s fabulous, so funny. Wonderful cast, great script. We even got a bit of Woody Harrelson, Kirsten Dunst, William H Macy, Dennis Leary and Willie Nelson. Perfect.

Wag the Dog was nominated for Oscars for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Dustin Hoffman) and Best Writing:Screenplay Based on Material Previously Published (Hilary Henkin and David Mamet)

Bunraku (2010) Film Review

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Bunraku is a 400-year-old form of Japanese puppet theatre, and whilst this is a live-action film, it is very much in the style of puppet theatre. The set has a very theatrical style that reminds me of 1920s German expressionistic films like Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. Meanwhile, the plot is typical of that of Bunraku theatre.

It is set in a world in the aftermath of a massive world war, guns have been outlawed, so battles are waged with the blade. There is a city which is run by the gangs of Nicola the Woodsman (Ron Pearlman), a character who is rarely, if ever, seen. A Drifter (Josh Hartnet) arrives in town and approaches the local bartender (Woody Harrelson) looking to kill Nicola. A second man also arrives in town, a Samuri warrior (Gackt) in search of a medallion that Nicola stole from his family. The three become and unlikely alliance in the fight against Nicola.

Stylistically, this is one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. Plotwise, it’s got a few holes, but the awesome fight sequences make up for it. Definitely worth enjoying, and if it gets a run at the Astor or somewhere on a big screen, check it out.