Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Body of Lies

 Body of Lies Title

  • Released Internationally on 10/10/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 19/11/08

Preview (01/11/08)

In a nutshell

Based on the novel by the same name, this political thriller follows a CIA agent as he travels to Jordan to track down a high-ranking terrorist suspect.

Who’s in it?

Leonardo DiCaprio is agent Roger Ferris, the CIA guy who gets most of the action. His boss and eventual partner is Edwin Hoffman, played by Russell Crowe, who looks like he just walked off the set of The Insider because he had to put on weight and grey his hair for the part. Directorial duties fall to the inconsistently brilliant Ridley Scott.

Why we’re hyped

As mentioned above, Ridley Scott is undoubtedly talented, but some of his efforts just seem to miss the mark, and fail to live up to his other amazing work. Let’s hope this will go on the shelf with Gladiator, Blade Runner and Matchstick Men rather than on the shelf with G.I.Jane, Kingdom of Heaven and A Good Year. One thing he can’t complain about here is the cast – because DiCaprio and Crowe have proved to be two of the most bankable and applauded leading men of the past decade.

Review (17/11/08)

I heard the news today

From the opening sequence, this film manages to root itself in today's reality: a tense Middle-Eastern situation and a western world trying, and often failing, to track down the terrorists who are blowing up innocent victims in big cities, and giving the Arab world a bad name. As we have sadly seen on the news numerous times in the past decade, the film starts with a deadly blast which leaves a major city shaken, and all fingers point east, but to nobody in particular. Ridley Scott goes behind the news items to show us what happens before and after the footage we see from the comfort of our homes.

Off the grid

Despite increasing use of sophisticated technology, the big shots in the US are often unable to locate the terrorist leaders due to their hermit-like existence, and their ability to get their message out without using phones, internet and other traceable devices. As Hoffman (Crowe) explains, if only their major suspects would use a mobile phone even once, his job would be much easier. This is where agent Ferris (DiCaprio) comes in - he's the street-wise, hardened agent who's fluency in Arabic and variety of facial hair help him to blend in with the locals, and slowly track down possible leads or suspects. It's a dangerous job, but he's good at it, and doesn't have much to go home to anyway. Where technology reaches its limits, he's the man to call.

Strong Performance

Both Crowe and DiCaprio are on top form here, with the former fashioning an easily dislikeable character, who at times seems to be the most knowledgeable guy in the business, but who might not be as smart as he thinks. DiCaprio continues his string of excellent acting roles with an admirable, believable agent, who is everything that his boss is not. Once his character has been firmly established, Scott introduces the love-interest sub-plot, which provides a key angle to the story. Making his second good impression this year is supporting actor Mark Strong, who stood out from the ensemble cast in Guy Ritchie's RockNRolla. He portrays the head of Jordanian Intelligence, Hani Salaam, and seems to be the only level-headed constant in the whole middle-east.

Great Scott

The film unravels wonderfully and then binds together for a powerful finale, and is a joy to watch. The sense of realism is present throughout, both in the form of recognizable footage and scenarios as mentioned above, but also due to meticulous attention to details in every scene, such as the progression of DiCaprio's facial injuries during the course of the film. We might never know whether this is an accurate picture of what's going on over in the desert, but it's definitely believable and convincing.



Friday, November 14, 2008

Quantum of Solace

Quantum Title

  • Released Internationally on 31/10/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 14/11/08

Preview (01/11/08)

In a nutshell

Cinema’s most successful and long-standing franchise is back for its 22nd outing, fresh from the reboot it received in 2006’s Casino Royale, where Daniel Craig debuted to great acclaim as the man in the tux.

Who’s in it?

Craig returns as Bond, which is no surprise considering the new life he breathed into the character two years ago. All concerns about his blonde hair and looks were swept aside by his performance, and the film was a huge critical and box-office success. Olga Kurylenko is the new Bond girl, Camille. This Ukrainian model and actress was seen in last year’s Hitman, but this is her first big role. Let’s hope her acting is even half as good as her looks. Gemma Arteron, the young British actress who had a small role in the recent RockNRolla, plays a feisty M16 agent, and Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright and Giancarlo Giannini reprise their roles from the last film as Bond’s boss M, Felix Leiter from the CIA and René Mathis the French agent, respectively. Last but definitely not least, the French actor Mathieu Amalric makes his entry into the 007 archives as the latest Bond baddie. Last seen as the star of last year’s wonderful The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, he also had smaller parts in Munich and Marie Antoinette, apart from his extensive work in French cinema. It was decided that he wouldn’t need any grotesque physical oddities in order to appear menacing, as opposed to many of his predecessors.

Behind the camera, Marc Forster sits in the director’s chair, in his first Bond outing. His impressive body of work includes the brilliant Finding Neverland, Stranger than Fiction, Monster’s Ball and The Kite Runner, so let’s hope he keeps to that run of form. The story is an original one, and numerous writers contributed, as often happens with Bond films. The most notable contribution comes from Paul Haggis, who is famous for having penned or adapted Crash, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima and Casino Royale. David Arnold, who has been composing Bond’s characteristic music ever since Tomorrow Never Dies, is still on board, and this time the all-important Bond song is written and performed by Jack White (from The White Stripes) and Alicia Keys. The duet, a first for the franchise, is called Another Way To Die. I guess they couldn’t find many lyrics that rhyme with Quantum of Solace.

Why we’re hyped

Even at its worst, this franchise has always managed to provide wonderful entertainment, and people of all ages flock to the cinema knowing exactly what they’re going to get – espionage, explosions, femme fatales and vile villains. But in the last outing, the franchise turned out to be in top form, with less self-indulgent frills and a grittier, more emotional Bond. This film picks up moments after the last one ended, with Bond still aching from the loss of Vesper. So we can hope for more of the same, but with a Bond who’s growing into the role and gaining confidence.

Review (14/11/08)

So where were we?

Not needing any introductions, and having had a whole film of back-story, this film starts out at break-neck pace, with a stunning (and for Alfa Romeo lovers, painful to watch) car chase through the outskirts of Siena, Italy. Famous for its Palio, or annual bareback horserace, this city adds class to the film’s first act, and Bond just happens to arrive in town as the Palio is about to begin. Cue the opening credits.

Another way to die

The title sequence is of course as much a Bond trademark as the martinis and the gadgets, and over the years the franchise has presented us with some stunning combinations of visuals and title songs. This time around the theme is sand dunes, but the display seems uninspired, and backed by a disjointed theme song it manages to seem overlong despite clocking in at around four minutes. Pity, because Casino Royale’s titles were amongst the series’ best.

Location, location, location

Bond’s passport gets stamped a number of times this year, starting off in Italy as mentioned above, and rushing through Haiti, Austria, Bolivia and Russia. The scenery is great, especially before Bond has wrecked everything in his path. Some of the sequences suffer from awkward directing however, with Forster choosing to intersperse many action scenes with largely irrelevant scenes happening elsewhere. It works at times, such as the stylish and effective opera sequence, but at other times it’s distracting.

The Bond essentials

With Casino Royale, agent 007 was stripped back to his basics, and presented as a tough, no-nonsense agent still earning his wings. There were no fancy gadgets, no cheesy quips, and overall less gloss, but it worked, as Bond was praised as being closer to Ian Fleming’s literary character. This sequel follows that trend, but I have to admit, I’m already starting to miss some of the old Bondisms. He’s even starting to slack when it comes to female conquests, though I guess that could be excused since he’s still fuming over the death of Vesper (in the previous film).

Perla De Las Dunas

For the final fireworks, Bond finds himself in the middle of the Bolivian desert, where the setting for the big bombastic finale is an environmentally-friendly luxury hotel surrounded by sand dunes. Despite plenty of flames and fist-fights, the climax is a bit disappointing, although the later epilogue in Russia offers the film a better ending. Ultimately, this is a hard-hitting action film which should appeal to nearly everyone, but as a Bond film it left me disappointed.



http://www.apple.com/trailers/sony_pictures/quantumofsolace/ (High-res QuickTime)

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Boy in the Striped Pygamas Title2

  • Released Internationally on 14/11/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 19/11/08


In a nutshell

Based on the 2006 novel, this moving and original WW2 drama allows us to stumble upon a concentration camp as seen through the eyes of an 8-year-old German boy, and is a wonderful piece of storytelling with a hard-hitting message.

Vot is ze plot?

This British film introduces us to a well-groomed young boy named Bruno, whom we soon is found out is the son of a prominent Nazi officer. The director has decided to do away with any German accents, and instead all the characters in the film have pristine British accents. This makes the dialogue flow better and enhances the acting, although it takes a few scenes to get used to, and see past. There is no doubt which side of the fence our main protagonists are on, however, as Bruno's father hosts the Berlin elite at his house for a party to celebrate his promotion, and he proudly descends the main staircase to the sound of the German national anthem. We later discover that he has been promoted to commander of a concentration camp, and he is obliged to move his wife and two children to a villa close to the camp. This is where Bruno's adventure begins.

Who's in it?

Vera Farmiga, whom you might recognise as the love interest from Scorcese's The Departed, is Bruno's mum, whilst David Thewlis (The Big Lebowski, Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter franchise) is his newly-promoted father. Bruno himself is played by relative newcomer Asa Butterfield, who quite easily steals the show from all the adults around him. Another relative newcomer, Briton Mark Herman, sat in the director's chair.

Ignorance is bliss

Like most 8-year olds, Bruno thinks the world of his father, and has little interest in politics or what is going on outside the confines of his little world. But the stiffling limits of their countryside villa can only hold him for so long, and he soon finds a way out into the surrounding grounds, and inevitably reaches what he initialy thinks is a farm, but which we all know is something far worse. Despite his mother's best efforts to shelter her two children from the atrocities happening just miles from their home, it inevitably starts to dawn on her that what her husband is doing goes far beyond patriotism, and is not an environment she should be raising her children in.

Life is beautiful

It's been around a decade since Benigni's seminal film showed us how a father managed to protect his son from the terrors of war by pretending that it was all a game, and wrapping it all in fantasy. Here we see the other side of the coin - the young boy who starts off with a childhood fantasy but is slowly and painfully exposed to the truth. The innocent, childlike and stepwise way in which Bruno is slowly exposed to the horrors of the concentration camp help remind us just how horrifying and sad they are. Any comparison to Benigni's masterpiece has to be a good thing, and this flm definitely deserves it.

In the end

The build-up is wonderfully done, and the slow breakdown of Bruno's family relationship, exemplified by his mother being torn between her husband and her children, is well-written and acted. As the film rushes to its jaw-dropping climax, the pace quickens, and I was left silent and stunned as the end credits rolled. Simple, effective, and important - this is one film you shouldn't miss.





Wednesday, November 05, 2008

City of Ember

City of Ember Title

  • Released Internationally on 10/10/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 05/11/08

In a nutshell

Based on the 2003 novel, this film mixes fantasy and science-fiction to take us deep underground to a refuge for humans in what could be the future, and follows the adventures of two enterprising teenagers who take it upon themselves to salvage a dying race in a fading city.

A cunning plan

The film starts off in science-fiction territory, with a council of elders meeting up in shiny rooms, wearing colourful robes, to ponder the fate of their race. In a council meeting that could have been lifted straight from The Matrix Reloaded, we hear about a plan to build an underground city to protect the human race from an unspecified disaster, with careful instructions being passed on from generation to generation on how to escape back to the surface of the earth after 200 years. By the time the prologue is over, this set of timed instructions has been misplaced and forgotten, and we move forward to the underground city that has long passed its sell-by date.

When the lights go out

Light and darkness play a prominent part in this fantasy tale, with a whole self-sufficient underground city being dependant on its one big generator to give light, and life. With 200 years having elapsed, and the city’s wear and tear starting to show, the inhabitants are plunged into frequent blackouts, and the tension starts to mount. Much like Asimov’s landmark cautionary science-fiction tale Nightfall, we start to understand how this society would descend into chaos if the light went out, and never came back on.

Young heroes

In a city of dispirited elders, it takes two headfast teenagers to take it upon themselves to find a way out of the city once they sense the impending doom. Lina Mayfleet, the heroine of the story, finds what remains of the age-old instructions, and together with her friend Doon Harrow she sets out into the unknown darkness beyond the city boundaries to find a way out for their families.

Young audience

The novel was aimed at the teen market, and as a result so is the film. The adventure aspect and the prominence given to the young stars should make this thrilling viewing for younger viewers, but on the whole the film falls a bit flat when it comes to adrenaline and plot. What starts off as an intriguing premise eventually becomes a simple A to B journey, and the end result is never in doubt. With regards to originality, the dirty, beaten-up appearance of the underground city seems to have been lifted straight from the Matrix sequels, albeit with less fancy technology.

Who’s in it?

Saoirse Ronan, who despite her young age has already turned a few heads and earned an Oscar nomination for her memorable turn as young Briony in last year’s Atonement, portrays the spirited Lina. Newcomer Harry Treadaway plays Doon, and Tim Robbins is his inventive father Loris. A bored-looking Bill Murray shuffles through his paces as the city mayor, and Mackenzie Crook (whom you’ll probably recognize from Pirates of the Caribbean or from The Office) is the eccentric Looper. As a treat for older viewers, veteran character actor Martin Landau has a wonderful extended cameo as the narcoleptic engineer Sul.




Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Righteous Kill

Righteous Kill Title

  • Released Internationally on 12/09/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 05/11/08

Preview (01/11/08)

In a nutshell

Two NYPD detectives, who have been partners for over 30 years, start investigating what appears to be the case of a serial killer. The amount of inside information leads them to believe that the guy their after is in fact a member of their own department.

Why we’re hyped

See ‘who’s in it?’

Who’s in it?

Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, two of the most recognizable and respected actors of our generation, team up again as the two detectives on the case. They were both in The Godfather Part II, although they didn’t share any scenes, and then we finally saw them together in Michael Mann’s explosive and brilliant Heat in 1995. Let’s hope this pairing up is in the same league. Filling out the minor roles are Brian Dennehy, John Leguizamo, Carla Gugino and Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson.

Review (04/11/08)

Star Power

With two surnames like Pacino and DeNiro on your movie poster, your chances of making big business are quite good. Which is why the marketing campaign of this cop movie naturally focused heavily on the starring duo, who need no introduction. And from scene one, this film is all about them. Forget the above-mentioned films they shared - they were never, or hardly ever on screen together. This time they're partners, long-time buddies, and they spend most of the film's running time in the same rooms, situations and conversations. It's great to see these two pillars of modern film feeding off each other, and despite their very distinct and recognizable personas, they make a convincing pair and complement each other nicely.

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Italian surnames aside, this film is essentially an above-average police thriller. Partners, stakeouts, raids, surveillance... the works. This vast and often underrated film genre has produced some of the most memorable plots and interesting characters of the past couple of decades, and this time around we get a bit of both. The plot has enough twists and developments to remain interesting throughout, and the supporting cast listed above provide an array of interesting minor characters which add life to the police department in question. Carla Gugino is particularly notable as the crime scene investigator who likes to let her job overflow into her personal life.

In the end

Ultimately, this film could have been a documentary about knitting, and Pacino and DeNiro would have still managed to draw crowds and make it interesting. But although director Jon Avnet milks the star factor for every penny it's worth, we're still treated to an enjoyable, if not particularly ground-breaking thriller.