Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Road

The Road

  • Released Internationally on 25/11/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 17/02/10

In a nutshell

In an unspecified time, after an unexplained event has wiped out nearly all life on earth, an unnamed man and his only son must fight for survival against other survivors, the elements, and hunger.

Cormac McCarthy

The film is a wonderful, respectful and unwavering adaptation of the excellent book by Cormac McCarthy, who also penned No Country For Old Men. Showered with acclaim ever since its release in 2006, the novel is both a touching father and son story, as well as a cautionary environmental tale. Early trailers gave the impression that the story had been given a ‘Hollywood’ makeover with extra characters and elements of a disaster movie, but these are thankfully absent from the finished product.

Stripping away the details

It is the absence of these extra details that renders the story so powerful and focused. Disaster movies are nowadays frequent and varying in quality, and we never seem to tire of seeing the world reach its end in different spectacular fashions. That’s not the point here. What happened before the event is only briefly hinted at in flashbacks, and there are no fancy CGI destruction shots anywhere to be seen. Instead, we join ‘the man’ and ‘the boy’ as they trudge across the scorched earth, scavenging for food and heading south for what they hope will be a milder climate.


What we do know is that whatever happened was powerful and widespread enough to effectively arrest life on earth. Plants and animals are all dead or dying, and all that remains are a few (un)lucky individuals with the whole ransacked planet as their playground. The number one priority is food, and everyone forays through the rubble and deserted buildings for preservatives or anything else edible. With time, the spectre of cannibalism rears its unholy head, causing our two protagonists to fear other humans more than the cold or hunger.

Any colour, as long as it’s grey

With the sun perpetually shielded by a cloud of ash, the earth is a bleak and depressing landscape, with plummeting temperatures. We’re never told exactly where the road passes through, but each leg of the journey brings them to more grey-toned destruction. Largely shunning visual effects, the filmmakers found numerous run-down locations across North America, and filmed on the dullest days possible. Any greenery was later removed digitally, and shots were toned down to fit the overall look. There’s even an impressive scene filmed during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, with the resulting havoc fitting in perfectly.

Father to son

Viggo Mortensen makes the film. We see him slowly wither and fade under the immense strain of hunger, travel, and the painful memories of his wife (Charlize Theron) who didn’t survive the event. The pain and anguish on his bearded face is balanced by the love for his son (newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee), and the chemistry between them, so essential to a film like this, works convincingly. The man’s purpose is clear – besides surviving and reaching the coast, he must equip his young son with the skills and cunning to survive without him should they get separated. He never misses a chance to teach his son, and makes sure he knows the difference between themselves - the good guys, and the cannibals – the bad guys. Mortensen is fast becoming the most interesting actor working today, and this powerful performance stands alongside his excellent work in Eastern Promises and The Lord of the Rings.

Key episodes

The main narrative of the book and film revolves around certain key episodes in the duo’s journey. Each memorable episode is brought to life and filled with urgency and emotion, since each one presents a potential life or death situation for our fragile heroes. The discovery of a residual can of coke in a derelict dispenser becomes a touching moment of discovery for the boy, who has never tasted the bubbly flavour before. The exploration of abandoned houses is a tough decision, since food supplies or dangerous squatters could be found within. A chance encounter with an ageing fellow survivor (Robert Duvall) provides a rare chance for friendship and humanity. With our focus so sharply on the man and boy, these episodes resonate and make the film engrossing from start to finish.

In the end

Director John Hillcoat has brought McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to the screen without pandering to any blockbuster norms and without diluting the powerful father-son bond and desperate survival struggle they face. This is by no means light viewing, but besides being bleak, harrowing and often haunting, it is ultimately moving and very, very beautiful. Easily one of the best films of the year.


Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It’s Complicated

It's Complicated

  • Released Internationally on 23/12/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 27/01/10

In a nutshell

Jake and Jane have been divorced for ten years, after being married for fifteen. Jake has now remarried. When the ex-couple spend a weekend in New York for their son’s graduation, things get complicated.

Mid-life crises

This light-hearted romantic comedy manages to strike a good balance between fluff and drama, and builds a believable relationship dilemma between its two main protagonists. Since their divorce, Jane has taken time to adjust, but is now finally getting herself together emotionally. But empty-nest syndrome looms as her youngest daughter leaves the (huge) family house, and the loneliness isn’t helped by constant reminders about her dry spell from her girlfriends. Jake, in the meantime, is in a hectic marriage to a much younger woman with a harebrained son, and as he is dragged to fertility clinics by his trophy wife, he admits that he has become a ‘walking cliché’.

Happy families

The ex-pair meet occasionally, and the animosity has cooled, but it takes a full-blown family weekend like old times to bring out buried emotions, and with a lot of insistence from Jake, things start to happen. This proves badly timed for Jane’s architect, Adam, who is also divorced, and with whom Jane was starting a tentative flirtation. The triangle provides ample fodder for situation comedy and tough decisions, and the film manages to remain interesting without following any wildly unpredictable path.

Who’s in it?

Meryl Streep caps off yet another outstanding year with her omnipresent role as Jane. Torn between a steady situation she was getting used to, and the promise of fresh excitement, she is faced with all the tough decisions, and she manages all the complications convincingly, switching from lover to ex-wife to mother to cook to first date seamlessly. She continues to excel into her 60s, after an amazing turn in Julie & Julia, and a subtle but classy role in Fantastic Mr. Fox. Alec Baldwin (30 Rock, The Cooler) is single-minded and often hilarious as Jake, whilst Steve Martin (Bowfinger, The Pink Panther) gives a restrained but likeable performance as the nerdy but nice Adam. Baldwin and Martin will be hosting this year’s Oscar ceremony, which sounds promising. The supporting cast complete the complex family trees nicely, especially John Krasinski (The Office, Away We Go) as the fiancé of Jane’s eldest daughter, who starts off awkwardly but ends up having some of the funniest moments in the film.

In the end

Nancy Myers, who previously directed Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday and What Women Want (as well as writing the former two), continues with her winning formula – light, fun, romantic comedies featuring top-class actors and tackling various relationship issues at different stages of life. Her script is as pleasant as usual this time around, and the cast, especially Streep, deliver. Romance and comedy, with some extra class.


Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)

Saturday, January 16, 2010



  • Released Internationally on 17th July 2009
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 29th October 2009 as part of the annual Malta International Film Festival

In a nutshell

Made on a small but well-used budget, and mostly a one-man show, this is one of the best films of the year.

Welcome to Lunar Industries

The story unfolds on the Earth's moon. Sometime in the unspecified future, a mining project is established on the surface of the moon, which harvests a clean source of energy for use on earth. The advanced setup allows it to function with only one human member of staff. That lonesome individual is Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell - Matchstick Men, Frost/Nixon), and we meet him just two weeks before his three-year contract is due to expire. He's understandably eager to head back home, especially since his wife was pregnant when he left, and he's had to rely on recorded video messages to enjoy his young family over the past years.

Staying sane

Three years is a long time. Around three years ago, Wii and Blu-ray were released, Saddam Hussein was executed, and Italy won the World Cup. That seems like aeons ago. So we can only imagine how much longer they must seem if you are cooped up in a gleaming, sterile space station with no other humans in sight. I assume Sam Bell was being paid handsomely for his troubles, because there must be few other reasons to do it. Keeping him sane and fit for work during his long stretch is a regular routine of work, treadmill, hobbies, video calls, and Gerty.


In a clear homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Sam's confidante, companion and support line is a smooth-talking console named Gerty. Voiced elegantly by Kevin Spacey (American Beauty, The Usual Suspects), Gerty has a smiley face where Hal 9000 had a red light, and his display changes with mood. There is little else to discern from his deadpan voice, and his allegiances are divided between the parent company who installed him, and Sam whom he babysits. As Sam starts to see things and get certain suspicions during the last weeks of his sojourn, he needs Gerty on his side as he tries to uncover the truth.

The sounds of space

The homage to Kubrick continues with a solitary scene set to classical music, much like the balletic spaceship sequences that defined 2001, but the references end there, and in all other aspects this story is wonderfully original and surprising. Moon owes much of its overall look and feel to the basic but effective special effects as Sam ventures out into zero gravity, and to the pulsating and occasionally beautiful score from composer Clint Mansell. The lunar landscape scenes provide us viewers, and Sam, with a break from the enclosed environment of the space station, and add a lot to the sense of awe and mystery.

In the end

This polished and rewarding science-fiction film is the film debut of a certain Duncan Jones, who wrote the original story, and directed the film. Previously known mostly for his work in advertising and as the son of David Bowie, we can only hope this will open up many doors for him as a filmmaker. Sam Rockwell continues to impress, and as the story unfolds, his performance is what binds the film together and makes it work. We need more films like Moon.


Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Malta Box-Office 2009



The Top Ten films in Malta between Dec 24th 2008 and Dec 22nd 2009 (Source: KRS)

01. 2012 *
02. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
03. Michael Jackson's This Is It
04. The Proposal
05. Avatar *
06. The Hangover
07. Angels & Demons
08. Ice Age 3 – Dawn of the Dinosaurs
09. The Twilight Saga – New Moon *
10. Transformers - Revenge of the Fallen

* Still in theatres at the end of the year