Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – Review

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World 

Directed by Edgar Wright. Cast: Michael CeraAlison PillMark WebberJohnny SimmonsKieran CulkinEllen WongJason Schwartzman

After the disappointing box office on its release (Only $11 million in the first week in the US) “Scott Pilgrim…” is coming out on DVD and BluRay , hoping to find an audience and become of one those cult in the years to come, without being confused by the similarly themed “Kick-Ass” or sidelined by the massive “Inception”, in fact according to Wikipedia it became the top-selling Blu-ray on Amazon.com during the first day it was available.

To be honest I was one of the few who wasn’t quite taken by it, even when it first came out. I thought it was witty, original, fast, inventive and on the whole quite fun for the first 40 minutes. However after a while it begins to feel a bit stretched. 2 hours are definitely too much for what’s essentially an excuse to see people fighting as if they were on a video game. Even the eye-popping visual effects, however flashy (including the use of funny captions on the screen that make it all look like a comic) out-stayed their welcome and the novelty wears a bit thin.

The movie is based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, and manages to capture their mood and quirkiness quite closely, however, as we all know what works on paper doesn’t necessarily work on film. What starts off as a touching and imaginative depiction of the romantic travails of a twenty-something kid, pretty quickly becomes a rather indulgent affair and starts to feel very long.

The story (if we can call it that way) is about Scott Pilgrim, a bass guitarist, who is in love with the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers, but in order to win her heart he has to defeat her “seven evil exes”. Yes, seven of them!! That was the number in the original comic version, I must confess that but after watching the film for about 1 I remember thinking to myself “Oh God, Scott has only beaten the 2 of them!”.

The makers try their best to give a different feel to each of the fight sequences and cram the film with enough appearances from more or less famous actors, but for me that wasn’t enough and by the time I got to the very last fight I just couldn’t wait for it to finish.

It is obviously aimed at the so-called wired generation and people who grew up on Nintendo and PS stations (as opposed to people like me who grew up with Intellevision and Atari consoles), but considering the short attention span of that target audience, it get the feeling that it might be a bit tiresome even for them.

I wouldn’t trash it completely. There are some inspired moments (the Universal logo at the front is one of them), Kieran Culkin’s turn as the gay flatmate is excellent (and makes you wish there was more of him) and the special effects are all top class, most of the pop culture and video games reference are quite clever, it’s just a shame that its irreverent tone loses its edge by being som faithful to the original story. I think the film would have gained something by getting rid off a couple of the “exes”

6.5/10


Hereafter – Review

HEREAFTER (2010)

Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Cécile De France, Thierry Neuvic, Jessica Griffiths,Frankie, McLaren, George McLaren

I just can’t believe this film has been getting some good reviews. If it hadn’t been directed by CLINT EASTWOOD I’m sure people would have looked at it in a different way, but it seems it’s become a sin to bad-mouth a Clint Eastwood‘ film. What’s the matter with people and Clint Eastwood?

Just because the guy is 80 we should forgive him films like these?

First of all let’s all admit that Clint’s recent work has been rather inconsistent, and then let’s try to see how with this film he’s really touched rock bottom.

On paper HEREAFTER could almost work. It is the story of 3 different people in 3 different countries having to deal with death in 3 completely different ways. In the first story, Matt Damon has psychic abilities and he’s able to communicate with the dead (or rather listen to them).

The second story is about a French woman, Cécile De France (probably known to the US audience from the latest “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS“) who has survived a near-death experience and she’s now dealing with the post trauma.

And finally the third story is set in London and it’s about a young schoolboy who’s just lost his twin brother and he’s also trying to deal with the loss.

Unfortunately the film doesn’t really manage to go beyond these simple intriguing plot lines and what should have been an interesting story about loss, grief and death, told by an old aged man (who certainly must feel this subject very close to him, given his age) slowly (very slowly) becomes a heavy-handed gush of sentimentality, with a script riddled with a series of spoon-fed clichés.

People may argue that since Spielberg is the executive producer of this film, all this was meant to happen from the start. However , not only Spielberg had very little to do with the film itself, but also “subtlety” hasn’t been a word present in Eastwood’s dictionary either, especially in the last few years (Clint’s family in GRAN TORINO for example was so over the top and it almost felt like a parody). Hence the obviously gratuitous images like the one of the “lonely person” shown eating alone in the kitchen, or the poor boy you’re supposed to feel sorry for, or the business woman who’s not listening to his colleagues during a meeting at work, because she’s really concerned about more important stuff…

The whole film is a series of telegraphed sequences where you can tell exactly what’s going to happen miles before it actually does. Everything feels so formulaic, remote and non-engaging that after a while it all gets rather boring as the film unravels towards the most terrible and sentimental ending of all (with the added bonus of a musical surge in strings which feels like you’re watching “Airplane!” ), and yet all this sentimentality lacks of any emotional truth.

Yes, of course, some of it might be quite emotional, but it’s easy to make people cry when you’re dealing with a subject like death. The film is incredibly manipulative to the point of being almost offensive. The way we are introduced to the kid who’s going to die, for example, is one of the most glaring examples of that manipulation (and example of a scene being telegraphed before it happens) as the kid gets depicted as the perfect boy, who takes care of his drug-addicted mother: not only very smart but also very well-behaved, so that we can be even more depressed once he dies.

All the characters are so sketchily drawn out that it’s hard to see something more in them than their one dimension personalization: they do things just because the plot requires them to do so. Let’s take Matt Damon for example: he has a gift but he thinks it’s a curse, well, at least that’s what he says… The film never really properly explains why he thinks what he does. The script makes sure he tells us that he’s tired of having to live with death, but his character does nothing to show us that . All the way trough the film we get constantly told things in very forced lines of dialogue which are never really translated in action or pictures on the screen. For example, what on earth makes him change his mind towards the end of the film. Seeing a kid suffering for the loss of his brother? Is that really different from seeing a husband grieving for the loss of his wife, or a poor woman crying outside his door, begging for help? How’s that different? The film won’t tell us

Clint Eastwood‘s direction comes form a place of belief, something which might alienate a great deal of the audience. He also makes the terrible mistake of showing us what the afterlife is like right from the start, and the film never recovers from it.

The film lacks subtlety: it would have been much more interesting (and stronger) if it had remained less “Sci-fi” and more introspective. All those silly things like the twin’s blowing off the cap in the underground seemed to belong to a different film… Ghost maybe?

That to me is the main problem with the film (aside from the fact that it’s very slow, something which I don’t particularly mind, but I am sure a lot of people will): the fact that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Is it an introspective drama about death? Is it fantasy story? Is it a religious propaganda? At one point it even seem like an action flick with that massive (and unexpected) Tsunami sequence (which I have to admit took me by surprise and yet it seems to belong to a different film, especially once you’ve seen the rest). Unfortunately the film tries to be all these things and more and in the end by trying too much ends up being quite unsatisfactory on pretty much all fronts. The script is just very clunky and the direction this time doesn’t make it any better.

It’s interesting to see how the trailer makes it look like a cross between the Sixth Sense2012 and even (once again) Ghost… Probably not even the publicists knew what to make of it.

Even the music is fairly forgettable as it keeps on re-hashing the same sort of cues we’re quite used to hear in a Clint Eastwood’s movie. Everything seems half-improvised on the spot without a real unifying theme.

The performances are probably OK, but it’s hard to judge with the weak material they’re given.

In the end this film proves that you just can’t make a film every year, whether you’re Clint Eastwood or Woody Allen: eventually the rush of putting all those ideas onto the screen without having enough time to make them work properly will begin to show. Just because a movie is about important things like death and loss doesn’t make it a good film. In fact this is a fairly pointless one.

5.5/10

PS: Having said all this, a very good friend of mine saw it recently and loved it. There you go. Once again, it’s all subjective.

The Next Three Days – Review

The Next Three Days (2010) 

Director: Paul Haggis With: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks and Liam NeesonMichael Buie

This movie has been out in the US for a while, but for some reason somebody decided to release it against Harry Potter (I call it suicide) and it seems to have gone by without much attention from anyone. It’ll come out in the UK in January 2011 in the hope to get noticed for the forthcoming Award season mainly for Russell Crowe’s performance, but also because it’s been directed by an Oscar favorite, Paul Haggis (from Crash).

Hopefully if it doesn’t get noticed in the theaters, it’ll have a second life on DVD and Blu-ray, because it truly deserves to be seen.

Now, I know I am not going to say anything new here, but I’d like to stress that, like many others, this film is better enjoyed if you don’t know anything about it.

Keeping that in mind, I will try to spoil as little as I possibly can as I encourage you to go and watch it, especially if you like good thrillers. The trailer for “The Next Three Days” gives away 9/10 of the movie so stay away from it (thankfully I hadn’t seen it). It’s a real shame they decide to show that much in the trailer because some of the beauty of the film is actually not knowing where the whole thing heading to.

The basic plot is nothing new, in fact the film itself is a remake of the French”Pour Elle”: a normal family shaken by the sudden arrest of Russel Crowe’s wife, accused of murder. It all happens within the first few minutes so don’t worry about having that spoiled.

However, Haggis has managed to improve over the French film, not only by filling all the plot holes of the previous version but also by tinkering with the poor original ending, making it a lot better.

Every twist and turn in the movie comes as a surprise, whether it’s about the plot itself or the way the characters react to a certain situation. The film challenges any preconceptions the audience might have by  being constantly surprising and by making us change our minds on the crucial question running thorough “Is the wife guilty or is she innocent?”.

It’s all very skillfully handled, in its construction and its pace.

The film starts off deliberately slowly to allow us to get closer to the characters and then gets faster and faster towards the final act which ends up being a real edge-of-your-seat-thrill. It almost feels like one of those solid thrillers from the 80s or early 90s, more concerned about creating an atmosphere that having big chase sequences and explosions or shootouts. However when they finally do come, the tension has been so enhanced because of your emotional investment up until that point, that it all works perfectly.

It’s interesting to see Russell Crowe playing against type. We are so used to see him as the “Gladiator type”, looking for revenge, or simply for a fight, as his off-screen infamous personality merges into his characters. Yet in this film Russell Crowe is the sweetest man ever: a loyal husband, a great father… and basically just a good man. I have to confess I don’t really like the guy, and yet once again in this film I have to bow to actor’s ability to morph himself into the character. His intensity and charisma is undeniable and at the end the film works 10 times more than it should because of his bravura. His depiction of a good husband is all very carefully (and intentionally) done to make you sympathize and care for the character even if at some point in the movie he behaves pretty badly…

The supporting cast all all top class too, including an unexpected appearance by Liam Neeson.

It all probably takes itself a bit too seriously, almost trying to be more like “Conviction” than “Prison break”. There’s hardly any laugh in the whole film and at the end of the day this is a thriller and it’s not meant to change anyone’s life, but while you’re with it, you’ll certainly enjoy it.

8/10 (if you haven’t seen the trailer… a lot less if you have).

Blake Edwards (1922 – 2010)

Goodbye Mr Edwards

2 days ago, Hollywood (and the whole world) lost one of the greats icons of American comedy.

So many of Blake Edwards’ s movies hold a special place in everyone’s memory. Who doesn’t like his adaptation of Truman Capote‘s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with the splendid Audrey Hepburn in possibly her most memorable roles? Every time I watch that movie I end up saying “they don’t make them like that anymore, do they?”

Who hasn’t quoted Inspector Clouseau‘s lines from The Pink Panther movies at least once.

But the one that tops my list is Victor/Victoria. Yes, it’s a slightly self-indulgent film an d probably goes on for a tad too long for a comedy but I absolutely love it. The story of Julie Andrews who play a woman who pretends to be a man who pretends to be woman is a classic, classic, classic!!!

I love the musical numbers, I love the comedy in it, I love Henry Mancini‘s tunes and I adore Julie Andrews in it: I was lucky enough to see her performing the same role in a theatre in Broadway. That was also her last stage appearance.

He made so many films that listing them all is going to fill up all this page, among the most famous (and some of my favourites) I should certainly mention: 10The Great RaceS.O.B. (famous of infamous for Andrews  baring her breasts), The Party,  Micki & Maude (which I remember loving at the time…), Blind Date and the semi-autobiographical That’s Life! in 1986  starring Jack Lemmon.

True Grit – Review

True Grit (2010) 

Directed by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen. Starring Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper

Oh dear, I am not going to be very popular with what I am about to say. Because somehow the unwritten rule about movie reviews of the last few years seems to be that you’re not supposed to speak evil about the Coen Brothers: “they can do no wrong” in the eyes of movie critics and cinema lovers everywhere, and even when they do take a misstep, somehow that gets quickly erased from everybody’s memory as if  it was only a bad dream (like in the case of Intolerable Cruelty for example, or The Ladykillers).

My  relationship with the Coen brothers has been one of love and hate throughout the years. I have seen every movie they have made but  I have got a few confessions to make: I am one of the few people who thought the last 20 minutes of No Country for Old Men were a bit indulgent (though the previous 100 minutes very so good and cinematically perfect that in the end I forgave them for everything) and I was one of those who thought Burn after reading was just simply idiotic. I am also one of the (apparently) few people who didn’t really get A Serious Man, but having said that I loved The Big LebowskiRaising Arizona and still think that with Fargo they reached perfection (Oh, I do love that one!).

Yet, “True Grit” has very little of the Coen’s finger prints on it: a few cold jokes towards the beginning maybe, some beautiful visuals, but that’s pretty much about it. The movie is a pure and simple Western, just like the ones they used to make in the 50s and 60s, and probably just like the one they have been remaking. “True Grit” was also the 1969 movie for which John Wayne won his only Oscar. Though Ethan Coen said that the film was more a faithful adaptation to the novel with the same title written in 1968 by Charles Portis.

But enough history also because I haven’t seen the previous version and I haven’t read the novel, so I am just judging this 2010 “True Grit” on its own merit.

For a start, I have some real problem with the main character of the piece: the girl played by Hailee Steinfeld who’s supposed to be 14 and yet somehow speaks and acts like somebody who’s experienced a full life. You’re supposed to take that for granted right from the start, without any real reason behind it, or without being given much background. Well, I just couldn’t quite buy it, and was never quite comfortable with her character throughout the movie. As a result I ended up not caring about her at all. I’m not criticising Hailee Steinfeld’s performance (which was actually rather good), but more the character herself.

Then we have Matt Damon whose performance is probably masked by his fake mustaches and the big hat, because it wasn’t very apparent to me. His character (like many others in this movie)  is pretty much a one-dimensional one, and even his changes of heart are all so predictable that actually they end up being part of his “one-dimensionality”. Josh Brolin who in the last few years is having the time of his life and is enjoying a great comeback, is in for about 10 minutes, so it’s not even worth talking about him. Same goes for Barry Pepper.

Most of the dialogue in the movie has apparently been lifted from the pages of the original novel, which proves once again that something that works on paper doesn’t necessarily work on a movie (a vice-versa or course). Some of the best lines or jokes belong to Jeff Bridges. However most of them felt quite flat to me, nor particularly clever  or surprising. Also I have to confess that between Jeff’s mumbling (erm… sorry, acting) and the thick accent, I must have missed quite a few of them. And it looks like I wasn’t the only one in the theatre where I was.

Not that it matter a lot. Ultimately the film has a very familiar story, with very familiar characters in a very familiar setting. All too familiar in fact, thus without much emotional drive or drama. It all feels rather cold and it really shouldn’t, because this is certainly not an action film, so it should at least been a character piece.

Maybe my tastes are not refined enough, maybe it’s my slight ignorance for John Ford’s movies and my lack of love for John Wayne and Westerns in general, however I can safely say that this is not a movie for everyone. Some people will love it for what it is “a cold and mannered art western” (as the Hollywood Reporter called it), but it is definitely for a more grown up type of audience, certainly not a crowd pleaser in my view.

On its defense I have to say that the movie does look absolutely beautiful which is why I am feeling almost a bit guilty in saying that I didn’t like it . It’s almost  like saying that I don’t like John Ford.

Roger Deakins‘s cinematography rarely disappoints, and certainly in this one it is a work of wonder: from the cold snowy landscapes, to the great wide sunsets.

Carter Burwell’s score contains one of the most memorable and hummable tune  I can remember this year: it alternates understated cues, emotional piano moments, and grand sweeping themes (to match the widescreen vistas) and yet that too feels like it mainly belongs to a different film. Somehow the emotion that the music tries to raise don’t quite match the stark cold approach to the film.

The editing and pace of the movie is all rather slow, once again paying homage to the old Westerns our fathers probably grew up with. It does pick up a bit towards the very end, but to at that point, it is all just too late.

Unfortunately as we all know beautiful visuals, big names and a lovely tune can only take you so far, after a while if you’re not engaged with the story or the characters you’ll just find yourself looking at your watch more times than you should, and that’s never a good sign.

I must confess I was a bit bored.

6/10

Alice in Wonderland – Review

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010) 

Directed by Tim Burton. Starring Johnny DeppMia WasikowskaHelena Bonham Carter

On paper this movie is something which had all the potential to be the movie of the year: Tim Burton’s visionary genius re-imagining one of the most fantastic and imaginative stories ever.  Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen. Mia Wasikowska (from the wonderful “In Treatment”) as Alice herself. Special Effects extravaganza in 3D. And a never-ending list of great actors and  actresses lending their voices to all those loved characters from our childhood. I would have said “count me in!” anytime!!! And yet, this ended up to be possibly the biggest turkey of the year!

It’s not really an awful film, but knowing what this could have been like, it just leaves you really disappointed.

How could it have happened?

In a way it reminded me of Steven’s Spielberg’s Hook, one the (few) big missteps of his career. In that movie too Spielberg had made the terrible mistake of messing with a classic story: for example we had a grown up Peter Pan going back to Neverland. Here Alice has grown up too and forgot everything about Wonderland which is now a run down place with a Gothic feel, typical of any Tim Burton’s movie. Well, that would probably be all right, except that Burton, by updating the world really managed to take the wonder out of “Wonderland”.

Tim Burton’s film is essentially a sequel/re-imagining of the Lewis Carroll without all the joyful surprises, the sense of discovery and  fun of that book and more crucially, without a single good original idea! None of the liberties the makers took seems to work culminating with fight scene with a dragon at the end  of the end which seems to belong to a different film altogether. And (big spoiler here… watch out) what’s point of all that going to China at the end? What a mess!

There was another Disney’s movie back in the 80s called Return to Oz, which made the same mistake and used the same device of having Dorothy going back to Oz only to find it all changed and half-destroyed and now look almost like a kind of post-apocalyptic landscape where everything seem to be covered in ash. However in that film the story and the characters were so compelling that somehow they got a way with it, in Burton’s Alice in Wonderland all the characters are so annoying and only just half-sketched that it’s hard to care about any of them. In fact it seems like their accents, make up  and CGI enhancements have replaced their personalities.

Michael Sheen‘s White Rabbit appears a couple of times and is probably the most confusing of them all, since it relies on your knowledge of the character from the previous incarnation of the story to make any sense of it. Where is he going? Why is there at all? What’s his point? is he there to help Alice or the Queen? Stephen Fry‘s Cheshire Cat and  Alan Rickman‘s Blue Caterpillar are just as superfluous to the story. Once again, it all feels rather over-blown, over-crowded with characters.

And finally Johnny Depp who’s impersonation of the Mad Hatter is the most annoying of them all and possibly one of the actor’s worse performance of his career . Now, I really used to like Johnny Depp, but it seems that in the last few years he’s only been playing the same over-the-top character over and over again. His Mad Hatter seems an extension and a mixture of his previous “mad characters”: there’s a little bit  from Tim Burton’s previous creations, from Willy Wonka in Chocolate Factory,  to Sweeney Todd and even his previous Edward Scissorhands but there’s also lots of reminders to Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and hints from The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Is Johnny Depp playing the same character over and over again? What happened to the sweet, restrained and understated performances of his early work like the beautiful What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Donnie Brasco? And most awful of them all Anne Hathaway‘s take of White Queen, who’s mannerism is just as annoying as her eyebrow. It might have been all intentional (in which case, even worse) but it was certainly a very bad choice to have her acting like that.

Helena Bonham Carter‘s impersonation of the Red Queen is one of the few redeeming factor in the whole film and the scenes with her are probably the highlights in an otherwise flat and misjudged series of sequences. Though even her bizarre creation becomes a bit tedious after a while.

Even the special effects (which by themselves are top class) are so diluted in the poor story that somehow failed to strike a chord and surprise us. Not to mention the use of the 3D which is probably one of the poorest use of it I’ve seen this year (together with “Clash of the Titans”). I guess it has to do with the fact that the movie was actually filmed on 2D and then retrofitted (I am not quite sure whether this is the right term for it) afterwards. This is a technique that not only doesn’t work but also brings a bad reputation to 3D itself (I keep on hearing a lot of people complaining about how bad 3D is, but they’ve only seen Clash of the Titans of Alice in Wonderland,  and they believe that’s what 3D really is).

Just a quick word about the music score: yes, it could have been good, if only they had work out where to use it, as opposed to ending up having music throughout the whole film, thus diminishing the effect that music should have. Overblown is once again the word that comes to mind.

I wonder what this film could have been like if maybe Tim Burton had made it, without Disney behind his shoulders. But as it is, on the whole, this mish-mash of Disney and Burton doesn’t really hold together and it proves once again that Tim Burton is the “director-that-could-be-great-but-rarely-really-is”.

5.5/10

OTHER RELATED REVIEWS (or, you’d better watch something else, instead of this)

Toy Story 3

Tron: Legacy

Back to the Future

 

Inception – Review

INCEPTION 

Directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen PageTom HardyKen WatanabeCillian MurphyTom BerengerMarion CotillardPete PostlethwaiteMichael CaineLukas Haas

THIS REVIEW ASSUMES THAT YOU HAVE SEEN THE FILM AND IT’S FILLED WITH SPOILERS. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM YOU SHOULD NOT READ IT, BUT YOU SHOULD GO OUT RIGHT NOW AND BUY YOURSELF A COPY ON DVD OR BLURAY !!

So much has been written and talked about this movie that it’s hard to say anything new about it. However I didn’t want to miss my chance to talk about what I thought was one of the most inventive and challenging blockbuster of the last few years (and the top film of the year in my view), and with its release on DVD and BluRay (I guess the first of many), to the risk of repeating what’s already been said, I’ll just add my voice to the many others among the people who loved this film.

I have already seen it three times and I guess I am now fully comfortable with its story and structure, but also I did notice the few cracks here and there.

However, it is so refreshing to finally see a big budget Hollywood movie that doesn’t treat its audience like a band of lobotomized idiots but actually attempts to do something a bit more challenging, beyond the silly Pirates of the Caribbean or the awful Transformers movies, but it seems to me that this is what blockbusters have become in the last few years. I honestly cannot remember what’s the last big Pop Corn summer movie I have enjoyed. Can anyone help?

This film makes no apologies for its labyrinthine structure and it’s as if  you could almost hear Nolan saying to me “c’mon, keep up! Keep up!”. It is a mentally draining experience (I don’t think I have been so exhausted since Nolan’s Memento, which I loved, or even Mullholland Drive, which I’m still trying to work out… ). Basically in this film if you miss even 5 minutes, you’re screwed! And I love it for it!

But the most interesting thing I noticed this time is that the film is actually made in such a way that even if you don’t completely understand it, you’ll understand it enough to be able to appreciate the action and the basic plot with its intricate layers of dreams.

You’re supposed to get lost in the beginning, but never lost enough to lose your patience… and then slowly you start to understand just enough to be able to cope with it… So basically, the film makes you believe that you are pretty clever in being able to work it out by yourself, while in fact the huge amount of exposition helps you immensely.

People have been criticizing the fact that half of the movie is essentially exposition, where the characters are telling you what’s going on and what they are going to do and how… Well, funnily enough I though that was part of the fun. I don’t mind exposition, if it’s done in a clever, fast and intriguing way like in Inception.

People have been criticize it for its cool and clinical approach to characters. I have been hearing people complaining about not feeling anything for Di Caprio’s internal  pain. Well, I don’t know what to tell them about that, but I thought the scene where Marion Cotillard commits suicide was actually emotionally incredibly strong and Di Caprio’s performance was pretty faultless. Yes, maybe Ellen Page’s character was just a functional piece of the puzzle but actually pretty two-dimensional, but hey, does it really matter? Was I sitting there thinking “Oh My God, what is she feeling? I want to know more about her?” No!! I was completely unwrapped in the story to notice any of that and it didn’t matter to me. Marion Cottilard is utterly terrifying as the ever-present ex-wife. Just her presence is enough for me to give me a great sense of unease. She’s perfect in it and she’s quickly becoming my favorite French actress. Cillian Murphy in his character manages to convey both strength and weakness: at the beginning you think he’s got the world in his hands and at the end you almost feel pity for him and you understand his pain. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is incredibly watchable. Surely it must not be too easy to be next to Di Caprio and come out just as strong and sympathetic as he does. We’ll be hearing a lot about him (but then again, I was already a fan from the time he did “Mysterious Skin”). Tom Hardy is the surprise of the film. I knew what to expect by all the other ones, but Hardy really took me by surprise and did so much with what was quite an underdeveloped character, making him likable, sharp and witty. Finally I should probably mention Michael Caine, who does almost nothing in this film, and yet, just by the fact that he’s there he gives me a sense of security and serenity that it’s un-replaceable.

Also the visuals obviously are so stunning that you sort of want to forgive even any little character development. The CGI effects in Paris are some of the best ones and most inventive I have seen in recent times. It is so hard nowadays to still be able to amaze us with any Visual Effects and yet Nolan has been able to do it over and over again in this film. It’s the combination of clever Production Design, imaginative Visual (and most of the time Practical) Effects that make it work seamlessly.

The corridor sequences are just a joy to watch and the cross-cutting between the van falling off the bridge in slow motion and all the other levels is just so pleasing and works so well: it’s intricate and yet so simple at the same time, so much so that you wonder why hasn’t anyone done it before?

Where the film falls a bit is in the final act, the so-called “James Bond moment”, that is when we get to the level with all the snow. Maybe because at that point it becomes in part almost like a normal action film, and actually not a very good one either. The staging of the shootout and the chase sequences on the snow are all pretty average and slightly drawn out. Mind you at that point there are so many other things going on and you’ve been so bombarded by so much that you don’t really mind it too much, but it is the weakest part of the film in my view. Also in a way, since you are in a dream, they should have probably pushed it a bit further. But hey, I’m really picking needles here.

I wish all the blockbusters were just 20% as inventive, challenging and beautiful to look at as Inception was. I can’t wait to see what Nolan does next (well of course, Batman 3… but I mean beyond that).

9/10


The Way Back – Review

THE WAY BACK  

Directed by Peter Weir. Starring Jim SturgessColin FarrellDejan AngelovDragos BucurEd HarrisMark Strong

Based on a supposedly true memoir (possibly even ghostwritten) by Slavomir Rawicz called The Long Walk, (no, not the one by Stephen King), it tells the story of a polish prisoner and his companions escaping labour camp in Siberia in the 1940s and basically walking all the way across, Mongolia, China, the Himalayas and then into India.

I am sure your geography is pretty good, but just to refresh it a little bit I took the liberty of attaching a map to this post, just to show you how bloody far it is!!

It is an amazing story, so amazing that people argue whether it’s actually true or not. However, the movie goes beyond all that: yes it is a story about the journey, but also about the human endurance, about bonding with friends,  and ultimately about people prevailing over the adversities.

I find this film particularly hard to review: I saw it a few days ago, but resisted from writing anything about it, as I wanted to wait for the film to sink in.

My first reaction was that the pace  of the film seemed to be a bit off. It is a long one for sure, and yet I felt, for the first time in a while, that actually it could have gained more pathos by being even a touch longer. I couldn’t help feeling there must be a lot of material somewhere in the editing room that didn’t quite make the final cut, most of which at the expense of the characters and their relation with one another.

It all seemed oddly fast in places. For example, in one scene people argue with each other, in the next one (few days later) they were all talking normally. At some point they were all suspicious about a new girl joining their group, the next moment they were talking to her and revealing their deepest emotions.

This particularly happens towards the beginning of the film and it made me feel a bit uneasy about it all.

I do wonder if it would have been better to get rid off one of the characters and concentrate more on the fewer of them. It’s interesting to notice that well into the film I still had no idea how many people were actually on the journey and who was who.

I can’t wait to see a possible director’s cut on DVD (or even better ono BluRay): I’m sure the film could only improve by being a little bit more drawn out. I can’t quite believe I’m hearing myself saying that, but it is after all a film about an incredible long journey, so it’s fair enough to have a film which feels  just as long.

Having said all this, the whole thing just looks beautiful! I was quite surprised to see the National Geographic logo at the front, but having seen the film, somehow it all makes sense. Those grand landscapes and vistas make it look like one of their best documentaries.

Performances are strong throughout. Jim Sturgess was chosen by the director on the basis of “Across the Universe” (a film which has been panned in this country and yet loved in many others… in which case I’d consider myself a foreigner).  Colin Farrell is the quirkiest of the all (what a surprise) and I really enjoyed watching him. And Ed Harris, who plays his age, pulls out one of the most rounded characters of the whole piece.

I was also a bit surprised to see a caption at the front of the film basically giving away the ending ( I won’t do here, don’t worry) which actually, when it finally comes, feels rushed and a bit “tagged on” and left me with a slight sour taste in my mouth.

And it’s a real shame, because on the whole, this is a solid film, quite understated (including the music, which could have gone so syrupy/hollywood grand and instead, thankfully was kept quite restrained) , with a good story and good performances. I would recommend it to anyone., even though it might not make it to the Oscars…

7/10

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