All posts tagged 'Film'

Oscar predictions

by The Kent film blog, by Lewis Dyson Thursday, February 21 2013

The 85th annual Academy Awards are nearly here and the sound of backs being slapped will soon be heard echoing across the world. I should say that I have not seen every film that has been nominated but I have seen most and my predictions are based slightly on hype, but mainly individual merit. Nonetheless, I am going to stick my neck out so here is my guide to who will win and who should win.

Best Actress

Who will win: Jessica Chastain

Who should win: Quvenzhané Wallis

I think this is Jessica Chastain's year. She seems not to have put a foot wrong in the roles she has played so far in her career and her name has been preceded by, "The up-and-coming actress", for a while now. It wouldn't be undeserved, she puts in a powerful performance as a focused, strong-willed woman in a masculine world. I also think Zero Dark Thirty will be overlooked in the other categories it's nominated in because it just cannot shake the criticism that it endorses torture. Jennifer Lawrence is not the finished article yet but no doubt she will appear in this category again.

Wallis would win if I were in charge because of the ones I have seen, her performance is the most authentic. At just nine years old performance in Beasts of the Southern Wild is brilliant because you do not for a second question she is growing up in a mystical American deep south village. Simply because she is so young it is so natural whereas the others are much more crafted. 

 

 

Best Actor

Who will win Daniel Day-Lewis

Who should win Daniel Day-Lewis

Who else but Day-Lewis? In this category he is like Barcelona FC competing in the Championship; the other actors are solid, admirable even but they pail in significance next to a once in a generation talent. He made a film which is 99% dialogue engaging. He also stands a real chance to become the first actor in history to win three best actor Oscars.

Best Director

Who will win Steven Spielberg

Who should win (Quentin Tarantino but since he's not nominated...) Ang Lee

This category is wide open which is why I think the judges will go for the least contentious choice. Spielberg is an Oscars favourite whereas David O'Russell would probably start shouting at everyone if he won. My pick is Ang Lee for Life of Pi because he has actually used 3D in an ungimmicky way and created something that is technically and visually stunning.

 

Best Film

What will win Argo

What should win Licoln

In my opinion, Django Unchained is the best film on the list but I would be disappointed if it won. Here's why: the best films buck trends, challenge opinions and make you feel something. Django is one of those films that leave you feeling intoxicated and your skin bristling. To be recognised would remove the very reason that makes it cool, that it is dangerous and different and its jagged edges mean it doesn't fit in. So I will be happy to see it lose.

As for Argo, which don't get me wrong is a brilliant film, it will ultimately win because it is about movies doing good in the world and the Academy won't be able to resist the chance to celebrate that.

Licoln ticks all the right boxes but I think it will just miss out.

We'll see on Sunday.

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Categories: Film

Lincoln and Django Unchained: two very different approaches to a thorny subject

by The Kent film blog, by Lewis Dyson Tuesday, February 5 2013

 

This year's Oscars features two nominees in the best picture category that are about slavery: Lincoln and Django Unchained

The one that probably stands a better chance of winning the judges' votes is Lincoln, not because it is a better film but because it ticks all of the requisite boxes. World-class actor, check. Worthy subject matter, check. Steven Spielberg, check.

I thought it was really well made and it was reverential to Abe Lincoln without being patronising, which is to its credit.

The best thing about it is without a doubt Daniel Day-Lewis' performance that is utterly convincing. I have never seen the man put a foot wrong, but then I have never seen Nine.

Overall the film is just what you would expect from arguably the best director of the past four decades teaming up with someone who is widely acknowledged as the greatest living screen actor. By that I mean it is near perfect and it is difficult to find fault but at the same time, it doesn't re-invent cinema. 

It looks beautiful, the sets are brilliant, and there are good performances all round. It is a team of people who are at the top of their craft making a film. It is like watching a master baker making a really nice cake, using all of the ingredients you expect. It comes out really tasty as you would expect but someone else might have added something completely different, like chili flakes but it's not that type of film.

Other directors might have been tempted to spice it up - anyone expecting Saving Private Ryan in the American Civil War will be disappointed. Instead it focuses on the politics. The script will either draw you in or bore the hell out of you. Luckily I think it's absorbing enough to hold your attention for the two-and-a-half hour length.

In summary you can't criticise it because it is near faultless, but you could argue it is only that way because it steers so close to the mark.

And then there's Django Unchained...

 

Quentin Tarantino's latest offering takes the same approach to historical accuracy as Inglourious Basterds and they are both incredibly similar to each other. They are both revenge fantasies of ethnic groups who have suffered great atrocities. But Tarantino handles this subject matter with the sensitivity of a Frankie Boyle.

Rather than making something preachy dealing with slavery head-on, the issue is used as a tool to make the audience feel all the more intensely. No one is going to go into this film thinking slavery is a good thing so it's an effective way of turning feeling you get rooting for the good guy Django (Jamie Foxx) and hating the bad guy (Leonardo DiCaprio) all the way to 11. Plus no one does violence like Tarantino and this doesn't disappoint with bucket loads of blood flying across the screen. 

The casual use of the N-bomb and the general way slavery is depicted is enough to incense anyone but, if a film can make you feel anything then it is doing its job.

Two very good films but in two very different ways.


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Categories: Film

My top 10 films of 2012

by The Kent film blog, by Lewis Dyson Sunday, December 30 2012

It's that time again and I have taken a look back at the movies I really enjoyed in 2012. This year has been pretty not bad in terms of cinematic fare and it has been really difficult to whittle the list down to just 10. Honourable mentions should go out to Moonrise Kingdom, The Grey and End of Watch which were great but I just could not justify them making the selection. Overall, 2012 has thrown up its share of surprises but also some massive disappointments - Prometheus was a massive let down. But here are the films that I think were the best, in reverse order:

10. Life of Pi

Visually beautiful and probably one of only two movies worth stumping up the extra cash to see in 3D (the other being Avatar). The basic premise - boy cast adrift in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat  with a Tiger - would be enough to put a lot of people off but the result is totally engaging. There is a level that would probably only be appreciated by spiritual audience members but the story is enough to appeal to people both young and old.

9. The Cabin in the Woods

I really liked this post-modern examination of horror films and I won't say any more because I'm determined not to give away any plot spoilers. All I will say is that although it wasn't massively scary, at least it had a brain.

8. The Hunger Games

AKA Battle Royale for kids. I was really surprised with how good this adaptation of a children's book was and although it was aimed at children the amount of violence is shocking, but this makes the message all the more powerful. It does what all great cautionary sci-fi tales do by showing us a remote yet all too familiar version of our own society - from the satirical look at reality TV to the widening gap between "us" and "them".

7. Skyfall

After the instantly forgettable Quantam of Solace, the Bond franchise returned with a bang this year in a film that seemed to be almost universally liked. With Javier Bardem lending the film his skills and credibility and Director Sam Mendes rediscovering what makes Bond brilliant, it certainly lived up to the hype. Yes, a piece of product placement was never far away, but it was a necessary evil to pull off something this big.

6. Chronicle

Three teenagers gain telekinetic superpowers in this genius sci-fi. Definitely one of the best found footage movies out of the recent spate (although there's not a lot of competition). It was pure wish fulfilment with a nasty twist.

5. The Dark Knight Rises

Before going into this all I could think was, "there is no way it can be better than The Dark Knight". Although I was blown away on the first viewing, my enthusiasm waned slightly second time around. Regardless it's still an epic, thrilling and ambitious comic book classic if it doesn't quite better its predecessor. 

4. Argo

Ben Affleck reminded us he is not just the guy who played Daredevil once; he's also a really talented filmmaker with efforts like Gone Baby Gone, The Town and now this under his belt. At times hilarious and then nerve-shreddingly tense, this was another universally adored surprise - and rightfully so. 

3. Avengers Assemble

How do you condense half a dozen separate characters and their back stories into two hours and still make a compelling and engaging narrative of your own? Ask Joss Whedon because what he pulled off in this film is no mean feat. Funny, crowd-pleasing moments are peppered into exciting, spectacular set pieces. For once, someone got Hulk spot on.

2. The Raid

If you haven't seen this Indonesian martial arts action film then make sure you check it out. A simple yet perfectly executed action movie with balletic fight scenes and good old fashioned thrills without the obtrusive CGI. Just pure fun.

1. Looper

This deserves top spot because it felt like there was something to it. It's one of those films that will leave you constantly questioning and having debates with your friends about for days afterwards. Star Joseph Gordon-Levitt perfectly captures his character as a young Bruce Willis perfectly. Like Inception before it, Looper respects its audience's intelligence while not getting carried away, maintaining a compelling story and thrilling action scenes.

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Categories: Food

The end is nigh...probably

by The Kent film blog, by Lewis Dyson Tuesday, December 18 2012

Three trailers were shown for the first time this week for post-apocalyptic sci-fi films. Ironically all of them are being released after the world is supposed to end on Friday.

Pacific Rim, After Earth, and Oblivion are all out next year and it seems as if destroying most of the world's population will be the in theme for filmmakers in 2013. 

Of the three, Pacific Rim, easily looks like it will be the best. Directed by the Hobbit-spurning Guillermo Del Toro, the film is set in a future where a portal between dimensions has appeared in the middle of The Pacific Ocean, through which sky-scraper sized monsters emerge to destroy the planet. Humanity fights back by creating huge robots piloted by pairs of soldiers. I was sold on the concept alone but the trailer makes it look like Transformers meets Godzilla - but actually good. 

Oblivion stars Tom Cruise as some kind of engineer who returns to Earth after it has been destroyed in a war with aliens. It could go either way but certainly seems worth a watch when it comes out next year.

M Night Shyamalan's efforts have been on a downward trajectory in terms of quality since Unbreakable, which is why his latest, After Earth, should probably be approached with caution. Then again it stars Will Smith and his son Jaden as on-screen father and son exploring a desolate earth so maybe their charisma alone will make up for it.

The trend is reminiscent of the handful of scorched-earth, Armageddon sci-fis that came out a few years ago around the same time - The Road, The Book of Eli and Terminator Salvation to name a few. Perhaps those films reflected the bleak mood of the time; if so, then it seems we are still slightly obsessed with the end of the world.

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Categories: Food

Skyfall rediscovers what Bond is all about

by The Kent film blog, by Lewis Dyson Tuesday, October 30 2012

You may not have noticed but this week saw the much anticipated return of everyone's favourite alcoholic, sociopathic misogynist. Bond, James Bond is back for his 23rd outing and the result is good, very good. 

Skyfall sees Daniel Craig's 007 return to duty from a brief period of freedom. After a mission goes wrong he is presumed dead but when MI6 comes under attack from a former agent, Raoul Silva (played by Javier Bardem), he steps back into action.

What makes Skyfall so successful is that it goes back to what makes the franchise so great. That's not to say it goes back to the predictable Bond by numbers style some of the previous films are guilty of.  For instance, cartoonish gadgets seem to be a thing of the past. But it does reclaim the sense of humour without ever becoming tongue in cheek.

Skyfall is a massive improvement on Quantum of Solace, which, as a lot of people noticed, tried to reinvent James Bond by borrowing heavily from the Jason Bourne films. Thankfully, the sequel gets rid of the shaky camerawork and 50 cuts per second of Quantum. One thing it has is a genuine Bond Villain in Javier Bardem's menacing yet flamboyant Silva who seems like he wants to kiss Bond as much as he wants to kill him.

Although it has been touted as the best bond ever it probably falls just short due to some clunky, unconvincing flirting between Bond and Naomi Harris' character and it would probably benefit from being 20 minutes or so shorter.

Overall however it's hugely enjoyable and a massive crowd pleaser. Bring on number 24.

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Categories: Film

The Dark Knight Rises

by The Kent film blog, by Lewis Dyson Sunday, July 22 2012

In 2008 Christopher Nolan completely changed the comic book movie with The Dark Knight. So it was hard to imagine going into this sequel how he could top arguably one of the greatest films of its genre. The answer he seems to have come up with is to go bigger. So with an extra $50 million dollars to play with he has pulled off the dual feats of improving on his previous effort and managing to bring the Batman trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. What a relief.

Picking up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, the caped crusader (Christian Bale) has disappeared from Gotham city after he was blamed for the death of Harvy "Two Face" Dent, who has become idolised as a white knight. Things are finally looking rosy as the people have unified and crime has dropped; meanwhile Bruce Wayne has become a recluse. Lying in wait beneath the streets, however, is "Gotham's reckoning" in the form of Bane (Tom Hardy), a huge, masked terrorist leader and his army of fanatics. Batman has to come out of hiding to face this new threat before the city is destroyed.

The Dark Knight Rises is a triumph of tension. There is a sustained threat for the majority of the film, like a wrench gradually turning tighter and tighter, which makes the near three hour running time fly by. The narrative keeps you guessing, as Batman gets broken, beaten and tested to his limits. Everything happens on such a grand scale that the twists and turns feel refreshingly new and unexpected. Rises also taps into the current climate of instability and questioning of society. As Gotham's underclass strike the stock exchange and go after the wealthy, some viewers may even find themselves sympathising with Bane's mission. The action is pretty awesome too.

The story is big and wide-ranging without ever becoming uneven or all over the place. There are a lot of strands, which are juggled to perfection by Nolan and everything comes together neatly, including events from the previous two films. Hopefully the massive box office takings it will undoubtedly make will not tempt the filmmakers to make a fourth one because Rises really does bring everything to a satisfying conclusion.

Tom Hardy gives an electrifying performance as the villain Bane, which is a worthy successor to Heath Ledger's Oscar winning performance as The Joker. His voice does take some getting used to and at first it comes across as a mixture of Sean Connerry and Brian Badonde from Phonejacker. But the longer he peseveres, the more effective it becomes. It is clear the decision has been made to replace the characteristic rage of the comic book Bane with a subtle menace. Hardy should also be acclaimed for the physicality he brings to the role. Anyone who has seen him in Bronson or Warrior will know he takes a similar commitment to changing his body for a role as Christian Bale, who withered down to eight stone for The Machinist. Also, despite wearing a mask that covers about 70% of his face, he is still able to convey the characters mindset which takes a special kind of actor.

The rest of the cast put in solid performances as well. Christian Bale cements his position as the greatest on screen Batman of all time (sorry Adam West), although that list is not a particularly stellar one. Anne Hathaway is impressive as Catwoman, the morally conflicted thief and Joseph Gordon Levitt's performance as a tough cop makes it hard to imagine him as the kid in Third Rock from The Sun

After Inception, The Prestige and Memento, critics might be expecting Christopher Nolan to drop a clanger soon, but The Dark Knight Rises is certainly no clanger.

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Categories: Film

The Dictator: General Aladeen in Da House

by The Kent film blog, by Lewis Dyson Thursday, May 10 2012

After the global success of Borat in 2006, the notoriety of the follow up Bruno, and not to mention the extravagant public appearances, Sacha Baron Cohen must have wondered how he could continue his career if everyone recognised him and his characters. The solution he has come up with in The Dictator is to depart from the hidden camera hijinks he became famous for and instead go back to a more conventional narrative comedy style. But I wonder whether this was a choice on his part or if he is a victim of his own success.

Luckily the film itself is pretty funny - fans of Baron Cohen will not be disappointed - but the bad news is it does not reach the giddy heights of Borat. In fact, it has more in common with Ali G in Da House than his last two mockumentaries. 

The latest character to be unleashed on audiences is General Aladeen, the beloved oppressor of the fictional North African state of Wadiya. He struts around his oil rich nation as the supreme ruler where all his subjects have to obey his every whim. That is until his jealous uncle (played by Ben Kingsley) stages a coup during a trip to a United Nations summit in New York. Aladeen escapes but robbed of  his trademark beard he is forced to walk the streets as an anonymous foreigner. Liberal American Zoe (Anna Faris) takes pity on him and takes the deposed leader on as an employee at her organic food store. 

The aim of the film is to make the viewer sympathise with someone who is completely detestable and it achieves this through sheer brute force. Aladeen is effectively a spoiled toddler given control of a country. He holds his own Olympic games where he wins every medal by shooting anyone who dares to out run him and he orders scientists to be killed because the missiles they make aren't pointy enough. But once you become acclimatised to his exploits you come to care for him as you would any other flawed protagonist. 

The laughs come steadily and there is a good mix of close to the bone un-PC jokes and gross out humour. It's not a movie for those who are sensitive or easily offended either by middle-eastern politics or the sight of genitals. Baron Cohen's trademark sharp satirical sense is also present, especially in *SPOLIER ALERT* a climactic speech when Aladeen describes the benefits of living in a dictatorship which are all too familiar, such as having all the media controlled by one family. 

Although it works as a straightforward story, it lacks the thrill of seeing interactions with actual people. So rather than linking together a series of improvised scenes with a loose plot as in Borat, you get some fairly functional scenes, performed by actors heading, towards a predictable outcome. 

In the end, although it isn't quite a worthy successor, The Dictator is just funny enough to rule on its own. 

 

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Categories: dictators | Film

Avengers Assemble: By Thor it's good.

by The Kent film blog, by Lewis Dyson Tuesday, May 1 2012

 

So after years of waiting, five reasonably OK movies and hundreds of millions of dollars it's finally here. But was it all worth it? After all that, I'm glad to say, geeks everywhere will be releasing a united sigh of relief so huge it could power a wind farm, because it lives up to the hype.

Avengers sees a diverse group of Marvel heroes join forces to save the world. Previous tie-ins have introduced us to Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America, with a pair of assassins (Black Widow and Hawkeye) thrown in along the way. Under the leadership of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the organisation S.H.I.E.L.D., they have to put their differences aside to battle Norse God Loki who is threatening to use a magical cube, the Tesseract (not unlike the Allspark in Transformers), to summon an extraterrestrial army to conquer Earth.

With most of the exposition already out of the way, the film is able to let loose and deliver on the fun the concept promises. It's big, crowd-pleasing and genuinely funny, a lot of which is down to über-nerd director Joss Whedon. If there anyone alive would be able to marshal all the different strands into a cohesive story, it would be the Buffy creator. 

There are so many different elements at play with magic, mythology, aliens and technology, all co-existing in the same world. But instead of coming across like someone trying to herd a pack of cats, the film is like watching an impressive juggling act. Most importantly, despite having so many protagonists vying for your attention, each one is given enough time to develop. That being said, Mark Ruffalo as The Incredible Hulk steals the show. After one misjudged (Hulk, 2003) and one forgettable (The Incredible Hulk, 2008) big screen adaptation, they have finally, finally managed to get Dr Bruce Banner and his green alter-ego right. Ruffalo plays Banner as a tragic and reluctant hero, while scenes with the Hulk have some truly hilarious moments.

Tom Hiddleston returns as principle bad-guy Loki and does an excellent job as the evil counterpoint to the six super heroes by striking a balance between menacing mastermind and pantomime villain.

At nearly two-and-a-half hours long it could be accused of being overly long but to be honest the time flies by. It’s not quite the comic book movie to end all comic book movies, but it really is a remarkable achievement. 

 

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Categories: Film

The Cabin in the Woods: a well deserved break.

by The Kent film blog, by Lewis Dyson Monday, April 16 2012

A group of American high school students go for a drink, drug and sex-fuelled break in a remote cabin in the forest (so far, so cliché). The stereotypical athletic jock, lusty girlfriend, innocent heroine, black guy and stoner are all accounted for. However, far from being the most formulaic teenage slasher of all time, The Cabin in the Woods manages to turn the whole genre on its head.

The less you know about the content of this film, the better. For that reason, this review will not give away too much if you haven’t already seen it. Modern horror films have become something only hard core fans can enjoy, Drew Goddard's directorial debut clearly seeks to remedy that. 

Co-written by Joss Whedon and Goddard, both of Buffy and Angel fame, Cabin seems like it was made by people who both love and hate predictable horror movies. All the usual clichés are there, but they are used as satirical comments on how weary audiences can see most things coming a mile away. At the same time, it revels in those clichés and there are plenty of knowing references to much-loved classics. It also touches on reality TV culture and the public’s apparent need to build people up just to bring them crashing back down again.

Hardened horror fans might feel that the film’s askance view of the genre compromises the impact of the violence and gore –it is only a 15 – but non-die hards will find it hugely entertaining. I’m not sure if Cabin will completely change how horrors are made from now on, but as a refreshing break from the norm, it works perfectly. 

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Categories: Film

Battleship: a defective toy.

by The Kent film blog, by Lewis Dyson Thursday, April 12 2012

I went into Battleship with the expectation of seeing something so actively bad, that it's actually good, in the same way as you can't help but watch a train crash or a nutter auditioning for X-factor. However, it was disappointing even in this respect, it was just awful, awful, awful. 

From the same toy company that brought you Transformers - so therefore it must be great- comes this adaptation of the childrens' board game. The story centres on a US navy crew that sets out from Hawaii on a peaceful exercise, but ends up in the middle of an invasion from the most inept aliens since Signs

Apparently they decided the best way to take over the planet is from the sea. The enemy creatures are capable of travelling light-years through space but, for reasons that are never made clear, are still unable to fly their ships more than a few feet above the water. Instead they hop around in the ocean like a toddler with arm floaties. You actually start to side more with the aliens as you feel sorry for them, whereas you couldn’t care less about what happens to the human characters. The aliens at least look fairly cool and the humans say idiotic things like: "If we get invaded by aliens it will be like when Columbus discovered the Indians - except we're the Indians!"  

The way it incorporates elements of the board game are so contrived it becomes ridiculous. At one point they have to fight the enemy without seeing where they are, so they actually start playing the game for real on a large grid. The only thing missing is the little red and white pegs. 

Perhaps the worst thing about Battleship is that it seems to be a big, expensive recruitment video for the US Navy. This and the recently released Act of Valour seem to be part of a worrying trend in Hollywood at the moment. But even the bits that try to glorify the servicemen come across as patronising rather than sincere. In one scene, *SPOILER ALERT* a group of elderly seamen take over as the crew of the ship. I'm not sure if these extras were genuine naval veterans, but the whole scene is unintentionally hilarious. It suddenly turns into an American version of Last of the Summer Wine on a boat. 

Battleship is so bad, it nearly sinks to the level of the depth charge that was John Carter of Mars which is currnently front runner for worst film of the year. Both of them star Taylor Kitsch, which begs the question: why is this man in such big movies? Being the lead in two absolute turkeys in the space of a few months cannot be good for his career. 

Director Peter Berg seems to be trying to pay homage to the films of Michael Bay. The plot is basically Transformers meets Pearl Harbour, except the Japanese are now allies and so they have been replaced by extraterrestrials. Unfortunately, any film that tries to be as good as Michael Bay is doomed from the start.

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Categories: Film

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