Why the director makes all the difference – Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Zero Dark Thirty – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt

It took over ten years for Osama Bin Laden to be found, captured, and killed. Zero Dark Thirty is a film about how long the journey to finding him was, and how the things the military did to get him were “necessary”.

Some may say that this film is pro-torture and anti-Islam and in some ways it is but it is so much more than a propaganda film. Kathryn Bigelow has a flare for creating intensely gripping and realistic films and Zero Dark Thirty is one of her best. The intensity of this film doesn’t come from the subject matter, although it is a gripping story. It comes from the way Bigelow has directed the film. It is the moments of stillness that make this film so fantastic. You view the characters from the outside, disconnected and watchful but when it comes to the highly intense scenes you are thrown into the action with deliberate closeness. It creates for an interesting experience as a viewer as you feel both disconnected and deeply involved at the same time. It is a fascinating and wonderful sensation as a viewer.

The other point of greatness in this film is Jessica Chastain’s performance. It is perfect. Chastain portrays a real woman. It isn’t a feminine or masculine spy type but a perfect balance of intelligence and humanity. It is a mellow and grounded performance that reveals so much about the reality of the resilience of intelligence workers in war. The harshness of their work and the reality of war is portrayed so realistically through this film that it gives this story a believability unlike other war films that have come before it.

This film is a narrative of how the world leader of terrorism was killed and how a woman’s determination to find him was so strong that she devoted her life and career to the cause. It tells the tale of how loss and moral ambiguity can cloud a person’s judgment and about how having a single focus and single mission in life can leave you with a sense of empty relief when it is all said and done.

4/5

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Which story do you believe? – Life of Pi

Life of Pi - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Life of Pi – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Life of Pi (2012)

Director: Ang Lee
Writers: David Magee (screenplay), Yann Martel (novel)
Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan and Adil Hussain

It is a difficult task to turn a novel into a film, especially one that is burdened by a heavy philosophical investigations. As most critics would attest to Ang Lee’s genius in creating absolutely stunning films I will simply say in that regard that he has once again gone above and beyond the high expectations I set for brilliant directors. What is even more brilliant about this film is how it allows philosophical ideas about faith and religion to be discussed in strategic and carefully plotted ways so as to both bring the subject to light as well as telling an incredible narrative. Ang Lee and David Magee have, together, hit the perfect balance of narrative and philosophy in Life of Pi. The gorgeous cinematic scenes along with a heartwarming story of survival and the discovery of faith is all combined together to make a film that is enjoyable and surprising. The story of a boy and a tiger on a small boat in the middle of the ocean is always bound to be exciting. What could go wrong with a hungry tiger on a raft with a boy to help keep him alive? And who is going to believe your story if you really do survive?

The passion of this film stems from Suraj Sharma’s performance. He has a heartwarming and grounded nature that makes the adventure feel all the more real. It is a fun ride and there are surprising moments in amongst the narrative and the power of the story comes from knowing where it ends before it even starts. It is a beautiful cinematic experience that can be enjoyed by all the family and will rock you back on forth on the waves of emotion as Pi discovers the unique characteristic of humanity.

4/5

Who Am I? – Les Miserables

Les Misérables - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Les Misérables – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Les Misérables (2012)

Director: Tom Hooper
Writers: Claude-Michel Schönberg (book) & Alain Boublil (book) & Victor Hugo (novel) & Herbert Kretzmer (lyrics) & Alain Boublil (original: French text) & Jean-Marc Natel (original: French text) & James Fenton (additional text) & William Nicholson (screenplay)
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway

I have always loved musicals. I grew up watching Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, etc, and loved everyone of them, good and bad. My favourite film is Singin’ In The Rain and will continue to be until my life’s end. I say that in order to justify my instant love of Les Misérables. I have never seen it on stage but I have had friends in the past who have raved about it.  I now understand why.

Although there are parts of the film which could be improved, *cough Russell Crowe cough*, the musical is adapted onto film brilliantly. It has a raw and gritty quality to it which makes the story feel real and grounded in history. The music is beautiful and the integration of story-telling with the music is seamless. Hugh Jackman does a great job of Jean Valjean and really carries the film and us with him on the journey of his hard life. However, the kids in the film are what really make it for me. Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche) and Isabelle Allen (young Cosette) are incredible little talents. They come alive on screen and steal every scene they are in, especially Daniel.

The best thing about this film is that it has real heart. I cried, nay, I sobbed as Eddie Redmayne sang about how his friends would never sing again. Oh my gosh did I sob! Every moment was breathtaking and heartbreaking and heartwarming and oh just everything! It wasn’t that this was a brilliant film, or a brilliant musical, but it is a great story, well told, and in a lot of ways that is what films should be, even musicals.

4/5

Swing, batter, batter, yawn – Trouble With The Curve

Trouble With The Curve – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Trouble With The Curve (2012)

Director: Robert Lorenz
Writer: Randy Brown
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman

You would think that after starring in and directing some of the most acclaimed films of the last few decades, Clint Eastwood would be able to tell whether or not a movie was worth making or not. There are dozens of sports films out there, there are dozens of romcoms and dramas out there, and as I step into another film that I haven’t really heard of I hear myself asking “Is it really necessary that we have another one enter the world?”

The thing with RomComs and Dramas is that each one, although it may be formulaic and predictable, will appeal to its audience members in different ways. Trouble With The Curve is a story of an old hat baseball scout who is trying to stay in the game whilst his eyesight is failing and his bosses try and squeeze him out. Gus (Clint Eastwood) is joined by his daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), on a last hurrah as a baseball scout before his eyes go. Their relationship is rocky to say the least. Mickey is a hotshot lawyer but has mountains of daddy issues and really just wants to do what he does. Their relationship is strained and their communication skills need serious work. But it’s a sweet kind of relationship that forms over the film, as you know it will. And it is the predictability of this film that makes it feel longer than it actually is. It is sweet at points and you do come to like the characters enough to want the happy ending for them, but you know from the opening moments of the film that it is approaching and it takes a lot of energy to care about the characters when you know their problems will be gone in an hours time.

John Goodman provides a stand out supporting role as always and Matthew Lillard, although he plays an incredible annoying and dislikable character, does it splendidly and so must be commended on making his audience hate him. Amy Adams plays a wonderfully strong female character which I love but is pushed down somewhat by the forced love interest of Justin Timberlake. Timberlake may be an okay actor but I felt the love interest was commercial and crowd appeasing more than anything else.

2.5/5

For the woman he truly loves – Skyfall

Skyfall - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Skyfall – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Skyfall (2012)

Director: Sam Mendes
Writers: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan, and Ian Fleming (characters)
Stars: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Dame Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris

From the opening moments of this James Bond film you know it will be filled with everything that makes a Bond film great. There are the typical cheesy Bond moments of the classy casino, the car/motorbike chase, the Bond girl, and Bond kicking arse all around and surviving against the odds, and his one-liner wit. But you also see another side of Bond. The scriptwriters and Daniel Craig have given us better version of the rough-edged Bond you see in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. He isn’t the slick, nothing-ruffles-my-hair Bond of the Bronson or Connery age. He is a rugged and beaten up Bond. And in a lot of ways Daniel Craig has given James Bond a humanity that you don’t really see in the older films. The producers were on the right track when they convinced him to take the part. Daniel Craig looks sexy even as a beaten up alcoholic who comes back to life to save the woman he truly loves. I mean you can’t beat that.

The one thing that shouldn’t have surprised me but did was that Skyfall is a beautiful film. Sam Mendes has made an absolutely stunning film to watch. Every shot is gorgeous, and not just because Daniel Craig is in the shot. You can watch the music video for Adele’s Skyfall and see how visually brilliant they have made this film, but you don’t get the full effect unless you are sitting in a dark cinema with the full scale picture. I have no words for how delightful this film is to watch. It goes without saying that Daniel Craig, Judi Dench and the rest of the cast are brilliant but they have really stepped up the quality of this franchise all around.

I have to admit, I did take a moment during one of the slower parts of the film to work out whether my incredibly high expectations were making me love the film, or if it was just that I loved all Bond films – I even love Moonraker – or whether Skyfall was just a really good film. What was the conclusion I came to? It is an excellent film. From everything from the story to the actors to the justification for the fight scenes, everything fits together to make Skyfall a great film on its own. Even if you didn’t know anything about Bond you could still enjoy this film and appreciate it for a good action film. I don’t want to give anything away but there are some great hark backs to old Bond films that make this film a Bond fans delight.

Go and enjoy the fall.

4/5

H.G. Wells is a woman? – Warehouse 13

Warehouse 13 - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Warehouse 13 – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Warehouse 13 (2009-)

Creators: Jane Espenson, D. Brent Mote
Stars: Eddie McClintock, Joanne Kelly and Saul Rubinek

You may have noticed, if you have been reading my previous blogs, that I like a little bit of crime thriller/sci-fi action. This is true whether in film or TV. I think it’s because I wish I had a more exciting life and I like escaping into another kind of world and kind of thinking. Warehouse 13 caught my eye simply because it is made by the SyFy channel. It’s your average investigative agency trying to save the world kind of deal, but with a bit of a twist. It takes the myths and legends of history and takes the museum pieces we like to ooh and aah at and turns them into deadly weapons, or something like that. “Artifacts” possess a semi-magical/semi-scientific aspect that comes from the great event or person they were originally attached to. For instance, a hairbrush used by Marilyn Munroe turns people’s hair blonde. Okay so that one is less deadly than just a bit weird and strange, but the agents in Warehouse 13 track down these artifacts, neutralize them, and then pack them away so no one can use them for evil. You get the idea I hope.

I’ve only watched the first two seasons so far and I’ve enjoyed them for the most part. It’s not a serious or completely dramatic sci-fi show, it has it’s humourous moments. The characters are interesting and have complex pasts which makes them carry enough weight for me to continue to watch to find out where they end up. The stories can be a little far-fetched but then again it is science fiction, not everything is meant to be completely realistic. I find it hard to review because there is a level at which I really like the show, but there is also a level at which I think it could be so much better than it is. The cheesiness of some of the humour is a little unbearable at points but it does fit with the characters so maybe it’s the characters who need improving? Or maybe it’s that the scripts aren’t written well enough for the characters to be brought to life and be coherent with the humour? Or maybe it’s the direction of particular episodes? Or maybe it’s the fact that they try and bring H.G. Wells to life as a woman? I don’t know exactly what it is but there are bits and pieces that leave me a little disappointed with it.

Even saying that though I will get stuck into the third and fourth season as soon as I can get my hands on them. For nothing other than the character of Claudia Donovan who I love and I wish I was like.

3/5

The Truth At All Cost – Lie To Me

Lie To Me - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Lie To Me – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Lie To Me (2009)

Creator: Samuel Baum
Stars: Tim Roth, Kelli Williams and Brendan Hines

“The truth shall set you free.” It’s a beautiful thought and yet we have a tendency as humans to want to cover up and lie to protect ourselves. And in some moments it may be appropriate. But for the most part there is nothing good that comes from lying. Guilt, regret, hurt, pain, and loss are always knocking at the door as soon as that little lie escapes our lips. Most comedy of errors starts with a little lie to cover up a simple mistake and then the rest is trying to keep that lie a secret. Is it ever worth it in the end?

Lie To Me starts with the premise that we can tell whether someone is lying or not simply by observing their facial expressions and body language. Behavioural science is the key to unlocking the truth and solving the crimes in this crime/mystery/drama show. And it is this key that unlocks the intrigue of the audience. We are constantly asking ourselves “but how did he know?!” and then gently they reveal to us the science behind the mystery. The reveal is gradual but intriguing which makes this show just like any other crime drama, but it has an edge: Tim Roth.

Tim Roth makes this show continually entertaining and intriguing. His character of Cal Lightman is a beautiful balance of bastard and truth-seeker. He is charismatic and charming but also cruel and pushes the boundaries of people’s emotions and breaks them down to the vulnerable squishy-squirmy liars they truly are. You spend a great deal of the time watching Roth and trying to work out, like his colleagues, whether to love him or hate him. Over the three seasons so far I have come to admire the character and his unfailing search for the truth, not just the culprit of the crime he’s been hired to find.

Lie To Me is a different kind of crime show but follows the same formula, a formula that works. The characters are complex, intriguing, and people who I would like to know in real life. Their journey together through the work is what keeps me coming back for more. I really wish it hadn’t been cancelled last year but alas I must lose some more of my favourite TV characters. It’s really worth the watch and the show gets better and better over the seasons.

3.5/5

Competition is Cruel – Party Animals

Party Animals - Poster

Party Animals – Poster

Party Animals (2007)

Creators: Robert Jones, Ben Richards
Stars: Andrew Buchan, Shelley Conn, Andrea Riseborough and Matt Smith

There is something wonderfully foreign yet altogether too familiar about seeing the behind the scenes of political parties. I mean we kind of see it on the news every night. Someone has offended someone else which then makes their policy look better and so on and so forth. And with the familiarity of most of the western world with The West Wing and it’s glorious success, there wasn’t really much going for Party Animals. But I didn’t really know anything about it going into it. All I knew was that it had Matt Smith in it before he went and became the eleventh Doctor on Doctor Who.

Party Animals is a British TV show that ran for only 8 episodes. With it’s main characters based in politics it has a West Wing-esque feel but with a British swing. With main characters Scott Foster (Andrew Buchan), lobbyist, his brother Danny (Matt Smith), researcher for a Labor MP, and Ashika Chandirimani (Shelley Conn) the head researcher for the Tory MP opposition to Danny. Their story intertwines in real and dramatic ways as they all go up against one another professionally whilst trying to work out how to succeed in work and love. With big themes of friendship, loyalty, politics, love and grief, it has a dramatic core with an ever-shifting outer coating of political intrigue and romance. Each character throughout the season is faced with heavy moral and ethical questions which provides us viewers with a real insight into what politicians and lobbyists must have to deal with to be successful.

I really enjoyed the series and was left with a hole in heart for the characters. All the actors are brilliant in their portrayal of their characters and the production of the series is done with a British grittiness and lightness that reminds me of Skins and Spooks. It is both enjoyable and painful to watch as it brings the characters lives alive on your screen. You really end up caring deeply for Scott and Danny’s relationship and the future of Ashika as she deals with the fall out of her life choices and losses. It throws into light the darkness of high powered and pressured occupations and how they take their toll on everyone differently.

I really recommend getting your hands on this brilliant yet short series. It’ll give you a new perspective on politics and the difficulties that come with the job of all involved, especially the women.

Drama, Drugs & Devotion – London

London - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

London – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Drama, Drugs & Devotion – London (2005)

Director: Hunter Richards
Writer: Hunter Richards
Stars: Jessica Biel, Chris Evans and Jason Statham

I tend to go through phases of watching a particular actor’s films because I become obsessed with them and this week with the Avengers coming out on DVD/Blu-Ray, I have chosen Chris Evans as my obsession. I really hadn’t watched much of Chris Evans before Captain America but going back and watching bits and pieces of his career has been interesting. He’s done some not so great films but he’s also done some surprisingly good films. London is one of the good ones in my mind.

It’s a drama centred around Syd (Chris Evans) who is a bit of a druggie – cocaine mostly – and who is trying to win back the love of his life, London (Jessica Biel), who is about to move away and start her life with her new guy. He meets Bateman (Jason Statham) the day of her going away party, which he wasn’t invited to, and takes him along. The film then consists of flash backs of London & Syd’s relationship and Syd and Bateman in the bathroom of her best friend, Rebecca’s (Isla Fisher) parents house and their discussion of life, relationships, religion, and where things went wrong. It is a gripping film as you are drawn into these men’s lives with little prior knowledge about them and as their friendship as strangers grows you see how it is they came to be at this point in their lives. Evans shows a different side to his acting as he portrays the tormented soul of this grown man and standing next to Statham doing the same is something I didn’t think I’d ever see, and they are both incredibly brilliant. It has actually made me think of them as actors rather than action movie stars. They show depth to their characters and are able to capture a great deal of emotion and convince you that these men are so much more than you just see on screen. They are brilliantly directed by Hunter Richards, also the writer, and the film delivers a unique look into this world. Biel and Fisher are also brilliant in this film and ground the narrative.

I really liked this film and I really loved Evans and Statham in these different roles. They are brilliant action stars but it is great to know they can really, truly act. I really recommend seeing this film, it’s edgy and different and is able to deal with big questions of life and love in a bathroom with Van Gogh and Cocaine. Go watch it.

And now for something a little bit different – QI

QI - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

QI – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

QI (2003-)

Stars: Stephen Fry and Alan Davies

There are few shows that I can watch by myself and find myself laughing out loud. QI is one of those rare shows that never fails to be both freaking hilarious and informative. I am constantly amazed at how much I find myself giggling as I sit on my bed watching it on my laptop. There is something wonderful about comedians revealing their intelligence and the way their wonderful minds work. Of course then you realise the reason they are such good comedians is because they do know quite a bit about the world and thus can find what is truly funny about it.

QI, which stands for Quite Interesting, is a “game show” for the intellectuals. It is comprised of questions relating to all different aspects of the world. From Astonomy to the Immortal Bard to Zoology and Agriculture. It covers a myriad of ideas and facts and corrects the general ignorance of the world one episode at a time. Along with these weird and wonderful facts there is the weird and wonderful guests that grace the desk of QI with Stephen Fry and Alan Davies every week. They are mostly British comedians with a few extras thrown in for good measure. They compete for you knows the most interesting things and who is least taken by the myths that are spread by the general public.

My favourite thing by far about this show is Alan Davies. He is the representative of the world on QI. And as much as Stephen Fry would like to prove him to be an idiot, I think he is the one who shows the most humility and hilarity. He represents the public and helps us to know that we aren’t just all stupid, but simply ill-informed.

If you haven’t seen QI I would really recommend it. It is a fun show and you will giggle and learn at the same time, what could be bad about that!?