Classic film noir plot, characters, and mise-en-scène, but set in a stereotypical American high school. The contrast and incongruity is (deliberately) hilarious at times, but it remains meticulously true to the genre, providing an ultimately bleak vision of love and betrayal. A must-see.
After seeing The Prestige I decided that Christopher Nolan is the best film director of the century (so far). To back this up, I offer up his oevre of full-length films to date: The Prestige, Batman Begins, Insomnia, Memento, and Following.
You probably haven’t heard of Following, because it’s a low-budget black-and-white feature from 1999 starring only part-time actors. But even as his first full-length film, it already shows many of Nolan’s trademarks: a twisty plot, back-stabbing characters who are a lot darker than they at first seem, and a tense narrative that flits back and forth in time in a manner crafted to conceal and seduce rather than to blind and confuse.
The story starts with an unemployed writer who decides to follow random people on the street. Not in a scary stalky way, but just to learn more about who they are, and what they do. But when he follows the same mysterious man twice, he gets caught in the act. This man, Cobb, turns out to be a burglar. He introduces the writer to his techniques, and gets him to try a couple of break-ins himself. And then things start to go really wrong.
The only place you’ll probably be able to find this is an on-line rental service, but if you liked any of Nolan’s other films, I think you’ll find it worth your while to put it in your queue.
Tense and emotional thriller about a diamond smuggler who discovers his conscience. Although it gets a bit melodramatic and overly “worthy” at the end, I was gripped throughout. (I think I may have mentioned this before, but I really think that Leonardo DiCaprio has turned into one of the best actors of my generation. His performance here is brilliant as always.)
This has been called “The Godfather of spy films”, and it’s easy to see the comparison. Even leaving aside Francis Ford Coppola’s involvement, both movies are intense, measured examinations of family, loyalty, secrecy and betrayal.
Although I love spy action films, I actually much prefer my spy stories to delve into the mechanics and politics behind the scenes. The Good Shepherd does this magnificently. Don’t expact any big explosions or hyperactive stunts. Do expect a set of awesome performances from an all-star ensemble cast. In particular, Matt Damon’s depiction of cautious, withdrawn spymaster Edward Wilson could hardly be further removed from his turn as Jason Bourne. Very highly recommended.
Ben Stiller plays Larry Daley, a divorced dad with plenty of ideas but little luck in seeing them through. At the urging of his ex-wife, he decides to seek a steady job, and finds himself thrust into the position of night security guard at the New York Museum Of Natural History. The outgoing security guards (Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs) leave him some strange and dire-sounding advice before they leave for their retirement party, and Larry soon finds out what they meant: after dark, all the exhibits in the museum come to life.
There’s a lot to like here. Animals and dinosaur skeletons rampaging through the museum halls, miniature diorama Roman armies slugging it out with tiny American frontiersmen, and an Easter Island statue that loves chewing gum. Ben Stiller carries the leading role well, treading a fine line between hapless and hero, and the supporting cast are generally excellent. However, there is a lot of flab, too. Ricky Gervais’s pointless turn as the museum director could be cut almost completely, and there are a lot of meandering motivational scenes that just reiterate points already made clearly enough. If it had been twenty minutes shorter, the action/comedy blend would have been unbeatable.
I’d been falling out of love with Bond for some time, and this “reboot” of the series is long overdue. Daniel Craig plays Bond with a hard edge, but also a certain vulnerability that comes from Bond’s (fictional) inexperience: this is 007 at the start of his career.
What I liked most about Casino Royale was the total absence of all the kitsch and camp the franchise has accumulated over the years. The title sequence didn’t feature naked female silhouettes! The title song was actually quite good! The very few snappy one-liners he comes out with are actually witty rather than corny! The villain isn’t a gratuitously megalomaniac caricature!
Damn, it’s actually really good! The plot and the action are all so much more mundane–but in a good way. It’s down-to-earth rather than superheroic, and all the more tense and exciting for it. It’s enough to make me start looking forward to the next episode in the series.
A trick gone horribly wrong sets two ambitious stage magicians (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) against each other. Their hostilities escalate in a series of attacks, deceptions and betrayals that leave you aghast at the lengths each of them will go to to discover the other’s secrets. Although the story is set in the late 1800s, certain plot twists turn it into one of the best science fiction films ever made. It is also without a doubt the best film I’ve seen this year.
The almost messianic overtones sometimes threaten to overpower the story of two friends sharing an eye-opening journey. Beautifully filmed, but for my money it’s Rodrigo De la Serna who steals the show, not Gael García Bernal.
I do occasionally like a bit of Jack Black, but Tenacious D is too much of a rampant ego project to be particularly funny. Sure, it has its moments (such as Ben Stiller as the music store owner), but they happen despite him, not because of him.
I had been apprehensive about this before going in. I wasn’t concerned that Aardman’s quirky stop-motion style would be lost in the transition to CGI animation; I was concerned that it wouldn’t. Aardman have pushed the boundaries of the stop-motion form, but there’s no hiding from the fact that the form imposes restrictions on the filmmaker. I like Wallace and Gromit, but W&G is enough claymation for me.
As it turns out, with Flushed Away they took all that was good about Aardman’s character design, and went wild with everything else. The action is dynamic, the backdrops are large and elaborate, and the supporting cast are varied and obsessively detailed. But if you pay close attention to the animation, you’ll see that the characters’ mouths don’t move smoothly from frame to frame: their expressions retain the same slight jerkiness that comes from the claymation technique of using a limited number of mouth shapes. Likewise, some of the skin textures bear a striking resemblance to molded clay: in close-up, the animators have actually gone out of their way to make the CGI look like stop-motion.
Aside from the visuals, the story is highly entertaining (posh domestic rat Roddy finds himself in the sewers of London, and caught up in a chase to retrieve a stolen ruby), with plenty of excitement, lots of laughs, and some great running gags involving sewer slugs. It is also very tightly scripted and edited. There were several obvious opportunities for the characters to drift off into long speeches explaining the plot for the hard of thinking, but they didn’t exploit any of them. The dialogue was always enough–and no more.
I can’t see this winning the Best Animated Feature award at this year’s Oscars, but if you want to know which I would prefer to watch again: Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, or Flushed Away, I’d pick this one.