Category Archives: Film Reviews

The Dictator (2012) Review

Released: 16 May 2012

After Borat and to some extent the much forgotten Ali G Indahouse, a sort of mental preparation is required before you step into the cinema to watch a Sacha Baron Cohen movie. What should I expect? How far will he cross the line? Will there be two naked men rolling around together? These are all fair questions to ask. So as you sit back to the sight of a Kim Jong-il dedication, there is a feeling that you might be in for a few nervy laughs.

After the more sporadic Bruno back in 2009, Cohen needed a comeback, something that went past the spoof interviews and slapstick buffoonery. In The Dictator at least the first of these was achieved. General Aladeen is the latest persona out of Cohen’s closet, broader and more universal than his previous characters.

The plot is simple; Aladeen travels to the US (no surprise that the Americans are the subject of the jokes once more) to address the UN and promise to hold free elections in his nation of Wadiya. There is a “love” story, some backstabbing, and all of the other parts that surround any Cohen film.

But it is the comedy that we are all anticipating. How much will our sides hurt after this one? The jokes were brash, in your face and kept on firing like a well-oiled machine gun, and as usual some hit and some miss. But that is to be expected with Cohen; tasteless humour is sometimes too bland. Yet this film was clearly satirical, and some gags even required a bit of current affairs knowledge, a bit like Mock the Week but with a man dressed up as a dictator. And just to top it off, the classic inspirational “change of heart” speech at the end, which is an unashamedly obvious dig at American foreign policy.

Like in Borat and Ali G, this film is never just a one man show. Cohen is supported well from the side by Anna Faris who plays Zoey, the “love interest” in the film. Some things are better left unsaid in this relationship, but suffice it to say that through the love plot, we get a more empathetic side to Aladeen. Weapons expert Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) is terrific, playing the all important sidekick role to the Supreme Leader.

The Dictator is a film that sees Cohen back on form with a new type of character. It is formulaic, but that does not take away from the hilarity of what is another cringe worthy but highly entertaining movie, and we wouldn’t expect anything less.

The Hangover: Part 2 Review

RELEASED: 26 May 2011

Wedding approaching fast, raise your drinks up, cue hip-hop music, shot of the city lights and blackout. Sound familiar? The only difference between The Hangover Part 2 and its prequel is the number 2. There is a reason you don’t make a sequel to a film like The Hangover, that being the impossibility of ever creating something fresh from a very specific structure.

This time around it is the dentist Stu (Ed Helms) getting ready for his wedding, but instead of Vegas, the Wolfpack head on over to Thailand for the wedding.

The humour is more crass, the storylines for each character become a lot less individual, and the result is something not too pleasing. The roles are reprised from the first instalment: ringleader Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu with a special affinity to sex workers, father to be Doug (Justin Bartha) who plays an insignificant part in the antics of the sequel, and last but not least, Wolfpack creator Alan (Zach Galifianakis).

It is the latter who manages to break through the sterility of the film with the awkwardness that characterised his role in part one. Twisting words and providing inappropriateness of the highest order, Galifianakis is the source of much of the comedy. The high point is definitely his relationship with the cigarette-smoking monkey, wearing a Rolling Stones denim jacket, reminiscent of Galifianakis and the baby from part one.

Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) makes a welcome appearance as camp and eccentric Chinese mobster. The high-pitched drug addict warrants a few chuckles from his attire alone, making a criminal transaction in a hoody and cravat. In a Fast and Furious-esque moment, Chow gains sexual excitement from a thrilling car chase. Nothing too surprising, but still funny.

But ultimately, The Hangover Part 2 lacks any zest that characterised the first film. There are moments of complete doziness, where the film falls asleep, filled by characters that waste screen space like the drug dealer or Paul Giamatti’s undercover cop chatacter. Even Mike Tyson is there just for the sake of making an appearance.

The film ends on a familiar note, with the slideshow of the night’s pictures. It is like watching part one, stripped of the vitality, humour, and relationships that made The Hangover the barrel of laughs that it was. Just as the gang forget their night, The Hangover Part 2 is a truly forgettable film.

 

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Black Swan (2011) Review

RELEASED: 21 January 2011

As 2011 draws ever closer to an end, The Smoovie wants to looks back at one of the most magnificent, raunchy and refreshing films of the year. Coming off the back of critically acclaimed The Wrestler (2009), promising and exciting American director Darren Aronofsky flaunts his stuff with Black Swan.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a highly talented ballerina in a company headed by Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), and becomes excited by the prospect of filling the role of Queen Swan, now vacant due to the ended career of Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder). But Lily, fresh from San Francisco, joins the troupe, and Sayers must battle with the newcomer in a complex relationship full of sexual tension, schizophrenia, and madness. It all gets very psychological.

Black Swan is a master class in directing, provided to us courtesy of Aronofsky. The handheld single camera filming takes us right to the heart of the ballet, to where the battle for one’s inner desires takes place. It is terrific stuff, filled with thrilling and pretty gory moments. Aronofsky is able to render self-inflicted face stabbing as artistic. The attention to detail is quite frankly sublime, from the ritual of reinforcing the ballet shoes, to the consciousness of Sayers controlling her eating in the quest for perfection.

And Aronofsky has a knack for bringing out the best of his actors. You only have to think back to Mickey Rourke’s role in The Wrestler and his subsequent Oscar nomination. Portman has everything that you want to see from a role of this complexity: struggle with her inner demon, passion for the girl she can’t have, and a rollercoaster display of emotions from the plain angry to the sensuously erotic. Barbara Hershy veers between obsessively coddling to creepily demonic at times, in a truly harrowing portrayal of Nina’s mother that no doubt contributes to her mental issues. Even Kunis, whose most notable roles are in sitcoms and romcoms, gives us a truly respectable performance, especially in handling some of the risqué material.

Black Swan pirouettes and glides across the screen to a conclusion that is most fitting, and even if it does not reach “perfection” as Nina so brilliantly does, it gets very damn close.

Lumumba (2000) Review

RELEASED: 27 September 2000 (Belgium)

With Black History Month approaching it’s finale, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at a film about Patrice Émery Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the Congo, and the key figure in Congolese independence from Belgian colonial rule. Don’t start yawning because this isn’t the epically long biographical type of film, but instead, Raoul Peck delivers a wonderfully inspirational movie, but that doesn’t mean it’s without problems.

Lumumba tells the tale of a man with the dream of an Independent Congo. The film opens with this man, Lumumba, heading towards his ominous fate. Bodies are chopped up and thrown into the fire. It’s almost as if Peck is saying,  “welcome to the independence struggle”. From this point we are taken back to the beginning of the story, from Lumumba as a beer salesman. Well, everyone has to start somewhere. Russia and the US get involved (as usual) and then there are even more issues.

First piece of advice before watching Lumumba, do your homework because this movie doesn’t offer a comprehensive history lesson. Much of this has to do with the pace of the film which progresses very quickly. One moment Lumumba is selling beer and next minute he is PM of an independent Congo, but the build up seemed to be simple, lacking the gusto that it needed. The result was choppy with seemingly pointless interjections like the scenes with Lumumba and his wife, the latter receiving scanty airtime, and their relationship did not develop, nor did it really kick off.

Having said that however, Lumumba had enough power to see it through and the fantastic cast is to thank. Eric Ebouaney’s representation of Lumumba is moving as he delivers an array of defining speeches even as the power slips from his grasp. He stands defiant in a room full of army officers with guns may we add. Certainly a gutsy thing to do. Conflicts with military head Joseph Mobutu (Alex Descas) and President Kasa Vubu (Maka Kotto) are electric, clashing ideologies and personalities, all the things that lead to a civil war. Descas is sadistic as the power hungry future dictator and Kotto is perfectly diplomatic in contrast to the extremity of Lumumba and Mobutu. The balance, the struggle, and the tension are excellent.

Visually, the film hits home hard. Peck knows how to create that shock factor, especially when capturing the execution of Lumumba and his two compatriots. The gunshots reverberate through the deadly silent woods and not only are key figures dead, but Peck captures an atmosphere of pessimism and suppression, devoid of any hope, confirmed by the figure of dictator Mobutu sitting on a throne-like chair.

There is something bittersweet about the message of this film. We are drawn in by the inspirational figure of Lumumba, his tenacity, vigour and passion. But at the same time, we can’t be comfortable by the promise of a dictatorship that looms at the end of Lumumba, especially as we have been on a journey through the hard fought independence of the Congo.

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Smoovie Spinback: American Beauty (1999) Review

RELEASED: 1 October 1999

On the surface, the American suburbs are a peaceful place with pretty flowers, but behind closed doors, the suburbs are not what they seem in this Sam Mendes directed comedy-drama American Beauty. Boasting an impressive five Oscar haul, the film from way back in 99’ is an impressive modern great.

The first thing that strikes you about this film is none other than Kevin Spacey, especially as he beats the meat in the shower in the opening scene. Spacey earns another feather in his career cap. He really does have a knack for playing creepy roles, and his character Lester Burnham, a man having a mid life meltdown, is no exception. Spacey conveys desperation and breakdown in his perving on daughter Jane’s (Thora Birch) mate, Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari). He tries to beef up, ends up smoking weed, and adopts that “take no shit” attitude which has him working in the ironically named Mr. Smiley’s burger joint. Spacey is fantastic at being pathetic to the point of hilarity. Wearing his Mr. Smiley’s uniform, he busts his wife having an affair, and here follows an accomplished piece of acting, blending both comedy and sadness showing a man with internal turmoil.

At first, Lester may seem like the stereotypical man with a midlife crisis, but he is a character amongst a plethora of caricatured stereotypes. Everyone is bigger, more outrageous, but with a twist, all in the name of satire. Col. Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper), who gives a wonderful performance dealing with repressed homosexual desire, is overly militaristic, in an attempt to hide his feelings, and Carolyn Burnham (Annette Benning) brilliantly portrays her unhappiness with husband Lester, veering from breakdown, to verbal jousting of the screaming kind.

These domestic scenes are some of the most gripping moments of American Beauty, showing a family, who on the surface are gleaming, but are cracked within. Hats must go off to cinematographer Conrad Hall, who won an Oscar for his vision in this film. The numerous wide angle shots captured a real atmosphere of detachment and emptiness that runs through the film. Watching a family eating dinner has never been so tense, with unsaid words bubbling under the surface. Even the camcorder shots communicate that Big Brother message, someone is watching you.  Oscar winner Alan Ball’s script must get some credit too. The dialogue is quite frankly compelling. At one point, Lester says to his wife at a party with the utmost sarcasm, “I will be whatever you want me to be”. Appearances are shattered and Mendes controls the satire to perfection.

Beautifully provocative and at times very close to home, Mendes’s American Beauty is a classic featuring great performances, direction, script, the whole works. It is poised between comedy and drama, with futility turning into laughter, but at the same time offering an unsettling picture of suburban America as we know it.

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Drive Review

RELEASED: 23 September 2011

Director Nicolas Winding Refn throws us a curve ball with Drive, one of those films that we just didn’t expect. But we aren’t complaining. Don’t expect a high octane,   Drive is instead a beautifully poised thriller, right from the starting line.

Refn constructs the opening scene to perfection showing Ryan Gosling’s character’s moonlight job as a getaway driver. Refn weaves together shots of Gosling’s solid face, the trademark toothpick and the pursuing police, like a beautifully knitted jumper. “This game is coming down to the wire”, flows from radio sports commentary, and really sums up the tense and unsettling vibe of the sequence.

Refn, probably best known for the Pusher Trilogy and the 2008 biopic Bronson, brings a European finesse to the brutal mean streak in Drive. There is something classy about being stabbed in the eye with a fork. The success of the violence in this film comes not from the fact that these scenes are borderline Tarantino gory, but from their briefness and unexpectedness. Refn does not make the action drag on but instead inserts it after moments of suspense. Riding an elevator will never be the same again.

Gosling is brilliant in Drive and is maturing into a star actor, especially with The Ides of March right around the corner. Heplays the strong silent type with great intensity, even finishing a job, stepping out of the car, and flinging his coat over his shoulder. Cool as you like. There is a control about Gosling’s acting that mirrors the skill of his driving. He effortlessly switches from

straight-faced driver, to man with the killer moves. Whether he is smashing in a hand with a hammer or orchestrating a full impact collision, Gosling does it with a real fire in the belly.

And then there’s the lovey dovey side of Gosling’s character with his eye on girl next door (literally) Irene (Carey Mulligan) whose husband is in jail. The interplay between Gosling and Mulligan is perfect, played through silence and facial expression. What is not said is more important. Plus when Gosling is with Mulligan, it is one of the only times he cracks that awkward but loveable smile.

But Drive is definitely a team effort as the rest of the cast pitch in too. Hellboy Ron Perlman is imposing even without the red make up, and Albert Brooks ditches his funny bone for a brutal side to terrifying effect.

Drive zooms onto the scene and is clearly on track for great success. Are there awards in the midst? Who knows? But the film cruises past the finish line in emphatic fashion, finishing with a solid four stars.

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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Review

RELEASED: 16 September 2011

For those of us drowned by this summer’s action packed blockbusters like Captain America or Super 8, the new adaptation of John le Carré’s Cold War classic novel is a breath of fresh air. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy may come as a shock to those of us fed a diet of Bond and Bourne movies, but it is in a whole other league, headed by Let The Right One In director Thomas Alfredson, whose eye for pinpoint detail, intense drama, and appreciation of the subtleties in the British Intelligence system, make this film an outstanding piece of cinema.

It is all an elaborate game of chess, which Alfredson captures perfectly. The first scene in Budapest kicks off with Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) sat in a café with a Hungarian agent. The waiter shakily serves the coffee, a drop of sweat drops on the table. A woman feeds her baby. Who will make the next move? As Prideaux gets up to walk away, he is shot and kidnapped. But who tipped the Hungarians and Russians off?

With suspicions of a mole in the Circus, the code name for MI6’s top level, Control (John Hurt) calls upon veteran ex-spy George Smiley (Gary Oldman) to investigate. The suspects: small man with big balls Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), codename Tinker; smooth and full of confidence Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), known as Tailor; still and stocky Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds), called Soldier; Hungarian exile Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), stickered Poor Man; and finally, the Spy, Smiley himself. Everyone is a suspect.

Smiley has a helping hand from Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) whose attempt to steal some vital documents is a scene to make one’s heart race, dealt with by some brilliant tracking shots and close ups, every second was an uncertainty. Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy), an agent suspected to have gone rogue returns with crucial information, and whilst Hardy does not reprise the suavity of his Inception character, he is excellent in his rugged, hands on approach, and the closest thing to 007 in this film.

This Circus ensemble is also a master class of British actors: Hurt is a man losing power quickly; Jones is in search of power pushing around those he sees fit; and Firth is calm and calculating. Tinker, Tailor is a film where the screenplay is subtle with its dialogue, and Alfredson plays upon the eye contact, expressions and body language of the characters to perfection. Oldman is sublime. It is the history, sins and regrets in the greyness of his attire, the pain in his eyes, hidden behind his solid spectacles that make his Smiley wonderful. Kathy Burke’s appearance as nostalgic Connie Sachs brings a small smile to our faces, as she greets Smiley with, “I don’t know about you, but I feel seriously underf***ed”.

Out of the dingy, shabby and grey atmosphere that Alfredson creates, arises a truly unique film, multi layered like an onion, and as you get closer to peeling away all the layers, the truth gets more distorted, the drama gets more intense, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy gets that much better.

(Originally published in York Vision)

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Thor Review

RELEASED: 27 April 2011

Thor is an Avenger, but unlike shield wielding Captain America, or green beast Hulk, Thor is a Norse God, and fittingly, Kenneth Branagh brings us a film of epic proportions in Thor.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) discovers that it’s not easy to keep a cool temper when you’re the God of Thunder wielding a hammer you wont find on a B&Q shelf, especially when you’re confronted by Frost Giants attempting to steal the source of your realm’s power. After Thor unleashes his rage on the frozen beasts, his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) banishes him from Asgard (somehow I don’t think grounding him would have done the trick) and Thor lands on Earth. Like a fish out of water, Hemworth plays these scenes to comedic perfection, one time asking a pet shop for a horse, and next breaking loose out of a hospital. And even when Thor’s friends from Asgard come to help, it looks like a superhero convention has hit town.

On earth, Thor falls in love with researcher Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) whilst his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in a jealous fit, decides to bring down Asgard and hand it to the Frost Giants. The relationships in Thor take a bit of time to get underway. Jane and Thor’s romance comes together quickly at the end and it never really feels like it was developing slowly. But when they are together, Portman and Hemsworth are a great pair, providing laughs as Foster tries to work Thor out, and they also provide a romance that will carry forward into Thor 2. The sibling rivalry too, didn’t exactly kick start. The problem is that Thor spends a lot of the film on Earth whilst Loki is in Asgard. They are worlds apart, literally. But again this relationship, brother to brother, is quite intense at the finale, as Thor has to contend with kicking his brother’s ass.

And kicking ass is definitely done well in Thor. Right from the off, the action does not disappoint as Thor’s hammer flies across in trademark style, smashing the Frost Giants to bits. And even when Thor loses his powers, he still manages to storm a camp full of special agents to retrieve his hammer. Mix this with some super teleportation technique from one realm to the next, and you get a film where the CGI is exciting and the action is electric.

Branagh has got the right mix in Thor, welding together some comedy and action, whilst hammering in some romance too. The prospect of The Avengers film becomes all the more tantalising now and our mouths are made to water with the teaser trailer at the end of Thor. But for now, Thor makes a thunderous debut to the realm of the big screen.

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Smoovie Spinback: Gandhi (1982) Review

RELEASED: 3 December 1982

How do you document the life of a man who inspired a country to fight for independence? It’s definitely not an easy feat, but Richard Attenborough holds the key as his masterpiece, Gandhi, is a three hour tour de force of emotion and superlative filmmaking, and is still walking through cinema history with eight Oscars to its name.

The biopic is a genre dreaded by secondary school history classes worldwide and susceptible to storylines that have the potential to set you dozing in a deep sleep of boredom. We aren’t being negative its just fact, which is why Gandhi is even more incredible. There is something gripping in the acts of pacifism recreated in the film. From the Salt March to challenging the status in Apartheid South Africa, Gandhi’s (Ben Kingsley) allure sweeps through the film. And a tone of anger and defiance that rage through the movie are encapsulated in moments of brutality during the Amritsar Massacre. Such events are powerfully recreated and not always easy to stomach and the violence of Partition are truly tear jerking and not for the faint hearted.

Whilst the script documents key events, it does not ignore the background of India’s most tumultuous period of history. The development of the relationship between Jinnah and Nehru moved precisely from smooth to treading on a rocky road. Even Gandhi’s wife was given space to breathe within this epic, and the film became not just about the man, but also about the people who he affected and the county he helped liberate.

The man of the hour (or three hours we should say) was Sir Ben Kingsley, a casting wild card at the time, but proving to be gold dust, delivering a sublime performance, not just playing Gandhi, but becoming Gandhi. It was not just that he looked exactly like the man, clad in his humble robes and wire framed spectacles, but the fact he delivered a depth, a complexity, a multi layered performance that displayed the humour, the fight, the determination and the courage of the little man with a massive impact.

Gandhi captures a wide and turbulent span of history in a masterful way. It is a film with gusto that stirs a whirlwind of feeling, and is a great testament to an even greater man.


The Inbetweeners Movie Review

RELEASED: 17 August 2011

From the suburbs of London to the neon drowned island of Malia, the “Pussay Patrol”, Will (Simon Bird), Jay (James Buckley), Neil (Blake Harrison) and Simon (Joe Thomas) embark on the ultimate lads holiday, the only problem, they are an in-between bunch of lads, which naturally leads The Inbetweeners Movie to be a film spewing more gags than Will’s vomit, but we certainly aren’t complaining.

The Inbetweeners Movie picks up at the point of realisation that the boys are going off to uni and they need one amazing holiday. But they all go with some baggage and we don’t mean their suitcases: Simon is hung up over his break up with Carli (Emily Head), Will is more interested in the beauty of the ruins than the attraction of the local talent, Neil has a new girlfriend and is staying faithful by not kissing any girls (although dry humping seems to be fine), and Jay, well he is just being Jay in pursuit of his usual helping of “clunge”.

The comedy is hilarious when it hits the right spot (get your minds out of the gutter). Writers Iain Morris and Damon Beesley have gone trigger happy on the sex jokes and toilet humour, which undoubtedly will have you laughing out loud, but at times, becomes repetitive. There is not enough awkwardness that marked the situations and gags of the TV series. Even if Will is asking for a written contract to have sex a year from now, it is not enough. More of those cringy moments would have been nice.

However, the cast and characters were splendid. The faltering foursome of Bird, Buckley, Harrison and Thomas show togetherness built up over the three seasons culminating in this funny and at times touching film capturing the life of teenagers opening a new chapter in their lives. The girly quartet has their own distinct characters that team up perfectly with the boys: Alison (Laura Haddock) is a girl wooed by the sexy Greek holiday fling type, Lucy (Tamla Kari) has a crush on Simon, Lisa (Jessica Knappet) is after pensioner pursuer Neil, and Jane (Lydia Rose Bewley), by some miraculous thing called love, finds the good in Jay. The combination of actors and characters is perfect and the situations allow for new sides of the boys to come out.

We are even offered the privilege of a couple side acts who everyone encounters in a place like Malia. The jack the lad club rep and the zoned out wanderer are nice additions to the scene set by director Ben Palmer.

Fans of the TV series will most definitely like The Inbetweeners Movie which offers the tried and tested formula of the TV series in a tale of friendship and coming of age, ending in a fitting farewell for the “Pussay Patrol”.

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