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    Friday
    Jan232009

    The Reader

    The Reader is the story of Hannah Scnmitz and Michael Berg, they begin an affair in the summer of 1956 when Michael is only 15, and he becomes besotted with this experienced older woman, however it is an odd relationship as she starts trading their love making for stories as she likes Michael to read to her.

    Theirs is a weird and at times one sided relationship which she abruptly ends by simply leaving when she is promoted from her job of ticket collector on the trams, to the office. Michael is devasted and the story jumps forward to 1966 with him morose and studying to become a lawyer.

    It's here the film becomes more interesting, he and other volunteers from his class go with their teacher to see a real trial in action, the trial is for 6 female guards from the infamous Auschowitz prison camps, to Michael's horror Hannah is one of these guards, and from here he must try to deal with how he feels and both characters face life altering choices.

    So this is the movie of the moment, not for the right reasons perhaps, but everyone seems to have a view on it even if they haven't seen it.

    I decided to take a shot and give it a watch, what I found is a movie that has 2 main things going for it, the first being that it doesn't really force you to feel any certain way about what you are seeing.

    The other is Kate Winslet, I am sure someone will correct me but I can't think of an actress who has given 2 such excellent and varied performances in one year. Her portrayal of Hannah Schmitz is haunting and subtle, their is a confident sexy side, a naive and almost innocent side, and a cold detached side all packaged into a character you can't help but feel conflicted by.

    No such problem from Ralph Fiennes and his creepy man child stylings, the guy is a solid actor but something about him is always unappealing and a little off, the younger version of his character Micheal, played by David Kross, is well cast, as he too has the same type of unappealing and creepy demeanour, which means the "romance" part of the film is pretty much a bust.

    However the supposed romance really isn't a romance, it's more a case of Hannah being lonely and wanting a companion, and the reason Michael is so affected by it in later life is that it was his first "love" and then he comes to find out his love was a guard at Auschowitz, kinda takes the swagger out of a man's stride.

    The central story is a powerful and well told one across 30 years, yes it is slow and I dare say some will say boring, I think the first 30 minutes would be unwatchable without Winslet, but the second half of the movie where her case comes to trial is much more interesting and the timeline of their 2 lives we follow from here has some thought provoking points.

    Direction-wise it's basic and serviceable, the narrative is tied together competently but I honestly felt I could have been watching an ITV drama.

    I will probably never watch this film again It's a good story and a solid movie with a brilliant performance from Kate Winslet, but I don't think it is one of the top 5 movies of 2008.

    7.5/10

    Tuesday
    Jan202009

    Milk

    Milk is the biopic of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to office in the history of the United States. he was a revolutionary, a maverick, and a man deserving of his place in history as an important figure in not just Gay rights but in truth, human rights.

    It's a good movie with an outstanding performance from Penn. One of the things I think Penn does so well here is he plays Harvey Milk with a believability b/c he doesn't cartoonize him, he's openly gay but plays it straight if you know what I mean.

    The film itself is well structured b/c biopics have a tendency to be difficult simply by the nature of how hard it is to fit a life into a 2 hour movie. Here Van Sant keeps the progression of the story going at a pace that keeps your interest, but never jumps to the next big moment in a jarring fashion, so while you sense the time passing you never feel like anything important has been brushed over.

    Another thing Van Sant does nicely is shoot all of Milk's speeches from a low angle so that you feel as if you are watching it from the POV of a member of the crowd.

    Aside from Penn's stellar performance the supporting actors are all good, especially Emile Hirsh who brings a sense of energy to his role. Josh Brolin is solid as Dan White but doesn't have enough screen time.

    The Dan White character is my main gripe, I mean he does not kill Milk b/c Milk is gay, in fact it is hinted at that he himself may be a repressed homosexual, but the lack of time spent digging deeper into this angle or indeed White's life in general leaves the climax with a one sided emotional core as he comes off as simply a frustrated trigger man.

    Another issue is the fact that Milk's two relationships in the film start as sleazy soft porn esque interludes and the second of these never becomes anything more than an annoyance as Diego Luna resembles the Justin Timberlake character from the Love Guru trailers.
    Now I can't say what the man's real love life was like but the film didn't present any gay couples in a regular light, gayness was at times presented like a hippie freedom act as opposed to just regular ppl who happen to be sexually attracted to the same gender.

    Penn's performance and Van Sant's tight direction, coupled with an interesting story of a very important man make this an engrossing film that could have been even better.

    8/10

    Monday
    Jan192009

    The Wrestler

    Ive been a fan of the business for nearly 20 years, Ive seen both the boom periods of "Rock & Wrestling" and "The Attitude Era", Ive laughed, Ive cheered, Ive rolled my eyes, Ive gotten annoyed over the booking, but Ive never stopped watching.

    Darren Aronofsky's 'The Wrestler' is the first movie ever to pay any respect to the men that work in the bizarre world of professional wrestling, a business that seems to consume the men that work in it and creates an emotional bond with it's fans like few other.

    Mickey Rourke is Randy 'The Ram' Robinson, a famous wrestler of the 80's that now lives in a trailer when he can afford to, at other times he lives in his broken down van, he works at a Deli for a man that looks down on him but keeps his weekends free so he can still wrestle on cards at little independent shows, a far cry from his heyday but he still needs it in any form.

    The opening credits are fantastic, a bunch of old wrestling magazines litter the screen with covers of the Ram in his prime, then it cuts to the locker room and the Ram sitting hunched over on a chair, his back to the camera, breathing hard, this image epitomizes Randy, it single handedly tells you who he is, once he steps back through the curtain he is alone and damaged goods.

    The hook if you will is a rematch fight with his old 80's nemesis The Ayatollah 20 years on from their last classic bout, in reality The Ayatollah  is a guy named Bob who runs a used car lot now.

    The way Aronofsky depicts the realities of the wrestling business will be a real eye opener for many, the locker room comradere, especially on the indie circuit is brought to the screen as we see the guys talk over their match plans and the respect the younger wrestlers have for Randy.

    The first half hour sets up who Randy is, how he lives and what the business is he loves and lives for, and introduces the object of his affection Cassidy, a stripper he likes to go and see when he has some money.

    The turning point is a brutal hardcore match he has with a wrestler fans of the CZW promotion will know as "Necro Butcher". The way Aronofsky shoots this is amazing, he actually starts at the end of the fight as both men, bloody and battered, return to the locker room, no tomato ketchup, no make up bruising, the real thing, it then cuts between the medic patching both men up and the spots in the match where these injuries take place, showing yes, the business is predetermined, but the pain is very often real. It is after this grueling match that Randy has a heart attack and is told he can never wrestle again, and he must cancel all the dates he has booked,

    In this scene we see the doctor refer to him by his real name of Robin and he politely asks the doctor to call him Randy, this is a recurring theme that displays the idea that many wrestlers would rather be the guy they are when they step through the curtain than who they are in reality, and that for many of them, they have spent so long as their wrestling persona, they are now more that guy than themselves.

    This is where the Ram starts to evaluate his life and the movie comes into it's own, his relationship with Cassidy becomes a focus as he tries to find something positive in his life, he also attempts to reconnect with his daughter with mixed results. The scenes Rourke shares with his two leading ladies are a mix of warm, funny and painful, his difficulty in communicating with them is evident, yet his likability means they give him a chance, although Cassidy is wary of getting too close, she has a son and dreams of getting out of being a stripper as the years are ticking for her as well, and at over 40 the tips are drying up, this is a little more difficult to buy as while Rourke looks every inch the "Broken down piece of meat", Tomei looks fantastic for her 44 years.

    I could go through all the scenes I loved but I'd rather not rob those that haven't seen it of experiencing them for the first time. Rourke's magnificent performance as The Ram is as good as anyone has ever been in a leading role, he feels 100% authentic and the performance is as raw as any I have seen, it's not surprising that wrestlers have said he literally became "one of the boys".

    The film is Rourke's no doubt but Darren Aronofsky deserves a lot of credit, he researched the business to make it as true to life as he could, his choice to shoot the moving scenes from a POV angle was a brilliant one, you feel as if you are in the Ram's shoes at points, but he never overplays that or any card in his execution, he gives the film a harsh but touching look, he pulls no punches but doesn't wallow in misery, he shows the other side of the business and the men that work in it, he shows the excitement, the respect and the humour, he also shows the gentle side of The Ram in many scenes, including a nice one where he plays an old Nintendo game with one of the kids from the trailer park.

    Inevitably the happy ending is not on the cards, this is not Rocky, he doesn't win the day and walk off with the girl, his attempt to be a regular every day person is something he can't maintain, he can't be Robin he has to be Randy The Ram! and so he decides to take up the rematch with The Ayatollah despite being offered a last chance at redemption from Cassidy, as he says to her before he goes out to the ring "Out there is the only place I don't get hurt".

    The final shot is beautiful and mixes both a sadness and joy, as Aronofsky frames a stunning shot of Randy, who is struggling with chest pains, standing on the top rope with the fans cheering in the background, he looks up at the balcony curtain where Cassidy was standing and she is gone, but the crowd cheer and Randy leaps off....

    The Wrestler is a brilliantly made, well written and superbly acted drama that just happens to also be about professional wrestling, and is the best film of 2008 in my book.

    10/10

     

     

    Tuesday
    Jan132009

    Slumdog Millionaire

    This was a movie I went to see due to it being a hot tip for the Oscar's, and as a film fan I like to have a view on what is in the running at the biggest awards show of the year. In truth I wasn't interested in the film, it didn't excite me from the trailers, the story sounded dull, and it didn't star anyone I'd ever heard of, plus to top it off it involved that game show 'Who wants to be a Millionaire ?' which I can't stand.

    So I sat down in my seat with a headache to boot, to watch a movie I was not interested in, as the lights lowered I thought "great, it had to be a 2 hour movie as well."

    The story is pretty much a love story at it's center, idealistic and pure, but this being a Danny Boyle movie you can be assured it takes some subversive twists and turns as it makes it's way to the conclusion.
    Jamal Malik is the main character, played by Dev Patel in his first feature role. Jamal is a decent human being who has lived his whole life in inhuman conditions, from the slums of mumbai with his older brother Salim, he has begged and conned his way through life after their mother was brutally killed when they were kids. The love of his life is Latika played by beautiful newcomer Freida Pinto, and the film is the journey of these 3 characters and the reason why Jamal has found his way onto 'Who wants to be a Millionaire ?'.

    The key to the films success is the way the story is told, the structure Boyle uses of jumping from Jamal's childhood, to being on the show, to his questioning by a detective after he is accused of cheating, is initially disorientating, especially when mixed in with the thumping music and erratic camera work of the early slum sequences.
    However as the movie progresses it becomes it's strongest suit, as each event from his past reveals how he knew the answers to the questions and fills in a little more of the story between the 3 leads.

    Now in truth the story between Latika and Jamal is not really fleshed out well and it's very much a fairytale romance, but it works well enough presented in the fashion it is, as both really are clinging onto each other in horrific circumstances, the real meat though is the relationship between Jamal and his brother Salim, the films most powerful and at times shocking moments come between the 2 at the 3 different stages of their lives.

    From a technical standpoint Boyle's direction is crisp and energetic, his shot selection always full of life and nothing ever falls into the dreary "point and shoot" category, he uses the cinematography to stunning effect, framing and shooting the despair of the slums with a savage beauty, in particular all the footage shot around the train sequence has a  magical quality.

    His greatest achievement though is the performances he has gotten out of his young actors, granted there are no Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver level performances here, but all are solid and bring enough to their roles to make you invest emotionally in what happens to them

    Slumdog Millionaire is a warm but at times harsh film, that has heart but never slides into mush despite it's somewhat fairytale central story, Boyle proves himself a great storyteller by crafting this simple coming of age/love story premise into a captivating and hopeful drama.

    Oh, and stick around for the end credits. ;)


    9/10

     

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