Archive for September, 2015

What is an authentic life?

Year Released : 201552_Tuesdays_poster
Director : Sophie Hyde
Cast : Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Del Herbert-Jane and Mario Späte

It’s not often that you see a trailer and it speaks to you on many levels, but that is what happened when I watched the trailer for the Australian drama “52 Tuesdays”, a story of a woman who tells her daughter that she intends on becoming male.

Despite being transgendered myself, I’ve rarely taken an interest in films about the subject as I don’t personally believe that there are two people anywhere in the world that are transgendered that have the exact same story, yet a lot of the films that I have seen prior to this seem to believe that all transgendered individuals have either exactly the same experience, or at least ones that are remarkably experience.

Don’t worry, I am not going to go into my own personal own transition, for those that are interested the full details are on my personal blog – FromTheMindOfKate

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how the female to male transition is portrayed (for those that don’t know, I write my intros before I actually watch the film) as I can’t think of any other films that I’ve seen where it portrays that transition, with others tending to focus on the male to female process.

But anyway, enough of my intro and onto the actual review….

Plot

Billie (Cobham-Hervey) comes home from school one day with her father on the promise of some groundbreaking news from her mother Jane (Herbert-Jane). When they arrive at Jane’s house, she has barricaded herself in the toilet, revealing herself a few minutes later with a bound chest and she tells Billie that she intends to change gender to male, changing her name to James.

To cope with the change, James has requested that Billie now live with her father, although she relents to seeing Billie every Tuesday. The relationship continues to be strong at first, but James’ transition inspires Billie to start inspiring her sexual boundaries and she starts recording videos about sex with Josh (Sam Althuisen) and Jasmine (Imogen Archer). Billie’s uncle Harry (Späte) soon finds out about her recording herself having sex with Josh and Jasmine, using it to his advantage.

James soon starts becoming ill from the hormone treatments and is forced to stop or face dying. This sends James into a depression and the relationship with Billie suffers, eventually driving the two apart and to the point where Billie no longer wants to see James, although will the revelations about Billie’s after school activities bring them back together?

52-Tuesdays-2

A good eye opener to the female to male process?

This is not only a great eye opener to the process women go through to become men, but 52 Tuesdays is the most genuine attempt at the subject of changing gender that I have seen in a movie. Whilst not fast paced or action packed, this is the most realistic representation of transgenderism that I have had the fortune to witness on screen.

Whilst other films that are heavily focused on transgendered characters, such as TransAmerica, there are none that present this level of realism and the scary first steps that it takes to actually become who you feel you should be. The main reason for this is the heartfelt dialogue that all of the characters share throughout the film, and not just in positive conversations, but also with questioning and negative comments.

Not all transgendered individuals know the answers to every single question they will be asked, no matter what any other film will tell you. There are plenty of examples within the lengthy run time of 110 minutes in which a character asks a question and James answers with a simple “don’t know” or a level of uncertainty that can be expected from someone who had only decided relatively recently to transition.

52-tuesdays

For example, there is a conversation in which James reveals to Billie that there is a possibility that he will lose his hair once the hormones take effect. Billie asks him if he would want that given that it be a masculine feature, and James doesn’t actually no, it’s not something he had considered. I loved that, it just shows that no matter how much you plan or how many things you consider, there’s always something new that surprises you and you’re not sure where to go with it.

The dialogue also tells you a lot about what you need to know the characters as despite various characters being outwardly fine with Jane becoming James, but they let it slip that they either aren’t comfortable with it, or are having difficulties adapting, ranging from the obvious signs to the subtle uses to the female gender pronouns when talking about him.

Whilst the acting is superb (more on that in a moment), the dialogue is easily the best aspect of the film and comfortably the most believable part. This helps build intricate relationships between all of the characters, and it even establishes engaging secondary characters, of which my favourite is Harry, played wonderfully by Mario Späte.

Späte, despite only playing a secondary character behind the main relationship between Billie and James, almost steals the show as Harry and this is because he is arguably given the most complex character to play. It’s almost like watching a conundrum as you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get, and that essence of unpredictability is brought to like by Späte, and despite having a cumulative screen time of less than 20 or so minutes, Späte easily steals the show for me.

wsJACQhlqrOprYUFG7v4JUlKKCE (1)

Don’t mistake that for the rest of the cast being awful, because they really aren’t, and Del Herbert-Jane captured the aura of a transgendered individual in a way like no other actor or actress in a film that I have ever seen. The determination, insecurities and devastation laid upon the character throughout the film’s run time is

I’ve mentioned the run time twice during this article already and at 110 minutes you would think that maybe the film drags, but it strangely doesn’t feel like it does. With a story divided into what is effectively 52 mini-chapters, it would be easy to make the film feel like it had odd pacing, felt rushed or unprepared, and the worst thing that they could have done was try and cram as much as they could into the run time, but there are some Tuesdays that are shown that are simply the two eating a meal, shown for 10 seconds and that’s it.

That realistic approach to time passage is something and the realisation that not every single scene has to have 10,000 things going on is that I’ve never seen in a film before. I say it’s realistic because not every meeting the two, especially during the times where there was a little tension, would be filled with anything other than the basics, so it almost says just enough of what it needs to say without feeling like it’s preaching. The scenes of narrative importance, such as when James reveals to Billie about her health problems, are spaced well enough apart to keep you interested, yet never feel like you’re being force fed information too often.

billie-tilda-cobham-hervey-and-james-del-herbert-jane-in-52-tuesdays-lst177621

Summary

One of the easiest approval stamps I’ve had to give for some time and this is because 52 Tuesdays is a film that captures the essence of transgenderism so well. It’s not the Hollywood style of “fuck you all, I’m going to be who I want to be!”, it’s a more heartfelt and genuine story about the difficulties of the early stages of transition, and I know from personal experience that changing gender is harder on an emotional level than many films give it credit for.approved

52 Tuesdays succeeds with a captivating performance from every member of the cast and the method of time passage means that despite a lengthy run time, you rarely feel like you’re struggling to keep interested.

Granted, this is a more special interest feature, but if you’re going to watch any films focusing on a transgendered character, I would definitely recommend this one.

Since you’re all going to be dead soon anyway, I should tell you. I hate every single one of you.

Year Released : 2014cooties-711x1024
Director : Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion
Cast : Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill and Jorge Garcia

The zombie franchise is one that has, no pun intended, died a very slow death in recent years due to a plethora of predictable and boring approaches to the subject matter. Ranging from the Paul Anderson’s horrible Resident Evil films, the bland final installments of George A Romero’s “of the Living Dead” series and countless found footage films, the genre really hasn’t been having a good run recently, and even the Brad Pitt hit “World War Z” has done little to improve the general perception of things.

Growing up I was a huge fan of the genre and have probably seen more than 100 films based on the zombie theme. Resident Evil is to this day the only film where I have ever listened to the director’s commentary, and I feel passionately that if done right, this is a great genre, hence why the first review I ever wrote on this site was for a zombie film, but the number of decent zombie movies never really increases by the years, with very few even making it into the high tolerability range.

So I wait here with anticipation to see if a cast of well known actors can pull off a decent horror flick…..I’m not going to hold my breath as I’ve seen plenty of films with decent casts be abysmal, but I suppose I should give it a chance.

Plot

Clint (Wood), a writer who has spent the last few years in New York, has returned to his home town of Fort Chicken to take up a teaching job whilst writing his next book. Within minutes of starting he has already alienated him from most of the staff, with the exception of Lucy (Pill), a childhood friend, who is genuinely pleased to see him.

Meanwhile, a student bites into a chicken nugget in the canteen and starts showing signs of illness. Clint walks into his first lesson with his new class and is immediately antagonised by Patriot (Cooper Roth). Patriot then turns his attentions to the girl who ate the chicken nugget after she starts breathing heavily, and she reacts by biting a huge chunk. After taking Patriot to the nurse, Clint and Lucy sit down for a meal in the staff room, completely unaware that the playground is full of children attacking each other and the few adults that remain. They do eventually realise what is happening when socially awkward teacher Doug (Whannel) comments.

The teachers all realise that they need to escape the school to survive, but they also stumble across some unaffected children that have seemingly started adolescence, and Doug theorises that the virus is only affecting those that have yet to go through puberty. With this and the knowledge that they can’t be turned, the teachers all try and break out, all the while watching helplessly as the children make short work of unsuspecting parents that are coming to pick them up.

stanley-film-festival-cooties-384798

Is it a decent zombie film or the typical nonsense?

There are a lot of parts about Cooties that I like, but there is also a bit that I dislike and therefore I am slightly torn over whether it was decent or not.

Let’s start with the positives and there is no better place to cement the foundations of the positive part of this review than talking about Elijah Wood. Wood’s portrayal as the neurotic main character is near perfect, it suits him right down to the ground and it was almost like he was born for this role. Wood has that great ability to portray a character who is very needy and self-absorbed, but is somehow still likable.

There is a scene right at the beginning where Clint is getting the children in his new class to read out the manuscript for his new book and it sums the character up perfectly. He is eagerly anticipating a positive review from the children and the level of excitement on his face is wonderfully caught by Wood, but deep down there is also the underlying sense of ego as he doesn’t realise it’s inappropriate to waste the lesson time with personal endeavors. There is literally no realisation in his face that what he is doing serves no-one but him.

He is just one of a wonderful cast of characters and Rainn Wilson is the standout performer after Wood. He plays Wade, a character that I’m not entirely sure I can sum up easily due to the complexity of his nature. The character develops so much during the film and is completely different by the end. You don’t really get characters that develop that much during a relatively short run time, although it does make the character seem a bit inconsistent at time.

There subtle jokes that the film pulls off are quite clever, such as Wade appearing to be your typical jock style teacher, only to turn out to be horrendously bad at basketball. In many ways it is not only amusing, but does add something to the character, i/e the bravado isn’t justified or backed up in any way whatsoever.

And finally on the positive side of things is something that you don’t see that often in zombie films, infact I can only think of two others with a similar trait, and that is that the zombies use tactics to get what they want. This adds a new element of danger to the film as you know that they’re not completely mindless, they are capable of killing people and the characters could die at any minute. That’s what I want in a horror film, I want to feel that characters could die at any minute, hence why I loved Lost After Dark. If I know which characters are going to survive within the first five minutes, what’s the point?

Mini Spoiler for You (go past the picture to avoid) : All of the main characters survive

24

All of that being said, there were a few things that left me slightly away from the “liking it” feel and the first of those was the very last scene. I’m not going to go too far into it because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but it is blatantly obvious that the filmmakers are leaving it wide open for a sequel, and sometimes it is just not needed. It’s perfectly possible to make a movie that doesn’t need a sequel and it still be a success.

For example, my Top 5 films of 2014 were (in order of 1-5) Nightcrawler, Wolf of Wall Street, Guardians of the Galaxy, Gone Girl and X Men DOFP, three of those will almost certainly never have a sequel, and they don’t need them. Not every film needs to be left open to the possibility of a sequel and sometimes laying that foundation if a sequel isn’t really justified. Because of the way it ended Cooties doesn’t really feel like a finished film and I was left largely unsatisfied with it, almost making the previous 80odd minutes that I had invested feel almost worthless.

Whilst I liked it on the whole and did find it relatively amusing, there were also a few jokes that were obvious nods to the previous work of some of the actors and they are delivered in a way that the watcher is meant to go “I see what you did there” and it feel completely natural, but it rarely works. The example in Cooties is when Wade calls Clint a hobbit, an obvious nod to Elijah Wood’s role as Frodo in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and the brief cameo at the beginning of The Hobbit). It’s a nod that just isn’t needed, it doesn’t add anything of substance to the film and is an obvious attempt at being funny….and unfortunately it just doesn’t work.

At times the story also feels like it is standing still and long segments pass where not a lot is actually happening other than the characters having a chat, and whilst this allows for good character development, the slow nature of the film meant that the second half of it’s near 90 minute run time felt almost like a slog towards the conclusion, and if anything the film was about 10 minutes too long.

CTS_007685.CR2

Summary

A fun zombie romp that quickly loses it’s mojo about half way through and limps towards an unnatural finish. The ending feels largely unnatural and disconnected in so many ways from the rest of the story. This causes many issues, not least of which is that the final 15 or so minutes feels like they’re setting up a sequel rather then concentrating on finishing off the film they currently have.

That being said, Cooties is one of the more original zombie films I’ve seen in a while and maybe it’s due to the antagonists being children, something which is very rare in comedy.

I’d say if you’re a fan of zombie movies then you’ll probably enjoy this quite a bit, but the ending felt almost unwarranted and for that I can’t give it the normal approved stamp.

Year Released : 2015Untitled
Director : Abe Rosenberg
Cast : Anna Cetti, Michel Chauvet, Mario Escalante and Juan Luis Tovar

So I’m now well and truly settled back into life at home following my holiday to Norway. I’ve spent most of my time since I returned at work, watching films at the cinema or working on a video for my Youtube channel of the aforementioned holiday (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ik6AAcpAN_0 for those that are interested), but then I decided that it was time to review a film.

I was browsing for something to review and I came across this, a 2015 horror about a group of paranormal investigators that go into an abandoned mental hospital to see if the rumours of ghosts are true. If that sounds familiar to you then there is a very good reason for that…..it’s not an original idea. It’s far from an original idea.

In the recent past there have been at least three films that I know of that follow the exact same plot (Grave Encounters and it’s sequel, as well as Hollows Grove). This film screams complete unoriginality before I’ve even started watching it and my expectations could not be lower if I tried.

Plot

I could be really lazy here and just put “See plot from Grave Encounters” but I figure I should actually put some minor effort in here, even if the writer didn’t.

Isa (Cetti), Diego (Chauvet), Mateo (Escalante) and Charly (Tovar) are friends that produce a show in which they go into abandoned buildings that are reported to be filled with paranormal activity. Their latest assignment sees them enter an abandoned mental health hospital, a building that was thriving just a few years earlier, before everyone just left for seemingly no reason.

The group are initially disappointed as none of their efforts are rewarded, that is until one of the devices designed to detect ghosts. They finally make content with a presence and whilst it happily admits to being evil, it almost concedes that it is not concerned with the group being in the building, but that’s not enough for Diego. Diego continues to pester the spirits and decides to go lower into the asylum whilst the others are waiting to go home.

The group goes back into the asylum to find Diego, but the ghosts have now decided that they are not going to let them leave.

10061504013230_1200X675

So, low expectations justified?

In some ways yes, and in others no.

Let’s start with the very basic thing and that is that the film reveals in the first three minutes that all of the characters die. Yep, all major tension has been taken out of the film within the first 180 seconds of footage. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not uncommon for all characters to die by the end of found footage style films, for example, by the end of the Grave Encounters films, only one character that enters the hospital survives, but the difference is that you aren’t told that none of the characters die within the first few moments.

For me this ruined any genuine sense of fear within the film as you know it’s coming, you’re just not entirely sure when, and in many ways I was genuinely surprised that it takes until the final 10 minutes of the 75 minute run time to actually see the spirits start to get violent, especially after Diego effectively pokes them with a stick.

The film has a very slow build, very slow indeed. The film may only be 75 minutes long but he feels considerably longer due to it’s slow build. In some places the build works very well, but the problem with a build is that if there isn’t really a lot happening on the screen, you really need to develop the characters and none of them really change in the slightest from when they walk in until they’re all killed off. With only four characters, you really can’t hold on for long.

screen-shot-2014-12-17-at-12-35-38

In terms of development, the closest thing they get is Diego becoming increasingly obsessed by finding the ghosts. They openly admit to not being bothered by the presence of the four main characters, and it takes Diego not leaving them alone for something to happen, and there is very little about the film that hints at even a vague reason why you should care about the characters.

That being said, there are actually some aspects of the film that I very much enjoyed, the first of which is that all of the effects are practical. I didn’t notice a single special effect in the entire film and this was so refreshing. The actual physical presence of the ghosts on screen only lasts for maybe ten seconds in the entire film, if that, and this adds a level of tension as you’re constantly expecting something to happen, and yet the fact nothing does actually seems to add something somehow.

There is one scene in particular near the end of the film that is insanely tense. The characters throughout the film are able to detect the presence of the ghosts by using a device that beeps when there is paranormal activity (hence why Diego is able to tell that the ghosts mean him no harm at first), and after running from one ghost, the characters are hiding in a pitch black cupboard and only have the light from the device to keep them company.

Tension grows naturally as you’re just sat staring at this five lights very gradually increase in brightness over the space of about a minute. It is the standout scene because it is so basic in nature, you can see literally nothing other than the slowly increasing brightness of the light and all you can hear is the panicked whimpers of the surviving characters, it is an excellent scene.

Ultimately it takes more than just one or two great standout scenes to make the film anything more than below-average and whilst it’s not as bad as I was predicted, and I did feel genuinely tense at times, it was just a bit boring for the majority of the film.

screen-shot-2014-12-17-at-12-37-15

 

Summary

I didn’t hate it as much as I anticipated that I would, but it still wasn’t a good film.

It tries hard on what I can imagine was an exceptionally limited budget and does relatively well for what is has to work with, but ultimately there just isn’t enough there to keep you interesting for more than 15 minutes, in other words 1/5 of the film’s run time.

Out of the found footage style films I’ve seen in recent years, it’s one of the better, but that’s not saying a lot.

Hello all

Today marks one year since I started this blog and I just wanted to take a quick moment to thank all of you for taking the time out of your lives to read my thoughts on films that you’ve probably never heard of.

The blog is steadily growing in hits and now averages the same amount of hits in one day that I used to average in a month, and I’m enjoying it more than ever.

I will be posting several more reviews in the near future, over recent weeks I’ve slacked a bit due to going on holiday and working near enough all of the time since I came back….that and working on the video of my holiday for my Youtube channel, which I will leave below.

So again, thank you for taking the time to read my reviews, it is very much appreciated and I sincerely hope to be sat here in another twelve months thanking you for my second full year.

Kate

I couldn’t remember a reason for living, and when I did it wasn’t convincing.

Year Released : 2015irrational-man-poster
Director : Woody Allen
Cast : Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone and Parker Posey

After returning from holiday and struggling to find the time to watch films at home, I have decided to do something that I have only done twice before and that is to review a film that is still out at the cinema. I had decided to go and watch Irrational Man when I got back from the aforementioned holiday, only to find when I got home that the cinema I work at was going to stop showing it after less than a week, six days to be more precise.

Based on this I had to go and watch it and due to the lack of people in the screen (I was one of five), the low amount of votes on IMDB and various other factors, I just had to review it.

Just to clarify, don’t expect me to review many films that are released at the cinema because it is part of my contract to not talk negatively about films that are being shown whilst at least one Odeon in the UK is showing it, and most films I watch these days that are of a smaller nature are very poor.

Plot

Everyone at a New England university is excited when it is confirmed that Abe Lucas (Phoenix), an acclaimed philosophy professor, will be joining the faculty. Lucas has a reputation for influential and brilliant behaviour, albeit with an exceptionally erratic side. When Abe arrives, everyone is surprised by his morbid outlook on life and his belief that everything is ultimately futile. Despite his unusual behaviour, Professor Rita Richards (Posey) falls for him and the two start an affair.

Lucas is quickly impressed by the unusual thinking of Jill (Stone), a student in one of his classes. The two become friends and she invites him to a party, at which he decides to show a group of students the structure of chance by doing a one-man game of Russian Roulette. Whilst dining out with Jill, the two overhear a conversation between a woman and her friends in which she is reflecting on the realistic chance of losing her kids just to the judge in her custody case being friends with her ex-husband, and how he is constantly encouraging her to make costly appeals, only to reject them. Abe decides that this is the turning point in his life and decides to kill the judge.

Abe steals cyanide from the university’s labs and successfully switches out the judge’s drink, and he dies quickly. Weeks follow and the police struggle to nail down any leads due to there being no obvious connections between Abe and the judge, but Rita comes up with a theory that Abe did indeed kill the judge and that he was the only one capable of doing so. Jill initially dismisses the theory, but then as evidence comes to light she realises that it all makes sense, and she decides to confront Abe, but how will he react?

irrationalman12

So was it worth more than a 6 day run at the cinema?

Yes, definitely so. It’s remarkably fresh and unique to anything that I have seen in the recent past on screen, and I just didn’t see the ending coming at all.

The pacing of the film is perfect and it’s a very well executed slow build. At not one point was there a seeming deus-ex machina, everything seemed natural and free flowing, and even the convenience of overhearing the conversation that would eventually lead to the judge’s death doesn’t feel like it’s been shoved in there to give Abe meaning.

I didn’t know what to expect going into the screen as I have never seen a Woody Allen film and I feel that this is the best formula for going to watch a film at the cinema. I went to watch “Legend” before going on holiday and didn’t particularly enjoy it, probably because I went in with expectations too high, but because my expectation levels were non-existent going to “Irrational Man”, it meant that I could just sit back and enjoy the film, and that I did.

It spoke to me on so many different levels and at many times felt like a reflection of my life. I feel nihilistic on a regular basis and feel a great sense of futility when it comes to existence, but then the next day I can be one of the happiest people that you could ever meet, and in that way I related to the character of Abe on a personal level. Abe even reflects that it must be wonderful to be religious because at least you have some reason for believing that your life actually means something for longer than just the tiniest of tiny percentages of eternity. For me that is a perfect summary of why some people turn to religion and in many ways I do envy those that choose that path.

irrational-man-trailer

As I mentioned above, I connected with the character of Abe on a personal level and it’s the first time in a long time that I’ve been able to say that, and part of the reason for this connection was the near perfect portrayal by Phoenix, the standout member of the cast.

It occurred to me midway through the film that this is only the second time I’ve ever watched a film starring Joaquin Phoenix at the cinema (the other being Gladiator) and there are many reasons for this, mainly because his self-imposed exile from Hollywood, and his preference for independent films, which this very much falls in the category of. The character of Abe is both wonderfully simplistic and unbelievably complex, and without giving away too much at the end.

The scene in which he kills the judge is done perfectly as you never actually see the judge drink the poisoned orange juice, your attention is focused on the reactions of Abe as he looks excited, in disbelief that he has actually done it and terrified at the same time. The confliction on his face is wonderfully reflective of the nature of the crime.

Emma Stone is also wonderful as Jill and she shows a great range of emotions in the scene in which she confronts Abe about the killing the judge. She perfectly captures the look of someone who is trying to forgive something that she loves for doing something unimaginable, and it’s yet another example of why Stone is becoming one of Hollywood’s most popular actresses.

However, despite all of the above, the thing that won me completely over and turned it from a film that I saw as pretty good into an excellent movie is the ending. Obviously I’m not going to reveal what the ending is but it took me completely by surprise, and rather unusually, despite coming out of nowhere it felt natural. It’s a very natural conclusion and one that you feel is perfect for the story. Normally if an ending comes out of nowhere, not having previously been hinted at, I will rant and rave about it, but not in this case. It made a pretty good film very memorable.

My only criticism of the film is the exceptionally poorly written character of Roy. Roy is Jill’s boyfriend at the beginning of the film and whilst he is barely in the film (which makes the choice to include Jamie Blackley as a main star of the film a bit bizarre), he is exactly the same in every scene. He is just horrendously one dimensional and there was no real need for him to be in the film at all.

maxresdefault

Summary

Not only did I love this film, it is a contender for my “Top 10” films of the year that will be coming out in December.

I loved pretty much everything about this film and no-one gives a poor performance. It is sapprovedlightly unusual that Jamie Blackley is advertised as one of the four main stars and yet he is barely on screen, but other than that I can’t think of a flaw with the film and it is wonderfully made.

If you ever get the chance to watch it then I would seriously recommend it.

 

Tread softly because you tread on our dreams

Year Released : 2014set-fire-to-the-stars-2014-movie-poster
Director : Jason Strouse
Cast : Elijah Wood, Celyn Jones and Steven Mackintosh

A few months ago I saw a trailer for “Set Fire to the Stars” and whilst it didn’t look like it would be a classic, it still intrigued me, so when I got the unexpected opportunity to watch it whilst on holiday in Norway (I’m still in Norway at the time of writing, awaiting my flight from Oslo to Tromso), I had to jump on it.

I had no idea what to expect heading into the film as I knew nothing of the subject matter and poetry is something that simply doesn’t interest me. In that sense I get the feeling that this film will not be a hit with those who weren’t alive during the time period, or indeed people who aren’t interested in poetry.

This feels very much like a passion project and those can end to be the type of film I hate, pretentious nonsense that alienates itself from the mainstream. We’ll see.

Plot

John Brinnin (Wood), a professor in poetry, has invited the acclaimed poet Dylan Thomas (Jones) to America for a spoken tour. Whilst everyone is excited, they are also very cautious as Thomas has a reputation for being awkward and hell-raising.

John’s initial hero worship disappears almost as quickly as Dylan downs his first drink, and he soon realises that reputations are sometimes deserved. After being thrown out of their hotel because of Dylan’s raucous behaviour, and Dylan offending the heads of Yale University with crude limericks. Despite the tour going well, John decides that it’s time to take Dylan out of New York as it’s having a negative effect on his well being.

Dylan meanwhile is actively trying to ignore a letter from his wife and this doesn’t help with the situation. Meanwhile, John is coming under increasing pressure from his boss (Mackintosh) and this leads to an even more frail relationship between him and Dylan.

setfire

Poetic or Pretentious?

I would say it very much falls in the pretentious category here as it approaches it’s presentation as if everyone who watches the film knows who Dylan Thomas was in advance. The film takes place in 1950, a full 34 years before I was born and in the 31 years since, I had never heard of Dylan Thomas before this film, and yet the film just seems to jump in with the expectation that it’s audience are only watching because they know who he is.

Right from that expectation they have almost alienated a lot of the potential audience as some of the most popular films based on either real people or previously established canon (such as the Marvel Universe) don’t assume that those watching the films know anything about the characters going into it. For example, the film “Bronson” brings you right into the world of the life of Charles Bronson, and it doesn’t just make that assumption that you already know who he is, and this allows more freedom to tell the story of him, whereas in “Set Fire to the Stars”, you are just told that this poet was critically acclaimed and you have to take their word for it.

That being said, the character of Dylan Thomas is so wonderfully multi-dimensional and arguably the least predictable protagonist that I have reviewed so far on this site. You never know what you’re going to get with him as one minute he is being socially awkward, then moving onto outright paranoia and then anger. Celyn Jones has captured the performances of a social pariah perfectly, and gets of a trouble genius perfect.

The strangest thing about the character of Dylan Thomas is that looking at the picture of the man in real life, he looks more like Elijah Wood than Celyn Jones.

image

Realistically the only thing that I didn’t like about the film is the pretentious nature with which they present Dylan Thomas. Visually it is unique, with large set pieces and this is accompanied by a soundtrack that is used effectively, yet is very chaotic at times, seemingly like Thomas himself. Again, I had never heard of the man before this film but if he was anything like how the film presents him then he was a pain in the arse.

Right from the off you are bombarded with loud and unforgiving jazz music. The soundtrack to “Set Fire to the Stars” is fantastic and the opening montage of Elijah Wood’s character frantically trying to remember the running order of the tour, accompanied by the chaotic jazz, is just wonderful. It enlightens all of the senses and brings you into the world.

The film ends with all of the characters in the film reading out a poem, a line or two each, and it’s beautifully done and rounds off a film that whilst never being fully entertaining, is almost perfect in terms of style and presentation.

Watch Elijah Wood in this trailer for Set Fire to the Stars - video

Summary

“Set Fire to the Stars” is probably the closest that I will ever come to giving a film the approval stamp without actually doing it. Whilst generally well executed, the pretentious nature of it lost me somewhat and because of this is became somewhat less enjoyable.

That being said, if you can get past the pretentious overtones then you’ll probably enjoy the film. The cast, especially Celyn Jones, all do a masterclass in character portrayal. However, it takes more than great acting to make a good film.

If you’re a fan of Dylan Thomas’ work then I think you’ll love this film. If you’re not a fan however, Iget the feeling that you will struggle to find any true meaning or feeling with film, and whilst it is largely enjoyable, I can’t give it the approval stamp for this reason.

Very recently I started thinking about some actors that I consider to be under-rated and underutilised. Whilst some actors seem to go years and years without a decent performance and still get roles in big films, it started frustrating me that there are some amazing actors out that that usually play second fiddle in the movies that they are in, even if they happen to be the best thing about said film.

So I decided to compile a list of my favourite actors that I believe fall into this category. It was originally going to be a list of five but I really struggled to think of a fifth and so have stuck to a list of four actors. The reason that I decided not to have five is because if I can only think of four, even after looking at a list of a supposedly underrated actors on the internet, is that anything other than the four I have selected would be nothing more than filler.

I have previously written a few lists, namely my Top 20 films list, where I didn’t actually have a Top 20 and so at least two or three of the films on there were filler, and it felt like I was wasting my time trying to praise films that I liked, but not even to put them onto a list of my favourite films.

So anyway, here is my list of three actors that I think deserve more spotlight due to their performances in previous films.

 

Rodrigo Santororodrigo-santoro_PG

Best Known For : 300, Che, I Love You Phillip Morris, Focus and Love Actually

I first became aware of Santoro in his ill-fated stint as Paulo in the hit TV show “Lost”. His spell on that show was not deemed successful through no fault of his own as Santoro and Kiele Sanchez portrayed characters that the fans not only didn’t welcome with open arms, but widely shunned entirely. There were many reasons for this, with the main one being that it was obvious that the writers were trying to simply force new major characters on us as if they should have been there from the beginning and are apparently major parts of the camp of survivors, even though they’d never been seen before. The pair were quickly killed off but brought Santoro to a much wider audience outside of his native Brazil.

Santoro had had previous success with films such as Love Actually and Charlies Angels 2, neither of which I have seen for the record, but his arguable big break came when he portrayed Xerxes in 300. 300 was a breakout film for most of the actors involved (and Santoro isn’t the only actor from that film in this list) and it propelled cast members such as Gerard Butler from obscurity into the mainstream. Since then Santoro has accepted mainly secondary roles in many films, including a charming portrayal of Jim Carrey’s AIDs infected former lover in “I Love You Phillip Morris”, a corrupt race car owner in Focus and an upcoming role in “The 33”, a story about the Chilean miners that were trapped underground in 2010.

There is something uniquely intriguing about this Brazilian actor and the reason I rate him so highly is that whenever I see his name in the opening credits, especially if I didn’t know that he was in the film before hand, I get a sense of excitement as he could be playing any type of character. He is incredibly versitile, and also so incredibly convincing in in.

I’ve been re-watching “Focus” recently, which is probably going to be top of my rankings of mainstream films at the end of the year, and in that he plays a relatively small part, but the part is so diverse because it shows so many different dimensions to the same person. The character’s screen time across the film is probably only ten minutes in total, but it is such a wonderfully diverse role. When we first see his character, he is exceptionally chilled out and laid back, before then moving onto over-confident and arrogant, right through to threatening in the final scenes. He is probably the closest thing that “Focus” has for a main antagonist, and his performance may not be lengthy, but it is excellently executed and that is why I love watching Santoro.

 

 

 

Vince Regan31328-27476

Best Known For : 300, Troy and Clash of the Titans

Need an actor who can play great secondary characters in films based on Greek myth and legend? Vince Regan is your guy. Regan hasn’t appeared in many mainstream films outside of his own personal Greek trilogy, and the only other time I have seen him is as the main antagonist in Guy Pearce’s Lockdown, but he wasn’t best suited for that role as it didn’t play to his strengths.

Vince is very much suited to the role of a middle-aged man in some sort of authority. For example, he was second in command of the Myrmidons in “Troy”, the captain in command of Leonida’s “personal escort” in “300” and although a considerably smaller role, he was promoted to the role of King in the CGI-fest that was “Clash of the Titans”.  However, without having seen him in any films other than the four I’ve mentioned in this little section, I really feel the need to watch some more of what he as been in because I am convinced that he would give a rousing performance.

My reason for thinking this is based on one scene in particular in “300”. Regan’s performance in 300 as Artemis is a fine example of this actor’s capabilities to make you feel a variety of different emotions in such a short space of time. One scene in particular sees the character’s son killed and within seconds he goes from a proud father through to anguish, all via a furious volley of anger towards those that has just killed off someone who he had previously described as replaceable.

 

 

Ben Foster16601922-16601925-large

Best Known For : 30 Days of Night, X-Men 3, 3:10 to Yuma and Pandorum

Ben Foster may not be a name that you’ll recognise, but he is certainly an actor that you remember when you’ve watched him in a main role within a film. He first arguably came to mainstream attention in X-Men 3, playing arguably his least interesting character, but since then he has portrayed a varied array of characters, but all have a certain level of mystery and intensity to them that makes Foster an incredible actor to watch.

He played a man who wants to be a vampire in “30 Days of Night”, an abandoned astronaut in “Pandorum” and a practically insane man in desperate search for his brother in the marvelous “Alpha Dog”. What you get with Foster is a guaranteed immersion into characters that are vulnerable and often bordering on sociopathic.

The aforementioned performance in “Alpha Dog” resulted in one of the best telephone conversions in movie history as his character threatens the man he believes has kidnapped his brother. Foster is both sympathetic and overwhelmingly menacing in the scene, and the best part about it is that you forget that his character is the protagonist in the conversation. His anger is justified and delivered in such an intense way that even now, 2 years after I last watched the film, that call is still fixed in my memory as one of those scenes where you get genuine goosebumps from the performance.

 

 

Mads Mikkelsenimages

Known For : The Hunt, Valhalla Rising, Casino Royale and Clash of the Titans

My final actor in that list is one who I believe is the best actor out of the four, and that is by no means meant with any disrespect to the other three, however, I am convinced that Mads Mikkelsen is a man that is destined for much bigger and better things than what he has previously been in.

Let’s start with some Oscar worthy performances in films such as The Hunt. The Hunt is a film that I couldn’t laud more about if I wanted to. Mikkelsen is just divine as in an emotionally charged film that it’s almost impossible not to have an opinion about once you’ve seen it. The Hunt is a marvelous work of cinema and one of the main reasons for that is Mikkelsen’s engaging and engrossing performance as Lucas.

Mikkelsen has found limited main stream success already, with roles as a general in “Clash of the Titans” and the villain in Craig Daniel’s first out as Bond in “Casino Royale”, but he has also experienced some success on the small screen as he took up the mantle of Hannibal Lecter. Mikkelsen, whilst highly capable of playing protagonists, is scintillatingly captivating as an antagonist. One of the main reasons is that he can perfectly capture that “moody prick” aspect of a character so well, such as his aforementioned role as the general in “Clash of the Titans”, a role in which his character refuses to show any positive emotions until he has effectively given two fingers to the Gods.

I’m not sure Mikkelsen is even capable of putting in a bad performance and you will see from the below clip just how brilliant and praise-worthy he is. For some context, Mikkelsen’s character has been accused of sexually abusing the daughter of his best friend (the man he starts attacking in the scene). Seriously, watch The Hunt, it is one of the most powerful films that I have ever seen and whilst I love that is was nominated for “Best Foreign Film” at the Oscars a few years ago, it should have been nominated for the top prize of “Best Film”, it’s that good.

After a few days spent away from my laptop, which was very welcome, I came back to what could best be described as someone who wasn’t very happy that I gave a bad review to Teacher of the Year. This person called my review infantile and needless, and he then followed it up a few days later (this morning to be more precise) with another comment asking why I had deleted his comment (well he didn’t actually ask, he just assumed I had and decided to post an immature response.

Here is my response.

Well first of all, comments on here aren’t set to automatically post, they go into my approval folder and they stay there until I do whatever I choose to do with them. So I never deleted your comment because I didn’t even see it until earlier today. I think in my time running this site I have only deleted four comments and two of them were spam.

But anyway, there are several reasons that I won’t apologise for having an opinion on a film and that is because films are there to be judged. Whether you are reviewing a film or simply watching one on TV, you are reviewing it one way or another because if you don’t like it, you’ll stop watching it. You are there to enjoy a story being told and for me, as I state in the review, they got numerous aspects of the story wrong, even down to the more interesting story being relegated to a subplot to facilitate a decision that the main character has to make.

There were numerous other aspects about the film that I didn’t like, such as the lazy humour that comes in naming one of your characters “Douche”. Spin that anyway you want but that is an attempt at a cheap laugh if ever I heard one. Then there was the careless nature of how they showed a student typing away as if his life depended on it, almost as if he was writing an essay, when his computer is quick clearly on the Windows log in screen. Those are just two examples of things that I didn’t like and I could go on, but you could just easily read the review.

At the time of writing “Teacher of the Year” has an average score of 5.4 from 678 reviews on IMDB, 44 of which are zero votes, 35 for 1/10 and a further 38 who only gave it a two, so those that think the film is not very good are actually quite numerable by comparison. The very fact that the majority think it’s average, at best, should tell you something.

Now the thing was that I didn’t even hate the film. If I hate a film I really go to school on it. If you want to see what it actually looks like when I do hate a film, here are a few reviews that show what I can be like when I hate a film;

Now don’t get me wrong, there are far, far, far worse films out there than “Teacher of the Year”, but there are also films that are so much better, and I’m not just talking about big films, I’m talking about smaller films. Although I haven’t ranked the films I’ve reviewed on this site, if I was to rank them from 1 to what I believe is around 115 reviews (give or take), Teacher of the Year would definitely be around the 100 region.

My recent reviews for films such as “Lost After Dark” and “Extinction” were favourable because they deserved to be given a favourable review. I will happily admit when a film is good if it is worthy of it, and in my opinion “Teacher of the Year” was not. But do you notice what the key word in that sentence is? It’s the word opinion. Yes, I know it’s unusual to see someone on the internet that is willing to say that what they are saying might not be fact,

For the benefit of the doubt, here is the dictionary definition of the word opinion : a view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. It’s like religion, anyone with religious views is of the opinion that their God/Gods/Prophets/etc are real and do, or at least have at some point, existed, but it’s not a fact. Just for the benefit of doubt, the definition of fact is a thing that is known or proved to be true. Please note that this is not a dig at religious people and is no way meant to be insulting, I am just using it as an example.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that don’t get annoyed simply because someone doesn’t like a film that you do. There are probably plenty of films that you love that I hate, but I would let you have your opinion and just leave it there, I wouldn’t consistently hound you because your opinion was different to mine.

I’m not going to say a film was good if I simply don’t think it was. I’m not here to fill anyone’s ego. I do this in my spare time because I enjoy writing about films and I choose to write about smaller films because it helps get attention to films that actually deserve it….if they actually deserve it. I’m pretty certain the director doesn’t even give a crap if someone doesn’t like his film. He has made his vision and you know what I will give credit to any director and/or writer that creates their vision. They have the time and patience that I don’t have to make a film and if I was wearing a hat, I would doth it to them.

 

Calling someone infantile for writing a review that doesn’t pander to your wish of your friend getting a bit of praise, and then following that up with a message whining like a child, is a beyond immature. I am happy to receive criticism when it is justified, or constructive. However, the main problem I have with your criticism was that you didn’t point out a single example of where I was being supposedly infantile in the review. You just launch into a personal attack (twice) without backing it up with facts, and that is why I have now moved your comments to the trash. There is no need for a personal attack on someone that had done nothing to you other than not like your friend’s film.

Everyone has different opinions on films, but the difference is that I respect that someone else’s opinion is different to mine and I don’t start hounding them with a response that a five year old would be embarrassed by. Then again, I did comment in my review that only five year olds would enjoy the type of humour that is attempted to be forced by calling your character a silly name.

Anyway, I’m going to leave this here as I am going on holiday in a few days and have another “Keeping it Reel” that I want to finish before I go.

Kate

I love my job…..not every day of course!

Year Released : 2015teacher-of-the-year
Director : Jason Strouse
Cast : Matt Letscher, Keegan-Michael Key, Sunny Mabrey, Larry Campbell, Jame Kaler, Jason Sklar, Randy Sklar, Chris Conner, Tamlyn Tomita and Brenda Strong

In recent months I have become a fan of Parks and Recreation, a comedy very much in the style of The Office and it is the first TV show in a long time that has actually made me laugh, so any film that I see that is made of a similar style automatically has my attention.

So whilst browsing trailers online a few weeks back, I found one for this mockumentary set in a school and although it looked a bit desperate in it’s attempts to make you laugh, I figured I would give it a chance. My enthusiasm wasn’t particularly overwhelming and so I am heading into the film with a low level of expectation.

Hopefully I’ll be surprised but I somehow doubt it.

Plot

Mitch Carter (Letscher) has recently won the award for Californian Teacher of the Year and his colleagues (well, most of them) couldn’t be happier for him. Carter himself is more humble about the award and still focuses on the students and their education, even if the students aren’t that concerned themselves.

Carter soon receives an offer for a new role that is almost double what he currently gets paid and would allow him to help more students than he could imagine, but with his life firmly settled in California, would he be prepared to uproot his family for it, and more importantly could he give up something he loves?

Meanwhile, controversy hits the school when Brian (Conner) is accused of sexually assaulting one of the students. The school reacts by immediately sacking Brian, even though there is no proof to back up the allegations against him, and he enlists the help of Mitch in the mediation process.

Untitled

So was it as unfunny as I was expecting it to be?

I think that like most comedy, there is definitely an audience for what they’re trying to employ in this mockumentary, but for me I found the comedy, if indeed you can call it that, desperate. The jokes try and get you with a variety of different approaches, none of which are actually deserving of a laugh. For me it fails on the most fundamental level and it just became a joke. The most laughable part about this film is that someone, somewhere, thought it would be a good idea to make this.

I’ll start with some of the more basic examples of the primitive comedy that they try and employee and something that I would only expect a five year old to find funny. The principle’s surname is Douche….see, I’ve lost you right there haven’t I? Well he pronounces it as DOW-SHAY, but everyone else says it like you would expect, and it’s done in a way that is designed to make you laugh, but it fails miserably.

It’s almost the comedy equivalent of trying to get someone to laugh by having an obese character bend over and fart. It’s just not funny once you’re old enough to go to school, and as a 30 year old I found absolutely no humour in it whatsoever.

Untitled

Arguably the worst users of this type of comedy are the characters portrayed by the Sklar brothers (I’m assuming they’re brothers anyway). Whilst the characters are probably written to be cringeworthy, the acting by the Sklar brothers is so bad that their attempts at being funny have the exact opposite effect. Every time they were on screen, I wanted them off screen as soon as possible and they serve pretty much no purpose to the story.

Their performances get so bad that they end up talking over each other on a regular basis. What should be a very fluid relationship between people who’ve known each other for their entire lives only ends up feeling like two random strangers that happen to look alike have been put in a room together. Out of the many flaws that this film has, having not only the characters, but having them played by two unfunny people that can’t act is one of the worst.

There are more unusual approaches to trying to make people laugh, such as one scene which involves all of the teachers doing parent-teacher meetings and one doesn’t go according to plan. The student is hispanic and he is translating for his mother, who doesn’t speak English, and he translate something to “Mr Carter, my mother constantly accuses me lying because I do my homework and she can’t check because she doesn’t speak English!” That is probably the closest I came to laugh, and even then I didn’t get even the slightest tickle.

In many ways I think that some of the better bits of the movie are the bits that aren’t trying to be funny, such as when one teacher is teaching the kids about the American Civil War. The kids aren’t listening to him and in his pleas he begs them to listen, even though they will never need to know that information again. In many ways this is very reflective of real life as most of what you learn in school isn’t relevant in real life whatsoever.

I think one of the main problems is that they also try to be too clever for their own good and because they’re concentrating on that, they make such basic mistakes. One such example comes within the first few minutes when they’re talking about the school and they show a student typing as if his life depended on it…..but you can see that he’s only on the Windows log in screen and the keystrokes don’t even add anything to the length of the password on the screen. If that student is actually typing something, it’s on a keyboard that’s connected to a computer that’s not right in front of him.

For what it is also worth, they got the main plot point wrong in my opinion, whilst I’m going to cover it more in my next paragraph with why Mitch is a poor lead character, the storyline about the accused sexual assault has far more potential to be interesting than whether a teacher is going to take a new job. Chris Conner is one of the very few that puts in a likable performance in the film and yet he, and the better story point, are relegated to second fiddle to a bunch of lifeless characters.

For me the biggest crime is that the characters just aren’t that interesting and whilst some are a realistic reflection on teaching, you just have no desire whatsoever to connect with these characters on any level whatsoever. The character of Mitch for example, the closest thing that the film has to a main character, is just bland and uninteresting. Letscher plays the character with no enthusiasm behind it and it shows in a lethargic performance of a character that isn’t that enjoyable to watch to begin with.

For every positive that I could potentially think of for this film, there are so many more than negatives that it would just feel almost pointless talking about them. The fact that it lasts barely over 70 minutes and that still felt like far too long is a true indication of just what this film is like.

Untitled2

Summary

A comedy that tries too hard to be funny is never a good thing. Comedy is arguably the hardest genre to get right because everyone has a different sense of humour and because I am older than five years old, I didn’t find the jokes in this film to be funny enough to warrant laughter.

The story itself isn’t particularly interesting or noteworthy, and the same can be said for pretty much the entire cast of characters. It would have been more interesting if the subplot of a teacher getting accused of sexually assaulting a child was actually the main story, and Mitch’s decision over whether to take a new job was relegated to it’s spot, but it’s not and that is one of a plethora of problems wrong with a film that feels lost in itself.

It’s just an ultimate nothing film.