Rather oddly after a year of watching maybe three films a week, five of the best mov10ies I have seen all year hit the screen all in the space of one month (November and December). All are still doing the cinema circuit, exciting as three of them were directed by Londoners. This might be a first.
Directed by and starring the under rated Ben Affleck, this is based on a completely incredible but true story of the half dozen US Embassy staff stuck in Iran in 1979 after the fall of the Shah. Affleck stars as real life CIA operative Tony Mendez, burdened with the task of rescuing the stranded, he enlists the help of Lester Siegel, an ageing old school Hollywood film producer, beautifully realized by Alan Arkin, and legendary special effects/make up supremo John Chambers (John Goodman). Together they come up with a madcap scheme to create a ‘fake’ movie to be shot in Iran as a cover to liberate the Americans. Gut bustlingly funny, it is a film that doesn’t let up for a jot as time ticks away for the staff who, if caught, are more likely to be shot than held hostage. An essential watch.
Carnage, directed by the great Roman Polanski takes place in one room, fields just 4 actors and serves as a lesson to us all; humongous special effects, sizzling action scenes and pumped up storyline do not necessarily make a good film. The follows the basic premise of 2 couples, The Longstreets and The Cowans, meeting to talk over a playground dispute that resulted in the latter’s 11 year old whacking the former’s offspring with a stick and knocking his tooth out. A thin lipped up tight Jodie Foster is on top form as Penelope Longstreet while John C Reilly is just too good as her hub cap Mike, a decidedly down market toilet salesman. Kate Winslett as the posh City Trader Nancy Cowan has never been better aided and abetted by the utterly brilliant, Christopher Waltz as her Crackberry bound lawyer husband Alan. Based on the Yesmani Reza play, the reason this works is that it is all just too cringingly familiar.
The Dark Knight Rises
I’m not the biggest fan director Christopher Nolan, but I will say that the Dark Knight triptych that he started with, Batman Begins (2005) and continued with The Dark Knight (2008) has grabbed me somewhat and this, the final installment is my favourite of all three. Indeed, we’ve seen how Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), the eccentric billionaire and neurotic loner transformed into Batman which, as in all the best super hero comics, actually makes sense. We’ve seen that Batman is purely a supremely well trained fighting machine aided by a bunch of high tech gizmos, such as the Bat-Pod that looks like a motorbike crossed with an Art Nouveau stick insect. That said, for this outing none of the aforementioned stops him from getting a proper pasting from his latest and most rambunctious nasty and capable nemeses, Bane (Tom Hardy) who, as we are told, ‘ was raised in Hell on Earth ’; but judging by outfit seems more like he grew up in a Judas Priest fan club. Said beating only serves to humanize the super hero and make for a better flick.It was not all hindered by the gorgeous Anne Hathaway as the leather clad Cat Woman, naive rookie cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon- Levitt) tearful butler Alfred (Michael Caine) or the gorgeous philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) all of whom stepped up to Bat rather nicely. A darkly entertaining oeuvre that, both stylish and epic, fairly steams along via the sheer scope of Nolan's vision.
End of Watch
I was really surprised that more people were not ‘talking loud and saying a lot’ about this quite superb film. Directed and written by Training Day writer David Ayers a native of South Central, LA, it tells of two cops, white Officer Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has embarked on an incessant video diary, and his Hispanic partner Officer Zavala (Michael Peña). Much of the film takes place in the police car as the pair drive around East LA, relentlessly ribbing each other while much of the rest of the action is seen through hand-held HD cameras operated by police, gang members, and CCTV. The rather likeable pair haplessly stumble across a traffic violation and a chunk of drug money that makes them targets for a local gang and further rub a major Mexican drug cartel up the wrong way until the writing is very much all over the wall. In truth, a thoroughly excellent film that, not only acquaints the viewer with the job of policing LA for which an early death is an occupational hazard, but offers insight into the minds of those doing so. Gyllenhaal and Peña spent five months traveling alongside real life LA cops to get the feel and their diligence pays off massively. This is a shockingly well-crafted film.
I cannot recommend this enough. I walked in to the screening knowing only that the director, award winning playwright Martin McDonagh had written and directed the amazing In Bruges, and that the ensemble cast included Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson Colin Farrell and Abbie Cornish with cameos from Tom Waits, Michael Pitt and Harry Dean Stanton. I’d also heard that the plot involved a dog stealing caper, a screenwriter, a canine loving psychopathic mobster and a serial killer who only kills serial killers. Scant information it might have been, but I will admit that the only time I have laughed out loud so often in a screening was Sightseers, and that being so uninformed served only to enhance this remarkable film. I admit, I’ve actually paid to see it again.
I’d seen director Ben Wheatley’s short films such as Cunning Stunt, that when posted on the Internet attracted millions of hits. I’d admired his work directing the BBC 3’s, The Wrong Door and Channel 4’s, Modern Toss (created by 2 of my Loaded colleagues from the nineties) and loved his first feature, Down Terrace, that he shot over 8 days on a budget smaller than an annual phone bill. Subsequently, I was more than impressed with his second movie, Kill List (hailed as the best Brit horror of the century) but nothing could have prepared me for the utterly brilliant, Sightseers. Universally considered as one of the finest British films in decades (and most definitely the best of 2012) it tells of a bearded ginger uber nerd Chris (Steve Oram) who takes his ‘girlfriend’ Tina (Alice Lowe) on a romantic once-in-a-lifetime caravan tour of the UK, to such ‘awesome’ delights as The Crich Tramway Museum, the Ribblehead Viaduct, the Keswick Pencil Museum in his adored Abbey Oxford Caravan. Of course all goes rather skewiff, resulting in a macabre and violent black comedy that’s a mix between Mike Leigh’s, Nuts in May and Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. This is UK film making at its best. Astonishing.
A supremely adult film, ‘The Descendants’ is directed by the formidable Alexander Payne whose former triumphs include About Schmidt and Sideways. George Clooney plays Matt King, a busy, wealthy lawyer who, descended from the Queen of Hawaii is the trustee of a big chunk of prime real estate. But all is not going well. His thrill seeking wife is in a never-ending coma and he has to pull the plug, his 17-year-old daughter Alexandra, (a great debut from Shailene Woodley) is an accident waiting to happen while his other daughter, the nutty ten-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) is well on her way to reform school. Forced to deal with the tragedy, he also finds that he doesn’t know his kids, hasn’t a clue what to so with them. To make matters worse discovers his wife was having an affair. Brilliantly scripted and amazingly well acted (there’s a cracking turn from newcomer Sid Krause as Alexandra’s teenage stoner ‘friend’ Sid), this film is more than the sum of its constituent parts and as a reflection of life values, family and honor it is not only thoroughly unimpeachable but downright hilarious. As Clooney described it ‘It’s coming of age tale for a fifty year old man.”
Purely not just an astounding technical feat that massively overshadows director Peter Jackson’s Lord of The rings Trilogy but a swashbuckling, sword fighting, heroic old yarn. I sat through this for almost two and three quarters hours and the fiercest critic of any film, my rear end, did not ache once. Of course much relies on the outstanding effects but also on the casting. Martin Freeman is unimpeachable as Bilbo Baggins while Ian McKellen again excels as Gandalf the wizard, so much so that it is now hard to mention the name without thinking of his face; and then there’s the supporting cast. The 13 dwarves who have lost their ancient homelands and strive to regain it, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Richard Armitage et al, and the CGI trolls, orcs, mutant wolves and monsters who are at times are as real as the actors. Some reviewers have groaned about the film being over long land the fact that even at the end of this film we are still only 100 pages into Tolkien’s book, but that mattered not one iota to yours truly .I couldn’t get past chapter one of The Hobbit (maybe I should have smoked more dope) and never will. Call me a Philistine if you will, but this movie will do for me.
The Queen of Versailles.
Often a great documentary not only hits the nail on the head but also often leaves a chap thinking why did the subjects’ allow themselves to be filmed. Indeed, often such people live in their self made semi diaphanous bubble that they choose not to see through and this has never been truer than the subjects of Lauren Greenfield’s documentary, the wealthy and politically influential David Siegel and his beauty queen trophy wife, Jackie. Siegel ran the hugely successful Westgate Resorts time-share business that netted billions but hit rock bottom after the US sub-prime mortgage collapse. The film follows this eccentric billionaires and his alternately appealing and appalling wife through the onset of the recession and the building of their dream castle in Florida, which, based on the palace she’d seen while on holiday in Paris, (i.e. Versailles), was to have been the largest home in the United States. A parable for the twenty-first century, The Queen of Versailles, begins as an amiable description of two disgustingly rich nutters and then morphs into a pointed examination of the grasping real estate economy and the ugly consumerism that allowed them both success and failure. My favourite scene is when the recently financially challenged, Jackie, has to take a scheduled flight instead of her private jet. After hiring a car from Hertz and subsequently waiting for far too long she asks the hire firm rep when her driver is arriving.
The directorial debut of, Lock Stock, actor Dexter Fletcher, this exceptional film features a bravura performance from Charlie Creed Miles in the title role as a former convict who has spent the last eight years banged up for a plethora of crimes including grievous bodily harm, something that, as his name implies, he has a talent for. On his release he goes to his Newham tower block flat (which according to this and, Ill Manors, is the worst place to live in the UK), where he finds his 2 sons, aged 11 and 15 living on their own having been abandoned by their mum who has branded Bill a reckless, drunken reprobate. Finding the kids, he soon attracts the attentions of the welfare, abandons his plans to move to Scotland and escape the criminal world he grew up in and is slowly sucked back into this vile and thoroughly unglamorous life he once knew; the difference being that now the gang leaders use kids, one of which is his youngest son, to sell crack. During the filming of this Fletcher’s dad died which perhaps allowed the film a certain poignancy as, even though it is might be described as a classic Western set in south east London, it is also an extremely touching tale of parental responsibility and the special love between a father and his sons. I applauded the movie with a tear in my eye.