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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Argo

Another big Oscar contender and another new release. Will the hits ever stopping coming?

Effectively sealing Ben Affleck's reputation as a great, bare-bones director with a real penchant for nail-biting thrillers, Argo tells a story so absurdly unbelievable, it can only be true. 

Set in 1980, at the same time of the well known hostage crisis in Iran (if you're of a certain age, at least) where the country's American embassy was besieged by militant Iranians calling for the return of their previous tyrant (as opposed to their then current one - or their current one for that matter) to stand trial for crimes against his people, Argo is about the six Americans who escaped the embassy but were holed up in the home of the Canadian ambassador with no means of escape. Enter CIA operative, Tony Mendez (Affleck, looking for all the world like an Avett Brother) who comes up with a plan that, depending on its outcome, would either go down as one of the CIA's most creative, gutsy and ingenious rescue operations or its most embarrassingly disastrous. 

His plan, coming from, of all places, a late night viewing of Battle for The Planet of the Apes, is to create a fake science fiction movie production for which he would go to Iran officially as a scouting agent looking for suitably exotic shooting locations and under the guise of which, he would smuggle the six "house guests" out of the country as his Canadian production crew. In order for it to work though, he needs to make the movie seem real enough and for that he turns to producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and make up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) to put together the most convincing, fake hit-scifi movie ever.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Les Miserables

Hey, something almost new, Here it is, my Les Mierabablebles review!


Straight off the bat, I have to admit that I have never seen the stage play of Les Miserables, nor read Victor Hugo's novel, nor seen any of the other films based on it. As such, I can't compare this most recent incarnation of the hit musical against anything other than itself but, as a total newcomer, it has to be said that, bar a few flaws, I was pretty much blown away by the film.

The story, for those who aren't in the know, follows the life of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) as he goes from being a slave serving out his 19 year sentence for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread for his sister's sickly child to his reinvention as a wealthy entrepreneur. It's not long, however, before this transformation comes crashing down as a police officer recognizes him as the man who defaulted on his parole years ago and sets off on a tireless vendetta to bring him down. Along the way, Valjean adopts the child of a prostitute who was briefly in his employ, which in and of itself leads to his involvement in an abortive second French Revolution (the film begins 15 years after the French Revolution ended).

It's not a particularly convoluted plot but its freewheeling, digression-heavy structure doesn't entirely work in this format and is one of the few truly notable flaws that prevents the film from becoming the masterpiece that it so obviously wants to be. That said, though the film does try one's patience on occasion - its rambling plotline does play out over nearly 160 minutes - it's still one of the most thematically rich and emotionally rewarding films to come out in quite some time.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I know I already harped on enough about how Silver Linings Playbook deserved all those Oscar nominations, but here's a film that just might have deserved to be included even more. And, oh yes, this is going to be a long one - but the film deserves a more in depth discussion.


As adults, we have a habit of looking back at our adolescent years with a mixture of embarrassment and contempt as we scoff at problems that seemed so big then but seem so small now. And yet, for all that we may cringe at our past predilections for over-inflated emotional outbursts and many, many laughable pretensions, in a sense we are never more real and more honest than we are as teenagers.  Like the best coming of age stories, The Perks of Being a Wallflower hones into this truth with expert precision as it beautifully and perfectly captures the tempestuous mix of egotism and idealism of the average Western teenager, while never overlooking the real pain, awkwardness and red-hot emotional turmoil that makes teenage angst far more than something just to be scoffed at as we grow older and more cynical.  

Based on the beloved novel of the same name and, in a fairly ingenious move, adapted for screen and directed by its author, Stephen Chbosky, Perks  is the kind of film that is too human to be perfect and too emotionally raw, too profoundly relatable and just too damn heartfelt to be anything but an enduring classic that will far outlive some of the more lukewarm reviews it has received from stuffy middle aged critics.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

After a lazy holiday period, I have a whole lot of catching up to do. I am tempted just to do a quick roundup of mini reviews but it would be a great disservice to some of the great films that have come out over the last month. As such, I'm going to try and bash out as many reviews as I possibly can over the next couple of weeks, mixing both new releases and some relatively older films that are hopefully still on cinema. And if they're not, well, just consider these advance reviews of the inevitable DVD/ Blu-Ray release.

At this point, it's all but impossible to tackle Silver Linings Playbook without putting it in the context of the deluge of Academy Awards nominations it has received. It's up for best film, best adapted screenplay, best director, best editing and, as the first film to do so in many a year, in all four acting categories. And yet, at the outset, it's hard to imagine, let alone believe, that Silver Linings has received this kind of attention and these kinds of accolades.

To be clear, Silver Linings Playbook is a very, very good film - a great one even - but I would have thought that the sheer subtlety of what makes it such a great piece of work would have eluded the major award ceremonies. The Oscars, The BAFTAs, The Globes, The SAGs, the WAGs and the DAGs (I'm fairly sure one or two of those don't exist but considering just how many award ceremonies there are each year, you never can tell) do usually recognize quality cinema, to be fair, it's just that they usually pay attention to films that scream their "brilliance" from the rooftops, rather than whisper it from the aisles. 

It's true, the film does feature that most awards-friendly of subjects, a man grappling with mental illness as he tries to pick up the pieces of his broken life with the help of a similarly messed up young woman, but the way it plays itself out is as a quiet, unassuming mix of a character-driven drama, an inspiring-but-not-too-inspiring competition film and an unabashedly sentimental and fairly "mainstream" romantic comedy. It's so small and unassuming  in fact, that at first glance it doesn't look like anything special at all. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Best (and Worst) Movies of 2012 Awards: Part 2 - The Very Best

Yeah, there were a bunch of truly awful movies released this year and even more thoroughly mediocre ones but, it has to be said, though there wasn't a major stand out like, say, Pan's Labyrinth, there were plenty of really good to great films released in 2012. Here is an overview of some of the very best - or, at least, my favourites - sorted according to category and what is, I hope, a nice mix of "arty" critical faves and mainstream crowd pleasers.

Again, only films released in South African cinemas in 2012 count and, once again, sorry this is later than I had previously hoped, but apparently I had quite a bit to say about many of 2012's better films.