Friday, 30 January 2009


In 1997, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet wooed audiences across the globe when they played two young lovers torn apart by class, moral obligations and of course the sinking of a 46,000 tonne ocean liner known as the Titanic.

The film went on to break Oscar history – claiming 14 awards, including Best Film and Director. In Revolutionary Road – the pair are back although not even an iceberg is going to help forge the pieces of their broken and complicated relationship.

In a nutshell, the story is about Frank (DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Winslet) - a married couple who move to an American suburb in Connecticut to raise their two children.

But not everything is perfect behind the manicured lawns and white picket fences - April is a failed actress, struggling to accept her role as mother and fixated on moving to Paris. Frank, on the other hand, is just as gravely disappointed with life. Working for the same computer firm as his late father and unfulfilled by the simplicity of suburban living, like April, he struggles to find his identity.

This is familiar territory for American Beauty director Sam Mendes – who has almost created a 1950s version of his 1999 breakthrough movie, even using Thomas Newman again to pen a haunting musical score.

But while American Beauty enjoyed exploiting human perversity among its central characters, Revolutionary Road is more subtle – with explosive arguments and unassuming gestures leaving viewers to stir on the ‘whys’ behind the two characters actions.

It is a sad, disturbing film, with very little humour, and runs similar to a play with the majority of scenes taking place inside the home and away from the two children.

Kathy Bates and Michael Shannon (nominated for best supporting actor) provide excellent supporting roles as the idealistic but deluded all-American mother and the slightly psychotic but completely honest son.

Unfortunately, unlike Titanic, the period in which it is set seems to spoil the film as many of its themes are outdated and would fail to shock an audience in the same way it would have done when the 1961 book in which it was based was released.

Undoubtedly, DiCaprio and Winslet give powerhouse performances and Mendes direction veers the story away from just plain, simple melodrama.

But Revolutionary Road is far from revolutionary – with a story likely to move you but certainly not on a titanic scale.

Rating: * * *


Lovesick Nick (played by Juno’s Michael Cera) is struggling to come to terms with the loss of his long-term girlfriend, Tris.

In some desperate attempt to win her back, he continues to plague her answering phone with messages and send her mix tapes of their favourite bands. Sick already?

During a gig with his band, The Jerk Offs, Norah (Kat Dennings) slaps a sloppy one on Nick's bewildered lips to prove she has a boyfriend – little beknown to her that Nick is Tris’s ex and the same guy whose discarded mix tapes she’s secretly been collecting. Still not vomitting?

United by music and an awkward kiss, the pair spend the night ‘getting to know each other’ as they search the city for ‘Where’s Fluffy?’ – an underground indie band who are performing a one-off secret gig.

This is the type of slushy love story you probably picked up in your school library at age 10 – the characters are basic and underdeveloped, the direction is messy and the script fails to drive the story anywhere but downhill.

In fact, having your dentures removed with a claw hammer might be less painful than watching these characters shamefully interact with one another.

Cera sticks to familiar terriority as the fluffy and harmless nerd while Dennings makes the most of a limp script.

Sadly, ‘Sick and Bored By Her’ is utterly charmless, with little in terms of intelligence or comical capability to compete with such ‘one day/one night’ comedy favourites as Before Sunset, Blind Date or Dazed and Confused.

The only redeeming feature is the soundtrack, but not even that will drone out the sound of a truly, awful movie.

Rating: *

Thursday, 29 January 2009


There is a lot riding on Christopher McQuarrie and Bryan Singer’s new movie.

The last time the pair joined forces one of the most complex and intelligent crime capers of all time, The Usual Suspects was born – a film, which 15 years after its release date, still has movie fans debating the identity of Keyser Söze.

Valkyrie certainly won’t have that lasting effect, but it certainly is a good attempt at bringing a true-life story to the big screen.

Set in Germany during WW2, the story centres around Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), a proud and loyal officer, who after losing his right arm, an eye and two left fingers in an air attack at a camp in Africa joins the German resistance to overthrow Hitler – the final of 15 attempts on the dictator’s life.

Armed with a cunning strategy to use Hitler’s own emergency plan – known as Operation Valkyrie – the men plot to assassinate the Fuehrer, overthrow the Nazi Government and take control of Berlin.

Valkyrie is a slow movie, at times, tedious, but when the action arrives and the assassination plan is hatched, then it’s hard not to warm to this courageous story.

The cast are just as impressive with performances by Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp and most notably Tom Wilkinson keeping the plot ticking along at an amicable speed.

Critics have blasted the lack of German accents – with all but one cast member, David Bamber as Hitler, using their native tongues.

But this is certainly not the film’s main concern.

The real concern lies in the script – not enough time is spent establishing characters, especially Stauffenberg. All we get is a snapshot of his family life and a truly wasted performance by Carice van Houten as Cruise’s wife.

The plot is also very one dimensional - with little time spent showing the state of Germany during 1944 or the brutality that Hitler inflicted.

Nevertheless, it is a great tale bought to life by Singer’s atmospheric direction, Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography and some top-notch British performances.

It is just unfortunate that the same writer and director behind The Usual Suspects chose Valkyrie as their reunion project.

Rating: * * *

Tuesday, 27 January 2009


In 1972, in the early hours of the morning, five men were caught breaking into the Democratic Government headquarters in Washington – each armed with photographic equipment and bugging devices.

Following an intense investigation by two Washington Post reporters, the men were linked back to none other than Republican leader and President of the United States – Richard Nixon.

It was named the Watergate scandal – a scandal which revealed cover ups, slush funds, illegal taping and a cascade of dirty tricks within the White House – forcing the 37th President of the United States, and only President to date, to resign from office.

It was a story which deeply disturbed American people, tore a dagger through the heart of democracy and trust and made a mockery out of America’s political system. But Nixon never apologised for his wrongdoings or showed an admission of guilt – much to the annoyance of the American press who wanted to give the pardoned President their own trial by media.

Strange then that it was British talk show host, politically inexperienced and satirical clown, David Frost who bagged the ‘no holds barred’ interview of all time – an interview which becomes the setting of director Ron Howard’s political thriller.

Frost (Michael Sheen) and Nixon (Frank Langella) are no strangers to these roles having both played the same characters previously in Peter Morgan’s play of the same name. Langella sounds and looks uncannily like Nixon – playing the former president as a battling, frustrated rogue who sees Frost as easy prey. Sheen, on the other hand, plays Frost with an air of vulnerability – a presenter caught in a confidence crisis and, at times immensely futile under Nixon’s giant personality.

In fact, it is these moments, as both wrestle to take control of the interview – one to gain back his political power, the other to be seen as a serious journalist - which makes the most interesting viewing . Howard’s Rocky-like structure is also incredibly gripping as each character prepares for the Watergate showdown.

This is a dynamite story and while it may not have the same impact on Oscar night as Alan J. Pakula’s All The President's Men, based on the two Washington Post reporters who cracked the story, this gripping little thriller isn’t far behind.

Rating: * * * * *

Friday, 23 January 2009


Mickey Rourke has lived an interesting life – former boxer, dysfunctional actor and plastic surgery that would make Jackie Stallone weep in the morning and Sloth from The Goonies quite proud.

It is not surprising then that an actor who has spent around 20 years hiding from big roles choosing character-based drama ‘The Wrestler’ as his comeback project.

Set in present day New Jersey, Rourke plays Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson – a former professional Wrestler who has fallen into the grimy, low-paid weekend wrestling circuit. Can you see the comparison? Double Team anyone?

To make matters worse, a sudden heart attack threatens his chances of a comeback career fighting his most notable opponent to date The Ayatollah – whose previous match in the 80s sold out Madison Square Garden.

So, what does every wrestler do with a bit of spare time on their hands? Well Ram decides to build bridges with his teenage daughter Stephanie (played by Thirteen’s Evan Rachel Wood) and woo sexy stripper, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) while he figures out if the fight is really worth it.

Directed by Requiem of a Dream’s Darren Aronofsky, it becomes evident pretty clear that this film is not going to be for the faint-hearted. Instead, it is a dark, deep look at the world behind the wrestler – not too dissimilar from the 1999 documentary Beyond the Mat – with Aronofsky capturing the authenticity by following Rourke with a hand-held camera.

There is no doubt that Rourke has created an unbelievable character with the help of Robert D. Siegel’s fine script. Rourke plays a character while tough and controlled on the outside, is a lost and sensitive soul drawn back to the love and acceptance he receives from the crowd compared to that in his real life.

But Rourke (nominated for Best Actor at this year’s Oscars) is far from the film’s main talking point. Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny, In the Bedroom) is more than worthy of her Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress as a tough-talking stripper afraid to get too close to anyone, especially Ram.

Fans of wrestling will probably hate it – the fights are brutal but limited - but for those willing to open their heart to The Wrestler will not be disappointed. It is a gritty tale guaranteed to rope you in.

Rating: * * * *