LA Noir

Hollywood’s competition has clearly arrived. As many movie fans can vouch, where on earth has the big budget drama gone? Summer’s around the corner and you know that will mean weeks of cheap CGI animations (Hop), then there’ll be the usual dirge of all-action blockbusters with Marvel comics leading the bill no doubt (Green Lantern, boo)then there'll be the sequels to terrible franchises (Pirates anyone?).

So who’s kicking Hollywood in the butt to give them a wake up call? Well, TV has been doing it for a while – especially in the States. Mad Men, Lost, Six Feet Under, The Pacific, Band of Brothers, ER – and many, many more have been taking drama out of the big screen and wrapping it up neatly in a DVD box set for years. I don’t think this is likely to end, and well, it hasn’t seemed to scare the movie moguls state side to up their game yet.

Well, exactly. It’s the gaming industry who’s going to cause those fat and lazy producers state-side to sit up and listen. LA Noir is the latest offering from Rock Star Games, and as someone who is definitely not into gaming (other than vintage Mario Kart), it’s been a personal surprise to see how keen I am to have a go.

Facial recognition technology (used with reasonable success in Tron to make Jeff Bridges 20 years younger) has allowed Rock Star Games to accurately reflect the faces of the actors in the game. The lead character, played by Aaron Staton (Mad Men’s Ken Cosgrove) not only talks like him, he literally talks like him too – using the same facial expressions. Impressive.

But what is this? We’re watching drama, acted out by legitimate A-listers, but it’s a game using plot, story line and a sophisticated script to take the gamer through a series of mentally challenging tasks. This is no Grand Theft Auto blood-bath, it’s intelligent drama – that you get to control. Kind of makes all those additional features on Blu-Ray look like Disney Singalong for the level of involvement you gain.

I can’t see this ever replacing cinema (TV never did and I doubt 3D TV will either) and it can’t replicate the social side of the big screen, but it’s certainly an emerging new genre for engaging entertainment. It won't be long before we start seeing more of the big screen stars immortalised in digital drama.

Canne round up

Here's a good little summary from the BBC:

Upcoming films I'm getting excited about:

1. We need to talk about Kevin - the only British contender, and should be pretty disturbing, for one it's got Tilda Swinton in it and she's pretty mad.

2. The Way - Emilio Estevez directs his dad Michael Sheen in this pilgrimage tale which questions relationships, spirituality and community. Interesting context in light of older brother Charlie's tabloid antics. In a Radio 4 Film Programme interview Emilio said he felt his film was similar to the Wizard of Oz - in terms of it's a personal journey of discovery - to know you already have the qualities you seek (courage, heart etc)

3. The Tree of Life - Palme D'Or winner, and full of Brad Pitt, can't go wrong.

4. The Red Dog - Louis DeBerniere's book which he's actually approved of in film form (unlike Captain Corelli's Mandolin) - it's ultimately a children's tale based on a true story about a red dog in the Australian outback who was notorious for catching lifts with trucks, buses and trains.

5. Snow White and the Huntsman - there's something going on in the woods with a series of Grim's Brothers tales being made into movies. This looks more promising than the soppy 'twilight' style Red Riding Hood.

6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2 - the final showdown!

7. The Hobbit - Martin 'Bilboa' Freeman let slip at the BAFTAs that fellow Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch might be starring - but in what role? I guess I've only got a year to wait - 2012 release date

8. The Dark Knight Rises - Chris Nolan's back to direct the third in the Christian Bale Batman flicks - this time Brit Tom Hardy (Bronson, Inception) is the muscular baddy, Blane and released pics look terrifying!

That's all for now, 8 a nice round number.

I'm sure there


As a fan of the Noggin the Nog books, and someone who, because of this, ended up taking modules in Old Norse and Classics at University, I was pretty keen already - but throw Kenneth Branagh in as a director and I was sold. Popcorn in hand, I eagerly awaited some old-school action - deity style.

So this is the beef. The warrior Thor (Hemsworth) is cast out of the fantastic realm of Asgard by his father Odin (Hopkins) for his arrogance and sent to Earth to live among humans. Falling in love with scientist Jane Foster (Portman) teaches Thor much-needed lessons, and his new-found strength comes into play as a villain from his homeland sends dark forces toward Earth.

Well. Hmm. What can I say. A film which takes part in two realms has the effect of leaving the audience stuck in limbo. Just as you're getting into the CGI world of Asgard, the fantastic, soaring buildings, the impossibly beautiful people, the sheer volumne of gold - we're jarringly back in dull Arizona with Natalie Portman's dull dialogue. Put those warriors of old in the modern world and suddently, they both look silly (though Branagh's tongue in cheek enough to mention that as two coppers refer to them as Xena Warrior and Jackie Chan).

Things I liked: the Mario Kart style rainbow road which is gateway to the other nine realms. The smashing of coffee and demanding of more by Thor. The Metz style 'judder man' of the Frost Giants. Anthony Hopkins (always good) and the fact is was relatively short.

To be fair, I didn't really dislike anything, it's more that such a simple story and plot I could see lends itself well to comics, (and Noggin the Nog books) so no doubt it's been a challenge for Marvel Films to turn it into something which could match the other giants in their film library.

I'm more confused by Branagh's involvement - and surely continued involvement as the sequel was just a little bit too obvious.

Okay. I've found a dislike. Films which assume a. there needs to be a sequel, b. that you will watch it, c. and that you'll pay to watch it. Just don't do it, unless you're Harry Potter, then fair enough, you've got a good excuse. I kind of felt like they did a poor job with this film, because they knew there'd be another one - why not made the best film you can and assume NO sequel, then if it's successful celebrate with a better one. Franchising is the enemy of good cinema.

Overall 2.5 out of 5 - it was pretty entertaining, but I'll never watch it again

The Town

Apparently, after some dubious lifestyle choices (namely JLo) Ben Affleck kind of lost his cool in Hollywood. Not satisfied with the unchallenging film roles he was being offered he decided to 'Good Will Hunting' himself... again.

And I would say The Town is equally innovative, suprising and poignant. I was more suprised that someone has the capacity to do this twice in a career. Afflect wrote, directed and stars in this gritty heist/ human drama set in Charlestown, Boston. This little suburb, we are told, is home to 90% of bank robbers in the state. This particular crime is treated like an art, a skill, passed down through the generations, with each subsequent delinquent getting more sophisticated in how they obtain the money.

The opening scene show's how the 'trade' is done, with Affleck's character 'Doug MacRay' adding a human touch to scenes of brutal violence, as he tries to calm manager Claire Keesey (played by the brilliant Rebecca Hall) as she unlocks the vault. The event is almost as slick and professional as FBI Agent Frawley (played by John 'don draper' Hamm) bemoans, until Keesey spots the distincitve tatoo of MacRay's bff 'Coughlin' and there starts the drama as MacRay's character pursues her to check she won't squeal.

Of course, without giving much away, it's his involvement with Keesey which leads him to question the choices he's made in life. He starts to hope for a new life, an escape from all those around him. That's why this film isn't what I expected, it's not an all guns blazing cops and robbers action-fest (like Bad Boys), neither is it a smooth, stylist heist (like Oceans's 11). It's most definitely a film about human drama, the life we're born into, the dreams we dare to have. MacRay's sudden and unexpeted involvement with Keesey, show's him how the violence, deceit and petty criminality which is so ordinary to him, is so destructive to others.

Keesey is refreshingly a normal girl. MacRay is not her knight in shining armour, though she does question her motives for getting involved with this 'blue colour' bad boy immediately after her kidnapping. Neither does she run off to mummy in the suburbs - rather she stubbornly goes about her day to day life and tries to put the past behind her. We see her working in the community garden, volunteering at the ice-rink kids club - maintaining her independance and not letting the dark sides of society get her down. She's a realist, not an optimist. She accepts people are flawed, people make violent choices because of where they've come from.

I could relate to Keesey, though I'd be much more chicken than she is (I would probably at least find a house mate after surving an abduction) but she also serves a good contrast to the other woman in the film played by Gossip Girl Blake Lively.

Lively's character Krista Coughlin, is the tragic character in this drama. Vulnerable with no self-worth, she throws herself at any man who seems kind to her. She's in love with MacRay (who might be the father of her child) but living up to the 'tough girl' attitude of the town, she hasn't revealed her feelings, or the paternity, to him. In contrast to Keesey who is managing just fine, Keesey so desperately needs rescuing. She begs MacCray to start his new life with her - she longs for the escape as much as he does - and cries out claiming 'I'll be any girl you want me to be' - it's literally the saddest scene in a movie I've seen in ages. You know she won't leave, you know no-one will ever respect her, you know the life which waits for her is one without love. She's played her last card and had it thrown back in her face.

After watching this Affleck has proved that Good Will Hunting and Gone Baby Gone were not flukes, but that he's got real eye for making compelling drama. At least, I hope Hollywood see that, because I'd like to see more.

4 out of 5 - mainly because I was so suprised it wasn't a generic heist movie

Crazy Heart

Everyone’s gone country. From Gwyneth Paltrow promoting new flick Country Strong on Glee with Dixie Chix covers, to fashion on the high-street. Everyone’s in love with the deep south. So it’s high time I publish my thoughts on Crazy Heart – and maybe dig out my cowboy boots.

Scott Cooper’s music-drama features Jeff Bridges as down-and-out country music star ‘Bad Blake’ who tries to turn his life around after meeting journalist Jean Craddock, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.

This tragic film is one of uncomfortable voyeurism. We’re introduced to Bad Blake as he orders a drink before his low budget gig, in a tacky bowling alley in the arse end of nowhere-ville. The admiration he receives from everyone ensures we understand he’s fallen from grace, and his smooth talking in the liquor store ensures we know how.

Cooper takes a realistic and inglorious approach to portraying alcoholism – there’s no witty one-liners, no ‘loveable rogue’ when Bad Blake’s been at the sauce. Rather, intimate camera close-ups and unflattering angles help form a sense of confusion and disgust - which accurately reflects Blake’s current state of mind.

The tipsy car-crash, violent sickness and barely intelligible gigs mould an atmosphere of foreboding, which culminates in the shopping mall scene when Jean’s son Buddy goes AWOL. The audience is routing for Blake, but you know it’s all about to go horribly wrong. That scene was more uncomfortable to watch than the drunken bender which followed.

But why? Because, it was a knife-edge moment. If Blake could only keep himself together, then a lifetime of happiness could await him with the lovely Jean and Buddy. But he can’t. And we know he can’t. Addiction is horrible thing – it’ll lead you to water, but leave you twice as thirsty afterwards.

Like all artists, Blake’s talent is open to abuse and waste. While lamenting the loss of Jean he writes some of the best music of his career, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. Former protégée Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) is hoping to advance his already successful career by buying the rights, but he offers no solace or help. Neither does his long-standing agent, who’s only priority is Tommy and getting Blake to sell up on song rights.

Sweet’s character is an obvious indictment of the manufactured ‘country’ stars in America. Big on style, small on god-given talent. Blake represents the old, soulful core of country, while Sweet is the clear, commercial future. And we see which one wins, when Blake ultimately sells him his best song, to then donate the money to Buddy. One final act of redemption on his (hopefully) final road to sobriety.

Any Kurk Cobain/ James Dean/ Marilyn fan can appreciate how tragic it is to see talent, more so, a life, wasted – and it doesn’t matter if it’s a music idol, or your next door neighbour.

Coen brother’s favourite, T-Bone Burnett, stamps out another impressive audio footprint with a heart-felt, reflective and entertaining soundtrack (some performed by Bridges and Farrell). Aside from the drama, the music really allows Bridges to dazzle us with this Oscar winning performance – his natural charisma shines out when he sings – especially title track, ‘The Weary Kind’, which stands out for its haunting, choked melancholy.

True Grit

Tron seems to have kick-started a Jeff Bridges revival in my house this week. So, first on the list was True Grit, the Coen brothers remake of the 1969 John Wayne classic.

Not dissimilar to Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges adopts an almost unintelligible accent to play US Marshall Reuben J ‘Rooster’ Cogburn. The audience is introduced to this one-eyed renegade, during a trial where his testimony has an almost Dickensien disregard for the law – pointing out the obvious failings of the legal profession with off-hand, changeable comments.

His slouched, easy stance is kept in shadow by the bright window light behind him – the effect is to produce a distinctive sillouette of this ‘shady character’. To be expected, the humour in the script is typical Coen, and the quick banter between Rooster and the lawyer was reminiscent of the rhetoric between Clooney and the law in ‘Oh Brother Where Art Thou’.

Clearly, the way characters use language is something the Coen’s have added to their auteur specifications. And interestingly, it’s Hailee Steinfeld’s performance as Mattie Ross which leaves the strongest impression. In the original Charles Portis novel, 14 year-old Mattie dominates as the first-person narrator. In the film, Mattie’s vocabulary reflects that of the written word, she doesn’t abbreviate, she doesn’t use slang, or mish-mash a sentence. Every word uttered is as considered and precise as her appearance. The obvious contrast in dialogue between Mattie and Rooster, apart from being comic, is a metaphor for their moral stance in life. Retribution versus revenge.

Critically, this film was considered a risk for the Coen’s. John Wayne’s legend as the ultimate American (western) hero speaks strongly to the national identity – mess with it at your peril. Personally, I’m not a fan of Westerns, I can’t think of one (other than No Country for Old Men) which I’ve paid to go and see, so the very fact that the Coen’s can guarantee an audience in any genre must be a sign this film has wide appeal.

I enjoyed it. The cinematography is wild and epic – the final chase scene a refreshing variation on the traditional western shoot out – (horse chases across open plains seems to remind me of LOTR) which makes the more intimate moments more intense (Mattie down the snake pit felt very claustrophobic).

A film with this many ‘characters’ runs the risk of alienating an audience – it could become too difficult to find any of them believable – but luckily we don’t in True Grit. Matt Damon, delivers a hugely understated and excellent performance as the Texan Ranger LaBoeuf.

Over all 3.8 of out 5 (so pedantic I know)

Tron Legacy

Well, I’ve really not been on for a long time. No excuse, just a few lifestyle changes and laziness. Whoops.

So I’ve missed reporting on my favourite views since, well, goodness me about two years. Many things have happened all of them good – Inception, Shutter Island, and it’s not just the Leonardo DiCaprio films I liked last year, up there was Toy Story 3, The Hurt Locker, A Single Man, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and many more I can’t even remember. That’s how good they were.

Summer is almost here which inevitably means a tedious season of blockbusters and kids flicks, so it’s back to Love Film to catch up on some goodies I’ve missed. The first of which is ... Tron: Legacy.

Aside from the jarringly bright and optimistic Disney logo on the film poster, this film is a true dystopian epic. Not as good as Blade Runner, as it’s nowhere near as clever, but up there with other sci-fi adventures like the Matrix.

The best bit, clearly, is the Dude and, as he describes it, the ‘bo-digital jazz’ of a soundtrack – Daft Punk of course. The other thing, is the pure beautiful design of the ‘Grid’ – something which director Joseph Kosinski was clearly keen to promote as something not of the ‘future’ but just the best of current aesthetics.

There’s nothing really ‘futuristic’ as such about the cars, venues, homes, clothes of the Programmes and Users in the Grid – much of it feels like you’ve seen it before, just maybe in an art gallery, or architects webpages. Kevin Flynn’s Japanese inspired minimalist house is an enviable bachelor pad, and the villain ‘Clu’ lives in what could arguably be a top airline’s first class lounge – just with a couple of ominous bikers strutting about in leathers.

Costumes have a clear nod to the previous film, but just like the graphics and even the atmosphere (it rains in the Grid) there’s a sense, that just like in the real-world, live has moved on, progressed and got harder, better, faster, stronger (bad in joke for DP fans). But I couldn’t get past the wetsuit look of them (but maybe that’s because I’ve just back from a week of surfing).

Overall the story is somewhat weak and predicable, but that’s not what makes this film enjoyable – it’s the style and the immersion into a different world. There’s some excellent character performances (Michael Sheen has a real injection of energy half way through) and some fairly terrible (Garrat Headland – Sam Flynn).

I think it’s clear this, like so many of Bridges films, will be a bit of cult hit and a marmite classic, some will cherish and others won’t.

3.5 out of 5