Archive for January, 2011

In a nutshell: Mummy’s girl jerks off in a bid for perfection.

Popcorn rating: 3.5/5

Darren Aronofsky’s latest foray into the agitated mind of a perfectionist seems to have divided film goers. Some have lauded it as a top thriller/horror while others have deemed it more shlock than shock and a real let down after The Wrestler. This time, instead of Mickey Rourke’s ageing wrestler sacrificing body and mind to desperately cling onto fame, we have Natalie Portman’s ambitious-to-the-death ballerina’s descent into madness, all in the name of the spotlight.

Portman, who has visibly put herself through the paces to get into the skinny, taut body of a young ballerina, plays Nina Sayers – a mummy’s girl dancer who has put everything, friendships, boys, growing up, on hold to achieve her ambition of becoming principle dancer in her New York ballet company. Her dream comes within grasp when lead ballerina, the gorgeously deranged Beth (Winona Ryder) is put out to pasture and artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel on mean, moody Frenchman mode, as per) casts his net for someone to play the lead in a new production of Swan Lake.

That’s when the real fun begins. Angelic Beth-wannabe Nina seems to be a shoe-in for the role of the virginal White Swan – but does the mollycoddled little princess have the necessary darkness to play the evil Black Swan? Especially when new competition, bad girl dancer Lily (Mila Kunis hamming it up wonderfully as the femme fatale), arrives on the scene in a fog of sex and drugs and sultry looks.

From the beginning, Black Swan enjoys teasing the viewer, playing out its twists and turns with relish – from  Nina tearing at her own flesh in grisly detail through to the horror staple of having characters appear suddenly in a darkened corner. Yip, watching Nina unravel proves to be pretty compulsive viewing, even if you are trying to hide your eyes for the bloodier scenes. This Black Swan doesn’t pull her punches. She teases, she bites, she claws and slowly, uncertainly she loses her mind, bringing us along for the ride. She also, however; takes herself a little too seriously.

Portman obviously threw herself heart and soul into this role but intensity bedamned, Nina is just too twee to really engage with. All those teddies and pink and frilly cakes and mumsiness. No wonder none of the other dancers want to befriend her, she’s a right oddball, like a female version of Norman Bates. And not in an interesting way either. In fact, Nina’s so ill-makingly cutesy that when anything remotely sexual or untoward does happen, it’s giggle inducing – which doesn’t just reduce the tension, it deflates it. Like the scene where Nina is in bed and decides to follow her teacher’s advice only to get half way through and realise mummy’s asleep in the chair beside her? Titter, titter. Or that old guy groping himself on the subway? Urgh, titter, titter?

All in all, Black Swan isn’t a bad yarn; if anything it will certainly keep you guessing until its bittersweet end. You just probably won’t want to bother with it a second time.

*It gets an extra 0.5 point for the fantastic make-up job on the Black Swan.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley

Loose Women

Posted: January 24, 2011 by josheppard in Telly
Tags: , , ,

In a nutshell: Televised brain-rot for Lambrini girls

Popcorn rating: 0/5

Loose Women is an award-winning daytime show with a simple formula. Take four women, stick them in a studio with a live, like-minded audience, and let them chat. The idea, I think, is that for its largely female 30-plus audience, it’s like having a laugh with your girlfriends over lunch. Since I’m a woman in my 30s, I’m probably its target demographic.

Which is unfortunate. Because I have about as much in common with the Loose Women as I would with four Roswell aliens. Probably considerably less.

Loose Women is presented by a varying team of four, generally plucked from the swamp of shrieking inanity that is Kate Thornton, Lynda Bellingham, Colleen Nolan, that woman called Carol who used to be married to Chris Evans, someone called Zoe who looks like a bad nail technician, and a Geordie drag queen who seems to live with Tim Healy. There’s a forced faux-camaraderie between them, and every conversation is punctuated by the strangely aggressive caterwauling laughter primarily associated with the dangerously unhinged. If you were in a restaurant and this bunch was shown to the adjacent table, your heart would sink.

The producers of Loose Women apparently believe that women’s lives revolve mostly around children, husbands, diets and the occasional ‘girls’ night out’, for which you know they’d get ready for hours while listening to ‘Here Come The Girls’. All men are essentially feckless little boys who don’t take the bins out, chocolate is better than sex (cue cackles from the audience, apparently comprising mostly hyenas on a hen-do) and careers are… well, careers don’t really get a mention.

Not surprisingly, then, when it comes to the level of debate, Loose Women is the Daily Mail’s ‘Femail’ section personified. Think ‘Do Maltesers give you breast cancer?’ and ‘Can asylum seekers make you fat?’ and you won’t be far wrong. Never is any real rationale applied to anyone’s opinions. Hear a volley of loud clicks? That’ll be their knees jerking. When they managed to link the ordeal of the Chilean miners to guest Jason Donovan with “Hard times, there, for the miners, hopefully now over. And Jason, you’ve had some hard times in your career, haven’t you?” it was all I could do not to puncture my own eardrums with a knitting needle just to make it stop.

The only reason I can possibly find for this dated horror-show to exist is some sort of sinister government conspiracy to boost the nation’s productivity – because after a day on your sickbed faced with brain-dead vapidity on this scale, you’d have to be close to death not to want to go back to work.

Reviewer: Jo Sheppard

The Way Back

Posted: January 24, 2011 by aoifewantonmovielover in Film
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In a nutshell: It’s basically a long walk…a really long walk…for 4,000 miles. The Proclaimers ain’t got shit on these guys.

Popcorn rating: 3/5

Peter Weir is my kind of director. Not for him a movie every couple of years. The Aussie director of Dead Poet’s Society, Witness and The Truman Show picks and chooses his projects and it’s been an ice age since his last, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World in 2003. Where better to kick off proceedings than a Siberian Gulag?

Adapted from Slawomir Rawicz’s memoir, appropriately entitled The Long Walk, The Way Back follows a Polish political prisoner and his fellow escapees in their bid to reach democracy. While the BBC largely debunked Rawicz’s version as a tall tale far more dramatic than what they believed actually happened – Rawicz leaving the Gulag in a prisoner exchange programme – this is still a remarkable piece of fiction.

Jim Sturgess tops the bill as Polish soldier Janusz, accused of espionage by the Soviets who falls in with actor inmate Mark Strong who dreams of escape. Determined to actually get over the fence, he makes the break with a mismatched gang of prisoners, including Ed Harris’ American ‘Mr Smith’ and Colin Farrell’s morally dubious career criminal.

While the initial break from the Gulag is a frantic race from the guards in a blizzard, the remainder is an almost leisurely meander – I guess 4,000 miles requires a certain amount of pacing – as the group face numerous challenges, both physical and emotional.

Both the pacing and the characterisation get a welcome boost from Saoirse Ronan’s runaway teenager Irena, bringing the group closer together by drawing out their back-stories.

The Way Back, made in conjunction with National Geographic, spans the amazing landscapes with visual impact but manages to refrain from reverting to sentimentality. However, as the group face the latest insurmountable hurdle in a series of insurmountable hurdles, you do get a certain sense of ‘not again’ and a creeping tedium seeps into the latter stages.

Uplifting and depressing in equal measures, The Way Back, whether based on fact or fiction, takes us into the darkest recesses of humanity and explores the power of hope and determination. Not exactly horrific viewing, but certainly challenging, it may not provide director Weir with a way back to the top of the box office, but it’s a welcome stroll with a great talent.

Reviewer: AoifeWantonMovieLover

The Next Three Days

Posted: January 16, 2011 by curlyshirley in Film

In a nutshell: Unconvincing prison break mush

Popcorn rating: 2/5

*spoiler alert*

Focussing on the actions of a man driven to extremes when his wife is imprisoned for a crime she claims not to have committed, The Next Three Days sets itself up as an exciting countdown movie but ultimately fails to deliver the necessary punch.

Russell Crowe plays John Brennan who, when faced with no other choice, decides to break his beloved missus Lara (Elizabeth Banks) out of jail – an ordinary man undertaking an extraordinary task. And that’s the crux of the problem, real life is generally yawnsome; it’s hard to show ordinary while maintaining tension.

When it is striving to be real, The Next Three Days is dull and easily forgotten; when realism is damned and Brennan/Crowe has some successes, it all seems rather ridiculous and pointless – are we really supposed to root for this idiot and his idiot plan? And what evidence has this conviction been based on anyway? The ping of a missing button apparently – which says a lot about the trembling basis on which this tale unfolds.

To be fair, The Next Three Days is at its best when it ramps up the action – such as when Brennan/Crowe finds himself in the middle of a drugs den and takes appropriately, if surprisingly harsh action considering he is a man made of marshmallow. It’s not that the plot becomes anymore plausible, but at least you have some well paced action and a few interesting characters to soak up the general malaise.

Another good point is that, unlike Brennan/Crowe’s unwavering belief, the audience does start to doubt the innocence of the missus . We haven’t, after all, seen anything to prove Mrs Brennan really didn’t do it. When Lara, in a fit a of pique, admits to the crime, I almost cheered aloud that little Ms Perfect might actually be a cold hearted murderer after all – now there’s a character flaw worth my attention…for a few minutes anyway, till we are back to Professor Plod and his plodding plan.

The Next Three Days sets itself up as the story of how a mundane everyman can achieve the impossible when driven by love and belief – an insight into the mind of a desperate man, if you will. It is an interesting idea but, while Brennan faces the odd hitch, everything seems to slot into place too neatly and the action – when it does arrive – seems to belong to a different movie.

It’s not a bad film (based on the fact I have seen The Ugly Truth and therefore have seen worse), but it’s not quite a good film either; it’s just more Sunday afternoon on the couch than Saturday night in the cinema.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley

In a nutshell: Flesh, blood and some steamy southern shaggin’

Popcorn rating: 4/5

Hide your children! Lock your doors! Wear a scarf! We’re all doomed! Vampires are out in the open and stalking the earth. But don’t worry too much. They sleep all day, which makes them a little less scary. Oh and yeah,  rather than queuing up in your local 24 hour Tesco with a six pack of O negative, they all seem to be congregating in the southern states of America – and who can really blame them? Considering the number of magical creatures, sexy clichés, and general gorgeous nakedness currently rampant in Bon Temps, Louisiania – who would want to be anywhere else?

True Blood Season One arrived on our tellyscreens a few years back, riding high on word from the US and unashamedly packed full of sex and lust and nakedness. It was trash TV and it was compulsive viewing. The kids had Twilight but True Blood, well, it was for grown-ups. See, in case you don’t know it yet, True Blood has a lot of sex and nakedness. And then a bit more sex. And nakedness. What’s not to love?

Season one centred on saccharine sweet homegal Sookie Stackhouse who fell in love with dark and deadly vamp with a conscience Bill Compton. As if the redneck yokels disapproving of the mixed relationship wasn’t headache enough, some local vamp loving strumpets were getting topped by a serial killer – and with Sookie’s new penchant for sex in graveyards and what not, it seemed her days were numbered. That’s the crux of it, a cliff hanger packed, sex filled, supernatural thriller.

However, where True Blood really wins is with its side characters who easily eclipse the starring couple: Lafayette, bejewelled chef/road worker/V dealer with attitide;  his enraged mouthpiece of a cousin Tara; dumb hottie Jason, to name but a few. Even gramps was a sassy old bird, cooking up trouble with her pecan pie. Package that all up in the sweaty, sultry heat of the old south and up the pacing, with mere days seeming to have elapsed in Bon Temps across the entire season , and all you could say after each breathless show was – shall we watch the next one before bed? Sinking your teeth into True Blood was perfect escapist fare.

Season two started off strong, with some biting, bitching side characters getting the screen time they deserved. Saxon Viking vamp Eric got his hair cut, stripped off and grew a whole new fan base; his cold hearted sidekick Pam stole every scene she sashayed into and vampire teenager Jessica exploded on screen with a potent mix of teenage hysteria in a new blood sucking body. Her burgeoning relationship with momma’s boy Hoyt was a delight while Jason’s foray into religion was equally compulsive – especially when Sookie turned up unannounced.

Season two also saw True Blood slip into the worlds of other magical creatures with so-so results. While the Texas vampire battle was thrilling and the sex tempo went off the scale after smug Sookie drank some of Eric’s claret – the arrival of maenad Maryann back in Bon Temps dragged on and on before tipping the whole thing into too much weirdness.

Season three kicks off mere minutes after the cliff hanger ending of the second and, thankfully, Maryann is relegated to memory. This season sees the supporting characters given room to breathe and grow, sidelining Sookie and the increasingly prudish Bill, with their scene stealing antics. A few new folks are thrown into the bloody mix too with freaky English vamp Franklin and the werewolves gang opening up opportunities for more gorgeous characters to strip off. Once again the pacing is spot on, with barely anytime for poor lil Sookie to clean up gramps’ house before being whisked off to solve another mystery. Overall, series three seems to be back on terra firma after a mediocre series two, with the question we all want answered being – how long till series four?

Reviewer: Curlyshirley