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In a nutshell: Not so plain Jane falls in love with foxy Fassbender

Popcorn rating: 4.5/5

With the new Wuthering Heights adaptation just around the corner (complete with – gasp – a black Heathcliff) it’s timely for a revamp of the fairest Brontë of them all – Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. Cary Fukunaga, who impressed with Sundance winning Mexican gang feature debut Sin Nombre, may seem a strange choice as director for what at first glance (and especially when Judi Dench turns up) looks a super-expensive BBC costume piece – indeed the Beeb also co-produce – but the result is something quite special, to rival even the quintessential Orson Welles/ Jane Fontaine pairing in Robert Stevenson’s 1943 film.

No one does Gothic romance quite like the Brontës and Fukunaga and scriptwriter Moira Buffini (who penned Tamara Drewe) wisely stay true to the source material. Why bother attempting to create brilliant dialogue when Charlotte Brontë got there before you over 160 years ago? The most notable shift however is our introduction, transporting us to the latter quarter of the novel with Jane (Mia Wasikowska) fleeing from Thornfield across the bleak moors, before efficiently returning to childhood and the destiny-shaping position as governess for Mr Rochester’s (Michael Fassbender) ward in flashback.

Famously, Brontë described Rochester as ugly and the narrator herself as plain, but our two leads could never achieve this. Wasikowska is brilliant as a severe Jane, but Michael Fassbender – all Byronic sex appeal, piercing glances and filling out those breeches in a very healthy manner – is absolutely mesmerising. Okay, perving over, but if you caught his turn as Bobby Sands in Hunger, or even his magnetic Magneto in the new X-Men, you’ll know how the German-Irish actor can ignite a screen and the exchanges between Rochester and Jane are sizzling with tension.

Fukunaga also plays up the Gothic elements of the novel for some great suspense – for the four people left in the world who don’t know the reasons behind the strange events at Thornfield, Popcorn won’t spoil the surprise – but the atmosphere and mystery is brilliantly played and Adriano Goldman’s excellent cinematography captures the harsh landscape as an almost alien landscape, far from the rolling English fields of similar adaptations.

While much of the male section of the audience may roll their eyes at the aching romance, this is far from a Brontë-snorus, Jane Eyre is a brilliant adaptation, which is faithful but also brings something new. If you’re a fan of the novel – or my future husband Michael Fassbender – this is a must-see.

Reviewer: AoifeWantonMovieLover

In a nutshell: Apes start talking ‘bout a revolution

Popcorn rating: 4/5

We’ve all fond memories of the Charlton Heston original and maybe even a few of you male readers may have fond memories of Helena Bonham Carter’s she-ape in Tim Burton’s remake, but is a frightening prelude to our inevitable future as slaves to our simian overlords.

Directed by Rupert Wyatt, who proved he’s no slouch with debut feature The Escapist, Rise of the Planet of the Apes has proved to be the Indian summer blockbuster and then some.

Starring Andy Serkis – the undisputed King Kong of performance capture – Rise… takes us into new territory for this franchise reboot. Setting the action on a firmly human-run Earth, James Franco’s boffin is frantically searching for a cure to Alzheimer’s, which – as any fan of cinema, science fiction or literature will know – is destined to bring about the end of our kind. Becoming an unwilling father to baby chimp Caesar, he is firmly pushed back to the background as we meet the most interesting and engaging performance-capture protagonist of all time.

Andy Serkis as Caesar is a revelation and with technology beginning to catch up with his acting ability – the death knell to the trade? – has made the most convincing argument for awards recognition of the performance capture medium yet. His chimpanzee displays a range of emotions that Keanu Reeves can only dream of and by the time the revolution kicks in, you’ll be betraying your species in who to cheer on.

It’s not all fancy tricks and sad-faced apes, there is great action too, Serkis’ Casear leading a tactical charge in the finale worthy of his name and visually the CGI is breath-taking. There are some sly nods to the originals – including a post-Draco Tom Felton gaining the honour of uttering that immortal line and subtle and clever hints to future instalments.

Smart, engaging and moving, a summer blockbuster with substance, this planet’s journey to simian society couldn’t have got off to a better start.

Reviewer: AoifeWantonMovieLover

In a nutshell: Disney gets back to its roots with a not so Grimm fairy tale.

Popcorn rating: 4/5

The Mouse House once had the market sewn up in animation. Uncle Walt’s studio had been synonymous with superior animation, reaping such classics as Snow White, Beauty and the Beast and Bambi. Then Pixar and Dreamworks, founded by young whippersnappers with big dreams and technological wizardry, upset the planetary alignments with trailblazers like Toy Story and Shrek – which reinvented the fairytale genre forever.

Pixar and Disney are now one and the same with John Lasseter head honcho of animation, but Tangled, the studios 50th animation feature is more in the vein of the traditional Disney animation format than Pixar’s – but with a modern twist.Disney apparently re-jigged the classic tale of Rapunzel – a princess locked in a tower – to the more unisex Tangled, placing the male love interest at the centre. Cynical marketing ploy or not, it works.

What Disney has always done best are the little touches and directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard and a fabulous team of animators deliver in spades. Tangled takes place in a typically luscious technicolour landscape and is as gorgeous and sparkly as the heroine’s magic hair (a new addition to the original tale). The absolutely mesmerising lakeside lantern scene is a joy to watch – the sort of breathtaking sequence that made Disney so great.

The vocal talents are also great. Pop princess turned actress Mandy Moore impresses as Rapunzel, Chuck’s Zachary Levi is spot on as the dashing but bungling hero Flynn and, best of all, is stage legend Donna Murphy as villainess Gothel, all nailing the catchy musical numbers.

The variations on the Brothers Grimm traditional plot are a similar success, with surprising and crucially enjoyable twists and turns, resulting in an action packed and entertaining take on a damsel in distress – a formidable force herself, armed with her hair and a frying pan.

Funny, touching, thrilling, romantic and absolutely gorgeous, Tangled is Disney at its traditional best, with enough modern infusion to keep the discerning child audiences of today entertained. Despite the intended unisex audience possibly more one for the girls – but one tale that will spellbind little princesses, no matter what their ages.

Reviewer: aoifewantonmovielover

The King’s Speech

Posted: February 1, 2011 by aoifewantonmovielover in Film
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In a nutshell: A right royal affair makes a bid for b…b…b…brilliance. Like a prelude to Wills and Kate’s wedding, but without the day off.

Popcorn rating: 4/5

Hollywood loves a bit of royalty. Whether it’s Helen Mirren’s buttoned up take on Lizzie 2, Judi Dench in a scandalously blink-and-you’ll-miss-her ham fest in Shakespeare in Love, or, well, take your pick of the many Henrys and Richards that have been immortalised in film, the US seems to look with yearning at the archaic institution.

This particular Royal – King George VI – has struck a particular nerve, bringing home the gold from the box office and vacuuming up awards all over the place (which depending on your opinion of awards ceremonies is going to either make you want to see this or downright refuse to). The King’s Speech is the human face of the monarchy and one with a very common condition.

There is a lot going on in The King’s Speech: a country in a post war depression on the verge of another major conflict, a king on the brink of death and another one about to abdicate with the Duke of York waiting in the wings, pathologically afraid of the inevitable microphone thrust in his face.

However, The Damned United’s Tom Hooper, aided by a concise and considered script by David Seidler, manages to tie all this together neatly, while placing the focus on the unlikely friendship between Colin Firth’s future king and Geoffrey Rush’s genial therapist.

Both actors are magnificent, fully deserving of awards recognition. Firth (tuxedo surely primed for the Kodak theatre) is the star turn of course. A man struggling to meet his duties with a hot temper but a warm heart, under his overbearing father and his caddish but charming brother (Guy Pearce) as the heir apparent. Rush, is the less flashy turn as the patient and affable Aussie and the film hinges on their chemistry, resulting in a tight two-hander.

They are ably supported by a litany of talent, including Helena Bonham Carter and Michael Gambon, but Timothy Spall’s almost comic Winston Churchill cameo is distracting at best as the one bum note.

As a period drama, The King’s Speech is flawless, with perfect costumes, props and even the genesis of the BBC and, much as it is moving, it’s also funny, as Rush’s Logue breaks down “Bertie’s” stiff upper lip for some genuine laughs and a heart-warming triumph over adversity. Dust off your mantelpieces peasants – the Oscars are coming.

Reviewer: Aoifewantonmovielover

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

In a nutshell: The boy wizard faces his destiny, fans are left hanging but way-hey! The studios make a recession-busting fortune.

Popcorn rating: 3/5

The end is nigh. But don’t worry too much, it’s not the “end” end…not just yet anyway.

To do justice to JK Rowling’s final doorstopper in the series, studio Heyday Films have split the action into a two-part extravaganza – and Director David Yates sets his cards from the off, as Bill Nighy’s Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour intones into the camera: “These are dark times, there’s no denying.”

The fun at Hogwarts is over…in fact, we are leaving lovely, warm, safe Hogwarts behind altogether as our trio go on the run and smack into danger, intrigue and a new battle against eVil.

And, what with chasing horcruxes, growing up, the first flush of love and the rise of old “nostrils” and his Death Eaters …Deathly Hallows – Part 1 is a busy affair. Fortunately, with the luxury of a second instalment to play with, Yates is in no rush to bring the magic to an end.

At just shy of two and a half hours, Part 1 explodes with a dramatic (and frightening) sequence dropping us smack into the action but unfortunately stalling and stop-starts dominate the remainder as Harry & Co. run/disapparate/meander (delete as appropriate) from scene to scene.

Overall, Deathly Hallows is not so much a build-up for the final battle in Part 2, as an exercise in schizophrenic pacing.

However, when it’s on the money, it’s absolutely thrilling. Standouts include:

  • The trio infiltrating the now corrupt Ministry – a section delivering laughs, tension and horror with aplomb
  • A closing act chase in a forest with the frenetic intensity of a Bourne film
  • Ben Hibon delivering a beautiful animation sequence for the fable of the Deathly Hallows.
  • A cast which brings so much prime acting talent from this side of the pond together in a range of adorable, horrible and altogetherwonderful characters (Bonham Carter, Mullan, Fiennes, Thewlis, Walters, McCrory, Spall, Rickman, Staunton, Coltrane..etc)

The less said about Harry and Hermione’s homage to Strictly Come Dancing the better.

Boding well for the final instalment, Part 1 is an uneven but extremely entertaining appetiser. Harry’s game remains spellbinding stuff.

Reviewer: AoifeWantonMovieLover

Winter’s Bone

Posted: November 25, 2010 by aoifewantonmovielover in Film
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In a nutshell: It’s noir country for young women – gritty, realistic, lethargically paced: just like Transformers 2, then.

Popcorn rating: 4/5

A gritty exposure of America’s unseen underbelly may seem an odd choice of viewing for a transatlantic flight – especially when they have Twilight’s Eclipse on offer – but the punishing air pressure and limited leg room only enhanced viewing of the gorgeous Winter’s Bone.

Debra Granik’s second feature takes you to Missouri’s Ozark mountains; an America far away from McDonalds and the affluent high rises. In a tight-knit community struggling against the elements, residents survive the bleak conditions and the crippling poverty by cooking and using crystal meth, affectionately known as ‘crank’.

As sole carer for her much younger brother and sister, 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) must contend with raising them and taking care of her catatonic mother. When the sheriff arrives at their door to tell them that her errant, meth-abusing and manufacturing father has skipped bail after placing their house as surety, it’s just another blow. If he doesn’t arrive at a hearing the following week they will be turned out of their home. Determined to track him down, Ree begins knocking on doors and as the initial frosty reception she receives grows more threatening, she starts to suspect his disappearance may be permanent.

Adapted from Daniel Woodrell’s – who coined the term noir country – novel Winter’s Bone is steeped in mystery, malevolence and blessed with a strong lead in Jennifer Lawrence; coming to a multiplex near you soon in the X-men reboot.

Cinematographer Michael McDonagh captures the stunning, foreboding beauty as Lawrence’s Ree – understated and courageous treks through a cold climate and an even colder reception from her ‘relatives’.

Focusing on family, community, strength and survival, Winter’s Bone does not play for thrills, despite being thrilling. Instead it assumes an unhurried and underplayed canter and succeeds with a walloping impact. At times beautiful while grisly, always powerful yet subdued, Winter’s Bone is a challenging watch, but haunting and worth the emotional investment. In-flight meal optional.

Reviewer: aoifewantonmovielover