Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for Zzzzzzzzz

We're up to the final day of the A-Z challenge, and I have nothing for it.  I had planned to review Zero Dark Thirty, because it was on TV on Saturday night.  But I worked Saturday night and haven't had time to watch it since then.

Between work, the kids being on vacation, and trying to wrap up the last few chapters of a new novel, finding time outside work to watch films just hasn't been possible.

So my Z post is an exhausted one in which I collapse face first into my bed and Zzzzzzzzz......  Probably a cop out, but we've got to be allowed one bye per season, right?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for You're Next


USA, 2011
Running Length: 95 minutes
Cast: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg
Director:  Adam Wingard
Screenplay: Simon Barrett
Cinematography: Andrew Droz Palermo

Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett have proved themselves to be horror whizz kids with such films as Horrible Way to Die and 2 parts of V/H/S.  This film continues in the same dark vein, but provides laughs alongside the screams and bloodshed.

The set up is so simple it could have been pulled from an Agatha Christie novel: a family are getting together at a country house to celebrate an anniversary.  It’s the first time the adult siblings have been under one room in a long time, and naturally there is a lot of bickering, taking sides and jealous glances between them.

When a dinnertime argument is cut short by an arrow flying through the window, killing a husband, the family are faced with a deadly new foe - animal masked invaders with an arsenal of weapons designed to kill with maximum efficiency and bloodletting.

The hero of this piece is, interestingly, the girlfriend of one of the sons, a tough Aussie chick whose knack for dispatching of bad guys and booby traps is startling until it’s explained that she grew up in a survivalist camp in the outback.

Dark, bloody and full of moments that will make you jump in your seat, You’re Next is an indie horror that will appeal to mainstream audiences as well as this horror-team’s already established fanbase.

Monday, April 28, 2014

X is for eXpelled: No Intelligence Allowed

Okay, so I'm cheating on this one.  But seriously, apart from the X-Men films (which I reviewed last year), how many film titles start with X?  And this particular title is far too abhorrent to ignore....


USA, 2008
Running Length: 90 minutes
Cast: Ben Stein, Richard Dawkins, Margaret Sanger
Director:  Nathan Frankowski
Screenplay: Ben Stein and Kevin Miller
Cinematography: Nathan Frankowski

If there was ever a film certain to divide audiences, this is it.  Ben Stein contends that academics across America and the world are being fired for promoting or even exploring the possibility that there is an alternative theory to Darwinist evolution.  Like a thin, Jewish version of Michael Moore, Stein interviews professors from numerous universities, interspersing these with his own musings on freedom. His point here seems to be that the freedom to dispute Darwinism has been denied by a scientific community that treats evolution as fact rather than theory.

A long list of scientists are cited as having been denied funding, lost tenure or even their jobs for expressing views that counter the theory that life began by random chance.  Stein is sympathetic to these scientists and delights in portraying them as victims.  A stream of Intelligent Design (ID) supporters are trotted out, arguing that scientists have become too slavishly devoted to the theory of evolution and are manipulating evidence to support their claims.

The most interesting sections of the film are those where Stein interviews controversial God-denier, Richard Dawkins. 

While there are some interesting arguments put forward here, and the many holes in scientific knowledge are pointed out, the film doesn’t offer even the most basic definition of ID, leaving it open to the common perception that it is unprovable religious mumbo-jumbo.  This, added to the offensive section linking Darwinism to Hitler’s master-race ambitions, undercuts any serious points Stein and co might have been able to make.

The film’s relentlessly comic tone also does little to help its cause.  Cartoons, jump-cuts and various other “clever” film making techniques are used to lighten the more serious moments.

Often fascinating (in a kind of can’t take your eyes of a car crash way), the film’s style does little to enforce its ideas as being anything to take seriously, despite the seriousness with which they themselves take it. 

Yes, this is likely to be among the most hotly debated films of the year, and one I foresee being fodder for lively discussion long after the theatre has been left behind.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for William S Burroughs: The Man Within


USA 2010
Running Length: 87 minutes
Cast: Wiliam S Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, John Waters, Peter Weller
Director:  Yony Leyser
Cinematography: Eric Burton

Many people see Burroughs as one of the darkest and greatest satirists of the 20th century.  His work is twisted, comic in the blackest possible way, and a damning condemnation of American culture in the mid 20th century.  This film explores the man behind such iconic volumes as Junky and Naked Lunch.

Born into a wealthy Midwestern family, Burroughs exemplifies the American outlaw tradition.  He was a homosexual at a time when homosexuality was both illegal and unspoken.  He was a junkie for most of his adult life and unrepentant about it.  His fascination with firearms led to the accidental shooting of his wife, but this did not dissuade him from owning and using guns for the rest of his life.

He was a poster boy for many movements, from the beat generation to punk, and remains an idol to a diverse range of people from all walks of life.  This film, compact at 87 minutes, wastes no time in painting the man as a kind of mad genius, someone so ahead of his time he could never hope to fit in.  I came away with an overwhelming sense of sadness.  While many admire him, it appears that Burroughs never managed to get close enough to anyone to forge a significant and loving relationship, and it was not until near his death that he even acknowledged the importance of having love in his life.

Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for The Visitor


USA, 2007
Running Length: 113 minutes
Cast: Richard Jenkins, Hiam Abbass, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira
Director:  Tom McCarthy
Screenplay: Tom McCarthy
Cinematography: Oliver Bokelberg

Four or five years ago a little film called The Station Agent charmed its way into my heart.  I have been waiting since then to see what, if anything, director Tom McCarthy would come up with next.  The Visitor is an excellent follow up and gives a rare leading role to character actor Richard Jenkins.

Walter Vale is a professor at a Connecticut college, and has pretty much given up trying since the death of his pianist wife.  Under duress he agrees to go to New York and present a paper he co-authored.  Upon arriving at his little used NYC apartment, he discovers two illegal immigrants living there.  Shocked, he initially kicks them out, but then relents and asks them to stay as long as they need to find a new place.  And thus begins Walter’s transformation from a man barely living, to a man fully embracing all that life has to offer.

When Tarek is arrested and sent to a detention centre of illegal aliens, Walter does everything he can to help him avoid deportation.  The arrival of his beautiful mother from Syria further complicates matters, but forces Walter to open up further and consider the possibility of loving again.  While there is a message here about the state of US immigration law, it is not heavy handed and plays out organically as a part of the larger story.  And this is not a message movie; it is a beautifully crafted character journey, beautifully played by an actor who has given himself entirely to the part he is playing.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for The Unknown Woman


ITALY, 2006
Running Length: 125 minutes
Cast: Xenia Rappoport, Michele Placido, Claudia Gerini, Margherita Buy,  Alessandro Haber, Piera Degli Esposti
Director:  Giuseppe Tornatore
Screenplay: Giuseppe Tornatore & Massimo De Rita
Cinematography: Fabio Zamarion

Definitely the best film to have been screened in the 2008 Italian Film Festival, and winner of a swag of Italian Oscars, La Sconoscuita is a very different film from the director who brought us the whimsical Cinema Paradiso.  In a sprawling Italian city we meet Irena who has fled from Eastern Europe.  The journey has been arduous, often painful and humiliating.  Irena has been scarred by her experiences but she holds fast to her one happy memory (of a lost love) and throws herself into finding a new life.

She manages to convince a doorman to help her find work as a cleaner in the apartment building across from where she has chosen to live.  She has become obsessed with one of the building’s occupants and spends hours spying from her own window.  Eventually gaining access to the object of her obsession, the truth about Irena’s fascination with the Adacher family becomes apparent and her past catches up with her.

There are so many layers of secrets in this film that to write anything more would be to give them away. Owing much to both Hitchcock and Kubrick, this is a fascinating, frightening and superbly crafted thriller that will leave you clutching the edge of your seat.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for The Turning

Australia,  2013
Running Time: 178 minutes






("Small Mercies")

(segment "Boner McPharlin's Moll")


("Damaged Goods")

(segment "The Turning")


("On Her Knees")



("Big World")

("Ash Wednesday")

("Long, Clear View")

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh, Rose Byrne, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, Susie Porter
Cinematography: Denson Baker, John Brawley, Stefan Duscio, Robert Humphreys, Jeremy Rouse, Miles Rowland, Warwick Thornton

Tim Winton’s bestselling book of seventeen short stories is not something most people would see as being an obvious choice for adapting to the big screen.  Robert Connolly is not most people, and he has gathered together an enviable list of Australian cinema talent to put together this compilation film.

Each of the seventeen stories has been made into a short film by a different director, and the result is, as you might expect, mixed.  The book, set mainly on the Western Australian coast, is populated by damaged people.  Alcoholism runs through the stories, as does abuse of both women and children.  But there are also undercurrents of hope and salvation and spiritual awakening that will pull the desperate characters out of the world they currently wallow in.  The tone of the film follows that of the book – melancholy and yearning.

As with most compilations, not all offerings are equal.  Ones that stood out especially for me were Sand, in which two brothers engage in a dangerous game on the beach while the adults fish, oblivious to how easily they could have lost a son, and On Her Knees in which a cleaning woman deals with being wrongfully dismissed with uncanny dignity and passes a valuable lesson on to her son.  I also very much enjoyed the experimental dance piece, Immunity, and the title story, The Turning, in which an abused wife living in a trailer park has her life turned around by befriending a born-again Christian.

The collection is a veritable who’s who of Australian talent both established and up-and-coming.  While the three-hour running time is intimidating, for the most part, the stories are so engrossing, you barely notice the time ticking by.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Stories We Tell

Canada, 2012
Running Time: 108 minutes
Cast: Michael Polley, Harry Gulkin, Susy Buchan, John Buchan, Mark Polley, Joanna Polley, Sarah Polley
Director: Sarah Polley
Screenplay: Sarah Polley
Cinematography:  Iris Ng

I have been a huge fan of Sarah Polley’s ever since I first saw her luminous presence in Atom Egoyan’s films of the late 1990s.  Since then she has become a writer and director to be reckoned with, and this touching, personal documentary shows her growth and maturity as a filmmaker.

The subject of this documentary is Sarah’s mother, the sometimes-actress Diane Polley.  Diane died of cancer when Sarah, the youngest of a brood of siblings, was just eleven.  Through interviews with her father, siblings, family friends and actors who worked with her, Polley assembles a portrait of her mother.  Her father also reads from a poignant memoir he wrote about the marriage, and is a surprisingly good sport when it comes to taking direction from his daughter.

As she delves deeper into her subject, revelations come to light that would knock another filmmaker for a loop and possibly even discourage them from completing the project.  Polley doesn’t abandon her film, and the result is a fascinating portrait of a capricious woman, but more importantly, a treatise on the subjectivity of memory.

While this is a very personal film, the actress never takes center stage.  The film is firmly about Diane and the role she plays in the memories and narratives of other peoples’ lives.  And how different these stories are is startling.  Never before has the infallibility of memory been so ably evoked on screen.

Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for Rock of Ages

USA 2012
Running Time: 123 minutes
Cast: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Director: Adam Shankman
Screenplay: Justin Theroux, Allan Loeb & Chris D’Arenzo
Cinematography: Bojan Bazelli

Rock of Ages is a cinematic adaptation of a Broadway show, much like Shankman’s previous outing, Hairspray.  It’s set in the gaudy ‘80s and the whole film is just like the decade it’s set in: shiny, bombastic, utterly lacking in any real substance, but kind of fun anyway.

The story is simple: smalltown girl heads for the bright lights of LA, meets boy who shares her dream and falls in love.  There are inevitable complications, but everyone lives happily ever after.  The film is set around a rock club called the Bourbon.  It’s struggling and the mayor’s wife, an evangelical Christian (played with scenery chomping gusto by Catherine Zeta-Jones), is determined to shut it down.  It’s up to eccentric rocker Stacee Jaxx to save the club and keep rock music on the strip.

Tom Cruise really steals the show as the debauched Jaxx.  Part Axl Rose, part his own portrayal of the Vampire Lestat, Jaxx is creepily sexy and his chemistry with the tightly laced Rolling Stone reporter trying to interview him is incredible.

It’s a shame then, that there is so little chemistry between the two young leads.  Both have good singing voices, but their performances are shallow and unconvincing.  Even Russell Brand (who I despise) manages to shine in comparison to these two.  In fact, the pair are so forgettable, when looking back at the film, I barely remember any scene they were in.

Shame, because despite its over the top nature, this is a fun film.  There are no surprises (well, maybe one involving Alec Baldwin’s character, but I won’t spoil it), nothing challenging and it finishes exactly the way you knew it would from the first scene.  Yet it is enjoyable, and if, like me, you grew up in the eighties, you’ll know every song and be able to sing along.

I can’t recommend it as a great piece of cinema, but as a guilty pleasure, you probably couldn’t do better than this one.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for The Quiet Earth


New Zealand, 1985
Running Length: 91 minutes
Cast: Bruno Lawrence, Alison Routledge, Pete Smith, Anzac Wallace, Norman Fletcher
Director:  Geoff Murphy
Screenplay: Bill Baer, Bruno Lawrence & Sam Pillsbury from the novel by Craig Harrison
Cinematography: James Bartle

Here’s one from the way, way back... A New Zealand film I remember seeing when I was probably no more than 12.  Yet I remember it.  Probably because it’s an absolute knock-out performance by Bruno Lawrence.

The film opens with Bruno, as Zac Hobson, waking up with one hell of a hangover.  It comes to light that he’d actually been trying to commit suicide, and what he’s waking up from is an overdose of pills, not a hard night on the town.  He’s not entirely with it, so it takes a while for him to realize that he is all alone in the world.  There are no people or even animals around.

It’s not until he arrives at the laboratory where he works and finds the dead body of his project director that the truth begins to sink in. He uses a dictaphone to announce his discovery: a malfunction in the project he was working on has resulted in a massive electrical wave that has either killed the entire population of earth or thrown them into another dimension. 

Zac realizes he is alone.

The first half of the film explores Zac’s solitude and the way it drives him slowly mad - he winds up in a pink petticoat running around a football field.  Once other people show up (it turns out that if you were dying at the moment the pulse hit, you survived), they try to overcome their myriad differences to work together.  Zac’s scientific mind figures out that the pulse that destroyed the world may happen again soon, and if they manage to destroy the equipment in the lab, they may be able to save what’s left of the earth.

There are many flaws to this film.  Firstly, the most interesting parts of the film are the ones where Lawrence thinks he’s alone in the world.  His portrayal of a man alone, with no one watching, is unique and fascinating to watch.  Once the other people show up (and why, given so many people die every minute, are there only two?) the story becomes much more predictable.

Until the ending.  I won’t give it away, but I think the ending is why this story has stuck with me for almost 30 years.  It may be hard to find, but if you can, I urge you to seek out a copy of The Quiet Earth and give it whirl.  The effects will look terrible by today’s standards, but good acting is just good acting.

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Philomena


UK,  2013
Running Length: 98 minutes
Cast:  Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Mare Winningham
Director: Stephen Frears
Screenplay:  Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
Cinematography: Robbie Ryan

The subject matter of Philomena may lead some to believe they’re heading for a gruelling couple of hours.  This could not be further from the truth.

Dench plays the titular Philomena, a woman who survived years of servitude in a Magdalene convent after giving birth out of wedlock. Fifty years later, a chance meeting between Philomena’s daughter and newly disgraced political aide, Martin Sixsmith leads the pair on a journey to find the son Philomena lost so long ago.

Sixsmith is initially unexcited by the idea of investigating what he considers a fluff piece, but after meeting Philomena, something about her honesty and wit intrigues him.  And once he starts researching her story, he becomes more and more excited about what he finds out about the child.  The paper-chase leads them to the US where they are faced with some shocking revelations.

The joy of this film is in the way the viewer takes the journey alongside Sixsmith and Philomena.  They are a mismatched pair, he a lapsed Catholic who embraces his atheism with as much fervour as Philomena still embraces her Catholicsm.  He’s cynical and world-weary while Philomena finds such things as a breakfast buffet novel and exciting.

There are clear villains in the nuns who foil the pair at every turn.  They initially tell them that all the convent’s records were destroyed in a fire, but it soon becomes clear that what they’re hiding is far more sinister.  Babies were sold to families in the USA for large sums of money, including one sold to film star Jane Russell.  I won’t go into detail about what happened to Philomena’s son here because it would ruin the story for you, but it is both poignant and startling.

Dench gives a thoroughly natural and nuance performance as Philomena.  She’s damaged, witty, tragic and upbeat all at the same time as being an utterly radiant presence on screen.  Steve Coogan is a worthy foil too.  I’ve never liked him as an actor, but in this film I could almost warm to him.

While often desperately sad, you will not leave the theatre feeling depressed.  Philomena has enough wit and charm to undercut the heavier moments, not depriving them of their depth and meaning, but offering levity and hope for the future.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for Outsourced


USA 2006
Running Length: 110 minutes
Cast: Josh Hamilton, Ayesha Dharker, Larry Pine, Matt Smith, Asif Barasa
Director:  John Jeffcoat
Screenplay: George Wing & John Jeffcoat
Cinematography: Teodoro Maniaci

Outsourced is a sweet, light comedy about cultural differences. Todd is the Seattle based manger of a call centre selling novelty goods.  One day he is told that the entire department is being outsourced.  The good news is that Todd can keep his job.  The bad news is that he must travel to India to train his replacement and get the new call centre up to scratch.  Todd is not thrilled to be going to India, but the prospect of unemployment is even less thrilling, so he goes.

Initially Todd finds it difficult to adjust to Indian society, but with the help Puro, the man he is training, and Asha, with whom he forms an intimate relationship, he begins to acclimatise.  Asha is engaged to be married to a man she was promised to at the age of four, so there is no future in Todd’s relationship with her despite their mutual attraction.

Lighthearted, yet with enough truth below the surface to keep it from being trite, Outsourced is a feel good comedy with a conscience.  It does not ignore the impact of outsourcing and downsizing, but finds new ways and angles from which to address the issue.  

Jessa Russo's book is out today!  Make sure you check out Divide soon.  I just started it on my Kindle, and so far, it's awesome!

Isn't that gorgeous?

And the book doesn't sound bad either!

From senior class president to dejected social outcast, with just the flick of a match.
After accusations of torching her ex-boyfriend’s home are followed by the mysterious poisoning of her ex-best friend, seventeen-year-old Holland Briggs assumes her life is over. And it is. But not in the way she thinks.
As Holland learns the truth about her cursed fate—that she is descended from the Beast most have only ever heard of in fairytales—she unites with an unlikely ally, good-looking newcomer Mick Stevenson. 
Mick knows more about Holland’s twisted history than she does, and enlightening as it is to learn about, his suggestion for a cure is unsettling at best. Holland must fall in love with Mick in order to break the spell, and save their future generations from repeating her cursed fate. Having sworn off love after the betrayals of her ex-boyfriend and ex-best friend, this may be difficult to accomplish. 
Complicating things further for Holland and Mick, time runs out, and Holland’s change begins way before schedule. With Holland quickly morphing into a dangerous mythical creature, Mick struggles to save her. 
Should they fail, Holland will be lost to the beast inside her forever.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for No Country for Old Men

USA, 2007
Running Length: 129 minutes
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Kelly McDonald
Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Screenplay: Joel & Ethan Coen
Cinematography: Roger Deakins

Based on the relentlessly bleak novel by Cormac McCarthy, the latest from the Coen brothers is a definite return to form after their lackluster re-imagining of The Ladykillers.  It is a faithful adaptation yet the Coens manage to find black humour even in this harshly downbeat crime saga.

While out hunting Llewellyn Moss stumbles upon a gruesome scene.  Dead bodies, heroin and cash are strewn across the desert floor.  Foolishly Llewellyn decides to take the cash.  He knows it is foolish and that very bad men will come after him, yet does it anyway. Sure enough it is not long before he is pursued by the psychopathic Anton Chigurth.  Also watching him is local Sheriff Ed Tom who has spotted him on his return to the crime scene.

Given that this is essentially a three man game of cat and mouse, an amazing amount of carnage builds up. Those who have not read the book will be shocked and thrilled by what comes on screen, while those who have will be delighted to see the novel done such cinematic justice.  Regular Coen collaborator Roger Deakins shoots the unforgiving landscape with precise framing, making great use of the wide expanses and natural light.  Visually and aurally this film is a masterpiece and for the Coens a very welcome return to their roots.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Moonrise Kingdom

USA, 2012
Running Time: 94 minutes
Cast: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Tilda Swinton
Director: Wes Anderson
Screenplay: Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola
Cinematography: Robert D. Yeoman

Wes Anderson’s films are a peculiar thing.  They’re funny, yet sad; absurd, yet totally honest.  This one is no different.

Set on an island in 1965 – although it could be anywhere at any time – the film centers around two pre-adolescent children, Sam and Suzy.  Sam’s an orphan who is on the island at a Boy Scout camp, which he doesn’t particularly enjoy.  Suzy summers there with her family every year.  They met the previous summer and have been pen pals ever since, their missives full of romantic yearning and the desire to escape from under the adult thumbs oppressing them.

They run away and meet in a field.  Sam, ever practical, lumbers along under all the camping gear they could possibly need.  Suzy brings some books to read, her kitten and a portable record player.  Despite the smallness of the island, they seem to think they can find somewhere to hide from the adults who are no doubt searching for them.  They follow an old Indian trail to a cove they name Moonrise Kingdom.

While the youngsters set up camp, swim and share their first kisses, the adults and the rest of the Scouts, are tearing up the island looking for them.  Suzy’s family call the police.  Suzy’s mother has been involved in an affair with the chief, so there are some awkwardly charged moments as they interact.  The Scouts are not all that fond of Sam and arm themselves to the teeth to pursue him.

Much of what ensues is absurd and often hilarious, but none of the actors play for laughs.  In fact, it’s the deadpan nature of the performances that makes the film so funny.  No one winks at the camera or takes their role anything less than seriously, even when things around them become utterly ridiculous.

I have to mention the production design too, because it is striking and beautiful, every color and shape chosen for its overall effect.  The stylization works perfectly and makes every shot a sumptuous visual treat. 

Beautiful, witty, quirky and very sweet, I can’t recommend this one more highly.

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Last Days Here

USA, 2011
Running Time: 91 minutes
Cast: Bobby Liebling, Sean Pelletier
Director: Don Argott, Demian Fenton
Cinematography: Don Argott, Demian Fenton

Probably the saddest rock-doc of all time, Last Days Here tells the story of Bobby Liebling, the lead singer of a late ‘70s hard-rock band called Pentagram.  Never heard of them?  No problem.  Few have. 

Until Sean Pelletier shows up.

Pelletier is a music nerd, an obsessive collector of obscure vinyl and more obscure bands.  Pentagram’s music changed his life, and he takes it on himself to re-release all the band’s unreleased material and drag the band out of retirement for one last shot at the big time.

There are obstacles of course.  Liebling, when we first meet him, is a hopeless junkie living in his parents’ sub-basement.  He shoots smack, smokes large quantities of crack and is convinced he’s infested with parasites that he tries to gouge out of his flesh with his filthy nails. 

All too aware of how unreliable and difficult Liebling can be, most of the band’s members (and over 30 years there have been a lot…) are unwilling to commit to the project.  But Pelletier won’t give up.  He elicits promises of sobriety from Liebling and for a while, thanks to the love of a rabid fan called Hailley, it looks like Liebling may survive long enough to actually do it.

But when the relationship ends and Liebling is arrested for stalking her, Pelletier begins to wonder if resurrecting his idol is worth all the headaches.

This is a painful film to watch, but by the end, you’ll find yourself rooting for these people and their unlikely dream.  There are laughs, but the humour is pitch black and the laughter more a nervous reaction to horror than from anything funny.  I came out questioning the power music has over people and why these hideous old rockers all end up with gorgeous young girlfriends.  Clearly music has a power that can overwhelm reality.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Killer Joe


USA, 2011
Running Length: 103 minutes
Cast: Matthew McConaughy, Gina Gershon, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Juno Temple
Director:  William Friedkin
Screenplay: Tracy Letts
Cinematography: Caleb Deschanel

It’s odd that a film with not a single redeeming character should be so watchable.  Yet Killer Joe is a fun, barmy ride.

Chris is in trouble.  His mother stole his last two grams of coke before he could sell it and now Trigger wants his money.  Chris’s family –dopey, drunk Ansel and sex-on-legs step-mom, Sharla – can’t help.  But Chris knows his mother has a 50K life insurance policy, and the beneficiary is his little sister Dottie.

So Ansel and Chris call upon the services of Killer Joe, a Dallas police force detective who supplements his income with contract killing on the side.  But Joe wants a 25K payment upfront and Chris and Ansel won’t have any cash until after the insurance policy is cashed.  It seems like the situation is hopeless until Joe catches a glimpse of Dottie and suggests maybe she’d do as a retainer.

The most uncomfortable scenes are the ones where Chris and Ansel set up a date for Dottie and Joe.  Earlier in the film Chris expressed concern for Dottie because Sharla parades around the house butt-naked, yet he seems to have no qualms about setting her up with a man many years her senior (I think it was mentioned that Dottie was 12, but she looks more like 18, albeit a young 18….)

From here things get more twisted and more sordid by turns.  The climactic scene includes a vomit-inducing use of KFC that will no doubt have the Colonel spinning in his grave.

Matthew McConaughy gives what is probably his best performance to date as Joe, a cold-hearted killer who has the manners and decorum of a true southern gentleman.  You could see this role as the diametric opposite to the sheriff he plays in Bernie.

While I think the Coen brothers have covered the bumbling crime caper far better, I enjoyed Killer Joe.  It made me uncomfortable and it made me laugh and it made me cringe and cover my eyes.

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for JCVD


USA, 2008
Running Length: 103 minutes
Cast: Jean Claude Van Damme, Francois Damiens, Zinedine Soualem
Director:  Mabrouk El Mechiri
Screenplay: Mabrouk El Mecheri, Frederic Benudis
Cinematography: Pierre Yves Bastard

The latest film from “the Muscles from Brussels” pokes fun at the star’s on-screen persona while humanising and making him almost likable.  Opening with a virtuoso single shot of Van Damme strolling a city street and dispatching bad guy stuntmen with ease, we then get an insight into the man behind the movies.  This JCVD has just lost his daughter in a custody battle and has returned to Brussels almost penniless.  When his card gets declined at an ATM, he goes into the bank and finds himself in the midst of a hold-up and hostage situation.

Having recognized him, the video-store clerks across the street call the cops.  But they mistakenly assume it was JCVD who is holding the hostages, not that he is among their number.  Clearly the movie star heroics he is famous for won’t work against real bullets, so Van Damme is forced to find a real world solution as the media presence outside the bank increases.

There hasn’t been a movie star willing to take a chance like this since John Malkovich parodied his own persona in Being John Malkovich, and Van Damme shows that he does actually have some acting talent.  Never again will we be able to watch Universal Soldier without thinking about this.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for In The Loop & cover reveal!

UK, 2009

Running Length: 109 minutes

Cast: James Gandolfini, Tom Hollander, Peter Capaldi, Anna Chlumsky, Steve Coogan, Gina McKee

Director: Armando Iannucci

Cinematography: Jamie Cairney

If Yes Minister was set in the modern day, and its participants had been allowed to swear, In the Loop would be the result. This is biting political satire at its best and has more than its share of laugh out loud moments.

In London the Director of Communications is enraged by another minister’s comments on a radio broadcast and demands he toe the party line. Meanwhile, US senators and aides are uncovering a secret war planning committee. Needing allies on both sides, the British are called in.

This is farce, but bitingly accurate farce. The politicians are constantly flip-flopping their positions and back peddling to get out of trouble. None of the key players seems nearly as smart as the super-ambitious aides and assistants who do the dirty work, and words are there to be spun rather than taken as truth.

Hilarious, frightening and vicious, this film manages to succeed despite there not being a sympathetic character anywhere to be found.

And now for something completely different, I'm thrilled to be part of the cover reveal for Another New Life, a new NA novel by Sydney Aaliyah Michelle.....

Title: Another New Life
Author: Sydney Aaliyah Michelle
Publication Date: June 2, 2014
New Adult Contemporary Romance
**This book contains adult subject matter. Not intended for young readers.**
Cover Design by: © Arijana Karčić, Cover It! Designs
Miranda Preston is a walking contradiction. Beautiful on the outside, but, insecure, haunted and damaged on the inside. Despite these contradictions, she’s ready to start Another New Life.
When her talent wins her a piano scholarship to the University of Texas at Austin, Miranda arrives on campus determined to experience everything college has to offer and to keep her secrets in the past where they belong.
An easy task, until the first guy who catches her eye happens to be someone, she’s known all her life.
Eight years have passed since the last time Miranda and Troy saw each other. He reminds her of the best and worst times of her life, but she can’t think about one without dwelling on the other. As they grow closer, every day their attraction reminds them they are no longer kids.
The epic romantic love story that is Miranda and Troy seems to be destined for a happy ending, but Miranda knows it's only a matter of time before her secret is discovered. A secret that will not only destroy their relationship, it will destroy Troy, too.
Can Miranda focus on her future with Troy while preventing her past from tearing them apart all over again?
About The Author
Sydney Aaliyah Michelle is a New Adult Contemporary Romance writer, a voracious reader and movie fanatic who 
Sydney has been blogging at for three years, where she interviews people about their tattoos, discusses her favorite movie quotes, reviews books (New Adult & only the ones she loves) and journals about her writing and editing process.hailsfrom Texas. After surviving 5 1/2 years living in China, she had the courage to finally pursue her passion and become a writer.
Sydney’s self-published debut New Adult Novel Another New Life will be available June 2014. An active tweeter, she is also a JuNoWriMo (2x) and NaNoWriMo (2x) winners who notes the sci-fi action flick “The Matrix” as the best representation of her life in the past. She is blessed to be awake now and doing what she loves.