Zero Dark Thirty: Review

January 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Film Reviews

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In surveys polling the subjects voters are most concerned about, civil liberties rarely feature, and the consistent willingness of citizens to allow security theatre to infringe their human dignity for entertainment is the only logical explanation for the success of 24.

It would be unfair to tar Zero Dark Thirty with a Jerry Bruckheimer production brush, but the dramatic appeal comes a distant second in the critical appraisal the film has received for its use of violence.

This is entry level marketing: If you can’t sell a film on the quality of the performances, then sell it through the disproportionate publicity you can generate from a controversial stance on a contemporary subject.

Despite the damage done to their reputations at Leveson, some of the last idealists remaining in the adult world are journalists. While the remaining sell-outs still remember fondly the intense undergraduate debates they had as first time stoners.

Combine this with a reasonable PR budget and a subject which remains highbrow only because of the lack of attention it gets and you’re guaranteed a decent publicity window.

The amount of “enhanced interrogation” the film shows is less than five percent of the total running time. The idea of it pervades the film, but what appears on screen is factually accurate but not viscerally engaging.

One of the most frequently used arguments in favour of torture is the “ticking bomb” scenario. However, the most useful information gained by the CIA is after an attack, when Chastain et al trick a sleep deprived prisoner into believing that in his weary, amnesiac state he has given them what they needed to stop his co-conspirators. This allows them to pressure him into revealing other information now that he is a known collaborator.

Torture as inoffensive character and narrative development; or ‘the banality of evil’ as Hannah Arendt would call it.

Forgive me for being Brechtian, but is it too much to ask that a film this dependent upon the exploitation of one of the most serious issues modern society faces doesn’t leave the audience as complacent as ever?

Jessica Chastain’s character is unsubtly used as a metaphor for America as a whole – an innocent naif before she discovers those who want to hurt her, but by remaining determined and persevering through adversity she destroys her enemy. All the while clothed in the attractive facsimile of a protective maternal figure who will do whatever it takes to protect her family.

Zero Dark Thirty is probably a good film but certainly not a great one. Its artistic merits are overwhelmed by a desire to achieve the collective catharsis of a hubristic nation frustrated by a decade of impotence. The only thing less surprising than the ending is the inevitability of Enoch Powell patriots chanting “U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!” after watching it.

Top Four Awkward Award Show Moments

January 28, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

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Awards shows, with no exceptions, are awful. Watching a bunch of overpaid luvvies pat themselves on the back for all the mediocre crap that they’re churned out in the last 12 months inspires rage and hatred in even the most mild-mannered member of the public. That’s why the greatest awards show performances all have one thing in common – they’re subversive. Whether intentional or not, the acceptance speeches and performances we all know and love disrupt the procedures in some way, rattle the audience, and hopefully spoiling everyone’s night just a little bit.

Marlon Brando’s Oscar Rejection

It’s hard to understand what a big name Brando was after The Godfather was released. A large part of his enduring memory nowadays will be of an overweight, elderly recluse, but in 1972, he was the star of a cinema masterpiece, which everyone knew was going to sweep the Oscars. To the surprise of no-one, Brando won the Oscar for ‘Best Actor’.

However, Brando was not at the awards ceremony. In his place, he sent Sacheen Littlefeather, a Native American activist, who brushed the Oscar aside, announcing Brando’s protest against unfavourable depictions of Native Americans
in cinema. The producer threatened to have her arrested, the rules were changed to stop proxy acceptance of awards, and Brando pissed off every member of the academy from the comfort of his own home.

Halle Berry’s ‘Monster’s Ball’ Speech

It’s strange that during an acceptance speech that she won for her amazingly understated performance in Monster’s Ball, Halle Berry should go so insanely over-the-top at the 2001 Oscars. It starts off fairly straightforward; a few tears here and there, but Berry valiantly thanks her co-stars, the Academy, and her manager. So far so good, but five minutes later she’s still talking.

Few members of the cast and crew escape her thanks – she even thanks her lawyer and Oprah Winfrey. By the time it was over and the producer had seriously considered cutting her microphone off, Berry had set a record for the longest speech in Oscars history, and had thoroughly irritated every single member of the audience.

Ricky Gervais and the Golden Globes

Even more than the expense, the prestige and the attention given to the Golden Globes, the most stunning thing about them is how seriously they take themselves. It seems as though the stars in the audience don’t realise that acting isn’t the most important job in the world. Anything that treats the Globes with any less reverence than a religious ritual is pretty much forbidden.

That’s why Ricky Gervais’s hosting of three separate ceremonies all deserve a place on this list. His jokes pretty much have to be seen to be believed. You have to admire the balls of a man who’s willing to accuse Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie of bribing officials into nominating their awful film, in public, in front of their friends and colleagues. Even better than the jokes are the audience reactions. Watching A-List megastars writhing in their seats and trying to look self-deprecating is one of the most satisfying things ever.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler at the Golden Globes

The most recent entry on this list, this year’s Golden Globes, hosted by the two Queens of American comedy, were totally groundbreaking. Firstly, they were actually hilarious. Apart from Ricky Gervais, Los Angeles awards shows can be characterised by how cringeworthy the non-comedian host’s attempts at comedy are. Many of the girl’s jokes were more entertaining than most of the films that won awards. I’d rather watch Amy Poehler take the piss out of James
Cameron than watch Les Miserables, that’s for sure. More importantly though, they did a lot for women. In a world where a female comedian must be referred to as a ‘female comedian’ (or even worse, ‘comedienne’), they showed everyone that even when surrounded by superstars and genius directors, two ladies being very funny can steal the show completely.

The Possession – DVD Release

January 25, 2013 by  
Filed under News

Natasha Calis stars as ‘Em’ in THE POSSESSION.  Photo credit: Diyah Pera

Based on a true story, THE POSSESSION is the terrifying story of how one family must unite in order to survive the wrath of an unspeakable evil.

Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Stephanie Brenek (Kyra Sedgwick) see little cause for alarm when their youngest daughter Em becomes oddly obsessed with an antique wooden box she purchased at a yard sale. But as Em’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic, the couple fears the presence of a malevolent force in their midst, only to discover that the box was built to contain a dibbuk, a dislocated spirit that inhabits and ultimately devours its human host.

Available on DVD, Blu-ray and download to own and rent from 21st January 2013

The Die-Hard’s Guide to Die Hard

January 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

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If nothing else, John McLane is one of cinema’s greatest survivors. A man so unlucky it’s surprising there isn’t a permanent rain cloud over his head. Since 1988 he has continuously found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time but still come up trumps.

It could be 40 storeys up an LA skyscraper with a bunch of German terrorists, stuck in a Washington D.C. airport with a group of American terrorists, or trapped in New York, this time with another, but different, bunch of German terrorists. Every time McLane has proved the spanner in their works, at the cost of only a few cuts and scrapes and a slightly soiled vest.

On Valentines Day, the indestructible one is back to battle yet more terrorists (Russian this time, if you’re interested) in A Good Day To Die Hard. So on the frankly miniscule chance there is still a Die Hard film you’ve not seen, OTB has ranked each installment of the franchise to allow you to decide which ones to catch up on before that date.

Die Hard 4.0

4th: Die Hard 4.0

If you let out a groan when viewing the trailer for A Good Day To Die Hard, you probably did exactly the same when Die Hard 4.0 was released back in 2007. Almost 20 years after the original lit up the screen like a thermonuclear explosion, it was blindingly obvious that by this stage Bruce Willis et al really were only in it for the money.

Appropriate, then, that 4.0 was helmed by Mr. Kate Beckinsale, Len Wiseman – a man who certainly makes movies for no other reason than to wrest the price of ticket from Hollywood’s target youth audience. In terms of return of investment this paid dividends, as 4.0 scooped $383m worldwide to make it the franchise’s most successful film.

However, it is also easily the dullest too. Less a Die Hard film and more an unremarkable action flick that John McLane has stumbled into, its cyber-terrorist plot is plain silly. Worse still, the use of CGI in the main set pieces detracts from the raw stunt work that was series’ trademark. In this case, bigger definitely ain’t better.

Die Hard 2

3rd: Die Hard 2: Die Harder

Die Hard 2 really should have been rubbish. For a start, its nonsensical tagline simply sticks an ‘er’ to the film’s title. Then there’s the fact that the man behind the camera was Finnish hack Renny Harlin, whose only other Hollywood effort at the time had been A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master – the sort of film that The Simpson’s Troy McLure might have been remembered in.

Despite these barriers to obvious success, the sequel ended up being a lot more fun than it had any right to be. Sure, it’s pretty throwaway stuff and suffers by comparison to the original, but Willis is still at his wise-cracking best as he battles to prevent planes dropping out of the skies above the US capital.

The film’s only major weak point is its lack of a convincing villain. William Sadler tries his best as McLane’s nemesis, but with his slightly limited acting chops and clean cut looks he ends up being about as threatening as a Just For Men model.

Die Hard With A Vengeance

2nd: Die Hard With A Vengeance

Perhaps aware that Die Hard 2’s baddies were a little underwhelming, producers of the third instalment went back to the original formula of casting a respected British thesp – this time Jeremy Irons – in the role of chief terrorist. Reinforcing links with the first film, Irons plays the brother of Hans Gruber, Die Hard’s uber-villain, and he is a real hoot as the second German to wreak havoc in McLane’s life.

Having directed the original, action maestro John McTiernan returned to take the reins and stage some memorable blockbuster moments, while the then not quite so ubiquitous Samuel L. Jackson also came on board to give the movie an enjoyable buddy element.

It was the first Die Hard film in which McLane got to perform heroics in his hometown of New York – a city that never looks anything less than glorious on celluloid and adds to the drama here. The third act may flag a little and the ending is somewhat anti-climatic, but Die Hard With A Vengeance is well worthy of second spot in our rankings.

Die Hard

1st: Die Hard

Believe it or not, Die Hard is actually a literary adaptation, taking Roderick Thorpe’s Nothing Lasts Forever as its source material. You’ll be just as surprised to know it was originally intended as a sequel to mindless Schwarzenegger shoot-em-up Commando.

Fortunately Arnie dropped out, allowing Willis to step into the role that propelled him to superstardom and give us what remains one of the best action films ever made. Praise must also be lavished on McTiernan, who came to the project directly after helming Predator – one of the best B-movies ever made – and made every single scene pitch perfect.

Then there’s Alan Rickman’s performance as Hans Gruber. At the time only known as a stage actor, it must have been pretty daunting for Rickman to take the part on, yet he ended up creating one of the most charismatic screen villains audiences had ever seen. Smart, sinister and ever so slightly camp, he provided the perfect foil for Willis’s rough charm.

The first, and unquestionably still the finest.

2013′s Film Preview: The Year of the Sequels

January 14, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

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It seems that director Roland Emmerich and his film that he makes every couple of years—the one where all the people die horrifically—was wrong. 2012 didn’t mark the end of the world, so now we have to live through 2013, a year that currently sounds so futuristic and cool, but in just a few months will likely seem boring and mundane.

Even just a few years ago, it was surely accepted that by 2013 we’d be living in some kind of outer space utopia with robopets and hover boards. But the reality is that 2013 is just like any other year before it, complete with more film sequels for franchises, like the twat-pleasing Fast and Furious and Scary Movie.

We’ve apparently reached the fifth Scary Movie film, which by now, judging from the film’s trailer, has taken to parodying itself. Starring Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, who are both looking to rebuild their tarnished careers, it seems unlikely that many will go and see an hour and a half of sloppy movie references—again, for the fifth time.

However, I think Lohan might find unexpected acclaim from cult audiences for the role she has just about pulled off in The Canyons, an erotic thriller written by American Psycho novelist Bret Easton Ellis.

And for those who don’t find Scary Movie 5 particularly appealing, then fortunately 2013 also marks the return of Ron Burgundy in Anchorman: The Legend Continues. So far only a short teaser has been shot, so it’ll be a long wait before the film finally hits theatres, with filming set to start around February.

Considering the popularity of the original film, I’d say it’s a safe bet that The Legend Continues will make big money when it’s released supposedly around Christmas time.

Another eagerly awaited film coming out this year is Monsters University, the prequel to Pixar’s much-loved Monsters Inc. After a short run of fairly decent but slightly disappointing films like Cars 2 and Brave, this could be the perfect time for Pixar to do something typically great.

Indeed, judging from the film’s trailer and excellently observed promotional website, it looks as if Monster’s University could be one of the best family films of the year, and certainly one to watch out for.

Much less promising is Smurfs 2, which continues to marry an old Belgian comic franchise with insufferable modern day pop music. Seemingly the first film was enough of commercial success to call for a sequel, and so here it is, back by popular demand, in all its half-arsed glory.

Perhaps worst still might be M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth, which looks like a direct cross between I Am Legend and Avatar. Now that even single cell organisms have twigged that M. Night’s absurd twists are hilariously ill conceived, it’s somewhat reassuring to see that he’ll only be directing this one, not writing it.

On a more positive note, The World’s End might be a more satisfying film to go and see. Directed by Edgar Wright and written by Wright and Simon Pegg, it’s a science-fiction comedy about a group of friends who reunite to repeat a legendary pub crawl that ends with the fabled pub “The World’s End”.

However, over the course of the night, they realise that the real struggle is not just theirs, but humankind’s.

Scheduled to be released in the United Kingdom on 14 August, it’s bound to be worth going to see if Wright and Pegg’s previous offerings are anything to go by.

Meanwhile, 2013 should be a great year for action fans, particularly those who like their heroes practically geriatric. Bruce Willis returns as John McClane in A Good Day to Die Hard, Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in The Last Stand and Hugh Jackman—a spring chicken by comparison—reprises his role as Wolverine in The Wolverine.

And finally, considering that this is 2013, year of the sequels, Kiss-Ass 2 looks as if it’s going to be the big movie of the summer, with Jim Carrey now on board as “Colonel Stars and Stripes”.

The House I Live In: Review

January 14, 2013 by  
Filed under Film Reviews

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The House I Live In

Monday 14 January

BBC 4, 10pm

America isn’t just losing the War on Drugs, it’s not even fighting the battle. That’s the slogan, and The House I Live In hits you with it again and again for two hours. Eugene Jarecki’s examination of the War on Drugs – from federal government down to individual street corners, and from the early parts of the 20th century to the present day – won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

But all that really tells you is it’s the sort of film that riles up the US’s left-wing intelligentsia against the right-wing populists. To an international audience, that can be part of the shock. Fallout from the Phoenix and Sandy Hook shootings has given us a fresh reminder of the foothold the far right has in American policy.

The political short-termism induced by the rampant drive to get votes and hit targets is not exclusive to the conservatives, but the particular demonisation of the poor seen here is. Not that we should get too smug this side of the pond. The current talk of ‘benefit scroungers’ and ‘hard-working poor’ are Victorian caricatures of the deserving and undeserving poor come around again.

In Britain, The House I Live In should be seen as a warning of how the refusal to acknowledge “the Dickensian aspect”, as The Wire put it, can block social migration and lead to criminal stagnation. We just lack the ironic backdrop of an American dream to show it up. As one talking head puts it, “In the inner city, these kids are making rational choices.”

Many of our misconceptions of what crack cocaine is and how it differs from other drugs – or who uses it, or the reasons those people turn to it – could be disproved with the minimum of research. But we – and more worryingly legislators – are not minded to do so because they pander to our particular prejudices. It’s what Nick Davies, in his excellent book of the same name, called ‘Flat Earth News’.

The problems perpetuating America’s War on Drugs are macro in scale. They are the petty prejudices and particular problems of a populist legislature. They feed into issues of race, of class and of economics. More than anything else, however, it is the problem of self regard. Of validating oneself by demonising and damning the other.

And if you’d like to see that same moral with songs, Les Mis is on.

A Good Day To Die Hard Trailer

January 10, 2013 by  
Filed under News

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They say: Bruce Willis returns in his most iconic role as John McClane – the “real” hero with the skills and attitude to always be the last man standing. This time the take-no-prisoners cop is really in the wrong place at the wrong time after traveling to Moscow to help his estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney). With the Russian underworld in pursuit, and battling a countdown to war, the two McClanes discover that their opposing methods make them unstoppable heroes.

We say: Unlike many aging action heroes Bruce Willis doesn’t need a co-sign from anyone and continues to absolutely own his deadpan, shoot first, shoot second, shoot third persona.