Monday, 27 February 2012

What's New?

Sorry for my absence from the blogosphere last week - I caught a heavy, migraine inducing cold that completely knocked me out. Hopefully I'll make up for it this week though as I'll be updating the blog with reviews of The King's Speech stage play, Titanic 3D and Friday's new releases. You'll also find my review of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close just below this post and my latest updates on the Daphne Du Maurier Short Story Challenge on my challenge page.

Also coming soon is a re-cap of my favourite films of the last year in my own Fiction Adore awards! And new regular features on film classics, television classics and actor back catalogues.

I've also recently been accepted as a World Book Night giver (my book is I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith), so there will be more coming on this too.

Coming Soon - television classics including Touch of Frost
Coming Soon - actor back catalogues including Alan Rickman
Coming Soon - film classics

Film Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

FICTION-ADORE VERDICT:   ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ 

I really didn't know what to expect with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards but meeting with poor reviews from UK critics, it seemed like anything could happen.

It tells the story of nine year old Oskar Schell in the aftermath of his father's death in 9/11. Having a strong relationship with his father (Tom Hanks) who set him science and exploration missions in Central Park, Oskar is devastated. But hope comes in the form of a key Oskar finds in his father's closet. This last mission, to find out what the key unlocks, takes Oskar on a journey across New York where he meets hundreds of equally damaged individuals.

Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is an interesting character. Testing, inconclusively, for Asperger's syndrome, he has a distinctly philosophical outlook that projects the film's style. Although Oskar's heightened intelligence makes him harder to connect with, his corresponding anxieties (for instance, he won't travel on public transport for fear of terrorist attacks and has panic attacks when faced with bridges) make him more appealing.

Max Von Sydow is mesmerising as The Renter (lodging with Oskar's grandma), who hasn't spoken a word since a tragedy he experienced in childhood. The rapport between Oskar and The Renter is heartwarming and breathes life in to the film's second half. As Oskar's mother, Sandra Bullock also puts in a powerful performance.

Director, Stephen Daldry (of The Hours, The Reader and Billy Elliot) is creative in telling the story, keeping it feeling fresh throughout its two hours. The camera work and intensity provided to Oskar's explanation in his first encounter with The Renter, is particularly well done and heightens both tension and emotion. The film has a satisfying ending too, that helps the audience step outside of Oskar's point of view for the first time.

Even though it's possible to feel a little manipulated by this film, by its use of the 9/11 tragedy and its repeated emphasis upon damaged characters, it is difficult not to be moved by it. It left me extremely tearful and incredibly, emotionally exhausted.
Oskar and The Renter

For more information see the official site

Friday, 17 February 2012

This Week's Releases

THIS WEEK'S CINEMA RELEASES


Today sees the release of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Following nine year old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) as he tries to uncover a message from his father (Tom Hanks) who died in 9/11, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has been nominated for Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards. Director Stephen Daldry has previously been nominated for Billy Elliot, The Reader and The Hours. Despite this, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has met with mixed reviews in the UK and has been dubbed 'Incredibly Long and Extremely Disappointing' by Empire Magazine. I'll be going along to the cinema soon to make up my own mind.

Also released today is the sequel to the 2007 film Ghost Rider, Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance 3D. Based on the character from the Marvel comics and starring Nicolas Cage, the sequel sees Johnny Blaze recruited by a secret sect of the church to save a young boy from the devil.



THE BEST STILL SHOWING AT CINEMAS

If you didn't catch The Woman in Black or The Muppets last week then they're definitely worth a look. Check out my reviews by clicking on the links.



THIS WEEK'S DVD AND BLU-RAY RELEASES

If you're staying in this weekend, here are this weeks new DVD and Blu-Ray releases:

Johnny English Reborn - Rowan Atkinson returns as the spoof Bond in this hilarious action adventure that is definitely worth watching. It had me laughing out loud and I loved it.

Kung Fu Panda 2 - I didn't catch this at the cinema last year but it sees Po and his friends on another adventure, this time involving a peacock villain with a deadly new weapon. Averaging around three and four stars by the major UK critics, I wish I had caught this one.

Abduction - starring Taylor Lautner (of the Twilight Saga) as Nathan, Abduction is an action thriller about a teenager who discovers his baby photo on a missing persons website. This one didn't meet with love from the critics, but if you're a fan of Lautner, it might be worth a go.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon - with an interesting take on the original moon landing, Dark of the Moon is the third instalment in the Transformers franchise. Not as good as the first but better than the second, this is a good antidote to Valentine's Day fever.

All trailers can be seen on the Fictionadore You Tube channel, accessed in the left hand side bar
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Don't miss this classic humour in Johnny English Reborn

Film Review: The Vow

FICTION-ADORE VERDICT:   ✪ ✪ ✪ 

The latest hollywood romance blockbuster sees newlyweds Leo (Channing Tatum) and Paige (Rachel McAdams) involved in a car accident that results in Paige losing her memory. The last thing Paige remembers is being engaged to her previous fiance Jeremy (Scott Speedman) but she must try to fall in love with her husband Leo all over again. Think this sounds far fetched? The beginning of The Vow announces that it is in fact inspired by true events.

Although it offers a polished version of reality, there is a serious side to The Vow that asks its audience to consider whether or not they would make the same choices if they lived their lives again, that asks them to consider the importance of circumstance and fate in their own lives. And the story is more universal than it seems with its themes bearing a great deal of resemblance to those of unrequited love.

Letting the film down though are an array of fairly limited characters. Paige dramatically fails to see things from Leo's perspective and also fails to demonstrate any real fear about her loss of memory. But with Rachel McAdams at the helm, she does become both appealing and relatable. The Vow's supporting characters, particularly Paige's family are quite one dimensional - the archetype of selfish, controlling parents is now both cliche and tired.

Channing Tatum brings enough sentimentality and warmth to make the story palatable and Leo quickly becomes the character you root for. But The Vow could do without Leo's uninspiring voiceover about 'moments of impact'. Instead of adding depth to the story's meaning, this has the opposite effect, being too simplistic and distracting.

As romances go, The Vow has an interesting angle. The story and its lead characters are surprisingly relatable (even if you do want to shake Paige every now and then) and it passes an hour or so quite painlessly.
For the official website click here.
Trailers can also be viewed on the Fictionadore You Tube Channel.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Film Review: The Muppets

FICTION-ADORE VERDICT:   ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ 

This week's biggest surprise for me has to be The Muppets. I expected a tragic failure but instead I was absolutely hooked from start to finish.

The last time The Muppets were on the big screen it was 1999 and the somewhat lacklustre, uninspiring Muppets From Space. But things have changed since Disney bought the franchise in 2004. Bringing their trademark ability to write classic stories with jokes for children and adults alike, Disney have breathed new life into those little critters.

As the movie begins, Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo etc, have all gone their separate ways. Some of them are living in LA luxury and some are roughing it out virtually homeless as Z list celebs. Meanwhile, Gary (Jason Segel), his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) and his brother, Walter (who looks suspiciously like a Muppet) take a trip to LA to see the old Muppet studios. Here they learn that an evil oil tycoon wants to tear down the studios to drill for more oil. The Muppets must reunite for one more show to save their studios...

What makes The Muppets so special is that it knows how silly it is and makes the most of it with a self-depricating humour that you can't help but love them for. The musical numbers are like Glee, but with bells on and with more laughs. The highlights being 'Party of One' and a particularly brilliant song based on a Muppet pun that I won't spoil for you now - you'll know it when you hear it!

As the main 'human' characters, Amy Adams and Jason Segel are hilarious. Their impossibly innocent characters are endearing and strangely refreshing. There's also a whole host of celebs who join the cast for amusing cameos that are well worth seeing.

So, there's something in The Muppets for everyone. Yes, you'll start to annoy yourself by repeatedly humming The Muppet Show but it's totally worth it. And the romantics among you won't be able to stop wondering what really did happen to Kermit and Miss Piggy in those intervening years.

How could you miss these faces?
For the official website click here.
Trailers can also be viewed on the Fictionadore You Tube Channel.

Film Review: The Woman in Black

FICTION-ADORE VERDICT:   ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪

The Woman in Black is based on Susan Hill's ghost story and sees Arthur Kipps, a widowed lawyer with a young son, travel to Eel Marsh House to deal with the deceased owner's affairs. Coming up against a hostile community, Kipps decides to stay overnight at the property, isolated from the mainland by a tidal causeway. Here he uncovers a dark tragedy and a ghostly apparition that threatens him with a devastating curse.

The Woman in Black has already been successfully adapted for both television and stage, but this latest film version also has a lot to offer. In the words of Susan Hill, the film's script writer Jane Goldman (of Kick-Ass and The Debt), has created a version 'which is totally true to the spirit of the novel but is also true to itself as a film'.

Director James Watkins (Eden Lake), has deftly avoided the temptation to over use CGI effects and has instead opted for a more traditional method of creating fear and suspense which works spectacularly well. Cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones, creatively captures visuals that imply more than they show to make you more scared of what you do see than what you don't. Combining this with perfectly timed sound, the result is plenty of 'jump out of your seat' and impulsive 'close your eyes' moments.

I have to admit that I thought Daniel Radcliffe might be a little too young to play Arthur Kipps. I was wrong. Just five minutes in to The Woman in Black, Radcliffe had convinced me. His cold expressions and washed out palour, powerfully deliver Kipps' grief and fear of loss. In The Woman in Black, Radcliffe distinguishes himself from the Potter franchise, separates himself from his child actor background and secures his future as one of Britain's national treasures.

Radcliffe is supported by Ciaran Hinds - one of the UK's lesser known but incredibly talented actors - who plays the sceptical character Daily. The pair have a strong rapport that helps to convey many of the story's wider themes, such as spirituality, individual and collective fear.

The Woman in Black is truly terrifying, much more so than its 12A certificate suggests. Brimming with atmosphere and talent, it really is a must see classic. Exceptional.



For the official website click here.
The trailer can also be found on the Fictionadore You Tube Channel

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

This Week's Releases

THIS WEEK'S CINEMA RELEASES

Next week it's Valentines day, so of course there are plenty of date movies released this week including The Vow which sees newly weds Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum) involved in a car accident. Paige loses her memory and has to learn how to fall in love with Leo all over again.

If that's not your ideal date movie then perhaps Daniel Radcliffe's first post-Potter movie will do the trick. A Woman in Black is based on Susan Hill's ghost story of the same name and, if the trailer is anything to go by, is sure to have you clinging on to your date for dear life. Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps a lawyer sent to Eel Marsh House to deal with the deceased owners affairs, here he uncovers tragedy and faces the ghosts of Eel Marsh's past.

In case you've somehow missed the hype, this week also sees the release of The Muppets. This movie has scored well with the critics, rated four stars by The Guardian, Telegraph and Total Film. Even for those of you who are not fans, The Muppets release is likely to be a welcome event - at least it will see the end to those pesky Orange (Muppet's) Show adverts they've been showing before every film since last Autumn!

Other releases this week include A Dangerous Method starring Keira Knightly, Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen and Vincent Cassel. This film examines the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung as they develop their groundbreaking theories on psychoanalysis and sees Jung embark on a dangerous affair with his Russian patient Sabina.


THE BEST STILL SHOWING AT CINEMAS

If the new releases above don't take your fancy then try Martha Marcy May Marlene or Carnage. Both are stunning. Click on the links to see my full reviews.



THIS WEEK'S DVD AND BLU-RAY RELEASES

Or if you're staying in this weekend, some superb films have been released on DVD and Blu-Ray this week.

Why not try One Day which tells the story of Emma and Dexter on the same day every year. You can see my full review here.

Also out this week are Woody Allen's Golden Globe winning and Oscar nominated Midnight in Paris, a romantic comedy about a couple who travel to Paris on their family's business trip. As Gil takes daily walks around the city at midnight he learns something about his own life.

Or if you're in the mood for a more Hollywood style rom-com, why not try Friends with Benefits starring Justin Timberlake and Mia Kunis, which sees Dylan and Jamie try to add sex to their friendship without complications. This movie might sound trashy, but it is surprisingly good.

For the more serious among you, Tyrannosaur has also been released this week. Joseph (Peter Mullan) is violent and on the path to self-destruction when he meets Hannah (Olivia Colman) a charity shop worker who seems to offer him a chance at redemption. Tyrannosaur scored a hat-trick at the British Independent Film Awards including Best Film, Best Actress and Best Director (Paddy Considine) and is nominated for Outstanding Debut at the BAFTAs taking place this Sunday.

All the trailers for films currently showing at cinemas and for new DVD releases can be seen on the Fiction Adore channel by clicking the You Tube link in the bar on the left hand side of this post.
The Woman In Black
A Dangerous Method

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Film Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

FICTION-ADORE VERDICT:   ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ & 1/2

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a chilling portrayal of cult initiation and leadership. The audience is led on Martha's (Elizabeth Olsen) journey as she is indoctrinated by cult leader Patrick (John Hawkes) and persuaded to abandon her family. Entirely convincing in his initially gentle approach, Patrick (John Hawkes) attempts to 'cleanse' Martha before developing her into a 'handler' who initiates others. As she becomes more deeply schooled in the life of the cult, Martha becomes not just a victim but also an accomplice in the cult's heinous activities.

This indoctrination is contrasted with Martha's life immediately following her escape. The two years Martha has spent in Patrick's commune have left her traumatised and unable to assimilate back into 'normal' life. Frequent misunderstandings of socially accepted norms, including those around nudity and sex, make for particularly disturbing scenes.

Not only does Martha Marcy May Marlene criticise the cult's lifestyle but, by juxtaposing it with 'normal' ways of living begs the audience to ask their own questions about whether there are acceptable alternatives to westernised culture (self sufficiency for example). Martha asks some of these questions herself but is unable to articulate her ideas. Similarly, the film raises questions about indoctrinisation, as Martha is asked to see a therapist to help with her re-integration to society.

As the confused and anxious Martha, Elizabeth Olsen puts in an exceptional performance. Olsen's portrayal of Martha's conflicting desires to both leave and return to the cult, is mesmerising to watch.

The first-rate script and stellar performances are supported by a remarkable soundtrack which has a mix of stripped back and intimate acoustic guitar songs and climatic symphonies. During Martha's public breakdown, the soundtrack becomes so oppressive it is possible for the audience to feel part of Martha's own confusion and the subsequent silence mirrors her sedated state.

In Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sean Durkin has proved a perceptive writer and director, a view that has been confirmed by critics in his receipt of the Best Director prize at the 2011 Sundance Festival. Terrifyingly dark, Martha Marcy May Marlene is seriously good and stays with you long after the credits have rolled, but a disappointingly unsatisfying final scene keeps it just on the edge of five stars.



For more on Martha Marcy May Marlene see the official website


Film Review: Carnage

FICTION-ADORE VERDICT:   ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪

I've been looking forward to the release of Carnage since Kate Winslet promoted it alongside the release of Contagion on Graham Norton's BBC2 show back in Autumn last year. So has it been worth the wait?

The answer for me is definitely yes. Carnage is stunningly produced and laugh out loud hilarious from start to finish. Yasmina Reza's stage play God Of Carnage (which premiered in London in 2008) translates beautifully to the big screen. The dialogue is sharp, shrewd and makes some insightful points about modern life.

Director Roman Polanski stays true to the stage play, with the majority of the action taking place in the living room of a New York apartment. Here, within four walls that are littered with culture, amidst art books and African sculpture, two middle class couples meet to talk about a fight between their sons.

As the film's name suggests, the mask of civility soon disintegrates into chaos, beginning with snide comments and ending with out-and-out name calling, a vomiting incident and physical mayhem. The parent's feud is fuelled by a more mature bottle of 18 year old Scotch. It is at this turning point (the bringing out of the booze) that the characters get really interesting as we see the couples turn against their own spouses.

For a film that has just four characters and occurs in just one small room, Carnage does exceptionally well to hold audience interest and this is due in no small part to its outstanding cast. John C Reilly is delightful as the uncomfortable and cowed husband, Michael, to Jodie Foster's liberal and principled Penelope. Both Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet (as Nancy, the opposing wife) escalate their character's emotions, from disguised loathing to hysterical anger, flawlessly. Perhaps most astute though is Christopher Waltz as Nancy's husband and passive father, Alan. More concerned with his business as a pharmaceutical lawyer and unable to put down his Blackberry, Alan's character is played with intelligence and subtlety by Waltz.

Carnage is sharp and intelligent with four superb lead performances. Absolutely a must see.

For the official Carnage Facebook page click here

Friday, 3 February 2012

Film Review: The Grey

FICTION-ADORE VERDICT:   ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪

A plan crashes in Alaska. Only a handful of men survive. They have to make it across the frozen wilderness whilst being pursued by a pack of vicious wolves. Admit it, that sounds like the synopsis of a pretty poor movie doesn't it? Based on this and the accompanying trailer, my hopes were not high for The Grey.

Why then is it so good?

Of course, Liam Neeson has an uncanny ability to add quality and substance films that could otherwise be terrible - just look at the 2008 success Taken. In The Grey, Neeson plays depressed and regretful Ottoway, employed by a remote Alaskan oil drilling company to keep the drill site safe from wolves and predators. Neeson deftly portrays Ottoway's inner conflicts, desire for survival and feelings of isolation.

All of The Grey's characters are misfits, social outcasts. This not only heightens the jeopardy, as they fear 'no one will come', but also generates intensity as the characters struggle with their own issues and relationships with home. It is their difficulty fitting in that makes these characters so interesting, making The Grey different to many other Hollywood action thrillers.

Although some aspects of The Grey are a little far fetched (for instance, Ottoway waking up from the crash without a scrap of debris around him), The Grey manages to keep its audience engrossed. The crash scene is particularly tense and there are some moving scenes in its immediate aftermath.

Director Joe Carnahan captures the Alaskan landscape in all its ferocity and, incredibly, The Grey feels very real. It also has some nice post production touches in its use of music and sound, intensifying emotional investment in the characters and plot.

The Grey is surprisingly good. Don't dismiss it for a seemingly implausible plot - it will hook you. 

I'm now intrigued to read the short story Ghost Walker by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers on which the film is based - I will do my best to review it before the release of the DVD!
For more details click here

Film Review: The Sitter

FICTION-ADORE VERDICT:   ✪ ✪ 

The Sitter is a bit of light relief from star Jonah Hill after his more serious role in Moneyball. It follows Noah (Jonah Hill), a suspended college student, as he is coaxed into babysitting three kids for the night. When his girlfriend calls and asks him to pick up some drugs for her party, Noah pops the kids in the car and they set off into a night plagued with robbery, parties and fights with drug lords.

This is not one of Jonah Hill's better films. Although there are a number of good gags, most of the humour surrounds Blithe (Landry Bender), Noah's youngest charge who wants to be a celebrity and acts much too old for her age. As for the others, Rodrigo's character, who is adopted from Mexico, is just too far fetched and Slater's character simply isn't given enough good material.

The Sitter does have plenty of sentiment though. Noah sees the kids for who they really are, giving them plenty of advice for the future, and learns a lot about his own lifestyle. All of the main characters are loveable and Jonah Hill is able to keep the, somewhat tired, chase around the city amusing.

What really damages this film though are the stereotypical and cliche gangsters who litter at least two thirds of the film. The Sitter would have been much improved if Noah had just stayed indoors and interacted with the kids on their own turf.

If you desperately need to see a comedy, then you might as well give The Sitter a go. But don't miss all the other good films that are showing at the moment!
For the official The Sitter website click here

Film Review: Chronicle

FICTION-ADORE VERDICT:   ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪

Three teenage boys find a cave in the middle of the woods, they go inside, experience something weird and emerge with superpowers. If you are fan of The X-Files, this plot might sound familiar. But Chronicle is not a familiar film.

Yes, Chronicle is reminiscent of successful franchises, such as Heroes, but it treats these themes in an original and quirky way. One of the elements that makes Chronicle stand out is that the camera itself plays the lead role. In the first scene, troubled teenager Andrew Detmer (played by Dane DeHaan) acquires a camera and declares that, in order to defend himself from his violent father, he is going to record his whole life. This provides Chronicle's director, Josh Trank, with a creative opportunity. He uses mirrors to film two way conversations and frequently has Detmer levitate the camera using his new found telekinesis skills. And, when Detmer's camera is out of action, Trank uses CCTV footage and home movie cameras of nearby people to tell the story. All of this makes for a creative and visually interesting film.

Chronicle's characters have depth and, by keeping the character's powers limited to telekinesis, Chronicle's writers (Max Landis and Josh Trank) have prevented it from feeling comic book in style. It is possible to believe in both the story and its characters. But neither does Chronicle take itself too seriously and, instead, has fun with the possibilities that telekinesis offers. There is even a scene reminiscent of Harry Potter's Quidditch as the trio play a game of American football flying around in the clouds.

As the trio google telekinesis, levitate lego pieces to create a model of the Seattle Space Needle and play practical jokes on kids in a toy store, you really start to like these guys. They are fun, honest and seemingly harmless. But, as the story progresses, Detmer becomes increasingly unhinged, resulting in carnage during Chronicle's last thirty minutes. This finale is the least entertaining and most cliche part of the movie. It is the only element that lets Chronicle down. In these final scenes the use of home cameras and CCTV to tell the story becomes tenuous and Chronicle slips into the territory of average disaster movies. This style jars with the creativity of Chronicle's earlier style.

What it lacks in the originality of its topic, Chronicle makes up for in style. Chronicle is both a welcome antidote to the influx of intense films in town for Oscar season and, with some moments of real genius is well worthy of an audience. With a more original ending, Chronicle would have been a revelation in the superpower genre.
For more information on Chronicle click here