Sunday, 26 April 2015

April Watch List

1. Gattaca 
 The sort of science fiction that wasn't full of gadgets and robots but simply about DNA. If a child is born naturally it is the lower class but if a child has modified DNA, made in a lab, it is the first class citizen and able to do anything. It doesn't matter how hard someone works or how knowledgeable they, if they don't have the right DNA they are made to work menial jobs forever. Gattaca is a company that sends rockets into space, along with crews, of course all these people have the 'right' DNA. Vincent (Ethan Hawke), born naturally and with a heart defect, switches places with Jerome (Jude Law) who has the 'right' DNA and was swimming star until he was paralyzed after an accident. Vincent has a rigorous routine of scrubbing his body of all his own DNA traces and has to masquerade as Jerome. He gets a job at Gattaca Aerospace Corporation and impresses the suits and finally is assigned to be on the next launch to Saturn's moon. But with days until the launch, his eyelash is found near the office of a murdered manager. A search is made for the 'undesirable' making Vincent dodge the authorities until the launch date. It's an interesting subject and the story plays out well, but the involvement of Uma Thurman's character makes the second half of the film a tad messy. We care about Vincent and that he gets to go into space before his predicted death but his relationship with Irene (Thurman) seems a bit pointless next to the bigger picture. I enjoyed it because it wasn't obvious sci-fi and more about the science of the future and if we can change DNA will it change society and how we are surveyed. It is very slow paced too, but I think that only builds the tension for when and if Vincent is discovered. I'm glad I finally got to see it. 3/5

2. French Kiss
Keeping in the 90's, this time a typical rom-com. Despite have a terrible fear of flying, Kate (Meg Ryan), an uptight American teacher, jumps on a plane to Paris after her fiance breaks up with her over the phone. On the plane she meets Luc (Kevin Kline), a French thief. He starts an argument with her to distract her from the plane taking off. Once in the air, she is calmer. Luc hides a packages he has been hiding in Kate's bag with the intention of getting it back from once in Paris. Typical rom-com set up and story ensues. Kate has all her things stolen, including the package Luc hid, so Luc offers to help her find her finace and win him back in exchange for the things he stole. I may be under selling this film but I actually really enjoyed it. As rom-coms go, you cannot go wrong with Kevin Kline or Meg Ryan in the 90s anyway. I'm a huge fan of Kline's, ever since I saw him as the Pirate King. The shanagans that happen during the film didn't make me want to throw things at the screen but what I couldn't fathom was the time frame. Charlie (Timothy Hutton), the finace is in Paris 48 hours and he ends what seems like a steady relationship for a woman who doesn't have anything interesting about her. Even the the 2-3 days that Kate and Luc spend together doesn't seem plausible for the result at the end, even though they have great chemistry in my opinion. It was funny and yes it was romantic and I liked it. There were some great rom-coms in the 90s, wish we could bring some of that magic back for the films out now. 3/5

3. Excess Baggage
I mentioned this 90s film on The Matinee podcast recently, as I had just seen it. I first saw this film on TV one Saturday afternoon. At first I wondered what the hell was going on and thought it was terrible, but I watched the whole thing. Re-watching it on Netflix, I liked it. I know it was a flop when it came out and I can definitely see why. The plot is basic but weak, the script is rather repetitive, the characters seem like parodies from more serious films, BUT its so bad that its good. Rich brat Emily (Alicia Silverstone) just wants her father to care and notice her so she stages a kidnapping, set to hide herself tied up in her car's boot. But before the police can go collect her, car thief Vincent (Benicio del Toro) steals the car, oblivious to the cargo. Chaos literally ensues. Emily's father send his old friend Ray (Christopher Walken) to find his daughter. Vincent's boss sends his people to retrieve money owed after Emily accidentally burns down the garage with all the stolen cars. Throughout all this, a relationship forms between Vincent and Emily. Of course. I'm unsure if this is a comedy (I did laugh, a lot) or a family drama, gentle gangster film, simply crime caper, its hard to categorise this film, mostly because its all over the place. The crazy turns the film makes, it has an ace cast and its perfect for a lazy afternoon watch. 3/5

4. Adventurer: Curse of the Midas Box
When this film was announced I thought it would be set to be a big British release. It wasn't. After the trailer was released and screenings, it disappeared until I found it in Tesco for £5 just before Christmas. The film boasts a well known cast as well as up and coming Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard, the reason I was interested in this film. I even tried to read the book it based on 'Mariah Mundi and the Midas Box' by G.P Taylor but I got annoyed with the story and the confusing plot. The film changed quite a bit but for the better to make sense of the whole thing. Mariah goes in search of his brother Felix after he is kidnapped. This is shortly after their parents (Keeley Hawes and Ioan Gruffudd), well known historians are presumed dead after being captured by the infamous Otto Luger (Sam Neil). Mariah is assisted by Captain Will Charity (Michael Sheen) who tells him that his parents work for a secret organisation or something and Luger is after the Midas Box, a powerful object that can turn things to gold or something. It is the first film in what was intended to be a franchise but after watching it, I doubt it. The plot is all over the place. The book had a better set up but the film makes sense of things and cuts out a lot of unnecessary plot lines and explanations. Five minutes into the film and realised that this would make an excellent drinking game just using the word 'box'. It is said a million times. Apart from that thought, I found the film too fast paced and not enough emotional attachment to the characters, things felt too far fetched and villains did not seem much of a threat and they didn't have much motives themselves. A few other floors to the film, particularly the ending, sets up for a sequel but all it does, is question the plot even more. My last through was, there were quite a few Welsh actors in it. 2/5

5. The English Teacher
This appeared in Netflix not long ago, but I can't recall it getting a cinema release here. Julianne Moore is the highschool English teacher, Linda, who leads a safe, predictable life until she meets one of her old students, Jason, who was a promising playwright. She reads his play and becomes obsessed with it. She convinces the school to put the production on at the school, have the drama group perform it. She looses her way when she becomes so involved with the show and wants Jason to be too. She believes that his father is unsupportive, from Jason says and from the contents of the play. This results her having sex with Jason in her classroom after a heated argument with his father. This is so out of character for her but it is an incident that is the start of her downfall. Julianne Moore is always great to watch but I wasn't sure what to make of this. It wasn't a standout character, much like the town where it is set, it's basic and the characters are all ones we have seen before, although I think Nathan Lane's over dramatic drama teacher is fantastic. I kept thinking there would be more but I ended up predicting all the events. Maybe I'm being too harsh. 3/5

6. While We're Young
So many discussions were sparked from watching this film. After my friend and I watched it, we came out annoyed but satisfied. I thought the film would be about a married couple in their 40s making friends with a married couple in their 20s, but it was more and I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cordelia (Naomi Watts), both documentary filmmakers, in their 40s, no children are in a rut. Their close friends have just had a child and have focused their whole lives around it, or so it seems. Josh has been making a film for 10 years and Cordelia feels that this has held them back from enjoying life and being spontaneous, especially without the worry of children. They did try but that is in the past and seems too painful to go into detail. After a lecture he is giving, Josh is approached by Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), he is an aspiring documentary filmmaker and she makes ice cream. Josh is flattered by Jamie's comments about his work and a friendship blossoms. Soon the couples are hanging out together, making plans together, Jamie even asks Josh to help on a film idea he has come up with. But its a Noah Baumbach film, nothing is smooth sailing. Without giving anything more away, I'll stop with the plot. I actually discussed the film on The Matinee podcast recently and what was said on there pretty much sums up what I thought about the movie. The characters of Josh and Jamie are at the forefront and the women seem to be less taken care of, Darby even describes herself as 'the girl to Jamie's hitchhiker'. The film is about creativity and integrity in filming which I really enjoyed as its not addressed like in a typical Hollywood style, it feels realistic no matter how annoying you can believe it. Another aspect I admired was that the film was about married couples and they don't have affairs. It was so refreshing to watch relationships that weren't about fidelity. I really enjoyed this film and in some small way relate to struggle that Josh goes through as well having met people like Jamie and knowing they are not to be trusted. 4/5

7. Paddington 

I actually tried to get a job on this film but alas this wasn't meant to be. But I did get to watch one of my childhood characters come to life and not in the stop motions cardboard like animated series I used to love. First impression of Paddington was, I absolutely loved the set documentary film, it made perfect sense, had the director, Paul King's touch but keeping in true nature to the books. My second thought was, how adorable Paddington was. Emotional from start to finish. From the tragic moment in darkest Peru, to when he's evacuated to England, to meeting the Brown family to making an impression to the showdown in the Natural History Museum (great use of the place by the way, its an amazing building) to touching end. It's a beautiful film and I'm so glad I got to enjoy it at home instead surrounded by screaming kids who don't understand how important Paddington is to the older generations. 4/5

8. A Little Chaos
When I saw this in the BFI London Film Festival catalogue last year, I very nearly bought a ticket but at the that minute I decided not to, mostly because I had already spent enough money on other tickets and because I thought the general release would be sooner. Three things about this captured my attention. 1. Kate Winslett was in it and I like her most things, she is one of my favourite actresses. 2. Alan Rickman was directing it, this intrigued me. 3. Matthias Schoenaerts was in it and remembered him from Rust and Bone. When the trailer was released I was very excited. Since that release, I and most casting directors I'm sure have become obsessed with Schoenaerts. Set in France during the building of Versailles gardens. Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslett) is commissioned by famous landscape artist Andre le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) to build the rock grove. She has to navigate life at court as well as successfully build the much anticipated garden. A relationship forms between De Barra and Le Notre attracting the attention of his scheming wife. From the first scene, I felt the film was oddly put together, meaning the edit. It doesn't run smoothly. I wasn't unsure if this was deliberate as the film is called 'a little chaos', this was meant to be reflected in the film structure. I had seen reviews and they either been unkind or average. I thought the film was beautifully shot, the costumes especially exquisite and the casting was perfect. Winslett is always amazing to watch and here she was in her element, proof that there are good roles for women in late 30s early 40s. In fact I quite sure that all the main speaking roles for women, they are not younger than 35, which is unusual and a revelation. Alan Rickman, taking a role in front of the camera as well as behind it, is in his element as King Louis XIV, giving rather pompous speeches as well as taking a quiet moment/day to grieve his dead Queen. Schoenaerts was calming character, showing restraint and order. He seemed wearied by his position, his annoying wife and is resigned to his situation, but there are precious few glimpses of emotion, mostly during scenes with Winslett. I would have liked to see and feel more from their relationship and not just expressed through the garden and plants. The film actually made me want to do more gardens and made me appreciate all the visits to Chelsea Flower Show when I was younger and my dad designed gardens for the newspaper he worked for. I am also now even more excited about (hopefully) visiting the real gardens of Versailles this year. I think this film has been treated harshly, there is beauty in it I cannot express enough how Winslett shines in this. Brilliant film. 4/5

9. Mortdecai
I enjoyed the book the film was based on 'Don't Point That Thing At Me' by Kyril Bonfiglioli as it was humerous, odd and for the most part, easy to read apart from the clunky start. However, this cannot be said for the film adaptation. First off, the story is fabricated. Mortdecai doesn't have a wife until much later on, which is probably why I was constantly irritated by the character's presence. She, Joannna (Gwyneth Paltrow), really wasn't needed apart from to be a reason for Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) and Martland (Ewan McGregor) to argue in a petty school way. It was rather tiresome. The most interesting scenes in the film were actually between Mortdecai and his man servant Jock, an actually well cast Paul Bettany. Mortdecai, dramatic aristocratic art dealer/art thief, has run out of money so when he hears that a missing Goya painting has resurfaced and been stolen AND that is a matter of national security, he sets out to find and bring it back or does he?

The story in the book came across interesting, don't know why by art theft always feel refreshing even though its nothing new, in the film is a muddled mess mixed in with Depp's Terry Thomas impressions. The plot had no urgency to it, nothing felt like 'national security' was in danger. There was too much focus on Mortdecai's new moustache  and his marriage. The casting wasn't great either. Depp, who used to be a great character actor has been reduced to Tim Burton puppet or 'man who appears in films that failed'. I thought he would be great but alas my hopes were dashed. He was funny, he and Bettany together even better. Whatever character he created was hilarious but it wasn't Mortdecai. I cannot even be bothered to go into detail why Joanna and Martland were miscast. In short, the book was better. 2/5

10. Frances Ha

So, it's about experiencing your own situation/problems/obstacles from bad to worse to good. Frances never gives up, she tries her hardest at the same time taking the 'easy' way out. I was worried at the start as everything seemed too good to be true vibes. Frances is following her dream of being a modern dancer, she goes out and has fun, she lives with her best friend 'we're the same person but with different hair' and she even has a boyfriend who wants to live with her. But the latter is where things take a turn making this film amazing and relatable to anyone who has tried, failed, tried again and made a little sacrifice to make progress. When she breaks up with her boyfriend because she would rather live with her best friend, who, at the same time is leaving her for a better apartment. The film is split into sections, all starting off with where she is living. The first part, is bliss. The second is still fun and unrealistic, especially when she looses her job and one her roommates continuously calls her 'undateable' whenever she says something a little off. She then stays with a sort of colleague who makes her feel inferior and childish. After that limited offer to stay expires, she ends up moving back into her old college dorms for the Summer while being paid to be an R.A. But it all turns around after a surprise visit from her best friend. She takes an admin job at her old dance company place while creating a new dance piece. It's her stepping stone and she finally gets her own place. To me, this is inspiring as I'm almost at this age where I will have to sacrifice the artist in me to get a move on and the determination and strange optimism Frances has is great. Also, what I liked about this was that no character at any point felt fake. It was all very real and we all knew it but it wasn't over dramatised. It was simple, like the final dance. 4/5

Avengers: Age of Ulron

I saw this film last week but I was mulling over how to approach this brief paragraph to express how much I enjoyed this film. It wasn't 'just another Marvel' film, it was an epic action film about a group of friends/colleagues who have to fight against a dellusional almighty robot. Unlike all the previous films (and TV shows, except Daredevil) there wasn't really any tie in with the previous films at the start, the film just starts, with a snowy bang. Things are explained throughout the sequence but not to the point it was all clear what was happening. At least not until I saw this week's episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. That aside, I loved the film, Wheadon has really made this (part of the) franchise his own. Screen time and story time was spread out much more evenly between the characters. The main focus of Ultron as a delciously evil and civil sounding overlord robot, voiced to perfect by James Spader was not kicked  to the side. The Avengers even had time to develop their own personal issues away from the team. For me Hawkeye and Captain America were the stand outs, mainly because they had some of the best lines. 'We're on a flying city. We're fighting robots. I have a bow and arrows. None of this makes sense!' A pep talk from Hawkeye himself. CA had the saddest storyline of internal emotions still not yet laid to rest and I think he always will, he is the man out of his time. I don't want to spoil anything but I think that non X-Men versions of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch made excellent additions and proved their worth in the fight. I admit I did roll my eye at the whole, Black Widow- Bruce Banner romance as it kind of came out of nowhere and was annoying, yes, they're both monsters, apparently. One of my favourite moments is just before it all kicks off. The gang are all relaxing and joking around trying to pick up Thor's hammer. The film/story balances the playful moments with the plot heavy, serious ones and it feels like that the films are only getting better.

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