Cinepub


Last Year In Film: The Visitor by Jamie

Well I managed to survive the first round of Razzie nominations and it certainly feels good to get back to films with a certain touch of class about them after the likes of ‘Disaster Movie’ and ‘The Love Guru’ and it turns out that ‘The Visitor’ is a very fine film to come back to quality cinema with.

Now I must admit that I had heard about this film some time ago but then I completely forgot about it and, when I came to seeing this I had absolutely no idea what it was. I’d kinda hoped it might have been some kind of sci-fi alien film kinda thing. Or maybe something about a time traveller from a dystopian future. That’d be cool. But as the film went on I remembered what I’d heard about it and realised what it was and I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. I haven’t seen a good sci-fi film since District 9 and that was just over a week ago now. Still I pressed on and watched the film. And wow, was my disappointment completely unfounded.

The story is that of a lonely widowed college economics professor, Walter, who travels to his old apartment in New York in order to present a co-authored paper at a conference only to discover a an immigrant couple living there. Now in the beginning of the film Walter is a, well he’s not exactly a mean man, more an indifferent man, a man who views other human beings in the same way he might view an unfamiliar dog or perhaps a shifty eyed cat. Damn unfamiliar dogs and shifty eyed cats. Unfamiliar dogs and shifty eyed cats killed my parents. True story. Except it isn’t.

Anyway Walter’s life is pretty much turned upside down for the better through the influence of these immigrants, in particular Tarek who begins to teach Walter how to play an African drum, invites him to watch him play at  a Jazz club and takes him to play in a drum circle at what I can only assume is Central Park because I don’t know the name of any other parks in New York.

Walter’s new friendship is threatened all of a sudden when Tarek is arrested at a subway station and taken to a detention centre as an illegal immigrant. Soon Mouna, Tarek’s mother, shows up at Walter’s apartment when she becomes worried that her son hasn’t contacted her in some time. Walter soon begins a friendship with her as well as he tries as hard as he can to get Tarek freed.

The film is steeped with messages regarding the changes in attitude towards illegal immigrants, particularly those of Middle Eastern descent since the events of the 11th of September, 2001. It portrays a rather aggressive Department of Immigration Control treating their detainees as little more than cattle, keeping them locked in a building with no outside area, the closest being a room with no roof. They also randomly move their prisoners to other facilities throughout the country or even have them deported seemingly on a whim without alerting their lawyers.

Despite this definitely being a message film it also has a great story which the message really serves as background for. At the end of the day the tale is about Walter and how his experience with Tarek, his girlfriend Zainab and his mother Mouna all affect his life and, in a way, teach him how to view other people as human beings again.

There are a number of times when the movie strayed dangerously close to being a feel good, mushy story and about an hour through I thought I’d pretty much figured out exactly what was going to happen only to be surprised when the story took a different route, one I certainly wasn’t expecting and that’s definitely a good thing.

The acting is superb with Richard Jenkins as Walter truly making the character and his development absolutely believable and Hiam Abbass is awesome as Mouna, portraying a strong woman who’s absolutely heartbroken at the fact that she can’t even visit her son for fear of being arrested herself and the fact that her sons situation reminds her of her husband’s own predicament as a journalist in Syria, arrested for an article he wrote.

Overall I give this film four pints out of five and I heartily, heartily recommend it. Watch it damn it! Laterz.



Last Year In Film: Milk by Jamie

As a straight, white male I don’t think I can claim that I have ever been oppressed. In fact in the entire history of my people you might have to go all the way back to the Roman invasion of Britain to even attempt to make a claim of oppression and a fairly flimsy claim it would be too. What hardships our people faced when the Romans brought us roads, sanitation and mosaics. To be fair though, they did call us wild savages and laughed when we painted our faces blue. That had to sting. Bastards.

So it’s with some trepidation that I come to Milk, the story of 70s gay rights activist and politician. It’s the same problem with films about black civil rights. I can empathise with the people in these films, be disgusted by the actions of the oppressors and I certainly believe that every one is entitled to the same rights as everyone else, regardless of race or sexual orientation but as a member of the group who’s never really had to deal with fighting for our rights, I find it kind of hard to relate to these films sometimes. Not the fault of the films of course, just a circumstance of birth.

With Milk it was even more challenging because, in general, the history of the gay civil rights movement isn’t as extensively covered as that of the black civil rights movement. I could probably name you quite an extensive list of films covering that topic but for films about the gay fight for equality, I could name two and they are both about the same person, this film and the documentary that preceded it, The Times of Harvey Milk, and I’ve only seen one of them.

Anyway, on with the film. It opens with archive footage showing the police raiding several gay bars during the 50s and 60s before going onto the story of Harvey Milk, a gay man living in New York during the early 70s on the day before his 40th birthday. A chance encounter with Scott (James Franco), a younger gay man, leads them both to move to San Francisco for a change of scene. It’s here that Harvey first develops an interest in politics and a hope for the improvement of the lives of gay people in America.

After several unsuccessful attempts to be elected to the position of city supervisor for his district, Harvey finally achieves his goal and becomes the first openly gay man elected to public office. It’s at this point that he meets Dan White (Josh Brolin) a man who he seems to get on fairly well with at first and the men come to an agreement to back each other during votes, in particular White asks Milk to support him on preventing a mental health institute from being built in his district. Harvey changes his mind after finding out more details about the proposition and White becomes determined to oppose him at every turn, leading to his own political downfall. Meanwhile Harvey goes on to greater and greater things, successfully leading the opposition to Prop 6 which would have banned gay people and those who support them from becoming teachers which further deepens Dan White’s feelings of failure. I won’t spoil the ending but if you know the true story at all, and chances are you probably do, then you know what’s coming anyway.

So what is there to say about this film? Well, the performances for one were all brilliant. From Sean Penn to Josh Brolin (who I think I’ve liked in everything I’ve seen him in since The Goonies) to every supporting character. Each actor brings something great to their role, no matter how small it is. The big question is, of course, should Sean Penn have won the Oscar for best actor? Well, I’m still not to sure about that. I’m kinda torn between him and Frank Langella as Nixon at the minute. Penn definitely deserved to be recognised for his portrayal of Harvey Milk but there’s just something that Langella brings to the former President that I feel would have been equally justified had he won the award.

Perhaps the most important thing about the film is the impact it had on me. Well, it certainly made me appreciate the struggle of the American gay community during those tumultuous times and provided me with enough history to help me understand just why the world is the way it is today and the part Harvey Milk played in that. And the ending is incredibly touching, particularly when mixed in with the archive footage. Which brings me to another good point. Throughout the film the action is interspersed with archive footage from the time and it’s far, far less jarring than the faux documentary interviews in Frost/Nixon. That being said I still think Frost/Nixon just beats Milk by a tiny margin as a slightly more enjoyable film. All in all, I certainly recommend Milk and I’ll give it four pints out of five.



Last Year In Film: Frost/Nixon by Jamie

I am an all round geek. A jack of all geek trades and a master of none and one of the facets that makes up that geek whole is political geekery. I first started to become interested in politics around the time that George W. Bush came to power as the president of the United States and so my interest has always been with American politics, which is far, far more interesting than our rather underwhelming British system, and in particular the dark, shadier side of the political scene.

It should be no surprise then that Richard M. Nixon is a particularly fascinating figure to me. His name has become synonymous with political corruption, scandal and abuse of power. There are many who blame him for thousands, even millions, losing faith in the democratic establishment and the political process. The Watergate scandal shook the American system to it’s very core and even today it’s ramifications are felt, so much so that the suffix -gate is attached to almost every political scandal.

Three years after Nixon resigned from the presidency, Nixon agreed to be interviewed by British talk show host David Frost, for the sum of $60,000 and 20% of the profit. The film Frost/Nixon, directed by Ron Howard and starring Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, tells the story of those interviews. Now, I’ll admit it doesn’t sound like the most exciting subject matter for a film but bear with me.

This film is fucking awesome. I cannot impress upon you just how good it is. I remember seeing the trailer at the cinema, possibly before Oliver Stone’s W and I was instantly interested but the trailer did give me the impression that it was heavily, heavily overly dramatised and I’ll admit that having seen the film it most certainly is but to be fair what do you want? It’s a movie, it has to have heightened drama.

The performances are incredible. Michael Sheen is perfect as portraying the young David Frost, a cocky playboy type filled with confidence who you should probably find annoying but he remains insanely likeable. Sheen also has Frost’s voice down perfectly and, if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve grown up knowing Frost as the older gentleman he is today, I’d probably forget I was watching someone else portray him.

Frank Langella delivers a powerhouse performance as Richard Nixon. Ugh, I feel disgusted with myself having read that sentence. Let me try again. Frank Langella fucking rules as Richard Nixon. There much better. He manages to convey a strange mixture of devious intelligence, ignorance and genuine sadness to create a Nixon who is so more compelling than the one-dimensional prick who people are generally thinking of when they talk about the former president.

Rounding out the cast are Matthew Macfadyen as Frost’s producer John Brit, Oliver Platt as journalist Bob Zelnick, Sam Rockwell as journalist James Reston Jr, Rebecca Hall as Frost’s love interest Caroline Cushing and Kevin Bacon as Nixon’s Chief of Staff Jack Brennan. The cast is all pretty good but Rockwell and Bacon really stand out. Rockwell plays Reston as a man who clearly feels as though Nixon has twisted the very concept of Democracy and must be made to confess and Bacon is great playing a man who’s dedicated to Nixon until the end and seems to genuinely believe that the former president is a great, great man that the American people never appreciated as he deserved.

The film runs to about two hours but it never loses it’s pace, even during some of the long pauses during the interviews themselves. In fact these pauses are integral to the interviews, particularly during the last one and manage to rack up the tension as if you were watching a kind of Mexican stand-off and in a way you are. Several times throughout the characters refer to the interviews as battles and that’s the way they seem especially, once more, that final interview about the Watergate scandal. The only difference is that instead of guns they are using words.

Now, if there’s one complaint I have about the film it’s the occasional intrusion of the main storyline by short little, pseudo-documentary interviews. It features the actors portraying the characters discussing the events that have just happened in the film and at times it can really take you out of the film. It’s certainly an interesting idea and at times, it can work by giving a sense of the story going on around the main storyline without intruding on it with unnecessary sub-plots but at times it can come off as superfluous and some of these scenes feel almost like they were just used as padding to build up the running time.

Ooh, now I think of it, there is one complaint I’ve heard and that’s the historical accuracy of the film, in particular the Watergate interview. I can’t really speak to that, I’m afraid as although I have the interviews on DVD I haven’t watched them in a good few months and I have the recall of a goldfish who has repressed most of it’s memories. Probably should have watched them again before I watched this. Nevermind. I’ll probably watch them again later and if it turns out that the Watergate interview is radically different from the way it’s portrayed in the film then those intrusive interviews will probably take me out of the film even more than they did before.

All that having been said though, I really do recommend this film particularly if you have even a passing interest in politics. It really does manage to give you a sense of how people felt about Nixon at the time and just why distrust towards the system, particularly in America, is so rampant today. I can’t wait for the sequel Frost/Skeletor in which Frank Langella reprises his role as the The Evil Lord Of Destruction and answers tough questions on whether or not he let down the people of Eternia during his ill-fated invasion of Castle Greyskull. Until then I give Frost/Nixon four and a half pints out of five.

Laterz.



Last Year In Film: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. by Jamie

Today sees the beginning of a new recurring segment on Cinepub, Last Year In Film. The concept is fairly simple, watching and reviewing all the Oscar and Razzie nominated films of 2008. And I do mean all of them. It’s going to be a massive undertaking and I hope that I can manage to pull it off before the end of the year. With that in mind let’s begin with the backwards-aging, Gumpesque saga known as The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.

Directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, Benjamin Button tells the strange tell of the titular character who is born with what appear to be the signs of old age. His father, horrified by the baby’s appearance and the fact that it caused him to lose his wife during childbirth, abandons the baby on the steps of a New Orleans old folks home.

It soon becomes clear that Benjamin isn’t just one of those children with that extreme aging illness. Rather it seems as though he is actually aging backwards. Throughout his backwards life he has encounters with many interesting character’s and experiences the odd important historical event. He also experiences loss from a slightly different perspective and seems to gain a unique outlook on death, told as he was how he would die when he was a very young child.

The first thing you notice about this film is just how much it’s like Forrest Gump because that’s pretty much what it is but instead of being a little slow, the protagonist ages backwards. The similarities are striking. There’s a love interest who’s a free spirit who just wants to enjoy youth and not be tied down by their stodgier male counterpart until the good times have to come to an end (In Jenny’s case a son and terminal illness, in Daisy’s a severe leg breakage that ends her dancing career.), There’s the kindly mother figure who will try and do anything for their son and there’s the gruff alcoholic who he goes to war with whilst also being a boat captain and who seems to truly treasure his friendship. Fuck, there’s even a scene where Benjamin declares how he managed to get paid doing something he’d gladly do for free.

Despite all that, however, I really, really enjoyed this film and I think most of it is down to Brad Pitt and the character of Benjamin himself. In Forrest Gump, the character seems to stay exactly the same, almost oblivious to the changing world around him. Benjamin, on the other hand, seems to change quite a bit over the course of the film and, probably due to his odd condition, seems to adapt better to the changing world around him than anyone else. As Benjamin gets younger, he retains the knowledge that he has accumulated over the years and so, when he finally ends up looking like he’s in his twenties, there’s a wisdom in him that his appearance belies. Just like Benjamin himself says when he replies to Daisy’s comment about how young he is: “Only on the outside,”

There is, however, one major problem with this film that I cannot let go of. If you knew a dude who aged backwards is that the kind of thing you’d keep to yourself until you were on your deathbed? Hell no! You’d tell everyone you goddamn knew or at least I would. It’s like surviving the Titanic and never telling anyone about it until some treasure hunters decided to look for some precious stone that nobody knew you owned. Seriously.

Anyway, the special effects are great, the story’s pretty good if somewhat recycled and the acting is pretty much awesome all round and you’ve always gotta love a film that lets you hear the Louisiana accent for prolonged periods of time. I had a little trouble following it at first, unaccustomed as my ears are to it and the fact that my laptop speakers are shit, over the course of the film I got to grips with it. So there you have it. I’m sure some people will find the film a bit slow, maybe even tedious but it kept me pretty much hooked all the way through and the ending where Benjamin is finally going through childhood is truly, truly bittersweet. I’ll give it four pints out of five.

Laterz.




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