Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Ciné File Vol. 8

For some reason I seem to have spent the week mostly re-watching a lot of films that came out in cinemas last year. I'm the sort of person that has to be in exactly the right mood for specific films, and something about this week meant I was even less successful than normal in actually branching out and finally making a start on my ever-growing list of unwatched films that I’m dying to see.

Despite this bout of nostalgia – which resulted in losing an afternoon after finding The Way Way Back on Sky Movies, and watching Monsters, Inc. twice in a row while baking – I have managed to squeeze in a couple of new releases closer to the weekend.

Hello, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and Penguins of Madagascar, I’m looking at you…

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BBC1 // 2011 // DVD

"Young Albert enlists to serve in World War I after his beloved horse is sold to the cavalry. Albert's hopeful journey takes him out of England and to the front lines as the war rages on."


Once again Steven Spielberg has made a hugely impressive family film full of spirit and with a strong heart at the centre. I’ll watch anything to do with the First World War, but I do struggle with War Horse as – if I’m being honest – I really don’t enjoy films that revolve around animals. However Spielberg has achieved the impossible as every time I watch the film I’m struck by the strength of the relationship between boy and horse, and extremely uncharacteristically I’m routing for Joey from the offset.

Spielberg’s fantastic cinematographer Janusz Kaminski ensures the film is visually stunning, with vast shots of the English countryside just as striking as the muddy trenches in France; and when coupled with John Williams’ stirring score the whole effect is really quite special. Richard Curtis provides a solid adaptation of the novel by Michael Morpurgo, but – like the book – it’s a little cheesy in parts, which unfortunately detracts from the overall picture. That being said these parts are minimal, and if you’re initially swept up by both the premise and the plot then overcoming them shouldn’t be a problem. There are moments of real beauty.

It's definitely not as mesmerizing as the stage show but it's still spectacular: the cavalry charge in particular is undeniably goosebump-enducing and Tom Hiddleston’s acting has never been better in those horrible, heart-pounding moments. War Horse is a book – and stage show – that deserved to have the room to grow on screen, but the famed horse puppets and the incredible characterization of Joey on stage just aren’t comparable with a real horse. The actors at the National brought Joey to life in such a unique and breath-taking manner by creating theatrical magic. Being in the audience and feeling the sound of Joey’s hooves reverberate through your chair just isn’t matched by watching a horse simply gallop across rolling green fields on screen. Despite being completely different – and arguably incomparable - adaptations, for me the grandeur of the film lessens the emotional heft of the story. Spielberg more than makes up for the differences with a genuinely impressive film with key tender moments, but having been blown away by the stage show this just doesn’t have the dazzling effect that's intended.

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Netflix // 2001 // DVD

"Monsters generate their city's power by scaring children, but they are terribly afraid themselves of being contaminated by children, so when one enters Monstropolis, top scarer Sulley finds his world disrupted."

Good God this film is just brilliant.

The animation of Sully's fur alone is remarkable, add to that the myriad of monsters all sporting different physical attributes, an enormously witty script - that includes a teaser for the greatest Pixar musical still unwritten: 'Put That Thing Back Where It Came From Or So Help Me' - and no end of loveable characters. What's not to like?!*

*Randall. It's very difficult to actually like Randall.

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Sky Movies // 2013 // DVD

"An uptight FBI Special Agent is paired with a foul-mouthed Boston cop to take down a ruthless drug lord."

Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy really are a comedy match made in heaven. The Heat is hilarious from start to finish, with the two of them synching perfectly to deliver a constant supply of crude jokes, physical comedy and excellent timing. It’s not intelligent, thought-provoking cinema but instead crowd-pleasing and shamelessly entertaining.

Also, it’s so refreshing to finally see a cop movie lead by two women. Well done, Hollywood.

* * * *
Sky Movies // 2013 // DVD

"Shy 14-year-old Duncan goes on summer vacation with his mother, her overbearing boyfriend, and her boyfriend's daughter. Having a rough time fitting in, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen, manager of the Water Wizz water park."

This is the sort of film that just hits you right in the feels. I knew as soon as I watched TWWB that I loved it, and even after multiple viewings it’s still a favourite of mine. It takes a lot to make me cry at a film, and I remember being ridiculously shocked to discover tears rolling down my cheeks at the end of this in the cinema last year. I haven’t cried since – I smugly know what’s coming – but it still gives me a lump in my throat, and *spoiler alert* the ending isn’t even sad. Silly Emma.

Writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s take on teenage angst and the coming-of-age movie is definitely formulaic and adheres to a well-used structure, but the strength of the script allows for TWWB to feel fresh all the way through. It’s nostalgic and wistful, and thoroughly lovely. Protagonist Duncan’s (Liam James) romantic exploits with older neighbour AnnaSophia Robb take a backseat as the family melodrama unfolds and everything falls apart (or together?) as the summer progresses. This move makes perfect sense and allows the enormous acting talent of the cast – featuring Steve Carell, Toni Collette and Allison Janey – and the unraveling problems of the dysfunctional family to take centre stage.

Duncan is such a sad and yet uplifting character played wonderfully by Liam James. He’s so awkward, unconfident and shy that at times you can’t help but cringe for him. Sam Rockwell’s Owen, therefore, is a total contrast and the man-child manager almost delights in bringing Duncan out of his shell and unwittingly teaching himself a few things along the way. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship as much as the two of them don’t realize it, and with witty and poignant one-liners (not including those of the “hold please” variety…) they drive the story along.

 TWWB is both nostalgic and endearingly heart-warming: I love it!

* * * *
2014 // In UK cinemas now

"When Katniss destroys the games, she goes to District 13 after District 12 is destroyed. She meets President Coin who convinces her to be the symbol of rebellion, while trying to save Peeta from the Capitol."

These days it seems like every concluding novel in a Young Adult series is being split into two for the final film adaptation, and although I’m pretty cynical as to the reasons why I’ll admit that creatively it’s an excellent decision for Mockingjay. The book is so rich in plot and detail that the two parts give director Francis Lawrence room to breathe and in this instalment lay the groundwork for the inevitable high-octane action sequences coming in the final as the rebellion escalates to dangerous levels.

Part 1 picks up in District 13 after Katniss’s destruction of the arena during the 75th Hunger Games in Catching Fire, and the subsequent triggering of a rebellion across Panem. It’s a very political film, as Katniss initially unwillingly takes up the mantle of the ‘Mockingjay’ – becoming the face of the rebellion and the woman tasked with uniting the districts against the Capitol. A lot of the film focuses on propaganda and how the leaders of both sides use their resources in a desperate attempt to win the loyalty and support of the people.

In some respects it’s a ‘filler film’, but by focusing so much on this side of the rebellion and laying the firm foundations of the post-Games world filled with chaos and destruction what follows will surely hold a much heavier weight. All too often large battle scenes and the deaths of beloved characters can seem hollow and rushed, but having now seen Part 1, the triumphs and inevitable tragedies in Part 2 should be a lot more impressive as they’re preceded by a film with such huge emotional clout.

There may no longer be children killing other children on television, but Mockingjay Part 1 is the darkest in the series so far and perhaps the most sinister as it prepares for what’s to come. Paradoxically both nothing seems to happen and an awful lot actually does at the same time, and despite there being no Games it’s still thrilling.

Watch out for Jennifer Lawrence’s rendition of The Hanging Tree – her voice is so haunting the song will stay with you for days.

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Sky Movies // 2013 // DVD

"While on a tour of the White House with his young daughter, a Capitol policeman springs into action to save his child and protect the president from a heavily armed group of paramilitary invaders."

White House Down has to be one the most unoriginal films I’ve ever seen: I think virtually every scene has already been done in other films and unfortunately it seems to be one cliché and over-used plot device after another. That being said – and with an awareness of the unoriginality in mind – I surprisingly quite liked it.

Channing Tatum is practically a human action man anyway, and Jamie Foxx is clearly playing a younger, cooler Obama, but the two of them seem to work well together onscreen. Even though every “plot twist” can be spotted a mile away by a blind monkey, director Roland Emmerich manages to ensure the pace is lightening fast and they come as a sort of surprise. Against my better judgment I was on the edge of my seat towards the end, and found myself swept up in James Vanderbilt’s script.

It’s not new – it’s essentially a repackaged Die Hard - but I’d say it’s still worth a watch if there’s nothing else on.

* * * *
Framed Film Festival, Barbican Centre // 2014 // In UK cinemas 5th December 2014

"Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private join forces with undercover organization The North Wind to stop the villainous Dr. Octavius Brine from destroying the world as we know it."

Smile and wave, boys: Penguins of Madagascar is a genuinely brilliant film.

Watching this in a cinema full of children yesterday at the Barbican’s Framed Film Festival it was clear from their uproarious laughter all the way through that Dreamworks have yet another hit on their hands. What’s so good about it, though, is the fact that adults can love it too. Although it’s full of obvious humour for the children, screenwriters John Aboud, Michael Colton, and Brandon Sawyer have squeezed in no end of jokes that pass straight over the younger audience’s heads and as a result lift Penguins of Madagascar’s appeal to a much larger demographic. I was surprised, but it's really, really funny.

If you have or know small children then mark 5th December in your calendars and take them to the cinema. If not, then have no shame and go yourself. It’s worth it if only to hear Benedict Cumberbatch struggle to correctly pronounce “penguins” throughout the entirety of the film…

So that's this week's selection: varied but not awfully original, I'm afraid! I've seen a couple more films this weekend too but they'll be featured next week instead. Let me know in the comments below what you think of these films! I'm also on the lookout for any recommendations, so if there's a film that I simply must see then do get in touch!

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