Sunday, 18 December 2011

That was the week that was (12 -18 December)

Looking at the list of previous posts on the side of this blog, it appears that I've reached my half century with this latest update. To be fair, a few of the previous posts which count towards that total are actually just one edition of TWTWTW which has been split into two posts. Still, I'm pretty impressed with getting to 50. Who knows whether this blog will be cut down in its early 50s (like a Ravi Bopara innings), or will go on to reach the heights of a 'daddy hundred' (like a knock by Alastair Cook)? I'll just have to keep on plugging away every week and see what happens...

In other news, I'm going to take a bit of a hiatus over Christmas so this will be the last edition of TWTWTW until the New Year. I am planning to put together my final top 10 films of the year though, so, as Patrick Bateman told his lawyer, keep your eyes open.

Essential Killing (2010)

A film by Jerzy Skolimowski which won a number of prizes at the Polish equivalent of the Oscars, Essential Killing see Vincent Gallo go on the run as a Taliban terror suspect who goes on the run from the US army. The majority of the action in the movie takes place in the opening 15 minutes, as Gallo is captured by US troops in a cave in Afghanistan, subjected to water boarding and abuse from his captors, transported to a Polish air base, then escapes from an armoured vehicle into a freezing cold and densely forested area of Poland. Even with a running time well under 90 minutes, things soon start to drag once the film's opening section has finished; Gallo never mutters an intelligible word throughout the entire film and for a good hour or so, we just follow him as he keeps running from his pursuers, eating insects and berries to survive. I found the film to be rather dull and slow paced, and we learn very little about Gallo's character, so it is difficult to empathise with him. Despite the slow pace, the film does have a number of redeeming features - particularly the cinematography, which features some beautifully shot and arresting images of the natural world. Nevertheless, I'm not sure I would be rushing out to give it an award if I was on the board of the Polish Oscars.

Rating: 6/10

Easy A (2010)

A modern reworking of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter as a high school comedy.Emma Stone stars as Olive, a good girl who finds her reputation in tatters after (incorrect) rumours of her promiscuity are spread around the school by a judgmental classmate, but decides to make the most of the situation and make a little money on the side. I have to say that I was a little disappointed by this one - I'd seen quite a few positive reviews, so was rather looking forward to it, but ultimately, I felt the film had a number of problems. Firstly (and I suppose this is a common issue with high school comedies) almost every student at the school looked way too old - I'd guess that the average age of the actors playing Olive's peers would be somewhere around 25, but I wouldn't be surprised if some of them were pushing thirty. Secondly, one of the central elements of the movie's premise was that until rumours of her 'easiness' were spread around, Olive was a completely overlooked and unremarkable girl; it seems pretty improbable that a girl as good looking and confident as Emma Stone would be so anonymous in her own school. Thirdly, it seems unlikely that in a modern West Coast high school, Olive would become such an outcast just because she had sex - I could maybe see that as possible if the film was set in the Westboro Baptist Church or Iran or somewhere, but in modern, progressive California? No way! Despite all of those issues, the film still almost worked for me, largely because of the impressive lead performance from Emma Stone. She has a natural charisma and charm that enables the viewer to look past the sometimes hokey nature of the script and the fairly ordinary performances provided by some of the supporting cast. I should also mention that I really enjoyed Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as her (extremely) laid back parents - pretty much every scene in which they appear to offer their often unhelpful advice to Olive feels a cut above the rest of the movie. So, overall then, a pretty average comedy which is boosted by some great performances by certain members of the cast.

Rating: 6/10

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

A sequel to Guy Ritchie's 2009 movie, this one sees the master detective (Robert Downey Jr.) head around Europe in an effort to unravel a dastardly plot hatched by his arch nemesis, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris). He is ably assisted as always by Dr Watson (Jude Law), his brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry) and a mysterious French fortune teller (played by the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace), whose brother is somehow connected with Moriarty's evil scheme. As with the previous film, this version of Holmes is more like a 19th century action hero than the intellectual found within the pages of Arthur Conan Doyle's classic stories. He brawls with muscle bound thugs on the streets, hurls soldiers from the doors of moving trains, attempts to defuse bombs and dodges bullets and shrapnel in a German forest in his efforts to bring down his foe. Although I have to say I am more of a fan of the original conception of Sherlock Holmes, as an action adventure, this film is difficult to beat. Ritchie stages the various major setpieces expertly, and the story moves from one European location to another at rapid speed, so we never really have time to question any inconsistencies. It's obviously a big plus that he's been able to put together such a talented group of actors for the film - though some of them are a little underused (poor old Eddie Marsan, as Inspector Lestrade, has all of two lines in the movie). The movie also has a terrific ending, which (without giving too much away) nods back to one of the greatest Holmes short stories of all. All in all, one of the best big budget films I've seen in the cinema this year.

Rating: 8/10

Man on Wire (2008)

An interesting documentary, which looks back to the year 1974, when Frenchman Philippe Petit walked on a tightrope set up between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City. To be honest, I'd never heard of this story before I became aware of this documentary, but it is a pretty astonishing tale. Petit and his accomplices had no support from the authorities for their actions, and in order to carry out the stunt it was necessary for them to pose as workmen, sneak into both of the towers (in separate teams) and set up the wire across the roofs of both buildings. All of this took a great deal of planning and it is apparent from the interviews carried out with key participants in the event that it could all have gone wrong on a number of occasions. Though I found Mr Petit himself to be a little arrogant, this is certainly a film worth watching - and one which seems especially poignant now, given that the September the 11th attacks mean that such a feat can never again be completed.

Rating: 7/10

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