Tuesday, 30 August 2011

DVD Review: Source Code

In a time when plots seem to follow the same pattern, again and again, it's brilliantly refreshing to come across a film that keeps you guessing right to the end. Source Code is such a film. Directed by Duncan Jones (Moon), Source Code is the perfect crossover film. It flawlessly blends Sci-Fi with action, thriller, crime and even a little bit of romance. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Captain Colter Stevens, on a mission to track down the person who bombed a train in Chicago before they set off an even bigger explosion.

Only this is no ordinary mission. Stevens is being sent back, using the top secret military discovery Source Code, to the last eight minutes of a man's life - a man who died on the train. Stevens has those eight minutes to investigate, to chat with fellow passengers, to find the bomb, and find the bomber. Every time he comes out of the Source Code his brain is a little frazzled and he is sent in again and again. Each time, things are the same but just a little bit different depending on what he does.

The plot is surprising and has twists and turns each and every step of the way. Michelle Monaghan is charming and gorgeous as the love interest on board the train and you can understand why Captain Stevens might just get a little distracted with her around. Vera Farmiga shines as always as Colleen Goodwin, the only person Captain Stevens has to talk to every time he returns. Farmiga is so calm and subtle in her acting and yet manages to be utterly compelling whenever she is on screen.

A brilliant action packed adventure with a clever plot, incredible effects, personable characters and surprising twists.

4.5/5 FOBLES

Check out the Youtube trailer below:

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito)

Spanish and Latin Cinema is an entity unto itself within the foreign cinema genre. The films largely deal with taboo topics few other countries would manage to explore (without looking seedy and grotesque) and Brits would normally just steer clear. There have been prostitutes, kidnaps, child abuse, homosexuality, dog fighting and oh so much sex. The sex in Spanish cinema is somewhere between explicit and pornographic and takes some getting used to when you're used to the sensibility of British and American cinema. But once you see a few, you get used to it and it becomes less about the sex and more about the plot going on around it.

The popularity of Spanish films is thanks, largely, to the man behind many of Spain's most recognised film masterpieces – Pedro Almodóvar. I'd say that Almodóvar is the Spielberg of the spanish-speaking world but he really isn't. He's as well respected (possibly even more so!) and well-known but his directing style is completely different. Almodóvar has favourite actors he continues to work with (the well-known Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas as well as veteran Spanish actress Marisa Paredes) and manages to churn out masterpiece after masterpiece. I don't think the man has made a single dud. His films make plot lines that are totally bizarre and make no sense appear clear cut and beautiful. In All About My Mother (my favourite of his films) he not only managed to make Penelope Cruz an HIV positive pregnant nun – but made it seem totally normal. Other hits of his include Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Talk to Her and Volver.

I was incredibly excited then to see that he had signed up one of his favourites, Antonio Banderas, to star in his latest work – The Skin I Live In. I was more than a little confused though by the vague plot that had been released to explain the film beforehand.

A brilliant plastic surgeon, haunted by past tragedies, creates a type of synthetic skin that withstands any kind of damage. His guinea pig: a mysterious and volatile woman who holds the key to his obsession.

Other plot summaries also included references to a wife who had been badly burned in an accident and a daughter who had been sexually assaulted. So why not just reveal a little more? Well the reason, I can tell you, that the plot is so elusive is simple - if you understood the plot, it would ruin the film. It's one of those films you have to just watch because what you discover cannot be told, it must be seen. The film is possibly one of Almodóvar's darkest, simply because it is much more psychological than his others - the majority of the horror is implied not shown - and for that reason left me a little shaken at the big reveal. But be warned - like all Spanish cinema, this is not one for the faint hearted. This is a dark and sinister film that will mess with your head long after you've left the cinema.

For those brave enough to dare to see it, I can tell you that it is certainly another masterpiece to add to Almodóvar‘s list. The film is beautifully executed as always, stunningly simplistic in its dialogue and action, the acting is flawless and like most Spanish films – completely intoxicating. I always relish the opportunity to see Antonio Banderas acting in his native tongue. There are no jokes here, just solid proof that the man is a brilliant actor, clearly wasted in Hollywood. This is also, I’m sure the first of many films starring the most recent addition to Almodovar‘s women – Elena Anaya.

If this is your first attempt into the world of Spanish cinema, I would advise caution and suggest starting with All About My Mother or Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down before seeing this one. If though, like me, you have seen and enjoyed many of the earlier films then this is a must see.

Spanish films have a tendency to grab you from the very beginning and keep you hooked long after the credits have finished rolling. This film will get under your imperfect human skin and stay there.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Film vs. Book meets Kerem Mermutlu

Kerem Mermutlu is the author of My Last Summer and has worked as a bookseller and English teacher abroad. Here he tells me why he loves writing so much and where his favourite places in the world are.

How did you first get into travelling and living and working abroad? What motivated you?

I had graduated from doing a masters degree in art history and theory and was working part time in a bookstore and I basically just wanted to be a writer. I'd been writing all throughout art school with short stories and a couple of novels that didn't work, and at the time I thought I could do a PHD while trying to write in my spare time. But I realized that I had to kind of choose one or the other. I guess doing a PHD and becoming a professor is more sensible than an uncertain future of being a writer. 

At around the same time I read Number9dream by David Mitchell, which was set in Japan. I read that book and loved it and found out that he was actually teaching English in Japan while he wrote the novel.  This got me thinking. I hadn't really traveled anywhere before and I certainly hadn't worked or lived abroad, let alone been to Asia. I figured I could do a PHD whenever. Going on a new adventure to some new place while trying to write seemed far more appealing. So that's how it started.

At what point did you decide to write about a Taiwanese girl? What inspired the story?

The idea of a Taiwanese girl came about when I was actually at Taiwan's international airport and I was having something to eat while waiting for a flight and I noticed the girl who served me. I started to ask myself what her daily life was like, and if she had she ever been abroad even though she was working somewhere where everyone was leaving or going places. 

I liked that idea of someone working so close to somewhere that might help you escape, but never having enough money or bravery to do so. I was in the middle of writing something else at the time so I didn't really think about it again, but that image of the girl and the feeling of wanting to escape, that stayed in the back of my head. About a year later I started to write about her and couldn't stop.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

Well, I’ve lived and worked in London, Japan and Taiwan, but I still want to explore new places, so I don't think I've discovered a favourite place yet. I've visited New York and loved it, so I'd definitely love to go back to America and explore other cities there.

You clearly love writing (I've seen your website!) What is it you love about the process?

I guess I just need to write. Writing for five minutes or twenty minutes a day makes me feel good. I have to do it. If I don't write for a few days then I get very nervous and agitated or just pissed off. I started writing a short story a day on my blog to just experiment with different ideas and see what I could come up with. Now I do it because I need to. It's like writing a diary entry every day. It's my way of writing a diary, you could say.

What sort of books do you love to read. Who are your favourite authors?

I'm really into a lot of new YA fiction at the moment. After I read books like 'It's kind of a funny story' by Ned Vizzini and 'Looking for Alaska' by John Green, I realised that these kinds of books were very easy to read, addictive, and (most importantly) they were fun. They dealt with issues like depression or suicide or just feeling lonely, in a very fresh, interesting way. I used to read a lot of 'serious' books that had big grand themes, but now I just want a good voice that just wants to tell a good story.

What can we expect from you in the future?

There will be a new book coming out in November, which is another YA novel. It's set in England and is about a fifteen year old boy who’s trying to make a movie with one camera and no budget. It also involves stickers, Hello Kitty, a strange girl, and trying to survive school. Thank you so much.

Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes Poster
For those who absolutely hated the Tim Burton remake of the original Charlton Heston Planet of the Apes film, never fear – this is not a remake. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an incredibly clever look at what came before – what happened to make the humans subservient to their all-speaking, all human-esque ape rulers.

The answer comes in the form of James Franco. Franco plays Will Rodman, a scientist researching a new drug that could cure Alzheimer’s which is currently being tested on apes in his lab. Bright Eyes, the chimp that has shown a remarkable increase in brain function, is to be the reason why the drug gets pushed into human trials – until she goes on the rampage, ruining Rodman’s chances of taking the drug further. What Will doesn’t realise at the time is that the reason Bright Eyes has just gone crazy was because she was protecting her baby. Will takes the baby home and soon discovers that the drug that was in mum’s system has passed down to her baby. He keeps him and raises him at home along with his own father Charles (John Lithgow) who has severe Alzheimer’s himself, hence Will’s mission to find a cure.

What follows is an incredibly moving and action packed tale which examines the grey area between what is morally right and wrong and what happens when the bigger picture is not examined closely enough. The baby ape, Caesar, grows to be incredibly intelligent and compassionate – thanks to yet more phenomenal acting by Andy Serkis.  In Will’s defence, Caesar is allowed a fair amount of freedom to be himself.  However, by raising him with humans and allowing him to be an ape at the same time, Caesar is stuck between two worlds, unable to really fit in either one.  It is not until he attacks a human (out of love for Charles) that his reasonably happy home life is shattered and he is sent to a facility for apes. It is here we meet boss John Landon (Brian Cox) and son Dodge (Harry Potter star Tom Felton) who are not nearly as appreciative and understanding of Caesar’s brilliance as Rodman is.

Though there is nothing bad to say about the cast of secondary characters, they just don’t grab the screen as much as the central cast. Rodman’s boss is all about the money and not about the ethics, and his love interest, Caroline (Freida Pinto), adds very little to the story and seems to be there simply to give him someone to talk to while his dad is getting gradually worse. Strangely, though, their performances actually enhance the film by focusing the attention on the emotion behind the plot at all times.
The three main actors are incredible. John Lithgow is simply stunning as the confused old man battling with a horrific disease and his shifts between lucidity and confusion are heart-breaking to watch. James Franco is also brilliant, as he battles to do right by the people he loves (and by people I do mean to include Caesar). He sees that he might be hurting one to save the other but his constant inner battle is done with such simple grace and elegance that it never feels overly dramatic or sentimental.

But the absolute central focus of the story, the action and the core of the film itself has to be Andy Serkis. He brought life to Gollum in Lord of the Rings and has now brought humanity to Caesar. The man can ACT and deserves recognition for it!!! Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes could easily have been an action film with breath-taking fight sequences and very little plot. But thanks to Serkis, this film has not just plot, but heart. It manages to strike a beautiful equilibrium between action and emotion, making both aspects that much more compelling to watch.

The inevitable “rise” of the apes is chilling and gripping stuff as they start to get organised, stand taller and plot and the effects at this point will have you wondering what is real and what isn’t. There are little references throughout to the original but don’t be put off if you haven’t seen it – it will still all make perfect sense. It has humour, honesty and action sequences and a finale that is jaw-dropping … and when I say jaw-dropping I am not speaking metaphorically – there was actually a part where my jaw dropped!

Future film makers take note – this is how all blockbusters should be made! The question remains – when the apes rise, who will you be rooting for?


Tuesday, 9 August 2011

DVD Review: Burlesque

Some films give you exactly what you expect and you can't fault them for doing just what they set out to do. Burlesque is not about the acting - luckily, because bless Christina for trying - and try she does - she can't act. (One scene, where she is meant to be crying and invoking a teary reaction just left me blank). She isn't awful though, it's totally watchable and she gave it a good bash. Luckily for her, her supporting cast can. McSteamy is on top sleazy form, Cher is brilliant as always, Stanley Tucci plays camp so well you just want to squish his cheeks and Cam Gigandet plays a human with great conviction :) There's even a little cameo from Glee star Dianna Agron.

The plot is weak - young girl moves to LA to make it big - but so were so many films before it. The soundtrack is what you watch for. The belting numbers where Christina gets to do what she does best, the women is skimpy outfits miming along to the greats and a selection of Cher numbers to show the youngens just how it should be done.

It's silly and fun and good for a laugh when you want something that isn't too taxing.

3/5 FOBLES xx