Review – Neds

January 28, 2011

Neds falls into the broad category of “coming of age” movies that automatically have words like “gritty,” “uncompromising,” “brutal” and “realistic” pinned on to them far before we’re given the opportunity to make up our own mind about them. Set in Glasgow in the 1970’s, it tells the story of John McGill, a promising student who falls in with gangs and goes off the rails.

Let’s start off by saying this; Neds has absolute flashes of brilliance in some parts but is ultimately a very flawed experience. Whilst those who are into their Shane Meadows style dramas will certainly find a lot to like, the rest of us might leave feeling somewhat unsatisfied.

Whilst by and large the events that take place in Neds are similar to those of other youth dramas (abuse, violence, searching for belonging etc) and are in part delivered very well compared to its peers, it’s difficult to sing its praises purely because of the major flaw that runs throughout the film; the strength of its lead character. This isn’t a major sleight against newcomer Conor McCarron as much as it is a comment on the development of John McGill as the crux of the narrative (saying that though I couldn’t quite tell if McCarron was meant to look like he was on the verge of bursting out laughing at any given moment or whether this was just a poor job on his part).

The real issue for me is that we’re never really given enough insight into why John does anything that he does. Some things are made painfully obvious but we don’t have the ability to join the dots as we’re never explicitly told how they affect John. We know that he has an abusive alcoholic father, but we never really see John reacting to this up until the point at which he snaps. We see that he initially lives outside of the gangs but don’t really see much of what it is that leads him to become involved in them; what’s driving him? The lust for power? Respect? Control? These questions are never satisfactorily answered and we see John move from one thing to the next without really knowing why he’s doing what it is. Unfortunately this leaves the whole movie a somewhat hollow experience: even after we’ve seen John go full circle and head back to school under the banner of reform, five minutes later he’s off beating the shit out of someone else and we’re never really filled in on the blanks.

Don’t even get me started on the whole hallucinogenic Jesus scene…

The whole package is rounded off nicely (in terms of supporting my previous points rather than satisfyingly) with one of the most bizarre finales I’ve seen in a movie in a long time. Obviously I don’t want to give the game away here, but I’ll just say that its attempts at being metaphorical are heavy handed and overtly obtuse. Once again a suggestion is made towards what these events might mean to or show from the characters, but ultimately they’re not obvious or relative enough to previous events for you to be able to make your mind up definitively to their meaning one way or the other. I’m all for ambiguity and audience interpretation, but crucially for both of these things to actually work, you need to ensure that the audience has the right information to base their judgements on, and in this case they just don’t.

Before I complain too much though, let’s consider that it’s not all about the narrative, as a lot of this film relies on its Scottish setting. The most obvious thing to pick up on is the language. The swearing in Neds is prolific but, if my experience is anything to go by, is quite representative of how Glaswegians speak. Whilst in other areas of the UK (and indeed the English speaking world) fillers within sentences may take the form of “er,” “um,” “like” or “you know,” it’s perfectly normal on the west coast for these to be f*ck or f*cking. These are not usually meant offensively (when used in the aforementioned manner) but those not familiar with its use as such might initially find the language used in Neds a tad excessive. Whilst the language in this film might at first seem a bit over the top, it’s fair to say it’s a fairly accurate portrayal of Glaswegian dialogue.

Even though I live in Scotland and am very accustomed to the accent, there were parts in which I found it difficult to understand what characters were saying; nothing there to spoil the movie particularly for me – but others who aren’t as used to the accent might find it hard to decipher what the characters are saying and thus lose some of the film’s (oft implied) subtleties.

Still, it was in parts an enjoyable watch that perhaps suffers from being slightly overlong and needing better thought in explaining character motivation. Or, if you read every other review I’ve seen of it so far; it’s a gritty, realistic, brutal and uncompromising view of gang youth in seventies Glasgow. Feel free to make your own mind up.


Episode 31 – NOT Cast/Off

January 25, 2011

 

 

Not Cast Off (right click and “save as” for download)

Well hasn’t two weeks just flown by?! We’re back with  another fun filled episode of Casta La Vista with reviews of Black Swan, The Green Hornet 3D and The Next Three days, as well as the ultimate intensity of a mid nineties  Nicolas Cage focussed Castamind.

EXPLOSION!


Review – Season of the Witch

January 23, 2011

And so it was that during  Castamind revision for our upcoming episode, I was feeling extremely proud of myself for picking such a balls out great specialist subject. Nic Cage action movies of the mid 1990’s – I’d already finished (and had a blast with) Con Air and was half way through Face/Off  when the sudden mad urge struck me to venture out to the movies to catch Cage’s latest flick.

Poor old Nicolas Cage – admonished more regularly than praised, he remains the only person we have ever dedicated and anti dedicated episodes to (and it was in the same one too!). There’s something quite enigmatic about Cage because we all know that he has the ability to pull some huge performances out of the bag, but despite that he just seems to have a knack to pick completely rubbish movies; good examples there are Ghost Rider and Knowing which stand out to me as easily two of the worst films I have ever seen. Recent choices have been underwhelming compared to his form of old but have proven themselves to be relatively inoffensive; Next was alright I guess, Bangkok Dangerous was pretty watchable action fare, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was a fun ride and both Bad Lieutenant and Kick Ass proved that he still has the chops when he works with the right material.

Needless to say then I was feeling pretty unoptimistic about Season of the Witch, which has suffered from both a completely lacklustre marketing campaign as well as pretty dire reviews all round – scoring only 4% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite all that though, I felt as though I owed Nic something – like as a friend – so I buried my doubts and optimistically strolled into the screen.

95 minutes later I walked out a different man. Well not quite. In fact I was probably more the same man than I had been after seeing any other film ever. Let’s be clear on this from the off (just in case the aforementioned universal panning didn’t clarify it enough for you already) in no way is Season of the Witch a good film. What I’m here to tell you that this film is nowhere as bad as what you may have been led to believe.

The set up is simple, Nic Cage and Ron Perlman are two disenfranchised knights who have had pretty much enough of killing everyone in the name of God. They abandon the army and head for home, only to find that a mysterious plague has ravaged every town they pass. They’re reluctantly enlisted to deliver a witch (believed to be the cause of the plague) to a nearby monastery, where she can be “dealt with”. They assemble a rag tag band of compatriots and head off to the monastery, only to find that on the journey [insert generic plot twist here].

Like Solomon Kane last year, this film features an intriguing mix of history and fantasy, which helps to differentiate it enough from the mainstay of average cinema. The events are most passable when they’re in full on history mode, as some of the fantasy ends up becoming a little too goofy looking to really be taken too seriously – especially in the climactic ten minutes which actually serve to undermine the subtlety of the preceding eighty minutes by being so ridiculously over the top.

There are some pretty nice performances here; Cage in the lead role is fairly stoic and unemotional, Perlman as his partner is full of wisecracks and punches and Christopher Lee drops in a nice five minute scene with some pretty horrific (in a good way) makeup. Other no namers make up the remainder of the cast but they all just turn up and do their part. No one will be putting this movie at the top of their CV, but it certainly doesn’t deserve to be at the bottom either.

Nic Cage does nothing wrong in this film; saying that though he doesn’t do anything right either; this movie then can happily be added to the likes of Lord of War, Bangkok Dangerous and Gone in 60 seconds which all prove themselves to be as mildly entertaining as any other junk you may happen to flick over to on TV. The real question for me then is why the hell does Nic Cage keep doing this to himself?! Sure we can forgive a bad choice every now and then but this guy seems to have no filter!

Having said that though, it could also be argued that this is exactly what makes Nic Cage so bold and brave an actor – it could be that he’s made his money, paid his dues and now he just does whatever he wants, whether that be the good (Adaptation) or the really really bad (Knowing). I think there must be a degree of personal drive and passion behind his choices of role; otherwise why the hell would he be going back to Ghost Rider?!

Fair play to him I say; I hope he keeps putting out three films a year and that every now and then we strike upon something amazing. But hey even if it’s all junk, we can rest assured that at least someone will be enjoying themselves. Saying that though, I would be too if I was on his kind of money…

I’m aware that maybe went a bit off kilter for a review in the end and became something of a micro-analysis on the enigma that is Nic Cage but it’s hard not o segue into that discussion when he pulls something so average out of the bag yet again. To sum up though I had a pretty enjoyable, completely passable time watching this film and it certainly doesn’t feel to me like it deserves all the negativity it has received. Don’t go out of your way to see it, but maybe consider sticking it on when it’s out on DVD and you have to do the ironing or something.



Tag Team Review – Of Gods & Men

January 21, 2011

Ooh la la it’s another Casta La Vista Tag Team Review. For our viewing delight this time around we watch Of Gods and Men, a French film that has recently found out it is NOT in the running for the best foreign language film award at this year’s Oscars (sacre bleu!). We’ve both seen it and hopefully our words below will tell you whether or not that is a good or bad thing.

Chris M is in Blue, Chris W is in Green. Enjoy!

What is it with these boring films all coming out at the moment? First we have a film about a guy being stuck with a rock, then we have a story about a member of the Royal Family who has a stammer and now we’re treated to a movie about a bunch of monks in Algeria. Whoop de do. Seemingly in an effort to compound the boring image of this film even further; there’s no soundtrack, it’s in French, it’s quite long clocking in at two hours and next to nothing happens!

Quite in spite of (or maybe because of) the above; this film is bloody brilliant. I’m not exaggerating when I see that next to nothing happens in the first twenty minutes and even then the actual “incident” only ever comes in two or three minute scenes interspersed sparingly throughout the film’s duration. The primary focus of the film lies with eight monks who live in a small community in rural Algeria who have a symbiotic relationship with the local Muslim population; a relationship which is disrupted when extremist militant Muslims move in wanting to take advantage of the monks and their resources. Thing is though, despite this being the obvious driving action behind the film’s story; it only ever rears its ugly head once in a while and the real problem the monks have to deal with is the fear of what might happen to them – wrestling with the question of whether or not they should leave their monastery behind.

Of Gods and Men’s greatest strength in my eyes is in its pacing. Sure it may seem very slow but the film moves deliberately between six or so of the eight monks with enough frequency for you to really get a feel of who each one is and what drives them by its climax. It’s quite telling that you can be back in a room with all eight monks sat in the same positions around a table as they were an hour earlier, having the exact same conversation no less, and in no way is it any less interesting, intense or vital as it was previously. I don’t know if I’ve ever enjoyed a film so much where so little seems to happen.

As we’ve discussed before, there is much to be said in the telling of a “true” story. I had an inkling that the events were inspired by true occurrences throughout, but it was only in the written epilogue that my suspicions were confirmed. In light of the above comments regarding the pitch perfect pacing of the movie I’d be hesitant in suggesting that any of the content be cut purely to reduce its length, but it did seem to me that there were two absolutely perfect instances in which the film could have ended five or ten minutes earlier than it did which perhaps would have left the story on a more poignant note. But I guess that it really boils down to whether the intention of the filmmaker was to recount a tale of fact, or to tell an interesting story. In this case it seems to have been the former, but the emotional response I had to both of these two aforementioned incidents indicate to me that the intention should have been the latter; I think I would have walked away more affected without such definite closure.

Of Gods and Men is a brilliant film and was well worthy to be France’s submission for the best foreign language film at the Oscars, despite its failing. If the glut of early year blockbusters isn’t floating your boat right now and you’re in the mood for something a little more measured, I would heavily recommend seeking it out.

 

I approached Of Gods and Men from a pessimistic position. Religion isn’t exactly a subject matter that leaves a pleasant taste in my mouth and the prospect of seeing a film in which two belief systems come face to face didn’t exactly set my heart a flutter.

How pleasing it was then to watch Xavier Beauvois’ film and find myself not only emotionally connected to the plight of these French Monks, but also more aware of the effect religion can have on local communities and the compassion and humanity that these people can offer.

Of Gods and Men is a hard film to watch in many respects because so little is offered up on screen. Indeed the majority of the film focuses on the day to day activities of the monks and the conversations and processes that they go through routinely. From the chapel to the garden, daily meal times and round table meetings, it is quickly established that perhaps what gives these men the strength to survive the threat from outside is their focus and dedication to their own lifestyle.

That is not to say however that the monks are the typical ‘flock’ of religious lore. Whilst the visual imagery of the film throws up comparisons to livestock, these French monks often differ in opinion to one another. They have moments of selfishness and cowardice. They are afraid and argumentative. They are individuals who all have their own ideas for how to deal with the threat of the Muslim extremists, and who at one point or another have to come to terms with the leadership structure that exists within their own community.

Whether Head Monk Christian (His name is Christian. I wasn’t labelling him a Christian. Although he is a Christian. Hope I cleared that up.) is motivated by guilt, pride,  honour or sheer stubbornness in staying at the Monastery, the important thing is that he is in charge. He calls the shots.

Whilst it is rewarding to see these relationships strengthened by the end of the film, the joy of the movie comes from watching it happen, as each monk shows their true self to the audience, either behind closed doors or in a moment of fear or panic in front of the others.

And it is this fear and panic that percolates through the entire movie. It would be hard to describe Of Gods and Men as a particularly exciting movie, and yet at any point there is a sense that any danger could be lurking outside; the extremists that know the monks stand between them and the village they defend; the Government officials who want to suppress the communities political power; the military men who despise the compassion and attention the monks give to the extremists;  any and all of these groups pose an immediate threat to  the Monastery and the local villagers that they provide aid for.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the film is that by the time the credits roll audiences will be unsure of whether or not the Monks are happy to have met their fate, or simply relieved that their journey did not see them lose their dignity or belief in the human condition by being used as pawns in a war they wanted nothing to do with.

A film worth watching and a story worth telling.


My Friends and I – 5

January 20, 2011


Hello everybody! Through my work at QUAD cinema and art gallery in Derby I lead a fortnightly film group that encourages members to watch films that might not already be on their radar. Since we’ve been running we’ve seen a few classics (Singing In the Rain! Inception!), a few safer options (Whatever Works) and a few duds (Tamara Drewe – not covered due to its mundanity!) but each one has given us something to talk about and seeing as that is the point of the group in the first place, it’s all good!

Here’s a quick summary of the three latest films we’ve watched as a group, just to keep you glorious readers up to date!

My Afternoons with Margueritte 

The thing i like the most about My Afternoons with Margueritte is that it isn’t particularly good.

Stay with me. I think there is a tendency in this country (and perhaps elsewhere) to label everything the French put out as bona-fide classics with amazing art direction, subtext and grandiose resonance; My Afternoons with Margueritte has none of these things.

The film is a simple love story set in an idyllic community between a local man, Germain, played by Gerard Depardieu (HE ate all the pies!) and an old woman, Margueritte (2 T’s), who come together over a love of learning, life and pigeons. As Margueritte teaches Germain to read on a park bench her influence on him spills into his relationships with others and he grows in stature and confidence within the community.

Margueritte is one of those happy-go-lucky films that people might reject for being too rose tinted- but it has enough laughs and idiosyncrasies to keep my attention and the truth is I could have stayed with these characters for hours more once the credits rolled. The film feels charming and real- were it in English and starring Judi Dench everyone would be talking about it!

Peeping Tom

We saw Peeping Tom as part of the ID Fest programme at QUAD celebrating English identity in film.

Well, talk about a sense of identity! Peeping Tom is revered as one of the most important also-rans in English cinema. In 1960 Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom lost out in the notoriety stakes to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and was critically panned for decades. The film practically destroyed Powell’s reputation and was one of his last features. However over time Peeping Tom’s reputation has grown and it is now regarded as a classic that lay the way for the serial-killer horrors that followed in its wake.

I like to think that were it not for Peeping Tom shocking audiences with its sympathetic portrayal of serial killer Mark Lewis (an ‘Englishman’ played by a German in 1960- SUBTEXT!!!) then Psycho might not have been half as successful when it was released a few months later.

As a film Peeping Tom has certainly dated, as much in the performances and staging as anything else. Yet there is still a sense of unease and unflinching lust in the relationship between Mark and Vivian (Moira Shearer) that means the film still succeeds in making its audience uncomfortable, which after all is exactly what the filmmakers wanted to do in the first place.

A rightful classic that might not be for everybody.

Somewhere 

I wrote a review of Somewhere as part of our 12 Days of Castmas extravaganza and those words can be found here. Since writing that review my opinion on the film has not waned, in fact if anything it has cemented. Sofia Coppola’s take on Hollywood has infiltrated my mind and I still think of it regularly and become more impressed with its method.

The response has been mixed at best (and that is fine) and if anything I love it more for the effect it is having on audiences, but more importantly I can’t wait to check it out again when the next opportunity arises so I can spend more time with Johnny Marco doing absolutely NOTHING!

Bang up to date! See you for part 6 in a few weeks!


WTF?!

January 19, 2011

 

Howdy Cowboys (and Cowgirls)! Chris and I are somewhat proud of our form of late, having brought you regular episodes since at least September, but you know what? We’re still not satisfied! Whilst the episodes are certainly the bread and butter of Casta La Vista, the delicious meat filling in our sandwich is the written content on the site – needless to say that sandwich has often been left somewhat lacking in the filling department.

WELL NO MORE! From now on (for as long as it takes for it us to not do it anymore) Casta La Vista proudly presents “WTF!”

WTF does “WTF!” mean?!? Why Wednesday, Thursday, Friday of course! From now on in the alternate week to our bi-weekly episode we’ll give you three pieces of written content in a row, one Wednesday, one Thursday and one… you get the idea. This will in no way affect our episode schedule and if you’re more than a little lucky you may well get some extra written content thrown in for good measure 😉

So for now, enjoy your Wednesday and be sure to come back tomorrow (and Friday) for more Casta La Vista written goodness. Oh and be sure to swing around again for a new episode next Tuesday!


Tag Team Review – Henry’s Crime

January 16, 2011

Hola Casta fans! Here’s a review of a film that is most definitely out at cinemas right now but which you’ve probably never heard of. Never fear though because, as ever, your intrepid Captains of Casta are on hand to dish the dirt on Keanu Reeves’ latest flick (in which Reeves decides to rob a bank after a brief stint in prison). As always in reviews of this ilk, Chris W is in green and Chris M in blue.

At a point in the year where I have sworn to avoid the more mundane offerings of the local multiplex, I sat in my seat to experience Henry’s Crime with a mixture of scepticism and fear.

Here was a movie that not only came complete with the usual ‘indie-ensemble’ trappings of quirky character’s and concept (and we all know how It’s Kind of a Funny Story worked out) but also entered UK cinemas without as much as a silent-farts worth of promotion; until 3 days before seeing Henry’s Crime I had no idea it even existed.

It therefore pleases me to announce that I had myself a jolly old time watching the events of Henry’s Crime unfold.

Slow to get going, and perhaps a little too heavy handed with its message, Henry’s Crime is nevertheless an enjoyable caper-cum-life-lesson-cum-romance-cum-existential-theatre-piece-cum-comedy held together by an intriguing central performance from Keanu Reeves, one of Hollywood’s most cryptic stars but someone who this writer certainly enjoys trying to decode on screen.

There is so much to be said about Reeves’ performance alone that it could drown out the rest of the movie, and perhaps one of these days I’ll take the time to write out exactly why I find him so engaging, but suffice it to say that the role of Henry feels like one that the once-dude was destined to play.

Playing a character who begins the film as an emotionless drone and eventually finds his true self through theatre and the love of a good (if slightly overzealous) woman, there is a case to be made that the film acts as a metaphor for the way audience’s generally perceive Reeves as an actor. At least once I started thinking in those terms it was certainly hard to shake the idea!

Films set around staging a play have a tendency of becoming pompous and flagrant, and it’s hard to find a bank heist story that hasn’t been told a thousand times before. Surprisingly in combining these devices writers Sacha Gervasi and David White have done an excellent job of taking tried and tested subplots and caricatures and moulding them into something that feels half original.

Much of this is down to the casting. Peter Stormare has stolen just about every scene I have ever seen him play in, and as a crackpot director in this film he does not disappoint. Vera Farmiga manages to make neurotic, sexy, stylish, awkward, romantic and stubborn look effortless and certainly deserves better work in the future to back up her turn in last year’s Up in the Air. And as the confidence man with a heart of gold but the cunning of a fox James Caan phones in every line he delivers, but still manages to make each one work and raise a smile whilst doing so- you can see him doing roles like this for the rest of his career just to bring in the bacon.

It won’t win awards, it won’t set the box office on fire and it certainly won’t last long in the memory, but for 90 or so minutes on a Friday evening I was charmed and entertained.

There’s no crime in that.


As referenced by Chris above, there was something of an unspoken agreement that we would try to avoid cack films this year, but something about the prospect of walking into a movie knowing nothing about it other than its title and the fact that it starred Keanu Reeves kind of excited me. It’s all too often we’re  given reason to complain because a lazily put together trailer has shown us the last moments of a film so what’s the best way to counter that? Well of that I’m not entirely sure, I thought I’d give going in blind a shot; whilst it may be true that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, in this case it seems that no knowledge at all is worse.

I really really didn’t enjoy this film and for me its greatest crime is that it’s incredibly boring. In varying degrees it’s a romance which doesn’t feel romantic, a character drama which is all but dramatic and a heist movie in which the heist doesn’t feel at all important. I actually took my ipod out and listened to some music at one point (something I have never done before), I was that bored.

The best thing by far about this film is James Caan who, despite having an awfully underdeveloped character to play (the movie makes a point of establishing that he’s a confidence man and then doesn’t give him anyone to con) is entirely watchable throughout – shame then that he didn’t really have anything to do.

As sure as I am that I really didn’t enjoy this film, I’m still quite unsure what to make of Reeves’ performance in this film. Sure there’s some progression, at the outset he’s a blank canvas; a guy who seems unaffected by pretty much everything, including getting sent to prison – by the end he’s professing his love on stage after being shot in the leg (and running back to the theatre might I add…) however I remain unconvinced that there was anything particularly special from Reeves that anyone else couldn’t have achieved. I’m hesitant to jump on the Reeves bashing bandwagon because there was nothing awful about this, I just didn’t see it as anything special.

Admittedly I might not be the intended audience for this kind of movie (I still stand by the fact that Punch Drunk Love was awful – seems to be a good indication of my take on this kind of thing) but even if it wasn’t as excruciatingly boring, its slight positives can in no way counter the slap dash approach it has to so many of its key plot points; the heist which is integral to so many aspects of the movie as a whole is the greatest casualty of this and by the end fades into the background so much that you barely care whether they get away with it or not. Maybe that’s the point of the whole thing, but without a better focus on delivering a solid message in its finale to bring a tidy close to proceedings, Henry’s Crime feels little more than mundane.

Next time I get the urge to walk into a movie blind, I hope that I grab hold of myself and at least force myself to look at a poster. Arguably having the right expectations at the outset could have led to a different experience for me, but I have no doubt that I’d still be saying that Henry’s Crime has set the bar pretty highly for the most boring cinematic experience of 2011.