Tag Team Review – Tangled

February 4, 2011

Disney are back with the fiftieth in their animated classics collection – are they firing on all cylinders or just firing blanks?  It’s too much for one grown up man to decide, so why not listen to two? As always, Chris M in blue, Chris W in green.

It may comes as a surprise to you dear reader, that how much I like a film isn’t always directly proportional to how good I think the film is. Whilst certainly Tangled isn’t the best film I’ve seen so far this year, it’s probably my favourite (although it’s a close call between this and The King’s Speech which I’m still swooning over a little). Disney’s reimagining of Rapunzel is a bigger homerun than I could have possibly expected. Get ready for some gushing.

I could easily spiel on about how fond I am of this film for longer than even a full solo written review would allow so to keep it simple I’ll say that I loved:

  • Rapunzel; she’s a pitch perfect wonderfully naïve main character who actually seems like an eighteen year old for once
  • Ryder; a great rogueish charming leading man
  • Maximus and Pascal; great additions to Disney’s roster of strong supporting (hilarious) silent characters
  • Gothel; refreshing to see a bad guy who wasn’t all out evil or after taking over the world but was just extremely selfish – she’s still just as sneaky, deceitful and conniving as you’d hope though
  • The frying pan

It’s obvious then that the main thing I loved then was the cast of characters, but truth be told if you’re on board with the characters and as smitten with them as I was, it doesn’t really matter what they’re doing as long as they keep doing it.

The reason in my eyes that Tangled is so good is that Disney have finally stopped trying to catch up with everyone else and have gone back to their roots. Sure the CG nature of the film brings along some of the traits now commonplace in the genre, (including some very slapstick humour) but at the core of it all, the movie is so intrinsically Disney (arguably other than the visual style) that in my mind it fits right in with Aladdin, Jungle Book, The Lion King and all the rest – probably the first time we can say that in around ten yearsIf, like me, you’ve been brought up with Disney films as a third parent, you’re really going to love this; I’m still buzzing off it a week later! We discussed last year (in our first Tag Team review no less!) that the Princess and the Frog was a welcome return to proper Disney films but only really a step in the right direction of their mid nineties heyday. One year later I’m here to tell you that Tangled is hands down the best Disney film since (my personal favourite) Hercules. It’s still too early in the year to make bold comments but I’m going out on a limb in saying that Disney have set the bar pretty high for animated films in 2011 and could well be on for the best animated film of the year. Saying that though, it may just be because Pixar are only releasing Cars 2…

More please!

Castafans, this will be my last review of a computer-animated movie that isn’t promoted by a trailer that starts off with “from the studio that brought you Finding Nemo”.

I could not connect with any part of Tangled whatsoever and as a result I was bored for almost its entire duration. For me there wasn’t enough originality, humanity or adventure.

I spent large sections of the film wondering if it might’ve looked better hand drawn; Rapunzel’s hair in particular didn’t have the same flow and energy of, say, the vines and branches of Tarzan (if that’s a worthy comparison?).

But all of my foibles are completely moot because I can 100% accept that none of that matters as the target audience for Tangled clearly loved it to bits and lapped it up in spades; and I know that’s true because I asked a family leaving the cinema at the same time as me whether they enjoyed it or not.

The two young girls were particularly blown away; they said the animals were funny and Rapunzel was beautiful (this conversation genuinely happened by the way- I’ve got the CRB check to prove it).

The mother was slightly more articulate; “I loved it. But then again I love a good romance and it was very funny too”

I asked her how she thought it compared to a film like Toy Story 3 to which she responded;

“Well, I don’t really like Toy Story. I don’t see what the fuss is about”.

Now, this small interaction proves nothing, and is in no way representative of the views of the majority of the cinema going public- either coming from the family, or from myself. But maybe there is something here I need to learn from.

Whilst I might yearn for a deeper subtext to my family movie, a subtext that I continue to believe only Pixar studios can provide me with, and characters that whilst appealing on a visual level to children work for adults because of the realistic emotional beats they are going through from movie to movie, why should any of that matter when the crowd watching Disney’s 50th animated movie is in stitches as a rough gang of thieves prances around a bar like sissies and a chameleon blows raspberries at a horse?

The fact is it doesn’t matter. And I need to accept that. These films are not for me. I could sit here for days and write and re-write how I thought the songs were lazy, the characterisation was predictable, the humanized animals were trite and patronizing, the romance was tacked on and the peril was, well, just wasn’t there, but who am I kidding? Take Chris M’s word over mine on this one, he’s completely right, and it’s because he can appreciate that sometimes a movie is just a movie.

A toast then to Tangled; That which made them laugh, cry, gasp and sing along yet taught me that I need to take my over-analytical B.S and get out of the room so that everyone else can just enjoy the party. I am a buzz-kill, and I apologise.


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.

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.

Tag Team Review – The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest

December 5, 2010

Holler! That’s right devoted followers, it’s time for another Tag Team Review! With the combined muscle of brothers Madden and Wakeman (listed alphabetically naturally) surely we can take down the third in 2010’s big movie trilogy. Will we survive to tell the tale…? Read on to find out. As always, Chris W in green and Chris M in blue.

I’m completely torn.

Part of me wants to start this review by celebrating the fact that UK audiences got to experience a full trilogy in the space of a year in 2010. In a nod to short attention spans and striking whilst the iron is hot The Girl… series took full advantage of its delayed release schedule for part 1 and gave us nearly 9 hours of cinema in a third of the time it took the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

However, the other part of me wants to sink my teeth right in and ask the question “what was the point”? When all is said and done …The Hornet’s Nest (and by extension …Played With Fire) represent the worst things about trilogies; repetition, lack of focus and meandering.

I’ll come right out and say it; in my opinion Hornet’s Nest is a really really bad film. It is way too long for there to be no action or intrigue whatsoever, and the whole experience seems to rely on the assumption that we can forgive it its sins once Lisbeth is on screen.

The fact is we almost could, but even Noomi Rapace cannot save this film from absolute tedium. As Lisbeth Salander she remains the best thing about the Millenium series (good luck to her in Hollywood) but she just isn’t given enough screen time to make enough of an impact. You could probably count the scenes in which she speaks on one hand.

Much like in …Played With Fire the real shame is that Lisbeth and Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) don’t share much screen time; the potential their relationship showed in …Dragon Tattoo has been completely squandered in the subsequent films and by the end of the series Mikael feels less like a lover or friend and more like a protective father. Ok it’s probably more age appropriate, but it lessens the sense that Lisbeth is a big girl who can take care of herself thanks very much.

The biggest problem is that the film reads like a tacky thriller-novel; characters serendipitously come together (in that sense the finale is just bollocks), conspiracies and allies meet in rooms and discuss things without ever really doing anything (the detective element is like an episode of CSI but without the frenetic editing or sexy people) and everything ties together in a neat little package that is foreseeable from the first 10 minutes.

All in all it just feels like a major waste of time, but one that audiences will say they had to see. The series as a whole may have put Swedish cinema on the map (with the help of Let The Right One In) and created a star in Noomi Rapace but it fell quickly into the same traps Hollywood thrillers do by resting on its laurels and more than anything left me thankful that there isn’t a fourth book to adapt.

All I can say is; there’s no way David Fincher could do much worse if he does the whole trilogy.

Maybe I wasn’t so torn after all.

Before I kick off, I want to get pernickity about three things;

1. It’s Hornets’ Nest, not Hornet’s Nest.
2. Who the hell is this girl in the posters that have been used all trilogy?! Am I the only one who thinks that she looks nothing like Noomi Rapace?! (Either that or a very generous brush job…)
3. Referring to this as “the thriller of the decade” is a lie.

Onto business!

It was with mixed feelings that I entered the screening of The Girl… On the one hand I had high hopes that it would deliver the same unexpected sucker punch of great cinema that the first did and on the other I just hoped it wouldn’t be as tedious and as boring as The Girl Who Played with Fire was just three short months ago. No real surprise then that both hands were wrong and this movie was everything I hoped it wouldn’t be.

You know how we always hear that “crime doesn’t pay” and “what goes around comes around” and that basically bad people always get their comeuppance? Well they do in this case, however, instead of having them fired off into the sun on a missile with a cheesy one liner (a la countless action movies); we go down the serious route of courts and legal action. It just turns out that all the logistics and the legal wranglings involved in bringing bad people to justice are really really tiresome and pretty effin dull. Added to that, nothing new is revealed throughout the course of this film – everything is known about “the bad guys” from the off, so what you’re left with is two and a half hours of postulating and positioning before the taking down of the wrongdoers occurs.

Seemingly everybody gets what they deserve in the end except Blomqvist who has basically gone out of his way to help someone who doesn’t give two hoots about him through the last two movies, only for a cheers mate and a door slammed in his face. Well worth the effort that… It does however act as an embodiment of everything wrong with the film; cheers for the effort mate but you probably would have been better not bothering…

The shambling tale is capped off with an ill advised and somewhat unexplainable finale where, against all better reason and logic, Lisbeth inexplicably puts herself in harm’s way, only to prove two minutes later that she really is a bad ass and can take care of herself just fine thanks – which oddly serves to belittle aforementioned “finale” (yeah I used inverted commas) further.

What you’re left with then is a film that repeats all the things that made the second one worse than the first; a distinct lack of action, mystery and leading character interaction leaves this as a long, drawn out and mostly boring affair. The first was great because Lisbeth and Mikael were caught up in something; disparate characters working together to solve a mystery. The second two blow because they focus exclusively on Lisbeth’s history and remove all intrigue from proceedings.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I would recommend you definitely do not see this film.

As for the trilogy as a whole? I guess they tell a complete story, it’s just not a very interesting one. I’m sure they work very well as novels, but as movies? I’d watch the first and give the other two a miss if I were you. Add this to the list of trilogies that you kind of wish had stopped after the first… Wait, that gives me an idea…

Tag Team Review – A Town Called Panic

October 26, 2010

As always with the Tag Team Reviews, Chris M is in blue and Chris W is in green.

A Town Called Panic is easily one of the most fun things I have seen either in or out of the cinema all year. It’s a Belgian movie that tells the story of a Horse (Cheval), a Cowboy (Cowboy) and an Indian (Indien) who all live together in a house. Some stuff happens. Some really weird stuff. And it’s brilliant. If I was to tell you it was directed by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, you might not know who I was talking about, but if I were to tell you it’s from the guys who made the Cravendale Adverts, you’d be much better prepared for what you’re getting yourself into in seeing this movie.

This film very much feels to me like what would happen if you gave a small child a bunch of toys and just said “right go on then, play with them” and then recorded it. It’s the kind of creativity and humour that seems to eke out of us as we progress through life until we eventually lose it and end up just thinking fart jokes are funny (which they are).

The thing is, the comedy on offer here really wouldn’t work in any other format, whether that be animated or live action and for me it really really benefitted from being seen in its own language. I watched a couple of the shorts on youtube dubbed in English and… they’re just nowehere near as good.

It’s probably come and gone by now but when this comes out on DVD I implore you to get a bunch of people together to watch it, I guarantee you won’t have a clue what’s going on, but you’ll probably be laughing too much to care.

I can see how this might not be to everyone’s tastes so for those of you feeling less than inquisitive and not prepared to go into this with no idea what to expect, you can see one of the shorts here, it benefits if you have a little knowledge of French, but you should be able to follow it quite easily anyway.

For me though watching this movie filled me with joy. Pure unadulterated joy. And it’s a long time since a movie has done that.

Captain Madden singing the praises there, and rightly so, A Town Called Panic is certainly an enjoyable picture and rewards those who will search it out (I waited a month to get the chance to see it) with a fantastically paced yarn that doesn’t waste time with character development or plot consistency and instead focuses on a laughs-per-minute ratio higher than any other comedy you are likely to see this year.

CM’s synopsis is wonderfully apt too- there is no point in either of us trying to surmise the goings on in the 75 minute running time (finally, a SHORT FILM!!!!) because to do so would ruin the surprise for any future viewers and also perhaps put some people off due to its sheer randomness. Random is an oft used word by town-centre-stalking teenagers these days but even they wouldn’t be able to act in on the joke that is A Town Called Panic- it is a magically leftfield offering that will have even the most jaded of cynics cracking a smile and harking back to their own childhood playtimes.

I would like to offer a thought on audiences though if I may. Whilst discussing …Panic over dinner with a friend afterwards the word ‘niche’ was used to describe its appeal. Whilst I think that the film is perfectly accessible for all and could be enjoyed by any type of cinema goer I fear my friend may have had a point in terms of the types of people who may be considering watching the film in the first place.

I saw …Panic at 1pm on a Saturday afternoon and was impressed to see a few younger children in the theatre with their parents. Whilst there are two mentions of the S-Bomb in the film it is admirable to see children finding pleasure from a picture that audibly at least will mean nothing to them- the visuals alone kept them laughing throughout.

However their presence got me wondering whether for many this film has been avoided simply because, from the poster at least, it looks like a kids film. No problem with that of course seeing as kids seem to love it, but for a film that is brimming with so many adult references and is such an overt homage to a myriad of different genres (with an absolutely fantastic parody of Singing in the Rain thrown in) it seems a shame that perhaps hosts of men and women might miss out on this film for no other reason than they have no sprogs of their own to take with them.

So fear not childless reader! A Town Called Panic IS for you and you should snatch any opportunity you get to go and see it.

Speak to you soon!

Tag Team Review – Winter’s Bone

October 8, 2010

Woof! It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these hasn’t it? For those of you who are new to Casta La Vista the answer is yes, it is.

Chris and Chris have both watched Winter’s Bone this past week and both had things to say on it. The current episode was already too packed full of goodies to fit in any audio response, so here instead is a smattering of words from the pair (in turns) on the Debra Granik movie that stars Jennifer Lawrence as a teenage girl left to look after her brother, sister and ill mother who is then lumped with the task of tracking down her estranged father before the bail bondsman takes their house.

First up, Chris W;

I have no idea what ‘him down there’ is going to write – we just put these things together with a quick copy and paste job – so I’ll start by simply saying that I consider myself very lucky to have seen Winter’s Bone. It took me THREE ATTEMPTS to see this moving and intense drama. Twice I was scuppered by terrible traffic and the third time a tardy bus meant I missed the trailers and only got into the screening at the opening credits; I hope I didn’t miss much!

I’m glad I went to the trouble to see it though because the central role is one to savour. Equal parts confident, isolated, naive and fragile, Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Ree Dolly is rightfully drawing Oscar rumours and will hopefully earn the supermodel (she tidies up nice let me tell you) at least a nomination come February. Strong (as in developed) female roles are hard to come by in cinema and it is great to see a character that could so easily fall into caricature and stereotype being given room to show emotion and range. Some of the strongest scenes of the movie come when Ree simply stands silently and reacts to a piece of information she has just received – usually in a threatening manner.

Caps doffed too to John Hawkes, a character actor whose face people will definitely recognise from film and TV, finally getting a more established role and screen time to play with. As the scary uncle Teardrop he commands attention and is a constant question mark throughout the film; is he good or bad; does he care more about family or self-preservation?  His departure from the film is one of the most understated I have seen this year and leaves no doubt as to his destination, an event larger scale productions would certainly have shown on screen.

Tonally Winter’s Bone felt very similar to 2008’s Frozen River, another film with a strong central female performance – this time about running illegal immigrants over the US-Canadian border. Both films deal with isolated communities where word of mouth is unavoidable, and the lead character is fending for themselves in a man’s world weighed down by bureaucracy. Whilst Winter’s Bone is perhaps not as thrilling as Frozen River, with slightly lower stakes by its conclusion, it still establishes a world in which a character’s actions can be understood and justified, if not entirely condoned.

My final serious point before I finish on something stupid is to say that Debra Granik should be praised for her handling of the subject matter. In particular there is a black and white dream sequence about half way through the movie which in other hands might feel out of sync with the rest of the film. Without any set up or explanation we are left to interpret the meaning of a series of sounds and images and this sort of respect for an audience should be nurtured and encouraged. It also definitely adds intensity to the sound of a chainsaw further down the line when it is used in a scene that is already harrowing enough!

It’s probably been and gone from most cinemas, but Winter’s Bone is definitely one worth hunting down, and might just get a rerelease around awards season. Keep them peeled.

Oh, and my stupid comment; in all these films with lower class, backwoods communities where people struggle to put money and food on the table and turn to drugs or crime to fund their existence…doesn’t anyone ever think of applying for a job at McDonalds? I mean those guys are everywhere these days and they’re always hiring. I’m just saying is all.


And now to Chris M;

Well what’s there left to say after what’s been said already? As usual my good friend Ceedub has heaped on all the necessary praise and left me to pick holes in all the parts of the film I didn’t enjoy, and that’s just fine with me as it’s what I do best.

As alluded to in Cast Boot, this was the second film I saw last week (along with the Town) which, although I can understand the praise it has been receiving and will happily acknowledge the fact that it’s a “good film” (as far as standard definitions of “good” can go) there was just something about it which stopped me engaging with it in the manner required for me to really enjoy it. Enjoyment for me doesn’t just derive from technical competency and critical acclaim; it usually comes from stuff exploding.

Seriously though the thing that usually pulls me into a movie is engagement with the characters and the situations they find themselves in and as well built up as Ree’s situation is, I just couldn’t get on board. Part of me suspects that this is because the movie chooses to set itself so deep within a realistic community that you lose some of the norms that we usually take for granted in storytelling; things like having easily distinguishable characters and locations or a real sense that the lead character’s actions have some influence on the development of the story.

Ree does eventually get some results, but it felt to me that it was due to her incessant badgering rather than any great sleuthing skills or achievements on her part (unless you can call getting beat up an achievement) – an understandable choice but one that left me feeling that Ree was more of a passenger than I would have expected from (as Chris rightly says) such a strong female protagonist.

It comes as no great surprise to me that this film is being tipped for Oscar success already but Joe Average Cinema Goer will probably feel underwhelmed by Winter’s Bone’s subtleties and want a little more incident for their money. Ultimately for me, Winter’s Bone became a victim of its naturalistic form and as good a film as this no doubt is, it won’t be figuring anywhere near my top ten of the year whilst other more ridiculous films probably will be.


Tag Team Review – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

March 14, 2010

Now that the formality of Awards season is out of the way, it’s back to business as usual at Casta Towers and what better way to hit the ground running than by treating our loyal fan base to another classic JOINT REVIEW!

We’ll be back in audio form at the end of the week but until then here’s what we both had to say about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo:

First up, Mr Wakeman.

Don’t tell the other Chris but I think we’ve got a film on our hands here that proves a point he has long made…that a film is likely to be held in higher regard if it is foreign language.

Right first things first, the film itself; Great entertainment from beginning to end. Dragon Tattoo runs in at two and a half hours and trust me, you won’t feel a second of it. The dual narratives of Mikael and Lisbeth which run through the opening hour until their paths collide are expertly handled by director Niels Arden Oplev so that each time you rejoin one story from the other you aren’t disappointed as can so often be the case, you are as gripped and intrigued by each of their journies (in startlingly different ways too).

The film wears its mystery thriller jacket to great effect, skipping through the classic beats of the genre with ease and finesse until the final revelations act to wrap the whole thing up in a neat little package so that we can all go home knowing whodunit and why. Who would want it any other way? Our attention is constantly validated and backsides will move further and further towards the edge of the seat as each finely performed minute goes by; isn’t that the benchmark of all good thrillers?

BUT: At the end of the day a neat little thriller is really all Dragon Tattoo has to offer. One particular aspect of the ending is so glaringly obvious from the beginning of the film that it’s almost a shock in itself to see one character’s look of surprise on their face when the truth is finally revealed – as if the possibility had never crossed their mind.

Dragon Tattoo has kicked ass throughout Europe and rightly so, it deserves to do just as well here and in America and I’m sure it won’t surprise anybody to learn that a Hollywood remake is already on the cards, so go and check out the original while you still can. But when all is said and done are all the 5 star reviews and magazine articles merely a result of the fact that this film is Swedish and comes with the fetishised ardour of subtitles? Yes, it is impressive that something so glossy and accessible has come from Europe and not America, but get over it.

This is not Film of Year material. It’s just damn good cinema. And you should definitely go and see it.

Happy now? Good, I’m glad.

Love you!


Stop! Madden time!

Okay so we’ve got a bit of a problem on our hands and, quite unsurprisingly for a classic complainer like me, it only took me until the second Tag Team review to identify it. The problem then is this:

What the hell do we do when we actually agree on something?

Now I know this isn’t going to be a major issue as time progresses being as it’s rare that Brother Wakeman and I completely agree on something. Thinking back, it has happened a couple of times in the past  and when it did I resorted to inadvertently slandering him and sulking in a corner. Unfortunately that doesnt work quite as well in a written format as it does when we’re in confabulatio (Latin!) so I guess I’d better actually write something.

Congratulations Wazza; quite like the seasoned carpenter who can hammer with his eyes closed, you hit the nail square on the head. Everything Chris says above is absolutely bob on and from beginning to end I had a great time – in spite of the niggles. If you want to know exactly what I thought of the film, stop reading here and go back to the top and read Ceedub’s comments again, imagining them spoken with a more beardy voice (and with a hell of a lot more swearing), if you want to know why I thought what I did, then really it’s as simple as the  fact that I knew nothing about it and was pleasantly surprised, the fact that it’s the first of a trilogy and doesn’t rub your face in it, the fact that the separate plot threads come together in a satisfying manner that doesn’t feel contrived at all, the fact that the interactions between characters feel organic & natural and the fact that the suspense and mystery is handled masterfully throughout. I had a great time with this film but can still see the qualms that my esteemed colleague levels at it and for a nitpicker like me to  enjoy it despite those should go some way to speak for its quality.

Whilst I have you held captive and have a chance to say it, I just wanted to express that there’s something inherently worrying about the fact that Hollywood has already conveyed a desire to remake this film in English – much like how there’s something particularly French about A Prophet, or particularly Korean about Old Boy, there is definitely a lot of Sweden in this movie and, from what I understand, the other two stories in the trilogy. That’s not just to say that they’d struggle finding a new loaction or reworking the references so that they made sense to an English audience – it’s the fact that the crux of the trilogy’s whole narrative pertains fundamentally to idioms of Swedish identity and the concerns buried deep in the Swedish Pysche  – so much so that any kind of remake would lose a large part of what it is that makes this film great. Besides, even if to combat this the remake was set in Sweden, with Swedish characters and the only real difference came in the fact that it was in the English language, then it would just scream of redundancy. It’d be far easier just to record an English dub for the existing film and be done with it. Curse you Hollywood Machine!

Oh and also, the trilogy of films have all already been out in Sweden – in fact this first effort was released over a year ago there and more than ten months ago in France, Italy and Spain, which makes me wonder why we waited so long for some English subs… Anywho, on that note I think it’s high time for me to get off my soapbox, but just one last thing before I do – go and see this film if you get the chance. It’s great.

Madden out!