In 1955, an uncredited actor played "Lab Technician" in B-movie Revenge of the Creature. Over fifty years later, that uncredited actor is now one of cinemas most iconic actors and prolific and consistently excellent directors. That man is of course Clint Eastwood. With Changeling, Mr Eastwood may well have made his best film to date. He beautifully and authentically captures the look and feel of 1920's LA down to the finest details, and works from a superb script from J.Michael Straczynski (a writer who, before this film, was mainly known for writing slightly crappy TV shows including Babylon 5 and 9 episodes of She-Ra!). Based on a true story of corruption and deceit in the LA police force, as Christine Collin's (Angelina Jolie) son goes missing only to be found and returned to her 5 months later. Only problem? The boy returned to her is not her son. When she presents this story to the police, she is painted a deluded liar and a bad mother, before being locked up in a psychiatric hospital. Yet, her resolve never breaks, as she continues to fight for justice and remains determined that her son is alive. Angelina Jolie gives perhaps the greatest performance of her career, finally getting the chance to let her acting do the talking, impressive, heart-breaking but still under-stated, never resorting to over the top theatrics. She's surrounded by top performances from Jeffrey Donovan as the corrupt cop, Michael Kelly as a good cop and John Malkovich as the only man who believes Christine's story. A staggering true story brought to vivid and impressive life by Eastwood and Jolie, gripping throughout while also taking you into some unexpected directions. Powerful, at times heart-breaking, film-making. Here's hoping the now 78 year old Clint Eastwood can keep producing films of this quality for many more years.
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It seemed that Pixar had raised their personal bar so high with the sublime Wall.E that which ever film they produced next would, through no fault of it's own, falter by comparison. However, this isn't the case with Up. Pixar prove yet again that when it comes to consistantly creating films of huge quality there's no one better in the business. On paper, Up shouldn't work. An elderly man attaches balloons to his house and flies to South America, with a young boy scout in tow and encounters huge colourful birds and talking dogs? But then again, Ratatouille's tale of a rat with culinary dreams shouldn't have worked. But it did. Wall.E's tale of a lonely mute robot seeking love shouldn't have worked. But it did. So we learnt long ago to not question the judgement of the geniuses at Pixar HQ, but rather to sit back and savour whatever they throw our way. And there's plenty to savour with Up. The first 15 minutes of this film has to rank as one of the greatest openings to any film, ever. The beauty, the emotion, the delicacy of Pixar's touch is evident for all to see. Any film that can create the type of emotions in it's viewer within the opening few scenes is a special film indeed. And Up is special. Beautifully constructed, it manages to be tender, touching, sad, happy, triumphant, inspiring, heart-breaking and life-affirming, sometimes all at the same time. It doesn't force the viewer into these emotions, it achieves them naturally through the power of it's characters, it's themes, it's storytelling and it's visuals. Truly sumptious visuals (whether you see them in 2 or 3 dimensions) enthrall the eyes, while the sharp, witty writing entertains the ears, and the emotion and charm on display warm even my cold heart. Delving into darker and more adult themes than any other film in the Pixar illustrious canon, Up has real depth and meaning to it, guareenteed to strike a chord with adults of any age, while the humour is razor-sharp (espicially the talking dogs) and will amuse the kids and adults alike. Up is, quite simply, a masterpiece of epic proportions. It will be enjoyed by anyone from ages 4 to 104. It's funny, it's touching, it's beautifully made and it has a great message running through it's core. Best animated film of 2009? Without a doubt. Best film of 2009, period? It's very possible. Another home run from Pixar. Is there honestly a more exciting creative force working in Hollywood today? I don't think so. Go see Up. Right now.
Poor old Terry Gilliam. Has any film-maker ever had worse luck than Terry Gilliam? Here's a history lesson for you; Brazil was taken out of his hands, butchered by the studio and released to little or no fanfare. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen went wildly over budget and then failed to recoup much due to a complete lack of marketing by it's studio. Then you have his aborted attempt at The Man who Killed Don Quixote (as documented in the excellent Lost in La Mancha), which fell victim to massive floods and the injury, and later death, of his main star. This constant studio interference and bad luck led Gilliam underground, making bizarre yet effective films like Tideland. However, Gilliam was all set for a return to mainstream prominence with The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. A big name cast on board, a decent budget, what could go wrong? Well, how about the tragic and unexpected death of Heath Ledger halfway through production? The project seemed doomed. To Gilliam's credit, he had the artistic ingenuity and creative foresight to finish the film in a uniquely clever way, and finally we have a new Terry Gilliam film on our cinema screens. So, is it any good? Well, yes and no. If I was to say that it is a typical Terry Gilliam film would be a fair summation. By this I mean it is a visually resplendent, incredibly creative, fantastically enjoyable mess. Gilliam splurges originality all over the screen, with stunning images, ideas and moments to remember. There are moments of cleverness, moments of humour, moments of Monty Python-esque surreality, and there are also moments of headscratching uncertainty. Gilliam (and co-writer Charles McKeown) seems to know where he wants the story to go, but lacks conviction and confidence in safely guiding it there. So sometimes the films meanders and stalls, dragging points out when it doesn't need to. That being said, the film is a treat, for the eyes, for the ears and for the brain. The ensemble cast are all superb; Christopher Plummer as the titular character, the beautiful Lily Cole shows that some models can act, Andrew Garfield is a future star and Tom Waits steals the show. And what of Heath Ledger? As to be expected, he is superb and his role is larger than I had expected. It's with a tinge of sadness as I watched a future talent fulfulling his potential knowing that he would never grace our screens again. When Ledger died, his buddies Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell jumped in to volunteer their services and help Gilliam finish the film (and, in a classy move, donated their earnings to Ledger's daughter). This plot device, though forced by tragedy, actually works so seamlessly and brilliantly that it's impossible to imagine the film without it. So all in all, The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus is a visual cornucopia of big ideas and kaleidoscopic images, not all of which work. However, it has more originality than a hundred other Hollywood films combined and that is something to be applauded. Terry Gilliam is one of the last true original storytellers left and hopefully long may he prosper. The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus- A film by Heath Ledger and friends.
Wes Craven came back on board for this second sequel to his original hit, writing the screenplay (along with Shawshank Redemption's Frank Darabont) while directing duties went to Chuck Russell (who would later go to direct The Mask and Eraser). These are probably the major reasons why Nightmare on Elm Street 3 is the best sequel of the lot. Delightfully surreal and weirdly inventive, with several bizarre scenes and impressive effects work. Marvel at a huge green Freddy-worm. See Freddy use a victim's veins as marionette strings. Watch Freddy's skeleton come to animated life, Ray Harryhausen-style, and plenty more odd but cool moments. Robert Englund is back as Freddy, and his character takes a more comedic stance (after smashing a girl's head through a television set he remarks "welcome to prime time, bitch!"). Plus, see Patricia Arquette in her first role and Lawrence Fishbourne back when he was known as Larry. Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon (stars of the first film) also return, making this third instalment of the franchise a large step up from the slightly rubbish second one. "In my dreams I can walk, I am strong. In my dreams, I am the WizardMaster!"