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Starring: Belén Rueda, Lluís Homar, Pablo Derqui

Director: Guillem Morales

“He knows how to be a shadow. He has no light. Nobody looks at him.”

Astronomer Julia suffers from a degenerative condition which is slowly blinding her. Her twin sister, Sara, is already blind and when Sara commits suicide Julia begins to suspect the involvement of an unknown man. With her eyesight diminishing by the day, Julia tries to solve the mystery of her sister’s death. And someone is watching.

Made in 2010, this Spanish gem reaches the UK with little fanfare and only the name of producer Guillermo del Toro to make anyone take notice. Hopefully that will be enough because Julia’s Eyes is well worth any attention it gets. Del Toro and actress Belén Rueda worked together previously on the 2007 ghost story The Orphanage, and continue that successful partnership with this taut and well-executed thriller.

With more than a passing nod to the movies of Dario Argento, Co-writer and director Morales’ second feature is certainly a slow burner, running to just under two hours, but it rewards your patience. It keeps you guessing for a while, gradually revealing its hand as it draws toward a gripping final act as Julia discovers the truth and finds herself trapped in a terrifying situation.

Rueda delivers another great performance as the grief-stricken Julia, determined to unravel the circumstances of her sister’s suicide while struggling to cope with her own failing vision. As the hub around which events revolve, Rueda is completely believable, conveying much with the simplest facial gesture and navigating the changes in Julia’s condition well. It is also to Morales’ credit that Julia’s blindness never feels like some contrived gimmick around which cool set pieces and a sense of urgency can be deployed. And while the twists and turns are not always remarkably clever, they are honest and not overblown so you don’t end up feeling cheated.

The NHS continues to make budget cuts, but at least waiting times are down

Julia’s Eyes could have lost twenty minutes of running time and not unduly suffered, but that isn’t to say that it drags at any point. It is one of those movies where you get out of it what you put into it and those looking for a thrill-a-minute ride may get fidgety. However, stick with it and you will find yourself pulled along, gripping the arm of your chair and gritting your teeth in a few places. Julia’s Eyes is another example of how Spanish cinema is more than the equal of any other.

Rating - 4 Stars

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The Large Association of Movie Blogs (or The Lamb) is now running its 2011 Lammy Awards. Every year these awards are handed out to those Lamb members that receive the most nominations in each given category. Obviously, Celluloid Zombie would love a shiny banner to put on his site, especially one with a Lamb on it (those who know my name will know why).

The Lamb’s rules are as follow:

The voting will be done via a traditional nomination/vote process. The nomination process will last for three weeks, until May 9th. Voting and eligibility is open to current LAMBs only (#1 – 900). One ballot per site. Nominate up to three LAMBs for each award (no ranking necessary), save for Best Blog, where you may nominate up to five sites. There are two sites that you are not allowed to vote for: your own site and the LAMB- votes for either will be discarded. Shortly after the nomination period has closed, I will post a list of the nominees. The final round of voting will then take place for another two week period.

Vote for Celluloid Zombie HERE.

If you vote for me I promise lower taxes, four-day weekends, tastier fillings in supermarket sandwiches and free iPads for everyone. Honest.

Ooh! Ooh! Pick me! Pick me!

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Starring: Colin Farrell, Keira Knightly, Ray Winstone, David Thewlis

Director: William Monahan

Freshly released from Pentonville prison and determined not to return to his criminal past, Mitchell finds work as a minder for reclusive movie star Charlotte, with whom he develops a relationship. However, old friends embroil Mitchell in the plans of East End crime boss Gant and Mitchell is forced to confront him.

I have a very low tolerance for British gangster movies. There’s only a handful that have ever really engaged me. The Long Good Friday, Sexy Beast and Get Carter rank among those few. London Boulevard, unfortunately, doesn’t. Which is a shame because, with a cast like this, it should have had something going for it.

Based on the novel by Ken Bruen, London Boulevard is the directorial debut of screenwriter William Monahan, who penned the excellent The Departed for Martin Scorsese. And while I’m very much looking forward to Monahan’s recently announced Becket, it’s not down to any overwhelming promise on display here.

I’ve never been one to condemn a movie simply because it doesn’t have a particularly original storyline. I thoroughly enjoyed some of the most unoriginal movies of the last year. But when you’re churning out yet another criminal-trying-to-go-straight-but-unable-to-escape-his-past tale, you have to bring something extra to the table and this movie just doesn’t do that.

Colin Farrell, who usually brings an abundance of personality to his roles, struggles to imbue Mitch with anything remotely approaching character. But that may be because he’s having so much trouble nailing the London accent. Instead, Mitch is one of those protagonists that leave you rather cold. Noble as his attempts at redemption may be, you never really care if he achieves it or not. He’s just the wrong side of being a dick to really care about.

Knightly seems equally adrift in a role which gives her little to do except look miserable and offer pouty looks to Farrell, who returns the favour by raising his eyebrows a bit. The chemistry between the two is non-existent and the development of their relationship is hurried, clumsy and far too restricted by the need to proceed to the next tough-guy scene.

Enter Ray Winstone as sinister, powerful psychopath Gant. Entertaining as his scenes are, this is the kind of role that Winstone can do in his sleep. And sometimes he looks and sounds like he might be doing just that. Maybe he’s just as bored as we are. In a movie crammed with completely unsympathetic characters, at least Gant is supposed to be.

Colin is less than impressed with Ray's Michael Caine impersonation

The only actor who really engages is David Thewlis as the wasted, acerbic and surprisingly violent actor Jordan. His is a character that truly surprises, the only one in the movie that does, and the film sparkles just a little whenever he is on screen. Sadly, he’s not on screen long enough to rescue London Boulevard from being just another boring British gangster movie filled with another group of boring characters.

Still, it does have a good soundtrack.

Rating - 1 Star

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Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Sam Shepherd

Director: Doug Liman

CIA agent Valerie Plame finds her identity made public in the press after her husband, Joe Wilson, writes an article criticizing the Bush Administration’s policy toward WMDs in Iraq and the basis for going to war.

“When did the question move from ‘why are we going to war?’ to ‘who is this man’s wife?’.”

Not to be confused with the dreadful 1995 ‘thriller’ starring Cindy Crawford, although you could be mistaken for doing so given the weak title (Karl Rove is supposed to have referred to Plame as ‘fair game’) and the fact that this movie is being marketed as nothing more than a run-of-the-mill political pot-boiler, rather than the true-life account it alleges to be.

Doug Liman has been away from this sort of dialogue-driven movie for a long while. Having seen something of a slump since giving the world The Bourne Identity, with the entertaining but feather-light Mr and Mrs Smith and the frankly terrible Jumper, Liman comes back with a movie based on Plame’s own memoir, Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House.

This was never going to be a even-handed account of events, so it’s no surprise to see full-time Republican-basher Sean Penn in Fair Game, welcome though his presence always is. As US diplomat Joe Wilson, Penn actually turns in a rather unremarkable performance. Not bad, he’s incapable of that, but just nothing more than as required, as if he’s on autopilot. Wilson doesn’t come off as entirely likeable, either. Naomi Watts, equally incapable of turning in a stinker, fares a little better as the hard-working and earnest Plame, but the sparks you would expect between two such accomplished actors, especially two starring in their third movie together (after The Assassination of Richard Nixon and 21 Grams) just isn’t there. This hurts the movie to a degree since a large part of the drama revolves around the effects that Palme’s outing has on their marriage, a marriage apparently lacking any kind of spark.

More impressive are David Andrew’s appearances as the arrogant, scheming ‘Scooter’ Libby, who contrives to have Plame exposed by way of payback for Wilson’s critical article. Also to its credit, the movie takes time to represent those in Iraq itself, to some degree, although this doesn’t entirely save Fair Game from seeming a little preachy. However, depending on which side of this particular fence you sit on, you may not care about that and you may even enjoy it. This is the kind of film that will engage one group and enrage the other. I was engaged.

Sean cleverly removes the booger while no-one's looking

Liman’s direction is more restrained than in many of his previous outings, his hand-held camera doing its best to follow events rather than invade them. And while Fair Game is a competent, enjoyable addition to the growing volume of movies on America’s recent history, it lacks the punch to become a genuine classic.

The veracity of Plame’s account has been contended by some, not surprisingly. Much of the story is built on certifiable facts, but however true this admittedly one-sided presentation is, the fact that it seems so plausible, given what we now know about the truth of Bush’s reasons for invading Iraq, probably says enough.

Rating - 3 Stars

Here’s something for all you fellow geeks out there. Artist Ward Shelley has managed to incorporate three of my great loves (history, science fiction and surreal imagery) into one rather bizarre flowchart. Looking like a cross between an alien master-brain and a 40-a-day smoker’s lungs, Shelley’s diagram charts the path of science-fiction from its distant influences and origins right up to contemporary cinema and literature.

You need at least an hour just to explore this impressive graphic, so God only knows how long it took Shelley to research and create it. It certainly rewards the effort, though. It’s a fascinating lesson for those who thought Sci-fi started with Frankenstein. Look out for the grinning Alice in Wonderland growth and the cute Jules Verne balloon.

Click on image to see full size. And, trust me, you need to see this full size.

Shelley has announced on his site that, due to the huge interest this piece has generated, he’s looking into producing posters for purchase. Visit his site here for more details and to look at his other work.

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Oscar season is upon us once more and the circus is well and truly in town. The blogs are buzzing, the free gifts and sweeteners are being sent and the usual pundits are all in a frenzy, trying to predict the outcome. Who will win Best Actor? Who will walk away with Best Director? What will Helena Bonham Carter be wearing? Who is going to fluff their lines? I know movie sites are supposed to get on the bus when it comes to these things, but I’m afraid I’ll be taking a different approach. Who cares?

I’ve loved movies my whole life, in many ways movies are my life, but I’ve never really cared much for the award ceremonies that accompany them. This year my interest seems to have reached its nadir. I look at the furore around the BAFTAS and, to a much larger degree, the Oscars, and wonder just how relevant they are to those who love movies rather than just to those that make them. And then I yawn a bit.

Here’s five reasons why the Oscars leave me cold.

1. Self-indulgence

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is made up of a bunch of industry professionals and it is they who decide who wins what. Therefore, what we have here is an industry congratulating itself on its own products. There is no consultation with the end-user, the people who actually use the product. It all seems terribly self-involved to me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with awards. Awards are fine. And recognition from one’s peers is always welcome. I’m just not a fan of being on the outside, looking in. The Oscars feels like that. It’s like being invited to someone else’s party by mistake.

2. The clothes

What is this fascination with what the stars are wearing? Entire magazines are dedicated to this tedious conveyor belt of designer dresses. Elizabeth Banks is wearing a stunning Versace, Sandra Bullock looks divine in Marchesa, Zoe Saldana captivates in Givenchy. Give me a break, will you. Isn’t this supposed to be about movies? Nope, it’s about overpaid thespians showing off their shiny, free stuff. Recession? What recession? It seems the clothes even get their own awards. Best Dress, Worst Dress, Best Dress in a Supporting Role. And why does everyone stand the same way in them? Do these dresses all come with Velcro on the left hip?

I'm a little teapot...

3. The Academy’s crap decisions

This is the organisation that gave Best Picture to Chicago rather than The Pianist and Shakespeare in Love rather than Saving Private Ryan. And don’t even get me started on Titanic. Sure, it made big piles of cash, but can anyone really say it was a better movie than L.A. Confidential or Good Will Hunting, which it beat? Well, maybe Forrest Gump would. But he’s biased, having beaten The Shawshank Redemption. Run, Forrest, Run. Before Morgan Freeman kicks your skinny little ass.

4. It just goes on forever

I can understand the desire to elevate the award ceremony beyond a continuous procession of winners making nauseating acceptance speeches, but does it really have to last nearly four hours? That’s an awfully long time to have to stand with your hand on your left hip. Trust me, I tried it last night and made 11 minutes before getting drowsy. Which is about five minutes more than I can stand of the lame variety acts, and ‘irreverent’ jokes by whichever ex-comedian is presenting this year, which pad out each award announcement.

5. The internet has changed everything

When I was a kid, the question of what was the best movie of the year was limited to debates among friends and, of course, watching the Oscars. These days, I can go online and read the opinions of hundreds of people who love movies as much as I do. People who have sat in the cinema, or on the couch in the same way I have. In short, people on the same side of the industry as me. The audience. The bloggers. My peers. And I find their opinions and judgements far more interesting, and far more relevant, than those of the Academy.

If watching the Oscars is your thing, then I sincerely hope you enjoy the show. Me? I think I’ll stick a movie on instead.

 

 

 

Starring: Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, Lucas Black

Director: Aaron Schneider

“They keep talking about forgiveness. Ask Jesus for forgiveness. I never did nothing to Him…”

Felix Bush has lived a hermit’s life for over 40 years, keeping himself away from Thirties society in his cabin in the woods. He is the subject of local gossip, with stories constantly circulating about the possible evils of his past. When Felix feels his time may be coming, he engages the services of funeral director Frank Quinn to arrange a funeral party which he himself can attend, inviting everyone to come and tell the stories they have heard about him. However, Felix himself has a story to tell. The truth.

As we enter 2011, it has become understandably rare to see performances from that older generation of actors who made the Seventies one of the best decades in cinema. Of those that survive Gene Hackman has all but retired, Clint Eastwood and Robert Redford are content to stay behind the camera, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman and Diane Keaton have been reduced to mediocre comedies and Al Pacino’s appearances are few and far between. Perhaps this says more about the dearth of quality roles for actors over a certain age than it does for the career choices of the actors themselves, but it is certainly cinema’s loss.

So it is a great pleasure to settle down with a new film from the great Robert Duvall, one of my favourites. After all, even if the film itself is bad at least you know you’ll be getting a great performance. Luckily, Get Low isn’t a bad movie by any measure. It just isn’t a great one, either.

As the enigmatic and taciturn Felix Bush, Duvall gently and quietly steals every scene he is in, even from that champion of scene-stealers, Bill Murray, who turns in one of his now trademark understated performances as shady funeral director Frank Quinn. It is Quinn, unfortunate enough to have set up shop in a town where everyone lives long, who sets about arranging the funeral party for Bush. The story unfolds slowly, as you are allowed to warm to the mysterious old hermit despite the dark rumours about his past which are bandied about.

Those years as a fugitive from the law had not been kind to Santa

As you might expect from a debut movie from a cinematographer, Get Low looks wonderful. The period detail is impressive and the locations magical. There is a graceful turn from Sissy Spacek as Bush’s old flame Mattie, whose appearance serves up clues to Bush’s secret. However, it is with this central revelation that Get Low ultimately disappoints. Having spent an hour and a half leaving you to guess just what it was that made Felix Bush decide to withdraw from the town and live in the forest for 40 years, the movie faces a near impossible task of presenting a story that satisfies. Perhaps that is point, that truth can never live up to rumour, but you may still find yourself short-changed as the credits roll.

Get Low is a gentle, sometimes moving tale. Like its protagonist, it moves at the pace it wants to and speaks when it feels like it. And though the story may ultimately fail to live up to its promise, this is still a compelling character study from a great actor who has lost none of his spark, and whose every appearance is now precious.

Rating - 3 Stars

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