Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Stranger Than Fiction

Year: 2006
Running time: 113 minutes
Certificate: 12A
Language: English
Screenplay: Zach Helm
Director: Marc Forster
Starring: Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah


With a startlingly original premise, Stranger Than Fiction grabs your attention from the start. Like the average Charlie Kaufman script, writer Zach Helm has presented something never seen before, at least by me. Will Ferrell is Harold Crick, a man who works for the IRS and has a routinely dull life, filled with numbers, tax figures and counting brush strokes. One day, he hears a voice in his head. The voice is not talking to him, but is narrating his life, as though he is a character from a book. At first he fears he may be going crazy, until the voice lets it slip that he will soon die. Looking for help, he meets Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), a literacy expert who agrees to help him discover what kind of story he is in, and possibly track down the writer before he is killed off.

Harold Crick: a small man with small dreams.
With this headsman's axe hanging over his neck, never knowing when it is going to fall, Crick is spurred on to living his life like he has never done before; playing guitar, eating cookies and attempting to gain the affections of Ana Pascal (the gorgeously quirky Maggie Gyllenhaal), a woman he is auditing for tax evasion. Now, eating cookies may not seem like a walk on the wild side to you or me, but it's a sure sign of Harold embracing a new idea of what his life could be like.

What begins as simply an interesting idea becomes something far bigger when Harold learns the exact circumstances of his forthcoming death, and also when Karen Eiffel, the writer (Emma Thompson, on particularly fine form) is confronted with the fact that her character is a living breathing person. It forces you to consider the question; if you knew that you were going to die, including how and when, but knew that you were going to die accomplishing something wonderful, would or could you still allow it to happen? To my shame, I am forced to admit that I really don't know if I could, which in these circumstances, would almost certainly doom me. And that is why Eiffel decides to spare Crick's life, much to Professor Hilbert's disappointment; because he agreed to let her kill him. As she says, isn't he (unlike me) the kind of person you want to keep alive? She's a hair's breadth away from a complete breakdown as she's writing the pivotal scene, knowing the injuries she's inflicting on her real life character, but later, is content and calm in the knowledge that she sacrificed her masterpiece to save a man that was worth saving. I can see how the book might suffer from the decision to keep Harold Crick alive, but the ending to the film is much more satisfying for it.

Every cast member is excellent, portraying believable characters in the face of an outlandish story. It is of course no surprise that Hoffman and Thompson put in wonderful performances (when have they not?), but what is surprising is Will Ferrell. Who would have thought that Ron Burgundy (Anchorman) and Ricky Bobby (Talladega Nights) would be capable of such a perfectly understated dramatic performance? Before this, I would have laughed loudly in your face had you even suggested such a thing, but this should have done for Ferrell what The Truman Show did for Jim Carrey.

Funny, heartbreaking, emotional and beautiful stuff - like any good story should be.

Score: 8/10


Tortured artist Karen Eiffel.
For me this is Will Ferrell's best performance to date. It demonstrates that he can not only play his usual goofy comedy characters, but also more 'real' and emotionally endearing roles. The story (as described in more detail above by Dave) is incredibly simple and at the same time extremely clever and very original. The choice of supporting actors is spot on, with Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson giving their usual high standards. I was hooked from the start and continued to be engrossed until the mightily satisfying conclusion. Definitely one to watch again and again.

Score: 8/10

Roger Ebert & James at Reelviews seem to agree.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Children of Men

Year: 2006
Running time: 109 minutes
Certificate: 15
Language: English
Screenplay: Alfonso Cauron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Director: Alfonso Cauron
Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Caine


The handheld camerawork places the viewer right in
the thick of the aciton.
This film is truly stunning, although at times difficult to watch. The ultra-realism of the violence reminds the viewer uneasily of Saving Private Ryan - if you didn't know better, you would swear the people onscreen were genuinely being shot to pieces. The idea of this hell being a baby's first hours in the world is a very uncomfortable thing to be exposed to. The film is set in possibly the most depressingly realistic vision of the future yet filmed, forgoing the beautiful dystopias of Blade Runner and every film it influenced and the clean cut, poverty-less vision of Star Trek for a civilisation that has de-evolved into a hellish place with more in common with the Third Reich than anything else. Everyone not from the country they are in is breaking the law simply by existing and are rounded up, kept in cells or forced to live in lawless ghettos. Only a few terrorist resistance cells remain of the illegal immigrants. Clive Owen plays Theo Faron, an average man who gets involved with an attempt to smuggle a miraculously pregnant woman to safety after reuniting with an old girlfriend. Handheld camerawork and long takes serve to raise the intensity of the impressively staged set pieces.

It's not without humour, however, for which I was very grateful. Michael Caine is a highlight as Jasper, a wood-dwelling drug dealer who is never far away from cracking a fart joke. Clive Owen also has his moments, for example escaping his would-be killers by rolling a car downhill to get it started - it's funny and tense at the same time.

Owen, incidentally, is a marvel. Pulled by events out of his control and being forced to run for his life during the first two thirds, when he actually takes matters into his own hands to drag the mother and child out of the war zone he manages to mix dignity and bravery with terror to staggering effect. A must see.

Score: 8/10


Our desolate future?
What's truly disturbing is that this film is so realistic. I could almost imagine this as our bleak future; a world without children, our own thoughtlessness and greed leading to pollution, war and infertility. The grey, drained colours that make up the landscape mirror the mood throughout. It's very violent and at times difficult to watch but the story also leads the viewer to the conclusion that life by its nature gives hope - in this case in the form of a young woman pregnant with a 'miracle child'. Michael Caine acts perfectly to lighten the mood. The story, direction and brilliant acting in this film make me agree with Dave - "A must see", but perhaps have something more lighthearted on standby to restore your faith in humanity afterwards. Scrubs, perhaps?

Score: 7/10

Damon at Empire & Ebert seem to agree.